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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Matthew 12

 

 

Introduction

CHAP. XII.

Christ reproveth the blindness of the Pharisees concerning the breach of the sabbath, by scriptures, by reason, and by a miracle: he healeth the man possessed, who was blind and dumb. Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall never be forgiven. Account shall be made of idle words: he rebuketh the unfaithful who seek after a sign, and sheweth who is his brother, sister, and mother.

Anno Domini 31.


Verse 1

Matthew 12:1. On the sabbath-day See the note on Luke 6:1 where the Evangelist points out the sabbath and day whereon this happened, Through the corn means through the paths that were in the corn. The word σταχυας may indifferently signify ears of any kind of grain; but it most probably was barley, which was ripe at that time in Judaea.


Verse 2

Matthew 12:2. When the Pharisees saw it, they said, &c.— The Jews were allowed by the law, when they came into the standing corn of their neighbours, to pluck some ears, and eat them, Deuteronomy 23:25. But as they were by the same law forbid to reap on the sabbath-day, the Pharisees, perversely enough, accounted this action of the disciples to be a kind of reaping. They looked also upon the rubbing the ears of corn in their hands as a breach of the law, because they were not allowed by it to dress their victual on the sabbath-day. See Beausobre and Lenfant, Introduction, p. 159.


Verse 3-4

Matthew 12:3-4. But he said unto them, &c.— Concerning this transaction see the note on Mark 2:25-26. By the house of God is not meant the temple, for it was not then built; but the court of the tabernacle, which was at that time pitched at Nob, one of the priests' cities in the tribe of Benjamin.


Verse 5

Matthew 12:5. Or have ye not read in the law, &c.— He did not mean that these words were to be found in the law, but that they might read in the law, that the priests were obliged on the sabbath-day to perform such servile work in the temple, as, considered separately from the end of it, was a profanation of the sabbath; and yet were guiltless, because it was necessary to the public worship, on account of which the sabbath was instituted. From Numbers 28:9 it appears, that, besides the continual burnt-offerings, the priests were obliged on the sabbaths to sacrifice two lambs extraordinary, by which their servile work was that day double of what it was on the other days of the week. This, though really no profanation of the sabbath, might, according to the common notion of the Jews, be so termed; and therefore, in speaking of it, our Lord calls it so. See Macknight and Calmet.


Verse 6

Matthew 12:6. But I say unto you, that in this place, &c.— "If you reply, that the priests were not culpable in those actions, because they were undertaken for the temple service, I acknowledge it; but at the same time it should be observed, that if the temple, with its service, be of such importance as to demand a particular dispensation from the law of the sabbath; I who am the Lord of the temple, and of whom the temple is but the type, may, with equal reason, take the same liberty in a case of the like necessity." Every prophet was in some sense greater than the temple; and hence Elijah sacrificed out of the temple on an extraordinary occasion: but our blessed Lord was infinitely greater than any prophet. It should also be observed, that Christ and his apostles were so taken up in the discharge of their duty, that they had not leisure to prepare food for the sabbath; they were therefore under a necessity either to intermit their prophetic office, or to act contrary to the literal sense of the law. Now, as the Jews did not intermit the office of the priesthood on account of the law concerning the sabbath; so neither should the prophetic office be intermitted on that account, especially as it was superior in its dignity, and more extensive in its benefits. According to this interpretation the reading μειζον, a greater work, instead of μειζων, a greater person, which is authorised by a number of manuscripts, will have a peculiar elegance. "There is here a much more noble work carrying on than the temple-service." Or the common reading may be retained thus: "If the servile work done in the temple on a sabbath is not reckoned an offence, because it is undertaken on account of the temple-worship, the rubbing of the ears of corn, for which you blamemy disciples, cannot be any; seeing they do it in order to support life, while they are employed in the service of one who is infinitely greater than the temple." For the Human Nature of Jesus was an infinitely more august temple, in respect of the essential habitation of the Divinity, than that of Jerusalem. See Grotius, Hammond, Wetstein, and Mill.


Verse 7

Matthew 12:7. I will have mercy, &c.— I delight in mercy (so θελειν signifies, ch. Matthew 27:43.), more than sacrifice; for this is the Hebrew form of comparison. See the note on ch. Matthew 9:13. Works of mercy, acts of kindness and beneficence, are essential duties, and preferable to all the ceremonial law, named here (from its principal act) sacrifice, when that comes in competition with them. As the sense of so many important scriptures depends upon it, it may be proper to observe, that, according to the genius of the Hebrew language, one thing seems to be forbidden, and another commanded, when the meaning only is, that the latter is greatly to be preferred to the former. The text before us is a remarkable instance; as likewise John 6:27. And it is evident, that Genesis 45:8. John 7:19 and many more passages, are to be expounded in the same comparative sense. See Doddridge, Heylin, and Beausobre and Lenfant.


Verse 8

Matthew 12:8. For the Son of man is Lord, &c.— See on Mark 2:27-28. The expression even of the sabbath-day, και του σαββατου, certainly implies, that the sabbath was an institution of great and distinguished importance. It may perhaps also refer to that signal act of authority which Christ afterwards, by the ministry of his apostles, exerted over it in changing it from the seventh to the first day of the week.


Verse 9

Matthew 12:9. When he was departed thence There can be no doubt as to the connection of this history with the preceding, in which all the Evangelists agree; and indeed, had not St. Luke told us, that it was on another sabbath, the words of St. Matthew would have led us to imagine it had been the same day. Perhaps our Lord might spend most of the week in the town, to which the fields above mentioned belonged. See Doddridge and Chemnitz.


Verse 10

Matthew 12:10. And they asked him, &c.— That is, the Pharisees, Matthew 12:14 who, when they saw Jesus going to perform the cure, put this question to him, Is it lawful, &c.? by which they declared in the strongest terms their opinion of its unlawfulness: but in so doing they had no intention to prevent the action which they knew he was resolved upon, but to render him odious to the common people; expecting that he would openly declare such things lawful, in opposition to the definitions of the doctors, who had all determined that to perform cures upon the sabbath was a violation of the Holy rest: or, if he should give no answer to their question, as it implied an affirmation of the unlawfulness of what he was about to attempt, they thought it would render him inexcusable, and give the better colour to their accusation. The word θεραπευειν, rendered to heal, is very extensive, and properly includes all the care, labour, and attendance, which the case of any distempered or wounded person can require; as I apprehend our English word cure also does, though through the poverty of our language we are forced to apply it so those miraculous effects, which were so instantaneously produced by the healing word of our blessed Redeemer. What Syriac word the Pharisees might use, we know not: but it is plain that the question is put in verygeneral terms, which best favoured their base purpose of founding an accusation on our Lord's answer. See Doddridge and Macknight.


Verse 11

Matthew 12:11. That shall have one sheep Who, if he have but one sheep that on the sabbath-day should fall into a pit, will not, &c. The stress is not here to be laid upon a man's having only one sheep, but upon one only falling into a pit. The following Jewish saying is mentioned by some writers: "It is unlawful to do any servile work on the sabbath-day, unless it be on purpose to save a life;" which comprehends also brutes. From what is said here, and Luke 13:15; Luke 14:5 it appears, that this was then a common saying. The first clause of the next verse might be rendered, Of how much greater value is a man than a sheep? To do well, καλως ποιειν, implies all the offices of charity and tenderness, and is oftentimes used in opposition to doing evil or killing, when it bears the same sense as it does here; and the context seems to require it, namely, to preserve life. To perform the lovely pleasing acts of kindness and beneficence, is preferable to sacrifice or any ceremonial performance; the former being a more essential duty, more pleasing to God, and more beneficial to mankind. See Doddridge, Beausobre and Lenfant, and Heylin.


Verse 14

Matthew 12:14. How they might destroy him This is the first time that mention is made of a design onour Saviour's life. It is natural to think that the historian would acquaint us of their concurring in the design, before he would speak of their consulting about the means. See Campbell.


Verse 15

Matthew 12:15. But when Jesus knew it But Jesus knowing it withdrew.


Verse 16

Matthew 12:16. And charged them, &c.— To what we have observed concerning the reasons why our Lord desired to conceal his mighty works in the note on ch. Matthew 8:4 we would add the following remarks: This concealment of himself may seem strange in one who was come to bring light into the world, and was to suffer death for the testimony of the truth. This reservedness may be thought to look as if he had a mind to conceal himself, and not to be known to the world for the Messiah, nor to be believed in as such; but we should be of another mind, and conclude this proceeding of his according to divine wisdom, and suited to a fuller manifestation and evidence of his being the Messiah, when we consider that he was to fill up the time foretold for his ministry; and, after a life illustrious in miracles and good works, attended with humility, meekness, patience, and suffering, and every way conformable to the prophesies concerning him; should be led as a sheep to the slaughter, and with all quiet submission be brought to the cross, though there was no guilt or fault found in him. This could not have been, if, as soon as he appeared in public and began to preach, he had presently professed himself to have been the Messiah, the king who owned that kingdom which he published to be at hand; for the Sanhedrim would then have laid hold of it, to have got him in their power, and thereby have taken away his life; at least they would have disturbed his ministry, and hindered the work he was about; unless he had exercised his Almighty power in a way that we have no right to expect. That this induced him to avoid the occasions of provoking them, and falling into their hands, is plain from John 7:1. Such was the will of our Blessed Saviour, who could have called for legions of angels to have assisted him, or done himself what he pleased in heaven, in earth, and in hell.


Verses 17-21

Matthew 12:17-21. That it might be fulfilled, &c.— Concerning this prophesy, we refer the reader to the notes on Isaiah 42:1; Isaiah 42:25 just observing, that it is not quoted here exactly according to the Hebrew original, the Evangelist having contracted it.


Verse 20

Matthew 12:20. And smoking flax, &c.— And a dimly burning taper he will not extinguish, till he render his laws victorious; or, till he hath made justice victorious. It is said at Matthew 12:18 that he shall teach the nations judgment; by which I understand, says Dr. Heylin, in nearly these words, that self-judgment [the nosce teipsum, self-knowledge, reduced to practice] which is, under divine grace, the ground of all morality, and commonly named judgment in the scripture. This on the first awakenings of the soul must be greatly defective: self-knowledge is then dim, as the smoking wick, and good purposes weak as the broken reed; yet, under the conduct of Christ, these unpromising dispositions willimprove by continual accessions of divine light, till the penitent sinner, enabledto lay hold upon Christ by simple faith, becomes conscious of an interest in his blood, and feels a renovation of nature, which is here meant by sending forth judgment unto victory.

See commentary on Matthew 12:17


Verse 21

Matthew 12:21. And in his name, &c.— St. Matthew has here followed the LXX. In Isaiah it is, and the isles shall wait for his law: but the meaning of both passages is the same; for the Evangelists use the name of God with that latitude which it has in the Hebrew language, wherein it denotes the Deity himself; his perfections, his worship, his laws, and, in one word, every thing relating to religion. In the language of the Old Testament, the isles commonly denote the idolatrous nations to the west of Judaea. The prophet's meaning therefore is, that the heathen nations, charmed with the kindness and gentleness of the Messiah's kingdom, the equity of his government, and the beauty and rectitude of his laws, shall, through divine grace, trustin him, or obtain for themselves protection and safety by becoming his subjects. See Macknight and Vitringa.

See commentary on Matthew 12:17


Verse 22

Matthew 12:22. One possessed, &c.— A demoniac.


Verse 24

Matthew 12:24. This fellow doth not cast out, &c.— The Pharisees affirmed, that Jesus performed his miracles, particularly on possessed persons, by the assistance of Beelzebub, for two reasons; first, Jesus had all along been at great pains to oppose those superstitions which most of the teachers and people of that age looked upon as the essentials of religion, and extolled as the principal branches of piety. Hence they considered him, who decried them, as a very flagitious person; and because it is supposed, Deuteronomy 13:1-3 that a false prophet might work signs and wonders, with an intention to turn men from the worship of God, they thought our Lord was a deceiver of that kind; affirming that he performedall his miracles by the assistance of evil spirits, and with a view to seduce the people from their obedience to God. Secondly, The demons, in addressing Jesus, honoured him with the title of Messiah. This, it is probable, his enemies said the devils would never have done, had he not been in compact with them. Hence we see the reason why our Lord, on several occasions, strictlycharged the devils not to make him known: he would not have their testimony, because he foresaw that a bad use would be made of it by men of evil minds. The truth is, that the account which the Pharisees gave of Christ's miracles, and which they endeavoured to propagate, in order to prevent the effect which they might have had upon the people, though it was altogether false and malicious, and even absurd, in the sight of impartial judges; yet, placed in the light just now mentioned, had some shew of argument in it, at least to persons whose prejudices and interests were favoured by it. Accordingly, among other causes, it contributed not a little to the infidelity of the Jews, which, to any thinking mind, cannot but be matter of great wonder, considering what multitudes were witnesses of the many miracles which Jesus performed on the sick of all sorts; on the blind, the deaf, the dumb, the maimed, and the lame; on paralytics, lunatics, demoniacs, and other miserable objects; nay, and on dead persons, whom he raised again to life; on the winds, and on the seas; in a word, on every part of nature. See the note on ch. Matthew 10:25. It may be proper to observe once for all, that the word fellow is not in the Greek, but inserted by our translators. In the original it is Ουτος, he, or this man; the term is certainly used contemptuously


Verse 25-26

Matthew 12:25-26. And Jesus knew their thoughts, &c.— It frequently happens that, through ignorance or weakness, men form wrong judgments of things; a misfortune which, because it necessarily springs from the imperfection of human nature, does not deserve the very harshest censure; but when wrong judgments proceed from evil dispositions, they become highly culpable: therefore, to shew that the judgment which the Pharisees passed at this time upon our Lord's miracles was of the latter kind, the Evangelist observes, that Jesus knew their thoughts; knew that the wickedness of their hearts, and not the weakness of their understandings, had led them to form the opinion they had uttered, if it was their real opinion; or rather to affirm it contrary to their conviction; which was the reason that at the conclusion of his defence he reprimanded them in the sharpest manner. Accordingly, addressing himself both to them and the people, he demonstrated the absurdity of their calumny, by an argument drawn from the common affairs of life:Every kingdom, &c. as much as to say,"If evil spirits assist me in working miracles for the confirmation of mydoctrine, they do what they can to promote the spiritual worship and ardent love of the true God, and as effectually as possible excite men to the practice of universal justice, benevolence, temperance,andself-government;allthesevirtuesbeingpowerfullyrecommendedby my doctrine. But thus to make the evil spirits fight against themselves, is evidently to make them ruin their own interest; unless it can be thought that the strength and welfare of a society is advanced by jarring discord, and destructive civil wars: your judgment, therefore, of my conduct,is palpably malicious and absurd. This answer of our Lord's demonstratively proves, that Beelzebub and Satan are names of the same person; and consequently that Satan was considered as the prince of those demons who were cast out by Christ, and who are elsewhere represented as his angels, It may not be improper to add here, that the Jewish rabbis call every demon by the name of Satan, and often use the name in the plural number. So they call Sammael (which is but another name for Beelzebub) the head or prince of all the Satans." See Casaubon on the place, and Archbishop Tillotson's Sermons, vol. 3: p. 545.


Verse 27

Matthew 12:27. By whom do your children, &c.— Your sons, υιοι . Dr. Chandler paraphrases the verse thus: "You do not impute the miracles of your prophets to Beelzebub, but, on the evidence of these miracles, you receive them as the messengers of God; nevertheless you reject me, who work greater and more numerous miracles than they, and impute them to the power of evil spirits. Is this conduct of a piece? Wherefore these prophets shall be your judges; they shall condemn you." Others, however, suppose, and, as it seems to me, with better reason, that by your sons is meant your disciples, or your countrymen in general; for that manyof the Jews did at this time attempt tocast out devils, is plain from Mark 9:38. Luke 9:49. Acts 19:13 and Josephus, Antiq. lib. viii. c. 2. Calvin thinks that God conferred a power of this kind on some particular persons among the Jews anciently, that, by thus proving his presence among them, he might retain the nation in the faith of his covenant; and that the people, having experienced God's power in those instances, came foolishly to institute for themselves the office of an exorcist. Agreeably to this it may be observed, that our Lord's argument does not require that the demons were actually expelled by these exorcists; it is sufficient that the Jews thought they were expelled, and did not condemn those pretended miracles, as they did Christ's real ones. See Whitby and Grotius on the place.


Verse 28

Matthew 12:28. Then the kingdom of God is come unto you That is, "You may thereby discover that I am the Messiah, or that king who was promised to the Jews." The miracles of our Lord, and the manner in which he performed them, were manifest demonstrations of his having been sent from God (see John 3:2.), and consequently that what he said of himself was true. But the casting out of devils, in particular, was a miracle which proved Christ to be the Messiah; since he came into the world on purpose to destroy the works of the devils. See 1 John 3:8. John 12:31. Hebrews 2:14 and Beausobre and Lenfant.


Verse 29

Matthew 12:29. A strong man's house The house of the strong one. See Isaiah 49:24-25. The strong one is the same as the evil one, and the prince of this world. The argument supposes, that the strong one is actually present to guard his house; and indeed the case in question proves the presence of Satan. The house of the strong one, into which Christ entered, was the world, fitly called Beelzebub's house or palace, because there he is served by luxury, lust, covetousness, pride, anger, and other evil passions of men. The goods or vessels belonging to this strong one, which Christ spoiled, are the wicked, called Beelzebub's vessels metaphorically; as St. Paul is called by Christ his chosen vessel, Acts 9:15. Or, if we choose to pursue the allegory more closely, by the vessels or furniture of Beelzebub's house we may understand the lusts and passions of men's hearts, the instruments by which he keeps possession of them. See Heylin, Macknight, and Chemnitz.


Verse 30

Matthew 12:30. He that is not with me, &c.— "If, according to the maxims of the world, those are reckoned enemies who do not assist us against our foes; I, who am so deeply engaged in the opposition to Satan, ought much rather to be reckoned his enemy; and he who does not set himself, according to his ability, to gather subjects into mykingdom with me, is but vainly and foolishly scattering abroad; and, however he is employed, wastes his time and labour in what will at last turn to no solid account. Much more criminal and fatal then must the character and conduct of those be, who, with deliberate, implacable malice, oppose my cause, and are resolved, at all adventures, to do their utmost to bear it down, as you are attempting to do by these vile insinuations which you have now suggested." See Doddridge, and the note on Mark 9:40.


Verse 31-32

Matthew 12:31. Shall be forgiven unto men It is evidently our Lord's meaning here, not that every such sin shall actually be pardoned, but that it is, in the divine economy, capable of being pardoned, or is pardonable. Dr. Campbell renders the passage, in men is pardonable.

Matthew 12:31-32. The inference in these verses is not particularly connected with the member of the discourse immediately preceding it; but it arises from the whole series of the reasoning; as if our Lord had said, "Since all these arguments make it evident that I perform my miracles by the Spirit of God, you should not ascribe them to the devil; yet this blasphemy may be forgiven you, because you may repent and believe, upon receiving stronger proofs of my mission from God. When that period comes, namely, after I am raised from the dead by the Holy Ghost; when his miraculous gifts are shed down upon believers, and the nature of the Messiah's kingdom is more fully made known, the foundation of your prejudices against me shall be wholly removed: wherefore, if you shall then speak against the Holy Ghost by maliciously affirming that his gifts and miracles come from the devil, it shall not be forgiven you; because it is a sin which you cannot possibly repent of, inasmuch as farther evidence shall not be offered you; but you shall be punished for it both in this world and in the world to come." Or we may translate the clause differently: "It shall not be forgiven him, neither in this age, neither in the age to come;" importing, that no expiation was provided for the blasphemer of the Spirit, neither under the Jewish nor Christian dispensation. St. Mark adds, Mark 3:30. Because they said, he hath an unclean spirit; signifying, that our Lord declared the irremissibleness of the sin against the Holy Ghost on this occasion, that the Pharisees might be awakened to a sense of their danger, in approaching so near as they did to that sin, when, being unable to deny his miracles, they represented them as performed by the assistance of the devil. The reader desirous of seeing the above interpretation indubitably confirmed is referred to Dr. Whitby's note, and 4th appendix to St. Matthew, and to John Hales's tracts. Archbishop Tillotson, vol. 1: serm. 17 has endeavoured to prove, that the sin against the Holy Ghost was that which these Pharisees committed in ascribing the miracles of Christ to Satan: and certainly, if they persisted in that blasphemy after the full demonstration of Christ's mission, this was really to sin against the Holy Ghost. Dr. Clarke's paraphrase, vol. 6: serm. 1 nearly agrees with what we have above given; but for the satisfaction of the reader on a subject of so much inquiry, we shall here subjoin it: "Since it is as evident as it is possible for any thing to be, that the works which I do are by the immediate authority of God, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, therefore whosoever shall resist this great conviction, by so unreasonable and obstinate a degree of malice, as to ascribe these very works, these greatest and highest evidences of divine authority, to the power of the devil; to such a person God will never afford any farther means of conviction; and therefore, though all other blasphemies, and all particular sins whatsoever, may be repented of and forgiven, yet he who is guilty of this total corruption of mind, this maliciously perverse and desperate rejecting of the greatest and highest conviction which God vouchsafes to afford men, shall never have granted him any farther means of repentance and forgiveness. Every particular kind or sort of sin whatsoever, and all other blasphemies whatsoever, shall be forgiven men: even he that speaks against me (says our Lord) in all other respects, or calumniates me upon any other account whatsoever, and is not at first convinced bymy preaching and exhortations, may yet afterwards be convinced by the mighty works he shall see, and by the power of the Holy Ghost, and so repent and be forgiven: but he who obstinately resists even this greatest and most extraordinary method which God has thought fit to make use of for the conversion of mankind, and maliciously reviles the most evident operations of the Spirit of God; such a one has no farther means left, by which he might be convinced and brought to repentance, and consequently he can never be forgiven."

Matthew 12:32. Whosoever speaketh a word, &c.— The prejudices which alleviated the sin of the Jews, who rejected Jesus during his own lifetime, and which in the period here referred to (viz. the day of Pentecost) were to be removed, arose from such causes as these: 1st,His parentage and place of abode; for his countrymen, being well acquainted with both, would not allow him to be the Messiah, because they imagined when the Messiah came, no man would know whence he was, John 7:27. 2nd, The old prophet Elias had not appeared to usher in the Messiah, as they expected, according to the doctrine of the scribes, Matthew 17:10 founded on the prophesy, Malachi 4:5. 3rdly, Christ's mean condition of life occasioned violent prejudices against him in the minds of the Jews, who firmly believed that their Messiah would be surrounded with all the pomp and splendour of an earthly prince; and who, in speaking of him, had been accustomed to give him the titles of the King of Israel, and Son of God. But, by our Lord's resurrection from the dead, and by the descent of the Spirit on the Apostles, the foundation of all these prejudices was sapped. Then he was demonstrated to be the Son of God with power, Romans 1:4. Then he was known to have come down from heaven, John 6:60-62. Then he was exalted to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance and remission of sins, Acts 5:31.—A kinglydignity, infinitely superior to all the most dazzling honours of an earthly diadem. See Macknight.


Verse 33

Matthew 12:33. Either make the tree good, &c.— "If you make my miracles Beelzebub's, you must make my doctrine his also: all the good I do, you must say is his work; all the exhortations by which I excite sinners to repentance are his; the knowledge which I give you of the way of life, and the motives I offer for your encouragement to enter upon it, are his. On the other hand, if you make my doctrine GOD's, you must make mymiracles his likewise; for men judge of the nature of an agent by the actions which he does, just as they judge of trees by the fruit they produce; for which reason you may easily know that I am not in league with Beelzebub; but that you yourselves are so." Or, we may give the words another turn, thus: "Since you, Pharisees, pretend to extraordinary holiness, your words and actions should be all holy; judge therefore candidly, and speak reverently of the divine dispensations; or, if you will blaspheme, layaside your pretensions to religion; for, however specious these may be, your true characters will be discovered by your words and actions, even as a tree is known by its fruit." See Macknight, and Beausobre and Lenfant.


Verses 34-37

Matthew 12:34-37. O generation of vipers, &c.— Without attending to the context, and our Saviour's general argument, which he is here closely pursuing, interpreters have been strangely perplexed with the phrase every idle word, in Matthew 12:36., which many of them have considered as a distinct and separate injunction; whereas it is closely connected with that calumnious and blasphemous way of speaking, proceeding out of an evil heart, which our Saviour is so sharply condemning in the Pharisees. He declares that the atrociousness of the blasphemyagainst the Holy Spirit is not lessened by its being a sin committed in words; the reason whereof is obvious: words are only the dress of thought; they express the dispositions of men's hearts, and consequently partake of the nature of those dispositions; on which account we shall be rewarded or punished for our words as well as for our actions. The malicious and blasphemous heart discovers its malignity by malicious and blasphemous words, and those are the idle or wicked words whereof our Saviour here speaks, as the context indisputably proves. The editors of the Prussian testament have observed very well, that the LXX, whose style the apostles generally make use of, render the Hebrew word שׁקר sheker, which signifies falsehood, reviling, calumny,—by vain, or unprofitable. Compare the Hebrew with the LXX, Exodus 5:9. Hosea 12:1. Micah 1:14. Habakkuk 2:3 and see Ephesians 5:6. Now it is manifest from Matthew 12:31-32 that our Saviour is not speaking here of idle or impertinent, but of false, reviling, and blasphemous words. For this reason some manuscripts read πονηρον, wicked, and thus St. Chrysostom understood it. To what these editors observe, we may add, that the word idle was used formerly, and perhaps at the time when our translation was made, to convey the idea of wicked; for though we read now in the first verse of the first psalm of Sternhold's version, to wicked wight his ear, in some ancient copies it is, to idle wight. But God forbid, that any thing should drop from my pen, which might in the least measure contribute to injure the cause of holiness. I am perfectly conscious, from a thousand texts, as well as from the universal tenor of the word of God, that the whole of religion consists in living in the presence and to the glory of God in all well-pleasing, which includes the whole man, the whole life, and consequently the whole of our conversation; and that every thing we are, and speak and do, has a constant and immediate reference to our eternal state. But as an honest and faithful Commentator, Imust candidly and without reserve give the meaning of every passage in the word of God, agreeably to the context, and to the best of my judgment, united with the best light I can draw from other genuine Commentators. See James 1:26 and the whole of James, ch. 3: where the general subject of our words and conversation will be considered at large, to the full satisfaction, I trust, of every pious reader.


Verse 38-39

Matthew 12:38-39. Then certain of the Scribes, &c.— Though our Saviour's reasoning was clear and unanswerable, yet some of the Scribes and Pharisees, desirous to divert the discourse to another topic, and fully demonstrating the hardness of their hearts, required a sign from heaven; as much as to say, "Master, thou professest thyself a teacher of extraordinary authority, and we may justly expect some proportionable proof of it: Now these supposed dispossessions which we have lately seen or heard of, are so liable to fraud and collusion, that we cannot fully acquiesce in them, but would gladly see a more remarkable and convincing sign from thee; and particularly some such celestial appearance as several of our ancient prophets gave." The words of St. Luke 11:16 expressly fix it to this sense: and St. Matthew, in another relation of this kind, ch. Matthew 16:1 tells us they demanded a sign from heaven; (See Mark 8:11 the note on ch. Matthew 4:6 and John 6:30.) and they might probably conclude, that they had the better excuse for making such a proposal, as Moses, Joshua, Samuel, and Elijah had given such signs. Jesus told them, that their requiring a sign after so many miracles were wrought to convince them, shewed them to be a wicked and adulterous generation, a spurious breed which had degenerated from the faith and piety of their great progenitor Abraham; for which reason they should have no other, but such as they were every day beholding in his miraculous works, the sign of the prophet Jonah excepted. He meant hereby the miracle of his own resurrection from the dead, typified by the deliverance of Jonah from the fish's belly, and to which he often appealed, as the great evidence of his mission from God. We may just observe, that as the resurrection of Christ was attended with the appearance of a descending angel, it was, with greater exactness than is generally observed, the very thing which these Pharisees demanded; a sign from heaven. Some have objected to our Saviour, as being unwilling to give all the evidence of his mission which he might have given, on account of his refusing a sign when it was demanded. But to this it may be replied, that as the persons who made this demand were actuated byno laudable motives, but by perverseness and prejudice, which had already made them withstand the clearest evidence, and the greatest miracles, and which it was in vain to expect to conquer by working more miracles; it was therefore as reasonable to refuse to work more, as it is not to persist in reasoning with a man, who shews that he reasons only for the sake of contention, without any concern to discover truth. But when we recollect what was the sign which they desired, the objection is even absurd. It was a sign which they were led to expect only by their false notions of a temporal Messiah; it was absolutely inconsistent with the truth of the Messiah's character: to have given it, would have been to become just such a deliverer as the Jews expected; it was therefore impossible that it could be given: instead of giving it, it was proper to affirm expressly, as Jesus did affirm, that it never would be given, and that it did not belong to the Messiah, justly conceived. Whenever a sign was asked, he appealed for the certainty of his mission to his own resurrection from the dead. So far was he from refuting any rational evidence of his mission, that even their perverseness hindered him not from voluntarily pointing out the strongest. His resurrection was in itself the most stupendous miracle, and its force was increased by its being in this manner appealed to; for it thus became the accomplishment of the prophesies uttered by him. But there is a farther propriety in his foretelling it, when they required a sign: it was a plain insinuation that their opinion of the manner of the Messiah's appearance was wrong; that he was not such a prince as they expected; for by it he informed them expressly, that he must be put to death, or at least die, before he entered on his kingdom. His answer was therefore fit for leading them to a juster interpretation of Daniel's prophesy (ch. Matthew 7:13-14.), and for preventing their rejection of the Messiah, because he wanted a character which was never predicted of him. See Dr. Gerard's Dissertations on subjects relating to the Genius and Evidences of Christianity, p. 186, &c.


Verse 40

Matthew 12:40. For as Jonas was three days and three nights See the note on Jonah 1:17. Instead of the whale's, we should read the fish's belly. It is no where in the Old Testament said that it was a whale, and κητος signifies any large fish in general. See Mintert on the word. The heart of the earth is a Hebraism for the earth. See what Ezekiel says of the city of Tyre, which was situated on the seashore, ch. Matthew 27:4, Matthew 28:2. Our Saviour, in the expression here used, alludes to Jonah 2:2. The miraculous preservation of Jonah for three days in the belly of a fish, was to the Ninevites a certain proof of his mission from God, being credibly attested to them, either by the mariners, who threw him overboard at a great distance from land; or by some other persons, who happening to see the fish vomit him alive upon the shore might inquire his history of him; and who, in the course of their business, met him afterwards at Nineveh, where they confirmed his preaching by relating what they had seen. In like manner Christ's resurrection from the dead, after having been three days and three nights in the heart of the earth, being credibly attested to the Jews, should clearly demonstrate that he came from God.


Verse 41-42

Matthew 12:41-42. The men of Nineveh, &c.— The Ninevites being judged at the same time with the men of that generation, and their behaviour being compared together, should make the guilt of the latter appear in its true colours, and condemn them: for though they were idolaters, they repented at the preaching of Jonah, a stranger, a poor person, and one who continued among them only three days, and wrought no miracle among them to make them believe him: but the men of that generation, though worshippers of the true God by profession, could every day hear unmoved the much more powerful preaching of a prophet infinitely greater than Jonah; even the preaching of the eternal Son of God, who confirmed his doctrine by the most astonishing miracles. Our Saviour likewise told them that the queen of the south, (of the south country, Campbell,) being compared in the day of judgment with them, would condemn them; she having undertaken a long journey to hear the wisdom of Solomon; whereas they would not hear one infinitely wiser than Solomon, though he was come to their very doors; or, if they condescended to hear his wisdom, they would not embrace it. See the note on 1 Kings 10:1. From the uttermost parts of the earth, εκ των περατων της γης, is rendered by some commentators, from the utmost bounds of the land. "I do not think," says one of them, "that the word γη is used in the New Testament for the earth: γη is the land, by eminence; οικουμενη , the Roman empire; κοσμος, the earth." One cannot help remarking the very sublime manner, yet the perfect modesty and decorum, wherewith our Lord here speaksof himself. The humble form of his appearance, and his necessary reserve in declaring himself the Messiah in so many words, made it yet more expedient, that by such phrases as these before us, he should sometimes intimate it; and indeed, his saying that he was greater than Solomon, that most illustrious of all the descendants of David, was as plain an intimation as could well be given.


Verses 43-45

Matthew 12:43-45. When the unclean spirit, &c.— Our Lord here finishes his defence, alluding to the occasion of the dispute, Matthew 12:22 with a parable of a possessed person who, having had a devilor demon expelled out of him, received him back again, with many others, or was taken possession of by them, and thereby was brought into a worse condition than ever. By ανυδρων , dry places, are meant deserts. See Psalms 106:14; Psalms 70. Dr. Whitby and some others interpret this of the devils being cast out of Judaea, yet finding no rest in the deserts of heathenism, because there also the apostles cast them out: which drove them to return again to the Jews, and to make them worse than before. Dr. Doddridge thinks, that after the devil was driven out, he would be under a kind of restraint for a while; and that the circumstance of his going into desert places is beautifully imagined, to represent those malignant beings as impatientatthe sight of mankind, when restrained from hurting them, and as choosing on such occasions to seek their rest in the prospect of a sandy desert: but it is needless perhaps thus to stretch the minute circumstances of a parable: if the moral intended be clearly expressed by the chief strokes of it, a variety of lesser circumstances may without any particularsignification be added, to unite and enliven the principal members of the composition. In the interpretation of a parable, therefore, we are not under the least necessity of assigning a moral meaning to every particular circumstance; at the same time, if all of them naturally suggest such a meaning, the parable is so much the more perfect: in this of the ejected demon, the circumstance of his going away to deserts after he was dispossessed, may be one of the kind above mentioned. They who have read the sad account which Josephus gives of the temper and conduct of the Jews after the ascension of Christ, and just before their final destruction by the Romans, must acknowledge that no emblem could have been more proper to describe them, than that which our Saviour here uses. Their characters are the vilest that can be conceived, and they pressed on to their own ruin, as if they had been possessed by legions of devils, and wrought up to the last degree of madness. See Macknight, Calmet, and Chemnitz.


Verse 46

Matthew 12:46. Behold, his mother and his brethren See ch. Matthew 13:55. Mary was attended by her sister's children, who were the cousins, or, according to the Hebrew dialect, the brethren of Christ, (see on ch. Matthew 10:2.) and who waited on her during her stay in Capernaum; a piece of respect which her blessed Son could not shew, on account of the duties of his ministry. It was on occasion of their application to him, that Jesus uttered that excellent saying in the subsequent verses, which will never be forgotten while there are memories in the world to retain it, or tongues to repe


Verse 48

Matthew 12:48. Who is my mother? &c.— To suppose that our Lord here intends to put any slight on his mother, would be very absurd. He only took the opportunity of expressing his affection to his obedient disciples in a peculiarly endearing manner, which could not but be a very great comfort to them, and would be to Susanna, Joanna, Mary Magdalene, and the other pious women who sat near him, (Luke 8:2-3.) a rich equivalent for all the fatigue and expence which their zeal for their heavenly Master occasioned. And as this seems to have been towards the beginning of their progress, it is observable that our Lord appears to have been peculiarly concerned for their encouragement. See Luke 11:27-28 and Doddridge.


Verse 50

Matthew 12:50. The same is my brother, and sister, and mother He is my brother, or sister, or mother. Doddridge. This short speech of our Lord, related by the evangelist with great simplicity, is, without his seeming to design it, one of the finest encomiums imaginable. Could the most elaborate panegyric have done our Lord and his religion half the honour which this divine sentiment has done them? Whosoever shall do the will of my Father, &c. "I regard obedience to God so highly, that I prefer the relation that it constitutes, and the union which it begets, to the strongest ties of blood. They who do the will of my Father, have a much greater share in my esteem than my kinsmen; as such, I love them with an affection tender and steady, like that which subsists between the nearest relations; nay, I reckon them, and them only, my brethren, my sisters, and my mother." A high commendation this, and not a reflection upon our Lord's mother, who no doubt was among the chief of those who did the will of God. What veneration should reign in the hearts of men for Jesus and his religion, which exhibits an idea of such perfection and goodness!

Inferences.—We may observe with pleasure the zeal which the attendants of Christ expressed, who chose on a sacred festival to expose themselves to hunger as well as toil (Matthew 12:1.), rather than they, would lose the benefit of his instructions, which, like the heavenly manna on the day preceding the sabbath, were then poured out in a double plenty. But what numerous auditory is so candid as to contain none who come like these Pharisees, with a desire to cavil rather than to learn? The malignity of their temper sufficiently appeared in taking exception at so small a circumstance, Matthew 12:2. Indeed this is the character of hypocrites, and of those who have only a false zeal; they are offended at things in their nature innocent, and even sometimes at such as are good, necessary and acceptable to God; while they themselves neglect the most essential duties of religion, and especially the great duty of charity.

What our Lord says upon this occasion, and chiefly the expression I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, Matthew 12:7 deserves our best attention. The Christian religion deals not in forms and ceremonies, nay, dispenses even with rituals of divine appointment, when humanity and benevolence interfere with the observation of them. How great then the perverseness and wickedness of those, who sacrifice mercy itself, not merely to ceremonies of divine original, but to their own arbitrary inventions, superstitious dreams, and precarious, though confident determinations. We should practise habitual caution and candour, lest before we are aware we condemn the innocent and the pious, and become guilty of what is much more displeasing in the sight of God, than the faults which a peevish and censorious temper may fancy it discovers in our brethren.

The change of the Jewish into the Christian and spiritual sabbath shews, that Christ is not only the Lord, Matthew 12:8 but also the truth and completion of it. When, Lord, wilt thou change this sabbath into that of eternity! into that unchangeable rest, which remaineth to the people of God? Hebrews 4:9.

There are but too many Christians so called, it is to be feared, who regard their cattle even more than the souls committed by Providence to their care, and therefore, no doubt, more than their own too: Matthew 12:11-12. If we owe a great deal to a man, let him be what he will, how much more to a Christian, together with whom we help to form the body of Christ? Strange corruption of the heart of man, to whom it must be proved, that he is permitted at all times to do good!

The malice of the Pharisees did not restrain the benevolence of our compassionate Saviour, nor deprive the poor patient of his cure, Matthew 12:13. The fear of giving offence to Pharisaical persons should never hinder an evangelical labourer from going forward with God's work, according to his rules and maxims. We should never be overcome of evil.

The bare will of our Lord has an Almighty power of restoring life and vigour to our souls. He makes the affliction evident, in order to make known his mercy: Stretch forth thine hand. When God designs to heal the withered hand of a penitent (and when does he not?), he need only give command, and the penitent begins presently to stretch it forth to him by prayer and faith. Lord, my soul is before thee, like this hand; vouchsafe to shew it the same saving mercy!

How striking is the prudence of our Lord, who avoided every thing that looked like vanity or ostentation! How striking his humility, meekness, and condescension!—ver. 15, 16. Surely face does not more exactly answer to face in water, than the character of Christ drawn by the prophet to his temper and conduct as described by the Evangelists. How should Zion rejoice, and the daughter of Judah shout, that such a king cometh unto her, meek, and having salvation! He discourages nobody; he bears with the weakness of men with great patience; and while there is any good in us, he forsakes us not. This ought, on one hand, to encourage and make us confide in him; and, on the other, induce us to imitate him; to be humble, meek, and peaceable as he was; to avoid vain-glory, and a desire of praise; to shun quarrels and disputes; to exercise great forbearance towards men; to make allowances for, and condescend to, their weakness.

The Spirit of Christ is not a spirit of contention, murmuring, clamour, or litigiousness: He shall not strive nor cry! He who loves all these belongs not to him. The meekness of Jesus Christ, as his Father's minister, was particularly foretold, to teach the ministers of the Gospel, that their ministry is not a ministry of pride, imperiousness, and violence; but of humility, moderation, and mildness.

We have here another triumph of Christ over the evil spirit, Matthew 12:22 and another proof of the horrible corruption of human nature; how prone it is to be captious and cavilling: and at the same time how full of blindness, prejudice, and malignity, against Christ and the Gospel. Who could have thought the Holy One, and the Wisdom of God, who gave the clearest evidence of his excellent character as divine, and every way infinitely greater than that of Solomon, or any of the prophets, should ever have been traduced as a confederate with the devil; or that it should have ever entered into the heart of man to blaspheme the blessed Spirit in the highest manifestations of his glory, and stigmatize him as an evil spirit? If we shut our eyes and hearts against the rich means of grace which Christ has given us, in vain do we call for farther evidence, and better means to convince us: no signs from heaven would prevail upon us; and the very heathens must reproach us, and rise up in judgment against us; Matthew 12:39, &c.

How great is the danger and the aggravation of sinning against light and grace! The more convictions are stifled, the greater is the hardness which ensues; till at length Satan obtains a secure dominion over the sinner, and the worst of all condemnation will pass upon him in the great day; Matthew 12:45. How should the thoughts of such a day to come make us dread every word as well as action, which will then make against us! Matthew 12:36-37. How should it incite us to set a watch on the door of our lips, and to labour daily to use our tongue so that it may be indeed, as it is called in Scripture, our glory. For this purpose we should endeavour to lay up a good treasure of Christian knowledge and experience in our hearts, Matthew 12:35.; that while too many are poisoning those round about them with erroneous principles and vicious discourses, the opening of our lips may be of righteous things; and we may still be ready, upon all proper occasions, with freedom, variety, and spirit, to bring forth good and profitable things from the good treasure of our hearts, which may edify those who hear us, and may go from one heart to another.

But let us remember, that before the lips can be sanctified, and the life holy, the heart must be changed; and certainly it is the greatest comfort to hear that by gospel grace the heart may be changed. It is matter of the greatest thankfulness thus expressly to be told, that all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven, upon our true repentance; while it is aweful to hear, that the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost is excepted. Those who, while they cannot deny the facts of Christianity, yet despise and oppose its doctrines, should tremble to think how near they approach to the boundaries of this sin. But let not the humble soul, that trembles at God's word, meditate terror to itself from such a passage; which, when viewed in its due connection, cannot with any shadow of reason be thought to belong to any but those who obstinately reject the Gospel, and maliciously oppose it, when made known to them with its fullest evidence.

In vain do men seek for ways of accommodation to soften the Gospel; there is no medium between loving God and being his enemy; between belonging to Christ or to the devil; between being governed by charity or by self-love; Matthew 12:30. If we would belong to Christ as we ought, we must give ourselves entirely to him. He alone has paid down the price for us; he alone ought to be our Lord.

The devil ceases not to tempt those whom Christ has taken from him: he has no other joy but in doing hurt to man: he makes new efforts, and takes new precautions, that he may not fail to ruin us; while we perhaps use none at all to escape him. The reason is, because he counts our loss his gain and delight, and we count not our salvation our proper business. How much is a relapse to be dreaded! This renders the sinner more intolerable than before, through his ingratitude and perfidiousness, Matthew 12:43-45. Habits are formed and strengthened by relapses, and relapses are multiplied and become more incurable through new habits. How is it that the sinner has not eyes to see what a soul is, when deserted by the Holy Ghost and his precious gifts, and made a slave to as many contrary habits, as it were to seven devils, to whom it has surrendered up itself by sin? What compassion would a poor galley-slave, loaded with seven chains, raise in our hearts! With what terror, then, ought we to be affected at the idea of a captive soul, reduced by frequent relapses under the power of seven devils!

What can be more gracious and indulgent than those declarations, by which our Redeemer draws us, as with the cords of a man, and as with the bands of love? Behold my mother and my brethren! All obedient believers are nearly related to Jesus Christ. They wear his name, they bear his image, they have his nature, they are of his family. He loves them, owns them, converses freely with them, as his relations. He bids them welcome to his table, provides for them, sees that they want nothing proper for them. When he died, he left them rich legacies: now he is in heaven, he keeps up a correspondence with them by his Spirit, continually intercedes for them, and will at length,—glorious issue of his relationship!-receive all those who perseveringly cleave to him in faith into his eternal kingdom, and confess them before men, before angels, and before his Father himself. Who, then, would not exert their utmost endeavour, through his grace, to do the will of God; that they may be thus dear, thus nearly allied to that Redeemer, who ought by so many tender, so many interesting bonds, to be dear to them?

REFLECTIONS.—1st, Those who are most corrupt in their morals, sometimes think to atone for the defect by their rigid zeal for the rituals of religion; as was the case of the Pharisees, who, while they lowered the other commands to the mere letter, stretched the strict observation of the sabbatical rest to an extreme that was never designed: which false explanation our Lord confutes, and shews that works of mercy and charity may be practised consistent with the most religious observance of the sabbath-day.

1. The occasion given for this discourse arose from the invidious reflections of the Pharisees on the disciples of Jesus for rubbing the ears of corn in their hands on the sabbath-day, as they passed through the fields, and eating them, being hungry. This the Pharisees observed, and mentioned to Jesus as a thing unlawful to be done on the sabbath-day. The law had allowed the gathering of such ears of corn, Deuteronomy 23:25.; but they regard the bodily labour of rubbing them in their hands as a transgression of the rest enjoined, according to the traditions of the elders. Note; (1.) Christ's disciples were inured to want and coarse fare: we must not think it hard, if God in his providence at any time brings us into the like straits, and causes us to know what it is to be hungry. (2.) The most innocent actions are liable to the most perverse interpretations from those who wait for an opportunity to find fault.

2. Christ vindicates the practice of his disciples by allowed precedents or unanswerable arguments.

[1.] By allowed precedents.

(1.) In the case of David and his men; who, being pressed with hunger, were, with the high-priests consent, permitted to eat the shew-bread, which none ordinarily might do but the priests alone. And if it was adjudged lawful to dispense with a positive institution of God to satisfy David's hunger, it surely could not be thought sinful, in like circumstances, to dispense merely with the traditions of the elders.

(2.) In the case of the priests; who were obliged to do much servile work on the sabbath-day, such as slaying, skinning, and cutting up the beasts for sacrifice, &c.; and yet none could conceive that to be a transgression of the commandment; and how much less the merely rubbing out a few ears of corn in their hands for necessary food. But it might be objected that they were not priests, and that the temple-service had a particular dispensation. Therefore,

[2.] Our Lord adds arguments to the examples which he produced.

(1.) I say unto you, that in this place is one greater than the temple. And if the priests were blameless in their service, much more were the disciples of Jesus allowed to satisfy their hunger when attending on their Master, who was the Lord of the temple, in dignity and holiness infinitely greater, having all the fulness of the Godhead dwelling in him bodily, and from him alone that fabric derived all the sanctity which it possessed.

(2.) If ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy and not sacrifice, Hosea 6:6 ye would not have condemned the guiltless. They were ignorant of those Scriptures which they pretended to urge; for, if they had understood them, they would have observed, that the great commandment of charity was vastly superior to mere ritual observances, and therefore would never have condemned the disciples for thus satisfying the cravings of hunger on the sabbath-day. Note; Ignorance of God's word is generally the cause of rash censures on our brethren; and this is especially culpable in those who pretend to teach others.

(3.) The Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath-day. He who enjoined the rest, and prescribed the rule on mount Sinai, must needs know what obedience himself required, could best interpret his own mind, and was fully authorised to make any alteration that he should think fit. Thus now, though the commandment of observing a seventh day still is in force, he has transferred it from the last to the first day of the week, called from him the Lord's day.

3. By the cure of a paralytic man in the synagogue on a sabbath-day some time after, he took occasion farther to vindicate works of mercy and charity as most lawful and acceptable to God on that day.

[1.] The person on whom the cure was wrought had a withered arm, so that he was disabled from labour; yet, though unable to work, while he could walk he failed not to be at the place of worship: and in the way of duty we may hope for a blessing.

[2.] The Pharisees, ever on the watch, suspecting that Jesus would cure him, questioned him concerning his thoughts of the lawfulness of healing on the sabbath-day, which their doctors, except in cases of extremity, had forbidden; and their design herein was to accuse him, either to the Sanhedrim, if he acted contrary to their determinations, as a sabbath-breaker; or to the people, if he declared it unlawful, and contradicted his own vindication of his disciples.

[3.] Christ answers them by an appeal to their own conduct. If one of their sheep fell into a pit, none scrupled to draw it out on the sabbath-day: how much then was a man better than a sheep, and his distresses rather to be relieved! No doubt therefore could be made but that it was lawful to do good on the sabbath-day.

[4.] Without delay, and, for aught that appears, without waiting for a request from the poor patient, who might, seeing the temper of these men, be discouraged from making application, Jesus bids him stretch out his hand, and power accompanied the command. He stretched it forth, and, to the astonishment of the beholders, it was restored whole, like as the other. Note; Like this withered arm are our souls by nature, impotent of themselves to every thing that is good; and yet the calls to believe and obey are neither absurd nor unreasonable, since Christ has promised to accompany his word with the efficacy of his Spirit, if we will but use the grace which he has previously given, and stretch forth, as it were, the withered arm.

2nd, Exasperated, instead of convinced, by his preaching and miracles, we are told,

1. The malicious designs of the Pharisees. They met in consultation, determined some way or other to put an end to his obnoxious discourses and his life together; for which this last pretended breach of the sabbath might afford them a handle; cloaking with zeal for religion the blackest crimes of hell.

2. Christ hereupon chose to retire, and avoid the danger which he foresaw, his hour not being yet come; but still he was attended, even in his retirement, by multitudes, to whom he continued his accustomed mercies, healing all their infirmities; but charged them that they should not make him known, not desiring fame from his miracles, and now particularly willing to be concealed from the malice of his persecutors. Note; God's approbation, not man's applause, is what we should covet.

3. The fulfilment of the Scripture herein is observed, Isaiah 42:1-4. Behold, with wonder and astonishment, my servant, so low he humbled himself, who counted it no robbery to be equal with God,—whom I have chosen;—designed for the office of Mediator, and now qualified for the work of redemption; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased; from eternity the object of his complacence; and in his person, office, and character as the Messiah, God the Father delighted in him, and by repeated declarations from heaven expressed his approbation of him. I will put my Spirit upon him, anointing him with the oil of gladness above his fellows, bestowing such a plenitude of gifts and graces upon him as may enable him gloriously to discharge and accomplish his arduous undertaking; and he shall shew judgment to the Gentiles, preaching to them that Gospel wherein God's righteousness is revealed, and his counsels concerning sinful men are made known: he shall not strive, with noise and ostentation setting up his kingdom; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets, contentious or clamorous against his opposers: a bruised reed shall he not break, the broken-hearted, weak, and trembling sinner he will bind up and strengthen; and smoking flax shall he not quench; those who have but the beginnings of spiritual life, in whom the graces are feeble, and much darkness and infirmity remain, he will quicken if they cleave to him, and blow the smoking flax into a flame; till he send forth judgment unto victory, by the power of his Gospel dispelling the darkness of error, delivering the soul from the bondage of corruption, and causing his grace to reign in all his faithful people. And in his name shall the Gentiles trust; the heathen nations shall become obedient to the faith, be incorporated with his Israel, and place all their hopes of salvation on the infinite merit and intercession of this divine Redeemer alone.

3rdly, Christ had before shewn his power over Satan's kingdom, dispossessing him from the bodies as well as souls of many. And we have also,

1. Another instance of his curing one possessed with a devil; a man blind and dumb through the power of this wicked spirit; the emblem of the sinner, whose eyes the god of this world has blinded, and whose lips are sealed up from prayer and praise, and all conversation to the use of edifying. One word of Jesus restored his lost senses; his sight and speech were perfectly recovered.

2. The people admired the astonishing efficacy of the word of Jesus, and reasonably concluded, Is not this the son of David? the promised Messiah? But the Pharisees, when they heard it, stung with envy, and obstinately hardened against conviction, with blasphemous cavil and abusive insult, replied, This fellow doth not cast out devils but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils. The fact they could not deny; but imputed the miracle to a compact with the devil. To such miserable shifts are they driven, who, determined in infidelity, refuse to submit to the evidence of truth.

3. Christ refutes so base an accusation. He knew their malicious designs, heard their words of blasphemy, and therefore he at large vindicates himself. Their assertion was absurd, and self-contradictory: it is an allowed maxim, that every kingdom, city, or family, divided against itself, must hasten its own dissolution: impossible, therefore, would it be for Satan to think of supporting his dominion by those means which naturally must subvert it; the miracles of Christ being wrought in confirmation of those doctrines of truth and holiness which directly tend to destroy the works of the devil. Add to this, that among themselves they admitted some exorcists did cast out devils by the power of God. Acts 19. Mark 9:38. Why then should they not, by parity of reason, admit that his miracles evinced a divine power? therefore these men should rise up in judgment, and condemn them for this partiality and blasphemy. It being then incontestably apparent that Christ's miracles were effected by the Spirit of God, he urges this as a proof that the kingdom of God, of the Messiah promised to bruise the Serpent's head, was actually now come unto them: for if this had not been the case, how could it be possible that he should thus dispossess the devil from the bodies and souls of men? This wicked spirit, as a strong man armed, will keep fast hold of his prey, and guard his house. Nothing but a superior power can bind his arms, and rescue his prisoners from him; which Jesus had done, and therefore proved that he received no assistance from him, but was his superior and conqueror. Besides, the very nature of their kingdoms being directly opposite, there can be no fellowship; on the contrary, there is implacable enmity between them; and all who league with the one are regarded as rebels against the other: so that they who gather not to Christ as their shepherd, and list under his banners as their king, are scattered, exposed to his wrath, and devoted to destruction. So far, therefore, from a confederacy between Christ and Satan, there is open war between them, and not even a neutrality permitted. Note; (1.) Divisions are the surest way to destruction both in religions and civil communities. (2.) The devil has a potent kingdom erected in the world, and he will do his utmost to support it: but Christ is come to destroy his dominion, and will finally prevail. (3.) They who are under the influence of prejudice will blame that very conduct in those whom they dislike, which they approve in those they love. (4.) The destruction of Satan's power in the soul is the work of the Spirit of God; and whenever that is evidently seen, there the kingdom of God is assuredly come. (5.) Coldness and indifference in the cause of Christ will be regarded as enmity against him: we must be hearty in his service, or we shall be dealt with as traitors.

4. From what has been observed, our Lord takes occasion to caution his hearers against that unpardonable crime, blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. All other sins, however deep, multiplied, or aggravated, may be forgiven, Christ's blood being a sufficient atonement for them; and whoever pleads it in faith will find pardon, even those who reviled or crucified him; but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world neither in the world to come. And this blasphemy is not any denial of his divine person, or opposition to his work through ignorance, nor any resistance against the ministry of his word, nor wilful sin-committed against his light and warnings; but "a wilful and despiteful rejection of the Spirit of grace, the imputing his miraculous operations and illuminations to diabolical agency; and this through obstinate malice, in opposition to a man's own light and conscience." This is a direct sin against our remedy, and must needs be attended with inevitable perdition. See the critical notes.

5. Christ addresses the Pharisees, convicting them of the wickedness of their hearts by the malice which appeared in their lips. It was as absurd for them, who committed such blasphemies, to pretend to sanctity, as to expect good fruit from an evil tree. For, as a man's heart is to be discerned by his words and actions, it plainly appeared, by what they spoke out of the abundance of their hearts, that they were a generation of vipers, thrusting out their envenomed tongues against Christ and blaspheming him, the natural effect of the evil which dwelt within them. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart, replenished with divine grace, bringeth forth good things, such as are for the use of edifying, and for the glory of God. But an evil man, whose spirit is unrenewed, out of the evil treasure of corruption which is natural to him, bringeth forth evil, in the corrupt communication which proceeds out of his mouth, and the polluted streams in his life and conversation, which break forth from the inexhausted source within. And if not an idle word passes without the divine notice, but we must answer for it in the day of judgment, how much more terrible must be the blasphemer's guilt? With what circumspection, then, should we keep the door of our lips, when our eternal state is to be determined thereby, and our words must all be produced at the bar of God as evidences of our justification or condemnation, and sentence proceed accordingly? We may learn hence, (1.) That unless the heart be renewed by the power of God's spirit, nothing but evil, and that continually, can proceed out of it. (2.) Our words are the index of our minds, and by our general course of communication our state God-ward may be easily discovered. (3.) The solemn account which we must one day make for every word that is on our tongue should be ever on our mind, to restrain all idle, vain, impertinent discourse, as well as what is more immediately noxious. How much has every man to lament on this behalf!

4thly, Though what our Lord had said was sufficient to convince every impartial hearer, certain Scribes and Pharisees pretended that they were not yet satisfied of his divine mission; and though they address him with respect, calling him Master, it seems to be done hypocritically; for they demand a sign from heaven; perhaps such as of old appeared on Mount Sinai; intimating that, notwithstanding his other miracles, without this they should not acknowledge him as the Messiah: a demand unreasonable and insolent, and which our Lord justly denies. They who are dissatisfied with the evidences of truth which he has been pleased to give, notwithstanding what they may pretend, would never be convinced by any other.

1. He brands them as an evil and adulterous generation, degenerate from the piety of their forefathers, and chargeable with the most criminal apostacy from God, literally and spiritually committing adultery against him.

2. He rejects their demand. No sign shall be given them, such as they required, from heaven; but one should be given them from the earth in his resurrection, which had been prefigured by Jonah the prophet, who, after being three days and three nights in the fish's belly, was cast alive on dry land: so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth; that is, part of three natural days, as the Jews computed their time; for so long he lay in the grave, reckoning Friday, before sun-setting, as one; Saturday, as the second; and Sunday, after sun-set, when the third day commenced, as the third; our Lord then arising from the dead. Note; The resurrection of Jesus is the great hinge on which our everlasting salvation turns, and the grand sign confirming all the rest: and they who refuse the evidence with which this is attended, and ask for more, we may be fully sure, desire no sign to confirm their faith, but on the contrary a plea for their infidelity.

3. He warns them of the consequences which would attend the wilfulness and wickedness of the men of that generation. The men of Nineveh shall rise up as witnesses to condemn them; for they, though heathens, repented at the preaching of Jonas for one day only: but Christ had wrought manifold miracles, had long and earnestly preached the gospel of the kingdom, and shortly was to rise from the dead; in all which he was far superior to Jonas. If therefore they rejected him, far greater would be their condemnation than that which was threatened against the men of Nineveh; and their speedy repentance shall rise up to condemn the unbelief and impenitence of the men of that generation.

In like manner shall the queen of the south, who came from far on the report of Solomon's wisdom, condemn these despisers of Christ and his gospel. She, though a Gentile, no sooner heard the wise king, than she owned the truth of the report concerning him: but, when a greater than Solomon was there, even Jesus, in whom dwelt all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, the men of that generation refused to receive his word, or believe in him, and therefore how aggravated will be their condemnation! They who have enjoyed and abused the greatest means and mercies, shall sink under heavier guilt and receive greater damnation.

4. He describes their character, as willing slaves of Satan. They were like one possessed of a devil who goeth for a while out, to return with double violence. He is called an unclean spirit: having lost all purity himself, he ceases not to tempt men to all manner of uncleanness. He walketh through dry places, like a melancholy person, seeking rest, and findeth none, being miserable when he is no longer in mischief; and therefore, taking seven other spirits worse than himself, he returns to his former abode, and finds the sinner's heart ready to entertain them, as a house swept and garnished to receive its guests; and there they fix their stay, so that the last state of that man is worse than the first, more wicked than before; even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.

5thly, While Christ continued his discourses which bore so hard upon the Pharisees, we are told,

1. That his mother and brethren stood without: apprehensive perhaps of the danger to which he would be exposed, they desired to speak to him, and warn him against giving such offensive and plain rebukes. Hereupon one of his auditors immediately informed him of their request. Note; (1.) Near relations, by their fears for us, often lay hindrances in our way. (2.) Danger must not deter us from fidelity in the way of our duty.

2. Christ replies, in answer the message, Who is my mother, and who are my brethren? not as contemning parental authority, or disregarding the ties of blood; but intimating that the address was unseasonable; for when God's glory was concerned, no natural or civil respects were to be regarded. We are bound to love them much, but to love God more: yea, and the union which divine grace makes between kindred souls, is in many respects stronger than the bonds of blood. He stretched forth his hand towards his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren; so affectionately did he regard them: for whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, attentive to the gospel, and obedient to the faith, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother, so near and dear to him. Note; (1.) The mark of discipleship to Jesus is obedience to the revealed word and will of God. (2.) However despised we may be or rejected of men, it is sufficient honour to be esteemed the brethren of Jesus. (3.) They who resemble Christ in spirit, temper, and disposition, and have the blessed image of that one Father, even God, stamped upon them, and perseveringly cleave to him, will be acknowledged by the Lord of life and glory in the day of his appearing, and admitted, as heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ, to share with him the eternal inheritance.

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Matthew 12:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/matthew-12.html. 1801-1803.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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