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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae

Matthew 16

Verse 6

DISCOURSE: 1373
AGAINST FORMALITY AND INDIFFERENCE

Matthew 16:6. Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed, and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.

EVERY object around us is capable of affording us much important instruction. Our blessed Lord took occasion from all the common affairs of life, and all the things that presented themselves to his view, to lead his Disciples to the contemplation of heavenly things. It happened that his Disciples had neglected to take with them a proper supply of bread; and consequently that they would be necessitated to procure some on the other side of the lake, whither they were going. In reference to this circumstance he bade them beware of a certain kind of leaven. They, not apprehending his meaning, supposed that his words were to be taken in a literal sense: but our Lord, bringing to their remembrance the miraculous supplies of bread which he had recently and repeatedly afforded them, shewed them, that his caution had a spiritual import, and that it referred, not to bread, but to certain pernicious doctrines, of which they were to beware.

We propose,

I.

To shew what the caution refers to—

If the characters of the Pharisees and the Sadducees be duly considered, it will appear that our Lord cautioned his Disciples against,

1.

A formal, hypocritical religion—

[The Pharisees laid a very great stress on forms; and multiplied them, not only beyond what the law of Moses prescribed, but even to the subversion of moral duties [Note: Mark 7:8-13.]. At the same time they were extremely negligent in matters of more importance [Note: Matthew 23:23.]. Amidst their high professions of religion, they sought only the applause of men [Note: Matthew 23:5-7.], and their own temporal advantage [Note: Matthew 5:14; Matthew 5:25.]. With respect to real piety, they were not only destitute of it [Note: Matthew 5:20.], but adverse to it in the highest degree [Note: Matthew 23:13; Matthew 23:31. with Acts 13:50.]. Some few among them indeed were more upright [Note: Philippians 3:5-6.]; but in general they were proud, worldly, hypocritical [Note: Matthew 23:25-28.].

And what is the religion of the generality amongst ourselves? Do not the greater part of those who appear to respect religion, rest in some outward observances? They attend the public worship; they go to the table of the Lord; they read the Scriptures occasionally, and say their prayers at stated seasons: but their hearts are glued to the world; and they are more anxious to be thought religious than to be so, and to gain the applause of man than to secure the honour that cometh of God.
Whether such a state can be acceptable to God, judge ye [Note: Luke 16:15.].]

2.

An indifference about all religion—

[The Sadducees were the free-thinkers of the day: they denied the resurrection of the body, and the immortality of the soul [Note: Acts 23:8.]; and formed their notions of religion without any just regard to the Holy Scriptures. Whatever was contrary to their preconceived opinions, they ridiculed as enthusiasm [Note: Acts 17:32.]. Their lives, as might be expected, were in perfect consistency with their sentiments: they lived, almost as much as the heathen themselves, “without God in the world.”

Behold in them, as in a mirror, the present generation! The rich, the gay, the men of learning and philosophy, are too generally of this description. Though they have never searched the Scriptures for themselves, they are as confident of the truth of their sentiments as they could be, if they had laboured ever so diligently to ascertain the mind of God. They laugh at all serious religion; and represent the hopes and fears, the joys and sorrows of a true Christian, as symptoms of melancholy, and as the offspring of a heated imagination.
Can we wonder that our blessed Lord cautioned his disciples against such a state as this? Or can any of us be too much on our guard against it?]
The propriety of this caution will further appear, while we proceed,

II.

To assign some reasons for it—

We shall not insist on any reasons that were peculiar to the Apostles; but touch rather on those that are applicable to every age. The caution is necessary at all times:

1.

Because of our proneness to the evils we are guarded against—

[We need only notice the habits of all around us, from youth to manhood, and from maturity to old age; we shall then see to what every man is by nature inclined. Pleasure beguiles the earlier periods of life, and care corrodes our advanced or declining years. Nor is this peculiar to any time or place. In these respects, human nature is every where, and at all times, the same. Some indeed are more inclined to Pharisaic pride, and others to Sadducean indifference: and it is common to see persons, after a life of dissipation, passing from one to the other of these states. But where do we find those who are of themselves inclined to unreserved piety? Who ever was by nature humble and contrite? Who ever by nature hated all kinds of sin, and delighted in the exercises of vital godliness? Instances of early piety, it is true, may be found: but their piety was the fruit of the Spirit, and not the product of unassisted nature.
Is not this then a reason why the caution should be given? Surely, if all our natural propensities lead to one or other of the evils against which we are cautioned, it becomes us to be on our guard against them: nor can any expressions be too strong to warn us of our danger [Note: The words of our text are very emphatical, ὀρᾶτε καὶ προσέχετε· and in a parallel passage our Lord says, (Luke 12:1.) πρῶτον προσἑχετε, i.e. above all things.].]

2.

Because of the fatal tendency of the evils themselves—

[The nature of “leaven” is to ferment till it has pervaded and changed the whole mass into which it is put. And well may these errors be designated by such a name. We have seen already that the heart of man by nature is impregnated with dispositions adverse to true religion. And how do these dispositions operate? Do they not work incessantly, till they vitiate the whole man? Do they not blind our understanding, and pervert our will, and sensualize our affections, and cause every part of our conduct to savour of ungodliness? Behold also in what manner they operate on those who turn away from the truth! For a season they have felt the influence of a better leaven, the grace of God: but, being drawn aside by temptation, they begin again to yield to their former corruptions: how soon do they lose all their spirituality of mind, and become formal in their devotions, and indifferent at least, if not also adverse, to all which they before esteemed and relished! Whoever has observed the rapid and melancholy change which is often wrought in professors of religion through the influence of this leaven, will see cause enough why every disciple of Christ should be cautioned against it.]

3.

Because of their ultimate effect—

[What must be the issue of a life spent in Pharisaic pride or Sadducean indifference, it is almost needless to suggest. But surely every man’s own reflection should make him careful how he admits such leaven into his soul, or yields to its malignant influence: for eternal happiness and eternal misery are too important to be trifled with: the very word eternity is sufficient to make every man thoughtful and cautious.]

We will now endeavour,

III.

To point out the means whereby it may be rendered effectual for our preservation—

Doubtless it is the Spirit of God only that can apply the word to our souls: and therefore we must above all things implore his almighty aid. But it may be useful to suggest some other hints for the carrying into effect the caution in the text.

1.

Get your souls deeply impressed with the principles of the Gospel—

[The Gospel is “the rod of God’s strength,” wherewith he has wrought the most stupendous miracles(and it is that which he delights to make effectual to our salvation. Indeed there is something in its fundamental principles which is admirably calculated to counteract the influence of this leaven. It declares to us our lost estate; and proposes to us a Saviour, who bought us with his blood. Now who that is duly sensible of his guilt and danger, will yield to indifference? Who that discerns the fulness and excellency of Christ, will rest in any mere forms for his acceptance with God? Who, in short, that beholds the wonders of redeeming love, will harbour that accursed leaven that would rob him of all its benefits? Only let us come to God through Christ, and the love of Christ will constrain us to “purge out,” as far as possible, every atom of “the old leaven.”]

2.

Be careful whom you choose as your associates—

[A man will, for the most part, drink into the spirit of his associates. Are they formal and worldly, or infidel and contemptuous? he can scarcely hope to escape the infection: “evil communications will corrupt good manners [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:33.]:” and “a little leaven will leaven the whole lump [Note: Galatians 5:9.]:” If, on the other hand, his companions be living in the fear of God, he will be instructed by their conversation, and edified by their example. The inference from this is clear. We need not to be often warned against exposing ourselves to the influence of a pestilential disorder. Why then should we not beware of the contagion of sin and sinners? Surely in proportion as the soul is of more value than the body, our circumspection in reference to spiritual things should exceed that which we use respecting the things that pertain to the present life. With the apostle then we say, “Come out from among the world, and be separate, and touch not the unclean thing [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:17.]:” and let your associates be, like David’s, “the excellent of the earth, in whom was all his delight [Note: Psalms 16:3.].”]

3.

Endeavour to realize the thoughts of the future judgment—

[In the last day every thing will appear in its proper colours. Vital godliness will then no longer be seen through the medium of prejudice: its light will shine out of obscurity; and its excellence will be universally acknowledged. Then too the Sadducean scoffers and the Pharisaic formalists will find how awfully they have been deluded. “Evil will no more be put for good, nor good for evil;” but the quality of every man’s actions will be infallibly determined, and a suitable recompence will be given to him, either in the joys of heaven or the miseries of hell. What can ever influence us, if such an awful consideration as this fail to put us on our guard? Could we but keep alive in our hearts the expectation of that day, we should determine, through grace, to think and act for ourselves: we should “not follow a multitude to do evil;” but should take a decided part in the cause of Christ: we should not participate “the leaven of error or hypocrisy [Note: Luke 12:1.],” but eat “the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth [Note: 1 Corinthians 5:6-8.].]


Verses 15-19

DISCOURSE: 1374
PETER’S CONFESSION OF CHRIST REWARDED

Matthew 16:15-19. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

WHILST some are laying an undue stress upon the smaller differences which subsist between Christians, others put all the Christian world together in one indiscriminate mass; conceiving, that those who are one in name, are one also in reality. But both of these parties are wrong; for the differences about Church government, and about some abstruser doctrines of our religion, are of very little signification before God, and ought to be maintained by us with moderation and mutual concessions: whereas those differences which respect our attachment to the Lord Jesus Christ are of infinite importance; they put asunder the various classes of Christians, and either prove or disprove their very title to the name. Our blessed Lord has strongly marked this in a conversation which he held with his Disciples. He asked them, What notions the generality of his professed followers entertained concerning him? To this they replied, that some supposed him to be John the Baptist; others, Elijah; others, Jeremiah, or some other of the ancient prophets risen from the dead. Then he put to them the interrogation in our text, and inquired, Whom they supposed him to be? The answer which Jesus received on this occasion, was quite satisfactory to him, and met with tokens of his most decided approbation. This answer formed the great line of distinction between those who were merely nominal disciples, and those who were so in spirit and in truth.

In our further consideration of this passage we shall notice,

I.

Peter’s confession of Christ—

On many occasions had the Disciples, either individually or collectively, acknowledged Jesus to be the true Messiah [Note: John 1:49; Joh 11:27 and Matthew 14:33.]. On one occasion in particular, they affirmed it with a more than ordinary confidence [Note: John 6:69; in the discussion of which passage, we have mentioned it only in a transient way.]. But this confession being so signally noticed by our Lord himself, we shall embrace this opportunity of considering it more fully.

Peter here justly represents the character of Christ:

1.

His high origin—

[The term “Son of God” was understood by the Jews as of so high an import, that when Jesus claimed that title, he was considered as affecting an equality with Jehovah, and actually “making himself God [Note: John 10:30; John 10:33; John 10:36.].” In this sense Peter acknowledged him to be, not a mere man, but infinitely above all created beings, “Emmanuel, God with us,” even “God over all, blessed for evermore.” Peter knew that the Father at his baptism had borne witness to him by an audible voice from heaven: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” He had even been an eye-witness of such a manifestation of his glory, as had convinced him fully, that he was God; and at the same time he had heard precisely the same testimony to him from heaven, which had been before given at his baptism. The remembrance of this was never effaced from his mind; insomuch that many years afterwards, he referred to it as affording to his mind a demonstration that Christ was possessed of more than human majesty and glory [Note: Luke 9:28-35. with 2 Peter 1:16-18.]. And on other occasions also we are assured, that his disciples “beheld his glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father [Note: John 1:14.].” This part of Peter’s confession then must be understood as equivalent to that declaration of another Apostle, that “the Father hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, who is the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person [Note: Hebrews 1:2-3.].”]

2.

His divine mission—

[“Thou art the Christ [Note: The force of the article is here preserved.],” the very person promised from the foundation of the world. Thou art “the Seed of the woman, that is to bruise the serpent’s head;” “the Seed of Abraham, in whom all nations are to be blessed;” “the Shiloh that was to come, before that the sceptre should finally depart from Judah:” “the Son of David, that shall reign over his kingdom for ever and ever.” Thou art He “of whom Moses and the prophets have written” so much, and in whom all that they have written shall be accomplished. It is true, Lord, we have but a very indistinct knowledge of thee at present; but we know enough to be assured, that thou art “the Christ,” the Saviour of the world. This is the full persuasion of us all. As for those persons with whom others would identify thee, they were but thy servants, sent to prepare the world for thy coming: they were as little meteors in their day; but thou art “the bright and morning star,” or rather, “the Sun of righteousness that is arisen upon us, with healing in thy wings.” In thee we recognize both “the root and offspring of David,” “David’s Son and David’s Lord:” in thee we acknowledge that Divine person, of whom God has said, “Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee [Note: Psalms 2:7.];” and of whom Daniel speaks, as “Messiah, the Prince, who should make reconciliation for iniquity, and bring in everlasting righteousness [Note: Daniel 9:24-25.].”]

Though our Lord knew beforehand what Peter’s answer would be, he speaks of it as if surprised, and with peculiar approbation: which leads us to notice,

II.

The commendation with which it was honoured—

Our Lord declares that no man could have such views of him unless he were taught of God—
[The prejudices of men were so strong in favour of a temporal Messiah, that no man could overcome them, unless he were enabled by the special assistance of God himself. And though the miracles of our Lord appeared to justify his pretensions to that office, yet his low condition in life, and the universal rejection of him by the great and learned, were a stumbling-block which no man of himself was able to remove. If indeed the Scriptures had been carefully examined, and compared with all that was accomplished in Christ, they were even then sufficient to establish the conclusion that Jesus was the Christ. But no man had eyes to see this truth, till the veil was removed from his heart, and his understanding was enlightened by the Spirit of God. And thus it is at this day: we say not, that any man is to expect a new revelation, or to be inspired in the way that the Apostles were; this is not now to be expected by any man, the canon of revelation being completed, and God having made known all that is necessary for our salvation: but “our understandings (like those of the Apostles) must be opened, to understand the Scriptures;” nor till we are taught of God can we ever have that view of Christ which is exhibited in the text. We may, it is true, obtain a speculative view of Christ’s person and office from books and the teaching of men: but a spiritual and practical view of them, none but God himself can give us. We notice in Peter’s confession an acquiescence, an affiance, an exultation in the truths he utters: and that is the view which “flesh and blood cannot reveal unto us, and which can be revealed only by our heavenly Father.” To this Divine agency the Apostles ascribed all their knowledge of Christ [Note: 1 John 5:20.]; and they unequivocally declare that no human being can derive it from any other source: “No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost [Note: 1 Corinthians 12:3.].”]

He congratulates Peter on the clear knowledge which he possessed—
[Well might our Lord reply, “Blessed art thou, Simon;” for blessed indeed he was, in having such views as these: he was blessed in them, whether we regard them as means of obtaining the Divine favour, or as evidences of having obtained it. On such a knowledge of Christ all his prospects of eternal happiness depended: “Thus to know Christ is life eternal” — — — But, inasmuch as the possession of it evinced that he had been taught of God, it shewed that God had a favour towards him, and had “set him apart for his own” “peculiar treasure:” this very gift was to him a pledge and earnest of future blessings. What then could constitute a man blessed, if this did not? or what can rob a man of blessedness, who is possessed of such views, and such desires? I ask not whether you be living in the enjoyment of temporal honours, or even of necessary comforts: if you resemble Peter, you are blessed, though you should be as poor and destitute as Lazarus himself; “Blessed are your eyes, if they see, and your ears, if they hear,” these glorious, these heavenly truths.]

But we are further called to notice,

III.

The distinction with which they were rewarded—

What was here spoken to Peter referred primarily, but not exclusively, to him. The other Apostles united with Peter in the confession; and our Lord comprehended them also in the commendation and distinction conferred upon him: yet, inasmuch as Peter had manifested a pre-eminent zeal in so directly and confidently acknowledging Christ, he was honoured in some respects with a peculiar and pre-eminent reward. Our Lord promised him,

1.

That he should lay the foundation of the Christian Church—

[Christ had before given to Peter the name of [Cephas,] which in the Syriac language is of the same import with “Peter” in the Greek: they both mean, “a Rock [Note: John 1:42.].” ‘Now,’ says our Lord, ‘thou hast acknowledged me to be the Christ; and I acknowledge thee to be justly and deservedly named “Peter:” nay, in reference to thy name, I declare that I will build my Church on this confession which thou hast made [Note: As far as we suppose Peter himself to be that rock, we must understand it as relating, not to himself personally, but to the truth he had uttered. Christ, personally considered, is the only true foundation on which the Church is built: (1 Corinthians 3:11.) Prophets and Apostles were such, only as proclaiming his word, on which mankind were to found their hopes. (Ephesians 2:20.) It is possible that Christ might point to himself as that rock; (just as he did on another occasion, John 2:19; John 2:21.) but still this truth, that he is the Messiah, the Son of God, is the one foundation of all our hopes.]; and though the power and policy of hell [Note: By “the gates of hell” some understand “death;” and consider the expression as intimating, that though death cuts off individual believers, it shall never extirpate them from the earth: there shall always be a holy seed to serve the Lord. And even the persons who are removed by death shall rise again, and, having triumphed over death, shall reign with Christ in glory for evermore. But we prefer the sense we have given to the words. The gates of cities constituted in a great measure their strength; and they were the places where public assemblies were held, and justice was administered. Hence “the gates of hell” might well signify the power and policy of hell.] will be exerted to destroy my Church, they shall never prevail, either against the Church itself, or against any individual that is founded on the truth which thou hast uttered [Note: Jeremiah 1:19.] — — — The work is mine; “I will build it:” but the foundation shall be that which is now laid by thee: and as long as thy name shall be known in the world, thou shalt be remembered as a bold champion for the truth, and as having, even at this early period, laid the foundation on which my Church shall stand for ever.’]

2.

That he should be a principal instrument in establishing and governing the Church—

[Keys were used as an emblem of power; and the person invested with them, had the control and management of the house or state committed to him. Hence of Eliakim, who was to succeed Shebna, the treasurer, in his high office, it is said, “The key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and lie shall shut, and none shall open [Note: Isaiah 22:20-22.].” And a similar metaphor is used in reference to Christ, to whom the government of the Church is exclusively committed [Note: Revelation 3:7.]. ‘Now,’ says our Lord, “I will give unto thee, Peter, the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” We have not the smallest reason to believe that there was any exclusive power given to Peter; (nor, if there had been, is there any mention of its being transferred to the bishops and popes of Rome as his successors:) but there was a most honourable distinction conferred upon him, namely, that of opening the Church both to Jews and Gentiles; the former of which he did on the day of Pentecost; and the latter when, in consequence of repeated visions, he went and preached the Gospel to Cornelius and his company [Note: Acts 2:10.]. But besides this, our Lord told him also that “whatever he should bind on earth should be bound in heaven, and whatsoever he should loose on earth, should be loosed in heaven.” Though Peter, in his conduct, was fallible, and actually fell into both sins and errors, yet, as inspired of God to preach and write for the edification of the Church, he was infallible: and his word, whether it related to doctrine or discipline, has been a standard of truth in every age. In this indeed the other disciples are united with him [Note: John 20:23.]: and to this hour, whatever is declared by them to be lawful or unlawful, to raise men to heaven or to consign them over to perdition, is confirmed and ratified in heaven, and shall be so to all eternity. And if any Church admit or expel members agreeably to their word: such admission or expulsion will be accompanied with a corresponding acceptance or rejection before the throne of God [Note: Matthew 18:18.].

Such was the distinction conferred on this favoured servant of the Lord: and in this was fulfilled that universal promise: “Them that honour me I will honour.”]

From this important subject we may learn,
1.

How to attain the knowledge of Christ—

[Reading and human instruction are good in their place; but they are not of themselves effectual: we must have “the unction of the Holy One that must teach us all things:” or else we shall: after all: continue ignorant of the truth of God. It is “the Spirit alone that can guide us into all truth.” Hence we are directed by Solomon to “lift up our voice for understanding: as well as to search for her as for hid treasures:” and St. Paul prays for the Ephesian Church: “that God would give them the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Christ: the eyes of their understanding being enlightened [Note: Ephesians 1:17-18.].” If therefore we would attain this knowledge: let us not lean to our own understanding: or look to “flesh and blood to reveal it to us:” but pray unto God to “shine into our hearts to give it us [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:6.].”]

2.

How to improve it—

[Let us be ready on all proper occasions to “confess Christ before men.” How astonishing is it that any should be ashamed of Christ: ashamed to acknowledge him as their Lord and Saviour! What is there to be ashamed of in loving him: serving him: rejoicing in him? Shall wicked men be so daring as to “glory in their shame:” and shall we be so pusillanimous as to be ashamed of our glory? O let it never be: let us: like Peter: confess Christ; and then: like Peter: we shall be confessed by him: and no sooner shall we say to him: “Thou art Christ: my Lord:” than he will say: ‘Thou art Simon: my servant and my friend.’ Even “before his Father and his holy angels will he acknowledge us” as his, and proclaim us “blessed.”]

3.

How to secure all the benefits dependent on it—

[Opposition we must expect from earth and hell; but he will be our succour and defence. He has said: that none shall prevail against us; and we have only to plead his promise: and rest confidently on his word. Whom did he ever disappoint? “Who ever trusted in him and was confounded?” Who ever expected the written word to be accomplished, and did not find God true to his engagements? No, verily: what has been bound on earth, has been bound in heaven, and what has been loosed on earth, has been loosed in heaven. “Heaven and earth shall pass away; but not one jot or tittle of his word shall ever fail.” In the midst of all our conflicts then we may begin the Apostle’s triumphant song [Note: Romans 8:33-39.]—and continue it in all our diversified conditions, till we commence “the Song of Moses and of the Lamb” in heaven.]


Verses 21-23

DISCOURSE: 1375
PETER’S MISTAKEN TENDERNESS REPROVED

Matthew 16:21-23. From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders, and chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third dag. Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee. But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou sarourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.

IN nothing is divine wisdom more necessary than in judging what regard is to be had to times and circumstances: for, if we will not exert ourselves till every difficulty is removed, we shall scarcely ever act at all: and, on the other hand, if we precipitately attempt to effect at once all that may appear desirable, we shall often defeat our best intentions. Our blessed Lord intended to reveal himself fully to his Disciples; but he would not do it at first, because they were not able to bear it: and when he had acknowledged himself to them to be the Messiah, he forbade them to divulge it; because he saw, that the knowledge of it would lead the people to proclaim him king, and thereby stir up all the power of the Romans to destroy him. Nor were the Apostles themselves sufficiently instructed yet awhile to represent that truth to others. They still thought of nothing but a temporal Messiah: and therefore, when our Lord began to predict his own sufferings and death, Peter would not hear of any such things; but presumptuously told his Master, that such events neither could, nor should, take place.

I.

The rebuke which this brought upon him, will be a profitable subject for our consideration—

His offence was certainly heinous—
[Our Lord had now spoken plainly and openly of his approaching death and resurrection. He had done so on purpose to counteract the erroneous expectations of his Disciples, and at the same time to prepare their minds for the approaching events. We grant that such predictions must have staggered them exceedingly, considering what their views and expectations were: but did it become Peter to contradict him, and to declare that such events should never come to pass? He had but that instant before confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God. Why then did he not believe his assertions? Why did he presume to set up his own wisdom against that of his Divine Master? We give him credit indeed for expressing himself with tenderness and affection [Note: προσλαβόμενος, taking him kindly and affectionately by the hand. Compare Romans 14:1.]: but it became him to learn, not to teach; to submit, and not to dictate.]

In the reproof the peculiar enormity of it was pointed out—
[Two things in particular our Lord specified as deserving the severest reprehension. One was, that he was casting a stumbling-block in his Master’s way. Jesus Christ had come from the bosom of his Father to redeem mankind by his own precious blood. But Peter, through false tenderness, would have had him spare himself, and prefer his own personal ease to the salvation of a ruined world: he would have persuaded Jesus to set aside all the counsels of the Father, to violate his own covenant engagements, to rescind all his own gracious purposes, and to leave mankind to perish in their sins, rather than submit to those sufferings which were necessary for the accomplishment of the great scheme of redemption. What could Satan himself wish for more than this? Hence our Lord was filled with indignation against him, and addressed him in the very terms in which he had once addressed the tempter in the wilderness: “Get thee behind me, Satan:” ‘however much I respect thee in general, I regard thee in this matter, not as a friend, but as an adversary [Note: This is the meaning of the word “Satan.”]: not as an Apostle, but as Satan himself, speaking in and by thee: the tendency of thy speech is to put a stumbling-block in my way: “thou art an offence unto me [Note: σκάνδαλόν].” ’

The other tiling which our Lord condemned him for was, that he manifested a carnal and worldly spirit. God expects that his creatures should seek only his glory: and that personal considerations should be of no weight with them in comparison of that. But men prefer their own ease and honour, and are content to glorify God only so far as they can do it consistently with their own temporal comfort. ‘Now,’ says our Lord, ‘you are “not savouring of the things of God, but of those that are of men;” and are wishing me to act upon these low and carnal principles, instead of on those high principles which become my work and office. In this view therefore, as well as in the former, thou deservest no other name than that of “Satan.” It is his great aim to banish from the world that supreme regard for God which men ought universally to feel; and thou, in the advice thou hast given, hast shewn thyself to be under his influence, and hast, to the utmost of thy power, been furthering his designs. I would have thee therefore, and all my other disciples, know that I am greatly displeased with thee on this occasion [Note: Our Lord, previous to his reply, turned about, and looked in a very significant way on all his other disciples. Mark 8:33.].’]

Without dwelling longer on the occurrence itself, we shall proceed to observe, that,

II.

The instruction to be gathered from it is also peculiarly worthy of our attention—

And here there is much that comes home to the business and bosoms of mankind. We may see in this little history,

1.

How to estimate the love of Christ—

[The sufferings which awaited Jesus were such as no finite creature could have borne: yet when entreated to shun them, he not only refused to listen to the advice, but reproved it with a severity that he never used on any other occasion. ‘What! Spare myself? Avoid the sufferings that are necessary to expiate the guilt of men, and to satisfy the demands of law and justice? How can I leave mankind to perish in their sins? I cannot endure the thought: and I account him who suggests it to me as no better than Satan himself: yes, even the highly favoured Peter appears to me in the light of that malignant fiend, when he would damp the ardour of my love to man, or discourage the execution of my plans for his redemption.’
View the answer in this light, and say, whether his “love was not such as many waters could not quench, neither could floods drown it?” Towards those who inflicted his sufferings we behold nothing but kindness. To the man that betrayed him, “Friend, wherefore art thou come?” To those who came to apprehend him, “Whom seek ye?” To Peter, when denying him with oaths and curses, he spoke not a word, but gave him a look of pity and compassion. To his blood-thirsty murderers he also meekly submitted, praying and apologizing for them: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And, after all ranks and orders of men in Jerusalem had satiated their malice in destroying him, he commanded his “Gospel to be preached to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” But when he was entreated to avoid those sufferings, his indignation was extreme; nor were any terms too strong to express it. Well indeed might it be said of his love, that “it passeth knowledge.” We admire the firmness with which St. Paul resolved to meet the sufferings that awaited him [Note: Acts 21:11-13.]: but this was nothing in comparison of Christ’s love to us.]

2.

How to requite his love—

[On this our Lord insisted with peculiar emphasis. In the words following the text it is said, “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself,” &c. But another Evangelist informs us, that he called the people to him on this occasion, that they, together with his disciples, might hear what was so highly interesting, so universally obligatory, and so unquestionably right and reasonable [Note: Mark 8:34.]. He expatiated on the duties he required of all his followers, and declared, that all who would approve themselves to him, must deny themselves after his example, and be willing to lay down their lives for him [Note: Mark 8:35-38.]. This at first perhaps sounds harsh: but if Jesus laid down his life for us, and was so intent upon it that he resented in the highest degree any suggestion that could be made against it, what does he not deserve at our hands? If he did that for us who were his enemies, what should not we be ready to do for him, our Lord and Saviour? Truly, if we had a thousand lives, we might well sacrifice them all for him — — — Let us not then be ashamed to confess him, or afraid to suffer for him: but let us “follow him without the camp, bearing his reproach,” and “esteem the reproach of Christ greater treasures than all the riches of the world.”]

3.

How to act towards those who offer us their friendly advice—

[We have before shewn how we are to act when menaced by the avowed enemies of Christ. But how are we to act towards those who profess themselves his friends? I answer, Try their counsel, and examine carefully whether it savour of the things of God or of man. Bring it to the test of Scripture, even though they should be apostles, or even angels, that offer it. That persons in their general habits are pious, is no reason that we should implicitly follow their advice in every thing; for the best of men are fallible, and liable to be biassed by their interests or passions: and if Satan can gain over them to his interests, he will make especial use of them for assaulting the holiest of men. By Eve he assaulted Adam; and Job also by his wife; and our Lord himself by his favourite Apostle, Peter. I say then, Whatever advice be given you, try it by the touchstone of God’s word: if it savour of carnal ease and worldly prudence, beware how you follow it: if, on the contrary, it evidently have the glory of God in view, beware how you reject it. The direction of God himself is, “Try the spirits, whether they are of God:” “To the word and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, there is no light in them:” “Prove all things and hold fast that which is good.” We grant that, in many cases, it may not be easy to discern between good and evil: and the affection of the adviser may blind our eyes to the sinfulness of the advice. But if we ourselves are habitually savouring the things of God, we shall have a spiritual discernment, which, like the senses of taste and smell, will enable us to perceive the noxious qualities of things, which in their outward appearance are good and wholesome. But it is the privilege of all to have God himself for their guide: look therefore to him, and “he will direct your paths:” “He will guide you by his counsel, till at last he bring you to glory.”


Verses 24-25

DISCOURSE: 1376
THE EXTENT AND IMPORTANCE OF A CHRISTIAN’S DUTY

Matthew 16:24-25. Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.

THE precepts of the Gospel are often considered as harsh and severe; but, if they were duly considered, there is not one of them, which would not appear highly reasonable. Perhaps there is not a stricter precept in the whole Bible than this before us, since it plainly declares, that no man shall ever enter into heaven, who is not willing to renounce every thing in the world, yea, even his own life, for the sake of Christ. But can we think this too strict, if we observe the time and manner of its delivery? Our Lord had just foretold his own sufferings and death; and had reproved Peter with great severity for attempting to dissuade him from subjecting himself to such miseries: and “then” it was, that he gave this injunction to his followers. In this view we may conceive our Lord as saying, ‘Do I deny myself, and take up my cross, and even surrender up my life, from love to you? then do ye the same in obedience to me; if I do it willingly for your salvation, surely you cannot hesitate to do it for my glory.’

This precept then leads us to point out,

I.

The extent of a Christian’s duty—

To be Christians indeed, we must enter in at a strait gate, and walk in a narrow way: we must,

1.

Deny ourselves—

[Since the first introduction of sin into the world men have cast off the love and fear of God, and have subjected themselves to the dominion of self. Instead of conforming themselves to the will of their Maker, and living wholly for his glory, they have made their own will, the prhiciple, and their own honour or interest, the end, of all their actions. Christianity is intended to bring us back to the state from which we are fallen. The very first step towards our restoration is, to “deny self,” and to restore God to the dominion of which we have robbed him. Our inquiries must henceforth be, not, What do I choose? or, What will gratify self? but What does God command? and, What will glorify him? To “put off the old man,” to “mortify the deeds of the body,” to “crucify the flesh with the affections and lusts;” in a word, to deny self in all its actings, is the course, on which every Christian must enter, and which he must resolutely follow to the end of life.]

2.

Take up our cross—

[Every Christian must of necessity have some cross to bear: for though there will be seasons of comparative rest, when the storms of persecution shall subside, yet, as long as there are any of “the serpent’s seed” on earth, “the seed of the woman” will be treated by them as “the filth of the world, and the off-scouring of all things.” But to this the Christian must submit: he must not expect to be above his Master, but be willing to suffer in conformity to his example. He must not indeed bring trials on himself by his own misconduct: but, if the cross lie in his way, he should not be solicitous to avoid it; but rather should take it up and carry it. Nor, while he is bearing the cross, should he account it a heavy and insupportable load; but should glory in it, and “rejoice that he is counted worthy” to bear it. This too should be the daily habit of his mind [Note: Luke 9:23.]. Let us view a malefactor bearing to the place of execution a part of the cross whereon he is shortly to be fixed [Note: Hence the word furcifer.], and then we shall see the degraded state in which the Christian must be content to walk in the midst of an ungodly world. If he be regarded with even a shadow of respect, he must consider it as gain, for which he did not stipulate, and which he had no right to look for.]

3.

Follow Christ—

[While we profess to rely on Christ for our acceptance with God, we must also follow him as our pattern and example. In the whole of our conduct we must endeavour to “walk as he walked.” Though we are not to do in all respects the very things which he did, yet we are to manifest in all things the same spirit and temper. Like him, we must abhor sin even in thought; like him, sit loose to all the things of time and sense; like him devote ourselves entirely to our God. Nor are we to draw back when persecution arises, but still to “follow our Lord without the camp, bearing his reproach [Note: Hebrews 13:13.].” Yea, if such a death awaited us as our Lord himself endured, we are not to shrink back from it, but to go boldly forward: the language of our hearts must be, “None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto me, so that I may finish my course with joy [Note: Acts 20:24.].”]

Doubtless these things are difficult: but we shall not be deterred from duty by any difficulties, if we duly consider,

II.

The importance of it—

On our faithfulness unto death our eternal salvation depends. It may be that we may be called to die for the sake of Christ—
[In the first ages of Christianity, martyrdom for the truth was common: and, since its establishment in the world, thousands have been called to sacrifice their lives for the sake of Christ. Nor are we to conclude from the rest that we enjoy, that our faith and patience shall never be put to the test. Indeed, there are few, if any, real Christians, who are not on some occasions made to endure the fiery trial, and to approve themselves as pure gold, by sustaining, without loss, the action of the fire. At all events we must in the habit of our minds be “ready, not only to be bound, but even to die at any time, and in any manner, for the name of the Lord Jesus [Note: Acts 21:13.].”]

If, when called to suffer thus, we are found faithful, we shall be unspeakable gainers—
[We are assured, not only in the text, but in many other places, that, “if we suffer with Christ we shall also be glorified together with him;” and, that “our light and momentary afflictions shall work out for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” Now what do we lose, when this poor frail life is taken from us? Nothing, but a few days or years of uncertain, and, at the best, painful existence upon earth. But what is our gain, the very instant our spirit has taken its flight? Who can conceive the rapture with which the disembodied soul will enter into the presence of its God? Who can form any idea of its joy, when it shall hear this plaudit from the Saviour’s lips, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” Will any one then think he has endured too much for his Divine Master? Will any one then regret that he had not continued longer in this wretched world, and purchased a temporary ease at the price of eternal glory?]

If on the contrary we decline suffering, our loss will be inconceivably dreadful—
[We are plainly warned that “if we deny Christ, he will deny us;” and that “if we draw back, his soul shall have no pleasure in us.” What then will a man gain by sacrificing his principles to his fears? he will protract the little space allotted for his natural life, and save himself from a few minutes of pain and torture: but he will forfeit all hope of eternal glory, and subject himself to the wrath of an incensed God. It is but a few days at most, before he must resign the life, which he is now so averse to part with: and what will his feelings be when the Saviour of the world shall say, ‘Depart from me, I never knew thee; thou hadst no regard for me; I told thee long since that, if thou wouldst save thy life by denying me, thou shouldst have no part with my faithful followers: these on my right hand “loved not their lives unto death;” but thou wast of “the fearful and unbelieving, and shalt therefore take thy portion in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone [Note: Revelation 21:8.].” ’

Do not these considerations evince the importance of our duty? and should they not stimulate us to perform it in its utmost extent?]

Amongst the many reflections arising from this subject, we may observe,
1.

How different a thing is Christianity from what is generally supposed!

[It is generally thought that the embracing of certain tenets, with a conformity to some rites connected with them, is sufficient to constitute us real Christians. But religion is a practical thing: it enters into every part of our conduct; and must regulate us in every possible situation. It relaxes not its demands on account of any difficulties we may have to encounter; but provides us strength to surmount them, and a glorious reward when we have overcome. Let this then be fully known; that they, and they only, who, if put to the test, would be willing to die for Christ, are real Christians in the sight of God; and consequently, that they, and they only, will be saved in the day that he shall judge the quick and dead. How insufficient are we for these things; and how earnestly should we seek of God that grace which we stand in need of!]

2.

How vain are the excuses which men offer for their neglect of duty!

[Every one is ready to urge the difficulties which lie in his way as an excuse for disobedience to the divine commands. But, what if our worldly interests be injured? what if we be called to “resist unto blood?” we must be steadfast, and immoveable. The only question is, Shall we obey God, or man? shall we regard our bodies, or our souls? Excuses serve but to deceive and ruin us. Let us then put them all away; for God cannot be deceived, and will not be mocked.]

3.

How excellent a directory is here given us even in the most difficult cases!

[We may sometimes find it difficult to discern the path of duty: what then shall we do to avoid error? Let us follow the injunctions here given us. Let us inquire, What would my natural inclinations lead me to; or, what would any unconverted person do in my circumstances? The very reverse of that is the line that I will pursue; for, while I deny myself, I cannot greatly err. Again, What would the Lord Jesus Christ do in my circumstances? That I will do; for I cannot do wrong when I follow him. Such questions as these would tend more to remove our difficulties than all the abstract reasonings that could be brought forward; for, we shall always find, that, an upright heart is the best casuist.]


Verse 26

DISCOURSE: 1377
THE WORTH OF THE SOUL

Matthew 16:26. What is a man profited, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?

THE precepts of the Gospel oppose our natural inclination. They are also in many respects adverse to our worldly interests. The whole of Christianity is a system of self-denial. Hence none cordially embrace it till they have learned to take eternity into their estimate of present things. Our Lord therefore, having prescribed the line of duty to be regarded by all his followers (ver. 24.) and having urged the observance of it from the consideration of eternity, enforces it yet further by these pointed interrogatories; “What shall it profit,” &c.
In order to elucidate the meaning of the text, we shall,

I.

Institute a comparison between the things which are here set in competition with each other—

By “the world” we are to understand pleasure, riches, and honour [Note: 1 John 2:15-16,]—

This, if considered in itself, is vile—

[It is altogether earthly in its nature. It is utterly unsatisfying in its use. It is short and transitory in its continuance.]
If it be considered as it has been estimated by the best judges, it is worthless—

[Abraham, though opulent, left all to sojourn in a strange land [Note: Hebrews 11:8-9.]. Moses relinquished the splendour of a court, to participate the lot of God’s people [Note: Hebrews 11:24-26.]. Solomon, after much experience, declared the world to be mere vanity [Note: Ecclesiastes 1:14.]. St. Paul counted those things as dung, which he once thought his gain [Note: Philippians 3:8.]. Christ himself despised the proffered titles of royalty [Note: John 6:15.]. All true Christians resemble their Master in their contempt of the world [Note: John 17:16.].]

The “soul,” on the contrary, if considered in itself, is noble—

[It is exalted in its origin [Note: Hebrews 12:9. God himself is “the Father of our Spirits,” without the intervention of any second cause.], capacious in its powers, eternal in its duration; and it is doomed to everlasting happiness or misery. Already therefore its superior importance abundantly appears.]

Moreover, as estimated by the best judges, it is invaluable—

[Many have thought nothing too much to do or suffer for its welfare [Note: Acts 20:24.Hebrews 11:35; Hebrews 11:35.]. But that which most stamps its value beyond all possible calculation, is, the gift of God’s Son to die for it. Surely God would never have redeemed it at such a price, if it had not been of infinite value in his sight — — —]

Such being the disparity between the value of the world and that of the soul, we are prepared to,

II.

See the result of the comparison—

We suppose, for argument sake, that a man may possess the whole world. We suppose also that, after having possessed it for a while, he loses his own soul. What in the issue “would he be profited?”
Let us inquire concerning this in general

[Would carnal enjoyments compensate for the loss of Heaven? Would transient pleasures counterbalance an eternity of glory? Would he have any thing remaining to mitigate his pain? [Note: Luke 16:24.] Would a momentary possession of the whole world be so high a gratification, that any reasonable man would be content to lose even his “animal life” for it [Note: Ψυχὴν—compare ver. 25 and 26. in the Greek.]? How much less could it be a sufficient price for the “soul!”]

Let us inquire also more particularly

[The questions in the text are strong appeals to our hearts and consciences: they bid defiance, as it were, to all the arts of sophistry. Let the “lover of pleasure” then ask, what sensual gratifications, or vain amusements, will profit him? Let the “lover of this present evil world” ask, what will his honours and preferments profit him [Note: Proverbs 11:4.]? Let the learned ask, what, even learning itself, the most excellent of all human attainments, will profit them [Note: Ecclesiastes 2:16.]?]

We conclude with suggesting some interesting subjects of self-examination—

[Which have I more regarded hitherto, the world, or my own soul? — — — Which do I intend in future to prefer? — — — What will be my thoughts respecting them in the day of judgment? — — — What answer shall I make to Christ, when he shall call me to account for despising that, for which he paid so great a price? — — — What would I not gladly give in exchange for my soul, if ever it should be lost through my present neglect? — — — And, if ever my soul should be saved, shall I not then account as dung all which I had lost in order to promote its salvation? — — — If these questions be duly weighed, we shall soon be like-minded with the great Apostle [Note: Philippians 3:13-14.].”]


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Bibliographical Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Matthew 16". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/shh/matthew-16.html. 1832.