World Wide Study Bible
a Bible passage
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Salt and Light
13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
The Law and the Prophets
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.
31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ 34But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
Love for Enemies
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Matthew 5:1. He went up into a mountain. Those who think that Christ’s sermon, which is here related, is different from the sermon contained in the sixth chapter of Luke’s Gospel, rest their opinion on a very light and frivolous argument. Matthew states, that Christ spoke to his disciples on a mountain, while Luke seems to say, that the discourse was delivered on a plain. But it is a mistake to read the words of Luke, he went down with them, and stood in the plain, (Luke 6:17,) as immediately connected with the statement that, lifting up his eyes on the disciples, he spoke thus. For the design of both Evangelists was, to collect into one place the leading points of the doctrine of Christ, which related to a devout and holy life. Although Luke had previously mentioned a plain, he does not observe the immediate succession of events in the history, but passes from miracles to doctrine, without pointing out either time or place: just as Matthew takes no notice of the time, but only mentions the place. It is probable, that this discourse was not delivered until Christ had chosen the twelve: but in attending to the order of time, which I saw that the Spirit of God had disregarded, I did not wish to be too precise. Pious and modest readers ought to be satisfied with having a brief summary of the doctrine of Christ placed before their eyes, collected out of his many and various discourses, the first of which was that in which he spoke to his disciples about true happiness.
2. Opening his mouth. This redundancy of expression (πλεονασμὸς) partakes of the Hebrew idiom: for what would be faulty in other languages is frequent among the Hebrews, to say, He opened his mouth, instead of, He began to speak. Many look upon it as an emphatic mode of expression, employed to draw attention to any thing important and remarkable, either in a good or bad sense, which has been uttered: but as some passages of Scripture countenance an opposite view, I prefer the former exposition. I shall also dismiss the ingenious speculation of those, who give an allegorical turn to the fact of our Lord teaching his disciples on a mountain, as if it had been intended to teach them to elevate their minds far above worldly cares and employments. In ascending the mountain, his design rather was to seek a retreat, where he might obtain relaxation for himself and his disciples at a distance from the multitude.
Now let us see, in the first place, why Christ spoke to his disciples about true happiness. We know that not only the great body of the people, but even the learned themselves, hold this error, that he is the happy man who is free from annoyance, attains all his wishes, and leads a joyful and easy life. At least it is the general opinion, that happiness ought to be estimated from the present state.361361 “Par l'estat de la vie presente;” — “by the state of the present life.” Christ, therefore, in order to accustom his own people to bear the cross, exposes this mistaken opinion, that those are happy who lead an easy and prosperous life according to the flesh. For it is impossible that men should mildly bend the neck to bear calamities and reproaches, so long as they think that patience is at variance with a happy life. The only consolation which mitigates and even sweetens the bitterness of the cross and of all afflictions, is the conviction, that we are happy in the midst of miseries: for our patience is blessed by the Lord, and will soon be followed by a happy result.
This doctrine, I do acknowledge, is widely removed from the common opinion: but the disciples of Christ must learn the philosophy of placing their happiness beyond the world, and above the affections of the flesh. Though carnal reason will never admit what is here taught by Christ, yet he does not bring forward any thing imaginary, — as the Stoics362362 Stoics were an ancient sect of philosophers, and received their name from the Stoa, (στοὰ,) or portico, in which Zeno, their master, delivered his instructions. The paradoxes referred to by Calvin are such as the following: that the distinction between pleasure and pain is imaginary; that happiness does not at all depend on outward circumstances; and that whoever chooses to acquire an absolute command over his passions may make himself perfectly happy in the present life. — Ed. were wont, in ancient times, to amuse themselves with their paradoxes, — but demonstrates from the fact, that those persons are truly happy, whose condition is supposed to be miserable. Let us, therefore remember, that the leading object of the discourse is to show, that those are not unhappy who are oppressed by the reproaches of the wicked, and subject to various calamities. And not only does Christ prove that they are in the wrong, who measure the happiness of man by the present state, because the distresses of the godly will soon be changed for the better; but he also exhorts his own people to patience, by holding out the hope of a reward.
3. Happy are the poor in spirit. Luke 6:20. Happy (are ye) poor. Luke gives nothing more than a simple metaphor: but as the poverty of many is accursed and unhappy, Matthew expresses more clearly the intention of Christ. Many are pressed down by distresses, and yet continue to swell inwardly with pride and cruelty. But Christ pronounces those to be happy who, chastened and subdued by afflictions, submit themselves wholly to God, and, with inward humility, betake themselves to him for protection. Others explain the poor in spirit to be those who claim nothing for themselves, and are even so completely emptied of confidence in the flesh, that they acknowledge their poverty. But as the words of Luke and those of Matthew must have the same meaning, there can be no doubt that the appellation poor is here given to those who are pressed and afflicted by adversity. The only difference is, that Matthew, by adding an epithet, confines the happiness to those only who, under the discipline of the cross, have learned to be humble.
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. We see that Christ does not swell the minds of his own people by any unfounded belief, or harden them by unfeeling obstinacy, as the Stoics do, but leads them to entertain the hope of eternal life, and animates them to patience by assuring them, that in this way they will pass into the heavenly kingdom of God. It deserves our attention, that he only who is reduced to nothing in himself, and relies on the mercy of God, is poor in spirit: for they who are broken or overwhelmed by despair murmur against God, and this proves them to be of a proud and haughty spirit.
4. Happy are they that mourn. This statement is closely connected with the preceding one, and is a sort of appendage or confirmation of it. The ordinary belief is, that calamities render a man unhappy. This arises from the consideration, that they constantly bring along with them mourning and grief. Now, nothing is supposed to be more inconsistent with happiness than mourning. But Christ does not merely affirm that mourners are not unhappy. He shows, that their very mourning contributes to a happy life, by preparing them to receive eternal joy, and by furnishing them with excitements to seek true comfort in God alone. Accordingly, Paul says,
“We glory in tribulations also knowing that tribulation produces patience, and patience experience, and experience hope: and hope maketh not ashamed,” (Romans 5:3-5.)
5. Happy are the meek By the meek he means persons of mild and gentle dispositions, who are not easily provoked by injuries, who are not ready to take offense, but are prepared to endure anything rather than do the like actions to wicked men. When Christ promises to such persons the inheritance of the earth, we might think it exceedingly foolish. Those who warmly repel any attacks, and whose hand is ever ready to revenge injuries, are rather the persons who claim for themselves the dominion of the earth. And experience certainly shows that, the more mildly their wickedness is endured, the more bold and insolent does it become. Hence arises the diabolical proverb, that “We must howl with the wolves, because the wolves will immediately devour every one who makes himself a sheep.” But Christ places his own protection, and that of the Father, in contrast with the fury and violence of wicked men, and declares, on good grounds, that the meek will be the lords and heirs of the earth The children of this world never think themselves safe, but when they fiercely revenge the injuries that are done them, and defend their life by the “weapons of war,” (Ezekiel 32:27.) But as we must believe, that Christ alone is the guardian of our life, all that remains for us is to “hide ourselves under the shadow of his wings,” (Psalm 17:8.) We must be sheep, if we wish to be reckoned a part of his flock.
It will perhaps be objected, that what has been now said is contradicted by experience. I would first suggest that it be considered, how greatly ferocious363363 “Les gens fiers et farouches;” — “proud and ferocious people. people are disturbed by their own restlessness. While they lead so stormy a life, though they were a hundred times lords of the earth, while they possess all, they certainly possess nothing. For the children of God, on the other hand, I answer, that though they may not plant their foot on what is their own, they enjoy a quiet residence on the earth. And this is no imaginary possession;364364 “Ce nest as une possession lma name et en l'air.” — “It is not an imaginary possession, and in the air.” for they know, that the earth, which they inhabit, has been granted to them by God. Besides, the hand of God is interposed to protect them against the violence and fury of wicked men. Though exposed to every species of attack, subject to the malice of wicked men, surrounded by all kinds of danger, they are safe under the divine protection. They have already a foretaste, at least, of this grace of God; and that is enough for them, till they enter, at the last day, into the possession of the inheritance365365 “De la seigneurie de tout le monde;” — “of the lordships of all the world.” of the world.
6. Happy are they who hunger To hunger and thirst is here, I think, used as a figurative expression,366366 “Par une figure qu'on appelle Synecdoche;” — “by a figure which is called Synecdoche,” in which a part is put for the whole. and means to suffer poverty, to want the necessaries of life, and even to be defrauded of one’s right. Matthew says, who thirst after righteousness, and thus makes one class stand for all the rest. He represents more strongly the unworthy treatment which they have received, when he says that, though they are anxious, though they groan, they desire nothing but what is proper. “Happy are they who, though their wishes are so moderate, that they desire nothing to be granted to them but what is reasonable, are yet in a languishing condition, like persons who are famishing with hunger.” Though their distressing anxiety exposes them to the ridicule of others, yet it is a certain preparation for happiness: for at length they shall be satisfied God will one day listen to their groans, and satisfy their just desires for to Him, as we learn from the song of the Virgin, it belongs to fill the hungry with good things, (Luke 1:53.)
7. Happy are the merciful This paradox, too, contradicts the judgment of men.367367 “Ceci aussi est un paradoxe, c'est a dire, une sentence contraire au jugement commun des hommes.” — “This also is a paradox, that is to say, a sentiment contrary to the general opinion of men.” The world reckons those men to be happy, who give themselves no concern about the distresses of others, but consult their own ease. Christ says that those are happy, who are not only prepared to endure their own afflictions, but to take a share in the afflictions of others, — who assist the wretched, — who willingly take part with those who are in distress, — who clothe themselves, as it were, with the same affections, that they may be more readily disposed to render them assistance. He adds, for they shall obtain mercy, — not only with God, but also among men, whose minds God will dispose to the exercise of humanity.368368 “A douceur et compassion;” — “to mildness and compass Though the whole world may sometimes be ungrateful, and may return the very worst reward to those who have done acts of kindness to them, it ought to be reckoned enough, that grace is laid up with God for the merciful and humane, so that they, in their turn, will find him to be gracious and merciful, (Psalm 103:8; 145:8.)
8. Happy are they who are of a pure heart We might be apt to think, that what is here stated by Christ is in accordance with the judgment of all. Purity of heart is universally acknowledged to be the mother of all virtues. And yet there is hardly one person in a hundred, who does not put craftiness in the place of the greatest virtue. Hence those persons are commonly accounted happy, whose ingenuity is exercised in the successful practice of deceit, who gain dexterous advantages, by indirect means, over those with whom they have intercourse. Christ does not at all agree with carnal reason, when he pronounces those to be happy, who take no delight in cunning, but converse sincerely with men, and express nothing, by word or look, which they do not feel in their heart. Simple people are ridiculed for want of caution, and for not looking sharply enough to themselves. But Christ directs them to higher views, and bids them consider that, if they have not sagacity to deceive in this world, they will enjoy the sight of God in heaven.
9. Happy are the peacemakers By peacemakers he means those who not only seek peace and avoid quarrels, as far as lies in their power, but who also labor to settle differences among others, who advise all men to live at peace, and take away every occasion of hatred and strife. There are good grounds for this statement. As it is a laborious and irksome employment to reconcile those who are at variance, persons of a mild disposition, who study to promote peace, are compelled to endure the indignity of hearing reproaches, complaints, and remonstrances on all sides. The reason is, that every one would desire to have advocates, who would defend his cause. That we may not depend on the favor of men, Christ bids us look up to the judgment of his Father, who is the God of peace, (Romans 15:33,) and who accounts us his children, while we cultivate peace, though our endeavors may not be acceptable to men: for to be called means To Be Accounted the children of God
10. Happy are they who suffer persecution The disciples of Christ have very great need of this instruction; and the more hard and disagreeable it is for the flesh to admit it, the more earnestly ought we to make it the subject of our meditation. We cannot be Christ’s soldiers369369 “Nous ne pouvons pas batailler sons l'enseigne de Jesus Christ a autre condition.” — “We cannot fight under the banner of Jesus Christ on any other condition.” on any other condition, than to have the greater part of the world rising in hostility against us, and pursuing us even to death. The state of the matter is this. Satan, the prince of the world, will never cease to fill his followers with rage, to carry on hostilities against the members of Christ. It is, no doubt, monstrous and unnatural, that men, who study to live a righteous life, should be attacked and tormented in a way which they do not deserve. And so Peter says,
“Who is he that will harm you,
if ye be followers of that which is good?”
(1 Peter 3:13.)
Yet, in consequence of the unbridled wickedness of the world, it too frequently happens, that good men, through a zeal of righteousness, arouse against them the resentments of the ungodly. Above all, it is, as we may say, the ordinary lot of Christians to be hated by the majority of men: for the flesh cannot endure the doctrine of the Gospel; none can endure to have their vices reproved.
Who suffer on account of righteousness This is descriptive of those who inflame the hatred, and provoke the rage, of wicked men against them, because, through an earnest desire to do what is good and right, they oppose bad causes and defend good ones, as far as lies in their power. Now, in this respect, the truth of God justly holds the first rank. Accordingly, by this mark Christ distinguishes his own martyrs from criminals and malefactors.
I now return to what I said a little before, that as, all that will live godly in Christ Jesus “(Paul informs us), shall suffer persecution,” (2 Timothy 3:12,) this admonition has a general reference to all the godly. But if, at any time, the Lord spares our weakness, and does not permit the ungodly to torment us as they would desire, yet, during the season of repose and leisure, it is proper for us to meditate on this doctrine, that we may be ready, whenever it shall be necessary, to enter the field, and may not engage in the contest till we have been well prepared. As the condition of the godly, during the whole course of this life, is very miserable, Christ properly calls them to the hope of the heavenly life. And here lies the main difference between Christ’s paradox and the ravings of the Stoics, who ordered that every man should be satisfied in his own mind, and should be the author of his own happiness: while Christ does not suspend our happiness on a vain imagination, but rests it on the hope of a future reward.
11. When they shall cast reproaches on you Luke 6:22 When men shall hate you, and separate you, and load you with reproaches, and cast out your name as evil By these words Christ intended to comfort those who believe in him; that they may not lose courage, even though they see themselves to be detestable in the eyes of the world. For this was no light temptation, to be thrown out of the Church as ungodly and profane. Christ knew that there is no class of men more envenomed than hypocrites, and foresaw with what furious madness the enemies of the Gospel would attack his small and despised flock. It was therefore his will to furnish them with a sure defense, that they might not give way, though an immense mass of reproaches were ready to overwhelm them. And hence it appears, how little reason there is to dread the excommunication of the Pope, when those tyrants banish us from their synagogues, because we are unwilling to renounce Christ.
12. Rejoice ye, and leap for joy The meaning is, a remedy is at hand, that we may not be overwhelmed by unjust reproaches: for, as soon as we raise our minds to heaven, we there behold vast grounds of joy, which dispel sadness. The idle reasonings of the Papists, about the word reward, which is here used, are easily refuted: for there is not (as they dream) a mutual relation between the reward and merit, but the promise of the reward is free. Besides, if we consider the imperfections and faults of any good works that are done by the very best of men, there will be no work which God can judge to be worthy of reward.
We must advert once more to the phrases, on my account, or, on account of the Son of Man, (Luke 6:22;) and lying, shall speak every evil word against you; that he who suffers persecution for his own fault (1 Peter 2:20) may not forthwith boast that he is a martyr of Christ, as the Donatists, in ancient times, were delighted with themselves on this single ground, that the magistrates were against them. And in our own day the Anabaptists,370370 The Anabaptists here named must not be confounded with the Baptists or Anti-poedo-baptists of the present day, who are, indeed, at issue with Calvin as to the subjects and mode of baptism, but who utterly disown the Anabaptists of the sixteenth century. Our notes are restricted by the plan of this work to the elucidation of our author, and to matters of criticism and history. It would, therefore, be out of place to enter here into the merits of a doctrinal controversy, or to vindicate brethren from the heavy charge which is here implied. But we are at liberty to say, that against them Calvin brings no such charge. Nowhere does he represent a departure from his views on the ordinance of Baptism as a fundamental error, or as necessarily connected with danger to society. He alludes to sentiments, which were openly avowed by the Anabaptists, and which he viewed as striking at the root of civil government. To any one at all conversant with their history, the name instantly awakens the recollections of Munster, and of the enormities which were perpetrated there, to the disgrace of the Christian name, — enormities which none are more ready to condemn than the esteemed brethren to whom we have referred. If we seem to discover excessive solicitude to remove the appearance of calumny, our apology must be found in our deep veneration for the author, and in our conviction that he was not less distinguished by a Catholic spirit than by the other great excellencies of his character. Never was there a human breast, in which there dwelt a stronger affection for all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity. — Ed. while they disturb the Church by their ravings, and slander the Gospel, boast that they are carrying the banners of Christ, when they are justly condemned. But Christ pronounces those only to be happy who are employed in defending a righteous cause.
For so did they persecute This was expressly added, that the apostles might not expect to triumph without exertion and without a contest, and might not fail, when they encountered persecutions. The restoration of all things, under the reign of Christ, being everywhere promised in Scripture, there was danger, lest they might not think of warfare, but indulge in vain and proud confidence. It is evident from other passages, that they foolishly imagined the kingdom of Christ to be filled with wealth and luxuries.371371 “Plein de richesses, magnificences, et delices terriennes;” — “full of riches, magnificence, and earthly luxuries.” Christ had good reason for warning them, that, as soon as they succeeded to the place of the prophets, they must sustain the same contests in which the prophets were formerly engaged. The prophets who were before you This means not only, that the prophets were before them with respect to the order of time, but that they were of the same class with themselves, and ought therefore to be followed as their example. The notion commonly entertained, of making out nine distinct beatitudes, is too frivolous to need a long refutation.
Matthew 5:13. Ye are the salt of the earth. What belongs to doctrine is applied to the persons to whom the administration of it has been committed. When Christ calls the apostles the salt of the earth, he means, that it is their office to salt the earth: because men have nothing in them but what is tasteless, till they have been seasoned with the salt of heavenly doctrine. After having reminded them to what they are called, he pronounces against them a heavy and dreadful judgment, if they do not fulfill their duty. The doctrine, which has been entrusted to them, is shown to be so closely connected with a good conscience and a devout and upright life, that the corruption, which might be tolerated in others, would in them be detestable and monstrous. “If other men are tasteless in the sight of God, to you shall be given the salt which imparts a relish to them: but if you have lost your taste, where shall you obtain the remedy which you ought to supply to others?”
Our Lord skillfully pursues his metaphor, by saying, that other things when they lose their original qualities, are still useful after they have become corrupted: but that salt becomes even hurtful, and communicates barrenness even to dunghills.375375 “Que le sel estant empire, ne fait mesmes que gaster tout, a quoi qu'on le mette, tellement qu'il corrompt mesmes les fumiers, et consume toute la grasse d'iceux.” — “That salt, when it is decayed, does only spoil everything that it touches: so that it corrupts even dunghills, and consumes all their fatness.” The amount of his statement is, that it is an incurable disease, when the ministers and teachers of the word corrupt and render themselves tasteless: for they ought to season the rest of the world with their salt. This warning is useful, not only to ministers, but to the whole flock of Christ. Since it is the will of God that the earth shall be salted by his own word, it follows, that whatever is destitute of this salt is, in his estimation, tasteless, how much soever it may be relished by men. There is nothing better, therefore, than to receive the seasoning, by which alone our tastelessness is corrected. But, at the same time, let those whose business is to salt it beware lest they encourage the world in their own folly,376376 “De ne nourrir le monde en sa folie et fadesse;” — “not to nourish the world in their folly and tastelessness.” and still more, that they do not infect it with a depraved and vicious taste.
The wickedness of the Papists is therefore intolerable:377377 “Et pourtant la malice des Papistes n'est aucunement a supporter, quand ils n'ont point de honte de couvrir de ces titres leurs Prelats mas-quez, afin que nul ne presume de rien reprendre en leurs personnes.”— “And then the malice of the Papists is not at all to be endured, since they are not ashamed to cover with these titles their masked Prelates, that no one may presume to reprove any thing in their persons.” as if it had been the design of Christ, to allow the apostles unbounded liberty, and to make them tyrants of souls, instead of reminding them of their duty, that they might not swerve from the right path. Christ declares what sort of men he wishes the teachers of his Church to be. Those who, without any proper grounds, give themselves out to be apostles,378378 “Des gens qui se vantent a fausses enseignes de tenir le place des apostres.” — “People who boast, under false colors, of holding the place of apostles.” hide by this covering all the abominations which they are pleased to introduce; because Christ pronounced Peter, and his companions, to be the salt of the earth. They do not, at the same time, consider the sharp and severe reproof which is added, that, if they become tasteless, they are the worst of all. This sentence is mentioned by Luke in an abrupt manner: but is introduced there for the same purpose as in this passage, so that it does not require a separate exposition.
Matthew 5:14 Ye are the light of the world We are all the children of light, after having been enlightened by faith, and are commanded to carry in our hands “burning lamps,” (that we may not wander in darkness,) and even to point out to others the way of life, (Luke 12:35.) But, as the preaching of the Gospel was committed to the apostles above others, and is now committed to the pastors of the Church, this designation is given to them, in a peculiar manner, by Christ. “They are placed in this rank on the condition, that they shall shine, as from an elevated situation, on all others.”
He subjoins two comparisons. A city placed on a mountain cannot be concealed; and a candle, when it has been lighted, is not usually concealed, (verse 15.) This means, that they ought to live in such a manner, as if the eyes of all were upon them.380380 “Comme si tout le monde les regardoit;” — “as if every body were looking at them.” And certainly, the more eminent a person is, the more injury he does by a bad example, if he acts improperly. Christ, therefore, informs the apostles, that they must be more careful to live a devout and holy life, than unknown persons of the common rank, because the eyes of all are directed to them, as to lighted candles; and that they must not be endured, if their devotion, and uprightness of conduct, do not correspond to the doctrine of which they are ministers. Mark and Luke appear to apply the comparison in a different manner: for there Christ gives a general admonition, that they ought to take particular care, lest any one, trusting to the darkness, indulge freely in sin, because what is hidden for a time will afterwards be revealed. But perhaps the discourses related by both of them are detached from the immediate context.
16. Let your light shine before men After having taught the apostles that, in consequence of the rank in which they are placed, both their vices and their virtues are better known for a good or bad example, he now enjoins them so to regulate their life, as to excite all to glorify God. That they may see your good works: for, as Paul tells us, believers must,
“provide for honest things, not only in the sight of God,
but also in the sight of men,” (2 Corinthians 8:21.)
The command, which he gives shortly afterwards, to seek concealment and a retired situation for their good works, (Matthew 6:4,) is intended only to forbid ostentation. In the present instance, he has quite a different object in view, to recommend to them the glory of God alone. Now, if the glory of good works cannot be properly ascribed to God, unless they are traced to him, and unless he is acknowledged to be their only Author, it is evident, that we cannot, without offering an open and gross insult to God, extol free will, as if good works proceeded wholly, or in part, from its power. Again, we must observe, how graciously God deals with us, when he calls the good works ours, the entire praise of which would justly be ascribed to himself.
Matthew 5:17. Think not. With regard to the perfection of his life, Christ might justly have maintained that he came to fulfill the law: but here he treats of doctrine, not of life. As he afterwards exclaimed, that “the kingdom of God is come,” (Matthew 12:28,) and raised the minds of men with unusual expectation, and even admitted disciples by baptism, it is probable, that the minds of many were in a state of suspense and doubt, and were eagerly inquiring, what was the design of that novelty. Christ, therefore, now declares, that his doctrine is so far from being at variance with the law, that it agrees perfectly with the law and the prophets, and not only so, but brings the complete fulfillment of them.
There appear to have been chiefly two reasons, which induced him to declare this agreement between the law and the Gospel. As soon as any new method of teaching makes its appearance, the body of the people immediately look upon it, as if everything were to be overturned. Now the preaching of the Gospel, as I mentioned a little ago, tended to raise the expectation, that the Church would assume a totally different form from what had previously belonged to it. They thought that the ancient and accustomed government was to be abolished. This opinion, in many respects, was very dangerous. Devout worshippers of God would never have embraced the Gospel, if it had been a revolt from the law; while light and turbulent spirits would eagerly have seized on an occasion offered to them for entirely overthrowing the state of religion: for we know in what insolent freaks rash people are ready to indulge when there is any thing new.
Besides, Christ saw that the greater part of the Jews, though they professed to believe the Law, were profane and degenerate. The condition of the people was so decayed, every thing was filled with so many corruptions, and the negligence or malice of the priests had so completely extinguished the pure light of doctrine, that there no longer remained any reverence for the Law. But if a new kind of doctrine had been introduced, which would destroy the authority of the Law and the Prophets, religion would have sustained a dreadful injury. This appears to be the first reason, why Christ declared that he had not come to destroy the Law. Indeed, the context makes this abundantly clear: for he immediately adds, by way of confirmation, that it is impossible for even one point of the Law to fail, — and pronounces a curse on those teachers who do not faithfully labor to maintain its authority.
The second reason was, to refute the wicked slander which, he knew was brought against him by the ignorant and unlearned. This charge, it is evident, had been fastened on his doctrine by the scribes: for he proceeds immediately to direct his discourse against them. We must keep in mind the object which Christ had in view. While he invites and exhorts the Jews to receive the Gospel, he still retains them in obedience to the Law; and, on the other hand, he boldly refutes the base reproaches and slanders, by which his enemies labored to make his preaching infamous or suspected.
If we intend to reform affairs which are in a state of disorder, we must always exercise such prudence and moderation, as will convince the people, that we do not oppose the eternal Word of God, or introduce any novelty that is contrary to Scripture. We must take care, that no suspicion of such contrariety shall injure the faith of the godly, and that rash men shall not be emboldened by a pretense of novelty. In short, we must endeavor to oppose a profane contempt of the Word of God, and to prevent religion from being despised by the ignorant. The defense which Christ makes, to free his doctrine from slanders, ought to encourage us, if we are now exposed to the same calumnies. That crime was charged against Paul, that he was an apostate from the law of God, (Acts 21:21) and we need not, therefore, wonder, if the Papists endeavor, in the same manner, to render us odious. Following the example of Christ, we ought to clear ourselves from false accusations, and, at the same time, to profess the truth freely, though it may expose us to unjust reproaches.
I am not come to destroy. God had, indeed, promised a new covenant at the coming of Christ; but had, at the same time, showed, that it would not be different from the first, but that, on the contrary, its design was, to give a perpetual sanction to the covenant, which he had made from the beginning, with his own people.
“I will write my law, (says he,) in their hearts,
and I will remember their iniquities no more,”
(Jeremiah 31:33, 34.)383383 The reader will find a copious illustration of this remarkable passage in Jeremiah, and of its bearing on the Christian system, in the author's commentary on the eighth chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews. — Ed.
By these words he is so far from departing from the former covenant, that, on the contrary, he declares, that it will be confirmed and ratified, when it shall be succeeded by the new. This is also the meaning of Christ’s words, when he says, that he came to fulfill the law: for he actually fulfilled it, by quickening, with his Spirit, the dead letter, and then exhibiting, in reality, what had hitherto appeared only in figures.
With respect to doctrine, we must not imagine that the coming of Christ has freed us from the authority of the law: for it is the eternal rule of a devout and holy life, and must, therefore, be as unchangeable, as the justice of God, which it embraced, is constant and uniform. With respect to ceremonies, there is some appearance of a change having taken place; but it was only the use of them that was abolished, for their meaning was more fully confirmed. The coming of Christ has taken nothing away even from ceremonies, but, on the contrary, confirms them by exhibiting the truth of shadows: for, when we see their full effect, we acknowledge that they are not vain or useless. Let us therefore learn to maintain inviolable this sacred tie between the law and the Gospel, which many improperly attempt to break. For it contributes not a little to confirm the authority of the Gospel, when we learn, that it is nothing else than a fulfillment of the law; so that both, with one consent, declare God to be their Author.
18. Till heaven and earth pass Luke expresses it a little differently, but to the same import, that it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than for one point of the law to fail The design of Christ, in both passages, was to teach, that the truth of the law and of every part of it, is secure, and that nothing so durable is to be found in the whole frame of the world. Some persons indulge in ingenious refinements on the word till, (ἓως ἂ ν,) as if the passing away of the heaven and earth, which will take place on the last day, the day of judgment, were to put an end to the law and the prophets And certainly, as
“tongues shall then cease, and prophecies shall be abolished,”
(1 Corinthians 13:8,)
I think that the written law, as well as the exposition of it, will come to an end; but, as I am of opinion that Christ spoke more simply, I do not choose to feed the ears of readers with such amusements. Let it suffice for us to hold, that sooner shall heaven fall to pieces, and the whole frame of the world become a mass of confusion, than the stability of the law shall give way. But what does it mean, that every part of the law shall be fulfilled down to the smallest point? for we see, that even those, who have been regenerated by the Spirit of God, are very far from keeping the law of God in a perfect manner. I answer, the expression, shall not pass away, must be viewed as referring, not to the life of men, but to the perfect truth of the doctrine. “There is nothing in the law that is unimportant, nothing that was put there at, random; and so it is impossible that a single letter shall perish.”
19. Whoever then shall break Christ here speaks expressly of the commandments of life, or the ten words, which all the children of God ought to take as the rule of their life. He therefore declares, that they are false and deceitful teachers, who do not restrain their disciples within obedience to the law, and that they are unworthy to occupy a place in the Church, who weaken, in the slightest degree, the authority of the law; and, on the other hand, that they are honest and faithful ministers of God, who recommend, both by word and by example, the keeping of the law. The least commandments is an expression used in accommodation to the judgment of men: for though they have not all the same weight, (but, when they are compared together, some are less than others,) yet we are not at liberty to think any thing small, on which the heavenly Legislator has been pleased to issue a command. For what sacrilege is it to treat contemptuously any thing which has proceeded from his sacred mouth? This is to sink his majesty to the rank of creatures. Accordingly, when our Lord calls them little commandments, it is a sort of concession. He shall be called the least This is an allusion to what he had just said about the commandments: but the meaning is obvious. Those who shall pour contempt on the doctrine of the law, or on a single syllable of it, will be rejected as the lowest of men.384384 “Comme 1es plus inutiles du monde;” — “as the most useless in the world.”
The kingdom of heaven means the renovation of the Church, or the prosperous condition of the Church, such as was then beginning to appear by the preaching of the Gospel. In this sense, Christ tells us, that “he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than John,” (Luke 7:28.) The meaning of that phrase is, that God, restoring the world by the hand of his Son, has completely established his kingdom. Christ declares that, when his Church shall have been renewed, no teachers must be admitted to it, but those who are faithful expounders of the law, and who labor to maintain its doctrine entire. But it is asked, were not ceremonies among the commandments of God, the least of which we are now required to observe? I answer, We must look to the design and object of the Legislator. God enjoined ceremonies, that their outward use might be temporal, and their meaning eternal. That man does not break ceremonies, who omits what is shadowy, but retains their effect. But if Christ banishes from his kingdom all who accustom men to any contempt of the law how monstrous must be their stupidity, who are not ashamed to remit, by a sacrilegious indulgence, what God strictly demands, and, under the pretense of venial sin, to overthrow the righteousness of the law.385385 “De mettre la justice de la Loy sous les pieds;” — “to trample the justice of the law under their feet.” Again, we must observe the description he gives of good and holy teachers: that not only by words, but chiefly by the example of life, they exhort386386 “Ils exhortent et incitent les hommes;” — “they exhort and incite men.” men to keep the law.
Matthew 5:20. Unless your righteousness shall be more abundant. He takes a passing notice of the Scribes, who were laboring to throw a stain on the doctrine of the Gospel, as if it were the ruin of the Law. True, he does not reason on this subject, but only points out briefly, that nothing has less influence over their minds than zeal for the law. “They pretend, that their hostility to me arises from their strong desire, that the law should not be violated. But their life makes it evident, how coldly they observe the law, — nay more, how unconcerned they are about mocking God,392392 “Comme ils se moquent de Dieu sans en faire conscience.” — “How they mock God, without making conscience of it.” while they boast before men of an assumed and hypocritical righteousness.” This is the view which the most of commentators give of the passage.
But it deserves inquiry, whether he does not rather blame the corrupted manner of teaching, which the Pharisees and Scribes followed in instructing the people. By confining the law of God to outward duties only, they trained their disciples, like apes, to hypocrisy.393393 “Ils accoustumoyent leurs disc p es k ne hypocrisle, et en faisoyent des singes.” — “They accustomed their disciples to a hypocrisy, and made apes of them.” They lived, I readily admit, as ill as they taught, and even worse: and therefore, along with their corrupted doctrine, I willingly include their hypocritical parade of false righteousness. The principal charge brought by Christ against their doctrine may be easily learned from what follows in the discourse, where he removes from the law their false and wicked interpretations, and restores it to its purity. In short, the objection which, as we have already said, was unjustly brought against him by the Scribes, is powerfully thrown back on themselves.
We must bear in mind, what we have mentioned elsewhere, that the Pharisees are added to the Scribes by way of enlarging on what he had said: for that sect had, above all others, obtained a reputation for sanctity. It is a mistake, however, to suppose, that they were called Pharisees on account of division,394394 “De division, ou separation;” — “of division, or separation.” because they separated themselves from the ordinary class, and claimed a rank peculiar to themselves. They were called פרושים, that is, Expounders,395395 Among a host of opinions as to the origin of the name Pharisees, there is room to doubt if Calvin has hit upon the true etymology. There are two roots: פרׂש (paras,) to spread out, with Sin for the final letter, — and פרׁש (parash,). to explain, to separate, with Schin. Both have been pressed into the service. The former is chiefly quoted in support of an allusion to our Lord's description of them, that they make broad their phylacteries, (Matthew 23:5.) But the latter root has been more fertile in suggestions. John Alberti, no mean authority, in his Glossarium Grcecurn, (under Luke 11:38,) defines Φαρισαῖος, to be διακεχωρισμένος, separated, and quotes the Septuagint as employing that participle (Ezekiel 34:12) for, נפרׁשות the principhal participle of פרׁש, (parash.) From Hesychius he gives synonyms of like import, — Φαρισαῖος, ἀφωρισμένος, μεμερισμένος, καθαρός As to the last of those terms, καθαρός, the learned Vitringa, to whom Alberti also refers, has copiously illustrated its meaning in a passage, which has been often quoted as embodying the proud challenge of the Pharisee, Stand by: for I am holier than thou, (Isaiah 65:5 ) — Suidas unhesitatingly defends the same idea of separation. His definition is as follows: Φαρισαῖοι οἱ ἑρμηνευόμενοι ἀφωρισμένοι, παρὰ τὸ μερίζειν καὶ ἀφορίζειν ἑαυτοὺς τῶν ἄλλων ἁπάντων, εἴς τε τὸ καθαρώτατον τοῦ βίου, καὶ ἀκριβέστατον, καὶ εἰς τὰ τοῦ νόμου ἐντάλματα. “Pharisees, — which means separated, on account of their dividing and separating themselves from all others, to the greatest purity and strictness of life, and to the prescriptions of the law.” — Calvin's derivation is from the same root, and is certainly ingenious. That sect, we know, boasted of a rigid adherence to the law, though it may be questioned whether profound skill in exposition was claimed by all its members. Many of them might think that this belonged to the Scribes as a professional matter. — Ed. because they were not satisfied with the bare letter, but boasted of being in possession of a key to open up hidden meanings. Hence arose an immense mass of errors, when they assumed magisterial authority, and ventured, according to their wicked fancy and their equally wicked pride, to thrust forward their own inventions in place of Scripture.
21. You have heard that it was said. This sentence, and those which immediately follow, are connected with what we have just considered: for our Lord explains more fully, by minute instances, by what tortuous methods396396 “Comment les Phariseens avoyent deprave la Loy par leurs expositions tortues;” — “how the Pharisees had debased the law by their crooked expositions.” the Pharisees debase the law, so that their righteousness is mere filth. It is a mistake, however, to suppose that this is an ἐπανόρθωσις, or correction 397397 “Une correction ou amplification de la Loy;” — “a correction or enlargement of the Law.” of the Law, and that Christ raises his disciples to a higher degree of perfection, than Christ could raise a gross and carnal nation, which was scarcely able to learn first principles. It has been a prevailing opinion, that the beginning of righteousness was laid down in the ancient law, but that the perfection of it is pointed out in the Gospel. But nothing was farther from the design of Christ, than to alter or innovate any thing in the commandments of the law. There God has once fixed the rule of life which he will never retract. But as the law had been corrupted by false expositions, and turned to a profane meaning, Christ vindicates it against such corruptions, and points out its true meaning, from which the Jews had departed.
That the doctrine of the law not only commences, but brings to perfection, a holy life, may be inferred from a single fact, that it requires a perfect love of God and of our neighbor, (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18.) He who possesses such a love wants nothing of the highest perfection. So far as respects the rules of a holy life, the law conducts men to the goal, or farthest point, of righteousness. Accordingly, Paul declares the law to be weak, not in itself, but in our flesh, (Romans 8:3.) But if Moses had given nothing more than the first lessons of true righteousness, how ridiculous would have been that appeal!
“I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that ye may live,” (Deuteronomy 30:19.)
“And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, and to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul?” (Deuteronomy 10:12.)
That Christ, on the other hand, intended to make no correction in the precepts of the law, is very clear from other passages: for to those who desire to enter into life by their good works, he gives no other injunction, than to, keep the commandments of the law, (Matthew 19:17.) From no other source do the Apostles, as well as Christ himself, draw the rules for a devout and holy life. It is doing a grievous injury to God, the author of the Law, to imagine that the eyes, and hands, and feet alone, are trained by it to a hypocritical appearance of good works, and that it is only in the Gospel that we are taught to love God with the heart. Away, then, with that error, “The deficiencies of the law are here supplied by Christ.” We must not imagine Christ to be a new legislator, who adds any thing to the eternal righteousness of his Father. We must listen to him as a faithful expounder, that we may know what is the nature of the law, what is its object, and what is its extent.
It now remains for us to see, what Christ condemns in the Pharisees, and in what respect his interpretation of it differs from their glosses. The amount of it is, that they had changed the doctrine of the law into a political order, and had made obedience to it to consist entirely in the performance of outward duties. Hence it came, that he who had not slain a man with his hand was pronounced to be free from the guilt of murder, and he who had not polluted his body by adultery was supposed to be pure and chaste before God. This was an intolerable profanation of the law: for it is certain, that Moses everywhere demands the spiritual worship of God. From the very nature of the law we must conclude, that God, who gave it by the hand of Moses, spoke to the hearts, as well as to the hands and to the eyes. True, our Lord quotes the very words of the law; but he does so in accommodation to the view which was generally taken of them by the people. “Till now, the scribes have given you a literal interpretation of the law, that it is enough, if a man keep his hands from murder and from acts of violence. But I warn you, that you must ascend much higher. Love is the fulfilling of the law, (Romans 13:10;)and I say that your neighbor is injured, when you act towards him otherwise than as a friend.” The latter clause which he quotes, he who kills shall be liable to the judgment, confirms what I said a little before, that Christ charges them with turning into a political scheme the law of God, which had been given for the government of the heart.
22. But I say to you His reply is not opposed to the command of Moses, (Exodus 20:13; Leviticus 24:21; Numbers 35:16;) but to the interpretation usually put upon it by the scribes. Now, as the Pharisees boasted of antiquity, (for it is always the custom to plead the prescription of a long period in defense of errors,)398398 “Pour maintenir et defendre les erreurs ou abus en la matiere de la religion;” — “to maintain and defend errors or abuses in matters of religion.” Christ reminds the people of his authority, to which all antiquity ought justly to give way. Hence we conclude, that truth is of greater weight than custom or the number of years.
He who shall say to his brother Christ assigns three degrees of condemnation besides the violence of the hands; which implies, that this precept of the law restrains not only the hands, but all affections that are opposed to brotherly love. “Those who shall only be angry with their brethren, or treat them with haughty disdain, or injure them by any reproach, are murderers.” Now, as it is certain that the word Racha occupies an intermediate place between anger and openly reproachful language, I have no doubt that it is an interjection of contempt or disdain. Though Christ adjudges to the hell of fire none but those who break out into open reproach, we must not suppose, that he declares anger to be free from a similar punishment; but, alluding to earthly judgments, he assures them that God will judge and punish even concealed anger.399399 “L'indignation secrette qu'on aura eue en son coeur contre le frere;” —”the secret indignation which they shall have had in their heart against their brother.” But, as he who manifests his indignation by bitter language goes farther than this, Christ says, that that man will be held guilty by the whole heavenly council, that he may receive severer punishment.
Those, again, who break out into reproaches are adjudged to the hell of fire: which implies, that hatred, and every thing that is contrary to love, is enough to expose them to eternal death, though they may have committed no acts of violence. Γἔεννα (hell) is, beyond all question, a foreign word. גיא (Ge) is the Hebrew word for a valley. Now, “the valley of Hin-nom” was infamous for the detestable superstition which was committed in it, because there they sacrificed their children to idols, (2 Chronicles 33:6.) The consequence was, that holy men, in order to excite stronger hatred of that wicked ungodliness, used it as the name for hell, that the very name might be dreaded by the people as shocking and alarming. It would appear that, in the time of Christ, this was a received way of speaking, and that hell was then called by no other name than gehenna, (γέεννα,) the word being slightly altered from the true pronunciation.
Matthew 5:23. Therefore, if thou shalt bring thy gift This clause confirms, and at the same time explains, the preceding doctrine. It amounts to this, that the precept of the law, which forbids murder, (Exodus 20:13,) is obeyed, when we maintain agreement and brotherly kindness, with our neighbor. To impress this more strongly upon us, Christ declares, that even the duties of religion are displeasing to God, and are rejected by him, if we are at variance with each other. When he commands those who have injured any of their brethren, to be reconciled to him, before they offer their gift, his meaning is, that, so long as a difference with our neighbor is kept up by our fault, we have no access to God. But if the worship, which men render to God, is polluted and corrupted by their resentments, this enables us to conclude, in what estimation he holds mutual agreement among ourselves.
Here a question may be put. Is it not absurd, that the duties of charity should be esteemed more highly than the worship of God? We shall then be forced to say, that the order of the law is improper, or that the first table of the law must be preferred to the second. The answer is easy: for the words of Christ mean nothing more than this, that it is a false and empty profession of worshipping God, which is made by those who, after acting unjustly towards their brethren, treat them with haughty disdain. By a synecdoche he takes a single class to express the outward exercises of divine worship, which in many men are rather the pretenses, than the true expressions, of godliness. It ought to be observed that Christ, adapting his discourse to that age, speaks of sacrifices. Our condition is now different: but the doctrine remains the same, that whatever we offer to God is polluted, unless, at least as much as lieth in us, (Romans 12:18,) we are at peace with our brethren. Alms are called in Scripture sacrifices of a sweet smell, (Philippians 4:18;) and we learn from the mouth of Paul, that he who
“spends all his substance on the poor,
if he have not charity, is nothing,” (1 Corinthians 13:3.)
Lastly, God does not receive and acknowledge, as his sons, any who do not, in their turn, show themselves to be brethren to each other. Although it is only to those who have injured their brethren that these words are addressed, enjoining them to do their endeavor to be reconciled to them, yet under one class he points out, how highly the harmony of brethren is esteemed by God. When he commands them to leave the gift before the altar, he expresses much more than if he had said, that it is to no purpose for men to go to the temple, or offer sacrifices to God, so long as they live in discord with their neighbors.
25. Be agreed with thy adversary Christ appears to go farther, and to exhort to reconciliation not only those who have injured their brethren, but those also who are unjustly treated.401401 “Mais aussi ceux qui sont assaillis et provoquez les premiers;” — “but also those who are first attacked and provoked.” But I interpret the words as having been spoken with another view, to take away occasion for hatred and resentment, and to point out the method of cherishing good-will. For whence come all injuries, but from this, that each person is too tenacious of his own rights, that is, each is too much disposed to consult his own convenience to the disadvantage of others? Almost all are so blinded by a wicked love of themselves, that, even in the worst causes, they flatter themselves that they are in the right. To meet all hatred, enmity, debates, and acts of injustice, Christ reproves that obstinacy, which is the source of these evils, and enjoins his own people to cultivate moderation and justice, and to make some abatement from the highest rigor, that, by such an act of justice, they may purchase for themselves peace and friendship.402402 “Afin que ne prenans pas les choses a la rigueur, ils rachetent paix et amite en se monstrans ainsi traitables.” — “That, not taking things to the rigor, they may purchase peace and friendship, by showing themselves so tractable.” It were to be wished, indeed, that no controversy of any kind should ever arise among us; and undoubtedly men would never break out into abuse or quarrelling, if they possessed a due share of meekness. But, as it is scarcely possible but that differences will sometimes happen, Christ points out the remedy, by which they may be immediately settled; and that is, to put a restraint on our desires, and rather to act to our own disadvantage, than follow up our rights with unflinching rigor. That Christ frequently gave this exhortation is evident from the twelfth chapter of Luke’s Gospel, where he does not relate the sermon on the mount, but gives an abridgment of various passages in our Lord’s discourses.
Lest the adversary deliver thee to the judge This part is explained by some in a metaphorical sense, that the Heavenly Judge will act toward us with the utmost rigor, so as to forgive us nothing, if we do not labor to settle those differences which we have with our neighbors. But I view it more simply, as an admonition that, even among men, it is usually advantageous for us to come to an early agreement with adversaries, because, with quarrelsome persons, their obstinacy often costs them dear. At the same time, I admit, that the comparison is justly applied to God; for he will exercise judgment without mercy (James 2:13) to him who is implacable to his brethren, or pursues his contentiousness to the utmost. But it is highly ridiculous in the Papists, to construct their purgatory out of a continued allegory on this passage. Nothing is more evident than that the subject of Christ’s discourse is the cultivation of friendship among men. They have no shame, or conscientious scruple, to pervert his words, and to torture them into a widely different meaning, provided they can impose on the unlearned. But as they do not deserve a lengthened refutation, I shall only point out, in a single word, their shameful ignorance. The adversary is supposed by them to be the devil. But Christ enjoins those who believe on him to be agreed with the adversary Therefore, in order that the Papists may find their purgatory here, they must first become the friends and brethren of devils. A farthing is well known to be the fourth part of a penny: but here, as is evident from Luke, it denotes a mite, or any small piece of money. Now, if we were disposed to cavilling,403403 “Qui voudroit user de cavillation et chippoter sur chacun mot.” — “One who would cavil and higgle about every word.” we might here obtain another exposure of the absurdity of the Papists. For, if he who has once entered Purgatory will never leave it, till he has paid the last farthing, it follows, that the suffrages (as they call them) of the living for the dead are of no avail. For Christ makes no allowance, that others may free a debtor by satisfying for him, but expressly demands from each person the payment of what he owes.404404 “Mais il requiert nommement qu'un chacun satisface pour soy, et paye ce qu'il doit.” — “But he requires expressly that each satisfy for himself and pay what he owes.” Now, if Moses and other satisfactions are useless, however warm the fire of Purgatory may be, yet the kitchens of priests and monks, for the sake of which they are so anxious to maintain it, will be cool enough.
Matthew 5:27. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Christ proceeds with his subject, and shows, that the law of God not only has authority over the life, in a political view, to form the outward manners, but that it requires pure and holy affections of the heart. We must remember what I have already stated, that though Christ quotes the very words of the law, it is the gross and false meaning, which had been put upon it by dishonest interpreters, that he blames. He has already told us, that he did not come as a new Legislator, but as the faithful expounder of a law which had been already given. It might be objected that, through long practice, that interpretation had grown old. Christ expressly admits this, but meets it by saying, that the antiquity of an error ought not to be allowed to plead in its favor.
28. Whoever shall look upon a woman. The design of Christ was to condemn generally the lust of the flesh. He says, that not only those who have seduced their neighbors’ wives, but those who have polluted their eyes by an immodest look, are adulterers before God. This is a synec-doche:406406 “C'est une facon de parler qu'on appelle Synecdoche, quand on prend une artie our le tout.” — “It is a way of speaking which is called Synecdoche, when a part is taken for the whole.” for not only the eyes, but even the concealed flames of the heart, render men guilty of adultery. Accordingly, Paul makes chastity (1 Corinthians 7:34) to consist both in body and in mind. But Christ reckoned it enough to refute the gross mistake which was prevalent: for they thought that it was only necessary to guard against outward adultery. As it is generally by the wantonness of the eyes that temptations are presented to the mind, and as lust enters, as it were, by that door, Christ used this mode of speaking, when he wished to condemn lust: which is evident from the expression, to lust after her. This teaches us also, that not only those who form a deliberate purpose of fornication, but those who admit any polluted thoughts, are reckoned adulterers before God. The hypocrisy of the Papists, therefore, is too gross and stupid, when they affirm that lust is not a sin, until it gain the full consent of the heart. But we need not wonder, that they make sin to be so small a matter: for those who ascribe righteousness to the merit of works must be very dull and stupid in judging of their sins.
29. If thy right eye shall be a stumbling-block to thee. It might be thought that, considering the weakness of the flesh and of nature, Christ pressed too severely on men, and therefore he anticipates all such complaints. The general meaning is, that however difficult, or severe, or troublesome, or harsh, any commandment of God may be, yet no excuse ought to be pleaded on those grounds, because the justice of God ought to stand higher in our estimation, than all that we reckon most precious and valuable. “You have no right to object to me, that you can scarcely turn your eyes in any direction, without being suddenly drawn away by some temptation: for you ought rather to part with your eyes, than to depart from the commandments of God.” And yet Christ does not mean, that we must mutilate our body, in order to obey God: but as all would readily wish, that they should not be restrained from the free use of their senses, Christ employs an exaggerated407407 “Par une facon de parler hyperbolique, (c’est a dire, excessive:”) — “by a hyperbolical, that is, an excessive mode of speaking.” form of speech to show, that whatever hinders us from yielding that obedience to God which he requires in his law, ought to be cut off. And he does so expressly, because men allow themselves too much liberty in that respect. If the mind were pure, the eyes and hands would be obedient to it; for it is certain, that they have no movement of their own. But here we are deeply to blame. We are so far from being as careful as we ought to be, to avoid allurements, that we rather provoke our senses to wickedness by allowing them unbounded liberty.
Matthew 5:31. Whosoever shall put away his wife. As a more suitable occasion for discussing and explaining this doctrine at greater length will afterwards occur, (Matthew 19:9,) I shall now state briefly what Christ says in this passage. As the Jews falsely imagined that they discharged their whole duty toward God, when they kept the law in a national manner, so whatever the national law did not forbid, they foolishly supposed to be lawful. Divorces, which husbands were wont to give to their wives, had not been prohibited by Moses as to external order, but only, for the sake of restraining lewdness, he had ordered that “a bill of divorcement” should be given to the wives who were put away, (Deuteronomy 24:1.) It was a sort of testimonial of freedom, so that the woman was afterwards free from the yoke and power of the husband; while the husband at the same time acknowledged, that he did not send her away on account of any crime, but because she did not please him. Hence proceeded the error, that there was nothing wrong in such putting away, provided that the forms of law were observed.409409 “Pourveu qu'on observast ce que la Loy commandoit en tel cas;”— “provided that what the Law commanded in such a case were observed.”
But they did wrong in viewing as a matter of civil law, the rule which had been given them for a devout and holy life. For national laws are sometimes accommodated to the manners of men but God, in prescribing a spiritual law, looked not at what men can do, but at what they ought to do. It contains a perfect and entire righteousness, though we want ability to fulfill it. Christ, therefore, admonishes us not to conclude, that what is allowed by the national law of Moses is, on that account, lawful in the sight of God. That man, (says he,) who puts away his wife, and gives her a bill of divorcement, shelters himself under the pretense of the law: but the bond of marriage is too sacred to be dissolved at the will, or rather at the licentious pleasure, of men. Though the husband and the wife are united by mutual consent, yet God binds them by an indissoluble tie, so that they are not afterwards at liberty to separate. An exception is added, except on account of fornication: for the woman, who has basely violated the marriage-vow, is justly cast off; because it was by her fault that the tie was broken, and the husband set at liberty.
32. Causeth her to commit adultery. As the bill of divorcement bore, that the woman had been loosed from her former husband, and might enter into a new marriage, the man who, unjustly and unlawfully, abandons the wife whom God had given him, is justly condemned for having prostituted his wife to others.
33. Thou shalt not perjure thyself This also is not a correction of the law, but a true interpretation of it. For God condemned in the law not only acts of perjury, but lightness in swearing, which lessens the reverence for his name. The man who perjures himself is not the only person who takes the name of God in vain, (Exodus 20:7.) He does so, who idly and contemptuously pronounces the name of God on trivial occasions, or in ordinary conversation. While the law condemns every kind of profanation of the name of God the Jews imagined, that the guilt of it lay entirely in acts of perjury. Christ reproves this gross error of supposing that they might, without danger, abuse the name of God, provided they did not swear falsely. We are, no doubt, strictly enjoined to perform to the Lord what we have sworn: for he who, after employing the name of God, cheats and deceives his neighbors, does an injury to God as well as to man. But it is improper to confine to a single part that which has a wider reference. Some consider the word perform as applying to vows, when any thing has been promised to God on account of religion. But this mode of expression applies very well to all promises and engagements, which have been sanctioned by the use of the name of God: for in such cases God is appealed to as guarantee between the parties, to secure their fidelity.
34. Swear not at all Many have been led by the phrase, not at all, to adopt the false notion, that every kind of swearing is condemned by Christ. Some good men have been driven to this extreme rigor by observing the unbridled licentiousness of swearing, which prevailed in the world. The Anabaptists, too, have blustered a great deal, on the ground, that Christ appears to give no liberty to swear on any occasion, because he commands, Swear not at all But we need not go beyond the immediate context to obtain the exposition: for he immediately adds, neither by heaven, nor by the earth Who does not see that those kinds of swearing were added by way of exposition, to explain the former clause more fully by specifying a number of cases? The Jews had circuitous or indirect ways of swearing: and when they swore by heaven, or by earth, or by the altar, (Matthew 23:18,) they reckoned it to be next to nothing; and, as one vice springs from another, they defended, under this pretense, any profanation of the name of God that was not openly avowed.
To meet this crime, our Lord declares that they must not swear at all, either in this or that way, either by heaven, or by the earth Hence we conclude, that the particle, at all, relates not to the substance, but to the form, and means, “neither directly nor indirectly.” It would otherwise have been superfluous to enumerate those kinds: and therefore the Anabaptists betray not only a rage for controversy, but gross ignorance, when they obstinately press upon us a single word, and pass over, with closed eyes, the whole scope of the passage. Is it objected, that Christ permits no swearing? I reply: What the expounder of the law says, must be viewed in connection with its design. His statement amounts to this, that there are other ways of “taking the name of God in vain,” besides perjury; and, therefore, that we ought to refrain from allowing ourselves the liberty of unnecessary swearing: for, when there are just reasons to demand it, the law not only permits, but expressly commands us to swear. Christ, therefore, meant nothing more than this, that all oaths are unlawful, which in any way abuse and profane the sacred name of God, for which they ought to have had the effect of producing a deeper reverence.
Neither by heaven It is a mistake to explain these words as meaning, that such forms of swearing are condemned by Christ as faulty, on the ground that we ought to swear by God only. The reasons which he brings forward tend rather to the opposite view, that we swear by the name of God even when we name the heaven, and the earth: because there is no part of the world on which God has not engraved the marks of his glory. But this statement appears not to agree with the precept of the law, in which God expressly commands us to “swear by his name,” (Deuteronomy 6:13;) and likewise with so many passages of Scripture, in which he complains, that injury is done to him, if we swear by creatures. I reply: It is a corruption allied to idolatry, when we appeal to them either as having a right to judge, or authority to prove testimony: for we must look at the object of swearing. It is an appeal which men make to God to revenge falsehood, and to uphold truth. This honor cannot be transferred to another, without committing an outrage on the divine majesty.
For the same reason the Apostle says, that we do not swear in a right manner, unless we swear by the greater, and that it belongs to God alone to swear by himself, (Hebrews 6:13.) Thus any one who, in ancient times, swore by “Moloch,” (Leviticus 18:21,) or by any other idol, withdrew something of what belonged to God; because they put that idol in the place of God, as possessing an acquaintance with the hearts, and as the judge of the souls of men. And in our own times, those who swear by angels, or by departed saints, take from God what belongs to him, and ascribe to them a divine majesty. The case is different, when men swear by heaven and earth, with a view to the Creator himself: for, in that case, the sanctity of the oath is not founded on creatures, but God alone is appealed to as a witness, by bringing forward the symbols of his glory.
Heaven is called in Scripture (Isaiah 66:1) the throne of God: not that he dwells in heaven alone, but to teach men to raise their minds upwards, whenever they think of him, and not to form any low or earthly conceptions of him. Again, the earth is called his footstool, (v. 35,) to inform us, that he fills all things, and that no extent of space can contain him. The holiness of Jerusalem (v. 35) depended on his promise. It was the holy city, (Isaiah 52:1:) because God had selected it to be the seat and residence of his empire. When men swear by their head, (v. 36,) they bring forward their life, which is a remarkable gift of God, as a pledge of their sincerity.
37. But your speech shall be, Yes, yes; No, no Christ now prescribes, in the second place, a remedy; which is, that men act towards each other sincerely and honestly: for then simplicity of speech will have quite as much weight as an oath has among those who are not sincere. Now, this is certainly the best way of correcting faults, to point out the sources from which they spring. Whence comes the great propensity to swearing, but from the great falsehood, the numerous impositions, the unsteady and light conduct, so that hardly any thing is believed?411411 “D’ou vient une si grande legerete en sermens, sinon qu'entre tout de mensonges, tromperies, inconstance et babil, on ne sait qui croire, ni a qui se fier?” — “Whence comes so great a lightness about oaths, but that among so many lies and impositions, and so much unsteadiness and trifling, one does not know whom to believe or whom to trust?” Fairness and honesty in our words are, therefore, demanded by Christ, that there may be no longer any occasion for an oath.
“Yes, yes; No, no.” This repetition means, that we ought to abide by our words, so that all may be convinced of our honesty. Now, as this is the true and lawful method of proceeding, when men have nothing on their tongue but what is in their heart, Christ declares, that what is beyond these comes from evil I do not approve of the exposition of these words which some have given, that the criminality of swearing ought to be charged on the man who does not give credit to what another says. Christ teaches us, in my opinion, that it originates in the wickedness of men, that they are compelled to swear: for, if honesty prevailed among men, if they were not inconsistent and hypocritical, they would maintain that simplicity which nature dictates. And yet it does not follow, that it is unlawful to swear, when necessity demands it: for many things are proper in themselves, though they have had a wicked origin.
Matthew 5:38. An eye for an eye. Here another error is corrected. God had enjoined, by his law, (Leviticus 24:20,) that judges and magistrates should punish those who had done injuries, by making them endure as much as they had inflicted. The consequence was, that every one seized on this as a pretext for taking private revenge. They thought that they did no wrong, provided they were not the first to make the attack, but only, when injured, returned like for like. Christ informs them, on the contrary, that, though judges were entrusted with the defense of the community, and were invested with authority to restrain the wicked and repress their violence, yet it is the duty of every man to bear patiently the injuries which he receives.
39. Do not resist evil. There are two ways of resisting: the one, by warding off injuries through inoffensive conduct; the other, by retaliation.412412 “L'une par laquelle nous empeschons qu'on ne nous outrage, sans mal-faire a personne de nostre coste: l'autre, par laquelle nous rendons mal pour mal.” — “The one, by which we prevent attacks from being made on us, without doing ill to any person on our part: the other, by which we render evil for evil.” Though Christ does not permit his people to repel violence by violence, yet he does not forbid them to endeavor to avoid an unjust attack. The best interpreter of this passage that we can have is Paul, who enjoins us rather to “overcome evil by good” (Romans 12:21) than contend with evil-doers.413413 “Plustost que de rendre la pareille a celuy qui nous a mal-fait.” — “Rather than return the like to him who has done us wrong.” We must attend to the contrast between the vice and the correction of it. The present subject is retaliation.414414 “Il est ici parle de la facon de faire de ceux lesquels rendent la pareille a ceux qui les ont offensez.” — “The subject here spoken of is the manner of acting of those who render the like to those who have offended them.” To restrain his disciples from that kind of indulgence, he forbids them to render evil for evil. He afterwards extends the law of patience so far, that we are not only to bear patiently the injuries we have received, but to prepare for bearing fresh injuries. The amount of the whole admonition is, that believers should learn to forget the wrongs that have been done them, — that they should not, when injured, break out into hatred or ill-will, or wish to commit an injury on their part, — but that, the more the obstinacy and rage of wicked men was excited and inflamed, they should be the more fully disposed to exercise patience.
Whoever shall inflict a blow. Julian,415415 Julian, the Roman Emperor, generally known by the name of Julian the Apostate. The inveterate hatred of this man to the very name of our blessed Savior has gained him a painfully conspicuous place in ecclesias-tical history. — Ed. and others of the same description, have foolishly slandered this doctrine of Christ, as if it entirely overturned the laws of a country, and its civil courts. Augustine, in his fifth epistle, employs much skill and judgment in showing, that the design of Christ was merely to train the minds of believers to moderation and justice, that they might not, on receiving one or two offenses, fail or lose courage. The observation of Augustine, “that this does not lay down a rule for outward actions,” is true, if it be properly understood. I admit that Christ restrains our hands, as well as our minds, from revenge: but when any one has it in his power to protect himself and his property from injury, without exercising revenge, the words of Christ do not prevent him from turning aside gently and inoffensively to avoid the threatened attack.
Unquestionably, Christ did not intend to exhort his people to whet the malice of those, whose propensity to injure others is sufficiently strong: and if they were to turn to them the other cheek, what would it be but holding out such an encouragement? It is not the business of a good and judicious commentator to seize eagerly on syllables, but to attend to the design of the speaker: and nothing is more unbecoming the disciples of Christ, than to spend time in cavilling about words, where it is easy to see what the Master means. But in the present instance, the object which Christ has in view is perfectly obvious. He tells us, that the end of one contest will be the beginning of another, and that, through the whole course of their life, believers must lay their account with sustaining many injuries in uninterrupted succession. When wrong has been done them in a single instance, he wishes them to be trained by this example to meek submission, that by suffering they may learn to be patient.
40. And to him who wishes to enter into a law-suit with thee. Christ now glances at another kind of annoyance, and that is, when wicked men torment us with law-suits. He commands us, even on such an occasion, to be so patient and submissive that, when our coat has been taken away, we shall be prepared to give up our cloak also. None but a fool will stand upon the words, so as to maintain, that we must yield to our opponents what they demand, before coming into a court of law: for such compliance would more strongly inflame the minds of wicked men to robbery and extortion; and we know, that nothing was farther from the design of Christ. What then is meant by giving the cloak to him who endeavors, on the ground of a legal claim,416416 “Sous couleur de proceder par voye de justice;” — “under pretense of proceeding by way of justice.” to take away our coat? If a man, oppressed by an unjust decision, loses what is his own, and yet is prepared, when it shall be found necessary, to part with the remainder, he deserves not less to be commended for patience than the man who allows himself to be twice robbed before coming into court. In short, when Christians meet with one who endeavors to wrench from them a part of their property, they ought to be prepared to lose the whole.
Hence we conclude, that Christians are not entirely prohibited from engaging in law-suits, provided they have a just defense to offer. Though they do not surrender their goods as a prey, yet they do not depart from this doctrine of Christ, which exhorts us to bear patiently “the spoiling of our goods,” (Hebrews 10:34.) It is, no doubt, rare to find a man who proceeds, with mild and proper feelings, to plead in a court: but, as it is possible for a man to defend a just cause with a view to the public advantage, we have no right to condemn the thing in itself, because it appears to be directed by improper feelings.
The different modes of expression which are employed by Matthew and Luke, make no alteration in the meaning. A cloak is usually of more value than a coat: and accordingly, when Matthew says, that we ought to give a cloak to him who takes away a coat, he means that, after having sustained a smaller loss, we ought to be prepared to endure a greater. What is stated by Luke agrees with the ancient proverb, “The coat is nearer than the cloak.”417417 “Que le saye est plus pres de la chair que le manteau.” — “That the coat is nearer the flesh than the cloak.”
Matthew 5:42. Give to him that asketh of thee. Though the words of Christ, which are related by Matthew, appear to command us to give to all without discrimination, yet we gather a different meaning from Luke, who explains the whole matter more fully. First, it is certain, that it was the design of Christ to make his disciples generous, but not prodigals and it would be a foolish prodigality to scatter at random what the Lord has given us. Again, we see the rule which the Spirit lays down in another passage for liberality. Let us therefore hold, first, that Christ exhorts his disciples to be liberal and generous; and next, that the way of doing it is, not to think that they have discharged their duty when they have aided a few persons, but to study to be kind to all, and not to be weary of giving, so long as they have the means.
Besides, that no man may cavil at the words of Matthew, let us compare what is said by Luke. Christ affirms that when, in lending or doing other kind offices, we look to the mutual reward, we perform no part of our duty to God. He thus draws a distinction between charity and carnal friendship. Ungodly men have no disinterested affection for each other, but only a mercenary regard: and thus, as Plato judiciously observes, every man draws on himself that affection which he entertains for others. But Christ demands from his own people disinterested beneficence, and bids them study to aid the poor, from whom nothing can be expected in return. We now see what it is, to have an open hand to petitioners. It is to be generously disposed to all who need qur assistance, and who cannot return the favor.
Matthew 5:43. Thou shalt love thy neighbor. It is astonishing, that the Scribes fell into so great an absurdity, as to limit the word neighbor to benevolent persons: for nothing is more obvious or certain than that God, in speaking of our neighbors, includes the whole human race. Every man is devoted to himself; and whenever a regard to personal convenience occasions an interruption of acts of kindness, there is a departure from that mutual intercourse, which nature itself dictates. To keep up the exercise of brotherly love, God assures us, that all men are our brethren, because they are related to us by a common nature. Whenever I see a man, I must, of necessity, behold myself as in a mirror: for he is my bone and my flesh, (Genesis 29:14.) Now, though the greater part of men break off, in most instances, from this holy society, yet their depravity does not violate the order of nature; for we ought to regard God as the author of the union.
Hence we conclude, that the precept of the law, by which we are commanded to love our neighbor, is general. But the Scribes, judging of neighborhood from the disposition of the individual, affirmed that no man ought to be reckoned a neighbor, unless he were worthy of esteem on account of his own excellencies, or, at least, unless he acted the part of a friend. This is, no doubt, supported by the common opinion; and therefore the children of the world are not ashamed to acknowledge their resentments, when they have any reason to assign for them. But the charity, which God requires in his law, looks not at what a man has deserved, but extends itself to the unworthy, the wicked, and the ungrateful. Now, this is the true meaning which Christ restores, and vindicates from calumny; and hence it is obvious, as I have already said, that Christ does not introduce new laws, but corrects the wicked glosses of the Scribes, by whom the purity of the divine law had been corrupted.
44. Love your enemies. This single point includes the whole of the former doctrine: for he who shall bring his mind to love those who hate him, will naturally refrain from all revenge, will patiently endure evils, will be much more prone to assist the wretched. Christ presents to us, in a summary view, the way and manner of fulfilling this precept, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, (Matthew 22:39.) For no man will ever come to obey this precept, till he shall have given up self-love, or rather denied himself, and till men, all of whom God has declared to be connected with him, shall be held by him in such estimation, that he shall even proceed to love those by whom he is regarded with hatred.
We learn from these words, how far believers ought to be removed from every kind of revenge: for they are not only forbidden to ask it from God, but are commanded to banish and efface it from their minds so completely, as to bless their enemies. In the meantime, they do not fail to commit their cause to God, till he take vengeance on the reprobate: for they desire, as far as lies in them, that the wicked should return to a sound mind, that they may not perish; and thus they endeavor to promote their salvation. And there is still this consolation, by which all their distresses are soothed. They entertain no doubt, that God will be the avenger of obstinate wickedness, so as to make it manifest, that those who are unjustly attacked are the objects of his care. It is very difficult, indeed, and altogether contrary to the disposition of the flesh, to render good for evil. But our vices and weakness ought not to be pleaded as an apology. We ought simply to inquire, what is demanded by the law of charity: for, if we rely on the heavenly power of the Spirit, we shall encounter successfully all that is opposed to it in our feelings.
This is undoubtedly the reason why monks, and other bawlers of the same class, imagined that these were advices, and not precepts, given by Christ: for they took the strength of men as the standard, for ascertaining what they owe to God and to his law. And yet the monks were not ashamed to claim perfection for themselves, having voluntarily bound themselves to attend to his advices. How faithfully they support the title to which they lay claim I do not now say:420420 “Je ne touche point pour le present combien ils s'acquittent vaillament et fidelement de ce dont ils se vantent de paroles.” — “I say nothing, for the present, as to the valiant and faithful manner in which they accomplish what they boast of in words.” but the folly and absurdity of alleging, that they are only advices, will appear from many considerations. First, to say that he advised his disciples, but did not authoritatively command them, to do what was right, is to dishonor Christ. Secondly, to represent the duties of charity, which depend on the law, as matters on which they are left at liberty, is highly foolish.421421 “C'est une chose tant et plus absurde, que les devoirs de charite, qui dependent de la Loy, soyent mis en la liberte des hommes, de les faire, ou de les laisser.” — “It is an exceedingly absurd thing, that the duties of charity, which depend on the Law, should be put in the power of men to do them, or to let them alone.” Thirdly, the words ἐγὼ δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν, but I say to you, mean in this passage, “I denounce,” or “I command,” and cannot, with propriety, be rendered, “I advise.” Lastly, that it is an express command of what must necessarily be obeyed, is proved, without any difficulty, from the words of Christ: for he immediately adds,
45. That ye may be the children of your Father who is in heaven. When he expressly declares, that no man will be a child of God, unless he loves those who hate him, who shall dare to say, that we are not bound to observe this doctrine? The statement amounts to this, “Whoever shall wish to be accounted a Christian, let him love his enemies.” It is truly horrible and monstrous, that the world should have been covered with such thick darkness, for three or four centuries, as not to see that it is an express command, and that every one who neglects it is struck out of the number of the children of God.
It ought to be observed that, when the example of God is held out for our imitation, this does not imply, that it would be becoming in us to do whatever God does. He frequently punishes the wicked, and drives the wicked out of the world. In this respect, he does not desire us to imitate him: for the judgment of the world, which is his prerogative, does not belong to us. But it is his will, that we should imitate his fatherly goodness and liberality. This was perceived, not only by heathen philosophers, but by some wicked despisers of godliness, who have made this open confession, that in nothing do men resemble God more than in doing good. In short, Christ assures us, that this will be a mark of our adoption, if we are kind to the unthankful and evil. And yet you are not to understand, that our liberality makes us the children of God: but the same Spirit, who is the witness, (Romans 8:16,) earnest, (Ephesians 1:14,) and seal, (Ephesians 4:30,) of our free adoption, corrects the wicked affections of the flesh, which are opposed to charity. Christ therefore proves from the effect, that none are the children of God, but those who resemble him in gentleness and kindness.
Luke says, and you shall be the children of the Highest. Not that any man acquires this honor for himself, or begins to be a child of God, when he loves his enemies; but because, when it is intended to excite us to do what is right, Scripture frequently employs this manner of speaking, and represents as a reward the free gifts of God. The reason is, he looks at the design of our calling, which is, that, in consequence of the likeness of God having been formed anew in us, we may live a devout and holy life. He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust. He quotes two instances of the divine kindness toward us, which are not only well known to us, but common to all: and this very participation excites us the more powerfully to act in a similar manner towards each other, though, by a synecdoche,422422 “Combien qu'il comprend sous ces deux d'autres infinis tesmoignages, par une figure dont nous avons souvent parle, nommee Synecdoche.” — “Though, under these two, he includes innumerable other testimonies, by a figure, of which we have frequently spoken, called Synecdoche.” he includes a vast number of other favors.
46. Do not even the publicans the same? In the same sense, Luke calls them sinners, that is, wicked and unprincipled men. Not that the office is condemned in itself; for the publicans were collectors of taxes, and as princes have a right to impose taxes, so it is lawful to levy them from the people. But they are so called, because men of this class are usually covetous and rapacious, nay, deceitful and cruel; and because among the Jews they were the agents of a wicked tyranny. If any one shall conclude from the words of Christ, that publicans are the basest of all men, he will argue ill, for our Lord employs the ordinary phraseology. His meaning is: those who are nearly devoid of humanity have some appearance of discharging mutual duties, when they see it to be for their own advantage.
48. You shall therefore be perfect. This perfection does not mean equality, but relates solely to resemblance.423423 “Ceste perfection ne signifie pas qu'il y ait une.equalite et mesme mesure, mais elle se rapporte seulement a quelque ressemblance ou ap-proche.” — “That perfection does not mean that there is an equality or thee same measure, but it relates solely to some resemblance or approach.” However distant we are from the perfection of God, we are said to be perfect, as he is perfect, when we aim at the same object, which he presents to us in Himself. Should it be thought preferable, we may state it thus. There is no comparison here made between God and us: but the perfection of God means, first, that free and pure kindness, which is not induced by the expectation of gain; — and, secondly, that remarkable goodness, which contends with the malice and ingratitude of men. This appears more clearly from the words of Luke, Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful: for mercy is contrasted with a mercenary regard, which is founded on private advantage.