Christ begins his sermon on the mount, Matthew 5:1, Matthew 5:2. The beatitudes, Matthew 5:3-12. The disciples the salt of the earth, and light of the world, Matthew 5:13-16. Christ is not come to destroy, but confirm and fulfill, the Law and the Prophets, Matthew 5:17-19. Of the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, Matthew 5:20. Interpretation of the precepts relative to murder, anger, and injurious speaking, Matthew 5:21, Matthew 5:22. Of reconciliation, Matthew 5:23-26. Of impure acts and propensities, and the necessity of mortification, Matthew 5:27-30. Of divorce, Matthew 5:31, Matthew 5:32. Of oaths and profane swearing, Matthew 5:33-37. Of bearing injuries and persecution, Matthew 5:38-41. Of borrowing and lending, Matthew 5:42. Of love and hatred, Matthew 5:43-46. Of civil respect, Matthew 5:47. Christ's disciples must resemble their heavenly Father, Matthew 5:48.
And seeing the multitudes - Τους οχλους, these multitudes, viz. those mentioned in the preceding verse, which should make the first verse of this chapter.
He went up into a mountain - That he might have the greater advantage of speaking, so as to be heard by that great concourse of people which followed him. It is very probable that nothing more is meant here than a small hill or eminence. Had he been on a high mountain they could not have heard; and, had he been at a great distance, he would not have sat down. See the note on Matthew 5:14.
And when he was set - The usual posture of public teachers among the Jews, and among many other people. Hence sitting was a synonymous term for teaching among the rabbins.
His disciples - The word μαθητης signifies literally a scholar. Those who originally followed Christ, considered him in the light of a Divine teacher; and conscious of their ignorance, and the importance of his teaching, they put themselves under his tuition, that they might be instructed in heavenly things. Having been taught the mysteries of the kingdom of God, they became closely attached to their Divine Master, imitating his life and manners; and recommending his salvation to all the circle of their acquaintance. This is still the characteristic of a genuine disciple of Christ.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, etc. - Or, happy, μακαριοι from μα or μη, not, and κηρ, fate, or death: intimating, that such persons were endued with immortality, and consequently were not liable to the caprices of fate. Homer, Iliad i, 330, calls the supreme gods, Θεων μακαρων, the ever happy and Immortal gods, and opposes them to θνητων ανθρωπων, mortal men.
τω δ 'αυτω μαρτυροι εστων
Προς τε Θεων μακαρων, προς τε θνητων ανθροπων
"Be ye witnesses before the immortal gods, and before mortal men."
From this definition we may learn, that the person whom Christ terms happy is one who is not under the influence of fate or chance, but is governed by an all-wise providence, having every step directed to the attainment of immortal glory, being transformed by the power into the likeness of the ever-blessed God. Though some of the persons, whose states are mentioned in these verses, cannot be said to be as yet blessed or happy, in being made partakers of the Divine nature; yet they are termed happy by our Lord, because they are on the straight way to this blessedness.
Taken in this light the meaning is similar to that expressed by the poet when describing a happy man.
Felix, qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas: Atque metus omnes et inexorabile Fatum
Subjecit pedibus; strepitumque Acherontis avari!
Virg. Geor. ii. v. 490
Which may be thus paraphrased: -
"Happy is he who gains the knowledge of the first cause of all things; who can trample on every fear, and the doctrine of inexorable Fate; and who is not terrified by death, nor by the threatened torments of the invisible world!"
Poor in spirit - One who is deeply sensible of his spiritual poverty and wretchedness. Πτωχος, a poor man, comes from πτωσσω, to tremble, or shrink with fear. Being destitute of the true riches, he is tremblingly alive to the necessities of his soul, shrinking with fear lest he should perish without the salvation of God. Such Christ pronounces happy, because there is but a step between them and that kingdom which is here promised. Some contend, that μακαριοι should be referred to πνευματι, and the verse translated thus: Happy, or blessed in spirit, are the poor. But our Lord seems to have the humiliation of the spirit particularly in view.
Kingdom of heaven - Or, των ουρανων, of the heavens. A participation of all the blessings of the new covenant here, and the blessings of glory above. See this phrase explained, Matthew 3:2; (note). Blessed are the poor! This is God's word; but who believes it? Do we not say, Yea, rather, Blessed is the rich?
The Jewish rabbins have many good sayings relative to that poverty and humility of spirit which Christ recommends in this verse. In the treatise called Bammidbar Rabbi, s. 20, we have these words: There were three (evils) in Balaam: the evil eye, (envy), the towering spirit, (pride), and the extensive mind (avarice).
Tanchum, fol. 84. The law does not abide with those who have the extensive mind, (avarice), but with him only who has a contrite heart.
Rabbi Chanina said, "Why are the words of the law compared to water? Because as waters flow from heights, and settle in low places, so the words of the law rest only with him who is of an humble heart." See Schoettgen.
Blessed are they that mourn - That is, those who, feeling their spiritual poverty, mourn after God, lamenting the iniquity that separated them from the fountain of blessedness. Every one flies from sorrow, and seeks after joy, and yet true joy must necessarily be the fruit of sorrow. The whole need not (do not feel the need of) the physician, but they that are sick do; i.e. they who are sensible of their disease. Only such persons as are deeply convinced of the sinfulness of sin, feel the plague of their own heart, and turn with disgust from all worldly consolations, because of their insufficiency to render them happy, have God's promise of solid comfort. They Shall Be comforted, says Christ, παρακληθησονται, from παρα, near, and καλεω, I call. He will call them to himself, and speak the words of pardon, peace, and life eternal, to their hearts. See this notion of the word expressed fully by our Lord, Matthew 11:28, Come Unto Me all ye who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Blessed are the meek - Happy, οι πραεις, from ῥαος, easy, those who are of a quiet, gentle spirit, in opposition to the proud and supercilious Scribes and Pharisees and their disciples. We have a compound word in English, which once fully expressed the meaning of the original, viz. gentleman; but it has now almost wholly lost its original signification. Our word meek comes from the old Anglo-saxon meca, or meccea, a companion or equal, because he who is of a meek or gentle spirit, is ever ready to associate with the meanest of those who fear God, feeling himself superior to none; and well knowing that he has nothing of spiritual or temporal good but what he has received from the mere bounty of God, having never deserved any favor from his hand.
For they shall inherit the earth - Or, την γην, the land. Under this expression, which was commonly used by the prophets to signify the land of Canaan, in which all temporal good abounded, Judges 18:9, Judges 18:10, Jesus Christ points out that abundance of spiritual good, which was provided for men in the Gospel. Besides, Canaan was a type of the kingdom of God; and who is so likely to inherit glory as the man in whom the meekness and gentleness of Jesus dwell? In some good MSS. and several ancient versions, the fourth and fifth verses are transposed: see the authorities in the various readings in Professor Griesbach's edition. The present arrangement certainly is most natural:
- Poverty, to which the promise of the kingdom is made.
They which do hunger and thirst - As the body has its natural appetites of hunger and thirst for the food and drink suited to its nourishment, so has the soul. No being is indestructible or unfailing in its nature but God; no being is independent but him: as the body depends for its nourishment, health, and strength upon the earth, so does the soul upon heaven. Heavenly things cannot support the body; they are not suited to its nature: earthly things cannot support the soul, for the same reason. When the uneasy sensation termed hunger takes place in the stomach, we know we must get food or perish. When the soul is awakened to a tense of its wants, and begins to hunger and thirst after righteousness or holiness, which is its proper food, we know that it must be purified by the Holy Spirit, and be made a partaker of that living bread, John 8:48, or perish everlastingly. Now, as God never inspires a prayer but with a design to answer it, he who hungers and thirsts after the full salvation of God, may depend on being speedily and effectually blessed or satisfied, well-fed, as the word χορτασθησονται implies. Strong and intense desire after any object has been, both by poets and orators, represented metaphorically by hunger and thirst. See the well-known words of Virgil, Aeneid iii. 55.
- Quid non mortalia pectora cogis,
Auri sacra Fames!
"O cursed hunger after gold! what canst thou not influence the hearts of men to perpetrate?"
How frequently do we find, inexplebilis honorum Fames-Sitiens virtutis-famae Situs, the insatiable hunger after honor, a thirst for virtue, thirst after fame, and such like! Righteousness here is taken for all the blessings of the new covenant - all the graces of the Messiah's kingdom - a full restoration to the image of God!
The merciful - The word mercy, among the Jews, signified two things: the pardon of injuries, and almsgiving. Our Lord undoubtedly takes it in its fullest latitude here. To know the nature of mercy, we have only to consult the grammatical meaning of the Latin word misericordia, from which ours is derived. It is composed of two words: miserans, pitying, and cor, the heart; or miseria cordis, pain of heart. Mercy supposes two things:
- A distressed object: and,
They shall obtain mercy - Mercy is not purchased but at the price of mercy itself; and even this price is a gift of the mercy of God. What mercy can those vindictive persons expect, who forgive nothing, and are always ready to improve every advantage they have of avenging themselves? Whatever mercy a man shows to another, God will take care to show the same to him. The following elegant and nervous saying of one of our best poets is worthy of the reader's most serious attention: -
"The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed;
It blesseth him who gives, and him who takes:
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown
It is an attribute of God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's,
When mercy seasons justice. -
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. -
Why, all the souls that are, were forfeit once:
And he who might the 'vantage best have took
Found out the remedy. How would you be,
If He who is the top of judgment should
But judge you as you are? O! think on that;
And mercy then will breathe within your lips,
Like man, new made
How shalt thou hope for mercy, rend'ring none?"
In the tract Shabbath, fol. 151, there is a saying very like this of our Lord.
"He who shows mercy to men, God will show mercy to him: but to him who shows no mercy to man, God will show no mercy.
Pure in heart - In opposition to the Pharisees, who affected outward purity, while their hearts were full of corruption and defilement. A principal part of the Jewish religion consisted in outward washings and cleansings: on this ground they expected to see God, to enjoy eternal glory: but Christ here shows that a purification of the heart, from all vile affections and desires, is essentially requisite in order to enter into the kingdom of God. He whose soul is not delivered from all sin, through the blood of the covenant, can have no Scriptural hope of ever being with God. There is a remarkable illustration of this passage, quoted by Mr. Wakefield from Origen, Contra Cels. lib. vi. "God has no body, and therefore is invisible: but men of contemplation can discern him with the heart and understanding. But A Defiled Heart Cannot See God: but He Must Be Pure Who Wishes to Enjoy a Proper View of a Pure Being."
Shall see God - This is a Hebraism, which signifies, possess God, enjoy his felicity: as seeing a thing, was used among the Hebrews for possessing it. See Psalm 16:10. Thou wilt not suffer thy Holy One to see corruption, i.e. he shall not be corrupted. So John 3:3; : Except a man be born again, he cannot See the kingdom of God, i.e. he cannot enjoy it. So John 3:16. He that believeth not the Son, shall not See life, i. e shall not be put in possession of eternal glory. The Hindoo idolaters vainly boast of what the genuine followers of Christ actually enjoy - having the Divine favor witnessed to their souls by the Holy Spirit. The Hindoos pretend that some of their sages have been favored with a sight of their guardian deity. - See Ward's Customs.
Probably our Lord alludes to the advantages those had, who were legally pure, of entering into the sanctuary, into the presence of God, while those who had contracted any legal defilement were excluded from it. This also was obviously typical.
The peace-makers - Ειρηνη, peace, is compounded of ειρειν (εις ) ἑν, connecting into one: for as War distracts and divides nations, families, and individuals, from each other, inducing them to pursue different objects and different interests, so Peace restores them to a state of unity, giving them one object, and one interest. A peace-maker is a man who, being endowed with a generous public spirit, labors for the public good, and feels his own interest promoted in promoting that of others: therefore, instead of fanning the fire of strife, he uses his influence and wisdom to reconcile the contending parties, adjust their differences, and restore them to a state of unity. As all men are represented to be in a state of hostility to God and each other, the Gospel is called the Gospel of peace, because it tends to reconcile men to God and to each other. Hence our Lord here terms peace-makers the children of God: for as he is the Father of peace, those who promote it are reputed his children. But whose children are they who foment divisions in the Church, the state, or among families? Surely they are not of that God, who is the Father of peace, and lover of concord; of that Christ, who is the sacrifice and mediator of it; of that Spirit, who is the nourisher and bond of peace; nor of that Church of the Most High, which is the kingdom and family of peace.
St. Clement, Strom. lib. iv. s. 6, in fin. says, that "Some who transpose the Gospels add this verse: Happy they who are persecuted by justice, for they shall be perfect: happy they who are persecuted on my account, for they shall have a place where they shall not be persecuted."
They which are persecuted - Δεδιωγμενοι, they who are hard pressed upon and pursued with repeated acts of enmity. Parkhurst. They are happy who suffer, seems a strange saying: and that the righteous should suffer, merely because they are such, seems as strange. But such is the enmity of the human heart to every thing of God and goodness, that all those who live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution in one form or other. As the religion of Christ gives no quarter to vice, so the vicious will give no quarter to this religion, or to its professors.
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven - That spiritual kingdom, explained Matthew 3:2, and that kingdom of glory which is its counterpart and consequence.
When men shall revile you, and persecute - The persecution mentioned in the preceding verse comprehends all outward acts of violence - all that the hand can do. This comprehends all calumny, slander, etc., all that the tongue can effect. But as διωκειν, which we render to persecute, is a forensic term, and signifies legal persecutions and public accusations, which, though totally unsubstantiated, were the means of destroying multitudes of the primitive Christians, our Lord probably refers to such. No Protestant can think, without horror, of the great numbers burnt alive in this country, on such accusations, under the popish reign of her who is emphatically called Bloody Queen Mary.
Rejoice - In the testimony of a good conscience; for, without this, suffering has nothing but misery in it.
Be exceeding glad - Αγαλλιασθε, leap for joy. There are several cases on record, where this was literally done by the martyrs, in Queen Mary's days.
Great is your reward in heaven - In the Talmudical tract Pirkey Aboth, are these words: "Rabbi Tarpon said, The day is short: the work is great: the laborers are slow: the Reward Is Great: and the father of the family is urgent."
The followers of Christ are encouraged to suffer joyfully on two considerations.
- They are thereby conformed to the prophets who went before.
Ye are the salt of the earth - Our Lord shows here what the preachers of the Gospel, and what all who profess to follow him, should be; the salt of the earth, to preserve the world from putrefaction and destruction. See the note on Leviticus 2:13.
But if the salt have lost his savor - That this is possible in the land of Judea, we have proof from Mr. Maundrell, who, describing the Valley of Salt, speaks thus: "Along, on one side of the valley, toward Gibul, there is a small precipice about two men's lengths, occasioned by the continual taking away of the salt; and, in this, you may see how the veins of it lie. I broke a piece of it, of which that part that was exposed to the rain, sun, and air, though it had the sparks and particles of salt, Yet It Had Perfectly Lost Its Savour: the inner part, which was connected to the rock, retained its savor, as I found by proof." See his Trav., 5th edit., last page. A preacher, or private Christian, who has lost the life of Christ, and the witness of his Spirit, out of his soul, may be likened to this salt. He may have the sparks and glittering particles of true wisdom, but without its unction or comfort. Only that which is connected with the rock, the soul that is in union with Christ Jesus by the Holy Spirit, can preserve its savor, and be instrumental of good to others.
To be trodden underfoot - There was a species of salt in Judea, which was generated at the lake Asphaltites, and hence called bituminous salt, easily rendered vapid, and of no other use but to be spread in a part of the temple, to prevent slipping in wet weather. This is probably what our Lord alludes to in this place. The existence of such a salt, and its application to such a use, Schoettgenius has largely proved in his Horae Hebraicae, vol. i. p. 18, etc.
Ye are the light of the world - That is, the instruments which God chooses to make use of to illuminate the minds of men; as he uses the sun (to which probably he pointed) to enlighten the world. Light of the world, עולם נר ner olam, was a title applied to the most eminent rabbins. Christ transfers the title from these, and gives it to his own disciples, who, by the doctrines that he taught them, were to be the means of diffusing the light of life throughout the universe.
A city that is set on a hill - This place may receive light from the following passage in Maundrell's Travels. "A few points toward the north (of Tabor) appears that which they call the Mount of Beatitudes, a small rising, from which our blessed Savior delivered his sermon in the fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters of Matthew. (See the note on Matthew 5:5;). Not far from this little hill is the city Saphet, supposed to be the ancient Bethulia. It stands upon a very eminent and conspicuous mountain, and is Seen Far and Near. May we not suppose that Christ alludes to this city, in these words of his, A city set on a hill cannot be hid?" p. 115. Quesnell remarks here: "The Christian life is something very high and sublime, to which we cannot arrive without pains: while it withdraws us from the earth, and carries us nearer heaven, it places us in view, and as a mark, to the malice of carnal men."
Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel - A bushel μοδιος : - a measure both among the Greeks and Romans, containing a little more than a peck English. From some ancient writers we learn, that only those who had bad designs hid a candle under a bushel; that, in the dead of the night, when all were asleep, they might rise up, and have light at hand to help them to effect their horrid purposes of murder, etc. See Wetstein, Kypke, Wolf, etc.
Let your light so shine - Or more literally, Thus let your light shine, Ουτω λαμψατω το φως . As the sun is lighted up in the firmament of heaven to diffuse its light and heat freely to every inhabitant of the earth; and as the lamp is not set under the bushel, but placed upon the lamp-stand that it may give light to all in the house; Thus let every follower of Christ, and especially every preacher of the Gospel, diffuse the light of heavenly knowledge, and the warmth of Divine love through the whole circle of their acquaintance.
That they may see your good works - It is not sufficient to have light - we must walk in the light, and by the light. Our whole conduct should be a perpetual comment on the doctrine we have received, and a constant exemplification of its power and truth.
And glorify your Father - The following curious saying is found in Bammidbar Rabba, s. 15. "The Israelites said to the holy blessed God, Thou commandest us to light lamps to thee; and yet thou art the, Light of the world, and with thee the light dwelleth. The holy blessed God answered, I do not command this because I need light; but that you may reflect light upon me, as I have illuminated you: - that the people may say, Behold, how the Israelites illustrate him, who illuminates them in the sight of the whole earth." See more in Schoettgen. Real Christians are the children of God - they are partakers of his holy and happy nature: they should ever be concerned for their Father's honor, and endeavor so to recommend him, and his salvation, that others may be prevailed on to come to the light, and walk in it. Then God is said to be glorified, when the glorious power of his grace is manifested in the salvation of men.
Think not that I am come to destroy the law - Do not imagine that I am come to violate the law καταλυσαι, from κατα, and λυω, I loose, violate, or dissolve - I am not come to make the law of none effect - to dissolve the connection which subsists between its several parts, or the obligation men are under to have their lives regulated by its moral precepts; nor am I come to dissolve the connecting reference it has to the good things promised. But I am come, πληρωσαι, to complete - to perfect its connection and reference, to accomplish every thing shadowed forth in the Mosaic ritual, to fill up its great design; and to give grace to all my followers, πληρωσαι, to fill up, or complete, every moral duty. In a word, Christ completed the law:
- 1st. In itself, it was only the shadow, the typical representation, of good things to come; and he added to it that which was necessary to make it perfect, His Own Sacrifice, without which it could neither satisfy God, nor sanctify men.
- 3dly. He completes this law, and the sayings of his prophets, in his members, by giving them grace to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and their neighbor as themselves; for this is all the law and the prophets.
For verily I say unto you, Till heaven - In the very commencement of his ministry, Jesus Christ teaches the instability of all visible things. "The heaven which you see, and which is so glorious, and the earth which you inhabit and love, shall pass away; for the things which are seen are temporal, προσκαιρα, are for a time; but the things which are not seen are eternal αιωνια, ever-during," 2 Corinthians 4:18. And the Word of the Lord endureth for ever.
One jot or one tittle - One yod, (י ), the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet. One tittle or point, κεραια, either meaning those points which serve for vowels in this language, if they then existed; or the seraphs, or points of certain letters, such as ר resh, or ד daleth, ה he, or ח cheth (as the change of any of these into the other would make a most essential alteration in the sense, or, as the rabbins say, destroy the world). Or our Lord may refer to the little ornaments which certain letters assume on their tops, which cause them to appear like small branches. The following letters only can assume coronal apices, ץ tsaddi - ג gimel - ז zain - נ nun - ט teth - ע ayin - ש shin . These, with the coronal apices, often appear in MSS.
That this saying, one jot or one tittle, is a proverbial mode of expression among the Jews, and that it expressed the meaning given to it above, is amply proved by the extracts in Lightfoot and Schoettgen. The reader will not be displeased to find a few of them here, if he can bear with the allegorical and strongly figurative language of the rabbins.
"The book of Deuteronomy came and prostrated itself before the Lord, and said: 'O Lord of the world, thou hast written in me thy law; but now, a Testament defective in some parts is defective in all. Behold, Solomon endeavors to root the letter yod out of me.' (In this text, Deuteronomy 17:5. נשים ירבה לא lo yirbeh, nashim, he shall not multiply wives). The holy blessed God answered, 'Solomon and a thousand such as he shall perish, but the least word shall not perish out of thee.'"
In Shir Hashirim Rabba, are these words:
"Should all the inhabitants of the earth gather together, in order to whiten one feather of a crow, they could not succeed: so, if all the inhabitants of the earth should unite to abolish one י yod, which is the smallest letter in the whole law, they should not be able to effect it."
In Vayikra Rabba, s. 19, it is said:
"Should any person in the words of Deuteronomy 6:4, Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is אחד achad, One Lord, change the ד daleth into a ר resh, he would ruin the world." [Because, in that case, the word אחר achar, would signify a strange or false God].
"Should any one, in the words of Exodus 34:14, Thou shalt worship no Other, אחר achar, God, change ר resh into ד daleth, he would ruin the world." [Because the command would then run, Thou shalt not worship the Only or true God].
"Should any one in the words of Leviticus 22:32, Neither shall ye Profane תחללו techelelu, my holy name, change ח cheth into ה he, he would ruin the world." [Because the sense of the commandment would then be, Neither shall ye Praise my holy name].
"Should any one, in the words of Psalm 150:6, Let every thing that hath breath Praise, תהלל tehalel, the Lord, change ה , he into ח cheth, he would ruin the world." [Because the command would then run, Let every thing that hath breath Profane the Lord].
"Should any one, in the words of Jeremiah 5:10, They lied Against the Lord, ביהוה beihovah, change ב beth into כ caph, he would ruin the world." [For then the words would run, They lied Like the Lord].
"Should any one, in the words of Hosea, Hosea 5:7, They have dealt treacherously, ביהוה beihovah, Against the Lord, change ב beth into כ caph, he would ruin the world." [For then the words would run, They have dealt treacherously Like the Lord].
"Should any one, in the words of 1 Samuel 2:2, There is none holy As the Lord, change כ caph into ב beth, he would ruin the world." [For then the words would mean, There is no holiness In the Lord].
These examples fully prove that the μια κεραια of our Lord, refers to the apices, points, or corners, that distinguish ב beth from כ caph ; ח cheth from ה he ; and ר resh from ד daleth . For the reader will at once perceive, how easily a כ caph may be turned into a ב beth ; a ה he into a ח cheth ; and a ר resh into a ד daleth : and he will also see of what infinite consequence it is to write and print such letters correctly.
Till all be fulfilled - Or, accomplished. Though all earth and hell should join together to hinder the accomplishment of the great designs of the Most High, yet it shall all be in vain - even the sense of a single letter shall not be lost. The words of God, which point out his designs, are as unchangeable as his nature itself. Every sinner, who perseveres in his iniquity, shall surely be punished with separation from God and the glory of his power; and every soul that turns to God, through Christ, shall as surely be saved, as that Jesus himself hath died.
Whosoever - shall break one of these least commandments - The Pharisees were remarkable for making a distinction between weightier and lighter matters in the law, and between what has been called, in a corrupt part of the Christian Church, mortal and venial sins. See on Matthew 22:36; (note).
Whosoever shall break. What an awful consideration is this! He who, by his mode of acting, speaking, or explaining the words of God, sets the holy precept aside, or explains away its force and meaning, shall be called least - shall have no place in the kingdom of Christ here, nor in the kingdom of glory above. That this is the meaning of these words is evident enough from the following verse.
Except your righteousness shall exceed - περισσευση, Unless your righteousness abound more - unless it take in, not only the letter, but the spirit and design of the moral and ritual precept; the one directing you how to walk so as to please God; the other pointing out Christ, the great Atonement, through and by which a sinner is enabled to do so - more than that of the scribes and Pharisees, who only attend to the letter of the law, and had indeed made even that of no effect by their traditions - ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. This fully explains the meaning of the preceding verse. The old English word is right-wiseness, i.e. complete, thorough, excellent Wisdom. For a full explanation of this verse, see Luke 18:10, etc.
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time - τοις αρχαιοις, to or by the ancients. By the ancients, we may understand those who lived before the law, and those who lived under it; for murder was, in the most solemn manner, forbidden before, as well as under, the law, Genesis 9:5, Genesis 9:6.
But it is very likely that our Lord refers here merely to traditions and glosses relative to the ancient Mosaic ordinance; and such as, by their operation, rendered the primitive command of little or no effect. Murder from the beginning has been punished with death; and it is, probably, the only crime that should be punished with death. There is much reason to doubt, whether the punishment of death, inflicted for any other crime, is not in itself murder, whatever the authority may be that has instituted it. God, and the greatest legislators that have ever been in the universe, are of the same opinion. See Montesquieu, Blackstone, and the Marquis Beccaria, and the arguments and testimonies lately produced by Sir Samuel Romilly, in his motion for the amendment of the criminal laws of this kingdom. It is very remarkable, that the criminal code published by Joseph II., late emperor of Germany, though it consists of seventy-one capital crimes, has not death attached to any of them. Even murder, with all intention to rob, is punished only with "imprisonment for thirty years, to lie on the floor, to have no nourishment but bread and water, to be closely chained, and to be publicly whipped once a year, with less than one hundred lashes." See Colquhoun on the Police of the City of London, p. 272.
Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause - ὁ οργιζομενος - εικη, who is vainly incensed. "This translation is literal; and the very objectionable phrase, without a cause, is left out, εικη being more properly translated by that above." What our Lord seems here to prohibit, is not merely that miserable facility which some have of being angry at every trifle, continually taking offense against their best friends; but that anger which leads a man to commit outrages against another, thereby subjecting himself to that punishment which was to be inflicted on those who break the peace. Εικη, vainly, or, as in the common translation, without a cause, is wanting in the famous Vatican MS. and two others, the Ethiopic, latter Arabic, Saxon, Vulgate, two copies of the old Itala, J. Martyr, Ptolomeus, Origen, Tertullian, and by all the ancient copies quoted by St. Jerome. It was probably a marginal gloss originally, which in process of time crept into the text.
Shall be in danger of the judgment - ενοχος εϚται, shall be liable to the judgment. That is, to have the matter brought before a senate, composed of twenty-three magistrates, whose business it was to judge in cases of murder and other capital crimes. It punished criminals by strangling or beheading; but Dr. Lightfoot supposes the judgment of God to be intended. See at the end of this chapter.
Raca - ריקה from the Hebrew רק rak, to be empty. It signifies a vain, empty, worthless fellow, shallow brains, a term of great contempt. Such expressions were punished among the Gentoos by a heavy fine. See all the cases, Code of Gentoo Laws, chap. 15: sec. 2.
The council - Συνεδριον, the famous council, known among the Jews by the name of Sanhedrin. It was composed of seventy-two elders, six chosen out of each tribe. This grand Sanhedrin not only received appeals from the inferior Sanhedrins, or court of twenty-three mentioned above; but could alone take cognizance, in the first instance, of the highest crimes, and alone inflict the punishment of stoning.
Thou fool - Moreh, probably from מרה marah, to rebel, a rebel against God, apostate from all good. This term implied, among the Jews, the highest enormity, and most aggravated guilt. Among the Gentoos, such an expression was punished by cutting out the tongue, and thrusting a hot iron, of ten fingers breadth, into the mouth of the person who used it. Code of Gentoo Laws, chap. 15: sec. 2. p. 212.
Shall be in danger of hell fire - ενοχος εϚται εις την γεενναν του πυρος, shall be liable to the hell of fire. Our Lord here alludes to the valley of the son of Hinnom, הנם גי Ghi hinom . This place was near Jerusalem, and had been formerly used for those abominable sacrifices, in which the idolatrous Jews had caused their children to pass through the fire to Molech. A particular place in this valley was called Tophet, from תפת tophet, the fire stove, in which some supposed they burnt their children alive to the above idol. See 2 Kings 23:10; 2 Chronicles 28:3; Jeremiah 7:31, Jeremiah 7:32. From the circumstances of this valley having been the scene of those infernal sacrifices, the Jews, in our Savior's time, used the word for hell, the place of the damned. See the word applied in this sense by the Targum, on Rth 2:12; Psalm 140:12; Genesis 3:24; Genesis 15:17. It is very probable that our Lord means no more here than this: if a man charge another with apostasy from the Jewish religion, or rebellion against God, and cannot prove his charge, then he is exposed to that punishment (burning alive) which the other must have suffered, if the charge had been substantiated. There are three kinds of offenses here, which exceed each other in their degrees of guilt.
- 1st. Anger against a man, accompanied with some injurious act.
- 3dly. Hatred and mortal enmity, expressed by the term moreh, or apostate, where such apostasy could not be proved.
- 1st. The judgment, the council of twenty-three, which could inflict the punishment of strangling.
- 3dly. The being burnt alive in the valley of the son of Hinnom. This appears to be the meaning of our Lord.
Therefore if thou bring thy gift - Evil must be nipped in the bud. An unkind thought of another may be the foundation of that which leads to actual murder. A Christian, properly speaking, cannot be an enemy to any man; nor is he to consider any man his enemy, without the fullest evidence: for surmises to the prejudice of another can never rest in the bosom of him who has the love of God in his heart, for to him all men are brethren. He sees all men as children of God, and members of Christ, or at least capable of becoming such. If a tender forgiving spirit was required, even in a Jew, when he approached God's altar with a bullock or a lamb, how much more necessary is this in a man who professes to be a follower of the Lamb of God; especially when he receives the symbols of that Sacrifice which was offered for the life of the world, in what is commonly called the sacrament of the Lord's supper!
Leave there thy gift before the altar - This is as much as to say, "Do not attempt to bring any offering to God while thou art in a spirit of enmity against any person; or hast any difference with thy neighbor, which thou hast not used thy diligence to get adjusted." It is our duty and interest, both to bring our gift, and offer it too; but God will not accept of any act of religious worship from us, while any enmity subsists in our hearts towards any soul of man; or while any subsists in our neighbor's heart towards us, which we have not used the proper means to remove. A religion, the very essence of which is love, cannot suffer at its altars a heart that is revengeful and uncharitable, or which does not use its utmost endeavors to revive love in the heart of another. The original word, δωρον, which we translate gift, is used by the rabbins in Hebrew letters דורון doron, which signifies not only a gift, but a sacrifice offered to God. See several proofs in Schoettgen.
Then come and offer thy gift - Then, when either thy brother is reconciled to thee, or thou hast done all in thy power to effect this reconciliation. My own obstinacy and uncharitableness must render me utterly unfit to receive any good from God's hands, or to worship him in an acceptable manner; bat the wickedness of another can be no hinderance to me, when I have endeavored earnestly to get it removed, though without effect.
Agree with thine adversary quickly - Adversary, αντιδικος, properly a plaintiff in law - a perfect law term. Our Lord enforces the exhortation given in the preceding verses, from the consideration of what was deemed prudent in ordinary law-suits. In such cases, men should make up matters with the utmost speed, as running through the whole course of a law-suit must not only be vexatious, but be attended with great expense; and in the end, though the loser may be ruined, yet the gainer has nothing. A good use of this very prudential advice of our Lord is this: Thou art a sinner; God hath a controversy with thee. There is but a step between thee and death. Now is the accepted time. Thou art invited to return to God by Christ Jesus. Come immediately at his call, and he will save thy soul. Delay not! Eternity is at hand; and if thou die in thy sins, where God is thou shalt never come.
Those who make the adversary, God; the judge, Christ; the officer, Death; and the prison, Hell, abuse the passage, and highly dishonor God.
The uttermost farthing - Κοδραντην . The rabbins have this Greek word corrupted into קרדיונטסס kordiontes, and קונטריק , kontrik, and say, that two פרוטות prutoth make a kontarik, which is exactly the same with those words in Mark 12:42, λεπτα δυο, ο εστι κοδραντης, two mites, which are one farthing. Hence it appears that the λεπτον lepton was the same as the prutah . The weight of the prutah was half a barley-corn, and it was the smallest coin among the Jews, as the kodrantes, or farthing, was the smallest coin among the Romans. If the matter issue in law, strict justice will be done, and your creditor be allowed the fullness of his just claim; but if; while you are on the way, going to the magistrate, you come to a friendly agreement with him, he will relax in his claims, take a part for the whole, and the composition be, in the end, both to his and your profit.
This text has been considered a proper foundation on which to build not only the doctrine of a purgatory, but also that of universal restoration. But the most unwarrantable violence must be used before it can be pressed into the service of either of the above antiscriptural doctrines. At the most, the text can only be considered as a metaphorical representation of the procedure of the great Judge; and let it ever be remembered, that by the general consent of all (except the basely interested) no metaphor is ever to be produced in proof of any doctrine. In the things that concern our eternal salvation, we need the most pointed and express evidence on which to establish the faith of our souls.
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old - By the ancients, τοις αρχαιοις, is omitted by nearly a hundred MSS., and some of them of the very greatest antiquity and authority; also by the Coptic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Gothic, and Sclavonian versions; by four copies of the old Itala; and by Origen, Cyril, Theophylact, Euthymius, and Hilary. On this authority Wetstein and Griesbach have left it out of the text.
Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her - Επιθυμησαι αυτην, earnestly to covet her. The verb, επιθυμεω, is undoubtedly used here by our Lord, in the sense of coveting through the influence of impure desire. The word is used in precisely the same sense, on the same subject, by Herodotus, book the first, near the end. I will give the passage, but I dare not translate it. To the learned reader it will justify my translation, and the unlearned must take my word. Της ΕΠΙΘΥΜΗΣΕΙ γυναικος Μασσαγετης ανηρ, μισγεται αδεως, Raphelius, on this verse, says, επιθυμειν hoc loco, est turpi cupiditate mulieris potiundae flagrare. In all these eases, our blessed Lord points out the spirituality of the law; which was a matter to which the Jews paid very little attention. Indeed it is the property of a Pharisee to abstain only from the outward crime. Men are very often less inquisitive to know how far the will of God extends, that they may please him in performing it, than they are to know how far they may satisfy their lusts without destroying their bodies and souls, utterly, by an open violation of his law.
Hath committed adultery with her already in his heart - It is the earnest wish or desire of the soul, which, in a variety of cases, constitutes the good or evil of an act. If a man earnestly wish to commit an evil, but cannot, because God puts time, place, and opportunity out of his power, he is fully chargeable with the iniquity of the act, by that God who searches and judges the heart. So, if a man earnestly wish to do some kindness, which it is out of his power to perform, the act is considered as his; because God, in this case, as in that above, takes the will for the deed. If voluntary and deliberate looks and desires make adulterers and adulteresses, how many persons are there whose whole life is one continued crime! whose eyes being full of adultery, they cannot cease from sin, 2 Peter 2:14. Many would abhor to commit one external act before the eyes of men, in a temple of stone; and yet they are not afraid to commit a multitude of such acts in the temple of their hearts, and in the sight of God!
Pluck it out - cut it off - We must shut our senses against dangerous objects, to avoid the occasions of sin, and deprive ourselves of all that is most dear and profitable to us, in order to save our souls, when we find that these dear and profitable things, however innocent in themselves, cause us to sin against God.
It is profitable for thee that one of thy members - Men often part with some members of the body, at the discretion of a surgeon, that they may preserve the trunk, and die a little later; and yet they will not deprive themselves of a look, a touch, a small pleasure, which endanger the eternal death of the soul. It is not enough to shut the eye, or stop the hand; the one must be plucked out, and the other cut off. Neither is this enough, we must cast them both from us. Not one moment's truce with an evil passion, or a sinful appetite. If you indulge them, they will gain strength, and you shall be ruined. The rabbins have a saying similar to this: "It is better for thee to be scorched with a little fire in this world, than to be burned with a devouring fire in the world to come."
Whosoever shall put away his wife - The Jewish doctors gave great license in the matter of divorce. Among them, a man might divorce his wife if she displeased him even in the dressing of his victuals!
Rabbi Akiba said, "If any man saw a woman handsomer than his own wife, he might put his wife away; because it is said in the law, If she find not favor in his eyes." Deuteronomy 24:1.
Josephus, the celebrated Jewish historian, in his Life, tells us, with the utmost coolness and indifference, "About this time I put away my wife, who had borne me three children, not being pleased with her manners."
These two cases are sufficient to show to what a scandalous and criminal excess this matter was carried among the Jews. However, it was allowed by the school of Shammai, that no man was to put away his wife unless for adultery. The school of Hillel gave much greater license.
A writing of divorcement - The following is the common form of such a writing. See Maimonides and Lightfoot.
"On the day of the week A. in the month B. in the year C. from the beginning of the world, according to the common computation in the province of D., I, N. the son of N. by whatever name I am called, of the city E. with entire consent of mind, and without any compulsion, have divorced, dismissed, and expelled thee - thee, I say, M. the daughter of M. by whatever name thou art called, of the city E. who wast heretofore my wife: but now I have dismissed thee - thee, I say, M. the daughter of M. by whatever name thou art called, of the city E. so as to be free, and at thine own disposal, to marry whomsoever thou pleasest, without hinderance from any one, from this day for ever. Thou art therefore free for any man. Let this be thy bill of divorce from me, a writing of separation and expulsion, according to the law of Moses and Israel.
Reuben, son of Jacob, Witness.
Eliezar, son of Gilead, Witness."
God permitted this evil to prevent a greater; and, perhaps, to typify his repudiating the Jews, who were his first spouse.
Saving for the cause of fornication - Λογου πορνειας, on account of whoredom. As fornication signifies no more than the unlawful connection of unmarried persons, it cannot be used here with propriety, when speaking of those who are married. I have therefore translated λογου πορνειας, on account of whoredom. It does not appear that there is any other case in which Jesus Christ admits of divorce. A real Christian ought rather to beg of God the grace to bear patiently and quietly the imperfections of his wife, than to think of the means of being parted from her. "But divorce was allowed by Moses;" yes, for the hardness of their hearts it was permitted: but what was permitted to an uncircumcised heart among the Jews, should not serve for a rule to a heart in which the love of God has been shed abroad by the Holy Spirit. Those who form a matrimonial connection in the fear and love of God, and under his direction, will never need a divorce. But those who marry as passion or money lead the way, may be justly considered adulterers and adulteresses as long as they live.
Thou shalt not forswear thyself - They dishonor the great God, and break this commandment, who use frequent oaths and imprecations, even in reference to things that are true; and those who make vows and promises, which they either cannot perform, or do not design to fulfill, are not less criminal. Swearing in civil matters is become so frequent, that the dread and obligation of an oath are utterly lost in it. In certain places, where oaths are frequently administered, people have been known to kiss their thumb or pen, instead of the book, thinking thereby to avoid the sin of perjury; but this is a shocking imposition on their own souls. See the notes on Deuteronomy 4:26; Deuteronomy 6:13.
Perform unto the Lord thine oaths - The morality of the Jews on this point was truly execrable: they maintained, that a man might swear with his lips, and annul it in the same moment in his heart. Rab. Akiba is quoted as an example of this kind of swearing. See Schoettgen.
Neither by heaven, etc. - It was a custom among the Scythians, when they wished to bind themselves in the most solemn manner, to swear by the king's throne; and if the king was at any time sick, they believed it was occasioned by some one's having taken the oath falsely. Herod. l. iv.
Who is there among the traders and people of this world who obey this law? A common swearer is constantly perjuring himself: such a person should never be trusted. When we make any promise contrary to the command of God, taking, as a pledge of our sincerity, either God, or something belonging to him, we engage that which is not ours, without the Master's consent. God manifests his glory in heaven, as upon his throne; he imprints the footsteps of his perfections upon the earth, his footstool; and shows that his holiness and his grace reign in his temple as the place of his residence. Let it be our constant care to seek and honor God in all his works.
Neither shalt thou swear by thy head - For these plain reasons:
- 1st. God commands thee not to do it.
3dly. It never did, and never can, answer any good purpose. And
4thly. Being a breach of the law of God, it is the way to everlasting misery.
Let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay - That is, a positive affirmation, or negation, according to your knowledge of the matter concerning which you are called to testify. Do not equivocate; mean what you assert, and adhere to your assertion. Hear what a heathen says on this subject: -
Εχθρος γαρ μοι κεινος ὁμως αιδαο πυλησιν,
Ος χ 'ετερον μεν κευθει ενι φρεσιν, αλλο δε βαζει .
Hom. Il. ix. 312
"He whose words agree not with his private thoughts is as detestable to me as the gates of hell."
See on Joshua 2 (note) at the end.
See the subject of swearing particularly considered in the note at the conclusion of Deuteronomy 6 (note).
Whatsoever is more than these - That is, more than a bare affirmation or negation, according to the requirements of Eternal Truth, cometh of evil; or, is of the wicked one - εκ του πονηρου εϚιν, i.e. the devil, the father of superfluities and lies. One of Selden's MSS. and Gregory Nyssen, a commentator of the fourth century, have εκ του διαβολου εϚιν, is of the devil.
That the Jews were notoriously guilty of common swearing, for which our Lord particularly reprehends them, and warns his disciples against, and that they swore by heaven, by earth, by Jerusalem, by their head, etc., the following extracts, made by Dr. Lightfoot from their own writings, amply testify: -
"It was customary and usual among them to swear by the creatures. 'If any swear by heaven, by earth, by the sun, etc., although the mind of the swearer be, under these words, to swear by Him who created them, yet this is not an oath. Or, if any swear by some of the prophets, or by some of the books of the Scripture, although the sense of the swearer be to swear by Him that sent that prophet, or that gave that book, nevertheless, this is not an oath. Maimonides.'
"If any adjure another by heaven or earth, he is not guilty. Talmud.
"They swore by Heaven, הוא כן השמים hashshamayim, ken hu, 'By heaven, so it is.' Bab. Berac.
"They swore by the Temple. 'When turtles and young pigeons were sometimes sold at Jerusalem for a penny of gold, Rabban Simeon ben Gamaliel said, הוה המעו By this habitation (that is, by this Temple) I will not rest this night, unless they be sold for a penny of silver.' Cherituth, cap. i.
"R. Zechariah ben Ketsab said, הוה המעו 'By this Temple, the hand of the woman departed not out of my hand.'
R. Jochanan said, היכלא 'By the Temple, it is in our hand, etc.' Ketuboth and Bab. Kidushin.
"Bava ben Buta swore by the Temple in the end of the tract Cherithuth, and Rabban Simeon ben Gamaliel in the beginning, כישראל מנהג וזה And so was the custom in Israel. - Note this, so was the custom.
Jucas. fol. 56.
"They swore by the city Jerusalem. R. Judah saith, 'He that saith, By Jerusalem, saith nothing, unless with an intent purpose he shall vow towards Jerusalem.' Where also, after two lines coming between those forms of swearing and vowing, are added, בהיכל להיכל היכל בירושלם לירושלם ירושלם 'Jerusalem, For Jerusalem, By Jerusalem. - The Temple, For the temple, By the temple. - The Altar, For the altar, By the altar. - The Lamb, For the Lamb, By the Lamb. - The Chambers of the Temple, For the chambers of the temple, By the chambers of the temple. - The Word, For the Word, By the Word. - The Sacrifices on Fire, For the sacrifices on fire, By the sacrifices on fire. - The Dishes, For the dishes, By the dishes. - By all these things, that I will do this to you.' Tosapht. ad. Nedarim.
"They swore by their own Heads. 'One is bound to swear to his neighbor, and he saith, ראשך כתיי לי ריד Vow (or swear) to me by the life of thy head, etc. Sanhedr. cap. 3.
"One of the holiest of their precepts relative to swearing was this: 'Be not much in oaths, although one should swear concerning things that are true; for in much swearing it is impossible not to profane.' Tract. Demai." - See Lightfoot's Works, vol. ii. p. 149.
They did not pretend to forbid All common swearing, but only what they term Much. A Jew might swear, but he must not be too abundant in the practice. Against such permission, our Lord opposes his Swear Not At All! He who uses any oath, except what he is solemnly called by the magistrate to make, so far from being a Christian, he does not deserve the reputation, either of decency or common sense. In some of our old elementary books for children, we have this good maxim: "Never swear: for he that swears will lie; and he that lies will steal; and, if so, what bad things will he not do!" Reading Made Easy.
An eye for an eye - Our Lord refers here to the law of retaliation mentioned See Exodus 21:24, (see the note there, and see Leviticus 24:20; (note)), which obliged the offender to suffer the same injury he had committed. The Greeks and Romans had the same law. So strictly was it attended to at Athens, that if a man put out the eye of another who had but one, the offender was condemned to lose both his eyes, as the loss of one would not be an equivalent misfortune. It seems that the Jews had made this law (the execution of which belonged to the civil magistrate) a ground for authorizing private resentments, and all the excesses committed by a vindictive spirit. Revenge was often carried to the utmost extremity, and more evil returned than what had been received. This is often the case among those who are called Christians.
Resist not evil - Or, the evil person. So, I am fully persuaded, τω πονηρω ought to be translated. Our Lord's meaning is, "Do not repel one outrage by another." He that does so makes himself precisely what the other is, a wicked person.
Turn to him the other also - That is, rather than avenge thyself, be ready to suffer patiently a repetition of the same injury. But these exhortations belong to those principally who are persecuted for righteousness' sake. Let such leave the judgment of their cause to Him for whose sake they suffer. The Jews always thought that every outrage should be resented; and thus the spirit of hatred and strife was fostered.
And if any man will sue thee at the law - Every where our blessed Lord shows the utmost disapprobation of such litigations as tended to destroy brotherly kindness and charity. It is evident he would have his followers to suffer rather the loss of all their property than to have recourse to such modes of redress, at so great a risk. Having the mind averse from contentions, and preferring peace and concord to temporal advantages, is most solemnly recommended to all Christians. We are great gainers when we lose only our money, or other property, and risk not the loss of our souls, by losing the love of God and man.
Coat - Χιτωνα, upper garment. - Cloke, ἱματιον, under garment. What we call strait coat, and great coat. - See on Luke 6:29; (note).
Shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. - αγγαρευσει . This word is said to be derived from the Persians, among whom the king's messengers, or posts, were called Αγγαποι, or angari . This definition is given both by Hesychius and Suidas.
The Persian messengers had the royal authority for pressing horses, ships, and even men, to assist them in the business on which they were employed. These angari are now termed chappars, and serve to carry despatches between the court and the provinces. When a chappar sets out, the master of the horse furnishes him with a single horse; and, when that is weary, he dismounts the first man he meets, and takes his horse. There is no pardon for a traveler that refuses to let a chappar have his horse, nor for any other who should deny him the best horse in his stable. See Sir J. Chardin's and Hanway's Travels. For pressing post horses, etc., the Persian term is Sukhreh geriften . I find no Persian word exactly of the sound and signification of Αγγαρος ; but the Arabic agharet signifies spurring a horse, attacking, plundering, etc. The Greek word itself is preserved among the rabbins in Hebrew characters, אנגריא angaria, and it has precisely the same meaning: viz. to be compelled by violence to do any particular service, especially of the public kind, by the king's authority. Lightfoot gives several instances of this in his Horae Talmudicae.
We are here exhorted to patience and forgiveness:
- First, When we receive in our persons all sorts of insults and affronts, Matthew 5:39.
- Thirdly, When our bodies are forced to undergo all kinds of toils, vexations, and torments, Matthew 5:41.
Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow - To give and lend freely to all who are in need, is a general precept from which we are only excused by our inability to perform it. Men are more or less obliged to it as they are more or less able, as the want is more or less pressing, as they are more or less burthened with common poor, or with necessitous relatives. In all these matters, both prudence and charity must be consulted. That God, who makes use of the beggar's hand to ask our charity, is the same from whom we ourselves beg our daily bread: and dare we refuse Him! Let us show at least mildness and compassion, when we can do no more; and if we cannot or will not relieve a poor man, let us never give him an ill word nor an ill look. If we do not relieve him, we have no right to insult him.
To give and to lend, are two duties of charity which Christ joins together, and which he sets on equal footing. A rich man is one of God's stewards: God has given him money for the poor, and he cannot deny it without an act of injustice. But no man, from what is called a principle of charity or generosity, should give that in alms which belongs to his creditors. Generosity is godlike; but justice has ever, both in law and Gospel, the first claim.
A loan is often more beneficial than an absolute gift: first, because it flatters less the vanity of him who lends; secondly, it spares more the shame of him who is in real want; and, thirdly, it gives less encouragement to the idleness of him who may not be very honest. However, no advantage should be taken of the necessities of the borrower: he who does so is, at least, half a murderer. The lending which our Lord here inculcates is that which requires no more than the restoration of the principal in a convenient time: otherwise to live upon trust is the sure way to pay double.
Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy - Instead of πλησιον neighbor, the Codex Graevii, a MS. of the eleventh century, reads φιλον friend. Thou shalt love thy friend, and hate thine enemy. This was certainly the meaning which the Jews put on it: for neighbor, with them, implied those of the Jewish race, and all others were, considered by them as natural enemies. Besides, it is evident that πλησιον, among the Hellenistic Jews, meant friend merely: Christ uses it precisely in this sense in Luke 10:36, in answer to the question asked by a certain lawyer, Matthew 5:29. Who of the three was neighbor (πλησιον friend) to him who fell among the thieves? He who showed him mercy; i.e. he who acted the friendly part. In Hebrew, רע reâ, signifies friend, which word is translated πλησιον by the Lxx. in more than one hundred places. Among the Greeks it was a very comprehensive term, and signified every man, not even an enemy excepted, as Raphelius, on this verse, has shown from Polybius. The Jews thought themselves authorized to kill any Jew who apostatized; and, though they could not do injury to the Gentiles, in whose country they sojourned, yet they were bound to suffer them to perish, if they saw them in danger of death. Hear their own words: "A Jew sees a Gentile fall into the sea, let him by no means lift him out; for it is written, Thou shalt not rise up against the blood of thy neighbor: - but this is not thy neighbor." Maimon. This shows that by neighbor they understood a Jew; one who was of the same blood and religion with themselves.
Love your enemies - This is the most sublime piece of morality ever given to man. Has it appeared unreasonable and absurd to some? It has. And why? Because it is natural to man to avenge himself, and plague those who plague him; and he will ever find abundant excuse for his conduct, in the repeated evils he receives from others; for men are naturally hostile to each other. Jesus Christ design's to make men happy. Now he is necessarily miserable who hates another. Our Lord prohibits that only which, from its nature, is opposed to man's happiness. This is therefore one of the most reasonable precepts in the universe. But who can obey it? None but he who has the mind of Christ. But I have it not. Seek it from God; it is that kingdom of heaven which Christ came to establish upon earth. See on Matthew 3:2; (note). This one precept is a sufficient proof of the holiness of the Gospel, and of the truth of the Christian religion. Every false religion flatters man, and accommodates itself to his pride and his passions. None but God could have imposed a yoke so contrary to self-love; and nothing but the supreme eternal love can enable men to practice a precept so insupportable to corrupt nature. Sentiments like this are found among Asiatic writers, and in select cases were strongly applied; but as a general command this was never given by them, or any other people. It is not an absolute command in any of the books which they consider to be Divinely inspired. Sir William Jones lays by far too much stress on the casual introduction of such sentiments as this in the Asiatic writers. See his Works, vol. i. p. 168, where the sentiment is connected with circumstances both extravagant and unnatural; and thus it is nullified by the pretended recommendation.
Bless them that curse you - Ευλογειτε, give them good words for their bad words. See the note on Genesis 2:3.
Do good to them that hate you - Give your enemy every proof that you love him. We must not love in tongue, but in deed and in truth.
Pray for them which despitefully use you - Επηρεαζοντων from επι against, and Αρης Mars, the heathen god of war. Those who are making continual war upon you, and constantly harassing and calumniating you. Pray for them - This is another exquisitely reasonable precept. I cannot change that wicked man's heart; and while it is unchanged he will continue to harass me: God alone can change it: then I must implore him to do that which will at once secure the poor man's salvation, and contribute so much to my own peace.
And persecute you - Διωκοντων, those who press hard on and pursue you with hatred and malice accompanied with repeated acts of enmity.
In this verse our Lord shows us that a man may be our enemy in three different ways.
- First, in his heart, by hatred.
Thirdly, in his actions, by continually harassing and abusing us.
He shows us also how we are to behave to those.
The hatred of the first we are to meet with love.
The cursings or evil words of the second, we are to meet with good words and blessings.
And the repeated injurious acts of the third, we are to meet with continual prayer to God for the man's salvation.
That ye may be the children of your Father - Instead of ὑιοι children, some MSS., the latter Persic version, and several of the primitive fathers, read ὃμοιοι, that ye may be like to, or resemble, your Father who is in heaven. This is certainly our Lord's meaning. As a man's child is called his, because a partaker of his own nature, so a holy person is said to be a child of God, because he is a partaker of the Divine nature.
He maketh his sun to rise on the evil - "There is nothing greater than to imitate God in doing good to our enemies. All the creatures of God pronounce the sentence of condemnation on the revengeful: and this sentence is written by the rays of the sun, and with the drops of rain, and indeed by all the natural good things, the use of which God freely gives to his enemies." If God had not loved us while we were his enemies, we could never have become his children: and we shall cease to be such, as soon as we cease to imitate him.
For if ye love them which love you - He who loves only his friends, does nothing for God's sake. He who loves for the sake of pleasure or interest, pays himself. God has no enemy which he hates but sin; we should have no other.
The publicans - That is, tax-gatherers, τελωναι, from τελος a tax, and ωνεομαι I buy or farm. A farmer or collector of the taxes or public revenues. Of these there were two classes; the superior, who were Romans of the equestrian order; and the inferior, those mentioned in the Gospels, who it appears were mostly Jews.
This class of men was detestable among the Romans, the Greeks, and the Jews, for their intolerable rapacity and avarice. They were abhorred in an especial manner by the Jews, to whom the Roman government was odious: these, assisting in collecting the Roman tribute, were considered as betrayers of the liberties of their country, and abettors of those who enslaved it. They were something like the tythe-farmers of certain college-livings in some counties of England, as Lancashire, etc. - a principal cause of the public burthens and discontent. One quotation, of the many produced by Kypke, will amply show in what detestation they were held among the Greeks. Theocritus being asked, Which of the wild beasts were the most cruel? answered, Εν μεν τοις ορεσιν αρκτοι και λεοντες· εν δε ταις πολεσιν, ΤΕΛΩΝΑΙ και συκοφανται . Bears and lions, in the mountains; and Tax-Gatherers and calumniators, in cities.
And if ye salute your brethren only - Instead of αδελφους brethren, upwards of one hundred MSS., and several of them of great authority and antiquity, have φιλους friends. The Armenian Slavonic, and Gothic versions, with the later Syriac, and some of the primitive fathers, agree in this reading. I scarcely know which to prefer; as brother is more conformable to the Jewish mode of address, it should be retained in the text: the other reading, however, tends to confirm that of the Codex Graevii on Matthew 5:43.
On the subject of giving and receiving salutations in Asiatic countries, Mr. Harmer, Observat. vol. ii. p. 327, etc., edit. 1808, has collected much valuable information: the following extract will be sufficient to elucidate our Lord's meaning.
"Dr. Doddridge supposes that the salutation our Lord refers to, Matthew 5:47, If ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? means embracing, though it is a different word. I would observe, that it is made use of in the Septuagint to express that action of endearment; and which is made use of by an apocryphal writer, (Ecclus. 30:19), whereas, the word we translate salute is of a much more general nature: this, I apprehend, arose from his being struck with the thought, that it could never be necessary to caution his disciples, not to restrain the civilities of a common salutation to those of their own religious party. Juvenal, when he satirizes the Jews of the apostolic age for their religious opinions, and represents them as unfriendly, and even malevolent, to other people, Sat. xiv., and when he mentions their refusing to show travelers the way, Non monstrare vias, etc., or to point out to them where they might find water to drink when thirsty with journeying, takes no notice of their not saluting those of another nation; yet there is no reason to believe, from these words of Christ, that many of them at least would not, and that even a Jewish publican received no salutations from one of his own nation, excepting brother publicans.
"Nor shall we wonder at this, or think it requisite to suppose the word we translate salute (ασπαζομαι ) and which certainly, sometimes at least, signifies nothing more than making use of some friendly words upon meeting with people, must here signify something more particular, since we find some of the present inhabitants of the east seem to want this admonition of our Lord. 'When the Arabs salute one another,' according to Niebuhr, 'it is generally in these terms, Salam aleikum, Peace be with you; in speaking which words they lay the right hand on the heart. The answer is, Aleikum essalam, With you be peace. Aged people are inclined to add to these words, And the mercy and blessing of God. The Mohammedans of Egypt and Syria never salute a Christian in this manner; they content themselves with saying to them, Good day to you; or, Friend, how do you do? The Arabs of Yemen, who seldom see any Christians, are not so zealous but that sometimes they will give them the Salam aleikum .'
"Presently after he says: 'For a long time I thought the Mohammedan custom, of saluting Christians in a different manner from that made use of to those of their own profession, was an effect of their pride and religious bigotry. I saluted them sometimes with the Salam aleikum, and I had often only the common answer. At length I observed in Natolia, that the Christians themselves might probably be the cause that Mohammedans did not make the same return to their civilities that they did to those of their own religion. For the Greek merchants, with whom I traveled in that country, did not seem pleased with my saluting Mohammedans in the Mohammedan manner. And when they were not known to be Christians, by those Turks whom they met with in their journeying, (it being allowed Christian travelers in these provinces to wear a white turban, Christians in common being obliged to wear the sash of their turbans white striped with blue, that banditti might take them at a distance for Turks, and people of courage), they never answered those that addressed them with the compliment of Salam aleikum . One would not, perhaps, suspect that similar customs obtain in our times, among Europeans: but I find that the Roman Catholics of some provinces of Germany never address the Protestants that live among them with the compliment Jesus Christ be praised; and, when such a thing happens by mistake, the Protestants do not return it after the manner in use among Catholics, For ever and ever. Amen!'
"After this, the words of our Lord in the close of the fifth of Matthew want no farther commentary. The Jews would not address the usual compliment of Peace be to you, to either heathens or publicans; the publicans of the Jewish nation would use it to their countrymen that were publicans, but not to heathens; though the more rigid Jews would not do it to them, any more than to heathens: our Lord required his disciples to lay aside the moroseness of Jews, and express more extensive benevolence in their salutations. There seems to be nothing of embracing thought of in this case, though that, doubtless, was practised anciently among relations, and intimate friends, as it is among modern Asiatics."
If not to salute be a heathenish indifference, to hide hatred under outward civilities is a diabolic treachery. To pretend much love and affection for those for whom we have neither - to use towards them complimentary phrases, to which we affix no meaning, but that they mean, nothing, is highly offensive in the sight of that God by whom actions are weighed and words judged.
Do not - the publicans - Τελωναι, - but εθνικοι heathens, is adopted by Griesbach, instead of τελωναι, on the authority of Codd. Vatican. & Bezae, and several others; together with the Coptic, Syriac later, and Syriac Jerusalem; two Arabic, Persic, Slavonic; all the Itala but one; Vulgate, Saxon, and several of the primitive fathers.
Be ye therefore perfect - as your Father - God himself is the grand law, sole giver, and only pattern of the perfection which he recommends to his children. The words are very emphatic, εσεσθε ουν υμεις τελειοι, Ye shall be therefore perfect - ye shall be filled with the spirit of that God whose name is Mercy, and whose nature is love. God has many imitators of his power, independence, justice, etc., but few of his love, condescension, and kindness. He calls himself Love, to teach us that in this consists that perfection, the attainment of which he has made both our duty and privilege: for these words of our Lord include both a command and a promise.
"Can we be fully saved from sin in this world?" is an important question, to which this text gives a satisfactory answer: "Ye shall be perfect, as your Father, who is in heaven, is perfect." - As in his infinite nature there is no sin, nothing but goodness and love, so in your finite nature there shall dwell no sin, for the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus shall make you free from the law of sin and death, Romans 8:2. God shall live in, fill, and rule your hearts; and, in what He fills and influences, neither Satan nor sin can have any part. If men, slighting their own mercies, cry out, This is impossible! - whom does this arguing reprove - God, who, on this ground, has given a command, the fulfillment of which is impossible. "But who can bring a clean out of an unclean thing?" God Almighty - and, however inveterate the disease of sin may be, the grace of the Lord Jesus can fully cure it; and who will say, that he who laid down his life for our souls will not use his power completely to effect that salvation which he has died to procure. "But where is the person thus saved?" Wherever he is found who loves God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength, and his neighbor as himself; and, for the honor of Christianity and its Author, may we not hope there are many such in the Church of God, not known indeed by any profession of this kind which they make, but by a surer testimony, that of uniformly holy tempers, piety to God, and beneficence to man?
Dr. Lightfoot is not perfectly satisfied with the usual mode of interpreting the 22nd verse of this chapter. I subjoin the substance of what he says. Having given a general exposition of the word brother, which the Jews understood as signifying none but an Israelite - ενοχος, which we translate is in danger of, and which he shows the Jews used to signify, is exposed to, merits, or is guilty of - and the word gehenna, hell - fire, which he explains as I have done above, he comes to the three offenses, and their sentences.
The First is causeless anger, which he thinks too plain to require explanation; but into the two following he enters in considerable detail: -
"The Second. Whosoever shall say to his brother, 'Racha,' a nickname, or scornful title usual, which they disdainfully put one upon another, and very commonly; and therefore our Savior has mentioned this word, the rather because it was of so common use among them. Take these few examples: -
"A certain man sought to betake himself to repentance (and restitution). His wife said to him, 'Rekah, if thou make restitution, even thy girdle about thee is not thine own, etc.' Tanchum, fol. 5.
"Rabbi Jochanan was teaching concerning the building of Jerusalem with sapphires and diamonds, etc. One of his scholars laughed him to scorn. But afterwards, being convinced of the truth of the thing, he saith to him, 'Rabbi, do thou expound, for it is fit for thee to expound: as thou saidst, so have I seen it.' he saith to him, 'Rekah, hadst thou not seen, thou wouldst not have believed, etc.' Midras Tillin, fol. 38, col. 4.
"To what is the thing like? To a king of flesh and blood, who took to wife a king's daughter: he saith to her, 'Wait and fill me a cup;' but she would not: whereupon he was angry, and put her away; she went, and was married to a sordid fellow; and he saith to her, 'Wait, and fill me a cup;' she said unto him, 'Rekah, I am a king's daughter, etc.' Idem in Psalm 137:1-9.
"A Gentile saith to an Israelite, 'I have a choice dish for thee to eat of.' He saith, 'What is it ?' He answers, 'Swine's flesh.' he saith to him, 'Rekah, even what you kill of clean beasts is forbidden us, much more this.' Tanchum, fol. 18, col. 4.
"The Third offense is to say to a brother, 'Thou fool,' which, how to distinguish from racha, which signifies an empty fellow, were some difficulty, but that Solomon is a good dictionary here for us, who takes the term continually here for a wicked wretch and reprobate, and in opposition to spiritual wisdom: so that in the first clause is condemned causeless anger; in the second, scornful taunting and reproaching of a brother; and, in the last, calling him a reprobate and wicked, or uncharitably censuring his spiritual and eternal estate. And this last does more especially hit the scribes and Pharisees, who arrogated to themselves only to be called חכמים chocamim, wise men, but of all others they had this scornful and uncharitable opinion, 'This people, that knoweth not the law, is cursed,' John 7:49.
"And now for the penalties denounced upon these offenses, let us look upon them, taking notice of these two traditions of the Jews, which our Savior seems to face, and to contradict.
"1st. That they accounted the command, Thou shalt not kill, to aim only at actual murder. So that in their collecting the six hundred and thirteen precepts out of the law, they understand that command to mean but this: 'That one should not kill an Israelite,' and accordingly they allotted this only violation of it to judgments; against this wild gloss and practice, he speaks in the first clause: Ye have heard it said, Thou shalt not kill, and he that killeth, or committeth actual murder, is liable to judgment, and ye extend the violation of that command no farther; but I say to you, that causeless anger against thy brother is a violation of that command, and even that maketh a man liable to judgment.
2nd. They allotted that murder only to be judged by the council, or Sanhedrin, that was committed by a man in propria persona: let them speak their own sense, etc. Talm. in Sanhedrin, per. 9.
"'Any one that kills his neighbor with his hand, as if he strike him with a sword, or with a stone that kills him, or strangle him till he die, or burn him in the fire, seeing that he kills him any how in his own person, lo! such a one must be put to death by the Sanhedrin; but he that hires another to kill his neighbor, or that sends his servants, and they kill him, or that violently thrusts him before a lion, or the like, and the beast kills him - any one of these is a shedder of blood, and the guilt of shedding of blood is upon him, and he is liable to death by the hand of Heaven, but he is not to be put to death by the Sanhedrin. And whence is the proof that it must be thus! Because it is said, He that sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed. This is he that slays a man himself, and not by the hand of another. Your blood of your lives will I require. This is he that slays himself. At the hand of every beast will I require it. This is he that delivers up his neighbor before a beast to be rent in pieces. At the hand of man, even at the hand of every man's brother, will I require the life of man. This is he that hires others to kill his neighbor: In this interpretation, requiring is spoken of all the three; behold, their judgment is delivered over to Heaven (or God). And all these man-slayers and the like, who are not liable to death by the Sanhedrin, if the king of Israel will slay them by the judgment of the kingdom, and the law of nations, he may, etc.' Maym. ubi supr. per. 2.
"You may observe in these wretched traditions a twofold killing, and a twofold judgment: a man's killing another in his own person, and with his own hand, and such a one liable to the judgment of the Sanhedrin, to be put to death by them, as a murderer; and a man that killed another by proxy, not with his own hand, not hiring another to kill him, or turning a beast or serpent upon him to kill him. This man is not to be judged and executed by the Sanhedrin, but, referred and reserved only to the judgment of God. So that we see plainly, from hence, in what sense the word judgment is used in the latter end of the preceding verse, and the first clause of this, namely, not for the judgment of any one of the Sanhedrins, as it is commonly understood, but for the judgment of God. In the former verse, Christ speaks their sense, and in the first clause of this, his own, in application to it. Ye have heard it said, that any man that kills is liable to the judgment of God; but I say unto you, that he that is but angry with his brother without a cause is liable to the judgment of God. You have heard it said, that he only that commits murder with his own hand is liable to the council, or Sanhedrin, as a murderer; but I say unto you, that he that but calls his brother racha, as common a word as ye make it, and a thing of nothing, he is liable to be judged by the Sanhedrin.
"Lastly, he that saith to his brother, Thou fool, wicked one, or cast-away, shall be in danger of hell-fire, ενοχος εις γεενναν πυρος . There are two observable things in the words. The first is the change of case from what was before; there it was said τη κρισει τω συνεδριω, but here, εις γεενναν . It is but an emphatical raising of the sense, to make it the more feeling and to speak home. He that saith to his brother, Raka, shall be in danger of the council; but he that says, Thou fool, shall be in danger of a penalty even to hell-fire. And thus our Savior equals the sin and penalty in a very just parable. In just anger, with God's just anger and judgment; public reproach, with public correction by the council; and censuring for a child of hell, to the fire of hell.
"2nd. It is not said εις πυρ γεεννης, To the fire of hell, but εις γεεννας πυρος, To a hell of fire; in which expression he sets the emphasis still higher. And, besides the reference to the valley of Hinnom, he seems to refer to that penalty used by the Sanhedrin of burning - the most bitter death that they used to put men to; the manner of which was thus: They set the malefactor in a dunghill up to the knees; and they put a towel about his neck, and one pulled one way, and another the opposite, till, by thus strangling him, they forced him to open his mouth. Then they poured boiling lead into his mouth, which went down into his belly, and so burnt his bowels. Talm. in Sanhedrin. per. 7.
"Now, having spoken in the clause before, of being judged by the Sanhedrin, whose most terrible penalty was this burning, he doth in this clause raise the penalty higher; namely, of burning in hell; not with a little scalding lead, but even with a hell of fire." It is possible that our Lord might have reference to such customs as these.
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Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Matthew 5". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany