Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him:
Sermon on the Mount.
That this is the same Discourse as that in Lu 6:17-49—only reported more fully by Matthew, and less fully, as well as with considerable variation, by Luke—is the opinion of many very able critics (of the Greek commentators; of Calvin, Grotius, Maldonatus—Who stands almost alone among Romish commentators; and of most moderns, as Tholuck, Meyer, De Wette, Tischendorf, Stier, Wieseler, Robinson). The prevailing opinion of these critics is that Luke's is the original form of the discourse, to which Matthew has added a number of sayings, uttered on other occasions, in order to give at one view the great outlines of our Lord's ethical teaching. But that they are two distinct discourses—the one delivered about the close of His first missionary tour, and the other after a second such tour and the solemn choice of the Twelve—is the judgment of others who have given much attention to such matters (of most Romish commentators, including Erasmus; and among the moderns, of Lange, Greswell, Birks, Webster and Wilkinson. The question is left undecided by Alford). Augustine's opinion—that they were both delivered on one occasion, Matthew's on the mountain, and to the disciples; Luke's in the plain, and to the promiscuous multitude—is so clumsy and artificial as hardly to deserve notice. To us the weight of argument appears to lie with those who think them two separate discourses. It seems hard to conceive that Matthew should have put this discourse before his own calling, if it was not uttered till long after, and was spoken in his own hearing as one of the newly chosen Twelve. Add to this, that Matthew introduces his discourse amidst very definite markings of time, which fix it to our Lord's first preaching tour; while that of Luke, which is expressly said to have been delivered immediately after the choice of the Twelve, could not have been spoken till long after the time noted by Matthew. It is hard, too, to see how either discourse can well be regarded as the expansion or contraction of the other. And as it is beyond dispute that our Lord repeated some of His weightier sayings in different forms, and with varied applications, it ought not to surprise us that, after the lapse of perhaps a year—when, having spent a whole night on the hill in prayer to God, and set the Twelve apart, He found Himself surrounded by crowds of people, few of whom probably had heard the Sermon on the Mount, and fewer still remembered much of it—He should go over its principal points again, with just as much sameness as to show their enduring gravity, but at the same time with that difference which shows His exhaustless fertility as the great Prophet of the Church.
Mt 5:1-16. The Beatitudes, and Their Bearing upon the World.
1. And seeing the multitudes—those mentioned in Mt 4:25.
he went up into a mountain—one of the dozen mountains which Robinson says there are in the vicinity of the Sea of Galilee, any one of them answering about equally well to the occasion. So charming is the whole landscape that the descriptions of it, from Josephus downwards [Wars of the Jews, 4.10,8], are apt to be thought a little colored.
and when he was set—had sat or seated Himself.
his disciples came unto him—already a large circle, more or less attracted and subdued by His preaching and miracles, in addition to the smaller band of devoted adherents. Though the latter only answered to the subjects of His kingdom, described in this discourse, there were drawn from time to time into this inner circle souls from the outer one, who, by the power of His matchless word, were constrained to forsake their all for the Lord Jesus.
And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,
2. And he opened his mouth—a solemn way of arousing the reader's attention, and preparing him for something weighty. (Job 9:1; Ac 8:35; 10:34).
and taught them, saying—as follows.
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
3. Blessed—Of the two words which our translators render "blessed," the one here used points more to what is inward, and so might be rendered "happy," in a lofty sense; while the other denotes rather what comes to us from without (as Mt 25:34). But the distinction is not always clearly carried out. One Hebrew word expresses both. On these precious Beatitudes, observe that though eight in number, there are here but seven distinct features of character. The eighth one—the "persecuted for righteousness' sake"—denotes merely the possessors of the seven preceding features, on account of which it is that they are persecuted (2Ti 3:12). Accordingly, instead of any distinct promise to this class, we have merely a repetition of the first promise. This has been noticed by several critics, who by the sevenfold character thus set forth have rightly observed that a complete character is meant to be depicted, and by the sevenfold blessedness attached to it, a perfect blessedness is intended. Observe, again, that the language in which these Beatitudes are couched is purposely fetched from the Old Testament, to show that the new kingdom is but the old in a new form; while the characters described are but the varied forms of that spirituality which was the essence of real religion all along, but had well-nigh disappeared under corrupt teaching. Further, the things here promised, far from being mere arbitrary rewards, will be found in each case to grow out of the characters to which they are attached, and in their completed form are but the appropriate coronation of them. Once more, as "the kingdom of heaven," which is the first and the last thing here promised, has two stages—a present and a future, an initial and a consummate stage—so the fulfilment of each of these promises has two stages—a present and a future, a partial and a perfect stage.
3. Blessed are the poor in spirit—All familiar with Old Testament phraseology know how frequently God's true people are styled "the poor" (the "oppressed," "afflicted," "miserable") or "the needy"—or both together (as in Ps 40:17; Isa 41:17). The explanation of this lies in the fact that it is generally "the poor of this world" who are "rich in faith" (Jas 2:5; compare 2Co 6:10; Re 2:9); while it is often "the ungodly" who "prosper in the world" (Ps 73:12). Accordingly, in Lu 6:20, 21, it seems to be this class—the literally "poor" and "hungry"—that are specially addressed. But since God's people are in so many places styled "the poor" and "the needy," with no evident reference to their temporal circumstances (as in Ps 68:10; 69:29-33; 132:15; Isa 61:1; 66:2), it is plainly a frame of mind which those terms are meant to express. Accordingly, our translators sometimes render such words "the humble" (Ps 10:12, 17), "the meek" (Ps 22:26), "the lowly" (Pr 3:34), as having no reference to outward circumstances. But here the explanatory words, "in spirit," fix the sense to "those who in their deepest consciousness realize their entire need" (compare the Greek of Lu 10:21; Joh 11:33; 13:21; Ac 20:22; Ro 12:11; 1Co 5:3; Php 3:3). This self-emptying conviction, that "before God we are void of everything," lies at the foundation of all spiritual excellence, according to the teaching of Scripture. Without it we are inaccessible to the riches of Christ; with it we are in the fitting state for receiving all spiritual supplies (Re 3:17, 18; Mt 9:12, 13).
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven—(See on Mt 3:2). The poor in spirit not only shall have—they already have—the kingdom. The very sense of their poverty is begun riches. While others "walk in a vain show"—"in a shadow," "an image"—in an unreal world, taking a false view of themselves and all around them—the poor in spirit are rich in the knowledge of their real case. Having courage to look this in the face, and own it guilelessly, they feel strong in the assurance that "unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness" (Ps 112:4); and soon it breaks forth as the morning. God wants nothing from us as the price of His saving gifts; we have but to feel our universal destitution, and cast ourselves upon His compassion (Job 33:27, 28; 1Jo 1:9). So the poor in spirit are enriched with the fulness of Christ, which is the kingdom in substance; and when He shall say to them from His great white throne, "Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you," He will invite them merely to the full enjoyment of an already possessed inheritance.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
4. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted—This "mourning" must not be taken loosely for that feeling which is wrung from men under pressure of the ills of life, nor yet strictly for sorrow on account of committed sins. Evidently it is that entire feeling which the sense of our spiritual poverty begets; and so the second beatitude is but the complement of the first. The one is the intellectual, the other the emotional aspect of the same thing. It is poverty of spirit that says, "I am undone"; and it is the mourning which this causes that makes it break forth in the form of a lamentation—"Woe is me! for I am undone." Hence this class are termed "mourners in Zion," or, as we might express it, religious mourners, in sharp contrast with all other sorts (Isa 61:1-3; 66:2). Religion, according to the Bible, is neither a set of intellectual convictions nor a bundle of emotional feelings, but a compound of both, the former giving birth to the latter. Thus closely do the first two beatitudes cohere. The mourners shall be "comforted." Even now they get beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. Sowing in tears, they reap even here in joy. Still, all present comfort, even the best, is partial, interrupted, short-lived. But the days of our mourning shall soon be ended, and then God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes. Then, in the fullest sense, shall the mourners be "comforted."
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
5. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth—This promise to the meek is but a repetition of Ps 37:11; only the word which our Evangelist renders "the meek," after the Septuagint, is the same which we have found so often translated "the poor," showing how closely allied these two features of character are. It is impossible, indeed, that "the poor in spirit" and "the mourners" in Zion should not at the same time be "meek"; that is to say, persons of a lowly and gentle carriage. How fitting, at least, it is that they should be so, may be seen by the following touching appeal: "Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, to speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, showing all meekness unto all men: FOR WE OURSELVES WERE ONCE FOOLISH, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures … But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared: … according to His mercy He saved us," &c. (Tit 3:1-7). But He who had no such affecting reasons for manifesting this beautiful carriage, said, nevertheless, of Himself, "Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls" (Mt 11:29); and the apostle besought one of the churches by "the meekness and gentleness of Christ" (2Co 10:1). In what esteem this is held by Him who seeth not as man seeth, we may learn from 1Pe 3:4, where the true adorning is said to be that of "a meek and quiet spirit, which in the sight of God is of great price." Towards men this disposition is the opposite of high-mindedness, and a quarrelsome and revengeful spirit; it "rather takes wrong, and suffers itself to be defrauded" (1Co 6:7); it "avenges not itself, but rather gives place unto wrath" (Ro 12:19); like the meek One, "when reviled, it reviles not again; when it suffers, it threatens not: but commits itself to Him that judgeth righteously" (1Pe 2:19-22). "The earth" which the meek are to inherit might be rendered "the land"—bringing out the more immediate reference to Canaan as the promised land, the secure possession of which was to the Old Testament saints the evidence and manifestation of God's favor resting on them, and the ideal of all true and abiding blessedness. Even in the Psalm from which these words are taken the promise to the meek is not held forth as an arbitrary reward, but as having a kind of natural fulfilment. When they delight themselves in the Lord, He gives them the desires of their heart: when they commit their way to Him, He brings it to pass; bringing forth their righteousness as the light, and their judgment as the noonday: the little that they have, even when despoiled of their rights, is better than the riches of many wicked (Ps 37:1-24). All things, in short, are theirs—in the possession of that favor which is life, and of those rights which belong to them as the children of God—whether the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are theirs (1Co 3:21, 22); and at length, overcoming, they "inherit all things" (Re 21:7). Thus are the meek the only rightful occupants of a foot of ground or a crust of bread here, and heirs of all coming things.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
6. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled—"shall be saturated." "From this verse," says Tholuck, "the reference to the Old Testament background ceases." Surprising! On the contrary, none of these beatitudes is more manifestly dug out of the rich mine of the Old Testament. Indeed, how could any one who found in the Old Testament "the poor in spirit," and "the mourners in Zion," doubt that he would also find those same characters also craving that righteousness which they feel and mourn their want of? But what is the precise meaning of "righteousness" here? Lutheran expositors, and some of our own, seem to have a hankering after that more restricted sense of the term in which it is used with reference to the sinner's justification before God. (See Jer 23:6; Isa 45:24; Ro 4:6; 2Co 5:21). But, in so comprehensive a saying as this, it is clearly to be taken—as in Mt 5:10 also—in a much wider sense, as denoting that spiritual and entire conformity to the law of God, under the want of which the saints groan, and the possession of which constitutes the only true saintship. The Old Testament dwells much on this righteousness, as that which alone God regards with approbation (Ps 11:7; 23:3; 106:3; Pr 12:28; 16:31; Isa 64:5, &c.). As hunger and thirst are the keenest of our appetites, our Lord, by employing this figure here, plainly means "those whose deepest cravings are after spiritual blessings." And in the Old Testament we find this craving variously expressed: "Hearken unto Me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the Lord" (Isa 51:1); "I have waited for Thy salvation, O Lord," exclaimed dying Jacob (Ge 49:18); "My soul," says the sweet Psalmist, "breaketh for the longing that it hath unto Thy judgments at all times" (Ps 119:20): and in similar breathings does he give vent to his deepest longings in that and other Psalms. Well, our Lord just takes up here—this blessed frame of mind, representing it as—the surest pledge of the coveted supplies, as it is the best preparative, and indeed itself the beginning of them. "They shall be saturated," He says; they shall not only have what they so highly value and long to possess, but they shall have their fill of it. Not here, however. Even in the Old Testament this was well understood. "Deliver me," says the Psalmist, in language which, beyond all doubt, stretches beyond the present scene, "from men of the world, which have their portion in this life: as for me, I shall behold Thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness" (Ps 17:13-15). The foregoing beatitudes—the first four—represent the saints rather as conscious of their need of salvation, and acting suitably to that character, than as possessed of it. The next three are of a different kind—representing the saints as having now found salvation, and conducting themselves accordingly.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
7. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy—Beautiful is the connection between this and the preceding beatitude. The one has a natural tendency to beget the other. As for the words, they seem directly fetched from Ps 18:25, "With the merciful Thou wilt show Thyself merciful." Not that our mercifulness comes absolutely first. On the contrary, our Lord Himself expressly teaches us that God's method is to awaken in us compassion towards our fellow men by His own exercise of it, in so stupendous a way and measure, towards ourselves. In the parable of the unmerciful debtor, the servant to whom his lord forgave ten thousand talents was naturally expected to exercise the small measure of the same compassion required for forgiving his fellow servant's debt of a hundred pence; and it is only when, instead of this, he relentlessly imprisoned him till he should pay it up, that his lord's indignation was roused, and he who was designed for a vessel of mercy is treated as a vessel of wrath (Mt 18:23-35; and see Mt 5:23, 24; 6:15; Jas 2:13). "According to the view given in Scripture," says Trench most justly, "the Christian stands in a middle point, between a mercy received and a mercy yet needed. Sometimes the first is urged upon him as an argument for showing mercy—'forgiving one another, as Christ forgave you' (Col 3:13; Eph 4:32): sometimes the last—'Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy'; 'Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven' (Lu 6:37; Jas 5:9). And thus, while he is ever to look back on the mercy received as the source and motive of the mercy which he shows, he also looks forward to the mercy which he yet needs, and which he is assured that the merciful—according to what Bengel beautifully calls the benigna talio ('the gracious requital') of the kingdom of God—shall receive, as a new provocation to its abundant exercise." The foretastes and beginnings of this judicial recompense are richly experienced here below: its perfection is reserved for that day when, from His great white throne, the King shall say, "Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was an hungered, and thirsty, and a stranger, and naked, and sick, and in prison, and ye ministered unto Me." Yes, thus He acted towards us while on earth, even laying down His life for us; and He will not, He cannot disown, in the merciful, the image of Himself.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
8. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God—Here, too, we are on Old Testament ground. There the difference between outward and inward purity, and the acceptableness of the latter only in the sight of God, are everywhere taught. Nor is the "vision of God" strange to the Old Testament; and though it was an understood thing that this was not possible in the present life (Ex 33:20; and compare Job 19:26, 27; Isa 6:5), yet spiritually it was known and felt to be the privilege of the saints even here (Ge 5:24; 6:9; 17:1; 48:15; Ps 27:4; 36:9; 63:2; Isa 38:3, 11, &c.). But oh, with what grand simplicity, brevity, and power is this great fundamental truth here expressed! And in what striking contrast would such teaching appear to that which was then current, in which exclusive attention was paid to ceremonial purification and external morality! This heart purity begins in a "heart sprinkled from an evil conscience," or a "conscience purged from dead works" (Heb 10:22; 9:14; and see Ac 15:9); and this also is taught in the Old Testament (Ps 32:1, 2; compare Ro 4:5-8; Isa 6:5-8). The conscience thus purged—the heart thus sprinkled—there is light within wherewith to see God. "If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: but if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with the other"—He with us and we with Him—"and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us"—us who have this fellowship, and who, without such continual cleansing, would soon lose it again—"from all sin" (1Jo 1:6, 7). "Whosoever sinneth hath not seen Him, neither known Him" (1Jo 3:6); "He that doeth evil hath not seen God" (3Jo 11). The inward vision thus clarified, and the whole inner man in sympathy with God, each looks upon the other with complacency and joy, and we are "changed into the same image from glory to glory." But the full and beatific vision of God is reserved for that time to which the Psalmist stretches his views—"As for me, I shall behold Thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness" (Ps 17:15). Then shall His servants serve Him: and they shall see His face; and His name shall be in their foreheads (Re 22:3, 4). They shall see Him as He is (1Jo 3:2). But, says the apostle, expressing the converse of this beatitude—"Follow holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord" (Heb 12:14).
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
9. Blessed are the peacemakers—who not only study peace, but diffuse it.
for they shall be called the children of God—shall be called sons of God. Of all these beatitudes this is the only one which could hardly be expected to find its definite ground in the Old Testament; for that most glorious character of God, the likeness of which appears in the peacemakers, had yet to be revealed. His glorious name, indeed—as "The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin"—had been proclaimed in a very imposing manner (Ex 34:6), and manifested in action with affecting frequency and variety in the long course of the ancient economy. And we have undeniable evidence that the saints of that economy felt its transforming and ennobling influence on their own character. But it was not till Christ "made peace by the blood of the cross" that God could manifest Himself as "the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant" (Heb 13:20)—could reveal Himself as "in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them," and hold Himself forth in the astonishing attitude of beseeching men to be "reconciled to Himself" (2Co 5:19, 20). When this reconciliation actually takes place, and one has "peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ"—even "the peace of God which passeth all understanding"—the peace-receivers become transformed into peace-diffusers. God is thus seen reflected in them; and by the family likeness these peacemakers are recognized as the children of God. In now coming to the eighth, or supplementary beatitude, it will be seen that all that the saints are in themselves has been already described, in seven features of character; that number indicating completeness of delineation. The last feature, accordingly, is a passive one, representing the treatment that the characters already described may expect from the world. He who shall one day fix the destiny of all men here pronounces certain characters "blessed"; but He ends by forewarning them that the world's estimation and treatment of them will be the reserve of His.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
10. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake, &c.—How entirely this final beatitude has its ground in the Old Testament, is evident from the concluding words, where the encouragement held out to endure such persecutions consists in its being but a continuation of what was experienced by the Old Testament servants of God. But how, it may be asked, could such beautiful features of character provoke persecution? To this the following answers should suffice: "Every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved." "The world cannot hate you; but Me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil." "If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you." "There is yet one man (said wicked Ahab to good Jehoshaphat) by whom we may inquire of the Lord: but I hate him; for he never prophesied good unto me, but always evil" (Joh 3:20; 7:7; 15:19; 2Ch 18:7). But more particularly, the seven characters here described are all in the teeth of the spirit of the world, insomuch that such hearers of this discourse as breathed that spirit must have been startled, and had their whole system of thought and action rudely dashed. Poverty of spirit runs counter to the pride of men's heart; a pensive disposition, in the view of one's universal deficiencies before God, is ill relished by the callous, indifferent, laughing, self-satisfied world; a meek and quiet spirit, taking wrong, is regarded as pusillanimous, and rasps against the proud, resentful spirit of the world; that craving after spiritual blessings rebukes but too unpleasantly the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life; so does a merciful spirit the hard-heartedness of the world; purity of heart contrasts painfully with painted hypocrisy; and the peacemaker cannot easily be endured by the contentious, quarrelsome world. Thus does "righteousness" come to be "persecuted." But blessed are they who, in spite of this, dare to be righteous.
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven—As this was the reward promised to the poor in spirit—the leading one of these seven beatitudes—of course it is the proper portion of such as are persecuted for exemplifying them.
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
11. Blessed are ye when men shall revile you—or abuse you to your face, in opposition to backbiting. (See Mr 15:32).
and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you, falsely, for my sake—Observe this. He had before said, "for righteousness' sake." Here He identifies Himself and His cause with that of righteousness, binding up the cause of righteousness in the world with the reception of Himself. Would Moses, or David, or Isaiah, or Paul have so expressed themselves? Never. Doubtless they suffered for righteousness' sake. But to have called this "their sake," would, as every one feels, have been very unbecoming. Whereas He that speaks, being Righteousness incarnate (see Mr 1:24; Ac 3:14; Re 3:7), when He so speaks, speaks only like Himself.
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
12. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad—"exult." In the corresponding passage of Luke (Lu 6:22, 23), where every indignity trying to flesh and blood is held forth as the probable lot of such as were faithful to Him, the word is even stronger than here: "leap," as if He would have their inward transport to overpower and absorb the sense of all these affronts and sufferings; nor will anything else do it.
for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you:—that is, "You do but serve yourselves heirs to their character and sufferings, and the reward will be common."
Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.
13-16. We have here the practical application of the foregoing principles to those disciples who sat listening to them, and to their successors in all time. Our Lord, though He began by pronouncing certain characters to be blessed—without express reference to any of His hearers—does not close the beatitudes without intimating that such characters were in existence, and that already they were before Him. Accordingly, from characters He comes to persons possessing them, saying, "Blessed are ye when men shall revile you," &c. (Mt 5:11). And now, continuing this mode of direct personal address, He startles those humble, unknown men by pronouncing them the exalted benefactors of their whole species.
Ye are the salt of the earth—to preserve it from corruption, to season its insipidity, to freshen and sweeten it. The value of salt for these purposes is abundantly referred to by classical writers as well as in Scripture; and hence its symbolical significance in the religious offerings as well of those without as of those within the pale of revealed religion. In Scripture, mankind, under the unrestrained workings of their own evil nature, are represented as entirely corrupt. Thus, before the flood (Ge 6:11, 12); after the flood (Ge 8:21); in the days of David (Ps 14:2, 3); in the days of Isaiah (Isa 1:5, 6); and in the days of Paul (Eph 2:1-3; see also Job 14:4; 15:15, 16; Joh 3:6; compared with Ro 8:8; Tit 3:2, 3). The remedy for this, says our Lord here, is the active presence of His disciples among their fellows. The character and principles of Christians, brought into close contact with it, are designed to arrest the festering corruption of humanity and season its insipidity. But how, it may be asked, are Christians to do this office for their fellow men, if their righteousness only exasperate them, and recoil, in every form of persecution, upon themselves? The answer is: That is but the first and partial effect of their Christianity upon the world: though the great proportion would dislike and reject the truth, a small but noble band would receive and hold it fast; and in the struggle that would ensue, one and another even of the opposing party would come over to His ranks, and at length the Gospel would carry all before it.
but if the salt have lost his savour—"become unsavory" or "insipid"; losing its saline or salting property. The meaning is: If that Christianity on which the health of the world depends, does in any age, region, or individual, exist only in name, or if it contain not those saving elements for want of which the world languishes,
wherewith shall it be salted?—How shall the salting qualities be restored to it? (Compare Mr 9:50). Whether salt ever does lose its saline property—about which there is a difference of opinion—is a question of no moment here. The point of the case lies in the supposition—that if it should lose it, the consequence would be as here described. So with Christians. The question is not: Can, or do, the saints ever totally lose that grace which makes them a blessing to their fellow men? But, What is to be the issue of that Christianity which is found wanting in those elements which can alone stay the corruption and season the tastelessness of an all-pervading carnality? The restoration or non-restoration of grace, or true living Christianity, to those who have lost it, has, in our judgment, nothing at all to do here. The question is not, If a man lose his grace, how shall that grace be restored to him? but, Since living Christianity is the only "salt of the earth," if men lose that, what else can supply its place? What follows is the appalling answer to this question.
it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out—a figurative expression of indignant exclusion from the kingdom of God (compare Mt 8:12; 22:13; Joh 6:37; 9:34).
and to be trodden under foot of men—expressive of contempt and scorn. It is not the mere want of a certain character, but the want of it in those whose profession and appearance were fitted to beget expectation of finding it.
Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
14. Ye are the light of the world—This being the distinctive title which our Lord appropriates to Himself (Joh 8:12; 9:5; and see Joh 1:4, 9; 3:19; 12:35, 36)—a title expressly said to be unsuitable even to the highest of all the prophets (Joh 1:8)—it must be applied here by our Lord to His disciples only as they shine with His light upon the world, in virtue of His Spirit dwelling in them, and the same mind being in them which was also in Christ Jesus. Nor are Christians anywhere else so called. Nay, as if to avoid the august title which the Master has appropriated to Himself, Christians are said to "shine"—not as "lights," as our translators render it, but—"as luminaries in the world" (Php 2:15); and the Baptist is said to have been "the burning and shining"—not "light," as in our translation, but "lamp" of his day (Joh 5:35). Let it be observed, too, that while the two figures of salt and sunlight both express the same function of Christians—their blessed influence on their fellow men—they each set this forth under a different aspect. Salt operates internally, in the mass with which it comes in contact; the sunlight operates externally, irradiating all that it reaches. Hence Christians are warily styled "the salt of the earth"—with reference to the masses of mankind with whom they are expected to mix; but "the light of the world"—with reference to the vast and variegated surface which feels its fructifying and gladdening radiance. The same distinction is observable in the second pair of those seven parables which our Lord spoke from the Galilean Lake—that of the "mustard seed," which grew to be a great overshadowing tree, answering to the sunlight which invests the world, and that of the "leaven," which a woman took and, like the salt, hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened (Mt 13:31-33).
A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid—nor can it be supposed to have been so built except to be seen by many eyes.
Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
15. Neither do men light a candle—or, lamp.
and put it under a bushel—a dry measure.
but on a candlestick—rather, "under the bushel, but on the lampstand." The article is inserted in both cases to express the familiarity of everyone with those household utensils.
and it giveth light—shineth "unto all that are in the house."
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
16. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven—As nobody lights a lamp only to cover it up, but places it so conspicuously as to give light to all who need light, so Christians, being the light of the world, instead of hiding their light, are so to hold it forth before men that they may see what a life the disciples of Christ lead, and seeing this, may glorify their Father for so redeeming, transforming, and ennobling earth's sinful children, and opening to themselves the way to like redemption and transformation.
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
Mt 5:17-48. Identity of These Principles with Those of the Ancient Economy; in Contrast with the Reigning Traditional Teaching.
Exposition of Principles (Mt 5:17-20).
17. Think not that I am come—that I came.
to destroy the law, or the prophets—that is, "the authority and principles of the Old Testament." (On the phrase, see Mt 7:12; 22:40; Lu 16:16; Ac 13:15). This general way of taking the phrase is much better than understanding "the law" and "the prophets" separately, and inquiring, as many good critics do, in what sense our Lord could be supposed to meditate the subversion of each. To the various classes of His hearers, who might view such supposed abrogation of the law and the prophets with very different feelings, our Lord's announcement would, in effect, be such as this—"Ye who tremble at the word of the Lord, fear not that I am going to sweep the foundation from under your feet: Ye restless and revolutionary spirits, hope not that I am going to head any revolutionary movement: And ye who hypocritically affect great reverence for the law and the prophets, pretend not to find anything in My teaching derogatory to God's living oracles."
I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil—Not to subvert, abrogate, or annul, but to establish the law and the prophets—to unfold them, to embody them in living form, and to enshrine them in the reverence, affection, and character of men, am I come.
For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
18. For verily I say unto you—Here, for the first time, does that august expression occur in our Lord's recorded teaching, with which we have grown so familiar as hardly to reflect on its full import. It is the expression manifestly, of supreme legislative authority; and as the subject in connection with which it is uttered is the Moral Law, no higher claim to an authority strictly divine could be advanced. For when we observe how jealously Jehovah asserts it as His exclusive prerogative to give law to men (Le 18:1-5; 19:37; 26:1-4, 13-16, &c.), such language as this of our Lord will appear totally unsuitable, and indeed abhorrent, from any creature lips. When the Baptist's words—"I say unto you" (Mt 3:9)—are compared with those of his Master here, the difference of the two cases will be at once apparent.
Till heaven and earth pass—Though even the Old Testament announces the ultimate "perdition of the heavens and the earth," in contrast with the immutability of Jehovah (Ps 102:24-27), the prevalent representation of the heavens and the earth in Scripture, when employed as a popular figure, is that of their stability (Ps 119:89-91; Ec 1:4; Jer 33:25, 26). It is the enduring stability, then, of the great truths and principles, moral and spiritual, of the Old Testament revelation which our Lord thus expresses.
one jot—the smallest of the Hebrew letters.
one tittle—one of those little strokes by which alone some of the Hebrew letters are distinguished from others like them.
shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled—The meaning is that "not so much as the smallest loss of authority or vitality shall ever come over the law." The expression, "till all be fulfilled," is much the same in meaning as "it shall be had in undiminished and enduring honor, from its greatest to its least requirements." Again, this general way of viewing our Lord's words here seems far preferable to that doctrinal understanding of them which would require us to determine the different kinds of "fulfilment" which the moral and the ceremonial parts of it were to have.
Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
19. Whosoever therefore shall break—rather, "dissolve," "annul," or "make invalid."
one of these least commandments—an expression equivalent to "one of the least of these commandments."
and shall teach men so—referring to the Pharisees and their teaching, as is plain from Mt 5:20, but of course embracing all similar schools and teaching in the Christian Church.
he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven—As the thing spoken of is not the practical breaking, or disobeying, of the law, but annulling or enervating its obligation by a vicious system of interpretation, and teaching others to do the same; so the thing threatened is not exclusion from heaven, and still less the lowest place in it, but a degraded and contemptuous position in the present stage of the kingdom of God. In other words, they shall be reduced by the retributive providence that overtakes them, to the same condition of dishonor to which, by their system and their teaching, they have brought down those eternal principles of God's law.
but whosoever shall do and teach them—whose principles and teaching go to exalt the authority and honor of God's law, in its lowest as well as highest requirements.
the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven—shall, by that providence which watches over the honor of God's moral administration, be raised to the same position of authority and honor to which they exalt the law.
For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
20. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees—The superiority to the Pharisaic righteousness here required is plainly in kind, not degree; for all Scripture teaches that entrance into God's kingdom, whether in its present or future stage, depends, not on the degree of our excellence in anything, but solely on our having the character itself which God demands. Our righteousness, then—if it is to contrast with the outward and formal righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees—must be inward, vital, spiritual. Some, indeed, of the scribes and Pharisees themselves might have the very righteousness here demanded; but our Lord is speaking, not of persons, but of the system they represented and taught.
ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven—If this refer, as in Mt 5:19, rather to the earthly stage of this kingdom, the meaning is that without a righteousness exceeding that of the Pharisees, we cannot be members of it at all, save in name. This was no new doctrine (Ro 2:28, 29; 9:6; Php 3:3). But our Lord's teaching here stretches beyond the present scene, to that everlasting stage of the kingdom, where without "purity of heart" none "shall see God."
The Spirituality of the True Righteousness in Contrast with That of the Scribes and Pharisees, Illustrated from the Sixth Commandment. (Mt 5:21-26).
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:
21. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time—or, as in the Margin, "to them of old time." Which of these translations is the right one has been much controverted. Either of them is grammatically defensible, though the latter—"to the ancients"—is more consistent with New Testament usage (see the Greek of Ro 9:12, 26; Re 6:11; 9:4); and most critics decide in favor of it. But it is not a question of Greek only. Nearly all who would translate "to the ancients" take the speaker of the words quoted to be Moses in the law; "the ancients" to be the people to whom Moses gave the law; and the intention of our Lord here to be to contrast His own teaching, more or less, with that of Moses; either as opposed to it—as some go the length of affirming—or at least as modifying, enlarging, elevating it. But who can reasonably imagine such a thing, just after the most solemn and emphatic proclamation of the perpetuity of the law, and the honor and glory in which it was to be held under the new economy? To us it seems as plain as possible that our Lord's one object is to contrast the traditional perversions of the law with the true sense of it as expounded by Himself. A few of those who assent to this still think that "to the ancients" is the only legitimate translation of the words; understanding that our Lord is reporting what had been said to the ancients, not by Moses, but by the perverters of his law. We do not object to this; but we incline to think (with Beza, and after him with Fritzsche, Olshausen, Stier, and Bloomfield) that "by the ancients" must have been what our Lord meant here, referring to the corrupt teachers rather than the perverted people.
Thou shall not kill:—that is, This being all that the law requires, whosoever has imbrued his hands in his brother's blood, but he only, is guilty of a breach of this commandment.
and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment—liable to the judgment; that is, of the sentence of those inferior courts of judicature which were established in all the principal towns, in compliance with De 16:16. Thus was this commandment reduced, from a holy law of the heart-searching God, to a mere criminal statute, taking cognizance only of outward actions, such as that which we read in Ex 21:12; Le 24:17.
But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
22. But I say unto you—Mark the authoritative tone in which—as Himself the Lawgiver and Judge—Christ now gives the true sense, and explains the deep reach, of the commandment.
That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca! shall be in danger of the council; but whosoever shall say, Thou fool! shall be in danger of hell-fire—It is unreasonable to deny, as Alexander does, that three degrees of punishment are here meant to be expressed, and to say that it is but a threefold expression of one and the same thing. But Romish expositors greatly err in taking the first two—"the judgment" and "the council"—to refer to degrees of temporal punishment with which lesser sins were to be visited under the Gospel, and only the last—"hell-fire"—to refer to the future life. All three clearly refer to divine retribution, and that alone, for breaches of this commandment; though this is expressed by an allusion to Jewish tribunals. The "judgment," as already explained, was the lowest of these; the "council," or "Sanhedrim,"—which sat at Jerusalem—was the highest; while the word used for "hell-fire" contains an allusion to the "valley of the son of Hinnom" (Jos 18:16). In this valley the Jews, when steeped in idolatry, went the length of burning their children to Molech "on the high places of Tophet"—in consequence of which good Josiah defiled it, to prevent the repetition of such abominations (2Ki 23:10); and from that time forward, if we may believe the Jewish writers, a fire was kept burning in it to consume the carrion and all kinds of impurities that collected about the capital. Certain it is, that while the final punishment of the wicked is described in the Old Testament by allusions to this valley of Tophet or Hinnom (Isa 30:33; 66:24), our Lord Himself describes the same by merely quoting these terrific descriptions of the evangelical prophet (Mr 9:43-48). What precise degrees of unholy feeling towards our brothers are indicated by the words "Raca" and "fool" it would be as useless as it is vain to inquire. Every age and every country has its modes of expressing such things; and no doubt our Lord seized on the then current phraseology of unholy disrespect and contempt, merely to express and condemn the different degrees of such feeling when brought out in words, as He had immediately before condemned the feeling itself. In fact, so little are we to make of mere words, apart from the feeling which they express, that as anger is expressly said to have been borne by our Lord towards His enemies though mixed with "grief for the hardness of their hearts" (Mr 3:5), and as the apostle teaches us that there is an anger which is not sinful (Eph 4:26); so in the Epistle of James (Jas 2:20) we find the words, "O vain (or, empty) man"; and our Lord Himself applies the very word "fools" twice in one breath to the blind guides of the people (Mt 23:17, 19)—although, in both cases, it is to false reasoners rather than persons that such words are applied. The spirit, then, of the whole statement may be thus given: "For ages ye have been taught that the sixth commandment, for example, is broken only by the murderer, to pass sentence upon whom is the proper business of the recognized tribunals. But I say unto you that it is broken even by causeless anger, which is but hatred in the bud, as hatred is incipient murder (1Jo 3:15); and if by the feelings, much more by those words in which all ill feeling, from the slightest to the most envenomed, are wont to be cast upon a brother: and just as there are gradations in human courts of judicature, and in the sentences which they pronounce according to the degrees of criminality, so will the judicial treatment of all the breakers of this commandment at the divine tribunal be according to their real criminality before the heart-searching Judge." Oh, what holy teaching is this!
Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;
23. Therefore—to apply the foregoing, and show its paramount importance.
if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught—of just complaint "against thee."
Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
24. Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother—The meaning evidently is—not, "dismiss from thine own breast all ill feeling," but "get thy brother to dismiss from his mind all grudge against thee."
and then come and offer thy gift—"The picture," says Tholuck, "is drawn from life. It transports us to the moment when the Israelite, having brought his sacrifice to the court of the Israelites, awaited the instant when the priest would approach to receive it at his hands. He waits with his gift at the rails which separate the place where he stands from the court of the priests, into which his offering will presently be taken, there to be slain by the priest, and by him presented upon the altar of sacrifice." It is at this solemn moment, when about to cast himself upon divine mercy, and seek in his offering a seal of divine forgiveness, that the offerer is supposed, all at once, to remember that some brother has a just cause of complaint against him through breach of this commandment in one or other of the ways just indicated. What then? Is he to say, As soon as I have offered this gift I will go straight to my brother, and make it up with him? Nay; but before another step is taken—even before the offering is presented—this reconciliation is to be sought, though the gift have to be left unoffered before the altar. The converse of the truth here taught is very strikingly expressed in Mr 11:25, 26: "And when ye stand praying (in the very act), forgive, if ye have aught (of just complaint) against any; that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive you," &c. Hence the beautiful practice of the early Church, to see that all differences amongst brethren and sisters in Christ were made up, in the spirit of love, before going to the Holy Communion; and the Church of England has a rubrical direction to this effect in her Communion service. Certainly, if this be the highest act of worship on earth, such reconciliation though obligatory on all other occasions of worship—must be peculiarly so then.
Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.
25. Agree with thine adversary—thine opponent in a matter cognizable by law.
quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him—"to the magistrate," as in Lu 12:58.
lest at any time—here, rather, "lest at all," or simply "lest."
the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge—having pronounced thee in the wrong.
deliver thee to the officer—the official whose business it is to see the sentence carried into effect.
Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.
26. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing—a fractional Roman coin, to which our "farthing" answers sufficiently well. That our Lord meant here merely to give a piece of prudential advice to his hearers, to keep out of the hands of the law and its officials by settling all disputes with one another privately, is not for a moment to be supposed, though there are critics of a school low enough to suggest this. The concluding words—"Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out," &c.—manifestly show that though the language is drawn from human disputes and legal procedure, He is dealing with a higher than any human quarrel, a higher than any human tribunal, a higher than any human and temporal sentence. In this view of the words—in which nearly all critics worthy of the name agree—the spirit of them may be thus expressed: "In expounding the sixth commandment, I have spoken of offenses between man and man; reminding you that the offender has another party to deal with besides him whom he has wronged on earth, and assuring you that all worship offered to the Searcher of hearts by one who knows that a brother has just cause of complaint against him, and yet takes no steps to remove it, is vain: But I cannot pass from this subject without reminding you of One whose cause of complaint against you is far more deadly than any that man can have against man: and since with that Adversary you are already on the way to judgment, it will be your wisdom to make up the quarrel without delay, lest sentence of condemnation be pronounced upon you, and then will execution straightway follow, from the effects of which you shall never escape as long as any remnant of the offense remains unexpiated." It will be observed that as the principle on which we are to "agree" with this "Adversary" is not here specified, and the precise nature of the retribution that is to light upon the despisers of this warning is not to be gathered from the mere use of the word "prison"; so, the remedilessness of the punishment is not in so many words expressed, and still less is its actual cessation taught. The language on all these points is designedly general; but it may safely be said that the unending duration of future punishment—elsewhere so clearly and awfully expressed by our Lord Himself, as in Mt 5:29, 30, and Mr 9:43, 48—is the only doctrine with which His language here quite naturally and fully accords. (Compare Mt 18:30, 34).
The Same Subject Illustrated from the Seventh Commandment (Mt 5:27-32).
Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:
27. Ye have heard that it was said—The words "by," or "to them of old time," in this verse are insufficiently supported, and probably were not in the original text.
Thou shall not commit adultery—Interpreting this seventh, as they did the sixth commandment, the traditional perverters of the law restricted the breach of it to acts of criminal intercourse between, or with, married persons exclusively. Our Lord now dissipates such delusions.
But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.
28. But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her—with the intent to do so, as the same expression is used in Mt 6:1; or, with the full consent of his will, to feed thereby his unholy desires.
hath committed adultery with her already in his heart—We are not to suppose, from the word here used—"adultery"—that our Lord means to restrict the breach of this commandment to married persons, or to criminal intercourse with such. The expressions, "whosoever looketh," and "looketh upon a woman," seem clearly to extend the range of this commandment to all forms of impurity, and the counsels which follow—as they most certainly were intended for all, whether married or unmarried—seem to confirm this. As in dealing with the sixth commandment our Lord first expounds it, and then in the four following verses applies His exposition (Mt 5:21-25), so here He first expounds the seventh commandment, and then in the four following verses applies His exposition (Mt 5:28-32).
And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
29. And if thy right eye—the readier and the dearer of the two.
offend thee—be a "trap spring," or as in the New Testament, be "an occasion of stumbling" to thee.
pluck it out and cast it from thee—implying a certain indignant promptitude, heedless of whatever cost to feeling the act may involve. Of course, it is not the eye simply of which our Lord speaks—as if execution were to be done upon the bodily organ—though there have been fanatical ascetics who have both advocated and practiced this, showing a very low apprehension of spiritual things—but the offending eye, or the eye considered as the occasion of sin; and consequently, only the sinful exercise of the organ which is meant. For as one might put out his eyes without in the least quenching the lust to which they ministered, so, "if thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light," and, when directed by a holy mind, becomes an "instrument of righteousness unto God." At the same time, just as by cutting off a hand, or plucking out an eye, the power of acting and of seeing would be destroyed, our Lord certainly means that we are to strike at the root of such unholy dispositions, as well as cut off the occasions which tend to stimulate them.
for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell—He who despises the warning to cast from him, with indignant promptitude, an offending member, will find his whole body "cast," with a retributive promptitude of indignation, "into hell." Sharp language, this, from the lips of Love incarnate!
And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
30. And if thy right hand—the organ of action, to which the eye excites.
offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee; for it is profitable, &c.—See on Mt 5:29. The repetition, in identical terms, of such stern truths and awful lessons seems characteristic of our Lord's manner of teaching. Compare Mr 9:43-48.
It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:
31. It hath been said—This shortened form was perhaps intentional, to mark a transition from the commandments of the Decalogue to a civil enactment on the subject of divorce, quoted from De 24:1. The law of divorce—according to its strictness or laxity—has so intimate a bearing upon purity in the married life, that nothing could be more natural than to pass from the seventh commandment to the loose views on that subject then current.
Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement—a legal check upon reckless and tyrannical separation. The one legitimate ground of divorce allowed by the enactment just quoted was "some uncleanness"—in other words, conjugal infidelity. But while one school of interpreters (that of Shammai) explained this quite correctly, as prohibiting divorce in every case save that of adultery, another school (that of Hillel) stretched the expression so far as to include everything in the wife offensive or disagreeable to the husband—a view of the law too well fitted to minister to caprice and depraved inclination not to find extensive favor. And, indeed, to this day the Jews allow divorces on the most frivolous pretexts. It was to meet this that our Lord uttered what follows:
But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.
32. But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery—that is, drives her into it in case she marries again.
and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced—for anything short of conjugal infidelity.
committeth adultery—for if the commandment is broken by the one party, it must be by the other also. But see on Mt 19:4-9. Whether the innocent party, after a just divorce, may lawfully marry again, is not treated of here. The Church of Rome says, No; but the Greek and Protestant Churches allow it.
Same Subject Illustrated from the Third Commandment (Mt 5:33-37).
Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:
33. Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself—These are not the precise words of Ex 20:7; but they express all that it was currently understood to condemn, namely, false swearing (Le 19:12, &c.). This is plain from what follows.
But I say unto you, Swear not at all—That this was meant to condemn swearing of every kind and on every occasion—as the Society of Friends and some other ultra-moralists allege—is not for a moment to be thought. For even Jehovah is said once and again to have sworn by Himself; and our Lord certainly answered upon oath to a question put to Him by the high priest; and the apostle several times, and in the most solemn language, takes God to witness that he spoke and wrote the truth; and it is inconceivable that our Lord should here have quoted the precept about not forswearing ourselves, but performing to the Lord our oaths, only to give a precept of His own directly in the teeth of it. Evidently, it is swearing in common intercourse and on frivolous occasions that is here meant. Frivolous oaths were indeed severely condemned in the teaching of the times. But so narrow was the circle of them that a man might swear, says Lightfoot, a hundred thousand times and yet not be guilty of vain swearing. Hardly anything was regarded as an oath if only the name of God were not in it; just as among ourselves, as Trench well remarks, a certain lingering reverence for the name of God leads to cutting off portions of His name, or uttering sounds nearly resembling it, or substituting the name of some heathen deity, in profane exclamations or asseverations. Against all this our Lord now speaks decisively; teaching His audience that every oath carries an appeal to God, whether named or not.
neither by heaven; for it is God's throne—(quoting Isa 66:1);
But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne:
Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.
35. Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool—(quoting Isa 66:1);
neither by Jerusalem for it is the city of the great King—(quoting Ps 48:2).
Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.
36. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black—In the other oaths specified, God's name was profaned quite as really as if His name had been uttered, because it was instantly suggested by the mention of His "throne," His "footstool," His "city." But in swearing by our own head and the like, the objection lies in their being "beyond our control," and therefore profanely assumed to have a stability which they have not.
But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.
37. But let your communication—"your word," in ordinary intercourse, be,
Yea, yea; Nay, nay—Let a simple Yes and No suffice in affirming the truth or the untruth of anything. (See Jas 5:12; 2Co 1:17, 18).
for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil—not "of the evil one"; though an equally correct rendering of the words, and one which some expositors prefer. It is true that all evil in our world is originally of the devil, that it forms a kingdom at the head of which he sits, and that, in every manifestation of it he has an active part. But any reference to this here seems unnatural, and the allusion to this passage in the Epistle of James (Jas 5:12) seems to show that this is not the sense of it: "Let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation." The untruthfulness of our corrupt nature shows itself not only in the tendency to deviate from the strict truth, but in the disposition to suspect others of doing the same; and as this is not diminished, but rather aggravated, by the habit of confirming what we say by an oath, we thus run the risk of having all reverence for God's holy name, and even for strict truth, destroyed in our hearts, and so "fall into condemnation." The practice of going beyond Yes and No in affirmations and denials—as if our word for it were not enough, and we expected others to question it—springs from that vicious root of untruthfulness which is only aggravated by the very effort to clear ourselves of the suspicion of it. And just as swearing to the truth of what we say begets the disposition it is designed to remove, so the love and reign of truth in the breasts of Christ's disciples reveals itself so plainly even to those who themselves cannot be trusted, that their simple Yes and No come soon to be more relied on than the most solemn asseverations of others. Thus does the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, like a tree cast into the bitter waters of human corruption, heal and sweeten them.
Same Subject—Retaliation (Mt 5:38-42). We have here the converse of the preceding lessons. They were negative: these are positive.
Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:
38. Ye have heard that it hath been said—(Ex 21:23-25; Le 24:19, 20; De 19:21).
An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth—that is, whatever penalty was regarded as a proper equivalent for these. This law of retribution—designed to take vengeance out of the hands of private persons, and commit it to the magistrate—was abused in the opposite way to the commandments of the Decalogue. While they were reduced to the level of civil enactments, this judicial regulation was held to be a warrant for taking redress into their own hands, contrary to the injunctions of the Old Testament itself (Pr 20:22; 24:29).
But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
39. But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right check, turn to him the other also—Our Lord's own meek, yet dignified bearing, when smitten rudely on the cheek (Joh 18:22, 23), and not literally presenting the other, is the best comment on these words. It is the preparedness, after one indignity, not to invite but to submit meekly to another, without retaliation, which this strong language is meant to convey.
And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also.
40. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat—the inner garment; in pledge for a debt (Ex 22:26, 27).
let him have thy cloak also—the outer and more costly garment. This overcoat was not allowed to be retained over night as a pledge from the poor because they used it for a bed covering.
And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
41. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain—an allusion, probably, to the practice of the Romans and some Eastern nations, who, when government despatches had to be forwarded, obliged the people not only to furnish horses and carriages, but to give personal attendance, often at great inconvenience, when required. But the thing here demanded is a readiness to submit to unreasonable demands of whatever kind, rather than raise quarrels, with all the evils resulting from them. What follows is a beautiful extension of this precept.
Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.
42. Give to him that asketh thee—The sense of unreasonable asking is here implied (compare Lu 6:30).
and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away—Though the word signifies classically "to have money lent to one on security," or "with interest," yet as this was not the original sense of the word, and as usury was forbidden among the Jews (Ex 22:25, &c.), it is doubtless simple borrowing which our Lord here means, as indeed the whole strain of the exhortation implies. This shows that such counsels as "Owe no man anything" (Ro 13:8), are not to be taken absolutely; else the Scripture commendations of the righteous for "lending" to his necessitous brother (Ps 37:36; 112:5; Lu 6:37) would have no application.
turn not thou away—a graphic expression of unfeeling refusal to relieve a brother in extremity.
Same Subject—Love to Enemies (Mt 5:43-48).
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
43. Ye have heard that it hath been said—(Le 19:18).
Thou shalt love thy neighbour—To this the corrupt teachers added,
and hate thine enemy—as if the one were a legitimate inference from the other, instead of being a detestable gloss, as Bengel indignantly calls it. Lightfoot quotes some of the cursed maxims inculcated by those traditionists regarding the proper treatment of all Gentiles. No wonder that the Romans charged the Jews with hatred of the human race.
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
44. But I say unto you, Love your enemies—The word here used denotes moral love, as distinguished from the other word, which expresses personal affection. Usually, the former denotes "complacency in the character" of the person loved; but here it denotes the benignant, compassionate outgoings of desire for another's good.
bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you—The best commentary on these matchless counsels is the bright example of Him who gave them. (See 1Pe 2:21-24; and compare Ro 12:20, 21; 1Co 4:12; 1Pe 3:9). But though such precepts were never before expressed—perhaps not even conceived—with such breadth, precision, and sharpness as here, our Lord is here only the incomparable Interpreter of the law in force from the beginning; and this is the only satisfactory view of the entire strain of this discourse.
That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
45. That ye may be the children—sons.
of your Father which is in heaven—The meaning is, "that ye may show yourselves to be such by resembling Him" (compare Mt 5:9; Eph 5:1).
for he maketh his sun—"your Father's sun." Well might Bengel exclaim, "Magnificent appellation!"
to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust—rather, (without the article) "on evil and good, and on just and unjust." When we find God's own procedure held up for imitation in the law, and much more in the prophets (Le 19:2; 20:26; and compare 1Pe 1:15, 16), we may see that the principle of this surprising verse was nothing new: but the form of it certainly is that of One who spake as never man spake.
For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
46. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?—The publicans, as collectors of taxes due to the Roman government, were ever on this account obnoxious to the Jews, who sat uneasy under a foreign yoke, and disliked whatever brought this unpleasantly before them. But the extortion practiced by this class made them hateful to the community, who in their current speech ranked them with "harlots." Nor does our Lord scruple to speak of them as others did, which we may be sure He never would have done if it had been calumnious. The meaning, then, is, "In loving those who love you, there is no evidence of superior principle; the worst of men will do this: even a publican will go that length."
And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?
47. And if ye salute your brethren only—of the same nation and religion with yourselves.
what do ye more than others?—what do ye uncommon or extraordinary? that is, wherein do ye excel?
do not even the publicans so?—The true reading here appears to be, "Do not even the heathens the same?" Compare Mt 18:17, where the excommunicated person is said to be "as an heathen man and a publican."
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
48. Be ye therefore—rather, "Ye shall therefore be," or "Ye are therefore to be," as My disciples and in My kingdom.
perfect—or complete. Manifestly, our Lord here speaks, not of degrees of excellence, but of the kind of excellence which was to distinguish His disciples and characterize His kingdom. When therefore He adds,
even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect—He refers to that full-orbed glorious completeness which is in the great Divine Model, "their Father which is in heaven."