MATTHEW 1 - 7.
God has been pleased, in the separate accounts He has given us of our Lord Jesus, to display not only His own grace and wisdom, but the infinite excellency of His Son. It is our wisdom to seek to profit by all the light He has afforded us; and, in order to this, both to receive implicitly, as the simple Christian surely does, whatever God has written for our instruction in these different gospels, and also by comparing them, and comparing them according to the special point of view which God has communicated in each gospel, to see concentrated the varying lines of everlasting truth which there meet in Christ. Now, I shall proceed with all simplicity, the Lord helping me, first taking up the gospel before us, in order to point out, as far as I am enabled to do, the great distinguishing features, as well as the chief contents, that the Holy Ghost has here been pleased to communicate. It is well to bear in mind, that in this gospel, as in all the rest, God has in nowise undertaken to present everything, but only some chosen discourses and facts; and this is the more remarkable, inasmuch as in some cases the very same miracles, etc., are given in several, and even in all, the gospels. The gospels are short; the materials used are not numerous; but what shall we say of the depths of grace that are there disclosed? What of the immeasurable glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, which everywhere shines out in them?
The undeniable certainty that God has been pleased to confine Himself to a small portion of the circumstances of the life of Jesus, and, even so, to repeat the same discourse, miracle, or whatever other fact is brought before us, only brings out, to my mind, more distinctly the manifest design of God to give expression to the glory of the Son in each gospel according to a special point of view. Now, looking at the gospel of Matthew as a whole, and taking the most enlarged view of it before we enter into details, the question arises, what is the main idea before the Holy Ghost? It is surely the lesson of simplicity to learn this from God, and, once learnt, to apply it steadily as a help of the most manifest kind; full of interest, as well as of the weightiest instruction, in examining all the incidents as they come before us. What, then, is that which, not merely in a few facts in particular chapters, but throughout, comes before us in the gospel of Matthew? It matters not where we look, whether at the beginning, the middle, or at the end, the same evident character proclaims itself. The prefatory words introduce it. Is it not the Lord Jesus, Son of David, Son of Abraham — Messiah? But, then, it is not simply the anointed of Jehovah, but One who proves Himself, and is declared of God, to be Jehovah-Messiah. No such testimony appears elsewhere. I say not that there is no evidence in the other gospels to demonstrate that He is really Jehovah and Emmanuel too, but that nowhere else have we the same fulness of proof, and the same manifest design, from the very starting point of the gospel, to proclaim the Lord Jesus as being thus a divine Messiah — God with us.
The practical object is equally obvious. The common notion, that the Jews are in view, is quite correct, as far as it goes. The gospel of Matthew bears internal proof that God specially provides for the instruction of His own among those that had been Jews. It was written more particularly for leading Jewish Christians into a truer understanding of the glory of the Lord Jesus. Hence, every testimony that could convince and satisfy a Jew, that could correct or enlarge his thoughts, is found most fully here; hence the precision of the quotations from the Old Testament; hence the converging of prophecy on the Messiah; hence, too, the manner in which the miracles of Christ, or the incidents of His life, are here grouped together. To Jewish difficulties all this pointed with peculiar fitness. Miracles we have elsewhere, no doubt, and prophecies occasionally; but where is there such a profusion of them as in Matthew? Where, in the mind of the Spirit of God, such a continual, conspicuous point of quoting and applying Scripture in all places and seasons to the Lord Jesus? To me, I confess, it seems impossible for a simple mind to resist the conclusion.
But this is not all to be noticed here. Not only does God deign to meet the Jew with these proofs from prophecy, miracle, life, and doctrine, but He begins with what a Jew would and must demand — the question of genealogy. But even then the answer of Matthew is after a divine sort. "The book," he says, "of the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham." These are the two principal landmarks to which a Jew turns:— royalty given by the grace of God in the one, and the original depository of the promise in the other.
Moreover, not only does God condescend to notice the line of fathers, but, if He turns aside for a moment now and then for aught else, what instruction, both in man's sin and need, and in His own grace, does thus spring up before us from the mere course of His genealogical tree! He names in certain cases the mother, and not the father only; but never without a divine reason. There are four women alluded to. They are not such as any of us, or perhaps any man, would beforehand have thought of introducing, and into such a genealogy, of all others. But God had His own sufficient motive; and His was one not only of wisdom, but of mercy; also, of special instruction to the Jew, as we shall see in a moment. First of all, who but God would have thought it necessary to remind us that Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar? I need not enlarge; these names in divine history must speak for themselves. Man would have hidden all this assuredly; he would have preferred to put forth either some flaming account of ancient and august ancestry, or to concentrate all the honour and glory in one, the lustre of whose genius eclipsed all antecedents. But God's thoughts are not our thoughts; neither are our ways His ways. Again, the allusion to such persons thus introduced is the more remarkable because others, worthy ones, are not named. There is no mention of Sarah, no hint of Rebecca, no notice whatever of so many holy and illustrious names in the female line of our Lord Jesus. But Thamar does appear thus early (v. 3); and so manifest is the reason, that one has no need to explain further. I am persuaded that the name alone is sufficient intimation to any Christian heart and conscience. But how significant to the Jew! What were his thoughts of the Messiah? Would he have put forward the name of Thamar in such a connection? Never. He might not have been able to deny the fact; but as to bringing it out thus, and drawing special attention to it, the Jew was the last man to have done it. Nevertheless, the grace of God in this is exceeding good and wise.
But there is more than this. Lower down we have another. There is the name of Rachab, a Gentile, and a Gentile bringing no honourable reputation along with her. Men may seek to pare it down, but it is impossible either to cloak her shame, or to fritter away the grace of God. It is not to be well or wisely got rid of, who and what Rachab publicly was; yet is she the woman that the Holy Ghost singles out for the next place in the ancestry of Jesus.
Ruth, too, appears — Ruth, of all these women — most sweet and blameless, no doubt, by the working of the divine grace in her, but still a daughter of Moab, whom the Lord forbade to enter His congregation to the tenth generation for ever.
And what of Solomon himself, begotten by David, the king, of her that had been the wife of Uriah? How humiliating to those who stood on human righteousness! How thwarting to mere Jewish expectations of the Messiah! He was the Messiah, but such He was after God's heart, not man's. He was the Messiah that somehow would and could have relations with sinners, first and last; whose grace would reach and bless Gentiles — a Moabite — anybody. Room was left for intimations of such compass in Matthew's scheme of His ancestry. Deny it they might as to doctrine and fact now; they could not alter or efface the real features from the genealogy of the true Messiah; for in no other line but David's, through Solomon, could Messiah be. And God has deemed it meet to recount even this to us, so that we may know and enter into His own delight in His rich grace as He speaks of the ancestors of the Messiah. It is thus, then, we come down to the birth of Christ.
Nor was it less worthy of God that He should make most plain the truth of another remarkable conjuncture of predicted circumstances, seemingly beyond reconcilement, in His entrance into the world.
There were two conditions absolutely requisite for the Messiah: one was, that He should be truly born of a — rather of the — Virgin; the other was, that He should inherit the royal rights of the Solomon-branch of David's house, according to promise. There was a third too, we may add, that He who was the real son of His virgin-mother, the legal son of His Solomon-sprung father, should be, in the truest and highest sense, the Jehovah of Israel, Emmanuel — God with us. All this is crowded into the brief account next given us in Matthew's gospel, and by Matthew alone. Accordingly, "the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as His mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost." This latter truth, that is, of the Holy Ghost's action as to it, we shall find, has a still deeper and wider import assigned to it in the gospel of Luke, whose office is to show us the Man Christ Jesus. I therefore reserve any observations that this larger scope might and ought, indeed, to give rise to, till we have to consider the third gospel.
But here the great thing is the relationship of Joseph to the Messiah, and hence he is the one to whom the angel appears. In the gospel of Luke it is not to Joseph, but to Mary. Are we to think that this variety of account is a mere accidental circumstance? or that if God has thus been pleased to draw out two distinct lines of truth, we are not to gather up the divine principle of each and all? It is impossible that God could do what even we should be ashamed of. If we act and speak, or forbear to do either, we ought to have a sufficient reason for one or other. And if no man of sense doubts that this should be so in our own case, has not God always had His own perfect mind in the various accounts He has given us of Christ? Both are true, but with distinct design. It is with divine wisdom that Matthew mentions the angel's visit to Joseph; with no less direction from on high does Luke relate Gabriel's visit to Mary (as before to Zacharias); and the reason is plain. In Matthew, while he not in the least degree weakens, but proves the fact that Mary was the real mother of our Lord, the point was, that He inherited the rights of Joseph.
And no wonder; for no matter how truly our Lord had been the Son of Mary, He had not thereby an indisputable legal right to the throne of David. This never could be in virtue of His descent from Mary, unless He had also inherited the title of the royal stem. As Joseph belonged to the Solomon-branch, he would have barred the right of our Lord to the throne, looking at it as a mere question now of His being the Son of David; and we are entitled so to take it. His being God, or Jehovah, was in no way of itself the ground of Davidical claim, though otherwise of infinitely deeper moment. The question was to make good, along with His eternal glory, a Messianic title that could not be set aside, a title that no Jew on his own ground could impeach. It was His grace so to stoop; it was His own all-sufficient wisdom that knew how to reconcile conditions so above man to put together. God speaks, and it is done.
Accordingly, in the gospel of Matthew, the Spirit of God fixes our attention upon these facts. Joseph was the descendant of David, the king, through Solomon: the Messiah must therefore, somehow or other, be the son of Joseph; yet had He really been the son of Joseph, all would have been lost. Thus the contradictions looked hopeless; for it seemed, that in order to be the Messiah, He must, and yet He must not, be Joseph's son. But what are difficulties to God? With Him all things are possible; and faith receives all with assurance. He was not only the son of Joseph, so that no Jew could deny it, and yet not so, but that He could be in the fullest manner the Son of Mary, the Seed of the woman, and not literally of the man. God, therefore, takes particular pains, in this Jewish gospel, to give all importance to His being strictly, in the eye of the law, the son of Joseph; and so, according to the flesh, inheriting the rights of the regal branch; yet here He takes particular care to prove that He was not, in the reality of His birth as man, Joseph's son. Before husband and wife came together, the espoused Mary was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Such was the character of the conception. Besides, He was Jehovah. This comes out in His very name. The Virgin's Son was to be called "Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins." He shall not be a mere man, no matter how miraculously born; Jehovah's people, Israel, are His; He shall save His people from their sins.
This is yet more revealed to us by the prophecy of Isaiah cited next, and particularly by the application of that name found nowhere else but in Matthew: "Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us." (Verses 22, 23.)
This, then, is the introduction and the great foundation in fact. The genealogy is, no doubt, formed peculiarly according to the Jewish manner; but this very shape serves rather as a confirmation, I will not say to the Jewish mind alone, but to every honest man of intelligence. The spiritual mind, of course, has no difficulty — can have none by the very fact that it is spiritual, because its confidence is in God. Now there is nothing that so summarily banishes a doubt, and silences every question of the natural man, as the simple but happy assurance that what God says must be true, and is the only right thing. No doubt God has been pleased in this genealogy to do that which men in modern times have cavilled at; but not even the darkest and most hostile Jews raised such objections in former days. Assuredly they were the persons, above all, to have exposed the character of the genealogy of the Lord Jesus, if vulnerable. But no; this was reserved for Gentiles. They have made the notable discovery that there is an omission! Now in such lists an omission is perfectly in analogy with the manner of the Old Testament. All that was demanded in such a genealogy was to give adequate landmarks so as to make the descent clear and unquestionable.
Thus, if you take Ezra, for instance, giving his own genealogy as a priest, you find that he omits not three links only in a chain, but seven. Doubtless there may have been a special reason for the omission; but whatever may be our judgment of the true solution of the difficulty, it is evident that a priest who was giving his own genealogy would not put it forward in a defective form. If in one who was of that sacerdotal succession where the proofs were rigorously required, where a defect in it would destroy his right to the exercise of spiritual functions — if in such a case there might legitimately be an omission, clearly there might be the same in regard to the Lord's genealogy; and the more, as this omission was not in the part of which the Scripture speaks nothing, but in the centre of its historical records, whence the merest child could supply the missing links at once. Evidently, therefore, the omission was not careless or ignorant, but intentional. I doubt not myself that the design was thereby to intimate the solemn sentence of God on the connection with Athaliah of the wicked house of Ahab, the wife of Joram. (Compare verse 8 with 2 Chron. 22 - 26.) Ahaziah vanishes, and Joash, and Amaziah, when the line once more reappears here in Uzziah. These generations God blots out along with that wicked woman.
There was literally another reason lying on the surface, that required certain names to drop out. The Spirit of God was pleased to give, in each of the three divisions of the Messiah's genealogy, fourteen generations, as from Abraham down to David, from David to the captivity, and from the captivity to Christ. Now, it is evident, that if there were in fact more links in each chain of generation than these fourteen, all above that number must be omitted. Then, as we have just seen, the omission is not haphazard, but made of special moral force. Thus, if there was a necessity because the Spirit of God limited Himself to a certain number of generations, there was also divine reason, as there always is in the word of God, for the choice of the names which had to be omitted,
However this may be, we have in this chapter, besides the genealogical line, the person of the long-expected son of David; we have Him introduced precisely, officially, and fully as the Messiah; we have His deeper glory, not merely that which He took but who He was and is. He might be styled, as indeed He was, "the son of David, the son of Abraham;" but He was, He is, He could not but be, Jehovah-Emmanuel. How all-important this was for a Jew to believe and confess, one need hardly stop to expound: it is enough to mention it by the way. Evidently Jewish unbelief, even where there was an acknowledgment of the Messiah, turned upon this, that the Jew looked upon the Messiah purely according to what He deigns to become as the great King. They saw not any deeper glory than His Messianic throne, not more than an offshoot, though no doubt one of extraordinary vigour, from the root of David. Here, at the very starting-point, the Holy Ghost points out the divine and eternal glory of Him who deigns to come as the Messiah. Surely, too, if Jehovah condescended to be Messiah, and in order to this to be born of the Virgin, there must be some most worthy aims infinitely deeper than the intention, however great, to sit upon the throne of David. Evidently, therefore, the simple perception of the glory of His person overturns all conclusions of Jewish unbelief; shows us that He whose glory was so bright must have a work commensurate with that glory; that He whose personal dignity was beyond all time and even thought, who thus stoops to enter the ranks of Israel as Son of David, must have had some ends in coming, and, above all, to die, suitable to such glory. All this, it is plain, was of the deepest possible moment for Israel to apprehend. It was precisely what the believing Israelite did learn; even as it was just the rock of offence on which unbelieving Israel fell and was dashed to pieces.
The next chapter (Matt. 2) shows us another characteristic fact in reference to this gospel; for if the aim of the first chapter was to give us proofs of the true glory and character of the Messiah, in contrast with mere Jewish limitation and unbelief about Him, the second chapter shows us what reception Messiah would find, in contrast with the wise men from the East, from Jerusalem, from the king and the people, and in the land of Israel. If His descent be sure as the royal son of David, if His glory be above all human lineage, what was the place that He found, in fact, in His land and people? Indefeasible was His title: what were the circumstances that met Him when He was found at length in Israel? The answer is, from the very first He was the rejected Messiah. He was rejected, and most emphatically, by those whose responsibility it was most of all to receive Him. It was not the ignorant; it was not those that were besotted in gross habits; it was Jerusalem — it was the scribes and Pharisees. The people, too, were all moved at the very thought of Messiah's birth.
What brought out the unbelief of Israel so distressingly was this — God would have a due testimony to such a Messiah; and if the Jews were unready, He would gather from the very ends of the earth some hearts to welcome Jesus — Jesus-Jehovah, the Messiah of Israel. Hence it is that Gentiles are seen coming forth from the East, led by the star which had a voice for their hearts. There had ever rested traditionally among Oriental nations, though not confined to them, the general bearing of Balaam's prophecy, that a star should arise, a star connected with Jacob. I doubt not that God was pleased in His goodness to give a seal to that prophecy, after a literal sort, not to speak of its true symbolic force. In His condescending love, He would lead hearts that were prepared of Him to desire the Messiah, and come from the ends of the earth to welcome Him. And so it was. They saw the star; they set forth to seek the Messiah's kingdom. It was not that the star moved along the way; it roused them and set them going. They recognized the phenomenon as looking for the star of Jacob; they instinctively, I may say, certainly by the good hand of God, connected the two together. From their distant home they made for Jerusalem; for even the universal expectation of men at the time pointed to that city. But when they reached it, where were faithful souls awaiting the Messiah? They found active minds — not a few that could tell them clearly where the Messiah was to be born: for this God made them dependent upon His word. When they came to Jerusalem, it was not any longer an outward sign to guide. They learnt the scriptures as to it. They learnt from those that cared neither for it nor for Him it concerned, but who, nevertheless, knew the letter more or less. On the road to Bethlehem, to their exceeding joy, the star re-appears, confirming what they had received, till it rested over where the young child was. And there, in the presence of the father and the mother, they, Easterns though they were, and accustomed to no small homage, proved how truly they were guided of God; for neither father nor mother received the smallest of their worship: all was reserved for Jesus — all poured out at the feet of the infant Messiah. Oh, what a withering refutation of the foolish men of the West! Oh, what a lesson, even from these dark Gentiles, to self-complacent Christendom in East or West! Spite of what men might look down upon in these proud days, their hearts in their simplicity were true. It was but for Jesus they came; it was on Jesus that their worship was spent; and so, spite of the parents being there, spite of what nature would prompt them to do, in sharing, at least, something of the worship on the father and mother with the Babe, they produced their treasures and worshipped the young child alone.
This is the more remarkable, because in the gospel of Luke we have another scene, where we see that same Jesus, truly an infant of days, in the hands of an aged one with far more divine intelligence than these Eastern sages could boast. Now we know what would have been the prompting of affection and of godly desires in the presence of a babe; but the aged Simeon never pretends to bless Him. Nothing would have been more simple and natural, had not that Babe differed from all others, had He not been what He was, and had Simeon not known who He was. But he did know it. He saw in Him the salvation of God; and so, though he could rejoice in God, and bless God, though he could in another sense bless the parents, he never presumes so to bless the Babe. It was indeed the blessing that he had got from that Babe which enabled him to bless both God and His parents; but he blesses not the Babe even when he blesses the parents. It was God Himself, even the Son of the Highest that was there, and his soul bowed before God. We have here, then, the Eastems worshipping the Babe, not the parents; as in the other case we have the blessed man of God blessing the parents, but not the Babe: a most striking token of the remarkable difference which the Holy Ghost had in view when inditing these histories of the Lord Jesus.
Further, to these Easterns intimation is given of God, and they returned another way, thus defeating the design of the treacherous heart and cruel head of the Edomite king, notwithstanding the slaughter of the innocents.
Next comes a remarkable prophecy of Christ, of which we must say a word — the prophecy of Hosea. Our Lord is carried outside the reach of the storm into Egypt. Such indeed was the history of His life; it was continual pain, one course of suffering and shame. There was no mere heroism in the Lord Jesus, but the very reverse. Nevertheless, it was God shrouding His Majesty; it was God in the person of man, in the Child that takes the lowliest place in the haughty world. Therefore, we find no more a cloud that covers Him, no pillar of fire that shields Him. Apparently the most exposed, He bows before the storm, retires, carried by His parents into the ancient furnace of affliction for His people. Thus even from the very first our Lord Jesus, as a babe, tastes the hate of the world — what it is to be thoroughly humbled, even as a child. The prophecy, therefore, was accomplished, and in its deepest meaning. It was not merely Israel that God called out, but His Son out of Egypt. Here was the true Israel; Jesus was the genuine stock before God. He goes through, in His own person, Israel's history. He goes into Egypt, and is called out of it.
Returning, in due time, to the land of Israel at the death of him that reigned after Herod the Great, His parents are instructed as we are told, and turn aside into the parts of Galilee. This is another important truth; for thus was to be fulfilled the word, not of one prophet, but of all — "That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene." It was the name of man's scorn; for Nazareth was the most despised place in that despised land of Galilee. Such, in the providence of God, was the place for Jesus. This gave an accomplishment to the general voice of the prophets, who declared Him despised and rejected of men. So He was. It was true even of the place in which He lived, "that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene."
We enter now upon the announcement of John the Baptist. (Matt. 3) The Spirit of God carries us over a long interval, and the voice of John is heard proclaiming, "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Here we have an expression which must not be passed over — all-important as it is for the understanding of the gospel of Matthew. John the Baptist preached the nearness of this kingdom in the wilderness of Judaea. It was clearly gathered from the Old Testament prophecy, particularly from Daniel, that the God of heaven would set up a kingdom; and more than this, that the Son of man was the person to administer the kingdom. "And there was given Him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away; and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed." Such was the kingdom of heaven. It was not a mere kingdom of the earth, neither was it in heaven, but it was heaven governing the earth for ever.
It would appear that, in John the Baptist's preaching it, we have no ground for supposing that either he believed at this time, or that any other men till afterwards were led into the understanding of the form which it was to assume through Christ's rejection and going on high as now. This our Lord divulged more particularly in Matthew 13. I understand, then, by this expression, what might be gathered justly from Old Testament prophecies; and that John, at this time, had no other thought but that the kingdom was about to be introduced according to expectations thus formed. They had long looked for the time when the earth should no longer be left to itself, but heaven should be the governing power; when the Son of man should control the earth; when the power of hell should be banished from the world; when the earth should be put into association with the heavens, and the heavens, of course, therefore, be changed, so as to govern the earth directly through the Son of man, who should be also King of restored Israel. This, substantially, I think, was in the mind of the Baptist.
But then he proclaims repentance; not here in view of deeper things, as in the gospel of Luke, but as a spiritual preparation for Messiah and the kingdom of heaven. That is, he calls man to confess his own ruin in view of the introduction of that kingdom. Accordingly, his own life was the witness of what he felt morally of Israel's then state. He retires into the wilderness, and applies to himself the ancient oracle of Isaiah — "The voice of one crying in the wilderness." The reality was coming: as for him, he was merely one to announce the advent of the King. All Jerusalem was moved, and multitudes were baptized by him in Jordan. This gives occasion to his stern sentence upon their condition in the sight of God.
But among the crowd of those who came to him was Jesus. Strange sight! He, even He, Emmanuel, Jehovah, if He took the place of Messiah, would take that place in lowliness on the earth. For all things were out of course; and He must prove by His whole life, as we shall find by-and-by He did, what the condition of His people was. But, indeed, it is but another step of the same infinite grace, and more than that, of the same moral judgment on Israel; but along with it the added and most sweet feature — His association with all in Israel who felt and owned their condition in the sight of God. It is what no saint can afford lightly to pass over; it is what, if a saint recognize not, he will understand the Scripture most imperfectly; nay, I believe he must grievously misunderstand the ways of God. But Jesus looked at those who came to the waters of Jordan, and saw their hearts touched, if ever so little, with a sense of their state before God; and His heart was truly with them. It is not now taking the people out of Israel, and bringing them into a position with Himself — that we shall find by-and-by; but it is the Saviour identifying Himself with the godly-feeling remnant. Wherever there was the least action of the Holy Spirit of God in grace in the hearts of Israel, He joined Himself. John was astonished; John the Baptist himself would have refused, but, "Thus," said the Saviour, "it becometh us" — including, as I apprehend, John with Himself. "Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness."
It is not here a question of law; it was too late for this — ever a ruinous thing for the sinner. It was a question of another sort of righteousness. It might be the feeblest recognition of God and man; it might be but a remnant of Israelites; but, at least, they owned the truth about themselves; and Jesus was with them in owning the ruin fully, and felt it all. No need was in Himself — not a particle; but it is precisely when the heart is thus perfectly free, and infinitely above ruin, that it can most of all descend and take up what is of God in the hearts of any. So Jesus ever did, and did it thus publicly, joining Himself with whatever was excellent on the earth. He was baptized in Jordan — an act most inexplicable for those who then or now might hold to His glory without entering into His heart of grace. To what painful feelings it might give rise! Had He anything to confess? Without a single flaw of His own He bent down to confess what was in others; He owned in all its extent, in its reality as none did, the state of Israel, before God and man; He joined Himself with those who felt it. But at once, as the answer to any and every unholy misapprehension that could be formed, heaven is opened, and a twofold testimony is rendered to Jesus. The Father's voice pronounces the Son's relationship, and His own complacency; while the Holy Ghost anoints Him as man. Thus, in His full personality, God's answer is given to all who might otherwise have slighted either Himself or His baptism.
The Lord Jesus thence goes forth into another scene — the wilderness — to be tempted of the devil; and this, mark, now that He is thus publicly owned by the Father, and the Holy Ghost had descended on Him. It is indeed, I might say, when souls are thus blessed that Satan's temptations are apt to come. Grace provokes the enemy. Only in a measure, of course, can we thus speak of any other than Jesus; but of Him who was full of grace and truth, in whom, too, the fulness of the Godhead dwelt — even so, of Him it was fully true. The principle, at least, applies in every case. He was led up of the Spirit into the wilderness, to be there tried of the devil. The Holy Spirit has given the temptation to us in Matthew, according to the order in which it occurred. But here, as elsewhere, the aim is dispensational, not historical, as far as intention goes, though really so in point of fact; and I apprehend, specially with this in view, that it is only at the last temptation our Lord says, "Get thee hence, Satan." We shall see by and by why this disappears in the gospel of Luke. There is thus the lesson of wisdom and patience even before the enemy; the excellent, matchless grace of patience in trial; for what more likely to exclude it than the apprehension that it was Satan all the while? But yet our Saviour was so perfect in it, that He never uttered the word "Satan" until the last daring, shameless effort to tempt Him to render to the evil one the very worship of God Himself. Not till then does our Lord say, "Get thee hence, Satan."
We shall dwell a little more upon the three temptations, if the Lord will, as to their intrinsic moral import, when we come to the consideration of Luke. I content myself now with giving what appears to me the true reason why the Spirit of God here adheres to the order of the facts. It is well, however, to remark, that the departure from such an order is precisely what indicates the consummate hand of God, and for a simple reason. To one who knew the facts in a human way, nothing would be more natural than to put them down just as they occurred. To depart from the historical order, more particularly when one had previously given them that order, is what never would be thought of, unless there were some mighty preponderant reason in the mind of him who did so. But this is no uncommon thing. There are cases where an author necessarily departs from the mere order in which the facts took place. Supposing you are describing a certain character; you put together striking traits from the whole course of his life; you do not restrain yourself to the bare dates at which they occurred. If you were only chronicling the events of a year, you keep to the order in which they happened; but whenever you rise to the higher task of bringing out moral features, you may be frequently obliged to abandon the consecutive order of events as they occurred.
It is precisely this reason that accounts for the change in Luke; who, as we shall find when we come to look at his gospel more carefully, is especially the moralist. That is to say, Luke characteristically looks upon things in their springs as well as effects. It is not his province to regard the person of Christ peculiarly, i.e., His divine glory; neither does he occupy himself with the testimony or service of Jesus here below, of which we all know Mark is the exponent. Neither is it true, that the reason why Matthew occasionally gives the order of time, is because such is always his rule. On the contrary, there is no one of the Gospel writers who departs from that order, when his subject demands it, more freely than he, as I hope to prove to the satisfaction of those open to conviction, before we close. If this be so, assuredly there must be some key to these phenomena, some reason sufficient to explain why sometimes Matthew adheres to the order of events, why he departs from it elsewhere.
I believe the real state of the facts to be this:— first of all, God has been pleased, by one of the evangelists (Mark), to give us the exact historical order of our Lord's eventful ministry. This alone would have been very insufficient to set forth Christ. Hence, besides that order, which is the most elementary, however important in its own place, other presentations of His life were due, according to various spiritual grounds, as divine wisdom saw fit, and as even we are capable of appreciating in our measure. Accordingly, I think it was owing to special considerations of this sort that Matthew was led to reserve for us the great lesson, that our Lord had passed through the entire temptation — not only the forty days, but even that which crowned them at the close; and that only when an open blow was struck at the divine glory did His soul at once resent it with the words, "Get thee hence, Satan." Luke, on the contrary, inasmuch as he, for perfectly good and divinely given reason, changes the order, necessarily omits these words. Of course, I do not deny that similar words appear in your common English Bibles (in Luke 4:8); but no scholar needs to be informed that all such words are left out of the third gospel by the best authorities, followed by almost every critic of note, save the testy Matthaei, though scarce one of them seems to have understood the true reason why. Nevertheless, they are omitted by Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists; by High Church, and Low Church; by Evangelicals, Tractarians, and Rationalists. It does not matter who they are, or what their system of thought may be: all those who go upon the ground of external testimony alone are obliged to leave out the words in Luke. Besides, there is the clearest and the strongest evidence internally for the omission of these words in Luke, contrary to the prejudices of the copyists, which thus furnishes a very cogent illustration of the action of the Holy Spirit in inspiration. The ground of omitting the words lies in the fact, that the last temptation occupies the second place in Luke. If the words be retained, Satan seems to hold his ground, and renew the temptation after the Lord had told him to retire. Again, it is evident that, as the text stands in the received Greek text and our common English Bible, "Get thee behind me, Satan," is another mistake. In Matt. 4:10, it is, rightly, "Get thee hence." Remember, I am not imputing a shade of error to the Word of God. The mistake spoken of lies only in blundering scribes, critics, or translators, who have failed in doing justice to that particular place. "Get thee hence, Satan," was the real language of the Lord to Satan, and is so given in closing the literally last temptation by Matthew.
When it was a question, at a later day, of His servant Peter, who, prompted by Satan, had fallen into human thoughts, and would have dissuaded his Master from the cross, He does say, "Get thee behind me." For certainly Christ did not want Peter to go away from Him and be lost, which would have been its effect. "Get thee [not hence, but] behind me," He says. He rebuked His follower, yea, was ashamed of him; and He desired that Peter should be ashamed of himself. "Get thee behind me, Satan," was thus appropriate language then. Satan was the source of the thought couched in Peter's words.
But when Jesus speaks to him whose last trial thoroughly betrays the adversary of God and man, i.e., the literal Satan, His answer is not merely, "Get thee behind me," but, "Get thee hence, Satan." Nor is this the only mistake, as we have seen, in the passage as given in the authorised version; for the whole clause should disappear from the account in Luke, according to the weightiest testimony. Besides, the reason is manifest. As it stands now, the passage wears this most awkward appearance, that Satan, though commanded to depart, lingers on. For in Luke we have another temptation after this; and of course, therefore, Satan must be presented as abiding, not as gone away.
The truth of the matter, then, is, that with matchless wisdom Luke was inspired of God to put the second temptation last, and the third temptation in the second place. Hence (inasmuch as these words of the third trial would be wholly incongruous in such an inversion of the historic order), they are omitted by him, but preserved by Matthew, who here held to that order. I dwell upon this, because it exemplifies, in a simple but striking manner, the finger and mind of God; as it shows us, also, how the copyists of the scriptures fell into error, through proceeding on the principle of the harmonists, whose great idea is to make all the four gospels practically one Gospel; that is, to fuse them together into one mass, and make them give out only, as it were, a single voice in the praise of Jesus. Not so; there are four distinct voices blending in the truest harmony, and surely God Himself in each one, and equally in all, but, withal, showing out fully and distinctively the excellencies of His Son. It is the disposition to blot out these differences, which has wrought such exceeding mischief, not merely in copyists, but in our own careless reading of the gospels. What we need is, to gather up all, for all is worthy; to delight ourselves in every thought that the Spirit of God has treasured up — every fragrance, so to speak, that He has preserved for us of the ways of Jesus.
Turning, then, from the temptation (which we may hope to resume in another point of view, when the gospel of Luke comes before us and we shall have the different temptations on the moral side, with their changed order), I may in passing notice, that a very characteristic difference in the gospel of Matthew meets us in what follows. Our Lord enters upon His public ministry as a minister of the circumcision, and calls disciples to follow Him. It was not His first acquaintance with Simon, Andrew, and the rest, as we know from the gospel of John. They had before known Jesus, and, I apprehend, savingly. They are now called to be His companions in Israel, formed according to His heart as His servants here below; but before this we have a remarkable Scripture applied to our Lord. He changes his place of sojourn from Nazareth to Capernaum. And this is the more observable, because, in the Gospel of Luke, the first opening of His ministry is expressly at Nazareth; while the point of emphasis in Matthew is, that He leaves Nazareth, and comes and dwells in Capernaum. Of course, both are equally true; but who can say that they are the same thing? or that the Spirit of God had not His own blessed reasons for giving prominency to both facts? Nor is the reason obscure. His going to Capernaum was the accomplishment of the word of Isaiah 9, specifically mentioned for the instruction of the Jew, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, "The land of Zebulun, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. The people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up." That quarter of the land was regarded as the scene of darkness; yet was it just there that God suddenly caused light to arise. Nazareth was in lower, as Capernaum was in upper Galilee. But more than this, it was the seat, above all others in the land, frequented by Gentiles — Galilee ("the circuit") of the Gentiles. Now, we shall find throughout this gospel that which may be well stated here, and will be abundantly confirmed everywhere — that the object of our gospel is not merely to prove what the Messiah was, both according to the flesh and according to His own divine intrinsic nature, for Israel; but also, when rejected by Israel, what the consequences of that rejection would be for the Gentiles, and this in a double aspect — whether as introducing the kingdom of heaven in a new form, or as giving occasion for Christ's building His Church. These were the two main consequences of the rejection of the Messiah by Israel.
Accordingly, as in chapter 2 we found Gentiles from the East coming up to own the born King of the Jews, when His people were buried in bondage and Rabbinic tradition — in heartless heedlessness, too, while boasting of their privileges; so here our Lord, at the beginning of His public ministry, as recorded in Matthew, is seen taking up His abode in these despised districts of the north, the way of the sea, where especially Gentiles had long dwelt, and on which the Jews looked down as a rude and dark spot, far from the centre of religious sanctity. There, according to prophecy, light was to spring up; and how brightly was it now accomplished? Next, we have the call of the disciples, as we have seen. At the end of the chapter is a general summary of the Messiah's ministry, and of its effects, given in these words: "And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people. And His fame went throughout all Syria; and they brought unto Him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatic, and those that had the palsy; and He healed them. And there followed Him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judaea, and from beyond Jordan." This I read, in order to show that it is the purpose of the Spirit, in this part of our gospel, to gather a quantity of facts together under one head, entirely regardless of the question of time. It is evident, that what is here described in a few verses must have demanded a considerable space for its accomplishment. The Holy Ghost gives it all to us as a connected whole.
The self-same principle applies to the so-called sermon on the mount, on which I am about to say a few words. It is quite a misapprehension to suppose that Matt. 5 - 7 was given all in a single, unbroken discourse. For the wisest purposes, I have no doubt, the Spirit of God has arranged and conveyed it to us as one whole, without notice of the interruptions, occasions, etc.; but it is an unwarrantable conclusion for any to draw, that our Lord Jesus delivered it simply and solely as it stands in Matthew's gospel. What proves the fact is, that in the gospel of Luke we have certain portions of it clearly pertaining to this very sermon (not merely similar, or the same truth preached at other times, but this identical discourse), with the particular circumstances which drew them out. Take the prayer, for instance, that was here set before the disciples. (Matt. 6) As to this, we know from Luke 11 there was a request preferred by the disciples which led to it. As to other instruction, there were facts or questions, found in Luke, which drew out the remarks of the Lord, common to him and Matthew, if not Mark.
If it be certain that the Holy Ghost has been pleased to give us in Matthew this discourse and others as a whole, leaving out the originating circumstances found elsewhere, it is a fair and interesting inquiry why such a method of grouping with such omissions is adopted. The answer I conceive to be this, — that the Spirit in Matthew loves to present Christ as the One like unto Moses, whom they were to hear. He presents Jesus not merely as a legislating prophet-king like Moses, but greater by far; for it is never forgotten that the Nazarene was the Lord God. Therefore it is that, in this discourse on the mountain, we have throughout the tone of One who was consciously God with men. If Jehovah called Moses up to the top of one mount, He who then spake the ten words sat now upon another mount, and taught His disciples the character of the kingdom of heaven, and its principles introduced as a whole, just answering to what we have seen of the facts and effects of His ministry, entirely passing by all intervals or connecting circumstances. As we had His miracles all put together, as I may say, in the gross, so with His discourses. We have thus in either case the same principle. The substantial truth is given to us without noticing the immediate occasion in particular facts, appeals, etc. What was uttered by the Lord, according to Matthew, is thus presented as a whole. The effect, therefore, is, that it is much more solemn, because unbroken, carrying its own majesty along with it. The Spirit of God imprints on it purposely this character here, as I have no doubt there was an intention that it should be so reproduced for the instruction of His own people.
The Lord, in short, was here accomplishing one of the parts of His mission according to Isaiah 53, where the work of Christ is twofold. It is not, as the authorized version has it, "By His knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many;" for it is unquestionable that justification is not by His knowledge. Justification is by faith of Christ, we know; and as far as the efficacious work on which it depends is concerned, it is clearly in virtue of what Christ has suffered for sin and sins before God. But I apprehend that the real force of the passage is, "By His knowledge shall my righteous servant instruct many in righteousness." It is not "justify" in the ordinary forensic sense of the word, but rather instructing in righteousness, as the context here requires, and as the usage of the word elsewhere, as in Dan. 12, leaves open. This seems to be what is meant of our Lord here.
In the teaching on the mount He was, in fact, instructing the disciples in righteousness: hence, too, one reason why we have not a word about redemption. There is not the slightest reference to His suffering on the cross; no intimation of His blood, death, or resurrection: He is instructing though not merely in righteousness. To the heirs of the kingdom the Lord is unfolding the principles of that kingdom — most blessed and rich instruction, but instruction in righteousness. No doubt there is also the declaration of the Father's name, as far as could be then; but, still, the form taken is that of "instructing in righteousness." Let me add, as to the passage of Isa. 53, that the remainder of the verse also accords with this: not "for," but, "and He shall bear their iniquities." Such is the true force of it. The one was in His life, when He taught His own; the other was in His death, when He bore the iniquities of many.
Into the details of the discourse on the mount I cannot enter particularly now, but would just say a few words before I conclude tonight. In its preface we have a method often adopted by the Spirit of God, and not unworthy of our study. There is no child of God that cannot glean blessing from it, even through a scanty glance; but when we look into it a little more closely, the instruction deepens immensely. First of all He pronounces certain classes blessed. These blessednesses divide into two classes. The earlier character of blessedness savours particularly of righteousness, the later of mercy, which are the two great topics of the Psalms. These are both taken up here: "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled." In the fourth case righteousness comes in expressly, and closes that part of the subject; but it is plain enough that all these four classes consist in substance of such as the Lord pronounces blessed, because they are righteous in one form or another. The next three are founded upon mercy. Hence we read as the very first — "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God." Of course, it would be impossible to attempt more than a sketch at this time. Here, then, occurs the number usual in all these systematic partitions of Scripture; there is the customary and complete seven of Scripture. The two supplementary blessednesses at the end rather confirm the case, though at first sight they might appear to offer an exception. But it is not so really. The exception proves the rule convincingly; for in verse 10 you have, "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake;" which answers to the first four. Then, in verses 11 and 12, you have, "Blessed are ye … for my sake;" which answers to the higher mercy of the last three. "Blessed are ye, [there is thus a change. It is made a direct personal address] when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake." Thus it is the very consummation of suffering in grace, because it is for Christ's sake.
Hence the twofold persecutions (10-12) bring in the double character we find in the epistles — suffering for righteousness' sake, and suffering for Christ's sake. These are two perfectly distinct things; because, where it is a question of righteousness, it is simply a person brought to a point. If I do not stand and suffer here, my conscience will be defiled; but this is in no way suffering for Christ's sake. In short, conscience enters where righteousness is the question; but suffering for Christ's sake is not a question of plain sin, but of His grace and its claims on my heart. Desire for His truth, desire for His glory, carries me out into a certain path that exposes me to suffering. I might merely do my duty in the place in which I am put; but grace is never satisfied with the bare performance of one's duty. Fully is it admitted that there is nothing like grace to meet duty; and doing one's duty is a good thing for a Christian. But God forbid that we should be merely shut up to duty, and not be free for the flowing over of grace which carries out the heart alone, with it. In the one case, the believer stops dead short: if he did not stand, there would be sin. In the other case, there would be a lack of testimony for Christ, and grace makes one rejoice to be counted worthy of suffering for His name: but righteousness is not in question.
Such, then, are the two distinct classes or groups of blessedness. First, there are the blessednesses of righteousness, to which the persecution for righteousness' sake pertains; next, the blessednesses of mercy or grace. Christ instructs in righteousness according to prophecy, but He does not confine Himself to righteousness. This never could be consistent with the glory of the person who was there. Accordingly, therefore, while there is the doctrine of righteousness, there is the introduction of what is above it and mightier than it, with the corresponding blessedness of being persecuted for Christ's sake. All here is grace, and indicates manifest progress.
The same thing is true of what follows: "Ye are the salt of the earth" — it is that which keeps pure what is pure. Salt will not communicate purity to what is impure, but it is used as the preservative power according to righteousness. But light is another thing. Hence we hear, in the 14th verse, "Ye are the light of the world." Light is not that which simply preserves what is good, but is an active power, which casts its bright shining into what is obscure, and dispels the darkness from before it. Thus it is evident that in this further word of the Lord we have answers to the differences already hinted at.
Much of the deepest interest might be found in the discourse; only this is not the occasion for entering into particulars. We have, as usual, righteousness developed according to Christ, which deals with man's wickedness under the heads of violence and corruption; next come other new principles of grace infinitely deepening what had been given under law. (Matt. 5) Thus, in the former of these, a word detects, as it were, the thirst of blood, as corruption lies in a look or desire. For it is no longer a question of mere acts, but of the soul's condition. Such is the scope of the fifth chapter. As earlier (verses 17, 18) the law is fully maintained in all its authority, we have later on (verses 21-48) superior principles of grace, and deeper truths, mainly founded upon the revelation of the Father's name — the Father which is in heaven. Consequently it is not merely the question between man and man, but the Evil One on one side, and God Himself on the other; and God Himself, as a Father, disclosing, and proving the selfish condition of fallen man upon the earth.
In the second of these chapters (Matt. 6) composing the discourse, two main parts appear. The first is again righteousness. "Take heed [He says] that you do not your righteousness before men." Here it is not "alms," but "righteousness," as you may see in the margin. Then the righteousness spoken of branches out into three parts: — alms, which is one part of it; prayer, another part; and fasting, a part of it not to be despised. This is our righteousness, the especial point of which is, that it should be not a matter of ostentation, but before our Father who sees in secret. It is one of the salient features of Christianity. In the latter part of the chapter, we have entire confidence in our Father's goodness to us, counting upon His mercy, certain that He regards us as of infinite value, and that, therefore, we need not be careful as the Gentiles are, because our Father knows what we have need of. It is enough for us to seek the kingdom of God, and His righteousness: our Father's love cares for all the rest.
The last chapter (Matt. 7) presses on us the motives of heart in our intercourse with men and brethren, as well as with God, who, however good, loves that we should ask Him, and earnestly too, as to each need; the adequate consideration of what is due to others, and the energy that becomes ourselves; for the gate is strait, and narrow the way that leads to life; warnings against the devil and the suggestions of his agents, the false prophets, who betray themselves by their fruits; and, lastly, the all-importance of remembering that it is not a thing of knowledge, or of miraculous power even, but of doing God's will, of a heart obedient to Christ's sayings. Here, again, if I be not mistaken, righteousness and grace are found alternating; for the exhortation against a censorious spirit is grounded on the certainty of retribution from others, and paves the way for an urgent call to self-judgment, which in us precedes all genuine exercise of grace. (verses 1-4.) Further, the caution against a lavishing of what was holy and beautiful on the profane is followed by rich and repeated encouragements to count on our Father's grace. (verses 5-1l.)
Here, however, I must for the present pause, though one can only and deeply regret being obliged to pass so very cursorily over the ground; but I have sought in this first lecture to give thus far as simple, and at the same time as complete, a view of this portion of Matthew as I well could. I am perfectly aware that there has not been time for comparing it much with the others; but occasions will, I trust, offer for bringing into strong contrast the different aspects of the various gospels. However, my aim is also that we should have before us our Lord, His person, His teaching, His way, in every gospel.
I pray the Lord that what has been put, however scantily, before souls may at least stir up enquiry on the part of God's children, and lead them to have perfect, absolute confidence in that word which is of His grace indeed. We may thus look for deep profit. For, although to enter upon the gospels before the soul has been founded upon the grace of God will not leave us without a blessing, yet I am persuaded that the blessing is in every respect greater, when, having been attracted by the grace of Christ, we have at the same time been established in Him with all simplicity and assurance, in virtue of the accomplished work of redemption. Then, set free and at rest in our souls, we return to learn of Him, to look upon Him, to follow Him, to hear His word, to delight ourselves in His ways. The Lord grant that thus it may be, as we pursue our path through these different gospels which our God has vouchsafed to us.
MATTHEW 8 - 20:28.
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 to Mark 1, 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 it says, "And again he entered into Capernaum." He had been there before. Then, in Mark 3, 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, 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 Matt. 5 - 7. 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 far 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, 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 in Matthew 8. 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 of 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. 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]. 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 find 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. 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 in Matt. 9 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 Matt. 8, 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." (See Matt. 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 Matt. 10 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, and Mark 6:7-11; Luke 6 and 9) 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 age. 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, 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 s ending 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 Gal. 2. 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 Matt. 12 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 Dan. 11:36-39; 2 Thess. 2; Rev. 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 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 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 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 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 another scene appears, promised in part to some standing there in Matt. 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. If Psalm 8 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 (Matt. 18) 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 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 (Matt. 20) 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." (Matt. 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.
MATTHEW 20:29 - 28.
We now enter on the Lord's final presentation of Himself to Jerusalem, traced, however, from Jericho; that is, from the city which had once been the stronghold of the power of the Canaanite. The Lord Jesus presenting Himself in grace, instead of sealing up the curse which had been pronounced on it, makes it contrariwise the witness of His mercy towards those who believed in Israel. It was there that two blind men (for Matthew, we have seen, abounds in this double token of the Lord's grace), sitting by the wayside, cried out, and most appropriately, "Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou Son of David!" They were led and taught of God. It was no question of law, yet strictly in His capacity of Messiah. Their appeal was in thorough keeping with the scene; they felt that the nation had no sense of its own blindness, and so addressed themselves at once to the Lord thus presenting Himself where divine power wrought of old. It is remarkable that, although there had been signs and wonders given from time to time in Israel, miraculous cures wrought, dead even raised to life, and leprosy cleansed, yet never, previously to the Messiah, do we hear of restoring the blind to sight. The Rabbis held that this was reserved for the Messiah; and certainly I am not aware of any case which contradicts their notion. They appear to have founded it upon the remarkable prophecy of Isaiah. (Isa. 35) I do not affirm that the prophecy proves their notion to be true in isolating that miracle from the rest; but it is evident that the Spirit of God does connect emphatically the opening of blind eyes with the Son of David, as part of the blessing that He will surely diffuse when He comes to reign over the earth.
What appears further here is, that Jesus does not put the blessing off till His reign. Undoubtedly, the Lord in those days was giving signs and tokens of the world to come; and it was continued by His servants afterwards, as we know from the end of Mark, the Acts, etc. The miraculous powers which He exercised were samples of the power which would fill the earth with Jehovah's glory, casting out the enemy, and effacing the traces of his power, and making it the theatre of the manifestation of His kingdom here below. Thus our Lord gives evidence that the power was in Himself already, so that they need not lack because the kingdom was not yet come, in the full, manifest sense of the word. The kingdom was then come in His own person, as is said by Matthew (Matt. 12) as well as Luke. Still less did the blessing tarry for the sons of men. Virtue went forth at His kingly touch: this, at least, did not depend on the recognition of His claims by His people. He takes up this sign of Messiah's grace — the opening of the eyes of the blind, — itself no mean sign of the true condition of the Jews, could they but feel and own the truth. Alas! they sought not mercy and healing at His hands; but if there were any to call on Him at Jericho, the Lord would hearken. Here, then, Messiah answers to the cry of faith of these two blind men. When the multitude rebuked them, that they should hold their peace, they cried the more. The difficulties presented to faith only increased the energy of its desire; and so they cried, "Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou Son of David!" Jesus stands, calls the blind men, and says, "What will ye that I should do?" "Lord, that our eyes should be opened." And so it was according to their faith. Moreover, it is noted that they follow Him, the pledge of what will be done when the people, by-and-by owning their blindness, and turning to Him for eyes, receive sight from the true Son of David to see Himself in the day of His earthly glory.
Matthew 21. The Lord thereon enters Jerusalem according to prophecy. He enters it, however, not in the outward pomp and glory which the nations seek after, but according to what the prophet's words now made good literally: Jehovah's King sitting on an ass in the spirit of humiliation. But even in this very thing, the fullest proof was afforded that He was Jehovah Himself. From first to last, as we have seen, it was Jehovah-Messiah. The word to the owner of the ass and colt was, "The Lord hath need of them." Accordingly, on this plea of Jehovah of hosts, all difficulties disappear, though unbelief finds there its stumbling-block. It was indeed the power of the Spirit of God that controlled his heart; even as to Christ "the porter opened." God left nothing undone on any side, but so ordered that the heart of this Israelite should yield a testimony that grace was at work, spite of the lamentable chill that stupefied the people. How good it is thus to raise up a witness, never indeed to leave it absolutely lacking, not even on the road to Jerusalem — alas! the road to the cross of Christ. This, as we are told by the evangelist, came to pass that the word of the prophet should be fulfilled: "Tell ye the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek [for such meekness was the character of His presentation as yet], and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass." All must be in character with the Nazarene. Accordingly, the disciples went and did as Jesus commanded. The multitudes, too, were acted on — a very great multitude. It was, of course, but a transient action, yet was it of God for a testimony, this moving of hearts by the Spirit. Not that it penetrated beneath the surface, but was rather a wave that passed over men's hearts, and then was gone. For the moment they followed, crying, "Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!" (applying to the Lord the congratulations of Ps. 118)
Jesus, according to our evangelist's account, comes to the temple and cleanses it. Remark the order as well as character of the events. In Mark this is not the first act which is recorded, but the curse on the barren fig tree, between His inspection of all things in the temple and His ejection of those who profaned it. The fact is, there were two days or occasions in which the fig tree comes before us, according to the gospel of Mark, who gives us the details more particularly than any one, notwithstanding his brevity. Matthew, on the contrary, while he is so careful in furnishing us frequently with a double witness of the Lord's gracious ways toward His land and people, gives only as one whole His dealing with both the fig tree and the temple. We should not know from the first evangelist of any interval in either case; nor could we learn from either the first or the third but that the cleansing of the temple occurred on His earlier visit. But we know from Mark, who sets forth an exact account of each of the two days, that in neither case was all done at once. This is the more remarkable because, in the instances of the two demoniacs, or the two blind men in Matthew, Mark, like Luke, speaks only of one. Nothing can account for such phenomena but design; and the more so as there is no ground to assume that each succeeding evangelist was kept in ignorance of his predecessor's account of our Lord. It is evident that Matthew compresses in one the two acts about the temple, as well as about the fig tree. His scope excluded such details, and, I am persuaded, rightly so, according to the mind of God's Spirit. It may render it all the more striking when one observes that Matthew was there, and Mark was not. He who actually saw these transactions, and who therefore, had he been a mere acting human witness, would peculiarly have dwelt on them; he, too, who had been a personal companion of the Lord, and therefore, had it been only a question of treasuring all up as one that loved the Lord, would, naturally speaking, have been the one of the three to have presented the amplest and minutest picture of the circumstance, is just the one who does nothing of the kind. Mark, as confessedly not being an eye-witness, might have been supposed to content himself with the general view. The reverse is the fact unquestionably. This is a notable feature, and not here alone, but elsewhere also. To me it proves that the gospels are the fruit of divine purpose in all, distinctively in each. It establishes the principle that, while God condescended to employ eye-witness, He never confined Himself to it, but, on the contrary, took full and particular care to shew that He is above all creature means of information. Thus it is in Mark and Luke we find some of the most important details; not in Matthew and John, though Matthew and John were eyewitnesses, Mark and Luke not. A double proof of this appears in what has been just advanced. To Matthew, acting according to what was given him of the Spirit, there was no sufficient reason to enter into points which did not bear dispensationally upon Israel. He therefore, as often elsewhere, presents the entrance into the temple in its completeness, as being the sole matter important to his aim. Any thoughtful mind must allow, if I do not greatly err, that entrance into detail would rather detract from the augustness of the act. The minute account has its just place, on the other hand, if it be a question of the Lord's method and bearing in His service and testimony. Here I want to know the particulars; there every trace and shade are full of instruction to me. If I have to serve Him, I do well to learn and ponder His every word and way; and in this the style and mode of Mark's gospel is invaluable. Who but feels that the movements, the pauses, the sighs, the groans, the very looks of the Lord, are fraught with blessing to the soul? But if, as with Matthew, the object be the great change of dispensation consequent on the rejection of the divine Messiah, (particularly if the point, as here, be not the opening out of coming mercy, but, on the contrary, a solemn and a stern judgment on Israel,) the Spirit of God contents Himself with a general notice of the painful scene, without indulging in any circumstantial account of it. To this it is I attribute the palpable difference in this place of Matthew as compared with Mark, and with Luke also, who omits the cursed fig tree altogether, and gives the barest mention of the temple's cleansing (Matt. 19:45). The notion of some men, especially a few men of learning, that the difference is due to ignorance on the part of one or other or all the evangelists, is of all explanations the worst, and even the least reasonable (to take the lowest ground); it is in plain truth the proof of their own ignorance, and the effect of positive unbelief. What I have ventured to suggest I believe to be a motive, and an adequate motive, for the difference; but we must remember that divine wisdom has depths of aim infinitely beyond our ability to sound. God may be pleased to vouchsafe us a perception of what is in His mind, if we be lowly, and diligent, and dependent on Him; or He may leave us ignorant of much, where we are careless or self-confident; but sure I am that the very points men ordinarily fix on as blots or imperfections in the inspired word are, when understood, among the strongest proofs of the admirable guidance of the Holy Spirit of God. Nor do I speak with such assurance because of the least satisfaction in any attainments, but because every lesson I have learnt and do learn from God's word brings with it the ever accumulating conviction that Scripture is perfect. For the question in hand, it is enough to produce sufficient evidence that it was not in ignorance, but with full knowledge, that Matthew, Mark, and Luke wrote as they have done; I go farther, and say it was divine intention, rather than, as I conceive, any determinate plan of each evangelist, who may not himself have had before his mind the full scope of what the Holy Ghost gave him to write about it. There is no necessity to suppose that Matthew deliberately designed the result which we have in his gospel. How God brought it all to pass is another question, which, of course, it is not for us to answer. But the fact is, that the evangelist, who was present, he who consequently was an eyewitness of the details, does not give them; while one who was not there states them with the greatest particularity — thoroughly harmonious with the account of him who was there, but, nevertheless, with differences as marked as their mutual corroborations. If we might rightly use, in this case, the word "originality," then originality is stamped upon the account of the second. I affirm, then, in the strictest sense, that divine design is stamped upon each, and that consistency of purpose is found everywhere in all the gospels.
The Lord then goes straight to the sanctuary. The kingly Son of David, destined to sit as the Priest upon His throne, the head of all things sacred as well as pertaining to the polity of Israel, — we can understand why Matthew should describe such an One visiting the temple of Jerusalem; and why, instead of stopping, like Mark, to narrate that which attests His patient service, the whole scene should be given here without a break. We have seen that a similar principle accounts for the massing of the facts of His ministry in the end of the fourth chapter, and also for giving as a continuous whole the Sermon on the Mount, although, if we enquired into details, we might find many and considerable intervals; for, as undoubtedly those facts were grouped, so I believe also it was between the parts of that sermon. It fell in, however, with the object of Matthew's gospel to pass by all notice of these interstices, and so the Spirit of God has been pleased to interweave the whole into the beautiful web of the first gospel. In this way, as I believe, we may and should account for the difference between Matthew and Mark in this particular, without in the smallest degree casting the shadow of an imperfection upon one any more than on the other; while the fact, already pressed, that eye-witnessing, while employed as a servant, is never allowed to govern in the composition of the gospels, bespeaks loudly that men forget their true Author in searching into the writers He employed, and that the only key to all difficulties is the simple but weighty truth that it was God communicating His mind about Jesus, as by Matthew so by Mark.
Next, the Lord acts upon the word. He finds men selling and buying in the temple (that is, in its buildings) overthrows their tables, and turns out themselves, pronouncing the words of the prophets, both Isaiah and Jeremiah. But at the same time there is another trait noted here only: the blind and the lame (the "hated of David's soul," 2 Sam. 5:8) the pitied of David's greater Son and Lord) find a friend instead of an enemy in Him who loved them, the true beloved of God. Thus, at the very time He showed His hatred and righteous indignation at the covetous profaning of the temple, His love was flowing out to the desolate in Israel. Then we see the chief priests and scribes offended at the cries of the multitude and children, and turning reproachfully to the Lord, who allowed such a right royal welcome to be addressed to Him; but the Lord calmly takes His place according to the sure word of God. It is not now Deuteronomy that is before Him (that He had quoted when tempted of Satan at the beginning of His career). But now, as they had borrowed the words of Psalm 118 (and who will say they were wrong?), so the Lord Jesus (and I say He was infinitely right) applies to them, as well as to Himself, the language of Psalm 8. Its central truth is the entrance of the rejected Messiah, the Son of man by humiliation and suffering unto death, into heavenly glory and dominion over all things. And this was just the point before the Lord: the little ones were thus in the truth and spirit of that oracle. They were sucklings, out of whose mouth praise was ordained for the despised Messiah soon to be in heaven, exalted there and preached here as the once crucified and now glorified Son of man. What could be more appropriate to that time, what more profoundly true for all time, yea, for eternity?
Matthew, as we have seen, crowds into one scene all mention of the barren fig tree (ver. 18-22), without distinguishing the curse of the one day from the manifestation of its accomplishment on the day following. Was it without moral import? Impossible. Did it convey the notion of a hearty and true reception of the Messiah, with fruits meet for His hand who had so long tended it, and failed in no care or culture? Was there anything answering to the welcome of the little ones who cried Hosanna, the type of what grace will effect in the day of His return, when the nation itself will contentedly, thankfully take the place of babes and sucklings, and find their best wisdom in so owning the One whom their fathers rejected, the man thereon exalted to heaven during the night of His people's unbelief? Meanwhile, another picture better suits them, the state and the doom of the fruitless fig tree. Why so scornful of the jubilant multitude, of the joyous babes? What was their condition before the eyes of Him who saw all that passed within their minds? They were no better than that fig tree, that solitary fig tree which met the Lord's eyes as He comes from Bethany, entering once more into Jerusalem. Like it, they, too, were full of promise; like its abundant foliage, they lacked not fair profession, but there was no fruit. That which made its barrenness evident was the fact that it was not yet the time of figs. Therefore, the unripe figs, the harbinger of harvest, ought to have been there. Had the season of figs been come, the fruit might have been already gathered; but that season having not yet arrived, beyond controversy the promise of the coming harvest should, and indeed must, have been still there, had any fruit been really borne. This, therefore, represented too truly what the Jew, what the nation, was in the eye of the Lord. He had come seeking fruit; but there was none; and the Lord pronounced this curse, "Henceforth let no fruit grow on thee for ever." And so it is. No fruit ever sprang from that generation. Another generation there must be; a total change must be wrought if there is to be fruit-bearing. Fruit of righteousness can only be through Jesus to God's glory; and Jesus they yet despised. Not that the Lord will give up Israel, but He will create a generation to come — wholly different from the present Christ-rejecting one. Such an issue will be seen to be implied, if we compare our Lord's curse with the rest of the word of God, which points to better things yet in store for Israel.
But He adds more than this. It was not only that the Israel of that day should thus pass away, giving place to another generation, who, honouring the Messiah, will bear fruit to God; He tells the wondering disciples that, had they faith, the mountain would be cast into the sea. This appears to go farther than the disappearance of Israel as responsible to be a fruit-bearing people; it implies their whole polity dissolved; for the mountain is just as much the symbol of a power in the earth, an established world-power, as the fig tree is the special sign of Israel as responsible to produce fruit for God; and it is clear that both figures have been abundantly verified. For the time Israel is passed away. After no long interval, the disciples saw Jerusalem not only taken, but completely torn as it were from the roots. The Romans came, as the executioners of the sentence of God (according to the just forebodings of the unjust high priest Caiaphas, who prophesied not without the Holy Ghost), and took away their place and nation, not because they did not, but because they did, kill Jesus their Messiah. Notoriously this total ruin of the Jewish state came to pass when the disciples had grown up to be a public witness to the world, before the apostles were all taken away from the earth; then their whole national polity sunk and disappeared when Titus sacked Jerusalem, and sold and scattered the people to the ends of the earth. I have no doubt that the Lord intended us to know the uprooting of the mountain just as much as the withering of the fig tree. The latter may be the simpler application of the two, and evidently more familiar to ordinary thought; but there seems no real reason to question, that if the one be meant symbolically, so too is the other. However this may be, these words of the Lord close that part of the subject.
We enter upon a new series in the rest of this chapter and the next. The religious rulers come before the Lord to put the first question that ever enters the minds of such men, "By what authority doest thou these things?" Nothing is more easily asked by those who assume that their own title is unimpeachable. Our Lord answers them by another question, which soon disclosed how thoroughly they themselves, in what was incomparably more serious, failed in moral competence. Who were they, to raise the question of His authority? As guides of religion, surely they ought to be able to decide that which was of the deepest consequence for their own souls, and for those of whom they assumed the spiritual charge. The question He puts involved indeed the answer to theirs; for had they answered Him in truth, this would have decided at once by what, and by whose, authority He acted as He did. "The baptism of John, whence was it (asks the Lord), from heaven, or of men?" There was no singleness of purpose, there was no fear of God, in these men so full of swelling words and fancied authority. Accordingly, instead of its being an answer from conscience declaring the truth as it was, they reason solely how to escape from the dilemma. The only question before their minds was, what answer would be politic? how best to get rid of the difficulty? Vain hope with Jesus! The base conclusion to which they were reduced is, "We cannot tell." It was a falsehood: but what of that, where the interests of religion and their own order were concerned? Without a blush, then, they answer the Saviour, "We cannot tell;" and the Lord with calm dignity strikes home His answer — not, "I cannot tell," but, "Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things." Jesus knew and laid bare the secret springs of the heart; and the Spirit of God records it here for our instruction. It is the genuine universal type of worldly leaders of religion in conflict with the power of God. "If we shall say, From heaven, he will say unto us, Why did ye not, then, believe him? But if we shall say, Of men, we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet." If they owned John, they must bow to the authority of Jesus; if they rejected John, they feared the people. They were thus put to silence; for they would not risk loss of influence with the people, and they were determined at all cost to deny the authority of Jesus. All they cared about was themselves.
The Lord goes on and meets parabolically a wider question than that of the rulers, gradually enlarging the scope, till He terminates these instructions in Matt. 22:14. First, He takes up sinful men where natural conscience works, and where conscience is gone. This is peculiar to Matthew: "A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, Son, go work today in my vineyard. He answered and said, I will not: but afterward he repented, and went." He comes to the second, who was all complacency, and answers to the call, "I go, sir: and went not. Whether of them twain did the will of his father? They say unto Him, The first. Jesus saith unto them [such is the application], Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him." (Matt. 21:28-32.) But He was not content with merely thus touching conscience in a way that was painful enough to the flesh; for they found that, spite of authority or anything else, those who professed most, if disobedient, were counted worse than the most depraved, who repented and did the will of God.
Next, our Lord looks at the entire people, and this from the commencement of their relations with God. In other words, He gives us in this parable the history of God's dealings with them. It was in no way, so to speak, the accidental circumstance of how they behaved in one particular generation. The Lord sets out clearly what they had been all along, and what they were then. In the parable of the vineyard, they are tested as responsible in view of the claims of God, who had blessed them from the first with exceeding rich privileges. Then, in the parable of the marriage of the king's son, we see what they were, as tested by the grace or gospel of God. These are the two subjects of the parables following.
The householder, who lets out his vineyard to husbandmen, sets forth God trying the Jew, on the ground of blessings abundantly conferred upon him. Accordingly we have, first, servants sent, and then more, — not only in vain, but with insult and increase of wrong. Then, at length, He sends His Son, saying, They will reverence my Son. This gives occasion for their crowning sin — the utter rejection of all divine claims, in the death of the Son and Heir; for "they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him." "When the lord therefore of the vineyard comes," He asks, "what will he do unto these husbandmen?" They say unto Him, "He will miserably destroy these wicked men, and let out his vineyard unto other husbandmen, which shall render him the fruits in their seasons."
The Lord accordingly pronounces according to the Scriptures, not leaving it merely to the answer of the conscience, "Did ye never read in the Scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?" Then He applies further this prediction about the stone, connecting, it would appear, the allusion in Psalm 118 with the prophecy of Daniel 2. The principle at least is applied to the case in hand, and, I need hardly say, with perfect truth and beauty; for in that day apostate Jews will be judged and destroyed, as well as Gentile powers. In two positions the stone was to be found. The one is here on the earth — the humiliation, to wit, of the Messiah. Upon that Stone, thus humbled, unbelief trips and falls. But, again, when the Stone is exalted, another issue follows; for "the Stone of Israel," the glorified Son of man, shall descend in unsparing judgment, and crush His enemies together. When the chief priests and Pharisees had heard His parables, they perceived that He spake of them.
The Lord, however, turns in the next parable to the call of grace. It is a likeness of the kingdom of heaven. Here we are on new ground. It is striking to see this parable introduced here. In the gospel of Luke there is a similar one, though it might be too much to affirm that it is the same. Certainly an analogous parable is found, but in a totally different connection. Besides, Matthew adds various particulars peculiar to himself, and quite falling in with the Spirit's desire by him; as we find also in Luke his own characteristics. Thus, in Luke, there is a remarkable display of grace and love to the despised poor in Israel; then, further, that love enlarging its sphere, and going out to the highways and hedges to bring in the poor that were there — the poor in the city — the poor everywhere. I need not say how thoroughly in character all this is. Here, in Matthew, we have not only God's grace, but a kind of history, very strikingly embracing the destruction of Jerusalem, on which Luke is here silent. "The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king which made a marriage for his son." It is not merely a man making a feast for those that have nothing — that we have fully in Luke; but here rather the king bent upon the glorification of his son. "He sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come. Again he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which were bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage." There are two missions of the servants of the Lord here: one during His lifetime; the other after His death. On the second mission, not the first, it is said, "All things are ready." The message is, as ever, despised. "They made light of it, and went their ways." It was the second time when there was this most ample invitation which left no excuse for man, that they not only would not come, going one to his farm, and another to his merchandize, but "the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully and slew them," This was not the character of the reception given to the apostles during our Lord's lifetime, but exactly what transpired after His death. Thereupon, though in marvellous patience the blow was suspended for years, nevertheless judgment came at last. "When the king heard thereof, he was wroth, and sent forth his armies and destroyed those murderers, and burnt up their city." This, of course, closes this part of the parable as predicting a providential dealing of God; but, besides being thus judicial after a sort to which we find nothing parallel in the gospel of Luke (i.e., in what answers to it), as usual, the great change of dispensation is shown in Matthew much more distinctly than in Luke. There it is rather the idea of grace that began with one sending out to those invited, and a very full exposure of their excuses in a moral point of view, followed by the second mission to the streets and lanes of the city, for the poor, maimed, halt, and blind; and finally, to the highways and hedges, compelling them to come in that the house might be filled. In Matthew it is very much more in a dispensational aspect; and hence the dealings with the Jews, both in mercy and judgment, are first given as a whole, according to that manner of his which furnishes a complete sketch at one stroke, so to speak. It is the more manifest here, because none can deny that the mission to the Gentiles was long before the destruction of Jerusalem. Next is appended the Gentile part to itself. "Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests." But there is a further thing brought out here, in a very distinctive manner. In Luke, we have no judgment pronounced and executed at the end upon him that came to the wedding without the due garment. In Matthew, as we saw the providential dealing with the Jews, so we find the closing scene very particularly described, when the king judges individually in the day that is coming. It is not an external or national stroke, though that too we have here — a providential event in connection with Israel. Quite different, but consistent with that, we have a personal appraisal by God of the Gentile profession, of those now bearing Christ's name, but who have not really put on Christ. Such is the conclusion of the parable: nothing more appropriate at the same time than this picture, peculiar to Matthew, who depicts the vast change at hand for the Gentiles, and God's dealing with them individually for their abuse of His grace. The parable illustrates the coming change of dispensation. Now this falls in with Matthew's design, rather than Luke's, with whom we shall find habitually it is a question of moral features, which the Lord may give opportunity of exhibiting at another time.
After this come the various classes of Jews — the Pharisees first of all, and, strange consorts! the Herodians. Ordinarily they were, as men say, natural enemies. The Pharisees were the high ecclesiastical party; the Herodians, on the contrary, were the low worldly courtier party: those, the strong sticklers for tradition and righteousness according to the law; these, the panderers to the powers that then were for whatever could be got in the earth. Such allies now joined hypocritically against the Lord. The Lord meets them with that wisdom which always shines in His words and ways. They demand whether it be lawful to give tribute to Caesar or not. "Show me," says He, "the tribute money … And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's." Thus the Lord deals with the facts as they then came before Him. The piece of money they produced proved their subjection to the Gentiles. It was their sin which had put them there. They writhed under their masters; but still under alien masters they were; and it was because of their sin. The Lord confronts them not only with the undeniable witness of their subjection to the Romans, but also with a graver charge still, which they had entirely overlooked — the claims of God, as well as of Caesar. "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's." The money you love proclaims that you are slaves to Caesar. Pay, then, to Caesar his dues. But forget not to "render to God the things that are God's." The fact was, they hated Caesar only less than they hated the true God. The Lord left them therefore under the reflections and confusion of their own guilty consciences.
Next, the Lord is assailed by another great party. "The same day came to him the Sadducees" — those most opposed to the Pharisees in doctrine, as the Herodians were in politics. The Sadducees denied resurrection, and put a case which to their mind involved insuperable difficulties. To whom would belong in that state a woman who here had been married to seven brethren successively? The Lord does not cite the clearest Scripture about the resurrection; He does what in the circumstances is much better; He appeals to what they themselves professed most of all to revere. To the Sadducee there was no part of Scripture possessed of such authority as the Pentateuch, or five books of Moses. From Moses, then, He proved the resurrection; and this in the simplest possible way. Every one — their own conscience — must allow that God is the God, not of the dead, but of the living. Therefore, if God calls Himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, it is not an unmeaning thing. Referring long afterwards to their fathers who were passed away, He speaks of Himself as in relationship with them. Were they not, then, dead? But was all gone? Not so. But far more than that, — He speaks as one who not merely had relations with them, but had made promises to them, which never yet were accomplished. Either, then, God must raise them from the dead, in order to make good His promises to the fathers; or He could not be careful to keep His promises. Was this last what their faith in God, or rather their want of faith, came to? To deny resurrection is, therefore, to deny the promises, and God's faithfulness, and in truth God Himself. The Lord, therefore, rebukes them on this acknowledged principle, that God was the God of the living, not of the dead. To make Him God of the dead would have been really to deny Him to be God at all: equally so to make His promises of no value or stability. God, therefore, must raise again the fathers in order to fulfil His promise to them; for they certainly never got the promises in this life. The folly — of their thoughts too was manifest in this, that the difficulty presented was wholly unreal — it only existed in their imagination. Marriage has nothing to do with the risen state: there they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven. Thus, on their own negative ground of objection, they were altogether in error. Positively, as we have seen, they were just as wrong; for God must raise the dead to make good His own promises. There is nothing now in this world that worthily witnesses God, save only that which is known to faith; but if you speak of the display of God, and the manifestation of His power, you must wait until the resurrection. The Sadducees had not faith, and hence were in total error and blindness: "Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God." Therefore it was that, refusing to believe, they were unable to understand. When the resurrection comes, it will be manifest to every eye. Accordingly this was the point of our Lord's answer; and the multitudes were astonished at His doctrine.
Though the Pharisees were not sorry to find the then ruling party, the Sadducees, put to silence, one of them, a lawyer, tempted the Lord in a question of near interest to them. "Master, which is the great commandment in the law?" But He who came full of grace and truth never lowered the law, and at once gives its sum and substance in both its parts — Godward and manward.
The time, however, was come for Jesus to put His question, drawn from Psalm 110. If Christ be confessedly David's Son, how does David in spirit call Him Lord, saying, "Jehovah said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool?" The whole truth of His position lies here. It was about to be realized; and the Lord can speak of the things that were not as though they were. Such was the language of David the king in words inspired of the Holy Ghost. What was the language, the thought of the people now, and by whom inspired? Alas! Pharisees, lawyers, Sadducees — it was only a question of infidelity in varying forms; and the glory of David's Lord was even more momentous than the dead rising according to promise. Believe it or not, the Messiah was about to take His seat at the right hand of Jehovah. They were — indeed, they are — critical questions: If the Christ be David's Son, how is He David's Lord? If He be David's Lord, how is He David's Son? It is the turning point of unbelief at all times, now as then, the continual theme of the testimony of the Holy Ghost, the habitual stumbling-block of man, never so vain as when he would be wisest, and either essay to sound by his own wit the unfathomable mystery of Christ's person, or deny that there is in it any mystery whatever. It was the very point of Jewish unbelief. It was the grand capital truth of all this gospel of Matthew, that He who was the Son of David, the Son of Abraham, was really Emmanuel, and Jehovah. It had been proved at His birth, proved throughout His ministry in Galilee, proved now at His last presentation in Jerusalem. "And no man was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions." Such was their position in presence of Him who was so soon about to take His seat at the right hand of God; and there each remains to this day. Awful, unbelieving silence of Israel despising their own law, despising their own Messiah, David's Son and David's Lord, His glory their shame!
But if man was silent, it was the Lord's place not merely to question but to pronounce; and in Matthew 23 most solemnly does the Lord utter His sentence upon Israel. It was an address both to the multitude and to the disciples, with woes for Scribes and Pharisees. The Lord fully sanctioned that kind of mingled address for the time, providing, it would appear, not merely for the disciples, but for the remnant in a future day who will have this ambiguous place; believers in Him, on the one hand, yet withal filled, on the other, with Jewish hopes and Jewish associations. This seems to me the reason why our Lord speaks in a manner so remarkably different from that which obtains ordinarily in Scripture. "The scribes," He says, "and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. All, therefore, whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens, and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen of men." The principle fully applied then, as it will in the latter day; the Church scene coming in meanwhile as a parenthesis. The suitability of such instruction to this gospel of Matthew is also obvious, as indeed here only it is found. Then, again, our souls would shrink from the notion, that what our Lord taught could have merely a passing application. Not so; it has a permanent value for His followers; save only that the special privileges conferred on the Church, which is His body, modify the case, and, concurrently with this, the setting aside meanwhile of the Jewish people and state of things. But as these words applied literally then, so I conceive will it be at a future day. If this be so, it preserves the dignity of the Lord, as the great Prophet and Teacher, in its true place. In the last book of the New Testament we have a similar combination of features, when the Church will have disappeared from the earth; that is, the keeping the commandments of God and having the faith of Jesus. So here, the disciples of Jesus are exhorted to heed what was enjoined by those who sat in Moses' seat — to follow what they taught, not what they did. So far as they brought out God's commandments, it was obligatory. But their practice was to be a beacon, not a guide. Their objects were to be seen of men, pride of place, honour in public and private, high-sounding titles, in open contradiction of Christ and that oft-repeated word of His — "Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall bumble himself shall be exalted." Yet, of course, the disciples had the faith of Jesus.
Next the Lord* launches out woe after woe against the Scribes and Pharisees. They were hypocrites. They shut out the new light of God, while zealous beyond measure for their own thoughts; they undermined conscience by their casuistry, while insisting on the minutest alliteration in ceremonializing; they laboured after external cleanness, while full of rapine and intemperance; and if they could only seem righteously fair without, feared not within to be full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Finally, their monuments in honour of slain prophets and past worthies were rather a testimony to their own relationship, not to the righteous, but to those who murdered them. Their fathers killed the witnesses of God who, while living, condemned them; they, the sons, only built to their memory when there was no longer a present testimony to their conscience, and their sepulchral honours would cast a halo around themselves.
*The most ancient text, represented by the Vatican, Sinai, Beza's Cambridge, L. of Paris (C. being defective, as well as the Alexandrian), and the Rescript of Dublin, omits verse 14, which may have been foisted in from Mark 12:40 and Luke 20:47. This leaves the complete series of seven woes.
Such is worldly religion and its heads: the great obstructions to divine knowledge, instead of living only to be its channels of communication; narrow, where they should have been large; cold and lukewarm for God, earnest only for self; daring sophists, where divine obligations lay deep, and punctilious pettifoggers in the smallest details, straining at the gnat and swallowing the camel; anxious only for the outside, reckless as to all that lay concealed underneath. The honour they paid those who had suffered in times past was the proof that they succeeded not them but their enemies, the true legitimate successors of those that slew the friends of God. The successors of those that of old suffered for God are those who suffer now; the heirs of their persecutors may build them sepulchres, erect statues, cast monumental brasses, pay them any conceivable honour. When there is no longer the testimony of God that pierces the obdurate heart, when they who render it are no longer there, the names of these departed saints or prophets become a means of gaining religious reputation for themselves. Present application of the truth is lacking, the sword of the Spirit is no longer in the hands of those who wielded it so well. To honour those who have passed away is the cheapest means, on the contrary, for acquiring credit for the men of this generation. It is to swell the great capital of tradition out of those that once served God, but are now gone, whose testimony is no longer a sting to the guilty. Thus it is evident, that as their honour begins in death, so it bears the sure stamp of death upon it. Did they plume themselves on the progress of the age? Did they think and say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets? How little they knew their own hearts! Their trial was at hand. Their real character would soon appear, hypocrites though they were, and a serpent brood: how could they escape the judgment of hell?
"Wherefore, behold," says He, after thus exposing and denouncing them, "I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city." It is most eminently a Jewish character and circumstance of persecution; as the aim was the retributive one, "that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel, unto the blood of Zacharias, son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily, I say unto you, all these things shall come upon this generation." Yet, just as the blessed Lord, after pronouncing woes on Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, that had rejected His words and works, turned at once to the infinite resources of grace, and from the depth of His own glory brought in the secret of better things to the poor and needy; so it was that even at this time, just before He gave utterance to these woes (so solemn and fatal to the proud religious guides of Israel), He had, as we know from Luke 19, wept over the guilty city, out of which, as His servants, so their Lord could not perish. Here, again, how truly was His heart towards them! "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate." It is not "I have," but your house is left unto you desolate; "for I say unto you, ye shall not see me henceforth [what bitterness of destitution theirs — Messiah, Jehovah Himself, rejecting those who rejected Him!] till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord."
Thus we have had our Lord presenting Himself as Jehovah the King; we have had the various classes putting themselves forward to judge Him, but, in fact, judged themselves by Him. There remains another scene of great interest, linking itself on to His farewell to the nation just noticed. It is His last communication to the disciples in view of the future; and this Matthew gives in a very full and rich manner. It would be vain to attempt an exposition of this prophetic discourse within my assigned limits. I will, therefore, but skim its surface now, just enough to indicate its outlines, and specially its distinctive features. It is evident that the greater completeness here exhibited beyond what appears in any other gospel is according to special design. In the gospel given by the other apostle, John, there is not a word of it. Mark gives his report very particularly in connection with the testimony of God, as I hope to show when we come to that point. In Luke there is peculiar distinctness in noticing the Gentiles, and their times of supremacy during the long period of Israel's degradation. Again, it is only in Matthew that we find direct allusion to the question of the end of the age. The reason is evident. That consummation is the grand crisis for the Jew. Matthew, writing under the Holy Ghost's direction for Israel, in view both of the consequences of their past unfaithfulness and of that future crisis, furnishes alike the momentous question and the Lord's special answer to it. This, too, is the reason why Matthew opens out what we do not find in either Mark or Luke, at least in this connection. We have here very comprehensively the Christian part, as it appears to me (i.e., what belongs to the disciples, viewed as professing Christ's name when Israel rejected Him). This suits Matthew's view of the prophecy; and the reason is plain. Matthew shows us not only the consequences of the rejection of the Messiah to Israel, but the change of dispensation, or what would follow on their fatal opposition to One who was their King, yea, not only Messiah, but Jehovah. The consequences were to be, could not but be, all-important; and the Spirit here records this portion of the Lord's prophecy most appropriately to His purpose by Matthew. Would not God turn the Jewish rejection of that glorious Person to some wondrous and suitable account? Accordingly this is what we find here. The order, though different from that which obtains elsewhere, is regulated by perfect wisdom. First of all, the Jews are taken up, or the disciples as representing them, where they then were. They had not got beyond their old thoughts of the temple, those buildings that had excited their admiration and awe. The Lord announces the judgment that was at hand. Indeed, it was involved in the words said before — "Behold, your house is left unto you desolate." It was their house. The Spirit was fled. It was no better than a dead body now. Why should it not be carried out speedily to burial? "See ye not all these things? Verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down." All would soon be over for the present. "And as He sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto Him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" In answer the Lord sets before them a general history — so general, indeed, that one might hardly gather at first whether He did not contemplate even here Christians as well as Jews. (vv. 4-14.) They are viewed really as a believing but Jewish remnant, which accounts for the breadth of the language. Then, from verse 15, come the details of Daniel's special last half week, whose prophecy is emphatically appealed to. The establishment of the abomination of desolation in the holy place would be the sign for the instant flight of godly ones, like the disciples, who will then be found in Jerusalem. For this is to be followed by great tribulation, exceeding any time of trouble since the beginning of the world up to that day. Nor will there be outward affliction only, but unparalleled deceits, false Christs and false prophets showing great signs and wonders. But the elect are here warned graciously of the Saviour, and far, far beyond any guards afforded in the prophecies of the Old Testament.
"Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heaven shall be shaken: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory." Matt. 24:29. The appearing of the Son of man is a grand point in Matthew, and indeed in all the gospels. The once rejected Christ will come in glory as the glorious Heir of all things. His advent in the clouds of heaven will be to take the throne, not of Israel only, but of all people, nations, and languages. Returning thus, to the horror and shame of His adversaries, in or out of the land, the first thing spoken of here is His mission of His angels to gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. There is no hint of resurrection or of rapture to heaven here. The elect of Israel are in question, and His own glory as Son of man, without a word of His being Head; nor of the Church His body. What we find here is a process of gathering the chosen, not merely of the Jews, but of all Israel, as I suppose, from the four winds of heaven. This interpretation derives support, then, if that be needed, from the parable that immediately follows (verses 32, 33). It is the fig tree once more, but used for a far different purpose. Be it curse in one connection, be it blessing in another, the fig tree typifies Israel.
Then comes, not what may be called the natural, but the scriptural, parable. As that alluded to the outside realm of nature, so this was taken from the Old Testament. The reference here is to the days of Noah, applied to illustrate the coming of the Son of man. So should the blow fall suddenly on all its objects. "Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left, Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left." They must not imagine that it would be like an ordinary judgment in providence, which sweeps here, not there, and sweeps here indiscriminately. In such the guiltless suffer with the guilty, without any approach to an adequate personal distinction. But it will not be so in the days of the Son of man, when He returns to deal with mankind at the end of the age. To be without or within will be no protection. Of two men in the field; of two women grinding at the mill, the one shall be taken, and the other left. The discrimination is precise and perfect to the last degree. "Watch therefore," says the Lord, in conclusion of it all; "for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh."
This transition, in my judgment, leads from the part particularly devoted to the destinies of the Jewish people, and opens into that which concerns the Christian profession. The first of these general pictures of Christendom, which drop all reference to Jerusalem, the temple, the people, or their hope, is found in verses 45-51. Next follows the parable of the ten virgins; then, last of these, is that of the talents. Let me observe, however, that there is a clause in Matt. 25:13 which has a little falsified the application. But the truth is, as is well known, that men, in copying the Greek New Testament, added the words, "Wherein the Son of man cometh," to this verse, which is complete without them. The Spirit really wrote, "Watch therefore, for ye know not the day nor the hour." To those versed in the text as it stands in the best copies, this is a fact too familiar to demand many words said about it. No critic of weight considers that these words have any just claim to be in the text that is founded on ancient authority. Others may defend the clause who accept what is commonly received, and what can only be defended by modern or uncertain manuscripts. Surely those I now address are the last men who ought to contend for a mere traditional or vulgar basis in anything which pertains to God. If we accept the traditional text of the printers, we are on this ground; if, on the contrary, we reject human meddling as a principle, assuredly we ought not to accredit such clauses as this, which we have the strongest grounds to pronounce a mere interpolation, and not truly the word of God. But this being so, we may proceed to notice how strikingly beautiful is the effect of omitting these words.
First, then, in the Christian part, came the parable of the household servant. He who, faithful and wise, met the wishes of his Lord that set him over His household to give them meat in due season, being found so doing, when He comes, is made ruler over all His goods. The evil servant, on the contrary, who settled in his heart that his Lord was not coming, and so yielded to overbearing violence and evil commerce with the profane world, shall be surprised by judgment, and have his portion with the hypocrites in hopeless shame and sorrow.
It is an instructive sketch of Christendom; but there is more. "Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept." Thus Christendom entirely breaks down. It is not only the foolish who go to sleep, but the wise. All fail to give a right expression to their waiting for the Bridegroom. "They all slumbered and slept." But God takes care, without telling us how, that there shall be an interruption of their slumber. Instead of remaining out to wait, they must have gone in somewhere to sleep. In short, the original position is deserted. Not only have they not discharged their duty of awaiting the return of the Bridegroom, but they are no longer in their true posture. When the hope revives, the position is recovered, not before. At midnight, when all were asleep, there was a cry, "The bridegroom cometh: go ye out to meet him." This acts on the virgins, wise and foolish. So it is now. Who can deny that foolish people enough speak and write about the Lord's coming? An universal agitation of spirit goes on in all countries and all towns. Spite of opposition, the expectation spreads far and wide. It is in no way confined to the children of God. Those who are in quest of oil, going hither and thither, are disturbed by it as certainly as those who have oil in their vessels are cheered to go out once more while waiting for the Bridegroom's return. But what a difference! The wise were prepared with oil beforehand; the rest proved their folly in doing without it. Let me particularly call your attention to this. The difference consisted not in expecting the Lord's coming or not, but in the possession or the lack of oil (i.e., the unction from the Holy One). All profess Christ; they are all virgins with their lamps. But the want of oil is fatal. He who has not the Spirit of Christ is none of His. Such are the foolish. They know not what has made the others wise unto salvation, whatever they may profess; and their restless search, after that which they have not, finally severs them even here from the company of those they started with as looking for the Lord.
The notion that they are Christians who lack intelligence in prophecy seems to me not false only, but utterly unworthy of a spiritual mind. Is the possession of Christ less precious than a correct chart of the future? I cannot conceive a Christian without oil in his vessel. It is clearly to have the Holy Ghost, whom every saint that submits to the righteousness of God in Christ has dwelling within him. As John teaches us, the least members of God's family are said to have that unction — not the fathers and young men — but expressly the babes. Of course, if the youngest in Christ are so privileged, the young men and fathers do not want. Therefore I do assert, with the fullest conviction of its truth, that, as the oil in the parable sets forth, not prophetic intelligence, but the gift of God's Spirit, so every Christian, and no other, has the Holy Ghost dwelling in him. These, then, are the wise virgins who make ready for the Bridegroom, and go in with Him to the marriage at His coming. As that hour draws near, the others, on the contrary, are more and more agitated. Not resting on Christ for their souls by faith, they have not the Spirit, and seek the inestimable gift among those who sell it, asking who will show them any good — of whom they may buy this priceless oil. The Lord meanwhile comes, they that were ready go in with Him to the wedding, and the door was shut; the rest of the virgins are excluded. The Lord knew them not.
Let me say in passing, that these virgins are distinguished from those who will be called in the end of the age by broad and deep differences. There is no ground to believe that the sufferers in that crisis will ever become heavy with sleep, as saints have done during the long delay of Christendom. That brief season of unprecedented trial and danger does not admit of it. Next, as little ground is there in Scripture to predicate of these latter-day sufferers the possession of the Holy Ghost, which is the peculiar privilege of the believer since the rejected Christ took His place as Head in heaven. The Holy Ghost is to be poured out on all flesh for the millennial day, no doubt; but no prophecy declares that the remnant will be so characterized till they see Jesus. And, again, there is the third point of distinction, that these sufferers are nowhere set forth as going out to meet the Bridegroom. They may flee away because of the abomination that makes desolate, but this is a contrast rather than a similar feature.
The third of these parables presents another phase again. During the absence of the Lord, before He appears to take the kingdom of the world, He gives gifts to men — different gifts, and in different measures. This pre-eminently belongs to Christianity and its active testimony in peculiar variety. I am not aware of anything exactly answering to it in its full character in the latter day (which will be distinguished by a brief energetic witness of the kingdom). These gifts of Matt. 25 seem to me the thorough expression of the activity of grace, that goes out and labours for a rejected and absent Lord on high. However, I may not dwell upon minuter points, which would, of course, frustrate the desire to give a comprehensive sketch in a short compass.
The latter scene of the chapter is, to a simple mind, evident enough. "All the nations" or Gentiles are in question: there can be no mistake as to this. The Jew has already come before us, and at the beginning of the Lord's discourse, because the disciples were then Jews. Next, as disciples emerged from Judaism into Christianity, we have in this very distinctly the reason why the Christian parenthesis comes second in order. Then, in the third place, we find "all the nations" who are formally designated as such, and distinguished in the clearest manner from the two others, both in terms and in the things said of them. They come up and are visibly dealt with as Gentiles at the close, when the Son of man reigns as king over the earth. The question which comes before His throne, and decides their eternal lot, does not consist of the secrets of the heart then laid bare, nor their general life, but of their behaviour to His messengers. How had they treated certain persons that the King calls His brethren? It is an appraisal then, founded on their relation to a brief testimony rendered at the close of the present dispensation (I doubt not, by Jewish brethren of the King, when all the world wonders after the beast, and in general men go back to idols, and fall into Antichrist's hands); a testimony suited to the crisis, after the Christian body has been taken to heaven, and the question of the earth is raised once more. Thus these nations or Gentiles are dealt with according to their behaviour to the messengers of the King, just before and up to the time that the King summons them before the throne of His glory. To own His despised heralds when the time of strong delusion comes, will demand the quickening work of the Spirit; which, indeed, is needful for receiving any and every testimony of God. It is not a question of any general issue that would apply to a course of ages, as to the present preaching of God's grace, or to the ordinary current of men's lives. Nothing of the sort appears to be the ground of the Lord's action with either the sheep or the goats.
Matthew 26. Formal teaching is over now, whether practical or prophetic. The scene above all scenes draws near, on which, however blessed, I cannot say much at this time. The Lord Jesus has been presented to the people, has preached, has wrought miracles, has instructed disciples, has met all the various classes of His adversaries, has launched into the future up to the end of the age. Now He prepares to suffer, — to suffer in absolute surrender of Himself to the Father. Accordingly, in this scene it is no longer man judging Him in words, but God judging Him in His person on the cross. Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. So it is here. He maintains, too, every affection in its fulness. Here, aside from the crowd, the Lord for a season takes whatever of rest might be vouchsafed to His spirit. The active work was done. The cross remained — a few brief hours, but of eternal value and unfathomable import, with which indeed nothing can compare.
At the house of Bethany Jesus is now found. It is one of the few scenes introduced by the Spirit of God into all the gospels save Luke, in contrast with, yet in preparation for, the cross. Was the Spirit of God then acting mightily in the heart of one who loved the Saviour? At this very time Satan was pushing on the heart of man to dare the worst against Jesus. Around these were the parties. What a moment for heaven, and earth, and hell! How much, how little was man seen! for if one feature be prominent in His foes more than another, it is this, that man is powerless, even when Jesus was the victim, exposed to every hostile breath as it might appear. Yet does He accomplish everything, when He was but a sufferer; they nothing, when free to do all (for it was their hour, and the power of darkness) nothing but their iniquity; but even in their iniquity doing the will of God, spite of themselves, and contrary to their own plans. They did their will in point of guilt, but it was never accomplished as they desired. First of all, as we are told, their great anxiety was, that the deed on which their heart was set, the death of Jesus, should not be at the passover. But their resolution was vain. From the beginning God had decided that then, and at no other time, it should be. They assembled, they consulted, "that they might take Jesus by subtilty and kill him." The upshot of their deliberations was only — "Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar among the people." Little did they foresee the treachery of a disciple, or the public sentence of a Roman governor. Again, there was no uproar among the people, contrary to their fears. Yet did Jesus die on that day according to God's word.
But let us turn aside to the company of our Lord for a little while at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper. There was poured out the worship of a heart that loved Him, if ever there was one. She waited not for the promise of the Father; but He who was soon after given to overflowing, even then wrought in the instincts of her new nature. "There came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head as he sat at meat." This, John lets us know, she had kept; it was no new thing got up for the occasion; it was her best, and spent on Jesus. How little it was in her eyes, how precious in His, spent on one whom she loved, for whom she felt the impending danger; for love is quick to feel, and feels more truly than man's most sharpened prudence. So it was, then, that this woman pours her ointment on His head. John mentions His feet. Certainly it was poured upon both. But as Matthew has the King before him, and it was usual to pour on, not the feet of a king, but his head, he naturally records that part of the action which was suitable to the Messiah. John, on the contrary, whose point is that Jesus was infinitely more than a king, while lowly enough in love for anything — John most appropriately tells us that Mary poured it on His feet. It is interesting, too, to observe, that love, and a profound sense of the glory of Jesus, led her to do that which a sinner's heart, thoroughly broken down in the presence of His grace, prompted her to do. For Luke mentions another person. In this case it was "a woman in the city, who was a sinner," a totally different person, at another and earlier time, and in the house of another Simon, a Pharisee. She too anointed the feet of Jesus with an alabaster box of ointment; but she stood at His feet behind, weeping, and began to wash His feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head, and kissed His feet. There are thus many added circumstances in harmony with the case. All I would point out now is, the kindred feeling to which is led a poor sinner that tasted His grace in presence of her proved unworthiness, and a loving worshipper, filled with the glory of His person, and sensitive to the malice of His foes. However that may be, the Lord vindicates her in the face of murmuring disaffected disciples. It is a solemn lesson; for it shows how one corrupt mind may defile others, incomparably better than its own. The whole college of the apostles, the twelve, were tainted for the moment by the poison insinuated by one. What hearts are ours at such a season, in the face of such love! But so it was, alas! — is. One evil eye may too soon communicate its foul impression, and thereby many be defiled. It was Judas at bottom; but there was also that in the rest which made them susceptible of similar selfishness at the expense of Jesus, although there was not in them the same allowance of diabolical influence which had suggested thoughts to Judas. The example is surely not without serious admonition to ourselves. How often care for doctrine cloaks Satan, as here care for the poor! Morally, too, this connects itself with Christ's sufferings that should follow. The devotedness of the woman is used of Satan to push Judas into his last wickedness, so much the more determined by the outflow of what his heart could not in the smallest degree appreciate. Thence he goes to sell Jesus. If he could not manage to get the box of precious ointment, or its worth, he would, while he could, secure his little profit on the sale of Jesus to His enemies. "What will ye give me," says he to the chief priests, "and I will deliver him unto you?" Accordingly the covenant takes place — a covenant with death, and an agreement with hell. "They covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver" — man's, Israel's, worthy price for Jesus!
But now, as the woman had her token for Jesus, and in it her own memorial, wherever, whenever the gospel of the kingdom is preached in the whole world, so Jesus next institutes the standing, undying token of His dying love. He founds the new feast, His own supper for His disciples. At the paschal feast He takes up the bread and the wine, and consecrates them to be on earth the continual remembrance of Himself in the midst of His own. In the language of its institution there are some distinctive features which may claim a notice when we have the opportunity of looking at the other gospels. From this table our Lord goes to Gethsemane, and His agony there. Whatever there was of sorrow, whatever there was of pain, whatever there was of suffering, our Lord never bowed to any suffering from men without, before He bore it on His heart alone with His Father. He went through it in spirit before He went through it in fact. And this, I believe, is the main point here. I say not all that we have; for here He met the terrors of death — and what a death! — pressed on Him by the prince of this world, who nevertheless found nothing in Him. Thus at the actual hour it was God glorified in Him, the Son of man, even as, when raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, He forthwith declares to His brethren the name of His Father and their Father, of His God and their God, both nature and relationship. Here His cry still is simply to His Father, as in the cross it was, My God, though not this only. However profoundly instructive all this maybe, our Lord in the garden calls upon the disciples to watch and pray; but this is precisely what they find hardest. They slept, and prayed not. What a contrast, too, with Jesus afterwards, when the trial came! And yet for them it was but the merest reflection of that which He passed through. For the world, death is either borne with the obduracy that dares all because it believes nothing, or it is a pang as the end of present enjoyment, the sombre portal of they know not what beyond. To the believer, to the Jewish disciple, before redemption, death was even worse in a sense; for there was a juster perception of God, and of man's state morally. Now all is changed through His death, which the disciples so little estimated, the bare shadow of which, however, was enough to overwhelm them all, and silence every confession of their faith. For him who most of all presumed on the strength of his love, it was enough to prove how little he yet knew of the reality of death, spite of his too ready boasts. And yet what would death have been in his case compared with that of Jesus! But even that was incomparably too much for the strength of Peter; all was proved powerless, save the One who showed, even when He was weakest, that He was alone the Giver of all strength, the Manifester of all grace, even when He was crushed under such judgment as man never knew before, nor can know again.
Matthew 27. We next see our Lord, not with the disciples, failing, false, or traitorous, but His hour come, in the power of the hostile world, priests, governors, soldiers, and people. What was attempted by man completely broke down. They had their witnesses, but the witnesses agreed not. Failure everywhere is found, even in wickedness — failure not in men's will, but in its accomplishment. God alone governs. So now Jesus was condemned, not for their testimony, but for His own. How wondrous, that even to put Him to death they needed the witness of Jesus; they could not condemn Him to die but for His good confession. For His testimony to the truth they consummated their worst deed; and this doubly, before the high priest as well as before the governor. Warned of his wife (for the Lord took care that there should be providential testimony), as well as too keen-sighted to overlook the malice of the Jews and the innocence of the accused, Pontius Pilate acknowledges his prisoner to be guiltless, yet allowed himself to be forced to act contrary to his own conscience, and according to their wishes whom he wholly despised. Once more, ere Jesus is led out to be crucified, the Jews showed what they were morally; for when the coarse-minded heathen put before them the alternative of releasing Jesus or Barabbas, their instant preference (not without priestly instigation) was a wretch, a robber, a murderer. Such was the feeling of the Jews, God's people, toward their King, because He was the Son of God, Jehovah, and not a mere man. With bitter irony, but not without God, wrote Pilate the accusation, "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews." But this was not the only testimony which God gave. For from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. And then when Jesus, crying with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost, that ensued which particularly would strike the heart of the Jew. The veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom, and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent. What could be conceived more solemn to Israel? His death was the death blow to the Jewish system, struck by one who was unmistakably the Maker of heaven and earth. But it was not the dissolution of that system only, but of the power of death itself; for the graves were opened, and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after His resurrection, the witness of the value of His death, though not declared till after His resurrection. The death of Jesus, I hesitate not to say, is the sole groundwork of righteous deliverance from sin. In the resurrection is seen the mighty power of God; but what is power for a sinner, with God before his soul, compared with righteousness? What with grace? And this is precisely what we have here. Hence, it is the death of Jesus alone that is the true centre and pivot of all God's counsels and ways, whether in righteousness or in grace. The resurrection, no doubt, is the power that manifests and proclaims all; but what it proclaims is the power of His death, because that alone has vindicated God morally. The death of Jesus alone has proved that nothing could overcome His love — rejection, death itself, so far from this, being only the occasion of displaying love to the uttermost. Therefore it is that, of all things even in Jesus, there is none that affords such a common and perfect resting-place for God and man as the death of Jesus. When it is a question of power, liberty, life, no doubt we must turn to the resurrection; and hence it is, that in the Acts of the apostles this necessarily comes out most prominently, because the matter in hand was to afford proof, on the one hand, of manifested but despised grace; on the other hand, of God's reversing man's attainder of Jesus by raising Him from the dead and exalting Him to His own right hand on high. The death of Jesus would be no demonstration of this sort. On the contrary, His death was what man appeared to triumph in. They had got rid of Jesus thus, but the resurrection proved how vain and short-lived it was, and that God was against them. The object was to make evident that man was wholly opposed to God, and that God even now manifested His sentence on it. The raising up Him whom man slew renders this unquestionable. I admit that in the resurrection of Christ God is for us, for the believer. But the sinner and the believer must not be confounded together, for there is an immense difference between the two things. Whatever the witness of perfect love in the gift and death of Jesus, for the sinner there is not, there cannot be, anything whatever in the resurrection of Jesus save condemnation. I press this the more strongly, because the recovery of the precious truth of Christ's resurrection exposes some, by a kind of reaction, to weaken the value which His death has in God's mind, and ought to have in our faith. Let those, then, who prize the resurrection, see to it that they be exceedingly jealous for the due place of the cross.
The two things we find remarkably guarded here. It was not the resurrection, but the death of Jesus, that rent the veil of the temple; it was not His resurrection that opened the graves, but His cross, though the saints rose not till after He rose. It is just so with us practically. In point of fact, we never do know the full worth of the death of Christ, until we look upon it from the power and results of the resurrection. But what we contemplate from the side of resurrection is not itself, but the death of Jesus. Hence it is that in the Church's assembling, and most properly, on the Lord's day, we do in the breaking of bread show forth, not the resurrection, but the death of the Lord. At the same time, we show forth His death not on the day of death, but upon that of resurrection. Do I forget that it is the day of resurrection? Then I little understand my liberty and joy. If, on the contrary, the resurrection day brings no more before me than the resurrection, it is too plain that the death of Christ has lost its infinite grace for my soul.
The Egyptians would have liked to cross the Red Sea, but they had no care for the doors sprinkled with the blood of the lamb. They essayed to pass through the watery walls, desiring thus to follow Israel to the other side. But we do not read that they ever sought the shelter of the Paschal Lamb's blood. No doubt, this is an extreme case, and the judgment of the world of nature; but we may learn even from an enemy not to value resurrection less, but to value the death and blood-shedding of our precious Saviour more. There is really nothing towards God and man like the death of Christ.
Then, in contrast with the poor but devoted women of Galilee that surrounded the cross, we behold the fears, the just fears, of those who had accomplished the death of Jesus. These guilty men go full of anxiety to Pilate. They feared "that deceiver," and so had their watch, and stone, and seal — in vain! The Lord that sat in the heavens had them in derision. Jesus had prepared His own (and His enemies knew it) for His rising on the third day. Women came there the evening before to look at the place where the Lord lay buried. (Matt. 28) That morning, very early, when there were none there but the guards, the angel of the Lord. descends. We are not told that our Lord rose at that time; still less is it said that the angel of the Lord rolled away the stone for Him. He that passed through the doors, closed for fear of the Jews, could just as easily pass through the sealed stone, despite all the soldiers of the empire. We know that there the angel sat after rolling away the great stone which had closed the sepulchre, where our Lord, despised and rejected of men, nevertheless accomplished Isaiah's prophecy. In making His grave with the rich. The Lord then had this further witness, that the very keepers, hardened and bold as such usually are, trembled, and became as dead men, while the angel bids the women not to fear; for this Jesus which was crucified "is not here: He is risen. Come, and see the place where the Lord lay, and go and tell the disciples, Behold, He goeth before you into Galilee." This is a point of importance for completing the view of His rejection, or its consequences in resurrection, and so Matthew takes particular care of it, though the same fact may be recorded also by Mark for his purpose.
But Matthew does not speak of the various appearances of the Lord in Jerusalem after the resurrection. What he does dwell upon particularly, and of course with his special reasons for it, is, that the Lord, after His resurrection, adheres to the place where the state of the Jews led Him to be habitually, and shed His light around according to prophecy; for the Lord resumed relations once more in Galilee with the remnant represented by the disciples after He rose from the dead. It was in the place of Jewish contempt; it was where the benighted poor of the flock were, the neglected of the proud scribes and rulers of Jerusalem. There the risen Lord was pleased to go before His servants and rejoin them.
But as the Galilean women went with this word from the angel, the Lord Himself met them. "And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him." It is remarkable that in our gospel this was permitted. To Mary Magdalene, who in her desire to pay her wonted obeisance probably was attempting something similar, He altogether declines it; but this is mentioned in the gospel of John. How is it, then, that the two apostolic accounts show us the homage of the women received, and of Mary Magdalene refused, on the same day, and perhaps at the same hour? Clearly the action is significant in both. The reason, I apprehend, was this, Matthew sets before us that while He was the rejected Messiah, though now risen, He not only reverted to His relations in the despised part of the land with His disciples, but gives, in this accepted worship of the daughters of Galilee, the pledge of His special association with the Jews in the latter day; for it is precisely thus that they will look for the Lord. That is, a Jew, as such, counts upon the bodily presence of the Lord. The point in John's record is the very reverse; for it is the taking one, who was a sample of believing Jews, out of Jewish relations into association with Himself just about to ascend to heaven. In Matthew He is touched. They held Him by the feet without remonstrance, and thus worshipped Him in bodily presence. In John He says, "Touch me not;" and the reason is, "for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God." Worship henceforth was to be offered to Him above, invisible, but known there by faith. To the women in Matthew it was here that He was presented for their worship; to the woman in John it was there only He was to be known now. It was not a question of bodily presence, but of the Lord ascended to heaven and there announcing the new relationships for us with His Father and God. Thus, in the one case, it is the sanction of Jewish hopes of His presence here, below for the homage of Israel; in the other gospel, it is His personal absence and ascension, leading souls to a higher and suited association with Himself, as well as with God, taking even those who were Jews out of their old condition to know the Lord no more after the flesh.
Most consistently, therefore, in this gospel, we have no ascension scene at all. If we had only the gospel of Matthew, we should possess no record of this wonderful fact: so striking is the omission, that a well-known commentary, Mr. Alford's first edition, broached the rash and irreverent hypothesis founded upon it, that our Matthew is an incomplete Greek version of the Hebrew original, because there was no such record; for it was impossible, in the opinion of that writer, that an apostle could have omitted a description of that event. The fact is, if you add the ascension to Matthew, you would overload and mar his gospel. The beautiful end of Matthew is, that (while chief priests and elders essay to cover their wickedness by falsehood and bribery, and their lie "is commonly reported among the Jews until this day,") our Lord meets His disciples on a mountain in Galilee, according to His appointment, and sends them to disciple all the Gentiles. How great is the change of dispensation is manifest from His former commission to the same men in Matt. 10. Now they were to baptize them unto the name of the Father, etc. It was not a question of the Almighty God of the fathers, or the Jehovah God of Israel. The name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is characteristic of Christianity. Permit me to say, that this is the true formula of Christian baptism, and that the omission of this form of sound words appears to me quite as fatal to the validity of baptism as any change that can be pointed out in other respects. Instead of being a Jewish thing, this is what supplanted it. Instead of a relic of older dispensations to be modified or rather set aside now, on the contrary, it is the full revelation of the name of God as now made known, not before. This only came out after the death and resurrection of Christ. There is no longer the mere Jewish enclosure He had entered during the days of His flesh, but the change of dispensation was now dawning: so consistently does the Spirit of God hold to His design from the first to the very end.
Accordingly He closes with these words, "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world [age]." How the form of the truth would have been weakened, if not destroyed, had we then heard of His going up to heaven! It is evident that the moral force of it is infinitely more preserved as it is. He is charging His disciples, sending them on their world-wide mission with these words, "Lo, I am with you always, all the days," etc. The force is immensely increased, and for this very reason that we hear and see no more. He promised His presence with them to the end of the age; and thereon the curtain drops. He is thus heard, if not seen, for ever with His own on earth, as they go forth upon that errand so precious, but perilous. May we gather real profit from all He has given us.