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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae

Matthew 15

Verses 7-9

DISCOURSE: 1370
FORMAL WORSHIPPERS, HYPOCRITES

Matthew 15:7-9. Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

IN the present day, there is very little of superstitious observance in the world, and still less of Pharisaic hypocrisy; except indeed in the Church of Rome, which is still unhappily a compound of them both. Yet these do exist even amongst Protestants: and the declaration, which in the first instance was delivered, not as a prophecy respecting future ages, but as a reproof to the Jews, in Isaiah’s time [Note: Isaiah 29:13.], and which our blessed Lord afterwards applied as a prophecy respecting the people of his day; that declaration, I say, may well be considered as applicable to us, so far as our habits accord with those of the Jews in the two fore-mentioned periods. Let me, then, state to you, as it is my duty to do,

I.

In whom this prophecy is fulfilled—

Granting that, in many things, we differ from the Pharisees, to whom our Lord applied these words, yet is the prophecy fulfilled at this day by,

1.

Those who satisfy themselves with mere formal worship—

[The house of God is, on the whole, well attended in this land: and in many private families is the worship of God observed. But where shall we find any thing but a mere lifeless form? The very habit of persons in the public assembly shews, for the most part, that their souls are not engaged, and that the decent performance of an acknowledged duty is all that the worshippers have in view. Hear the confessions: Do they resemble those of the poor publican? Do they indicate any thing of real brokenness of heart and deep contrition, like that of the converts on the day of Pentecost? Hear the petitions: How little fervour, how little importunity, how little of urgent pleading with God, do you observe! Hear the thanksgivings: Are these such as should proceed from souls “delivered from the powers of darkness, and translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son?” Are the emotions of gratitude for the salvation of the soul such as the lame man, whom Peter and John healed, evinced for the healing of his body [Note: Acts 3:6-8.]? Do the worshippers in our churches appear at all as if they were in close communion with God himself, and transacting with him the business of their immortal souls? Alas! the devotions of the generality are no better than a solemn mockery, an “honouring of God with their lips, whilst their hearts are far from him.”]

2.

Those who substitute the conceits of men for the commands of God—

[This obtains to a fearful extent in the Church of Rome, where pilgrimages, and penances, and burthensome rites of various kinds, are substituted for “repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Among Protestants, also, the same evil obtains to a very great degree. Every sect has its peculiarities, on which it lays a very undue stress, just as the Pharisees did on washing the hands before meat [Note: ver. 2.]: and a violation of any one established order, or traditionary conceit, would be far more severely noticed than any departure from the commands of God. Let there be in any person a disposition only to disregard some characteristic dogma, or some peculiarity in discipline of his own particular Church, and how many cautions will he receive against such unadvised conduct! whilst, if he neglect God and his own soul during his whole life, he shall never hear so much as one word of friendly admonition. Nay, more; an occasional neglect of some established usage in society, or a deviation from the laws of fashion and politeness, will go further to sink us in the estimation of our neighbours, than an habitual violation of all the commands of God. This, then, shews us plainly, that a Pharisaic spirit still exists amongst us; and that the prophecy is fulfilled in our land, if not so extensively, yet as truly, as in the land of Judah, either in our Saviour’s day, or in the days of the Prophet Isaiah.]

Such characters, then, still existing, let us inquire,

II.

In what light they are viewed by Almighty God—

Our blessed Saviour calls them “hypocrites.” True, they are the last people in the world who suspect themselves of hypocrisy. On the contrary, they account religious persons hypocrites; and conceive themselves to be the only persons whose integrity is clear. But, however high they stand in their own esteem, they are hypocrites in the estimation of the heart-searching God. They are hypocrites,

1.

In their professions—

[They profess real sanctity; but they possess it not: they have not any one of those qualities of which real sanctity consists. They “have a form of godliness, but are altogether destitute of its power.” If they say, ‘We make no profession of religion,’ I ask. Do you not call yourselves Christians? Do you not demand Christian baptism for your children? And do you not expect Christian burial when you die? Then you do profess yourselves followers of Christ: and while you shew so little love to Christ, and so little resemblance to him, you are downright hypocrites. And if a man were as disloyal to an earthly king as you are to our blessed Lord, and yet profess himself a loyal and devoted subject, you yourselves shall assign to him the designation he would merit, and, in so doing, shall assume it to yourselves.]

2.

In their aims—

[These persons would have it supposed that they aim at advancing the honour of their God. But, infact, there is nothing further from their thoughts than this. Many seek only to maintain a good character before men: and those who are less actuated by worldly applause, yet think of nothing but satisfying their own minds, and forming for themselves some specious ground for self-complacency and self-dependence. But as God said to the Jews by the Prophet Zechariah, “When ye fasted and mourned, did ye at all fast unto me, even unto me? And when ye did eat, and when ye did drink, did not ye eat for yourselves, and drink for yourselves [Note: Zechariah 7:5-6.]?” so must it be said to those whom we have before described: they shew, by their very best services, that they have no view beyond themselves: when, if they were really upright before God, they would, “whether they ate or drank, or whatever they did, do all to the glory of God [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:31.].”]

3.

In the whole of their spirit and conduct—

[They would be thought to possess a Christian spirit: but there are few, if any, in the world more proud, more uncharitable, or more intolerant than they. They hold in contempt those who differ from them, whether they be religious or profane: the godly, as possessing an unfashionable and contemptible religion; and the profane, as destitute of the very appearance of religion. As for those who are living nigh to God in the enjoyment of his presence and in the prospect of his glory, these Pharisaical persons can scarcely endure them. In their sight, all spiritual religion is no other than conceit and vanity and hypocrisy: and those who possess it are deemed “as the filth of the world, and the off-scouring of all things,” and, consequently, as worthy of universal reprobation. In every age of the world the mere formalists have thus persecuted the people of God; and have thus shewn themselves, in the midst of all their pretended zeal for good works, “the children of the devil.”]

See, then, Brethren,
1.

What need we have to examine our state before God—

[We may be extremely zealous about the impositions and enactments of men, whilst we are adverse to the commands of God: and we may greatly honour God with our lips, whilst our hearts are altogether enmity against him. Then let us judge ourselves by the word of God, and by the examples of the primitive saints: for if in our whole spirit and deportment we be not followers of Christ and of his holy Apostles, whatever we may think of ourselves, we shall never be accepted of our God.

2.

What need we have to rise above the trammels of a worldly religion—

[We have seen what the religion of carnal professors is: it is no better than hypocrisy; and as such it will be accounted in the last day. Nothing but vital piety will stand the test to which we shall be brought in that day. If, therefore, we be satisfied now with that which satisfies the world, we shall be grievously disappointed. If we will stand before God in the future judgment, “our doctrines” must be such as he has revealed, and our “worship” such as he will approve: for “not he that commendeth himself shall be approved, but he whom the Lord commendeth.”]


Verse 28

DISCOURSE: 1371
THE DAUGHTER OF THE CANAANITESS DISPOSSESSED

Matthew 15:28. Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith; be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.

RETIREMENT is necessary for all; especially for those who minister in holy things; but on certain occasions it must be sacrificed to the pressing calls of duty. Jesus had retired to the country near to Tyre and Sidon on purpose that he might enjoy some privacy; but this Canaanitess, having heard of him, went to importune him on behalf of her afflicted daughter: nor was her intrusion, however unseasonable, displeasing to him.
In discoursing on the relief afforded her, we shall notice,

I.

The disposition and conduct of this distressed heathen—

The commendation which our blessed Lord himself bestowed on her, naturally leads us to a minute investigation of her character. Behold,

1.

Her love—

[She considered her daughter’s affliction as her own; and, when imploring relief for her, cried, “Have mercy upon me!” and knowing that there was One able to help, she sought him out with diligence, and applied to him with importunity.
We too, like her, may be deeply affected with the bodily disorders of our children; and may make application to physicians in their behalf. But, though we know the power of Jesus to heal disorders, and the utter inefficacy of all human means without his blessing, how rarely do we spread our wants before him in fervent prayer! Yea, when we see the souls of our relatives possessed by Satan, and are assured that none but Jesus can deliver them, we profess perhaps to pity them, but find no disposition to intercede for them at the throne of grace, or, if we occasionally put up a petition for them, we shew by the coldness of our prayers how little regard we have for their eternal interests. Alas! that a heathen woman should have so much greater concern for the bodily welfare of her child, than we feel for the souls of those who are most nearly related to us!]

2.

Her humility—

[Nothing could express more unfeigned humility than her demeanour did on this occasion. She addressed our Lord in terms of most profound respect, and prostrated herself before him with the deepest reverence: and, when he, by-insinuation at least, compared her to a dog, she, instead of deeming it an insult, acquiesced in the appellation given her, and, with an ingenuity which nothing but the most unfeigned humility could have dictated, turned into a plea the name which seemed to convey nothing but discouragement; “Truth, Lord, I am a dog; yet as the dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from the master’s table, without being considered as robbing the children, so, if thou grant me this one favour, it need not be any diminution of the mercy which thou hast treasured up for the Jews, in comparison of whom I am worthily esteemed a dog.”
Thus should we also conduct ourselves in all our addresses at the throne of grace; our posture should be humble, our spirit contrite, and our acknowledgments full of self-lothing and self-abhorrence.]

3.

Her faith—

[This, as being the root of all, our Lord more especially commended. Indeed her faith was exceeding great: she beheld him as “the Lord, the Son of David,” the true Messiah. She believed him able to effect a cure, when it far surpassed all human power; yea, she believed that he could effect it at a distance, and by a word only. She was no less persuaded of his willingness to grant her petition; and therefore she persevered in her request in despite of all her discouragements. And, when our Lord declared that her request was granted, she departed with as full a persuasion that her daughter was delivered from the unclean spirit, as if she had seen the change accomplished before her eyes.

What an admirable pattern was she in this respect! It is thus that we also should approach him, not doubting either his ability or willingness to help us; and, when we hear his gracious declarations, we should trust in them with the fullest assurance that they shall be accomplished to us.]

4.

Her patience—

[When first she besought our Lord, he took no notice of her. When she followed him with her entreaties, insomuch that the disciples, merely to get rid of her, became her advocates, he refused to hear her intercessions, and assigned to them a reason which to them appeared unanswerable. When she still, with increasing humility and fervour, urged her request, she also was repulsed, and that too in terms which might have been interpreted as reproachful and injurious. Now persons in bitter anguish of mind are peculiarly susceptible of neglect, and much more of insult, especially from those of whom they had entertained a high opinion, and from whom they had expected a very different treatment. But, instead of being irritated, she endured all with the meekest submission [Note: How different was her conduct, though a heathen, from David’s under a far less disappointment! 1 Samuel 25:21-22.], and determined to persevere till she should obtain her request.

Thus, when answers to prayers are delayed, we should continue urging our petitions, saying, “I will not let thee go except thou bless me [Note: Genesis 32:26.].” Nor should any thing ever induce us to entertain hard thoughts of God, or to murmur at his dispensations towards us, seeing that we deserve nothing at his hands but shame and contempt.]

While we admire the conduct of this woman, let us also contemplate,

II.

The behaviour of the Lord Jesus towards her—

For some time he seemed to act in a manner unworthy of himself—
[Towards all others he shewed himself kind and condescending, and ready to administer the relief they solicited. Yea, he frequently almost obtruded himself upon the notice of men, and urged them, as it were, to ask for blessings at his hands. Even to the most abandoned of all characters he displayed this readiness to impart mercy [Note: John 4:10.]; but towards this distressed suppliant he seemed destitute of all sympathy or compassion. He had indeed reasons abundantly sufficient to justify his conduct: he chose to draw forth the grace that was in her heart, and thereby to reprove the indifference of those who called themselves exclusively the children of God. By the delay too he rendered the benefit more acceptable to the woman, and the woman herself a brighter pattern unto us.

In a similar way, and for similar reasons, he sometimes hides his face from us, and turns, as it were, a deaf ear to our complaints; and, if we listened to the dictates of impatience and unbelief, we should be ready to exclaim, “What profit is there that we should call upon him?”]
But at last he answered her most sanguine expectations—
[He who had appeared so regardless of her cry, at last bare testimony to the greatness of her faith. How cheering must his commendations have been to her disconsolate spirit! And how has he shewn to us, that there may be great faith even where we suppose there is little, or perhaps none at all; and that when we account no terms too humiliating whereby to express our vileness, he approves and even admires the graces that we exercise!
With this condescension in his manner of shewing mercy, he manifested the greatest liberality in the favour he conferred: he made her own wishes the measure of his gifts. Nor will he shew less kindness to us, if we call upon him with our whole hearts. “What will ye that I should do unto you?” is his address to every one of us: and when we have made known our requests, he will say to each, “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” With respect to temporal mercies, he will give or withhold as he foresees will be best for us: but in spiritual things he will do for us not only what we ask, but “exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think.”]

We may learn from hence, that,
1.

There is no respect of persons with God—

[No man can say, God will not hear me, because I am not of the number of his elect: for we cannot tell who are, or who are not, the elect of God, any farther than we are enabled to judge by their respective fruits. There is no man of any nation, or any character, who shall not find favour with God, if he seek it earnestly through the Lord Jesus Christ. Let secret things then be left to God; and let all, whether they account themselves dogs or children, seek a portion of that bread which came down from heaven. So shall their souls be liberated from Satan’s yoke, and experience the saving efficacy of the Redeemer’s word.]

2.

Persevering prayer will and must prevail—

[Never was there an instance wherein the prayer of faith failed of success. It has opened the windows of heaven [Note: James 5:17-18.]; and imposed, if we may so speak, restraints upon the Deity himself [Note: Exodus 32:10-11; Exodus 32:14.]. If we can only wait patiently upon the Lord, he will soon pluck our feet out of the mire, and “put a new song into our mouths, even a thanksgiving unto our God [Note: Psalms 40:1-3.].” Let us then “pray, and not faint.” Let us call upon the Lord, and “give him no rest till he arise” for our help [Note: Isaiah 62:7.]. Then shall we assuredly succeed at last, and find, that his answers, however delayed, are vouchsafed in the fittest season, and in the most perfect correspondence with our necessities.]


Verses 30-31

DISCOURSE: 1372
GREAT MULTITUDES HEALED

Matthew 15:30-31. And great multitudes came unto him, having with them those that were lame, blind, dumb, maimed; and many others, and cast them down at Jesus’ feet; and he healed them; insomuch that the multitude wondered, when they saw the dumb to speak, the maimed to be whole, the lame to walk, and the blind to see: and they glorified the God of Israel.

EVERY miracle which our Lord performed suggests to us some peculiar subjects of profitable meditation. But we shall not now dwell upon any one act, however great or benevolent; our attention at this time will be fixed upon a more than ordinary exertion of omnipotence, the working of miracles in a mass, if we may so speak. We behold Jesus healing great multitudes of persons who laboured under a variety of disorders; which circumstance may very properly lead us to inquire,

I.

What sensations must this exercise of divine power have excited?

A more interesting spectacle cannot be conceived than that which was exhibited on this occasion. Consider the impression that must have been made,

1.

On the persons healed—

[It could not fail but that the persons, who had been healed instantly, and without any painful operation, must be deeply affected with the mercy bestowed on them. With what fixedness of attention must the blind, whose eyes had been opened, survey their benefactor! They would feel no disposition to gratify their curiosity by gazing on the wonders of creation: neither the meridian sun, nor the face of nature enlightened by it, would for one moment attract their notice. The restorer of their visual powers would engross their whole minds; nor would they turn their eyes from him for a moment, unless to wipe away the tears of gratitude and joy that would stream as from an overflowing fountain. With what exquisite delight would the deaf listen to the voice of him who had unstopped their ears! with what insatiable avidity would they drink in the sound, while, with the teachableness of little children, they received his gracious instructions! As for the dumb, whose tongues were loosened, they would, by an involuntary and irresistible impulse, fill the air with acclamations and hosannahs, unless that the dread of interrupting the discourses of their Lord should awe them into silence. The lame and maimed (many of whom perhaps had not only their strength renewed, but their limbs, that had suffered amputation [Note: This may be implied in the word κυλλούς. See Mark 9:43.], perfectly restored) how would they exult and leap for joy, clapping their hands in ecstasy, and glorifying the author of their mercies! We may be assured of this from what is recorded of the cripple whom Peter healed [Note: Acts 3:8.]. Methinks the assembly would be like a choir of ten thousand instruments, whose notes were exceeding various, but all in perfect harmony.]

2.

On the surrounding multitude—

[The spectators, many of whom were friends and relatives of those that had been healed, doubtless participated in the general joy. Their feelings however were probably less ecstatic, because their own personal interest was not so nearly concerned. But their astonishment at the wonders performed, their satisfaction in the success of their own labours, and their sympathy with those whose maladies had been removed, could not fail of exciting in their minds the most pleasing sensations. When the wife or husband, the parent or child, saw the object of his warmest affections restored to health, and exercising with activity and vigour the faculties that had been renewed, surely he would lift up his eyes to heaven with devoutest gratitude, or prostrate himself upon the ground in profoundest adoration. When, in addition to the mercy his relatives had received, he beheld others in like circumstances with himself, and every moment fresh monuments of mercy rising before his eyes, we may conceive him overwhelmed with the sight and lost in amazement.]

3.

On Jesus himself—

[Could Jesus be an unconcerned spectator of the bliss he was diffusing? Could he, who wept at the grave of Lazarus, refuse to sympathize with this adoring multitude? It was one of his most common sayings, that it is more blessed to give than to receive [Note: Acts 20:35.]; and doubtless he experienced the truth of it on this occasion. Let us then consider the joy excited in the breast of every individual that had been relieved; let us consolidate and compress it, as it were, into one mass; and then we may have some faint conception of what Jesus felt, while he was communicating such abundant happiness. He would not fail to adore, with inexpressible, though perhaps hidden, ardour, his heavenly Father, for making him the channel of so many blessings. But Jesus’ happiness would be widely different from that of those whom he relieved. His would be tempered with pity for their spiritual maladies, of which, alas! they had but little sense; and his praises would be mixed with prayers, that they might flock around him to obtain those richer benefits, of which their present cures were but imperfect emblems.]

Not to indulge mere useless speculations on this exercise of divine power, let us inquire,

II.

What reflections should it suggest to our minds?

If every separate miracle be replete with instruction to us, much more may this accumulation of miracles afford us matter of useful

Improvement—
1.

Let us seek healing from the hands of Jesus—

[It may be that our bodies are preserved in the unimpaired use of all their faculties. But are not our souls diseased? Have we no intellectual blindness from which we need deliverance? Do not our tongues need to be loosened, our ears to be unstopped, or our limbs to be invigorated, for the daily performance of our spiritual duties? Surely, if we will examine our hearts, we shall find that the people who thronged to our Lord, were not in a more pitiable condition than ourselves; yea, we are incomparably more miserable than they, because the consequences of our disorders are so much more awful, and our desire for the removal of them is so weak and faint. Let us seek a deep conviction of this truth. Let us, under a sense of our extreme wretchedness, apply to Jesus, and interest our friends and relatives in our behalf. Thus shall the predictions that were literally fulfilled by the miracles before us, receive their true, though mystical, accomplishment in the renovation of our souls [Note: Isaiah 35:5-6.].]

2.

Let us on no account limit the power and grace of Christ—

[The hand which, so easily and with such compassion, dispensed the blessings of health and strength, can surely with the same facility administer to our wants. Our lusts are so inveterate and our habits so deeply rooted, as to destroy the remotest hope of ever rescuing ourselves from their dominion. But the power and compassion of Jesus are the same as ever. The lapse of seventeen hundred years has made no change in him. “His hand is not shortened that it cannot save, nor is his ear heavy that it cannot hear.” Let us then guard against every unworthy, unbelieving thought. Let us be persuaded that he is “able to save us to the very uttermost;” and that “he will cast out none who come unto him.”]

3.

Let us glorify God with and for all the faculties we possess—

[Our bodily and mental powers are rich mercies from the hand of God, and should be exerted continually in promoting his glory. But, if our eyes have been opened to behold the light of his truth; if our ears have been unstopped, so that we can hear the voice of the good shepherd; if our tongues have been loosed to speak of his name; and if our feet have been strengthened to run the way of his commandments; it becomes us to imitate the multitudes who surrounded him on this occasion. There should not be a cold heart, or an inactive member, throughout this whole assembly. We should all either be filled with admiration of his goodness, or, with ecstatic ardour, render him the tribute of incessant praise. Were we thus occupied, we should enjoy a very heaven upon earth. We cannot conceive a better idea of heaven than if we set before our eyes this adoring multitude. Do we see Jesus encircled by them, every eye fixed on him, every tongue sounding ins praises, every soul ascribing all its happiness to his power and grace? What is this but heaven? Let us then resemble them, or rather far outstrip them, in our acclamations, forasmuch as our mercies infinitely exceed those which were enjoyed by them. This will be an improvement as beneficial to ourselves as it will be instructive to others, and honourable to “the God of Israel”—]


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Bibliographical Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Matthew 15". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/shh/matthew-15.html. 1832.