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Saturday, June 15th, 2024
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 19

Carroll's Interpretation of the English BibleCarroll's Biblical Interpretation

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Verses 1-15



Harmony, pages 129-131 and Luke 18:9-17; Matthew 19:1-15; Mark 10:1-16.

Our last section closed with the prayer for vengeance or justice, called the prayer of the importunate widow. Over against that we have a prayer for mercy, not for justice. Nothing in any language, in so short a space, conveys such clear ideas of prayer as this parable, both negatively and positively – negatively, in that the prayer offered by the Pharisee is not prayer at all. Let us see if we can find any petition in it: "The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican." No petition there. "I fast twice in the week." No prayer there. Neither in form nor in spirit is that a petition. Truly does the text say, "And prayed thus with himself." He is simply congratulating himself upon his superiority over other people and his absolute need of nothing.

The other prayer, how different! "Standing afar off"; he does not feel that he can come close to God. "Would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven." There is utter absence of presumption, "but smote his breast," as if there in his heart was the seat of his trouble, "saying [now we come to the prayer], God, be merciful to me the sinner." How few the words, how expressive each word and how more expressive the conjunction of the words! "Ho theos, hilastheti mm toi hamartolm," "God, be propitious to me the sinner." Mark the elements of this great prayer:

First, there is an evidence of contrition for sin. The Holy Spirit had convicted him of sin, and now he exercises contrition. In receiving members into the church I often put this question to them, "Did you ever realize that you were a sinner?" I had one man to answer me by saying he never did feel like he was a sinner. Then I asked him what need he had for a Saviour.

The second element is humility. The parable has this application: "Every one that exalteth himself [as that Pharisee did], shall be humbled, but he that humbleth himself [as that publican], shall be exalted." So that the second element of power in this prayer is the deep humility. He did not trust in himself that he was righteous. He did not despise others.

The third element is the sense of helplessness. He comes for something that he can’t secure by tithing or fasting. He stands there contrite, humble, helpless.

The fourth element of his prayer is the earnestness manifested in going right to the heart of the matter in the fewest words. There is not only the absence of anything perfunctory in this petition, but there is directness and earnestness. When I was studying Latin my teacher called my attention to this distinction between the Latin language and the English, viz., that the Latin language always puts the main word first, and the illustration used was this: We say in English, "Give me fruit," and the Latin says, "Fructum do mihi," "Fruit give to me." So this prayer gets at the very heart of the matter with a directness and simplicity that has never been surpassed and seldom, if ever, equalled.

The fifth element that we note is that it is a prayer of faith, evidenced by the word employed, hilastheti in the Greek. The hilasterion is the mercy seat where the atonement is made and hence asking God to be propitious is exactly the same as saying, "God be merciful to me through a sacrifice; be propitious to me through the atonement." That shows it to be a clear case of faith, which is further evidenced by the result: This man went down to his house justified and not the other. We are justified by faith. We do not get to justification except through faith. God’s mercy has appointed a propitiation for sin and with that propitiatory sacrifice atonement was made on the mercy seat. So the one word hilastheti expresses every thought in the "be propitious to me through the atonement," and hence it is the prayer of faith, and justification follows it.

The next section of this discussion gives us Christ’s teaching concerning divorce, and also concerning the expediency of not marrying. There are two elements in the discussion: The lesson on divorce, if one be married, and the lesson on the expediency of not getting married if one be single.

The heart of the lesson is presented in the following language: "Have ye not read, that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the twain shall become one flesh?" (Matthew 19:4 f). Now, that is the great law of marriage as instituted by the Father himself when he created the world, when he first made man, when he himself performed the first marriage ceremony. That constitutes the law of marriage. "They twain, saith he, shall become one flesh" (1 Corinthians 6:16). It contemplates such a complete unity that there is in it no idea even of separation. That being the law in the beginning, the question comes up, Why did Moses, an inspired man, allow in his legislation divorce for a number of causes? Jesus says that on account of their hardness of heart Moses did that. In other words, they had been slaves for a long time, just as the Negroes have been here in the South. What low ideas of marriage those slaves had and have yet! These Israelites were but little prepared for the enforcement of a high moral standard. The original law was not changed nor its high ideal standard withdrawn. Whatever evil custom his people had adopted from heathen nations, such as divorce, polygamy and slavery, which were rooted too deep for immediate and complete eradication, these he modifies in his practical legislation, softening their asperities, restricting their evil, while always upholding in theory a pure, ideal standard, whose principles ever tend to eliminate the evil altogether. Moses prescribed no law on divorce, slavery, or polygamy that did not ameliorate the evils of these deep-rooted customs. And we must distinquish between the moral law inculcated by Moses and his civic regulations. The moral law standard was never lowered. It was absolutely perfect. But he was also the head of a nation, a political entity, and must needs legislate on civil, criminal, sanitary, and other matters.

This legislation was as high in its moral tone as they were able to bear. He did not proscribe divorce, but mitigated its existing evils. Men already were putting away their wives. He regulated the evil by requiring a bill of divorcement, which was some protection to the divorced and their children. On account of their hardness of heart and unpreparedness for better things he suffered them to retain the custom of divorce for the time being, while all the time teaching moral principles that tended to the utter eradication of the evil. A critical examination of the Mosaic civil and criminal law makes evident to an unprejudiced mind that all his statutes on existing social evils elevated the standard far above the prevalent custom, and never lowered it. If he suffered divorce while hedging against its evils, he did not approve it. But when the question was put to our Lord, "Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause" he promptly set forth the primal law of marriage for all men; for man, as man, in the creation, long anterior to Moses and the civil law of the Jews. Instead of its being lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause, be acknowledged only one justifiable cause, viz., infidelity to the marriage vow. The husband alone had title to the body of the wife and the wife alone to the body of the husband. An offense against this authority justified absolute divorce, for thereby was the unity of "one flesh" broken. But even this did not operate ipso facto. The one wronged might forgive and not legally plead the offense. It is always lawful to forgive, as God, married to his people, oftentimes does forgive spiritual adultery.

These two spheres of law, civil and moral, together with the prevalence of social customs, cause, for Christian people, many vexations and hard problems. Our missionaries today in heathen lands confront these problems, in dealing with new converts. Paul confronted them in the heathen city of Corinth in his day. Many slaves, many from the dregs of society, many polygamists, many liars, thieves, and murderers were converted, many with loose ideas of purity and of family sanctity. He could not regulate the state, but what should the church do? What must be the stand of preachers and churches in relation to members of the church in matters of discipline? On these problems the letters to the Corinthians constitute a mine of instruction. It was there that a new question came to the front, a question not of absolute divorce, but of legal separation. Suppose a heathen man becomes a Christian and his wife on that account leaves him? Or, because the wife becomes a Christian her husband abandons her? Paul’s reply is: "If the unbelieving departeth, let him depart: the brother or sister is not in bondage [rather, enslaved] in such cases" (1 Corinthians 7:15).

Here arises a question of interpretation upon which Christian theologians differ, and even the discipline of churches differ. The question is, Do Paul’s words fairly teach that abandonment of the other, by husband or wife, justifies absolute divorce or merely separation a mensa et toro? And if it justifies absolute divorce, then since abandonment may be "for every cause," does not this interpretation put Paul in direct conflict with our Lord,, who justifies divorce for only one cause? Even if one insists on limiting Paul’s words to the one course of abandonment on religious grounds, it yet makes two justifiable grounds of absolute divorce, whereas our Lord taught but one.

The author believes that Paul’s words, "is not in bondage in such case," mean only, "is not in bondage" to so much of the marriage bond as the abandonment necessarily renders impracticable. That is, is not in bondage to live with, to provide for, and like things. But in 1 Corinthians 7:11 Paul settles the question by quoting our Lord to the effect that cases of abandonment do not permit remarriage. This seems further evident from Paul’s later statement in the same connection: "A wife is bound for so long a time as her husband liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is free to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord" (1 Corinthians 7:39). This reaffirms the primal law limited only by our Lord’s one exception (see Matt. 19). We must also note the difference in Paul’s words. In 1 Corinthians 7:15 the word is "enslaved," but in 1 Corinthians 7:30 the word is "bound." To sum up:

1. Death breaks the marriage bond and leaves the survivor free to marry.

2. Divorce on the ground of adultery leaves the innocent party free to marry.

3. Abandonment frees the abandoned one from so many of the marital duties as it necessarily renders impracticable, but confers no privileges. Therefore, there may be separation a mensa et thora on other grounds than adultery, but no privilege of remarriage.

I urge, with insistent emphasis, on the reader, particularly the preacher, to immediately supply himself with Dr. Alvah Hovey’s little book, The Law of Divorce, because the divorce question is much to the front. When I conducted the "Query Column" of the Baptist Standard, more queries on divorce came to me than on all other matters put together. It is so now in letters asking for advice.

The civil divorce mill is grinding day and night. Divorces are granted by the courts for almost every cause. The sanctity of the family is continually violated and children put to open shame by their parents and by the law. The public conscience on marriage and purity in this country is debauched to the ancient heathen level, and in some respects below it, and even below the mating of the brutes which perish.

The churches all over the land are staggered with the perplexing problems of discipline and in fear of libel laws. Three imperative duties devolve upon us:

1. We must as citizens seek to reform the civil divorce laws.

2. We must as churches maintain a Christ standard on the reception of members and on discipline. No matter what the complications or hardships in a given case, the church suffers more in receiving or retaining them than it gains by their membership. Their membership gags the pulpit, and commends the example of sin to the young.

3. We must as preachers refuse to officiate at marriages which violate divine law.

In addition to the more vital matters just considered it may not be amiss before we leave the subject of marriage to call your attention to the import of these words of our Lord: "For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife." We generally construe it the other way: The bride must leave her father and mother and cleave unto her husband. If we put emphasis upon the "his" it would mean that it is better for the groom to live with his father-in-law than to take his bride to his father’s home. The reasons would be obvious. The wife’s life being indoors and the husband’s outdoors, it would entail greater hardship on her to live with his mother than for him to live with her mother. He would not be, in his outdoor field, subordinate to her mother; but her sphere, being indoors, would make her subordinate to his mother.

But doubtless the meaning is that both bridegroom and bride, having now become a family unit, should each leave the old home and strike out together for themselves. Neither marries the family of the other. Both want a home of their own in which no outsider is boss. They must be free to live their own life, unhampered by each other’s relatives. Living with her father reflects on his manhood. Living with his mother breaks her heart. If marriage means to her only subordination to somebody’s mother, naturally she would prefer her own. Let them visit occasionally each other’s family, but not dwell; and let not the parents of either side interfere.

Let the reader particularly note that while nearly all the scriptures on this subject speak of the man’s putting away his wife, yet Mark 10:12 expressly applies the law to a woman’s putting away her husband. So Paul, in 1 Corinthians 7, applies it to both parties. Because of the importance of the subject, we must take time to expound one other word, "fornication." Some expositors contend that this term can refer only to unchastity before marriage, therefore no offense after marriage justifies divorce. The position is wholly untenable on three grounds:

1. The Greek word porneia is a general term, not limited to unchastity before marriage. This is the verdict of most scholars. This abundantly appears from classical, biblical, and later usage by great scholars. The term is applied to married people in the noted case in-1 Corinthians 5:1 ff. The corresponding Hebrew word is always employed figuratively to denote Israel’s unfaithfulness to Jehovah, her husband. Dr. John A. Broadus, one of the greatest Greek scholars in American history, cites Amos 7:17; Ezekiel 23:5; Numbers 5:19 f; Hosea 3:3, and many passages from great Greek scholars and theologians, including Dion, Cassius, Chrysostom, Origen, and notes that the Peshito Syriac translates this very passage by "adultery." The reason for the general term is to include un chastity during betrothal, as well as adultery after marriage is consummated. (See supposed case in Matthew 1:18-19.)

2. The limitation of the meaning to unchastity before marriage would give most married women and multitudes of married men a scriptural ground for divorce. Divorces would be disastrously multiplied.

3. The limitation is absurd, opposed to sound principles of common sense and law. Nations hold each other responsible for violations of treaties after they are made, not before. Married people cannot reasonably dissolve the bonds of marriage for offenses before the marriage or the engagement to marry. Contracts do not bind before made or the pledge to make.

Here it is important to note what the disciples said: "If the case of a man is so with his wife, it is not expedient to marry." What does this mean? It means, if marriage is so binding as our Lord had just stated, if only one extreme offense justifies divorce, then it is not expedient to marry at all. The "so" refers directly back to Christ’s statement of the binding power of marriage on both man and wife. Many commentators attach a delicate meaning to the word "so" and interpret it as if it read: "If the case be so with a single man, it is not expedient for him to marry." But there is nothing in their statement touching single men. They say, rather: "If the case of the man is so with his wife [i.e., as Christ has just declared], then marriage at all is inexpedient." To them this was one of Christ’s "hard sayings." In other words, they thought his teaching here, as at other times, put a man in too tight a place. This shows that the disciples shared the general Jewish view that a man might put away his wife for every cause, otherwise marriage was not desirable; concubinage would be preferable. That this is the meaning of their statement further appears from the "but" with which Jesus commences to refute their statements. "But" indicates opposition to the preceding clause. Instead of citing instances of inexpediency to confirm and illustrate their general statement, he cites certain exceptional cases to which alone their inexpediency would apply. In effect affirming that in all ordinary cases men and women ought to marry, notwithstanding the stringency of the marriage bond. We come then to these exceptional cases where marriage is inexpedient:

1. Natural disqualifications, whether congenital or from violence or from accident. This would include physical and mental cases, or those subject to grave hereditary diseases.

2. Voluntary, but temporary, abstinence from marriage in view of "a present distress" of any great character, as that of which Paul speaks.

3. Certain widows and widowers might find it inexpedient to remarry (others had better remarry).

4. Voluntary and permanent abstinence from marriage on the part of certain people in order to special concentration in the service in the kingdom of God. But, as our Lord declares, this saying is only for those who are able to receive it. The cases are rare, special, exceptional. The rule is the other way. Man’s original commission required marriage. "Marriage is honorable in all" and "Forbidding to marry" a mark of the great apostasy.

Any church law forbidding the marriage of its preachers outrages both the precept and example of the New Testament. All of the apostles, except Paul, were married men, and it is quite probable from a passage in 1 Corinthians 7 that he was a widower, not choosing to remarry. The law concerning church officers contemplates the bishop or pastor as a married man and father of a family. An unmarried pastor is greatly handicapped, and, indeed, only very prudent bachelors or widowers can safely be pastors.

We now pass from celibacy to consider one of the most touching and instructive incidents in the life of our Lord, the case of his praying for…

What a pity that this impressive, heart-moving story was ever wrested from its truly great lessons and marred by being irreverently dragged into the baptismal controversy. It has nothing whatever to say or suggest about baptism.

These children were certainly not brought to our Lord that he might baptize them, for our Lord himself personally baptized nobody. Nor, that being the purpose of their being brought, would the disciples have forbidden their coming if they had been accustomed to baptize children. The purpose of being brought is expressly stated: That he should touch them, lay his hands on them, and pray. What he did is expressly stated: He called them unto him, took them in his arms, blessed them, laying his hands upon them.

But the defenders of infant baptism who employ this passage in defense of their view, say our Lord said, "Of such is the kingdom of heaven," and quote his words on another occasion: "Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye cannot enter the kingdom of heaven." They interpret these passages to mean that little children, in their natural state, are free from sin, equal to converted adults and therefore possess the spiritual qualifications for baptism. But this denies their own doctrine of depravity, as set forth in their confessions, and denies their avowed purpose for baptizing infants, namely, to cleanse them from sin, regenerate them, and make them children of God and members of the kingdom. Their prescribed rituals for baptizing infants makes this very clear. Indeed, church history abundantly shows that it was the doctrine of baptismal regeneration that led to infant baptism. If until today there had been no infant baptism, and tomorrow for the first time baptismal regeneration should be widely received, then inevitably would follow infant baptism.

"Such" in the passage, "Of such," expresses likeness rather than identity. Here it cannot mean identity. It would be absurd to say, "Of little children is the kingdom of heaven." The true lesson of the touching passage is that the imperfectly developed disciples considered those children too young and too unimportant to be thrust upon the attention of the Saviour engaged in great matters about grown people. Our Saviour promptly rebuked their error. Children, because more docile, more trustful, less bound by evil habits, less absorbed in business or other cares are more susceptible to religious impressions than adults. Prayer takes hold on them more powerfully. We should pray for them before born and when in their cradles, as well as later. We should welcome, not distrust, their interest in the Lord. The mothers did well to bring them in touch with Christ and seek his prayers in their behalf. No one of the little ones could ever forget, "The Lord noticed me. He called me to him. He took me in his arms. He prayed for me. He laid his hands on me and blessed me."


1. What contrast in the parable of the Pharisee and publican and the parable of the importunate widow?

2. To whom was the parable of the Pharisee and publican addressed?

3. What do the Pharisee and the publican each illustrate respectively concerning prayer?

4. What was the petition of the Pharisee?

5. What was the petition of the publican?

6. What was the contrast between it and the prayer of the Pharisee?

7. What are the elements of this prayer?

8. What is the literal translation of this prayer?

9. What is the bearing on justification?

10. What are the two elements in the discussion on marriage and divorce?

11. What is the primal law of marriage?

12. Then why did Moses allow divorce for a number of causes?

13. How did Moses adapt his law to the social evils of his time, and which of the elements of the Sinaitic covenant was thus adapted to their conditions?

14. What one cause alone for divorce did Christ recognize?

15. Did this law operate ipso factor Why?

16. What are the perplexing problems relative to this question?

17. What letters furnish much light on these questions?

18. What new question arises in these letters?

19. What was Paul’s reply to this question?

20. What question of interpretation arises here?

21. What is the author’s interpretation of Paul’s language on this point and what is his proof?

22. Give a summary of this teaching.

23. What book is commended on this subject?

24. What is the present status of things relating to marriage and divorce?

25. What three imperative duties devolve upon us?

26. What is the import of Christ’s words in Matthew 19:4-5?

27. What one scripture applies to the law of the woman’s putting away her husband?

28. What is the meaning of "fornication"?

29. What false theory is mentioned and what are the three arguments against it?

30. What is the meaning of the language of the disciples in Matthew 19:10?

31. What was Christ’s reply and what did he mean?

32. What are the exceptional cases where marriage is inexpedient?

33. What was the original commission of man and under what limitation was he placed with respect to it?

34. What do you think of the doctrine of celibacy for the ministry?

35. Did Jesus baptize the children and why your answer?

36. What is the argument of the defenders of infant baptism and what is the reply?

37. What is the relation of infant baptism to baptismal regeneration?

38. What is the meaning of the phrase, "Of such"?

39. What is the true lesson of this touching passage?

40. Why are children more susceptible to religious impressions than adults?

Verses 16-28



Harmony, pages 132-136 and Matthew 19:16-20:28; Mark 10:17-45; Luke 18:18-34.

This section commences on page 132 of the Harmony; the first three pages of the section constitute a distinct subsection, because all that is said in it arises from the coming of the young ruler to Christ. This coming of this rich young man to Christ, related by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, is the occasion of four distinct lessons, which I group around four passages of Scripture: The first, "One thing thou lackest"; the second, "It is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God"; the third, Peter said, "Lo, we have left all, and followed thee’ what then shall we have?"; and the fourth, "But many shall be last that are first; and first that are last." Everything in this section may be arranged around these four scriptures.

The teaching of the Bible, especially the teaching of our Lord, on the subject of riches, calls for careful interpretation. The teaching is very abundant and manifold in both Testaments. Probably no other subject is more extensively discussed. We may accept as safe the following conclusions on these teachings: To be rich or to be poor is not in itself a sin; either may be a token of divine favor. Exceptional temptations and dangers, however, attend either great riches or extreme poverty. Agur’s prayer was wise (Proverbs 30:8-9) : Give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with the food that is needful for me: Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is Jehovah? Or lest I be poor, and steal, And use profanely the name of my God.

But we may pray for others as John prayed for Gaius: "I pray that in all things thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth." This expresses the great law and standard. Be as rich as you please, even as your soul prospers; keep your soul on top, but do not love wealth more than God, nor trust in uncertain riches. Wealth is a trust which brings blessings rightly used or curses wrongly used. We are perfectly safe in accepting those conclusions concerning the manifold teachings in both Testaments on the subject of wealth.

Jesus said to this young ruler, "One thing thou lackest." This young ruler’s sin is discovered to him by the throbbing heart of our Lord and is found to be his refusal to accept God’s paramount authority and sovereignty in one point alone: "One thing thou lackest: go, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me." There seems to be more than one point here, but they are different sides to the same thought – "selling all" is the negative side; "following Jesus" is the positive side. Heavenly treasure must be preferred to earthly treasure. This young man preferred the earthly treasure. Following Christ must be preferred to following mammon. This young man preferred to follow mammon. Let the reader observe that this case is introduced with the answer, "Keep the commandments." This young man, relying upon salvation through obedience to the law, supposed that he had kept the Commandments all his life. It was necessary to prove to him that he had not kept them perfectly: "If thou wouldst be perfect." We are not to understand our Lord to teach that the universal condition of eternal life is that men must actually give all their possessions to the poor, nor that fallen man can keep the law of God perfectly, but the soul must accept God’s sovereignty in all things. It must love treasure in heaven more than the treasure on earth. It must follow Jesus. There must not be even one thing reserved from God’s supremacy; there must be a complete surrender of our mind to God’s mind. These are great matters: The question of sovereignty, the question of true objects upon which affections should be placed, and the question of obedience. We may not satisfy ourselves with compromise or reservation. We may not Compound with sins we are inclined to, By damning those we have no mind to.

The next part of this discussion hinges on "the camel and a needle’s eye." The camel was the largest animal familiarly known to the Jews of Palestine in Christ’s day and a needle’s eye one of the smallest openings. To say, then, that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for & rich man to enter the kingdom of God, naturally expresses not something difficult, but something that is impossible, and is so meant here; the disciples so understood it, and our Lord, later in his explanation, confirmed their construction. It was the custom of our Lord that when he desired to attract attention and to so impress the memory that his hearers would never forget, to employ very striking sayings, but men when they come to interpret these sayings, are tempted to take all the snap out of them by trying to soften the meaning, for example (See Harmony, middle column, page 133, Mark’s account, latter part of Mark 10:24): "How hard it is for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God." That seems to be an explanation of what k he says, and yet that is a gloss, a human gloss. I mean to say, that verse does not appear in the two oldest Greek manuscripts, the Sinaitic and the Vatican, and that its appearance in later manuscripts is easier to account for as a marginal gloss by the copyist (he is doing it according to his opinion of what it means), than it is to suppose that such a statement as that would have been left out of the oldest manuscripts. The interpolating copyist is trying to soften Christ’s hard saying. It is true that they that trust in riches cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. The interpolated doctrine is taught in other scriptures, but it is not a part of this scripture and should not be so received. It is one of the passages that is certainly spurious. Consider another gloss:

When I was a child in Sunday school, all the Sunday school lessons had this explanation: The Jaffa-gate at Jerusalem had a little side-gate much smaller than the other, and over that little gate was its name written, "The Needle’s Eye," and no camel could go through that little gate without getting on its knees and having its load taken off. That seemed to be, and is, a most beautiful illustration. The rich man must kneel and have his load taken off him before he can get in, but it is probable that the gate of the Sunday school lesson got its name as a development of this text, rather than being its cause.

Another explanatory gloss in this, that the Greek word of the text should not be kamelos, "a camel," but kamilos, "a cable." Those who have been about wharves or vessels and have noted the eye or loop of a cable in comparison with a needle’s eye may see how much this play upon words relieves the difficulty. It would then mean for a camel to go through the eye of a cable. But as every text has kamelos, and not kamilos, we need not believe any of it.

The disciples were exceedingly amazed and they rightly said, "Who then can be saved?" They had been taught that riches are a blessing sent from God, and that he promises prosperity to those who love and obey him. If it be impossible for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, "Who then can be saved?" Our Lord’s answer practically says, "It is impossible for anybody to enter the kingdom of heaven," that is, in themselves. Impossible with men, but possible with God. His teaching seems to be this: That in order to enter into the kingdom of heaven there must be something apart from any power in us. Now this rich young man had been well taught, but he had never been regenerated. He was trying to keep the law of God perfectly, and a camel might just as well try to go through the eye of a needle. It is an impossibility for any man in himself, apart from an extraneous power, to enter into the kingdom of God. We may try to set our affections on heavenly treasures, but we have to be regenerated before we can do it. Christ’s questions were designed to show him just where his difficulty lay. He must be willing at least to give up everything and follow Jesus. To show that they thus understood it, it is manifest from Peter’s words: "Then answered Peter and said unto him, Lo, we have left all, and followed thee; what then shall we have?" He claims that what was required of this rich man is just what they had done. Christ found them engaged in the fishing business, making a living by it, and said to them, "Leave this business and come, follow me. I will make you fishers of men." "If then the rich man when obedient shall have treasure in heaven, what shall we have?" Or, "What shall we have hereafter, and what shall we have in this world?" Listen to the answer: "And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, that ye who have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, (or wife), or children, or lands, for my sake, shall receive a hundred fold, and shall inherit eternal life" (Matthew 19:28-29).

This does not mean, "you that have followed me in the regeneration," but "you that follow me now shall have in the regeneration." The phrase, "in the regeneration," marks the time of the reward and not of the following. He is telling first what they shall have hereafter. What then, is the meaning of the word "regeneration" here? Precisely the same word, paliggenesia, is found in Titus 3:5 and there refers to the new birth of a man, but here to the new birth of the world, which in Acts 3:21 Peter calls the times of the restoration of all things and which in his second letter he describes as the destruction and renewal of the material universe (2 Peter 3:7-13). To the same great climax of the world’s history Paul refers in Romans 8:19-23 where the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together with us waiting for the redemption of our bodies. It is the clear teaching of the Bible that this earth, which was cursed on account of man’s sin, shall itself have a regeneration; not only shall man be redeemed, but his habitat shall be redeemed. There shall be a new heaven and a new earth. There shall come a great fire in which the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll and the earth wrapped in flame shall be burned, not annihilated, for out of the purgation of that fire in the dissolution of the material universe there shall come the new heaven and the new earth, like that which was pronounced good when God originally made it. "Now, you ask me what you shall have," says Jesus. "I tell you what ye shall have: in the regeneration [that is, hereafter], when the Son of man comes in his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel." And Paul says, "Know ye not that the saints shall judge the world? . . . Know ye not that we shall judge angels?" Now, when Christ comes again he takes his own people to himself at his right hand. They sit down with him, sit on his throne and share in the judgment that he pronounces upon wicked men and fallen angels. See a similar promise in Revelation 2:26-27. In other words, Christ, the Son of man, shall lift up by his redemption, all of his people who have suffered, to sit with him on his throne, sharing with him as co-heirs of God, and that is why man, who for a little season is made lower than angels, will be lifted up above them and shall have all dominion and everything shall be in subjection to him. "Now, you apostles left your possessions, quit your business, dropped your nets and left your homes! left everything, you twelve apostles; when I said follow me, you followed me. So you will have a reward for that hereafter."

Then he goes on to show what they shall have now, and that not only is to the apostles, but to every Christian: "There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or mother, or father, or children, or lands, for my sake, and for the gospel’s sake, but he shall receive a hundred fold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions: and in the world to come eternal life" (Mark 10:29-30). A hundredfold now. The question arises here, what did Jesus mean by that? If you leave one acre of land, that you will in this life receive a farm of 100 acres? That is not his meaning, but you do in this world receive some of these things in a sense. Let us suppose, for instance, that your father and mother and brother and sister and wife, every one of them, opposed your being a Christian, and that to be a Christian, you must lose the affection of every one of them. Now in this world you will receive the affection of 100 fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and wives. You will find that a new family and a new kingdom exists among the people of God. You will recall when Jesus was so intensely interested in teaching on one occasion that he would not even stop to eat, that his mother and his brothers came to arrest him under a writ of lunacy. Somebody said to him, "Your mother and your brothers are standing out there." He answered, "Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?" and raising his hands to his disciples, he said, "Behold, my brothers and my mother and my sisters." You get into a new spiritual family. The old earthly kinsfolk may go against you, the spiritual kinsfolk will be for you. That is what it means as to this world. In other words, "Godliness with contentment is great gain. It has the promise of the life that now is and of the world to come," both of them. Receive that deep into your heart, but receive it in the sense that the Lord meant it.

We now come to another one of the scriptures around which lessons are grouped: "But many shall be last that are first, and first that are last." This proverb he explains by a parable. The time that you have been in the service of God does not count, so much as the spirit and the quality of your services. One may say, "Here is a young Christian; he was converted only three years ago and behold how exalted, while I am still at the bottom, though I have been a member of the church forty-five years [and asleep all the time]." Who shall be the first of these twelve disciples? Is it the one that Christ called first in order of time? Is that the one? Here in the parable are some men that commenced work the first hour of the day and some that commenced the eleventh hour of the day, and these eleventh-hour men were paid first and received just as much as the ones who, as they said, had borne the burden and the heat of the day.

I heard Dr. Tom Eaton, who, by the way, was a marvelous expounder of God’s Word, before my prayer meeting in Waco deliver a lecture on this parable of the laborers. He said:

I want to inquire on what principle Christ paid the eleventh-hour men as much as he paid those that had worked longer. I think this may be recognized as the principle: These later men explain why they are not at work. They say "No man hath hired us. We have had no opportunity. We reported ready for work; we went to the place where workmen are employed. We have wanted to work we have needed the work we held ourselves in readiness to work but there were no openings." David’s men detailed to stay in camp and watch over the baggage, received an equal portion with those who went and fought the battle. They would have gone if they had been commanded to go and how many hundreds of their brethren, brokenhearted men, are begging for work I They want work. It is enough to make one weep to see a man who feels that he is called to preach, whose soul is on fire to preach, longing and hungering for the care of a church and no church calls him. Perhaps he has not the attractive qualities of some other men, perhaps the modern standard of employment is not of the right kind. Some churches have itching ears and they want preachers who will preach something pleasing to them, and daub with untempered mortar, and it does not follow that every man that is idle, is sinfully idle.

That was Tom Eaton’s explanation, and there is sense in it. But this parable gives another explanation: The sovereignty of God. If I give a man that only came at the last hour as much as I give a man who commenced at the beginning of the day on a special contract, what is it to that first man? Can’t I do as I please with my own? In other words, God is the sovereign and we must never lose sight of that.

The next section (of two pages) has two great lessons arising from one occasion. Mark 10:32 thus gives the occasion: "And they were in the way, going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus was going before them: and they were amazed; and they that followed were afraid."

What excited that amazement and fear? He was saying nothing. It was something startling and marvelous in his appearance. The shadow of an awful coming event invested his face with a pathetic solemnity, a realization of the approaching tragedy, and a sublime purpose of resignation. More than once the historians refer to this bearing of Jesus, this majestic presence, radiating his glory in a way to separate him from all other men and to put him above all other men. His disciples once saw him praying, and something in his manner convinced them that they knew not how to pray. They saw him on the mount of transfiguration radiating his glory, and they were as drunken men at the sight. Later, in Gethsemane, his presence or bearing, caused the company of soldiers who came to arrest him to fall back as if smitten with lightning.

On the occasion we are considering he answers their unspoken amazement and fear. He explains the handwriting of tragedy on his own face. He foretells minutely his approaching arrest in Jerusalem and all its attendant indignities; his crucifixion and his resurrection. But they understood it not. How blind they were, not to understand that the crosses must precede the crown! Their minds kept leaping forward to a glorious earth kingdom with its high places of honor. So Peter, immediately after his great confession at Caesarea Philippi, had said of Christ’s humiliating death: "Be it far from thee, Lord."

So here two of his disciples, James and John, working through their ambitious mother, are petitioning for the places of honor at his right hand and left hand, in his kingdom.

My old friend, Mr. Bartlett, of Marlin, once put into my hands a newspaper clipping which related a remarkable occurrence at the Pan-Episcopal Convention in London. The clipping set forth that Dean Stanley put up to preach in Westminster Abbey the bishop of Haiti, a coal black, thicklipped Negro, who, unawed by storied urn and animated bust, or the representatives of royalty, nobility, boundless wealth and aristocratic pride, calmly took this text: "The mother of Zebedee’s children said, Lord give my son John the place at thy right hand in thy kingdom and give my son James a place at thy left hand in thy kingdom," and then said, "Let us pray:

“O Lord, thou who didst make of one blood all the nations of men that inhabit the earth and didst fashion their hearts alike, give thou to the sons of Shem that betrayed thee a place on thy right hand, and give to the sons of Japheth that crucified thee a place on thy left hand, but Lord, give to the sons of Ham, the sons of that Simon, the Cyrenean, that bore thy cross, a place at the outer gate where some of the light of the heavenly city may fall on them and where they can hear some of the sweet music, but where looking earthward they can see Ethiopia stretching out her hands to God and behold her dusky children coming home in penitence to God and be the first to welcome them there."

It is a marvelous prayer, if correctly reported.

One very important lesson we may deduce from this petition of the mother of Zebedee’s children. The Romanists claim that Peter received away back yonder, that is, at Caesarea Philippi, the primacy; that he received from the hands of Christ the first place; that he was made Pope. But if indeed that question was settled then, how could John and James here suppose that the highest places were yet to be assigned, and how could the same matter of honor or precedence arise again at the last Passover supper? But look at our Lord’s reply: "Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?" The sons prompted the mother to make the request and were with her. So Bathsheba, who came to David requesting that Solomon, her son, should succeed him upon the throne. Ambitious mothers! Our Lord rebukes the ambitious sons: "You ask for the high places, but high places must be preceded by high service. Are you able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of? Are you able to be baptized with that baptism that I am baptized with? Are you able to establish your title to precedence, and to do the services that obtain primacy in the kingdom of heaven?"

When the ten heard this application they were moved with indignation. The ten includes Peter; the ten includes nine others. What does it show? Virgil once asked, when he was describing how the gods intervened to destroy Troy, "Can such ire exist in celestial minds?" So here we may ask, "Can such envy exist in apostolic minds?" Did you ever notice at conventions an ambitious desire to be made prominent?

Now comes the great lesson (p. 136), Matthew 20:25-28: "Ye know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Not so shall it be among you; but whosoever would become great among you shall be your minister; and whosoever would be first among you shall be your servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." Now, I solemnly assure you that instead of craving the prominent places and positions, it is far better to crave the spirit of service and sacrifice, that will entitle you to the prominent places.


1. What are the four scriptures around which the four lessons occasioned by the rich young ruler’s coming to our Lord are grouped?

2. What may be regarded as safe conclusions on the teachings of our Lord concerning riches?

3. What was Agur’s prayer relative to riches?

4. What was John’s prayer for Gaius and its lesson?

5. What was the one thing the "rich young ruler" lacked, or what was his one sin?

6. What was the double idea in Christ’s language to him, "Go, sell," etc., and what the application?

7. Had he kept the Commandments? If not, in what point had he failed?

8. What are three great questions for every soul?

9. What couplet cited in point, and who wrote it?

10. What is the meaning of the "needle’s eye," negatively and positively?

11. What question did the illustration call forth from the disciples, what Christ’s answer and what his meaning?

12. What question did this call forth from Peter, and Christ’s reply?

13. What did Christ mean both negatively and positively by "in the regeneration"?

14. Give the Bible teaching on the "regeneration" of the earth.

15. What is the meaning of "sit upon twelve thrones," etc., and how does the thought apply to all Christians?

16. How are we to receive a hundredfold for the sacrifices we make here in this world for Christ and what was Christ’s own illustration of this thought?

17. What is the point illustrated by the parable of the laborers and Dr. Baton’s explanation of it?

18. What other point explained by this parable?

19. Explain the amazement of the disciples on the way to Jerusalem and illustrate by other scriptures.

20. How does Christ answer their amazement and fear and how did they receive the explanation?

21. How does the ambition of James and John here manifest itself? Relate the incident of the Pan-Episcopal Convention in London.

22. What lesson from this incident of the mother of Zebedee’s children relative to Peter and the papacy?

23. What was our Lord’s answer to this request and its lessons?

24. How did this request of Zebedee’s sons affect the other ten, and what does it show?

25. What is the great law of promotion in the kingdom of God?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Matthew 19". "Carroll's Interpretation of the English Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bhc/matthew-19.html.
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