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    by A.W. Pink 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 The silence extended for four hundred years, and during that time God was withdrawn from Israel.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 so rely 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’; 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how it is that in the later books of the New Testament Israel is viewed as cast off by God, why it is Christendom has superseded the Jewish theocracy—the result of rejecting their Messiah.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 a 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 worshipping 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 fourth 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 devils, and those which were lunatic, and those that 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” ( <400501> 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 illaccommodated:

    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 place 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 yet a 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 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 28:6, we see the Conqueror of death commissioning His disciples from the mount. So here in verse 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 the King sitting upon His throne, or the 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 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 desirable 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 till 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 had 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” ( Eccl. 3:7). To one of His prophets of old God said, “I will make thy tongue cleave to the roof of thy mouth, that thou shalt be dumb, and shalt 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 mouth.”

    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 give unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the Gospel” ( Ephesians 6:18,19).

    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” ( 7:28, 29).

    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 the 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” ( <19B996> Psalm 119:96), and we must be on our guard against placing restrictions thereon.

    A careful study of the four Gospels reveals 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 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 openeth 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 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 v that it was His “disciples” whom Christ here taught, yet it is equally clear from the closing verses of chapter vii 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.

    CHAPTER - THE BEATITUDES “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

    Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall he comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

    Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake” ( Matthew 5:3-11).

    AT the close of our Introduction it was 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 were 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 benedictions 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 ye the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees;” “Comfort ye, comfort ye My people, saith your God” ( Isaiah 25:3; 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 benediction 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 fiat 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 stable: 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 the 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 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 selfrighteousness?

    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 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, yea, 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, yea, all of us are until the Holy Spirit opens our sin-blinded eyes. It is only those who have passed from death unto life who 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 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 thinketh upon me: Thou art my help and my deliverer” ( Psalm 40:17), “The Lord heareth the poor” ( Psalm 69:33), “He shall spare the poor and needy, and shall save the souls of the needy” ( Psalm 72:13), “Yet setteth He the poor on high from affliction” ( <19A741> Psalm 107:41), “I will satisfy her poor with bread” ( <19D215> Psalm 132:15), “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth 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” (v. 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 gay 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 benediction, 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, 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 selfcomplacency 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 that they are sinners, who have never mourned over the fact.

    Take the woman of Luke vii, 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 arise and go unto my Father and say unto Him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before Thee, And am no more worthy to be called Thy 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 a 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, 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.” A humbling recollection of past offenses: “Wherefore remember that ye being in time past ” ( Ephesians 2:11).

    Yes, “Ourselves also, which have the firstfruits 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 seemeth 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 hath taken hold upon me because of the wicked that forsake Thy law” ( <19B953> Psalm 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 (i.e. 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 ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” ( Matthew 11:28) —observe that 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 that 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 passeth 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 yieldeth 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 for ever. 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 they bring 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. But 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 Psalms 30:5; 126:5; Proverbs 14:10; Isaiah 61:3; Corinthians 6:10; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; James 2:13.

    CHAPTER - THE BEATITUDES—CONTINUED “BLESSED are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).

    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 wherewith ye are called; with all lowliness and meekness” ( Ephesians 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 no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men” ( Titus 3:2).

    Third , “receive with meekness the engrafted word” is opposed to “the wrath of man worketh 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 those Beatitudes our Lord is describing the orderly development of God’s work of grace as it is experientially 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 by-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 predominancy 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 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 tempers, 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 hath anointed Me to preach good tidings unto the meek ” ( Isaiah 16:1), for they have bowed to the authority of the Law. And again it is written, “For the Lord taketh pleasure in His people: He will beautify the meek with salvation” ( <19E904> 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 hath 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 , manwards. 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, ye which are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness: considering thyself, lest thou 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 confounded with weakness. True meekness is ever manifested by yieldedness 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, made 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 hath 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 in the courts. 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 spiritual grace and the need of praying for an increase of the same: “Seek ye the Lord, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought His judgment: 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 21:26), “The Lord lifteth up the meek” ( <19E706> 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 of 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 pretences 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 ye 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, ye 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 saith the Lord, Keep ye judgment and do justice: for My salvation is near to come, and My righteousness to be revealed” ( Isaiah 56:1); “He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, He hath 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 ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” ( Matthew 6:33).

    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. “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 lock 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 that 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 passeth 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, till their cup runneth 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 for ever: then shall we “hunger no more, neither thirst any more ” ( Revelation 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 seriously to 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, yea, a constant proneness to all manner of sins; and, on the contrary, 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.”

    CHAPTER - THE BEATITUDES—CONTINUED 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 benediction 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 is 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 signs. fled 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 forgo 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 with 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 whoso hath this world’s goods, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth 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 that 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 borroweth, and payeth not again; but the righteous showeth mercy, and giveth” ( 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 Thee” ( 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 shew mercy, but persecuted the poor and needy man” ( <19A916> 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 that sheweth 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 that followeth after righteousness and mercy findeth life, righteousness, and honor” ( Proverbs 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 doeth 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 that hath 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 Thou wilt show Thyself merciful” ( Psalm 18:25)—contrast “he shall have judgment without mercy that hath 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). Then 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 that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” ( 1 John 1:8).

    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 a one as that which 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, the truth is, 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 refutes 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 current 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 looketh on the heart ” ( 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 shapen 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 guile 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 that 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” (T. 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 Ghost” ( 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 of 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, hut guile and hypocrisy. It is not sufficient to be pure in words and outward deportment: purity of desires, motives, intents, is what should, and in the main does, 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 that 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 nigh to Him (for we cannot see an object which is a vast distance from us), to be introduced into intimate intercourse 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, a 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, as in John 3:36, 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 the heart purity, how essential it is that we give earnest heed to the exhortations of Isaiah 1:16; 2 Corinthians 7:1; 1 Peter 3:15. Oh 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 till then, will the full meaning of these words be understood, ‘the pure in heart shall see God’” (J.


    CHAPTER - THE BEATITUDES—CONCLUDED “BLESSED are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (v. 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 made on these nations, till 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—A.W.P.). 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 selfsufficient, 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 Gross, 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 the Devil: 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 Christlike disposition is a vastly different thing from that easy-going indolence which is so often naught 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 lieth 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 must needs 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 do they need to beg God to hold His restraining 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 peacebreakers. 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 “Endeavouring 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 cometh 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 turneth away wrath.” Third, the grace of “long sufferance,” which is the opposite of impatience. Finally, “forbearing one another in love,” for the queen of the graces “endureth 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 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 sinladen people and the dark clouds of providence threaten an impending storm of judgment, it is both the duty and the privilege of God’s remembrancers to stand in the breach and by their earnest supplication stay His hand, so making peace. Moses did so ( Exodus 32:10); so too Aaron ( Numbers 16:47,48), and David ( 2 Samuel 24:14). When a 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 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 of God,” which is a decisive proof that these Beatitudes contemplate not the moral 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 this 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. Labour to maintain it. Ultimately, God will make it manifest to all the universe that we are His children ( Romans 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 hart.

    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 hut 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 that 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 wrong-doing 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 Christliness 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 may be, is really a blessing in disguise. First, by means of the opposition which they encounter, the Lord’s people become 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 world lings makes impossible that friendship with them which the flesh craves. Third, such persecution affords the believer opportunity to glorify God by his constancy, courage, and fidelity to the Truth.

    This searching word “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 that 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, yea, 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” ( Revelation 1:6). “Blessed are ye, 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 “ye” and “your” in verses 11 and 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 ever been the experience of the Lord’s servants. Moses was reviled again and again ( Exodus 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). Micaiah was hated ( Chronicles 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 ye, 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” (vv. 11 and 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 are 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 ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth 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 and 20). Let it be carefully noted that it was the professing and not the profane “world” that Christ was alluding to: it was from religious leaders, those making the greatest spiritual pretensions, that 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 benediction 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: Thessalonians 2:2, clearly implies that even the moral reputation of the apostle was attacked. All 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 worketh 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 that “The sufferings of this 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 specially to ministers.

    Those afflictions which faithfulness to Christ brings upon them are to be endured not only with patience and resignation, but thanksgiving and gladness, and that for a threefold reason.

    First , that 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! Verily there is cause to rejoice, no matter how fierce the conflict may be. Oh, to emulate the apostles in Acts 5:41, and 16:25. May Divine grace enable all the oppressed servants and saints of God to draw from these precious words of Christ the comfort and strength they need.

    CHAPTER - THE MINISTERIAL OFFICE “Ye are the salt of the earth but if the salt have lost his savor, wherewith shall it he salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to he trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” ( Matthew 5:13-16.) “YE are the salt of the earth.” These words (and those which follow to the end of verse 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. In our last chapter we called attention to our Lord’s changing of the pronoun in verse 11 from the “they” in verses 1-10 to the “ye.” 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 “Ye 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 light of the world: that they might be indeed 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 witness publicly 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 benediction rests. Anticipating the question, How do they attain to and maintain this felicity by such graces 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. “Ye are the salt of the earth” (verse 13). “Ye,” that is those whom I have called to be apostles and set apart for the work of the ministry. Ye are “salt,” not literally, yet by resemblance; yet not in regard of their persons, but of their lab ours. 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 perseveres 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 selfrighteousness.

    Again, every one 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 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 ( Judges 9:45). “But if the salt have lost his savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing but to be cast out, and to be trodden underfoot of men” (v. 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 “wherewith shall it [i.e. the salt—cf. Mark 9:50] be salted.” Those who depart from fidelity are very seldom, and then only with great difficulty, 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 thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee” ( 1 Timothy 4:15,16); and again, “But thou, O man of God, flee these things [cf. 5:10]; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness” ( 1 Timothy 6:11).

    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 ye 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. “Ye are the light of the world” (v. 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 ( 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 homiletical skill and deliver flowery discourses, but only that is true preaching which conveys the light of spiritual knowledge to the heart and leads souls to God. So, too, since the 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 an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house” (vv. 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 with 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 behooved them to see to it that their message was acceptable to God and their walk blameless before men, for if by their fidelity they might “turn many to righteousness,” infidelity would 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 the of God’s people, and 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 are 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 fruits 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 of 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, selfsacrifice, 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 hath 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.

    CHAPTER - CHRIST AND THE LAW “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, hut to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” ( Matthew 5:1,18.)

    THE manifestation of Christ in Israel’s midst was sudden and startling. The first thirty 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 calling 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 imagine 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” (v. 17).

    The Old Testament Scriptures were comprehensively summarized under the 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 that 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, but 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 predicative—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 farther 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,” yet 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” (v. 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 that loveth another hath fulfilled the law’ ( Romans 8:8). 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 signification. Third, verse 18 must be regarded as giving a reason for the statement made in verse 17. But what sort of reason would be given if we were to render the connected verses thus: “I came to fill out or to supplement the Law, for verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, not one jot or tittle shall in any wise pass from the Law till 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 with “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 its widest scope, then we gladly avail ourselves of the compound definition of W. 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; 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 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 3:21), 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 believeth” ( 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 verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (v. 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 needs be fulfilled—that its Author be vindicated and glorified; and 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. “Verily 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 “till 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 the canons have dared to dispense with some of the laws of consanguinity in Leviticus 18. While the moral law remains for ever 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 till 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 shall stand against them for ever. 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.

    CHAPTER - CHRIST AND THE LAW-CONTINUED “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever 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 whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” ( 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 endeavored 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 of 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. Daring 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 and backboneless religion, 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 commandment, 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 asseveration, 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 teach 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 v. 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 at Sinai. Not only was there no antagonism between Himself and Moses, but He had come 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 grave 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 [i.e. from its pharisaical corruptions, A.W.P.] and, consequently, its reestablishment. ” “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till 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 withereth and the flower fadeth, but the Word of God endureth for ever: the Old Testament as much as the New, the Law as truly as the Gospel. The “verily I say unto you” was the solemn asseveration 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 for ever 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. “Whosoever 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 whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (v. 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. “Whosoever 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 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 he 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 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 that Christ alluded principal1y 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 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 he pointed out, inasmuch as the Divine Decalogue is a unit, and therefore all 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 is trivial, some respect more momentous objects than the others.

    Nevertheless, let not the solemn fact be forgotten that “whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all ” ( James 2:10).

    Ere passing on it should be pointed out that the verse now before us also definitely confirms our explanation of the “ye” 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 “ye” and “you.”

    We insisted that this second section has exclusive reference to Christ’s official servants—the New Testament successors of the “prophets” (verse 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 the of His people, but to His official servants, is clear from His “Whosoever shall do and teach them.” “Whosoever 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 had 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 worth y 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 he 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 teacheth 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 Sabbaticstatute), 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 as 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 Lord the 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” (T. Scott). “But whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Note well the order here: “do and teach.” As Paul exhorted his son in the faith, “Take heed unto thyself, 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 first be a practicer of what he preaches.

    CHAPTER - CHRIST AND THE LAW-CONCLUDED “FOR I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (v. 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 “ye 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 a one was Shimshai ( Ezra 4:8). The latter were employed in expounding the Scriptures: such a one was Ezra ( <150701> 7:1, 5, 6). It was to the latter Christ referred in this Gospel: see 8:52; 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 ye 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, “Ye pay tithe 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-interest, 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 ( Proverbs 4:23). 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 ( Eccl. 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 that 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 meetness 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 on 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. Surely 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 looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh 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 disinterested 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 selfrighteousness, 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 unfeigned 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 Sinaitic 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 “Ye shall in no case enter 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 was its meaning in the “great majority of cases.” There are one or two notable exceptions: as for example, “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye 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 leaders 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, yea, 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 (v. 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 till 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 theirs.

    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.

    CHAPTER - THE LAW AND MURDER “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

    Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Agree with thine adversary quickly, while thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.” ( Matthew 5:21-26.)

    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 (i.e. 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 Testament is relative only, not absolute. There are the same fundamental elements in both, but these differently adjusted, so as fitly to adapt themselves 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 in blessing also intermingled with the stern prohibitions and injunctions of which they consist. And so, inversely, in the Sermon on the Mount, while it gives grace the priority and the prominence, it 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” that we are now to be engaged. The transition point is found in verse 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 5: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, rests 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 illustration, 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 to 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 (cf. 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: “Thou shalt 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 desireth truth in the inward p arts (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 “Thou shalt not kill” really signifies “Thou shalt not hate.” “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment” ( Matthew 5:21).

    To what, or rather to whom, did our Lord refer in His “them of old time”?

    Certainly not to 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 here to 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 the 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, “Thou shalt 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 account the murderer in desire and intention equally guilty with the actual slayer of his fellow.

    Ere passing on, let us make three remarks.

    First , how strangely has history repeated itself! If 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 Babylonish 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 (clinging instead to the faulty 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 hoary 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 establishment 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 saith 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, “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time”; but to us He can exclaim, “Ye may read what God hath 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 whosoever is angry with his brother without cause, shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire” (v. 22). This is far from being the easiest verse of Matthew v 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 bluntings of the sharp edge of God’s precept. I, the incarnate Son of God, who seekest 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 , “Whosoever is angry against his brother without 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 ye angry and sin not” ( Ephesians 4:26). It may be asked, How are we to distinguish godly anger from that which is unlawful? The former proceeds from love or righteousness, has in view the good of him against whom it is exercised, and looks to the glory of God, whereas 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; and 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, seeking 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 bow patiently and mercifully God deals with us every day, and that therefore we ought to be likeminded toward our brethren ( Ephesians 4:31,32).

    The second branch of the sin here condemned is, “whosoever 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’ ( <19E003> Psalm 140:3), and kill 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. Yea, 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 an 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 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; suing for His pardon through the atoning blood of Christ.

    CHAPTER - THE LAW AND MURDER-CONCLUDED “THEREFORE, if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy 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. If 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 that He will not accept the worship of those guilty of such a crime, we must, 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 overt acts 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— “freewill 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 and-typical 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 thou comest to worship God in any way, either by prayer, hearing His Word, offering sacrifices of praise, or celebrating the Lordsupper, 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? saith 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 ye spread forth your hands, I will hide Mine eyes from you: yea, when ye 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 ye 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 ma y learn that the performance of any outward service unto God is displeasing to Him if it be separated from unfeigned 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 thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother bath aught against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar” (vv. 23, 24). The words “thy brother hath aught against thee” clearly signify, “If you have done him some injury” or he has cause of complaint (either real or fancied) against you. If you have treated him in some way inconsistent with the fraternal relationship, if he be 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. It may be that you were guilty of what some would lightly dismiss as “only an outburst of temper,” 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 numbers fondly imagine that so long as they are regular in their attendance at the house of prayer, and maintain a reverent demeanor therein, their petitions will prevail, even though they be at enmity with 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 thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy 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 to 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 calumniated 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 a part. 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 can 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 in which is to the Redeemer’s propitiating God and obtaining for us His blessing—the same holds good equally of Ephesians 2:16, and Colossians 1:21. In like manner, “Be ye 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 that 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 accord 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 thy 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 thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift” (v. 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 obligation of direct service to God. “Agree with thine adversary quickly, while thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing” (vv. 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; but 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 thou art in this life, lest thou come before Christ in judgment, and He cause His angels to cast thee into purgatory, and there thou remainest till thou hast made full satisfaction for all thy 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 in 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 for ever 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 parabolically?

    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 descends 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 law, and this involve him in costly litigation, or even procure his imprisonment. “Agree with thine adversary” is just the same as “be reconciled to thy 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 a magistrate’s court. While on their way thither, 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 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 to 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, 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 at law. In closing, it may be observed, that Christ here approves of the magisterial office, his proceeding against the guilty and of imprisonment.

    CHAPTER - THE LAW AND ADULTERY “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee : for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

    And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. It bath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth 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 5 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 to be before us, we have the Savior contrasting the righteousness of His kingdom with the righteousness of the religious leaders of His day respecting the allimportant matter of chastity. “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery” (v. 27). Again we would carefully note that Christ did not say, “Ye know that God said at Sinai,” but instead, “ye 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. “Thou shalt 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 intercourse with a married woman. But they should have perceived, as in the case of the sixth commandment, that 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 affect 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 far is it with the Judge of all the earth: “The Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” ( 1 Samuel 16:7).

    That which the world pays no attention to, God regards as of first importance, for “out of 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 purport. 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 14:18), 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 pre-millenarians heed this warning against a slavish literalism or a 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” ( <19B996> Psalm 119:96), and that human language becomes invested with a far fuller and richer meaning when used by God than it has 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 whoso looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath 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”?

    Ere 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 did condemn 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 ( 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 consumeth to destruction” ( 31:12). “Be not deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolators, 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 whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (v. 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 uncleanness, but also the desire of them. The Pharisees made it extend no farther than to the outward and physical act, supposing that if the iniquity was 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 till 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 impurity. “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” ft 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’ ( <183101> 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 in 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 uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh 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 are 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. Yea, shall we not with increased earnestness pray, “Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken Thou me in Thy way” ( <19B937> 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 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 salutary 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 advices 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).

    CHAPTER - THE LAW AND ADULTERY-CONTINUED 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 n any wise justify our disobedience to God’s commands. “Whilst 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 selfconfident 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” (T. Scott). “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy 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 thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee.” Here again the language of Christ is not to be taken at its proper sense, i.e. 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. 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 eye means that we are to rigidly restrain and strictly govern our senses and members, deny ourselves, even though it involves 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 either to 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 of 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, uncleanness, 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 an 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 soul.

    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 thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy 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 pretences 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.

    Different far was the course followed by the chiefest 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” ( 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 thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell’s (v. 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 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) as 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 as 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 the loss of 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 on 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 crouch under the apparent harshness of the requirement; that our safety, advantage, and felicity are consulted; and that 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.” (T. 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 ye 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 thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee” ( 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); over fifty thousand men of Beth-shemesh 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 or tow, which will quickly burn as soon as fire touches it. As mariners at sea set a constant watch to avoid rock and sands, 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 so to walk in the Spirit that we will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.

    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 of 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 mortifications which are 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 for ever 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).

    CHAPTER - THE LAW AND ADULTERY-CONCLUDED MOST writers regard Matthew 5:32,33, as forming a separate subdivision of our Lord’s sermon, but really it belongs to the same section as verses 27-31, 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 pretences, 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 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, “Thou hast had five husbands: and he whom thou now hast is not thy 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 hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement” ( 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 saith, If she go not as thou wouldest have her, cut her off from thy flesh, give her a bill of divorce, and let her go” (Ecclus. 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 that 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 uncleanness, for the prevention of yet worse crimes. But that which had been no more than a temporary concession was changed by the Pharisees into precept, and a 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 divorcement.” The Talmudical 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 them 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 hardhearted 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 divorcement” 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 divorcement; 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 divorcement, given for the stipulated cause, to be regular before men, and marriage thereafter lawful in human courts ( Deuteronomy 24:4); and whichever guilty party under such a divorcement 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 whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery” (v. 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 disannuls 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 till 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 2:20,22, 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 whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.” These words of our Lord are too plain to he 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 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 “every one that hath 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 a one marry again with Divine sanction? To the writer it seems strange that, though there is a decided consensus of agreement, yet 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 farther, 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, section 5).

    In his excellent piece, “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 he 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 continency, 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, yea 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 provoke 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: Whosoever putteth away his wife causeth her to commit adultery, and he who marrieth her becometh guilty of the same crime. The “exception” there must be a 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. 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 to 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 liveth.”

    In Matthew 19:9, Christ declared, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.”

    Here again it is evident that the plain sense of these words is: He who putteth away his wife for fornication and then marrieth 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 remarriage, 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 see 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.

    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, hut in order that our readers might know what was taught and practiced by the godly Puritans.

    CHAPTER - THE LAW AND OATHS “Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine 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 shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.” ( 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 great 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 salutary 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 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 sounded 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, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine 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 shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil” ( Matthew 5:33-37).

    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, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine 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. “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain” ( Exodus 20:7).

    Here is the original and fundamental law concerning oaths, with which we may also link “Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve Him, and shalt 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 promises.

    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” (i.e. commune with God and enjoy His presence for ever), one of the marks specified was “He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth 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 verse 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 forswear 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 a matter of controversy and the contention cannot he settled without it: “For men verily 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 verses 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 never so falsely; and this was to swear not by the name of God, hut 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, “Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve Him, and shalt swear by His name” ( Deuteronomy 6:13).

    To swear in the name of the Lord was ordained not only 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 invitation 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 verse 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 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 of 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 inveighs 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 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, yea, necessary—we shall discuss this at more length in our next (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 H is “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 which they supposed would clear the oathtaker 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 discovered to us the exceeding “breadth” of the Divine commandments ( <19B996> 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.” 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 capital, the seat of His worship. “Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst 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 to 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 easy of proof, for you are incapable of changing the color of a single hair on it! An oath by your head, if it have any meaning at all, is an oath by the universal Proprietor.

    Every oath, because it is an oath, is an ultimate reference to Deity. Man’s inability really to change the color of his hair is here brought in by Christ to demonstrate that he has no power over his head. If 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, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh 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 own 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 intercourse of men with each other. “He did not censure His followers for 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, Yea, yea; 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 are to be such that all acquainted with you have the assurance that your word is your bond. If your communications are “yea” in the promise and “yea” 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. “Whatsoever is more than these, cometh of evil”: that is, savoring of an oath; or even extravagant avowals in our ordinary conversations are sinful in the sight of God.

    CHAPTER - THE LAW AND OATHS-CONCLUDED “AGAIN, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine 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 shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil” ( Matthew 5:33-37).

    In the preceding article 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. “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain” ( Exodus 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 are far more extensive than is now commonly supposed. “Thy commandment is exceeding broad” ( <19B996> 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 chapter 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, “Thou shalt 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, “Thou shalt 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, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy 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 unless circumstances morally oblige us thereunto. Most significantly the Hebrew word is taken from a root that signifies “seven,” which perhaps implies that 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 jus jurandum are plainly derived from “jus,” 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 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 asseveration of the truth, which should always be spoken even when no oath be taken. Second, a confession of the omnipotent presence of the thrice holy Lord God, whereby we do most solemnly acknowledge Him as 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 knoweth and owneth 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 God’s 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. “Thou shalt swear, The Lord liveth, in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness” ( Jeremiah 4:2). “Truth” is required in it, in opposition unto guile 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 p roper 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 legitimacy and obligation of an oath, this would have had no significance for them and would have been of no 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 these 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 Yea be yea; and your Nay, nay; lest ye 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 liveth... then shall they be built in the midst of My people” ( 12:16).

    But that could he 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 the previous chapter), 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 plain 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 verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till 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, He immediately responded to Caiaphas when he said, “I adjure Thee 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; Philippians 1:8; 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 verily 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 liveth for ever and ever” ( Revelation 10:4-6).

    From what has been before us in Matthew v, 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 a I 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, 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 law courts only ( Exodus 22:11), and the instances of Paul and 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).

    CHAPTER - THE LAW AND RETALIATION “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.” ( 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 chapters. It is failure at this very point which has resulted in some commentators of renown quite 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 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 covenant 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 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 to the New Testament? But we ask, Does the Old Testament contain nothing more than typifications 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 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. “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away” ( Matthew 5:28-42).

    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. “Ye have heard that it hath 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 thine 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 barking of these dogs, so for their sake we would call attention to one or two details.

    Fir1st , this Divinely prescribed rule was a just one: “And if a man cause a blemish in his neighbor: as he hath done, so shall it be done to him; Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he hath 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 Adoni-bezek fled; and they pursued after him, and caught him, and cut off his thumbs and his great toes. And Adoni-bezek said, Threescore and ten kings, having their thumbs and great toes cut off, gathered their meat under my table: as I have done, so God hath 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 “Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap” ( Galatians 6:7) is found in the New Testament. “With what measure ye 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 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 beneficent 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 ye do unto him as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou 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 beneficent one, calculated to remove “evil” and produce that which is good.

    Ere 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 corporal 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 corporal 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 warning 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 or pampering 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 doeth 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 church-goers no longer fear God. For the past fifty 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 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. School-teachers 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. “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an 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 purport 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 thy neighbor smite thee and destroyeth one of thine eyes, then go thou and do likewise to him.

    Thus a spirit of resistance was cherished and 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 that 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 the Devil; 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, so to 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 vouchsafed 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 tactics has the Devil used 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 that the true ministers of God stand out in sharp contrast with the Devil’s hirelings. The latter are unregenerate men, with no fear of God in their hearts. “They are of the world, and the world heareth 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 ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also” (v. 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. To say 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 forbid. 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.

    CHAPTER - THE LAW AND RETALIATION-CONTINUED “BUT I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy 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 in our last, 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 avenge his wrongs privately, 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 purport of this precept: its particular implications must now be considered.

    Even Mr. F. W. Grant (a leader among the “Plymouth Brethren”) agreed 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 who 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 declared the magistrate is “the minister of God” for executing judgment upon evil-doers, the same apostle as expressly forbids retaliation: “Recompense no man evil for evil” ( Romans 12:17). “But I say unto you, That ye 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 obtained in both economies. “if thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head” ( Proverbs 25:21,22); Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt 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 in this exhortation.” Its obvious meaning is, seize the moment of distress to show kindness to him that hateth thee.

    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 thou [no, not even in thine heart] I will recompense evil” ( Proverbs 20:22). I 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 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 persuasives thereto. First, it is the expressly revealed will of God for us, and His commands are not grievous.

    Second, vengeance belongeth unto the Lord, and if we take it upon ourselves to avenge our wrongs privately, 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, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously” ( 1 Peter 2:23); yea, 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 of 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 passively to 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 be 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 miss entirely 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 thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee 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 thee as a heathen man 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 wrong-doer. 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 2:13-17). On another occasion He drove them out, stopped the service, and refused to let any man carry a vessel through the temple ( Mark 11:15-17). 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 challenged 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 evildoers. 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 it 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 pavement 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 is 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 false use Christ’s “Swear not at all” (v. 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 lawbreaker over to the law.

    But exceptions do not nullify a rule, rather do they prove it. Care must be taken, then, lest in turning from the letter we lose the spirit of those 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 gives us to 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 be likened unto untamed beasts and fierce animals, resembling the “wild ass’s 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, yet 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 ferocity 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 pruninghooks” ( 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.

    CHAPTER - THE LAW AND RETALIATION-CONCLUDED THE 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 chapters have already been devoted thereto, but as these appeared in the 1939 volume (Studies in the Scriptures), 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 presenting 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 salutary warning unto evil-doers, to prevent the judge from inflicting too severe a punishment upon those guilty of maiming others. As such it was a just, merciful and beneficent 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 in. 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 avenge his wrongs privately; and thereby they fostered the spirit of malice and condoned deeds of violence. “But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil” (v. 39). This signifies that we are forbidden to take the law into our own hands, and requite an adversary as he has done to us: nobler principles and spiritual considerations are to actuate us. Nor is this precept in any wise 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 requires 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 forgo 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 be 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 disfellowshipped ( 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 only 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 bowels of mercy, compassion, and long-suffering 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 whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also” (v. 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 whosoever shall smite thee on thy 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 considered 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 thyself, but rather “give place unto wrath” ( Romans 12:19). Rather than be guilty of malice and violence, be willing to submit to further insults.

    Our Lord certainly did not mean by these words, “Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also,” that we should court further wrongs, or 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 quarrelling.

    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 who 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 fellows 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; yea, we must seek to defend ourselves rather than be killed. “And if any man will sue thee at the law and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also” (v. 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 the law.

    Such a one was Zacchaeus, before his conversion, for he had enriched himself by “false” or fraudulent methods ( Luke 19:8). But know thou, 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 crafty 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 <460601> Corinthians 6:1-8; yet 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 exorbitancy of unreasonable men; and a Christian may prosecute a criminal out of love to public justice, though not from private revenge. Yet there will generally be men of the world enough to deal with such depredators; 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 properly to preserve the balance here.

    The ruling of our own spirit is far more important than the clothes which we wear. The preservation of inward tranquillity 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 pitch without the fouling of our garments. “And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain” (v. 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 remain but few occasions when we are impressed into the service of the State. But in every life there are circumstances that force to 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 wrongdoing 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 asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away” (v. 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 followers.

    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 selfevident 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 every one who 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” ( <19B205> 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 passages 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.

    CHAPTER - THE LAW AND LOVE “Ye have heard that jt bath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. 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; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?

    And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” ( Matthew 5:43-48.) “YE have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you” (vv. 43 and 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; for 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, for though he begins by asserting it as 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,” yet 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; yea, 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 quoad effectus (as to the effects), that is, I am required to do these 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 than 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.” “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy” (v. 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: thou shalt “hate thine enemy” was a rabbinical invention pure and simple. “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: 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, “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” but they misunderstood and misapplied them. 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 belonged 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” ( Exodus 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 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 thee in your land, ye shall not vex him; but the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt” ( Leviticus 19:33,34).

    So far from the Divine injunction, “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” 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 Exodus 18:16). Hence the inference which the Pharisees should have drawn from the Divine statute would be, “Thou shalt love all men, even those who are seeking to injure thee.” When God prohibited His people from bearing false witness against their neighbors, and when He forbade them coveting the wife of a neighbor ( Exodus 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 thine enemy.” How excuseless was any such conclusion appears from the fact that the command to love their neighbors was immediately preceded by the prohibition, “thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people” ( Leviticus 19:18), while verse 34 bids 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 thou meet thine enemy’s ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again. If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, and wouldest forbear to help him, thou shalt surely help with him” ( Exodus 23:4,5). “Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth; lest the Lord see, and it displease Him” ( Proverbs 24:17,18). “If thine 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 wise 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 that 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 Thee? And am not I grieved with those that rise up against Thee? I hate them with a perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies” ( <19D921> Psalm 139:21,22).

    Upon these verses we may remark that 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 his person. 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 terms of Holy Writ should be rightly defined, and what labor is demanded from the teacher (often the patient examination of scores and sometimes of 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 muster 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, adapting 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 2:15,16).

    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; and 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 thinketh in his heart so is he.” This principle is horribly exemplified in Romanism: 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, disinterested, and spiritual one. This is unequivocally established by the fact that our Lord linked inseparably together, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart” and “thy neighbor as thyself” ( Matthew 22:37,39) —our neighbor must be loved with the very same love that God is. “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” (verse 44).

    In these words Christ does three things. First, He 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-embracive as to include “enemies”: verily, God’s command is “exceeding broad” ( <19B996> 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”?

    CHAPTER - THE LAW AND LOVE-CONTINUED STRICTLY speaking, the contents of the last six verses of Matthew 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, “Thou shalt 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, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” and had shown that it reached to the very thoughts and intents of the heart (vv. 27-32).

    Third , He had rebuked their wicked tampering with the injunction, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain,” and had affirmed that all unnecessary oaths of whatsoever 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, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (vv. 43-48).

    In our last chapter we 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 Laws” 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, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” ( Matthew 22:37), that is, thou shalt esteem and venerate Him supremely, delight thyself in His excellency superlatively, honor and glorify Him constantly. “And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” ( Matthew 22:39).

    Here are three things.

    First , the duty required: “thou shalt love.”

    Second , the ground or reason of it: because he is “thy neighbor,” that is thy fellow man, of the same order and blood as thyself.

    Third , the standard by which love to our neighbor is to be regulated: “as thyself,” 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, uncandid, 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 unfeigned, 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 unfeigned 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 or 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 be said of natural affection.

    Some of the most ungodly cherish warm affection to their wives and children, yea, 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 dearly 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—“Thou shalt love thy 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 he had ever heard such teaching. As he 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, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (v. 20), as he pondered His “But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment” (v. 22), as he weighed His “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (v. 28), what would be the effect produced upon him?

    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 man 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, yea, 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 ye 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” (v. 48). Do you say that this is too high for us to reach, that such a standard is unattainable 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 here 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 may abide the day of His coming? and who shall stand when He appeareth? for He is like a refiner’s fire” ( Malachi 3:2), which was then receiving its fulfillment, as the preceding verse (concerning John the Baptist) shows. If the heart of a 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 fifty 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 was 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 suceeded in palming off for the Truth a more soul-destroying lie than this. Where there is no exposition of the Moral Law and no presssing 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 tram p led 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 saith, it saith 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 in 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.

    CHAPTER - THE LAW AND LOVE-CONCLUDED “THAT ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain an 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 in the last two chapters, our Lord’s purpose in the last six verses of Matthew v was to purge this great and general commandment—“Thou shalt love thy 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, disinterested 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 stead 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. 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 has received 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 that 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 into 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 that Christ speaks here in Matthew 5:45: “That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good,” etc. First, let it be pointed out, “that ye may be the children of your Father” certainly does not denote “that ye may become ” such: no, they were already His regenerate people, as is clear from Christ’s contrasting them with the world—“What do ye more than others?” (v. 47). “That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven” denotes “that ye may thereby approve yourselves so, that ye 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 ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye 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” (v. 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 maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth 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 are 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 ye therefore followers [imitators] of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us and hath 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 7:14 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.

    Ere passing on, let us note how Christ here spoke of the common gifts of God in creation and providence: “He maketh 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 “sendeth 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 whereupon 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 ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?” (v. 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” were. 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; 11:9). 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 ye love them that love you, what reward have ye?” 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 ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans the same?” (v. 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 repeat Himself frequently, 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 deliberately to 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 ye more than others?” What a searching question is this! And note well the precise form of it. It is not “What know ye more than others,” or “what profess ye more than others?” or even “what believe ye more than others?” but “what do ye 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 gives 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 is produces. Justification before God is by faith alone, but it is not a faith which remains alone. Saving faith is not a life. less, 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 “worketh by love” ( Galatians 5:6). It is a faith that “purifieth the heart” ( Acts 15:9). It is a faith that “overcometh 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, yea, 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, 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 whomsoever 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 strengtheneth 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 believeth. “What do ye more than others?” Answer this question in the presence of God. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (v. 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 ye 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 excellency 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.

    CHAPTER - THE GIVING OF ALMS “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms. let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret Himself shall reward thee openly.” ( Matthew 6:1-4.)

    WE now enter upon the fourth division of our Lord’s Sermon, a section which includes the first eighteen verses of Matthew vi, 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 the religion of the scribes and Pharisees produced (vv. 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 ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven” ( Matthew 6:1).

    There is no doubt whatever in our mind that in this instance the rendering of the Revised Version is to be preferred: “Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men to be seen of them,” though the Revised Version 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 are 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 halfway to Paradise. fasting will bring him to the gates, and alms will give him entrance. The great prominence which Romanism assigns to almsgiving— especially when the alms are bestowed upon herself—to the senseless repetition of prayers, and to bodily mortifications, is too well known to need any enlarging 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 ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven” (v. 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 that 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 thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother; But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth” ( Deuteronomy 15:7,8). “And if thy brother be waxen poor and fallen in decay with thee, then thou shalt relieve him: yea, though he be a stranger, or a sojourner, that he may live with thee” ( Leviticus 25:35).

    Job declared, “I was a father to the poor” ( 29;16). Said the Psalmist, “Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble” ( <194101> 41:1). “He that despiseth his neighbor sinneth: but he that hath 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 that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord; and that which he hath 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. “Whoso stoppeth 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 that giveth unto the poor shall not lack, but he that hideth 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; 5:12).

    It is therefore a most un-Christian attitude to argue, We have enough to do to provide for our 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; yea, 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 <19B209> Psalm 112:9, on his hearers: “As it is written, He hath dispersed abroad, he hath given to the poor: his righteousness remaineth for ever” ( 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 succouring 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 really to 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 ye 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” intimates that 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 ( Luke 18:12) and of the Laodiceans ( Revelation 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 p laced 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 issues 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 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?” ( Exodus 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; 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 resisteth the proud, but giveth 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 ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven” (v. 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 limitation 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 thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward” (v. 2). “Sound not a trumpet” is a figurative way of saying, Seek not to attract the attention of other people unto thyself. 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 worshippers of Cod and lovers of their fellow men, when in reality they were selfrighteous 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 mole 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 our fellows dishonor God? Are we more afraid of offending mortal man than the everlasting God? When in sore straits, which comforts us the more: the assurances of earthly friends to relieve us or the promises of the Lord? “But when thou doest thine alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth” (v. 3). This Divine precept is designed to restrain the corrupt ambition of our hearts after the praise of men. It goes much farther than the commandment in verse 2. There the Lord had forbidden that ostentatious giving of alms which is done for the purpose of selfadvertisement 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 thy left hand know [approve of] what thy right hand doeth.” 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 thine 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 thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret Himself shall reward thee openly” (v. 4). Though there be nothing meritorious about our best performances, yea, though everything we do is defiled, nevertheless “God is not unrighteous to forget our work and labor of love, which ye have showed toward His name, in that ye 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 every one have praise of God” ( 1 Corinthians 4:5).

    CHAPTER - PRAYER “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.

    Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask Him.” ( Matthew 6:5-8.)

    AS we pointed out in the opening paragraphs of our last chapter, we are now in the fourth division of our Lord’s Sermon, a division which includes the first eighteen 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 do 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 ye 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” selfward.

    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 thou prayest, thou shalt 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 prayeth” ( 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 selfrighteous 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 dependency 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 thou prayest, thou shalt 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 thou prayest, thou shalt 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. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward” (v. 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 nugatory 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 thy foot when thou goest to the house of God... Be not rash with thy mouth and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth, therefore let thy words be few” ( <210501> Eccl. 5:1, 2).

    If the Divine perfections duly impress our souls, then we shall be saved from much folly. “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father” (v. 6). Having condemned the vice of hypocrisy in the former verse our Lord now commends 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 thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” In our exposition of Matthew 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 thy 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 thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy 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.

    Ere 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, or kneeling by our bedside at night if someone else be sharing the room. “Enter into thy 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 wont [accustomed] to the mount of Olives” ( Luke 12:39).

    It is interesting to note that the Greek word for “closet” occurs but four times in the original 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 thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee.”

    Now what would these words “enter into thy 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 preeminently 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 nigh 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 cherubims: and he spake 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 thou hast shut thy door” and “pray to thy 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 thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy 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 aloneness with God: for this the world must be entirely shut out. “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret.” How clear it is that both the spirit and the letter of this verse rebuke those misguided souls who clamor for churches and chapels to be kept perpetually open so that any member of the public may repair thither 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 “dwelleth 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 cometh when ye shall neither in this mountain nor yet at Jerusalem worship the Father.... God is a spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him 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 thy Father which is in secret, and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly” (verse 6). Here is set forth the holy and unspeakable privilege of prayer. Here we are invited to open our minds and hearts freely unto Him who cares for us, acquainting Him with our needs and cares, making known our requests with thanksgiving. “Pray to thy 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; 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 thy Father which is in secret, and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” This is set over against “they have their reward” of verse 5. 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 ye pray, use not vain repetitions as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking” (v. 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 Thy 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 that are prohibited, such as those used by the prophets of Baal ( 1 Kings 18:26), the worshippers of Diana ( Acts 19:34), and the papists’ “Paternosters” and “Ave Marias,” which they are taught to use without meaning or devotion and which they number by counting strings of beads. Cold and formal extempore prayers are equally forbidden, for they are mere babblings. “Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask Him” (v. 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 requireth 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 rightly to receive and improve the gifts of heaven, being an indispensable preparation of our souls 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.

    CHAPTER - PRAYER-CONTINUED “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread.

    And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” ( Matthew 6:9-13.)

    IT is only two years since we wrote a series of ten cover-page articles on what is usually designated the Lord’s Prayer, and therefore we shall not now enter as 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 therefore pray ye.” 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 oftrepeated 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 to 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 ye 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 that 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 the very stating of such a fantasy 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 that it is to be employed by Jewish and Gentile saints alike. There is nothing whatever in this prayer which is unsuited to Christians now, yea, 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 heareth us” ( 1 John 5:14), and God’s will can only be learned from His Word. “Our Father which art in heaven.” This opening clause presents to us the Object to whom we p ray and the most endearing relation which He sustains to us. B y directing us to address the great God as “Our Father which art 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, that we are invited to draw nigh: “Behold what manner of love the Father hath 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.) Oh, 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, “Thou didst terrible things... behold Thou art wroth.” They owned, “We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” They acknowledged, “Thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us because of our iniquities.” And then they pleaded, “But now, O Lord, Thou art our Father ” ( Isaiah 64:3-8). Though we have conducted ourselves very undutifully and ungratefully toward Thee, yet we are Thy dear children: though Thou hast chastened us sorely, nevertheless Thou art still our Father. To Thee therefore we now in penitence turn, to Thee we would apply ourselves in prayer, for to whom should we look for succor and relief but 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 art 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 art 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 with the false gods which dwell in temples made by hands.

    These words, “which art 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 whence 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 ears 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 Thy 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 the 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 manwards.

    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 preeminence 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 it would be against the Divine holiness to bestow.

    By “Thy 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 Thy 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 Thyself 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 Thy name” ( John 12:27,28): though He must be immersed in the baptism of suffering, yet “Hallowed be Thy name.” “Thy kingdom come: Thy 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 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 ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness” ( Matthew 6:33). In praying “Thy 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 Cat.). “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; and 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 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 Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil” ( 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 temporarily to 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 thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. 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 Thine 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 “for ever.”

    The concluding “Amen” expresses both a fervent desire, “so be it,” and an avowal to faith, “it shall be so.”

    CHAPTER - PRAYER-CONCLUDED “For if ye forgive men their trespasses. your heavenly Father will also forgive you But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” ( Matthew 6:14,15.) “FOR if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (vv. 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 off 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 Peacemaker not only to reconcile us to God, but to one another; and in this we must comply with Him. It is a great assumption and of dangerous consequences for anyone to make a light matter of that which Christ lays great 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 only 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 because we have been forgiven.” This is a fair example 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 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 ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly 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. “Thy 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 work 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, saith 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 v. 7).

    Third , nor do these words “For if ye forgive men their trespasses your heavenly Father will also forgive you” signify a priority of order, as though our acts had the precedency 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 thee all that debt, because thou desirest Me: shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?” (vv. 32, 33). So again, “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” ( Ephesians 4:32) —in that manner, according to that example.

    Turning now to the positive side. “If ye 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 ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you”: these two are definitely joined together and must not be sundered 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 by 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 Him (Luke 23) 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 hath 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 stumblingblock 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! Christ employed the same kind of reasoning in His “If ye 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 directed 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 so to him as he hath 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 him. “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city” ( Proverbs 16:32): we rule our spirit when we overcome our passions. “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 a disadvantage and forbore any act of revenge against him, Saul acknowledged, “Thou art more righteous than I” ( 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 spake 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 our fellow creature. Nor must we 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 no? 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 thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt 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 ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Unspeakably solemn is this, and each of us needs diligently to search his heart in the light of it. Let us bear in mind that other declaration of Christ’s, “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” ( Matthew 7:2).

    God’s government is a reality, and He sees to it that whatsoever we sow that we do also reap. The same truth, in principle, is enunciated in “Whoso stoppeth 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 hath 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, thou 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 it? 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 Christlike 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 with 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.

    CHAPTER - FASTING “Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say Unto you, They have their reward.

    But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.” ( Matthew 6:16-18.)

    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 forty 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 two chapters 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 the 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 ye 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 thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites” (v. 3) that they would be men 6f 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” (i.e. if it did 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: yea, let them turn every one 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 works, 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” ( Judges 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 ye a fast, call 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, no not in their dwellings, 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 might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of Him a right of 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 the 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 an 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, till three whole weeks were fulfilled” ( 10:3).

    Coupled with the sparsest 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).

    Ere proceeding farther 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 it be no expression of an evangelical sorrow of the soul.

    The mere non-partaking of 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 to oneself meats while yet the hunger is appeased with eggs and fish. Unless our fasting be 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 ye fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh month, even those seventy years, did ye 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? wilt thou 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 any wise 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 penitently to 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 bc 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” ( Psalm 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. 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; Acts 13:3 and 14:23) to intimate that 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 nor 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 (Jonah 3), then how much more should we, with our vastly greater light and privileges, be sensible of the same. If we duly “consider our ways” ( Haggai 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 in our next.

    CHAPTER - FASTING-CONCLUDED “MOREOVER when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.” These words brought to a close the fourth division of our Lord’s address, a division which covered the first eighteen verses of Matthew vi, 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 selfcomplacency.

    But what was still worse, the Pharisees made a stage-play of this holy ordinance and resorted to various hypocritical devices 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 ye 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 selfloathing 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 ye 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 “laments” and “howl” in their fast, which could scarcely be without mournful 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 ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast.” But to this it might also be 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 all 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, yea, 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 comeliness.

    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 affliction and mental distress. They covered their heads with dust and ashes, vailed 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).

    Ere 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 all the outward rites and signs pertaining to religious fasts; nevertheless, as in the former works of almsgiving and prayer, so in this, the principal thing was lacking, namely truth and sincerity in the heart. Their grief-stricken faces 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 natural men 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 worshipping in the spirit. In like manner, the wicked Ahab went to much trouble in humbling himself outwardly, from fear of punishment ( 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 stedfast in His covenant” ( Psalm 78:36,37).

    And thus it is generally with natural men. The whole religion of the deluded papists stands in outward ceremonial acts, partly Jewish and partly heathenish, and when they have observed them they look no farther. 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. Yea, 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 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 thereby renders 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 ye 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).

    Sufficient 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 recorded examples in the New Testament of the Savior Himself (Matthew 4), 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 error on every side, the rising tide of infidelity, iniquity and immorality, and, above all, the national judgments of God now hanging over our heads, call loudly for humiliation, afflicting of our souls, and repentance. “But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret” (vv. 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 his face to shine” ( <19A415> Psalm 104:15). That Christ is not to be here understood literally appears from His scope: He was off-setting 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 thou engagest in a private fast, so conduct thyself as it may not appear unto men that thou art 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 to 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 thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head and wash thy face; that thou appear not unto men to fast.” “This exhortation certainly does not 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 thou fastest anoint thine head and wash thy 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 to fulfill 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 p reserve a cheerful countenance. While on the one hand we must eschew all carnal frivolity and lightness, manifesting an habitual seriousness and sobriety; yet on the other hand we must see to it 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 cause 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 the 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 thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly” (v. 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 con sent, 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 corresponding disposition of heart, a real displeasure against sin, sincere self-abhorrence, true humiliation, and unfeigned grief; and that fasting is of no use of any other account than as an additional and subordinate assistance to these things.”

    CHAPTER - COVETOUSNESS CORRECTED “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and l4here thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” ( Matthew 6:19-21.)

    We are now to enter the fifth division of our Lord’s sermon, and as we do 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, selfcentered 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 He 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 those who were poor in spirit, who mourned, who hungered and thirsted after righteousness, who were merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and 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 suppressors 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 treasures 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 to 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 thee, when thou doest well to thyself” ( Psalm 19:18).

    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” (v. 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 eighteen verses we are conducted into the Sanctuary, instructed to have our hearts occupied with Him who seeth 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 that 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 ourselves 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, heapeth up or “treasurest up unto thyself.” “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 thou hast 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 thou shalt remember the Lord thy God: for it is He that giveth thee 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 especially for those of his own house, he hath 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 sufficient 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, this 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 sufficient 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 upon 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 “satisfieth not” ( Isaiah 55:2), seeking after almost anything or everything rather than after that which perisheth not.

    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 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 every one 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 shall 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 doth 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 possession 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, with large supplies of apparel? 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. “Wilt thou set thine 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” (v. 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 come 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 the very first moment 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 treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.” That we may the 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 thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward” ( Genesis 15:1); the words of Eliphaz to Job, “The Almighty shall be thy gold” (22:25, margin); and the declaration of David: “The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance... I have a goodly heritage”—i.e. 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 hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath 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 treasure] have all we received, and grace for grace” ( John 1:16).

    Wouldest thou 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).

    Wouldest thou have everlasting well-being? Then Christ Himself is “the true God, and eternal life” ( 1 John 5:20). Whatever thou needest— 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 of Sol. 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 hath 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.).

    Almost 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 enjoyment? It is at this point each of us must examine and test himself. What things does 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 Thy 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.

    CHAPTER - COVETOUSNESS CORRECTED-CONCLUDED “LAY not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal” (v. 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 thy shield, and thy 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 asses” ( 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 Thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness” ( Psalm 17:14,15).

    It is just as true that it is the Lord who “giveth thee 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, 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 doth 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 treasures never 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 whence cometh this vanity of the creature, the answer is, God has subjected them unto it for 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 doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through and steal” (v. 20).

    This was only another way of saying, “Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth 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 itfor until He does so we are like the Laodiceans, “rich and increased with goods” in our own esteem. Not till 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 Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire besides Thee” ( 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 Thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver... I love Thy commandments above gold; yea, above fine gold” ( <19B972> 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 thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; then shalt thou 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 highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth 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 “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 that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord; and that which he hath 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 runneth into it, and is safe. The rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and as an 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. “Honour me now, I pray thee, 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 Thy law had been my delights, I should then have perished in mine affliction” ( <19B992> Psalm 119:92) he exclaimed later. Whither do you turn in trouble? from whence do you seek relief? “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through and steal” (v. 20).

    As in the preceding verse Christ backs up His precept with a weighty consideration, one which is drawn from the unchangeability 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. “Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you. he shall in no wise lose his reward” ( Matthew 10:42).

    God will liberally reward all denyings of self for Christ’s sake: “Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life” ( Matthew 19:29).

    Let us, then, turn our earthly goods into heavenly substance and so heed our Savior’s exhortation: “Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth” ( 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 fadeth 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, yea, 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” (v. 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 in 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 out 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. Oh, 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, thither 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 be 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: a heavenly treasure and a 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 ( <19D917> 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 are 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 to 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.

    CHAPTER - THE SINGLE EYE “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness I” ( Matthew 6:22,23.)

    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” by both Bagster’s Interlinear and the American R.V. We believe this 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 12:35, 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 thine eye be single ” occurs again only in Luke 12:34, 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-ward” ( 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 cannot perform our task 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 (Jam. 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 23:6,7), 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 deviseth 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 pointed out in the opening paragraphs of chapter twenty-eight (page 185), 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 said 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 thinketh 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 21-24 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 verses 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 “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 answereth 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 his 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. Should it be asked, 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 satisfieth 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 the 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 ( 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 ye 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—discerning the Lord’s body therein. 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 that is spiritual judgeth 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 Thou up the light of Thy 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 man have 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” ( <19B110> 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, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” ( <19B9105> Psalm 119:105), and therefore “Thou through Thy commandments hast 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 far 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 by such a realization, judging ourselves unsparingly, bewailing our misery, that we have a mind so corrupt that it disorders the whole of our conduct and seeks by grace to mortify the same.

    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.

    CHAPTER - THE SINGLE EYE-CONCLUDED “THE light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” 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, 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 thine eye be good ” (which would be the most obvious antithesis from the “evil eye” in the next verse), but “if thine 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 are 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, and the voices 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, that 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 thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness” (v. 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 worshipped, 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