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5. Sermon on the Mount
1And seeing the multitudes, he went up into the mountain: and when he had sat down, his disciples came unto him: 2and he opened his mouth and taught them, saying,
3Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
5Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
6Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
7Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
8Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
9Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God.
10Blessed are they that have been persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11Blessed are ye when men shall reproach you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. 12Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets that were before you.
13Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men. 14Ye are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. 15Neither do men light a lamp, and put it under the bushel, but on the stand; and it shineth unto all that are in the house. 16Even so let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
17Think not that I came to destroy the law or the prophets: I came not to destroy, but to fulfil. 18For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from the law, till all things be accomplished. 19Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.
21Ye have heard that it was said to them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: 22but I say unto you, that every one who is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of the hell of fire. 23If therefore thou art offering thy gift at the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee, 24leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way, first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. 25Agree with thine adversary quickly, while thou art with him in the way; lest haply the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. 26Verily I say unto thee, thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou have paid the last farthing.
27Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt not commit adultery: 28but I say unto you, that every one that looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. 29And if thy right eye causeth thee to stumble, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not thy whole body be cast into hell. 30And if thy right hand causeth thee to stumble, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not thy whole body go into hell. 31It was said also, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: 32but I say unto you, that every one that putteth away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, maketh her an adulteress: and whosoever shall marry her when she is put away committeth adultery.
33Again, ye have heard that it was said to them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: 34but I say unto you, swear not at all; neither by the heaven, for it is the throne of God; 35nor by the earth, for it is the footstool of his feet; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, for thou canst not make one hair white or black. 37But let your speech be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: and whatsoever is more than these is of the evil one.
38Ye have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: 39but I say unto you, resist not him that is evil: but whosoever smiteth thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40And if any man would go to law with thee, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. 41And whosoever shall compel thee to go one mile, go with him two. 42Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.
43Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy: 44but I say unto you, love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you; 45that ye may be sons of your Father who is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust. 46For if ye love them that love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? 47And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the Gentiles the same? 48Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
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.