Matthew 17 - 20

Matthew 17

Our previous chapter has shown us Jesus rejected as Christ or Messiah, confessed as the Son of the living God, and about to return in glory as the Son of Man. But along with the glory in which He is to come and reward each according to his works, we have His suffering: not merely rejection, but His being put to death — raised the third day indeed, but still the suffering Son of Man, and to return in glory. Following up the subject of His Father’s glory, in which He declares He is to come with His angels and judge in His kingdom, we have now a picture given on the holy mount — a striking picture in a twofold point of view. The glory, as we saw, of the kingdom depends upon His being the Son of Man, the exalted Man who had erst suffered, and in whose hands all glory is committed — who had at every cost retrieved the honour of God, and is to make effectual the blessing of man; who, by virtue of His suffering, has already brought to naught the power of Satan for those who believe, and who eventually, when the kingdom comes, is to expel Satan altogether, and bring in that for which God has been waiting — a kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world. Accordingly, “After six days” (type of the ordinary term of work here below), “Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart” (ver. 1). That is, He takes chosen witnesses; for it was merely a testimony to the kingdom — the sample of what He had referred to when He said, “There be some standing here which shall not taste of death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.”

The point there is the Son of Man coming, rather than the kingdom itself; and what follows in our chapter is only a partial illustration of the glory of the rejected Son of Man. Partial though it be, nothing could be more blessed, save the kingdom itself; and faith brings us into a very real present realizing of that which is to be. It is “the substantiating of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The kingdom, of which our Lord spoke, is not yet arrived, of course. When it is said, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,” He speaks of a kingdom which we do enter now. For John does not present it as a thing of mere outward manifestation, but gives a deeper revelation of the kingdom, true now, into which every one that is born of God comes, and which shall yet be displayed in its heavenly and its earthly power. But Matthew, who takes up the Jewish part, or Old Testament predictions of the kingdom, sketches us the presentation of the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.

The Lord, accordingly, takes these disciples “up into a high mountain apart, and was transfigured before them. And His face did shine as the sun, and His raiment was white as the light.” The sun is the image of supreme glory, as that which rules the day. “And behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with Him” — Moses, by whom the law was given, and Elias, the grand sample of the prophets, who recalled the people to the law of Jehovah. They were thus the pillars of the Jewish system, to whom every true Israelite looked back with the deepest feelings of reverence: one of them singled out as the only Jew taken to heaven, without passing through death; the other, lest he should become an object of worship after his death, having the singular honour of being buried by Jehovah. These two appear in the presence of our Lord. They were known to be Moses and Elias: there seems to have been no difficulty in recognizing them. So, in the resurrection-state, the distinction of persons will be kept up thoroughly. There will be no such thing as that kind of sameness which blots out the peculiarities of each. Though earthly relationships shall have passed away, and no peculiar earthly links which connected one with another on earth will survive, in heaven, yet each will retain his own individuality — with this mighty difference, of course, that all saints will bear the image of the heavenly; for while in the body we all resemble fallen Adam now, yet we are not all lost in one common indistinguishable throng. We each have our own proper character and our peculiar conformation of body. So in glory each will be known for what he is. Moses and Elias are seen as glorified, but as Moses and Elias still; and the Lord is transfigured in their midst. “Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here. If Thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles, one for Thee, one for Moses, and one for Elias” — showing that he perfectly well knew which was which. “While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and, behold, a voice out of the cloud which said, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear ye Him” (vers. 4, 5).

Herein, I conceive, lies the depth of the whole passage. Peter, meaning to do honour to his Master, but in a human way — still savouring in a measure the things of men and not of God — proposes to put his Master on common ground with the heads of the law and of the prophets. But it must not be. Whatever might be the honour of Moses, whatever the special charge of Elias, who were they, and what, in the presence of the Son of God? The Son may make nothing of Himself; but the Father loves the Son. Peter would put Him on a level with the most honoured of mankind; but the Father’s purpose is that every knee shall bow to Him — that all men shall honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. Man never does this, seeing simply man in the Son, in no adequate way honouring Him with divine homage. Faith does, for it sees God in the Son, hears God in Him, and also finds Him in the peculiarly blessed relationship with the Father. For if Jesus were conceived to be simply God, and not the Son, it would be an incomparably less blessed revelation than that which we actually have. As to ourselves, if we had a divine nature without the blessed relationship of sonship before the Father, we should lose the very sweetest part of our blessing. And it is not barely the deity of Jesus that has to be owned (though this lies at the bottom of all truth), but the eternal relationship of the Son with the Father. Not merely was He Son in this world: it is most dangerous to limit the Sonship of Christ thus, for it is from all eternity. People reason, that because He is called Son, He must have a beginning in time, subsequently to the Father. All such argumentation ought to be banished from the soul of a Christian. The Scripture doctrine has no reference to priority of time. He is called Son in respect of affection and intimate nearness of relationship. It is the pattern of the blessed place into which grace brings us through union with the Lord Jesus Christ. Though in Him, of course, there are ineffable heights and depths beyond. But if we are simple about it, we gather from it the deepest joy that is to be found in the knowledge of the true God — and that in His Son.

The Father, then, interrupts the word of Peter, and answers Himself. The bright cloud that overshadowed them, Peter knew to be the cloud of Jehovah’s presence: and the Father adds, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” It is not, This is your Messiah — He was that, of course, but He brings out the grand New Testament revelation of Jesus. He reveals Him as His own beloved Son, and His unqualified delight in Him. “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear ye Him” — this last also a statement of all importance. What was Moses, and what Elias now? They are entirely left out here by the Father. I need not say that every one who knows Jesus as the Son of God would be very far from despising Moses and Elias. They who understand grace have a far deeper respect for the law than the man who muddles grace and law together. The only full way to value anything that is of God is in the intelligence of His grace. I do not understand myself nor God till I know His grace; and I cannot know His grace, except as I see it revealed in His Son. “The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” He was full of grace and truth.

“Hear ye Him,” is the Father’s demand. It is no longer, Hear Moses, or Hear Elias, but “Hear ye HIM.” Could anything be more startling to a Jew? All must give place to the Son. The dignity of the others is not denied, nor their due position slighted. To assert the glory of the sun in the heavens is in no way to despise the stars. God set Moses in his place, and Elias in another, as He saw fit; but what were they compared with His Son? How plain and sad that men should still be making two tabernacles — one for Moses (if not for Elias), and one for the Lord Jesus! They talk about God being the unchangeable God: but He who ordained the night made the day; and as surely as He once spake the law, He has now sent the gospel. I see here the display of the glory of God, showing out now one part of His character and now another.

This is not changing. God gives us to see His different attributes, and His various wisdom, and His infinite glory; but I must see each in its own sphere, and understand the intent for which God has given each. Moses and Elias were the two great cardinal points of the Jewish system; but now there is One who eclipses all that system — Jesus, the Son of God; and in presence of Him not even the representatives of the law or the prophets are to be heard. There is a fulness of truth that comes out in the Son of God; and if I want to understand the mind of God, as it concerns me now, I must hear Him. This was most difficult for a Jew to enter into, because His religion was based upon the law. Now, the beloved Son of God in whom the Father Himself expresses His perfect satisfaction is set before all — “Hear ye Him.”

As Jesus is the object of the Father’s infinite love, so He is the means of that same love reaching even to us. If I see Him to be the beloved Son of the Father, my soul rests upon Him and enters into communion with the Father. “Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” What is fellowship? It is our having common joy in a common object which we share with one another. We share in the joy of the Father and of the Son. The Father bids me hear the Son, and the Son declares the Father. We have fellowship with the Father, who points out to our hearts Him in whom He Himself delighted; we have fellowship with the Son, inasmuch as He makes known to us the Father. How shall I know the Father? — how know His feelings? In one way: I look at His Son, and I see the Father. The Son speaks, and I hear His voice. I know how He acts; I know His love — a love that can come down to the very vilest. Such was Christ; and now I am sure such is the Father also. I know what God the Father is when I follow the Son and listen to the Son. It is the Father He is revealing, not Himself: the Son came to make known what the Father is in a world that knew Him not. Even those who had faith, what thoughts had they about the Father? We have only to look at the disciples to see what scant answer to the Father’s heart. Although they were born of God, up to this time they knew not the Father was revealing Himself in Jesus. Philip said, “Show us the Father, and it sufficeth us.” Not that he did not divinely know Jesus as the Messiah; but he had not entered into the blessedness of what He was as the Son revealing the Father. It was only after the Holy Ghost came down, after the Son’s departure to heaven, that they acquired the consciousness of the grace wherein they stood. So, yet more, the apostle Paul says, “Though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more.” To know Christ at the right hand of God — to appreciate what He is there, is to know Him far better than if we had heard every discourse, and seen every miracle of His upon earth. The Holy Ghost brings it out more fully through His word. I am not saying now how far we enter practically into what the Holy Ghost is teaching, because this must after all, and rightly, depend on the measure of our spirituality. But the Holy Ghost is here to take of the things of Christ and show them to us — to make His glory known, and His sufferings, as it is the Father’s delight that He should be known. But there were many things that they could not then bear. When the Holy Ghost was come, He should lead them into all truth.

Such is the object of the Father. He takes occasion of the glory of Jesus, manifested as Son of Man, to show that a still deeper glory attaches to Him. The kingdom of Christ by no means exhausts the glory of His person: and it is as connected with His deeper glory that the existence of the Church is brought out. It was the confession of His Sonship that elicited the word, “Upon this rock I will build My Church.” This is the pith of the New Testament revelation — it is the Father revealing His Son, and the Spirit enabling us to receive what the Son is, both as the image of the in ‘ visible God, and as introducing us into fellowship with the Father. It is not God merely known as such, but the Father in the Son made known by the Holy Ghost. Hence it is that here in a Gospel especially written for Jewish believers, the Holy Ghost particularly marks this. (Compare the close of Matt. 11).

The disciples, confounded by what they heard, fall on their faces and are sore afraid. There was no communion with it yet. For the present they enter into it but slightly, though it was afterwards recalled to them by the Spirit of God. “And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid. And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only” (vers. 7, 8). The heavenly vision had passed away for a time: they were on the mount alone with Jesus. What a joy! — if it vanish, He abides!

Let us just refer, briefly, to the account of this scene as given in the other Gospels. In Mark, the words, “In whom I am well pleased” are left out. The emphatic point, forgotten nowhere, is that He was the Son — in Mark, as in Matthew (not a Servant only, though truly such) — who is to be heard. But Matthew adds, “In whom I am well pleased.” The satisfaction of the Father in the Son is given as the ground why He should be heard, as the full expression of His mind. In Luke we have another thing: “Behold, there talked with Him two men, which were Moses and Elias” (Luke 9:30). They are called “men” here in a distinct manner — this Gospel having been written more particularly in view of men at large. These men “appeared in glory, and spake of His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem.” It is the subject of their conversation — of the deepest interest for us all. The death and sufferings of Jesus are the great theme on which men in glory converse with Jesus, the Son of God. And Jerusalem — Jerusalem! — would be the place of His death, instead of welcoming Him to reign! But we find here the sad traits of human weakness: Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep. Here again we find the Father’s affection for His Son. The highest glories of Judaism wane — the Son is to be heard. The moral features are prominent throughout.

But, let us observe, John leaves out the transfiguration altogether; because his proper work was to dwell, not upon Christ’s outward manifestation to the world as Son of Man in His kingdom, but on His eternal glory as the only-begotten Son of God; or, as he says himself, “We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father.”

In 2 Peter 1:16-18, we have an allusion to this scene. It is said there, “He received from God the Father honour and glory” (confirming the remark, that this scene does not show us so much His essential glory as that which He received from God the Father) — “when there came such a voice to Him from the excellent glory” (or the cloud, which was the known external symbol of Jehovah’s majesty), “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Peter leaves out “Hear ye Him,” because, the revelation of Jesus having come out, the point that remains is the Father’s delight in Jesus. I do not pretend to say how far the inspired writers knew all the mind of God in such a thing: they wrote as moved by the Holy Ghost.

As the disciples came down from the mount, the Lord charges them, saying, “Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of Man be risen again from the dead” (ver. g). It was no longer a question of testifying to the kingdom of Christ. This was rejected. The vision was for the disciples, for strengthening their faith in Jesus. The Lord was occupying Himself with the souls of believers, not with the world. There is always a period when testimony of an outward kind may close. You may remember the time when Paul separates the disciples that were at Ephesus from the multitude, and leads them into what more particularly concerned them. For the time, till the Holy Ghost was given, till the Lord was risen from the dead, and power came from on high to make these things a fresh starting-point, it was of no use to speak of them any further.

Then we have, “His disciples asked Him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come and restore all things; but I say unto you that Elias has come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed” (vers. 10-12). He shows that, to faith, Elias was come. If the nation had received the word preached by John, Elias’ mission would have been fulfilled, according to the prophecy in Malachi; but the nation refusing Jesus as well as His forerunner, faith alone could recognize the testimony of John the Baptist as being virtually that of Elias. This accords with the statement we had in Matthew 11, “If ye will receive it, this is Elias which was to come;” showing that it was not Elias actually and literally, but the spirit and power of Elias in the person of John the Baptist. The Messiah is coming in glory by and by, and Elias is coming too. But the Messiah was come in weakness now, and humiliation, and His forerunner had been put to death. It was Elias who was come in the person of the suffering John the Baptist, and his testimony was despised. The disciples are led into the secret of this: “Elias is come already, and they have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of Man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that He spake unto them of John the Baptist” (vers. 12, 13).

But at the foot of that same mountain where the Lord displayed the glory of the kingdom, Satan also displayed his power. It was not broken yet. The kingdom was only a matter of testimony. The disciples failed to draw on the resources of Christ to put down the power of the enemy. A man comes to the Lord, kneeling down to Him and saying, “Lord, have mercy on my son; for he is lunatic and sore vexed; for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water” — the most opposite trials were thus brought together. “And I brought him to Thy disciples, and they could not cure him. Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? Bring him hither to Me. And Jesus rebuked the devil, and he departed out of him. And the child was cured from that very hour” (vers. 15-18). The disciples wanted to know how it was that they could not cast him out, and He tells them, “Because of your unbelief.” It is as sad as wonderful that unbelief is at the root of the difficulties Satan foists in; for he has lost his power over those that have faith. This child is a lunatic and sore vexed; but unbelief is unable to use the power of God, which ought to have been at the command of the disciples. “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard-seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place.” The least working of faith in the soul is so far available for present difficulties. The power of the world, the settled power of anything here, which is what the mountain sets forth, would completely disappear before faith. “Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting” (vers. 20, 21). There must be dependence upon God in the conflict with the power of evil. It was Christ’s moral glory and the secret of strength. The assumption of power, because of association with Jesus, simply fails and turns to shame. There must also be self-emptiness and self-denial, that God may act. When Jesus descends all Satan’s power is broken and vanishes.

Then comes another declaration of His sufferings, but I will not dwell upon this now, beyond remarking that, as in Matthew 16:21 we had His sufferings through the Jews (elders, chief priests and scribes), so here it is rather Gentile rejection: “The Son of Man shall be betrayed into the hands of men.” This follows the manifestation of His glory as Son of Man, while the other followed the confession of His still deeper glory as Son of God.

In conclusion, let us look at the beautiful lesson in the piece of money demanded for the temple. Peter there answers quickly according to his usual warmth of character. When the tax-gatherer came, who was connected with the temple, and the usual fee was demanded, Peter answered, very hastily, that of course his Master would pay the tribute. His mind went not beyond their Jewish position. It was not that any king of the earth was demanding tribute now of them; this was for Jehovah’s temple. And our Lord anticipates Peter when they come to the house, and says to him, “What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? — of their children or of strangers?” Peter answers truly enough, “Of strangers.” Then Jesus says to him, “Then are the children free.” Nothing can be more beautiful than the truth taught us here: whatever be the glory of the coming kingdom, whatever the power of Satan, which disappears before the word of Jesus, whatever the faith which can remove mountains, nothing can take the Son of God out of the place of grace. He is the King, and Peter one of the “children” who are free, and yet to whom this demand was made. “Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them,” says the Lord, “go thou to the sea, and cast a hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money, that take, and give unto them for Me and thee” (ver. 27).

This is the great wonder of Christ, and the practical wonder of Christianity, that while we have the consciousness of glory, and ought to pass through the world as sons of glory as well as sons of God, for this very reason the Lord calls us to be the humblest and meekest, taking no place upon the earth — I do not mean claiming no place for Christ, of course. It is our business to live for Christ and the truth: but where it is a question of ourselves, to be willing to be trampled on and counted as the off-scouring of the world. Flesh and blood are against it; but it is the power of the Spirit of God raising us above nature.

The Lord provides for all demands. He directs Peter how to find the piece of money, and says, “That take, and give unto them for Me and thee.” What a joy that Jesus associates us with Himself, and provides for everything! — that Jesus, who proves Himself in this very thing to be God the Creator, with divine knowledge, having the command of the restless deep, making a fish to provide the money needed to pay the tax of the temple, should thus give us a place with Himself, and undertake for all our need! Nothing can more beautifully show us how, with the consciousness of glory, our place should ever be that of the bending and lowliness of Christ. How blessedly the Son stooped to be the servant, and leads the children into the same path of grace!

The Lord grant us to know how to reconcile these two things. We can only do it so far as our eye is upon Christ.

Matthew 18

In Matthew 16 we had two subjects connected with the revelation of the Lord’s person to Simon Peter: one of them, the Church, entirely new, or for the first time divulged; the other, the familiar subject of the kingdom of heaven. We shall find in the chapter before us these two things again brought together — not confounded or identified. We are called to see the kingdom and the Church in their practical bearing. We have already learned that the Lord was to build the Church. “Upon this rock” (the confession of His person) “I will build My Church.” Afterward, He promised to give the keys of the kingdom of heaven to Peter.

Now we find (connected, I think, with the principle which actuated Himself) the consciousness of glory, and of the absolute command of all that He had made. He was the Lord of heaven and earth — if, in grace, He paid the tribute of the temple; for grace gives up its rights; at least, it does not seek to claim and exercise them for the present. And in the very consciousness of the possession of all glory, it can bow in this evil world. But, then, carefully observe that the soul is never to yield God’s rights, but our own. We must be as unbending as a flint wherever God is in question. Grace never surrenders the true holiness, the claim, or will, of God; in fact, it is what strengthens the soul to value them and walk in them. There is often a practical difficulty that people do not understand. While we are called upon to walk in grace, it is a misuse of grace to suppose it to be an allowance of evil or indifference to it in our relations with God. Grace, while it meets us in our ruin, imparts a power we had not before, because it reveals Christ, strengthens the soul, gives a new life, and acts upon that life so as to carry us forward in the obedience as well as in the enjoyment of Christ. Our Lord shows that this ought to govern everything.

But first we have the spirit that befits us. “At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” This furnishes opportunity for our Lord to indicate the spirit that becomes the kingdom of heaven: “Jesus called a little child unto Him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (ver. 3). Now this is what is wrought in a soul when it is converted: there is a new life given, even Christ. Hence there is much more than a change. That would be very far short of the truth as to a Christian. Of course the Christian is a changed man; but then the change is because of something still deeper. A Christian is a man born again, possessing a life now that he possessed not before. I do not mean merely that he lives after a new sort, but that he has a, new life given to him which he had not before. It is in this way that he becomes a little child. Then this new life has to be cultivated and strengthened. Our natural life as men develops, or it may be checked and hindered by various circumstances. So it is with the spiritual life.

Our Lord shows here what is the characteristic moral feature that suits the kingdom of heaven; and this in opposition to Jewish thoughts of greatness. They were still thinking of the kingdom according to certain Old Testament delineations of it. When David came to the kingdom, his followers that had been faithful before were exalted according to their previous worth. You have the three great chiefs, and then thirty other warriors, and so on; all of them having their place determined by the way in which they had carried themselves in the day of trial. The disciples came with similar thoughts to our Lord, full of what they had done and suffered. The same spirit broke out on many occasions, even at the last supper. Our Lord here uses it to show that the spirit He loves in His disciples is to be nothing — to be without a thought of self, in a spirit of lowliness, dependence, and trust, that does not think about itself. This is the natural feeling of a little one. In the spiritual child this self-forgetfulness is exactly the right feeling. The little child is the standing witness of true greatness in the kingdom of heaven. In our Lord Himself this was shown, fully. The wonder was that He who knew everything, who had all power and might, could take the place of a little child; yet He did. And, indeed, you may be sure that the lowliness of a child is in no wise incompatible with a person being deeply taught in the things of God. It is not a lowliness that shows itself in phrases or forms, but the reality of meekness that confides not in itself, but in the living God; and this has the respect which God Himself loves there should be toward those around it. Perfect humility was just as much a feature of our Lord Jesus as the consciousness of His glory. The two things may go well together; and you cannot have becoming Christian humility unless there be the consciousness of glory. To behave ourselves lowlily, as children of God, is the beautiful thing the Lord is here putting before us.

“Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (ver. 4). It is not merely the becoming like little children as begotten of God, but there, is the practical humbling of ourselves. And not only the humbling of ourselves, but how we feel toward others: “Whosoever shall receive one such little child in My name receiveth Me.” Whatever may be the lowliness of the Christian, he should be viewed with all the glory of Christ, which is meant by receiving him in the name of Christ. It is a person that does not defend his rights, nor assert his own glory, but is willing to bend and make way for any one, while conscious of the glory that rests upon him. There may be the very opposite of this — “Whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in Me.” What is meant by this? Anything calculated to shake their confidence in Christ, to put a stumbling-block in their way. It does not mean anything said in faithful love to their soul. People may take offence at this; but it is not what is spoken of here., It is what tends to shake the confidence of the little one in God Himself. “Whoso shall offend one of these little ones that believe in Me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” These things are constantly occurring in the world. Therefore, says the Lord, “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” What is to be done? The Lord shows in two forms the way to guard against these stumbling-blocks. The first is this — I must begin with myself. This is the most important means of not stumbling another. “Wherefore, if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off and cast them from thee.” It may be in one’s service, or in one’s walk; but if thy hand or foot become the occasion of stumbling (something in which the enemy takes advantage against God), deal resolutely at once with the evil thing. “It is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire” (vers. 6-8).

The Lord always puts the full result of evil before the soul. In speaking of the kingdom of heaven, He takes into account that there may be persons in it false as well as true. He therefore speaks generally. He does not pronounce upon them; for some may be truly born of God and others not. The Lord solemnly puts before them that such as are indifferent about sin are not of God. It is impossible for a soul to be regenerate and habitually careless about that which grieves the Holy Ghost. Therefore He puts before them the certainty of such being cast into everlasting fire. Of no one who is born of God could this be said. But as there may be in the kingdom of heaven a false profession as well as a true, the believer is to look well to it, that he do not allow sin in any of his members. “And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell-fire.” It may cost ever so much, but God is not a hard Master; none is so tender and loving. And yet it is God giving us His mind by the Lord Jesus, showing us that this is the only way of dealing with that which may become an occasion of sin. (Compare Eph. 5:5, 6).

The first great source of offense to others, and which must be first removed, is that which is a stumbling-block to our own souls. We must begin with self-judgment. But there is also the despising the little ones that belong to God. “Take heed,” says our Lord, “that ye despise not one of these little ones: for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of My Father which is in heaven.12 For the Son of Man is come to save that which was lost” (vers. 10, 11). A beautiful word, especially as it is so broadly stated by our Lord as to take in literally a little child as well as the little ones that believe in Him. I believe this chapter was meant to give encouragement touching little ones. The plea on which our Lord goes is, not that they were innocent (which is the way in which they are so often spoken of among men), but that the Son of Man came to save that which was lost. It supposes the taint of sin, but that the Son of Man came to meet it: so that we are entitled to have confidence in the Lord, not for our own souls only, but for the little ones too.

But our Lord goes further. “How think ye? If a man have a hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it; verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish” (vers. 12-14). No doubt we can embrace all those that are saved on the same principle. The Gospel of Luke shows us (Luke 15) this very parable applied to any sinner. But here the Lord is taking it up in connection with the foregoing, namely, right feelings for one who belongs to the kingdom of heaven. Starting from’ a little child whom He sets in the midst, He carries the thought of the little one all through this part of His discourse. And now He closes with the proof, in His own mission, of the interest which the Father takes in these little ones.

Then the Lord applies it to our practical conduct. Supposing your brother does you wrong; an evil word, perhaps, or an unkind action done against you — something that you feel deeply as a real personal trespass against you; it is a sin, of course. Nobody knows it, probably, but himself and you. What are you to do? At once this great principle is applied: When you were ruined and far from God, what met your case? Did God wait till you put away your sin? He sent His own Son to seek you, to save you. “The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost.” This is the principle for you to act upon. You belong to God; you are a child of God. Your brother has wronged you? Go you to him, and seek to set him right., It is the activity of love which the Lord Jesus presses upon His disciples. We are to seek the deliverance, in the power of divine love, of those who have wandered from God. The flesh feels and resents wrong done against itself. But grace does not shroud itself up in its own dignity, waiting for the offender to come and humble himself and own his wrong. The Son of Man came to seek the lost. I want you, He says, to be walking after the same principle, to be vessels of the same love — to be characterized by grace, going out after that which has sinned against God. This is a great difficulty, unless the soul is fresh in the love of God, and enjoying what God is for him. How does God feel about the child that has done wrong? His loving desire is to have him right. When the child is near enough to know the Father’s heart he goes out to do the Father’s will. A wrong may have been done against him, but he does not think about that. It is his brother who has slipped into evil, and the desire of his heart is to have the brother righted who had gone astray — not to vindicate self, but that his soul may be restored to the Lord.

“Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone” (ver. 15). It is not here the case of a sin known to a great many, but some personal trespass only known to you two. Go, then, to him, and tell him his fault between you and him alone. “If he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.” Love is bent on gaining the brother. So it is to him that understands and feels with Christ. It is not the offender, but thy brother that is the thought before the heart: “Thou hast gained thy brother.”13

“But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.” Is it possible he may resist one or two who come to him, witnesses of the love of Christ? He has refused Christ pleading by one; can he refuse Christ now that He pleads by more? It may be, alas, that he will. “And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the Church.” The Church means the assembly of God in the place to which these all belong. “If he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the Church; but if he neglect to hear the Church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican” (ver. 17). The assembly, then, is told of the guilty person’s fault. The thing has been investigated and pressed home. The Church warns and entreats this man, but he refuses to hear; and the consequence is — “Let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican.” A most solemn issue! A man who is called a brother in the verse before is to me as a heathen man and a publican now. We are not to suppose the man to be a drunkard or a thief; but showing the hardness of self-will and a spirit of self-justification. It may arise out of small circumstances; but this unbending pride about himself and his own fault is that on which he may, according to the Lord, be regarded as a heathen man and a publican — no more to acknowledge him in his impenitent state. And yet it may spring mainly from the spirit of justifying oneself. In the case of open sin or wickedness, the duty of the Church is clear: the person is put away. Nor would there be reason in such a case for going one at a time, and then one or two more. But the Lord shows here how the end of this personal trespass might be that the Church has finally to hear it — and it may lead to something more.

“Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.” It is not a mere question of agreement, but of what is done in the name of the Lord. (See 1 Cor. 5:4.) “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, That if two of you shall agree on the earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together unto My name, there am I in the midst of them.” Whether for discipline or for making requests of God, the Lord lays down this great principle, that where two or three are gathered together unto His name, He is in the midst of them. Nothing could be more sweet and encouraging. And I am persuaded that the Lord had in view the present ruin of the Church, when there might be ever so few gathered aright, assembled in obedience to the word of God, and carrying it out according to the will of the Lord Jesus Christ.

But a person may ask, Are any upon that ground? I can only say that the Christians who fall back on Scripture, owning the faithful presence of the Spirit in the assembly on earth, are taking an immense deal of trouble for a delusion if they are not. They are very foolish in acting as they do unless they are sure that it is according to the mind of God. Ought you to have more doubt how Christians should meet together for worship or mutual edification than about any other directions in the word of God? If we are not restrained by human rules, if the word of God alone is followed, there is entire liberty to carry out its directions. But while speaking thus confidently, on the other hand ought we not to take a very low place? When members of Christ’s body are scattered here and there, humiliation alone becomes us; not only because of others’ ways, but our own. For what have we been to Christ and the Church? It would be very wrong to call ourselves the Church; but if we were only two or three meeting in the name of Christ, we should have the same sanction and Christ’s presence as if we had the twelve apostles with us. If through unbelief and weakness the Church at large were broken up and scattered, and if, in all this confusion, there were only two or three who had faith to act upon the Lord’s will, for them the word would still be true, “Where two or three are gathered together unto My name, there am I in the midst of them.” It is the presence of Christ and obedience to Him that give sanction to their acts. If the Church has fallen into ruin, the business of those who feel this is to depart from known evil — “Cease to do evil; learn to do well.” We always have to come back to first principles when things get astray. This is the obligation of a Christian man.

Peter then asks our Lord, “How oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?” (ver. 21.) We had instruction how we were to act in the case of a personal trespass. But Peter raises another question. Supposing my brother sins against me over and over, how often am I to forgive him? The answer is, “I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but, Until seventy times seven.” In the kingdom of heaven — not under the law, but under the rule of the rejected Christ — forgiveness is unlimited. How wonderful — the deeper holiness revealed in Christianity, is at the same time, that which feels with deepest love, and goes out with it to others! So we find here, “I say not unto thee, Until seven times,” which was Peter’s idea of the largest grace, “but, Until seventy times seven.” Our Lord insists that there really was no end to forgiveness. It is always to be in the heart of the Christian.

“Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king which would take account of his servants” (ver. 23). And then we have two servants brought before us. The king forgives one of them who had been very guilty (who owed him ten thousand talents — practically, a debt that never could be paid by a servant). On his entreaty, the king forgives him. The servant then goes out and meets a fellow-servant who owes him a hundred pence — a small sum indeed in comparison with that which had just been forgiven to himself. Yet he seizes his fellow-servant by the throat, saying, “Pay me that thou owest.” And the king hearing it summons the guilty man before him. What is taught by this? It is a comparison of the kingdom of heaven, and refers to a state of things established here below by God’s will. While we may, and must, take the principle to ourselves, much more is taught than this.14 Taken in the large way, the servant that owes the ten thousand talents represents the Jew, peculiarly favoured of God, who yet had contracted the enormous debt that he never could pay. When they had completed this debt by the death of their Messiah, a message of forgiveness was sent them — “Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out.” They had only to do so, and their sins would be blotted out: God would send the Messiah again, and bring in the times of refreshing. The Holy Ghost, answering the prayer of our Lord upon the cross, uses Peter to tell them, “I wot, brethren, that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers. . . . Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out,” even as the Lord had said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Thus the servant had heard the sound of forgiveness to himself, yet with no real apprehension of it. He goes out and casts a fellow-servant into prison for a very small debt. This is the way in which the Jews acted toward the Gentiles. And thus all the debt that God had forgiven them became fastened upon them. The master says to the servant, “O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow-servant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him” (vers. 32-34).

I do not doubt that you may apply this to an individual who has heard the gospel, and who does not act according to it. The principle of it is true now of any mere professor of the gospel in these days, who acts like a worldly man. But taking it on the broader scale, you must bring in the dealings of God with the Jews. The day is coming when the Lord will say that Jerusalem has received of His hand double for all her sins. He will apply to them the blood of Christ, which can outweigh the ten thousand talents, and more. But the unbelieving generation of Israel are cast into prison, and will never come out: the remnant will, by the grace of God; and the Lord will make of the remnant a strong nation.

Meanwhile, for us the great principle of forgiveness is what we have need to remember. We have specially to remind our souls in the case of anything that is against ourselves. May we at once look steadfastly at what our God and Father has done for us! If we can, in the presence of such grace, be hard for some trifling thing done against ourselves, let us bethink ourselves how the Lord judges here.

May the Lord grant that His words may not be in vain for us, that we may seek to remember the exceeding grace that has abounded towards our souls, and what God looks for from us!

Matthew 19

We have had the announcement of the kingdom of heaven and then of the Church. We have seen them as distinct, though connected, in Matthew 16; then in Matthew 18, the practical ways which suit them. It was necessary also to bring out the relation of the kingdom to God’s order in nature. The relationships which God has established in nature are entirely apart from the new creation, and are carried on when a soul enters the new creation. The believer is still a man here be low, although as a Christian he is called not to act on human principles, but to do the will of God. It was therefore of much importance to know if the new things affect the recognition of that which had been already set up in nature. Accordingly, this chapter largely reveals the mutual relations of what is of grace and what is in nature. I am, of course, using the word “nature,” not in the sense of “the flesh,” which expresses the principle and exercise of self-will, but of that which God ordained in this world before sin came in, and survives the ruin. It is only the man that understands grace that can enter into and thoroughly recognize the outward natural order in the world. Grace never leads a person to slight anything God has introduced, it matters not what it might be. Take for example the law; what a profound error to suppose that the gospel weakens or annuls God’s law! On the contrary, as the apostle Paul teaches in Romans 3, by faith “we establish the law.” If I am on legal ground, there is terror, anxiety, darkness; the dread of meeting God as a judge: the law keeps up all these thoughts as long as I am here, and very properly. Hence, it is only the man who knows that he is saved by grace, lifted above the region to which the law applies its death-stroke, who can gravely, yet in peace, look at it and own its power, because he is in Christ, above all condemnation. A believer can do it, just because he is not under law; for, “As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse.” If he were under the law even as to his own walk and communion, and not his standing before God, he must be miserable; the more so, in proportion as he is honest in regard to the law. The attempt to be happy under the law is a most painful struggle, with the danger too of deceiving ourselves and others. From all this grace delivers the soul, setting it on a new ground. But the believer can look with delight and see the wisdom and holiness of God that shine in His every arrangement and all His moral government. The law indeed is a testimony to what God forbids or wishes, but not the revelation of what He is. This you cannot find outside Christ. However, the law holds up the standard of that which God demands of man. It shows His intolerance of evil, and the necessary judgment of those who practise it. But we should be helplessly and hopelessly miserable if this were all; and it is only when the soul has laid hold of the grace of God that it can take pleasure in His ways.

This chapter, then, surveys the relationships of nature in the light of the kingdom. The first and most fundamental is that of marriage. “The Pharisees also came unto Him, tempting Him, and saying unto Him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?” (ver. 3). There you have the conduct of such as are on legal ground. There is really no respect for God, no genuine regard for His law. The Lord at once vindicates from Scripture the institution and the sanctity of marriage: “Have ye not read that He which made them at the beginning made them male and female?” (ver. 4). That is, He shows it is not a mere question of what came in by the law, but He goes to the sources. God had first established it; and, far from dissolving the tie as men list, He made a single pair, and therefore only to be the one for the other. All other relationships were light in comparison of this closest tie — even union. “For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and cleave unto his wife; and the twain shall be one flesh.” Next to the relationship of marriage is the tie of a child to its parents. It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of marriage as a natural institution. Who would talk of a child leaving his father and mother for any cause? The Pharisees even would not think of such a thing. ,What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” They were ready with an answer: “Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?” (ver. 7). There was really no such command: a divorce was simply allowed.

Our Lord draws the distinction perfectly. Moses suffered certain things not according to the original archetypal intention of God. Nor should this be matter of wonder, for the law made nothing perfect. It was good in itself, but it could not impart goodness. The law might be perfect for its own object, but it perfected nothing, nor was it ever the intention of God that it should. But more than this: there were certain concessions contained in the law which did not at all express the divine mind; for God therein was dealing with a people after the flesh. The law does not contemplate a man as born of God; Christianity does. Men of faith during the law were of course born of God. But the law itself drew no line between regenerate and unregenerate; it addressed all Israel, and not believers only; hence suffered certain things in view of the hardness of their hearts. So that our Lord, while intimating a certain consideration of Israel’s condition in the flesh, at the same time vindicated God’s law from the corrupt deductions of these selfish Pharisees. “From the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery. And whosoever marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (vers. 8, g). Our Lord adds here what was not in the law, and brings out the full mind of God touching this relationship. There is but one just cause for which it may be dissolved; or rather, marriage must be dissolved morally in order to terminate as a matter of fact. In case of fornication, the tie is all gone before God; and the putting away merely proclaims before man what has already taken place in God’s sight. All is made perfectly clear. The righteousness of the law is established as far as it went, but it stops short of perfection by admitting in certain cases a less evil to avoid a greater. Our Lord supplies the needed truth — going up to the very beginning, and on to the end also.

Thus it is that Christ, the true light, alone and always introduces the perfect mind of God, supplying all deficiencies and making all perfect. This is the aim, work and effect of grace. Nevertheless, “His disciples say unto Him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry” (ver. 10). Alas! the selfishness of the heart even in disciples. It was so much the custom then to dismiss the wife because of petty dislike, etc., that it shocked them to hear the Lord insisting on the indissolubility of the marriage. tie.

But, says the Lord, “All men receive not this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs which were so born from their mother’s womb; and there are some eunuchs which were made eunuchs of men; and there be eunuchs which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it” (vers. 11, 12). There, I apprehend that, while maintaining the institution of marriage naturally, the Lord shows there is a power of God that can raise people above it. The apostle Paul was acting in the spirit of this verse, when he gives us his own judgment as one that had “obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful” (1 Cor. 7:25). Doubtless he was called to a remarkable work, which would have made due attention to family relationship very difficult. His business lay and took him everywhere. Wherever there were churches to care for, wherever souls cried, Come over and help us — and far beyond the calls of saints or men, the Holy Ghost laid it on his devoted heart. With wife or family to care for, the work of the Lord could not have been so thoroughly done. Hence the wise and gracious judgment of the apostle, not given as a command, but left to weigh on the spiritual mind. The last of the three classes in the verse is figuratively expressed: it means, plainly, living unmarried for God’s glory. But mark, it is a gift, not a law, much less a caste. Only such receive it to whom it is given.” It is put as a privilege. As the apostle presses the honourableness of marriage, he was the last to lay the smallest slur on such a tie; but he also knew of a higher and all-absorbing love, an entrance, in measure, into the affections of Christ for the Church. Still this is not an imposed obligation, but a special call and gift of grace in which he rejoiced to glorify his Master. The appreciation of the love of Christ to the Church had formed him in its own pattern. Observe here, it is “made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake” — that order of things which depends on Christ now in heaven. And hence, strong in the grace that shines in Him at the right hand of God, they to whom it is given walk above the natural ties of life — not despising them; but honouring them, while individually surrendering themselves to that goodly portion which shall not be taken from them.

And now children are brought unto Him — little ones, apt to be despised. What in this world so helpless and dependent as a babe? “Then were brought unto Him little children, that He should put His hands on them, and pray” (ver. 13). The disciples thought it an annoyance or a liberty, and “rebuked them. But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto Me; for of such is the kingdom of heaven. And He laid His hands on them, and departed thence” (vers. 13-15). So completely were all the demands of love met even where the desire seemed ever so unseasonable. For why should the Lord of heaven and earth occupy Himself with putting His hands upon little ones? But love is not restrained by human reason, and the unworthy thoughts of the disciples were set aside, who thought babes unworthy of His notice. Ah! how little they knew Him, long as they had been with Him. Was it not worthy of Him so to bless the very least in man’s eyes? How important a lesson for our souls is this? It need not be one connected with ourselves; it might be another’s child. Do we claim the Lord for it? What is His feeling? He is great, He is mighty; but He despiseth not any.

Before His glory there is not so much difference between a world and a worm. The world is a mere cipher, if God measures by Himself. But then, the feeblest may be the object of His deepest love and care. Our Lord looked at these babes, oh, with what interest! They are the objects of the Father’s love, for whom He gave His Son, and whom the Son came to save. Each had a soul: and what was its value? What to be a vessel of grace in this world, and of glory in the bright eternal day? The disciples did not enter in these thoughts; and how little our own souls enter into them. Jesus not only blessed the babes, but rebuked the disciples, who had misrepresented Him; and He says, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto Me; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” A withering word for pride. Were the disciples “of such” at that moment, or at least in that act?

And now a young man “came and said unto Him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” He was evidently a lovely natural character; one who combined in his person every quality that was estimable; one who had not only all that men think productive of happiness in this world, but apparently sincere in desiring to know and do the will of God. And, further, he was attracted by and came to Jesus. In another Gospel we read that “Jesus loved him;” not because he believed in and followed Jesus; for, alas, we know he did not. But there are various forms of divine love, besides that which embraces us as returned prodigals. While we have a special love for the children of God, and in the things of God ought to value only that which is of the Holy Ghost, it does not follow that we are not to admire a fine mind or a naturally beautiful character. If we do not, it only proves that we do not understand the mind of God as here manifested in Jesus. Even as to creation, am I to look coldly, or not at all, at rivers or mountains, the sea, the sky, valleys, forests, trees, flowers, that God has made? It is a total mistake that spirituality renders dull to His outward works. But am I to set my mind upon these sights? Are we to travel far and wide for the purpose of visiting what all the world counts worthy to be seen? If in my path of serving Christ a grand or beautiful prospect passes before me, I do not think that He whose handiwork it is calls me to close my eyes or mind. The Lord Himself draws attention to the lilies of the field brighter than Solomon in all his glory. Man admires that which enables him to indulge his self-love and ambition in this world. That is merely the flesh. But as to the beautiful, morally or in nature, grace, instead of despising, values all that is good in its own sphere, and does homage to the God who thus displayed His wisdom and power. Grace despises neither what is in creation nor what is in man. This young man the Lord “loved,” when certainly as yet there was no faith at all. He went away from Jesus in sorrow. But what believer ever did, since the world began? His sorrow was because he was not prepared for the path of faith. Jesus desired him to follow Him, but not as a rich man. He would have been delighted to do “some great thing;” but the Lord laid bare self in his heart. He knew that (spite all that naturally, and even according to the law, was beautiful in him), there was self-importance at bottom — the flesh turning these very advantages into a reason for not following Jesus. But as nothing at all, he must follow Jesus. “Good Master,” said he,” what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” He had not learned the first lesson a Christian knows, what a convicted sinner is learning — that he is lost. The youth showed that he had never felt his own ruin. He assumed that he was capable of doing good; but the sinner is like the leper in Leviticus 13, who could not bring an offering to God, but only remain outside crying, “Unclean, unclean.” The young man had no sense of sin. He regarded eternal life as the result of a man’s doing good. He had been doing the law; and, as far as he knew, he never broke it.

Our Lord says to him, “Why callest thou Me good? There is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” He may take him up on that ground. This man had no idea that the one to whom he was speaking was God Himself. He merely went to Him as a good man. On this footing the Lord would not allow Himself to be called good. God alone is. The Lord at first simply deals with him on his own ground. “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto Him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (vers. 17-19). The Lord quotes the commands that relate to human duties — the second table of the law, as it is called. “All these,” says the young man, have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? But says the Lord, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow Me,.” And what then? “When the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.” He loved his possessions better than he loved Jesus. This gave our Lord an opportunity for unfolding another truth, and one most startling to a Jew, who regarded wealth as a sign of the blessing of God. It was in a similar spirit that the friends of job also acted, though they were Gentiles; for in truth it is the judgment of fleshly righteousness. They thought that God must be against job because he had got into unheard-of trial. The Lord brings out, in view of the kingdom of heaven, the solemn truth that the advantages of the flesh are positive hindrances to the Spirit.

“Then said Jesus unto His disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly” (that is, with difficulty; not, he cannot, but “shall hardly”) “enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Emphatically He repeats it, “Again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle” (beyond nature, of course) “than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. When His disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?” The Lord faces their objection: “Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible (vers. 24-26).” If it was a question of man’s doing anything to get into the kingdom, riches are only so much hindrance. And so it is with all else counted desirable. Whatever I may have, and trust in, whether it be moral ways, position, or what not — these are but impediments as far as concerns the kingdom, and make it impossible to man. But with God (and we may bless Him for it) all things are possible, no matter what the difficulty. Therefore God chooses in His grace to call all sorts and conditions of people. We read of a person called out of Herod’s court; we read of saints in Caesar’s household. A great company of the priests believed; so did Barnabas the Levite, with his houses and lands; nay, above all, Saul of Tarsus, brought up at the feet of Gamaliel. All these difficulties only gave God the opportunity to overcome all obstacles by His own power and grace.

When Peter heard how hard it was for the rich to be saved, he thought it time for him to speak of what they had given up for the Lord’s sake, and to learn what they should get for it. ,Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed Thee; what shall we have therefore?” How painfully natural was this! “Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man shall sit upon the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life” (vers. 28, 29). There is nothing the believer does or suffers but what will be remembered in the kingdom. While this is most blessed, it is also a very solemn thought. Our ways now, though they have nothing to do with the remission of our sins, are yet of all consequence as a testimony to Christ, and will bear very decidedly on our future place in the kingdom. We must not use the doctrine of grace to deny that of rewards; but even so, Christ is the sole motive for the saint. We shall receive for the thing’s done in the body according to that we have done, whether it be good or bad, as the Lord shows plainly here. The twelve had followed the rejected Lord, albeit His own grace had given them the power. It was not they who had chosen Him, but He had chosen them. They are now cheered by the assurance that in the blessed time of the regeneration, when the Lord will work a grand change in this world (for as He regenerates a sinner, so will He, as it were, regenerate the world), their work and suffering for His name will not be forgotten of Him.

Remember that what is spoken of here does not refer to heaven: there is still better work in heaven than judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Yet it is a glorious destiny reserved for the twelve apostles during the reign of Christ over the earth. A similar glory is designed for other saints of God, as we read in 1 Cor. 6:2: “Know ye not that the saints shall judge the world?” There it is used to show the incongruity of a saint seeking the world’s judgment in a matter between himself and another; for the Christian’s portion and blessing are entirely apart from the world, and he should be true to the objects for which Christ has called him.

As to all the natural relationships and advantages of this life, if lost for His name’s sake, the losers shall receive a hundredfold and inherit everlasting life. The Gospel of John speaks of everlasting life as a thing that we possess now: the others speak of it as future. We have it indeed now dwelling in us; we shall then enter its own dwelling-place, and shall have its fulness in glory by and by. “But many that are first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” What a hint to Peter — and to us all! A self-righteous claim is a ready snare, and soon finds its level. The leaving of all, if valued, has lost all its value. Thus many who began to run well turned aside from grace to law; and Peter himself was blamed by the last (but first) of the apostles, as we know from the Galatians.

The Lord make His grace the strength of our hearts; and if we have suffered the loss of any or of all things, may we still count them dung that we may win Him!

Matthew 20

The last chapter closed with the important doctrine that in the kingdom the Lord will remember all suffering and service here for His name’s sake. But it is evident that though this be an undoubted truth of Scripture, referred to in Paul’s epistles, and elsewhere in the New Testament, it is one which the heart would be ready to abuse to self -righteousness; and that a person forgetting that all is of grace might be disposed to make a claim upon God by reason of anything which He had enabled one to do. Hence a parable is added with a totally different principle, in which the prominent thought is the sovereignty of God, for the express purpose, I think, of guarding against such effects. For God is not unrighteous to forget our work and labour of love which we may have shown toward His name: but there is a danger for us in it. It does not follow, because God will not forget what His people do for Him, that His people are to treasure it up themselves. We have but one thing to set our souls upon: it is Christ Himself; as the apostle said, “This one thing I do: forgetting those things that are behind, and reaching forth unto those things that are before” — not forgetting what we have done wrong: the very reverse of this will be even in glory. When there is not a vestige of humiliation left, we shall have a more lively sense than ever of our manifold failures; but not as producing one feeling of doubt, or fear, or unhappiness. Such thoughts would be contrary to the presence of God. It is a good thing for the believer, while holding fast his full blessing, to think of what he is — to humble himself day by day in the sight of God; always remembering that true humiliation is on the ground of our being children of God. A person who had some office about the Queen, and had proper respect for her, would be thinking of her, not of himself. How much more when we are in the presence of God! This ought to fill our souls with joy in the worship of the Lord. What is comely for the saint, what is most acceptable to God, is not the constant bringing in of ourselves in one way or another, right as this may be, in a certain sense, in our closet. But the praise of God for what He is — above all, in the knowledge of His Son and of His work — is the great end of all the dealings of God with His children. The consciousness of our nothingness really shows the deepest and most real humility. Where there is habitual carelessness and lack of dependence, with their sad results, there will not be a preparedness of heart for worship. The proper thought connected with the Lord’s table is that I am going to meet with Christ, to praise Him together with His saints; and this — the sense of being in His presence — keeps a check upon our spirits.

In order to keep us in this sense of grace, the Spirit of God recurs in this chapter to the sovereignty of God, the counteractive to the self-righteousness that is to be found even in the heart of a disciple. Peter said,’, We have left all, and followed Thee,” and the Lord assures him that it would not be forgotten; but He immediately adds the parable of the householder. Here we find, not the principle of rewards. or righteous recognition of the service done by His people, but God’s own rights, His own sovereignty. Hence there are no differences here — no one specially remembered because he had won souls to Christ, or left all for Christ. The principle is, that while God will infallibly own every service and loss for the sake of Christ, yet He maintains His own title to do as He will. Some poor soul may be brought to the knowledge of Christ at the day of his death. God claims His own title to give what He pleases, to give to those who have not wrought anything at all — as we may think — just what is good in His own eyes. This is a very different principle from what we had in the last chapter, and exceedingly counter to the mind of man. “The kingdom of heaven is like to a man that is a householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard” (vers. 1, 2).

The common application of this parable to the salvation of the soul is a mistake. For this is that which Christ wrought for, suffered for, and lives for, independently of man. The poor sinner has just to give himself up to be saved by Christ. When brought to an end of himself, acknowledging that he deserves nothing but hell, how sweet that God brings before such a soul that Jesus Christ (and this is a faithful saying) came into the world to save sinners! When content to be saved as nothing but a sinner, and by nothing but Christ, there and then only is true rest given of Him. Wherever one thinks to contribute his part, it will be — only uncertainty, and doubts, and difficulties. Christ alone is our salvation. The man that is saved contributes nothing but his sins. But in this parable the question is not this; it is the work of each servant, as the Lord is pleased to call to labour in His vineyard. If He please, He’ will put all upon an equal footing. He will reward the work that is done, but He will give as He will.

“When he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the market-place; and said unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way” (vers. 2-4). It is not grace in the sense of salvation here. Whatsoever is right I will give you.” It is God that judges what is becoming. “Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.” And, singular to say, “about the eleventh hour he went out.” What a heart this tells! What infinite goodness! that God, who recognizes every service and suffering done for Himself, yet keeps intact the prerogative of going out at the last moment to bring in souls, and occupy them with what might seem to be a little service! But He can give grace to do that little well. “About the eleventh hour he went out . . . and saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first” (vers. 6-8). “Beginning from the last.” The last are always spoken of first in this parable. So the steward is told to begin from the last unto the first. And again, when the master of the vineyard has to speak himself, it is the same thing: “The last shall be first, and the first last.” It is the sovereignty of grace in giving as He pleases; not alone in saving, but in rewarding in the time of glory; for this is what is spoken of.

Of course the last received their wages thankfully. But when the first heard about it, they began to think themselves entitled to more — they who had borne the burden and heat of the day. But the master reminds them that all was a settled thing before they entered on their work. In their selfishness, they forgot both the terms and the righteousness of him with whom they had to do. If, out of the liberality of his heart, he was pleased to give to the last even as to the first, what was that to them? God maintains His own rights. It is of greatest importance for our souls that we hold to the rights of God in everything. Persons will argue as to whether it is righteous for God to elect this person or that. But on the ground of righteousness all are lost, and for ever. Now, if God is pleased to use His mercy according to His wisdom, and for His glory, toward these poor lost ones, who is to dispute with Him? “Who art thou, O man, that repliest against God?” God is entitled to act according to what is in His heart: and “Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?” Is He entitled to act from Himself? He cannot act from man on the grounds of righteousness.There is no foundation on which he can thus deal; it is entirely a question of His own good pleasure. And we must remember there is not a man that is lost but rejects the mercy of God, despises it, or uses it for his own selfish purposes in this world. The man that is saved is the only one that has a true sense of sin, that gives himself up as lost, and falls back upon God’s mercy in Christ to save a lost sinner.

To the complainant, the goodman of the house answered, “Friend, I do thee no wrong. Didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way; I will give unto this last even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?” (vers. 13-15). There comes out the whole secret. Man, yea, a professing disciple, a labourer in His vineyard, may be disputing because he thinks himself entitled to more than another who, in his opinion, has done little as compared with himself. The question of being a child of God does not enter in this parable; and, as to service, one may be a true servant or a mere hireling.

I would just ask, Why in the last chapter it was, “Many that are first shall be last, and the last first,” and here, “The last shall be first, and the first last?” In speaking about rewards, according to the work done, the failure of man is intimated; for indeed weakness soon shows itself — “The first shall be last.” But in this new parable it is the sovereignty of God that never fails; consequently here, “The last shall be first and the first last.” “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present evil world.” There was a first, we may say, who became last — a labourer for the Lord, who had not given up Christianity, but grown tired of the path of unremitting service for Christ. If, instead of honour now, the thousands of those who are engaged in the service of Christ were to receive scorn and persecution, there would be no slight thinning of their ranks. But shame and suffering must be looked for by him who intelligently seeks to serve faithfully the Lord in this world. Demas may have been a believer; but the trial and reproach, the love of ease and other things all came strongly over his spirit, and he abandoned the service of the Lord. “All seek their own, not the things that are Jesus Christ’s” is a similar principle.

And now the Lord is going up to Jerusalem, and prepares His disciples for still greater trouble. I ‘Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn Him to death, and shall deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify Him: and the third day He shall rise again” (vers. 18, 19). Even after this, so selfish is the heart of man, the mother of Zebedee’s children comes to Him with her sons, who were among the apostles themselves; and, paying her worship to Him, she desires a certain thing of Him. “And He said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto Him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on Thy right hand and the other on the left, in Thy kingdom” (ver. 21). So perfect is the humiliation of Christ, such His self-abandonment (He, the only One who had perfect knowledge of, and right to everything by His personal glory), that He says, I have no place to give in My kingdom — it is not mine to give, save as My Father may desire. But I have something to give you now: it is suffering. Yes, suffering for and with Him is what Christ gives His servants now — a high privilege. When the apostle Paul was converted, he asked, “What wilt Thou have me to do?” The Lord tells him what great things he should suffer for His name’s sake. The highest honour we can have here is suffering with and for Christ. This our Lord lets the mother of Zebedee’s children know. “Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto Him, We are able” (ver. 22). He took in two different kinds of suffering: the cup, which is inward suffering; and the baptism, which expresses what we are immersed into outwardly. The two include every kind of trial, inward and outward. He is not here speaking about the cross in atonement, for there can be no fellowship in this. But there might be the cross in rejection, though not as atonement. There may be the sharing of what Christ suffered from man, but not of what He suffered from God. When He was suffering for sin on the cross, relationship is dropped, as He bows in infinite grace to the place of judgment. He is made sin. He realizes what it is to be forsaken of God, making Himself responsible for the sins of men. He says, therefore, in that terrible moment on the cross, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? In this we can have no part. God forsook Jesus that He might not forsake us. God never forsakes a Christian nor hides Himself from him.

When the Lord says, “Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto Him, We are able.” They did not know what they said, any more than what they asked. For, when our Lord was only in danger of death, we find that they all forsook Him and fled. As for one of them, if he did venture into the hall of judgment, it was merely, as it were, under the high priest’s robe; that is, on the plea of being known to him. When Peter followed on his own ground, it was only to show his utter weakness. In presence of such a cup as this, and such a baptism, the Lord says, “Ye shall indeed drink of My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with” (not, ye are able): “but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of My Father” (ver. 23). I would just remark that the words which are put in italics (and inserted without warrant) mar the sense very much. Without them the sense is better. It was His to give to those only to whom the Father destined it. Christ is the administrator of the rewards of the kingdom. As He was the Servant in suffering, He also shall dispense the rewards and glories of the kingdom.

“And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren” (ver. 24). No doubt it seemed a very right thing to put down these two brethren who were so full of themselves. But why were they thus indignant? Their pride was wounded; they too were full of themselves. Christ was not filled with indignation — it was a sorrow to Him: but they were moved with hot feeling against the two brethren. We have to take care. Often where we seek to pull down those that seek to exalt themselves, there is self or! our part too. Suppose one of us has fallen into sin. There is often a good deal of strong feeling about it: but is this the best way of showing our sense of sin? Those who feel most for God, feel also the deepest for those who have slipped away from Him. “If a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. “

“But Jesus called them unto Him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them; and they that are great exercise authority upon them” (ver. 25). He put His finger upon that very love of greatness in themselves. They were loud in condemning it in James and John; but their feeling betrayed the same thing in their own hearts. “It shall not be so among you,” says the Lord, “but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.” There is a difference between the two words. The word translated “minister “means a servant. But in verse 27 it is a bondman or slave. Do you want to be really great according to the principles of My kingdom? Go down as low as you can. Do you want to be the greatest? Go down the lowest of all. Whoever has least of self is greatest in the Lord’s eyes. For “the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many” (ver. 28). He took the lowest place of all, and gave His life a ransom for many. Blessed for ever be His name!

The last verses properly belong to the next chapter, which is the approach of our Lord to Jerusalem from the way of Jericho. And it is necessary to take the two chapters together, to have the proper connection of all that is given us here. But I cannot close this part of the subject without recalling attention to the principles of the kingdom of God as shown us by Christ Himself. What a call for self-renouncing service! What a joy to think that everything that now is a trial will be found as a joy in that kingdom! There are some who think they are favoured with few opportunities for serving the Lord — who are shut out from what their hearts would desire. Let us remember that He who knows everything has a right to give as He will to His own and of His own. He will do the very best according to His heart. Our one business now is to think of Him who came, not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many. That is our prime call and need — to be Christ’s servants in serving each other.

In the transfiguration we had a picture of the coming kingdom; Christ, the Head and Centre, with representatives of its heavenly and earthly aspects; on the one side, Moses and Elias glorified; and on the other, the three disciples in their natural bodies. This was a turning point in the history of our Lord’s course, which John passes by, but it is given fully in the other three Gospels. The Cross, because of sin, is the foundation of all glory. There could be nothing stable or holy without it. It is the sole channel through which flows all our blessings; and Christ’s decease, we know from Luke, was the theme on the holy mount. But John gives us nothing of that scene; because he is occupied with Christ as the Son. In John we have, not the human side, but the deity of the Lord Jesus: His rejection by Israel, and Israel’s consequent rejection by God, are assumed from the beginning of that Gospel: as we read, “He came to His own, and His own received Him not.” Now the transfiguration does not bring out the deity of Christ, but His glory as exalted Son of Man, owned withal as Son of God. This was a sample of the glory of the Lord in His future kingdom; with the types of some risen and heavenly, and of others in their natural or earthly state. But John does not show us the kingdom, but the Father’s house. The world may in some measure, see the glory, as fore shown on the mount, but this is not our best portion. While we look for “that blessed hope” and the appearing of the glory, our hope is to be with Christ in the many-mansioned house of the Father — a hope which is far beyond any blessing of the kingdom. Neither will it be displayed. The secrets of love and communion of Christ with the Church are not for display before the world. Doubtless the glory and the place of power which the Church will possess in the coming kingdom will be displayed; for these form some of the chief features in the millennial reign. Thus the mount of transfiguration holds an important place in the three synoptic Gospels, as showing Christ in the capacity of Messiah, Servant, and Son of Man. As such, He will be displayed after the pattern in the mount, and accordingly, the three Evangelists, who present Christ in these three aspects, give us the transfiguration. The thought of present reception by the Jews, as we have seen, had been entirely given up, and the new thing coming in begins to be announced. Christ must suffer and die.

The end of our chapter, from Matthew 20:30, is a preface to Matthew 21, where we have the last formal presentation of the King — not with the thought of being received; but for the filling up of man’s iniquity and the accomplishment of the counsels of God, He presents Himself as such. The Lord is on His way to Jerusalem, and two blind men cry unto Him, Have mercy on us, O Lord, Thou Son of David! If they knew nothing of the impending crisis, they notwithstanding were completely in the spirit of the scene. The Holy Ghost was acting upon them that they might bear testimony to Jesus, who was now for the last time to be publicly presented as Heir to the throne. What a picture! The seeing ones, in their blind hardness of heart, rejecting their own Messiah, though owned of Gentiles as the born King of the Jews; and the poor blind ones, through faith, loudly confessing Him the true King. Perhaps their principal, their one desire, may have been to be healed of their blindness. Be it so; but God, at any rate, gave to their faith the proper object and the just confession for that moment, for He was guiding the scene. Whatever was the thought of the blind men in crying after the Lord, God’s design was that there should be a suited testimony rendered to His King, the “Son of David.” A Jew would well understand all that was implied in the title. What a condemnation of Pharisees and scribes who had rejected Christ! The highest point of view is not always the most proper. The circumstances vary. Thus the confession of Christ as “Son of David” was more in keeping here than if they had said, “Thou Son of God.” We have only to weigh the various titles to see that in hailing Him according to His Jewish glory, they uttered that which was in unison with what God was then doing.

Let me ask, reverently, Why should the resurrection of Lazarus be omitted in the first three Gospels? Man, if these accounts had been his work, would not have omitted it, surely. It would have been thought far too important to be left out under any consideration. The omission of so stupendous a miracle, in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, points out clearly that it is the Spirit of God who wrought sovereignty and writes by each with a special purpose. If so, that which men call inconsistencies and imperfections, are really perfections in God’s word. It was a part of the purpose of God to omit the miracle in some, for He only presents those facts which suit His design in each Gospel. This miracle of raising Lazarus does not show us Christ as the Messiah, or the Servant, or the Son of Man, but as the Son of God, who gives life and raises the dead — a grand point of doctrine in John 5 — therefore it is given in John’s Gospel alone. There were other miracles of raising the dead in the other Gospels; but the truth of the Sonship and present glory of Jesus in communion with the Father is not in these others the prominent one. It is not, therefore, as Son of God that He appears in them. Take, for instance, the raising the widow’s son at Nain. What are the circumstances brought into emphasis there? He was the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. Luke, or rather the Spirit, is careful to note this; for it is what gives point to the touching story. “He restored him to his mother.” It is the Lord’s human sympathy, the Lord as Son of Man, which is the object here. True, He must have been Son of God, or He could not have thus raised the dead. If the Godhead and relation to the Father, of Him who was made flesh, had been the only truth to show, the attendant circumstances need not have been narrated; the Gospel of John might have sufficed, as it does, to display eminently the Lord Jesus as the Son.

All this manifests the perfectness of the word of God. When the mind is subject to Him this is seen, and He teaches those who submit themselves and confide in Him. A blind man is healed in John 9, (not these near Jericho, who appeal to Jesus) but, as Jesus passed by, He saw a man blind from his birth. Rejected of men, Jesus was going about seeking for objects on whom to bestow His blessing; the Son who, unsought, saw the deep need, and dealt accordingly. It was an opportunity of working the works of God. He waits for nothing, goes to the man, and the work is done, though it was the sabbath-day. How could the Son of God rest in the presence of sin and wretchedness, whatever religious pride might feel? The Lord leaves him not until he can own Him “Son of God,” and worship. Moreover, we may say, John never mentions a miracle simply for the display of power, but to attest the divine glory of Christ. In Matthew it is the rejected Messiah. Here (in chap. 20), being despised by the nation, God makes two blind men bear testimony to Him as Son of David; which, when thus owned by the nation, will bring in Israel’s restoration with triumphant power.

The place (near Jericho) was accursed. But if Jesus has come as Messiah, although the Jews reject Him, He shows Himself to be Jehovah — not only Messiah under the law, but Jehovah above it; and so He blesses them even at Jericho, and they followed Him. This was the place that Israel should have taken: they ought to have known their King. The two blind men were a witness for Him, and against them. There was a competent testimony — “In the mouth of two witnesses,” etc. Mark and Luke, whose object was not to bring out testimony valid according to the law, mention only one.

12 What our Lord calls here “their angels” seem to be the spirits of children now in heaven — the spirit representing the person in the present state until the resurrection. Compare Acts 12:15; Heb. 12:23, and Rev. 1:20 — this last representing the assembly. A “guardian angel,” of which some speak as the meaning here, does not seem to give a good reason for the Lord’s warning; nor is it anywhere mentioned in Scripture. Ed.

13 Forgiveness is necessarily based on the “hearing,” — “if he shall hear thee” — which shows the heart is not continuing in the wrong. Ed.

14 While forgiveness or retension of guilt governmentally is the subject of this kingdom parable, an unforgiving, relentless spirit would show a heart untouched by God’s mercy, with eternal consequences attaching. — [Ed.