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MATTHEW CHAPTER 5
Matthew 5:1-12 Christ begins his sermon upon the Mount, declaring who are blessed.
Matthew 5:13-16 He calleth his disciples the salt of the earth, the light of the world; and by the similitudes of a city on a hill, and of a candle, he urges upon them the necessity of setting a good example.
Matthew 5:17-20 He came not to destroy, but to fulfil, the law.
Matthew 5:21-26 He extendeth the precepts against murder,
Matthew 5:27-32 adultery,
Matthew 5:33-37 and false swearing,
Matthew 5:38-42 exhorteth to suffer wrong patiently,
Matthew 5:43-47 to love our enemies,
Matthew 5:48 and to aim at perfection.
The last chapter concluded with telling us that a great multitude followed Christ, which he observing, that he might with more convenience to himself, and advantage to them, speak what he had to say,
he went up into a mountain; and sitting down, after the manner of the Jewish doctors to show their authority, which our Saviour also at other times observed, Matthew 26:55; Luke 4:20; John 8:2,
his disciples came unto him; both those strictly so called, and others also, viz. the multitude, mentioned in the last chapter, or some of them; and he began to speak to them with freedom, so as the multitude might hear. Christ thought it as lawful to preach in the mountain as in the synagogues; nor did his disciples doubt the lawfulness of hearing him, wherever he thought fit to speak.
Happy are they, who, though they be not rich in this world’s goods, yet have a spirit suited to their state and condition, not looking for their consolation here, but, having a poor and low opinion of the world and all that is therein, looking after more excellent riches; and, in order to it, are of broken and contrite spirits for their manifold sins, and cannot entertain any proud opinion of their own righteousness, but flee unto the free grace of God, and the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. Not the great, and rich, and proud men of the world are happy, but these are the blessed men; for true happiness lieth not in worldly possessions, but in the favour of God, and a right to the kingdom of heaven, and that these men have, Psalms 34:18; Psalms 51:17; Isaiah 66:2.
The world is mistaken in accounting the jocund and merry companions the only happy men; their mirth is madness, and their joy will be like crackling of thorns under a pot: but those are rather the happy men, who mourn; yea, such are most certainly happy, who mourn out of duty in the sense of their own sins, or of the sins of others, or who mourn out of choice rather to suffer afflictions and persecutions with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasure of sin for a season. Though such sufferings do excite in them natural passions, yet it is a blessed mourning, for those are the blessed tears which God will wipe at last from his people’s eyes, and such are these.
They shall be comforted, either in this life, with the consolations of the Spirit, or with their Master’s joy in the life that is to come, Isaiah 61:3; John 16:20; James 1:12. So as this promise, and declaration of blessedness, is not to be extended to all mourners, but only to such as God hath made so, or who in duty have made themselves so, obeying some command of God, for sympathizing with God’s glory, or with his afflicted people, Romans 12:15, or testifying their repentance for their sins; for there is a mourning which is a mere natural effect of passion, and a worldly sorrow which worketh unto death, as well as a godly sorrow working repentance to salvation, 2 Corinthians 7:10.
Men count the hectors of the world happy, whom none can provoke but they must expect as good as they bring, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I tell you these are not truly happy; they are tortured with their own passions; as their hand is against every one, so every man’s hand is against them; besides that there is a God, who will revenge the wrongs they do. But the meek, who can be angry, but restrain their wrath in obedience to the will of God, and will not be angry unless they can be angry and not sin; nor will easily be provoked by others, but rather use soft words to pacify wrath, and give place to the passions of others; these are the blessed men. For though others may by their sword and their bow conquer a great deal of the earth to their will and power, yet they will never quietly and comfortably inherit or possess it; they are possessors malae fidei, forcible possessors, and they will enjoy what they have, as rapacious birds enjoy theirs, loudly, every one hath his gun ready charged and cocked against them; but those who are of meek and quiet spirits, though they may not take so deep root in the earth as others more boisterous, yet they shall enjoy what God giveth them with more quiet and certainty; and God will provide for them, verily they shall be fed, Psalms 37:3,Psalms 37:11.
You see many men and women hungering and thirsting after sensual satisfactions, or after sensible enjoyments; these are unhappy, miserable men, they often hunger and thirst, and are not satisfied: but I will show you a more excellent way, a more excellent object of your hunger and thirst, that is, righteousness; both a righteousness wherein you may stand before God, which is in me, Jeremiah 23:6, and is revealed from faith to faith, Romans 1:17, and the righteousness of a holy life. Those are blessed men, who first seek the kingdom of heaven, and the righteousness thereof, God will fill these men with what they desire, Isaiah 55:1,Isaiah 55:2; Luke 1:53. There are some who understand this text of a hungering after the clearing of their innocency towards men, which is natural to just and innocent persons falsely accused and traduced, and they have a promise of being filled, Psalms 37:6; but I see no reason to conclude this the sense of this text.
The men of the world bless themselves if they can take care of themselves, let others do what they will, and as well as they can: but I tell you, that those alone are the blessed men, who are touched with a true sense and feeling of the wants and miseries of others, and that not out of a mere goodness and tenderness of nature, but out of a true obedience to the will of God, and a sense of his love to them, and faith in his promises; and, moved from these principles, do not only pity and compassionate them, and wish them well, but extend their helping hand to them, suitably to their miseries: for these men shall obtain mercy, and that not only from men, if they come into straits and distress, but from the hand of God, Psalms 37:26; Psalms 112:5,Psalms 112:6; he doth not say they shall merit mercy at God’s hand, but they shall be mercified, they shall obtain mercy.
The men of the world bless those who appear pure and holy to men, and put on a vizard and mask of purity, though they be but painted sepulchres, and their hearts be as cages of all unclean birds: but those alone are blessed, who, being washed from their filthiness by my blood, are of a sincere and upright heart; though they be not legally pure and free from all sin, yet are so pure as that God will accept them, the bent of their hearts being after holiness; who have not a heart and a heart, no doubleness of mind, who are persons in whom is no guile. For though no mortal eye can see and comprehend the essence of God, yet these men shall by an eye of faith see and enjoy God in this life, though in a glass more darkly, and in the life to come face to face, and as he is, 1 Corinthians 13:12; Hebrews 12:14; 1 John 3:2.
The world blesseth the boisterous, unquiet party of it, that can never be still, but are continually thinking of more worlds to conquer, and blowing up the coals of war, division, and sedition: but they are blessed indeed, who study to be quiet, seeking peace, and pursuing it; and are so far from sowing the seeds of discord, or blowing those coals, that their great study is to make peace between God and man, and between a man and his neighbour, doing this in obedience to God, and out of a principle of love to God and men; for those that do so shall approve themselves like unto God, to be his children, and so they shall be called.
To be called and to be is much the same: so what Moses said, Genesis 21:12, is interpreted by Paul; Romans 9:7,Romans 9:8; so what is said by Matthew, Matthew 21:13, is interpreted by Luke, Luke 19:46; what was said by St. John, John 1:12, is interpreted 1 John 3:1; for God is the God of peace, 1 Corinthians 14:33.
The men of the world judge those men very unhappy and miserable whom their rulers make the objects of their wrath and malice, and pursue violently to the loss of their estates, liberties, or lives, never considering the cause for which they are so pursued: but they are quite mistaken; for that man who is pursued by such violence, and hunted upon this account, because to please men he durst not sin against God, but labours to keep a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men, Acts 24:16, is a blessed man; and if he be hunted out of the kingdoms of the earth, yet he shall be hunted but to heaven, for to such men belongeth the kingdom of God in glory, James 1:12; 1 Peter 3:14; 1 Peter 4:13.
Reviling and speaking evil of persons falsely, because of their profession of Christ, and because they dare not sin against God, is a species of persecution, Genesis 21:9; Galatians 4:29, though the lowest degree of it. It hath been the constant lot of God’s servants. David said, Psalms 35:11, that false witnesses did rise up, and laid to his charge things that he knew not. Thus John and Christ were served, Matthew 11:18,Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:33,Luke 7:34; nor is it to be wondered that those whose consciences are so seared that they cannot feel the guilt of persecuting others for righteousness’ sake, should not feel the guilt of lying and false swearing. But, saith our Saviour, you are blessed when these things happen unto you, 1 Peter 4:13.
Be so far from being troubled, as to count it all joy, when you fall into these trials, James 1:2. Let it be music in your ears to hear that the drunkards make you their song. Rejoice in your hearts, express it in your lips and behaviour,
for great is your reward, not of debt, but of grace; for our light and momentary afflictions are not worthy to be compared with an eternal and exceeding weight of glory; where there is no proportion, there can be no merit: especially, when it is given to us on the behalf of Christ to suffer, Philippians 1:29. Peter upon this argument saith, The spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you, 1 Peter 4:14. Our Saviour adds,
for so persecuted they the prophets before you. The magistrates, and the rulers of the Jews, persecuted Elijah, Micaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and the rest of the prophets, whom you succeed, not in time only, but in the same office of revealing the mind of God to the people.
In our Christian course we are not to trouble ourselves with what men say of us, and do unto us, but only to attend to our duty of holiness, and an exemplary life, which is what our Saviour presseth plainly, Matthew 5:16, and leads his hearers to it by four comparisons, which he institutes between them and four other things. The first we have in this verse,
Ye are the salt of the earth: the doctrine which you profess is so, a thing as opposite as can be to the putrefaction of the world, both in respect to corrupt doctrine and corrupt manners (therefore, by the way, it will be no wonder if they resist it by reviling and persecuting you).
You are the salt of the earth: through the grace of God bestowed upon you, Mark 9:50; Colossians 4:6. If it were not for the number of sound and painful ministers, and holy and gracious persons, the earth would be but a stinking dunghill of drunkards, unclean persons, thieves, murderers, unrighteous persons, that would be a stench in the nostrils of a pure and holy God. Look as it is in the world,
if the salt hath lost its savour, its acrimony, by which it opposeth putrefaction in fish and flesh, not the fish or flesh only will be good for nothing, but the salt itself, so infatuated, (as it is in the Greek), will be
good for nothing, but to be cast upon a dunghill and trodden under foot. So it is with ministers of the gospel, so with the professors of it; if they have lost their soundness in the faith, and holiness of life, they are of no value, nay, they are worse than other men. Money, if it be clipped in pieces, and hath lost its usefulness as coin, yet is of use for a goldsmith; meat corrupted, if it will not serve for men, yet will feed dogs; salt is good for nothing. No more are pretended ministers or Christians; their excellency lies in their savour; if that be lost, wherewith shall they be salted? Of what use are they, unless to cause the name of God and religion to be blasphemed? Such another similitude the prophet useth, Ezekiel 15:2,Ezekiel 15:3.
You that are to be my apostles are so eminently, but all you that are my disciples are so also. Christ is the Light of the world John 1:4,John 1:9; but though the sun be the light of the world, yet it doth not follow that the moon and the stars also are not so: he is the original Light, the great Light who hath light from and in himself. The ministers of the gospel are the lights of the world also; the angels of churches are stars, Revelation 1:20, and holy persons are children of light, 1 Thessalonians 5:5.
A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. The church is often called the city of God. Christ compares his people here not to a city, but to a city upon a hill; so that all for which our Saviour mentions a city here, is the conspicuity of a city so built. It is as much as if our Saviour should have said, You had need be holy, for your conversation cannot be hid, any more than a city can that is built upon a hill, which is obvious to every eye. All men’s eyes will be upon you.
You ought also to consider the end why I have communicated of my light unto you; it is in part the same with that of men: when they light up a candle in a room, which is to show light to all those that are in the room, they do not use to light it up to hide it under a vessel, or a bushel; so I have not communicated my truths or my grace unto you merely for your own use, but for others use. It is said of John, (by our Saviour), he was a burning and shining light: so is every true minister of the gospel, yea, and every true Christian; not only a burning light, burning with love to God, and zeal for God, and love to and zeal for the souls of others; but also a shining light, communicating his light to others, both by instruction and a holy conversation. Others’ pretended candles were never of God’s lighting.
Our Saviour now plainly tells us what he intended by the comparisons before mentioned. Let the light of that doctrine which you receive from me, and the light of your holy conversation, (the latter by the following words seemeth to be here principally intended),
so shine before men, be so evident and apparent unto men,
that they may see your good works; all sorts of good works, whatsoever I have commanded or shall command you; and as I command you, and in obedience to such commands, otherwise they are no good works;
and glorify your Father which is in heaven. You are not in your good actions to aim at yourselves, to be seen of men, as Matthew 6:1, nor merely at doing good to others; good works are to be maintained for necessary uses, Titus 3:14, but having a primary, and principal respect to the glorifying of your Father; for, John 15:8, Herein is my Father glorified, if ye bear much fruit: not that we can add any thing to God’s essential glory, but we may predicate and manifest his glory; which how we can do by good works, if they proceed from mere power and liberty of our own wills, not from his special efficacious grace, is hard to understand. Our Father is said to be in heaven, because, though his essential presence filleth all places, yet he is pleased there, more than any where, to manifest his glory and majesty.
There are so many adversaries, Jews, papists, Socinians, Anabaptists, Antinomians, &c., that make their advantages of this text, for the establishing their several errors, that it would require a volume to vindicate it from their several exceptions; those who desire satisfaction may read Spanhemius Dub. Evang. 12.3. The plain sense of the text is this: It would have been a great cavil, with the Jews especially, (who had a great reverence for the law), if either our Saviour’s enemies amongst them could have persuaded people that Christ came to destroy the law and the prophets, or his own hearers had entertained from his discourse any such apprehensions. Our Saviour designing, in his following discourse, to give a more full and strict interpretation of the law than had been given by the Pharisees and other Jewish doctors, prefaces that discourse with a protestation against his coming
to destroy the law, and averring that he came
to fulfil it. It is manifest, by his following discourse, that he principally spake of the moral law, though he also fulfilled the ceremonial law, he being the Antitype in whom all the types of that had their complement, and real fulfilling and accomplishment. Saith he, I am not come to destroy and put an end to the moral law. I am come to fulfil it: not to fill it up, as papists and Socinians contend, adding any new precept to it; but by yielding myself a personal obedience to it, by giving a fuller and stricter interpretation of it than you have formerly had, and by taking the curse of it (so far as concerneth my disciples) upon myself, and giving a just satisfaction to Divine justice for it. The greatest objection urged against Christ destroying part of the law, and adding new precepts to the moral law, is that about the change of the sabbath; but this is none, if we consider that the moral law required no more than one day of seven to be kept as a day of holy rest, not this or that particular day; for the particular day, the Jews learned it from the ceremonial law, as Christians learn theirs from Christ’s and the apostles’ practice. Nor is it any objection against this, that the seventh day from the creation is mentioned in the law, to those who know how to distinguish between the precept and the argument; the seventh from the creation is not in the precept, but in the argument, For in six days, & c. Now there is nothing more ordinary than to have arguments of a particular temporary concernment used to enforce precepts of an eternal obligation, where the precepts were first given to that particular people, as to whom those arguments were of force, an instance of which is in the first commandment, as well as in this: as, on the other side, arguments of universal force are oft annexed to precepts, which had but a particular obligation upon a particular people for a time. Thus in the ceremonial law, we often find it is an argument to enforce many ceremonial precepts, For I am the Lord thy God.
Amen I say unto you, so it is in the Greek, a phrase, as some observe never used but by God and Christ himself; who is the Amen, the faithful and true witness, Revelation 3:14, though the servants of God have sometimes used it, as an adverb of wishing. It is by most concluded a form of an oath, God by it swearing by his truth and faithfulness.
Till heaven and earth pass, & c.; that is, the law is the certain and unchangeable will of God concerning reasonable creatures, and it shall never be altered in the least tittle, nor ever be abolished; you may therefore be secure that I come into the world upon no such errand.
Whosoever shall in his practice violate but one of the commandments of God, which the Pharisees judge of the least, and which possible are so compared with others, and shall teach men that they may do as he doth, making such false interpretations of the law as may warrant such a practice, he shall be accounted of the least value and esteem in the church of God, and shall never come into the kingdom of glory: but he who shall strictly and uniformly obey all the commandments, and teach others to do the like by his doctrine and example, that man shall have a great renown and reputation in the church, which is the kingdom of heaven upon earth, and shall have a great reward in the kingdom of glory hereafter.
I am so far from giving a liberty to the violation of my Father’s law, (as the scribes and Pharisees may possibly suggest), that I assure you that unless your obedience to it exceed that obedience which the scribes and Pharisees teach you, and themselves practise, you shall never come into heaven. What the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was we cannot better learn than from St. Paul, who was himself a Pharisee, and bred up at the feet of Gamaliel, a great doctor amongst them, Acts 23:6; Acts 26:5; Philippians 3:5. That it was a righteousness of works appeareth from Philippians 3:1-21, and the whole Epistles to the Romans (Romans 1:1-16:27) and Galatians (Galatians 1:1-6:18); and their not owning Christ as the Messiah, nor believing on him, John 7:48, made it impossible that it should be any other. That they looked upon their mere obedience to the ceremonial law as their righteousness cannot be proved, yea, the contrary is enough evident by their obedience to the moral law, according to the interpretation they put upon it. But their interpretation of the moral law was so short and jejune, that it is manifest that their righteousness was not only a righteousness not of faith but of works, but works that were very imperfect and short of what the true sense of the law required, as our Saviour afterward proveth. That is to say, it was no righteousness, for he that keepeth the whole law, if he be guilty in one point, is guilty of all, James 2:10.
The Pharisees, in their lectures upon the law, usually thus prefaced, It was said by them of old time; this, saith Christ,
ye have heard. Thou shalt not kill: this was spoken by God in Mount Sinai, it was the sixth of the ten words then spoke.
And whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: this now was the Pharisees’ addition, for we read of no such addition to the law as delivered, Exodus 20:13. Thus they mixed their traditions with the word of God, which possibly might be the reason of their saying rather, It was said by them of old time, than, "It was said by Moses," or, "It was said in the law of God"; for under that phrase, it was said by the ancients they both comprehended the law given by Moses to the ancient people of God, and also their own traditions and false glosses, which though not so ancient as the law, yet had obtained for some considerable time in the corrupt state of the Jews.
Shall be in danger of, or obnoxious unto, the judgment; not to the wrath and vengeance of God, of that they said nothing, but to those courts of judgment which sat amongst them, to administer justice in criminal causes. As if this law of God had been only intended to uphold peace, and to preserve human society and civil order.
Thou shalt not kill; that is, (as they interpreted), Thou shalt not, without a warrant from God, or from the law, actually take away the life of another. It appears by what followeth, that they extended not this law to unjustifiable passions in the heart, such as rash anger, malice, revengeful thoughts; nor to any opprobrious or revengeful words.
But I say unto you; I shall give you another sense of this law. The killing here forbidden is as well rash and causeless anger, and opprobrious, threatening speeches, as bloody actions.
Whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment, &c. Our Saviour (as most interpreters judge) speaks this with allusion to the three courts amongst the Jews. The one was the court of three men, which only judged of smaller and lighter causes, not in capital causes. Another was their court of twenty-three men, which much answered our courts at Westminster. The third was their sanhedrim, consisting of seventy men, which answered our parliament. Some think that by the judgment is meant the first or second of the courts; by the council, the superior courts amongst the Jews. But the judgment of our reverend Dr. Lightfoot seemeth much more probable, that by the judgment is meant the judgment of God;
by the council and
hell fire, not only the judgment and vengeance of God, but the judgments and punishments that are inflicted in the courts of men, that are magistrates, and bear not the sword in vain: so as the sense is this: I say unto you, that if a man doth but in his heart nourish wrath and anger against another without a just cause, and lets it grow up into malice, and thoughts and desires of private revenge, though he be not by it obnoxious to courts of justice, who can only determine upon overt acts, yet he is accountable to God, and liable to his judgment: but if men suffer their passions to break out into reviling terms and language, such as
Raca, ( signifying a vain person), or, Thou fool, ( speaking this from anger or malice), they are not only liable to the eternal vengeance of God, compared to the fire of Gehenna, but ought to be subjected to the punishment of the civil magistrate. Every civil government being by the law of God, in order to the prevention of quarrels or bloodshed, (which often followeth revilings of each other), obliged to punish such offences, as being the beginnings of murder, provocations to it, and indications of murderous hearts, hearts full of that which in the eye of God is murder.
The Jews were to offer gifts and sacrifices, Hebrews 5:1. Their gifts were their free will offerings, they were the most frequent oblations amongst the Jews, as may appear from Leviticus, and what the priests pressed with the greatest importunity, as may appear from Mark 7:11; therefore our Saviour instanceth in these, rather than in other parts of their worship. Bring unto God the best and most acceptable sacrifices (in your or, the teacher’s judgment) that you can, if there be found malice or rash anger in your hearts, God will not accept them. Therefore, how near soever you be come to a religious action, if you there remember that your brother hath a just reason to be offended with you, for any malice or rash anger showed or expressed by you, do not think this will discharge you of your obligation to pay your homage to God; but forbear a while,
leave your gift before the altar, and do what in you lies to be reconciled to your brother, to have a placable spirit to him, to purge your heart of wrath and malice, and any desire of revenge,
and then come and offer your gift, pay that homage which you owe, and it was in your heart to pay to God. It is a text usually applied with reference to communion with God in the Lord’s supper, but equally extensive to any other part of worship, hearing the word, James 1:21, and prayer, 1 Timothy 2:8. God accepteth no service, no homage, from an implacable, malicious heart.
Forasmuch as the overt acts and expressions of unjust wrath and malice are iniquities punishable by the judge, let it be the care of those that will be my disciples, if by their passions they have provoked any, and made them their adversaries, quickly to agree with them; for you know the ordinary course of enraged adversaries amongst men, is to bring their actions, and to bring men before the civil judge; and when the judge upon inquiry hath found them guilty, he useth to deliver them to the gaoler to be carried to prison, until they have fully paid their fines for such offences. And forasmuch as not only the overt acts, but the passions which cause such acts, are culpable before God, and make men obnoxious to his righteous judgment, and God by them is made an adversary to the soul, as having violated his great command, Thou shalt do no murder; let all my disciples, who have been or may be overtaken with such faults, by repentance and faith in me make their peace with God in this life, lest dying in impenitency they be put under the eternal displeasure and wrath of God, from whence they shall never be delivered, Matthew 6:15; Matthew 18:35.
The scope of our Saviour in these verses is the very same as in the verses immediately preceding, viz. to correct the jejune interpretation which the Pharisees had put upon the Divine law, and to show that he, instead of coming to destroy the law, came to fulfil it, as other ways, so by giving a more strict and true interpretation of it; and whereas they interpreted it only as to overt acts, which disturb human society and break civil order, he showeth that it reacheth to the inward thoughts, and unlawful desires of the heart, and any means that have a tendency to such prohibited acts. It was said by God to those fathers of the Jews,
Thou shalt not commit adultery, Exodus 20:14. This law (saith our Saviour) your doctors expound, You shall not carnally lie with a woman that is not your wife; but there is a great deal more in it than so, for he that but secretly in his heart desireth such a thing, or taketh pleasure in such thoughts, and casts his eyes upon a woman in order to such a thing, is in the sight of God an adulterer. Hence we read of eyes full of adultery, to avoid which Job made a covenant with his eyes, Job 31:1, and would not suffer his heart to walk after his eyes, Job 31:7. We must so interpret the commandments of God, as not to extend them only to forbid or command those acts which are plainly mentioned in them, but the inward pleasing of our hearts with such things as are forbidden, the desires of our hearts after them, or whatsoever is a probable means to give us that sinful pleasure of our thoughts, or further inflame such unlawful desires in our souls.
The sum of these two verses is, that the salvation of our immortal souls is to be preferred before all things, be they never so dear and precious to us; and that if men’s ordinary discretion teacheth them for the preservation of their bodies to cut off a particular member, which would necessarily endanger the whole body, it much more teacheth them to part with any thing which will prejudice the salvation of their souls. Not that any person is by this text obliged to cut off any bodily member, (as some have done), because there can be no such necessity; but only to mortify their members, Colossians 3:5, the deeds of the body, Romans 8:13, their inward lusts, which being mortified there will be no need of mutilating ourselves; for the members of the body are but commanded and animated to their motions from the inward lusts of the heart: but if there could happen such a case, as that a man must voluntarily part with the most useful member of his body, or sin against God to the damnation of his soul, he ought rather to choose the former than the latter. How much more then ought Christians to mortify their inward lusts and unlawful desires, which can be of no profit nor advantage to them; but will certainly make them to offend God, and so run them upon the danger of hell fire!
The law to which our Saviour refers here, or rather the indulgence and toleration, (for none was obliged to put away their wives in case of uncleanness), is that Deuteronomy 24:1, where we have it in these words: When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her; then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it her in her hand, and send her out of his house. The Pharisees had extended this toleration which God gave husbands amongst the Jews to other cases, besides that of uncleanness or adultery; so as they put away their wives upon every slight occasion, interpreting those words, that she find no favour in his eyes, separately from the following words, because he hath found some uncleanness in her, and gave a liberty for men upon any dislike of their wives to put them away, provided that they first gave them a bill of divorcement; and that in these cases it was lawful for the parties, thus separated from each other, to marry to whom either of them pleased; and this is expressed in terms in their form of those writings of divorcement, in Josephus and other writers. This indeed is a case properly relating to the judicial law; but all the judicial laws are either appendices to the moral or to the ceremonial law. This particular indulgence was an appendix to the moral law, by the seventh commandment, to which our Saviour is now speaking, and giving the true sense of it. He here opposeth the Pharisees in two points.
1. Asserting that all divorces are unlawful except in case of adultery.
2. Asserting that whosoever married her that was put away committed adultery.
It hath been a great question, not so much amongst divines as amongst lawyers, whether it be not lawful in any case to put away a wife, unless for adultery? The canonists have found out many cases in which they affirm it lawful. And the Council of Trent (from whom we may learn the sense of the popish divines) anathematize those who deny the church a power of determining other causes of divorce. But their blasphemous curse falleth upon him, who is above them, God over all blessed for ever, who in this text hath determined that point. Nor indeed did Moses give a toleration in any other cases. There may indeed be a parting between man and wife upon other accounts, either wholly or in part: in case one of them will part from the other, which the apostle determines, 1 Corinthians 7:11,1 Corinthians 7:15; in which case the person departing is only guilty if he or she marry again. In case of an error, through ignorance or inadvertency, upon the marriage, that it appeareth that the persons married were such as by the law of nature and of God ought not to have married, &c. But if we take divorce for the voluntary act of the husband putting away of his wife, it is unlawful in any case but that of adultery, which dissolves the marriage knot and covenant. A second question is also here determined by our Saviour, viz. that it is unlawful for her, that is justly put away, to marry to any other, or for any other to marry her wittingly.
This was said Exodus 20:7, and more plainly Leviticus 19:12; the substance was there said, though the words be not verbatim recited.
Doth our Saviour here oppose himself to the law of God, which saith, Deuteronomy 6:13; Deuteronomy 10:20, Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and swear by his name? Doth he condemn Abraham, who sware his servant by the Lord God of heaven and earth? Genesis 24:3. Doth he destroy such a useful means for the end of strife? Hebrews 6:16. None of all these. We must consider that our Saviour is here opposing himself to the corruptions of that age brought in by the Pharisees, who had taught people that swearing was nothing, if they did not forswear themselves; or at least swearing by the heaven, by the earth, by Jerusalem, by their head, or in suchlike forms, was no sin, if they forbore the name of God; that they were only obliged to swear by the name of God in public courts of justice, but they were not tied up to it at other times. To these and such like corruptions our Saviour opposeth these words, I say unto you, Swear not at all; not at all voluntarily, but where it is necessary for the end of strife; not at all in your common discourse, James 5:12; and so it is expounded in the next verse. The law doth not only forbid false swearing, but common and ordinary swearing, needless swearing, which speaks a great want of reverence in the heart of the name of God. And let not your teachers cheat you, in telling you God, or the name of God, is not concerned, in your swearing by heaven: is not heaven the throne of God? Or by earth: is not that the footstool of God? Or by Jerusalem: is not that the city of God? Or by your head: is it not God that hath given you your life and bodily members? Is it in your power to make a hair of your head white or black? So as the great thing here forbidden, is common and ordinary swearing, where God calleth us not unto it for the determination of strife. Do not only think that false swearing, but be assured that ordinary, common, needless swearing, is forbidden by God.
St. James saith much the same, James 5:12. Let your ordinary discourse in the world be mere affirmations or denials of things in terms or phrases of the same import with yea and nay, though you do not always use those terms. Let forms of swearing be preserved for special times, when the providence of God calls to you for them to determine strife, and make some weighty matters which you assert credible unto others who will not take your bare assertions. Have such a reverence for the name of God, as not to use it for every trifle; and let not my ordinance for the end of strife be made of no use by your common use of the name of God; for in ordinary discourse and common talk, whatsoever is more than bare affirmations and denials, cometh of an evil heart, or from the devil, or from the corruption of other men’s hearts. Some would make the communication mentioned here to be understood as if it were conversation; Let your ways of dealing with men be fitting, without fraud and guile; and so think our Saviour here strikes at the root and cause of so much idle and vain swearing, viz. the common falsehood, frauds, and cozenages of men in their dealings; but it seemeth hard so to interpret λογος in this place, our Saviour especially being speaking concerning words and forms of speech.
This was the commandment of God to the magistrate, in case a woman with child were struck, and any mischief came of it, Exodus 21:24; in case of damage done to a neighbour, Leviticus 24:20; and in the case of false witness, Deuteronomy 19:21. But in the mean time God had said to private persons, Leviticus 19:18, Thou shalt not avenge; and it is said, Proverbs 24:29, Say not, I will do to him as he hath done to me. The Pharisees had interpreted this law of God into a liberty for every private person, who had been wronged by another, to exact a satisfaction upon him, provided that he did not exceed this proportion of taking an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, doing no more wrong to another than that other had done to him.
The apostle Paul giveth the best exposition upon this text, Romans 7:17-19,Romans 7:21, Recompense to no man evil for evil. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. —Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. The general scope of our Saviour is that which they must observe, who would understand the sense of these words; they must not think that the particular things mentioned are their duty, but,
1. That it is the will of their Lord that they should not take any private revenge, but leave the avenging of their injuries unto God, and to the public magistrate, who is God’s viceregent, before whom, notwithstanding any thing here said, they may seek a just satisfaction.
2. That in lighter cases we should rather remit the wrong done to us for peace’ sake than stand upon a rigour of justice; rather overcome evil with good, than suffer ourselves to be overcome by the evil of others; rather suffer a blow on the other cheek, than with our own hands revenge the blow which is given thus on our cheek; rather lose our cloak also, than contend for our coat, taken away in judgment from us, though we be in that judgment oppressed. No injury can deserve a private revenge. Light injuries are not of that nature that we should contend for a public revenge of them.
In these words our Saviour presseth another piece of charity, viz. liberality to those who are poor; who are of two sorts: some such as are never able to repay us; to those he commandeth Christians to give.
To him that asketh, who hath need to ask, and in that order too which God hath directed, who hath commanded us to provide for our own household, and to do good to all, but especially to the household of faith. The other sort are such as may have only a temporary want: to these he commandeth us to lend, and not to turn away from them, when they desire to borrow of us, and we can spare it. This was an ancient precept of God, Deuteronomy 15:7-9, confirmed by Christ, as a piece of his will under the gospel.
Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, was the old law of God, Leviticus 19:18; the other part, and hate thine enemy, was the Pharisees’ addition, or rather their collection, because the law only commanded them to love their neighbour. υν signifies sometimes a friend, sometimes more largely any other person; they took it in the strict sense, yet they could not be so blind as not to extend it to all those of their own nation, for Matthew 5:17 there are two words used, one signifying thy brother, the other thy countryman, whom they are commanded in that verse not to hate in their hearts. But it appeareth by Luke 10:29, that they did not very well know their neighbour. The lawyer asked, Who is my neighbour? Christ instructs him by the parable of him that was fallen among thieves, that they ought not to look upon those of their own country only as neighbours, for a Samaritan might deserve the name better than a priest or Levite. But they generally looked upon all the uncircumcised as not their neighbours, but their enemies, whom the precept did not oblige them to love.
1. Of not seeking unlawful private revenge. Bless them that curse you: do not return reviling for reviling, while they curse do you bless.
2. Doing them common offices of kindness. If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him to drink, Romans 12:20. This is a doing good to them that hate us, relieving them in their pressing necessities.
3. Doing them all the good we can for their souls. Pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. So did our Saviour, Luke 23:34 and Stephen, Acts 7:60; so did David, Psalms 35:13-15. In the mean time we may hate those who are God’s enemies, as such, Psalms 139:21,Psalms 139:22; and for such we may seek a due revenge of God’s honour upon them.
And for our enemies, this precept prohibits not the seeking of a just satisfaction for wrongs done unto us in a way of public justice, yet not without a mixture of charity.
As your heavenly Father hath a common love, which he extendeth to all mankind, in supplying their necessities, with the light and warmth of the sun, and with the rain; as well as a special love and favour, which he exerciseth only toward those that are good, and members of Christ; so ought you to have: though you are not obliged to take your enemies into your bosom, yet you ought to love them in their order. And as your heavenly Father, though he will one day have a satisfaction from sinners, for the wrong done to his majesty, unless they repent; yet, to heap coals of fire on their heads, gives them good things of common providence, that he might not leave them without witness, yea, and affords them the outward means of grace for their souls: so, although you are bound to seek some satisfaction for God’s honour and glory from flagitious sinners, and though you may in an orderly course seek a moderate satisfaction for the wrong done to yourselves, yet you ought to love them with a love consistent with these things; that so you may imitate your heavenly Father, and approve yourselves to be his children.
Reason obliges you, who expect a reward from God for what you do, to do something more than those who know of no such reward, or at least live in no expectation of any such thing; and you who condemn others as great sinners, and men not worthy of your converse, ought to do something by which you may outdo those whom you so condemn, both in offices of piety towards God and charity towards men. But if you only show kindness to your relations and to your countrymen, you do no more than those whom you look upon as heathens and the worst of men, who act only from the light and law of nature, and know of no reward God hath to give, nor live in any such expectation of it. By loving here is meant doing good offices, either for the souls or bodies of others. By saluting is meant common offices of kindness, such as inquiring of our neighbours’ health, wishing them well, &c. The publicans were civil officers appointed by the Romans to gather up public taxes and revenues. The chief commissioners were knights and gentlemen of Rome, who either let out these revenues to others, or employed others under them in the collecting of them. These thus employed were some Jews, (such were Matthew and Zacchaeus), some Romans. These (as is ordinary) made their own markets, and exacted of the people, upon which accounts they were exceeding odious: and therefore ordinarily in Scripture we shall find publicans and sinners put together, Matthew 9:11; Matthew 11:19; and they are joined with harlots, Matthew 21:32; and the Pharisee in his justification gloried he was not as that publican, Luke 18:11. Those who condemn others ought to take care that they be better than others.
Perfect here is not taken in that sense as it is taken in other texts of Scripture, where it signifieth sincerity and uprightness, as Job 2:3, or where it signifieth a comparative perfection, as Paul saith he spake to those that were perfect; but for an absolute perfection, such as is in our
Father which is in heaven, and so much is signified by the proposing of our heavenly Father as our example. Nor will it therefore follow, either that this is a mere counsel, not a precept, or that an absolute perfection in holiness is a thing in this life attainable. But that it is our duty to labour for it, forgetting what is behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, pressing towards the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, as the apostle speaks, Philippians 3:13,Philippians 3:14. Pro perfecto est qui perfecto proximus. God accounts him perfect who is nearest to perfection.
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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Matthew 5". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24