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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
Matthew 12

 

 

Verses 1-6

Matthew 12:1-6

Behold Thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the Sabbath day.

1. It is no new thing to see men who are otherwise learned, and are in account for their holiness in the church, to be adversaries unto Christ, and His disciples.

2. Christ’s disciples readily shall be misconstrued, do what they please; their plucking ears of corn for their hunger doth not escape censure.

3. Hypocrites do urge ceremonies and external observations more than the greater things of the law.

4. When the mind of the Lawgiver and the intent of the commandment is not contravened, the precept is not broken, this is the ground of Christ’s defence.

5. Not reading nor considering the Scriptures, whereby the meaning of the law may be understood, is the cause of error in duties.

6. Whatsoever bodily work is necessary for providing of the service and worship of God upon the Sabbath is not a breaking of the Sabbath; for the priests did bodily work in the temple on the Sabbath day, and were blameless.

7. As the body is above the figure, or shadow, so is Christ greater than the temple. (David Dikson.)

The observance of the Sabbath

Christ came not to abolish the Sabbath, but to explain and enforce it, as He did the rest of the law. Its observance was nowhere positively enjoined by Him, because Christianity was to be practicable to all nations, and it goes to them stripped of its precise and various circumstances. “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day,” seems to be the soul of the Christian Sabbath. In this view of the day, a thousand frivolous questions concerning its observance would be answered. We are going to spend a Sabbath in eternity. The Christian will acquire as much of the Sabbath-spirit as he can. And, in proportion to a man’s real piety in every age of the Church, he will be found to Lave been a diligent observer of the Sabbath day. (Cecil’s Remanis.)

The Sabbath a day doing good

The performance of so many miracles on the Sabbath day seems to intimate its being the most “acceptable time” for our doing good to the souls and bodies of men, after the pattern of Christ’s example, as we have opportunity. And it is this perhaps, that may especially expose us to the unkind remarks of those who make the Lord’s day a day of mere Pharisaic formalities, or one of idle and selfish indulgence, by doing their own way, by finding their own pleasure, and by speaking their own words. (J. Ford.)

Rabbinical Sabbath scruples

The Rabbi Kolonimos was innocently accused of having murdered a boy. It appears that he knew the assassin, and to prevent himself being torn to pieces, he wrote the name of the culprit on a piece of paper, and laid it upon the lips of the corpse. By this means the rabbi saved his own life, and the real murderer was exposed. But, alas! Kolonimos had written that name on the Sabbath day, and he spent the rest of his life in penance. Not content with this long atonement for his sin, the rabbi gave orders that for one hundred years after his death, every one who passed by should fling a stone at his tomb, because every one who profaned the Sabbath ought to be stoned.


Verses 1-50

Verse 6

Matthew 12:6

That in this place Is One greater than the temple.

Christ greater than the Church

I. Look at the things essential in the structure of the church, and show what Christ is in relation to these. The things essential in the structure of the church are the plan, the foundation, and the materials.

1. Let us understand what Christ is in relation to the plan. The plan of the Christian Church is that of a temple. Everything we see suggests that God seeks manifestation. The temple was complete in Christ; the union of the Divine and human, the indwelling of the Divine Spirit, the manifestation of the Divine perfection, the operation of the Divine mercy-all were in Him. The life-plan of the Saviour developed by Christian life and fellowship.

2. The foundation. The foundation means the reason which both churches and souls give of the hope that is in them. The gospel of Christ is the foundation.

3. The materials of which it is composed. In respect of the house of God this is a great mystery; composed of divers elements. Christ fits every individual member into his appropriate place.

II. The purposes of the church, what christ is in relation to these.

1. Up-building, or culture.

2. Outbuilding, or conquest.

3. Worship, or adoration. Christ everything to the church in the process of culture. He liberates, elevates, and purifies. As to conquest the Church is Christ’s messenger. As to worship it is “ a holy priesthood.” (A. McLeod, D. D.)

Christ greater than the temple.

The Church is nothing without its head. Whatever it is, He has created it. Whatever it does, He is its life! It is righteous, but it is with His righteousness. It is royal, its royalty comes from Him. It is a priesthood, He conferred the priesthood. Its love, its power, its faith, its hope, everything it is, everything it expects to do, find their explanation and root in its relation to Him. (A. McLeod, D. D.)

One greater than the temple

I. Our Lord Jesus Christ is greater than the temple.

1. He is so manifestly because He is God. He who dwells in the house is greater than the house in which He dwells, so that as God Jesus is greater than the temple. The Divine must be greater than any human workmanship; the self-existent must excel the noblest created thing. The temple was many years in building, and came to an end. Christ is from everlasting to everlasting. Hence our Lord’s authority was greater than that of the temple.

2. He is greater than the temple, for He is a more glorious enshrinement of Deity. “In Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” The manifestation of the Godhead in Christ is approachable.

3. Our Lord is a fuller manifestation of the truth than the temple was. The temple was full of instruction; but all in type. Christ says, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.”

4. Because He is a more abiding evidence of Divine favour.

5. Because He is a more sure place of consolation.

6. Because He is a more glorious centre of worship.

II. Jesus ought to be regarded as greater than the temple,

1. We ought to think of Him with greater joy than even the Jews did of the greater and beautiful house.

2. We ought to consider Him with greater wonder than that with which men surveyed the temple.

3. He ought to be visited with greater frequency.

4. He ought to be reverenced with greater solemnity.

5. He ought to be honoured with higher service.

6. He ought to be sought with more vehement desire.

III. Practical reflections.

1. How carefully should the laws of Jesus Christ be observed.

2. How much more ought we to value Christ than any outward ordinance.

3. How much more important that you should go to Christ than that you should go to any place which you suppose to be the house of God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

I. The superiority of christ to the temple of Jerusalem. His superiority in those respects which distinguish that temple above all others.

1. It was built under the immediate and special direction of God.

2. It was furnished with everything that was requisite to the purpose of its erection as it regards both God and man.

3. It was adorned with a visible symbol of the Divine presence.

4. It was frequented by all the tribes of Israel as the place set apart for their religious worship.

II. Inferences.

1. His lordship over the conscience. Every human authority must yield to His.

2. His power to bestow all spiritual blessing-peace, strength, glory.


Verse 7

Matthew 12:7

I will have mercy, and not sacrifice.

Mercy, not sacrifice

When St. Spyridion was about eighty years old, it happened that a traveller came to visit him at one of those periods of the year when it was his custom to fast on alternate days. Seeing that the stranger was very tired, Spyridion told his daughter to wash his feet, and set meat before him. She replied, that as it was fast-time, there was neither bread nor meat ready. On which Spyridion, having prayed and asked forgiveness, desired her to cook some salt pork there chanced to be in the house. When it was prepared, he sat down at table with the stranger, partook of the meat, and told him to follow his example. But the stranger declined, saying he was a Christian, and ought not to eat meat during the great fast. Spyridion answered, “It is for that very reason you ought not to refuse to partake of the food; unto the pure all things are pure.”

The earthly subservient to the heavenly

Rabbi Tanchum was once asked if it were lawful to extinguish a candle on the Sabbath, when it inconvenienced a sick man. Said he, “A candle is an earthly light, man’s soul a heavenly light.” Is it not better to extinguish an earthly than a heavenly light? (Talmud.)

Obedience has not merely to do with the easy part of religion

They pick and choose out the easiest part in religion, and lay out all their zeal there, but let other things go: in some duties that are of easy digestion, and nourish their disease rather than cure their soul, none so zealous as they, none so partial as they. Now, a partial zeal for small things, with a plain neglect of the rest, is direct pharisaism; all for sacrifice, nothing for mercy. Therefore every one of us should take heed of halving and dividing with God: if we make conscience of piety, let us also make conscience of justice; if of justice, let us also make conscience of mercy. It is harder to renounce one sin wherein we delight, than a greater which we do not equally affect. A man is wedded to some special lusts, and is loth to hear of a divorce from them. We have our tender and sore places in the conscience, which we are loth should be touched. But if we be sincere with God we will keep ourselves from all, even from our own iniquity (Psalms 18:23). (T. Manton.)

Morals before rituals. (T. Manton. )


Verse 10

Matthew 12:10

And behold there was a man which had his hand withered.

The withered hand

I. The person to whom the command in our text is addressed.

1. TO a man who was hopelessly incapable of obeying. The hand had lost the moisture of life. Christ’s power is displayed on our inability.

2. To one who was perfectly willing.

II. The person who gave the command. “He said.”

III. The command itself. The stretching forth of the hand was-

1. An act of faith.

2. An act of decision. The Pharisees around him.

IV. This man’s obedience.

1. He did not do something else in preference to what Jesus commanded.

2. He did not raise any questions.

3. He was told to stretch out his hand, and he did so.

V. The result of this stretching out of the man’s hand in obedience to the command.

1. The healing was manifest.

2. It was immediate.

3. It was permanent. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The withered hand

I. A common calamity.

II. The man could do nothing.

III. He knew he could do nothing.

IV. He is a type of those whose usefulness is spoiled by some defect-the crotchety, ill-tempered, hasty, niggardly man.

V. The causes of this withered hand.

1. Disuse.

2. Multiplied anxieties and cares.

3. Contact with poisonous matters-questionable company or pleasures.

VI. The cure. The services of the synagogue not enough. The solemn ritual, the round of confession and sacrifice, of singing and the word, each of these was a help to the healing power, but nothing more-hands that pointed and lifted the sufferer nearer to the great Restorer. At last, before the man there stands the living Christ, as He stands before all who seek Him. Then swiftly comes the being made whole. That living Presence sought; that great Love appealed to; that mighty Power trusted; His word waited for, believed, obeyed. Thus may every withered hand be stretched forth perfectly whole. (Mark Guy Pearse.)

The use of means

It is one of the sophisms of every age Go urge the Spirit’s efficacy, as a plea for the neglect of means. It is folly and presumption to think that, because power is with God and from God, efforts should not be in ourselves. (Dr. Manton.)


Verse 12

Matthew 12:12

How much then is a man better than a sheep!

The dignity inherent in man’s nature

This is not a question, but an exclamation, and it is so punctuated in the Revised Version.
Exclamation rare with our Lord; He can say great things without becoming perturbed. “How much, then, is a man better than a sheep?”

1. Our reading of this exclamation is not appreciative till we realize that in it the Son of Man was not propounding a theory, but uncovering an experience. He is hinting here at what He knew. “He knew what was in man”-was conscious of Himself; we are not. I do not know what we should say if we could understand all that it means to be a man. Almost every one has times when he stands in awe of himself. Christ utters no word that cheapens man. He exhorts to humility, but humility is a symptom of dignity. Conceit one thing; sense of worth another.

2. Even sin, too, has about it something that in this matter is pleasantly suggestive. It is better to be a man that sins than a sheep that cannot. A man’s moral corruption is index of the native moral grandeur. It is important that men should be saved, because there is so much for them to be saved to as well as from.

3. There is in man, also, a certain power to transcend limitations that gives him just a flavour of infinitude. The spirit chafes under restraints; has a sense continually of something outside that it has not yet gotten to; makes for itself a larger and larger world; stretches itself back in memory, and forward in surmise.

4. It is rather in the line of this to say that we are persuaded how great a thing it is to be a man, by observing the ease with which man can receive a Divine revelation. Man and God will have to be understood as standing to one another within intelligent reach. It is not the fact that there can be a Divine revelation so much as what it contains that convinces us of the dignity inherent in our nature. The cross proves God’s esteem for the sinner. Man’s worth explains redemption; not redemption man’s worth. (C. H. Parkhurst.)

A sense of self-worth not conceit

The two take cognizance of different matters. My conceit occupies itself with what I have that is different from others; my sense of worth occupies itself with what I am in common with others. Conceit therefore separates men, while just sense of worth only draws them more closely together. Hence where there is the largest self-respect there will be always the largest and gentlest respect for other people. Once in a while we are a surprise to ourselves; are stirred at times by what we seem to get upon the track of when we take deep, quiet counsel with our own hearts. We appear to be upon the edge of something. Every soul has what it calls its grand moments. A sort of refraction appears for an instant to throw above our horizon lights that are not yet risen. (C. H. Parkhurst.)

Self-worth aids our realization of God

Men’s estimate of God will maintain a certain proportion with their estimate of themselves. Even shadows keep a certain ratio with the objects that cast them. Christianity gives us a deepening sense of human worth, and through that deepened sense of human worth we reach a higher sense of God’s worth, and theology is bound to expand along the brightening lines of the human self-consciousness; and the gospel and humanity play backward and forward upon one another, like the sun which brightens the eye so that it can see the sun; like the stars which wake up the eye so that it can find more of the stars. (C. H. Parkhurst.)

Capacity for evil indicative of worth

A man’s moral corruption is index of the native moral grandeur of the man; just as the wealth of weeds in a field, equally with the wealth of wheat in the same field, measures the potency and richness of the soil. The strength of the spring can be calculated as well by the distance which the pendulum swings to the left of the perpendicular, as by the distance of its swing to the right. There is the same degree of sinfulness in a sin as there is of personal worth in the man that commits it. Here, too, the shadow keeps a ratio with the object that casts it; and the blackness of the shadow will vary with the brightness of the sunshine that gets excluded. (C. H. Parkhurst.)

Man greater than matter

We are like the bird in the cage that is kept inside the bars, but lives in continuous communication with the air and light without, as though animated still with a sense of freedom that has been forgotten. The Shinarites built into the air. The giants piled Ossa on Pelion. Everything is to us small because there is a larger; everything partial because there is a whole. Assurance continually runs ahead of verification. Everything that gets in our way is felt by us almost as an impropriety and an indignity. In one way the earth is larger than we, in others it is a great deal smaller. It is compelled to loan itself to our service. Mind masters matter. We tame and harness the forces of nature and put them to our work. The sea that separates the continents is made over into a highway to connect them. ‘We play off the energies of nature upon each other, and set the mountain torrent to boring a roadway through the very mountain it flows off from. “We rub out distance and talk through the air to Chicago, and tie our letters to the lightning and post them under the sea to London, Constantinople, and Calcutta. Pent in the body we are, and yet domiciled in all the earth; a sort of adumbration of omnipresence. In the same way thought gets into the sky, slips around upon the ocean of space from star to star as easily as a birch canoe among the islands of any mundane archipelago; finds out what has been transpiring in the heavens for a million years; fixes latitudes and longitudes of suns a thousand years away as the light flies; learns their secrets, weighs them, measures them, exacts from them their biography and their kinships; reads in the star-beams the story of stellar composition; finds the unity that pervades the whole; translates the phenomena of the heavens into terms of terrestrial event; gets at the language in which all the worlds unconsciously think, the lines along which they instinctively act. It is grander to think a world than to be a world. To be able to conceive of a universe is fraught with richer sublimity than to be a universe. We rejoice in the great created world. It pleased God when He had made it, and it pleases us because our tastes are like His. We can discover the laws which work in it. A natural law is a Divine thought. In detecting and threading those laws then we are following where God’s mind has gone on before. Mind can construe only what mind constructs, and only when the mind that construes matches the mind that constructs. In this way nature is a mirror that shows both God’s face and our own; and scientific truth is only religious truth secularly conceived. (C. H. Parkhurst.)

The dignity of man as compared with the animal

I. Man is better than the animal.

1. In origin.

2. In endowments.

3. In destiny.

II. Practical lessons.

1. He ought to live better than an animal.

2. He is better worth saving. (American Homiletic Review.)

Better than a sheep

I. That a sheep is worth something, and is very useful.

II. How much are you better than a sheep?

1. You can use God’s Word. Every child can read the Bible.

2. You are better than a sheep, because you are to be praised or blamed for what you do.

3. Because you can grow better than you are now.

III. Because we are so much better than sheep Jesus Christ came to seek and save us,

IV. Because we are better, than sheep God and his angels are glad over every one that repents of sin. (W. Harris.)


Verse 14

Matthew 12:14

The men of Nineveh shall rise in Judgment.

The greater than Jonas

I. To show that sufficient cause in the different circumstances of the two, why the repentant ninevites should be witnesses against the impenitent Jews. Now what account are we to give of this repentance of the Ninevites? At first sight it seems strange that so vast a result should have been wrought by the preaching of a solitary and unknown individual. Jonah had no miraculous credentials to give; but he had himself been the subject of miracle. God might be said to have raised him from the dead. The evidence was that of a resurrection; this is sufficient to produce conviction.

1. We may declare that far more evidence was afforded to the Jews of the resurrection of Christ, than to the Ninevites of the resurrection of Jonah. They had the same sign with greater clearness. The preaching of the resurrection by the apostles exceeded immeasurably any evidence granted to the Ninevites of the entombment of Jonah.

2. Then think of what a contrast there was between Jonah, void of all power of proving his commission by miracles, and our Redeemer displaying in the streets of Jerusalem and on the coasts of Judea, authority over diseases and death. If a mere report of the miracle concerning Jonah overcame the Ninevites, what can be urged in defence of the Jews, who gave no heed to their Teacher though they beheld Him with their own eyes exercising miraculous powers?

3. How different were the messages which the two prophets delivered. Jonah brought nothing but tribulation; Christ merciful promises.

4. Jonah could not have shown any sympathy with those whose destruction he was commissioned to predict, for he was displeased that his prediction was not accomplished. But how different the deportment of Christ. He had to predict the desolation of a mighty capital; but He did it with burning tears. If the Ninevites gave heed to the prophet of wrath, how much more should the Jews to a messenger who would rejoice if repentance should turn away their woe.

II. The practical lesson’s which the reference to the last judgment may have been intended to furnish. One man is, or one set of men are, summoned to give evidence against another at the judgment seat. The young man who died in his prime, the victim of his passions, will be tried as the sensualist. Who will give evidence? A father’s voice will testify, “I warned him.” The child will witness against the negligent parent. The faithful pastor will witness against the nominal Christian. The man of toil and poverty, who did good, will witness against the wealthy worldling. The heathen may witness against us. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

The sign of the prophet Jonah

1. Man shunning God’s presence.

2. God’s awful wrath in consequence of man’s departure from Him.

3. The vain attempts made by man to propitiate an offended God.

4. The Divine method of propitiation by the death of Jesus Christ.

5. The triumph of Christ over death and hell. (E. M. Goulburn, B. C. L.)

Jerusalem condemned by Nineveh

Three particulars in which the Jews were favoured above the Ninevites.

I. Their former advantages were greater. The Ninevites were idolaters; had no sacred history to rouse them to reflection; no law-giver like Moses; no judges like Samuel; no kings like David; no teachers like the prophets; no precious promises to inspire them with hope.

II. The messenger sent to them was more encouraging. Nineveh was only threatened with destruction. The Jews were urged to reform.

III. The preacher who now addressed them was more worthy of regard. Jonah was a man; had no compassion on Nineveh; wrought no miracle; had no power to forgive; suffered slightly; his example unworthy of imitation. Our privileges are greater than the Jews. “To whom much is given, of him much will be required.” (F. J. A.)

Nineveh and her testimony

I. Nineveh and its sin.

II. Nineveh and its repentance.

III. Nineveh and its testimony.

1. A past testimony. It speaks to us, and says, Repent.

2. A future testimony. Its inhabitants shall rise against us in the day of judgment. (H. Bonar, D. D.)

Privilege and responsibility

I. There are different degrees of advantage, involving different amounts of responsibility.

II. Reluctant witness-bearing will be heard in the judgment of those the less advantaged in condemnation of the greater. (W. M. Punshon, LL. D.)

Jonah a type of Christ

I. The striking signification of his name. Jonah signifies dove-a striking emblem of the meek and gentle Jesus.

II. As a proclaimer of God’s will to men.

III. In his sufferings and deliverance. Jonah, after all, very imperfectly typified Christ. (Dr. Burns.)


Verses 14-21

Matthew 12:14-21

That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet:

Isaiah’s description of Christ

I.
When our Lord knew that the Pharisees were plotting His destruction, it is saw that he withdrew himself: from that place. He did not avenge their malice. He allowed it space to dissipate. Give no place to anger, He continued His works of mercy when He withdrew from the Pharisees … Great multitudes followed Him,” de. By His practical benevolence He would refute their falsehood, not to be overcome of evil, but to overcome evil with good. Our Lord did net wish His fame spread abroad. An absence of ambition. We should be satisfied with approval of God.

II. The conduct of our Lord on this occasion was a fulfilment of a prediction by Isaiah.

1. He is termed the “servant “ of Jehovah.

2. He was chosen for His work.

3. Beloved by the Father.

4. He will put His Spirit upon Him.

5. He shall not strive.

6. In His name shall the Gentiles trust. (B. W. Noel. M. A.)

I. The personal characteristics of this “Servant of God.”

II. His mission.

III. The manner in which he would accomplish it.

IV. The guarantee that in this mission he would succeed. (M. N.)

I. The person here referred to.

II. The description here given of him.

III. The commission here given him. Lessons:

1. If Christ needed the Spirit of the Lord upon Him, how much more do we?

2. If Christ does not manifest ostentation, why should we:’

3. If Christ, who is all purity, could be gentle with the erring, why should not we? (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

I. His Divine appointment.

II. His special endowment.

III. His expansive work. (J. Rawlinson.)

I. The love of the father. The mission of the Son had its origin in the Father’s pitying love for us (1 John 4:9-10; John 3:16).

II. The condescension of the Son. Became a servant.

III. The co-operation of the holy spirit.

1. It was by the Holy Spirit that the Son was qualified for the accomplishment of the work He had undertaken (John 1:16; John 3:34)

2. It is by the Holy Spirit that the work of Christ is now carried on in the hearts of men (John 16:7-8). (C. Kemble.)

I. The progress of Christianity shall continue until the principles of Christ’s kingdom pervade the entire globe.

II. There is a modern tendency to speak of the failure of Christianity.

III. In what direction do indications around us point? It is thought that Christianity attempts too much. It is thought that the agency is wholly inadequate to accomplish the work proposed.

IV. The sure future of Christianity. (Bishop Simpson.)

Physical forces gentle

The forces of physical nature around us might serve to teach us that those things are not always the most precious that make the most noise. The common air and dew, the rain of heaven the light that falls upon us day by day-influences like these work silently and without any ostentation, and yet no one will doubt that they are far more precious to us than the noisy forces of nature, the earthquake, or the hurricane, or the wild tornado. What comparison, for instance, can you draw between the lightning and the light? The lightning may-attract our attention more, demanding as it does that attention in imperious thunder tones, and yet who will venture to say that there is any comparison between the daily sunlight so beautiful to the eye, so essential to vegetation, so necessary to all the beautiful variety of colour in the world, and that noisy and occasional flash, which may indeed purify the atmosphere for a moment, but which can do but little more, unless it is sent on some errand of destruction. And even in respect to power, what comparison can be drawn between the earthquake, the most powerful perhaps of the ostentatious forces of nature-the earthquake which can rend a continent, or swallow up a whole city-. what comparison can be drawn between that and the great silent law of gravitation that law which guides the flight of every bird, and the fall of every pebble, that law which leads the sea in its ebb and flow, which holds this world and all the mighty orbs of the firmament in the hollow of its silent but mighty hand? (F. Greeves.)

Social-forces gentle

And so it is in social life: we think a great deal of the matters that astonish and dazzle us; of the outbreak of passionate feeling in a noble cause, of the hearts that inflame the multitude, of the deed of superhuman daring that makes a man the hero of an hour, of some noble work in rescuing life from flood or fire-these things occupy our thoughts, and we drink very little of the thousand names, and deeds, and looks of kindness, by which God is honoured, and humanity is blessed, and the world is made liker heaven. And yet who wilt venture to say that the aggregate of the world’s happiness is as much promoted by that public deed, however noble and illustrious, as by the silent stay-at-home virtues of multitudes of persons whose names will never be known until the great day shall declare them? (F. Greeves.)


Verse 20

Matthew 12:20

A bruised reed shall He not break.

The tenderness of Christ

1. The originality of Christ. It is easy to smile on the strong and prosperous: Christ’s smiles were for the weak.

2. The love of Christ is the root of His tenderness, This brought Him from the land of glory; He came to save man.

3. How practical Christ’s teaching.

4. But in dealing with bruised reed and dim wick, tenderness must be wise not to break the reed and quench the wick. No unwise precipitancy.

5. His work is not merely negative. He will do more than not break; He will strengthen. His work is perfect. (C. T. Coster.)

Compassion of Christ to weak believers

I. Some characteristics of weak believers.

1. The metaphor of a “ bruised reed” conveys the idea of

2. The metaphor of “smoking flax “ conveys the idea of grace, true and sincere, but languishing and just expiring.

Describe the reality of religion in a low degree.

1. The Christian feels an uneasiness, emptiness, anxiety within.

2. He is very jealous of the sincerity of his religion.

3. He retains direction and tendency toward Christ. Even the smoking flax sends up some exhalations of love towards heaven.

II. The care and compassion of Jesus Christ for weak believers.

1. The declarations and assurances of Jesus.

2. His people in every age have found these promises good. Hear David, “This poor man cried,” etc.

3. Go to the cross and there learn this love and compassion. (President Davies.)

The Redeemer’s gentleness

Consider this narrative:-

I. As an exhibition of the personal character and disposition of Jesus.

1. He did not abandon His work in disgust.

2. He did not flag in it, but still healed all that came to Him.

3. He did not rail at His enemies, defy or denounce them to the people.

4. He quietly retired before the storm.

5. He avoided giving further offence.

II. View it in relation to his work and kingdom (Isaiah 42:1).

III. See the disposition of Jesus towards us individually.

1. Are we persecutors, He lets His meekness conquer hostility.

2. Are we weak in faith, He helps to victory.

3. Are we in affliction, He acts a kind part.

Learn:

1. To love and trust Him.

2. To imitate His spirit and conduct in times of persecution. (Congregational Pulpit.)

Bruised reed and smoking flax

Christ has nothing in common with demagogues, or world conquerors. The characteristics of His operations:-

I. Quietness. Rivulets noisy; deep, full rivers, still. Stillness the condition of growth.

II. Tenderness. Tenderness does not imply lack of force. Delicacy of touch in strong-natured men. Tenderness is not to be associated with moral indifference. In Him, associated with intense antagonism to moral evil.

III. Victorious on-going. No pause in the progress.

IV. So christ is the great creator of hope in the hearts of sin-cursed men-“In His name shall the Gentiles trust,” etc. (Preacher’s Monthly.)

Sweet comfort for feeble saints

I. A view of mortal frailty.

1. The encouragement in our text applies to weak ones.

2. To worthless things. A student cannot read bye smoking flax.

3. To offensive things.

4. These may yet be of some service.

II. The divine compassion.

III. There is certain victory-“Till He send forth judgment unto victory.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The tenderness of God

I. The tenderness of God as shown at certain periods and seasons of our lives.

II. If the bruised reed may represent our broken hopes, it may also represent our broken resolutions.

III. That Christ does not and will not apply the least force or violence to propagate his law or religion. God understands the structure of our minds and never offers violence to their free exercise. (W. M. H. Murray.)

Weakness prevalent

Have you ever thought how many weak things there are in the world? Look at the natural kingdom. How few are the oaks, and how many are the rushes! There is a rose, with a stem so fragile as to almost break under the burden of its own blushing and fragrant bloom. Yet God is God of the reed and the rose. (W. M. H. Murray.)

Tenderness better than terror

Why, you might as well try to frighten a flower into lifting its face toward the sun as to frighten a soul into lifting itself toward God! The attraction of light and love from above, and not the propulsion of fear from beneath, is what accomplishes the beautiful result. There is no need of any such rude and tyrannous force, such violent benevolence. (W. M. H. Murray.)

Tenderness toward the irresolute

Because you have broken one resolution, never imagine that He will not assist you to keep another, made with greater wisdom, and a more determined purpose. The temples of God, so far as we represent them, are all constructed out of ruins. He builds from the fragments of an ancient overthrow. Be persuaded of this, that nothing good in you ever escapes the notice of God. He is not, as some seem to picture Him, a heartless overseer, standing over you whip in hand, and watching for a chance to get in a blow. His observation is like a gardener’s. There is not a bud of promise that can open in your soul, there is not an odour that can be added to the fragrance of your lives, that He does not detect it and rejoice in it. Whatever beautifies you glorifies Him. He delights in your development, and smiles on your every effort in that direction. (W. M. H. Murray.)

Tenderness toward the outcast

I met a man the other day who had lived like the prodigal; wasted the substance of body and brain in riotous living. A magnificent wreck he was. A man who stood as I have seen a tree stand after a fire had swept through the forest-blasted and charred to the very core, all the life and vigour burnt out of it;yet keeping its magnificent girth and symmetry of proportion, even to the topmost bough. So that man stood. I took him kindly by the hand, and said, “Friend, there is hope in your future yet.” He drew himself slowly up until he stood at hie straightest, looked me steadily in the eye, and said, “Do you mean to say, Mr. Murray, that if I went to-night to God, He would pardon such a wretch as I?” See how he misunderstood God! See how we all misunderstand Him! Pardon! Is there any one He will not pardon? Is there a noisome marsh or stagnant pool on the face of the whole earth so dark, so reeking with rottenness and mire, that the sun scorns to shine on it? And is there a man so low, so heavy with corruption, so coarse and brutal, that God’s love does not seek him out? How is the world to be redeemed if you put a limit to God’s love? How is the great mass of humanity to be washed and lifted, if the thoughts of God are like our thoughts, and His ways like our ways? It is because He does not love as we do, because He does not feel as we do, because He does not act as we do, that I have any hope for my race-that I have any hope for myself. (W. M. H. Murray.)

Encouragement for new converts

I. The new convert typified by the bruised reed. A reed one of the frailest things in nature, a fit image of a person whose mind is newly turned to a knowledge of Divine truth; a bruised reed, they go in sorrow. God gentle to such.

II. The smoking flax shall he not quench. Before, it was portrayed by brokenness of heart; here, by weakness of faith. Of all things in the world flax is the most combustible. The smallest spark will kindle it into a blaze. The faith little, but real. The flax was smoking. A painted fire would have occasioned no smoke; however small therefore the fire, it was certainly a real fire. (H. Blunt.)

The gentleness of Christ

I. Examples of Christ’s gentleness recorded in Scripture.

1. In His dealing with His disciples (Luke 9:55; John 14:9; Mark 9:33-34; John 20:27; John 21:15-17).

2. And so in like manner to all the people (Matthew 11:28-30; Luke 7:36-48; John 8:3-11).

II. Some great truths taught us by Christ’s gentleness.

1. It implies that when there is so much as a spark of life in the conscience, there is possibility of entire conversion to God.

2. The only sure way of fostering the beginnings of repentance is to receive them with gentleness and compassion. How great a consolation there is in this Divine tenderness of Christ. (H. E. Manning.)

God’s care specific

I. Our entire dependence upon God. We are not trees able to resist, but reeds.

II. The text seems to imply that God sometimes bruises us. Life is a discipline. (G. H. Hepworth, D. D.)

God’s method with the weak and weary

I. The special treatment, negatively stated.

1. Considerate, not arbitrary.

2. Sparing.

3. Merciful.

4. Conciliating-He does not reject and despise.

II. The works in the ministry of Christ that fulfils the promise,

1. The redemptive works.

2. Co-operative works.

An improving discipline

As the flax is broken in the hackle spun by hard, patient labour into thread, woven with care and skill into the woof, and by exposure to light and darkness, dew and sunshine, heat and cold, is bleached and fulled into shining linen, so shall the glorious appearance of the redeemed come out of the great tribulation of life, and from the fulling in the blood of the Lamb. (W. E. M. Linfield, D. D.)

An emblem of the useless

A reed is, at the best, but a very ignoble growth in the vegetable world; it has no flowers for the hand of taste; it has no fruits for the lap of toil; it has no timber for architecture; it can form no weapon for war; it may render a very poor and uncertain support if you cut it into a slender staff, or it may perhaps solace a weary hour with very questionable music if you shape it into a shepherd’s pipe; but at the best a reed is one of the least precious things in the vegetable kingdom. (F. Greeves.)

Weak grace may be victorious

I. The object.

1. A bruised reed-such as are convinced of their own weakness, vanity, and emptiness.

2. The smoking flax of the wick of a candle, wherein there is not only no profit, but some trouble and noisomeness.

II. The act-“He shall not break … not quench.”

III. The continuance of IT-“Till He send forth judgment unto victory.” Doctrine. True; though weak, grace shall be preserved, and in the end prove victorious.

1. The love of God is engaged in its preservation.

2. The power of God.

3. The holiness of God.

4. The wisdom of God.

5. The glory of God.

Further, Christ is engaged in this work, as

(a) donation from His Father;

(b) conquest of every gracious person;

(c) mutual consent and agreement;

(d) appointment to take care of every believer.

Christ’s charge was

(a) to redeem them;

(b) to be their governor;

(c) to receive them;

(d) to perfect them. (S. Charnock.)

Bruised reed

Jerome takes it for a musical instrument made of a reed which shepherds used to have, which, when bruised, is flung away by the musician, as disdaining to spend his breath upon such a vile instrument that emits no pleasant sound. (S. Charnock.)

Smoking flax

Though He walk in the way where bruised reeds lie, He will step over them, and not break them more; He will not tread upon a little smoking flax that lies languishing upon the ground, and so put it out with His foot, though it hurts the eyes with its smoke, and offends the nostrils with its stench. (Maldonatus.)

Security in abundant grace

The sun is not able to dry up a drop of sea-water that lies in the midst of the sand, which the sea every minute rolls upon and preserves; neither can the flesh the least grace, while the fulness of Christ flows out upon it to supply it. (S. Charnock.)

Special care of the weak ones

As the sickly, faint child, hardly able to go, and not the strong one, is the object of the father’s pity, the weaker thy faith, which lies mixed with a world of strong corruptions, the more will Christ be affected with thy case, and pity that grace of His own which suffers under them. (S. Charnock.)

Safety in being like Christ

Well, then, will Christ suffer one to perish who hath the same nature, spirit, and mind which He Himself hath? Will He endure that His own picture, limned by the art of His Spirit, with the colours of His own blood, in so near a resemblance to Him, that He hath not His image again in anything in the world besides it; and this drawn for His own glory, that He might be a head among many brethren; will He suffer so excellent a piece as this to be torn in pieces, in contempt of Him, either by flesh or devils? (S. Charnock.)

Grace never blown quite out

Grace can never be so blown out, but there will be some smoke, some spark, whereby it may be rekindled. The smoking snuff of Peter’s grace was lighted again by a sudden look of his Master. (S. Charnock.)

Surprise at safety of Divine life in souls

To see a rich jewel in a child’s hand, with a troop of thieves about him snatching at it, and yet not able to plunder, would raise an astonishment both in the actors and spectators, and make them conclude an invisible strength that protects the child, and defeats the invaders. (S. Charnock.)

Weak grace, weak glory

Though weak grace will carry a man to heaven, it will be just as a small and weak vessel surprised by a shattering storm, which, though it may get to the shore, yet with excessive hardships anti fears; such will sail through a stormy sea, and have a daily contest with stormy doubts, ready to overset their hopes; whereas a stout ship, well rigged, will play with the waves in the midst of a tempest, and at last pass through all difficulties, without many fears, into its haven. (S. Charnock.)

Weak Christians

Weak Christians are like glasses which are hurt with the least violent usage, otherwise, if gently handled, will continue a long time. (Sibbes.)

Good in seeming evils

Some things, though bad in themselves, yet discover some good, as smoke discovers some fire. Breaking out in the body shows strength of nature. Some infirmities discover more good than some seeming beautiful actions. Better it is that the water should run something muddily than not at all. Job had more grace in his distempers than his friends in their seeming wise carriage. (Sibbes.)


Verse 22

Matthew 12:22; Matthew 12:29

One possessed with a devil, blind and dumb.

I. What kind of power satan still exercises generally over mankind.

II. All who apply to, Jesus shall surely obtain deliverance.

III. On this deliverance an experience of Christ’s mercy will excite our admiration and confirm our faith. (W. P. Wait, M. A.)

I. A miracle of singular power and mercy.

II. The effect produced by this miracle on the minds of the people-“They were amazed,” etc.

III. The impious calumnies of the enemies of Christ. This charge displayed their malignity. There are two principles involved in our Lord’s reply.

1. That the power of Christ is greater than that of all the powers of darkness.

2. That the manifestation of His superior power establishes His claims as the Author of the new dispensation-“Then the kingdom of God is come unto you.”

IV. To awake salutary self-inspection the redeemer uttered the solemn admonition respecting the danger of neutrality and indecision in reference to his claims.

1. The danger of an undecided state.

2. Adore the gracious power of Christ.

3. Rejoice in the service and cause of Christ.

4. Dread the thought of being found amongst the enemies of Christ. (J. Fletcher.)

Christ and the Pharisees

I. The good man’s relation to the world of want.

1. The good man is approachable.

2. He is sympathetic.

3. He is unostentatious.

II. The devil’s relation to good men. How did these Devil’s men use Christ?

1. They resorted to personal abuse-“This fellow.”

2. They ignored the value of the greatest blessings.

3. They insulted the plainest common-sense.

4. They attempted to trace good results to a bad cause.

5. They falsified the deepest and truest instincts of human nature. (J. Parker.)


Verse 29

Matthew 12:22; Matthew 12:29

One possessed with a devil, blind and dumb.

I. What kind of power satan still exercises generally over mankind.

II. All who apply to, Jesus shall surely obtain deliverance.

III. On this deliverance an experience of Christ’s mercy will excite our admiration and confirm our faith. (W. P. Wait, M. A.)

I. A miracle of singular power and mercy.

II. The effect produced by this miracle on the minds of the people-“They were amazed,” etc.

III. The impious calumnies of the enemies of Christ. This charge displayed their malignity. There are two principles involved in our Lord’s reply.

1. That the power of Christ is greater than that of all the powers of darkness.

2. That the manifestation of His superior power establishes His claims as the Author of the new dispensation-“Then the kingdom of God is come unto you.”

IV. To awake salutary self-inspection the redeemer uttered the solemn admonition respecting the danger of neutrality and indecision in reference to his claims.

1. The danger of an undecided state.

2. Adore the gracious power of Christ.

3. Rejoice in the service and cause of Christ.

4. Dread the thought of being found amongst the enemies of Christ. (J. Fletcher.)

Christ and the Pharisees

I. The good man’s relation to the world of want.

1. The good man is approachable.

2. He is sympathetic.

3. He is unostentatious.

II. The devil’s relation to good men. How did these Devil’s men use Christ?

1. They resorted to personal abuse-“This fellow.”

2. They ignored the value of the greatest blessings.

3. They insulted the plainest common-sense.

4. They attempted to trace good results to a bad cause.

5. They falsified the deepest and truest instincts of human nature. (J. Parker.)


Verse 30

Matthew 12:30

He that is not with Me is against Me.

Neutrality in religion impossible

I. The character described.

1. Let us direct our attention to the openly profane.

2. There are others not habitually profane.

3. The honest and well-disposed.

4. The outwardly religious.

II. The light in which they are regarded by Christ. All who are not with Christ are against Him, and will be chargeable-

1. How inevitable is the destruction of the Saviour’s enemies.

2. How awfully severe will be their destruction. (Steer.)

The necessity of gathering with Christ

I. Describe the man who is with Christ. Union and companionship.

II. The proof of an interest in Christ, as afforded by our gathering with him. (T. Dale, M. A.)

With Christ, or against? Gathering, or Scattering?

The principle illustrated is the impossibility of a state of neutrality in the service of Christ: illustrations are fetched first from the battlefield-“He that is not with Me,” etc. And, secondly, from the harvest-field-“He that gathereth not,” etc. The immediate occasion of the text was the blasphemous imputation of the Pharisees, that Jesus cast out devils by Beelzebub. In reply our Lord appeals to reason” Every kingdom divided against itself,” etc. He also appeals to the acknowledged duct. Thus He must be the stronger.

I. Make a personal application of the subject. In the battlefield of life, whose side have you chosen? In the great harvest-field of the world, whose interests are you serving?

1. The battlefield is the world. We are soldiers. Are we fighting? Are we clad in armour?

2. The harvest-field. Are you gathering or wasting?

II. Make a national application of the subject. Has England gathered with Christ, or scattered? (C. R. Alford, M. A.)

I. That those who are not with Christ in discipleship and in the profession of faith are against christ, as the disciples of another master, and in the disobedience of unbelief.

II. Those who are not with Christ in the purpose and design of his death, are against christ in defeating the purpose of his death

We are against Christ by defeating the purpose of His death.

III. Those who are not with Christ in the affections of the heart, are against him in its enmities and in its indifference. To love Christ is an essential of Christianity; we may be against Christ by enmity or indifference.

IV. Those who are not with Christ in gathering, are against him in scattering abroad. Neutrality here is opposition. (J. Dixon.)

No neutrality in religion

In those days when there was war in heaven, and Satan and his angels rebelled against the Almighty, one circle of angels alone, it is said, remained neutral. They would not join the arch-rebel, neither would they range themselves among the hosts of their Almighty Sovereign. At the final discomfiture of the rebellious angels, that circle which had not joined in their rebellion could not justly be associated with them in their punishment; nor, on the other hand, did it deserve the blessedness of heaven. Those angels, therefore, were consigned to the earth, and bound irrevocably to its fortunes. These are the fairies. They enjoy all the pleasures and all the happiness which their new habitation can afford; but it is on a lease, as it were, and every seven years their lease expires. It is renewable as long as the earth lasts, and they are always reinstated in their privileges on paying to Satan a quit rent of one of their number. Now this is an allegory. Whenever we have been neglectful of our duty, whenever we have refused to fight the battles of Him whose soldiers we have vowed ourselves, we may be forgiven, indeed, and reinstated in our former privileges; but it is always at the expense of some sacrifice to the principle of evil, whose power we should have resisted from the first, but did not. (Newland.)

No neutrality in religion

I. Who are allied with Christ?

1. They who are delivered from the power of Satan.

2. They who are in co-operation with Christ.

II. All not thus with Christ are of necessity against him.

1. That man’s natural state is one of antagonism to God.

2. That it is a necessity of man’s nature to influence for good or evil all with whom He may associate.

3. That our allegiance is Christ’s righteous and inalienable due. (H. C. H.)

I. The human heart cannot be in a state in which neither Christ nor the world has the supremacy. Man must have a master and a God, etc.

II. Neither Christ nor His enemy will accept of, or allow of, neutrality-serving both in turn, and hence warring against both in turn.

III. Neutrality is impossible, inasmuch as Christ holds it to be war against Himself. Christ requires the whole heart, life, etc.

IV. Neutrality is seen to be practical hostility to the kingdom of Christ-enemies of Christ. (J. Stewart.)

No “via media” in morals or religion

Christ’s words contain a principle and an appeal. We cannot occupy a neutral position in relation to either morals or religion now when life is before us, or by and by when the issues of life are manifested.

I. This truth. Border-countries are proverbially bad to live in. The two clauses of the text may be read thus:

1. He that is not in heart with Me is against Me. No externality of observance will suffice: no mere association will suffice. There must be personal heart-union with Christ.

2. He that is not in life-service with Me is against Me. Unpractical sentimentality will not suffice. Loudest professions will not suffice. Christ’s words appeal searchingly to two classes.

(a) Those who excuse wrong life by right creed.

(b) Those who excuse wrong creed by good life.

II. The qualifications of this truth. Temporary uncertainty may be good, or at least may be excused. Such as comes in

(a) Mental states of indecision;

(b) Beginnings of religious life;

(c) Occasions of religious doubt. There is no excuse for uncertainty or indecision in relation to Christ. We ought to follow Him wholly. (R. Tuck.)


Verse 31

Matthew 12:31

All manner of sin and blasphemy.

Sin against the Holy Ghost

1. This is not a sin which one can commit by accident, and without knowing it. This is an alleviation to many who are in great distress. They fear that they have committed the unpardonable sin. It is the closing of a long series of wickednessed.

2. No man need fear that he has committed the unpardonable sin who is deeply alarmed and anxious about it; for the very nature of that sin is moral insensibility.

3. Ordinary procrastination, the putting aside of things right on account of the superior attraction of some worldly good-these things though dangerous, are not the sins which our Saviour marked. Many persons are grieving the Divine Spirit, who are not properly to be called blasphemers against the Holy Ghost.

4. Is this perversion frequent? Men are not likely to fall into it suddenly. This moral perversion may be the result of physical dissipation. Constant resistance of good- impulses may lead to it. (H. W. Beecher.)

Tampering with the moral sense destructive of it

By this minute, constant, and continued tampering with his moral sense, he at last comes to that state in which the light of the glory of God, when it shines upon him, produces no more effect than the morning sun, shining upon the face of a corpse that ties in the east window. When men lie dead in the house, the morning bell calls them not. They do not hear the children on the stairs. Their ears are deaf to the sweet sounds of birds out of doors. The beauty dispersed all abroad, their eyes do not behold. And I see men whose moral sense is so dead that it is never touched by all the mercies of God above, nor by all the mercies of God distributed among men below. (H. W. Beecher.)

Dissipated men not always destitute of moral sensibility

There are sometimes very bad men in whom, if you could only steal into the chapel of their souls, and strike the bell there, you could rouse up a sensibility which would surprise their friends and them. But it is shut. It is kept locked up. Then there are other men whose dissipation seems to make a clean sweep, so that there is nothing left in them. It destroys the imagination; it destroys the affections; it destroys the whole moral sense. You may sound on every nerve, and along every chord, and there is no place left in them that has not been destroyed by dissipation. (H. W. Beecher.)

Moral sensibility man’s best gift

I hear men thank God that He gave them such reason. Reason is a stately and noble gift, surely; but conscience is better than reason. I hear men congratulating their fellows that God gave them genius. They are poets. They are orators. They are artists. They carve the stone. They depict in colours the various forms of life. And this, surely, is a munificent gift from the hand of God. But no genius is comparable to the sense of that which is right and wrong. Genius of conscience is the best genius that a man can have. (H. W. Beecher.)

Conscience most needed

A man may cut away every mast on his ship, and yet pursue his voyage. A man may have everything on deck carried overboard, and yet make some headway. A man in the middle of the ocean can afford to lose everything else better than he can afford to lose the compass in the binnacle. When that is gone he has nothing to steer by. That little instrument is his best friend. It is his guide. And that conscience which God has given you is your compass and guide. You can afford to lose genius, and taste, and reason, and judgment better than that. Keep that as the apple of your eye. Keep it clear, and strong, and discerning. Be in love with your conscience; and let your conscience be in love with God. A conscience held in love, is the very foundation not only of a spiritual manhood, but of happiness in an earthly manhood. (H. W. Beecher.)

The sin against the Holy Ghost

I. What is the difference between speaking against the Son of Man and speaking against the Holy Ghost? By speaking against the Son of Man is meant here all those reproaches which they cast upon our Saviour’s person, the meanness of His birth, without reflecting upon that Divine power which He testified by His miracles. By speaking against the Holy Ghost is meant their blaspheming the Divine power whereby He wrought His miracles.

II. Wherein the nature of this sin or blasphemy against the Holy Ghost doth consist. Some have supposed it to be final impenitency, because that is unpardonable; but why that, it is hard to say. Others place the sin in obstinate opposition to the truth; but it is hardly imaginable that a man will oppose the truth when he is actually convinced that it is truth. The Pharisees are the persons guilty of this sin. The ground of complaint is clear (Mark 3:28-29): they charged Christ with being a magician. They would rather deny the reality of Christ’s miracles than own Him to be Messiah.

III. In what sense is it said to be peculiarly unpardonable?

IV. How it comes to pass that this sin above others is incapable of pardon?

1. Because by this sin men resist their last remedy, and oppose the best and utmost means of their conviction. Can God do more for a man’s conviction than work miracles before his eves.

2. Because this sin is of such a high nature, that God is therefore justly provoked to withdraw His grace from such persons; and it is probable, resolved so to do: without which grace they will continue impenitent.

V. Make this discourse useful to ourselves.

1. To comfort some very good and pious persons who are liable to despair, upon an apprehension that they have committed this great sin. I cannot see how any person now is likely to be in those circumstances as to be capable of committing it. Total apostasy from Christianity comes nearest to it (Hebrews 6:4-6).

2. To caution men against the degrees and approaches of this sin-profane scoffing at religion. Be ready to entertain the truth of God whenever it is fairly propounded. (J. Tillotson.)

Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost

I. The sin spoken of in the text is described as blasphemy. It is common to speak of the sin against the Holy Ghost; Jesus does not call it sin, but blasphemy. Nor are they the same. All blasphemy against the Holy Ghost is sin; but all sin against the Holy Ghost is not blasphemy. This narrows it to a particular sin. What are we to understand by it? When abusive words are uttered against God wilfully, knowingly, and malignantly, it is blasphemy.

II. That this blasphemy is described as a sin specially against the Holy Ghost. Why this, and not a sin against the Father or the Son? Not because He is more sacred than the Father or the Son. The Persons of the Trinity are all equal in glory. But because that in revilingly opposing the gospel the work of the Holy Spirit is specially opposed. It is the Divine Spirit who takes of the things of Christ, and through the Word presents them to the mind. It is a defiance of His peculiar prerogative.

III. The crowning fact connected with this sin is its unpardonableness. Why, when there is forgiveness for all sin, is there none for this? What sin could be more heinous? It cannot be because of any inadequacy in Christ’s atonement-“His blood cleanseth us from all sin.” Nor that the mercy of God cannot reach to such a sin; it is infinite. Nor that the gospel is unable to overcome such obduracy. The truth is there is no sin in itself unpardonable. This would contradict ver. 31. The reason is found not in its turpitude, but in its nature, as it discovers a heart resolutely opposed to the Spirit and the truth. If the Spirit be scorned, it follows, pardon is impossible. An earthly parent cannot forgive a child till it has exhibited sorrow for its offence; and as sorrow for sin is unknown to those guilty of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, their salvation is impossible.

IV. May this sin be still committed? I think it may. It is common with those who hold that these Pharisees had committed the unpardonable sin, and that its commission was limited to their time, to argue as if Jesus had performed this miracle by the power of the Holy Spirit, and that the sin consisted in ascribing the power by which it was performed to Satan. Our Lord does not say “If I cast out devils by the Holy Spirit,” but “by the Spirit of God,” and St. Luke has it “ finger of God”-a figure significant of power. Christ uniformly speaks of His miracles as if the power that performed them was His own, or that of His Father-“The works which I do in My Father’s name,” etc. The power of working miracles was not conferred on Christ; by virtue of His Divinity He required no such endowment. It is important to keep this in view, in order to see that there is no ground for the allegation that He wrought the miracle before us by the Holy Spirit, and that, therefore, these Pharisees were guilty of blaspheming Him. The fact that three of the evangelists quote this narrative is significant. Observe, that our Lord specifies two sins-speaking against the Son of Man, and speaking against the Holy Ghost. Now, on looking at the narrative, it appears that the sin, committed in the present instance, was that of speaking against the Son of Man. He it was who wrought the miracle; and He wrought it, as we have seen, by His own power; and He it was against whom the malice of the Pharisees was aimed. Now, had they been actually guilty of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, Jesus would doubtless have said so. Does He not, however, rather intimate-by the antithesis which He presents between blasphemy against the Son of Bran and that against the Holy Ghost, and by the pardonableness of the one and the unpardonableness of the other-that it was blasphemy against Himself of which they had been guilty? Why speak of blasphemy against the Son of Bran if the sin which they had committed was actually blasphemy against the Holy Ghost? And why speak of the pardonableness of blasphemy against Himself, if they had committed another sin which was unpardonable? Would that not be to tantalize? But such a supposition is utterly at variance with what we know of the tenderness of the Saviour’s character. We regard Jesus as, in effect, saying-“Dreadful as it is to speak disparagingly of the Son of Man in this the day of His humiliation, when His true character is veiled, there is a day coming, when the evidence of My Divine commission will be complete, not only through the miraculous outpouring of the Spirit, but by the conversion of thousands to the gospel; and, when that day comes, they who treat the work of the Spirit as they now treat Me, shall, even in this life, pass from the sphere of mercy to that of inevitable doom.” One fact identifies this saying of Christ with the outpouring of the Spirit, beyond all dispute. If you turn to Luke 12:10-12, you will read-“And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him: but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven. And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer, or what ye shall say: for the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say.” These words seem to have been spoken on a different occasion from the present. From the first verse, we learn they were addressed to disciples; and from this fact we infer that the sin in question may be committed, not only by Christ’s avowed enemies, but by those who confess His name. Observe then, that while, in the 10th verse, He repeats in substance the words of our text, in the 11th and 12th verses He predicts what actually took place immediately after the dispensation of the Spirit had began on the day of Pentecost. For, when Peter and John were brought before the council, it is stated that, on Peter rising to speak, he was “ filled with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 4:1-8). And what was that but a literal fulfilment of what Christ predicted in immediate connection with the text as given by Luke? “For the Holy Ghost,” he said, “shall teach you, in the same hour, what ye ought to say,”-conclusively showing that it was the dispensation of the Spirit which Christ had more particularly in view when He uttered the awful words of our text. So far, then, from thinking, as some have done, that this sin consisted in ascribing the miracles of Christ to Satanic agency, and that it could only be committed during the period of Christ’s earthly ministry, I rather conclude, on these grounds, that the Saviour specially pointed to that future which is our present, as the season of its commission.

V. Before concluding, it may be proper to ask if we can find, in our conduct or in that of others, the image of anything like this sin?

1. There are the Jews. No people so privileged; None have so sinned.

2. Another form in which this sin against the Holy Ghost now presents itself is that of scornfully resisting conscientious convictions.

3. Perhaps it is in the annals of infidelity we must seek in our day for the grossest forms of this sin. How different all this from the spirit of those who dread the very possibility of having committed this offence! (W. Reid, D. D.)

The sin against the Holy Ghost, and the danger of rashly applying it to ourselves or others

I. What the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, mentioned by our saviour, is.

II. What is the true sense of our saviour’s declaration that this one sin shall not be forgiven?

III. Why he passed such a severe sentence upon this one sin.

IV. What sins do or, do not, approach towards that which is mentioned in the text?

1. The case of unbelievers.

2. The case of believers. Some have maintained that any deliberate sin amounted to it. This against Scripture. Sometimes good men have entertained irreverent thoughts; but this when under disturbance of mind, and had not command of their thoughts. (T. Secker, LL. D.)

Disease fated because the remedy is rejected

Suppose the providence of God had so ordered it, that all diseases should be curable by some one particular course of medicine; still, whoever despised and ridiculed that course, instead of taking it, must perish. And in like manner, though all sins would else be pardonable through the grace of the gospel: whoever scorns the utmost efforts of that grace, must fail of it. And our Saviour foreseeing that these persons would, pronounces their doom. Every advantage, that any others ever were to enjoy, they had enjoyed to the full, without effect: and it was not suitable to the honour of God’s government, or the holiness of His nature, to strive with such by still more extraordinary methods; and do for the worst of men what he had not done for the rest. Their condition, therefore, was not that they should be denied pardon though they did repent; but it was foreknown that they would not repent. (T. Secker, LL. D.)

Things we never got over

There are sins which though they may be pardoned, are in some respects irrevocable:

1. The folly of a misspent youth.

2. In the category of irrevocable mistakes I put all parental neglect.

3. The unkindness done to the departed.

4. The lost opportunities of getting good.

5. The lost opportunities of usefulness. (Dr. Talmage.)

The unpardonable sin

I. Let us endeavour to remove some mistakes respecting this subject. Many sins supposed to be of the nature of the one here denounced have been remitted, therefore cannot be irremissible.

1. Sins against great light, conviction and knowledge.

2. Sins after real and high experience of the Divine favour are also improperly supposed to be of this character.

3. The sin of opposing the truth daringly has also been mistaken for the dreaded sin under consideration.

II. Describe the peculiar character of the blasphemy which our Lord here pronounces irremissible.

1. It appears that some among the Pharisees had committed the sin; they applied to the Holy Spirit the diabolical name.

2. The Pharisees heard their conduct described without being the least affected.

3. Men may approach near to this sin now, but cannot complete it.

III. Exhortation and caution.

1. The reverence due from all of us to the Divine Spirit.

2. We should do all in our power to promote that religion which is the offspring of the Holy Spirit. (J. Leifchild.)

1. The nature of the sin itself is such as to preclude the possibility of forgiveness.

2. When there is any desire for salvation you have not committed this sin.

I. All men have sin and blasphemy to be forgiven.

II. That it is to man only that all manner of sin shall be forgiven.

III. That it shall be forgiven to all men who seek forgiveness by the method which the gospel has announced. (T. Raffles, D. D.)

The unpardonable sin

We might expect that the best gift of the Holy Ghost would have some corresponding awfulness attaching to it. We have in the Bible four separate sins against the Holy Ghost laid out in a certain order and progression-grieving, resisting, quenching-these have been forgiven. But there is a fourth stage when the mind, through a long course of sin, proceeds to such a violent dislike of the Spirit of God, that infidel thoughts and horrid imaginations come into the mind. They become habitual. This sin against the Holy Ghost does not lie in any particular act or word; it is a general state of mind. It is unpardonable, because the mind of such a man cannot make one move towards God. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

The unpardonable sin

1. How a man may shut against himself all the avenues of reconciliation.

2. There is something mysterious in the process. They choose not to repent; and this choice has been made so often and so perseveringly that the Spirit has let them alone.

3. There is nothing in it to impair the freeness of the gospel, or the universality of its calls.

The amplitude of Divine forgiveness

A king publishes a wide and unexpected amnesty to the people of a rebellious district in his empire, upon the bare act of each presenting himself, within a limited period, before an authorized agent, and professing his purposes of future loyalty. Does it at all detract from the clemency of this deed of grace, that many of the rebels feel a strong reluctance to this personal exhibition of themselves, and that the reluctance strengthens and accumulates upon them by every day of their postponement; and that, even before the season of mercy has expired, it has risen to such a degree of aversion on their parts as to form a moral barrier in the way of their prescribed return that is altogether impassable? Will you say, because there is no forgiveness to them, there is any want of amplitude in that charter of forgiveness which is proclaimed in the hearing of all; or that pardon has not been provided for every offence, because some offenders are to be found with such a degree of perverseness and of obstinacy in their bosom, as constrains them to a determined refusal of all pardon? The blood of Christ cleanseth from all sin; and there is not a human creature who, let him repent and believe, will ever find the crimson inveteracy of his manifold offences to be beyond the reach of its purifying and its peace-speaking power. (Dr. Chalmers.)

The unpardonable sin

I. What is this sin or blasphemy against the Holy Ghost? This assertion of the Pharisees discloses three odious sentiments.

1. A deceitful contradiction.

2. An unutterable perversity of heart.

3. A terrible blasphemy.

II. Why is this sin, and this sin only, unpardonable either in this world or in the next?

1. Would it be too great, too odious, to find grace before God?

2. Could the reason of this exception be found in a special decree of God, who, from motives unknown to us, would have blotted this particular sin from the list of those He is disposed to pardon?

III. Was this sin peculiar to the times of Jesus Christ, or are we still liable to become guilty of it? Materially, no; virtually, yes. (The Late Grandpierre, D. D.)


Verse 33

Matthew 12:33

Either make the tree good and his fruit good, or else make the tree corrupt.

Trees of righteousness

There are two kinds of religion in the world: one teaches that men are not so holy as they should be, but that by a little attention they may be improved; the other that men are only evil, and must be made new creatures. The one mends, the other makes. Christ says, Make the tree good.

I. Although the tree has been made good by engrafting, and has consequently begun to bear good fruit, the young trees that spring from the seed of that good fruit, when it is sown again, take after the original bitter root of the parent tree, and not after the sweetness subsequently imparted to it. The child of a Christian man is not by birth a Christian.

II. As the first lesson is one of warning to those who presume upon their privileges, the second is one of encouragement to those who have had in youth no privileges to presume upon. Although a young tree has sprung from the seed of an evil tree, it may be made good by engrafting as effectually as if its parent had been the best in the garden. The unprivileged need not despond.

III. Although an evil tree ought to be made good by engrafting while it is young, it may be made good by engrafting after it has grown old. Some are converted in youth; some have mark and date of conversion more distinct than others.

IV. A tree that has been made good does not again become vii; but latent evil in its roots may, if it be not watched, spring up and bear bad fruit, and mingle with the good, and to a great extent outgrow and choke the good.

V. Although the natural head of the tree, either in youth or age, is cut off, and the new, good branch brought near to touch it, unless the new branch take to the old tree, and the old tree at its wound take to the new branch, so that they become one, no change will be affected in the old tree. The wounds of conviction prepare the way for Christ; but if the wounded do not in the end close with Christ, his wounds will not make him safe or holy. (W. Arnot.)

The grafting mark

In fruit-trees fully grown you may sometimes observe a ring round the stem, midway between the ground and the branches, resembling somewhat the mark of a healed wound on a living man. This indicates the place where the natural stem was cut off and a new branch inserted. You perceive at a glance that this tree has been engrafted, and that it was well grown ere it was made good. In the same garden another tree may grow which exhibits no such mark; yet the owner does not value it less on that account. These two trees are equally good and equally prolific. They differ not in their present character, but in the period of life at which they were severally renewed. This latter tree must have been engrafted when it was very young: the cut was made close to the ground when the stem was very slender; and thus the mark has been obliterated by the subsequent growth of the tree. The cicatrice is concealed under the grass, or perhaps under the ground. The renewing has certainly taken place, but when or where no man can tell. The date of its new birth is no longer legible. Such similarities and such differences obtain also among converted men. Some who were born when they were old bear the mark of their regeneration all their days. When the old nature was matured and developed before the change, the memory of the fact is more distinctly retained, and the contrast more vividly displayed. It was thus in the experience of the Apostle Paul. The spiritual man did not in his case obtain the sway while the natural was yet young and tender and easily moulded. Paul was a man, every inch of him, before he was a Christian. “I verily thought with myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” (W. Arnot.)

Two kinds of fruit

One clear example of this tendency I knew well in my youth. I think it remains to this day, and I could point to the spot. A grove given over, by the time I knew it, for the purpose of affording shady pleasure-walks, had originally been a fruit-garden. Some of the old fruit-trees had been left standing as ornaments, when the owner no longer looked for a profitable return. These trees were left growing for the sake of their beauty merely, not for the sake of their fruit. They were allowed, accordingly, to run wild, that their appearance might be more picturesque. An aged pear-tree stood there, with a tall, bare, straight stem and round bushy head like an Eastern palm. But while not a single branch grew on the naked trunk, from where it emerged out of the moss to where its head began to spread at three times the height of a man, a number of lively vigorous shoots sprang from its roots, or rather from its stem where it touched the ground. Thus the long bare stem had a bushy head of branches on either extremity. These lower branches had been permitted to grow freely till they reached maturity on their own account, and bore fruit of their own kind. I have seen fruit growing on these suckers, and fruit hanging at the same time high over them on the tree’s towering head, with a large portion of the bare stem between. I have compared them, and found that which grew from the old root hard and bitter, while that which grew on the head that had been made new, although somewhat deteriorated, retained still the sweet flavour of its best days. Here were two kinds of fruit growing at the same time on one tree-evil fruit growing on the original root, and good fruit growing on that which had been made new. If the tree had been rightly cultivated for the sake of its fruit, those suckers would have been without pity torn off in the bud as soon as they showed themselves, and never have been permitted to open their blossoms or bring forth their fruit. You do not ordinarily see these out-growths from the old stock growing to the size of bearing, on fruit-trees. This, however, is not because they do not manifest a tendency to throw out these shoots, but because the shoots are, in ordinary cases, wrenched off by the husbandman as soon as they appear. (W. Arnot.)

Grafting an old tree

You may see this glory of grace reflected from the field of nature. Perhaps you have looked over the hedge and seen, in a garden by the wayside, a sight that attracted your eye and excited your curiosity. A tree, old, thick, and rusty, has been cut off, not by the ground, but about the height of a man, and the bare stump left standing. On a closer inspection you see one or more small fresh twigs fastened to the bark on the top of the desolate trunk. They are budding and putting out green leaves. It is a tree that had grown old, either barren or bearing bad fruit. Its owner would not longer permit it to occupy uselessly the precious ground. But it is not necessary that he should cut it down and cast it away, in order to make room for another tree. Even this tree, grown old in evil, may be made good. It is not cut down, but cut off, and a new nature engrafted on its stem. Even in old age it will yet be fresh, and flourishing, and fruitful. The owner of the garden counts that he will sooner get a large return by engrafting the old tree than by rooting it out and planting another. The tree was full grown and in vigorous health. The owner will utilize all these powers by sending the sap through a new and better head. It is thus that our Father, the husbandman, takes full-grown vigorous natures, charged with gifts of understanding, and eloquence, and zeal, that have been hitherto occupied with evil, and makes them new creatures by His power. Forthwith they are fit for able-bodied service in the work of the Lord. (W. Arnot.)

The danger of delayed grafting

Let the warning be distinctly, fully given on the other side. If the tree is permitted to grow up and grow old in evil, there is danger lest, by storm or fire, it should be destroyed, and so never be made good. But even although it were insured against all accidents, there is no reason why another, and yet another year an evil tree should cumber the ground, merely to put off the time of its change. (W. Arnot.)


Verse 34-35

Matthew 12:34-35

A good man out of the good treasure of the heart,

The treasures of a good and evil heart

I.
Describe the good treasure of the heart.

1. A good heart contains good affections.

2. Good desires.

3. Good intentions.

4. Good volitions.

5. Good passions.

II. Describe the evil treasures of the evil heart. The opposite to the good treasure.

III. That men are good or evil according to the good of evil treasure of the heart.

1. Every man forms his opinion of himself by the exercises of his heart.

2. It is a dictate of common sense that nothing can properly dominate men either morally good or evil, but that in which they are really active.

3. Scripture confirms this consideration-“As a man thinketh in his heart so is he.”

I. The good man. Not the natural man; the regenerate man.

1. He has the life of God in his soul.

2. The spirit of God in his heart.

3. The peace of God in his conscience.

4. The power of God in his life.

II. The good treasure. Good because-

1. Given by a good God.

2. With a good design. The good things of which He speaks are

III. The evil man. He is without the life, spirit, love, peace, and power of God. He is evil because he possesses an evil heart, mixes with an evil world, is under the influence of an evil devil.

IV. The evil treasure.

1. Its evil nature.

2. Its evil tendency.

3. Its evil effects. Evil thoughts, words, and actions. (S. Barnard.)

The heart a reservoir

You have seen the great reservoirs provided by our water companies, in which the water that is to supply hundreds of streets and thousands of houses is kept. Now, the heart is just the reservoir of man; and our life is allowed to flow in its proper season. That life may flow through different pipes-the mouth, the hand, the eye; but still all the issues of hand, of eye, of lip, derive their source from the great fountain and central reservoir, the heart; and hence there is no difficulty in showing the great necessity that exists for keeping this reservoir-the heart-in a proper state and condition; since otherwise that which flows through the pipes must be tainted and corrupt. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The good treasure of the heart

The heart of many a poor, neglected Christian is as if we opened some rude sea-chest, brought by a foreign ship from distant lauds, which though it have so rude an outside, is full of pearls, and gems, and diamonds.

A sanctified heart

The devil knows that if there be any good treasure, it is in our hearts; and he would gladly have the key of these cabinets, that he might rob us of our jewels. A heart which is sanctified is better than a tongue that is silvered. He that gives only the skin of worship to God, receives only the shell of comfort from God. It is not the bare touching of the strings that makes an harmonious tune. A spiritual man may pray carnally, but a carnal man cannot pray spiritually. If God’s mercies do not eat out the heart of our sins, our sins will soon eat out the heart of our duties. A work that is heartless is a work that is fruitless. God cares not for the crazy cabinet, but for the precious jewel. (Archbishop Seeker.)

Of the necessity of settling good principles in the heart

I. Of the high importance of fixing good principles in the heart, if ever we would hope for a good course of life and action.

II. That the course of life and action will discover what is the prevailing principle of the heart, and will make it known to the world.

III. That the train of thought in which we delight will betray itself in speech, as well as in our general course of action; so that it will be known by the tendency of our conversation in this respect, whether we are good or evil.

IV. That it is of high importance that we set a watch upon our tongues, because we must give account, in the day of judgment, of everything we say, as well as everything we do. (J. Burroughs.)


Verse 36

Matthew 12:36

That every idle word.

Idle words

The Pharisees bad said, “This fellow doth not east out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils.” Christ meets this objection in two ways.

I. He shows its unreasonableness. It is against experience that any power, good or bad, consciously seeks its own destruction. The powers of evil and of good are distinct, and each power is ready to defend itself.

II. He condemns the spirit in which it was made, and brings out the serious nature of the sin it involved. Why did Christ warn them against this dangerous sin? Not because of any act unmistakably wicked and cruel, but because they called evil good, and good evil, confounding the two, and this from dislike to the truth when it reflected on themselves. There lay the danger; and there it lies still. The essence of sin is being out of sympathy with goodness. (A. Watson, D. D.)

Evil will not conspire against itself

Just as it can be shown in nature that the law of gravitation in a drop of water is the same law which binds the planets in their courses in the distant heavens, and the same law which reigns through the whole universe of matter; so the law which binds goodness to goodness, or which draws evil to evil, in the instinctive feeling that they are in themselves one, is a law which holds good in the visible and invisible worlds. The powers of evil-so far as they know one another-are all under one great power, and they will not conspire consciously against themselves. (A. Watson, D. D.)

Idle words

They are words that issue out of a condition of idleness.

1. Tattling. Tattling dims the charity of the charitable mind as a spider dims the light of a window, spinning his web over it.

2. Tale-bearing.

3. “Slang” conversation. Slang is to language what profanity is to reverence.

4. Boasting.

5. Swearing. (H. W. Beecher.)

Words that dispel gloom

A child that is in trouble in the nurse’s arms is sung to; some little song, the whole of which does not give a single solitary particle of meaning; but the movement of it, and the various associations that are connected with it, charm the child away from tears, and make him happier. (H. W. Beecher.)

Conversation pleasurable though not profound

I think no musical instrument in the world is like the utterance of speech in one whose voice is well trained, whose mind is rich with emotion, and who is accustomed to describe in graceful and appropriate language one’s own experience in life. The conversation that flows in the quietude of a family, like the tinkling of a brook under the shadow of green trees; the conversation that flows like a river whose banks are efflorescent, and which holds its way deep and tranquil-such conversation may become a habit, not only in the sense of not being hurtful but in the sense of having a beauty which is pleasurable. (H. W. Beecher.)

I. Idle words.

1. By idle words we may understand such words as proceed from vanity or deceit, which comprehend the pretences and plausible speeches of the cunning, and the empty boastings of the vain-glorious man.

2. Idle words may comprehend the reports of envy and malice, by which our neighbour suffers in credit or reputation.

3. Idle words may imply such as are the product of a loose and idle mind, such as represent the impure conceptions of a mind polluted with lust.

4. By idle words we may understand useless and insignificant words which are spent to no great end or purpose, either good or bad.

II. The scope of our Saviour’s argument in this place.

1. He descends from the greater to the less evils of speech; from blasphemy to the other evils which are generated in the heart, and from thence derived to the tongue-“Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders,” etc. Not only these but idle words will be punished. Jesting does not become the gospel.

III. The end and design of speech, which is the gift of God to mankind. If we use our speech to serve any purpose contrary to the end designed by God, we abuse His gift and must answer for it.

1. Speech was given for the communication of our thoughts to each other, yet all our thoughts are not to be brought into conversation.

2. The wants and necessities of nature call for our help, and as these subjects must employ great part of our thoughts, so likewise of our speech, for we cannot live without mutual aid.

3. Further, God has made us to delight in each other’s company, hence it is lawful to employ speech for improving mutual love and friendship. Men may talk of many subjects which have no present instruction, Yet they may serve this end.

4. Consider the different degrees of sense and understanding that men are endowed with. The tongue cannot speak better than the understanding can conceive. Must not despise the conversation of weaker men. (T. Sherlock, D. D.)

Idle Words

Many imagine that this sin is too insignificant to be remembered at a moment when the vast things of eternity shall be waiting the allotment of the Judge. It cannot be a small thing to disobey God, though it may be a small thing in which I disobey Him. We maintain that sins of the tongue, if compared with other sins, should be regarded as aggravated, rather than trivial. David speaks of the tongue as of the best member which he had. And never should it be forgotten that language is not a human invention; men left to themselves could not have arranged such a system for communicating their thoughts one to the other. There was silence in creation till man was made with the faculty of expressing what he felt, and creation thrilled at the melody of speech.

1. We ought to consider the faculty of speech, how eminent its power, before we marvel at the criminality attached to its abuse. Every one condemns the prostitution of reason, because it is a high attribute; but “what is language but reason walking abroad? Can it be a light thing to use the tongue against God, and dishonouring Him through that whence He looked for His chief glory?

2. If these remarks prove the “ idle word” so criminal that of itself it might justly procure the condemnation of the speaker, they will also prove that our conversation may evidence whether or no we have justifying faith. St. James makes the power of the tongue equivalent to power over the whole man. He who is master of his chief faculty is little likely to be the slave of an inferior. It is true that no sin is more easily committed than one of the tongue; hence the non-commission of it is a high attainment. It is just because the thing may be so easily done, that the not doing it marks singular power and vigilance. But this is evidence from their being no idle words; there may be positive as well as negative witness, “the witness of what is uttered as well as of what is repressed. If it be true that “ out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh,” we may confidently reckon that where there is genuine piety it will give tone to the conversation. “With the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Hence there is a high duty to be performed by the tongue. Therefore, whilst we admit that faith is the instrument of justification, we can understand why words, which are the confession of Christ before men, should be given as securing salvation. They are but faith embodied. It was to a particular description of idle words that our Lord had respect-scoffing words. What helps our laughter will soon lose our reverence. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

Language too good to be abused

Language is so curious, so costly a gift, so impregnate with Deity, so vast in empire, that to misuse it, though in the least particular, may be likened to sacrilege, the profanation of an august and infinite mystery. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

Language too sacred to be profaned

It is grievous, for example, to think of God irreverently: the soul should be His sanctuary: and to profane Him there, is to aggravate the contempt by offering it at the shrine which He reared for Himself. But it is yet more grievous to speak of Him irreverently. This is worse than dishonouring Him at the secret shrine: this is taking the material of His costliest temple-for is it not said, that He “ inhabiteth the praises of Israel?” as though words were the columns, the walls, the domes, which combine for the noblest dwelling-place of Deity-I say, then, that to speak irreverently of God, is to take the material of His costliest temple, and fashion it into a structure where He may be openly contemped. The richness of the material enhances the dishonour. Give me the stars with which to build, give me the treasures of immensity with which to adorn, and the temple which I rear to an idol shall be so much the more an insult to the one living God. And it is thus with speech. Words are as the stars of heaven, fitted to illumine the yet dark places of creation. Burning with truth, they may guide the wanderings, and be as messengers for the depths of eternity. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

Language a heart reflector

Their words are more than exhibitions of the workings and movements of the intellect, more than the displayed rushings and soarings of the imagination. They are the discoverings of a heaven-born principle, a principle which apprehends truths that are above the human intellect, and glories that defy the human imagination. They are the signs, the evidences, of a second creation-the order, the symmetry, the beauty, the stateliness, of a new and spiritual world, demonstrated, unveiled, laid open, incorporated. If they be words of prayer, they are the ascendings towards heaven of renovated affections: if of praise, they are the vibrations of chords which a Divine hand has returned: if of reproof, counsel, exhortation, they are but the soul, once “dead in trespasses and sins,” appearing as an armed man to fight the battle of the Lord. Then words may justify, as incontrovertible proofs of a justifying faith, and a renewed nature. Actions furnish no better criterion: and when the great white throne shall be set, and the earth and the sea shall have given up their dead, the righteous and the wicked may alike have their portions determined by their use of the tongue: speech, forgotten speech, may be heard again, piercing as the trumpet-peal, by which the graves have been rent; and there will be no fear of erroneous decision, should there be no rule of judgment but this, “By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” (H. Melvill, B. D.)

Our words to justify, or condemn

Consider some of the ways by which words minister to our condemnation.

I. At the head of the list we must put profane swearing.

II. Another way in which we expose ourselves to God’s displeasure is by foolish walking (Ephesians 5:4).

III. Another example of the improper use of the gift of speech is an indulgence in the petulant and complaining language which so often destroys the harmony of private life.

IV. A fourth illustration of our text is found in the case of misrepresentation and slanders.

V. Angry words may endanger our salvation. (J. H. Norton.)

Innocent talk

Happy are the friends of those whose conversation “ministers grace to the hearers.” It may not always be grave and serious; it may even dance and sparkle like a mountain stream in the cheerful sunlight; but it is always innocent and pure. (J. H. Norton.)

Speech without words

You could not fasten upon any word or sentence, and say that it was calumny; for in order to constitute slander it is not necessary that the word spoken should be false-half truths are often more calumnious than whole falsehoods. It is not even necessary that a word should be distinctly uttered: a dropped lip, an arched eyebrow, a shrugged shoulder, a significant look, an incredulous expression of countenance;-nay, even an emphatic silence, may do the work; and when the light and trifling thing which has done the mischief has fluttered off, the venom is left behind, to work and rankle, to inflame hearts, and to poison human society at the fountain springs of life. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

Slanderous words

There is a machine in the museum at Venice, by which some forgotten Italian tyrant used to sheet poisoned needles at the objects of his hatred. How much worse was he than the unscrupulous agent of slander to whom the great Judge of all is heard to say: “By thy words thou shalt be condemned”? (J. H. Norton.)

Cheerful words not idle

I do not call words idle simply because they cannot be registered and measured by a matter-of-fact standard. How often has an airy word of pleasantry fallen on the ear and pierced the shield of prejudice or passion! How often has the cloud, no bigger than a man’s hand, but which would soon have overspread the whole sky, been dispersed by a momentary gleam of bright sunshine, and by a word which in itself was only fugitive, and hardly to be remembered. You cannot call that an idle word which is the outflow of simple cheerfulness, if it dissipates an angry thought. (A. Watson, D. D.)

The reflex influence of idle words

The man who indulges in frivolous and idle talk damages his own mental faculties and moral sense. In such speech there is no demand for the reflective powers, and they become impotent; no development of the sentiments of truth, benevolence, and religion, the very stamina of our moral nature, and they become more and more inoperative and dead. In idle talk the soul in every way is injured; its rich soil, capable of producing trees of knowledge and life, is wasted in flowery, it may be, but still noxious weeds. (Dr. Thomas.)

The eternal influence of idle words

Science affirms that every movement in the material creation propagates an influence to the remotest planet in the universe. Be this as it may, it seems morally certain that every word spoken on the ear will have an influence lasting as eternity. The words we address to men are written, not on parchment, marble, or brass, which time may effiace, but on the indestructible pages of the soul. Everything written on the imperishable soul is imperishable. All the words that have ever been addressed to you by men long since departed, are written on the book of your memory, and will be unsealed at the “ Day of Judgment,” and spread out in the full beams of eternal knowledge. (Dr. Thomas.)

Words without interest

The meaning may best be gathered from the metaphor whence it appears to be taken-that of money, not employed, but lying dead in the hands of the possessor. Our words are as precious in their proper use as gold and silver; but they become “idle” words when they yield no interest, when they bear no good fruit to the glory of God, the edification or comfort of our neighbour, the salvation of ourselves and of those who hear us. (J. Ford.)

Little agencies destructive

Idle words are deemed of little consequence. There are more deaths occasioned by unperceived irregularities of diet, than by open and apparent surfeits. If venial sins be less in quality, they are more in quantity; and their multitude makes them equal to the other’s magnitude. The aggregation of atoms made at first the world’s huge mass; and the aggregation of drops did drown it, when it was made. (O. Feltham.)

Accounts for eternity

An infidel once remarked jestingly to a clergyman, “I always spend the Sunday in settling my accounts.” “You may find, sir,” was the solemn reply, “that the Day of Judgment is to be spent in exactly the same manner!”

Conversation with grace

Our conversation need not always be of grace, but it should be with grace. (Matthew Henry.)

Faith and works

I. The connection between faith and works which causes the justification derived from the former, often to be spoken of as derived from the latter. Turn away the mean and despicable notion of a faith, which doth not cordially embrace Christ, and concentrate all the affections of the soul in Him as in one centre, like as a thousand rivers pour forth their mighty waters into the bosom of the ocean, or as the scattered rays of the midday sun, gathered by the optic glass, meet in one bright focus. Whenever there is true faith in Christ, works of righteousness and peace are the inevitable consequences of her dominion. Whenever justification is in Scripture ascribed to works, it is not for their own sake, but for the sake of that faith whence they spring.

II. How the particular fruit to which our text alludes is a just criterion of our faith, and a fitting standard for the awards of final triumph. “For by thy words,” etc. Such is the law, and its justice will be evinced by our referring to the fruit of the lip as an indication of the faith of the heart. God may be denied by words and thoughts, hence both may fairly decide the great assize. From the tenor of a man’s conversation we may estimate his conversion. Various methods by which this law might be vindicated-words of prayer and praise. Absence of these leads to condemnation. Faith speaks through these-”If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man.” (H. Melvill, M. A.)

Talking of religion without possessing it

I believe a man may speak of heaven who shall never behold its mansions, just as he may speak of India who will never sail towards its distant shores. It is one thing to decide that a man has justifying faith merely because his tongue may give utterance to matters connected with religion; and it is another to declare that where there is faith, it will call forth religious conversation, and excite a Divine aspiration. (H. Melvill, M. A.)

Unconscious influence

I. For good or ill, the life of every one of us is an incessant influence.

II. Deduce from this fact some important lessons.

1. Our unconscious influence is spontaneous, and has no premeditation or calculation about it.

2. Our unconscious influence is a perpetual emanation from ourselves.

3. This unconscious influence is necessarily simple.

4. Our unconscious influence is the more powerful because it excites no suspicion.

III. In what sense and on what grounds are we accountable for this kind of influence?

1. It is conditioned by our character.

2. It is by this we act most on those who are nearest to us.

3. Our indirect influence is our truest. It best represents us.

4. By these unconscious exhibitions of character the world is constantly judging us. Learn

Idle words

I. What does our Lord call an idle word? Some understand unprofitable words; others false, reproachful, hurtful words; and this latter meaning may be preferred.

II. How can men be justified by their words, if they are good; and condemned by them, if evil?

III. The reasonableness of justifying or condemning men by their words. One reason is, that a great deal is in the power of the tongue. Another is, that as men’s words are so are their hearts.

IV. Application:

1. No one may hence infer that he may be saved by a fair profession of religion without good works.

2. Here is a mark which may be of good use for determining our sincerity or insincerity.

3. The doctrine of the text teaches us to be careful of our words.

4. We may hence discern that the Lord Jesus was a most excellent person-“Never man spake like Him.” (N. Lardner.)

Christianity judged by its words

Think of the streams of holy speech which have been flowing through the world for ages, and of the life which they have conveyed to thirsty souls. Think of these streams as they are flowing to-day in tens of thousands of Christian congregations, and in innumerable Sabbath-schools. Compare their influence with that of the dark utterances of heathenism, and the disturbing teachings of unbelief. Think of the countless rills of Christian speech which are flowing to-day from the lips of those who love the Saviour, and who are endeavouring to make Him known in the home, in the sick-chamber, in the prison-house, and in their various intercourse with those around them. Compare their influence with that of the idle, thoughtless, impious, profane talk of the millions who are living without God; and then say whether Christianity may or may not be judged by its words! (Clement Bailhache.)


Verse 38

Matthew 12:38

Master, we would see a sign from Thee.

Religious sign-seekers

I. That the demand for additional advantages generally comes from those already

Possessed of very many. It was the scribes and Pharisees that made this request, not the publicans.

II. God never gives additional advantages when those possessed are not used. Christ refused this demand

III. Failure to use all the advantages we possess can only issue in condemnation. The Ninevites would condemn the Jews. The ministry of Jonah was brief, wrathful, that of a sinful man. Christ’s ministry was longer, and that of the Holy Son of God. The Queen of Sheba would condemn them.

1. She came to see and hear out of curiosity.

2. She came from afar.

3. She came uninvited.

4. She came on a mere report. (C. Lankester, B. A.)

The doctrines of religion reasonable to be believed

I. That the doctrine of religion is in itself reasonable to be believed, and sufficiently evidenced by the standing and universal signs or marks of truth. The sign of the prophet Jonas was sufficient to render that generation of the Jews inexcusable in their unbelief. Religion is in its nature a trial of men’s hearts, and, therefore, inconsistent with all compulsive motives. All religion consists in the love of truth, and in the free choice and practice of right, and in being influenced by rational and moral motives.

II. Here is a description given of wicked men, in one part of their character that they are apt continually to require more and more signs, and to tempt God without reason and without end. Wicked men do not like to fight against God openly; and therefore take pains to impose upon themselves some slight objection against Him.

III. There are just and Good reasons why God should not gratify the unreasonable expectations of prejudiced and corrupt minds-“There shall no sign be given,” etc. Men must obey in order to know. (S. Clarke, D. D.)


Verse 42

Matthew 12:42

The Queen of the South shall rise up in judgment.

The Queen of the South, or the earnest inquirer

I. Let us commend her for her inquiring spirit.

1. She was a queen.

2. Her royal court was doubtless already stored with wisdom.

3. She came from a very great distance.

4. She was a foreigner to Solomon and had a religion already.

5. She made a journey which cost her very much expense.

6. She received no invitation.

7. The object she journeyed after was vastly inferior to that which is proposed to our inquiry.

II. How she conducted the inquiry.

1. In person.

2. She went first of all to Solomon.

3. “She told him all that was in her heart.”

4. She proposed to Solomon her hard questions.

5. She listened carefully to what Solomon told her.

6. She saw the house that he had built.

7. She observed the meat on his table.

8. She looked to the sitting of the servants.

III. The result of her inquiry.

1. A confession of faith.

2. A confession of her unbelief-“Howbeit I believed not the words until I came,” etc.

3. Her anticipations were exceeded.

4. She blessed Solomon’s God.

5. She gave to Solomon of her treasures.

6. Solomon made her a present of his royal bounty.

7. She went home to her nation. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Christian put to shame by the heathen.

Wilt thou not be sore confounded, Christian, when-born, as thou art, in the bosom of the Church, in the midst of so many oracles of Scriptures, so many examples of saints-thou shalt yet see many heathens outstripping thee in goodness; so that, excepting only thy faith, which being “ without works” shall only serve to increase thy shame, instead of adding to thy glory, thou shalt find thyself placed below an Aristides in justice, below a Zeleucus in rectitude, below a Palemon in chastity, below an Antigonus in meekness, below a Socrates in patience, below an Epaminondas in disinterestedness; men who were all of them born in the deep gloom of heathenism, never favoured (as thou hast been) with any knowledge of life eternal, with any gospel, with any sacraments-men who had never seen a God dying for them, as thou hast seen. (Segneri.)

I. She went, notwithstanding the distance of her residence. The gospel is brought to our door.

II. She went, notwithstanding all the anxieties of her public station. The claims of business must not be allowed to clash with the claims of religion,

III. She went, though uninvited. We have been invited-how often!

IV. She went to hear the wisdom of a mortal, at best fallible, and who, after all, was guilty of sad and criminal defection. We are invited to hear One greater than Solomon. Let us beware lest the Queen of the South, by her treatment of the less, become a swift witness against us on account of our treatment of the greater. (Brooks.)

Christ and Solomon

I. The comparison. Solomon a type of Christ. As the Son of David; as an eminent favourite of God; as to the extent, prosperity, peacefulness, and wisdom of His government; as the builder of the temple; and as a teacher of wisdom.

II. The superiority.

1. Christ was a Divine as well as a human character, etc.

2. Christ was the antitype, and so greater than the type. (Anon.)

Christ greater than Solomon

I. Solomon was a great querist, but Christ, the great Evangelist, answers the queries of the great Ecclesiastes.

II. Solomon’s teaching is mainly negative, Jesus was as mainly positive.

III. Solomon s speech was regal, but the Saviour’s was Divine. So great is this Prince of prophets that the least in His kingdom is greater than Solomon. (J. Hamilton, D. D.)


Verse 43

Matthew 12:43; Matthew 12:45

When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man.

Furnished, but vacant

The central lesson of this text is this: that reformation is not necessarily salvation-that, indeed, reformation without godliness may bring a curse rather than a blessing. And it is not the history of the Jewish nation only which illustrates this principle. Look at the reaction which, in our own country, followed the Puritan Reformation. Again, there are not a few in our day who have lost all faith in the gospel of Christ, but who are firm relievers is the power of science and material civilization to elevate and bless mankind. Science may expel the devils of ignorance and superstition; it may “sweep” the house, and “garnish “ it with information on a thousand subjects. But can it supply the house with a tenant strong enough to keep out the “ seven worse devils “ when they come? I do not know that ignorance is more dangerous than intellectual pride. I do not know that a superstitious idolatry is worse than an atheistic materialism. Nay, it may perhaps be more healthful for a man to worship the stars than to worship his own telescope, it is surely better to “feel after God” in the darkness, than to cease caring for Him in the light. Coming nearer home, my text also teaches us a pratical lesson as to our dealings with individuals whom we are seeking to save and BLESS. AS a parent you endeavour by earnest discipline to expel from your child the demons of disobedience, untruthfulness, self-will. You do well in thus sweeping the house; but this is not salvation. One deed done by your boy through the love of God or Christ or goodness, is worth all the sweeping and garnishing in the world; for it indicates that the house is tenanted. Take another case. Here, let us suppose, is a drunkard whom you are anxious to reform. He is ruining his body, breaking his wife’s heart, injuring his family. You succeed in reforming him. This a matter for rejoicing. You have done well in sweeping the house from one vice; but that vice had its root in ungodliness, and if after his reformation the man continues ungodly, there is danger of that ungodliness breaking out in worse sins than ever. Finally, the text has a solemn application to the state of our own souls. The grand question is: Are our souls inhabited by the principles of godliness? Is the spirit of God dwelling within us? Let us choose and cherish all things good. (T. C. Finlayson)

“To let, furnished”

You may perhaps have seen some large mansion filled with substantial and elegant furniture, and surrounded with a beautiful and well kept garden, and having in its windows a placard bearing the words” To let, furnished.” I fear there is many a man in modern Christendom of whom such a house is only too fitting an emblem! He may have been well instructed in the truths of Christianity; his mind may be richly stored with the fruits of modern culture; he may be brilliant and accomplished; his acquirements may be substantial, his manners gentlemanly, his tastes refined, his conduct decorous: but the well-furnished rooms are all vacant: they are not tenanted by the spiritual life; they are sadly too open to the incursions of evil; and one day, perhaps, the “seven devils” may come and abuse to their own purposes all those intellectual and aesthetic treasures. (T. C. Finlayson.)

Reaction

I suppose there never was a time in the history of England which equalled in licentiousness and profanity the period ushered in by the Restoration. And doubtless the chief cause of this is to be found in the endeavour of the Puritans, when they were in power, to force upon the nation both their own theology and their own code of morals. The Puritans, in their intense eagerness to reform the nation, fell into the great mistake of supposing that they could make the people orthodox and virtuous by Acts of Parliament. At least, their deeds were in accordance with some such theory. The Book of Common Prayer was forbidden, under penalty, to be used either in churches or in private houses. Punishments were threatened against such as should find fault with the Calvinistic mode of worship. Public amusements were attacked. Theatrical representstions were proscribed. One statute ordered that all the maypoles in England should be cut down. The Long Parliament gave orders that Christmas Day should be strictly observed as a fast-a day of national humiliation. No person was to be “admitted into the public service until the House of Legislature should be satisfied as to his real godliness.” Thus the Puritans set themselves most vigorously to “sweep” England and to “garnish” it. And it cannot be denied that to some extent they succeeded. The country did present an aspect of greater devoutness and morality. But all such Acts of Parliament could not communicate one spark of religious life; they could “sweep” away much visible dust, they could “garnish” the house with external observances, but they could not send the indwelling tenant. And so, in due time, to the untenanted house came the “seven devils:”-first, hypocrisy and all manner of cant, and secret debauchery, even during the Protectorate; and then, at the Restoration, an unblushing profanity sand licentiousness, the like of which England had never seen before. The king and his courtiers set the example of profligacy. The statesmen of the land became mere selfish tricksters. Literature draggled itself in the mire of pollution. The stage became utterly corrupt. Conventicles were proscribed. John Bunyan was only one of many who were sent to prison for preaching the gospel. (T. C. Finlayson.)

The return of the dispossessed spirit

And if we look to England at the period of the Reformation, we find that men, raised up by God, and endowed of Him with singular boldness, and wisdom, and piety, exorcised the unclean spirit of Romish superstition, and ejected from amongst us the corruptions of Popery. It was a sublime moral revolution, and never did the human mind struggle free from a more oppressive shackle, never was there thrown off from a people a mightier weight, than when Reformers had won the hard-fought battle, and Protestantism was enthroned as the religion of these realms. But we should like to have it carefully considered, whether there has been no receiving back the unclean spirit. The human mind, long enslaved, was intoxicated with its freedom, and, in place of stopping at liberty, went on to lawlessness. Hence the overspreading of the land with a thousand sects and a thousand systems; as though, in casting out the one spirit of ecclesiastical tyranny, we had taken in the seven of ecclesiastical disunion. And over and above this melancholy disruption of the visible Church, Popery itself has too often found a home in our Protestantism: for whenever formality has insinuated itself into religion, or self-righteousness, or the substitution of means for an end, then has there been introduced the very essence of Romanism: the ejected spirit has come back, the same in nature, though less repulsive in appearance. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

The genius of moral evil

I. Amazing audacity-“My house.”

II. Unscrupulous dishonesty.

1. Not a particle of its materials belong to him.

2. Not an effort in its workmanship was his.

III. Intense selfishness. Why does he return to the house, for injury.

IV. Egregious folly. Possession precarious. (Dr. Thomas.)

Transient religious impressions

I. The withdrawal of the evil spirit,

II. His restless anxiety to return.

III. The re-entrance he at length effects.

1. Of the state in which he found it. Empty. Garnished but not furnished.

2. The possession he again takes.

IV. The affecting ,consequence of his repossession’.

1. He will now run greater lengths in impiety than before.

2. He is less likely than ever to be recovered from Satanic dominion.

3. It must prove the occasion of more severe and aggravated suffering. (H. Bromley.)

The house swept and garnished

I. A miserable condition indicated. It is that of a man under the influence of an evil spirit.

1. This influence is powerful. It is inward, controlling, directing.

2. It is defiling.

II. An agreeable deliverance experienced. Men may undergo considerable change for the better, without being really converted.

1. In the Word of God this truth is frequently set forth.

2. It is confirmed by innumerable instances.

3. This subject demands serious thought, and vigorous self-examination.

III. A fearful relapse described.

1. When the evil spirit returned he found the house unoccupied.

2. His return under these circumstances was easily effected.

3. The consequences attending this re-possession were truly awful. (Expository Outlines.)

The dangers of relapse

Evil, in every form or stage, is dangerous. But if one comes out of these evils, and lapses back into them, the dangers are increased. This is well understood in disease. When the fever has subsided, and pulse and temperature have become normal, if then, through some indiscretion or exposure, the disease returns, the physician looks for a wider variation of pulse and temperature, and greater danger. The forces of nature are weakened; the house of the body was swept clean of all those gracious energies that filled it full of life and health, and now the disease runs riot through all its undefended chambers and passages. So one may dwell in a marsh at the foot of a mountain-a miserable existence, it may be, in malarious damps and under fatal shades; but it is better to stay there than to climb the mountain and heedlessly slip over a precipice. Life may be maintained below, though under wretched conditions; but the fall may cripple or end it. So one may live a contented life in rude poverty; the single room of the hut, water from the spring, the wild forest around, the homespun suit, the plain diet, the unhelped toil, the dull and narrow routine-a picture for pity, perhaps, and not representing the best forms of life; but if one escapes it, and comes into finer and larger ways of living, and then is driven back to the old place and ways, the lapse breeds a discontent and misery before unknown. To venture forth and then return; to rise and fall back; to promise and not fulfil; to undertake and not do-this is the tragedy of character.

I. One who lapses from religious earnestness does not easily regain it; and if the lapses are frequent there is danger of losing it altogether. The Divine flame cannot often go out and be re-kindled. Once out, it is apt to stay out. The religious nature cannot be tampered with, and retain its integrity. It is largely made up of emotions and passions that lose their quality, and turn into scourges, if treated fitfully. You may bend a bar of iron, and straighten it again; but after repeating this process a few times it suddenly parts in your hands, and only fusing fire can weld it. Take a finer passion-love. You cannot give and take back love without ceasing to love; it is, by its nature, a continuous thing. Violate its nature as such, and it becomes a name and a disgust. One cannot “fall in love” many times, and have a heart left … Fire always burns; water seeks its level; the crystal keeps its angle; light extinguishes darkness. So in spiritual matters; we cannot trifle with these great passions of love and reverence, devotion, fidelity and enthusiasm without destroying them … It is dangerous, because self-destructive to say, “I will do a thing,” and then not do it; to take a place of responsibility, and shirk its duties when they begin to press hard and grow monotonous. If we trifle with truth and duty, we do not merely lose them; we change them into avenging spirits that return to us with consuming power.

II. One who takes up and lays off a duty, and is fitful in religious habits and feelings, grows sceptical of the reality of these things. A religious life gets its vindication and comes to a full proof of its reality, only as it is continuous and lived out to the full. One cannot in a year test the full power of a single Christian quality. A personal vindication of the faith is a life-work, and requires all its years. Thus only does one come to know in whom and what one believes. But if the test is a short or vacillating one; if you try prayer, worship, self-denial, meekness, charity, forgiveness, self-control, devotion for a while, and lapse out of them, you doubt their reality. Why should you not? They bore you no fruit, gave you no proof. But alas for him who reaches such a conclusion by such a process. It is something to believe in goodness, though we may not be good; to believe that honest men walk the streets, though we may not be honest; that the light which shines from the downcast eves of modesty is not a false light, though it may have died out in our own; that when men speak of prayer and faith, they speak of realities and powers, though we may be strangers to them. But to doubt them, to disbelieve their existence-that is perdition. Then the soul begins to depart from all things, the glory of humanity fades Out; inspiration ceases to play within us; nobility is gone out of all our life.

III. The reasons for stedfastness. Only one true goal of human effort-character. To know its conditions and obey them is the sum of all knowledge and duty. Regularity, bending the powers to one end, doing always the right thing under the right motive-it is thus that character takes shape and becomes a reality. A habit of religious thought may be formed as truly as a trade can be learned, and under the same law of repetition, guided by will and sympathetic purpose. Lapse, alternations, fluctuations, now earnest, now slothful, now up and doing, and now doing nothing, now alive with religious enthusiasm, now sunk down in apathy-such a history is the defeat and the denial of character. There is still hope no doubt, for one who has had such a history; but he must take care not to repeat it. Character is justly adjudged by its faults and vices, rather than from its virtues; just as it is the weakest spot in the iron that measures the strength of the bar, and just as the rope will hold only the weight that the frayed and chafed strands can endure. In character, the vice blackens the virtue; the virtue cannot whiten the vice … And so, when we turn to the Bible, we find all the promises and all the rewards poured out on those who are faithful unto the end. The patience of the saints is the burden of its exhortation. Be thou faithful unto death, and thou shalt win the crown of life. And in keeping with this, the picture of heavenly perfection, is that of constancy-serving God day and night in His temple; and so they reign for ever and ever. (T. T. Munger.)

The empty life

As wealth increases, as we multiply men-servants and maid-servants in our houses, as life becomes less primitive and more artificial, there come to be found a large number of persons, both men and women, who have little or nothing to do, unless they seek or make an occupation for themselves. It is out of such a condition of things that there is sure to arise, sooner or later, every imaginable evil that can afflict society or ruin the individual soul. Given the growth of wealth, luxury and indolence, and straightway you have prepared a nest in which a whole brood of vices will soon and swiftly be hatched. When one home is clouded or shattered by the shame of some wretched intrigue, and another stung and wounded by the cruelty of some causeless calumny, and a third dishonoured and disbanded perhaps by some foolish and criminal extravagance, have we ever paused to consider amid what idleness, what aimlessness, amid what vapid seeking for a fresh excitement in the dead dull level of an unemployed and uninterested life, these manifold forms of evil were conceived and initiated? Ah! if we could trace back some crime or baseness to its incipient beginning, how often should we find it true that, into the life, “empty, swept and garnished,” there had entered, just because it was so empty, its hands so idle and unemployed, its heart so uninterested and indifferent, a whole legion of devils to drag it down to hell. (Bishop H. C. Potter.)

The entrance of evil

It is not here said that the evil spirit breaks open the door, or that he does so much as draw the latch; but that he finds it empty and open already, and all things ready for his entertainment; so that, if we reach not out our hands to welcome him when he comes, and set not our doors open to let him in when he knocks, his temptations can never do us hurt; he can but entreat us, as he did Christ; and, if we fall, the fault is our own; we cast ourselves down headlong into misery and sin. (Bishop Cosin.)

The heart a house

So the malicious heart is a house for the spirit of envy: the drunken for the spirit of sobriety: the proud for the spirit of pride: the unchaste for the spirit of uncleanness: usurer for the spirit of covetousness. (T. Adams.)

Satanic disquietude when cast out of man

The discontented devil cast out of man seeks about for a new lodging; and finds all places dry: he esteems every place, but in man’s heart, irksome and unpleasant, as a dry, barren, and healthy wilderness. Now, as when a man hath long lived in a fertile valley, abounding with delightful fruits, and necessary comforts, the grounds standing thick with corn, and a pleasant river running along, to glad his heart with a welcome moisture; it cannot be other than a displeasing change to be banished into a mountainous desert, where the scorching sun burns up the grass, and withers the fruit; or the unhindered force of the wind finds a bleak object to work upon; where the veins of blood, the springs of water, rise not, run not, to modify the earth, and cherish her plants. Such is Satan’s case and cause of perplexity. The wicked heart was his delighted orchard, where the fruits of disobedience, oaths, lies, blasphemies, oppressions, cozenages, contentions, drunken, proud, covetous actions and habits made him fat.

The concealed occupant

The devil may be within the grate, though he thrust not out his apparent horns, or say, he be walked abroad, yet be returns home at night: and in the mean time, like a mistrustful churl, locks the door after him; spares up the heart with security, that his treasure be not stolen. Thus as a snail, he gathers up himself into his shell and house of the heart, when he fears discovery, and puts not forth his horns. Sometimes he plays not in the sun actually, but burrows deep in the affections. The fox keeps his den close, when he knows that God’s huntsmen be abroad to seek him. (T. Adams.)

Satanic relaxation not expulsion

Nero is still in Rome, though he remits taxations, and forbears massacres for a season. (T. Adams.)

The apostate, or black saint

Man compared to a fort, and the devil to its captain.

I. The unclean spirit’s egress, forsaking the hold.

1. His unroosting:

(a) the person going out;

(b) the manner;

(c) the measure, of his going out.

2. His unresting: which is seen in

(a) his travel;

(b) his trial;

(c) his trouble;

(d) the event-“finding none.”

II. His regress, striving for a re-entry into that which he lost.

1. Intentively:

(a) his resolution;

(b) his revolution;

(c) the description of the seat;

(d) his affection to the same place.

2. Inventively: for he findeth in it,

(a) Clearness;

(b) Cleanness:

(c) Trimness.

III. His ingress: manifest by-

1. His associates;

(a) their number;

(b) their nature;

(c) the measure of their malice.

2. His assault:

(a) the invasion;

(b) the inhabitation;

(c) the cohabitation. (T. Adams.)

Partial Sweeping

For like as a lazy and slothful housewife uses to sweep a little of the loose dust and filth in the open and middle of the room, and lets many secret corners lie foul as before, and maybe leaves the dirt behind the door out of the public view of people: so the false and counterfeit Christian reforms his life in the sight of men; or, like the Pharisees, makes clean the outside of the cup and platter, but their hearts are still polluted, and as vile as ever. (B. Keach.)

A natural improvement, not a saving operation

And remarkable is the phrase of our Saviour, “garnished,” which we know is commonly a curious piece of art, men by their ingenuity strive to imitate nature; they will draw the face of a man, etc., with curious painting, very exact, so that it much resembles the person’s natural face, yet it is not the same, it is but a piece of paint, an artificial invention. Even so in like manner by the improvement of man’s natural parts, common grace, light and knowledge, he may appear in the view and sight of men, as a true child of God, and may talk and discourse like a saint, read and hear God’s Word-nay, and pray also with much seeming devotion and piety, and may likewise bridle many unruly lusts, and gross enormities of life, and give alms to the poor, insomuch that he may very exactly resemble a true and sincere Christian, and be taken by all godly people to be indeed such an one; but notwithstanding all, it is but an artificial piece, it is but like a curious paint, or vainglorious garnish; it is not the image of God, it is not the new creature; though it looks like it, much resembles it, yet is not the same; for the man is a mere hypocrite, a counterfeit Christian, the work upon him being only the product of natural improvements, and not the effects of the saving operations of the Holy Spirit. (B. Keach.)


Verse 45

Matthew 12:43; Matthew 12:45

When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man.

Furnished, but vacant

The central lesson of this text is this: that reformation is not necessarily salvation-that, indeed, reformation without godliness may bring a curse rather than a blessing. And it is not the history of the Jewish nation only which illustrates this principle. Look at the reaction which, in our own country, followed the Puritan Reformation. Again, there are not a few in our day who have lost all faith in the gospel of Christ, but who are firm relievers is the power of science and material civilization to elevate and bless mankind. Science may expel the devils of ignorance and superstition; it may “sweep” the house, and “garnish “ it with information on a thousand subjects. But can it supply the house with a tenant strong enough to keep out the “ seven worse devils “ when they come? I do not know that ignorance is more dangerous than intellectual pride. I do not know that a superstitious idolatry is worse than an atheistic materialism. Nay, it may perhaps be more healthful for a man to worship the stars than to worship his own telescope, it is surely better to “feel after God” in the darkness, than to cease caring for Him in the light. Coming nearer home, my text also teaches us a pratical lesson as to our dealings with individuals whom we are seeking to save and BLESS. AS a parent you endeavour by earnest discipline to expel from your child the demons of disobedience, untruthfulness, self-will. You do well in thus sweeping the house; but this is not salvation. One deed done by your boy through the love of God or Christ or goodness, is worth all the sweeping and garnishing in the world; for it indicates that the house is tenanted. Take another case. Here, let us suppose, is a drunkard whom you are anxious to reform. He is ruining his body, breaking his wife’s heart, injuring his family. You succeed in reforming him. This a matter for rejoicing. You have done well in sweeping the house from one vice; but that vice had its root in ungodliness, and if after his reformation the man continues ungodly, there is danger of that ungodliness breaking out in worse sins than ever. Finally, the text has a solemn application to the state of our own souls. The grand question is: Are our souls inhabited by the principles of godliness? Is the spirit of God dwelling within us? Let us choose and cherish all things good. (T. C. Finlayson)

“To let, furnished”

You may perhaps have seen some large mansion filled with substantial and elegant furniture, and surrounded with a beautiful and well kept garden, and having in its windows a placard bearing the words” To let, furnished.” I fear there is many a man in modern Christendom of whom such a house is only too fitting an emblem! He may have been well instructed in the truths of Christianity; his mind may be richly stored with the fruits of modern culture; he may be brilliant and accomplished; his acquirements may be substantial, his manners gentlemanly, his tastes refined, his conduct decorous: but the well-furnished rooms are all vacant: they are not tenanted by the spiritual life; they are sadly too open to the incursions of evil; and one day, perhaps, the “seven devils” may come and abuse to their own purposes all those intellectual and aesthetic treasures. (T. C. Finlayson.)

Reaction

I suppose there never was a time in the history of England which equalled in licentiousness and profanity the period ushered in by the Restoration. And doubtless the chief cause of this is to be found in the endeavour of the Puritans, when they were in power, to force upon the nation both their own theology and their own code of morals. The Puritans, in their intense eagerness to reform the nation, fell into the great mistake of supposing that they could make the people orthodox and virtuous by Acts of Parliament. At least, their deeds were in accordance with some such theory. The Book of Common Prayer was forbidden, under penalty, to be used either in churches or in private houses. Punishments were threatened against such as should find fault with the Calvinistic mode of worship. Public amusements were attacked. Theatrical representstions were proscribed. One statute ordered that all the maypoles in England should be cut down. The Long Parliament gave orders that Christmas Day should be strictly observed as a fast-a day of national humiliation. No person was to be “admitted into the public service until the House of Legislature should be satisfied as to his real godliness.” Thus the Puritans set themselves most vigorously to “sweep” England and to “garnish” it. And it cannot be denied that to some extent they succeeded. The country did present an aspect of greater devoutness and morality. But all such Acts of Parliament could not communicate one spark of religious life; they could “sweep” away much visible dust, they could “garnish” the house with external observances, but they could not send the indwelling tenant. And so, in due time, to the untenanted house came the “seven devils:”-first, hypocrisy and all manner of cant, and secret debauchery, even during the Protectorate; and then, at the Restoration, an unblushing profanity sand licentiousness, the like of which England had never seen before. The king and his courtiers set the example of profligacy. The statesmen of the land became mere selfish tricksters. Literature draggled itself in the mire of pollution. The stage became utterly corrupt. Conventicles were proscribed. John Bunyan was only one of many who were sent to prison for preaching the gospel. (T. C. Finlayson.)

The return of the dispossessed spirit

And if we look to England at the period of the Reformation, we find that men, raised up by God, and endowed of Him with singular boldness, and wisdom, and piety, exorcised the unclean spirit of Romish superstition, and ejected from amongst us the corruptions of Popery. It was a sublime moral revolution, and never did the human mind struggle free from a more oppressive shackle, never was there thrown off from a people a mightier weight, than when Reformers had won the hard-fought battle, and Protestantism was enthroned as the religion of these realms. But we should like to have it carefully considered, whether there has been no receiving back the unclean spirit. The human mind, long enslaved, was intoxicated with its freedom, and, in place of stopping at liberty, went on to lawlessness. Hence the overspreading of the land with a thousand sects and a thousand systems; as though, in casting out the one spirit of ecclesiastical tyranny, we had taken in the seven of ecclesiastical disunion. And over and above this melancholy disruption of the visible Church, Popery itself has too often found a home in our Protestantism: for whenever formality has insinuated itself into religion, or self-righteousness, or the substitution of means for an end, then has there been introduced the very essence of Romanism: the ejected spirit has come back, the same in nature, though less repulsive in appearance. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

The genius of moral evil

I. Amazing audacity-“My house.”

II. Unscrupulous dishonesty.

1. Not a particle of its materials belong to him.

2. Not an effort in its workmanship was his.

III. Intense selfishness. Why does he return to the house, for injury.

IV. Egregious folly. Possession precarious. (Dr. Thomas.)

Transient religious impressions

I. The withdrawal of the evil spirit,

II. His restless anxiety to return.

III. The re-entrance he at length effects.

1. Of the state in which he found it. Empty. Garnished but not furnished.

2. The possession he again takes.

IV. The affecting ,consequence of his repossession’.

1. He will now run greater lengths in impiety than before.

2. He is less likely than ever to be recovered from Satanic dominion.

3. It must prove the occasion of more severe and aggravated suffering. (H. Bromley.)

The house swept and garnished

I. A miserable condition indicated. It is that of a man under the influence of an evil spirit.

1. This influence is powerful. It is inward, controlling, directing.

2. It is defiling.

II. An agreeable deliverance experienced. Men may undergo considerable change for the better, without being really converted.

1. In the Word of God this truth is frequently set forth.

2. It is confirmed by innumerable instances.

3. This subject demands serious thought, and vigorous self-examination.

III. A fearful relapse described.

1. When the evil spirit returned he found the house unoccupied.

2. His return under these circumstances was easily effected.

3. The consequences attending this re-possession were truly awful. (Expository Outlines.)

The dangers of relapse

Evil, in every form or stage, is dangerous. But if one comes out of these evils, and lapses back into them, the dangers are increased. This is well understood in disease. When the fever has subsided, and pulse and temperature have become normal, if then, through some indiscretion or exposure, the disease returns, the physician looks for a wider variation of pulse and temperature, and greater danger. The forces of nature are weakened; the house of the body was swept clean of all those gracious energies that filled it full of life and health, and now the disease runs riot through all its undefended chambers and passages. So one may dwell in a marsh at the foot of a mountain-a miserable existence, it may be, in malarious damps and under fatal shades; but it is better to stay there than to climb the mountain and heedlessly slip over a precipice. Life may be maintained below, though under wretched conditions; but the fall may cripple or end it. So one may live a contented life in rude poverty; the single room of the hut, water from the spring, the wild forest around, the homespun suit, the plain diet, the unhelped toil, the dull and narrow routine-a picture for pity, perhaps, and not representing the best forms of life; but if one escapes it, and comes into finer and larger ways of living, and then is driven back to the old place and ways, the lapse breeds a discontent and misery before unknown. To venture forth and then return; to rise and fall back; to promise and not fulfil; to undertake and not do-this is the tragedy of character.

I. One who lapses from religious earnestness does not easily regain it; and if the lapses are frequent there is danger of losing it altogether. The Divine flame cannot often go out and be re-kindled. Once out, it is apt to stay out. The religious nature cannot be tampered with, and retain its integrity. It is largely made up of emotions and passions that lose their quality, and turn into scourges, if treated fitfully. You may bend a bar of iron, and straighten it again; but after repeating this process a few times it suddenly parts in your hands, and only fusing fire can weld it. Take a finer passion-love. You cannot give and take back love without ceasing to love; it is, by its nature, a continuous thing. Violate its nature as such, and it becomes a name and a disgust. One cannot “fall in love” many times, and have a heart left … Fire always burns; water seeks its level; the crystal keeps its angle; light extinguishes darkness. So in spiritual matters; we cannot trifle with these great passions of love and reverence, devotion, fidelity and enthusiasm without destroying them … It is dangerous, because self-destructive to say, “I will do a thing,” and then not do it; to take a place of responsibility, and shirk its duties when they begin to press hard and grow monotonous. If we trifle with truth and duty, we do not merely lose them; we change them into avenging spirits that return to us with consuming power.

II. One who takes up and lays off a duty, and is fitful in religious habits and feelings, grows sceptical of the reality of these things. A religious life gets its vindication and comes to a full proof of its reality, only as it is continuous and lived out to the full. One cannot in a year test the full power of a single Christian quality. A personal vindication of the faith is a life-work, and requires all its years. Thus only does one come to know in whom and what one believes. But if the test is a short or vacillating one; if you try prayer, worship, self-denial, meekness, charity, forgiveness, self-control, devotion for a while, and lapse out of them, you doubt their reality. Why should you not? They bore you no fruit, gave you no proof. But alas for him who reaches such a conclusion by such a process. It is something to believe in goodness, though we may not be good; to believe that honest men walk the streets, though we may not be honest; that the light which shines from the downcast eves of modesty is not a false light, though it may have died out in our own; that when men speak of prayer and faith, they speak of realities and powers, though we may be strangers to them. But to doubt them, to disbelieve their existence-that is perdition. Then the soul begins to depart from all things, the glory of humanity fades Out; inspiration ceases to play within us; nobility is gone out of all our life.

III. The reasons for stedfastness. Only one true goal of human effort-character. To know its conditions and obey them is the sum of all knowledge and duty. Regularity, bending the powers to one end, doing always the right thing under the right motive-it is thus that character takes shape and becomes a reality. A habit of religious thought may be formed as truly as a trade can be learned, and under the same law of repetition, guided by will and sympathetic purpose. Lapse, alternations, fluctuations, now earnest, now slothful, now up and doing, and now doing nothing, now alive with religious enthusiasm, now sunk down in apathy-such a history is the defeat and the denial of character. There is still hope no doubt, for one who has had such a history; but he must take care not to repeat it. Character is justly adjudged by its faults and vices, rather than from its virtues; just as it is the weakest spot in the iron that measures the strength of the bar, and just as the rope will hold only the weight that the frayed and chafed strands can endure. In character, the vice blackens the virtue; the virtue cannot whiten the vice … And so, when we turn to the Bible, we find all the promises and all the rewards poured out on those who are faithful unto the end. The patience of the saints is the burden of its exhortation. Be thou faithful unto death, and thou shalt win the crown of life. And in keeping with this, the picture of heavenly perfection, is that of constancy-serving God day and night in His temple; and so they reign for ever and ever. (T. T. Munger.)

The empty life

As wealth increases, as we multiply men-servants and maid-servants in our houses, as life becomes less primitive and more artificial, there come to be found a large number of persons, both men and women, who have little or nothing to do, unless they seek or make an occupation for themselves. It is out of such a condition of things that there is sure to arise, sooner or later, every imaginable evil that can afflict society or ruin the individual soul. Given the growth of wealth, luxury and indolence, and straightway you have prepared a nest in which a whole brood of vices will soon and swiftly be hatched. When one home is clouded or shattered by the shame of some wretched intrigue, and another stung and wounded by the cruelty of some causeless calumny, and a third dishonoured and disbanded perhaps by some foolish and criminal extravagance, have we ever paused to consider amid what idleness, what aimlessness, amid what vapid seeking for a fresh excitement in the dead dull level of an unemployed and uninterested life, these manifold forms of evil were conceived and initiated? Ah! if we could trace back some crime or baseness to its incipient beginning, how often should we find it true that, into the life, “empty, swept and garnished,” there had entered, just because it was so empty, its hands so idle and unemployed, its heart so uninterested and indifferent, a whole legion of devils to drag it down to hell. (Bishop H. C. Potter.)

The entrance of evil

It is not here said that the evil spirit breaks open the door, or that he does so much as draw the latch; but that he finds it empty and open already, and all things ready for his entertainment; so that, if we reach not out our hands to welcome him when he comes, and set not our doors open to let him in when he knocks, his temptations can never do us hurt; he can but entreat us, as he did Christ; and, if we fall, the fault is our own; we cast ourselves down headlong into misery and sin. (Bishop Cosin.)

The heart a house

So the malicious heart is a house for the spirit of envy: the drunken for the spirit of sobriety: the proud for the spirit of pride: the unchaste for the spirit of uncleanness: usurer for the spirit of covetousness. (T. Adams.)

Satanic disquietude when cast out of man

The discontented devil cast out of man seeks about for a new lodging; and finds all places dry: he esteems every place, but in man’s heart, irksome and unpleasant, as a dry, barren, and healthy wilderness. Now, as when a man hath long lived in a fertile valley, abounding with delightful fruits, and necessary comforts, the grounds standing thick with corn, and a pleasant river running along, to glad his heart with a welcome moisture; it cannot be other than a displeasing change to be banished into a mountainous desert, where the scorching sun burns up the grass, and withers the fruit; or the unhindered force of the wind finds a bleak object to work upon; where the veins of blood, the springs of water, rise not, run not, to modify the earth, and cherish her plants. Such is Satan’s case and cause of perplexity. The wicked heart was his delighted orchard, where the fruits of disobedience, oaths, lies, blasphemies, oppressions, cozenages, contentions, drunken, proud, covetous actions and habits made him fat.

The concealed occupant

The devil may be within the grate, though he thrust not out his apparent horns, or say, he be walked abroad, yet be returns home at night: and in the mean time, like a mistrustful churl, locks the door after him; spares up the heart with security, that his treasure be not stolen. Thus as a snail, he gathers up himself into his shell and house of the heart, when he fears discovery, and puts not forth his horns. Sometimes he plays not in the sun actually, but burrows deep in the affections. The fox keeps his den close, when he knows that God’s huntsmen be abroad to seek him. (T. Adams.)

Satanic relaxation not expulsion

Nero is still in Rome, though he remits taxations, and forbears massacres for a season. (T. Adams.)

The apostate, or black saint

Man compared to a fort, and the devil to its captain.

I. The unclean spirit’s egress, forsaking the hold.

1. His unroosting:

(a) the person going out;

(b) the manner;

(c) the measure, of his going out.

2. His unresting: which is seen in

(a) his travel;

(b) his trial;

(c) his trouble;

(d) the event-“finding none.”

II. His regress, striving for a re-entry into that which he lost.

1. Intentively:

(a) his resolution;

(b) his revolution;

(c) the description of the seat;

(d) his affection to the same place.

2. Inventively: for he findeth in it,

(a) Clearness;

(b) Cleanness:

(c) Trimness.

III. His ingress: manifest by-

1. His associates;

(a) their number;

(b) their nature;

(c) the measure of their malice.

2. His assault:

(a) the invasion;

(b) the inhabitation;

(c) the cohabitation. (T. Adams.)

Partial Sweeping

For like as a lazy and slothful housewife uses to sweep a little of the loose dust and filth in the open and middle of the room, and lets many secret corners lie foul as before, and maybe leaves the dirt behind the door out of the public view of people: so the false and counterfeit Christian reforms his life in the sight of men; or, like the Pharisees, makes clean the outside of the cup and platter, but their hearts are still polluted, and as vile as ever. (B. Keach.)

A natural improvement, not a saving operation

And remarkable is the phrase of our Saviour, “garnished,” which we know is commonly a curious piece of art, men by their ingenuity strive to imitate nature; they will draw the face of a man, etc., with curious painting, very exact, so that it much resembles the person’s natural face, yet it is not the same, it is but a piece of paint, an artificial invention. Even so in like manner by the improvement of man’s natural parts, common grace, light and knowledge, he may appear in the view and sight of men, as a true child of God, and may talk and discourse like a saint, read and hear God’s Word-nay, and pray also with much seeming devotion and piety, and may likewise bridle many unruly lusts, and gross enormities of life, and give alms to the poor, insomuch that he may very exactly resemble a true and sincere Christian, and be taken by all godly people to be indeed such an one; but notwithstanding all, it is but an artificial piece, it is but like a curious paint, or vainglorious garnish; it is not the image of God, it is not the new creature; though it looks like it, much resembles it, yet is not the same; for the man is a mere hypocrite, a counterfeit Christian, the work upon him being only the product of natural improvements, and not the effects of the saving operations of the Holy Spirit. (B. Keach.)


Verses 46-50

Matthew 12:46-50

The same is My brother, and sister, and mother.

Christians are Christ’s Relations

I. That Jesus here implies that the supreme relationships of life are moral

1. It is similar to that of the family.

2. It is superior to that of the family.

II. That Jesus here proclaims that the bond by which men sustain this supreme relationship to Himself, is by their obedience to God’s will. When we do His will.

1. There is the kinship of sympathy.

2. Kinship of resemblance.

III. That Jesus here suggests that the Christian relationship to Christ is individual, varied and satisfying.

1. Brotherhood. Active men.

2. Sisterhood. The intercourse of heart.

3. Motherhood. (U. B. Thomas.)

Moral a affinity the true ground of unity

Christ saw things in their superior relationships. All true relationship springs from moral states, not from the mechanical arrangements of society.

1. It is the real and proper tendency of all moral affections to seek each other, and to coalesce. The lower feelings are to a certain extent centrifugal. Policy, self interest, gifts, are perpetually separating men. All attempts to compromise union, to reason men into external union have failed. It is not found in contiguity. It is found in divergence of thought and feeling. All harmonies are in the direction of diversity. Love will do what reason never could do.

2. Human affections are never carried to their full power, and sweetness and beauty, till they are lifted up into the higher sphere, by their affinities and associations, religious. It is not enough to love the human that is in man; but that which is to live after the body. An unsanctified affection an imperfect one.

3. It is a matter of great rejoicing to those who ponder the spirit of this passage, that this world, after all, is as rich as it is. Although hearts are distributed and unrecognized, yet you can feel what a wealth of relationship there is after all.

4. The true man of God, in our day, is he who feels most sensitively his relationship to the Divine element which is in his fellow man. The largest man is the man of the largest heart.

5. It is piteous to see how men have spent their lives in resisting their relationships, and in putting trust and charity upon hard conditions. We must change away from the hating and fighting to the loving principle. (H. W. Beecher.)

A wealth of relationship

I never read a book of a fine nature that I do not instantly feel, “Well, he is mine, too.” The Guerins-brother and sister-are as much mine as though I had been brought up on their mother’s knee. Fenelon is mine. Bossuet is mine. All those noble men who carried down the light of a true Christian example through stormy times, and held steadfastly to the faith, and suffered nobly-they are mine. Pascal is mine. Newton is mine. All the great natures of the earth that have lifted themselves up under the genial Sun of Righteousness, and have begun to show heavenly colours and heavenly blossoms-they are mine. The same Father is mine. The same Saviour is mine. And I hear my Saviour saying, “All those that do the will of God are mothers to each other, brothers to each other, sisters to each other. (H. W. Beecher.)

Relationship revealed in heaven

You do not know how many relations you have till you are in heaven. Oh! when those that are around you, and that you meet from day to day with little pleasure, meet you again, and they have thrown off the cerements of the body; when you see that in them which is good, and in conditions in which counterpoising evil is taken away, and the whole evolutions of their glorious nature are disclosed, you will never know them! It will be as when one looks upon the banks in January, and says, “How dreary are these banks I “ and then in June looks upon the same landscape, and says, “It is not the thing that I looked at before.” It is winter here, and we are frost-bitten, or ice-clad. It will be summer there; and we shall be in fragrant leaf and glorious blossom. And when you reach heaven, you will never be lonesome, or restrained. Here the necessities of earth, and the proprieties of life, and the laws and conditions of our lower nature, partition and divide us; and we belong to each other more than we do to all the world. But in heaven all that will be gone. Every soul there will belong to every soul; every heart to every- heart; every love to every love. We shall be God’s, and He shall be ours. (H. W. Beecher.)

The family of our Lord

I. Their character. “They do the will of His Father.”

1. Some do the will of the devil.

2. Some do the will of men.

3. Some do their own will.

4. The Christian makes the will of God the rule of his life.

5. God has revealed His will. Their obedience is

II. Their privilege. His disciples are Christ’s kindred.

1. We look for family likeness, and we have it-“Conformed to the image of His Son.” “‘We shall also bear the image of the heavenly.” The resemblance not complete in this world: but it is real.

2. He confers honour upon them as His kindred. It is glorious to belong to persons of illustrious endowments.

3. If they are relations, Christ will love them.

4. Since He declares them to be His relations, He will provide for them.

5. He will keep up an intercourse with them.

6. He will defend them.

7. Admire the grace and condescension of our Lord Jesus Christ.

8. The advantages of religion.

9. The holiness of the gospel.

10. The duty derived from this alliance. (W. Jay.)

Description and dignity of true Christians

I. A description of Christ’s disciples-“They do the will,” etc. What is the will of God?

1. God would have us to believe in Jesus Christ.

2. God requires of us to repent of our sins and to walk in newness of life. Naturally men cannot do these things; only the children of God.

II. The dignity conferred on the.

1. Christ here declares how dear and precious to Him are His true disciples. A true brother will watch over the interests of His brethren.

III. The privileges derived from this dignity.

1. Confidence in prayer.

2. Comfort in death. (E. Cooper.)

Spiritual relationship with Christ

Brother and sister, because of either sex. The faithful soul is also the mother of Christ, because by teaching, exhorting, and counselling, she brings forth Christ in herself and in others. Thus St. Gregory says: “We must know that he who is the brother or sister of Christ through believing is made His mother by preaching. For he, as it were, brings forth the Lord, whom he infuses into the hearts of his hearers.” He subjoins the example of Felicitas, who, by the Spirit, bore to God the seven sons to whom she had given birth in the flesh, because she strengthened them in persecution, and animated them for martyrdom. These words of Christ were also exemplified in Victoria, a virgin-martyr under Diocletian. She replied to the pro-consul, on his asking her whether she would join her brother Fortunatianus, who was a heathen: “No, for I am a Christian; and those are my brethren who keep the commandments of God.” Wherefore she was shut up in prison, and perishing by hunger, obtained the martyr’s crown.

I. Christians are the relatives of Christ. The ground of the relationship not natural, ecclesiastical, but spiritual-faith and obedience.

II. Spiritual relationship to Christ is superior to natural. It is more intimate, happy, honourable, comprehensive, permanent.

III. The love of Christ to Christians as His relatives comprises within itself all, the different phases of natural affections.

1. Let us honour the relatives of Christ.

2. Seek to be of their number.

3. Choose them for our companions.

4. Do them all the good in our power. (Various.)

I. The character of the disciple of Christ. Relates to-What we are to believe, experience, be, do, suffer, enjoy.

II. How near and dear they are to Christ.

III. How near and dear they ought to be to each other. (J. Benson.)

I. The spiritual relatives of Jesus. Close and intimate. All the saints have one Father, one nature, one mind, one name with Christ.

II. The great principle of this relationship. Obedience. God’s will is revealed to us. Obedience must be evangelical, affectionate, full, constant.

III. The advantages of this relationship. Exalted honour, greatest blessings, everlasting security. Rejoice, walk worthy, etc. (Dr. Burns.)

Christ’s kindred

This reply of our Lord shows-

I. The pervading spiritality of Christ’s mind. He turned every circumstance to spiritual account. Christ spiritualized because He was spiritual.

II. The pure philanthropy of Christ’s heart. His love for man as man. The world is made one in relationship as it enters into Christ’s love.

III. It shows the true bond of man’s connection with Christ.

1. Connection with Christ is not determined by social position.

2. It is not determined by material relationships.

3. It is determined by obedience to the Divine will.

IV. It shows the high privileges resulting from moral union with Christ.

1. Here is the idea of infinite relationship.

2. Here is the idea of social communion.

Inferences:

1. If we are to obey the Divine will, a great change must pass over our moral nature.

2. If our union with Christ is moral, it will also be eternal.

3. If all the good are Christ’s kindred, their meeting-place must be heaven.

4. If we are all Christ’s, joy should be the pervading emotion of our hearts. (J. Parker.)

Preliminary remarks on the seven parables

The kingdom’s similitude

Not the kingdom of heaven is, but the kingdom of heaven is like, so and so. Truth is a separate matter from the forms of phrase along which it is conveyed, or the forms of thought under which it is apprehended. In this respect it resembles the light. No painter can paint light. He can give you colours, the greens, the blues, the crimsons, but he cannot give you light; and yet if he is a genius he will succeed in filling his picture with those tinted suggestions that will somehow quicken in you a deep, thrilling sense of light. So Christ, in a similar manner, did not point out to His disciples this particular thing and that particular thing, but loaded His sentences with suggestions, and started in men’s minds presentiments that went leaping along ahead of the spoken word He cut no grooves for men’s opinions to slip in, fashioned no moulds for those opinions to be cast in; did not care to have them think precisely this, or precisely that; tied them to no nice forms of declaration; did not accentuate with periods. And so their minds moved as vessels move at sea; at the direction of the compass, to be sure but without the sea ever being worn down into ruts and roadways. He drew for them pictures of the truth, and then let them make what they could of these pictures. A truth never can be quite told. It is best seen when we are not trying too hard to see it, not straining our eyes to see it-as faint stars become visible when we look a little off from them. (C. H. Parkhurst, D. D.)

The seven parables of the kingdom

History of the Church in all ages, from the first preaching of the gospel to the last general judgment, tracing the different steps of its advancement, both externally and internally, from its commencement to its consummation.

1. Sower-the preaching of the gospel, when the apostles and their successors went through the world, sowing everywhere the good seed.

2. Tares-the development of those evils of doctrine, the germs of which existed even in an earlier day.

3. Mustard seed-the extension and progress of the Church. It needs no support for itself, but affords a shelter to others who resort to it.

4. Leaven-the manner in which its vital spirit silently makes its progress, gradually changing the character of the whole mass into which it has been infused.

5. Hid treasure-action of Christianity upon some. In such a ease as this, some unlooked-for occurrence brings the man into contact with this treasure, for which he was not seeking. He finds it accidentally, and at once gives up all to possess it.

6. Pearl of great price-action of Christianity upon others. Here the man is engaged in the business of his life. He gains that for which he has all along been seeking.

7. Net-the solemn winding-up of the mighty drama-the separation-the consummation. (Bishop Wn. Ingraham Kip.)

The general teaching of these seven parables

No one should miss gathering from these parables some notion of the all-embracing character of the kingdom which Christ came to set up among men. We need not wonder that Christ exhibits the truth lie wanted to impress upon them in a great variety of lights. It would have been surprising if He had not supplemented the parable of the hid treasure with that of the pearl, for the four parables which precede these are arranged in pairs. First, we have the action of Christ upon the Church, in the parable of the sower, supplemented by the field and the tares; then the expansive and permeating power of the Christian society, in the mustard and leaven; and, in the third pair, we are shown the attitude of the individual in relation to the saving grace of God. The king, the kingdom, the subjects-under each of these aspects two illustrations are given to enforce important varieties, and to exhibit, in more than one light, the manifold wisdom of God. (J. Henry Burn, B. D.)

The diversity of Christ’s parables

His parables were divers, when yet by those sundry shadows He did aim directly at one light. The intention of which course in our great Physician is to give several medicines for the same malady in several men, fitting his receipts to the disposition of his patients. The soldier doth not so well understand similitudes taken from husbandry, nor the husbandman from the war. The lawyer conceives not an allusion from physic, nor the physician from the law. Home-dwellers are ignorant of foreign matters; neither doth the quiet, rural labourer trouble his head with matters of state. Therefore Christ derives a parable from an army, to teach soldiers; from legal principles, to instruct lawyers; from the field and sewing, to speak familiarly to the husbandman’s capacity. (T. Adams.)

Parables

The word used (masdal) means a “likeness” or “comparison.” Parables differ from fables in being pictures of possible occurrences-frequently of actual daily occurrences-and in teaching religious truths rather than moral truths. (A. Carr.)

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Matthew 12:4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/matthew-12.html. 1905-1909. New York.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, December 12th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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