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Matthew 5:1 . Seeing the multitudes, assembled from six provinces to see and to hear the great, the promised prophet, who had opened his ministry with glorious miracles. But our Saviour looked upon them, not for distinction of dress and rank, these being vain in the eyes of heaven: he looked for those whom the world overlook, he looked for his Father’s image in the crowd, the poor in spirit, the mourners, and the meek.
Matthew 5:3 . Blessed are the poor in spirit. These characters are justly noticed first, because they most of all feel their need of a Saviour. They renounce their sins, lay their boasting in the dust, and come as mendicants to the house of mercy. Here the rich man identifies himself with the poor, with the most abject and weak, and the learned man leaves the pride of science behind. They renounce all confidence in an arm of flesh, in vows and resolutions. These are the men who are heirs of promises, who experience an instantaneous conversion, and rush into the kingdom of heaven by the violence of faith and prayer. Their cry is, “Pour into our hearts such love towards thee, that we loving thee above all things, may obtain thy promises which exceed all that we can desire.” Coll. 6. after Trinity. Then the kingdom of heaven is opened in their heart. Luke 17:21. Romans 14:17. God has chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom.
Matthew 5:4 . Blessed are they that mourn, and grieve for all their sins, for the afflictions and miseries of human life, and who weep with those that weep. The Messiah is appointed to preach good tidings to the meek, to appoint unto them that mourn, interior beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, and the garments of praise, the white clothing worn on the Hebrew festivals, for the spirit of heaviness. God has a brilliant climax of consolations for souls that are depressed. He will remove their sins, and inspire them with the joys of remission; yea, with all consolation in Christ Jesus. He will deliver them in the day of trouble, and cause their sickness to prepare them for higher enjoyments of glory; and no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.
Matthew 5:5 . Blessed are the meek, as David says, for they shall inherit the earth. Psalms 37:11. This is the opposite grace of the high, the proud, and revengeful temper of belligerent spirits. It gives the good man a dignity and an ascendency over his angry brother, by all the calm of self-possession. He disdains revenge, and overcomes evil with good.
The word ענוה gnanevah, mansuetudo, meekness is of constant occurrence in the old testament for the character of the righteous, and invariably designates meekness, humility, poverty, and affliction. It is the association of every virtue, and every excellence in the christian temper. The name is often joined with words of similar import, as in Zephaniah 3:12. “I will leave a humble and a tender people in the midst of thee, and they shall trust in the Lord.” The spirit of this beatitude is, that God will be the consolation, defence, and avenger of his people. He will arise to save the meek of the earth. Psalms 86:9. He will also bless them with length of days, as is abundantly promised in the holy scriptures. Exodus 20:12; Exodus 23:28. Isaiah 65:22. Jeremiah 35:19. 2 Timothy 4:8.
Matthew 5:6 . Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness all the righteousness which is of God by faith, and which he has promised to rain down upon the earth, as he once rained manna on the camp of Israel. Isaiah 45:8. This is the proper food of the soul. It is Christ, the true bread, who came down from heaven. For this bread we must hunger, for this fountain we must thirst. The two metaphors are very impressive. When we are hungry we desire food; when we are thirsty we desire drink. Nothing will do but food for the hungry, nothing but water for the faint. Gold is despised for bread. The desire of food to the hungry encreases to fever and burning heat; and the oppressed will use all endeavours to obtain meat. To offer the hungry riches and honours, is to mock at their miseries. The sensations of hunger constantly pursue them; and they die, if food be not afforded. The promise more than supplies their wants; they shall be filled filled with all joy and peace through believing. The good Shepherd will lead them to green pastures, and make them to lie down beside the still waters. Psalms 23:2. They shall be fed with all the superabundance of the gospel feast. 2 John 1:7; 2 John 1:7:37 .
Matthew 5:7 . Blessed are the merciful, who possess a kind and feeling disposition, emanating from the love of God shed abroad in the heart. HE is good to all, sending his rain on the just, and on the unjust; and he teaches his children to do the same. It is their province to heal the wounded mind, to give bread to the hungry, and employ the poor. All these good offices are feasts of charity, in which the benevolent taste the pleasures of a God. To them the promise is sure; they shall obtain mercy. God will pardon, and will cover all their sins, but not as debts for alms. Unto the upright there arises light in the darkness. Job had been eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame; and the Lord lifted up his head above all his sore afflictions. Job 29, 42. To real christians, who are ever distinguished by charity, the Lord promised the riches of the gentiles. Isaiah 54:3. And where poverty attends the saints, that promise is sure to all: they shall be rewarded at the resurrection of the just. Psalms 4:3.
Matthew 5:8 . Blessed are the pure in heart. A clean heart is the mother of every virtue. David expresses the same sentiment in Psalms 24:3. “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart.” This purity implies a new creation of the inner man, the renewal of a right spirit within us. It is the putting off of the old man, and the putting on of the new. It is a resurrection with Christ to newness of life, the awaking up of the soul into the divine likeness, which alone can prepare us for the vision of God. The words of John are of similar import: “we know that we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” What a change is sanctification, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. Let our prayer be, Create in me a clean heart, oh God, and renew a right spirit within me. Psalms 51:10. Let us expect it instantaneously, that the Lord would destroy the man of sin by the breath of his mouth, and the brightness of his coming. Here is a beautiful climax of graces, rising from poverty of spirit to purity of heart.
Matthew 5:9 . Blessed are the peace-makers. Being reconciled to God, and having in their own breasts the peace that passeth all understanding, they want to see the whole church of one heart, and of one soul. They exhort brethren that are aggrieved to forget the things that are behind, and reach forward to gain purity of heart. Like Paul, they say to party men, in the circles of religious society, “If there be any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels of mercy, fulfil ye my joy be of one accord, and of one mind.” If they cannot succeed, they will try to steal away a brand from the fire, that the unhallowed flame may become extinct for want of fuel. When factions shall subside, all men will account persons possessed of this temper, the children of God.
Matthew 5:10-12 . Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. We are all agreed to persecute robbers and evildoers; but who in this age of science would persecute another for righteousness? When a man, whose eyes are opened, is making his escape from hell, and trying to gain heaven, all will clear the way, and wish him God speed. Such is the theory of human nature, but the practice is otherwise; all men will oppose his flight. Every conversion Satan accounts to be desertion. Formerly, a million of christians must be thrown to the lions, and otherwise destroyed, because they worshipped not the gods; latterly, a million more must be burned, because they bowed not to the idolatries of papal Rome. But rejoice, oh suffering saints, for the kingdom of heaven is yours. Rejoice, for your fiery trials shall purify you as gold in the furnace, and make you meet for the great reward in heaven. Rejoice the more, for your sufferings identify you with the prophets and noble army of martyrs, who have already marched through the flames to glory.
Matthew 5:13 . Ye are the salt of the earth, by the good savour of your life, and by the incorruptible word of truth. By your love and zeal, you are called to season the world, and to preserve it from putrefaction. Such was the covenant of salt, which God made with Israel. 2 Chronicles 13:5. But if the minister shall have lost the unction of his ministry, and the spiritual savour of a good conversation, he is like insipid salt, good for nothing but the dunghill. Other things when degenerate may be of some value, but salt in that state is nothing worth. God will spue the lukewarm minister out of his mouth. Revelation 3:16.
Matthew 5:14 . Ye are the light of the world, by the glory of the gospel, by purity of example, by the excellence of the christian temper, by the radiance of an immortal hope. The glory of a good man’s countenance shines with the image of God.
Matthew 5:17 . Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. Because our Saviour degraded the traditions of the elders, the pharisees insinuated that he sought to destroy the law. But here he magnifies the moral code as the eternal rule of obligation, refusing at the same time to fetter his disciples with the ecclesiastical trammels of rabbinical polity. He illustrates its perfection in the love of God and of all mankind. In the Munster Bible, a work distinguished by rabbinical literature, it is noted, “that there is no text in the new testament more revolting to the jews than this. Why so? was not Christ made under the law, and circumcised the eighth day? Did he not, like Moses, resolve the law into two grand articles, the love of God, and of our neighbour? Matthew 22:37; Matthew 22:40. Has not Hosea said, Pietatem volui, et non sacrificium; scientiam Dei magis quàm holocausta? I will have piety and not sacrifice; the knowledge of God, rather than burnt-offerings? Has not Isaiah said, To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices, saith the Lord. I am full of burnt offerings, and the fat of beasts. Wash you, make you clean, make you a new heart? Have not Jeremiah, chap, 31., and Ezekiel, chap. 36., declared that God would make a new and better covenant with the house of Israel? “I spake not to your fathers concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices. But this thing I commanded them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people.” Jeremiah 7:23-24. Is it not apparent then from these sentences, that in the time of the Messiah the future worship of God should be in spirit and in truth. And is it not equally apparent, that the Messiah would absolve us from the law of legal sacrifices, and write his law on our inward parts; for circumcision is that of the heart?”
Matthew 5:18 . Verily I say unto you. This, though AMEN in the original, is an oath, and it corresponds with the oath which so frequently occurs in the old testament: “As I live, saith the Lord.”
One jot. It seems to mean the Hebrew letter, י yod; and in Lightfoot, the Gemarists of Jerusalem say, that Solomon attempted to suppress it in Deuteronomy 17:5. “Thou shalt not multiply many wives.”
One tittle. A little dash at the head of Hebrew letters, where there existed any danger of reading one letter for another, many of them being nearly similar to another letter in that alphabet. This similarity has occasioned much variety of opinion in the reading of many texts in the old testament.
Matthew 5:19 . Whosoever shall break one of these least commandments, least in the estimation of men; for though no divine precept can be called small, yet every one is not of equal weight and importance, judgment, mercy, and faith being “the weightier matters of the law.” The Lord strikes here at all accommodating preachers; at Rome, in her distinctions between mortal and venial sins; at all who build with wood, hay, and stubble. Let us be exact in the smaller as well as in the greater duties, knowing that all who trifle with the law shall be of no account in the church.
Matthew 5:20 . Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and pharisees, which was distinguished by severities of fasting, of prayers, and of almsgiving, in all of which christians come greatly short, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. Those men were like the splendid sepulchre in their outward walk, but within, their heart was a charnel house of sin. Like Noah, surrounded with a deluge of woes, we must fly to the ark for safety, and become heirs of the righteousness of God by faith. The gospel old way is, repentance, faith, and holiness, that all the fruits of righteousness may follow the entire regeneration of our nature. Deuteronomy 6:25. Romans 3:21; Romans 10:3; Romans 10:5.
Matthew 5:21 . Thou shalt not kill. The Greek φονευω , as the Hebrew רתצ , Exodus 20:13, is to murder by malice and revenge. So also is the Gothic of Ulphilas. Therefore every emotion of anger must be suppressed, and the heart opened to the love of God and man, the only healer of moral evil.
Matthew 5:22 . Raca. This is a Hebrew word which occurs in Judges 11:3, and is left untranslated in all the versions, except in Judges. Montanus reads it vacuo, which agrees with cenoo, rascal, dunce, or soft head. In my copy of Erasmus’s critical annotations, printed at Antwerp, 1538, there is a long note comprising glosses of the fathers on this word. All allow it to be an interjection of indignation.
Whosoever shall say, thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. την γεενναν του πυρος , the fire of Gehenna. The Hebrews wrote, גיא gi, valley, and Hinnom, the name of a man. Joshua 15:8. It is said that the jews who burned their children there, should themselves be burned there. Jeremiah 7:32. This fire is a figure of the fire of hell. The valley was the place below Jerusalem, where the idolatrous jews burnt their children in the huge belly of the idol Moloch. This was God’s highest curse of infatuation on that people. See 2 Kings 22:0. The judgment of the synagogue might punish the first offence, the council or sanhedrim might punish the second; but here is the punishment of Gehenna, which God alone can inflict. So Dan Heinsius illustrates this word, which often occurs. This most learned man was made counsellor of the state by Gustavus Adolphus, king of Sweden, and knight of the order of St. Mark by the republic of Venice. Edit. Cantab. 1640. The Chaldee on Isaiah 31:9, and the LXX read, “The Gehenna of eternal fire.” Such is the sense of Tophet in Isaiah 30:33, Jeremiah 19:12-13, and of Gehenna in Matthew 5:30, and in Mark 9:42-48.
Matthew 5:25 . Agree with thine adversary quickly. If this be wise in vexatious lawsuits, how much more with regard to the great Judge, before whose bar the impenitent shall be condemned, and delivered to the tormentors, and cast into the prison of hell. Delays in religion, though common, are nevertheless the most destructive sins of the soul.
Matthew 5:28 . Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her. Human laws extend only to the actions of men; the divine law reaches to the heart. Inward purity, as in Matthew 5:8, requires us to put away idle thoughts, lascivious habits, immodest pictures, and to burn all novels, written by profligate and ruined characters.
Matthew 5:32 . Whosoever shall put away his wife. See notes on Genesis 2:24. Malachi 2:11.
Matthew 5:34 . Swear not at all. St. James explains this when he says, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by earth, nor by any other oath; for man is not lord of heaven and earth, nor can he say that he shall live and have power to perform his oath. Yet a man may conscientiously swear to the truth, as St. Paul when he says, I protest by your rejoicing. A christian also, on the renewal of his covenant, ought to swear to the Lord. Jeremiah 34:18.
Matthew 5:39 . Resist not evil. Retaliate not an injury by private revenge. A christian may deprive his enemy of the means of hurting him, and he may bring him before the magistrates, whose authority Christ has allowed: Matthew 5:22. But to oppose evil against evil is to double the crime. It punishes our enemy unseasonably, perhaps in an improper manner and degree, and it may harden him to greater wickedness. It is mostly our best wisdom to rely on providence which brings all things round, and will punish all wickedness, and avenge injured innocence, in such a time and way as to do the sinner good with stripes. Nor should we be content with negative virtues: let us sometimes do for the greedy man more than he requires, that we may shame and confound his covetousness by the superior and godlike energies of divine grace.
Matthew 5:41 . Go with him twain, alluding to the practice of the Roman legions, who impressed men as guides, and as carriers of their baggage, forcing them also to do it at inadequate rates of payment.
Matthew 5:48 . Be ye therefore perfect. Ulphilas, the missionary to the Goths, about the year 350, gives the exact sense. SŸAITH NU JUS FULLA TOGAI SWA SWE ATTAH IZWAR SA IN HIMINAM FULLA TOGIS IST. “Beeth now you full doers so, so your Dada in heaven a full doer is.” He sends rain on the just and on the unjust, and makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good. Seeing then we owe so much to grace, the question is just, what do ye more than others? Let us hear this voice, and abound more and more in the word and the work of the Lord.
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Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Matthew 5". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29