Matthew 3:9
And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say to you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(9) We have Abraham to (better, as) our father.—The boast seems to have been common, as in John 8:33-39, and was connected with the belief that this alone, or taken together with the confession of the creed of Israel “the Lord our God is one Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:4), would be enough to ensure for every Jew an admission into Paradise. The “bosom” of Abraham was wide enough to receive all his children. “We have Abraham as our father” was to the Jew all and more than all that “civis Romanus sum” was to the Romans.

Of these stones.—The words were obviously dramatised by gesture, pointing to the pebbles on the banks of the Jordan. In their spiritual application, they are remarkable as containing the germs of all the teaching of our Lord, and of St. Paul, and of St. John, as to the calling of the Gentiles, and the universality of God’s kingdom.

Matthew 3:9. And think not to say — Or, as the words, μη δοξητε λεγειν, rather signify, Presume not to say, or, Say not confidently, within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father — As if he had said, Being called upon to bring forth fruits meet for repentance, begin not to obstruct the efficacy of the admonition with those thoughts which are so common among you, that you are secure from wrath by being the children of Abraham. It is almost incredible how great the presumption of the Jews was, on this their relation to Abraham. “Abraham,” says the Talmud, (a book in high repute among them,) “sits near the gates of hell, and does not permit any wicked Israelite to go down into it.” And Justin informs us, that the Jewish rabbins assured them, “That, being Abraham’s seed, though they continued in disobedience to God, and in infidelity, the kingdom of heaven should still be given them.” And it is to be feared that many professors of Christianity build their hopes of salvation on a foundation equally false, depending on their baptism, their knowledge, their orthodoxy, their forms of godliness, their deeds of charity, or their fancied interest in the merits of Christ, while they live in sin, and are lukewarm and negligent in pursuit of that holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.

For I say unto you — This preface always denotes the importance of what follows: God is able of these stones — He probably pointed to those which lay before them: to raise up children to Abraham — You think that because you are the only Church of God upon earth, and if you were destroyed God would then have no seed of Abraham to show mercy to, and keep his covenant with, therefore judgment shall not come upon you: but mistake not; that God who raised Adam from the dust of the earth, and children to Abraham from the dead womb of Sarah, can, if he please, animate and sanctify these very stones, which are before your eyes, and transform them into children of Abraham; into persons who shall inherit Abraham’s faith and piety, and who, by imitating his obedience, shall become his spiritual seed, to whom the promises made to him shall be fulfilled, and in whom the church shall still subsist, though all you should be destroyed. And he would sooner work such a miracle as this, than he would suffer his promise to fail, or admit you to the blessings of his approaching kingdom, merely because you have the abused honour to descend from that peculiar favourite of Heaven. Thus the Baptist took from those presumptuous men the ground of their confidence, by affirming that God could perform his promises to Abraham, though the whole Jewish nation should be rejected by him; the seed, like the stars for multitude, that was principally intended in the promise, being a spiritual progeny.3:7-12 To make application to the souls of the hearers, is the life of preaching; so it was of John's preaching. The Pharisees laid their chief stress on outward observances, neglecting the weightier matters of the moral law, and the spiritual meaning of their legal ceremonies. Others of them were detestable hypocrites, making their pretences to holiness a cloak for iniquity. The Sadducees ran into the opposite extreme, denying the existence of spirits, and a future state. They were the scornful infidels of that time and country. There is a wrath to come. It is the great concern of every one to flee from that wrath. God, who delights not in our ruin, has warned us; he warns by the written word, by ministers, by conscience. And those are not worthy of the name of penitents, or their privileges, who say they are sorry for their sins, yet persist in them. It becomes penitents to be humble and low in their own eyes, to be thankful for the least mercy, patient under the greatest affliction, to be watchful against all appearances of sin, to abound in every duty, and to be charitable in judging others. Here is a word of caution, not to trust in outward privileges. There is a great deal which carnal hearts are apt to say within themselves, to put aside the convincing, commanding power of the word of God. Multitudes, by resting in the honours and mere advantages of their being members of an outward church, come short of heaven. Here is a word of terror to the careless and secure. Our corrupt hearts cannot be made to produce good fruit, unless the regenerating Spirit of Christ graft the good word of God upon them. And every tree, however high in gifts and honours, however green in outward professions and performances, if it bring not forth good fruit, the fruits meet for repentance, is hewn down and cast into the fire of God's wrath, the fittest place for barren trees: what else are they good for? If not fit for fruit, they are fit for fuel. John shows the design and intention of Christ's appearing, which they were now speedily to expect. No outward forms can make us clean. No ordinances, by whomsoever administered, or after whatever mode, can supply the want of the baptism of the Holy Ghost and of fire. The purifying and cleansing power of the Holy Spirit alone can produce that purity of heart, and those holy affections, which accompany salvation. It is Christ who baptizes with the Holy Ghost. This he did in the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit sent upon the apostles, Ac 2:4. This he does in the graces and comforts of the Spirit, given to those that ask him, Lu 11:13; Joh 7:38,39; see Ac 11:16. Observe here, the outward church is Christ's floor, Isa 21:10. True believers are as wheat, substantial, useful, and valuable; hypocrites are as chaff, light and empty, useless and worthless, carried about with every wind; these are mixed, good and bad, in the same outward communion. There is a day coming when the wheat and chaff shall be separated. The last judgment will be the distinguishing day, when saints and sinners shall be parted for ever. In heaven the saints are brought together, and no longer scattered; they are safe, and no longer exposed; separated from corrupt neighbours without, and corrupt affections within, and there is no chaff among them. Hell is the unquenchable fire, which will certainly be the portion and punishment of hypocrites and unbelievers. Here life and death, good and evil, are set before us: according as we now are in the field, we shall be then in the floor.And think not to say ... - They regarded it as sufficient righteousness that they were descended from so holy a man as Abraham. Compare John 8:33-37, John 8:53. John assured them that this was a matter of small consequence in the sight of God. Of the very stones of the Jordan he could raise up children to Abraham. The meaning seems to be this: God, from these stones, could more easily raise up those who should be worthy children of Abraham, or be like him, than simply, because you are descendants of Abraham, make you, who are proud and hypocritical, subjects of the Messiah's kingdom. Or, in other words, mere nativity, or the privileges of birth, avail nothing where there is not righteousness of life. Some have supposed, however, that by these stones he meant the Roman soldiers, or the pagan, who might also have attended on his ministry; and that God could "of them" raise up children to Abraham. 9. And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father—that pillow on which the nation so fatally reposed, that rock on which at length it split.

for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham—that is, "Flatter not yourselves with the fond delusion that God stands in need of you, to make good His promise of a seed to Abraham; for I tell you that, though you were all to perish, God is as able to raise up a seed to Abraham out of those stones as He was to take Abraham himself out of the rock whence he was hewn, out of the hole of the pit whence he was digged" (Isa 51:1). Though the stern speaker may have pointed as he spoke to the pebbles of the bare clay hills that lay around (so Stanley's Sinai and Palestine), it was clearly the calling of the Gentiles—at that time stone-dead in their sins, and quite as unconscious of it—into the room of unbelieving and disinherited Israel that he meant thus to indicate (see Mt 21:43; Ro 11:20, 30).

All hypocrites bear up themselves upon something, upon which they promise good to themselves, and a freedom from the judgments of God. The Jews rested much upon their descent from Abraham, as appeareth also from John 8:39, by which means they entitled themselves to the covenant, Genesis 8:10, extended to his seed as well as to himself, as also to the name of the church, Abraham’s posterity by Isaac being all the visible church which God had upon the earth at that time. It is the great work of ministers to drive hypocrites from their vain confidences. This John doth here; as if he should say, I know what you trust to, you think with yourselves that, because you are the only church of God upon the earth, judgment shall not come upon you, God would then have no seed of Abraham to show mercy to, and to keep his covenant with; but mistake not, God, of stones, if he please, can raise up Abraham a seed. To keep covenant with papists and formalists have much the same presumption, though with this difference, the Jews were the true, the only church of God, these do but arrogate the name to themselves. And think not to say within yourselves,.... John knew the sentiments of their minds, and the prevailing opinion they had given into, against which he cautions them; as, that because they were Abraham's seed, they were in a state of salvation, in the favour of God, and had a right to all privileges and ordinances: this they trusted in, and boasted of, and would often think of it within themselves, pleasing themselves with the thoughts of it, and speak of it to others;

we have Abraham for our father. The Baptist was aware how ready they would be to object this to him; and therefore prevents their plea from hence in favour of their admission to baptism, by assuring them, that this would have no weight with him, nor give them any right to the ordinance he administered: hence it appears that it is not a person's being born of believing parents that can entitle him to water baptism; or be a reason why it ought to be administered to him: if nothing more than this can be said in his favour, it is a plain case from hence, he ought to be debarred from it. The reason John gives why such a plea as this would be insufficient is,

for I say unto you; I assure you of it; you may depend on it as a certain truth,

that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. To "raise up children" is an Hebrew way of speaking, and the same with or to "raise up seed", or a "name" to another, Genesis 38:8 and signifies to beget children for another, who are to be called by his name. Some by "the stones" understand the Gentiles, comparable to stones, both for the hardness of their hearts, and their idolatry in worshipping stocks and stones; of and among whom God was able to raise, and has raised up, a spiritual seed to Abraham; who are of the same faith with him, who walk in his steps, and whose father he is: but then it must be supposed, according to this sense, that there were some Gentiles present, since John calls them "these" stones, pointing to some persons or things, that were before him; wherefore I rather think that this phrase is to be taken literally, and that John pointed to some certain stones that were near him, within sight, and which lay upon the banks of Jordan, where he was baptizing; for what is it that the omnipotent God cannot do? He could as easily of stones make men, as make Adam out of the dust of the earth, and then make these men, in a spiritual sense, children of Abraham; that is, believers in Christ, and partakers of his "grace; for if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise", Galatians 3:29. So that God stood in no need of these persons, nor had they any reason to boast of their natural descent from Abraham; since this in spiritual matters, and in things relating to the Gospel dispensation, would stand them in no stead, or be of any advantage to them.

{4} And {i} think not to say {k} within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.

(4) The faith of the fathers does not benefit you unbelieving children at all: and yet for all that, God does not play the liar, nor deal unfaithfully in his covenant which he made with the holy fathers.

(i) Think not that you have any reason to be proud of Abraham.

(k) In your hearts.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Matthew 3:9. Δόξητε] Do not allow yourselves to suppose, do not say to yourselves, 1 Corinthians 11:16; Php 3:4.

λέγειν ἐν ἑαυτοῖς] אָמַר בְּלִבּוֹ, cogitare secum. It objectively represents reflection as the language of the mind. Psalm 4:5, Psalm 10:6. Psalm 14:1; Matthew 9:21; Luke 3:8; Luke 7:49. Delitzsch, Psych, p. 180 [E. T. 213]. Comp. λέγειν πρὸς ἑαυτόν in Plat. Phaed. p. 88 C.

πατέραἈβραάμ] The Jews of the common sort and their party leaders believed that the descendants of Abraham would, as such, become participators of salvation in the Messiah’s kingdom, because Abraham’s righteousness would be reckoned as theirs. Sanhedrin, f. 901: לכל ישראל יש להם חלק לעולם הבא. Bereschith, R. xviii. 7. Wetstein on the passage. Bertholdt, Christol. p. 206 ff. Comp. in the N. T., especially John 8:33 ff.

ὅτι δύναται, κ.τ.λ.] God is able, notwithstanding your descent from Abraham, to exclude you from the Messiah’s salvation; and, on the other hand, to create and bring forth out of these stones, which lie here around on the bank of the Jordan, such persons as are GENUINE children of Abraham,—that is, as Euth. Zigabenus strikingly expresses it: οἱ τὰς ἀρετὰς αὐτοῦ μιμούμενοι καὶ τῆς αὐτῆς αὐτῷ καταξιούμενοι μερίδος ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τῶν οὐρανῶν. Comp. Romans 4; Romans 9:6 ff.; Galatians 4; John 8:39 f. It is an anticipation, however, to find the calling of the heathen here indicated. It follows first from this axiom.Matthew 3:9-10. Protest and warning. καὶ μὴ δόξητετ. Ἀβραάμ: the meaning is plain = do not imagine that having Abraham for father will do instead of repentance—that all children of Abraham are safe whatever betide. But the expression is peculiar: do not think to say within yourselves. One would have expected either: do not think within yourselves, or, do not say, etc. Wetstein renders: “ne animum inducite sic apud vosmet cogitare,” with whom Fritzsche substantially agrees = do not presume to say, cf. Php 3:4.—πατέρα, father, in the emphatic position=we have as father, Abraham; it is enough to be his children: the secret thought of all unspiritual Jews, Abraham’s children only in the flesh. It is probable that these words (Matthew 3:9-10) were spoken at a different time, and to a different audience, not merely to Pharisees and Sadducees, but to the people generally. Matthew 3:7-12 are a very condensed summary of a preaching ministry in which many weighty words were spoken (Luke 3:18), these being selected as most representative and most relevant to the purpose of the evangelist. Matthew 3:7-8 contain a word for the leaders of the people; Matthew 3:9-10 for the people at large; Matthew 3:11-12 a word to inquirers about the Baptist’s own relation to the Messiah.9. think not to say] i. e. “Do not persuade yourselves to say,” “be not so proud as to say.” For a similar use of the word see Php 3:4, “If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh.”

We have Abraham to our father] Or, ‘as our father.’ The Jewish doctors taught that no one who was circumcised should enter Gehenna.

of these stones to raise up children] Stones are regarded as the most insensate, the furthest removed from life of created things. May there not be a play on the words banim (children) abanim (stones)?Matthew 3:9. Μὴ δόξητε, think not) The verb δοκῶ, to appear or imagine (in the same manner as φάσκω, to allege or suppose, the particle ὡς, as; and the Latin expressions, præ mefero, to profess; ostendo, to declare; puto, to suppose; videor, to seem; apparet, it appears; species, appearance), sometimes denotes a thing which is true, and at the same apparent; sometimes an empty appearance, which any one presents to himself or others. And thus the meaning in this passage is, “You may indeed say this, in some degree, with truth, but you must not plume yourselves upon it.”[125]—λέγειν, to say) i.e. with safety.—τὸν Ἀβραὰμ, Abraham) as there is no lack of his posterity.—λέγω γὰρ ὑμῖν, for I say unto you) A most solemn formula, employed by a great man, on an occasion of the highest importance.—Cf. Gnomon on ch. Matthew 5:18.—δύναται, is able) The Jews supposed that they could not fall utterly away.—ἐκ τῶν λίθων τούτων, from these stones) and from any other material, as He produced Adam from the clod. God is not tied to the law of succession in the Church.—τούτων, these) The stones to which John pointed were perhaps those which had been placed there in the time of Joshua, that they might be for a testimony that the people of Israel had crossed the river Jordan, and entered the Land of Promise, and that they owed the land, not to themselves, but to God. The words sound like a proverbial expression, as well as those in Luke 19:40.—τέκνα, children) i.e. according to the spirit. They were indeed children according to the flesh, who are called nevertheless broods of vipers.

[125] There is nothing that men will not rake together, especially self-justiciaries, in order to claim God as their own, even after they have rejected repentance toward God.—Vers. Germ.Verse 9. - And. An additional warning against any false feeling of security based on natural privileges. As this feeling was common to all Jews, the reference to the larger audience (ver. 7, note) was probably begun here. Think not to say. Not do not think, consider, with a view to saying; but do not think it right to say, do not be of opinion you may say (Luke 3:8, "Begin not to say ). St. Luke deprecates the commencement of such an utterance in their heart; S t. Matthew denies its justice. Within yourselves; cf. Esther 4:13 (Hebrew). We have Abraham to our father. As it was recognized on all hands that the promise of blessing was made to Abraham and his seed, it is no wonder that many Jews presumed upon their descent from him, "sup, posing,", as Justin Martyr says ('Trypho,' § 140.), that the everlasting kingdom will assuredly be given to those who are of the seed of Abraham according to the flesh, although they be sinners and unbelieving and disobedient towards God." In later times, when the doctrine of merit was more fully established, God could be represented as saying to Abraham, "If thy children were like dead bodies without sinews or bones, thy merit would avail for them" ('Ber. Rabb.,' on Genesis 10:5:11. § 44, middle). In John's words, on the contrary, we have the germ of the doctrine afterwards Brought out by St. Paul (e.g. Galatians 3:9, 29), that not natural descent, but spiritual relationship by faith, leads to inheriting the promises. The argument in John 8:39, etc., is closely akin to that presented here. In both passages the Jews lay stress on their origin from Abraham; in both the answer is that morally they are sprung from a very different source (supra, ver. 7, note). But in John 8. the Jews are thinking chiefly of their present state, of not being as sinful as Jesus makes them out to be, while here they are thinking more of the future, that they have no need to take trouble, because promises for the future belong to them. Hence, perhaps, the exact expression (contrast John 8:33), "We have Abraham as father," which brings out the protecting influence of Abraham as still available. For I say unto you (λέγω γὰρ ὑμῖν). The solemnity of the phrase (Matthew 6:25, 29; Matthew 8:11; Matthew 11:9) lies in the self-consciousness which it implies. The absence of the ἐγώ shows that the speaker has no desire to bring out his own personality (contrast Matthew 5:22, etc.), but the message only. That God. Not "the LORD," because

(1) the thought is of power rather than of covenant relationship;

(2) he is about to speak of others than members of the covenant nation. Is able of these stones. These; apodeictic (Matthew 4:3). Some have thought that by these stones John directly means certain Gentiles who were standing near; but it is much mere likely that he points to the literal stones at his feet, and with strong hyperbole says that he who once raised up offspring as the stars for multitude from persons as good as dead (Romans 4:19), and who had originally made man of the dust of the earth, can (δύναται), with both physical power and moral right, raise out of the very rawest material a new Israel (cf. Romans 4:17; 1 Corinthians 1:28, "the things that are not"). Raise up. The verb employed (ἐγείρω) is, as it seems, not used in the LXX. with reference to natural generation, but ἀνίστημι (cf. Genesis 38:8, ἐξανίστημι; Genesis 4:25; Genesis 19:32; cf. also Matthew 22:24). It is, however, very suitable here, for while ἀνίστημι regards future worth, ἐγείρω specially contrasts a later with an earlier state (e.g. sleep) - in this case the nature of children with the insensibility of stones. Children. The new Israel would possess, not merely Abraham's privileges, but his nature and character (τέκνα), in which you to whom I now speak are so deficient. These stones

Pointing, as he spoke, to the pebbles on the beach of the Jordan.

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