Wednesday, May 31st, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible Coke's Commentary
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Matthew 9". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tcc/ matthew-9.html. 1801-1803.
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Matthew 9". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://studylight.org/
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Christ cureth one sick of the palsy; calleth Matthew from the receipt of custom; eateth with publicans and sinners; defendeth his disciples for not fasting; cureth the bloody issue, raiseth from death Jairus's daughter, giveth sight to two blind men, healeth a dumb man possessed of a devil, and hath compassion on the multitude.
Anno Domini 31.
Matthew 9:1-7. And he entered into a ship— And returning into a vessel, he crossed the lake, and came to his own city [of Capernaum, where he had dwelt after his leaving Nazareth] Mat 9:2 where they brought to him a paralytic lying on a bed; and Jesus, seeing their faith, said to the paralytic, Have confidence, my son! your sins are forgiven. Heylin. See this miracle more circumstantially described in Mark 2:0 and Luke 5:0. In St. Luke's miracle, there is a very material circumstance premised, namely, that some Pharisees and doctors of the law, who came out of every town of Galilee and Judaea, and from Jerusalem, were sitting by him, while he was teaching,—and the power of the Lord was present to heal them, that is to say, those his auditors, of their spiritual maladies; and then it immediately follows, and behold, men brought on a bed, or couch, one sick of a palsy; and because there was then no other access to Christ, by reason of the crowd which encompassed him, they let down the paralytic through the tiles upon his couch, into the midst before Jesus (see the note on Mark 2:4.), who, full as he was of the divine sanative power, and accordingly considering the object so presented to him, not only with regard to his bodily disease, but more especially with regard to his spiritual infirmity, by the prevalent power of sin, which incapacitated his mind for holy dispositions, as the palsy did his body for the natural functions; Christ, I say, considering this, applied, in the first place, to what was most important, and released him from the guilt and power of sin, saying, "Have confidence, my son! your sins are forgiven;" or, as it may be rendered, your sins are dismissed. Physicians, both ancient and modern, tell us, that palsies are sometimes occasioned by intemperance; therefore, if this paralytic brought his disease upon himself, the propriety of the terms in which the cure was pronounced will still more fully appear,—your sins are forgiven: only it must be observed, that when Jesus forgives, he at once forgives every sin, the least as well as the greatest. The reader need not be told, that son is a title of condescension and tenderness, as father was a correspondent title of respect.
The Scribes who were present, being disappointed in their curiosity (for they expected to see an outward bodily cure), and startled to hear our Lord express himself in such unusual terms, took offence, and in their hearts condemned him of blasphemy, for assuming to himself an authority to forgive sin; Matthew 9:3. Christ, to whom the secrets of all hearts are open, knew their thoughts: as he is the Almighty Word, which maketh all things by speaking them, so with him to say and to do is the same thing; which he plainly signifies here by his manner of expressing himself, Which is easiest, to say, &c. Mat 9:5 that is, "Which is easiest to be performed, to forgive him his sins, or to deliver him from his disease?" Our Lord, as we before observed, seeing through the diseased object presented to him, and considering as well the spiritual as the bodily disorders which oppressed him, first applied a remedy where the want was greatest, and pardoned his sins, and at the same time delivered him from the power of them; but this was an invisible operation, and, although of a much higher nature than any bodily cure, yet was it no object of sense, and consequently not discernible by the spectators, some of whom were so far from believing Christ's power to forgive sins, that they were scandalized at him for assuming it. He therefore, to instruct them and us in a matter of so great importance, reasoned in the following manner: "Which is easiest, think ye,—to deliver a mind from the guilt and power of sin (for the original word is applicable to both), or a body from disease? To cure the body is certainly the easiest work; for it requires another kind of power to reach the guilt of the mind, to operate upon it, to rectify its vicious inclinations, to form it anew, and repair the disorders induced by sin. This I have effected in the paralytic here present. I have forgiven,—or, as the original may be rendered, dismissed his sins. I have healed his distempered soul: but as this divine operation is internal, and consequently not discernible to you that are spectators, I will add a second miracle, which though in all respects of an inferior nature, yet has the advantage of being visible, and therefore is a proper proof of what I assert. Judge of my power to heal souls by the cures I work upon bodies: and, that all may know the authority I have to forgive and dismiss sins, and cure the depravations of the mind, I say unto thee, O paralytic, arise, take up thy couch, and return to thine own home." The sick persondid so, and the multitude were all amazed, and glorified God. We may extend the same way of reasoning to all the miraculous cures recorded in theGospel, and infer from all and every one of them the divine power of our Saviour to renew and reform the souls of men. See Heylin, and the Inferences drawn from this chapter.
Matthew 9:8. But when the multitude saw it— The people were struck with a high degree of surprise, mixed with admiration. What was to the Scribes an occasion of blasphemy, proved to them an incitement to praise and bless; they glorified God, who had given such power to men; power not only to heal diseases, but to forgive sins; for they could not but acknowledge the authority of Christ's declaration, thy sins are forgiven, when their eyes shewed them the efficacy of his command, arise and walk. Even the Pharisees could not help being confounded at this miracle; for it was performed by one whom they had but a few moments before pronounced a blasphemer. Besides, they were incapable of finding the least fault with the miracle, although, no doubt, they examined it with a scrupulous exactness. It is strange, therefore, that they did not forthwith lay aside their enmity against Jesus. Probably in this, as in other instances, they resisted the dictates of their own minds; or they might overlook the miracle, and continue to find fault with the expression uttered when it was performed; for with respect to good, their minds seem to have been in the same enervated and dead condition, which the body of the paralytic had been in before his cure; only the misery of their state was greater than his; the palsy of the soul being an evil infinitely more deplorable than the palsy of the body. See Macknight. We may just observe, that Cocceius is of opinion, that men in this verse refers to the men cured by Jesus, who had given such power to men; that is to say, of receiving remission of sins, and bodily health: but the interpretation referring it to Christ, as a prophet, seems preferable. See Bishop Smallbrooke's Vindication of the Miracles, vol. 2 p. 248.
Matthew 9:9. As Jesus passed—thence, he saw a man, &c.— St. Luke, in the parallel place, calls St. Matthew a publican, which was a very odious name among the Jews, as the employment was attended with so much corruption and temptation, that there were but few honest men supposed to be engaged in it. They were generally persons of so infamous and vile a character, that publicans and sinners are often joined together as synonymous terms. See on ch. Mat 5:46 Mat 9:11 Matthew 11:19. The original word Τελωνιον properly signifies the custom-house; some have rendered it tolbooth; which, say Beausobre and Lenfant, was a place near the lake and harbour; there were toll-booths on the great roads, as also on the lakes and rivers. The other Evangelists call St. Matthew by the more honourable name of Levi. Porphyry and Julian have blamed St. Matthew for following one of whom he had so little knowledge, thus rashly, as they are pleased to call it. But as it is evident that this publican lived in Capernaum, or near it, he must have often heard our Lord preach; for it was the town where he ordinarily resided; and probably he might have been witness to a number of Christ's miracles: wherefore the opposers of our religion must forgive us if we affirm, that there was neither rashness nor imprudence in the readiness which Matthew shewed to follow Jesus. He might have been his disciple long before this, and only waited for permission to attend him. But farther; why may we not suppose that a divine and supernatural influence attended this call of our Lord? which, considering all its circumstances, may well be acknowledged as great a miracle as any ofthosewhichwehave before reviewed. Dr. Doddridge makes the following pleasing and pious remarks upon the event. "Let us view, with humble wonder and pleasure, this farther instance of the condescension and grace of the Redeemer, in the call of Matthew: his condescension, in calling to so near an attendance, and so intimate a friendship, a man who was a publican, infamous as that employment was; and his grace, which could immediately inspire this publican with so firm a resolution of quitting all the profits of that employment; that he might reduce himself to circumstances of life as precarious as those of his divine Master. Many, no doubt, censured him as a rash enthusiast and a lunatic, rather than as a sober convert; but he is even now reaping the abundant reward: his loss is gain, and his contempt glory." See on ch. Matthew 10:2, &c.
Matthew 9:10. And it came to pass— Matthew, thinking himself highly honoured by the call of Jesus, made an entertainment for his Master, who did not refuse to partake of it: at the same time he invited as many of his brother publicans as he could, hoping that Christ's conversation might bring them to repentance. In this feast, therefore, St. Matthew shewed both gratitude and charity; gratitude to Christ, who had reclaimed him; charity to his acquaintance, in labouring to bring about their conversion. It has been commonly thought that Matthew made this entertainment on the very day that Christ called him to attend upon him. The early harmonies of Tatian and Ammonius very justly separated them (see Chemnitz, Harm. cap. 23.). And to the many convincing arguments which Mr. Jones, in his Vindication of Matthew, p. 129, &c. has brought to prove that they ought to be separated; we may add, that it seems very evident they were not both on the same day, from the following obvious consideration. So many things happened before the calling of Matthew, that the day must be far advanced, and there could not have been time to prepare a great feast, and invite a number of guests: on which account it is certain that the feast was after the day of his calling; perhaps some months, after, when he had made up his accompts, and regularly passed his business into other hands; which certainly, from a principle of justice as well as prudence, he would take care to do.
Matthew 9:11-13. And when the Pharisees saw it— See on Matthew 9:9. Instead of whole, we may read well. The Pharisees did not indeed direct their discourse to Jesus; but having spoken so loud as to let all the guests hear their censure, he could not avoid meekly puttingthem in mind, that it is sick people only who have need of a physician; to insinuate, that since the Pharisees thought themselves righteous persons, they had no need of his company: whereas the publicans, whom they called sinners, being sick, had the best title to it; and that as nobody ever blamed a physician for going into the company of the patients whose cure he had undertaken, so they could not blame him for conversing with sinners, since he did it to reclaim and convert them. "Murmur not, therefore, ye Scribes and Pharisees, that I eat and converse with publicans and sinners. My business is with such; and the end of my coming into the world was the salvation of these. I converse not with them to lull them in fatal security amid their vices, or to contract any taint from the contagion of their impurities; but as the physician visits the chamber of the sick, and is occupied amid the couches of the languishing and the distressed; so do I, as the great physician of the soul, seek out the sick and diseased in mind, and offer health and salvation to the children of men,—suffering under a malady the most mortal and inveterate, the malady of sin: and what physician, in cases of distress and danger, stands upon the niceties of form, or the exactness of punctilio? Why then do you marvel and murmur, that I, in the like extremities, act in the like manner?" It is to be noted, that this is a proverbial expression, they that be whole, &c. which has been known to some heathen philosophers, who have made use of it in return to similar reproaches: Supervacuus inter sanos medicus, says Quintilian. When Antisthenes was asked why he conversed with wicked men, his answer was, Και οι ιατροι μετα των νοσουντων εισι, "Physicians are conversant with the sick." Our Saviour moreover desired his adversaries seriously to consider the meaning of what God had declared by the prophet Hosea, Hosea 5:6. I will have mercy rather than sacrifice. "Where the one or the other must be omitted, let mercy, by all means,—let the work of compassion, beneficence, and love, be preferred to sacrifice; to instituted forms, and merelyexternal ordinances; which, though necessary in themselves, and highly useful as ordained of God, and as means to an important end, must yet never destroy that end, but give place and preference to it; for of all things mercy, acts of genuine benevolence, are most pleasing to the God of love; and of all acts, as being the most important and beneficent, the salvation of lost sinners from destruction and death: and this the great work for which I came into the world; this is the great end I have to accomplish: I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance; the repentance of righteous persons is not the object of my attention (for there are none such by nature), but the conversion of sinners." I come not to cure those who are whole, but those that are sick. Thus our Lord clearly proved a capital doctrine of true religion, which the teachers of those times, notwithstanding they boasted of their knowledge, seem to have lost the very idea of; namely, that ceremonial institutions should always give place to works of charity. See the note on ch. Matthew 12:7. Wetstein and Macknight.
Matthew 9:14-17. Then came to him the disciples of John— Dr. Campbell translates the 16th and 17th verses thus: Nobody mendeth an old garment with undressed cloth; else the patch itself teareth the garment, and maketh a greater rent. Neither do people put new wine into old leathern bottles; otherwise the bottles burst; and thus both the wine is spilt, and the bottles are rendered useless. But they put, &c. Ασκος is properly a vessel for holding liquor. Such vessels were commonly then, and in some countries are still, of leather, which were not so easily distended when old, and were consequently more ready to burst by the fermentation of the liquor. As this does not hold in regard to the bottles used by us, I thought it better, says the Doctor, in translating, to add a word denoting the materials of which their vessels were made. Mr. Wesley adds the same word in his translation of the New Testament.
In the law we find only one fast-day enjoined, namely, the tenth of the seventh month, on which the national atonement was made. But the Jews, of their own accord, observed many other days of fasting. See Isaiah 58:3. In our Lord's time, days of this kind were more frequent than ever; especially among the Pharisees, who, according to the practice of their sect, fasted probably twice a week. See Luke 18:12. And therefore, as Jesus did not pretend to teach his disciples a more lax kind of discipline than John and the Pharisees, the disciples of John were surprised to find them overlooking so essential a duty. As John the Baptist preached repentance, he not only lived upon coarse diet, but also fasted often, and trained up his disciples thereto. Compare John 11:18. Luk 5:33 and the note on ch. Matthew 6:16. The expression, Thy disciples fast not, may signify, "Do not fast often," or, "are not used to fast." To this our Saviour replies, Can the children of the bridechamber mourn? &c. "Would it not be improper for the guests at a wedding to fast and weep while the marriage solemnity continues? It would be equally improper for my disciples to enter on a course of severe and strict abstinence at the time that I, the spiritual bridegroom, am personally present with them." The children of the bridechamber is a Hebrew phrase, to denote "The friends of the bridegroom," who were wont to provide whatever was proper and necessary during the marriage festival. See John 3:29. As John had described our Saviour under the name of bridegroom, so he represents himself here under that idea: and some have supposed that there is in this similitude which our Saviour uses, a reference to the book of Canticles, as is not improbable. The proper meaning of the original words ρακους αγναφου, by which new cloth is expressed, is, "cloth which hath not passed through the fuller's hands," and which is consequently much harsher than what has been often washed and worn; and therefore, yielding less than that, will tear away the edges to which it is sewed; and thus it is a just representation of persons who have not yet been trained up and instructed. The similitude of new wine put into old leathern bottles is analogous to the former. See the note on Psa 119:83 and those on Luke 5:36-39.
Matthew 9:18. While he spake— As St. Mark has given us the history of these two extraordinary miracles so much more circumstantially than St. Matthew, we shall postpone our observations upon them till we come to Mark 5:22. See also Luke 8:41. Dr. Campbell renders the verse, While he was speaking, a ruler came, and, prostrating himself, said, my daughter is by this time dead; but come, and lay thy hand upon her, and she will revive.
Matthew 9:21. If, &c.— If I can, &c. I shall be cured. The original σωθησομαι, is, literally, I shall be saved; Dr. Doddridge renders it, I shall be recovered; and he observes that there are many other places in which the word is used in the same sense; as certainly it may with great propriety be applied to a rescue from any imminent danger, or pressing calamity, especially in an extraordinary way. The same word is used in the next verse. Compare Mark 5:23; Mark 5:43.Luke 8:36; Luke 8:36; Luke 17:19; Luke 18:42. Joh 11:12 and Act 4:9 in the original.
Matthew 9:23. The minstrels— The musicians or pipers, Heylin; the players on the flute, Beausobre and Lenfant. It was the custom among the Jews to have musical instruments at funerals, whereon mournful tunes were played. See Jeremiah 48:5; Jeremiah 48:36.
Some learned authors observe, that the trumpet was used at the funerals of grown or old persons, and the flute at those of children; such as was the daughter of Jairus, who was but twelve years old. Concerning the usual lamentations at funerals, see the note on Jer 9:17 the introductory one to the book of Lamentations, and Explication des Textes Difficiles, p. 531.
Matthew 9:27. Thou son of David, &c.— Son of David was one of the names then ascribed by the Jews to the Messiah. See ch. Matthew 12:23.
Matthew 9:28. Believe ye that I am able, &c.— See the note on Mar 9:23 where the reasons of proposing this question before the cure, and of conferring the cure in this form or expression, are assigned.
Matthew 9:30. Straitly charged— Strictly. Campbell.
Matthew 9:32-33. A dumb man, &c.— A dumb demoniac. Campbell. From the circumstance of the demoniac's being dumb, Erasmus conjectures, that he was also deprived of the use of his reason: if so, being insensible of his own misery, he had as little inclination as ability to apply for a cure. He could not even make his misery known by signs, and therefore needed to be brought to the Saviour by others; but being cured, he spoke both rationally and fluently, to the astonishment of all who heard him; insomuch that they extolled the author of the miracle above all the prophets that had ever appeared: "It was never so seen even in Israel itself, said they,—though it be a people among whom God hath wrought such unparalleled wonders." This reflection was perfectly just; for no one of the prophets whom we read of in the Old Testament appears to have wrought so many beneficial miracles in his whole life as our Lord did in this one afternoon; when he raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead, healed the woman who had a bloody issue, restored two blind men to their sight, cured a dumb demoniac, &c. &c. See on ch. Mat 15:29-31 and, respecting the calumnies of the Pharisees in the next verse, ch. Matthew 12:24.
Matthew 9:36. Because they fainted— The original εκλελυμενοι, denotes here a kind of faintness; the weakness which is caused by hunger and weariness. See ch. Matthew 15:32.Hebrews 12:3; Hebrews 12:3. Thereare notwithstanding several Greek manuscripts which read, as does also the Vulgate, weary, fatigued. These multitudes came not only from the several parts of Galilee, but also from Judaea and Idumea, from beyond Jordan, and the borders of Tyre and Sidon. Elsner seems to have proved beyond dispute, that the original word ερριμμενοι, rendered scattered abroad, signifies properly "exposed to every invading danger," as sheep are when thrown up and abandoned by the shepherd. Dr. Heylin reads, with the margin of our bible, were tired and laid down. As the people were utterly neglected by their Scribes and Pharisees, the appointed public teachers, who ought to have instructed them, the indefatigable zeal with which our Lord now spread the knowledge of divine things, was most seasonable and acceptable. The teachers just now mentioned were blind, perverse, lazyguides, who every day discovered more and more their ignorance and wickedness. They either neglected the office of teaching altogether, or they filled the people's minds with high notions of ritual observances and traditions, to the utter disparagement of moral duties, which in a manner they trampled under foot; so that instead of serving God, theyserved their own glory, their gain, and their belly; wherefore, any appearance of religion which theyhad, was wholly feigned and hypocritical, insomuch that they rather did hurt by it, than were of real service to the interests of holiness and virtue. Besides, the common people, being distracted by the disagreeing factions of the Pharisees and Sadducees, knew not what to choose or refuse; their case therefore called loudly for the compassion of Jesus, which indeed was never wanting to them at any time; for he always cherished the tenderest affections towards his countrymen: but it flowed particularly on this occasion, when he considered that they were in great distress for want of spiritual food. See the next chapter, Matthew 9:6. Elsner, Wolfius, and Macknight. It may be proper just to observe, that the 10th chapter should begin at the 35th verse; for the connection is absolutely and entirely broken by the present division.
Matthew 9:37. The harvest truly is plenteous— The multitude that followed Jesus, and expressed so earnest a desire of receiving his instruction, gave him an occasion of making this reflection. He compares Judaea and the neighbouring countries to fields covered with ripe corn, where nothing was wanting but reapers. See Joh 4:35 and Beausobre and Lenfant.
Matthew 9:38. That he will send forth— The original word εκβαλη plainly imports some degree of force. Dr. Doddridge therefore very properly translates and paraphrases the passage thus: Therefore let me urge you to make your "importunate supplications to the great Lord and Master of the harvest, that he would, by the secret and powerful energy of the Spirit on men's hearts, conquer their natural disinclination to this excellent work; and so thrust forth a sufficient number of active and indefatigable labourers into his harvest, by whom it may be successfully carried on, to his own greater glory, and the edification and salvation of souls." Whoever considers the immense difficulties and oppositions which every minister of Christ's kingdom was sure to encounter in those early days of it, willsee the necessity of some unusual impulse on the mind to lead any to undertake it. See on Matthew 9:9. Ministers may learn of their Redeemer, who is represented in so amiable a light here before them, tenderly to pity those who are faint and exposed to danger, and are as sheep having no shepherd. The extreme necessities of his churches in many places are but too apparent. It is our duty earnestly to pray to God that he would behold them with compassion; that he would graciously provide for their instruction, and would thrust forth such labourers among them, as may be faithful and diligent in their work, and prove the happy instruments of gathering in fruits to everlasting life. See Doddridge and Chemnitz.
Inferences.—The first and most obvious use intended by the miraculous cures which our Lord performed, was, to convince men of the truth of his doctrine; and that they might have sure ground to reason as Nicodemus did, when he said to him, "Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God; for no man can do these miracles which thou doest, except God be with him." The first effect, therefore, which his miracles ought to have with us, should be, to make us cordially embrace his doctrines, experience their power through divine grace, and exert our utmost endeavours to put them in practice. Those who apply themselves to this with the greatest fidelity and earnestness, will sooner or later meet such difficulties, or perhaps real obstacles in their religious course, as will convince them that mere instruction is not sufficient; that besides advice, they must have constant assistance from above; and that the same divine power which was exerted to convince them of the truth of his doctrine, and to bring them into the liberty of the children of God, must concur to enable them to practise it, and grow in grace and the divine life. Here then a second lesson is to be learned from the miraculous cures wrought by Christ; for those great instances of his goodness and power will raise the languishing hopes of his tried and tempted servants. And as every man naturally transfers the notions that he is full of to the objects that come in his way, and our minds are ever quick at applying things to what we have most at heart; so when they reflect upon his bounty to the diseased of every kind, that addressed themselves, or were brought to him in Palestine, they too through grace will hope for some share in his favours, and accordingly address themselves to him as the great Physician of Souls. This is a general consideration, applicable to every miraculous cure which he performed. See on ch. Matthew 7:7.
When we read with what success the blind, the lame, the deaf, the lepers, and in short the diseased of every kind, addressed themselves to him, so that no patient ever came to him in vain; but all distempers, though of the most malignant nature, though most obstinate, and of many years' continuance, though such as had baffled all other remedies, were infallibly cured by him;—when, I say, we read these instances of his Almighty power and goodness, our own spiritual infirmities should occur to our thoughts.
Have you nothing to ask of this divine Physician? Do you not with a sigh, and as it were some sort of envy, think how fortunate they were, who had such easy access to him in Palestine? And does not their success raise some hope in your breast? In reason it ought to do so; for spiritual maladies are his proper province; and it is in the cure of these that his goodness principally delights to exert itself.
I say, that to be a healer of bodily distempers was a foreign character, which our Lord assumed only to make way for what is his genuine office, even to heal souls. For he wrought the outward cures only to convince us of his divine power, because such cures were visible to all: they were, as he said himself to John's disciples, such things as they could hear and see; they were such gross palpable proofs, as suited all capacities; whereas the operations of his Spirit are invisible, and are no ground of faith to any but those who experience them, or are awakened to a sense of their want of them. In condescension, therefore, he gave those outward demonstrations of Omnipotence, restoring senses, limbs, and life itself; but these temporal favours may be accounted as very trivial, even as crumbs that fall from his table, in comparison of what he then did, and still actually does, in the souls of those who apply to him with the proper disposition, even in simple humble faith. He cures the spiritual blindness and insensibility to divine truth: he takes away hydropic avarice, paralytic laziness, the leprous pruriency of soul desires, and every evil lust and passion. To cure these is his profession and character: it is the work for which he came into the world, as the name of Jesus testifies; and so the angel, who appointed that name, did at the same time explain it: Thou shalt call his name Jesus, that is to say, Saviour, for He shall save his people from their sins.
Nor let us imagine that he is less powerful, now that he sitteth at the right hand of God, than he was formerly, when, in the days of his flesh, he sojourned in Judaea. The fulness of the Godhead does actually reside in him for our use; I say, the fulness of the Godhead; that is, Deity in its plenitude of power does actually reside in the person of Christ for our use: and he is ready, he is ever desirous to communicate it; so that there is nothing wanting but capacities on our part to receive it. What those are, we may shew in the following particulars:
First, Whosoever would be cured of any spiritual malady must go to Christ.
It is a wretched mistake of ordinary Christians, so called, that they consider Christ as inaccessible since his ascension, and conceive of him only as highly exalted, and remote at an unmeasurable distance from us: but this comes from not effectually believing, or, what amounts to the same thing, not considering the SUPREME DIVINITY of our Saviour.
The divine nature of Christ has been treated of late as a speculative question to dispute about: but it is really one of the most practical, as well as one of the most important points of our religion. For by this he is ever everywhere present: Christ, I say, by his divine nature, is omnipresent: he is therefore present with us; he is present within our minds; and we ought not to search after him as far distant from us. So St. Paul to the Romans: Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is to say, to bring Christ down from above;) or who shall descend into the deep? (that is to say, to bring up Christ from the dead;) for Christ is nigh thee, even in thy heart.
Secondly, When by devotion we are thus introduced into the presence of Christ, we must declare our wants to him, we must humbly expose our miseries before him, with earnest prayer for deliverance. For this there is no need of studied speeches: let us only imitate some of those diseased persons whose history we read in the Gospel,—the paralytic for instance, whose double cure has been already mentioned. Though great efforts, and even violence, had been used to introduce him to Jesus, for the roof of the house had been opened, and he was let down through the tiling, yet, when he was presented before the Lord, all the difficulty was over; his circumstances spoke for him sufficiently, they needed no interpreter: prostrate on his bed he turned his eyes to our Lord, and our Lord beheld him with compassion. He saw his misery, his helpless misery, and that he had no hopes but in the mercy of his Saviour. This sufficed to obtain his mercy. All his maladies were cured; his sins, the source of all, were forgiven; and he was restored to all that is valuable, health and favour with God. We too shall find the same success, if to the dispositions before recommended we add,
In the third place, faith, that is to say, a worthy opinion of Christ. This is apparently necessary; for, to distrust his power or his goodness is an injurious thought, which renders us unworthy of his favour. And it is remarkable, that he insists upon faith, more than any other qualification, in the persons who apply to him for relief.
To teach us this (besides the apparent reasonableness of the thing), our Lord, in working his miraculous bodily cures, which, as I said, are emblems of his divine operations on souls, frequently required a public declaration of such devout confidence in his goodness and power, before he exerted them for the relief of those who implored his assistance. So, when two blind men had followed him home, with cries soliciting his mercy, he said unto them, Believe ye that I am able to do this? They say unto him, Yea, Lord. Then touched he their eyes, saying, According to your faith be it unto you. And straightway their eyes were opened. We have another very edifying instance of the efficacy of faith in disposing us for supernatural graces, in the man who besought our Lord for his son, who had been distracted from his infancy by the possession of a malignant spirit, that had often endangered his life. If thou canst do any thing (said the father, after representing the deplorable condition of his child), have compassion on us, and help us. Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief. Jesus accepted his humble faith, and ratified it in the cure of his son.
Many other instances of the same kind are recorded in the Gospel for our instruction and encouragement, that we sink not into despair upon the sad experiment of our weakness and misery; but that we should approach with holy confidence to the throne of grace, secure in the goodness of our Lord, and careful not to distrust him.
And lest we should fondly imagine that the supernatural assistance which Christ communicates to believers, was confined to the days of his flesh; even after his resurrection he declared to his disciples, as a fundamental principle of his religion, That all power was given to him in heaven and in earth. All Christians so called acknowledge his power in heaven: but many forget it upon earth; they forget to have recourse to it for their justification and sanctification, which are the works in which he principally delights to exercise it. He therefore ordered his apostles to publish it through the world; and at the same time that they instructed men to obey his commands, lest the persons instructed should be discouraged by the seeming difficulty of his sublime precepts, they were to deliver down, as an article of faith, to all his true disciples, That he would be with them always, even unto the end of the world: that he—he who hath all power in heaven and in earth,—he would be with them unto the end of the world.
Fourthly, and lastly, That the cure may be perfected, which we seek and expect from the divine physician; we must, as becomes every reasonable patient, and the nature of the case requires, give ourselves up to his management, resign ourselves wholly to his care, and endure his operations, though painful to our corrupt nature. We must drink of the cup which he presents to us, even if it be the cup of suffering. Fear it not, when his hand administers it. He has tried the utmost force of it, and drank it to the dregs himself: but, tenderly compassionate as he is, and conscious of our weakness, he will administer it to us in such due proportions, and with such sweet infusion of heavenly peace and consolation, or other spiritual support, that it will prove the cup of health, the cup of salvation.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, Jesus will not abide where he is an unwelcome guest; but woe to those who bid him to depart, for nothing but wrath and misery are left behind him! Leaving the country of the Gergesenes, he returned to Capernaum, the usual place of his residence, where we find him curing a poor paralytic; for his work was ever to be doing good.
1. His friends brought him to Jesus, unable himself to stand or walk: they had compassion for their brother, and counted no pains too great to obtain his cure, and they were persuaded the Lord both could and would relieve him from his misery. Note; those of our dear friends and relatives, who are themselves benumbed in spirit as with the palsy, and cannot come to Christ, we must carry in the arms of prayer and love, and spread their case before him: perhaps in so doing we may save a soul from death.
2. Christ kindly received them: seeing their faith, either of those who brought him, or of the sick man also, and to revive the heart of the poor afflicted patient, more distressed probably by his sins than his sufferings, Jesus saith, Son, be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee. Note; (1.) Sin is the bitterest of all our burdens; the sting of sickness and of death itself is taken out when our iniquity is pardoned. (2.) They who come to Christ are called upon to be of good cheer; no poor beggar ever went from his door with a denial. (3.) God sometimes severely afflicts his dearest children; they must not question their adoption because of their sufferings; but should rather conclude, that God then dealeth with them as sons. Hebrews 12:5; Hebrews 12:29.
3. The Scribes, who were the doctors of the law, and expounded it to the people, highly offended with what Jesus had said, though they did not speak their sentiments, yet in their hearts regarded him as a blasphemer, for presuming by his own authority to forgive sins, which is the prerogative of God alone, and contains a strong argument for his Divinity; in which light these men evidently regarded his declaration. Note; many among us are like these Scribes; though they will not say it is blasphemy in Jesus to pardon our sins, they are ready to brand those as blasphemers, who say they have the pardon that Jesus pronounces.
4. To give them a proof of his Divinity, and confute their vain imaginations, Jesus lets them know he perceived their thoughts. Wherefore think you evil in your hearts? censuring him as a blasphemer; For whether is easier to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee? or to say, Arise and walk? He that by his own power could effect the one, evidently proved that he had a right to pronounce the other. Note; our hearts are naked and open before the Lord; and he observes and is displeased at every evil thought which rises or lodges there.
5. He demonstrates the power that he had to forgive sin, by removing that disease which was the punishment of it, and bids the paralytic arise before them all; and as a proof of his health and strength being perfectly restored, to take up that bed, on which as a cripple he lay, and go unto his house. And lo! to the astonishment of the multitude, who glorified God for so great a miracle, and to the confusion of these murmurers, the man instantly arose, took up his bed, and departed, cured of every infirmity. Note; (1.) Though we have no strength of ourselves to help ourselves; yet when Jesus speaks to the paralytic soul, power accompanies his word, and enables us for that which he commands. (2.) The mercies shewn to others demand our praises; and for every good gift bestowed on the sons of men, God is to be glorified.
2nd, The publicans were those who farmed or collected the customs imposed by the Romans, and were not only therefore odious to the Jews, who abhorred this mark of servitude, but were also for the most part men of infamous conduct, who enriched themselves by exaction, being sure of having the Roman government on their side. Hence publicans and sinners are so often used to include the most guilty and abandoned characters; yet such as these Jesus came to save, and out of them was pleased to choose one of his most eminent disciples, an apostle and evangelist, the penman of this gospel. We have,
1. His call. His name is Matthew, the gift of God, which some suppose was given him by our Lord on this occasion, when before he was known by that of Levi, as the other evangelists call him; though it was common for the same person to have two names. He was sitting at the receipt of custom, in the office where it was to be paid. One word, however, effectually wrought upon this publican's heart: Jesus said, Follow me; and immediately he arose and followed him. Power accompanied the word of Jesus, and Matthew left all, and devoted himself intirely to the service of his new Lord and master. No doubt but he immediately, or very soon afterwards, tasted that the Lord is gracious, experiencing a large measure of converting grace.
2. Having tasted the grace of Jesus himself, he is solicitous that his brethren by profession should be acquainted with him also; and for this purpose made a feast for Jesus and his disciples, to which many publicans and sinners were invited: nor did the Lord disdain their company, but gladly sat down with them. Note; (1.) They who have truly experienced the Redeemer's grace, from that moment begin to labour, that all who are near and dear to them may partake of their blessing. (2.) Where the heart is open to Christ, there all who are his disciples will be welcome for his sake.
3. The Pharisees with malignant eye marked the condescensions of Jesus, and wanted to cast a reflection upon his character, and prejudice his disciples against him. Why eateth your master with publicans and sinners? These proud and self-righteous creatures thought it infamous to be seen in such company, and would insinuate, that our Lord was like the men with whom he had sat down to meat. Note; (1.) The self-righteous formalists are ever the most rigid censurers of the conduct of others. (2.) The noblest acts of charity are liable to the basest misrepresentations.
4. Christ vindicates himself from their insinuations. He overheard their whispers; or his disciples, weak themselves, carried the question to him, that they might be furnished with an answer; for to him in all our difficulties we must have recourse; and he gives them an abundant vindication of his conduct. They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. He came into the world as the great physician of sin-sick souls; sinners are his unhappy patients, who groan under their spiritual maladies, incurable but for his healing grace: and those who feel their miseries and fly to him, he is ever ready to relieve; but the wilfully ignorant, and the self-righteous who know nothing of their deep corruption, guilt, and sinfulness, and conceit themselves whole; these, as they experience no want of him, and will not come to him that they may have life, are left to perish in their blindness and their pride. But go ye, says he, and learn what that meaneth, Hosea 6:6. I will have mercy and not sacrifice; that is, in a comparative sense, acts of kindness and charity to men's bodies or souls are much more acceptable to God than all the formalities of ritual devotion; and therefore Christ intimates, that his conversing with sinners for their good was, according to the word of truth, far more pleasing to God, than their scrupulous adherence to the tradition of the elders. For I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance; this being the very end of his mission, he was fully justified in receiving them into his company, that he might acquaint them with his salvation. Had man been naturally righteous, he never had needed a Redeemer; and those formalists who fancy that they are such, have nothing to do with him who came only to seek and save that which is lost. The Saviour's errand is to sinners, the vilest of sinners, to invite them to return to God, with promises of pardon purchased by his blood, and to call them in virtue thereof to repent and turn from all their abominations. And to this a sense of his love engages the penitent, and for this his grace enables them; while they who vainly conceit that they are righteous, needing no repentance, are left to perish in their own deceivings.
3rdly, Our Lord was ever beset by insidious foes, yet his wisdom enabled him to confute and confound all their malicious designs. We have,
1. The question addressed to Jesus by some of John's disciples. Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not? and herein they would insinuate, that they were not so strict and holy in their religious profession as they ought to be. It appears from Luk 5:33 that they were set on by the Pharisees, who joined them; for designing and wicked men study how to set good men at variance, and are happy if they can suggest any cause of discord between them. They seem to take a pride in proclaiming the frequency of their own fasts, and to look down upon the disciples of Jesus as far their inferiors in this respect; and this leaven of self-complacence effectually destroyed what otherwise might be laudable in their practice. Note; they who boast of their own good works, evidently shew that their religion is vain.
2. Christ vindicates his disciples by an appeal to themselves. Can the children of the bride-chamber mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? On such seasons of festivity fasting would be unseasonable. Christ was this heavenly bridegroom, as John had called him, Joh 3:29 he came now openly to espouse his church, even all faithful believers. His disciples were the children of the bride-chamber, who, while their Lord was with them, could not but rejoice; but the time would come, when the bridegroom should be taken from them, and then shall they fast; besides, at present they were young disciples, and therefore to be inured by degrees to harder services. As improper would it be to lay upon them at present these austerities; as to put a piece of new cloth on an old garment, which would soon make a worse hole than that which it covered; or new wine, which ferments most, into old bottles, which, being made of leather or skins, would by long use grow weak, and be liable to burst; but new wine must be put into new bottles, and then both are preserved. There must be a proper consideration had of the persons and their measure of grace; children and babes in Christ must not be set upon the services which require peculiar intenseness of mind, or the severest acts of self-denial, but gently led, as Jacob's cattle, Gen 33:13 lest by being over-driven they should be destroyed.
4thly, While Jesus was vindicating the conduct of his disciples from the cavils of those who found fault with them, an agreeable avocation calls him from this unpleasing work of disputation.
1. A ruler of the synagogue, a man of rank and importance, applies to Jesus on the behalf of his daughter, who was either now in the very agony of death, as the other evangelists seem to intimate, or by this time, as the father concludes, actually dead. He therefore with deepest humility begs him to come to his house, and lay his hand upon her, persuaded that Jesus could easily restore her, desperate as the case appeared. Though few, very few, in his station respected Christ, he was one of those. Note; The breaches in our family should drive us to the Lord; if not to restore the dead to life, at least to sanctify the providence as a means of quickening our own souls.
2. Christ immediately complies with his request; for he is more willing to give, than we to ask, and none seek him in vain; and his disciples followed him, desirous to behold a fresh instance of the divine power of their Lord.
3. In the way, he heals a poor woman afflicted with a disease of long standing, which weakened her in body, rendered her ceremonially unclean, and impoverished her in seeking a cure, without obtaining any relief, from the physicians. As her disorder was of such a nature that she might be ashamed to mention it, and by the law should have kept her from mingling in society with others, she came behind our Lord, and touched the hem of his garment, persuaded that there was such a plenitude of healing virtue in Jesus, that if she but touched his garment she should certainly be cured. Nor was she disappointed of her hope; she immediately felt herself perfectly well, but must not steal off unnoticed. Though others observed her not, Jesus knew what was done, and, for his own glory and her comfort, addressed her with kind encouragement, saying, Daughter, be of good comfort, thy faith hath made thee whole. Note; (1.) The poor sinner who comes to Christ, ashamed, confounded, and distressed, shall be sent from him rejoicing. (2.) Those who honour Christ by believing in his name, he will honour, approving and rewarding their faith.
4. He is pleased to raise from the dead the ruler's daughter. At his arrival he found the house filled with mourners and minstrels, as was usual on those occasions, with melancholy notes of woe exciting greater grief and wailing; but he bade them cease their lamentations, and leave the room, since they would find the damsel not, as they supposed, dead and past hope, but as one asleep, whom he would soon awake; though they assured him she was dead, and, supposing the case desperate, treated what he said with utter contempt. But he quickly convinced them of their folly and wickedness herein; for, having ordered them to be put out of the house or room, as unworthy to be spectators of his miracles who thus derided him, in the presence of the father and mother, and three of his disciples, he went in, took her by the hand, and at his word she instantly arose, alive and well as if she had indeed awaked from a refreshing sleep. Note; (1.) Death is but a longer night, and sleep its lesser mysteries. They who die in the Lord, are said to sleep in Jesus; for, though dead to us, they live to him, and only wait for the resurrection-morn to wake up to eternal life and day, when sleep and death shall be no more. (2.) When our dear relatives go before us to their bed of dust, though nature cannot but feel the pangs of parting, believers sorrow not as those who have no hope. If their friends fall asleep in Christ, they may wake up together shortly, never to part again. (3.) Many scoff at Christ's words, and, because they cannot comprehend them, brand them as foolishness, though they will be found the true sayings of God. (4.) He that by a touch, a word, raised the dead body, does thus by his word and spirit raise the souls of the penitent from the death of sin unto the life of righteousness.
5. The fame of this amazing miracle soon spread throughout that land, the certainty of the fact being put beyond doubt by the multitude of those who had been fully convinced of the damsel's death.
5thly, Miracle upon miracle confirmed our Lord's divine mission, and left those inexcusable, who, in the face of such evidence, rejected him. 1. We find him, immediately after raising Jairus's daughter, giving sight to two blind men. [1.] They followed him with importunate cries, hearing of his fame, and hoping for a cure. He who gave life to the dead could surely give sight to the blind. Their address shewed their persuasion, that Jesus was the true Messiah, the promised Son of David; and all their prayers centered in one point, have mercy on us. All that the sinner needs is comprehended in this one word, and all he can hope for or ask, is of free unmerited grace. Being in the same distress, they joined their mutual supplications; fellow-sufferers should be joint petitioners: and, though their request was not, as usual, immediately granted, they did not desist; but with persevering earnestness followed him through the street, and then into the house. If the Lord Jesus for a while seem to disregard our prayers, it must not be interpreted a denial of our requests, but as designed to quicken our importunity, and to make the mercy sought more valued by us. We shall assuredly succeed, if we faint not.
[2.] In answer to the question of our Lord, they make a noble confession of their faith. Jesus asked them, Believe ye that I am able to do this? to open your eyes, and by my own divine power to cure your blindness? They said unto him, Yea, Lord; we are fully persuaded of it. Note; (1.) In all our trials, the full and fixed persuasion of Christ's power to save us out of them, must be as an anchor to our souls amid the storm. (2.) Christ requires open profession of our faith, that we may give him the glory due unto his name.
[3.] Hereupon he grants their request. He touched their eyes, saying, According to your faith be it unto you: and their eyes were opened. He knew their sincerity, and he designed to express his approbation of their faith in conferring the cure. Whoever still comes to him with their wants, will find the same language from Jesus; according to our faith the blessings of the Gospel become possessed by us. Whatever we want, faith may ever draw it out of his fulness; and whenever we fail of strength or comfort, we may be assured it is owing to our unbelief.
[4.] He strictly charges them to conceal the miracle that he had wrought for them. Either he shunned all appearance of seeking popular applause, or he knew that the more his fame spread, the more his enemies would be exasperated; or perhaps he did it to prevent the Jews or his own disciples, too much disposed to expect in their Messiah a temporal prince, from crowding around him, or attempting, by insurrections, to set him on the throne of Israel.
[5.] They, notwithstanding, spread abroad his fame; so full of gratitude, they could not conceal the favour; and though their disobedience was not commendable, their motive no doubt pleaded their excuse. Well-meant zeal, though sometimes imprudently exerted, should not meet a harsh censure.
2. He cures a dumb man possessed of a devil. His friends brought him to Jesus as a truly pitiable object, just as the blind men, who were healed, went out; for Christ's door was open to all the miserable, and he was never weary in doing good. The favour is no sooner asked than granted; the devil is dispossessed, and the dumb man speaks as freely as ever. Note; They who live in the neglect of prayer and praise and godly conversation are under the possession of this spirit of dumbness; but when the heart yields to the grace of Jesus, the tongue of the dumb will instantly sing, speaking his praises, and telling what great things God hath done for his soul.
3. These miracles had a very different effect on the spectators. The multitudes marvelled, and owned, to the glory of Jesus, that never had such miracles been seen before in Israel; so many, so immediate, and performed with such divine authority. But the malignant Pharisees, determined to find fault, though unable to deny the facts, imputed these miracles to diabolical agency, as if Christ was in league with the devil. They who are bent against conviction will always have something to object; and the more they are pressed with the evidence of the truth, the more enraged, inveterate, and blasphemous, is their abuse.
6thly, Christ did not long fix his abode at one place. We have an account,
1. Of his journeys, preaching, and cures, through all the cities and villages of Galilee. He taught, publicly in the synagogues, the doctrines of the Gospel, and the nature, blessings, and privileges of that kingdom which he came to erect; and, in confirmation of his mission, in every place performed the most miraculous cures on the bodies of all the diseased who applied to him, as his word was designed to heal the greater maladies of their souls.
2. Of the compassion that he expressed towards the multitudes who followed him. It grieved him to see the darkness, ignorance, and carelessness which everywhere appeared; they fainted, perishing through want of knowledge; instead of the bread of life and truth, fed with the miserable husks of pharisaical traditions, and misled in the most essential truths of God's word, through the adulterations with which their scribes had corrupted it; and they were scattered abroad as sheep having no shepherd, exposed to the great destroyer of souls, and destitute of every faithful guide to bring them to the fold of God: they who should have directed them aright contributed to increase their errors, or by total negligence abandoned them to ruin. Our Lord, therefore, stirs up his disciples to pray, that since the harvest is so plenteous, and multitudes of immortal souls are willing to hear the good word of God, and so few to labour for their conversion, to gather them into God's church,—the great Lord of the harvest would send forth labourers qualified for their work, and bless them with success. Note; (1.) They who know the value of their own souls, cannot but feel with Jesus the tenderest compassion for those who live in ignorance, error, and sin, and pity them the more because they appear so insensible, and to have no pity on themselves. (2.) The neglect of ministers is an awful judgment upon the people, and must be attended with aggravated guilt and ruin on their own souls. (3.) When multitudes appear attentive, and willing to hear the Gospel, it is a grief to see them deprived of the means, and a double obligation is laid on the few faithful to exert themselves. (4.) The grievous neglect of men's souls, which we observe, should excite our fervent prayers to God, that he would revive his work in the midst of the years, and send forth faithful shepherds to feed and guide his flock. (5.) Christ must appoint his own servants; he is the Lord of the harvest; none can call or qualify for the office but himself; and whom he sends, he is able and willing to support and bless; their labour shall not be in vain in the Lord. They who see no gracious fruits of their ministry, may justly conclude that the Lord of the harvest never sent them. (6.) All Christ's servants are labourers; they are no loiterers who are of his appointing. Diligence, fidelity, and zeal, mark their ministrations.