Whoever attentively examines this chapter with the following one, can hardly fail to see that the proper break is at the end of verse 35, the last three verses forming properly the introduction to chapter 10. What we have in chapter 9, as far as I have understood, is the effect of the presence of Jesus upon the religious leaders of Israel: I believe this is the great subject. Chapter 8 gave us the outline of the Lord’s presence in Israel, and its results. That is, it was a general picture; and therefore we saw that the Holy Spirit entirely neglects the mere historical order, putting together passages in the life of Christ that were separated, in point of fact, by months or even a year. There is not here the slightest attempt on the part of the Spirit of God to present them as they happened; but on the contrary, the Holy Ghost goes out of His way for the purpose of culling from different times and places certain grand facts that illustrated the Messiah’s presence amidst His people, His rejection by Israel, and what the results of this rejection would be. What we saw was that, first of all, He was proved to be God, the God of Israel — Jehovah; to whom the cleansing of leprosy was merely the question of His will; for even the leper did not doubt His power. “If Thou wilt, Thou canst make me clean.” None but God could do this. Now none had so strong a feeling about this loathsome evil as a Jew, because God Himself had laid down so carefully the nature and proof of leprosy in His law. For it was a question of hopeless uncleanness — the solemn emphatic lesson of how horrible sin is, in its effects and in itself. God can cure and God can cleanse: nobody else can. It was not exactly a case of forgiving, but of cleansing and putting away defilement. The Spirit of God reserved the question of forgiveness (which is connected with the rights of God and with His judicial character, as the cleansing of leprosy is more particularly connected with His holiness) till the chapter we are about to look at now. In the first of these chapters (Matt. 8) there was the broad feature that Messiah was there — God Himself in grace, and not acting according to the law, which would have banished the leper outside of dwelling-place and people and His own presence. A most wonderful fact to realize on earth and in Israel that a person was there, as plainly God in His power as He was God in His love! The law merely laid down that which was right, but could give no power, and only condemn the unrighteous. It must make the case of a sinner hopeless, just because it is God’s law, for the law can never mix with sin. But here was One who had given the law and yet was above the law. It is evident, indeed, that unless there be some principle in God paramount to the law, there eau be no rescue for the guilty. But grace is that principle. And here was One who showed in His acts and words that He was in nothing more manifestly God than in the fulness of His grace. He touched the leper and said, “I will; be thou clean.” The state of this man was just the picture of the true condition of Israel; and what the Lord did for the solitary leper, He was equally willing to do for the whole nation; but “He came to His own, and His own received Him not.” Would God then be baffled in His love? If the Jew refused Him, what of the Gentile? They should hear; and therefore we have immediately following the centurion and his servant. But I will not repeat the facts of chapter 8. In the chapter before us now we have, not the general picture of God’s presence and its results in Israel, but its special bearings upon the religious leaders of the people.
We begin again with the Lord’s giving a remarkable case of healing; not the obvious case of leprosy, which ought to have struck any Jew, but another equally illustrative. “He entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into His own city” (ver. 1) — that is, Capernaum. Thus we are upon narrower ground now. Capernaum was the place where the Lord lived and wrought His mightiest miracles, and which for that very reason afterwards comes in for the most fearful woe that He could pronounce. This is a most solemn principle. When the day of the Lord comes, the heaviest blow of judgment will fall, not upon the dark parts of the earth, but upon the favoured ones where there has been most light, but alas, most unfaithfulness. For my own part, I do not doubt our own land must suffer in a special measure; but, above all, Jerusalem, and Rome too, to which latter place the most remarkable of all the epistles was written, as laying down the foundations of Christianity, but where there has been the greatest departure. They will come under the judgment of God in a most emphatic manner, not only religiously but civilly. No matter who reigns, or who may be put down, this must be the case wherever, in spite of the special favours of God and the light of His word spread abroad, persons have remained unfaithful, and have even become more lax and superstitious or sceptical. The Lord will remove those that are His before the judgment, and the rest will remain to suffer His just retribution. “As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of Man.”
In this scene the Lord shows the moral necessity for such a judgment. Nor was it merely in the land of the Gergesenes, or of Nazareth. But take the people who ought to have known the Scriptures more than others, whose very profession it was to know and teach them — what was their estimate of Jesus? It is this which comes out in our chapter. “Behold, they brought to Him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith, said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, be of good cheer” — a most blessed word, meeting the whole case of the man; a word to touch his affections and meet his conscience. Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee. There was comfort for both his heart and conscience. His sins ought to have laid more heavily upon his heart than his palsy did upon his body; but this word met all his need. “And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth” (ver. 3). In this chapter, it is not the scribe in his vain fleshly confidence professing to show honour to Jesus; but the scribes are judging and condemning Him. To their view Jesus was blaspheming when He said, “Thy sins be forgiven thee.” Awful delusion of man’s evil heart. “This man blasphemeth!” And these were not ignorant people, who said within themselves, “This man blasphemeth.” “But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise and walk?” And now He brings out a word which ought at once to have told upon the scribes, who were familiar with the Scriptures, where it was said of Israel’s God, “Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases,” and of which they now had an exemplification before their eyes.
This is not the experience of a saint now, though we can take it up in a most blessed sense. But can we say that, “Who forgiveth all thine iniquities, who healeth all thy diseases,” is the way the Lord deals now with Christians? Where He forgives a person’s iniquities, does He necessarily heal all their diseases? Whereas, here it is evident that the Lord contemplated the union of the cure of bodily diseases with the forgiveness of sins in the same people and at the same time. When will this be? When God takes the government of the world into His own hands. When the One who was crucified will be glorified — not only in heaven, but here below; when that day comes, the outward world, the body of man, and particularly of God’s own people Israel, will feel the immediate effect. While we can take the spirit of the Psalms, so far as they apply to our condition now, let us not forget there is much in the Psalms that is not applicable to ourselves.
The forgiveness of iniquities and the healing of bodily distempers, were both promised to Israel, and so the Lord accomplishes both here. He shows that, in His person and by His ministry now in the midst of Israel, there was the witness of the power to do both. That they might know that the Son of Man had “power on earth to forgive sins (then saith He to the sick of the palsy), Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thy house. And he arose and departed to his house.” There was a proof of the reality of the forgiveness in the fact that the disease was healed before their eyes. The union of these two things ought forcibly to have struck a scribe. In this miracle we have the strongest testimony of what the glory of His person was.
This then was the Lord’s answer to the blasphemy of the scribes who charged Him with blasphemy. “But when the multitudes saw it, they marvelled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men” (ver. 8). Alas, they did not know that it was the power of God exercised by one who Himself was God. They saw that He was the vessel of the power of God, and this was all. A man might be this, and not be God. He might be pleased to work miracles even by a bad man. So that, while they gave glory to God who had given such power to a man, there was no real faith in the person of Christ. But the great object of the miracle is the bringing out of the true state of heart in the ecclesiastical chiefs of the people. A solemn judgment, to apply any time, begins to dawn with this chapter; and before we have done with it, we shall find that the case is closed, as far as they are concerned. Jehovah-Jesus was intolerable to Israel.; but, most of all, to those who had the highest reputation for learning and sanctity.
The Lord passes from this scene, and sees “a man named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and He saith unto him, Follow Me; and he arose and followed Him.” If we compare the Gospels of Mark and Luke, we find that both the palsied man’s case and the call of Levi took place long before many of the circumstances that we have already had; but they are reserved for two special purposes in Matthew’s account. They are given at the beginning of Mark 2 as they happened in order of time; but the Spirit of God, in Matthew, puts them out of that order for the purpose of giving large pictures, after a dispensational sort, of our Lord’s presence upon earth and its consequences for Israel; and all the facts that would bear upon their blindness for a time and future restoration are grouped together.
Here we see the effect of His presence upon the religious guides. Matthew’s call was a most significant one. The Spirit of God led him to give his name here — the name by which he was afterwards known both on earth and in heaven. Matthew accordingly shows the grace of the Lord, spite of the animosities of those scribes against Him, and the form that His grace took in consequence of their unbelief. He goes out and calls Matthew as he was sitting at the receipt of custom. Other people had brought the palsied man, but Matthew does not seem to have manifested faith before the summons of Jesus. It was not Matthew who sought Jesus, but Jesus who called Matthew, busied about the tax, of which he was the licensed gatherer. The publicans were always classed with the sinners, and the Lord goes and calls the publican Matthew as he was in the performance of his office, sitting at the receipt of custom. Obedient to the Messiah’s call, Matthew not only follows Him at once, but invites Jesus to sit at meat in the house. “And, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto His disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?” It was a positive clear subversion of all propriety and order in the eyes of a Jew. To sit down at meat without the least feeling of contempt for these publicans and sinners was, indeed, strange in the eyes of the Pharisees. What was the Lord doing? He was displaying God’s grace increasingly — all the more unbelief broke out from the merely outwardly-religious people: for persons can have thoughts of God, but not founded upon His word, and may be ever so earnest out of their own minds and hearts, but without either faith or light from God. On the one hand, these men proved their total unbelief in Jesus and His glory; but, on the other hand, God, in the person of Jesus, was going farther in His grace and more counter to the thoughts of these religious people in Israel. He calls Matthew, and He eats with these publicans and sinners; and when fault is found with it by the Pharisees to the disciples, the Lord at once produces that blessed word from the Old Testament, “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice” — for “I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” He vindicates this call and maintains it, not as an exceptional case, but as a principle.
It was what God was come down to make good upon earth. It was not the law, but grace now. This gives rise to something further, and a very instructive word from the Lord is brought before us here. The disciples were found fault with because they did not fast like the disciples of John and the Pharisees. And the Lord gives this reason for it: “Can the children of the bride-chamber mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?” That is, He shows the absurdity of fasting when the source of all their joy was there. How utterly contrary would it have been to their faith in Him, the Messiah, to submit to this mark of sorrow and humiliation, in the presence of the spring of all their joy and gladness! But there was something deeper than that to be learned. There was not only the presence of One that the disciples understood, and that the others did not, but the Lord shows that you cannot mingle the prescriptions that flow from the law with the principles and power of divine grace (a most important principle, and the very one that Christendom has practically destroyed). For what has brought about the present state of Christendom? Christianity is the system of grace in Christ maintained in holiness by the Holy Ghost among those that believe. Christendom is the great house of profession, where there are unclean vessels mingled with those that are to honour where principles abound and reign that never came from Christ, and that are adopted, some of them from Judaism, others out of people’s own wit, without respect to the Bible. But what the Lord shows is, that even if you take what God once sanctioned under the law, it will not do now. The same God who tried Israel by the law has sent the gospel; and it is the gospel that He is sending now, and not the law. It is grace that we have to do with. It is Christ risen and in heaven that I am in relationship with, and not with the law. I am dead to the, law if I am a Christian. Christendom has forgotten and departed from that; and, arguing from the premises that the law is good, and the gospel also, they say, Will it not be much surer to put them together? The result is, that what our Lord said should not be done, men have been aiming at with the utmost diligence. They have tried to put the new wine into old bottles: that is to say, put the joy-producing grace into the receptacles of legal principles. The Lord has brought in new wine, and He wants new bottles.
The inner virtue and power of Christianity must clothe itself with its own proper forms. The new garments are the due manifestation of the gospel, which totally differs from ways framed according to the law. Legalism is the old garb, and it is despising the goodness of God to merely patch up the old one. And after all, it will never succeed. The attempt will only make the old worse. This is what Christendom has done. It has tried to mend the old garment with the new piece — to bring a certain measure of Christian morals into the old garment as a sort of improvement upon Judaism. And what has been the result? Besides, there is the pouring of the new wine into old bottles. There is a certain measure of the preaching of Christ, but it is so much in connection with the old bottles! These verses embrace both the outward development and the inward power, and show that Christianity is entirely a new thing, and one that cannot be mingled with the law. If you find a man who thinks he has got some righteousness of his own, you can cut him down by the law. This is the legitimate use of the law. He is really ungodly, and you use the law to prove that he is so. But in the Christian we have one who is godly; and the law, as Paul expressly insists, is not for him. I am not to put the new wine into old bottles, nor the old into new. This leads the Lord to bring out the entire newness of the conduct and principles that flow from Himself and from His grace. And all this was strongly opposed to the thoughts and prejudices of the scribes and Pharisees, who came in afterwards with their questions about fasts. Not that fasting is not a Christian duty (we already looked at this in chapter 6); but then, it must be on Christian principles, and not on Jewish ones.
Now we come to an incident of the deepest interest. A ruler of the synagogue sends for our Lord to heal his daughter, then comes and worships Him, saying, “My daughter is even now dead; but come and lay Thy hand upon her, and she shall live. And Jesus arose and followed him, and so did His disciples” (vers. 18, 19). That was exactly an illustration of the Lord’s attitude towards Israel. He was there with life in Himself? Israel was like the maid that needed Him; she had no life in her: such was Israel’s condition. But the Lord is at once roused, and goes at the call of the ruler. He owns the claim of faith, let it be ever so feeble. The centurion knew that a word would be enough; but this Jewish ruler, with the natural thought of a Jew, wants the Lord to come to his house and lay His hand upon his daughter that she might live. He connected the Lord’s personal presence with the blessing that was to be conferred upon his sick child; whereas, we Gentiles walk by faith, and not by sight. We believe in and love one that we do not see. The Jews look for one whom they shall see; and they will have Him in this way. As Thomas, after eight days, was allowed to see the Lord, and bidden to thrust his hand into His side, and see in His hands the print of the nails, so will it be with Israel. “They shall look upon Me whom they have pierced.” Whereas, we believe in Him on whom we have not looked. So that our position is a totally different one from that of Israel.
Now in this case the Lord hears the summons, and goes at once to raise up the dead daughter of the Jewish ruler. But while He is going, a woman touches Him. While the Lord’s errand is to Israel — and so it was, and it only remains suspended — while He is on the way, whoever comes, whoever touches, gets the blessing. No unbelief of scribes, no self -righteousness of Pharisees, ever would or could hinder the Lord in His mission of love. He was about to bring in new principles which would not mix with the law — grace that would go out to all, and would meet the worst; which is plainly set forth by this woman who comes and touches Him. But first of all you have the pledge of the resurrection of Israel; for we have the warrant of the word of God for looking at the condition of Israel as one of death. Look, for instance, at Ezek. 37, where Israel is compared to dry bones. “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel: behold, they say, Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost. . . . Behold, O My people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves. . . . And ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land.” So, I believe, in this miracle. It represents, not merely the conversion of dead sinners, but the raising of Israel as a nation. The Lord was refused by the people who had the deepest responsibility to receive Him; but most surely, as He raised up that young woman from the bed of death, so surely will He restore Israel in a day that is coming. But meanwhile, whoever comes gets the healing and the blessing. So it was with this poor woman. The Lord not only gives her the consciousness that she is healed, but lets her know that His affections were thoroughly with her. “Daughter” He says to her, “be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole.” There was at once the word of assurance. The Lord puts His seal upon what her faith had done, though she had done it tremblingly.7 Then, in due time, we have the raising up of the one who was dead, in whom it was not a question of faith, but of the power of God and of His faithfulness to His own promise.
After this (ver. 27) we find that two blind men follow Him: elsewhere only one of them is mentioned; but I believe that both are mentioned here for the same reason as we had the two demoniacs. They cry and say to Him, “Thou Son of David, have mercy on us.” It is the confession of Christ as connected with Israel. They address Him as Son of David. The Lord asked them, “Believe ye that I am able to do this? They said unto Him, Yea, Lord. Then touched He their eyes, saying, According to your faith be it unto you. And their eyes were opened” (vers. 28-30). Then came the dumb man possessed with a devil: “And when the devil was cast out, the dumb spake; and the multitudes marvelled, saying, It was never so seen in Israel” (ver. 33). I believe that all this is brought together for the same purpose. The Lord was giving type after type, and pledge upon pledge, that Israel would not be forgotten, that Israel would be raised out of death: let them be ever so blind, they would see; ever so dumb, they would speak. Let the Pharisees and scribes be utterly unbelieving and blasphemous, and ready to turn away all from Christ — let it be so now; but death would give way, blindness would be removed, speech would be given to Israel, in a day that was coming. The very confession of the multitude was, that it had never been so seen in Israel.
Let me repeat that in thus applying these miracles of our Lord I am not at all denying the blessing of any part of these for a soul now. But this is no reason to prove that the Lord has not an ulterior view which we ought not to forget. “But the Pharisees said, He casteth out devils through the prince of the devils” (ver. 34). What could be worse than this? Was it not in principle blasphemy against the Holy Ghost? Such is the form which that sin took then. There was the power of the Holy Ghost which wrought in Christ and through Him; and they attributed this power to Satan. There could not be anything more determined than such hostility. They were not able to deny the righteousness of the man, nor the facts of superhuman energy; but they might attribute the power that was entirely above man, not to God, but to the adversary; and they did so. Their ruin was complete and final. What more terrible! Nothing could convince a man where all these evidences and appeals had been lavished upon him; and the end of it all was that, not the ignorant only, but the wise, the religious, the Pharisee priding himself in the law, the choicest part to man’s eye of the chosen nation — even they said, “He casteth out devils through the prince of the devils.”
Nothing more is needed. The Lord might send out a testimony through others; but as far as His own ministry was concerned, it was virtually at an end. He sends out the twelve immediately after; but it all comes to the same thing. The Lord is utterly rejected, as we see in Matthew 11. And then Matthew 12 gives the final pronouncing of the judgment on that generation. That sin of which they had been guilty would ripen into blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, and could not be forgiven them, either in this age or in that to come. The consequence is that the Lord turns from the unbelieving race, and introduces the kingdom of heaven, in connection with which He gives us all the parables in Matthew 13. He takes the place of a sower, no longer. looking to gather fruit from Israel, and addresses Himself to the new work in this world that He was about to undertake — which He still carries on to the present moment, though now through the instrumentality of others. So that the beauty of all this arrangement of the Gospel of Matthew cannot be surpassed, though the other Gospels are, for their own objects, equally perfect. Each presents the facts of our Lord’s history so as to give a distinct view of Christ’s person or service, with the effects of its display; and we ought to understand them all.
May the Lord grant that the effect of looking at these things may be, not only that we may know the Scriptures, but Jesus better! This is what we have most of all to cultivate — that we may understand the ways of God, the wonderful ways of His love, all expressed in Jesus.
At the close of the previous chapter our Lord, in looking upon the lost sheep of the house of Israel, speaks of them in deep pity as sheep without a shepherd. What the Pharisees really were had fully come out: not but what He knew it before; but the circumstances of their entire rejection of Himself, and their hatred, coming out more and more decidedly, brought up before His spirit the exposure of God’s sheep. If their spirit was implacable against Him in whom there was no sin, who was God’s own Son, the Shepherd of Israel, what must not be the sorrowful lot of those who had infirmities and failures which laid them open to the malice of those who cared not for them for God’s sake, who would have the keenest and most suspicious eye for everything weak and foolish about them! Let us always remember the grace of the Lord, that even that which is humiliating in us draws out nothing but His compassion. I am not now speaking of sin, but of that which is infirm; for infirmities and sins are two different things. We do not want the Lord’s sympathy with evil. The Lord has suffered and died for our sin. But we do want sympathy with us in our ignorance, weakness, trembling, liability to anxieties, cares, troubles: in all these things which make us suffer here we do want sympathy; and the Lord has it fully with us. This was also the case with Israel. Unconscious of their miserable condition, Jesus calls upon the disciples, in the love of His own heart, to pray the Lord of the harvest that He would send forth labourers into His harvest. It was His harvest, and His labourers alone could gather. But immediately after — and this is remarkable — He shows that He is the Lord of the harvest Himself; and He sends forth labourers The next chapter illustrates this, and beautifully evinces the scope of Matthew, who portrays Him as the One who should save His people from their sins — Emmanuel, God with us. Mark the circumstances. This takes place upon His rejection by Israel. His own ministry, full of grace as well as power, we have seen fully exhibited, and terminating in the utter indifference of Israel and the hatred of the religious leaders. Matthew 8 gives us the people, and Matthew 9 their guides, thus severally manifesting themselves.
Now chapter 10 shows that Jesus, as Lord of the harvest, sends forth labourers and this too with full authority and power given to them. But observe, it is still in special connection with Israel; and the Lord is conscious from the beginning of rejection by Israel. Meanwhile it is a Jewish mission of the twelve Jewish apostles to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. I take this quite literally, and not as if it were said of the Church, which is never spoken of as lost sheep; but the sheep of Israel in their desolate condition are most aptly so described. Before the Church is gathered, what we want is a Saviour. We Gentiles were not sheep at all, but dogs, in our Evangelist’s point of view. (See Matt. 15) And after we have been brought into the Church, we are not, and cannot be, lost sheep. Whereas these poor of the flock are spoken of as lost sheep of the house of Israel. For up to this time the work was not done by which they could be put in the known position of salvation.
Again, when our Lord is sending them forth, it is said, “He called unto Him His twelve disciples, and gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness, and all manner of disease” (ver. 1). This was peculiarly their mission. Not a word is said about preaching what we call the gospel, or teaching the whole counsel of God; but they were to go with messianic power against Satan and bodily diseases, as a testimony to Israel. They were to declare the kingdom of heaven. “As ye go,” said our Lord, “preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand” (ver. 7). But the great characteristic feature of the mission was the conferring upon them power against demons and diseases. The appropriateness of this, in connection with Israel, is manifest. It was a bright evidence that the true King, Jehovah, was there, who was able Himself not only to cast out devils, but to confer that power upon His servants. Who but the King, the Lord of hosts, could do this? It was a testimony much greater than if the power had been confined to His own person. The ability to impart power to others (which was what Simon Magus, hoping to profit by it, so earnestly coveted) God here shows to be in His own Son. Now the servants were to be sent out, and in due order — twelve of them, in relation to the twelve tribes of the house of Israel. We find afterward the promise that they should “sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” There need be no question, therefore, that this was a Jewish mission. When the Church was called, God broke in upon the mere Jewish order by calling an extraordinary apostle, with a special view to the Gentiles — one who was called after Christ had died, and risen, and had taken His place at the right hand of God. Then came in this new work in the calling of the Church, and the apostle Paul became the characteristic minister of the Church, though the twelve had their place too. But at this time the twelve apostles were to be (what Paul was not) the ministers to Israel in testimony of the kingdom of heaven. For, observe, the strictest injunction was given them that they were not to go outside the limits of Israel; not even to visit the Samaritans, nor to enter into the cities of the Gentiles. Their business was solely with the lost sheep of the house of Israel: a positive proof that it means those of the Jews who had a sense of sin, and who were willing to receive the testimony of the true Messiah. With them, their business was exclusively. It is the more remarkable, because in this Gospel we are told that after He had died and was risen, the Lord sent them out to the Gentiles; but then it was on the evident ground that His death had come in. “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me.” Christ upon the cross becomes the attractive centre for man, as well as the foundation of all the counsels of God. Now in this case we have nothing of the sort. The Lord’s death is not even referred to. His rejection is brought out, but nothing is said as to the building of a new structure — the Church. There was the waiting for still further rejection before this could be disclosed, as in Matthew 16.
But here the Lord Jesus sends forth the twelve, and commands them, saying, “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give. Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass, in your purses; nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat” (vers. 5-10). That is, they were to go just as they were, with the coat they had upon them, with the shoes they had then on their feet. They were not to provide anything, or to lay up any store as a means of support during their mission. This is not a universal rule for the servants of God at all times. It was a peculiar mission, for a special time, and with reference to Israel only. It was not the gospel of God’s grace, but of the kingdom. The two go together now; but then it was not so. Israel did not receive the testimony of the kingdom; an entire change comes in, and the kingdom of heaven, in outward establishment, remains in suspension. The calling of God now to the Gentiles comes in as a vast parenthesis between this message to the lost sheep in Israel and its full accomplishment in the last days. Whatever the Lord commands must be accomplished, but nothing is perfectly fulfilled till the Lord takes all in hand Himself.
Everything that is to be taken up by Christ in power and glory by and by is first committed to man. But man fails everywhere, Israel as a nation breaks down, the Church has become worldly and scattered. All will yet be to the praise of Christ Himself. Thus, no matter what you look at in the ways of God, there is, as a rule, first presenting it to man; it is made to rest upon him to see if he can bear the responsibility and the glory; and he cannot. But whatever man has failed in is destined to rest upon the shoulders of Christ in the day of glory, and all will then come to perfection, and will shine out in more than pristine brightness, and redound to His glory.
The twelve were sent out on this mission, and instructed to depend upon Christ alone. He would provide for them. They were to announce the kingdom of heaven; and He, the King, would undertake all charges. They were to go with the fullest confidence in Him. Now, although His servants are not to look to the world, or to use human means of acting upon saints, and although they may confidently look to God to provide for them, still they are not put in the same circumstances as these disciples. The difference is strongly marked. Take, for instance, such a command as this: “Into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, inquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence” (ver. 11). Is a man going out with the gospel now to ask who is worthy? He seeks the unworthy. But this was a mission to Israel; and Jehovah wanted the excellent in the earth, those whose hearts really desired the Messiah. “And when ye come into a house, salute it. And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you.” This is not at all the way of the gospel now. On the contrary, it is peace with God that the servant of Christ is entitled to proclaim to His enemies. The direct bearing of the gospel is toward those who are in misery — the vile and forlorn; because the gospel is the fulness of God’s grace to man who has nothing whatever to give to God. If they are but broken down, feel that they are utterly unfit for God, and that God has provided such a Saviour as His word declares, then we cannot trust Him too fully or too simply. The essence of the gospel is this: That God does not ask me to give, but to receive. This is the gospel of God — the gospel of His Son; but here, in Matthew, it is the gospel of the kingdom. You will constantly find this phrase in Matthew. This gospel goes out to those that are worthy. If the house were worthy, the messenger’s peace comes upon it; and if not, it returns. ,,And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet” — judgment would be upon them. “Verily, I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city” — just because they had the messengers of the kingdom coining to them with a gracious message, and they would not receive them.
From verse 16 the Lord warns them of the circumstances in which the gospel of the kingdom was to be preached. “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” That is, He calls for prudence, heavenly prudence. There was to be entire holiness in the object and character of the prudence, and free from any just charge of being injurious to men. “But beware of men” — do not suppose that, although you go forth with love in your hearts, you will not meet with wolves. The Jews are plainly intimated. “Beware of men; for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; and ye shall be brought before governors and kings.” While hating the Gentile yoke, they would be quite willing to invoke Gentile authority where it became a question of Christ’s followers. The Jews would drag them before the Gentile kings and governors, abhorred as they were. But our Lord adds this gracious word’ ‘for My sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles.”
Thus God turns the weapons of the adversary against himself. “Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee: the remainder of wrath Thou wilt restrain.” One cannot but feel that such a truth as this, though it has special application to apostles setting out on this mission, most surely remains for us. “But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak; for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.” At the same time He prepares them for most heartless conduct toward them, even from relatives. The brother would know the habits of his brother, the father would know all about the child, and the child about the father: all this would be turned against the servants of Christ. “Ye shall be hated of all men for My name’s sake; but he that endureth to the end shall be saved” (vers. 19-22). “But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel,” or, as the margin has it, “finished the cities of Israel, till the Son of Man be come” — a remarkable statement. It recalls the expression that I made use of before, the Church is a great parenthesis. The mission of the apostles was abruptly terminated by the death of Christ. They still carried it out afterwards for a while, but it was terminated completely by the destruction of Jerusalem: the whole thing was ended for the time being, but not for ever. The calling of the Church was then taken up; and when the Lord has taken the Church out of the world to heaven, God will again raise up witnesses to the Messiah upon earth, when the Jew shall be converted. God has declared that He would give His land to His people, and He will do so, for His gifts and calling are without repentance. God’s faithfulness is involved in it, that the Jewish people must be restored to their own land when the fulness of the Gentiles is come in. The calling of the fulness of the Gentiles is the parenthesis that is going on now. When this is over the Lord resumes His links with Israel. They will go back to the land in unbelief. The testimony of the kingdom, which was begun in the time of our Lord by the apostles, will again be taken up until the Son of Man will come. Then “He will send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire. . . . Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” The Lord will accomplish fully in that day what was committed to man, and which broke down through man’s weak or wicked hand. Then everything under the Branch of Israel shall be glorious. This, I conceive, is what goes along with the remarkable expression that they should not have gone over the cities of Israel till the Son of Man came. The whole period of the Lord’s turning aside to call in the Gentiles is passed over in silence. He speaks of what was going out then, and of what will be resumed in Israel — passing over what is being done meanwhile.
In the latter part of the chapter the Lord gives sweet motives to encourage them. “The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord: if they have called the Master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of His household?” (vers. 24, 25).
He was proving this now, and they would have to feel it in their turn. “Fear them not therefore.” The first motive for not fearing is: I have traversed the same path; do not be afraid. “Fear them not . . . for there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed, and hid that shall not be known.” As much as to say: You will understand the reasons and motives of people’s unbelief another day, if not now. Every one that knows the truth and does not follow it, must have a dislike to those who do. As it was with Me, so will it be with you: but do not be alarmed. Be full of good courage, and persevere in the testimony. “What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light; and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops” (ver. 27). He encourages them to the greatest openness and boldness. A second admonition not to fear is on another ground: And what harm can they do? They cannot touch the soul; nor can they even touch the body unless your heavenly Father allows it. “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul.” They cannot injure you, There is nothing which a believer has to dread, except grieving and sinning against God. Therefore He immediately adds, “Rather fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” A fearful thing is before God’s enemies — the destruction of soul and body in hell!
“Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not, therefore; ye are of more value than many sparrows” (vers. 29-31). The special, the minute care of our Father for His own children is drawn from this, that the very sparrow, though so despised and trivial a bird among men, yet cannot fall to the ground “without your Father.” He might have said, Without God; but He said, Your Father — a father’s love is concerned for his children.
From verse 32 to the end of the chapter, we have the importance of the confession of Christ, and the effects of it in this world. The first great principle is this: “Whosoever therefore shall confess Me before men, him will I confess also before My Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father which is in heaven.” We have had the Father’s care; we have now the Son’s confession by and by. The Father’s care we know upon earth, whatever may be the trial. The Son’s confession of us will be in heaven, when all the scene of trial is over.
Then He warns them that the result of their testimony may be very painful — households getting into confusion, members of a family at variance one with another. Be not surprised. “Think not,” He says, “that I am come to send peace on earth.” We know that the Lord can give us peace always by all means: but He is speaking here of the entrance of His testimony, through His disciples, into a world that hates Him. Inevitably, then, the two principles come into collision. It is not that He desires confusion, but it is the natural effect of the knowledge of Christ entering a house where some of its members reject Him.
As it is in the world, so in the house. There are those that believe and those that believe not. “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth; I came not to send peace, but a sword.” Dream not that everything is going to be triumphant. The day is coming when the Lord will cause peace to flow as a river; but such is not the effect of His first coming. It is the badge of war now, because of the opposition which unbelief always creates against the truth. “For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.” The Lord boldly meets the case. I am come to bring in My principle, and it sets child against parent. Now this becomes one of our severest trials — the effect that the testimony of God has upon families. People speak of households being broken up and kindred disunited. The Lord already uses the same words and strengthens us for it. “He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he that taketh not his cross and followeth after Me, is not worthy of Me. He that findeth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for My sake shall find it” (vers. 37-39). He shows that His coming would bring the opposite to a path of ease in this world. Yea, we must make up our minds to suffer trial, rejection and scorn. But then He adds the other side: “He that receiveth you receiveth Me; and he that receiveth Me receiveth Him that sent Me.” There would be those that would receive, as well as those that would reject. “He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet” (that is, as a prophet), if he knew he was a servant of God, and received him as such, in the face of shame and scorn, he should have the same reward as a prophet himself. “And he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man” — other people might call him unrighteous, but he receives him, not as a mere man or friend, but as righteous, and he “shall receive a righteous man’s reward.” He proves that his own heart is right with God. We show our real state of soul by the opinion we pronounce. Supposing I speak or act unwarrantably against a good man doing his duty, I show that I am not with God in that particular thing. On the other hand, if I have faith to discern what is of God, and to take my part with him in the face of general desertion, happy am I indeed. God alone enables a man to do so. We show where our hearts are by our judgments of and conduct toward others.
“And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward” (ver. 42). It would be the evidence that the Spirit was at work in his soul — his heart drawn out in mercy to, and sympathy with, those who are of God in this world. He should in nowise lose his reward. It is the outward conduct springing from the inward principle. In all these cases it is clearly the Jewish mission of these disciples. I believe we thus get the true character of the chapter and the place it occupies in this Gospel.
The point of view in this whole chapter is, the Lord, as Lord of the harvest, not only bidding them to pray that labourers be sent into the harvest (Matt. 9:38), but Himself anticipating the prayer. “Before they call, I will answer;” and the Lord is acting in the very spirit of that which will be fully true in the last days. He is Himself sending forth the labourers.
In Luke 22:35, referring to this very mission, the Lord asks, “When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye anything? And they said, Nothing.” Then the Lord tells them now to provide themselves with purse, and scrip, and sword: the very things which they were not to do before, they were to do from that time. The Lord abrogates what He had before enjoined, as far as the special circumstances were concerned. His goodness and love to them, and their walking in wisdom and harmlessness, would abide; but the peculiar character of this mission terminated at the death of Christ. It will, I conceive, be taken up again by others at a future day: but the disciples actually sent out were soon to be called to a new work, founded upon redemption and the resurrection of our Lord.
The chapter at which we are arrived is full of interest and importance, especially as it is a kind of transition. What gives occasion for the Spirit of God to bring out this transition from the testimony to Israel to the new order of things which the Lord was about to introduce, is that John the Baptist, in prison because of his own rejection, is found in exercise as to personal faith and patience. While fulfilling his prophetic office, none could be more unwavering than John in his testimony to Christ. But there may be moments when faith is put thoroughly to the proof, and when the strongest may know what it is to be “cast down, though not destroyed.”
Certainly this was the case with John the Baptist. It was not merely his disciples that were stumbled by his being in prison. Infidels ask now, If Scripture be truth, how is it that people do not receive it? Why is it not more widely spread? etc.
We know that at first tens of thousands confessed and followed the name of Jesus in one city alone;. and the moral weight was great, for they walked in superiority to the world. We know, too, how far and wide the power of Christianity has spread: still, the great difficulty comes up again, and we find that what works in the mind of a sceptic may be found more or less disquieting the believer, because fallen nature is in the believer still; and what Scripture calls “the flesh” is always an unbelieving thing. Hence it came to pass that, blessed as John the Baptist was, yet he sent his disciples with the query, “Art Thou He that should come, or do we look for another?” Questions seem to have passed through his mind, and a confirmation of faith was wanted. Even a prophet is not beyond Satan’s assault. And here we have this favoured and otherwise faithful man putting such a question, the very last that we might have expected. Instead of answering with the confidence of faith the question of his disciples, if it was such, John sends some of them to Jesus, saying, “Art Thou He that should come, or do we look for another?” The Lord replies, “Go and show John again those things which ye do hear and see . . . and blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in Me” (vers. 4, 6).
Our Lord’s answer evinces that it was not John’s disciples merely, but himself also that was shaken. These are the two parts of Christ’s ministry — His words and His works, “Those things which ye do hear and see;” the word always having the higher place; the works being what would appeal rather to the senses; whereas the word of Christ is that which deals with the heart and conscience by the Spirit. They were to go and tell John what they heard and saw; and therein we have what the Old Testament had predicted as signs and effects of the Messiah’s power. We have not, I believe, one case of curing the blind before Christ came. It was a miracle which, according to Jewish tradition, was reserved for the Son of David. He it was who. according to Isaiah 35, was to open the eyes of the blind. The Lord puts the blind receiving their sight as the first outward miracle to indicate that He was really the Christ that was to come; and last, but not least weighty, is “the poor have the gospel preached to them.” What is it but a testimony of the exceeding tender mercy of God that, while the gospel is intended for all, it is especially adapted to those that know misery, trial, contempt in a selfish world? The Lord adds, “Blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in Me.” What a word of warning. A man sent from God for a witness, that all might believe in Christ; and when this very man is put thoroughly to the test, the Lord has to bear witness to him, instead of his bearing witness to the Lord. How constantly do we see man breaking down when tested; but what a blessed thing that we have such a God to go to, if He be only counted on.
But when these messengers departed, the Lord shows His tender compassion and regard for him, and begins to vindicate the same John who had shown his feebleness under suffering and protracted hope. He asks them, “What went ye out into the wilderness to see?” A superficial judgment might have concluded it was but “a reed shaken with the wind” when John sent disciples with his question. But no, the Lord will not allow it. He maintains the honour and integrity of John. He has sent a little rebuke to John privately by his disciples; but before the multitudes He clothes him with honour “But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment?” It is in courts that you look for the grandeur of the world. “Behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet,” because John had a peculiar place and honour that no prophet had assigned to him — to be the immediate forerunner of the Lord, the herald of the Messiah Himself. John not only was a prophet, but the prophets prophesied of John; and the Lord says of him, “Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist. “
But mark this word, a striking one, in this transitional chapter, “Notwithstanding, he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (ver. 11). What is the meaning? In saying, “Among those born of women there had not risen a greater than John the Baptist,” the Lord is excepted. He is speaking of John, not as compared with Himself, but with others. He was the greatest born of women; “Notwithstanding, he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” It means clearly that there was a new order of things commencing, in which the privileges that God’s sovereign grace would confer would be so great, that the least in the dispensation about to open would be greater than the greatest in all the past. Of course this is not as to anything in themselves; the faith of a weak believer now is not greater than a man’s mighty faith in times past; nor is some poor soul, anxious and troubled about his acceptance, in a healthier state than those who could rejoice like Simeon in God their Saviour. Yet the Lord does say that the greatest of those gone by is less than the least now.
“The kingdom of heaven” never means heaven: they are different ideas as well as expressions. “The kingdom of heaven” always means that which, while it has its source in heaven, has its sphere upon earth. It may be applied, as it often is, to what is going on now; or, as sometimes, to what will go on when the Lord comes in glory, and brings His rule in a manifested form to bear upon the earth. But the kingdom of heaven always supposes the earth as the scene upon which the privileges of heaven are made known.
The Lord Jesus sees Himself rejected; but God, in His sovereign way and grace turns the rejection of Jesus to the introduction of far greater blessing than if Jesus had been received. Supposing the Lord had been accepted by man when He came, He would have blessed man and kept him alive upon the earth: He would have bound the devil, and brought in countless mercies for the creature in general. Still, what would have been all that without the vindication of God in the matter of sin? Neither moral glory nor supreme love would have been shown as they now are. For what could it be more than divine energy barring out the power of Satan?
But the death of Christ is, at once, the depth of man’s wickedness and the height of God’s goodness; for in the Cross the one proved his utter hatred and iniquity, the other His perfect holy love. It was man’s unrighteousness that put Him there — it was God’s grace that brought Him there; and Christ risen from the dead takes His place as the beginning, the Head of a new creation, and displays it in His own person now to faith in them that believe; puts them in this place of blessing while they are still in this world struggling with the devil; sheds the joy of redemption into their hearts, and fills them with the certainty that they are born of God — their sins being all forgiven — and they are only waiting for Him to come and crown the work of His love, when they shall be raised from the dead and changed into His glory. It is true to faith now, and will be true to sight by and by; but it is true always from the time it was introduced. It began with Christ’s ascension into heaven, and it will terminate by Christ’s descent from heaven, when He will bring in this power of the kingdom over the earth. What, then, has the least believer got now? Look at saints of old. John the Baptist was resting upon promises. Even he, blessed as he was, could not say, My sins are blotted out, mine iniquities are all gone. Before the death and resurrection of Christ, saints could with joy look forward and say, It will be blessed indeed! They might be sure that it was God’s intention; but it was not an accomplished thing. And, after all, if you were in prison, you would know the difference between a promise to bring you out and the fact of your liberty when fairly out. This is just the difference. The atoning work is done, and the consequence is, that all who believe are now entitled to say, Sin is no longer upon me in the presence of of God. And this is not true of some Christians in particular, but every Christian should take the place that God gives him in Christ. And what would be the effect of this? Christians would not walk with the world in the way they do.
What I find, then, in the word of God is this: there was a new dispensation about to open, in which the very least is invested with privileges that the greatest could not possess before. And this, because God sets infinite value upon the death of His Son. God puts the greatest possible honour upon the death of Christ.
As an earthly sovereign puts particular honour upon an epoch of special joy to himself, still more faith may expect that God should attach peculiar glory to that work of Christ by which redemption has been accomplished, through the death and resurrection of His Son.
Now, everything is done, and God can invite souls — not to forget their sins, or turn away their eyes from them; but looking at them fairly and fully before the cross of Christ — He calls upon them to say, “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.” Knowing this, we must see how entirely evil is the place of a priest now — one man put in a position to draw near to God for others. Every Christian is a priest now. All Christians are not ministers. This is another thing. Ministry and priesthood, though so often confounded, are entirely distinct and different. It is a God-given privilege now, that every believer is a priest of God: that is, he is entitled to draw near into the holiest of all, sin judged, all his iniquities purged away, so that he may be thoroughly happy in the presence of God while he is upon earth. All this is only a part of the privileges of the least in the kingdom of heaven now. And remember this, all the grand prerogatives of Christianity are common privileges. One man may preach, and another may not; but this says nothing about the privileges of the kingdom. Paul, as a servant of God, had something which others had not: a gifted person might preach even without divine life in the soul. Caiaphas might testify, and Balaam too, and both utter true things; and Paul is willing to take such a place, to show that one might preach to others, and yet, if regardless of holiness, be himself a castaway. But this has nothing to do with the blessings I have been speaking of as the portion of believers now.
The privileges of the kingdom are now the universal heritage of the family of faith; the least of them is greater even than John the Baptist. Great misunderstanding has been shown as to the meaning of this verse. It has been taught that the least in the kingdom of heaven is Jesus Himself! — Jesus, of course, in His humiliation, in His going to the cross. But what misapprehension of the mind of God is there manifested by such a remark. For the kingdom of heaven was not yet come. It was. preached, but not yet actually set up. And Jesus, far from being “the least” in that kingdom, was Himself the King; so that it would be derogatory to His person to call Him even the greatest, not to speak of “the least” in the kingdom. It would be want of reverence, as well as of intelligence, to say that He was in the kingdom at all. It would be more true to say that the kingdom was in Him, both morally, and in divine power.
“If I,” says He to the Jews, “cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you.” It was arrived in His person: He being the King, and having the power thereof. But if you look at “the kingdom of heaven” as a state of things introduced into this world, Christ had to go up to heaven first — a rejected King, no doubt, but still as such to sit on the right hand of God — and thereon the kingdom of heaven commenced. The kingdom was not actually established till Jesus went up on high. Then it began, first spiritually, as by and by it will shine in power and glory. Hence it is clear that in this chapter we stand upon the confines of the past dispensation, and of the one that was about to open. John the Baptist is on the scene as the last and greatest witness of that which was closing. Elijah was to come; this might have been fulfilled in the person of John the Baptist. John was doing the moral work that was associated with Elijah’s mission — preparing the way for the Lord. I do not say that Elijah may not come another day, but John was the then witness of Elijah’s service. He was come “in the spirit and power of Elias:” and, as our Lord says a little after, “If ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.” Such he was to faith. Like the kingdom of heaven now, it is a testimony to the future kingdom when displayed in power and glory. John was to faith then what Elias will be by and by. The kingdom of heaven is to faith now what the kingdom of heaven will be to sight hereafter. The Lord intimates that a dispensation of faith is coming in, when the promises were not to be accomplished in the letter.
But just as John the Baptist was cast into prison (a tremendous trial for a Jew who looked at him as a great prophet to usher in the Messiah in visible majesty), so He says here, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” It has to be received by the attentive ear of faith. How extraordinary it must have appeared to the disciples that the forerunner of the Messiah should be in prison, and the Messiah Himself afterwards nailed upon the cross! But before the outward glory comes, redemption through suffering must be effected. Hence, the least now who has this blessing of faith, who enjoys these astonishing privileges which the Holy Ghost is bringing out as the gift of God’s sovereign grace, is greater than John the Baptist. For it is God’s doing and giving and ordering. It is His joy by Christ to bless the man that has not the smallest claim upon Him. And such is His work now. But what would be the effect of this among the Jews? Our Lord compares them to capricious people who would neither do one thing nor another. If gladness is going on, they have no sympathy with it; neither have they with sorrow. John the Baptist called them to mourn: they had no heart for it. Then came Jesus, bidding them, as it were, to rejoice at the glad tidings of great joy: but they heeded Him not. They liked neither: John was too strict, and the Lord too gracious. They could not bear either. The truth is, man dislikes God; and there is no greater proof of his ignorance of himself than that he does not believe it. Whatever they might plead in the way of abuse of John the Baptist, or of Himself, “Wisdom is justified of her children.”
Accordingly the Lord shows how wisdom was justified, positively and negatively. “He began to upbraid the cities wherein most of His mighty works were done, because they repented not: Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! . . . And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works,” etc. (vers. 20-24). What more solemn! They refuse the voice of heavenly wisdom; and the result must be in judgment more unsparing than that which had of old made Sodom the monument of God’s vengeance. Was there one place or city in the land more favoured than another? It was Capernaum, where most of His miracles were wrought: and yet this very city should be brought down to hell. Even the notoriously depraved Sodom had not come under so fearful a sentence. The Lord only visits in judgment when means and calls for repentance are exhausted; but when He does judge, who shall be able to stand? Thus should wisdom be justified, may I say, by those that are not her children.
But then we have the positive part. “At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth.” From the pronounced “woe,” Jesus could turn round and say, “I thank Thee, O Father.” Not that the events recorded here took place together. The whole scene about John the Baptist occurred long before the Lord alluded to the wise and prudent rejecting Him, and the babes receiving Him. The Gospel of Luke occasionally gives precise marks of time, and shows that the Lord’s reception of John’s messengers was at an early period of His ministry, very shortly after the healing of the centurion’s servant; whereas His thanking the Father was after the return of the seventy disciples who were sent out on the final testimony, which is not mentioned in Matthew at all. The Holy Ghost in our Gospel puts aside, in general, mere successions of time, and welds together separated events to illustrate the great truth that it was His object here to bring out, viz., the true Messiah, presented with adequate proofs to Israel, but rejected; and this turned, of God’s grace, to be the occasion of better blessings than if the Lord had been received.
And while the solemn sight of man’s growing rejection is before us, Jesus says, “I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth” (hopes not limited to the earth now, but God looked to as Lord of heaven and earth — sovereign over all things), “because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight. All things are delivered unto Me of My Father.” The throne of Israel may be refused Him; the Jews may reject, the leaders despise Him: all this may be, but what is the result? Not merely what was promised to David or Solomon, but “All things are delivered unto Me of My Father.” Where were such thoughts as these divulged before? In the Psalms, in the Prophets, or where do you get anything like them? The rejected Messiah is refused by man: He submits to it. They strip Him of His robes of Messianic glory, and what comes out? He is the Son of the Father, the Son of God from all eternity, the blessed divine Person who could look up and say, “Father.” Refuse Him in His earthly dignity, and He only shines in His heavenly one; despise Him as a man, and He is manifestly God.
“And no man knoweth the Son but the Father: neither knoweth any man the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him” (ver. 27). He is revealing the Father now. It is not merely that He is come to accomplish the promises of God, but He is revealing the Father — bringing souls into a deeper knowledge of God than was possible before. “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” It is perfect grace: no restriction; no setting the Jew in the foremost seat of honour. But “Come unto Me, all ye that labour” — Jew or Gentile, it matters not. Are you miserable? Can you find no comfort? “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and I will give you rest.” It is without condition or qualification if the needy but go to Him. In John we have,,, All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me; and him that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out.” This is the proof of the Father’s drawing — that I go to Jesus. It is the Son of the Father, in John; for grace is always found most full and free where the Son is brought out in all His glory.
“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. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (vers. 29, 30). Grace does not leave men to do as they list, but enables the heart that receives it to desire the will of God. So, after saying, “I will give you rest,” our Lord adds, “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.” Mark the difference. In verse 2 8 it is, “Come unto Me. . . . and I will give you rest” — it is pure grace to the soul in need, with nothing but its sins to bring; but in saying, “Take My yoke upon you. . . . and ye shall find rest to your souls,” He speaks of subjection to Him, and the effect is finding rest to our souls. When the sinner goes in his wretchedness to Jesus, the Saviour gives him rest — “without money and without price.” But if that soul does not follow on in the ways of Christ, he becomes miserable, and loses the comfort he had at first. Why? He has not taken Christ’s yoke upon him. The terms on which the Lord gives rest to the sinner are, “Come unto Me,” just as you are. The terms on which the believer finds rest are, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart.” The Lord keeps His moral government over His people, and they are more disturbed than any, if not subject to Christ; they can neither enjoy Him nor the world. If I have found such a Saviour, and yet am not bearing His yoke, God does not intend that I should be happy. All else is a false happiness.
Matthew 12 completes the picture of the transition begun in chapter 11, and shows that, before God, the crisis was come. The Lord might continue to become the object of still deeper rejection, but the spirit that crucified Him had already manifested itself clearly. In the centre of this chapter we have the warning of the unpardonable sin, not merely against the Messiah, but against the Holy Ghost bearing His testimony to the Messiah; and, further, the fact that Israel as a nation would be guilty of that sin, and hence be given up to the power of Satan beyond example in all their sad history. So that the evil for which God had allowed them to be carried captive to Babylon was little in comparison with the iniquity of which they were now, in spirit, guilty, and into which they were about to sink. This brings the crisis closing the announcement of the kingdom to Israel; and chapter 13 introduces a new thing — the kingdom of heaven about to begin in its present mysterious form, because of the rejection of the Messiah.
I must now proceed to show how far all the incidents in this chapter are in harmony with the leading thought — the break between Christ and Israel. Therefore the Holy Ghost does not here confine Himself to the mere order of time in which the events took place. “At that time Jesus went on the sabbath-day through the corn, and His disciples were hungered, and began to pluck the ears of corn and to eat” (ver. 1). We are not to suppose that “at that time” means “at that exact moment.” It is a general term, embracing connected events, though there might be months between them. It is not like “immediately,” or “forthwith,” or “the week after,” etc. What did intervene we must gather from the other Gospels. In Mark we find that the scene of the corn-fields took place early in our Lord’s ministry. Thus, in chapter 2, on the sabbath-day following the call of Levi and the discourse about fasting, we are told that “He went through the corn-fields,” Here we have this incident taken completely out of its historical connection. Mark adheres to the order of events: Matthew departs from it in order to give the great change consequent on the Messiah’s rejection by Israel. Our Lord’s word of woe upon Chorazin and Bethsaida, and the blessedness of those who received Him, was spoken by no means early. Here they are put together, because the object of the Holy Ghost in Matthew is to show this change.. Hence, what would prove the change is selected and reserved for this place.
In short, the Holy Ghost is giving us an historical picture apart from the mere date in which the events took place; and the events and discourses that illustrate the great transition are all grouped together. The disciples passed through the corn, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat, according to the liberty allowed them in the law. ,,When the Pharisees saw it, they said unto Him, Behold, Thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do on the sabbath-day.” Our Lord then cites two incidents: one of them a constantly-recurring fact among the priests; the other recorded of their most conspicuous king, David; both proving the sin and the utter ruin of Israel. What was the state of things when David was obliged to use the showbread? Was it not because the true king was a despised, persecuted man — because the king of their own hearts’ choice was there? It was the same thing now. The sin . of Israel profaned the holy bread. God would not accept aught as holy from people that were living in sin. No ceremonial is worth a straw if the heart does not honour Christ. Why were the disciples reduced to pluck and eat the ears of corn? Why were the followers ,of the true King reduced to hunger?
Besides, “Have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath-days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless?” (ver. 5). The priests did a very important work upon that day. They offered sacrifices then, because there was sin; and the people’s sin demands what, according to the letter of the law, would seem to a Pharisee to be a breach of it. It does not matter what the law may ordinarily claim, if there is sin on the part of God’s people, sacrifice cannot be deferred. Thus, whether you take the particular instance of the Lord’s anointed in Saul’s day, or the constant priestly service on the sabbath-day, one thing ,accounted for all disorder, whether real or apparent — Israel were sinners. They had allowed the chosen of the Lord to be hunted upon the mountains when he was there; and a greater than David was here. And so as to the priests and their work. One infinitely greater than the temple was there — Messiah Himself: and what was not their indifference, nay, their enmity, towards Him?
Another sabbath-day was necessary to complete the sketch. And now Jesus does work Himself; and these two things are brought together here. “When He was departed thence, He went into their synagogue; and behold, there was a man which had his hand withered; and they asked Him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath-days? that they might accuse Him.” The Lord accepted the challenge. “He said unto them, What man shall there be among you that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath-day, will he not lay hold on it and lift it out?” Of course they would deliver the poor sheep out of the pit, because it was their own sheep. They had no conscience about doing what was to their own advantage because it was the sabbath-day. And the Lord does not blame them; but He presses this most pungent conclusion upon them — “How much, then, is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath-days.” In a word, He shows by this second case, that not only was Israel a guilty people respecting the true Beloved, but that, if they knew their own condition, would own themselves to be like the man with the withered hand, in need of His mighty power. He was there in grace to accomplish all necessary healing. The Lord pressed upon them their dismal condition. The whole nation before God was morally as withered as that man’s hand physically; but not willing, alas, to be healed like him. “Then saith He to the man, Stretch forth thy hand. And he stretched it forth, and it was restored whole as the other” (ver. 13). Why is this recorded here as having occurred on the sabbath-day — especially in connection with the incident of the corn-field? In the first, the Lord proves Israel’s guilt in contrast with the sanctity of the sabbath; and in the second, He declares Himself thereto work restoration even on the sabbath. It is an account of all importance, because the Lord is, as it were, tearing in pieces the outward letter of the bond between Him and Israel, of which the sabbath-day was a special sign.
I may here observe, the Lord’s day differs essentially from the sabbath; and in the early Church there was scrupulous care taken not to confound the two things. The sabbath and the Lord’s day are signs of wholly distinct truths. The first owed its origin to God hallowing His rest when creation was done; and it was the token that, when God would finish His works, there would be a holy rest for man. Then sin came in, and all was ruined. We do not hear a word about it (at least, directly), till a people is called out from among all others to serve the true God, as His chosen nation. We have seen, in the Old Testament as well as the New, how utterly they failed; and now the only hope of having a true sabbath is when Christ Himself shall bring it in. When Adam sinned, death passed upon all, and the creation-rest was broken. Then (after the type of Christ in the manna, with the sabbath following), came in the law, which took up the sabbath, incorporated it in the ten words and the statutes of Israel, and made it not only a hallowed day, but a day of command, which was enjoined upon them like the other nine words; a day in which every Israelite was bound, not only to abstain from work himself, but to give rest to everything that was his. It was not a question of a spiritual people. All Israel were bound by it, and they shared its rest along with their cattle. The Lord’s day, on the other hand, never was heard of till Christ rose from the dead. Thence issued an entirely new order of things. Christ, the beginning, the Head of a new creation, rose from the dead on the first day of the week. Thus, while the old world goes on, sin still at work, and Satan not yet bound, God has wrought salvation, which He is giving to every soul that believes. These recognize that Christ risen is their Saviour, and that they consequently have new life in Him. This, and much more than this, they come together to acknowledge on the Lord’s day. They “show the Lord’s death till He come.” Nothing can be plainer in Scripture, if our desire is to know and follow the word of God. It was no longer a question of whether people were Jews or Gentiles. Were they Christians? Had they Christ as their life and Lord? If they thankfully confessed Him, the Lord’s day was the day for them. Such of the Christians as had been Jews continued to frequent the synagogue on the sabbath. But this only shows the more plainly that it was not a mere change of day. To the Roman saints the apostle insists that the man who regarded the day, to the Lord he regarded it; and that the man who regarded it not, to the Lord he did not regard it. Was this the Lord’s day? No, but Jewish days and fasts. The apostle would never treat the Lord’s day as optionally to be regarded or not. Some of these believers saw that they were delivered from the law, and did not observe the Jewish feasts or fasts. The Gentiles, of course, were not under the law at all. But some, at any rate, of the Jewish believers, still had a conscience about the ancient holydays, and of them the apostle speaks. The Lord’s day never was and never will be a Jewish day. It has its own proper character stamped upon it; and Christians, though not under the law as Jews with the sabbath, are yet by grace called on far more solemnly to use it for the Lord, as that which summons them to meet together in the name of Jesus, in separation from this world, conscious of redemption and justification through His death and resurrection. It is the type of the blessing that the Christian has got, yet to be manifested in glory. The world always confounds it, as do many Christians, with the sabbath. One hears sometimes real believers, but uninstructed, talk of the “Christian sabbath.” This is, of course, because they do not see their deliverance from the law, and the consequences which flow from their belonging to Him who is risen from the dead. The apostle develops these blessed truths.
Our Lord merely deals with the Jews here. His disciples were not hindered from plucking the ears of corn on the sabbath, as on another He openly wrought a miracle in the presence of all (thus giving occasion for the Pharisees who sought one against Him). It is true that the works were works of mercy and goodness; but there was no necessity for either, had there not been a purpose. He could have spoken without doing a single thing. So with the blind man in the Gospel of John. All the clay in the world could not have cured him, but for the power of our Lord. His word would have been enough; but He does something Himself, and makes the man do something else upon the sabbath. We are told expressly, “It was the sabbath day when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes.” The Lord was breaking the seal of the covenant between Jehovah and Israel. The sabbath scaled that bond, and was in Israel now worse than useless in God’s sight, because the people who pretended to keep the sabbath so carefully, were the bitterest enemies of His Son. It was utterly false to subject Him to the Sabbath. The Son of Man was “Lord even of the sabbath day.” He takes that ground boldly, as we are here told (ver. 8), and the following sabbath performs this miracle. The Pharisees felt that it was a death-blow to their whole system, and they, gathering together, “held a council against Him how they might destroy Him.” This was the first conclave for the purpose of putting Him to death. Jesus, knowing it, withdraws Himself from thence, “and great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them all” — a picture of what He would do when Israel put Him to death. Thenceforth, the great work was to be among the Gentiles. The prophet Isaiah is quoted in connection with this occurrence, to show what our Lord’s character was: “Behold My Servant, whom I have chosen; My Beloved, in whom My soul is well pleased. I will put My Spirit upon Him, and He shall show judgment to the Gentiles: He shall not strive nor cry, neither shall any man hear His voice in the streets; a bruised reed shall He not break, and smoking flax shall He not quench, till He send forth judgment unto victory. And in His name shall the Gentiles trust.”
The Lord was departing from Israel; but this is not all. There is a final testimony before He pronounces sentence upon Israel: “Then was brought unto Him one possessed with a devil, blind and dumb, and He healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw.” This was the condition in which Israel was about to be, without an eye or a voice for Jesus; the apt figure of the nation’s condition, the Messiah unseen and His praise unuttered in their midst. And here is the solemn thing. The poor, the ignorant, all the people might cry, “Is not this the Son of David? But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils but by Beelzebub, the prince of the devils. And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand. And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then shall his kingdom stand?” — He condescends to reason with them. “And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you” (vers. 27, 28). But they were dumb and blind. The man that submitted to Jesus was healed; but the Pharisees were consulting to slay the Son of David. The Lord answers them yet more. He tells them that now it was come to a point. “He that is not with Me is against Me; and he that gathereth not with Me scattereth abroad.” All depended upon being and acting with Him; wherefore our Lord adds, “All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men; but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men” (ver. 31). The reason of it was this: not only the Son of Man was working these miracles, but the power of the Holy Ghost was there too. Although Jesus might submit to humiliation, He could not but assert the glory of God. The Holy Spirit was putting forth these mighty deeds, and the unbelief that refused the testimony of the Spirit when Jesus was there, would be even stronger against it on His departure. They would prove themselves to be like their fathers: “Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.” And what the consequence? They would be guilty of the unpardonable sin, of rejecting (not only Jesus Himself, as a man presented here, but) the power of the Holy Ghost, whether working in Him then, or now by Him and for Him.
It is the final rejection of the Spirit’s testimony to Christ. It was true when the Lord was here, but is still more complete now that He is in heaven. They refused Christ on earth, and after He went up to heaven, when, through the power of the Holy Ghost, His name alone caused the dead to rise, and thus proved even more His glory than what He had done personally when here below. Those who resisted such testimony as this were evidently hopelessly lost in unbelief and scorn of God in the person of His Son. Therefore our Lord pronounces this blasphemy to be such as nothing can meet. It is not ignorance which thus rejects Christ. A man may be without light; and when it comes, he may, through grace, be enabled to receive Him. But he who refuses all divine testimony, and makes the displayed power of the Holy Ghost the occasion of showing his spite against Jesus, is evidently lost for ever: he bears the unmistakable stamp of perdition upon his brow. This was exactly the sin into which Israel were fast falling. The Holy Ghost might be sent down, and work even greater acts of power than the Lord Himself had done; it made no change in their heart. The blaspheming unbelieving race of Israel should be forgiven neither in this “age,” nor in that which is to come. I am not particular about the word “dispensation” — which means a certain course of time, ruled by particular principles; but the point is, that neither in this age (
αἰῶν) nor in that which is to come, could this sin be forgiven. The age to come is that wherein the children of Israel are to be under the Messiah’s rule; as now, and since the Babylonish captivity, they have been under the rule of the Gentiles. This sin should be forgiven neither now nor then. As to all other iniquity, there was still a hope that what was not forgiven now might be when the Messiah came. Granted that there is unlimited forgiveness for every soul that receives Him; but they refused Him: they attributed the Spirit’s power working in His person to Beelzebub; and that blasphemy would never be forgiven. Such was the growing danger of Israel. Rejecting the Messiah thus, they are doomed. It was rejecting the Holy Ghost’s testimony; and a new work of God must then be brought in.
Hence the Lord pronounces them a generation of vipers. “The tree is known by his fruit.” It. was a bad tree, and no good fruit would He expect from it. “O generation of vipers,” He adds, “how can ye, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. But I say unto you, That every idle word (that is, I suppose, everything betraying contempt for God) that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (vers. 34-37). What God insists upon is testimony to Jesus. These idle words betray the heart’s rejection of Jesus, and slight the Holy Ghost’s testimony to Him. “By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” It is with the mouth that confession is made unto salvation; and the words that leave out Jesus prove that the heart prefers its sin to Him. The words of the mouth evidence the state of the heart. They are the outward expression of the feelings, and they show a man in one way as much as his conduct does in another. If the heart is evil, the words are evil, the conduct is evil: all therefore comes into judgment.
After this the Pharisees ask a sign, and the Lord gives them a most significant one: but, before that, He pronounces His moral sentence on the nation: “An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it but the sign of the prophet Jonas” (ver. 39). What was the special feature of Jonah as a prophet? To whom did he prophesy? He was sent away from Israel to the Gentiles; and, more than that, before Jonah performed his message aright, he must pass through the figure of death and resurrection. So obstinate was he in not going where he was bidden, that the Lord took care Jonah should be pitched out of the ship; and then He dealt with him as a dead man, and wrought a great work in his soul. Jonah having passed through this most remarkable type of death and resurrection was now ready for the message that the Lord gives him. This is the sign which the Lord puts before the Pharisees. Such was the state of the Jewish nation that He must leave them and go to the Gentiles; and that too after death and resurrection in reality, when Israel’s hopes had perished. The Lord has blessing in store for Israel by and by; but for the present all is lost for them. They had rejected their Lord. God was going now to occupy Himself with the Gentiles. Hence it is that the instances used to confirm this are, first, the case of the men of Nineveh, who repented at the preaching of Jonah; “and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.” Then the queen of Sheba, also a Gentile, who did not merely repent because of sin, but showed an energy of faith, I may say, worthy of all note, without even a message sent to her. Such was the ardour of her heart, and her desire after wisdom, that, hearing of Solomon, she hastened in order to hear it from his own lips. What a rebuke for Israel! “A greater than Solomon is here”; and wisdom as much beyond Solomon’s as the person of Jesus was above that of Solomon. But they were an evil and adulterous generation. They knew not that their Maker was their husband; they despised Him; and, adds our Lord, “The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it.” But now He proclaims what will be their final condition. The link of Israel to Himself was broken; and for this blasphemous contempt of the Spirit’s testimony to Jesus as the Son of Man they should be judged.
This is what the Lord now shows. “When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none” (ver. 43). Every student of Scripture will acknowledge that the unclean spirit means idolatry, and its worship connects with demons, instead of God. Are we to suppose that our Lord suddenly breaks off from what He had been saying of the nation to treat of mere individuals? Clearly it is about Israel. As a nation Israel never fell into idolatry after the return from Babylon, as before. Not that they were better men; but the unclean spirit of idolatry was no longer their special temptation. There were new ways in which the devil tempted them to sin, if not after the old sort. The house had been swept and garnished. Such it was when our Lord was here below. Israel had laid aside their idolatrous habits; they went to the synagogue every sabbath day; and they were zealous enough to compass sea and land to make a proselyte. The house was apparently clean, and nothing outwardly to shock the eye if you looked at it. But the unclean spirit is to go back. “Then goeth he and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.” The unclean spirit is to return, with the full power of Satan — “seven spirits more wicked than himself.” More wicked than idolatry! The figure of a man is used to illustrate the state of Israel, as the words that follow plainly show: “Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.” And when is that to be? It is their last state, yet to be. The empty, swept and garnished state existing then may be still going on. Humanly speaking, they may be moral. They may not abandon the books of Moses, but take their stand as worshipping none but the true God. This will go on for a certain time, but not forever; for we know from Scripture that God has kept that nation for special purposes, first in judgment, and then in mercy. He will convert them, and make them a holy, as they are the lineal, seed of Abraham. Israel is yet to show the last results of Satan’s power over their souls before God converts a remnant, and makes it a strong, a saved nation.
But meanwhile, what was He going to do? Was He merely pronouncing judgment on Israel? Far from it. While He yet was speaking to the people one came and told Him, “Behold, Thy mother and Thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with Thee” (ver. 47). The Lord immediately takes this opportunity to show that He no longer acknowledged mere relationships according to the flesh. He had special relationship with Israel, “of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came.” He owns it no longer. They would not have Him, and will become the tenement for the devil in all his power — their last state to be worse than their first. But, says the Lord, I am going to have a new thing now — a people according to My own heart. And so He stretches forth His hand toward His disciples, and says, “Behold My mother and My brethren.” His only true relations were those who received the word of God, and did it. “Whosoever shall do the will of My Father which is in heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother” — He renounced all earthly connection) for the present time. The only tie He acknowledges now is relationship to a heavenly Father, formed through the word of God received into the soul.
Thus we have in this chapter the Lord closing with Israel, as far as testimony is concerned. In the next chapter we shall find what comes dispensationally of those new relations that the Lord was about to unfold.
7 Let us note this open confession of Christ unto salvation. In Mark 5:30-34 and Luke 8:45-48 we see how the Lord draws out and urges the timid soul to an open confession of grace received through the touch of faith. Then follow the Lord’s blessed words of assurance and of relationship: “Daughter, . . . go in peace,” which her confession brings out, to her lasting joy and comfort. Ed.