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A.M. 4035. A.D. 31.
In this and the following chapters we have our Lord’s much-famed sermon on the mount, consisting of three parts. In the first of these, contained in this chapter, we have,
(1,) A description of, and a sweet invitation to true holiness and happiness, Matthew 5:3-12 .
(2,) The character and duty of Christ’s disciples, who, being possessed themselves of his holy and happy religion, are exhorted to impart it to others, and obey his irrevocable law, Matthew 5:13-20 .
(3,) An exposition of the principal precepts of the moral law, and a vindication of them from the corrupt glosses of the scribes and Pharisees, particularly with respect to murder, Matthew 5:21-26: uncleanness, Matthew 5:27-32: swearing, Matthew 5:33-37: retaliation, Matthew 5:38-42: and love to mankind, Matthew 5:43-48 .
Matthew 5:1-2. And seeing the multitudes A vast concourse of people assembled from all parts to attend him, some with their sick to obtain cures, for he never rejected any who applied to him; some out of curiosity to see his miracles, and hear his extraordinary doctrine; some with a design to find fault and censure; and some, doubtless, to hear and be edified by his discourses, which seldom failed to make a deep impression on those who had any share of good sense or true piety: the Son of God, beholding such a vast multitude of men, bewildered in the darkness of ignorance, and lost in sin and wretchedness, had compassion on them, and feeling in himself a strong desire to give them more particular instruction than he had yet done in the infinitely important matters of religion; that he might deliver what he had to say to them on this most momentous subject, with more convenience to himself and advantage to them, he went up into a mountain Which afforded room for all, and where, addressing them from an eminence, he could be seen and heard by great numbers. And when he was set After the manner of the Jewish doctors, who, to show their authority, were wont to sit when they taught; his disciples came unto him To be instructed by him as a teacher come from God. By his disciples here, not only those strictly so called, viz., the twelve, who were afterward chosen to be his apostles, are intended, but as many of the multitude as were willing to learn of him. And he opened his mouth A phrase which, in the Scriptures, generally denotes the solemnity of the speaker, and the importance of what he delivers, and here signifies that he uttered the following weighty truths with great seriousness and earnestness. And taught them As the great prophet and lawgiver of his church, the one way to present and future happiness, at the same time that he corrected those false notions of the Messiah’s kingdom which so generally prevailed, and which he foresaw would prove of destructive tendency to those who continued to be governed by them. Observe, reader! Christ thought it as lawful to preach on a mountain as in a synagogue; nor did his disciples doubt the lawfulness of hearing him wherever he thought fit to speak. Our Lord, it must be observed, pursues the most exact method in this divine discourse; describing, 1st, viz., in this chapter, the nature, excellency, and necessity of inward holiness; 2d, chap. 6., that purity of intention which must direct and animate our outward actions to render them holy; 3d, cautioning us against the grand hinderances of religion, and pointing out the chief means of attaining it: Matthew 7:1-20; Matthew , , 4 th, making an application of the whole, Matthew 7:21-28.
Matthew 5:3. Blessed are the poor in spirit The word μακαριοι , here rendered blessed, properly means happy, and it may be better to translate it so, because our Lord seems to intimate by it, not only that the dispositions here recommended are the way to future blessedness, but that they immediately confer the truest and most noble felicity. As happiness was the great end to which the wisest philosophers undertook to conduct their hearers, and as it is our common aim, and an object to the pursuit of which we are continually urged by an innate instinct, our Lord, whose great business in coming into the world was, to make mankind happy by making them holy, wisely and graciously begins his divine institution, which is the complete art of happiness, by pointing out the necessary connexion it has with holiness, and inciting to the latter by motives drawn from the former. In doing this we cannot but observe his benevolent condescension. He seems, as it were, to lay aside his supreme authority as our legislator, that he may the better act the part of our friend and Saviour. Instead of using the lofty style in positive commands, he, in a more gentle and engaging way, insinuates his will and our duty by pronouncing those happy who comply with it. And, in order to render his hearers more attentive, he proposes his doctrine in certain paradoxical dogmas, which, at first sight, may seem false to such as judge by appearance, but which, when attentively considered, are found to be most true. Indeed, as an old writer remarks, “All the beatitudes are affixed to unlikely conditions, to show that the judgment of the word and of the world are contrary.” By this expression, the poor in spirit, Grotius and Baxter understand those who bear a state of poverty and want with a disposition of quiet and cheerful submission to the divine will; and Mr. Mede interprets it of those who are ready to part with their possessions for charitable uses. But it seems much more probable that the truly humble are intended, or those who are sensible of their spiritual poverty, of their ignorance and sinfulness, their guilt, depravity, and weakness, their frailty and mortality; and who, therefore, whatever their outward situation in life may be, however affluent and exalted, think meanly of themselves, and neither desire the praise of men, nor covet high things in the world, but are content with the lot God assigns them, however low and poor. These are happy, because their humility renders them teachable, submissive, resigned, patient, contented, and cheerful in all estates; and it enables them to receive prosperity or adversity, health or sickness, ease or pain, life or death, with an equal mind. Whatever is allotted them short of those everlasting burnings which they see they have merited, they consider as a grace or favour. They are happy, because theirs is the kingdom of heaven The present, inward kingdom, righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, as well as the eternal kingdom, if they endure to the end. The knowledge which they have of themselves, and their humiliation of soul before God, prepare them for the reception of Christ, to dwell and reign in their hearts, and all the other blessings of the gospel; the blessings both of grace and glory. For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy, I dwell in the high and holy place: with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. Isaiah 57:15; Isaiah 66:2. And those in whom God dwells here shall dwell with him hereafter.
Matthew 5:4. Blessed [or happy ] are they that mourn Namely, for their own sins and those of other men, and are steadily and habitually serious, watchful, and circumspect; for they shall be comforted Even in this world, with the consolation that arises from a sense of the forgiveness of sins, peace with God, clear discoveries of his favour, and well-grounded, lively hopes of the heavenly inheritance, and with the full enjoyment of that inheritance itself in the world to come.
Matthew 5:5. Blessed [or happy ] are the meek Persons of a mild, gentle, long-suffering, and forgiving disposition, who are slow to anger, and averse from wrath; not easily provoked, and if at any time at all provoked, soon pacified; who never resent an injury, nor return evil for evil; but make it their care to overcome evil with good; who by the sweetness, affability, courteousness, and kindness of their disposition, endeavour to reconcile such as may be offended, and to win them over to peace and love. For they shall inherit the earth Whatever happiness can be enjoyed here below shall be their portion. They may not indeed be advanced to honour or affluence; nor can they expect to be without troubles in this fallen world, subjected as it is to vanity and misery for the sin of man; but the calamities of life, and the various afflictions and trials which they meet with, being received with a quiet spirit, a resigned, patient, and contented mind, are hardly felt, while the blessings of Providence, through the gratitude they feel for them, are tasted and enjoyed in all their sweetness and comfort.
Matthew 5:6. Blessed are they which hunger and thirst after righteousness That, instead of desiring the possessions of others, and endeavouring to obtain them by violence or deceit; and instead of coveting this world’s goods, sincerely, earnestly, and perseveringly desire universal holiness of heart and life, or deliverance from all sinful dispositions and practices, and a complete restoration of their souls to the image of God in which they were created: a just and beautiful description this of that fervent, constant, increasing, restless, and active desire; of that holy ardour and vehemence of soul in pursuit of the most eminent degrees of universal goodness which will end in complete satisfaction: For they shall be filled Shall obtain the righteousness which they hunger and thirst for, and be abundantly satisfied therewith.
Matthew 5:7. Blessed [or happy ] are the merciful The tender-hearted, compassionate, kind, and beneficent, who, being inwardly affected with the infirmities, necessities, and miseries of their fellow-creatures, and feeling them as their own, with tender sympathy endeavour, as they have ability, to relieve them; and who, not confining their efforts to the communicating of temporal relief to the needy and wretched, labour also to do spiritual good; to enlighten the darkness of men’s minds, heal the disorders of their souls, and reclaim them from vice and misery, from every unholy and unhappy temper, from every sinful word and work; always manifesting a readiness to forgive the faults of others, as they themselves need and expect forgiveness from God. The merciful, says Erasmus, are those “who, through brotherly love, account another person’s misery their own; who weep over the calamities of others; who, out of their own property, feed the hungry and clothe the naked; who admonish those that are in error, inform the ignorant, pardon the offending; and who, in short, use their utmost endeavours to relieve and comfort others.” They shall obtain mercy When they most need it. As they deal with their fellow-creatures, God will deal with them. He will incline men to show them mercy and deal kindly with them in this world, and he himself will grant them mercy and loving kindness in the day of final accounts. And since the best and happiest of mankind may need even the former, and inasmuch as all will want the latter, this is surely a strong and powerful argument to persuade us to show mercy to men, in any and every way in our power, that both God and men may show mercy to us. Add to this, that, were there no other inducement, the comfort and satisfaction arising from a disposition that renders us so like our heavenly Father, might, one would suppose, be sufficient to prevail with us to endeavour, especially in this instance, to imitate Him who, being touched with the feeling of our infirmities, was daily employed in relieving them, and even took them upon himself, continually going about doing good, and at last giving up his life to ransom ours.
Matthew 5:8. The pure in heart Those whose hearts are purified by faith; who are not only sprinkled from an evil conscience by the blood of Jesus, but cleansed by the Spirit of God from vain thoughts, unprofitable reasonings, earthly and sensual desires, and corrupt passions; who are purified from pride, self-will, discontent, impatience, anger, malice, envy, covetousness, ambition; whose hearts are circumcised to love the Lord their God with all their hearts, and their neighbours as themselves, and who, therefore, are not only upright before him, but possess and maintain purity of intention and of affection in all their designs, works, and enjoyments; serving him continually with a single eye and an undivided heart. They shall see God Namely, in the glass of his works, whether of creation, providence, or grace, here, and face to face hereafter: they shall have fellowship with him in his ordinances, and shall endure as seeing him that is invisible, while they walk by faith on earth, and shall be admitted to the most perfect vision and complete enjoyment of him in heaven.
Matthew 5:9. The peace-makers Those who are themselves of a peaceable temper, and endeavour to promote peace in others: who study to be quiet, and, as much as in them lieth, to live peaceably with all men: who are so far from sowing the seeds of discord between any of their fellow-creatures, that they both studiously avoid contention themselves, and labour to extinguish it wherever it prevails, laying themselves out to heal the differences of brethren and neighbours, to reconcile contending parties, and to restore peace wherever it is broken, as well as to preserve it where it is. They shall be called the children of God That is, they are and shall be owned by God as his genuine children, by reason of their great likeness to him: for he is the God of peace and love, and is in Christ reconciling the world to himself not imputing their trespasses to them. And, being his children, they are his heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ; and, as they suffer with him, so shall they be glorified together. They shall, in due time, be children of the resurrection, shall receive the adoption, the public declaration and manifestation of their adoption, and the glorious fruit of it, viz., the redemption of their bodies from death and corruption.
Matthew 5:10. For righteousness’ sake Or for the sake of Christ and a good conscience; that Isaiah , 1 st, for their steady belief and profession of, and adherence to any article of Christian faith; 2d, for their performance of any duty, which they owe to God, their neighbour, or themselves, or for their obedience to the commands of God; 3d, because they cannot be prevailed on to own that to be an article of the Christian faith, or any part of Christian duty, which God hath not declared to be such; for, since this cannot be done without making profession of a lie, or pretending to believe what we see no reason to believe, to suffer on this account is evidently to suffer because we will not play the hypocrite, and give the lie to our own consciences; and therefore this, in Peter’s language, is to suffer from conscience toward God. Yea, since this cannot be done, but we must own another teacher, lawgiver, and author of our faith, besides the Lord Jesus, our sufferings for refusing to do this are truly sufferings for Christ’s sake, and such as make us happy sufferers. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven
In a peculiar sense, as hell belongs especially to hypocrites, Matthew 24:51. And they shall receive an eminently great reward there, on account of their sufferings, and in proportion to them, Luke 6:23. And no wonder, for as their state on earth, under these persecutions, renders them conformable to their Head, and to the holy prophets and apostles, so shall they hereafter be conformed to them in glory.
Matthew 5:11-12. Blessed are ye My true and faithful followers, when men shall revile you Shall unjustly and injuriously reproach you; and say all manner of evil against you falsely This both the Jews and heathen did with respect to the first Christians, and this the Papists have done with regard to the Protestants: for my sake Because you believe in, love, obey, and follow me. Rejoice, &c. Let not this load of infamy and oppression discourage and cast you down, but rather rejoice and be exceeding glad, or, exult with triumph, as the original word, αγαλλιασθε , may be properly rendered. For great is your reward in heaven Such a patient and cheerful suffering of persecution for Christ in this life, will certainly be rewarded with the glory and blessedness of the life to come. The reward, however, will not be of debt, but of grace; for our light and momentary afflictions are not worthy to be compared with the eternal and exceeding weight of glory. For so persecuted they the prophets, &c. Who, long before your time, were the messengers of God to this very people. Indeed, persecution has been the portion and the proof of the most eminent saints in all ages.
Matthew 5:13. Ye Not the apostles, not ministers only; but all who possess and manifest the graces spoken of in the preceding verses, and are truly holy and righteous; are the salt of the earth Appointed to be the means of preventing or curing the growth of that corruption which prevails in the world, and of seasoning men’s minds with wisdom and grace. But if the salt have lost its savour Or, be grown insipid, and therefore want seasoning itself, wherewith shall it be salted By what means can its lost virtue be restored? The word μωρανθη , rendered have lost its savour, has peculiar strength and beauty, and is literally, be infatuated, or, grown foolish, “alluding,” says Dr. Doddridge, “to the common figure, in which sense and spirit are expressed by salt.” It is thenceforth good for nothing It is wholly useless, and left to be thrown out of doors, and trampled on by men as the common dirt in the streets: “thus worthless and contemptible will you, my disciples, be, even in the most eminent stations, if you lose your character for real and vital religion.” The following passage of Mr. Maundrell, quoted by Dr. Macknight, illustrates our Lord’s supposition of salt’s losing its savour. In the valley of Salt, near Gebul, and about four hours’ journey from Aleppo, there is a small precipice, occasioned by the continual taking away of the salt. “In this,” says he, “you may see how the veins of it lie; I brake a piece off it, of which the part that was exposed to the rain, sun, and air, though it had the sparks and particles of salt, yet it had perfectly lost its savour. The innermost part, which had been connected to the rock, retained its savour, as I found by proof.”
Matthew 5:14-15. Ye are the light of the world The effect of light being to make things manifest, Ephesians 5:13, and to direct us in the way in which we are to walk; the import of this metaphor is, that Christ had appointed his disciples in general, and his apostles and the other ministers of his gospel in particular, to enlighten and reform the world, immersed in ignorance, sin, and misery, by their doctrine and example; and so to direct their feet into the way leading to life and salvation. Christ, it must be observed, is in the highest sense the light of the world; the original light, the great light, who, like the sun, hath light in and from himself; but the ministers of his gospel are, in an inferior sense, lights of the world also, for the angels of the churches are said to be stars, Revelation 1:20; and holy persons are children of the light, 1 Thessalonians 5:5. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid As if he had said, If you do not hide this light from mankind, but cause it to shine forth in your doctrine and practice, it will be so clear and resplendent as not possibly to be hid, any more than a city set on a hill. The Church of Christ is often called the city of God, and it must be here observed, that his people are not here merely compared to a city, but to a city upon a hill; so that all our Saviour has in view in mentioning a city here, is the conspicuousness of one so built. It is as much as if our Saviour had said, You had need be wise and holy, for your conversation can no more be hid than a city that is built upon a hill, and is obvious to every eye. Neither do men light a candle Or lamp rather, as λυχνον , signifies. Indeed, candles were not used at that time in Judea for lighting their houses; consequently, the word λυχνια , here and elsewhere in the New Testament, translated candlestick, means a lamp stand. The purport of this verse is, you, my apostles and disciples, ought to consider for what end I have communicated my light to you. It may be illustrated by that which men have in view when they light up a lamp in a room, which is, to give light to all those who are in it; for as they do not use to light it up that they may then hide it under a vessel, so I have not communicated my truth or my grace unto you merely for your own use, but for that of others. The word μοδιον , should be here rendered, not a bushel, but a corn-measure, for they had no such measure as a bushel. Indeed, the measure mentioned by the evangelist is so far from answering to our bushel, that it was as little as our peck. It is true, indeed, that as nothing here depends on the size of the measure, any measure of capacity might well enough suit the evangelist’s observation; yet a translator, as Dr. Campbell observes, ought not, even indirectly, to misrepresent the customs of the people he speaks of, or alludes to. Observe, reader, what our Lord says of John, He was a burning and shining light, is applicable both to every true minister of Christ, and to every true Christian: every such a one is not only a burning light, a person burning with love to God, and zeal for his glory, and love to mankind, and zeal for their salvation; but also a shining light, communicating his light to others, both by instruction and a holy conversation.
Matthew 5:16. Let your light The light of that doctrine which you receive from me, and the light of your holy conversation, so shine before men Be so evident and apparent unto men, that they may see your good works, and glorify, &c. That is, that seeing your good works they may both praise God for sending such a religion into the world, and also, embracing your faith, may imitate your holy example, or may be moved to love and serve God as you do, and thereby to glorify him. Here then our Lord tells us, in plain words, what he intended by the comparison before mentioned.
Matthew 5:17. Think not that I am come to destroy To abrogate, annul, or repeal, (which seems to be the meaning of the word καταλυσαι , here,) the law or the prophets As your teachers do. It is manifest from the following discourse, that our Lord principally spake of the moral law, several of the precepts of which he afterward explains and vindicates from the corrupt glosses of the scribes and Pharisees. For, as to the ceremonial law, though he also came to fulfil it, as the great antitype in whom all the types of it had their accomplishment; yet he came to abrogate and repeal it, blotting out and nailing to his cross the hand-writing of ordinances, as the apostle speaks, Colossians 2:14. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil He fulfilled in himself all those predictions of the prophets which had been uttered Concerning the Messiah, and he explained, illustrated, and established the moral law, in its highest meaning, both by his life and doctrine; and by his merits and Spirit he provided, and still provides, for its being effectually fulfilled in and by his followers. Our Lord has taught us, that all the law and the prophets are comprehended in these two precepts, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, &c., and thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, Matthew 22:40. St. Paul also informs us, that he who loves his neighbour as himself, hath fulfilled the law, Romans 13:8; and Galatians 5:14, that all the law is fulfilled in this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself; this love of our neighbour being only found in those who first love God, and being closely connected with, and indeed never separated from, the love of God. Now our Lord was manifested in the flesh, and made a propitiatory sacrifice for our sins, that he might give us such a demonstration of his love, and the love of the Father to us and all mankind, as might produce in us those returns of love to God and man, which God should be pleased to accept as the fulfilling of the law. Therefore we read, Romans 8:4, That God sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit.
Matthew 5:18. For verily I say unto you This expression, whereby our Lord often prefaces what he is about to say, always imports the great importance, as well as certain truth of it. Till heaven and earth pass away Till the whole visible frame of nature be disjointed and dissolved, one jot or one tittle “The word ιωτα , which we render jot, undoubtedly answers to the Hebrew letter י , jod, whence the English word here seems to be derived, and which, being the least letter of the alphabet, might properly be used proverbially on this occasion. Κεραια , which we render tittle, properly signifies one of those little ornamental curvatures or flourishes, which, when Hebrew is elegantly written, are generally used at the beginning and end of a letter, and sometimes at the corners too. I think it might well have been rendered, not the least letter, or stroke, &c., and so much the rather, as jot and tittle, in English, signify the same.” Doddridge. Shall in no wise pass from, the law Or, from the prophets, till all be fulfilled Till all things which the law requires, or the prophets foretel, shall be effected. This seems to be the literal translation of the original words, εως αν παντα γενηται : for the law has its effect when its sanctions are executed, as well as when its precepts are obeyed. And the predictions of the prophets have their proper effect and confirmation, when they are accomplished. Some, however, understand the words as meaning, till the end, or, consummation of all things shall come, or, till the heavens and the earth shall pass away, or be destroyed. The meaning of our Lord’s words, according to this interpretation, is, that there is nothing in the universe so stable as the truths contained in the moral law, and nothing so certain as the fulfilment of the predictions of the prophets: the heavens may fall, and the whole frame of nature be unhinged, nay, every part of it may be dissolved; but the rules of righteousness, and the declarations of the divine word, with their sanctions, shall remain immutable and eternal: for the word of the Lord endureth for ever, 1 Peter 1:25. Our Lord therefore proceeds, in the two next verses, to command his disciples, on the severest penalties, to enforce, both by their doctrine and example, the strict observation of all the moral precepts contained in the sacred writings, and that in their utmost extent.
Matthew 5:19. Whosoever therefore shall break Shall himself transgress in his practice, or pervert and weaken by his doctrine, one of these least commandments, and teach men so Shall direct or encourage men to do the same, or shall teach them, either by word or example, that the obligation of these commands is dissolved; he shall be called Or, shall be accounted one of the least, and unworthiest members in the kingdom of heaven Or, Church of the Messiah, and shall soon be entirely cut off from it, as unfit for so holy a society, and shall have no part in the church triumphant. “There is in the text a figure, which the rhetoricians call μειωσις , diminution, often elegantly used to convey a strong idea. Thus, Galatians 5:21, They which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God, that is, shall be severely punished.” Macknight. But whosoever shall do and teach them, &c. Whosoever shall himself carefully practise these precepts of the law, and other parts of the divine word, and shall inculcate their universal obligation, shall be greatly rewarded.
Matthew 5:20. For, except your righteousness shall exceed Gr. περισσευση , shall abound more than the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees Than that which is apparent in their lives, or even required in their precepts, as is described in the sequel of this discourse, as highly as they are generally esteemed; ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven That is, into the kingdom of glory after you die, or be owned by the Son of man as his subjects while you live. It is justly observed by Dr. Doddridge here, that this must have greatly surprised Christ’s hearers, if the proverb, which has since prevailed, was in use then; namely, that “if but two men were to enter into the kingdom of heaven, one of them would be a Pharisee and the other a scribe.” It appears from what follows, the Pharisees affirmed that only the outward action was commanded or forbidden in the law, and that they interpreted all its precepts accordingly. On this principle, they boasted of having performed every thing that was required of them. Nay, they were so arrogant as to think they could do even more than was required. This pernicious morality, destructive of all virtue, Jesus loudly condemned, as was fit, in the beginning of his ministry.
Matthew 5:21-22. Ye have heard Namely, from the scribes reciting the law, that it was said by them of old time, or to the ancients, as ερρεθη τιος αρχαιοις , might be properly rendered. Thou shalt not kill Words which they interpreted barely of the outward act of murder; and whosoever shall kill Or be guilty of that act, shall be in danger of, or, obnoxious to the judgment To understand this, it is necessary to observe, that the Jews had, in every city, a common court of twenty-three men, which, before the Roman government was established in Judea, had the power of life and death, so far as its jurisdiction extended, and could punish criminals with strangling or beheading. This was called the judgment, and the meaning of the clause is, that such a criminal should be capitally punished in the common courts of judicature. But I say unto you Which of the prophets ever spake thus? Their language was, Thus saith the Lord. Who hath authority to use this language, but the one Lawgiver who is able to save and to destroy? Whosoever is angry with his brother With any child of man, for we are all brethren; without a cause Or further than that cause warrants; shall be in danger of the judgment Shall be liable to a worse punishment from God than any that your common courts of judicature can inflict. It must be observed, that the word εικη , here rendered without cause, and which might properly be translated rashly, or inconsiderately, is wanting in some old versions and manuscripts, and, it seems, ought not to be inserted, being “utterly foreign to the whole scope and tenor of our Lord’s discourse. For if he had only forbidden the being angry without a cause, there was no manner of need of that solemn declaration, I say unto you; for the scribes and Pharisees themselves said as much as this. Even they taught men ought not to be angry without a cause. So that this righteousness does not exceed theirs. But Christ teaches that we ought not, for any cause, to be so angry as to call any man raca, or fool. We ought not, for any cause, to be angry at the person of the sinner, but at his sin only. Happy world, were this plain and necessary distinction thoroughly understood, remembered, and practised.” Wesley. Raca, means a silly man, or an empty, worthless fellow. Κενε , vain man, used James 2:20, seems to be a translation of it; for, as Jerome observes, it is derived from the Hebrew, rick, which signifies vain, or empty. Shall be in danger of the council In the Greek, συνεδριον ; “a word which the Jews adopted into their language, and giving it a Hebrew termination, sanhedrim, appropriated it to their supreme council, whose business was to judge in the most important affairs; for instance, in all matters relative to religion, as when any person pretended to be a prophet, or attempted to make innovations in the established worship. This court could, while the republic lasted, inflict the heaviest punishments; particularly stoning, or burning, with melted lead poured down the throat of the criminal, after he was half strangled.” Macknight. Whosoever shall say, Thou fool Or, Thou graceless, wicked villain: so the word fool generally signifies in Scripture: for as religion is the highest wisdom, vice must be accounted the extremest folly: the meaning here is, Whosoever shall break out into open revilings and reproaches against any man, shall be in danger of hell fire Ενοχος εσται εις γεενναν του πυρος , shall be obnoxious to a gehenna of fire, that is, by a common figure of speech, “obnoxious to the fire of the valley of Hinnom,” obnoxious to a degree of future punishment, which may fitly be represented by that fire. Of the valley of Hinnom, called also Tophet, see notes on Leviticus 18:21; 2 Kings 23:10; Isaiah 30:33. It was the scene of the detestable worship of Moloch, that horrid idol of the Ammonites, to which the Israelites burned their children alive as sacrifices. “In later times, continual fires were kept in this valley for burning the unburied carcasses and filth of the city, that, being thus polluted, it might be unfit for the like religious abominations. The Jews, from the perpetuity of these fires, and to express the utmost detestation of the sacrifices which were offered to Moloch in this valley, made use of its name to signify hell. Hence our translators have given Tophet, or gehenna, its metaphorical meaning in the present passage, whereas it ought rather to have had its literal signification. For our Lord, intending to show his hearers that the punishment of causeless anger, contemptuous speeches, and abusive names, shall, in the life to come, bear a proportion to the guilt that is in these sins; and finding no name in the language of men by which those different degrees of punishment could properly be expressed, he illustrated them by the punishments which the Jews were acquainted with.”
Matthew 5:23. Therefore, &c. “Because men are very apt to fall into rash anger, and to express their anger by contemptuous speeches and abusive names, fancying that there is no sin in these things, or but little, and that the compensation may easily be made for them by acts of devotion, Jesus declares that atonement is not to be made for these offences by any offerings, how costly soever, and therefore prescribes immediate repentance and reparation as the only remedies of them. He insisted particularly on reparation, assuring us that, unless it be made, God will not accept the worship of such offenders, being infinitely better pleased with repentance than with sacrifices, or external worship of any kind, how specious soever those duties may appear in the eye of vulgar understandings. Vain, therefore, is their presumption, who fancy they can make amends for yet more gross acts of injustice, by acts of devotion. ” Macknight. If thou bring thy gift to the altar However costly and free; and there rememberest What thou didst not recollect before; that thy brother hath aught against thee On any of the preceding accounts, for any reproachful or unkind word, or injurious action: do not content thyself with a secret, and, it may be, a deceitful purpose that thou wilt hereafter accommodate the affair, but bring it to an immediate issue. Leave there thy gift before the altar In the hands of those that are ministering there: for neither thy gift nor thy prayer will atone for thy want of love and injurious conduct, but these will make thy devotions and oblations an abomination before God. Go thy way Do not lay aside thoughts of worshipping God, because thou art not in a proper state, but prepare thyself for his worship without delay. Be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift Which thou mayest then cheerfully hope God will accept at thy hand. Philo, ( de Sacrif., p. 844,) explaining the law of the trespass- offering, tells us, “That when a man had injured his brother, and, repenting of his fault, voluntarily acknowledged it, (in which case, both restitution and sacrifice were required,) he was first to make restitution, and then to come into the temple, presenting his sacrifice, and asking pardon.” This greatly illustrates the text, especially considering that our Lord supposes, in this case, not a trespass-offering, but a voluntary gift, presented before the altar; and yet declares that this will not be accepted while there is a consciousness of having wronged a brother, and not made him reparation.
Matthew 5:25. Agree, &c. Here our Lord enforces the preceding exhortation, from the consideration of what is reckoned prudent in ordinary quarrel and law-suits. “In such cases, wise men always advise the party that has done wrong to make up matters with his adversary while it is in his power, lest the sentence of a judge, being interposed, fall heavy on him. For the same reason, we, who have offended our brother, ought to make it up with him, while an opportunity of repentance is allowed us; and that though our quarrel should have proceeded to the greatest lengths, lest the sentence of the Supreme Judge overtake us, and put reconciliation out of our power for ever.” With thine adversary quickly With any against whom thou hast thus offended; whiles thou art in the way with him Going with him to a magistrate; or, instantly, on the spot; before you part. Lest the adversary deliver thee to the judge To be tried before him; and the judge, deciding the cause against thee, deliver thee to the officer of the court, to keep thee in custody till satisfaction be made, and thou be cast into prison Not being able to discharge an account enhanced with so many additional articles of expense. Thou shalt by no means come out thence Be released out of prison; till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing For thy antagonist, when he has got thee at such an advantage, will be more rigorous in his demands than before. And surely, if by impenitent wickedness thou makest thyself the prisoner of the divine justice, thy case will be yet more deplorable and hopeless. Understanding the words in a figurative sense, which is, partly at least, intended by Christ here, the prison is taken for hell, out of which the unrelenting sinner can never come, according to our Lord’s declaration, because he can never be able to make that satisfaction. “Lord, we are all the debtors, and, in one sense, the prisoners of thy justice, and of ourselves were most incapable, not only of paying the uttermost farthing, but even of discharging the least part of the debt! We bless thee for that generous Surety who has taken and discharged it for us; and by the price of whose atoning blood we are delivered from the chains of darkness, and are translated into the glorious liberty of thy children.” Doddridge. What has hitherto been said refers to meekness; what follows, to purity of heart.
Matthew 5:27-28. Ye have heard, &c. Jesus now proceeds in his sermon to the seventh commandment, the true interpretation of which he gives us. Thou shalt not commit adultery This, as well as the sixth commandment, the scribes and Pharisees interpreted barely of the outward act. But I say unto you, &c. The command extends not only to unchaste actions and words, but even to looks, and the very thoughts of the heart: for whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her Whosoever cherishes or indulges unchaste imaginations, desires, and intentions, hath committed adultery with her, &c. Hath been guilty of a violation of this commandment, which was intended to forbid the corrupt inclinations of the heart, and all irregular desires, as well as the pollution of the body.
Matthew 5:29-30. If thy right eye offend thee If any person or thing, as pleasant and as dear to thee as thy right eye, should be a stumbling-block in thy way, and an occasion of thy falling, or should be a means of insnaring thee, and leading thee into sin, pluck it out With inexorable resolution: that is, give up and part with the beloved object. For it is profitable for thee It will be to thine advantage, that one of thy members should perish To suffer an apparent temporary loss of pleasure or profit, rather than that thy whole soul and body should perish eternally, which yet would be the fatal consequence of thy indulging a favourite lust. And if thy right hand offend, or insnare thee Though it be so useful and necessary a part, do not spare it, but immediately cut it off and cast it from thee “The greatest part of Christ’s auditors were poor people, who lived by their daily labour; and to these the loss of a right hand would be a much greater calamity than that of a right eye: so that there is a gradation and force in this passage beyond what has generally been observed.” Doddridge. There is an allusion, in both instances, to the practice of surgeons, who, when any member of the body happens to be mortified, cut it off, to prevent the sound part from being tainted. And the meaning of the passage, stripped of the metaphor, is this: By the force of a strong resolution, founded on the grace of God, deny thyself the use of thy senses, though ever so delightful, in all cases where the use of them insnares thy soul. Turn away thine eye, and keep back thy hand from the alluring object. This, says Chrysostom, is a most mild and easy precept. It would have been much more hard, had he given commandment to converse with and look curiously on women, and then abstain from further commission of uncleanness with them. Upon the whole, we learn from these two verses, that the salvation of our immortal souls is to be preferred beyond all things, be they never so dear and precious to us; and that, if men’s ordinary discretion teaches them, for the preservation of their bodies, to cut off a particular member, which would necessarily endanger the whole body, it much more teaches them to part with any thing which would prevent the salvation of their souls.
Matthew 5:31-32. Let him give her a writing of divorcement “The doctors of the school of Sammai affirmed, that, in the law concerning divorce, Deuteronomy 24:1, the words some uncleanness, were to be understood of adultery only; whereas, they of the school of Hillel interpreted them of any matter of dislike whatever. Hence the Pharisees asked Jesus, Matthew 19:3, if it was lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? The opinion of Hillel was generally espoused by the Jews, as appears from both their practice and their writings. Thus, Malachi 2:16, the clause which in our translation runs, The Lord says, He hateth putting away, that is, divorces on frivolous pretences, is, by the Chaldee paraphrast and the LXX., turned thus, ( εαν μισησας εξαποστειλης ,) if thou hatest thou shouldest put her away. Also, the son of Sirach says, Matthew 25:26: If she go not as thou wouldest have her, cut her off from thy flesh. And Josephus, Ant. lib. 4. cap. 8, ‘He that would be disjoined from his wife, for any cause whatever, as many such causes there may be among men, let him give her a bill of divorce.’ Nay, one of their doctors, R. Akiba by name, delivered it as his opinion, ‘that a man may put his wife away, if he likes any other woman better.’” As, therefore, they had perverted the law of divorce that they might give full scope to their lusts, Jesus thought fit to reduce it to its primitive meaning, assuring them, “that he who divorces his wife for any of the causes allowed by the doctors, whoredom excepted, lays her under a strong temptation to commit adultery; unjust divorce being no divorce in the sight of God; and that since such marriages still subsisted, he who married the woman unjustly divorced, committed adultery also.” Saving for the cause of fornication, &c. Fornication here, as elsewhere, is often used for adultery: in general it denotes the exercise of all the different species of unlawful lusts. Although in these words only one just cause of divorce is acknowledged, namely, adultery; “yet the apostle, 1 Corinthians 7:15, plainly allows another, viz., malicious and obstinate desertion in either of the parties; and that because it is wholly inconsistent with the purposes of marriage. We must therefore suppose, that our Lord here speaks of the causes of divorce commonly said to be comprehended under the term uncleanness, in the law; and declares, that none of them will justify a man’s divorcing his wife, except fornication.” Whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery Here we learn, “that if the cause of a divorce be just, the innocent party is freed from the bond of marriage, so as to be at liberty to marry again.” But if the divorce be made without a just cause, the marriage still subsists, and consequently both parties, the innocent as well as the guilty, thus divorced, commit adultery if they marry, as do the persons likewise whom they marry.” Macknight.
Matthew 5:33-37. Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time Or rather, was said to the ancients, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, &c. See the margin. The Jewish doctors affirmed, that oaths were obligatory according to the nature of the things by which a man swears: Matthew 23:10. Hence they allowed the use of such oaths in common conversation as they said were not obligatory; pretending that there was no harm in them, because the law, which forbade them to forswear themselves, and enjoined them to perform their vows, meant such solemn oaths only as were of a binding nature. It is this detestable morality which Jesus condemns in the following words. But I say unto you, Swear not at all In your common discourse one with another, but barely affirm or deny. Swear not by any thing, on the supposition that the oath will not bind you. “For all oaths whatever, those by the lowest of the creatures not excepted, are obligatory;” because, if they “have any meaning at all, they are an appeal to the great Creator; consequently they are oaths by him, implying a solemn invocation of his wrath on such of the creatures sworn by as are capable of God’s wrath; and for the other, the oath implies a solemn imprecation, in case of your swearing falsely, that you may be for ever deprived of all the comfort or advantage you have in, or hope from those creatures. Swear not, therefore, neither by heaven, &c. By comparing Matthew 23:16, it appears that our Lord is here giving a catalogue of oaths, which, in the opinion of the doctors, were not obligatory. His meaning therefore is, Swear not at all, unless you have a mind to perform; because every oath being really obligatory, he who, from an opinion that some are not, swears voluntarily by heaven, or by the earth, or by Jerusalem, or by his own head, is without all doubt guilty of perjury. Much more is he guilty, who, when called thereto by lawful authority, swears with an intention to falsify. But by no means does Jesus condemn swearing truly before a magistrate, or upon grave and solemn occasions, because that would have been to prohibit both the best method of ending controversies, Hebrews 6:16; and a high act of religious worship, Deuteronomy 6:3; Isaiah 65:16; an oath being not only a solemn appeal to the Divine Omniscience, from which nothing can be hid, but a direct acknowledgment of God, as the great patron and protector of right, and the avenger of falsehood.” But let your communication be yea, yea Avoid the use of all such oaths, as of those in which the name of God is directly expressed, and maintain such sincerity and truth in all your words as will merit the belief of your acquaintance; so that, in common conversation, to gain yourselves credit, you need do no more than barely assert or deny any matter, without invoking the name of God at all. For whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil Εκ του πονηρου , Of the evil one: in common discourse, whatever is more than affirmation or negation, ariseth from the temptation of the devil, who tempts men to curse and to swear, that he may lessen in them, and in all who hear them, a due reverence of the Divine Majesty, and by this means lead them, at length, to perjury, even in the most solemn instances; considerations which show the evil nature of this sin in the strongest light. The Apostle James expresses this sentiment thus, James 5:12, Let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay. The first yea and nay, therefore, signify the promise or assertion; the second the fulfilment. Accordingly we find the word yea used as a promise, Revelation 1:7, where it is explained by amen; likewise, as the fulfilment of a promise, 2 Corinthians 1:10, where we are told that the promises of God are all in Christ, yea and amen. On the other hand, concerning those whose actions do not correspond to their promises, it is said, 2 Corinthians 1:18-19, that their word is yea and nay: Our word toward you was not yea and nay. Macknight.
Matthew 5:38-42 . Ye have heard, &c. Our Lord proceeds to enforce such meekness and love toward their enemies, on those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, as were utterly unknown to the scribes and Pharisees. And this subject he pursues to the end of the chapter. It hath been said, viz., in the law, Deuteronomy 19:21, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth Though this statute was only intended as a direction to judges, with regard to the penalties to be inflicted in case of violent and barbarous assaults; yet it was interpreted among the Jews as encouraging a rigorous and severe revenge of every injury a man might receive. But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil Or, rather, the evil man, as τω πονηρω ought to be rendered. Dr. Doddridge reads the clause: That you do not set yourselves against the injurious person, viz., in a posture of hostile opposition, as the word αντιστηναι implies, and with a resolution to return evil for evil. But whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, &c. Where the damage is not great, choose rather to pass it by, though possibly it might, on that account, be repeated, than to enter into a rigorous prosecution of the offender. And if any man will sue thee, &c., and take away thy coat By the word χιτων , here rendered coat, it seems we are to understand an inner garment; and by the word, ιματιον , rendered cloak, an outer garment. Dr. Doddridge renders the former, vest, and the latter, mantle. They are parts of dress, under different names, still used in Barbary, Egypt, and the Levant. See Shaw’s Travels, pp. 289, 292. Our Lord, it is to be observed, is not here speaking of a robber attacking a person on the highway, to whom it would be natural to take the outer garment first, but of a person suing another at law, as our translators seem properly to have rendered κριθηναι . The meaning of the whole passage evidently is, rather than return evil for evil: when the wrong is purely personal, submit to one bodily injury after another, give up one part of your goods after another, submit to one instance of compulsion after another. That the words, Turn to him the other cheek also, (and consequently those in the next clause,) are not to be taken literally, appears from the behaviour of our Lord himself, John 18:22-23. Give to him, that asketh thee, &c. Give and lend to any that are in want, so far, (but no farther, for God never contradicts himself,) as is consistent with thy engagements to thy creditors, thy family, and the household of faith.
Upon the whole of this passage, from Matthew 5:38, we may observe, that it seems to have been primarily intended to counteract and correct that abuse of the law of retaliation above mentioned, which was common among the Jews, who carried their resentments to the utmost lengths; and, by so doing, maintained infinite quarrels, to the great detriment of social life. For this purpose, our Lord “puts five cases wherein Christian meekness must especially show itself. 1st, When any one assaults our person, in resentment of some affront he imagines we have put upon him. 2d, When any one sues us at the law, in order to take our goods from us. 3d, When he attacks our natural liberty. 4th, When one who is poor asks charity. 5th, When a neighbour begs the loan of something from us. In all these cases our Lord forbids us to resist. Yet, from the examples which he mentions, it is plain that this forbearance and compliance are required only when we are slightly attacked, but by no means when the assault is of a capital kind. For it would be unbecoming the wisdom which Jesus showed in other points, to suppose that he forbids us to defend ourselves against murderers, robbers, and oppressors, who would unjustly take away our life, our estate, or our liberty. Neither can it be thought that he commands us to give every idle fellow all he may think fit to ask, whether in charity or in loan. We are only to give what we can spare, and to such persons as out of real necessity ask relief from us. Nay, our Lord’s own behaviour toward the man that smote him on the cheek, shows he did not mean that in all cases his disciples should be passive under the very injuries which he here speaks of. In some circumstances, smiting on the cheek, taking away one’s coat, and the compelling one to go a mile, may be great injuries, and therefore are to be resisted. The first instance was judged so by Jesus himself in the case mentioned. For had he forborne to reprove the man who did it, his silence might have been interpreted as proceeding from a conviction of his having done evil, in giving the high priest the answer for which he was smitten.” But, admitting that this rule has for its object small injuries, and that our Lord orders his disciples to be passive under them rather than to repel them, it is liable to no objection: for he who “bears a slight affront, consults his honour and interest much better than he who resists or resents it; because he shows a greatness of mind worthy of a man, and uses the best means of avoiding quarrels, which oft-times are attended with the most fatal consequences. In like manner, he who yields a little of his right, rather than he will go to law, is much wiser than the man who has recourse to public justice in every instance; because, in the progress of a law-suit, such animosities may arise as are inconsistent with charity. To conclude, benevolence, which is the glory of the divine nature, and the perfection of the human, rejoices in doing good. Hence the man that is possessed of this god-like quality cheerfully embraces every occasion in his power of relieving the poor and distressed, whether by gift or loan. Some are of opinion, that the precept concerning alms-giving, and gratuitous lending, is subjoined to the instances of injuries which our Lord commands us to bear, to teach us that, if the persons who have injured us fall into want, we are not to withhold any act of charity from them on account of the evil they have formerly done us. Taken in this light, the precept is generous and divine. Moreover, as liberality is a virtue nearly allied to the forgiveness of injuries, our Lord joined the two together, to show that they should always go hand in hand. The reason is, revenge will blast the greatest liberality, and a covetous heart will show the most perfect patience to be a sordid meanness of spirit, proceeding from selfishness.” Macknight.
Matthew 5:43. Ye have heard that it hath been said In this, as is in the former instances, our Lord, intending to comprehend not only the law itself, but the explications of it given by the Jewish doctors, and said to be derived by tradition from the mouth of Moses, does not say, Ye know, but, Ye have heard, that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour and hate thine enemy God enjoined the former part of this precept, Leviticus 19:18, and the scribes added the latter, abusing, it seems, the commands for destroying the Canaanites, to countenance such an addition, though this was in direct contradiction to many other scriptures. See Exodus 24:4-5; Leviticus 19:17; Proverbs 25:21. But I say unto you, Love your enemies To the narrow charity of the Jews, confined to their own brethren and men of their own religion, Christ here opposes his admirable precept, enjoining us, if we would be his genuine disciples, to love even our enemies; and that, by showing a sincere affection and good will to them who bear enmity or ill will to us; by manifesting our beneficence to them who, by their actions, show their hatred to us; by doing good to them for evil; by blessing them who with their mouths curse us; and by praying for God’s blessing upon them who revile and persecute us, as his followers. And this love he recommends, 1st, from the manifest absurdity of the Jewish doctrine, which made them no better, in this respect, than those sinners, publicans, and heathen, whom they allowed themselves to hate, &c.; 2d, that they, who boasted of it as their peculiar glory that they were the sons of God, might show that they really were so by their imitating His goodness who is kind to the unthankful and evil; 3d, because this would render his followers complete in the great duty of love and mercy to others, as he adds in the last clause. The following paraphrase on the different clauses of the passage may, perhaps, give the reader a clearer and fuller view of its meaning. Explaining what he intends, when he says, Love your enemies, he adds, Bless them that curse you Give them kind and friendly language who rail, act, or speak evil of you; say all the good you can to, and of them. Do good to them that hate you Repay love in thought, word, and deed, to those who really bear ill will to you, and show it both in their words and actions; and embrace every opportunity of promoting their welfare, both temporal and spiritual. And pray for those which despitefully use you, &c. Besides doing all in your own power to advance their happiness, endeavour, by your prayers, to engage God also to befriend and bless them. The expression επηρεαζοντων υμας , is by some rendered, who falsely accuse, or traduce you; but more properly by Dr. Doddridge, who insult over you. The word is plainly used by St. Peter, (1 Peter 3:16, the only other place in Scripture where it occurs,) to express abusive language. Both it and the other terms here used express the highest degree of enmity, for what can be worse than cursing, and calumny, and insults, and persecutions; yet we are commanded to love, and bless, and do good to those who express their enmity to us even by these things; and this doctrine Christ enforces from the noblest of all considerations, that it renders men like God; for he adds, that ye may be the children of your Father As if he had said, Being thus benevolent toward all the bad as well as the good, ye shall be like God, and so prove yourselves to be his genuine offspring; for he maketh his sun common to them who worship and them who contemn him; and lets his rain be useful both to the just and to the unjust; alluring the bad to repentance, and exciting the good to thankfulness, by this universal and indiscriminate benignity of his providence. For if ye love them which love you, &c., and salute your brethren only, &c. These are common things, practised by people of the worst character; which therefore do not distinguish you from others, nor prove you to be of a truly pious and virtuous disposition, but as being only indued with the essential principles of human nature, so that no peculiar reward can await you for doing them. The phrase τι περισσον ποιειτε , rendered in our translation, What do ye more than others? but which Dr. Campbell renders, Wherein do you excel? is thought by him to refer to what our Lord had declared, Matthew 5:20, concerning the necessity of our righteousness excelling, or abounding more than that of the scribes and Pharisees. Thus, he thinks, our Lord’s expostulation is rendered more energetical by the contrast; as if he had said, I told you your righteousness must excel that of the scribes and Pharisees, but if you do good to your friends only, it will not excel even that of the publicans and pagans. Perhaps, in the phrase, If ye salute your brethren only, our Lord might glance at those prejudices which different sects had against each other, and might intimate that he would not have his followers imbibe that narrow spirit. And “would to God,” says a pious divine, “that the hint had been more attended to, among the unhappy subdivisions into which his church has been crumbled; and that we might at least advance so far as cordially to embrace our brethren in Christ, of whatever party or denomination they are! Be ye therefore perfect, as your Father, &c. Imitate especially the divine goodness, as it is promiscuous, and extends to the evil as well as the good. This seems to be chiefly what is here intended; the love to friends, brethren, and countrymen implying only a very imperfect imitation of God; we are to labour after a more complete resemblance to him, in loving enemies. Our Lord, therefore, afterward expressed himself in a parallel discourse on the same subject in a rather different manner, saying, Be ye merciful, as your Father also is merciful, Luke 6:36. But, it is probable, he used a greater latitude of expression here, to remind us of our obligations to imitate the blessed God in all his moral perfections. The exhortation undoubtedly refers to all that holiness which is described in the foregoing verses, which our Lord, in the beginning of the chapter, recommends as happiness, and in the close of it as perfection. And it must be observed, that the words in the original, εσεσθε ουν υμεις τελειοι , express a promise, rather than a precept: Ye shall therefore be perfect, as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. And how wise and gracious is this, to sum up, and, as it were, to seal all his commandments with a promise! even the proper promise of the gospel, that he will put those laws in our minds and write them in our hearts! He well knew how ready our unbelief would be to suggest, This is impossible! And therefore stakes upon it all the power, truth, and faithfulness of Him to whom all things are possible.
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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Matthew 5". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29