Matthew 21:44
And whoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(44) Whosoever shall fall on this stone.—There is a manifest reference to the “stumbling and falling and being broken” of Isaiah 8:14-15. In the immediate application of the words, those who “fell” were those who were “offended” at the outward lowliness of Him who came as the carpenter’s son, and died a malefactor’s death. That “fall” brought with it pain and humiliation. High hopes had to be given up, the proud heart to be bruised and broken. But there the fall was not irretrievable. The bruise might be healed; it was the work of the Christ to heal it. But when it fell on him who was thus offended (here there is a rapid transition to the imagery and the thoughts, even to the very words, of Daniel 2:35; Daniel 2:44), when Christ, or that Church which He identifies with Himself, shall come into collision with the powers that oppose Him, then it shall “grind them to powder.” The primary meaning of the word so rendered is that of winnowing by threshing the grain, and so separating it from the chaff, and its use was probably suggested by the imagery of Daniel 2:35, where the gold and silver and baser materials that made up the image of Nebuchadnezzar’s vision were “broken in pieces together, and became as the chaff of the summer threshing-floor.” In its wider meaning it includes the destruction of all that resists Christ’s kingdom, and so represents the positive side of the truth which has its negative expression in the promise that “the gates of hell shall not prevail” against His Church (Matthew 16:18).

Matthew

THE VINEYARD AND ITS KEEPERS

THE STONE OF STUMBLING

Matthew 21:44
.

As Christ’s ministry drew to its close, its severity and its gentleness both increased; its severity to the class to whom it was always severe, and its gentleness to the class from whom it never turned away. Side by side, through all His manifestation of Himself, there were the two aspects: ‘He showed Himself froward’ {if I may quote the word} to the self-righteous and the Pharisee; and He bent with more than a woman’s tenderness of yearning love over the darkness and sinfulness, which in its great darkness dimly knew itself blind, and in its sinfulness stretched out a lame hand of faith, and groped after a divine deliverer. Here, in my text, there are only words of severity and awful foreboding. Christ has been telling those Pharisees and priests that the kingdom is to be taken from them, and given to a nation that brings forth the fruits thereof. He interprets for them an Old Testament figure, often recurring, which we read in the Psalm 118:1 - Psalm 118:29 {and I may just say, in passing, that we get here His interpretation of that psalm, and the vindication of our application of it, and other similar ones, to Him and His office}; ‘The stone which the builders rejected,’ said He, ‘is become the head of the corner’; and then, falling back on other Old Testament uses of the same figure, He weaves into one the whole of them-that in Isaiah about the ‘sure foundation,’ and that in Daniel about ‘the stone cut out without hands, which became a great mountain,’ crushing down all opposition,-and centres them all in Himself; as fulfilled in Himself, in His person and His work.

The two clauses of my text figuratively point to two different classes of operation on the rejecters of the Gospel. What are these two classes? ‘Whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.’ In the one case, the stone is represented as passive, lying quiet; in the other, it has acquired motion. In the one case, the man stumbles and hurts himself; a remediable injury, a self-inflicted injury, a natural injury, without the active operation of Christ to produce it at all; in the other case the injury is worse than remediable, it is utter, absolute, grinding destruction, and it comes from the active operation of the ‘stone of stumbling.’ That is to say, the one class represents the present hurts and harms which, by the natural operation of things, without the action of Christ judicially at all, every man receives in the very act of rejecting the Gospel; and the other represents the ultimate issue of that rejection, which rejection is darkened into opposition and fixed hostility, when the stone that was laid ‘for a foundation’ has got wings {if I may so say}, and comes down in judgment, crushing and destroying the antagonist utterly. ‘Whosoever falls on this stone is broken,’ here and now; and ‘on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder,’ hereafter and yonder.

Taking, then, into account the weaving together in this passage of the three figures from the Old Testament to which I have already referred,-the rejected stone, the foundation, and the mountain-stone of Daniel, and looking in the light of these, at the twofold issues, one present and one future, which the text distinctly brings before us,-we have just three points to which I ask your attention now. First, Every man has some kind of contact with Christ. Secondly, Rejection of Him, here and now, is harm and maiming. And, lastly, Rejection of Him, hereafter and yonder, is hopeless, endless, utter destruction.

I. In the first place, every man has some kind of connection with Christ.

I am not going to enter at all now upon any question about the condition of the ‘dark places of the earth’ where the Gospel has not come as a well-known preached message; we have nothing to do with that; the principles on which they are judged is not the question before us now. I am speaking exclusively about persons who have heard the word of salvation, and are dwelling in the midst of what we call a Christian land. Christ is offered to each of us, in good faith on God’s part, as a means of salvation, a foundation on which we may build. A man is free to accept or to reject that offer. If he reject it, he has not thereby cut himself off from all contact and connection with that rejected Saviour, but he still sustains a relation to Him; and the message that he has refused to believe, is exercising an influence upon his character and his destiny.

Christ comes, I say, offered to us all in good faith on the part of God, as a foundation upon which we may build. And then comes in that strange mystery, that a man, consciously free, turns away from the offered mercy, and makes Him that was intended to be the basis of his life, the foundation of his hope, the rock on which, steadfast and serene, he should build up a temple-home for his soul to dwell in,-makes Him a stumbling-stone against which, by rejection and unbelief, he breaks himself!

My friend, will you let me lay this one thing upon your heart,-you cannot hinder the Gospel from influencing you somehow. Taking it in its lowest aspects, it is one of the forces of modern society, an element in our present civilisation. It is everywhere, it obtrudes itself on you at every turn, the air is saturated with its influence. To be unaffected by such an all-pervading phenomenon is impossible. To no individual member of the great whole of a nation is it given to isolate himself utterly from the community. Whether he oppose or whether he acquiesce in current opinions, to denude himself of the possessions which belong in common to his age and state of society is in either case impracticable. ‘That which cometh into your mind,’ said one of the prophets to the Jews who were trying to cut themselves loose from their national faith and their ancestral prerogatives, ‘That which cometh into your mind shall not be at all, that ye say, We will be as the heathen, as the families of the countries to serve wood and stone.’ Vain dream! You can no more say, I will pass the Gospel by, and it shall be nothing to me, I will simply let it alone, than you can say, I will shut myself up from other influences proper to my time and nation. You cannot go back to the old naked barbarism, and you cannot reduce the influence of Christianity, even considered merely as one of the characteristics of the times, to zero. You may fancy you are letting it alone, but it does not let you alone; it is here, and you cannot shut yourself off from it.

But it is not merely as a subtle and diffused influence that the Gospel exercises a permanent effect upon us. It is presented to each of us here individually, in the definite form of an actual offer of salvation for each, and of an actual demand of trust from each. The words pass into our souls, and thenceforward we can never be the same as if they had not been there. The smallest ray of light falling on a sensitive plate produces a chemical change that can never be undone again, and the light of Christ’s love, once brought to the knowledge and presented for the acceptance of a soul, stamps on it an ineffaceable sign of its having been there. The Gospel once heard, is always the Gospel which has been heard. Nothing can alter that. Once heard, it is henceforward a perpetual element in the whole condition, character, and destiny of the hearer.

Christ does something to every one of us. His Gospel will tell upon you, it is telling upon you. If you disbelieve it, you are not the same as if you had never heard it. Never is the box of ointment opened without some savour from it abiding in every nostril to which its odour is wafted. Only the alternative, the awful ‘either, or,’ is open for each-the ‘savour of life unto life, or the savour of death unto death.’ To come back to the illustration of the text, Christ is something, and does something to every one of us. He is either the rock on which I build, poor, weak, sinful creature as I am, getting security, and sanctity, and strength from Him, I being a living stone’ built upon ‘the living stone,’ and partaking of the vitality of the foundation; or else He is the other thing, ‘a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence to them which stumble at the word.’ Christ stands for ever in some kind of relation to, and exercises for ever some kind of influence on, every man who has heard the Gospel.

II. The immediate issue of rejection of Him is loss and maiming.

‘Whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken.’ Just think for a moment, by way of illustrating this principle, first of all, of the positive harm which you do to yourself in the act of turning away from the mercy offered you in Christ; and then think for a moment of the negative loss which you sustain by the same act.

Note the positive harm. Am I uncharitable when I say that no man ever yet passively neglected the message of love in God’s Son; but that always this is the rude outline of the experience of people who know what it is to have a Saviour offered to them, and know what it is to put Him away,-that there is a feeble and transitory movement of heart and will; that Conscience says, ‘Thou oughtest’; that Will says, ‘I would’; that the heart is touched by some sense of that great and gentle vision of light and love which passes before the eye; that the man, as it were, like some fever-ridden patient, lifts himself up for an instant from the bed on which he is lying, and puts out a hand, and then falls back again, the vacillating, fevered, paralysed will recoiling from the resolution, and the conscience having power to say, ‘Thou oughtest,’ but no power to enforce the execution of its decrees, and the heart turning away from the salvation that it would have found in the love of love, to the loss that it finds in the love of self and earth? Or in other words, is it not true that every man who rejects Christ does in simple verity reject Him, and not merely neglect Him; that there is always an effort, that there is a struggle, feeble, perhaps, but real, which ends in the turning away? It is not that you stand there, and simply let Him go past. That were bad enough; but the fact is worse than that. It is that you turn your back upon Him. It is not that His hand is laid on yours, and yours remains dead and cold, and does not open to clasp it; but it is that His hand being laid on yours, you clench yours the tighter, and will not have it. And so every man {I believe} who rejects Christ does these things thereby-wounds his own conscience, hardens his own heart, makes himself a worse man, just because he has had a glimpse, and has willingly, and almost consciously, ‘loved darkness rather than light.’ Oh, brethren, the message of love can never come into a human soul, and pass away from it unreceived, without leaving that spirit worse, with all its lowest characteristics strengthened, and all its best ones depressed, by the fact of rejection. I have nothing to do now with pursuing that process to its end; but the natural result-if there were no future Judgment at all, if there were no movement ever given to the stone that you ought to build on-the natural result of the simple rejection of the Gospel is that, bit by bit, all the lingering remains of nobleness that hover about the man, like scent about a broken vase, pass away; and that, step by step, through the simple process of saying, ‘I will not have Christ to rule over me,’ the whole being degenerates, until manhood becomes devil-hood, and the soul is lost by its own want of faith. Unbelief is its own judgment; unbelief is its own condemnation; unbelief, as sin, is punished, like all other sins, by the perpetuation of deeper and darker forms of itself. Every time that you stifle a conviction, fight down a conviction, or drive away a conviction; and every time that you feebly move towards the decision, ‘I will trust Him, and love Him, and be His,’ yet fail to realise it, you have harmed your soul, you have made yourself a worse man, you have lowered the tone of your conscience, you have enfeebled your will, you have made your heart harder against love, you have drawn another horny scale over the eye, that will prevent you from seeing the light that is yonder; you have, as much as in you is, withdrawn from God, and approximated to the other pole of the universe {if I may say that}, to the dark and deadly antagonist of mercy, and goodness, and truth, and grace. ‘Whosoever falls on this stone,’ by the natural result of his unbelief, ‘shall be broken’ and maimed, and shall mar his own nature.

I need not dwell on the negative evil results of unbelief; the loss of that which is the only guide for a man, the taking away, or rather the failing to possess, that great love above us, that divine Spirit in us, by which only we are ever made what we ought to be. This only I would leave with you, in this part of my subject, Whoever is not in Christ is maimed. Only he that is ‘a man in Christ’ has come ‘to the measure of the stature of a perfect man.’ There, and there alone, do we get the power which will make us full-grown. There alone is the soul planted in that good soil in which, growing, it becomes as a rounded, perfect tree, with leaves and fruits in their season. All other men are half-men, quarter-men, fragments of men, parts of humanity exaggerated and contorted and distorted from the reconciling whole which the Christian ought to be, and in proportion to his Christianity is on the road to be, and one day will assuredly and actually be, a ‘complete and entire man, wanting nothing’; nothing maimed, nothing broken, the realisation of the ideal of humanity, the renewed copy ‘of the second Adam, the Lord from heaven.’

There is another consideration closely connected with this second part of my subject, that I just mention and pass on. Not only by the act of rejection of Christ do we harm and maim ourselves, but also all attempts at opposition-formal opposition-to the Gospel as a system, stand self-convicted and self-condemned to speedy decay. What a commentary upon that word, ‘Whosoever falls on this stone shall be broken,’ is the whole history of the heresies of the Church and the assaults of unbelief! Man after man, rich in gifts, endowed often with far larger and nobler faculties than the people who oppose him, with indomitable perseverance, a martyr to his error, sets himself up against the truth that is sphered in Jesus Christ; and the great divine message simply goes on its way, and all the babblement and noise are like so many bats flying against a light, or like the sea-birds that come sweeping up in the tempest and the night, to the hospitable Pharos that is upon the rock, and smite themselves dead against it. Sceptics well known in their generation, who made people’s hearts tremble for the ark of God, what has become of them? Their books lie dusty and undisturbed on the top shelf of libraries; whilst there the Bible stands, with all the scribblings wiped off the page, as though they had never been! Opponents fire their small shot against the great Rock of Ages, and the little pellets fall flattened, and only scale off a bit of the moss that has gathered there! My brother, let the history of the past teach you and me, with other deeper thoughts, a very calm and triumphant confidence about all that opponents say nowadays; for all the modern opposition to this Gospel will go as all the past has done, and the newest systems which cut and carve at Christianity, will go to the tomb where all the rest have gone; and dead old infidelities will rise up from their thrones, and say to the bran-new ones of this generation, when their day is worked out, ‘Are ye also become weak as we? art thou also become like one of us?’ ‘Whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken’: personally, he will be harmed; and his opinions, and his books, and his talk, and all his argumentation, will come to nothing, like the waves that break into impotent foam against the rocky cliffs.

III. Last of all, the issue, the ultimate issue, of unbelief is irremediable destruction when Christ begins to move.

The former clause has spoken about the harm that naturally follows unbelief whilst the Gospel is being preached; the latter clause speaks about the active agency of Christ when the end shall have come, and the preaching of the Gospel shall have merged into the act of judgment. I do not mean to dwell, brethren, upon that thought; it seems to me far too awful a one to be handled by my hands, at any rate. Let us leave it in the vagueness and dreadfulness of the words of Him who never spoke exaggerated words, and who, when He said, ‘It shall grind him to powder,’ meant {as it seems to me} nothing less than a destruction which, contrasted with the former remediable wounding and breaking, was a destruction utter, and hopeless, and everlasting, and without remedy. Ground-ground to powder! Any life left in that? any gathering up of that, and making a man of it again? All the humanity battered out of it, and the life clean gone from it! Does not that sound very much like ‘everlasting destruction from the presence of God and from the glory of His power’? Christ, silent now, will begin to speak; passive now, will begin to act. The stone comes down, and the fall of it will be awful. I remember, away up in a lonely Highland valley, where beneath a tall black cliff, all weather-worn, and cracked, and seamed, there lies at the foot, resting on the greensward that creeps round its base, a huge rock, that has fallen from the face of the precipice. A shepherd was passing beneath it; and suddenly, when the finger of God’s will touched it, and rent it from its ancient bed in the everlasting rock, it came down, leaping and bounding from pinnacle to pinnacle-and it fell; and the man that was beneath it is there now! ‘Ground to powder.’ Ah, my brethren, that is not my illustration-that is Christ’s. Therefore I say to you, since all that stand against Him shall become ‘as the chaff of the summer threshing-floor,’ and be swept utterly away, make Him the foundation on which you build; and when the storm sweeps away every ‘refuge of lies,’ you will be safe and serene, builded upon the Rock of Ages.Matthew 21:44-46. Whosoever shall fall on this stone — Which the builders have rejected, but which God will make the head of the corner; that is, whosoever shall stumble at me and my doctrine, while I am here on earth in this humble form; shall be broken — Shall receive much damage. This is spoken in allusion to a person stumbling on a stone, thrown aside as useless; but on whomsoever it shall fall — When raised up to the head of the corner; it will grind him to powder — Like a brittle potsherd, crushed by the weight of some huge stone falling upon it from on high. So whosoever shall oppose me, after my exaltation to glory, and the outpouring of my Spirit, for the full revelation of my gospel, and proof of my mission, he will bring upon himself aggravated guilt, and dreadful, unavoidable destruction. Dr. Whitby thinks, that there is an allusion in these words to the two different ways of stoning among the Jews; the former by throwing a person down upon a great stone, and the other by letting a stone fall upon him. But it seems more probable that the allusion is to Daniel 2:34; where the destruction of all the opposers of the Messiah’s kingdom is described in terms partly similar. See the notes there. “The chief priests, perceiving the drift of our Lord’s parables, were highly incensed, and would gladly have apprehended him to punish him that moment, but they durst not. It is true, they were not afraid of God, who is the avenger of such crimes, but they were afraid of the people, who constantly crowded around Jesus in the temple, and had openly acknowledged him as their Messiah.” — Macknight. 21:33-46 This parable plainly sets forth the sin and ruin of the Jewish nation; and what is spoken to convict them, is spoken to caution all that enjoy the privileges of the outward church. As men treat God's people, they would treat Christ himself, if he were with them. How can we, if faithful to his cause, expect a favourable reception from a wicked world, or from ungodly professors of Christianity! And let us ask ourselves, whether we who have the vineyard and all its advantages, render fruits in due season, as a people, as a family, or as separate persons. Our Saviour, in his question, declares that the Lord of the vineyard will come, and when he comes he will surely destroy the wicked. The chief priests and the elders were the builders, and they would not admit his doctrine or laws; they threw him aside as a despised stone. But he who was rejected by the Jews, was embraced by the Gentiles. Christ knows who will bring forth gospel fruits in the use of gospel means. The unbelief of sinners will be their ruin. But God has many ways of restraining the remainders of wrath, as he has of making that which breaks out redound to his praise. May Christ become more and more precious to our souls, as the firm Foundation and Cornerstone of his church. May we be willing to follow him, though despised and hated for his sake.Whosoever shall fall ... - There is a reference here, doubtless, to Isaiah 8:14-15. Having made an allusion to himself "as a stone," or a rock Matthew 21:42, he proceeds to state the consequences of coming in contact with it. He that falls upon it shall be broken; he that "runs against it" - a cornerstone, standing out from the other parts of the foundation shall be injured, or broken in his limbs or body. He that is offended with my being the foundation, or that opposes me, shall by the act injure himself, or make himself miserable "by so doing," even were there nothing further. But there is something further.

On whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder - That is, in the original, will reduce him to dust, so that it may be scattered by the winds. There is an allusion here, doubtless, to the custom of stoning as a punishment among the Jews. A scaffold was erected twice the height of the man to be stoned. Standing on its edge, he was violently struck off by one of the witnesses: if he died by the blow and the fall, nothing further was done; if not, a heavy stone was thrown down on him, which at once killed him. So the Saviour speaks of the "falling" of the stone on his enemies. They who oppose him, who reject him, and who continue impenitent, shall be crushed by him in the day of judgment, and perish forever.

44. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder—The Kingdom of God is here a Temple, in the erection of which a certain stone, rejected as unsuitable by the spiritual builders, is, by the great Lord of the House, made the keystone of the whole. On that Stone the builders were now "falling" and being "broken" (Isa 8:15). They were sustaining great spiritual hurt; but soon that Stone should "fall upon them" and "grind them to powder" (Da 2:34, 35; Zec 12:2)—in their corporate capacity, in the tremendous destruction of Jerusalem, but personally, as unbelievers, in a more awful sense still.Ver. 42-44. Mark saith, Mark 12:10,11, And have ye not read this scripture, The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner: this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes. Luke saith, Luke 20:17,18, And he beheld them, and said, What is this then that is written, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner? Whosoever shall fall upon that stone shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder. It is more than probable that our Saviour had more words with them upon this argument than are left us upon sacred record; for John hath let us know, that we are not to expect that all he did or spake should be written, John 21:25; and as not every discourse or action, so not all words in the same discourse, nor all circumstances relating to the same action. Knowing themselves and their masters to be the husbandmen with whom the Lord had entrusted this vineyard the house of Israel, it is not reasonable to think they should be very patient to hear that God would miserably destroy them as wicked men, and commit his vineyard to the trust of others. We cannot therefore in reason imagine but that they should reply something to that, as thinking it a strange thing that he should assert, that for the rejection of him, God would reject his ancient people, and cast off the church of the Jews. To show this was nothing which ought to seem strange to them, he asks them, Did ye never read in the Scriptures, The stone, & c. Luke saith, he beheld them, and said, What is this then, &c.? As if the Pharisees had charged him with speaking without any warrant from the word of God, there was no such thing in the law or prophets. To convince them of their mistake, or at least that there was nothing in that he said which needed to appear strange to them, he saith, Did ye never read? or, Have ye not read the scripture? (so Mark relates it); or, What is this then? As Luke hath it. The text he quotes is Psalm 118:22,23. It is manifest that the Jews understood that Psalm to be a prophecy of Christ, by the people’s acclamations of Hosanna; for the substance of those acclamations are in Psalm 118:25,26: Save now, I beseech thee, O Lord: O Lord, I beseech thee, send now prosperity. Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. Hoshiah na, hn he eyvwh Save, I beseech thee. This they understood of the Messiah. This they had heard cried unto our Saviour. Saith our Saviour, In that very Psalm you may read, The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner. Before he had compared the church to a vineyard, to show their obligation to bring forth fruit; here to a building, to denote God’s dwelling in it. The builders here intended were the heads of the Jewish church, who not only by their own pretences, but by their calling, were builders, and ought to have been builders; though indeed they proved destroyers and pullers down, instead of builders. The church is elsewhere compared to a building, 1 Corinthians 3:9 Ephesians 2:21; and the teachers in it to builders, Romans 15:20 Galatians 2:18. Our Lord is here compared to a stone, because he is the only firm foundation, the chief cornerstone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit, Ephesians 2:20-22: called by the prophet Isaiah, Isaiah 28:16, a stone laid in Zion for a foundation, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; which is applied to Christ, Acts 4:11 Romans 9:33 1 Peter 2:6-8. He is become the head of the corner, that is, the chief, the principal stone in the building. Lest they should be startled at this, he addeth, this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes. This may seem strange to you, that those who seemed to be builders and pillars should be rejected and thrown away; and no wonder, for it is the Lord’s doing. In the reformations of churches from gross corruptions, God doth always some extraordinary things, which we are not at present able to reconcile to other reasons. Matthew 21:43, (which some think should have been put after the next verse), our Lord tells them plainly, that God was removing his church from them to the Gentiles, which he calleth a people that should bring forth the fruits thereof.

And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: there will be many that shall be offended at Christ, his person, his doctrine, his institutions, upon which account he is called a stumbling stone, Romans 9:33. But they shall be broken: if they take offence at me, so as they will not believe on me, nor receive me, it will be their ruin.

But on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder: if they shall go on to persecute me and my members, so that I fall on them, they shall be ruined, irreparably and irrecoverably, with a more dreadful destruction. And whosoever shall fall on this stone,.... This is not to be understood of believing in Christ, or of a soul's casting itself on Christ, the foundation stone; relying on him, and building all its hopes of happiness and salvation on him; which is attended with contrition and brokenness of heart, or repentance unto life, which needed not to be repented of nor of a believer's offending Christ by evil works, whereby his conscience is wounded, his soul is grieved, and his faith shaken; and though he is hereby in great danger, he shall not be utterly destroyed, but being recovered by repentance, shall be preserved unto salvation; but of such to whom Christ is a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence: for as he is the foundation and corner stone to some, and is set for the rising of them, and to whom he is precious; so he is a stone set for the fall of others, and at which they stumble and fall, and fall upon it: and such are they who are offended at Christ's state of humiliation on earth; at the manner of his birth, the meanness of his parentage, and education; the despicable figure he made in his person, disciples, and audience; and at his sufferings and death: and these "shall be broken": as a man that stumbles at a stone, and falls upon it, breaks his head or his bones, at least bruises himself, does not hurt the stone, but the stone hurts him; so all such as are offended at Christ, injure their own souls, being filled with prejudices against him, and contempt and disbelief of him, which if grace prevents not will issue in their everlasting destruction: but whilst there is life, the means of grace continue, the kingdom of God is not taken away; there is hope that such may be recovered from their impenitence and unbelief: "but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder". Just as if a millstone, or any stone of such like weight and bulk, was to fall upon an earthen vessel; or, as the stone cut out of the mountain without hands, by which the Messiah and his kingdom, are designed, brake in pieces the image in Nebuchadnezzar's dream, so that it became like the chaff of the summer threshing floor. As the former part of this verse expresses the sin of unbelievers, and the danger they are exposed unto by it, this sets forth their punishment; and has respect both to the vengeance of Christ, on the Jewish nation, at their destruction, which would fall heavy from him in his state of exaltation, for their evil treatment of him in his state of humiliation; and to his severe wrath, which will be executed at the day of judgment on all unbelievers, impenitent Christless sinners, who have both offended him, and been offended at him; when their destruction will be inevitable, their salvation irretrievable, and their souls irrecoverably lost, and ruined. Some have thought, that there is an allusion in these words to the manner of stoning among the Jews, which was this (e):

"the place of stoning was two men's heights; one of the witnesses struck him on his loins, to throw him down from thence, to the ground: if he died, it was well; if not, they took a stone, which lay there, and was as much as two men could carry, and cast it, with all their might, upon his breast: if he died, it was well; if not, he was stoned by all Israel.

Maimonides observes (f), that "stoning, or throwing down from the high place, was that he might fall upon the stone, or that the stone might fall upon him; and which of them either it was, the pain was the same.

(e) Misu. Sanhedrin, c. 6. sect. 4. T. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 45. 1, 2. Maimon. Hilch. Sanhedrin, c. 15. sect 1. Moses Kotsensis Mitzvot Tora pr. Affirm. 99. (f) In Misn. Sanhedrin, c. 6. sect. 4.

And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will {b} grind him to powder.

(b) As chaff used to be scattered with the wind, for he uses a word which properly signifies separating the chaff from the corn with winnowing, and to scatter it abroad.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Matthew 21:44. After having indicated the future punishment in the merely negative form of ἀρθήσεται κ.τ.λ., Jesus now proceeds to announce it in positive terms, by means of parallelism in which, without dropping the metaphor of the stone, the person in question is first the subject and then the object. A solemn exhausting of the whole subject of the coming doom. And whosoever will have fallen upon this stone (whosoever by rejecting the Messiah shall have incurred the judgment consequent thereon) shall he broken (by his fall); but on whomsoever it shall fall (whomsoever the Messiah, as an avenger, shall have overtaken), it shall winnow him, i.e. throw him off like the chaff from the winnowing-fan. συνθλᾶσθαι (to be crushed) and λικμᾶσθαι, which form a climax, are intended to portray the execution of the Messianic judgments. λικμάω is not equivalent to conterere, comminucre, the meaning usually assigned to it in accordance with the Vulgate, but is rather to be rendered by to winnow, ventilare (Il. v. 500; Xen. Oec. xviii. 2. 6; Plut. Mot. p. 701 C; Lucian, Gymnas. xxv.; Ruth 3:2; Sir 5:10). See likewise Job 27:21, where the Sept. employs this figurative term for the purpose of rendering the idea of driving away as before a storm (שׂער). Comp. Daniel 2:44; Wis 11:20.

Observe the change which the figure undergoes in the second division of the verse. The stone that previously appeared in the character of the corner-stone, lying at rest, and on which, as on a stone of stumbling (Isaiah 8:14 f.), some one falls, is now conceived of as rolling down with crushing force upon the man; the latter having reference to the whole of such coming (Matthew 21:40) in judgment down to the second advent; the former expressing the same thought in a passive form, κεῖται εἰς πτῶσιν (Luke 2:34).Matthew 21:44. his verse, bracketed by W. H[120], found in the same connection in Lk. (Luke 20:18), looks rather like an interpolation, yet it suits the situation, serving as a solemn warning to men meditating evil intentions against the Speaker.—ὁ πεσὼν: he who falls on the stone, as if stumbling against it (Isaiah 8:14).—συνθλασθήσεται, shall be broken in pieces, like an earthen vessel falling on a rock. This compound is found only in late Greek authors.—ἐφʼ ὃν δʼ ἂν πέσῃ, on whom it shall fall, in judgment. The distinction is between men who believe not in the Christ through misunderstanding and those who reject Him through an evil heart of unbelief. Both suffer in consequence, but not in the same way, or to the same extent. The one is broken, hurt in limb; the other crushed to powder, which the winds blow away.—λικμήσει, from λικμός, a winnowing fork, to winnow, to scatter to the winds, implying reduction to dust capable of being so scattered = grinding to powder (conteret, Vulg[121]). For the distinction taken in this verse, cf. chaps. Matthew 11:6; Matthew 12:31-32.

[120] Westcott and Hort.

[121] Vulgate (Jerome’s revision of old Latin version).44. whosoever shall fall on this stone, &c.] Lightfoot, Hor. Hebr., sees here a reference to the custom of stoning: “the place of stoning was twice as high as a man. From the top of this, one of the witnesses striking him on his loins, fells him to the ground: if he died of this, well; if not, another witness threw a stone upon his heart.”

But it is better to refer the image to an earthenware vessel (1) falling to the ground when it would be shattered, or (2) crushed by a stone when it would be bruised into atoms.

will grind him to powder] The Greek word lit. = “to winnow.” So “cause to disappear,” “destroy.” Those to whom Jesus is a “rock of offence” (1 Peter 2:8; Isaiah 8:14) in the days of His humiliation shall have great sorrow: but to incur His wrath when He comes to judge the earth will be utter destruction.Matthew 21:44. Ὁ πεσὼν ἐπὶ, κ.τ.λ., whosoever shall fall on, etc.) He falleth on this Stone (sc. Christ in His humiliation) who stumbles (offendit) by not believing, whilst the Gospel is being preached; but this Stone (sc. Christ in His glory) falleth on him, who is crushed by His sudden coming to judgment. Both happen especially to the Jews, and also to the Gentiles. See 2 Thessalonians 1:8, and Daniel 2:34; Daniel 2:45.—λικμήσει, shall scatter, dissolve, dissipate, reduce to dust) The verb λικμᾶν signifies to scatter, as when chaff is given to the winds. See the LXX., who employ this verb in Job 27:21 for the Hebrew שער, to sweep away in a storm; in Daniel 2:44, for אסף, to destroy; and repeatedly elsewhere for זרה, to scatter or disperse.Verse 44. - Christ proceeds to show the positive and terrible results of such unbelief. Whosoever shall fall (πεσὼν, hath fallen) on this stone shall be broken (συνθλασθήσεται, shall be shattered to pieces). This may refer to the practice of executing the punishment of stoning by first hurling the culprit from a raised platform on to a rock or stone, and then stoning him to death. The falling on the stone has been explained in more ways than one. Some think that it implies coming to Christ in repentance and humility, with a contrite heart, which he will not despise. But the subject here is the punishment of the obdurate. Others take it to represent an attack made by the enemies of Christ, who shall demolish themselves by such onslaught. The original will hardly allow this interpretation. Doubtless the allusion is to those who found in Christ's low estate a stone of stumbling and rock of offence. These suffered grievous loss and danger even in this present time. The rejection of the doctrine of Christ crucified involves the loss of spiritual privileges, moral debility, and what is elsewhere called "the scattering abroad" (Matthew 12:30; comp. Isaiah 8:14, 15). On whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder (λικμήσει αὐτὸν, it will scatter him as chaff). The persons here spoken of are not those who are offended at Christ's low estate; they are such as put themselves in active opposition to him and his kingdom; on them he will fall in terrible vengeance, and will utterly destroy them without hope of recovery. The idea is rerepeated from Daniel 2:34, 35, and Daniel 2:44, 45. Christ in his humiliation is the Stone against which men fall; Christ in his glory and exaltation is the Stone which falls on them. Shall be broken (συνθλασθήσεται)

The verb is stronger: broken to pieces; so Rev.

Grind him to powder (λικμήσει αὐτόν)

But the A. V. misses the picture in the word, which is that of the winnowing-fan that separates the grain from the chaff. Literally it is, will winnow him. Rev., scatter scatter as dust.

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