Bible Commentaries
Matthew 9

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Verse 13


Matthew 9:13. Go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice.

ST. PETER, speaking of his brother Paul, says, that in his writings there are “some things hard to be understood.” The same may be said, in some degree, respecting all the inspired writers. There is, in many of their statements, a height which cannot be explored, and a depth which cannot be fathomed. Even the precepts which they give us are by no means always plain. Some are so figurative, that we are, of necessity, constrained to divest them of their high colouring, in order to reduce them to the standard of practical utility. Thus, when it was said, “Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also [Note: Matthew 5:39.],” we cannot take it altogether in a literal sense, but must understand it as inculcating only a very high degree of patient submission to the injuries inflicted on us. Some are obscure, on account of the unqualified manner in which they are expressed: “Give to him that asketh thee; and from him that would borrow of thee, turn not thou away [Note: Matthew 5:42.].” Were this precept followed in its full extent, the richest man would soon have nothing either to give or lend. Some passages, like my text, are difficult; because, whilst they are expressed in the most positive terms, they are to be understood only in a comparative sense. Our Lord never intended to say that God did not require sacrifice: for the whole Mosaic law was written to shew what sacrifices God did require. His meaning was that mercy was in itself far superior to sacrifice; and that, where the two came into competition with each other, mercy was to be preferred to sacrifice, and to be exercised to the neglect of sacrifice.

That we may enter fully into this subject, let us consider,


The lesson that is here commended to us—

Our blessed Lord, after calling Matthew the publican to the apostleship, condescended to attend a feast which his new disciple had prepared for him. To this feast many publicans and sinners were invited; and our Lord did not disdain to sit down to meat in their company, and to converse familiarly with them. For this he was blamed by the Pharisees, who thought such a condescension, on his part, a violation of his duty both to God and man: to God, who bids us “not to sit with the wicked [Note: Psalms 26:5.];” and to man, to whom it must appear an encouragement to vice. But our Lord vindicates himself, by shewing, that such persons were most likely to profit from his instructions, as the sick are from the physician; and that his conduct was in perfect accordance with their own Scriptures, wherein this lesson was plainly inculcated, “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice.” The import of this he bade them learn: “Go ye, and learn what that meaneth.”

Now, the meaning of it is,


That moral duties are more excellent than those which are merely ritual—

[To this the whole Scriptures bear witness. You will find the utmost contempt poured on ritual observances, when devoid of piety [Note: Isaiah 1:11-15.]: but in all the Bible you will not find one real exercise of grace despised. The smallest good imaginable you will see commended [Note: 1 Kings 14:13.], and the will accepted for the deed [Note: 1 Kings 8:18.]. In moral duties there is a real and inherent excellence: in every one of them there is, what I may justly call, a conformity to God himself, to “whose image we attain by the universal exercise of righteousness and true holiness [Note: Ephesians 4:24.].” They are good at all times, and under all circumstances: whereas ritual observances have nothing valuable in them, except as being appointed of God for his honour, and as being made use of by God for our good. For instance, what is there in the seventh day of the week, or the seventh part of our time? As far as regards the morality of that appointment, it might as well have been a third or a tenth or a twentieth part of our time. And what is there in sacrifices? The killing of a bullock is in itself no better than the killing of a dog: and if God had so ordained, the blood of swine would have been as good as the blood of bulls and of goats. As commanded of God, even the slightest ordinance is to be regarded with the deepest reverence: but, divest even Sabbaths and sacrifices of their divine authority, and I say again, they are of no value. Hence David says, “Thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt-offering [Note: Psalms 51:16.].” And Samuel, reproving Saul, puts to him this pointed interrogation, “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice; and to hearken, than the fat of rams [Note: 1 Samuel 15:22.].”[


That, where they come in competition with each other, ritual duties must give way, and be superseded by the moral—

[The whole course of our blessed Lord’s conduct upon earth attests this truth. On many occasions he, if I may so say, violated the Sabbath-day, performing his miracles then, as on any common day, and ordering a man to carry his bed upon the Sabbath-day. On account of these apparent violations of the Sabbath he was constantly accused as disregarding the laws of Moses and of God. In the twelfth chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel we are informed, that he authorized his disciples upon the Sabbath-day to pluck some ears of corn, and rub out the grain and eat it. The act was perfectly legal in itself [Note: Deuteronomy 23:25.]: but, being done on a Sabbath-day, it was construed as a threshing of the wheat, and, consequently, as a work forbidden on that day. But our Lord justified them from the example of David, who, with his followers, had, contrary to an express command, eaten the shew-bread, which was the exclusive portion of the priests. He further justified them from the countless occupations of the priests in the temple, which turned the Sabbath, that should have been a day of rest, into a day of more than ordinary labour. These being works of necessity, the one for satisfying of their hunger, and the other for the serving of the altar, the ritual command was made void, being superseded by a call of more urgency, and of paramount obligation.]

Such being the lesson here inculcated, let us consider,


The vast importance of learning it—

The manner in which our blessed Saviour speaks, shews that this lesson is far from being generally understood; whilst yet it is so important, that it ought to be diligently studied by every child of man. It is a lesson of vast importance,


For the forming of our principles—

[In the true spirit of the Pharisees of old, many amongst ourselves lay a very undue stress on outward observances, as recommending us to God. But the answer of Balaam to Balak, who had consulted him on this subject, gives us the true view of it: “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” This was the question put to Balaam. His answer was, “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good: and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God [Note: Micah 6:6-8.]?” To the same effect is the declaration of St. Paul: “The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost [Note: Romans 14:17.].” It is the inward disposition of the mind that God regards, and not the service of the body. “The sacrifice of a broken and contrite spirit is, in his sight, of more value than the cattle upon a thousand hills [Note: Psalms 50:8-14; Psalms 51:17.].” We must not, then, form a judgment of our state by our punctuality in outward duties, but by the depth of our humiliation, the simplicity of our faith, and the integrity of our souls in the way of holy obedience. To this must we attend, as of absolute and indispensable necessity: and any principle opposed to this will only deceive us to our ruin.]


For the regulation of our conduct—

[There must, of necessity, be times when our ritual and moral duties clash with each other. To wait upon God in the public assembly of his people is a duty which we all owe to him, and which should not be omitted without great necessity. But who will say that an attendance upon a sick and dying person is not a sufficient cause for neglecting, for a season, the house of God? Who will say, that if there were in a town a general conflagration, the inhabitants would be ill employed in extinguishing the fire, even though it were the Sabbath-day? True, we must take care that we do not pretend a necessity which does not really exist: for we cannot deceive God; and therefore it becomes us to be on our guard that we deceive not our own souls. But, supposing that we exercise an impartial judgment in determining the question before us, we may be sure that God will approve of the conduct that is founded on the rule before us. There is a medium to be observed between a superstitious adherence to forms and a profane neglect of them: and it must be our endeavour so to approve ourselves to God, that we may have his Spirit witnessing with our spirit that we are accepted of him [Note: The question of the British and Foreign Bible Society was here considered. The union of all sects and parties, in dispersing the word of God throughout the world, may be supposed to be, in some respect, a violation of order. Then the question arises, Shall a regard to order be considered as a reason for not uniting every creature under heaven in a work that is so good in itself, and so necessary as that of endeavouring to enlighten and to save the world? To any one who should entertain a doubt on this point, I would say, “Go and learn what that meaneth, ‘I will have mercy, and not sacrifice.’ ” And the very same answer must be returned to those, who, knowing that a fellow-creature will receive only the Bible which is accredited in his own Church, withholds it from him, and leaves him to perish in ignorance, because he differs from him as to the books that should be included in the Sacred Canon.].]

Verses 28-30


Matthew 9:28-30. And when he was come into the house, the blind men came to him: and Jesus saith unto them, Believe ye that I am able to do this? They said unto him, Yea, Lord. Then touched he their eyes, saying, According to your faith be it unto you. And their eyes were opened.

WE are so much accustomed to read and hear the miracles of our Lord, that the recital of them produces little or no effect: but had we seen the multitudes of diseased people continually coming to him, crying after him, and breaking in upon his retreats when he was in the houses of his friends, we should have been greatly astonished. In the passage before us we have a specimen of their importunity: two blind men, having in vain supplicated our Lord’s assistance in the street, followed him into a house, and there obtained that relief, which, from prudential considerations perhaps, he had not chosen to impart in the presence of the people.
Waving many observations which will arise, when another miracle, exactly similar to this [Note: Matthew 20:30-34.], shall be considered, we shall fix our attention upon two things, which are very strongly marked in the words before us:


The object of faith—

The whole sacred volume is to be received by us; but God has revealed in it the proper object of our faith: his perfections are the foundation on which we build; and though every perfection is equally an object of our love, yet there seems a propriety in regarding his power as the more immediate object of our faith; because it will be to no purpose to believe him well-disposed towards us, if we do not also believe him able to effect his gracious intentions—

[In confirmation of this we may observe, that in the most eminent instances of faith, the power of God has been chiefly regarded [Note: Abraham, whose faith is so highly commended, had respect to the power of God to give him a son in his old age, Rom 4:19-21 and to raise him up from the dead, Hebrews 11:19. In dependence on this, Jonathan attacked a Philistine garrison, 1 Samuel 14:6. Jehoshaphat went forth against three confederate armies, 2 Chronicles 20:6; 2Ch 20:12 and the Hebrew Youths withstood the command of the Babylonish monarch, Daniel 3:17-18.] — — —

And in the most remarkable instances of unbelief, his power has been principally doubted [Note: Sarah questioned the power of God to give her a child, Genesis 18:12-14. As did also the Israelites to give them bread and flesh. Psalms 78:20. Moses himself on one occasion staggered at God’s promise, from an apprehension that it could not be performed, Numbers 11:21-22. And Martha deemed the putrid state of her brother’s corpse an insurmountable bar to his restoration to life, John 11:39-40.] — — — Moreover God in a peculiar manner points out this attribute to our notice [Note: Psalms 62:11.], expostulates with us for not attending to it sufficiently [Note: Isaiah 40:28-29.], and exhorts us to take it for our strength [Note: Isaiah 26:4.] — — —]

The address of our Lord to the two suppliants leads us further to remark,


The importance of faith—

[Our Lord makes more inquiry after this than after any other grace [Note: He inquired to this effect of Martha, John 11:26; of the blind man, John 9:35. See also the text.] — — — He overlooked many faults, where this was exercised [Note: He might have justly reproved the nobleman’s impatience, John 4:49.]; and disregarded every thing that was apparentlygood, if this were wanting [Note: The zeal and love of Peter were no longer approved when his faith failed him, Matthew 14:3. Nor did Jesus regard the ready obedience of his disciples in ferrying him over the lake, when they discovered such timidity and want of faith, Mark 4:40.] — — — He invariably bestowed the highest encomiums upon it [Note: Matthew 8:10; Matthew 21:21-22. See particularly 2 Chronicles 16:8. where it was not only commended, but rewarded.]; and made it, not only a condition, but the very measure of his favours [Note: Mark 9:23.Matthew 8:13; Matthew 8:13; Matthew 15:28. See also the text.] — — —]


To unbelievers—

[If men may manifest a very considerable earnestness about salvation, and yet leave room to doubt whether they really believe in the all-sufficiency of Christ, how evidently must they be unbelievers, who have no solicitude about their eternal welfare! To judge of your faith, see whether you resemble these blind men in your consciousness of your need of a Saviour, and your conviction of the sufficiency of Christ to save you? Your need of mercy at his hands is as real and as urgent as ever theirs was: and, if you really believe in him, you are going to him with the same importunity as was expressed by them: nor will you account any time or place unfit for the silent offering of your requests. Think then, what will you answer to the Lord when he shall inquire respecting your faith! And what will you do, if he should say, Be it unto you according to your faith? Alas! too many of you need no greater curse than this. If you have no more pardon, peace, or glory, than in proportion to your present exercise of faith, the great mass of you, it is to be feared, will be miserable indeed. O remember the fate of the unbelieving Israelites; and flee to Christ, every one of you, lest ye perish after their example of unbelief [Note: Hebrews 3:18-19; Hebrews 4:11.].]


To those who are weak in faith—

[Can you see the multitude of our Saviour’s miracles, and entertain any doubt of his sufficiency? or the examples of so many that were strong in faith, and not be ashamed that, with your superior advantages, you should ever indulge unbelief? O fix it in your minds, that Jesus is able to save to the uttermost, and to keep that which you have committed to him [Note: 2 Timothy 1:12.]. Believe in the Lord, so shall you be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper [Note: 2 Chronicles 20:20.]. But if ye will not believe, neither shall ye be establishe [Note: Isaiah 7:9.].]


To believers in general—

[You will find that peace of mind, purity of heart, victory over the world, and indeed all that you hold dear, vary according to the weakness or stability of your faith. Beware then of ever “limiting the Holy One of Israel.” Beg that “what is yet lacking in your faith may be perfected [Note: 1 Thessalonians 3:10.].” And seek to become “strong in faith, giving glory to God.”]

Verses 36-38


Matthew 9:36-38. when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scatteredm abroad, as sheep having no shepherd. Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.

IT is an honour to the present age, that religion has assumed her true character of diffusive benevolence. There is much going forward in the circulation of the Scriptures in the different languages of the world, and in the sending out of missions to every quarter of the globe. But, when I say that there is much going forward, I speak only comparatively with what has been done for ages past: for, in truth, all that is done at present is little more than a drop in the ocean. It is a comfort, however, to know, that the proper office of religion is better understood; and that piety, which, till lately, has been circumscribed within the narrow limits of a man’s own family, now comprehends in its efforts the whole family of mankind. This was the religion which our Lord inculcated on his first disciples, and which, from the words before us, I will take occasion to recommend to you.
Let us then consider,


The state of the world at large—

Doubtless our Lord spake primarily of the Jews, whose condition, in respect of piety, was truly deplorable. The authorized teachers were altogether intent on their own temporal minterests, whilst they forgot entirely the spiritual and eternal interests of the people: so that the people were really as sheep without a shepherd. Happy would it be if there were not but too much occasion for similar complaints in the present day; and that not only amongst other churches, but our own. However, it is of heathens rather that I propose at this time to speak. They, as my text intimates, are in a state,


Of destitution—

[The people “fainted” through their want of that nourishment which their priests ought to have administered. And amongst the heathen world there are multitudes who feel their need of mercy, but know not how to attain it. Nothing can be more clear, than that the most uncivilized savages have an idea of some Superior Being, whom they conceive themselves to have offended, and whom they wish to propitiate. For this end, they have recourse to penances, and pilgrimages, and self- inflicted tortures. It is quite afflictive to read of the rites prescribed by the priests of different religions for the obtaining of favour with their deities. They seem to have exhausted their ingenuity in searching out modes the most painful, the most odious, the most absurd. And what is the effect? The people, after all their self-denying efforts, faint as much as ever, under a sense of the fruitlessness of their endeavours, and with fearful anticipations of their future doom. Like Hagar, when her little stock of water was consumed, they see no prospect before them, but to lie down and die. No angel have they at hand to point out the fountain; which, though hidden, is close at hand. And this is the state of many hundreds of millions of our unhappy fellow-creatures, even of the whole heathen world. Would to God it were not also the state of millions amongst ourselves!]


Of danger—

[Sheep, without a shepherd are exposed to dogs and wolves, who may tear them to pieces at their will: and, in like manner, are the heathen world exposed to the assaults of that roaring lion, who is never satiated with his prey; even with Satan, who prowls throughout the world, seeking whom he may devour. By temptations too on every side, as well as by their own in-dwelling lusts, are they assailed; so that there is indeed no hope of escape for them: for no shepherd have they, to warn them of their danger, or to point out to them a place of refuge. A Deliverer, indeed, is at hand with them, if they did but know where to find him, and how to make their application to him. But they have no man to care for their souls, or to give them the information which they stand in need of. Hence “they perish for lack of knowledge:” not indeed like sheep, by a mere bodily destruction, but under a load of guilt, that sinks them into everlasting perdition; even into “that lake of fire and brimstone,” where they shall “lie down in everlasting burnings.”]
And can we doubt what is,


Our duty towards them?

Our blessed Lord has taught it us: has taught it,


By his own example—

[He “had compassion on the multitudes.” And whence is it that we are so unfeeling towards them? Is it that the heathen are in so much better state than the Jews who attended the ministry of our Lord? Were they who had God in the midst of them by his word and ordinances, such objects of compassion; and are not they who are altogether “without God in the world?” I say then, again, Whence is it that we perhaps, in the course of our whole lives, have never spent one hour in mourning over their unhappy condition, or in praying to God for them? Had the smallest interest of our own been in jeopardy, we should have thought of it, and devised means to avert the impending calamity. But for their souls we have felt no anxiety; nor have we put forth any exertions for their welfare. Truly, we have lain in more than brutish apathy, when we ought to have wept over them, as our Lord over Jerusalem: and to have had great heaviness and continual sorrow in our hearts, as Paul had for his Jewish brethren.]


By a particular command—

[“Pray ye,” says he, “to the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.” And who is “the Lord of the harvest,” but Jehovah? for “all souls are his.” And who but He can “thrust forth labourers into his harvest [Note: ἐκβάλῃ.]?” For ministration at home, where ease, and honour, and emolument, are found, multitudes are ready to obtrude themselves, and to solicit employment in the sacred office: but when God inquires for labourers in the heathen world, and says, “Who will go for us?” how few are found who are ready to reply, “Here am I; send me [Note: Isaiah 6:8.]!” No, in truth: there are excuses enough then: one, like Moses, has not the qualifications for so great a work: another has some temporal occupation inconsistent with it: and another has married a wife, or intends to do so, and therefore cannot go. Much labour and little pay, is not the preferment which the generality of us affect: a thousand difficulties rise up to view; and every mole-hill becomes a mountain. And who but God can overcome this sad reluctance? Who can inspire men with zeal sufficient for this holy undertaking? None but He who formed the universe: none but He who called Andrew and Peter from their nets, and Matthew from the receipt of custom. “He has all hearts in his hands, and turneth them whithersoever he will;” and can convert a proud and persecuting Saul into a humble, loving, and laborious servant of Christ. We should therefore pray to him to effect this. He is a prayer-hearing God, and will not suffer us to seek his face in vain. The whole night did Jesus spend in prayer, previous to his calling to himself his twelve disciples [Note: Luke 6:12-13.]. And who can tell, if we were alike earnest in prayer, what might be effected in behalf of the heathen world? At all events, we are bound to use the means: and we have every reason to believe, that if “we would give no rest to our God,” agreeably to his direction [Note: Isaiah 62:6-7.], he would arise for our help, and get himself praise throughout the earth.]


Be thankful for the blessings which you yourselves enjoy—

[Are you “faint,” from a sense of your own guilt and helplessness? You have those at hand who are ready to offer you “the cup of salvation.” Are you exposed to danger? You have shepherds to warn you of it, and to point out to you that Saviour who is both able and willing to deliver. It may be that some of you understand, by painful experience, what it is to feel a sense of God’s wrath upon the soul, and to be harassed with “a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation.” O, what thanks do you owe to God, that the way of life is so plainly opened to you, and that you are so urgently called to walk in it! Be thankful, then, and avail yourselves of the privileges which you enjoy, and which “many prophets and kings have sought in vain.”]


Endeavour to extend them to the whole world—

[This is the bounden duty of all, to whom the Gospel comes. Ministers and people are alike bound to use the efforts which are within their power: and the poorest and weakest in the universe may lift up his soul in prayer. I call upon you, then; on you especially who are sensible of your own privileges; surely it will be strange indeed if you do not shew a zeal for God. who has so distinguished you; and if you do not endeavour to impart to others the blessings which you yourselves enjoy. To you who are educating for the ministry I would particularly commend this subject and say. Not only pray that God would send forth others into his harvest. but beg him to give you grace. that you may be ready to go yourselves.]

Bibliographical Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Matthew 9". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. 1832.