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Matthew 5:21-37

These verses deserve the closest attention of all readers of the Bible. A right understanding of the doctrines they contain lies at the very root of Christianity. The Lord Jesus here explains more fully the meaning of his words, “I came not to destroy the law but to fulfil.”He teaches us that his Gospel magnifies the Law, and exalts its authority: he shows us that the Law, as expounded by him, was a far more spiritual and heart-searching rule than most of the Jews supposed; and he proves this by selecting three commandments out of the ten as examples of what he means.

He expounds the sixth commandment. Many thought that they kept this part of God’s law so long as they did not commit actual murder. The Lord Jesus shows that its requirements go much further than this. It condemns all angry and passionate language, and especially when used without a cause. Let us mark this well. We may be perfectly innocent of taking life, and yet be guilty of breaking the sixth commandment!

He expounds the seventh commandment. Many supposed that they kept this part of God’s law if they did not actually commit adultery. The Lord Jesus teaches that we may break it in our thoughts, hearts and imaginations, even when our outward conduct is moral and correct. The God with whom we have to do looks far beyond actions. With him even a glance of the eye may be a sin!

He expounds the third commandment. Many fancied that they kept this part of God’s law so long as they did not swear falsely, and performed their oaths. The Lord Jesus forbids all vain and light swearing altogether. All swearing by created things, even when God’s name is not brought forward—all calling upon God to witness, excepting on the most solemn occasions—is a great sin.

Now all this is very instructive. It ought to raise very serious reflections in our minds: it calls us loudly to use great searching of heart. And what does it teach?

It teaches us the exceeding holiness of God. He is a most pure and perfect Being, who sees faults and imperfections where man’s eyes often see none. He reads our inward motives; he notes our words and thoughts, as well as our actions: “He desires truths in the inward parts.” (Psalm 51:6) It would be well if men would consider this part of God’s character more than they do! There would be no room for pride, and self-righteousness and carelessness if men only saw God “as he is.” (1 John 3:2)

It teaches us the exceeding ignorance of man in spiritual things.There are thousands and tens of thousands of professing Christians it may be feared who know no more of the requirements of God’s law than the most ignorant Jews. They know the letter of the Ten Commandments well enough; they fancy, like the young ruler, “all these I have kept from my youth up” (Matthew 19:20): They never dream that it is possible to break the sixth and seventh commandments if they do not break them by outward acts or deeds. And so they live on satisfied with themselves, and quite content with their little bit of religion. Happy indeed are they who really understand God’s law!

It teaches us our exceeding need of the Lord Jesus Christ’s atoning blood to save us. What man or woman upon earth can ever stand before such a God as this, and plead “not guilty”? Who is there that has ever grown to years of discretion, and not broken the commandments thousands of times? “There is no one righteous, no not one.” (Romans 3:10) Without a mighty mediator we should every one be condemned in the judgment day. Ignorance of the real meaning of the law is one plain reason why so many do not value the Gospel, and content themselves with a little formal Christianity. They do not see the strictness and holiness of God’s Ten Commandments; if they did, they would never rest till they were safe in Christ.

In the last place, this passage teaches us the exceeding importance of avoiding all occasions of sin. If we really desire to be holy, we must take heed to our ways that we sin not with our tongues. (Psalm 39:1) We must be ready to make up quarrels and disagreements, lest they gradually lead on to greater evils. “The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water.” (Proverbs 17:14) We must labour to crucify our flesh and mortify our members, to make any sacrifice and endure any bodily inconvenience rather than sin. We must keep our lips as it were with a bridle exercise an hourly strictness over our words. Let men call us precise, if they will, for so doing; let them say, if they please, that we are “too particular.” We need not be moved. We are merely doing as our Lord Jesus Christ bids us, and if this is the case we have no cause to be ashamed.

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