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Tuesday, July 16th, 2024
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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 5

Watson's Exposition on Matthew, Mark, Luke & RomansWatson's Expositions

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Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

1 Christ beginneth his sermon in the mount:

3 declaring who are blessed,

13 who are the salt of the earth,

14 the light of the world, the city on a hill,

15 the candle:

17 that he came to fulfil the law.

21 What it is to kill,

27 to commit adultery,

33 to swear:

38 exhorteth to suffer wrong,

44 to love even our enemies,

48 and to labour after perfectness.

Verse 1

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And seeing the multitudes, &c. — Here both the multitudes, and his disciples, are mentioned distinctly as his auditors. Probably his disciples sat in a semicircle at his feet, as was customary with the disciples of the Jewish doctors. “The master,” says Maimonides, “sits in the chief place, and the disciples before him in a circuit, so that they all see the master, and hear his words.” The general audience were at some distance; for it is evident from some passages in this discourse, such as “Ye are the salt of the earth;” “Ye are the light of the world,” that it was immediately addressed to his disciples as nearest to him, and separate from the rest. But Christ publicly showed what those doctrines were, to the knowledge and practice of which he was training up his more intimate followers, and for the publication of which to others he was thus qualifying them. It may throw some light upon our Lord’s taking upon himself the office of a public teacher, a circumstance which excited no surprise, and was in fact in itself nothing new, to remark, that any man skilled in the law appears to have had the right to become a doctor or teacher of it, to such disciples as chose to attend his discourses; and these disciples not only attended him at some usual place of teaching, but followed him from place to place, doing him honour as their instructer.

At what exact period of our Lord’s ministry the sermon on the mount was delivered, we have no particular account. The place was near Capernaum, and the time early, but subsequent to the calling of several of the apostles, and after his fame had spread throughout Palestine, as stated in the preceding chapter. In the synagogues of Galilee he had delivered many discourses on the subject of his “kingdom;” and the effect had been that many now openly professed to be his disciples. That his sermon on this occasion was one continued discourse, and not, as some have supposed, a collection of fragments, delivered at different times, is manifest both from the introductory, and the concluding remarks of the evangelists: “Multitudes” follow him to the mountain; they listen, and express their astonishment when he had “ended these sayings;” and when he was “come down from the mountain great multitudes” still follow him. We must therefore conclude that all which St. Matthew has inserted between these historical remarks as “the sayings” of our Lord, were at that time delivered consecutively. The very expression also, he opened his mouth and taught them saying, is only used to indicate the commencement of a solemn and lengthened discourse. It was a phrase frequent among them, as a notice that they were about to deliver something weighty and deliberate, “I will open my mouth in a parable,” Psalms 78:2. So also Virgil, finem dedit ore loquendi, “he finished speaking with his mouth.” On this Divine sermon we may remark generally, that it not only explains and inculcates the most important truths, but that it has frequent reference to those religious errors which the Jewish doctors of different sects had spread among the people, to the perversion of the meaning of the sacred writings, and the destruction of practical piety. Hence Lightfoot well observes, though somewhat too strongly, “To the explanation of this discourse is required quick and ready versedness in the records of the Jews; for Christ hath an eye and reference to their language, doctrines, customs, traditions, and opinions, in almost every line.”

Christ shows first who are the truly blessed, or rather happy persons, μακαριοι , that is, in what the true felicity of man consists; a subject of great debate among heathen sages, whose opinions as to the chief good of man were almost equally numerous and contradictory. “To this point,” says one, “three hundred sects of philosophers have taught as many different ways; but to us one alone is fully sufficient.” On this subject, also, the Jewish teachers, seconded by their own proud and carnal hearts, had fatally misled the people, though their own Scriptures contained most explicit and infallible declarations on this subject. They might indeed have learned from David that “blessed is the man whose iniquity is forgiven, whose sin is covered; the man to whom the Lord imputeth not sin, and in whose spirit there is no guile,” expressions which are to be taken to exclude all from true felicity who stand not in this relation of friendship with God, and who had not, been in heart purged from sin. But they placed happiness in wealth and worldly distinctions, and religion in superstition, and ceremony; which generated pride in a fancied holiness, ands blind confidence in an external covenant relation to God as the seed of Abraham, Our Lord opens quite contrary views, and makes the true felicity of man to arise from the moral state of his heart, and shows that it is entirely independent of outward circumstances. All the beatitudes must therefore be interpreted spiritually, and not under those low views in which they are placed by some commentators, who seem little to understand the whole bearing of this discourse, or the true character of Christianity itself, THE SOLE OBJECT OF WHICH IS TO BRING THE HEART OF MAN BACK to God, and to renew it in righteousness and true HOLINESS, in order to restore happiness to the INDIVIDUAL, and to the WORLD.

Verse 3

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Blessed are the poor in spirit. — Not the poor in opposition to the rich, for it is manifestly one great object of our Lord to call off the attention of his hearers from outward circumstances as necessarily connected with true felicity; nor those, as Grotius has it, “poor in mind,” that is, patiently and contentedly poor, as though our Lord were no more than a heathen teacher of the advantages of contentment. Poverty of spirit signifies the same thing as humility, considered in a religious sense; or, at least, it is the principle of humility, and so may be the character of men of widely different conditions, as to external rank, and excludes the notion of Campbell, and others subsequent to Grotius, who resolve it into that disposition which accommodates itself without murmuring to poor circumstances. There are many such contented persons who have no pretence at all to spirituality of mind; and how that should form any special qualification for “the kingdom of heaven,” such writers fail to show. Our Lord evidently alludes to Isaiah 66:2, “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor,” or lowly, “and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.” — Poverty of spirit implies a penitential sense of our guilt as sinners, and a deep conviction of our unworthiness and natural imbecility in all things relating to our salvation, accompanied by an entire dependence upon God for counsel, strength, and grace. It is the root of all true faith or trust in God; the exciting cause of that devotional habit which expresses itself in earnest, constant breathings after intercourse with him, and the exertion of his influence upon us; and it excludes all religious pride and boasting, for which the Jews, through their want of true humility, were so often reproved by Christ.

For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. — Such were the only persons in a suitable state of mind to receive the new dispensation of truth and mercy introduced by Christ, and with this preparation of mind they would infallibly embrace it, with its spiritual benefits here and its rewards hereafter; for the kingdom of heaven established by Christ being spiritual, it comprehends both grace here, and glory hereafter. This beatitude is not to be confined to those to whom the Gospel was first preached. “The kingdom of heaven” is always “among” many who enter not into it for want of true poverty of spirit. To receive Christianity as a Divine institution, and, from a sense of our danger and necessity, to press, in the earnestness of prayer, and the vigorous actings of faith, into the personal experience of its spiritual blessings and future hopes, are distinct things; and through this lowly gate of humility only can we enter. The order of grace, as above stated, is, — “REPENT ye, and BELIEVE the Gospel.” Then comes that true “blessedness” which flows from the establishment of that kingdom of God in our hearts, which, is “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.”

Verse 4

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Blessed are they that mourn, &c. — This on the first view appears paradoxical; nor is it to be explained by referring the mourning and the subsequent comfort merely to outward things as their cause. There is, indeed, no blessedness in being plunged into afflictions to have the comfort of being ultimately relieved from them. This “saying” of our Lord may be taken,

1. To refer to that inward distress which the recollection of our offences against God produces in a contrite heart. It implies, however, tenderness as well as alarm; it regards sin against God in his characters of goodness and love, as well as those of majesty and justice; and hence that loathing of it, and those strong struggles to get free from its bondage, which characterize a genuine repentance. Such mourners are pronounced blessed by our Lord, not in reference to their present state, which is one of wretchedness; but to the “comfort” of the Holy Ghost which shall assuredly follow. To all such is promised the remission of sins, and the pledge of adoption in the abiding presence and solacing influence of “the Holy Ghost, the Comforter.” From true poverty of spirit proceeds this holy mourning, as from its principle.

2. It may also respect the afflictions of good men, considered in reference to those moral ends which we know from the doctrine of providence, as it is taught by our Lord and his apostles, the sufferings of such persons actually accomplish under Divine direction. The “comfort” however, in such cases, is not always the removal of afflictive circumstances. These may remain, and yet the promise of Christ shall stand firm. That consolation arises from the instruction and correction which sanctified troubles administer under the influence of grace; the special supports which are given in answer to prayer; the refining of the affections of the soul from remaining earthliness; and the stronger and more lively anticipations of that eternal rest where there shall be “no more pain, nor tears, nor death.”

Verse 5

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Blessed are the meek. — Meekness implies the absence of all irascible and malignant passions, and is the fruit of regenerating grace. It is a state of the soul produced by the habitual and supreme influence of prudence and benevolence. It is, therefore, patient of sufferings, and forgiving of injuries; and, however contrary the natural constitution of the mind may be to this affection, it is the certain effect of the Holy Spirit’s influence, fully received, to produce it in all who seek it. The example of Christ specially enforces this temper, in which strength and loveliness are so strikingly combined, upon his followers, and it is carefully enjoined in the writings of his apostles as an essential branch of true religion; for in the Christian system doctrines and external ordinances are regarded only as MEANS to the attainment of good principles, benevolent affections, and rightly ordered words and actions, and have no other value assigned them; a circumstance which always distinguishes true Christianity from its own corrupted forms, and from all the systems of Jewish and Gentile superstition. Meekness was little regarded as an element of practical piety among the Jews; though sometimes praised by their writers, and strongly urged in their Scriptures. For this reason, as well as to inculcate it upon all his followers, our Lord gives it an eminent place in this discourse, which formally unfolds the principles and characters of his religion.

For they shall inherit the earth. — Γη , here rendered earth, often means, in Scripture, the land of Judea. Those seem to err who confine this promise to the calm and placid enjoyment of life, which meekness of spirit tends to promote. This is undoubtedly true, as well as that a meek spirit often creates friends and secures advantages. But far below the meaning of our Lord are these earthly views. The language of the promise is taken from the promises made to the Jews, that they should inherit the land of Canaan, but from the time of Abraham, Canaan was invested with a typical character, and represented to the faith and hope of spiritually-minded Jews, the great inheritance of heaven. That was “the land afar off,” where “the King” was to be seen in his “beauty,” or, in other words, where a more glorious display was to be made of the majesty and worship of God, than in the temple of Jerusalem, even while God himself dwelt there, and all the pomp of the Levitical worship was observed. To the meek, therefore, the inheritance of the heavenly Canaan is here promised; and none but the meek shall inherit it; for without this essential branch of “holiness, no man shall see the Lord.” A beautiful contrast may also be remarked in this passage. The Jews came into possession of the land of Canaan through deeds of blood and force of arms; but the Christian warfare is not carnal but spiritual; and patience, humility, gentleness, and charity, are the arms by which we urge our way into the inheritance of heaven. Nor was our Lord’s use of the phrase, “inheriting the earth,” in the sense of enjoying future felicity, at all out of the common way of speaking among the Jews.

Maimonides, following earlier authorities, interprets “inheriting the land for ever, in Isaiah 60:21, in a figurative sense, as referring to the happiness of a future state; and perhaps there was floating in Plato’s mind some notion of terrestrial things being, in some respects, the types and emblems of heavenly ones; he calls heaven, “as it were the TRUE EARTH,” ως αληθως γη .

Ah! what is death? ‘Tis life’s vast shore, Where vanities are vain no more; Where all pursuits their goal obtain, And life is all retouch’d again. GAMBOLD.

Verse 6

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst, &c. — Here the strong desires of the mind are represented by the appetites of the body, a metaphor common in all languages. Righteousness is to be taken in the sense of holiness; which consists in the entire renewal of the soul after the image of God; which cannot be obtained without vehement desires, prayers, and efforts, and with which all those shall be abundantly satisfied who thus seek it. In them there shall be no lack of any virtue to complete the full and mature character of a true Christian. Desires so strong to be delivered from all sin, and to be endued with all moral excellences, must necessarily produce constant and earnest prayers to God for the renewing influences of his grace; but as God worketh in man “to will and to do,” that he may be encouraged to “work out his own salvation,” so in proportion to the sincerity with which we seek to obtain and to preserve a truly righteous state of heart, will be the diligence we shall use in all those means which God has appointed for the mortification of sin, the resistance of temptation, and the exercise of our virtues. Some writers, observing that διψαω in classical writers governs a genitive caste, suppose an ellipsis of δια before δικαιοσυνην , and so take the passage to be a declaration of the happiness of those who suffer hunger and thirst for the sake of righteousness; which would, however, make it the same benediction as that in verses 10 and 11. But in Hellenistic Greek διψαω is found followed with an accusative, as in the text; instances of which occur in the Septuagint, the Wisdom of Solomon, in Philo and Josephus.

Verse 7

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Blessed are the merciful, &c. — The exercise of mercy to others is often enjoined by our Lord with the strongest emphasis, and he enforces it by the highest example, that of God our heavenly Father; by the utter inconsistency of a selfish, obdurate disposition with the profession of his religion; and by the fearful menace of mercy being withheld from us if we deny it to others. To be merciful, implies a sympathizing regard to the miseries of others; liberality in relieving their distresses according to our utmost power; the ready forgiveness of offences, and the remission of obligations due to ourselves when the parties are unable to discharge them. And often, as to outward things, even is the promise fulfilled, that the merciful shall obtain mercy from God, in the gracious interpositions of his providence, and in the forgiveness of our sins. The latter is doubtless included in “obtaining mercy;” and though we cannot plead the exercise of mercy to others as giving us any claim upon so undeserved a blessing, yet thereby we remove out of the way that which would be an insuperable obstacle to the exercise of the mercy of God as to our own delinquencies and violated obligations.

Verse 8

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Blessed are the pure in heart. — Here again our Lord, according to the spirit and intent of his whole discourse, turns the attention of his hearers from those outward purifications which the more superstitious Jews, and especially the Pharisees, so carefully preached, and the importance of which they so greatly exaggerated, to the purification of the HEART. In that lies the true fountain of evil; and there the sanctification of man must begin and be completed. This purity of heart respects the intention, in opposition to religious hypocrisy; and so consists in the simple, unmixed desire to please God in all things: it implies, also, the extirpation of all unholy desires, imaginations, tendencies, and affections. But this cannot be a negative state only; the absence of all evil is necessarily the presence of all good. Hence, in this condition of mind, truth becomes the clear light of the judgment, and the exact rule of conscience; the will is rendered cheerfully submissive to Divine authority; God is loved “with all the heart, and mind, and soul, and strength, and our neighbour as ourselves;” and “whatsoever things are” externally, and in their outward, practical manifestation, “true, whatsoever things are” honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, if there be any virtue, if there be any praise,” the root of all, if they are real, and not simulated virtues, is a pure heart; a nature, to use St. Paul’s words, “sanctified wholly;” to effect which entire sanctification of man is the peculiar and glorious work of the Holy Ghost, through the Gospel.

For they shall see God. — This is not merely to enjoy his favour and special protection here and hereafter, as the phrase is taken by some to import. It has a larger meaning; and must be interpreted by other scriptures. Moses “endured, as SEEING Him who is invisible;” that is, he had respect to the power and faithfulness of a present God, and was thus preserved from fearing the wrath of Pharaoh. David had respect to God, setting him always “at his right hand,” and thus, through his trust in him was not “moved,” not agitated or oppressed, by his troubles. We have also the phrases of “walking in the light of God’s countenance,” and of “his face being turned toward the objects of his favour;” both of which imply intimate and gracious intercourse between God and his people. An habitual regard to the invisible Creator and Preserver in his visible works, and the recognition of his agency, and a right understanding of his purposes, both in judgments and in mercies, are also acts by which we are said to see God; and rightly to understand the Gospel of Christ, and so to love the truth which it reveals, and habitually and affectionately to meditate upon it, is called “beholding with unveiled face the glory of the Lord.” In all these respects the pure in heart see God on earth; and the more fully and habitually so, as their purity becomes more perfect. The promise, however, chiefly respects a future life. To see God, as he manifests himself to the glorified spirits of the redeemed in heaven, has from the beginning been the crowning hope of good men, and formed their noblest conception of future felicity and glory. Thus Job, “In my flesh shall I SEE God;” and of the man that “walketh righteously and speaketh uprightly,” Isaiah says, “Thine eyes shall SEE THE KING in his beauty.” — Concurring with these views, and with special reference to these very words of our Saviour, St. John has the following glowing passage: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know, that when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall SEE HIM AS HE IS. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.” Those who would confine the purity of heart spoken of in this verse to purity of intention, would not greatly err, if they extended the notion as far as Bernard, who defines purity of intention to consist “in directing all our actions to the honour of God, the good of our neighbour, and the preservation of a good conscience.” But how vast how complete a change in man’s moral nature does all this necessarily suppose! a change only to be accomplished by the great power of God, “working in us that which is well pleasing in his sight, that we may be perfect in every good work to do his will.”

Verse 9

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Blessed are the peace-makers. — This is equivalent to οι ποιουντες την ειρηνην , persons who, being themselves of a pacific disposition, exert themselves as to others to allay strifes, reconcile enmities, prevent wars and tumults, and to preserve society in harmony and charity. There is in this a tacit reproof of the factious and quarrelsome spirit of the Jews, and also of that eagerness to be led to war, in order to obtain the supremacy over other nations under the banners of their expected military Messiah, which was so much indulged by their greatest zealots. Now, however, the true Messiah speaks to them in his own appropriate character, as the Prince of peace, and declares that only the lovers and makers of peace are regarded as the children of God, and therefore the subjects of his kingdom: another indication to them of its purely spiritual nature; a character which it must retain to the end of time, unless the essential principles of Christianity are to be changed; a subject which ought to be well considered by those among ourselves, who indulge the Jewish dream of a visible and political reign of Christ. The reign of Christ is internal; it governs the hearts of men, and by them shall govern the world in tranquillity; when all, or the majority of our race shall have become subject, in their principles and affections, to its influence. So far as it now extends, its effect is to produce a pacific temper, and to harmonize the otherwise jarring elements of human society. We see this exemplified in pious families, and in those religious societies which retain most of their primitive simple heartedness, and most respect the rule of Christ, “to love one another.” These are delightful portraits, though in miniature, of the ultimate effect of the religion of peace and charity upon larger communities, and finally upon all nations.

For they shall be called the children of God. — To be called the children of God may be regarded as a Hebraism for to be the children of God; or the sense is, they shall be emphatically entitled “the children of God,” who is “the God of peace.” Thus St. Paul: “Be ye therefore followers of God as dear CHILDREN, and walk in love,” Ephesians 5:1-2. All the children of God are lovers and promoters of peace; and those who are of a contrary disposition have no right to invest themselves with that high title, or to consider themselves as a part of the family of God.

Verse 10

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.

The Pharisees and others looked for applause on account of their “righteousness;” and they acquired it in proportion to the opinion entertained of their sanctity. The righteousness of Christ’s disciples was to expose them to obloquy and to persecution; yet the one was external and hypocritical, the other real and universal. He only that perfectly knew the human heart could predict, and that in an age when every appearance of extraordinary piety commanded a deeply respectful deference, that in the case of his disciples the highest religious attainments should render them the more odious, and expose them to every form of insult and cruelty which malignant ingenuity could invent. The true reason was, that their righteousness “exceeded the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees;” exceeded it as the result of penitence, humility, trust in God, and the renunciation of all the secret evils of the heart; and exceeded it in its uniform and universal practical character. It was therefore a standing reproof of that righteousness which consisted chiefly in formality and hypocrisy.

And as the very charity of the Gospel bound those who received it to endeavour to remove the delusions of those who trusted in “the form of godliness, but denied its power,” it was felt to be intrusive, troublesome, and provoking to bad and deceived men. These are the causes which have ever made the religion of Christ, when fully explained and earnestly enforced, the object of the hatred of the world. The religion of the superstitious and self-righteous consists with pride, worldliness, and many other vices, the mortification of which is required by true Christianity. Hence, hatred of the truth itself naturally transfers itself to those who advocate it, and disturb the carnal security of others by a faithful and zealous exhibition of its reproving light. If any one thinks that the case is much changed in the present day, let him enforce upon all he meets with the spiritual nature and obligations of Christianity, and he will not fail to discover that still “the carnal mind is enmity against God.” The word rendered persecute, as Grotius well observes, is of forcible and extensive meaning. The Latin, persequi, does not express its force, which is rather to be taken in the sense of vexare, exagitare. We are not, therefore, with Beza, to confine it to the forensic sense, as persequi judicio; for it has not only been at the tribunals of tyrants that Christians have suffered persecution, but in the various forms of private malignity, and tumultuous popular commotion. It may also be remarked, that the most violent persecutors have been found among superstitious and fanatical men, who have themselves made great pretensions to some kind of sanctity. Antiochus Epiphanes was a fanatical idolater; the Jewish scribes and Pharisees pursued our Lord and his disciples with unrelenting bitterness; “trusted in themselves that they were righteous.” Several of the Roman emperors who distinguished themselves most against the primitive Church were blind in their attachment to the popular religion; and popery and Mohammedanism would have been less cruel had they been less superstitious and self righteous.

For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. — Good men, in seasons of persecution, often enter most deeply into the experience of Christianity. It is only by maintaining the vigour of these graces, that they can maintain the ground on which they are exposed to attacks so constant and rude; and their immediate reward is a more intimate fellowship with God, and richer internal consolations. “As our afflictions abound our consolations abound.” In this sense the kingdom of heaven may be truly said to be theirs, who are “persecuted for righteousness’ sake;” though our Lord ultimately refers, as in the twelfth verse, to the rewards of another life. Among the crowns of heaven the martyr’s crown is the most glorious. Hence the strong exhortation, “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven.”

For so persecuted they the prophets, &c. — If γαρ be taken in its most common import as a causative conjunction, then the reason for this joy of the persecuted disciples of Christ, as drawn from the case of the prophets, is, that as those venerable persons, notwithstanding their persecutions, were then enjoying the high rewards of heaven, the disciples were assured that the same felicities and honours would as certainly follow their sufferings for the same cause. But if γαρ be taken as a particle of affirmation, then the intention of Christ was to remove all surprise from the minds of men, that the teachers of his religion should be hated and injured solely on that account. The answer to this tacit objection, therefore, is, As the holy prophets were persecuted by bad men, so bad men will always be disposed to hate and persecute my holy and zealous disciples The former sense is, I think, to be preferred.

Verse 13

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Ye are the salt of the earth. — This is undoubtedly spoken of the true disciples of Christ. Salt furnishes metaphor, both to profane and sacred writers, to express the qualities and effects of wisdom, truth, and goodness. The particular property of this mineral which is here referred to is its resistance to putrefaction. In the midst of that which is corrupt it preserves its own purity; and it diffuses its own influence through the mass of several substances, and communicates to them its own incorruptibility. Thus the character and the public influence of true Christians are each forcibly represented. The earth signifies, not the land of Judea, as in verse 5, but the whole world. This is made evident by what follows, which is but the same idea placed under another aspect: “Ye are the light of the world,” referring to the sun, which gives light to all nations. Christianity, exemplified, maintained, and diffused by the disciples of Christ, was designed for the illumination and salvation of all mankind. Thus our Lord, even at this early period, taught that the benefits of his mission were not to be confined to the Jews only; a subject, however, which was not as yet fully apprehended by his hearers, though in perfect accordance with the prophecies of their own Scriptures.

But if the salt have lost his savour. — We have no indigenous salt of this description; but the salt of Judea was the rock or fossil salt, or else that left by the evaporation of salt lakes on the borders of the Dead Sea. Both these kinds of salt were apt to lose their pungency. Maundrell in his travels broke off a piece of salt from a rock, and found that externally, through exposure to the atmosphere, it had become tasteless; but the inner part, where it had been joined to the rock, retained its savour. Schoettgen has shown that considerable quantities of salt were used in sacrifice, and that when any part of it had been found tasteless, it was thrown upon the floor of the court of the temple. This, however, better explains a similar passage in Mark 9:49-50: “Every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. Salt is good,” &c, where the use of salt in the sacrifices is expressly referred to. Here the general qualities of good salt to preserve and to communicate its own incorruptibility are those referred to; and whether in the temple, or in domestic use, if any portion of salt was found to have lost its saltness, it would, as a matter of course, be thrown away, and so be trampled under foot. The savourless salt represents those who have lost the vital influence of piety.

Neither does their conversation savour of the things of God; nor do their conduct and spirit exert a sanctifying influence upon others. Their profession may remain; the doctrines of Christ may still generally be held; all the external signs of piety may be exhibited by them; but the spirit, the PUNGENCY, is gone. The dry and sapless branch, and the tasteless and unsavoury salt, are their proper emblems. And as the salt which had lost its savour was rejected from those nobler uses for which it had become unfit, and cast upon the ground to be trodden under foot, so the disowning of unfaithful disciples by Christ, and their degradation and punishment, are thus strongly represented for the admonition of the careless. The expression, “wherewith shall it be salted,” appears not to have been rightly understood by those interpreters who think that it imports that the savour of grace can never be regained, and that therefore the case of hopeless apostates is represented under this figure. It was rather the intention of our Lord to impress his disciples with the sin and danger of being USELESS to mankind, through the neglect of personal and influential piety. “Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt have lost its savour, wherewith shall IT,” that is, the earth, “be salted?” or purified. To be useless, is, in fact, to be injurious; and he who neglects his own salvation is a hinderance to many others. Thus is his guilt aggravated. — Μωραινω answers to the Hebrew word תפל , which signifies both unsavouriness and a fool; that is, a man destitute of both wisdom and goodness.

Verses 14-15

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Ye are the light of the world, &c. — In these verses we have three metaphors, which, equally with the former, are intended to impress the disciples of Christ with their duty to the world in general. They are all public, not merely private characters; they are to communicate, as well as to receive; and to consider themselves bound, by their very profession, to extend as far as possible the light and influence of their religion; they are therefore called, “the light of the world,” in allusion to the sun; “a city set upon a hill;” and are farther compared to the house lamp, which was lighted in the evening, in every family in the common apartment. Perhaps there is here a reference to the threefold duty obligatory upon every true Christian, as a public character, to the world, to his country, and to his family. The sun gives light to all the nations of the earth; and upon every Christian the obligation lies, according to his ability, to promote, by his prayers, his exertions, and his liberalities, the extension of the kingdom of Christ throughout the whole earth. The CITY set upon the hill alluded to, might be Jerusalem; for, whether this sermon was delivered in sight of the metropolis or not, we see from the constant references made in the Psalms to its lofty situation, that this was always an association in the mind of a Jew when he spoke of Jerusalem.

It was the city “whose foundation was in the holy mountains.” As the tribes were in the habit of going up to the great festivals, the lofty situation of Jerusalem seen at great distances, would become matter of familiar remark. Josephus describes the distant view, crowned with its magnificent temple, and the rays of the sun reflected from its marble towers, as peculiarly striking. So conspicuous ought the Church of Christ to be in every nation in which it is planted; and so prominent in all its holy institutions, for the noblest of all patriotic purposes, the maintenance of the authority and influence of religion among all orders of the State. The family LAMP, placed upon its stand, and giving light to the family, seems to indicate the duty of domestic piety and zeal. Their houses were illuminated all night long by lamps placed upon a large stand, or, as our translation calls it, a “candlestick,” fixed in the ground; from which the smaller lamps were lighted, which were to be used in the other apartments. Such is the office of the head of every Christian family, “to give light to all that are in the house,” by his instructions and example.

Verse 16

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Let your light so shine, &c. — This would be better rendered, “So let your light shine.” As no one putteth a lamp under a bushel, μοδιον , a measure, to hide its light, so let your light shine before men that they may see your good works, — both the truth, of which you are to be the teachers and advocates, and all those holy works which become this truth, and commend it.

And glorify your Father, &c. — To glorify God here does not merely signify to give praise to him, but along with that to confess the truth and Divine origin of a religion teaching such truths, and raising men to so high characters of holiness, and under these views and impressions to embrace it.

Verse 17

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, &c. — On this declaration so many great theological consequences depend, that it is highly important for us rightly to understand its import. The word rendered to destroy, signifies, primarily, to loose, to dissolve; and, when applied to a law, means to abrogate or annul. “The law” is used in two leading senses in the New Testament; for the whole Mosaic institute, and for the moral law, by way of eminence, the law whose substance is found in the ten commands “written and engraven on stones,” and enforced in the writings of the prophets. The context so clearly confines our Lord’s meaning to this moral law, that, had it not been for the occurrence of the word πληρωσαι , to fulfil, in this passage, one of the senses of which is to accomplish, no one probably would have extended our Lord’s meaning to the ceremonial law, and to the prophecies in their strict sense as predictions; both of which were truly fulfilled in him; the former, by supplying the antitype to the type; the latter, by accomplishment. This word, however, also signifies, to perfect, or complete. The Greek fathers explain it by filling up a vessel to the brim, which was before but partially filled; and the completion of a picture previously sketched. This idea fully accords with what follows; for our Lord first, in the most solemn manner, asserts the continued obligation of the moral law, by declaring that “whosoever should break one of these least commandments, and should teach men so, should be called least in the kingdom of heaven;” that is, be rejected from it; which could only be spoken of the moral law; for as to the rites and ceremonies of the Jewish law, his inspired apostles ultimately taught their followers to disregard them entirely.

Secondly, he proceeds to give a more spiritual and extensive meaning to many of the moral precepts than we find explicitly contained in any part of the Old Testament; and thereby showed that all the precepts of the law, even those which he does not specify, were to be understood as controlling the inward thoughts and desires of the heart; and thus he perfected or filled up the revelation of the moral law; and by this act he placed himself on an equality with the original Lawgiver. By the prophets we are also to understand, not those writings of the prophets which contained predictions of future events, and especially, of the future Christ, though most evidently accomplished in and by him; but those PRECEPTIVE parts of their writings, in which the moral law was enforced, and other injunctions of a moral kind founded upon, or suggested by it. That our Lord does not confine his expositions strictly to the law of the ten commandments is plain, from his selecting other points out of the juridical institutions of the Jews, (such, however, as have a manifest moral character and influence,) and either explaining or enlarging their sense, or else restraining them from misapplication. Such are those respecting divorce, swearing, and judicial retaliation. As to several other moral topics on which he dwells, such as almsgiving, ostentatious praying, covetousness, &c., they are also frequently adverted to in the reproofs and exhortations of the prophets; and these are placed by our Lord so manifestly upon their true principles, and exhibited in so strong a light of simple, searching truth, and so sanctioned by promises and threatenings, that he may most emphatically be said to have perfected the moral law, as it appears in the prophets also, and thus to have presented to us a revelation of “the will of God,” as to “our sanctification,” more complete than was ever before given to mankind.

He does not formally reenact the ancient law, but he lays down its perpetual obligation; he teaches us to go more deeply into its meaning as a law, not merely for the regulation of the conduct, but the government of the heart. Both on this occasion, and at various times through the course of his ministry, he ADDED also many particular precepts. It is of the same law of which our Lord speaks, and with evident reference to his words in this passage, that the Apostle Paul says, “Do we then make void THE LAW through faith? God forbid; yea, we establish the law,” Romans 3:31. where he changes the term to complete or perfect, for that of “to establish,” because it was the province, not of the servant but of the master, who was in fact the lawgiver himself, to COMPLETE what was lacking in the former revelations of the law of God to man, by authorized exposition, and by additions standing upon the same right of the speaker to command, and the same obligation of the hearer to obey. This view of our Lord’s meaning renders quite irrelevant much criticism which has been expended upon the text when it is understood to comprehend the ceremonial law, to which our Lord indeed makes no allusion in the discourse which follows, and therefore cannot be supposed to have had any reference to it here. Dr. Marsh’s attempt to prove that our Lord did not abolish even the Levitical law of Moses, or the outward forms of the Jewish religion, but left them to take their course, as not worthy his attention; whatever merit it may have, it has nothing to do with the text before us, which respects not the law of ceremonies, and affords therefore no illustration of it. There is, indeed, an important sense in which Christ fulfilled the ceremonial law; that is, its types, in his own person; for in his passion he realized them as fully as he accomplished the prophecies. Still this is not the point to which the text has respect; for by fulfilling the law of figures and shadows, he dissolved its obligations for ever; whereas, by fulfilling in the sense of perfecting or completing the moral law, he established it for ever.

Verse 18

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

For verily I say unto you, &c. — Αμην is most frequently used in a PRECATIVE sense, as at the end of prayers, and then it signifies so let it be; and is therefore rendered γενοιτο , fiat, by the LXX. In introducing a discourse, as here, and on many other occasions, by our Lord, who often repeats it, it is solemnly AFFIRMATIVE of the truth and importance of what follows, and has the sense of the Greek αληθως , the word used by St. Luke, and of our verily. An idle opinion has obtained among a few commentators, that the word amen, as employed by our Lord, has somewhat of the nature of an oath; to which they appear to have been led by observing it stated in Jewish writings, that he that says amen to an oath is equally bound with him that more formally makes it, and by the use of this word takes the oath upon himself. However casuistry might determine that question, is another consideration; but amen would, in that case, be used in its precative sense, and not as a mere affirmative, which is the case whenever it is employed by our Lord as introductory to any of his sayings; and to make him affirm them in the form of an oath, is as uncritical as it is repulsive.

Till heaven and earth pass. — This is a proverbial expression to signify through all time; to the end of the world.

One jot or one tittle. — One ιωτα , iota, a Greek letter, which answers to the Hebrew י jod, the smallest of their alphabet. The “tittle,” κεραια , was with the Hebrews the slight mark at the angle of some of their letters, distinguishing them from others similar in form, as ב from כ ; ד from ר ; and so the meaning is, that not the smallest part of the law should be abolished; for the Jews, as Lightfoot remarks, use jod, their smallest letter, to express a short precept of their law.

Till all be fulfilled. — Εως αν παντα γενηται , till all things be done, or accomplished. Till the law, through the grace of the Gospel, has effected its original purpose, to subject men to the dominion of God. That it is the end of the Gospel, and a glorious display of its grace, to restore the dominion of the law over renewed minds, cannot be doubted by any who enter truly into the meaning of the words of St. Paul, “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE LAW MIGHT BE FULFILLED IN US, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit,” Romans 8:3-4. Thus, the authority of the law, and willing and entire obedience to it, are established over the fully regenerated on earth; and still more perfectly shall its holy rules, and their absolute obedience, be established for ever in heaven among the glorified redeemed; while the same authority shall be manifested in the punishment of the obstinately disobedient over whom its awful majesty, and the eternally binding character of its penalty, DEATH, shall be established for ever. This DOUBLE fulfilment or completion of the ends of law is mentioned in the succeeding verses.

Verse 19

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Whosoever, therefore, shall break one of these least commandments, &c. — One of the least of these commandments would have been a clearer rendering. Whosoever shall break any commandment of God, great or small, that is, wilfully, and presuming that Christianity has set him free from the obligation to obey the moral law, which is adopted by Christ as the law of his dispensation, and as it is explained and enforced by him. And shall teach men so, under whatever pretence of exalting Christ and his righteousness, Antinomian teachers may contemn the law, and deny its obligation upon Christians as a rule of holiness. He shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven. He shall be deemed unworthy to be ranked among the subjects of my kingdom. Those commentators (and they are not a few) who take “the kingdom of heaven” here to mean the Christian Church, understand the phrase, “to be least in that kingdom,” in the sense of not being esteemed in it. This is the view of Campbell, who follows many others But what, then, we may ask, does our Lord mean when, in the very next verse, he declares that except our righteousness shall even exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, we shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven? The visible Church on earth cannot, therefore, be intended; and we must refer the words to a future state into which that kingdom which Christ set up on earth extends. To be “the least in the kingdom of heaven,” is only a softened form of expressing a strong truth, which yet, when rightly conceived, only serves to heighten the impression. So it was understood by Chrysostom; and this sense is necessarily attached to it by verse 20.

Beside this, our Lord is evidently addressing himself to his disciples, and speaking of those who, under that character, would contend that their Master came to annul, or render indifferent, the moral law, — a heresy which has been, in fact, so frequent and so fatal in the Church, that one might expect our Lord, in his perfect prescience of the future, to set up a barrier against it. Into his Church on earth, such persons have unquestionably often “entered;” but our Lord declares that into his heavenly kingdom they shall not enter. Those also who think that there is in the words a reference to the violation of the precepts of the law by the Pharisees, under the influence of their corrupt traditions, appear to be in error. They are misled by the notion of Lightfoot, that reference is made in “every line” of this sermon to the perversions of the Jews; which is not true as to every part of the discourse, though it holds good in some. Were this theory to be applied throughout, it would but darken, and not illustrate this Divine discourse. With respect to the Pharisees, it is indeed indubitable that, with great reverence and zeal for the law, that law was frequently violated by them; “they made it void by their traditions;” and what Maimonides says, was probably applicable in our Lord’s time, “that the sanhedrim held, that it had power, for the time present, to make void an affirmative command, and to transgress a negative one, in order to turn many to their religion; or that, in order to prevent many of the Israelites from stumbling at other things, they might do whatever present circumstances rendered necessary.”

Thus, he adds, “The former wise men say, A man may profane one Sabbath in order to keep many Sabbaths.” They therefore acted on the principle of doing evil that good might come; which has been the dishonest source of great moral corruption in Churches. Much more might be added in illustration of this, as to the Jews; and it indeed proves, that a detestable and delusive method of dealing with matters of conscience very generally prevailed among their leading sects, which was afterward copied by the teachers of corrupt Christian Churches, and was especially perfected by the order of Jesuits in the Church of Rome. This “deceivableness of unrighteousness” is inseparable from a systematized superstition; and to all such cases the monitory and reproving words of the text may be justly applied. By all persons of this description some of the commandments of God, at least, are violated; and the very principle which leads to that prevents a spiritual and real observance of the others. Such violaters of the law cannot, therefore, “enter the kingdom of heaven,” that is, they cannot be saved; for although the rhetorical figure, μειωσις , is used, “shall be called LEAST in the kingdom of heaven,” yet the plain import is, that they shall be found so little, so “lightly esteemed,” though in their own imagination great saints, so contemptible and base, as to be wholly excluded when Christ “shall come to be our Judge.” Still, however, the direct and primary reference of the text is to the Antinomian heresy, those persons being certainly intended, as the scope of the passage shows, who receive Christ under the notion that he came to annul the obligation of the moral law upon his disciples, and TEACH this fatal notion.

Verse 20

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Except your righteousness shall exceed, &c. — Here the Pharisees are brought in for the sake of illustration. So far are Christ’s disciples from being allowed to break any commandment, though accounted the least, their righteousness is to exceed even that of the Pharisees, who were the advocates of the perpetual obligation of the law, though on wrong principles, and greatly extended its strictness. It is to exceed or to abound more than theirs in UNIVERSALITY: they violated some of the commands; we are to keep them all. And it is to exceed theirs in depth, having its root in a renewed heart, and controlling the very thoughts: for the Pharisees did not extend the law of God to the thoughts; so that with them evil desires and purposes were not sinful, if they did riot express themselves in overt acts, even though this were prevented by mere circumstances, and not by conscience and self denial. Several proofs of this have been collected from their writings; of which Kimshi’s comment upon Psalms 66:18, may be given as a pregnant instance. The words of David are, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me;” that is, says this unblushing interpreter, “He will not impute it to me for sin; for God does not look upon an evil thought as sin, unless it be conceived against God and religion;” meaning, unless it be either blasphemous or idolatrous; for these only were excepted. It was to this lax view of the obligation of the law, no doubt, that our Lord alludes, when he charges the Pharisees with making clean “the outside” of the vessel only.

This part of the discourse, therefore, forms an appropriate introduction to that spiritual exposition of the intent and obligation of the Divine law which follows.

The scribes. — For an account of the sects of the Pharisees and Sadducees see note on Matthew 3:7. The scribes were either civil or ecclesiastical. The former were keepers of registers, genealogies, and muster rolls, copyists of various writings, and were remarkable for fine writing. They were of various degrees of rank, just as amanuenses, secretaries, and registrars are among us. The scribes, who were employed merely in civil offices, and who used the art of writing as a profession, do not appear to be mentioned in the New Testament. The ecclesiastical scribes are supposed at first to have been chiefly employed as copyers of the law and the other sacred books, on which great pains and care was bestowed. Afterward they became instructers of the people in the written law, and public readers of it. During our Saviour’s ministry they were looked up to as the most qualified expounders both of the law and the prophets, and were of great influence and authority among the Jews. “Scribes,” “doctors of the law,” and “lawyers,” were only different names for the same persons. They were public teachers, and had disciples, and were, for the most part, of the sect of the Pharisees. See note on Matthew 2:4.

Ye shall in no case enter, &c. — “In no case,” ου μη , an emphatic negative, signifying, not at all, not by any means. See note on verse 19.

Verse 21

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Ye have heard that it was said — Some of our principal commentators think that Christ did not here intend to give a more spiritual and extensive exposition of the law of Moses, but only to correct those false glosses, which, on the authority of their traditions, the scribes and Pharisees had put upon these precepts. But if our Lord had principally referred to such traditions, he would scarcely have used the phrase, “of old time,” because, at the farthest, such traditions could only have sprung up subsequently to the close of the order of prophets, who, while they continued, were the inspired and acknowledged expositors of the law. These two views are not, however, in opposition to each other. The law was always understood spiritually by spiritual men; and allusions to its office to regulate the whole heart, as well as the conduct, often appear in the Psalms and the writings of the prophets; but, till our Lord entered upon his office as the great Teacher of the law, the import of those of its precepts which forbade certain outward acts, considered as equally prohibitory of the evil principles and affections which tend to produce them, was never so expressly, and with such authority, laid down as the law of heaven. It was the absence of this express manner of stating the import of these commands which gave occasion to those wretched casuists in the Jewish Church, who separated morals from their principles, to adopt and teach such interpretations as quite destroyed the obligations of internal holiness. Our Lord, therefore, at one and the same time, refutes their misleading doctrines, maintains the original spirituality of the decalogue, gives to his explicit exposition of it the force of the original law, by a formal enunciation of its meaning, and branches it out into more particular precepts; so that by this means, as above stated, he fulfilled or completed it.

By them of old time. — Rather, TO them of old time, according to the fathers and the ancient versions; that is, to the Israelites, who received the law from Sinai; ερρεθη being always joined to a dative case, Romans 9:12; Galatians 3:16, &c. So also the Greek fathers understood the passage.

Shall be in danger of the judgment. — Liable to the punishment which the law inflicts upon murder. Our Lord joins the prohibition of the crime of murder in the moral law, with its penalty in their juridical law, which also was delivered “to them of old time.”

Verse 22

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

But I say unto you. — Here our Lord expressly assumes the character of a lawgiver, not as a delegated servant, but as having an original inherent authority to command; “but I say;” &c. This, surely, is not the style of a mere man, and can only be justified on the ground of his true and proper Divinity, of which, indeed, it is a powerful proof. Thus, though in this discourse, as St. Basil observes, “GOD WITH MAN delivered not his law amidst the terrors of Sinai, the sound of a trumpet, and circling fire; but mildly and gently, as possessing the same nature as those to whom he delivered it;” yet, amidst all this lowliness, the concealed majesty breaks forth; and this manner of speaking, so different from that of human teachers, was felt, though not yet fully understood by his hearers, who were “astonished at his doctrine;” because he taught them as one having AUTHORITY, and not as the scribes.

Angry with his brother. — By brother our Lord means ANY ONE, any human being. By the term brother the Jews understood only an Israelite; and by “a neighbour,” a proselyte, in opposition to a Samaritan or a heathen: and as our Lord taught, in the parable of the good Samaritan, that all men were neighbours, so here the very reason and principle of the precept shows that he regarded all men as brethren; thus destroying all those distinctions of a false casuistry among the Jews, to which they resorted, in order to justify their selfishness, bigotry, and malevolence.

Without a cause. — Although εικη is wanting in the Vulgate, and in two Greek MSS.; yet as the Syriac, and also all the other Greek MSS. have it, the majority of critics, following Chrysostom, and all the earliest fathers, both Greek and Latin, retain it. The reason why some have been disposed to reject a word which has so weighty an evidence in its favour, as apart of the pure text, appears to have arisen from refined notions concerning anger. Εικη , rendered by us without cause, signifies lightly, or intemperately, sine modo, as Grotius says, as well as sine causa. It is, indeed, necessary to the perfection of the precept to comprise both ideas; since persons who are rashly angry are often so without cause, and also often carry it beyond the measure when a real grievance has been sustained. The intention of our Lord was obviously to inculcate self- command, the complete subjection of the passion of anger to REASON and to CHARITY; and he therefore condemns all that excess which violates the rules of each. But the passion itself is not sinful when thus governed. It is then the warm repulsion of whatever is injurious and unworthy, in word or deed, by a pure and honourable mind, but accompanied by no malignity against the offender, and along with which the spirit of forgiveness is maintained. Hence anger is attributed to our Lord; and we are exhorted to be “angry and sin not:” plain proofs that the existence of this passion may consist with the highest moral state of the mind, and that it is not to be destroyed in the Christian, but sanctified.

Shall be in danger of the judgment. — That is, shall be guilty of a capital offence, and liable to capital punishment, which the Jewish courts of twenty-three had anciently the power to inflict. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, — vain, worthless fellow, a term of great contempt among the Jews, except when used in solemn religious reproofs, — shall be in danger of the council; that is, the sanhedrim, which had the power of inflicting death by stoning, a still more aggravated form of punishment. Whether at this time the power of life and death had been taken away from the great council by the Romans or not, as we know it was at the time of our Lord’s condemnation, they had still the power of declaring that by their laws a criminal “ought to die;” so that the allusion still held good. But whosoever shall say, Thou fool, a stronger word man raca, and which implied a higher degree of anger, and that of a more malignant character as importing a charge of moral turpitude, of wicked and reprobate principle, shall be in danger of hell fire, the severest punishment of all. Gehenna, the word used here by our Saviour, is compounded of two Hebrew words, signifying the valley of Hinnom, which is a part of the valley which bounds Jerusalem, where in ancient idolatrous times children were offered to Moloch, an Ammonite deity, and consumed by fire. The place was therefore called Tophet, which signifies, “a loath-some abomination.” To this place, afterward, the refuse and offal of Jerusalem was carried, and consumed by perpetual fires. It is doubtful whether the Jews in our Lord’s time punished malefactors by burning; but in some cases this was enjoined by the Mosaic law: and the passage before us makes it probable that this was not then a punishment wholly unknown, though unfrequent.

The intention of our Lord in comparing the degrees of punishment to be inflicted upon sinful anger to the different capital punishments of the Jews, simply putting to death, then death by stoning, and in the third degree by burning, is obvious. He speaks figuratively; for no temporal punishments of the kind he mentions were inflicted upon anger by the Jews, and so his hearers were not obnoxious to them; but he teaches us, that intemperance and malevolent anger is such an offence as excludes men from heaven, and renders them liable to future punishment; and that, according to the degree in which it may be indulged, and the injury it may prompt those who unhappily subject themselves to its influence to inflict upon others, either by exposing them to contempt, or blighting their moral character, or by any other means, it shall be visited with proportionate punishments, even to that which is most extreme. So necessary is it for us to acquire and maintain an entire government over this dangerous clement of our nature.

Verse 23

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Therefore, if thou bring thy gift, &c. — Severe as our Lord’s condemnation of sinful anger may appear, he here opens a way of escape from its consequences to those who have been guilty of it. No gifts at the altar are acceptable to God, or available to the worshipper, without penitence and charity. This was first levelled against the formalists of the time, who regarded the mere acts of worship and ceremonial service as in themselves meritorious; but we are to remember there, that is, before the altar, whether our brother has any thing against us; which supposes a habit of examination into the state of our hearts and our past conduct, when we approach God; and if an honest conscience suggests the charge of any offence against a brother, leave there thy gift, thy sacrifice or offering, before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother; that is, reconcile thyself to him, as the verb signifies; use every means to render him propitious to thee; and seek his forgiveness by due acknowledgment and reparation of the offence.

Verse 25

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Agree with thine adversary, &c. — Here our Lord does not introduce a new subject, as some have thought, and exhort debtors to a speedy settlement of their accounts, or the making pecuniary compensation for injuries, which would have been foreign to his purpose; but he enforces the necessity of offering satisfaction to an offended brother: an allusion to the practice of prudent men, who hasten to satisfy the demands of their creditor, or to propitiate accusers, lest they should be exposed to fine, and, in default of that, to arrest and imprisonment. As a creditor or an injured man may hastily enforce the law upon a careless debtor or culprit, so the anger of God may suddenly break forth against him who has injured and offended another, and thus broken the Divine law as interpreted by our Lord, unless he gain his brother by confession and restitution. Be in haste to be at peace with all mankind. The process here described seems best illustrated, not from purely Jewish, but from foreign customs, which, during the reign of Herod the Great, were largely introduced. There is in this, says Hug, a direct view to the Roman law de injuriis, according to which the complainant, with his own hand, dragged the accused before the judge, without magisterial summons, in jus rapit; yet, according to which, on the road, an agreement, transactio, remains open to him; but should not this be accomplished, the MULCT instantly awaits him: which if he does not discharge, he is cast into prison until its liquidation. Αντιδικος , rendered adversary, is a plaintiff in a suit at law. While thou art in the way with him, signifies, as you are going with him to the magistrate. (See Luke 12:58.) The farthing was two leptahs or mites; the value of the farthing quadrans, a Roman coin, was about three halfpence.

Verse 28

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Whoso looketh upon a woman. — That the guilt of secret inclinations to sin was concluded from the letter of the law, by the ancient Jews, appears from many passages in the Old Testament, and from the manifest strugglings and prayers of the pious against all “secret sins.” The law prohibiting adultery would therefore be understood to prohibit also all impure desires; but it was now explicitly enacted, so to speak, by the great Lawgiver himself, that THE DESIRE OF SIN IS SIN; and that he who indulges that desire comes under the penalty of the law as certainly as he who commits an outward violation of it. It was the more necessary to declare this, because of that delusive casuistry on the subject of moral duties, which had been adopted by the Jewish teachers, before alluded to. Outward acts alone with them were reputed sinful, not thoughts and desires, or even intentions of evil, as before stated. In that respect they fell below the heathen moralists themselves: —

Nam scelus intra se tacitum qui cogitat ullum, Facti crimen habet.


“For he who conceives any secret wickedness within himself has the guilt of the deed.” But against all such attempts weaken the import of the laws of God, whether by the Pharisees or by corrupt and subtle Christian teachers, our Lord erects this impassable barrier. He requires from his disciples such a purity of heart as shall lead them to abstain, not only from all gross acts of impurity, but from the indulgence of irregular thoughts; and thus, by this salutary law, man is guarded against the very first step to pollution. Alexander the Great, when he ordered some of his soldiers to be put to death for adultery, was able to enforce his severity in this respect, with this noble declaration, that, for his own part, he had not suffered himself to see the wife of the conquered Darius, his prisoner, nor so much as to think of seeing her; nor had he permitted her beauty to be the subject of conversation in his presence. Bishop Porteus, on this precept of our Lord, justly remarks, “This is wisdom, this is morality, in its most perfect form; in its essence, and in its first principles. Bad thoughts quickly ripen into bad actions; and if the latter only are forbidden, while the former are left free, all morality will soon be at an end.”

Verse 29

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

If thy right eye offend thee, &c. Σκανδαλιζειν , which is usually rendered, in our version, to offend, is from σκανδαλον , a stumbling block, which being placed in the way causes a person to stumble or to fall. By Suidas it is explained, A TRAP. Whatever, therefore, becomes an occasion of our FALLING from a state of purity into sin; whatever would lead us into criminal ENTANGLEMENTS of our consciences and affections, must be resolutely renounced, at the expense of every sacrifice, however painful or costly. Joseph, with respect to Potiphar’s wife, is an instance of this kind of sacrifice: he chose to hazard a bad woman’s fury and its consequences, and he meekly sustained them in a long imprisonment rather than desecrate himself by sin. The metaphors of cutting off the right hand and eye, are probably taken from surgery, when a mortified member must be exscinded to save the whole body; and they strongly teach us a rigid, and if necessary, a painful self-denial, in order to escape guilt, and its punishment. See note on Mark 9:48.

Verse 31

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Whosoever shall put away his wife, &c. — The Mosaic law of divorce is found in Deuteronomy 24:1: “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 in her hand, and send her out of his house.” On the meaning of this law, the Jewish schools were divided, and the dispute was especially ardent about our Lord’s time; the school of Shammai taking the ערוה , rendered by us, uncleanness, to signify whoredom; and that of Hillel contending that it meant any defect whatever, either of person or disposition. However this might be decided, divorces had been long frequent among the Jews, and that for trivial causes; and the general interpretation of the law had introduced a laxity far beyond its intention. Here then our Lord, in his capacity of the Lawgiver of his own dispensation, settles this question also; a question of the highest importance to the institution of marriage, which is the source of all the domestic virtues, and the fountain of public morals. He allows the bill of divorce, but restrains it absolutely to cases which directly and essentially violate the marriage covenant. Πορνεια , “fornication,” is usually distinguished from adultery; and some difficulties have therefore been raised as to the exact meaning of our Lord. These are, however, removed by considering πορνεια as a generic term signifying criminal sexual intercourse, and which in the case of a married woman necessarily became adultery.

Verse 32

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Causeth her to commit adultery, &c. — By setting her at liberty to marry another, which was expressly done in the bill of divorce, one of the clauses in the form being, “So as to be free, and at thy own disposal to marry whom thou pleasest, without hinderance from any one,” &c.

Verse 33

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Thou shalt not forswear thyself, &c. — Our Lord does not here explain or give an extended sense to the Mosaic law, which prohibits perjury; but he enforces it against a practice of the Jews, which was founded upon distinctions invented to cover deceit and treachery. Our Lord, instead of forbidding oaths to be taken before a magistrate, or on solemn occasions, leaves that as it stands in the decalogue, and in Leviticus 19:12. for none of the oaths which he prohibits in what follows were by THE NAME of God, which all JUDICIAL oaths were: “Ye shall not swear by my name falsely.” He himself, though for a time silent on his examination before the high priest, answered when ADJURED “by the living God;” and sanctioned the oath by taking it upon himself. See the note on the place. What he forbids is false swearing, in any mode: for as the Jews thought that swearing by heaven, by the temple, or by the head, their usual voluntary oaths, were not as binding as when the name of God was invoked, Christ, on the contrary, shows that such oaths came under the Mosaic prohibition of swearing falsely; and that their violation rendered the offender liable to an equal penalty. That this practice, of adjuring creatures and not God, prevailed among the Jews, appears from Philo, who has a passage forbidding men to swear in extrajudicial cases by the Supreme Cause; but, if necessary, directs them to record the earth, the sun, or the heavens. And that they trifled with such oaths, we learn from Maimonides, who says, that “if any man swear by heaven or by earth, yet this is not an oath;” meaning not an oath in the highest sense, such as the law regarded, or the violation of which would come under its rule of swearing falsely. It was not unknown to the heathen that this fallacy was practised among the Jews. A curious illustration of this has frequently been cited from an epigram of Martial: —

Ecce! negas, jurasque mihi per templa tonantis; Non credo: Jura, verpe, per ANCHIALUM.

“Lo, thou deniest it, and swearest by heaven; but I believe thee not. Swear then by Anchialus,” that is, אם תי איה , as God liveth, which, with the Jews, was a binding oath. When, therefore, our Lord says, “Swear not at all,” he neither refers to profane swearing by the name of God, which impiety as well as perjury is dearly forbidden by the third commandment; nor does he forbid judicial oaths administered by proper authority, nor adjurations in the name of God, on other solemn occasions, but all such swearing as he immediately specifies.; “by heaven,” “by the earth,” “by Jerusalem,” “by the head,” and other similar oaths, wherein some creature is adjured. These oaths were often trifled with; and he therefore inhibits them altogether, because they led men into the sin of perjury, under the false casuistry of their teachers, who taught that because in them the name of God was not appealed to, their violation did not amount to any great offence. On the contrary, Christ determines that they all, in fact, implied an appeal to God, inasmuch as he could not be separated from the work of his hands. For since they swore by one or other of the objects here mentioned, as imprecating upon themselves misfortune or punishment from it if they swore deceitfully, every appeal to a creature as an avenger of falsehood, independent of God, whose power alone gives energy to the creatures to bless or to hurt, was a manifest folly. “Swear not at all,” therefore, is the precept: neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: Isaiah 66:1: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King, who has his temple there: neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black; the health or sickness of the human frame being constantly in the hands of God. Thus he teaches, that to swear by any of the creatures is, in fact, to swear by God who made and preserves them; and that the violation of such oaths was as truly an act of perjury as when the name of God was directly appealed to.

It is a beautiful observation of Law, in reference to this passage: “How sacred the whole frame of the world is, how all things are to be considered as God’s, and referred to him, is fully taught by our Lord in the case of oaths. Here you see all things in the whole order of nature, from the highest heaven to the smallest hair, are always to be considered, not separately as they are in themselves, but as in some relation to God.” It is in this way that our Lord makes the Mosaic precept to bear upon the practice of the Jews; but as the frequent use of all oaths, even when rightly conceived to be binding, and freed from the loose casuistry of the Jews, tended to lower their sanctity on the one hand, and to diminish confidence between man and man in the affirmations or denials which ordinary life calls for, our Lord prohibits all these voluntary oaths on common occasions; and thus at once enhances the sanctity of judicial adjurations, and raises an honourable confidence in the common communications of men with each other, which the frequency of these appeals to God or to his creatures had served to diminish. It was a strong and admirable manner of impressing his followers with a constant regard to truth in speech: and therefore he adds, But let your communication be Yea, yea; Nay, nay; that is, strictly and accurately true both in affirming and denying; the words being repeated to give the precept more strength, according to the manner of the Hebrews, or as the ellipsis to be understood is supplied by St. James, in quoting these words of our Lord, “Let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay;” that is, Let your yea be yea, and not nay; and your nay be nay, and not yea: intend what you say, and act accordingly.

For whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil. — Εκ του πονηρου , of the evil one. — (See Matthew 13:19.) That is, this custom of trifling with oaths, and truth, and inventing subtle distinctions to palliate it, is of the devil, the father of lies; — a sentence which also refers the vicious casuistry of the papal Church, in the matter of oaths, to its true origin.

Verse 38

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, &c. — As this was one of the judicial laws of the nation, and we have no instance in which our Lord interfered with merely civil matters which implied no moral turpitude, and know that on one or two occasions he expressly declined to interfere it is not probable that he here repeals this part of the Jewish law Deuteronomy 19:21; Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:19. We may, therefore, conclude, that under the shelter of this public law, the disposition to appeal to the magistrate in trifling cases, and also the private retaliation of injuries, had been both practised and justified by the Jews; and thus a litigious and revengeful temper was encouraged, a character which, indeed, they appear always to have borne. What, then, does our Lord teach his disciples? But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil. Αντισηναι here signifies, to retaliate; for αντι , in composition, imports, vicem referre, to repay, or oppose the injury by the same means; and is here used in the same sense as ανταποδιδοναι in Romans 12:17, “Recompense to no man evil for evil.” The pacific disposition here enjoined forbids us to be eager to resort to legal process on comparatively trifling occasions, which are exemplified by being smitten on the cheek, — which was an act of contumely among the Jews rather than intended to inflict corporal injury, — or being sued at law unjustly for a coat, or being compelled to go a mile. These are all proverbial expressions, to denote the smaller class of injuries. And the precept, also, forbids all private retaliation of any kind, especially of those injuries which Christians were to sustain for their religion, not only from public functionaries, but from their neighbours and other individuals. It is a principle, too, which may be applied to the smaller circumstances of life, in which neglects, as well as injuries, might place us under a temptation to return “evil for evil;” a thought which ought never to be allowed a place in the breast of a disciple of the meek and patient Saviour.

A question here, however, will arise, whether our Lord forbids us to resort to the protection of the laws of our country on any occasion, even should the consequence be the infliction of a severe penalty upon the offender. To this it may be answered, that as the instances of injustice given by him which we are forbidden to retaliate by even an appeal to law are such as can do but little injury; the impunity of greater cases, such as would affect the interests of society as well as our own, is not included in the prohibition.

Besides, it is a principle laid down in our religion, that magistracy is of God; and that the magistrate “bears not the sword in vain.” Still, however, every Christian is, by implication, even in these graver cases, guarded against too eager a disposition to commence legal processes; and ought to be clear in his own mind that he is free from the spirit of revenge, and is acting with a serious regard to the duty he owes to himself and to the public.

On the above verses a few remarks explanatory of the phrases and terms may be added.

The law of restitution, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,” was not peculiar to the Jews; it obtained among many ancient nations. It was so rigidly enforced at Athens, that if a man put out the eye of a man who had but one eye, the offender was condemned to lose both eyes, as the only exact equivalent. To turn the other cheek to be smitten, is not to be understood literally. Neither did our Lord nor St. Paul act thus when so assaulted. The expression is proverbial for a patient and unrevenging temper. The coat, χιτων , was the tunic, or under garment; the cloak, ιματιον , was the upper garment; or mantle; a piece of cloth nearly square, and wrapped round the body, or tied over the shoulders. To compel thee to go a mile, is also a proverbial expression. The verb αγγαρευειν (from hangar, a dagger, which the couriers wore as a mark of authority) is a Persian word, used to denote the impressing of men by state authority, to carry burdens, or messages from stage to stage. This was imposed upon the Jews while under the Persians; and both the Roman governors and the tetrarchs compelled them to similar services, or to furnish horses to their public messengers and posts, and to accompany them. The word came, therefore, to express any oppression or compulsory treatment attempted by any one. The word אגגריא often occurs in the Jewish writings, and is explained by them, the taking of any thing for the service of the king.

Verse 42

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Give to him that asketh, &c. — These precepts are added to show that the religion of Christ requires positive, as well as negative virtues. It is not enough to be peaceable and forgiving, we must be generous and beneficent. The giving and lending here enjoined are not, however, to be performed without regard to prudence as to our own means, and regard to the character of others. But the circumstances of any case which may come before us are to be considered under the influence of a free and bounteous disposition. The man who never gives or lends to alleviate the wants or difficulties of others, is not a Christian: this is a plain inference from the precept, whatever other comment may be dictated by selfishness.

Verse 43

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. — The first part of this precept is written in the law; the latter part is nowhere written, but might probably be inferred from the command to extirpate the Canaanites, and to hold no communion with several of the neighbouring hostile and idolatrous nations. The original necessity of keeping the Jews distinct from foreigners, that they might be uncontaminated with their idolatry, and the circumstance of their being made the special instruments of inflicting God’s severe judgments upon nations which had “filled up the measure of their iniquity,” gave, in the best times, something of an exclusive character to that people. Yet their benevolence was not to be confined to those of their own country merely; nor was the precept, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour” so understood. There were “strangers” dwelling among the Israelites, whom the law of Moses commanded them to love and protect; and though the more modern Jews contended that by such “strangers,” proselytes were meant, it would seem from the parable of the good Samaritan, which was designed to answer the question, “Who is my neighbour?” that the law, in its original sense, contemplated every man as a neighbour, so as to compassionate and relieve his distresses, without respect to country or religion.

As the Jewish teachers had, however, limited the meaning of the law of love as to neighbours, and so far extended the original malediction against the seven nations of Canaan, and the Moabites, Midianites, and Amalekites, as to regard all other idolatrous nations as under the same or a similar exclusion from their kindness, and so justified that hatred of them which they often so contemptuously and haughtily manifested; our Lord tacitly intimates that the original command to hate certain hostile and idolatrous people had been fully accomplished in the punishments anciently inflicted upon them, and was no longer in force; and now expressly declares that, at least under his dispensation, LOVE was to be UNIVERSAL, and all hatreds to be for ever extinguished. Still farther, as that exclusive temper of the Jews, which had so long over-stepped its legitimate boundary as to heathen nations, did, in that degenerate age, when religion was no longer placed in the heart, but in outward forms, so frequently break forth into malignity and hatred against those of their own nation who had offended them, so that they were often disposed to treat them as “heathen men and publicans;” he meets this case also in the words before us. What, then, are these Divine precepts of the religion of our Saviour? What sense has he given to the ancient law. as taken up into his dispensation, on these points?

1. He repealed for ever the maledictions of a former age against all that might remain of the devoted nations: and many remnants of these people, as of the Canaanites, Moabites, and others, were still in existence. In that respect “there was to be no more curse,” not even on the descendants of Canaan; and his followers were not, like the ancient Jews, to be the instruments of vengeance, but of peace and salvation, to every heathen nation throughout the world.

2. He has fixed the meaning of the precept, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour,” so as to embrace all men in all the relations in which they may stand to us, however hostile and injurious, that there might be ONE LAW OF LOVE for all nations, and for every individual. “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them,” &c. “That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven;” imitators of him, and influenced by his infinite charity, even to the unworthy and unthankful: “for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust:” one of the noblest duties enforced by the noblest and most moving of all considerations. “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord;” he only can righteously exercise it whose perfection is absolute. This belongs not to erring and passionate mortals; none of them must dare to imitate his thunder; but all are to imitate his forgiving and bounteous mercy.

Verse 44

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Bless them that curse you. — To bless here signifies to speak kindly to them, without returning their revilings; and well of them, as far as we can see any thing commendable in them, notwithstanding their faults.

Verse 46

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

What reward have ye? — To every thing by which we please God, Christ promises a reward, which disobedience forfeits. Yet it is a reward of grace, not merit. On this subject the remarks of Augustine on Psalms 32:1-11, are happy: “Let us preserve the most faithful of debtors, because we retain the most merciful promiser; yet we lend nothing to him which can make him our debtor, because we receive every thing from him; for it is of him, in him, and through him. What, then! do we give him nothing and yet make him our debtor? How is this? Because he is our promiser. We do not say, Lord, restore what thou hast received, but, Render what thou hast promised.”

The publicans. — These were the collectors and farmers of the taxes imposed by the Romans from the time of Pompey; and on this account their very existence being the visible proof of national subjection to a foreign power, as well as from their frequent extortions, they were objects of great aversion among the Jews, and were therefore ranked in the common language with notorious “sinners.” — Those actually resident in Judea were Jews: and some, as Matthew and Zaccheus, were men of character. All, however, shared more or less in the common odium. They have their name, τελωναι , from τελος , tribute. The taxes of a province were usually farmed by Roman knights; under them were the receivers, called, “chiefs of the publicans;” and those of the lowest degree were the collectors, who paid in the taxes to the receivers, who transmitted them to the farmers-general.

Verse 47

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And if ye salute your brethren only. — The Jews refused the customary salutations prescribed by the courtesy of the age to Gentiles and Samaritans. On the contrary, we are taught that the benevolence of Christians is to be not only that of the heart, but is to show itself in a careful observance of all the forms of external civility and courtesy.

Verse 48

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father, &c. — The verb is in the future, but used Hebraice for the imperative. For “perfect,” St. Luke uses “merciful;” the meaning being the same. It is the Divine perfection of love which we are to imitate, in its PRINCIPLE and in its ACTS. “God,” says Augustine, “is perfect in mercy, both in pardoning and in conferring benefits; so be you perfect, both in forgiving wrongs, and in conferring your favours and benefits upon such as need them.” The particle, ωσπερ , even as, does not here signify equality but resemblance; an entire conformity to the full extent of our mental and moral capacity. Philo finely observes, “The best wish we can frame, and the very perfection of felicity, is a resemblance to God.”

On the expression, “and sendeth rain on the just and unjust,” we may observe that, judging from their later writers, it appears to have been a common observation among the Jews, though they probably borrowed it from the New Testament. They observed the FACT; but the grand MORAL which our Lord raises upon it escaped their notice, and was far from their practice. “Greater,” says one of them, “is the day of rain than the day of the resurrection of the dead; for the resurrection of the dead is for the just,” (and only for the just, according to the notions of some of the rabbins,) “but rain is both for the just and the wicked.” R. Jose bar Jacob went to visit R. Joden, of Magdala. — While he was there, rain descended, and he heard his voice saying, “Thousands of thousands, and millions of millions are bound to praise thy name, O our King, for every drop thou causest to descend upon us, because thou renderest good to the wicked.”

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Matthew 5". "Watson's Exposition on Matthew, Mark, Luke & Romans". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rwc/matthew-5.html.
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