Tuesday, June 6th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
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 5". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tcc/ matthew-5.html. 1801-1803.
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Matthew 5". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://studylight.org/
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Christ beginneth his sermon on the mount: declaring who are blessed, who are the salt of the earth, the light of the world, the city on an hill, the candle: that he came to fulfil the law. What it is to kill, to commit adultery, to swear: exhorteth to suffer wrong, to love even our enemies, and to labour after perfectness.
Anno Domini 30.
Matthew 5:1. And seeing the multitudes— And seeing such a multitude: Heylin: who supposes this verse to be immediately connected with the last of the preceding chapter. It does not appear in what part of Galilee this mountain was situated; and if the cure of the leper which Christ performed at his descending from it, was wrought in the confines of some other city, and not of Capernaum, there is no reason to suppose, as most expositors do, that it was in the neighbourhood of Capernaum. See ch. Matthew 8:1-2.Luke 5:12; Luke 5:12. Maundrell says, that what is now called the mount of the Beatitudes, is a little to the north of mount Tabor. Travels, p. 115. And if this be its true situation, it must be at some considerable distance from Capernaum. Dr.
Doddridge is of opinion, that this discourse was different from and previous to that which St. Luke has given us in the sixth chapter of his gospel, though many of the sentiments and expressions are the same. It is, however, more generally thought that these discourses are the same. And it appears from Luke 6:12; Luk 6:17 that our Saviour having gone up to the top of the mountain to pray, coming down thence, he stood on a plain and even part of the same mountain, whence he could easily be heard. So Moses first ascended mount Sinai alone, but afterwards accompanied by the elders; whence the law was promulged by God. Jesus sat down, according to the custom of the Jewish doctors, when they taught. His disciples, mean, not merely the twelve apostles, but all those in general who followed the Lord Jesus Christ. See Luke 6:13. Joh 9:27 and in most places in the Acts the Christians are called discip
Matthew 5:2. And he opened his mouth— This phrase denotes speaking in a solemn and authoritative manner, intimating the importance of what is going to be delivered, and is not always used as a pleonasm. Comp. Judges 11:35-36. Job 3:1; Job 33:2.Matthew 13:35; Matthew 13:35.Acts 8:35; Acts 8:35; Acts 10:34. In order to enter into the beauty of this discourse, it is necessary to consider it as addressed not merely to the apostles, but to Christ's disciples in general, and to vast numbers of people, who, affected with the sight or fame of his miracles, were now assembled around him; probably expecting that he would immediately declare himself the Messiah, and full of those false notions of his kingdom which so generally prevailed. Dr. Blair, in his excellent discourses on this sermon, has shewn beyond all others, how directly the beginning of it is levelled against these prejudices; calculated, as the whole of it is, to correct those erroneous notions of the Messiah's kingdom, which were so common, and which would prove so pernicious to those who were governed by them. He has also observed, as it is very necessary to do, what a beautiful correspondence there is between the characters described in these beatitudes, and the blessings connected with them. Jesus began his sermon with the doctrine of happiness; a subject which the teachers of wisdom have always considered as the principal thing in morals; and for that reason they have laboured to give their true disciples an idea of it. Most of the Jews seem to have considered the enjoyments of sense, as the sovereign good. Riches, mirth, revenge, women, conquest, liberty, fame, and other things of the same kind, afforded them such pleasures, that they wished for no better in the Messiah's kingdom, which theyalmost all considered as a secular one: even the apostles themselves long retained this notion of a temporal kingdom, and were at first too much influenced by the expectation of the honours, profits, and pleasures attending the posts which they expected under him. Therefore, to shew his hearers in general, and his disciples in particular, the grossness of their error, our Lord declared that the higher happiness of men consists in the graces of the spirit; because from the possession and exercise of them,thepurest pleasures result,—pleasures, which satisfy the great God himself, and constitute his ineffable felicity. See Wetstein, Doddridge, and Macknight.
It may be proper, before we enter upon this discourse, to observe, once for all, that whoever examines the discourses of our Lord with attention, may find in them a certain character and way of speaking, in a great measure peculiar to himself. This manner, by which our Saviour's discourses are distinguishable, consists in raising matter of instruction and moral reflection from the objects which presented themselves to him and his audience while he was speaking. Hence his sermons to the multitude, and his conversation with his disciples, allude perpetually to the time of the year, to the place where he is, to the objects that surround him, to the occupation and circumstances of those whom he addresses, or to the state of public affairs, &c. Thus the blessed Jesus in the spring went into the fields, where he sat down on an eminence, and made this discourse, which is full of observations arising from things which presented themselves to his view. Hence, when he exhorts hisdisciples to trust in God, he bids them behold, εμβλεψατε, look upon, the birds of the air, which were then flying about them, and were fed by Providence, though they did not sow, nor reap, nor gather into barns. Consider, says our blessed Lord, Matthew 5:28 take notice of the lilies of the field, which were then blown, and were so beautifully clothed by the same power, and yet toiled not like the husbandmen, who were then at work. Being in a place where they had a wide prospect of a cultivated land, he bade them observe how God caused the sun to shine, and the rain to descend upon the fields and gardens, even of the wicked and ungrateful; and he continued to convey his doctrine to them under rural images; speaking of good trees, and corrupt trees; of knowing men by their fruits; wolves in sheep's clothing; grapes not growing upon thorns, nor figs on thistles; of the folly of casting precious things to dogs and swine; of good measure pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, and a variety of other particulars, which will occur to every reader's observation. From this peculiarityin the style and genius of our Saviour's discourses, we may conclude that the writers of the gospel have given us always the substance, and often the very words of our Lord's sermons; and we may also plainly see in the discourses of the Lord Jesus Christ his great design,—which was to instruct; therefore he conveys knowledge in a familiar way: he adapts his language to his hearers. He speaks to their eyes, and to their ears. He chooses images and comparisons which would strike them most powerfully,and make the most lasting impression upon their minds. See Jortin's Discourses, p. 212 and the note on Matthew 5:14.
Matthew 5:3. Blessed are the poor in spirit— Happy, &c. Doddridge: and so throughout the beatitudes: I use the word happy rather than blessed, says he, as more exactly answering to the original word Μακαριοι, as the word blessed does to the Greek word ευλογημενοι : and I the rather choose to render it thus, because our Lord seems to intimate by it, not only that the dispositions here recommended would be the wayto future blessedness, but that they would immediately be attended with the truest happiness, and the most noble pleasures. In order to render his hearers more attentive, Christ proposes his doctrine in certain paradoxical dogmas, which, at first appearance, may seem false to the carnal eye, but are found most true by the attentive and sincere considerer. "It is notable, says an old writer, that all the beatitudes are affixed to unlikely conditions, to shew that the judgment of the word and of the world, are contrary." Bengelius observes, that in the present sermon we have, first, an exordium, containing a sweet invitation to true holiness and happiness, Matthew 5:3-12.; secondly, a persuasive to impart it to others, Matthew 5:13-16.; thirdly, a description of true Christian holiness, Matthew 5:0; Matthew 3:0—Mat 7:12 in which it is easy to observe, that the latter part exactly answers to the former; fourthly, the conclusion; giving a sure mark of the true way, warning against false prophets, and exhorting to follow after righteousness. St. Luke applies this first beatitude to the poor, properly so called; but though poverty of spirit may include a disposition which bears poverty rightly, there seems no doubt that it here primarily refers to humility of heart. Dr. Heylin's seems the true interpretation: the phrase, poor in spirit, says he, expresses an inward disposition or state of mind, by an outward worldly circumstance; namely, poverty, which signifies want; the sense whereof obliges men to dependence upon others for supply, by begging or servitude: so by exact analogy, poverty of spirit implies want, and consequently an habitual address to, and dependence upon God, for supply, by prayer,faith, and obedience. The beatitude therefore may be thus paraphrased: "You naturally congratulate the rich and the great, and expect, under the reign of the Messiah, to be advanced to wealth, dignity, and power; but your notions of these things are very false and vitiated; for I say unto you, happy are the poor in spirit; those humble souls, who, deeply conscious of their ignorance and guilt, can quietly resign to the divine teachings and disposals, and accommodate themselves to the lowest circumstances which Providence shall appoint them: for, however they may be despised and trampled on by men, theirs is the kingdom of heaven: they will be most likely to embrace the Gospel, and they alone will be intitled to its blessings, both in time and in eternity." See Doddridge, Wetstein, and Bengelius.
Dr. Campbell translates the verse, happy the poor, &c. observing that it has more energy, after the example of the original, and all the ancient versions, to omit the substantive verb. The idiom of our language admits this freedom as easily as the Italian, and more so than the French. None of the Latin versions express the verb. Another reason, he adds, which induced me to adopt this manner is to render these aphorisms, in regard to happiness, as similar in form as they are in the original, to the aphorisms in regard to wretchedness, which are, Luke 6:0 contrasted with them, woe to you that are rich, &c.
Matthew 5:4. Blessed are they that mourn— "Either for their own sins, or for other men's, and who are steadily and habitually serious; they shall be comforted, most solidly and deeply in this world, and eternally in heaven. What they now sow in tears, they shall reap in joy." See 1Co 5:2 and Bengelius. Possibly our Saviour might refer still farther in this blessing to the mourning rightly improved on account of afflictions; and in this light nothing can be more true than the present aphorism; because, if any thing under the grace of God brings a man to holiness, it is affliction; the natural tendency thereof being to give him a feeling of the vanity of the world, and consequently to convince him how necessary it is that he should seek his happiness in things more solid and durable. Affliction awakens serious thoughts in the mind, composes it into a grave and settled frame, very different from the levity which prosperity inspires; gives it a fellow-feeling of the sorrows of others, and makes it, when accompanied by the operation of the Divine Spirit, sensible of the evil of departing from God, the source and centre of its joy. See Macknight.
Matthew 5:5. Blessed are the meek— That is, the men of mild and forgiving tempers, who hold all their passions and affections even; they shall inherit the earth; they shall enjoy the protection of civil government, with all the blessings of the present life, the greatest and best of which flow from meekness itself. Meekness, consisting in the moderating of our passions, makes a person beautiful and venerable in the eyes of others, so that he possesses their inward esteem; while the man devoid of this grace is despicable, though dignified with ever so many titles of honour. Hence it is called the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit. Farther, this grace secures a man against many injuries to which he may be exposed; a soft answer being powerful to turn away wrath; or, if an injury be done to a meek person, his meekness prevents the storm which pride, anger, and revenge raise within; enables him to bear the injury with tranquillity, and strengthens him to overcome it with good. Thus much seems to be implied in the blessing annexed to the character in this verse; which is a citation from Psa 37:11 and seems to be produced to shew of how great a price the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit is in the sight of God; for the words immediately put us in mind, that under the dispensation wherein God rewarded holiness and virtue with temporal advantages in a peculiar sense, as well as with spiritual blessings, he annexed the highest temporal blessing, even that of inheriting the promised land, to the lovely grace of meekness. See Macknight and Bengelius.
Matthew 5:6. Blessed are they which do hunger, &c.— Our Saviour uses the ideas of hunger and thirst metaphorically, to express vehement desire. By righteousness seems to be meant that holiness which the Gospel teaches and recommends, in opposition to the righteousness of Scribes and Pharisees. So that the persons here said to hunger and thirst are those who earnestly long for and are sensible of the want of that salvation which is procured by the Lord JesusChrist. This beatitude, therefore, may be thus paraphrased: "Happy are they who, instead of desiring insatiably the possessions of others, and endeavouring to obtain them by violence or deceit, eagerly hunger and thirst after righteousness, and make it the delightful business of life, in dependenceondivinegrace,to improve in all the branches of evangelical holiness and goodness: for they shall, through the grace of God in Christ Jesus, never be disappointedinthesepiouspursuits,butbeabundantlysatisfiedwiththerighteousness which they seek, and be competently supplied with every necessary good." See Matthew 5:10. Proverbs 21:21.Matthew 6:33; Matthew 6:33., Doddridge, and Wetstein.
Matthew 5:7. Blessed are the merciful— Those who feel for the sorrows of others as their own, and with tender sympathy hasten to relieve them. Dr. Heylin remarks excellently upon this beatitude, nearly in the following words; that the frailty of human nature renders men continually liable to abuse, and perverts the good dispositions which religion would excite;thus mourning for sin may degenerate into a gloomy melancholy and moroseness of temper; and some, because they are displeased, as they have reason, with themselves, become peevish and fretful at all about them; and again, with regard to the hunger and thirst after justice, that is to say, universal holiness and virtue (see on ch. Matthew 3:15.), men, when called to Christ and true religion, have commonlypowerfulconvictions concerning the turpitude of vice, with the danger and guilt of neglecting Christ and holiness, of stopping short of the pardon of their sins, and the sanctification of their natures. And they ought studiously to cultivate these convictions, and impressthem deeply upon their minds by assiduous meditation; but, above all, by going to Jesus Christ in ardent prayer, as the only refuge of the penitent soul. But, notwithstanding, as the speculations of justice are pleasing, and the practice of it laborious; and as it is much easier to desire that others should be holy, than to become so themselves; it too often happens that they misapply their concern for the interests of religion to the morals of other men, and are more intent upon their neighbour's faults than their own. Thus they turn their zeal the wrong way, and suffer it to evaporate in chimeras of reforming the public; while they themselves are under the dominion of sin. But hunger and thirst are personal; for no man hungers for another's want, but for his own. Those holy desires which the Spirit of God excites in his servants, chiefly tend to their own pardon, and theirown purification: and in the progress of that work, I mean while they grieve for their own folly, and pine for their own want of justice, they willcompassionately bear with the follies of other men, and be very indulgent to their want of justice; a want which they so sensibly experience in themselves. To ripen this good disposition to which, through almighty grace, the state already described leads them, Christ here so seasonably pronounces his benediction, Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. See the Reflections for farther views on this subject.
Matthew 5:8. Blessed are the pure in heart— Dr. Blair supposes that this may refer to the expectation which the Jews had of possessing themselves of beautiful captives in the wars by which they fancied the Messiah's kingdom would be established. The large seraglios of eastern princes and great men, which, by a very mistaken taste, were regarded as matters of state and grandeur, might possibly give countenance to such an extravagant notion. Dr. Doddridge, therefore, in the following paraphrase, just touches upon it: "Indulge not a thought of those licentiousgratifications which are often mingled with victory, and are accounted as the pleasures of the great; happy are the men who not only abstain from these gross enormities, but are concerned that they may bepure in heart too; avoiding every irregular desire, and mortifying every unruly passion. This resolute self-denial shall be the source of nobler and more lasting pleasures; for they shall see God: thus purified and refined, they shall enjoy him in his ordinances, and in all the communications of his grace here, and dwell with him for ever in heaven." Dr. Heylin in his usual manner observes, that the purification here pronounced blessed, is an arduous work; beginning in repentance, and attended with that mourning for sin, to which a former beatitude invites. Then must we receive a knowledge of the forgiveness of sins through the blood of the covenant. But this purification is carried on by that hunger and thirst after justice mentioned in the 6th verse; and it advances still more and more in the following benediction upon the merciful; who, by the violence they do themselves, in dependence on and by the power of almighty grace, to mortify their own pride and ill-nature, so as patiently to bear with and compassionate the infirmities of their brethren, draw down upon themselves, through the alone and infinite merit of Christ, the superabundant mercy of God,whichatlengthsoconsummatestheirmortification,byasuperabundantincrease of divine grace, that they become pure in heart, and thereby are qualified for that sublime and efficaciousknowledge of the Deity, which is here called seeing God; the mental eye being irradiated from above; for God, who makethhis sun to rise upon the evil and on the good, does also from himself illumine the minds of all men, in proportion to their desire of, and earnest search after, his light; the path of the just is as a shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day. See more in Heylin. See also the Reflections.
Dr. Campbell reads, the clean in heart. I admit, says he, that our translation, pure in heart, is a just expression of the sense, and more in the English idiom than mine. My only reason for preferring a more literal version of the Greek word καθαρος here is, because I would, in all such instances, preserve the allusion to be found in the moral maxims of the New Testament to the ancient ritual, from which the metaphors of the sacred writers, and their other tropes, are frequently borrowed, and to which they owe much of their lustre and energy. The laws in regard to the cleanness of the body, and even of the garments, if neglected by any person, excluded him from the temple. He was incapacitated for being so much as a spectator of the solemn service at the altar. The Jews considered the empyreal heaven as the archetype of the temple of Jerusalem. In the latter, they enjoyed the symbols of God's presence, who spoke to them by his ministers; whereas, in the former, the blessed inhabitants have an immediate sense of the divine presence, and God speaks to them face to face. Our Lord, preserving the analogy between the two dispensations, intimates that cleanness will be as necessary in order to procure admission into the celestial temple, as into the terrestrial. But as the privilege is inconceivably higher, the qualification is more important. The cleanness is not ceremonial, but moral; not of the outward man, but of the inward. The same idea is suggested, Psalms 24:0. When such allusions appear in the original, they ought, if possible, to have a place in the version.
Matthew 5:9. Blessed are the peace-makers— Blessed are the peaceable, for they shall become the children of God. With respect to the term peaceable or peace-makers [ειρηνοποιοι ], it is to be noted, that in Scripture το ποιειν, to make, or do, signifies a habit of mind, with its consequent actions. So by those who do good or evil, we understand good or bad men; and when St. Paul speaks of making prayer, Php 1:4 he means not to cause others to pray, but to pray ourselves. So the peace here spoken of ispersonal. It is the fruit of victory after successful conquests, through divine grace, over the inbred impurity of our nature. It is the peace and tranquillity of the soul; and itis an immediate disposition for the full accomplishment of regeneration, wherein, as St. Paul speaks, we shall be renewed by knowledge after the image of the Creator. See Heylin, Suicer's Thesaurus under the word ειρηνοποιος, and the note on 2 Corinthians 3:18. Other expositors suppose, that this beatitude refers not only to those who are of a peaceable disposition, but is opposed to men of hostile and warlike minds; and therefore they paraphrase it thus: "Warriors and conquerors, the disturbers of the peace of mankind, are by no means happy in their victories, nor they who love to involve others in quarrels for their own purpose; but they are happy, who, loving peace, promote it to the utmost of their power; they shall be called the children of God. Having rendered themselves like to God, by imitating his greatest perfection, they shall be acknowledged by him as his children, and admitted to a participation of his happiness; an honour, which those who take pleasure in war, however eminent they may be for courage, shall certainly miss, though it be the aim of their ambition; because they pursue it not by the godlike disposition of diffusing happiness, but by spreading desolation anddeath among their fellow-creatures: so that, having divested themselves of the nature of God, they have no title to be called his sons."
Matthew 5:10. Blessed are they which are persecuted, &c.— One might imagine that a person of the amiable temper and behaviour described in the last-mentioned beatitude would be the darling of mankind; but our Lord well knew it would not be so, as long as Satan was the prince of this world; he therefore warns them beforehand of the treatment which all were to expect, who were determined thus to tread in his steps, by subjoining, Happy are they who are persecuted for righteousness sake. "Instead of those pomps and pleasures, those victories and triumphs, in expectation of which you may now be crowding around me, my followers must prepare themselves for the severity of suffering, and through my grace courageously endure the greatest extremities, for the testimony of their consciences; for the cause of true righteousness, holiness, and virtue. Their richest treasure is beyond the reach of their most inveterate enemies, for they shall reign with God in everlasting glory." This is the last of these sacred paradoxes, says Heylin; paradoxes to the world, but savoury and luminous truths inthe eye of right reason. This beatitude needs no farther explanation or proof, than what is obviousfrom the universal sentiment of mankind, who agree to place the heroic character in suffering for a good cause. So our Milton assures
——That suffering for truth's sake With fortitude, is highest victory.
This was the prerogative of the martyrs in the primitive church, and justice has since had its martyrs in all ages. After declaring the general axiom, our Lord applies it (continues this writer) to his disciples now present, to animate their zeal, who were to lead the van in this magnanimous combat, see Matthew 5:11-16. But though what is here said may be peculiarly applicable to the apostles and ministers of Christ, yet there can be no doubt that it is also applicable to all those who come within the character here described; all who are holy themselves, the salt of the earth, and therefore capable of seasoning others.
Matthew 5:11-12. Blessed are ye when men shall revile, &c.— Macknight understands this as a distinct beatitude from that in the 10th verse, supposing the former to refer to liberty and external ease; the present to reputation: and accordingly he paraphrases it nearly in the following words: "Fame, or the applause of the world, does not give true contentment, by satisfying true ambition; but to be reviled falsely, in the ways of righteousness, and to share in affronts with and for God, is a dignity which yields infinitely greater joy, and is that by which the saints and prophets have been distinguished in all ages." Instead of, Be exceeding glad, in Mat 5:12 the original word
'Αγαλλιασθε, would be properly rendered, Triumphantly exult, or leap for joy. See Luke 1:14.
In conclusion of these beatitudes, we may observe upon them all in general, that to bless men, that is, to make them happy, was the great business for which our Lord came into the world; and accordingly, in the beginning of this divine sermon, he pronounces eight blessings together, annexing them to so many Christian virtues, and assigningtheparticularbeatitudewhichattendseachofthem.Knowingthathappiness is our common aim, and that an innate instinct continually urges us tothe pursuit of it, he in the kindest manner applies directly to that instinct: he directs it towards its proper object, and shews the way to obtain it. Though all men necessarily desire happiness, yet the greater part continue miserable, because they seek it where it is not to be found. Our Lord, therefore, begins his divine instruction, which is the complete art of happiness, by laying before us the true and only method of acquiring it.
We may here farther observe the benevolent condescension of our Lord; how he seems to lay aside his supreme authority, as our legislator, that he may better act the part of our friend and our saviour; and, instead of using the lofty imperative style in positive commands, chooses rather in a more gentle and engaging way to insinuate his will and our duty, by pronouncing those blessed who comply with it. He also indulgently considers the great depravation of our nature; how its original corruption, and acquired malignity, by evil habits, together with the force of bad examples, and the sinful conversation and fashions of the world, had so darkened the understanding, and perverted the judgment of men, that they could but obscurely discern the genuine beauty of the sublime doctrines which he was to inculcate; and therefore he proposed them in such a light as would most effectually recommend them. He named the duty and its happy consequences together, guarding and enforcing each virtue with a beatitude. See Heylin.
Matthew 5:13. Ye are the salt of the earth— This relates to all the disciples who were then present, Luk 14:34 and also to all Christians in general (1 Thessalonians 5:5.Philippians 2:15; Philippians 2:15.); but more especially to the apostles. See on Matthew 5:16. Salt is the emblem of wisdom,anditservesalsoto preserve things from putrefaction. Now the first disciples of Christ were more especially appointed to diffuse the wisdom of the Gospel throughout the whole world, and to promote the knowledge of Jesus Christ, and holiness and virtue, among men by their doctrines and examples. The meaning is, "Who could instruct and reform you, if you should happen to fall into error or vice; you that are to be entrusted under grace with the sanctification and instruction of others?" Compare Mark 9:49. Colossians 4:6. Livy calls Greece sal gentium, "the salt of all the nations," on account of those intellectual improvements which they learned thence. The word μωρανθη, rendered Have lost his savour, may be translated, Is become insipid. This rendering has, I think, a peculiar beauty and strength here. The original might be literally translated, If it be infatuated or grown foolish; alluding to the common figure, in which sense and spirit are expressed by salt. Our Lord's supposition of the salt's losing its savour is illustrated by Mr. Maundrell, who tells us, that "in the valley of salt, near Gebul, and about four hours' journey from Aleppo, there is a small precipice, occasioned by the continual taking away of the salt. In this, says he, you may see how the veins of it lie: I broke a piece of it, of which the part exposed to the rain, sun, and air, though it had the sparks and particles of salt, yet it had perfectly lost its savour, as in Matthew 5:0. The innermost, which had been connected with the rock, retained its savour, as I found by proof." See Grotius, and Wetstein.
Matthew 5:14. Ye are the light of the world— Jesus compares his disciples to the sun, representingtheefficacyoftheirministry(accompanied by his divine Spirit), to fill the world with the gladsome light of truth; a thing as necessary in the moral world, as light in the natural: ye are the light of the world. This appellation was given by the Jews to their wise men and doctors. See John 5:35. 2 Peter 1:19. The Lord Jesus Christ bestows it on his disciples, because they were appointed to preach the Gospel (Philippians 2:15.), and to reveal to mankind the knowledge of Christ, who is the true light of the world; John 1:9. This is also applicable to Christians in general; and to excite them and all Christians to diligence in dispensing the salutary influences of their doctrine and example, he bade them call to mind, that a city which is set upon a mountain cannot be hid; or, that the disciples of Jesus Christ, and all Christians, being appointed to profess and preach the Gospel, the eyes of all men would be upon them, and so, their faults being by this means known and observed, might stop the progress of the Gospel: compare Philippians 3:17. Mr. Maundrelltells us, that there is a city called Saphet, thought to be the ancient Bethulia, which, standing on a high hill, might easily be seen from the mountain on which Christ made this discourse; and he, very probably, supposes, that our Saviour might point to that here, as he afterwards did to the birds and the lilies; agreeably to what we have observed on Mat 5:2 of our Lord's manner of taking his similies from the most obvious things; a thought which Sir Isaac Newton has well illustrated in his Observations on the Prophesies of Daniel, p. 148., to whom the writer referred to in the note on Mat 5:2 is greatly indebted. See Doddridge, and Beausobre and Lenfant.
Matthew 5:15-16. Neither do men light a candle, &c.— This seems to be a proverbial expression. See the application that Christ makes of it on another occasion; Mark 4:21.Luke 8:16; Luke 8:16; Luke 11:33. They formerly used lamps only, instead of candles, and the candlestick was the foot on which they were set up. The meaning of this comparison is the same with that foregoing. The disciples and Christians, being the lights of the world, were designed to light men out of the ways of ignorance and vice to Jesus Christ, and, through him, into the paths of holiness and virtue. "Men do not so much as light a common lamp, to put it under a bushel, and conceal it there; but they set it on a stand, to give light to all who are in the house. How much less will it become you, whom I have compared to the sun, to hide or suppress your rays? The knowledge of divine things is given you, not to be concealed, but to be imparted to mankind around you; therefore, Mat 5:16 let your light," &c. That is, "Make your doctrine and example bright in the eyes of all who behold you; that they may honour God; first, by acting up to the precepts of the Gospel, strongly impressed on their understandings by your penetrating sermons, accompanied by divine grace, and powerfully recommended to their hearts by your exemplary lives; next, by their returning thanks to God for sending such men to enlighten and reform the world; for to glorify God is not only to praise him (as Luk 2:20 and elsewhere), but also to acknowledge the truth of the Gospel." See Luke 23:47. 1 Peter 2:12. The Greek for in heaven is plural;—(in the heavens), for the Jews reckoned three heavens, the air, the firmament, and the third heaven, or the heaven of heavens, the usual place of God's residence. See Macknight, Beausobre and Lenfant, and Pierce's fourth dissertation. Heylin observes, in nearly these words, That the beatitudes, containing the principal articles of Christian holiness and morality, were as so many texts for the apostles to preach upon, and allure men to the practice of them, by shewing them the happiness which would ensue: but the generality of the world so little know the way to true happiness, that they scorn and abuse those who propose it to them; like men inaphrensy,who spurn the offered medicine, and assault those who would administer it. Our Lord, who foreknew this, forewarned his disciples of it: and lest such ingratitude and ill usage should make them desist from their high office, and not persevere in their endeavours to do good to others, at the hazard of such indignities and calumnies and dangers to themselves, he encourages them with the assurances of the great reward with which their patience would be crowned. He animates their zeal (Matthew 5:12.) by the example of the glorious company of the prophets their predecessors, who had faithfully persisted in publishing the truth, and doing good to mankind, notwithstanding the grievous persecution which thereby they drew upon themselves. And, further to engage his apostles to tread in their steps, our Lord represents to them, that this is their bounden duty, the great work to which they were divinely ordained, and for which they were especially qualified by supernatural abilities; and that as their reward would be great, if they rightly discharged their ministry, so their punishment would be proportionable, if they neglected it. "Ye are the salt of the earth, and your destined office, under my grace, is, to preserve from corruption of heart and manners; but if the salt become insipid," &c. Their especial duty was, to teach others their duty; but if they flinched from it, through fear of persecution, or any other motive, they would be lost irrecoverably, and sink in perdition beneath the rest of mankind, as much as by their sacred office they were placed above them. He goes on, therefore, with repeated allusions to remind them of their high station: "Ye are the light of the world, exposed to public view; a light which should illuminate all around, and in which every the least eclipse will be visible, and of bad influence." They were to be a pattern to others: they were to recommend their doctrine by their example, and to shew how amiable holiness and virtue are in their own practice. Let your light so shine, &c. See his Lectures, p. 75. Dr. Campbell renders the first clause, Thus let your light, &c.
Matthew 5:17-20. Think not that I am come to destroy, &c.— Because the doctrine of the Lord Jesus Christ concerning happiness was contrary to that which the Jews were accustomed to hear, and which their preachers pretended to derive from the prophets, whose descriptions of the glory of the Messiah's kingdom they understood in a literal sense; also because he was about to give explications of the moral precepts, of very different tenor from those which the Scribes and Pharisees commonlygave, but which his disciples, as instructors of mankind, were to inculcate: he ended this branch of his discourse, and introduced that which followed, with declaring that he was by no means come to destroy the law or the prophets; that is to say, the moral precepts contained in them; for he came to destroy the whole ceremonial precepts of the law, the hand-writing of ordinances, which he blotted out and nailed to his cross, that its abolition might be known to all. See Colossians 2:14. Besides, we find the phrase law and prophets made use of elsewhere, to signify the moral precepts contained in them. See chap. Mat 7:12 Matthew 22:40. Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil;— πληρωμαι, to confirm, for so the word is used, 1 Kings 1:14. See the margin of our bibles on that passage. Accordingly it follows, Matthew 5:18. Verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth, &c. Eternity and immutability are by no means the attributes of any ceremonial precept whatever. They are the distinguishing characters of the precepts of holiness and morality enjoined in the law and the prophets. None of them shall pass, or be abrogated, till all be fulfilled: εως αν παντα γενηται : "till all the things mentioned be done;" that is, till the heavens and the earth pass, or are destroyed. Our Lord's meaning therefore is, that there is nothing in the universe so stable as the eternal truths of morality: the heavens may fall, the whole frame of nature be unhinged; nay, every part of it be dissolved; but the rules of righteousness shall remain immutable and immortal: wherefore he ordered his disciples, on the severest penalties, both by their doctrine and example, to enforce the strict observation of all the moral precepts contained in the sacred writings, and that to their utmost extent.
Matthew 5:19. Whosoever therefore shall break, that is, destroy (the original word λυση being here put for καταλυση, as it is likewise John 2:19.) one these least commandments, and shall teach men so, shall be called, that is, shall be—the least in the kingdom of heaven. Since the moral precepts of the law are eternal and immutable, whatever weakens their obligation shall never enter intoheaven: for there is in the text a figure which the rhetoricians call meiosis (diminution), often elegantly used to convey a strong idea. Thus, Galatians 5:21. They that do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God; that is, shall be severely punished. Our divine teacher adds, Matthew 5:20., Except your righteousness,—the righteousness which you experience and practise yourselves, and enjoin upon others,—shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees,—the Jewish doctors of the strictest sects,—ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven; for ye, like them, will be corrupters of others, and consequently monsters of the blackest kind. But because this was a subject of great importance, our Lord goes on to specify various particulars, wherein theirs should excel the doctrine and practice of the Jewish teachers. This appears to be the true and proper explanation of this passage; and, from the whole of what follows, it is manifest that Christ refers to the moral, and not the ceremonial law; for he does not give a single instance from the latter. The original word ιωτα, which we render jot, Mat 5:18 undoubtedly answers to the Hebrew letter י jod, whence the English word here used seems to be derived; and which, being the least letter of their alphabet, might properly be used proverbially on this occasion. The original word Κεραια, which we render tittle, properly signifies one of those little ornamental curlatures or flourishes, which, when Hebrew is elegantly written, are generally used at the beginning and end of a letter, and sometimes at the corners. The clause might have been rendered, Not the least letter or stroke. The latter part of the 20th verse must have greatly surprised Christ's hearers, if the proverb which has since prevailed were of so ancient a date: for it has been commonly said by the Jews, "That if but two men were to enter into the kingdom of heaven, one of them would be a Pharisee, and the other a Scribe." See Chemnitz, Calmet, and Macknight. Dr. Heylin observes very well, nearly in these words,* that it clearly appears from these verses, that our Lord certainly foresaw the great abuses which would be made of the Christian religion; how some would think that they might compensate for the neglect of moral duties, by deeds of superstition and will-worship; and how others, glorying in their presumptuous assurances, would insist upon a faith destitute of morality; and by taking away the moral law, and consequently all holiness and love, leave Christianity a mere castle in the air, an enthusiastic system of absurdities. Christ therefore solemnly, and with great emphasis, asserts the perpetual obligation of the moral law, till nature itself should be so changed, as to render its dictates useless. In the present course of things the law is so far from abating, or being abrogated in any essential point of duty, that, on the contrary, all who faithfully practise the law through the power of almighty grace, find by experience that it increases, and spreads its jurisdiction farther, in proportion to the progress that they make; for the moral sense greatly improves by exercise, and as men advance in their obedience to the law, they also advance in the knowledge of it; so as to discover new duties, and stricter obligations, whereof they had not before been sensible. But Dr. Campbell translates the 19th verse, Whosoever shall violate, or teach others to violate, were it the least of these commandments, shall be in no esteem in the reign of heaven; but whosoever shall practise and teach them, shall be highly esteemed in the reign of heaven. And he observes, that to be called great and to be called little, for to be esteemed and to be disesteemed, is so obvious a figure, of the effect for the cause, that it naturally suggests itself to every discerning reader. By rendering, therefore, the Greek phrase, Βασιλεια των ουρανων, agreeably to its meaning in most places, the reign of heaven, that is, the Gospel dispensation, there is not the smallest difficulty in the passage. But if this phrase be rendered the kingdom of heaven, as referring to the state of the blessed, and if he shall be called the least in that kingdom mean, as some explain it, he shall never be admitted into it, a most unnatural figure of speech is introduced, whereof I do not recollect to have seen an example in any author, sacred or prophane.
* When I quote writers who are not perfectly evangelical, I make such alterations as I judge necessary, giving intimation to the reader of the liberty I take, if the alteration be of any importance, and referring him to the original work; as my intention is, in this Commentary, to present to the congregation of the Lord a work which shall, to the best of my judgment, be perfectly consistent with the whole analogy of faith.
Matthew 5:21. It was said by them of old time— To them, &c. and so wherever it occurs. It was said to them of former time—But I say to you. So our Lord introduces his several improvements of the law under the different articles hereafter specified. Christ here distinguishes his doctrines from those which, in former times, had been publicly taught and enforced by theauthority of law; for as there is a gradual increase of knowledge in every man, who faithfully practises what he knows already; so, by divine appointment, it has proved in the course of the world. What is commonly called natural religion was the general rule of life till Moses, who gave the revealed law which bears his name, and was the standard of duty till the coming of Christ, whose instructions are the completion of all that appertains to moral rectitude: upon which account the season of his dispensation is called the last days, as the ages preceding it are here named the former time (though frequently the term is applied to the latter days of the Christian dispensation); and it is with this view that our Lord, when he was going to extend the boundaries of the law, takes distinct notice how far they were advanced already. The Greek for them of former time is αρχαιοι, which may be well rendered beginners, or novices, and so rightly opposed to the apostles, who were in a state of proficiency. See Heylin. The Lord Jesus Christ instances in the commandments of the second table, how the Jews had corrupted the word of God by their traditions; and he proposes here these commandments in the same sense as they were understood by the Pharisees, and sometimes with the glosses they put upon them; and from these it is that he endeavours to vindicate and rescue them. He begins with the sixth commandment. It seems the doctors gave it as their opinion, that this law, Thou shalt not kill, prohibited nothing but actual murder, committed with a man's own hand; and therefore, if he hired another to kill a man, or turned a wild beast upon him, that slew him,—according to them it was not murder, punishable by the law, though they acknowledged it might deserve the judgment of God. The doctrine of Christ's disciples was to be more sublime, exhibiting the intention and spirit of the law, which forbids our being angry with another, our affronting him, and judging evil concerning his spiritual estate without good reason; for the limitation added to the first member of the sentence, Mat 5:22 must be understood throughout the whole. It may be proper to observe, that by the judgment, is meant that court of judicature among the Jews, which consisted of twenty-three judges, who had power of life and death; so that the meaning of the words, He shall be in danger of, or liable to be punished by the judgment, is, "He shall be guilty of death." Deuteronomy 16:18; Deuteronomy 21:2. But it is to be noted here, that though the Lord Jesus Christ made use of the same expressions as were used by the Jews to denote temporal punishments, yet his words are to be figuratively understood, and applied to the future punishments of the wicked, of which he distinguishes the different degrees according to the different crimes. See Grotius, and Beausobre and Lenfant.
Matthew 5:22. But I say unto you— Which of the prophets ever spake thus? Their language is, Thus saith the Lord. Who hath the authority to use this language?—he who is able to save and destroy. The Lord Jesus Christ does not mean here that anger, or every scornful or reviling word deserves the same punishment from the magistrates as murder; that is to say, death; but only that anger, being in direct violationofthesixthcommandment, because it tends and disposes men to murder, the judgment of God will take cognizance of such anger, as well as of all desires of revenge, hatred, opprobrious or reviling language, &c. See 1 John 3:15. The word εικη, without cause, though found in almost all the Greek manuscripts, is omitted in most manuscripts of the Vulgate. By brother is meant another Christian; this is the meaning of the Greek word αδελφος, in the sacred writings; and that the same sense is put upon it here is evident from the next verse. The Jews would give the name of brother to no one who was not an Israelite. They vouchsafed to give that of neighbour to a proselyte, but would by no means bestow it on a Gentile. Our Lord did not design to authorize a like distinction, when he made use here of the word brother;forhe elsewhere enjoins his disciples to forgive all men in general, and shews that our neighbour is any man whatever. Luke 10:29-30; Luke 10:42. The word judgment here unquestionably must signify punishment from God; since this causeless anger might be so concealed in the heart, as not to admit of conviction before men. "He shall be liable to a worse punishment from God, than any which your common courts of judicature can inflict." See the note on Matthew 5:21. Our Saviour goes on, "Whosoever to his secret anger shall add opprobrious and contemptuous words,—for instance, shall say to his brother, Raca, that is, thou worthless, empty fellow! shall be exposed to yet more terrible effects of the divine judgment, and be obnoxious to a yet severer punishment; as far exceeding the former, as that inflicted by the Sanhedrim, which extends to stoning, exceeds that which follows the judgment of the inferior courts, which only have the power of the sword." Raca is a Syriac word, which, according to Lightfoot, signifies a scoundrel; according to Drusius, a coxcomb; and so is a term of great contempt. Κενε, vain man, used Jam 2:20 seems to be a translation of it; for, as St. Jerome observes, it is derived from the Hebrew ריק, rik, which signifies vain or empty. See Parkhurst on the word. The council—, in the Greek συνεδριον, a word which the Jews adopted into their language, giving it a Hebrew termination, sanhedrin, signifies the council or senate of the nation. It consisted of seventy-two judges, or, according to others, of seventy, besides the president. It used to sit at Jerusalem. Concerning the place where it met, see John 19:13. This was the supreme court of judicature among the Jews, and to it appeals were made from inferior tribunals. It took cognizance only of the most important matters; as, for instance, such wherein a whole tribe was concerned; those that related to the high-priest, a false prophet, idolatry, treason, &c. and could, while the Jewish government continued independent, inflict the heaviest punishments; particularly stoning, and burning with melted lead poured down the throat of the criminal after he was strangled. See Beausobre and Lenfant, and Calmet's Dictionary. Our Saviour goes on, "Whosoever, in his unreasonable passion, shall say to his brother, Thou fool, Μωρε that is to say, thou graceless wicked villain;—thereby impeaching his moral character, as well as reflecting on his intellectual; shall be obnoxious to the gehenna of fire; or, to a future punishment, more dreadful even than being burned alive in the valley of Hinnom; whence the name of the infernal regions is borrowed." Wicked men are so often called fools in the Old Testament, especially in the writings of David and Solomon; that the appellation of fool, in the Jewish language, signifies not so much a weak thoughtless creature, as a man deliberately wicked; for, as religion is the highest wisdom, vice must be accounted the extremest folly. Dr. Sykes draws the same sense from the word, by deriving it from the Syriac μαρα, rebellavit, he has rebelled; so that, according to him, the original Μωρε signifies a rebel against God, or an apostate from the true religion. The valley of Hinnom, called also Tophet, was the scene of the detestable worship of Moloch, as we have before observed, 2 Kings 23:10. See also Isaiah 30:33. In after-times continual fires were kept in this valley, for burning the unburied carcases and filth of the city, that, beingthus polluted, it might be unfit for the like religious abominations. The Jews, from the perpetuity of these fires, and to express the utmost detestation of the sacrifices which were offered to Moloch in this valley, made use of its name to signify hell, of which they conceived it a fit emblem. Hence our translators have given Tophet, or Gehenna, its metaphorical meaning in the present passage, whereas it ought rather to have had its literal signification; forour Lord, intending to shew his hearers that the punishment of causeless anger, contemptuous speeches, and abusive names, shall, in the life to come, bear a proportion to the guilt which is in these sins; and finding no means in the language of men, by which those different degrees of punishment could properly be expressed, he illustrated them by the punishment wherewith the Jews were acquainted. This interpretation of the punishment, in the latter clause of the verse, has a particular advantage attending it, as it prevents the reader from imagining, that only the sin of calling his brother fool will be punished with hell-fire. See Lightfoot and Macknight. St. Austin observes, thathere is a gradation in the faults reprehended. The first is anger, deliberately and causelessly conceived in the mind; the second, when that breaks forth in wrathful expressions; the third, when it vents itself in contumelious abuses. It is by these steps that a man, enraged with anger, sometimes proceeds to actual murder, but much oftener to the commission of it in his thought and intention; and we are here warned, that all these steps are criminal in their several degrees, and that the law not only prohibits murder, but even the remotest tendencies toward it.
Matthew 5:23-24. Therefore, if thou bring thy gift— Farther, to quench the first and smallest sparks of enmity, and prevent all occasion of angry resentments, our Lord adds what follows from this to the 26th verse; for so far his advice extends, with regard to the sixth commandment. Our Lord insisted particularly on reparation, assuring us, that unless it be made, God will not accept the worshipof such offenders; being infinitely better pleased with repentance than with sacrifices, or external worship of any kind, how precious soever those duties may appear in the eyes of carnal men. Vain, therefore, is their presumption, who fancy they can make amends for yet more gross acts of injustice, by acts of devotion: "Therefore if thou bring thy gift, δωρον,— thy free-will offering, to the altar, and there recollect that thy brother hath aught against thee,—any just cause of complaint; leave there thy gift before the altar:—do not lay aside the thoughts of worshipping God, because thou art not in a proper state, but prepare thyself for his worship without delay; go thy way; first be reconciled," &c. It is observable, that Philo, in explaining the law of the trespass-offering, tells us, that, when a man had injured his brother, and, repenting of his fault, voluntarily acknowledged it, (in which case both restitution and sacrifice were required,) he was first to make restitution, and then to come into the temple, presenting his sacrifice, and asking pardon. This is a veryjust and natural account of the matter, and adds a great illustration to this text. See Macknight and Doddri
Matthew 5:25-26. Agree with thine adversary— Our blessed Saviour here enforces the exhortation in the preceding verses, from the consideration of what was reckoned prudent in ordinary law-suits. In such cases, wise and honest men always advise the party that has done the wrong to make up matters with his adversary whilst it is in his power, lest the sentence of a judge, being interposed, fall heavy on him. For the same reason, we, when we have offended our brother, ought to make it up with him, whilst an opportunity of repentance is allowed us, and that, though our quarrel should have proceeded to the greatest lengths; lest the sentence of the supreme judge overtake us, and put reconciliation out of our power for ever. The original ισθι ευνοων, rendered agree, seems to imply not only peace, but benevolence; and therefore might be rendered, "Come to a friendly agreement." The word αντιδικος, adversary, property signifies a person who is going to law with another. The farthing, κοδραντης, was the least brass coin that the Romans had. In a figurative sense, which is that of the Lord Jesus Christ here, the prison is taken for hell, out of which the unrelenting sinner can never come, according to our Lord's declaration, because he can never be able to make satisfaction.—We are all thy debtors, O Lord, and in one sense theprisoners of thy justice; of ourselves most incapable, not only of paying the uttermost farthing, but even of discharging the least part of the debt. We bless thee for that generous Surety, who has undertaken and discharged it for us; and by the price of whose atoning blood we are delivered from the chains of darkness, and are translated into the glorious liberty of thy children! See Doddridge, Beausobre and Lenfant, &c.
Matthew 5:27-28. Ye have heard, &c.— What has been hitherto said refers to meekness; what now follows, to purity of heart. Dr. Lightfoot, to explain the opinion of the Jewish doctors, respecting the duty of this seventh commandment, cites the Targum upon Exodus 20:0 by which it appears, that they were very loose moralists indeed. In opposition therefore to them, our Lord declared, that whosoever looketh on a woman, &c. whosoever cherishes unchaste desires and intentions, or, as it is expressed in the tenth commandment, covets his neighbour's wife, is really guilty of adultery, though he should never find the opportunity of committing the act with her; for which cause, all such use of our senses, as inflames the mind with lust, must be carefully avoided. See on the next verse, and Eccliasticus 9:5, &c.
Matthew 5:29-30. And if thy right eye offend thee, &c.— The word rendered offend thee, σκανδαλιζει, signifies to be a stumbling-block in a person's way, or the occasion of his fall; and so implies much more than merely to displease; a remark which deserves attending to, because the sense of many texts depends upon it. We may read, make thee offend, or insnare thee. We may just note, that the greatest part of Christ's auditors being people who lived by their daily labour, to these the loss of a right hand would be a much greater calamity than that of a right eye; so that there is a gradation and force in this passage, beyond what has been generally observed. Every one knows that the expressions in these verses are figurative,and not to be literally understood. The general meaning is, "Denythyself the use of thy senses, though ever so delightful, in all cases where the use of them ensnares thy soul. Turn away thine eye, and keep back thy hand from the alluring object." This, says Chrysostome, is a most mild and easy precept: it would have been much more hard, had he given commandment to converse with and look curiously on women, and then to abstain from farther commission of uncleanness with them. Figurative and proverbial speeches, which may have great beauty and force in one language, often lose their grace and energy when translated into another tongue, wherein the novelty and exotic air of the expression may greatly obscure the sense intended by it. All our translations of the Scripture must labour under this difficulty. A superficial reader will find his imagination shocked at the bare proposal of pulling out an eye, or cutting off an hand, being not aware, that by the eye is meant the intention, and by the hand the execution of it. In the very next chapter we have the eye again in this sense, namely, to denote the intention, view, or design: and to express performance by the hand, is so agreeable to the general tenor of Scripture-language, that it is needless to insist upon it. With this explanation, it appears not only that the precept is reasonable and expedient, but also that the terms by which our Lord chose to express it, are peculiarlyproper to the occasion. The occasion was the prohibition of impure desires, and the mental adultery; an odious subject, which requires great reserve, and a covering of darkness, even in reproving it. But it is known how those who are possessed with that criminal passion, are apt to be transported by it; and that the exaggerating metaphors in which they delight to express their infatuation, amply justify the sacred language of pulling out the right eye, and casting it away, to express the extremeviolencewhichtheyoughttodothemselves,whowould preserve their purity. See Heylin and Ostervald on uncleanness.
Matthew 5:31-32. It hath been said, &c.— The doctors of the school of Sammai affirmed, that in the law concerning divorce, Deu 24:1 the words some uncleanness were to be understood of adultery only; whereas they of the school of Hillel interpreted them of any manner of dislike whatever. Hence the Pharisees asked Jesus, ch. Mat 19:3 if it was lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? The opinion of Hillel was generally espoused by the Jews, as appears both from their practice and their writings. Thus Mal 2:16 the clause which in our translation runs, The Lord says he hateth putting away, that is to say, divorces on frivolous pretences, is by the Chaldee paraphrast and the LXX rendered, If thou hatest, thou shouldst put her away. Also the son of Sirach, Eccl'us, Ecclisasticus 25:26. If she go not as thou wouldst have her, cut her off from thy flesh; and and Josephus, Antiq. l. 4. c. 8. "He that would be disjoined from his wife, for any cause whatever, as many such causes there may be among men, let him give her a bill of divorce." Nay, one of their doctors delivered it as his opinion, "That a man may put away his wife, if he likes any other woman better." As therefore they had perverted the law of divorce, that they might give full scope to their lusts, Jesus thought fit to reduce it to its primitive meaning; assuring them, that he who divorces his wife for any of the causes allowed by the doctors, whoredom excepted, layeth her under a strong temptation to commit adultery; unjust divorce being no divorce in the sight of God: and that since such marriages still subsisted, he who married the woman unjustly divorced, committeth adultery also. See Macknight, Calmet, and 1 Corinthians 7:15
Matthew 5:33-37. Again, ye have heard, &c.— As to oaths, the doctors affirmed, that they were obligatory, according to the nature of the things by which a man swears. See ch. Matthew 23:16. Hence they allowed the use of such oaths in common conversation as they said were not obligatory; pretending that there was no harm in them, because the law which forbad them to forswear themselves, and enjoined them to perform their vows, meant such solemn oaths only, as were of a binding nature. It was this detestablemorality which Jesus condemned in Matthew 5:34-36. By comparing ch. Mat 23:16 it appears that our Lord is here giving a catalogue of oaths, which, in the opinion of the doctors, were not obligatory. Jesus by no means condemns swearing truly before a magistrate, or upon grave and solemn occasions, because that would have been to prohibit both the best method of ending controversies, Heb 6:16 and a high act of religious worship, Deuteronomy 6:13. Isa 65:16 an oath being not only a solemn appeal to the divine Omniscience, from which nothing can be hid, but also a direct acknowledgment of God, as the great protector and patron of right, and the avenger of falsehood. But let your communication, says he, be yes, yes; no, no: "Maintain such sincerity and truth in all your words, as will claim the belief of your acquaintance: so that in common conversation, to gain yourselves credit, you should do no more than barely assert or deny any matter, without invoking the name of God at all; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil;" or, as it may be translated, cometh of the evil one: 'Εκ του πονηρου . See ch. Matthew 6:13. In common discourse, whatever is more than affirmation or negation, arises either from our own evil heart, or from the temptation of the devil, who prompts men to curse and to swear, that he may lessen their reverence for God, and lead them at length to perjury, even in the most solemn instances; considerations, which shew the evil nature of this sin in the strongest light. We may just observe, that the Jews have a proverb among them to this purpose: "The yea of the just is yea, and their nay, nay:" that is to say, they are sincere, and perform whatever they say or promise. See James 5:12. In whatever sense the last clause be understood,—cometh of evil, it contains a demonstration, that the 34th verse is to be explained with the limitation proposed; for it is evident that oaths were in some cases not only allowed, but required by the Mosaic law. See Exodus 22:11.Leviticus 5:1; Leviticus 5:1.Numbers 19:21; Numbers 19:21.Deuteronomy 12:14; Deuteronomy 12:14. So that if Christ's prohibition had here referred to swearing in solemn and judicial cases, he would in these words have charged the divine law with establishing an immorality; which is most absurd to suppose. See Macknight, Doddridge, and Wetstein.
Dr. Campbell well observes, that our Lord is to be considered here, not as prescribing the precise terms wherein we are to affirm or deny, inwhich case it would have suited better the simplicity of his style to say barely, ναι και ου, yes and no, without doubling the words; but as enjoining such an habitual and inflexibleregard to truth, as would render swearing unnecessary. That this manner of converting these adverbs into nouns is in the idiom of the sacred penmen, we have another instance, 2 Corinthians 1:20. For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him amen; that is, certain and infallible truths.
Matthew 5:38-42. Ye have heard, &c.— With respect to men's resisting and revenging such injuries as are done them, Jesus assured his disciples, that although, for the preservation of society, Moses had ordained the judges to give eye for eye, and tooth for tooth, if the injured party demanded it; yet the doctors were greatly in the wrong, not only when they enjoined men to insist on retaliation as their duty, but declared it lawful in many cases for the injured party to avenge himself with his own hand, provided, in his revenge, he did not exceed the measure prescribed in the law. Christ's doctrine is, that the good man is so far from revenging private injuries, that oftentimes he does not even resist them, and always forgives them when they happen to be done to him; a Christian generosity which he warmly recommended to his disciples in the passage before us. To understand it aright, we must take notice, that there are five cases put, wherein Christianmeekness must especially shew itself: first, when any one assaults our person, in resentment of some affront which he imagines we have put upon him: secondly, when any one sues us at the law, in order to take our goods from us: thirdly, when he attacks our natural liberty: fourthly, when one who is poor asks charity: fifthly, when our neighbour begs the loan of something from us. In all these cases, our Lord forbids us to resist: yet, from the examples he mentions, it is plain, that this forbearance and compliance are to be understood under due limitations; for it cannot be supposed that our Lord forbids us to defend ourselves against murderers, who would unjustly take away our life: neither can it be, that he commands us to give every idle and worthless fellow all he may think fit to ask, whether in charity or in loan: we are only to give what we can spare, and to such persons as out of real necessity seek relief from us; nay, our Lord's own behaviour towards the man, who, in the presence of the council, smote him on the cheek, gives reason to think he did not mean that in all cases his disciples should be perfectly passive under the very injuries which he here speaks of. In some circumstances, smiting on the cheek, taking away one's coat, and the compelling of him to go a mile, may be great injuries; and therefore we may be justified in vindicating ourselves in a way perfectly consistent withevery Christian temper. The first instance was judged so by Jesus himself, inthe case mentioned; for had he forborne to reprove the man who did it, his silence might have been interpreted as proceeding from a conviction of his having done evil, in giving the high-priest the answer for which he was smitten. But, in respect to small injuries, it is not only our duty to bear them patiently, and be passive under them, but it is advantageous even in a temporal point of view: for he who bears a slight affront consults even his own interest much better than he who resists or resents it; because he shews a greatness of mind worthy of a Christian man, and avoids quarrels, which frequently are attended with the most fatal consequences. In like manner, he who yields a little of his right, rather than go to law, is much wiser than the man who has recourse to justice in every instance; because, in the progressof a law-suit, such animosities may arise, as are inconsistent with charity. Again, benevolence, which is the glory of the divine nature, and the perfection of the human, rejoices in doing good; hence, the man possessed of this godlike quality cheerfully embraces every occasion in his power of relieving the poor and distressed, whether by gift or loan. Some are of opinion, that the precept concerning alms-giving, and gratuitous lending, is subjoined to the instances of injuries which our Lord commands us to bear: to teach us, that if the persons who have injured us fall into want, we are not to withhold any act of charity from them, on account of the evil they have formerly done us. Taken in this light, the precept is generous and divine. Moreover, as liberality is a virtue nearly allied to the forgiveness of injuries, our Lord joins the two together, to shew, that they should always go hand in hand: the reason is, revenge will blast the greatest liberality, and a covetous heart will shew the most perfect patience to be a sordid meanness of spirit, proceeding from selfishness. See Macknight, Blair, and Blackall. The original words, μη αντιστηναι τω πονηω , are rendered by Dr. Doddridge, Do not set yourselves against the injurious person. See the force of the original word αντιστηναι, 2Ti 3:8 where to resist the truth, is the same as to endeavour to destroy it. Instead of coat and cloak, in the
40th verse, Dr. Doddridge reads vest and mantle, which more exactly answer to the Greek words χιταν and ιματιον, and are parts of dress, under different names, still retained in Barbary, Egypt, and the Levant. The mantle was much larger than the vest, and probably the more valuable. See Joh 19:23 and Shaw's Travels, p. 289. The word αγγαρευσει, rendered compel, in John 19:41, all the commentators have observed, is derived item the name of those officers or public messengers among the Persians, who were wont to press the carriages and horses they met on the road, if they had occasion for them, and even to force the drivers or riders to go along with them. See ch. Matthew 27:32. We may very properly render the word press. This custom was also in use in Judaea, and the Roman empire. The last clause of the 42nd verse should be rendered, and do not turn away him that would borrow of thee. The advice, or rather the commands, given above by our blessed Lord are applicable to all who are called to be members of the Christian dispensation; and the following observation may be useful to set them in their proper light.
The essence of virtue consists in mental disposition; in our temper and frame of mind: but, as human language is adapted to express bodily action much better than mental disposition, it is usual to express the latter by the action that it would naturally produce: and, as the principles of action are complicated and various, and prudence or necessity may often oblige us to omit in respect to action what the frame and temper of our mind inclines to: hence it comes to pass, that some evangelical counsels, which prescribe an outward action, mean in particular cases only the proper inward disposition; namely, a readiness and inclination to perform it: so that the will, though not formally mentioned in the precept, is always required; and the deed, though nominally expressed, may on many occasions be omitted. For instance, it is said at Matthew 5:42, Give to him who asketh thee, &c. Now this precept is in the letter, and, with regard to the outward act which it commands, very often impossible, very often improper to be put in practice: but in the spirit of it, that is to say, the disposition of heart which it enjoins, it is always possible, always practicable, always obligatory through divine grace: the narrowness of our own circumstances may make it impossible, or the circumstances of him who asks our bounty may make it improper, to put this precept in execution, as to the outward act; for we may be so poor ourselves, or the person who applies to us may, by his vices or other qualities, be so circumstanced, that we either cannot or ought not to relieve him. But an inclination to assist him, and do him service, is always in the power of the genuine Christian: the poorest man may have in the good treasury of his heart wherewithal to defray this universal debt of benevolence to all who ask or need his assistance; and thus the precept will be virtually fulfilled. So again, when our Lord commands us not to resist the man who injures us, &c. his meaning is, that we should not repel and strive against the occasions of suffering which occur in the order of Providence, but readily accept every cross which comes in our way. Those who are capable of this lesson know full well how salutary sufferings are, and that it is hardly possible to carry on their purification without these means: so true are those words of our Lord, Luke 14:27. Whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.
Matthew 5:43. Ye have heard, &c.— It may be proper to note here, in this last quotation, the manner of our Lord's quoting the doctrines which he chose to speak of. He does not say, Ye know that it was said, &c. as he would have done if nothing but the written law had been in his eye; but he says, Ye have heard that it was said; comprehending not only the law itself, but the explications of it, which the doctors pretended to have derived from the mouth of Moses by tradition. The passage of the law referred to in the present case is Lev 19:18 where the clause, and hate thine enemy, is not found. But the doctors pretended that it was deducible from the first part of the precept, which seems to limit forgiveness to Israelites: besides, they supported their opinion by the tradition of the elders, and by the precepts concerning the idolatrous nations too rigidly understood. Hence their malevolence toall mankind but their own nation was so remarkable, that the Heathens took notice of it. "Their fidelity," says Tacitus, "is inviolable, and their pity ready towards one another; but unto all others they bear an implacable hatred." Hist. lib. 5: cap. 5 and compare 1 Thessalonians 2:15. Indeed, they were so excessively haughty, that they would not so much as salute a Heathen or a Samaritan. None but brethren received the least mark of respect from them; a behaviour which rendered them odious to all mankind. They certainlydishonoured God extremely, by pretending that his law countenanced such ferocity; the precepts upon which they laid so much stress having no reference at all to the disposition which particular persons among the Israelites were to bear to particular persons among the Heathens. They only prescribed what treatment the Israelites were to give those nations as bodies politic, in which capacity it was most just they should be destroyed, because of their abominations, and because they might have tempted God's people to idolatry; Leviticus 25:28. But the Jews, overlooking the reason of those precepts, extended them most absurdly to the heathens in general, nay, and to private enemies among their brethren also. In opposition to this narrow and abominable spirit, our Lord commands his disciples to shew benevolence, according to their power, to every individual of the human species, without respect of country or religion; benevolence even to their bitterest enemies. See Macknight, Chemnitz, and the next verse.
Matthew 5:44. Which despitefully use you, &c.— Who falsely accuse or traduce you, and persecute you. Dr. Doddridge renders it, Who insult you and persecute you. The particulars mentioned in this verse, are certainly the highest expressions of enmity; for what can be worse than cursing and calumny, insults and persecutions? Yet we are commanded to love and bless, and do good to, and pray for, our enemies, even while they persist in their enmity against us. This may seem contrary to the precept, Luk 17:3 where forgiveness seems to be enjoined only on condition that the injurious party repents: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him: but the difficulty will disappear, when it is remembered, that in the two passages different persons and different duties are spoken of. In this sermon, the duty we owe to mankind in general, who injure us, is described; but in Luke we are told how we are to behave towards an offending brother; one with whom we are particularlyconnected, whether by the ties of Christian society, blood, or friendship. The forgiveness we owe to mankind is in this sermon said to consist in the inward affection of benevolence, civil language, and good offices, such as we would have done to them had they never injured us, and hearty prayers; all which men may receive even while they may persist in their enmity; whereas the forgiveness due to a brother implies that he be restored to the place in our friendship and affection which he held before he offended. But in order to this, his repentance is justly required; because, without a sense of his offence, and due evidence of his reformation, he is both unworthy and incapable of being restored. See Macknight, Whitby, and the note on chap. Matthew 6:12.
Matthew 5:45. That ye may be the children, &c.— Our blessed Saviour enforces the doctrine of loving our enemies, so far as to do them good, from the noblest of all considerations, that it renders men like God, who is good even to the evil and unthankful. "Being thus benevolent towards all, the bad as well as the good, you shall be like God, and so prove yourselves his genuine offspring; for he maketh his sun common to them who worship, and tothem who contemn him; and suffers his rain to be useful both to the just and to the unjust; alluring the bad to repentance, and stirring up the good to thankfulness, by this universal and indiscriminate benignity of his providence." "If you would imitate the gods," says Seneca, "do services even to the ungrateful; for the sun shines even upon the wicked." "To conquer one's passion, to refrain from revenge, not merely to raise but even to assist and dignify a fallen enemy," says Cicero, "is not only to be like the greatest men, but like to God himself." Haec qui faciat, non ego eum summis viris comparo, sed simillimum Deo judico. See his oration for Marcellus.
Matthew 5:46. The publicans— These were the Roman tax-gatherers, some of whom were Jews: these were more extremely odious to their countrymen than those who were heathens. The other Jews would have no communication with them; Luke 3:12-13.Mark 2:16; Mark 2:16. Luke 7:35. They looked upon the profession as scandalous; and the professors were the more odious to them, on account of their great extortion. See chap. Matthew 9:10. Beausobre and Lenfant, and Calmet.
Matthew 5:47. And if ye salute— The original word ασπασησθε denotes all outward signs of friendship, such as embracing, wishing well, &c. It is the word used by the apostles in their salutations, Romans 16:0 &c. The meaning of it seems to be the same with that of the word to bless, Matthew 5:44. See ch. Mat 10:12 and compare Luke 10:5. Instead of, your brethren, some copies read, your friends, which seems to have been added by way of explanation. The Jews embraced their own countrymen, and allowed them as brethren; but the Gentiles they thought unworthy of that honour. Our Lord here teaches his disciples to make their charity extend to all men. See Romans 12:17-18. Beausobre and Lenfant, and Wetstein.
Matthew 5:48. Be ye therefore perfect, &c.— Father Hardouin observes, that this might be rendered, agreeably to the Greek, You shall therefore be perfect, so as to contain a promise, and not an exhortation. The perfection of the divine goodness is proposed to our imitation, as it is promiscuous, extending to the evil as well as the good, and not as it is absolutely universal and infinite; for in these respects the imitation of it is impossible. The precise meaning of the text, says Dr. Sherlock, is, "Let your love be universal, unconfined by partialities; and, with respect to its objects, as large as God's is. Not that our love either to enemies or friends can be supposed in other respects, and, as to the effects of it, to bear any proportion to the divine love." See Discourse 13 vol. 3: The love to friends enjoined by the Scribes and Pharisees was very imperfect: we are to labour after a more complete resemblance to God, by loving enemies. The same precept is therefore expressed in Luke, Luk 6:36 by Be ye merciful, as your Father also is merciful.
Inferences.—How excellent is the genius and design of Christ's Gospel, which is calculated to raise our hopes of the truest happiness, to support us under all trials, and assure us to cheerful obedience! They are blessed indeed, whom he blesses, whatever they may suffer for his sake. See how our divine Saviour begins with opening his mouth in blessings of rich variety to his faithful disciples under their numerous sorrows, persecutions and reproaches, fears and dangers, to animate and encourage their holy desires, faith and hope, meekness and patience, humility, love and peace, self-denial, hope and joy: and, oh, how great shall their honour and felicity be at last, to their utmost satisfaction, in the full enjoyment of God, and of his glorious kingdom! What leading hints did our blessed Lord give of Gospel-grace, which, after his death and resurrection, were to be discovered with clearer evidence, and more at large! How perfect was his obedience; and with what wisdom and authority has he drawn out the beauties and obligations of that law, which is the sacred rule of duty, in all its spirituality, exactness and wide extent! What a becoming reverence of God, and of his great and aweful name; what chastity and purity, and mortification of all sin; what a happy dominion over our appetites and passions; what a sacred guard upon our speech and behaviour; what forbearance under injuries; and what a diffusive beneficence to mankind, and imitation of our heavenly Father, does it enjoin, that God in all things may be glorified! But how unworthy are they of the name of servants or disciples of Christ, who relax the obligation, or encourage a disregard to the least of God's commands! And what will become of them for ever, if death and judgment seize them in their sins! How steadfastly then should we adhere to the pure word of God, in opposition to all corruptions of men! How concerned should ministers and Christians be to spread the favour of the knowledge of Christ in all places, and to act up to their characters and engagements with all integrity, and without reserve! How honourable would this be to him and themselves; and what a blessing would it make them to the church and the world! And yet, alas! in how many things do we all offend, and come short of the glory of God! How should this humble us, and put us upon desiring truth in the inward parts, and on believing in Christ with the heart unto righteousness.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, Among the multitudes who followed Jesus, many professed themselves his disciples. For their sakes therefore especially, as well as for the improvement of all who attended him, he took the present opportunity to lay open to them at large the doctrines of truth. For the convenience of being heard, he went up to a mountain, where, surrounded by his disciples, and seated amid the attentive throng, he opened his mouth, and taught them; while they hung upon his lips, and in silence, with their eyes fixed on him, drank-in the sacred truths which he uttered. Note; It is enlivening and encouraging to the ministers of the gospel to behold a numerous and attentive auditory; and that is sacred fire, which not the desire of being popular, but the hope of being extensively useful, kindles in their heart; and it is that which gives energy and warmth to their discourse.
2nd, To be happy is the universal desire; but, whilst all pursue this as their aim, few comparatively attain the accomplishment of their wishes: and the reason is evident; they mistake both wherein man's true happiness consists, and the means which lead to it: consequently, are ever bewildered in a fruitless search, and tormented with continual disappointment. To divert us from our wrong pursuits, to inform us what is our true good, and to direct us to the attainment of real blessedness, is the gracious design of our adored Lord. Yet to many, the doctrines that he advances will appear paradoxical and strange; though, blessed be his name! every enlightened and converted soul will own, that, however strange they seem to others, they are found by happy experience to be indeed the true sayings of God.
In eight characters Christ shews wherein true blessedness consists, and pronounces on each, blessed are ye: at present they are the truly happy souls on earth; and their eternal reward awaiteth them in heaven. Oh, may this blessedness be mine!
The first beatitude.
Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Wherein then does this poverty of spirit consist? I answer, (1.) In a deep and humbling sense of our own spiritual wants and wretchedness, which brings off the sinner from every dependence upon his own goodness for acceptance with God, and on his own natural abilities to walk and please him, to a constant renunciation of himself, to a repose of his confidence on the infinite merit and intercession of Jesus alone as his title to God's regard, and on the grace of Jesus for all-sufficiency to think or act aright. (2.) In an intire resignation of ourselves to God, and contentment with our lot; sitting loose to the world and all the things of it; in poverty cheerful, our minds conformed to our condition; in prosperity humble, condescending, kind, and sympathizing with the necessitous. (3.) In low thoughts of ourselves, our abilities, attainments, and possessions of whatever kind; in honour preferring others to ourselves, the last and least in our own opinion; and seeing much, very much, to humble us in the view of our misimprovement of those blessings which God hath bestowed on us, and in which he has made us to differ from others. Now such as these are blessed in the present satisfaction arising from the exercise of such a spirit and temper, and in a happy freedom from the murmurs, repinings, and mortifications, which make the proud and discontented perpetually uneasy. They are blessed with the experience of God's love and favour, who looks with delight and approbation on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit; and, as the summit of all felicity, theirs is the kingdom of heaven: the riches of the kingdom of grace below, and all the unsearchable riches of Christ and glory above, are the eternal portion of all those who through the power of Almighty grace persevere in this divine temper.
The second beatitude.
Blessed are they that mourn. We are apt to count mourners miserable, and to judge of happiness by the smiles of the countenance; but Christ teaches us a different lesson. Not that all who mourn are blessed: there is the mourning of discontent, the sorrow of the world that worketh death, the inconsolable tears of those who lament like Micah after their idols, and the melancholy of despair; these bring a curse and torment instead of a blessing. The mourning here commended is, A penitential mourning over sin, in the views of our base ingratitude; a mourning after God, if under darkness and desertion; a mourning over the dishonour brought upon him by the impieties of the wicked and the unfaithfulness of believers; a mourning over the distresses of the miserable, and especially a mourning over lost souls, which makes our tears like those of Jesus flow, while we are pouring forth before God our fervent prayers on their behalf. These are blessed: the tears shed for sin have a sweetness unutterable; a sacred pleasure mingles with them, to which all the noisy mirth of fools, exclusive of the heaviness which succeeds, is not to be compared; and they are the seed of true joy; for they shall be comforted, here below, in a sense of God's love shed abroad in their hearts, in the consolations arising from a sense of pardoning love, in the sacred delight of beholding sinners turned from the evil of their ways; and, continuing thus, to follow their divine master, shall, be comforted hereafter in the eternal fruition of God, and the inconceivable blessedness thence arising, when every tear shall be wiped from our eyes, and we shall drink of pure, unsullied, and eternal pleasures, as out of a river.
The third beatitude.
Blessed are the meek—respecting God, submissive to his word and providences; never replying against the one, or murmuring against the other: respecting man, mild, inoffensive, easy to be intreated, unmoved with provocation, forbearing and forgiving, resenting no injuries, actuated by no private revenge, in patience and peace possessing their souls; yet not mean-spirited, cowardly, and tame, through fear of man; but, whilst in their own cause gentle as the lamb, in the cause of God and truth bold as lions; zealous to maintain the rights of others, while they recede from their own; and steady patrons of the injured and the absent. They are blessed; they are, like their Lord, happy in themselves, beloved of all who know the value of such a spirit, and dear in the sight of God. They shall inherit the earth, shall have as much of this present world as is for their good; but above all, and what seems here chiefly intended, thus perseveringly following the meek and lowly Jesus, they shall have a part in that better new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness, and be counted inheritors among the saints in light.
The fourth beatitude.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness—that holiness and love which the spirit of Jesus communicates: and for this the poor and helpless sinner and the genuine believer in their different degrees hunger more than for their daily bread; inasmuch as the life and health of their souls are infinitely preferable to the life and health of their bodies. These are blessed souls; for every such desire is in a measure the proof of our possessing the righteousness after which we pant; and they shall be filled out of the fulness of Jesus, who has enough to supply all their wants, yea, to fill them with joy and peace in believing.
The fifth beatitude.
Blessed are the merciful. This is the most amiable character of God, and herein his people resemble him. (1.) Mercy is their temper, they have a heart which can be touched with human wretchedness; and though they may not always have it in their power to relieve, they are ever tenderly compassionate towards the distresses of the miserable. (2.) Mercy is their practice; so far as their power extends, they are ready to shew mercy: they take delight therein, and count this work its own reward. They are merciful to men's souls; pitying and instructing the ignorant, warning the unruly, comforting the feeble mind, helping the weak, and labouring to snatch the wicked as brands from the burning. They are merciful to men's bodies; relieving the necessities of the poor, the friendless, and the destitute; they are eyes to the blind, feet to the lame, physicians to the sick, supports to the aged and infirm; ready to assist with their advice, their money, or influence, according to the various distresses of those who apply to them: they are diligent to discover those objects of modest worth and neglected indigence that are ashamed or backward to apply for relief. They are merciful even to the brute beasts: not only their servants and labourers are never vexed with unreasonable burdens, but their very cattle share their clemency, and own the kind and tender master. This is blessedness. They who are thus like God in spirit, will taste something of divine felicity; and, of all the joys beneath the sun, none will be found comparable with the exalted pleasure of doing good. And they shall obtain mercy: such merciful ones plead no merit: the more they are enabled to do, the less opinion they entertain of their deserts, as every advance in grace brings proportionably greater light, and therewith greater humility. They cast themselves therefore wholly on the mercy of God in Jesus Christ, and they shall find mercy of the Lord in the great day; and more they need not wish for, since his mercy includes eternal life and glory.
The sixth beatitude.
Blessed are the pure in heart; who by faith are cleansed from all hypocrisy, covetousness, pride, and sensuality; jealous to keep themselves unspotted from the world; maintaining undefiled religion; in simplicity and godly sincerity walking with God. They are blessed in the present paths of pleasantness and peace in which they go, and they shall see God as the consummation of all felicity; be with him where he is; be like him as he is, and from the light of his countenance, and the constant effusions of his love, drink in blessedness unutterable and eternal.
The seventh beatitude.
Blessed are the peace-makers; men of peace themselves, and desirous to cultivate the like disposition among others; following it with all men as far as is consistent with truth and purity; averse from all disputes and angry contentions; softening the spirits of the exasperated; and kindly interposing, though sometimes at the expence of much ill-will, to repair the breaches, and heal the divisions, which the fiery and self-willed spirits of others have occasioned: the first to forgive, the last to be offended; and where others prepare themselves for battle, still ready, though injured, to seek reconciliation. Such men shall be blessed in their deed; they shall be accounted faithful subjects of the Prince of Peace, and be called the children of God, who is the God of peace; and if children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.
The eighth beatitude.
Blessed are they which are perfected for righteousness' sake. All who follow Christ must expect his cross; and every godly man, as long as a child of wickedness is in the world, may suffer persecution of one kind or other: where power is with oppressors, there it will reach to fines, imprisonment, and even death itself; where milder governments give protection from grosser injuries, there the lower methods of reviling, calumny, falsehood, insult, ridicule, and vile misrepresentations, will be the lot of Christ's disciples. Various pretexts indeed are commonly used to give a specious colouring to this conduct in lands professing godliness, as if it was not righteousness that men persecuted, but what they are pleased to call enthusiasm, or to stamp with some other opprobrious name; but, whatever occasional offences may have been given, the ground and root of the malignity shew against the people of God is their open and bold profession of the doctrines of the gospel, and the practice of experimental godliness, which is equally reproving and offensive to the formal and profane: on which accounts, therefore, the saints of God must expect to follow Jesus, bearing his reproach. But, however they are regarded among men, they are pronounced blessed by the author of all blessing, and theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Nor need any now wonder at these things among us, when, among God's professing people of old, the prophets were so persecuted before us, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Elijah, &c. and therefore we are commanded to rejoice and be exceeding glad to be numbered among such worthies, and expect that great reward in glory which God hath promised to those who, by patient continuance in well doing, seek with them glory, honour, and immortality.
3rdly, Our Lord's observations in Matthew 5:13-16, are directed to the disciples in general, and to the apostles and ministers of Christ in particular; and their character is set forth under two similitudes:
1. As the salt of the earth. Their lives and conversations must be exemplary: they must not only be free from taint themselves, that is, from the allowed practice of sin, but endeavour to preserve others from the putrefaction of it; seasoning the earth with the doctrines of the gospel, diffusing the savour of the knowledge of Christ in every place, and thus becoming blessings to mankind. But, should they depart from the truth, disgrace their character, degenerate into lukewarmness and indifference, or apostatize to erroneous principles and licentious practice, their state, if not utterly desperate, is seldom or never retrieved: though their profession may continue, their savour is lost, they become insipid and tasteless, and are doomed to be cast out and trodden under foot of men, as worthless and contemptible, expelled from the communion of the saints below, and everlastingly excluded from the assembly of the blessed above.
2. As the light of the world, to spread the bright truths of salvation among benighted mortals, and point out to them the path which leads to eternal day; especially to lead sinners to Christ, the light of life: and in so doing they would be distinguished as a city set on a hill, and needed peculiar circumspection while so many eyes would be fixed upon them. Every minister, every Christian, stands on an eminence; more is expected from them than from others, and many watch for their halting: as candles are lighted not to be covered, but to be set on a candlestick, and give light to all in the house, so were they endued with gifts and graces to illuminate the church of Christ, and diffuse the gospel word around, neither through fear nor shame concealing ought of the whole counsel of God; and in their lives, as well as lips, must their light shine in every work of faith and labour of love which may be profitable to men's bodies or souls; that whilst others are stirred up to holy emulation thereby, abundant praise also may redound to God, who is then eminently glorified when his people bring forth much fruit.
4thly, After the above discourse addressed to the disciples in particular, our Lord more generally directs himself to the multitude.
1. He obviates the prejudices which he knew many would entertain, and confutes the objections that his enemies would make, as if he was about to abrogate the law, and introduce a new system; when in fact he only meant to rescue the oracles of God from the corrupt glosses which the false teachers had put upon them.
[1.] He is not come to destroy the law and the prophets, as some of them might think, but to fulfil them,—to fulfil the moral law by his own perfect obedience and most pure example; the ceremonial, by answering in his own person, and oblation of himself, all the types and figures; the prophets, by accomplishing all their predictions: and, so far from loosening the obligations to obedience, he came, in perfect correspondence with God's ministers before him, to enforce them, and to vindicate the everlasting rule of moral righteousness from the mistakes and adulterations of the Scribes and Pharisees, to explain its spirituality and extent, and from right principles to urge the practice of true holiness.
[2.] He asserts the perpetuity and eternal obligation of the moral law: while heaven and earth endure, not a tittle shall pass from it unaccomplished, nor the least of its commands ever be abolished. It is the transcript of God's holiness; he can require nothing less; the least failure is eternally mortal; and though the genuine believer is relieved by the infinite merit of his divine Substitute from the condemning power of the law, his duty still remains the same, and he is as much as ever bound to regard this as the one unerring law of obedience. Whoever, therefore, dares avowedly to transgress the least command, and teach others to do so, by his example or his preaching, as if it might be done with impunity, which was the case with many of the rabbis of that day, he shall be rejected of God as least esteemed and worthless, and have no part in the kingdom of heaven; while they who, by the purity of their doctrine and the exemplariness of their conduct, continue to enforce the necessity of obedience to every command, accounting none too trivial to be observed, shall be esteemed and honoured of God as faithful here, and exalted to eternal glory hereafter. Note; (1.) The least sin has eternal death for its wages. (2.) They who extenuate the evil of sin, and promise transgressors impunity, will be reckoned with as the most daring rebels against God's government.
2. He professes it his purpose to enforce a righteousness beyond that of their most admired characters the Scribes and Pharisees, who were thought even to go to works of supererogation; and yet, what perhaps they would hear with astonishment, he assures his hearers their righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, or they must never hope to enter the kingdom of heaven. The most extensive pharisaical righteousness of doctrinal orthodoxy, scrupulous exactness in the forms of religion, abstinence from grosser vices, accompanied with whatever alms, or fastings, or prayers, comes infinitely short of the spirituality of God's law. That righteousness alone which is of God by faith, a faith exercising itself on the infinite merit and prevalent intercession of the Lord Jesus Christ, and working by love its genuine fruit,—that heavenly principle alone enables the Christian to act from motives which a Pharisee never knew; it purifies the heart, engages the soul to an universal delight in the law of God after the inward man, and begets the desire of unreserved obedience thereunto. And then, through the unmerited grace of God, and through this faith in the blood, the merit, and intercession of our adorable Saviour, are our persons and services acceptable to God in Jesus Christ; whilst all the duties of the formal and self-righteous, when strained to the highest pitch, are only a greater abomination in the sight of God.
5thly, Our Lord gives a spiritual exposition of part of the moral law, and very different from that of their pharisaical teachers.
1. He begins with the sixth commandment. Ye have heard, out of the law read in the synagogue every sabbath-day, that it was said by them of old time, by the ancients, the elders who expounded the law, or to the ancients their forefathers, thou shalt not kill; and, confining the command merely to the act of murder, they taught, that only such as had been thus capitally criminal were liable to the sword of justice either of God or man, excluding all inferior deeds of the like tendency from being accounted breaches of the law. But Christ teaches them far otherwise: I say unto you, and he speaks as having authority, that not only you are forbidden to murder yourselves, or any other person, directly or indirectly; but whosoever entertains rash and causeless anger, or harbours a malicious wish or design against any man, though it never be executed, is liable to God's judgment, and criminal at his bar, as a murderer in his heart. If the evil within break forth into opprobrious or contemptuous language, such as, Thou empty fellow! it deserves the cognisance of the Sanhedrim; but if it proceeds yet farther, to bitter reviling and rash censures, to say, Thou fool! Thou vile reprobate! such a breach of the law shall be punished with hell-fire. This should (1.) awaken in our minds a deep sense of our guilt and sin, and humble us before God in the review of our past transgressions: well may we cry, on the rehearsal of this law, Lord, have mercy upon us. (2.) It should make us more watchful over our hearts, to suppress the risings of anger on trivial provocations, the inadvertencies or mistakes of others, or our own groundless surmises; yea, though the provocation be great, and the cause of anger just, we must see that it be not excessive, vehement, hurtful, or abiding. Our lips should be under the like restraint, that nothing hasty, perverse, spiteful, contemptible, reproachful, insolent, abusive, or malignant, proceed out of our mouth. The right government of the tongue is the sure proof of grace in the heart.
2. He recommends the exercise of that Christian love and peace which is the fulfilling of the law; and if offences come, we should, be ever ready to confess our faults, ask pardon, make restitution, and seek reconciliation; and this,
[1.] Because till then we can offer to God no acceptable service; for all our worship and duties without love are nothing worth. If therefore we have done an injury to any man, such as the breaches of the commandment above remarked, before we presume to offer our gifts at God's altar, our praises, prayers, or whatever religious services we propose, we must reflect wherein and how much we have offended, and seek immediate reconciliation; since hatred and uncharitableness would make our best works an abomination, and love is better than all burnt-offering. Should our brother continue inexorable, and refuse all the submissions that we were ready to make, we must not then be restrained from drawing near to God, and may humbly expect that forgiveness from him which we cannot obtain from man.
[2.] Because, till this is done, the wrath of God abideth on us. For as it would be highly prudent for the debtor to seek to accommodate matters with his creditor before a suit commences, lest he should be summoned before the civil magistrate, and, the proof being clear, he should be consigned to the officer and cast into prison, without the possibility of deliverance; much more should the guilty sinner solicitously desire reconciliation with God and man, lest, dying in hatred and uncharitableness, his iniquities should witness against him at God's bar, and he should perish everlastingly. God is every sinner's adversary: our eternity depends on being at peace with him; therefore we need be anxious about it: the moment of time which is hurrying by is the space allotted us to agree with him; therefore every delay is highly dangerous: if we die in unpardoned sin, we have nothing to expect but a fearful judgment, where we are sure to be cast; the officers of vengeance are ready to execute the sentence, and the prison of hell is prepared to receive the condemned soul, where in everlasting burnings the guilty must be for ever paying, yet be never able to discharge, the debt they owe to inexorable justice.
6thly, The seventh commandment is expounded by the same infallible interpreter: and well may we say, in the view of the spirituality of the law, Thy commandment is exceeding broad. Thy commandment delivered to the ancients at Mount Sinai said, Thou shalt not commit adultery; and the pharisaical expositors had confined the breach of it literally to this grossest act of lewdness, excluding all the lower degrees of impurity, in thought, word, or deed: but Christ gives a very different extent to the command, to confound their proud claims who dared to boast that they were no adulterers, Luke 18:11.
1. Every unchaste desire in the heart is adultery in the sight of God. The eye, the hand, the feet, the tongue, which by amorous glances, wanton dalliance, or impure discourse, tend to kindle the unhallowed fire of lust, or blow it up into a flame, and every contrivance to gratify this impurity of heart, though it be never brought to effect, involve the conscience in the same horrid guilt.
2. We are commanded therefore to cut off the right hand and pluck out the right eye, which would lead us to offend; not literally indeed to maim or mutilate our bodies, though that, if commanded, should be readily complied with, rather than commit sin; but figuratively it signifies, however near and dear to us the sin may be, by long habit become incorporated as it were with our very frame, and hard to part with as these most useful members of our bodies; yet must it be torn away and cast from us with abhorrence. The heart must be kept with all diligence; no lewd vain thoughts harboured, especially when alone, solitude being often a great temptation to impurity. The eyes must be restrained from gazing on a tempting object, and kept as under a covenant from looking on a maid: yea, every object which would awaken evil desire must be shunned, lascivious representations on the stage, impure pictures, books of amours, lewd plays, &c. nor must we omit to mention curious, expensive and indecent dress, which exposes the person with a design to catch the wandering eye, and at once declares the spirit of the temptress, whilst it is a net to ensnare unstable souls. The hand, the foot, which can convey the silent innuendo, must be restrained from every motion of evil, since he that toucheth her shall not be innocent. The tongue must be rather plucked out than utter corrupt communication, or be suffered, by discourse grossly impure, or more dangerously and wittily lascivious, in sly insinuations and double meanings, to breathe poison into the ears of the unwary. As the grand means to restrain these evils, every approach to them must be guarded by daily abstinence and self-denial, making no provision for the flesh to fulfil the lusts thereof.
3. A powerful argument is used to enforce this. Raging appetite will not be conquered by any thing short of the terrors of the Lord. The damnation of hell is the wages of uncleanness, and they who burn with impure desires must lie down in everlasting burnings, where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched; and dearly do men purchase carnal delights at this price of eternal misery. The sentence is repeated, because men are very unwilling to believe what sounds so terrible in their ears; but the decree is fixed and immutable: those who refuse to fear it now, must feel it for ever. Better therefore, far better, is it to suffer the present crucifixion of vile affections, than indulge them at the penalty of never-ending torments.
4. All divorce is unlawful, except in the case of adultery. The Jews indeed, for the hardness of their hearts, were permitted to put away their wives by a public instrument before witnesses; but this was contrary to the original institution of marriage, and therefore our Lord utterly condemns all separation, except in case of a breach of the matrimonial bond: and should the person divorced marry again, she would commit adultery, as well as he who should take her to wife, and the crimes of both would also lie at the door of him who put her away; for they who lead others into sin shall be chargeable with all the guilt they bring upon them.
7thly, The third commandment forbad perjury, and enjoined the performance of the vows which were made unto the Lord, or to men under the sanction of an oath in his name: and hereunto the Scribes restricted the commandment, accounting oaths in common allowable, if true; reckoning it no sin to swear by the creatures, and that such oaths laid them under no obligation to fulfil them: but Christ would give them a better exposition.
I say unto you, swear not at all. Not that every oath is unlawful, since in matters of controversy, before a judge, an oath for confirmation is an end of all strife; and on solemn occasions such appeals to God are high acts of religious worship, see 2Co 1:23 but all rash swearing on trivial occasions, in common discourse, is forbidden, with all unnecessary multiplication of oaths; under which this land groans. God's sacred name must never be taken in the lips thoughtlessly, irreverently, wantonly; nor may we use any creature to swear by, neither heaven nor earth, nor the temple, nor our heads, our lives, our souls, much less the idols of heathenism, such as Jupiter, or the like, this being equally criminal as to swear by the name of God himself. Therefore our communication must be, yea, yea, nay, nay, simply affirming or denying, without oath or imprecation: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil, or from the evil one the devil, or from the fountain of evil in the corrupted heart. Where more than simple affirmation or denial is thought to be necessary, there is implied a suspicion of veracity, which every rash oath for confirmation will serve but to increase; for they who make no conscience of an oath, cannot be supposed to make conscience of a lie.
8thly, The law of retaliation, Exo 21:24 which permitted the magistrate to execute a punishment of the same kind as the injury, or, as some suppose, to fix a mulct upon the offender equivalent to the harm done, had been grievously abused to extortion, and pleaded in vindication of private revenge. Christ therefore teaches his disciples of what spirit they should be. Magistracy is God's institution, and the punishment of men's crimes righteous and just; but all private revenge is forbidden. It is true, indeed, that self-preservation, the care of our families, the honour of God, and the good of society, may often make the redress of injuries not only lawful but necessary; but in innumerable instances our duty is meekly and silently to bear and forbear.
1. If a man strike us on the right cheek, or otherwise injure our person, or treat us with indignity, we may not render evil for evil, and by a return of the blow inflame the quarrel, but put up with it, or, if it be needful, put the case into the hand of the civil magistrate: and though our patience may be counted pusillanimity, and our forbearing may expose us to fresh insults, as if in fact we turned the other cheek, yet it is infinitely better, for conscience-sake towards God, thus to suffer, than to maintain our character or gratify our revenge by a challenge or a fray, which must provoke his wrath, and end in our perdition.
2. In cases of injury to our property, whether by litigious, malicious, and false persecutions, or in private disputes, though our coat were taken from us, it were better for peace-sake to give our inner garment too, than fly to the law for redress: for, if the matter of injury be small, which we may sustain without hurting our families, it is not only most pious, but most prudent also, to sit down with the first loss, since the expences of the suit often exceed the value of what we may recover.
3. If we are compelled by force to accompany a person a mile, rather than struggle or contend, it is better to go two. And thus in all other cases of affronts and injuries the like-rule holds. Hard talks indeed for flesh and blood! but let it he remembered, Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.
4. We must not only revenge no injuries, but do every kindness in our power to our neighbour; ready to relieve the wants of every real object of charity which presents itself to us, according to our abilities; and freely lending, without interest, to the industrious but necessitous: a small sum to help such a one in his trade, may be of vast service to him without any real loss to ourselves. And in the manner also of exercising our bounty, we never should appear reluctant, frowning, or giving as if it was extorted from us, but be happy to have it in our power to relieve the wants of our poor petitioners.
9thly, The whole law being fulfilled in one word, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, this is here insisted upon; and who that neighbour is, declared.
The Jewish expositors had vilely corrupted this divine precept by the addition they had made to it, Thou shalt hate thine enemy. And, as they confined the word neighbour to those merely of their own religion and nation, they interpreted this as a command to hate all mankind beside, in direct opposition to the letter of God's law, Exodus 23:4-5.Deuteronomy 23:7; Deuteronomy 23:7. But Christ teaches us very differently.
1. He recommends universal love: I say unto you, love your enemies. We cannot place confidence or take complacence in them or their evil ways; but we must bear all good-will towards them, remark with satisfaction whatever is commendable in them, and sincerely desire their present and eternal happiness, returning their curses with blessings, shewing every act of kindness to their bodies and souls who express the bitterest enmity against us, and, if they will suffer us to do no more, at least praying for those who despitefully use and persecute us;—such being the treatment which the true disciples of Jesus may expect, and such the gracious returns that they are bound to make. And this is the distinguishing spirit of Christianity, and what nothing but the grace of Jesus can produce.
2. He enforces his command with these strong arguments:
[1.] In so doing we shall resemble our Father who is in heaven, and prove our adoption of him, who, in the distribution of his providential mercies, causes his sun to rise and his rain to fall indiscriminately upon the evil and the good. Note; (1.) Our most common though most unnoticed blessings are those for which we are most deeply indebted to God. (2.) No man's state is to be known by any outward gifts of Providence; the just and unjust share them in some sense alike. (3.) If God thus sets us the example, we must diligently copy it.
[2.] We must shew the distinguishing spirit of our profession, and adorn it. If we only loved them who love us, or paid civility and respect to our brethren alone, what thanks would be due, where the obligation was reciprocal, and where even publicans would rival us? We must do more than others, if we profess more; not confining our regards to our nearest friends or relations, to those of our own party or nation, but opening our hearts wide as the world, and doing good to all, even to the evil and unthankful.
[3.] Our eye must be fixed, not on the attainments of others, but on that perfection which is in our Father; and to be perfect like him, and to take up with nothing short of it, should be our holy ambition. And as this must be our study, labour, and prayer in general; so particularly in this love towards our enemies should we desire to resemble him, which is a temper truly divine and godlike.