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In this Chapter the Lord Jesus is engaged in exhorting his disciples, and the multitude, against the doctrine of the Scribes and Pharisees. The Chapter closeth with Christ's pathetic lamentation over Jerusalem, as a City given up to destruction.
"Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, (2) Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: (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. (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. (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, (6) And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, (7) And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. (8) But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. (9) And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. (10) Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. (11) But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. (12) And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted."
This chapter, if there were no other in the whole book of God, to alarm the mind on the awful consequence of Pharisaical righteousness, is enough, in itself, to awaken the most serious apprehensions on that account. Jesus, who knew what was in man, and to whose divine knowledge every heart was open, beheld in those men such false sanctity, that no language appeared sufficiently strong, to mark his severe displeasure at their conduct. everything done by them was done, the Lord said, with a view to the approbation of men. And the strong images of whited sepulchres, blind guides, and the like, which the Lord represented them by, may serve to shew in what a light he considered them. In these first verses of the chapter, the Lord Jesus cautions his hearers against the imitation of their conduct. In the following he pronounceth the most awful woes upon them.
"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. (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. (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. (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! (17) Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? (18) And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty. (19) Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift? (20) Whoso therefore shall swear by the altar, sweareth by it, and by all things thereon. (21) And whoso shall swear by the temple, sweareth by it, and by him that dwelleth therein. (22) And he that shall swear by heaven, sweareth by the throne of God, and by him that sitteth thereon. (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. (24) Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. (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. (26) Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. (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. (28) Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. (29) Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, (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. (31) Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. (32) Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. (33) Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?"
Here are no less than eight solemn woes denounced upon the very men who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others. And what made the woes more terrible, they were pronounced by One that was meekness itself. And what is, if possible, yet more awful, the same Almighty Judge, who cannot err, in the close of this solemn denunciation, calls them by the several names which mark their character, and explains the whole: Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? That is, ye cannot escape it. The phrase is a stronger way of expressing a thing, by way of question, than if in so many words the thing was said. We have a similar method of speech by the Apostle. How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation. Hebrews 2:8 . That is, we cannot escape. See also Mark 8:36 .
I very earnestly beg the Reader's close attention to the Subject contained in this chapter, concerning the Pharisees of our Lord's day, and our Lord's decision of their character. I pray God the Holy Ghost to be the guide and teacher, both of him that writes, and him that reads, that we may have a clear apprehension, on a doctrine so truly important. It is one of the plainest doctrines in the Bible, that the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, are in their nature so directly opposed to each other, that there can be no possibility of junction. Each is definable by their very nature, and must remain so, to all eternity. Now then, by serpents and a generation of vipers, the brood of the old serpent the devil is marked. And hence from the beginning, the Lord God declared the everlasting hatred this serpentine race should bear to the family of Christ. I will put enmity between thee and the woman: and between thy seed and her seed. Genesis 3:15 . Hence therefore, when the Lord Jesus saith: Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers; how can ye escape the damnation of hell? The answer ariseth out of the question; serpents and vipers must be together: and it is fit they should. They cannot be apart. And for the self-same reason that where Christ is there must his members be; so the old serpent, and all the hatch of his incubation can never be separated from each other. See Matthew 12:34 ; Revelation 12:9 ; John 8:44 .
I beg to detain the Reader one moment longer, on this momentous but solemn subject. Our Lord hath considered it so very important in itself, that he hath consumed the greater part of a long chapter upon it. And therefore it may well claim a little more of our serious consideration.
The Pharisees of our Lord's days, were so generally, yea, I might almost say so universally considered under this character, that we do not find one of them savingly converted to the Lord; Nicodemus only excepted. Paul the Apostle, was also a Pharisee, as he tells us himself, and drank into the spirit of self-righteousness as deep as most men. But then it should be remembered; that he was not in the days of our Lord's ministry. And by his conversion (as well as Nicodemus) he was proved not to be of that family, whom our Lord declared to be a generation of vipers. But it opens a solemn subject of consideration, that among all the Pharisees we read of, of that day; we read of none called by sovereign grace, saving that ruler of the Jews Nicodemus. John 3:1 , etc. John 19:39; John 19:39 .
And wherefore this exclusion, but from the cause assigned? How should it be otherwise with those who in the Adam-fall received the serpent's seed, and for whom no provision was made for recovery in the seed of the woman, not having the union seed in Christ. (See Isaiah 59:21; Isaiah 59:21 ; Psalms 22:30-31 .) How should it be otherwise? Whereas the seed of Christ, though involved by nature in the Adam-transgression with the whole race; yet being one with Christ in grace, had security for their preservation from the everlasting ruin of the fall by virtue thereof: for the root being holy, so also must be the branches. For that portion of human nature united: to the Godhead, contained in it, the seed of holiness to all his children. Hence the promise runs to this amount in the charter of grace. To Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, and to seeds as of many, but as of one; and to thy seed, which is Christ. Galatians 3:16 . And hence also the seed of Christ are secured in all the covenant promises. And as it is said of Levi, on whom the promise was equally entailed with Abraham, that he was in the loins of his father Abraham, when Melchisedec met him, and blessed him: so was the whole Church in Christ, before the fall took place, in the Adam-generation: whereby every individual of the Church was preserved in Christ Jesus, and in time called. Jude 1:1 .
One word more, and I will relieve the Reader's attention. How did this generation of vipers manifest their serpentine hatred to Christ, and bring upon themselves those awful denunciations? Not for their immoralities, for they prided themselves in being highly moral. Not for their neglect of their public or private worship. For they did both. Neither were they chargeable, as far as outward actions went, with the common vices of drunkenness, adultery, and the like. What was it then, which brought down upon them the Lord's severest judgments? Certainly, nothing more or less, than by this Pharisaical righteousness, teaching the people to slight the person and work of Jesus, as what were unnecessary for acceptance with God. They compassed sea and land the Lord told them, to make one proselyte, and when this was done, they made him two-fold more the child of hell, than themselves. That is, they labored to undermine the necessity of salvation by Christ, in setting up, and teaching others to do the same, a righteousness of their own: and thus by denying the fall of man, and the necessity of a recovery by grace, they set up the kingdom of Satan, and like children of hell, fought against the kingdom of grace.
Reader! pause over the awful subject! If such be the views which arise out of Pharisaical righteousness; we can no longer wonder at any of our Lord's expressions in this Chapter. And under the conviction, that nothing can be more in opposition to the very first principles of the Gospel; nothing more fatal to the humblings of grace; nothing which equally tends to make the cross of Christ of little worth, and the righteousness of Christ of no effect; I would say for myself; and every one, whose present and everlasting welfare I feel concerned, --From all self-righteousness, spiritual pride, hardness of heart, and contempt of thy word and commandments, Good Lord! deliver us!
"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: (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. (36) Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation."
These verses very properly follow here, in confirmation of the former. For as Cain, the first murderer, began to shew this bitterness of spirit against Abel; so every persecution and bloodshed, the cause of Christ had suffered, from his days to the end of the holy war, will be requited of the serpent generation. Hence John expressly saith, in so many words, the reason wherefore Cain killed his brother Abel, was, because he belonged, to that serpent family. Not as Cain, (saith he) who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. 1 John 3:12 . To the same purport Jesus said, to some which were in his day: Ye are of your Father the Devil, and the lusts of your Father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning. John 8:44 .
"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! (38) Behold, your house is left unto you desolate."
Having much exceeded the limits to be observed in a work of this kind, in this Chapter, I reserve the comment on those verses to Luke 13:34 . Where we meet with the same pathetic lamentation of Christ.
Pause Reader! pause my soul, over the contents of this Chapter. Surely nothing can be more solemn, nothing more affecting. Behold the Son of God, who came to seek and save that which was lost; pronouncing sure and certain destruction upon a class of men, whom every age have stood up with pretensions for greater holiness than others, and like one of them in the Parable, all of them more or less ready to exclaim: God ! I thank thee that I am not as other men are! Hear the Lord calling them serpents; a generation of vipers, which cannot escape the damnation of hell. And what were they considered in their department among men? How were they distinguished then? How are they known now?
The Lord calls them Pharisees. Men unhumbled in their minds. Who never felt the plague of their own heart. Uncircumcised in heart and ears. They never tasted the wormwood and the gall of a fallen state. They never were pricked to the heart under the deep conviction of a fallen state. And not feeling the want of Christ; they utterly despised him.
Lord Jesus! keep my soul humble at the foot of thy cross. Every day, and all the day, may I learn the infinitely precious consolations of salvation as alone in thee, and more and more from a deep sense of the want of thee, be led to see and enjoy my complete interest in thee. And oh for grace like Paul, to count all things but loss, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: and to count all things· but dung, that I may win Christ and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ; the righteousness which is of God but faith. Oh! the blessedness that Christ is made of God to all his redeemed; wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, that he shall glorieth may glory in the Lord!
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Matthew 23". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter