Friday, June 2nd, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible Coke's Commentary
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Matthew 19". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tcc/ matthew-19.html. 1801-1803.
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Matthew 19". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://studylight.org/
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Christ healeth the sick; answereth the Pharisees concerning divorcement: sheweth marriage is necessary: receiveth little children: instructeth the young man how to attain eternal life, and how to be perfect: telleth his disciples how hard it is for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God: and promiseth reward to those that forsake any thing to follow him.
Anno Domini 33.
Matthew 19:1-2. The coasts of Judea, beyond Jordan— Properly speaking, no part of Judea was on the further side of Jordan; for though, after the Jews returned from the captivity, the whole of their land was called Judea, especially by foreigners who happened to mention their affairs, it is certain, that in the Gospels, Judea is always spoken of as a particular division of the country: we may therefore reasonably suppose that St. Matthew's expression is elliptical, and may supply it from St. Mar 10:1 thus: And came into the coasts of Judea, δια του περαν του Ιορδανου,— through the country beyond Jordan. See John 10:40. In this journey our Lord passed through the country beyond Jordan, that the Jews living there might enjoy the benefit of his doctrine and miracles; and great multitudes followed him, namely, from Galilee into Perea. Our Saviour's fame was become exceedingly great, insomuch that every where he was resorted to and followed;—by the sick, who wished to be healed; by their friends, who attended them; by those whose curiosity prompted them to see and examine things so wonderful; by well-disposed persons, who found themselves greatly profited and pleased with his sermons; by enemies, who watched all his words and actions, with a design to expose him as a deceiver; and, lastly, by those who expected that he would set up the kingdom immediately. Besides, at this time the multitude might have been greater than ordinary, because, as the passover was at hand, many going thither might have chosen to travel in our Lord's train, expecting to see new miracles. See Macknight and Lamy. The version of 1729 renders the latter part of the 1st verse, And came into the confines of Judea on the other side Jordan.
Matthew 19:3. The Pharisees also came, &c.—for every cause— Upon every pretence. Campbell. At discretion. Version of 1729. Our Lord had delivered his sentiments on the subject twice; once in Galilee, ch. Mat 5:32 and again in Perea, Luke 16:18. It is probable, therefore, that they knew his opinion, andsolicited him to declare it, hoping that it would incense the people, who reckoned the liberty which the law gave them of divorcing their wives, one of their chief privileges. Or, if, standing in awe of the people, he should deliver a doctrine different from what he had taught on former occasions, they thought it would be a fit ground for accusing him of dissimulation. But they missed their aim entirely; for Jesus, always consistent with himself, boldly declared the third time against arbitrary divorces, not in the least fearing the popular resentment. See Macknight, and the note on ch. Mat 5:31-32 and on Deuteronomy 24:1
Matthew 19:4-7. And he answered, &c.— The accounts which St. Matthew and St. Mark have given of this matter, though they seem to clash upon the first view, are in reality perfectly consistent. The two historians, indeed, take notice of different particulars; but these, when joined together, mutually throw a light on each other. According to both the evangelists, the Pharisees came with an insidious intention, and asked our Lord's opinion concerning divorce. But the answer returned to their question is differently represented by the historians. Matthew says, that our Lord desired the Pharisees to consider the original institution of marriage in Paradise, where God created the human kind of different sexes, and implanted in their breasts such a mutual inclinationtowardseachother,asinwarmthandstrengthsurpasses all other affections wherewith he has endowed them towards any other of their fellow-creatures; and because they have such a strong love to each other, he declared, that in all ages the tie which unites them together in marriage should be stronger than any other tie, and among the rest stronger even than that which binds them to their parents; and that male and female, thus joined together in marriage, are by the strength of their mutual affection no more twain but one flesh; that is to say, constitute only one person in respect to the unity of their inclinations and interests, and of the mutual power which they have over each other's body, (1Co 6:16; 1 Corinthians 7:4.) and that as long as they continued faithful to this law, they must remain undivided till death separates them. From the original institution of marriage in Paradise, and from the great law thereof declared by God himself upon that occasion, it evidently appears, that it is the strongest and tenderest of all friendships; a friendship supported by the authority of the divine sanction and approbation; a friendship therefore which ought to be indissoluble till death: What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder, by unseasonable divorces. Thus, according to St. Matthew, our Lord answered the Pharisees' question concerning divorce, by referring to the original institution of marriage in Paradise: but St. Mark says, Mar 10:3 that he answered them by referring them to the Mosaical precepts; he answered, What did Moses command you? The evangelists, however, may be easily freed from the imputation of inconsistency, by supposing, that the answer in St. Mark was given after the Pharisees had, as St. Matthew informs us, Mat 19:7 objected the precept in the law to the argument against divorce drawn from the original institution: Why did Moses then, &c.? "If divorce be contrary to the original institution of marriage, as you affirm, how came it that Moses has commanded us to give a bill of divorce, and to put her away?" The Pharisees, by calling the law concerning divorce a command, insinuated, that Moses had been so tender of their happiness, that he would not suffer them to live with bad wives, though they themselves had been willing; but peremptorily enjoined them, that such should be put away: to this our Lord answers, Mark 10:3. What did Moses command you, &c.? and this question being placed in this order, implies, that he wondered how they came to consider Moses's permission in the light of an absolute command, since it was granted merely on account of the hardness of their hearts. See Macknight, Doddridge, and other harmonists, and the following note. Dr. Heylin, instead of He which made them, in the fourth verse, ο ποιησας, reads the Creator; and instead of said, Mat 19:5 he reads it was said; for I take the word ειπεν here, says he, for an impersonal verb. It was Adam who said so, and not God. The Prussian editors read, says the Scripture. But on this subject, see the note on Genesis 2:24.
Matthew 19:8. Because of the hardness of your hearts— He meant their passionate, stubborn, perverse temper, which was such, that had they not been permitted to divorce their wives, some would not have scrupled to murder them; others would have got rid of them by suborning witnesses to prove the crime of adultery against them. Others would have reckoned it great mildness, if they had contented themselves with separating from their wives, and living unmarried. Moses therefore acted as a prudent lawgiver in allowing other causes of divorce besides adultery; because, by admitting the less, he avoided the greater evil. At the same time the Jews, whose hardness of heart rendered this expedient necessary, were chargeable with all the evils that followed it; for which reason, as often as they divorced their wives, unless in the case of adultery, they sinned against the original law of marriage, and were criminal in the sight of God, notwithstanding that their law allowed such divorces. Our Lord, as Grotius well observes, stronglyintimates, that a more tender disposition than that whichcharacterizedthe Jews under the Mosaic dispensation, might justly be expected from his disciples.
Matthew 19:9. Whoever shall put away his wife, &c.— From our Lord's answer it appears, that the school of Sammai taught the best morality on the subject of divorce, but that the opinion of the school of Hillel was more agreeable to the law of Moses on that point. See on ch. Matthew 5:31. The present verse seems to be parallel to Mar 10:11 having been spoken to the disciples in the house, as is probable from the unusual change of persons observable in this part of the discourse. The practice of unlimited divorces, which prevailed among the Jews, gave great encouragement to family quarrels, was very destructive of charity, and hindered the good education of their common offspring: besides, it tended not a little to make their children lose that reverence for them which is due toparents, as it was scarcely possible for the children to avoid engaging in the quarrel. Our Lord's prohibition, therefore, of these divorces is founded on the strongest reason, and tends highly to the peace and welfare of society. See Macknight, and Mintert on the word πορνεια .
Matthew 19:10. If the case of the man be so, &c.— The disciples observed to their Lord, that since the law of marriage is so rigid, that, unless the woman breaks the bond by going astray, her husband cannot dismiss her, but must bear with her, whatever are her other vices, deformities, or defects,—a man had better not marry at all. To this our Lord replies, that certainly it is not in every one's power to live continently; yet if any man has the gift, whether by natural constitution, or by the injury of human force used upon him, which has rendered him incapable of the matrimonial union,—according to that infamous traffic which the luxury and effeminacy of the Eastern world rendered so common; or by an ardent desire of promoting the interests of religion, animating him to subdue his natural appetite, and enabling him to live in voluntarychastity, unincumbered with the cares of the world; such a person will not sin, though he lead a single life. That the imputation of desire only is meant by the phrase, who have made themselves eunuchs, may be gathered from the other clauses of the passage: for there is mention made first of eunuchs, who were so born from their mother's womb; plainly importing that some are continent by natural constitution. Next we are told of eunuchs who have been made so by men; and last of all, there be, who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake; not by doing violence to themselves, but by a strong resolution of living continently in a state of celibacy, for the sake of promoting more effectually the interests of religion. See 1 Corinthians 7:7; 1 Corinthians 7:37. Our Lord adds, He that is able to receive it, let him receive it; which words must not be referred to the clauses immediately preceding them, as if our Lord meant to say, "He who is able to become an eunuch by any of the ways I have mentioned, let him become one:" for the second way is without all question unlawful: but they must refer to Mat 19:11 as is plain from the words themselves. In that verse Jesus had said, "All men cannot receive this saying, &c. They cannot live without marriage chastely, unless they have the gift of continency." In the 12th verse he shews how that gift is obtained, mentioning three ways of it; and then adds, he that is able to receive it, let him receive it. "He who by any of the methods that I have mentioned is in a capacity of living chastely, may continue unmarried without sinning." We may just observe, that what is here said of a single life, is entirely perverted by the Roman Catholics, when they produce it to discredit matrimony, and exalt celibacy as a more perfect state; for on this very occasion marriage is declared to be an institution of God: and, lest any one might have replied, that it was a remedy contrived purely for the weakness of our fallen state, it is particularlyobserved, that it was instituted in the time of man's innocence. Wherefore, as the Apostle tells us, Marriage is honourable in all ranks and conditions of persons, provided the duties thereof are inevitably maintained. Besides, it is false to affirm that our Lord recommends celibacy; he only gives permission for it, as a thing not unlawful; telling them, that if they were able to live continently, they would not sin, though they did not marry; especially as the times they lived in were times of persecution. In this light also the judgment of the apostle St. Paul is to be considered, 1 Corinthians 7:26. See Macknight, Wetstein, and Chemnitz.
Matthew 19:13. Then were there brought unto him little children— Grotius observes, that it was a custom with the Jews to bring their children to persons of remarkable sanctity, to receive their blessing, and to enjoy the benefit of their prayers; a custom which is preserved among them to this day. The imposition of hands was a ceremony with which the ancient prophets always accompanied their prayers in behalf of others. This action of our Saviour might be performed only in compliance with the above-mentioned custom; yet there are others who imagine that these children were brought by certain persons, who, seeing the many wonders performed by Christ, thought perhaps that his power would be effectual in preventing, as in removing distempers; and therefore proposed to get their little ones secured by his prayers from all harms. Whatever was their design the disciples rebuked them; apprehending them too troublesome, and thinking it beneath the dignity of so great a prophet, to concern himself about such little creatures, who were incapable of receiving any instruction from him. Wetstein thinks that, being deeply engaged in the discourse concerningmatrimony,andhavingmanycuriousquestionstoproposeto their Master, they were displeased to be thus unseasonably interrupted.
Matthew 19:14. Suffer little children, &c.— Let the little children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to me. See Dr. Scott, Doddridge, &c. Christ's shewing his regard in such a manner for these children, must not only have been exceedingly pleasing to the parents, but the memory of this condescension might make tender and lasting impressions on the children themselves; and the sight must have been very edifyingand encouraging to other young persons who might happen to be present; not to say how instructive this gentleness to children may be to ministers, and how much their usefulness may be promoted by a regard to it. Our Lord might reasonably be the more displeased with his disciples for endeavouring to prevent their being brought, as he had so lately set a child among them, and insisted on the necessity of their being made conformable to it. See ch. Matthew 18:2-3. And perhaps, as the disciples expressed some dissatisfaction at his doctrine concerning divorce, Matthew 19:10. Jesus took this opportunity to inform them again, that unless they possessed the humility, meekness, and docility of children, they should not enter into the kingdom of God; for of such is the kingdom of heaven; that is to say, as Dr. Doddridge paraphrases it, "Persons of such a character are the true subjects of my kingdom, and heirs of eternal glory, to which my little children are received; and, in token of it, the children of believing parents are to be admitted into my church by baptism." See Mark 10:15.
Matthew 19:15. And he laid his hands on them, &c.— Though the little ones could not profit by our Saviour's instructions, yet being capable of his good wishes and blessings, St. Mark tells us, Mark 10:16. He took them up in his arms, and, with his usual benevolence blessed them. The imposition of hands being always accompanied with prayer, St. Matthew, who, in the beginning of this account, had joined these two together, says simply at the conclusion, that He laid his hands on them, and departed. It is probable, therefore, that Jesus both recommended the young ones to God in prayer, and blessed them himself.
Matthew 19:16. Behold, one came and said— For the explanation of this event see the notes on Mark 10:17. &c. where it is more circumstantially related.
Matthew 19:17. There is none good but one, that is God— This passage has been produced and strongly argued by the Arians in favour of their system. They found their argument upon the Greek, which runs thus, Ουδεις εστιν αγαθος, ει μη εις, ο Θεος . There is none good, but εις one; and that (one) is ο Θεος, God. Whence it is argued, that the adjective εις being in the masculine gender, cannot be interpreted to signify one being, or nature (for then it should have been εν in the neuter), but one person; so that by confining the attribute of goodness to the single person of the Father, it must of course exclude the persons of the Son and Holy Ghost from the unity of the Godhead. This, it must be owned, is a plausible objection: for, supposing the word εις to signify one person (and in that lies the whole force of the argument) then, if one person only is good, and that person is God, it must also follow, that there is but one person who is God; the name of God being as much confined hereby to a single person, as the attribute of goodness. But this is utterly false; the names of God, Lord, Lord of hosts, the Almighty, Most High, Eternal, God of Israel, &c. being also ascribed to the second and third persons of the blessed Trinity. Take it in this way, therefore, and the objection, by provingtoomuch,confutesitself,andprovesnothing. The truth is, this criticism, upon the strength of which some have dared to undeify the Saviour, has no foundation in the original. The word εις is so far from requiring the substantive person to be understood with it, that it is put in the masculine gender to agree with its substantive Θεος, and is best construed by an adverb. If you follow the Greek by a literal translation, it will be thus, There is none good,— ει μη εις ο Θεος, —but the one God; that is, in common English, but God only. And it happens, that the same Greek, word for word, occurs in Mark 2:7. Who can forgive sins,— ει μη εις ο Θεος, but God only? So it is rendered by our translators; and we have a plain matter of fact, that the word εις in this place cannot possibly admit the sense of one person, because Christ, who is another person, took upon him to forgive sins. In the parallel place of St. Luke's Gospel (Luke 5:21.) the expression is varied, so as to make it still clearer,— ει μη μονος ο Θεος,— not εις, but μονος, another adjective, of the masculine gender, which,though it agree with its substantive Θεος, is rightly construed with an adverb,—either the alone God, or God only: and the Greek itself uses one for the other indifferently, as επ αρτω μονω, by bread only, Matthew 4:4. εν λογω μονον , in word only, 1 Thessalonians 1:5. The utmost that can be gathered therefore from these words, is no more than this, that there is one God, (in which we are all agreed) and that there is none good besides him, which nobody will dispute. Whether in this God there be one person or three, remains yet to be considered; and the Scripture is so express in other places as to settle it beyond all dispute. If it should here be asked, for what reason Christ put the question before us, Why callest thou me good? I answer, for the same reason that he asked the Pharisees, Why David in spirit called him LORD? Mat 22:43 and that was, to try if they were able to account for it. This young man, by addressing our Saviour under the name of good master, when the Psalmist had affirmed long before, that there is none that doeth GOOD, no NOT ONE, (Psalms 14:3.) did in effect allow him to be God; no mere man since the fall of Adam having any claim to that character; and, when he was called upon to explain his meaning, forthat God only was good, he should have replied in the words of St. Thomas, My Lord, and my God! which would have been a noble instance of faith, and have cleared up the whole difficulty. See Jones's "Catholic Doctrine of a Trinity," p. 13.
Matthew 19:21. If thou wilt be perfect, &c.— That is, "If thou wilt prove thyself a true disciple of mine; if thou wilt enter perfectly and unfeignedly under my banner, and enlist in my cause." It may not be improper to observe, that the terms ofsalvation here settled are not different from those mentioned elsewhere in Scripture: for though faith is declared by our Lord himself to be the condition of salvation, it is such a faith, as influences to the universal righteousness here described; If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. Moreover, the Christian religion, being from God, is established upon such solid evidences, that every humble person to whom it is offered will receive it with pleasure; and, if any man refuse it, his infidelity can be owing to no other cause than this, that his deeds are evil. So our Lord himself says expressly, Joh 3:19 and therefore, in returning a general answer concerning the terms of salvation, Jesus fitly directed this young man to a sincere, constant, and universal obedience; and, when he replied that he had arrived at that already, and desired to know if he lacked any thing more,—namely, to render him perfectly good, our Lord, who knew how destitute he was of the true evangelical principles of holiness, required him to become his disciple; which, as he had acknowledged our Lord's divine mission, he could not refuse to do, if he was the man that he pretended to be. At the same time Jesus let him know, that he could not be perfect, or his disciple, and much less a preacher of the Gospel, without renouncing worldly possessions; because, as matters then stood, the very profession of his religion, and much more the preaching of it, would infallibly expose him to the loss of his estate. Here, therefore, our Lord has declared, that all men to whom the Gospel is offered must believe it, and make profession of it, and produce all the fruits of it internally and externally, or they cannot be saved; but he by no means says, that it is absolutely necessary for all Christians to sell their goods, and give them to the poor. An intire actual renunciation of worldly possessions might, in innumerable instances, be necessary in the first ages, when the profession of Christianity, but especially the preaching of it, exposed men to persecution and death; which was the reason that Jesus mentioned it to the young man as his indispensable duty, especially as he aimed at the highest degree of goodness: but all that our Master requires of us at present is, that we be in constant and habitual readiness to part with all things in the world; and that we actually do so with perfect acquiescence in God's good pleasure, when he in his providence calls thereto. See on Luke 14:33. Macknight, and Law's Christian Perfection, ch. 3.
Matthew 19:23. Shall hardly— Will hardly.
Matthew 19:24. It is easier for a camel, &c.— Or, a cable. See Boch. tom. 1: p. 92. Vorst. Adag. p. 14. The rendering of the original word by cable, undoubtedly coalesces more perfectly with the other metaphor of the needle; but, as there is nothing in the proverbial expression, as it stands in the common versions, but what is very agreeable to the Eastern taste, and may be paralleled in other Jewish writings, there seems no great reason to depart from it. The Jews generally made use of the phrase, An elephant cannot pass through the eye of a needle; which our Saviour changes for a camel, an animal very common in Syria, and whose bunch on its neck is apt to hinder its passage through any low entrance. In our Saviour's time, too, the word camel was proverbially used to express any vast object, that being the largest animal in Palestine. Thus we read, ch. Matthew 23:24. Strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. We may just observe, that these strong expressions must be understood in their strictest sense, of the state of things at that time subsisting; yet in some degree are applicable to rich men in all ages: the reason is, riches have a woeful effect upon piety in two respects: first, in the acquisition; for, not to mention the many frauds and other sins which men too often commit to obtain riches,—they occasion an endless variety of cares and anxieties, which draw the affections away from God. Secondly, They are generallyoffensive to piety in the possession; because if they be hoarded, they never fail to beget covetousness, which is the root of all evil; and if they be enjoyed, they become strong temptations to luxury and drunkenness, to lust, pride, and idleness. See Heylin, and Mintert on the word Καμηλος .
Matthew 19:28. Ye which have followed, &c.— Ye who have followed me, shall in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit upon, &c. sit also upon, &c. See Doddridge, and the version of 1729. The latter has the passage thus: In the new age, when the son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, that have followed me shall likewise sit upon twelve thrones, &c. This appears to be a very natural sense of this difficult passage: many commentators, however, understand it differently, and agreeably to our translation. "Jesus replied (says Macknight) to the inquiry of Peter, that he and the rest of the apostles should certainly have a peculiar reward even in this life; because, immediately after his resurrection, when he ascended the throne of his mediatorial kingdom, he would advance them to the high honour of judging the twelve tribes of Israel; that is to say, of ruling his church and people, of which the twelve tribes were a type. You who have followed me in the regeneration, παλιγγενεσια, you who have left all and followed me, in order to assist me in accomplishing the creation of the new heavens and the new earth, predicted Isa 65:17 when the Son of man shall sit, &c. you also shall sit, &c. In the 7th chapter of Daniel, the prophet, speaking of the Messiah's kingdom, says, Matthew 19:9. &c. I beheld till the thrones were set, (not cast down, as it is in our translation,) and the Ancient of days did sit, namely, on one of those thrones; and behold, one like the Son of man came to the Ancient of days, while he sat on his throne, and they brought him near before him; and there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom. By the kingdom which was given to the Son of man, the prophet meant his mediatorial kingdom; and by the glory, his being seated beside the Ancient of days on one of the thrones, in testimony of his exaltation to that kingdom. The throne of his glory therefore, which our Lord speaks of in the text, is the throne of his mediatorial kingdom; called thethrone of his glory,in allusion to the representation which Daniel had given of it. In this kingdom the apostles likewise were to be seated on thrones, and to judge the tribes; that is to say, were to be next to the Messiah in dignity and office; his ministers, by whom he was to subdueand govern his church. In Luk 22:28 we find this promise repeated to the disciples in words more fully to the same purpose. See the note on that place. Our Lord adds, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Now, according to the common interpretation of these words, they imply, that at the general judgment the apostles shall assist Christ in passing sentence on the Israelites; yet this explication may justly be disputed, because the promise thus understood would make the apostles very much inferior to all other saints, of whom it is said that they shall judge the world, and not the world only, but angels also, 1 Corinthians 6:2-3. Besides, the promise, in the ordinary sense of it, is not applicable to Judas at all, who, having proved so bad a man, cannot be supposed capable of the dignity of Christ's assessors at the general judgment. Our Lord certainly well knew that Judas would fall from his office and dignity; but as Matthias filled his place, and stood entitled to the promise, he did not think fit to enter into any particular distinction, but speaks to the whole body of the apostles in words which he knew would be accomplished to the far greater part of those to whom they were addressed. In the Hebrew language, to judge signifies to rule or govern. See Judges 12:7. 1Sa 8:5 wherefore, by the apostles sitting on the thrones, judging the tribes, may be understood their ruling the Christian church of which the Jewish was a type, by the laws of the Gospel which their Master inspired them to preach, and by the infallible decisions relative to faith and manners which he enabled them to give in all difficult cases. Such seems to have been the true nature of the dignity which Jesus promised to his apostles: however, as they had always been accustomed to look on the Messiah's kingdom as a secular empire, they would naturally interpret their sitting on thrones, and judging the tribes, of their being made chief magistrates in Judea under their Master; and would thence take courage again, after having been greatly dispirited by the declaration which Jesus had made concerning the impossibility of a rich man's entering into hiskingdom." See Macknight, Fleming's Christlogy, vol. 1: p. 28. Grotius, Wetstein, and Bishop Bull's Works, vol. 1: p. 281.
Matthew 19:29. And every one that hath forsaken, &c.— Our Saviour speaks next of the rewards which his other disciples should receive, both in this life, and that which is to come. See Mar 10:30 where the promise is more fully expressed. Wetstein observes, that the event confirmed the prediction. For one house, the first preachers of the Gospel found a hospitable reception in almost every part of the earth;—for a few brethren and sisters, an innumerable multitude of true believers; for children, all those whom they had truly converted to the Christian faith; for lands, all the goods of the Christians, which were in common; and in fine, for this life, life eternal. They shall receive an hundredfold, εκατονταπλασιονα . That is, says one, "They shall have abundantly more and greater blessings than they part with;—a full content of mind, and the comforts of an upright conscience, the joys of the Holy Ghost, increase of grace, hopes of glory; they shall have God for their father, Christ for their spouse, and all good Christians for their brethren."
Matthew 19:30. But many that are first, &c.— "Many, who in the eyes of their fellow-creatures are least in this life, by reason of their affliction, mortification, and self-denial, are really first, not only in point of future reward, but even in respect of present satisfaction." These words were spoken also with a view to keep the disciples humble, after their imaginations had been warmed with the prospect of their reward; for, in all probability, they interpreted the promise of the thrones so, as to make it refer to the highest offices in the temporal kingdom,—the offices of greatest power, honour, and profit in Judea; and supposed that the other posts, which were, to be occupied at a distance from the Messiah's person, such as the government of provinces, the command of armies, &c. would all be filled by their brethren the Jews, to whom, of right, they judged them to belong, rather than to the Gentiles. Nay, it was a prevailing opinion at this time, that every particular Jew whatever, the poorest not excepted, would enjoy some office or other in the vast empire which the Messiah was to erect over all nations. In this light Christ's meaning was, "Though you may imagine that you and your brethren have a peculiar title to the great and substantial blessings of my kingdom which I have been describing, yet the Gentiles shall have equal opportunities and advantages of obtaining them; because they shall be admitted to all the privileges of the Gospel, before your nation is converted." See Romans 11:25-26. Jesus illustrated this doctrine by the parable of the householder, who hired labourers into his vineyard at different hours, and in the evening gave them all the same wages, beginning from the last to the first. See the first verse of the next chapter, which the subject, as well as the connective particle for, shews to be very improperly divided from the present verse and chapter.
Inferences.—What our Saviour says at the beginning of this chapter, with respect to the divorces in use among the Jews, teaches us in general, that many things which had been tolerated till that time, on account of the hardness of this people's hearts, would not be allowed among Christians: blessed with greater light, they are certainly called to a higher degree of holiness.
The union which is formed between man and woman by marriage is more intimate and inseparable than that between parents and children, Matthew 19:5. It is honoured by being made the figure and representation of the union which subsists between Christ and his church; it is a partnership of soul and body, of life and fortune, comfort and support, and designs and inclinations. What a wickedness it is to sow divisions in a society so holy and so dear to God! But how much greater is it still, to violate it by a criminal and adulterous commerce!
That which is established by the wisdom of the Creator is one thing; that which is extorted from his condescension by the hardness of men's hearts is another; Matthew 19:8. The former has nothing but what is worthy of the Creator; the latter is only a remedy for the imperfection of the creature: considering the indissoluble bond by which God has joined them together, how much should those who are married, make it their constant care to promote each other's comfort and happiness! How cautiously should they guard against every degree of contention, or even of distaste, which might at length occasion an alienation in their affections, and render so close a bond proportionably grievous!
Before we enter into an engagement which nothing but death can intirely dissolve, prudence certainly obliges us to consider it on all sides; nor should we ever determine our choice by considerations of a low and transitory nature. There are inconveniencies in every state; but those of marriage are not sufficient to keep such persons from it as God thinks fit to call thereto. They must consult his will, and rely upon his grace. The state of voluntary and perpetual continence, undertaken for God's sake, is a gift of God himself, and the only kind of virginity which he has engaged to reward. Let those who prefer the freedom of a single life to a state, which, with its peculiar comforts, must necessarily have its peculiar cares and trials too, diligently improve that disengagement as an obligation to seek the kingdom of God with greater ardour, and to pursue its interests with more active zeal and application; Matthew 19:10-12.
How delightful and instructive it is to see the compassionate Shepherd of Israel thus gathering the lambs in his arms, and carrying them in his bosom, with all the tokens of tender regard; rebuking his disciples who forbad their coming, and laying his gracious hands upon them to bless them! How condescending and engaging a behaviour! How encouraging and amiable an image!
Let his ministers behold it, to teach them a becoming regard to the lambs of their flock, who should early be taken notice of and instructed, and for and with whom they should frequently pray; remembering how often divine grace takes possession of the heart in the years of infancy, and sanctifies the children of God almost from the womb. Every first impression made upon their tender minds should be carefully cherished; nor should those whom Christ himself is ready to receive be disregarded by his servants, who, upon all occasions, are bound to be gentle unto all, and apt to teach.
Behold this sight, ye parents, with pleasure and thankfulness; and let it encourage you to bring your children to Christ by faith, and to commit them to him in baptism and by prayer. Should he, who has the keys of death and the unseen world, see fit to remove those objects of your tenderest care in their early days, let the recollection of this history comfort you, and teach you to hope and trust that he who so graciously received these children, has not forgotten yours; but that they are fallen asleep in him, and will be everlasting objects of his care and love: For of such is the kingdom of God.
Ye children too, observe this sight with gratitude and joy: the great and glorious Redeemer did not despise these little ones, nay, he was displeased with those who would have prevented their being brought to him. As kindly would he, no doubt, have received you; as kindly will he still receive you, if you go to him in the sincerity of your hearts, and ask his blessing in humble and earnest prayer. Though you see not Christ, he sees and hears you; he is ever present with you, to receive, to bless, and to save you. Happy the weakest of you, when lodged in the arms of Christ! nothing can ever harm you there.
Under this joyful persuasion let us all commit ourselves to him; studious to become as little children, if we desire to enter into his kingdom. Governed no more by the vain maxims of a corrupt and degenerate world, our minds no longer possessed, tormented, enslaved by pride, ambition, avarice, or lust—be it our care to put ourselves with the amiable simplicity of children, into the wise and kind hands of Jesus as our guardian, cheerfully referring ourselves to his pastoral and parental care, to be clothed and fed, to be guided and disposed of, as he shall see fit: for this purpose lay on us, O Lord, the invisible hand of thy Divinity, that it may take possession of our hearts and senses; that it may repress in us whatever is contrary to thy will, and so make us the children of God now, that we may at length be the happy children of the resurrection.
Respecting the unhappy youth falling short of the kingdom of heaven through the love of this world, we will speak on a future occasion. But who can fail to receive instruction from this example, and to be upon their guard against that specious harlot, the world, that most delusive and dangerous enemy of man, who hath cast down many wounded; yea, many strong men have been slain by her? Dangerous as they are to our eternal salvation, (Matthew 19:23.) yet how universally are riches desired! how eagerly are they pursued by persons in all stations, and of all professions in life! But what do they generally prove?—Shining mischief, and gilded ruin. God, who well knows this, therefore, in fatherly mercy keeps or makes so many of his children poor. In this view they should be more than contented with their safer state; while those who are rich cannot too importunately intreat of God those influences of his grace, which can effect such things as are impossible with men, Matthew 19:26.
Happy they who, truly following Christ, think not much of any thing that he demands; knowing that whatever they may lose, or whatever they may resign, they shall gain far more by his favour. How little faith have we, to be unwilling to forsake for a moment, that which shall be restored with so much interest in heaven! He who possesses God regains every thing in him. This is that hundred-fold, which surpasses all expectation, all idea.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, Having finished his ministry in Galilee, Christ departed to return no more, till after his resurrection, unless for one passing visit, (Luke 17:11.). When God's ministers have done their work in a place, Providence directs their removal; and till they have, none of their enemies in earth or hell, if they be faithful, can displace them. Christ was now advancing towards Jerusalem, the scene of his sufferings; and, in his way, took that part of Judea where John had chiefly exercised his ministry. As was usual in every place through which he passed, great multitudes resorted to him, and, according to his wonted compassions, he healed them of all their diseases, in confirmation of the doctrines which he taught.
His ever-inveterate enemies the Pharisees failed not to attend him here also, using all their wiles to draw him into a snare, that they might prejudice the people against him. For which end we have,
1. The insidious question which they proposed to him concerning divorces: Whether it was lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? a question much debated in their schools; and, through the abuse of the permission granted in the law of Moses, they had done it on the most frivolous pretences. The Pharisees hoped, therefore, either to have matter of accusation against him, if he condemned divorces, as an opposer of the law of Moses; or, if he allowed them thus generally, they would have treated him as licentious, the more serious Jews condemning those divorces which were made on trifling provocations.
2. In answer, Christ refers them to the original institution of marriage, as the best solution of the difficulty which they proposed. Let them consider that, and they might resolve their own question. It would thence appear that such arbitrary divorces were directly repugnant to the nature of the matrimonial bond. In the very creation of the first man and woman, the indissoluble union between them might be collected: Adam had none but Eve, nor could divorce her for another. This being of all relations the nearest, God ordained, that even a father or mother must be left for the sake of a wife: not that marriage vacates the obligation lying upon us to help and relieve them; no: but if all admit, that the reciprocal relation between parent and child may not be broken, much less can the nearer connection of husband and wife be dissolved. They are one flesh, near to each other as the members of the same body, which no one ever thought of parting with, but cherishes with tenderest care. Those therefore whom God has thus joined, it would be highly criminal and presumptuous in man to separate.
3. The Pharisees start an objection to this interpretation of Scripture, and flatter themselves that they have Moses on their side; Why did Moses then, &c.: very ready to seize the shadow of a plea, and, by representing Christ as an enemy to the institutions of Moses, to render him suspected, and prejudice the people against him. Thus do wicked men endeavour to pervert the blessed Scriptures, and make them militate against themselves.
4. Christ answers their objection, and in a way which did not a little reflect on their ill tempers and conduct. What they suppose a command, our Lord says was merely a toleration, and permitted as a judicial and political law, to prevent the greater evils which must ensue: such being their hardness of heart, that, rather than their helpless wives should be cruelly treated, perhaps murdered, to be rid of them, such being their malignity and obduracy, God was pleased for their sakes to dispense with his positive law, though from the beginning it was not so. Nor in the Gospel state should this be any longer suffered, Christ being come to restore this ordinance to its primitive institution, and to take away the hardness of men's hearts; therefore hence-forward no divorces would be allowed, except in the case of unfaithfulness to the marriage-bed: and whosoever on any other cause should divorce his wife, and marry another, would be guilty of adultery, as he would be also who married her thus divorced.
5. The disciples, on hearing this determination of their Master, could not help, when they were alone, suggesting their apprehensions of the unhappiness of the married state, if divorces were so strictly prohibited; and that the experiment would be so dangerous, that it amounted to an injunction of celibacy: so apt are men to seek liberty for the indulgence of appetite, and to argue against the best institutions, because of some inconveniencies which may arise from them. If we possess the spirit of Christianity, of meekness, patience, and love, we shall learn to bear each other's burdens, compassionate each other's infirmities, and be thankful for the comforts that we enjoy, which far exceed the inconveniencies that divorce can be supposed to remedy.
6. Christ replies to their suggestion, that their reasoning in one view was right, and that a single state is preferable for those who have the gift of continence; especially in days of persecution and distress, and where the cares of a family, and the incumbrances thereto annexed, would make it more difficult for the first preachers of the Gospel to be travelling from place to place, or take up too much of their time and thoughts, instead of better things. But there are few, very few comparatively, who are possessed of this gift; and therefore marriage, with all its crosses, is far the most preferable, and to be chosen as a matter of duty; and, when entered upon in the fear and love of God, the comforts of that relation will be found to overpay us for all the crosses. But some there are from the birth by natural constitution formed for celibacy, strangers to the desire of women; some by the wickedness of men are incapacitated for the marriage state; and some, seeing powerful reasons to determine their choice, for the sake of greater usefulness in the service of Jesus Christ, have such particular supplies of divine grace given them, as to be able to forego the delights of wedlock, and may laudably purpose to live a single life, though not under any vows, if afterwards they should see cause to change their sentiments: not as any thing meritorious, as the Papists suggest; but purely, that, being disengaged from the cares of life, they may be enabled to employ themselves more intirely in the work of God, than otherwise they could. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.
2nd, We have seen multitudes of others making their application to Christ: we behold, in the next place, some pious parents bringing their children to ask his divine benediction.
1. They brought their infants, that Jesus might lay his hands upon them, and pray for them, expecting in faith that he could impart to them spiritual blessings, and that his prayers would be attended with gracious effects. Note; They who have tasted the grace of Jesus themselves, cannot but earnestly desire, that all theirs may share with them the inestimable mercy, and therefore fail not to present their little ones to him for his blessing.
2. The disciples, apprehensive lest such a precedent should induce others to bring their children, and thereby occasion their Master much trouble; or supposing it beneath him to take notice of infants, or useless to bring them to him; rebuked those who brought the children, and wanted to prevent their application. But,
3. Christ expressed his displeasure against his disciples for obstructing so charitable a work, and bids them suffer these babes to be brought, seeing that of such is the kingdom of heaven: not only because the members of his church should be like these in spirit and temper; but also because the infants themselves, as well as grown persons, are capable of becoming subjects of the Gospel kingdom, and of having an interest in its spiritual blessings and privileges; and if so, then there can be no sufficient reason why they may not by baptism be admitted into the visible communion of the faithful. And he laid his hands on them, and blessed them: (Mark 10:16.) though they cannot stretch out their infant hands to him in faith and prayer, he can confer on them his gifts of grace, and prepare them for his eternal kingdom. Thus, having confirmed the privileges of the lambs of his flock, he departed thence.
3rdly, We have a conference between a promising young man who came with a question of the last importance, and our blessed Lord, whose answer is designed for his conviction and humiliation.
1. His address was most respectful, and his inquiry of the last consequence. Though Christ appeared outwardly mean and despicable, and he himself was a person of distinction, ye he humbly knelt before him, and with a title of uncommon veneration addressed him, desiring to be informed by him, as a prophet sent from God, by what works of righteousness he might assuredly attain that eternal life which he seemed above all things solicitous to secure. Note; (1.) Eternal life is the grand object, and most deserving our first concern. (2.) Youth and riches are dangerous snares, which too frequently divert the mind from the consideration of another world; but the more rare, the more commendable it is, when we see any person possessed of both, seeking in the first place the kingdom of God. (3.) They who would learn the way to eternal life, must be daily coming to Christ on their knees.
2. Our Lord replies both to his address and question. As the young ruler regarded him as a mere man, the title of Good, in that emphatic sense was misapplied, since none is absolutely and perfectly good but God alone. As to the question—according to the views wherewith he came, expecting to obtain life by obedience to the law as a covenant of works, there was but one way: If thou wilt enter into life keep the commandments, perfectly, universally, perpetually. Nothing short of this can secure a title to eternal life under the law, where every defect, failure, or omission, immediately incurs the penalty of the curse denounced, Deuteronomy 27:26. In which answer Christ appears designing to lead him to a view of the impossibility of obtaining righteousness and life eternal by any doings and duties of his own, and, by unhinging him from an opinion of his own goodness and abilities, to shew him the necessity of the atonement and prevalent intercession of the great Deliverer and Saviour. Note; There was once a way to life by personal perfect obedience; but, since the first man's sin, none ever went that way, he only excepted who was more than man.
3. Willing to know what these commandments were, and conceiving his abilities and inclinations equal to the talk, the young ruler begs a distinct enumeration of them; and Jesus, to convince him how mistaken an idea he had formed of himself, instances only in the duties of the second table, which, if rightly understood, would minister to him abundant matter for humiliation, and shew him the impossibility of obtaining eternal life by his own obedience.
4. Ignorant of the spirituality of the law, and judging according to the wretched literal comments of the scribes, he thought that he might safely vouch for his obedience. From his youth up he had escaped from the grosser pollutions which are in the world, and made conscience of his ways. He was no adulterer, thief, murderer, or perjured person; and, having kept all these commandments, as he supposed, desired, with some shew of self-complacence, to know what farther was required, as if he only wanted to be informed, and was ready to obey. Note; (1.) Pride on our duties is as damnable as the indulgence of our sins. (2.) It may appear a strange, but it is a true assertion, that the fairest characters in the eyes of the world, are usually the farthest from the kingdom of God. (3.) We may be fully assured that we know neither God's law nor our own hearts, when we presume to say of the least of his commandments, All these have I kept from my youth. (4.) A humbling sight of our sins, not a vain conceit of ourselves, is the first step to the kingdom of God.
5. To convince him how mistaken his apprehensions were of his own goodness, Christ puts him on giving a proof of obedience to that leading precept of the law, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself; and he would presently see how much he wanted of the attainments which he boasted. He wished to be perfect: if he would be, as one step towards it, let him sell all his possessions, distribute them to the poor, have his affections taken off from earthly things, commence a constant attendant on Jesus, take up his cross, and follow his footsteps; and then he would secure the treasures of eternity, and be in the way to that eternal life which he sought. Note; (1.) A holy deadness to the world is at all times the duty of Christ's disciples; and there may be occasions still, where literally we are called on to part with all for his sake. (2.) Covetousness and inordinate love of the world are often seen in the fairest professors, and are among the worst symptoms of the insincerity and hypocrisy of their hearts. (3.) They who leave all for Christ, will be no losers in the end; the treasures of eternity will prove an ample recompense.
6. Unable to bear these hard sayings, and not at all inclined to part from his great possessions, though eternal life was at stake, the young man thought the way too narrow; yet, grieved to find that he had not reached the perfection which he fancied in himself, and loth to quit Christ and eternal life, he went away sorrowful, unwilling to lose the hopes of heaven, and yet resolved not to part with his great possessions on earth. Note; (1.) Riches are the rock on which innumerable souls are shipwrecked, and drowned thereby in perdition and destruction. (2.) The more we have of this world, in general the closer our affections cleave to it; and increasing wealth brings usually an increase of snares. (3.) Many are sorry to part with Christ, and submit with reluctance to the yoke of sin and the world, who yet perish under the bondage of corruption.
4thly, On occasion of so promising a youth's departure from him, through inordinate attachment to worldly wealth, our Lord, directing his discourse to his disciples,
1. Observes the vast obstructions which riches lay in the way of men's salvation. A rich man, whose heart is engaged with the care and love of his substance, can hardly ever become a subject of Christ's kingdom upon earth, or an inheritor of his kingdom in heaven. Things in their nature the most impracticable may be expected to happen, even, according to the proverbial expression, for a camel to go through a needle's eye sooner than for a man, whose heart is attached to his wealth, and seeks his happiness therein, to become a real disciple of Jesus, and an inheritor of glory. Note; (1.) The immense difficulties which riches put in our way to heaven, should make us thankful in a low condition, that God has not exposed us to this temptation; should suppress every rising of envy against our wealthy neighbours, and quench every inordinate desire of abundance. (2.) They who are rich have more duties to discharge; more temptations to struggle with; more self-denial to exercise; and a larger account of talents to settle than others; and therefore great grace is needful to sanctify great possessions.
2. The disciples express their astonishment at their Master's assertion: and if the case stood thus, they do not conceive it possible that the Messiah's kingdom could be supported, according to their mistaken ideas concerning it, if all the rich and great are excluded, who usually sway the world: or, if they understood him of the heavenly kingdom, they are ready to conclude, that few or none would ever attain thereunto, as many are possessed of wealth, and almost all desire it. Note; The more the hindrances in the way of salvation are, the greater diligence we need use to surmount them.
3. Christ, with concern observing their surprise and consternation, replied, that indeed with men, in their state of nature, considering their native corruption and worldly-mindedness, salvation was utterly out of their reach; they being unable of themselves to effect the needful change in their own hearts, or in each other's: more than human sufficiency was requisite. This is the work of God; impossibilities with us are possible with him: almighty grace can subdue the most inveterate corruptions, spiritualize the affections of the most worldly-minded, and enable the rich as well as the poor to overcome the temptations of their perilous state, and shew themselves rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom. None therefore are to be despaired of: if they fly to God for pardon and salvation, they shall find it through the Beloved. Some refer this to the Messiah's kingdom upon earth, as if the answer implied, that though it appeared so impracticable to them to set up this kingdom, in opposition to all the wealth and greatness of the world; yet such supports should be ministered to them, poor and inconsiderable as they were, as should enable them to withstand all their enemies, and make their labours successful.
4. Peter, in the name of his brethren, thought this no unfavourable season to inquire what they should get, since they had left all and followed him. It is true, their all was not much; but such as it was, it was equally dear to them as if they had possessed greater wealth. Note; (1.) If our spirit be right, though our loss for Christ exceed not the widow's mite, he will accept it as if we had left greater possessions. (2.) Though it is not the mere motive of advantage which influences the faithful, we may notwithstanding with comfort look to the great recompense of reward.
5. Christ engages, that they who forsake all for him, shall be no losers in the issue. They who have followed him in the regeneration, shall be honoured with the most eminent seats in his kingdom, and sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
In the regeneration, either refers to the present state of the disciples who had followed Christ, and may spiritually describe the change which had passed on their souls by the renewing power of divine grace: or, it may signify their attendance upon him, and devoting themselves to his service in setting up that kingdom which was designed to effect a glorious reformation in the world. This phrase may likewise be connected with the latter part of the clause, when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, in the regeneration, and then it has respect to the future state of the Redeemer's exaltation, when, after his ascension from the dead, they should be endued with power from on high, the former Mosaical dispensation should be abolished, and they commissioned to preach the Gospel, and erect the Christian church; in which old things, the Jewish ceremonials would pass away, and all things become new; new ordinances be administered, and new hearts and minds be given to the converts.
Their sitting on thrones, &c. may either imply the dignity of their apostleship, to which they should be advanced, to charge the Jews with their crimes, especially their rejection of the Messiah, and to denounce the vengeance ready to be executed upon them, which, in consequence of their predictions they should see accomplished: or, it refers to their distinguished place of honour, when, in the great day of the Redeemer's appearing and glory, they should be admitted to sit down as assessors with him, on thrones around his own, approving and applauding his judgement, dispensed according to the word which they had preached; and afterwards shall, in the eternal world, reign with Christ in glory everlasting.
And, while he thus promised the twelve this distinguished honour, he added also, for the encouragement of all who should tread in their steps to the end of time, that the like rewards should be the portion of the faithful. It is supposed, that, for Christ's sake, all his true disciples would be called upon to make very painful sacrifices, and often be forced to lose the affection of nearer and dearest relations, be separated from the greatest comforts of life, and deprived of all they possessed: but he engages to indemnify them for their losses; sometimes in kind, by his providence so ordering events, as that they shall in present advantages receive a hundred fold; or at least always in comfort shall have an abundant recompense, enjoying clearer and brighter manifestations of God's love and favour; and, for temporal losses, finding their souls enriched by spiritual graces—besides the glorious hope of eternal life in the world to come, which will infinitely overpay us for all the crosses and losses of this transitory life. We may learn from the whole of this discourse, (1.) To expect, if we are Christ's disciples, many a cross, and to be ready to part with whatever stands in competition with his honour and interest. (2.) To be thankful if we be not called to those severer exercises of discipleship which others before us have endured. (3.) To keep the promises in our eye when the day of trial comes, and then we shall think nothing too hard to suffer, or too dear to lose. A sense of the Redeemer's present love, and a prospect of the glory which shall be revealed, will make every present affliction light, and cause us to rejoice in the midst of our sorrows. (4.) The time in which the faithful suffer for Christ is momentary; but their reign with him shall be eternal.
6. He adds, by way of obviating any mistake which might arise, as if eternal life was the reward of merit, not of grace; or as if priority of calling gave precedence in his kingdom; that many who were first shall be last, and the last first. Many of the Jews who were first called, refused the invitation; and many Gentiles through grace, though last invited, eagerly embraced the Gospel; and also many of those, both of the Jews and Gentiles, who were first converted and endured to the end, would be outstripped in attainments, and excelled in spirituality, zeal, and fidelity, by those who in order of time would afterwards come in, and be exalted to higher honours in his kingdom; which he elucidates by a parable in the succeeding chapter. Note; If we be called late we must work the faster, and give the greater diligence to redeem the time.