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12. Lord of the Sabbath

At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat. 2But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day. 3But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him; 4 How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests? 5 Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless? 6 But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple. 7 But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day. 9And when he was departed thence, he went into their synagogue:

10And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him. 11And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? 12 How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days. 13Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other.

14Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him. 15But when Jesus knew it, he withdrew himself from thence: and great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all; 16And charged them that they should not make him known: 17That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, 18Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall shew judgment to the Gentiles. 19He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets. 20A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory. 21And in his name shall the Gentiles trust.

22Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb: and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw. 23And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David? 24But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils. 25And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: 26 And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand? 27 And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? therefore they shall be your judges. 28 But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you. 29 Or else how can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house. 30 He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.

31 Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. 32 And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come. 33 Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt: for the tree is known by his fruit. 34 O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. 35 A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. 36 But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. 37 For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.

38Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. 39But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: 40 For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here. 42 The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here. 43 When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. 44 Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. 45 Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.

46While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him. 47Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. 48But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? 49And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! 50 For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.

33. Either make the tree good It might look like absurdity, that men should be allowed a choice of being either good or bad; but if we consider what sort of persons Christ is addressing, the difficulty will be speedily resolved. We know what opinion was generally entertained about the Pharisees; for their pretended sanctity had so blinded the minds of the common people, that no one ventured to pass sentence on their vices. 134134     “Que nul n’osoit parler de leurs vices, et les condamner;” — “that none dared to speak of their vices, or to condemn them.” Wishing to remove this mask, Christ desires them to be either good or bad; or, in other words, declares that nothing is more inconsistent with honesty than hypocrisy, and that it is in vain for men to boast of pretensions to righteousness who are not sincere and upright. 135135     “Lesquels ne vont point rondement, et n’ont une affection droite;” — “who do not go straight forward, and have not an upright disposition.” So then he puts nothing at their disposal, and withdraws no restraint from them, but only reminds them that their empty professions will avail them nothing so long as they are double, because they must be either good or bad

From the expression, make the tree, some foolishly infer, that it is in every man’s power to regulate his own life and conduct. It is a rhetorical mode of speaking, by which Christ points out the scribes, dispels—so to speak—the smoke of their hypocrisy, and recalls them to pure and genuine uprightness. He afterwards explains the way and manner in which they may show that they are good or bad trees; which is by yielding good or bad fruit: so that there is no ambiguity in the meaning. The life of the scribes was not rendered infamous among men by gross vices. Pride, ambition, and envy, displayed their venom in the slanders which they uttered; but as that venom was not perceived by ignorant people, Christ brings the concealed evil from its lurking-place, and drags it forth to light.

But perhaps it will be objected that, in consequence of the corruption of our nature, it is impossible to find any man who is altogether upright, and free from every vice. The answer is ready. Christ does not demand absolute and entire perfection, but only a sincere and unfeigned disposition, which the Pharisees whom he addresses were far from possessing. As Scripture applies the terms, bad and wicked, to those who are completely given up to Satan, so the sincere worshippers of God, though they are encompassed by the infirmity of their flesh and by many sins, and groan under the burden, are called good. This arises from the undeserved kindness of God, who bestows so honorable a designation on those who aim at goodness.

34. Offspring of vipers. The similarity between the tree and the fruit is here applied by Christ to nothing more than speech, because this afforded an opportunity of detecting the inward and concealed malice of the scribes; and that is the reason why he dwells so much on this one kind of sin. It is because their falsehood and slanders betrayed what was not so visible in the rest of their life, that Christ attacks them with such severity. “There is no reason to wonder,” he says, “that you vomit out wicked words; for your heart is full of malice.” Nor are we to suppose that he ought to have treated them with greater gentleness, because some might regard this reproof as excessively severe. There are other sins, no doubt, that call for harsh reproofs; but when hypocritical persons pervert what is right, or put a false coloring on what is sinful, such wickedness renders it necessary that God should thunder against it in a more terrible manner than against other sins.

Now the design of Christ, suggested by the present occurrence, was to condemn the wicked sophistry which turns light into darkness. This passage shows how highly valuable in the sight of the Lord truth is, since he maintains and defends it with such rigor. Would that this were earnestly considered by those persons, whose ingenuity is too ready to be employed in defending any cause, and whose venal tongue disguises impostures! In a particular manner, Christ waxes wroth against those whom ambition, or envy, or some other fraudulent design, prompts to slander, even when there is nothing that their conscience condemns. Against the Pharisees, too, as his custom was, Christ used greater harshness, because they were so captivated by an unfounded conviction of their righteousness, that an ordinary warning had no effect upon them. And till hypocrites are sharply pierced, 136136     “Iusques a ce qu’ils sentent qu’on le poigne a bon escient;” — “till they feel that they are pierced in good earnest.” all that is said to them is treated with scorn and contempt.

How can you speak what is good? We have formerly hinted, that proverbial sayings ought not to be rigidly interpreted as an invariable rule, for they state nothing more than the ordinary fact. Sometimes, no doubt, a cruel man will deceive the simple by honied flatteries, a cunning man will cheat under the garb of simplicity, and a man of very wicked thoughts will breathe almost angelical purity of language. 137137     “Il semblera, a l’ouir parler, qu’il ait une purete Angelique;” — “to hear him speak, you would imagine that he has the purity of an Angel.” But the ordinary practice demonstrates the truth of what Christ here says, that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh; agreeably to the old proverb, which declared the tongue to be the index of the mind. 138138     “Comme aussi le proverbe ancien portoit, Que la langue est le charactere ou pourtrait du coeur;” — “as also the old proverb bore, That the tongue is the type or portrait of the heart.” And, indeed, whatever hidden and crooked recesses may exist in the heart of man, and whatever may be the amazing contrivances by which every man conceals his vices, yet the Lord extorts from each of them some kind of confession, so that they discover by the tongue their natural disposition and hidden feelings. We must also observe the purpose for which Christ employs those parables; for he reproaches the Pharisees with having manifested by words the malice which they had inwardly conceived. Besides, knowing them to be sworn enemies, he takes occasion from, single calumny to expose their whole life, and to destroy their credit with the people, which gave them too great influence in deceiving and in doing mischief. Though good speeches do not always proceed from the inmost heart, but originate (as the phrase is) on the tip of the tongue, yet it is an invariable truth, that bad speeches are indications of a bad heart.

36. Of every idle word This is an argument from the less to the greater; for if every idle word is to be called in question, how would God spare the open blasphemies and sacrilegious insolence of those who bark against his glory? 139139     “Qui abbayent contre sa gloire, comme chiens mastins;” — “who bark against his glory, like mastiff-dogs.” An idle word means one that is useless, or that yields no edification or advantage. Many look upon this as too severe; 140140     “Ceci semble a plusieurs estre trop extreme et rigoureux;”— “this appears to many to be too extreme and rigorous.” but if we consider the purpose for which our tongues were made, we will acknowledge, that those men are justly held guilty who unthinkingly devote them to trifling fooleries, and prostitute them to such a purpose. It is no light fault to abuse, for frivolous purposes, the time, which Paul enjoins us to be careful to redeem, (Ephesians 5:16; Colossians 4:5.)

Now since no man is so cautious in speech, or maintains such a wise restraint upon himself, as never to allow some idle words to escape him, there remains for all of us absolute despair, if the Lord should treat us with rigor. But as the confident hope of our salvation rests on the assurance that God will not enter into judgment with us, (Psalm 143:2,) but will bury in gracious forgetfulness the sins which deserve innumerable deaths, 141141     “Qui meritent dix mille morts;” — “which deserve ten thousand deaths.” we entertain no doubt that, when he removes the condemnation of our whole life, he will likewise pardon the guilt of idle talking. When the judgment of God is mentioned in Scripture, it does not in any way set aside the forgiveness of sins. And yet let no man indulge himself, but let every man earnestly endeavor to bridle his tongue, (James 1:26.) First, let us speak of the sacred mysteries of God with the utmost reverence and sobriety; secondly, let us abstain from talkativeness, buffoonery, and vain jests, and much more from slanderous attacks; and, lastly, let us endeavor to have our speech seasoned with salt, (Colossians 4:6.)

37. By thy words thou shalt be justified This was a common proverb, which he applied to the present subject; for I have no doubt that this was a saying which the people had frequently in their mouths, that “every man is condemned or acquitted by his own acknowledgment.” But Christ turns it to a meaning somewhat different, that a wicked speech, being the indication of concealed malice, is enough to condemn a man. The attempt which the Papists make to torture this passage, so as to set aside the righteousness of faith, is childish. A man is justified by his words, not because his speech is the ground of his justification, (for we obtain by faith the favor of God, so that he reckons us to be righteous persons;) but because pure speech 142142     “La parole pure, droite, et honneste;” — “pure, upright, and becoming speech.” absolves us in such a manner, that we are not condemned as wicked persons by our tongue. Is it not absurd to infer from this, that men deserve a single drop of righteousness in the sight of God? On the contrary, this passage upholds our doctrine; for, although Christ does not here treat of the ground of our justification, yet the contrast between the two words points out the meaning of the word justify. The Papists reckon it absurd in us to say, that a man is justified by faith, because they explain the word justified to mean, that he becomes, and is, actually righteous; while we understand it to mean, that he is accounted righteous, and is acquitted before the tribunal of God, as is evident from numerous passages of Scripture. And is not the same thing confirmed by Christ, when he draws a contrast between justified and condemned?


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