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Observe here, 1. The preacher; he, that is, Christ, the great prophet and teacher of his church.
Observe, 2. The place where he preached, upon a mountain; probably for conveniency to himself, and advantage to his auditors; though some will have a mystery in it; that as the law at first was given on a mountain, so Christ would now explain it upon a mountain; or to shew the sublimity of his doctrine and precepts.
Observe, 3. The posture in which he preached, sitting: When he was set, he taught, according to the custom of the Jewish doctors who sat, to shew their authority.
Observe, 4. The sermon itself, which begins with beatitudes and blessings, and is accompanied with promises of reward. Not as the law was delivered on Mount Sinai, with threatenings and thunder, with fire and earthquake, but in a still and soft voice. Our Lord's lips are full of grace, they drop as the honeycomb. Blessings and promises are our encouragements to obedience.
Observe here, 1. It is not said, blessed are the poor in estate, but blessed are the poor in spirit: it is not a poverty of purse and possession, but a poverty of spirit, that entitles us to the blessing.
2. It is not said, blessed are the spiritually poor, but blessed are the poor in spirit: he that is destitute of the grace and spirit of Christ, that has no sense of his spiritual wants, he is spirituallly poor, but he is not poor in spirit.
Farther, 3. It is not said, blessed are the poor-spirited, but the poor in spirit. Such an act below and beneath themselves as men and as Christians, these are poor-spirited men; but these are not poor in spirit.
4. It is not said, blessed are they that make themselves poor by leaving their estates and callings, and turning beggars, as some do among the Papists; but blessed are they whom the gospel makes poor, by giving them a sight of their spiritual wants and necessities, and directing them to Christ that they may be made rich.
In sum, not those that are poor in estate, or those whom the world has made poor in possession, but those whom the gospel has made poor in spirit, that is, the truly humble, lowly spirits, have a right and title to the kingdom of heaven. Now, humility is called poverty of spirit, because it is the effect and fruit of God's Spirit.
Observe here, 1. That mourning for sin is a gospel-duty: the law allows no place for repentance, though we seek it carefully with tears.
Observe, 2. The time and reason for this duty. Blessed are they that now mourn. Sorrow for sin is physic on earth, but it is food in hell. Repentance is here a grace, but there a punishment.
Observe, 3. As mourning goes before comfort, so comfort shall follow after mourning. Our godly sorrow for our own and others' sins shall end in everlasting joy and comfort.
Observe here, 1. The grace and duty recommended, Meekness.
2. The wages and reward belonging to that grace and duty, the inheritance of the earth.
Meekness either respects God, or our neighbour.
As it respects God, so it implies flexibleness to his commanding will, and submissiveness to his providential pleasure.
As it respects our neighbour, it consists in forgiving injuries, bearing reproaches, and recompensing good for evil.
The reward and blessing insured to this grace and duty is, the inheritance of the earth, where heaven is not excluded, but included; yet the earth is mentioned, to shew that men should be no losers by their meekness, as to their outward estates; for Almighty God will make good to them what they loose for peace sake.
O happy temper of mind, that at once secures heaven and earth to boot! Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth in this life, and heaven in the next.
Observe, 1. The character of the persons whom Christ pronounces blessed; such as hunger and thirst after righteousness.
2. Wherein their blessedness doth consist: They shall be filled.
By righteousness we are to understand, 1. A righteousness of justification; the righteousness of the Mediator imputed to us, by which we stand righteous in God's sight, being freed from condemnation.
2. A righteousness of sanctification, wrought in us by the Holy Spirit, enabling us to act righteously.
By the former, there is a relative change in our condition; by the latter, a real change in our constitution.
1. Learn, That all and only such as do spiritually hunger and thirst after Christ and his righteousness, are in a happy and blessed condition.
2. That to hunger and thirst after holiness is to apprehend the worth of it, to be sensible of the want of it, to be desirous of it, and restless in endeavours after it, as men usually do that are pinched with hunger. Dr. Hammond's Prac. Catech.
Here our blessed Redeemer recommends to us a compassionate regard towards the miseries of others, and that both in soul and body, name and estate; to be forward to pity and pardon, to relieve and help, to give and forgive.
And as an encouragement, he adds, that as we deal with others, God will deal with us; our charity towards men shall be crowned with mercy from God, and that in abundance too; for our rivulet of charity we shall partake of an ocean of mercy: Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Learn, That the merciful man is a blessed man, and therefore blessed because he shall obtain mercy, when he most wants it, and most desires it. Mercy, not wages.
Note here, 1. The duty required and called for, Purity of heart and life: the first expressed, the other included: for a clean heart will be accompanied with a clean life. Where there is a principle of grace within, there will be the acting of grace without.
Note, 2. The incentive to this duty; the pure in heart, and holy in life shall see and enjoy God; the infinitely pure and perfectly holy God. They shall see him and spiritually mediately in this life, gloriously and immediately in the life to come.
Observe, 1. The connection between peace and puity; purity of heart and peaceableness of life accompany one another. There is no inward purity where there is not an endeavour after outward peace.
2. The duty exhorted to, namely, to love peace, and to labour after peace; to love it ourselves, and to promote it amongst others; to be not only peaceable, but peace-makers.
Note, 3. The title of honour that is here put upon such as are of this peaceable and peace-making temper; they shall be dignified and honoured with the privileges of God's children, namely, grace here, and glory hereafter.
Note here, 1. That all the disciples and followers of Christ, live they ever so holily and inoffensively in the world, yet must they expect suffering and persecution.
2. That the keenest and sharpest edge of persecution is usually turned against the ministers of Christ, and falls heaviest on the prophets of God.
3. That such sufferings and such persecutions as will afford a man solid comfort, and intitle him to real blessedness, must be endured and undergone for righteousness-sake.
4. That it is the will and command of Christ, that those which suffer for him, and for righteousness-sake, should not only be meek and patient, but joyous and cheerful: rejoice, and be exceeding glad.
5. That such a patient and cheerful suffering of persecution for Christ in this life, shall certainly be rewarded with the glory and blessedness of the life that is to come. Great is your reward, &c.
Our Saviour compares Christians in general, and his ministers in particular, unto salt, for a double reason.
First, Because it is the nature of salt to preserve things from corruption and putrefaction, and to render them savoury and pleasant. Thus are the ministers of the gospel to labour and endeavour, by the purity of their doctrine, to sweeten putrifying sinners, that they may become savoury to God and man; and may be kept from being fly-blown with errors and false doctrine.
Secondly, Because salt has a piercing power in it, which subdues the whole lump, and turns it into its own nature: such a piercing power is there in the ministry of the word, that it subdues the whole man to the obedience of itself.
As it Christ had said, "Ye are to be preachers and patterns to the world; ye are appointed by your pure doctrine, and good conversation, to purge the world from that corruption in which it lies: but if you lose either soundness of doctrine, or the savour of a good conversation, you will be wholly useless, as to these great ends, and must expect to be cast off by me, as unsavoury salt is cast to the dunghill."
Observe here, 1. Our Saviour's doctrine.
2. The inference which he draws from it by way of application.
The doctrine delivered is this, That Christians in general and the ministers of the gospel in particular, are the light of the world.
But how? Not originally, but derivatively; not efficiently, but instrumentally, Christ himself is the light if the world by way of original, his ministers are lights by way of derivation, and participation from him.
Farther, Christ teaches them the end why he communicated light unto them, namely, to enlighten, direct, and quicken others: even as the sun in the firmament, and a candle in the house, diffuses and disperses its light to all that are within reach of it; so should all Christians, and particularly Christ's ministers, by the light of life and doctrine, direct people in their way towards heaven.
Observe, 2. The inference which our Saviour draws from the foregoing doctrine, ye are the light of the world, therefore let your light shine before men.
Where, note 1. That our good works must shine, but not blaze; all vain glory and ostentation must be avoided in the good works we do.
2. Although we must abound in good works that men may see them, yet not to be seen of men.
3. That the glorifying of God, and doing good to mankind, must be the great end we propound in all the good works which we perform.
Our Saviour here informs his followers, That he had no design to abrogate any part of the moral law, or to loose mankind from the least measure of their duty either towards God or man, but that he came to fulfil it:
1. By yielding a personal obedience to it.
2. By giving a fuller and stricter interpretation of it, than the Pharisess were wont to give; for they taught, that the law did only reach to the outward man, and restrain outward actions.
As if Christ had said, "Though I preach a more special doctrine than is contained even in the letter of the moral law, yet think not that I am come to destroy and dissolve the obligation of that law, for I came to fulfil the types and predictions of the prophets, and to give you the full sense and spiritual import of the moral law."
Another reason is here given by our Saviour why he had no intention to abrogate or abolish the law; and that is drawn from the duration and perpetuity, the unchangeableness and immutability of the law: sooner shall heaven and earth be abolished, than the authority and obligation of the moral law be dissolved.
Learn, 1. That the law of God is an eternal and unchangeable rule of life and manners, and is to stand in force as long as the world stands, and the frame of heaven and earth endures.
Learn, 2. That Christianity is not contrary to the laws by which mankind had formerly been obliged. Christ commands nothing which they had commanded, but has perfected the law, and set it higher than any of the most studied doctors did think themselves formerly obliged by it.
To suppose that Christ has added to the moral precepts of the first table, is to suppose that he has added to perfection; for that required the Jew to love God with all his heart, soul, and strength: which is the same that Christ required of us Christians here.
Nor has Christ added to the duties of the second table, since that requires us to love our neighbours as ourselves, which St. Paul tells us, Romans 13:9 is the fulfilling of the law.
To evidence yet farther, that the moral law is a perfect rule of life, our Saviour tells his disciples, that if any of them did either by their doctrine or practice, make void any one of the least of God's commands, either by allowing themselves in the omission of any kmown duty, or in the commission of any known din, they shall never enter into the kingdom of God.
Learn, That such a professor of Christianity as allows himself in the least voluntary transgression, either of omission or commission, and encourages other by his example to do the like, is certainly in a state of damnation.
Observe here, 1. A glorious prize or reward set before the Christian as attainable, namely, the kingdom of heaven.
Observe, 2. The means required in order to our obtaining of this prize, and laying hold of this reward; we must be holy and righteous persons: heaven is the reward of righteousness, a reward conferred only upon righteous persons.
Observe, 3. Here is the special qualification of that righteousness expressed, which will entitle us to heaven and salvation: it must be a righteousness which exceeds the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, and that these three ways;
1. In its principle and motive; love to God, and obedience to his command; not the applause and commendation of men.
2. In its aim and end; the Pharisees made themselves. their own credit and esteem, their worldly gain and interest, their ultimate end; and not God's glory, their supreme aim.
3. In the manner of performance; the Pharisees duty wanted that purity and spirituality which the law of God required. They had respect only to the outward action, without any regard to the inward intention, and to that purity of heart which God required.
Quest. In what things are we to exceed the Scribes and Pharisees?
Answ. In sincerity, or by being that within which we seem to be without.
In simplicity, or having holy ends in our religious actions.
In humility, or having low and humble thoughts of ourselves, and our best performances.
In charity, or having compassion on all distressed persons.
In universality of obedience to all commands.
Learn, That holiness of heart, and righteousness of life, which God's law requires of us, is absolutely and indispensably necessary to salvation.
Here our blessed Saviour begins to expound the spiritual sense and meaning of the law, and to vindicate it from the corrupt grosses of the Pharisees:
Where observe, Christ doth not deliver a new law, but expounds the old; doth not injoin new duties, but inforces the old ones. The law of God was always perfect, requiring the sons of men to love God with all their hearts, and their neighbor as themselves.
In this exposition of the law, Christ begins with the sixth commandment, Thou shalt not kill; where he shews, that besides the actual taking away of life, a person may violate that command.
1. By rash anger.
2. By disgraceful and reviling words.
Thence learn, that every evil motion of our hearts consented to against our neighbour, all unjust anger towards him, all terms of contempt put upon him, are forbidden by the law of God, no less than the gross act of murder itself.
Learn, 2. That wrath and anger, without just cause, hath its degrees; and according to the degrees of the sin, will the degrees of punishment be proportionable in the next world.
Learn, 3. That self-murder is here forbidden, and in no case lawful, man having no more power over his own life than over another's; though life be ever so miserable and painful, yet must we wait God's time for our dismission and release.
For preventing the sin of rash anger, which in our Savior's account is a degree of murder, he exhorts all his disciples and followers to brotherly agreement, and to seek mutual reconciliation with each other. Agree with thine adversary, that is, thy offended or offending brother; agree with him, as becomes a man; quickly, as becomes a Christian; implying, that it is a necessary duty for every Christian to seek reconciliation sincerely and speedily with such as have offended him, or have been offended by him.
Observe, 2. The argument or motive with which Christ enforces his exhortation to brotherly reconciliation, drawn from the peril and danger of the neglect; and this is two-fold: The first respects our present duties and services, when we wait upon God at his altar, and attend upon him in holy offices. None of our performances will find malice and hatred, anger and ill-will, against our brother.
Learn, that no sacrifice we can offer will be acceptable to God, so long as we ourselves are implacable to men.
A second danger respects us, when we appear before God in judgement; then God will be our Adversary, Christ our Judge, Satan our accuser, hell our tormentor; If now from the heart we do not every one forgive our brother his trespasses.
Lord! how heinous then is this sin of inveterate anger, hatred, and malice, in our hearts, against any person! No gifts, though never so costly, no devotions, though never so specious, will prevail with God to pass it by, whilst we live: and if we die with hearts full of this rancour and bitterness, we can never expect to be encircled in the arms of Him who is all love, all mercy, all goodness and compassion: no reconciliation with God without an hearty good-will to all men.
Nay farther, the text here speaks of a prison, which is the dreadful dungeon of hell, into which the implacable and unreconciled person must be cast, and lie forever without mixture of pity; and it is not men's scoffing at it that will secure them against the horror of it.
Our Savior next proceeds to explain the seventh commandment, which forbids adultery; by which the Pharisees understood only the gross act of uncleanness, and carnal lying with a woman. But, says our Savior, Whosoever secretly in his heart desires such a thing, and casts his eyes upon a woman in order to such an act, entertaining only a thought of it with pleasure and delight, he is an adulterer in God's account.
Learn, That such is the purity and spirituality of the law of God, that it condemns speculative wantonness, no less than practical uncleanness; and forbids not only the outward action, but the secret purpose and intention, and first out-goings of the soul after unlawful objects.
Our Saviour had condemned ocular adultery in the foregoing verse, or the adultery of the eye; He that looketh on a woman to lust after her, hath committed adultery with her in his heart.
Whence note, That the eye is an inlet to sin, especially the sin of uncleanness: list enters the heart at the window of the eye.
Now in these verses Christ prescribes a remedy for the cure of this eye-malady: If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: which is not to be understood literally, as if Christ commanded any man to maim his bodily members; but spiritually, to mortify the lusts of the flesh, and the lusts of the eye, which otherwise would prove a dangerous snare to the soul.
Learn, 1. That sin may be avoided: it is our duty to avoid whatsoever leads to it, or may be an occasion of it; if we find the view of an ensnaring object will inflame us, we must, though not put out our eye, yet make a covenant with our eye that we will not look upon it.
Note, 2. That the best course we can take to be kept from the outward acts of sin, is to mortify our inward affection and love to sin. This is to kill it in the root; and if once our inward affections be mortified, our bodily members may be spared and preserved; for they will no longer be weapons of sin but instruments of righteousness unto holiness.
Our blessed Saviour still proceeds in vindicating and clearing the seventh commandment from the corrupt glosses of the Pharisees. Almighty God had tolerated the Jews, in case of uncleanness, to put away their wives by a bill of divorce, Deuteronomy 24:1
Hereupon the Pharisees maintained it lawful to put away the wife upon every slight occasion. This abuse Christ corrects; and shows that divorce, except in case of adultery, is a certain breach of the seventh commandment.
Learn, 1. That so indissoluble is the marriage-covenant betwixt two persons, that nothing but adultery, which violates the bands of marriage, can dissolve or disannul it.
Learn, 2. When persons are unjustly put away, it is unlawful for them to marry to any other, or for others knowingly to marry to them.
The next commandment which our Saviour expounds and vindicates, is the third, which requires a reverent use of God's name.
Now the Pharisees taught that perjury was the only breach of this commandment; and that swearing was nothing, if they did not forswear themselves; and that persons were only obliged to swear by the name of God in public courts of justice, but in their ordinary and common discourse they might swear by any of the creatures.
Now, in opposition to these wicked principles and practices, Christ says, Swear not at all: that is,
1. Swear not profanely in your ordinary discourse.
2. Swear not unduly by any of the creatures; for that is to ascribe a deity to them.
3. Swear not lightly upon any trifling or frivolous occasion; for oaths upon small occasions are great sins. So that an oath is not here forbidden by our Saviour, but restrained.
For though light and needless, common and ordinary swearing, be a very great sin, yet to take an oath upon a solemn occasion, when adjured by the high-priest, did answer upon oath. But he forbids all voluntary oaths in common conversation, and in our ordinary discourse; because an oath is an act of religious worship; therefore to trifle with it is an horrid provocation.
Here our Lord prescribes a proper mean and remedy for shunning the occasion and danger of rash swearing; and that is, by using and accustoming ourselves in conversation to a true simplicity and constant plainness of speech; either affirming or denying, according to the nature of the thing; letting oaths alone till we are called to them upon great occasions, for ending strife between man and man.
Learn, That the great end of speech being to communicate the sense of our minds to each other, we ought to use such plainness and simplicity in speaking, that we may believe one another without oaths, or more solemn and religious asseverations.
Our Saviour here vindicates the sixth commandment, which obliges us to do no wrong to the body of our neighbour. God had given a law to the public magistrate, to require an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, when a person was wronged: hereupon the Pharisees taught, That a private person, wronged by another, might exact satisfaction from him to the same degree in which he had been wronged by him; if he had lost an eye by another, might revenge it, by taking away the eye of another.
But, says Christ, I say unto you, resist not evil; that is, seek not private revenge, but leave the avenging of injuries to God and the magistrates; and in trivial matters not to appeal at all, and, when forced, not for revenge sake: teaching us, That Christians ought rather to suffer a double wrong, than to seek a private revenge. Christianity obliges us to bear many injuries patiently, rather than to revenge one privately. Religion indeed doth not bid them welcome: we are not to return evil for evil, but are rather to endure a greater evil than to revenge a less.
Our Saviour here presses the law of charity upon his disciples: this is two-fold; a charity in giving to them that beg, and a charity in lending to them that desire to borrow. Christianity obliges all those who have ability to abound in works of charity of all sorts and kinds whatsoever. He that is truly charitable, doth not only give, but lend; yea, sometimes lends, looking for nothing again. It is not enough to act charity of one sort, but we must be ready to act it in every kind, and to the highest degree that our circumstances and abilities will admit.
Giving is a god-like thing, he is the giver of every good and perfect gift; he gives before we ask; and we must imitate God in giving: namely, by giving what we give cheerfully, sincerely, discreetly, proportionably, universally, in obedience to God's command, and with an eye at his glory. And there is sometimes as great charity in lending, as there is in giving; many a poor family, by our lending them a small matter, may raise themselves into a condition to live comfortably and honestly in the world.
Another corrupt gloss which the Pharisees had put upon the law of God, our Saviour here takes notice of: the law said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, Leviticus 19:18. This they interpreted to relate only to their own countrymen, the Jews; concluding, that they might hate all the uncircumcised nations, as enemies; but, saith our Saviour, I require you to love all men; for if enemies must not be shut out of your love, none must.
Love your enemies: here the inward affection is required.
Bless them that curse you; there outward civility, and affability is required.
Do good to them that hate you; here real acts of our bitters and most malicious enemies.
Pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you: these are the highest expressions of enmity that can be, calumny and cruelty; yet are we commanded to pray for those that touch us in these two tenderest points, our reputation and sincere affection towards our most malicious enemies; to be ready upon all occasions to do good unto them, and pray for them.
To encourage us to the foregoing duty of loving our enemies, our Saviour propounds the example of God himself to our imitation. That you may be the children of your Father; that is, that you may be known to be the children of your Father which is in heaven, by your likeness to him, and imitation of him.
Note, 1. That the best evidence we can have of our divine sonship, is our conformity to the divine nature, especially in those excellent properties of goodness and forgiveness.
Note, 2. That God doth good to them that are continually doing evil unto him. Rain and sun, fat and sweet, gold and silver, are such good things as their hearts and houses are filled with, who are altogether empty of grace and goodness.
Yet farther to encourage us to this duty of loving our enemies, Christ assures his disciples, that he expects more from them than others; more than common humanity and civil courtesy towards friends; for even heathens by the light of nature were taught to love those that loved them: but he expected that Christianity should teach them better, and lead them farther, even to love their enemies, and to bless them that curse them.
Note, Love for love is justice; love for no love is favour and kindness; but love for hatred and enmity is divine goodness; a Christ-like temper, which will render us illustrious on earth, and glorious in heaven.
But Lord! how do men confine their love to little sects and parties? and from thence comes that bitterness of spirit of one party towards another; and oh! how hard it is to find a Christian of a true catholic love and temper.
That is, aim at perfection in all Christian virtues and divine graces, but particularly in this of love, in imitation of your heavenly Father, who is the perfect pattern of all desirable goodness and adorable perfections. To be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect, is indeed impossible, as to equality, but not as to imitation.
The word rendered here perfect by St. Matthew, is elsewere by St. Luke rendered merciful, Luke 6:36, implying, that charity is the perfection of a Christian's graces: he that is made perfect in love, is perfect in all divine graces, in the account of God.
Learn, 1. That there is no standing still in religion; he that will be saved must press on towards perfection.
Learn, 2. That no less than perfect and complete perfection in grace, and particularly in the grace of love and charity, is and ought to be the aim of every Christian in this life, and shall be his attainment in the next.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Matthew 5". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29