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The beginning of the last journey to Jerusalem. The question concerning divorce. (Mark 10:1-12.)
When Jesus had finished these sayings. This is the beginning of a new section of the history, commencing, as usual, with the formulary, And it came to pass. "These sayings" must refer to what was recorded in Matthew 18:1-35. But St. Matthew's narrative omits many events that happened in the interval between the account of the Galilaean ministry and the history of these last days, that is, from the autumn of one year to the spring of the next. The transactions of this time, which are omitted also by St. Mark, are given by St. Luke (Luke 9:51-11) and St. John (John 7:2-54), comprising many things that occurred at Jerusalem during the Feast of Tabernacles and on other occlusions. He departed from Galilee. Not visiting it again till he appeared there after his resurrection. There was no part of the Holy Land in which he did not at some time sojourn, and now, as the final consummation drew nigh, he resolutely set his face towards Jerusalem. Came into the coasts of Judea beyond Jordan. Coasts should be borders. Judaea was bounded by the river, and there was no part of it beyond, that is, on the east of Jordan. The words, "beyond Jordan," belong to the verb "came," and the clause signifies that the object of Christ's journey was the vicinity of Judaea, and that, instead of entering the province by the direct road through Samaria, he took the more lengthy but safer route through Peraea. This was the name of the region on the east of the Jordan (πεìραν, beyond), extending at this time from the river Hieromax, or Jarmouk, on the north, to the Arnon on the south, i.e. to the middle of the eastern shore of the Dead Sea. The ruler of this district was Herod Antipas, and it was at this era in a most flourishing condition, notably fertile, and containing many fine towns ornamented with magnificent buildings. Here the simple, pastoral country people were less influenced by the narrow bigotry of the Pharisaic party, and in the towns the ban which excluded Jesus from the synagogues of Galilee and Judaea was either not recognized or not enforced. A quiet opportunity for preaching the gospel was thus offered. This may possibly be the sojourn in Peraea mentioned by St. John (John 10:40-42).
Great multitudes followed him. He was favourably received by the unprejudiced Peraeans. Healed them. Those of the multitude who had need of healing (Luke 9:11). There. In the "beyond Jordan" region. St. Mark observes that he taught them. Thus, "at one time teaching, at another working miracles, he varied his means of salvation, that from the miracles faith might be given him as a Teacher; and by his teaching he might urge to edification the miracles which he wrought" (St. Chrysostom, ap. I. Williams).
We have now to listen to our Lord's teaching respecting divorce and marriage. The Pharisees. The article is better omitted. Our Lord was not long left in peace by these inveterate enemies, who, if they could not openly persecute him, might hope to extract something from his words and sentiments which might be used to his disadvantage. They were probably envoys sent from Jerusalem to entrap and annoy him. Tempting him. Trying to get him to give an answer which would in any case afford a handle for malicious misrepresentation. The question proposed concerned divorce. To put away his wife forevery cause; καταÌ πᾶσαν αἰτιìαν: quacumque ex causa; for any cause whatever. This was a delicate question to raise in the domains of Herod Antipas (see Matthew 14:3, Matthew 14:4), and one greatly debated in the rabbinical schools. Our Lord had already twice pronounced upon the subject, once in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:32), and again when reasoning with the Pharisees on the due observance of the Law (Luke 16:18). Two opposite opinions were held by the followers of Hillel and Schammai, the heads of antagonistic schools. The school of Hillel contended that a man might divorce his wife for various causes quite unconnected with infringement of the marriage vow, e.g. because he had ceased to love her, or had seen some one whom he liked better, or even because she cooked his dinner badly. The school of Schammai was more strict, and permitted divorce only in case of fornication, adultery, or some offence against chastity. Between these contending parties the Pharisees desired to make our Lord give a decision, thinking that they had fixed him in a dilemma. If he took the popular lax view, they could deride his claims as a Teacher of superior morality; if he upheld the stricter side, he would rouse the enmity of the majority, and possibly, like John the Baptist, involve himself in trouble with the licentious tetrarch. There was a chance also that the high tone which he had already taken might prove to be at variance with Mosaic enactments. The easiness with which divorce was obtained may be seen in Josephus, Who thus writes: "He who for any reason whatsoever (and many such causes happen to men) wishes to be separated from a wife who lives with him, must give it to her in writing that he will cohabit with her no longer, and by this means she shall have liberty to marry another man; but before this is done it is not permitted her to do so" ('Ant.,' Matthew 4:8, Matthew 4:23). Josephus himself repudiated his own wife because he was not pleased with her behaviour ('Vita,' § 76). And Ben-Sira gives the curt injunction, "If she go not as thou wouldest have her (καταÌ χεῖραì σου), cut her off from thy flesh,… and let her go" (Ecclesiasticus 25:26).
He answered and said. Our Lord does not directly reply in the negative, but refers to the original institution of marriage. All his auditors agreed in holding the legality of divorce, though they differed in their estimation of the causes that warranted separation. It was quite a new idea to find the propriety of divorce questioned, and to have their captious question met by an appeal to Scripture which they could not gainsay, and an enunciation of a high ideal of matrimony which their glosses and laxity had miserably perverted or obscured. He which made them. Manuscripts vary between ὁποιηìσας and ὁκτιìσας. The latter is approved by Westcott and Hort. It is best translated, the Creator. The Vulgate gives, qui fecit hominem. At the beginning (ἀπ ἀρχῆς). These words should be joined to the following verb made (ἐποιìησεν), and not with the preceding participle, as it is intended to show the primordial design in the creation of man and woman. God made the first members of the human family a male and a female, not a male and females. The lower animals were created separately, male and female; "mankind was created in one person in Adam, and when there was found no help meet for Adam, no companion in body, soul, or spirit, fit for him, then God, instead of creating a wholly new thing, made Eve out of Adam" (Sadler). Two individuals of opposite sexes were thus formed for each other; one was the complement of the other, and the union was perfect and lasted, as long as life. There was in this original institution no room for polygamy, no room for divorce. It was a concrete example of the way in which God unites man and wife.
And said. The words that follow are assigned to Adam in Genesis 2:23, Genesis 2:24, but he spake by inspiration of God, as he knew nothing of "father and mother" by personal experience, and therefore they can be rightly attributed to the Creator. It was, in fact, a prophetic utterance of which Adam was the mouthpiece; as St. Augustine says, "Deus utique per hominem dixit quod homo prophetando praedixit." For this cause. Because of this Divine appointment, and especially of the peculiar creation of Eve. She was not formed separately of the dust of the earth, but directly from the substance of Adam; so she was one with her husband, nearer than all other human relations, superior to the tenderest ties of nature and birth. Shall cleave (προσκολληθηìσεται, or κολληθηìσεται); literally, shall be glued to; adhaerebit. The word expresses the closest possible union, stronger and higher than that towards parents. They twain shall be one flesh; the two shall become one flesh (ἐìσονται οἱδιìο εἰς σαìρκα μιìαν). The Septuagint and Samaritan Pentateuch insert "the two," which is not in the present Hebrew text. Our Lord adopts the addition as conveying the correct sense. In marriage there is a moral and physical union, so that two persons become virtually one being. Originally, man contained woman in himself before she was separated from him; she was a corporeal unity with man; or, as others put it, man, as a race, was created male and female, the latter being implicitly contained in the former; the previous unity is thus asserted. In marriage this unity is acknowledged and continued. St. Paul quotes this text in Ephesians 5:31; and in 1 Corinthians 6:16 uses it as an argument against fornication,
Wherefore (ὡìστε); so that. This follows from the quotation just given. Our Lord explains and confirms the original dictum by an assertion of his own and a general law. What God hath joined together. The institution of marriage is God's appointment. Christ says ὁÌ, what, neuter singular, not "those whom," plural and concrete, that he may make it clear that he is here speaking in the abstract, not specially of Adam and Eve. What he enunciates is true of all wedlock, not simply of the case of our first parents. Let not man put asunder. Man does thus infringe the primitive rule when he divorces his with. Herein he opposes God and acts against nature. He and his wife are one; they can no more separate from one another than they can from themselves. If we regard our Lord's language in this passage without prejudice, and not reading into it modem notions, we must consider that he here decrees the indissolubility of the marriage tie. His hearers plainly understood him so to speak, as we see from the objection which they urged.
Why did Moses then command? If, as you assert, God ordained that marriage should be indissoluble, how comes it that Moses commanded (ἐνετειìλατο) us to practise divorce, and prescribed rules as to its conduct? They are referring to Deuteronomy 24:1, Deuteronomy 24:2. Jesus had escaped the trap which was laid for him, and foiled them by the very words of Scripture and the plain intention of the first institution. But they see their way to opposing the authority of the great lawgiver to the dictum and interpretation of this new Teacher. It cannot be supposed, they argue, that Moses would enjoin a practice condemned by the Word of God; therefore, if you abide by your exposition, you contradict Moses. A writing of divorcement. The man who desired to divorce his wife could not effect this separation by mere word of mouth or by violent ejectment; he must have a written document formally prepared and witnessed, necessitating certain delay and publicity. In regulating the method of divorce and giving rules which prevented it from being undertaken rashly and lightly, Moses could not justly be said to have commanded it. There were also two cases in which he absolutely forbade divorce (see Deuteronomy 22:13-19; Deuteronomy 22:28, Deuteronomy 22:29).
Moses because of (προÌς, with a view to, to meet) the hardness of your hearts; your obstinacy, perverseness. You were not honest and pure enough to obey the primitive law. There was danger that you would ill treat your wives in order to get rid of them, or even murder them. The lesser evil was regular divorce. But the enactment is really a shame and reproach to you, and was occasioned by grave defects in your character and conduct. And it is not true to say that Moses commanded; he only suffered you to put away your wives. This was a temporary permission to meet your then circumstances. Divorce had been practised commonly and long; it was traditional; it was seen among all other Oriental peoples. Moses could not hope at once to eradicate the inveterate evil; he could only modify, mitigate, and regulate its practice. The rules which he introduced were intended, not to facilitate divorce, but to lead men better to realize the proper idea of marriage. And Christ was introducing a better law, a higher morality, for which Mosaic legislation paved the way (comp. Romans 5:20; Romans 8:3; Hebrews 9:10). From the beginning. The original institution of marriage contained no idea of divorce; it was no mere civil contract, made by man and dissoluble by man, but a union of God's own formation, with which no human power could interfere. However novel this view might seem, it was God's own design from the first. The first instance of polygamy occurs in Genesis 4:19, and is connected with murder and revenge.
And I say unto you. Our Lord here enunciates the law which was to obtain in his kingdom, which, indeed, was simply the reintroduction and enforcement of the primitive and natural ordinance. Except it be for fornication; εἰ μηÌ ἐπιÌ πορνειìᾳ: nisi ob fornicationem (Vulgate). This is the received reading. Tregelles, Tischendort; Westcott and Hort omit ει). The parallel passage in St. Mark (where Christ is stated to have made the remark to his disciples "in the house") omits the clause altogether. Lachmann, following some few manuscripts, has introduced παρεκτοÌς λοìγου πορνειìας, "saving for the cause of fornication," from Matthew 5:32. The interpretation of this verse has given occasion to acute controversy. There are some questions that have to be considered in expounding this matter.
(1) What is here meant by πορνειìα? Does it bear its usual meaning, or is it equivalent to μοιχειìα, "adultery"? These who affirm that the sin of married persons is never expressed by the word porneia, hold that it here signifies ante-nuptial unchastity, which would make the marriage void ab initio; post-nuptial transgression would be punished by death, not by divorce. In this view, our Lord would say that no divorce is allowable except where the wife is proved to have been unchaste before marriage. In such a ease, the union being void from the first, the man is free to marry again. But there are difficulties in this interpretation. Why, at the end of the verse, is it called adultery to marry the divorced woman, if she was never really and lawfully married? Again, it is not correct to say that porneia denotes solely the sin of unmarried people. All illicit connection is described by this term, and it cannot be limited to one particular kind of transgression. In Ecclesiasticus 23:23 it is used expressly of the sin of an adulteress. We may also remark that metaphorically idolatry is often called by this name, whereas, since Israel is supposed to be married to the Lord, the breaking of this bend by the worship of false gods might more strictly be named adultery. And yet again, there is no proof that the discovery of previous immorality in a wife did ipso facto vitiate the marriage (see Hosea 1:2, etc.). The passages that are thought to bear on this matter are Deuteronomy 22:13-21 and Deuteronomy 24:1-4. In the former there is no question of divorce,—the offender is to be stoned; in the second passage the ground of divorce is "some uncleanness," or some unseemly thing, whether immorality or personal defect is meant cannot be decided, the rival schools taking different sides. But it is quite certain that adultery is not intended, and ante-nuptial unchastity is not even hinted. The interpretation, therefore, given above cannot be maintained.
(2) Omitting for the moment the limiting clause, may we say that the general teaching of Christ makes for the indissolubility of the marriage bond? The majority of the Fathers from Hermas and Justin Martyr downwards affirm this. Those who admit that divorce is permissible in the case of the wife's adultery are unanimous in asserting that, by Christ's ordinance, remarriage is prohibited to the husband during the culprit's life; so that, practically, if divorce a mensa et toro is allowed, divorce a vinculo is refused. All Christ's utterances on the subject, saving the apparently restrictive clause (Matthew 5:32) and here, absolutely and plainly forbid divorce, on the ground of law and nature. The words in Mark 10:11 and Luke 16:18 are given without any limitation whatever. St. Paul draws from such his conclusion of the indissolubility of the marriage tie, as may be seen in 1Co 7:10, 1 Corinthians 7:11, 1 Corinthians 7:39; Romans 7:2, Romans 7:3. There could never have been a doubt about this subject had it not been for the difficulty in interpreting the parenthetical clause.
(3) Are we, then, to suppose that Christ, by those words, modifies his general statement, and allows absolute divorce in the case of a wife's misconduct? Such is the view taken by many theologians, and practically endorsed by the civil law of many countries. Neither the Roman nor the Anglican Churches support this laxity. Ecclesiastical and civil laws are here antagonistic. It is said that Christ allows the wronged party to marry again. If so, if the oneness of the parties is wholly destroyed by the sin of the woman, why is it not permitted to a man to marry a divorced woman? This cannot be called adultery unless she is still one flesh with her husband, although separated. We must argue from this that divorce in such a ease does not destroy the vinculum matrimonii, the marriage bond. and if not under this circumstance, surely under no other; for any other ground must be always less serious than adultery. If the clause in question enunciated an exception to the absolute rule elsewhere given, Christ would seem to stultify himself, to give two opposite decisions, and to introduce uncertainty in a most important verdict. The principle on which he based his dictum would be overthrown, and his hearers might have accused him of inconsistency. The solution offered for this difficulty is this—that Christ is contemplating merely what we call judicial separation; he considers that no trivial cause justifies this, in fact, nothing but fornication, and that this modified divorce does not free the man so that he may marry again; he is bound by the Law as long as his wife lives. Our Lord seems to have introduced the exceptional clause in order to answer what were virtually two questions of the Pharisees, viz. whether it was lawful to "put away a wife for every cause," and whether, when a man had legally divorced his wife, he might marry again. To the former Christ replies that separation was allowable only in the case of fornication; in response to the second, he rules that even in that case remarriage was wholly barred. And whosoever marrieth her which is put away (ἀπολελυμεìνην, without the article); her, when she is put away (Revised Version); or, a divorced woman. The clause is wholly omitted by א and some other manuscripts, and some modern editors, as Westcott and Hort. But it has very high authority in its favour. Alford renders, "her, when divorced," and restricts the application to a woman unlawfully divorced, not extending it to one separated for porneia. But the language is too indefinite to admit of this interpretation as certain (see Luke 16:18, and the note on Matthew 5:32, where the popular view is expressed). The clause, pondered without regard to foregone conclusions, surely contains an argument for the indissolubility of the marriage tie, as we have said above. Marriage with a divorced wife can be rightly termed adultery only in consideration of the continuance of the vinculum. Doth commit adultery. The binding nature of marriage does not depend on the will or the acts of the persons, but on its primal character and institution. By the repeal of the Mosaic relaxation and the restoration of marriage to its original principle, Christ not only enforces the high dignity of this ordinance, but obviates many opportunities of wickedness, such, for instance, as collusion between husband and wife with a view to obtain freedom for marriage with others.
His disciples say unto him. Our Lord appears to have repeated privately to the disciples what he had said publicly to the Pharisees. If the case (ἡαἰτιìα) of the man be so with his wife. Some commentators take αἰτιìα to signify guilt: "if such guilt appertains to the married state." But the meaning is plain enough anyway, and the word, as here used, corresponds to the Latin causa, and the Hebrew dibrah, which may denote "case," "condition," etc. The disciples reflect the feeling of their day. Marriage without any possibility of essential release (for they see that this is Christ's law) seems to them a severe and unbearable connection. It were better never to marry at all than to fetter one's self with such an inexorable obligation. Such a doctrine was entirely novel in that age, and most unpalatable; and even the apostles receive it with wonder and hesitation. They have not yet leaned that in Messiah's kingdom grace conquers natural inclination, and strengthens the weak will so that it rises superior to custom, prejudice, and the promptings of the flesh.
Our Lord makes a gentle reply to this observation of the disciples concerning the inexpediency of marriage under some circumstances. You say true, he seems to mean, but all men cannot receive this saying; i.e. their words, "It is not good to marry." But he endorses these words in a different signification from theirs. Their objection to marry arose from the impossibility of putting away a wife for any cause. Christ passes over these ignoble scruples, and enunciates the only principle which should lead a man to abstain from marriage. They to whom it is given. They to whom are given the call and the grace to abstain from marriage. These persons' practice forms an exception to the general view of the propriety and blessedness of the marriage state.
Our Lord proceeds to note three classes of men to whom it is given to abstain from marriage. There are some eunuchs, which were so born. The first class consists of those who are physically unable to contract matrimony, or, having the power, lack the inclination. They are compulsorily continent, and are not voluntary abstainers. Neither is the second class: those which were made eunuchs of men. Such were common enough in the harems and courts of Orientals. The cruel and infamous treatment which such persons underwent was practised against their will, and consequently their continence had no sort of merit. The third is the only class which of choice and for high reasons lived a celibate life: which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. This is not to be understood of excision; for this would be a contravention of the order of nature and the good work of creation. Origen, who took the passage literally, and with his own hands mutilated himself, was justly condemned by the verdict of the Church. The verb is to be understood in a metaphorical sense of the mortification of the natural desires and impulses at the cost of much pain and trouble, the spirit conquering the flesh by the special grace of God. The motive of such self-denial is high and pure. It is practised "for the kingdom of heaven's sake," that is, to be free from distraction and the cares and dangers involved in a married life. St. Paul carries forward the Lord's teaching when he writes (1 Corinthians 7:32, 1 Corinthians 7:33), "He that is unmarried is careful for the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but he that is married is careful for the things of the world, how he may please his wife" (comp. Isaiah 56:3, Isaiah 56:4). The celibate life, deliberately embraced for religion's sake, is here approved by Christ, not to the disparagement of matrimony, but as a counsel which some are enabled to follow to their soul's great benefit. It may be added that the counsel applies also to married persons who sacrifice conjugal endearments for spiritual reasons—"have wives as though they had none" (1 Corinthians 7:29). Let him receive it. This is not an injunction, but a permission; it is no universal rule, prescribed to all or to the many; it is a special grace allowed to the few, and by few attained. "Each man," says St. Paul, "hath his own gift from God, one after this manner, and another after that" (1 Corinthians 7:7, 1 Corinthians 7:26). Some think the Essenes are here referred to; but it is not likely that our Lord would endorse the practices of a sect which in some of its tenets was by no means commendable. Rather he is laying down a limitation that, while self-sacrifice and self-dedication to God are acceptable and fraught with peculiar blessings, none should attempt to win heaven in this way, unless they are specially prepared for such a life by the grace of God mastering the human will and controlling every earthly desire. The pre-eminent value set on celibacy by the early Church was learned from this and similar passages; but Christ institutes no comparison between the single and married states; and it would have been wiser to imitate his reserve in estimating the spiritual merits of the two conditions.
Benediction of little children. (Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17.)
Christ, having laid his blessing on marriage, now blesses its fruit. Then. This happened directly after the preceding conversation. Mothers were won to his side by his elevation of woman to her true position, and his marked tenderness to children. Little children (παιδιìα). St. Luke calls them ταÌ βρεìφη, "their infants." These were babes whom the mothers carried in their arms, and who were too young to understand the meaning and importance of the act of Christ in blessing them. It was a custom to take infants to the synagogues, that they might receive the prayers and blessings of the rabbis, or holy men. For this reason they were brought to Christ as a holy and revered Teacher. That he should put his hands on them, and pray. The laying on of hands was symbolical of blessing (see Genesis 48:14; Numbers 27:23). From the Jewish it passed into the Christian Church (Acts 6:5), and continues unto this day to be used on various solemn occasions. The disciples rebuked them. More definitely in St. Mark, "rebuked those that brought them." Why they did so is not quite obvious. Either they thought that it was beneath Christ's dignity, and a waste of his precious time to attend to these babes; or, being still of imperfect faith, they did not realize that any spiritual good could proceed from the imposition of Christ's hands upon unconscious and irresponsive infants. They had seen him cure bodily diseases with a touch, and they would have welcomed these little ones it' they had been brought to be healed of some obvious maladies; what they could not understand was that these irrational creatures, not possessed of faith, could be the recipients of Divine blessing. Christ, by word and action, teaches another lesson. St. Mark adds that Jesus was "much displeased" at the disciples' faithless interference. St. Luke tells us that he "called them [the babes] unto him," making Iris followers desist from their officious remonstrance, and said the memorable words which are given almost without variation by the three synoptists.
Suffer [the] little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me. He speaks as though the infants were ready and eager to come to him, if they were not prevented. He thus intimates the truth that, though incompetent to undo, stand God's blessing, children were not incompetent to receive it. There was no natural impediment to bar the way. Unconscious intents, under the Mosaic dispensation, were admitted to the privileges of the Jewish Church by the rite of circumcision; in Christ's kingdom analogous mercies were to be extended to them. From this passage has been derived a cogent argument for infant baptism, because Christ herein showed, not only that tender age and immaturity of reason put no obstacle in the way of his blessing, but that children were the standard by which fitness for his kingdom was to be tested. For of such is the kingdom of heaven. They who would enter Christ's kingdom must be pure, simple, obedient, as little children (comp. Matthew 18:3). That is why he says, "of such," not "of these," intimating that it is not to the age, but to the disposition and character, that he refers. Some, not so suitably, confine the saying to such as are dedicated to God in baptism. It is well said that what children now are is God's work; what they shall be hereafter is their own.
He laid his hands on them. He was not influenced by the captious objections of the disciples. St. Mark tells us that "he took them up in his arms, put his bands upon them, and blessed them." Thus far he complied with the wishes of the parents who brought the babes to him. But we do not read that he prayed, as they had asked. Doubtless there was meaning in this omission. In conferring blessing he was acting in his Divine nature, and had no need of prayer. Sometimes, indeed, he prayed for the sake of bystanders (see John 11:42; John 12:30); here he prays not, that he may teach a lesson of his Divinity. Departed thence. Set out from Peraea, journeying towards Jerusalem.
Answer to the inquiry of the rich young ruler concerning eternal life. (Mark 10:17-22; Luke 18:18-23.)
And, behold. The exclamation, as usual, denotes the suddenness and unexpected nature of the occurrence. It took place probably on the next day after the blessing of the children. One came (εἶς προσελθωìν). This is more emphatic than the enclitic τις, and we learn from St. Luke that he was "a ruler," i.e. of the synagogue, and he must have been of noted piety and worth to have arrived at this dignity while still a youth (verse 22). St. Mark gives more details—he "came running, and kneeled to him." He was eager for an answer to his question, and recognized in Jesus a Rabbi worthy of all honour and veneration, though he saw in him nothing more. lie comes with no sinister intention, as the Pharisees did, but in all good faith, hoping to have a religious difficulty solved. Good Master. Thus the received text in the three synoptists. The epithet "good" is omitted by many excellent manuscripts, and has been expunged by most modern editors. It is required if the received text of the next verse is retained. It occurs in Mark and Luke without variation. The young man may have used the expression with the view of winning Christ's favour, or, at any rate, with the idea of showing the light in which he regarded him. What good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life? His notion was that eternal happiness was obtained by the performance of certain acts, and he is not sure that he has done enough for the reward, and wishes to know particularly what further good work will secure it. The other synoptists have merely, "What shall I do? but of course, good work is implied, if not expressed. This was a question much mooted in the rabbinical schools, and one to which the answers were as various as they were puerile. Some taught that the commandments were not equally important, and that what they deemed the lesser might be violated with impunity, if the others were observed. Some made the gift of perfection to depend on the daily recitation of certain prayers or psalms, others on giving due honour to the aged. Amid such perplexing rules, the youth desires an authoritative decision, which he may put in practice, and thus be sure of a happy place in Messiah's kingdom—be, as the Jews termed it, "a son of the age to come."
Why callest thou me good? Such is the reading of the received text here, and without any variation in the parallel passages of Mark and Luke. Our Lord takes the ruler to task for applying this epithet to him. unless the youth believed in his Divinity. You think of me only as a learned Teacher: how, then, can you speak of me in a term which can really be predicated of no child of man? Christ answers the ruler's address before he touches the subject of his interrogation, reproving him for using a form of words without realizing its full import. This is all plain enough; but many good manuscripts, including א B, D, etc., Vulgate, and other versions, read, Why askest thou me concerning the good? Most modern editors and the Revised Version have adopted this reading, which they hold to be genuine, and to have been altered subsequently in order to conform it to the other synoptists. If this is so, it is difficult to see whence Mark and Luke obtained their wording, unless—which is improbable—our Lord used both interrogations on the same occasion. The revised reading expresses Christ's astonishment at having this question asked; and it may be taken, as Bengel suggests, "He who is good ought to be interrogated about the good;" or, "What is right to do, you ought to know; it can only be obedience to the Author of all goodness." There is none good but one, that is, God. Here again the reading varies. The other synoptists agree with the received text of Matthew, except that Luke has εἷς ΘεοÌς instead of εἷς Θεοìς. Late editors, following א, B, D, etc., have printed, εἷς ἐστιÌν ὁἀγαθοìς: one there is who is good, or one is the good. God alone is the absolutely good; he alone can instruct you and put you certainly in the right way. Persons have been found to argue from this sentence that Christ renounces all claim to be God Almighty. But it is not so. He replies to what was in the young man's mind. The ruler regarded Jesus as man only; Jesus intimates that, in comparison with God, no man is good. He does not deny the applicability of the epithet to himself, but turns the questioner's thoughts to the Source of all good. He will not have himself regarded simply as a pre-eminently good man, but as Son of God, one with the Father. If thou wilt (θεìλεις, willest to) enter into life; i.e. enjoy eternal life. Christ uses a term equivalent to that of the ruler in verse 16. So Christ said on another occasion to a lawyer who tempted him. "This do, and thou shalt live" (Luke 10:28). There is no real life without obedience. Keep the commandments of him who is good. The Law was given to prepare men to receive Christianity, and in proportion as they carefully observed it, so were they made ready to inherit the life which Christ gives. No mere external compliance without faith is here approved, but it is laid down that, in order to win eternal life, there must be strict observance of God's laws—not some one extraordinary performance, but constant attention to known duties from the highest motive. Faith, indeed, is belief in action, and is dead and profitless if inoperative; so that true obedience is the outcome of true faith.
Which (ποιìας)? Christ's answer was disappointing to the inquirer; it was too vague and general to satisfy his thought. He expected to hear (as the rabbis taught) of some special precept or precepts, difficult of accomplishment, and not usually regarded, by observance of which he could obtain his great reward. So he asks with laudable persistence, "Of what sort are these commandments which I have to obey?" He is far from thinking of the common duties of the Decalogue, though doubtless he had been taught that these varied greatly in meritoriousness. Christ, in reply, notifies, as examples, the chief enactments of what we call the second table of the Decalogue, quoting the sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, and fifth. He enunciates nothing uncommon, nothing new; and, by prefixing the definite article τοÌ to the enumeration, he makes the whole a substantial unity, comprising the moral law of duty to one's neighbour. Perhaps Christ confines his list to the second table in order to make the man feel his imperfection in these ordinary matters, or to bring out his self-righteous spirit. There could be no doubt that infringement of the first table involved the loss of eternal life. Matthew 19:17 virtually includes the spirit of this table. It was round these last six commandments chiefly that rabbinical traditions and interpretations had gathered, so that their plain meaning was obscured or depraved. Whoever observed the second table in spirit and truth, kept also the first (Romans 13:9, Romans 13:10); and it is easier to love one's neighbour than to love God, as the apostle witnesses (see 1 John 4:20); and without love of our neighbour there cannot be true love of God.
Honour, etc. Lange considers that in this verse we have a summary of the two tables, "Honour thy father and mother," summing up the commandments of the first; and "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself," those of the second (Le Matthew 19:18). Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. St. Mark and St. Luke omit this clause; the latter adds, "Defraud not." According to our text, Christ gives four negative and two positive commands: the last being a summary taken from Le Luke 19:18 (comp. Romans 13:9, Romans 13:10; Galatians 5:14). It has been questioned why our Lord omits the tenth commandment (as we call it) from the catalogue. Virtually he introduces it in Luke 19:21; but he may have refrained from formally mentioning it because covetousness was the ruler's besetting sin, and the marked omission of this precept might force the man to reflect upon this failing, which would wreck his spiritual life. On the other hand, it may be that Christ is not intending to give an epitome of man's duty; but affording merely an outline of the same, he naturally passes over some portion without special mention.
All these things have I kept [from my youth up]. The bracketed words are omitted in some good manuscripts, and by most modern editors; but they have high authority, and are found in most versions, and in the parallel passages of Mark and Luke. They accurately express the ruler's view of his conduct. He could say without hesitation or mental reservation that he had scrupulously observed the duties of the Decalogue from the time that he knew right from wrong. Of course, we accuse one who could make such a statement of self-righteousness, of ignorance of the spirit of the Law which he claimed to have obeyed; and if one of us spoke thus presumptuously, we should rightly condemn him; we should say that outward service and legal notions of duty were of little worth, and could not secure eternal life. But our Lord treated the young man differently. He did not blame him as boastful and self-deceiving; he had no reproof for his seemingly presumptuous assertion; he recognized his simplicity, honesty, and sincerity, and St. Mark tells us that "Jesus beholding [looking upon, or into] him, loved him." He read the youth's heart, saw how pure and guileless it was, recognized in him the possibility of great things, and that he was worthy of the saintly life. The ruler felt that there was more to come; hence he asks, What lack I yet? Τιì ἐìτι ὑστερῶ; In what respect am I still deficient? How do I come short of eternal life? He had still a sense of want. All that he had done had not given him peace of mind. Hence his inquiry. From a Christian the question would savour of ignorance and unspirituality; but this man asked it in all sincerity, desiring earnestly to know what more was required of him, and being ready, as he thought, to undergo any pain, make any, even the most painful effort, if by so doing he might win the prize on which his soul was set.
If thou wilt (θεìλεις) be perfect. I believe what you tell me. You have led a religious life in the ordinary way; now yon aspire to higher things; you have a noble ambition to serve God more completely; yon have the power, if you have the will, to do so; I will tell you how. To be "perfect" is to be lacking in nothing that is required for life eternal. It is spoken of Noah and Job; it is required of Christ's disciples (Matthew 5:48). Christ is here giving a counsel of perfection, as it is called, not of obligation on all men, but suited to the idiosyncrasy of this particular inquirer, and of others who are capable of such absolute self-surrender and trustfulness. Go and sell that thou hast. Go back to thy home, and sell all thy substance, all thy possessions. This was the counsel which Jesus gave, denoting the stumbling block which lay in the way of the ruler's endeavours after perfection. He was voluntarily to deprive himself of the earthly thing to which he fondly clung, his wealth, and to embrace a life of poverty and hardship. Give to the poor. The money obtained by the sale of his possessions he was to distribute, not to relations and friends, who might make some return, but to the poor, from whom he could expect no recompense. And thou shalt have treasure in heaven (Matthew 5:12; Matthew 6:20). Thou shalt obtain that which thou desirest, eternal life. Not that stripping one's self of goods and giving to the poor does necessarily ensure the great reward, but, in this youth's case, such a sacrifice, such a victory over the besetting sin, would be the turning point in his character, and enable him to conquer all lesser temptations, and win the prize of his high calling. Here was to be proved love of man. But there was one more element in the required perfection, viz. love of God. Come and follow me. St Mark adds, "take up the cross." If he would have apostolic perfection, he must embrace the apostolic life. He must give up wealth, position, earthly ties, earthly occupations, must cast in his lot with the despised Jesus, suffer with him, and, if necessary, die with him. The twelve apostles had accepted Christ's call on these terms; from him was demanded the same sacrifice the same test of sincerity. He had wished to be exceptionally good; exceptional conduct was required from him in order to reach this high standard. The condition imposed, severe as it undoubtedly was, exactly suited the case, showed the weak spot in the ruler's character, and, if accepted fully and heartily, would have led him to perfection. Reading these words of our Lord, St. Anthony was so stricken in heart and conscience that he obeyed them literally, stripped himself of everything that he had, distributed to the needy, and went forth poor and naked, trusting to God to provide for him. Many in all ages, inspired by ardent love of life eternal, have done the same. We shall do well to recognize that there are two ways of serving God acceptably—there is the good life required from all religious Christians, and there is the life of perfection to which some, by God's special grace, are called, and which they embrace and fulfil. It was the latter life that Christ put before this young man.
When the young man heard that saying. Such an injunction was wholly unexpected; it completely staggered him; it appealed to the one point in his character which was weak and imperfect. He would have endured any amount of legal requirements or of vexatious and painful observances; he would gladly have become a disciple of Christ; but the previous sacrifice was too great; he could not make it; not that he was specially covetous or avaricious, but his heart was set on his riches; he had a wealthy man's tastes and position and self-confidence, and he could not bring himself to cast away these even at Christ's word. Such supreme self-denial, such absolute devotion, he would not embrace. So he went away sorrowful. He saw the right road, but he turned away from it. Without any further word, casting aside all hope of the saintly life, yet grieved and dejected at the thought of what he was losing, he returned to his home. It was hard to disobey the wise and loving Teacher who had endeavoured to lead him to the noblest aims and the highest ambition; but it was harder to follow his severe counsels. The evangelist gives the reason of this unhappy decision. For he had great possessions; ἦν γαÌρ ἐìχων κτηìματα πολλαì: erat enim habens multas possessiones; he was one that had many possessions, or had and continued to have, implying possession and retention (comp. Luke 5:18, "he continued in retirement"). This fact was the snare that trapped him, the stumbling block over which he fell. The possession of riches proved fatal to saintliness. It is this truth that our Lord emphasizes in the following discourse. They who tare unconscious of having been tried as this young man was tried may condemn him as worldly, covetous, and insincere. A true Christian, who knows his own heart, may well feel that he can throw no stone at this defaulter; that he, any more than the Jew, could not give up all that he held dear for Christ's sake; that, bad the alternative been set before him in this blunt, palpable fashion, he too would have gone away sorrowful.
The dangers of riches and the blessings of self-denied. (Mark 10:23-31; Luke 18:24-30.)
Then said Jesus. He derives an important lesson from the sad result of the above incident. St Luke connects it with what had just preceded: "When Jesus saw that he [the ruler] was very sorrowful, he said." It was a strange and most emphatic assertion, quite alien from general opinion and sentiment. A rich man shall hardly (δυσκοìλως, with difficulty) enter into the kingdom of heaven. Remembering that Christ had just invited the young ruler to range himself on his side and become his disciple, we see that the primary meaning of the term, "kingdom of heaven," here is the Christian Church, the society which Jesus came to establish. It was indeed difficult for a man wealthy, honoured, dignified, to strip himself of his riches and rank, and openly cast in his lot with the despised Jesus and his followers, voluntarily surrendering all that hitherto had made life beautiful and worth living. It is difficult for a rich man in any case to serve God acceptably, as Christ shows with reiterated emphasis.
Again I say unto you. The disciples, St. Mark notes, "were astonished at his words," so he proceeds to state the startling proposition more unreservedly and energetically. It is easier for a camel, etc. This is a proverbial expression for an impossibility. A similar proverb is found in many countries, only substituting another great animal instead of the camel, e.g. the elephant. From taking a too literal view of the passage, some commentators have invented a gate at Jerusalem, low and narrow, designed only for foot passengers, which was called "the needle's eye." Others have remedied the supposed absurdity by reading καìμιλος (if, indeed, there is such a word) "rope," for καìμηλος, as if we were to say cable instead of camel. But there is no difficulty in the expression. Such hyperboles and paradoxes are common in all languages (comp. Matthew 23:24). The impossibility, indeed, is relative, but the warning is none the less real and terrible. The Lord says that the possession of riches prevents the owner from following him, and endangers his eternal salvation; for that is what it comes to. In St. Mark (whether the words are genuine or not is uncertain) we find a limitation introduced: "How hard it is for them that trust in riches!" Now, this is the effect of riches; men learn to trust in them, to deem that their earthly state is secure, that change and chance will not affect them, that they are, so to speak, independent of Providence; they love the world which is so good to them and so pleasant in their eyes, and they have no earnest longing for a better home. Such is the natural consequence of the possession of wealth, and that which makes the impossibility of entrance into the kingdom.
Exceedingly amazed. The stern teaching of Matthew 19:23 and Matthew 19:24 thoroughly dismayed and perhaps offended them. Temporal prosperity had in their Law been held forth as the reward of righteousness and obedience, a foretaste of future happiness. They must unlearn this principle. Here, as they understood it, was a doctrine novel, unheard of, unnatural! Fancy the astonishment that would be displayed nowadays if such a sentiment were solemnly propounded in the Stock Exchange, the bank, the market! The apostles could not minimize its import, or say that it might suit other days and other states of society, but was inapplicable to their age and nation. We can do this in the case of many seemingly stringent requirements of the gospel; but they accepted the announcement in its full and simple meaning, and asked in sorrowful wonder, Who then can be saved? If the way to heaven is barred to the rich man, how shall the poor pass therein? The difficulty seemed to apply to everybody. All who are not rich are hoping and struggling to become rich, and therefore fall under the same category. If the apostles thought not of themselves in this question, they were grieved at the reflection that, under the circumstances, the majority of mankind were recklessly endangering their eternal salvation. With their views of a temporal kingdom, the apostles probably were thinking of their own prospects.
But Jesus beheld them (ἐμβλεìψας, looking upon them). He turned on his disciples a look full of earnestness, sympathy, and love, soothing their fears and claiming their full attention for a spiritual truth. With men (παραÌ ἀνθρωìποις) this is impossible. Men in their own strength, relying on their own natural powers, cannot save their souls or rise superior to the snare of riches. From the entanglements occasioned by wealth, and the lowering effects of its pursuit and enjoyment, the natural man is wholly unable to extricate himself. With God all things are possible. Here is the only solution of the difficulty. With the grace of God, and embracing the calls of his providence, the rich man may be delivered from his dangers, may keep a heart unspotted, may use his wealth to God's glory and his own eternal good. So the impossibility is a conditional one, to be overcome by due recourse to the help of God and the strong hope of the future life. How a rich man may be disciplined and elevated we see in the ease of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:8). Many such instances have occurred in our own days, as in all Christian times.
Then answered Peter. This was not so much a reply to any direct word of Jesus, as to the general purport of his late utterances. He had intimated that self-renunciation was the passport to eternal life; that a just reward awaited those who gave up all for Jesus'sake. This, Peter says, is exactly what the apostles had done. We have forsaken all, and followed thee. It was not much that they had left, but it was all they had, their whole means of subsistence, old habits, old associations, to which the poor cling as tenaciously as the wealthy. All this, at a simple word of Christ, they had relinquished unreservedly, without regret or complaint. They had reduced themselves to the condition which Christ had enjoined. What shall we have therefore? The question showed the usual ignorance of the nature of the kingdom of Messiah. Peter is thinking chiefly of temporal advancement and promotion, of success and dignity in an earthly realm. Even after their Master's crucifixion and resurrection they had asked, "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6). It was not till after the effusion of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost that their imperfect view was corrected, and they understood what Christ meant when he said, "My kingdom is not of this world." But what a revulsion of feeling must have taken place in those who a few minutes before had despairingly thought that salvation was unattainable, and now asked what their reward would be for the sacrifices which they had made! The older commentators have regarded Peter's inquiry as referring to eternal life after death, to which their acts had given them a claim. But it must be remembered that the Jews had very vague ideas about the beatified state in the other world, which, as many thought, was to be inaugurated at the close of the Messianic era, and which others put off indefinitely to the unknown day of judgment. It was never generally and popularly anything more than an uncertain hope, and was not regarded as a stimulant to life and action on earth. While, on the other hand, the terrestrial proceedings of the Messiah were a subject of the keenest expectation, and the ground of national aspirations. It is not probable that the apostles' notions had at this time risen superior to the popular view. Peter's question, therefore, was doubtless prompted by the national conception of Messiah's reign.
Verily I say unto you. Christ does not reprove the apostle for his seemingly bold self-assertion, but, replying to Peter's question, he gives a grand promise to him and his fellow disciples. Ye which have followed me, excluding all the half-hearted, the self-seeking, the Judaizers. In the regeneration (τῇ παλιγγενεσιìᾳ). The word means "new birth," or "renovation, renewal." It occurs in Titus 3:15 in reference to baptism," through the washing [laver] of regeneration." It has been variously interpreted in the present passage. Some have connected it with the participle preceding, "ye who have followed me in the regeneration," and explained it to mean the reformation and spiritual renovation commencing with the preaching of John the Baptist, and carried on by the ministry of Christ. But more generally and correctly it is taken with what follows, Ye shall sit, etc. The meaning, however, is still disputed. Some say that the Christian dispensation is intended, and an intimation is given of the work of the apostles in the unseen world in directing and guarding the Church. But this seems hardly to satisfy the language of the promise. Others regard the term as signifying the resurrection, when the mortal shall put on immortality, and we shall be changed, remade, reconstituted. This is true; but it seems more suitable to refer the term to the new creation, the new heaven and the new earth spoken of by Isaiah (Isaiah 65:17) and by St. John (Rev 21:12; cf. 2 Peter 3:10, 2 Peter 3:13); This is the reparation of the whole creation described by St. Paul (Romans 8:19, etc.), which is to take place at the great consummation, and which, remedying all the evils which sin has impressed on the material and spiritual world, on man and his habitation, may well be called new birth. This is the mysterious period when Christ's promise shall be accomplished. Shall sit. It is not "when he shall come," but when he shall have taken his seat (ἐπιÌ, with genitive) as Judge upon his glorious throne. Ye also (ὑμεῖς … καιÌ ὑμεῖς). The pronoun is repeated to give greater emphasis to the amazing assertion. Shall sit upon (καθιìσεσθε ἐπιÌ, with accusative); shall be promoted to, taken and placed upon. Twelve thrones. Judas forfeited his position; Matthias and Paul and Barnabas were afterwards added to the apostolic band; so that the number twelve must not be pressed as defining and limiting. Rather it expresses the completeness of the judicial body, regarding not so much the persons as the position of its members. With reference to papal claims, it may be observed that Peter has no pre-eminence here, no throne to himself; he merely shares with his colleagues in the session. The apostles and those who have been proved to be of like mind with them (for the number is not limited) shall be assessors with Christ, as in an earthly court, where the judge or the prince sits in the centre, and on either side of him are posted his councillors and ministers. Judging. So in Daniel we hear of thrones being placed, and judgment given to the saints (Daniel 7:9, Daniel 7:22); "Know ye not," says St. Paul (1 Corinthians 6:2, 1 Corinthians 6:3), "that the saints shall judge the world … that we shall judge angels?" (comp. Revelation 20:4). Of course, the great Judge is Christ himself. What part his assessors shall take is not revealed. The verb "judge" sometimes signifies "govern or direct," and perhaps may be here used to denote that the saints shall, in the new Messianic kingdom, be Christ's vicegerents and exercise his authority. The twelve tribes of Israel. There is considerable difficulty in interpreting this portion of the promise. If it means that the beatified apostles shall judge the actual descendants of Abraham, then we must believe that the distinction between Jew and Gentile will be maintained in this regeneration—an opinion which seems to be opposed to other texts of Scripture (see 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:28, etc.). The judging in this case would be condemnation of them for not receiving the gospel. One does not see how this can be held forth as a great and happy reward, however high a position it may imply. More probably Israel means the spiritual Israel, or the whole body of the Church; and the number twelve (as above) imports the complete number of those who are to be judged. They who have followed Christ devotedly and sincerely, as his disciples, shall be placed next to him in his glory, shall have pre-eminence over all others, and be associated with him in assigning their due portion to all believers, or in governing the Church. Nothing is here said about the final judgment of unbelievers and heathen.
Every one that hath forsaken. The Lord extends the promise. Even those who have not risen to the utter self-sacrifice of apostles, who have not surrendered so much as they, shall have their reward, though nothing to be compared to the unspeakable recompense of the twelve. Houses … lands. Some manuscripts, followed by some modern editors, omit or wife, the omission being probably first made by some critical scribe, who deemed that a wife should never be left. The Lord enumerates the persons and objects upon which men's hearts are most commonly and firmly fixed. He begins and ends the list with material possessions—houses and lands, and between them introduces in gradation the most cherished members of the family circle. "Forsaking wife and children" may be understood as abstaining from marriage in order the better to serve God. For my Name's sake. In consequence of belief in Christ, rather than do despite to his grace, or in order to confess and follow him more completely. In times of persecution, under many different cases of pressure, or where his friends were heathens or infidels, a Christian might feel himself constrained to relinquish the dearest ties, to east off all old associations, to put himself wholly in God's hands, freed from all worldly things; such a one should receive ample reward in the present life. An hundredfold. Some read "manifold," as in Luke 18:30. The spiritual relationship into which religion would introduce him largely compensates for the loss of earthly connections. He shall have brothers and sisters in the faith—hundreds who will show him the affection of father and mother, hundreds who will love him as well a s wife and children. And if he suffer temporal loss, this shall be made up by the charity of the Christian society, all whose resources are at his command, and he shall enjoy that peace and comfort of heart which no worldly possessions can give, and which are superior to all changes of fortune. And it may well be that the relief from the cares and distractions caused by wealth brings a hundredfold more real happiness than its possession ever supplied. "Godliness is profitable for all things, having the promise of the life which now is, and of that which is to come" (1 Timothy 4:8). Everlasting life. The hope of future happiness is in itself sufficient to lighten and dissipate all earthly troubles, and to stimulate severest sacrifices.
Many that are first. This proverbial saying, which Christ uses more than once (see Matthew 20:16; Luke 13:30), is illustrated by the parable in the next chapter, and would be better placed at its commencement Here it conveys a warning that man's estimation is liable to error, and it must not be thought that those who are first in privilege are therefore highest in God's favour. The Lord may have had in view the case of Judas, who was an early apostle, and had the care of the bag, and fell by reason of covetousness; and that of one like St. Paul, who was called late, and yet laboured more abundantly than all that were before him. The application may be made with perfect truth to many professors of religion.
The sanctity of marriage.
I. CONVERSATION WITH THE PHARISEES.
1. Work in Peraea. The Lord hath now finally left Galilee; the restless hostility of the Pharisees had driven him from the province in which at first he had met with such great success, and which was regarded as his own country. Judaea, too, was now unsafe for him. His hour was almost come; he would work while it was day; but he would not expose himself to unnecessary danger before the time appointed. Peraea was for a short season open to him; it was less overspread by Pharisaic influence than Galilee or Judaea. He would work there while he might. Multitudes followed him, and he healed them there. The Lord is an example of patience and perseverance; he would not throw up his work in weariness and disgust, as men too often do when they meet with failure and opposition. He neglected no opening for work, no opportunity of preaching the blessed gospel. Oh that we might imitate him in this as in all things'!
2. The question of the Pharisees. They found him, even in Peraea; they followed him everywhere during the latter part of his ministry with their ensnaring questions and malicious persecutions. And now they asked, "Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife forevery, cause?" It was common to consult great teachers on points of controversy; but this question was not asked honestly; they were tempting him, seeking to entangle him in his talk, to bring him into collision with one or other of the two great schools, or with Herod Antipas himself, the ruler of the country in which they were. The famous Hillel had taught that divorce was allowable for any cause; Shammai, that it was lawful only in the case of adultery. Herod was guilty of shameful violations of the law of marriage, and had murdered the holy Baptist, who rebuked him for his sin. The Lord had taught the strict view of marriage in his sermon on the mount; would he dare to maintain the same doctrine in the dominions of Herod? The Pharisees seemed to ask for information; they had malice and envy in their hearts. Controversy is full of danger to the soul; those who are called to engage in it ought to look most carefully into their own consciences to see that their motives are pure and good.
3. The Lord's answer. He refers them to the Scriptures. "Have ye not read?" he says, as he had said before. He points to the study of the Scriptures as the source of religious knowledge. "Have ye not read?" We ought to be always reading, always learning lessons of Divine truth from the holy Word of God. He goes back to the original principle of marriage. "He which made them at the beginning made them male and female." They were created for one another. "They twain shall be one flesh .. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." The wedded pair are one; the Lord does not say "those which," but "that which God hath joined." They are no longer two, but one flesh, one unity. Man may not dare to part that which God by matrimony hath made one. So true is the old saying that marriages are made in heaven. Marriage is an honourable estate, instituted by God in the time of man's innocency; declared by God himself, speaking through Adam of things which Adam could know only through Divine inspiration, to be more sacred and binding even than the love of parent and child, the holiest surely and deepest of all other forms of human love; ennobled in the New Testament by a yet holier consecration, so that it becomes the symbol, the representation, of the mystical union that is between Christ and his Church. Marriage is a very holy thing, not to be taken in hand lightly and wantonly; not to be dissolved for any cause, according to the views of these Pharisees of Hillel's school, but to be undertaken reverently and in the fear of God, as a bond which is to unite husband and wife in holy love unto their lives' end.
4. The Mosaic rule. The Pharisees were not convinced; they quoted Deuteronomy against our Lord. Why did Moses, they said, command to give a bill of divorcement? The Lord first corrected their quotation. Moses did not command; he permitted. So eager controversialists misquote Scripture and bend it to their own purpose. Let us be careful to deal always truthfully and sincerely with the Word of God. It was true that Moses permitted divorce; but it had not been so from the beginning; it was permitted by the Law of Moses for temporary reasons, because of the hardness of the people's hearts. The Law of Moses was not final; it was adapted in large measure to the circumstances of the times—to the manners, capacity, spiritual condition of the Israelites. It was added because of transgressions; it was a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. The high spiritual requirements of the gospel would not have been suited to the rude, uncultured natures of the ancient Israelites. There was need of a long preparation, a preliminary training. Such a training was furnished by the Law. The Law was very high above contemporary moral teaching; it was imperfect in comparison with the gospel which was to come, but very far in advance of the moral standard prevalent in Gentile countries. The permission of divorce was one of the points in which allowance had been made for the customs of the time, for the character of the Israelites. It had not been so from the beginning; it was not intended to remain so. The Lord distinctly forbids divorce, "except it be for fornication." He does not sanction remarriage even in that case.
II. THE DISCIPLES.
1. Their inference. If it be so, if divorce is allowable only on that one ground, then, the disciples thought, it is not good to marry—the risk would be too great, the prospect of happiness too uncertain; better to remain unmarried than to enter upon a union which could not be dissolved. They spoke from the Jewish point of view, in accordance with their old associations and habits of thought. Their objection seems to us very strange. The fact of their making it shows the immense change which Christianity has produced in the estimate of marriage.
2. The Lord's answer. "Not all can receive this saying." Some can serve God best in the married state; some in a single life. Some, like the holy apostle St. Paul, have chosen to live unmarried for the kingdom of heaven's sake, that they may have fewer hindrances, more time, more opportunities for the blessed work of preaching the gospel of Christ. But the Lord leaves it open for the Christian conscience to determine in each man's case whether the married or the single life will serve better to godliness.
1. Marriage is indissoluble; enter upon it discreetly, with serious thought and earnest prayer.
2. Marriage is a holy thing; let the husband love his wife as Christ loved his spouse, the Church.
3. The Lord raised woman to her proper place; Christians must aim at a high standard of purity.
4. The Lord laid the foundation of the sanctity of Christian homes and Christian family relations; let us cherish his high and holy teaching.
The little children.
I. THEY WERE BROUGHT TO CHRIST.
1. The reason. It seems to have been customary to bring young children into the synagogues to be blessed by the elders. The Lord was regarded with reverence as a great Rabbi now in Peraea, as he once bad been in Galilee. Wives and mothers were naturally drawn to him by the high view of marriage which he taught. The frequency of divorce destroyed the sanctity of the marriage bond, degraded woman, interfered grievously with the true ideal of home and family life. It was Christianity, or rather it was the Lord himself, who raised woman to her proper dignity, who surrounded wedded life with an atmosphere of purity and mutual trustfulness, who gave unto men all the blessed charities, all the pure and holy joys, all that happy discipline of self-denial for the sake of wife, or husband, or children, which consecrate Christian family life, and make the family on earth a place of training and preparation for the family in heaven (Ephesians 3:15). The Lord's teaching touched the hearts of these Hebrew matrons; they brought their little ones to him; they wished him to lay his hands upon them, in token that his blessing should rest upon their lives; they wished him to pray for them; they were sure that his prayer was holy and effectual. These children were infants, at least some of them (βρεìφη, Luke 18:15). The mothers doubted not, but earnestly believed that the prayer, the blessing of Christ, would be profitable to those unconscious infants. So we should bring our little ones to Christ in holy baptism, in Christian education. Christian mothers can do much—much that no one else can do so well, for the spiritual good of their children. The simple teaching of a believing mother, the simple prayers learned from a mother's lips, often exert a hallowing influence over a whole life; even if forgotten for a time among the toils and temptations of the world, they often return to the memory in later years. Those holy memories are by God's grace a powerful help in restoring that childlike spirit which is so precious in the sight of Christ.
2. The rebuke of the disciples. The conduct of the disciples seems strange. They had soon forgotten the incidents of their last visit to Capernaum (Matthew 18:1-14). Then the Lord had himself taken a little child, and, bringing him into the midst, had made him the subject of his discourse, and had proposed the childlike character as the model for their imitation. One who so loved the little ones, who regarded them with such affectionate interest, who saw in childhood so many beauties, so much that was precious, would not be likely to repel the children now. But the disciples thought, perhaps, that they were mere infants, unconscious, incapable of learning anything from Christ. They did not suppose that his touch, his prayer, could benefit babes who could not pray for themselves. They thought that his time should be given to older people, who might gain more from his instructions. Their Master was very great and holy; his lessons were very sacred and precious. It was not right, they thought, to waste the time that was so valuable by claiming his attentions for these helpless infants. Such things seemed beneath his dignity, unworthy of his regard. And they rebuked those who had brought the children.
II. THE LORD'S RECEPTION OF THE LITTLE ONES.
1. His reproof of the disciples. "He was much displeased," St. Mark tells us; he blamed those who would have kept the little ones from him. The apostles were displeased with the mothers who brought the little ones to Christ; the Lord was displeased with the apostles themselves. It was a true spiritual instinct that prompted these Hebrew mothers; they were right, the apostles were wrong. The apostles had yet to learn those deep lessons of true Christian lowliness and true Christian sympathy with the young and simple and ignorant which only Christ can teach. Sometimes the ignorant feel instinctively what is right when the more instructed are led astray by prejudices or pride. Sometimes, it may be, the Lord is much displeased with us when we think that we are acting for his honour. Let us watch carefully over our motives, remembering always that his eye is ever on us, and that no secrets of the heart are hidden from him.
2. His words. "Suffer little children." The Lord had used the same words when he came unto John to be baptized of him, "Suffer it to be so now." As John then obeyed the voice of Christ, and "suffered him;" so Christ bids his disciples to "suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me." Christians must not keep them back, they must not rebuke those who bring them; for the little ones are very dear to Christ; he cares for them all; the Father cares for them: "It is not the will of your Father which is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish." We must bring them to Christ in their infancy, dedicating them to him in holy baptism, asking him to embrace them with the arms of his mercy, to put his hands upon them and bless them. We must bring them to him in prayer, praying for them ourselves, as the poor father prayed for the lunatic boy, teaching them to lift up their own childlike hearts to God as soon as their lips can utter the words of prayer. We must bring them to Christ by the training of a Christian home, by holy example; carefully avoiding the danger of laying a stumbling block in the way of the little ones by any word or deed of ours. The responsibilities under which we lie towards the children of our families should be a strong additional motive for the cultivation of holiness. We must bring them to Christ by a Christian education, giving them that inestimable privilege which Timothy had received from his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice—the knowledge of the Holy Scriptures from childhood—from infancy (ἀποÌ βρεìφους, 2 Timothy 3:15). The Lord is pleased with those who thus bring the little ones to him; he is displeased with those who would keep them from him; for, he saith, of such is the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven belongs to them, as it belongs to the poor in spirit, and to those who are persecuted for righteousness'sake. The kingdom of heaven is theirs; they are by the gift of God entitled to its privileges. Surely, then, they will be received into the kingdom of glory if they are taken hence in the comparative innocence of childhood. We cannot doubt but that he who said, "Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me," will gather the lambs into his bosom in the kingdom of his Father. The kingdom is theirs, but not theirs only. "Of such is the kingdom of heaven." The childlike in heart are true children of the kingdom; they receive the kingdom of God as a little child; they believe with the simple earnestness of children; they are poor in spirit, like the little ones; they are truthful, unaffected, real. Let us seek for that childlike simplicity and transparency of heart; let us pray, let us strive after it. It is the character of Christ's chosen, his beloved. "He laid his hands on them, and departed thence." He gave the desired blessing: "He took them up in his arms, laid his hands upon them, and blessed them." Happy children! Happy those who by the grace of Christ and the cleansing, quickening power of his Spirit, retain, or recover, the freshness, the simplicity, the comparative purity, of childhood!
1. Imitate the Peraean parents; bring the little ones to Christ.
2. Let none dare to despise children; the Lord cares for them and loves them.
3. Teach them at home, in Sunday schools; the Lord is pleased with those who help to train them for him.
The young ruler.
I. HIS INTERVIEW WITH CHRIST.
1. His question. Christ was "gone forth into the way" (Mark 10:17); he was leaving Peraea; his ministry there was ended. But there was a young man, a ruler of the synagogue, a man of large possessions and of blameless life, who came running and kneeled to him. Perhaps he had already felt the supreme goodness of Christ, the holiness of his teaching; hut his position, his Jewish prejudices, had hitherto prevented him from becoming a disciple of the Lord. Now the Lord was departing; if he hesitated longer, he would be too late. He had lived an upright, honourable life, but he felt that there was something lacking yet; there was a void in his heart, a yearning which he could not satisfy. Perhaps this great Teacher might help him. There was no time to lose; he hastily made up his mind, and ran after Christ. Thus far he is an example to us. Earthly rank, earthly riches, will not fill the heart; we need something more—we need Christ. We may be late in seeking him; we have wasted much time and lost many opportunities. The Lord is long suffering; he is still near at hand; but it may soon he too late. "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found; call ye upon him while he is near." Come running, kneeling to him in lowly supplication; he will tarry on his way; he will listen to the suppliant's prayer. So the young ruler came now. "Good Master," he said, "what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?" It sounds like the question of the jailor at Philippi, "What must I do to be saved?" But it was not so genuine, so natural, so heart-felt. There was an element of truth, some real desire; but there was something of ostentation, of self-confidence; little of that childlike spirit which the Lord had so highly commended. He thought too much of his past uprightness. He thought, apparently, that eternal life might be earned by some great and noble deed.
2. The Lord's answer. "Why askest thou me concerning that which is good? One there is who is good!" God only is good. Love him; do his holy will; take him for thy Portion. Eternal life is his gift; it is given to them who walk with God, who live in and for God, who keep his commandments. St. Mark and St. Luke have the words which some ancient authorities read in St. Matthew also, "Why callest thou me good? there is none good but One, that is, God." The Lord had forbidden the apostles to tell men that he was the Christ, because the Jews looked for a human Messiah, an earthly king. In the same spirit he would not accept the title "Good" from this ruler, who regarded him simply as a wise Teacher, a great Rabbi. He bade him keep the commandments. The young ruler had been expecting to hear something lofty and extraordinary from so great a Prophet; he was surprised at a direction so simple and commonplace, as he doubtless thought it. He was disappointed again when, in answer to his inquiry, the Lord simply recited five commandments of the Decalogue, adding that general principle in which the whole second table is briefly comprehended, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." The Lord. had indicated the first and great commandment of the Law in his first answer. He now mentions those duties towards our neighbour which flow out of our duty towards our God. He would lead the young man to examine himself, to discover his deficiencies, to see for himself that he had not yet entered on the way that leadeth to eternal life.
3. The young ruler's rejoinder. He had done all this, he said; he knew it all; he wanted something more than elementary teaching. "All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?" He spoke the truth according to his light. He had been brought up in the narrow school of the rabbis, and, according to the mechanical interpretations of the scribes, was, like Saul the Pharisee, "touching the righteousness which is in the Law, blameless." He had lived all his days a life of external obedience, and he did not understand the spiritual meaning of these commandments as taught by our Lord in his great sermon on the mount. He did not realize the wide range, the deep reach of that second commandment, which became, when illustrated by our Lord's example, the new commandment, the mark and test of Christ's disciples. He had kept the commandments as far as he understood them, as far as he had been taught; but he was conscious of a deficiency. He felt that something, he knew not what, but certainly something higher than this external obedience, was necessary for the attainment of that eternal life which he sought. "What lack I yet?" he said. It was a fine character as far as it went; unspotted moral rectitude joined with aspirations for something better and nobler. The Lord saw the promise of much good. "He beheld him," St. Mark says. It was a deep searching look that read his heart; and he loved him—he regarded him with something of that esteem which any degree of real goodness produces in the good. "Goodness," Bishop Butler says, "implies the love of itself, an affection for goodness. The really good recognize any spark of goodness in others, and cannot fail to love it." This special drawing forth of the Lord's love was a great honour to the young ruler; it showed the natural excellence of his character.
4. The Lord's commandment. "Go, sell that thou hast, and give to the poor." It is not a counsel of perfection, not advice, but a commandment. This self-sacrifice was necessary for the young man—necessary for the attainment of that eternal life which he sought. "One thing thou lackest," the Lord said, according to the report of the conversation given by St. Mark and St. Luke. It must mean that when the Lord read the young man's soul, he saw much that was lovable; but he also saw that the love of money, which is the root of all evil, was poisoning what should have been a very fine and noble character. It was necessary for him to make this great venture of faith. He perilled his salvation by not doing so at the time; he may have done it afterwards. The Lord had a high reward for him—treasure in heaven hereafter, and in this life a place near to himself: "Come, follow me," he said. It may be that the Lord saw in that young ruler the making of an apostle. He might have stood high in the roll of saints; perhaps afterwards he did. Can he have been lost whom the Lord Jesus distinguished with his love? But now he went away. He could not make the sacrifice required of him. He had thought that he might do some great thing, some noble deed, to gain eternal life, and the Lord had taken him at his word; but this was too great, too difficult; he could not bring himself to it. He went away sorrowful, not angry; he felt that the Lord was right. There was something good and noble in his character which responded to the Lord's invitation. He felt the supreme holiness of Christ, the powerful attraction of his gracious love. He owned in his heart that to be near to Christ the Lord, to follow him, to live in close communion with him, was a privilege exceeding precious, a privilege not too dearly bought at the cost of all earthly riches, all earthly comforts. He knew that the Lord had not asked too much; his heart told him so; but he had not the strength, the courage. He could not part with his large possessions; he could not take up the cross (Mark 10:21). He was sad at that saying, "Take up the cross." It was a strange and dreadful word; even the apostles could not reconcile themselves to it. And he went away sorrowful, vexed with himself; he had made the great refusal, and he felt that he done a weak and cowardly thing. He had judged himself unworthy of that eternal life which he had sought, and he despised himself. He knew that those riches for which he had turned away from Christ could not compensate him for the tremendous loss. He was not blinded. He felt the value of the love of Christ, and the unutterable preciousness of eternal life. He knew that these great possessions of his were as nothing in comparison with that priceless treasure which Christ had offered him. He sinned against light, and he was miserable. Perhaps his misery brought him afterwards to a better mind. We hope it was so. We cannot but feel a very deep and real interest in a character so touching, so engaging, in one whom the Lord Jesus Christ loved. We are not all called to make the sacrifice which was required of the young ruler. The Lord did not say the like to Nicodemus or to Joseph of Arimathaea. But all true Christian men must be willing to do so if need be. "Not my will, but thine be done" was the Lord's own prayer in his agony. "Thy will be done" is the Christian's daily, it should be his hourly, prayer. And that prayer pledges us to the spirit of ready self-sacrifice for Christ's sake. We must be ready to give freely, liberally, in proportion to our means, for all holy works. We must be ready to take up our cross; for the Lord says that without the cross we cannot be his disciples. It is not enough to have the word often in our mouths, to have the picture of the cross upon our walls, or to wear the cross for an ornament. The mark of the Christian is the real cross, the inner spiritual cross; and that means self-denial for Christ's sake, self-denial which is real, which is painful, which is hard to bear; even as the cross which the Lord bore for us was hard and heavy and painful exceedingly. But the cross leadeth to the crown. The conditions of eternal life are unvarying; they are the same now, in their real spiritual meaning, as they were when they were presented by the Lord himself to the young ruler in Peraea.
II. THE LORD'S CONVERSATION WITH THE APOSTLES.
1. The warning. "A rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven." It is a hard thing, and his temptations are so great; there is so much to draw him to the world. Indeed, he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven as a rich man; he must become poor, that he may be rich indeed. He must become poor in spirit, poor in the willingness to consecrate all his wealth to the service of Christ; he must give largely, denying himself in many things that he may give the more; learning to do God's will, not his own; and regarding himself simply as the steward of what really belongs to God. For otherwise his danger is exceeding great. The gate of eternal life is always strait; it becomes like the eye of a needle to the rich man who stands before it, burdened with his riches, like a heavily loaded camel. "They that trust in riches" "cannot enter in;" and it is very hard for a rich man to cast off his trust in his riches. Yet the strait gate shall be thrown open wide to them that overcome—to the poor who are rich in faith, and to the rich who are poor in spirit, true disciples of him who, though he was rich, yet for our sakes became poor.
2. The amazement of the apostles. They were startled, almost terror stricken; it seemed so hard a saying; it seemed to make salvation so very difficult to attain. Perhaps St. Peter was thinking of it when long afterwards he wrote, "If the righteous scarcely be saved" (1 Peter 4:18). "Who then can be saved?" they said in their astonishment. All men, they knew, share the like peril; it is not only the rich who are in danger of trusting in riches. The poor often care for money quite as much as the rich. The fault lies, not in the fact of having great possessions, but in the trust reposed in them; and there are poor men who trust in their little store quite as much as some rich men trust in their great wealth. "The love of money is the root of all evil," and that love is a common temptation to all, rich and poor alike. "Who then can be saved?" The Lord saw the perplexity of his apostles; he felt for them in his sacred heart. He looked at them; those holy eyes were fixed upon them with an earnest, loving, sympathizing look—a look full of human tenderness and Divine compassion. "With men this is impossible," he said; "but with God all things are possible." The disciples were right; they might well say, "Who then can be saved?" Man cannot save himself; he is too weak, too sinful. "With men this is impossible"—with all men alike, whether they are rich or poor, whatever may be their advantages or their temptations; they cannot save themselves; the thing is impossible. But it is not impossible with God. And Christ is God; "he is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him." His incarnation, his blessed death upon the cross, has made that possible which was impossible. "With God all things are possible;" he can bring a clean thing out of an unclean; he can cleanse us from all unrighteousness—from the degrading love of money, from the defiling lusts of the flesh, from the subtle temptations of pride and self-righteousness. Only we must trust in him, not in riches, or what seem to be riches, not in our own fancied merits, not in works of righteousness which we have done, but only in the cross. "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world."
III. THE REWARD OF THE TRUE DISCIPLE.
1. St. Peter's question. The apostles had done what the young ruler shrank from doing—they had forsaken all. Indeed, they had not so much to give up as he had; but such as it was, it was their all; they had left all, and had followed Christ. The Lord had promised treasure in heaven to his followers. "What shall we have therefore?" Peter said. He was still too eager; there was too much self-assertion; he laid too much stress on the reward that was to come. The highest desire of the soul is to serve Christ for himself.
"Not for the sake of gaining aught,
Not hoping a reward;
But as thyself hast loved me,
O ever-loving Lord."
Peter knew afterwards that the love of Christ is its own reward (1 Peter 1:8). Yet he was not wholly wrong; the Lord had promised treasure in heaven; and that blessed hope is an exceeding great help to fainting Christians; it is an anchor of the soul both sure and steadfast. Moses had respect unto the recompense of the reward. St. Paul looked forward to the crown of righteousness laid up in heaven for all who love the appearing of the Lord. Christ himself, our great Example, when he looked back on his perfect life, said, "Now, O Father, glorify thou me." Peter, perhaps, regarded that heavenly blessedness too much in the light of a reward due to self-denial here; our Lord seems to imply this in the parable of Luke 20:1-47., though he now repeats his promise and acknowledges the self-sacrifice of his followers.
2. The Lord's answer.
(1) The promise to the apostles. He bade them look forward to the great regeneration, the time of restitution of all things (Acts 3:21). The regeneration of individual Christians (of which the Lord speaks in John 3:3, John 3:5; and St. Paul in Titus 3:5) is the gradual beginning, the preparation for the regeneration of the world, when God will make all things new, when there shall be "new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness." Then shall the Son of man, whose throne on earth was the cross, sit in that new creation upon the throne of his glory. And they who followed him nearest upon earth, who first bore the cross for his Name's sake, the twelve chosen apostles, they should sit, he said, upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. It may be that we shall not certainly understand the meaning of this promise (and other similar passages, such as Luke 22:30; 1 Corinthians 6:2, 1 Corinthians 6:3) till it is fulfilled in the kingdom of heaven. But perhaps it is safest to adopt the ideal interpretation. Twelve is the ideal number of the apostolic college. Judas went to his own place. By the twelve tribes of Israel we are probably to understand the Israel of God, the great Christian Church in all its branches. As the judges ruled Israel in the days of the theocracy, so shall the twelve apostles rule the Israel of God in the regeneration. They shall be nearest to the King, on his right hand and his left, in the highest places of honour.
(2) The promise to all believers. The circle of promise is widened. The apostles had forsaken all for Christ's sake; but there were multitudes who would afterwards make the like sacrifice; multitudes more who would be willing to make it if it were required of them. To all such the Lord promises a hundredfold reward—"a hundredfold," "manifold more," St. Mark and St. Luke say, in this present time, and in the world to come, eternal life. "Godliness hath the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." That holy joy, that peace of God, which is granted unto those who have yielded up their wills to God's holy will, passeth all understanding, and altogether outweighs the temporal losses which they may endure for Christ's sake. Such men, like St. Paul, count all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus their Lord. To such to live is Christ, and to die is gain. A life of holiness and self-denial for Christ's sake is very blessed, for it hath the presence of Christ. A holy death is by much far better; for such a death is the gate of everlasting life. They who would live that life and die that death must watch and pray, seeking earnestly the grace of perseverance; for many that are first shall be last, and the last shall be first. Judas was near to Christ when these words were said. "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed, lest he fall."
1. We still ask the same question, "What shall I do, that I may have eternal life?" And still the answer is the same, "Keep the commandments."
2. Let us not say, "All these have I kept from my youth up." Let us imitate the publican rather than the young ruler: "God be merciful to me a sinner."
3. "The love of money is the root of all evil;" "Love not the world;" "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God."
4. "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." It is a difficult work, beyond the strength of man; but we can do all things through him that strengtheneth us.
5. Let us have respect unto the recompense of the reward; he who by faith discerns the crown may well endure the cross.
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY
The readiness with which the marriage tie is dissolved in some countries, and the daring questions on the subject that have been raised in England, make it important for us to see clearly how divorce should be regarded in the light of the teachings of Christ. Plainly he sets his face against any divorce except in the most extreme case. Let us consider some of the pleas for a laxer rule, and then look at the duty of resisting them.
I. PLEAS FOR A GREATER FREEDOM OF DIVORCE.
1. The happiness of the home. It is urged that some husbands and wives are hopelessly at variance. Though married outwardly, in soul they are not wedded at all. They live together as enemies compelled to occupy the same prison, which a miserable conventionality falsely names home. Undoubtedly, this may be so. But then happiness is not the chief end of life. Moreover, the immediate relief of freedom would have to be purchased at the cost of an invasion of the settled social order.
2. The rights of liberty. A more daring position is taken up by those who claim liberty to dissolve the marriage bond. These people deny that we have any right to enter into a lifelong contract of marriage; or rather, they plead that such a contract should be subject to revision.
II. THE OBLIGATIONS OF IRREVOCABLE MARRIAGE TIES. Jesus Christ saw the terrible evils that resulted from great freedom of divorce in his day, and he distinctly opposed this dangerous licence. Let us consider some of the grave objections to it.
1. It is contrary to nature. On the surface of it, marriage may seem to be an artificial arrangement, and absolute freedom the state of nature. But our Lord pointed out that marriage was instituted at the Creation, and that it was associated with the very constitution of human life. There is a higher nature than that of the animal world. There is a certain best arrangement which only those who have intelligence to perceive it and conscience to follow it can enter into. This corresponds to Nature, not in her lowest instincts, but in her highest aspirations.
2. It is contrary to the law of God. The arrangement of nature was supplemented by the word of revelation. In marriage men and women carry out a law that God has revealed. In free divorce they break that law. This is of no consequence, perhaps, to people who are "emancipated;" but it should be all-authoritative for Christians.
3. It leads to numberless evils.
(1) It ruins the home. Discordant sentiments may also ruin it; but they indicate failure to reach an ideal. Freedom of divorce destroys the very ideal. The home which may be broken up at any moment is no home.
(2) It is unjust. It cannot always happen that both husband and wife desire to be separated when one is tired of the union; and if the wish is on one side only, injustice is done by divorce, and a wrong inflicted. Even if the divorce cannot be carried out without mutual consent, the one person who does not wish for it is placed in a cruelly distressful position.
(3) It lowers the idea of marriage. Instead of studying to make the best of the marriage union, people who have freedom of divorce are tempted to be looking abroad for new attractions. This is immoral; it tends directly to degrade the thoughts, and to throw open the flood gates of unrestrained desires.—W.F.A.
Christ blessing little children.
This incident, familiar to us from our childhood, not only throws light on the character of our Lord and his interest in child life. It reveals something in all who took part in it.
I. THE MOTHERS. The word "then," with which the paragraph opens, is deeply significant, because it closely connects this paragraph with that which precedes. Jesus had been vindicating the sanctity of marriage. The degenerate Jews bad come to regard the subject too much, if not exclusively, in regard to the relations of man and wife. Here we see its bearings on the great and wonderful fact of motherhood. Marriage should be protected for the sake of the children. True parents do not live chiefly for their own happiness. They live for their children. The unselfish love of motherhood is one of the most striking facts in nature. It softens the tigress when she is playing with her cubs; it gives ferocity to the hen when she is protecting her chickens. Now mothers, naturally yearning for the good of their children, can do nothing better for the little ones than to bring them to Christ, and train them for him. Yet some parents, who study the bodily health of their children with deepest solicitude, scarcely give a thought to their souls' welfare.
II. THE CHILDREN. They showed certain traits of character.
1. Obedience. The children came at their mothers' bidding. Obedience to parents is the root of obedience to God.
2. A perception of the attractiveness of Christ. Obedience would bring the children with their mothers. But more was wanted to induce them to go up to Christ and permit him to take them in his arms. There are some people who only terrify children, although they try to coax them into favour. Jesus, however, was evidently one who won children by his own gentleness, kindness, and childlikeness. Pharisees were uncomfortable in his presence, but children were quite at home.
III. THE DISCIPLES. They rebuked the mothers. Why?
1. For Christ's sake. They would not have him troubled. They wished to serve Christ, but they did not understand his mind; therefore they blundered. We must know his will and do it, if we would serve him acceptably.
2. For their own sakes. They would keep Christ to themselves. The advent of these mothers and children interrupted a discussion which was very interesting to them. But Christ preferred to turn from a subject which was distressing to him to the innocent simplicity of the little children. Further observe:
(1) Children will come to Christ if we will suffer them. It is our part to remove every hindrance from their approach to him.
(2) All children need Christ's blessing.
(3) Very young children are old enough to receive it.
IV. CHRIST. He appears as the children's Friend and the Champion of their mothers. This well known incident reveals him to us in his most winning grace.
1. Love of children. We should give the children a good place in our arrangements for Christian work, if we would please our Lord, who is their Friend.
2. Childlikeness. Jesus is drawn to the children by a natural affinity.
3. Gracious kindness. He blesses the children. This he does with personal touch, putting his hands upon them. Christ will take trouble to help and save children.—W.F.A.
The great refusal.
The young man who won the love of Christ by his ardour and enthusiasm, and who grieved our Lord by his refusal to make an unexpected sacrifice, stands before us in vivid portraiture—an example, and yet a warning. Let us consider the successive traits of his character revealed by his conduct.
I. HIS WISE QUESTION. It is much for a man to have a definite object before him; it is more for him to choose a worthy pursuit. Of all personal things the young ruler chose the very best. He had wealth, but that did not satisfy him. He had the means of acquiring pleasure; but he rose above the idea of making worldly amusement the end and aim of existence. He craved the life of God, which is eternal. Surely we may imitate him in this. Moreover, he did well in inquiring of Christ. Jesus is the Way to life, and we can find its source in him, as he told the woman of Samaria (John 4:14). It is right to come to Christ for this boon.
II. HIS MISTAKEN ADDRESS. He called our Lord "Good Master." Jesus takes up the phrase at once, and asks what it means. This was no act of captious criticism. The young man did not really know the deep signification of the word "good." He used language conventionally. There is a great danger for those who are brought up among religious associations that they will employ the greatest words without entering into their true meaning.
III. HIS MORAL CONDUCT. Christ began with the first elements of morality. We cannot go on to perfection until we have mastered these elements. It is impossible to be a thief in the world and a saint in the Church. Yet there is a subtle temptation that dogs the footsteps of those who aspire after superior spiritual attainments—a temptation to fall away from common morality. The young man had avoided this temptation. He was no hollow sentimentalist. His virtue was solid. Yet it was not enough.
IV. HIS NEW DUTY. He is told to renounce his wealth—a hard, a startling requirement. Jesus does not give this commandment to all rich men, though he never encourages the acquisition of wealth. But he saw that the young ruler's snare was his riches. It was necessary, therefore, that the riches should be given up. Now, although it was not his duty before this thus to renounce all he possessed, the word of Christ—if he would become a disciple—made it his duty. Whenever Christ tells any man to sell all he has and give the proceeds to the poor, that man is under an obligation to obey if he would own the Lordship of Christ. The essential duty is not poverty, but obedience. The duty may take the same form with any of us if we are convinced on good grounds that Christ desires us to make the same sacrifice. But whether absolute poverty be required or not, whatever we own is only ours subject to the bidding of Christ to use it as he directs—and he is not altogether an easy Master to serve.
V. HIS SAD FAILURE. The young ruler could not rise up to the sacrifice. His wealth was his undoing. It was not a golden key opening the kingdom of heaven, but a golden bar holding the gate shut. The young ruler might have become a great Christian leader, saint, or martyr. His refusal dropped him into obscurity. We cannot but pity him, for his was a hard test. Could we stand it? Have we shrunk back from even a milder test?—W.F.A.
Matthew 19:23, Matthew 19:24
The rich man's difficulty.
Jesus draws a lesson of sad warning from. the failure of the young ruler who could not bring himself to make the great sacrifice required as a condition of his obtaining eternal life. He points out the exceeding difficulty of a rich man's entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
I. THE EXPLANATION OF THE DIFFICULTY. It is wholly on the side of the man who is hindered and hampered by his wealth. God has opened the gate and invited all who will to enter. He is no respecter of persons. He does not favour the rich to the neglect of the poor; and he does not favour the poor and deal harshly with the rich. He is just and fair with all. But the rich man has hindrances in himself.
1. The absorbing interest of riches. The danger is that the wealthy man should be satisfied with his possessions; or, as that is impossible unless he is partially stupefied by them, that they should so fill his life that he should not have time or thought for better things. He may be buried under the load of his own goods, lost in the mazes of his forest of possessions.
2. The deceitful promise of riches. Jesus spoke of the deceitfulness of riches as one of the weeds that spring up and choke the Word (Matthew 13:22). if wealth does not yet satisfy, still it promises future satisfaction. The rich man comes to think he can buy all he wants, if only he can find the right market.
3. The foolish pride of riches. If ever a man has a right to be proud, it is on account of what he is, not because of what he has. The owner of millions may be a miserable coward, sensual sot, a senseless fool. Yet the disgraceful sycophancy of the world teaches him to regard himself as a superior person. Now, pride is the most effectual harrier to the entrance of the kingdom of heaven. Only the lowly and humble and childlike can creep through its humble doorway.
4. The hardening selfishness of riches. Wealth, though it gives the means of helping others, tends to seal up the fountains of generosity and destroy the springs of sympathy. The self-indulgent man cannot enter that kingdom, the citizens of which have to deny themselves and carry the cross.
II. THE LESSONS OF THE DIFFICULTY.
1. The folly of covetousness. Why should we make haste to be rich, if riches may become a curse to us? If in any case they are likely to bring fresh difficulties, should we be so anxious to acquire them? How is it that so many Christian people are to be found eagerly pursuing the race for wealth?
2. The duty of contentment. We may never get riches. What of that if we have the kingdom of heaven, which is far better? Perhaps we are spared a dangerous temptation.
3. The need of sympathy with the difficulties of rich men. Jesus did not denounce the young man who made the great refusal. He loved him and pitied him. If rich men fail, we should remember that they were beset with temptations that do not fall to the lot of most of us.
4. Faith in the power of God. The rich man is gravely warned. He is in serious danger. He may fail miserably, crushed by the load of his own wealth. His salvation would be a miracle. But God can work miracles. Though it be as hard for a rich man to save himself as for a camel to pass like a thread through a needle's eye, God can save him. Therefore
(1) the rich should have the gospel preached to them;
(2) we should pray for the rich;
(3) we should rejoice greatly that there are rich men in the kingdom of God.—W.F.A.
The impossible made possible.
This is the solution of the rich man's difficulty; and it is the solution of many another difficulty. When we look away from man to God, the impossible becomes possible.
I. MEN CANNOT SAVE THEMSELVES. The disciples are made to see this truth in the case of the rich, whose difficulties are peculiarly great. But that is only the extreme instance of what really applies to people in all conditions of life.
1. In experience we see that men do not save themselves. We may preach the dignity and capacity of humanity. We may argue on the faculty and scope of free will. But when we leave the pulpit and the lecture room, what we see is a world of continuous bafflement and failure. The young man starts well, but if he is left to himself and trusts to himself, he soon discovers his weakness. Good resolutions seem only to be made in order to be broken.
2. The indwelling sin of men prevents them from saving themselves. The evil is within. The prisoner might cut his way out of a stone dungeon, and the exile might escape from the ocean island; but the man whose own nature is his dungeon and his place of exile cannot escape from himself. In himself man has no lever by which he can lift himself above himself.
3. The depth of ruin prevents men from saving themselves. The Fall is so awful, the offended Law is so majestic, that self-salvation is hopeless.
4. The circumstances of life prevent men from saving themselves. Riches keep back the wealthy. Poverty, with its cares and anxieties, oppresses the destitute. Various calls and distractions, fascinations and delusions, hinder other men.
II. GOD CAN SAVE WHERE MAN FAILS.
1. He does save. This is his work. He creates, and he renews. He gives life, and he regenerates. The Creator is the Saviour. We have not got a glimmer of the meaning of "the glorious gospel of the blessed God" until we have begun to perceive this great truth. All the doctrines and ethics of Christianity are of little use while we are blind to its fundamental principle. This principle is not to be lost in any figure of speech. We have to see that God puts forth real power to change and renew his children. Helpless and ruined in themselves, when they turn to his grace his strong arm saves them. This is as actual a fact as the fact that the summer sun makes the vegetation of the earth to grow and ripen. Every true Christian can testify to it from personal experience.
2. There is no limit to his saving power. There can be no limit if he is God, for God is Almighty. We see difficulties, but they all vanish as smoke when he puts forth his power. The Divine method of salvation is not as simple and easy as we might have expected. It involves the expenditure of God's only begotten Son. Christ must come to earth, and Christ must die, if man is to be saved. But Christ has come and died; God has done all that is necessary. The salvation is perfect. Now it only rests with us to open our hearts to receive its renewing grace. There is one thing that God never does—he never overrides a rebellious will. If we refuse, he cannot save us. It is for the willing that there is no limit to his saving power.—W.F.A.
The great reward.
St. Peter's question strikes us as a little low in tone. It often happens that this disciple, who has been exalted as the prince of the apostles, betrays some human weakness. And yet it is nowhere suggested to us in Scripture that all consideration of future rewards are to be suppressed, though certainly Paley's feeble conception of Christianity as morality with the added sanctions of future rewards and punishments revealed in the teaching and confirmed by the miracles of Christ, is far below the New Testament standard. Christ claims our service, and unless enthusiasm for Christ draws us on, mere hopes of payment or fears of penalties will not succeed. But for those who are won to Christ by the purest influences, all innocent motives are needed to assist in the difficult task of maintaining their fidelity. Our Lord, therefore, condescends to encourage us by mentioning some of the rich rewards of self-denying service. It must be borne in mind that these rewards are gracious favours, like school prizes, not wages due and paid on demands of justice. The rewards are both heavenly and earthly.
I. THE HEAVENLY REWARD. This is presented to us in two forms.
1. A glorious throne. The minds of the disciples are full of vague but splendid Messianic dreams, and Jesus approaches them along the lines of their own imaginations. The splendour of the throne will not be enjoyed on earth. Here there is to be sacrifice, toil, poverty, martyrdom. But there will be a throne in the future world. Not only will Christ reign. His apostles will reign with him. Similarly, all Christians are to have a kingly status—to be both "kings and priests." This means more than future joy, a mere elysium of delights; it involves power, honour, responsibility—like the man who had gained ten pounds being appointed to rule over tea cities (Luke 19:17).
2. Eternal life. The first reward was external; it pointed to status, function, honour. The second is wholly internal and personal. It is more than bare existence in the future. It is a new order of life—exalted being, enlarged capacity. To live in the vast ages of eternity, to live really and truly, not to dream forever in an indolent paradise,—this is the exhilarating prospect of the faithful servant of Christ. We do not know what life is as yet. When we die we shall begin to live.
II. THE EARTHLY REWARD. Their reward is to be a great reward on earth. In St. Mark the words, "now in this time," are added (Mark 10:30). He who gives to a generous king will certainly receive back far more than he sacrifices. The difficulty is to see how this can be on earth. Now, we cannot take the words of Christ literally, for no one would wish to have hundreds of fathers and mothers. But as Christ owned kinship with all who do God's will (Matthew 12:50), so may Christians. The Church should be the new family for those who have been cast out of their old home on account of their Christian confession. The pearl of great price, the inward life and joy of pardon and renewal and communion with God,—this is a great possession, and it may be a present possession. It is better to have the peace of God in a life of sacrifice, than houses and acres with a heart in selfish unrest.—W.F.A.
The rich young man.
"What lack I yet?" Plainly the young man who put this question was in earnest. He was not one of those who approached Jesus merely from curiosity, or for the sake of measuring themselves with this renowned Dialectician and Teacher. With him the search for life eternal was an important personal matter. He went away sorrowful, with no heart to prolong the conversation, as soon as his own case was pronounced upon. Probably he had an idea that our Lord would recommend him to build a synagogue, or ransom some of his countrymen who were slaves, or do some striking religious act. For when our Lord replies, "Keep the commandments," he asks, "What commandments?"—fancying he might refer to some rules for the attainment of extraordinary saintliness not divulged to the common people. And so, when Jesus merely repeated the time-worn Decalogue, the young man was disappointed, and impatiently exclaimed, "All these have I kept from my youth up," not so much vaunting his blamelessness of life as indicating that he had had these commandments in view all his life, and that to refer him to them was to give him no satisfaction. All the help they could give he had already got. "What lack I yet?" He belonged to the "Tell-me-something-more-to-do-and-I-will do-it" class of Pharisees. He thought he was ready to make any sacrifice, or do any great thing which would advance his spiritual interests. Remark—
I. HOW ENTIRELY EVEN AN INTELLIGENT MAN MAY MISAPPREHEND HIS OWN SPIRITUAL ATTAINMENT. It was natural this young man should over-estimate himself. He was not only well disposed, very much the model of what a rich young man should be, but was interested in religion, as too few wealthy young men are. He was generally esteemed, and had already become a ruler of the synagogue. He came to Jesus, not to be taught the rudiments, but to receive the finishing touches of a religious character—and he is told he is wrong to the foundation. He is in the position of a person who goes to his medical adviser complaining of a slight uneasiness which he supposes a tonic will remove, and is told that he has heart disease or cancer. Or he is in the position of a sanguine inventor, who has spent years on the elaboration of a machine, and at last puts it into the hands of the practical man, merely to get steam applied and the fittings adjusted, and is told by the practical man that the whole thing is wrong in conception, and can by no possibility ever be made to work. He sees himself as he never saw himself before. He never knew how much he loved his money till he found he would risk his soul rather than part with his money. He never knew how little he cared for the poor till he found he was not prepared to help them by becoming one of them. He never dreamt he was ungodly till he found he preferred his few acres of land to that Person whom he had confessed to be Incarnate Goodness.
II. A MAN MAY NOT ONLY MISAPPREHEND HIS ATTAINMENT, BUT HIS WILLINGNESS TO ATTAIN. This young man fancied he would welcome any light upon duty. He thought himself willing to do anything that would advance his spiritual condition. He finds he is by no means willing. Thousands are in this state. "Give us," they would say, "something tangible to do, and we will do it; but religion seems always so much in the clouds, we do not know where to begin." Put present duty to such persons in an attainable form, and it is not always so welcome as they expected. Tell them that to be holy is, in their case, to say ten words of apology to some one they have injured, to set apart some fixed time daily for thought and prayer, to abandon some indulgence, or spend money for a relative; and they turn sullenly away, like this young man.
III. BETWEEN OUR PRESENT ATTAINMENT AND PERFECTION THERE MAY BE A SACRIFICE EQUIVALENT TO CUTTING OFF A RIGHT HAND OR PLUCKING OUT A RIGHT EYE. This young man was plainly told that, in order to attain life eternal, he must abandon his pleasant home, his position in society, all his comforts and prospects, and become a poor wanderer. It seems a hard demand to make of a well-intentioned youth. But it was no doubt justified by his state. Riches are not the only hindrance to attainment, and we may ourselves be in need of treatment as sharp. To begin the world with a penny would be no great trial to some of us; it would, indeed, be precisely what some of us are already doing; and there are probably few who would not gladly sell all they have if the price would buy perfection of character and life everlasting. But it is no such bargain our Lord means. He merely means that to us, as to this young man, salvation is impossible if it be not the first thing. This young man's possessions happened to be that which prevented him from following Christ; but some pursuit of ours, or some cherished intention, or some evil habit, or mere indifference, may be as effectually preventing us from holding true fellowship with him and becoming like him. And discipline as penetrating and sore may in our case be required.
IV. FOR THE ONE THING ESSENTIAL, IF WE ARE TO ATTAIN PERFECTION, IS THE FOLLOWING OF CHRIST. This young man respected Christ, and was no doubt willing to do much to please him. He would probably have given up half his possessions, but he could not give up all for Christ. He did not scoff or argue: he "went away sorrowful," feeling that the demand of Christ was reasonable, and that by not responding to it he was condemned. But he had not love enough to obey. It is not our judgment, but our affections, our real tastes and likings, which make us what we are, and determine where we shall ultimately be. Love to Christ, which will compel us to cleave to him in preference to all else,—that alone is security that we shall reach perfection. This is the answer to the question which we all ask, "What lack I yet? What is it that prevents me from becoming a purer, stronger, holier, more useful man than I am? I desire growth, and I pray for it; but still it is chiefly my natural propensities that appear in my life. I do not seem to get the help promised; I do not make the growth required. Why is this? What is it always keeps me at the same point? What is it that always thwarts and baffles me?" Radically, it is the lack of deep and genuine devotedness to Christ.
V. OTHER THINGS MAY ALSO BE LACKING, AS, FOR EXAMPLE, DETERMINATION TO BE HOLY. It is in religion, in growth of character, as in other things, we succeed when we are determined to succeed; we fail when this determination is awanting. In certain physical and mental attainments, indeed, determination carries no efficacy. No amount of determination will make you as tall as some other man, or as long sighted, or as imaginative, or as witty. But to determine to be holy is already to be holy in will, that is, in the spring of all amendment of character and conduct. Determination is everything, on the human side, in the matter of sanctification. It is needless, therefore, seeking for mysterious causes of failure, if this first and last requisite be awanting. Are you determined to be holy? Are you bent upon this? Because if you are not determined, common sense should forbid you to wonder why you do not grow in character. If you are not determined to be holy, the very root of the matter is still lacking in you.
VI. Remark, in conclusion, that THE LACK OF ONE THING MAY MAKE ALL OTHER, ATTAINMENTS USELESS. One mistake vitiates a whole calculation. One disease is enough to kill a man; his brain may be sound, his lungs untouched, all his organs but one may be healthy; but if one vital organ be attacked, all the other healthy organs will not save him. So it is in character. One vice destroys the whole, if a man is malicious, it does not avail that he is temperate. If his heart is set on the world, attention to religion or domestic virtue will not save him. Many do cultivate all points but one. How often do we say, "What a pity so good a man should give way in this or that one respect!" So may it be said by others of ourselves. To some this question, "What lack I yet?" may come with a tone of irony. "What lack I?" we are tempted to say, "What have I, rather, that is not stained with sin, spotted by the world, unsafe, unproductive? When shall the time come when I shall be able in sincerity to say, 'What lack I yet?' when so much good shall have been achieved by me that I shall be at a loss to see whether further attainment is possible? My youth was very different from this young man's. Instead of the ingenuousness, the unbroken hope and ardent aspiration of youth, there was its passion, its untamed desires, its selfish love of pleasure, its impatience, its folly." There is, at least, the same choice now laid before you that was laid before him. To you Jesus says, "Follow me." He will infallibly lead you to perfection; he sees to it that every one who forsakes aught for his sake receives in this life a hundredfold, and in the world to come life everlasting.—D.
HOMILIES BY J.A. MACDONALD
The ethics of marriage.
Note here a contrast: multitudes following Christ for healing, Pharisees pursuing him for mischief. Satan will be among the sons of God. Jesus turns the contradiction of sinners into instructions for his disciples. Let us consider—
I. THE PHARISEE'S QUESTION RELATING TO CAPRICIOUS DIVORCE.
1. The occasion.
(1) It was commonly practised. Josephus recites Deuteronomy 24:1, and relates that he divorced his own wife because he was not pleased with her manners and behaviour.
(2) The practice had the sanction of scribes. While the school of Schammah were strict in their interpretation of the Law, the school of Hillel were lax.
(3) The temptation was to embroil Jesus with one or other of these schools. The plot was similar to that in the question of the tribute (see Matthew 22:15). "In evil things Satan separates the end from the means; in good things the means from the end" (Philip Henry).
2. The reply.
(1) Note: It takes no notice of the scribes. Human authority is nowhere when put into competition with the Word of God.
(2) It appeals immediately to the Word: "Have ye not read?" Matrimonial cases are made intricate by leaving the Law of God and following the leading of human passion and folly.
(3) "He that made them from the beginning made them male and female." It is profitable to reflect upon our genesis. Man was created in the image of God, woman after the likeness of man. The true marriage is the union of wisdom and love. One man and one woman, leaving no room for divorce and remarriage, so intimating the perpetual obligation of the marriage tie. Note: This argument is equally conclusive against polygamy.
(4) "And said"—God said—"For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife." But these words of God were spoken by the lips of Adam (see Genesis 2:23, Genesis 2:24). Adam, then, who had no "father and mother," spake prophetically under Divine inspiration. Marriage, then, is a sacred, not a mere civil, institution; and no legislature has power to alter its law. The relation between husband and wife is nearer than that between parent and child. If, then, a parent may not abandon his child, or a child his parent, by so much less may a husband put away his wife.
(5) "And the twain shall become one flesh"—as if one person. What can be less dissoluble? His children are of him, his wife is as himself. One flesh with his wife, "one spirit with the Lord." "One flesh," viz. while in the flesh. "No man ever yet hated his own flesh." "They twain shall be one;" so there must be but one wife (cf. Malachi 2:15).
(6) "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." But this the scribes had presumed to do. God is the Author of union; man, of division. Man would sunder soul and body, sin and punishment, holiness and happiness, precept and promise.
II. THEIR CITATION OF THE MOSAIC CONCESSION OF DIVORCEMENT.
1. The concession.
(1) "Why then did Moses command to give a bill of divorcement?" It is usual for sinners to justify their conduct by the perversion of Scripture. The "command" of Moses applied solely to the manner of the divorce; the thing was permissive simply. A toleration is strangely converted into a command.
(2) The reason of the toleration was the reverse of creditable to the Jews. "Moses for your hardness of heart suffered you to put away your wives." The permission was to prevent the cruelty of vicious husbands to their wives, which was murderous. The bill of divorcement had to be drawn and witnesses procured, and afforded time to obviate the effects of sudden impulses of passion. God's permission of lesser evil is evermore to prevent greater.
2. Its repeal.
(1) This is prefaced by an appeal. "But from the beginning it hath not been so." The appeal here is from Deuteronomy to Genesis; so from Moses still to Moses (cf. Luke 18:17, Luke 18:18). God who gave the law had a right to relax it.
(2) But the relaxation applied only to the Jews, and was conceded to them in judgment for the hardness of their hearts; for the original was the more excellent way.
(3) This relaxation is, however, now removed. "I say unto you." Here is an authority superior to Moses, equal to God. By Divine authority the law of marriage is now explicitly stated (see verse 9). Note: The grace of the gospel is superior to that of the Law. The Law considered the hardness of the heart; the gospel cures it (cf. Galatians 3:19).
III. THE QUESTION OF THE DISCIPLES ON CELIBACY.
1. They viewed it in the light of selfishness. "If the case of a man is so," etc. (verse 10). God said, "It is not good for man to be alone," i.e. unmarried; the disciples, blinded by the prejudices of their race, said, "It is not good to marry."
2. Jesus put it in its true light.
(1) The principle of expediency is admissible. "All men cannot receive this saying;" for there are some who are disqualified for marriage, so that the question for them is settled without their option.
(2) Others have not the gift of continence. For such celibacy is not expedient. "It is better to marry than to burn."
(3) For those who have this gift celibacy may be expedient in times of persecution and suffering (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:26).
(4) It is commendable in those who are celibates "for the kingdom of heaven's sake," viz. that they might walk more closely with God, and be mort serviceable to the salvation of men (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:32; 1 Corinthians 9:5, 1 Corinthians 9:12).—J.A.M.
The children, of the kingdom.
Here we have the kingdom of heaven, its children, and its King.
I. THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.
1. This is a name for the invisible Church of God.
(1) It is the Catholic Church. It exists throughout the universe, comprising the "whole family" of God at once in heaven and on earth (see Ephesians 3:15). The headquarters and enrolment are in heaven (see Hebrews 12:23).
(2) It is the one Church of all the ages. It comprises the aristocracy of virtue under every dispensation. Christians from all climes sit down in the kingdom of God with all the prophets of the Mosaic dispensation, and with the patriarchs of still more ancient times (cf. Matthew 8:11; Luke 13:28, Luke 13:29).
2. This is also a name for the collective Christian Church.
(1) In this restricted sense it does not include the kingdom of Israel or the Mosaic Church. The Baptist spoke of it as future to him; so also did the seventy disciples speak of it as future to them (see Matthew 3:2; Matthew 4:17; Matthew 10:7).
(2) The gospel dispensation is the kingdom of heaven as bringing heaven near to us. Christ is "the Lord from heaven." The spirit of the gospel is the very spirit of heaven. It brings us also near to heaven. We are spiritually risen with Christ, and sit with him in heavenly places.
II. THE CHILDREN OF THE KINGDOM.
1. These are the disciples who are childlike.
(1) Those who are without this resemblance have no place in this kingdom (see Matthew 18:1-4).
(2) In the innocence and simplicity of childhood we see in outline what a man will become when born again and created anew.
2. These are also little children proper.
(1) Such were the "little children" brought to Christ. They were "brought," viz. by their parents. They were so "little" that Jesus "took them into his arms". They are described as "babes" (see Luke 18:15).
(2) These he received as belonging to the kingdom of God. There would be no good reason in rebuking the disciples for forbidding such little children to come to him, because childlike grown persons had a right to admission into the kingdom.
(3) This blessedly disposes of the dreadful doctrine of non-elect infants' damnation. The parents in this case were in some sense believers in Jesus, else they would not have brought their children to receive his blessing. Yet his grace comes to all infants through his relation to them as the second Adam (see Romans 5:14, Romans 5:15; 1 Corinthians 15:22). Christ loves little children, because he loves simplicity and innocence.
(4) The prominent place infants have in the gospel is in keeping with the incarnation of innocence itself in the infant Saviour.
III. THE KING OF SAINTS.
1. Jesus is present to welcome the little ones.
(1) Infants belonged to the Church of the covenant under its more exclusive dispensations of the past. By circumcision they were anciently admitted.
(2) Are they now to be excluded from the same Church of the covenant under the more liberal Christian dispensation? Baptism is the circumcision of Christianity (see Colossians 2:11, Colossians 2:12).
(3) If little children belonged to the kingdom of heaven in the invisible sense of which the visible Church is the type, why should they not also be welcomed into the typical kingdom? Why should water be forbidden to those who have received the Holy Ghost (cf. Isaiah 44:3; Acts 10:47)?
2. Present to rebuke those who would keep them from him.
(1) He who had recently defended the rights of marriage (Matthew 19:3-12) now defends those of children. In rebuking his disciples he commended the parents.
(2) There are still those who would keep the little ones from Christ, not only through their irreligion and neglect, but also under false zeal for the dignity of the Lord.
(3) Notably those disciples who refuse them baptism because they cannot voluntarily believe. May not those baptized in infancy believe when they grow up? "The strongest believer loves not so much by apprehending Christ, as by being apprehended of him" (cf. Galatians 4:9; Philippians 3:12).
3. He is there to bless them.
(1) The little ones were brought to Jesus expressly for this purpose. The Jews to this day bring their young children to their rabbis for their blessing. The custom seems to have been very ancient (cf. Genesis 48:14, Genesis 48:20).
(2) Jesus is not said to have prayed, as he was asked to do (Matthew 19:13); probably because those who asked him had no knowledge of his Oneness with the Father.
(3) But it is recorded that he "blessed them". Little children, then, are capable of receiving blessing from Christ.
(4) Let us humble ourselves to the simplicity of the child that we also may receive the blessing of the Lord.—J.A.M.
The perfection of goodness.
To attain to this should be the aim of every rational being. In quest of it we should be willing to do anything and to sacrifice anything. "Who will show us any good?"
I. CHRIST IS THE IMPERSONATION OF PERFECT GOODNESS.
1. The ruler, in a sense, discerned this.
(1) He addressed him as "good Master". He also evinced his veneration by "kneeling," as stated in Mark.
(2) He sought to Jesus for instruction as to how he might attain to "eternal life," viz. by finding that perfect goodness of which eternal life is the reward. His question was, in effect, "How may I become like thee?" Note: What the young man calls "eternal life," Christ calls "life," for eternal life is the only true life. Without this, "in the midst of life we are in death."
2. But he discerned it falsely.
(1) He did not recognize the Divinity of Christ. Hence the question, "Why askest thou me concerning that which is good?" Suppose an emphasis on the word thou. So he proceeds, "One there is who is good;" equivalent to "None is good save One, even God" (Mark 10:18; Luke 18:19).
(2) The rebuke here is for ascribing goodness to Christ without discerning his Divinity as its source. The title is not inapplicable, for our Lord calls himself the "good Shepherd" (John 10:11). The fault was that it was improperly applied.
(3) The teaching, then, is that it is vain to seek goodness apart from God. He alone is good. essentially, originally, everlastingly. "God" is "good." Therefore we should transfer to God all praise which is given to us. All crowns must lie before his throne (see James 1:17).
II. THE LAW OF GOD IS THE RULE OF GOODNESS.
1. This is expressed in the instruction of Christ.
(1) "If thou wouldest enter into life, keep the commandments." This is not irony, but sober truth. To keep the commandments from a principle of loving faith is undoubtedly the way to eternal life. Those who are justified by faith must keep the commandments before they can enter into life and be finally saved.
(2) Keeping the commandments must, however, include faith in Jesus Christ (see 1 John 3:23). Moses gave it amongst his commandments that we should hear the great Prophet to be raised up like unto him.
2. The ruler observed the commandments in the letter.
(1) The inquiry "Which?" was probably occasioned by the confusion introduced by the scribes, who mixed up the traditions of the elders with the precepts of Moses; and who magnified the ritual observances so as to neglect the moral rules—the "weightier matters of the Law," justice, mercy, and charity.
(2) The answer put the moral law in the foremost place. The particular commandments which our Lord selects are but adduced as instances of moral, in opposition to ritual, obedience. Nor does he cite the commandments in their order, probably to show, as the Jews themselves express it, "that there is neither first nor last in the Law"—that every precept is so perfect that it matters not whether it be taken first or last. He mentions only the duties of the second table, summing them up, however, with the precept from Leviticus 19:18, for the love of God can only be made manifest by love to our neighbour (cf. 1 John 4:20, 1 John 4:21). "Our light burns in love to God, but it shines in love to our neighbour" (Henry).
(3) "All these things have I observed" (cf. Philippians 3:6).
3. He failed to keep them in the spirit.
(1) "What lack I yet?" He was convinced that he yet needed something. He had too much of that boasting which is excluded by the law of faith, and which excludes from justification (Luke 18:11, Luke 18:14; Romans 3:27).
(2) The Lord soon discovered to him the covetousness and earthliness of his heart. He found how he over-estimated his obedience when he was unwilling to part with his possessions for the benefit of the poor, and preferred earthly to heavenly treasure. Note: Worldly men prefer heaven to hell; Christians prefer heaven to earth.
(3) We cannot become perfect without becoming spiritual So a man may be free from gross sin, yet come short of the life of grace and glory.
III. THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST IS THE WAY OF GOODNESS.
1. It promises eternal life in Christ. "Thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me."
(1) In the school of Christ we learn the doctrine of justification by faith in his sufficient atonement.
(2) The connection with that atonement of the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart.
(3) His teaching, moreover, shows us the connection between faith and obedience unto the fulfilling of the Law.
2. But it exacts an absolute submission.
(1) "Sell all." This was literally required in the case of the ruler. Christ did not lighten his cross, because "he loved him." Note: This reason should sustain us under our crosses.
(2) Virtually we have to sell all. We must be willing to part with everything that may hinder our salvation.
3. Those who refuse submission accept sorrow.
(1) "He went away sorrowful." What an opportunity he missed! The offer to him was to become one of Christ's more intimate disciples; to be specially trained by him in the knowledge of spiritual things, and to preach his gospel.
(2) Many are ruined by the sin they commit with reluctance. What would be the ruler's sorrow in the sequel to find his wealth gone and eternal life along with it! Mariners act prudently when, to save their lives, they throw overboard rich bales of silk and precious things.—J.A.M.
Possessions and life.
"Behold, one came" to Jesus (see Matthew 19:16). Multitudes of poor persons had followed him from the beginning; at length "one" rich man came, and, sad to say, this one retired sorrowful and unsaved. So, turning to his disciples, the Lord said, "Verily I say unto you," etc. Learn—
I. THAT THE SALVATION OF A RICH MAN IS A SPECIAL MIRACLE OF MERCY.
5. That it is outside the ravage of ordinary probability is evinced in the case of the ruler.
(1) His circumstances were exceptionably favourable. Observe:
(a) The seriousness of his inquiry after eternal life.
(b) The respectfulness of his approach to Christ.
(c) The excellence of his moral character.
(d) The affection with which our Lord regarded him.
(e) The sorrowful struggle of spirit with which he departed.
(2) Yet for all this he was overcome by the influence of his "great possessions."
(3) The silence respecting him afterwards renders it probable that, in gaining the world, he lost his soul.
2. That it is outside the ravage of ordinary probability is declared by Christ.
(1) "It is hard," etc. (Matthew 19:23). And this is emphasized by a "verily."
(2) The assertion is strengthened by what follows (Matthew 19:24). "I incline to the opinion that at the time the Redeemer spake this parable, he was with his disciples in one of the public khans, there being no other resting place for them; and there, seeing the people mending their camel saddles, for which purpose they use a long needle like a straight packing needle, he pointed to them and said as it were, 'These camels can as soon pass through the eye of those needles as a rich man can enter into the kingdom of God'" (Gadsby). Note: The way to heaven is fitly compared to a needle's eye, which it is hard to hit; and a rich man to a camel—a beast of burden. For he has his riches from others, spends them for others, leaves them to others, and is himself the carrier.
(3) What our Lord adds does not soften his earlier words (see Matthew 19:26); for it makes the salvation of the rich an utmost effort of omnipotence.
3. The salvation of the rich is imperilled by the deceitfulness of riches.
(1) It is not riches themselves, but the sordid love of them, that our Lord condemns. So, in the bad sense, a man is rich in proportion to his attachment to worldly possessions. A rich man, according to this definition, cannot be saved.
(2) But those who have riches naturally love them and trust them (cf. Matthew 6:21; Colossians 3:5). They tend to increase pride, covetousness, and self-indulgence. They purchase flattery and exclude faithful reprovers. They prejudice the mind against the humbling truths and self-denying precepts of Christ. They increase the number and force of the obstacles which must be broken through (cf. Psalms 49:6, Psalms 49:7; Psalms 52:7; 1 Timothy 6:17).
(3) Yet how few see that to be rich is a misfortune! Even when Christ intimated this, his own disciples were "astonished exceedingly" (Matthew 19:25); and he had to "look upon them," penetrating their feeling of astonishment and perplexity, to convince them that such feelings as theirs were the peril of the rich; for they were deceived into the notion that riches gave singular advantages towards salvation.
4. Still with God the salvation of the rich is possible.
(1) It needs more than human power to wean the heart of man from worldly things. No perfection of science can enable him to discern spiritual things; these are above the natural man. God alone can destroy the love of the world in us.
(2) Omnipotence is displayed in grace as well as in nature. God can effectually plead the cause of the rich in the presence of the poor, by pleading the cause of the poor in the presence of the rich (see Matthew 19:21).
(3) The possibility is evinced in the examples of Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathaea, Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and many more. Man fails when he begins with himself; succeeds, when he begins with God.
II. THAT FOR WHATEVER WE SACRIFICE IN THE SERVICE OF CHRIST WE SHALL BE WONDERFULLY REWARDED.
1. In this present life.
(1) Peter said, "Lo, we have left all, and followed thee." The disciples had but little; yet it was their all.
(2) Peter speaks of their giving up all (Matthew 19:27); Jesus speaks of their following him (Matthew 19:28). "To obey is better than to sacrifice." Obedience includes sacrifice. "The philosopher forsakes all without following Christ; most Christians follow Christ without forsaking all; to do both is apostolic perfection" (Bengel).
(3) Christ did not estimate the attachment of his disciples to him by the quantity of things they relinquished, but from the mind and intention with which they relinquished them. "And every one that hath left houses," etc., viz. either by giving them up when they could not retain them with a clear conscience, or by refraining from acquiring them, "for my Name's sake" (Matthew 19:29; see 2 Corinthians 8:12).
(4) The compensation then is "a hundredfold," viz. not in kind, but in spiritual blessings. Here is cent percent multiplied a hundred times. Such, even in this life, is the advantage of the spiritual value gained in this blessed exchange!
2. In the life to come.
(2) "The regeneration" commences in the millennium. That will be the great day of judgment, or reigning. It will be a theocracy, as in the times of the ancient judges (cf. Isaiah 1:26). Irenaeus says that the reward of the hundredfold is to happen in the millennium (cf. Isaiah 32:1; Daniel 7:18, Daniel 7:27; Matthew 26:29; Acts 3:20, Acts 3:21; Revelation, 20.).
(2) The Lord's glorification is the pattern of human regeneration here; for those who follow him are morally risen with him and resemble him. Hereafter also, for we shall in our regeneration from the power of the grave be in the likeness of his resurrection. So the "redemption of the body" will be the "manifestation of the sons of God" (cf. Luke 20:36; Romans 8:23; 1 John 3:2).
(3) The "regeneration" which commences in the millennium will culminate in the "new heaven and earth" in which the "new creation," under the headship of the second Adam, will be finished. The reward of that glorious state is "life everlasting."—J.A.M.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
Matthew 19:6, Matthew 19:7
Natural laws and human infirmities.
The law of marriage must be thought of as fixed for human beings before the Fall. Natural laws are not fixed in view of man's wilfulness and sin. They remain natural laws after man has sinned; but their application and practical working are modified by the new conditions and relations which sin has introduced. God made man male and female. God designed single pairs. God proposed lifelong faithfulness of the wedded pairs. There is no natural provision made for divorce, because such a thing has no place in the natural order. In the Divine idea human society is based on the mutually helpful relation in which one man and one woman may stand. Instability of human society comes when the family bond can be easily broken. The human infirmities which have necessitated modifications of the natural marriage laws are—
I. CRUELTIES. It became necessary for woman to have some defence against man's violence. Natural law makes man and woman equals. They are different; but their faculties and sympathies are relative, and each is head in a way. But sin took first shape as masterfulness; and man, the stronger, took advantage of woman, the weaker, and made her his slave. There had to be adjustment of law to meet this condition and give due protection to the weaker one. "But for the possibility of divorce, the wife would have been the victim of the husband's tyranny; and law—social law—which has to deal with facts—not with what ought to be, but with what is—was compelled to choose between two evils." Woman's lot, even in civilized times, would often be intolerable but for the possibility and the fear of divorce.
II. INFIDELITIES. This subject needs to be touched very wisely in a general audience; and yet there is no subject on which wise words are more pressingly demanded. It is one of the most serious of the mischiefs wrought by sin, that it has loosened men's control of bodily passion. And the mischief is wrought, not in man only, but also in woman. Infidelities make the continuance of natural relations impossible, though the modification of law, which permits divorce, makes no attempt to deliver man or woman from the power of their infirmity.—R.T.
Varieties in receptiveness.
"All men cannot receive this saying." It is not quite clear to what the term "this saying" refers. It may be the rule laid down by our Lord in Matthew 19:9. It may be the exclamation of the disciples in Matthew 19:10. It may be that our Lord refers generally to marriage, and intends to say that the question of entering into the marriage state is one which each man must settle for himself, according to natural capacity, material circumstances, and cultured disposition. It is one thing to give good and wise counsels; it is quite another thing to receive them and. act upon them. It is easy to say, "It is good to marry;" but it is not everybody who can receive the saying.
I. RECEPTIVENESS DEPENDS ON NATURAL DISPOSITION. There is, in this, a marked distinction between men and women. As a rule, by nature, women are receptive, and not critical; men are critical, and not receptive. Sometimes we find the womanly receptiveness in man; but it is a sign of a weak disposition. Strong men only receive on compulsion. Receptiveness may hinder rather than help education; and it prevents activity. He who is satisfied to receive makes little effort to attain. True education deals with natural receptivity, and is anxious about its effective limitation. It makes teaching easy, but too easy. He who can only receive becomes only a crammed storehouse.
II. RECEPTIVENESS DEPENDS ON MORAL DISCIPLINE. While the receptiveness which we have as an element of our natural disposition may prove a perilous weakness, the receptiveness which we gain by self-discipline becomes an effective power in our life. It is a qualifying receptiveness. It is related to the will. It is held in control. The man who is not subject to influence, who cannot be persuaded, who is as a hard field path into which no seed can sink, is a manifestly undisciplined man, self-centred, self-satisfied—a man who can learn nothing, and grow no better.—R.T.
The folk who are interested in the children.
It is difficult for us to conceive of the good man who does not love flowers, song, spring time, and children. We might be quite sure that the "best of men who e'er wore earth about him" loved the children. But in the East all children are kept in the background; female children are despised by their fathers, and even male children are in the women's hands until quite big. So our Lord's interest in children seemed new and strange to his disciples. At this time, his mind was filled with the thought of coming sorrows, and it was relief and comfort to be made to think of simple, guileless childhood. If Jesus honoured the children, it is also true that the children comforted Jesus. Beware of exaggeration in representing Christ's dealings with children. Very few instances are recorded. On one occasion he "set a child in the midst" of the disciples; then there is the incident of the text; and also the "hosannah" of the children at the triumphal entry. Fixing attention on the persons prominent in the incident of the text, see—
I. WHAT THE MOTHERS WANT FOR THEIR CHILDREN.
1. Their physical health. Subtle connection between health and character. Relation of health to success in life. Importance of laying foundations of health in early years.
2. Their mental culture. Age of education; danger of overstrain; and of thinking learning more important than character.
3. Their social position. So they try to secure for them right companions, good society, advantageous connections.
4. Their moral character. This ought to come first. Beginnings of character and piety are reverence, truthfulness, obedience, trustfulness.
II. WHAT DISCIPLES MAY WANT FOR THE CHILDREN. These disciples, in their conduct on this occasion, may represent all who have narrow and limited views of the sphere of God and religion. They wanted these children to run away and play, and not trouble or hinder the Master. Deal with the once prevailing idea that religion is only the concern of grown up folk. There has been over pressure of the idea of "conversion." There is an unfolding into the service of Christ.
III. WHAT THE LORD JESUS WANTS FOR THE CHILDREN.
1. To come to him for their own sakes. And "coming to Christ" is simply this—setting our love upon him.
2. To come to him for their mothers'sakes; because, through them, he can get a gracious influence on the mothers.
3. To come to him for the sake of what he can teach with their help. Bring out the reproofs and lessons, for the disciples, involved in our Lord's act.—R.T.
The ruler's mistakes.
The assumption that this ruler was a youth has no, foundation. The man could not have been a ruler if he had been a youth. He must have been in what we should call the prime of life; but he evidently retained something of the impetuousness of youth. His mistakes suggest the impulsive temperament, that readily yields to emotion, and is wont to act before it thinks. Our Lord skilfully dealt with individuals. "He needed not that any should testify of man; for he knew what was in man." He was "a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." In the ruler's abrupt and impulsive question we may trace three forms of mistake.
I. A MISTAKE ABOUT CHRIST. He applied the word "good" to him, and yet he had no adequate ideas concerning goodness. If he had really meant anything worth meaning, he would have recognized in Christ the infinitely Good One, the Son of God; for none is good save God. This mistake Jesus corrected in two ways.
1. By reference to God. "None is good save one, that is, God." You do not call God good because he does good, but because he is good.
2. By a severe and searching test, which reveals to the man the imperfectness of his own goodness. He would never be able to get right ideas of God or Christ from himself.
II. A MISTAKE CONCERNING HIMSELF. This took a twofold form. He thought he was good; and he thought he could do good, if only he was told what to do. Jesus showed him a good thing that he could not do; and so set his conscience suggesting, that perhaps he was not as good as he had thought. We may think ourselves good while we arrange the forms that our goodness shall take; but we may learn our mistake when God arranges the forms for us. The question betrays the man's self-righteous spirit. He is indirectly paying a compliment to himself—to his own goodness; or, at any rate, to human goodness, that idol which he worshipped with his whole soul.
III. A MISTAKE CONCERNING THE FUTURE. Feeling himself well provided for in all that concerned this life, he wanted to be as safely and as well off in the next life. He would inherit eternal life; he would have it as something coming to him; he wanted as much right to it as he had to his worldly possessions. How much he had to learn! A man's life here "consisteth not in the abundance of the things he possesses." A man's wealth is his character; that is true of this life, but much more true of the life to come.—R.T.
Right attitude towards parents.
"Honour thy father and thy mother." It is significant that the old Law did not say, "Obey thy father and mother," or even "Love thy father and mother." Perhaps we are intended to see that obeying and loving have no will necessarily in them. We obey in simple yielding to the force that commands; we love our parents in the animal sort of way that characterizes all young creatures. "Honour thy father" suggests active intelligence, careful estimates, operative will, personal decision. Reverence, and show reverence for, thy father, both because he is thy father, and because of what he is in his fatherliness.
I. RIGHT ATTITUDE TOWARDS PARENTS IS THE BEGINNING OF MORALS AND RELIGION. Our father and mother represent the power above us that we first know. We know parents before we know God. And we know God through our parents. He begins life with an almost overwhelming disability who has parents whom he cannot "honour." Honouring includes:
1. Cherishing high thoughts concerning. To a child, father and mother ought to be embodiments of all excellence.
2. Loving dependence on. The confidence that the goodness will be adequate to all emergencies.
3. Perfect response to. Involving the patting of the parents' will before the child's own.
4. Tender care of. Expressed in all thoughtful and self-denying attentions. It may be shown how this attitude prepares the child to gain right thoughts of God, who should be to us our glorified, idealized father and mother; not father only, not mother only, but a Being realizing in himself the perfections of both.
II. RIGHT ATTITUDE TOWARDS PARENTS ENSURES OBEDIENCE INSPIRED BY FEELING. Obedience is not just one thing. It is various, according to the motive inspiring it. We should obey our Master from a sense of duty, whether he be gentle or froward, and whether we like to obey or not. But obedience to parents belongs to a higher type of obedience. It is prompted by feeling: it is inspired by love. And it is through the obedience of our parents that we learn true obedience to God.—R.T.
The hindering power of worldly possessions.
"He went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions." "A rich man shall hardly [or, 'with difficulty'] enter into the kingdom of heaven." The figure of the "camel and needle's eye" is a proverbial one, and no precise facts answering to it need be sought for. There are other proverbs very similar. It strikingly expresses that which is almost impossible, but not quite impossible. This sentence is taken from the Koran: "The impious shall find the gates of heaven shut; nor shall he enter there till a camel shall pass through the eye of a needle." Our Lord teaches that the rich man may enter the kingdom, but he will surely find that his riches will stand in his way, and make it very hard work for him, as they made it hard work for this rich ruler. What is it in worldly possessions that makes them such hindering things?
I. RICHES HAVE A SEPARATING INFLUENCE ON MEN. They tend to put men in classes; those having the riches claiming to be a superior class, and demanding special consideration and treatment. This tends to induce the idea that the way of salvation for rich people ought to be a special provision. The rich man does not care to be saved just as the poor man is. He finds the gospel too levelling. If he cannot have a way of his own, he will have no way. It is difficult for him to realize that God takes no count of riches; and whoever would come to him must come in at the one strait gate, which is big enough to take the man, but not big enough to take anything that he would carry in with him.
II. RICHES HAVE A SATISFYING INFLUENCE ON MEN. They bring with them a sense of security. The rich man can have all he wants, and there will be no future, he thinks, in which he will have any needs that cannot be met. The poor have a basis for religion in their daily need and daily dependence, The rich have no basis for religion. It is their misery, that body, mind, and soul never have any wants. They have got the riches: what more can they want? This kind of feeling provides the gravest of hindrances to entrance into the kingdom.
III. RICHES HAVE A HARDENING INFLUENCE ON MEN. This is most true, most strange, and most sad. It can be illustrated in eases we all know, of self-sacrificing generosity while persons were poor, which changed at once into selfish meanness when wealth came to them. It is that hardening which makes it so difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom.—R.T.
Salvation possible because it is God's work.
As the disciples understood their Lord, he seemed to them to make it impossible for a rich man to become a Christian; and if a rich man could not be a Christian, who could be? They mistook their Master, who, as an effective Teacher, sometimes stated things very strongly, and withheld the qualifications in order to excite thought. The "immensely difficult" is not the "impossible." The impossible, if you can only reckon upon human forces, is not impossible, if you can bring in Divine forces. And, in relation to moral salvations, you have to take account of what God can do. "With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible." This very large and unqualified statement concerning the absolute ability of God has often been misrepresented and misused, because it has been applied to things of which our Lord was not thinking. It is said—God cannot make two things fill one space, or make two and two count five. But these are not "impossibilities;" they are "absurdities," proved such by the conditions of human language. God cannot do what is manifestly absurd in the very statement. Our Lord was speaking strictly of moral possibilities and impossibilities.
I. GOD CAN SAVE RICH MEN, BECAUSE HE CAN TAKE AWAY THEIR RICHES. And so remove their hindrance. Man cannot do this; but all wealth is absolutely in the Divine control. This is forcibly illustrated in the story of Job; all whose worldly possessions take wings and fly away in a single overwhelming day. The rich ruler would not put his possessions away in order to enter the kingdom; but, if it had pleased Christ so to do, he could have taken them away, and so have given him his opportunity. Many a man has been brought to God by losing the riches in which he had trusted.
II. GOD CAN SAVE RICH MEN BY TAKING THEM AWAY FROM THEIR RICHES. Drawing them away from their confidences. God has power over the minds and souls of men. By his Spirit he can awaken such soul anxieties that a man may become indifferent to death, put his fingers in his ears, and cry, "What must I do to be saved?" God, by his Spirit, can "convince of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment;" and under that convincement a man will surely be liberated from the enslaving of worldly possessions.—R.T.
This may be but another name for the setting up of the kingdom of heaven. As the apostles were to be directly connected with it, the final "restitution of all things" can hardly be meant. It is usual to refer such expressions to the "second coming of Christ;" but he appears to have had in mind the starting of the Messianic kingdom at Pentecost. Understanding Christ to be using Eastern figures of speech, we may see his meaning to be simply this—Those who truly and self-sacrificingly follow him shall occupy the chief places of influence in the new kingdom which he proposed soon to establish.
I. THE REGENERATION TREATED AS THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE KINGDOM. Christ sat upon the throne of his glory when he ascended into "heaven, and sat on the right hand of God." Then was "all power given to him in heaven and in earth;" and then the glorious work of regenerating the world was initiated. The new creation, to be completed finally in "the restitution of all things," was commenced. The outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, the miracles performed by his apostles, the destruction of Jerusalem and of "those his enemies who would not that he should reign over them," and the abolition of the Mosaic economy, were the palpable proofs of his exaltation.
II. THE REGENERATION TREATED AS INDICATING THE MISSION OF THE KINGDOM. The "kingdom" was to be the supreme renovating, renewing, regenerating force in the world. The "regeneration" may be taken as the time following on our Lord's resurrection.
1. It was primarily centred in our Lord's own renovated Person; for he then put off the servant form, and put on his immortality.
2. That renovation overspread and included his followers, especially his twelve apostles. By the Pentecostal Spirit they were endowed with power from on high; they entered on possession of the kingdom appointed.
3. The Church was renewed and regenerated from the old to the new dispensation. The types and shadows had departed, the reign of the kingdom of God with power was begun." There is to be a new birth for mankind. Christ exalted and living, Christ working through his Church and in the might of his Spirit, is now established as the regenerating force of humanity; and these are the times of the "regeneration."—R.T.
The Christian possession and Christian heritage.
"Shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life." St. Peter (1 Peter 1:4, 1 Peter 1:9) speaks of "receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls;" and of our lively hope of the "inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away." We may unduly fix our thoughts on that which we gain now by becoming Christians. But many fail of due appreciation of present blessings, because they are absorbed in anticipation of the good things that are to come. Our Lord had to deal with disciples who were very easily led to think about what they should get by being disciples. In this passage he seeks to deliver them from material notions of getting, and to help them in forming worthy estimates of the spiritual blessings of discipleship.
I. THE SPIRITUAL THINGS A DISCIPLE NOW HAS. Things answering to "houses and lands," and to "wife and children." Man here on earth has two supreme satisfactions—they are found in "things possessed," and in "objects of affection." Discipleship to Christ provides no sort of guarantee for a hundredfold more in number of possessions or objects of affection. It does guarantee a hundredfold better in quality. There are answering soul possessions; there are answering soul affections. How firmly St. Paul declares of the Christian, "All things are yours, whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours, and ye are Christ's, and Christ is God's"! Riches and objects of affection depend on the faculties wakened in us. Discipleship wakens new and nobler faculties; and these Christ provides for.
II. THE SPIRITUAL THINGS A DISCIPLE EXPECTS. Lest there should be any mistake, our Lord distinctly speaks of the future as higher, nobler, sublimer life—"everlasting life." We are in danger of materializing the heavenly, because we can only get apprehensions of it with the aid of sensible figures—"many mansions," "crowns," "harps," "palms." But the apostles help to liberate and raise our thoughts, for they speak of a "crown of righteousness," a "crown of life," a "crown of glory." "Godliness has the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." The Christian makes "the best of both worlds."—R.T.
Reversion of present estimates.
"Many that are first shall be last." There is a story of a poor man who, in distant ages, had stood aloof from the sacrifices to Varuna, the goddess of the waters, but had been eventually signalized by her as her most devoted worshipper—his omission to join in a certain rite having only arisen from the intensity of his heartfelt adoration. So the last proved to be first. There may be a designed allusion to the rich ruler who, in his own estimate stood first, but soon was put last, when he came under the searchings of the Divine Teacher. And there is a more immediate reference to those disciples who bragged about how much they had given up, and assumed their claims to first places in the kingdom. Maybe that, at last, "publicans and harlots would enter the kingdom in front of them."
I. PRESENT ESTIMATES ARE SPOILED BY SELF-CENTREDNESS. Men make themselves their standards; and then easily make themselves better than their neighbours; and put their neighbours low down. Certain phases of religious doctrine encourage self-centredness, and make a man think that he is a special favourite of Heaven; and of all disagreeable people, favourites—court favourites and others—are the worst. A man never estimates either himself or others aright until he makes God his standard.
II. PRESENT ESTIMATES ARE SPOILED BY JEALOUSIES. Who of us is fully and honourably free from jealousy in forming our estimate of our fellows? How many are, we think, where we ought to be, if only we had our rights? All jealousy-tinged estimates will have to be reversed. Our last may be put first.
III. PRESENT ESTIMATES ARE DEPENDENT ON APPEARANCES. Men are always taken with showy gifts. The fluent man is always overpraised. A cynical writer says, but with some truth in his saying, "So, in current literature, we find ourselves in an inverted world, where the halt, and the maimed, and the blind are the magnates of our kingdom; where heroes are made of the sick, and pets of the stupid, and merit of the weak man's nothingness." A wise man avoids fixing men in order and place, as first or last; refuses to have a place for himself, and is content to wait for the Divine appraising.—R.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Matthew 19". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany