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Thursday, June 13th, 2024
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 23

Trapp's Complete CommentaryTrapp's Commentary

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Verse 1

Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,

Then spake Jesus to the multitude, … — Christ having confuted and confounded the Scribes and Pharisees, turns him to the people and to his disciples; and that he might do nothing to the detriment of the truth, he here cautioneth that they despise not the doctrine of the Pharisees so far as it was sound and sincere without leaven; but try all things, holding fast that which was good. Be advised, and remember to search into the truth of what you hear, was the counsel of Epicharmus. Νηφε και μεμνησο απιστειν , Videas cui fidas. Deligas quem diligas. To whom may you seem faithful. Let you chose what you like.

Verse 2

Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat:

Sit in Moses’ chairi.e. Have the ordinary office of teaching the people, but quo iure, by what law, he questioneth not. The priests and Levites should have done it, but the Scribes and Pharisees had for present taken it upon them, stepped into the chair, and there set themselves, καθιζω , Sedeo. colloco. I sit, I lie down. Romans 2:20 . So Hildebrand and his successors have invaded Peter’s chair, as they call the see of Rome; but what said an ancient? Non habent Petri haereditatem, qui Petri fidem non habent. They have no right to Peter’s chair that have not Peter’s faith. The Index Expurgatorius commands ( sublata fide ) endure for the faith, instead of Fidem Petri, the Faith of Peter, to print it Sedem Petri. The seat of Peter, Perfrica frontem, said Calvus to Vatinius, et digniorem te dic qui Praetor fieres quam Catonem, Put on a good face, and say that thou art fitter for the office than Cato himself. (Quintil. lib. ix. cap. 2.) But what a bold face had Barcaena the Jesuit, who, Diabolo advenienti occurrit obviam petiitque ut cathedram eius occuparet, quia erat dignior, meeting the devil, required his chair of him, as one that better deserved it. He had his desire, I doubt not. But if Scribes and Pharisees sat in Moses’ chair, it is no news than for bad men to succeed better; as Timotheus Herulus did Proterius the good Bishop of Alexandria, and as Arminius did Junius in the professor’s place at Leyden.

Verse 3

All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.

All therefore whatsoever — Not their traditions, superstitions, and corrupt glosses upon the law, but whatsoever they teach that is agreeable to truth; so long as they sit close to Moses’ chair, and keep it warm, as it were, hearken to them. God’s good gifts are to be acknowledged and improved even in the worst, as David made Saul’s epitaph, 2 Samuel 1:19-27 , though the devil preached his funeral, 1 Samuel 28:19 .

But do not ye after their works — Saith Chrysostom, Si pastores bene vivunt, eorum lucrum est, si bene dicunt, tuum. Accipe quod tuum est, omitte alienum. If ministers do well, it is their own gain; if they say well, it is thine. Take thou what thine own is, and let alone what is another man’s. Sulla and King Richard III commanded others, under great penalties, to be virtuous and modest, when themselves walked the clean contrary way. A deformed painter may draw a goodly picture; a stinking breath sound a mighty blast; and he that hath but a bad voice, show cunning in descant. A blind man may bear a torch in a dark night, and a harp make music to others, which itself is not sensible of. Posts set for direction of passengers by the highway side do point out the way which themselves go not: and sign posts tell the traveller there is wholesome diet or warm lodging within, when themselves remain in the storms without. Leud preachers are like steeple spires, or high pinnacles, which point up to heaven, but press down to the centre.

For they say, and do not — They had tongues which spake by the talent, but their hands scarcely wrought by the ounce; like that ridiculous actor at Smyrna, who pronouncing O coelum, O heaven, pointed with his finger toward the ground: Of this actor, Polemo, chaffing, said, ουτος τη χειρι σολοικεζει. so these Pharisees had the heaven commonly at their tongues’ end, but the earth continually at their fingers’ end. In a certain battle against the Turks, there was a bishop that thus encouraged the army: Play the men, fellow soldiers, today: and I dare promise you, that if ye die fighting, ye shall sup tonight with God in heaven. Now after the battle was begun the bishop withdrew himself; and when some of the soldiers inquired among themselves what was become of the bishop, and why he would not take a supper with them that night in heaven, others answered, Hodie sibi ieiunium indixit, ideoque non vult nobiscum in coelo caenare. This is fasting day with him, and therefore he will eat no supper, no, not in heaven. Epictetus was wont to say that there were many philosophers (we may say divines) ανευ του πραττειν, μεχοι του λεγειν , as far as a few words would go. But ω τλημων, αρετη λογος αρ ησθα , …, is religion now become a word? goodness a name? as Brutus once cried out. Should it be said of holiness, as it was once in another place, audivimus famam; we have heard the fame thereof with our ears, and that is all? Job 28:22 . The foolish virgins were found with their sic dicentes, so talking but the good servants shall be found with their sic facientes, so doing. Christ was full of grace as well as truth. John Baptist was both a burning and shining light. Origen’s teaching and living were said to be both one. Spectemur agendo. John 1:16 . Και εδειξε και εδιδαξε . Basil. Quod iussit et gessit. Bern. Eph 41. That is the best sermon surely, that is dug out of a man’s own breast, when he practiseth what he preacheth, non verbis solum praedicans sed exemplis, not by words only by by example, as Eusebius testifieth of Origen, and Mr Gataker of Mr Stock. As the want hereof occasioned Campian to write ministris eorum nihil vilius, their ministers are most base.

Verse 4

For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.

For they bind heavy burdens, … — Their human traditions: so do the Popish doctors (heirs herein to the Pharisees, of whom this sermon is not more historical than of the other it is prophetic). The inferior clergy they make preach every day in Lent without intermission, throughout all Italy in the greater cities; so as six days in the week they preach on the Gospel of the days, and on the Saturday in honour and praise of our Lady. Whereas the pope and bishops preach not at all. So for the laity; they must fast with bread and water; when the priests have their suckers and other deserts three or four times on their mock fast days. What should we speak of their pilgrimages to Peru, Jerusalem, …; penances, satisfactions, …? And no man must question, but obey without questioning. Walter Mapes, sometime Archdeacon of Oxford, relating the pope’s gross simony, concludes, Sit tamen Domina materque nostra Roma baculus in aqua fractus, et absit credere quae vidimus. In things that make against our Lady Mother Rome, we may not believe our own eyes.

Verse 5

But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,

To be seen of men — Theatrically, thrasonically, and for ostentation, as stage players, or painted faces. See Trapp on " Matthew 6:2 " See Trapp on " Matthew 6:5 " Saints more seek to be good than seem to be so.

They make broad their phylacteries — That is, conservatories, so called. 1. Because by the use of them the law was kept in remembrance. 2. Because the superstitious Pharisees conceited, that by the wearing of them about their necks, themselves might be kept from danger, as by so many spells: what they were, see the notes above, on Matthew 22:40 .

Enlarge the borders of their garments — God had charged the Pharisees to bind the law to their hand, and before their eyes, Deuteronomy 6:8 , wherein (as Jerome and Theophylact well interpret it) he meant the meditation and practice of his law. They (saith a learned author) like unto the foolish patient, which when the physician bids him take the prescript, eats up the paper; Ac si puellus audito patris pii vestigiis insistendum, patris iter facientis singula vestigia observaret, et in iisdem pedes suos poneret. if they could but get a list of parchment upon their left arm and next their heart, and another scroll to tie upon their forehead, and four corners of fringe, or (if these be denied) a red thread in their hand, thought they might say, "Blessed be thou of the Lord, I have done the commandment of the Lord," 1 Samuel 15:13 . What was this but, as Mr Tyndale said in another case, to think to quench their thirst by sucking the ale bowl?

Verse 6

And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues,

And love the uppermost rooms — Which is a singular vanity, and yet hath bred greatest contestation in the Church; as between the bishops of Rome and Constantinople, the archbishops of Canterbury and York jostling in parliament for precedence, even unto blows and bloodshed: what doleful effects followed upon the contention between the Lord Protector and his brother in King Edward VI’s days, raised by their ambitious wives, who could not agree about place! The apostle’s rule is, "in honour to prefer one another," Romans 12:10 . And true humility is like true balm, that still in water sinks to the bottom; like the violet, the sweetest but lowest of flowers, which hangs the head downwards, and hides itself with its own leaves.

Verse 7

And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.

And to be called of men Rabbi — They were tickled with high titles, and thought it a goodly thing to be held and styled magnificos, to be fly-blown (putrified) with flatteries. There is not a more vain glorious people under heaven than the Jews. Hence that rabble of titles among them in this order (brought in a little before the nativity of our Saviour), Rabbi Rabban, Rab, Rabbi, Gaon, Moreh, Morenu and Moreh tsedek. So the friars proceed in their vain glorious titles, from Padre benedicto to Padre Angelo, then Archangelo, Cherubino, and lastly Cerephino, which is the top of perfection. Are not these those υπερογκα ματαιστητος the apostle inveighs against, those great "swelling titles of vanity?"2 Peter 2:18; 2 Peter 2:18 ; Jude

Verse 8

But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.

Be not ye called Rabbi — Do not ambitiously affect such a title, as if you were the only ones, and others not worthy to be named in the same day with you. Swelling in the body is an ill symptom, but worse in the soul.

For one is your Master — καθηγητης . Your guide to godliness and happiness, your doctor and dictator, your oracle, your ipse dixit, whose bare word you are to take, without further proof or pawn.

And all ye are brethren — Not as the pope calls his cardinals brethren, when in creating them he useth this form, Estote fratres nostri, et principes mundi. Odi fastum illius ecclesiae, Shall be our fathers and leaders in the world. Hate those festivals of that church, saith Basil, which caused the lamentable separation of the Eastern or Greek Church from communion with the Latin, the other four patriarchs dividing themselves from the Bishop of Rome, for his encroaching upon them.

Verse 9

And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.

Call no man your fatheri.e. Give no man absolute power over you; be not the servants of men, or slaves to their opinions or mandates, as friars are to their superiors, to argue or debate on whose commands is held high presumption; to search their reasons, proud curiosity; to detract or disobey them, breach of vow equal to sacrilege.

Verse 10

Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.

One is your Master — Where then are magistri nostri parisienses? our doctores resolutissimi? our masters of opinions, whose word must stand for a law, whose tenets must pass for oracles? Quibus nihil placet nisl quod e capitis sui liripipio ipsi protulerint. Muchesias. By the canon law, Omnes sanctiones apostolicae sedis irrefragabiliter sunt observandae. The pope may not be disobeyed.

Verse 11

But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.

Shall be your servant — The word signifies one that is ready pressed to raise dust, to do his utmost endeavour with all possible expedition in any business that he is set about. Praefestinaus, expeditus, paratus, promptus.

Verse 12

And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.

And whosoever shall exalt himself, … — Lo here a great miracle, saith Augustine, Videte magnum miraculum: altus est Deus, … God is on high, and yet the higher thou liftest up thyself, the farther thou art from him; the lower thou humblest thyself, the nearer he draweth to thee. Low things he looketh close upon, that he may raise them: proud things he knows afar off, that he may depress them. The proud Pharisee pressed as near God as he could: the poor publican, not daring to do so, stood aloof off; yet was God far from the Pharisee, near to the publican.

Verse 13

But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves , neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.

Woe unto you, Scribes, … — By these eight dreadful woes, as by so many links of an adamantine chain, our Saviour draws these hypocrites down to hell, their place, and there leaves them to be reserved unto judgment. St Jerome was called Fulmen Ecclesiasticum, the Church’s thunderbolt. How much more might this be attributed to Christ? How terribly doth he here thunderstrike these stupid Pharisees, though he saw well (saith Father Latimer) that whosoever will be busy with vae vobis woe to you, shall shortly after come coram nobis before men to us.

Ye shut up the kingdom of heaven — By hiding heavenly truths, teaching damnable errors, excommunicating the well affected, or corrupting them by evil counsel and example; and all this, εμπροσθεν coram et in os, before men, and to their faces, making fools of them, even while they look on, casting a mist before their eyes, as those Egyptian magicians did,Exodus 7:11-13; Exodus 7:11-13 ; Exodus 7:19-22 , and keeping from them that collyrium A topical remedy for disorders of the eyes; an eye-salve or eye-wash. ŒD that should cure and clear up their eye-sight, Revelation 3:18 . Thus did Arandel, Archbishop of Canterbury, who bound up the word of God that it might not be preached in his time (as the historian’s words are), Quod verbum Dei alligasset, ne tempore suo praedicaretur. Tho. Gascon, in Dictionary of Theology. and was therefore (according to this woe here denounced) so smitten in his tongue that he could neither swallow nor speak for certain days before he died. Stephen Gardiner was plagued in like manner, for like reason. And generally the Popish clergy are vexed with that grievous and noisome sore of devilish spite against the Reformation, Revelation 16:2 , which they therefore oppose with might and main till wrath come upon them to the utmost. And albeit many of them escape the visible vengeance of God, yet this terrible woe, as a moth, doth secretly eat them up like a garment, and as a worm, eateth them up like wood, Isaiah 51:8 , as it did these Pharisees; on whose outside nothing could be discerned, all was as before, but their souls were blasted, seared, and sealed up to destruction. He that hath drunk poison falls not down dead presently in the place, but he hath his death about him, as we say. Saul lived and reigned long after he was cast off by God; and the very devils are respited in regard to their full torment, but the more is behind.

Verse 14

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.

Ye devour widows’ houses — Though they pretended to be great fasters,Luke 18:12; Luke 18:12 , yet their bellies prepared deceit, as Eliphaz hath it, Job 15:35 , and their throats (those open sepulchres) swallowed up whole houses (such was their covetousness), and that of widows (such was their cruelty), and that under a pretence of long prayers, which was their hypocrisy; for while their lips seemed to pray, they were but chewing that morsel, that murdering morsel that made them receive the greater damnation. Multi in terris manducant, quod apud inferos digerant, saith Augustine. Many devour that on earth that they must digest in hell, where the never dying worm will feed greedily upon all such covetous caitiffs (wretches) as have the greedy worm under their tongues, and their ill-gotten goods gotten already into their bowels, as these Pharisees had; which therefore God shall fetch thence again with a vengeance, τα ενοντα , Luke 11:41 ; Job 20:15 .

Make long prayers — God takes not men’s prayers by tale, but by weight. He respecteth not the arithmetic of our prayers, how many they are; nor the rhetoric of our prayers, how eloquent they are; nor the geometry of our prayers, how long they are; nor the music of our prayers, the sweetness of our voice, nor the logic of our prayers, or the method of them, but the divinity of our prayers is that which he so much esteemeth. He looketh not for any James with horny knees through assiduity in prayer; nor for any Bartholomew with a century of prayers for the morning and as many for the evening, but St Paul, his frequency of praying with fervency of spirit, without all tedious length and vain babblings, this is it that God maketh most account of. It is not a servant’s going to and fro, but the despatch of his business that pleaseth his master. It is not the loudness of a preacher’s voice, but the holiness of the matter and the spirit of the preacher, that moveth a wise and intelligent hearer. So here, not gifts, but graces in prayer move the Lord. But these long prayers of the Pharisees were so much the worse, because thereby they sought to entitle God to their sin, yea, they merely mocked him, fleering To laugh in a coarse, impudent, or unbecoming manner. ŒD in his face.

Verse 15

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.

Ye compass sea and land — They walked the round, as the devil doth, to gain proselytes; they spared for no pains to pervert men (as now the Jesuits those Circulatores et Agyrtae ). Should not we be as diligent and indefatigable to convert them to God? Shall we not be as busy in building staircases for heaven as seducers are in digging descents to hell? If Saul seeking asses found a kingdom, shall not we, by seeking others, find heaven?

Ye make him twofold more the child of hell — Either because they relapse to Gentilism, as finding you so vile and vicious in your lives; or because ye teach them only ceremonies and superstitions; or, because you keep them ignorant of Christ, and plant in them a hatred of the truth, as the Jesuits do in their proselytes. So that of them we may say, as Ambrose did of Polemo, who of a drunkard, by hearing Xenocrates, became a philosopher, Si resipuit a vino, fuit semper tamen temulentus sacrilegio. Though he be now no drunkard, yet he remains drunk still with superstition.

Verse 16

Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor!

Ye blind guides which say — His watchmen are blind, was an old complaint, Isaiah 56:10 . Which that it is a foul fault, the Rabbis have there noted from one letter (in the original) öôéå Ubi Tsaddi est maiusculum. Buxtorf. Tiber. of the word rendered watchmen, bigger than his fellows. How many are there that thrust into the ministry, wanting both heart and art to teach the people? These lead their flocks to the pit’s brink, wherein if they perish, themselves lie lowermost.

Whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple — So by the gift on the altar, Matthew 23:18 , these, they taught, were tied; the other might for a sum be dispensed with, that swore by the temple or the altar. Not so those that swore by the gold of the temple, that is, dedicated to the temple, or by the gift on the altar; for these oaths brought these blind guides in commodity, which the swearer was forced presently to pay down. The people also were hereby made more free and forward to offer gold for the temple, sacrifices for the altar; because they were made to believe that those presents were more precious than either temple or altar. Pretty devices these were to get money; and are they not still practised by Papists? Philip Brasier was abjured in Henry VIII’s time for saying, that when any cure is done the priests do anoint the images, and make men believe the images do sweat in labouring for them. The rood (falaciousness) of grace and blood of Hales is notorious. Our Lady of Loretto hath her churches so stuffed with vowed presents and memories, that they are fain to hang their cloisters and churchyards with them. They teach the people that as they may sooner go to Christ by St Dominick than by St Paul, so to swear by holy relics, and in swearing, to lay hand on them, is a more binding oath than to swear by God, laying hand on the Bible.

Verse 17

Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold?

Whether is greater, the gold, … — The cause must needs be more noble than the effect. But the dust of covetousness had put out the eyes of these buzzards, and expectorated their understandings. It is a besotting sin, and bereaves a man of right reason. Avidus a non videndo. Papists, our modern Pharisees, are most corrupt in those things where their honour, ease, or profit is engaged. In the doctrine of the Trinity that toucheth not upon these, they are sound enough.

Or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? — Solomen’s temple was stone without and gold within, to show, saith one, the resplendent glory of Divine Majesty lurking within a human and humbled body. Quid est templi illius aurum sive aurea claritas, nisi ad dextram patris sedentis immortalitas atque impassibilitas? saith Rupertus, what is the gold of the temple but the glory of Christ at God’s right hand?

Verse 18

And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty.

But whosoever sweareth by the gift, …Ubi utilitas, ibi pietas, saith Epictetus, where there is gain there is godliness, οπου το συμφερον εκει το ευσεβες . And, Deos quisque sibi utiles cudit, saith another. All the worldling’s ploughing, sailing, building, buying, buts upon commodity, he knows no other deity. These Pharisees strove to reduce all offerings to their own purses and paunches, though they rendered men thereby not only irreligious, but unnatural,Matthew 15:5-6; Matthew 15:5-6 . See Trapp on " Matthew 15:5 " See Trapp on " Matthew 15:6 "

Verse 19

Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?

Ye fools and blind — The second time so, for behold they have rejected the word of the Lord (yea, the Word, the Lord Christ), and what wisdom was in them? Jeremiah 8:9 . True it is, they were accounted the only wise men. "Where is the wise? where is the scribe?" saith St Paul, 1 Corinthians 1:20 . As if wise and scribe were terms convertible. And for the Pharisees, they did so carry away the hearts of the people that there was no holy man that was not termed a Pharisee, as we find in their Talmud. And "after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee," saith Paul, Acts 26:5 . They were omnium districtissimi, and did utterly outshine and obscure those other sects of Sadducees and Essenes, the latter whereof are not so much as mentioned in the gospel. And yet we see what esteem Christ had for them, and what titles he here bestows upon them. To teach us not to rest in man’s applause, nor to think it sufficient that others think well of us. "But let every man prove his own work," Galatians 6:4 , and know that not he that commends himself, or is commended by others, is approved, but he whom the Lord commendeth,2 Corinthians 10:18; 2 Corinthians 10:18 .

Verse 20

Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon.

Whoso therefore shall swear — It was not lawful to swear by the altar, or by any creature whatsoever, Jeremiah 5:7 ; (much less by idols, Amos 8:14 ; "I myself," saith Latimer, "have used in mine earnest matters to say, Yea by St Mary, which indeed is naught"). But though these oaths be formally naught, yet they are finally binding, and being broken, they are plain perjury, because they are all reduced to God himself, none otherwise than if they had been taken expressly by the name of God. Hence it is that the oaths of Papists, Turks, heathens (though superstitious), are obligatory, ορκος , just as εοκος , An oath is a hedge, which a man may not break.

Verse 21

And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein.

And by him that dwelleth therein — By his grace in his ordinances, yea, by his glory, which sometimes filled the temple. This temple at Jerusalem, together with that of Diana at Ephesus (which was also built of cedar, in an apish imitation of God’s temple, as Vitruvius and others witness) were destroyed much about one and the same time: "Believe me," saith Christ, "the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father," John 4:21 . Demosthenes saith, "That man’s heart is God’s best temple, where he dwells with delight, so it be beautified with modesty, piety, justice," … "And this is the end of our creation," saith another, "that man should be the temple of God, and God the altar of man."

Verse 22

And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon.

By the throne of God — Heaven is his throne and earth his footstool; yet may we not conceive that God is commensurable by the place, as if he were partly here and partly elsewhere; but he is everywhere all present. See Trapp on " Matthew 5:34 "

Verse 23

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.

Ye pay tithe of mint — The Chaldee word for mint signifies also a book of histories, ðëòà ; because in that one poor herb large stories of God’s wisdom, might, and love are described unto us. In tithing this and other pot herbs the Pharisees were over and above solicitous, and even superstitious, and all for a name. So in the year of grace 1435, Capistranus the Minorite, being sent into Germany and other countries by Pope Nicholas, to preach obedience to the see of Rome, got a great deal of credit and respect to his doctrine by putting down dicing, carding, dancing, feasting, mask-interludes, …, although he taught not one syllable of sound doctrine touching Christ and his merits, obedience of faith, patience of hope, … There are both magnalia et minutula legis, the great and the lesser things of the law; both must be looked to. Hypocrites are nice (ignorant) in the one, but negligent of the other.

Judgment, mercy, and faith — So of old, to those bodily exercises and external rites, so stood upon by the hypocrites in their times, Isaiah opposeth judgment and justice, Isaiah 1:21-24 ; Hosea opposeth mercy and kindness,Hosea 4:1-3; Hosea 4:1-3 ; Zechariah opposeth truth and fidelity, Zechariah 7:8-14 , as more to be looked after and laboured for.

Verse 24

Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.

Which strain at a gnat, … — A proverbial speech, warranting the lawful use of such expressions for illustration of a truth. The Greeks have a like proverb, Ανδριαντα γαργαλιζειν , to gargle down an image, statue, or coloss; that is, to make no bones of a foul fault when matters of less moment are much scrupled. Saul kept a great stir about eating the flesh with the blood, when he made nothing of shedding innocent blood, 1 Samuel 14:33 . Doeg was detained before the Lord by some voluntary vow belike, 1 Samuel 21:7 . But better he had been further off, for any good he did there. The priests made conscience of putting the price of blood into the treasury, Matthew 27:6 , who yet made no conscience of imbruing their hands in the innocent blood of the Lamb of God. The Begardi and Beginnae, a certain kind of heretics, A.D. 1322, held this mad opinion, that a man might here attain to perfection, and that having attained to it, he might do whatsoever his nature led him to; that fornicari peccatum non esse reputabant: at mulieri osculum figere mortale facinus arbitrabantur, fornication was no sin, but to kiss a woman was a mortal wickedness, … Funcc. Chron. ex Massei, xviii. Archbishop Bancroft fell foul upon Master Paul Bayn, for a little black-work-edging about his cuffs, threatening to lay him by the heels for it, when far greater faults in others were winked at.

Verse 25

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.

Ye make clean the outside — True Ephraimites, or rather Canaanites, so they are called,Hosea 12:7-8; Hosea 12:7-8 , that is, mere natural men, Ezekiel 16:4 ; the balances of deceit were in their hands, they loved to oppress, yet so long as thereby they grew rich, they flattered themselves, and said, "In all my labours they shall find none iniquity in me, that were sin." Hypocrites if they can but make fair to the worldward it is enough. But as the fish sepia is exposed by the black colour which she casteth out to cover her; so the hypocrite is convinced by the very show of godliness under which he hoped to have lurked. God so discovers his deceitful courses, as that his wickedness is shown before the whole congregation, Proverbs 26:26 .

Verse 26

Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.

Cleanse first that which is within — God loveth truth in the inwards, Psalms 51:6 ; "O Jerusalem, wash thy heart," Jeremiah 4:14 ; (not thy hands only, as Pilate did); this breeds constancy and evenness in all our outward behaviours, James 4:8 . Grace and nature both begin at the heart, at the centre, and from thence goes to the circumference. Art and hypocrisy begin with the face and outward lineaments.

Verse 27

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.

Ye are like unto whited sepulchres — The Jews had their vaults or caves for burial. These the wealthier sort would paint, garnish, beautify at the mouth or entrance of them. And hereunto our Saviour alludeth, Intus Nero, foris Cato: loquitur hic ut Piso, vivit ut Gallomus, … It was said of the Sarmatians, that all their virtue was outward; and of Sejanus, that he had only a semblance of honesty, Intus summa adipiscendi libido, within he was full of extortion and excess. Omnis Sarmatarum virtus extra ipsos. Tac. i. 10. Palam compositus pudor, … Tac. Hypocrites seem as glowworms, to have both light and heat; but touch them, and they have neither. The Egyptian temples were beautiful on the outside, when within ye should find nothing but some serpent or crocodile. Apothecaries’ boxes often have goodly titles, when yet they hold not one dram of any good drug. A certain stranger coming on embassy unto the senators of Rome, and colouring his hoary hair and pale cheeks with vermilion hue, a grave senator espying the deceit, stood up, and said, "What sincerity are we to expect from this man’s hands, whose locks, and looks, and lips do lie?" Think the same of all painted hypocrites. These we may compare (as Lucian doth his Grecians) to a fair gilt bossed book; look within it, and there is the tragedy of Thyestes; or perhaps Arrius’ Thalya; the name of a muse, the matter heresy: or Conradus Vorstius’ book monster, that hath De Deo Concerning God, in the front, but atheism and blasphemy in the text.

Verse 28

Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

But within ye are full, … — Fair professors they were, but foul sinners, not close, but gross hypocrites, such as knew themselves to be so; like as Jeroboam’s wife knew herself to be disguised, when she went to the prophet; and as the whore that offered sacrifice to cover her whoredom, Proverbs 7:14 . This hypocrisy goes worthily coupled here with iniquity. It ariseth from secret atheism, as in Ananias and Sapphira, that noble pair of hypocrites, and paveth a way to the unpardonable sin, as in these Pharisees.

Verse 29

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous,

Ye build the tombs, … — And lost their cost, because they received not their doctrine. So do the Papists to this day in their pretended honouring the ancient saints and martyrs, whose religion and practices they persecute in the true professors. Vetus est morbus quo mortui sancti coluntur, vivi contemnuntur. How much better Rabus Crispen, the French chronicler, Knox, Foxe, and others, who have raised the martyrs, as so many Phoenixes, out of their ashes again, by recording their holy lives and Christian deaths! And how shall Cope and Kemp stink for ever in the nostrils of all good people! The former for fouling so much fair paper in railing at, and casting reproach upon, the holy martyrs of the Protestant religion, in his sixth dialogue especially: the latter for disgracing them some few years since, excusing the gunpowder traitors at the same time, in a sermon at St Mary’s in Cambridge.

Verse 30

And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.

If we had been in the days — Either these men grossly dissembled, or their hearts greatly deceived them; for certainly a Herod and Herodias to John Baptist would have been an Ahab and Jezebel to Elias. But as it was said of Demosthenes, that he was excellent at praising the worthy acts of ancestors, not so at imitating of them. επαινεσαι μεν ικανωτατος ην τα των προγονων καλα μιμησασθαι δε ουκ ομοιως . Plutarch. In like sort may we say of the Pharisees, they could well declaim against their forefathers’ cruelties, but not so well disclaim them. They were adversus sua ipsorum vitia facundi satis, as one speaketh in a like case. They are shrill accusers of themselves.

Verse 31

Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets.

Wherefore ye be witnesses, … — Here our Saviour casts all their cost in their teeth, as if thereby they had meant to commend their fathers’ cruelty in killing the prophets, since they abetted it by persecuting him and his to the death. Malice is commonly hereditary, and runs in the blood; and (as we use to say of runnet) the older it is, the stronger; as in the deadly feud of Scotland taken away by King James.

Verse 32

Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.

Fill ye up then the measureIronice dictum. Ironic saying. It gives us to understand that sinners are stinted, and cannot do what mischief they would. If at any time they exceed their commission (as they are apt) and help forward the affliction, as out of their innate malice they will, God will soon grow jealous for Jerusalem, and take them off,Zechariah 1:14-15; Zechariah 1:14-15 . When wickedness hath filled her ephah, God will soon transport it into the land of Shinar, Zechariah 5:8-11 . When it is once ripe in the field, God will not suffer it to shed, to grow again, but cuts it up by a just and seasonable vengeance.

Verse 33

Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?

Ye serpentsSerpentum tot sunt venena, quot genera, saith Isidore, tot pernicics quot species, tot dolores quot colores. See how our Saviour sharps up these heresiarchs, that, if possible, they might be made sound in the faith. So deals Peter by Simon Magus, Paul by Elymas, many of our champions by their Popish antagonists. Before God you are deceivers of the people (said Mr Philpot, martyr, to his persecutors), before God there is no truth in you. And to mocking Morgan he said, I must tell thee, thou painted wall and hypocrite, in the name of the living Lord, that God shall rain fire and brimstone upon such scorners of his word and blasphemers of his people as thou art. And afterwards, Thou art but an ass in the things of God, in that thou kickest against the truth, and art void of all godly understanding. Thou hast seduced others (said Bonner to Philpot), and madest them rejoice and sing with thee. Yea, my Lord, quoth he, we shall sing when you shall cry, Woe, woe, except ye repent. What an arrogant fool is this (said the bishop), I will handle thee like a heretic, and that shortly. I fear nothing, I thank God (said the other), that you can do unto me. But God shall destroy such as thou art, and that shortly, as I trust. Likewise to the Bishop of Chichester he spake thus: I perceive you are blind guides, and leaders of the blind, and therefore, as I am bound to tell you, very hypocrites, tyrannously persecuting the truth, which you are not able to disprove. Thus Hilary called Constantius Antichrist, and Auxentius devil, because they were Arians, Mihi certe Auxentius nihil aliud erit quam diabolus, quia Arianus.

Ye generation of vipersQuarum morsus insanabilis. Sic contra sycophantarum morsum non est remedium. See Trapp on " Matthew 3:7 " Vipers’ teeth are buried in their gums, that one would think they could not bite: so hypocrites.

Verse 34

Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city:

Wherefore, behold, I send you — Oh the infinite goodness of God, in striving by his Spirit with refractory sinners in the use of the means, waiting their return!

" Sed pensare solet vi graviore moram. "

Prophets, wise men, and scribes — That is, apostles, pastors, and teachers, Ephesians 4:11 , whom he here calleth by the customary names of that country. Scribe was an honourable name, till Pharisees dishonested it by their hypocrisy.

Ye shall kill and crucify — If therefore we have not yet resisted unto blood, be content with lighter crosses, and look for heavier. Omnis Christianus crucianus. (Luther.) It is but a delicacy to divide between Christ and his cross.

Verse 35

That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.

From the blood of righteous Abel — God reckons of men by their righteousness, Romans 10:4-6 The righteous (let him dwell where he will and by whom) is better than his neighbour, saith Solomon. This was Cain’s grief, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother; and wherefore slew he him, but because his own works were evil and his brother’s righteous? So Alphonsus Diazius, that Cain the second, slew his brother John, because he could not win him to Popery, 1 John 3:12 . And I would this patriarch of the devil (as one calls Cain) did not still live in his sons and successors, who carry about his club that is red with Abel’s blood, Imo ut rem sacram odorant et venerantur, think they do a goodly act in killing up the poor lambs of Christ. Caesar is said to have slain Grecinus Julius, for this reason alone, for that he was a better man than that it was for the tyrant’s behoof to suffer him to live, Quod melior vir erat quam esse quenquam tyranno expediret. (Senec. 2, de Benefic.)

Unto the blood of Zacharias — Most unworthily slain by his pupil Joas (as Linus likewise was by his scholar Hercules for a few sharp words that he gave him as he was teaching him). Cum ille Herculem verbulo asperiore inter erudiendum affatus esset, … Bucholcer. Our Saviour instanceth in this Zechariah as the last prophet mentioned in the Scripture to have been slain by them, 2 Chronicles 24:20-22 , though they slew many more, not elsewhere mentioned, unless it be in that little Book of Martyrs, as one fitly calleth the eleventh to the Hebrews.

Verse 36

Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.

Shall come upon this generation — In that last desolation of Jerusalem, whereof more in the next Mt. God will not fail to punish persecutors. (See Acts and Mon. of the Church, fol. 1902 to 1950.) Good for them therefore is the counsel that Tertullian gave Scapula, a bloody persecutor, If thou wilt not spare us, yet spare thyself; if not thyself, yet thy city Carthage. Si nobis non parcis, tibi parce; si non tibi, Carthagini.

Verse 37

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!

How often would I, … — How then could they perish whom God would have saved? It is answered, Voluntas Dei alia est praecepti, revelata antecedents, alia beneplaciti, arcana consequens. By the former God willed their conversion, but not by the latter. A king wills the welfare of all his subjects; yet he will not acquit those that are laid up for treason, murder, and the like foul crimes. A father is willing to give his son the inheritance; yet if he prove an unthrift, he will put him beside it, and take another. "How oft would I have gathered?" that is (say some), by the external ministry of the prophets, sent unto thee,Matthew 23:34-35; Matthew 23:34-35 . Not by internal regenerating operation of the Spirit.

Even as a hen gathereth her chickensColumbarum masculus ipse ovis incubat, sicut Christus ipse ecclesiam suam fovet. (Chytraeus in Leviticus 12:1-8 ) Of unreasonable creatures, birds, and of birds, the hen excels in kindness to her young; so that she doubts not, in their clarence, to encounter a kite, a dog, …, Iniquo et impari proelio, though with greatest disadvantage.

And ye would not — Men may nill their conversion, then, though called by God, Quo nihil est verius, sed et nihil turpius, saith one. Men are not damned, because they cannot do better, but because they will do no better. Cesset voluntas propria et non erit infernus, If there were no will, there would be no hell, John 12:39 . Therefore they could not believe; they could not, that is, they would not, saith Theophylact out of Chrysostom, who yet usually extolleth man’s freewill more than is fit.

Verse 38

Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.

Behold, your house is left, … — City and temple both. God will not always stand men for a sinning stock. They that will not hear his word, shall hear his rod, and feel his sword too. Elisha hath his sword as well as Jehu and Hazael,1 Kings 19:17; 1 Kings 19:17 , and the one usually precedes the other. They therefore that say, Following of sermons will make men beggars, forget that to take away the gospel from Jerusalem was to leave their houses as well as God’s house desolate.

Verse 39

For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.

Till ye shall say, Blessed, … — That is, ye shall never see me, or not till the general judgment; when as you that would not obey that sweet voice of mine, "Come unto me, ye that are weary," …, shall have no other command of mine to obey, but that dreadful Discedite, " Go, ye cursed, into everlasting fire," …

Bibliographical Information
Trapp, John. "Commentary on Matthew 23". Trapp's Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jtc/matthew-23.html. 1865-1868.
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