Matthew 9:13; Matthew 12:7.
As a general principle it may be said, before considering this citation from Hosea, that a believer of any dispensation should be the expression of God as revealed in that dispensation. For example, the standard for a Jewish saint was Jehovah as made known in that economy, whereas the standard for a Christian is God as revealed in Christ. (See Eph. 5:1-13, Col. 3:10-13.) To bear this in mind will aid in the understanding of the prophet's words. Both Ephraim and Judah (Hosea 5, 6) had sadly corrupted themselves, and yet at the same time they would seem to have been punctilious in the observance of their sacrificial ceremonies, as if attention to outward forms could commend them to God's favour. "Therefore," says the prophet, speaking in Jehovah's name, "have I hewed them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth . . . for I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings." (Hosea 6:5, 6.) That is, character and state - the character and state produced by the knowledge of Jehovah as a God of mercy - were of more avail before God than outward observances, these last being utterly valueless unless they were the indication of a spiritual condition. (Compare Micah 6:6-8.) Turning now to Matthew's Gospel, it is very interesting to note the Lord's application of this Scripture. The Pharisees condemned Him for eating with publicans and sinners. In vindicating His action, the Lord convicted them of ignorance of the heart of God. "Go ye," He said, "and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Priding themselves upon being the people of God, the objects of His exclusive favour, and the guardians of His word, the Lord shows that they had utterly misconceived the character of the God in whom they boasted; that they had read in vain the many scriptures which contained the pre-intimations of His grace and mercy toward poor sinners, and consequently that in their self-righteousness they were utterly misrepresenting God. In chapter 12 the application of the Scripture, while bringing out the same truth, is slightly different. Here the Pharisees, in their censorious spirit, condemned the disciples for plucking the ears of corn upon the Sabbath day. After citing examples from the Scriptures which should have opened their eyes to perceive the claims of the One whom they had presumed to assail, and should have convinced them of their unscriptural folly, the Lord added, "But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless." The point here again is that the hearts of these censors of the disciples were in utter contrariety to the heart of God. Cased in their self-righteousness, not a ray of God's blessed mercy or grace had ever penetrated their souls, and hence they judged everyone round about them by their own thoughts instead of by the thoughts of God. Alas! how easy it is for ourselves, who live in the full light of the day of grace, to fall into the same mistake, and to forget that we are called to be the exponents of God's heart of grace in the midst of His professing people, and before an evil world.
A question is put as to whether this scripture has a present application. The answer is found, we judge, in the fact of the introduction of the church in Matthew 16:18. At the close of Matthew 12, the Lord in figure breaks His links with Israel after the flesh; in Matthew 13 the sower goes forth to sow, and the result is the kingdom of heaven presented in several aspects; in Matthew 14 the actual work of rejection commences with the execution of John the Baptist; in Matthew 15 Christ passes judgment morally upon the heads of the Jewish nation; and this is followed, before the display of the glory of the kingdom in Matthew 17, by the revelation to Peter of the truth of the Person of Christ, and the announcement - "And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." In these words the Lord views the church in its perfection, from, as we might say, the divine side; and consequently the term "My church" must not be narrowed, as it includes every believer of this period, from Pentecost on to the Lord's coming. Coming now to Matthew 18, the word "church," the same as in Matthew 16, has yet its own significance, as may be seen from the direction, "Tell it unto the church." To explain this, it may be recalled that the Lord often used language which could only be fully understood after the gift of the Holy Ghost. So here; and when we examine the epistles we find that a local gathering of saints is also called the church (see among many other passages, Romans 16:4, 5, 16), and that such local gatherings are regarded as expressions of the whole church of God on earth. With this apostolic instruction we have no hesitation in interpreting "church," in Matt. 18:17, as a local assembly to which discipline is entrusted to be exercised in the Lord's name by the power of the Holy Ghost. But it is enquired, if the Lord had not, when using these words, the millennial congregation in contemplation? Admitting to the full the dispensational character of this gospel, that the primary application of divine words does not exhaust their meaning, and that divine principles abide through all dispensations, we cannot doubt, speaking for ourselves, that the instruction which our blessed Lord here gives belongs above all to the church period. It is further asked, however, if Col. 3:13 does not supersede the teaching of Matt. 18:15-17, and also that of Luke 17:3, 4. Examining the last passage named, we find that the forgiveness of a brother's sinning against us is to be unlimited, but that the pronunciation of the forgiveness is to be made on confession, on his saying, "I repent." Turning to Colossians, we shall see that it is quite another aspect of the subject: "Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel ["complaint"] against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye." Here there is not a word, as will be at once seen, of confession or of the bestowment of forgiveness; in fact,. the passage deals entirely with the state of soul which should be cherished by us when we have matters of complaint against our brethren. It teaches, in other words, that however our brother may sin against us, we are always to hold him in our souls as forgiven. Luke goes further, and shows that it is on confession we are to express our forgiveness; and hence it is by the combination of the two scriptures we get the full truth of the subject. In support of this interpretation, it may be added, that what is enjoined on us is a transcript of God's own conduct towards us when we fall into sin. His heart never changes towards His people, but it is only on confession of their sins that they receive forgiveness. (1 John 1:9.) What has been said on Matt. 18:15-17 will also afford the key for the interpretation of verses 18-20; but we hope to return to this on another occasion.
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As there is no object worth living for but Christ, so likewise no ministry will abide except a ministry of Christ.