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Nave's Topical Bible - God; Jesus, the Christ; Jesus Continued; Prayer; Righteous; Worship; Scofield Reference Index - Life; Thompson Chain Reference - Co-Operation; Family; Prayer; Prayer Meetings; United Prayer; Unity-Strife; The Topic Concordance - Gathering; God; Torrey's Topical Textbook - Prayer, Public; Prayer, Social and Family;
Verse Matthew 18:19. Again I say unto you — The word αμην, verily, is added here, in ninety-eight MSS., (many of which are of the greatest antiquity and importance,) seven editions, all the Arabic, the Slavonic, and several of the Itala. The taking in or leaving out such a word may appear to some a matter of indifference; but, as I am fully convinced Jesus Christ never spoke a useless or a needless word, my maxim is, to omit not one syllable that I am convinced (from such authority as the above) he has ever used, and to take in nothing that he did not speak. It makes the passage much more emphatic - Again, VERILY I say unto you,
If two of you shall agree — συμφωνηστωσιν, symphonize, or harmonize. It is a metaphor taken from a number of musical instruments set to the same key, and playing the same tune: here, it means a perfect agreement of the hearts, desires, wishes, and voices, of two or more persons praying to God. It also intimates that as a number of musical instruments, skilfully played, in a good concert, are pleasing to the ears of men, so a number of persons united together in warm, earnest, cordial prayer, is highly pleasing in the sight and ears of the Lord. Now this conjoint prayer refers, in all probability, to the binding and loosing in the preceding verse; and thus we see what power faithful prayer has with God!
It shall be done for them — What an encouragement to pray! even to two, if there be no more disposed to join in this heavenly work.
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Matthew 18:19". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/matthew-18.html. 1832.
79. Lessons in forgiveness (Matthew 18:15-35)
Disciples of Jesus should be willing to forgive fellow believers who sin against them, but they should also be concerned that offenders realize their sin and turn from it. In each case the believer should go to the offender privately and point out the wrongdoing, so that the person might be spiritually helped. If this fails, two or three others should be called in, firstly to make sure that the offender is in fact guilty and secondly to appeal for reconciliation. If this also fails, the entire community of believers should appeal to the offender. Should there still be no change, believers should treat the offender as if no longer part of their fellowship; though they should also desire the person’s repentance and restoration (Matthew 18:15-18).
God has given his people the responsibility to deal with such cases, and they must find out God’s will and do it. If they are to be confident that their actions carry God’s authority, they will not act in haste or out of personal prejudice. They have Jesus’ assurance that as they talk and pray about the matter, he will be with them, silently giving his guidance and help (Matthew 18:19-20).
Peter asked how many times Jesus’ followers should forgive before taking the severe action that Jesus had just outlined. Jesus’ reply shows that the severe action was not intended to be an alternative to forgiveness. Believers do not take action against offenders out of spite, but out of a concern for the offenders’ spiritual good. Regardless of how many times offenders do them wrong, believers must still forgive them (Matthew 18:21-22).
To illustrate the point, Jesus told a story. A king forgave a servant a huge debt, but the servant then refused to forgive a fellow servant a small debt (Matthew 18:23-30). When the king heard of his servant’s behaviour, he withdrew his forgiveness (Matthew 18:31-34). The lesson is that God will not forgive people if they do not forgive others (Matthew 18:35; cf. 6:12).
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Matthew 18:19". "Fleming's Bridgeway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bbc/matthew-18.html. 2005.
Again I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father who is in heaven.
The greater efficacy of multiple prayers is indicated here. It cannot be understood how prayers of two persons may be more efficacious with God than the prayers of only one, but the fact is affirmed by Christ. Note that Jesus invariably said, "MY Father," whereas he always taught his disciples to pray, "OUR Father"! The uniqueness of Christ is seen in this observance. With himself, Christ's unique relationship to God was always in view.
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Matthew 18:19". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/matthew-18.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
Again I say unto you, That if two of you ... - This is connected with the previous verses. The connection is this: The obstinate man is to be excluded from the church, Matthew 18:17. The care of the church - the power of admitting or excluding members - of organizing and establishing it - is committed to you, the apostles, Matthew 18:18. Yet there is not need of the whole to give validity to the transaction. When two of you agree, or have the same mind, feelings, and opinion, about the arrangement of affairs in the church, or about things desired for its welfare, and shall ask of God, it shall be done for them. See Acts 1:14-26; Acts 15:1-29. The promise here has respect to the apostles in organizing the church. It cannot with any propriety be applied to the ordinary prayers of believers. Other promises are made to them, and it is true that the prayer of faith will be answered, but that is not the truth taught here.
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Matthew 18:19". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/matthew-18.html. 1870.
19. Again I say to you. He confirms the former statement; for not only will God bestow the spirit of wisdom and prudence on those who ask it, but he will also provide that not one thing which they shall do according to his word shall want its power and effect. By uniting agreement with prayer, he reminds us with what moderation and humility believers ought to conduct themselves in all religious acts. (568) The offender must be admonished, and, if he does not receive correction, he must be excommunicated. Here it is not only necessary to ask counsel at the sacred mouth of God, so that nothing may be determined but by his word, but it is proper at the same time to begin with prayer. Hence appears more clearly what I have formerly stated, that men are not allowed the liberty of doing whatever they please, (569) but that God is declared to have the sole claim to the government of the Church, so that he approves and ratifies the decisions of which he is himself the Author. Meanwhile, when believers assemble, they are taught to unite their prayers and to pray in common, not only to testify the unity of faith, but that God may listen to the agreement of them all. So then, as God frequently promises in other passages that he will graciously listen to the private requests of each individual, so here Christ makes a remarkable promise to public prayers, in order to invite us more earnestly to the practice of them.
(568) “ En tous actes concernans la service et la parolle de Dieu;” — “in all acts relating to the service and the word of God.”
(569) “ Tout ce que bon leur semble;” — “whatever they think right.”
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Matthew 18:19". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/matthew-18.html. 1840-57.
Now at the same time there came disciples to Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? ( Matthew 18:1 )
Oh, boy how they longed for this. You're talking about motivation, and the disciples were not pure in their motivations. They were always wrangling about well, I am going to be bigger than you. I'll be better then you. I have a better place than you, and their motivations were not always the purest. And they, many times, were arguing about these things, the greatest. In fact, even the mothers of the disciples sometimes got in on this. They said, "Lord when you come into your kingdom, would you let one of my sons be on your right hand?"( Matthew 20:21 ). Little Jewish mothers wanting to set up their boys. And that's very typical. God bless them.
And so the disciples came and said, "Who is going to be the greatest in the kingdom?"
And Jesus called a little child unto him, and he sat the child in the middle of them, and he said, Verily I say unto you, Except you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not even enter the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven ( Matthew 18:2-4 ).
The true path to greatness is always the path of humility. "He that exalteth himself shall be abased. He that humbles himself shall be exalted"( Luke 14:11 ). Humble thyself in the eyes of the Lord, and He shall lift you up.
And Jesus takes a child and says, "look, you've got to become like a little child, even you, even going to enter the kingdom of heaven. And so if you humble yourself as a little child, that person will be the greatest". The path to greatness is the path of servanthood. How important that we learn to serve, that we not be looking for ourselves, but we only be looking for our Lord and to exalt Him.
And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receives me ( Matthew 18:5 ).
Oh how the Lord loves the little children. How he loves their beautiful little faces. How He loves that simple faith and trust that is in the heart of a child. There is something about their innocence and simplicity that is absolutely glorious. I love it.
But He said,
Whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea ( Matthew 18:6 ).
I love Jesus; He is a man's man. Sounds like the Mafia here, but I am all for it. I mean, He is straight. I think that the most heinous sin anyone can commit is to seek to destroy the faith of a child in God. That is one of the worst sins that anyone could ever commit. To take this pure little child with his simplicity and trust in God, and deliberately seek to destroy that child's faith in God, in Jesus Christ.
Jesus said, "look, it'd be better for a man if he just took a millstone", and these millstones weigh about three to four hundred pounds, "tie it around his neck, and toss him into the sea. Better that that happen to him than he offend, destroy the faith of one of these little ones who believe in Me".
Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! ( Matthew 18:7 )
Be careful, offenses are going to come. But be careful that you're not the cause of the offenses.
Wherefore if your hand offends you, then cut it off, cast it from you: it is better for you to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet and to be cast into the everlasting fire. If thy eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire. So take heed that you despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven [and I love this] their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven ( Matthew 18:8-10 ).
The angels that have been given charge over us to keep us in all of our ways. The angels, who are watching over our little children, their faces are before the Father continually there in heaven, beseeching the Father for these precious little ones.
This business of, if thy hand offend thee and all, is something that Jesus meant to be repugnant. He means it to be shocking. To maim my own body, to me is a very repugnant idea. To lose a hand, to lose an eye by my own doing is just a horribly repugnant thought. And Jesus wanted it to be. He did not literally mean that we are to cut off our hand or to pluck out our eye, but He is only illustrating how vital it is that we enter the kingdom of heaven. It is worth more than having a whole body.
As we were talking to you last Sunday about the trapping of muskrats, how that if you catch them by their paws, they turn around and gnaw their leg off and leave the paw in the trap. Again, that's a thought that gives us a -- we react mentally to that, as uh, horrible, but yet how wise as far as the muskrat is concerned. For he figures it's better to be a free muskrat with three paws, than having four paws be tacked on a fur board.
So Jesus is saying much the same thing here. If there is something in your life that is causing you to stumble, if there is something in your life that is creating an offense, cut it out, get rid of it.
Sometimes when a person comes into the office and sits down and begins to pour out their story, and they say, "Well, Chuck I am really in a mess. I never thought it would happen to me. I can't understand it, but, man I am involved in an affair, and I don't know what to do. It's just ripping me apart; it's tearing me up. My wife doesn't know it, and I just don't know what to do about it, and all." I say to them point blank, "cut it off, not tomorrow, right now, cut it off, "Oh, but I"- don't, cut it off.
I said, "If I were a surgeon and you came to me, and you said, "Oh, I am having these lumps under my arm, and they are sore, and they really bother me." If I didn't bother to take the biopsies and determine whether or not you had cancer of the lymph nodes, but I just said, "Oh, probably you've got cancer in your lymph nodes. You --that's a painful operation. We don't want to go through the pain of it. Why don't we just sort of take aspirin, so you won't feel the pain and forget about it." Well you file a malpractice suit against me for quackery for saying, "We'll, just let it go and see what happens".
And I said, "You're coming to me with a spiritual malady that is more deadly then cancer. I am the surgeon and I am telling you, we've got to operate immediately. Your life depends on it, you got to cut it out." And if there is some sin that you are tolerating, allowing, playing with, and messing around with, you cannot do it. Jesus is saying, " cut it off. Better to go through life maimed, than into hell whole."
Then Jesus in verse eleven says so beautifully,
For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost ( Matthew 18:11 ).
I love that. We get to that when we get to Luke's gospel. It amplifies it a little further.
Now Jesus said,
What do you think? if a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine and go into the mountains, and seek the one which has gone astray? And if it so happens that he finds it, verily I say unto you, he rejoices more for the one sheep, than for the ninety-nine which never went astray. Even so it is not the will of the Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish ( Matthew 18:12-14 ).
Your Father is watching over them. Their angels hold their faces before the Father continually, and He isn't willing that any perish. Be careful that you do not offend one of those little ones, who believes and trusts in Him.
Moreover [Jesus said] if your brother trespasses against you, go and tell him the fault between you and him alone: and if he hears you, then you've gained your brother ( Matthew 18:15 ).
This is the way differences are to be resolved and settled within the church.
Now if he does not hear you, then take with you one or two witnesses, so that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established ( Matthew 18:16 ).
Take another person with you or another two people with you, and face him with the issue again.
And if he neglects to hear them, then take him before the church: but if he neglects to hear the church, then let him be as a heathen, a publican [a sinner, a rank sinner]. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing, that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven ( Matthew 18:17-19 ).
So here Jesus is speaking about loosening and binding, loosening the work of God, binding the work of Satan, and then declaring that if two of us agree, so the value of prayer together, in agreement in prayer. Now most of our prayer is done in private, but there are times when agreement in prayer is extremely valuable. And I encourage every one of you to have a prayer partner. Someone that when something really is troubling you, you have someone who can pray with you, and bear that burden with you. "For if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it will be done for them by my Father which is in heaven." The power of agreement in prayer.
Then Jesus goes on with His two or three concepts. He said,
For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them ( Matthew 18:20 ).
So the simplest form of the church is just two or three people getting together to worship the Lord, to pray together. And whenever there are two, there are always three, wherever there are three visibly present, there is always four. Jesus said, "I am in the midst of them". I think that it is important that we have, and somehow can conceptionalize this. Jesus isn't like some today who say, "Well, the crowd's too small. I am not going to go out tonight." He said, "if two or three are gathered, I'll be there." Now what you need to conceptionalize and to realize is the fact that Jesus is here tonight.
Now if you have a real need and you knew Jesus was there, what would you do? You say," Lord, problems." And don't you know that if you could see Him, if He actually stood here visible, if you could reach out and touch Him, you know that the problems would all go away. He could do it, you know He can do it. So many times you probably wish, "Oh, if I could only be at Capernaum, and Jesus was there, and if I could only have Him lay His hands on me."
Hey, He is here. The fact that you cannot see Him is of no import at all. Because He said He would be here in the midst of us, and you can reach out by faith and touch Him tonight. And He will reach out and touch you. All you have to do is to make that contact of faith with Him. He is here. Realize that; bring before Him your needs. Believe Him and trust Him and He will work in you.
Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Seven times? ( Matthew 18:21 )
Now I imagine that Peter at this point thought I am really setting a great example here. I am sure that he was stretching in his own mind his knowledge of his own ability to forgive. I am sure when he said "seven times", he was going far beyond what he knew he could do. I am sure Peter was thinking, "Well, I might be able to forgive a guy a couple of times, but it sounds good to the other disciples if I say 'seven'". And Jesus will probably say, "Look, here is a guy that's really getting a lesson. Listen to it, fellows. Peter has really got it here: "Lord how often shall I forgive my brother the very same offense, he is doing the very same thing seven times?"
Jesus said unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven ( Matthew 18:22 ).
Now what Jesus is pointing out basically is that forgiveness is not a matter of mathematics, it's a matter of spirit, that you should have the spirit of forgiveness. And I am certain that He is certain that if you take the four hundred and ninety, that you'll lose count before you'll ever get there. And you'll just realize, hey, it isn't a matter of numbers, it's a matter of spirit. I am to have the spirit of forgiveness.
And then Jesus went on to illustrate it. He said,
Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take a count of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents [about sixteen million dollars]. But inasmuch as he did not have any money to pay, his Lord commanded him to be sold, his wife, and his children, and all that he had, in order that a partial payment might be made. And the servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, O Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you all. Then the Lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and he freed him, and he forgave him the debt. But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence [about three thousand dollars]: and he laid his hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, You pay me what you owe me. And the fellowservant fell down at his feet, and he begged him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything. But he would not: he had him cast into the debtors' prison, until he should pay the debt. So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very grieved, and they came and told their lord all that he did. Then his lord, after he had called him, said unto him, O you wicked servant, I forgave you all that debt, because you desired me to: Should you not also have had compassion on your fellowservant, even as I had pity on you? And his lord was angry, and delivered him over to the tormentors, until he should pay all that was due from him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if you [careful note] if you from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses ( Matthew 18:23-35 ).
Heavy duty, lesson on forgiveness.
Now the analogy is very clear and obvious. God has forgiven you so very much, all of your past sins. Who are you to hold a little crutch or a grievance against your brother, not forgive him, because of some slight, or some mean thing that he has said about you, or some dirty thing that he has done to you. Who are you to hold this bitterness and unforgiving spirit? Jesus said, "Look, if you don't forgive them from your heart, your Father won't forgive you your debt."
Now that is heavy. You say, "Well, explain it to us." I can't. If you want me to explain it away, I can't. You say, "Well, isn't that works then, forgiveness on works?" I don't know what it is, but it's the word of Jesus, and you better take heed.
Now the Lord has never commanded us to do anything, but what He will give us is the capacity to do it, if we are willing. The problem is, we are not often willing to forgive. The Lord is saying it's got to be more than just a forgiving of words. "Oh, I forgive you, but you do that again, you're going to get it. I forgive you, but I won't forget. I'll bury the hatchet, but I leave the handle showing so I can grab it whenever I need it." The forgiveness is from the heart. Forgiveness is a matter of heart. It's a matter of spirit. And inasmuch as God has commanded it, God will give me the capacity if I am willing, but I've got to be willing.
And so I have to pray, "Oh, God give to me that spirit of forgiveness. God I am bitter. God I am angry with what they've done. Lord I am upset over this thing, and I don't want to forgive. I want vengeance, God, but I know that that is not of you. Father give to me the spirit of forgiveness. Give to me forgiveness in my heart. God take away this bitterness. Take away this unforgiving spirit that I have." And I will receive God's help, if I am willing. But I must be willing, but I must do it. That is a must. "
Copyright © 2014, Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, Ca.
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Matthew 18:19". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/csc/matthew-18.html. 2014.
The restoration of a wayward disciple 18:15-20
Jesus proceeded to explain what a humble disciple should do when a brother or sister disciple has wandered from the Shepherd and the sheep.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Matthew 18:19". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/matthew-18.html. 2012.
It should be obvious from the context that this promise does not refer to whatever two or three disciples agree to ask God for in prayer. The Bible contains many promises concerning prayer (cf. Matthew 7:7-8; Matthew 21:22; John 14:13-14; John 15:7-8; John 15:16; 1 John 5:14-15; et al.), but this is not one of them.
In the context "anything" refers to any judicial decision involving an erring disciple that the other disciples may make corporately. God has always stood behind His judicial representatives on earth when they carry out His will (cf. Psalms 82:1). This is a wonderful promise. God will back up with His power and authority any decision involving the corporate discipline of an erring brother or sister that His disciples may make after determining His will. [Note: See C. Samuel Storms, Reaching God’s Ear, pp. 254-58.]
Here again (Matthew 18:20) Jesus takes God’s place as "God with us" (Matthew 1:23; Matthew 2:6; Matthew 3:3; Matthew 11:4-8; cf. Matthew 28:20). This statement implies a future time when Jesus would not be physically present with His disciples, the inter-advent age, specifically the period following His ascension and preceding His return. Jesus anticipated His ascension.
One writer argued that Matthew 18:18-20 are the center of a structural and theological chiasm that embraces Matthew 17:22 to Matthew 20:19. [Note: David McClister, "’Where Two or Three Are Gathered Together’: Literary Structure as a Key to Meaning in Mat_17:22 to Mat_20:19," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 39:4 (December 1996):549-58.] This thesis seems a bit stretched to me.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Matthew 18:19". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/matthew-18.html. 2012.
PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS ( Matthew 18:1-35 )
Matthew 18:1-35 is a most important chapter for Christian Ethics, because it deals with those qualities which should characterize the personal relationships of the Christian. We shall be dealing in detail with these relationships as we study the chapter section by section; but before we do so, it will be well to look at the chapter as a whole. It singles out seven qualities which should mark the personal relationships of the Christian.
(i) First and foremost, there is the quality of humility ( Matthew 18:1-4). Only the person who has the humility of the child is a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven. Personal ambition, personal prestige, personal publicity, personal profit are motives which can find no place in the life of the Christian. The Christian is the man who forgets self in his devotion to Jesus Christ and in his service of his fellow-men.
(ii) Second, there is the quality of responsibility ( Matthew 18:5-7). The greatest of all sins is to teach another to sin, especially if that other should be a weaker, a younger, and a less-experienced brother. God's sternest judgment is reserved for those who put a stumbing-block in the way of others. The Christian is constantly aware that he is responsible for the effect of his life, his deeds, his words, his example on other people.
(iii) There follows the quality of self-renunciation ( Matthew 18:8-10). The Christian is like an athlete for whom no training is too hard, if by it he may win the prize; he is like the student who will sacrifice pleasure and leisure to reach the crown. The Christian is ready surgically to excise from life everything which would keep him from rendering a perfect obedience to God.
(iv) There is individual care ( Matthew 18:11-14). The Christian realizes that God cares for him individually, and that he must reflect that individual care in his care for others. He never thinks in terms of crowds; he thinks in terms of persons. For God no man is unimportant and no one is lost in the crowd; for the Christian every man is important and is a child of God, who, if lost, must be found. The individual care of the Christian is in fact the motive and the dynamic of evangelism.
(v) There is the quality of discipline ( Matthew 18:15-20). Christian kindness and Christian forgiveness do not mean that a man who is in error is to be allowed to do as he likes. Such a man must be guided and corrected and, if need be, disciplined back into the right way. But that discipline is always to be given in humble love and not in self-righteous condemnation. It is always to be given with the desire for reconciliation and never with the desire for vengeance.
(vi) There is the quality of fellowship ( Matthew 18:19-20). It might even be put that Christians are people who pray together. They are people who in fellowship seek the will of God, who in fellowship listen and worship together. Individualism is the reverse of Christianity.
(vii) There is the spirit of forgiveness ( Matthew 18:23-35); and the Christian's forgiveness of his fellow-men is founded on the fact that he himself is a forgiven man. He forgives others even as God, for Christ's sake, has forgiven him.
The Mind Of A Child ( Matthew 18:1-4)
18:1-4 On that day the disciples came to Jesus. "Who, then," they said, "is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?" Jesus called a little child and made him stand in the middle of them, and said, "This is the truth I tell you--unless you turn and become as children, you will not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Whoever humbles himself as this little child, he is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven."
Here is a very revealing question, followed by a very revealing answer. The disciples asked who was the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus took a child and said that unless they turned and became as this little child, they would not get into the Kingdom at all.
The question of the disciples was: "Who will be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?" and the very fact that they asked that question showed that they had no idea at all what the Kingdom of Heaven was. Jesus said, "Unless you turn." He was warning them that they were going in completely the wrong direction, away from the Kingdom of Heaven and not towards it. In life it is all a question of what a man is aiming at; if he is aiming at the fulfilment of personal ambition, the acquisition of personal power, the enjoyment of personal prestige, the exaltation of self, he is aiming at precisely the opposite of the Kingdom of Heaven; for to be a citizen of the Kingdom means the complete forgetting of self, the obliteration of self, the spending of self in a life which aims at service and not at power. So long as a man considers his own self as the most important thing in the world, his back is turned to the Kingdom; if he wants ever to reach the Kingdom, he must turn round and face in the opposite direction.
Jesus took a child. There is a tradition that the child grew to be Ignatius of Antioch, who in later days became a great servant of the Church, a great writer, and finally a martyr for Christ. Ignatius was surnamed Theophoros, which means God--carried, and the tradition grew up that he had received that name because Jesus carried him on his knee. It may be so. Maybe it is more likely that it was Peter who asked the question, and that it was Peter's little boy whom Jesus took and set in the midst, because we know that Peter was married ( Matthew 8:14; 1 Corinthians 9:5).
So Jesus said that in a child we see the characteristics which should mark the man of the Kingdom. There are many lovely characteristics in a child--the power to wonder, before he has become deadeningly used to the wonder of the world; the power to forgive and to forget, even when adults and parents treat him unjustly as they so often do; the innocence, which, as Richard Glover beautifully says, brings it about that the child has only to learn, not to unlearn; only to do, not to undo. No doubt Jesus was thinking of these things; but wonderful as they are they are not the main things in his mind. The child has three great qualities which make him the symbol of those who are citizens of the Kingdom.
(i) First and foremost, there is the quality which is the keynote of the whole passage, the child's humility. A child does not wish to push himself forward; rather, he wishes to fade into the background. He does not wish for prominence; he would rather be left in obscurity. It is only as he grows up, and begins to be initiated into a competitive world, with its fierce struggle and scramble for prizes and for first places, that his instinctive humility is left behind.
(ii) There is the child's dependence. To the child a state of dependence is perfectly natural. He never thinks that he can face life by himself. He is perfectly content to be utterly dependent on those who love him and care for him. If men would accept the fact of their dependence on God, a new strength and a new peace would enter their lives.
(iii) There is the child's trust. The child is instinctively dependent, and just as instinctively he trusts his parents that his needs will be met. When we are children, we cannot buy our own food or our own clothes, or maintain our own home; yet we never doubt that we will be clothed and fed, and that there will be shelter and warmth and comfort waiting for us when we come home. When we are children we set out on a journey with no means of paying the fare, and with no idea of how to get to our journey's end, and yet it never enters our heads to doubt that our parents will bring us safely there.
The child's humility is the pattern of the Christian's behaviour to his fellow-men, and the child's dependence and trust are the pattern of the Christian's attitude towards God, the Father of all.
Christ And The Child ( Matthew 18:5-7; Matthew 18:10)
18:5-7,10 "Whoever receives one such little child in my name, receives me. But whoever puts a stumbling-block in the way of one of these little ones, who believe in me, it is better for him that a great millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned far out in the open sea. Alas for the world because of stumbling-blocks! Stumbling-blocks are bound to come; but alas for the man by whom the stumbling-block comes!
"See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my Father who is in heaven."
There is a certain difficulty of interpretation in this passage which must be borne in mind. As we have often seen, it is Matthew's consistent custom to gather together the teaching of Jesus under certain great heads; he arranges it systematically. In the early part of this chapter he is collecting Jesus' teaching about children; and we must remember that the Jews used the word child in a double sense. They used it literally of the young child; but regularly a teacher's disciples were called his sons or his children. Therefore a child also means a beginner in the faith, one who has just begun to believe, one who is not yet mature and established in the faith, one who has just begun on the right way and who may very easily be deflected from it. In this passage very often the child means both the young child and the beginner on the Christian way.
Jesus says that whoever receives one such little child in his name receives himself. The phrase in my name can mean one of two things. (i) It can mean for my sake. The care of children is something which is carried out for the sake of none other than Jesus Christ. To teach a child, to bring up a child in the way he ought to go, is something which is done not only for the sake of the child, but for the sake of Jesus himself. (ii) It can mean with a blessing. It can mean receiving the child, and, as it were, naming the name of Jesus over him. He who brings Jesus and the blessing of Jesus to a child is doing a Christlike work.
To receive the child is also a phrase which is capable of bearing more than one meaning. (i) It can mean, not so much to receive a child, as to receive a person who has this childlike quality of humility. In this highly competitive world it is very easy to pay most attention to the person who is pugnacious and aggressive and self-assertive and full of self-confidence. It is easy to pay most attention to the person who, in the worldly sense of the term, has made a success of life. Jesus may well be saying that the most important people are not the thrusters and those who have climbed to the top of the tree by pushing everyone else out of the way, but the quiet, humble, simple people, who have the heart of a child.
(ii) It can mean simply to welcome the child, to give him the care and the love and the teaching which he requires to make him into a good man. To help a child to live well and to know God better is to help Jesus Christ.
(iii) But this phrase can have another and very wonderful meaning. It can mean to see Christ in the child. To teach unruly, disobedient, restless little children can be a wearing job. To satisfy the physical needs of a child, to wash his clothes and bind his cuts and soothe his bruises and cook his meals may often seem a very unromantic task; the cooker and the sink and the work-basket have not much glamour; but there is no one in all this world who helps Jesus Christ more than the teacher of the little child and the harassed, hard-pressed mother in the home. All such will find a glory in the grey, if in the child they sometimes glimpse none other than Jesus himself.
The Terrible Responsibility ( Matthew 18:5-7; Matthew 18:10 Continued)
But the great keynote of this passage is the terrible weight of responsibility it leaves upon every one of us.
(i) It stresses the terror of teaching another to sin. It is true to say that no man sins uninvited; and the bearer of the invitation is so often a fellow-man. A man must always be confronted with his first temptation to sin; he must always receive his first encouragement to do the wrong thing; he must always experience his first push along the way to the forbidden things. The Jews took the view that the most unforgivable of all sins is to teach another to sin; and for this reason--a man's own sins can be forgiven, for in a sense they are limited in their consequences; but if we teach another to sin, he in his turn may teach still another, and a train of sin is set in motion with no foreseeable end.
There is nothing in this world more terrible than to destroy someone's innocence. And, if a man has any conscience left, there is nothing which will haunt him more. Someone tells of an old man who was dying; he was obviously sorely troubled. At last they got him to tell why. "When we were boys at play," he said, "one day at a cross-roads we reversed a signpost so that its arms were pointing the opposite way, and I've never ceased to wonder how many people were sent in the wrong direction by what we did." The sin of all sins is to teach another to sin.
(ii) It stresses the terror of the punishment of those who teach another to sin. If a man teaches another to sin, it would be better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea.
The millstone in this case is a mulos ( G3458) , onikos ( G3684) . The Jews ground corn by crushing it between two circular stones. This was done at home; and in any cottage such a mill could be seen. The upper stone, which turned round upon the lower was equipped with a handle, and it was commonly of such a size that the housewife could easily turn it, for it was she who did the grinding of the corn for the household needs. But a mulos onikos ( G3684) was a grinding-stone of such a size that it needed an ass pulling it (onos ( G3688) is the Greek for an ass and mulos ( G3458) is the Greek for a millstone) to turn it round at all. The very size of the millstone shows the awfulness of the condemnation.
Further, in the Greek it is said, not so much that the man would be better to be drowned in the depths of the sea, but that it would be better if he were drowned far out in the open sea. The Jew feared the sea; for him Heaven was a place where there would be no more sea ( Revelation 21:1). The man who taught another to sin would be better to be drowned far out in the most lonely of all waste places. Moreover, the very picture of drowning had its terror for the Jew. Drowning was sometimes a Roman punishment, but never Jewish. To the Jew it was the symbol of utter destruction. When the Rabbis taught that heathen and Gentile objects were to be utterly destroyed they said that they must be "cast into the salt sea." Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews 14. 15. 10) has a terrible account of a Galilaean revolt in which the Galilaeans took the supporters of Herod and drowned them in the depths of the Sea of Galilee. The very phrase would paint to the Jew a picture of utter destruction. Jesus' words are carefully chosen to show the fate that awaits a man who teaches another to sin.
(iii) It has a warning to silence all evasion. This is a sin-stained world and a tempting world; no one can go out into it without meeting seductions to sin. That is specially so if he goes out from a protected home where no evil influence was ever allowed to play upon him. Jesus says, "That is perfectly true; this world is full of temptations; that is inevitable in a world into which sin has entered; but that does not lessen the responsibility of the man who is the cause of a stumbling-block being placed in the way of a younger person or of a beginner in the faith."
We know that this is a tempting world; it is therefore the Christian's duty to remove stumbling-blocks, never to be the cause of putting them in another's way. This means that it is not only a sin to put a stumbling-block in another's way; it is also a sin even to bring that person into any situation, or circumstance, or environment where he may meet with such a stumbling-block. No Christian can be satisfied to live complacently and lethargically in a civilization where there are conditions of living and housing and life in general where a young person has no chance of escaping the seductions of sin.
(iv) Finally it stresses the supreme importance of the child. "Their angels," said Jesus, "always behold the face of my Father who is in Heaven." In the time of Jesus the Jews had a very highly-developed angelology. Every nation had its angel; every natural force, such as the wind and the thunder and the lightning and the rain, had its angel. They even went the length of saying, very beautifully, that every blade of grass had its angel. So, then, they believed that every child had his guardian angel.
To say that these angels behold the face of God in heaven means that they always have the right of direct access to God. The picture is of a great royal court where only the most favoured courtiers and ministers and officials have direct access to the king. In the sight of God the children are so important that their guardian angels always have the right of direct access to the inner presence of God.
For us the great value of a child must always lie in the possibilities which are locked up within him. Everything depends on how he is taught and trained. The possibilities may never be realized; they may be stifled and stunted; that which might be used for good may be deflected to the purposes of evil; or they may be unleashed in such a way that a new tide of power floods the earth.
Away back in the eleventh century Duke Robert of Burgundy was one of the great warrior and knightly figures. He was about to go off on a campaign. He had a baby son who was his heir; and, before he departed, he made his barons and nobles come and swear fealty to the little infant, in the event of anything happening to himself They came with their waving plumes and their clanking armour and knelt before the child. One great baron smiled and Duke Robert asked him why. He said, "The child is so little." "Yes," said Duke Robert, "he's little--but he'll grow." Indeed he grew, for that baby became William the Conqueror of England.
In every child there are infinite possibilities for good or ill. It is the supreme responsibility of the parent, of the teacher, of the Christian Church, to see that his dynamic possibilities for good are realized. To stifle them, to leave them untapped, to twist them into evil powers, is sin.
The Surgical Excision ( Matthew 18:8-9)
18:8-9 "If your hand or your foot proves a stumbling-block to you, cut it off and throw it away from you. It is the fine thing for you to enter into life maimed or lame, rather than to be cast into everlasting fire with two hands or two feet. And if your eye proves a stumbling-block to you, pluck it out and throw it away from you. It is the fine thing for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than to be cast into the Gehenna of fire with two eyes."
There are two senses in which this passage may be taken. It may be taken purely personally. It may be saying that it is worth any sacrifice and any self-renunciation to escape the punishment of God.
We have to be clear what that punishment involves. It is here called everlasting and this word everlasting occurs frequently in Jewish ideas of punishment. The word is aionios ( G166) . The Book of Enoch speaks about eternal judgment, about judgment for ever, about punishment and torture for ever, about the fire which burns for ever. Josephus calls hell an everlasting prison. The Book of Jubilees speaks about an eternal curse. The Book of Baruch says that "there will be no opportunity of returning, nor a limit to the times." There is a Rabbinic tale of Rabbi Jochanan ben Zaccai who wept bitterly at the prospect of death. On being asked why, he answered. "All the more I weep now that they are about to lead me before the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed is He, who lives and abides for ever and for ever and for ever; whose wrath, if he be wrathful, is an eternal wrath; and, if he bind me, his binding is an eternal binding; and if he kills me, his killing is an eternal killing; whom I cannot placate with words, nor bribe with wealth."
All these passages use the word aionios ( G166) ; but we must be careful to remember what it means. It literally means belonging to the ages; there is only one person to whom the word aionios ( G166) can properly be applied, and that is God. There is far more in aionios ( G166) than simply a description of that which has no end. Punishment which is aionios ( G166) is punishment which it befits God to give and punishment which only God can give. When we think of punishment, we can only say, "Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?" Our human pictures, and our human time-scheme, fail; this is in the hands of God.
But there is one clue which we do have. This passage speaks of the Gehenna ( G1067) of fire. Gehenna ( G1067) was the valley of Hinnom, a valley below the mountain of Jerusalem. It was for ever accursed, because it was the place where, in the days of the kingdom, the renegade Jews had sacrificed their children in the fire to the pagan god Moloch. Josiah had made it a place accursed. In later days it became the refuse dump of Jerusalem; a kind of vast incinerator. Always the refuse was burning there, and a pall of smoke and a glint of smouldering fire surrounded it.
Now, what was this Gehenna ( G1067) , this Valley of Hinnom? It was the place into which everything that was useless was cast and there destroyed. That is to say, God's punishment is for those who are useless, for those who make no contribution to life, for those who hold life back instead of urging life on, for those who drag life down instead of lifting life up, for those who are the handicaps of others and not their inspirations. It is again and again New Testament teaching that uselessness invites disaster. The man who is useless, the man who is an evil influence on others, the man who cannot justify the simple fact of his existence, is in danger of the punishment of God, unless he excises from his life those things which make him the handicap he is.
But it is just possible that this passage is not to be taken so much personally as in connection with the Church. Matthew has already used this saying of Jesus in a different context in Matthew 5:30. Here there may be a difference. The whole passage is about children, and perhaps especially about children in the faith. This passage may be saying, "If in your Church there is someone who is an evil influence, if there is someone who is a bad example to those who are young in the faith, if there is someone whose life and conduct is damaging the body of the Church, he must be rooted out and cast away." That may well be the meaning. The Church is the Body of Christ; if that body is to be healthy and health-giving, that which has the seeds of cancerous and poisonous infection in it must be even surgically removed.
One thing is certain, in any person and in any Church, whatever is a seduction to sin must be removed, however painful the removal may be, for if we allow it to flourish a worse punishment will follow. In this passage there may well be stressed both the necessity of self-renunciation for the Christian individual and discipline for the Christian Church.
The Shepherd And The Lost Sheep ( Matthew 18:12-14)
18:12-14 "What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine, and go out to the hills, and will he not seek the wandering one? And if he finds it--this is the truth I tell you--he rejoices more over it than over the ninety-nine who never wandered away. So it is not the will of your Father that one of these little ones should perish."
This is surely the simplest of all the parables of Jesus, for it is the simple story of a lost sheep and a seeking shepherd. In Judaea it was tragically easy for sheep to go astray. The pasture land is on the hill country which runs like a backbone down the middle of the land. This ridge-like plateau is narrow, only a few miles across. There are no restraining walls. At its best, the pasture is sparse. And, therefore, the sheep are ever liable to wander; and, if they stray from the grass of the plateau into the gullies and the ravines at each side, they have every chance of finishing up on some ledge from which they cannot get up or down, and of being marooned there until they die.
The Palestinian shepherds were experts at tracking down their lost sheep. They could follow their track for miles; and they would brave the cliffs and the precipice to bring them back.
In the time of Jesus the flocks were often communal flocks; they belonged, not to an individual, but to a village. There were, therefore, usually two or three shepherds with them. That is why the shepherd could leave the ninety-nine. If he had left them with no guardian he would have come back to find still more of them gone; but he could leave them in the care of his fellow-shepherds, while he sought the wanderer. The shepherds always made the most strenuous and the most sacrificial efforts to find a lost sheep. It was the rule that, if a sheep could not be brought back alive, then at least, if it was at all possible, its fleece or its bones must be brought back to prove that it was dead.
We can imagine how the other shepherds would return with their flocks to the village fold at evening time, and how they would tell that one shepherd was still out on the mountain-side seeking a wanderer. We can imagine how the eyes of the people would turn ever and again to the hillside watching for the shepherd who had not come home; and we can imagine the shout of joy when they saw him striding along the pathway with the weary wanderer slung across his shoulder, safe at last; and we can imagine how the whole village would welcome him, and gather round with gladness to hear the story of the sheep who was lost and found. Here we have what was Jesus' favourite picture of God and of God's love. This parable teaches us many things about that love.
(i) The love of God is an individual love. The ninety-and-nine were not enough; one sheep was out on the hillside and the shepherd could not rest until he had brought it home. However large a family a parent has, he cannot spare even one; there is not one who does not matter. God is like that; God cannot be happy until the last wanderer is gathered in.
(ii) The love of God is a patient love. Sheep are proverbially foolish creatures. The sheep has no one but itself to blame for the danger it had got itself into. Men are apt to have so little patience with the foolish ones. When they get into trouble, we are apt to say, "It's their own fault; they brought it on themselves; don't waste any sympathy on fools." God is not like that. The sheep might be foolish but the shepherd would still risk his life to save it. Men may be fools but God loves even the foolish man who has no one to blame but himself for his sin and his sorrow.
(iii) The love of God is a seeking love. The shepherd was not content to wait for the sheep to come back; he went out to search for it. That is what the Jew could not understand about the Christian idea Of God. The Jew would gladly agree that, if the sinner came crawling wretchedly home, God would forgive. But we know that God is far more wonderful than that, for in Jesus Christ, he came to seek for those who wander away. God is not content to wait until men come home; he goes out to search for them no matter what it costs him.
(iv) The love of God is a rejoicing love. Here there is nothing but joy. There are no recriminations; there is no receiving back with a grudge and a sense of superior contempt; it is all joy. So often we accept a man who is penitent with a moral lecture and a clear indication that he must regard himself as contemptible, and the practical statement that we have no further use for him and do not propose to trust him ever again. It is human never to forget a man's past and always to remember his sins against him. God puts our sins behind his back; and when we return to him, it is all joy.
(v) The love of God is a protecting love. It is the love which seeks and saves. There can be a love which ruins; there can be a love which softens; but the love of God is a protecting love which saves a man for the service of his fellow-men, a love which makes the wanderer wise, the weak strong, the sinner pure, the captive of sin the free man of holiness, and the vanquished by temptation its conqueror.
Seeking The Stubborn ( Matthew 18:15-18)
18:15-18 "If your brother sins against you, go, and try to convince him of his error between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. If he will not listen to you, take with you one or two more, that the whole matter may be established in the mouth of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the Church. And if he refuses to listen to the Church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. This is the truth I tell you--all that you bind upon earth will remain bound in heaven; and all that you loose upon earth will remain loosed in heaven."
In many ways this is one of the most difficult passages to interpret in the whole of Matthew's gospel. Its difficulty lies in the undoubted fact that it does not ring true; it does not sound like Jesus; it sounds much more like the regulations of an ecclesiastical committee.
We may go further. It is not possible that Jesus said this in its present form. Jesus could not have told his disciples to take things to the Church, for it did not exist; and the passage implies a fully developed and organized Church with a system of ecclesiastical discipline. What is more, it speaks of tax-collectors and Gentiles as irreclaimable outsiders. Yet Jesus was accused of being the friend of tax-gatherers and sinners; and he never spoke of them as hopeless outsiders, but always with sympathy and love, and even with praise (compare Matthew 9:10 ff; Matthew 11:19; Luke 18:10 ff; and especially Matthew 21:31 ff, where it is actually said that the tax-gatherers and harlots will go into the Kingdom before the orthodox religious people of the time). Further, the whole tone of the passage is that there is a limit to forgiveness, that there comes a time when a man may be abandoned as beyond hope, counsel which it is impossible to think of Jesus giving. And the last verse actually seems to give the Church the power to retain and to forgive sins. There are many reasons to make us think that this, as it stands, cannot be a correct report of the words of Jesus, but an adaptation made by the Church in later days, when Church discipline was rather a thing of rules and regulations than of love and forgiveness.
Although this passage is certainly not a correct report of what Jesus said, it is equally certain that it goes back to something he did say. Can we press behind it and come to the actual commandment of Jesus? At its widest what Jesus was saying was, "If anyone sins against you, spare no effort to make that man admit his fault, and to get things right again between you and him." Basically it means that we must never tolerate any situation in which there is a breach of personal relationships between us and another member of the Christian community.
Suppose something does go wrong, what are we to do to put it right? This passage presents us with a whole scheme of action for the mending of broken relationships within the Christian fellowship.
(i) If we feel that someone has wronged us, we should immediately put our complaint into words. The worst thing that we can do about a wrong is to brood about it. That is fatal. It can poison the whole mind and life, until we can think of nothing else but our sense of personal injury. Any such feeling should be brought out into the open, faced, and stated, and often the very stating of it will show how unimportant and trivial the whole thing is.
(ii) If we feel that someone has wronged us, we should go to see him personally. More trouble has been caused by the writing of letters than by almost anything else. A letter may be misread and misunderstood; it may quite unconsciously convey a tone it was never meant to convey. If we have a difference with someone, there is only one way to settle it--and that is face to face. The spoken word can often settle a difference which the written word would only have exacerbated.
(iii) If a private and personal meeting fails of its purpose, we should take some wise person or persons with us. Deuteronomy 19:15 has it: "A single witness shall not prevail against a man for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offence that he has committed; only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses, shall a charge be sustained." That is the saying which Matthew has in mind. But in this case the taking of the witnesses is not meant to be a way of proving to a man that he has committed an offence. It is meant to help the process of reconciliation. A man often hates those whom he has injured most of all; and it may well be that nothing we can say can win him back. But to talk matters over with some wise and kindly and gracious people present is to create a new atmosphere in which there is at least a chance that we should see ourselves "as others see us." The Rabbis had a wise saying, "Judge not alone, for none may judge alone save One (that is God)."
(iv) If that still fails, we must take our personal troubles to the Christian fellowship. Why? Because troubles are never settled by going to law, or by Christless argument. Legalism merely produces further trouble. It is in an atmosphere of Christian prayer, Christian love and Christian fellowship that personal relationships may be righted. The clear assumption is that the Church fellowship is Christian, and seeks to judge everything, not in the light of a book of practice and procedure, but in the light of love.
(v) It is now we come to the difficult part. Matthew says that, if even that does not succeed, then the man who has wronged us is to be regarded as a Gentile and a tax-collector. The first impression is that the man must be abandoned as hopeless and irreclaimable, but that is precisely what Jesus cannot have meant. He never set limits to human forgiveness. What then did he mean?
We have seen that when he speaks of tax-gatherers and sinners he always does so with sympathy and gentleness and an appreciation of their good qualities. It may be that what Jesus said was something like this: "When you have done all this, when you have given the sinner every chance, and when he remains stubborn and obdurate, you may think that he is no better than a renegade tax-collector, or even a godless Gentile. Well, you may be right. But I have not found the tax-gatherers and the Gentiles hopeless. My experience of them is that they, too, have a heart to be touched; and there are many of them, like Matthew and Zacchaeus, who have become my best friends. Even if the stubborn sinner is like a tax-collector or a Gentile, you may still win him, as I have done."
This, in fact, is not an injunction to abandon a man; it is a challenge to win him with the love which can touch even the hardest heart. It is not a statement that some men are hopeless; it is a statement that Jesus Christ has found no man hopeless--and neither must we.
(vi) Finally, there is the saying about loosing and binding. It is a difficult saying. It cannot mean that the Church can remit or forgive sins, and so settle a man's destiny in time or in eternity. What it may well mean is that the relationships which we establish with our fellow-men last not only through time but into eternity--therefore we must get them right.
The Power Of The Presence ( Matthew 18:19-20)
18:19-20 "Again, I tell you, that if two of you agree upon earth upon any matter for which you are praying, you will receive it from my Father who is in Heaven. Where two or three are assembled together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."
Here is one of these sayings of Jesus, whose meaning we need to probe or we will be left with heartbreak and great disappointment. Jesus says that, if two upon earth agree upon any matter for which they are praying, they will receive it from God. If that is to be taken literally, and without any qualification, it is manifestly untrue. Times without number two people have agreed to pray for the physical or the spiritual welfare of a loved one and their prayer has not, in the literal sense, been answered. Times without number God's people have agreed to pray for the conversion of their own land or the conversion of the heathen and the coming of the Kingdom, and even yet that prayer is far from being fully answered. People agree to pray--and pray desperately--and do not receive that for which they pray. There is no point in refusing to face the facts of the situation, and nothing but harm can result from teaching people to expect what does not happen. But when we come to see what this saying means, there is a precious depth in it.
(i) First and foremost, it means that prayer must never be selfish and that selfish prayer cannot find an answer. We are not meant to pray only for our own needs, thinking of nothing and no one but ourselves; we are meant to pray as members of a fellowship, in agreement, remembering that life and the world are not arranged for us as individuals but for the fellowship as a whole. It would often happen that, if our prayers were answered, the prayers of someone else would be disappointed. Often our prayers for our success would necessarily involve someone else's failure. Effective prayer must be the prayer of agreement, from which the element of selfish concentration on our own needs and desires has been quite cleansed away.
(ii) When prayer is unselfish, it is always answered. But here as everywhere we must remember the basic law of prayer; that law is that in prayer we receive, not the answer which we desire, but the answer which God in his wisdom and his love knows to be best. Simply because we are human beings, with human hearts and fears and hopes and desires, most of our prayers are prayers for escape. We pray to be saved from some trial, some sorrow, some disappointment, some hurting and difficult situation. And always God's answer is the offer not of escape, but of victory. God does not give us escape from a human situation; he enables us to accept what we cannot understand; he enables us to endure what without him would be unendurable; he enables us to face what without him would be beyond all facing. The perfect example of all this is Jesus in Gethsemane. He prayed to be released from the dread situation which confronted him, he was not released from it; but he was given power to meet it, to endure it, and to conquer it. When we pray unselfishly, God sends his answer--but the answer is always his answer and not necessarily ours.
(iii) Jesus goes on to say that where two or three are gathered in his name, he is there in the midst of them. The Jews themselves had a saying, "Where two sit and are occupied with the study of the Law, the glory of God is among them." We may take this great promise of Jesus into two spheres.
(a) We may take it into the sphere of the Church. Jesus is just as much present in the little congregation as in the great mass meeting. He is just as much present at the Prayer Meeting or the Bible Study Circle with their handful of people as in the crowded arena. He is not the slave of numbers. He is there wherever faithful hearts meet, however few they may be, for he gives all of himself to each individual person.
(b) We may take it into the sphere of the home. One of the earliest interpretations of this saying of Jesus was that the two or three are father, mother, and child, and that it means that Jesus is there, the unseen guest in every home.
There are those who never give of their best except on the so-called great occasion; but for Jesus Christ every occasion where even two or three are gathered in his name is a great occasion.
How To Forgive ( Matthew 18:21-35)
18:21-35 Then Peter came and said to him, "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I tell you not up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. That is why the Kingdom of Heaven can be likened to what happened when a king wished to make a reckoning with his servants. When he began to make a reckoning one debtor was brought to him who owed him 2,400,000 British pounds. Since he was quite unable to pay, his master ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children, and all his possessions, and payment to be made. The servant fell on his face and besought him: 'Sir, have patience with me, and I will pay you in full.' The master of the servant was moved with compassion, and let him go, and forgave him the debt. When that servant went out, he found one of his fellow-servants, who owed him L5. He caught hold of him and seized him by the throat: 'Pay what you owe,' he said. The fellow-servant fell down and besought him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you in full.' But he refused. Rather, he went away and flung him into prison, until he should pay what was due. So, when his fellow-servants saw what had happened, they were very distressed; and they went and informed their master of all that had happened. Then the master summoned him, and said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt when you besought me to do so. Ought you not to have had pity on your fellow-servant, as I had pity on you?' And his master was angry with him and handed him over to the torturers, until he should pay all that was due.
"Even so shall my heavenly Father do to you, if you do not each one forgive his brother from your hearts."
We owe a very great deal to the fact that Peter had a quick tongue. Again and again he rushed into speech in such a way that his impetuosity drew from Jesus teaching which is immortal. On this occasion Peter thought that he was being very generous. He asked Jesus how often he ought to forgive his brother, and then answered his own question by suggesting that he should forgive seven times.
Peter was not without warrant for this suggestion. It was Rabbinic teaching that a man must forgive his brother three times. Rabbi Jose ben Hanina said, "He who begs forgiveness from his neighbour must not do so more than three times." Rabbi Jose ben Jehuda said, "If a man commits an offence once, they forgive him; if he commits an offence a second time, they forgive him; if he commits an offence a third time, they forgive him; the fourth time they do not forgive." The Biblical proof that this was correct was taken from Amos. In the opening chapters of Amos there is a series of condemnations on the various nations for three transgressions and for four ( Amos 1:3; Amos 1:6; Amos 1:9; Amos 1:11; Amos 1:13; Amos 2:1; Amos 2:4; Amos 2:6). From this it was deduced that God's forgiveness extends to three offences and that he visits the sinner with punishment at the fourth. It was not to be thought that a man could be more gracious than God, so forgiveness was limited to three times.
Peter thought that he was going very far, for he takes the Rabbinic three times, multiplies it by two for good measure adds one, and suggests, with eager self-satisfaction, that it will be enough if he forgives seven times. Peter expected to be warmly commended; but Jesus's answer was that the Christian must forgive seventy times seven. In other words there is no reckonable limit to forgiveness.
Jesus then told the story of the servant forgiven a great debt who went out and dealt mercilessly with a fellow-servant who owed him a debt that was an infinitesimal fraction of what he himself had owed; and who for his mercilessness was utterly condemned. This parable teaches certain lessons which Jesus never tired of teaching.
(i) It teaches that lesson which runs through all the New Testament--a man must forgive in order to be forgiven. He who will not forgive his fellow-men cannot hope that God will forgive him. "Blessed are the merciful," said Jesus, "for they shall obtain mercy" ( Matthew 5:7). No sooner had Jesus taught his men his own prayer, than he went on to expand and explain one petition in it: "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" ( Matthew 6:14-15). As James had it, "For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy" ( James 2:13). Divine and human forgiveness go hand in hand.
(ii) Why should that be so? One of the great points in this parable is the contrast between the two debts.
The first servant owed his master 10,000 talents; a talent was the equivalent of 240 British pounds; therefore 10,000 talents is 2,400,000 British pounds. That is an incredible debt. It was more than the total budget of the ordinary province. The total revenue of the province which contained Idumaea, Judaea and Samaria was only 600 talents; the total revenue of even a wealthy province like Galilee was only 300 talents. Here was a debt which was greater than a king's ransom. It was this that the servant was forgiven.
The debt which a fellow-servant owed him was a trifling thing; it was 100 denarii ( G1220) ; a denarius ( G1220) was worth about 4 pence in value; and therefore the total debt was less than 5 British pounds. It was approximately one five-hundred-thousandth of his own debt.
A. R. S. Kennedy drew this vivid picture to contrast the debts. Suppose they were paid in sixpences. The 100 denarii debt could be carried in one pocket. The ten thousand talent debt would take to carry it an army of about 8,600 carriers, each carrying a sack of sixpences 60 lbs. in weight; and they would form, at a distance of a yard apart, a line five miles long! The contrast between the debts is staggering. The point is that nothing men can do to us can in any way compare with what we have done to God; and if God has forgiven us the debt we owe to him, we must forgive our fellow-men the debts they owe to us. Nothing that we have to forgive can even faintly or remotely compare with what we have been forgiven.
"Not the labours of my hands
Can fulfil thy law's demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone."
We have been forgiven a debt which is beyond all paying--for the sin of man brought about the death of God's own Son--and, if that is so, we must forgive others as God has forgiven us, or we can hope to find no mercy.
-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Matthew 18:19". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/matthew-18.html. 1956-1959.
Again, I say unto you,.... As the words in the former verse seem to regard the whole body of the disciples, whose decisions in cases brought before them, declaring them just or unjust, are determinate and unalterable; these seem to respect the one or two, that should join the offended person in the reproof of the offender, and are spoken for their encouragement; who might think proper either to premise, or follow their engaging in such a work with prayer:
that if two of you shall agree on earth, as touching anything that they shall ask; both in the case before mentioned, and in any other thing: whether it be for themselves or others; to assist them in the ministry of the word, and give success to it, for the conversion of sinners; and in the performance of any miracle, for the confirmation of the Gospel; in the administration of ordinances, for the comfort of saints; and in laying on of censures, for the reclaiming of backsliders; or be it what it will that may be done, consistent with the glory of God, the purposes of his mind, and the declarations of his will, and the good of men, provided they agree in their requests; though they are here on earth, and at such a distance from heaven, from whence their help and assistance come:
it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven; with whom nothing is impossible; and who, as he regards the effectual fervent prayer of any righteous man, so more, of two agreed together in anyone thing; and still more, of a church and community of saints in their united requests: a great encouragement this to social prayer, though ever so few are engaged in it.
The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855
Gill, John. "Commentary on Matthew 18:19". "Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/matthew-18.html. 1999.
|The Removal of Offences.|
15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. 16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican. 18 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
Christ, having cautioned his disciples not to give offence, comes next to direct them what they must do in case of offences given them; which may be understood either of personal injuries, and then these directions are intended for the preserving of the peace of the church; or of public scandals, and then they are intended for the preserving of the purity and beauty of the church. Let us consider it both ways.
I. Let us apply it to the quarrels that happen, upon any account, among Christians. If thy brother trespass against thee, by grieving thy soul (1 Corinthians 8:12), by affronting thee, or putting contempt or abuse upon thee; if he blemish thy good name by false reports or tale-bearing; if he encroach on thy rights, or be any way injurious to thee in thy estate; if he be guilty of any of those trespasses that are specified, Leviticus 6:2; Leviticus 6:3; if he transgress the laws of justice, charity, or relative duties; these are trespasses against us, and often happen among Christ's disciples, and sometimes, for want of prudence, are of very mischievous consequence. Now observe what is the rule prescribed in this case,
1. Go, and tell him his fault between thee and him alone. Let this be compared with, and explained by, Leviticus 19:17, Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart; that is, "If thou hast conceived a displeasure at thy brother for any injury he hath done thee, do not suffer thy resentments to ripen into a secret malice (like a wound, which is most dangerous when it bleed inwardly), but give vent to them in a mild and grave admonition, let them so spend themselves, and they will expire the sooner; do not go and rail against him behind his back, but thou shalt in any ways reprove him. If he has indeed done thee a considerable wrong, endeavour to make him sensible of it, but let the rebuke be private, between thee and him alone; if thou wouldest convince him, do not expose him, for that will but exasperate him, and make the reproof look like a revenge." this agrees with Proverbs 25:8; Proverbs 25:9, "Go not forth hastily to strive, but debate thy cause with thy neighbour himself, argue it calmly and amicably; and if he shall hear thee, well and good, thou hast gained thy brother, there is an end of the controversy, and it is a happy end; let no more be said of it, but let the falling out of friends be the renewing of friendship."
2. "If he will not hear thee, if he will not own himself in a fault, nor come to an agreement, yet do not despair, but try what he will say to it, if thou take one or two or more, not only to be witnesses of what passes, but to reason the case further with him; he will be the more likely to hearken to them because they are disinterested; and if reason will rule him, the word of reason in the mouth of two or three witnesses will be better spoken to him" (Plus vident oculi quam oculus--Many eyes see more than one), "and more regarded by him, and perhaps it will influence him to acknowledge his error, and to say, I repent."
3. "If he shall neglect to hear them, and will not refer the matter to their arbitration, then tell it to the church, to the ministers, elders, or other officers, or the most considerable persons in the congregation you belong to, make them the referees to accommodate the matter, and do not presently appeal to the magistrate, or fetch a writ for him." This is fully explained by the apostle (1 Corinthians 6:1-20), where he reproves those that went to law before the unjust, and not before the saints (Matthew 18:1; Matthew 18:1), and would have the saints to judge those small matters (Matthew 18:2; Matthew 18:2) that pertain to this life, Matthew 18:3; Matthew 18:3. If you ask, "Who is the church that must be told?" the apostle directs there (Matthew 18:5; Matthew 18:5), Is there not a wise man among you? Those of the church that are presumed to be most capable of determining such matters; and he speaks ironically, when he says (Matthew 18:4; Matthew 18:4), "Set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church; those, if there be no better, those, rather than suffer an irreconcileable breach between two church members." This rule was then in a special manner requisite, when the civil government was in the hands of such as were not only aliens, but enemies.
4. "If he will not hear the church, will not stand to their award, but persists in the wrong he has done thee, and proceeds to do thee further wrong, let him be to thee as a heathen man, and a publican; take the benefit of the law against him, but let that always be the last remedy; appeal not to the courts of justice till thou hast first tried all other means to compromise the matter in variance. Or thou mayest, if thou wilt, break off thy friendship and familiarity with him; though thou must by no means study revenge, yet thou mayest choose whether thou wilt have any dealings with him, at least, in such a way as may give him an opportunity of doing the like again. Thou wouldest have healed him, wouldest have preserved his friendship, but he would not, and so has forfeited it." If a man cheat and abuse me once, it is his fault; if twice, it is my own.
II. Let us apply it to scandalous sins, which are an offence to the little ones, of bad example to those that are weak and pliable, and of great grief to those that are weak and timorous. Christ, having taught us to indulge the weakness of our brethren, here cautions us not to indulge their wickedness under pretence of that. Christ, designing to erect a church for himself in the world, here took care for the preservation, 1. Of its purity, that it might have an expulsive faculty, a power to cleanse and clear itself, like a fountain of living waters, which is necessary as long as the net of the gospel brings up both good fish and bad. 2. Of its peace and order, that every member may know his place and duty, and the purity of it may be preserved in a regular way and not tumultuously. Now let us see,
(1.) What is the case supposed? If thy brother trespass against thee. [1.] "The offender is a brother, one that is in Christian communion, that is baptized, that hears the word, and prays with thee, with whom thou joinest in the worship of God, statedly or occasionally." Note, Church discipline is for church members. Them that are without God judges,1 Corinthians 5:12; 1 Corinthians 5:13. When any trespass is done against us, it is good to remember that the trespasser is a brother, which furnishes us with qualifying consideration. [2.] "The offense is a trespass against thee; if thy brother sin against thee (so the word is), if he do any thing which is offensive to thee as a Christian." Note, A gross sin against God is a trespass against his people, who have a true concern for his honour. Christ and believers have twisted interests; what is done against them Christ takes as done against himself, and what is done against him they cannot but take as done against themselves. The reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me,Psalms 69:9.
(2.) What is to be done in this case. We have here,
[1.] The rules prescribed, Matthew 18:15-17; Matthew 18:15-17. Proceed in this method:
First, "Go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone. Do not stay till he comes to thee, but go to him, as the physician visits the patient, and the shepherd goes after the lost sheep." Note, We should think no pains too much to take for the recovering of a sinner to repentance. "Tell him his fault, remind him of what he has done, and of the evil of it, show him his abominations." Note, People are loth to see their faults, and have need to be told of them. Though the fact is plain, and the fault too, yet they must be put together with application. Great sins often amuse conscience, and for the present stupify and silence it; and there is need of help to awaken it. David's own heart smote him, when he had cut off Saul's skirt, and when he had numbered the people; but (which is very strange) we do not find that it smote him in the matter of Uriah, till Nathan told him, Thou art the man.
"Tell him his fault, elenxon auton--argue the case with him" (so the word signifies); "and do it with reason and argument, not with passion." Where the fault is plain and great, the person proper for us to deal with, and we have an opportunity for it, and there is no apparent danger of doing more hurt than good, we must with meekness and faithfulness tell people of what is amiss in them. Christian reproof is an ordinance of Christ for the bringing of sinners to repentance, and must be managed as an ordinance. "Let the reproof be private, between thee and him alone; that it may appear you seek not his reproach, but his repentance." Note, It is a good rule, which should ordinarily be observed among Christians, not to speak of our brethren's faults to others, till we have first spoken of them to themselves, this would make less reproaching and more reproving; that is, less sin committed, and more duty done. It will be likely to work upon an offender, when he sees his reprover concerned not only for his salvation, in telling him his fault, but for his reputation in telling him of it privately.
"If he shall hear thee" --that is, "heed thee--if he be wrought upon by the reproof, it is well, thou hast gained thy brother; thou hast helped to save him from sin and ruin, and it will be thy credit and comfort," James 5:19; James 5:20. Note, The converting of a soul is the winning of that soul (Proverbs 11:30); and we should covet it, and labour after it, as gain to us; and, if the loss of a soul be a great loss, the gain of a soul is sure no small gain.
Secondly, If that doth not prevail, then take with thee one or two more,Matthew 18:16; Matthew 18:16. Note, We must not be weary of well-doing, though we see not presently the good success of it. "If he will not hear thee, yet do not give him up as in a desperate case; say not, It will be to no purpose to deal with him any further; but go on in the use of other means; even those that harden their necks must be often reproved, and those that oppose themselves instructed in meekness." In work of this kind we must travail in birth again (Galatians 4:19); and it is after many pains and throes that the child is born.
"Take with thee one or two more; 1. To assist thee; they may speak some pertinent convincing word which thou didst not think of, and may manage the matter with more prudence than thou didst." note, Christians should see their need of help in doing good, and pray in the aid one of another; as in other things, so in giving reproofs, that the duty may be done, and may be done well. 2. "To affect him; he will be the more likely to be humbled for his fault, when he sees it witnessed against by two or three." Deuteronomy 19:15. Note, Those should think it high time to repent and reform, who see their misconduct become a general offence and scandal. Though in such a world as this it is rare to find one good whom all men speak well of, yet it is more rare to find one good whom all men speak ill of. 3. "To be witnesses of his conduct, in case the matter should afterward be brought before the church." None should come under the censure of the church as obstinate and contumacious, till it be very well proved that they are so.
Thirdly, If he neglect to hear them, and will not be humbled, then tell it to the church,Matthew 18:17; Matthew 18:17. There are some stubborn spirits to whom the likeliest means of conviction prove ineffectual; yet such must not be given over as incurable, but let the matter be made more public, and further help called in. Note, 1. Private admonitions must always go before public censures; if gentler methods will do the work, those that are more rough and severe must not be used, Titus 3:10. Those that will be reasoned out of their sins, need not be shamed out of them. Let God's work be done effectually, but with as little noise as may be; his kingdom comes with power, but not with observation. But, 2. Where private admonition does not prevail, there public censure must take place. The church must receive the complaints of the offended, and rebuke the sins of the offenders, and judge between them, after an impartial enquiry made into the merits of the cause.
Tell it to the church. It is a thousand pities that this appointment of Christ, which was designed to end differences, and remove offences, should itself be so much a matter of debate, and occasion differences and offences, through the corruption of men's hearts. What church must be told--is the great question. The civil magistrate, say some; The Jewish sanhedrim then in being, say others; but by what follows, Matthew 18:18; Matthew 18:18, it is plain that he means a Christian church, which, though not yet formed, was now in the embryo. "Tell it to the church, that particular church in the communion of which the offender lives; make the matter known to those of that congregation who are by consent appointed to receive informations of that kind. Tell it to the guides and governors of the church, the minister or ministers, the elders or deacons, or (if such the constitution of the society be) tell it to the representatives or heads of the congregation, or to all the members of it; let them examine the matter and, if they find the complaint frivolous and groundless, let them rebuke the complainant; if they find it just, let them rebuke the offender, and call him to repentance, and this will be likely to put an edge and an efficacy upon the reproof, because given," 1. "With greater solemnity," and, 2. "With greater authority." It is an awful thing to receive a reproof from a church, from a minister, a reprover by office; and therefore it is the more regarded by such as pay any deference to an institution of Christ and his ambassadors.
Fourthly, "If he neglect to hear the church, if he slight the admonition, and will neither be ashamed of his faults, nor amend them, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and publican; let him be cast out of the communion of the church, secluded from special ordinances, degraded from the dignity of a church member, let him be put under disgrace, and let the members of the society be warned to withdraw from him, that he may be ashamed of his sin, and they may not be infected by it, or made chargeable with it." Those who put contempt on the orders and rules of a society, and bring reproach upon it, forfeit the honours and privileges of it, and are justly laid aside till they repent and submit, and reconcile themselves to it again. Christ has appointed this method for the vindicating of the church's honour, the preserving of its purity, and the conviction and reformation of those that are scandalous. But observe, he doth not say, "Let him be to thee as a devil or damned spirit, as one whose case is desperate," but "as a heathen and a publican, as one in a capacity of being restored and received in again. Count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother." The directions given to the church of Corinth concerning the incestuous person, agree with the rules here; he must be taken away from among them (1 Corinthians 5:2), must be delivered to Satan; for if he be cast out of Christ's kingdom, he is looked upon as belonging to Satan's kingdom; they must not keep company with him, Matthew 18:11; Matthew 18:13. But when by this he is humbled and reclaimed, he must be welcomed into communion again, and all shall be well.
[2.] Here is a warrant signed for the ratification of all the church's proceedings according to these rules, Matthew 18:18; Matthew 18:18. What was said before to Peter is here said to all the disciples, and in them to all the faithful office-bearers in the church, to the world's end. While ministers preach the word of Christ faithfully, and in their government of the church strictly adhere to his laws (clave non errante--the key not turning the wrong way), they may be assured that he will own them, and stand by them, and will ratify what they say and do, so that it shall be taken as said and done by himself. He will own them,
First, In their sentence of suspension; Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven. If the censures of the church duly follow the institution of Christ, his judgments will follow the censures of the church, his spiritual judgments, which are the sorest of all other, such as the rejected Jews fell under (Romans 11:8), a spirit of slumber; for Christ will not suffer his own ordinances to be trampled upon, but will say amen to the righteous sentences which the church passes on obstinate offenders. How light soever proud scorners may make of the censures of the church, let them know that they are confirmed in the court of heaven; and it is in vain for them to appeal to that court, for judgment is there already given against them. They that are shut out from the congregation of the righteous now shall not stand in it in the great day, Psalms 1:5. Christ will not own those as his, nor receive them to himself, whom the church has duly delivered to Satan; but, if through error or envy the censures of the church be unjust, Christ will graciously find those who are so cast out, John 9:34; John 9:35.
Secondly, In their sentence of absolution; Whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Note, 1. No church censures bind so fast, but that, upon the sinner's repentance and reformation, they may and must be loosed again. Sufficient is the punishment which has attained its end, and the offender must then be forgiven and comforted, 2 Corinthians 2:6. There is no unpassable gulf fixed but that between hell and heaven. 2. Those who, upon their repentance, are received by the church into communion again may take the comfort of their absolution in heaven, if their hearts be upright with God. As suspension is for the terror of the obstinate, so absolution is for the encouragement of the penitent. St. Paul speaks in the person of Christ, when he saith, To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also,2 Corinthians 2:10.
Now it is a great honour which Christ here puts upon the church, that he will condescend not only to take cognizance of their sentences, but to confirm them; and in the following verses we have two things laid down as ground of this.
(1.) God's readiness to answer the church's prayers (Matthew 18:19; Matthew 18:19); If two of you shall agree harmoniously, touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them. Apply this,
[1.] In general, to all the requests of the faithful praying seed of Jacob; they shall not seek God's face in vain. Many promises we have in scripture of a gracious answer to the prayers of faith, but this gives a particular encouragement to the joint-prayer; "the requests which two of you agree in, much more which many agree in." No law of heaven limits the number of petitioners. Note, Christ has been pleased to put an honour upon, and to allow a special efficacy in, the joint-prayers of the faithful, and the common supplications they make to God. If they join in the same prayer, if they meet by appointment to come together to the throne of grace on some special errand, or, though at a distance, agree in some particular matter of prayer, they shall speed well. Besides the general regard God has to the prayers of the saints, he is particularly pleased with their union and communion in those prayers. See 2 Chronicles 5:13; Acts 4:31.
[2.] In particular, to those requests that are put up to God about binding and loosing; to which this promise seems more especially to refer. Observe, First, That the power of church discipline is not here lodged in the hand of a single person, but two, at least, are supposed to be concerned in it. When the incestuous Corinthian was to be cast out, the church was gathered together (1 Corinthians 5:4), and it was a punishment inflicted of many, 2 Corinthians 2:6. In an affair of such importance, two are better than one, and in the multitude of counsellors there is safety. Secondly, It is good to see those who have the management of church discipline, agreeing in it. Heats and animosities, among those whose work it is to remove offences, will be the greatest offence of all. Thirdly, Prayer must evermore go along with church discipline. Pass no sentence, which you cannot in faith ask God to confirm. The binding and loosing spoken of (Matthew 16:19; Matthew 16:19) was done by preaching, this by praying. Thus the whole power of gospel ministers is resolved into the word and prayer, to which they must wholly give themselves. He doth not say, "If you shall agree to sentence and decree a thing, it shall be done" (as if ministers were judges and lords); but, "If you agree to ask it of God, from him you shall obtain it." Prayer must go along with all our endeavours for the conversion of sinners; see James 5:16. Fourthly, The unanimous petitions of the church of God, for the ratification of their just censures, shall be heard in heaven, and obtain an answer; "It shall be done, it shall be bound and loosed in heaven; God will set his fiat to the appeals and applications you make to him." If Christ (who here speaks as one having authority) say, "It shall be done," we may be assured that it is done, though we see not the effect in the way that we look for it. God doth especially own and accept us, when we are praying for those that have offended him and us. The Lord turned the captivity of Job, not when he prayed for himself, but when he prayed for his friends who had trespassed against him.
(2.) The presence of Christ in the assemblies of Christians, Matthew 18:20; Matthew 18:20. Every believer has the presence of Christ with him; but the promise here refers to the meetings where two or three are gathered in his name, not only for discipline, but for religious worship, or any act of Christian communion. Assemblies of Christians for holy purposes are hereby appointed, directed, and encouraged.
[1.] They are hereby appointed; the church of Christ in the world exists most visibly in religious assemblies; it is the will of Christ that these should be set up, and kept up, for the honour of God, the edification of men, and the preserving of a face of religion upon the world. When God intends special answers to prayer, he calls for a solemn assembly, Joel 2:15; Joel 2:16. If there be no liberty and opportunity for large and numerous assemblies, yet then it is the will of God that two or three should gather together, to show their good-will to the great congregation. Note, When we cannot do what we would in religion, we must do as we can, and God will accept us.
[2.] They are hereby directed to gather together in Christ's name. In the exercise of church discipline, they must come together in the name of Christ,1 Corinthians 5:4. That name gives to what they do an authority on earth, and an acceptableness in heaven. In meeting or worship, we must have an eye to Christ; must come together by virtue of his warrant and appointment, in token of our relation to him, professing faith in him, and in communion with all that in every place call upon him. When we come together, to worship God in a dependence upon the Spirit and grace of Christ as Mediator for assistance, and upon his merit and righteousness as Mediator for acceptance, having an actual regard to him as our Way to the Father, and our Advocate with the Father, then we are met together in his name.
[3.] They are hereby encouraged with an assurance of the presence of Christ; There am I in the midst of them. By his common presence he is in all places, as God; but this is a promise of his special presence. Where his saints are, his sanctuary is, and there he will dwell; it is his rest (Psalms 132:14), it is his walk (Revelation 2:1); he is in the midst of them, to quicken and strengthen them, to refresh and comfort them, as the sun in the midst of the universe. He is in the midst of them, that is, in their hearts; it is a spiritual presence, the presence of Christ's Spirit with their spirits, that is here intended. There am I, not only I will be there, but I am there; as if he came first, is ready before them, they shall find him there; he repeated this promise at parting (Matthew 28:20; Matthew 28:20), Lo, I am with you always. Note, The presence of Christ in the assemblies of Christians is promised, and may in faith be prayed for and depended on; There am I. This is equivalent to the Shechinah, or special presence of God in the tabernacle and temple of old, Exodus 40:34; 2 Chronicles 5:14.
Though but two or three are met together, Christ is among them; this is an encouragement to the meeting of a few, when it is either, First, of choice. Besides the secret worship performed by particular persons, and the public services of the whole congregation, there may be occasion sometimes for two or three to come together, either for mutual assistance in conference or joint assistance in prayer, not in contempt of public worship, but in concurrence with it; there Christ will be present. Or, Secondly, By constraint; when there are not more than two or three to come together, or, if there be, they dare not, for fear of the Jews, yet Christ will be in the midst of them, for it is not the multitude, but the faith and sincere devotion, of the worshippers, that invites the presence of Christ; and though there be but two or three, the smallest number that can be, yet, it Christ make one among them, who is the principal one, their meeting is as honourable and comfortable as if they were two or three thousand.
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on Matthew 18:19". "Henry's Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/matthew-18.html. 1706.
Chapter 8, which opens the portion that comes before us tonight, is a striking illustration as well as proof of the method which God has been pleased to employ in giving us the apostle Matthew's account of our Lord Jesus. The dispensational aim here leads to a more manifest disregard of the bare circumstance of time than in any other specimen of these gospels. This is the more to be noticed, inasmuch as the gospel of Matthew has been in general adopted as the standard of time, save by those who have rather inclined to Luke as supplying the desideratum. To me it is evident, from a careful comparison of them all, as I think it is capable of clear and adequate proof to an unprejudiced Christian mind, that neither Matthew nor Luke confines himself to such an order of events. Of course, both do preserve chronological order when it is compatible with the objects the Holy Spirit had in inspiring them; but in both the order of time is subordinated to still greater purposes which God had in view. If we compare the eighth chapter, for example, with the corresponding circumstances, as far as they appear, in the gospel of Mark, we shall find the latter gives us notes of time, which leave no doubt on my mind that Mark adheres to the scale of time: the design of the Holy Ghost required it, instead of dispensing with it in his case. The question fairly arises, Why it is that the Holy Ghost has been pleased so remarkably to leave time out of the question in this chapter, as well as in the next? The same indifference to the mere sequence of events is found occasionally in other parts of the gospel; but I have purposely dwelt upon this chapter 8, because here we have it throughout, and at the same time with evidence exceedingly simple and convincing.
The first thing to be remarked is, that the leper was an early incident in the manifestation of the healing power of our Lord. In his defilement he came to Jesus and sought to be cleansed, before the delivery of the sermon on the mount. Accordingly, notice that, in the manner in which the Holy Ghost introduces it, there is no statement of time whatever. No doubt the first verse says, that "when He was come down from the mount, great multitudes followed Him;" but then the second verse gives no intimation that the subject which follows is to be taken as chronologically subsequent. It does not say, that " then there came a leper," or " immediately there came a leper." No word whatever implies that the cleansing of the leper happened at that time. It says simply, "And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean." Verse 4 seems quite adverse to the idea that great multitudes were witnesses of the cure; for why "tell no man," if so many knew it already? Inattention to this has perplexed many. They have not seized the aim of each gospel. They have treated the Bible either with levity, or as too awful a book to be apprehended really; not with the reverence of faith, which waits on Him, and fails not in due time to understand His word. God does not permit Scripture to be thus used without losing its force, its beauty, and the grand object for which it was written.
If we turn toMark 1:1-45; Mark 1:1-45, the proof of what I have said will appear as to the leper. At its close we see the leper approaching the Lord, after He had been preaching throughout Galilee and casting out devils. In Mark 2:1-28 it says, "And again he entered into Capernaum." He had been there before. Then, in Mark 3:1-35, there are notes of time more or less strong. In verse 13 our Lord "goeth up into a mountain, and calleth unto him whom he would: and they came unto him. And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach." To him who compares this with Luke 6:1-49, there need not remain a question as to the identity of the scene. They are the circumstances that preceded the discourse upon the mount, as given in Matthew 5:1-48; Matthew 6:1-34; Matthew 7:1-29. It was after our Lord had called the twelve, and ordained them not after He had sent them forth, but after He had appointed them apostles that the Lord comes down to a plateau upon the mountain, instead of remaining upon the more elevated parts where He had been before. Descending then upon the plateau, He delivered what is commonly called the Sermon on the Mount.
Examine the Scripture, and you will see for yourselves. It is not a thing that can be settled by a mere assertion. On the other hand, it is not too much to say, that the same Scriptures which convince one unbiassed mind that pays heed to these notes of time, will produce no less effect on others. If I assume from the words "set forth in order," in the beginning of Luke's gospel, that therefore his is the chronological account, it will only lead me into confusion, both as to Luke and the other gospels; for proofs abound that the order of Luke, most methodical as he is, is by no means absolutely that of time. Of course, there is often the order of time, but through the central part, and not infrequently elsewhere, his setting forth in order turns on another principle, quite independent of mere succession of events. In other words, it is certain that in the gospel of Luke, in whose preface we have expressly the words "set in order," the Holy Ghost does in no way tie Himself to what, after all, is the most elementary form of arrangement; for it needs little observation to see, that the simple sequence of facts as they occurred is that which demands a faithful enumeration, and nothing more. Whereas, on the contrary, there are other kinds of order that call for more profound thought and enlarged views, if we may speak now after the manner of men; and, indeed, I deny not that these the Holy Ghost employed in His own wisdom, though it is hardly needful to say He could, if He pleased, demonstrate His superiority to any means or qualifications whatsoever. He could and did form His instruments according to His own sovereign will. It is a question, then, of internal evidence, what that particular order is which God has employed in each different gospel. Particular epochs in Luke are noted with great care; but, speaking now of the general course of the Lord's life, a little attention will discover, from the immensely greater preponderance paid to the consideration of time in the second gospel, that there we have events from first to last given to us in their consecutive order. It appears to me, that the nature or aim of Mark's gospel demands this. The grounds of such a judgment will naturally come before us ere long: I can merely refer to it now as my conviction.
If this be a sound judgment, the comparison of the first chapter of Mark affords decisive evidence that the Holy Ghost in Matthew has taken the leper out of the mere time and circumstances of actual occurrence, and has reserved his case for a wholly different service. It is true that in this particular instance Mark no more surrounds the leper with notes of time and place than do Matthew and Luke. We are dependent, therefore, for determining this case, on the fact that Mark does habitually adhere to the chain of events. But if Matthew here laid aside all question of time, it was in view of other and weightier considerations for his object. In other words, the leper is here introduced after the sermon on the mount, though, in fact, the circumstance took place long before it. The design is, I think, manifest: the Spirit of God is here giving a vivid picture of the manifestation of the Messiah, of His divine glory, of His grace and power, with the effect of this manifestation. Hence it is that He has grouped together circumstances which make this plain, without raising the question of when they occurred; in fact, they range over a large space, and, otherwise viewed, are in total disorder. Thus it is easy to see, that the reason for here putting together the leper and the centurion lies in the Lord's dealing with the Jew, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, in His deep grace working in the Gentile's heart, and forming his faith, as well as answering it, according to His own heart. The leper approaches the Lord with homage, but with a most inadequate belief in His love and readiness to meet his need. The Saviour, while He puts forth His hand, touching him as man, and yet as none but Jehovah might dare to do, dispels the hopeless disease at once. Thus, and after the tenderest sort, there is that which evidences the Messiah on earth present to heal His people who appeal to Him; and the Jew, above all counting upon His bodily presence demanding it, I may say, according to the warrant of prophecy, finds in Jesus not merely the man, but the God of Israel. Who but God could heal? Who could touch the leper save Emmanuel? A mere Jew would have been defiled. He who gave the law maintained its authority, and used it as an occasion for testifying His own power and presence. Would any man make of the Messiah a mere man and a mere subject of the law given by Moses? Let them read their error in One who was evidently superior to the condition and the ruin of man in Israel. Let them recognize the power that banished the leprosy, and the grace withal that touched the leper. It was true that He was made of woman, and made under the law; but He was Jehovah Himself, that lowly Nazarene. However suitable to the Jewish expectation that He should be found a man, undeniably there was that apparent which was infinitely above the Jew's thought; for the Jew showed his own degradation and unbelief in the low ideas he entertained of the Messiah. He was really God in man; and all these wonderful features are here presented and compressed in this most simple, but at the same time significant, action of the Saviour the fitting frontispiece to Matthew's manifestation of the Messiah to Israel.
In immediate juxtaposition to this stands the Gentile centurion, who seeks healing for his servant. Considerable time, it is true, elapsed between the two facts; but this only makes it the more sure and plain, that they are grouped together with a divine purpose. The Lord then had been shown such as He was towards Israel, had Israel in their leprosy come to Him, as did the leper, even with a faith exceedingly short of that which was due to His real glory and His love. But Israel had no sense of their leprosy; and they valued not, but despised, their Messiah, albeit divine I might almost say because divine. Next, we behold Him meeting the centurion after another manner altogether. If He offers to go to his house, it was to bring out the faith that He had created in the heart of the centurion. Gentile as he was, he was for that very, reason the less narrowed in his thoughts of the Saviour by the prevalent notions of Israel, yea, or even by Old Testament hopes, precious as they are. God had given his soul a deeper, fuller sight of Christ; for the Gentile's words prove that he had apprehended God in the man who was healing at that moment all sickness and disease in Galilee. I say not how fax he had realized this profound truth; I say not that he could have defined his thoughts; but he knew and declared His command of all as truly God. In him there was a spiritual force far beyond that found in the leper, to whom the hand that touched, as well as cleansed, him proclaimed Israel's need and state as truly as Emmanuel's grace.
As for the Gentile, the Lord's proffer to go and heal his servant brought out the singular strength of his faith. "Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof" He had only to say in a word, and his servant should be healed. The bodily presence of the Messiah was not needed. God could not be limited by a question of place; His word was enough. Disease must obey Him, as the soldier or the servant obeyed the centurion, their superior. What an anticipation of the walk by faith, not by sight, in which the Gentiles, when called, ought to have glorified God, when the rejection of the Messiah by His own ancient people gave occasion to the Gentile call as a distinct thing! It is evident that the bodily presence of the Messiah is the very essence of the former scene, as it ought to be in dealing with the leper, who is a kind of type of what Israel should have been in seeking cleansing at His hands. So, on the other hand, the centurion sets forth with no less aptness the characteristic faith that suits the Gentile, in a simplicity which looks for nothing but the word of His mouth, is perfectly content with it, knows that, whatever the disease may be, He has only to speak the word, and it is done according to His divine will. That blessed One was here whom he knew to be God, who was to him the impersonation of divine power and goodness His presence was uncalled for, His word more than enough. The Lord admired the faith superior to Israel's, and took that occasion to intimate the casting out of the sons or natural heirs of the kingdom, and the entrance of many from east and west to sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of the heavens. What can be conceived so perfectly to illustrate the great design of the gospel of Matthew?
Thus, in the scene of the leper, we have Jesus presented as "Jehovah that healeth Israel," as man here below, and in Jewish relationships, still maintaining the law. Next, we find Him confessed by the centurion, no longer as the Messiah, when actually with them, confessed according to a faith which saw the deeper glory of His person as supreme, competent to heal, no matter where, or whom, or what, by a word; and this the Lord Himself hails as the foreshadowing of a rich incoming of many multitudes to the praise of His name, when the Jews should be cast out. Evidently it is the change of dispensation that is in question and at hand, the cutting off of the fleshly seed for their unbelief, and the bringing in of numerous believers in the name of the Lord from among the Gentiles.
Then follows another incident, which equally proves that the Spirit of God is not here reciting the facts in their natural succession; for it is assuredly not at this moment historically that the Lord goes into the house of Peter, sees there his wife's mother laid sick of a fever, touches her hand, and raises her up, so that she ministers unto them at once. In this we have another striking illustration of the same principle, because this miracle, in point of fact, was wrought long before the healing of the centurion's servant, or even of the leper. This, too, we ascertain from Mark 1:1-45, where there are clear marks of the time. The Lord was in Capernaum, where Peter lived; and on a certain Sabbath-day, after the call of Peter, wrought in the synagogue mighty deeds, which are here recorded, and by Luke also. Verse 29 gives us strict time. "And forthwith when they were come out of the synagogue they entered into the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John; but Simon's wife's mother was sick of a fever, and anon they tell Him of her. And He came and took her by the hand, and lifted her up, and immediately the fever left her, and she ministered unto them." It would require the credulity of a sceptic to believe that this is not the self-same fact that we have before us inMatthew 8:1-34; Matthew 8:1-34. I feel sure that no Christian harbours a doubt about it. But if this be so, there is here absolute certainty that our Lord, on the very Sabbath in which He cast out the unclean spirit from the man in the synagogue of Capernaum, immediately after quitting the synagogue, entered the house of Peter, and that there and then He healed Peter's wife's mother of the fever. Subsequent, considerably, to this was the case of the centurion's servant, preceded a good while before by the cleansing of the leper.
How are we to account for a selection so marked, an elimination of time so complete? Surely not by inaccuracy; surely not by indifference to order, but contrariwise by divine wisdom that arranged the facts with a view to a purpose worthy of itself: God's arrangement of all things more particularly in this part of Matthew to give us an adequate manifestation of the Messiah; and, as we have seen, first, what He was to the appeal of the Jew; next, what He was and would be to Gentile faith, in still richer form and fulness. So now we have, in the healing of Peter's mother-in-law, another fact containing a principle of great value, that His grace towards the Gentile does not in the least degree blunt His heart to the claims of relationship after the flesh. It was clearly a question of connection with the apostle of the circumcision ( i.e., Peter's wife's mother). We have the natural tie here brought into prominence; and this was a claim that Christ slighted not. For He loved Peter felt for him, and his wife's mother was precious in His sight. This sets forth not at all the way in which the Christian stands related to Christ; for even though we had known Him after the flesh, henceforth know we Him no more. But it is expressly the pattern after which He was to deal, and will deal, with Israel. Zion may say of the Lord who laboured in vain, whom the nation abhorred, "The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me." Not so. "Can a woman forget her sucking child? yea, they may forget, yet will not I forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands." Thus it is shown that, though we have rich grace to the Gentile, there is the remembrance of natural relationship still.
In the evening multitudes are brought, taking advantage of the power that had so shown itself, publicly in the synagogue, and privately in the house of Peter; and the Lord accomplished the words ofIsaiah 53:4; Isaiah 53:4: "Himself," it is said, "took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses," an oracle we might do well to consider in the limit of its application here. In what sense did Jesus, our Lord, take their infirmities, and bear their sicknesses? In this, as I believe, that He never employed the virtue that was in Him to meet sickness or infirmity as a matter of mere power, but in deep compassionate feeling He entered into the whole reality of the case. He healed, and bore its burden on His heart before God, as truly as He took it away from men. It was precisely because He was Himself untouchable by sickness and infirmity, that He was free so to take up each consequence of sin thus. Therefore it was not a mere simple fact that He banished sickness or infirmity, but He carried them in His spirit before God. To my mind, the depth of such grace only enhances the beauty of Jesus, and is the very last possible ground that justifies man in thinking lightly of the Saviour.
After this our Lord sees great multitudes following Him, and gives commandment to go to the other side. Here again is found a fresh case of the same remarkable principle of selection of events to form a complete picture, which I have maintained to be the true key of all. The Spirit of God has been pleased to cull and class facts otherwise unconnected; for here follow conversations that took place a long time after any of the events we have been occupied with. When do you suppose these conversations actually occurred, if we go to the question of their date? Take notice of the care with which the Spirit of God here omits all reference to this: "And a certain scribe came." There is no note of the time when he came, but simply the fact that he did come. It was really after the transfiguration recorded in chapter 17 of our gospel. Subsequently to that, the scribe offered to follow Jesus whithersoever He went. We know this by comparing it with the gospel of Luke. And so with the other conversation: "Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father;" it was after the glory of Christ had been witnessed on the holy mount, when man's selfishness of heart showed itself in contrast to the grace of God.
Next, the storm follows. "There arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch, that the ship was covered with the waves; but he was asleep." When did this take place, if we enquire into it merely as a matter of historical fact? On the evening of the day when He delivered the seven parables given in Matthew 13:1-58. The truth of this is apparent, if we compare the gospel of Mark. Thus, the fourth chapter of Mark coincides, marked with such data as can leave no doubt. We have, first, the sower sowing the word. Then, after the parable of the mustard seed (ver. 33), it is added, "And with many such parables spake He the word unto them . . . . and when they were alone, He expounded all things to His disciples [in both the parables and the explanations alluding to what we possess in Matthew 13:1-58.]. And the same day, when the even was come, He saith unto them, let us pass over unto the other side. [There is what I call a clear, unmistakable note of time.] And when they had sent away the multitude, they took Him even as He was in the ship. And there were also with Him other little ships. And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And He was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake Him, and say unto Him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? And He arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And He said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith? And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?" After this (what makes it still more unquestionable) comes the case of the demoniac. It is true, we have only one in Mark, as in Luke; whereas in our gospel we have two. Nothing can be simpler. There were two; but the Spirit of God chose out, in Mark and Luke, the more remarkable of the two, and traces for us his history, a history of no small interest and importance, as we may feel when we come to Mark; but it was of equal moment for the gospel of Matthew that the two demoniacs should be mentioned here, although one of them was in himself, as I gather, a far more strikingly desperate case than the other. The reason I consider to be plain; and the same principle applies to various other parts of our gospel where we have two cases mentioned, where in the other gospels we have only one. The key to it is this, that Matthew was led by the Holy Ghost to keep in view adequate testimony to the Jewish people; it was the tender goodness of God that would meet them in a manner that was suitable under the law. Now, it was an established principle, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word should be established. This, then, I apprehend to be the reason why we End two demoniacs mentioned; whereas, in Mark or Luke for other purposes, the Spirit of God only draws attention to one of the two. A Gentile (indeed, any mind not under any kind of legal prejudice or difficulty) would be far more moved by a detailed account of what was more, conspicuous. The fact of two without the personal details would not powerfully tell upon mere Gentiles perhaps, though to a Jew it might be for some ends necessary. I do not pretend to say this was the only purpose served; far be it from me to think of restraining the Spirit of God within the narrow bounds of our vision. Let none suppose that, in giving my own convictions, I have the presumptuous thought of putting these forward as if they were the sole motives in God's mind. It is enough to meet a difficulty which many feel by the simple plea that the reason assigned is in my judgment a valid explanation, and in itself a sufficient solution of the apparent discrepancy. If it be so, it is surely a ground of thankfulness to God; for it turns a stumbling-block into an evidence of the perfection of Scripture.
Reviewing, then, these closing incidents of the chapter (ver. Matthew 13:19-22), we find first of all the utter worthlessness of the flesh's readiness to follow Jesus. The motives of the natural heart are laid bare. Does this scribe offer to follow Jesus? He was not called. Such is the perversity of man, that he who is not called thinks he can follow Jesus whithersoever He goes. The Lord hints at what the man's real desires were not Christ, not heaven, not eternity, but present things. If he were willing to follow the Lord, it was for what he could get. The scribe had no heart for the hidden glory. Surely, had he seen this, everything was there; but he saw it not, and so the Lord spread out His actual portion, as it literally was, without one word about the unseen and eternal. "The foxes," says He, "have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay His head." He takes accordingly the title of the "Son of man" for the first time in this gospel. He has His rejection before His eyes, as well as the presumptuous unbelief of this sordid, and self-confident, would-be follower.
Again, when we listen to another (and now it is one of His disciples), at once faith shows its feebleness. "Suffer me first," he says, "to go and bury my father." The man that was not called promises to go anywhere, in his own strength; but the man that was called feels the difficulty, and pleads a natural duty before following Jesus. Oh, what a heart is ours! but what a heart was His!
In the next scene, then, we have the disciples as a whole tried by a sudden danger to which their sleeping Master paid no heed. This tested their thoughts of the glory of Jesus. No doubt the tempest was great; but what harm could it do to Jesus? No doubt the ship was covered with the waves; but how could that imperil the Lord of all? They forgot His glory in their own anxiety and selfishness. They measured Jesus by their own impotence. A great tempest. and a sinking ship are serious difficulties to a man. "Lord, save us; we perish," cried they, as they awoke Him; and He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea. Little faith leaves us as fearful for ourselves as dim witnesses of His glory whom the most unruly elements obey.
In what follows we have that which is necessary, to complete the picture of the other side. The Lord works in delivering power; but withal the power of Satan fills and carries away the unclean to their own destruction. Yet man, in face of all, is so deceived of the enemy, that he prefers to be left with the demons rather than enjoy the presence of the Deliverer. Such was and is man. But the future is in view also. The delivered demoniacs are, to my mind, clearly the foreshadow of the Lord's grace in the latter days, separating a remnant to Himself, and banishing the power of Satan from this small but sufficient witness of His salvation. The evil spirits asked leave to pass into the herd of swine, which thus typify the final condition of the defiled, apostate mass of Israel; their presumptuous and impenitent unbelief reduces them to that deep degradation not merely the unclean, but the unclean filled with the power of Satan, and carried down to swift destruction. It is a just prefiguration of what will be in the close of the age the mass of the unbelieving Jews, now impure, but then also given up to the devil, and so to evident perdition.
Thus, in the chapter before us, we have a very comprehensive sketch of the Lord's manifestation from that time, and in type going on to the end of the age. In the chapter that follows we have a companion picture, carrying on, no doubt, the lord's presentation to Israel, but from a different point of view; for inMatthew 9:1-38; Matthew 9:1-38 it is not merely the people tried, but more especially the religious leaders, till all closes in blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. This was testing matters more closely. Had there been a single thing good in Israel, their choicest guides would have stood that test. The people might have failed, but, surely, there were some differences surely those that were honoured and valued were not so depraved! Those that were priests in the house of God would not they at least receive their own Messiah? This question is accordingly put to the proof in the ninth chapter. To the end the events are put together, just as in Matthew 8:1-34, without regard to the point of time when they occurred.
"And He entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into His own city." Having left Nazareth, as we saw, He takes up His abode in Capernaum, which was henceforth "His own city." To the proud inhabitant of Jerusalem, both one and the other were but a choice and change within a land of darkness. But it was for a land of darkness and sin and death that Jesus came from heaven the Messiah, not according to their thoughts, but the Lord and Saviour, the God-man. So in this case there was brought to Him a paralytic man, lying upon a bed, "and Jesus, seeing their faith, said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee." Most clearly it is not so much a question of sin in the aspect of uncleanness (typifying deeper things, but still connected with the ceremonial requirements of Israel, as we find from what our Lord said in the chapter to the cleansed leper). It is more particularly sin, viewed as guilt, and consequently as that which absolutely breaks and destroys all power in the soul towards both God and man. Hence, here it is a question not merely of cleansing, but of forgiveness, and forgiveness, too, as that which precedes power, manifested before men. There never can be strength in the soul till forgiveness is known. There may be desires, there may be the working of the Spirit of God, but there can be no power to walk before men and to glorify God thus till there is forgiveness possessed and enjoyed in the heart. This was the very blessing that aroused, above all, the hatred of the scribes. The priest, in chap. 8, could not deny what was done in the case of the leper, who showed himself duly, and brought his offering, according to the law, to the altar. Though a testimony to them, still it was in the result a recognition of what Moses commanded. But here pardon dispensed on earth arouses the pride of the religious leaders to the quick, and implacably. Nevertheless, the Lord did not withhold the infinite boon, though He knew too well their thoughts; He spoke the word of forgiveness, though He read their evil heart that counted it blasphemy. This utter, growing rejection of Jesus was coming out now rejection, at first allowed and whispered in the heart, soon to be pronounced in words like drawn swords.
"And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth." Jesus blessedly answered their thoughts, had there only been a conscience to hear the word of power and grace, which brings out His glory the more. "That ye may know," He says, "that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins," etc. He now takes His place of rejection; for Him it is manifest even now by their inmost thoughts of Him when revealed. "This man blasphemeth." Yet is He the Son of man who hath power on earth to forgive sins; and He uses His authority. "That ye may know it (then saith He to the sick of the palsy), Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thy house." The man's walk before them testifies to the reality of his forgiveness before God. It ought to be so with every forgiven soul. This as yet draws out wonder, at least from the witnessing multitudes, that God had given such power unto men. They glorified God.
On this the Lord proceeds to take a step farther, and makes a deeper inroad, if possible, upon Jewish prejudice. He is not here sought as by the leper, the centurion, the friends of the palsied man; He Himself calls Matthew, a publican just the one to write the gospel of the despised Jesus of Nazareth. What instrument so suitable? It was a scorned Messiah who, when rejected of His own people, Israel, turned to the Gentiles by the will of God: it was One who could look upon publicans and sinners anywhere. Thus Matthew, called at the very receipt of custom, follows Jesus, and makes a feast for Him. This furnishes occasion to the Pharisees to vent their unbelief: to them nothing is so offensive as grace, either in doctrine or in practice. The scribes, at the beginning of the chapter, could not hide from the Lord their bitter rejection of His glory as man on earth entitled, as His humiliation and cross would prove, to forgive. Here, too, these Pharisees question and reproach His grace, when they see the Lord sitting at ease in the presence of publicans and sinners, who came and sat down with Him in Matthew's house. They said to His disciples, "Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?" The Lord shows that such unbelief justly and necessarily excludes itself, but not others, from blessing. To heal was the work for which He was come. it was not for the whole the Physician was needed. How little they had learnt the divine lesson of grace, not ordinances! "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice." Jesus was there to call, not righteous men, but sinners.
Nor was the unbelief confined to these religionists of letter and form; for next (verse 14) the question comes from John's disciples: "Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?" Throughout it is the religious kind that are tested and found wanting. The Lord pleads the cause of the disciples. "Can the children of the bride-chamber mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?" Fasting, indeed, would follow when the Bridegroom was taken from them. Thus He points out the utter moral incongruity of fasting at that moment, and intimates that it was not merely the fact that He was going to be rejected, but that to conciliate His teaching and His will with the old thing was hopeless. What He was introducing could not mix with Judaism. Thus it was not merely that there was an evil heart of unbelief in the Jew particularly, but law and grace cannot be yoked together. "No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment; for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse." Nor was it only a difference in the forms the truth took; but the vital principle which Christ was diffusing could not be so maintained. "Neither do men put new wine into old bottles, else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish; but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved." The spirit, as well as the form, was alien.
But at the same time it is plain, although He bore the consciousness of the vast change He was introducing, and expressed it thus fully and early in the history, nothing turned away His heart from Israel. The very next scene, the case of Jairus, the ruler, shows it. "My daughter is even now dead, but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live." The details, found elsewhere, of her being at the point of death then, before reaching the house, the news that she was dead, are not here. Whatever the time may have been, whatever the incidents added by others, the account is given here for the purpose of showing, that as Israel's case was desperate, even unto death, so He, the Messiah, was the giver of life, when all, humanly speaking, was over. He was then present, a man despised, yet with title to forgive sins, proved by immediate power to heal. If those who trusted in themselves that they were wise and righteous would not have Him, He would call even a publican on the spot to be among the most honoured of His followers, and would not disdain to be their joy when they desired His honour in the exercise of His grace. Sorrow would come full soon when He, the Bridegroom of His people, should be taken away; and then should they fast.
Nevertheless, His ear was open to the call on behalf of Israel perishing, dying, dead. He had been preparing them for the new things, and the impossibility of making them coalesce with the old. But none the less do we find His affections engaged for the help of the helpless. He goes to raise the dead, and the woman with the issue of blood touches Him by the way. No matter what the great purpose might be, He was there for faith. Far different this was from the errand on which He was intent; but He was there for faith. It was His meat to do the will of God. He was there for the express purpose of glorifying God. Power and love were come for any one to draw on. If there were, so to speak, a justification of circumcision by faith, undoubtedly there was also the justification of uncircumcision through their faith. The question was not who or what came in the way; whoever appealed to Him, there He was for them. And He was Jesus, Emmanuel. When He reaches the house, minstrels were there, and people, making a noise: the expression, if of woe, certainly of impotent despair. They mock the calm utterance of Him who chooses things that are not; and the Lord turns out the unbelievers, and demonstrates the glorious truth that the maid was not dead, but living.
Nor is this all. He gives sight to the blind. "And when Jesus departed thence, two blind men followed Him, crying and saying, Thou Son of David, have mercy on us." It was necessary to complete the picture. Life had been imparted to, the sleeping maid of Zion the blind men call on Him as the Son of David, and not in vain. They confess their faith, and He touches their eyes. Thus, whatever the peculiarity of the new blessings, the old thing could be taken up, though upon new grounds, and, of course, on the confession that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. The two blind men called upon Him as the Son of David; a sample this of what will be in the end, when the heart of Israel turns to the Lord, and the veil is done away. "According to your faith be it done unto you."
It is not enough that Israel be awakened from the sleep of death, and see aright. There must be the mouth to praise the Lord, and speak of the glorious honour of His majesty, as well as eyes to wait on Him. So we have a farther scene. Israel must give full testimony in the bright day of His coming. Accordingly, here we have a witness of it, and a witness so much the sweeter, because the present total rejection that was filling the heart of the leaders surely testified to the Lord's heart of that which was at hand. But nothing turned aside the purpose of God, or the activity of His grace. "As they went out, behold, they brought to Him a dumb man possessed with a devil. And when the devil was come out, the dumb spake: and the multitudes marvelled, saying, It was never so seen in Israel." (SeeMatthew 9:32-33; Matthew 9:32-33.) The Pharisees were enraged at a power they could not deny, which rebuked themselves so much the more on account of its persistent grace; but Jesus passes by all blasphemy as yet, and goes on His way nothing hinders His course of love. He "went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people." The faithful and true witness, it was His to display that power in goodness which shall be put forth fully in the world to come, the great day when the Lord will manifest Himself to every eye as Son of David, and Son of man too.
At the close of this chapter 9, in His deep compassion He bids the disciples pray the Lord of the harvest to send forth labourers into His harvest. At the beginning of Matthew 10:1-42 He Himself sends forth themselves as labourers. He is the Lord of the harvest. It was a grave step this, and in view of His rejection now. In our gospel we have not seen the apostles called and ordained. Matthew gives no such details, but call and mission are together here. But, as I have stated, the choice and ordination of the twelve apostles had really taken place before the sermon on the mount, though not mentioned in Matthew, but in Mark and Luke. (Compare Mark 3:13-19, andMark 6:7-11; Mark 6:7-11; Luke 6:1-49; Luke 9:1-62) The mission of the apostles did not take place till afterwards. In Matthew we have no distinction of their call from their mission. But the mission is given here in strict accordance with what the gospel demands. It is a summons from the King to His people Israel. So thoroughly is it in view of Israel that our Lord does not say one word here about the Church, or the intervening condition of Christendom. He speaks of Israel then, and of Israel before He comes in glory, but He entirely omits any notice of the circumstances which were to come in by the way. He tells them that they should not have gone over (or finished) the cities of Israel till the Son of man be come. Not that His own rejection was not before His spirit, but here He looks not beyond that land and people; and, as far as the twelve were concerned, He sends them on a mission which goes on to the end of the an. Thus, the present dealings of God in grace, the actual shape taken by the kingdom of heaven, the calling of the Gentiles, the formation of the Church, are all passed completely over. We shall find something of these mysteries later on in this gospel; but here it is simply a Jewish testimony of Jehovah-Messiah in His unwearied love, through His twelve heralds, and in spite of rising unbelief, maintaining to the end what His grace had in view for Israel. He would send fit messengers, nor would the work be done till the rejected Messiah, the Son of man, came. The apostles were then sent thus, no doubt, forerunners of those whom the Lord will raise up for the latter day. Time would fail now to dwell on this chapter, interesting as it is. My object, of course, is to point out as clearly as possible the structure of the gospel, and to explain according to my measure why there are these strong differences between the gospels of Matthew and the rest, as compared with one another. The ignorance is wholly on our side: all they say or omit was owing to the far-reaching and gracious wisdom of Him who inspired them.
Matthew 11:1-30, exceedingly critical for Israel, and of surpassing beauty, as it is, must not be passed over without some few words. Here we find our Lord, after sending out the chosen witnesses of the truth (so momentous to Israel, above all) of His own Messiahship, realizing His utter rejection, yet rejoicing withal in God the Father's counsels of glory and grace, while the real secret in the chapter, as in fact, was His being not Messiah only, nor Son of man, but the Son of the Father, whose person none knows but Himself. But, from first to last, what a trial of spirit, and what triumph! Some consider that John the Baptist enquired solely for the sake of his disciples. But I see no sufficient reason to refuse the impression that John found it hard to reconcile his continued imprisonment with a present Messiah; nor do I discern a sound judgment of the case, or a profound knowledge of the heart, in those who thus raise doubts as to John's sincerity, any more than they appear to me to exalt the character of this honoured man of God, by supposing him to play a part which really belonged to others. What can be simpler than that John put the question through his disciples, because he (not they only) had a question in the mind? It probably was no more than a grave though passing difficulty, which he desired to have cleared up with all fulness for their sakes, as well as his own. In short, he had a question because he was a man. It is not for us surely to think this impossible. Have we, spite of superior privileges, such unwavering faith, that we can afford to treat the matter as incredible in John, and therefore only capable of solution in his staggering disciples? Let those who have so little experience of what man is, even in the regenerate, beware lest they impute to the Baptist such an acting of a part as shocks us, when Jerome imputed it to Peter and Paul in the censure of Galatians 2:1-21. The Lord, no doubt, knew the heart of His servant, and could feel for him in the effect that circumstances took upon him. When He uttered the words, "Blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me," it is to me evident that there was an allusion to the wavering let it be but for a moment of John's soul. The fact is, beloved brethren, there is but one Jesus; and whoever it may be, whether John the Baptist, or the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, after all it is divinely-given faith which alone sustains: else man has to learn painfully somewhat of himself; and what is he to be accounted of?
Our Lord then answers, with perfect dignity, as well as grace; He puts before the disciples of John the real state of the case; He furnishes them with plain, positive facts, that could leave nothing to be desired by John's mind when he weighed all as a testimony from God. This done, with a word for the conscience appended, He takes up and pleads the cause of John. It ought to have been John's place to have proclaimed the glory of Jesus; but all things in this world are the reverse of what they ought to be, and of what will be when Jesus takes the throne, coming in power and glory. But when the Lord was here, no matter what the unbelief of others, it was only an opportunity for the grace of Jesus to shine out. So it was here; and our Lord turns to eternal account, in His own goodness, the shortcoming of John the Baptist, the greatest of women-born. Far from lowering the position of His servant, He declares there was none greater among mortal men. The failure of this greatest of women-born only gives Him the just occasion to show the total change at hand, when it should not be a question of man, but of God, yea, of the kingdom of heaven, the least in which new state should be greater than John. And what makes this still more striking, is the certainty that the kingdom, bright as it is, is by no means the thing nearest to Jesus. The Church, which is His body and bride, has a far more intimate place, even though true of the same persons.
Next, He lays bare the capricious unbelief of man, only consistent in thwarting every thing and one that God employs for his good; then, His own entire rejection where He had most laboured. It was going on, then, to the bitter end, and surely not without such suffering and sorrow as holy, unselfish, obedient love alone can know. Wretched we, that we should need such proof of it; wretched, that we should be so slow of heart to answer to it, or even to feel its immensity!
"Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not: Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you . . . . . At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father." What feelings at such a time! Oh, for grace so to bow and bless God, even when our little travail seems in vain! At that time Jesus answered, "I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight." We seem completely borne away from the ordinary level of our gospel to the higher region of the disciple whom Jesus loved. We are, in fact, in the presence of that which John so loves to dwell on Jesus viewed not merely as Son of David or Abraham, or Seed of the woman, but as the Father's Son, the Son as the Father gave, sent, appreciated, and loved Him. So, when more is added, He says, "All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." This, of course, is not the moment to unfold it. I merely indicate by the way how the thorough increasing rejection of the Lord Jesus in His lower glory has but the effect of bringing out the revelation of His higher. So, I believe now, there is no attempt ever made on the Name of the Son of God, there is not a single shaft levelled at Him, but the Spirit turns to the holy, and true, and sweet task of asserting anew and more loudly His glory, which enlarges the expression of His grace to man. Only tradition will not do this work, nor will human thoughts or feelings.
In Matthew 12:1-50 we find not so much Jesus present and despised of men, as these men of Israel, the rejectors, in the presence of Jesus. Hence, the Lord Jesus is here disclosing throughout, that the doom of Israel was pronounced and impending. If it was His rejection, these scornful men were themselves rejected in the very act. The plucking of the corn, and the healing of the withered hand, had taken place long before. Mark gives them in the end of his second and the beginning of his third chapters. Why are they postponed here? Because Matthew's object is the display of the change of dispensation through, or consequent on, the rejection of Jesus by the Jews. Hence, he waits to present their rejection of the Messiah, as morally complete as possible in his statement of it, though necessarily not complete in outward accomplishment. Of course, the facts of the cross were necessary to give it an evident and literal fulfilment; but we have it first apparent in His life, and it is blessed to see it thus accomplished, as it were, in what passed with Himself; fully realized in His own spirit, and the results exposed before the external facts gave the fullest expression to Jewish unbelief. He was not taken by surprise; He knew it from the beginning Man's implacable hatred is brought about most manifestly in the ways and spirit of His rejectors. The Lord Jesus, even before He pronounced the sentence, for so it was, indicated what was at hand in these two instances of the Sabbath-day, though one may not now linger on them. The first is the defence of the disciples, grounded on analogies taken from that which had the sanction of God of old, as well as on His own glory now. Reject Him as the Messiah; in that rejection the moral glory of the Son of man would be laid as the foundation of His exaltation and manifestation another day; He was Lord of the Sabbath-day. In the next incident the force of the plea turns on God's goodness towards the wretchedness of man. It is not only the fact that God slighted matters of prescriptive ordinance because of the ruined state of Israel, who rejected His true anointed King, but there was this principle also, that certainly God was not going to bind Himself not to do good where abject need was. It might be well enough for a Pharisee; it might be worthy of a legal formalist, but it would never do for God; and the Lord Jesus was come here not to accommodate Himself to their thoughts, but, above all, to do God's will of holy love in an evil, wretched world. "Behold my servant, whom I have chosen, my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased." In truth, this was Emmanuel, God with us. If God was there, what else could He, would He do? Lowly, noiseless grace now it was to be, according to the prophet, till the hour strikes for victory in judgment. So He meekly retires, healing, yet forbidding it to be blazed abroad. But still, it was His carrying on the great process of shewing out more and more the total rejection of His rejectors. Hence, lower down in the chapter, after the demon was cast out of the blind and dumb man before the amazed people, the Pharisees, irritated by their question, Is not this the Son of David? essayed to destroy the testimony with their utmost and blasphemous contempt. "This [fellow]," etc.
The English translators have thus given the sense well; for the expression really conveys this slight, though the word "fellow" is printed in italics. The Greek word is constantly so used as an expression of contempt, "This [fellow] doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils." The Lord now lets them know their mad folly, and warns them that this blasphemy was about to culminate in a still deeper, deadlier form when the Holy Ghost should be spoken against as He had been. Men little weigh what their words will sound and prove in the day of judgment. He sets forth the sign of the prophet Jonah, the repentance of the men of Nineveh, the preaching of Jonah, and the earnest zeal of the queen of the South in Solomon's day, when an incomparably greater was there despised. But if He here does not go beyond a hint of that which the Gentiles were about to receive on the ruinous unbelief and judgment of the Jew, He does not keep back their own awful course and doom in the figure that follows. Their state had long been that of a man whom the unclean spirit had left, after a former dwelling in him. Outwardly it was a condition of comparative cleanness. Idols, abominations, no longer infected that dwelling as of old. Then says the unclean spirit, "I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation." Thus He sets forth both the past, the present, and the awful future of Israel, before the day of His own coming from heaven, when there will be not only the return of idolatry, solemn to say, but the full power of Satan associated with it, as we see in Daniel 11:36-39; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17; Revelation 13:11-15. It is clear that the unclean spirit, returning, brings idolatry back again. It is equally clear that the seven worse spirits mean the complete energy of the devil in the maintenance of Antichrist against the true Christ: and this, strange to say, along with idols. Thus the end is as the beginning, and even far, far worse. On this the Lord takes another step, when one said to Him, "Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee." A double action follows. "Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?" said the Lord; and then stretched forth His hand toward His disciples with the words, "Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother." Thus the old link with the flesh, with Israel, is now disowned; and the new relationships of faith, founded on doing the will of His Father (it is not a question of the law in any sort), are alone acknowledged. Hence the Lord would raise up a fresh testimony altogether, and do a new work suitable to it. This would not be a legal claim on man, but the scattering of good seed, life and fruit from God, and this in the unlimited field of the world, not in the land of Israel merely. In Matthew 13:1-58 we have the well-known sketch of these new ways of God. The kingdom of heaven assumes a form unknown to prophecy, and, in its successive mysteries, fills up the interval between the rejected Christ's going to heaven, and His returning again in glory.
Many words are not now required for that which is happily familiar to most here. Let me passingly notice a very few particulars. We have here not only our Lord's ministry in the first parable, but in the second parable that which He does by His servants. Then follows the rise of what was great in its littleness till it became little in its greatness in the earth; and the development and spread of doctrine, till the measured space assigned to it is brought under its assimilating influence. It is not here a question of life (as in the seed at first), but a system of christian doctrine; not life germinating and bearing fruit, but mere dogma natural mind which is exposed to it. Thus the great tree and the leavened mass are in fact the two sides of Christendom. Then inside the house we have not only the Lord explaining the parable, the history from first to last of the tares and wheat, the mingling of evil with the good which grace had sown, but more than that, we have the kingdom viewed according to divine thoughts and purposes. First of these comes the treasure hidden in the field, for which the man sells all he had, securing the field for the sake of the treasure. Next is the one pearl of great price, the unity and beauty of that which was so dear to the merchantman. Not merely were there many pieces of value, but one pearl of great price. Finally, we have all wound up, after the going forth of a testimony which was truly universal in its scope, by the judicial severance at the close, when it is not only the good put into vessels, but the bad dealt with by the due instruments of the power of God.
In Matthew 14:1-36 facts are narrated which manifest the great change of dispensation that the Lord, in setting forth the parables we have just noticed, had been preparing them for. The violent man, Herod, guilty of innocent blood, then reigned in the land, in contrast with whom goes Jesus into the wilderness, showing who and what He was the Shepherd of Israel, ready and able to care for the people. The disciples most inadequately perceive His glory; but the Lord acts according to His own mind. After this, dismissing the multitudes, He retires alone, to pray, on a mountain, as the disciples toil over the storm-tossed lake, the wind being contrary. It is a picture of what was about to take place when the Lord Jesus, quitting Israel and the earth, ascends on high, and all assumes another form not the reign upon earth, but intercession in heaven. But at the end, when His disciples are in the extremity of trouble, in the midst of the sea, the Lord walks on the sea toward them, and bids them not fear; for they were troubled and afraid. Peter asks a word from his Master, and leaves the ship to join Him on the water. There will be differences at the close. All will not be the wise that understand, nor those who instruct the mass in righteousness. But every Scripture that treats of that time proves what dread, what anxiety, what dark clouds will be ever and anon. So it was here. Peter goes forth, but losing sight of the Lord in the presence of the troubled waves, and yielding to his ordinary experience, he fears the strong wind, and is only saved by the outstretched hand of Jesus, who rebukes his doubt. Thereon, coming into the ship, the wind ceases, and the Lord exercises His gracious power in beneficent effects around. It was the little foreshadowing of what will be when the Lord has joined the remnant in the last days, and then fills with blessing the land that He touches.
In Matthew 15:1-39 we have another picture, and twofold. Jerusalem's proud, traditional hypocrisy is exposed, and grace fully blesses the tried Gentile. This finds its fitting place, not in Luke, but in Matthew, particularly as the details here (not in Mark, who only gives the general fact) cast great light upon God's dispensational ways. Accordingly, here we have, first, the Lord judging the wrong thoughts of "Scribes and Pharisees which were of Jerusalem." This gives an opportunity to teach what truly defiles not things that go into the man, but those things which, proceeding out of the mouth, come forth from the heart. To eat with unwashed hands defileth not a man. It is the death-blow to human tradition and ordinance in divine things, and in reality depends on the truth of the absolute ruin of man a truth which, as we see, the disciples were very slow to recognize. On the other side of the picture, behold the Lord leading on a soul to draw on divine grace in the most glorious manner. The woman of Canaan, out of the borders of Tyre and Sidon, appeals to Him; a Gentile of most ominous name and belongings a Gentile whose case was desperate; for she appeals on behalf of her daughter, grievously vexed with a devil. What could be said of her intelligence then? Had she not such confusion of thought that, if the Lord had heeded her words, it must have been destruction to her? "Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David!" she cried; but what had she to do with the Son of David? and what had the Son of David to do with a Canaanite? When He reigns as David's Son, there shall be no more the Canaanite in the house of the Lord of Hosts. Judgment will have early cut them off. But the Lord could not send her away without a blessing, and without a blessing reaching to His own glory. Instead of giving her at once a reply, He leads her on step by step; for so He can stoop. Such is His grace, such His wisdom. The woman at last meets the heart and mind of Jesus in the sense of all her utter nothingness before God; and then grace, which had wrought all up to this, though pent-up, can flow like a river; and the Lord can admire her faith, albeit from Himself, God's free gift.
In the end of this chapter (15) is another miracle of Christ's feeding a vast multitude. It does not seem exactly as a pictorial view of what the Lord was doing, or going to do, but rather the repeated pledge, that they were not to suppose that the evil He had judged in the elders of Jerusalem, or the grace freely going out to the Gentiles, in any way led Him. to forget His ancient people. What special mercy and tenderness, not only in the end, but also in the way the Lord deals with Israel!
In Matthew 16:1-28 we advance a great step, spite (yea, because) of unbelief, deep and manifest, now on every side. The Lord has nothing for them, or for Him, but to go right on to the end. He had brought out the kingdom before in view of that which betrayed to Him the unpardonable blasphemy of the Holy Ghost. The old people and work then closed in principle, and a new work of God in the kingdom of heaven was disclosed. Now He brings out not the kingdom merely, but His Church; and this not merely in view of hopeless unbelief in the mass, but of the confession of His own intrinsic glory as the Son of God by the chosen witness. No sooner had Peter pronounced to Jesus the truth of His person, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God," than Jesus holds the secret no longer. "Upon this rock," says He, "I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." He also gives Peter the keys of the kingdom, as we see afterwards. But first appears the new and great fact, that Christ was going to build a new building, His assembly, on the truth and confession of Himself, the Son of God. Doubtless, it was contingent upon the utter ruin of Israel through their unbelief; but the fall of the lesser thing opened the way for the gift of a better glory in answer to Peter's faith in the glory of His person. The Father and the Son have their appropriate part, even as we know from elsewhere the Spirit sent down from heaven in due time was to have His. Had Peter confessed who the Son of man really is? It was the Father's revelation of the Son; flesh and blood had not revealed it to Peter, but, "my Father, which is in heaven." Thereon the Lord also has His word to say, first reminding Peter of his new name suitably to what follows. He was going to build His Church "upon this rock" Himself, the Son of God. Henceforth, too, He forbids the disciples to proclaim Him as the Messiah. That was all over for the moment through Israel's blind sin; He was going to suffer, not yet reign, at Jerusalem. Then, alas! we have in Peter what man is, even after all this. He who had just confessed the glory of the Lord would not hear His Master speaking thus of His going to the cross (by which alone the Church, or even the kingdom, could be established), and sought to swerve Him from it. But the single eye of Jesus at once detects the snare of Satan into which natural thought led, or at least exposed, Peter to fall. And so, as savouring not divine but human things, he is bid to go behind (not from) the Lord as one ashamed of Him. He, on the contrary, insists not only that He was bound for the cross, but that its truth must be made good in any who will come after Him. The glory of Christ's person strengthens us, not only to understand His cross, but to take up ours.
In Matthew 17:1-27 another scene appears, promised in part to some standing there in Matthew 16:28, and connected, though as yet hiddenly, with the cross. It is the glory of Christ; not so much as Son of the living God, but as the exalted Son of man, who once suffered here below. Nevertheless, when there was the display of the glory of the kingdom, the Father's voice proclaimed Him as His own Son, and not merely as the man thus exalted. It was not more truly Christ's kingdom as man than He was God's own Son, His beloved Son, in whom He was well pleased, who was now to be heard, rather than Moses or Elias, who disappear, leaving Jesus alone with the chosen witnesses.
Then the pitiable condition of the disciples at the foot of the hill, where Satan reigned in fallen ruined man, is tested by the fact, that notwithstanding all the glory of Jesus, Son of God and Son of man, the disciples rendered it evident that they knew not how to bring His grace into action for others; yet was it precisely their place and proper function here below. The Lord, however, in the same chapter, shows that it was not a question alone of what was to be done, or to be suffered, or is to be by-and-by, but what He was, and is, and never can but be. This came out most blessedly through the disciples. Peter, the good confessor of chapter 16, cuts but a sorry figure in chapter 17; for when the demand was made upon him as to his Master's paying the tax, surely the Lord, he gave them to know, was much too good a Jew to omit it. But our Lord with dignity demands of Peter, "What thinkest thou, Simon?" He evinces, that at the very time when Peter forgot the vision and the Father's voice, virtually reducing Him to mere man, He was God manifest in the flesh. It is always thus. God proves what He is by the revelation of Jesus. "Of whom do the kings of the earth take custom? of their own children, or of strangers?" Peter answers, "Of strangers." "Then," said the Lord, "are the children free. Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money. that take and give unto them for me and thee." Is it not most sweet to see, that He who proves His divine glory at once associates us with Himself? Who but God could command not only the waves, but the fish of the sea? As to any one else, even the most liberal gift that ever was given of God to fallen man on earth, to the golden head of the Gentiles, exempted the deep and its untamed inhabitants. IfPsalms 8:1-9; Psalms 8:1-9 goes farther, surely that was for the Son of man, who for the suffering of death was exalted. Yes, it was His to rule and command the sea, even as the land and all that in them is. Neither did He need to wait for His exaltation as man; for He was ever God, and God's Son, who therefore, if one may so say, waits for nothing, for no day of glory. The manner, too, was in itself remarkable. A hook is cast into the sea, and the fish that takes it produces the required money for Peter as for his gracious Master and Lord. A fish was the last being for man to make his banker of; with God all things are possible, who knew how to blend admirably in the same act divine glory, unanswerably vindicated, with the lowliest grace in man. And thus He, whose glory was so forgotten by His disciples Jesus, Himself thinks of that very disciple, and says, "For me and thee."
The next chapter (Matthew 18:1-35) takes up the double thought of the kingdom and the Church, showing the requisite for entrance into the kingdom, and displaying or calling forth divine grace in the most lovely manner, and that in practice. The pattern is the Son of man saving the lost. It is not a question of bringing in law to govern the kingdom or guide the Church. The unparalleled grace of the Saviour must form and fashion the saints henceforth. In the end of the chapter is set forth parabolically the unlimited forgiveness that suits the kingdom; here, I cannot but think, looking onward in strict fulness to the future, but with distinct application to the moral need of the disciples then and always. In the kingdom so much the less sparing is the retribution of those who despise or abuse grace. All turns on that which was suitable to such a God, the giver of His own Son. We need not dwell upon it.
Matthew 19:1-30 brings in another lesson of great weight. Whatever might be the Church or the kingdom, it is precisely when the Lord unfolds His new glory in both the kingdom and the Church that He maintains the proprieties of nature in their rights and integrity. There is no greater mistake than to suppose, because there is the richest development of God's grace in new things, that He abandons or weakens natural relationships and authority in their place. This, I believe, is a great lesson, and too often forgotten. Observe that it is at this point the chapter begins with vindicating the sanctity of marriage. No doubt it is a tie of nature for this life only. None the less does the Lord uphold it, purged of what accretions had come in to obscure its original and proper character. Thus the fresh revelations of grace in no way detract from that which God had of old established in nature; but, contrariwise, only impart a new and greater force in asserting the real value and wisdom of God's way even in these least things. A similar principle applies to the little children, who are next introduced; and the same thing is true substantially of natural or moral character here below. Parents, and the disciples, like the Pharisees, were shown that grace, just because it is the expression of what God is to a ruined world, takes notice of what man in his own imaginary dignity might count altogether petty. With God, as nothing is impossible, so no one, small or great, is despised: all is seen and put in its just place; and grace, which rebukes creature pride, can afford to deal divinely with the smallest as with the greatest.
If there be a privilege more manifest than another which has dawned on us, it is what we have found by and in Jesus, that now we can say nothing is too great for us, nothing too little for God. There is room also for the most thorough self-abnegation. Grace forms the hearts of those that understand it, according to the great manifestation of what God is, and what man is, too, given us in the person of Christ. In the reception of the little children this is plain; it is not so generally seen in what follows. The rich young ruler was not converted: far from being so, he could not stand the test applied by Christ out of His own love, and, as we are told, "went away sorrowful." He was ignorant of himself, because ignorant of God, and imagined that it was only a question of man's doing good for God. In this he had laboured, as he said, from his youth up: "What lack I yet?" There was the consciousness of good unattained, a void for which he appeals to Jesus that it might be filled up. To lose all for heavenly treasure, to come and follow the despised Nazarene here below what was it to compare with that which had brought Jesus to earth? but it was far too much for the young man. It was the creature doing his best, yet proving that he loved the creature more than the Creator. Jesus, nevertheless, owned all that could be owned in him. After this, in the chapter we have the positive hindrance asserted of what man counts good. "Verily, I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven." This made it to be plainly and only a difficulty for God to solve. Then comes the boast of Peter, though for others as well as himself. The Lord, while thoroughly proving that He forgot nothing, owned everything that was of grace in Peter or the rest, while opening the same door to "every one" who forsakes nature for His name's sake, solemnly adds, "But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first." Thus the point that meets us in the conclusion of the chapter is, that while every character, every measure of giving up for His name's sake, will meet with the most worthy recompence and result, man can as little judge of this as he can accomplish salvation. Changes, to us inexplicable, occur: many first last, and last first.
The point in the beginning of the next chapter (Matthew 20:1-34) is not reward, but the right and title of God Himself to act according to His goodness. He is not going to lower Himself to a human measure. Not only shall the Judge of all the earth do right, but what will not He do who gives all good? "For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard . . . . . And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny." He maintains His sovereign title to do good, to do as He will with His own. The first of these lessons is, "Many first shall be last, and last first." (Matthew 19:30.) It is clearly the failure of nature, the reversal of what might be expected. The second is, "So the last shall be first, and the first last; for many are called, but few are chosen." It is the power of grace. God's delight is to pick out the hindmost for the first place, to the disparagement of the foremost in their own strength.
Lastly, we have the Lord rebuking the ambition not only of the sons of Zebedee, but in truth also of the ten; for why was there such warmth of indignation against the two brethren? why not sorrow and shame that they should have so little understood their Master's mind? How often the heart shows itself, not merely by what we ask, but by the uncalled-for feelings we display against other people and their faults! The fact is, in judging others we judge ourselves.
Here I close tonight. It brings me to the real crisis; that is, the final presentation of our lord to Jerusalem. I have endeavoured, though, of course, cursorily, and I feel most imperfectly, to give thus far Matthew's sketch of the Saviour as the Holy Ghost enabled him to execute it. In the next discourse we may hope to have the rest of his gospel.
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Kelly, William. "Commentary on Matthew 18:19". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wkc/matthew-18.html. 1860-1890.
the Third Week after Epiphany