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12. Lord of the Sabbath
1At that season Jesus went on the sabbath day through the grainfields; and his disciples were hungry and began to pluck ears and to eat. 2But the Pharisees, when they saw it, said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which it is not lawful to do upon the sabbath. 3But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was hungry, and they that were with him; 4how he entered into the house of God, and ate the showbread, which it was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them that were with him, but only for the priests? 5Or have ye not read in the law, that on the sabbath day the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are guiltless? 6But I say unto you, that one greater than the temple is here. 7But if ye had known what this meaneth, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. 8For the Son of man is lord of the sabbath.
9And he departed thence, and went into their synagogue: 10and behold, a man having a withered hand. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day? that they might accuse him. 11And he said unto them, What man shall there be of you, that shall have one sheep, and if this fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? 12How much then is a man of more value than a sheep! Wherefore it is lawful to do good on the sabbath day. 13Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thy hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, as the other. 14But the Pharisees went out, and took counsel against him, how they might destroy him.
15And Jesus perceiving it withdrew from thence: and many followed him; and he healed them all, 16and charged them that they should not make him known: 17that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through Isaiah the prophet, saying,
18Behold, my servant whom I have chosen;
My beloved in whom my soul is well pleased:
I will put my Spirit upon him,
And he shall declare judgment to the Gentiles.
19He shall not strive, nor cry aloud;
Neither shall any one hear his voice in the streets.
20A bruised reed shall he not break,
And smoking flax shall he not quench,
Till he send forth judgment unto victory.
21And in his name shall the Gentiles hope.
22Then was brought unto him one possessed with a demon, blind and dumb: and he healed him, insomuch that the dumb man spake and saw. 23And all the multitudes were amazed, and said, Can this be the son of David? 24But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This man doth not cast out demons, but by Beelzebub the prince of the demons. 25And knowing their thoughts he said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: 26and if Satan casteth out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then shall his kingdom stand? 27And if I by Beelzebub cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? therefore shall they be your judges. 28But if I by the Spirit of God cast out demons, then is the kingdom of God come upon you. 29Or how can one enter into the house of the strong man, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house. 30He that is not with me is against me, and he that gathereth not with me scattereth. 31Therefore I say unto you, Every sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men; but the blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. 32And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him; but whosoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in that which is to come. 33Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree corrupt, and its fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by its fruit. 34Ye offspring of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. 35The good man out of his good treasure bringeth forth good things: and the evil man out of his evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. 36And I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. 37For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.
38Then certain of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, Teacher, we would see a sign from thee. 39But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given it but the sign of Jonah the prophet: 40for as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41The men of Nineveh shall stand up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, a greater than Jonah is here. 42The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, a greater than Solomon is here. 43But the unclean spirit, when he is gone out of the man, passeth through waterless places, seeking rest, and findeth it not. 44Then he saith, I will return into my house whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. 45Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more evil than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man becometh worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this evil generation.
46While he was yet speaking to the multitudes, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, seeking to speak to him. 47And one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, seeking to speak to thee. 48But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? 49And he stretched forth his hand towards his disciples, and said, Behold, my mother and my brethren! 50For whosoever shall do the will of my Father who is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother.
Matthew 12:1. Jesus was walking on the Sabbath It was the design of the Evangelists, in this history, to show partly what a malicious disposition the Pharisees had, and partly how superstitiously they were attached to outward and slight matters, so as to make holiness to consist in them entirely. They blame the disciples of Christ for plucking the ears of corn on the Sabbath, during their journey, when they were pressed with hunger, as if, by so doing, they were violating the Sabbath. The keeping of the Sabbath was, indeed, a holy thing, but not such a manner of keeping it as they imagined, so that one could scarcely move a finger without making the conscience to tremble. 7676 “Avec tremblement et incertitude de conscience;” — “with trembling and uncertainty of conscience.” It was hypocrisy, therefore, that made them so exact in trifling matters, while they spared themselves in gross superstitions; as Christ elsewhere upbraids them with
paying tithe of mint and anise, and neglecting the
important matters of the Law, (Matthew 23:23.)
It is the invariable practice of hypocrites to allow themselves liberty in matters of the greatest consequence, and to pay close attention to ceremonial observances. Another reason why they demand that outward rites should be more rigorously observed is, that they wish to make their duty toward God to consist only in carnal worship. But it was malevolence and envy, still more than superstition, that led them to this act of censure; for towards others they would not have been equally stern. It is proper for us to observe the feelings by which they were animated, lest any one should be distressed by the fact, that the very Doctors of the Law were so hostile to Christ.
Matthew 12:3. Have you not read what David did? Christ employs five arguments to refute their calumny. First, he apologizes for his disciples by pleading the example of David, (1 Samuel 21:6.) While David was fleeing from the rage of Saul, he applied for provisions to the high-priest Ahimelech; and there being no ordinary food at hand, he succeeded in obtaining a part of the holy bread. If David’s necessity excused him, the same argument ought to be admitted in the case of others. Hence it follows, that the ceremonies of the Law are not violated where there is no infringement of godliness. 7777 “Quand on ne derogue rien a la reverence deue, a Dieu;” — “when nothing is taken away from the reverence that is due to God.” Now Christ takes for granted, that David was free from blame, because the Holy Spirit bestows commendation on the priest who allowed him to partake of the holy bread. When he says, that it was not lawful to eat that bread but for the priests alone, we must understand him to refer to the ordinary law:
they shall eat those things wherewith the atonement was made,
to consecrate and to sanctify them; but a stranger shall not
eat thereof, because they are holy, (Exodus 29:33.)
If David had attempted to do what was contrary to law, it would have been in vain for Christ to plead his example; for what had been prohibited for a particular end no necessity could make lawful.
5. That on the Sabbaths the priests profane the Sabbath. This is the second argument by which Christ proves that the violation of the Sabbath, of which the Pharisees complained, was free from all blame; because on the Sabbaths it is lawful to slay beasts for sacrifice, to circumcise infants, and to do other things relating to the worship of God. Hence it follows, that the duties of piety are in no degree inconsistent with each other. 7878 “Que les exercices de piete ne sont point contraires les uns aux autres, mais s’accordent bien ensemble;” — “that the exercises of godliness are not opposed to each other, but agree well together.” But if the temple sanctifies manual operations connected with sacrifices, and with the whole of the outward service, the holiness of the true and spiritual temple has greater efficacy, in exempting its worshippers from all blame, while they are discharging the duties of godliness. 7979 “Quand ils s’employent a oeuvres qui tendent a l’honneur de Dieu;” — “when they are employed in works which tend to the honor of God.” Now the object which the disciples had in view was, to present to God souls which were consecrated by the Gospel.
Matthew alone glances at this argument. When Christ says, that the priests Profane the Sabbath, the expression is not strictly accurate, and is accommodated to his hearers; for when the Law enjoins men to abstain from their employments, it does not forbid them to perform the services of religion. But Christ admits that to be true which might appear to be so in the eye of ignorant persons, 8080 “Ainsi Christ accorde estre vray, ce qui ne l’est pas de faict, mais qui pourroit sembler l’estre en apparence a gens qui ne scavent pas bien iuger et discerner les choses;” — “thus Christ admits that to be true which is not so in reality, but which might appear to be so to persons who do not know how to judge and distinguish matters properly.” and rests satisfied with proving, that the labors performed in the temple are not offensive to God.
7. But if you knew This Third argument is also mentioned by Matthew alone. Christ conveys an indirect reproof to the Pharisees, for not considering why ceremonies were appointed, and to what object they are directed. This has been a common fault in almost every age; and therefore the prophet Hosea (6:6) exclaims against the men of his own age for being too much attached to ceremonies, and caring little about the duties of kindness. But God declares aloud, that he sets a higher value on mercy than on sacrifice, employing the word mercy, by a figure of speech, for offices of kindness, as sacrifices include the outward service of the Law. This statement Christ applies to his own time, and charges the Pharisees with wickedly torturing the Law of God out of its true meaning, with disregarding the second table, and being entirely occupied with ceremonies.
But a question arises: Why does God declare that he is indifferent about ceremonies, when he strictly enjoined in his Law that they should be observed? The answer is easy. External rites are of no value in themselves, and are demanded by God in so far only as they are directed to their proper object. Besides, God does not absolutely reject them, but, by a comparison with deeds of kindness, pronounces that they are inferior to the latter in actual value. Nor is it inconsistent with this to say, that in the perfection of righteousness the highest rank belongs to the worship of God, and the duties which men owe to each other occupy the second rank. For, though piety is justly reckoned to be as much superior to charity as God is higher than men, yet as believers, by practicing justice towards each other, prove that their service of God is sincere, it is not without reason that this subject is brought under the notice of hypocrites, who imitate piety by outward signs, and yet pervert it by confining their laborious efforts to the carnal worship alone. 8181 “Et cependant neantmoins la renversent et falsifient, s’arrestans au seul service charnel, auquel ils prenent grande peine;” — “and yet nevertheless overthrow and falsify it, confining themselves to the carnal service alone, on which they bestow great pains.” From the testimony of the Prophet, Christ justly infers that no blame attaches to his disciples; for while God trained his people in the rudiments of the Law, it was far from being his design to kill wretched men with famine.
8. For the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath. Some connect this sentence with a preceding statement, that one greater than the temple is in this place, (ver. 6;) but I look upon them as different. In the former case, Christ, by an allusion to the temple, affirmed that whatever was connected with his personal holiness was not a transgression of the Law; but now, he declares that he has received authority to exempt his followers from the necessity of observing the Sabbath. The Son of man, (he says,) in the exercise of his authority, can relax the Sabbath in the same manner as other legal ceremonies. And certainly out of Christ the bondage of the Law is wretched, from which he alone delivers those on whom he bestows the free Spirit of adoption, 8282 “Ausquels il donne l’Esprit d’adoption, qui est l’Esprit de la liberte;” — “to whom he gives the Spirit of adoption which is the Spirit of liberty.” (Romans 8:15.)
Matthew 12:9. And having departed thence. This narrative and that which immediately precedes it have the same object; which is to show, that the scribes watched with a malicious eye for the purpose of turning into slander every thing that Christ did, and consequently that we need not wonder if men, whose minds were so depraved, were his implacable enemies. We see also, that it is usual with hypocrites to pursue what is nothing more than a shadow of the righteousness of the Law, and as the common saying is, to stickle more about the form than about the substance. First, then, let us learn from this passage to keep our minds pure, and free from every wicked disposition, when we are about to form a decision on any question; for if hatred, or pride, or anything of that description, reign within us, we will not only do injury to men, but will insult God himself, and turn light into darkness. No man, who was free from malice, would have refused to acknowledge that it was a Divine work, which those good teachers do not scruple to condemn. 8585 “N’ont point de honte de condamner;” — “are not ashamed to condemn.” Whence comes such fury, but because all their senses are affected by a wicked hatred of Christ, so that they are blind amidst the full brightness of the sun? We learn also, that we ought to beware lest, by attaching undue importance to ceremonial observances, we allow other things to be neglected, which are of far higher value in the sight of God, and which Christ in another passage calls the more important matters of the Law, (Matthew 23:23.) For so strongly are we inclined to outward rites, that we shall never preserve moderation in this respect, unless we constantly remember, that whatever is enjoined respecting the worship of God is, in the first place, spiritual; and, secondly, ought to be regulated by the rule which Christ has laid down to us in this passage.
10. They asked him, saying. Mark and Luke say only that they watched what our Lord would do; but Matthew states more clearly that they also attacked him by words. It is probable, that some others had been previously cured on Sabbath-days; and hence they take occasion to ask if he believes it to be lawful for him to do again what he had formerly done. They ought to have considered whether it was a work of God, or of man, to restore a withered hand by a mere touch, or by a single word. When God appointed the Sabbath, he did not lay down a law for himself, or impose upon himself any restraint from performing operations on the Sabbath, when he saw it to be proper, in the same manner as on other days. It was excessive folly, therefore, to call this in question, and thus to prescribe rules for God himself, and to restrain the freedom of his operations.
11. What man shall there be among you who shall have a sheep? Christ again points out what is the true way of keeping the Sabbath; and, at the same time, reproves them for slander, in bringing as a charge against him what was a universal custom. For if any man’s sheep had fallen into a ditch, no person would have hindered it from being taken out: but in proportion as a man is of more value than a sheep, so much the more are we at liberty to assist him. It is plain, therefore, that if any man should relieve the necessity of brethren, he did not, in any degree, violate the rest which the Lord has enjoined. Mark and Luke take no notice of this comparison, but only state that Christ inquired, Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil?
He who takes away the life of a man is held to be a criminal; and there is little difference between manslaughter and the conduct of him who does not concern himself about relieving a person in distress. So then Christ indirectly charges them with endeavoring, under the pretense of a holy act, to compel him to do evil; for sin is committed, as we have already said, not only by him who does any thing contrary to the Law, but also by him who neglects his duty. Hence also we perceive, that Christ did not always employ the same arguments in refuting this slander; for he does not reason here about his divinity as he does in the case mentioned by John, (v. 18.) Nor was there any necessity for doing so; since the Pharisees were completely refuted by this single defense, that nothing could be more unreasonable than to pronounce a man, who imitated God, to be a transgressor of the Sabbath.
Matthew 12:14. Then the Pharisees took counsel. How obstinate is the rage which drives the wicked to oppose God! Even after having been convinced, they pour out their venom more and more. It is truly monstrous and shocking, that the most distinguished teachers of the Law, who were entrusted with the government of the Church, are engaged, like robbers, in contriving murder. But this must happen, whenever the malice of men reaches such a height, that they wish to destroy every thing that is opposed to their fancy, even though it may be from God.
The circumstance of Christ’s making his escape by flight must not be ascribed to fear; for he did not become more courageous by the lapse of time, but was endued with the same fortitude of the Spirit at the time when he fled, as when, at a later period, he voluntarily presented himself to die. And this was a part of that emptying of himself which Paul mentions, (Philippians 2:7,) that when he could easily have protected his life by a miracle, he chose rather to submit to our weakness by taking flight. The only reason why he delayed to die was, that the seasonable time, which had been appointed by the Father, was not yet come, (John 7:30; 8:20.) And yet it is manifest, that he was preserved by heavenly power rather than by flight; for it would not have been difficult for his enemies to find out the place to which he had retired, and so far was he from shrouding himself in darkness, that he carried a great company along with him, and rendered that place illustrious by his miracles. He withdrew from their presence for the sole purpose of not aggravating their rage.
Matthew 12:16. And he threatened them. The expression used by Mark conveys, in a still more pointed manner, that he restrained the unclean spirits, 8989 “A scavoir qu’il menacoit et faisoit taire les esprits immondes;”— “namely, that he threatened and silenced the unclean spirits.” who were exclaiming, Thou art the Son of God. We have formerly explained the reason why he did not choose to have such witnesses. 9090 Harmony, volume 1 p. 246. And yet there is no room to doubt, that divine power extorted from the devils this confession; but having made it evident that they were subject to his dominion, Christ properly rejected their testimony. But Matthew goes farther, and states, that Christ discharged them from spreading the fame of the miracles which he was performing. Not that he wished that fame to be wholly repressed, (as we have pointed out on other occasions, 9191 Harmony, volume 1, pp. 374, 418. but to allow it to strike root, that it might bring forth abundant fruit at the proper season. We know that Christ did not perform miracles for the purpose of amusement, but had a distinct object in view, which was to prove that he was the Son of God, and the appointed Redeemer of the world. But he was manifested gradually, and by regular steps, and was not revealed in his true character
“until the time appointed by the Father,”
At the same time, it deserves our attention, that when wicked men do their utmost to extinguish the glory of God, they are so far from gaining their wish, that, on the contrary, God turns their rebellious designs in an opposite direction. Though Christ withdrew from a populous district, yet in this very concealment 9292 “Toutesfois mesmes en ceste cachete, (par maniere de dire;”)—”yet even in this hiding place, (so to speak.”) his glory continues to shine, and even bursts forth magnificently into its full splendor.
17. That it might be fulfilled which was spoken Matthew does not mean that this prediction was entirely fulfilled by Christ’s prohibiting loud and general reports to be circulated respecting his power 9393 “Les miracles et signes qu’il faisoit par sa vertu Divine;” — “the miracles and signs which he performed by his Divine power.” , but that this was an exhibition of that mildness which Isaiah describes in the person of the Messiah. Those wonderful works which Christ performed in presence of a few, and which he did not wish to be announced in pompous terms, were fitted to shake heaven and earth, (Hebrews 12:26.) It was, therefore, no ordinary proof, how widely he was removed from the pomp and ostentation of the world.
But it will be proper for us to examine more closely the design of Matthew. By this circumstance he intended to show, that the glory of Christ’s divinity ought not to be the less admired, because it appeared under a veil of infirmity. This is unquestionably the very object to which the Holy Spirit directed the eyes of the prophet. The flesh is constantly longing for outward display, and to guard believers against seeking any thing of this description in the Messiah, the Spirit of God declared that he would be totally different from earthly kings, who, in order to draw admiration upon themselves, produce great noises wherever they go, and fill cities and towns with commotion. 9494 “Ils font faire de grans bruits: il semble que les villes et citez doyvent tourner ce que dessus dessous, tant y a grande esmotion;” — “they cause great noises to be made; and so great is the commotion, that it would seem as if towns and cities were to be turned upside down.” We now perceive how appropriately Matthew applies the prediction of the prophet to the case in hand. God appointed for his Son a low and mean appearance, and that ignorant persons may not take offense at an aspect which has no attraction, and is fitted to awaken contempt, both the prophet and Matthew come forward to declare, that it is not by accident, but in consequence of a decree of Heaven, that he assumes such a character. 9595 “Quand Christ vient au monde sans pompe exterieure;” — “when Christ comes into the world without external pomp.” Hence it follows, that deep blame attaches to all who despise Christ, because his outward condition does not correspond to the wishes of the flesh. We are not at liberty to imagine to ourselves a Christ that corresponds to our fancy, but ought simply to embrace him as he is offered by the Father. He who is offended by the low condition of Christ, which God declares to be agreeable to his will, is unworthy of salvation. I now come to examine the words of the prophet, (Isaiah 42:1.)
18. Lo, my servant, whom I have chosen. To fix our attention more closely on his will, God points out by the finger, as it were, the person whom he is about to send; and this is the design of the exclamation, Lo! A similar reason may be assigned for the epithets that follow, when God calls him his servant, his elect in whom his soul is well pleased. For whence comes it, that men venture to measure Christ by their own sense, but because they do not consider that their redemption depends exclusively on the grace of God? When God offers to us an invaluable treasure, it is excessive and wicked presumption to regulate our estimation of it by the disdainful views of our flesh. He is called a servant, not as if he were of the ordinary rank, but by way of eminence, and as the person to whom God has committed the charge and office of redeeming his Church. As:
no man taketh this honor to himself, but he who is called of God
is justly entitled to this rank, God declares that he who comes forward in this character was elected by his decree. 9696 “Dieu prononce que par son ordonnance il a eleu celuy qu’on verra venir ayant les marques qu’il met la;” — “God declares that, by his decree, he hath elected him who will be seen coming, attended by the marks which he there describes.” Hence it follows, that men are not at liberty to reject him; because, by doing so, they would be guilty of contempt and rebellion against God. And, indeed, it were the height of absurdity that our choice or our pride should set aside that calling of God which ought to be regarded as sacred and inviolable.
My beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased. There is a still wider import in this statement, which God next makes by the prophet, that the delight of his soul dwells in Christ; for though the calling of each of us proceeds from the free favor of God as its only source, yet in Christ there is this remarkable peculiarity, that in his person God the Father embraces in his love the whole Church. As we are all by nature enemies of God, his love will never come to us till it first begin with the Head; which we have seen on a former occasion, and will see again under another passage, (Matthew 17:5.)
He will proclaim judgment to the Gentiles. The prophet gives a brief description of Christ’s office, when he foretells that he will proclaim judgment to the Gentiles By the word judgment the Jews understand a government which is correctly and properly arranged, in which order and justice prevail. The design of the prophet is to inform us, that a person will come who will restore justice that had fallen, who will be the governor not of one nation only, but will also bring under subjection to God the Gentiles, among whom dreadful confusion formerly prevailed. And this is the import of the word bring forth, which the prophet employs; for it was the office of Christ to spread throughout the whole world the kingdom of God, which was at that time confined to the corner of Judea; 9797 “Qui estoit pour lors comme enclos en un anglet au pays de Iudee;” —”which was then shut up, as it were in a corner, in the country of Judea.” as it is said in another passage,
The Lord will send forth the scepter of thy power out of Zion,
I will put my Spirit upon him. This explains the manner in which judgment shall be brought forth. It is no doubt true, that there never was any portion whatever of righteousness in the world that did not proceed from the Spirit of God, and that was not maintained by his heavenly power; as none of the kings of the earth can frame or defend good order, except so far as he shall be assisted by the same Spirit. But in bringing forth judgment Christ is greatly superior to all others, for he has received the Spirit from the Father, that he may pour it out on all his people; for not only does he by word or writing prescribe what is proper, but inwardly forms the hearts of men, by the grace of his Spirit, to preserve the rule of righteousness.
19. He will not strive The general meaning is, that the coming of Christ will not be attended by noise, will have nothing of royal splendor and magnificence. He presently adds, that this will turn to the advantage of men, by inducing them to love that mildness which the world everywhere despises. And certainly it is an astonishing display of the folly of men, that their sentiments with regard to Christ are less respectful, because he mildly and voluntarily accommodates himself to their capacity. Were Christ to appear in his glory, what else could be expected, but that it would altogether swallow us up? What wickedness then is it to be less willing to receive him, when on our account he descends from his elevation?
That the gentleness of Christ may awaken reverence in believers, Isaiah reminds them how advantageous, and even how necessary that gentleness must be. Each of us is conscious of his own weakness; and therefore we ought to consider of what importance it is that Christ should treat us with kindness. I speak not of unbelievers, who are entirely destitute of all the graces of the Spirit; but with respect to those whom God has already called, are they not like a half-broken reed and a smoking lamp, till God kindle them to full brightness, and supply them with perfect strength? When Christ is thus pleased to condescend to our weakness, let his unspeakable goodness be embraced by us with joy. Meanwhile, let none flatter himself in his vices, but let each of us labor to make greater proficiency, that we may not be tossed about (Ephesians 4:14) through our whole life, or bend, like reeds, to the slightest gale. Let us grow to the stature of perfect men, that we may remain firm against the diversified attacks of Satan, that our faith may not only emit slight sparks encompassed by thick smoke, but may send out bright rays.
The example of Christ instructs all his ministers in what manner they ought to conduct themselves. But as there are some who falsely and absurdly maintain that mildness ought to be exercised indiscriminately towards all, we must attend to the distinction which the prophet expressly makes between weak and wicked persons. Those who are too stubborn need to have their hardness beaten violently with a hammer; and those who endeavor to spread darkness in every direction, or who act as torches to kindle conflagrations, must have their smoke dispelled and their flame extinguished. While the faithful ministers of the Word ought to endeavor to spare the weak, and thus to cherish and increase that portion of the grace of God, however small, which they possess, they must also exercise prudent caution, lest they encourage the obstinate malice of those who have no resemblance to the smoking lamp or bruised reed.
20. Till he send out judgment into victory. The words of the prophet are a little different, he will bring forth the judgment unto truth. But the term employed by Matthew is very emphatic, and is intended to inform us, that justice is not established in the world without a great struggle and exertion. The devil throws all possible difficulties in the way, which cannot be removed without violent opposition. This is confirmed by the word victory, for victory is not obtained in any other way than by fighting.
21. And in his name shall the Gentiles trust Instead of these words the prophet has, The isles shall wait for his law. But though Matthew has changed the words, the meaning is the same, that the grace of Christ will be shared by the Gentiles.
Matthew 12:22. Then was brought to him. Luke explains from the effect, that the devil by which the man was possessed was dumb; but Matthew says, that a twofold plague had been inflicted on the man. Many persons, no doubt, are blind and deaf on account of natural defects; but it is evident, that this man had become blind, and had been deprived of the use of speech, though there was no defect in his optical nerves, 104104 “Aux nerfs appelez Optiques, qui sont les conduits de la veue;”— “in what are called the Optical nerves, which are the conductors of vision.” or in the proportion of his tongue. We need not wonder that so much liberty should be allowed to Satan in injuring the bodily senses, when God justly permits him to corrupt or pervert all the faculties of the soul.
23. And all the people were astonished. Hence we infer, that there was a visible display of the power of God, which drew upon him the admiration of the great body of the people, who were not at all actuated by any wicked disposition. For how came it that all admired, but because the fact compelled them to do so? And certainly there is not one of us, who does not see in this narrative, as in a mirror, an unwonted power of God: and hence it follows, that a diabolical venom must have seized the minds of the scribes, who were not ashamed to slander so remarkable a work of God. But we must attend to the result of the miracle. Moved with admiration, those who saw it ask each other, Is not Jesus the Christ? Acknowledging the power of God, they are led, as it were by the hand, to faith. Not that they suddenly profited as much as they ought to have done, (for they speak doubtfully;) but yet it is no small proficiency to be aroused to consider more attentively the glory of Christ. Some look upon this as a full affirmation, but the words convey no such meaning; and the fact itself shows, that an unexpected occurrence had struck them forcibly, and that they did not form a decided opinion, but only that it occurred to them that he might be the Christ.
24. But when the Pharisees heard it. The scribes cannot withhold the acknowledgment of a fact so open and manifest, and yet they maliciously carp 105105 “Ils ne laissent pas toutesfois de ronger, comme par despit et d’un vouloir malicieux;” — “and yet they do not fail to carp as with spite, and with a wicked disposition.” at what Christ did by Divine power. Not only do they obscure the praise of the miracle, but endeavor to turn it into a reproach, as if it were performed by magical enchantment; and that work, which could not be ascribed to a man, is alleged by them to have the devil for its author. Of the word Beelzebub I have spoken under the Tenth Chapter, 106106 Harmony, volume 1. p. 459. and of the prince of the devils I have said a little under the Ninth Chapter. 107107 Harmony, volume 1: p. 419. The reader must have observed that, when our Author has explained a phrase or illustrated a fact, he seldom repeats what he had said, but refers to the earlier portions of his work, in which the information may be found. It is not improbable that this may have been his leading motive for adopting the plan of a Harmony, instead of writing a separate Commentary on each Gospel. He had made some observations on Matthew 9:34, But the Pharisees said, He casteth out devils by the prince of the devils; and takes for granted, that the terms which occur in that passage require no farther elucidation. But it would appear to have escaped his recollection that, on the occasion alluded to, he satisfied himself with general remarks on the “wicked slander” of the Pharisees, and took no notice of the phrase, prince of the devils. The deficiency is partly supplied by an explanation which he now makes. -- Ed. The opinion expressed by the scribes, that there is a prince among wicked spirits, did not arise from a mistake of the common people, or from supposition, but from a conviction entertained among the godly, that the reprobate have a head, in the same manner as Christ is the Head of the Church.
Matthew 12:25. But as Jesus knew their thoughts. Though Christ knew sufficiently well, and had often learned by experience, that the scribes, in the exercise of their malice 116116 “Comme c’estoyent gens tout pleins d’un malin vouloir;” — “as they were people entirely full of a wicked disposition. were in the habit of putting an unfavorable construction on every thing that he did, yet Matthew and Luke, I have no doubt, mean that Christ was a discerner of their hearts. 117117 “Que Christ a cognu ce qui estoit cache dedans leur coeurs;” — “that Christ knew what was concealed within their hearts.” And indeed it is probable, that they spoke so openly against Christ, that their calumnies reached his ears; but Christ knew by his Divine Spirit the dispositions which led them to slander him. For it frequently happens that erroneous judgments are formed by men who do not intentionally, after all, oppose what is right, but err through ignorance; who do not cherish a hidden and concealed venom, but whose rashness carries them headlong. 118118 “Mais se laissent trop aisement transporter d’une temerite ne voyans pas le mal qu’ils font;” — “but allow themselves too easily to be carried away by rashness, not perceiving the evil that they do.” The meaning therefore is, that Christ reproved them with the greater severity, because he was a witness and judge of their inward malice.
Every kingdom divided against itself. In refuting the calumny alleged against him, he first quotes a common proverb. This refutation may appear to be not quite satisfactory. We know what subtle methods Satan sometimes employs, presenting all the while an appearance of discord, in order to entrap the minds of men by superstitions. Thus, for example, the exorcisms of Popery are nothing else than feats of dexterity, in which Satan pretends to fight with himself. But no suspicion of this nature fell on Christ; for he cast out devils in such a manner, as to restore to God the men in whom they dwelt sound and whole. Whenever Satan enters into a collusion with himself, he pretends to be vanquished, and yet it is himself that triumphs. But Christ attacked Satan in open combat, threw him down, and left him nothing remaining. He did not lay him low in one respect, that he might give him greater stability in another, but stripped him completely of all his armor. Christ therefore reasons justly, that there is no community of interest between him and Satan, because that father of cunning 119119 “Ce pere de toute finesse et malice;” — “that father of all dexterity and malice.” keeps one object in view — the preservation of his kingdom.
But perhaps it will be objected, that the devils are often hurried along, by giddiness and blind madness, to destroy themselves. The answer is easy. The words of Christ mean nothing more than that it was absurd in the scribes to maintain, that the devil, who endeavors by every method to make men his slaves, should, of his own accord, destroy the power which he possessed over them. Besides, it ought to be remembered, that common proverbs were employed by Christ in such a manner, as to be merely probable conjectures, and not solid arguments; and that, when he speaks of what is known and well attested, he finds it easier to reach the conscience of his adversaries. 120120 “Il ne va pas chercher fort loin les choses pour poindre les consciences de ses adversaires;” — “he does not go far to see things fitted to affect the consciences of his adversaries.” Everybody knew that Christ had driven Satan from his possession, and nothing was plainer than that all his miracles tended to this object; and hence it was easy to conclude, that his power, which was so much opposed to Satan, was divine.
27. By whom do your children cast them out? He charges them with passing an unjust and malicious decision, because in the same case they did not decide in a similar manner, but as they were affected towards the persons. Now this inequality shows, that their prevailing motive was not a regard to what is just and right, but blind love or hatred; and that it was even an evidence of wicked self-love (φιλαυτίας) and envy, to condemn in Christ what they praised in their own children By your children some understand the children of the whole nation; and some think that the Apostles are so called, because they were acknowledged to be children, while Christ was treated as if he had been a foreigner. 121121 “Et cependant les scribes tenoyent Christ pour estranger;” — “and yet the scribes held Christ to be a foreigner.” Others refer it to the ancient Prophets. I have no doubt that he means the Exorcists, who were at that time generally employed among the Jews, as is evident from the Acts of the Apostles, (19:19.) There is reason to believe, that no greater kindness would be exercised in judging of the disciples of Christ than of their Master; and to apply these words to the dead is a forced construction, when they manifestly denote a comparison of the present time.
There was indeed no statute of the Law for having Exorcists among the Jews; but we know that God, in order to maintain their fidelity to his covenant, and their purity of worship, often testified his presence among them by a variety of miracles. It is even possible that there were persons who cast out devils by calling on the name of the Lord; and the people, having experienced such a display of the power of God, rashly concluded that it was an ordinary office. 122122 “Le peuple en a fait un office ordinaire sans regarder comment;”— “the people made it to be an ordinary office, without considering in what manner.” The Papists afterwards, resolving not to occupy a lower rank, imitated them by creating Exorcists; and in this way were apes of apes. Besides, it was not necessary that Christ should approve of those exorcisms, in order to point out the malice of those who wished to have them regarded as sacred, and as authorized by the name of God; for the objection was, as we say, of a personal nature. 123123 “Car l’objection s’addresse a la personne, comme on dit, et non pas a la chose: c’est a dire, Christ ne regarde point ce qu’a la verite il falloit dire de ces Exorcistes, mais ce qu’en pensoyent les scribes;” — “for the objection is addressed to the person, as we say, and not to the thing: that is to say, Christ does not consider what in truth ought to be said of these Exorcists, but what the Jews thought of them.”
Therefore they shall judge concerning you. These words are not to be taken literally, but the meaning is: “We need not go far to seek your condemnation. You attribute to Beelzebub the miracles which I have performed, and you praise the same things in your own children. You have at home what is sufficient to condemn you.” But if any one prefer to understand them differently, as reproaching them with the grace of God, which was sometimes exhibited through the Exorcists, I do not greatly object to that view. Though they were greatly degenerated, yet the Lord was pleased not to leave them altogether without evidences of his power, that there might be some testimony to authorize the priesthood in general, and the service of the temple; for it was of the highest importance that there should be evident marks to distinguish them from the superstitions of the Gentiles. I look upon the former view, however, as the natural one.
28. But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God. Luke says, if I cast out devils by The Finger of God; employing the word Finger metaphorically instead of the Spirit. As God works, and exerts his power, by his Spirit, it is with propriety that the word Finger is applied to him. And this mode of expression was common among the Jews, as Moses relates that Pharaoh’s magicians said, This is the finger of God Now Christ infers from what he has already stated, that the scribes prove themselves to be ungrateful to God, by being unwilling that He should reign among them. Hitherto, he replied to their idle calumny; but now, he treats them as convicted persons, and charges them not to make ungodly opposition to the kingdom of God. He does not confine himself to a single miracle, but takes occasion from it to discourse on the object of his coming, reminds them that they ought not merely to look at one remarkable fact, but at a far more important truth, that it was the will of God, by revealing His Messiah, to raise up their salvation which was fallen, and to restore his kingdom among them. Thus we see that Christ complains of their ingratitude, in madly rejecting from the midst of them the inestimable grace of God. The kingdom of God hath come to you The word come is emphatic, and implies that, without any request from them, God appears as their Redeemer, while they do everything that is in their power to drive him away, and, when he is present and prepared for their salvation, refuse to give him a place.
29. How can any one enter into the house of a strong man? Though the Evangelists differ a little as to words, there is a perfect agreement among them as to the substance of this discourse. Christ is pursuing the subject, on which he had lately touched, about the kingdom of God, and declares it to be necessary that Satan be violently driven out, in order that God may establish his kingdom among men. What he now states is nothing else than a confirmation of the preceding statement. But to ascertain more fully the intention of Christ, we must call to our recollection that analogy which Matthew (8:17) traces between the visible and the spiritual layouts which Christ bestows. 124124 Harmony, volume 1 p. 251. Every benefit which the bodies of men received from Christ was intended to have a reference to their souls. Thus, in rescuing the bodily senses of men from the tyranny of the devil, he proclaimed that the Father had sent him as a Deliverer, to destroy his spiritual tyranny over their souls.
I now return to his words. He maintains that a strong and powerful tyrant cannot be deprived of his dominion, till he is stripped of his armor; for if he is not met by a force superior to his own, he will never yield of his own accord. Why is this asserted? First, we know that the devil is everywhere called the prince of the world Now the tyranny which he exercises is defended on every side by strong ramparts. His snares for entrapping men are beyond all calculation; nay, men are already his slaves, and so firmly bound by a variety of fetters, that they rather cherish the slavery, to which they are devoted, than make any aspirations after freedom. There are also innumerable evils which he inflicts upon them, by which he holds them in wretched oppression under his feet. In short, there is nothing to prevent him from tyrannizing over the world without control. Not that he can do anything without the permission of the Creator, but because Adam, having withdrawn from the dominion of God, has subjected all his posterity to this foreign sway.
Now though it is contrary to nature that the devil reigns, and though it is by, just punishment of God, on account of sin, that men are subjected to his tyranny, yet he remains in quiet possession of his kingdom, and may insult us at his pleasure, till a stronger than he shall rise up against him. But this stronger person is not to be found on earth, for men have not sufficient power to relieve themselves; and therefor it was promised that a Redeemer would come from heaven. Now this kind of redemption Christ shows to be necessary, in order to wrench from the devil, by main force, what he will never quit till he is compelled. By these words he informs us, that it is in vain for men to expect deliverance, till Satan has been subdued by a violent struggle. 125125 “Que c’est folie aux hommes d’attendre deliverance, si Satan n’est premierement mis bas en choquant a bon escient contre luy;” — “that it is folly in men to expect deliverance, if Satan is not first put down by encountering him in good earnest.”
He expressly accuses the scribes of ignorance, in not understanding the principles of the kingdom of God. But this reproof applies almost equally to all, for all are chargeable with the same folly. There is no man who does not loudly boast that he desires the kingdom of God; and yet we do not permit Christ to fight boldly, as the occasion requires, in order to rescue us from the power of our tyrant; just as if a sick man were to entreat the aid of a physician, and then to refuse every remedy. We now see the reason why Christ introduced this parable. It was to show, that the scribes were hostile to the kingdom of God, the beginnings of which they maliciously resisted. Let us also learn that, as we are all subject to the tyranny of Satan, there is no other way in which he commences his reign within us, than when he rescues us, by the powerful and victorious arm of Christ, from that wretched and accursed bondage.
30. He that is not with me. There are two ways of explaining this passage. Some suppose that it is an argument drawn from contraries, and that Christ’s meaning is: “I cannot reign till the devil is overthrown; for the object of all his attempts is, to scatter whatever I gather.” And certainly we see abundant evidence of the earnestness with which that enemy labors to destroy the kingdom of Christ. But I rather agree in opinion with those who explain it to denote, that the scribes are declared to be, in two respects, opposed to the kingdom of God, because they intentionally hinder its progress. “It was your duty to assist me, and to give me your hand in establishing the kingdom of God; for whoever does not assist is, in some measure, opposed to me, or, at least, deserves to be reckoned among enemies. What then shall be said of you, whose furious rage drives you into avowed opposition?” 126126 “A batailler ouvertement contre Dieu;” — “to fight openly against God.”
And he that gathereth not with me scattereth The truth of this is abundantly manifest from what has been already said; for so strong is our propensity to evil, that the justice of God can have no place but in those who apply to it in good earnest. This doctrine has a still more extensive bearing, and implies that they are unworthy to be considered as belonging to the flock of Christ, who do not apply to it all the means that are in their power; because their indolence tends to retard and ruin the kingdom of God, which all of us are called to advance.
31. Therefore I say to you. This inference ought not to be confined to the clause immediately preceding, but depends on the whole discourse. Having proved that the scribes could not blame him for casting out devils, without opposing the kingdom of God, he at length concludes that it is no light or ordinary offense, but an atrocious crime, knowingly and willingly to pour contempt on the Spirit of God. We have already said, that Christ did not pronounce this decision on the mere words which they uttered, but on their base and wicked thought.
All sin and blasphemy. As our Lord declares blasphemy against the Holy Ghost to be more heinous than all other sins, it is of importance to inquire what is the meaning of that term. Those who define it to be impenitence 127127 “Quant a ceux qui disent que c’est un endurcissement jusqu’a la mort;” — “as to those who say that it is hardened obstinacy even to death.” may be refuted without any difficulty; for it would have been in vain and to no purpose for Christ to say, that it is not forgiven in the present life. Besides, the word blasphemy cannot be extended indiscriminately to every sort of crimes; but from the comparison which Christ makes, we shall easily obtain the true definition. Why is it said that he who blasphemes against the Spirit is a more heinous sinner than he who blasphemes against Christ? Is it because the majesty of the Spirit is greater, that a crime committed against him must be punished with greater severity? Certainly that is not the reason; for as the fullness of the Godhead (Colossians 2:9) shines in Christ, he who pours contempt upon him overturns and destroys, as far as it lies in his power, the whole glory of God. Now in what manner shall Christ be separated from his Spirit, so that those who treat the Spirit with contempt offer no injury or insult to Christ?
Already we begin to perceive, that the reason why blasphemy against the Spirit exceeds other sins, is not that the Spirit is higher than Christ, but that those who rebel, after that the power of God has been revealed, cannot be excused on the plea of ignorance. Besides, it must be observed, that what is here said about blasphemy does not refer merely to the essence of the Spirit, but to the grace which He has bestowed upon us. Those who are destitute of the light of the Spirit, however much they may detract from the glory of the Spirit, will not be held guilty of this crime. 128128 “Ne seront pas toutesfois tenus coulpables de ce grand crime duquel il est ici parle;” — “will not, on that account, be held guilty of the great crime here spoken of.” We do not maintain, that those persons are said to pour contempt on the Spirit of God, who oppose his grace and power by hardened malice; and farther we maintain, that this kind of sacrilege is committed only when we knowingly endeavor to extinguish the Spirit who dwells in us.
The reason why contempt is said to be poured on the Spirit, rather than on the Son or the Father, is this. By detracting from the grace and power of God, we make a direct attack on the Spirit, from whom they proceed, and in whom they are revealed to us. Shall any unbeliever curse God? It is as if a blind man were dashing against a wall. But no man curses the Spirit who is not enlightened by him, and conscious of ungodly rebellion against him; for it is not a superfluous distinction. that all other blasphemies shall be forgiven, except that one blasphemy which is directed against the Spirit. If a man shall simply blaspheme against God, he is not declared to be beyond the hope of pardon; but of those who have offered outrage to the Spirit, it is said that God will never forgive them. Why is this, but because those only are blasphemers against the Spirit, who slander his gifts and power, contrary to the conviction of their own mind? Such also is the import of the reason assigned by Mark for the extreme severity of Christ’s threatening against the Pharisees; because they had said that he had the unclean spirit; for in this manner they purposely and maliciously turned light into darkness; and, indeed, it is in the manner of the giants, 129129 “Et cela c’est desfier Dieu, et luy faire la guerre, comme les Geans des Poetes, ainsique porte le proverbe Latin;” — “and that is to defy God, and make war with him, like the Giants of the Poets, as the Latin proverb bears.” as the phrase is, to make war against God.
But here a question arises. Do men proceed to such a pitch of madness as not to hesitate, knowingly and willfully, to rush against God? for this appears to be monstrous and incredible. I reply: Such audacity does indeed proceed from mad blindness, in which, at the same time, malice and virulent rage predominate. Nor is it without reason that Paul says, that though he was
a blasphemer, he obtained pardon, because he had done it ignorantly in his unbelief,
(1 Timothy 1:13;)
for this term draws a distinction between his sin and voluntary rebellion. This passage refutes also the error of those who imagine that every sin which is voluntary, or which is committed in opposition to the conscience, is unpardonable. On the contrary, Paul expressly limits that sin to the First Table of the Law; 130130 “Restreint nommement a la Premiere Table de la Loy ce peche contre l’Esprit;” — “expressly limits to the First Table of the Law this sin against the Spirit.” and our Lord not less plainly applies the word blasphemy to a single description of sin, and at the same time shows, that it is of a kind which is directly opposed to the glory of God. 131131 “Que c’est un peche qui battaille directement contre la gloire de Dieu;” — “that it is a sin which fights directly against the glory of God.”
From all that has been said, we may conclude that those persons sin and blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, who maliciously turn to his dishonor the perfections of God, which have been revealed to him by the Spirit, in which His glory ought to be celebrated, and who, with Satan, their leader, are avowed enemies of the glory of God. We need not then wonder, if for such sacrilege there is no hope of pardon; for they must be desperate who turn the only medicine of salvation into a deadly venom. Some consider this to be too harsh, and betake themselves to the childish expedient, that it is said to be unpardonable, because the pardon of it is rare and difficult to be obtained. But the words of Christ are too precise to admit of so silly an evasion. It is excessively foolish to argue that God will be cruel if he never pardon a sin, the atrocity of which ought to excite in us astonishment and horror. 132132 “Veu que l’horreur d’iceluy nous devroit a tous faire dresser les cheveux en la teste;” — “since the horror at it ought to have such an effect on all of us, as to make the hair stand on our head.” Those who reason in that manner do not sufficiently consider what a monstrous crime it is, not only to profane intentionally the sacred name of God, but to spit in his face when he shines evidently before us. It shows equal ignorance to object, that it would be absurd if even repentance could not obtain pardon; for blasphemy against the Spirit is a token of reprobation, and hence it follows, that whoever have fallen into it, have been delivered over to a reprobate mind, (Romans 1:28.) As we maintain, that he who has been truly regenerated by the Spirit cannot possibly fall into so horrid a crime, so, on the other hand, we must believe that those who have fallen into it never rise again; nay, that in this manner God punishes contempt of his grace, by hardening the hearts of the reprobate, so that they never have any desire towards repentance.
32. Neither in the present life What these words mean, Mark briefly explains by saying, that those who have spoken against the Spirit are exposed to eternal judgment Every day we ask from God the forgiveness of sins, and every day he reconciles us to Him; and, finally, at death, he takes away all our sins, and declares that he is gracious to us. The fruit of this mercy will appear at the last day. The meaning therefore is: — “There is no reason to expect that those who shall have blasphemed against the Spirit will obtain pardon in this life, or will be acquitted in the last judgment.”
With regard to the inference drawn by the Papists, that the sins of men are forgiven after death, there is no difficulty in refuting their slander. First, they act foolishly in torturing the expression, future life, to mean an intermediate period, while any one may perceive that it denotes “the last judgment.” But it is likewise a proof of their dishonesty; for the objection which they sophistically urge is inconsistent with their own doctrine. Who knows not their distinction, that sins are freely pardoned in respect of guilt, but that punishment and satisfaction are demanded? This is an acknowledgment, that there is no hope of salvation to any one whose guilt is not pardoned before death. To the dead, therefore, there remains no forgiveness, except as regards punishment; and surely they will not venture to deny that the subject of this discourse is guilt. Let them now go and light their fire of purgatory with these cold materials, if ice can kindle a flame. 133133 “Voire s’i1 est possible de tant souffler la glace, qu’on la face flamber;” — “that is, if it be possible to blow upon the ice in such a manner as to produce a flame.”
33. Either make the tree good It might look like absurdity, that men should be allowed a choice of being either good or bad; but if we consider what sort of persons Christ is addressing, the difficulty will be speedily resolved. We know what opinion was generally entertained about the Pharisees; for their pretended sanctity had so blinded the minds of the common people, that no one ventured to pass sentence on their vices. 134134 “Que nul n’osoit parler de leurs vices, et les condamner;” — “that none dared to speak of their vices, or to condemn them.” Wishing to remove this mask, Christ desires them to be either good or bad; or, in other words, declares that nothing is more inconsistent with honesty than hypocrisy, and that it is in vain for men to boast of pretensions to righteousness who are not sincere and upright. 135135 “Lesquels ne vont point rondement, et n’ont une affection droite;” — “who do not go straight forward, and have not an upright disposition.” So then he puts nothing at their disposal, and withdraws no restraint from them, but only reminds them that their empty professions will avail them nothing so long as they are double, because they must be either good or bad
From the expression, make the tree, some foolishly infer, that it is in every man’s power to regulate his own life and conduct. It is a rhetorical mode of speaking, by which Christ points out the scribes, dispels—so to speak—the smoke of their hypocrisy, and recalls them to pure and genuine uprightness. He afterwards explains the way and manner in which they may show that they are good or bad trees; which is by yielding good or bad fruit: so that there is no ambiguity in the meaning. The life of the scribes was not rendered infamous among men by gross vices. Pride, ambition, and envy, displayed their venom in the slanders which they uttered; but as that venom was not perceived by ignorant people, Christ brings the concealed evil from its lurking-place, and drags it forth to light.
But perhaps it will be objected that, in consequence of the corruption of our nature, it is impossible to find any man who is altogether upright, and free from every vice. The answer is ready. Christ does not demand absolute and entire perfection, but only a sincere and unfeigned disposition, which the Pharisees whom he addresses were far from possessing. As Scripture applies the terms, bad and wicked, to those who are completely given up to Satan, so the sincere worshippers of God, though they are encompassed by the infirmity of their flesh and by many sins, and groan under the burden, are called good. This arises from the undeserved kindness of God, who bestows so honorable a designation on those who aim at goodness.
34. Offspring of vipers. The similarity between the tree and the fruit is here applied by Christ to nothing more than speech, because this afforded an opportunity of detecting the inward and concealed malice of the scribes; and that is the reason why he dwells so much on this one kind of sin. It is because their falsehood and slanders betrayed what was not so visible in the rest of their life, that Christ attacks them with such severity. “There is no reason to wonder,” he says, “that you vomit out wicked words; for your heart is full of malice.” Nor are we to suppose that he ought to have treated them with greater gentleness, because some might regard this reproof as excessively severe. There are other sins, no doubt, that call for harsh reproofs; but when hypocritical persons pervert what is right, or put a false coloring on what is sinful, such wickedness renders it necessary that God should thunder against it in a more terrible manner than against other sins.
Now the design of Christ, suggested by the present occurrence, was to condemn the wicked sophistry which turns light into darkness. This passage shows how highly valuable in the sight of the Lord truth is, since he maintains and defends it with such rigor. Would that this were earnestly considered by those persons, whose ingenuity is too ready to be employed in defending any cause, and whose venal tongue disguises impostures! In a particular manner, Christ waxes wroth against those whom ambition, or envy, or some other fraudulent design, prompts to slander, even when there is nothing that their conscience condemns. Against the Pharisees, too, as his custom was, Christ used greater harshness, because they were so captivated by an unfounded conviction of their righteousness, that an ordinary warning had no effect upon them. And till hypocrites are sharply pierced, 136136 “Iusques a ce qu’ils sentent qu’on le poigne a bon escient;” — “till they feel that they are pierced in good earnest.” all that is said to them is treated with scorn and contempt.
How can you speak what is good? We have formerly hinted, that proverbial sayings ought not to be rigidly interpreted as an invariable rule, for they state nothing more than the ordinary fact. Sometimes, no doubt, a cruel man will deceive the simple by honied flatteries, a cunning man will cheat under the garb of simplicity, and a man of very wicked thoughts will breathe almost angelical purity of language. 137137 “Il semblera, a l’ouir parler, qu’il ait une purete Angelique;” — “to hear him speak, you would imagine that he has the purity of an Angel.” But the ordinary practice demonstrates the truth of what Christ here says, that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh; agreeably to the old proverb, which declared the tongue to be the index of the mind. 138138 “Comme aussi le proverbe ancien portoit, Que la langue est le charactere ou pourtrait du coeur;” — “as also the old proverb bore, That the tongue is the type or portrait of the heart.” And, indeed, whatever hidden and crooked recesses may exist in the heart of man, and whatever may be the amazing contrivances by which every man conceals his vices, yet the Lord extorts from each of them some kind of confession, so that they discover by the tongue their natural disposition and hidden feelings. We must also observe the purpose for which Christ employs those parables; for he reproaches the Pharisees with having manifested by words the malice which they had inwardly conceived. Besides, knowing them to be sworn enemies, he takes occasion from, single calumny to expose their whole life, and to destroy their credit with the people, which gave them too great influence in deceiving and in doing mischief. Though good speeches do not always proceed from the inmost heart, but originate (as the phrase is) on the tip of the tongue, yet it is an invariable truth, that bad speeches are indications of a bad heart.
36. Of every idle word This is an argument from the less to the greater; for if every idle word is to be called in question, how would God spare the open blasphemies and sacrilegious insolence of those who bark against his glory? 139139 “Qui abbayent contre sa gloire, comme chiens mastins;” — “who bark against his glory, like mastiff-dogs.” An idle word means one that is useless, or that yields no edification or advantage. Many look upon this as too severe; 140140 “Ceci semble a plusieurs estre trop extreme et rigoureux;”— “this appears to many to be too extreme and rigorous.” but if we consider the purpose for which our tongues were made, we will acknowledge, that those men are justly held guilty who unthinkingly devote them to trifling fooleries, and prostitute them to such a purpose. It is no light fault to abuse, for frivolous purposes, the time, which Paul enjoins us to be careful to redeem, (Ephesians 5:16; Colossians 4:5.)
Now since no man is so cautious in speech, or maintains such a wise restraint upon himself, as never to allow some idle words to escape him, there remains for all of us absolute despair, if the Lord should treat us with rigor. But as the confident hope of our salvation rests on the assurance that God will not enter into judgment with us, (Psalm 143:2,) but will bury in gracious forgetfulness the sins which deserve innumerable deaths, 141141 “Qui meritent dix mille morts;” — “which deserve ten thousand deaths.” we entertain no doubt that, when he removes the condemnation of our whole life, he will likewise pardon the guilt of idle talking. When the judgment of God is mentioned in Scripture, it does not in any way set aside the forgiveness of sins. And yet let no man indulge himself, but let every man earnestly endeavor to bridle his tongue, (James 1:26.) First, let us speak of the sacred mysteries of God with the utmost reverence and sobriety; secondly, let us abstain from talkativeness, buffoonery, and vain jests, and much more from slanderous attacks; and, lastly, let us endeavor to have our speech seasoned with salt, (Colossians 4:6.)
37. By thy words thou shalt be justified This was a common proverb, which he applied to the present subject; for I have no doubt that this was a saying which the people had frequently in their mouths, that “every man is condemned or acquitted by his own acknowledgment.” But Christ turns it to a meaning somewhat different, that a wicked speech, being the indication of concealed malice, is enough to condemn a man. The attempt which the Papists make to torture this passage, so as to set aside the righteousness of faith, is childish. A man is justified by his words, not because his speech is the ground of his justification, (for we obtain by faith the favor of God, so that he reckons us to be righteous persons;) but because pure speech 142142 “La parole pure, droite, et honneste;” — “pure, upright, and becoming speech.” absolves us in such a manner, that we are not condemned as wicked persons by our tongue. Is it not absurd to infer from this, that men deserve a single drop of righteousness in the sight of God? On the contrary, this passage upholds our doctrine; for, although Christ does not here treat of the ground of our justification, yet the contrast between the two words points out the meaning of the word justify. The Papists reckon it absurd in us to say, that a man is justified by faith, because they explain the word justified to mean, that he becomes, and is, actually righteous; while we understand it to mean, that he is accounted righteous, and is acquitted before the tribunal of God, as is evident from numerous passages of Scripture. And is not the same thing confirmed by Christ, when he draws a contrast between justified and condemned?
Matthew 12:39. A wicked generation He does not merely charge that age with malice, but pronounces the Jews—or at least the scribes, and those who resembled them—to be a wicked nation; thus declaring that they labored under a hereditary disease of obstinacy. The word γενεά sometimes denotes an age, and sometimes a people or nation. He calls them adulterous, that is, spurious or illegitimate, 165165 “Il entend qu’ils sont enfans bastars;” — “he means that they are bastard children.” because they were degenerated from the holy fathers; as the prophets reproach the men of their age with being not the descendants of Abraham, but the ungodly seed of Canaan.
Seeks a sign. This leads to the inquiry, Does Christ address them with such harshness of language, because they wished to have a sign given them? for on other occasions God manifests that He is not so much displeased on this account. Gideon asks a sign, (Judges 6:17,) and God is not angry, but grants his request; and though Gideon becomes importunate and asks another sign, yet God condescends to his weakness. Hezekiah does not ask a sign, and it is offered to him, though unsolicited, (Isaiah 38:7,8.) Ahaz is severely blamed for refusing to ask a sign, as the prophet had enjoined him to do, (Isaiah 7:11.) It is not solely, therefore, because they ask a sign, that Christ makes this attack upon the scribes, but because they are ungrateful to God, wickedly despise so many of his wonderful works, and try to find a subterfuge for not obeying his word. What a display was this, I do not say of indifference, but of malice, in shutting their eyes against so many signs! There was, therefore, no proper ground for this annoyance; and they had no other object in view than to appear to have a good reason for rejecting Christ. Paul condemns their posterity for the same crime, when he says that the Jews require a sign, (1 Corinthians 1:22.)
A sign shall not be given to it. They had already been convicted by various miracles, and Christ does not abstain from exerting his power among them, for the purpose of rendering them inexcusable, but only means that one sign would stand for all, because they were unworthy of having their ungodly desire granted. “Let them rest satisfied,” says he, “with this sign, that as Jonah, brought up from the bottom of the sea, preached to the Ninevites, so they will hear the voice of a prophet risen from the dead.” The most of commentators, I am aware, display greater ingenuity in expounding this passage; but as the resemblance between Christ and Jonah does not hold at every point, we must inquire in what respect Christ compares himself to Jonah. For my own part, leaving the speculations of other men, I think that Christ intends to mark out that single point of resemblance which I have already hinted, that he will be their prophet after that he is risen from the dead. “You despise,” he says, “the Son of God, who has come down to you from heaven: but I am yet to die, and to rise from the grave, and to speak to you after my resurrection, as Jonah came from the bottom of the sea to Nineveh.” In this manner our Lord cuts off every pretense for their wicked demands, by threatening that he will be their Prophet after his resurrection, since they do not receive him while clothed with mortal flesh.
Matthew 12:41. The men of Nineveh will rise in judgment. Having spoken of the Ninevites, Christ takes occasion to show that the scribes and others, by whom his doctrine is rejected, are worse than the Ninevites were. “Ungodly men,” he says, “who never had heard a word of the true God, repented at the voice of an unknown and foreign person who came to them; while this country, which is the sanctuary of heavenly doctrine, hears not the Son of God, and the promised Redeemer.” Here lies the contrast which is implied in the comparison. We know who the Ninevites were, men altogether unaccustomed to hear prophets, and destitute of the true doctrine. Jonah had no rank to secure their respect, but was likely to be rejected as a foreigner. The Jews, on the other hand, boasted that among them the Word of God had its seat and habitation. If they had beheld Christ with pure eyes, 167167 “D’un oeil pur, et sans mauvaise affection;” — “with a pure eye, and without evil disposition.” they must have acknowledged, not only that he was a teacher sent from heaven, but that he was the Messiah, and the promised Author of Salvation. But if that nation was convicted of desperate ungodliness, for despising Christ while he spoke to them on earth, we are worse than all the unbelievers that ever existed, if the Son of God, now that he inhabits his sanctuary in heaven, and addresses us with a heavenly voice, does not bring us to obey him. Whether the men of Nineveh were truly and perfectly turned to God I judge it unnecessary to inquire. It is enough for the present purpose that they were so deeply affected by the teaching of Jonah, as to have their minds directed to repentance.
42. The queen of the south. As Ethiopia lies in a southerly direction from Judea, I willingly concur with Josephus and other writers, who assert that she was the queen of Ethiopia. In sacred history she is called the queen of Sheba, (2 Chronicles 9:1.) We must not suppose this Sheba to be the country of Saba, which rather lay toward the east, but a town situated in Meroe, an island on the Nile, which was the metropolis of the kingdom. Here, too, we must attend to the points of contrast. A woman who had not been at all educated in the school of God, was induced, by the desire of instruction, to come from a distant region to Solomon, an earthly king; while the Jews, who had been instructed in the divine law, reject their highest and only teacher, the Prince of all the prophets. The word condemn relates not to the persons, but to the fact itself, and the example which it yields.
43. But when the unclean spirit hath gone out. He speaks of scribes and hypocrites of a similar character, who, despising the grace of God, enter into a conspiracy with the devil. Against such persons he pronounces that punishment which their ingratitude deserves. To make his doctrine more extensively useful, he points out, in a general manner, the condemnation that awaits those who, despising the grace offered to them, again open the door to the devil. But as almost every particle has great weight, there are some points that must be noticed in their order, before we come to treat the substance of the parable.
What Christ says about the going out of the devil is intended to magnify the power and efficacy of the grace of God. Whenever God draws near to us, and, above all, when he approaches us in the person of his Son, the design is, to rescue us from the tyranny of the devil, and to receive us into his favor. This had been openly declared by Christ in the miracle which he had lately performed. As it is the peculiar office of Christ to banish wicked spirits, that they may no longer reign over men, the devil is justly said to go out of those men to whom Christ exhibits himself as a Redeemer. Though the presence of Christ is not efficacious to all, because unbelievers render it useless to them, yet he intended to point out why he visits us, what is implied in his coming, and how it is regarded by wicked spirits; for in every case in which Christ operates on men, the devils are drawn into a contest with him, and sink beneath his power. Let us, therefore, hold it to be a settled point, that the devil is cast out of us, whenever Christ shines upon us, and displays his grace towards us by some manifestation.
Secondly, the wretched condition of the whole human race is here described to us; for it follows that the devil has a residence within man, since he is driven from it by the Son of God. Now what is here said relates not to one individual or to another, but to the whole posterity of Adam. And this is the glory of our nature, that the devil has his seat within us, and inhabits both the body and the soul. So much the more illustrious is the display of the mercy of God, when we, who were the loathsome dens of the devil, are made temples to Himself, and consecrated for a habitation of His Spirit.
Thirdly, we have here a description of Satan’s nature. He never ceases to do us injury, but is continually busy, and moves from one place to another. In a word, he directs all his efforts to accomplish our destruction; and above all, when he has been vanquished and put to flight by Christ, it only tends more to whet his rage and keenness to do us injury. 144144 “Il aiguise tant plus son appetit enrage de nous mal-faire;” — “so much the more does it whet his enraged appetite to do us injury.” Before Christ makes us partakers of his energy, it seems as if it were in sport and amusement that this enemy reigns over us; 145145 “Ce mal-heureux ennemi nous manie tout a son aise, et regne en nous comme en se iouant;” — “this unhappy foe governs us altogether at his ease, and reigns over us, as it were, in sport.” but when he has been driven out, he conceives resentment at having lost his prey, collects new forces, and arouses all his senses to attack us anew.
He walketh through dry places. This is a metaphorical expression, and denotes that to dwell out of men is to him a wretched banishment, and resembles a barren wilderness. Such, too, is the import of the phrase, seeking rest, so long as he dwells out of men; for then he is displeased and tormented, and ceases not to labor by one means or by another, till he recover what he has lost. 146146 “Iusques a ce qu’il retrouve la proye qu’on luy a ostee d’entremains;” — “till he recover the prey that has been snatched out of his hands.” Let us, therefore, learn that, as soon as Christ calls us, a sharper and fiercer contest is prepared for us. Though he meditates the destruction of all, and though the words of Peter apply to all without exception, that he
goeth about as a roaring lion, and seeketh whom he may devour,
(1 Peter 5:8,)
yet we are plainly taught by these words of Christ, that Satan views with deeper hatred, and attacks with greater fierceness and rage, those who have been rescued from his snares. Such an admonition, however, ought not to inspire us with terror, but to arouse us to keep diligent watch, and to put on the spiritual armor, that we may make a brave resistance.
44. He findeth it empty Christ is unquestionably describing those who, being destitute of the Spirit of God, are prepared for receiving the devil; for believers, in whom the Spirit of God efficaciously dwells, are fortified on all sides, so that no opening is left for Satan. The metaphor of a house swept and embellished is taken from men who find pleasure in the cleanness and neatness of their apartments; for to Satan no sight is beautiful but deformity itself, and no smell is sweet but filth and nastiness. The meaning therefore is, that Satan never finds a more appropriate habitation within us, than when, having parted with Christ, we receive Satan as a guest. 147147 “Que quand, laissans Christ, et nous esloignans de luy, nous attirons c’est hoste a nous;” — “that when leaving Christ, and withdrawing from him, we entice this guest.” His highest delight is in that emptiness by which the neglect of divine grace is followed. 148148 “Ce qu’il aime donc le plus, et ou il prend un souverain plaisir, c’est ceste place vuide qui se fait quand l’homme ne tient conte de la grace de Dieu, et est nonchalant d’en bien user;” — “that which he loves most, and in which he takes a supreme pleasure, is the emptiness which is produced, when man sets no value on the grace of God, and is indifferent about making a good use of it.”
45. He taketh with him seven other spirits The number seven is here used indefinitely, as in many other passages. By these words Christ shows that if we fall from his grace, our subjection to Satan is doubled, so that he treats us with greater cruelty than before, and that this is the just punishment of our slothfulness. 149149 “En sorte qu’il nous tient le pied sur la gorge plus estroitement que devant: et qu’en cela nous recevons une iuste recompense et punition de nostre nonchalance;” — “so that he holds his foot upon our throat more straitly than before; and that in this we have a just reward of our indifference.” Let us not then suppose that the devil has been vanquished by a single combat, because he has once gone out of us. On the contrary, let us remember that, as his lodgment within us was of old standing, ever since we were born, he has knowledge and experience of all the approaches by which he may reach us; and that, if there be no open and direct entrance, he has dexterity enough to creep in by small holes or winding crevices. 150150 “Et s’il n’y pent entrer de front et apertement, il est assez fin pour s’y fourrer secretement par dessous terre, ou par quelque fente a coste;”— “and if he cannot enter it in front and openly, he is cunning enough to dig into it secretly below ground, or by some chink in the side.” We must, therefore, endeavor that Christ, holding his reign within us, may block up all the entrances of his adversary. Whatever may be the fierceness or violence of Satan’s attacks, they ought not to intimidate the sons of God, whom the invincible power of the Holy Spirit preserves in safety. We know that the punishment which is here threatened is addressed to none but those who despise the grace of God, and who, by extinguishing the light of faith, and banishing the desire of godliness, 151151 “Et effacans l’amour de la crainte de Dieu;” — “and effacing the love of the fear of God.” become profane.
Matthew 12:48. Who is my mother? These words were unquestionably intended to reprove Mary’s eagerness, and she certainly acted improperly in attempting to interrupt the progress of his discourse. 157157 “Et de faict, c’estoit mal avise a elle de vouloir ainsi rompre son propos, lors qu’il enseignoit;” — “and in fact, it was foolish in her to wish to break off his discourse in this manner, while he was teaching.” At the same time, by disparaging the relationship of flesh and blood, our Lord teaches a very useful doctrine; for he admits all his disciples and all believers to the same honorable rank, as if they were his nearest relatives, or rather he places them in the room of his mother and brethren Now this statement is closely connected with the office of Christ; for he tells us that he has been given, not to a small number of individuals, but to all the godly, who are united in one body with him by faith. He tells us also, that there is no tie of relationship more sacred than spiritual relationship, because we ought not to think of him according to the flesh, but according to the power of his Spirit which he has received from the Father to renew men, so that those who are by nature the polluted and accursed seed of Abraham begin to be by grace the holy and heavenly sons of God. In like manner, Paul affirms that to know Christ after the flesh is not to know him properly, (2 Corinthians 5:16,) because we ought rather to consider that renovation of the world, which far exceeds human power, and which takes place when he forms us anew by his Spirit to the image of God. To sum up the whole, this passage, first, teaches us to behold Christ with the eyes of faith; and, secondly, it informs us, that every one who is regenerated by the Spirit, and gives himself up entirely to God for true justification, is thus admitted to the closest union with Christ, and becomes one with him.
50. For whosoever shall do the will of my Father who is in heaven. When he says that they do the will of his Father, he does not mean that they fulfill, in a perfect manner, the whole righteousness of the law; for in that sense the name brother, which is here given by him to his disciples, would not apply to any man. 158158 “Ne conviendroit a homme vivant;” — “would not apply to any man living.” But his design is, to bestow the highest commendation on faith, which is the source and origin of holy obedience, and at the same time covers the defects and sins of the flesh, that they may not be imputed. This, says Christ in a well-known passage,
is the will of my Father, that whosoever seeth the Son, and believeth in him, may not perish, but have eternal life,
Although these words seem to imply that Christ has no regard to the ties of blood, yet we know that in reality he paid the strictest attention to human order, 159159 “Qu’a la verite il a observe et entretenu en toute sainctete l’ordre qui est entre les hommes;” — “that in reality he observed and maintained.” and discharged his lawful duties towards relatives; but points out that, in comparison of spiritual relationship, no regard, or very little, is due to the relationship of the flesh. Let us therefore attend to this comparison, so as to perform all that nature can justly claim, and, at the same time, not to be too strongly attached to flesh and blood. Again, as Christ bestows on the disciples of his Gospel the inestimable honor of being reckoned as his brethren, we must be held guilty of the basest ingratitude, if we do not disregard all the desires of the flesh, and direct every effort towards this object.