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The country of the Jews was divided into three provinces; namely, Galilee, Samaria, and Judea.
In Galilee, were the cities of Nazareth, Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum; here Christ dwelt and spent a considerable part of his time, preaching to them, and working miracles among them. But now comes the time in which our holy Lord takes his leave of this province of Galilee, and returned no more to it: woe to that people, whose unthankfulness for Christ's presence and ministry amongst them, causes him finally to forsake them. Having left Galilee, our holy Lord passes through Samaria (the Samaritans being prejudiced against him, and refusing to receive him) and comes into the coasts of Judea, where multitudes of people flocked after him.
But observe the qualities of his followers, not the great ones of the world, not many mighty, not many noble; but the poor and despised multitude, the sick and weak, the deaf and blind, the diseased and distressed.
Thence observe, That none but such as find their need of Christ will seek after him, and come unto him. None will apply to him for help, till they feel themselves helpless. Great multitudes of the sick and diseased came unto him, and he healed them all.
Observe here, 1. That wheresoever our blessed Saviour went, the Pharisees followed him; not out of a sincere intention, but with a design to ensnare him: and accordingly, they propound a question to him concerning divorce, Whether a man might put away his wife on any occasion, as the manner of the Jews was? Concluding that they should intrap him in his answer, whatever it was. If he denied the lawfulness of divorce, then they would charge him with contradicting Moses, who allowed it. If he affirmed it, then they would condemn him for contradicting his own doctrine, Matthew 5:32, for favouring men's lusts, and for complying with the wicked custom of the Jews, who, upon every slight and frivolous occasion, put away their wives from them.
Learn thence, 1. That wheresoever our Lord went, as he had disciples and sincere followers, so the devil stirred him up bitter and malicious enemies, who sought to render his person unacceptable, and his doctrine unsuccessful.
2. That of all Christ's enemies, none had such a bitter hatred and enmity against his person, ministry, and miracles, as the Pharisees. Men of great knowledge, who rebelled against the light of their own consciences, and the clear convictions of their own mind.
3. That such was the wisdom of our Saviour in all his answers to his enemies, that neither their wit nor malice could lay hold upon anything to insnare him: but observe the piety and prudence of his answer to the Pharisees in the next words.
Observe here, Christ gives no direct answer to the Pharisees insnaring question, but refers them to the first institution of marriage, when God made them one, to the intent that matrimonial love might be both incommunicable and indissoluble.
Whence learn, 1. The sacred institution of marriage: it is an ordinace of God's own appointment, as the ground and foundation of all sacred and civil society. What God has joined together.
Learn, 2. The antiquity of this institution, it was from the beginning: He which made them at the beginning, made them male and female. Marriage is almost as old as the world, as old a nature; there was no sooner one person, but God divided him into two; and no sooner were there two, but he united them into one.
Learn hence, 3. The intimacy and nearness of this endeared and endearing relation: the conjugal knot is tied so close, that the bonds of matrimonial love are stronger than those of nature: stricter is the tie betwixt husband and wife, than betwixt parent and children, according to God's own institution. For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and cleave to his wife.
Observe here, The Pharisees' demand, and our Saviour's reply. They demand, Why Moses commanded to put away the wife by a bill of divorce?
Where note, The wicked abuse which the Pharisees put upon Moses, as if he had commanded them, whereas he only permitted to put them away. Moses suffered it for the hardness of their hearts; that is, he did not punish it; not allowing it as good, but winking at it as a lesser evil, because the Jews were so barbarously cruel to their wives, as to turn them away upon every disgust.
Now our Saviour, in his reply, refers them again to the primitive institution of marriage, bidding them compare the precept and their practice together; for in the beginning it was not so.
Learn, That according to the word and will of God, nothing can violate the bonds of marriage and justify a divorce between man and wife, but the defiling of the marriage bed by adultery and uncleanness: this is the only case in which man and wife may lawfully part. Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, committeth adultery.
That is, if a man be so strictly tied by marriage, it is best for him not to marry. A very rash saying of the disciples, discovering both their great carnality, and also the tyranny of a sinful practice, grown up into custom.
Learn, 1. That the best of men have their weakness and infirmities: and the flesh takes its turn to speak, as well as the spirit in them. All that the saints say, is not gospel.
Learn, 2. How impatient nature is of restraint, and how desirous of sinful liberty, and to be freed from the ties and bonds which the holy and wise laws of God put upon it.
As if our Lord had said, "You my disciples do not consider what you say. All men without sinning against God cannot abstain from marriage, but those only to whom God had given the gift of continency, and grace of chastity. Some indeed by nature, or natural impotency are unfit for marriage. Others wickedly are made unfit by castration; others by religious mortification, bring under their bodies that being free from the incumbrances that attend a marriage state, they may give up themselves the better to the exercises of a holy life."
Learn, 1. That Almighty God has given us diverse persons, different tempers, and constitutions: some can subdue their impure desires and affections without the remedy of marriage, others cannot.
2. That continency or ability to live chastely, without the use of marriage, is the special gift of God; not common to all, but bestowed only upon some. A gift it is, worthy of our fervent prayers, worthy of our best endeavours.
3. That a vow of chastity is not in our power; to quench a natural affection requires a supernatural gift. All have not received it: that is, all men cannot live single, and abstain from matrimony.
From whence it follows, That men and women are not by monastical vows to be obliged to live a single life, which some cannot perform without sin.
Note farther, When Christ says, that some have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake: the meaning is, That some have abstained from matrimony that they might be more expedite in preaching the gospel, if ministers; or more prompt, fit and ready to regard only the things of the Lord, if private Christians.
Observe here, a solemn action performed. Children are brought to Christ to be blest by him.
Where note, 1. The persons brought, children, young children, sucking children, as the word imports: They brought them in their arms, Luke 18:15 not led them by the hand.
2. The persons they are brought unto, Jesus Christ; but for what end? Not to baptize them, but to bless them: the parents looking upon Christ as a prophet, a great prophet, the great prophet, do bring their infants to him, that they may receive the benefit of his blessings and prayers.
Whence, Learn, 1. That infants are subjects capable of benefit by Jesus Christ.
2. That it is the best office that parents can perform unto their children to bring them unto Christ, that they may be made partakers of that benefit.
3. If infants be capable of benefit by Christ; if capable of his blessing on earth, and presence in heaven; if they be subjects of his kingdom of grace, and heirs of his kindom of glory; then they may be baptized; for they that are in covenant have a right to the seal of the covenant.
If Christ denies not infants the kingdom of heaven, which is the greater, what reason have his ministers to deny them baptism, which is the less?
But, say some, Christ did neither baptize them, nor command his disciples so to do!
Answer, That is not to be wondered at, if we consider that they had already entered into covenant with God by circumcision and Christian baptism was not yet instituted; John's baptism was the baptism of repentance, of which infants were incapable.
Observe here, A person addressing himself to Christ, and propounding an important question to him; namely, What he should do to gain eternal life?
Where, Note, 1. He believes the certainty of a future state.
2. He professes his desire of an eternal happiness in that state.
And, 3. He declares his readiness to do some good, that he may obtain that happiness.
Learn, That the light of nature, or natural religion, directs and teaches men, that good works are necessary to salvation, or that some good things must be done by men that at death expect eternal life.
What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life? It is not talking well, and professing well, but doing well, and living well, that entitles us to eternal life.
The person thus addressing himself unto Christ, was either a Pharisee or a disciple of the Pharisees, who did not own Christ to be God, or to come from God; but taught, that eternal life was attainable, by fulfilling of the law in that imperfect sense which the Pharisees gave of it.
And accordingly, 1. Christ reproves him for calling him good; Why callest thou me good? When thou wilt neither own me to be God, nor to come from God; For there is none good, that is, essentially and originally good, but God only; nor any derivatively good, but he that receives his goodness from God also.
From this place the Socinians argue against the divinity of Christ; thus, "He to whom the title of good doth not belong, cannot be God most high. But by our Lord's words this title belongs not to him, but only to God the Father; therefore God the Father must be God alone."
Answer, Christ may be supposed to speak to this young man thus, "Thou givest me a title which was never given to the most renowned rabbis, and which agrees to God alone; now thou oughtest to believe that there is something in me more than human, if thou conceivest that this title of good doth belong to me."
Observe, 2. That our Saviour might convince him of the error of the Pharisees, who believed that they might, without the knowledge of him, the true Messias, enter into life by keeping the law of God according to that lax and loose interpretation which they, the Pharisees, had given of it; he bids him, Keep the commandments.
Where, Note, Christ calls him off from outward ceremonies, which the Pharisees abounded in, to the practice of moral duties; yet withal lets him understand, that if he expected salvation by the moral law, he must keep it perfectly and exactly, without the least deficiency, which is an impossibility to man in his lapsed state.
Learn, 1. That such as seek justification and salvation by the works of the law only, must keep the whole law, or covenant of works, perfectly and exactly.
Learn, 2. That the best way to prepare men for Jesus Christ, is to let them see their own impotency to keep and fulfil the covenant of works.
Observe here, That the duties which our Saviour instances in, are the duties of the second table, which hypocrites are most failing in; but the sincere practice of our duty to our neighbour, is a singular evidence of our love to God. These duties of the second table the young man says he had kept from his youth, and perhaps might say it truly, according to the Pharisees interpretation, which condemned only the gross, outward act, not the inward lust and motion of the heart.
Learn hence, How apt men are to think well of themselves, and have too high an opinion of their own goodness and righteousness before God: All these have I kept from my youth.
That is, "Thou hast been all thy days a Pharisee; if now thou wilt be a Christian, thou must maintain a readiness and disposition of mind to part with all that thou hast in this world, at my call and at my command, and follow after me."
Learn, That such as enter themselves disciples of Christ, must be ready, at Christ's call, to part with all, for Christ's sake, that they have in this world.
2. All that profess themselves to be Christ's disciples, must be his followers; that is, that they must obey his doctrine, and imitate his example, his holiness, his humility, his heavenly-mindedness, his patience, his meekness, his readiness to forgive injuries; and the same mind must be in us which was in Christ Jesus.
The parting with all for Christ seemed so hard a condition to the young man, that he went away sorrowful from Christ.
Whence, Learn, 1. That a man wedded to the world will renounce Christ rather than the world, when both stand in competition.
2. That unregenerate and carnal men are exceeding sorrowful, and sadly concerned, that they cannot have heaven upon their own terms, and win it in their own way. The young man went away sorrowful.
Our blessed Saviour takes occasion, from what had passed, to discourse with his disciples concerning the danger of riches, and the difficulties that attend rich men in their way to salvation. A rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Whence note, 1. That rich men do certainly meet with more difficulties in their way to heaven, than other men: it is difficult to withdraw their affections from riches, to place their supreme love upon God in the midst of their abundance. It is difficult to depend upon God in a rich condition. The poor committeth himself to God, but the rich man's wealth is his strong tower. That yet the fault lies not in riches, but in rich men; who, by placing their trust and putting their confidence in riches, do render themselves incapable of the kingdom of God.
These words were a proverbial speech among the Jews, to signify a thing of great difficulty, next to an impossibility; and they import thus much: "That it is not only a very great difficulty, but an impossibility, for such as abound in worldy wealth to be saved, without an extraordinary grace and assistance from God. It is hard for a rich man to become happy, even by God, because he thinks himself happy without God."
The disciples understanding how naturally and strongly men love the world, and how idolatrously and inordinately their hearts run out upon it, they say unto Christ, Lord, who then can be saved?
Learn, 1. That when the general difficulties which lie in the way of salvation, are laid forth, and sufficiently understood, we may justly wonder that any are or shall be saved.
2. That such are the special and peculiar difficulties in the rich man's way to heaven, that his salvation is matter of wonder and great admiration to the disciples of Christ. When the disciples heard this, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?
As if Christ had said, "Were all men left to themselves, no man, either rich or poor would be saved; but God can bring men to heaven by the mighty power of his grace: he can make the rich in estate, poor in spirit; and them that are poor in this world, rich in grace."
Learn, 1. That it is impossible for any man, rich or poor, by his own natural strength, to get to heaven.
2. That when we are discouraged with a sense of our own impotency, we should consider the power of God, and act our faith upon it: With God all things are possible.
The apostles having heard our Saviour's command to the young man to sell all and give to the poor, St. Peter in the name of the rest, tells Christ, that they had left all, and followed him; Behold, we have left all.
Where, Note, How Peter magnifies that little which he had left for Christ, and ushers it in with a note of observation and admiration also, Behold! We have forsaken all, what shall we have then?
Learn thence, That although it be a very little that we suffer for Christ, and less that we have to forake upon his account, yet we are apt to magnify and extol it, as if it were some great matter, Lord, we have forsaken all. What all! His tattered fisher-boat, and ragged nets; scarce worthy to be mentioned: yet, how is it magnified! Behold! Lord, we have left all!
But observe our Lord's kind and gracious answer; "You that have left all to follow me, shall be no losers by me; for in the regeneration, that is, at the resurrection, when believers shall be perfectly renewed, both in soul and body, and shall enjoy my kingdom, then, as I sit upon the throne of my glory, so shall you sit with me in a higher degree of dignity and honour, judging the twelve tribes of Israel; that is, the Jews first, for their unbelief, and then all other despisers of gospel grace and mercy."
Learn, 1. That such ministers as do most service for Christ, and forsake most to follow him, shall in his kingdom partake of most honour and dignity with him and from him.
2. That as the ministers of Christ in general, so his twelve apostles in particular, shall sit nearer the throne of Christ, and have an higher place in glory at the great day, than ordinary believers.
The foregoing promises, Matthew 19:28, respected the apostles; this, all Christians, who forsake their dearest enjoyment for Christ: he assures them, they shall be recompenced in this life an hundred-fold: how? Non formaliter, sed endnenter: Not in specie, but in valour; not in kind, but in equivalence; not an hundred brethren or sisters, or lands, but first, He shall have that in God, which all creatures would not be to him, if they were multiplied an hundred times.
Secondly, The gifts and graces, the comforts and consolations, of the Holy Spriit, shall be an hundred-fold better portion than anything we can part with for the sake of Christ and his gospel here. Though we may be losers for Christ, yet shall we never be losers by him. Christ gives present recompences, as well as future rewards; insomuch that they who have suffered and lost most for Christ, have never complained of their sufferings or losses.
Therefore never be afraid to lose anything for Christ, he will not only see you indemnified, but plentifully rewarded; in this world an hundred-fold; in that to come, life eternal.
A twofold sense and interpretation is given of these words: the first respects the Jews and Gentiles in general the second, all professors of Christianity in particular, "The Jews (as if Christ had said) look upon themselves as first and nearest to the kingdom of heaven, but for their infidelity they shall be last in it; that is, never shall come there. And the Gentiles, who were looked upon as dogs, and farthest from heaven, shall be first there, upon their conversion to me, and faith in me."
As the words respect all professors, the sense is, "Many that are first in their own esteem, and in opinion of others, and forward in a profession of religion, yet at the day of judgment they will be last, and least in mine and my Father's estimation and account. And many that were little in their own, and less in the esteem of others, who had a less name and vogue in the world, shall yet be first and highest in my favour."
Learn hence, That the day of judgment will frustrate a great many persons expectations, both as touching others, and concerning themselves. Many will miss of heaven, and be last, who looked upon themselves to be first. And many will find others in heaven, whom they least expected there. The Lord judgeth not as man judgeth: We judge of man by outward appearances, but we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth. He can neither be deceived, nor yet deceive.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Matthew 19". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16