It has been already explained, though briefly, that one reason of the Spirit of God in putting the sermon on the mount out of its historical place in Matthew, if we may so speak, and giving it to us before many of the events which took place subsequently, was this: that the whole Gospel was written upon the principle of convincing Jews; first, to show who Jesus was — their Messiah (a man, but Jehovah), the LORD God of Israel; then to give full proofs of what He really was as their Messiah, according to prophecy, by miracle, moral principles and ways, both in His own person and in His doctrine.6 In order to give the greater weight to His doctrine, the Spirit of God, in my opinion, has been pleased, first, to give as a general sketch the deeds of miraculous power which roused universal attention. The report went abroad everywhere, so that there was no possible ground of excuse for unbelief to argue that there was not sufficient publicity; that God had not sounded the trumpet loud enough for the tribes of Israel to hear. Far from that: throughout all Syria His fame had gone forth, and great multitudes followed Him from Galilee, and Decapolis, and Jerusalem, and Judea, and from beyond Jordan. All this is brought forward here and grouped together at the end of chapter 4.
And just as there is this grouping of the miracles of Christ, which might have been severed from one another by a long space of time, so, I apprehend, the sermon on the mount was not necessarily a continuous discourse, unbroken by time or circumstances, but that the Holy Ghost has seen fit to arrange it so as to give the whole moral unity of the doctrine of Christ as to the kingdom of heaven, and specially so as to counteract the earthly views of the people of Israel.
Luke, on the contrary, was inspired of the Holy Ghost to give the questions that originated certain portions of the discourse, and the circumstances that accompanied it; and, again, to keep certain parts of that discourse back, connecting them with facts that occurred from time to time in our Lord’s ministry, the actual incidents being thus interwoven in moral correspondence with any particular doctrine of our Lord. In some places of Luke the Spirit of God takes the liberty, according to His sovereign wisdom, of keeping back certain portions, and bringing in a part here and there according to the object He has in view. The great feature of Luke’s Gospel, which runs through it from beginning to end, being its moral aim, we can perfectly understand how suitable it was that, if there were circumstances in Christ’s life which were a sort of practical comment on His discourse, there you should have the discourse and the facts put together.
Now, as to the discourse itself, the Lord here clearly speaks as the Messiah, the Prophet-King of the Jews. But besides, all through you will find that the discourse supposes the rejection of the King. It is not brought clearly out yet, but this is what underlies it all. The King has the sense of the true state of the people, who had no heart for Him. Hence there is a certain tinge of sorrow that runs through it. That must ever characterize real godliness in the world as it is: a strange thing for Israel, and specially strange in the lips of the King, of One possessed of such power that, had it been a question of using His resources, He could have changed all in a moment. The miracles which accompanied His steps proved that there was nothing beyond His reach, if it were only a question of Himself. But you will find in all the ways of God that while He always makes good His counsels — so that if He predicts a kingdom and takes it in hand to set it up He will certainly accomplish it — nevertheless, He first presents the thought to man, to Israel, because they were His chosen race. Man has thus the responsibility of receiving or rejecting that which is the mind of God, before grace and power give it effect. But man always fails, no matter what God’s purpose may be. His purpose is good, it is holy, and true; it exalts God but abases the sinner: this is enough for man. He feels that he is made nothing of, and he rejects whatever does not gratify his vanity. Man invariably sets himself against the thoughts of God: consequently there is pain and sorrow — rejection of God Himself. And the wonderful thing that the history of this world exhibits is God submitting to be rejected and insulted; allowing poor weak man, a worm, to repel His benign advances and refuse His goodness; to turn everything that God gives and promises into the display of his own pride and glory against the majesty and will of God. All this is the truth about man, so the tinge of it runs through this blessed discourse of our Lord. And as He is now bringing out (which is the great purport of the early part of this chapter) the character of the people who would suit the kingdom of heaven, He proclaims that their character was to be formed by His own. If there was men’s dislike and contempt for what was of God, He shows that those who really belong to Him must have a spirit and ways characterized by, and in sympathy with His own. I only say “sympathy” here, because the truth of a divine life given to the believer is not spoken of in this discourse. Redemption never is touched upon, as it is not the subject of the sermon on the mount. If a person, therefore, wanted to know how to be saved, he ought not to look here with the thought of finding an answer. It could not be found in it, because the Lord is bringing out the kingdom of heaven and the sort of people that are suitable to that kingdom. It is clear that He is speaking of His own disciples, and therefore is not showing bow one alienated from God could be delivered from such a position. He is speaking about saints, not about sinners. He could lay down what is according to His heart; not at all the way for a soul consciously at a distance from God to be brought near. The sermon on the mount treats not of salvation, but of the character and conduct of those that belong to Christ — the true yet rejected King. But when we examine these beatitudes closely, we shall find an astonishing depth in them, and a beautiful order too.
The first blessedness, then, attaches to a fundamental trait which is inseparable from every soul brought to God, and that knows God. “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Nothing more contrary to man! What people call “a man of spirit,” is exactly the opposite of being poor in spirit. A man of spirit is one who — such as Cain was — is determined not to be beaten; a soul who would fight it out with God Himself. He who is “poor in spirit” is the very opposite of this. It is a person who is broken, who feels that the dust is his right place. And every soul that knows God must, more or less, be there. He may get out of this place; for although it is a solemn thing, yet it is easy enough to rise again, to forget our right place before God; it is even a danger for those who have been brought into the liberty of Christ. When there is sincerity of heart a man is apt to be low, specially if not quite sure that all is clear between his soul and God. But when full relief is brought to his spirit, when he knows the fulness and certainty of redemption in Christ Jesus, if then he look away from Jesus and take his place among men, there you will have the old spirit revived, the spirit of man in its worst form — so terrible is the effect of a departure from God in order to mingle with men. The poor in spirit, first in order, the Lord lays down as a sort of foundation, as being inseparable from a soul that is brought to God: — he may not even know what full liberty is, but there is this stamp, never absent where the Holy Ghost works in the soul — that is, poverty of spirit. It may be encroached on by other things, or it may fade away through the influence of false doctrine, or worldly thoughts and practice, but still there it was, and there, in the midst of all the rubbish, it is; and God knows how to bring a man down again, if he has forgotten his true place. “Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (ver. 3). If He is speaking about the kingdom, He forthwith says these are the people to whom it belongs. By the “kingdom of heaven” He does not mean heaven: it never means heaven, but always takes in the earth as under the rule of heaven. You will find that many persons are in the habit of confounding these things. “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” they think means “theirs is heaven.” Whereas the Lord is not referring to heaven, but to the rule of the heavens over an earthly scene. It refers to the scene of the ruling Messiah; those who are poor in spirit belong to that system of which He is the Head. He does not ,peak of the Church here. There might have been the kingdom of heaven and no Church at all. It is not till the sixteenth chapter of this Gospel that the subject of the Church is broached, and then it is a thing promised and expressly distinguished from the kingdom of heaven. There is not in all Scripture a single passage where the kingdom of heaven is confounded with the Church, or vice versa. “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This is the primary foundation, the broad characteristic feature of all that belong to Jesus.
“Blessed are they that mourn” is the second feature. There is more activity of life, more depth of feeling, more entrance into the condition of things around them. To be “poor in spirit” would be true if there were not a single other soul in the world; he thus feels because of what he is in himself; it is a question between him and God that makes him to be poor in spirit. But “blessed are they that mourn” is not merely what we find in our own condition, but the holy sorrow that a saint tastes in finding himself in such a world as this, and, oh, how little able to maintain the glory of God! So there is this holy sorrow in the second part. The first is the child of God experiencing the earliest feelings of holiness in his soul; the second is the sense of what is due to God — a feeling it may be of great weakness, and yet of what becomes the honour of God, and how little it is upheld by himself or others. “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted” (ver. 4). There is not a single sigh that goes up to God but He treasures and will answer it; “Ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves.” Here, then, we have the sorrowing of the godly soul.
But in the third case we come to that which is much deeper and more chastened. It is a condition of soul produced by a fuller acquaintance with God, and is especially the way in which God elsewhere describes the blessed One Himself. He was “meek and lowly in heart;” and this was what the Lord said after He had been groaning in spirit, for He knew what it was to have a deeper sorrow than we have spoken of, over the condition of men and the rejection of God that He witnessed here below. He could only say “Woe” to those cities in which He had done so many mighty works; and then Capernaum comes in for the deepest condemnation, because the mightiest works of all were done there in vain. And what could Jesus do but groan in spirit as He thought of such utter spurning of God, and indifference to His own love? But at the same hour we find He rejoices in spirit, and says, “I thank Thee, O Father.” Such is the blessed proof of matchless meekness in Jesus. The same hour which sees the depth of His sorrow over man sees also His perfect bowing to God, though at the cost of everything to Himself. Conscious of this, He says, “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me: for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” Now, then, I think I may be bold to say that this meekness, which was found in its absolute perfectness in Jesus, is also what the gradually deepening knowledge of the ways of God, even in the sense of the abounding wickedness of this world and of the failure of what bears the name of Christ, produces in the saint of God. For, in the midst. of all that he sees around him, there is the discerning of the hidden purpose of God that is going on in spite of everything; so that the heart, instead of being fretted by the evil which it witnesses and which it cannot set aside, instead of the least feeling of envy at the prosperity of the wicked, finds its resource in God — “the Lord of heaven and earth” — an expression most blessed because it marks the absolute control in which everything is held by God. Jesus is the meek one, and those that belong to Jesus are trained to this meekness also. “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” (ver. 5). The earth — why not heaven? The earth is the scene of all this evil, causing such sorrow and mourning. But now, having better learnt God’s ways, they can commit all to Him. Meekness is not merely to have a sense of nothingness in ourselves, or to be filled with sorrow for the opposition to God here below; but it is rather the calmness which leaves things with God, and bends to God, and thankfully owns the will of God, even where naturally it may be most trying to ourselves.
The fourth blessedness is much more active. “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” (ver. 6). Perfect soul-satisfaction they shall have. Whatever was the form of the spiritual feeling of the heart, there is always the perfect answer to it on God’s part. If there was sorrow, they shall be comforted; if there was meekness, they shall inherit the earth, the very place of their trial here. Now, there is this activity of spiritual feeling, the going out after what was according to God, and what maintained the will of God, especially as made known to a Jew in the Old Testament. Therefore it is called hungering and thirsting after righteousness. We learn deeper principles in the New Testament still, which had to be brought out when the disciples were able to bear them.
This closes what we may call the first section of the beatitudes. You will find that they are divided, as the series of Scripture often are, into four and three. We have had four classes of persons pronounced “blessed.” All the traits ought to be found in one individual, but some will be more prominent in one than another. For instance, we may see great activity in one, astonishing meekness in another. The principle of all is in every soul that is born of God. In verse 7 we enter upon a rather different class: and it will be found that the last three have got a common character, as the first four have.
“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” (ver. 7). As righteousness is the key note of the first four, so grace is that which lies at the root of the latter three; and, therefore, the very first of them demonstrates not merely that they are righteous and that they feel what is due to God, but they appreciate the love of God, and maintain it in the midst of surrounding evil. Yea, there is something more blessed still: and what is that? “Blessed are the merciful.” There is nothing on which God more takes His stand (as the active principle of His being in a world of sin) than His mercy. The only possibility of salvation to a single soul is that there is mercy in God; that He is rich in mercy; that there is no bound to His mercy; that there is nothing in man, if he only bows to His Son, which can hinder His constant flowing spring of mercy. “Blessed,” then, “are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” It is not only a question of the forgiveness of their sins, but of mercy in everything. It is a blessed thing to hail the smallest sign of mercy in the saints, to take the little, and look for much more. “Blessed are the merciful.” They will find, not that there is not difficulty and trial, but that though they shall know the cost of it, they shall know the sweetness of it; they shall taste afresh what the mercy of God is towards their own souls, in the exercise of mercy towards others. This is the characteristic feature of the new class of blessing; just as poverty of spirit was the introduction to the first blessings, so mercy is to these.
The next is the consequence of this, as in the former class. If a man does not think much of himself, men will take advantage of him. If a man is bold and boastful and self-exalting, even saints may suffer it (2 Cor. 11). If he does well to himself, men will praise him (Ps. 49). But the contrary of all this is what God works in the saint. No matter what he may be, he is broken down before God: he learns the vanity of what man is; he is content to be nothing. And the effect is that he suffers. Poverty of spirit will be followed by mourning. Then there is the meekness as there is deepening acquaintance with God, and withal the hungering and thirsting after righteousness.
But now it is mercy; and the effect of mercy is not a compromising of the holiness of God, but a larger and deeper standard of it. The fuller your hold of grace is, the higher will be your maintenance of holiness. If you only regard grace, as a wretched selfish being, to find an excuse for sin, no doubt it will be perverted. And so He speaks at once of the simple normal effect of tasting of this spring of mercy. They are “pure in heart.” This is the next class, and it is, I believe, the consequence of the first — of being merciful. “Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God.” It is exactly what is proper to God; for He alone is pure absolutely. Thus also He was perfectly reflected in His beloved Son. For not a single thought or feeling ever sullied divine perfectness in the heart of Jesus. In this case He is just telling out what He Himself was. How could He but put His own characteristics before those who belonged to Him? For indeed He is their life. It is Christ in us that produces what is according to God by the Holy Ghost — that blessed One whose very coming into the world was the witness of perfect grace and mercy on God’s part; for we know God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son for it. And He was there, a man — the faithful witness of the mercy and of the purity of God. He, when He came with His heart full of mercy towards the vilest, was yet the very fulness and pattern of the purity of God in, its perfection. “He that sent me,” He could say, “is with me; ... for I do always those things that please Him.” The only way of doing anything to please God is by the cherished consciousness of being in the presence of God; and there is no possibility of this, except as I am drawn there in the liberty of grace and as knowing the love of God to me, as brought to Him in Christ. But this is not revealed here; for the Lord is rather unfolding the moral qualities of those that belong to Him.
The third and closing form of these beatitudes is, “Blessed are the peace-makers; for they shall be called the children of God” (ver. 9). Here we have the active side again, of which we saw an analogy in the closing one of the first four. These go out making peace, if there is any possibility of the peace of God being brought into the scene; and if it cannot be, they are content to wait on God, and look up to Him, that He may make this peace in His own time. And as this peace-making can belong only to God Himself, so these saints that are enriched with these blessed qualities of the grace of God as well as His righteousness, with His active mercy, and its effects are equally found now characterized as peace-makers. “They shall be called the children of God.” Oh, this is a sweet title — sons of God! Is it not because it was the reflection of His own nature — of what God Himself is? The stamp of God is upon them. There is no one thing that more indicates God manifested in His children than peace-making. This was what God was doing, what His heart is set upon. Here are found men upon the earth who shall be called “the sons of God” — a new title from God Himself.
Then follow two blessings of exceeding interest. They add much to the beauty of the scene and complete the picture in a most striking way. “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (ver. 10). This is evidently to begin over again. The first blessedness was, “Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven;” and the next three were all marked by righteousness. It is the first thing that God produces in a new-born soul. He who is awakened takes up God’s cause against himself. He is, in measure at least, broken down, poor in spirit; and God looks for him to grow in poverty of spirit to the last. But here it is not so much what they are, as what their lot is from others. The last two beatitudes speak of their portion in the world from the hands of other people. The first four are characterized by intrinsic righteousness — the last three by intrinsic grace. These two, then, answer, one to the first four, and the other to the last three. “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This does not go beyond the blessed state of things that the power of God will bring in upon the earth in connection with the Messiah. Being rejected, the kingdom of heaven is His with a stronger and deeper title, as it were — certainly with the means of blessing by grace for the lost. A suffering and despised Messiah is still dearer to the heart of God than if received all at once. And if He does not lose the kingdom because He was persecuted, neither do they. “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Persecuted, not merely by the Gentiles or the Jews, but for righteousness’ sake. Do not be looking at the people that persecute you, but at the reason why you are persecuted. If it is because you desire to be found in obedience to the will of God, blessed are you. You fear to sin? you suffer for it? Blessed are they which suffer for righteousness’ sake: they will have their portion with the Messiah Himself.
But now we have, finally, another blessedness. And mark the change. “Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you for My sake.” This change to ye is exceedingly precious. It is not merely put in an abstract form — “Blessed are they;” but it is a personal thing. He looks at the disciples there, knows what they were to go through for His sake, and gives them the highest and nearest place in His love. “Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you . . . for My sake.” It is not now for righteousness’ sake, but “for My sake.” There is something still more precious than righteousness, and that is Christ. And when you have Christ, you can have nothing higher. Blessed indeed to be persecuted for His sake! The difference is just this: when a man suffers for righteousness’ sake, it supposes that some evil has been put before him which he refuses. He would have perhaps to subscribe something against his conscience, and he cannot, nor would dare, to do it. He is offered a tempting bait, but it involves that which he knows is contrary to God. All is in vain: the tempter’s object is seen. Righteousness prevails, and he suffers. He not only loses what is offered, but he is evil spoken of too. Blessed are they who suffer thus for righteousness’ sake! But for Christ’s sake is quite a different thing. There the enemy essays great execution. He tempts the soul with such questions as these: Is there any reason why you should stand up for Jesus and the gospel? There is no need for being so zealous for the truth. Why go out of your way so far for this person or that thing? Now in these cases it is not a question of a sin, open or covert. For, in the case of suffering for Christ’s sake, it is the activity of grace that goes out to others. It answers to the last three of the seven beatitudes. A soul that is filled with a sense of mercy cannot refrain his lips. He who knows what God is, could not be silent merely because of what men think or do. Blessed are ye who thus suffer for Christ’s name! The power of grace prevails there. Too often, alas, motives of prudence come in: people are afraid of giving offence to others, of losing influence for self, of spoiling the prospect of the children, etc. But the energy of grace, looking at all this, still says Christ is worth infinitely more; Christ commands my soul — I must follow Him. In suffering for righteousness’ sake, a soul eschews evil earnestly and peremptorily, committing itself at all cost to what is right; but in the other it discerns the path of Christ — that which the gospel, the worship, or the will, of the Lord calls to, and at once throws itself with its whole heart on the Lord’s side. Then comes in the comfort of that sweet word, “Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you.... for My sake.” The Lord could not refrain the expression of His soul’s delight in His saints: “Blessed are ye. . . . Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven.” Observe it is not now in the kingdom of heaven, but” in heaven.” He identifies these with a higher place altogether. It is not only the power of God over the earth, and His giving them a portion here, but it is taking them out of the earthly scene to be with Himself above. “For so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” What an honour to follow in earthly rejection and scorn those who preceded us in special communion with God — the heralds of Him for whom we suffer now! We may clearly then consider that these two final blessednesses, the persecutions for righteousness’ sake and for Christ’s sake, answer respectively to the first four blessings and to the last three.
In Luke, where we have these blessings brought before us, we have none for righteousness’ sake — only for His name’s sake. Hence in all the cases it is,” Blessed are ye.” To some it may seem a delicate shade, but the difference is characteristic of the two Gospels. Matthew takes in the larger view, and specially that view of the principles of the kingdom of heaven which was suited to the understanding of a Jew, to bring him out of his mere Judaism, or to show him higher principles. Luke, whatever the principles are, gives them all under the form of grace, and treats them as our Lord’s direct addresses to the disciples before Him — “Blessed are ye.” Even if he takes up the subject of the poor, he drops the abstract form of Matthew, and makes it all personal. Everything is connected with the Lord Himself, and not merely with righteousness. This is exceedingly beautiful. And if we pursue further the next few verses, which give, not so much the characteristics of the people as their general attitude in the world — the place in which they are set in the earth by God — we have it in a very few words, and strongly confirming the distinction which has been drawn between righteousness’ and Christ’s name’s sake. Also, if you examine the 1st epistle of Peter, you will find this remarkably corroborated there also.
“Ye are the salt of the earth.” Salt is the only thing that cannot be salted, because it is the preservative principle itself; but if this is gone, it cannot be replaced. “If the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted?” The salt of the earth is the relation of the disciples here to that which already had the testimony of God, and therefore the expression “earth,” or “the land,” which was specially true of the Jewish land then. If you speak about the earth now, it is Christendom — the place that enjoys, either really or professedly, the light of God’s truth. This is what may be called the earth. And this is the place which will finally be the scene of the greatest apostasy; for such evil is only possible where light has been enjoyed and departed from. In Revelation, where the closing results of the age are given, the earth appears in a most solemn manner; and then we have the peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues — what we should call heathen lands. But the earth means the once-favoured scene of professing Christianity, where the energies of the mind of men have been at work, the scene where the testimony of God had once shed its light; then, alas, abandoned to utter apostasy.
“Ye are the salt of the earth” — they were the real preservative principle there: all the rest, the Lord intimates, were good for nothing. But, let us note, He gives a solemn warning that there is a danger that the salt should lose its savour. He is not now speaking of the question whether a saint can fall away or not. People go with their own questions to Scripture, and pervert the word of God to suit their previous thoughts. The Lord is not raising the question whether life is. ever lost; but He is speaking of certain persons who are in a given position; and among them there may be persons who take it heedlessly, or even falsely, and then comes the fading away of all that they had once possessed. He announces their judgment — a most contemptuous one — to be passed upon that which took so high a place without reality.
“Ye are the light of the world.” This is another thing. Bearing in mind the distinction drawn in the series of the beatitudes and of the persecutions, we have the key to these two verses. The salt of the earth represents the righteous principle. This evidently involves the clinging to the eternal rights of God and the maintenance before the world of what is due to His character; but it is gone when that which bears the name of God falls below what even men think proper, and they scoff against what is called religion. All respect vanishes, and men think that the condition of Christians is a fair subject for ridicule. But now, in verse 14, we have not only the principle of righteousness, but of grace — the outflowing and strength of grace. And here we find a new title given to the disciples, as descriptive of their public testimony — ,’the light of the world.” The light is clearly that which diffuses itself. The salt is what ought to be inward, but the light is that which scatters itself abroad. “A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.” There was to be a diffusion of its testimony around. Man does not light a candle to put it under a corn measure, but on a candlestick, “and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.” After this manner let your light shine before men, “that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Mark it well.
We have looked at these two striking sketches of the testimony of believers here below as the salt of the earth, the preservative energy in the midst of profession; and as the light of the world going out in the activities of love toward the poor world; and the danger of the salt losing its savour. and of the light being put under a bushel. Now we find the great object of God in this twofold testimony. It is not merely a question of the blessing of souls, for there is not a word about evangelizing or saving sinners, but of the walk of saints. There is a grave question that God raises about His saints, and this is about their own ways apart from other people. Calls to the unconverted we find abundantly elsewhere, and none can exaggerate their importance for the world; but the sermon on the mount is God’s call to the converted. It is their character, their position, their testimony distinctively; and if others are thought of throughout, it is not so much a question of winning them, as of the saints reflecting what comes from above. This light is what comes from Christ. It is not, Let your good works shine before men. When people talk about this verse thinking of their own works, they are generally not good works at all; but even if they were, works are not light. Light is that which comes from God, without admixture of man. Good works are the fruit of its action upon the soul; but it is the light which is to shine before men. It is the confession of Christ that is the point before God. It is not merely certain things to be done. The light shining is the great object here, though doing good ought to flow from it. If I make doing good everything, it is a lower thought than that which is before the mind of God. An infidel can feel that a shivering man needs a coat or a blanket. The natural man may be fully alive to the wants of others; but if I merely take these works and make them the prominent aim, I really do nothing more than an unbeliever might. The moment you make good works the object, and their shining before men, you find yourself on common ground with Jews and heathen. God’s people are apt thus to destroy their testimony. What so bad, in the way of a thing done professedly for God, as a work that leaves out Christ, and that shows a man who loves Christ to be on comfortable terms with those that hate Him? This is what the Lord warns the saints against. They are not to be thinking about their works, but that the light of God should shine. Works will follow, and much better works than where a person is always occupied with them. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven “ (ver. 16). Let your confession of what God is in His nature and of what Christ is in His own person and ways — let your acknowledgment of Him be the thing that is felt by and brought before men; and then, when they see your good works, they will glorify your Father which is in heaven. Instead of saying, What a good man such a one is, they will glorify God on his behalf — connecting what you do with your confession of Christ.
The Lord grant that this, as it is the word and the will of Christ, may be that to which we surrender ourselves, and which we desire above all things for our own souls and for those who are dear to us; and if we see the forgetfulness of it in any saints of God, may we remember them in prayer, and seek to help them by the testimony of His truth, which, if it does not carry the heart with it, may at least reach the conscience and bear fruit later.
We have seen our Lord’s statement of the character, and also of the position, proper to the heirs of the kingdom of heaven. We have found Him pronouncing those “blessed” whom man would not have counted so. But our Lord was the perfect pattern of all this. And what could have sounded more unreasonable, specially to a Jew, than to hear one deliberately and emphatically call those blessed and happy who were despised, scorned, hated, persecuted, yea, thought ill of, and treated as malefactors? No doubt it was expressly for righteousness’ sake and Christ’s sake. But to the Jew the coming of the Messiah was looked forward to as the crown of his joy — that most auspicious event on which all was to turn for Israel, both as to the accomplishment of God’s promises made to the fathers and the fulfilment of the magnificent predictions which involve the overthrow of their enemies, the humiliation of the Gentiles, and the glory of Israel. Therefore, to suppose that the receiving of Him who was the Messiah would now entail inevitable shame and suffering in the world was indeed an enormous shock to their most cherished expectations. But our Lord insists upon it, declaring such only to be blessed — blessed with a new kind of blessedness, far beyond what a Jew could conceive. And this is part of the privileges into which we too are brought by faith of Christ. The instruction of our Lord in the sermon on the mount only comes out in stronger forms now that He has taken His place in heaven. The enmity of man has also come out to its full measure. The world has joined with the Jews in enmity to the children of God. And so the last book of the New Testament shows that those who take the name of Jews, without any reality, remain to the end the most hostile to all true testimony of Christ on the earth.
In the portion that follows we enter upon a most important subject. If there was this new kind of blessedness, so foreign to the thoughts of Israel after the flesh, what was the relation of the law to Christ’s doctrine and the new state of things about to be introduced? Did not the law come from God through Moses? If Christ brought in that which was so unexpected, even by the disciples, what would be the bearing of this truth upon that which they had previously received through God’s inspired servants, and for which they had His own authority? Weaken the authority of the law, and it is clear that you destroy the foundation on which the gospel rests; for the law was of God as certainly as the gospel. Hence came in a most weighty question, especially for an Israelite: what was the bearing of the doctrine of Christ, respecting the kingdom of heaven, upon the precepts of the law? The Lord opens this subject (vers. 17-48) with these words: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets.” They might have thought so from the fact of His having introduced something not mentioned in either; but “Think not,” He says, “that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.” I take this word “fulfil” in its largest sense. In His own person the Lord fulfilled the law and the prophets, in His own ways, in righteous subjection and obedience. His life here below exhibited its beauty for the first time without flaw. His death was the most solemn sanction which the law ever could receive, because the curse that it pronounced upon the guilty, the Saviour took upon Himself. There was nothing the Saviour would not undergo, rather than God should have dishonour. But our Lord’s words warrant, I think, a further application. There is an expansion of the law, or
δικαίωμα (righteous requirement), giving to its moral element the largest scope, so that all which was honouring to God in it should be brought out in its fullest power and extent. The light of heaven was now let fall upon the law, and the law interpreted, not by weak, failing men, but by One who had no reason to evade one jot of its requirements; whose heart, full of love, thought only of the honour and the will of God; whose zeal for His Father’s house consumed Him, and who restored that which He took not away. Who but He could expound the law thus — not as the scribes, but in the heavenly light? For the commandment of God is exceeding broad, whether we look at its making an end of all perfection in man, or the sum of it in Christ.
Far from annulling the law, the Lord, on the contrary, illustrated it more brightly than ever, and gave it a spiritual application that man was entirely unprepared for before He came. And this is what the Lord proceeds to do in the wonderful discourse that follows. After having said, “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law till all be fulfilled,” He adds, “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (vers. 18-20). Our Lord is going to expand the great moral principles of the law into commandments that flow from Himself, and not merely from Moses, and shows that this would be the great thing whereby persons would be tested. It would no longer be a question of the ten words spoken on Sinai merely; but, while recognizing their full value, He was about to open out the mind of God in a way so much deeper than had ever been thought of before that this would henceforth be the great test.
Hence He says, when referring to the practical use of these commandments of His, “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” — an expression that has not the smallest reference to justification, but to the practical appreciation of and walking in the right relations of the believer toward God and toward men. The righteousness spoken of here is entirely of a practical kind. This may strike many persons sharply, perhaps. They may be somewhat perplexed to understand how practical righteousness is made to be the means of entering into the kingdom of heaven. But, let me repeat, the sermon on the mount never shows us how a sinner is to be saved. If there were the smallest allusion to practical righteousness where a sinner’s justification is concerned, there would be ground to be startled; but there can be none whatever for the saint who understands and is subject to God’s will. God insists upon godliness in His people. ,Without holiness no man shall seethe Lord.” There can be no question that the Lord shows in John 15 that the unfruitful branches must be cut off, and that, just as the withered branches of the natural vine are cast into the fire to be burned, so fruitless professors of the name of Christ can look for no better portion.
Bearing fruit is the test of life. These things are stated in the strongest terms all through Scripture. In John 5:28, 29 it is said, “The hour is coming in the which all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation,” or “judgment.” There is no disguising the solemn truth that God will and must have that which is good and holy and righteous in His own people. They are not God’s people at all who are not characterized as the doers of that which is acceptable in His sight. If this were put before a sinner as a means of reconciliation with God, or of having sins blotted out before Him, it would be the denial of Christ and of His redemption. But only hold fast that all the means of being brought nigh to God are found in Christ — that the sole way by which a sinner is connected with the blessing of Christ is by faith, without the works of the law — only maintain this, and there is not the least inconsistency nor difficulty in understanding that the same God who gives a soul to believe in Christ, works in that soul by the Holy Ghost to produce what is practically according to Himself. For what purpose does God give him the life of Christ and the Holy Ghost, if only the remission of the sins were needed? But God is not satisfied with this. He imparts the life of Christ to a soul, and gives that soul the Holy Spirit to dwell in him; and as the Spirit is not the spring of weakness or of fear “but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind,” God looks for suited ways and for the exercise of spiritual wisdom and judgment in passing through the present trying scene.
While they looked up with ignorant eyes to the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, our Lord declares that this sort of righteousness will not do. The righteousness that goes up to the temple every day, that prides itself upon long prayers, large ,alms, and broad phylacteries, will not stand in the sight of God. There must be something far deeper and more according to the holy, loving nature of God. Because with all that appearance of outward religion, there might be always, as there generally was in fact, no sense of sin, nor of the grace of God. This proves the all-importance of being right, first, in our thoughts about God; and we can only be so by receiving the testimony of God about His Son. In the case of the Pharisees we have sinful man denying his sin, and utterly obscuring and denying God’s true character as the God of grace. These teachings of our Lord were rejected by the outward religionists, and their righteousness was such as you might expect from people who were ignorant of themselves and of God. It gained reputation for them, but there it all ended; they looked for their reward now, and they had it. . But our Lord says to the disciples, Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the ‘kingdom of heaven.”
Allow me to ask the question here, How is it that God accomplishes this in regard to a soul that believes now? There is a great secret that does not come out in this sermon. First of all, there is a load of unrighteousness on the sinner. How is that to be dealt with, and the sinner to be made fit for and introduced into the kingdom of heaven? Through faith, he is born again; he acquires a new nature, a life which as much flows from the grace of God as the bearing of his sins by Christ upon the cross. There is the foundation of practical righteousness. The true beginning of all moral goodness in a sinner — as it has been said and as it deserves to be often repeated — is the sense and confession of his lack of it, nay, of his badness. Never is anything right with God in a man till he gives himself up as all wrong. When he is brought down to this, he is thrown upon God, and God reveals Christ as His gift to the poor sinner. He is morally broken down, feeling and owning that he is lost, unless God appears for him; he receives Christ, and what then? “He that believeth hath everlasting life.” What is the nature of that life? In its character perfectly righteous and holy. The man is then at once fitted for God’s kingdom. “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” But when he is born again, he does enter there. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit,” The scribes and Pharisees were only working on and by the flesh; they did not believe that they were dead in the sight of God; neither do men now. But what the believer begins with is, that he is a dead man, that he requires a new life, and that the new life which he receives in Christ is suitable to the kingdom of heaven. It is upon this new nature that God acts, and works by the Spirit this practical righteousness; so that it remains in every sense true, “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter the kingdom of heaven.”
But the Lord does not here explain how this would be. He only declares. that what was suitable to God’s nature was not to be found in human Jewish righteousness, and that it must be for the kingdom.
Now He takes up the law in its various parts, at least what has to do with men. Here He does not enter into what touches God directly, but first of all takes up that which flows from human violence, and after this the great flagrant example of human corruption; for violence and corruption are the two outstanding forms of human iniquity. Before the flood even, such was the condition of men: “The earth was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence.” Here, in verse 21, we have the light of the kingdom cast on the command, “Thou shalt not kill: and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment.” The law took cognizance of this extreme form of violence; but our Lord gives length, breadth, height, and depth to it: “But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire” (ver. 22). That is, our Lord treats as now coming under the same category with murder, in the sight of God, every kind of violence, and feeling, and expression; anything of contempt and hatred, whatever expresses the ill-feeling of the heart; any putting down of another, the will to annihilate others as far as character or influence is concerned: all this is no better than murder in God’s searching eye. He is expanding the law; He is showing now One who looks at and judges the feeling of the heart. Therefore it is not at all a question merely of the consequences of violence to a man, for there might be no very bad effect produced by these words of anger, but they proved the state of the heart; and this is what the Lord is dealing with here. “Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way: first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” (vers. 23, 24). He is not yet manifesting the Christian in his entire separation from the Jewish system. These words clearly show a connection with Israel — though the principle applies to a Christian; for the altar has no reference to the Lord’s table.
“Agree with thine adversary quickly, whilst thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily, I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing” (vers. 25, 26). I believe that Israel were guilty of that very folly — Israel as a people — that they did not agree with the adversary quickly. There was the Messiah, and they, being adversaries of Him, treated Him as their adversary and compelled God to be against them by their unbelief. The position of Israel morally, in the sight of God, was very much the one shown us here. There was a murderous feeling in their heart against Jesus. Herod was the expression of it at His birth, and it went through all the ministry of Christ, as the cross proved how utterly there was that unrelenting hatred in the heart of the Jews against their own Messiah. They did not agree with their adversary quickly, and the judge could only deliver them to the officer to be cast into prison; and there they remain until this day. The Jewish nation, from their rejection of the Messiah, have been shut out from all the promises of God; as a nation they have been committed to prison, and there they must remain till the uttermost farthing is paid. In Isaiah we have the Lord speaking comfortably to Jerusalem: “Cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she hath received of the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” Thus, while we come into His favour now, while we through the grace of God receive the fulness of blessing through Christ Jesus now, yet there can be no doubt that rich blessing is in store for Jerusalem. For God in His mercy will one day say to her, Your iniquity I now pardon: I will make you no longer the witness of My vengeance on the earth. And why is Israel not permitted to this day to amalgamate with the nations? There they remain, kept apart from all other people by God. But God has in store for them His signal mercy. “Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem . . . for she hath received at the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” This figure we find elsewhere beautifully set forth in the case of the man guilty of blood, who fled to the city of refuge provided by God. And the book of Numbers teaches that there the man abode, out of the land of his possession, till the death, not of the manslayer, but of the high priest that is anointed with oil. The priesthood of our Lord is referred to there. When the Lord has completed His heavenly people and gathered them in where they do not need the activity of His intercession; when we are in the full results of all that Christ has wrought for us, the High Priest shall then take His place on His own throne. Then will be the termination of His present heavenly priesthood, and blood-guilty Israel will return to the land of their possession. I have no doubt that this is the just application of that beautiful type. I cannot understand what proper interpretation there could be of the death of the high priest anointed with oil, if you appropriate it to a Christian now; but apply it to the Jew, and nothing is plainer. Christ will terminate that character of priesthood that He is engaged in for us now, and will enter on a new form of blessing for Israel.
But there is another thing besides violence: there is the corrupt element in the heart of man — the heart lusting for that which it has not. This is taken up in the next word of our Lord: “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: but I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee . . . And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell” (vers. 27-30). That is, whatever in our walk, or in our ways, or in our service, whatever it might be that exposes a soul to the danger of yielding to these unholy feelings, should never be spared, but departed from at any cost. There must be the excision of everything that is hurtful to the soul; the members of the body, such as the eye desiring and the hand which would take, being used as showing the various ways in which the heart might be entangled. The cutting off of these members sets forth a heart thoroughly exercised in self-judgment; not prompted to excuse itself by saying that it had not actually committed the sin, but whatever exposed to it must be given up.
The Lord then denounces the easy dissolution of the tie of marriage: “It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement. But I say unto you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery” (vers. 31, 32). Thus our Lord shows that though there might be serious difficulties, still this human relationship receives the strong sanction of God’s ordinance. Though an earthly relationship, the light of heaven is thrown upon it, the sanctity of marriage held up, and the possibility of allowing anything to interfere with its holiness entirely put down by Christ, save only where there was that which interrupted it in the sight of God, in which case the act of separation would be only a declaration of its being already actually broken.
The next case (vers. 33-37) brings us into a different order of things: it is the use of the name of the Lord. Here the reference is not a judicial oath, i.e., an oath administered by a magistrate. In some countries this might savour. of heathenism or popery, and no Christian ought to take such an oath. But if the declaration be simply God’s authority, introduced by the magistrate to declare the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, I do not see that the Lord in any wise absolves the Christian’s obligation to this. But the matter here relates to communication between man and man. “Swear not at all; neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; neither by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.” They were simply the asseverations of common life among the Jews. If our Lord had meant to forbid the Christian from taking judicial oaths, would He not have instanced the oath that was usual in the courts of those days? But the oaths that He brings before us were what the Jews were in the habit of using when their word was questioned by their fellow-men, not what was employed before the magistrate. So far from thinking that a Christian is doing right in refusing a judicial oath, I believe he is doing wrong not to take it when the magistrate requires his testimony, when there is nothing to offend conscience in the form of the oath. If the magistrate does not acknowledge God in the oath, still the Christian is bound to acknowledge God in the magistrate, who is, to the Christian, a servant of God in the outward things of this world. Even the Assyrian was the rod of God, all the while that he thought only of carrying out his own purposes against Israel. Much more the magistrate, let him be who or what he may, represents the truth of God’s external authority in the world, and the Christian ought to respect this, more by far than the men of the world; and therefore the oath, which simply demands the truth on ground of that authority, is a holy thing and not to be refused. The Christian, doubtless, has no business with prosecuting another himself. On the contrary, he owes it to Christ and His grace to let the world, if it will, abuse him — he may protest by word against it, and then leave it with the Lord. When our Lord Himself was dealt with unrighteously, He convicts the person of it, and there it ends, as man would think, for ever. There is no such thing as seeking to get present reparation of His wrongs. So should it be with Christians. There may be the moral conviction of those that do the wrong, but the taking it patiently is acceptable with God.
There is no way in which the Christian so shows how much he is above the world, as when he seeks not the world’s vindication in anything. If we belong to the world, we ought all to be volunteers. If the world is our home, a man is called upon to do battle for it. But for the Christian this world is not the scene of his interests, and why fight for what does not belong to him? If a Christian fight in and with the world (save his own spiritual warfare), he is out of his place. It is the duty of men, as such, to repel wrong; and if the Lord uses the world in order to put down revolution and make peace, the Christian may well look up and give thanks. It is a great mercy. But the truth which the believer has to get firmly settled in his own soul, is that “they are not of the world.” To what measure are they not of the world? “They are not of the world even as I am not of the world.” In John 17, where our Lord repeats this wondrous word, He speaks in view of going to heaven, as if He were no longer on earth at all. Thus, in the spirit of one away from the world, He says, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” A little before He had said, “Now I am no more in the world.” His going up to heaven is what gives its character to the Christian and to the Church. A Christian is not merely a believer, but a believer called to the enjoyment of Christ while He is in heaven. And, as Christ our Head is out of the world, so the Christian is in spirit lifted above the world, and is to show the strength of his faith as above his mere natural feeling. Nothing makes a man look so foolish as having no side in this world. Christians do not like to be nonentities; they are apt, one way or another, to wish their influence to be felt. But the Lord delivers from this.
It is below our calling, then, to indulge in affirmations beyond the simple statements of truth. “Let your communication be, Yea, yea; nay, nay, for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil” (ver. 37). It is worthy of note, as a practical proof of the distinction here drawn, how our Lord acted when He was before the high priest. He was silent till the high priest put the oath to Him; then at once he answers. Who can doubt that He shows us the right pattern there?
Our Lord comes next to the case of any practical injury that may be done us. It is not that it is wrong for a man to punish according to the injury that has been inflicted upon another. “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” is perfectly righteous; but our Lord intimates that we ought to be much more than righteous, we ought to be gracious; and He presses this as the climax of this part of the discourse. First, He had strengthened the righteousness of the law, extended its depths, and put aside its license; now He goes further. He shows that there is a principle in His own ways and life which teaches the Christian that he is not to seek retaliation. “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” It is clear the Lord has no reference here to what governments have to do. The New Testament is written for the Christian, for that which has a separate existence and a peculiar calling in the midst of earthly systems and peoples. It belongs to those who are heavenly while they are walking upon earth. We become such by the reception of Christ, and to such the Lord says, “Resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Personal injury is meant here. The evil done may be ever so undeserved, but it has to be overcome with good. Show that you are willing to take even more for Christ’s sake. I ‘And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.” There the law’ is evoked: that is, a man lays a claim, perhaps falsely, to one part of your clothing, and if he will “sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.” Here it seems not exactly a man appealing to the law, but the public officers themselves. “And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.” The great principle our Lord marks in this — whether it is human violence, or the law ever so hardly or wrongly applied, — that while, according to the law, you might go one step, according to the gospel you would go two. Grace does twice as much as the law, whatever may be the point in hand. It was never intended in anywise to supplant obligations or to lower responsibilities, but, on the contrary, to give power and force to everything that is righteous in the sight of God. The law might say, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth;” here there is not only the endurance of that which is positively wrong, but grace that gives more than is asked. “The law was given by Moses; but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” And this is one way of practically showing how far we value grace. It is not a question of the mere letter of our Lord’s words. If you were to limit it merely to a blow on the face it would be a very poor thing; but the word of Christ is that which conveys to me the spirit that pleases God, and gives me the reality of grace. And grace is not the vindication of self nor the punishment of a wrong, but the endurance of evil and the triumph of good over it. Christ is speaking of what a Christian has to put up with from the world through which he passes. He is to receive tribulation as the discipline which God sees to be good for his soul; the great spectacle before men and angels — that there are men on this earth who are allowed and rejoice to suffer for Christ, because they have learned to give up their own will, to sacrifice their own rights, and to suffer wrongfully, looking onward to the day when the Lord will own whatever has been their sorrow for His sake, and when all evil shall be judged most solemnly at His appearing and kingdom.
Our Lord says, in verse 42, “Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.” It is an example of a great general principle that the Lord is insisting upon; as He had laid bare the character of violence, so here of another thing — the solicitation that addresses itself to the kindness of heart of a Christian. “Give to him that asketh thee.” Most certainly this is, a comely and a gracious thing; but it is perfectly plain the Lord is not pressing upon His people that the thing be done heedlessly, nor as a mere gratification of their feelings, but with a conscience towards God. Supposing a person came to ask you for something, and you have reason to think that he would spend it improperly, you must limit it. Why not? He might say to you, Did not the Lord enjoin, “Give to him that asketh thee?” Certainly; but the Lord has given certain other words by which I judge as to the propriety of giving in each particular case. The asker might be going to do what I am sure would be absurd or wrong; am I still to give? or is not another principle introduced, namely, due discrimination? Perhaps he that asks has plans of his own which I believe to be worldly: am I to gratify his worldliness? What the Lord has in view is real need; and as there was wont to be great indifference to this among the Jews, as indeed such is apt to be everywhere, the Lord not merely insists upon the Christian helping his brother, but takes the broadest ground in urging generous giving; not, of course, for anything we may get by it, but out of love according to God.
“Give to him that asketh thee.” We all know there are those who would impose. This shuts up and often hinders pity; and it may oftener still be an excuse for not showing pity. The Lord is guarding against the snare, and shows the great moral value, for our own souls and for the glory of God, of habitual, considerate, ungrudging kindness towards the distressed in this world. Not that I am always to give what a person asks, for he may seek something foolish; but still “Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.” Do you count up how often you have been deceived? Even then why be sore? You are entitled, at the word of Jesus, to do it as unto your Father. The receiver of your bounty may apply it to a bad use: that is his responsibility. I am bound to cultivate unsuspicious generosity, and this quite independent of mere friendship. Even the publicans and sinners are kind to those who are kind to them; but what ought a Christian to be? Christ determines the position, conduct and spirit of the Christian. As He was a sufferer, they are not to resist evil. If there was need, the Lord’s heart went out to it. They might turn His love against Himself, and use the gifts of His grace for their own purposes, like the man who was healed, heedless of the Lord’s warning and the sense of His benefits. But the Lord,, perfectly knowing it all, goes on steadfastly in His path of doing good, not in the mere vague thought of benevolence to man, but in the holy service of His Father.
But now a word as to what follows. It is the very pith and essence of that which concerns our relation towards others here below; the great active principle from which all right conduct flows. This is the question of the true character and limits of love. “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour and hate thine enemy” (ver. 43). This was the expression that the Jews drew from the general tenor of the law. There had been the sanction of God for the extermination of their enemies; and from that they drew the principle, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.” Here was a thing that the law never could teach — it is grace. In a thousand practical instances, the question is not whether the thing is right. We often hear Christians asking, Is such a thing wrong? But this is not the sole question for the Christian. Suppose wrong is done him; what is to be his feeling then? If there is enmity to him in another, what is he to cherish in his own heart? “Love your enemies . . . do good to them that hate you . . . that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven;” thus they show in practical ways that they belong to such a parentage, “For He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.... Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (vers. 44-48).
This has no reference to the question of whether there is sin in our nature or not. There is always the evil principle in a man as long as he lives here below. But what the Lord insists on is this: Our Father is the perfect pattern in His ways with His enemies now, and He calls upon us to be thorough in that same grace and love in which our Father deals. It is in pointed contrast with the Jew, or with anything that had been enjoined before. Abraham was not called to walk in this way. He was, I believe, justified in arming his servants for the recovery of Lot; ‘as were the Israelites in taking up the sword against the Canaanites. But we are called on (as a rule of Christian life, as that which governs our thoughts and feelings and ways) to walk on the principle of gracious long-suffering. We are in the midst of the enemies of Christ, of our enemies too because of Him. It may not come out at once, nor always. Persecution may pass out of fashion, but the enmity is always there; and if God were only to remove certain restraints, the old hatred would burst out as ever. Nevertheless, only one course is open to the Christian who desires to walk as Christ walked; “Love your enemies;” and this really not by a mere show of smooth ways or words. We know that, in certain cases, to go and speak to an angry person would only draw out bitterness of wrath, and there the right course would be to keep away; but under all circumstances there should be all readiness to seek the blessing of our adversary. To do real kindness to one who has injured me, even if it should never be known by a creature upon earth, is the only thing worthy of a Christian. The Lord thus gives us opportunities of showing love to those that hate us. When the provocation occurs, we should have it settled in our souls that the Christian is here for the purpose of expressing Christ; for indeed we are His epistle, known and read of all men. We ought to desire to reflect what Christ would have done under the same circumstances.
May the Lord grant that this may be true of our own souls, first in secret feeling with Him, and then as manifested lowlily and unselfishly toward others. Let us remember there is no Victory for us but what is an outward reflection of secret victory over self with the Lord. Begin there, and it is surely won in the presence of men, though we may have to wait for it.
Matthew 6 begins with what is higher even than what we have had. The various exhortations of chapter 5 brought out Christian principle in contradistinction to what was required or allowed under the law. Now the law is dropped: there is no longer any express allusion to it in our Lord’s discourse. The first principle of all godliness comes out now in its sweetest shape, namely, the having to do with our Father in secret; who understands us, sees all that is passing within and around us, hears and counsels us, as, indeed, He takes the deepest interest in us. It is the inner, divine relationship of the saint that comes out in this chapter — our spiritual bonds with God our Father, and the conduct that ought to flow from them. Hence, says our Lord, “Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men, to be seen of them.” I take the liberty of altering the word “alms” into “righteousness” (ver. 1), which last a few of the very best authorities support. There are those that differ here as elsewhere, but, at the same time, internal and spiritual reasons confirm the external grounds. Thus, if you use the word “alms” in the first verse, is there not a mere repetition in the next verse? On the other hand, take the word as “righteousness” (so the margin), and all is plain. The context supports it. For it will be observed in the following verses our Lord divides righteousness into three distinct portions: first, almsgiving; next, prayer; thirdly, fasting. That these are the three parts of the righteous ways of the saint, as viewed by our Lord in this discourse, is evident.
(1) With regard to alms, which was a very practical thing, the principle of mercy comes in, as it might not in all cases of giving. It is a thing done seriously and solemnly, and the heart is drawn out. It is done in the sight of God. The general admonition is this: “Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore” (founded upon this exhortation) “when thou doest thine alms,” which was one branch of this righteousness, “do not sound a trumpet before thee “; alluding to certain ways of notoriety and self-commendation then adopted by the Jews — the spirit of which belongs to men at all times. There are few things in which human vanity betrays itself more glaringly than the desire to be known by almsgiving. And what is it that brings true deliverance from this snare of nature? “When thou doest alms (observe, He now makes it entirely individual), do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: that thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret Himself shall reward thee openly. That is, it is not merely that one is not to blazon abroad what is done, but not to oneself even. Not only another’s left hand is not to know what your right hand does, but your own left hand ought not. Cutting are the Lord’s words to everything like self-gratulation. The grand point is this: that all be done to our Father. It is not a question of duty simply; but our Father’s love has been brought out, and this is His will concerning us. He knows what is best, — and we are ignorant of it. We might think to supply the greatest happiness by surrounding ourselves with what we most like; but the letting slip the means of personal enjoyment will open to us fresh sources of blessing. Besides, what we ought to desire is that the alms may be “in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret Himself shall reward thee openly.” We shall find this repeated at every point of what is here called our “righteousness.” Room is ever made for the flesh where there is not the cultivated habit of what is done being between our Father and ourselves. Nay, more, our Lord would have us dismiss the very thought into the bosom of the Father, who will not forget it.
(2) We have the same thing as to prayer. The allusion is, it would seem, to the practice that every day, when a particular hour came round, people were found praying in public rather than miss the moment. It is clear that all this was, at best, most legal, and opened the door for display and hypocrisy, It utterly overlooks the grand truth which Christianity brings out so fully, that. to do things for testimony, or as a law, or in any way for others to see, or for ourselves to think of, is totally wrong. We have to do with our Father, and our Father in secret. Therefore our Lord says, “Thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly” (ver. 6). This is in no way denying the propriety of public prayer; but united supplication is not at all referred to here.
As to “the Lord’s Prayer,” it was for those disciples individually who required to be instructed in the very first principles of Christianity. For this is part of what the apostle calls “the word of the beginning of Christ” when he says, “Therefore, leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection: not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this will we do if God permit.” The apostle allows that all these were very important truths; they are truths that godly Jews ought to have known before redemption was accomplished, but these did not bring in the full power of Christianity. They were quite true, and will ever remain true. There never can be anything to weaken the importance of repentance from dead works and faith toward God. But it is not even said, faith in Christ. No doubt faith Godward always abides; but still, till Christ died and rose, there was a great deal of truth that even the disciples were not able to bear. Our Lord Himself says so. Therefore the apostle tells them, “Leaving the word of the beginning of Christ” (that which Christ here below brought out, and which was perfectly suited to the then state of the disciples), “let us go on unto perfection.” There is no such thought as giving that up; but assuming that as a settled truth, let us go on to the understanding of Christ as He now is, which is the meaning here of the word “perfection.” It is not a better state of our own flesh; neither does it refer to anything that we are to be in a future life; but to the full doctrine of Christ as He now is, and glorified in heaven — as brought out in this epistle. Christ is in heaven; there is His priesthood; He entered in the power of His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. It is Christ as He is now above; there you have this perfection. In the same epistle he speaks of Christ as “made perfect” through sufferings. He was always perfect as a person — never could be anything else. Had there been any flaw in Christ on earth, He must have been, like the offering that had a blemish in it, incapable of being offered for us. In the Jewish sacrifices, if the animal died of itself it could not even be eaten. So, as to our Lord, had there been the principle of death in Him at all, if He were not the living one in every sense. without the smallest tendency to death, never could He be God’s foundation, nor ours. He did truly suffer death, the willing victim on the cross; but this was just because death had no hold on Him. Every son of Adam has mortality at work in him. The Second Man could say even here below, “I am the resurrection and the life.” Such is the truth as to Christ Himself. While it is perfectly true that Christ was always morally perfect — perfect, too, not only in His divine nature, but in His humanity — absolutely stainless and acceptable unto God; yet for all that there was a mountain of sin that needed to be removed from us, and a new condition to be entered, in which He could associate us with Himself. Though absolutely sinless in Himself, He was made perfect through sufferings; He passed through this course of sufferings into the blessedness in which He stands now as our High Priest before God.
Upon the subject of the Lord’s Prayer I will only make a few remarks now. But again I would notice that it is entirely individual. Many might unite in saying, “Our Father;” but a soul in his own closet still would say “Our Father,” because he thinks of others, disciples, elsewhere. , Yet it is plain that the Lord does not anticipate the use of this prayer, save in the closet and for the condition in which the disciples were. We have no hint that it was employed formally after the day of Pentecost. There were other wants and desires, other expressions of affection toward God, brought out then, into which the Holy Ghost would lead those who were passed out of the condition of nonage by having received Him into their hearts, whereby they could cry, “Abba, Father.” Such is the key to the change, and the New Testament is perfectly clear upon it. (Compare Gal. 3:23-26; Gal. 4:1-7.)
However, let us look at the prayer itself; for nothing can be more blessed, and all the truth of it abides for us. “When ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do, for they think they shall be heard for their much speaking” (ver. 7). Now it is plain that our Lord does not forbid repetition, but vain repetition. We find our Lord Himself, when He was in an agony in the garden, repeating three times the same words. But vain, formal repetition, whether words read out of a book, or framed sentences of the mind, He does positively forbid. Again, let me press the plain fact, that our Lord here is not providing for the public wants of the Church; nor do we hear that it was so understood. There is not the smallest thought of such a thing after the gift of the Holy Ghost, when the Church was formed and at work in this world. So that while the Lord’s Prayer was given as the most perfect model of prayer, and may have been used as it stands by the disciples previously to the death of our Lord and the gift of the Holy Ghost, yet it seems plain that afterwards it was not so. The New Testament is, of course, the only test of this. When we come to tradition, we shall find all sorts of difficulty on this as on other subjects, but the word of God is not obscure. In no way does it leave us uncertain as to what God’s mind is: else indeed the very purpose of a revelation would be defeated. What then is the permanent use of the prayer? Why is it given in Scripture? The principle always abides true. There is not a clause of that prayer, I believe, but what one might proffer now, even to “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” For it is a mistake to suppose that it puts the sinner upon the ground of prayer in order to acquire forgiveness of his sins. Our Lord speaks of the believer — the child of God, Our daily faults and short-comings we need to spread before our God and Father, as He encourages us to do day by day. It is a question of His government who, without respect of persons, judges according to the work of each; and hence He will not own the petition of one who cherishes an unforgiving disposition toward others, even if they have done us ever so grievous wrong.
The habit of self-searching and confessing to our Father is a very important one in Christian experience; so that this clause I believe to be as true and applicable at the present time as it was to the disciples then. When the poor publican said, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” we have another thing as appropriate in his case as this was to the child of God saying “Our Father.” Again, when the Holy Ghost was given, and the child was able to draw near to the Father in the name of Christ, you have something different still. The Lord’s Prayer does not clothe the believer with the name of Christ. What is meant by asking the Father in that name? Can it be merely saying, “In His name” at the end of a prayer? When Christ died and rose again, He gave the believer His own standing before God; and then to ask the Father in the name of Christ is to ask in the consciousness that my Father loves me as He loves Christ; that my Father has given me the acceptance of Christ Himself before Him, having completely blotted out all my evil, so as to be made the righteousness of God in Christ. To pray in the value of this is asking in His name * (Compare John 16.) When the soul draws near, consciously brought nigh to God, it may be said to ask in His name. There is not a soul using the Lord’s Prayer as a form that has a real understanding of what it is to ask the Father in the name of Christ. They have never entered into that great truth. Hence, perhaps in their very next petition, they take the place of miserable sinners, deprecating the wrath of God, and still under law. Is it possible for a soul that knows what it is to stand before God as Christ is, to be thus systematically in doubt and uncertainty? It was the case with the Jew; but as a Christian, my place is in Christ, and there is no condemnation: otherwise there cannot be the spirit of adoption, or the exercised function of priests to God. We are made priests to God by virtue of this blessed standing — here upon earth, and we need to exercise it. The conscience is brought to this — you cannot walk with Christ and with the world. And the Christian is properly a man who enters into heavenly thoughts and relationships while he is walking through the world. This is the vocation wherewith we are called. Whether Christians know and do it or not, nothing less does Christ look for from them. “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” This is true from the time that we receive Christ. From that moment we owe it to Christ, if we would be true soldiers of His, to take our place as those who are not of the world, even as He is not.
This will suffice to show that while the Lord’s Prayer always remains inestimably precious, yet it was given to meet the individual wants of the disciples, and that the further revelation of divine truth modified their condition, and would thus lead into another strain of desires, which, in fact, were not then given expression to. It seems to me a happy reflection that it is our Lord Himself who tells us this. “Hitherto have ye asked nothing in My name.” What do I gather from this? That one may use the Lord’s Prayer every day, and never have asked anything in the name of Christ. “Hitherto have ye asked nothing in My name; ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy maybe full. “At that day ye shall ask in My name.” What day does this mean? A still future time? No, but the present; the day that the Holy Ghost brought in when He came down from heaven. It is this which is connected with that full revelation of truth which is so essential to Christian joy and blessedness, and to the unworldly and heavenly walk of the children of God; and where the one is not entered into, the .other cannot be. There may be vigour of faith and personal love to Christ, but for all that a soul will still savour. of the world in spirit and religious position till he has entered into this blessed place which the Holy Ghost now gives us of drawing near to God in the name of Christ.
I must now pass on to one of the most important practical exhortations which our Saviour gives us in connection with prayer — the spirit of forgiveness. He has known little of prayer who does not know the hindrances which austerity of spirit brings with it. This was one of the things that our Lord had specially in view. “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (vers. 14, 15). He does not mean that the disciples would not have their sins forgiven in the day of judgment, but speaks of forgiving trespasses as a matter of the daily care and training of God. I may have a child guilty of something that is wrong, but does it therefore lose its relationship? It is my child still, but I do not speak to it in the same way that I would had it been walking in obedience. The father waits till the child feels its sin. In the case of earthly parents, we sometimes do not take sufficient notice of what is wrong, at other times we may deal with things only as they touch ourselves. We may correct, as it is said in Hebrews, “after our own pleasure,” but God for our profit. Our Father always keeps His eye upon what is most blessed for us, but for this very reason He does betimes chasten us. “What son is he whom the father chasteneth not?” If we were not sons, we might perhaps get off; but as surely as we are, the Father’s rod comes upon us for our wrongs, though we may think them little; but though painful for the present, if it be His will, we may be assured that He will make the things that may seem most against us to be unquestionably for us. To maintain the spirit of love, and specially of love toward those that wrong us, costs somewhat; but blessing will be ours in the end, and indeed also by the way.
(3) We now come to the subject of fasting. I believe there is a real value in fasting that few of us know much about. If, on particular occasions which call for special individual prayer, one were to unite fasting with it, I have no doubt the blessing of it would be felt. There is humbling of spirit expressed in it. There are prayers which are most suitably accompanied by standing, others by kneeling. Fasting is one of those things in which the body shows its sympathy with what the spirit is passing through; it is a means of expressing our desire to be low before God, and in the attitude of humiliation. But lest the flesh should take advantage of even what is for the mortifying of the body, the Lord enjoins that means be taken rather not to appear unto men to fast than to permit any display. For although a true Christian would shrink from putting on false appearances, the devil would cheat him into doing it unless he is very jealous in self-watchfulness before God. “Thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head and wash thy face; that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly” (vers. 17, 18).
Then follow the exhortations with regard to the things of this life. And, first, as to the laying up of treasures upon earth. The Lord brings in a principle, not of natural interest, but of spiritual wisdom and freedom from care, which the soul enjoys that does not want anything here below. Supposing there is something that one very much values upon earth, there is proportionate fear lest the thief or some corroding thing should spoil our treasure. Very different is that which the Lord enjoins that we should seek: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal,” a most solemn test for examining ourselves by. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (vers. 19-21). We may detect where we are by that which our thoughts chiefly rest upon. If they are heavenward, blessed are we; but if earthward, we shall find that those very things upon which our hearts are set will prove a sorrow one day or another. The Lord traces all this to one grand root — you cannot serve two masters. You have not two hearts, but one; and your heart will be with that which you value most. Everything is thus followed up to its source: God on the one hand and mammon on the other. Mammon is what sums up the raises of the heart of man as to all things here. It may manifest itself in different forms, but this is the root — covetousness. “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” “Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought [be not anxious] for your life, what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on.” The great point is indifference to present things, or rather, a peaceful trust about them; not because we do not value the mercies of God, but because we have confidence in our Father’s love and care about us. The apostle Paul shows us the most beautiful expression of this when he says, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” He had known changes of circumstances — what it was to have nothing, and what it was to have abundance; but the great point was his thorough content with God’s portion for him. This was not a thing that he passed through lightly, but he had learned it. It was a matter of attainment — of judging of things in the light of God’s presence and love. The blessing is to be looking onward with this thought: our Father deals with us now with a view to glory; as the apostle adds, “My God shall supply all your need, according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” How sweet that is! “My God” — the God that I have proved, whose affection I have tasted. I can count upon Him for you as well as for me; and He “shall supply all your need,” not merely according to the riches of His grace, but according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. He has taken you from this world as His children: He is going to have you the companions of His Son above; and he deals with you now according to your place and position then. Whatever is suitable to this great plan of His glory and love, l he Lord will give us to prove the consequence of that.
May the Lord strengthen us, that we may accept this with thankful hearts, knowing that we are not our own masters! The Lord will preserve us from the dangers, the snares, the pains, which our haste or wilfulness in leaving Him out of these outward things brings with it. He shows us in this chapter the exceeding folly of it, even as to the body. He takes instances from the outward world to show how God may be confided in to accomplish His own purposes best. And more than that, He reminds us that these outward things, on which we are tempted to lay such great stress, are only the objects that the Gentiles seek after. A Gentile was a term used in speaking of a man without God, in contrast with a Jew who had God in an outward manner in this world. A Christian is a man who has God in heaven as his Father. “Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.” Therefore, as our Father knows this, why should we doubt Him? We do not distrust our earthly father; much less then should we doubt our heavenly Father.
“But seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” It is not that we are to seek first the kingdom of God and then these things; but seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all the rest will come.
“Take, therefore, no thought for the morrow; for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.” That is, our Lord prepares us for this, that the anxiety which dreads an evil thing on the morrow is nothing but unbelief. When the morrow comes, the evil may not be there; if it comes, God will be there. He may allow us to taste what it is to indulge in our own wills; but if our souls are subject to Him, how often the evil that is dreaded never appears. When the heart bows to the will of God about some sorrow that we dread, how often the sorrow is taken away, and the Lord meets us with unexpected kindness and goodness. He is able to make even the sorrow to be all blessing. Whatever be His will it is good. ‘Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”
We now come to a very distinct portion of our Lord’s discourse. It is not so much the establishing of the right relations of a soul with God our Father — the hidden inner life of the Christian — but now we have the mutual relations of the disciples with one another, their conduct toward men, the different dangers which they have to dread, and, above all things, the sure ruin for every soul that names the name of Christ if hearing and not doing His sayings. The wise man hears and does. And so the chapter closes. I would desire to dwell a little upon these various points of instruction which our Lord brings before us. Of course it will not be possible to enter thoroughly into all; for, I need not say, the sayings of our Lord are peculiarly pregnant with profoundness of thought. There is no portion of God’s word where you find a more characteristic depth than here.
The point with which the Lord Jesus opens is this. He had before this shown fully that we are to act in grace as children of our Father; but that was more particularly with the world, with our enemies, with persons that wrong us. But then a serious and practical difficulty might elsewhere arise. Supposing that among the wrongdoers were some that bore the name of Christ, what then? How are we to feel about and to deal with them? No doubt there is a difference, and a very weighty one. Still there is a thing that we have to take care of before we touch the question of another’s conduct; and that is, to watch against the spirit of censoriousness in ourselves, the habit or tendency to impute evil motives in that which we do not know and which does not meet the eye. We all know what a snare this is to the heart of man, and that it is more particularly the danger of some, through natural character and unwatchfulness as to the allowed habit. There is more discernment in some than in others, and such ought peculiarly to watch against it. It is not that they are to have their eyes shut to what is evil; but they are not to suspect what is not uncovered, nor to go beyond the evidence God gives. This is a most important practical safeguard, without which it is impossible to walk together according to God. People may be together as so many separate units, without any real sympathy or power to enter into the sorrows, difficulties, trials, and it may be the evil, of others. Yet all that has a claim upon the heart of a disciple. Even that which is wrong calls upon love to find out God’s way of dealing with what is contrary to God. For the essence of love is, that it seeks the good of the object that is beloved, and this without reference to self. It may have the bitterness of knowing that it is not loved in return, as the apostle Paul knew, even in early days, and with real Christians — yea, with persons singularly endowed by the Spirit of God. God has been pleased thus to give us these solemn lessons of what the heart is, even in saints of God.
Under all circumstances, this great truth is obligatory on the conscience: “judge not, that ye be not judged” (ver. 1). On the other hand, this principle can be easily abused by the selfishness of man. Were a person going on in an evil course and using this passage to deny the title of brethren to judge his conduct, it is clear that he betrays a want of conscience and of spiritual understanding. His eye is blinded by self, and he is merely turning the Lord’s words into an excuse for sin. The Lord did not, in anywise, mean to weaken the holy judgment of evil; on the contrary, He, in due time, binds this solemnly upon His people: “Do not ye judge them that are within?” It was the fault of the Corinthians that they did not judge those that were in their midst. It is plain, therefore, that there is a sense in which I am to judge, and another in which I am not. There are cases where I should disregard the Lord’s holiness if I did not judge, and there are cases where the Lord forbids it, and warns me that to do so is to bring judgment upon myself. This is a very practical question for the Christian — where to judge and where not to judge. Whatever comes out plainly — what God presents to the eye of His people, so that they know it for themselves, or on testimony which they cannot doubt — they are surely bound to judge. In a word, we are always responsible to abhor that which is offensive to God, whether known directly or indirectly; for “God is not mocked,” and the children of God ought not to be governed by mere technicalities, of which the cunning craft of the enemy can easily take advantage.
But what does our Lord mean here: “judge not, that ye be not judged?” He refers not to that which is plain, but to what is concealed; to that which, if it does exist, God has not yet laid the evidence before the eyes of His people. We are not responsible to judge what we do not know; on the contrary, we are bound to watch against the spirit of surmising evil or imputing motives. It may be that there is evil, and of the gravest character, as in the case of Judas. Our Lord said of him: “One of you is a devil;” and purposely kept the disciples in the dark about the particulars. just remark, by the way, that it is only in the Gospel of John, which shows us that our Lord’s knowledge of Judas Iscariot was that of a divine person. He says it long before anything came out. In the other Gospels all is reserved till the eve of His betrayal: but John was led by the Holy Ghost to remember how the Lord had told them it was so from the beginning; and yet, though He knew it, they were only to confide in His knowledge of it; for if the Lord bore with him, were not they to do the same? If He did not give them directions how to deal with the evil, they were to wait. That is always the resource of faith, which never hurries, especially in so solemn a case. 1’ He that believeth shall not make haste.”
All is open to God, all is in His hands, and patience is the word, until His time comes for dealing with what is contrary to Him. The Lord lets Judas manifest himself thoroughly, and then it was no question of bearing with the traitor. While there are certain cases of evil that we are to judge, there are questions that He does not ask the Church to solve.
We have to take care that we go not before God, lest we might find ourselves in detail, if not in the main, against God. We must not break that which is bruised by yielding to personal or party feelings. What a danger this is. The inevitable effect of a judging spirit is that we get judged ourselves. The soul, whose habit is censorious, is universally ill spoken of. “With what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged.” Then the Lord puts a particular case: “Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” (ver. 3). That is, where this proneness to judge is, there is another still more serious evil — an habitually unjudged evil in the spirit, which makes the person restless, and desirous of proving others to be wrong too. “Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?” (ver. 4). The mote, of course, was but little, but it was made a great deal of, and the beam, an enormous thing, was passed by. The Lord is bringing out, in the most emphatic way, the danger of a suspicious judicial spirit. And He shows that the way to deal rightly, if we desire the good of His people and their deliverance from evil, is to begin with self-judgment. If we really wish to have the mote out of our brother’s eye, how is it to be done? Let us begin with the grave faults we know so little, corrected and confessed, in ourselves: this is worthy of Christ. What is His way of dealing with it? Does He say of the mote in our brother’s eye, Bring it to the judges? Not at all; you must probe yourself. The soul is to begin there. When I judge the evil that my conscience knows, or that, if my conscience does not know now, it may learn in God’s presence — if I begin with this, I shall then see clearly what concerns others; I shall have a heart fitted to enter into their circumstances, an eye purged from what unfits the heart to feel with God about others. “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye” (ver. 5). This may be found in a believer, in principle; though when the Lord says, “Thou hypocrite,” He alludes to the evil in its full form; but even in ourselves, we know it in measure, and what can be more opposed to simplicity and godly sincerity? Hypocrisy is the most hateful evil that can be found under the name of Christ — a thing that even the natural conscience writhes under and rejects. “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”
Often and often we find that when the beam is gone, the mote is not to be seen, having already disappeared. And where the heart is set upon the Lord, would we be sorry to find ourselves mistaken about our brother? Should I not rejoice to find the grace of the Lord in my brother, if I discover in self-judgment myself only to be wrong? This, may be painful to one, but the love of Christ in the believer’s heart is gratified to know that Christ is spared this further dishonour.
This, then, is the first great principle our Lord here enjoins. The habit of judging others is to be watched against earnestly; and this, too, because it brings bitterness upon the spirit that indulges it, and unfits the soul for being able to deal rightly with another: for we are set in the body, as the apostle Paul shows, for the purpose of helping one another; and we are all members one of another.
But there is another thing. In watching against hasty and harsh judgment, there might be the abuse of grace. And the Lord immediately couples this with the former: “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.” We must carefully remember that the Lord is not here speaking about the gospel going out to sinners. God forbid that we should not carry out the grace of God to every quarter under heaven, because nothing less than this ought to be the desire and effort of every saint of God. All ought to have the spirit of active love going out after others, energetic desires for the salvation and the blessing of souls; for it were a sad shortcoming if it went not beyond souls being brought to Christ. Seeking to grow up into Christ and glorify Him in all things, to know and do the will of God is our calling. In this verse the Lord is not taking up the question of the gospel going out indiscriminately; for, if there be a difference, the gospel best suits those called “dogs”, which, to the Jews, was a figure of all that is abominable. Speaking of thieves, drunkards, extortioners, etc., the apostle says: “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.”
It might be asked, Is not the wickedness of one man greater than that of another? On an earthly platform, one might say, Much every way; but God does not, in saving souls, make these distinctions. So, speaking of believers from among the Jews, the apostle says they had been “children of wrath, even as others.” There may have been highly moral characters among them. Did this dispose them better towards God’s grace? Alas, where the soul finds a justification of itself in what it is, nothing can be more dangerous. The apostle himself had been an example of this very thing. It is a hard thing for a man who had been building on his righteousness to bow to the truth that he can only enter heaven upon the ground of a publican and a sinner. But so it must be, if the soul is to receive salvation from God through the faith of Jesus.
The Lord, then, is not in anywise restraining the gospel from going out to every quarter; but He speaks of the relations of His own people with the unholy. The believer is not to bring out for these the special treasures that are the Christian portion. The gospel is the riches of God’s grace to the world. But, besides the gospel, we have the special affections of Christ to the Church, His loving care for His servants, the hope! of His coining again, the glorious prospects of the Church as His bride, etc. If you were to talk about these things, which we may call the pearls of the saints, with those out of Christ, you are on wrong ground. If you were to insist upon the duties of the faithful in worldly company, then it is giving that which is holy unto the dogs. There is blessed provision for “the dogs” — the crumbs that fall from the Master’s table. And such is the great grace of God toward us, that the crumbs which fall to our portion, Gentiles as we were, are the best.
Whatever may be the benefits promised to the Jew, the grace of God has brought out in the gospel fuller blessings than ever was promised to Israel. What can Israel have to compare with the mighty deliverance of God that we know now? The consciousness of being completely cleansed from all sin; of having the righteousness of God for ours at once and for ever in Christ; of present access to Him as Father through a rent veil; and made His temple through the Holy Ghost dwelling in us. As the Lord Himself said to the woman of Samaria, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give Me to drink, thou wouldst have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water.” Where Christ is received now, by whomsoever it may be, there is this fulness of blessing, and the well is within the believer. “The water that I shall give hilt shall be in him a well of water, springing up into everlasting life.” Thus we may see how wide and perfect is His grace, while it forbids certain things being thrown indiscriminately among the ungodly. Any act that implies fellowship between a believer and an unbeliever is false. Take, for instance, the question of worship, and the habit of calling the whole round of devotions worship. Worship supposes communion with the Father and the Son, and with each other in it. But the system which, founded on an easy rite which pretends to regenerate all, unites believers and unbelievers in one common form and calls it worship, is casting what is holy unto dogs. Is it not a thinly-disguised attempt to put the sheep and dogs upon the same ground? In vain. You cannot unite before God the enemies of Christ and those that belong to Him. You cannot mingle as one people those that have got life and those that have not. The attempt to do so is sin, and constant dishonour of the Lord. All effort to have a worship of this mixed character is going in the very teeth of the sixth verse.
On the other hand, preaching the gospel, where it is kept distinct from worship, is right and blessed. When the day of judgment comes upon this world, where does the worst stroke fall? Not upon the openly profane world, but upon Babylon, because Babylon is the confusion of what is of Christ with evil — the attempt to make communion between light and darkness. “Come out of her, My people,” says the Lord, “that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.” Partaker of her sins is the grave affair with God. It is the acceptance of a common ground upon which the Church and the world can join; when the very object of God, and that for which Christ died, was that He might have a separate people unto Himself, so as to be, by their very consecration unto God, a light in this world — not a witness of pride, saying, “Stand by, I am holier than thou,” but Christ’s epistle, that tells the world where the living water is to be found, and bids them come: “Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.”
Where we do not confound the religion of the world with the worship that goes up to God from His people, there you will also have the true line of demarcation — where we ought to judge and where we ought not. There will be active service towards the world with the gospel, but a careful separation of the Church from the world. This is also true individually. Yet persons take advantage of the word of God that says, “If an unbeliever bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go,” etc.; but take care how you go, and for what. If you go self-confident, you will but dishonour Christ; if to please yourself, this is poor ground; if to please other people, it is little better.
There may be occasions when the love of Christ would constrain a soul to go and bear a testimony to His love in a worldly company, yet if we knew how easily words may be said, and things done, that imply communion with that which is contrary to Christ, there would be fear and trembling; but where there is self-confidence, there never can be the power of God.
But now the Lord, having finished the subject of the abuse of judgment and the abuse of grace, indicates the necessity of intercourse with God, and this very particularly in connection with what we have been seeing. “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (ver. 7). Here we have different degrees, increasing measures of earnestness in pleading with God: “For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (ver. 8). And then He gives them an argument to encourage them in this: “What man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him?” (vers. 9-11). There is a very interesting difference in the passage that answers to this in Luke 11, where, instead of saying, “give good things to them that ask Him,” it is said, “How much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?” The Holy Spirit was not yet given. It was not that He did not act in the world, but He was not yet personally imparted, because that Jesus was not yet glorified. Scripture says this expressly. Thus, until the time when He was poured out from heaven, it was quite right to pray for the Spirit to be given; and the Gentiles in particular being persons that were ignorant about it, this is expressly mentioned in the Gospel of Luke, which especially contemplates the Gentiles. For who can read that Gospel without having the conviction that there is a careful eye upon those that have a Gentile origin? It was written by a Gentile, and to a Gentile; and all through it traces the Lord as Son of Man, a title which links itself, not with the Jewish nation properly and peculiarly, but with all men. This is the great want of man — the Holy Spirit, which was about to be given, and He is the great power of prayer, as it is said, “Praying in the Holy Ghost.” Luke was led to specify that special gift which those that pray would need in order to give them energy in prayer.
But, returning to Matthew, we have the whole passage wound up by this word, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets” (ver. 12). This is in no way dealing with men according to their ways, but the contrary. It is saying, as it were, “You who know the heavenly Father, who know what His grace to the evil is, you know what is comely in His sight; always act upon that. Never act merely according to what another does toward you, but according to what you would that another should do to you. If you have the slightest love in your heart, you would desire that they should act as children of your Father.” Whatever another person may do, my business is to do to them what I would that they should do to me; namely, to act in a way becoming the child of a heavenly Father. “This is the law and the prophets.” He is giving them exceeding breadth, extracting the essence of all that was blessed there. This was clearly the gracious wish of a soul that knew God, even under the law; and nothing less than this could be the ground of action before God.
But now we come to dangers. There are not only brethren to try us, but now He says, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (vers. 13-15). There is a moral connection between the two things. One main feature of that which is false is the attempt to make the gate large and the road broad; to deny the special manner in which God calls souls to the knowledge of Himself. How the arrangements in the religious world interfere with this! Take, for instance, the parcelling out of those that belonged to God into companies, as if they were the sheep of man, which people do not scruple to call “our church,” or “such a one’s flock.” God’s rights, His claims, His calling a soul to walk in responsibility to Himself, are all interfered with by such things. We never find even an apostle saying, “My flock.” It is always, “The flock of God,” because this brings in responsibility to God. If they are His flock, I must take care that I do not lead them astray. It must be the object of my soul, in having to do with a Christian, to bring his soul into direct connection with God Himself, to say, “This is one of God’s sheep.” What a change this would make in the tone and ways of pastors, if it were viewed as the flock of God! It is the business of the true servant to keep them in the narrow path on which they have entered.
But there is also the broad-road-going world, who think that they can belong to God by profession of Christ and trying to keep the commandments. There has been the widening of the gate, the broadening of the road, in connection with which the Lord says, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” The true teachers sent from God suffer with the false ones if they are mixed up with the world. Being all bound together for common objects, whether they belong to God or not, those that are really true are often drawn of the rest into what they know to be wrong, And remember another solemn thing. The devil never would be able to accomplish any plan in Christendom if he could not get good people to join the bad in it. Unbelief constantly uses as an excuse, “Such a good man is here “; “The excellent Mr. — does that.” But is the opinion and conduct of a Christian to be the criterion by which I judge? If so, there is nothing I may not fall into; for what evil thing is there that a man, and even a believer, has not done? You know what David had to confess before the Lord. And this is the way the devil takes to keep other persons quiet in evil. The sole standard for the believer is the written word of God; and this is the special security in these last days. When Paul was leaving the Ephesian saints, it was “to God and to the word of His grace” that he commended them. Grievous wolves might enter in among them, not sparing the flock; and of their own selves men might arise, speaking perverse things; but the sole safeguard, as a rule of faith and conduct for the saints, is God’s holy writ.
Mass is the most wicked act of the most corrupt thing under the sun; but if the grace of God could enter there, and work by His Spirit, spite of the elevated host, who shall put limits? But is this a reason why I should go to a Roman Catholic chapel, worship the wafer, or pray to the Virgin? God in His sovereign grace can go anywhere; but if I desire to walk as a Christian, how am I to do it? There is but one standard — the will of God; and the will of God can be learned only through the Scriptures. I cannot reason from any amount of blessing there, nor from any apparent weakness here. Persons might be allowed to seem very weak for the express purpose of showing that the power is not in them, but in God. Although the apostles were such mighty men, they were often allowed to appear feeble indeed in the eyes of others. It was that which exposed Paul to be thought not an apostle by the Corinthians, though they, of all men, ought to have known better. All this shows that I cannot reason either from blessing that God’s grace may work, or from the weakness of God’s children. What we want is that which has no fault at all, and this is the word of God. I need it for my rule as a Christian man, and as walking together with all saints. If we act upon that Word, and nothing else, we ,;hall find God with us. It will be called bigotry; but this is part of the reproach of Christ. Faith will always appear proud to those who have none; but it will be proved in the day of the Lord to be the only humility, and that. everything which is not faith is pride, or no better. Faith admits that he who has it is nothing — that he has no power nor wisdom of his own, and he looks to God. May we be strong in faith, giving glory to Him!
But, again, “Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.” The Lord does not here speak simply of men being known by their fruits, but of false prophets (vers. 15-20). “Ye shall know them by their fruits.” Where grace is denied, the holiness is hollow, or, at best, legal. Wherever grace is really held and preached, you will find two things — much greater care in what concerns God than where it is not equally known, and also greater tenderness, forbearance, and patience in what merely touches man. Winking at sin is one thing, but unscriptural severity is very far from divine righteousness, and may co-exist with the allowance of self in many a form. There are certain sins that call for rebuke, but it is only in the gravest cases that there ought to be extreme measures. We are not left to make laws about evil for ourselves: we are under responsibility to another, even to our Lord. We ought not in this to trust ourselves, but to learn the wisdom of God and confide in the perfectness of His word; and our business is to carry out what we find there. Let the help come from where it may, if we can thus but follow the word of God more fully, we ought to be exceedingly grateful.
Solemn, most solemn, are the words that follow, as the Lord’s eye scans the field of profession. “Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of My Father which is in heaven, Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name? and in Thy name have cast out devils? and in Thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from Me, ye that work iniquity” (vers. 21-23). The Lord shows the stability of His word for the obedient heart, from the figure of a man building upon a rock; He shows also, as none but He could, the end of every one who hears and does not His sayings. But I must not enter upon this now.
The Lord grant that our hearts may be towards Himself! We shall be able to help one another, and we shall be helped of His own grace. Weak as we are, we shall be made to stand. And if through unwatchfulness we have slipped, the Lord will graciously set us upon our feet again.
May He grant us singleness of eye!
I can well understand a man who received and revered the Bible as the word of the living God, finding himself at fault when he closely examines the Gospels, which recount the Lord’s ministry. A casual reader might find no difficulty; but at first, nothing would be more probable than that he who carefully compared the different accounts might be perplexed — I will not say stumbled, because he has too much confidence in the word of God. In comparing the Gospels, he finds that they differ very considerably in the way in which the same facts are recorded in different Gospels. He finds one arrangement in Matthew, another in Mark, and a third in Luke; and yet all these he is sure are right. But he cannot make out how, if the Spirit of God really inspired the different Evangelists to give a perfect history of Christ, there should at the same time be these apparent discrepancies. He is obliged to cast himself upon God, and to enquire whether there be not some principle which can account for these changes of position, and for the different mode in which the same circumstances are displayed. The moment that he thus approaches these Gospels, light will dawn upon his soul. He begins to see that the Holy Ghost was not merely giving the testimony of so many witnesses, but that while they thoroughly agree at bottom, the Holy Ghost had assigned a special office to each of them, so that their writings present the Lord in various and distinct attitudes. It remains to enquire what are these several points of view, and how they may both give occasion to and explain the variety of statement that is undoubtedly to be found therein.
I have already shown that in the Gospel of Matthew the Holy Ghost has been depicting Jesus in His relationship to Israel, and that this accounts for the genealogy given us in chapter 1, which quite differs from what we have in the Gospel of Luke. It is specially His genealogy as Messiah, which is, of course, important and interesting to Israel, who looked for a ruler of the seed of David. At the same time the Holy Ghost took particular care to correct the narrow worldly thoughts of the Jews, and shows that while He was, according to the flesh, of the seed of Israel, He was also the Lord God; and if Emmanuel and Jehovah, His special work as a. divine person was to save His people from their sins. He may go out far beyond that people and bless Gentiles no less than Jews; but saving from sins was clearly an expectation of Christ that ought to have been gathered from the Prophets. The Jews expected that when Messiah came, He would be the exalted Head over them as a nation; that they consequently would become the head, and the Gentiles the tail. All this they had rightly inferred from the prophetic word; but there was a great deal more that they had not discerned. Messiah is bent upon their spiritual as well as their natural blessing; and all present hopes must fade away before the question of sin; yea, their sins. Jesus accepts His rejection from them, and effects on the cross for them that very redemption which they thought so little about.
How thoroughly, too, it falls in with the Gospel of Matthew that we should have a long discourse like that of the sermon on the mount without interruption; the whole being given us as a continuous word from our Lord. All interruptions, if there were any, are carefully excluded, so as to bring Him out on the mount in pointed antithesis to Moses, by whom God was bringing in an earthly kingdom; but now it is because He manifests the heavenly King, contrary to everything the Jews were expecting.
The Holy Ghost proceeds in this Gospel to give us the facts of our Lord’s life still in connection with this great thought. The Gospel of Matthew is the presentation to Israel of Jesus as their divine Messiah, their rejection of Him in that character, and what God would do in consequence. We shall see whether the facts that are given us even in this chapter do not bear upon this special aspect of our Lord. From the Gospel of Mark it would be impossible to collect it in the same way. In Matthew the mere order of history is here neglected, and facts are brought together that took place months apart. It is not at all the object of the Holy Ghost by Matthew, or even Luke, to give the facts in the order in which they happened, which Mark does. Those that examine the Gospel of Mark with care will find notes of time, expressions such as “immediately,” etc., where things are left vague in the other Gospels. The phrases of rapid transition, or of instant sequence, of course bind together the different occurrences thus brought into juxtaposition. In Matthew this is entirely disregarded; and of all the chapters in this Gospel, there is not one, perhaps, that so entirely sets aside the mere succession of dates as the very one before us. But if this be so, to what are we to attribute it? Why, we may reverently ask, does the Holy Ghost in Matthew disregard the order in which things followed one another? Was it that Matthew did not know the time in which they occurred? Had it been only a man writing a history for his own pleasure, could he not have ascertained with tolerable certainty when it was that each fact occurred? And when he first had published his statement, would anything have been easier than for the other Evangelists to follow, and give their accounts in accordance with his?
But the contrary is the case. Mark takes up a different line of things, and Luke another, while John has a character to himself. On the very face of it we are driven to one of two suppositions. Either the Evangelists were as careless men as ever wrote accounts of their Master, giving different accounts as if to perplex the reader, or it was the Holy Ghost who presented the facts in various ways, so as to illustrate the glory of Christ far more than what mere repetition would have accomplished. The latter is surely the truth. Any other supposition is as irrational as irreverent. For, even supposing that the apostles had written different accounts and had made mistakes, they could very easily have corrected each other’s mistakes; but the reason why no such correction appears was not human error or defect, but divine perfection. It was the Holy Ghost who was pleased to shape these Gospels in the particular form most calculated to bring out the person, mission, or various relations of Christ. The Gospel of Mark proves that the healing of the leper took place at a different time from what you might have gathered from this chapter — in fact, long before the sermon on the mount. In chapter 1 we have the Lord described as preaching in their synagogues through all Galilee, and casting out devils: “And there came a leper to Him, beseeching . . . If Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean” (Mark 1:40-45). Now, we cannot doubt this is the same story as in Matthew 8. But if we read the next chapter of Mark, what is the first thing mentioned after this? “Again He entered into Capernaum after some days, and it was noised that He was in the house . . . and they come unto Him, bringing one sick of the palsy, which was borne of four.” Clearly here we have a fact, the cure of the paralytic man, which Matthew does not give us till Matthew 9, after a storm which Mark describes in Mark 4, and after the case of the demoniac, which only appears in Mark 5; so that it is perfectly plain that one of the two Evangelists must have departed from the order of history; and as Mark, by his strict notes of time, evidences that he does not, Matthew must be concluded to have so done. In Mark 3 we have our Lord going up the mountain, and calling the disciples to Him; and there is the place accordingly in this Gospel, where the sermon on the mount would, if inserted at all, come in. Thus, it was considerably after what took place in Matthew 8:2-4 that the sermon on the mount was uttered: but Mark does not give us that sermon, because his great object was the gospel ministry and characteristic works of Christ; and therefore the doctrinal expositions of our Lord are left out. Where brief words of our Lord accompany what He did, they are given; but nothing more.
It may make what I have been saying still plainer, if in Mark 1 we observe further the actual order. Simon and Andrew are called, in verse 16; James and John, verse 19; and straightway, having gone to Capernaum, He entered on the sabbath day into the synagogue, and taught. There we have the man with the unclean spirit: the fact took place a little after the final call of Andrew and Simon, of James and John, The unclean spirit was cast out; “and immediately His fame spread abroad throughout all the region round about Galilee. And forthwith, when they were come out of the synagogue, they entered into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. But Simon’s wife’s mother lay sick of a fever, and anon they tell Him of her,” etc. Hence we have positive certainty, from God’s own word, that the healing of Peter’s wife’s mother took place a short time after the call of Peter and Andrew, and considerably before the healing of the leper. Carrying this back to our chapter in Matthew, we see the importance of it; for here the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law only appears in the middle of the chapter. The cleansing of the leper is given first, then the healing of the centurion’s servant, and after that, of Peter’s wife’s mother; whereas, from Mark, we know for a certainty that Peter’s wife’s mother was healed long before the leper.
Looking at Mark again, we find that, on the evening of the same sabbath, after He had healed Peter’s wife’s mother, “they brought unto Him all that were diseased, and them that were possessed with devils. And all the city was gathered together at the door. And He healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils. . . . And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, He went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed, “which is clearly the same scene alluded to in Matthew 8, and would come in after verse 17. The fact of His going to the desert and praying is not mentioned here; but it took place at the same time. Then, in Mark, we have His going into Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out devils; and after that, He heals the leper. What I draw from this is that, as Mark tells us the very day on which these things happened, we must take him for a witness of their order as to time. When I go back to Matthew, do I find any intimation of the time in which all these events took place? Not a word. It is simply said, “When He was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed Him” (ver. 1), and then we have the healing of the leper. There is nothing to prove that the leper came at that particular time. All that is said is, “And behold, there came a leper,” etc. — an Old Testament form of expression. Whether the healing of the leper took place before He came down, or after, we are not told here. From Mark we infer that the sermon on the mount was given long after, and that the healing of Peter’s wife’s mother took place before the healing of the leper.
Why, let us ask, would it not have suited this Gospel of Matthew to put the healing of Peter’s wife’s mother first, then the leper, and lastly the centurion? — for you will find that in the order of time, this was really the succession. The centurion came up after the sermon was over, and Christ was in Capernaum; the leper had been healed a considerable time before, and Simon’s mother-in-law earlier yet.
But what is the great truth taught by these facts as they are arranged in the Gospel of Matthew? The Lord is met by a leper. You know what a loathsome thing leprosy was. Notoriously, it was not only most offensive, but hopeless, as far as man was concerned. It is true that in Leviticus we have ceremonies for the cleansing of a leper, but who could give a ceremony for the cure of a leper? Who take away that disease after it had once infected a man? Luke, the beloved physician, gives us the notice that he was “full of leprosy;” the other Evangelists do not state anything but the simple fact that he was a leper. This was enough. Because, to the Jews, the question was whether there was any leprosy at all: if such it was, they could have nothing to say to him till he was cured and cleansed. The Spirit of God uses leprosy as a type of sin, in all the loathsomeness that it produces. Palsy brings out the thought of powerlessness. Both are true of the sinner. He is without strength, and he is unclean in the presence of God. Jesus heals the leper. This at once illustrates the power of Jehovah-Jesus upon earth, and more than that; for it was not merely a question of His power, but of His grace, His love, His willingness to put forth all His might on behalf of His people. For the whole people of Israel were like that leper. The prophet Isaiah had said so long before; and they were not better now. The Lord repeats the sentence of Isaiah: “Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy,” etc., and this leper was a type of the moral condition of Israel in the presence of the Messiah. But, whether few or many, let them only present themselves in all their vileness before the Messiah, and how would the Messiah deal with them? The Messiah is there. He has got the power, but the leper is not sure of His will. “Lord,” He says, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean.” We may remember the distress of the king of Israel in the days of Elisha, when the king of Syria sent Naaman to him that he might be recovered of his leprosy: how, when he had read the letter, “he rent his clothes, and said, Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy?” Only God could do it: every Jew knew this; and this is what the Holy Ghost is desirous of showing. We have had the testimony that Jesus was a man, and yet Jehovah — able to save His people from their sins. But here comes out His presentation to Israel in particular cases, where the Holy Ghost, instead of giving a mere general and historical outline, as in chapter 4, singles out special instances, for the purpose of illustrating the Lord’s relation to Israel, and the manifested effects of it. The leper is the first case, where we have, as it were, the microscope applied by the Spirit of God, that we may see clearly how the Lord carried Himself toward Israel; what ought to have been the place of Israel; and what was their real conduct. At once, when the leper acknowledges His power and confesses His person, “Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean;” when it was merely the question of His will and of His affections, immediately there comes the answer of divine love as well as power: “I will, be thou clean; and immediately his leprosy was cleansed.” He put forth His hand and touched him. It was not only God, but God manifest in the flesh — One who entered fully into the poor leper’s anxiety, yet proved Himself paramount to the law. His touch — it was that of Jehovah. God’s touch! The law could only put the leper at a distance; but if God gives a law, He is superior in grace to the law that He gives. The heart of this leper trembled, afraid lest the blessed Lord should be unwilling to bless him; but He puts forth His hand, He touches him: none else would. The Lord’s touch, instead of contracting defilement to Himself, banishes defilement from the leper. Immediately he is cleansed. Jesus then says to him, “See thou tell no man; but go thy way, show thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded for a testimony unto them.” There was no desire that He should publish what Jesus was: God might tell His works. He says, “See thou tell no man; but go, show thyself to the priest,” etc. Nothing could be more blessed. It was not yet the time for the law to be set aside. Jesus waits. The cross must come in before the law could be set aside in any way. We are delivered from the law by the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is the great doctrine of the epistle to the Romans — that we are dead to the law, of course in His death, that we might “be married to another, even to Him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.” Up to the resurrection of Christ from the dead, there is the most careful guarding of the law. After resurrection, saints passed into another relationship with Him who was risen from the dead. Here we find there was a sedulous maintenance of the claims of God’s law; and it always was so until the cross. Therefore He says, “Go, show thyself to the priest.” Also, had the man gone telling it to every one instead of to the priest, the great enemy might have found means to misrepresent the work, to deny the miracle, to try and make out that he was not the man who had been a leper. Alas! was it the wish of man’s heart to show that Jesus had not wrought such a miracle? But Jesus says, “Go, show thyself to the priest. “Why? Because the priest himself would be the authentic witness that Jesus was Jehovah. The priest that knew the man was a leper before, that had pronounced him unclean, that had put him outside, would now see that the man was cured. Who had done it? None but God could heal the leper. Jesus, then, was God; Jesus was Jehovah; the God of Israel was in the land. The priest’s mouth would be obliged to confess the glory of Christ’s person. “Offer the gift that Moses commanded for a testimony unto them.” When had there been the offering of that gift? They had no power to heal the leper, and thus could not offer the gift. So that Jesus had bowed to the obligations of the law, and yet had done what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh. But here was One who was God — God having sent His own Son “in the likeness of sinful flesh.” God Himself, and God’s own Son withal, He was here working this mighty work that proved His dignity, and He made the priest himself to be the witness of it.
But now we are to hear a different tale; Jesus enters into Capernaum. When, we are not told. It had no connection with the story of the leper; but the Holy Ghost puts them together, because it brings in the Gentiles. We have had the Jew set forth in the history of the leper and the gift Moses commanded for a testimony to Israel. But now there is a centurion that comes and tells about his servant; and this brings in a new kind of confession of the Lord altogether. Here there is no touching — no connection with Christ after the flesh. Hence it is rather the way in which the Gentile knows Christ. The Jew looked for. a Christ that would put forth His hand — a Saviour personally present among them — bringing in this divine power and healing them: as the Scripture had said, “I am the Lord God that healeth thee.” And here He was come; but they did not know Him so. And the next witness, that we have brought together in Matthew, but nowhere else, is the centurion; because God would show that the natural children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were going to be cut off. They would not worship Him as the poor leper did. The testimony to the priest would be disregarded. They become more and more opposed to His claims. God says, as it were, If you Jews will not have my Son, I will send a testimony to the Gentiles, and the Gentiles will hear. Upon the rejection of Jesus by the Jew, upon Israel’s refusal of Him who had proved Himself to be Jehovah-God in forgiving all their iniquities and healing all their diseases, what then follows? The door of faith is opened to the Gentiles.
Thus, we have the story of the centurion, which is taken out of its place and put here purposely. And even in the details of the history there are very noticeable differences. You have not the embassy of the Jews in connection with the centurion. This is left out in Matthew, but inserted in Luke. Thus, while Matthew’s Gospel gives everything that might be calculated to meet the conscience of Israel, it abstains from giving that which they might have prided themselves on. It was wholesome for the Gentiles that they should hear of the embassy of this good man. He was like the Gentile laying his hand upon the skirt of him that was a Jew, taking his place behind Israel. But his faith goes beyond this; for we find that he comes and beseeches the Lord, and brings out his own personal faith in the most blessed manner. When Jesus says to him, “I will come and heal him,” at once his heart is manifest. He answers, “Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under my roof.” For just as he, the centurion, could say to one, “Go, and he goeth; to another, Come, and he cometh; and to his servant, Do this, and he doeth it,” how much more could the Lord “speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed?” Jesus had indeed authority over all diseases; but was it merely a question of His putting His hand upon the leper? Not at all. He had only to utter the word, and it was done. The centurion assumes the grand truth that Jesus was God (not merely Messiah), and therefore full of ability to heal. In short, he looks at Him in a still higher way, not as one whose presence must be connected with the putting forth of power, but as one who had only to speak the word, and it was done. This brings in the character of the word of God, and the absence of Jesus from those who now profit by His grace.
Such is our position. Jesus is away and unseen. We hear His word, lay hold of it, and are saved. This is the beautiful way in which we are here given the different bearing of the Lord on the Jew and on the Gentile; but we learn, moreover, that the blessing would be refused by Israel, and the Gentiles would become the objects of mercy, as it is said here, “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (vers. 10, 11), that is, many Gentiles shall come. Neither is this all: “But the children of the kingdom” — the natural children that were the seed, but not the true children according to Abraham’s faith, these should be “cast out into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Rejecting their Messiah, the Jews as a nation were going to be rejected. There would only be a line of believing ones; but the mass of Israel should be rejected until the fulness of the Gentiles have come in.
Thus we have here a wonderful view of our Lord in accordance with the general strain of the Gospel of Matthew. We have Jesus proving Himself to be Jehovah-Jesus, ready to heal wherever there was faith — but where was it? The leper might represent the godly remnant; ‘but as to the mass of Israel, we have their doom pronounced here, and in the very same incident which proves that the grace of God which Israel refused would make a larger channel for itself among the Gentiles, who would partake of the mercies which the Jews rejected. This is just what is here put together in these two stories. Jesus gives proof to Israel that He was a divine Messiah. If they scorned it, the Gentiles would hear. But then there is another thing of great importance, and which shows why the healing of Peter’s wife’s mother is kept in this Gospel till after these events, although Mark gives it before. Mark furnishes the history of the ministry of Christ as it happened. Why does not Matthew the same? Divine wisdom is stamped upon this, as upon everything in the word of God. I believe it is reserved by Matthew for this place because Israel might have the idea that, when the mercy of God flowed out to the Gentiles, His heart might be turned away from them. The maid was not dead, but sleeping: this is the state of Israel now, And as surely as the Lord did raise her up, so surely will He in a future day awaken the sleeping daughter of Zion. We have got better blessing and higher glory now. But it is necessary for the truth of God’s word that Israel should be blessed too; for if God could break His word to Israel, could we trust it for ourselves? Now God positively promised the eventual final glory of Israel on the earth. The only thing needed is that we should not confound these things; that we should not be ignorant either of the Scripture or of the power of God.
In this case we have an incident brought before us which proves that (though the Lord knew the unbelief of Israel and predicted it; and though He knew also that the Gentiles were now to come in by faith) His heart could not but linger over Israel. Therefore, as I think, the Holy Ghost, to illustrate this, brings in here the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law. This third incident, then, the healing of Peter’s wife’s mother, I think we may infer was for Peter’s sake, whatever may have been the other reasons. It is a natural relationship, and you will find that the great scene for this is Israel. Peter was the apostle of the circumcision; so that I have not a question that one of the reasons why this event is brought in here is to show that the unbelief of Israel would not finally alienate the Lord’s heart. There He was, still healing all their diseases, as was witnessed even to the crowd around the door, “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses.” The Lord, when He wrought a miracle, entered in spirit into the circumstances of him whom He was relieving. If the miracle brought out His divine power, there was also the divine sympathy that entered into the depth of the need that He relieved.
After this, we have the Lord preparing to go to the other side. But this gives occasion for certain persons to be brought out in their true character and ways, and for the Lord to manifest His own. Now when did this happen? This brings out a most peculiar feature of the Gospel of Matthew, and shows how entirely the Holy Ghost was above the mere routine of dates. Look at the Gospel of Luke, and you will find that the conversation with these men, which is recorded here, took place after the transfiguration. In Luke 9 we are told that after the transfiguration had taken place, the Lord stedfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem; and then, in verse 57, it is said, “It came to pass, that as they went in the way, a certain man said unto Him, Lord, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest. And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head. And He said unto another, Follow Me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father” (Luke 9:57-62). Now, am I too bold in thinking that this was the same incident that we have recorded in Matthew? It is not probable that our Lord should have the same things repeated at different times; nor could we fairly conceive of two distinct persons copying one another so exactly. But mark its importance, if this be so. It took place a very long time after, and yet it is put in here by Matthew. Why? Because it illustrates this — that while the Lord had all this love in His heart toward Israel, spite of their unbelief, there was no heart in Israel toward Him. What was His condition now? He had not even where to lay His head. What a thing for the Messiah of Israel to be obliged to say, when a man offered to follow Him, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head.”
This is the first time where He uses the expression “Son of Man.” It is no longer “Son of David.” “Son of Man” is the title of Christ as rejected or glorified. There is no question which of the two it was here. Even His own people will not have Him. And He is going away to the other side — He must leave them. He has done, it now, as we know. But this man proposes to follow Him. The Lord knew all that was in his heart — a mere carnal Jew, who thought by following Jesus to get a good place with the Messiah. The Lord tells him He had no place to give him. There was not even a nest for the Messiah. What was there for the flesh, offering to follow Christ, to find? The Lord unveils his heart, shows its own deception in seeking something for itself, while Himself had not even a spot which the meanest and most mischievous creature He had made might possess. Had not the foxes their holes, and the birds of the air their nests? But the Son of Man had not even where to lay His head. How could the flesh pretend to follow our Lord? To a disciple who said, “Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father,” the Lord could say, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their dead” (vers. 21, 22). Mark the difference. Where the call of Christ is, there may be great reluctance, trial felt, and struggling on the part of nature; still the word is, “Follow Me.” When you get a thoroughly carnal man in the presence of the gospel, there is not this backwardness — none of this trial. He thinks it is all beautiful, but it does not lay hold of his soul; and very soon circumstances occur to draw his heart away to other things, and at last the man sinks down again to his own level. But where the Lord does say, “Follow Me,” how often the soul, before or at the time, says, “Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father.” Natural relationship had a very serious claim. His father was lying dead: he must go and bury him. People might say, A man must make the burying of his father so urgent that everything must give way to it. Not at all, says the Lord, Christ’s claim ought to be stronger still. If the call of Christ is heard, even as the father lies dead, waiting for burial, we must forego even this. The world may say, There is a man that talks about Christ, and yet does not love his father. But we must be prepared for this: and if we are not, it is because we do not yet understand the supreme value of our Christ. You will find that natural ties and duties in this world are always apt to come in as a hindrance between Christ and the soul. The claims of nature are continually pressed upon one. But no matter whether it be father or mother, or brother or sister, or son or daughter, where the call of Christ is clear, take care that you do not say, Suffer me to do such and such a thing first. The word of Jesus is, Follow Me, and let the dead bury their dead.”
Then the Lord goes. We find Him entering into a ship and His disciples following Him. And thereon follows the history of the tempest, and of the miracle that Jesus wrought in calming the winds and the sea. Now when did this really take place? On the evening of the day when the seven parables of Matthew 13 were uttered, before the transfiguration, but long after the other events mentioned in this chapter. Mark lets us know this positively in the chapter that records the parables (Mark 4) — the very same that are given us in Matthew 13, with this addition, “With many such parables spake He the word unto them, as they were able to hear it; but without a parable spake He not unto them. And when they were alone (when they had entered into the house, as it is given us in Matthew 13), He expounded all things to His disciples. And the same day, when the even was come, He saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side.” Then follows the same history that we have here in Matthew 8; and after they come to the other side, there is the man with the legion of devils. There need not be a question that this is the same scene, but brought out in an entirely different connection, and only occurred a considerable time after its mention here in Matthew.
What follows from this? That the Holy Ghost in Matthew only gives us historical order where it falls in with the special object of the Gospel. All this marks the perfect wisdom of God: and none but God would have thought of such a thing. But how few think of it, or even understand it now. Does it not show the slowness of our hearts to take in the full meaning of the word of God? What is the Lord teaching in these two scenes? We see Him here alone with His disciples. The godly part of Israel are now separated with Himself and exposed to all that the enemies of God could do against them. But it only serves to enlist the power of the Lord for them. Everything is subdued at His bidding. So is it in our own experience. There is never a difficulty, trial, or painful circumstance in which we appear to be utterly overwhelmed by the power of Satan in this world, but that, if our eye is towards Christ, and we appeal to Him, we shall know His power most truly put forth on our behalf. When they realize whom they had in the same boat with them and cry, saying, “Lord save us, we perish,” He rises and rebukes the wind and the sea. “And there was a great calm.” So that the very shipmen marvelled, saying, “What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him!” The disciples knew it in a still deeper way, but the others were astonished.
But this is not all. It might evince what Christ is for the godly who were with Him. But there were two men, far indeed from the Messiah for they were among the tombs, possessed with devils, exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way — just the picture of the most desperate power of Satan in the world. One of them, as we are told elsewhere, went by the name of Legion, because many devils were entered into him. You could not have worse than this. The power of Satan was stronger than all the fetters of men.
But the Lord is there. The devils believe and tremble. They felt His presence. But the day was not come for Satan to be dispossessed of his title over the world. As yet, it was only the proof of the power to do it: but the full exercise of that power was reserved for another day. I doubt not that our Evangelist gives the casting out of the demons as a witness of Christ’s power to deliver the Jewish remnant; and therefore the Holy Ghost, here only, names the two men; as, on the other hand, the possessed herd of swine seems to represent the destruction of the unclean mass of Israel in the latter day.
The history brings out this also — that Satan has power in a twofold way, not. only in the dreadful excesses of those who are completely under his influence, but in the quiet enmity of the heart that could lead others to go to Jesus in order to beseech Him to depart out of their coasts. What a solemn thing it is to know that the secret influence of Satan over the heart, that creates the wish to get rid of Jesus, is even more fatal, personally, than when Satan makes a man to be the witness of his awful power. But so it was then, and so it is that men perish now.
That is the history of the men that wish Jesus to depart from them. The Lord grant us that happy knowledge of Himself, that entering into what He is to us now, which gives the soul calmness and rest in His love, and the certainty of His presence with those that belong to Him: “I am with you alway, even unto the consummation of the age.” May we know what it is to have Jesus to take care of us, and produce a great calm, whatever may be the effect of the stirring up of Satan’s power against us. The Lord give us to look at Jesus. If it be from our first knowledge of sin to our last trial in this world, it is all a question of whether I trust in myself or in the Lord,
6 A third point, I may add here, of immense moment was to make evident the consequences of His rejection by the Jews, not only to them but to the Gentiles; that is, the change of economy which turned on that solemn fact.