The Sermon on the Mount

Arthur Pink, 1943
 

1. Introduction

Matthew's Gospel breaks the long silence which followed the ministry of Malachi, the last of the Old Testament Prophets. The silence extended for four hundred years, and during that time God was withdrawn from Israel. Throughout this period there were no angelic manifestations, no Prophet spoke for Jehovah, and though the Chosen People were sorely pressed, yet were there no Divine interpositions on their behalf. For four centuries God shut His people up to His written Word. Again and again had He promised to send the Messiah, and from Malachi onwards there was a believing remnant who anxiously awaited the appearing of the predicted One. It is at this point that Matthew picks up the thread dropped by the last of the Old Testament Prophets. The first purpose of Matthew's Gospel is to present Christ as the Fulfiller of the promises made to Israel and the prophecies which related to their Messiah. This is why the word "fulfilled" occurs in Matthew fifteen times, and why there are more quotations from the Old Testament in his Gospel than in the remaining three added together.

The position which Matthew's Gospel occupies in the Sacred Canon indicates its character and scope. Standing immediately after the Old Testament and at the beginning of the New, it is therefore the connecting link between them. Hence it is transitional, and also more Jewish than any other book in the New Testament. Matthew reveals God appealing to and dealing with His Old Testament people. The numerical place of Matthew in the Divine library confirms this, for being the fortieth book it shows us the nation of Israel in the place of probation, being tested by the presence of Jehovah in their midst. Matthew presents the Lord Jesus as Israel's Messiah and King, as well as the One who shall save His people from their sins. The opening sentence gives the key to its contents: "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham." Seven times over Christ is addressed as "the Son of David" in this Gospel, and ten times altogether is this title found there. "Son of David" connects Christ with the throne, while "Son of Abraham" associates Him with the altar.

This opening Gospel explains how it is that in the later books of the New Testament Israel is viewed as cast off by God, why it is Christendom has superceded the Jewish theocracy-the result of rejecting their Messiah. A striking foreshadowment of this is found in the second chapter, where a significant incident-passed over by the other Evangelists-is recorded, namely, the visit of the wise men who came from the East to worship the Christ Child. In the attendant circumstances we may perceive prophetic anticipation of what is recorded throughout this Gospel, and the New Testament. First, Christ is seen outside of Jerusalem. Then we have the blindness and indifference of the Jews to the presence of their Messiah: unaware that He was now among them, undesirous of accompanying the magi. Next there are the strangers from a far country with a heart for the Savior, seeking Him out and worshiping Him. Finally, we behold the civil head, so filled with hatred, determined to put Him to death-presaging His crucifixion by the Jews.

Not until the middle of his fourth chapter does Matthew tell us, "From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand" (v. 17). The time-mark here is, in the light of its context, most significant, emphasizing the same solemn aspect of truth as was adumbrated in chapter 2. First, we are told that our Lord's forerunner had been "cast into prison" (v. 12). Second, we are informed that Christ "leaving Nazareth" came "and dwelt in Capernaum" (v. 13), for Nazareth (where He had dwelt so long: 2:23) had openly rejected Him (see Luke 4:28-30). Third, it is here emphasized that the Savior had gone "beyond Jordan" into "Galilee of the Gentiles," where "the people which sat in darkness saw great light" (v. 16)-another illustrative anticipation of His rejection by the Jews and His turning to the Gentiles.

The 4th chapter closes by telling us, "And His fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto Him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with demons, and those which were lunatic, and those which had the palsy: and there followed Him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis," etc., (vv. 24, 25). Some have wondered why our Lord performed these miracles of healing upon the bodies of the people before He delivered His great Sermon on the Mount for the nourishing of their souls. First, it should be noted that these miracles of healing followed His "teaching in their synagogues and preaching the Gospel of the kingdom" (4:23). Second, these miracles of healing were an essential part of His Messianic credentials: Isaiah 35-4-6. Third, these miracles of healing made way for His fuller preaching, by disposing the people to listen unto One who manifested such Divine power and mercy.

The preface to the Sermon is a very short one: "And seeing the multitudes, He went up into a mountain, and when He was set, His disciples came unto Him; and He opened His mouth, and taught them" (Matthew 5:1, 2). Yet brief as these verses be, there are several things in them which call for careful consideration. First, we must notice the place from which this Sermon was Preached. "As in other things, so in this, our Lord Jesus was but ill-accommodated: He had no convenient place to preach in, any more than to lay His head on. While the scribes and Pharisees had Moses' chair to sit in, with all possible ease, honor, and state, and there corrupted the Law; our Lord Jesus, the great Teacher of Truth, is driven out to the desert, and finds no better place than a "mountain" can afford.

"Nor was it one of the holy mountains, nor one of the mountains of Zion, but a common mountain-by which Christ would intimate that there is no distinguishing holiness of places now, under the Gospel, as there was under the Law-but that it is the will of God that men should pray and praise everywhere, anywhere, provided it be decent and convenient. Christ preached this Sermon, which was an exposition of the Law, upon a mountain, because upon a mountain the Law was given: and this was also a solemn promulgation of the Christian Law. But observe the difference: when the Law was given the Lord came down upon the mountain, now the Lord "went up" into one. Then He spoke in thunder and lightning, now in a still small voice. Then the people were ordered to keep their distance, now they are invited to draw near-a blessed change!" (Matthew Henry).

We believe there is a yet deeper significance in the fact that Christ delivered this Sermon from a mountain. Very often the noting of the place where a particular utterance was made, supplies a key to its interpretation. For example in Matthew 13:36, Christ is seen entering "into the house," where He made known unto His own the inner secrets of His kingdom. In Luke's Gospel Christ is seen as man (the perfect Man) among men, and there He delivers a sermon "in the plain" (6:17)-descending as it were to a common level. But in Matthew His royal authority is in view, and consequently, He is seen again and again in an elevated place. In the seventeenth chapter we behold Him transfigured on the mount. In 24:3 He delivers His great prophetic discourse from a mount. Then in 28:18-20 we see the Conqueror of Death commissioning His disciples from the mount. So here in 5:1, He ascends the mount when about to give forth the manifesto of His kingdom.

Next we would notice that our Lord was seated when He preached this Sermon. It seems to have been His usual manner to preach sitting: "I sat daily with you teaching in the temple" (Matthew 26:55). This was the custom of the Jewish teachers: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat" (Matthew 23:2). Nevertheless, we are persuaded that the Spirit's notice of our Lord's posture on this occasion intimates something more important and significant than that He accommodated Himself to the prevailing mode of the day. In this Sermon Christ enunciated the laws of His kingdom and spoke with an authority infinitely transcending that of the Jewish leaders; and therefore His posture here is to be regarded as emblematic of a King sitting upon His throne, or a Judge upon the bench.

"And He opened His mouth and taught them." Here the Spirit of God has noted the great Prophet's manner of speaking. First, it is to be understood naturally, and carefully emulated by all His servants. The first essential of any public speaker is that he open his mouth and articulate clearly, otherwise, no matter how good may be his subject matter, much will be lost on his hearers. Alas, how many preachers mutter and mouth their words, or employ a pious whine which elderly people cannot catch. It is most desirous that the young preacher should spare no pains to acquire a free and clear delivery: avoiding shouting and yelling on the one hand, and sinking his voice too much on the other.

Second, we may also behold here the perfections of our blessed Redeemer. So far as Scripture informs us, from the age of twelve until He reached thirty, Christ maintained a steady silence, for the time appointed by His Father to deliver His great message had not then arrived. In perfect submission to the One who sent Him, the Lord Jesus waited the hour which had been set Him-"There is a time to keep silence, and a time to speak" (Ecclesiastes 3:7). To one of His prophets of old God said, "I will make your tongue cleave to the roof of your mouth, that you shall be dumb, and shall not be to them a reprover" (Ezekiel 3:26). Later, He said, "now the hand of the LORD was upon me in the evening . . . and my mouth was opened, and I was no more dumb: then the Word of the LORD came unto me" (Ezekiel 33:22, 23). So it was here with the supreme Prophet: the time had come for Him to enunciate the laws of His kingdom: the hand of God was upon Him, and He "opened His month."

Third, as Scripture is compared with Scripture, this expression will be found to bear yet another meaning. "Supplication for all saints; and for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the Gospel" (Ephesians 6:19). The Apostle was referring to a special kind of speech, upon far more weighty matters than his ordinary conversation. So when we are here told that Christ "opened His mouth and taught them" we are to understand that He spoke with liberty and authority, with faithfulness and boldness, delivering Himself upon matters of the deepest weight and greatest importance. It means that, without fear or favor, Christ openly set forth the truth, regardless of consequences. That this is the meaning appears from what we read of at the finish of the Sermon: "The people were astonished at His doctrine: for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes" (Matthew 7:28).

Let us now observe the persons to whom our Lord here addressed Himself. There has been considerable difference of opinion concerning the ones to whom this Sermon really applies: the saved or the unsaved. Extreme positions have been taken on both sides, with a good deal of unnecessary dogmatism. Personally, we regard this Sermon as a forecast and an epitome of the entire oral ministry of Christ, that it summarizes the general tenor of His whole teaching. The older we grow, the less do we approve of drawing hard and fast lines through the Scriptures, limiting their application by insisting that certain parts belong only to such and such a class, and under the guise of "rightly dividing" the Word, apportioning segments of it to the Jews only, the Gentiles only, or the Church of God only. Man makes his canals rigidly straight, but God's rivers wind in and out. God's commandment is "exceeding broad" (Psalm 119:96), and we must be on our guard against placing restrictions thereon.

A careful study of the four Gospels reveals the fact that Christ's ministry had, first, a special application to the afflicted people of God; second, it evidently had a peculiar reference to His own immediate disciples; and third, it had a general bearing upon the people at large. Such we take it was also the case with the Sermon on the Mount, embodying and illustrating these three distinctive features of Christ's public ministry. First, its opening section (the "Beatitudes") is most evidently addressed to those who were afflicted in their souls-those deeply exercised before God. Second, its next division referred directly to His public servants, as will be shown (D.V.), when we take it up in detail. Third, its larger part was a most searching exposition of the spirituality of the Law and the refutation of the false teachings of the elders, and was meant mainly for the people at large.

We do not think that W. Perkins went too far when he said of the Sermon on the Mount, "It may justly be called the key of the whole Bible, for here Christ opens the sum of the Old and New Testaments." It is the longest discourse of our Lord's recorded in the Scriptures. He began His public ministry by insisting upon repentance (Matthew 4:17), and here He enlarges upon this vitally important subject in a variety of ways, showing us what repentance really is and what are its fruits. It is an intensely practical sermon throughout: as Matthew Henry tersely expressed it, "There is not much of the credenta of

Christianity in it-the things to be believed; but it is wholly taken up with the agenda-the things to be done, for 'if any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine' (John 7:17)."

Though we are told at the beginning of chapter 5 that it was His "disciples" whom Christ here taught, yet it is equally clear from the closing verses of chapter 7 that this Sermon was spoken in the hearing of the multitudes. This must be steadily borne in mind throughout, for while it contains much instruction for believers in connection with their living a good, honest, and blessed life, yet not a little in it is evidently designed for unbelievers, particularly those sections which contain a most searching setting forth of the spiritual nature of His kingdom and the character of those who enter and enjoy its privileges. Romish teachers have greatly erred, for they insist that Christ here propounded a new Law-far more perfect than the law of Moses-and that He delivered now entirely new counsel to His disciples, which was never given in the Law or the Prophets; whereas His intention was to clear the true meaning of the Law and the Prophets. which had been greatly corrupted by the Jewish doctors. But we will not further anticipate what we shall (D.V.) contemplate more fully in the studies to follow.

 

2. The Beatitudes: Matthew 5:3-11.

Last month we pointed out that Christ's public ministry had first a special application to the afflicted people of God; second, a peculiar reference to His immediate disciples, considered as His Apostles or ministers; third, to the people at large. Such is clearly the case with His Sermon on the Mount, as will be made evident (D.V.) in the course of our exposition of it. Herein Christ is seen discharging His prophetic office, speaking as never (uninspired) man ever spoke. A careful study of the Sermon reveals that it has twelve divisions-the number of Divine government-varying considerably in length. It is the first of them which is now to engage our attention. In it our Lord makes known wherein true happiness or blessedness consists, disclosing to us a secret which is hidden from the unregenerate, who suppose that outward comforts and luxuries are absolutely indispensable to contentment of mind and felicity of life. Herein too He strikes at the root of the carnal conceit of the Jews, who vainly imagined that external peace and prosperity was to result from a receiving of the Gospel.

It is indeed blessed to observe how this Sermon opens. Christ began not by pronouncing maledictions on the wicked, but blessings on His people. How like Him was this, to whom "judgment" is a "strange work"! Nevertheless, later, we also hear Him pronouncing "woe" after woe upon the enemies of God: Matthew 23. It was not to the multitude at large that the Redeemer first spoke, but to the elect, who had a special claim upon Him, as given by the Father's love to Him (John 17:9 10). Nor was it to the favored Apostles He addressed His opening remarks, but rather to the poor of the flock, the afflicted in soul, those who were conscious of their deep need. Therein He has left an example for all His under-shepherds: "Strengthen you the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees"; "Comfort you, comfort you My people, says your God" (Isaiah 35:3; 40:1).

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven" (Matthew 5:3). In these words Christ began to draw a picture of those characters upon whom the Divine blessing rests. It is a composite picture, each line in it accentuating some distinct spiritual feature; and with the whole we should honestly and carefully compare ourselves. At what complete variance is this declaration of Christ's from the popular view among men! The idea which commonly obtains, the world over, is, Blessed are the rich for theirs is the kingdom of the world. But Christ says the flat contrary: "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven," which is infinitely better than all the kingdoms of the earth; and herein we may see that the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God (1 Corinthians 1). Who before Christ ever regarded the poor in spirit as the blessed or happy ones of the earth? And who, except genuine Christians, do so today? How this opening word struck the keynote of all the subsequent teaching of Him who was Himself born in a manger: not what a man does, but what he is in the sight of God.

"Blessed are the poor in spirit." There is a vast difference between this and being hard up in our circumstances. There is no virtue (and often no disgrace) in financial poverty as such, nor does it, of itself, produce humility of heart, for anyone who has any real acquaintance with both classes, soon discovers there is just as much pride in the indigent as there is in the opulent. This poverty of spirit is a fruit that grows on no merely natural tree. It is a spiritual grace wrought by the Holy Spirit in those whom He renews. By nature we are well pleased with ourselves, and mad enough to think that we deserve something good at the hands of God. Let men but conduct themselves decently in a civil way, keeping themselves from grosser sins, and they are rich in spirit, pride filling their hearts, and they are self-righteous. And nothing short of a miracle of grace can change the course of this stream.

Nor is real poverty of spirit to be found among the great majority of religionists of the day: very much the reverse. How often we see advertised a conference for "promoting the higher life," but who ever heard of one for furthering the lowly life! Many books are printed telling us how to be "filled with the Spirit," but where can we find one setting forth what it means to be spiritually emptied-emptied of self-confidence, self-importance, and self-righteousness? Alas, if it be true that, "That which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God" (Luke 16:15), it is equally true that what is of great price in His sight is despised by men-by none more so than by the modern Pharisees, who now hold nearly all the positions of prominence in Christendom. Almost all of the so-called "ministry" of this generation feeds pride, instead of starving the flesh; puffs up, rather than abases; and anything which is calculated to search and strip, is frowned upon by the pulpit and is unpopular with the pew.

"Blessed are the poor in spirit." And what is poverty of spirit? It is the opposite of that haughty, self-assertive and self-sufficient disposition which the world so much admires and praises. It is the very reverse of that independent and defiant attitude which refuses to bow to God, which determines to brave things out, which says with Pharaoh, "Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice?" To be "poor in spirit" is to realize that I have nothing, am nothing, and can do nothing, and have need of all things. Poverty of spirit is a consciousness of my emptiness, the result of the Spirit's work within. It issues from the painful discovery that all my righteousnesses are as filthy rags. It follows the awakening that my best performances are unacceptable, yes, an abomination to the thrice Holy One. Poverty of spirit evidences itself by its bringing the individual into the dust before God, acknowledging his utter helplessness and deservingness of Hell. It corresponds to the initial awakening of the Prodigal in the far country, when he began to be "in want."

God's great salvation is free-"without money and without price." This is a most merciful provision of Divine grace, for were God to offer salvation for sale, no sinner could secure it, seeing that he has nothing with which he could possibly purchase it. But the vast majority are insensible of this, yes, all of us are until the Holy Spirit opens our sin-blinded eyes. It is only those who have passed from death unto life that become conscious of their poverty, take the place of beggars, are glad to receive Divine charity, and begin to seek the true riches. Thus, "the poor have the Gospel preached to them" (Matthew 11:5): preached not only to their ears, but to their hearts!

Poverty of spirit may be termed the negative side of faith. It is that realization of my utter worthlessness which precedes the laying hold of Christ, the eating of His flesh and drinking His blood. It is the Spirit emptying the heart of self that Christ may fill it: it is a sense of need and destitution. This first Beatitude, then, is foundational, describing a fundamental trait which is found in every regenerated soul. The one who is poor in spirit is nothing in his own eyes, and feels that his proper place is in the dust before God. He may, through false teaching or worldliness, leave this place, but God knows how to bring him back; and in His faithfulness and love He will do so, for it is the place of blessing for His children. How to cultivate this God-honoring spirit is revealed in Matthew 11:29.

He who is in possession of this poverty of spirit is pronounced "blessed." He is so because he now has a disposition the very opposite of what was his by nature, because he has in himself the first sure evidence that a Divine work of grace has been wrought in his heart, because such a spirit causes him to look outside of himself for true enrichment, because he is an heir of the "kingdom of Heaven"-the kingdom of grace here, the kingdom of glory hereafter. Many are the gracious promises addressed to the poor in spirit. "I am poor and needy: yet the Lord thinks upon me: You are my help and my deliverer" (Psalm 40:17), "The Lord hears the poor" (Psalm 69:33), "He shall spare the poor and needy, and shall save the souls of the needy" (Psalm 72:13). "Yet sets He the poor on high from affliction" (Psalm 107:41), "I will satisfy her poor with bread" (Psalm 132:15), "To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembles at My Word" (Isaiah 66:2). Let such favors as these stir us up to pray earnestly for more of this poverty of spirit.

"Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted" (Matthew 5:4). Mourning is hateful and irksome to poor human nature: from suffering and sadness our spirits instinctively shrink. It is natural for us to seek the society of the cheerful and joyous. The verse now before us presents an anomaly to the unregenerate, yet is it sweet music to the ears of God's elect: if "blessed," why do they "mourn?" If they mourn, how can they be blessed? Only the child of God has the key to this paradox, for "happy are they who sorrow" is at complete variance with the world's logic. Men have, in all places and in all ages, deemed the prosperous and the cheery to be the happy ones, but Christ pronounces blessed, those who are poor in spirit and who mourn.

Now it is obvious that it is not every species of mourning which is here referred to. There are thousands of mourners in the world today who do not come within the scope of our text: those mourning over blighted hopes, over financial reverses, over the loss of loved ones. But alas, so far from many of them coming beneath this Divine blessing, they are under God's condemnation; nor is there any promise that such shall ever be Divinely "comforted." There are three kinds of "mourning" referred to in the Scriptures: a natural, such as we have just referred to above; a sinful, which is a disconsolate and inordinate grief, refusing to be comforted, or a hopeless remorse like that of Judas; and a gracious one, a "godly sorrow," of which the Holy Spirit is the Author.

The "mourning" of our text is a spiritual one. The previous verse indicates clearly the line of thought here: "blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven." Yes, "blessed are the poor," not the poor in purse, but the poor in heart: those who realize themselves to be spiritual bankrupts in themselves, paupers before God. That felt poverty of spirit is the very opposite of the Laodiceanism which is so rife today, that self-complacency which says, "I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing." In like manner it is spiritual mourning which is in view here. Further proof of this is found in the fact that Christ pronounces these mourners "blessed." They are so because the Spirit of God has wrought a work of grace within them, and hence they have been awakened to see and feel their lost condition. They are "blessed" because God does not leave them at that point: "they shall be comforted."

"Blessed are they that mourn." The first reference is to that initial mourning, which ever precedes a genuine conversion, for there must be a real sense of sin before the Remedy for it will even be desired. Thousands acknowledge they are sinners, who have never mourned over the fact. Take the woman of Luke 7, who washed the Savior's feet with her tears: have you ever shed any over your sins? Take the Prodigal in Luke 15: before he left the far country he said, "I will go unto my Father and say unto Him, I have sinned against Heaven and before You, and am not worthy to be called Your son"-where shall we find those today with this sense of their sinnership? Take the publican of Luke 18: why did he "smite upon his breast" and say, "God be merciful to me, the sinner?" Because he felt the plague of his own heart. So of the three thousand converted on the day of Pentecost: they were "pricked in their heart, and cried out."

This "mourning" springs from a sense of sin, from a tender conscience, from a broken heart. It is a godly sorrow over rebellion against God and hostility to His will. In some cases it is grief over the very morality in which the heart has trusted, over the self-righteousness which has caused such complacency. This "mourning" is the agonizing realization that it was my sins which nailed to the Cross the Lord of Glory. When Israel shall, by faith, see Christ, "they shall mourn for Him" (Zechariah 12:10). It is such tears and groans which prepare the heart to truly welcome and receive the "balm of Gilead," the comfort of the Gospel. It is, then, a mourning over the felt destitution of our spiritual state, and over the iniquities that have separated between us and God. Such mourning always goes side by side with conscious poverty of spirit.

But this "mourning" is by no means to be confined unto the initial experience of conviction and contrition, for observe the tense of the verb: it is not "have mourned," but "mourn"-a present and continuous experience. The Christian himself has much to mourn over. The sins which he now commits-both of omission and commission-are a sense of daily grief to him, or should be so, and will be, if his conscience is kept tender. An ever-deepening discovery of the depravity of his nature, the plague of his heart, the sea of corruption within-ever polluting all that he does-deeply exercises him. Consciousness of the surgings of unbelief, the swellings of pride, the coldness of his love, and his paucity of fruit, make him cry, "O wretched man that I am." An humbling recollection of past offenses: "Wherefore remember that you being in time past" (Ephesians 2:11).

Yes, "Ourselves also, which have received the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves" (Romans 8:23). Does not the Christian groan under the disciplining rod of the Father: "No chastening for the present seems to be joyous, but grievous" (Hebrews 12:11). And is he not deeply grieved by the awful dishonor which is now done to the Lord Jesus on every hand? The fact is that the closer the Christian lives to God, the more will he mourn over all that dishonors Him: with the Psalmist he will say, "Horror has taken hold upon me because of the wicked that forsake Your law" (119:53), and with Jeremiah, "My soul shall weep in secret places for your pride; and mine eyes shall weep sore and run down with tears, because the Lord's flock is carried away captive" (13:17). But blessed be God, it is written, "Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof" (Ezekiel 9:4). So too there is a sympathetic mourning over the sufferings of others: "Weep with them that weep" (Romans 12:15).

But let us return to the primary thought of our verse: "Blessed are they that mourn" has immediate reference to the convicted soul sorrowing over his sins. And here it is most important to note that Christ does not pronounce them "blessed" simply because they are mourners, but because they are such mourners as "shall be comforted." There are not a few in Christendom today who glory in their grief and attempt to find comfort in their own inward wretchedness-as well seek health from our sicknesses. True comfort is not to be found in anything in self-no, not in perceiving our own vileness; but in Christ alone. Distress of soul is by no means always the same thing as evangelical repentance, as is clear from the case of Cain (Genesis 4:13). But where the Spirit produces in the heart a godly sorrow for sin, He does not leave him there, but brings him to look away from sin to the Lamb of God, and then he is "comforted." The Gospel promises no mercy except to those who forsake sin and close with Christ.

"They shall be comforted." This gracious promise receives its fulfillment, first, in that Divine consolation which immediately follows a sound conversion (that is, one that is preceded by conviction and contrition), namely, the removal of that conscious load of guilt which lies as an intolerable burden on the conscience. It finds its accomplishment in the Spirit's application of the Gospel of God's grace to the one whom He has convicted of his dire need of a Savior. Then it is that Christ speaks the Word of power, "Come unto Me all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28)-observe His language clearly presupposes the feeling of sin to be a "burden" as that which impels to Him for relief: it is to the sin-sick heart Christ gives rest. This "comfort" issues in a sense of a free and full forgiveness through the merits of the atoning blood of Christ. This Divine comfort is the peace of God which passes all understanding-filling the heart of one who is now assured that he is "accepted in the Beloved." First God wounds, and then heals.

Second, there is a continual "comforting" of the mourning saint by the Holy Spirit, who is the Comforter. The one who sorrows over his departures from Christ is comforted by the assurance that, "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). The one who mourns under the chastening rod of God is comforted by the promise, "afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby" (Hebrews 12:11). The one who

grieves over the awful dishonor done to his Lord in the religious world, is comforted by the fact that Satan's time is short, and soon Christ will bruise him beneath His feet. Third, the final "comfort" is when we leave this world and are done with sin forever. Then shall "sorrow and sighing flee away." To the rich man in Hell, Abraham said of the one who had begged at his gate, "now he is comforted" (Luke 16:25). The best wine is reserved for the last. The "comfort" of Heaven will more than compensate for all the "mourning" of earth.

From all that has been before us, learn, first, the folly of looking to the wounds which sin has made in order to find consolation: view rather the purging and healing blood of Christ. Second, see the error of attempting to measure the helpfulness of the books we read or the preaching we hear by the degree of peace and joy which it brings to our hearts. Yet how many there are who say, We have quite enough in the world, or in the home, to make us miserable, and we go to church for comfort. It is to be feared that few of them are in any condition of soul to receive comfort from the Gospel: rather do they need the Law to search and convict them. Ah, the truth is, dear friend, that very often the sermon or the article which is of most benefit, is the one which causes us to get alone with God and weep before Him. When we have flirted with the world or indulged the lusts of the flesh, the Holy Spirit gives us a rebuke or admonition. Third, mark then, the inseparable connection between godly sorrow and godly joy: compare Psalm 30:5; 126:5; Proverbs 14:10; Isaiah 61:3; 2 Corinthians 6:10; 1 Thessalonians 1:6, and James 2:13.

 

3. The Beatitudes: Matthew 5:1-11.

"Blessed are the Meek: for they shall inherit the earth" (v. 5). There has been considerable difference of opinion as to exactly what meekness consists of. When we wrote upon this verse some twelve years ago, we defined it as humility, but it now appears to us that that is inadequate, for there is no single term which is capable of fully expressing all that is included in this virtue. A study of its usage in Scripture reveals, first, that it is linked with and cannot be separated from lowliness: "Learn of Me: for I am meek and lowly in heart" (Matthew 11:29); "Walk worthy of the vocation with which you are called, with all lowliness and meekness" (Eph 4:1, 2). Second, it is associated with and cannot be divorced from gentleness: "I beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:1); "To speak evil of no man, to be not brawlers, but gentle, showing all meekness unto all men" (Titus 3:2). Third, "receive with meekness the engrafted Word," as opposed to, "the wrath of man works not the righteousness of God" (James 1:20, 21). Fourth, the Divine promise is, "the meek will He guide in judgment, and the meek will He teach His way" (Psalm 25:9), intimating that this grace consists of a pliant heart and will.

Additional help in determining for us the meaning and scope of the word "meek," is to be obtained from duly noting our present verse in the light of the two preceding ones. It is to be kept steadily in mind that in these Beatitudes our Lord is describing the orderly development of God's work of grace as it is experimentally realized in the soul. First, there is a poverty of spirit: a sense of our insufficiency and nothingness, a realization of our unworthiness and unprofitableness. Next, there is a mourning over our lost condition, sorrowing for the awfulness of our sins against God. And now we have meekness as a bi-product of self-emptying and self-humiliation; or, in other words, there is a broken will and a receptive heart before God. Meekness is not only the antithesis of pride, but of stubbornness, fierceness, vengefulness. It is the taming of the lion, the making of the wolf to lie down as a kid.

Thomas Scott rightly points out that, "There is a natural meekness of spirit, springing from love of ease, defect in sensibility and firmness, and the pre-dominance of other passions, which should be carefully distinguished from evangelical meekness. It is timid and pliant, easily deterred from good, and persuaded to evil; it leads to criminality in one extreme, as impetuosity of spirit does in another: it is often found in ungodly men; and it sometimes forms the grand defect in the character of pious persons, as in the case of Eli, and of Jehoshaphat. Divine grace operates in rendering such men more firm, resolute, and vigorous; as it does in rendering men of an opposite temper, more yielding and quiet. The meekness to which the blessing is annexed, is not constitutional, but gracious; and men of the most vehement, impetuous, irascible, and implacable dispositions, by looking to Jesus through the grace of God, learn to curb their temper, to cease from resentment, to avoid giving offense by injurious words and actions, to make concessions and forgive injuries."

Meekness is the opposite of self-will toward God, and of ill-will toward men. "The meek are those who quietly submit themselves before God, to His Word, to His rod, who follow His directions and comply with His designs, and are gentle toward men" (Matthew Henry). As pointed out above, this is not constitutional, but gracious-a precious fruit of the Spirit's working. Godly sorrow softens the heart, so that it is made receptive to the entrance of the Word. Meekness consists in the spirit being made pliant, tractable, submissive, teachable. Speaking prophetically through Isaiah the Savior said, "The LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings unto the meek" (61:1), for they have bowed to the authority of the Law. And again it is written, "For the LORD takes pleasure in His people: He will beautify the meek with salvation" (Psalm 149:4).

A word or two on the fruits of meekness. First, Godwards. Where this grace is in the ascendant, the enmity of the carnal mind is subdued, and its possessor bears God's chastenings with quietness and patience. Illustrations thereof are seen in the cases of Aaron (Leviticus 10:3), Eli (1 Samuel 3:18), and David (Psalm 39:9). Supremely it was exemplified by Christ, who declared, "I am a worm, and no man" (Psalm 22:6), which had reference not only to His being humbled into the dust, but also to the fact that there was nothing in Him which resisted the judgments of God: "The cup which My Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?" (John 18:11). He was "led (not dragged), as a lamb to the slaughter": when He was reviled, He reviled not again; when He was buffeted, He threatened not. He was the very King of meekness.

Second, man-wards. Inasmuch as meekness is that spirit which has been schooled to mildness by discipline and suffering, and brought into sweet resignation to the will of God, it causes the believer to bear patiently those insults and injuries which he receives at the hands of his fellows, and makes him ready to accept instruction or admonition from the least of the saints, moving him to think more highly of others than of himself. Meekness enables the Christian to endure provocations without being inflamed by them: he remains cool when others get heated. "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, you which are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness: considering yourself, lest you also be tempted" (Galatians 6:1). This means, not with a lordly and domineering attitude, not with a harsh and censorious temper, not with a love of finding fault and desire for inflicting the discipline of the church; but with gentleness, humility, and patience.

But meekness must not be confused with weakness. True meekness is ever manifested by yielding to God's will, yet it will not yield a principle of righteousness or compromise with evil. God-given meekness can also stand up for God-given rights: when God's glory is impeached, we must have a zeal which is as hot as fire. Moses was "very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth" (Numbers 12:3), yet when he saw the Israelites dancing before the golden calf, in zeal for Jehovah's honor, he broke the two tables of stone, and put to the sword those who had transgressed. Note how firmly and boldly the Apostles stood their ground in Acts 16:35-37. Above all, remember how Christ Himself, in concern for His Father's glory, make a whip of cords and drove the desecrators out of the temple. Meekness restrains from private revenge, but it in nowise conflicts with the requirements of fidelity to God, His cause, and His people.

"For they shall inherit the earth" or "land," for both the Hebrew and Greek words possess this double meaning. This promise is taken from Psalm 37:11 and may be understood in a threefold way. First, spiritually, as the second half of that verse intimates: "The meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace." The spirit of meekness is what enables its possessor to get so much enjoyment out of his earthly portion, be it small or large. Delivered from a greedy and grasping disposition, he is satisfied with such things as he has: "A little that a righteous man has is better than the riches of many wicked" (Psalm 37:16). Contentment of mind is one of the fruits of meekness. The haughty and covetous do not "inherit the earth," though they may own many acres of it. The humble Christian is far happier in a cottage than the wicked in a palace: "Better is little with the fear of the LORD, than great treasure and trouble therewith" (Proverbs 15:16).

Second, literally. The meek inherit the earth in regard of right, being the members of Christ, who is Lord of all. Hence, writing to the saints, Paul said, "For all things are yours whether . . . the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come, all are yours" (1 Corinthians 3:21, 22). Right or title to the earth is twofold: civil and spiritual. The former is that which holds good-according to their laws and customs-before men, and in regard thereof they are called lords of such lands they have a right unto. The latter is that which is approved before God. Adam had this spiritual right to the earth before he fell, but by his sin he forfeited it both for himself and his posterity. But Christ has regained it for all the elect, hence the Apostle said, "As having nothing, and yet possessing all things" (2 Corinthians 6:10). Third, mystically: Psalm 37:11 is an Old Testament promise with a New Testament meaning: the land of Canaan was a figure of Heaven, of which meekness proves the possessor to be an heir, and for which it is an essential qualification.

From what has been before us let us learn, first, the value of this grace and the need of praying for an increase of the same: "Seek you the LORD, all you meek of the earth, which have wrought His judgments: seek righteousness, seek meekness" (Zephaniah 2:3). As a further inducement to this end, mark these precious promises: "The meek shall eat and be satisfied" (Psalm 22:26), "The LORD lifts up the meek" (Psalm 147:6), "The meek also shall increase their joy in the LORD" (Isaiah 29:19). Second, see the folly of those who are so diligent in seeking earthly possessions without any regard to Christ. Since all right to the earth was lost by Adam and is only recovered by the Redeemer-until they have part in Him none can with the comfort of a good conscience either purchase or possess any mundane inheritance. Third, let the fact that the meek, through Christ, inherit the earth, serve for a bridle against all inordinate care for the world: since we are members of Christ the supply of every need is certain, and an infinitely better portion is ours than the perishing things of time and sense.

"Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled" (Matthew 5:6). In the first three Beatitudes we are called upon to witness the heart exercises of those who have been awakened by the Spirit God. First, there is a sense of need, a realization of their nothingness and emptiness. Second, there is a judging of self, a consciousness of their guilt and sorrowing over their lost condition. Third, there is an end of seeking to justify themselves before God, an abandonment of all pretenses to personal merit, a taking of their place in the dust before God. And here, in the fourth, the eye of the soul is turned away from self to Another: there is a longing after that which they know they have not got and which they are conscious they urgently need. There has been much needless quibbling as to the precise import of the word, "righteousness," in this verse, and it seems to us that most of the commentators have failed to grasp its fullness.

In many Old Testament passages, "righteousness," is synonymous with "salvation," as will appear from the following: "Drop down you heavens from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together: I the LORD have created it" (Isaiah 45:8). "Hearken unto Me, you stouthearted, that are far from righteousness: I bring near My righteousness; it shall not be far off, and My salvation shall not tarry: and I will place salvation in Zion" (Isaiah 46:12-13). "My righteousness is near, My salvation is set forth, and Mine arms shall judge the people: the isles shall wait upon Me, and on Mine arms shall they trust" (Isaiah 51:5). "Thus says the LORD, keep you judgment and do justice: for My salvation is near to come, and My righteousness to be revealed" (Isaiah 56:1). "He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness" (Isaiah 61:10). Yet after all, this does not bring us much nearer, in that "salvation" is one of the most comprehensive terms to be found in the Scriptures. Let us, then, seek to define its meaning a little more closely.

Taking it in its widest latitude, to "hunger and thirst after righteousness" means to yearn after God's favor, image, and felicity. "Righteousness" is a term denoting all spiritual blessings: "seek you first the kingdom of God and His righteousness" (Matthew 6:33). But more specifically, "righteousness" in our text has reference, first, to the righteousness of faith whereby a sinner is justified freely by Divine grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. As the result of his Surety's obedience being imputed to him, the believer stands legally righteous before God. As sinners who have constantly broken the Law in thought, word, and deed, we are utterly destitute of righteousness, "for there is none righteous, no, not one" (Romans 3:10). But God has provided a perfect righteousness in Christ for all who believe: it is the best "robe" put upon each returning prodigal. The merits of Christ's perfect keeping of the Law is reckoned to the account of every sinner who shelters in Him.

Second, this "righteousness" for which the awakened sinner longs is to be understood of inward and sanctifying righteousness, for as we so often point out, justification and sanctification are never to be severed. The one in whom the Spirit graciously works desires not only an imputed righteousness, but an imparted one too; he not only longs for a restoration to God's favor, but to have God's image renewed in him. For this twofold "righteousness," the convicted "hunger and thirst," expressive of vehement desire, of which the soul is acutely conscious, for as in bodily hunger and thirst there are sharp pangs and an intense longing for their appeasement, so it is with the soul. First, the Spirit brings before the conscience the holy and inexorable requirements of God. Next, He convicts the soul of its destitution and guilt, so that he realizes his abject poverty and lost condition, seeing there is no hope in and from himself. And then He creates a deep hunger and thirst which causes him to look unto and seek relief from Christ, "The Lord our righteousness."

Like the previous ones, this fourth Beatitude describes a dual experience: an initial and a continuous, that which begins in the unconverted, but is perpetuated in the saved sinner. There is a repeated exercise of this grace, felt at varying intervals. The one who longed to be saved by Christ, now yearns to be made like Him. Looked at in its widest aspect, this hungering and thirsting refers to that panting of the renewed heart after God (Psalm 42:1), that yearning for a closer walk with Him, that longing for more perfect conformity to the image of His Son. It tells of those aspirations of the new nature for Divine blessings which alone can strengthen, sustain and satisfy it. Our text presents such a paradox that it is evident no carnal mind ever invented it. Can one who has been brought into vital union with Him who is the Bread of life and in whom all fullness dwells, be found still hungering and thirsting? Yes, such is the experience of the renewed heart. Mark carefully the tense of the verb: it is not, "Blessed are they which have," but, "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst." This has ever been the experience of God's saints: Psalm 82:4; Philippians 3:8, 14.

"They shall be filled." Like the first part of our text, this also has a double fulfillment: an initial, and a continuous. When God creates a hunger and thirst in the soul, it is that He may satisfy it. When the poor sinner is made to feel his need of Christ, it is that he may be drawn to and led to embrace Him. Like the prodigal who came to the Father as a penitent, the believing sinner now feeds on the One figured by the "fatted calf." He is made to exclaim, "surely in the Lord have I righteousness." "They shall be filled" with the peace of God which passes all understanding. "Filled" with that Divine blessing to which no sorrow is added. "Filled" with praise and thanksgiving unto Him who has wrought all our works in us. "Filled" with that which this poor world can neither give nor take away. "Filled" by the goodness and mercy of God, until their cup runs over. And yet, all that is enjoyed now is but a little foretaste of what God has prepared for them that love Him: in the Day to come we shall be "filled" with Divine holiness, for we shall be made "like Him" (1 John 3:2). Then shall we be done with sin forever: then shall we "hunger no more, neither thirst anymore" (Rev. 7:16).

As this fourth Beatitude has been such a storehouse of comfort to many a tried and troubled believer, let us point out the use which may be made of it by Satan-harassed believers. First, by those whose faith is little and weak. There are not a few in God's family who sincerely long to please Him in all things and to live in no sin against their conscience, and yet they find in themselves so much distrust and despair of God's mercy that they are conscious of much more doubting than faith-so that they are brought to seriously question their election and state before God. Here, then, is Divine consolation for them: if they genuinely hunger and thirst after righteousness, Christ Himself pronounces them blessed. Those who are displeased with their unbelief, who truly desire to be purged from distrust, who long and pray for increased faith and assurance-evidencing their sincerity by diligently using all proper means-are the subjects of God's approbation.

Second, by those whose sanctification is so imperfect. Many there be who are most anxious to please God and make conscience of all known sins, yet find in themselves so much darkness of mind, activity of rebellious corruption, forwardness in their affections, perverseness in their wills, yes, a constant proneness to all manner of sins. They can perceive so little of the fruits of sanctification, so little evidence of spiritual life, so few signs of Divine grace at work within, that they often seriously doubt if they have received any grace at all. This is a fearfully heavy burden, and greatly casts down the soul. But here is Divine consolation. Christ pronounces, "Blessed," not those who are full of righteousness, but those who "hunger and thirst" after it. Those who mourn over their depravity, who grieve over the plague of their hearts, who yearn for conformity to Christ-using the means constantly-are accepted of God in Christ.

Third, by the more extreme case of one who has grievously departed from God and long been a backslider, and now conscious of his wickedness, is in despair. Satan will tell him that his case is hopeless, that he is an apostate, that Hell is prepared for him and he must surely be damned; and the poor soul is ready to believe that such must really be the case. He is destitute of peace, all his evidences are eclipsed, he cannot perceive a ray of hope. Nevertheless, here is Divine comfort. If he truly mourns over his departure from God, hates himself for his backsliding, sorrows over his sins, truly desires to repent of them and longs to be reconciled to God and restored to communion with Him, then he too, is among the blessed: "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled."

 

4. The Beatitudes: Matthew 5:1-11.

In these Beatitudes the Lord Jesus delineates the distinguishing characteristics and privileges of those who are "His disciples indeed," or the birthmarks by which the true subjects of His kingdom may be identified. This is only another way of saying that His design was to make known the character of those upon whom the Divine blessing rests, or that He here revealed who are the truly happy. Looking at these Beatitudes from another angle we may regard them as furnishing a description of the nature of true happiness, and as propounding sundry rules by which it is attained. Very different, indeed, is Christ's teaching here from the thoughts and the theories which obtain in the carnal mind. Instead of attributing genuine felicity unto the possession of outward things, He affirmed that it consists in the possession and cultivation of spiritual graces. It was God incarnate pouring contempt on the wisdom of this world and showing how radically opposed are its concepts to the Truth.

"Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy" (Matthew 5:7). Grossly have these words been perverted by merit-mongers. Those who insist that the Bible teaches salvation by works appeal to this verse, among others, in support of their pernicious error. But nothing could be less to their purpose, for there is not a word in it which affords the slightest support to their fatal delusion. Our Lord was not here describing the foundation on which rests the sinner's hope of receiving mercy from God, but was tracing the spiritual features of His own people, among which mercifulness is a prominent one. His evident meaning was: mercy is an indispensable trait in that holy character which God has inseparably connected with the enjoyment of that happiness-both here and hereafter-which is the product of His own sovereign kindness.

The place occupied by this particular Beatitude in the series furnishes a sure key to its interpretation. The first four may be regarded as describing the initial exercises of heart in one who has been awakened by the Spirit, whereas the next four treat of the subsequent fruits. In the preceding verse the soul is seen hungering and thirsting after Christ, and then filled by Him-whereas here, we are shown the first effect and evidence of this. Having received mercy from the Lord, the saved sinner now exercises mercy unto others. It is not that God requires us to be merciful in order to obtain His mercy-that would be to overthrow the whole scheme of grace-but having been made the recipient of His wondrous grace, I cannot now but act graciously toward others. That which is signified by "they shall obtain mercy" will come before us in the sequel.

"Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy." First, let us endeavor to define the nature of this mercy. This mercifulness upon which the Divine approbation rests is a holy compassion of soul, whereby one is moved to pity and go to the relief of another in misery. In saying that it is a compassion of soul, we mean that it causes its possessor to make the case of another his own, so that he is grieved by it, for when our heart is really touched by the state of another, we are stirred within. "It is an aversion to everything harsh, cruel, oppressive or injurious; a propensity to pity, alleviate or remove the miseries of mankind; an unwillingness to increase personal emolument or indulgence by rendering others uneasy; a willingness to forego personal ease, interest or gratification; to make others easy and happy" (Thomas Scott).

Mercifulness, then, is a gracious disposition toward our fellow-creatures and fellow-Christians. It is a spirit of kindness and benevolence which sympathizes with the sufferings of the afflicted, so that we weep with those that weep. It ennobles its possessor so that he tempers justice with mercy, and scorns the taking of revenge. But it is a holy disposition in contrast from that foolish sentimentality which flouts the requirements of justice, and which inclines many to sympathize with those in deserved misery. That is a false and unholy mercy which petitions the powers that be to cancel or modify a just and fully-merited sentence which has been passed upon some flagrant offender. Therefore are we told, "And of some have compassion, making a difference" (Jude 22)-King Saul defied this principle when he spared Agag. It is also a holy compassion as opposed to that partiality which is generous to some and harsh to others.

This mercifulness has not its roots in anything in the natural man. True, there are some who make no profession of being Christians in whom we often find not a little kindliness of disposition, sympathy for the suffering, and a readiness to forgive those who have wronged them-yet is it merely instinctive, and though amiable there is nothing spiritual in it-instead of being subject to Divine authority it is often opposed to God's law. That which Christ here inculcated and commended is very different from and vastly superior to natural amiability: it is such compassion as God approves of, which is a fruit of His Holy Spirit, and is commanded in His Word. It is the result of Christ living in us. Was He moved with compassion? Did He weep with the mourner? Was He patient with the dull-witted? Then if He indwells me, that same disposition, however imperfectly manifested, must be reproduced.

This mercy is something more than a feeling: it is an operative principle. It not only stirs the heart, but it moves the hand to render help unto those in need, for the one cannot be severed from the other. So far from it being a well shut up or a fountain sealed, this mercy is a copious source of acts of beneficence, from which issue streams of blessing. It does not exhaust itself in profitless words, but is accompanied by helpful deeds. "But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother have need, and shuts his affections of compassion from him, how dwells the love of God in him?" (1 John 3:17). This verse makes it clear that no work of mercy is shown to those in misery except it proceeds from inward compassion. Thus we see what is the "mercy" which is here mentioned: it is that which exerts itself in doing good, being a fruit of the love of God shed abroad in the heart.

This mercy may, through walking after the flesh, for a time be checked and choked, but taking the general tenor of a Christian's character and the main trend in his life, it is seen to be an unmistakable trait of the new man. "The wicked borrows, and pays not again; but the righteous shows mercy, and gives" (Psalm 37:21). It was "mercy" in Abraham, after he had been wronged by his nephew, which caused him to go after and secure the deliverance of Lot. It was "mercy" on the part of Joseph, after his brethren had so grievously mistreated him, which moved him to freely forgive them. It was "mercy" in Moses, after Miriam had rebelled against him and the Lord had smitten her with leprosy, which moved him to cry, "Heal her now, O God, I beseech You" (Numbers 12:13). It was "mercy" in David which caused him to spare the life of his arch-enemy when the wicked Saul was in his hands. In solemn contrast, of Judas, we read "he remembered not to show mercy, but persecuted the poor and needy Man" (Psalm 109:16).

Were we sermonizing Matthew 5:7 our next division would be the duties of mercy, which are answerable to the miseries of those we should relieve, as the form and degree of its manifestation is regulated by our own station and circumstances. This mercy regards not merely the bodies of men but also their souls, and here again it is sharply distinguished from that natural and instinctive kind which pities and ministers to the temporal needs of sufferers, but has no concern for their eternal prospects. The preacher needs to carefully heed this fifth Beatitude: so, too, the employer and the tradesman. But we must dismiss this branch of our subject by calling attention to, "he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness" (Romans 12:8), which is what gives chief value to the service rendered. If God loves a cheerful giver, it is equally true that He takes notice of the spirit in which we respond to His precepts.

A word now on the reward: "for they shall obtain mercy," which as the older theologians pointed out is not the reward of condignity (wholly deserved), but of congruity. This gives not the least countenance to the horrible error of Rome, that by alms-deeds we can make satisfaction to God for our sins. Our acts of mercy are not meritorious in the sight of God: had that been the case, Christ had said, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain justice," for what is meritorious is due reward by right. Our text has nothing to do with salvation matters, but enunciates a principle pertaining to the governmental ways of God, by which we reap what we sow and have measured again to us according as we have meted out to others (Matthew 7:2). "He who follows after righteousness and mercy finds life, righteousness, and honor" (Prov: 21:21).

"For they shall obtain mercy." First, there is an inward benefit. The one who shows mercy to others gains thereby: "the merciful man does good to his own soul" (Proverbs 11:17). There is a personal satisfaction in the exercise of pity and benevolence, which the fullest gratification of the selfish man is not to be compared with: "he who has mercy on the poor, happy is he" (Proverbs 14:21). Second, he reaps mercy at the hands of his fellows: the overruling providence of God causes him to be dealt with mercifully by others. Third, he receives mercy from God: "with the merciful You will show Yourself merciful" (Psalm 18:25)-contrast "he shall have judgment without mercy that has showed no mercy" (James 2:13). Mercy will be shown to the merciful in the Day to come: see 2 Timothy 1:16, 18; Jude 21. They let us prayerfully heed the exhortations of Romans 12:10; Galatians 6:2; Colossians 3:12.

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8). This is another of the Beatitudes which has been grossly perverted by the enemies of the Lord: those who have, like their predecessors the Pharisees, posed as the champions of the Truth and boasted of a superior sanctity to that confessed by the true people of God. All through this Christian era there have been poor deluded souls who have claimed an entire purification of the old man, or have insisted that God has so completely renewed them that the carnal nature has been eradicated, and in consequence they not only commit no sins, but have no sinful desires or thoughts. But God tells us, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." Of course such people appeal to the Scriptures in support of their vain delusion, applying to experience verses which describe the legal benefits of the Atonement, or by wresting such an one as is now before us.

That purity of heart does not mean sinlessness of life is clear from the inspired record of the history of all God's saints. Noah got drunk, Abraham equivocated, Moses disobeyed God; Job cursed the day of his birth; Elijah fled in terror from Jezebel; Peter denied Christ. Yes, perhaps someone will exclaim, but all these were before Christianity was established. True, but it has also been the same since then. Where shall we go to find a Christian of superior attainments to those of the Apostle Paul? And what was his experience? Read Romans 7 and see. When he would do good, evil was present with him (v. 21); there was a law in his members warring against the law of his mind, and bringing him into captivity to the law of sin (v. 23). He did, with the mind, serve the Law of God, nevertheless with the flesh he served the law of sin (v. 25). Ah, Christian reader, one of the most conclusive evidences that we do possess a pure heart is to be conscious of, and burdened with, the impurity which still indwells us.

"Blessed are the pure in heart." Here again we see the Lord exposing the thoughts of the natural man, who errs greatly in his ideas of what constitutes real blessedness. Therein He refuted the Pharisees, who contented themselves with a species of external ceremonialism or mere outward holiness, failing to realize that God requires "Truth in the inward parts" (Psalm 51:6). Very solemn and searching is this sixth Beatitude, for it equally condemns most of that which now passes for genuine religion in Christendom. How many today rest satisfied with a head religion, supposing that all is well if their creed be sound; and how many more have nothing better than a hand religion-busily engaged in what they term "Christian service"? "But the LORD looks on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7), which includes the mind, conscience, affections and will.

How is purity of heart effected? for by nature the heart of fallen man is totally depraved and corrupt, deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). How can it be otherwise when each of us must make the humiliating confession, "Behold I was shaped in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Psalm 51:5). This purity of heart is by no means to be restricted to inward chastity or simplicity-being without deceit and deceit; but has a far more comprehensive meaning and scope. The heart of the Christian is made pure by a fourfold operation of the Holy Spirit. First, by imparting a holy nature at the new birth. Second, by bestowing a saving faith which unites its possessor to a holy Christ. Third, by sprinkling him with the precious blood of Christ, which purges his conscience. Fourth, by a protracted process of sanctification so we, through His aid, mortify the flesh and live unto God. In consequence thereof, the believer has a sincere desire and resolution not to sin against God in thought or word or deed, but to please Him in all things.

In what measure is the heart of the Christian now made pure? Only in part during this life, relatively and not absolutely. "The believer's understanding is in part purified from darkness, his judgment from error, his will from rebellion, his affections from enmity, avarice, pride, sensuality" (Thomas Scott). The work of Divine grace in the soul is begun here, but it is only completed hereafter (Philippians 1:6). We are not wholly perfected, having received only "the first fruits of the Spirit" (Romans 8:23). Observe carefully the tense of the verb in Acts 15:9: it is not "purified their hearts by faith," but "purifying their hearts by faith"-a continuous experience. So again-"He saved us by the washing of regeneration and (not "renewal" but) renewing of the Holy Spirit" (Titus 3:5). Consequently it is written, "in many things we all stumble" (James 3:2 R.V.). Yet it is our bounden duty to use every legitimate means of purification: the daily denying of self, sincere confession of our sins, walking in the paths of righteousness.

What is this "purity of heart"? A question which requires a somewhat more definite answer than has been given above, where we have intimated that this sixth Beatitude contemplates both the new heart or nature received at regeneration and the transformation of character which is the effect a Divine work of grace in the soul. Spiritual purity may be defined as undivided affections, sincerity and genuineness, godly simplicity. It is the opposite of subtlety and duplicity, for genuine piety lays aside not only hatred and malice, but deceit and hypocrisy. It is not sufficient to be pure in words and outward deportment: purity of desires, motives, intents, are what should and in the main do characterize the child of God. Here, then, is a most important test for each professing Christian to apply to himself: have I been freed from the dominion of hypocrisy? Are my motives pure and intentions genuine? Are my affections set upon things above? Do I meet with the Lord's people to commune with Him or to be seen of men?

A "pure heart" is one which has a pure Object before it, being attracted by "the beauty of holiness." It is one in which the fear of the Lord has been implanted and the love of God shed abroad, and therefore it hates what He hates and loves what He loves. The purer the heart be, the more conscious it becomes of and the more it grieves over indwelling filth. A pure heart is one which makes conscience of foul thoughts, vile imaginations, and evil desires. It is one that mourns over pride and discontent, unbelief and coldness of affection, and weeps in secret over unholiness. Alas, how little is this inward purity esteemed today: the great majority of professors content themselves with a mere form of godliness, a shadow of the reality. The heaviest burden of a pure heart is the discovery that such an ocean of unclean waters still indwells him, constantly casting up mire and dirt--fouling all he does.

Consider now the attendant blessing: "The pure in heart shall see God." Once again we would remind our readers that the promises attached to these Beatitudes have both a present and a future fulfillment; notably is this the case with the one now before us. Corresponding to the fact that the Christian's purity of heart is only in part in this life but perfected in the life to come, is the experience that, "Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face, now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known" (1 Corinthians 13:12). To "see God" is to be brought near to Him (for we cannot see an object which is a vast distance from us), to be introduced into intimate fellowship with Him, which is the consequence of having the thick cloud of our transgressions blotted out, for it was our iniquities which separated us from Him (Isaiah 59:2). We need scarcely say that it is a spiritual sight and not a corporeal one, an heart-knowledge of and communion with God.

The pure in heart possess spiritual discernment and with the eyes of their understanding they obtain clear views of the Divine character and perceive the excellency of His attributes. When the eye is single, the whole body is full of light. It is by faith God is beheld. To "see God" also has the force of enjoy Him, and for that, a pure heart is indispensable. That which pollutes the heart and beclouds the vision of a Christian is unjudged evil, for when any sin is "allowed," communion with God is broken, and can only be restored by genuine repentance and unsparing confession. Since, then, the privilege of seeing God is dependent upon the maintenance of heart purity, how essential it is that we give earnest heed to the exhortations of Isaiah 1:16; 2 Corinthians 7:1; l Peter 3:15. O to be able to say, "I have set the LORD always before me" (Psalm 16:8)!

"In the Truth, the faith of which purifies the heart, they 'see God,' for what is that Truth but a manifestation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ-an illustrious display of the combined radiance of Divine holiness and Divine benignity! . . . . They who are pure in heart 'see God' in this way, even in the present world; and in the future state their knowledge of God will become far more extensive and their fellowship with Him far more intimate. To borrow the words of the Psalmist, we shall, 'Behold His face in righteousness, and shall be satisfied when we awake in His likeness' (Psalm 17:15). Then, and not until then, will the full meaning of these words be understood 'the pure in heart shall see God' " (J. Brown).

 

5. The Beatitudes: Matthew 5:1-11.

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God" (Matthew 5:9). "The Jews, in general, regarded the Gentile nations with bitter contempt and hatred, and they expected that, under the Messiah, there should be an uninterrupted series of warlike attacks make on those nations, until they were completely destroyed or subjugated to the chosen people of God [an idea based, no doubt, on what they read in the book of Joshua, concerning the experiences of their forefathers]. In their estimation, those emphatically deserved the appellation of 'happy' who should be employed under Messiah the Prince to avenge on the heathen nations all the wrongs these had done to Israel. How different is the spirit of the new economy! How beautifully does it accord with the angelic anthem which celebrated the nativity of its Founder: 'glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will toward men'!" (J. Brown).

This seventh Beatitude has to do more with conduct than with character, though, of necessity, there must first be a peaceable spirit before there will be active efforts put forth to make peace. Let it be remembered that in this first section of the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Jesus is defining the character of those who should be subjects and citizens in His kingdom. First, He described them according to the initial experiences of those in whom a Divine work is wrought. The first four may be grouped together as setting forth the negative graces of their hearts. They are not self-sufficient, but consciously poor in spirit; they are not self-satisfied, but mourning because of their spiritual state; they are not self-willed, but meek; they are not self-righteous, but hungering and thirsting after the righteousness of Another. In the next three, the Lord names their positive graces: having tasted of the mercy of God, they are merciful in their dealings with others; having received a spiritual nature, they now hate impurity and love holiness; having entered into the peace which Christ made by the blood of His Cross, they now wish to live in amity with all.

"Blessed are the peacemakers." This takes note of the horrible contention and enmity which sin has brought into the world, for where there is no strife there is no need for peacemakers. The world is "living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another" (Titus 3:3): though attempts are often made to conceal this by the cloak of hypocrisy yet it soon peeps forth again in its hideous nakedness, as the history of the nations attests. And let not writer and reader forget the solemn fact that such was once our own sad case, as the opening words of Titus 3:3 declare-"for we ourselves also were." But on the other hand, our text also brings into view the triumph of God over Satan: grace has brought in that which even now in measure, and in the future completely, displaces the vile works of the flesh.

To be a lover of and worker after peace is one of the distinguishing marks of those who are followers of the Prince of Peace. That miracle of grace which has made them at peace with God causes them to regard their fellows with sincere benevolence, desiring to promote their best interests, both here and hereafter. It is their care, so much as in them lies, to live peaceably with all men, and therefore do they abstain from deliberate injury of others. In each relationship they occupy-domestic, social, ecclesiastical-it is their desire and endeavor to prevent and allay strife. They are lovers of concord, promoters of unity, healers of breaches. They delight to pour oil on troubled waters, to reconcile those who are estranged, to right wrongs, to strengthen the kindly ties of friendship. As the sons of peace they bring into the fetid atmosphere of this world a breath from the pure and placid air of Heaven. How much the world is indebted to their presence, only the Day to come will show.

Let it be pointed out that this lovely Christ-like disposition is a vastly different thing from that easy-going indolence which is so often nothing but cowardice or selfishness. It is not a peace at any price which the Christian loves and aims to promote. No indeed, that is a false peace, unworthy to be called peace at all. "The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy" (James 3:17): note well the words, "first pure"-peace is not to be sought at the expense of righteousness. Hence it is important that we lose not the thread of connection between our present Beatitude and the one which precedes it: as the "pure in heart" modifies the "mercy" of verse 7, so also it qualifies the "peace" of verse 9-it is such mercy and peace as God Himself approves of. The same qualification is seen again in, "follow peace with all men and holiness" (Hebrews 12:14). We are to avoid all needless occasions of contention, yet not to the point of sacrificing the Truth, compromising principle, or forsaking duty-Christ Himself did not so: Matthew 10:34.

"If it be possible, as much as lies in you, live peaceably with all men" (Romans 12:18). The very terms of this exhortation denote that so far from compliance therewith being a simple task, it is one which calls for constant vigilance, self-discipline, and earnest prayer. Such is the state of human nature, that offenses will come, nevertheless, it is part of Christian duty to see to it that we so conduct ourselves as to give no just cause of complaint against us. It is for our own peace we do so, for it is impossible to be happy in broils and enmities. Some believers are of a naturally contentious disposition, and doubly so they need to beg God to hold His restraining hand and calming hand upon them. When disturbance and turmoil is aroused, we should diligently examine ourselves before the Lord as to whether the cause for it lie in us, and if so, confess the sin to Him, and seek to reconcile those offended. If we be innocent, we must meekly submit to it as an affliction.

If it be true that "Blessed are the peacemakers," it necessarily follows that, Cursed are the peace breakers. Then let us be diligently on our guard against bigotry, intemperate zeal, and a quarrelsome spirit: the things of God are too sacred for wrangling. Highly important is it that we give earnest heed to the exhortation of, "Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3). Let it be carefully noted that the preceding verse specifies the chief aids to this. In order to the development of a peaceful disposition, we must first cultivate the grace of "lowliness," which is the opposite of pride, for, "only by pride comes contention" (Proverbs 13:10). Second, there must be the cultivation of "meekness," which is the opposite of self-assertiveness, the determination to press my will at all costs: remember "a soft answer turns away wrath." Third, the grace of "longsufferance," which is the opposite of impatience. Finally, "forbearing one another in love," for the queen of the graces "endures all things."

See here the blessedness of that work to which the ministers of God are called: not merely to effect peace between man and man, but to reconcile men to God. What a contrast is this from the task allotted to Joshua and his officers under the Mosaic economy, of taking up the sword to slay the enemies of the Lord! In this dispensation the servants of Christ are commissioned to seek the reconciliation of those who are at enmity with God. The heralds of the Cross are the ambassadors of peace, bidding sinners throw down the weapons of their warfare and enter into an amnesty with God. They know there is no peace for the wicked, and therefore do they exhort them to acquaint themselves with God and be at peace (Job 22:21). Of them it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the Gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!" (Romans 10:15).

There is still another way in which it is the holy privilege of believers to be peacemakers, and that is by their prayers averting the wrath of God from a guilty nation. In the day when the Lord's anger is kindled against a sin-laden people and the dark clouds of Providence threaten an impending storm of judgment, it is both the duty and the privilege of God's redeemed to stand in the breach and by their earnest supplication stay His hand, so making peace. Moses did so (Exo. 32:11-14); so, too, Aaron-(Numbers 16:47, 48), and David, (2 Samuel 24:10). When some fearful plague visits our country, or another nation threatens it with war, we are to behold God raising His rod, and entreat Him to be merciful: see Jeremiah 12:11; Ezekiel 22:30, 31. This is indeed a blessed work of peace: to stay the Lord from the work of destruction, as Abraham's intercession had done for Sodom if there were but ten righteous persons in it. Once more we say, only the Day to come will show how much the wicked gained by the presence of the righteous remnant in their midst.

A word now upon the reward: "for they shall be called the children God," which is a decisive proof that these Beatitudes contemplate not the mortal virtues of the natural man, but rather the spiritual graces of the regenerate. To be made a child of God is to be renewed in His image and likeness; to be called so is to be esteemed and regarded as such. The Lord Himself is "the God of peace" (Hebrews 13:20), and where this holy disposition is manifested by His people, He owns them as His children-compare Hebrews 2:11 and 11:16 for the force of the word "called." Furthermore holy peacemakers are recognized as children of God by their spiritual brethren. Have you received this grace of the Spirit, so that you sincerely desire and endeavor to live at peace with all men? Then that is an evidence you are a child of God, a pledge of your adoption. Labor to maintain it. Ultimately, God will make it manifest to all the universe that we are His children (Rom.8:19).

"Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven" (v. 10). The Christian life is one that is full of strange paradoxes which are quite insoluble to human reason, but which are easily understood by the spiritual mind. God's saints rejoice with joy unspeakable, yet do they mourn with a lamentation to which the worldling is an utter stranger. The believer in Christ has been brought into contact with a source of vital satisfaction which is capable of meeting every longing, yet does he pant with a yearning like unto that of the thirsty deer. He sings and makes melody in his heart to the Lord, yet does he groan deeply and daily. His experience is often painful and perplexing, yet would he not part with it for all the gold in the world. These puzzling paradoxes are among the evidences which he possesses that he is indeed blessed of God. But who by mere reasoning would ever conclude that the persecuted and reviled are "blessed"! Genuine felicity, then, is not only compatible with, but is actually accompanied by manifold miseries in this life.

"It is a strong proof of human depravity that men's curses and Christ's blessings should meet on the same persons. Who would have thought that a man could be persecuted and reviled, and have all manner of evil said of him, for righteousness' sake? And do wicked men really hate justice and love those who defraud and wrong their neighbors? No; they do not dislike righteousness as it respects themselves: it is only that species of it which respects God and religion that excites their hatred. If Christians were content with doing justly and loving mercy, and would cease walking humbly with God, they might go through the world, not only in peace, but with applause; but he who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). Such a life reproves the ungodliness of men and provokes their resentment" (Andrew Fuller). It is the enmity of the Serpent-active ever since the days of Abel (1 John 3:12)-against the holy seed.

"Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake." The connection between this and all that has been before us must not be overlooked. It is not every sufferer, nor even every sufferer for religion, who is entitled to appropriate such consolation. This antagonism is not in return for wrongdoing or in response to what has given just cause for offense. They who are morose, haughty, selfish, or evil-speaking, have no right to seek comfort from this Beatitude when people retaliate against them. No, it is where Christ-likeness of character and conduct is assailed, where practical godliness condemns the worldly ways of empty professors and fires their enmity-where humble yet vital piety cannot be tolerated by those who are devoid of the same. The wicked hate God's holy image and those who bear it, His holy Truth and those who walk in it. This pronouncement of Christ's signifies, Blessed are the spiritual which the carnal detest; blessed are the gentle sheep, whom the dogs snap at.

How many a Christian employee who has refused to violate his conscience has suffered at the hands of an ungodly master or mistress! Yet such persecution, painful though it be, is really a blessing in disguise. First, by means of the opposition which they encounter, the Lord's people became the better acquainted with their own infirmities and needs, for thereby they are made conscious that they cannot stand for a single hour unless Divine grace upholds them. Second, by persecution they are often kept from certain sins into which they would most likely fall were the wicked at peace with them: the rough usage they receive at the hands of worldlings makes impossible that friendship with them which the flesh craves. Third, such persecution affords opportunity to glorify God by his constancy, courage, and fidelity to the Truth.

This searching phrase, "for righteousness' sake," calls upon us to honestly examine ourselves before God when we are being opposed: "But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters" (1 Peter 4:15). The same qualification is made in the verse which immediately follows the last quoted: "Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf." This is a most necessary caution, that the believer see to it he is buffeted for right doing and not on account of his own misconduct or foolish behavior. It is to be observed that persecution is often so speciously disguised that those guilty thereof are not conscious of the same, yes, so deceitful is the human heart, they imagine they are doing God a service (John 16:2). But, "Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness' sake for theirs is (not "shall be") the kingdom of Heaven": its privileges and blessings (Romans 14:17) are theirs even now-though hated by men, they are "kings and priests unto God" (Rev. 1:6).

"Blessed are you, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake" (Matthew 5:11). In verse 10 the Lord enunciates the general principle; here He makes special application of it to His servants. Note carefully the change from "them," throughout verses 5-10, to "you," and "your," in verses 11, 12: opposition is the general lot of God's people, but it is the special portion of His ministers. If faithful to their calling, they must expect to be fiercely assailed. Such has even been the experience of the Lord's servants. Moses was reviled again and again (Exo. 5:11; 14:11; 16:2; 17:2, etc.). Samuel was rejected (1 Samuel 8:5). Elijah was despised (1 Kings 18:17) and persecuted (1 Kings 19:2). Micah was hated (1 Kings 18:17). Nehemiah was oppressed and defamed (Nehemiah 4). The Savior Himself, the faithful witness of God, was put to death by the people to whom He ministered. Stephen was stoned, Peter and John cast into prison, James beheaded, while the entire course of Paul was one long series of bitter and relentless persecutions.

"Blessed are you, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in Heaven; for so persecuted they the Prophets which were before you" (Matthew 5:11, 12). In these words the Lord Jesus faithfully warns His servants what they may fully expect to encounter, and then defines how they are to respond thereto, how they are to conduct themselves under the fire of their enemies. That blessedness which worldly leaders value and crave is to be flattered and feted, humored and honored; but the felicity and glory of the officers of Christ is to be made conformable to the Captain of their salvation, who was "despised and rejected of men." Yet instead of being downcast over and murmuring at the hostility they meet with, ministers of the Gospel are to be thankful to God for the high honor He confers upon them in making them partakers of the sufferings of His Son. Because that is so difficult for flesh and blood to do, the Lord here advances two reasons as encouragements.

It is true that persecution of both ministers and saints is today in a much milder form than it assumed in other ages; nevertheless, it is just as real. Through the goodness of God we have long been protected from legal persecution, but the enmity of the Serpent finds other ways and means for expressing itself. The words of Christ in John 15 have never been repealed: "If you were of the world, the world would love his own; but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said unto you, the servant is not greater than his Lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also" (vv. 19, 20). Let it be carefully noted it was the professing and not the profane "world" that Christ was alluding to: it was from religious leaders, from those making the greatest spiritual pretensions, the Redeemer Himself received the worst treatment. And so it is now: members and officers of the "churches" stoop to methods and use means of opposition which those outside would scorn to employ.

Let us carefully note the qualification made by Christ in the verses we are now considering. This blessing of His is pronounced only on them who have all manner of evil spoken against them falsely: they have themselves given no just occasion for the same. No, far from it, it is not for any lawful ground of accusation in themselves, but "for My sake"-for their loyalty, and fidelity to Christ-for their obedience to His commission, for their refusal to compromise His holy Truth. To be "reviled" is to suffer personal abuse: said Paul, "we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things" (1 Corinthians 4:13). "Persecution" may involve acts of ill-treatment, or ostracism. To have "all manner of evil said against" us, is to suffer defamation of character: 1 Thessalonians 2:2 clearly implies that even the moral reputation of the Apostle was attacked. All of these are efforts of the Devil to destroy the usefulness of God's ministers.

The Lord Jesus here pronounced blessed or happy those who, through devotion to Him, would be called upon to suffer. They are "blessed" because such are given the unspeakable privilege of having fellowship with the sufferings of the Savior. They are "blessed" because such tribulation works patience, and patience, experience, and experience, hope, and such a hope that will not make ashamed. They are "blessed" because they shall be fully recompensed in the Day to come. Here is rich comfort indeed. Let not the soldier of the Cross be dismayed because the fiery darts of the Wicked One are hurled against him. Remember, "The sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18).

"Rejoice and be exceeding glad": this, too, is spoken especially to ministers. Those afflictions which faithfulness to Christ bring upon them are not only to be endured with patience and resignation, but thanksgiving and gladness. And that, for a threefold reason. First, they come upon them for Christ's sake: if He suffered so much for them, should they not rejoice to suffer a little for Him?! Second, they shall be richly recompensed hereafter: "great is your reward in Heaven"-not as of merit, but purely of grace, for there is no proportion between them. Third, they bring them into fellowship with a noble company of martyrs: "for so persecuted they the Prophets which were before you"-they, too, were ill-treated by members of the outward Church: what an honor to share, in our measure, the lot of those holy men! Truly there is cause to rejoice, no matter how fierce the conflict may be! O to emulate the Apostles in Acts 5:41 and 16:25. May Divine grace enable all the oppressed and saints of God to draw from these precious words of Christ the comfort and strength they need.

 

6. The Ministerial Office: Matthew 5:13-16.

"You are the salt of the earth." These words (and those which follow to the end of v. 16), are frequently regarded as being spoken of God's people at large, but this we think is a mistake. First, because such an interpretation is out of harmony with the immediate context. Last month we called attention to our Lord's changing of the pronoun in verse 11 from the "they" in verses 1-10 to the "you." In verse 10 Christ enumerated the general principle that, "blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake," but in verse 11 He made particular application to His own ministers: persecution is the usual experience of God's people, but it is the special portion of His servants. Clear confirmation of this distinction is found in verse 12, where the maligned ministers of Christ are bidden to rejoice because, "so persecuted they the Prophets which were before you," not-"the saints," but the official servants of God.

Thus, the, "You are the salt of the earth," obviously has reference to those who now occupy the same position as did the "Prophets" of old, namely, those called of God to act as His mouthpiece and interpret His will. Additional proof is found in what immediately follows, where after further designating them the "light of the world" Christ added, "A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid"-a figure fitly pertinent to the officers of Christ, who are made a spectacle to the world. Finally, what is said in verse 15 plainly pertains to the ministers of God rather than to their hearers, for the candle on a candlestick again speaks of official dignity, and the giving "light to all that are in the house" is plainly the one man ministering to the many.

Matthew Henry begins his comments on these verses by pointing out, "Christ had lately called His disciples and told them they should be 'fishers of men' (4:19); here He tells them further what He designed them to be-the salt of the earth and lights of the world: that they might indeed be what it was expected they should be." It is only in recent generations, when the spirit of socialism has invaded the religious realm, that this passage has been promiscuously applied to Christians. The two emblems which Christ here employed are very striking, and their order significant. He resembles His ministers to "salt" to humble them, for salt is cheap, common, and insignificant-to "light" to encourage them, for light is illuminating, conspicuous, elevated.

The passage we are now to ponder forms the second section of our Lord's Sermon on the Mount. In it Christ touches upon the office of the Apostles, and therein, (according to their measure), that of all His ministers. It was a distinct division of His address, yet there is a manifest relation between it and the last one: only those whom the Lord pronounces "blessed," whose characters correspond to that which He portrayed in verses 1-11, are called by Christ to publicly witness for Him. The ministers of God must themselves first be seasoned by the Word: how could they fittingly apply salt to the consciences of others who had never felt the bite of it on their own? The design of these verses, then, is to stir up Christ's servants to diligence and fidelity in declaring the will of God unto saint and sinner alike.

Thus, the first two sections of this Sermon are closely connected. The coherence of our present portion with the former stands thus: Christ had declared that there is a company on earth upon whom the Divine blessing rests. Anticipating the question, How do they attain to and maintain this felicity by such grades of the Spirit, which fits them for that estate? He answers, the preaching of God's Word is the principal means to work in the heart those graces to which true happiness is promised. Because this is a high and holy privilege to bring men to this estate, Christ exhorted His ministers unto earnestness in their service by two weighty reasons, drawn from the properties of their work, and propounded by two similitudes.

"You are the salt of the earth" (v. 13). "You," that is, those whom I have called to be Apostles and set apart for the work of the ministry. You are "salt," not literally, yet by resemblance; yet not in regard of their persons, but of their labors. They are here likened to "salt": they were to season souls for God by making them savory in heart and life. From this emblem both ministers and people may learn their respective duties. Ministers are to dispense the Word, both Law and Gospel, in such a way as to express the qualities of salt. Now the properties of salt as applied to raw flesh or fresh meats are principally these; first, it will fret and bite, being of a hot and dry nature; second, it makes meat savory to our taste; third, it preserves meat from putrefaction by drawing out of it superfluous moisture.

Salt is an indispensable necessity of life. It is God's great antiseptic in a sphere of decay. It is wrought into the very rocks and soil of earth so that the waters filtering through them become purified thereby. It is a necessary element of the blood, which is the life of our bodies. How well-suited is it, then, as a figure of the Truth, by which means the soul is sanctified-for as salt arrests natural corruption, so the Word of God militates against moral corruption. This figure, then, furnishes clear direction to every minister of God as to his manner of preaching. Since the Word alone be the savory salt whereby souls are seasoned for the Lord, then it ought to be dispensed purely and sincerely. If salt be mixed with dust and rubbish it loses its pungency and efficacy, and if the Word be mingled with levity or exciting anecdotes its power is nullified.

This figure plainly warns the minister of his pressing need of fortitude. It is "salt" and not sugar-candy he is to employ: something which the ungodly will be more inclined to spit out than swallow with a smile-something which is calculated to bring water to the eyes rather than laughter to the lips. The minister, then, must not expect faithful preaching to be acceptable and popular. It is contrary to nature for those whose consciences are pricked to be pleased with those who wound them. Christ's servants must be prepared for their hearers to fret and set themselves against what searches out their corruptions. Such displeasure and opposition is a testimony that their ministry is "salt," that it has bitten into the depravity of their people. Instead of being discouraged and dismayed they are to persevere, endeavoring to season their congregation more and more with the pure salt of God's Word.

The hearer also is to receive instruction from this figure. Hereby each one may see what he is in himself by nature: depraved and corrupt, as unsavory flesh and stinking carrion in the nostrils of God, or else what need of salt? How this should humble and cause us to lay aside all pride and self-righteousness. Again-everyone must learn hereby to suffer the word of reproof, whereby his secret sins are discovered and denounced. When our conscience is searched we must be willing for salt to be rubbed into it, for mortification necessarily precedes salvation. The hearer must give all diligence to be seasoned with this heavenly salt so that the thoughts of his heart, the words of his mouth, and the actions of his life may be acceptable to God (Colossians 4:6). If we sit under the ministry of the Word (oral or written) and be not seasoned thereby, our case is doubly evil.

"But if the salt have lost his savor, with which shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men" (Matthew 5:13). This was brought in by Christ to move His servants unto fidelity and diligence in their ministry by the danger attending the opposite. Infidelity in the ministry is like unsavory salt: ineffectual, worthless, despicable, subject to a fearful curse. This is the great danger of the pulpit: to become men-pleasers, to yield unto the demand for smooth speaking, to tickle the ears of their auditors with novelties. Such preachers become unsavory salt, unprofitable in their ministry, failing to season souls so that they are acceptable to God. Salt is useless when it loses its virtue and acrimony. Ministers become such when through lack of prayer and continuous study they fail to increase in spiritual knowledge, or when adopting false doctrine they preach error, or when they cease to denounce sin, or when they fail to practice what they preach.

The greatness of the danger attending ministers who become unfaithful and unprofitable is here pointed out by Christ in His words, "with which shall it (that is the salt-cf. Mark 9:50) be salted?" Those who depart from fidelity very seldom, and then only with great difficulty, are recovered and restored. Read what is recorded of the false prophets in the Old Testament and of false apostles in the New, and where is there an instance that any repented? The same solemn principle is exemplified in the case of almost all those preachers who have forsaken Protestantism and gone over to Rome. How diligently, then, do ministers need to take to heart that injunction, "Meditate upon these things; give yourself wholly to them; that your profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto yourself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this you shall both save yourself and them that hear you" (1 Timothy 4:15, 16). Again-"But you, O man of God, flee these things (cf. 1 Timothy 6:10); and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness" (v. 11).

The unprofitableness of unfaithful ministers is expressed in the words, "it is thenceforth good for nothing": just as unsavory salt is become worthless to season meat, so unfaithful ministers are valueless to God and man. The curse resting upon such is, "it is cast out and trodden under foot of men," that is, such preachers are condemned both by the Lord and by their fellow men. "Therefore have I also made you contemptible and base before all the people, according as you have not kept My ways, but have been partial in the Law" (Malachi 2:9). Such was the fate pronounced upon the renegade priests of old. No doubt Christ was here making an oblique reference to the scribes and Pharisees of His day, affirming their unprofitableness and announcing the impending doom of Judaism. Solemn beyond words is this verse, and prayerfully should it be laid to heart by all Christian ministers.

"You are the light of the world" (Matthew 5:14). Here Christ likens His ministers unto "light," and that, with the object of stirring them up to preach the will of God. It was as though He said, Your position and condition is such that your sayings and doings are open to the cognizance of man, therefore be careful to please God therein. Spiritually the world is in darkness (2 Peter 1:19) and sits in the shadow of death (Matthew 4:16), because in Adam it turned away from Him who is Light. But ministers of the Word carry with them a Lamp of Truth, and by the illumination of their ministry are they to shine upon the benighted souls of men. By their preaching, ignorance is to be exposed, that their hearers may be "turned from darkness to light" (Acts 26:18).

By this figure Christ shows how the Word is to be handled: it is to be so applied to the minds and consciences of men that they may be made to see their sins and their woeful wretchedness thereby, then bringing before them the remedy for their misery, which is the Person and work of the Lord Jesus; and then to make plain that path of obedience in all good duties to God and men which He requires in the life of a Christian. Preachers may display great homiletic skill and deliver flowery discourses, but only true preaching conveys the light of spiritual knowledge to the heart and leads souls to God. So, too, since true ministers are the light of the world it is incumbent upon all who hear them to raise the blinds of carnal prejudice and open the windows of their souls so that the illuminating message may receive due entrance.

"A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it gives light unto all that are in the house" (Matthew 5:14, 15). Such is the case with God's ministers by virtue of their calling. Christ has denominated His servants, "the light of the world," and they may be inclined to regard themselves as men of some renown, and therefore He informs them His intent therein. It was not to give them titles of praise, to puff them up, but to acquaint them with the demands of their office: by reason of their high calling they would be public spectacles-heard and scrutinized by men-and therefore it doubly behooves them to see to it that their message is acceptable to God and their walk blameless before men, for if by their fidelity they may "turn many to righteousness," infidelity will involve souls in eternal destruction.

Hereby God's ministers must learn not to think it strange if they lie more open to manifold reproaches and abuses of the world than do the rank and file of God's people: the more godly their conduct be, the more distasteful to the unregenerate. Hence it follows that God's servants cannot without great sin hide the gifts and talents which He has bestowed upon them, for they are as lighted candles which must not be put under a bushel. That may be done in various ways: by refusing to humble themselves and speak in terms suited to the capacity of the most simple; by refusing to give out the Truth of God; by toning it down through the fear of man; by flirting with the world and adopting its ways.

"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven" (v. 16). By "so shine" is signified ministerial teaching, whereby God's will and grace is made known to His people, backed up by a godly example. Seeing that by your calling you are so conspicuous in the world, look well to the holiness of your lives and the fruit of your labors, so that God's people may not only hear your doctrine but also perceive your good works, and thereby be moved to follow the same, and thus bring honor and praise to the Lord. These two things must never be separated: sound doctrine and holy deportment are ever to be conjoined in a minister. He who teaches to write will give rules of writing to the scholars, and then set before them a copy to follow. God will have men learn His will in two ways: by hearing and seeing-cf. 1 Timothy 4:12.

In regard to this double charge which lies on every minister, his hearers (or readers) must for their part remember in their prayers to crave of God that their pastors may be Divinely enabled to preach to them by lip and life. It is striking to note how often Paul required the churches to which he wrote to pray for him in regard of his ministry: see Romans 15:30; 2 Corinthians 1:11; Ephesians 6:19. If, then, the chief of the Apostles had need to be prayed for, how much more so the ordinary minister of God! Great reason is there for this, for the Devil stood at the right hand of Israel's high priest to resist him (Zechariah 3:1). Though he opposes every Christian, yet he aims especially at the minister to cause him to fail, if not in his teaching, then in his conduct.

"That they may see your good works": your sincerity, fidelity, love, self-sacrifice, perseverance, zeal, etc. "And glorify your Father which is in Heaven": this is the chief, though not the whole, end of good works-subordinately, they enrich ourselves and benefit our fellows. As regards God they serve, first, as means whereby we give evidence of our homage by obeying His commands. Second, they serve as tokens of our gratitude for all His mercies, both spiritual and temporal, for thankfulness is to be expressed by life as well as lip. Third, they serve to make us followers of God, who has bidden us to be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16), and to put into practice the duties of love to our neighbor. This must be the main aim of the minister: to bring men to glorify God. Though the unregenerate are quite capable of perceiving the minister's failures, it is only real Christians who can discern his spiritual graces and the fruit thereof, as it is they alone who will glorify the Father because of the same. Probably the Day to come will reveal that few things have evoked so much genuine praise to God as His people's returning thanks for the piety, integrity, and helpfulness of His servants, who untiringly sought their good.

 

7. Christ and the Law: Matthew 5:17, 18.

The manifestation of Christ in Israel's midst was sudden and startling. The first 30 years of His life on earth had been lived in private, and outside His own immediate circle He seems to have attracted little attention. But as soon as He appeared on the stage of public action this was altered: the eyes of all were fixed upon Him and the leaders of the Nation were compelled to take notice of Him. His meekness and lowliness at once distinguished Him from those who sought the praise of men. His miracles of healing soon became heralded far and wide. His call to repentance and proclamation of the Gospel (Mark 1:15) made people wonder what was the real character and design of His mission. Was He a revolutionary? Was it His purpose to overthrow the existing order of things? What was His attitude towards the Scriptures, and particularly to the law of Moses? Did He disavow their Divine authority? These were questions agitating the minds of men, and called for clear answers.

Christ's preaching was so entirely different from that of the Pharisees and Sadducees (which was supposed to be based on the Old Testament), that the people were inclined to suppose His intention was to subvert the authority of God's Word and substitute His own in its place. Because Christ despised the "traditions of the elders," the religious leaders supposed Him to be a deceiver, going about to destroy the very foundations of piety. Because He threw far more emphasis upon great moral principles than upon ceremonial institutions, many were ready to imagine that He repudiated the entire Levitical system. Because He was the Proclaimer of grace and the Dispenser of mercy, the "Friend of publicans and sinners," the idea became current that He was opposed to the Law. The balance of Truth had been lost, and because the Lord Jesus did not echo the prevailing theology of the day, He was regarded as a heretic. Christ had refused to identify Himself with any of the sects of His time, and because He was outside them all, people wondered what was His real attitude to the Law and the Prophets.

For a long time past the view had more or less obtained that when the Messiah appeared He would introduce radical changes and entirely overthrow the ancient order of religion. Therefore did Christ here assure the people that so far from being antagonistic to the Old Testament Scriptures, He had come to fulfill them. He strongly disavowed any hostile design in regard to the Word of God, and proceeded to confirm its authority. The verses we are now to ponder begin the third and longest section of the Sermon on the Mount: from verse 17 to the end of chapter 5, Christ treats of the most important subject of the moral Law, showing its true meaning, which had been much corrupted by the Jewish teachers. First, our Lord refuted the erroneous ideas which the people had formed of Him by three emphatic declarations, the force of which we shall now endeavor to bring out.

"Think not that I am come to destroy the Law, or the Prophets" (Matthew 5:17). The Old Testament Scriptures were comprehensively summarized under this title, "The Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 7:12; Luke 16:16): thus the first and widest meaning of our Lord's words is, Suppose not that My mission is to repudiate the authority of Holy Writ; rather is it to establish and enforce the same. This will be the more evident when we examine the verses which immediately follow. The entire record of His ministry furnished clear proof of what He asserted on this occasion. Christ venerated the Sacred Scriptures, was regulated by them in all His actions, and definitely set His imprimatur upon their Divine inspiration. No fouler calumny could be laid to His charge than to accuse Him of any antagonism to or disrespect for the Divine Oracles.

We must next duly note Christ did not here speak of "the Law and the Prophets," but "the Law or the Prophets," a distinction we are required to weigh and understand, for it presents quite a different concept. The Law and the Prophets are not here associated in such a way as to comprise a unity, or as indicating the spirit of the Law by another word. No, the two terms are here put together by the disjunctive particle "or," and therefore each of them must represent a distinct idea familiar to the Jews. Christ was here referring to the Prophets not so much as the commentators upon the Law, as those who had fore-announced His person, mission, and kingdom. His obvious design, then, was to intimate that the Old Testament in all its parts and elements-ethical or predictive-referred to Himself and was accomplished in Himself.

It is also to be observed that no further reference is made to the Prophets throughout this Sermon (let those who have such a penchant for prophecy take due note!), and that from verse 18 onwards it is the Law which Christ treats of. Before proceeding further we must next inquire, exactly what did Christ here signify by "the Law"? We answer unhesitatingly, the whole Jewish Law, which was threefold: ceremonial, judicial, and moral. The ceremonial described rules and ordinances to be observed in the worship of God; the judicial described ordinances for the government of the Jewish commonwealth and the punishment of offenders: the former was for the Jews only; the latter primarily for them, yet concerned all people in all times so far as it tended to establish the moral Law. The moral Law is contained in the Ten Commandments.

While the entire Jewish Law was comprehended by our Lord's expression "The Law," it is clear that He alluded principally to the moral Law, for the subsequent parts of the Sermon refer directly and mainly to it. But we must add that this term here also included the types, the law of sacrifice, and especially the sin-offering-for the question might well be asked, If there had been no real accomplishment of the sacrificial emblems, what then became of all the references in Moses to the propitiatory offerings and to the entire typical system? If Christ had not accomplished them by presenting to God the substance which they shadowed forth, then they would have been an unfulfilled prophecy or pledge, for they manifestly pointed to Him. Christ, then, came to present the reality of which they were the pledge.

"I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill" (Matthew 5:17). We must now carefully inquire what our Lord here meant by "fulfill." We understand Him to signify that so far from its being His purpose to annul the moral Law, He had come with the express design of meeting its holy demands, to offer unto God what it justly required-to magnify it by rendering to it a perfect obedience in thought and word and deed; and that so far from despising the Prophets, His mission was to make good their predictions, concerning Himself, by performing the very work they had announced He should do. In a word, we regard this statement of Christ's as a definite declaration that He had entered this world with the object of bringing in a perfect righteousness, which should be imputed to all His believing people. But this vital and glorious truth is now blankly repudiated by some who pose as being orthodox, and therefore they viciously wrest this passage.

Unwilling to admit that Christ rendered to the Law any vicarious obedience on behalf of His people, Socinians contend that the word "fulfill" in this passage simply means to "fill out" or "fill full." They imagine that in the remainder of the chapter Christ partly cancels and partly adds to the Moral Law. Even Mr. Grant in his "Numerical Bible" rendered it "complete," and in his notes says, "What would the Old Testament be without the New? very much like a finger pointing into vacuity." As quite a number of our readers have more or less come under the influence of this error, we deem it necessary to expose such a sophistry and establish the true meaning of Christ's declaration. In essaying this we cannot do better than summarize the arguments used by George Smeaton.

First, "That usage of language is opposed to such an interpretation which here adopts the rendering 'to fill out' in preference to fulfill. No example of such a usage can be adduced when the verb is applied to a law or to an express demand contained in the spirit of the law; in which case it uniformly means 'to fulfill.' Thus it is said, 'He who loves another has fulfilled the Law' (Romans 13:8). The inflexible usage of language rules the sense in such a phrase, to the effect that Christ must be understood to say that He came not to fill out or to supplement the Law by additional elements, but to fulfill it, by obeying it or by being made under it."

Second, " 'fill out' is inadmissible as applied to the second term or object of the verb: Christ did not come to fill out or expound the Prophets, but simply to fulfill their predictions. Whenever the word here used is applied to anything prophetical, it is always found in such a connection that it can only mean, 'to fulfill,' and hence we must not deviate from its uniform significance. Third, the 18th verse must be regarded as giving a reason for the statement made in the 17th. But what sort of a reason would be given if we were to render the connected verses thus: 'I came to fill out or to supplement the Law, for truly, I say unto you until Heaven and earth pass not one jot or tittle shall in any wise pass from the Law until all be fulfilled?' "

To these arguments we would add this forcible and (to us) conclusive consideration: the term "fulfill" was here placed by Christ in direct antithesis from "destroy," which surely fixes its scope and meaning. Now to "destroy" the Law is not to empty it of meaning, but is to rescind, dissolve or abrogate it. But to "fill out" or complete the Law obviously presents no proper contrast from "destroy" or render void. "To fulfill," then, is to be taken in its prime and natural sense, as meaning to perform what they (the Law and the Prophets) required, to substantiate them, to make good what they demanded and announced. Merely to rescue the Law from the corrupt glosses of the Jews and to explain its higher meaning was business which could have been done by the Apostles, but to bring in an "everlasting righteousness" no mere creature was capable of doing. Law can only be "fulfilled" by perfect obedience.

If we take "fulfill" here in it widest scope then we gladly avail ourselves of the compound definition of William Perkins. First, Christ fulfilled the Law by His doctrine: both by restoring to it its proper meaning and true use, and by revealing the right way in which the Law may be fulfilled. Second, in His Person: both by performing perfect and perpetual obedience unto its precepts, and by suffering its penalty, enduring death upon the Cross for His people. Third, in men: in the elect by imparting faith to their hearts, so that they lay hold of Christ who fulfilled it for them, and by giving them His own Spirit which imparts to them a love for the Law and sets them on endeavoring to obey it, and in the reprobate when He executes the curse of the Law upon them.

Taking our verses as a whole we may perceive how that though the Law and the Gospel vary in some respects very widely, yet there is a perfect consonance and agreement between them. Many now suppose that the one is the avowed enemy of the other. Not so. There is a sweet consent between the Law and the Gospel, for Christ came to fulfill the former and is the substance of the latter, and therefore are we informed through His chief Apostle that, by faith "we establish the Law" (Romans 3:31), and that when Moses had given the Law unto the people of Israel he offered sacrifices and sprinkled the blood thereof upon the book and the people (Hebrews 9:19, 20)-type of the shedding of Christ's blood, and which thus did notify the perfect harmony of the Law and the Gospel.

What that blessed consonance is between the Law and the Gospel no regenerate soul should have any difficulty in perceiving. Let us briefly present it thus. The Law required perfect obedience and pronounced death on the least breach thereof, and does not propose any way of fulfilling the same in our own persons. But the Gospel directs us to Christ, who as the believer's Surety, fulfilled the Law for him, for which reason Christ is called "The end of the Law for righteousness to everyone that believes" (Romans 10:4). And through Christ it is that, "The righteousness of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (Romans 8:4).

"For truly I say unto you, Until Heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the Law, until all be fulfilled" (Matthew 5:18). In these words our Lord advances a conclusive argument for clearing Himself from the false imputation that He had come to destroy the Law, as the opening "For" (following His statement in v. 17) clearly indicates. His argument is drawn from the very nature of the Law, which is immutable. Since the Law is unchangeable, it must be fulfilled-that its Author be vindicated and glorified. Since fallen man was incapable of rendering perfect obedience to it, it was essential that Christ Himself should perform and bring in that everlasting righteousness which God required. Christ's argument, then, may be stated thus; If the Law be inviolable and for observance eternal, then I could not have come to destroy it. Because the Law is immutable and eternal it necessarily follows that He came not to annul but to accomplish it.

"Truly I say unto you" was a form of speech employed by the Savior when He would solemnly avouch any weighty truth, propounding it in His own name. Herein He evidences Himself to be the grand "Amen," the "faithful and true Witness," the antitypical Prophet, the Divine Teacher of His Church, to whom we must hearken in all things, for He cannot lie. In saying, "until Heaven and earth pass away"-the most stable of all created objects-Christ affirmed the unchangeableness of the Law, and that this might be rendered the more emphatic, He made reference to the minutiae of the Hebrew alphabet, that not so much as its smallest part shall pass from the Law-the "jot" being the tiniest letter, and the "tittle" the smallest curve of a letter.

The ceremonial law has not been destroyed by Christ, but the substance now fills the place of its shadows. Nor has the judicial law been destroyed: though it has been abrogated unto us so far as it was peculiar to the Jews, yet, as it agrees with the requirements of civic justice and mercy, and as it serves to establish the precepts of the Moral Law, it is perpetual-herein we may see the blasphemous impiety of the popes of Rome, who in their "canons" have dared to dispense with some of the laws of consanguinity in Leviticus 18. The Moral Law remains forever as a rule of obedience to every child of God, as we have shown so often in these pages.

Let us learn from Christ's declaration of the immutability of the Law that, first, the Scriptures are the very Word of God, and therefore a sure resting-place for our hearts. A Christian is subject to many doubts of the truth of God's promises in times of trial and temptation, but this should ever be remembered-not one jot or tittle can pass until all be accomplished. Second, that no part of the inspired Scriptures, still less any whole book of it, can be lost-neither man nor devil can destroy one jot of it. Third, this immutability of the Law contains a matter of great terror and woe unto all impenitent sinners, for no matter how much they may presume upon God's mercy, the curse of His Law shall stand against them forever. Fourth, Christ's setting His seal upon the inviolable authority of the Law intimates its perfections: every part of it is needed by us, every sentence evidences its Divine authorship, every precept calls for our loving obedience.

 

8. Christ and the Law: Matthew 5:17-20

We are not unmindful of the fact that the passage now before us is one which will possess little attraction for the great majority of professing Christians in our degenerate age, and possibly some of our own readers would be better pleased if we superficially summarized its teaching rather than endeavor to give a detailed exposition of its weighty contents. Those verses which contain God's promises are far more acceptable in this day of self-pleasing and self-gratification, than those which insist upon our obedience to the Divine precepts. But this ought not to be, for the one is as truly a part of God's Word as the other, and just as much needed by us. If any vindication for our present procedure be required, it is sufficient to point out that the words we are to examine are those of Christ Himself, and He ever sought the glory of God and the good of souls, caring not for either the praise or the criticism of His hearers.

Healthy Christianity can only be maintained where the balance is properly preserved between a faithful exposition of the holy Law of God and a pressing of its claims upon the conscience, and by tenderly preaching the Gospel and applying its balm to stricken hearts. Where the former predominates to the virtual exclusion of the latter, self-righteous Pharisaism is fostered; and where the proclamation of the Gospel ousts the requirements of the Law, Antinomian licentiousness is engendered. During the past hundred years Christendom has probably heard fifty Gospel sermons or addresses to one on the Law, and the consequence has indeed been disastrous and deplorable: a light religion with no backbone and with loose and careless walking. Therefore when a servant of God is expounding, consecutively, any portion of the Scriptures, and in the course thereof arrives at a passage upon the Law, it is now (more than ever before) his bounden duty to tarry there and press its claims upon his hearers or readers.

Such a verse as the one which is to be particularly before us ought indeed to search all our hearts, especially those of us who have been called by the Lord to His service. Taken at its surface meaning Matthew 5:19 emphasizes the deep importance of obedience to the Divine commandments, and most solemnly warns against disobedience. Yet it is at this very point that modern Christendom errs most grievously, and the pulpit is chiefly to be blamed for this sad state of affairs. Not only do many who pose as ministers of Christ themselves break the commandments, but they publicly teach their hearers to do the same; and this not with regard to the "least" of the Divine precepts, but in connection with the most fundamental of God's laws. Should these lines catch the eyes of any such men, we trust that it may please the Lord to use the same in convicting them of the enormity of their sin.

Our Lord was on the point of correcting various corruptions of the Law which obtained among the Jews of His day, and He prefaced what He had to say by cautioning them not to misconstrue His design, as though He were opposing either Moses or the Prophets, neither of whose writings were at any variance with the kingdom He had come to establish. So far from setting Himself against Moses, He, with the most solemn assertion, declared the Law to be of perpetual obligation (v. 18), and such was His regard for it that if anyone posing as a minister in His kingdom should break the least of the Law's precepts and taught others to make light of it, he should be as little in the eyes of the Lord as the precept was in his eyes (v. 19); while those practicing and inculcating the Law, should have His highest approval.

Our passage begins at 5:17, in which our Lord made known in no uncertain terms His attitude toward the Divine Law. False conceptions had been formed as to the real design of His mission, and those who were unfriendly toward Him sought to make the people believe that the Lord Jesus was a revolutionary, whose object was to overthrow the very foundations of Judaism. Therefore in His first formal public address Christ promptly gave the lie to these wicked aspersions and declared His complete accord with the Divine revelation given at Sinai. Not only was there no antagonism between Himself and Moses, but He had come down to earth with the express purpose of accomplishing all that had been demanded in the name of God. So far was it from being His design to repudiate the Holy Law, He had become incarnate in order to work out that very righteousness it required, to make good what the Levitical institutions had foreshadowed, and to bring to pass the Messianic predictions of Israel's seers.

"Think not that I am come to destroy the Law, or the Prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill" (Matthew 5:17). Well did Beza say upon this verse, "Christ came not to bring any new way of righteousness and salvation into the world, but to fulfill that in deed which was shadowed by the figures of the Law: by delivering men through grace from the curse of the Law; and moreover to teach the true use of obedience which the Law appointed, and to engrave in our hearts the force of obedience." On the dominant word "fulfill," Matthew Henry pertinently pointed out, "The Gospel is 'The time of reformation' (Hebrews 9:10)-not the repeal of the Law, but the amendment of it (that is, from its Pharisaical corruptions-ARTHUR PINK) and consequently, its re-establishment."

"For truly I say unto you, Until Heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the Law, until all be fulfilled" (v. 18). In these words our Lord affirmed the perpetuity of the Law, insisting that it should never be abrogated. The grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our God endures forever: the Old Testament as much as the New, the Law as truly as the Gospel. The "truly I say unto you" was the solemn assertion of the Amen, the faithful and true Witness. Everything in the Law must be fulfilled: not only its prefigurations and prophecies, but its precepts and penalty-fulfilled first, personally and vicariously, by and upon the Surety. Fulfilled second and evangelically, in and by His people; and fulfilled third, in the doom of the wicked, who shall experience its awful curse forever and ever. Instead of Christ's being opposed to the Law of God, He came here to magnify it and render it honorable (Isaiah 42:21); and rather than His teachings being subversive thereof, they confirmed and enforced it.

"Whoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of Heaven; but whoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of Heaven" (Matthew 5:19). This afforded proof of what Christ had declared in verses 17 and 18, for the language He here employed manifestly implies the perpetual and inflexible obligation of the Law throughout the entire course of the kingdom of Heaven-this Christian era. Not only so, but the words of Christ in this verse make unmistakably clear the inestimable value which He placed upon the Divine commandments, and which esteem He would strictly require and exact from all who taught in His name: His disapproval falling on the one who slighted the least of the Law's requirements, and His approval resting on each who by his example and teaching honored the same.

"Whoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments," namely, the "jot and tittle" of the previous verse-the smallest part of the Law. Weigh carefully the word we have placed in italics: it denotes two things. First, Christ is here illustrating or exemplifying what He had so expressly affirmed in the previous verses and insists that instead of encouraging His followers to disregard the Divine Law, He upheld its claims in the most certain manner, for the King Himself would frown upon any of His officers who dared to disesteem its smallest requirements. Second, Christ drew an obvious conclusion from what He had laid down in the foregoing. If the Master Himself came not to destroy the Law but rather to fulfill it, then it manifestly followed that His servants, too, must keep the commandments and teach others to do the same. It is in this way the ministers of Christ are to be identified: by their following the example which He has left them.

Let us next take notice of how what immediately follows the "therefore" clinches the interpretation we gave of the "destroy" and the disputed but simple "fulfill" of verse 17. To "destroy" the Prophets would be to deny their validity, to repudiate their inspiration, to annul their authority, so that they would then possess no binding power on the people of God. In like manner, to "destroy" the Law is not simply to break it by transgression, but also to abolish it: it is such a destruction as would rob it of all virtue and power so that it would be no law at all. This is why the Lord added, "break one of these least commandments and teach men so." The order is significantly the same in both verses: "destroy . . . fulfill" (v. 17), "break . . . do and teach them" (v. 19).

Let us further observe how the contents of this verse establish the definition we gave of "the Law" in the preceding verses-a matter on which there has been some difference of opinion among the commentators. We pointed out that, while it is clear from the later parts of the Sermon, Christ alluded principally to the moral law, yet in view of the circumstances under which this Discourse was delivered, and in view of Christ's allusion to the "jot and tittle" of the Law, the ceremonial and judicial aspects of it must not be excluded. Throughout this passage "the Law" is to be understood in its widest latitude, as embracing the entire Mosaic Law. This is clear from our Lord's reference to "one of these least commandments," for surely we cannot think of the Ten Commandments in such a connection; for they one and all belong to the fundamental statutes of the kingdom.

Should anyone demur at what has just been said and insist that "the Law" is to be understood as here referring to the Ten Commandments only, we shall not quarrel with him. It may indeed be pointed out inasmuch as the Divine Decalogue is a unit, and therefore each of its commands possess equal authority, that no part of it can be of slight obligation; yet some parts of it respect matters of, relatively, more importance than do others. Transgressions of the first table are far more heinous than those against the second: to take the Lord's name in vain is much more sinful than stealing from a fellow creature. So, too, there are degrees of criminality in offenses against the precepts of the second table: to murder is a graver crime than to bear false witness against my neighbor. Thus, while none of the Ten Words are trivial, some respect more momentous objects than the others. Nevertheless, let not the solemn fact be forgotten that "whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." (James 2:10).

Before passing on it should be pointed out that the verse now before us also definitely confirms our explanation of the "you" in verses 13-16-a point which is disputed by many of our moderns. When treating of that passage we called attention to our Lord's change of the pronoun in His second division of the Sermon. In verses 3 to 10 the Savior throughout used "theirs" and "they," but in verses 11 to 16 He employed "you" and "you." We insisted that this second section has exclusive reference to Christ's official servants-the New Testament successors of the "Prophets" (v. 12), for they are, ministerially, the salt of the earth and the light of the world. That Christ continued to have in mind the same class, and was addressing Himself not to the rank and file of His people, but to His official servants, is clear from His, "Whoever shall do and teach them."

"Whoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of Heaven." The "kingdom of Heaven" here, as in the great majority of places, has reference to the sphere of profession. It is wider than the Church which is Christ's body, for none but the elect of God are members of that. The "kingdom of Heaven" takes in all who claim to own the scepter of Christ, and therefore it includes the false as well as the real, as is clear from our Lord's parables: the tares growing in the same field as the wheat, the bad fish being enclosed in the net with the good: though at the end there shall be a severance of one from the other. This at once removes any difficulty which may be felt over a minister who teaches others to break God's commands having any place at all therein. This kingdom was announced by Christ's forerunner (3:2) and since that time has been preached (11:12).

Two different explanations have been given by the commentators as to the meaning of "he shall be called the least in the kingdom of Heaven." First, that one is called the least because he is not deemed worthy to have any part at all or any real inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God: this is negated by the Lord's own words. Second, and strange to say, the one adopted by the best writers: this person shall be held in such low esteem by his fellow-citizens as to be called by them the least in the kingdom. But we see nothing in our verse which indicates that the reference is to the judgment of men. Personally, we believe something far more solemn than that is in view: the evil minister shall be judged the least by the King Himself. Does not our verse look back to, "The ancient and the honorable, he is the head; and the prophet that teaches lies, he is the tail" (Isaiah 9:15). It was Christ's condemnation of the unfaithful servant.

Not only does our present verse solemnly condemn Dispensationalists (who repudiate one of the greatest of all God's commands: the Sabbath statute), but it announces the disapproval of Christ upon another class of errorists. Not a few Calvinists have pitted the Gospel against the Law, and instead of showing the one is the handmaid of the other, have represented them as being irreconcilable enemies. These men have disgraced Divine grace, for they fail to show that grace works through righteousness, and have taken from the Christian his Rule of Life. Their conception of what Christian liberty consists of is altogether wrong, denying that the believer is under Divine bonds to walk in obedience to the Decalogue. Failing to see that Romans 6:14 has reference to our justification and not our sanctification, they repudiate the moral law, teaching that in no sense are we under its authority. But though such men be held in high esteem by many of the churches, they are the very "least" in the sight of Christ, and must yet answer to Him for engaging in the very practice which He here denounces.

Antinomianism (the repudiation of the moral Law as the Christian's Rule of Life) is as reprehensible and dangerous as Papal indulgences. If on the one hand we need to guard against legality (seeking to keep the Law in order to merit something good at the hands of God), on the other hand there is just as real a danger of dwelling so exclusively on the grace of the Gospel that we lose sight of the holy living required. "Let us then beware equally of Antinomian licentiousness and of Pharisaical self-righteousness: these are Scyalla and Charybdis, the fatal rock and whirlpool: most men in shunning the one fall into the other, and we need the Holy Spirit to pilot us between them. But the clear and full exposition of the holy Law of God and the Scriptural application of it to the heart and conscience, forms one most important preservative from these fatal extremes" (Thomas Scott).

"But whoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of Heaven" (Matthew 5:19). Note well the order here: "do and teach." As Paul exhorted his son in the faith, "take heed unto yourself, and unto the doctrine" (1 Timothy 4:16)-Christ requires integrity of life and soundness of doctrine from His servants. The Lord is both mocked and grievously insulted by ministers who practice one thing and preach another: far better to quit preaching entirely if our lives be opposed to our sermons. Furthermore, there will be no power in the preaching of the man whose own walk clashes with his talk: his words will carry no conviction to the hearts of his hearers-as one quaintly but solemnly said to his minister, "I cannot hear what you say, from seeing what you do." Finally, a minister cannot with any clearness of conscience and joy of heart teach others their duty, unless he practices what he preaches.

 

9. Christ and the Law: Matthew 5:17-20.

"For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of Heaven" (Matthew 5:20). We purpose to expound this verse by supplying answers to the following questions. First, who or what were the Scribes and Pharisees? Second, what was the character of their righteousness? Third, what is the nature of that superior righteousness which Christ requires from His subjects? Fourth, how is it obtained? Fifth, how is it manifested? Sixth, wherein does it exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees? Seventh, what is signified by, "You shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of Heaven"? Eighth, what is the relation of verse 20 to the context?

Before seeking an answer to the above questions, let us point out what a startling effect this statement of Christ's must have produced upon His hearers. The Scribes were the most renowned teachers of the Law, and the Pharisees had the reputation of being the most exemplary models of Judaism; and for our Lord to have solemnly affirmed that such righteousness as they possessed was altogether inadequate for entitling them to an entrance into the kingdom which He had come to set up, must have seemed a most radical and startling declaration. The Pharisees were looked up to as those who had attained to the very pinnacle of personal piety, and the common people supposed that such heights of spirituality were quite beyond their reach. Men in general imagined that they could not be expected to equal their attainments. It was a proverb among the Jews that, "If but two men were to enter Heaven, the one would be a Scribe and the other a Pharisee."

First, who were the Scribes and Pharisees? The word "Scribe" is a name of office, whereof there were two sorts among the Jews: civil and ecclesiastical. The former were public notaries, registering the affairs of State: such an one was Shimshai (Ezra 4:8). The latter were employed in expounding the Scriptures: such an one was Ezra (7:1, 5, 6). It was to the latter Christ referred in this Gospel: see Matthew 13:52; 23:2-interpreters of the law of Moses. They were of the tribe of Levi. The name "Pharisee" betokens a sect, and not an office. They differed from the Scribes inasmuch as they formed a code of morals and of ceremonial acts more rigid than the Law of Moses enjoined, basing it on the traditions of the fathers: and were held in highest esteem among the Jews: see Acts 23:6; 26:5. The Scribes, then, were the doctors of the Law; the Pharisees professing the purest practice of it.

Second, what was the character of their righteousness, and wherein lay its defectiveness? First, the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees was an external one only, consisting of certain outward observances of the Law. They were strict in abstaining from such gross sins as adultery, theft, murder and idolatry: but they made no conscience of impure thoughts, covetousness, hatred, and coldness of heart toward God: and therefore did Christ say unto them, "Woe unto you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess" etc., (Matthew 23:25, 27, 28). Second, their observance of God's Law was a partial one: they laid far more stress upon its ceremonial precepts than upon its moral requirements; and therefore did Christ say unto them, "You pay tithes of mint and anise, and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the Law-judgment, mercy, and faith" (Matthew 23:23). Third, their actions proceeded from unsound principles: self-interests, rather than the glory of God was their ruling motive. They were forward in fasting, praying at street corners, and giving alms ostentatiously; but it was all done to enhance their reputation among men (Matthew 23:5-7).

Righteousness of soul, purity of heart, the Scribes and Pharisees had no regard for. In their religion we have an exemplification of what is the natural persuasion of men the world over, namely, that a religion of external performances will suffice to ensure a blissful eternity. True, there are many who would deny this in words, but in works they substantiate it. They bring their bodies to the house of prayer, but not their souls; they worship with their mouths, but not "in spirit and in truth." They are sticklers for immersion or early morning communion, yet take no thought of keeping their hearts with all diligence. Multitudes of professing Christians abstain from external acts of violence, yet hesitate not to rob their neighbors of a good name by spreading evil reports against them. Thousands who would not dare to rob openly, yet misrepresent their goods and cheat their customers-which shows they have more fear of breaking man's laws than they have of breaking those of God.

Third, what is the nature of that righteousness which Christ requires from His subjects? There are three kinds of righteousness spoken of in the Scriptures. First, inherent, which Adam had when he left the hands of his Maker (Ecclesiastes 7:29), which none possess by nature today. Second, imputed righteousness (Romans 4:6), which is the whole of our justification before God. Third, imparted righteousness (Ephesians 4:24), when God the Spirit makes us new creatures. Most of the older writers concluded that it was the second of these which Christ referred to here in Matthew 5:20, but we are satisfied this was a mistake. It is true that the sinner's title for Heaven can consist only of the perfect righteousness of Christ being imputed to him upon his believing, yet there must be an experimental fitness for the inheritance of the saints in light as well as a legal right, and this we obtain through our regeneration and sanctification.

We fully agree with Mr. J. C. Philpot when he pointed out in Matthew 5:20, "Christ did not mean an external righteousness, wrought out by His obedience to the Law for them, but an internal righteousness wrought out by the Holy Spirit in them. Thus, we read of the inward as well as the outward apparel of the Church: 'the King's daughter is all glorious within, her clothing is of wrought gold' (Psalm 45:13). Two kinds of righteousness belong to the queen: her imputed righteousness is her outward robe, the 'clothing of wrought gold'; but imparted righteousness is her inward adorning, which makes her 'all glorious within.' This inward glory is the new man in the heart, with all his gifts and graces." This must be so if the Church is conformed to her Head, for He was "without spot" externally, and "without blemish" internally.

As this is a point which is much disputed, we must labor it a little further. That righteousness which will bring men to Heaven is not a bare imputed one, but an imputed righteousness which is accompanied by an imparted one. Justification and sanctification must never be severed: wherever the former be pronounced, the other (in its fundamental aspect) has already been bestowed. The one concerns our standing before God, the other respects our state in ourselves. Romans 8 is just as vital and blessed a part of the Gospel as is Romans 5, and it is to the irreparable loss of the saint if the one be emphasized to the virtual exclusion of the other. Surety righteousness alone secures for us a standing before God, but evangelical righteousness is the certain proof thereof, and as the tree is known by its fruits so imputed righteousness can be recognized in no other way than by inward righteousness with its effects in the life.

To this writer the simplest and most conclusive way of ascertaining the nature of the righteousness which Christ requires from all who shall have part in His everlasting kingdom is to observe that it is placed in direct antithesis from the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees. Now as we have pointed out, the defects of the latter lay chiefly in three things. First, their righteousness was wholly an external one, but God requires Truth in the inward parts: "Man looks on the outward appearance but the LORD looks on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). Second, their righteousness was partial, stressing certain parts of the Law which suited their tastes, while utterly ignoring or nullifying other vital features thereof. The righteousness which God requires is a universal obedience: a living by every word that proceeds out of His mouth. Third, their righteousness issued from a foul spring: instead of keeping the Law from a desire to please and glorify its Giver, their observance of it was only in order to promote their reputation among men.

This superior righteousness, then, consists of an obedience to the Divine Law which would be acceptable to a holy but gracious God. Such an obedience must necessarily spring from the fear of God and love to God: that is, from a genuine reverence for His authority, and from a true desire to please Him. It must comprise a strict conformity to the revealed will of God, without any self-invented and self-imposed additions thereto. It must give particular attention to the "weightier matters of the Law," namely, justice, mercy and faith. It must be a sincere and not a feigned obedience, a filial and not a slavish one, a unselfish and not a selfish one. It must be a symmetrical or complete one, having respect to all God's commandments. Such an obedience will not puff up or encourage self-righteousness, but will cause the one who sincerely aims thereat, to walk softly before the Lord and will produce humility and denying of self.

Fourth, how is this superior righteousness obtained? Not by the strivings of a fallen creature, but by the effectual working of Divine grace. Such an obedience as we have delineated above can only proceed from a heart that is reconciled to God, because, "the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the Law of God, neither indeed can be" (Romans 8:7). Now as 2 Corinthians 5:17, 18 so plainly teaches us, God's reconciling us to Himself by Jesus Christ is the immediate outcome of our being made new creatures in Christ. Initially we become partakers of this righteousness at the new birth, when a holy nature is communicated by the Spirit, so that there is now a principle within us which "delights in the Law of God" (Romans 7:22) and causes us to "serve" it (Romans 7:25). Progressively this inward righteousness is developed as we "grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," which is through our using the appointed means and by learning to draw our strength from the Lord. Perfectly, this inward righteousness will only be consummated at our glorification, when we shall be filled with all the fullness of God.

Fifth, how is this evangelical righteousness manifested? Inasmuch as this inward righteousness consists of and proceeds from a new creation to holiness, it is known by the fruits it produces. A radical change is affected in the temper and life of its possessor, so that he now loathes and shuns what he formerly delighted in, and loves and seeks after the things he once disliked. It is evidenced by a real hatred of sin and an sincere love of God. It is known by the felt antagonism between the two natures in the believer. His indwelling corruptions continually war against this principle of righteousness, so that often he is prevented from doing the good which he desires and strives to perform. This conflict with the flesh humbles the Christian, causes him to mourn over his sad failures, and to confess he is but an unprofitable servant. Nevertheless, he continues in his efforts to mortify the old man and vivify the new. Another proof of indwelling righteousness is that its possessor has an ever-deepening appreciation of the forbearance of God and an increasing valuation of the precious blood of Christ.

Sixth, wherein does this righteousness "exceed" the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees? The superiority of the Christian's righteousness has already been shown in some detail, but one or two other things may be pointed out in connection therewith. The Christian's righteousness springs out of love and faith, whereas theirs issued from an evil heart of unbelief. The Christian's righteousness is the result of his being made a partaker of the Divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), whereas theirs was altogether human. The defects of the Christian's righteousness are covered by the infinite merits of Christ, whereas theirs has nothing to commend them unto God. Evangelical righteousness-according to the terms of the new covenant-is approved by God, but legal righteousness found no provision in the Siniatic Compact for its acceptance by the Most High. The righteousness of the Christian secures an entrance into Heaven, but that of the Scribes and Pharisees will exclude them therefrom.

Seventh, what is signified by, "You shall in no case enter into the kingdom of Heaven"? which is the Lord's verdict upon those who possess not this righteousness? In our comments upon verse 19 we pointed out that this expression, "the kingdom of Heaven," is wider than the Church which is Christ's body, covering the whole sphere of profession-Christendom; thus including the counterfeit as well as the genuine. But we were careful to qualify that definition by saying, This is its meaning in the "great majority of cases." There are one or two notable exceptions: as for example "Truly I say unto you, Except you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of Heaven" (18:3), where the kingdom of Heaven must refer to the kingdom of Glory. Such, too, is the case in our present verse: Christ was speaking of real righteousness, and that alone will secure entrance into Heaven.

Eighth, what is the relation of our verse to its context? Let us recall that in the whole of this passage our Lord was engaged in refuting the erroneous conception which had been formed of His mission. His detachment from the religious leader of His day, His disregard of the "traditions of the elders," and His proclamation of grace in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:16-22), had inclined many to regard Him as the opponent of Moses. True, He had come to bring in something new, something vastly superior to that which then obtained in Israel; nevertheless there was no real conflict between Christianity and Judaism: though differing much in incidentals, there is really perfect accord in fundamentals. Alas that the spiritual unity of the two economies is now so little perceived, yes, is emphatically denied by most of the much-advertised "Bible teachers" of our day.

First, Christ plainly and emphatically declared He had not come to destroy the Law or the Prophets, but to "fulfill" them (Matthew 5:17): in what ways He was to "fulfill" them we have endeavored to show. Second, He solemnly affirmed the perpetuity and immutability of the Law (v. 18), asserting that not the smallest part thereof could pass away until all was fulfilled. Third, He insisted that His own servants must maintain the integrity of the Law both by practice and by preaching (v. 19), otherwise they would not receive His approval. Fourth, so far was He from being antagonistic to Moses, He demanded of His subjects a righteousness which surpassed that of the Scribes and Pharisees. Hereafter there was not the slightest occasion for any of His hearers to have any doubt of Christ's attitude toward the Law of God.

It is most important that we perceive clearly our Lord's design in verse 20. It was not there His purpose to state the terms on which men might obtain the Divine favor, rather was He describing the character of those who already possessed the same. No doubt many of the multitude which had there flocked around Him, supposed-such is poor human nature-that by attaching themselves to His cause, they would obtain greater latitude to indulge their lusts: it must therefore have been a real shock for them to learn that the morality and spirituality which was to distinguish the genuine citizens of His kingdom would be of a far more exalted character than that taught by the Scribes and exemplified by the Pharisees. He would not regard anyone as His subject unless his righteousness exceeded the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees. Thus, the nature and demand of His kingdom was proof positive that He honored and maintained the Law.

With regard to the relation of our passage to its yet wider context, we may note how that one of the principal designs of Christ throughout this Sermon was to awaken His hearers to feel their deep need of that which alone could satisfy the requirements of a holy God. It was ignorance of the Law which permitted Pharisaism to flourish, for they claimed to fulfill it in the outward letter, and consequently Christ here aimed to arouse conscience by enforcing its true import and requirements. It will be found that this Sermon returns again and again to one main idea: that of awakening men to a sense of their wretchedness, and shutting them up to the righteousness of God. That object could only be obtained by a spiritual application of the Law and by enforcing its inviolable exactions: thereby alone could they be prepared to appreciate and embrace the Gospel.

 

10. The Law and Murder: Matthew 5:21-27.

"The discourse which our Lord delivered on this occasion entirely corresponds with the new era which it marked in the history of God's dispensations. The revelation from Sinai, though grafted on a Covenant of Grace (that is, the Abrahamic: Galatians 3:19-"added"), and uttered by God as the Redeemer of Israel, was emphatically a promulgation of law. Its direct and formal object was to raise aloft the claims of the Divine righteousness, and meet with repressive and determined energy, the corrupt tendencies of human nature. The Sermon on the Mount, on the other hand, begins with blessing. It opens with a whole series of beatitudes, blessing after blessing pouring itself forth as from a full spring of beneficence, and seeking, with its varied and copious manifestations of goodness, to leave nothing unprovided for in the deep wants and longing desires of men. Yet, here, also, as in other things, the difference between the New and the Old is relative only, not absolute. There are the same fundamental elements in both, but these differently adjusted, so as fitly to adapt them to the ends they had to serve, and the times to which they respectively belonged.

"In the revelation of law there was a substratum of grace, recognized in the words which prefaced the Ten Commandments, and promises of grace and blessing intermingling with the stern prohibitions and injunctions of which they consist. And so, inversely, in the Sermon on the Mount, while it gives grace priority and prominence, is far from excluding the severer aspect of God's character and government. No sooner, indeed, had grace poured itself forth in a succession of beatitudes, than there appear the stern demands of righteousness and law-the very same Law proclaimed from Sinai-and that Law so explained and enforced as to bring fully under its sway the intents of the heart, as well as the actions of the life, and by men's relation to it determining their place and destinies in the Messiah's kingdom" (P. Fairbairn).

It is with these "stern demands of righteousness" we are now to be engaged. The transition point is found in Matthew 5:17, though in the verses preceding, our Lord had intimated the trend of what was to follow, by likening the ministry of His servants to the nature and action of "salt." Verses 17-20 contain the preface of all that follows to the end of chapter five. In affirming that He had come to "fulfill" the Law, Christ signified, first, that it was His mission as the faithful witness of God and the Teacher of His Church to expound the Law in its purity and spirituality-and to rescue it from the corruptions of the false teachers of that day. Second, to exemplify its righteousness in His own conduct, by rendering to it a personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience, in thought and word and deed. Third, to endure its curse in His people's stead.

To understand a discourse, nothing is of greater importance than a clear grasp of its object and design. If this be not definitely understood, then the plainest statements may appear obscure, the most conclusive arguments unsatisfactory, and the most pertinent illustrations irrelevant. A great deal of the obscurity which, in most men's minds, rest on many passages of the Scriptures, is to be accounted for on this principle. They do not distinctly perceive, or they altogether misapprehend the purpose of the inspired writer, consequently they fail to understand his arguments and true meaning. Considerable misapprehension has obtained in reference to those sections of our Lord's Sermon which we are about to consider, in consequence of mistakes as to their object or design. Yet there is no excuse for this: by carefully weighing verses 17-20 the scope of what follows is obvious.

The words of Christ in verse 17 make it plain that He had not come here to antagonize or annul the Law of God, as they equally exclude the idea that it was His design to replace it with a new law. Is it not strange, then, to find Mr. Darby (in his "Synopsis"), after giving an outline of the contents of the Sermon, subjoining a footnote to verses 17-48 in which he says, "In these the exigencies of the law and what Christ required are contrasted," which would be to pit the Son against the Father! In verse 20 the Lord Jesus enunciated a general principle, and from verse 21 onwards He was engaged in illustrating, by varied examples, how and wherein the righteousness of those whom He would own as subjects of His kingdom exceeded the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees.

It should be self-evident that the distinctions which Christ proceeded to draw between what had been said by the ancients on certain points of moral and religious duty, and that which He Himself solemnly affirmed, must have respect not to the real and actual teaching of the Law and the Prophets, but rather to the erroneous conclusions which had been drawn therefrom, and of the false notions founded thereon, which were currently entertained at His advent. It were blasphemy to imagine that Christ was so inconsistent as to contradict Himself on this occasion. After so definitely asserting His entire accord with the Law and the Prophets and His own dependence upon them, we cannot believe for a moment that He would immediately afterwards set Himself in opposition to them. This must be settled at the outset if we are to have hearts prepared to weigh what follows.

"The Scribes and Pharisees of that age had completely inverted the order of things. Their carnality and self-righteousness had led them to exalt the precepts respecting ceremonial observances to the highest place, and to throw the duties inculcated in the Ten Commandments comparatively into the background-thus treating the mere appendages of the Covenant as of more account than its very ground and basis" (P. Fairbairn). Therefore it was that when He proceeded to expose the inadequacy and hollowness of "the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees," our Lord made His appeal to the testimony engraved on the two tables, and most commonly, though not exclusively, to the precepts of the second table, because He had to do more especially with hypocrites, whose defects might most readily be revealed by a reference to the duties of the second table-compare Matthew 19:16; Luke 10:25 and 18:18.

The first commandment brought forward by Christ on this occasion was the sixth of the Decalogue: "You shall not kill." All that the Pharisees understood by this was a prohibition of the act of murder; but our Lord insisted that the commandment in its true import prohibited not only the overt act but every evil working of the heart and mind which led to it-such as unjust anger, with contempt and provoking language. Such an interpretation should not stand in need of any argument. The spiritual mind would rightly reason from such a law: if He who desires truth in the inward parts (Psalm 51) condemns murder, then it is evident we must abstain from all that might lead to that culmination of wickedness; and so it would be discovered that "you shall not kill" really signifies "You shall not hate."

"You have heard that it was said by them of old time, You shall not kill; and whoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment" (Matthew 5:21). To what, or rather to whom, did our Lord not refer to in His, "them of old time?" Certainly not Moses, nor to His Father, as the plural "them" unequivocally shows. Then to whom? In answering this question, let us also show wherein lay the special need for Christ to here expound and enforce the Law. Unfortunately for the Nation, there was ample opportunity for the Scribes and Pharisees to corrupt God's Law, for the rank and file of the people were unable to read the Scriptures in their original tongue. When the Jews returned from the Babylonian captivity, they had largely forgotten their own language, and therefore could not read the Hebrew text.

Obviously, it was the duty of the learned to supply the people with a plain and simple translation of God's Word into the Chaldee or Aramaic. But the proud and selfish Rabbis were concerned not with the glory of God and the good of the people, but with the exaltation of their own order. Therefore, instead of preparing a translation which could be read by the masses at large, they were accustomed, in the synagogues, to read off a loose rendering of the sacred text (alleged to be simpler than the original), intermingled with their own explanatory remarks. It was this ancient paraphrase of the Law, with the comments of the Rabbis, that the Scribes and Pharisees reiterated, and to which our Lord alluded when He here mentioned "them of old time."

God's commandment, "you shall not kill," was capable of expansion into the widest spiritual meaning, prohibiting all hatred against our fellows. But the Scribes and Pharisees restricted it to the bare act of murder as an external crime-as is quite clear from the next verse, where it is referred to as a crime for the consideration of the judicial courts of earth. Thus they were guilty of restricting the scope of God's command, and by connecting it with earthly courts, both suggested to their hearers that only external deeds are sinful, and also removed the very wholesome fear of the Judgment to come, when God shall lay bare not only the actual deeds of men, but even their innermost thoughts, and accuse the murderer in desire and intention equally guilty with the actual slayer of his fellow.

Before passing on, let us make three remarks. First, how strangely has history repeated itself! The religious leaders of Israel refused to make a plain translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into the speech used by the people upon their exodus from the Babylonian captivity, keeping them in ignorance of the pure Word of God, determining to retain matters in their own hands and exalting their own order. So the Papacy (after the desolating persecution of the early Church by the Roman emperors) refused to make an accurate translation of the Scriptures! They clung, instead, to the corrupt rendition of the Vulgate version, corrupting her dupes by the additions, restrictions, and alterations she made to Divine revelation-her present-day prelates and priests reiterating what was said by their predecessors "in old time"!

Second, how worthless is antiquity as such! As there is a class of people who make a fetish of what is modern and despise anything of the past, so there is a certain type of mind which is strongly attracted by the antique and which venerates traditions. But antiquity is no infallible mark of true doctrine, for this exposition of the Sixth Commandment had obtained among the Jews for centuries past, yet Christ, the great Doctor of the Church, rejected it as false, and therefore the argument which the Papists use for the establishing of some of their dogmas and practices drawn from antiquity, is of no effect. Equally worthless are the appeals of Protestants to the Reformers and the Puritans unless they can show that their teachings rested upon a clear, "Thus says the Lord."

Third, how thankful we should be that we have the pure Word of God reliably translated into our mother tongue! To the multitudes of His day Christ said, "You have heard that it was said by them of old time"-but to us He can exclaim, "You may read what God has said." This is a wondrous and inestimable privilege-purchased by the blood shedding of many of our forefathers-that the Holy Scriptures are no longer confined to the learned and the abbot of the monastery. They are accessible to the unlearned and the poor, everywhere, in simple English. But such a privilege carries with it, my reader, a solemn responsibility. What use are we making of this precious treasure? Do we search it daily, as did the noble Bereans (Acts 17:11)? Are we nourishing our souls thereby? Is our conduct governed by its teaching? If not, double guilt lies at our door.

"But I say unto you, That whoever that is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment; and whoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; but whoever shall say, You fool, shall be in danger of Hell fire" (v. 22). This is far from being the easiest verse of Matthew 5 to interpret, and the commentators vary in their explanations of its details; yet its general meaning is plain enough. With His royally authoritative, "I say unto you," the Lord Jesus at once swept aside the rubbish of the rabbis and placed the Law of God before His hearers in all its majesty and holiness, propounding the true interpretation of the Sixth Commandment. No matter what you may have heard the Scribes and Pharisees teach-whether from themselves or from the ancients-it was but the dulling of the sharp edge of God's precept. I, the incarnate Son of God, who seeks only the glory of the Father and the good of souls, declare unto you that there are three degrees of hatred, falling short of the actual deed of murder, which expose a man to the judgment of God as a violator of the Sixth Commandment.

First, "Whoever is angry against his brother without a cause": "brother" would be one Jew against another-for us, against a fellow-Christian-but in its widest scope, against a fellow-man, for by creation all are brethren. It is not anger simply which Christ here reprehends, but unwarrantable and immoderate anger. There is a holy anger as appears from the example of Christ (Mark 3:5) and the apostolic precept, "Be you angry and sin not" (Ephesians 4:26). Should it be asked, How are we to distinguish godly anger from that which is unlawful? The former proceeds from love of righteousness, has in view the good of him against whom it is exercised, and looks to the glory of God. Unholy anger issues from pride and desires the injury of the one against whom it is directed. Anger is lawful only when it burns against sin, and this is equivalent to zeal for the Divine honor.

In His first singling out of unjust anger when expounding the Sixth Commandment, Christ did hereby teach us in general that whenever God forbids one sin, He at the same time forbids all sins of the same kind, with all the causes thereof. But He taught in particular that specific passion from which most murders proceed. Since, then, unjustified and immoderate anger is a breach of the Decalogue deserving of Divine punishment, how diligently and constantly we should be on our guard, lest this headstrong affection break forth. We must seek grace to restrain and nip it in the bud. Now in order that we may subdue this lust that it prevail not, lay to heart this commandment which forbids rash anger, and frequently call to mind how patiently and mercifully God deals with us every day, and therefore we ought to be like-minded toward our brethren (Ephesians 4:31, 32).

The second branch of the sin here condemned is, "whoever shall say to his brother Raca," or as the margin renders it, "vain fellow." What is here prohibited is that scorn, arising from uncontrolled temper, which leads to speaking contemptuously. All abusive language is forbidden by the Sixth Commandment, all expressions of malignity issuing from a bitter heart, for as Matthew Henry rightly pointed out, "all malicious slanders and censures are adders' poison under their lips" (Psalm 140:3), and kills secretly and slowly. The Spirit of God refers to Ishmael's jeering at Isaac as "persecution" (Galatians 4:29), and the same may be said of all bitter speaking. Yes, the prohibition here extends to the gestures of our body-a sneer, the wagging of our head (Matthew 27:29). Therefore are we required to make conscience of every gesture, every casting of the eye (Genesis 4:6), as well as every passionate word.

The third degree of murder mentioned by Christ is censorious reviling, or calling our brother a "Fool." It is not the simple use of this English word which renders us guilty of this crime as is clear from Luke 24:25; 1 Corinthians 15:36. A benevolent desire to make men sensible of their folly is a good work, but the reviling of them from ungovernable rage is wickedness. With the Jews "fool" ("moren") signified a rebel against God, an apostate, so that the one using this term arrogated to himself the passing of judicial sentence, consigning his fellow to Hell. This was the very word Moses used (in the plural form) in Numbers 20:10, and for which sin he was excluded from Canaan. It is to be observed that never once does the Lord designate His people "rebels," though on several occasions He charges them with being rebellious.

One other thing remains to be mentioned. In the different degrees of penalty mentioned by Christ, He alluded unto the various courts of judgment in vogue among the Jews for punishment-which He applied to the Divine judgment which should fall upon those guilty of the sins He here condemned. And let us say in conclusion, there is no way of escaping the Divine curse upon these sins except by humbling ourselves before God, penitently confessing the murderous passions of our hearts and the manifestation of the same in gesture and speech-begging for His pardon through the atoning blood of Christ.

 

10. The Law, and Murder: Matthew 5:21-26.

"Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has anything against you: Leave there your gift before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (vv. 23, 24). Christ here drew a practical conclusion from what He had declared in the preceding verses, in which He enforces the duty of preserving Christian love and peace between brethren. First, He held up to view the false interpretation of the Sixth Commandment given by the ancient rabbis and perpetuated by the Scribes and Pharisees (v. 21). Second, He gave the true meaning of it (v. 22). And third, He here propounded certain rules of concord between those that be at variance. Even a secret feeling of anger, and much more so a contemptuous or maledictory reproach, constitutes in God's sight a breach of His Law, and He will not accept the worship of those guilty of such a crime. We must, therefore, without delay, remove every root of bitterness that might spring up and produce so deadly a fruit.

Our Lord here spoke in the language of the dispensation then in force, but the principles He enunciated on this occasion apply equally to Christian ordinances, especially the Lord's Supper. The maintenance of righteousness and amity between one another is indispensable to fellowship with the thrice holy God. "It was the doctrine of the Scribes, and the practice of the Pharisees corresponded with it, that anger, hatred, and the expression of these, if they did not go so far as an overt act of violence, were among the minor faults; and that God would not severely judge men for these, if they were but regular in presenting their sacrifices, and observing the other external duties of religion. In opposition to this, our Lord teaches that, according to the righteousness of His kingdom, having one's mind not subject to the law of justice and love would render all external religious services unacceptable to God" (J. Brown).

Under the Mosaic law various gifts and sacrifices were presented to Jehovah, some of them being absolutely obligatory, others optional-"free-will offerings." Broadly speaking, those gifts were of two kinds: propitiatory and eucharistic: the one for obtaining Divine forgiveness, the other as expressions of thanksgiving. Christ alludes here only to the latter, but under it He comprehended all manner of true outward worship, whether legal or evangelistic. The Lord Jesus had not yet offered Himself to God as the great antitypical sacrifice, and therefore He conveyed His lesson through the terms of the ceremonial law; but we have no difficulty in transferring what He then affirmed unto ourselves. It was as though He said, If you come to worship God in any way, either by prayer, hearing His Word, offering sacrifices of praise, or celebrating the Lord's Supper, you must live in peace with your brethren, or your worship will be rejected.

It is indeed solemn and searching to ponder the important practical principle which our Lord here enunciated. How deceptive is the human heart, and what numbers impose upon themselves in this matter. But we cannot impose upon that One before whom everything is naked and open. Of old the Jews were guilty of this very thing. "To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto Me? says the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks. . . and when you spread forth your hands, I will hide Mine eyes from you; yes, when you make many prayers, I will not hear" (Isaiah 1:11, 15). Why? "Your hands are full of blood." While they cruelly oppressed their brethren, the worship they offered unto God was an abomination unto Him. So again in Isaiah 58:5, 6 we find Jehovah despising the religious fasts of Israel because they omitted those acts of mercy which He required, and instead were guilty of evilly treating their fellows.

The Lord charged the people with the same sins in the time of Jeremiah: "Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely. . . and come and stand before Me in this House, which is called by My name?" (7:9, 10). Other passages might be quoted, but these are sufficient if we duly lay them to heart. From them we may learn that the performance of any outward service unto God is displeasing to Him if it be separated from sincere love of the brethren. To serve God acceptably we must perform not only the duties of the first table of the Law, but also those of the second. Make no mistake, my reader, the Holy One abhors all professions of piety from those who make no conscience of endeavoring to live in peace with their brethren.

"Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has anything against you; leave there your gift before the altar" (Matthew 5:23, 24). The words "your brother has anything against you" clearly signifies, "If you have done him some injury," or he has cause of complaint (either real or imagined) against you. If you have treated him in some way inconsistent with the fraternal relationship, if he is conscious that you have wronged him, then you must promptly seek to right that wrong, no matter what the cost may be to your pride or interests. If may be that you were guilty of what some would lightly dismiss as, "only an outburst of temper," and which you regretted afterwards; nevertheless, peace has been disrupted, and God requires you to do everything in your power to lawfully restore it.

Does not failure to heed this rule go far to explain why the supplications of so many of the Lord's people remain unanswered? What number's fondly imagine that so long as they are regular in their attendance in the house of prayer and maintain a reverent demeanor therein, that their petitions will prevail-even though they be at enmity against some of their brethren. Not so: the words of the Psalmist on this are much too pointed to be misunderstood, "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me" (Psalm 66:18). Before bending the knee in prayer, let us call to mind that we are about to draw near unto Him who is as much the Father of the offended brother as He is ours, and that He cannot receive us while we continue casting a stumbling block in the way of the other. No worship or service can be acceptable to God while we are under the influence of a malicious spirit.

"Leave there your gift before the altar, and go your way: first be reconciled to your brother." This means there must be a sincere and penitent acknowledgment of the offense committed and proper restitution made for any injury done, so that by all proper means and reasonable concessions we seek forgiveness from the one offended. "In this case the person, instead of offering his gift, is to go immediately to his brother, and be reconciled to him; dismissing all malignant feeling from his mind, he is to repair the injury he has done to his brother. If he has deprived him of his property, he is to restore it; if he has slandered him, he is to do all that lies in his power to counteract the effect of his calumny, and acknowledge his regret for having acted so unbrotherly. In this way he is likely to be reconciled to his brother, that is, to be restored to his brother's favor" (J. Brown).

The question may be raised, What can be done in a case where the one whom I have offended is no longer accessible to me?-one perhaps who has moved to far-distant parts. Answer: every effort must be made to obtain his or her address, and then write them a confession of your fault and your grief for the same, as frankly as though you were speaking to them. But suppose their address be unobtainable? Then in such a case you are hindered by Divine providence and God will accept the will for the deed, if there be a willing mind, providing you have done all you could to right the wrong, and have humbly confessed the same unto God and sought His forgiveness.

It should be pointed out that in this rule concerning reconciliation with an aggrieved brother, the Lord furnished a third direction for the expounding of God's commandments. First, He showed that under any one sin prohibited in the commandment, God forbids all sins of the same kind, with all the causes thereof (v. 22). Second, that to the breach of any commandment there is annexed a curse, whether it be specifically expressed or not (v. 22). And now, third, that where any vice is forbidden, there the contrary virtue is enjoined; and on the contrary, where any virtue is commanded, the opposite vice is reprehended. Herein the Divine Laws evidence their superiority to human, for man's laws are satisfied by abstaining from the crime prohibited, though the contrary virtue be not practiced: so long as we abstain from murder, it matters not though we fail to love our brethren. But God requires not only abstention from vice, but also the practice of virtue.

Another general principle is brought out in the verses before us, one which is of considerable importance in the correct interpreting of many New Testament passages, namely, that to be "reconciled" to another does not signify so much to cherish kindly feelings towards one with whom we have been offended, as to be restored to the favor of one we have offended. This throws light on such a statement as, "For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life" (Romans 5:10). The primary reference is to the Redeemer's propitiating God and obtaining for us His blessing-the same holds good equally of Ephesians 2:16; Colossians 1:21. In like manner, "Be you reconciled to God" (2 Corinthians 5:20) means not only throw down the weapons of your warfare against Him, but primarily, be restored to His favor.

One other important principle enforced by Christ in our passage is there are degrees of value in the several duties of Divine worship: all are not equal, but some are more and some less necessary. The highest degree of holy worship is prescribed in the First Commandment: to love, fear, and rejoice in God above all, trusting Him and His promises. The second degree is to love our neighbors as ourselves, living in harmony with them, and seeking reconciliation when any division exists. The third degree consists of the outward ceremonial duties of God's worship; and that these are inferior to the other is clear from Christ's, "first be reconciled to your brother." Even the outward solemnities of Sabbath keeping are to give place to the works of love. God esteems mercy above sacrifice. Alas, how many today are sticklers for the details of baptism and the Lord's Supper who will not even speak to some of their brethren.

"First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift" (Matthew 5:24). This is far from implying that the regaining of his brother's esteem is a good work which entitles him to the favor of God. No-the man who rests his hope of the acceptance of his religious services on the consciousness that his brethren have nothing against him, is leaning on a broken reed: the only valid ground of hope for the acceptance of either our persons or our worship is the free grace of God. But it means that, when peace has been restored, he must not forget to return and offer his gift; for although God will not receive our worship unless-so far as in us lies-we are on loving terms with our neighbors, yet the performance of our duty to men in nowise frees us from the obligation of direct service to God.

"Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver you to the judge, and the judge deliver you to the officer, and you be cast into prison. Truly I say unto you, You shall by no means come out thence, until you have paid the uttermost farthing" (25, 26). This is one of the passages appealed to by the Papists in support of their Christ-insulting dogma of purgatory: that they have to apply to such verses as these in order to bolster up their error shows how hard pressed they are to find anything in the Scriptures which even appears to favor their vile tenets.

The Roman expositors are not even agreed among themselves. Some take the "Adversary" to be the Devil, and the "Judge" God Himself. Others among them suppose the "Adversary" to be God administering His Law, the "Judge" they regard as Christ, the "officer" an angel, and the "prison" to be purgatory; "the way" the span of our life on earth. "Agree with God while you are in this life, lest you come before Christ in judgment, and He cause His angels to cast you into purgatory, and there you remain until you have made full satisfaction for all your venial sins." But such a concept utterly ignores the context, where Christ lays down a rule of reconciliation between man and man, and not between God and man. Moreover, such an interpretation (?) pits the Father against the Son. Finally, it denies the sufficiency of Christ's atonement, making the sinner himself the one who provides satisfaction for his venial sins.

Many Protestant commentators regard verses 25 and 26 as a parable, which portrays the grave peril of the sinner and his urgent need of believing the Gospel. Injurious conduct toward our fellow-men renders us noxious to the wrath of God, who is our Adversary-at-law. We are on the way to the Judgment-seat and our time here is but short at best. But a way of reconciliation is revealed in the Gospel, and of this we should avail ourselves immediately. If it be neglected and despised, then we forsake our own mercies, and close the door of hope against us. If we die with our sins unpardoned, then nothing awaits us but a certain judgment, and we shall be cast into the Prison of Hell, and being unable to offer any satisfaction to Divine justice we must there suffer the due reward of our iniquities forever and ever. Such a concept may evidence the ingenuity of the commentator, but where is the slightest hint in the passage that Christ was speaking a parable?

Personally we see no reason whatever for not understanding our Lord's words here literally. Christ had exhorted the party doing wrong to seek to be reconciled with his brother, by acknowledging the offense and making reparation according to the injury inflicted. In support thereof, He had advanced the solemn consideration that until this be done, communion with God is broken and our worship is unacceptable to Him. Here (knowing how proud and obstinate the human heart is, and how slow men are to yield and

submit to this duty) Christ descended to a lower level, and points out another reason why it is highly expedient for the offending believer to put matters right with him whom he has wronged, namely, lest the aggrieved one go to the law, and this involve him in costly litigation, or even procure his imprisonment.

"Agree with your adversary" is just the same as, "Be reconciled to your brother," for "adversary" is a general name applied to all persons in common who have a controversy or are at variance with each other. "Agree with" the one you have provoked, seek restoration to his favor-by repairing the injury you have done him. An injured one, or a creditor, might at any time sue him, demanding that his case be tried in the magistrate's court. While on their way to court, there was still time to come to an amicable agreement between themselves, but once they appeared before the magistrate the matter would pass out of their hands, and be subject to the decision of the court, whose business it is to see that strict justice be impartially enforced.

The view given above was held by the renowned Calvin, "If in this place the judge signify God, the adversary the Devil, the officer an angel, the prison purgatory, I will readily subscribe to them (the Papists). But if it be evident to everyone that Christ thus intended to show how many dangers and calamities persons expose themselves, who prefer obstinately exerting the rigor of the law to acting upon the principles of equity and kindness, in order the more earnestly to exhort his disciples to an equitable concord, pray where will purgatory be found?" Verses 26 and 27 are to be regarded as a warning of what may befall those who heed not the command in verses 24 and 25. If we refuse to humble ourselves and strive to preserve peace, we must not be surprised if others deal harshly with us and sue us. In closing, it may be observed that Christ here approves of the magisterial office, his proceeding against the guilty, and of imprisonment.

 

11. The Law and Adultery: Matthew 5:27-32.

Let us begin by pointing out once more that the several distinctions drawn by Christ in this Discourse between what had been said in ancient times upon a number of matters of moral and religious duty, and what He now affirmed, must have respect not to the real teaching of the Law and the Prophets but to the inadequate and erroneous views entertained of their teaching by the Rabbis and the false notions founded upon them. After so solemnly and expressly declaring His entire harmony with the Law and the Prophets (5:17-20), we must regard with abhorrence the idea that Christ, immediately after, proceeded to pit Himself against them, affirming that Moses taught one thing and He quite another. No-in every instance where a commandment is quoted as among the things said in former times, it was the understanding and views entertained thereof against which the Lord directed His authoritative deliverances. It is not the Law per se which is under consideration, but the carnal interpretations of it made by the Pharisees.

It should prove a real help to the reader if he looks upon Matthew 5:20 as the text of this third division of the Sermon, and all that follows to the end of chapter five as an enlargement thereof. That verse enunciated a most important practical truth, and the verses which immediately follow contain a series of illustrative examples of how and wherein the righteousness of the citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven must exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees. First, the Law-giver Himself had freed the Sixth Commandment from the rubbish which carnal men had heaped upon it (vv. 21-26), and now He proceeded to restore the Seventh Commandment to its true sense and meaning, and therefore to its proper use, purging it from the false interpretation of the Jews. Thus in the verses which are now before us we have the Savior contrasting the righteousness of His Kingdom with the righteousness of the religious leaders of His day respecting the all-important matter of chastity.

"You have heard that it was said by them of old time, You shall not commit adultery" (v. 27). Again we would carefully note that Christ did not say, "You know that God said at Sinai," but instead "you have heard that it was said by them of old time." This makes it quite clear that He was continuing to refute the injurious traditions which the Jews had accepted from their elders: "Them of old time" referring to the ancient teachers-compare our comments on verse 21. "You shall not commit adultery"; those were indeed the actual words of the Holy Spirit, but the preceding clause makes it plain that our Lord was alluding to them in the sense in which the Scribes and Pharisees understood them. They saw in the Seventh Commandment nothing more than the bare injunction, "No man shall lie with another man's wife," and hence they thought that so long as men abstained from that particular sin, they met the requirements of this precept.

The ancient rabbis, echoed by the Pharisees, restricted the scope of the Seventh Commandment to the bare act of unlawful fellowship with a married woman. But they should have perceived, as in the case of the Sixth Commandment, the seventh spoke specifically of only the culminating crime, leaving the conscience of the hearer to infer that anything which partook of its nature or was calculated to lead up to the overt deed was also and equally forbidden, even the secret thought of unlawful lust. That the Pharisees did narrow the meaning of the Seventh Commandment to the mere outward act of impurity, is evident from our Lord's contrastive exposition of it in the next verse, where He insists that its true intent had a much wider scope, reaching also to the inward affections, prohibiting all impure thoughts and desires of the heart.

Once more we are shown the vast difference there is between the spiritual requirements of a holy God and the low standard which is deemed sufficient by His fallen creatures. The religion of carnal and worldly men is merely political; so far as good and evil affects society, they are in some measure concerned-but as to the honor and glory of God, they have no regard. So long as the outside of the cup and of the platter be clean, they are indifferent to whatever filth may exist within (Matthew 23:25, 26). So long as the external conduct of its citizens be law-abiding, the State is satisfied, no matter what iniquity may be seething in their minds. Different by far is it with the Judge of all the earth-"The LORD sees not as man sees; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). That which the world pays no attention to, God regards as of first importance, for "out of it (the heart) are the issues of life" (Proverbs 4:23). It is only "the pure in heart" who shall ever see-commune with, and eternally enjoy-God (Matthew 5:8).

In what has just been before us we may see a very real warning against a slavish literalism, which has ever been the refuge into which not a few errorists have betaken themselves. In this instance the Pharisees kept themselves close to the letter of the Word, but sadly failed to understand and insist upon its spiritual purpose. Papists seek to justify their erroneous dogma of transubstantiation by an appeal to the very words of Christ, "this is My body," insisting on the literal sense of His language. Unitarians seek to shelter behind His declaration, "My Father is greater than I" (John 14:28), arguing therefrom the essential inferiority of the Son. In like manner, the ancient rabbis took the words of the Seventh Commandment at their face value only, failing to enter into the full spiritual meaning of them. Let premillenialists heed this warning against a slavish literalism or being deceived by the mere sound of words, instead of ascertaining their sense.

The great Teacher of the Church here supplied us with an invaluable canon of exegesis or rule of interpretation by teaching us that God's commandment "is exceeding broad" (Psalm 119:96), and that human language becomes invested with a far fuller and richer meaning when used by God than it does on the lips of men. This of itself should be sufficient to silence those who condemn the servants of God when they spiritualize Old Testament prophecies, objecting that they are reading into those prophecies what is not there, and unwarrantably departing from their plain sense. When the Lord Jesus affirmed, "But I say unto you, That whoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart,"-had not the Pharisees as much occasion to demur, and say "The Seventh Commandment says nothing about lustful looks; You are reading into it what is not there."

Before passing on, a few words need to be said on the special heinousness of this particular crime. Adultery is the breach of wedlock. Even the Pharisees condemned it, for though they made light of disobedience to parents (Matthew 15:4-6), yet they clamored for the death of the woman guilty of this sin of adultery (John 8:4, 5). The grievousness of this offense appears in that it breaks the solemn covenant entered into between husband and wife and God, it robs another of the precious ornament of chastity, it defiles the body and ruins the soul, it brings down the vengeance of God upon the posterity, which Job called "a fire that consumes to destruction" (31:12). "Be not deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers . . . . shall inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 6:9, 10). "Whoremongers and adulterers God will judge" (Hebrews 13:4).

"But I say unto you, That whoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart" (Matthew 5:28). Here we have an exposition of the Seventh Commandment by the supreme Prophet of God, wherein He reveals the height, depth, and breadth of the spirituality of the Divine Law. That commandment not only forbids all acts of impurity, but also the desire of them. The Pharisees made it extend no further than to the outward and physical act, supposing that if the iniquity were restricted to the mind, God would be indifferent. Yet their own Scriptures declared, "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me" (Psalm 66:18), and Christ here made it known that if a man allows himself to gaze upon a woman until his appetites are excited and sexual thoughts are engendered, then the Holy Law of God judges him to be guilty of adultery and subject to its curse; and if he indulges his licentious imagination so as to devise means for the gratification thereof, then is his guilt that much greater, even though Providence thwart the execution of his plans.

Our Lord here declared that the Seventh Commandment is broken even by a secret though unexpressed desire. There is, then, such a thing as heart adultery-alas that this is so rarely made conscience of today. Impure thoughts and wanton imaginations which never issue in the culminating act, are breaches of the Divine Law. All lusting after the forbidden object is condemned. Where the lascivious desire is rolled under the tongue as a sweet morsel, it is the commission of the act so far as the heart is concerned, for there is then lacking nothing but a convenient opportunity for the crime itself. He who weighs the spirits, judges the going out of the heart after that which is evil, as sin, so they who cherish irregular desires are transgressors of the law of purity.

"But I say unto you, That whoever looks on a woman to lust after her, has committed adultery with her already in his heart." It is not an involuntary glance which constitutes the sin, but when evil thoughts are thereby prompted by our depraved natures. The first step and degree, then, of this crime is when lust stirs within us. The second stage and degree is when we deliberately approach unto-a feeding of the eye with the sight of the forbidden fruit, where further satisfaction cannot be obtained. Then if this lust be not sternly mortified, the heart swiftly becomes enthralled and the soul is brought into complete bondage to Satan, so that it is fettered by chains which no human power can break. Such was the deplorable condition of those mentioned by the Apostle, "Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin" (2 Peter 2:14).

Well did Matthew Henry point out, "The eye is both the inlet and the outlet of a great deal of wickedness of this kind: witness Joseph's mistress (Genesis 39:7), Samson (Judges 16:1), David (2 Samuel 11:2). What need have we, therefore, with holy Job, to 'make a covenant with our eyes' (31:1) to make this bargain with them: that they should have the pleasure of beholding the light of the sun and the works of God, provided that they would never fasten or dwell upon anything that might occasion impure imaginations or desires; and under this penalty, that if they did, they must smart for it in penitential tears. What have we the covering of our eyes for, but to restrain corrupt glances and to keep out defiling impressions?" How much sorrow and humiliation would be avoided if such wholesome counsel was duly laid to heart and carried out into practice!?

By clear and necessary implication Christ here also forbade the using of any other of our senses and members to stir up lust. If ensnaring looks be reprehensible, then so much more unclean conversation and wanton dalliances, which are the fuel of this hellish fire. Again, if lustful looking be so grievous a sin, then those who dress and expose themselves with desires to be looked at and lusted after-as Jezebel, who painted her face, tired her head, and looked out of the window (2 Kings 9:30)-are not less, but even more guilty. In this matter it is only too often the case that men sin, but women tempt them so to do. How great, then, must be the guilt of the great majority of the modern misses who deliberately seek to arouse the sexual passions of our young men? And how much greater still is the guilt of most of their mothers for allowing them to become lascivious temptresses?

As looking to lust is here forbidden, so by proportion are all other like occasions unto adultery. The reading of books which make light of immodesty and indecency, and that cater to those who relish the suggestive and questionable, are therefore prohibited. So too is the use of light and wanton talk and the jesting about loose morals: "But fornication and all impurity or covetousness, let it not once be named among you, as becomes saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting" (Ephesians 5:3, 4). Many who are given to this think it a trifling matter, but in reality they are double offenders, for not only have they a wanton eye but a lascivious tongue also. In like manner, promiscuous dancing and mixed bathing is most certainly condemned by the Seventh Commandment, for in both there is additional provocation unto lust.

How solemnly do these words of Christ in Matthew 5:28 condemn us, for even though (by preserving grace) our bodies have not been defiled by the outward act of adultery, yet who can say, "My heart is clean"? Who is free from a wanton eye, from evil desires, from impure imaginations? Who can truthfully affirm that he has never been guilty of questionable jesting and unchaste conversation? Must we not all of us lay our hands upon our mouths and condemn ourselves as offenders in the sight of God? Surely we have ample cause to humble ourselves beneath His mighty hand and acknowledge our breach of the Seventh Commandment. And if our repentance and confession be sincere, shall we not be doubly on our guard against a repetition of these sins, seeking to avoid temptations and taking heed of every occasion which may incite us? Surely it is evident that if our hearts be honest before God we cannot do less. Yes, shall we not with increased earnestness pray, "Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity, and quicken You me in Your way" (Psalm 119:37)?

Again-if the lust of the heart be adultery in the sight of God, then with what diligence and care should we respond to that injunction, "Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and the spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Corinthians 7:1), that is, labor to keep our hearts and minds as pure as our bodies. Unless they do so, Christians themselves will be deprived of a comforting assurance of their personal interest in the love of God, for when they defile their minds by harboring impure thoughts, the Spirit is grieved, and withholds His witness to our sonship. Nay, if we truly realize that the Holy One has taken up His abode within our hearts, must we not put forth every effort to keep the Guest chamber clean? As the best way to keep down weeds is to plant the garden with vegetables and flowers, so the most effective means of excluding from the mind those foul imaginations is for it to be filled with thoughts of spiritual things, to have our affections set upon things above. If we give God His proper place within, Satan will be defeated.

We feel that we cannot do better in closing this article than by quoting here the beneficial counsels of another: "To temptations to impurity in some of its forms, we are commonly exposed, and it requires constant vigilance to avoid falling before some of them. There are a few suggestions which, on this subject, I would affectionately urge on the attention of the young. Be on your guard against loose and unprincipled companions. 'Be not deceived; evil communications corrupt good manners.' It is impossible to associate intimately with the profligate without danger. Abstain from the perusal of books tainted with impurity. These are scarcely less mischievous-in many cases they are more so-than the company of the wicked.

"The deliberate perusal of such books is a plain proof that the mind and conscience are already in a deeply polluted state. Keep at a distance from all indelicate and even doubtful amusements-I allude chiefly to theatrical amusements-where the mind is exposed, in many instances, to all the evils at once of depraved society and licentious writing. Seek to have your mind occupied and your affections engaged with 'things unseen and eternal.' Habitually realize the intimate presence of that God, who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. Never forget that His eye is on your heart, and that 'all things are naked and opened' to Him; and, as one of the best and most effectual methods of mortifying your members which are on the earth-crucifying the flesh with its affections and lusts-'seek the things which are at God's right hand.' Never tamper with temptations, but flee youthful lusts" (J. Brown).

 

11. The Law and Adultery: Matthew 5:27-33.

From what has been before us in Matthew 5:21-26, and still more so from the searching and pride-withering declaration of Christ in verse 28, we may perceive again how deeply important is a right understanding of the Divine Law, and what fatal consequences must inevitably follow from inadequate and erroneous views thereof. It is at this point, more than anywhere else, that the orthodoxy and helpfulness of the preacher must be tested, for if he fails here-in his interpretation and enforcement of the strictness and spirituality of the Decalogue-the whole of his teaching must necessarily be fundamentally faulty and injuriously misleading. This is evident from the method followed by Christ in His first public sermon. No matter how deplorable and general be the failure of the modern pulpit, let it be said emphatically that all of us are bound and must yet be judged by the holy Law of God, and no repudiation thereof, no modifying of its high demands by unfaithful preachers, can in any way justify our disobedience to God's commands.

"While we therefore view the strictness, spirituality, and reasonableness of the precepts which we have been reading, as expounded by our Divine Teacher, let us impartially compare our past and present lives, our tempers, affections, thoughts, words, and actions, with this perfect rule. Then we shall find every self-confident hope expire, and plainly perceive that by the works of the Law no flesh shall be justified in the sight of God. Then will Christ and His salvation become precious to our souls. Whether we look to our conduct towards those who have injured us, or those whom we have offended; towards our superiors or inferiors, relatives, friends, or servants; the state of our heart or the government of our passions; to what we have, or what we have not done; we shall see cause for humiliation, and need of forgiveness. And when we consider that we must be made holy according to this standard, in order to the enjoyment of God and Heaven, we shall as evidently perceive our need of the powerful influences of the Holy Spirit, and learn to value the ordinances of God, through which that sacred assistance is obtained" (Thomas Scott).

"And if your right eye offend you, pluck it out, and cast it from you: for it is profitable for you that one of your members should perish, and not that your whole body should be cast into Hell" (Matthew 5:29). In this and the following verse our Savior furnishes heavenly instruction for the avoiding of those offenses against which He had just spoken. It is supplied by Him in the way of answer to a secret objection to the exposition He had given of the Seventh Commandment, wherein He had condemned adultery of heart. Corrupt human nature would be ready to at once murmur, It is impossible to be governed by so exacting a law, it is a hard saying, who can bear it? Flesh and blood cannot but look with pleasure on a beautiful woman, and it is inevitable that there should be lusting after so attractive an object. What, then, shall we do with our eyes, if an unchaste look be so evil and fatal? It was to just such risings up of the depraved heart against the spiritual requirements of a holy God that Christ here made reply.

"And if your right eye offend you, pluck it out, and cast it from you." Here again the language of Christ is not to be taken at its proper sense: that is, it is not to be understood literally. One of the rules in expounding Scripture is that where the literal sense of a verse is against any of the commandments of the Law, then its words must be regarded figuratively, for obviously one part of the Word must not be made to contradict another. Now just as the Seventh Commandment not only prohibited the physical act of adultery, but also all mental impurity, so the Sixth Commandment not only forbade the taking of life, but also reprehended any deliberate maiming of either our own body or that of our neighbor's. Therefore, no man can without sin pluck out his eye or cut off his hand.

By the "eye" we are to understand, first, the eye of the body, yet not that only but any other thing that is dear to us-the "eye" being one of the most precious of our members. The word "offend" does not here signify to displease, but to hinder: the reference is to anything which occasions us to commit this sin, whatever would cause us to stumble. Thus the figure is easily interpreted: whatever in our walk or ways exposes the soul to the danger of unholy desires, must, at all costs, be abandoned. There must be the uncompromising excision of everything hurtful to the soul. To pluck out the right eve means that we are to rigidly restrain and strictly govern our senses and members, deny ourselves, even though it involve present hindrance, financial loss, and personal pain. No matter how pleasant and dear the presence and use of certain things be to us, yet if they are occasions of sin they must be relinquished and avoided.

Since the Lord Jesus so pointedly condemned unlawful desires and the exercise of impure imaginations, then it is our bounden duty to suppress and disallow them, to strive earnestly against the same, to subdue the lusts from which they spring. Though the senses and members of our bodies be the instruments of evil, yet the sin itself proceeds from the lusts of our hearts, and if they be subdued, if every idolized object be renounced within, then there will be no need to either flagellate or mutilate our bodies. On the other hand, if we crucify not the flesh with its affections and lusts, the mere plucking out of an eye or the cutting off a hand will profit the soul nothing. The root of sin lies much deeper than the physical: "Cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also" (Matthew 23:26). Make the tree good, and the fruit will be good (Matthew 12:33).

"Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth: fornication, impurity, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence," etc. (Colossians 3:5), not the mortification of our physical "members," but the appetites and passions of the soul. This expresses the same idea as our Lord was propounding. But the subjugation of sexual appetites, the obtaining of victory over such strong desires of the heart, is no easy matter-especially in cases where both constitution and habit have united to enslave in these sins. No, the mortification of such lusts cannot but be attended with most painful exercises and the sacrifice of what has been delighted in and held dear. Nevertheless, though it be as painful as the plucking out of a right eye, it must be done. We are obliged to choose between mortification and damnation, and therefore the strongest corruptions are to be mastered and all that is within us brought into subjection to God and subordinated to the eternal good of our souls.

It is to be observed that this is one of many passages in the Gospels in which we find the Son of God making definite reference to a Future State. How often did He refer to the resurrection of the body, and of a Hell into which the wicked shall be cast! He was continually bringing these things to the attention of men and pressing them upon their serious and solemn consideration. No flesh-pleasing sycophant was He: the glory of God and not the praise of men was ever the object before Him. And herein He has left an example to be followed by all whom He has called to be officers in His kingdom; not to lull to sleep by "smooth speaking," but to declare "the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness, of men" (Romans 1:18). If men and women could be persuaded to weigh with due deliberation the vast importance and endlessness of eternity, and the brevity and uncertainty of this life, they would cease trifling away so many of their swiftly passing hours, and prepare to meet their God.

"For it is profitable for you that one of your members should perish, and not that your whole body should be cast into Hell." Christ here emphasizes the fact that lustful looks and wanton dalliances are so disastrous and destructive to the soul that it is better to lose an eye than to yield to this evil and perish eternally in it. This, as we have pointed out, is in reply to the objection that heart adultery is something no man can prevent, that it is beyond his power to resist temptations to gaze with longing eyes upon an attractive woman. Rightly did Matthew Henry point out, "Such pretenses as these will scarcely be overcome by reason, and therefore must be argued against with the terrors of the Lord, and so they are here argued against." Alas, that this powerful deterrent to evil and incitement to holiness is so rarely made use of in our degenerate times, when little else than honey and soothing syrup is being handed out from the pulpit.

Far different was the course followed by the chief of the Apostles. When he stood before Felix, he "reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come," and we are told that the governor "trembled" (Acts 24:25). But what is there in modern preaching-even that known as "Calvinistic"-which is calculated to make sin-hardened souls to tremble? Little wonder that the rising generation defy their parents with such impudence, when their elders are unrestrained by fear of the hereafter. "Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord (in the previous verse he had spoken of the judgment-seat of Christ), we persuade men" (2 Corinthians 5:11) said the Apostle, and so will every faithful servant of God today. Ministers of the Gospel are required to conduct their hearers to Sinai before they lead them to Calvary, to make known the "severity of God" (Romans 11:22) as well as His goodness, to declare the reality and awfulness of Hell, as well as the blessedness of Heaven; and if they do not so, then they are unfaithful to their trust, and God will require at their hands the blood of their hearers (Ezekiel 33:6; Acts 20:26).

"And if your right hand offend you, cut it off, and cast it from you: for it is profitable for you that one of your members should perish, and not that your whole body should be cast into Hell" (Matthew 5:30). This is the same exhortation as was before us in the preceding verse, the same stern and startling argument to restrain us from the sin of heart adultery. Nor is this to be regarded as a needless multiplying of words, for such repetitions in the Scripture have a particular use, namely, to signify that the things thus delivered are of special importance and worthy of our most careful observation and obedience. There is indeed a slight variation, and what strikes us (though the commentators seem to have missed it) is a designed gradation. As the "eye" was a figure of what is dearest and most cherished by us, so the "hand" is to be understood of what is most useful and profitable. Many have wondered why our Lord did not mention the plucking out of an eye last, as being the severer loss of the two; but it must not be overlooked that He was not here addressing a company of the rich and learned but the common people, and to a laboring man the loss of the right hand would be a far more grievous deprivation than an eye!

Nor is it to be overlooked that Christ was here more immediately speaking to His own disciples-this well may startle some today, yet as Andrew Fuller rightly pointed out, "It is necessary for those whom the Lord may know to be heirs of salvation, in certain circumstances, to be threatened with damnation, as a means of preserving them from it." Such passages as Romans 11:18-20; Galatians 6:7, 8; Hebrews 10:26-30, are addressed to believers! Mature reflection of our situation in this world, will reconcile us to that self-denying and painful mortification of our sins to which we are indispensably called. We shall see tender mercy couched under the apparent harshness of the requirement-our safety, advantage, and felicity consulted-and the grace and consolations of the Spirit will render it practicable and even comfortable. And would we be preserved from gross iniquities, our hearts must be kept with all diligence, and our eyes and all our senses and faculties forbidden to rove after those things which lead to transgression: the strictest rules of purity and self-denial will be found, by experience, the most conducive to true and solid comfort while in this world" (Thomas Scott).

By these exhortations, then, the Lord Jesus teaches us that we must keep a strict watch over the senses and members of our body, especially the eye and the hand, that they become not the occasions of sinning against God: "Neither yield you your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin; but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God" (Romans 6:13). We must use our sight in obedience to God: "Let your eyes look right on, and let your eyelids look straight before you" (Proverbs 4:25), that is, we are to order our sight according to the rule of the Word, for that is the way wherein we are to walk. The necessity of heeding this Rule appears from many solemn examples. Eve's looking on the forbidden fruit, contrary to the Divine commandment, was the door of that sin into her heart. Ham was cursed for looking upon his father's nakedness (Genesis 9); Lot's wife was turned into a pillar of salt for looking back toward Sodom (Genesis 19:26); over 50,000 men of Bethshemesh were slain for looking into the ark of the Lord against His revealed will (1 Samuel 6). Do not these cases tell us clearly that before we look at anything we should pause and ask whether the same will be for God's glory and our good?

Again-these exhortations of Christ teach us plainly that we must seek diligently to avoid all the occasions of every sin, though it be most painful to ourselves and attended with great temporal loss. As one old writer expressed it, The fallen nature of man is like unto dry wood, which will quickly burn as soon as fire touches it. As mariners at sea set a constant watch to avoid rocks and sand, so should we most warily avoid every occasion to sin. Self must be denied at all costs, constant watch kept over the heart, the first risings of corruption therein suppressed, temptations to sin shunned, the company of those who would be a snare unto us avoided. So there must be a constant seeking unto God for His grace, that we may be enabled to so walk in the Spirit that we will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh, by His grace.

The task unto which the Lord Jesus here calls us is that of mortification, the putting to death of our evil lusts. That this is a most unwelcome and painful work, He warns us by the figures He employed. Unto those who object that the keeping of their hearts free from unlawful desires and lustful imaginations is a task utterly beyond their powers, Christ replies, If, as you say, it is impossible, if there be no other way for governing your appetites (which, blessed be God, through His grace, there is), then pluck out and cut off your offending members, rather than use them to the eternal undoing of your souls. Who is there among us who would not consent to the amputation of a gangrened limb, no matter how painful the operation and heavy the loss, if persuaded that this was imperative in order for life itself to be preserved? Then why refuse painful mortification which is essential to the saving of the soul? When tempted to shrink therefrom, seriously consider the only other alternative-in Hell both body and soul will be tormented forever and ever.

Not only must there be the uncompromising avoidance and refusal of all that is evil, but we must abridge ourselves in or totally abstain from things lawful in themselves, if we find they are occasions of temptation to us. "Take a familiar illustration. A person is fond of wine: it is agreeable to his taste; it is useful in refreshing him after severe exertion. But he finds that this taste has seduced him into intemperance; he finds that there is constant danger of its doing so. He has fallen before the temptation again and again. What is such a person's duty? According to our Lord, it is obviously to abstain from it entirely-on this plain principle, that the evil he incurs by abstaining, however keenly felt, is as nothing to the evil to which the intemperate use of wine subjects him-even everlasting punishment in Hell. And to make this abstinence his duty, it is not necessary that he should know that he will fall before his temptation: it is enough that he knows that, as he has repeatedly fallen before it, he may fall before it again" (John Brown).

 

11. The Law and Adultery: Matthew 5:27-33.

Most writers regard Matthew 5:31-33 as forming a separate subdivision of our Lord's sermon, but really it belongs to the same section as verses 27-30, treating of the same subject and reprehending the same sin, though a different aspect thereof. Under the general head of Adultery occurred another evil, namely the use and misuse of Divorce, concerning which the Law of Moses had been grossly corrupted. Having shown the strictness and spirituality of the Seventh Commandment, Christ here took occasion to condemn the lax views and practices which then obtained in connection with the annulment of marriages. The Jews had fearfully perverted one of the political statutes of the Law, so that divorces were granted on the most frivolous pretenses, and it was this our Lord here condemned. Thus, in reality, He was continuing to restore the Seventh Commandment to its proper place and perfections.

In the passage which is to be before us we are supplied with a further illustration of the vast superiority of the righteousness of Christ's kingdom over the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees. There is an invariable outworking of the principle that where spirituality wanes morality also deteriorates. All history bears witness to the fact that when vital godliness is at a low ebb the sacred institution of marriage is held in light esteem. It is both solemn and sad to behold an exemplification of the same in our own times: as the claims of God are less and less regarded by those of high and low estate alike, the holy obligations of wedlock are gradually whittled down and then increasingly disregarded. When a country, avowedly Christian, begins to tamper with the institution of marriage and make more elastic its divorce laws, it is a certain proof of its ethical decadence.

Even those with only a smattering of ancient history are aware of the fact that in the last few decades before the fall of both the Grecian and Roman empires, marriage was held in such low esteem that it was a common thing for the women to keep tab on their divorces by the number of rings worn on their fingers. It may be replied, They were heathen peoples. True, but of what our moderns would term "highly civilized." Moreover, human nature is the same the world over, and when the fear of God is lost, moral corruptions quickly abound. It was not otherwise with the favored nation of Israel, as a glance at the Prophets will show. The case of the woman in John 4 to whom our Lord said, "You have had five husbands: and he whom you now have is not your husband" (v. 18), is not to be regarded as an exception, but rather as symptomatic of a disease which had spread widely through the Nation.

"It has been said, Whoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorce" (Matthew 5:31). The original statute on this matter is found in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. But so perversely had that injunction been interpreted, that one of the leading schools of theology (that of Hillel) taught that a man might put away his wife for any cause. In the Apocryphal writings we read, "The son of Sirach says, If she go not as you would have her, cut her off front your flesh, give her a bill of divorce, and let her go" (Ecclesiaticus 25:26), which is one of many definite indications that the Apocrypha was not inspired by the Holy Spirit. Josephus also wrote, "The law runs thus: He who would be divorced from his wife, for any cause whatever, as many such causes there are, let him give her a bill of divorce." He also confessed that he himself put away his wife, after she had borne him three children, because he was not pleased with her behavior.

Moses had indeed been Divinely directed to allow divorce in case of adultery, for the prevention of yet worse crimes. But that which had been no more than a temporary concession was changed by the Pharisees into a precept, and that so interpreted as to give license to the indulging of their evil and selfish desires. And yet, hypocrites as they were, they made a great parade of obeying Moses with regard to the "bill of divorce." The Talmudic writings, though they took little trouble to describe the justice of divorce, were rigidly definite with regard to the form of the bill, insisting that it must be written in twelve lines, neither more nor less. Such is ever the folly of those who strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.

Let us now consider a few details in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. The first thing we notice is the kind of statute there given. It was not a moral but a political or civil one, for the good ordering of the state. Among such laws were those of tolerance or permission, which did not approve of the evil things concerned, but only suffered it for the prevention of greater evil-as when the sea makes a breach into the land, if it cannot possibly be stopped, the best course is to make it as narrow as possible. Such was the law concerning usury (Deuteronomy 23:20), permitting the Jews to exact it of a stranger, but not to exercise it towards a brother. Similar, too, was the law regulating polygamy (Deuteronomy 21:15). These laws tolerated what God condemned, and that for the purpose of preventing greater evils.

Such was the Mosaic law for divorce: not approving of the giving of a bill of divorce for every trifling cause, but permitting it for the sake of preventing greater misery and crime. For instance, if a man took a strong and rooted dislike to his wife and wished to be rid of her, he would be likely to ill-treat her, until she was in danger of her very life. This law of divorce, then, was granted so as to remove the temptation for a hard-hearted husband to commit murder. Divorce is always a deviation from the original marriage institution consequent upon human depravity. In this instance if a man found that in his wife-something short of adultery, for that was to be punished by death-which made her repulsive to him, he was permitted to divorce her. But this was not to be done verbally and hurriedly, in a fit of temper, but after due deliberation. A "bill of divorce" had to be legally drawn up and witnessed, making the transaction a solemn and final one.

Second, we may note the strictness of this law. The man only was permitted to give this bill of divorce: neither here nor anywhere else in the Old Testament was this liberty granted unto the wife. If this strikes us as being unjust or unduly severe, two things are to be taken into consideration. First, in the case of a husband being guilty of immorality, the wife could bring it to the notice of the magistrate, and relief was then afforded her by her guilty partner suffering the death penalty. Second, this statute was expressly designed for the prevention of violence and bloodshed, to protect the weaker vessel; it being taken for granted that the man could protect himself if his wife should attack him.

Third, a brief word now upon the force and effect of this law. It made the bill of divorce, given for the stipulated cause, to be regular before men, and marriage thereafter lawful in human courts (Deuteronomy 24:4). Nevertheless, in the court of conscience before God the divorce itself and second marriages thereon were unlawful, for God hated such separations (Malachi 2:16); and whichever guilty party under such a divorce married again, committed adultery (Matthew 19:9). Now this law the Pharisees had grossly perverted. They taught that it was a "commandment" (Matthew 19:7), whereas Moses only gave a permission-as the language of Deuteronomy 24:1 plainly denotes. So, too, they taught that for any cause (Matthew 19:3) a man could divorce his wife and thereby be free from her before God, and therefore at liberty to marry another.

"But I say unto you, That whoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causes her to commit adultery: and whoever shall marry her that is divorced commits adultery" (Matthew 5:32). Here Christ refutes the corrupt interpretation of the Scribes and Pharisees, and positively affirms that divorce is permissible only in the case of that sin which in God's sight annuls the marriage covenant, and even then it is only allowed, and not commanded. Many have understood (being misled by the meaning of the English word) the "saving for the cause of fornication" to refer to this sin being committed before marriage and concealed by her until afterwards, arguing that only a married person can be guilty of "adultery." This leads us to raise the point, Do the Scriptures make any real and definite distinction between fornication and adultery? And we answer, No. True, in Matthew 15:19 and Galatians 5:19 they are mentioned separately, yet in Revelation 2:20 and 22 they are clearly used interchangeably, while in Ezekiel 16:25-28 the Wife of Jehovah is said to commit both sins.

"But I say unto you, That whoever shall put away his wife saving for the cause of fornication, causes her to commit adultery: and whoever shall marry her that is divorced commits adultery." These words of our Lord are too plain to be misunderstood. "According to this law, adultery is the only sufficient reason of divorce. He who for any other cause puts away his wife, is to be held an adulterer if he marry another woman; and she, by marrying him, commits adultery; while, at the same time, he becomes the guilty occasion of adultery, if the woman, who is still his wife, marry another man; for in this case she commits adultery as he also who marries her" (J. Brown). No matter how unscriptural be the laws of the land in which we live, or lax the sentiments and practices of the public today, nothing can possibly excuse anyone from flying in the face of this express declaration of the Son of God repeated by Him in Matthew 19:9.

Something higher than the laws of man must govern and regulate those who fear God. The laws of all "civilized" countries sanction the practice of usury, but the Word of God condemns the same. The laws of our land are open for men to go to court at the first, upon every light occasion, without seeking for some means of agreement. But those who do so, are guilty before God, notwithstanding the liberty given them by our political statutes. In like manner, human laws permit divorce for "incompatibility" of disposition, "mental cruelty" and various other things; but the Law of God condemns such licentiousness. Papists allow divorce for religious reasons, appealing to "everyone that has forsaken . . . father or mother, or wife . . . for My name's sake" (Matthew 19:29), but in that place Christ refers not to divorce at all, but to a separation caused by imprisonment, banishment, or death.

Marriage is not a mere civil thing, but is partly spiritual and Divine, and therefore God alone has the power to appoint the beginning, the continuance, and the end thereof. Here the question is likely to be asked, What of the innocent party where a divorce has taken place: may such an one marry again with Divine sanction? To the writer it seems strange that, though there is a decided consensus of agreement, all Christians are not one on this matter. In seeking the Scriptural answer to the question, let it first be borne in mind that infidelity on the part of either husband or wife annuls the marriage covenant, the man and woman being no longer "one flesh," one of them having been adulterously united to some other. Divorce goes yet further, for it legally dissolves and removes the marriage relation. We are therefore in hearty accord with the Westminster Catechism of Faith which declares, "In the case of adultery after marriage, it is lawful for the innocent party to sue out a divorce, and after the divorce to marry another, as if the offending party were dead" (Chapter 24, sect. 5).

In his excellent piece on "Of Marriage after Divorce in Case of Adultery" John Owen pointed out that, to insist that divorce simply secures a legal separation but does not dissolve the marriage relation, would bring in a state harmful to men. God has appointed marriage to be a remedy against incontinence (1 Corinthians 7:2), but if innocent parties lawfully divorced may not marry again, then they are deprived of this remedy and debarred from this benefit. If the divorced person has not the gift of continence, it is the express will of God that he should marry for his relief; yet on the supposition of the objector he sins if he marries again, yes, is guilty of the horrible crime of adultery. Is not this quite sufficient to expose the untenability of such an anomaly?

Again-can we suppose for a moment that it is the will of a righteous God for an innocent person to be penalized the remainder of his or her earthly life because of the infidelity of another? Surely the very idea is repugnant to all who are really acquainted with the Divine goodness and mercy. Why, if an innocent man upon a divorce is not then at liberty to marry again, he is deprived of his right by the sin of another, which is against the very law of nature; and on such a supposition it lies within the power of every wicked woman to deprive her husband of his natural right. The right of divorce in case of adultery, specified by Christ, for the innocent party to make use of, is evidently designed for his liberty and relief-but on the supposition that he may not again marry, it would prove a snare and a yoke to him, for if thereon he has not the gift of continence, he is exposed to sin and judgment.

But apart from these convincing considerations, the Word of God is plain and decisive upon the matter. In Matthew 5:32 Christ lays down a general rule, and then puts in an exception thereto, the nature of which exception necessarily implies and affirms the contrary to the general rule. The general rule is that, Whoever divorces his wife causes her to commit adultery, and he who marries her becomes guilty of the same crime. The "exception" there must be contrary, namely, that the innocent party in the divorce may lawfully marry again, and the one marrying him or her is not guilty of adultery. But that is the only exception. 1 Corinthians 7:15 has been appealed to by some as warranting re-marriage in the case of total desertion: but that passage is quite irrelevant, teaching no such thing. The verse refers to an unbelieving husband deserting a believing wife: in such case (says the Apostle) she is not "bound" to pursue her husband and demand support, nor go to law on the matter; rather is she to follow a course of "peace." The verse says nothing whatever about her being free to marry again; nay, verse 39 of the same chapter, says, "The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband lives."

In Matthew 19:9 Christ declared, "Whoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her which is put away does commit adultery." Here again it is evident the plain sense of these words is, that he who divorces his wife for fornication, and then marries another is not guilty of adultery. In such a case the bond of marriage has already been broken, and the one so putting away his guilty wife is free to marry again. When our Lord condemned the putting away and marrying again for every cause, the exception He made of "fornication" clearly allows both divorce and re-marriage, for an exception always affirms the contrary unto what is denied in the rule, or denies what is affirmed in it. [(Condensed from Owen, who closes his piece by saying, "This is the constant practice of all Protestant churches in the world"].

Prevention is better than cure. Even a temporary separation should be the last resource, and every possible effort made to avoid such a tragedy. Marriage itself is not to be entered into lightly and hurriedly, but once the knot is tied, each party should most earnestly consider the relationship which has been entered into and the serious importance of its duties. If love rules, all will be well: unselfishness and forbearance are to be mutually exercised. If the husband gives honor to his partner as unto "the weaker vessel" (1 Peter 3:7), and the wife sees to it that she render unto her husband "due benevolence" (1 Corinthians 7:3), much needless friction will be avoided. Let them bear with each other's infirmities, study each other's dispositions, and seek to correct each other's faults. Above all, let them often together draw near unto the Throne of Grace and seek God's blessing on their married life. The holier their lives, the happier they will be. Nothing is more honoring to God than a home which bears witness to the sufficiency of His grace and shadows forth the union which exists between Christ and His Church.-ARTHUR PINK

N.B. Our purpose in adverting (above) to the writings of John Owen was not because we felt our case needed the support of any human authority, but in order that our readers might know what was taught and practiced by the godly Puritans.

 

12. The Law and Oaths: Matthew 5:33-37.

The subject which is now to engage our attention is hardly one that is likely to appeal very strongly to the average reader, probably because it treats of matters which rarely engage his mind. Yet the very fact that the Lord Jesus gave the same something more than a passing notice in His first formal sermon should indicate to us that it is one which we cannot afford to ignore. The Son of God did not waste time on trivialities nor make public deliverances on technicalities devoid of practical value. No, rather did He concern Himself with vital matters that directly affected the glory of God and concerned the eternal welfare of immortal souls. It is therefore a slighting of His honor and impugning of His wisdom if we refuse to attentively weigh and prayerfully consider His teaching on the subject of Oaths. Nor is this the only occasion on which He brought it to the notice of His congregations: as we shall see, in Matthew 23 He returned to the theme and spoke at greater length thereon.

Someone has said, "Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise," but such a silly statement savors more of insanity than perspicuity and prudence. Blissful ignorance is often highly dangerous, and in connection with the things of God, fatal. "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge" (Hosea 4:6) said the Lord of old. True, knowledge itself will not always deter from sin, but often it serves as a beneficial restraint. It is much to be feared that millions of the present generation, who are guilty of the crimes which Christ here condemned, are totally ignorant of their great wickedness in this matter. Nothing is more prevalent today, among all classes, than cursing and swearing, and it is high time that both the pulpit and the press sound a loud and solemn warning thereon.

The deep importance of our subject may further be intimated by pointing out that it is essentially bound up with a right understanding and observance of the third of the Ten Commandments. It is therefore basic and vital, for the curse of God rests upon all transgressors of His Law. If the reader will take the trouble to examine a good concordance on the words "oaths," "swear," and "vow," he may be surprised to find how many scores of passages there are speaking thereof. Finally, when it is seen that the rightful taking of an oath is an act of worship, we may then more clearly perceive the momentousness and value of our present inquiry, for it deeply concerns us all to be Scripturally regulated on anything which has to do with the worship of God, and it behooves us to spare no effort in seeing to it that our worship be performed in a manner which will meet with Divine approval and acceptance.

"Again, you have heard that it has been said by them of old time, You shall not forswear yourself, but shall perform unto the Lord your oaths. But I say unto you, Swear not at all: neither by Heaven; for it is God's throne: nor by the earth; for it is His footstool; neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shall you swear by your head, because you can not make one hair white or black. But let your communication, be Yes, yes; Nay, nay: for whatever is more than these comes of evil" (Matthew 5:33-37). At this time we propose to make only a few expository and explanatory remarks on our passage, and then devote the remainder of our space unto a topical treatment of the whole subject.

"Again, you have heard that it has been said by them of old time, You shall not forswear yourself, but shall perform unto the Lord your oaths." It is almost ludicrous to see what shifts many of the commentators have put themselves to in their efforts to identify this statement of Christ's with one or more of the Mosaic statutes, ending with the confession that His actual words cannot be found anywhere in the Old Testament, and supposing that He here epitomized the teaching of the Law thereon. Such confusion is inexcusable and such an explanation most unwarrantable. The fact is that our Lord does not here refer to the Divine precepts at all, but instead to the Jews' perversion of them. He pursues identically the same order in these verses as He had followed in the preceding sections. First, He mentions the pharisaic corruption of the Divine Law, and then sets forth the character of that righteousness which He requires from the citizens of His kingdom on the matter under discussion.

"You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that takes His name in vain" (Exo. 20:7). Here is the original and fundamental law concerning oaths, with which we may also link, "You shall fear the LORD your God, and serve Him, and shall swear by His name" (Deuteronomy 6:13). Thus an oath was a solemn appeal to the dread name of Jehovah, which, by awaking the spirit of the swearer to a consciousness of the awe-inspiring presence and cognizance of the Most High, gave all its sanctity and power to it. And then, when anyone had so sworn, there was the solemn warning that the Lord would not hold him guiltless that took His Name in vain. Thus it is quite clear that Israelites were permitted to swear by the Name of the Lord, but having once done so they must not change their minds nor in any way fail to keep their promise.

It is striking to note that when the Psalmist delineated the character of him who was fitted to "abide in the Lord's tabernacle" and "dwell in His holy hill" (that is commune with God and enjoy His presence forever), that one of the marks specified is, "He who swears to his own hurt, and changes not" (Psalm 15:1, 4): that is, who at no cost will go back upon his sworn word. It is therefore obvious from these passages that the Mosaic law had a strong tendency to check the practice of oath-taking and to restrict the same unto solemn occasions. The interested reader may also consult such passages as Exodus 22:11, 12; Leviticus 5:1, 19:12; Numbers 5:19-21.

But the Jewish doctors had found ways of perverting the Divine statutes, and the Pharisees had perpetuated and added to their corruptions. From the language used by Christ on this occasion we have no difficulty in ascertaining the nature of their errors and evil practices. First, it is clear from Matthew 5:33 that they had unwarrantably restricted the Mosaic precepts upon oaths to the single prohibition against perjury. They drew the wicked inference that there was no evil in any oath, at any time, provided a man did not foreswear himself. Thus they opened wide the door for men to multiply oaths on any matter and every trivial occasion.

Not only was perjury severely condemned by the Mosaic law, but any vain and needless use of the Name of God in our ordinary communications was strictly prohibited. No man ought voluntarily to take an oath unless it be in a matter of controversy and the contention cannot be settled without it: "For men truly swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife" (Hebrews 6:16). But the Pharisees had so wrested the Law, they taught that so long as men swore truthfully as to matters of fact and performed their vows in case of promise, all was well. They seem to have had no conscience of swearing lightly. In order for an oath to be lawful, it requires not only that the affirmation be true and the vows performed, but that such a mode of affirmation or vowing be necessary.

Second, it is equally plain from Christ's words in Matthew 5:34-36 that the Jews had wrested the Third Commandment by inventing the idea of swearing by the creature. Aiming to ingratiate themselves with men by pandering to their corruptions-for it is ever the way of all false teachers to accommodate the Truth to the blindness and lusts of their dupes-the Scribes devised a means whereby men might swear without the guilt of perjury although they swore ever so falsely; and this was to swear not by the Name of God, but by the heavens or the earth, by Jerusalem or the temple. They made a distinction between oaths: according to them, some were binding, others were not-the obligation of an oath depending upon the nature of the object by which the person swore (Matthew 23:16).

It is not difficult to see why such a device was resorted to by the leaders, or why it should be so popular with their followers. The Law was very definite, "You shall fear the LORD your God and serve Him, and shall swear by His Name" (Deuteronomy 6:13). To swear in the Name of the Lord was not only ordained for the placing of a solemn bridle upon fallen man's proneness to lying, but also to restrain the act itself unto serious matters and important occasions. Hence, this invention of swearing by some inanimate object removed the very awe with which an oath should be invested and surrounded. Yet one can readily perceive how easily those hypocrites could cloak their wickedness-pretending such veneration for God that His name must not be used by the people. Philo taught, "It is a sin and a vanity presently to run to God or the Maker of all things, and to swear by Him: it is lawful to swear by our parents, by Heaven, and the stars."

Third, it is equally obvious from our Lord's words in Matthew 5:37 that the Jews had been encouraged and permitted to make use of oaths lightly and commonly in their ordinary conversation. This would logically and inevitably follow upon the second evil to which we have just referred, for such a device was not only dishonest and demoralizing in itself, but it was sure to bring about an utter disregard of the Third Commandment, for since such oaths (where the Name of God was omitted) would be lightly esteemed, men would be inclined to resort unto oaths upon almost any matter or occasion. "With the exception of oaths by the gold of the temple and by the sacrifices of the altar-which, for some selfish or superstitious reason, they held to be binding-they appear to have thought that to swear by any created thing was a very little consequence, involved no obligation, and might be done in common conversation without sin" (J. Brown).

"But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by Heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; neither by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King" (vv. 34, 35). In these verses and in the two which immediately follow our Lord protests against the erroneous teachings and corrupt practices of the Scribes and Pharisees. Let it be clearly understood that all of the things prohibited by our Savior in this Sermon were in themselves, and also by virtue of the Law of God, antecedently evil and unlawful. Most certainly He is not here pitting Himself against any of the Mosaic precepts: rather was He restoring them to their original place, purity and power. It was the pharisaic veil of religious hypocrisy which Christ rent asunder, exposing the corruptness of their traditions and denouncing the soul-ruining sins into which the great body of the people had been drawn.

Let any of the immediately preceding sections of this Sermon be considered, and it will at once be found that the particulars there mentioned by Christ were things which were wrong in themselves, and declared so in the positive law of God. Was it not gross wickedness to be angry with a brother without cause, and to call him "Raca and fool"? Was it not exceedingly sinful to look upon a woman so as to lust after her? In like manner, what is here prohibited by Christ in His, "Swear not at all," is not the legitimate taking of an oath in law courts, nor even between man and man so as to end a controversy; but rather that which was directly opposed to the Mosaic statutes, yet practiced and supported by the false interpretations of the Law by the Pharisees.

"But I say unto you, Swear not at all." This injunction of Christ's supplies another example of the need for careful interpretation of the language of Scripture. Not a few good men have been misled here by the mere sound of words, failing to ascertain their real sense. By taking the prohibition absolutely, instead of relatively, they have certainly erred. This verse also shows us the importance of comparing Scripture with Scripture, for it is quite clear not only from the Old Testament, but from many passages in the New, that in certain circumstances and when they are ordered by the rules of God's Word, oaths are lawful, yes necessary-we shall discuss this at more length next month (D.V.). But we do not have to go outside the bounds of our present passage to find that Christ did not intend His prohibition to be taken without any limitations. He Himself qualified it, first, by forbidding us to swear by any creature; and second, by reprehending all oaths in our ordinary conversation.

Had His, "Swear not at all," meant that He here forbade all oaths, in any form and under every circumstance, it was needless to add anything more, and in such a case what is found in the next two verses would simply be a multiplying of words to no purpose. Instead, Christ proceeded to amplify and explain His prohibition, and at the same time expose the sophistry of the Pharisees' devices and show wherein lay the sinfulness of the same. They had invented a method of swearing which they supposed would clear the oath-taker from incurring the guilt of breaking the Third Commandment, and that was to swear by some creature, instead of doing so in the sacred Name of the Lord God. This it was which Christ was here reproving, and in so doing He once more revealed to us the exceeding "breadth" of the Divine commandments (Psalm 119:96).

"Swear not at all: neither by Heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; neither by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King" (Matthew 5:34-35). Here Christ made it plain that by no subtle subterfuge can men escape the solemn responsibility of an oath. Though they may omit mentioning the fearful name of God, yet let them know that His is the Name of Creator and Owner of all things, and therefore it is invoked in all the works of His hands. If men swear by "Heaven," as the Pharisees recommended, let them duly bear in mind that that is God's "throne," and so it is really Himself that they summon as a witness to their integrity. If men swear by "the earth" that is God's "footstool," and he who swears by it, swears by the God whose footstool it is; if by "Jerusalem," that was the Capitol, the seat of His worship.

"Neither shall you swear by your head, because you can not make one hair white or black" (v. 36). A swearing by any creature necessarily implies an appeal unto God Himself, because of its relation to Him. The whole universe is the Lord's, and therefore to swear by any part of it, is a reference unto its august Maker and Ruler. If we swear by our "head," that, too, has been given us by God, and is His far more than it is ours. God has made it and has the sole disposing of it-a statement easily proven-for you are incapable of changing the color of a single hair on it! An oath by your head, if it has any meaning at all, is an oath to the universal Proprietor. Every oath, because it is an oath, is an ultimate reference to Deity. Man's inability to really change the color of his hair is here brought in by Christ to demonstrate that he has no power over his head. If, then, man has no power over the least creature (a hair!) then how unlawful and ridiculous it is for him to swear by any creature!

"But let your communication, be Yes, yes; Nay, nay; for whatever is more than these comes of evil" (v. 37). In these words Christ makes further amplification of His "Swear not at all," and lays down an important rule which is binding upon all. "Your communication" means your everyday dealings with your fellows, particularly your common speech or conversation. Thousands of things are true, which yet it would be profaning the Name of God to swear to. Christ was not here referring to judicial transactions at all, but to the ordinary fellowship of men with each other. "He did not censure His followers from what was said before a magistrate, but for what passed in their ordinary communications: that is, light and unnecessary oaths. This was a sin so prevalent among the Jews that even Christians who were called from among them stood in need of being warned against it: James 5:12" (Andrew Fuller).

"Swear not at all . . . but let your communications be Yes, yes; Nay, nay." In its particular application to His own people, Christ here struck at the root of the special evils He was now condemning, by demanding from His followers veracity in every word. It was as though He said, I not only forbid you to swear falsely, but to swear at all-in your common speech. What need should there be for you to swear?-you who are disciples of Him who is "the Truth"! As the followers of the Holy One, you must speak the truth in every utterance of your lips. Your character and conduct is to be such that all acquainted with you have the assurance that your word is your bond. If your communications are "yes" in the promise and "yes" in the performance, then there will be no need for you to appeal to God in witness of your veracity. Alas that the standard now set by the vast majority of professing Christians is so very far beneath this, and that the word of many of them is often worth less than that of those who make no profession at all. "Whatever is more than these, comes of evil": that is, anything savoring of an oath, or even extravagant avowals in our ordinary conversations, are sinful in the sight of God.

 

12.The Law and Oaths: Matthew 5:33-37.

"Again, you have heard that it has been said by them of old time, You shall not forswear yourself, but shall perform unto the Lord your oaths. But I say unto you, Swear not at all: neither by Heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; neither by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Neither shall you swear by your head, because you can not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yes, yes; Nay, nay; for whatever is more than these comes of evil" (Matthew 5:33-37). Last month we gave an exposition of these verses, in which we showed how our Lord here condemned the wicked devices of the Scribes and the evil practices of the Pharisees and their followers. Now we propose to treat the subject topically, for there is real need today for a Scriptural enforcement of the whole subject.

"You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain: for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that takes His name in vain" (Exo. 20:7). This is the fundamental precept of God upon the matter of oaths, and the scope of its prohibition and the range of its meaning is far more extensive than is now commonly supposed. "Your commandment is exceeding broad" (Psalm 119:96), declared David of old, and clearly was it made manifest in Christ's teaching. Those who have followed us closely in the previous articles will remember that in this Sermon the Savior has furnished us with some most important and invaluable rules for interpreting the Ten Commandments. First, that when God forbids one sin, He at the same time prohibits all sins of the same kind, with all the causes and occasions thereof. Second, that to the breach of any Commandment there is annexed a curse, whether it be expressed specifically or not. Third, that where any vice is condemned, the opposite virtue is enjoined.

When God said, "you shall not kill," He not only prohibited the overt deed of murder, but also condemned every evil working of heart and mind which had a tendency to lead up to it: all hatred, anger, provoking language or gestures. When He said, "you shall not commit adultery," He not only forbade the actual act of immorality, but also all unlawful lustings and desires, all impure thoughts and imaginations. In like manner, when He said, "you shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain," He not only reprehended the vile sin of using any of His sacred titles in cursing, He not only prohibited the crime of perjury, but He also forbade us both to swear by any of His creatures or take any unnecessary oaths, as well as condemned all extravagant expletives.

Scholars tell us that an oath in the Hebrew is called "shebuah," and that there are two things observable about it. First, that the verb "to swear" is used only in the niphal-a passive conjugation-which implies that we should be passive in swearing; that is, we should not take an oath unless called upon to do so, or at least when circumstances morally oblige us thereunto. Most significantly the Hebrew word is taken from a root that signifies "seven," which perhaps implies it should be taken before many witnesses, and seven being the sacred and complete number, the name of an oath may be derived from it because it is appointed to put a complete end to differences. The Greeks called it "horkos," most probably from a root signifying "to bind or strengthen," for by an oath a man takes a bond on his soul which cannot be loosed ordinarily. The Latin juro and jusjurandum are plainly derived from "just": that is "right and law."

Let us now consider, first, the nature of an oath. An oath is a religious and necessary confirmation of things doubtful by calling God to be a Witness of truth and a Revenger of falsehood. That it is a confirmation is clear from Hebrews 6:16, where the Holy Spirit expressly affirms the same. That it is a religious confirmation appears from the fact that it is a part of Divine worship, God Himself being invoked therein: in Isaiah 19:18, "swear to the Lord of hosts," is used for the whole of His worship. It must be a necessary confirmation because any oath is unlawful which concerns only trifling matters or things which need no solemn settlement. That God is called in both as Witness and Revenger is self-evident, because therein consists the form and all the force of an oath. The one who thus swears, acknowledges the Divine perfections, appealing to Him as the God of truth and the Hater of lies.

Properly speaking, then, in an oath there are four things. First, a formal assertion of the truth, which should always be spoken even though no oath is taken. Second, a confession of the omnipotent presence of the thrice holy Lord God, whereby we do most solemnly acknowledge Him as both Witness, Judge, and Revenger of falsehood. Third, an invocation whereby God is called upon to bear witness to our conscience that what we swear to is nothing but the truth. Fourth, an imprecation, in which the swearer asks God to be the Revenger of all lies, binding himself to Divine punishment if he swear falsely. Therefore it clearly follows that an oath is not to be lightly entered into, that one is not to be taken at all except in matters of real importance, and that it must be taken in the most solemn manner-otherwise we violate the Third Commandment and are guilty of the awful sin of taking the holy name of the Lord God in vain.

Second, the design of an oath consists in a solemn confirmation of what we affirm or deny by a religious invocation of the name of God, as One that knows and owns the truth. So far as God is thus invoked in an oath, it is part of His worship, both as required by Him and as ascribing glory to Him. When a man is admitted under oath he is, as it were, discharged from an earthly tribunal, having betaken himself to the Lord as the only Judge in the case. By what particular expression this appeal unto God and invocation of Him is made is not absolutely necessary unto the nature of an oath to determine. It is sufficient that such expressions be used as are approved, and received signs of such an invocation and appeal among those that are concerned therein. The placing of one hand upon a copy of Gods' Holy Word while we are being sworn in, appears to us eminently desirable, while the other hand might well be raised toward Heaven; but the kissing of the Book afterwards strikes us as both needless and unsuitable.

Third, a word now upon the qualifications or characteristics of lawful oaths. These are clearly expressed by the Prophet, so that nothing needs to be added to them, and nothing must be taken from them. "You shall swear, The LORD lives, in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness" (Jeremiah 4:2). "Truth" is required in it, in opposition unto deceit and falsehood, for where this obtains not, God is called to be Witness unto a lie, which is to deny His very being. It must be "in judgment" we swear: not lightly, not rashly, not without a just and sufficient cause. There must be discernment and careful discretion in exercise, both in connection with the thing in question which is to be confirmed, and also of the solemn nature of an oath and of the issue of the same. "In righteousness" we must swear, namely, that it be equity which we wish to confirm, tending to the glory of God and the good of our fellows.

When the above qualifications are complied with, and where matters are in controversy among men and the peace of human society in general, or particular, depends upon the rightful determination of them, it is meet and proper for a believer, being lawfully called, to confirm the truth which he knows by the invocation of God, with the design of putting an end to strife. Oath-taking is a part of the natural worship of God, which the light of nature leads unto. This is evident from the example of the Lord Himself, who at sundry times took an oath both before the Mosaic law (Genesis 22:16) and afterwards. Now it is obvious that if men had not had from the light of nature an understanding of the nature, legitimacy, and obligation of an oath, this would have had no significance for them or have been of any use to them.

In earliest times God often enlightened and more fully instructed men by His own example. In compliance therewith we find that those who walked the closest with Him, centuries before the giving of the Law at Sinai, did solemnly swear one to another when occasion did require it, and when they were legitimately warranted in so doing. Thus Abraham swore to Abimelech (Genesis 21:23, 24), and required an oath to be taken by his servant (Genesis 24:8, 9). In like manner Jacob swore with Laban (Genesis 31:53). And so, too, Joseph swore to his father (Genesis 47:31). Let it be duly noted that the instances had no respect unto the legal institutions of Moses, and therefore there is no reason to think there would be anything in the Gospel which condemned such a practice today.

One would think the above was quite simple and clear, but alas, such is man that he will discover difficulties where none exist and twist and wrest the plainest statement. Though the great majority of professing Christians have rightly understood and acted upon the teaching of Scripture on this subject, there have been a number that err therein. The Society of Friends and a few others consider that the New Testament expressly forbids the use of any oaths. They appeal to Christ's saying, "Swear not at all," and to, "But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by Heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your Yes be yes; and your Nay, nay; lest you fall into condemnation" (James 5:12), supposing these passages prohibit us swearing under any circumstances whatever-and therefore they refuse to bear witness upon oath even when called upon to do so by the rulers of the land.

It is evident that the verse quoted from James is derived from and has respect to the words of our Savior in Matthew 5:33-37, it being an exhortation inculcating His precept and directions on the same matter. The same answer will therefore serve both places, nor will it be at all difficult to expose and refute the errors based thereon. First of all, it must be pointed out that there is nothing in the essential nature of an oath which can make it criminal, or it would never have been enjoined by Divine authority (Deuteronomy 6:13). An oath is simply an appeal to the Omniscient One (who searches the heart and is the great Governor of the world, punishing fraud and falsehood) as to the truthfulness of our testimony and the sincerity of our promises. As this is a dictate of the light of nature no mere change of dispensation could make right to be wrong.

Second, the prophecy of Isaiah 45:23 belongs and is expressly applied to believers in the New Testament. "I have sworn by Myself, the word is gone out of My mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto Me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear"-see Romans 14:11. This had respect to what God had of old prescribed: Deuteronomy 6:13. This now, says the Prophet, shall in the days of the Gospel be observed throughout the world, which certainly could not be the case if it were unlawful to swear under any circumstances by that holy Name. In like manner Jeremiah predicted concerning the calling and conversion of the Gentiles under the new covenant, "It shall come to pass, if they will diligently learn the ways of My people, to swear by My name, the LORD lives . . . then shall they be built up in the midst of My people" (12:16). But that could be no direction or encouragement to converts of the Gentiles if it be unlawful for them to swear and if it be not their duty when duly called upon.

Third, as we have fully shown in our exposition of Matthew 5:33-37 (in last month's article), Christ was there condemning only those oaths which were contrary to the Law, prohibiting things which were essentially evil in themselves. It was the errors of the Jews He was exposing-the wicked perversions of the Pharisees He was refuting. That this must be the right way of understanding our Lord's teaching in this passage appears plainly from the principles which He had laid down so emphatically at the beginning of this section of His Sermon: "Think not that I am come to destroy the Law or the Prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For truly I say unto you, Until Heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the Law, until all be fulfilled" (vv. 17, 18). If oaths pertain to "the Law" or "the Prophets" (and they did), then it most certainly was not Christ's purpose to annul them. The Giver and Fulfiller of the Law is not also its Destroyer.

Fourth, in the matter of judicial oaths Christ Himself has left us an example (which we should follow: 1 Peter 2:21), for when He stood before the Sanhedrin, though He had previously refused to answer either His accusers or the high priest, yet He immediately responded to Caiaphas when he said, "I adjure You by the living God" (Matthew 26:63, 64). Fifth, Paul, the greatest of the Apostles, confirmed his testimony again and again by calling God for a Witness (2 Corinthians 1:23; Galatians 1:20, etc.). In such passages he most solemnly swears to the truth of his own affirmations concerning himself and his sincerity therein (cf. Romans 9:1). It was not respecting any doctrine he taught that he did swear to, for it needed no confirmation of an oath, deriving as it did all its authority and assurance from Divine revelation. But it was concerning his own heart and purpose, whereof there might be some doubt, and when it was of great concern to the Church to have the Truth emphatically stated.

Sixth, Hebrews 6:16 tells us, "For men truly swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife." In this verse Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, addressing the holy brethren who are "partakers of the heavenly calling" (3:1), not only urges the common usage of mankind, but lays down a certain maxim and principle of the law of nature, whose exercise was to be approved among all. And if the practice thereof had not been lawful unto those to whom he wrote, namely, Christians, those who obeyed the Gospel, then he had exceedingly weakened the whole design of his discourse there concerning the oath of God, by shutting it up with this instance, which could be of no force to them if it were unlawful for them to practice the same or have an experience of its efficacy. Finally, if oaths had become unlawful under the New Testament, then God would not have continued their use in any kind, lest His people be encouraged to act contrary to His command. But He did so, commissioning an angel to "swear by Him that lives forever and ever" (Rev. 10:5, 6).

From what has been before us in Matthew 5 we may perceive the importance and need of heeding two particular rules when interpreting Scripture. First, that universal affirmations and negations are not always to be universally understood, but are to be limited by their occasions, circumstances, and the subject matter treated of. Things expressed in universal language must be regarded according to the thing in hand. Thus, when the Apostle declared, "I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some" (1 Corinthians 9:22): if his language were taken without limitation, it would signify that he became a blasphemer to blasphemers, etc., whereas his statement must be restricted to things indifferent and innocent, in which he yielded to the weakness of others. In like manner, when Christ said, "Swear not at all," His obvious meaning (according to what follows) is, swear not blasphemously, needlessly or by any mere creature.

Second, it is a rule of real use in the interpreting of Holy Writ that when anything is prohibited in one passage, but allowed in another, that not the thing absolutely considered is spoken unto in either case, but rather some particular mode, cause, end, or reason is intended. So here-in Matthew 5:34 swearing is forbidden, whereas in other passages we find it is allowed and that examples thereof are proposed unto us. Wherefore it cannot be swearing absolutely that is intended: but evil and needless swearing is condemned by the one, and swearing in right causes or for just ends is approved in the other.

Nor is the taking of an oath to be restricted to courts of law only: Exodus 22:11 and the instances of Paul in his Epistles prove otherwise. In certain cases private oaths, between man and man, are perfectly legitimate. Boaz was a private person, who confirmed by an oath his promise of marriage to Ruth (Ruth 3:13). Obadiah was a private person, a righteous man, and one that feared the Lord, who declared with an oath the fact of which he wished to convince Elijah (1 Kings 18:10). I can find, therefore, no better rule than that we regulate our oaths in such a manner that they be not rash or inconsiderate, wanton or frivolous, but used in cases of real necessity" (John Calvin). The awful solemnity of an oath appears from 1 Kings 8:31, 32. So, too, we should duly lay to heart the fearful judgments of God which came upon Israel of old when they were guilty of breaking the Third Commandment (Jeremiah 5:7-9; Zechariah 5:4).

 

13. The Law and Retaliation: Matthew 5:38-42.

In what is now to be before us we may perceive once more the deep importance of observing the scope of a speaker or writer-of ascertaining the meaning and relation of the context-before attempting to expound a passage We will not enlarge any further here upon this, having already done so in the introductory paragraphs of one or more of the preceding articles. It is failure at this very point which has resulted in some commentators of renown missing the force of our present portion. They suppose that our Lord here announced a higher standard of spirituality than Moses did, that He introduced a more merciful code of conduct than that which was required during the Old Testament economy. Yet, incredible as it may sound, these same men insist that other verses in this very chapter do not belong to us at all, but pertain only to some "Jewish remnant" of the future!

It does seem strange that men who have no slight acquaintance with the letter of Scripture should err so flagrantly. Yet nothing is more blinding than prejudice, and when a pet theory is allowed to dominate the mind, then everything is twisted and forced to conform to it. Surely it is perfectly plain to every unbiased soul that, as the same God is the Author of old and new covenants alike, there can be no vital conflict between them, that the fundamental principles underlying the one and the other must be and are in full accord. If those who are so desirous of being looked up to as men who, "rightly divide the Word of Truth," would cease their grotesque efforts to illustrate what they suppose are "dispensational distinctions," and would rather seek to display the wondrous and blessed unity of the Old and New Testaments they would be rendering a more profitable service and God would be far more honored.

A few of our own readers imagine that in our contending for the doctrinal and practical unity of the entire Scriptures that we confound two of its principal objects and subjects, and deny that there is any radical difference between the Law and the Gospel. This is quite an unwarrantable conclusion. Yet do not such mistakes have their roots in the supposition that the Gospel is peculiar only to the New Testament? But we ask, Doesn't the Old Testament contain more than types of the Gospel in the ceremonial law and predictions of it in the prophecies of Isaiah? Surely it does. Galatians 3:8 tells us expressly that the Gospel was preached unto Abraham, and Hebrews 4:2 insists that it was also proclaimed unto Israel in the wilderness. Does not the whole of Hebrews 11 make it very plain that the Old Testament saints were saved in precisely the same way and on exactly the same ground as we are? Assuredly it does.

"You have heard that it has been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That you resist not evil: but whoever shall smite you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue you at the law and take away your coat, let him have your cloak also. And whoever shall compel you to go a mile go with him twain. Give to him that asks you, and from him that would borrow of you turn not you away" (Matthew 5:38-42). Christ is not here pitting Himself against the Mosaic law, nor is He inculcating a superior spirituality. Instead He continues the same course as He had followed in the context, namely, to define that righteousness demanded of His followers, which was more excellent than the one taught and practiced by the Scribes and Pharisees; and this He does by exposing their error and expounding the spirituality of the moral Law.

"You have heard that it has been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth" (v. 38). These words are found three times in the Pentateuch. They occur first in Exodus 21, a chapter which opens thus, "Now these are the judgments." The word "judgments" signifies judicial laws. The statutes recorded therein were so many rules by which the magistrates were to proceed in the courts of Israel when trying a criminal. The execution of these statutes was not left to private individuals, so that each man was free to avenge his own wrongs, but they were placed in the hands of the public administrators of the Law. This is further borne out by the third occurrence of our text in Deuteronomy 19, for there we read, "And the judges shall make diligent inquisition . . . and your eye shall not pity: but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot" (vv. 18, 21).

A century or so ago such verses as those last quoted were made the object of bitter attacks both by atheists and Infidels, but today not a few who profess to be Christians denounce them as inhuman. In this flabby age, when sentiment overrides principle, the doctrine of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth strikes many as being cruel and barbarous. We shall not waste time in replying to such rebels: in due course the Lord Himself will deal with them and vindicate His honor. Nor is there anything in His Holy Word which requires any apology from us: rather does it strengthen our faith when we find so many caviling at its contents. Nevertheless, there may be a few of the saints who are somewhat disturbed by the barks of these dogs, so for their sake we would call attention to one or two details.

First, this Divinely-prescribed rule was a just one: "And if a man cause a blemish in his neighbor: as he has done, so shall it be done to him. Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he has caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again" (Leviticus 24:19, 20). What is more equitable than an exact quid pro quo? Surely it is a most elementary and unchanging principle of sound jurisprudence that the punishment should be made to fit the crime-neither more nor less. So far were the ancients in advance of our moderns that we find a heathen owning the righteousness of such a law: "But Adonibezek fled: and they pursued after him and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and his great toes. And Adonibezek said, Threescore and ten kings, having their thumbs and their great toes cut off, gathered under my table: as I have done, so God has requited me" (Judges 1:6, 7). If it be objected that in this Christian era justice is far more tempered with mercy than was the case in Old Testament times, then we would remind the objector that, "Whatever a man sows that shall he also reap" (Galatians 6:7) is found in the New Testament. "With what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again" (Matthew 7:2) are the words of Christ Himself.

Second, this Mosaic statute was a most merciful one. It is to be observed that in Exodus 21, both before and after the rule recorded in verses 23-25, legislation is there given concerning the rights of "servants," or as the word really means "slaves." If their masters, out of brutality or in a fit of rage, maimed them, then the magistrates were required to see to it that they in turn should be compelled to take a dose of their own medicine. Who can fail to see, then, that such a law placed a merciful restraint upon the passions of the owners and made for the safeguarding of the persons of their slaves. Moreover, this statute also curbed any judge who, in righteous indignation at the cruel injury of a slave was inclined to punish his master too severely: he was not allowed to demand a life for an eye, or a limb for a tooth!

Third, such an arrangement was a beneficial one for society as a whole, for this law applied not only to masters and servants but to all Israelites in general. It was designed to protect the weak against the strong, the peaceful from lovers of violence. It was a wise and necessary means for preserving law and order in the community. This is clear from the closing verses of Deuteronomy 19: "Then shall you do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shall you put the evil away from among you. And those which remain shall hear, and fear, and shall henceforth commit no more any such evil among you" (vv. 19, 20). The fear of punishment-providing that punishment be severe and summary-would deter the passionate and vicious. Thus, so far, from this law being a cruel and barbarous one, it was a most just, merciful and beneficial one, calculated to remove "evil" and produce that which is good.

Before passing on let it be pointed out that this law of judicial retaliation ought to be upon our statute books today and impartially and firmly enforced by our magistrates. Nothing would so effectually check the rapidly rising tide of crimes of violence. But alas so foolish and effeminate is the present generation that an increasing number are agitating for the abolition of capital punishment and the doing away with all corporeal punishment, and this in the face of the fact that in those countries where capital punishment is most loosely administered there is the highest percentage of murders, and that as corporeal punishment is relaxed crimes of brutal violence are greatly increasing Those who have no regard for the persons of others are very tender of their own skins, and therefore the best deterrent is to let them know that the law will exact from them an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

"No man needs to be more merciful than God. The benefit that will accrue to the public from this severity will abundantly recompense it. Such exemplary punishment will be warnings to others not to attempt such mischiefs" (From Matthew Henry's comments on Deuteronomy 19:19-21). Magistrates were never ordained of God for the purpose of reforming reprobates nor to pamper degenerates, but to be His instruments for preserving law and order, and that, by being "a terror to the evil" (Romans 13:3). The magistrate is "the minister of God," not to encourage wickedness, but to be an "avenger to execute wrath upon him that does evil" (Romans 13:4). Let it not be forgotten that Christ Himself affirmed of the judge who refused to "avenge" the poor widow of her adversary, that he was one "who feared not God neither regarded man" (Luke 18:2).

Of course we do not expect to carry all our readers with us, and we shall be rather surprised if we receive no letters condemning us for such "harshness." But let us point out what we are firmly convinced are the causes of the moral laxity and the immoral sentimentality which now so widely prevails. We unhesitatingly blame the pulpit for the present sad state of affairs. The unfaithfulness of preachers is very largely responsible for the lawlessness which is now so rife throughout the whole of Christendom. During the last two or three generations thousands of pulpits have jettisoned the Divine Law, stating that it has no place in this dispensation of grace. And thus the most powerful of all restraints has been removed and license given to the lusts of the flesh.

Not only has the Divine Law been repudiated, but the Divine character has been grossly misrepresented. The attributes of God have been perverted by a one-sided presentation thereof. The justice, the holiness, and the wrath of God have been pushed into the background, and a God that loves everybody thrust into the foreground. In consequence, the masses of churchgoers no longer fear God. For the past 50 years the vast majority of pulpits have maintained a guilty silence on Eternal Punishment so that few now have any dread of the wrath to come. This logically follows from the former, for no one needs to stand in any terror of One who loves him. The repercussions have been unmistakable, drastic, and tragic. Sickly sentimentality regulated the pulpit until it dominated the pew, and this evil leaven has so spread that it now permeates the whole nation.

Conscience has been made comatose: the requirements of justice are stifled: maudlin concepts now prevail. As eternal punishment was repudiated-either tacitly or in many cases openly-ecclesiastical punishments were shelved. Churches refused to enforce sanctions, and winked at flagrant offenses. The inevitable outcome has been the breakdown of discipline in the home and the creation of a "public opinion" which is mawkish and spineless. Schoolteachers are intimidated by foolish parents, so that the rising generation are more and more allowed to have their own way without fear of consequences. If some judge has the courage of his convictions and sentences a brute to the "cat" for maiming an old woman, there is an outcry raised against him. But enough. Most of our readers are painfully aware of all this without our enlarging any further: but few of them realize the causes which have led up to it-an unfaithful pulpit, the denial of Eternal Punishment, the misrepresentation of God's character, the rejection of His Law, the failure of the churches to enforce a Scriptural discipline, the breakdown of parental authority.

"You have heard that it has been said, An eye for and eye, and a tooth for a tooth." This Divine statute, like those which were before us in the previous sections, had been grossly perverted by the Scribes and Pharisees. They had wrested its purpose and design by giving it a false application. Instead of confining it to the magistrates in the law-courts, they had made the statute a promiscuous one. The Jewish leaders had so expounded this precept as though God had given permission for each individual to take the Law into his own hands and avenge his own wrongs. They intimated that it allowed each person to take private revenge upon his enemies: if your neighbor smite you and destroys one of your eyes, then go and do likewise to him. Thus the act of retaliation condoned.

Should it be asked, How came it that the Scribes and Pharisees so glaringly wrested this law which was manifestly designed for the guidance of magistrates only? We would point out, first, it is a natural opinion that a man may avenge himself in private when wrong has been done to him personally; second, answerable thereto there is a very strong desire for revenge in everyone's heart by nature: and as the Jewish leaders sought to ingratiate themselves with the people rather than to please God, they pandered to this evil lust. In this we may see the workings of Satan; for in all ages his policy has been directed to the overthrowing of the Divine order. The great Enemy of God and man has ever sought to move corrupt leaders, both civil and religious, to so temper things to the depraved inclinations and popular opinions of the people that true piety may be overthrown.

Perceiving the earthly-mindedness and materialistic outlook of the Jews, the Devil moved their teachers to dream about a Messiah who should dispense mundane rather than spiritual blessings, so that when Christ came preaching salvation from sin and exhorting men to lay up treasure in Heaven, they despised and rejected Him. The Italians had ever been greatly addicted to sorcery and idolatry, as ancient writers testify; and though God given them the true Gospel at the beginning of the Christian era, yet the Devil knowing their natural disposition to superstition soon corrupted the Truth among them, so that in a short time their church abounded as much in idolatry as ever they did when they were heathen. The like malicious practice has the Devil shown among Protestants, for when he was unsuccessful in corrupting doctrine in the mouths of its leaders, he has greatly weakened it among the rank and file, by causing them to receive in their hearts only that which accords with their evil proclivities.

It is at this very point the true ministers of God stand out in sharp contrast from the Devil's hirelings. The latter are unregenerate men, with no fear of God in their hearts. "They are of the world, therefore speak they of the world, and the world hears them" (1 John 4:5). They trim their sails to the winds of public opinion. They accommodate their preaching to the depraved taste of their hearers. Their utterances are regulated by a single motive: to please those who pay their salaries. But the servants of Christ shun not to declare all the counsel of God, no matter how distasteful and displeasing it may be to the natural man. They dare not corrupt the Truth and refuse to withhold any part of their God-given message. To glorify their Master and be faithful to the trust He has committed to them is their only concern. Consequently, they share, in their measure, the treatment which was meted out to Him.

"But I say unto you, That you resist not evil: but whoever shall smite you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also" (Matthew 5:39). In this verse and the three which follow Christ confutes the false application which the Scribes had made of the Mosaic statute, and it is in this light that His exhortations here must be understood. That He is exhorting His followers absolutely to a passive endurance of any and every injury they may receive at the hands of wicked and unreasonable men, is to give a meaning to our Lord's words which the context does not warrant, and which other passages and important considerations definitely forbids. That which He was refuting was the taking of private vengeance on those who wrong us. Further proofs in support of this must be left for our next.

 

13. The Law and Retaliation: Matthew 5:38-42.

"But I say unto you, That you resist not evil: but whoever shall smite you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also" (v. 39). In order to properly understand and rightly apply this injunction, due regard must be paid to its context, and the whole interpreted in harmony with the general Analogy of Faith, otherwise we are in imminent danger of making Scripture to contradict itself. As we sought to show last month, Christ was not here repealing an important Mosaic statute and substituting in its place a milder and more merciful rule for His followers to observe, but was (as in the preceding sections of His Sermon) refuting an error of the Scribes and reprehending the evil practice of the Pharisees. They had given a promiscuous application to a judicial regulation for the use of magistrates, a regulation which placed strict bounds upon the punishment to be meted out unto those guilty of deeds of maiming.

The statute pertaining to magistrates only had been given a general application, so that the people were allowed to take the law into their own hands-each individual being free to privately avenge his wrongs-which not only condoned but encouraged the spirit of malice and revenge. It was in view of this wicked perversion of the Divine Law that our Savior said, "Resist not evil." More literally it is, "Resist not the evil one," that is, the evil individual who has injured you. Resist not: think not of taking the law into your own hands, requiting the adversary as he has done to you. Cherish not against him the spirit of revenge, but be actuated by nobler principles and more spiritual considerations. Such is plainly the general purpose of this precept: its particular implications must now be considered.

Even Mr. F. W. Grant (a leader among the "Plymouth Brethren") stated that, "The righteousness of the Law, of course, remains righteousness, but it does not require of any that they exact for personal wrongs. There is no supposition of the abrogation of law or of its penalties. The government of the world is not in question, but the path of disciples in it. Where they are bound by the Law, they are bound, and have no privileges. They, are bound, too, to sustain it in its general working, as ordained of God for good. Within these limits there is still abundant room for such practice as is here enjoined. We may still turn the left cheek to him that smites the right, or let the man that sues us have the cloak as well as the coat which he has fraudulently gained: for that is clearly within our rights. If the cause were that of another, we should have no right of this kind, nor to aid men generally in escape from justice or in slighting it. The Lord could never lay down a general rule that His people should allow lawlessness, or identify themselves with indifference to the rights of others" (The Numerical Bible).

"Resist not evil." That which Christ here forbade was not the resisting of evil by a lawful defense, but by way of private revenge. Public reparation is when the magistrate, according to the justice and mercy of the Divine Law, sentences an evil person that has injured his fellow. Private revenge is when those who are not magistrates take matters into their own hands and retaliate against those who have wronged them. The former is clearly permitted, for an Apostle declares the magistrate is, "the minister of God," for executing judgment upon evil-doers. The same Epistle as expressly forbids retaliation: "Recompense to no man evil for evil" (Romans 12:17).

"But I say unto you, That you resist not evil." There are many who err in supposing that such a precept as this is peculiar to the New Testament. A comparison of the two Testaments will show that identically the same rule of duty is obtained in both economies. "If your enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: for you shall heap coals of fire upon his head" (Proverbs 25:21, 22); "Therefore if your enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing you shall heap coals of fire on his head" (Romans 12:20). Rightly did one of the older writers say, when commenting upon this passage in Proverbs 25, "The law of love is not expounded more spiritually in any single precept either by Christ or His Apostles than this exhortation." It's obvious meaning is seize the moment of distress to show kindness to him that hates you.

Living in a sinful world, we must expect to meet with injustices and unprovoked injuries. How, then, are we to conduct ourselves under them? The answer is, first, God forbids us, both in the Law and in the Gospel, to recompense evil for evil. The taking of private revenge, either inwardly or outwardly, is expressly prohibited. "Say not you (no, not even in your heart) I will recompense evil" (Proverbs 20:22). We must not so much as allow the thought that some day I shall have an opportunity to get my own back. I am not even to hope it, still less resolve the same. The Christian should not desire or determine anything on which he cannot in faith ask God to assist him in: and most assuredly he would have no ground whatever to expect the Lord to help him in the execution of a malicious revenge.

We may not requite evil for evil in thought, word, or deed to those who mistreat us, but rather suffer injury and refer our cause to Him who is the judge of all the earth. Because this duty goes against our natural inclinations, let us mention one or two persuasions thereto. First, it is the expressly revealed will of God for us, and His commands are not grievous. Second, vengeance belongs unto the Lord, and if we take it upon ourselves to privately avenge our wrongs, then we rob Him of His right. Third, Christ has left us an example that we should follow His steps, and, "When He was reviled, He reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judges righteously" (1 Peter 2:23); yes, when He was cruelly and unjustly crucified, He prayed for His persecutors. Finally, Christ has plainly warned us that if we forgive not men their trespasses, neither will God forgive ours (Matthew 6:15).

But now we must face the question, How far this precept, "Resist not evil," is binding upon us: is it to be regarded absolutely? Does it recognize no limitation and make no allowance for exceptions? Is the Christian to passively endure all wrong? Here is where we must seek guidance from the Analogy of Faith, or in other words, ascertain the teaching of collateral passages. If this is done, it will be found that while our text enunciates a principle of general application, it is not a universal one. To deduce from it the doctrine of unlimited non-resistance to evil is to pervert its teaching, and to exalt the letter above the spirit-just as to insist that the plucking out of a right eye which offends or the cutting off of an offending right hand (vv. 29, 30) must be understood and obeyed literally, would be to entirely miss our Lord's meaning in those verses.

First, the teaching of Christ elsewhere manifestly forbids us to understand, "Resist not evil," in an unqualified and universal sense. He gave explicit directions to His disciples concerning their duty toward those who wronged them: "If your brother shall trespass against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone: if he shall hear you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear you, then take with you one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto you as a heathen and a publican" (Matthew 18:15-17). Now that is very definite resistance to evil: it challenges the wrong done, examines the offense, and punishes the wrongdoer. There are more ways of resistance to evil than the employment of physical force.

Second, the idea of an unqualified non-resistance to evil is contrary to the example of Christ. He resisted evil, attacked wrong-doers, and when smitten did not turn the other cheek. When He went up to Jerusalem and found His Father's House turned into a house of merchandise and a den of thieves, He made a scourge of small cords and cast out of the Temple both sheep and oxen. He scattered the money of the desecrators and overthrew their tables (John 2:13-15). On another occasion He drove them out, stopped the service, and refused to let any man carry a vessel through the Temple (Mark 11:15-16). That was not passive resistance, but vigorous aggression. In the judgment hall of Caiaphas one of the officers struck the Savior with his hand, but instead of turning the other cheek Christ challenge the smiter (John 18:22, 23). He did not answer force with force and return blow for blow, but He exposed and rebuked the wrong.

Third, were we to offer no resistance whatever unto injuries inflicted upon us, no matter what their nature, or who their perpetrators, then we should fail in supporting and co-operating with the Divine ordinance of the magistrate, and be guilty of abetting evil-doers. The magistrate is God's lieutenant, His minister for vindicating the oppressed, and punishing criminals. Under certain circumstances it would be our bounden duty to seek the protection and help of the officers of the law, for they are one of God's means for preserving order in the community. If it be right for me to bring an offending brother before the church-the well-being of the church requiring that he should be purged if he be rebellious; then by what principle can it be wrong for me to summon a law-breaker before the magistrate, in cases where the good of the community obviously requires it?

"This command of our Lord, illustrated by the examples He brings forward, plainly does not forbid us to defend ourselves when we are in danger. To do so is one of the strongest instincts of our nature, the Law of God written on our hearts. But with regard to personal injuries, when there is no hazard of life, as in the case specified, it is our duty to repress resentment and to abstain from violence. In like manner, there are cases in which it is plainly a man's duty to avail himself of the protection which the law gives to property. Justice to his creditors, to the public, to his family, may require him to defend his estate, though even this must not be done under the impulse of private revenge. But we ought to have resort to the tribunals of justice only when the cause is important and the call urgent; we are to prosecute our claims with humanity, moderation, and a spirit of peace; we are to be content with reasonable satisfaction" (John Brown).

When the injury received is a personal and private one it is the Christian's duty to bear it in the spirit of meekness so long as by so doing he is not encouraging evil-doers and thereby rendering them a menace to others. If I am walking on the sidewalk and a drunken motorist mounts the curb, knocks me down, and then drives off, it is plainly my duty to take the number of his car, report the offense to the police, and if required, bear witness in the court. So, too, when a wrong is done to others for whom we are responsible, resistance becomes a duty. If a man's child was in peril at the hands of some human fiend, is he to stand by and see it outraged or murdered? Did not Abraham, the friend of God, and the "father of all them that believe," arm his servants, smite those who had taken his nephew prisoner, and free him (Genesis 14:14-16)?

As we have so often pointed out in these pages, every truth of Scripture has a balancing one, and it is only by heeding the same that we are preserved from going to an unwarrantable extreme. Examples of those guilty of lopsidedness, not only in doctrine but in practice, are numerous. As there are those who put to a false use Christ's, "swore not at all" (Matthew 5:34), so there are not lacking others who place an unjustifiable interpretation upon His, "resist not evil." They suppose that in this dispensation of grace it is the will of God that His children should allow the principle of grace to regulate all their actions. But certainly it is not God's will that the principle of grace should override and swallow up all other principles of action. The requirements of justice and the demands of holiness are also to be honored by the Christian. Here, too, grace is to reign "through righteousness" (Romans 5:21) and not at the expense of it.

The same rule applies to other matters. Abstention from going to law is a sound rule of life. It is a man's wisdom, generally speaking, to keep free of litigation. The Apostle condemned the Corinthians because they took their contentions before the civil courts. But is a man, is a Christian, never to resort unto law? What right have we to enjoy the social and civil privileges of a community if we ignore its obligations? Even though we may forgive an offense against our property, have we no responsibility to our neighbors? If I corner a burglar in my house, am I at liberty to turn loose upon society one who will plunder its property and imperil its security? There are times when it is the clear duty of a Christian to hand a law-breaker over to the law.

But now: exceptions do not nullify a rule, rather do they prove it. Care then must be taken lest in turning from the letter we lose the spirit of these precepts. "Resist not evil" is a plain command of Christ's and as such it is binding upon us. His follower is to be a man of peace, meekness, enduring wrong, suffering loss, accepting hardship, full of compassion and simple faith. A contentious spirit is evil: to be ever wrangling and always on the defensive is not Christian. Going to law as a rule is neither seemly nor wise. But all of that pertains to the negative side: as we shall yet see, there is a positive one, too. Good must be returned for evil, for only by good can evil be overcome. Our business is not the punishment of sinners, but the desiring and seeking after their salvation. Such was the life of our Lord, and such also must be ours.

The very fact that the Lord Jesus here designated the evil-doer, "the evil one," makes it clear to us that it is the characteristic of an evil man to inflict injury upon others. The giving of this title to the wrong-doer helps us understand that if we retaliate in the same wicked spirit, then we necessarily place ourselves in the same class to which he belongs. We are therefore to suffer wrong patiently. There are but two classes in the world: the good and the evil-and it is the mark of the former that they do good unto all. They who do evil evidence their likeness to the Evil One; whereas the prosecution of that which is good is Godlike. If we set ourselves to do harm unto others, either by word or deed, we are in the sight of God evil men: such are usurers and extortioners, profiteers, fraudulent traders, those engaged in any enterprise which subverts morality, underminers of health, Sabbath-breakers. The Christian, then, must separate himself from all such callings, and (though it entails a smaller salary) engage in that which is pleasing to God.

Although by nature fallen men are likened unto untamed beasts and fierce animals resembling the "wild donkeys' colt" (Job. 11:12), the lion, the leopard, the wolf, the cockatrice (Isaiah 11:6-8), whose nature it is to hurt and devour other creatures-when God, in His infinite mercy, is pleased to work in them a miracle of grace, bestow upon them spiritual life and reconcile them to Himself, then they lay aside their enmity and fierceness and live in peace with one another, so that the ancient saying is fulfilled, "they shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain" (Isaiah 11:9). It is a property of Christ's kingdom that His subjects shall "beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks" (Micah 4:3)-weapons of bloodshed being transmuted into instruments of usefulness. When men are truly converted, they lay aside malice and wrath and become the doers and promoters of good. This was notably exemplified in the case of Paul, who from a fierce persecutor was transformed into a preacher of the Gospel of peace.

 

13. The Law and Retaliation: Matthew 5:38-42.

That section of our Lord's Sermon which we are now considering has been misunderstood and wrested by not a few fanatics attributing to it a meaning which is flatly contradicted by other passages. For this reason we deemed it necessary to enter into a detailed examination of its terms. Two articles have already been devoted thereto, but as these appeared in the 1939 volume, it is requisite for us to present a brief summary of the ground therein covered, that new readers may the better grasp what we now write. First, it has been shown that Christ is not here repealing a Mosaic statute and substituting in its place a more merciful and spiritual rule, but that He was engaged (as in the previous sections of this Sermon) in refuting a serious error of the Scribes and Pharisees and in pressing the high requirements of the Law.

The words, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" (v. 38), occur three times in the Pentateuch. They enunciated one of the judicial laws which the Lord gave to Israel. That law was prescribed solely for the guidance and use of magistrates. Its design was threefold: to protect the weak against the strong, to serve as a beneficial warning unto evil-doers, and to prevent the judge from inflicting too severe a punishment upon those guilty of maiming others. As such it was a just, merciful and beneficial law. If the principle of this statute-the infliction of corporal punishment on those convicted of crimes of violence-was universally and strictly enforced today, it would make this world a much safer place to live. But this law had been greatly perverted by the Jewish leaders-for instead of confining it to the magistrates, they had made a general application of it, teaching that it gave to each person the right to privately avenge his wrongs; and thereby they fostered the spirit of malice and condoned deeds of violence.

"But I say unto you, That you resist not evil" (v. 39). This means that we are forbidden to take the law into our own hands, and pay back an adversary as he has done to us: nobler principles and spiritual considerations are to actuate us. Nor is this precept in any ways peculiar to the New Testament. Such passages as Proverbs 20:22, 24:29, 25:21, 22 expressly prohibit the taking of private vengeance. Our Lord, then, was continuing to press the high requirements of the moral law. It is to be duly noted, however, that neither the Law nor the Gospel require from us an unqualified and universal non-resistance to evil. There are times when an ignoring of wrongs done to us or of injuries inflicted upon us would obviously be a failure to perform our duty. We must never connive at the guilty escaping from justice nor in the slighting of it. Righteousness is to mark us in all our ways.

Graciousness and lawlessness are widely different things. Though gladly willing to forego our own rights, we must not neglect the rights of others, by turning loose on society those who would imperil its security. When a brother trespasses against us he must be challenged and not winked at: if he is unreasonable and impenitent, the matter must be brought before the church: should he still prove to be defiant and rebellious, then he is to be punished by being dis-fellowshiped (Matthew 18:15-17). Christ Himself resisted evil in the temple, when He found His Father's House had been turned into a house of merchandise and a den of thieves (John 2:13-17). The office of the magistrate is a Divine ordinance, and we are morally bound to support and co-operate with it. Notwithstanding, we must never appeal to the law in a spirit of malice and revenge, but rather because God has appointed and the good of society requires it.

But on the other hand, exceptions do not nullify a rule, rather do they serve to prove it. In turning from the strict letter of the precept, we must beware of losing its spirit. The disciple of Christ, the Prince of Peace, is to be a man of peace, meekly enduring wrong, patiently suffering loss, accepting hardships graciously. Not only are we to refrain from the act of retaliation, but even the desire itself must not be allowed, for God requires holiness of heart as well as of life. All malice and bitterness, wrath and clamor, evil speaking and unkind gestures, are to be put off-and affections of mercy, compassion, and longsuffering put on-anything less is a falling short of the Christian standard. Not only are we to refrain from returning evil for evil, but we must return good for evil, blessing those who curse us and praying for those who despitefully use us.

In what immediately followed, Christ amplified His, "Resist not evil," by three examples wherein He shows how men are to behave themselves when they are wronged. First, "But whoever shall smite you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also" (Matthew 5:39). Under these words are expressed all injuries done to men's bodies, not only by words and blows, but also in the contempt of their persons, which is intimated by the reference to the "right cheek." Usually men strike with the right hand and the blow falls on the left cheek, so that if the right cheek be smitten it is commonly with the back of the hand-a blow of contempt, which is even more provoking of retaliation than one given in anger. Nevertheless, says Christ, even such a blow must not be returned, for the taking of private revenge is strictly prohibited. Let the old saying be remembered: it takes two to make a quarrel-though the aggressor be guilty of provocation, yet it is the second party who gives consent to a quarrel if he hits back.

"But whoever shall smite you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also." There has been some controversy in certain quarters as to whether or not these words are to be understood literally. The question may be answered more readily by asking, Are they to be regarded absolutely or comparatively? Obviously, it must be the latter. First, were we to turn the other cheek to the smiter we should be tempting him unto sin, by inviting him to repeat the offense, which is manifestly wrong. Second, the example of Christ Himself refutes such an interpretation, for when He was smitten upon the cheek He did not turn the other unto the smiter. Third, the second half of this verse must not be detached from the first. Resist not evil: no matter how provoking be the occasion: revenge not yourself, but rather, "give place unto wrath" (Romans 12:19). Rather than be guilty of malice and violence, be willing to submit meekly to further insults.

Our Lord certainly did not mean by these words, "Whoever shall smite you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also," that we should court further wrongs, nor that in all cases we must meekly submit to such without any kind of resistance. When He was smitten before the high priest, He did not return blow for blow, but He did remonstrate against it. In so doing Christ was not actuated by a spirit of retaliation but of justice to His own character, and what He said had a tendency to convict the offender and the assembly. This precept is expressed in the strongest possible form to teach us that we must not render evil for evil, but rather suffer wrong, and submit to a repetition of an injury rather than go about to avenge ourselves. It is the principle rather than the act which is inculcated, Yet in certain circumstances a literal compliance would be right, which instead of disgracing us, would raise us in the esteem of the godly.

Christ here condemned the common practice of fighting and quarreling. Even though sorely provoked by another, He will not allow us to strike back. There is nothing to intimate that He disallowed the Apostles from carrying swords for self-defense, but as soon as Peter drew his to resist the officers that came to apprehend Him in the garden, He bade him sheathe it again. In like manner, this precept reprehends the challenging unto a duel, and also the acceptance of such: better be dubbed a coward by our fellow than disobey and displease the Lord. If it be said that it is a disgrace to show the white feather, the reply is that it is true grace to abstain from sinning. Mark it well that a slap in the face is a vastly different thing from life itself being endangered: where that is the case, flight or calling for the help of the law is our duty; yet we must seek to defend ourselves rather than be killed.

"And if any man will sue you at the law and take away your coat, let him have your cloak also" (Matthew 5:40). The first example cited by Christ concerned insults to our persons, this one has to do with wrongful attacks upon our possessions. It sets forth another characteristic of evil men, namely, to prey upon the goods of their fellows, either privately or under cover of law. Such an one was Zacchaeus before his conversion, for he had enriched himself by "false" or fraudulent methods (Luke 19:8). But understand that all who resort to what are called "tricks of the trade," all who trade upon the ignorance of their fellows by means of "shady" devices, all who are successful in the courts as the result of employing tricky lawyers, are-no matter what be their reputation for shrewdness in the world-in the sight of God, evil men; and therefore the Christian must have no fellowship with such.

It is to be duly noted that this second example respects one of a trifling character. As the former concerned not the severance of a limb by the sword, but only a slap in the face, so this relates not to the seizure of our property but merely the loss of a garment. Unless this be duly noted, we are likely to miss the force of our Lord's exhortation and make an entirely unwarrantable application. That which Christ here condemned was not the legitimate use of the courts, but the going to law over mere trifles. The doing so evidences a contentious spirit and a heart that is anxious for revenge, which ill-becomes a Christian, as the Apostle shows in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8. It is all too common a practice among men in general, rather than enter into litigation over the loss of a coat-the costs entailed in such a procedure often being more than the purchasing of a new garment-far better to suffer the loss of it.

"In cases of great importance, other duties may require him to avail himself of the protection of the law: justice to his creditors, and to the public, and even to his family may require him to defend his estate and to give a check to the exorbitance of unreasonable men. A Christian may prosecute a criminal out of love of public justice, though not from private revenge. Yet there will generally be men of the world enough to deal with such predators; and a disciple of Christ will seldom have occasion to waste his time or lose his temper about them" (Thomas Scott). Thus, on the one hand we must guard against anything which would encourage evil in the wicked; and on the other, conduct ourselves as those whose affections are set upon things above. Divine wisdom and grace are necessary if we are to properly preserve the balance here.

The ruling of our own spirit is far more important than the clothes which we wear. The preservation of inward tranquility is of greater price than a coat or a cloak. Here our Lord teaches us to set lightly by our temporal goods, that our time and strength may be devoted to the concerns of Eternity. Nothing more surely unfits us for the pursuit of holiness than a heart which is resentful at and contentious with others. Angry passions and the workings of a spirit of revenge disqualify us for the worship of God. Meekness and lowliness of heart are the graces which we particularly need to learn of Christ. Though there may be cases where duty requires us to take legal action against one who defrauds us, yet this must be our last resort, for it is extremely difficult to handle tar without the fouling of our garments.

"And whoever shall compel you to go a mile, go with him twain" (Matthew 5:41). The actual reference is to public transport service. The Roman troops had power to requisition able-bodied men. Marching through a district, they could compel men to act as porters or guides within a certain area or limit: an illustration of which we have in the case of Simon of Cyrene being compelled to bear the Cross of Christ (Mark 15:21). Such service was not popular: often the demand was inconvenient as well as laborious, and was apt to be rendered in a reluctant and complaining spirit. Christ's command is that even when service is constrained and unreasonable, it should never be performed in a sullen and slavish spirit: but cheerfully and in excess of the demand. Happily there remains but few occasions when we are impressed into the service of the State. But in every life there are circumstances that force unwelcome tasks; every man has duties which are undertaken not of choice but of necessity-they should be performed readily and cheerfully.

This third example cited by Christ, in which He forbids us to resist evil, has to do with the deprivation or curtailment of our personal liberties. It is a case where superiors are guilty of wrong-doing to their inferiors, wherein the injured one is prohibited from making resistance by way of private revenge. That which is inculcated is the abuse of authority and how the offended are to conduct themselves under the same-rather than give way unto bitter resentment, we must patiently bear the injustice, and even be ready to suffer the repetition thereof. The prohibition here made by Christ condemns all private reviling of the laws of the land, the railing of servants against what they deem to be unreasonable in their masters, and the refusal to pay our just dues.

In the example now before us we have noted a third kind of wickedness in evil men, namely, those in positions of power and authority wronging those who are under them, by infringing on their personal rights and unjustly curtailing their liberties. Those who are guilty of charging exorbitant rents, overworking their employees, robbing them of their Sabbath rest, and of grinding the faces of the poor, are-no matter what their rank, wealth and honor in the world-evil men in the sight of God, and as such they will meet with the due reward of their iniquities in the Day to come. It is for this reason, among others, that we are forbidden to resist or retaliate: in due time the Judge of all will right every wrong, and make it manifest to the whole universe that "the triumphing of the wicked is short."

"In reference to personal liberty there can be no doubt that next to the blessings of a good conscience and the hope of eternal life, it is one of the most valuable privileges. Every Christian and every man should be ready to do much and suffer much, in order to secure it and retain it for himself and others. Yet at the same time, he will not only patiently submit to every necessary burden and constitutional restraint, but in obedience to our Lord's precept he will bear much of the insolence of men-dressed up in a little brief authority-overlook many stretches of power, and endure even a variety of acts of oppression, rather than have recourse to violence and tumult" (J. Brown).

"Give to him that asks you, and from him that would borrow of you turn not you away" (Matthew 5:42). This supplies a further illustration of that noble and generous spirit which the righteousness of Christ's kingdom requires of its subjects. That righteousness will not only deter them from standing on every point of individual rights, but it will incline them to do good unto others. Interpreting this precept in the light of its setting, it sets forth the positive side of our duty: not only does Christ forbid men to requite evil for evil, but He commands them to return good for evil. It is better to give unto those who have no claims upon us, and to lend unto those who would impose upon kindness, than to cause strife by a selfish or surly refusal. Our possessions are to be held in stewardship for God and at the disposal of the real need of our fellows.

Unto those who object against the limitations we have placed upon the other precepts and the exceptions that have been pointed out, we would earnestly beg them to attend very closely to this one. Surely it is self-evident that the application of this particular injunction is strictly qualified. No one with any real acquaintance of the Scriptures can suppose that Christ here imposed an indiscriminate charity as a Christian duty: that we are to give or lend to everyone that asks. One of the growing curses of modern life is the ill-advised charity of those who allow their sympathies to run away with them. Lending is to be done "with discretion" (Psalm 112:5). The apostolic principle is, "That if any would not work, neither should he eat" (2 Thessalonians 3:10). It is no part of duty-either of the individual or of the State-to maintain in idleness those who are too lazy to work. If the following passage be carefully pondered, the will of God for us in this matter may be readily perceived: Proverbs 3:27; 1 Corinthians 16:2, 3; 2 Corinthians 8:13, 14; Ephesians 4:28; 1 John 3:17.

 

14. The Law and Love: Matthew 5:43-48.

"You have heard that it has been said, You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you" (Matthew 5:43, 44). Few sections of the Sermon on the Mount have suffered more at the hands of expositors than has this one. Most of them, through failure to attentively weigh and rightly understand the whole context, have quite missed the scope of our passage. In consequence of such failure our Lord's design in these verses has been misapprehended, the prevailing but erroneous idea being held that they set forth the vastly superior moral standard of the New Covenant over that which obtained under Judaism. Many have wrongly defined its principal terms, giving too restricted a meaning both to "neighbor" and "love." Ludicrous indeed are the shifts made by some in the endeavors to harmonize their interpretation of these verses with the theological system to which they are committed.

How widely the commentators differ among themselves, and how ambiguous and unsatisfactory are their explanations will appear from the following quotations-taken from their remarks on "Love your enemies." "We cannot have complacency in one that is openly wicked and profane, nor put a confidence in one that we know to be deceitful; nor are we to love all alike; but we must pay respect to the human nature, and so far honor all men: we must take notice, with pleasure of that even in our enemies which is amiable and commendable; ingenuity, good temper, learning, moral virtue, kindness to others, profession of religion, etc., and love that, though they are our enemies. We must have a compassion for them, and a good will toward them" (Matthew Henry). That seems to us about as clear as mud. First, this eminent author virtually tells us that we cannot love an enemy: then he affirms we must respect any good qualities we can discern in them: and closes with the statement that we should wish them well.

Much to the same effect are the reflections of Thomas Scott. He begins by asserting it is a Christian duty to love our enemies, to regard them "with benevolence, to return good works and kind wishes to their revilings and imprecations, and beneficent acts to their injuries." But he spoils this by adding-"As however there are various favors which He bestows only on His people, so our peculiar friendship, kindness and complacency must and ought to be restricted to the righteous; yes, gratitude to benefactors and predilections for special friends consist very well with this general good will and good conduct toward enemies and persecutors." Here again we are left wondering as to what our Lord really meant when He bade us "love your enemies."

Andrew Fuller sought to cut the knot by having recourse to the subtleties of the Schoolmen, who insisted there are two different kinds of love, both in God and in man-wherein they confounded mere kindness with love. This writer said, "Much confusion has arisen on this subject from not distinguishing between benevolence and complacency. The one is due to all men, whatever be their character, so long as there is any possibility or hope of their becoming the friends of God; the other is not, but requires to be founded on character" ("On love to enemies"). The substance of which is that the love we exercise unto the enemies of God is of a totally different order from that which we bear to His children.

Stranger still is the method followed by the renowned John Gill in his effort to explain away Christ's injunction that we must love our enemies. "I apprehend the love with which Christ exhorts His people to love their enemies is not to be understood quoad affectus (as respecting the internal affections of love): I cannot believe that Christ requires of me that I should love a persecutor as I do my wife, my children, my real friend, or brother in Christ--but, as to the effects, that is, I am required to do those things as they lay in my way and according to my ability, as a man would do to his neighbor whom he loves-that is, feed him when he is hungry, and give him drink when thirsty" (from "Truth Defended").

The explanation given by Mr. Gill is the worst of them all, for it contains a most serious error, implying as it does that outward compliance with God's requirements will be accepted by Him even though the one spring from which all such actions must proceed be inactive. It is not the outward appearance, but the heart, God ever looks at. Now, "love is the fulfilling of the Law" (Romans 13:10), and love is essentially a thing of the heart. Love is the fulfilling of the Law, because love to God and to man is all that it requires. Real obedience is nothing more and nothing less that the exercise of love and the directing of it to what God has commanded. Strictly speaking, there is no ground for the distinction commonly made of internal and external obedience: all true obedience is internal, consisting in the exercise of love, and external obedience is simply the expression thereof. Consequently, external conformity to the Divine Commands which proceeds not from love-holy affections-is worthless "dead works."

"You have heard that it has been said, You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy" (Matthew 5:43). As we have passed from section to section of Matthew 5 we have warned against and sought to repudiate the widely-held mistake that Christ was here setting up a more spiritual and merciful law than the one which had been given at Sinai. In the verse just quoted we have additional proof, clear and conclusive, that our Lord was not engaged in pitting Himself against the law of Moses, but rather that He was concerned with the refuting and rejecting of the deadly errors of the Jewish teachers. The Pentateuch will be searched in vain for any precept which required the Israelites to entertain any malignity against their foes: you shall "hate your enemy" was a rabbinical invention pure and simple.

"You shall not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD" (Leviticus 19:18): such was the original commandment. Now our Lord was not referring to this Divine statute at all, but to the Pharisees' perversion of the same. True, they quoted the actual words, "you shall love your neighbor as yourself," but they misunderstood and misapplied it. The lawyer's question to Christ, "Who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:29), asked in order to "justify himself," revealed the error of the party to which he belonged, as our Lord's answer thereto made plain the scope of the term over which they stumbled. The Jewish rabbis restricted the word "neighbor" to friends or those closely related to them: to those of their nation and particularly those who belong to their own party.

The term "neighbor" is used in the Old Testament in a twofold manner: a wider and more general, and a narrower and more specific. In its common usage it includes anyone with whom we may come into contact, having respect unto our fellow men. In its specific sense it signifies one who is near to us by ties of blood or habitation. But anyone who searches the Scriptures should have been left in no uncertainty as to the Spirit's meaning. "Speak now in the ears of the people, and let every man borrow of his neighbor and every woman of her neighbor jewels of silver and jewels of gold" (Exo. 11:2): the reference here is to the Egyptians among whom Israel then lived. "Strangers," equally with "neighbors," are represented as the proper objects of such a love as we bear to ourselves, and that, in the very chapter where the command to love our neighbor is recorded: "If a stranger sojourn with you in your land, you shall not vex him; but the stranger that dwells with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself: for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Leviticus 19:33, 34).

So far from the Divine injunction, "you shall love your neighbor as yourself," being restricted to those who are amiable and friendly toward us, in more than one passage in the Law even an adversary in a law-suit is described as a neighbor: "When they have a matter, they come unto me; and I judged between one and his neighbor" (Hebrew of Exo. 18:16). Hence the inference, which the Pharisees should have drawn from the Divine statute would be, "You shall love all men, even those who are seeking to injure you." When God prohibited His people from bearing false witness against their neighbors, and when He forbade them coveting the wife of a neighbor (Exo. 20:16, 17), the prohibition must of necessity be understood without any limitation. Thus, the commandment to love their neighbors, properly understood, bade them to love all mankind.

As, then, this Divine precept commanded the Israelites to love all men, it most certainly prohibited the harboring of a malignant spirit against anyone. But not only did the Jewish rabbis unwarrantably restrict the injunction to love their neighbors, but they also drew from it the false and wicked inference, "and hate your enemy." How excuseless was any such conclusion appears from the fact that the command to love their neighbors was immediately preceded by the prohibition, "you shall not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people" (Leviticus 19:18), while verse 34 bade them to love as themselves any stranger living in their midst. To cherish any ill feeling against any enemy was directly opposed to both the letter and the spirit of the morality of the Law: no such sentiment was expressed in any form of words.

How utterly opposed to the Law itself was this evil conclusion of the rabbis will appear from the following Scriptures: "If you meet your enemy's ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again. If you see the donkey of him that hates you lying under his burden, and would forbear to help him, you shall surely help with him" (Exo. 23:4, 5). "Rejoice not when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles; lest the LORD see, and it displease Him" (Proverbs 24:17, 18). "If your enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink" (Proverbs 25:21). Nor were these unqualified precepts in any ways annulled by the special instructions Israel received through Moses and Joshua to destroy the wicked inhabitants of Canaan, for in so doing they were acting as the executioners of the righteous judgments of God upon those who were so corrupt and vile they were a public menace. Nor were they bidden to hate those miserable wretches. No foundation, then, was laid in those extraordinary judgments on the Canaanites for the general principle that hatred to enemies is lawful.

It may be objected to what has been pointed out above that there are some passages which seem to make against our contention. For example we find David saying, "Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate You? And am not I grieved with those that rise up against You? I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies" (Psalm 139:21, 22). Upon these verses we may remark: first, we must distinguish sharply between private and public enemies. The former is one who has done us some personal injury: even so, we must not hate him or retaliate. The latter is one who is in open and inveterate revolt against God, a menace to His cause and people: even so though we righteously hate his evil cause and sins, we must not hate him. So in the above passage, it was the public enemies of Israel and of God whom David hated.

From what has been before us we may see in the case of the rabbis two abuses of the Scriptures-dangerous and disastrous abuses-against which every teacher of the Word must most diligently guard, namely, misinterpretation and the drawing of seemingly logical but false inferences. How necessary it is that the terms of Holy Writ should be rightly defined, and what labor is demanded from the teacher (often the patient examination of scores and sometimes hundreds of verses to discover how the Spirit has used a particular term) in order to achieve this; otherwise he is very liable to be guilty of causing error to pass for the Truth. Doubly solemn is that exhortation, "My brethren, be not many teachers, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation" (Greek of James 3:1).

Again, from what has been before us we may discover an infallible mark of a false teacher: he is one who deliberately panders to the corrupt inclinations of his auditors, adopting his message to their perverted inclinations, wresting the Scriptures so as to secure their approbation. The teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees was: Jews are required to love and do good unto their brethren after the flesh, but they are not only permitted, it is their bounden duty to cherish bitter enmity against the Gentiles. Such a doctrine was only too agreeable to the malignant and selfish principles of fallen human nature, and accordingly we find the Jews generally acted under its influence. "They readily show compassion to their own countrymen, but they bear to all others the hatred of an enemy" (Tacitus); while Paul describes them as, "contrary to all men, forbidding us to speak unto the Gentiles that they might be saved" (1 Thessalonians 2:16).

Finally, we may behold here the fruit of false doctrine, namely, evil communications corrupting good manners. The Jews have ever been a people marked by strong passions-loving their friends fervently and hating their enemies intensely. From the Pharisees' corrupting of the Law of God so as to make it square with the prejudices of their disciples, the most evil consequences followed. Erroneous beliefs necessarily lead to erroneous conduct, for, "as a man thinks in his heart so is he." This principle is horribly exemplified in Roman Catholicism: their evil practices resulting from their false traditions. Thus, they regard their "places of worship" as more holy than any other buildings, and consequently many of the deluded Papists never engage in formal prayer except when they enter one of their "churches" or "cathedrals."

"But I say unto you, Love your enemies." From all that has been before us it should be quite plain that our Lord was not, in these words, pitting Himself against any Mosaic precept, nor even making an addition thereto: rather was He purging that Divine statute from the corruptions of the Scribes and Pharisees, and revealing the scope and high spirituality of God's precepts. The love which the Divine Law demands is something vastly superior to what we call "natural affection"-love for those who are nearest to us by ties of blood is but a natural instinct or feeling-found in the heathen, and in a lower degree among the animals. The love which the Divine Law requires is a holy, unselfish and spiritual one. This is unequivocally established by the fact that our Lord linked inseparably together, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart" and "your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:37-39)-our neighbor must be loved with the very same love that God is loved.

"But I-God incarnate, the Giver of the original Law-say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). In these words Christ does three things. First, expressly refutes the error of the Scribes and Pharisees who restricted the term "neighbor" unto friends and acquaintances, and shows that it is so all-encompassing as to include "enemies": truly, God's command is "exceeding broad" (Psalm 119:96). Second, He bluntly repudiates their evil teaching that an enemy is to be hated, affirming the very opposite to be the truth, insisting that God commands us to love even those who hate and injure us. Third, He makes crystal clear what is signified by "love," namely, a holy, inward, and spiritual affection, which expresses itself in godly and kindly acts. Thus we are assured beyond any shadow of doubt that the Moral Law is of Divine origin, for who among men had ever conceived such a precept as "love for enemies!"

14. The Law and Love: Matthew 5:43-48.

Strictly speaking the contents of the last six verses of Matthew 5 contain a continuation of the same subject dealt with in the section immediately preceding them (vv. 38-42). There, we saw our Lord taking up the important matter of the Law and retaliation; here, He deals with the same theme, though from a different angle. There, He treated more especially with the negative side, declaring what the subjects of His kingdom must not do when they are provoked by personal affronts and private injuries: they are not to resist evil. But here, He takes up the positive aspect, stating what His followers must do unto those who hate and persecute them, namely, return good for evil, love for hatred. So far from being overcome with evil, the Christian is to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:20).

It will therefore be seen that in this concluding section of His exposition of the Moral Law, our Lord reached the climax in His showing how far the holiness required of His subjects exceeded the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees. As Christ had taken up one Commandment after another, He had made clear the vast difference which separated the one from the other. They had systematically distorted each Precept that concerned man's relations with his fellows-lowering the Divine standard and narrowing its scope, so as to comport with the depraved inclinations of their followers. Count after count the Savior had preferred against them: over against which He had set the elevated and inexorable spirituality of God's requirements. The contrast is radical and revolutionary: it is the contrast between error and Truth, darkness and Light, corruption and Holiness.

First, Christ had exposed their perversion of the Divine statute, "You shall not kill," and had revealed how far beyond their representations this requirement extended (vv. 21-26). Second, He had condemned their unwarrantable whittling down of the Commandment, "You shall not commit adultery," and had shown it reached to the very thoughts and intents of the heart (vv. 27-32). Third, He had rebuked their wicked tampering with the injunction, "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain," and had affirmed that all unnecessary oaths of whatever kind were thereby prohibited (vv. 33-37). Fourth, He had shown how they had corrupted the magisterial rule of "an eye for an eye" (vv. 38-42). And finally, He dealt with their vile corruption of the Commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (vv. 43-48).

We have intimated that the commentators are all at sea in their understanding of Christ's, "But I say unto you, Love your enemies": they failed to see that His purpose was to reinforce the requirements of the Moral Law. The "Moral Law" we say, not merely the Mosaic Law, but that which God originally implanted in man's very nature, to be the rule of his being. The requirements of that original Moral Law (renewed at Sinai), are summed up in two things: first, "you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37): that is, you shall esteem and venerate Him supremely, delight yourself in His excellency superlatively, honor and glorify Him constantly.

"And the second is like unto it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39). Here are three things: first, the duty required: "you shall love." Second, the ground or reason of it, because he is "your neighbor": that is, your fellow-man, of the same order and blood as yourself. Third, the standard by which love to our neighbor is to be regulated: "as yourself," which defines both its nature and its measure. Such a requirement presupposes that we have a right temper of mind: an upright, impartial, benevolent temper, even to perfection, without the least tincture of anything to the contrary. This is self-evident, for without such love we shall not, we cannot, love our neighbor in a true light, nor think of, nor judge of, nor feel toward him exactly as we ought. A wrong temper, a selfish, censorious, bitter spirit will inevitably give a wrong turn to all our thoughts and feelings unto him.

What is it to love our neighbor as ourselves? Our love to ourselves is sincere, fervent, active, habitual and permanent: so ought to be our love unto our neighbor. A regular self-love respects all our interests, but especially our spiritual and eternal interests: so ought our love unto our neighbor. A regular self-love prompts us to be concerned about our welfare tenderly, to seek it diligently and prudently, to rejoice in it heartily, and to be grieved for any calamities sincerely: so ought our love unto our neighbor prompt us to feel and conduct ourselves with regard to his welfare. Self-love makes us take an sincere pleasure in promoting our welfare: we do not think it hard to do so much for ourselves: we ought to have just the same genuine love to our neighbor, and thereby prove, "it is more blessed to give than to receive."

The kind of love which God requires us to have for our neighbor is therefore vastly superior to what is commonly called human compassion, for this is often found in the most lawless and wicked of men-it takes not its rise from regard to the Divine authority nor respect for God's image in our fellows but springs merely from our animal constitution. The same may be said of what men term good nature: just as some beasts are better tempered than others, so some humans are milder, gentler, humbler than their fellows, yet their amiability is not influenced by any consideration for the commands of God. The same may also he said of natural affection. Some of the most ungodly cherish warm affection to their wives and children, yes, make veritable idols of them-working and toiling day and night for them-to the utter neglect of God and their souls. Yet all this affection to their children does not prompt them to strive for their spiritual and eternal welfare. It is but natural fondness and not a holy love.

Now let it be clearly grasped that our Lord's purpose in the last six verses of Matthew 5 was to purge this great and general commandment of the second table of the Law-"You shall love your neighbor as thyself"-from the corrupt interpretations of the Jewish teachers and to restore it to its true and proper meaning. And as was His method in the previous sections, Christ here specifies first, the error of the rabbis, and then proceeds to enforce the rightful application of the Divine precepts. Their error was twofold: first, the unwarrantable restricting of the term "neighbor" to those who were friendly disposed towards them. Second, the drawing from it of the false and wicked inference that it was lawful to hate their enemies. How closely modern Christendom approximates to degenerate Judaism in this respect. We must leave the reader to judge.

Having shown, again and again, what our Lord was engaged in doing throughout the whole of this part of His Sermon (vv. 17-48) let us now point out His evident design in the same. To make this the more obvious, let the reader endeavor to place himself among Christ's audience on this occasion and imagine that it was the first time you had ever heard such teaching, as you listened carefully to Christ's emphatic and searching words "I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of Heaven" (v. 20). As you pondered His, "But I say unto you, that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment" (v. 22), as you weighed His, "But I say unto you, that whoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart" (v. 28), what would be the effect produced upon you?

Face that question fairly and squarely, my reader. Had you stood on the slope of that Mount and listened to Him who spoke as never men spoke-for He was God incarnate, the Lawgiver Himself now interpreting and enforcing the demands of His holy, just, and spiritual Law. As you honestly measured yourself by such pure and exalted requirements, what had been your reaction? Had you not been obliged to hang your head in shame? to acknowledge how far, far short you came of measuring up to such a heavenly standard? to own that when weighed in such a balance you were found woefully wanting, yes that you were lighter than vanity? If you were honest with yourself, could you say anything less than that such a Law utterly condemned you at every point, that before it you must confess yourself to be guilty, utterly undone, a lost sinner?

And then as you listened to the passage we have now reached and heard the Son of God affirm, "But I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you" (v. 44), how had you felt? Would you be filled with resentment and exclaim, Such a request is impracticable and absurd? Why, I instinctively, automatically, inevitably resent ill treatment and feel ill-will against those who hate and injure me. I cannot do otherwise: no efforts of mine can reverse the spontaneous impulses of my heart: I cannot change my own nature. Again we ask, would the attentive weighing of this demand, "Love your enemies," evoke the angry retort, Such a requirement is preposterous, it is an impossibility, no man can obey it? If so, you would be but furnishing proof that "the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the Law of God, neither indeed can be" (Romans 8:7).

Hearken now unto the final demand made by Christ in this connection: "Be you therefore perfect," and so that there should not be the slightest room for uncertainty, He added, "even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). Do you say that this is too high for us to reach, that such a standard is unobtainable by flesh and blood? We answer, It is the standard which God Himself has set before us, before all men. It was God's standard before the Fall, and it is His standard still, for though man has lost his power to comply, God has not lost His right to require what is due Him. And why is it that man is no longer able to meet this righteous demand? Because his heart is corrupt: because he is totally depraved. But that in no wise excuses him: rather is it the very thing which renders him thoroughly guilty and his case inexcusable.

Cannot the reader now perceive clearly the design of Christ in pressing upon His hearers the exalted spirituality of the Divine Law and the inexorableness or immutability of its requirements? It was to shatter the vain hopes of His hearers, to slay their self-righteousness. Of old it had been said, "But who shall abide the day of His coming? and who shall stand when He appears? for He is like a refiner's fire" (Malachi 3:2), which was them receiving its fulfillment, as the preceding verse (concerning John the Baptist) shows. If the heart of fallen man was so corrupt that he could not love his enemies, then he was in dire need of a new heart. If to be perfect as the Father in Heaven is perfect was wholly beyond him, and wholly contrary to him, then his need of being born again was self-evident.

After all that has been before us none should be surprised to learn that during the past 50 years there has been such a strong and widespread effort made to get rid of the flesh-withering teaching of this part of our Lord's ministry. Those professing to be the towers of orthodoxy and the most enlightened among Bible teachers have blatantly and dogmatically affirmed that, "the Sermon on the Mount is not for us," that it is "Jewish," that it pertains to a future dispensation, that it sets forth the righteousness which will obtain in "the millennial kingdom." And this Satanic sop was eagerly devoured by multitudes of those who attended the "Second Coming of Christ" conferences, and were carried by them into many of the "churches," their pastors being freely supplied with "dispensational" literature dealing with this fatal error. Slowly but surely this evil leaven has worked until a very considerable and influential section of what passes as orthodox Christianity has been poisoned by it.

The fundamental error of those men claiming to "rightly divide the Word of Truth" is their opposition to and repudiation of the Law of God: their insistence that it is solely Jewish, that the Gentiles were never under it, and that it is not now the believer's Rule of Life. Never has the Devil succeeded in palming off for the Truth a more soul-destroying lie than this. Where there is no exposition of the Moral Law and no pressing of its righteous demands-where there is no faithful turning of its holy and searching light upon the deceitful heart-there will be, there can be, no genuine conversions, for "by the Law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20). It is by the Law alone we can learn the real nature of sin, the fearful extent of its ramifications, and the penalty passed upon it. The Law of God is hated by man-religious and irreligious alike-because it condemns him and demonstrates him to be in high revolt against its Giver.

Knowing full well the detestation of their hearers for the Divine Law, a large percentage of those who have occupied the pulpits during the past few decades have studiously banished it therefrom, displacing it with "studies in Prophecy" and what they designate as "the Gospel of the Grace of God." But the "Gospel" preached by these blind leaders of the blind was "another Gospel" (Galatians 1:6). Where there is no enforcing the requirements of the Law, there can be no preaching of God's Gospel, for so far from the latter being opposed to the former, it "establishes" the same (Romans 3:31). Consequently, the "churches" became filled with spurious converts, who trampled the Law of God beneath their feet. And this, more than anything else, accounts for the lawlessness which now obtains everywhere in Church and State alike.

So far from the Gentiles never having received the Law of God, the Apostle to the Gentiles expressly declares, "Now we know that what things soever the Law says, it says to them who are under the Law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God" (Romans 3:19). What could possibly be plainer? Even if the "every mouth" did not signify all without exception, it must at the very least mean all without distinction, and therefore would include Jew and Gentile alike. But as though to remove any uncertainty, it is added, "all the world," that is, the entire number of the ungodly. However much the wicked may now murmur against God's Law, in the Day of Judgment every one of them shall be silent-convicted and confounded. Before the Divine tribunal every sinner will be brought in guilty by the Law, to his utter confusion and eternal undoing. However far they may have previously succeeded in an attempt at self-extenuation or of vindicating themselves before their fellows, when they shall stand "before God" their own consciences will utterly condemn them.

Then how vitally important, how absolutely essential it is, that the Law should be plainly and insistently enforced now. Nothing is more urgently needed today than discourses patterned after our Lord's Sermon on the Mount. It is the bounden duty of His servants to press upon their hearers the Divine authority, the exalted spirituality, the inexorable demands of the Moral Law. Nothing is so calculated to expose the worthlessness of the empty profession of modern religionists. Let them be informed that nothing less than loving God with all their heart and strength, and to love their neighbors as themselves, is required of them, and that the slightest failure to render the same brings them in guilty, and thus exposes them to the certainty of everlasting woe; and either they will bow in self-condemnation before the Divine sentence or they will come out in their true colors and rail against it.

Then see to it, preachers, that you faithfully set forth the unchanging requirements of the thrice holy God. Spare no efforts in bringing your congregations to understand what is signified in loving God with all the heart, and all that is involved in loving our neighbors as ourselves. How otherwise shall they be brought to know their guilt? Unless they are made to feel how totally contrary to God is their depraved nature, how shall they discover their imperative need of being born again? True, such preaching will not increase your popularity, rather will it evoke opposition. But remember that the Savior Himself was hounded to death not for proclaiming the Gospel, but for enforcing the Law! Even though you be persecuted, yours will be the satisfaction of knowing your skirts are clear from the blood of your hearers.

14. The Law and Love: Matthew 5:43-48.

"That you may be the children of your Father which is in Heaven: for He makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (v. 45). For a right understanding of this most important verse it is highly essential that it be not divorced from what is recorded in verses 43 and 44. As we have shown at length, our Lord's purpose in the last six verses of Matthew 5 was to purge this great and general commandment-"you shall love your neighbor as thyself"-from the corrupt interpretations of the Jewish teachers, and to restore it to its true and proper meaning. That love which the Moral Law demands is something vastly superior to what we term "natural affection," which is found in the most godless, and in a lesser degree even in animals. The love which the Divine Law requires is a holy, pure, unselfish and spiritual one-exemplified perfectly by Christ. Such a love the unregenerate have not.

In these pages we have often affirmed that God's design in regeneration is to bring us back unto conformity with His Holy Law. Therein we may perceive the beautiful harmony which exists between the distinctive workings of each of the three Persons in the blessed Trinity. The Father, as the supreme Governor of the world, framed the Moral Law as a transcript of His holy nature and an authoritative expression of His righteous will. The Son, in His office as Mediator, magnified the Law and made it honorable by rendering to it a personal, perfect and perpetual obedience, and then by voluntarily enduring its curse in the place of His people, who had broken it. The Holy Spirit, as the Executive of the Godhead, convicts the elect of their wicked violation of the Moral Law, slaying their enmity against it, and imparting to them a nature or principle the very essence of which is to delight in and serve that Law (Romans 7:22, 25).

Originally, the Moral Law was imprinted upon the very heart of man. Adam and Eve were made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26, 27) which, among other things, signifies that they were morally conformed unto their Maker. Consequently, the very "nature" of unfallen man caused him to render loving and loyal obedience to his King. But when he fell, this was reversed. The "image" of God was broken and His "likeness" was greatly marred, though not completely effaced, for as the Apostle points out, the heathen which had not the Law in its written form "did by nature (some of) the things contained in the Law," and thereby they "showed the work of the law written in their hearts," their conscience being proof of the same (Romans 2:14, 15). At the Fall, love for the Divine Law was supplanted by hatred, and submission and obedience gave place to enmity and opposition.

Such is the condition of unregenerate man the world over: he is a rebel against the Most High, trampling His commandments beneath his feet. It is for this very reason he needs to be born again, that is, be made the subject of a miracle of grace wrought in his heart. At conversion he is "reconciled to God": his hostility against Him receives its death-wound and he throws down the weapons of his warfare. The new birth is a being "renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him" (Colossians 3:10): it is a new creation, a creation "in righteousness and true holiness" (Ephesians 4:24). Thereby the regenerate recover that which they lost in Adam-a nature which is in harmony with the Divine will. At the new birth God makes good that promise, "I will put My laws into their mind and write them in their hearts" (Hebrews 8:10): putting His laws in our mind means effectually applying them unto us, writing them in our hearts signifies the enshrining of them in our affections.

What is the character of that righteousness which Christ requires from the subjects of His kingdom?-a righteousness which excels that practiced by the scribes and Pharisees. It is conformity in heart and life to the Moral Law of God. What evidence do Christians give that they have been born again? Why the fact that they now walk "in newness of life." Wherein lies the proof they are now reconciled to God? In their heartily responding to His revealed will. How may we identify those who have been renewed by the Spirit? By seeing displayed in them the features of the Divine image. What is the fruit of God's putting His laws into our minds and writing them in our hearts? Surely, our running in the way of His commandments. Whereby shall the world take knowledge of us that we have been with the Lord Jesus? By seeing that we have drunk in His spirit and by our producing that which rises above the level of mere nature, which can issue only from a supernatural spring.

Now it is of this very thing Christ speaks here in Matthew 5:45: "That you may be the children of your Father which is in Heaven: for He makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good" etc. First, let it be pointed out, "that you may be the children of your Father" certainly does not denote "that you may become such": no, they were already His regenerate people, as is clear from Christ's contrasting them from the world-"what do you more than others?" (v. 47). "That you may be the children of your Father which is in Heaven" obviously denotes "that you may thereby approve yourselves so, that you may manifest yourselves to be such." Lest this interpretation appear somewhat strained, we refer the reader to a parallel case in 2 Corinthians 6: "Wherefore come out from among them, and be you separate, says the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you and will be a Father unto you, and you shall be My sons and daughters" (vv. 17, 18). Those exhortations were addressed to "saints" (2 Corinthians 1:1), and the promise was that upon their compliance therewith God would manifest Himself as a Father unto them and they would give proof of being His sons and daughters.

Because it is against the nature of fallen man to love his enemies, therefore our Savior here encouraged His followers unto the exercise of such heavenly conduct by pressing upon them the benefit therefrom: by so doing they would give demonstration that they were the children of God. A similar inducement had been held out by Him in an earlier section of this sermon, when He said to the officers of His kingdom, "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in Heaven" (Matthew 5:16). It is not sufficient that we profess ourselves to be the children of God: our works must declare it. If we have to wear some button or badge on the lapel of our coats so as to evidence we are Christians, that is a poor way of doing so-we must by our "good works" glorify God (1 Peter 2:12), we must "show forth His praises in our daily lives.

The force of the first half of verse 45 is clearly established by what follows: "For He makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust." Children resemble their parents: there is an identifying likeness between them. The character and conduct of God, in this connection, is well known: His providences declare His benignity. Not only does God bear with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction, but He bestows upon them many favors. So far from making a distinction in this matter, He disburses temporal blessings among the just and the unjust alike. As the Gospel of Luke expresses it, "He is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil" (6:35). Therein He sets His people an example to follow, hence the force of the apostolic injunction, "Be you therefore followers (imitators) of God, as dear children; and walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and has given Himself for us" (Ephesians 5:1-2).

From this reason or inducement here given by Christ to enforce His exhortation in verse 44 we may perceive what are the things in which Christians should principally employ themselves: namely, in those things in the doing of which they may obtain evidence that they are the children of God. How many Christians there are who lament their lack of assurance. And in most cases this is not to be wondered at. If they are so zealous in serving self rather than Christ, if they run so greedily after the things the world is absorbed with, how can it be otherwise? There is an inseparable connection between Romans 8:14 and 16: we must be led of the Spirit (and not resist His motions) if we are to have Him bearing witness with our spirit that we are the children of God. We must be more diligent in cultivating supernatural fruit if we would have clearer evidence of a supernatural root dwelling within us.

Before passing on let us note how Christ here spoke of the common gifts of God in creation and providence: "He makes His sun to rise." It is not simply "the sun": it is His sun and not ours. It is His by creation and His by regulation, making it go forward or backward as He pleases. The Lord is the sole Author and Governor of this heavenly body, for He continues to give it being and determines its power and virtue. The same thing is equally true of every other creature in Heaven, earth, or sea. In like manner He "sends the rain" on its specific mission: He has appointed where and when it shall fall, so that "one piece was rained upon, and the piece where upon it rained not withered" (Amos 4:7). Finally, note the terms by which Christ designates those who are the friends of God and those who are His enemies: good and just, evil and unjust-the first term relating to character, the second to conduct.

"For if you love them which love you, what reward have you? do not even the publicans the same?" (Matthew 5:46). In this and the following verse Christ propounded another reason to persuade His disciples and hearers to love their enemies, the force of which is only apparent when we understand who the "publicans" are. The "publicans" were those officers who collected taxes and tributes, rates and rents from the Jews for the Roman emperor, to whom the Jews were then in subjection. Some of the most degenerate of the Jews undertook this wretched work for the money they could get out of it. From Luke 19:8 it appears that the publicans resorted to injustice and oppression in order to fatten their own purses, and consequently they were the most hated and despised of all people (Matthew 9:11; 11:19). Yet, (says Christ) even these publicans, though devoid of conscience, would love those who loved them; and if we do no more, what better are we than they?

It is not that Christ here forbids us to love those who love us, but rather that He is condemning a merely carnal love: for one man to love another simply because he is loved by the other is nothing else than a man loving himself in another. In order to love our neighbor rightly and in a manner acceptable to the Lord, we must heed the following rule: all the Commandments of the second table must be obeyed from the same principle as those in the first table, namely, love to God. Parents are to be honored in God and for God, "children obey your parents in the Lord" (Ephesians 6:1), and my neighbor must be loved in God and for God, even though he be my enemy. Why? Because he is as truly God's creature as I am, and because God has commanded me to love him. That must be the ground of our obedience, though from other respects our love may increase for our neighbor.

"For if you love them that love you, what reward have you?" In this question Christ emphasizes a principle which it is our wisdom to heed in the ordering of our lives, namely, that we give ourselves especially to the doing of those things to which is attached the promise of God's reward. To make this the more forcible and impressive let us ask, What was it that moved Moses to refuse to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, which caused him to forsake the treasures of Egypt and to suffer affliction with the people of God? The Holy Spirit has told us: it was because he had "respect unto the recompense of the reward" (Hebrews 11:25, 26). But how little is this truth believed in and the principle acted on today, or why so much trifling away of our time? What reward can they look for at God's hand who give themselves up to "the pleasures of sin?"

"And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more than others? do not even the publicans the same?" (Matthew 5:47). Christ's drift in these words is the same as in the previous verse, the design of such repetition being that this weighty truth may be fixed the more firmly and deeply in our minds. We are so slow in performing the duties of love, particularly unto our enemies, that the duty of it needs to be pressed upon us again and again. If He who spoke as never man spoke saw well to frequently repeat Himself, His under-servants need not hesitate to do the same. Not only are we to pray for those who hate and injure us, but we are to greet them when they cross our path. How wrong then to deliberately pass a brother on the street and treat him as though he were an utter stranger to us! Nor do the words, "If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed" (2 John 10) militate to the slightest degree against what has just been said. It is personal or private enemies that Christ had in view, whereas 2 John 10 refers to those who are the open enemies of God.

"What do you more than others?" What a searching question is this! And note well the precise form of it. It is not, "What know you more than others" nor, "what profess you more than others?" or even, "what believe you more than others?" but "what DO you more than others?" Yet care must be taken that this inquiry be not perverted. If on the one hand it is of first importance that the Gospel trumpet give forth no uncertain sound when proclaiming the cardinal truth of justification by faith, yet it is equally essential to make it plain that saving faith always identifies itself by the works which it produces. Justification before God is by faith alone, but it is not a faith which remains alone. Saving faith is not a lifeless, inoperative and sterile thing, but a living, active, fruit-producing principle. And it is by the fruit which a saving faith produces that it is distinguished from the worthless and unproductive faith of the empty professor.

Saving faith is the gift of God. It is a supernatural principle inwrought by the Holy Spirit at the new birth. And this faith is evidenced by its fruits. It is a faith which "works by love" (Galatians 5:6). It is a faith that "purifies the heart" (Acts 15:9). It is a faith that "overcomes the world" (1 John 5:4). And since those who are the favored subjects of this faith have more than others, they ought to do more, they can do more, yes they will do more than the unregenerate. The thing which above all others has brought the Cause of Christ into such general contempt in the world is because millions of those claiming to be His followers do not do more, but often considerably less, than many who make no such profession: they are less truthful, less honest, less unselfish, less benevolent. It is not what we say, but how we conduct ourselves, which most impresses the ungodly.

Christ has good reason to require more from His disciples than He does from the children of the Wicked One. They profess more: but unless their profession be supported by facts, and verified by works, then it is a vain and hypocritical one: dishonoring to the Savior, a stumbling-block to His people, and an occasion of blasphemy to His enemies. They are more than others. They are loved with an everlasting love, redeemed at infinite cost, indwelt by the Holy Spirit-then should they not produce more than others? "Unto whoever much is given, of him shall much be required." It is certain that Christians can do more than others. Said the Apostle, "I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13). A supernatural principle indwells them, the love of God has been shed abroad in their hearts, the all-sufficient grace of God is available to them, and all things are possible to him that believes. "What do you more than others?" Answer this question in the presence of God.

"Be you therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). From all that He had said, Christ now drew this excellent consequence, exhorting His followers to perfection in all the duties of love. "Be you therefore perfect" is the unchanging requirement of the Law, "even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect" is the exalted standard which the Gospel presents to us. The moral excellence of the Divine character is the copy and rule set before us, and nothing short of that is to be our sincere, ardent and constant endeavor. Though such an aim is never fully realized in this life, yet we must say with Paul, "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:12). In view of such a confession by the eminent Apostle, how baseless and absurd is the pretension of those claiming to have already reached sinless perfection. The fact is that the closer we walk with God, the more will it work in us self-abasement and humiliation and not self-complacency and pride.

 

15. The Giving of Alms: Matthew 6:1-4.

We now enter upon the fourth division of our Lord's Sermon, a section which includes the first 18 verses of Matthew 6, the general subject of which is the performing of good works so as to secure the approbation of God. As we shall see, Christ here takes up quite a different aspect of Truth, yet is it one which is closely related to what had formerly occupied His attention. There He had made it very evident that He required more from His followers than what the religion of the scribes and Pharisees produced (Matthew 5:20, 47). Here He insists that a far higher quality is also absolutely necessary. There He had warned His hearers against the erroneous doctrines of the Jewish teachers, here He cautions them against their evil practices, particularly the sins of hypocrisy and worldly-mindedness.

"Take heed that you do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise you have no reward of your Father which is in Heaven" (Matthew 6:1). There is no doubt whatever in our own mind that, in this instance, the rendering of the Revised Version is to be preferred: "Take heed that you do not your righteousness before men to be seen of them," though the R. V. rightly uses "alms" in verse 2. This first verse enunciates a general principle in reference to moral and spiritual duties, which in the succeeding verses is illustrated, amplified, and enforced in the three particular duties of alms, prayer and fasting-it is acts of righteousness which is in view. Thus it is a case where an abstract noun is given a concrete sense: it is similarly used in Matthew 3:15 and 5:20: in all three passages it has the force of "righteousnesses" or "good works."

In verses 2-4 the general principle laid down in the opening sentence is applied manward, Godward, and self-ward, and the three duties specified have to do with our estates, our souls, and our bodies. Those three good works of alms, prayer and fasting have occupied a conspicuous place in all the leading religious systems, and have been almost universally regarded as the chief means of obtaining salvation and the clearest proofs of righteousness and sanctity. In their most serious moments, all, except the most abandoned, have been willing to practice some form and degree of self-denial, or perform acts of devotion, in the hope that they might thereby appease the great God whose wrath they feared.

In the teachings of the Koran, prayer, fasting and alms are the chief duties required from the Mohammedan. Prayer, it is said, will carry a man half-way to Paradise, fasting will bring him to the gates, and alms will give him entrance. The great prominence which Romanism assigns to alms-giving especially when the alms are bestowed upon herself-to the senseless repetition of prayers, and to bodily mortification, is too well known to need any enlargement upon. Similar ideas obtain among other religions, especially in Buddhism-Lamaism with its prayer-wheels being a case in point. But in our present passage Christ shows us that, as mere formal works, these religious acts are worthless in the sight of God.

"Take heed that you do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise you have no reward of your Father which is in Heaven" (Matthew 6:1). It ought to be apparent that our Lord is not here reprehending the giving of alms as such, but rather that He is condemning that ostentatious bestowment of charity which is done for the purpose of self-advertisement. As a matter of fact this particular admonition of the Savior's takes it for granted that His disciples were in the habit of relieving the indigent, and this notwithstanding that most of them had to labor for their own daily bread. That against which Christ warned was the giving of unnecessary publicity in the discharge of this duty, and the making the praise of men our ultimate object therein. Most flagrantly did the Pharisees err at this very point. Edersheim gives the following quotation as a specimen, "He who says, I give this 'sela' that my sons may live, and that I may merit the world to come, behold, this is the perfect righteousness."

To show pity unto the afflicted is but common humanity. It is a great mistake to suppose that the exercise of beneficence is something peculiar to this Christian era. Under the Legal economy God commanded His people, "If there be among you a poor man of one of your brethren within any of your gates in your land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not harden your heart, nor shut your hand from your poor brother; but you shall open your hand wide unto them, and shall surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he lacks" (Deuteronomy 15:7, 8). "And if your brother be waxen poor and fallen in decay with you, then you shall relieve him: yes, though he be a stranger, or a sojourner, that he may live with you" (Leviticus 25:35). Job declared, "I was a father to the poor" (29:16). Said the Psalmist, "Blessed is he who considers the poor: the LORD will deliver him in time of trouble" (41:1).

"He who despises his neighbor sins: but he who has mercy on the poor, happy is he" (Proverbs 14:21)-there was the fullest room for the exercise of mercy under the Mosaic dispensation. "He who has pity upon the poor lends unto the LORD; and that which he has given will He pay him again" (Proverbs 19:17): yes, for the poor, equally with the rich, are His creatures, and the Lord will be no man's debtor. "Whoever stops his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard" (Proverbs 21:13): we need hardly say that the principle of this verse is still in operation. "He who gives unto the poor shall not lack, but he who hides his eyes shall have many a curse" (Proverbs 28:27). At a time of great spiritual declension in Israel, Jehovah brought against them the following charges, "They sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes . . . For I know your manifold transgressions and your mighty sins: they afflict the just, they take a bribe, and they turn aside the poor in the gate from their right" (Amos 2:6 and 5:12).

It is therefore a most un-Christian attitude to argue, We have enough to do to provide for our own families: it is for the rich and not for the laboring people to give alms. If the love of God has been shed abroad in our hearts we shall feel for the afflicted, and according to our ability shall be ready to relieve the needy, especially such as belong to the Household of Faith; yes, if a situation requires it, shall gladly deny ourselves comforts so as to do more for those in want. And let us not overlook the fact that Christ here designates almsgiving as "righteousness." The Apostle struck the same note when he pressed Psalm 112:9 on his hearers: "As it is written, he has dispersed abroad; he has given to the poor: his righteousness remains forever" (2 Corinthians 9:9). Those who refuse to give unto the poor are guilty of a gross injustice, for inasmuch as they are but stewards over what they possess, they rob the needy of their due.

Thus by making alms an essential branch of practical righteousness our Lord teaches us that the supporting of the poor is not a work of freedom, left to our own choice, but something which is enjoined upon us by Divine commandment. So far from the matter of providing for the needy being left to our own option, it is one of bare justice, and failure therein is a grievous breach both of the Law of God and of nature. But the giving of alms to the poor is not only an act of righteousness, it is also the exercise of kindness. The Greek word which is here rendered "alms" is derived from a root which signifies to have compassion or to be merciful. This takes us behind the act itself to the spirit which prompts it: it is not the mere bestowment of goods or money which constitutes "alms," but the merciful and pitiful heart of the giver.

From what has just been pointed out we may also discover who are the ones entitled to be relieved-the kind of persons whom we may rightfully bestow alms upon, for we are not to act blindly in this matter. It is those who are in such a condition as to really draw out our pity: such as orphans and elderly widows, the maimed, the sick, and the blind. If this principle be duly heeded, we shall be guarded against indiscriminate giving, which often does a great deal more harm than good-encouraging idleness and intemperance. Obviously, healthy and robust beggars who would trade upon the generosity of others are not entitled to receive alms: "This we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat" (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Thus, in abetting the indolent we are partners with those who defy Divine authority.

"Take heed that you do not your alms before men, to be seen of them." This admonition is for the avoidance of an unlawful manner of giving alms, for even a good deed may be done in an ill way. Alas, so very deceitful and desperately wicked are our hearts that our most beneficent actions may proceed from corrupt desires and thereby be rendered not only void, but evil in the sight of Him with whom we have to do. Christ's "take heed" here intimates we are in great danger of erring at this very point. Acts of charity are specially offensive in the sight of our gracious God when they are performed from a desire to procure for ourselves a reputation of sanctity or generosity among our fellows. Alas, how much of this obnoxious pride, this vaunting of charity is there today both in the religious world and the secular!

That against which Christ here warns His disciples is the secret pride of their hearts. This pride is twofold: of the mind and will and of the affections. Pride of mind is a corrupt disposition whereby a man thinks more highly of himself than he ought to do: this was the sin of the Pharisees and of the Laodiceans (Rev. 3:16). This conceit is most dangerous, especially in the matter of saving grace, for it has caused multitudes to deceive themselves by imagining they had been born again when in fact they were dead in trespasses and sins, and moving real Christians to imagine they possess more grace than they actually do. Pride of will is an inward affection which makes a man discontented with the estate in which God has placed him, leading him to hanker after a better: this was the sin of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:5, 6).

Now from these corrupt principles of pride of mind and pride of will issue that exercise or practice of pride in a man's life whereby he is determined to do whatever he can which will promote his own praise and glory. Such pride is not something which is peculiar to a few people only, but is found in every man by nature-the Lord Jesus alone excepted. And where this pride is not mortified and is not held in leash by God, it is so strong that it will not be crossed at any price, for rather than have his proud will thwarted, a person will commit any sin: as Pharaoh when he asked, "Who is the LORD, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go?" (Exo. 5:2); as Absalom, who was responsible for the banishing of his father from his own kingdom; and as Ahithophel, who went and hanged himself when his counsel was rejected. It was just such pride as this which occasioned the fall of Satan himself (Isaiah 14:12-14; 1 Timothy 3:6).

Therefore, "take heed," says Christ: take every possible precaution to guard against this sin. How? First, by unsparing self-examination. The more careful we are to know the pride of our hearts, the less likely are we to be deceived by it. Second, by sincere self-condemnation: "If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged" (1 Corinthians 11:31). If we would humble ourselves before God, we must hate ourselves for our wicked pride and penitently confess it to Him. Third, by reminding ourselves of the judgments of God upon this sin. Herod was eaten up of worms because he took unto himself the glory due unto God (Acts 12:23). "God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble" (1 Peter 5:5). Fourth, by meditating upon the fearful sufferings of Christ in Gethsemane and on Golgotha: nothing will more effectually humble my proud heart than the realization that it was my very sins which occasioned the death of God's Lamb.

"Otherwise you have no reward of your Father which is in Heaven" (Matthew 6:1). The value of an action is determined by the principle from which it proceeds. To give to the poor simply because it is customary, is merely the imitation of others. To minister unto the needy in order to increase our own influence and power, is a display of carnal ambition. To give so as to advance worldly interests is a manifestation of covetousness; if to seek applause, it is to gratify pride; if to alleviate the sufferings of my fellows, it is only the exercise of common humanity. But if I minister unto the needy out of a respect to the Divine authority and with the desire of pleasing God, acting from regard for His will, to which I long to be conformed in all things, then it is a spiritual act and acceptable unto the Lord. (Condensed from John Brown).

"Therefore when you do your alms, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Truly I say unto you, They have their reward" (v. 2). "Do not sound a trumpet" is a figurative way of saying, seek not to attract the attention of other people unto yourself. The word "hypocrite" is a significant one, for it properly denotes an actor who wears a mask, playing his part behind it. The Pharisees posed as being most devout worshipers of God and lovers of their fellow-men, when in reality they were self-righteous and sought only the applause of men: behind the outward appearance of piety and generosity they were the slaves of worldly and selfish passions. They performed their deeds of charity where the largest number of onlookers congregated together. Their "reward" was the admiration of shallow-minded men, as "dust" is the Serpent's meat.

The sin which Christ here reprehended is far more grievous than is commonly supposed, and we may add, far more prevalent, many of the Lord's own people being guilty of it. It consists of making men, rather than God, the judges and approvers of their actions. And do not we often fall into this snare? When we do that which is right, and yet incur thereby the displeasure of our fellows, are we not more grieved than when by sin we offend God Himself? If so, does not that clearly prove that our hearts have more regard to the censure of men than of the Lord? Are we not deeply hurt when men criticize and condemn our conduct and do we not rejoice when they praise us? Are we equally hurt when our fellows dishonor God? Are we more afraid of offending mortal man than the everlasting God? When in sore straits, which comforts us more: the assurances of earthly friends to relieve us or the promises of the Lord?

"But when you do your alms, let not your left hand know what your right hand does" (v. 3). This Divine precept is designed to restrain the corrupt ambition of our hearts after the praise of men. It goes much further than the commandment in verse 2. There the Lord had forbidden that ostentatious giving of alms which is done for the purpose of self-advertisement and the procuring of the applause of our fellows; while here He prohibits any self-satisfaction or complacency in the performing of this good work. It is strange how the commentators see in verse 3 nothing more than the repetition of that which is found in verse 2, quite missing the force of, "let not your left hand know (approve of) what your right hand does." We are to give alms in simplicity, with the sole intent and desire of pleasing God only. When a good work has been done, we should dismiss it from our minds and not congratulate ourselves upon it, and press on to what is yet before us.

"That your alms may be in secret" (v. 4). Here is still another instance where the language of Christ in this Discourse must not be taken literally and absolutely, or otherwise any act of mercy which came under the cognizance of our fellows would be thereby prohibited. Certainly the primitive Christians did not always conceal their donations, as is clear from Acts 11:29, 30. Secrecy itself may become a cloak to avarice, and under the pretense of hiding good works we may hoard up our money to spend upon ourselves. There are times when a person of prominence may rightly excite his backward brethren by his own example of liberality. So we must not understand Christ as here forbidding all charitable actions which may be seen by others, but rather understand Him to mean that we should perform them as unobtrusively as possible, making it our chief concern to aim at the approbation of God therein.

"That your alms may be in secret: and your Father which sees in secret Himself shall reward you openly" (Matthew 6:4). Though there be nothing meritorious about our best performances, yes, though everything we do is defiled, nevertheless, "God is not unrighteous to forget our work and labor of love, which you have showed toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister" (Hebrews 6:10). Nevertheless, it must be a work of faith-for "without faith it is impossible to please Him"-and a labor of love, if it is to receive God's commendation. In the Divine administration it is so ordered that, in the end, the selfish person is disappointed, while he who seeks the good of others is himself the gainer. The more we truly aim at our Father's approbation, the less shall we be concerned about either the praise or contempt of the world. The Divine reward, in the Day to come, will be given "openly," before an assembled universe. "Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and will make manifest the counsels of the heart: and then shall everyone have praise of God" (1 Corinthians 4:5).

14. Prayer: Matthew 6:5-8.

As we have pointed out, we are now in the fourth division of our Lord's Sermon, a division which includes the first 18 verses of Matthew 6, the general subject of which is the performing of good works so as to secure the approbation of God. In order to this, His disciples must shun not only the false doctrines but also the evil practices of the scribes and Pharisees. The keynote is struck in the opening verse, "Take heed that you do not your righteousness before men to be seen of them" (R.V.). The general principle which is expressed in this warning is enlarged upon in verses 2-18, being applied to three specific cases: in "alms" manward, in "prayer" Godward, and in "fasting" self-ward. Having already dwelt upon the first, we now turn unto what Christ here had to say upon the second. By keeping in mind the connection we shall the better perceive His scope and design, and be preserved from an erroneous interpretation of the clauses which are to be before us.

"And when you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites (v. 5). The opening words make it quite clear that Christ takes it for granted His disciples will pray, and in what follows He reveals the need there is for them to be diligent to perform this duty in a way acceptable to God. When the Lord assured Ananias of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus He said, "Behold, he prays" (Acts 9:11). As a "Pharisee of the Pharisees" he had made many long prayers, but not until the miracle of grace had been wrought within him could it be said that he prayed. Saying prayers and pouring out the heart before God are totally different things: a self-righteous Pharisee may be diligent in the former, only one who has been born again will do the latter. As another has said, "The moment a spiritual babe is born into the new creation it sends up a cry of helpless dependence toward the source of its birth."

That which is now to engage our attention consists of the first recorded utterance of Christ on the subject of prayer, and it is most searching and solemn to note that it opens with a warning against hypocrisy in the discharge of this duty. That particular species of hypocrisy which is here reprehended is ostentatiousness in our devotions, the public parading of our piety, the seeking to attract the notice of others and win for ourselves the reputation of great spirituality. Prayer is the expression of creature need and dependence and therefore it is utterly inconsistent with thoughts of pride and self-complacency. But alas, such is fallen man that he can unite these opposites, and therefore our need of this caution: "And when you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites." A "hypocrite" is one who assumes a character which does not belong to him. The "hypocrites" which Christ had immediately in view were the Pharisees (Matthew 23:13), for their "leaven" was hypocrisy (Luke 12:1).

"And when you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Truly I say unto you, They have their reward" (Matthew 6:5). We need hardly say that Christ is not here condemning this posture of standing in prayer (for He Himself employed it: (John 11:41), nor is He forbidding His disciples to pray in public: Paul gave thanks unto God in the presence of a whole ship's company (Acts 27:35), and in his Epistles gave order that "men pray everywhere" (1 Timothy 2:8). No, rather was it the motive and manner of prayer which our Lord here had in view. It is a caution against vainglory, the seeking to commend ourselves unto our fellows. And what sort of creatures are we that need this caution: think of it-praying to God, in order that we may be seen of men! In how many ways does the evil of our hearts lead us away from godly simplicity and sincerity.

Sin defiles our very devotions and unless we are very much on our guard, it will not only render them invalid, but an offense unto God. Particularly does the minister need to place a strict watch upon himself in his public praying, lest he be guilty of praying to the congregation rather than unto God. Alas, does not a spirit of hypocrisy often creep into the pulpit prayers of those who could not justly be called "hypocrites"? It is but natural that the minister should desire to be regarded as a highly spiritual man, as one who enjoys very close communion with God, whose aspirations of soul are of a most exalted order. It is no easy matter not to be mindful that there are many critical ears which are listening to our petitions and to be affected accordingly both in the matter and manner of our supplications. Would not our public prayers often be simpler and shorter if we were alone with God?

What need there is, then, that those who are accustomed to lead in public prayer should diligently examine their hearts and cry earnestly unto God for the mortifying of their pride. What is the good opinion of fellow-sinners worth if we have not the Lord's "well done"? Let us be more careful in seeing to it that our affections prompt each petition, than in giving thought to the expressing of them in words which will charm the ears of men. Truth and sincerity in the heart are vastly more important than choice language or a correct demeanor. Let us seek grace to heed that exhortation, "Keep your foot when you go to the House of God . . . Be not rash with your mouth and let not your heart be hasty to utter anything before God: for God is in Heaven, and you upon earth, therefore let your words be few" (Ecclesiastes 5:1, 2). If the Divine perfections duly impress our souls then we shall be saved from much folly.

"But you, when you pray, enter into your closet, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father" (Matthew 6:6). Having condemned the vice of hypocrisy in the former verse our Lord now commended the virtue of sincerity, and instructs us in the right manner of praying to God. It seems strange that some have quite missed Christ's meaning here, a few extremists supposing that He forbade all praying in the congregation. That which our Lord was reprehending in the previous verse was not public prayer, but personal praying in public which was done with the object of calling attention to ourselves. The Lord Jesus encouraged social praying in His memorable declaration, "where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst" (Matthew 18:20), which was specifically a promise to praying souls, having no reference at all to the Lord's Supper. That united prayer was practiced by the early Christians is clear from many passages in the Acts: see 1:14; 2:42; 6:4; 12:5; 16:13.

"But you, when you pray, enter into your closet, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father which is in secret; and your Father which sees in secret shall reward you openly" (Matthew 6:6). In our exposition of Matthew 5 we have shown repeatedly that much of our Lord's language in this Sermon cannot be understood literally, and if this principle be borne in mind we shall be preserved from unwarrantably restricting His scope and meaning in this verse. Viewed in the light of its immediate context we regard this verse as, first, giving most necessary directions to the one who leads in public prayer. So far from engaging therein in order to win human esteem, we must discharge the duty in precisely the same spirit of humility and sincerity as though we were alone, engaged in private prayer. Entering the closet and closing the door was a figurative way of saying, shut out from your mind all thoughts of the creature and have respect unto God alone: be not occupied with those present, but with Him who is invisible.

While we are satisfied that the first reference in verse 6 is to public prayer, yet (as the greater includes the less) there is also important teaching here concerning private prayer. Three things in it are to be noted: the place of prayer, the privacy, and privilege thereof. "But you, when you pray, enter into your closet." By the "closet" we are to understand a place of seclusion and retirement. Our omniscient Savior knew the tendency of our minds to stray, how easily our thoughts wander away from God, and therefore He exhorts us to get away from everything which disturbs and distracts, to some quiet spot where our communion with God may not be hindered. Private prayer is to be as secret as possible and this calls for a secluded spot, a place free from the observations and interruptions of our fellows. When Christ engaged in private prayer He withdrew from the crowd and retired to the solitude of the mountain.

Before passing on it should be pointed out that we must be careful not to run to an unwarrantable extreme at this point, otherwise we should make this verse clash with other passages. If on the one hand we must be careful to avoid ostentation and seeking the praise of men, yet on the other we must be on our guard against intimidation and being unfaithful through the fear of men. Daniel closed not the windows of his room when praying, even though he knew that he was thereby endangering his life (6:10). Even when in a public place we should not allow the sneers of others to hinder us from bowing our heads and returning thanks to God at meal times, nor to kneel by our bedside at night if someone else be sharing the room.

"Enter into your closet": these words suggest not only a silent and secluded place, but also a stated place-whether it be in the fields, the woods, or our own dwelling. When David received tidings of the death of Absalom, we are told that he "went up to the chamber over the gate" and wept (2 Samuel 18:33), as though that was the spot where he was accustomed to pour out his griefs unto the Lord. When the widow of Zarephath acquainted Elijah with the death of her son, the Prophet "carried him up into a loft where he abode, and laid him upon his own bed," and then and there "he cried unto the LORD" (1 Kings 17:19, 20). The same practice was evidently followed by our Savior, for we read that He "went (for the specific purpose of making supplication to God) as He was accustomed (accustomed) to the Mount of Olives" (Luke 22:39).

It is interesting to note that the Greek word for "closet" occurs but four times in the original of the New Testament: in Matthew 24:26 it is translated "secret chambers." Our Lord's language was most probably adopted from Isaiah 26:20: "Come, My people, enter you into your chambers, and shut your doors about you." Now what would these words "enter into your closet" suggest to a Jew? The "closet" is simply a closed place, shut in for privacy, shut out from obtrusion. What would such a term naturally suggest to Christ's hearers? There was one place in their midst which was pre-eminently a secret chamber, namely, the innermost section of the temple, where Jehovah had His special dwelling in the holy of holies. It was peculiarly a "closet," from which the people were excluded. It was a place marked by silence and secrecy, seclusion, and separation.

The holy of holies in the tabernacle and temple was of unique design. It had neither door nor window, and unlike the inner courts of Orientals which are opened to the sky, this one was roofed in and had no skylight. None of the Levites were permitted to enter, save only the high priest, who went there as the representative of the nation to meet with God. Significantly enough there was in it but a single piece of furniture, namely, the sacred ark covered by the mercy-seat. How unspeakably blessed: Aaron drew near to converse with God at a blood-sprinkled mercy-seat. There was one notable exception to what we have just pointed out: "and when Moses was gone into the tabernacle of the congregation to speak with Him, then he heard the voice of One speaking unto him from off the mercy-seat that was upon the ark of testimony, from between the two cherubim: and he spoke unto him" (Numbers 7:89). Thus the Holy "Closet" was where man spoke to God and God to him.

There are two expressions in our verse which emphasize the note of privacy in our individual devotions: "when you have shut your door" and "pray to your Father who is in secret." The former suggests the need for seclusion and silence-the getting away from all sights and sounds which would disturb and distract. The latter means, get alone with God, enter the secret place of the Most High, converse and commune with Him in the holy of holies. Let the reader carefully note the special stress which is here laid upon the singular number of the second personal pronoun: "but you, when you pray, enter into you closet," etc. Here is something which is unique in all the Word of God: no less than eight times in this one verse is the second person used in the singular number. Nothing could bring out more strikingly the imperative need of being alone with God: for this the world must be entirely shut out.

"But you, when you pray, enter into your closet, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father which is in secret." How clear it is that both the spirit and the letter of this verse rebukes those misguided souls who clamor for churches and chapels to be kept perpetually open so that any member of the public may repair there for private devotions either day or night, as if buildings set apart for religious exercises were any nearer to the Throne of Grace than our own dwellings or the open fields. The Lord of Heaven and earth "dwells not in temples made with hands. . . He is not far from every one of us" (Acts 17:24, 27). The localization of worship was abolished when Christ declared, "The hour comes when you shall neither in this mountain nor yet at Jerusalem worship the Father. . . God is spirit: and they that worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth" (John 4:21, 24). The argument that church buildings should be kept open for the benefit of those away from home can have no weight in the face of Matthew 6:5, 6. Such an innovation is certain to be abused.

"Pray to your Father which is in secret, and your Father which sees in secret shall reward you openly" (v. 6). Here is set forth the holy and unspeakable privilege of prayer. Here we are invited to freely open our minds and hearts unto Him who cares for us, acquainting Him with our needs and cares, making known our requests with thanksgiving. "Pray to your Father which is in secret": He is invisible to carnal sight, imperceptible to our bodily senses, but a living Reality unto faith. We must therefore labor to come into His conscious presence, seek to acquaint ourselves with Him, and make Him real to our souls, for He is "a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him." In order to this, after entering our closet and before offering up any petition, we need to meditate upon God's wondrous perfections, to ponder His blessed attributes. Dwell upon His ineffable holiness, His almighty power, His unchanging faithfulness, His infinite mercy; above all rejoice in the fact that He is our Father.

"Pray to your Father which is in secret, and your Father which sees in secret shall reward you openly." This is set over against "they have their reward" of verse 1. Their "reward" is not the approbation of God, but merely the worthless admiration of their silly dupes who are imposed upon by an outward show of piety. They "have their reward," for there is nothing but the gall of bitterness awaiting them in the future: "men of the world have their portion in this life" (Psalm 17:14). Different far is it with the Christian. His prayers do not and cannot merit anything from God, yet if they are offered from right principles and unto right ends they are pleasing unto Him, and are rewarded even now by tokens of His favor, and in the Day to come they shall be openly approved by Him.

"But when you pray, use not vain repetitions as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking" (Matthew 6:7). That which our Lord here condemned is not our asking again and again for the same thing. but the reducing of the duty and privilege of prayer to a mere lip labor. In Psalm 119 we find David praying, "teach me Your statutes" no less than seven times. Our Savior in the Garden repeatedly asked for the removal of the cup, and Paul thrice besought the Lord for the departure of his thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:8). It is vain repetitions which is prohibited, such as those used by the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:26), the worshipers of Diana (Acts 19:34), and the papists' "Pater-nosters" and "Ave-marias," which they are taught to use without meaning or devotion, and which they number by counting strings of beads [the rosary]. Cold and formal extempore prayers are equally forbidden, for they are mere babblings.

"Be not you therefore like unto them: for your Father knows what things you have need of, before you ask Him" (Matthew 6:8). Here Christ presents as an inducement to praying souls the very reason which infidels use as an argument against prayer: if God be omniscient, what need is there for us to inform Him of our requirements? We do not present our requests to God in order to acquaint Him with our wants, but to render obedience unto His commandment which requires this duty from us. We pray unto God for the purpose of honoring Him, acknowledging Him to be the Knower of our hearts and the Giver of all mercies. Moreover, prayer is a means for us to rightly receive and improve the gifts of Heaven, being an indispensable preparation of our soul thereto. It should be understood that this knowledge of our Father's is far more than a bare cognition of our wants: it is such a solicitation for our welfare that ensures the supply of every needed thing.

 

14. Prayer: Matthew 6:9-13.

We have written in great detail a series on what is usually designated the Lord's Prayer, and therefore we shall not now enter so fully into detail as we otherwise would have done. Before taking up its several clauses, let us make one or two general observations on the prayer as a whole. First, we would note the words with which Christ prefaced it: "after this manner pray you." This intimates that the Lord Jesus was supplying a pattern after which our prayers are to be modeled. So ignorant are we that, "we know not what we should pray for as we ought" (Romans 8:26), and therefore in answer to our oft-repeated request "Lord, teach us to pray," (Luke 11:1), He has graciously furnished the instruction we so sorely need, revealing the manner in which Christians should approach God, the order in which their requests should be presented, the things they most need to ask for, and the adoration which is due the One they are supplicating.

This model prayer is also found, in condensed form, in Luke's Gospel, and there it is introduced by the words, "When you pray, say" (11:2). This makes it clear that this prayer is not only a pattern to be copied, but also a form to be used verbatim, the plural pronouns therein suggesting it is appropriate for collective use when the saints assemble together. The fact that its use as a form has been perverted is no argument why it should never be thus employed. True, we need to be much on our guard against repeating it by rote, coldly and mechanically, and earnestly seek grace to recite it reverently and feelingly-in our judgment, once every public service-and always at family worship. In view of the class to whom we write it is scarcely necessary to add that many have made a superstitious use of this prayer, as though it were a magical charm.

A few of our readers may have been disturbed by the foolish and harmful error that the Lord's Prayer was not designed and is not suited for use in this dispensation: that instead, it is "Jewish" and intended for a godly remnant in some "great tribulation period" yet future. One would think that the very stating of such a fantasy is quite sufficient to expose its absurdity to those with any spiritual intelligence. Neither our Lord nor any of His Apostles gave any warning that this prayer was not to be used by Christians, or any intimation that it was designed for a future age. The fact that it is found in Luke's Gospel as well as Matthew's is clear indication it is to be employed by Jewish and Gentile saints alike. There is nothing whatever in this prayer which is unsuited to Christians now, yes, everything in it is needed by them. That it is addressed to "our Father" furnishes all the warrant we need for it to be used by all the members of His family. Then let none of God's children allow Satan to rob them of this valuable part of their birthright.

The more this blessed and wondrous prayer be pondered-one which we personally love to think of as "the Family Prayer"-the more will the perfect wisdom of its Author be apparent. Here we are taught both the manner and method of how to pray, and the matter for which to pray. Christ knew both our needs and the Father's good will toward us, and therefore has He graciously supplied us with a simple but sufficient directory. Every aspect of prayer is included therein: adoration in its opening clause, thanksgiving at the close, confession of sin is implied. Its petitions are seven in number, showing the completeness of the outline here furnished us. It is virtually an epitome of the Psalms and a most excellent summary of all prayer. Every clause in it is taken from the Old Testament, denoting that our prayers cannot be acceptable unless they be Scriptural. "If we ask anything according to His will He hears us" (1 John 5:14), and God's will can only be learned from His Word.

"Our Father which are in Heaven." This opening clause presents to us the Object to whom we pray and the most endearing relation which He sustains to us. By directing us to address the great God as "our Father which are in Heaven" we are assured of His love and power: this precious title being designed to raise our affections, excite to reverential fear and confirm our confidence in the efficacy of prayer. It is to a Divine Person, One who has our best interests at heart, we are invited to draw near: "Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us" (1 John 3:1)! God is our "Father" first by creation: (Malachi 2:10). Second, He is our Father by covenant-relationship, and this by virtue of our federal union with Christ-because God is His Father, He is ours: John 20:17. Third, He is our Father by regeneration: when born again we are "made partakers of the Divine nature": Galatians 4:6; 2 Peter 1:4. O for faith to extract the sweetness of this relationship!

It is blessed to see how the Old Testament saints, at a time of peculiar trouble and distress, boldly pleaded this relationship to God. They declared, "You did terrible things . . . behold You are wroth." They owned, "We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags." They acknowledged, "You have hid Your face from us, and have consumed us because of our iniquities." And then they pleaded, "But now, O LORD, You are our Father" (Isaiah 64:3-8). Though we have conducted ourselves very undutifully and ungratefully toward You, yet we are Your dear children: though You have chastened us sorely, nevertheless, You are still our Father. To You, therefore, we now in penitence turn, to You we would apply ourselves in prayer, for to whom should we look for support and relief but from our Father! That was the language of faith.

"Our Father." This teaches us to recognize the Christian brotherhood, to pray for the whole family and not for ourselves only. We must express our love for the brethren by praying for them: we are to be as much concerned about their needs as we are over our own. "Which are in Heaven." Here we are reminded of God's greatness, of His infinite elevation above us. If the words "Our Father" inspire confidence and love, "which are in Heaven" should fill us with humility and awe. It is true that God is everywhere, but He is present in Heaven in a special sense. It is there that He has "prepared His throne": not only His throne of government, by which His kingdom rules over all, but also His throne of grace to which we must by faith draw near. We are to eye Him as God in Heaven, in contrast from the false gods which dwell in temples made by hands.

These words "which are in Heaven," should serve as a guide to direct us in our praying. Heaven is a high and exalted place, and we should address ourselves to God as One who is infinitely above us. It is the place of prospect, and we must picture His holy eye upon us. It is a place of ineffable purity, and nothing which defiles or makes a lie can enter there. It is the "firmament of His power," and we must depend upon Him as the One to whom all might belongs. When the Lord Jesus prayed, He "lifted up His eyes to Heaven," directing us where to obtain the blessings we need. If God is in Heaven, then prayer needs to be a thing of the heart and not of the lips, for no physical voice on earth can rend the skies, but sighs and groans will reach the ear of God. If we are to pray to God in Heaven, then our souls must be detached from all of earth. If we pray to God in Heaven, then faith must wing our petitions. Since we pray to God in Heaven our desires and aspirations must be heavenly.

"Hallowed be Your name." Thus begins the petitionary part of this blessed prayer. The requests are seven in number, being divided into a three and a four: the first three concerning God, and last four (ever the number of the creature), our own selves-similarly are the Ten Commandments divided: the first five treating of our duty Godward (in the fifth the parent stands to the child in the place of God) the last five our duty man-wards. How clearly, then, is the fundamental duty in prayer here set forth: self and all its needs must be given a secondary place and the Lord freely accorded the pre-eminence in our thoughts, desires and supplications. This petition must take the precedence, for the glory of God's great name is the ultimate end of all things: every other request must not only be subordinated to this one, but be in harmony with and in pursuance of it. We cannot pray aright unless the honor of God be dominant in our hearts. If we cherish a desire for the honoring of God's name we must not ask for anything which would be against the Divine holiness to bestow.

By "Your name" is meant God Himself, as in Psalm 20:1, etc. But more particularly His "name" signifies God as He is revealed. It has pleased the Maker of Heaven and earth to make Himself known to us, not only in His works, but in the Scriptures, and supremely so in Christ. In the written and in the personal Word, God has displayed Himself to us, manifesting His glorious perfections: His matchless attributes of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence; His moral character of holiness, righteousness, goodness and mercy. He is also revealed through His blessed titles: the Rock of Israel, Him that cannot lie, the Father of mercies, the God of all grace. And when we pray that the name of God may be hallowed we make request that the glory thereof may be displayed by Him, and that we may be enabled to esteem and magnify Him agreeably thereto.

In praying that God's name be hallowed we ask that He will so act that His creatures may be moved to render that adoration which is due Him. His name has indeed been eminently glorified in all ages, in the various workings of His providence and grace, whereby His power, wisdom, righteousness and mercy have been demonstrated before the eyes of angels and of men. We therefore request that He would continue to glorify these perfections. In the past God has, in the magnifying of His name, employed methods and measures which were strange and staggering to finite intelligence: often allowing His enemies to prosper for a time and His people to be sorely persecuted-nevertheless, they glorified "The LORD in the fires" (Isaiah 24:15). And so now, and in the future, when we ask for God to be glorified in the prosperity of His Church, the dissemination of the Gospel and the extension of His kingdom, we must subordinate our request to the Divine sovereignty and leave it with Him as to where and when and how these things shall be brought to pass.

"Hallowed be Your name": how easy it is to utter these words without the slightest thought of their profound and holy import! If we offer this petition from the heart, we desire that God's name may be sanctified by us, and at the same time own the indisposition and utter inability to do this of ourselves. Such a request denotes a longing to be empowered to glorify God in everything whereby He makes Himself known, that we may honor Him in all situations and circumstances. Whatever be my lot, however low I may sink, through whatever deep waters I may be called to pass, get to Yourself glory in me and by me. Blessedly was this exemplified by our perfect Savior. "Now is My soul troubled: and what shall I say? Father save Me from this hour? but for this cause came I unto this hour-Father, glorify Your name" (John 12:27, 28): though He must be immersed in the baptism of suffering, yet "Hallowed be Your name."

"Your kingdom come: Your will be done in earth, as it is in Heaven." The first petition has respect to God's honor, the second and third indicate the means whereby His glory is manifested and maintained on earth. God's name is manifestatively glorified here just in proportion as His "kingdom" comes to us and His "will" is done by us. This is why we are exhorted to "seek you first the kingdom of God and His righteousness" (Matthew 6:33). In praying, "Your kingdom come," we acknowledge that by nature we are under the dominion of sin and Satan, and beg that we may be the more fully delivered therefrom and that the rule of God may be more completely established in our hearts. We long to see the kingdom of Grace extended and the kingdom of Glory ushered in. Accordingly we make request that God's will may be more fully made known to us, wrought in us and performed by us: "in earth as it is in Heaven": that is, humbly, cheerfully, impartially, promptly, constantly.

"Give us this day our daily bread." This is the first of the four petitions more immediately relating to the supply of our own needs, in which we can clearly discern an implied reference to each of the Persons in the blessed Trinity. Our temporal wants are supplied by the kindness of the Father; our sins are forgiven through the mediation of the Son; we are preserved from temptation and delivered from evil by the gracious operations of the Holy Spirit. By asking for our "daily bread" a tacit acknowledgment is made that "in Adam and by our own sins we have forfeited our right to all the outward blessings of this life, and deserve to be wholly deprived of them by God, and to have them cursed to us in the use of them; and, that neither they of themselves are able to sustain us, nor we to merit, or by our own industry to procure them, but prone to desire, get and use them unlawfully; we pray for ourselves and others that they and we, waiting upon the providence of God from day to day, in the use of lawful means, may of His free gift and as His Fatherly wisdom shall deem best, enjoy a competent portion of them, and have the same continued and blessed unto us in our holy and comfortable use of them and contentment in them" (Larger Catechism).

"And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." As it is contrary to the holiness of God, sin is a defilement, a dishonor, and reproach to us; as it is a violation of His Law, it is a crime. As to the guilt which we contract thereby, it is a debt. As creatures we owed a debt of obedience unto our Maker and Governor, and through failure to render the same and on account of our rank disobedience, we have incurred a debt of punishment, and it is for this latter that we implore the Divine pardon. In order to the obtaining of God's forgiveness, we are required to address ourselves unto Him in faith and prayer. The designed connection between this and the preceding petition should not be missed: "Give us . . . and forgive us": the former cannot profit us without the latter-what true comfort can we derive from external mercies when our conscience remains burdened on account of a sense of guilt! But since Christ here teaches us that He is a giving God, what encouragement to look unto Him as a forgiving God.

"And lead us not into temptation." The "us" includes all fellow-Christians on earth, for one of the first things which grace teaches us is unselfishness; to be as much concerned about the good of my brethren as I am about my own-not only for their temporal welfare, but especially for their spiritual. In the preceding petition we have prayed that the guilt of past sins may be remitted, here we beg to be saved from incurring new guilt through being overcome by fresh sin. This request makes acknowledgment of the universal providence of God, that all creatures are at the sovereign disposal of their Maker, that He has the same absolute control over evil as over good, and therefore has the ordering of all temptations. It is from the evil of temptations we ask to be spared: if God sees fit that we should be tempted objectively (through providences which though good in themselves, offer occasion to sin within us) that we may not yield thereto, or if we yield, that we may not be absolutely overcome.

"But deliver us from evil." All temptations (trials and troubles) are not evil either in their nature, design, or outcome. The Savior Himself was tempted of the Devil and was definitely led into the wilderness by the Spirit for that very end. It is therefore from the evil of temptations we are to ask for deliverance, as this final petition indicates. We are to pray not for a total exemption from them, but only for a removal of the judgment of them. This is clear from our Lord's own example in prayer: "I pray not that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the Evil One" (John 17:15). To be kept from the evil of sin is a far greater mercy than deliverance from the trouble of temptation. But how far has God undertaken to deliver us from evil? First, as it would be hurtful to our highest interests: it was for Peter's ultimate good that he was suffered to temporarily fall. Second, from its having full dominion over us, so that we shall not totally and finally apostatize. Third, by an ultimate deliverance when He removes us to Heaven.

"For Your is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen." Thus the Family Prayer closes with a doxology or an ascription of that glory which is due unto God, thereby teaching us that prayer and praise should always go together. It is to be carefully noted that this doxology of the Divine perfections is made use of as a plea to enforce the preceding petitions: "deliver us from evil for Your is the kingdom," etc.-teaching us to back up our requests with Scriptural reasons or arguments. From the Divine perfections the suppliant is to take encouragement to expect a gracious answer. There is nothing in or from ourselves which is meritorious, and therefore hope must be grounded upon the character of Him to whom we pray. His perfections are not evanescent, but "forever." The concluding "Amen" expresses both a fervent desire "so be it" and an avowal of faith "it shall be so."

 

14. Prayer: Matthew 6:14-15.

"For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:14, 15). These verses have received scant attention from most of those who have written on the Lord's Prayer. This ought not to be, for they form a most important appendix to and round the teaching of our Lord begun at verse 6. It is significant to observe that the fifth petition in the Family Prayer is the only one singled out by Christ for specific comment-probably because the duty enforced in it is the most painful of all to flesh and blood. But however distasteful the contents of these verses may be to our sinful hearts, that is no reason why they should be virtually shelved by most of the commentators.

Timely indeed are the brief remarks of Matthew Henry thereon: "If we pray in anger, we have reason to fear that God will answer us in anger. What reason is it that God should forgive us the talents (huge sums) we are indebted to Him, if we forgive not our brethren the pence they are indebted to us? Christ came into the world as the great Peace-Maker: not only to reconcile us to God, but to one another; and in this we must comply with Him. It is a great presumption and of dangerous consequences for anyone to make a light matter of that which Christ lays such a stress upon. Men's passions must not frustrate God's Word." Far too weighty and momentous are these solemn and searching declarations of the Lord Jesus to be summarily dismissed with a brief and light notice of them.

It was the comparative failure of Christian expositors in the past to adequately explain and enforce the teaching of Christ in the verses now before us which made it so much easier for modern errorists to foist their evil perversions on the uninstructed and unwary. For example, take the following footnote from the "Scofield Reference Bible": "This is legal ground. Compare Ephesians 4:32 which is grace. Under the Law forgiveness was conditioned upon a like spirit in us; under grace we are forgiven for Christ's sake, and exhorted to forgive because we have been forgiven." This is a fair sample of the vicious method followed by "Dispensationalists," who (under the pretense of "rightly dividing the Word of Truth") delight in pitting the Old Testament against the New, and lowering the standard of Christianity, presenting a fictitious "grace" which does not "reign through righteousness" (Romans 5:21). Let us briefly examine this statement of Scofield's, which has misled thousands.

By saying that because our receiving Divine forgiveness is dependent upon our forgiving those who wrong us is "legal ground," attempt is made to set aside the Lord's positive declaration. In the added statement, "Compare Ephesians 4:32 which is grace" we are asked to believe that Matthew 6:14, 15 pertains not at all to this Christian era. This is made quite plain in what follows where this "renowned Bible teacher" opposes the one to the other. "Under the Law forgiveness was conditioned upon a like spirit in us, under grace we are forgiven for Christ's sake, and exhorted to forgive because we have been forgiven." Such a declaration betrays the mental confusion of its author. Under no dispensation has God ever bestowed mercy upon any who maintained a vindictive spirit, nor does He now: were He to do so, it would not be "grace," but a disgrace to His holiness. Throughout the whole of the Old Testament economy penitent souls were pardoned for Christ's sake, as truly as believers are today. There is no conflict between the Law and the Gospel: the one is the handmaid of the other.

"For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heaven1y Father will also forgive you." What analogy is there between our forgiving of others and God's forgiving us? Let us begin with the negative side. First, it is not because our forgiving those who wrong us is in any sense or degree a meritorious act which deserves well at the hands of God. The meritorious ground on which God pardons our sins is the atonement of Christ, and that alone. Our best performances are imperfect, and in no way proportionate to the mercies we receive from God. What proportion is there between God's pardoning of us and our pardoning of others, either with respect to the parties interested in the action, the subject matter, the manner of performance or the issues of the action? God has laid a law upon us that we should forgive others, and compliance therewith is simply discharging our duty, and not something by which we bring the Lord into debt to us.

Second, it is not a rule so that our forgiving others should be a pattern of forgiving to God. "Your will be done in earth as it is in Heaven" does denote a conformity of the one to the other; but "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors" is not a pattern or rule. We are to be imitators of God, but He does not imitate us in pardoning offenders-it would fare ill with us indeed if God were to forgive us no better than we forgive one another. God is matchless in all His works and all His ways. Let it be duly noted that when He declares, "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8, 9) it is specifically said in connection with His "abundant pardon" (see verse 7).

Third, nor do these words, "For if you forgive men their trespasses your heavenly Father will also forgive you" signify a priority of order, as though our acts had the precedence of God's, or as if we could heartily forgive others before God had shown mercy to us. No-in all acts of love God is first: His mercy to us is the cause of our mercy to others. In the great parable on forgiveness (Matthew 18:23-35), which forms the best commentary on the verses now before us, God's forgiving us is the motive of our forgiving: "I forgave you all that debt, because you desirer Me: should not you also have had compassion on your fellow servant, even as I had pity on you?" (vv. 32, 33). So again-"Be you kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake has forgiven you" (Ephesians 4:32)-in that manner, according to that example.

Turning now to the positive side. "If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you." Very searching indeed are these words, constituting a severe test of discipleship, a test which excludes from the ranks of God's children those professors who cherish a spirit of malignity and revenge, refusing to forgive those who injure them. Unless our pride be truly broken by a sense of sin so that we are not only willing to forgive others, but also rejoice in those opportunities for exercising (in some small degree at least) that loving-kindness which we ourselves stand in such sore need of from God, then we are not really penitent in heart and therefore cannot be pardoned ourselves. If our prayers are to be acceptable unto God we must "lift up holy hands, without wrath" (1 Timothy 2:8).

First, our forgiveness of others is a condition or necessary qualification if we are to receive the continued pardon of God. "For if we forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you": these two are definitely joined together and must not be separated by us. Divine forgiveness always presupposes our repentance: it is not bestowed on that account, yet it is inseparably connected with it. Unless we forgive those who injure us we are in no moral condition ourselves to receive the mercy of God. We have no Scriptural warrant whatever to expect the Divine pardon while we refuse to pardon those who have trespassed against us. It is quite wrong to limit this by saying that we cannot expect the comfort of God's pardon: so long as we indulge implacable resentment it is presumptuous for us to hope for Divine mercy.

Second, as intimated above, our forgiveness of others is a mark or sign that we ourselves have been pardoned of God. "Hateful and hating one another" (Titus 3:3) was our condition by nature; but if by grace we have drunk of the blessed spirit of the Redeemer then shall we, like He (Luke 23:34), pray for our enemies. Said the beloved Apostle, "Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all longsuffering" (1 Timothy 1:16). Where the grace of God has wrought a miracle in the human heart graciousness is the inevitable effect. Reconciliation with God is made manifest by a conciliatory spirit to our fellows. If God has softened our hearts, how can we be hard and mercilessly exacting toward others? "There is none so tender to others as they which have received mercy themselves: that know how gently God has dealt with them" (Thomas Manton).

Third, the joining together of our forgiving of others with God's forgiving of us is in order to show this is a duty incumbent upon those who are pardoned. God has laid this necessity upon us. Every time we beg His pardon we are to remind ourselves most solemnly of this duty and bind ourselves to it in the sight of God. So that when we pray, "Forgive us our debts," we are required to add, "as we forgive our debtors." It is a definite undertaking on our part, a formal promise which we make to God: His showing of mercy to us will incline us to show mercy unto others. In all earnest requests we are to bind ourselves to the corresponding duties. In asking for our daily bread we pledge ourselves to labor for it. In asking that we may not be led into temptation, we agree not to place a stumbling block before others.

Fourth, it is an argument inspiring confidence in God's pardoning mercy. We, who have still so much of the old leaven of revenge left in us, find that the receiving of a spark of grace enkindles in our hearts a readiness to forgive those who injure us, what may we not expect from God! Clearly this is what is urged in, "Forgive us our sins; for we also forgive everyone that is indebted to us" (Luke 11:4): if we who have so little grace find it possible to be magnanimous, how much more so shall the God of all grace exceed the creature in this! The same kind of reasoning was employed by Christ in His, "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in Heaven give good things to them that ask Him" (Matthew 7:11). Since fallen man is moved with affection toward his weak and needy offspring, certainly the Father of Mercies will not be indifferent to our wants.

We must next inquire what is meant by our forgiving those who trespass against us. Before answering this question in detail it should be pointed out that we can only forgive those injuries which are directly against ourselves, for none but God can forgive those which are against Himself-He alone can remit that punishment which is due to the transgressor for the violation of His Law. It should also be premised that we are not required to forgive those injuries done to us which constitute a flagrant violation of the laws of the land, whereby the offender has committed a serious crime, for it belongs not to a private person to condone evil doing or to obstruct the course of justice. Yet if we have recourse to human courts for the redress of wrongs, it must not be in a spirit of malice, but only for the glory of God and the public good.

What is meant by our forgiving others? First, forbearing ourselves and withholding revenge. "Say not, I will do to him as he has done to me: I will render to the man according to his work" (Proverbs 24:29). Corrupt nature thirsts for retaliation, but grace must suppress it. If someone has slandered us, that does not warrant us to slander them. "He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city" (Proverbs 16:32): we rule our spirit when we overcome our passion. "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21), for this will shame the offender if his conscience be not utterly calloused. When David had Saul at an advantage and forbore any act of revenge against him, Saul acknowledged, "You are more righteous than I" (1 Samuel 24:17).

Second, Christians are required not only to forbear the avenging of themselves, but actually to pardon those who have wronged them. There must be the laying aside of all anger and hatred, and the exercise of love toward my neighbor, remembering that by nature I am no better than the offender (Galatians 6:1). If we have genuinely pardoned the one who has injured us, we shall earnestly desire that God will pardon him too, as Stephen prayed for his enemies, "Lord, lay not this sin to their charge" (Acts 7:60). This forgiveness must be sincere and from the heart. When Joseph's brethren submitted themselves to him, he not only remitted their offenses, but "comforted them, and spoke kindly unto them" (Genesis 50:21).

Third, we must be ready to perform all the offices of love unto those who have wronged us, if the offending one be not a brother in Christ, yet is he still your fellow creature. Nor must you so magnify his faults as to be blind to his compensating virtues. We are required to do good unto those that hate us (Luke 6:27) and to pray for those who despitefully use us and persecute us (Matthew 5:44). Though Miriam had wronged Moses, yet he prayed to the Lord for her forgiveness and healing (Numbers 12:13). And surely it is fitting that we who need mercy ourselves should show mercy unto others. It is a general rule that we should do as we would be done unto. How we need to pray for more grace if we are to be gracious unto others!

But are we required to forgive offenders absolutely and unconditionally, whether they express contrition or not? Certainly not. A holy God does not require us to condone evil-doing and countenance sin. The teaching of our Lord on this point is crystal clear: first we are bidden to seek out the offender, privately and meekly, and expostulate with him, endeavoring to make him see that he has displeased the Lord and wronged his own soul more than he has us (Matthew 5:23, 24; 18:15). Second, "If your brother trespass against you, rebuke him: and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to you, saving, I repent; you shall forgive him" (Luke 17:3, 4). But suppose the offender evidences no sign of repentance? Even then, we must not harbor any malice or any revenge, yet we are not to act as freely and familiarly as before. Third, we are to pray for him.

"But if you forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." Unspeakably solemn is this, and each of us needs to diligently search his heart in the light of it. Let us bear in mind that other declaration of Christ's, "For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged, and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again" (Matthew 7:2). God's government is a reality, and He sees to it that whatever we sow that do we also reap. The same truth, in principle, is enunciated in, "Whoever stops his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard" (Proverbs 21:13). Many an earnest prayer is offered which never reaches the ear of God. Why is it that such a verse as, "For He shall have judgment without mercy, that has showed no mercy" (James 2:13) has no place in the preaching of our day? How much that is distasteful to flesh and blood is withheld by men-pleasers! Such will never receive the Master's "Well done, you good and faithful servant."

It will be seen, then, that the passage we have been considering presents a very real test of discipleship. On the one hand it shows that if we are merciful to others we shall ourselves "obtain mercy" (Matthew 5:7). On the other hand it teaches that if we retain malice and hatred against those who injure us, then is the hypocrisy of our Christian profession plainly exposed. How necessary it is that we diligently examine our hearts and test ourselves at this point. As a guide therein, ponder before God the following queries: Do I secretly rejoice when I hear of any calamity befalling one who has wronged me? If so, I certainly have not forgiven him. Do I retain in my memory the wrongs suffered and upbraid the transgressor with them? Or, assuming he has repented, am I willing and anxious to do whatever I can to help him and promote his interests?

It is abundantly clear from all that has been before us that God's pardon of our sins and the reformation of our lives go together: the one can only be known by the other. The more our hearts and lives are regulated by a Christ-like spirit, the clearer our evidence that we are new creatures in Him. It is utterly vain for me to believe that I have received the Divine pardon if I refuse to forgive those who injure me. True, it is often difficult to forget the wrongs we have forgiven, and the injuries we have received may still rankle within us. The flesh is yet in us and indwelling sin mars all the actings of grace. Yet if we honestly strive to banish ill will and seek to cherish a meek disposition toward our enemies, we may comfort ourselves that God will be gracious unto us, for His love is infinitely superior to ours. If our hearts condemn us not then do we have confidence toward Him.

 

15. Fasting: Matthew 6:16-19.

Our present passage brings before us still another subject upon which multitudes of professing Christians are in much need of instruction. Personally we have never heard a sermon or "Bible reading" on Fasting, and very little has come to our notice thereon which was written during the last 40 years-and most of that "little" left very much to be desired. From conversations and communications with others it appears that our experience has been by no means a singular one, and therefore we do not feel it necessary to apologize for devoting so much space to the above verses. Following our usual custom, we will first deal with our passage generally and topically, comparing with it the teaching of other sections of Scripture on this theme; and then consider our verses more specifically, seeking to expound and apply their terms.

Four hundred years ago Calvin wrote in his "Institutes," "Let me say something on fasting: because many, for want of knowing its usefulness undervalue its necessity, and some reject it as altogether superfluous; while on the other hand, where the use of it is not well understood, it easily degenerates into superstition." Upon this matter the passing of the centuries has produced little or no improvement, for the very conditions which confronted this eminent Reformer prevail extensively today. If on the one side Romanists have perverted a means unto an end, and have exalted what is exceptional to a principal part of their religious worship, Protestants have gone to an opposite extreme, allowing what was practiced by primitive Christians to sink into general disuse.

Though there may have been much formality and hypocrisy in some who attended to this religious duty, yet that is no reason why the practice itself should be discountenanced and discontinued. Nowhere in our Lord's teaching is there anything to discourage religious fasting, but not a little to the contrary. Most certainly He was not reprehending this practice in the passage before us, rather was He uttering a caution against hypocrisy therein. By saying, "When you fast, be not as the hypocrites," He takes it for granted that His disciples will fast-as much so as He assumes by His, "when you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites" (v. 5) that they would be men of prayer. Christ was here engaged in condemning the wicked perversion of the Pharisees, from which He also took occasion to give us valuable instruction upon our present theme.

When the heart and mind are deeply exercised upon a serious subject, especially one of a solemn or sorrowful kind, there is a disinclination for the partaking of food, and abstinence therefrom is a natural expression of our unworthiness, of our sense of the comparative worthlessness of earthly things, and of our desire to fix our attention upon things above. Fasting, either total or partial, seems to have been connected with seasons of peculiarly solemn devotion in all ages. When Jonah testified to a guilty city, "Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown" (that is, if it does not repent and turn to God) we are told, "So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them. For word came unto the king of Nineveh and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed . . . . Let neither man nor beast . . . . feed nor drink water . . . . and cry mightily unto God: yes let them turn everyone from his evil way . . . . who can tell if God will turn and repent and turn away from His fierce anger, that we perish not?" (Jonah 3:5-9).

There are a number of features about the above incident which are to be carefully noted, for they throw not a little light on several aspects of our present subject. This was no ordinary occasion when the Ninevites fasted, but a time of exceptional gravity, when the black clouds of Divine judgment hung heavy over their heads. It was not a fast undertaken by the individual, but one into which the whole populace entered. It was designed to express their deep humiliation before God and was an appendage unto their crying "mightily" to Him. It was not a duty performed in response to any express commandment from the Lord but was entered into voluntarily and spontaneously. Its object was to divert the fierce anger of Heaven against them, and as the closing verse of Jonah 3 tells us, "And God saw their work, that they turned from their evil way, and God repented of the evil that He had said (provisionally) that He would do unto them, and He did it not."

Our first main division, then, shall be occasions of fasting. Let us preface our remarks thereon by pointing out that what we are about to consider particularly is extraordinary fasting in contradistinction from ordinary. As we shall yet see, Scripture mentions partial fasting as well as total abstinence from food. There is an ordinary fasting which is required from all men, especially from the saints, namely, an avoidance of gluttony and surfeiting, a making a "God" of our belly (Philippians 3:19). This ordinary fasting consists in temperance and sobriety, whereby the appetites are restrained from the use of food and drink which exceeds moderation. We are to be temperate in all things, and at all times. Rightly did the godly Payson point out: "Fasting is not so much by total abstinence from food beyond accustomed intervals, as by denying self at every meal, and using a spare and simple diet at all times-a course well adapted to preserve the mind and body in the best condition for study and devotional exercises."

Now the occasion of an extraordinary religious fast is when a weighty cause thereof is offered. This is when some judgment of God hangs over our heads, such as the sword, famine or pestilence. In circumstances of grave danger the pious kings and Prophets of Israel called on the people to engage in fasting as well as prayer. As examples of this we may cite the following. When the hand of the Lord lay heavily upon Israel and thousands fell in battle before the Benjamites, "Then all the children of Israel, and all the people, went up and came unto the house of God, and wept and sat there before the LORD, and fasted that day until even, and offered burnt offerings" (Judg. 20:26). When the Moabites, Ammonites and others combined against Jehoshaphat in battle, we are told that he "set himself to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah gathered themselves together, to ask help of the LORD" (2 Chronicles 20:3, 4). In a time of national calamity Joel cried, "Sanctify you a fast, call you a solemn assembly . . . and cry unto the LORD" (1:14).

The second general cause and occasion for fasting is when God is earnestly sought for some special and particular blessing, or the supply of some great need. Thus on the annual day of atonement, when remission was sought for the sins of the Nation, the Israelites were most expressly forbidden to do any manner of work, but instead to "afflict their souls" (Leviticus 23:29-32). So, too, upon the exodus of the Jews from Babylon Ezra tells us, "Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of Him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance" (8:21).

In addition to these examples of public fasting, Scripture also mentions that of many pious individuals. When his child by the wife of Uriah was smitten with sore sickness, we are told that, "David therefore besought God for the child; and David fasted, and went and lay all night upon the earth" (2 Samuel 12:16). On another occasion, when sorely beset by enemies, David declared, "But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting" (Psalm 35:13). When Nehemiah was informed that the remnant of his people left of the captivity in the provinces were "in great affliction and reproach" and the wall of Jerusalem was broken down and its gates burned with fire, he "sat down and wept and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of Heaven" (1:4). When Daniel ardently desired the deliverance of the children of Israel from their captivity in Babylon he, "Set his face unto the LORD God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting and sackcloth and ashes" (9:3).

It is a great mistake to suppose that either public or private fasting on the part of the pious was a practice confined to the Old Testament era. Of Anna we read, "She departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day" (Luke 2:37). When devout Cornelius ardently desired more light from God concerning the Messiah, he fasted and prayed (Acts 10:30). When the church at Antioch sought God's special blessing upon and success of His servants in the Gospel, they "fasted" (Acts 13:3). In like manner when Paul and Silas were about to establish local churches, they "prayed with fasting" (Acts 14:23), because in a matter of such importance they looked for special directions from God. In 1 Corinthians 7:5 the Apostle gives plain intimation that it was the ordinary and proper custom of Christians to give themselves to "prayer and fasting" when special needs called for the same.

Next, we will consider the manner of fasting. Fasting consists in all abstinence from meat and drink, yet not such an abstinence as would impair health or injure the body-which is forbidden in Colossians 2:23, and would clash with Christ's directions that we should pray for our "daily bread." It is the abstinence from such meals as would interfere with an uninterrupted and earnest waiting upon God. Such fasting would primarily be a denying ourselves of all dainties, as Daniel, "ate no pleasant bread, neither came flesh nor wine into his mouth, neither did he anoint himself at all, until three whole weeks were fulfilled" (10:3). Coupled with the most sparse possible diet, there must also be an abstaining from all the delights of nature (see Joel 2:15, 16). All of this is designed for the afflicting of ourselves, as Paul in his, "I keep under my body and bring it into subjection" (1 Corinthians 9:27).

Before proceeding further it should be pointed out that there may be a prolonged abstinence from food and yet no fasting in the Scriptural sense of the term. One may observe a weekly fast, and observe it strictly, and yet not fast at all; if there is no expression of an evangelical sorrow of the soul. The mere abstinence from food is not fasting, any more than the mere moving of the lips is prayer; and certainly there is nothing whatever of it in the denying one's self meats while yet the hunger is appeased with eggs and fish. Unless our fasting is that which marks such a heartfelt sense of sin and of seeking unto God as will brook no diversion from its purpose, moving us spontaneously and for the time being with a lack of appetite for all things else, then it is but a superstition, a piece of morbid formalism.

God is not to be imposed upon by any mere outward performance, no matter how solemnly and decorously it be executed. It is at the heart He ever looks, and unless our hearts be in our fasting we do but mock the Most High with an empty show. Of old He asked Israel, "When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh month, even those seventy years, did you at all fast unto Me, even to Me?" (Zechariah 7:5). On another occasion He refused to accept the fasting of the people because they were flagrantly setting at naught the precepts of the Second Table, saying, "Is it such a fast that I have chosen-a day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head as a bulrush and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? Will you call this a fast an acceptable day to the LORD? Is not this the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens and let the oppressed go free?" (Isaiah 58:5, 6). And at a later date the Lord gave orders, "Rend your hearts and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God" (Joel 2:13).

From the very nature of the case we should never let our minds dwell on the act of fasting, as though we had therein discharged a duty. Fasting is not to be undertaken for the mere sake of fasting. It is not as the doing of penance that we are ever to abstain from food, neither is it as though the abstaining were a process of holiness; still less must we regard it as in anyway a meritorious performance. Private fasting must issue from an urge within and not because it is imposed from without. Private fasting should be spontaneous, the result of our being under a great stress of spirit, and the simple act itself be entirely lost sight of in the engrossing fervor which prompted it. There had been little or no practical difficulties on the subject of fasting if these simple rules had been understood and observed.

And yet, so prone are we to run to extremes, a word of caution is needed here lest what has just been said above be put to an evil use. It would be quite wrong to draw the conclusion, seeing I feel no inward urge to engage in fasting, therefore I am discharged from this duty. The Christian reader should at once perceive that such an argument would be quite invalid in connection with other spiritual duties. If I feel no appetite for the Heavenly Manna or no desire to draw near unto the Throne of Grace, then it is my bounden duty to penitently confess unto God my coldness of heart and beg Him to stir me up afresh unto a hearty use of the appointed means. The same principle most certainly holds good in connection with fasting.

The particular seasons for fasting are to be determined mainly by the governmental dealings of God, and therefore those who would improve such seasons must be strict observers of the workings of Providence: otherwise God may be calling aloud for weeping and girding of sackcloth, while we hear not His call but indulge in joy and feasting (Isaiah 22:12, 13). As to the amount of time to be spent in either individual or corporate fasting, the duty-the exigencies of the situation-should regulate it and not it the duty. Various lengths of time are mentioned in different cases: see 2 Samuel 12:16; Esther 4:16; Daniel 10:2, 3. "Wherefore I judge that none are to be solicitous as to what quantity of time, more or less, they spend in these exercises, so that the work of the time be done. Nay, I very much doubt, men lay a snare to themselves in tying themselves to a certain quantity of time in such cases" (Thomas Boston).

Let us now consider the purpose of fasting. Various designs are mentioned in Scripture. The first end in fasting is the denying of self, the bringing of our body and its lusts in subjection unto the will and word of God. Said the Psalmist, "I wept and chastened my soul with fasting, that was to my reproach" (69:10)-before men, yes; but not so before God. Our Lord warned us, "Take heed to yourselves lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness" (Luke 21:34). The body is made heavy, its senses dulled, and the mind rendered sluggish by much eating or drinking, and thereby the whole man becomes unfit for the duties of prayer and hearing of the Word. In order that this unfitness may be avoided and that the lusts of the flesh may be mortified and subdued, fasting is to be duly engaged in.

The second end of fasting is to stir up our devotions and to confirm our minds in the duties of hearing and prayer. In this connection it is to be duly noted that fasting and prayer are almost always linked together in the Scriptures, or it would be more correct to say "prayer and fasting" (Matthew 17:21; Mark 9:29, and Acts 14:23)-to intimate the latter is designed as an aid to the former, chiefly in that the non-preparation and participation of meals leaves us the freer for uninterrupted communion with God. When the stomach is full, the body and mind are less qualified for the performance of spiritual duties. For this reason we are told Anna, "served God with fastings and prayers," the design of the Holy Spirit being to commend her to our notice for the fervency of her spirit, which she evidenced in this manner.

The third end in fasting is to bear witness unto the humiliation and contrition of our hearts, for the denying ourselves of nature's comforts suitably expresses the inward sorrow and grief we feel over our sins. "Proclaim a fast" is the Lord's requirement (Joel 1:14) when He would have His people testify their contrition. Surely it is obvious that the participation of creature dainties or the indulgence of self in similar ways is most incongruous at a time when we are mourning before God and declaring our repentance. When convicted of our iniquities God, requires us to turn unto Him with fasting and mourning and with the rending of our hearts.

The fourth end of fasting is to admonish us of our guilt and uncleanness-to put us in mind of our utter unworthiness of even the common mercies of Providence-that we deserve not food or drink. It is designed to make us conscious of our wants and miseries, and thereby make us the more aware of our sins. If the Ninevites were made to perceive the propriety of abstaining from food and drink when the sword of Divine judgment was hanging over their heads, then how much more should we, with our vastly greater light and privileges, be sensible of the same. If we duly "consider our ways" (Hag. 1:5), must we not feel that sackcloth and ashes well become us? The main peril to guard against in our fasting will be considered next.

 

15. Fasting: Matthew 6:16-18.

"Moreover when you fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Truly I say unto you, They have their reward. But you, when you fastest, anoint your head, and wash your face; that you appear not unto men to fast, but unto your Father which is in secret: and your Father which sees in secret shall reward you openly" (Matthew 6:16-18). These words brought to a close the fourth division of our Lord's address, a division which covered the first 18 verses of Matthew 6, the subject of which is the performing of good works in such a manner as to secure the approval of God. Fasting is mentioned last of the three branches of practical righteousness because it is not so much a duty for its own sake, as a means to dispose us for other duties.

Fasting is the abstaining from food for a religious purpose. Though there is no express commandment in either the Law or the Gospel binding us thereto, yet it is plain both from precept and practice in the Old and New Testaments alike that there are occasions when fasting is both needful and helpful. Though there is nothing meritorious in it, fasting is both an appropriate sign and a valuable means. It should be the outward sign of an inward mortification. It is the opposite of feasting, which expresses joy and merriment. It is a voluntary denying ourselves of those creature comforts to which we are ordinarily accustomed. Rightly engaged in it should be found a valuable adjunct to prayer, particularly for afflicting our souls when expressing sorrow for sin. As to the frequency and the duration thereof this must largely be determined by our ordinary habits, our constitutions, and our vocations.

So depraved is the human heart and so prone is man to rest in externals that he changes what was originally the means or sign unto the end itself. Thus we find the Pharisee boasting that he "fasted twice in the week" (Luke 18:12). Thus that which was designed as a simple means to further and to testify humiliation, repentance and zeal in prayer, was perverted into a meritorious performance which produced self-complacency. But what was still worse, the Pharisees made a stage play of this holy ordinance and resorted to various hypocritical devises therein in order to further their reputation among men for extraordinary piety and devotion. They advertised what should have been a secret between their souls and God: they employed a counterfeit sadness and ostentatious grief, and thereby reduced to a farce and a mockery what should have been held in great sanctity.

"Moreover, when you fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast." This was our Lord's first word on the subject of fasting, and like His first on prayer it consists in a warning against hypocrisy therein. This is very searching and should be seriously taken to heart by all of us. Every species of pride is exceedingly foolish and most obnoxious unto the Lord, but the worst form of all is spiritual pride, and especially that which aims at securing the applause of our fellows. Fasting, if it be genuine, arises from a deep sense of our utter unworthiness and is designed to express our self-loathing before God. To make the same into a pedestal from which we proclaim our humility and sanctity is indeed a turning of light into darkness.

"When you fast, be not as the hypocrites of a sad countenance, for they disfigure their faces that they may appear unto men to fast." It may be inquired, How is such a prohibition as this to be harmonized with Joel 1:13, 14, where God required the Jews to "lament" and "howl" in their fast which could scarcely be without a mournful countenance? In a true fast must not the sorrow of the heart necessarily be testified by some convenient signs of mourning and appropriate gestures of the body? The answer is, that Christ was not here condemning a sorrowful countenance in fasting when a just occasion for the same is offered, for godly Nehemiah looked sad (2:2). Instead, our Lord was here engaged in reprehending the wicked deceits of the Pharisees, who deliberately feigned an appearance of great sorrow when in fact their hearts were devoid of contrition. This is quite clear from His next words.

"When you fast, be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast." But to this it might also he objected: Did not some of God's own people in the past disfigure their faces in various ways, and that with Divine approval? For example, are we not informed that Ezra plucked off the hairs of his head and of his beard (9:3), and are we not told that Joshua and his fellows fell to the ground upon their faces and put dust upon their heads (7:6)? But each of those cases were spontaneous expressions of deep sorrow of heart-something quite different from what our Lord was here rebuking. He blames the Pharisees for disfiguring their faces, first, because this was the chief, yes the only thing they had respect unto in their fasts, namely, the outward show thereof, which God hated. And second, because the word "disfigure" here signifies the very abolishing of their loveliness. They deliberately took means to look wan and emaciated so that they might the better advertise their fasting.

Instead of keeping to the privacy of their homes on fast days and using the time in those sacred exercises of which fasting is both the means and the sign, the Pharisees went abroad and, like stage-players, paraded all the marks of a state of mind which they did not feel, but which they desired that others should believe they experienced. They assumed a sad countenance. "They employed all the usual tokens of deep afflictions and mental distress. They covered their heads with dust and ashes, veiled their countenances, neglected their dress, and deformed their features by contracting them into the most gloomy and dejected looks. They studiously exhibited all the external appearances of humiliation, while their hearts were lifted up in spiritual pride" (Brewster).

Before passing on let it be duly noted that it was the practice of the scribes and Pharisees not only to fast but also to be very punctilious in observing the outward rites and signs pertaining to religious fasts; nevertheless, as in the former works of alms-giving and prayer, so in this, the principal thing was lacking: namely, truth and sincerity in the heart. Their grief-stricken face proceeded not from broken hearts. They were whole and righteous in their own conceits and needed neither the great Physician nor regeneration of soul. In this we may see a true exemplification of the properties of the natural man in matters of spiritual moment: they are more concerned with external deeds than in having the Truth in their inward parts. They content themselves with their outward performances and have little or no regard to worshiping in the spirit. In like manner, the wicked Ahab went to much trouble in humbling himself outwardly, from fear of punishment (1 Kings 21:27), yet continued in his sins.

How often it was thus with Israel of old: they went through the form of humbling themselves and seeking God's favor, when as David said, "They did flatter Him with their mouth and they lied unto Him with their tongues, for their heart was not right with Him, neither were they steadfast in His covenant" (Psalm 78:36, 37). And thus it is generally with natural man. The whole religion of the deluded Papists stands in outward ceremonial acts, partly Jewish and partly heathen, and when they have observed them they look no further. And it is no better with tens of thousands among the Protestants who content themselves with the external acts of going to church, hearing the Word, and "receiving the sacrament" once or twice a year. And when these duties are scrupulously observed they imagine that all is well with them and think God is served sufficiently. Yes, let anyone set before them the real requirements of a thrice holy God and he will at once be sneered at by them as being too strict and precise, puritanical and fanatical.

Since our Lord here condemned the fasting of the Pharisees because they rested in the outward work and did it ostentatiously for the praise of men, then how clear it is that the fasting of the Papists is an abomination in His sight, for theirs abounds with more numerous abuses. First, they reduce the practice of fasting to a ludicrous farce, by allowing fish and eggs to take the place of meats and by placing no restriction at all upon wines and other strong drinks. Second, they bind men in conscience to numerous days of fasting and make the omission thereof a deadly sin, thereby taking away Christian liberty, for neither the Savior nor any of His Apostles appointed any set fast days. Third, they make fasting a meritorious performance, teaching that a man may thereby render satisfaction unto Divine justice for his sins, whereby they blasphemously derogate from the sufficiency of Christ's obedience and sacrifice. How the godly should grieve at the spread of such wicked superstitions in our midst.

It should now be quite apparent that Christ did not here forbid all fasting as such, but was engaged in correcting the abuses of this ordinance. His words, "When you fast, be not as the hypocrites" not only take it for granted that His disciples would fast, but manifestly denote that the godly ought to do so, both in private and in public upon just occasion. Nay, if the Savior here rebukes the Pharisees for their perversion of this holy means of grace, then much more must He blame those who fast not at all. This is not a thing indifferent, left to our option, but something which God requires from us, and for the absence of which He may often increase His judgments (Isaiah 22:12-14).

Enough has already been before us to show that God has given us many inducements to stir up our hearts to engage in this exercise. There is the worthy precedent of many holy men in the past who carefully performed this duty when occasion offered, such as David, Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah. In like manner we have the recorded examples in the New Testament of the Savior Himself (Matthew 4:2), Anna, Cornelius, the Apostles and elders of the churches. Moreover we have among us pressing occasions of fasting, both in public and in private. The present state of God's cause upon earth, the withdrawal of the Spirit's unction and blessing, the drying up of the streams of vital godliness, the lack of fruit from the preaching of the Gospel, the abounding of error on every side, the rising tide of infidelity, iniquity and immorality; above all, the national judgments of God now hanging over our heads, call loudly for humiliation, afflicting of our souls, and repentance.

"But you, when you fastest, anoint your head, and wash your face; that you appear not unto men to fast, but unto your Father which is in secret" (Matthew 6:17, 18). This statement is not to be taken absolutely and literally, but relatively and figuratively. These words of Christ must be understood in the light of their setting, their scope being quite apparent from the context. In Oriental countries, where the air is hot and dry, it is the common custom to anoint the head and face with oil and ointments, which are there plentiful and cheap: Ruth 3:3; Luke 7:46, etc.-"oil to make the face to shine" (Psalm 104:15). That Christ is not to be here understood literally appears from His scope: He was off-setting the Pharisees' practice of disfiguring their faces. Second, from the fact that He does not here command contraries: the use of such things in fasting as are more appropriate for feasting, for the anointing of the face is indicative of cheerfulness and joy.

The obvious meaning of Christ in the above words is: when you engage in a private fast, so conduct yourself as it may not appear unto men that you are so engaged. Fasting is unto God, and our one and only concern must be to perform this duty in a manner which is pleasing unto Him. So far from parading this duty before men, we must take every possible precaution to conceal our private devotions from them. If we are to enter our chambers and shut the door when engaging in private prayer, equally necessary is it that we observe the utmost secrecy in connection with our private fasting. Everything which savors of pride and ostentation is to be rigidly eschewed. Whenever we devote a portion of our time to extraordinary private devotions there should be nothing in our deportment or general appearance to indicate this unto others. So far from any show of our religious feelings, we should do all we can to hide them from the notice of others.

"But you, when you fastest, anoint your head and wash your face; that you appear not unto men to fast." "This exhortation certainly does no mean that, on these occasions men should assume a cheerfulness they do not feel, but that there should be nothing in the dress or in the appearance calculated to attract notice; that there should be no abatement in the ordinary attention to cleanliness of person or propriety of apparel; and that, when having brought the solemn services of the closet to a termination, they go out to society, there should be nothing to tell the world how they have been engaged" (John Brown). The great thing to remember and be concerned about is that it is with God we have to do, and not with men. It is with Him our hearts are to be occupied, it is unto Him we are praying and fasting, it is before Him we are to unburden ourselves. It is His pardon and favor we are soliciting. The opinion and esteem of fellow-mortals fades into utter insignificance before the approval and reward of our heavenly Father.

"When you fastest anoint your head and wash your face." In these instructions we are also taught that Christ requires us to take due care of our bodies. There are two extremes to be avoided: undue pampering and the careless neglecting of them-the former presenting the more real danger in this effeminate age. Any species of gluttony, and intemperance is sinful, for it dulls the mind, stimulates our lusts, and leads to further evil. Such excesses are forbidden in "make not provision for the flesh unto the lusts thereof" (Romans 13:14). On the other hand we are warned against the "neglecting of the body" (Colossians 2:23) under the pretense of honoring the soul: anything which produces weakness and disability is to be avoided. That care of the body which God requires is a moderate concern for its needs, a temperate use of food so as to fit it for the discharge of duty.

In the above words of Christ we may also perceive that it is a Christian duty to preserve a cheerful countenance. While on the one hand we must eschew all carnal frivolity and lightness, manifesting a habitual seriousness and sobriety; yet on the other hand we must see to if that we carefully avoid everything which savors of an affected solemnity and melancholy. If we are bidden to guard against any external displays of grief while engaged in those religious exercises which from their very nature tend to sadden the countenance, then most certainly it is our duty to manifest in our general deportment the natural symptoms of a cheerful and contented mind.

It is our duty to refute the world's lie that Christianity is incapable of making its subjects happy. Few things have done more injury to the calls of the Gospel than the sourness, sadness, and moroseness of a large class of its professors. Where Christ rules in the heart He sheds abroad a peace which passes all understanding and a joy which is unspeakable and full of glory. True, we must not pretend a peace and joy we do not possess, yet we should be most diligent in opening our hearts unto the influences of that Truth which we profess to believe. God's commands are not grievous, and in keeping of them there is great reward. Let us seek to make it evident to those around us that Christ's yoke is not a hard one nor His burden heavy. Let us make it appear that the Truth has not made us slaves, but free, and that Wisdom's ways are ways of pleasantness.

"But unto your Father which is in secret, and your Father which sees in secret shall reward you openly" (Matthew 6:18). These words contain a warning against the one-sided idea of dispensationalists that Christ will be the sole Judge and Rewarder-a concept which is plainly refuted by such a passage as Hebrews 12:23. It is just as erroneous to restrict the judicial office to the Son as to exclude the Father and the Spirit (Job 33:4, etc.) from the work of creation. The truth is that, with regard to deliberation, authority and consent, the final judgment shall be determined by the whole Trinity, yet with regard to immediate execution by Christ.

We cannot do better than conclude these remarks by quoting from Calvin. "It were far better that fasting should be entirely disused than that the practice should be diligently observed, and at the same time corrupted with false opinions, into which the world is continually falling, unless it be presented by the greatest fidelity of the pastors. The first caution necessary is 'Rend your heart and not your garments' (Joel 2:13): that is, God sets no value on fasting unless it be accompanied with a correspondent disposition of heart, a real displeasure against sin, sincere self-abhorrence, true humiliation, and sincere grief-and fasting is of no use of any other account than as an additional and subordinate assistance to these things."

 

16. Covetousness Corrected: Matthew 6:19, 21.

We are now to enter the fifth division of our Lord's sermon, and as we do so it is well to remind ourselves afresh of His first and primary design in this important address, namely, to correct and refute the erroneous views of His hearers. The Jews held false beliefs concerning the Person of the Messiah, the character of His mission, and the nature of the kingdom He would establish. As unregenerate men their views were carnal and mundane, self-centered and confined to things temporal. It requires little perspicuity to perceive that all through this sermon the Lord Jesus makes direct reference unto the false notions which were generally entertained by the Jews respecting His kingdom, to which they constantly opposed the holy claims of God, the righteous requirements of His Law, and the imperative necessity of the new birth for all who were to be His subjects and disciples.

What has just been pointed out explains why our Lord began His sermon with the beatitudes, in which He described the characters and defined the graces of those who enter His kingdom. The Jews looked for great material enrichment, festivity and feasting, and supposed that those who would occupy the principal positions of honor under the Messiah's reign would be they who were fierce and successful warriors, and who though ceremonially holy would avenge on the Gentiles all the wrongs they had inflicted on Israel, and that henceforth they would be free from all opposition and oppression. But Christ declared blessed are those who were poor in spirit, who mourned, who hungered and thirsted after righteousness, who were merciful, pure in heart, peace-makers, and who were persecuted for righteousness' sake. A greater contrast could not be imagined.

So in His second division Christ announced that the officers of His kingdom would not be the destroyers of men's bodies but the preservers of their souls-the "salt of the earth"; not the suppressers of the Gentiles but "the light of the world." In like manner, in His third division Christ declared that so far from it being His mission to overthrow the ancient order and introduce radical changes, He came not to destroy the Law but to fulfill it. Thus, too, with what is now to be before us: "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth . . . but lay up for yourselves treasure in Heaven." The Jews expected in their Messiah a temporal prince, and the happiness they anticipated under His scepter was merely a high degree of worldly prosperity, to enjoy an abundance of riches, honors and pleasures. But our Lord here exposes their error, and declares that the happiness He imparts is not carnal but spiritual, and that it will be found in its perfection not on earth (Palestine) but in Heaven.

Now it should be pointed out that the false notions generally entertained by the Jews respecting the Messiah's kingdom originated in principles which are common to unregenerate human nature, though taking a peculiar form and color from their special circumstances. Hence it is that the teachings of Christ in this sermon are pertinent to all men in every age. Human nature is the same everywhere. The citizens of this world have ever devoted the greater part of their time and energy in procuring and accumulating something which they may call their own, and in setting their hearts steadfastly upon the same rather than upon God. So general is this practice that, providing they are not unduly unscrupulous and do not injure their fellows in their greedy quest, such a policy evokes approval rather than reproach: "Men will praise you when you do well to yourself" (Psalm 49:18). Those who succeed in business are called shrewd and efficient, and those who amass great wealth, "the captains of industry," "financial wizards," etc.

"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth" (Matthew 6:19). The order of Truth followed by Christ in Matthew 6 is very striking and blessed, and needs to be carefully heeded by us. In the first 18 verses we are conducted into the Sanctuary, instructed to have our hearts occupied with Him who sees in secret; in verse 19 and onwards we come out to face the temptations and trials of the world. It is parallel with what we find in Leviticus and Numbers: in the former, Israel is engaged almost entirely with the services and privileges of the tabernacle; in the latter, we have a description of their walk and warfare in the Wilderness. It is of vital importance we attend to this order, for it is only as we duly maintain communion with God in the secret place that we are equipped and enabled for the trials of the way as we journey toward the Heavenly Canaan. Unless our hearts be firmly set upon the Promised Land, they will turn back to Egypt and lust after its flesh-pots.

"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth." From here to the end of the chapter Christ's design is to divert the hearts of His hearers from a spirit of covetousness, first delivering the prohibition and then amplifying and enforcing the same by a variety of cogent reasons. The word for "lay up" is more expressive and emphatic in the original than is expressed here in the English: signifying first to gather together, and second, to hoard or heap up against the future-as in Romans 2:5, "heaps up" or "treasures up unto yourself." "Treasure" means wealth in abundance, costly things such as property, lands, gold and precious stones. The words "upon earth" here refer not so much to place as to the kind of treasures, for heavenly treasure may be laid up while we are here on earth, and therefore it is the hoarding of earthly and material treasures which is in view.

"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth." There have been some fanatics who interpreted this command literally, insisting that it is to be taken without limitation, as a prohibition against accumulating money or adding to our earthly possessions. To be consistent they should not stop there but go on to "sell that you have and give to the poor" (Matthew 19:21), for this is no less expressly required than the former. But such a course would mean the overturning of all distinctions between rich and poor, any possession of property, which is clearly contrary to the whole trend of Scripture. Let us, then, briefly point out what Christ did not here forbid. First, diligent labor in a man's vocation, whereby he provides things needful for himself and those dependent upon him: "not slothful in business" (Romans 12:11), is one of the precepts of the Gospel.

Nor does Christ here forbid the fruit of our labors in the possession of goods and riches, provided they be acquired honestly and used aright. Let us not forget that Scripture, "But you shall remember the LORD your God: for it is He who gives you power to get wealth" (Deuteronomy 8:18). The Lord graciously prospered Abraham, Job and David, and so far from their possession of wealth being a mark of His disfavor, it was the very opposite. Third, nor does Christ here forbid the laying up in store for our own future use or for

our family. Is not the sluggard admonished to take a leaf out of the book of the ants, who gather together their winter's food in the summertime (Proverbs 6:6-8)? And has not the Apostle declared that, "the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children" (2 Corinthians 12:14). And Again-"if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel" (1 Timothy 5:8).

What, then, is it which Christ here forbids? We answer, various forms of covetousness. First, the excessive seeking after worldly wealth, wherein men keep neither moderation nor measure: although God gives them more than needed to supply their needs, yet they are not content, their desire being insatiable. That it is not sinful for a man to seek after the necessities of life-either for his present or future use-we have shown above. As to what constitutes necessity varies considerably in different cases, according to the station which Providence has allotted in this world: a workman requires tools, a business man must have capital, the master of a large estate needs sufficient revenues to pay his servants. No precise rule can be laid down, but the judgment and example of the godly who use the creature aright, and not the practice of the covetous, must guide us.

Second, Christ here condemns those who seek principally after worldly goods and disparage and disregard the true riches, This is clear from the opposition made in the next verse, where, "lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven," is placed over against, "lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth." Thus it was in the case of Esau who sold his birthright for a mess of pottage (Hebrews 12:16). Thus it was with the Gadarenes, who upon the loss of their herds of swine, besought Christ that He would depart out of their coasts (Luke 8:37). Thus it has been throughout the ages, and so it still is, that the great majority of men spend their strength in laboring after that which "satisfies not" (Isaiah 55:2), seeking after almost anything or everything rather than after that which does not perish. That is why there is so much preaching and so little profiting: the hearers' thoughts and desires are taken up with other things.

Third, Christ here condemns those who put their trust and confidence in worldly things that they have treasured up, which is idolatry of the heart. Whatever a man sets his heart upon and looks to for support, it is his God, and therefore his covetousness, is called "idolatry" (Colossians 3:5). If we have stored up a supply against future need. and this takes us from dependence upon God for our daily sustenance, then we are guilty of this sin. It is for this reason that Christ makes it so hard for a rich man to enter Heaven (Matthew 19:23, 24), because he trusts in his riches, and if we are close observers we shall usually find that rich men are proud-hearted and secure, neither heeding God's judgments nor attending to the means of salvation. David's counsel must therefore be followed, "If riches increase (not give them away, but) set not your heart upon them" (Psalm 62:10).

The fourth practice here forbidden is the selfish laying up of treasures, for ourselves only, without regard to using the same for the good of our generation, the support of the Gospel, or the praise of God. This is indeed a devilish practice, for everyone of us is but a steward, to dispense our portion to the glory of God and the good of his fellows. The poor are God's poor, the creatures of His hands, and therefore He requires that each steward should be found faithful in seeing to it that each of them has his portion. God will yet call the rich to an accounting, therefore let each of us live in the light of that Day of reckoning. Let us seek grace to be preserved from hoarding up riches for our own selfish use, from putting our trust in them, and from making them our chief delight.

"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust does corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal." Here our Lord gives a threefold reason for the enforcing of His precept, or illustrates the corruption and uncertainty of worldly possessions by three examples: showing they are liable to destruction by such creatures as moths, by the inherent decay which pertains to all earthly things, and from the fact they may be taken from us by fraud or violence. Have we procured an elaborate wardrobe? in secret and silence the moth may be eating it up. Have we invested in property? the ravages of time will soon wear it away. Is it gold and platinum, diamonds and pearls we have hoarded up? The hand of the marauder may soon seize them. Heaven is the only safe place in which to deposit our riches.

As we have pointed out in an earlier paragraph, the vast majority of our fellows make it their supreme aim in life to acquire as much as possible of worldly wealth. With such an example on every side, and the trend of their own hearts in the same direction, the disciples of Christ are in greater danger from this sin than from most others. To nullify this evil tendency Christ here emphasizes the relative valuelessness of mundane things. "Will you set your eyes upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings, they fly away as an eagle" (Proverbs 23:5). What true satisfaction can there be in the possession of things which are subject to decay and loss by violence? One of the strongest proofs of human depravity and of the diseased state of our minds is the extreme difficulty which most of us experience in the realizing of this fact in such a way that it really influences our actions.

"But lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven" (Matthew 6:20). Having shown what we must not do in respect of treasures here on earth, and knowing his inclination to be such that man will needs have something for his treasure, Christ here makes known what treasure we may lay up for ourselves. But how shall we lay up treasure in Heaven? for we cannot of ourselves go there. No man can save himself: the beginning, progress and end of our salvation is wholly of God. Answer: as often in Scripture the work of the efficient cause is here ascribed to the instrument (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:15; 1 Timothy 4:16). To make us rich with heavenly treasure is the work of God alone, yet because we are instrumental by His grace in the use of means to get this treasure, this command is given to us as though the work is solely ours, though God be alone the Author of it.

It is of most importance that we form a true estimate of what is necessary for true happiness-where it is to be found and how it is to be obtained-for the tenor of our thoughts, the direction of our affections, and the pursuit of our energies will largely be regulated thereby. Therefore does Christ here bid us, "Lay up for yourselves treasure in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust does corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal." That we may better understand and practice this command, two points are to be carefully and reverently considered: what this treasure is, and how a man may lay it up for himself-matters of the greatest weight, for in the practice thereof lies our salvation. As to the real treasure, which neither time nor the creature can mar, it is the true and living God, the triune Jehovah who made and governs all things: in Him alone is all genuine good and happiness to be found.

This is clear from such Scriptures as the Lord's statement to Abraham, "I am your shield and your exceeding great reward" (Genesis 15:1); the words of Eliphaz to Job, "The Almighty shall be your gold" (22:25, margin), and the declaration of David: "The LORD is the portion of mine inheritance . . . I have a goodly heritage"-that is, He is my treasure (Psalm 16:5, 6). Yet let it be said emphatically that it is God as He is revealed in Christ who is our Treasure, for out of Christ He is "a consuming fire." God incarnate is our true treasure: for in Him are hid "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3); our very life is "hid with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3).

"Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love Him" (1 Corinthians 2:9). To what is the Apostle there referring? Why, as the previous verse shows, to that which God has treasured up for His people in a crucified Christ: the Lord Jesus is the great Fountain and Storehouse of all true blessings communicated from God to the saints, and therefore do they exclaim, "Of His fullness (as out of a rich treasury) have we all received, and grace for grace" (John 1:16). Would you have remission of sins and righteousness with God? then Christ was "made sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21). Would you have everlasting well-being? then Christ Himself is "The true God, and eternal life" (1 John 5:20). Whatever you need-wisdom to direct, strength to energize, comfort to assuage grief, cleansing for defilement-all is to be found in the Savior.

How may we lay up for ourselves in Heaven the Divine and durable riches which are to be found in Christ? First, by faith's appropriation: "as many as received Him" (John 1:12)-so that I can say, "my Beloved is mine, and I am His" (Song. 2:16). God in Christ becomes our everlasting portion when we surrender to and accept Him as He is offered to us in the Gospel. Second, by daily communion with Christ, drawing from His "unsearchable riches" (Ephesians 3:8). "Mary has chosen that good part which shall not be taken away from her" (Luke 10:42). And what was that "good part"? why, to sit at His feet and drink in His word (v. 39). Third, by emulating the example which Christ has left us. And what did that example consist of? why, complete self-abnegation, living wholly in subjection to God-for which he was richly rewarded (see Philippians 2:5-11). Fourth, by acting as His stewards and using the goods He has entrusted to us by laying them out to His glory (see Luke 12:33; Hebrews 6:10, etc.).

Most all will say they hope for happiness from God in the next world, but what do they now make their chief good? What are they most taken up with, both in the pursuit and the enjoyment? It is at this point each of us must examine and test himself. What things do my soul most favor and relish? The things of the world or of God (see Romans 8:5)? Which seasons of time do I regard as lost or as most gainful? Which are my days of richest income? Of the Sabbath the wicked ask, "when will it be gone?" But the healthy saint declares, "A day in Your courts is better than a thousand" (Psalm 84:10)-because of the spiritual gains it brings in. What is dearest to my heart? What engages my most serious thoughts? This determines which I prize the more highly: earthly or Heavenly treasures.

 

16. Covetousness Corrected: Matthew 6:19, 21.

"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust does corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal" (Matthew 6:19). Let it be borne in mind that when our Lord uttered these words there were no such things as banks or government security-bonds, that the rich were chiefly distinguished by their costly wardrobes, hoards of precious metals and jewels. Nevertheless, modern life affords no real guarantee of protection: it is still true that "riches certainly make themselves wings: they fly away as an eagle" (Proverbs 23:5). All happiness of a worldly sort is evanescent: all carnal enjoyments are perishable in themselves: all earthly possessions are liable to theft.

"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth." It should be pointed out that there is no sin in the possessing of a considerable amount of earthly riches, providing they are come by honestly. God greatly prospered Abraham in temporal things, yet He reminded him, "I am your shield, and your exceeding great reward" (Genesis 15:1). Job was the owner of vast herds and flocks, and though for a season he was without them, yet, "The Lord blessed the latter end of Job more than his beginning: for he had fourteen thousand sheep, and six thousand camels, and a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand she donkeys" (Job 42:12). So, too, David was permitted to acquire an immense amount of material wealth, yet he regarded not his "treasure" as being in this world. On the contrary he was sharply distinguished from worldlings, who had "their portion in this life," declaring, "as for me, I will behold Your face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Your likeness" (Psalm 17:15). It is just as true that it is the Lord who "gives you power to get wealth" (Deuteronomy 8:18), as it is that He alone enriches the soul spiritually.

What, then, is it which Christ here prohibits, when He says, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth?" Why, He forbids us making material things our chief concern, either in the pursuit or in the enjoyment of them. He forbids us either seeking or expecting our ultimate happiness in any earthly object. He forbids us setting our affections on anything seen and temporal, with the fond imagination that it is capable of satisfying the heart. It is not sinful for a man to seek after the necessities of life, either for his present or future use, but it is wrong for him to give way to a spirit of covetousness and strive after worldly wealth without moderation. "Let us therefore thankfully receive and lawfully enjoy that portion of this life which our Father in Heaven is pleased to bestow upon us, but let us not set our affections upon them" (John Brown).

In the above commandment Christ condemned those who seek principally after worldly goods, disparaging and disregarding the true riches. This is clear from the opposition made in the next verse, where, "lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven," is placed over against, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth." Such was the sin of Esau, who is termed a "profane person" because he sold his birthright for a mess of pottage. So, too, Christ here condemned those who put their trust and confidence in the worldly things they amass, for this is idolatry of the heart. In like manner He here reprehended the making of earthly riches our chief good and delight for He warns us that where our treasure is, there will our heart be also. Christ also condemned the selfish practice of laying up for ourselves only, without regard to using the same to the glory of God and the good of our generation, which is a grievous betrayal of our stewardship. Each of us will yet be called upon to render an account unto God.

"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust does corrupt and where thieves break through and steal." In the second part of this verse Christ enforced His commandment with reasons drawn from the corruptibility and uncertainty of worldly possessions. Therein He shows us the vanity of the creature, both in respect of its nature and of its abuse. Be the creatures ever so pure and costly, as gold and silver, furs and silks, yet are they subject to either rust or the moth. No matter how carefully they be tended, yet the thief may come and seize them. If it be asked from where comes this vanity of the creature? The answer is, God has subjected them unto it from the Fall of man (Romans 8:20), to let us see the grievousness of our sin and the greatness of His anger upon it, by imprinting the stamp of His wrath on the creature. Hence, when we see a moth upon our garments or rust upon our silver, we ought to be humbled over our original apostasy and taught to hold the creature with a light hand.

"But lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust does corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal" (Matthew 6:20). This was only another way of saying, "Labor not for the meat which perishes, but for that meat which endures unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you" (John 6:27). Instead of setting our affections upon and spending our strength in the acquirement of the perishing things of time and sense, we should desire and seek our happiness in spiritual and Divine objects which are incorruptible and eternal. Our real blessedness lies in a knowledge of God, a conformity to His image, a walking in His ways, a communing with Him: then shall we have a peace and joy which the creature can neither impart nor take from us. Men are ever seeking a safe place in which they may deposit their treasures, only to find that no place and no thing in this world is secure. If, then, we would have our treasure where no marauder can reach it, it must be hid in Christ with God (Colossians 3:3).

Let us consider five things in connection with this laying up for ourselves treasures in Heaven. First, the finding thereof. We can neither obtain nor make use of the great Treasure until it is located. This consists of God's revealing of it to us-for like Hagar of old (Genesis 21:19) we are blind thereto until He opens our eyes to see it; giving us to perceive our deep need of it, for until He does so we are self-complacent; and making us feel we are poor without it-for until He does so we are like the Laodiceans; "rich and increased with goods" in our own esteem. Not until then do we seek God in Christ with all our hearts. It is here we must examine and test ourselves: have we been made to realize our wretchedness and want: our filthiness and guilt, our deep need of cleansing and pardon? If so, are we truly hungering and thirsting after Christ's righteousness?

Second, having found this great Treasure, as it is exhibited in the Gospel and revealed in the soul by the power of the Holy Spirit, we must highly prize and value it, above all that we have or desire, regarding it as worth far more than the whole world. Such we find was Paul's estimate of this Treasure: "I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ" (Philippians 3:8). The rating of Christ so highly is absolutely necessary if we are to lay Him up for our "treasure." Here, too, we must honestly and diligently test ourselves. Can we truly say with David, "Whom have I in Heaven but You! and there is none upon earth that I desire besides You" (Psalm 73:25)? Does the general tenor of our lives bear witness to the fact that we value spiritual things above all else? Is it true of us that, "The law of Your mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver . . . I love Your commandments above gold; yes, above fine gold" (Psalm 119:72, 127)?

Third, having discovered this Treasure and perceived its inestimable worth, we must strive to obtain the same and make it our own. As said the wise man, "If you cry after knowledge, and lift up your voice for understanding; if you Seek her as silver, and search for her as for hid treasures; then shall you understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God" (Proverbs 2:3-5). We are required to use the means which God has appointed for this purpose, which are hearing, reading, praying, exercising faith. In His written Word and preached Gospel, God's two hands do, as it were, hold out to us this heavenly Treasure and all spiritual blessings, and our faith is the hand of the soul reaching out to receive, and by our prayers we testify our faith.

Fourth, having obtained this Treasure we must labor to assure it unto ourselves. To this end we must follow Paul's charge to rich men: "Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not high minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy; that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life" (1 Timothy 6:17-19). By trusting in the living God, and then by giving liberally unto the needy, we "lay up in store a good foundation." Are we saved, then, by performing such good deeds? No, for the ground of our salvation Godwards is in Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11); but in our own conscience, for assurance of our interest in Christ, the fruits of faith and the works of love are our evidences. "We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren" (1 John 3:14). Compare 2 Peter 1:10 and interpret the "give diligence" by verses 5-7.

Fifth, being assured that this Treasure is ours, we must use the same as a treasure. This means that since Christ is in Heaven our hearts are to be there too, and if our affections be set upon Him in desire and delight then our behavior will be spiritual and heavenly. If our souls be earthbound and our affections set wholly or even principally on the things of time and sense, then Christ is not our "treasure" at all. To use our Treasure aright means that we turn our earthly goods into heavenly substance, which we do when we truly employ them to the glory of God and the good of our fellows. "He who has pity upon the poor lends unto the Lord, and that which he has given will He pay him again" (Proverbs 19:17). The merciful man, then, has the Lord for his Debtor, for He sends the poor man as His messenger unto the rich, to borrow of him such things as the poor man lacks; and the Lord's return of payment is in heavenly and spiritual blessings.

"The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runs into it, and is safe. The rich man's wealth is his strong city, and as a high wall (affording protection), in his own conceit" (Proverbs 18:10, 11). What a contrast is here presented between the use which the godly and the godless make of their respective "treasures," and how often we see it illustrated on the pages of Holy Writ. Take the case of Esau and Jacob. When the former lost his birthright and wept, how did he seek to comfort himself? by planning revenge (Genesis 27:41). But when Jacob was "greatly afraid and distressed" (Genesis 32:7) what did he do? Why, he had recourse to God (his "Treasure") and hoped in Him (vv. 9-11). So it was with Saul and David. When the former lost his kingdom (his "treasure") he said to Samuel, "Honor me now, I pray you before the elders of my people" (1 Samuel 15:30); but when David lost all at Ziklag he, "encouraged himself in the Lord his God" (1 Samuel 30:6). "Unless Your law had been my delight, I should have perished in mine affliction" (Psalm 119:92), he exclaimed later. Where do you turn in trouble? from where do you seek relief?

"Lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust does corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal" (Matthew 6:20). As in the preceding verse Christ backs up His precept with a weighty consideration, one which is drawn from the unchangeableness and absolute security of heavenly riches. The world may deem His followers crazy and losers because of their separation from its pursuits and pleasures, but the Lord assures them they shall be the everlasting gainers: whatever we do in His name and for His sake shall turn to our account in the Day to come. "Whoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, truly I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward" (Matthew 10:42). God will liberally reward all who deny themselves for Christ's sake: "Everyone that has forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life" (Matthew 19:29). Let, us, then, turn our earthly goods into heavenly substance and thus heed our Savior's exhortation: "Sell that you have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that fails not, where no thief approaches neither moth corrupts" (Luke 12:33).

Who can wish for a better increase than that: the exchange of what is temporal and precarious for that which is eternal and imperishable! What abundant cause have Christians to adore the triune God for having begotten them unto "an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fades not away, reserved in Heaven for them" (1 Peter 1:4). What reason have they to love, trust, serve and glorify their God. Surely we should rather part with all that we have than with this Treasure-friends, goods, country, liberty, yes life itself; thus it was with the primitive saints, who "took joyfully the spoiling of their goods, knowing in themselves that they had in Heaven a better and an enduring substance" (Hebrews 10:34). Those who have Christ for their Treasure find such satisfaction in Him that prosperity will not lift them too high nor adversity cast them down too low.

"For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matthew 6:21). This verse contains a further reason to enforce the commandment in the two preceding: it is common to both, persuading to the obedience of each. The force of this reason may be stated thus: where your treasure is, there will your heart be also: but your heart should not be wedded to earthly objects but to heavenly, therefore, lay not up for yourselves treasures in earth but in Heaven. By "treasure," as we have stated before, must be understood things which are excellent and precious in our esteem, things laid up for the time to come, wherein we repose our trust and on which we take a special delight. By "heart" we must conceive not only the affections but thoughts, imagination, and will, with the effects of them in action, such as deliberation and endeavor.

Let us try and point our some of the practical uses to which verse 21 may be put. First, how it shows the vast importance of our choosing the right kind of treasure. O how deeply it concerns us for time and eternity that we make a wise selection, for the temper of our minds and the tenor of our lives will be carnal or spiritual according as our treasure is earthly or heavenly. "The heart follows the treasure as the needle follows the loadstone" (Matthew Henry). Whichever way be the direction of our deepest longings, there will follow our efforts. This from the very constitution of our nature: that which we deem our chief good will employ our principal thoughts, draw forth our fixed longings, stimulate our most earnest endeavors. If we think that happiness is to be found in anything of earth then our whole character will be "of the earth earthy," for our desires and pursuits will all correspond with the object of our supreme satisfaction. But if we are persuaded that true happiness is only to be found in knowing, loving and serving God, walking and communing with Him, then will our character be spiritual, and our thoughts, desires and pursuits will correspond thereto.

Second, since heart and treasure go together then how important it is that we learn to search out and try the state of our own hearts. It is true that the heart of fallen man is deceitful above all things and that none of us can know it thoroughly, nevertheless if we rightly apply this dictum of Christ unto ourselves we ought to be able to give a true judgment of our spiritual state. Consider: an earthly treasure and an earthly heart: but an heavenly treasure and an heavenly heart-these cannot be severed from each other. Therefore we must diligently inquire: whereon is my love placed, my mind fixed, my care bestowed, my labors directed, my delights found? If honesty requires me to answer,

upon an earthly object, then my heart is earthly, and consequently all my church attendance and religious profession is vain (Psalm 10:4, Ezekiel 33:31). But if my chief love and delight and my constant concern be a conformity to His image, and my daily endeavor be seeking to please and obey Him, then is my heart heavenly (Psalm 139:17, 18; Isaiah 26:9).

Third, this coupling together of the heart and treasure shows us the relative value of the two worlds (this and the one to come) and informs us which of them should be chiefly esteemed and sought after by us. In comparison with Heaven, the earth and mundane life is to be despised. We say the relative value of the two worlds, for we must not be unthankful to God or look with contempt upon the products of His hands. As earthly creatures are the workmanship of God and temporal mercies His blessings, they are not to be hated but received with gratitude and used to His glory; nevertheless, we must not suffer them to obtain in our hearts that place which is due alone the Creator of earth and the Giver of every blessing. As high as Heaven is above the earth and as long as eternity exceeds the duration of time, so far are spiritual things to be esteemed above material; and the more our "treasure" truly is in Heaven, the less disposed shall we be to amass earthly wealth and the more inclined to improve (as means to an end) the things of time and sense.

 

17. The Single Eye: Matthew 6:22, 23.

"The light of the body is the eye: if therefore your eye be single, your whole body shall be full of light. But if your eye be evil, your whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you be darkness, how great is that darkness!" (vv. 22, 23). Though there is substantial agreement among the commentators in their interpretation of these verses, yet we find considerable difference when it comes to their explanation of details, especially so in connection with the repeated mention of the "eye" and exactly what is connoted thereby. We therefore propose to examine carefully the several terms here employed by our Lord, then seek to ascertain the coherence of the passage-its relation to the context; and then look for the practical application unto ourselves.

"The light of the body is the eye," rendered "the lamp of the body is the eye" both by Bagster Interlinear and the American R.V. We believe this is a more accurate translation, for the Greek word for "light" in this clause is quite different from the one used in "full of light" at the end of the verse, it being the same as that found in Luke 11:35, 36. In describing the eye as the "lamp" of the body, Christ employed a most apt figure, since that organ has no light within itself. The great source of light to the world and of all things therein is the sun, yet such cannot illumine the body without the eye as a medium. The eye is the receptacle of its light, and by means of its rays, which flow into it, gives light to the body. The word for "if therefore your eye be single" occurs again only in Luke 11:34, yet it is found in a slightly different form in, "for our rejoicing is this: the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you" (2 Corinthians 1:12).

Thus the meaning of our Lord appears to be something like this: the activities of the body are directed according to the light which is received through the eye. When that organ is sound and functioning properly, perceiving objects as they really are, the whole body is illumined, and we are able to discharge our duties and to move with safety and circumspection. But if the eye be blind, or its vision faulty, then we perceive objects confusedly and without distinction, and then we stumble as if in the dark, and can neither perform our tasks or journey properly, being continually liable to lose our way or run into danger. So far all is simple and plain. But what, we may ask, is connoted by the "eye"? And what is here signified by "the whole body"? That these are figures of speech is obvious, but figures of what? It is at this point the commentators vary so much in their explanations.

Matthew Henry begins his exposition with, "The eye, that is, the heart (so some) if that be single-free and bountiful, so the word is frequently rendered as in Romans 12:8; 2 Corinthians 8:2-9, 11, 13; James 1:5; and we read of a 'bountiful eye' (Proverbs 22:9). If the heart be liberally affected and stand inclined to goodness and charity, it will direct the man to Christian actions, the whole conversation will be 'full of light,' full of the evidences and instances of true Christianity-that pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father (James 1:27); 'full of light,' or good works, which are our light shining before man. But if the heart be 'evil,' covetous, hard, and envious, grinding and grudging (such a temper of mind is often expressed by an evil eye: Matthew 20:15; Mark 7:22; Proverbs 23:6), the body will be 'full of darkness,' and the whole conversation will be heathenish and un-Christian. The instruments of the churl are and always will be 'evil,' but 'the liberal devises liberal things' (Isaiah 32:5-8)."

Such an explanation agrees well with the context, both with the more remote as well as the immediate. As we have pointed out, in this fifth section of His Sermon (which runs from 6:19 to the end of the chapter) Christ's design was to correct the erroneous views of the Jews concerning the character of His kingdom, and to divert the hearts of His hearers from a spirit of covetousness, and this by a variety of cogent reasons. Having warned them that our characters conform to that which we treasure most, He now intimates that discernment in our choice of treasure will be determined by the singleness of our eye or aim. Yet a little consideration of the above interpretation shows it is too narrow for the scope of our passage: the "eye" is here called the light of "the whole body," but clearly a liberal mind is not the regulator of all our affections and actions, but only of works of mercy and bounty.

Continuing his remarks, Matthew Henry went on to say, "The eye, that is, the understanding (so some): the practical judgment, the conscience, which is to the other faculties of the soul as the eye is to the body, to guide and direct their motions. Now if the eye be 'single,' if it make a true and right judgment, and discern things that differ, especially in the great concern of laying up the treasure so as to choose right in that, it will rightly guide the affections and actions, which will all be 'full of light' of grace and comfort. But if the eye be 'evil,' corrupt, and instead of leading the inferior powers, is led, and bribed, and biased by them, if this be erroneous and misinformed, the heart and life must needs be 'full of darkness,' the whole conversation corrupt. They that will not understand, are said to walk on in darkness (Psalm 82:5). It is sad when the spirit of a man, which should be 'the candle of the Lord,' is an ignis fatuus; when the leaders of the people, the leaders of the faculties, cause them to err, for then they that are led of them are destroyed (Isaiah 9:16). An error in the practical judgment is fatal: it is that which calls evil good and good evil (Isaiah 5:20), therefore it concerns us to understand things aright, to get our eyes anointed with eye-salve."

This we deem to be more satisfactory, though it is rather lacking in perspicuity, drawing no clear distinction between the "eye" and the eye being "single." We believe the "eye" in this parable of Christ's is to be taken for the understanding, for this is the faculty of the soul which more than any other gives direction to the whole man in all his motions. What a man believes is what largely determines how he lives-"as a man thinks in his heart so is he." Such an interpretation differentiates more definitely between what we have in the previous verse as also in the one which follows. In verse 21 the "heart" stands principally (though not exclusively) for the affections, for they are what are fixed upon our "treasure." In verse 24 (the serving of God and mammon) it is the will which is primarily in view. Thus in verses 21 to 24 we have the affections, the understanding, and the will respectively, which together make up the inner man.

"If the eye be single" or sound in vision. The contrast presented in the next verse is that of the eye being "evil" or "wicked," so that a "single" eye is a good or holy one. And what is a good "eye"? Plainly it is a renewed understanding, an anointed eye, a mind illuminated by the Spirit of God, a mind which is dominated and regulated by the Truth. As the body is furnished with light for its activities by means of the eye, so the mind is fitted for its operations only as it is receptive to the influences of the Holy Spirit. A "single" eye has but one object-God, the pleasing and glorifying of Him. This is borne out by the other occurrence (in a slightly different form) of this word: "For our rejoicing is this: the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward" (2 Corinthians 1:12). The joyful confidence of the Apostle-which sustained him in his labors-consisted of the consciousness of his sincerity, namely, his "simplicity" (the opposite of duplicity) and godly sincerity of spiritual translucence.

"The eye, that is, the aims and intentions. By the eye we set our end before us, the mark we aim at, the place we go to, we keep that in view, and direct our motion accordingly. In everything we do in religion there is something or other that we have in our eye: now if our eye be single, if we aim honestly, fix right ends, and move rightly towards them, if we aim purely and only at the glory of God, seek His honor and favor, and direct all entirely to Him, then the eye is single. Paul's was so when he said, 'to me to live is Christ'; and if we be right here, 'the whole body will be full of light'-all the actions will be regular and gracious, pleasing to God and comfortable to ourselves. But if the eye be evil-if, instead of aiming only at the glory of God and our acceptance with Him, we look aside at the applause of men, and while we profess to honor God, contrive to honor ourselves, and seek our own things under color of seeking the things of Christ, this spoils all-the whole conversation will be perverse and unsteady, and the foundations being thus out of course, there can be nothing but confusion and every evil work in the superstructure" (Matthew Henry).

So much then for the meaning of the principal terms of our passage. Let us next consider its connection with the context. This appears to be somewhat as follows: our discernment between things, our estimation of values, our practical judgment of earthly and heavenly objects is very largely determined by the condition of our understanding-whether it be Divinely illumined or still in nature's darkness. An enlightened understanding, perceiving objects according to their real nature and worth, enables its possessor to form a true judgment, to make a wise choice and to act aright respecting them. But a darkened understanding, conveying a wrong estimate of things, results in an erroneous choice and a disastrous end. In the latter case the "light which is in" a man is unaided human reason, and moved according to its dictates men imagine that they are acting wisely when instead they are pursuing a course of egregious folly, and then how great is their darkness!

Above we have intimated the general connection, but there was also a more particular one with special reference to the Jews. In Matthew 6:19-21 Christ had pointed out that true happiness is of a spiritual and not of a carnal nature, and that it is to be found (in perfection) not on earth but in Heaven. A firm conviction of this is indispensable if our thoughts, desires and pursuits are to take that direction in which true blessedness is to be obtained. But the bulk of the Jews were expecting from their Messiah riches of a mundane and worldly nature, and therefore they despised and refused the spiritual joys He made known to them-their "treasure" being earthly (restored Palestine), their hearts were so too. And why was this? Because the light in them was darkness. They had been erroneously taught, and as unregenerate men they could not perceive their error. They must be born again before they could either "enter" or even "see" the kingdom of God (John 3:3, 5).

The false notions of the Jews respecting the Messiah's kingdom corresponded to the carnal desires of their corrupt hearts, and but served to illustrate what is common to fallen human nature, for "as in water face answers to face, so the heart of man to man" (Proverbs 27:19). The Gentile no more than the Jew has any love or longing for spiritual things, nor can either the one or the other perceive the wretchedness of their condition, for the light which is in them is darkness, great darkness. Proof of this is furnished by Christ in the verses we are now considering: in them He may be regarded as replying to a secret objection which the hearts of men were likely to frame against the two commandments which He had just given. If there be such a necessity of laying up treasure in Heaven and of avoiding to lay up treasure on earth, why is it that the best educated, the shrewdest, the great men of this world commonly seek earthly riches far more than heavenly?

This is a question which, in one form or another, often exercises young Christians and stumbles inquirers. If the true riches of the soul are found not in the things of time and sense, why is it that our fellows labor so hard for "that which satisfies not" (Isaiah 55:2)? If the best which this world has to offer us perishes with the using of it, why is it prized so highly by almost one and all? Here is the explanation: because men view things through a vitiated eye, so that the real appears but a phantom, and the shadows are mistaken for the substance. Marvel not at this, says Christ, they lack the single eye, the Divinely enlightened understanding, they are in nature's darkness: they cannot discern between things that differ, they are incapable of judging aright of true treasure, and being ignorant of the heavenly, they seek only the earthly.

In order that we may have a better conception of what a single "eye" consists of, we need to inquire diligently into what true wisdom is. Spiritual wisdom is no common gift which every professing Christian possesses, but is a special bestowment of God in Christ peculiar to those who are regenerated, for Christ Himself is made wisdom unto them (1 Corinthians 1:30). And this, not only because He is the matter of their wisdom-they being only truly wise when they are brought to know Christ and Him crucified, but because He is the root thereof. In Christ "are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3), and as believers are vitally united to Him they partake of His virtues, as a branch derives vitality from its stock.

Now this heavenly wisdom has two actions: the first is to discern aright between things that differ. Thus Paul prayed for the Philippians: "that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment: that you may approve things that are excellent," or as the margin, "try things that differ" (Philippians 1:9, 10): that is, distinguish good from evil, heavenly from earthly. Thereby the children of God distinguish the voice of Christ, the true Shepherd, from the voice of all false shepherds. Thereby they put a difference between the water of baptism and all other waters, and between the Lord's Supper and all other bread. Thereby they discern their election and calling, perceiving more or less in themselves the marks thereof. Thereby they see the hand of God in providence, ever making all things minister to their ultimate good. "He who is spiritual discerns all things" (1 Corinthians 2:15), which the natural man cannot do.

The second action of this true and heavenly wisdom is to determine and give sentence of things, what is to be done and what is not to be done, what is good and what is evil in behavior. But here let it be remembered that the principal work of this wisdom is to determine of true happiness, whereto the whole life of man ought to be directed, which happiness is the love and favor of God in Christ. Herein David showed his wisdom to be far different from that of the godless around him: "there be many that say, who will show us any good?"-that is the world's vain quest for happiness; "LORD, lift You up the light of Your countenance upon us" (Psalm 4:6)-wherein is the believer's true happiness. So, too, with the Apostle Paul: (Philippians 3:8). The same should be our wisdom, for if a man had all learning and an intellect developed to the highest possible point, yet if he fail rightly to determine of true blessedness his sagacity is folly. Another important part of this heavenly wisdom is the right use of means whereby we arrive at this happiness.

Now the fruit of this single eye is to make "the whole body full of light," that is, to order the entire life aright, guiding it into the paths of righteousness and making it abound in good works. "I (wisdom-see vv. 1, 11) lead in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of judgment, that I may cause those that love Me to inherit substance" (Proverbs 8:20, 21). How urgently it behooves us, then, to seek after and endeavor to make sure we have obtained this true wisdom: if the mind endowed thus possesses such powers of discrimination, how necessary it is that we become partakers thereof. In order to this we must be very careful to get the fear of God into our hearts, for "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Psalm 111:10). This fear is a reverential awe of the heart toward God, whereby a person is fearful to offend and careful to please Him in all things. And this we obtain if we receive His Word with reverence, apply it to our own souls as we read it, tremble when it searches our conscience, and humbly submit ourselves unto it without repining. David could say, "Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path" (Psalm 119:105), and therefore "You through Your commandments have made me wiser than mine enemies" (v. 98). If we would be truly wise we must cease leaning unto our own understanding and be directed by the Word in all things.

Our deep need of diligently seeking after a single eye-an enlightened understanding, a mind endued with true wisdom-appears in the solemn fact that by nature each of us possesses an eye that is evil, filling our whole body with darkness. In consequence of the Fall we lost the power to judge aright in spiritual things, so that we mistake evil for good, things which ought to be refused for things which ought to be chosen. The natural man perceives not the presence of God, or he would be restrained from doing things which he is ashamed to do in the sight of his fellows. The natural man perceives not the sufficiency of God, or he would not trust in the creature more than in the Creator. The natural man is blind to the justice of God, or he would not persuade himself that sin as he may, yet he shall escape punishment. So, too, the natural man is blind self-ward: he perceives not his own darkness, his sinfulness, his impotency, his frailty, his true happiness.

Since this evil eye is in each of us by nature we should constantly remind ourselves of our inability to judge rightly either of God or of ourselves, for it is the first step in true knowledge to acknowledge our own blindness. We must be suitably affected for such a realization, judging ourselves unsparingly, bewailing our misery-that we have a mind so corrupt it disorders the whole of our conduct-and seek by grace to mortify the soul. Since this evil eye is common to human nature, we discover therein what explains the mad course followed by the unregenerate, why they are so infatuated by sin and so in love with the world, and why the seriously inclined among them are deceived by error and captivated by false doctrines. Since human reason is now completely eclipsed how profoundly thankful we should be for the light of God's Word, yet if that light illumine us and we fail to walk accordingly, suppressing its requirements, then doubly great will be our darkness.

 

17. The Single Eye: Matthew 6:22, 23.

"The light of the body is the eye: if therefore your eye be single, your whole body shall be full of light. But if your eye be evil, your whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you be darkness, how great is that darkness!" (Matthew 6:22-23). In these words Christ continues to illustrate and enforce the principle which He had inculcated all through this part of His Sermon, namely, the vital importance and imperative necessity of a pure motive and right aim in all we do. First, He had shown this in the matter of our "alms" or deeds of charity, if the same are to meet with God's acceptance (vv. 2-4). Second, He had insisted thereon in connection with our "prayers," if they were to meet with God's approval (vv. 5-15). Next, He had pointed out the same in regard to "fasting," if we are to receive anything more than the hypocrite's portion (vv. 16-18). Then He had applied the same principle to the laying up of riches, pointing out that where our treasure is, there will our heart be also (vv. 19-21). And how are we to obtain right views of what the true and imperishable "treasure" is, and where it is to be found? This is the question which our Lord here anticipated and proceeded to answer.

By use of a striking figure Christ proceeded to urge upon His hearers that their undivided gaze must be fixed upon the things which are above. "The light (or better, "lamp") of the body is the eye." This refers in the first instance to the light of reason, which distinguishes man from the lower orders of creation: animals are guided by their instincts, but man was to be regulated by his intelligence, an intelligence which capacitated him for communion with his Maker, and so long as he remained in communion with Him who is Light, his mind would so inform and govern his soul that all his ways would be ordered to God's glory and meet with His approbation. But alas, man forsook the Fountain of all blessing, left the place of dependency, and apostatized. As the consequence his "eye" became "evil," or in other words, his understanding was darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in him because of the blindness of his heart (Ephesians 4:18). Hence the imperative need of his being renewed in the spirit of his mind (Ephesians 4:23).

In seeking to ponder the verses which are now before us it needs to be carefully borne in mind that Christ was not here addressing a heathen audience or part of the profane world, but Jews who professed to be the Lord's people. As such they were far from being atheists or infidels, rather did they acknowledge the Supreme Being and perform outward worship unto Him, though for the most part their hearts were far from Him. Their aims and intentions were divided: that is why in verse 24 the Savior warns them, "No man can serve two masters," which was the very thing they were vainly attempting. Hence it should be carefully noted that Christ did not here say "if your eye be good" (which would be the most obvious antithesis from the "evil eye" in the next verse), but "if your eye be single," which both anticipates and forms a link with verse 24. Yet it is also to be pointed out that our Lord used the most suitable word pathologically, for a good or sound vision is a "single" one-to see double or to look at different objects or different parts of an object with each eye is proof that our visual organs are defective, a sign of approaching blindness.

Now at regeneration the eye of the soul is renewed and its vision rectified, the eye of faith is opened, the understanding is Divinely enlightened, and God becomes its all-absorbing object and His glory the chief concern of its possessor. In consequence, the whole of the soul is now "full of light," all its faculties come under its beneficent influences: the conscience being informed, the affections warmed, the will moved to action in the right direction. An enlightened understanding and a Divinely-instructed conscience is now able to distinguish between things that differ, between good and evil, things heavenly and things earthly. Thereby the child of God discriminates between the voice of Christ, the true Shepherd, from the voice of all false shepherds; between the Source of true happiness and those broken cisterns which hold no water. Thus the believer, by means of his spiritual judgment (which is informed and educated by the Word of God) determines and gives sentence of things: what is to be done and what is to be avoided; endowed with heavenly wisdom he learns the secret of real blessedness and joy unspeakable.

But let it be pointed out that it is only so long as the believer's "eye" remains "single" in a practical way that his whole body (soul) is "full of light." As the physical eye, the organ of sight, has no light whatever of its own, but must be illumined from without, so the renewed understanding is entirely dependent upon God for constant enlightenment. As the physical eye is the receptacle of light, and by means of its rays gives light to the body, so the understanding and conscience are the medium through which spiritual instruction is received into the soul. And as the body is left to grope its way in darkness as soon as its eye no longer takes in the light, so the soul is devoid of discernment when communion with God is broken. It is in His light, and there alone, we "see light" (Psalm 36:9). While the glory of God be truly our aim and His Word our rule, "good judgment" will be ours, so that we shall see and avoid the snares of self-will and the pitfalls of Satan; but when the gratification of self becomes our end and carnal reason be our regulator, we shall be given up to folly, confusion and disaster.

"But if your eye be evil, your whole body shall be full of darkness" (Matthew 6:23). The "evil eye" is the mind or understanding of the unregenerate man, having some light of intelligence in it by nature, yet terribly blinded and darkened by the corruption of sin through our fall in Adam. That the reader may have a more definite conception of the havoc which sin has thus wrought in us, it should be pointed out that man's understanding has lost the gift of discernment and judgment in spiritual things, so that he mistakes evil for good, earthly for heavenly, things to be refused for things to be chosen. This is clear from the natural man's ignorance and blindness in the real knowledge of God. It is true that the mind of the natural man possesses some knowledge of God: he believes in His existence and professes to own His supremacy. Yet such knowledge as he possesses, though rendering him accountable to his Maker, exerts no spiritual influence upon his soul and life. Proof of this appears in the following facts.

The natural man does not realize and own in a practical way the presence of God, that "the eyes of the LORD are in every place, beholding the evil and the good" (Proverbs 15:3): if he did, he would not, without fear and trembling, dare to commit those sins in God's sight which he is afraid and ashamed to commit before the eyes of his fellows. The natural man does not realize and own the particular providences of God, for in time of want and distress, when outward springs dry up, his heart is dead within him and the promise of help from man does more to cheer him than any hope he has in God. How plain it is then that he trusts more in the creature than he does in the Creator. Again-the natural man does not realize and own the justice of God, for he imagines that though he sins yet he shall escape punishment: by his very conduct he says, "I shall have peace though I walk in the imagination of mine heart, to add drunkenness to thirst" (Deuteronomy 29:19). Though the natural man knows God must be worshiped, yet he is quite incapable of discerning the right kind of worship: the vast majority bow down before idols and images, and even those who pretend to outwardly honor the true God have their hearts far from Him while engaged in such exercises (Matthew 15:8).

What lamentable proofs are these that sin has debased man, corrupted the very springs of his being, and blinded his understanding. What unmistakable and irrefutable evidences are these that the "eye" of the unregenerate is an evil one. Though blessed with rationality, though endowed with the perception that God is and that He is to be owned and worshiped, though capable of receiving intellectual instruction concerning the character and claims of God, yet such knowledge avails him nothing in a spiritual way. The unregenerate is blind to God's glory, unaffected by His majesty, unawed by His sovereignty, unsoftened by His goodness, unable to worship Him aright or do that which is acceptable to Him. How clear it is that "the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them; because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Corinthians 2:14). Before he can have any spiritual discernment or experimental acquaintance with God, before he can obtain an effectual and transforming knowledge of Him, he must be born again (1 John 5:20).

Not only does the blindness of the natural man appear in his crass ignorance of God, but also with respect to himself. His mind is totally lacking in spiritual discernment. This is evident from the following facts. The unregenerate are completely unaware of the awful darkness which rests upon their understandings. They deem themselves to be wise, when in the things of God they are veritable fools: "the way of peace have they not known" (Romans 3:17). When really awakened by the Holy Spirit they are made aware of this, for their cry then is, "What must I do to be saved?" So blind is the natural man that he cannot discern aright of his own sins nor see the vileness of them: if he did, he would not continue therein as he does. He judges wrongly of his frailty and mortality: others may be cut off in youth, but not so himself; no matter how old, he still gives himself several more years. This is why we are instructed to pray, "So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom" (Psalm 90:12).

So blind is the natural man that he is incapable of discerning aright of the scope and end of his life, which is to aim at the glory of God and be a help and blessing to his fellows. But so far from this characterizing them, the unregenerate think little or nothing about these things, but seek their own praise and are a stumbling block unto their neighbors. Nor can the natural man judge rightly of his own true happiness. So stupid and sottish is he who he measures happiness by outward things, esteeming the wealthy to be envied and the poor to be pitied. Therefore does he regard phantoms as realities and realities as phantoms, and spends his time and strength in pursuing the shadows while he misses the substance. That is why we are exhorted to set our affection "upon things above" (Colossians 3:2), for by nature they are fixed upon things below. From all of this it is unmistakably evident that the eye of the natural man is an "evil" one, that sin has debased his faculties, darkened his understanding, destroyed his spiritual perception. And unless God is pleased to perform a miracle of grace upon us, "the blackness of darkness" (Jude 13) must inevitably be our portion forever.

"But if your eye be evil, your whole body shall be full of darkness" (Matthew 6:23). Here is the fruit of an evil eye: the whole man is affected. If the understanding is Divinely illumined and the aim be the glory of God, the whole soul will be rightly directed and its activities be holy-but where the mind is blinded by sin and Satan, all the faculties of the inner man are vitiated and all his actions are evil. It is a striking fact in the natural realm that an injured optic cannot bear the light, which solemnly shadows forth the awful spiritual state of the unregenerate. They cannot endure the presence of God, nor His Word which condemns them. Their eye is evil, their judgment is blinded by love of the world, and therefore their whole life is full of disorder and unrighteousness. How can it be otherwise, when their most important faculty, which should discern between good and evil and direct accordingly, is vitiated, disabled thereunto? Thus "The way of the wicked is its darkness, they know not at what they stumble" (Proverbs 4:19).

What cause is there here for humiliation and self-judgment: that by nature we are utterly unable to judge rightly either of God or of ourselves, that we have a mind which is so corrupt that it produces nothing but disorder in the whole of our life. How greatly we dread natural blindness: what horror strikes the heart when we have reason to think we are in imminent danger of being deprived of bodily vision; yet how much worse is that spiritual darkness whereby the soul is kept from God under the power of Satan! Fearful beyond words is such a state, yet the vast majority of our fellows are quite insensible of their wretched plight and indifferent when it is declared unto them. What cause for thankfulness, then, if the writer and the reader have been enabled to discover their blindness: in such case, how diligently should we heed that word of the great Physician, "I counsel you to buy of Me . . . eye salve that you may see" (Rev. 3:18). We must seek from Him that enlightening of His Spirit, through the Word, for this is that "anointing" which "teaches us all things" (1 John 2:27).

Hereby we perceive how the course of the world, in regard to the state of their minds, is to be reproved, for on every side we behold those who are quite content with an evil eye. Even those who acknowledge, in a formal way, that God is and He is to be loved and worshiped, and that we should love our neighbors as ourselves, yet they seek no further. They have nothing more than the mere light of nature, the remnants of intelligence left to them since the Fall. They are still in spiritual darkness, "having no hope and without God in the world" (Ephesians 2:12). Their life is full of darkness, and they shall yet be "cast into the Outer Darkness" unless the Lord is pleased to have mercy upon them. A natural knowledge of Divine things will save no man. The homage of our lips and the external reformation of our lives will not secure God's favor. Nothing but a new creation in Christ, being renewed in the spirit of our minds, God commanding the light to shine "in our hearts" (2 Corinthians 4:6), will avail any for eternity.

Since this "evil eye" is in each of us by nature, what care we need to take lest we be wise in our own conceits, especially in matters of salvation: herein the Word of God must be our wisdom. "You shall not do . . . every man whatever is right in his own eyes . . . but all that I command you," says the Lord (Deuteronomy 12:8-11). It is not for the creature to say how the Creator is to be worshiped, nor for the sinner to determine how he shall be saved, yet such is their blind presumption that men will be their own masters in such things. The Jew, the Mohammedan, the Papist, has each his own different manner of worshiping God and of seeking salvation, yet though they all depart from the Truth, each is thoroughly convinced that his worship meets with the Divine acceptance and that Heaven will be his eternal home. And so it is with the majority who have been brought up among Protestants: either they rely on their own works, trust in their own faith (such is it is), or else they persuade themselves that if they repent at the last and commit their souls unto God all will be well.

Since this "evil eye" is in each of us by nature, then how earnestly we should pray for and labor after the eye of faith, by which alone we look unto the mercy of God in Christ and rest in His promises, for all things needful both in life and in death. This eye looks out of self for those supplies of grace which are lacking in natural knowledge. By means of the eye of faith we are enabled to discern aright both of God and of ourselves-His holiness and claims, our vileness and wants. By this eye we are enabled to see things afar off, to be persuaded of them, to embrace the same (Hebrews 11:13). Yes, by it we are enabled to perceive things which are invisible, for "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). By it Abraham saw the Day of Christ, "and was glad" (John 8:56). This will enable us to walk in the steps of the Patriarchs unto the Heavenly City. Then let us earnestly beg God for this eye of faith, that by becoming the children of the promise we may be counted for the seed.

"If therefore the light that is in you be darkness, how great is that darkness!" (Matthew 6:23). Unspeakably solemn is this. "The light that is in you" is the light of nature, the remnants of that moral and intellectual perception with which man was originally endowed. It is that knowledge of God and that discernment of good and evil which though greatly dimmed and corrupted by the Fall has not been utterly extinguished, for the truest atheist and the most voluptuous wretch still have some stirrings of conscience left within them, some inklings that there is a God and that he is accountable to Him. But if that remaining "light" be stifled, if no use be made of it, if its promptings be constantly resisted, if the voice of conscience be deliberately silenced until God is denied and His Word rejected as a Divine revelation, then even that "light" becomes "darkness" and its possessors are given over by God to a reprobate mind. And then "how great is that darkness!"-sin is committed greedily, without remorse; there is then nothing in that man's life but brutish confusion and devilish actions.

"If therefore the light that is in you be darkness, how great is that darkness!" These words may also be legitimately applied unto those who are led astray by religious error and given up to fanaticism. When men deem themselves to have been extraordinarily illumined, to have received some voice or vision from Heaven which will not stand the test of Holy Writ, some imagined "baptism of the Spirit" which renders them independent of the Scriptures, supposing that this special light within is all that they need, "how great is that darkness!" Finally, there is a yet more solemn application of these words of Christ to those who have sat under a sound ministry: the light of the Truth has shone upon their minds, only to be resisted and the Spirit quenched, and how great is their darkness! "For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning" (2 Peter 2:20).

If then the very light of nature may be put out and the light of the Gospel quenched by us, how seriously we ought to meditate upon our vileness, for we have within us such brutish lusts and devilish desires that unless they be restrained and kept under, they will surely plunge us into the blackness of darkness forever. How the realization of this should humble us! And hereby we should be admonished to mortify our corrupt desires and unruly affections. Before the Fall, the mind ruled the will and the affections, but now the inferior faculties overrule the mind, so that they lead us into folly against our better judgment. Our only safeguard is to deny our perverse wills and corrupt desires and strive to bring them into subjection unto the Word of God. And how we need to heed that injunction: "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God" (Hebrews 3:12). Then let us seek grace to embrace the Gospel, walk according to its precepts, and beg God to unite our hearts to fear His name.

 

18. Serving God: Matthew 6:24.

"No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon" (Matthew 6:24). It is scarcely necessary for us to point out the relation of this verse to the context. Its connection is obvious almost at a glance. All through this part of His sermon, Christ was separating the precious from the vile, drawing a sharp line between the true and the false. He had discriminated between the two worshipers-the genuine and the hypocrite. He had distinguished between the two treasures-earthly and heavenly. He had differentiated between the two eyes or wisdoms-the single and the evil. Now He opposes the two masters-setting God over against mammon. Herein He teaches the ministers of His Word a most important lesson: that of drawing so clearly the line of demarcation between the regenerate and unregenerate, the possessor and the mere professor, that each hearer may have no difficulty in knowing which side of the line he belongs to. It is the general lack of such searching ministry, the substituting of superficial generalities, which is bolstering up formalists and encouraging multitudes in a vain hope.

But there is a yet closer link of connection between our present verse and those more immediately preceding it. As we have pointed out, from verse 19 to the end of chapter 6 our Lord's design was to turn the hearts of His hearers from a spirit of covetousness to setting their affections upon the things of time and sense: first He delivered the prohibition and commandment, and then amplified and enforced the same by a variety of cogent reasons. Those reasons so far as we have yet seen may be summed up thus: make not material things your chief good, because earthly treasure is of a perishing nature: moth, rust, and thieves of various kinds depleting it in spite of all precaution. Because earthly treasure captures the heart: men argue that it need not do so, but the Son of God declares it will (v. 21). Because its pursuit ends in darkness: people suppose that wealth brings light or happiness, but instead it ends in darkness and misery (vv. 22, 23). Because it will enslave us: if God be not our Master, the world and its representative, mammon, will be.

More immediately, verse 24 may be regarded as Christ's refutation of a second objection which the carnal heart of man is fond of making against the commandments He had laid down in verses 19, 20. There He had forbidden the treasuring up of worldly riches and had commanded the seeking of heavenly treasure. First, He had anticipated the objection, If there be such an urgent necessity of laying up treasure in Heaven and abstaining from the laying up of treasures on earth, why is it that the vast majority of men, including the shrewdest and best educated, bend their energies to the seeking of earthly treasure rather than heavenly? He bids His hearers to marvel not nor be stumbled by this, seeing that the unregenerate lack a sound or single eye and therefore are incapable of judging aright of the true riches. Here in our text He refutes the common persuasion that it is possible for us to seek both, and lay up for ourselves treasures on earth and treasure in Heaven as well. Men think to compound with God and the world, dividing their affections and energies between them-but Christ here exposes the utter fallacy of such an idea and the impossibility of such a course.

Once again we must bear in mind the fact that our Lord was addressing Himself more immediately to His Jewish hearers and reprehending their false conceptions of His kingdom. They entertained certain vague notions of happiness in a future regime under the Messiah, but their minds were mainly engrossed with dreams of carnal prosperity, supposing that the expectation of worldly aggrandizement and spiritual happiness were quite consistent. Our Lord informs them of their mistake: they needed to "repent" of this also-undergo a radical change of mind. But it is not the Jews only who are infected with this delusion: it is common to the Gentiles also. In every age there are multitudes who fondly hope that though they seek their happiness in earthly objects, yet it is possible for them, at the same time, to secure the enjoyment of heavenly felicity. The hypocrite has ever argued that it is well to have two strings to one's bow, but Christ here exposes this cheat and demonstrates the impossibility of the human heart being divided between God and the world.

He who has his eye partly on God and partly on self, who desires and endeavors to grasp both worlds, deceives his own soul. Such an one is in danger of losing both, and if he does not, he will certainly miss the kingdom of God. Our minds must be fixed supremely upon God in Christ, and the world sought only in strict subserviency to Him. Our hearts must be given to the Lord, wholly and without reserve, and the eyes of our soul be fixed upon Him alone. Here, then, is the reason why spiritual blindness must inevitably be our portion unless both our eyes are fixed steadfastly on an Heavenly Object: a man's affections cannot be divided: if he attempts to love the things of the world as well as love God, he will certainly fail of the latter, for "the friendship of the world is enmity with God: whoever therefore will be a friend of the world, is the enemy of God" (James 4:4). The serving of two masters is absolutely opposed to the single eye, for the eye will be at the master's hand: "Unto You lift I up mine eyes, O You that dwell in the heavens. Behold, as, the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until that He have mercy upon us" (Psalm 123:1, 2).

The endeavor to lay up for ourselves both treasure upon earth and treasure in Heaven is an utter impossibility, for "no man can serve two masters." But to seek both earthly and heavenly riches is an attempt to serve two masters, to wit, God and mammon: and therefore no man can seek them both. Proof of this is here set forth by Christ by the effect of such attempts to serve, in contrary affection, and behavior: "For either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one and despise the other." The conclusion therefore is unmistakable: "you cannot serve God and mammon." To "serve God" is the same thing as to "lay up treasure in Heaven," for by a Divine appointment true happiness is to be found only there, and He who has made this appointment has also ordained certain means by which we may attain unto this happiness. He who makes the attainment of this happiness, by the appointed means, the chief object in life, is the servant of God-for he does the will of God. Contrariwise, to "serve mammon" is the same thing as to "lay up treasure on earth."

"No man can serve two masters." The force of our Lord's declaration is more apparent in the Greek than it is here in the English. First, the word "serve" does not signify to do an occasional act of obedience, but to be a bond-servant, a slave, the property of his master, constantly and entirely subject to his will. No one can thus serve two masters. The same Greek word occurs in, "Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin" (Romans 6:6). It is also found in, "but now we are delivered from the law (as a covenant of works), being dead to that wherein we were held, that we should serve in newness of spirit" (Romans 7:6). Second, there are two different words in the Greek which both mean "other," but the one signifies another of the same kind or order, while the second denotes another of an entirely different genus or sort. When Christ here declared "no man can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one, and love the other," He employed the latter term-signifying a master diametrically opposed to the other. Therefore it is evident that no one can be devoted unto two different and opposing masters.

"A man may be a servant to two masters in succession, although they should be of very different and directly opposite characters-the one in profession, the other in reality. A man may serve two masters unequally-occasionally doing an act of service to the one, while he usually, habitually, serves the other. A man may serve two or more masters, if they are all on one side, all subordinate to one another: a soldier may serve his king, and at the same time his commanding officer, and his inferior officers, for in obeying them, he is obeying his prince; but no man can be at the same time, in reality, habitually the servant of two masters who are hostile to each other, and whose interests are entirely incompatible. In this sense our Lord says, 'You cannot serve God and mammon'" (Jay).

"No man can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one," that is, the master commanding him: disliking that he should be his master, and displeased with his orders, "and love the other," that is, the master in whom he takes delight and with whose orders he is well pleased. "Or else he will hold to the one and despise the other," which words are an amplification and application of the former clause, showing how it is made manifest that a servant hates one master and loves the other. His holding to-leaning toward and cleaving unto-the one declares his love unto him; that is, he applies himself to respecting his master's pleasure and doing his commandments. And his "despising the other" denotes his hatred-seen in his having no regard to his master's will. Thus our Lord shows the impracticability and impossibility of any man seeking to serve two opposing masters from the contrary affections and behavior exercised by the servant.

"You cannot serve God and mammon. Mammon is a Syriac word which denotes "riches," or as men term them, the good things of this world. But it is evident that the word is used as a personification: one can scarcely be said to serve inanimate things. Moreover the figure used here is that of "two masters," and as mammon is here opposed to God, we must understand it to signify the God of riches, the Prince of this world and the love of the world-its treasures and pleasures-which is really the service of Satan. As, then, it is impossible to serve "two masters," how much less two gods! "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15). The influence which material riches exert upon men's minds and affections, leading them to seek happiness in them and moving them to devote their time and energies to the acquiring of the same, indicate the fearful power of this prince or master, and their yielding to that influence is the "service" which multitudes render unto him. How utterly incompatible then, is the obtaining of heavenly happiness and the means thereto, and the seeking of earthly happiness and the efforts put forth to secure the same.

"Their orders are diametrically opposed. The one commands you to walk by faith, the other to walk by sight; the one to be humble, the other to be proud; the one to set your affection on things above, the other to set them on the things that are on the earth; the one to look at the things unseen and eternal, the other to look at the things seen and temporal; the one to have your conversation in Heaven, the other to cleave to the dust; the one to be careful for nothing, the other to be all anxiety; the one to be content with such things as you have, the other to enlarge your desires as Hell; the one to be ready to distribute, the other to withhold; the one to look at the things of others, the other to look only at one's own things; the one to seek happiness in the Creator, the other to seek happiness in the creature. Is it not plain there is no serving two such masters? If you love the one, you must hate the other; if you cleave to the one, you must despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon" (Jay).

From our text we may perceive clearly what it is to serve God. This is a thing much spoken of, but little known, and practiced still less. To serve God is to "love" Him and to "hold to" or "cleave unto" Him. Alas, how very few out of the present-day multitudes who profess to serve God manifest these marks! Love to God consists not of words and lip patronage, but in deed and in truth. And it is to be carefully noted that in this verse Christ insists God must be loved not only as Father, but as He is a Lord and "Master," that is, commanding us. It is in His Word, especially in the preceptive parts thereof, that His will and pleasure is made known. It is there He has revealed the service which He requires at our hands, and if our service be sincere and genuine, we must love God in His right of commanding, even though He should bestow no reward upon us. The Lord God has Himself expressly joined these two things together: "showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me and keep My Commandments" (Exo. 20:6). David exemplified this principle very clearly in Psalm 119: "I will delight in Your Commandments, which I have loved" (v. 47 and see vv. 16, 54, 97, 127, 140, 159, 167).

Moreover our text makes it crystal clear that if we are to serve God acceptably it must be a whole-hearted service that we render to Him. He is a jealous God and will brook no rival. He is a holy God, and will tolerate no idols in the secret chambers of our souls. His demand is stated in unmistakable language: "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might" (Deuteronomy 6:5), and nothing short of that will satisfy Him. Let it be duly noted that the Lord Jesus insisted on no less in Matthew 22:37. He who serves God must serve Him singly, and his eye must be "single." God requires all our affections and will not permit us to divide them between Him and the world. Caleb could say, "I wholly followed the Lord my God" (Joshua 14:8)-can we? David declared, "I will keep Your precepts with my whole heart" (Psalm 119:69)-is such our resolution? Or must the Lord say of us, "They have not wholly followed Me" (Numbers 32:11)?

Furthermore, our text makes it plain that if we "serve" God acceptably we must "hold to," or "cleave unto" Him, and thereby testify our love. What is meant by cleaving to Him? This is answered for us in Luke 15, where we are told of the prodigal son that he "joined himself to a citizen of that country" (v. 15), which means that he resigned and gave himself up to his service; so to cleave unto God is for a man to resign himself unto His service, obeying all His commands and embracing all His promises, not suffering himself to be drawn away from any Divine precept, either by unbelief or disobedience, even though all the world should set itself against him. This was the policy of David: "I have stuck unto Your testimonies, O LORD . . . Then shall I not be ashamed when I have respect unto all Your commandments" (Psalm 119:31, 6). On the contrary, when a man leans unto his own understanding, follows the corrupt desires of his heart, gives place to self-pleasing, or takes "the way of the heathen" (Jeremiah 10:2), he departs from and despises the Lord, and if that be the general trend of his conduct it is clear that he hates God, no matter what he professes by his lips to the contrary: see Titus 1:16.

From what has been before us we may clearly perceive the gross blindness and superstitious ignorance of the world. How many there are in this so-called Christian land and day of enlightenment who think that if they repeat the Lord's prayer and the Apostles' creed they serve God well, let their lives be ever so worldly and carnal. But Christ here teaches us that in order to serve God acceptably, we must cleave unto Him both in the affections of our hearts and in activities of obedience of our lives. Thus did Abraham, the father of all them that believe, for when God called him to leave the land of his nativity, he "went out not knowing where he went"; and when the Lord bade him slay his well-beloved Isaac, he promptly proceeded to do so. Alas, Christendom is filled with Atheists, for to hate and despise God is rank atheism, and all who withdraw their hearts from God, setting themselves to seek the things of this world to the neglect of obedience to the Divine Commandments, are here accounted by Christ the despisers and haters of God, which is the very worst form of atheism.

From the fact that God and mammon are here opposed as two "masters" we may learn that "mammon," that is, earthly riches, is a great lord in the world, and therefore does Christ warn us against the same. If it be asked, How can riches be a master or God? the answer is, they are not so in themselves, being merely creatures, but the corrupt hearts of men make an idol of such unto themselves, setting their love and delight upon them, and trusting in them more than in God: for this reason is covetousness called idolatry (Colossians 3:5), and the covetous person an idolater (Ephesians 5:5). Whatever a man sets his heart upon, making it his true happiness, that is his lord and God. Proof that men do set up riches in their hearts as idols and so become servants unto that which should serve them, appears in the following facts: they neglect the service of God for lucre and take greater delight in earthly things than in heavenly graces: they derive more satisfaction from them than Divine ordinances: their loss of earthly goods produces greater vexation and sorrow than all the Divine promises produce comfort.

Herein we may perceive the dreadful state into which Christendom has fallen, for the vast majority in it are plainly worshipers of mammon. They are far more eager and diligent in their quest after worldly gain than they are for personal piety and conformity to the image of Christ. A spirit of covetousness possesses State and church alike. Greedy landlords (and landladies), profiteering merchants, the cornering of commodities, on the one hand-discontented laborers, ever demanding higher wages, and more and more of the luxuries of life, on the other. The rich hoarding up wealth and the poor insisting that it be divided among them, are sad witnesses to the idolatry which now reigns supreme in the hearts of men. And God's professing people are infected with the same evil spirit: the denying of self and living as strangers and pilgrims here is a thing of the past, as their extravagantly-furnished homes and richly laden tables only too plainly attest. And worst of all, the rising generation of preachers, with their motor-cars and elaborately furnished parsonages and manses, are giving a lead to this wicked self-indulgence and mammon worship.

Is there any wonder, then, that the judgments of an angry God are now falling so heavily upon us? Judgment began first at the house of God: a grieved Spirit withdrew, and His power and unction are now noticeably absent from the preaching of the Word. But instead of God's people humbling themselves beneath His mighty hand, repenting of and forsaking their sins, they have in large measure "lived in pleasure on the earth and been wanton" (James 5:5). Read Amos 6:1, 3-6 and see if the extravagance of Israel has not been duplicated in Christendom: and as God's wrath was poured out on them, so it is now being poured out on us. Many scores of church buildings and hundreds of the homes of rich and poor alike, have been reduced to rubble and ashes. Why? Why has God so visited us? Because He will not be mocked with impunity. For the last fifty years Christendom has attempted to serve both God and mammon: and having sown the wind, God is now making us reap the whirlwind. "He that has ears to hear, let him hear."

 

19. Anxiety Forbidden: Matthew 6:25.

It will be seen from the above title that another subject of practical importance is presented to our notice in the verse we have now reached. It is a subject which immediately concerns each one of us, for, in varying degrees, all are guilty of the very thing which is here forbidden, namely, worrying over material things, yielding to anxiety about the future. This is something which is highly dishonoring to God, a sin which we need to make conscience of, confessing it with shame and seeking grace to avoid any further repetitions thereof. The very fact that such anxiety is here forbidden not only exhibits once more the exalted standard of piety which is set before us in the Holy Scriptures, but also evidences their uniqueness, their Divine Authorship-for there is no other book or religion in the world which condemns inordinate solicitude over the temporal necessities of life. Proof of this assertion appears in the fact that the natural man is quite unaware that anxiety about food and clothing is a SIN.

Not only is such anxiety wrong, but it is a sin of great gravity. It is not simply a constitutional infirmity which we may excuse, a mere trifle we need not be concerned about, but rather is it a foul iniquity from which we should seek cleansing. To be fearful about the supply of future needs, to be worried that we may yet be left to suffer the lack of temporal necessities, is to be guilty of wicked unbelief. It calls into question the goodness and care of our Creator. It manifests a lack of faith in His wise and gracious providence. And if we be Christians, it betrays doubt of our Father's love. And surely these are evils of the deepest kind. Moreover, as we shall yet see, such disquietude and distraction of mind is, in reality, the workings of covetousness, the lusting after things we have not, which is a sin of great magnitude. O that the Spirit may convict us of this wickedness and subdue this iniquity!

It has been pointed out in previous months that the main drift of our Savior's Sermon from verse 19 to the end of chapter 6 was to dissuade and deliver His hearers from the spirit of covetousness. Having forbidden the practice itself (v. 19), and disposing of those objections which the corrupt heart of man might frame to excuse himself (vv. 22-24), Christ now struck at the very root of covetousness and sought to remove the cause thereof, namely, a distrustful and inordinate care for the things of this life, especially for such things as are necessary for the maintenance thereof. This is clear from His words in verse 23, and the attentive reader will note that the same line of thought is continued by Him to the end of verse 34. Such unusual repetition as, "Take no thought for your life, what you shall eat" (v. 25), "Take no thought saying, what shall we eat?" (v. 31), "Take therefore no thought for the morrow" (v. 34), intimates not only the weightiness of this Divine precept, but also our slowness in heeding the same.

"Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor yet for your body, what you shall put on (v. 25). Before proceeding to amplify what has been said in the last paragraph, let us point out that there is a close connection between this verse and those preceding. It may be regarded as Christ's meeting a further objection against what He had insisted on. He had forbidden the laying up of treasures on earth, and had warned against the making of mammon our God. To this many might answer, There is no danger of us doing that: so little of this world's riches come our way that we can scarcely procure the bare necessities of life. Even so, says Christ, yet you, too, are in grave danger: the fear of poverty and worrying about the future as truly ensnare the souls of the poor as the love of wealth does the rich. Distrustful and distracting care about supplies of temporal needs is a sure sign that the heart is fixed on earthly things.

"Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life." This is another declaration of Christ's which must not be taken absolutely or without limitation-compare our remarks on 5:34, 42. If Scripture is compared with Scripture it will be found that there are two kinds of "care": a godly and moderate one, a distrustful and inordinate one. The former is enjoined upon us by the Word of God. For example in Proverbs 6:6, Wisdom sends the sluggard to the ant to learn diligence and providence for things needful. The Apostle Paul points out that it is the duty of parents to "lay up" for their children (2 Corinthians 12:14), and declares that, "If any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an Infidel" (1 Timothy 5:8). From these passages it is quite clear that there is a lawful care to be taken even for the things pertaining to this life, nor do the words of Christ in the passage now before us conflict with this to the slightest degree.

There is a solicitude about temporal things which is a duty, varying according to a man's station in the world. God requires him to be diligent in business and prudent in its management. He is obligated to provide for himself and family so far as health and industry will permit. He is required to live within his income, so that he "owe no man anything." He is to guard against any of God's bounty being wasted or squandered in prodigality. It is his business to look ahead and seek to provide for those demands which may be made upon him in the future-by additions to his family, by illness, by old age. He should, so far as consistent with piety and charity, endeavor to make provision for those dependent upon him, so that if he should die first, those left behind will not become a burden upon others. It is not faith but presumption which would lead to carelessness therein-fanaticism and not spirituality which inculcates the neglect of all proper means.

Yet it should be pointed out that there is real danger lest the above-mentioned duties be extended beyond due bounds. None ought to be so occupied with the consideration of providing for the future that he be unfitted for the discharge of present obligations or the enjoyment of present privileges. None ought to attend to such duties in a way that is distrustful of Divine providence. None ought to be weighted down with anxiety over them. The following rules must regulate us therein. First, attention to the needs of the body must be subordinated to our seeking after the welfare of our souls, for temporal affairs must never crowd out spiritual and eternal concerns. Second, in diligently walking in our earthly calling we must strictly see to it that we deal uprightly and honestly with our fellows, seeking to acquire only those things which are needful and right. Third, we must leave the issue or success of all our labors and endeavors to God: ours is to use the means to the best of our ability and opportunity, His is to bless and prosper according as He desires best.

Let it be clearly understood then that when Christ commanded, "Take no thought for your life," He was very far from forbidding us to look ahead and make provision against a future likelihood. Foresight and forbidding are two very different things. That which our Lord here prohibited is not the making of careful preparation for what is likely to come, but the constant occupation of the mind and distraction of the heart over what will never come. It is not the foresight of the storm and the taking in of sail while there is yet time which He reprehends, but that after we have taken in the sail we continue to gaze at the horizon with such fear and unbelief that we are weakened thereby and disqualified for the discharge of far more important duties. To be tormented by anxious thoughts about the future is unworthy of our manhood, let alone of our Divine sonship, and is most dishonoring to our Creator.

"Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life" (Matthew 6:25). Observe the force of the opening "Therefore." Seeing that they who set their hearts upon earthly treasures do neglect the true riches and do lack the single eye of spiritual wisdom to discern heavenly treasure, and are therefore the slaves of Mammon. Be not concerned, harbor not immoderate and distrustful thoughts about things needful to your temporal life. Because it is impossible at one and the same time to make earthly and heavenly things the principal subject of your thoughts, all anxiety about material things is improper. Note, too, the, "I say unto you"-I your Master, upon whom you depend for instruction and direction in all things needful for both soul and body-so as to command their attention and compliance. "He says it as the Lord and Sovereign of our hearts; He says it as our Comforter and the Helper of our joy" (Matthew Henry).

"Therefore I say unto you, be not anxious for your life" (American R.V.) which conveys the idea better than the A.V. The "care" which is here forbidden is a tormenting one, which disquiets and distracts, which disturbs our joy in God, and destroys our peace. When concern over making provision for the future leads the heart away from God and produces distrust, it has become sinful. Foresight must not degenerate into foreboding, diligence into worrying. It is troubling care and distressing fear which is here reprehended. It is distrustful care we are called upon to guard against. We are guilty of this when we trouble ourselves about the issue of our labors: when having used the means and performed our duty we vex ourselves over the success, instead of relying upon God's providence for the blessing of the same. It is this distrust of God which draws the covetous hearts of men to employ unlawful means in the obtaining of worldly things-such as lying, fraud, false weights, oppression of the weak.

"Therefore, I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor yet for your body, what you shall put on." To take it on its lowest ground, such things as food and clothing are not worth worrying about. In a few years at most we shall no more need the staff of life to support us and shall be where the coarsest shroud will serve as well as a royal robe. Of what worth are those things over which death has dominion? Why be so foolish, then, as to make our chief concern those things which perish with the using? And how much worse is our offense if, instead of being content with such things as a gracious God has provided us with, we lust after and bend our best efforts to acquire something of a superior quality? What will it matter a hundred years hence whether we fed on the fat of the land or the poorest of fare, whether we were dressed in silks and satins or the cheapest of garments? But it will matter everything whether or not we fed on the Lamb and were clothed with the robe of His righteousness!

But to look higher. Why is it that there is so little fruit from the preaching of God's Word? How few realize that this worldly care is one of the chief hindrances thereto. Yet, that this is the case is clear from the teaching of our Lord in His parable of the Sower. There He informs us that, "He also that received seed among the thorns is he who hears the Word: and the care of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the Word, and he becomes unfruitful" (Matthew 13:22), so that worry over poverty is as fatal to spiritual fruitfulness as is gloating over wealth. Alas, what a large percentage there is in our congregations who can neither pray, hear the Word, or go home and meditate thereon, without their poor minds being distracted with worldly thoughts and carnal anxieties. Our minds are so constituted that they cannot at one and the same time be stayed upon the Lord and fixed upon next winter's new coat or hat.

Having sought to show something of the sinfulness of worrying about temporal things, let us seek to point out how it may be avoided. This is to be found in following the counsel which is given to us in the Word of Truth. "Commit your way unto the LORD: trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass" (Psalm 37:5). "Cast your burden upon the LORD, and He shall sustain you" (Psalm 55:22). "Commit your works unto the LORD, and your thoughts shall be established" (Proverbs 16:3). "Casting all your care upon Him: for He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7). It is not that these passages exempt us from performing the duties of our calling and using all lawful means therein, but that in the performance of duty and after the use of means we must leave the event and issue for good success to the blessing of God. Such a course involves the exercise of faith and the complete submitting of ourselves unto the sovereign pleasure of Him with whom we have to do, and who alone can give the increase.

Thus the tradesman, whose business it is to buy and sell, must be careful and diligent in his business, disdaining all lying and deceit, misrepresentation or overcharging, and then refer the success of his trade to the blessing of God. Thus, too, with the farmer and crofter: he must faithfully do his part in plowing and sowing, and then leave the harvest to God's good providence. This is the Apostle's counsel: "Be careful for nothing," that is, after a distrustful and distressing sort, "But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God" (Philippians 4:6).Thus it is clear that anxiety and worry are opposed to prayer and thanksgiving, being an hindrance thereto. Instead, after using lawful means, we are to pray God's blessing thereon, that when it comes we may give Him thanks, yes, thank Him now by faith's anticipation.

But is it not hard for flesh and blood to abstain from anxiety about success? How, then, shall we be enabled to leave it wholly with God? By laying to heart the precious promises of God which are made to those who depend upon His mercy and goodness, laboring to live by faith thereon. "It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows"-while men trust to themselves or in the means, toiling as they will, theirs is the bread of fretfulness. In sharp contrast therefrom, "So He gives His beloved sleep" (Psalm 127:2). In sleep there is a laying aside of care and a forgetfulness of need. Those who trust in and love the Lord are delivered from fretting and fuming, and are given rest of soul. "The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger: but they that seek the LORD shall not want any good thing" (Psalm 34:10). If we had no other promise in the Scriptures than this, it is sufficient warrant to make us rest upon God's providence, in the sober use of lawful means. "Trust in the LORD, and do good; so shall you dwell in the land, and truly you shall be fed" (Psa 37:3). What more can we ask than that?

"He who walks righteously, and speaks uprightly; he who despises the gain of oppressions, that shakes his hands from holding of bribes, that stops his ears from hearing of blood, and shuts his eyes from seeing evil; He shall dwell on high: his place of defense shall be the munitions of rocks: bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure" (Isa 33:15-16). No matter in what period of the world's history our lot is cast, how evil the days, or how sore and severe God's judgments upon the earth, if we fulfill His specified conditions, then, (even though drought and famine be upon the land, as in the time of Elijah), our bread and water is sure. Nowhere has God promised that His child shall be feasted with dainties, but "truly you shall be fed." Such was the blessed assurance of the Apostle, "But my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19)-not all your desires or greed, but need. Now if faith be really mixed with these promises, then we shall be quietened from fear and our hearts will be kept in peace.

How shall we rely upon the mercy of God in the hour of death if we are afraid to trust His providence for the things of this life? But when serious losses befall us and everything seems to be against us, must we not redouble our efforts and look increasingly to the use of means? No, rather is that the time to cleave more closely to God and only upon Him to undertake for us. If the blessing were in the means, men would not be so often crossed in them. God knows far better than we do what is good for us, and therefore we should rest content with His providence, no matter how He may disappoint our expectations for temporal things. Lack is often better for God's child than plenty, adversity than prosperity. So David found, "Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept Your Word" (Psalm 119:67). And many a saint since then has had reason to exclaim, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted" (Psalm 119:71).

"Take no thought for your life, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor yet for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than clothing?" (Matthew 6:25). Observe how Christ here distinguishes between life and food, the body and clothing, and that He does so with the purpose of showing us how senseless is our worrying over the supply of temporal things. This first reason of His to dissuade us from such anxiety may be stated thus: the life is greatly superior to food and the body to clothing, and since the Creator has bestowed the former, therefore much more will He provide the latter for their sustenance. Therein the Savior teaches us to make good use of our creation, and by a contemplation thereof to learn confidence in God's providence for all things needful to our natural life. "Your hands have made me and fashioned me together round about; yet You do destroy me!" (Job. 10:8): thus the Patriarch persuaded himself of preservation because God had made him. "Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to Him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator" (1 Peter 4:19)-because God is our faithful Creator, in death we may fully rely upon Him.

If the Christian is trusting in God and attending to duty, he need have no fear that he will be deserted by Him and left to starve. God called us into being and furnished us with a body without our care, then is He not well able to sustain the one and clothe the other. Dependence is the law of our being: we are obliged to leave unto God the size, form, color, and age of our body: then count upon Him for its maintenance. As long as God means us to live, He will assuredly feed and clothe us. He who brought Israel out of Egypt with a high hand and delivered them from death at the Red Sea, did not suffer them to perish from lack of food in the wilderness. "He who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:32). Such a guarantee should be amply sufficient to quiet every fear and allay all anxiety about bodily food and clothing.

 

19. Anxiety Forbidden: Matthew 6:26, 27.

"Therefore I say unto you: Take no thought for your life" (Matthew 6:25). Earlier we pointed out that Christ was not here forbidding a diligent use of all lawful means in our earthly calling, nor a judicious laying by against a future rainy day; rather is He prohibiting that worrying about the future which evidences a distrust of Divine Providence and a doubting of our Father's goodness. Yet so senseless are we, so filled with unbelief, so slow to obey this precept, that our Lord not only repeated the same in verse 31, but condescends to reason with us and enforce His injunction by a great variety of cogent arguments. This at once intimates to us the deep importance which He attaches to a heart that is free from distrustful anxiety and distracting fear, and also makes unmistakably evident the exceeding sinfulness of such sins. Let us then seek grace to attend closely unto our Lord's reasoning in this connection and treasure up in our hearts His different arguments.

"Take no (anxious) thought for your life." As Matthew Henry tersely summarizes it: "(1) Not about the continuance of it: refer it to God, to lengthen or shorten as He please. (2) Not about the comforts of it: refer it to God, to embitter or sweeten as He pleases." Our times are in His hands. The One who communicated life to our bodies has unalterably decreed the exact length of our earthly existence: "You have appointed his bounds that he cannot pass" (Job 14:4), so that all our fretting and fuming is needless and useless, for neither planning nor worrying can prolong our natural life a single hour. And so long as we faithfully perform our duty and trust in God we need not be the slightest bit concerned as to how He is going to provide for us. The Lord is not tied to ways and means, and when one source of supplies fails us He will open another-as He did for Elijah.

"Take no thought for your life, what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor yet for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than clothing?" (v. 25). Here is the first of seven reasons or arguments used by Christ on this occasion to show us how foolish, how needless, how useless, how sinful are anxious thoughts and distracting fears over the supply of our temporal needs. It is in inference drawn from the greater to the less: an argument frequently made use of in Scripture, but one, alas, that we easily forget-see the "much more" of Romans 5:9, 10, 15. It is an argument based upon the infinite goodness and unchanging faithfulness of our Creator: God Himself has given us life and a body, and He does not stop half-way in His bestowments: when He implants life, He also grants all that is needed for its sustenance. When God gives, He gives royally and liberally, honestly and sincerely, logically and completely. Therefore we may rest assured that when He bestows life itself, He is not going to sully His own gift by withholding anything that is needful for our good and blessing.

"Behold the birds of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much better than they?" (Matthew 6:26). These words contain Christ's second reason to dissuade us from distrustful care about things needed. It is taken from the consideration of God's providing for creatures inferior to us, His supplying needed things for them. It was as though the Redeemer said, Do you want further assurance that God will provide for all your temporal needs?-then lift up your eyes to the air and mark its feathered inhabitants as they flit to and fro, free from anxiety, filling the atmosphere with their cheerful songs. O how they should show us, who are so often distrustful and despondent, how much more cause have we to celebrate the goodness of our gracious God and show forth His praises. Yet it is much to be feared that He receives less acknowledgment from us, fewer expressions of gratitude, than He does from those creatures upon whom He has bestowed the feeblest endowment.

"Behold the birds of the air": that is, take a serious view of, thoughtfully contemplate them. From this we learn that it is our duty to duly consider the works of God, laboring to behold His wisdom, goodness, power, mercy and providence therein. This is the lesson inculcated by Solomon: "Consider the works of God" (Ecclesiastes 7:13), and by Eliphaz, "Remember that you magnify His work, which men behold" (Job 36:24). God has revealed Himself through His works as truly as He has through His Word, and we are greatly the losers if we fail to examine carefully and ponder prayerfully the wonders of creation wherein the Divine perfections are so blessedly displayed. "O LORD, how manifold are Your works! in wisdom have You made them all: the earth is full of Your riches" (Psalm 104:24). "The works of the LORD are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein . . . He has made His wonderful works to be remembered" (Psalm 111:2, 4). "Marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows right well" (Psalm 139:14).

Why was it that the Lord God took six days to make one creature after another, then take a particular view of them all after their creation, beholding with pleasure the products of His hands (Genesis 1:31), and then sanctify the seventh day for a holy rest? Was it not, among other reasons, to teach us by His own example to consider distinctly all the works of His hands, and that among other duties we should meditate on the Lord's Day upon the wondrous and glorious works of our Creator? This was David's practice, as we learn from his Sabbath Psalm: "For You, LORD, have made me glad through Your work: I will triumph in the works of Your hands. O LORD, how great are Your works! and Your thoughts are very deep" (92:4, 5). O to be able to say with him, "I meditate on all Your works: I muse on the work of Your hands" (Psalm 143:5)! How otherwise can we intelligently discharge the duty laid upon us in, "One generation shall praise Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts. I will speak of the glorious honor of Your majesty, and of Your Wondrous works" (Psalm 145:4, 5).

"Behold the birds of the air." And what is it we are specially to learn and take to heart in connection with them? Why this: "They sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them." They use not the means of provision which man does, and therefore have not that care and anxiety which he has. They are not required to perform those labors which are demanded of us, nor commanded to eat in the sweat of their face; nevertheless, they do not starve to death. Here is a marvelous fact which few ponder-the manner in which the lower animals, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, are provided with their food and clothing supplies a most convincing and unbelief-rebuking demonstration of the superintendence of God over this world. It displays in so many ways His manifold wisdom, His wondrous providence, His infinite goodness, His unfailing faithfulness, His tender care, His compassions which are "new every morning."

If the question be asked, Since the birds of the air sow not, neither reap nor gather into barns, how then are they provided for? The answer is, that they expect their food from God's own hand. "Who provides for the raven his food, when his young ones cry unto God" (Job 38:41). "So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts . . . these wait all upon You, that You may give them their meat in due season" (Psalm 104:25, 27). "The eyes of all wait upon you, and You give them their meat in due season" (Psalm 145:15). "He gives to the beast his food, and to the young ravens which cry" (Psalm 147:9). But how can irrational creatures be said to cry unto God? They do not use prayer as men do, yet are they said to "wait on God," because by a natural instinct in creation they seek for that food which God has ordained for them and are content therewith. By such phrases as, "they cry to God," He would teach us that they depend upon His Providence wholly for provision and rest satisfied therewith.

Here we may see how the irrational creature, made subject to vanity by the sin of man, come nearer to their first estate and better observe the order of nature in their creation than man does, for they seek only for that which God has provided for them, and when they receive it are content; whereas man is deeply fallen from the estate of his creation in regard to his dependency on God's Providence for temporal things. Though he be endowed with reason, and has the use of means which the birds of Heaven lack, yet his heart is filled with distrustful care, whether we respect the obtaining of or the use which he makes of earthly things. This solemnly demonstrates that man is more corrupt than other creatures, more vile and base than are the brute beasts. How deeply this ought to humble everyone of us under a serious consideration of our sinfulness, that we have so debased our nature that we are more rebellious to the laws of our being and more distrustful of the Divine Providence than are irrational creatures!

"Behold the birds of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them." How the consideration of this truth ought to take us off from our useless and senseless worrying. The feathered creatures of the air use not means, yet are they fed. Man is required to use means, for God has ordained them for his provision: if, then, we dutifully employ them, in obedience to and trust in God, will He suffer us to want? Birds are incapable of providing for themselves, unable to lay up a store of food against the winter's snow and cold, yet their needs are supplied. We are granted foresight and the means of providing for a rainy day: if we are faithful therein, will God mock our industry? Surely not: then how unnecessary, how dishonoring to God, how sinful is our troubling care, our distrust, our fretting and worrying!

"Yet your heavenly Father feeds them." Herein we may observe God's special and particular providence. The dictates of reason would lead us to conclude that those creatures which are incapable of making provision for themselves and laying up store in summertime against the winter, would starve when the earth yields not such means of nourishment during the cold weather and when the ground is covered with snow; yet they do not commonly do so. Yes, experience shows that birds are for the most part fatter for human consumption in the winter than they are in the summer! What a striking and blessed manifestation of God's special providence is this: that He attends to and meets the need of His feathered creatures and feeds them in the dead of winter! O how this should shame us for doubting His Providence, how it rebukes our wicked distrust of His care, how it exposes the groundlessness and wickedness of our unbelief! Next time you are tempted to worry over future supplies, dear reader, and rack your poor brains over where they are going to come from, think of the birds of the air and remember that a faithful Creator feeds them even in the winter.

"Your Heavenly Father feeds them." Has He not here set before us an example which we would do well to follow? "Be you therefore imitators of God, as dear children" (Ephesians 5:1) If God is so merciful unto the birds of Heaven as to feed them, then must not those who are His children evidence their likeness to the Father by exercising mercy unto all His creatures? True, He is not dependent upon our aid, yet is He often pleased to make use of means: then next time the ground is covered with snow, fail not to place some crusts of bread or lumps of suet in your garden or backyard, and when the ponds are frozen over put a cup of hot water within the reach of your feathered friends. And let not your kindness be limited unto the birds, but extend it also unto the animals, the poor among men, and especially unto any indigent members of the Household of Faith. In time of stress and scarcity, refrain from profiteering and grinding the face of the poor.

"Are you not much better than they" (Matthew 6:26). Here is the application which Christ makes of His second argument. Considered simply as members of the human race we are creatures of a nobler order than the birds of the air, for we are endowed with rationality and designed for an eternal destiny. If, then, God feeds the birds of the air, will He fail to provide for those who are created in His own image? But considered as sons and daughters of the Almighty, the objects of His special love, of redeeming grace, of the quickening operations of the Holy Spirit, as begotten unto an inheritance "incorruptible and undefiled, and that fades not away, reserved in Heaven for us" (1 Peter 1:4), think you that the heavenly Father will suffer any of them to starve to death while they pass through this wilderness of sin? If He provides for the birds in the dead of winter, is He unable or unwilling to minister to our temporal needs in sickness or old age? How small is our faith in His goodness, His faithfulness, His tender care, if we worry now about where our future bread or clothing is to come from!

"Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?" (Matthew 6:27). Here is the third reason advanced by Christ against worrying for worldly things. It is propounded in the way of a question, which form of speech imports the affirming of or denying of the thing spoken of with more vehemence. Here it has the force of an emphatic negative: as though Christ had said, Certainly none of you, by taking care can add a single cubit to his height. This unanswerable argument is taken from man's impotency: neither the most ambitious, the strongest, or the wisest is able to do so. We did not reach our present weight or height by any efforts of our own, but solely by the providence of God. "An infant of a span long has grown up to be a man of six feet, and how was one cubit after another added to his stature? Not by his own foresight or contrivance: he grew he knew not how, by the power and goodness of God" (Matthew Henry).

A "cubit" varies from eighteen to twenty-one inches, being the measure taken from the length of a man's arm from the elbow to the tip of his middle finger. Now in the framing of a man's body, God brings it from a span long in the mother's womb by gradual increase, adding to it cubit after cubit until he has reached the height God ordained. The exact height each man comes to God has appointed, and no man, either by his skill, his anxiety, or his industry, can extend the stature God has determined for him. That is the work of the Creator: He who gives the body, decrees the stature, and by His Providence brings it thereto by daily increase. Hence, reasons Christ, since man cannot by the most diligent use of means augment his stature one cubit, neither can he by all his fretting and fuming, toiling and slaving, better his temporal estate for things needful in this life, and therefore it is heedless and useless to vex our hearts therewith.

"We cannot alter the stature we are of, if we would: what a foolish and ridiculous, thing would it be for a man of low stature to perplex himself, to break his sleep and beat his brains about it, and to be continually taking thought how he might be a cubit higher; when, after all, he knows he cannot effect it, and therefore he had better be content and take it as it is . . . Now as we do in reference to our bodily state, so we should do in reference to our worldly state. (1) We should not covet an abundance of the wealth of this world. (2) We must reconcile ourselves to our state, as we do to our stature: we must set the conveniences against the inconveniences, and so make a virtue of necessity-what cannot be remedied must be made the best of. We cannot alter the disposals of Providence, and therefore must acquiesce in them and accommodate ourselves to them" (Matthew Henry).

Certain it is that man's labor, care and industry is utterly vain and fruitless without the blessing of God's Providence. "Except the LORD build the house, they labor in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman wakes but in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows" (Psalm 127:1, 2). "I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he who plants anything, neither he who waters; but God that gives the increase" (1 Corinthians 3:6, 7). If two such men as these could do nothing of themselves, what shall we think to do? This same truth-so much lost sight of today-is brought out once again in, "You have sown much, and bring in little; you eat, but you have not enough; you drink, but you are not filled with drink; you clothe you, but there is none warm; and he who earns wages earns wages to put it into a bag with holes . . . You looked for much. and, lo, it came to little; and when you brought it home, I did blow upon it" (Hag. 1:6, 9). How this should teach us to commend all the sober care and labor of our lawful callings to God by prayer for His blessing, and when He has granted the same, fail not to return thanks unto Him.

No man can better his natural estate in this world either for wealth or dignity, by all his care and labor, above that which God has appointed him to reach unto. As the Creator has determined each man's bodily stature which we cannot add to, so He has foreordained what each man's estate shall be, whether of wealth or poverty, dignity or disgrace, and it lies not in the power of any creature to alter the same. "Lift up your horn on high: speak not with a stiff neck. For promotion comes neither from the east nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the Judge: He puts down one, and sets up another" (Psalm 75:5-7). "The Lord makes poor, and makes rich: He brings low, and lifts up" (1 Samuel 2:7)-true alike naturally and spiritually. The grand lessons to be drawn from all of this are that we must learn to depend upon God in the sober use of lawful means, to humbly seek His blessing thereon, to rest content therewith, whether it be more or less, accepting with gratitude and thanksgiving the portion He has been pleased to allot us. We are completely dependent upon God for our stature, so why not leave all things to Him!

 

19. Anxiety forbidden: Matthew 6:28, 29.

"And why take you thought for clothing?" (v. 28). In those words Christ returns to the Commandment which He had given in verse 25: "Therefore I say unto you, Take no (anxious) thought for your life what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor yet for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than clothing?" In the verse we have now arrived at our Lord restricts His remarks to the matter of "clothing," while in verse 31 He again takes up the subject of food and drink. "Why take you (anxious) thought for clothing?" Though in the form of a question-to stir up our conscience-it has the force of a prohibition, and therefore is a repeating of the former precept. This is very solemn and humbling, for it shows how unresponsive we are to the voice of God: we have to be told again and again what we must do and what we must avoid. There is so much self-will, so much in us which is opposed to God, that a single order from Him is not sufficient. What vile and intractable creatures we are, still are, even if regenerate.

Observe then, the method followed by the supreme Teacher of the Church and the manner in which He propounded heavenly doctrine. He not only propounded it, and then urged it by strong and forcible reasons, but He proceeded to repeat it, and urge it by piece meal. Whenever He had a weighty truth in hand, because fallen man is unwilling to receive and practice it, Christ, in addition to propounding and confirming it, took it up in detail, pressing it upon us again and again, that thereby it might the better find place in our hearts and be the more effectual in bringing forth obedience in our lives. Herein our blessed Redeemer has left an example to be followed by all who teach God's Word to others: not only unto ministers, but unto parents. "And you shall teach them diligently unto your children" (Deuteronomy 6:7): the margin gives "whet or sharpen" for "teach diligently," the Hebrew word referring to the sharpening of a dull tool or sword-that so it may more deeply enter into the heart.

"And why take you (anxious) thought for clothing?" All care for apparel is not here forbidden. There is a lawful and godly concern, whereby we may labor honestly and in a sober manner for such clothing as is meet for the station in life which Divine providence has allotted us: such as is needful to the health and comfort of our bodies. That which is here prohibited is a carnal and inordinate care for clothing, which arises either from distrust and fear of want, or from pride and discontent with such apparel as is meet and necessary. It is the latter which is one of the crying sins of our age, when there is such a lusting after strange and costly garments, when such vast sums are wasted annually upon outward adornment, when there is such a making of a "God" out of fashion, when maids covet the finery of their mistresses and when their mistresses waste so much time on the attiring of their bodies which ought to be spent upon more profitable duties. Well may all such seriously face the question, "Why take you (such) thought for clothing?"

And why, we may well ask, has the pulpit for so long maintained a criminal silence, instead of condemning this flagrant sin? It is not one which is committed in a corner, but flouted openly. It is not one which only a few are guilty of, but is common to all classes and ages. Preachers are not ignorant that many in their own congregations are spending money they can ill afford in order to "keep up with the latest styles"-styles often imported from countries whose morals are notoriously corrupt. Why, then, has not the pulpit denounced such vanity and extravagance? Is it the fear of man, of becoming unpopular, which restrains them? Is it the sight of their own wives and daughters in silk stockings, fur coats and expensive hats which hinders them? Alas, only too often the minister's family, instead of setting an example of sobriety, frugality and modesty, has given a lead to the community in worldliness and wastefulness. The churches have failed lamentably in this matter as in many others.

It may be that some preachers who read this article will be ready to say, We have something better to do than give our attention to such things, a far more important message to deliver than one relating to the covering worn by the body. But such a rejoinder will not satisfy God, who requires His servants to declare all His counsel and to keep back nothing which is profitable. If the Scriptures be read attentively it will be found that they have not a little to say upon the subject of clothing, from the aprons of fig leaves made by our first parents to the Mother of harlots "arrayed in purple and scarlet and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls" of Revelation 17. Has not the Most High said, "The woman shall not wear that which pertains unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD your God" (Deuteronomy 22:5)? No wonder His wrath is upon us when our streets are becoming filled with empty-headed women wearing trousers. No wonder so many church houses are being destroyed when their pulpits have so long been unfaithful!

"And why take you thought for clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they toil not, neither do they spin" (Matthew 6:28). The scope of these words is wider than appears at first glance. As "clothing" must be taken to include all that is used for the adorning as well as covering of the body, so we are to learn from the "lilies" that which corrects every form of sin we may commit in connection with apparel, not only in distrusting God to supply us with what we need, but also our displeasing Him by setting our affections upon such trifles, by following the evil fashions of the world, or by disregarding His prohibitions. In sending us to learn of the flowers of the field Christ would humble our proud hearts, for notwithstanding our intelligence there are many important and valuable lessons to be learned even from these lowly and irrational creatures if only we have ears to hear what they have to say unto us.

"Consider the lilies of the field." This is brought in here to correct that inordinate care and that immoderate lusting which men and women have concerning clothing. It seems to us that part of the force of our Lord's design here has been generally missed, and this through failure to perceive the significance of His following remarks. "Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall He not much more clothe you?" (v. 30). Though the lily be such a lovely flower, nevertheless it is but "the grass of the field." Notwithstanding its beauty and delicacy it belongs to the same order and stands upon the same level as the common grass, which withers and dies and is used (in oriental countries, where there is no coal) for fuel. What ground or occasion then has the lily to be proud and vain? None whatever: it is exceedingly frail, it belongs to a very lowly order of creation, its loveliness quickly vanishes, its destiny is but the oven.

In what has just been pointed out we may discover a forceful reason why we should not be unduly concerned about either our appearance or our clothing There are some who are given gracefulness of body and loveliness of feature which, like the lilies, are much admired by those who behold them. Nevertheless such people need to be reminded that they come only of the common stock, that they are of the same constitution and subject to the same experiences as their less favored fellows. Physical beauty is but skin deep, and the fairest countenance loses its bloom in a few short years at most. The ravages of disease and the effects of sorrow dim the brightest eye and mar the roundest cheek, and wrinkles soon crease what before was so attractive. "For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withers and the flower thereof falls away" (1 Peter 1:24), and the grave is the "oven" to which the handsomest equally with the ugliest are hastening.

In view of the brevity of life and the fleetingness of physical charm how groundless and foolish is pride over a handsome body! That beauty upon which we need to fix our hearts and unto which we should devote our energies is "the beauty of holiness" (1 Chronicles 16:29), for it is a beauty that fades not away, is not transient and disappointing, is not destroyed in the grave, but endures forever. And what is the beauty of holiness? It is the opposite of the hideousness of sin which is likeness unto the Devil. The beauty of holiness consists in a conformity unto Him of whom it is said, "how great is His goodness! and how great is His beauty!" (Zechariah 9:17). This is not creature beauty, but Divine beauty, yet it is imparted to God's elect, for "the King's daughter is all glorious within" (Psalm 45:13). O how we need to pray, "Let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us" (Psalm 90:17), then shall we be admired by the holy angels.

Not only does the evanescent beauty of the lily rebuke those who are proud of their physical loveliness, but it condemns all who make an idol of costly or showy apparel. Alas, such a sorry wretch is fallen man that even when his food is assured (for the present, at any rate) he must perforce harass himself over the matter of clothes-not merely for warmth and comfort, but for display, to gratify a peacock vanity. This gives as much concern to the rich as worrying about food does to the poor. Then "consider the lilies of the field": they are indeed clothed with loveliness, yet how fleeting it is, and the oven awaits them! Does your ambition rise no higher than to be like unto them, and to share their fate? O heed that word, "Whose adorning, let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel, but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price" (1 Peter 3:3, 4).

But let us pass on to another thought. "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they toil not, neither do they spin" (Matthew 6:28). Here the Savior teaches us that the irrational creatures of the field do in their kind yield more obedience unto God than man does, that we are more rebellious than they are. Isaiah called upon Heaven and earth to hear his rebuke of the Jews for their ingratitude (1:2). Another Prophet when rebuking Jeroboam for his idolatry cried, "O altar, altar, thus says the LORD" (1 Kings 13:2). When Jeremiah condemned the king of Judah, he exclaimed, "O earth, earth, earth hear the word of the LORD" (22:29), while Ezekiel was bidden to prophesy to the mountains of Israel (6:3). All of these go to show that if these insensible creatures were endowed with the intelligence which man is, they would be more obedient to the will of their Creator than he is.

Again-in bidding us take the herbs of the field for our schoolmaster, Christ would signify that though we have these creatures before us daily, beholding and using them, yet partly through our blindness and ignorance and partly through neglect and inattention we do not discern in them what we should, nor learn from them those valuable lessons which they are fitted to teach us. "Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has showed it unto them. For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead: so that they are without excuse" (Romans 1:19, 20.) Thus the Lord Jesus here gave a check to our dullness and neglect in meditating upon the products of God's hand. And if we are so slow to learn these things which are necessary to our temporal welfare, how shall we do in those things which concern our eternal salvation!

But what must we learn from the lilies? "How they grow." Like all the works of God this, too, is wonderful and should provoke our admiration. In the winter season they lie dead in the earth, as though they were not. They are covered with frost and snow-yet in the springtime they spring up with stalks, leaves and flowers of such delicacy and loveliness as surpasses the glory of Solomon in all his royalty. And whence comes this? Is it of themselves or from man? Neither, for it is "field" or wild lilies our Lord here speaks of. Whence then? From the original fiat of creation, uttered by God when He made these creatures saying, "Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed" (Genesis 1:11). From that ever-operative word of the Almighty Creator comes the earth to have power and virtue to bear the beautiful lilies and every other herb. And the same God who by the Word of His power gives being to the lilies of the field has uttered a Word of providence that if we trust Him, using lawful means moderately, we shall have clothing sufficient and everything else that is needful to this life.

"They toil not, neither do they spin." Here the Savior bids us take note of how free from care the lilies are. They expend no labor in order to earn their clothing, as we have to do. This is proof that God Himself directly provides for them and decks them out so attractively. And how forcibly does that fact press upon us the duty of contentment, relying upon God's gracious providence without distracting care. Not only have we title to Divine providence certainly not inferior to that possessed by the herbs of the field, but God has allowed unto us for our clothing the use of means which they lack. Though no man under the pretense of relying on God's providence may live idly, neglecting the ordinary lawful means to procure things honest and needful, yet Christ here gives assurance to all who trust in Him and serve Him that even though all means should fail them, He will provide things needful for them. If through sickness, injury or old age we can no longer toil and spin, God will not suffer us to lack sufficient clothing.

"And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these" (Matthew 6:29). In those words Christ rebukes that folly of the vain which moves so many to make an idol of personal adornment. Before we endeavor to show the force of our Lord's remark in this verse it should be pointed out that in making mention of the splendor of Solomon's royal apparel He did not condemn the same-had that been His object, instead of mentioning the "glory" of Solomon, Christ had termed it his "vain show" or "ostentatious folly." Though the Word of God reprehends pride and superfluities in attire, yet it allows unto princes and persons of high office the use of gorgeous and costly clothing. When Joseph was advanced unto state dignity he refused not to be arrayed in "garments of fine linen" and to have "a ring on his hand and a chain of gold about his neck" (Genesis 41:42); nor did the Apostle reprove Agrippa and Bernice because they came to hear him "in great pomp" (Acts 23:23).

How senseless it is to be conceited over fine attire and to be so solicitous about our personal appearance, for when we have done everything in our power to make ourselves attractive, we come far short of the flowers of the field in their glorious array! What cloth or silk is so white as the lily, what purple can equal the violet, what scarlet or crimson is comparable to roses and other flowers of that color? The arts of the workman may indeed do much, yet they cannot equal the beauties of nature. If, then, we cannot vie with the herbs of the field which we trample under our feet and cast into the oven, why should we be puffed up with any showiness in our dress? All worldly pomp is but vain, for in glory and beauty it is inferior to that of the flowers-yet what is more frail and transitory than the lily of the field!

Alas, so great is the depravity and perversity of man that he turns into an occasion of feeding his vanity and of self-display what ought to be a ground of humiliation and self-abasement. If we duly considered the proper and principal end of apparel, we should rather be humbled and abased when we put it on, than pleased with our gaudy attire. Clothing for the body is to cover the shame of nakedness which sin brought upon us. It was not ever thus, for of our first parents before the Fall it is written, "The man and the woman were both naked, and were not ashamed" (Genesis 2:25). Clothing, then, is a covering of our shame, the ensign of our sin, and we have no better reason to be proud of our apparel than the criminal has of his handcuffs or the lunatic of his straitjacket, for as they are badges of wrongdoing or insanity, so apparel is but the badge of our sin.

"Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." The array of Solomon must indeed have been magnificent. Possessed of illimitable wealth, owner of a fleet of ships which brought to him the products of many foreign countries, nothing was lacking to make his court one of outstanding splendor and pomp. No doubt on State occasions he appeared in the richest and most imposing of clothes, yet deck himself out as finely as he might, he came far short of the beauty of the lilies. Rightly did Matthew Henry point out, "Let us therefore be more ambitious of the wisdom of Solomon in which he was outdone by none-wisdom to do our duty in our place-than the glory of Solomon in which he was outdone by the lilies. Knowledge and grace are the perfection of man, not beauty, much less fine clothes." To which we would add, let us seek to he "clothed with humility" (1 Peter 5:5) rather than lust after peacock feathers.

 

19. Anxiety Forbidden: Matthew 6:30, 31.

"And why take you thought for clothing?" (Matthew 6:28). As we pointed out last month, though in the form of a question-to stir up our minds and search our hearts-these words of Christ are an express prohibition. That prohibition is twofold: against inordinate care and against immoderate desire. "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they toil not, neither do they spin" (v. 28). Here Christ bids us learn of the uncultivated flower that which rebukes our sinful distrust on the one hand and which reveals the folly of our lusting after an elaborate wardrobe on the other. The first of these lessons is inculcated by the fact that they put forth no labor in order to earn their clothing. If, then, God graciously provides for them, much more will He do so for those who faithfully use the means He has appointed that we may obtain things honest and needful. The second lesson is expressed in, "And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these" (v. 29). How foolish, then, to be vainglorious of our apparel when, after all our trouble and expense, it is less beautiful than that of the flowers.

"And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." Wherein lies the point of contrast? Was it merely that the lily is clothed with a robe of more delicate texture and of greater beauty than any man-made fabric? We believe there is something else, something more important for our hearts, a deeper truth adumbrated therein. All of Solomon's stately glory was but artificial, put on from without, whereas the adornment of the flower comes from within: theirs is no foreign drapery, but an essential part of themselves, namely, a development and result of what they really are. So should it be: so must it be, with the Christian. That life and light which God has communicated to his heart silently but surely illumines his mind, sanctifies his affections, and brings forth the fruits of righteousness. At the resurrection, that Divine life in the soul shall break through the body and envelope the whole person with splendor: "then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (Matthew 13:43).

Ah, my reader, it is a very profitable exercise to "Consider the lilies of the field." A spiritual meditation thereon cannot but be most instructive, for they are the handiwork of Him who is "wonderful in counsel, excellent in working." If we "consider" and take to heart "how they grow," we shall perceive that which will both humble and encourage us. Their growth is gradual: first the blade, then the bud, then the flower. Their growth is one of increasing loveliness. Is ours? Are we gradually becoming more Christlike: more meek and lowly, more gentle and unselfish? Are we really going from "strength to strength" (Psalm 84:7) and being "changed into the same image (of the Lord) from glory to glory" (2 Corinthians 3:18)? Their growth consists in an increasing development and display of the life with which God has endowed them. Are we so growing: making more and more manifest the principle of grace which the Holy Spirit has communicated to our hearts, "showing forth the praises of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light"?

"Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith" (Matthew 6:30). Here is further instruction to be derived from the flowers of the field, namely, their frailty and the brevity of their life. If this be duly taken to heart by us, it will correct that carnal lusting after fine clothes. Why should we set our affections upon a lavish wardrobe, be proud of our clothing, or make the putting on of apparel our "adornment," when after all we cannot compete with the flowers of the field? Such childish vanity appears still worse when we remind ourselves of the evanescence of such displays. The beauty of the flowers lasts but a few short hours, for tomorrow they are withered and cast with other rubbish into the oven. And our sojourn upon earth is only for a very short span at most-then why be so proud of our clothes, which quickly lose their gloss and shape, soon wear out, and we ourselves cast into the grave?

Not only is a lusting after showy apparel here rebuked, but also anxiety about supplies of necessary clothing. In the opening "wherefore" of verse 30, Christ applies His argument unto His disciples and hearers. He enforces His prohibition in verse 28 by a contrast drawn between men and herbs of the field. The pre-eminence of man over them consists in these things: first, the herbs were made for man's use and not man for them-besides other uses, they serve to act as fuel. Second, the herbs of the field exist today but tomorrow they are not, for being consumed they cease to be. Far otherwise is it with man, for even though his body is reduced to ashes, yet his being is not destroyed by reason of his immortal soul, which though it had a beginning yet never shall have an end. Herein he far excels them: their life arises from the matter whereof they consist and so vanishes with it, but the soul of man is a different substance from his body and perishes not when his body dies.

The vast difference between man and all the lower orders of creatures is clearly intimated by God in connection with their respective creations: God commanded the earth to "bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind" (Genesis 1:11). But when He created man, though He made his body from the dust of the earth, yet his spirit and soul were immediately from his Creator, who "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul" (Genesis 2:7). This pre-eminence of man Christ insisted on when reproving the skeptical and materialistic Sadducees, for He pointed out that God is, "the God of Abraham," whose body had returned to its native dust long before, yet said that, "God is not the God of the dead (that is, of those who had no being at all) but of the living" (Matthew 22:32). Now this superiority of man strongly enforces his duty to depend upon God's care and providence without distracting anxiety, for if the Creator provides such glorious array for the mere herb, surely He will not suffer the nobler creature of His hand to go naked. This is the very conclusion which Christ here draws.

"Therefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall He not much more clothe you? O you of little faith" (Matthew 6:30). Let us observe, first, how the Savior here gave God His proper place and honor: He did not ascribe the loveliness of the lily to an impersonal "Nature" or the outworking of the law of its being, but expressly attributed it unto its Maker-"all the excellencies of the creature flow from God, the Fount and Spring of them" (Matthew Henry). Second, weigh well the "much more." If Jehovah-Jireh supplies such lovely array for so short-lived and comparatively useless creatures as the herbage of the field, most certainly He will not suffer any of His own dear children to lack any good thing. Then how plainly is it their duty to cast all their care upon Him, knowing that He cares for them (1 Peter 5:7). We have a more excellent being than they: we are made for eternity, they for but a few days; we are taken into a closer and dearer relationship to God-His beloved people. Third, ponder well our Lord's rebuke, "O you of little faith," which reveals what is at the bottom of our inordinate care-distrust.

"O you of little faith"--those whom our Lord here chided were disciples, and that for which He reproved them was not a total lack of faith, but for the small measure of it, their distrust being more powerful than their confidence in God's providence. Herein we may see how one Christian differs from another (and how the experience of the same believer varies at different times), for there are some who, like Abraham, are so strong in faith that they rely wholly on God's promise, nothing doubting when appearances are entirely against them (Romans 4:20). But there are others with a faith so weak, so mingled with doubts, that they are like those disciples were at this time. But however weak such faith may be, however excuseless and reprovable, yet the faith itself is a true and saving one, as appears plainly in their case, for in Matthew 6:26 Christ acknowledged these fearing disciples were God's children by calling Him their "heavenly Father."

Let us pause for a moment and point out that such weakness of faith in nowise jeopardizes our salvation, or that because we have more unbelief than faith our unbelief will have more force to condemn than our faith to save. Not so, for we are not saved because of our faith, though we cannot be saved without it. It is not the degree or strength of faith which renders it efficacious, but the clinging to of the right Object. Faith saves (instrumentally) when it lays hold of the mercy of God in Christ, and weak faith may do that just as truly, though not with such assurance and comfort, as a strong faith. The doubting and weakness which is in a "little faith" does not damn us if we bewail it and use the means for strengthening faith. None of God's children have a perfect faith and few of them attain unto the full assurance which Abraham reached. To those of little faith we would say, Though your distrust is a burden and grief to you, comfort yourself with the blessed fact that Christ will not break the bruised reed nor quench the smoking flax (Isaiah 42:3).

The reason why Christ chided His disciples for the littleness of their faith was because they distrusted God for clothing. They were to be blamed for this, for their heavenly Father's care of the least of His creatures should have taught them better. Herein we may see one of the properties of saving faith. It not only lays hold of the mercy of God for the pardon of sins and of everlasting life in Christ, but it also relies on His promises for temporal blessings in this life. Does not the greater include the less: if God gives Christ to him who believes, shall He not also with Him freely give him all things? (Romans 8:32)! All the promises of God are, "Yes and Amen in Christ" (2 Corinthians 1:20), whether they respect eternal life or temporal life. Therefore the same faith which says God will pardon my sins and save my soul for Christ's sake, will also trust Him to provide me with food and clothing while I am left here below.

Noah's heart laid hold of the Divine promise of his preservation in the ark by the same faith whereby he was made "heir of righteousness" (Hebrews 11:7). So, too, Abraham by the same faith whereby he was justified, believed God's promise that he should have a son in his old age (Romans 4:18). Let this point, then, be duly observed and the order remembered wherein faith lays hold of the Divine promises. It first apprehends God's mercy in Christ and then His providential care for us. This is so obvious and simple it should need no laboring. As the Christian expects to be saved by faith after death, so he must live by faith in this world: if we rely on God's mercy for our souls, we will also depend upon Him providing for our body, for how shall we cast ourselves upon God's grace for Heaven if we cannot depend upon His goodness for food and clothing while He leaves us here upon earth?

It is at this point we should make trial of our faith: what sort it is, true or false; and the degree of it, whether it be weak or strong. Christ here plainly intimates that the more distracted we are by worldly cares the less is our belief in and reliance upon God, for distrustful anxiety over temporal things issues from unbelief in Divine providence. Thus it follows that the less we trust God for temporal things, the less do we really believe in His eternal mercies, for the selfsame faith lays hold on both. If we truly depend on God for bodily blessings in the sober use of lawful means, then we shall rest upon Him for the salvation of our souls. Such trial can scarcely be made in prosperity, when we have abundance, but if in the day of adversity we rely upon God, then is our faith genuine. But if instead, we imagine that we shall starve, and hesitate not to steal in order to supply our wants, then we have great reason to suspect that our faith is spurious.

"Therefore take no (anxious) thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed" (Matthew 6:31). Here Christ repeats the commandment which He had given against distrustful care in verse 25. The reasons for this repetition are these. First, to set an edge upon the commandment that so it may more sharply and deeply enter into our hearts, as we pointed out before. Second, to further His disciples in the exercise of faith, for by this often repetition Christ gives them occasion to meditate and think upon this duty the more frequently, whereby their faith must needs be much confirmed. It is most important that we should recognize and understand that in order to obtain or strengthen faith in our hearts, we are not to be mere passive patients, either in the reception or development of it. Increase of faith comes not from God to us as visions did to the Prophets in a dream in the night, or as the print of the seal is set into the wax, but He works this grace in His people in the use of ordinary means.

There are some professing Christians who assume the attitude that they have no responsibility in this matter: that since faith is a supernatural principle, a Divine gift, it lies entirely outside their power and province to do anything in order to obtain an increase thereof. Such fatalistic listlessness, such senseless inertia, is neither honoring to God, nor helpful to themselves. Muscles unused become flabby: faculties never exercised soon lose the strength which they do have. The way to get more faith is to put to work the measure which we already have and to use the means God has appointed. Our duty is to read daily God's Word, to meditate thereon, to strive and lay the Divine promises on our hearts, to urge our souls to believe, to strive and fight against doubting and distrust, to give ourselves to earnest prayer for the working of God's Spirit within us.

Concerning Christ's commandment against distrustful care, we sought to show (when considering verse 25) how far our duty extends in the matter of securing the things needful for this life, and where it must stay. It is to extend itself unto the diligent use of lawful ordinary means to procure things needful, and there stay. There are two dangers against which we need to be constantly on our guard: atheism on the one hand, and fanaticism on the other. We are so prone to fly to extremes that much care is needed in order to strike the happy medium. While diligently using means, they are not to be relied upon to the exclusion of God: His appointment therein is to be recognized and His blessing upon them definitely and humbly sought, for no means will avail us anything except the Lord is pleased to prosper them. The most industrious labors of the farmer will produce no crop unless God sends sunshine and rain, and the most assiduous study of Scripture profits not the soul unless the Holy Spirit sanctifies it unto us.

On the other side, there must be no disdaining of means under the pretense of more fully trusting the Lord. Indolence is disobedience. Scripture says, "if any would not work neither should he eat" (2 Thessalonians 3:10). The farmer who prays and expects God to give him a good harvest, though he has neither plowed nor sowed his fields, would be guilty of the wildest fanaticism. The able-bodied person who is out of employment, and lazily sits down pleading the Divine promises to supply his need instead of going forth to seek work, is tempting God and not trusting Him. When he is ill, it is both the duty and the privilege of the Christian to spread his case before the great Physician, yet if he scorns to use the helps and remedies which Divine providence sets before him, he acts presumptuously and not in faith. The parent who fails to train and teach his child as the Lord enjoins, counting on Divine election to save him, is making an evil use of that precious truth.

Our duty in regard to the obtaining of temporal supplies is fully discharged when we have diligently put forth honest endeavors, used all lawful means, and humbly sought God's blessing thereon. Self-effort is then to give place to the exercise of faith, trustfully waiting upon Divine providence to prosper our endeavors. It is corroding care and distrustful anxiety that distracts the heart which Christ here forbids, and which is a spiritual disease infecting the souls of the vast majority of our fellows. As to how far the reader may be affected by this evil can be ascertained by sincerely testing himself at these points: what is it which often breaks in upon your rest so that you cannot sleep peacefully? What is it that first comes into your mind when you awake? What principally engages your thoughts throughout the day? What is it over which you take the greatest pains and which gives you most delight when you are successful? If it is the things of this world, then distrustful care infests your soul and must be striven against.

In closing, let us observe how Christ here describes this unlawful anxiety by the effects it produces in distrustful persons. That there may be no mistaking this God-dishonoring and soul-paralyzing disease, the great Physician has plainly described its symptoms. It causes its victims to ask, "What shall we eat?" or "What shall we drink?" or "With what shall we be clothed?" These are the very complaints they make when losses are encountered, adversities befall them, supplies are apparently cut off. When those whose confidence and reliance is not in the living God lose their job, or their investments miscarry, or they are stricken with a disease which incapacitates their body, they at once cry out, What will become of us? How shall we exist? It is this which Christ is here rebuking: those unbelieving utterances (for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks!) which denote we have no faith in God's goodness and distrust His care of us. The Christian must fight against such evil thoughts and murmuring complaints, laying fresh hold on the Divine promises and assuring himself that the "Lord will provide."

 

19. Anxiety Forbidden: Matthew 6:32, 33.

Let us summarize the verses which have already been before us in that section of our Lord's Address which is completed at the end of Matthew 6. In verses 19-24 Christ forbade the practice of covetousness, and in what follows He struck at the root from which that sin proceeds, namely, distrust and excessive care for the things of this life. First, He tells us that such worry is needless: the bounty of God assuring supplies (v. 25). Creation is a pledge of our preservation: He who gives life will maintain it, He who provides a body will not deny it food and clothing. Second, He shows us that such worry is senseless: the providence of God unto inferior creatures evidencing it (v. 26). If God provides for the birds of the air, will He suffer His own children to starve? Third, He proves it is useless: the impotency of man demonstrating it (v. 27)-since no anxiety or industry of ours can increase our stature, much less can worrying improve our earthly estate. Fourth, He announces it is faithless (vv. 28-30). Since God clothes the herbs of the field, will He suffer His dear people to lack suitable covering?

None but the Divine Physician could have opened up so impressively the hideous nature of this disease. In that Divine diagnosis we are given to behold the excuselessness and the heinousness of this sin which is so prevalent among professing Christians. Distressing ourselves over the obtaining of future supplies, worrying in connection with securing the necessities of temporal life-so far from being a trivial infirmity which we need not take seriously to heart-is a sin of the deepest dye which should humble us into the dust before God. Worrying over tomorrow's food and clothing is needless, useless, senseless, faithless, and therefore it is utterly excuseless. Then surely we should make conscience of it, confess it contritely before God, and seek from Him grace to mortify it. That which was spoken by Christ on the Mount is addressed unto us today: O that we may be given ears to hear and hearts to improve the same!

"For after all these things do the Gentiles seek: for your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things" (v. 32). In these words our Lord advances two additional reasons why His people should not be unduly solicitous about temporal supplies. First, because such anxieties are heathenish. This will appear more evident to the ordinary reader when we point out that the Greek word which is here rendered "Gentiles" is translated "heathen" in Acts 4:25, Galatians 1:16, etc. At the time Christ made this statement, the "Gentiles" were without any written revelation from God and were in complete spiritual darkness. In consequence, they had the most erroneous ideas of the Divine character and government. Many of them believed that all things were fixed by a blind and inexorable fate, while others went to an opposite extreme, supposing that nothing was predetermined, but that everything was left to capricious chance. Such are the philosophisings of man's much-vaunted reason when unillumined by the Spirit of Truth.

The concepts which the "Gentiles" formed of their "gods" were such that they could have no trust in them. So far from regarding their "gods" as beings of benevolence who regarded their devotees with compassion, they were looked upon as objects of dread, whose favor could only be purchased by the most costly of offerings (appropriated by the priests) and whose ire had to be placated by human sacrifices. Of a future life beyond this valley of tears the heathen had but the vaguest and gloomiest ideas. Consequently this world meant everything to them, and therefore their whole thought was directed and their energy devoted to the obtaining of its necessities and comforts, making such their chief good. Their ambition rose no higher than to eat and drink, to have sufficient material things and make merry therewith. And those of them who possessed little of this world-and only a very small number had much-were weighed down with worry as to how soon their slender resources might completely fail them.

"For after all these things do the Gentiles seek" (Matthew 6:32). It should be pointed out that the word in the original whereby Christ described the behavior of the heathen is more emphatic than our translation intimates, denoting that they "set themselves to seek" or "seek with all their might." This is a detail of some importance, for the mere or simple seeking of things necessary for our welfare is a duty, but when we give ourselves wholly to the quest thereof it is a sin, for it proceeds from distrust of God. And this was precisely the case of the Gentiles at that time: they were without the knowledge of the true God, had not His Word and were ignorant of His providences. How vastly and how radically different is the case of the Christian! God is revealed to him in Christ, a written revelation from Him is in his hands assuring him of the supply of all his need. How shameful then, how wicked, for a child of God to come down to the level of the heathen, as he does when worry possesses his heart.

The force of our Lord's argument (that it is an argument or dissuasive is clear from its opening "for") will probably be more apparent if we paraphrase it thus: because on all these things do worldlings set their hearts-in the parallel passage it reads, "For all these things do the nations of the world seek after" (Luke 12:30). How utterly unworthy for a Christian to be regulated by a mode of thinking and acting such as governs the godless, to descend to the level of the unregenerate. Yet alas, how many of those now bearing the name of Christ do this very thing. How grossly materialistic is this twentieth century. How close is the resemblance between what men call "Christian civilization" and the conditions which obtained in the degenerate empires of ancient Greece and Rome. Human nature is the same in every age, the same the world over, and will inevitably remain so except where the Holy Spirit is pleased to work in His transforming power.

"Solicitude for the future is nothing more than worldly mindedness. The heathen tendency in us all leads to an over-estimate of material good, and it is a question of circumstances whether that shall show itself in heaping up earthly treasures, or in anxious care. They are the same plant, only the one is growing in the tropics of sunny prosperity, and the other in the Arctic zone of chill destitution. The one is the sin of the worldly-minded rich man, and the other is the sin of the worldly-minded poor man. The character is the same turned inside out! And therefore, the words 'you cannot serve God and Mammon,' stand in this chapter in the center between our Lord's warning against laying up treasures on earth, and His warnings against being full of cares for earth. He would show us thereby that these two apparently opposite states of mind in reality spring from one root, and are equally, though differently, 'serving Mammon.' We do not sufficiently reflect upon that" (A. Maclaren).

There are some who seek to excuse their anxiety and worrying by saying it is the result of temperament or circumstances. Even so, that does not lessen their sin. Divine grace teaches its possessor to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts (Titus 2:12) and lifts him above circumstances (Philippians 4:11). The fact is that those who do not trust in God's goodness and count not upon His faithfulness to supply all their needs are pagans, no matter what may be their profession. Pagans believe not in Divine providence, and so rely upon the means, trusting wholly in their own efforts and endeavors, and so make themselves their own God. The real reason why empty professors are so anxious about the things of this life and so troubled over future supplies is that their hearts are earthbound and their desires heathenish. A worldling is one whose anxieties and joys are both confined within the narrow sphere of the material and the visible-take that from him, and he has nothing left.

Observe now the ground on which this argument of dissuasive rests. Real Christians have the true God for their God which the heathens have not, and therefore they must differ from them in their behavior. God clothed the grass of the field (Matthew 6:30)-yes, with a verdure and beauty exceeding that of Solomon's royal robes-"therefore take no anxious thought, saying (unbelievingly and petulantly) What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? Or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed" (v. 31). "For after all these things do the Gentiles seek," and you must not be like they are. In all things the children of God should differ from the heathen. "They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world" said Christ (John 17:14), and as He evidenced His separation from and unlikeness to it, so must we. "Be not conformed to this world. but be you transformed by the renewing of your minds" (Romans 12:2). Sons of the King of Heaven are not to conduct themselves like beggars.

"For your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things" (Matthew 6:32). Here is still another reason, the most powerful of all, for delivering believers from distressing fears and God-dishonoring anxieties about future supplies. "Your heavenly Father" is set over against the inanimate and impotent "gods" of the heathen: His knowledge or tender solicitude, against their ignorance and lack of concern. The poor pagans might well say, If we are not wholly taken up with seeking after the necessities and comforts of this life, then pray who will provide them? But it is far otherwise with the Christian. The One who made Heaven and earth sustains to him the relation of a heavenly Father: "Like as a father pities his children, so the LORD pities them that fear Him" (Psalm 103:13). He knows what I have need, and will not deny it to me. "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in Heaven give good things to them that ask Him" (Matthew 7:11). The believer need trouble himself no further than to soberly use all lawful means, calmly and confidently counting on God to bless the same: God will provide what is needful for him and therefore he need not vex his mind about it.

Let it be duly noted that Christ here repeats the note which He had struck in Matthew 6:26-"your heavenly Father feeds them." If He provides for such inferior creatures as the birds of the air, will He suffer the members of His own family to want? He is their Creator and so bountifully supplies their need; but He is the Christian's Father and will not forget His own child. Here is double armor against the arrows of anxiety: the intimate relation which the great God sustains to His people, and the assurance that His knowledge to them is equal to His love for them. The children of this world are indeed tormented with anxiety as to how tomorrow's supplies will be obtained. Nor is it at all strange that they should be bowed down with such cares, for they have no heavenly Father to whose infinite love and faithfulness they may commit themselves. Consequently in this argument Christ is putting His disciples to the proof, as to whether or not the relation which God sustains to them is actual and counts for anything, or whether it is mere theory and lip profession.

All distrustful anxiety about the supplies of things needful proceeds on the assumption that God either does not know our wants or that He cares not for us, which is precisely the attitude of the worldling. But with the Christian it is very different. He has the realization that "He who spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:32). He is assured from Holy Writ of God's special providence over him, taking notice of his case, whatever it may be, and making all things work together for his good. From this assurance he must learn to practice contentment: depending upon God by simple faith and trustfully leaving himself and all his interests in His gracious hands. This contentment or acquiescence in the Divine will is to be practiced in sickness as well as in health, under trials as well as blessings, in adversity as in prosperity, realizing that whatever may be our circumstances they are according to the good pleasure of our heavenly Father, who is infinite in power and wisdom.

"But seek you first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matthew 6:33). In these words Christ makes known the great counter argument and remedy for covetousness. As in the previous verses He had been striking at the root from which that sin proceeds, namely, distrust of God and excessive care for the things of this life-so here He reveals the effectual specific, that is, making the things of God our paramount concern. "It is of no use only to tell men that they ought to trust, that the birds of the air might teach them to trust, that the flowers of the field might preach resignation and confidence to them. It is no use to attempt to scold them into trust, by telling them that distrust is heathenish. You must fill the heart with a supreme and transcendent desire after the one supreme Object; and then there will be no room and leisure left for the anxious care after the lesser. Have inwrought into your being, Christian man, the opposite of that heathen over-regard for earthly things" (A. Maclaren).

The renowned Thomas Chalmers was the author of that impressive expression, "The expulsive power of a new affection." God and the world, Christ and Belial, cannot possess the soul of the same person. When the love of God is shed abroad in the heart the love of the world is cast out: "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away, behold all things are become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17). Man is constituted that he cannot be devoted to two different and diverse objects at one and the same time: it is utterly impossible for him to serve two masters-God and Mammon. Let his affections be set upon things above and they will be detached from thing's below. The more real and blessed (by the exercise of faith) become the former, the less attractive will appear and the less hold upon will the latter have. The best way to get a child to drop a filthy or dangerous object is to offer it another one more satisfying. If the horse cannot be induced to trod, turn his face homewards and it will quickly improve its speed.

Having by one argument after another dissuaded His disciples from distrustful care, Christ now shows them what that care is which ought always to possess their hearts: to wit, care of the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Three questions at once suggest themselves to us. First, what is denoted by those particular terms? Second, what is imported and included in our "seeking" after "the kingdom of God and His righteousness." Third, what is meant and included by the word, "first"? Most of the commentators regard "the kingdom of God and His righteousness" as a comprehensive expression for Divine things in general. Thus Matthew Henry says, "It is the sum and substance of our whole duty." Thomas Scott gives, "The blessings of the Messiah's kingdom, the righteousness in which His objects are justified, the grace by which they are sanctified and the good works in which they are to walk." To us it appears that such definitions are too brief and too vague to convey any distinct concepts to the mind, and therefore we shall endeavor to canvass them more closely.

Among dispensationalists the grossest conceptions have obtained concerning "the Kingdom": they have literalized what is figurative and carnalized what is spiritual. Strictly speaking, the Greek word "basileia" has reference to sovereignty rather than to territory; to dominion, rather than a geographical sphere. The "kingdom of God" signifies the rule of God and therefore, in its widest latitude, takes in the entire universe, for the Ruler of Heaven and earth governs all creatures and things: angels and demons, men, elect and reprobate, animals and fishes, planets and the elements. "Your, O LORD, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the Heaven and in the earth is Your; Your is the kingdom, O LORD, and You are exalted as Head above all" (1 Chronicles 29:11). And again--"The LORD has prepared His throne in the heavens, and His kingdom rules over all" (Psalm 103:19). Rightly did one of the Puritans affirm, "There is no such monarch as God is, for largeness of empire, for absoluteness of power, and sublimity of His throne." By some, this aspect of it has been designated "the Kingdom of Providence."

In its more contracted sense, "the kingdom of God" has reference to a certain order and estate of men, namely, those who profess to be in subjection unto the rule of God, who avow their allegiance to Him. As the "kingdom" of Satan (Matthew 12:26) is found wherever we meet with those in whom the Prince of the power of the air "now works" (Ephesians 2:2), so the kingdom of God exists wherever there are those in whose hearts He reigns. This aspect of it is denominated "the kingdom of Grace." As such it is to be considered two ways: as externally administered, and as internally received. Its external administration consists of the ordinances and means of grace and the outward profession men make thereunto-hence in the parables of the kingdom, Christ pictures tares as well as wheat, bad fish as well as good-being included therein. When He said to the Jews, "The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof" (Matthew 21:43), Christ had reference to the external privileges of the means of grace. As internally received, the kingdom of God consists in Divine grace ruling in the hearts of His elect so that they are brought to submit themselves unto the obedience of Christ. It is this aspect of the kingdom which is in view in Matthew 6:33.

 

19. Anxiety Forbidden: Matthew 6:33, 34.

"But seek you first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you" (v. 33). The heathen set their hearts upon material necessities and comforts: be not you like unto them, says Christ-let a nobler, more essential and infinitely more satisfying object engage your attention and energies. If God is given His proper place in your hearts and lives you will not be the losers even in this world, yes, only thus will you be able to form a true estimate of the things of time and sense. Ah, my reader, it is failure to make Himself our portion which renders us troubled about many things. Where there is the blessed realization that God is for us, that He is all-sufficient, a spirit of contentment and rest floods the soul. Nothing but the love of God shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Spirit will cast out dark and dismal forebodings. Where faith is in exercise and there is conscious communion with God, anxiety cannot cast us down.

By the "kingdom of God" is here meant a state or condition of men in this life, a state whereby they enjoy through Christ the favor of God and a title to everlasting felicity and glory. It is thus designated because God rules in them as a king rules in his kingdom. The words "and His righteousness" are added by way of explanation, that we may know for ourselves when we have obtained this grand object: God's kingdom stands in righteousness, as it is written, "The kingdom of God is not meat and drink (material things); but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17). Now by "the righteousness of God" we are to understand two things: an imputed righteousness and an imparted righteousness, one which is placed to our account or credit and one which is communicated to our souls. The former or imputed righteousness is that perfect obedience which Christ rendered to the Law of God, which is legally reckoned to each one who believes in Him. As it is written, "Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe," and again, "If by one man's offense death reigned by one, much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ" (Romans 3:22; 5:17). Therefore may the Christian exclaim, "I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness" (Isaiah 61:10).

And how is anyone to know when the perfect obedience of Christ has been made over to him, so that he stands justified before God, the Law no longer able to prefer a single charge against him? Answer: by that which ever accompanies it: imputed righteousness is made known by imparted righteousness, justification is never separated from sanctification, both arising out of regeneration. All who are justified by Christ's obedience are sanctified by the Holy Spirit that henceforth they may walk in good works. "That you put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness" (Ephesians 4:24). The reference is to the new birth, whereby a new nature or principle is supernaturally communicated to the soul, a principle whose character and element is righteousness and true holiness, in contrast from the character and element of the corrupt principle of flesh which is sin and wickedness. This "new man" which is created (by God) in righteousness, believers are exhorted to "put on," that is, make evident display before the world-let it appear you are the children of God by your character and conduct. Therefore do we read "everyone that does righteousness is born of Him" (1 John 2:29).

Now this kingdom and righteousness of God, Christ here calls upon men to "seek." As we pointed out in the previous verse, the word is a very emphatic one, signifying to "set ourselves to seek" or "seek with all our might." We all know how worldlings seek after the things of time and sense: not reluctantly but heartily, not perfunctorily but earnestly, not spasmodically but constantly, not carelessly but diligently. In such a manner and in such a spirit are the things pertaining to our eternal welfare to be sought. God has nowhere promised that those who seek Him indolently and indifferently shall find Him: rather has He declared, "You shall seek Me, and find Me, when you shall search for Me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13). So that there might be no misunderstanding of His meaning, Christ added, "seek you first the kingdom of God and His righteousness," by which He meant seek it chiefly, principally, above all other things in this world. Let your paramount concern be to enter into that estate whereby you may enjoy God's favor through Christ-justified by His obedience and sanctified by His Spirit.

From this command of Christ's it is evident that by nature we are all of us outside of God's kingdom and destitute of His favor, otherwise we should not be bidden to seek them. We were in fact, during our unregeneracy, under the power of Satan and in his kingdom of darkness. The devil is called "the Prince of this world" (John 12:31) and "the God of this world" (2 Corinthians 4:4), because all the world are his vassals, yielding him homage in the works of sin, and therefore is he also designated "the Prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience" (Ephesians 2:2). And how justly has this misery come upon men: seeing they refuse to yield submission to the scepter of God they are righteously left to the power of the devil, to be made his slaves and drudges. That the unregenerate are outside the kingdom of God is very plain from the course of their lives, for to the Almighty they say, "Depart from us, we desire not the knowledge of Your ways" (Job 21:14).

But now the important question arises, How shall those who are by nature outside of God's kingdom and destitute of His righteousness seek an entrance into the one and an interest in the other? To this a threefold answer may be returned. First, we must go to the place where the kingdom of God is to be found. Second, we must then enter into it. Third, we must wait for the full possession of it. For the first: this kingdom of God is not to be found everywhere, but only where God is pleased to manifest and reveal the same unto the sons of men. It is made known in the Holy Scriptures, and therefore are they called "The Word of the Kingdom" (Matthew 13:19), and hence it is to the Volume of Inspiration we must turn, humbly seeking instruction from the Holy Spirit. But since it has pleased God to call and equip His own servants to expound His Word, we should frequent the assemblies of His saints (where such are to be found), for it is there (in normal times) the Evangel of His salvation is proclaimed, and that Evangel is termed "the Gospel of the Kingdom" (Matthew 4:23 and cf. Acts 28:31).

Second, when we have found this kingdom, that is, when it has been clearly revealed to us as set forth in the Word of Truth-whether through the instrumentality of preachers or not-we must seek to enter into it. It is not sufficient for us to be where it is or have it presented to our view, for Christ said to the Pharisees, "the kingdom of God is come unto you" (Luke 11:20), yet He declared of them, "you neither go in yourselves, neither suffer you them that are entering to go in" (Matthew 23:13). Now it is to be pointed out that none can enter God's kingdom of themselves, without the special work of the Holy Spirit. This is plain from those words of Christ's, "except you be converted and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of Heaven" (Matthew 18:3). Since conversion (a right-about-face, the heart and life being turned from the world unto God) is a fruit or consequence of regeneration, we must first be born of the Spirit. "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). This is rarely insisted upon today, yes the very reverse is inculcated, for sinners are given to suppose that salvation lies wholly within their own power, that they can turn unto God whenever they are pleased to do so.

Now regeneration is a renewal of the soul, a rectifying of its facilities-a work of grace is then begun and continued throughout the whole process of sanctification, which is consummated in Glory. At conversion, which follows upon and may be termed the reflex action of regeneration, the image of Satan in sin and corruption was thrown down (not expelled, still less annihilated) and the image of God renewed in the soul, in knowledge, righteousness and true holiness. At conversion the proud heart of man is humbled, so that instead of continuing to conduct himself as a "God"-independent and self-sufficient-he becomes as "a little child"-tractable, teachable, meek and lowly. In conversion we renounce our own lordship and submit, voluntarily and gladly, to the rule of God, subjecting ourselves to His holy will. In conversion we repudiate the filthy rags of our own self-righteousness, and put our trust in the perfect obedience and blood of Christ. Thus, experimentally we enter into the favor and kingdom of God and an interest in His righteousness is obtained by repentance and faith, by forsaking sin and the world, taking upon us the yoke of Christ and learning of Him, endeavoring to follow the example He has left us.

Third, we must then wait for the full fruition or possession of it. Above we pointed out the distinction which exists between the Divine kingdom of Providence and the kingdom of Grace: the former taking in the entire universe, the latter being internally received by the elect only, in whose hearts and lives God rules by His Spirit. We must now call attention to the difference between the kingdom of Grace and the kingdom of Glory, the latter consisting of two degrees. The kingdom of Grace is entered the moment a soul is born again, the kingdom of Glory is entered by the believer upon his removal to Heaven at the moment of death. It was to this aspect of it the Apostle referred when he said, "the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto His Heavenly kingdom" (2 Timothy 4:18). Heaven is the upper compartment of the kingdom of Grace, for it is there Christ reigns supreme in the spirits of just men made perfect-perfectly freed from sin, and admitted into the clear and open vision of God, though their bodies remain in the grave awaiting their redemption.

But the believer's entrance into Heaven at the moment of death-blessed unspeakably blessed moment!-is but the kingdom of Glory begun. It is not the ideal and ultimate state, for not only does he lack his glorified body, but the Church is not yet complete-Christ is still waiting until His enemies be made His footstool-waiting to see of the full travail of His soul. When the morning of the resurrection breaks, that "morning without clouds," the last enemy shall be destroyed, mortality shall be swallowed up of life, and Christ shall "change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able to subdue all things unto Himself" (Philippians 3:21). Then shall the Redeemer say unto all His redeemed, "Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 25:34). It is to this final phase of the Kingdom that the following refers: "give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if you do these things, you shall never fall: for so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the Everlasting Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:10, 11).

In the meantime, he who has entered the kingdom of grace is left in this world, that he may be a monument of God's sovereign mercy, that he may give evidence of the transforming power of Divine grace, that he may bring forth the fruits of regeneration. He is still left in the Enemy's country, surrounded by those who seek his destruction and carrying a traitor within his own breast. He needs therefore to walk with the utmost caution and circumspection, availing himself of all appointed means of grace. He must spare no pains to keep faith and a good conscience, walking in righteousness and true holiness before God, and in the practice of love, uprightness and mercy toward his fellows. When the question is asked, "Lord, who shall abide in Your tabernacle? who shall dwell in Your Holy Hill?" that is, who shall enter Heaven-the inspired answer is, "He who walks uprightly, and works righteousness, and speaks the truth in his heart" (Psalm 15:2). Herein we testify that we have entered the kingdom of Grace, which stands in "righteousness," and are on our way to the kingdom of Glory.

It now remains for us to say a few words on "seek you first the kingdom of God and His righteousness." This means let the things of God and your own eternal interests have the chief place in your thoughts and desires, making the glory of God and your own spiritual blessing your paramount concern. It is not that we are required to seek them solely and exclusively to the neglect of temporal duties and responsibilities, but that we must put first things first, and not suffer them to be crowded out by matters of far less importance. Seek them first in time, for the Divine promise is, "those that seek Me early shall find Me" (Proverbs 8:17). Seek them first each day, for only as holy happiness be our quest are we fitted to bear bodily trials and afflictions. And after you have, by repentance and faith, by complete surrender to the authority of God, entered His kingdom of grace and righteousness, continue to seek for the evidence of your regeneration, endeavor after closer conformity to the image of Christ and the example He has left us, and strive after more fruitfulness. Seek after an enlargement of His kingdom, by praying for God's blessing on His Word, that He will raise up and thrust forth more laborers into His vineyard, and seek to encourage and help your fellow-citizens in that kingdom.

We turn now to look at the reason by which Christ enforces this command: "and all these things shall be added unto you." Here is a grand and glorious promise! In the previous verses our Lord had used one argument after another to show the needlessness and folly of worrying, calling attention to a variety of facts and drawing from them irrefutable conclusions to evidence the sin of distrusting God. But here He makes a plain and positive declaration, assuring us that if we are truly concerned about God's interests He will take care of ours-that if the Divine glory is our principal aim we shall not be the losers temporarily. If God is leading us to Heaven, He certainly will not deny us such things as bodily sustenance and clothing. "For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly" (Psalm 84:11): where He gives "grace and glory" He will not withhold the good things of this life. "Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come" (1 Timothy 4:8).

"And all these things shall be added unto you" (Matthew 6:33). This phrase is very significant in the original. It is taken from a custom which obtained between buyers and sellers when things were sold by measure: the seller adding an extra quantity or overage so as to ensure good weight and please his customer. Even so the Lord promises to those who truly seek His kingdom and righteousness that besides the happy fruition thereof, He will (as it were) throw in for nothing, add for good measure, all the material things needful to this life. We read that, "the ark of the LORD continued in the house of Obededorn the Gittite three months: and the LORD blessed Obed Edom and all his household" (2 Samuel 6:11): how much more will He bless those who receive His Spirit to rule in their hearts! Should it be asked, Why then are any of God's children reduced to destitution? Sometimes to correct them for their sins; sometimes to exercise their faith in the trial of patience. All promises of temporal blessings must always be understood with this qualification: so far as God sees that such bestowments will be for His glory and our highest good.

But let it not be forgotten that the above guarantee is given only to those who meet its stipulation. Which, then, are we seeking first: earthly or heavenly things, the things of self or of God, making good in this world, or making sure of an entrance into Heaven? "It is startling to see the tide of worldliness rising fast among Christians almost everywhere, with a corresponding ebb in the desire for spiritual prosperity; on all hands there are abounding symptoms of spiritual decay, which it is to be feared will be followed by increasing ambition for fleshly advantage. Our Master's question may well ring in our ears and consciences today: 'What do you more than others?' Not what know you more than others? We may pride ourselves on knowing the things of God, which the poor worldling cannot possibly perceive. But as we spend all our energies, crowd our minds, engage our affections, and tax our wits for present worldly advantage, do not the men of this world the same? If we content ourselves with just the Lord's Day observances and meetings, do not religious worldlings the same? If we do not bring forth the fruit of the Spirit in a godly walk, in faithful testimony, and devoted service, what do we more than others? The most convincing book to the worldling is our manner of living, but if, withal, we are as hard in our dealing, as keen for selfish gains, as inconsiderate for others' rights in our bargains, as shrewd and tricky in running our business as the most wide-awake worldling, he will not believe the book, for its author is a living contradiction" (E. Venn, 1901).

In view of what Christ said in Matthew 6:33 we may perceive the mad course which is followed by the vast majority of our fellow-men, for they either utterly neglect or only half-heartedly set their affection on the things of God, principally addicting themselves to the things of this life. They take little or no serious thought for the eternal state of their souls, but spend their time and strength in providing for their bodies, which is to grasp at the shadow and ignore the substance. That verse also teaches the Christian with what mind or spirit he should seek temporal blessings, namely, with the same honesty and prayerfulness with which he seeks the kingdom of God, for they are but attractions thereunto and depend upon it, and therefore with an upright heart we must only use lawful means moderately for the getting of them. So also this verse instructs us in the right end whereunto we must use temporal mercies, namely for the furtherance of ourselves and others towards the kingdom of God. Since temporal blessings are dependent on God's kingdom, we must learn contentment in all temporal losses: God's favor remains though worldly goods be gone.

"Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof" (Matthew 6:34). By "tomorrow" is here meant the future. In the second half of this verse Christ answers a question which might be evoked by His prohibition in the first: If we must not look forward anxiously, how will it fare with us in the time to come? First, you may be wasting your last hours on earth in fretting over a morrow you may never see! But second, if you are preserved unto the morrow it will bring with it tomorrow's God, and He has promised-1 Corinthians 10:13! Third, what good can your worrying do? It does not empty tomorrow of its trials, but it empties today of its strength and comfort; it does not enable you to escape future trouble, but it unfits you to cope with it when it does come. Fourth, instead of anticipating future evil, discharge present duty-in the spirit of Philippians 4:6, 7. Cross not your bridges before you come to them, but cheerfully shoulder the burden of today and trustfully leave the future to God.

 

20. Unlawful Judgment: Matthew 7:1.

The verses at which we have now arrived begin a new section of our Lord's Sermon, and that it is by no means one of the simplest appears from the diverse treatment which it has received at the hands of the commentators. They are almost unanimous in allowing that our Lord's prohibition, "Judge not" cannot be understood in its widest possible latitude, yet as to how far and wherein it is to be modified there is little agreement. That Christ's forbidding us to exercise and pass judgment upon others cannot be taken absolutely few if any who are acquainted with the general tenor of God's Word would deny, yet as soon as they attempted to define its limitations a considerable variety of opinion would be expressed. This should at once warn us against coming to any hasty conclusion as to the meaning of Matthew 7:1 and guard us against being misled by the mere sound of its words. Yes, it should drive us to our knees, begging God to graciously subdue the prejudices of our hearts and enlighten our minds, and then diligently search the Scriptures for other passages which throw light upon the one now before us.

It is very necessary for our own personal good that we spare no pains in endeavoring to arrive at a right understanding of these verses, for it is to our own loss if we misapprehend any portion of Holy Writ. It will be to our own condemnation if we transgress this Divine Commandment, for unless its meaning is opened unto us we shall be at a loss to repel those who would bring us into bondage by the corrupt use they make of it. There are few verses quoted more frequently than the opening one of Matthew 7, and few less understood by those who are so ready to cite it and hurl it at the heads of those whom they ignorantly or maliciously suppose are contravening it. Let the servant of God denounce a man who is promulgating serious error, and there are those-boasting of their broad-mindedness-who will say to him, "judge not, that you be not judged." Let the saint faithfully rebuke an offender for some sin, and he is likely to have the same text quoted against him.

"Judge not, that you be not judged." The word which is here rendered "judge" is one that occurs frequently in the New Testament, and it is used in quite a variety of senses. It is the one found in, "I speak as to wise men: judge you what I say" (1 Corinthians 10:15), and in, "judge in yourselves: is it lovely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?" (1 Corinthians 11:13), where "judge" means weigh carefully and form an opinion or consideration. It occurs in "you (Simon, whom Christ asked "which of them will love Him most?") have rightly judged" (Luke 7:43), where it signifies inferred or drawn a conclusion. It occurs in, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord" (Acts 16:15), that is, if you regard or account me so. "Take you Him and judge Him according to your law" (John 18:31) means, "put Him on trial before your court." In Romans 14:3, "judge" has the force of despise, as is clear from the first member of the antithesis. "Does our law judge any man before it hear him?" (John 7:51), where "judge" signifies condemn-its most common signification. Which or how many of these meanings the word "judge" has in our text must be carefully ascertained and not hastily or arbitrarily assumed.

Now the first thing to do when prayerfully studying a passage on which opinions vary is to examine its context, first its remote and then the immediate. In this instance the "remote" would be the particular portion of the Word in which it occurs, namely, the Sermon on the Mount. As we pass from one section to another in this Sermon it is very important that we bear in mind our Lord's dominant object and design therein, which was to show that He requires in the character and conduct of His disciples something radically different from and far superior to that religion which obtained among the Jews, the highest form of which they regarded the scribes and Pharisees as possessing. The keynote was struck by Christ when He told His hearers, "except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of Heaven" (Matthew 5:20). That which precedes and all that follows to the end of His discourse is to be pondered and interpreted in the light of that statement.

Earlier we called attention frequently to what has last been pointed out, and it must not be lost sight of as we enter upon the present division of our Lord's address. That which pre-eminently characterized the Pharisees was the very high regard which they had for themselves and the utter contempt in which they held all who belonged not to their sect. This is evident from the words of Christ in Luke 18:9 where we are told, "He spoke this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others"-in what immediately follows we have contrasted the Pharisee and the Publican. The Pharisees took it upon them to go up and down passing censorious and unjust judgment upon others, while blind to their own glaring faults. The disciple of Christ is to conduct himself in a manner exactly the reverse: unsparingly judging himself and refusing to invade the office of God where others are concerned.

The "more immediate context" of Matthew 7:1 is the verses which follow it. In order to obtain a right understanding of verse 1 it is important to recognize that the next four verses are inseparably connected with it, that the five together form one complete section treating of the same subject. The contents of verse 2 show plainly that we have a continuation of the theme of verse 1, while the "and" at the beginning of verse 3 and the "or" at the beginning of verse 4 denote the same thing, while verse 5 contains our Lord's application of the whole. The value of preserving the link between the later verses with the opening one lies in noting the threefold mention of "your brother" in 3, 4, and 5 and in observing what is there said of his state and the state of the one who takes him to task. If these details be kept in mind we shall be preserved from making an erroneous interpretation and application of verse 1. As we must not too much anticipate what is to come, we will leave these suggestions with the reader for him to ponder.

After carefully weighing both the remote and immediate context of our verse, our next task is to search the Scriptures for all other passages treating of or bearing upon the subject of judging others. It is most essential that we should do so if we are to be preserved from many erroneous ideas. Some statements of Holy Writ are presented in a very terse and contracted form, but elsewhere they are amplified and filled out: others are expressed in seemingly absolute terms, but elsewhere are modified and qualified. As an illustration of the latter, take the Fourth Commandment. The Sabbath day is to be kept holy: "in it you shall not do any work," yet from the teachings of Christ we know that works of piety, of mercy, and of necessity are lawful on that day. So it is with our present text: unless we are very careful in our interpretation of it we shall prohibit what is elsewhere required, and be found censuring that which other passages commend.

"The capacity of judging, of forming an estimate and opinion, is one of our most valuable facilities and the right use of it one of our most important duties. 'Why even of yourselves judge you not what is right?' (Luke 12:57) says our Lord; 'judge righteous judgment' (John 7:24). If we do not form judgments as to what is true and false, how can we embrace the one and avoid the other?" (John Brown). It is very necessary that we have our "senses exercised to discern (Greek "thoroughly judge") both good and evil" (Hebrews 5:14) if we are not to be deceived by appearances and taken in by every oily-mouthed impostor we encounter. It must not be thought that our Lord here forbade us to act according to the dictates of common prudence and to form an estimate of everything we meet with in the path of duty, nor even that He prohibited us from judging men's characters and actions according to their avowed principles and visible conduct, for in this very chapter He bids us measure men by this rule, saying, "by their fruits you shall know them" (v. 20), and many duties to others absolutely require us to form a judgment of men, both with respect to their state and their conduct.

Unless we form estimates and come to a decision of what is good and evil in those we meet with we shall be found rejecting the one and condoning the other. "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves" (Matthew 7:15): how shall we heed this injunction unless we carefully measure every preacher we hear by the Word of God? "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them" (Ephesians 5:11): in order to obey this we are obliged to exercise a judgment as to what are "works of darkness." "We command you brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw yourselves from every brother that walks disorderly" (2 Thessalonians 3:6). This compels us to decide who is "walking disorderly." "Mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which you have learned, and avoid them" (Romans 16:17). This requires us to determine who is guilty of such things. Thus it is abundantly clear that our Lord's prohibition in Matthew 7:1 is by no means to be taken absolutely.

There are four kinds of judging which are lawful and required by the Word: two public and two private. First, ecclesiastical judgment. This belongs chiefly to the minister, who in preaching God's Word judges men by admonishing their sins, and in his private dealings he must be faithful to their souls and rebuke where necessary. The judgment of the church is exercised when it decides upon the credibility of the profession of one applying for membership. So, too, in the maintenance of discipline and exclusion of those who refuse to heed its reproofs. Second, civil government. This pertains to the magistrate, whose office it is to examine those charged with criminal offenses, giving judgment according to the laws of the land, acquitting the innocent, sentencing those proven guilty. Legitimate private judgment is first where one man in a Christian manner reprehends another for his sins, which is required by the Lord (Leviticus 19:17). Second, where the grosser faults of notorious offenders are condemned and others informed thereof that they may be warned against them.

"Judge not." That which is here forbidden is unlawful judging of our fellows, of which we will instance a variety of cases. First, officiously or magisterially, which lies outside the prerogative of the private individual: this is assuming such an authority over others as we would not allow them to exercise over us, since our rule is to be "subject one to another and be clothed with humility" (1 Peter 5:5). We are requited both by the law of nature (which includes rationality and prudence) and the Scriptures to judge of things, and persons, too, as we meet them in the sphere of duty-but to judge whatever lies outside of our path and province is forbidden. "Study to be quiet and to do your own business" (1 Thessalonians 4:11): if we give full and proper heed to this Divine precept we shall have little or no leisure left to pry into the affairs of others. That which our text prohibits is the passing beyond our legitimate sphere, the taking upon us to judge that which is not set before us for judgment, intruding into the circle of others: "let none of you suffer . . . in other men's matters" (1 Peter 4:15).

Second, "judge not" presumptuously, which is done when we treat mere suspicions or unconfirmed rumors as though they were authenticated facts, and when we ascribe actions to springs which lie outside the range of our cognizance. To pass judgment on the motives of another, which are open to none save the eye of omniscience, is highly reprehensible, for it is an intrusion upon the Divine prerogative, an invading of the very office of God. "Who are you that judge another man's servant? to his own master he stands or falls" (Romans 14:4) places the Divine ban upon such conduct. A notable example of what is here interdicted is recorded in Job 1. When the Lord commended His servant unto Satan, saying, "Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that fears God and eschews evil?" The Evil One answered, "Does Job fear God for nothing? Have not You made a hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth Your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse You to Your face" (vv. 8-11), suggesting that Job only served God for the gain thereof. Thus to presumptuously judge the motives of another is devilish!

Third, "judge not" hypocritically. This form of unlawful judgment was particularly before our Lord on this occasion, as appears from the verses which immediately follow. The one who is quick to detect the minor faults of others while blind to or unconcerned about his own graver sins is dishonest, pretending to be very precise while giving free rein to his own lusts. Such two-facedness is most reprehensible in the sight of God, and to all right-minded people, too. "Therefore you are inexcusable O man, whoever you are that judge: for wherein you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you that judge do the same things" (Romans 2:1). No matter what may be his social standing, his educational advantages, his religious profession, the one who is guilty of partiality, who censures in others that which he allows in himself, is inexcusable and self-condemned. That even true, yes, eminent saints, are liable to this grievous sin appears from the case of David, for when Nathan propounded the instance of the rich man sparing his own flock and seizing the one lamb of his poor neighbor's, David's anger was greatly kindled and adjudged the transgressor as worthy of death, while lying himself under guilt equally heinous (2 Samuel 12:1-11).

Fourth, "judge not" hastily or rashly. Before thinking the worst of any person we must make full investigation and obtain clear proof that our suspicions are well-grounded or the report we heard is a reliable one. Before the Most High brought upon the world the confusion of languages it is said that He "came down to see the city and the tower which the children of men built" (Genesis 11:5), as though He would personally investigate their conduct before He passed sentence upon them. So again, before He destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, He said, "I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto Me" (Genesis 18:21). Thus God would teach us that before we pass sentence in our minds upon any offender we must take the trouble of obtaining decisive proof of his guilt. We are expressly commanded, "judge not according to the appearance" (John 7:24) for appearances are proverbially deceptive. Always go to the transgressor and give him an opportunity to clear himself: "he who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame unto him" (Proverbs 18:13).

Fifth, "judge not" unwarrantably, which is to go beyond the rule which is set before us. In God's Word certain things are commended, certain things condemned, yet there is another class of things on which the Scriptures pronounce no verdict, which we term "things indifferent," and to condemn anyone for using such things is to be "righteous over much" (Ecclesiastes 7:16). It was for just such offenses that the Apostle reproved some of the saints at Rome who were sitting in judgment upon their brethren over different things as "meat and drink." So, too, he admonished the Colossians who were being brought into bondage by the, "Touch not, taste not, handle not of the commandments and doctrines of men" (2:20-23). The Holy Spirit points out that in such cases to judge a brother is to "speak evil of the Law" (James 4:11), which means that he who condemns a brother for anything which God has not proscribed, regards the Law as being faulty because it has not prohibited such things. "He who quarrels with his brother and condemns him for the sake of anything not determined in the Word of God, does thereby reflect on His Word, as if it were not a perfect rule" (Matthew Henry).

Sixth "judge not" unjustly or unfairly, ignoring everything that is favorable in another and fixing only on that which is unfavorable. It is often far from being an easy matter to secure all the materials and facts which in any case is necessary to form a judgment, yet to pronounce judgment without them is to run a serious hazard of doing another a cruel injustice. Many a one has rashly condemned another who, had he known all, might have approved or at least pitied him. Again, it is very unjust to censure one who has sincerely done his best simply because his effort falls short of what satisfies us. Much unjust judgment proceeds from a spirit of revenge and a desire to do mischief. When David sent his servants to comfort Hanun the king of Ammon upon the death of his father, that king suffered his nobles to persuade him that the servants of David were spies on an evil mission (2 Samuel 10): a horrible war was the outcome-behold how great a fire a little matter kindles!

Seventh, "Judge not" unmercifully. While on the one hand we are certainly not, as far too many today appear to think, obliged to regard one who holds fundamental error or one who is thoroughly worldly as a good Christian, yet on the other hand the law of charity requires us to put the best construction we can on doubtful actions, and never, without proof, ascribe good ones to evil principles or motives. God does not require us to call darkness light or evil good, nevertheless since we are so full of sin ourselves and so prone to err, we must ever be on our guard of calling light darkness and good evil. We are not to go about with our eyes closed nor wink at sin when we see it, yet it is equally wrong for us to hunt for something to condemn and seize upon every trifle and magnify molehills into mountains. We are not to make a man an offender for a word, nor harbor suspicions where there is no evidence. Many a one has condemned another where no ground for judgment existed out of personal jealousy and ill will, which is doing Satan's work. May the Lord graciously deliver both writer and reader from all these forms of unlawfully judging others.

 

20. Judging Others: Matthew 7:1.

"Judge not, that you be not judged" (v. 1). Earlier we were obliged to confine ourselves unto the first part of this brief verse. In it we sought to show what is here not forbidden is a lawful judging which God requires us to exercise, both in public and in private. Then we pointed out no less than seven forms of unlawful judging, indicating that this prohibition of Christ's is a very comprehensive one. Our apology, if such be needed, for entering into so much detail is, first, because these words "judge not" are so frequently misunderstood and misapplied, and second, because the sin which is here forbidden is a very grievous one and has become exceedingly common. Some Christians are more prone to it than others-one in one way and one in another. It is a sin which may be committed even in the House of Prayer. When the minister is rebuking some evil or failure in some particular duty, there are often those present who will conclude he is addressing himself to some others in the congregation, which is one reason why so many reap so little from hearing the Word preached.

Now since it is wrong for us to judge one of our brethren or even our fellows presumptuously, hypocritically, hastily, unwarrantably, unjustly or unmercifully, how much more heinous must it be for us to give audible expression to the same and transmit it to others! Equally so is it for those who listen to us to repeat the same. "You shall not go up and down as a talebearer among your people" (Leviticus 19:16): yet who among us can plead innocence therein! Alas how many there are, now that the pulse of love beats so feebly, who take a devilish pleasure in spreading evil reports of fellow members and enlarging on the same. "A talebearer reveals secrets: but he who is of a faithful spirit conceals the matter" (Proverbs 11:13). Equally reprehensible is it for us to censure and hold up to scorn those of another denomination, unless the Scriptures plainly condemn them. "Speak evil of no man" (Titus 3:2) forbids us expressing anything to the discredit or disadvantage of another to anyone but to himself, except where duty demands it-the putting others on their guard against an evil-doer or a doctrinal corrupter.

It should be pointed out that veracity is not the only virtue which needs to be exercised whenever we make report of the character and conduct of another. To say of such and such a person, "He possesses this or that virtue, but-well, the less said, the better," is far worse than saying nothing at all, for such an utterance insinuates to our hearers there is some grave evil in the party to whom we have alluded. We may say nothing but what is the truth, yet by the very manner in which we express ourselves suggest that a certain person is not to be trusted. Thus when David came to Abimelech begging bread for his men and requesting some weapon and the priest granted him the sword of Goliath (1 Samuel 21), Doeg, who witnessed the transaction put his knowledge to a wicked use by reporting the same unto Saul, implying that Abimelech had entered into a conspiracy with David against the king's life; and the telling of the truth from such an evil motive and in such a manner, cost the lives of eighty-five priests (1 Samuel 22:18): again we say, Behold how great a fire a little matter may kindle!

"Judge not, that you be not judged." After the Commandment there follows a reason which is designed to cause us to make conscience of forming and expressing unlawful judgments, or more accurately speaking, the second part of the verse is a dissuasive, a warning against the sin forbidden at the beginning of it. But precisely what is the nature of this warning? exactly what did our Lord here have in mind? Nearly all the expositors see in it nothing more than a threat that we must be prepared for our fellows treating us just a we treat them: that if we asperse people, others will slander us; that if we are harsh and censorious in the estimates we form of our fellows, then we in turn shall receive unkind treatment, being paid back again in like manner. On the other hand, if we are charitable and merciful, ready to think the best and slow to think the worst of any, then others will in turn deal gently and considerately with our reputation. In brief, the words "that you be not judged" signify, less you be unlawfully and unfairly judged by men.

Now we do not believe this common interpretation of Christ's warning gives the full or even the principal force of it, and that for several reasons. First, because the usual sense accorded it is one which has little weight with those who are walking with God. It is true there are many professing Christians who are greatly concerned about what others think and say of them. They are most anxious to shine in others' eyes-are very jealous of their own reputation and easily hurt if anyone slights them or speaks a word against them-yet all of this has its root in pride and self-esteem. But one who is walking with God, who is painfully conscious of the plague of his heart, who in some measure at least sees himself as God sees him, is so thoroughly aware of his awful corruptions, his many inward and outward defects, that he knows quite well the worst men can say against him falls far short of the estimate he has of himself. The one who unsparingly judges himself is unruffled by the criticisms of others.

When one is truly walking with God, his only concern is what his Divine Father thinks of him. If he is conscience of all that displeases Him, he daily confesses to Him every known sin and begs him to cleanse him from sins of ignorance and omission. If he is sincerely endeavoring to walk in the path of obedience it will trouble him very little what other worms of the dust think or say about him. He is conscious of the fact that God knows his heart-that if only he has the approbation of the Lord this is worth infinitely more than the highest esteem of all mankind. Said the Apostle Paul, "But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you" (1 Corinthians 4:3). Their opinion mattered nothing, his responsibility was not unto them. "Yes, I judge not mine own self" he added: "Christ is alone my Lord and Judge, to Him I stand or fall." Blessed liberty is it when we are delivered from being in bondage to the fickle opinions and estimates of man, who will one day cry "hosanna" and the next day "crucify."

It is not that walking with God produces a spirit of egotism which causes one to have so high a regard of himself that he considers he is outside the range of human judgment-no, far otherwise. Nor will he disdain a correction or admonition when he needs it: rather will he say with David, "Let the righteous smite me, it shall be a kindness; and let him reprove me, it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head" (Psalm 141:5). A truly humbly soul will weigh before God the reproofs of the righteous. "Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you" (Proverbs 9:8), for he knows full well that "faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful" (Proverbs 27:6). "As an earring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold, so is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear" (Proverbs 25:12). Alas, how few with an "obedient ear" are now left! But while welcoming needful reproofs and being thankful for the faithful dealings of those who wish him well, this is vastly different from being the prey of public opinion, fearful of being misunderstood, wondering what one and another will say of us, even while we are doing that which is right.

Second, we find it very difficult to persuade ourselves that when the Lord said, "Judge not, that you be not judged" He had reference to nothing else, nothing more solemn and searching than, Refrain from passing unlawful judgment upon others lest you meet with the same treatment at the hands of your fellows. Such a warning has little weight with the majority of professors and none at all with those who are walking in the fear of God, for where His fear possesses the heart, it is delivered from the fear of man. Furthermore, it seems entirely out of accord with the whole tenor of His Sermon with the searching character of all its details, that He should introduce and make so prominent (note the following verse) what is after all but a secular motive. In a discourse, one chief design of which was to make plain the spirituality of the Christian character in contrast from the worldly character of the Pharisee, Christ would surely employ a weightier dissuasive than the mere fear of suffering from the fickle judgments of fellow mortals!

Third, and what is more decisive, the idea that "judge not, that you be not judged" means we shall in this matter reap in this world exactly as we sow: that if we defame others, we also shall be defamed, that if we refrain from rashly and censoriously censuring others we shall ourselves be spared the experience, will not stand the test of Holy Writ. Apply it to the Lord Jesus Christ and the treatment which He met with from man: He never unjustly or unmercifully censured another, yet how frequently were false and cruel charges preferred against Him. Apply the principle to the life of the Apostle Paul and see how completely it breaks down: can we suppose that God had employed him to write 1 Corinthians 13 had he been of a censorious, complaining, pharisaical spirit? yet he was "defamed" on every side and accounted "the offscouring of all things" (1 Corinthians 4:13)! No, such an explanation, such a theory, will stand neither the test of Scripture nor of Christian experience and observation today.

"Judge not, that you be not judged." In view of what has been pointed out we cannot avoid the conviction that many of the commentators unwittingly toned down this solemn portion of the Truth, blunting the sharp edge of the Sword of the Spirit, for it seems clear to us that some vastly more awe-inspiring motive was in our Lord's mind-a far weightier dissuasive from the sin forbidden than the treatment we shall meet with at the hands of our fellows. We are persuaded that what Christ here had reference to was not the judgments of men but the judgments of God-not the decisions of time but the verdicts of eternity. In reality it is but a sop for the conscience, a sewing of "pillows to all elbows" (Ezekiel 13:18), to tell people if they are guilty of transgressing this precept and unlawfully judging others that all they have to fear is being unrighteously judged by their fellows. But for Christ to declare that such conduct will meet with Divine judgment at the Awful Assize is a warning which may well make the most thoughtless consider and the stoutest heart to quake.

It should, however, be pointed out that this warning of Christ's is not to be understood as meaning: if you are generous in the verdicts you pass upon others, God will be lenient in His judgment concerning you. But if you are harsh and cruel, God will deal severely with you. No, whatever our judgments of others may be, God's judgment will be "according to truth" and that "without respect of persons" (Romans 2:2, 11). Thus we understand our Lord to mean: Beware of forming wrong judgments of your brethren and fellow-men, especially hasty and unmerciful ones, for all your judgments are to be reviewed in the searching light of God's Throne, and by those judgments you are yourselves to be then judged. Not that the judgments we form of each other are to be the sole test by which our profession will be weighed and our character tried, but that this will be one of the tests. "By your words you shall be justified and by your words you shall be condemned" (Matthew 12:37) will be another-our treatment of Christ's brethren, as Matthew 25 plainly intimates, will be yet another. Take care, then, that your judgments of others be such as will endure the scrutiny of the Divine Judge, for if they are not, they must lead to disapproval.

We are well aware of the fact that what we have said above is contrary to most of the teaching of the day even in orthodox circles. So much emphasis has been laid upon certain favorite verses that the balance of Truth has been lost here, as it has almost everywhere else. Such a statement as, "He has not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither has He seen perverseness in Israel" (Numbers 23:21) has been interpreted to mean that God looks not upon His people as they are in themselves but ever views them in Christ, and therefore sees them as without any sin. But such an idea is flatly contradicted by Holy Writ. God does take cognizance of our sins and plainly declares, "If his children forsake My Law and walk not in My judgments, if they break My statutes and keep not My commandments, then will I visit their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with stripes" (Psalm 89:30-31). Believers are required to confess their sins and both their forgiveness and cleansing is made contingent thereon (1 John 1:9). It is blessedly true that the believer has a perfect standing or status in Christ before God, yet that must not be made to swallow up his state and present case.

We would not for a moment consciously weaken the glorious force of "There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus" (Rom 8:1), and "he who hears My Word and believes on Him that sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation (Greek "judgment") but is passed from death unto life" (John 5:24). Yet those verses must not be understood in such a way as to clash with other portions of God's Word. For example, "For the time is come that judgment must begin at the House of God" (1 Peter 4:17). No born-again soul shall ever suffer the eternal judgment of God, for he has forever passed beyond the reach of penal death or the curse of the Law, Christ having suffered the curse on his behalf. But though beyond the curse of the Law, Christians are subject to the government of God, and that government will not make light of wrong-doing nor relinquish its righteous requirements. Sin is no less sinful when committed by a believer than by an unbeliever, and unless it be repented of and put right before God in this life it will have to be put right in the Day to come. And who that loves holiness would wish it were otherwise! Many a breach between fellow Christians is never healed in this world: must not things be put right between them before they can spend eternity together in Heaven?

Both the orthodox pulpit and what is regarded as sound literature convey the impression that no matter how grievously the Christian may have failed in his duty, he has nothing to fear so far as the next life is concerned-that however careless and fruitless he has been-unclouded bliss awaits him after death. But between death and eternity proper is the Day of judgment! The Truth is now so watered down and so accommodated to the carnal mind that the Lord's people are led to complacently believe that so far as they are concerned, that Day will be solely one of receiving rewards and words of praise. But this writer does not so read the Scriptures: he finds another class of passages which set forth quite a different aspect of the Truth, and though those passages are now almost universally shelved, or "explained away" when pressed upon the attention of those claiming to be Christians, he dare not ignore them or fritter them down.

"But why do you judge your brother? or why do you set at nothing your brother? for we must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ: for it is written, As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me and every tongue shall confess to God" (Romans 14:10, 11). We merely call attention to the bare fact that the judgment-seat of Christ is here set before believers as a solemn motive to refrain from judging their brethren, a motive which will have no force if commendation is all they are to receive there. And this warning is immediately followed with, "So then everyone of us shall give account of himself to God." That this rendering of accounts will be something more than a mere formality scarcely needs to he pointed out. "Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the Day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he has built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire" (1 Corinthians 3:13-15). This has reference to the adjudication of the labors of Christ's servants, when their work will be subjected to the searching scrutiny of Divine holiness: "saved, yet so as by fire" certainly does not suggest a happy experience-not that we understand there is anything in these verses which furnishes the slightest support to the Popish "purgatory." Ministers would do well to seriously ponder this passage and turn it into earnest prayer.

"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ: that everyone may receive the things done in his body, according to that he has done, whether good or bad" (2 Corinthians 5:10). The "we" takes in the whole election of grace, all who are redeemed by Christ. That there will be something more than the handing out of bouquets is plainly intimated in "that everyone may receive the things done in the body, according to that he has done, whether good or bad." An awe-inspiring description of Christ in His office of judge (when inspecting and passing sentence upon His churches) is given in Revelation 1, where He is seen with "His eyes as a flame of fire, and His feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace: and His voice as the sound of many waters" (v. 14, 15). "Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men" (Colossians 3:23). Observe the solemn motive given for enforcing this solemn precept: "Knowing that of the Lord you shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for you serve the Lord Christ. But he who does wrong shall receive for the wrong which he has done: and there is no respect of persons" (vv. 24, 25)! That some will be "ashamed before Him" in that Day is clear from 1 John 2:28. May the Lord enable both writer and reader to live his life more and more with the Judgment-seat of Christ before him.

 

20. Dissuasives from Judging others: Matthew 7:2-4.

We have discussed at length, the opening verse of Matthew 7. Following our usual custom we first dealt with it in a topical manner. There is now so much confusion and misunderstanding of what is meant by that prohibition "judge not" that we felt it was necessary to show at length what is not there forbidden. We then pointed out what is reprehended, seeking to set before the reader the fact that God does not forbid us making use of the critical faculty with which He has endowed us. But rather we are required to exert it and form an estimate of whatever we meet with in the path of duty-otherwise, how else shall we escape being deceived by false appearances and imposed upon by every impostor we meet? On the other hand, there are many forms of unlawfully judging others, against which we must be much on our guard, the principal of which we sought to describe. Second, we endeavored to explain the first reason by which Christ enforced this prohibition-"that you be not judged." This is a far more solemn dissuasive than is commonly believed: referring not so much to the treatment we shall receive from our fellows, but of the Divine disapproval at the judgment-seat of Christ.

"For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged: and with what measure you meet, it shall be measured to you again" (v. 2). These words contain an amplification of the dissuasive employed by our Lord against unlawful judging at the close of the preceding verse. They warn us that there is One above whose eye is ever upon us and His ear open to every word we utter. If that solemn fact were more seriously laid to heart by us, it would act as a powerful restraint upon us. If we add to that weighty consideration the yet more awe-inspiring truth that we shall yet have to render an account unto God and that His dealings with us in that Day will be regulated by how we have dealt with our fellows, we may well take heed to our ways. "Your Judging others shall afford materials for your being judged, and the measure we have dealt out to others shall be employed, in part, as the ground of determining what measure shall be awarded us. It is just as if our Lord had said, judging is a serious matter, for it brings after it a fearfully important consequence" (John Brown).

Though the Christian stands in a radically and vitally different relation to God than do the reprobate, yet both the regenerate and the unregenerate are alike the subjects of His righteous government, and he will no more wink at the sins of the one than He will at the sins of the other. True, the believer does not and will not suffer the penal consequences of his sins, for those were visited upon his gracious Substitute. True, he will not have to answer for any of those sins he committed in the days of his unregeneracy, for they have all been "blotted out" by the precious blood of the Lamb and removed from before the face of God "as far as the east is from the west." Nor do we believe that those sins committed after he became a Christian and which he has truly repented of and confessed to God, will come up before him at the judgment-seat of Christ, for they are "forgiven" and from their unrighteousness he is "cleansed" (1 John 1:9). Nevertheless, it seems clear to us from Scripture that those sins which the Christian has not repented of and confessed and those wrongs against his brethren which are not put right in this life, must be reviewed and put right in the Day to come.

"For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged: and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again." Surely these words of Christ are very far from conveying the idea that His people may unlawfully judge others without fear of any unpleasant consequences attending such a course of conduct: that they may unjustly, uncharitably and unmercifully pass judgment on their fellows, yes upon their brethren, and then console themselves they will not be called upon to give an account of such reprehensible behavior in the Day of judgment. The fallacy of such a concept should at once appear in the light of all that is revealed of the Divine character. It is not so much a matter of appealing to specific statements of Holy Writ, as it is of bearing in mind the general Analogy of Faith: the ineffable holiness of God, the uniform dealings of Him who is no respecter of persons, the One whose throne is founded upon justice and judgment. It is the basic and broad principles of the Divine government which enables us to envisage their particular exercise and application to any given case.

In all of God's dealings with His people grace and righteousness are outstandingly manifested, and never one without the other. It is by grace they are saved, yet that very salvation is the proof of Christ's having satisfied every demand of Divine righteousness on their behalf. Though our God be "the God of all grace" (1 Peter 5:10), His grace reigns and is ever exercised toward us "through righteousness" (Romans 5:21) and never at the expense of it. Why then should it be thought strange if both the righteousness and the grace of God should be displayed when He deals with His own people at the judgment-seat of Christ? While it is blessedly true that "grace" will be brought to us "at the revelation (second coming) of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:13), yet will not the dark background of sin be needed in order that grace may shine forth the more illustriously? If the believer is confronted with his unrepented sins, will he not then perceive as never before that doom which he justly deserves and marvel at the grace which delivers him from such a doom? If his sins be not brought up then, what need would there be that "he may find mercy of the Lord in that Day" (2 Timothy 1:18)!

In view of what has been said above it may be replied, But does not God visit upon His wayward people the governmental consequences of their sins in this life? Are they not made to reap here what they have sown? If they are harsh in their judgment of others does not the overruling and righteous hand of God so order things that they meet with similar treatment at the hands of their fellows? And even if that be not always the case, yet does not retribution smite them in their conscience, so that their peace is marred and their joy greatly diminished? Against this we have nothing further to say, except that God in His sovereignty may deal more gently with one than with another offender. But what we would point out is that there is nothing whatever said in this passage (nor so far as we are aware in any other) that the judgment which Christ announces as coming upon the offender is one that is limited to this life, and where He has not so qualified it, we dare not.

In reply to our last remark it may be asked, What Scriptures have you which warrant the idea that the sins of believers are to be dealt with (or as we would prefer to express it "be reviewed and righted") in the Day to come? Answer: in addition to those alluded to previously, we would cite, "I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the Word, be instant in season, out of season" (2 Timothy 4:1, 2). In this passage the Apostle is urging Timothy to persevere in the work to which he had been called, warning him that the time would come when sound doctrine would be objectionable to the hearers of it, when they should turn away their ears from the Truth unto fables-nevertheless, says Paul, "But watch you in all things, endure afflictions" (vv. 3-5). That pressing injunction was enforced by the solemn consideration brought before him at the beginning of the chapter: the living and the dead should be judged at the appearing of his Master. But how could that judgment be a powerful persuasive unto fidelity and diligence unless his ministry was to be thoroughly reviewed in that Day? Wherein lay its solemnity unless he would have to give a full account of his stewardship?

"So speak you and so do you as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty" (James 2:12). This is a most weighty and solemn exhortation, one which professing Christians of this heedless generation need to seriously and honestly ponder. The "Law of Liberty" is a Divine appellation of the Moral Law (the Ten Commandments) as is made unmistakably clear by the immediate context. In verse 9 believers are warned that if they had "respect to persons," that is, cherished and exercised a spirit of partiality, esteeming the wealthy members of the church more highly than the poorer ones (see vv. 1-5), they were guilty of sin, being "convinced (brought in guilty) of the Law as transgressors," for the Law requires us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Those who committed this offense might deem it a trivial one, far less heinous than adultery or murder-so the Apostle reminds his readers that the Law is a unit and its authority uniform, and therefore to break any part of it brings in the transgressor as guilty of breaking it as a whole (vv. 10, 11).

From what had been affirmed in verses 9-11, the Apostle draws a seasonable exhortation, one which would be really startling unto many today if they pondered and believed it-the Lord's people are bid to conduct their lives now in the realization that they are yet to be judged by the Law. They should order their speech and actions in the light of the Day to come if they would then survive the test of the Law. So far from the Christian's having nothing to do with the Law, he is yet going to be examined by it, as to how near or how far short his behavior has come of meeting its requirements. For though believers have been delivered from the Law as a Covenant of Works, yet it is still their Rule of conduct; though they have been freed from its terrors (its curse), they have not been freed from its requirements-obedience. To unbelievers that Law is a Law of bondage and death, but to those who have by grace been made partakers of the nature of the Lawgiver it is one of freedom and life: said David, "I will walk at liberty, for I seek Your precepts" (Psalm 119:45).

Though the Law be one of liberty yet it is not one of license: so far from it, the Law will be the Rule of the Christian's judgment and therefore is he commanded to so order his speech and conduct that he may endure its trial in the Day to come. Solemn indeed is it to know that our speech, as well as our actions, shall come under the judicature of God. Still more solemn is the next verse: "For he shall have judgment without mercy, that has showed no mercy; and mercy rejoices against judgment" (James 2:13). Those who have dealt unmercifully with others shall find no mercy with God, but they who have acted leniently and charitably shall then receive fulfillment of that promise, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy" (Matthew 5:7)-their having dealt mercifully with their fellows is not the cause why God will then extend mercy towards them, but is the evidence they will receive it. They who have been merciful will endure the test of the Law, for they shall not only find judgment tempered with mercy but overcome by it, for God will rejoice to deal mercifully with those who imitated Himself.

"For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged; and with what measure you mete it shall be measured to you again" (Matthew 7:2). In this amplification of the preceding sentence it seems to us our Lord declares that the more rigidly or strictly we judge others, the more strictly will God yet judge us. In other words, the more light we had and the more we expected and demanded that the conduct of others should square with our rule or measure up to the standard of our apprehension, then let us know that God will deal with us accordingly. There will be no room for us to plead ignorance, for we shall be judged by the very light we had and insisted that others should walk according to-compare Luke 12:47, 48 for an illustration of this principle. As Matthew Henry's commentary says on James 3:1, "Those who set up themselves for judges and censurers shall receive the greater condemnation. Our judging others will but make our judgment the more strict and severe. Those who are curious to spy into the faults of others and arrogate a power in passing censures upon them, may expect that God will be as extreme in marking what they say and do amiss."

"And why behold you the mote that is in your brother's eye, but consider not the beam that is in your own eye? Or how will you say to your brother, let me pull out the mote out of your eye, and behold a beam is in your own eye?" (vv. 3, 4). These verses contain a second dissuasive from forming unlawful judgments and the passing of unlawful censures upon our brethren. Reduced to its simplest terms the reason may be expressed thus: no one is qualified or fit to censure another while he is himself an even greater offender. One would think this so obvious there was scarcely need to state it, still less to urge it; yet experience proves that all of us are so corrupted by sin, so prone to act the part of a Pharisee that we have real need to be warned thereon and to translate the warning into earnest prayer. Unless we take heed of the corruptness of our nature and are constantly on our guard against indulging depravity breaking forth in this reprehensible and vile form, we shall soon find ourselves guilty of the very species of hypocrisy which our Lord here condemned. Yes, it is much to be feared that if we reviewed the past and diligently examined ourselves, not one of us could truthfully claim to be free from this fault.

The first thing taught by this parabolic utterance of Christ's is that sin exerts a blinding influence. Most clearly is this evidenced by the unregenerate, for though blind to their own terrible condition, they are quick to perceive the faults and failings of others. And regeneration does not free the believer from this evil tendency, for sin still indwells him, and just in proportion as he fails to unsparingly judge himself will he be inclined to censure others. The second thing intimated by Christ's figurative language is that there are degrees of sin, as appears from the "mote" and the "beam," just as when He charged the scribes and Pharisees with straining a "gnat" and swallowing a "camel" (Matthew 23:34). Not that we may draw the conclusion that any sins are mere trifles, for there can be no such thing as a little sin against a great God, nevertheless there are degrees of heinousness and guilt in different transgressions, as is clear from Matthew 11:23, 24; John 19:11; Hebrews 10:29. The contrast pointed by Christ is between one who allows some lust to prevail over him and yet presumes to criticize another for some infirmity or minor offense.

The force of our Lord's questions, "Why see you the mote?" and "how say you to your brother, Let me pull it out" have the force of, with what face, with what honesty, can you act thus? Upon what ground do you set up yourself as a scrutinizer and critic of the actions of others? Does such a course of procedure issue from a good conscience? Herein our Lord teaches us that our deeds and words, yes, our very thoughts also, must be conceived and uttered on a good ground and in a proper manner. In Ecclesiastes 5:1, 2 we are forbidden to speak rashly in the House of Prayer or utter anything which has not been duly weighed. Here our Savior extends this rule to every thought of our hearts and word of our mouths which concerns our brethren. For by "brother" here we understand a fellow member of the Household of Faith, which is what makes Christ's admonition the more solemn and searching, for it is a far more serious offense to wrong a brother or sister in Christ than a worldling-in wounding the former we are wounding Christ Himself (Acts 9:1, 4).

"And why behold you the mote that is in your brother's eye?" The majority of the commentators take the view that "brother" here has merely the force of "neighbor," for they consider it is quite inadmissible to regard as truly regenerate one whom our Lord designates a "hypocrite." Whatever difficulty that may raise we shall deal with it when we come to Matthew 7:5. To us it seems clear that it is two Christians who are in view, from the circumstance that the "eye" mentioned is not altogether blind (which is spiritually the case with the regenerate) but merely contains some foreign substance which needs removing. Another thing suggested by the figure used by our Lord on this occasion is that the "eye" (the understanding or faculty of spiritual discernment) may be quite sound in itself though temporarily damaged or put out of action by the presence of an intruding particle: hence there is a tacit but real warning for us against being too ready to denounce the inward condition of a brother simply because of some outward act, which may be but the temporary result of neglect in watching and prayer, followed by a temptation from without.

The first thing which Christ here reprehends is what we may term the deliberateness and partiality of such conduct. The offender is pictured as one who is definitely on the lookout for blemishes in his brother, fixing his gaze on such. "Why behold you the mote that is in your brother's eye?" has the force of, How can you justify this wretched practice of so eagerly searching for and so fixedly concentrating upon his infirmities? For a "mote" in the eye of another could only be detected by one who was watching him very closely. It is as though he is determined to overlook all that is good in his brother, fixing his unfriendly gaze upon the tiniest fault he can discern in him. This is indeed a deplorable state of soul to get into, one upon which we are required to watch diligently and pray earnestly against. To overlook all that which the Spirit has wrought in another and to be occupied only with that which is of the flesh is displeasing to God, unfair to the brother, and highly injurious to our own good.

Far worse is such a course of conduct when we ourselves are guilty of much greater sins than the one we condemn in our brother, which is the principal thing which Christ is here condemning. The glaring impropriety of such a wretched procedure must at once be apparent to all fair-minded people. What right have I to complain at a tiny mote in another's eye when I suffer a beam to remain in my own? To appear so very solicitous about the welfare of a brother as to be concerned over his minutest failings and anxious to correct his slightest faults, while I completely disregard my own sad and far worse state, is nothing but a species of downright hypocrisy. Thus it was with the scribes and Pharisees who condemned Christ for healing the sick on the Sabbath and censured His disciples for plucking ears of corn on that day to appease their hunger and of eating with "unwashed hands." Yet they themselves were guilty of encouraging men to hold their parents in contempt. But again we must remind ourselves that we, too, are Pharisees by nature, and so deeply corrupted are our hearts and so prone to this sin of rashly judging others, nothing but Divine grace-definitely and daily sought by us-can preserve us from the committal thereof.

 

20. Helping erring Brethren: Matthew 7:5.

The Rule of Conduct which the Word of God sets before us contains far more than a series of negative prohibitions forbidding certain things: it also marks out a path to be walked in, setting forth positive directions of action. To be preserved from sinning is good, but to be impelled unto practical holiness is far better, the one being the means of the other. It is not sufficient for the branches of the vine to be kept free from blight and pests: they must produce fruit if they are to justify their existence. It is not enough for a garden to be clear of weeds: it must yield healthy vegetables if it is to be of service to its owner. So of the Christian: "be not overcome of evil" is only the first part of the duty laid upon him-"but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21) is what is especially required of us. An illustration of this important principle, so frequently inculcated by Christ and His Apostles, appears in the passage now before us. Our Lord did not stop short by merely condemning the evil habit of unlawfully judging our brethren, but went on to give instructions as to how we should deal with those needing assistance, and particularly how we must deal with ourselves if we are to be qualified for a ministry of helpfulness unto others.

From what our Lord has said in the opening verses of Matthew 7, it might possibly be concluded that it is not permissible for us to admonish a brother nor seek the amendment of his fault-but further reflection should show us that that inference is entirely erroneous. Christ has plainly warned us, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill" (Matthew 5:17)-"fulfill" it not only in His mediatorial and atoning work, but in His teachings and by inspiring His followers to act according to the requirements of the Law (Romans 3:31; 7:22). Now the Law had expressly enjoined, "You shall not hate your brother in your heart: you shall in any wise rebuke your neighbor, and not suffer sin upon him" (Leviticus 19:17), and therefore it must not be supposed for a moment that there was anything in the teaching of Christ which set aside that statute. It cannot be insisted upon too strongly today that there is not the slightest conflict between the Moral Law and the Gospel, but rather the most perfect harmony. It cannot be otherwise, since the Author of the one is equally the Author of the other, and He "changes not."

One of the most disastrous errors and follies of many preachers and "Bible teachers" fifty years ago, the terrible effects of which are now spread before those who have eyes to see, was their idea that during the Old Testament era God's people were under the stern regime of Law unrelieved by Divine grace, and that Christ came here to set aside that harsh regime and bring in a much milder dispensation. Not so-Christ came here to "magnify the Law and make it honorable" (Isaiah 42:21). That Law needed no apology and no amendment, for it is "holy, just and good," being "spiritual" (Romans 7:12, 14). The sum of its requirements are that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind and strength and our neighbor as ourselves: and every requirement of the Moral Law is enforced in the precepts of the Gospel. The great difference between the Mosaic and the Christian dispensations lies not in any change in the Rule of Conduct set before us, but in the more effectual motives by which that Rule is now enforced and the Divine enablement which is now given. As a nation Israel was unregenerate and therefore the Law was "weak through the flesh" (Romans 8:3); but Christians have received the spirit of "power" (2 Timothy 1:6) and a holy nature which delights in the Law.

"You shall not hate your brother in your heart: you shall in any wise rebuke your neighbor, and not suffer sin upon him" (Leviticus 19:17). How different is the tenor of that from the maudlin sentimentality of this effeminate generation. Nowadays one who seeks to be faithful to the standard of holiness and his brethren is, in the vast majority of instances, regarded as "lacking in love." People who speak thus have no idea of what spiritual love is. Spiritual love is no sickly sentiment but a holy principle. God is love, yet that prevents Him not from using the rod on His children when they require it, but rather moves Him to employ it. That parent who follows the line of least resistance allowing the children to do as they please and never chastising them for their faults is lacking in love towards his offspring. He who truly seeks their good lays aside his own feelings and inflicts corporeal punishment when it is needed is the father who evidences the most love. Genuine love is faithful, sets aside one's own interests and feelings, and ever seeks to promote the well-being of the object of it.

Thus should it be between Christian brethren; thus it must be if obedience is rendered to the Divine precepts. It is not love which ignores a brother's failings, which refuses to perform the unpleasant duty of seeking an amendment in his ways. No, it is a species of hatred, as Leviticus 19:17 plainly intimates, for there is no third quality between love and hatred, as there is no third alternative between right and wrong. If I really have my brother's welfare at heart then love itself requires that I wink not at his sins, but rather endeavor to save him from them-just as much as it would demand me warning him when I perceive the first wisp of smoke issuing from one of his windows: why wait until his house is half burned down before giving the alarm! Furthermore, to ignore the sins of one with whom I am intimate makes me (in some measure at least) a "partaker of them" (1 Timothy 5:22), as is intimated by the alternative rendering of the last clause of Leviticus 19:17: "that you bear not sin for him" (margin).

There was therefore nothing in Christ's teaching in Matthew 7 which in any way conflicted with Leviticus 19:17, but rather that which threw light thereon. It was not the act of admonishing a brother which He here forbade but the wrong manner in which it may be done. This is clear from the verse at which we have now arrived: "You hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of your own eye, and then shall you see clearly to cast out the mote out of your brother's eye" (Matthew 7:5). Here our Lord makes known the course which we must follow if we are to be of real help to those in whose case the old saying is likely to prove true-"a stitch in time saves nine"-helping to correct a man's fault often saves from having to go to him about a much graver offense. But even here, the removing of a tiny particle from the eye of another is not one which any careless hand can successfully undertake, rather will such a hand irritate the other's eye and make bad matters worse.

First a word needs to be said on the epithet used by Christ on this occasion. It looks back to the case described in verses 3 and 4, where this evil habit of rashly censuring others, to which we are all so prone, is represented as one steadily fixing his unfriendly gaze upon the mote that is in his brother's eye while indifferent to the beam which is in his own-undertaking to correct some lesser fault in him while allowing a much graver sin in himself. What else could our holy Lord designate such a despicable person but a "hypocrite," that is, the actor of a part, a pretending to be very zealous to the requirements of holiness while himself was living in neglect of and violating its plainest dictates? Uncompromising faithfulness would not permit of Christ's using any milder term. Yet there is no more reason why we should conclude from this word that the one to whom it is applied was unregenerate than His declaring to Peter, "you are an offense to Me" (Matthew 16:23) or His terming two of His disciples "fools" (Luke 24:25).

Had the one whom our Lord here addressed been an unregenerate soul not only would He have refrained from designating the one whom He censured as "a brother," but we can scarcely conceive of Him going to the pains of instructing one who was still dead in trespasses and sins what he must first do in order that he might "see clearly to cast out the mote out of his brother's eye." No, it appears to us that the Lord designated this careless believer who failed to unsparingly judge himself (though seeking to correct another) a "hypocrite" to express His detestation of such conduct, to let us know how it appears in His eyes, and therefore to bring home to our hearts the gravity of a practice which we are so ready to tolerate in ourselves. Nothing is more hateful to God than play-acting, and we are guilty of this very thing when we pose as faithful guardians of our brother's interests while we are faithless in our personal dealings with God himself-while nothing is more pleasing in His sight than honesty and sincerity, which is the opposite of hypocrisy.

"First cast out the beam out of your own eye" means be faithful in dealing with yourself, unsparingly judging yourself before God, putting away out of your heart and life whatever you know to be displeasing unto Him. This is the grand remedy for the disease of unlawfully judging others, as it is the chief requirement if you are to be of any real help in ministering to your erring brethren. Not only is it utterly incongruous for one who is allowing and indulging some flagrant lust to pose as being grieved over some infirmity in another, but one who is almost totally blinded spiritually (by arrogance and hypocrisy) is utterly incapable of performing such a difficult and delicate operation as the removal of a mote from his brother's eye. One who is under the influence of any gross sin not only has his spiritual discernment obscured but his spiritual sensibilities are so blunted that he is unable to sympathize with a suffering one-such an one is not only unfit to judge others, but thoroughly disqualified as a critic and censor of their minor failings.

Casting the beam out of my own eye signifies unqualified judging of myself before God (1 Corinthians 11:21). My first responsibility is to diligently examine my own heart, carefully consider my own ways, critically measure myself by the unerring standard of Scripture and honestly and constantly confess my many sins to God (Lam. 3:40). If I am sincerely desirous of pleasing God in all things, I shall beg Him to show me what there is in my own life which is displeasing to Him (Psalm 139:23, 24). If I truly long to show forth His praises (1 Peter 2:9), I shall not excuse my fleshly conduct but shall condemn it and earnestly seek grace to forsake the same. And if I genuinely wish to be of real spiritual help unto my erring brethren I shall rigidly purge myself of everything which would defeat such efforts. Only as I am unflinchingly faithful with myself can I hope to be of any assistance to others. Clear vision is needed to locate and remove a "mote" from the eye of another, and clear vision comes only from my own close walking with Him who is light (Psalm 36:9; John 8:12). How much longer are we going to suffer the beam in our own eye?

One principal reason why we are so slow in casting the beam out of our own eye is because we fail to "perceive" it, as is intimated by Christ in Matthew 7:3. Obviously this does not mean that we are totally unaware of its presence but rather that we fail to make conscience of the same. The expression "perceive it not" has reference to an act of the mind which follows upon the bare sight of anything consisting of serious consideration and prolonged meditation. It is the word used in "consider the lilies" of the field (Luke 12:27): that is, not only look upon them but ponder them over in your mind. It is the word used in "a man that beholds his natural face in a glass" (James 1:23): that is, who gazes steadily at it and considers each feature. Thus, "perceive not" in Matthew 7:3 means a failure to attentively consider and regard. If we are to truly "perceive" the beam in our own eye, with the purpose of casting it out, we must make conscience of the same, seriously considering its heinousness in God's sight, laboring to have our hearts affected by it.

It should be obvious that we shall never voluntarily and deliberately eject from our hearts and lives that which we still love and cherish, and therefore we must labor to have our hearts so affected by our lusts and sins that we shall sorrow over and hate them. The converse of this is that awful deadness of soul and security in sin, which if undisturbed is certain to lead to the most fearful if not fatal consequences. Proof of this appears in the case of the antediluvians of whom Christ declared they "knew not until the Flood came and took them all away" (Matthew 24:39)-though they may have had some consciousness of their carnality and madness, yet they thought not seriously thereon, and so remained secure in their wickedness. A similar state of affairs existed in Israel in the days of Jeremiah. The Lord complained that the people made no conscience of their sins, remaining secure therein: "No man repented him of his wickedness, saying, What have I done?" (8:6). Nothing is more serious and fatal than to commit sins and refuse to be humbled by them, but instead to remain unconcerned. Sins must be laid to heart and sorrowed over before they will be forsaken and expelled.

In order to be helpful at this point it is necessary to be explicit, so let us mention one or two things which are so often a "beam" in the eyes of God's people. First, hypocrisy, which whenever it dominates the heart prevents all spiritual growth and fruit. Christians are guilty of allowing this vile weed to flourish far more than they are aware of. This is the case where we are more anxious to please men than the Lord; where we are more diligent in seeking to perform the external requirements of the first table of the Law than of the second-note how Christ pressed the commandment of the second table on the rich young ruler (Luke 18:20)-where we are more careful to please God in the outward action than we are with the strength of our hearts. Another great "beam" is spiritual pride, which also is most abhorrent unto Him with whom we have to do. This it is which makes us pleased with ourselves, self-confident, and to look down upon others. It is an inward poison which prevents the health of grace within. It is that which marks Laodiceans (Rev. 3:17). Finally, any particular besetting sin or lust which is not resisted and mortified soon assumes the proportions of a "beam" and effectually blinds our judgment.

An important practical question which needs to be answered at this stage is, What course should be followed in order that we may feel the weight of these "beams" pressing upon our hearts? Surely it must be by counteracting that tendency within us to regard our sins lightly, to look upon our own constitutional faults as mere "motes," and that must be done by faithfully examining them in the light of God's Word. More particularly we ought to compare the sins of which we are guilty with the original transgression of Adam. Are we not tolerating things in our hearts and lives which are even greater evils than Adam's eating of the forbidden fruit considered in the fact? yet by that sin he not only brought death upon himself but also upon all his posterity! Again, if we would perceive and feel the exceeding sinfulness of our sins we must view them in the light of Calvary, and observe the fearful price which had to be paid for the atonement of them. Finally, we must contemplate the heinousness and guilt of our sins in view of the Lake of Fire, for nothing short of everlasting suffering is what they deserve.

It is only as we feel the dreadful weight of our sins and their enormity in the sight of the Holy One that we shall really cry out, "Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me" (Psalm 51:9, 10). But it is not sufficient that we sorrow over our sins and seek God's forgiveness of them: we must labor to break them off and amend our evil ways, striving by all means that sin may be weakened in us more and more. It is the one who confesses and forsakes his sins which finds mercy (Proverbs 28:13); on the other hand, "If I regard iniquity in my heart the Lord will not hear me" (Psalm 66:18). Unless I cast the beam out of my own eye, how can I attend to the mote in another's? unless I disallow and mortify my lusts I am totally disqualified to rebuke sin in my brother. "Create in me a clean heart, O God . . . then will I teach transgressors Your ways" (Psalm 51:10, 13). "When you are converted (recovered) strengthen your brethren" (Luke 22:32)!

"And then shall you see clearly to cast out the mote out of your brother's eye" (Matthew 7:5). In order to remove a "mote" from another's eye one must be close to him! Therein Christ intimates who are the ones we should seek to help by correcting their faults, namely, those who are near to us and not strangers: those who are members of our own family, intimate friends, and those with whom we are in close church fellowship. Much harm has been done through ignoring this obvious and simple rule. My responsibility is first unto myself, then unto those bearing intimate ties: alas, not only do many think highly of themselves but they allow sentiment to hinder faithful dealings with those dear unto them. But this necessity of closeness to one from whose eye I would remove a mote not only connotes a nearness of relationship, but also a moral nearness, winning a place in his affections and esteem: I cannot get close to another while standing on a lofty pedestal of assumed self-superiority!

No service calls for more prayer, delicacy of feeling, spiritual wisdom and meekness, than does this one. The motive impelling it must be love-the end in view the glory of God-our aim the recovery of an erring one. The eye is the most sensitive organ of the body and the most easily damaged. A steady and gentle hand is required to extract the foreign substance from it. Care should be taken in selecting the best time to approach an erring brother so that the reproof is likely to be effectual. Before Abigail admonished her husband for his churlish conduct unto David she waited until the wine had gone out of his head (1 Samuel 25:36, 37)!-never correct one while he is in a towering rage. The nature of the fault in the erring one must be weighed: whether it proceeds from human frailty or is some deliberate and high-handed sin, if we are to speak to him "a word in season." Pains should be taken to make him see he is at fault, that he has acted contrary to God's Word-for we are required to reprove and rebuke "with all longsuffering and doctrine" (2 Timothy 4:2), and thereby deliver the admonition not in our own name but in God's.

"Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, you which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, considering yourself, lest you also be tempted" (Galatians 6:1). Only he who is "spiritual"-who allows not sin in himself and walks softly with God-is fit to approach a fellow believer for this necessary and difficult task. We are to remember that we are so united together in one family and fellowship that the wrong-doing of one concerns all, and that it is in the interests of the whole Household of Faith to seek the restoration of the erring one. Such restoration can only be performed "in the spirit of meekness"-gentleness and lowliness of heart-for harshness and arrogance repel. Whatever fault he has committed let us not forget that but for Divine grace we, too, would fall in the same way, as we acknowledge to God whenever we pray "lead us not into temptation." That which we say to him must not only be "a word in season" but "fitly spoken" (Proverbs 25:11)!

Finally, it should be pointed out that if we are to remove the mote from another's eye he must be willing for us to do so-any spirit of resistance makes the operation impossible. The very figure used by Christ here plainly connotes that each of us should freely submit ourselves to brotherly correction-"submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God" (Ephesians 5:21). It is very reprehensible and evidences a sad state of soul when we resent and oppose the faithful admonitions of our Christian friends, like the Israelite said to Moses when he reproved him, "Who made you a prince and a judge over us?" (Exo. 2:14). "Poverty and shame shall be to him that refuses instruction: but he who regards reproof shall be honored" (Proverbs 13:18). "He who refuses instruction despises his own soul: but he who hears reproof gets understanding" (Proverbs 15:32). "It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise than for a man to hear the song of fools" (Ecclesiastes 7:5): though the song of fools may be more pleasant to our ears, yet the reproofs of the wise are more profitable to our souls if we heed the same.

 

21. Unlawful Liberality: Matthew 7:6.

Our present verse brings before us the seventh and shortest division of our Lord's Sermon, for it manifestly treats of a different branch of the Truth from any which has been dealt with in the previous sections. Though Christ's language here is figurative (as so often in this Address), it is far from being ambiguous, yet its force and purpose were probably more easily perceived by His immediate audience than by us. With few exceptions it is the state of our hearts rather than the obscurity of its language which prevents our understanding the meaning of some portion in Holy Writ. Such is certainly the case here. It is greatly to be feared that there are many in Christendom today who are much averse from heeding this Divine precept, and therefore they pretend it is hard to be understood. None so blind as those who refuse to see. How many smug professors in the churches today would be highly offended if the minister dealt with them in the same way the Savior did with the Canaanite women, telling them, "It is not meet to take the children's bread and to cast it to dogs" (Matthew 15:26). Such discrimination does not at all suit this latitudinarian age.

"Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast you your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you" (Matthew 7:6). It must be admitted that most of the commentators appear to have experienced difficulty with this verse, not because they found its terms obscure, but in the fixing of their precise reference. It was not its interpretation which troubled them so much as its application. The method we propose to follow in our exposition of it is as follows. First, to ascertain its precise relation to the context. Second, to ponder it in the light of our Lord's own example, for most assuredly He ever practiced what He preached, and as we are called upon to "follow His steps" it is most necessary for us to examine the path He trod-here as everywhere. Third, to point out its application to the ministers of Christ, for it enunciates an important rule to regulate them in their dispensation of the Word. And fourth, to show how this rule applies to the private Christian. May the Spirit of Truth deign to guide our pen.

In examining the relation of our text to the context we must take into account both its more remote and nearer context. As we have so often pointed out, the principal key which unlocks to us the contents of this Sermon is found in our Lord's words, "Think not that I am come to destroy the Law or the Prophets: I am not come to destroy but to fulfill" (5:17). It therefore behooves us to inquire, What was the teaching of the Law and the Prophets concerning the subject treated of in our text? The first thing we learn there is that under the Law "dogs" and "swine" were unclean and unholy animals, the Israelites being prohibited from using them either for food or as sacrifices unto God, yes, they were not permitted to bring "the price of a dog (the money from selling one) into the house of the LORD" (Deuteronomy 23:18). Second, we should observe that the term "dog" was applied to persons of worthless character: 1 Samuel 17:43; 2 Samuel 16:9; 2 Kings 8:13, etc.

The sons of Aaron were required to "put difference between holy and unholy, and between unclean and clean" (Leviticus 10:10), to maintain the lines of demarcation which God had drawn between the sacred and the profane. They were commanded to exclude the heathen from participating in any of the religious privileges of God's covenant people (Deuteronomy 23:3). In the days of Israel's degeneracy God complained that "her priests have violated My Law and have profaned Mine holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they showed difference between the unclean and the clean" (Ezekiel 22:26): they had dealt with a latitude or "liberality" such as God had expressly forbidden. He had ordered that His priests should "teach My people the difference between the holy and profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean" (Ezekiel 44:23). A most discriminating ministry was appointed unto Jeremiah for the Lord required him to "take forth the precious from the vile" (15:19): that is, draw the line between the godly and the ungodly, addressing to each their distinctive and needed message. To Malachi it was promised, "Then shall you return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serves God and him that serves Him not" (3:18).

Now, says Christ, "Think not that I am come to destroy the Law or the Prophets." I have received no commission from My Father to break down the barriers He has erected, to obliterate the lines He has drawn. Rather am I come "to fulfill" (Matthew 5:17): to magnify the Law and render it honorable, to vindicate the Prophets and make good their declarations. I am come to bring in the substance for the shadow, the reality for the typical, the vital for the ceremonial. I, too, shall discriminate between the clean and the unclean and place a fence between the holy and the unholy. Did Moses prohibit the people of God from intermarrying with idolaters? Did he exclude the heathen from the sacred temple? Did he declare that the food of the priestly family was "most holy" (Leviticus 10:12-15) and their exclusive portion or property? Then I likewise command you, "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast you your pearls before swine."

Coming now to the closer context. Is there not clearly a link between our present text and what immediately precedes it? Did not Christ here intimate that something more than clear vision and a kind and steady hand was required if we are to succeed in removing a "mote" from another's eye? As we have pointed out, the one with an injured eye must be agreeable to submit if you are to help him: the one at fault must be willing to receive an admonition. But many are not so: so far from it they will resent your well-meant overtures and revile you for it-treading your admonitions under their feet and venting their fury upon you. "Speak not in the ears of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of your words" (Proverbs 23:9). Thus having shown how to admonish, the Savior now makes known who are to be admonished, or rather who are not to be. To reprove a son of Belial is wasted breath (1 Samuel 25:17).

In Matthew 7:5 the Lord had shown how an erring "brother" is to be dealt with-meekly and gently-the rebuke is to be given in a loving and humble spirit. But here in verse 6 Christ intimates that love must discriminate: all are not "brethren" and will not suffer a rebuke, no matter how graciously given. It is not sufficient, then, that we take care to be spiritually qualified for reproving another, but we must seek to make sure that there is some probability at least that our efforts will not be worse than lost upon the one we desire to help. Thus after prohibiting evil-minded censures, Christ here warns against imprudent ones. "Reprove not a scorner lest he hate you" (Proverbs 9:8). Here, then, is a necessary caution: zeal must be directed by knowledge and holy prudence. Not every person is a fit subject for reproof. Unreasonable men will scoff at the mildest criticism of their evil ways, and to quote Scripture to them only incites them to blasphemy and is casting pearls before swine.

But we may discover a further connection between our text and the verses preceding. In seeking to guard against hasty and harsh judgments we must also beware of abusing grace. If on the one hand we should watch against unjust and unmerciful censuring, on the other we must not be guilty of judging laxly and loosely. There are not only the "sheep" of Christ, but the "dogs" and "swine" of the world, and they are to be treated as such. When an open worldling or obviously carnal person applies for church-membership it would be quite wrong to silence God-fearing objectors with, "Judge not lest you be judged." Grace must not be allowed to override the requirements of holiness so that the unclean are permitted to enjoy those privileges reserved for them who are washed in the blood of the Lamb. It is through failure at this very point, through a false "charity," by refusing to heed this command of Christ, that the grossest of evils have been tolerated in the House of God until the mystical Babylon is now "a cage of every unclean and hateful bird."

Yet it must not be supposed that our text is to be restricted unto a prohibition against imprudent reproving: rather does it enunciate a general principle which is of wide application, for the better perception of which we now turn to ponder it in the light of our Lord's own personal example. A very wide field is here open for investigation, yet we can only now call attention to a few of its most distinctive features. If the reader will examine the four Gospels afresh from this particular angle he is likely to meet with some surprises and find there the reverse of what the teaching he has imbibed would lead him to expect. For example, would not the ordinary church-goer of today suppose that the Lord Jesus spent most of His time in preaching the Gospel to the unsaved, that He sought out the unchurched masses, endeavoring to arouse them from their unconcern, that He made it His business to go after the giddy worldling and convince him of the folly of his ways, that He proclaimed the love of God to every soul He could possibly make contact with? Then turn to the first four books of the New Testament and see whether or not this was so.

We do indeed read frequently that Christ taught both in the synagogue and in the temple, yet even there He never so much as once mentioned the love of God to sinners-though He had much to say about the Father's love when He was alone with "His own." He frequently spoke of His approaching death unto His disciples, but where did He ever preach the Atonement in the hearing of the multitude? It is true that He spoke often in the open air (though never on the streets!), yet it was to those who sought unto Him (Mark 2:13, Luke 6:17). He never pressed His company on them: Mark 7:17. He spoke many things unto the multitudes in parables, yet the interpretation of them was reserved for God's elect (Matthew 13:8, 9, 11, 36). Our Lord was not transfigured before the gaze of the vulgar crowd, but only in the sight of a favored few. Nor was He seen by the unbelieving world after His resurrection. The grand prophecy of Matthew 24 and 25 was delivered in the hearing of none but believers. He never cast pearls before swine: even when Pilate asked Him, "What is truth?" (John 18:38), He did not say, "I am the Truth," nor did He explain to him the way of salvation.

But let us not be mistaken at this point. God forbid that we should be found writing anything which would deter exercised souls from seeking Christ and giving them the impression that they would be unwelcome did they come to Him in their deep distress. Nothing is made plainer in the four Gospels than the glorious fact that the Lord Jesus is accessible to every poor sinner who feels his need of Him and that He is willing and ready to heal his soul: "All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and him that comes to Me I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37), is His own blessed declaration. He declined not an invitation to eat with publicans and sinners, nor did He turn His back upon the leper who sought Him. But what we have directed attention to above is His attitude towards those who sought him not, to those who evidenced no interest in Him, to those who opposed Him. Read again the many recorded cases where the Pharisees antagonized Him: is there a single instance where He preached the Gospel to them? So with the Sadducees and lawyers who endeavored to ensnare Him: He closed their mouths, but He never opened His heart to them or gave that which was holy unto dogs!

Third, our text enunciates an important principle for the minister of Christ to be regulated by-it is to be borne in mind that the first application of this Sermon is to ministers (Matthew 5:1, 2). That rule may be stated thus: discrimination is to be exercised when dispensing the Word of God. Nothing is more urgently needed and seldom found today than a discriminating ministry by which we mean a "taking forth the precious from the vile" (Jeremiah 15:19). In our congregations both of those classes are represented: those who are dear to God and those abhorred by Him. Now though you cannot distinguish them by name yet you can by character. When addressing yourself to the people of God you should make it quite plain that the unregenerate have "no part or lot in the matter." When preaching from the Divine promises it is necessary to describe the spiritual marks of those to whom such Divine dainties really belong-to those who are not conformed to this world, who deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Christ. The line of demarcation must be drawn so plainly that each hearer knows to which side of the line he belongs.

The Word of God has to be "rightly divided" (2 Timothy 2:15) if each hearer is to obtain his legitimate portion. When the pulpit seeks to expose the hypocrite, care needs to be taken lest Christ's little ones stumble, and when the minister seeks to comfort the distressed saints the cordial must he expressly labeled so that the ungodly are not bolstered up in a false peace. Unless the minister exercises the most prayerful caution, he will be unable to escape that solemn charge, "with lies you have made the heart of the righteous sad, whom I have not made sad; and strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he should not return from his wicked way, by promising him life" (Ezekiel 13:22). Again, Matthew 7:6 is woefully contravened when those with the most barren profession are received into church fellowship: the "judgment of charity" does not require of us to call darkness light. Laxity is as much an evil as censorship. Admitting to the Lord's Table open worldlings is a flagrant violation of our text. And how often is it disregarded in "funeral services and in sermons"?

It is very necessary this precept-"Give not that which is holy unto the dogs"- should be pressed upon the rank and file of God's people. In certain circles it has been taught that as soon as a person has experienced the saving grace of God in his heart, it is his bounden duty to preach Christ to all his acquaintances, to endeavor to become a "soul winner," and that if he or she declined such "personal work" and evangelistic endeavor it is because he is cold and selfish, indifferent to the eternal welfare of those around him. But where did Christ or any of His Apostles bestow such a commission on any young convert? "Come and hear, all you that fear God, and I will declare what He has done for my soul" (Psalm 66:16): that qualification warns us against publishing the most sacred experiences of our hearts to all and sundry, for the unregenerate have no more capacity to appreciate the sovereign operations of the Spirit than swine have to rate pearls at their true value. But is not the young convert to "witness for Christ"? Assuredly, but how? "You should show forth the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9): a changed life, an unworldly walk, is the most affective "witness" of all! See Matthew 5:16.

Zeal needs to be tempered with knowledge. The holy things of the Gospel are not to be bandied about indiscriminately: the precious secrets of His love which the Lord has revealed to us are not to be communicated to His enemies. If believers defy this Divinely- imposed restriction they must not be surprised at meeting with insults and incurring the ire of those upon whom they attempt to force the holy mysteries of the Faith. Of the Pharisees Christ said, "Let them alone" (Matthew 15:14), do not attempt to convert them from the error of their ways. "Of some have compassion, making a difference" (Jude 22): what a discriminating word is that! We are told to "Go from the presence of a fool" (Proverbs 14:7), and not lower our Christian dignity by arguing with him. But are we not told to "Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks a reason of the hope that is in us"? (1 Peter 3;15). Yes, when "asked" (compare Proverbs 22:21) and then "with meekness and fear" (1 Peter 3:15) and not with bombast and impudence. The Epistles of the New Testament are to be read to "holy brethren" (1 Thessalonians 5:27), but we know of no warrant to read them to worldlings.

It has long impressed this writer that that which takes place in the secular sphere is but a shadowing forth of what has first happened in the spiritual realm. For many years past the majority of the preachers jettisoned the Divine Law, and in the utter lawlessness which fills the world today we have the inevitable repercussion. They concentrated on the promises but ignored the precepts and in their failure to urge upon God's children an obedient walk we have reaped the disobedience of the modern child. Women were given a place in the churches which Scriptures prohibits (1 Corinthians 14:34) and in consequence a generation of self-assertive "he women" has arisen who ape men in almost everything. Today we have a plague of dogs-over three million in Great Britain-making the night hideous with their howls, befouling the pavements and consuming vast quantities of food while human beings are strictly rationed. In the cities they have become a curse and we believe this is a Divine judgment upon the general disregard of Matthew 7:6. It is a common sight to behold a child leading about a huge mastiff and silly women accompanied by two or three poodles. "Beware of dogs" (Philippians 3:2). "For without are dogs" (Rev. 22:15)-excluded from the Holy City.

In conclusion let us note the practical instruction hinted by the figure of the "pearls." First, it intimates what we should regard as our true riches, namely, the contents of God's Word, for they constitute the Christian's precious treasure. "Happy is the man that finds wisdom and the man that gets understanding. For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver and the gain thereof than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies, and all the things you can desire are not to be compared unto her" (Proverbs 3:13-15). Second, it intimates wherein we should content ourselves in the calamities and casualties of this life. We may lose our health and wealth, our friends and fame, yet this treasure remains. Here is a lamp for the darkest night (Psalm 119:105): here is to be found comfort in the sorest affliction (Psalm 119:50): here are to be obtained songs for our pilgrimage (Psalm 119:54). Third, it intimates how we are to use the Word. A person possessed of valuable pearls is at great pains to secure them, how much more so should we be with this Pearl of pearls-storing it in our memories, locking it in our hearts-"Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience" (1 Timothy 3:9). This was David's practice (Psalm 119:11), and Mary's (Luke 2:51): may it be ours too.

 

22. Seeking Grace: Matthew 7:7-8.

Verses 7 to 11 contain the 8th division of our Lord's Sermon. Every commentator we have consulted thereon regards the passage as dealing solely with the subject of prayer. Personally we deem such a view to be an undue narrowing of its scope. While the supplicating of God is undoubtedly the principal duty enjoined therein, it is not its only one. It seems to us that its theme is the seeking supplies of grace to enable the believer to live a spiritual and supernatural life in this world, and though such enablement is to be sought from the Throne of Grace, that does not render needless or exempt the Christian from diligently employing the other means of grace which God has appointed for the blessing of His people. Prayer must not be allowed to induce lethargy in other directions or become a lazy substitute for the putting forth of our energies in other duties. We are called upon to watch as well as pray, to deny self, strive against sin, take unto us the whole armor of God, and fight the good fight of faith.

What has been suggested above concerning the scope of our present passage will be the more apparent by viewing it in relation to its whole context. From 5:20 onwards Christ had presented a standard of moral excellence which is utterly unattainable by mere flesh and blood. He had inculcated one requirement after another which it lies not in the power of fallen human nature to meet. He had forbidden an opprobrious word, a malignant wish, an impure desire, a revengeful thought. He had enjoined the most unsparing mortification of our dearest members (5:29, 30). He had commanded the loving of our enemies, the blessing of those who curse us, the doing good unto those who hate us, and the praying for those who despitefully use and persecute us (5:44). In view of which the Christian may well exclaim, "Who is sufficient for these things?" Such demands of holiness are beyond my feeble strength: yet the Lord has made them-what then am I to do?

Coming nearer still to our passage we find in the opening verses of chapter 7 Christ gave two apparently contradictory commands. First, He says, "Judge not that you be not judged": abstain from forming harsh estimates and passing censorious censures on your fellows. Second, "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs": discriminate sharply between the clean and the unclean, that you may not be guilty of obliterating the lines which God has drawn between the righteous and the wicked. But to steer safely between such rocks as these requires not only spiritual strength but spiritual wisdom-such wisdom as the natural man possesses not. What, then, is the poor believer to do? The Lord here anticipates this difficulty and meets this perplexity. He is well aware that in our own wisdom and strength we are incapable of keeping His commands but He at once reminds us that the things which are ordinarily impossible for men can be made possible to them by God.

Divine assistance is imperative if we are to meet the Divine requirements. That Divine assistance is to be sought prayerfully, believingly, diligently and persistently, and if it is thus sought it will not be sought in vain. It was then for the obtaining of supplies of Divine grace and heavenly strength that our Lord now exhorted and encouraged His disciples. "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you" (Matthew 7:7). In the foregoing chapter Christ had touched upon the subject of prayer in a way of warning but here He refers to it as the appointed channel for obtaining supplies of grace to obey those precepts which are so contrary to flesh and blood. First He had given instructions concerning the duty of prayer but now He supplies gracious encouragements for the exercise of it. Nevertheless it is clear from the general tenor of Scripture that every legitimate means must be employed if we are to obtain the strength and help we so much need.

"Ask, and it shall be given you." Few texts have been more grossly perverted than this one. Many have regarded it as a sort of blank check which anybody, no matter what his state of soul or manner of walk may be, can fill in just as he pleases, and he has only to present the same before the Throne of Grace and God stands pledged to honor it. Such a travesty of the Truth would not deserve refutation were it not trumpeted about so extensively. James 4:3 expressly affirms, "You ask and receive not, because you ask amiss." Such are those who seek this world first and then hope to make sure of the world to come. Such are those who beg for mercy but refuse to forsake their sins (Proverbs 28:9), who seek salvation in a way of their own devising-by a more flesh-pleasing method than that of the holy Gospel-or who come in their own name in contempt of the appointed Mediator. They "ask amiss" and receive not who request what God has not promised, or who seek formally and hypocritically without any deep-felt need of what they ask for.

Thus our text provides the minister of the Gospel with an admirable opportunity for heeding the exhortation of the previous verse and seeing to it that in his interpretation and application he refrains from giving that which is holy unto the dogs or casting pearls before swine. "Ask, and it shall be given you," is very far from affording cart blanche to all and sundry. It is supplicating supplies of Divine grace which is here in view, and moreover, there must be a right asking (and not an asking "amiss") if such are to be obtained. This right asking is impossible for the unregenerate, for not only are they totally incapable of asking in faith, but to seek for Divine grace is diametrically opposed to their very nature and disposition. Grace is the antithesis of sin, a holy principle, and since the natural man is wholly in love with sin it is impossible that he should have any love for or desire after that which is radically opposed to sin. The thistle cannot bear grapes, nor can a heart at enmity with God pant after conformity to Him.

It needs, then, to be made unmistakably clear that right seeking after grace presupposes right desires for it, but the unregenerate are, in the habitual temper of their heart, strangers to all spiritual aspirations. To have genuine desires after the thing and an entire contrariety to it in the whole soul and at the same time is a direct contradiction. To that it may be rejoined, How, then, will you explain the anomaly of some worldlings having at times an apparently hearty desire after grace so that they even persuade themselves they sincerely and earnestly long for it? Easily: it is because they are ignorant of the true nature of grace, unaware that it is a holy principle, and therefore they have framed a false image of it. It is this fictitious "grace"-which makes light of sin, which grants an indulgence for the lusts of the flesh-their relish for it is thoroughly in accord with their corrupt nature.

Many who sit under Antinomian preaching are led to believe that God is willing to save sinners without their forsaking their idols, throwing down the weapons of their warfare against Him-without repentance. They know not that salvation is not only a passport to Heaven but it is first a deliverance from the love and dominion of sin-that the grace of God which brings salvation is a holy principle that effectually teaches its subjects to "deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world" (Titus 2:11, 12). If these deluded people apprehended the true character of grace their native contrariety thereto would be no longer hid from them. Did not the Pharisees truly believe they loved God and revered His Law? yet they hated the Son of God, who was the express image of the Father and came into the world to honor His Law-they must therefore have held erroneous notions of God and His Law-as many now do of His Grace.

But if we plainly announce that no unregenerate person can lay claim to the promise of our text, will not such teaching take from the poor sinner all motive to pray unto God and do anything else? Such a question betrays either a woeful ignorance or else a declination to face the facts of the case. So long as the sinner remains in his natural condition he cares not one jot for God nor will he engage in any religious duty except for what he thinks he will gain thereby. Let such a creature have a hundred motives to pray (excruciating pain of body, the suffering of a loved one, the approach of death, or the pleadings of friends who assure him he has merely to ask God for mercy and he will receive it) and he will only serve self and not God at all. To tell the ungodly that such a promise as Matthew 7:7, 8 belongs to them is to throw dust into their blind eyes, hiding from them the desperateness of their plight, glossing over the solemn truth that while they are wedded to their lusts they are the objects of God's holy abhorrence and can have no access to Him.

Alas, where shall a faithful physician of souls be found today? The vast majority of those who occupy the modern pulpit, instead of using the lancet and knife of the Divine Law, please their unregenerate hearers with soothing syrup or anesthetics, preaching smooth things to them and crying, "peace, peace," when there is none. What encouragement can the thrice holy God, consistently with His honor, give to those who live solely for the pleasing of themselves? At most, this: "Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you" (Acts 8:22). The wickedness of man's heart is such as no human language can depict, and unless man sincerely repents of the same there is no hope for him. The business of God's servants is not to bestow false comfort but to slay false confidence: not to persuade those who lie under the wrath of God that they may be delivered therefrom by betaking themselves to prayer but to faithfully and honestly let their unsaved hearers know the worst of their case.

It is not without good reason that we find Matthew 7:6 and 7 in juxtaposition. The Savior with His Divine omniscience foresaw the misuse which would be made of this precious promise, "Ask, and it shall be given you," and therefore He placed this emphatic warning immediately before it: "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast you your pearls before swine." Thus they are without excuse who have so sadly perverted this blessed promise of God's Word. That which needs to be pressed upon promiscuous congregations today is the very same as Christ proclaimed in the hearing of "the multitudes," namely, the spirituality of God's Law, the searching nature of its requirements, the breadth and depth of its holy demands as set forth in Matthew 5:17 to 7:5. Not until the hearer is humbled beneath the mighty hand of God, not until he sees how completely he has failed to meet the Divine requirements, not until he feels he is both "without excuse" and "without strength," is he a fit subject for the comfort of our text.

And now we must address ourselves to the genuine Christian, the one in whom a miracle of Divine mercy and power has been wrought, the one whose self-complacency and self-sufficiency have been shattered, the one who has been given "repentance unto life." Such an one has had his eyes opened to see that the Law of God is "holy, just and good" (Romans 7:12), that though it condemns and curses him yet it is righteous and excellent. Such an one has had communicated to him a love for that Law (Psalm 119:174) and therefore a longing to live in full conformity thereto. Yet such an one still finds himself utterly unable to measure up to the exalted standard set before him. Nay, he discovers to his grief there is still a principle within him which is directly opposed to the Law, that when he would do good evil is present to prevent him. He finds to his perplexity and sorrow that indwelling corruption is stronger than all his resolutions not to yield thereto, that his lusts rage more fiercely than ever, that iniquities prevail over him. He is bewildered, staggered.

It is to such an one as we have just described, and to none other, that Christ says, "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." You need Divine power to subdue your raging lusts. You need Divine quickening to animate your feeble graces. You need Divine wisdom to solve your perplexities. You need Divine ointment for your wounds-so address yourself to "your Father which is in Heaven" (Matthew 7:11). Spread before Him your needs, acquaint Him with the longings of your soul, beg Him to relieve your wants and you will not supplicate Him in vain. Ah, this is what genuine prayer, real prayer is, my reader. It is not merely the formal or mechanical performance of a religious exercise. It is not simply the stringing together pious expressions couched in eloquent language-rather is it looking outside of ourselves and seeking help from Above. True prayer is artless, spontaneous-the irrepressible cry of a soul in need. Prayer is the voicing of urgent longings of soul: it is the heart turning to the Author of those longings for the satisfying of them.

"Ask." How Divinely simple! Ask as the hungry child does for its mother's breast. Ask as the starving beggar does for a crust of bread. Ask as the lost traveler does the first one whom he meets. "Ask, and it shall be given you." How Divinely encouraging! Ask of God, for He "gives to all liberally and upbraids not." Ask, for He "is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think" (Ephesians 3:20). But "let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he who wavers is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. Let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord" (James 1:6, 7). To "ask in faith" is to ask with confidence in God, with reliance upon His veracity, laying hold of His promise, pleading it before Him and expecting an answer of peace. To "ask in faith" is to humbly but boldly say unto the Lord, "You have promised Your child, 'Ask, and it shall be given you': I beg to remind You of that promise, now 'do as You have said' " (2 Samuel 7:25).

But we hear more than one of our readers saying, "I have asked, yet alas, I have not received. Yes, my case now is worse than it was before. So far from having more grace I have less; so far from increased strength I am weaker; so far from being granted victory over my lusts I am more frequently and woefully defeated than ever." Be it so, is that proof your prayers have not been heard? You prayed for more grace, may not the answer have been given in the form of increased light, so that instead of your case being worse now than it was formerly you perceive your sinfulness more clearly? And if that is so, is it not something to be thankful for? You prayed for overcoming grace, but possibly God saw you were in far greater need of humbling grace and if He has granted you a measure of the latter so that you are further out of love with yourself and brought more into the dust before Him, surely that is proof your asking has not been in vain!

Yes, says the reader, that may be true and God forbid that I should despise small mercies, but surely you would not have me rest content with such a Christ-dishonoring experience? Answer, you must not look upon humility and mourning over your corruptions as "small mercies": they are distinguishing favors which mark you as belonging to another family than the self-righteous Pharisees and self-satisfied Laodiceans. It is much to be thankful for if God hides pride from you and keeps you low before Him. And what do you mean by your "Christ-dishonoring experience"? Are you aware that there is still a spirit within you which lusts after independence and self-sufficiency? Would you, if you could, attain to some experience wherein you would feel less deeply your dire need of Christ? They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick! Christ is most honored when we prize most highly His sacrifice, when we avail ourselves most gladly of His cleansing blood, when we come to Him for healing and strength.

But is not Christ able to impart spiritual health as well as bestow spiritual healing? Assuredly He is. Then is it not our privilege to ask Him for spiritual health? Certainly, yet in subordination to His sovereign pleasure, for He knows the degree of health which will be best for us. But observe the terms of our text: something more than "asking" is required of us-"seek, and you shall find." That word "seek" may be regarded two ways. First, as a higher degree of the former, an intensification of the "asking." There must be an earnest and fervent asking if we are to obtain: "you shall seek Me, and find Me, when you shall search for Me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13). Second, it enlarges its scope: seeking is more extensive than praying. He who sincerely longs for grace to equip for spiritual duties must leave no stone unturned. The Word must be read, studied, memorized, meditated upon. The Word must be heard if a faithful minister is accessible. The writings of godly men of the past are often a great help. "While I was musing, the fire burned."

"Knock, and it shall be opened unto you." The thought suggested to us by this clause is that grace is not to be come at easily. It is as though the earnest asker and diligent seeker is now confronted by a closed door. Even so, says Christ, be not discouraged and dismayed: continue your quest, "knock." There are times when it seems as though God turns away from us, hides Himself, and we have no access to Him. This is to test our sincerity, to try our earnestness, to put us to the proof as to whether we long for His grace as much as we imagine. If we do, discouragements will only serve to redouble our efforts. When the four men who bore one sick of the palsy could not come near Christ because of the crowd, they broke through the roof and let down the bed whereon the man lay, and so far from Christ being displeased with their importunity, when He "saw their faith" He said unto the sick of the palsy, "son, your sins be forgiven you" (Mark 2:4, 5). Faith refuses to be deterred and continues asking, seeking, knocking, until its requests be granted.

 

22. Seeking Grace: Matthew 7:7-8.

It is often helpful to compare parallel passages with each other, for the very variations in them are found to be complementary and supplementary to one another. Markedly is this the case in connection with the four Gospels. The passage which is now before us in Matthew 7 is found also in Luke 11. There the context is a different one, and it is instructive to ponder the same. Luke 11 opens with one of the disciples asking the Lord, "Teach us to pray." This request is not made by a stranger but by one of His own followers, signifying that believers need to be Divinely taught this sacred are if they are to supplicate aright. This is a very humbling truth for the proud heart of man. Prayer, which is the simplest and most spontaneous exercise of a Christian's soul, is nevertheless an are which he is not by nature competent to perform. Nor can any human school qualify him for this holy task. None but the Lord can teach him-experimentally and effectually-how to obtain the ear of God and call down showers of blessing upon himself and others. O that both writer and reader may be made to feel his deep need in this matter!

Nor let it be supposed that this request, "Lord, teach us to pray," is suited only to the case of a babe in Christ. True, it is a most appropriate and necessary petition for young believers to present, yet there is less need of urging it upon them than there is upon some of their older brethren. Alas, how often added years are accompanied by increased pride and self-sufficiency. How many who have the gift of gab, a ready flow of language and are quick to memorize the expressions which others use in their devotions would be hurt if you suggested that they had need to cry, "Lord, teach us to pray." Yet such is the case: the oldest and most experienced saint has need to be shown the way of the Lord more perfectly: "If any man think that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know" (1 Corinthians 8:2). Growth in grace is not evidenced by growth in haughtiness, but in increased humility. The most deeply taught believer is the one most conscious of his need of teaching: a large part of wisdom consists of consciousness of ignorance.

The Lord answered this request of His disciple by graciously furnishing a brief directory and pattern, which we like to think of as the Family Payer. Then He appeared to anticipate a question: will God really answer us? What is the actual design of this holy exercise? Is it only designed for our inward good or does it really bring down blessings from above? Does it end with the benefit it works in us or does it truly move the hand of God? The reply, though in the form of a parable, is expressed with great clearness and force. As importunity does most surely affect men, so earnestness and persistency is certain to gain an answer from God. It is not a vain thing to supplicate the Mercy-seat: our prayers are not lost on the air or expended merely upon ourselves. Asking is attended with receiving, seeking with finding and knocking leads to opening. There is a connection established between Divine decree and believing prayer, between the requests that ascend from earth and the mercies which descend from Heaven.

It seems strange that so many have missed the meaning of that plain parable in Luke 11. "And He said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine in his journey is come to me and I have nothing to set before him. And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give you. I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needs" (vv. 5-8).

Now there is something more taught us in that parable than the need for and value of perseverance in prayer, namely, encouragements to be earnest therein. Lot us analyze its details. Why was the one sought unto displeased at the request presented to him? Because it was made not by a close relative, but simply a friend. Because the supplicant was not asking on his own behalf, but for someone else. Because it was presented at a most inopportune and inconvenient hour. Because it concerned not an urgent and pressing need, but simply a matter of some bread. Who would think of waking up someone at midnight in order to borrow food for another? Christ shows us the natural disposition of our selfish hearts under such circumstances: "Trouble me not . . . I cannot rise and give you"; yet because the request was repeated and the suppliant would not accept a refusal, for the sake of importunity and not that of friendship, the petitioner gained his request.

Though the specific conclusion was not here formally drawn by Christ-as it is in verse 13-how blessed it is for faith to do so. The One whom the Christian supplicates is more than a "friend," namely, his Heavenly Father. So far from there being any reluctance in Him to supply the varied needs of His children, He "gives liberally to all and upbraids not" (James 1:5). Nor can we come to Him at any inopportune season, for He "slumbers not neither is weary": at all times we may address the Throne of Grace. Moreover it is our privilege to spread before Him our smallest needs. We would hesitate to ask a man of prominence and importance for a mere trifle, knowing he would be loath to be bothered therewith, but "in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known unto God" is the royal invitation (Phil 4:6) issued to the saint. Nor is it only our own needs we are to be concerned with: those of our friends also we may beg the Lord to relieve: thereby, we honor Him acknowledging Him to be Ruler over all, the universal Supplier.

Then our Lord plainly declared, "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for everyone that asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him that knocks it shall be opened" (Luke 11:9-10) which is precisely the same as our present portion in Matthew's Gospel. If the going to a mere friend at an inopportune time and asking for material bread for another received a favorable answer, how much more will our heavenly Father, to whom there are no inconvenient seasons, grant spiritual support to His own dear children! Here is the heart of God revealed as the ready and bounteous Giver, whose fullness cannot be exhausted and whose word to His people is, "open your mouth wide and I will fill it" (Psalm 81:10). A wide door is here opened to the whole family of God, possibilities of blessing which we can scarcely conceive, free leave to covet earnestly the best things. No matter how enlarged our expectations may be, they cannot exceed the bounty of the Lord.

But does this mean that the Christian may ask for anything he pleases and God stands pledged to grant the same? Are those absolute promises without any qualification? No, for first, they are limited by our own unbelief, by the meagerness of our faith which we impose upon them. And second, they are restricted by God's benignity: the only guard He has placed upon these promises is that He will give us nothing save that which is really for our "good" (Matthew 7:11). And how thankful we should be for this! In our ignorance and shortsightedness we often ask God for that which would be for our-ill, but in His mercy God withholds it. Not so does He act with the wicked. Unbelieving Israel asked for flesh in the wilderness and God granted their request, "but while their meat was in their mouths the wrath of God came upon them" (Psalm 78:30, 31). A later generation desired a king and he was given them "in His anger" (Hosea 13:11). So, too, the demons had their request granted that they might enter into the herd of swine (Matthew 8:31, 32).

It is most important that the above-noted qualification be kept in mind, for in some quarters the crudest ideas obtain on this subject. Taking Matthew 7:7, 8 at its face value some have deduced the absurd principle that we may have anything we please from God for the mere asking, providing we ask in faith, and by "asking in faith" they signify only a working themselves up to a firm persuasion they shall have their petitions granted. But that one phrase, "give good things to them that ask Him," at once disposes of such fanaticism. To "ask in faith" requires that we lay hold of and plead before God one of His own promises: it is not an expectation that He will grant everything we may demand, but an assurance He will bestow whatever He is pledged to give. "If we ask anything according to His will-not our will, but His, as it is revealed in Holy Writ-He hears us" (1 John 5:14), and we only ask "according to His will" when we ask in faith for those things He knows will be for our good.

"Prayer is a simple, sincere, humble, ardent opening of the heart before God, wherein we ask things needful or give thanks for benefits received" (John Bradford, the Martyr). And what is it which the Christian, every Christian, is most urgently and constantly in need of, without which it is impossible to improve or use aright all other benefits and privileges? Is it not Divine grace: renewing grace, enlightening grace, empowering grace, sanctifying grace? What is knowledge worth unless it is sanctified to us? What do talents amount to unless they are spiritually directed? And for this grace we are to "ask": ask from a felt sense of want, trustfully supplicating God for the supply thereof. For that grace we are to "seek": seek with care and diligence, as that which is missing and lacking, and which is felt to be of great value. For that grace we are to "knock": that is, ask and seek, with earnestness and constancy, pressing our suit with fervor and persistence, persevering notwithstanding delays, oppositions and disappointments. Continuing in prayer until our request is granted.

There is an "asking" which is mere formality and accomplishes nothing: if the suppliant himself is scarcely able to remember an hour afterward that which he petitioned for, how can he expect to receive answers! If an experienced mother knows the difference between a child's asking for the mere sake of asking and making request out of a sense of urgent need, how infinitely less can we impose upon the Omniscient One. So also there is a "seeking" which is merely mechanical and obtains not: half-heartedness and slothfulness is not likely to be successful. We take very little pains in seeking for something we regard as a mere trifle, but when an object is valued highly and prized dearly then we hunt for it with real diligence. Yet something more than earnest asking and diligent seeking is required: "knocking" suggests an intensification of the one and a continuation of the other. If at first we don't succeed, then try, try again. What a word is that: "You that make mention of the LORD, keep not silence, and give Him no rest" (Isaiah 62:6, 7)!

"Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance" (Ephesians 6:18). The walls of Jericho did not fall down the first time they were encompassed, nor did the beloved Apostle obtain comforting assurance from the Lord the first or the second time that he besought Him for the removal of the thorn in his flesh. So far from it's being a wrong thing for a Christian to make repeated requests for the same object, it is required of him that he be importunate. If it is inquired, Why does God require such importunity from His people? Several answers may be given. First and negatively, it is not that we have to overcome any reluctance on God's part, for He is more ready to give than we are to seek blessings from Him-yes to do for us far more exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. Still less is it because He would tantalize us: "therefore will the LORD wait, that He may be gracious" (Isaiah 30:18).

From the positive side, second, that we may give proof of our earnestness. When someone makes request of us for anything and we find that a single refusal is sufficient to get rid of him, we conclude he was not very eager for it. But suppose a business man arrives late at his office and his chief clerk announces that a stranger has sought an interview, that he could not put him off, that he has waited for hours determined to gain his quest-then it is clear that he is eager and intent. Such intensity and perseverance is pleasing unto the Lord as when a soul can say with Jacob, "I will not let You go except You bless me" (Genesis 32:26)-success is sure. "You shall seek Me and find Me, when you shall search for Me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13).

Such importunity is required for the testing of our faith. An unbelieving heart is soon discouraged-either opposition from man or delay on the part of God and the spirit of prayer is speedily quenched. Not so with the trusting one; faith reassures the soul, bidding it, "Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart: wait, I say, on the LORD" (Psa 27:14). How the faith of the Canaan woman was tried. First she cried, "Have mercy on me O Lord," and we are told, "He answered her not a word." Then His disciples interposed and besought Him to send her away. Next He said, "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But nothing daunted her-she renewed her petition, "Lord, help me": to which Christ replied, "It is not meet to take the children's bread and cast it to the dogs." Yet even that did not dismay her: having asked and sought, she continued knocking, begging for the "crumbs." "O Woman, great is your faith, be it unto you, even as you will" (Matthew 15:28) was the triumphant outcome!

Such importunity is necessary for the developing of our patience. How sadly impatient we are! how angry when our wills are crossed! what fearful rebellion lurks and works in our hearts! Truly we are "like a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke," fretful and resentful at every restriction placed upon the fulfillment of our desires. But patience must have her perfect work, and it is the trying of our faith which "works patience" (James 1:3). Real faith is not destroyed by God's delay: it knows He waits to be gracious, and therefore its possessor is enabled to "both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD" (Lam. 3:26). When Elijah had prayed that the long drought should be ended he bade his servant go and look for the first portent of the coming rain. When he returned saying, "there is nothing," his master replied, "Go again seven times" (1 Kings 18:43). Thus, by the proving of our earnestness, the testing of faith and the developing of patience, our souls are the better fitted to receive and can the more appreciate the Lord's answer when it is given.

But it is not for himself, only, that the Christian is to earnestly, diligently and persistently seek Divine grace, but for his brethren also. That is one reason why we referred to the parallel passage in Luke 11, where these Divine promises are immediately prefaced by the parable of one seeking the loaves on behalf of a needy friend. The lesson should be too plain to miss: because he was unable to personally supply that need, even though it was midnight, he went out and supplicated another on his friend's behalf. Immediately following this Christ says: "Ask-on the behalf of your friend-and it shall be given you." Be just as earnest in asking, just as diligent in seeking, just as importunate in knocking for grace to be given unto your needy brethren and sisters in Christ as you are in seeking it for yourself. They are bought with the same precious Blood, and are members of the same Family, and thus they have pressing claims upon your affections; and their need of Divine grace to cleanse, to illumine, to fructify and sanctify-is as real, as great, and as urgent, as yours.

Ah, is it not at this very point we fail so lamentably? Is not our praying far too self-centered? Is there any wonder it is so ineffectual? If I am so little concerned about the spiritual well-being of my brethren and sisters at large, need I be surprised that the Lord refuses me the grace which I seek for my own soul? God will not put a premium upon selfishness. "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints" (Ephesians 6:18). Yes, not merely for myself and family, or for my own church and denomination, but for all the children of God which are scattered abroad. And this, not in a mere general way and only once a week, but as definitely and diligently, fervently and constantly, as I present my own personal needs before the Throne of Grace. This is one of the chief lessons inculcated by the prayer Christ taught His disciples: "when you pray, say our Father which are in Heaven . . . give us . . . forgive us . . . deliver us"!

"We know that we have passed from death unto life because we love the brethren" (1 John 3:14). And how can our love be better expressed than by making their case and cause our own case and cause before the Mercy-seat! "Epaphras . . . always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God" (Colossians 4:12). Ah, if we had more like Epaphras, Zion would not long remain in its present languishing condition. If each of God's people earnestly, trustfully and daily cried unto Heaven on behalf of the whole Household of faith that feeble knees might be strengthened, backsliders reclaimed, graces quickened, fruitless branches purged, half-dead preachers revived, we should soon witness showers of blessing descending on the parched Vineyard. God has not changed: His arm is not shortened: the promises of Matthew 7:7, 8 are as available to faith now as they were on the day of Pentecost. It is affections that have waned-the footstool of prayer which has been neglected. "You have not, because you ask not."

Was there ever a time when prayer for the Church collectively, and its members individually was more urgently needed than now? We need to frequently remind ourselves that the most striking deliverances wrought in the past for God's people are recorded chiefly as monuments of prevailing prayer. Such was the salvation of Israel at the Red Sea-wrought in response to the supplication of Moses (Exo. 14:15). Such was the victory over Amalek at Rephidim (Exo. 17:8-13); the discomfiture of the Philistines in the days of Samuel-the "Ebenezer" then erected was less a monument of victory over powerful enemies than of the Prophet's prevailing prayer (1 Samuel 7:5, 9, 12). Also the overthrow of the Moabites and Ammonites in the days of Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 10:1-13); the remarkable deliverance from Sennacherib king of Assyria (Isaiah 37:15-20, 35, 37). Such examples of Jehovah's readiness to show Himself strong on the behalf of those who count upon His intervention are recorded for our encouragement. Then Ask, Seek, Knock.

 

22. Seeking Grace: Matthew 7:9-11.

Every Christian will grant that prayer is a bounden duly, that it is obligatory upon us to own our dependence upon the Giver of all good and perfect gifts, to seek from Him those things which we are in need of both temporally and spiritually, to acknowledge the Lord's goodness and loving-kindness and render thanks for His manifold mercies. To fail at such a point is inexcusable, making us like unto those who live as though there were no God, rendering not unto Him that which is His undoubted due. Prayerlessness is not to be looked upon as an innocent infirmity but as a sin of the deepest dye which is to be penitently confessed. Christians will also grant that prayer is a precious privilege, for by this ordinance they may obtain an audience with the Majesty on High, delight themselves in the Lord, commune with the Beloved of their souls, unburden their hearts before Him and prove Him to be "a very present help in trouble." Alas, that we prize this privilege so little and treat it so lightly!

Though it be freely allowed that prayer is a bounden duty and a precious privilege-the fact remains that many professing Christians are woefully slack in performing that duty and availing themselves of that privilege. Why is this? Let them not add to the sin of prayerlessness the wickedness of seeking to throw the blame upon God, by declaring He has withheld from them the spirit of prayer, that He refuses them liberty of approach unto Him. That were to add insult to injury. We make an evil use of it when we appeal to God's sovereignty in order to excuse ourselves from discharging our responsibilities. If we are not enjoying the light of God's countenance it is because our sins have come in between us as a thick cloud (Isaiah 59:2). If we are not receiving good things at His hands it is because our iniquities have withheld them (Jeremiah 5:24). If our hearts are cold and prayerless it is because we have grieved the Holy Spirit. The fault is wholly ours, and we must honestly admit it.

Among the things we may mention that hinder a free and regular approach unto the Throne of Grace are the workings of pride. Pride begets a spirit of independence and self-sufficiency. It goes against the natural grain to take our place in the dust and come before God as empty-handed beggars. True we did so at the beginning of our Christian experience, for then we had been emptied of self and brought to look entirely outside of self for deliverance. But alas, increased years are rarely accompanied by increased humility. As we become better versed in the letter of Holy Writ and more acquainted with the mysteries of our Faith a sense of self-sufficiency is apt to possess us. "Knowledge puffs up," and the more puffed up we are the less our sense of need and the more formal and infrequent our seeking after Divine grace.

A spirit of sloth is paralyzing to our prayer life. The soul loves its ease as well as the body, that is why we are exhorted to "watch unto prayer" (1 Peter 4:7). And how forceful that word from the pen of such an one! It was at that very point Peter had first failed. The Lord had bidden him to "watch and pray." Instead, he went to sleep. Prayer is likened unto "striving" (Romans 15:30), "laboring fervently" (Colossians 4:12) and "wrestling" (Ephesians 6:12, 18), and such exertions are not possible when lethargy has overcome us. The power of unbelief quenches the spirit of prayer. Unbelief raises objections, is occupied with difficulties, and leaves God entirely out of its considerations. Only where faith is in healthy operation can we expect any success in this holy exercise. But flirting with the world, yielding to the lusts of the flesh, or heeding the lies of Satan stifles the breath of faith and then the soul is left to gasp in the foul atmosphere of unbelief.

Now in that section of the Sermon on the Mount which we are now considering our Lord sets before His disciples one inducement after another to stimulate them unto prayer. First, He gives them a gracious invitation: "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you" (Matthew 7:7). Second, He assures them of an answer by giving them a sure promise: "For everyone that asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him that knocks it shall be opened" (v. 8). Third, He draws an infallible inference from the Fatherhood of God: "For what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in Heaven give good things to them that ask Him?" (vv. 9-11).

In order to get the full force of Christ's conclusion let us observe its premise: "If you then, being evil." First of all observe how that brief sentence expresses the Divine estimate of fallen mankind. How those words abase the pride of man, affirming as they do the depravity and corruption of human nature. Philosophers and poets, preachers and politicians may prate all they please about the dignity and divinity of man, the nobility and grandeur of human nature-but they fly in the face of this solemn and inerrant verdict of the Son of God. Christ was not deceived by the fair profession and religious pretensions of those He met with, for "many believed in His name when they saw the miracles which He did," but "Jesus did not commit Himself unto them . . . for He knew what was in man" (John 2:23-25). This "if you then, being evil" is yet more solemn and striking when we note that our Lord said it not to those who were His open enemies, but unto His own disciples (see Luke 11:1, 2, 9, 13)-by nature they were polluted.

"If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children" (Luke 11:13). Notwithstanding the fact that you not only do that which is evil but are yourselves evil-the fountain itself, from whence all actions issue, being poisoned-yet you are kind to your offspring. Parental love, by the wise and gracious arrangement of God, is one of the most powerful of all the active principles of the human heart and mind. No parent worthy of the name would refuse to supply the genuine needs of his little ones when he had it in his power to do so. He would neither turn a deaf ear to their cries nor mock them by bestowing what was useless and noxious instead of that which was requisite and beneficial for them. No, despite the ruin which the Fall has entailed, men and women still respond to the instincts of affection when they perceive that their offspring are in need and use their best judgment to relieve the same-certainly those who are regenerate do so.

In what follows Christ drew a conclusion from this filial relationship: "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in Heaven give good things to them that ask Him!" It is an argument deduced from the less to the greater, a specie of reasoning frequently met with in the Scriptures. "Like as a father pities his children, so the LORD pities them that fear Him" (Psalm 103:13). "Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yes, they may forget, yet will not I forget you" (Isaiah 49:15). "I will spare them as a man spares his own son that serves him" (Malachi 3:17). If godly parents respond to cries of need from their children, what may we expect from Him who is supremely excellent and kindly disposed unto His children? In knowledge, in wisdom, in benevolence, in power and in resources our heavenly Father infinitely surpasses all earthly parents, and therefore we may petition Him with the fullest assurance that He will supply all our need. What conclusive reasoning is this! What persuasive appeal is here!

But let us attend next to the connection between this gracious and grand encouragement to seekers after Divine grace and that which immediately precedes. As we sought to point out, there is a gradation or progressive development here in our Lord's teaching on prayer-especially is this observable in Luke 11. First, there is the invitation (v. 7), and then a reassuring promise (v. 8). And now Christ disposes of an objection-a most foolish and wicked one-yet one which is nevertheless raised by some. A grave doubt is apt to arise in the distressed mind. True, God hears the petitions of His people, and as a general rule makes responses of mercy to them. But I am such an unworthy one, is He not therefore likely to be displeased at my prayers and so answer me in wrath instead of love? Certainly I should deserve it: if confessing my vileness God should judge me out of my own mouth and condemn me, what could I do? Ah, if we are afraid that God will give us something evil when we have asked Him for that which is good, then we are "evil" indeed.

A sense of sinfulness and the workings of unbelief cause you to fear that if you ask something good at the hands of God He will mock you with something evil-that instead of being gracious He will send you something in righteous judgment. Does the reader deem this far-fetched and suppose we are describing a very extreme and exceptional case? Then we ask, Have you never prayed about a certain matter, prayed earnestly, and the sequel has been that instead of things being improved they grew worse? Instead of relief, difficulties increased and the pressure became more acute, until you were afraid to pray any further for such a thing? Have you begged God again and again to make you more patient, and the sequel has been such that it appeared the Lord had mocked you by taking away what little patience you had? If such has not been your experience, we can assure you not a few know something like unto it.

"Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?" (Matthew 7:9, 10). Here is our Lord's refutation of such an objection. He bids us ponder the conduct of earthly parents. Does a godly father deliberately mock his son when a reasonable request is made of him? Of course not. Then is that son afraid to come to his parent and acquaint him with his need? No, he is assured that his parent is the very one above all others who has his interests most at heart and is more likely than anyone else to minister unto him. He has confidence in his father's goodness; he trusts in his love and therefore he hesitates not to apply unto him. True, in his ignorance the child may ask for something which is harmful, and then it is the wisdom and love of his parent which withholds it; but if he asks for that which is needful and beneficial, he will not receive that which is injurious in lieu of it.

The spiritual application is obvious. As the child trusts his parent, so must you your heavenly Father. "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in Heaven give good things to them that ask Him." As high as God is above us so high is the certainty that He will not fail His beloved children. But to be more specific. You have perhaps been earnestly beseeching God for guidance, to lead you in a plain path, to make His way plain before your face. The result has been most discouraging. Difficulties have increased, you seem more hedged in than ever, you are now at your wit's end to know what to do. Well, do not judge God harshly and conclude He has given you a stone instead of bread! Your present lot is from the Lord, your circumstances are ordered by Him who is too wise to err and too loving to be unkind. As Spurgeon says, "It may seem hard perhaps; but may it not be the crust of the bread for all that? believe it to be so, but never suspect you are being treated ungenerously by your Father."

Yet it appears to us that it is not so much of temporal mercies and providential blessings as of spiritual things our passage treats. We would therefore suggest that the "bread" stands for vital and indispensable graces, and the "fish" for comforting ones. Bread is the staff of life, and the graces of repentance and faith are necessary unto salvation. Here is a soul that has prayed definitely and sincerely for repentance. But he reads that Judas repented, yet perished nevertheless. He hears some faithful servant of God draw the line between legal bondage and evangelical repentance, between the sorrow of the world and "godly sorrow which works repentance" (2 Cor 7:10). He is deeply concerned, wondering whether he has so renounced sin, so detested it, so loathed it from the very bottom of his heart, as to warrant his concluding that he has indeed been granted "repentance unto life" (Acts 11:18). He therefore applies to the Throne of Grace crying "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." (Psalm 51:10).

So far so good; but now let us take the sequel. That individual becomes better acquainted with the plague of his own heart and in the light of God discovers corruption within such as he was not conscious of before. Nay, indwelling sin now asserts itself with increasing power and iniquities prevail. He seeks deliverance, but it comes not for the flesh remains unchanged to the end. He confesses his sins to God but so frequently that it appears to become mechanical. It seems that his heart is as hard as a stone and he is ready to believe that he was deceived-that after all he is a stranger to genuine repentance. Here, then, is the remedy for such a case. Where did you seek repentance? At the Throne of Grace, you answer. From whom, we ask; from some creature? No, you reply, from God. Then has He mocked you? If you sought simply, definitely, sincerely, from a sense of need; has He given you a stone? Perish the thought! It is Satan who seeks to persuade you that God has suffered you to be deluded. Believe not his lie.

Take the grace of faith. We begged God for saving faith in His Son and believed that He answered us. We renounced all our own doings and trusted in the Lord Jesus. We saw Him in the glass of the Gospel dying the Just for the unjust and we cast ourselves on His atoning sacrifice as the alone ground of our acceptance with God. But at times the question is raised in our minds, Is mine true saving faith or would it not be presumptuous for me to affirm that in Christ I am pardoned? There is an historical faith: is mine no better than that? I read that "the demons also believe" (James 2:19): may not my faith be of that sort? Do I have the genuine grace of faith or am I only deluding myself? Come back to this touchstone, my friend: where did you seek your faith? Did you ask your heavenly Father to give it you? Have you not said to Him, if my faith is worthless, graciously work in me the faith of Your elect? Then dare you conclude that instead of giving you bread He has mocked you with a stone? that instead of imparting faith by the Spirit's operation, He has put into your heart a carnal presumption and allowed you to be deluded? Even a godly human parent would not act thus: how much less so the heavenly Father!

Take the grace of personal piety. You have longed for more holiness. You have asked God for more purity of heart. You have sought earnestly for a closer conformity to the image of His Son. You have knocked again and again at the Throne of Grace, beseeching that you might be sanctified wholly in spirit and soul and body. Great now is your dismay, for you find yourself more sinful than ever, indwelling corruption is increasingly active, and evil thoughts continually harass you. Even so, once more we must bring you back to this: for what did you ask? where did you seek this blessing? If from some pretended priests and mediators such as the poor deluded Papists have recourse to, you would indeed be deceived and disappointed. But if you sought from the great High Priest, the alone Mediator between God and men, it is impossible that He should have palmed off on you something which is evil. He has granted your request, though you perceive it not: the holier He makes you, the more dissatisfied you will be with yourself; the purer your heart, the more sensitive to the foulness which invades it.

Take the grace of hope. This is a virtue which stays the heart in seasons of distress, enabling the soul to look forward with firm expectation to better things in the future. "For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man sees, why does he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it" (Romans 8:24, 25). The fulfillment of the promise is not yet visible but hope causes us to wait confidently for the same. It was the grace of hope which moved Job to say, "When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold" (23:10). The furnace might be hot, its flames most unpleasant to the flesh, the dross might sizzle (as when he cursed the day of his birth), but he had no doubt of the ultimate outcome. Ah, says the reader, I dare not cherish such an assurance: it would be presumptuous for me to do so. What! presumption to expect your heavenly Father to answer your prayers? presumption to expect Him to make good His promise! "He which has begun a good work in you will finish it" (Philippians 1:6)! O insult Him not with such mock humility, but trust Him to act like a Father unto you!

It is to be observed that in Luke 11 a third thing is mentioned: "Or if he shall ask for an egg (something which only the wealthy ate in those days), will he offer him a scorpion? (v. 12). This seems to carry the thought beyond asking for necessary or even comforting graces, even for what we might term spiritual luxuries as faith grows and becomes bolder in seeking the highest enjoyments and enrichments of the Spirit. The application is not difficult. The mature Christian covets earnestly the best gifts. He begs that he may be drawn closer to Christ and enjoy more intimate communion with Him. And what form does the answer take? More persecution from the world, more opposition from friends, more unkind treatment from brethren which stirs up the flesh and casts down the soul. Ah, but do not add to your heavenly Father the injustice of concluding He has given you a scorpion instead of an egg: malign not His character thus. Rather charge yourself with ignorance and folly because you fail to realize that communion with Christ in this life consists largely in "the fellowship of His sufferings" (Philippians 3:10), which is the highest honor grace confers on His followers.

In closing let us point out that if we are to enter into the comfort and assurance of our passage, faith must lay firm hold of the Fatherly character and relation of God. So long as we view Him only as the stern Judge or as the Most High sovereign we may expect little liberty of approach or assurance of answers. There must be a childlike confidence in His Fatherly goodness and love-a believing He will give good things unto the members of His dear Family. There must be a reliance upon His sufficiency. An earthly parent may "know how to give good gifts unto his children," but difficult circumstances often prevent him carrying out his desires. Not so our heavenly Father: He not only "knows how" but actually gives unto His children. Then doubt Him not and cease supposing He has substituted something worthless for genuine grace.

 

23. The Golden Rule: Matthew 7:12.

"Therefore all things whatever you would that men should do to you, do you even so to them: for this is the Law and the Prophets." This single verse forms a distinct section, the ninth in this discourse of our Lord's. Its theme is that of equity and justice, which must regulate us in our dealings with one another. Its very brevity evidences the Divine wisdom of Him who spoke as never man spoke, for who else would have condensed so much into such few words? The manner in which this rule is enforced manifests the fundamental unity of the two economies: so far from the Gospel setting aside the requirements of the Law it establishes the same (Romans 3:31). Analyzing our present verse we find it contains three things. First, a Conclusion drawn from the context: "therefore." Second, a Commandment which presents to us a standard of complete unselfishness: "whatever you would that men should do to you, do you even so to them." Third, a Commendation of that standard: "for this is the Law and the Prophets."

The opening "Therefore" looks back to what Christ had said in the previous section (Matthew 7:7-11). In it we behold the Divine Teacher making a practical application of what He had just said upon prayer, intimating that privilege and duty are never to be divorced, that blessings from God are to enable us the better to discharge our responsibilities unto men. "Fitly is the law of justice subjoined to the law of prayer, for unless we be honest in our conversation, God will not hear our prayers: Isaiah 1:15, 17; 58:6, 9; Zechariah 7:9, 13. We cannot expect to receive good things from God if we do not practice fair things and that which is lovely and of good report among men. We must not only be devout, but honest, else our devotion is but hypocrisy" (Matthew Henry). Alas that this is so little insisted upon by the pulpit today; alas that the impression is generally created that we may expect an answer to our petitions regardless of how we treat our fellows. God requires a conscientious performance of all the duties of civil righteousness as well as that we be earnest in acts of piety.

"How much more shall your Father which is in Heaven give good things to them that ask Him. Therefore all things whatever you would that men should do to you, do you even so to them." The connection between these two things then shows that in the practice of this golden rule Christians are to consider not only how they would be dealt with by men, but by God Himself, thereby elevating the precept high above the ethics of the heathen. Whatever usage we expect to meet with at the hands of God, the same in our measure, must we dispense to others. How can we expect God to be merciful to us if we are merciless unto our neighbor? How can we expect Him to deal liberally with us if we are eaten up with selfishness? Let us not forget that whatever need others have of us, the same need have we of God. According as we sow sparingly or bountifully, so will our reaping be (2 Corinthians 9:6). I am therefore to consider how God will deal with me if I am rigid, severe, and demand the uttermost farthing from those in my power.

It is also to be observed that a due regulation of our prayer life is indispensable if we are to be fitted for dealing properly with our fellows. All inordinate affection toward the world, which is the impulse that moves men to over-reaching practices, has its root in a distrust of God. "Were we daily to ask for all we want of Him, seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and relying upon His promise to add other things as He sees them to be best for us, we should have no inclination to covetousness or injustice. But if instead of depending like sheep on the care of their shepherd we set off like beasts of prey to forage the world for ourselves, we shall often judge it to be wise and necessary to seize on that which equity forbids" (Andrew Fuller). It is only by dwelling in (not paying an occasional visit to) the secret place of the Most High that my heart will be prepared to act becomingly toward my neighbor. It is only by constant communion with Him who is both light and love that a spirit of righteousness and grace will actuate me in my relations with other men.

"How much more shall your Father which is in Heaven give good things to them that ask Him. Therefore all things whatever you would that men should do to you, do you even so to them." Consider the connection also in this manner: since your Father in Heaven gives good things to you when you ask Him, make it your care to do good unto all who come within the sphere of your influence. "Be you therefore followers (imitators) of God, as dear children" (Ephesians 5:1). Since God has dealt bountifully with you, practice generosity and liberality unto men. Let not your conduct be determined by how your fellows treat you, but rather by how God treats you. How immeasurably does this holy and gracious standard from Christ exceed "the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees" (Matthew 5:20)! How far had they departed from the Law and the Prophets! Nor need we fear that the unregenerate will take such an unfair advantage of our magnanimity that we shall be the losers thereby: "Knowing that whatever good thing any man does, the same shall he receive of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:8).

But how am I to determine what will be for the good of my neighbors? Thus: "all things whatever you would that men should do to you, do you even so to them." This commandment consists of two parts: that which is to be ordered, namely, our actions unto other men, and the rule which is to regulate this: namely, the law of justice and equity which is in every man by nature. Whatever you would desire and deem best for yourself were you in their place, that is what you must do unto others. Nothing less than such a standard of unselfishness is our rule of righteousness. "Christ came to teach us not only what we are to know and to believe, but what we are to do: what we are to do, not only toward God, but toward men; not only toward our fellow disciples, those of our own party and persuasion, but toward men in general, all with whom we have to do" (Matthew Henry). It is utterly vain to speak like angels when on our knees before God if we act like devils in our transactions with men.

"The meaning of this rule lies in these three things. (1). We must do that to our neighbor which we ourselves acknowledge to be fit and reasonable. The appeal being made to our own judgment and the discovery of our judgment is referred to that which is our own will and expectation when it is our own case. (2). We must put other people upon the level with ourselves, and reckon we are as much obliged to them as they to us. We are as much bound to the duty of justice as they are and they are as much entitled to the benefit as we. (3). We must in our dealing with men suppose ourselves in the same particular case and circumstances with those we have to do with, and deal accordingly. If I were making such a one's bargain, laboring under such a one's infirmities and afflictions, how would I desire and expect to be treated? And this is a just supposition, for we know not how soon their case may really be ours; indeed we may fear, lest God by His judgments should do to us as we have done to others, if we have not done as we would be done by" (Matthew Henry).

This golden rule is God's witness in every human heart. Each one has so much regard for himself as to quickly feel when he is wronged and to pass censure on the one injuring him. He has only, then, to apply this principle to his conduct unto others and the right or wrong of his actions must instantly appear. Hereby we are taught to abstain from everything which would injure our neighbor, either in his body, estate or good name-such as lying, slandering, dishonesty, oppression. Nature itself teaches men this, for would they have men defame, rob or oppress them? Then let them avoid such reprehensible practices toward others. For the rule is not to treat men according as they deal with you, but act toward them as you would desire them to act toward you. It is the corruption of nature, the yielding to sinful inclinations which moves men to seek their own temporal advantage and advancement by the loss and debasing of others. Alas, how far, far away is the world from God and His righteousness.

How this precept cuts at the very root of all the pretensions and sophistries used by men in their endeavors to justify crooked ways and practices! How often they plead, "We must live," though they like not to think that in a very short time they must also die-"and after death, the judgment"! Here these selfish creatures are reminded that their fellows also must live, and have rights equal to their own. However the unscrupulous may seek to excuse their dishonest tricks of the trade, unmerciful employers grinding the faces of their employees, harsh tyrants demanding their full pound of flesh from widows and orphans under the plea of "business is business," let them come nearer home and inquire whether they would like to be dealt with thus were the positions reversed. "The money-lender may pretend he pleases the poor, but his help is no better than he who gives a draught of cold water to one that is in a burning fever, which seems pleasant at the first but after increases his sufferings" (W. Perkins). Were this rule heeded, the light weight, short change, and adulterated commodities would be unknown.

This rule applies not only to giving but forgiving, for as long as we are in this world there will be infirmities and offenses and thus the mutual need of forgiving and receiving forgiveness. "Forbearing one another and forgiving one another, if any man have a complaint against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do you" (Colossians 3:13). If we resent the idea that others should require flawless perfection from us, then we must not demand the same from them. If we desire that our fellows view our unwitting failures with the eyes of charity then we must cultivate the same attitude. If we refuse to forgive those who trespass against us, God will not forgive us our trespasses" (Matthew 6:15). "Take no heed unto all words that are spoken, lest you hear your servant curse you; for oftentimes also your own heart knows that you yourself likewise have cursed others" (Ecclesiastes 7:21, 22). The meaning is be not over affected when others speak evil of you, for you know that you are not guiltless of that very thing; therefore, meekly forbear. The realization that the flesh is still in us and the knowledge that we are compassed about with infirmities should make us pardon those who wrong us.

Let us mention another direction in which this precept needs to be applied: where there are difference of religious opinion. Had this principle been acted upon then persecution in all its manifold and cruel forms would have been unknown. Where is the man who would acknowledge it to be right and proper to persecute him for his conscientious convictions or for that conduct which is the necessary result of them? Then if he deems such punishment to be unmerited and unjust in his own case, by what principle can he regard such punishment as being deserved by his fellows? Religious controversies will obtain while ever men differ in their views and regard the Truth as valuable, but they would be conducted very differently from what they are if those who engaged in them acted according to this golden rule. Imputation of unworthy motives, scurrilous language, personal abuse, malignant insinuations and all the unworthy resorts by which polemical discussions are so generally marred would be thrown to the winds and clear statement and fair argument take their place if we all lived by this golden rule.

By this precept we are taught the secret of how to preserve a good conscience in all our dealings with men in the world. If we are regulated by this rule in our actings with others, our hearts will condemn us not. For many particulars absolute precepts are given in the Scriptures telling us what to do and what not to do and they are strictly to be observed by us. But where we lack any specific command from God, then we are to fall back upon this general rule and search our conscience as to how we would have men deal with us in a similar case or circumstance, and act accordingly with them. This will make us jealous of the reputation of our neighbor, will prevent us making false and injurious statements and cause us to be cautious of heeding and circulating any evil reports. We should then treat others with the same courtesy and kindness as we would wish to be treated by them. We should refrain from subjecting them to those slights and neglects which, were we in their place and they in ours, we should feel unpleasant and undeserved.

"It is a peculiar excellence of this rule of our Lord, that it not only show us our duty, but its obvious tendency is to persuade us to perform it. It brings duty before the mind in a peculiarly inviting form. It not only enlightens the mind, but inclines the heart. Self-love is the great obstacle in the way of doing our duty to our neighbor. Our Lord makes even self-love become, as it were, the hand-maid of justice and charity. Having led us to change places with our neighbor to feel what are our rights, and how unreasonable it would be to withhold them, He then says, These are his rights, and you will be the unreasonable person to deprive him of them. We are made, as it were, to declare what is our neighbor's due when we suppose we are only considering what was our own; and we cannot, without the shame of conscious inconsistency, refuse to him what we clearly see, were we in his place, we should account it unreasonable and unjust to be deprived of" (John Brown).

From all that has been pointed out it follows that the breach of this rule is more evil in the case of one who has tasted personally the bitterness of injustice at the hands of others than those who have not done so, because experience gives a truer and closer knowledge of things than a bare concept of them imparts. He who knows things by mere contemplation knows them but at a distance-but he who knows them by actual experience knows them at hand and feels the smart of them. Therefore conscience should work more in them by way of restraint because they know what it is to be oppressed or disgraced and remember how grievous it was when they lay under a wrong. "You shall neither vex a stranger nor oppress him: for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Exo. 22:21): the Hebrews knew from painful experience what it was to be friendless under a heavy yoke and cruelly afflicted and therefore should be the last people to oppress any strangers who came into their lands. Servants who have groaned under heavy tasks ought to make the kindest and most considerate masters and mistresses if Providence raises their station in the world.

It should also be pointed out that this rule like all the Divine precepts is spiritual and concerns the inward man as well as the outward: bearing upon our thoughts as well as our words and actions. The whole Law of God is spiritual (Romans 7:14). "The Law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul" (Psalm 19:7): it is a guide not only for the motions of the body, but also for the intents and workings of the heart. As is the first table, so is the second: "the second is like unto it" (Matthew 22:39). How so? It is as spiritual as the first, and therefore not only what I "do" but also what I think and purpose to do unto others is comprehended in it. As we saw in Matthew 5, Christ speaks of murder and adultery committed in the heart by spiteful anger and revengeful thoughts-by wanton desires and impure imaginations. Thus secret grudgings in our hearts against others is forbidden, so that our affections be not alienated from them. Our neighbor is to be loved as ourselves and therefore the justice and equity required by this rule is a righteousness which proceeds from a principle of love.

It will thus be seen that this golden rule is not only a guide to conduct but a revealer of sin to the saints, for who that knows his own heart will say that he measures up to it. "Let all who habitually neglect or violate this law recollect that whatever be their profession, they are not Christians. Even now Christ is saving to them 'Why call you Me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things that I say' " (John Brown). How few real Christians there are, then, in the world. How many are most resolute in standing up for their own rights, yet have no regard for the rights of others; who are very strict in demanding prompt payment from their debtors, yet are exceedingly slack in meeting the dues of their creditors; who hotly resent being slandered, yet care nothing of other men's names; who are very hurt when friends fail to sympathize with them in their troubles, yet are callously indifferent to the sorrows of their neighbors. It is vain to parade our orthodoxy in doctrine and prate about the communion we enjoy with Christ, while we pay little or no attention to this important precept. God will not accept our worship if our conduct unto our fellows contradicts our Christian profession.

"For this is the Law and the Prophets." This clause contains a commendation of the preceding commandment. It is no strange and harsh task which I am setting before you, says Christ, but one which God has required from His people since the beginning. That golden rule is in fact a remarkable epitome of the second table of the Moral Law, an abridgement of the duties there demanded by it. "Whatever you would that men should do to you, do you even so to them" is a gathering up into one compendious maxim of all that the Old Testament teaches concerning our converse and commerce with men. That golden rule is the sum of what the Law and the Prophets taught about the law of equity and justice between man and man. In this declaration, "For this is the Law and the Prophets" Christ placed His imprimatur upon the authenticity and authority of the Old Testament Scriptures, for our Lord had never backed up His own teaching with anything less than an appeal unto that which was and is the very Word of God. The doctrine of Moses and the Prophets is of equal weight and worth as the doctrine of Christ.

Perhaps a brief amplification is called for by the last sentence above. If we compare Christ and Moses and the Prophets, we must distinguish between their doctrine and their persons. The doctrine of Moses and the Prophets is equal to the doctrine of Christ in two ways: first, in certainty of Truth, for they speak nothing other than the very Word of God, and Christ did no more. Second, in efficacy and authority for the binding of conscience, theirs being thus equal with His. Yet the Person of Christ is infinitely above the persons of Moses and the Prophets, for He is God incarnate, whereas they were but holy men. He is the Author and Fountainhead of Truth, whereas they were only the amanuenses and channels thereof. Therefore Christ's doctrine more binds us to obedience than the doctrine of the Old Testament because the Person delivering it is of more excellence: this is forcibly argued in Hebrews 1:1, 2; 2:1 "we ought to give the more earnest heed," and 12:25 "much more."

The Old Testament taught the imperative duty of seeking the good of our neighbor as emphatically and clearly as does the New. It plainly and repeatedly forbade the doing of anything which would in any ways injure him. "You shall not avenge nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD" (Leviticus 19:18). "If you meet your neighbor's ox or his donkey going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again" (Exo. 23:4): clearly that was enunciating the principle, Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you. "You shall not harden your heart nor shut your hand from your poor brother; but you shall open your hand wide unto him, and shall surely lend him sufficient for his need, and that which he lacks" (Deuteronomy 15:7, 8). "Rejoice not when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles" (Proverbs 24:17). "If your enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink" (Proverbs 25:21). Thus we may perceive the error and senselessness of those who claim that the New Testament contains a higher morality and spirituality than the Old.

 

24. The Way of Salvation: Matthew 7:13-14.

The verses to which we have now come are closely connected with the previous sections of our Lord's Sermon in which He had described the character of those who were the subjects of His kingdom and had laid down the rules by which they must walk. Such teaching as He had given was at direct variance with the popular views entertained by His hearers. The Jews supposed that they were all to be the subjects of the Messiah, simply from being the natural descendants of Abraham and because they bore in their flesh the mark of the covenant. But throughout this discourse the Lord Jesus had made it abundantly clear that something more essential than physical lineage and submission to ceremonial rites was required to make them the spiritual heirs of the Patriarch. There was a straiter gate which had to be entered than any privilege which natural birth gave admittance to, a narrower way to be traversed than that religious life mapped out by the scribes and Pharisees. Only those are accounted the true children of Abraham who have his faith (Romans 4:16), who do his works (John 8:39), and who are vitally united to Christ (Galatians 3:29).

If the teaching of Christ were radically different from that in which the Jews of His day had been brought up, it is in equally sharp contrast with most of the concepts which now prevail in Christendom. If the Jews were completely ignorant of the high and searching requirements of God's holiness it cannot be said that our own generation is any better informed. If they plumed themselves on being the children of Abraham, a large percentage of our people complacently assume that they are members of a "Christian nation." If they believed that the rite of circumcision secured for them the favor of God, multitudes in our churches imagine that the sprinkling of water on the brow of an infant obtains for it a passport to Heaven. And even in those circles which are better instructed, for the most part salvation is offered on much easier terms, far more acceptable to the natural man than those prescribed by the incarnate Son of God. The analogy may be extended still further for if it were the religious leaders of Israel who most strenuously opposed our Lord, it is those now making the loudest claims to orthodoxy that are the bitterest antagonists of the Truth.

In support of our assertion that the doctrine of Christ is directly contrary to the ideas now so prevalent in Christendom, take His solemn and express declaration that few there are that find Life, which, we shall see as we proceed, means that only a few will reach Heaven. But who is there today that really believes this? Where is the place in which such a truth is boldly and plainly uttered? We know of none. On the contrary it is generally assumed, yes, said openly, that many, that "millions," that the greater part of the human race will obtain eternal life. Let any man who "attends church" die, and no matter how worldly his life or how crooked his business dealings-do not his friends say with one consent, "he is now at rest," and is not the preacher expected to declare in his funeral sermon that the deceased is "better off"? If anyone should dare to dissent is he not at once condemned for being "harsh and uncharitable"? The tree, forsooth, is not to be known by its fruits but by the label some "religious" gardener has attached to it.

The unwelcome but faithful objector may call attention to our Lord's statement that His flock is a "little"-Greek "very little"-one (Luke 12:32), but the religious world will not listen to him. He must not challenge the Christian profession of his fellows. He must not look for perfect people in this world. We all have our failings, and though some believe differently from himself, yet their hearts are right, and though others may be slack in performing certain duties, let him remember that they claim to be trusting in the finished work of Christ and therefore it is highly reprehensible for anyone to doubt them. So far from believing that only a few will reach Heaven, the vast majority in Christendom today hold that, somehow, in some way, the greater part of our fellows will get there! Hell, if there is such a place, is reserved for arch-criminals and villains, just as our prisons house only a small fraction of the population-the "unfortunates" and "misguided" ones.

And why is it that there are scarcely any left among us who really believe that only the few will reach Heaven? There can be only one answer: because it is now generally held that Heaven can be obtained on much easier terms than those prescribed by Christ. The adulterous generation in which our lot is cast is quite sure that Heaven can be reached without treading the only way which leads there, that the kingdom of God can be entered without passing through "much tribulation" (Acts 14:22), that we may be disciples of Christ without denying self, taking up our cross and following Him (Matthew 16:24). They do not believe that if their right eye offends it must be plucked out and if their right hand offends it must be cut off (Matthew 5:29, 30). They do not believe that if they live after the flesh they shall die nor that only if through the Spirit they mortify the deeds of the body they shall live (Romans 8:13). They are fully persuaded that a man can serve two masters and succeed in "making the best of two worlds." In short, they do not believe the gate is as "strait" nor the way as "narrow" as Christ declared it to be.

All we have to do in order to be saved is to respond to Christ's gracious invitation and "come unto Him." Ah, but that "all" is by no means the simple matter that many think and that so many evangelists falsely represent it to be. We have to turn our back upon the world and forsake our cherished sins in order to turn our face unto Christ, as the prodigal had to leave the far country where he had spent his substance in riotous living before he could come to the Father. Christ is the Holy One of God and will not be the minister of sin. Love for the things of this world closes the heart against Him. What caused the young man to go away from Christ sorrowing after some fair show of willingness to be His disciple but love of his possessions? What restrained the invited guests from accepting the invitation to the marriage feast but immoderate affection to the husbanding of a farm and proving of oxen (Matthew 22:5)? "Whoever is under the government of this lust (covetousness) can no more believe in Christ than a man lying under a heap of rubbish or at the bottom of the sea can see the glory of the heavens. The intentness of the eye on one object hinders it from the view of another" (S. Charnock).

When the Philippian jailor asked "what must I do to be saved?" all the Apostle answered was "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved and your house." Waiving now the fact that that was not the idle inquiry of one who was still in love with the world and taking his fill of its pleasures but instead the distressed cry of one who was desperate, let it be pointed out that while believing in Christ is a simple and easy act considered in itself, yet it becomes a very hard and difficult thing to us by reason of the opposition made thereto by our inward corruptions and the temptations of Satan. To forgive our enemies and love those who persecute and despitefully use us is considered as a notion of the mind, easy to be performed-but try and bring your heart to do the same and you will discover it lies beyond your own unaided powers. As a motion of the mind it is both simple and delightful to cast all our care upon Him who cares for us (1 Peter 5:7), yet a poor man in ill-health and the father of a big family does not find it easy to perform. No heart can tear itself away from the world and hate beloved lusts without first experiencing the mighty operations of the Holy Spirit.

"Enter you in at the strait gate" (Matthew 7:13), says Christ at the beginning of our passage, and that this is far from being an easy thing to do appears from His word on another occasion: "Strive to enter in at the strait gate" (Luke 13:24). That He should employ such an expression clearly implies the slothfulness and carelessness which characterizes mere nominal professors. And it also denotes there are real difficulties and formidable obstacles to be overcome. The Greek word there used for "strive" (agonizomai) is a very expressive and emphatic one, meaning "agonize." It occurs again in 1 Corinthians 9:25, "and every man that strives for the mastery is temperate in all things": the reference is to athletes who took part in the marathon races, willing to undergo the most self-denying discipline to be at their fittest, thereby hoping to win an earthly crown. This word rendered "strive" is translated "laboring fervently" in Colossians 4:12 and "fight" in 1 Timothy 6:12! Ah, my reader, becoming a Christian is not done simply by holding up your hand in a religious meeting or signing some "decision" card. Alas that such multitudes have been deceived by these Satanic catch-pennies!

"The kingdom of Heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force" (Matthew 11:12)--like an army storming a city and capturing the same. We have often read of earthly kingdoms being obtained by violence but it seems surprising to hear of such means being used upon the kingdom of Heaven. How are we to understand this? Why thus: "violence" here does not signify unlawful assaults but earnest deliberation. It is not an injurious violence like that which seizes earthly prizes but a holy and industrious violence, intensity of desire and endeavor, persevering zeal which refuses a denial. It is a determination to master all difficulties, to break through all impediments and surmount every obstacle. Such violence was necessary then: "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you shut up the kingdom of Heaven against men: for you neither go in yourselves, neither suffer you them that are entering to go in" (Matthew 23:13), but did all they could to oppose them. So now: godless relatives and worldly companions will seek to deter the earnest seeker after Christ, but he must not be deterred. "The kingdom of Heaven was never intended to indulge the ease of triflers, but to be the rest of them that labor" (Matthew Henry).

"Enter you in at the strait gate." It is not enough to listen to preaching about this "gate," nor to study its structure or admire the wisdom of its appointment: it must be entered. Sermons on repentance and faith in Christ avail us nothing unless they move our hearts to comply therewith. The Greek word here rendered "strait" signifies restrained, cramped, or better "narrow" as it is rendered in the R.V. And what is meant by this strait or narrow gate? A "gate" serves two purposes: it lets in and shuts out. This gate is the only avenue of admittance to that "way" which leads unto Life and all who do not enter by it are eternally barred from the presence of God and the realm of ineffable bliss. The second use of this "gate" is solemnly illustrated at the close of the parable of the virgins. The foolish ones lacked the necessary "oil" (the work of the Spirit in the heart) and when they sought to obtain it, the Bridegroom came and "the door was shut" (Matthew 25:10) and though they besought Him to open it unto them, He answered, "I know you not" (v. 12).

What is denoted by entering this Narrow Gate? Chiefly three things. First, the acceptance of those teachings of truth, of duty, of happiness, which were unfolded by Christ: the honest and actual receiving into the heart of His holy, searching and flesh-withering instructions. Those teachings may be summed up in His emphasis upon the righteous claims and demands of God upon us and His insistence upon our depraved state and wicked enmity against Him. No one can become a Christian while he entertains any doubt upon the Divine inspiration and authority of the Scriptures, or while he refuses to bow to the verdict which God has pronounced upon him. We must know ourselves to be utterly lost before there can be any desire for salvation, and we must accept God's sentence of condemnation upon us before we know how guilty we are in His sight. There can be no traversing the Narrow Way itself until we set our seal that God is true when He declares we are "all as an unclean thing"-that there is "no soundness" in us. It is by relinquishing error-the lies of Satan-and receiving the Truth that we pass through the strait gate.

Second, the exercise of true repentance. "From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, Repent" (Matthew 4:17). It was announced of His forerunner that he should "prepare the way of the Lord." And how did he do so? By making ready a people to receive Him when He appeared before them as "The Lamb of God." And in what did that readiness consist? This, that they repented, confessed their sins, and owned that death was their due by being buried in baptism in the Jordan by him (Luke 3:1-16). The Gospel is no less holy than the Law and therefore it requires that our hearts bewail our former transgressions of the Law and be firm and sincere in its resolution against all future sin. "You and your sins must separate, or you and your God will never come together. No one sin may you keep. They must all be given up: they must be brought out like the Canaanite kings from the cave and hanged up before the sun. You must forsake them, abhor them, and ask the Lord to overcome them" (C. H. Spurgeon). It is by abandoning our idols and the pleasures of sin that we pass through the strait gate.

Third, the complete surrender of ourselves to God in Christ. This will anticipate an objection which some may be ready to make: is not the Lord Jesus "the Door" (John 10:9)? Yes, and He is so according to the three principal functions of His mediatorial office: He is "the Door" into God's presence as His Prophet, Priest and King. To savingly believe in Christ is to receive Him as Prophet to instruct us, as Priest to atone for us, and as King, to rule over us. Only as His holy teachings are really accepted by a contrite heart is any soul prepared to place any value on His cleansing blood and the sincerity of our acceptance of Him as Priest is evidenced by our readiness to submit to His royal scepter, for like His types He is "first the King of righteousness and after that the King of Peace" (Hebrews 7:2). Christ's cleansing blood is available to none who are unwilling to throw down the weapons of their warfare against God: they must forsake their way if they would be pardoned (Isaiah 55:7). Only by a serious dedication of ourselves unto God through Christ can we become enjoyers of the riches of His grace. It is by a complete surrender of ourselves unto God that we pass through the strait gate.

"Enter you in at the strait gate" (Matthew 7:13). Here was "duty repentance" and "duty faith" with a vengeance, for this exhortation is obviously addressed unto the unsaved: "Enter you in" definitely implies they were yet outside. And unto whom was Christ speaking? Not to heathen idolaters, who were without any knowledge of the true God. No, it was to those who believed in Jehovah and who received the Scriptures as His very Word. It was to those who averred, "we have one Father, even God" (John 8:41). Nevertheless, despite all their knowledge of the Truth and enjoyment of external privileges, they had never entered that gate which alone admitted them to the only way which leads unto Life. This same exhortation is equally applicable and pertinent today unto multitudes of church members who notwithstanding their profession and performances have never been born again. In this exhortation Christ makes it plain to His ministers that He would have them recognize the responsibility of their hearers, and call upon the unregenerate to discharge their duties.

"For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat" (Matthew 7:13). In those words our Lord advanced a reason or argument to enforce His previous exhortation. There is another gate than the "strait" one, altogether different thereto, for it is "wide" and gives entrance into a broad way but it leads to the bottomless Pit. It is "the course of this world" (Ephesians 2:2), in which all its unregenerate citizens are found. It is the path of self-will and self-gratification. It is "wide" because those in it own no restrictions. They have broken down the Commandments of God which were designed to be a hedge about them. It is therefore a pleasant and easy way to the flesh, for no inquiry and diligent search has to be made in order to find it, no resolution and perseverance are called for in order to continue treading it, no self-denial has to be practiced to remain therein. A dead fish can float with the stream and only a living one can swim against it: so the unregenerate mechanically follow this road, for there is nothing in them to resist the law of gravity. The going is smooth and easy because it is all down hill!

It is a crowded road, for "many there be which go in thereat." It is the very width of it which renders it so attractive to the carnal mind. Here there are no "quota" limitations, no barring of "aliens," no restrictions of color, caste or creed. There is plenty of room for all. Men may walk in the ways of their hearts and in the sight of their eyes-give rein to their lusts and full indulgence to their inclinations-and none shall hinder them. This broad road is thronged because all mankind are in it by nature, birth admitting them into the same. Nor has anyone the slightest desire to desert it unless a miracle of grace is wrought upon him. Like Lot and his wife in Sodom every last one of us is so loath to leave the city of destruction that the Christian, too, had preferred to remain there and perish unless the Lord had sent His messengers to "pluck" him as a brand from the burning. "Woe to the multitude of many people" (Isaiah 17:12), says God to this densely-packed road.

It is a deceptive road, for few upon it have any idea of where it is taking them. Those upon it believe they are following the wise course for they regard as fools those who differ from them. We are only young once: life is short, let us have a merry time while it lasts. Let us eat, drink and be merry seems to them the very dictates of common sense. Ah, it is "a way which seems right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Proverbs 14:12). So sure are its travelers they are right, they conclude anyone is afflicted with "religious mania" who prefers the Narrow Way. Yet it is a fatal road, for it "leads to destruction,"-hopeless and eternal destruction! It conducts to the bottomless Pit, the unquenchable fire, and the undying worm. It is the way of the ungodly and Scripture expressly declares that "the way of the ungodly shall perish" (Psalm 1:6). And my reader, that fatal way can only be abandoned by conversion, by a radical about-face, by turning from sin and self-pleasing and turning unto God and holy living.

 

24. The Way of Salvation: Matthew 7:14-15.

As Christ was the antitype of Melchizedek and Aaron, the antitype of David and Solomon, so also was He the Antitypical Moses (Deuteronomy 18:18) and Samuel and therefore in the fulfillment of His commission He could say unto His hearers, "I set before you the way of life and the way of death" (Jeremiah 21:8). This is precisely what He did in the verses before us: He likens our passage through life to a journey-a journey from time unto eternity. There are but two possible destinations unto which each of us is traveling, for we are treading the path which leads to heavenly bliss or the road which conducts to the eternal torments of Hell. That we may ascertain which of those ways we are on Christ gave a brief and clearly-identifying description of each of them, defining the entrance thereto, the breadth thereof, and the numbers thereon. God has ordained two distinct places to be the final abodes of men after this life and between them He has fixed a great gulf so that none can pass from the one to the other (Luke 16:26), and equally great is the distance and the difference between the ways leading to them and the character and conduct of those walking along the one and the other, for the former are the children of God, whereas the latter are the children of the Devil.

This drawing such drastic lines of discrimination, this definite and circumscribed classification, is not at all acceptable to those who traverse the spacious road leading to destruction. They pride themselves on their broad-mindedness and liberality and resent anything which suggests that all is not well with them. They know their characters are not white yet would not allow for a moment they were black and therefore persuade themselves they are a shade midway between. They may not be good enough for Heaven, but they are quite sure they are not bad enough for Hell. That is why the popish invention of a "purgatory" is so popular with multitudes of people and just as they would fondly believe there is another place besides Heaven and Hell so they like to think there is another class besides saints and sinners. But if our thoughts be formed according to the teaching of Holy Writ we are shut up to this inevitable and sole alternative: Light or darkness, Truth or error, Christ or Belial, holiness or sin, salvation or damnation.

Christ began this solemn and searching portion of His Sermon with the exhortation, "Enter you in at the strait gate," which we understand to mean first, jettison all your own ideas and receive the Truth as a little child (Matthew 18:3), bowing to its sentence of condemnation. Second, abandon your course of self-pleasing, bewail your rebellion against God and set your heart firmly against sin. Third, surrender yourself to God's righteous claims and yield to the Lordship of Christ. That exhortation is enforced by the following reason: "for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leads to destruction, and many there by which go in thereat" (Matthew 7:13). All who are unconverted proceed along it. "It has in it various paths suited to men's different humours and inclinations. The covetous and the spendthrift, the profligate and the hypocrite, the antinomian and the Pharisee, the sons and daughters of pleasure, the grave designing politicians and proud philosophers, decent moralists and infamous debauchees, have their several paths and their select companies; they mutually despise and condemn each other, yet they all keep one another in countenance by agreeing to oppose the holy ways of the Lord" (Thomas Scott).

Yet pleasant as the broad way may be to the flesh and popular as it is with the masses, it ends in unutterable woe and everlasting torments. How necessary it is, then, that each of us should give heed to that injunction, "Ponder the path of your feet" (Proverbs 4:26). Men are ready enough to do so in temporal, why not so in spiritual? They do not enter a train or even a bus without first ascertaining where it is bound: then why not pause and ask, Where will this godless mode of life take me? In which direction are my feet pointed: Heavenward or Hellward? So immeasurable is the distance between those two abodes, so vast is the difference between Life and Destruction, that we are called upon to exercise the utmost care and conscience in using every Divinely prescribed means for attaining the one and escaping the other. In the verses we are now considering Christ faithfully warns us that if we are to have a well-grounded hope of attaining the Home of the blessed we must give heed to that commandment, "You shall not follow a multitude to do evil" (Exo. 23:2).

There appears to have been some uncertainty in the minds of our translators concerning the exact relation between verse 14 and its immediate context, for it will be observed that they have suggested "How" as an alternative to its opening "Because." In the preceding verse our Lord had given a brief but emphatic exhortation which He has followed with a solemn reason to enforce the same. What, then, is the precise force of verse 14 which obviously returns to the original exhortation? If we take the marginal rendering, verse 14 constitutes an exclamation, occasioned by what has been said of the broad way and the multitudes which choose to tread it. But if we take it as it reads and which we regard as preferable, then verse 14 contains an amplification. First informing us that entering in at the strait gate is not the end itself, but only a means thereto, for it gives entrance to the "narrow way" which has to be traversed if Life is to be obtained. Second it plainly announces that the walk thereon will be both difficult and lonely, for only the "few" succeed in finding it. And third it offers encouragement or presents a powerful incentive by assuring its travelers that Life lies at the end of it.

It seems to us there is yet another way of ascertaining the relation of verse 14 to its context and that is by linking it not with the whole of the preceding verse but with its last clause. Thus, "and many there be which go in thereat, because strait is the gate and narrow is the way which leads unto Life." Considered thus it is a word of explanation, informing us why the multitudes prefer the road which leads to destruction-the only alternative path repels them. The straitness of its entrance and the narrowness of its course presents no attraction for the lovers of fleshly license and worldly pursuits and pleasures. On the contrary, the way which leads unto Life is diametrically opposed to their ideas and inclinations. They may offer a hundred excuses why they seek not the narrow way, but the real one is that they have no heart for it. As a fish is out of its native element when brought from the water and placed on the land, so the unregenerate have no relish for godliness. None but those who have communicated to them a new nature will desire to tread the Highway of Holiness.

"Because strait (or "narrow") is the gate" (Matthew 7:14). We have already pondered this expression earlier, yet so little is it understood and so much is it contradicted by the claptrap evangelism of our day that a further word on it is called for. Place by the side of it another of our Lord's savings: "How hard shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!" (Matthew 19:23). How far removed is that from the idea now so prevalent! Do not thousands who take the lead in tract distribution, open air work, Gospel-hall and Mission-hall services suppose it is just as easy for a rich man to be saved as a poor one, seeing that all which either of them has to do is "simply believe the record which God has given of His son"? Ah, my reader, the devils believe the whole of that record (James 2:19): believe in His Deity (Matthew 8:29), His virgin birth, His atoning death, His triumphant resurrection, but does their belief make them any less devilish in character? So of the vast majority of those who profess to have received Christ as their personal Savior-has their believing of the Gospel made them less carnal and worldly, more truthful with their fellows, more honest in their business dealings, less selfish-if it has not, what is such "believing" worth? Less than nothing!

If saving faith were nothing but an act of the mind, an assent to the Divine testimony, then it would be just as easy for a millionaire to be saved as a pauper. But it is "with the heart man believes unto righteousness" (Romans 10:10) and the heart is the seat of the affections, and how can a person hate what he loves or love what he hates? Can he do so by a mere "act of the will"? Of course not: it is contrary to nature. A miracle of grace has to be performed within him first. His heart must be "renewed"-radically changed-before its affections will move in a different direction. We are told that "the disciples were astonished at His words" (Mark 10:24), so they, too, were laboring under the delusion that salvation was a simple matter for anybody. "But Jesus answered again and says unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!" Faith is an attitude of heart Godward, and where material wealth is made the heart's sufficiency in connection with temporal supplies, how can it reverse its entire trend and trust God for spiritual and eternal things?

"It is easier (continued Christ) for a camel to go through the eve of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God" (v. 25). Now face the issue frankly, dear reader: does that declaration of the Lord Jesus denote that salvation is to be obtained cheaply, that anyone may be saved any time he is willing to be? Should it be answered, This is not a "salvation" passage. We reply, It most certainly is, for the disciples at once asked, "who then can be saved?" (v. 26). To which our Lord said, "With men it is impossible, but not with God, for with God all things are possible" (v. 27). How utterly erroneous, then, is the teaching that the matter of his salvation rests entirely with man's will. They are deceivers of souls, blind leaders of the blind, who go around telling the ignorant and unwary that getting saved is an easy and simple thing. Not so, it is the most difficult thing of all; with men it is impossible, and the sooner this is recognized the sooner are we likely to get down on our knees and cry to God in earnest for the supernatural operations of His Holy Spirit.

Trusting in riches is far from being the only thing which hinders men from seeking God's salvation. "How can you believe," said Christ on another occasion, "which receive honor one of another and seek not the honor that comes from God only" (John 5:44)? The love of fame, seeking the approbation of our fellows is another fatal obstruction. If the first three Gospels are read attentively (John's Gospel is for Christians: 1:16) it will be seen that the Lord Jesus was very far from teaching that the attainment of Heaven is a simple matter. He insisted that right eyes have to be plucked out (cherished lusts mortified) and right hands cut off (beloved idols destroyed-Matthew 5:29, 30). He likened the Christian unto a "house" which has to withstand "floods" and "winds" beating upon it (Matthew 7:25). He declared that in order to be His disciple a man must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24). Instead of promising His followers a smooth voyage through this world, He said, "If they have called the Master of the house Beelzebub, how much more them of His household?" (Matthew 10:25). Instead of teaching that a single and isolated act of faith was sufficient to secure Heaven, He said, "But he who shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved" (Matthew 24:13). Instead of seeking to rush men into believing, He bade them "sit down and count the cost" (Luke 14:28).

The gate or entrance, then, is a "strait" one, for it will not admit those who are loaded with the weapons of rebellion against God, nor can they squeeze through who are walking arm in arm with the world. To enter that gate the heart has to be humbled, sinful pleasures have to be relinquished, worldly companions abandoned, Christ has to be received in all His offices. And mark it well, this "gate," is but the entrance, giving admittance to the one and only path which leads unto Life. That path Christ described as a "narrow way," to intimate it is no easier, wider, or more pleasant than the gate itself. In 1 Thessalonians 3:4 the cognate term is rendered "suffer tribulation." It is not on flowery beds of ease the pilgrim is conducted to the Father's House: rather does he have to force his way through briars and thorns which cut and tear the flesh. There is not one path for the Redeemer and another for the redeemed (John 10:4). His was a path of affliction and ours cannot be otherwise if we follow the example He has left us; and if we do not we shall not join Him on high.

"Narrow is the way which leads unto Life" (Matthew 7:14). As this way is entered by the heart's sincere acceptance of Christ's holy teaching, so it is traversed by the heart and life being constantly regulated thereby. They who tread this narrow way heed not the counsel of the ungodly (Psalm 1:21), lean not unto their own understanding (Proverbs 3:5), and follow not "the customs of the people" (Jeremiah 10:3). Rather are the believer's thoughts formed by the Scriptures and his conduct directed by its statutes, so that God's Word becomes to him in fact and experience "a lamp unto his feet and a light unto his path" (Psalm 119:105). The narrow way is strictly marked and exactly defined in the Divine Charter and along it the Christian must go without turning aside either to the right hand or the left (Proverbs 4:27). When he meets with an enemy that enemy must be overcome, or he will be overcome by him. The going is strenuous and arduous for the whole of it is up hill. Let anyone who thinks otherwise read Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress" and see if that deeply-taught soul pictured Pilgrim's course to the Celestial City as all smooth sailing. Alas that so much of the modern preaching is the very reverse of what is contained in that faithful and helpful work.