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Observe here, The poor estate and low condition of Christ's own disciples in this world; they wanted bread, and are forced to pluck the ears of corn to satisfy their hunger. God sometimes suffers his dearest children in this world to fall in to straits, and to taste of want, for the trial of their faith, and dependance upon his power and providence.
Observe here, 1. The persons finding fault with this action of the disciples, the Pharisees; many of whom accompanied our Saviour, not out of any good intentions, but only with a design to cavil at, and quarrel with, everything that either Christ or is disciples said or did.
Observe, 2. The action which they found fault with: The disciples plucking off the ears of corn on the sabbath-day.
Where note, It is not theft which the disciples are accused of by the Pharisees! for to take, in our necessity, so much of our neighbour's goods, as we may reasonably suppose that if he were present, and knew our circumstances, he would give us, is no theft: but it was a servile labour on the sabbath, in gathering the corn, that the Pharisees scrupled; plucking the ears was looked upon as a sort of reaping.
Learn thence, How zealous hypocrites are for the lesser things of the law, whilst they neglect the weightier; and how superstitiously addicted to the outward ceremonies, placing all holiness in the observation of them.
In these words our Saviour defends the action of his disciples in plucking the ears of corn in their necessity, by a double argument.
1. From David's example: necessity freed him from fault in eating the consecrated bread, which none but the priest might lawfully eat; for in cases of necessity, a ceremonial precept must give place to a moral duty: works of mercy and necessity, for preserving our lives, and the better fitting us for sabbath-services, are certainly lawful on the sabbath-day.
2. From the example of the priests in the temple who upon the sabbath do break the outward rest of the day, by killing their sacrifices, and many other acts of bodily labour, which would be accounted sabbath-profanation, did not the service of the temple require and justify it.
Now, saith our Saviour, if the temple-service can justify labour on the sabbath, I am greater than the temple, and my authority and service can justify what my disciples have done.
From the whole we learn, That acts of mercy, which tend to fit us for works of piety, not only may, but ought to be, done on the sabbath-day.
Learn hence, That the law of mercy is much more excellent than the law of ceremonies; and where both cannot be observed, the less must give place to the greater. God never intended that the ceremonies of his service in the first table, should hinder works of mercy prescribed in the second table. All God's commands are for man's good. Where both cannot be obeyed, he will have the moral duty performed, and the ceremonial service omitted: he will have mercy and not sacrifice: that is, he will have mercy rather than sacrifice, where both cannot be had.
As if Christ had said, "I, who am Lord of the sabbath, declare to you, that I have a power to dispense with the observation of it: and it is my will that the sabbath, which was appointed for man, should yield to man's safety and welfare." Christ the Son of man was really the son of God; and as such had power over the sabbath to dispense with it, yea, to abrogate and change it, at his pleasure.
Here we have another dispute betwixt our Saviour and the Pharisees concerning the sabbath; whether it be a breach of that day, mercifully to heal a person having a withered hand? Christ confutes them from their own practice, telling the Pharisees, that they themselves judged it lawful to help out a sheep, or an ox, if fallen into a pit on that day: how much more ought the life of a man to be preferred!
Here we may remark, how inveterate a malice the Pharisees had against our Saviour: when they could find no crime to charge him with, they blame him for working a merciful and miraculous cure upon the sabbath-day. When envy and malice (which are evermore quick-sighted) can find no occasion of quarrel, they will invent one, against the innocent.
Observe, 1. The merciful and miraculous cure wrought by our Saviour's power upon the impotent man: he said unto him, Stretch out thine hand, and his hand was restored.
Observe, 2. What a contrary effect this cure had upon the Pharisees; instead of convincing them, they conspire against him: Christ's enemies, when arguments fail, fall to violence.
Observe, 3. The prudent means which our Saviour uses for his own preservation, he withdrew himself. Christ's example teaches his ministers their duty; to avoid the hands of persecutors, and prudently to preserve their lives unless when their sufferings are like to do more good than their lives.
Observe, 4. The great humility of Christ in concealing his own praises; he had no ambition that the fame of his miracles should be spread abroad, for he sought not his own glory; neither would he by the noise of his miracles enrage the Pharisees against him to take away his life; knowing that his time was not yet come, and he had much work to do before his death.
That is, our blessed Saviour did those good acts before spoken of, that it might appear that he was the true Messias prophesied of by Isaias the prophet, Isaiah 42:1-2. Behold my servant whom I have set apart for accomplishing the work of salvation for a lost world; he by the fulness of my Spirit shall teach the nations the way of truth and righteousness; he shall not subdue men by force and violence, but, as the Prince of Peace, shall deal gently with the weak, and cherish the least measures of grace, and degrees of goodness.
Observe here, 1. A description of Christ as a Mediator; he is God the Father's Servant, employed in the most noble service, namely, of instructing and saving a lost world.
Observe, 2. With what meekness and gentleness Christ sets up his spiritual kingdom in the world; he doth not with noise and clamour, with force and violence, subdue and conquer; but with meekness and gentleness gains person's consent to his government and authority.
Observe, 3. The gentle carriage of Christ in treating those of infirmer grace; he doth and will graciously preserve and tenderly cherish the smallest beginnings, the weakest measures, and the lowest degrees, of sincere grace, which he observes in any of is children and people. By the bruised reed and smoking flax, understand such as are broken with the sense of sin, such as are weak in faith, such as are so much overpowered by corruption, that they do rather smoke than burn or shine; such as are thus low and mean in spirituals, Christ will not break with his power, not quench with his rebukes, till he has perfected their conversion, and their weak grace is become victorious.
As a farther instance of Christ's miraculous power, he healeth one whom the devil had cast into a disease which deprived him both of speech and sight: at this miracle the multitude wonder, saying, Is not this the son of David? that is, the promised Messias. The Pharisees hearing this, with great bitterness and contempt said, This fellow casteth out devils by Beelzebub the prince of devils.
Observe from hence, How obstinacy and malice will make man misconstrue the actions of the most holy and innocent; Christ casteth out devils, say the Pharisees, by the help of the devil. There never was any person so good, nor any action so gracious, but they have been subject both to censure and misconstructions. The best way is to square our actions by the right rule of justice and charity, and then let the world pass their censures at their pleasure. When the holy and innocent Jesus was thus assaulted, what wonder is it if we his sinful servants be branded on all sides by reviling tongues! Why should we expect better treatment than the Son of God.
Our blessed Saviour, to clear his innocence, and to convince the Pharisees of the unreasonableness of this their calumny and false accusations, offers several arguments to their consideration.
1. That it was very unlikely that Satan should lend him this power to use it against himself. As Satan has a kingdom, so he has wit enough to preserve his kingdom, and will do nothing to weaken his own interest. Now if I have received my power from Satan for destroying him and his kingdom, then is Satan divided against himself.
2. Our Saviour tells them, they might with as much reason attribute all miracles to the devil, as those that were wrought by him. There were certain Jews among themselves, who cast out devils in the name of the God of Abaraham, Isaac, and Jacob; Christ asks the Pharisees, by what power these their children cast them out?
They acknowledged that those did it by the power of God; and there was no cause but their malice, why they should not acknowledge that what he did was by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you: that is, the Messias is come, because he wrought these miracles to prove that he was the Messias.
3. Another argument to prove that the miracles which Christ wrought were by the power of God, and not by the help of Satan, is this: The devil is very strong and powerful, and there is no power but God's only that is stronger than his: Now, says Christ, If I were not assisted by a divine power, I could never cast out this strong man, who reigns in the world as in his house: it must be a stronger than the strong man that shall bind Satan: and who is he but the God of strength?
Observe, 1. How our Saviour makes a difference betwixt speaking against the Son of man, and speaking against the Holy Ghost. By speaking against the Son of man, is meant all those reproaches that were cast upon our Saviour's person as Man, without reflecting upon his divine power as God, which he testified by his miracles. Such were their reproaching him with the meanness of his birth, their censuring him for a Wine-bibber and a Glutton, and the like. But by speaking against the Holy Ghost, is meant, their blaspheming and reproaching that divine power whereby he wrought his miracles; which was an immediate reflection upon the Holy Spirit, and a blaspheming of him.
Observe, 2. The nature of this sin of speaking against the Holy Ghost: it consisteth in this, that the Pharisees seeing our Saviour work miracles, and cast out devils by the Spirit of God, contrary to the conviction of their own minds, they maliciously ascribed his miracles to the power of the devil, charging him to be a sorcerer and a magician, and to have a familiar spirit, by whose help he did those mighty works; when in truth he did them by the Spirit of God.
Observe, 3. That this sin above all others is called unpardonable, of such blasphemers of the Holy Spirit, is not only dangerous, but desperate; because they resist their last remedy, and ooppose the best means for their conviction. What can God do more to convince a man that Jesus Christ is the true Messiah, than to work miracles for that purpose? Now they will say it is not God that works them, but the devil; as if Satan would conspire against himself, and seek the ruin of his own kingdom; there is no way left to convince such persons, but they must and will continue in their opposition to truth, to their inevitable condemnation.
These words may either refer to the Pharisees, or to Christ himself.
If to the Pharisees, the sense is, You hypocritical Pharisees show yourselves what you are by our words and actions, even as the fruit showeth what the tree is.
If they refer to Christ, then they are an appeal to the Pharisees themselves, to judge of our Saviour and his doctrine by the miracles which he wrought.
If he wrought by the devil, his works would be as bad as the devil's; but if his works were good, they must own them to be wrought by the power of God.
The expression implies, that a man may be known by his actions, as a tree may be known by his fruit; yet not by a single action, but by a series of actions; not by a particular act, but by our general course.
Note here, 1. The fervency and zeal of our Saviour's spirit in the compellation given to the Pharisees: he calls them a generation of vipers: intimating that they were a venomous and dangerous sort of men.
Learn hence, That it is not always railing and indiscreet zeal to call wicked men by such names as their sin deserves.
Observe farther, From our Saviour's saying, that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh; that the heart is the fountain both of words and actions: according as the heart is, so is the current of men's words and actions, either good or evil.
Observe here, A double treasure discovered in the heart of man.
1. An evil treasure of sin and corruption, both natural and acquired, from whence proceed evil things. Now this is called a treasure, not for the preciousness of it, but for the abundance of it; a little doth not make a treasure: and also for the continuance of the life, yet doth the heart continue full; nature may be drawn low in this life, by sanctifying grace, but it never can be drawn dry.
2. Here is a good treasure of grace discovered in a sanctified and renewed man; which is the source and spring from whence all gracious actions do proceed and flow. For as the heart of man by nature is the fountain from whence all sin springs, so the heart renewed by grace is the source and spring from whence all gracious actions do proceed and flow.
I say unto you; I, that have always been in my Father's bosom, and fully know his mind; I, that am constituted Judge of quick and dead, and understand the rule of judgment; I, even I, do assure you that every word that has no tendency to promote the glory of God, or some way the good of others, will fall under censure at the great day, without an intervening repentance.
Note here, That there are two sorts of words for which we must be judged; sinful words, and idle words.
Sinful words are blasphemous words, censorious words, lying and slandering words.
Idle words are such as savour nothing of wisdom and piety; that have no tendency to make men either wiser or better: how light soever men make of their words now, yet in God's balance another day they will be found to weigh very heavy.
What a bridle should this text be to extravagant tongues! Let your speech be always seasoned with salt Colossians 4:6, that is, with wisdom, &c., for our words may mischief others a long time after they are spoken.
How many years may a frothy or a filthy word, a profane scoff, an atheistical jest, stick in the minds of them that hear it, after the tongue that spake it is dead!
A word spoken is physically transient, but morally permanent.
Observe here, The argument which our Saviour uses to move us to watchfulness over our words: by our words we shall be justified; not meritoriously, but declaratively: good words declare goodness in ourselves, and we shall be declared good to others by our words, if our words and actions do correspond and agree with one another.
Death and life are in the power of the tongue; that is, according to the right or wrong using of the tongue, we may judge and gather whether men are dead or alive as to God; and bound for heaven or hell.
Doubtless justification or condemnation will pass upon men at the day of judgment, according to the state of the person, and frame of the heart; now our words will justify or condemn us in that day, as evidences of the state and frame of the soul. We used to say, such witnesses hanged a man; that is, the evidence they gave cast and condemned him.
O think of this seriously: if words evidence the state of thy soul, what a hellish state must thy soul be in, who hast inured thyself to the language of hell, to oaths and curses; sins whereby the devil cheats men more than by any sins whatsoever! They are damned for them, yet get nothing by them, neither profit nor pleasure.
Observe here, 1. The request which the Pharisees make to Christ; Master, we would see a sign from thee. But had not Christ showed them signs enough already? What were all the miracles wrought in their sight, but convincing signs that he was the true Messias? But infidelity mixed with obstinacy is never satisfied.
Observe, 2. Our Saviour's answer to the Pharisees' request: he tells them that they should have one sign more, to wit, that of his resurrection from the dead: For as Jonas lay buried three days in the whale's belly, and was then wonderfully restored, so should (and did) our Saviour continue in the grave again.
Observe, 3. How Christ declares the inexcusableness of their state, who would not be convinced by the former miracles he had wrought that he was the true Messiah; nor yet be brought to believe in him by this last sign or miracle of his resurrection.
The Ninevites shall condemn the Pharisees, they repented at the preaching of Jonas; but these would not be convinced by the preaching and miracles of Jesus.
The queen of Sheba, who also came from the south to hear and admire the wisdom of Solomon, shall rise up in judgment against those that reject Christ, who is the Wisdom of the Father; and the doctrine delivered by him, which was the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
Learn, That the sins of infidelity and impenitency are exceedingly heightened, and their guilt aggravated, from the means afforded by God to bring a people to faith and obedience. The sin of the Pharisees in rejecting Christ's miracles and ministry, was by far greater than that of the Ninevites, had they rejected Jonah's message and ministry sent by God amongst them.
The design and scope of this parable is to show that the Pharisees, by rejecting the gospel and refusing to believe in Christ, were in a seven-fold worse condition than if the gospel had never been preached to them, and a Saviour had never come among them; because by our Saviour's ministry Satan was in some sort cast out: but for rejecting Christ and his grace, Satan had got a seven-fold stronger possession of them now than before.
From this parable, learn, 1. That Satan is an unclean spirit; he has lost his original purity, his holy nature, in which he was created, and is become universally filthy and unclean nature. Nay, he is a perfect enemy to purity and holiness, maligning all that love it, and would promote it.
2. That Satan is a restless and unquiet spirit; being cast out of heaven, he can rest nowhere; when he is either gone out of a man through policy, or cast out of a man by power, he has no content or satisfaction, till he returns into a filthy heart, where he delights to be as the swine in miry places.
3. That wicked and profane sinners have this unclean spirit dwelling in them: their hearts are Satan's house and habitation; and the lusts of pride and unbelief, malice and revenge, envy and hypocrisy, these are the garnishings of Satan's house. Man's heart was God's house by creation, it is now Satan's by usurpation and judiciary tradition.
4. That Satan by the preaching of the gospel may seem to go out of persons, and they become sober and civilized; yet may he return to his old habitation, and the last end of that man may be worse than the beginning.
Observe here, 1. The verity of Christ's human nature; he had affinity and consanguinity with men, persons near in blood to him, called his brethren, that is, his cousin-germans.
2. That the holy virgin herself was not wholly free from failings and infirmities; for here she does untimely and unseasonably interrupt our Saviour when preaching to the people, and employed about his Father's business.
3. That Christ did not neglect his holy mother, nor disregard his near relations; only showed that he preferred his Father's service before them.
Learn, 4. How dear believers are to Jesus Christ; he prefers his spiritual kindred before his natural. Alliance in faith, and spiritual relation to Christ, is much nearer and dearer than alliance by blood: to bear Christ in the heart is much better than to bear him in the womb.
Blessed be God, this greatest privilege is not denied to us even now: though see Christ we cannot, yet love him we may; his bodily presence cannot be enjoyed by us, but his spiritual presence is not denied us. Though Christ be not ours, in house, in arms, in affinity, in consanguinity, yet in heart, in faith, in love, in service, he is or may be ours.
Verily, spiritual regeneration brings men into a more honourable relation to Christ than natural generation ever did. Whosoever shall do the will of my Father, he is my brother, and sister, and mother.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Matthew 12". Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT. https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter