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Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible Kelly Commentary
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Kelly, William. "Commentary on Matthew 19". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ wkc/ matthew-19.html. 1860-1890.
Kelly, William. "Commentary on Matthew 19". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
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Chapter 8, which opens the portion that comes before us tonight, is a striking illustration as well as proof of the method which God has been pleased to employ in giving us the apostle Matthew's account of our Lord Jesus. The dispensational aim here leads to a more manifest disregard of the bare circumstance of time than in any other specimen of these gospels. This is the more to be noticed, inasmuch as the gospel of Matthew has been in general adopted as the standard of time, save by those who have rather inclined to Luke as supplying the desideratum. To me it is evident, from a careful comparison of them all, as I think it is capable of clear and adequate proof to an unprejudiced Christian mind, that neither Matthew nor Luke confines himself to such an order of events. Of course, both do preserve chronological order when it is compatible with the objects the Holy Spirit had in inspiring them; but in both the order of time is subordinated to still greater purposes which God had in view. If we compare the eighth chapter, for example, with the corresponding circumstances, as far as they appear, in the gospel of Mark, we shall find the latter gives us notes of time, which leave no doubt on my mind that Mark adheres to the scale of time: the design of the Holy Ghost required it, instead of dispensing with it in his case. The question fairly arises, Why it is that the Holy Ghost has been pleased so remarkably to leave time out of the question in this chapter, as well as in the next? The same indifference to the mere sequence of events is found occasionally in other parts of the gospel; but I have purposely dwelt upon this chapter 8, because here we have it throughout, and at the same time with evidence exceedingly simple and convincing.
The first thing to be remarked is, that the leper was an early incident in the manifestation of the healing power of our Lord. In his defilement he came to Jesus and sought to be cleansed, before the delivery of the sermon on the mount. Accordingly, notice that, in the manner in which the Holy Ghost introduces it, there is no statement of time whatever. No doubt the first verse says, that "when He was come down from the mount, great multitudes followed Him;" but then the second verse gives no intimation that the subject which follows is to be taken as chronologically subsequent. It does not say, that " then there came a leper," or " immediately there came a leper." No word whatever implies that the cleansing of the leper happened at that time. It says simply, "And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean." Verse 4 seems quite adverse to the idea that great multitudes were witnesses of the cure; for why "tell no man," if so many knew it already? Inattention to this has perplexed many. They have not seized the aim of each gospel. They have treated the Bible either with levity, or as too awful a book to be apprehended really; not with the reverence of faith, which waits on Him, and fails not in due time to understand His word. God does not permit Scripture to be thus used without losing its force, its beauty, and the grand object for which it was written.
If we turn toMark 1:1-45; Mark 1:1-45, the proof of what I have said will appear as to the leper. At its close we see the leper approaching the Lord, after He had been preaching throughout Galilee and casting out devils. In Mark 2:1-28 it says, "And again he entered into Capernaum." He had been there before. Then, in Mark 3:1-35, there are notes of time more or less strong. In verse 13 our Lord "goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto him whom he would: and they came unto him. And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach." To him who compares this with Luke 6:1-49, there need not remain a question as to the identity of the scene. They are the circumstances that preceded the discourse upon the mount, as given in Matthew 5:1-48; Matthew 6:1-34; Matthew 7:1-29. It was after our Lord had called the twelve, and ordained them not after He had sent them forth, but after He had appointed them apostles that the Lord comes down to a plateau upon the mountain, instead of remaining upon the more elevated parts where He had been before. Descending then upon the plateau, He delivered what is commonly called the Sermon on the Mount.
Examine the Scripture, and you will see for yourselves. It is not a thing that can be settled by a mere assertion. On the other hand, it is not too much to say, that the same Scriptures which convince one unbiassed mind that pays heed to these notes of time, will produce no less effect on others. If I assume from the words "set forth in order," in the beginning of Luke's gospel, that therefore his is the chronological account, it will only lead me into confusion, both as to Luke and the other gospels; for proofs abound that the order of Luke, most methodical as he is, is by no means absolutely that of time. Of course, there is often the order of time, but through the central part, and not infrequently elsewhere, his setting forth in order turns on another principle, quite independent of mere succession of events. In other words, it is certain that in the gospel of Luke, in whose preface we have expressly the words "set in order," the Holy Ghost does in no way tie Himself to what, after all, is the most elementary form of arrangement; for it needs little observation to see, that the simple sequence of facts as they occurred is that which demands a faithful enumeration, and nothing more. Whereas, on the contrary, there are other kinds of order that call for more profound thought and enlarged views, if we may speak now after the manner of men; and, indeed, I deny not that these the Holy Ghost employed in His own wisdom, though it is hardly needful to say He could, if He pleased, demonstrate His superiority to any means or qualifications whatsoever. He could and did form His instruments according to His own sovereign will. It is a question, then, of internal evidence, what that particular order is which God has employed in each different gospel. Particular epochs in Luke are noted with great care; but, speaking now of the general course of the Lord's life, a little attention will discover, from the immensely greater preponderance paid to the consideration of time in the second gospel, that there we have events from first to last given to us in their consecutive order. It appears to me, that the nature or aim of Mark's gospel demands this. The grounds of such a judgment will naturally come before us ere long: I can merely refer to it now as my conviction.
If this be a sound judgment, the comparison of the first chapter of Mark affords decisive evidence that the Holy Ghost in Matthew has taken the leper out of the mere time and circumstances of actual occurrence, and has reserved his case for a wholly different service. It is true that in this particular instance Mark no more surrounds the leper with notes of time and place than do Matthew and Luke. We are dependent, therefore, for determining this case, on the fact that Mark does habitually adhere to the chain of events. But if Matthew here laid aside all question of time, it was in view of other and weightier considerations for his object. In other words, the leper is here introduced after the sermon on the mount, though, in fact, the circumstance took place long before it. The design is, I think, manifest: the Spirit of God is here giving a vivid picture of the manifestation of the Messiah, of His divine glory, of His grace and power, with the effect of this manifestation. Hence it is that He has grouped together circumstances which make this plain, without raising the question of when they occurred; in fact, they range over a large space, and, otherwise viewed, are in total disorder. Thus it is easy to see, that the reason for here putting together the leper and the centurion lies in the Lord's dealing with the Jew, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, in His deep grace working in the Gentile's heart, and forming his faith, as well as answering it, according to His own heart. The leper approaches the Lord with homage, but with a most inadequate belief in His love and readiness to meet his need. The Saviour, while He puts forth His hand, touching him as man, and yet as none but Jehovah might dare to do, dispels the hopeless disease at once. Thus, and after the tenderest sort, there is that which evidences the Messiah on earth present to heal His people who appeal to Him; and the Jew, above all counting upon His bodily presence demanding it, I may say, according to the warrant of prophecy, finds in Jesus not merely the man, but the God of Israel. Who but God could heal? Who could touch the leper save Emmanuel? A mere Jew would have been defiled. He who gave the law maintained its authority, and used it as an occasion for testifying His own power and presence. Would any man make of the Messiah a mere man and a mere subject of the law given by Moses? Let them read their error in One who was evidently superior to the condition and the ruin of man in Israel. Let them recognize the power that banished the leprosy, and the grace withal that touched the leper. It was true that He was made of woman, and made under the law; but He was Jehovah Himself, that lowly Nazarene. However suitable to the Jewish expectation that He should be found a man, undeniably there was that apparent which was infinitely above the Jew's thought; for the Jew showed his own degradation and unbelief in the low ideas he entertained of the Messiah. He was really God in man; and all these wonderful features are here presented and compressed in this most simple, but at the same time significant, action of the Saviour the fitting frontispiece to Matthew's manifestation of the Messiah to Israel.
In immediate juxtaposition to this stands the Gentile centurion, who seeks healing for his servant. Considerable time, it is true, elapsed between the two facts; but this only makes it the more sure and plain, that they are grouped together with a divine purpose. The Lord then had been shown such as He was towards Israel, had Israel in their leprosy come to Him, as did the leper, even with a faith exceedingly short of that which was due to His real glory and His love. But Israel had no sense of their leprosy; and they valued not, but despised, their Messiah, albeit divine I might almost say because divine. Next, we behold Him meeting the centurion after another manner altogether. If He offers to go to his house, it was to bring out the faith that He had created in the heart of the centurion. Gentile as he was, he was for that very, reason the less narrowed in his thoughts of the Saviour by the prevalent notions of Israel, yea, or even by Old Testament hopes, precious as they are. God had given his soul a deeper, fuller sight of Christ; for the Gentile's words prove that he had apprehended God in the man who was healing at that moment all sickness and disease in Galilee. I say not how fax he had realized this profound truth; I say not that he could have defined his thoughts; but he knew and declared His command of all as truly God. In him there was a spiritual force far beyond that found in the leper, to whom the hand that touched, as well as cleansed, him proclaimed Israel's need and state as truly as Emmanuel's grace.
As for the Gentile, the Lord's proffer to go and heal his servant brought out the singular strength of his faith. "Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof" He had only to say in a word, and his servant should be healed. The bodily presence of the Messiah was not needed. God could not be limited by a question of place; His word was enough. Disease must obey Him, as the soldier or the servant obeyed the centurion, their superior. What an anticipation of the walk by faith, not by sight, in which the Gentiles, when called, ought to have glorified God, when the rejection of the Messiah by His own ancient people gave occasion to the Gentile call as a distinct thing! It is evident that the bodily presence of the Messiah is the very essence of the former scene, as it ought to be in dealing with the leper, who is a kind of type of what Israel should have been in seeking cleansing at His hands. So, on the other hand, the centurion sets forth with no less aptness the characteristic faith that suits the Gentile, in a simplicity which looks for nothing but the word of His mouth, is perfectly content with it, knows that, whatever the disease may be, He has only to speak the word, and it is done according to His divine will. That blessed One was here whom he knew to be God, who was to him the impersonation of divine power and goodness His presence was uncalled for, His word more than enough. The Lord admired the faith superior to Israel's, and took that occasion to intimate the casting out of the sons or natural heirs of the kingdom, and the entrance of many from east and west to sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of the heavens. What can be conceived so perfectly to illustrate the great design of the gospel of Matthew?
Thus, in the scene of the leper, we have Jesus presented as "Jehovah that healeth Israel," as man here below, and in Jewish relationships, still maintaining the law. Next, we find Him confessed by the centurion, no longer as the Messiah, when actually with them, confessed according to a faith which saw the deeper glory of His person as supreme, competent to heal, no matter where, or whom, or what, by a word; and this the Lord Himself hails as the foreshadowing of a rich incoming of many multitudes to the praise of His name, when the Jews should be cast out. Evidently it is the change of dispensation that is in question and at hand, the cutting off of the fleshly seed for their unbelief, and the bringing in of numerous believers in the name of the Lord from among the Gentiles.
Then follows another incident, which equally proves that the Spirit of God is not here reciting the facts in their natural succession; for it is assuredly not at this moment historically that the Lord goes into the house of Peter, sees there his wife's mother laid sick of a fever, touches her hand, and raises her up, so that she ministers unto them at once. In this we have another striking illustration of the same principle, because this miracle, in point of fact, was wrought long before the healing of the centurion's servant, or even of the leper. This, too, we ascertain from Mark 1:1-45, where there are clear marks of the time. The Lord was in Capernaum, where Peter lived; and on a certain Sabbath-day, after the call of Peter, wrought in the synagogue mighty deeds, which are here recorded, and by Luke also. Verse 29 gives us strict time. "And forthwith when they were come out of the synagogue they entered into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John; but Simon's wife's mother was sick of a fever, and anon they tell Him of her. And He came and took her by the hand, and lifted her up, and immediately the fever left her, and she ministered unto them." It would require the credulity of a sceptic to believe that this is not the self-same fact that we have before us inMatthew 8:1-34; Matthew 8:1-34. I feel sure that no Christian harbours a doubt about it. But if this be so, there is here absolute certainty that our Lord, on the very Sabbath in which He cast out the unclean spirit from the man in the synagogue of Capernaum, immediately after quitting the synagogue, entered the house of Peter, and that there and then He healed Peter's wife's mother of the fever. Subsequent, considerably, to this was the case of the centurion's servant, preceded a good while before by the cleansing of the leper.
How are we to account for a selection so marked, an elimination of time so complete? Surely not by inaccuracy; surely not by indifference to order, but contrariwise by divine wisdom that arranged the facts with a view to a purpose worthy of itself: God's arrangement of all things more particularly in this part of Matthew to give us an adequate manifestation of the Messiah; and, as we have seen, first, what He was to the appeal of the Jew; next, what He was and would be to Gentile faith, in still richer form and fulness. So now we have, in the healing of Peter's mother-in-law, another fact containing a principle of great value, that His grace towards the Gentile does not in the least degree blunt His heart to the claims of relationship after the flesh. It was clearly a question of connection with the apostle of the circumcision ( i.e., Peter's wife's mother). We have the natural tie here brought into prominence; and this was a claim that Christ slighted not. For He loved Peter felt for him, and his wife's mother was precious in His sight. This sets forth not at all the way in which the Christian stands related to Christ; for even though we had known Him after the flesh, henceforth know we Him no more. But it is expressly the pattern after which He was to deal, and will deal, with Israel. Zion may say of the Lord who laboured in vain, whom the nation abhorred, "The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me." Not so. "Can a woman forget her sucking child? yea, they may forget, yet will not I forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands." Thus it is shown that, though we have rich grace to the Gentile, there is the remembrance of natural relationship still.
In the evening multitudes are brought, taking advantage of the power that had so shown itself, publicly in the synagogue, and privately in the house of Peter; and the Lord accomplished the words ofIsaiah 53:4; Isaiah 53:4: "Himself," it is said, "took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses," an oracle we might do well to consider in the limit of its application here. In what sense did Jesus, our Lord, take their infirmities, and bear their sicknesses? In this, as I believe, that He never employed the virtue that was in Him to meet sickness or infirmity as a matter of mere power, but in deep compassionate feeling He entered into the whole reality of the case. He healed, and bore its burden on His heart before God, as truly as He took it away from men. It was precisely because He was Himself untouchable by sickness and infirmity, that He was free so to take up each consequence of sin thus. Therefore it was not a mere simple fact that He banished sickness or infirmity, but He carried them in His spirit before God. To my mind, the depth of such grace only enhances the beauty of Jesus, and is the very last possible ground that justifies man in thinking lightly of the Saviour.
After this our Lord sees great multitudes following Him, and gives commandment to go to the other side. Here again is found a fresh case of the same remarkable principle of selection of events to form a complete picture, which I have maintained to be the true key of all. The Spirit of God has been pleased to cull and class facts otherwise unconnected; for here follow conversations that took place a long time after any of the events we have been occupied with. When do you suppose these conversations actually occurred, if we go to the question of their date? Take notice of the care with which the Spirit of God here omits all reference to this: "And a certain scribe came." There is no note of the time when he came, but simply the fact that he did come. It was really after the transfiguration recorded in chapter 17 of our gospel. Subsequently to that, the scribe offered to follow Jesus whithersoever He went. We know this by comparing it with the gospel of Luke. And so with the other conversation: "Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father;" it was after the glory of Christ had been witnessed on the holy mount, when man's selfishness of heart showed itself in contrast to the grace of God.
Next, the storm follows. "There arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch, that the ship was covered with the waves; but he was asleep." When did this take place, if we enquire into it merely as a matter of historical fact? On the evening of the day when He delivered the seven parables given in Matthew 13:1-58. The truth of this is apparent, if we compare the gospel of Mark. Thus, the fourth chapter of Mark coincides, marked with such data as can leave no doubt. We have, first, the sower sowing the word. Then, after the parable of the mustard seed (ver. 33), it is added, "And with many such parables spake He the word unto them . . . . and when they were alone, He expounded all things to His disciples [in both the parables and the explanations alluding to what we possess in Matthew 13:1-58.]. And the same day, when the even was come, He saith unto them, let us pass over unto the other side. [There is what I call a clear, unmistakable note of time.] And when they had sent away the multitude, they took Him even as He was in the ship. And there were also with Him other little ships. And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And He was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake Him, and say unto Him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? And He arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And He said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith? And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?" After this (what makes it still more unquestionable) comes the case of the demoniac. It is true, we have only one in Mark, as in Luke; whereas in our gospel we have two. Nothing can be simpler. There were two; but the Spirit of God chose out, in Mark and Luke, the more remarkable of the two, and traces for us his history, a history of no small interest and importance, as we may feel when we come to Mark; but it was of equal moment for the gospel of Matthew that the two demoniacs should be mentioned here, although one of them was in himself, as I gather, a far more strikingly desperate case than the other. The reason I consider to be plain; and the same principle applies to various other parts of our gospel where we have two cases mentioned, where in the other gospels we have only one. The key to it is this, that Matthew was led by the Holy Ghost to keep in view adequate testimony to the Jewish people; it was the tender goodness of God that would meet them in a manner that was suitable under the law. Now, it was an established principle, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word should be established. This, then, I apprehend to be the reason why we End two demoniacs mentioned; whereas, in Mark or Luke for other purposes, the Spirit of God only draws attention to one of the two. A Gentile (indeed, any mind not under any kind of legal prejudice or difficulty) would be far more moved by a detailed account of what was more, conspicuous. The fact of two without the personal details would not powerfully tell upon mere Gentiles perhaps, though to a Jew it might be for some ends necessary. I do not pretend to say this was the only purpose served; far be it from me to think of restraining the Spirit of God within the narrow bounds of our vision. Let none suppose that, in giving my own convictions, I have the presumptuous thought of putting these forward as if they were the sole motives in God's mind. It is enough to meet a difficulty which many feel by the simple plea that the reason assigned is in my judgment a valid explanation, and in itself a sufficient solution of the apparent discrepancy. If it be so, it is surely a ground of thankfulness to God; for it turns a stumbling-block into an evidence of the perfection of Scripture.
Reviewing, then, these closing incidents of the chapter (ver. Matthew 13:19-22), we find first of all the utter worthlessness of the flesh's readiness to follow Jesus. The motives of the natural heart are laid bare. Does this scribe offer to follow Jesus? He was not called. Such is the perversity of man, that he who is not called thinks he can follow Jesus whithersoever He goes. The Lord hints at what the man's real desires were not Christ, not heaven, not eternity, but present things. If he were willing to follow the Lord, it was for what he could get. The scribe had no heart for the hidden glory. Surely, had he seen this, everything was there; but he saw it not, and so the Lord spread out His actual portion, as it literally was, without one word about the unseen and eternal. "The foxes," says He, "have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay His head." He takes accordingly the title of the "Son of man" for the first time in this gospel. He has His rejection before His eyes, as well as the presumptuous unbelief of this sordid, and self-confident, would-be follower.
Again, when we listen to another (and now it is one of His disciples), at once faith shows its feebleness. "Suffer me first," he says, "to go and bury my father." The man that was not called promises to go anywhere, in his own strength; but the man that was called feels the difficulty, and pleads a natural duty before following Jesus. Oh, what a heart is ours! but what a heart was His!
In the next scene, then, we have the disciples as a whole tried by a sudden danger to which their sleeping Master paid no heed. This tested their thoughts of the glory of Jesus. No doubt the tempest was great; but what harm could it do to Jesus? No doubt the ship was covered with the waves; but how could that imperil the Lord of all? They forgot His glory in their own anxiety and selfishness. They measured Jesus by their own impotence. A great tempest. and a sinking ship are serious difficulties to a man. "Lord, save us; we perish," cried they, as they awoke Him; and He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea. Little faith leaves us as fearful for ourselves as dim witnesses of His glory whom the most unruly elements obey.
In what follows we have that which is necessary, to complete the picture of the other side. The Lord works in delivering power; but withal the power of Satan fills and carries away the unclean to their own destruction. Yet man, in face of all, is so deceived of the enemy, that he prefers to be left with the demons rather than enjoy the presence of the Deliverer. Such was and is man. But the future is in view also. The delivered demoniacs are, to my mind, clearly the foreshadow of the Lord's grace in the latter days, separating a remnant to Himself, and banishing the power of Satan from this small but sufficient witness of His salvation. The evil spirits asked leave to pass into the herd of swine, which thus typify the final condition of the defiled, apostate mass of Israel; their presumptuous and impenitent unbelief reduces them to that deep degradation not merely the unclean, but the unclean filled with the power of Satan, and carried down to swift destruction. It is a just prefiguration of what will be in the close of the age the mass of the unbelieving Jews, now impure, but then also given up to the devil, and so to evident perdition.
Thus, in the chapter before us, we have a very comprehensive sketch of the Lord's manifestation from that time, and in type going on to the end of the age. In the chapter that follows we have a companion picture, carrying on, no doubt, the lord's presentation to Israel, but from a different point of view; for inMatthew 9:1-38; Matthew 9:1-38 it is not merely the people tried, but more especially the religious leaders, till all closes in blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. This was testing matters more closely. Had there been a single thing good in Israel, their choicest guides would have stood that test. The people might have failed, but, surely, there were some differences surely those that were honoured and valued were not so depraved! Those that were priests in the house of God would not they at least receive their own Messiah? This question is accordingly put to the proof in the ninth chapter. To the end the events are put together, just as in Matthew 8:1-34, without regard to the point of time when they occurred.
"And He entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into His own city." Having left Nazareth, as we saw, He takes up His abode in Capernaum, which was henceforth "His own city." To the proud inhabitant of Jerusalem, both one and the other were but a choice and change within a land of darkness. But it was for a land of darkness and sin and death that Jesus came from heaven the Messiah, not according to their thoughts, but the Lord and Saviour, the God-man. So in this case there was brought to Him a paralytic man, lying upon a bed, "and Jesus, seeing their faith, said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee." Most clearly it is not so much a question of sin in the aspect of uncleanness (typifying deeper things, but still connected with the ceremonial requirements of Israel, as we find from what our Lord said in the chapter to the cleansed leper). It is more particularly sin, viewed as guilt, and consequently as that which absolutely breaks and destroys all power in the soul towards both God and man. Hence, here it is a question not merely of cleansing, but of forgiveness, and forgiveness, too, as that which precedes power, manifested before men. There never can be strength in the soul till forgiveness is known. There may be desires, there may be the working of the Spirit of God, but there can be no power to walk before men and to glorify God thus till there is forgiveness possessed and enjoyed in the heart. This was the very blessing that aroused, above all, the hatred of the scribes. The priest, in chap. 8, could not deny what was done in the case of the leper, who showed himself duly, and brought his offering, according to the law, to the altar. Though a testimony to them, still it was in the result a recognition of what Moses commanded. But here pardon dispensed on earth arouses the pride of the religious leaders to the quick, and implacably. Nevertheless, the Lord did not withhold the infinite boon, though He knew too well their thoughts; He spoke the word of forgiveness, though He read their evil heart that counted it blasphemy. This utter, growing rejection of Jesus was coming out now rejection, at first allowed and whispered in the heart, soon to be pronounced in words like drawn swords.
"And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth." Jesus blessedly answered their thoughts, had there only been a conscience to hear the word of power and grace, which brings out His glory the more. "That ye may know," He says, "that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins," etc. He now takes His place of rejection; for Him it is manifest even now by their inmost thoughts of Him when revealed. "This man blasphemeth." Yet is He the Son of man who hath power on earth to forgive sins; and He uses His authority. "That ye may know it (then saith He to the sick of the palsy), Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thy house." The man's walk before them testifies to the reality of his forgiveness before God. It ought to be so with every forgiven soul. This as yet draws out wonder, at least from the witnessing multitudes, that God had given such power unto men. They glorified God.
On this the Lord proceeds to take a step farther, and makes a deeper inroad, if possible, upon Jewish prejudice. He is not here sought as by the leper, the centurion, the friends of the palsied man; He Himself calls Matthew, a publican just the one to write the gospel of the despised Jesus of Nazareth. What instrument so suitable? It was a scorned Messiah who, when rejected of His own people, Israel, turned to the Gentiles by the will of God: it was One who could look upon publicans and sinners anywhere. Thus Matthew, called at the very receipt of custom, follows Jesus, and makes a feast for Him. This furnishes occasion to the Pharisees to vent their unbelief: to them nothing is so offensive as grace, either in doctrine or in practice. The scribes, at the beginning of the chapter, could not hide from the Lord their bitter rejection of His glory as man on earth entitled, as His humiliation and cross would prove, to forgive. Here, too, these Pharisees question and reproach His grace, when they see the Lord sitting at ease in the presence of publicans and sinners, who came and sat down with Him in Matthew's house. They said to His disciples, "Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?" The Lord shows that such unbelief justly and necessarily excludes itself, but not others, from blessing. To heal was the work for which He was come. it was not for the whole the Physician was needed. How little they had learnt the divine lesson of grace, not ordinances! "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice." Jesus was there to call, not righteous men, but sinners.
Nor was the unbelief confined to these religionists of letter and form; for next (verse 14) the question comes from John's disciples: "Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?" Throughout it is the religious kind that are tested and found wanting. The Lord pleads the cause of the disciples. "Can the children of the bride-chamber mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?" Fasting, indeed, would follow when the Bridegroom was taken from them. Thus He points out the utter moral incongruity of fasting at that moment, and intimates that it was not merely the fact that He was going to be rejected, but that to conciliate His teaching and His will with the old thing was hopeless. What He was introducing could not mix with Judaism. Thus it was not merely that there was an evil heart of unbelief in the Jew particularly, but law and grace cannot be yoked together. "No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment; for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse." Nor was it only a difference in the forms the truth took; but the vital principle which Christ was diffusing could not be so maintained. "Neither do men put new wine into old bottles, else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish; but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved." The spirit, as well as the form, was alien.
But at the same time it is plain, although He bore the consciousness of the vast change He was introducing, and expressed it thus fully and early in the history, nothing turned away His heart from Israel. The very next scene, the case of Jairus, the ruler, shows it. "My daughter is even now dead, but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live." The details, found elsewhere, of her being at the point of death then, before reaching the house, the news that she was dead, are not here. Whatever the time may have been, whatever the incidents added by others, the account is given here for the purpose of showing, that as Israel's case was desperate, even unto death, so He, the Messiah, was the giver of life, when all, humanly speaking, was over. He was then present, a man despised, yet with title to forgive sins, proved by immediate power to heal. If those who trusted in themselves that they were wise and righteous would not have Him, He would call even a publican on the spot to be among the most honoured of His followers, and would not disdain to be their joy when they desired His honour in the exercise of His grace. Sorrow would come full soon when He, the Bridegroom of His people, should be taken away; and then should they fast.
Nevertheless, His ear was open to the call on behalf of Israel perishing, dying, dead. He had been preparing them for the new things, and the impossibility of making them coalesce with the old. But none the less do we find His affections engaged for the help of the helpless. He goes to raise the dead, and the woman with the issue of blood touches Him by the way. No matter what the great purpose might be, He was there for faith. Far different this was from the errand on which He was intent; but He was there for faith. It was His meat to do the will of God. He was there for the express purpose of glorifying God. Power and love were come for any one to draw on. If there were, so to speak, a justification of circumcision by faith, undoubtedly there was also the justification of uncircumcision through their faith. The question was not who or what came in the way; whoever appealed to Him, there He was for them. And He was Jesus, Emmanuel. When He reaches the house, minstrels were there, and people, making a noise: the expression, if of woe, certainly of impotent despair. They mock the calm utterance of Him who chooses things that are not; and the Lord turns out the unbelievers, and demonstrates the glorious truth that the maid was not dead, but living.
Nor is this all. He gives sight to the blind. "And when Jesus departed thence, two blind men followed Him, crying and saying, Thou Son of David, have mercy on us." It was necessary to complete the picture. Life had been imparted to, the sleeping maid of Zion the blind men call on Him as the Son of David, and not in vain. They confess their faith, and He touches their eyes. Thus, whatever the peculiarity of the new blessings, the old thing could be taken up, though upon new grounds, and, of course, on the confession that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. The two blind men called upon Him as the Son of David; a sample this of what will be in the end, when the heart of Israel turns to the Lord, and the veil is done away. "According to your faith be it done unto you."
It is not enough that Israel be awakened from the sleep of death, and see aright. There must be the mouth to praise the Lord, and speak of the glorious honour of His majesty, as well as eyes to wait on Him. So we have a farther scene. Israel must give full testimony in the bright day of His coming. Accordingly, here we have a witness of it, and a witness so much the sweeter, because the present total rejection that was filling the heart of the leaders surely testified to the Lord's heart of that which was at hand. But nothing turned aside the purpose of God, or the activity of His grace. "As they went out, behold, they brought to Him a dumb man possessed with a devil. And when the devil was come out, the dumb spake: and the multitudes marvelled, saying, It was never so seen in Israel." (SeeMatthew 9:32-33; Matthew 9:32-33.) The Pharisees were enraged at a power they could not deny, which rebuked themselves so much the more on account of its persistent grace; but Jesus passes by all blasphemy as yet, and goes on His way nothing hinders His course of love. He "went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people." The faithful and true witness, it was His to display that power in goodness which shall be put forth fully in the world to come, the great day when the Lord will manifest Himself to every eye as Son of David, and Son of man too.
At the close of this chapter 9, in His deep compassion He bids the disciples pray the Lord of the harvest to send forth labourers into His harvest. At the beginning of Matthew 10:1-42 He Himself sends forth themselves as labourers. He is the Lord of the harvest. It was a grave step this, and in view of His rejection now. In our gospel we have not seen the apostles called and ordained. Matthew gives no such details, but call and mission are together here. But, as I have stated, the choice and ordination of the twelve apostles had really taken place before the sermon on the mount, though not mentioned in Matthew, but in Mark and Luke. (Compare Mark 3:13-19, andMark 6:7-11; Mark 6:7-11; Luke 6:1-49; Luke 9:1-62) The mission of the apostles did not take place till afterwards. In Matthew we have no distinction of their call from their mission. But the mission is given here in strict accordance with what the gospel demands. It is a summons from the King to His people Israel. So thoroughly is it in view of Israel that our Lord does not say one word here about the Church, or the intervening condition of Christendom. He speaks of Israel then, and of Israel before He comes in glory, but He entirely omits any notice of the circumstances which were to come in by the way. He tells them that they should not have gone over (or finished) the cities of Israel till the Son of man be come. Not that His own rejection was not before His spirit, but here He looks not beyond that land and people; and, as far as the twelve were concerned, He sends them on a mission which goes on to the end of the an. Thus, the present dealings of God in grace, the actual shape taken by the kingdom of heaven, the calling of the Gentiles, the formation of the Church, are all passed completely over. We shall find something of these mysteries later on in this gospel; but here it is simply a Jewish testimony of Jehovah-Messiah in His unwearied love, through His twelve heralds, and in spite of rising unbelief, maintaining to the end what His grace had in view for Israel. He would send fit messengers, nor would the work be done till the rejected Messiah, the Son of man, came. The apostles were then sent thus, no doubt, forerunners of those whom the Lord will raise up for the latter day. Time would fail now to dwell on this chapter, interesting as it is. My object, of course, is to point out as clearly as possible the structure of the gospel, and to explain according to my measure why there are these strong differences between the gospels of Matthew and the rest, as compared with one another. The ignorance is wholly on our side: all they say or omit was owing to the far-reaching and gracious wisdom of Him who inspired them.
Matthew 11:1-30, exceedingly critical for Israel, and of surpassing beauty, as it is, must not be passed over without some few words. Here we find our Lord, after sending out the chosen witnesses of the truth (so momentous to Israel, above all) of His own Messiahship, realizing His utter rejection, yet rejoicing withal in God the Father's counsels of glory and grace, while the real secret in the chapter, as in fact, was His being not Messiah only, nor Son of man, but the Son of the Father, whose person none knows but Himself. But, from first to last, what a trial of spirit, and what triumph! Some consider that John the Baptist enquired solely for the sake of his disciples. But I see no sufficient reason to refuse the impression that John found it hard to reconcile his continued imprisonment with a present Messiah; nor do I discern a sound judgment of the case, or a profound knowledge of the heart, in those who thus raise doubts as to John's sincerity, any more than they appear to me to exalt the character of this honoured man of God, by supposing him to play a part which really belonged to others. What can be simpler than that John put the question through his disciples, because he (not they only) had a question in the mind? It probably was no more than a grave though passing difficulty, which he desired to have cleared up with all fulness for their sakes, as well as his own. In short, he had a question because he was a man. It is not for us surely to think this impossible. Have we, spite of superior privileges, such unwavering faith, that we can afford to treat the matter as incredible in John, and therefore only capable of solution in his staggering disciples? Let those who have so little experience of what man is, even in the regenerate, beware lest they impute to the Baptist such an acting of a part as shocks us, when Jerome imputed it to Peter and Paul in the censure of Galatians 2:1-21. The Lord, no doubt, knew the heart of His servant, and could feel for him in the effect that circumstances took upon him. When He uttered the words, "Blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me," it is to me evident that there was an allusion to the wavering let it be but for a moment of John's soul. The fact is, beloved brethren, there is but one Jesus; and whoever it may be, whether John the Baptist, or the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, after all it is divinely-given faith which alone sustains: else man has to learn painfully somewhat of himself; and what is he to be accounted of?
Our Lord then answers, with perfect dignity, as well as grace; He puts before the disciples of John the real state of the case; He furnishes them with plain, positive facts, that could leave nothing to be desired by John's mind when he weighed all as a testimony from God. This done, with a word for the conscience appended, He takes up and pleads the cause of John. It ought to have been John's place to have proclaimed the glory of Jesus; but all things in this world are the reverse of what they ought to be, and of what will be when Jesus takes the throne, coming in power and glory. But when the Lord was here, no matter what the unbelief of others, it was only an opportunity for the grace of Jesus to shine out. So it was here; and our Lord turns to eternal account, in His own goodness, the shortcoming of John the Baptist, the greatest of women-born. Far from lowering the position of His servant, He declares there was none greater among mortal men. The failure of this greatest of women-born only gives Him the just occasion to show the total change at hand, when it should not be a question of man, but of God, yea, of the kingdom of heaven, the least in which new state should be greater than John. And what makes this still more striking, is the certainty that the kingdom, bright as it is, is by no means the thing nearest to Jesus. The Church, which is His body and bride, has a far more intimate place, even though true of the same persons.
Next, He lays bare the capricious unbelief of man, only consistent in thwarting every thing and one that God employs for his good; then, His own entire rejection where He had most laboured. It was going on, then, to the bitter end, and surely not without such suffering and sorrow as holy, unselfish, obedient love alone can know. Wretched we, that we should need such proof of it; wretched, that we should be so slow of heart to answer to it, or even to feel its immensity!
"Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not: Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you . . . . . At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father." What feelings at such a time! Oh, for grace so to bow and bless God, even when our little travail seems in vain! At that time Jesus answered, "I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight." We seem completely borne away from the ordinary level of our gospel to the higher region of the disciple whom Jesus loved. We are, in fact, in the presence of that which John so loves to dwell on Jesus viewed not merely as Son of David or Abraham, or Seed of the woman, but as the Father's Son, the Son as the Father gave, sent, appreciated, and loved Him. So, when more is added, He says, "All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." This, of course, is not the moment to unfold it. I merely indicate by the way how the thorough increasing rejection of the Lord Jesus in His lower glory has but the effect of bringing out the revelation of His higher. So, I believe now, there is no attempt ever made on the Name of the Son of God, there is not a single shaft levelled at Him, but the Spirit turns to the holy, and true, and sweet task of asserting anew and more loudly His glory, which enlarges the expression of His grace to man. Only tradition will not do this work, nor will human thoughts or feelings.
In Matthew 12:1-50 we find not so much Jesus present and despised of men, as these men of Israel, the rejectors, in the presence of Jesus. Hence, the Lord Jesus is here disclosing throughout, that the doom of Israel was pronounced and impending. If it was His rejection, these scornful men were themselves rejected in the very act. The plucking of the corn, and the healing of the withered hand, had taken place long before. Mark gives them in the end of his second and the beginning of his third chapters. Why are they postponed here? Because Matthew's object is the display of the change of dispensation through, or consequent on, the rejection of Jesus by the Jews. Hence, he waits to present their rejection of the Messiah, as morally complete as possible in his statement of it, though necessarily not complete in outward accomplishment. Of course, the facts of the cross were necessary to give it an evident and literal fulfilment; but we have it first apparent in His life, and it is blessed to see it thus accomplished, as it were, in what passed with Himself; fully realized in His own spirit, and the results exposed before the external facts gave the fullest expression to Jewish unbelief. He was not taken by surprise; He knew it from the beginning Man's implacable hatred is brought about most manifestly in the ways and spirit of His rejectors. The Lord Jesus, even before He pronounced the sentence, for so it was, indicated what was at hand in these two instances of the Sabbath-day, though one may not now linger on them. The first is the defence of the disciples, grounded on analogies taken from that which had the sanction of God of old, as well as on His own glory now. Reject Him as the Messiah; in that rejection the moral glory of the Son of man would be laid as the foundation of His exaltation and manifestation another day; He was Lord of the Sabbath-day. In the next incident the force of the plea turns on God's goodness towards the wretchedness of man. It is not only the fact that God slighted matters of prescriptive ordinance because of the ruined state of Israel, who rejected His true anointed King, but there was this principle also, that certainly God was not going to bind Himself not to do good where abject need was. It might be well enough for a Pharisee; it might be worthy of a legal formalist, but it would never do for God; and the Lord Jesus was come here not to accommodate Himself to their thoughts, but, above all, to do God's will of holy love in an evil, wretched world. "Behold my servant, whom I have chosen, my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased." In truth, this was Emmanuel, God with us. If God was there, what else could He, would He do? Lowly, noiseless grace now it was to be, according to the prophet, till the hour strikes for victory in judgment. So He meekly retires, healing, yet forbidding it to be blazed abroad. But still, it was His carrying on the great process of shewing out more and more the total rejection of His rejectors. Hence, lower down in the chapter, after the demon was cast out of the blind and dumb man before the amazed people, the Pharisees, irritated by their question, Is not this the Son of David? essayed to destroy the testimony with their utmost and blasphemous contempt. "This [fellow]," etc.
The English translators have thus given the sense well; for the expression really conveys this slight, though the word "fellow" is printed in italics. The Greek word is constantly so used as an expression of contempt, "This [fellow] doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils." The Lord now lets them know their mad folly, and warns them that this blasphemy was about to culminate in a still deeper, deadlier form when the Holy Ghost should be spoken against as He had been. Men little weigh what their words will sound and prove in the day of judgment. He sets forth the sign of the prophet Jonah, the repentance of the men of Nineveh, the preaching of Jonah, and the earnest zeal of the queen of the South in Solomon's day, when an incomparably greater was there despised. But if He here does not go beyond a hint of that which the Gentiles were about to receive on the ruinous unbelief and judgment of the Jew, He does not keep back their own awful course and doom in the figure that follows. Their state had long been that of a man whom the unclean spirit had left, after a former dwelling in him. Outwardly it was a condition of comparative cleanness. Idols, abominations, no longer infected that dwelling as of old. Then says the unclean spirit, "I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation." Thus He sets forth both the past, the present, and the awful future of Israel, before the day of His own coming from heaven, when there will be not only the return of idolatry, solemn to say, but the full power of Satan associated with it, as we see in Daniel 11:36-39; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17; Revelation 13:11-15. It is clear that the unclean spirit, returning, brings idolatry back again. It is equally clear that the seven worse spirits mean the complete energy of the devil in the maintenance of Antichrist against the true Christ: and this, strange to say, along with idols. Thus the end is as the beginning, and even far, far worse. On this the Lord takes another step, when one said to Him, "Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee." A double action follows. "Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?" said the Lord; and then stretched forth His hand toward His disciples with the words, "Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother." Thus the old link with the flesh, with Israel, is now disowned; and the new relationships of faith, founded on doing the will of His Father (it is not a question of the law in any sort), are alone acknowledged. Hence the Lord would raise up a fresh testimony altogether, and do a new work suitable to it. This would not be a legal claim on man, but the scattering of good seed, life and fruit from God, and this in the unlimited field of the world, not in the land of Israel merely. In Matthew 13:1-58 we have the well-known sketch of these new ways of God. The kingdom of heaven assumes a form unknown to prophecy, and, in its successive mysteries, fills up the interval between the rejected Christ's going to heaven, and His returning again in glory.
Many words are not now required for that which is happily familiar to most here. Let me passingly notice a very few particulars. We have here not only our Lord's ministry in the first parable, but in the second parable that which He does by His servants. Then follows the rise of what was great in its littleness till it became little in its greatness in the earth; and the development and spread of doctrine, till the measured space assigned to it is brought under its assimilating influence. It is not here a question of life (as in the seed at first), but a system of christian doctrine; not life germinating and bearing fruit, but mere dogma natural mind which is exposed to it. Thus the great tree and the leavened mass are in fact the two sides of Christendom. Then inside the house we have not only the Lord explaining the parable, the history from first to last of the tares and wheat, the mingling of evil with the good which grace had sown, but more than that, we have the kingdom viewed according to divine thoughts and purposes. First of these comes the treasure hidden in the field, for which the man sells all he had, securing the field for the sake of the treasure. Next is the one pearl of great price, the unity and beauty of that which was so dear to the merchantman. Not merely were there many pieces of value, but one pearl of great price. Finally, we have all wound up, after the going forth of a testimony which was truly universal in its scope, by the judicial severance at the close, when it is not only the good put into vessels, but the bad dealt with by the due instruments of the power of God.
In Matthew 14:1-36 facts are narrated which manifest the great change of dispensation that the Lord, in setting forth the parables we have just noticed, had been preparing them for. The violent man, Herod, guilty of innocent blood, then reigned in the land, in contrast with whom goes Jesus into the wilderness, showing who and what He was the Shepherd of Israel, ready and able to care for the people. The disciples most inadequately perceive His glory; but the Lord acts according to His own mind. After this, dismissing the multitudes, He retires alone, to pray, on a mountain, as the disciples toil over the storm-tossed lake, the wind being contrary. It is a picture of what was about to take place when the Lord Jesus, quitting Israel and the earth, ascends on high, and all assumes another form not the reign upon earth, but intercession in heaven. But at the end, when His disciples are in the extremity of trouble, in the midst of the sea, the Lord walks on the sea toward them, and bids them not fear; for they were troubled and afraid. Peter asks a word from his Master, and leaves the ship to join Him on the water. There will be differences at the close. All will not be the wise that understand, nor those who instruct the mass in righteousness. But every Scripture that treats of that time proves what dread, what anxiety, what dark clouds will be ever and anon. So it was here. Peter goes forth, but losing sight of the Lord in the presence of the troubled waves, and yielding to his ordinary experience, he fears the strong wind, and is only saved by the outstretched hand of Jesus, who rebukes his doubt. Thereon, coming into the ship, the wind ceases, and the Lord exercises His gracious power in beneficent effects around. It was the little foreshadowing of what will be when the Lord has joined the remnant in the last days, and then fills with blessing the land that He touches.
In Matthew 15:1-39 we have another picture, and twofold. Jerusalem's proud, traditional hypocrisy is exposed, and grace fully blesses the tried Gentile. This finds its fitting place, not in Luke, but in Matthew, particularly as the details here (not in Mark, who only gives the general fact) cast great light upon God's dispensational ways. Accordingly, here we have, first, the Lord judging the wrong thoughts of "Scribes and Pharisees which were of Jerusalem." This gives an opportunity to teach what truly defiles not things that go into the man, but those things which, proceeding out of the mouth, come forth from the heart. To eat with unwashed hands defileth not a man. It is the death-blow to human tradition and ordinance in divine things, and in reality depends on the truth of the absolute ruin of man a truth which, as we see, the disciples were very slow to recognize. On the other side of the picture, behold the Lord leading on a soul to draw on divine grace in the most glorious manner. The woman of Canaan, out of the borders of Tyre and Sidon, appeals to Him; a Gentile of most ominous name and belongings a Gentile whose case was desperate; for she appeals on behalf of her daughter, grievously vexed with a devil. What could be said of her intelligence then? Had she not such confusion of thought that, if the Lord had heeded her words, it must have been destruction to her? "Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David!" she cried; but what had she to do with the Son of David? and what had the Son of David to do with a Canaanite? When He reigns as David's Son, there shall be no more the Canaanite in the house of the Lord of Hosts. Judgment will have early cut them off. But the Lord could not send her away without a blessing, and without a blessing reaching to His own glory. Instead of giving her at once a reply, He leads her on step by step; for so He can stoop. Such is His grace, such His wisdom. The woman at last meets the heart and mind of Jesus in the sense of all her utter nothingness before God; and then grace, which had wrought all up to this, though pent-up, can flow like a river; and the Lord can admire her faith, albeit from Himself, God's free gift.
In the end of this chapter (15) is another miracle of Christ's feeding a vast multitude. It does not seem exactly as a pictorial view of what the Lord was doing, or going to do, but rather the repeated pledge, that they were not to suppose that the evil He had judged in the elders of Jerusalem, or the grace freely going out to the Gentiles, in any way led Him. to forget His ancient people. What special mercy and tenderness, not only in the end, but also in the way the Lord deals with Israel!
In Matthew 16:1-28 we advance a great step, spite (yea, because) of unbelief, deep and manifest, now on every side. The Lord has nothing for them, or for Him, but to go right on to the end. He had brought out the kingdom before in view of that which betrayed to Him the unpardonable blasphemy of the Holy Ghost. The old people and work then closed in principle, and a new work of God in the kingdom of heaven was disclosed. Now He brings out not the kingdom merely, but His Church; and this not merely in view of hopeless unbelief in the mass, but of the confession of His own intrinsic glory as the Son of God by the chosen witness. No sooner had Peter pronounced to Jesus the truth of His person, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God," than Jesus holds the secret no longer. "Upon this rock," says He, "I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." He also gives Peter the keys of the kingdom, as we see afterwards. But first appears the new and great fact, that Christ was going to build a new building, His assembly, on the truth and confession of Himself, the Son of God. Doubtless, it was contingent upon the utter ruin of Israel through their unbelief; but the fall of the lesser thing opened the way for the gift of a better glory in answer to Peter's faith in the glory of His person. The Father and the Son have their appropriate part, even as we know from elsewhere the Spirit sent down from heaven in due time was to have His. Had Peter confessed who the Son of man really is? It was the Father's revelation of the Son; flesh and blood had not revealed it to Peter, but, "my Father, which is in heaven." Thereon the Lord also has His word to say, first reminding Peter of his new name suitably to what follows. He was going to build His Church "upon this rock" Himself, the Son of God. Henceforth, too, He forbids the disciples to proclaim Him as the Messiah. That was all over for the moment through Israel's blind sin; He was going to suffer, not yet reign, at Jerusalem. Then, alas! we have in Peter what man is, even after all this. He who had just confessed the glory of the Lord would not hear His Master speaking thus of His going to the cross (by which alone the Church, or even the kingdom, could be established), and sought to swerve Him from it. But the single eye of Jesus at once detects the snare of Satan into which natural thought led, or at least exposed, Peter to fall. And so, as savouring not divine but human things, he is bid to go behind (not from) the Lord as one ashamed of Him. He, on the contrary, insists not only that He was bound for the cross, but that its truth must be made good in any who will come after Him. The glory of Christ's person strengthens us, not only to understand His cross, but to take up ours.
In Matthew 17:1-27 another scene appears, promised in part to some standing there in Matthew 16:28, and connected, though as yet hiddenly, with the cross. It is the glory of Christ; not so much as Son of the living God, but as the exalted Son of man, who once suffered here below. Nevertheless, when there was the display of the glory of the kingdom, the Father's voice proclaimed Him as His own Son, and not merely as the man thus exalted. It was not more truly Christ's kingdom as man than He was God's own Son, His beloved Son, in whom He was well pleased, who was now to be heard, rather than Moses or Elias, who disappear, leaving Jesus alone with the chosen witnesses.
Then the pitiable condition of the disciples at the foot of the hill, where Satan reigned in fallen ruined man, is tested by the fact, that notwithstanding all the glory of Jesus, Son of God and Son of man, the disciples rendered it evident that they knew not how to bring His grace into action for others; yet was it precisely their place and proper function here below. The Lord, however, in the same chapter, shows that it was not a question alone of what was to be done, or to be suffered, or is to be by-and-by, but what He was, and is, and never can but be. This came out most blessedly through the disciples. Peter, the good confessor of chapter 16, cuts but a sorry figure in chapter 17; for when the demand was made upon him as to his Master's paying the tax, surely the Lord, he gave them to know, was much too good a Jew to omit it. But our Lord with dignity demands of Peter, "What thinkest thou, Simon?" He evinces, that at the very time when Peter forgot the vision and the Father's voice, virtually reducing Him to mere man, He was God manifest in the flesh. It is always thus. God proves what He is by the revelation of Jesus. "Of whom do the kings of the earth take custom? of their own children, or of strangers?" Peter answers, "Of strangers." "Then," said the Lord, "are the children free. Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money. that take and give unto them for me and thee." Is it not most sweet to see, that He who proves His divine glory at once associates us with Himself? Who but God could command not only the waves, but the fish of the sea? As to any one else, even the most liberal gift that ever was given of God to fallen man on earth, to the golden head of the Gentiles, exempted the deep and its untamed inhabitants. IfPsalms 8:1-9; Psalms 8:1-9 goes farther, surely that was for the Son of man, who for the suffering of death was exalted. Yes, it was His to rule and command the sea, even as the land and all that in them is. Neither did He need to wait for His exaltation as man; for He was ever God, and God's Son, who therefore, if one may so say, waits for nothing, for no day of glory. The manner, too, was in itself remarkable. A hook is cast into the sea, and the fish that takes it produces the required money for Peter as for his gracious Master and Lord. A fish was the last being for man to make his banker of; with God all things are possible, who knew how to blend admirably in the same act divine glory, unanswerably vindicated, with the lowliest grace in man. And thus He, whose glory was so forgotten by His disciples Jesus, Himself thinks of that very disciple, and says, "For me and thee."
The next chapter (Matthew 18:1-35) takes up the double thought of the kingdom and the Church, showing the requisite for entrance into the kingdom, and displaying or calling forth divine grace in the most lovely manner, and that in practice. The pattern is the Son of man saving the lost. It is not a question of bringing in law to govern the kingdom or guide the Church. The unparalleled grace of the Saviour must form and fashion the saints henceforth. In the end of the chapter is set forth parabolically the unlimited forgiveness that suits the kingdom; here, I cannot but think, looking onward in strict fulness to the future, but with distinct application to the moral need of the disciples then and always. In the kingdom so much the less sparing is the retribution of those who despise or abuse grace. All turns on that which was suitable to such a God, the giver of His own Son. We need not dwell upon it.
Matthew 19:1-30 brings in another lesson of great weight. Whatever might be the Church or the kingdom, it is precisely when the Lord unfolds His new glory in both the kingdom and the Church that He maintains the proprieties of nature in their rights and integrity. There is no greater mistake than to suppose, because there is the richest development of God's grace in new things, that He abandons or weakens natural relationships and authority in their place. This, I believe, is a great lesson, and too often forgotten. Observe that it is at this point the chapter begins with vindicating the sanctity of marriage. No doubt it is a tie of nature for this life only. None the less does the Lord uphold it, purged of what accretions had come in to obscure its original and proper character. Thus the fresh revelations of grace in no way detract from that which God had of old established in nature; but, contrariwise, only impart a new and greater force in asserting the real value and wisdom of God's way even in these least things. A similar principle applies to the little children, who are next introduced; and the same thing is true substantially of natural or moral character here below. Parents, and the disciples, like the Pharisees, were shown that grace, just because it is the expression of what God is to a ruined world, takes notice of what man in his own imaginary dignity might count altogether petty. With God, as nothing is impossible, so no one, small or great, is despised: all is seen and put in its just place; and grace, which rebukes creature pride, can afford to deal divinely with the smallest as with the greatest.
If there be a privilege more manifest than another which has dawned on us, it is what we have found by and in Jesus, that now we can say nothing is too great for us, nothing too little for God. There is room also for the most thorough self-abnegation. Grace forms the hearts of those that understand it, according to the great manifestation of what God is, and what man is, too, given us in the person of Christ. In the reception of the little children this is plain; it is not so generally seen in what follows. The rich young ruler was not converted: far from being so, he could not stand the test applied by Christ out of His own love, and, as we are told, "went away sorrowful." He was ignorant of himself, because ignorant of God, and imagined that it was only a question of man's doing good for God. In this he had laboured, as he said, from his youth up: "What lack I yet?" There was the consciousness of good unattained, a void for which he appeals to Jesus that it might be filled up. To lose all for heavenly treasure, to come and follow the despised Nazarene here below what was it to compare with that which had brought Jesus to earth? but it was far too much for the young man. It was the creature doing his best, yet proving that he loved the creature more than the Creator. Jesus, nevertheless, owned all that could be owned in him. After this, in the chapter we have the positive hindrance asserted of what man counts good. "Verily, I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven." This made it to be plainly and only a difficulty for God to solve. Then comes the boast of Peter, though for others as well as himself. The Lord, while thoroughly proving that He forgot nothing, owned everything that was of grace in Peter or the rest, while opening the same door to "every one" who forsakes nature for His name's sake, solemnly adds, "But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first." Thus the point that meets us in the conclusion of the chapter is, that while every character, every measure of giving up for His name's sake, will meet with the most worthy recompence and result, man can as little judge of this as he can accomplish salvation. Changes, to us inexplicable, occur: many first last, and last first.
The point in the beginning of the next chapter (Matthew 20:1-34) is not reward, but the right and title of God Himself to act according to His goodness. He is not going to lower Himself to a human measure. Not only shall the Judge of all the earth do right, but what will not He do who gives all good? "For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard . . . . . And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny." He maintains His sovereign title to do good, to do as He will with His own. The first of these lessons is, "Many first shall be last, and last first." (Matthew 19:30.) It is clearly the failure of nature, the reversal of what might be expected. The second is, "So the last shall be first, and the first last; for many are called, but few are chosen." It is the power of grace. God's delight is to pick out the hindmost for the first place, to the disparagement of the foremost in their own strength.
Lastly, we have the Lord rebuking the ambition not only of the sons of Zebedee, but in truth also of the ten; for why was there such warmth of indignation against the two brethren? why not sorrow and shame that they should have so little understood their Master's mind? How often the heart shows itself, not merely by what we ask, but by the uncalled-for feelings we display against other people and their faults! The fact is, in judging others we judge ourselves.
Here I close tonight. It brings me to the real crisis; that is, the final presentation of our lord to Jerusalem. I have endeavoured, though, of course, cursorily, and I feel most imperfectly, to give thus far Matthew's sketch of the Saviour as the Holy Ghost enabled him to execute it. In the next discourse we may hope to have the rest of his gospel.