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Barnes' Notes on the New Testament

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MATTHEW CHAPTER V

Verse 1. Seeing the multitudes The great numbers that came to attend on his ministry. The substance of this discourse is recorded in the sixth chapter of Luke. It is commonly called the sermon on the mount. It is not improbable that it was repeated, in substance, on different occasions, and to different people. At those times, parts of it might have been omitted, and Luke may have recorded it as it was pronounced on one of these occasions. See Barnes "Luke 6:17-20".

Went up into a mountain. This mountain, or hill, was somewhere in the vicinity of Capernaum, but where precisely is not mentioned. He ascended the hill, doubtless, because it was more convenient to address the multitude from an eminence, than on the same level with them. A hill or mountain is still shown a short distance to the northwest of the ancient site of Capernaum, which tradition reports to have been the place where this sermon was delivered, and which is called on the maps the Mount of Beatitudes. But there is no positive evidence that this is the place where this discourse was uttered.

And when he was set. This was the common mode of teaching among the Jews, Luke 4:20; 5:3; John 8:2; Acts 13:14; 16:13.

His disciples came. The word disciples means learners; those who are taught. Here it is put for those who attended on the ministry of Jesus, and does not imply that they were all Christians. See John 6:66.

Verse 2. No Barnes text on this verse.

{v} "taught them saying" Luke 6:20

Verse 3. Blessed are the poor in spirit. The word blessed means happy, referring to that which produces felicity, from whatever quarter it may come.

Poor in spirit. Luke says simply, blessed are THE poor. It has been disputed whether Christ meant the poor in reference to the things of this life, or the humble. The gospel is said to be preached to the poor, Luke 4:18; Matthew 11:5. It was predicted that the Messiah should preach to the poor, Isaiah 61:1. It is said that they have peculiar facilities for being saved, Matthew 19:23; Luke 18:24. The state of such persons is therefore comparatively blessed, or happy. Riches produce care, anxiety, and dangers, and not the least is the danger of losing heaven by them. To be poor in spirit is to have a humble opinion of ourselves; to be sensible that we are sinners, and have no righteousness of our own; to be willing to be saved only by the rich grace and mercy of God; to be willing to be where God places us, to bear what he lays on us, to go where he bids us, and to die when he commands; to be willing to be in his hands, and to feel that we deserve no favour from him. It is opposed to pride, and vanity, and ambition. Such are happy:

(1.) Because there is more real enjoyment in thinking of ourselves as we are, than in being filled with pride and vanity.

(2.) Because such Jesus chooses to bless, and on them he confers his favours here.

(3.) Because theirs will be the kingdom of heaven hereafter. It is remarkable that Jesus began his ministry in this manner, so unlike all others. Other teachers had taught that happiness was to be found in honour, or riches, or splendour, or sensual pleasure. Jesus overlooked all those things, and fixed his eye on the poor, and the humble, and said that happiness was to be found in the lowly vale of poverty, more than in the pomp and splendours of life.

Their's is the kingdom of heaven. That is, either they have peculiar facilities for entering the kingdom of heaven, and of becoming Christians here, or they shall enter heaven hereafter. Both these ideas are probably included. A state of poverty--a state where we are despised or unhonoured by men--is a state where men are most ready to seek the comforts of religion here, or a home in the heavens hereafter. See Barnes "Matthew 2:2".

{w} "???????" Isaiah 57:15; 66:2
{x} "poor in spirit" James 2:5

Verse 4. Blessed are they that mourn. This is capable of two meanings: either that those are blessed who are afflicted with the loss of friends or possessions; or that they who mourn over sin are blessed. As Christ came to preach repentance, to induce men to mourn over their sins, and to forsake them, it is probable that he had the latter particularly in view, 2 Corinthians 7:10. At the same time, it is true that the gospel only can give true comfort to those in affliction, Isaiah 61:1-3; Luke 4:18. Other sources of consolation do not reach the deep sorrows of the soul. They may blunt the sensibilities of the mind; they may produce a sullen and reluctant submission to what we cannot help; but they do not point to the true source of comfort. In the God of mercy only; in the Saviour; in the peace that flows from the hope of a better world, and there only, is there comfort, 2 Corinthians 3:17,18; 5:1. Those that mourn thus shall be comforted. So those that grieve over sin; that sorrow that they have committed it, and are afflicted and wounded that they have offended God, shall find comfort in the gospel. Through the merciful Saviour those sins may be forgiven. In him the weary and heavy-laden soul shall find peace, (Matthew 11:28-30;) and the presence of the Comforter, the Holy Ghost, shall sustain us here, (John 14:26,27) and in heaven all tears shall be wiped away, Revelation 21:4.

{y} "mourn" Isaiah 61:3; Ezekiel 7:16
{z} "for they shall be comforted" John 16:20; 2 Corinthians 1:7

Verse 5. The meek. Meekness is patience in the reception of injuries. It is neither meanness, nor a surrender of our rights, nor cowardice; but it is the opposite of sudden anger, of malice, of long-harboured vengeance. Christ insisted on his right when he said,

"If I have done evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why smitest thou me?"

John 18:23. Paul asserted his right when he said,

"They have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison; and now do they thrust us out privily; nay, verily, but let them come themselves, and fetch us out,"

Acts 16:37. And yet Christ was the very model of meekness. It was one of his characteristics, "I am meek," Matthew 11:29. So of Paul. No man endured more, and more patiently, than he. Yet they were not passionate. They bore it patiently. They did not harbour malice. They did not press their rights through thick and thin, and trample down the rights of others to secure their own.

Meekness is the reception of injuries with a belief that God will vindicate us. "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord," Romans 12:19. It little becomes us to take his place, and to do what he has a right to do, and what he has promised to do.

Meekness produces peace. It is proof of true greatness of soul. It comes from a heart too great to be moved by little insults. It looks upon those who offer them with pity. He that is constantly ruffled, that suffers every little insult or injury to throw him off his guard, and to raise a storm of passion within, is at the mercy of every mortal that chooses to disturb him. He is like the troubled sea that cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.

They shall inherit the earth. This might have been translated the land. It is probable that here is a reference to the manner in which the Jews commonly expressed themselves to denote any great blessing. It was promised to them that they should inherit the land of Canaan. For a long time the patriarchs looked forward to this, Genesis 15:7,8; Exodus 32:13. They regarded it as a great blessing, It was so spoken of in the journey in the wilderness; and their hopes were crowned when they took possession of the promised land, Deuteronomy 1:38; 16:20. In the time of our Saviour they were in the constant habit of using the Old Testament, where this promise perpetually occurs, and they used it as a proverbial expression to denote any great blessing, perhaps as the sum of all blessings, Psalms 37:20; Isaiah 60:21. Our Saviour used it in this sense; and meant to say, not that the meek should own great property or have many lands, but that they should possess peculiar blessings. The Jews also considered the land of Canaan as a type of heaven, and of the blessings under the Messiah. To inherit the land became, therefore, an expression denoting those blessings. When our Saviour promises it here, he means that the meek shall be received into his kingdom, and partake of its blessings here, and of the glories of the heavenly Canaan hereafter. The value of meekness, even in regard to worldly property and success in life, is often exhibited in the Scriptures, Proverbs 22:24,25; 15:1; 25:8; 15. It is also seen in common life that a meek, patient, mild man, is the most prospered. An impatient and quarrelsome man raises up enemies; often loses property in lawsuits; spends his time in disputes and broils, rather than in sober, honest industry; and is harassed, vexed, and unsuccessful in all that he does.

"Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come"

1 Timothy 4:8; 6:3-6,

{a} "shall inherit the earth" Psalms 37:11

Verse 6. Blessed are they that hunger, etc. Hunger and thirst, here, are expressive of strong desire. Nothing would better express the strong desire which we ought to feel to obtain righteousness, than hunger and thirst. No wants are so keen, none so imperiously demand supply as these. They occur daily; and when long continued, as in case of those shipwrecked, and doomed to wander months or years over burning sands, with scarcely any drink or food, nothing is more distressing. An ardent desire for anything is often represented in the Scriptures by hunger and thirst, Psalms 42:1,2; 63:1,2. A desire for the blessings of pardon and peace; a deep sense of sin, and want, and wretchedness, is also represented by thirsting, Isaiah 55:1,2. Those that are perishing for want of righteousness; that feel that they are lost sinners, and strongly desire to be holy, shall be filled. Never was there a desire to be holy, which God was not willing to gratify. And the gospel of Christ has made provision to satisfy all who truly desire to be holy. See Isaiah 55:1-13; 65:13; John 4:14; 6:35; 7:37,38; Psalms 17:15.

{b} "for they shall be filled" Psalms 34:19; Isaiah 65:13

Verse 7. Blessed are the merciful. That is, those who are so affected by the sufferings of others, as to be disposed to alleviate them. This is given as an evidence of piety; and it is said that they who show mercy to others shall obtain it. The same sentiment is found in Matthew 10:42. Whosoever shall give a cup of cold water only unto one of these little ones, in the name of a disciple, shall not lose his reward. See also Matthew 25:34-40. It should be done to glorify God; that is, in obedience to his commandments, and with a desire that he should be honoured; and feeling that we are benefiting one of his creatures. Then he will regard it as done to him, and will reward us. See the sentiment of this verse, that the merciful shall obtain mercy, more fully expressed in 2 Samuel 22:26,27; and in Psalms 18:25,26.

Nowhere do we imitate God more than in showing mercy. In nothing does God more delight than in the exercise of mercy, Exodus 34:6; Ezekiel 33:11 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9. To us, guilty sinners; to us, wretched, dying, and exposed to eternal woe, he has shown his mercy by giving his Son to die for us; by expressing his willingness to pardon and save us; and by sending his Spirit to renew and sanctify the heart. Each day of our life, each hour, and each moment, we partake of his undeserved mercy. All the blessings we enjoy are proofs of his mercy. If we also show mercy to the poor, the wretched, the guilty, it shows that we are like God; we have his spirit, and shall not lose our reward. And we have abundant opportunity to do it. Our world is full of guilt and woe, which we may help to relieve; and every day of our lives we have opportunity by helping the poor and wretched, and by forgiving those who injure us, to show that we are like God. See Barnes "Matthew 6:14".

{c} "for they shall obtain mercy" Psalms 41:1,2.

Verse 8. Blessed are the pure in heart. That is, whose minds, motives, and principles are pure. Who seek not only to have the external actions correct, but who desire to be holy in heart, and who are so. Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looketh on the heart.

They shall see God. There is a sense in which all shall see God, Revelation 1:7. That is, they shall behold him as a Judge, not as a Friend. In this place it is spoken of as a peculiar favour. So also in Revelation 22:4. And they shall see his face. To see the face of one, or to be in his presence, were, among the Jews, terms expressive of great favour. It was regarded as a high honour to be in the presence of kings and princes, and to be permitted to see them, Proverbs 22:29. He shall stand before kings, etc. See also \\2Ki 25:19\\. "Those that stood in the king's presence ;" in the Hebrew, those that saw the face of the king; that is, who were his favourites and friends. So here, to see God, means to be his friends and favourites, and to dwell with him in his kingdom.

{d} "pure in heart" Psalms 24:3,4; Hebrews 12:4; 1 John 3:2,3

Verse 9. Blessed are the peacemakers. Those who strive to prevent contention, and strife, and war. Who use their influence to reconcile opposing parties, and to prevent lawsuits, and hostilities, in families and neighbourhoods. Every man may do something of this; and no man is more like God than he who does it. There ought not to be unlawful and officious interference in that which is none of our but, has business; without any danger of acquiring this character, every man many opportunities of reconciling opposing parties. Friends, neighbours, men of influence, lawyers, physicians, may do much to promote peace. And it should be taken in hand in the beginning. "The beginning of strife," says Solomon, "is like the letting out of water." "An ounce of prevention," says the English proverb, "is worth a pound of cure." Long and most deadly quarrels might be prevented by a little kind interference in the beginning. Children of God. Those who resemble God, or who manifest a spirit like his. He is the Author of peace, (1 Corinthians 14:33) and all those who endeavour to promote peace are like him, and are worthy to be called his children.

{e} "peacemakers" Psalms 34:14

Verse 10. Persecuted. To persecute, means literally to pursue, follow after, as one does a flying enemy. Here it means to vex, or oppress one, on account of his religion. They persecute others who injure their names, reputation, property, or endanger or take their life, on account of their religious opinions.

For righteousness' sake. Because they are righteous, or are the friends of God. We are not to seek persecution. We are not to provoke it by strange sentiments or conduct, or by violating the laws of civil society, or by modes of speech that are unnecessarily offensive to others. But if, in the honest effort to be Christians, and to live the life of Christians, others persecute and revile us, we are to consider this as a blessing. It is all evidence that we are the children of God, and that he will defend us. All that live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution, 2 Timothy 3:12.

Their's is the kingdom of heaven. They have evidence that they are Christians, and shall be brought to heaven.

{f} "for righteousness's sake" 1 Peter 3:13,14

Verse 11. Revile you. Reproach you; call you by evil and contemptuous names; ridicule you because you are Christians. Thus they said of Jesus, that he was a Samaritan and had a devil; that he was mad; and thus they reviled and mocked him on the cross. But being reviled, he reviled not again, (1 Peter 2:23) and thus being reviled, we should bless, (1 Corinthians 4:12) and thus, though the contempt of the world is not in itself desirable, yet it is blessed to tread in the footsteps of Jesus, to imitate his example, and even to suffer for his sake, Philippians 1:29.

All manner of evil--falsely. An emphasis should be laid on the word falsely in this passage. It is not blessed to have evil spoken of us if we deserve it; but if we deserve it not, then we should not consider it as a calamity. We should take it patiently, and show how much the Christian, under the consciousness of innocence, can bear, 1 Peter 3:13-18.

For my sake. Because you are attached to me; because you are Christians. We are not to seek such things. We are not to do things to offend others; to treat them harshly or unkindly, and court revilings. We are not to say or do things, though they may be on the subject of religion, designed to disgust or offend. But if, in the faithful endeavour to be Christians, we are reviled, as our Master was, then we are to take it with patience, and to remember that thousands before us have been treated in like manner. When thus reviled, or persecuted, we are to be meek, patient, humble; not angry; not reviling again; but endeavouring to do good to our persecutors and slanderers, 2 Timothy 2:24,25. In this way, many have been convinced of the power and excellence of that religion which they were persecuting and reviling. They have seen that nothing else but Christianity could impart such patience and meekness to the persecuted; and have, by this means, been constrained to submit themselves to the gospel of Jesus. Long since, it became a proverb, "that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church."

{1} "falsely" or, "lying"

Verse 12. Rejoice, etc. The reward of such suffering is great. To those who suffer most, God imparts the highest rewards. Hence the crown of martyrdom has been thought to be the brightest that any of the redeemed shall wear; and hence many of the early Christians sought to become martyrs, and threw themselves in the way of their persecutors, that they might be put to death. They literally rejoiced, and leaped for joy, at the prospect of death for the sake of Jesus. Though God does not require us to seek persecution, yet all this shows that there is something in religion to sustain the soul, which the-world does not possess. Nothing but the consciousness of innocence, and the presence of God, could have borne them up in the midst of these trials; and the flame, therefore, kindled to consume the martyr, has also been a bright light, showing the truth and power of the gospel of Jesus.

The prophets, etc. The holy men who came to predict future events, and who were the religious teachers of the Jews. For an account of their persecutions, see the eleventh chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews.

{g} "great is your reward" 2 Corinthians 4:17

Verse 13. Ye are the salt of the earth. Salt renders food pleasant and palatable, and preserves from putrefaction. So Christians, by their lives and instructions, are to keep the world from entire moral corruption. By bringing down, by their prayers, the blessing of God, and by their influence and example, they save the world from universal vice and crime.

Salt have lost his savour. That is, if it has become insipid, tasteless, or have lost its preserving properties. The salt used in this country is a chemical compound--muriate of soda-- and if the saltness were lost, or it were to lose its savour, there would be nothing remaining. It enters into the very nature of the substance. In eastern countries, however, the salt used was impure, mingled with vegetable and earthy substances; so that it might lose the whole of its saltness, and a considerable quantity of earthy matter remain. This was good for nothing, except that it was used, as it is said, to place in paths, or walks, as we use gravel. This kind of salt is common still in that country. It is found in the earth in veins or layers, and when exposed to the sun and rain, loses its saltness entirely. Maundrell says,

"I broke a piece of it, of which that part that was exposed to the rain, sun, and air, though it had the sparks and particles of salt, yet it had perfectly lost its savour. The inner part, which was connected to the rock, retained its savour, as I found by proof."
{h} "salt of the earth" Mark 9:50

Verse 14. The light of the world. The light of the world often denotes the sun, John 11:9. The sun renders objects visible, shows their form their nature, their beauties, and deformities. The term light is often applied to religious teachers. See John 1:4; 8:12; Isaiah 49:6. It is pre-eminently applied to Jesus in these places; because he is, in the moral world, what the sun is in the natural world. The apostles, and Christian ministers, and all Christians, are lights of the world, because they, by their instructions and examples, show what God requires, what is the condition of man, what is the way of duty, peace, and happiness--the way that leads to heaven.

A city that is set on an hill, etc. Many of the cities of Judea were placed on the summits or sides of mountains, and could be seen from afar. This was the case with Jerusalem; and it is said by Maundrell, that near the place where our Saviour is supposed to have delivered his sermon, there is still such a town, called Saphat, anciently This can Bethesda. be seen far and near. Perhaps Jesus pointed to such a city, and told his disciples that they were like it. They were seen from far. Their actions could not be hid. The eyes of the World were upon them. They must be seen; and as this was the case, they ought to be holy, harmless, and undefiled.

{i} "light" Philippians 2:15

Verse 15. Neither do men light a candle, etc. Jesus proceeded here to show them that the very reason why they were enlightened was, that others might also see the light, and be benefited by it. When men light a candle, they do not conceal the light, but place it where it may be of use. So it is with religion. It is given that we may benefit others. It is not to be concealed, but suffered to show itself, and to shed light on a surrounding wicked world.

A bushel. Greek, a measure containing nearly a peck. It denotes anything, here, that might conceal the light.

{1} "bushel" or, "The word, in the original, signifieth a measuring
containing about a pint less than a peck."

Verse 16. Let your light so shine, etc. Let your holy life, your pure conversation, and your faithful instruction, be everywhere seen and known, Always, in all societies, in all business, at home and abroad, in prosperity and adversity, let it be seen that you are real Christians.

That they may see your good works. This is not the motive to influence us, simply that we must be seen, (comp. Matthew 6:1); but that our heavenly Father may be glorified. It is not right to do a thing merely to be seen by others, for this is pride and ostentation; but we are to do it that, being seen, God may be honoured. The Pharisees acted to be seen of men; true Christians act to glorify God, and care little what men may think of them, except as by their conduct others may be brought to honour God.

Glorify your Father. Praise, or honour God, or be led to worship him. Seeing in your lives the excellency of religion, the power and purity of the gospel, they may be won to be Christians also, and give praise and glory to God for his mercy to a lost world.

We learn here,

(1.) that religion, if it exists, cannot be concealed.

(2.) That where it is not manifest in the life, it does not exist.

(3.) That professors of religion, who live like other men, give evidence that they have never been renewed.

(4.) That to attempt to conceal or hide our Christian knowledge or experience is to betray our trust, and injure the cause of piety, and render our lives useless. And,

(5.) that good actions will be seen, and will lead men to honour God.

If we have no other way of doing good--if we are poor, and unlearned and unknown--yet we may do good by our lives. No sincere and humble Christian lives in vain. The feeblest light at midnight is of use.

"How far this little calldie throws his beams!" So shines a good deed in a naughty world!"

{k} "glorify" 1 Peter 2:12

Verse 17. Think not that I am come, etc. Our Saviour was just entering on his work. It was important for him to state what he came to do. By his setting up to be a teacher in opposition to the Scribes and Pharisees, some might charge him with an intention to destroy their law, and abolish the customs of the nation. He therefore told them that he did not come for that end, but really to fulfil or accomplish what was in the law and the prophets. To destroy. To abrogate; to deny their Divine authority; to set men free from the obligation to obey them.

The law. The five books of Moses, called the law. See Barnes "Luke 24:44".

The prophets. The books which the prophets wrote. These two divisions here seem to comprehend the Old Testament; and Jesus says that he came not to do away or destroy the authority of the Old Testament.

But to fulfil. To complete the design; to fill up what was predicted; to accomplish what was intended in them. The word fulfil, also, means sometimes to teach or inculcate, 1:25. The law of Moses contained many sacrifices and rites which were designed to shadow forth the Messiah, Hebrews 9:1-28. These were fulfilled when he came and offered himself a sacrifice to God--

"A sacrifice of nobler name, And richer blood than they."

The prophets contained many predictions respecting his coming and death. These were all to be fulfilled and fully accomplished by his life and his sufferings.

{l} "the law" Matthew 3:15
{m} "the prophets" Isaiah 42:21

Verse 18. Verily. Truly, certainly. A word of strong affirmation.

Till heaven and earth pass. This expression denotes that the law never should be destroyed till it should be all fulfilled. It is the same as saying, everything else may change--the very earth and heaven may pass away--but the law of God shall not be destroyed, till its whole design shall be accomplished.

One jot. The word jot, or yod--'--is the name of the Hebrew letter I, the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet.

One tittle. The Hebrew letters were written with small points or apices, as in the letter Schin--*** or Sin ***-- which serve to distinguish one letter from another. To change a small point of one letter, therefore, might vary the meaning of a word, and destroy the sense. Hence the Jews were exceedingly cautious in writing these letters, and considered the smallest change or omission a reason for destroying the whole manuscript when they were transcribing the Old Testament. The expression, "one jot or tittle," became proverbial, and means that the smallest part of the law should not be destroyed.

The laws of the Jews are common!y divided into moral, ceremonial, and judicial. The moral laws are such as grow out of the nature of things, which cannot, therefore, be changed--such as the duty of loving God and his creatures. These cannot be abolished as it can never be made right to hate God, or to hate our fellow-men Of this kind are the ten commandments; and these our Saviour has neither abolished nor superseded. The ceremonial laws are such as are appointed to meet certain states of society, or to regulate the religious rites and ceremonies of a people. These can be changed when circumstances are changed, and yet the moral law be untouched. A general may command his soldiers to appear sometimes in a red coat, and sometimes in blue, or in yellow. This would be a ceremonial law, and might be changed as he pleased. The duty of obeying him, and of being faithful to his country, could not be changed. This is a moral law. A parent might suffer his children to have fifty different dresses at different times, and love them equally in all. The dress is a mere matter of ceremony, and may be changed. The child, in all these garments, is bound to love and obey his father. This is a moral law, and cannot be changed. So the laws of the Jews. Those to regulate mere matters of ceremony, and rites of worship, might be changed. Those requiring love and obedience to God, and love to men, could not be changed, and Christ did not attempt it, Matthew 19:19; 22:37-39; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:9.

A third species of law was the judicial, or those regulating courts of justice, contained in the Old Testament. These were of the nature of the ceremonial law, and might also be changed at pleasure. The judicial law regulated the courts of justice of the Jews. It was adapted to their own civil society. When the form of the Jewish polity was changed, this was of course no longer binding. The ceremonial law was fulfilled by the coming of Christ: the shadow was lost in the substance, and ceased to be binding. The moral law was confirmed and unchanged.

{o} "one jot or one tittle" Luke 16:17.

Verse 19. Shall break. Shall violate, or disobey.

These least commandments. The Pharisees, it is probable, divided the precepts of the law into lesser and greater, teaching that they who violated the former were guilty of a trivial offence only. See Matthew 23:23. Christ teaches that in his kingdom they who make this distinction, or who taught that any laws of God might be violated with impunity, should be called least; while they should be held in high regard who observed all the laws of God without distinction.

Shall be called the least. That is, shall be least. The meaning of this passage seems to be this: "In the kingdom of heaven," that is, in the kingdom of the Messiah, or in the church which he is about to establish, (See Barnes "Matthew 3:2") he that breaks the least of these commandments shall be in no esteem, or shall not be regarded as a proper religious teacher. The Pharisees divided the law into greater and lesser precepts. They made no small part of it void by their traditions and divisions, Matthew 23:23; 15:3-6. Jesus says, that in his kingdom all this vain division and tradition should cease. Such divisions and distinctions should be a small matter. He that attempted it should be the least of all. Men would be engaged in yielding obedience to all the law of God, without any such vain distinctions.

Shall be called great, he that teaches that all the law of God is binding, and that all of it should be obeyed, without attempting to specify what is most important, shall be a teacher worthy of his office, shall teach the truth, and shall be called great. We learn hence,

(1.) that all the law of God is binding on Christians. Comp. James 2:10

(2.) That all the commands of God should be preached, in their proper place, by Christian ministers.

(3.) That they who pretend that there are any laws of God so small that they need not obey them, are unworthy of his kingdom. And,

(4.) that true piety has respect to all the commandments of God, and keeps them, Psalms 119:6.

{p} "shall be called great" 1 Samuel 2:30

Verse 20. Your righteousness. Your holiness, your views of the nature or righteousness, and your conduct and lives. Unless you are more holy than they are, you cannot be saved.

Shall exceed. Shall excel, or abound more. This righteousness was external, and was not real holiness. The righteousness of true Christians is seated in the heart, and is therefore genuine. Jesus means, that unless they had more real holiness of character than the scribes, they could not be saved.

The righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees. See Barnes "Matthew 3:7". Their righteousness consisted in outward observances of the ceremonial and traditional law. They offered sacrifices, fasted often, prayed much, were very punctilious about ablutions and tithes and the ceremonies of religion, but neglected justice, truth, purity, holiness of heart, and did not strive to be pure in their motives before God. See Matthew 23:; 13-33. The righteousness that Jesus required in his kingdom was purity, chastity, honesty, temperance, the fear of God, and the love of man. It is pure, eternal, teaching the motives, and making the life holy.

The Kingdom of heaven. See Matthew 3:2. Shall not be a fit subject of his kingdom here, or saved in the world to come.

{q} "shall exceed the righteousness" Matthew 23:23-28; Philippians 3:9

Verse 21. Ye have heard. Or, this is the common interpretation among the Jews. Jesus proceeds here to comment on some prevailing opinions among the Jews; to show that the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was defective; and that men needed a better righteousness, or they could not be saved. He shows what he meant by that better righteousness, by showing that the common opinions of the scribes were erroneous.

By them of old time. This might be translated, to the ancients, referring to Moses and the prophets. But it is more probable that he here refers to the interpreters of the law and the prophets. Jesus did not set himself against the law of Moses, but against the false and pernicious interpretations of the law prevalent in his time.

Thou shalt not kill. See Exodus 20:13. This literally denotes taking the life of another, with malice, or with intention to murder him. The Jews understood it as meaning no more. The comment of our Saviour shows that it was spiritual, and was designed to extend to the thoughts and feelings, as well as the external act.

Shall be in danger of. Shall be held guilty, and be punished by. The law of Moses declared that the murderer should be put to death, Leviticus 24:21; Numbers 35:16. It did not say, however, by whom this should be done, and it was left to the Jews to organize courts to have cognizance of such crimes, Deuteronomy 16:18.

The judgment. This was the tribunal that had cognizance of cases of murder, etc. It was a court that sat in each city or town, and consisted commonly of seven members. It was the lowest court among the Jews, and from it an appeal might be taken to the Sanhedrim.

{1} "by them" or, "to them"
{r} "Thou shalt not kill" Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17

Verse 22. But I say unto you. Jesus being God as well as man, (John 1:1) and, therefore, being the original Giver of the law, had a right to expound it, or change it as he pleased. Comp. Matthew 12:6,8. He therefore spoke here and elsewhere as having authority, and not as the scribes. It may be added here, that no mere man ever spake as Jesus did, when explaining or enforcing the law. He did it as having a right to do it; and he that has a right to ordain and change laws in the government of God must be himself Divine.

Is angry without a cause. Anger, or that feeling which we have when we are injured, and which prompts us to defend ourselves when in danger, is a natural feeling, given to us,

(1.) as a natural expression of our disapprobation of a course of evil conduct; and,

(2.) that we may defend ourselves when suddenly attacked. When excited against sin, it is lawful. God is angry with the wicked. Jesus looked on the hypocritical Pharisees with anger, Mark 3:5. So it is said, Be ye angry, and sin not, 4:26. This anger, or indignation against sin, is not what our Saviour speaks of here. That is anger without a cause; that is, unjustly, rashly, hastily, where no offence had been given or intended. In that case it is evil; and it is a violation of the sixth commandment, because he that hateth his brother is a murderer, 1 John 3:15. He has a feeling which would lead him to commit murder if it were fully acted out.

His brother. By a brother here seems to be meant a neighbour, or perhaps any one with whom we may be associated. As all men are descended from one Father, and are all the creatures of the same God, so they are all brethren; and so every man should be regarded and treated as a brother.

Raca. This is a Syriac word, expressive of great contempt. It comes from a verb signifying to be empty, vain; and hence, as a word of contempt, denotes senseless, stupid, shallow-brains. Jesus teaches here, that to use such words is a violation of the sixth commandment. It is a violation of the spirit of that commandment, and, if indulged, may lead to a more open and dreadful infraction of that law. Children should learn that to use such words is highly offensive to God, for we must give an account of every idle word which we speak in the day of judgment.

In danger of the council. The word translated council is, in the original, sanhedrim, and there can be no doubt that he refers to the Jewish tribunal of that name. This was instituted in the time of the Maccabees, probably about 200 years before Christ. It was composed of seventy-two judges; the high priest was the president of this tribunal. The seventy-two members were made up of the chief priests and elders of the people, and the scribes. The chief priests were such as had discharged the office of the high priest, and those who were the heads of the twenty-four classes of priests, who were called in an honorary way high or chief priests. See Matthew 2:4. The elders were the princes of the tribes, or heads of the family associations. It is not to be supposed that all the elders had a right to a seat here, but such only as were elected to the office. The scribes were learned men of the nation, elected to this tribunal, being neither of the rank of priests nor elders. This tribunal had cognizance of the great affairs of the nation. Till the time when Judea was subjected to the Romans, it had the power of life and death. It still retained the power of passing sentence, though the Roman magistrate held the right of execution. It usually sat in Jerusalem, in a room near the temple. It was before this tribunal that our Saviour was tried. It was then assembled in the palace of the high priest, Matthew 26:3-57; John 18:24.

Thou fool. This term expressed more than want of wisdom. It was expressive of the highest guilt. It had been commonly used to denote those who were idolaters, (Deuteronomy 22:21) and also one who is guilty of great crimes, Joshua 7:15; Psalms 14:1.

Hellfire. The original of this is, "the GEHENNA of ore." The worn GEHENNA, commonly translated hell, is made up of two Hebrew words, and signifies the valley of Hinnom. This was formerly a pleasant valley, near to Jerusalem, on the south, [or south- east.] A small brook or torrent usually ran through this valley, and partly encompassed the city. This valley the idolatrous Israelites devoted formerly to the horrid worship of Moloch, 2 Kings 16:3; 2 Chronicles 28:3. In that worship the ancient Jewish writers inform us that the idol of Moloch was of brass, adorned with a royal crown, having the head of a calf, and his arms extended, as if to embrace any one. When they offered children to him, they heated the statue within by a great fire; and when it was burning hot, they put the miserable child into his arms, where it was soon consumed by the heat; and, in order that the cries of the child might not be heard, they made a great noise with drums and other instruments about the idol. These drums were called Toph; and hence a common name of the place was TOPHET, Jeremiah 7:31,32.

The following cut may furnish a useful illustration of this idol.

After the return of the Jews from captivity, this place was held in such abhorrence, that, by the example of Josiah, (\\2Ki 23:10\\) it was made the place where to throw all the dead carcases and filth of the city; and was not unfrequently the place of executions. It became, therefore, extremely offensive; the sight was terrific; the air was polluted and pestilential; and to preserve it in any manner pure, it was necessary to keep fires continually burning there. The extreme loathsomeness of the place; the filth and putrefaction; the corruption of the atmosphere, and the lurid fires blazing by day and by night, made it one of the most appalling and terrific objects with which a Jew was acquainted. It was called the GEHENNA of fire; and was the image which our Saviour often employed to denote the future punishment of the wicked.

In this verse it denotes a degree of suffering higher than the punishment inflicted by the court of seventy, or the sanhedrim; and the whole verse may therefore mean, "He that hates his brother, without a cause, is guilty of a violation of the sixth commandment, and shall be punished with a severity similar to that inflicted by the court of judgment. He that shall suffer his passions to transport him to still greater extravagances, and shall make him an object of derision and contempt, shall be exposed to still severer punishment, corresponding to that which the sanhedrim, or council, inflicts. But he who shall load his brother with odious appellations and abusive language, shall incur the severest degree of punishment, represented by being burnt alive in the horrid and awful valley of Hinnom."

The amount, then, of this difficult and important verse is this: The Jews considered but one crime a violation of the sixth commandment, viz., actual murder, or wilful, unlawful, taking life. Jesus says that the commandment is much broader. It relates not only to the external act, but to the feelings and words. He specifies three forms of such violation:

(1.) Unjust anger.

(2.) Anger accompanied with an expression of contempt.

(3.) Anger, with an expression not only of contempt, but wickedness. Among the Jews there were three degrees of condemnation: that by the "judgment," the "council," and the "fire of Hinnom." Jesus says, likewise, there shall be grades of condemnation for the different ways of violating the sixth commandment. Not only murder shall be punished by God; but anger, and contempt, shall be regarded by him as a violation of the law, and punished according to the offence. As these offences were not actually cognizable before the Jewish tribunals, he must mean that they will be punished hereafter. And all these expressions relate to degrees of punishment, proportionate to crime, in the future world--the world of justice and of woe.

Verses 23,24. Therefore, if thou bring thy gift to the altar, etc. The Pharisees were intent only on the external act in worship. They looked not at all to the internal acts of the mind. If a man conformed to the external rites of religion, however much envy, and malice, and secret hatred he might have, they thought he was doing well. Our Saviour taught a different doctrine. It was of more consequence to have the heart right, than to perform the outward act. If therefore, says he, a man has gone so far as to bring his gift to the very altar, and should remember that any one had anything against him, it was his duty there to leave his offering, and go and be reconciled. While a difference of this nature existed, his offering could not be acceptable. He was not to wait till the offended brother should come to him; he was to go and seek him out, and be reconciled. So now, the worship of God will not be acceptable, however well performed externally, until we are at peace with those that we have injured. "To obey is better than sacrifice." He that comes to worship his Maker filled with malice, and hatred, and envy, and at war with his brethren, is a hypocritical worshipper, and must meet with God's displeasure. God is not deceived; and he will not be mocked.

Thy gift. Thy sacrifice. What thou art about to devote to God as an offering. To the altar. The altar was situated in front of the temple, see the representation on following page and was the place on which sacrifices were made. See Barnes "Matthew 21:12". To bring a gift to the altar, was expressive of worshipping God, for this was the way in which he was formerly worshipped.

Thy brother. Any man, especially any fellow-worshipper. Any one of the same religious society.

Hath aught. Is offended, or thinks he has been injured by you in any manner:

First be reconciled. This means to settle the difficulty; to make proper acknowledgment, or satisfaction, for the injury. If you have wronged him, make restitution. If you owe him a debt which ought to be paid, pay it. If you have injured his character, confess it, and seek pardon. If he is under an erroneous impression; if your conduct has been such as to lead him to suspect that you have injured him, make an explanation. Do all in your power, and all you ought to do, to have the matter settled. From this we learn,

(1.) that in order to worship God acceptably, we must do justice to our fellow-men.

(2.) Our worship will not be acceptable, unless we do all we can to live peaceably with others.

(3.) It is our duty to seek reconciliation with others when we have injured them.

(4.) This should be done before we attempt to worship God.

(5.) This is often the reason why God does not accept our offerings, and we go empty away from our devotions. We do not do what we ought to others; we cherish improper feelings, or refuse to make proper acknowledgments, and God will not accept such attempts to worship him.

{t} "thy gift" Deuteronomy 16:16,17

Verse 24. No specific Barnes text on this verse. See Barnes "Matthew 5:23"

Verses 25,26. Agree with thine adversary quickly. This is still an illustration of the sixth commandment. To be in hostility, to go to law, to be litigious, is a violation always, on one side or the other, of the law requiring us to love our neighbour; and our Saviour regards it as a violation of the sixth commandment. While you are in the way with him, says he, that is, while you are going to the court, before the trial has taken place, it is your duty, if possible, to come to an agreement. It is wrong to carry the contention to a court of law. See 1 Corinthians 6:6,7. The consequence of not being reconciled, he expresses in the language of courts. The adversary shall deliver thee to the judge, and he to the executioner, and he shall throw you into prison. He did not mean to say, that this would be literally the way with God; but that His dealings with those that harboured these feelings, and would not be reconciled with their brethren, were represented by the punishment inflicted by human tribunals. That is, he would hold all such as violators of the sixth commandment, and would punish them accordingly.

There is no propriety in the use sometimes made of this verse, in regarding God as the "adversary" of the sinner, and urging him to be reconciled to God while in the way to judgment. Nor does the phrase, "thou shalt by no means come out thence till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing," refer to the eternity of future punishment. It is language taken from courts of justice, to illustrate the truth that God will punish men according to justice, for not being reconciled. It will be eternal, indeed, but this passage does not prove it.

Thine adversary. A man that is opposed to us in law. It here means a creditor; a man who has a just claim on us.

In the way with him. While you are going before the court. Before the trial comes on.

The officer. The executioner; or, as we should say, the sheriff.

The uttermost farthing. The last farthing. All that is due. The farthing was a small coin used in Judea, equal to two mites. It was equal to about seven mills of our money, [three halfpence.]

{u} "deliver thee" Proverbs 25:8; Luke 12:58,59

Verse 26. No specific Barnes text on this verse. See Barnes "Matthew 5:25"

Verses 27,28. Ye have heard--Thou shalt not commit adultery. Our Saviour in these verses explains the seventh commandment. It is probable that the Pharisees had explained this commandment as they had the sixth, as extending only to the external act; and that they regarded evil thoughts and a wanton imagination as of little consequence, or as not forbidden by the law. Our Saviour assures them that the commandment did not regard the external act merely, but the secrets of the heart, and the movements of the eye. That they who indulged a wanton desire; that they who looked on a woman to increase their lust, have already, in the sight of God, violated the commandment, and committed adultery in the heart. Such was the guilt of David, whose deep and awful crime fully shows the danger of indulging in evil desires, and in the rovings of a wanton eye. See 2 Samuel 11:1-27 Psalms 51:1-19. See also 2 Peter 2:14. So exceeding strict and broad is the law of God! And so heinous in his sight are thoughts and feelings, which may be for ever concealed from the world!

Verse 28. No specific Barnes text on this verse. See Barnes "Matthew 5:27"

{v} "looketh on a woman" Job 31:1; Proverbs 6:25

Verse 29. Thy right eye. The Hebrews, like others, were accustomed to represent the affections of the mind by the members or parts of the body, Romans 7:23; 6:13. Thus, the bowels denoted compassion; the heart, affection or feeling; the reins, understanding, secret purpose. An evil eye denotes sometimes envy, (Matthew 20:15) sometimes an evil passion, or sin in general. Mark 7:21,22, "Out of the heart proceedeth an evil eye." In this place as in 2 Peter 2:14 it is used to denote strong adulterous passion, unlawful desire and inclination. The right eye and hand are mentioned, because they are of most use to us, and denote that, however strong the passion may be, or difficult to part with, yet that we should do it.

Shall offend thee. The noun from which the verb "offend," in the original, is derived, commonly means a stumbling-block, or a stone placed in the way, over which one might fall. It also means a net, or a certain part of a net, against which, if a bird strikes, it springs the net, and is taken. It comes to signify, therefore, anything by which we fall, or are ensnared; and, applied to morals, means anything by which we fall into sin, or by which we are ensnared. The English word offend means now, commonly, to displease; to make angry; to affront. This is by no means the sense of the word in Scripture. It means, to cause to fall, or to allure, into sin. The eye does this, when it wantonly looks on a woman to lust after her.

Pluck it out, etc. It cannot be supposed that Christ intended this to be taken literally. His design was to teach that the dearest objects, if they caused us to sin, were to be abandoned; that, by all sacrifices and self-denials, we must overcome the evil propensities of our natures, and resist our wanton imaginations. Some of the Fathers, however, took this commandment literally. Our Saviour several times repeated this sentiment. See Matthew 18:9; Mark 9:43-47. See also 3:5.

It is profitable for thee. It is better for thee. You will be a gainer by it.

One of the members perish. It is better to deny yourself the gratification of an evil passion here, however much it may cost you, than to go down to hell for ever.

Thy whole body be cast into hell. Thy body, with all its unsubdued and vicious propensities. This will constitute no small part of the misery of hell. The sinner will be sent there as he is, with every evil desire, every unsubdued propensity, every wicked and troublesome passion, and yet with no possibility of gratification. It constitutes our highest notions of misery, when we think of a man filled with anger, pride, malice, avarice, envy, and lust, and no opportunity of gratifying them for ever. This is all that is necessary to make an eternal hell.

{1} "offend thee" or, "cause to offend thee"
{w} "cast into hell" Romans 8:13:1; 1 Corinthians 9:27

Verse 30. No Barnes text on this verse.

Verses 31,32. It hath been said, etc. That is, by Moses, Deuteronomy 24:1,2. The husband was directed, if he put his wife away, to give her a bill of divorce, that is, a certificate of the fact that she had been his wife, and that he had dissolved the marriage. There was considerable difference of opinion among the Jews for what causes the husband was permitted to do this. One of their famous schools maintained that it might be done for any cause, however trivial. The other, that adultery only could justify it. The truth was, however, that the husband exercised this right at pleasure; that he was judge in the case, and dismissed his wife when, and for what cause, he chose. And this seems to be agreeable to the law in Deuteronomy. Our Saviour, in Mark 10:1-12, says that this was permitted on account of the hardness of their hearts; but in the beginning it was not so. God made a single pair, and ordained marriage for life. But Moses found the people so much hardened, so long accustomed to the practice, and so rebellious, that, as a matter of civil appointment, he thought it best not to attempt any change. Our Saviour brought marriage back to its original institution, and declared that whosoever put away his wife henceforward should be guilty of adultery. But one offence, he declared, could justify divorce. This is now the law of God. This was the original institution. This is the only law that is productive of peace and good morals, and the due respect of a wife and the good of children. Nor has any man, or set of men, a right to interfere, and declare that divorces may be granted for any other cause. Whosoever, therefore, are divorced for any cause except the single one of adultery, if they marry again, are, according to the Scriptures, living in adultery. No earthly laws can trample down the laws of God, or make that right which he has solemnly pronounced wrong.

{x} "divorcement" Deuteronomy 24:1; Jeremiah 3:1; Mark 10:2-9

Verse 32. No Barnes text on this verse. See Barnes "Matthew 5:31"

{y} "put away his wife" Matthew 19:9; 1 Corinthians 7:10,11

Verse 33. Thou shalt not forswear thyself. Christ here proceeds to correct another false interpretation of the law. The law respecting oaths is found in Leviticus 19:12; Deuteronomy 23:23. By those laws, men were forbid to perjure themselves, or to forswear, that is, swear falsely.

Perform unto the Lord. Perform literally, really, and religiously, what is promised in an oath.

Thine oaths. An oath is a solemn affirmation, or declaration, made with an appeal to God for the truth of what is affirmed, and imprecating his vengeance, and renouncing his favour, if what is affirmed is false. A false oath is called perjury; or, as in this place, forswearing.

It appears, however, from this passage, as well as from the ancient writings of the Jewish Rabbins, that while they professedly adhered to the law, they had introduced a number of oaths in common conversation, and oaths which they by no means considered as binding. For example, they would swear by the temple, by the head, by heaven, by the earth. So long as they kept from swearing by the name Jehovah, and so long as they observed the oaths publicly taken, they seemed to consider all others as allowable, and allowedly broken. This is the abuse which Christ wished to correct. It was the practice of swearing in common conversation, and especially swearing by created things. To do this, he said that they were mistaken in their views of the sacredness of such oaths. They were very closely connected with God; and to trifle with them was a species of trifling with God. Heaven is his throne; the earth his footstool; Jerusalem his peculiar abode; the head was made by him, and was so much under his control, that we could not make one hair white or black. To swear by these things, therefore, was to treat irreverently objects created by God; and could not be without guilt

Our Saviour here evidently had no reference to judicial oaths, or oaths taken in a court of justice. It was merely the foolish and wicked habit of swearing in private conversation; of swearing on every occasion, and by everything, that he condemned. This he does condemn in a most unqualified manner. He himself, however, did not refuse to take an oath in a court of law, Matthew 26:63,64. So Paul often called God to witness his sincerity, which is all that is meant by an oath. See Romans 1:9; 9:1; Galatians 1:20; Hebrews 6:16. Oaths were, moreover, prescribed in the law of Moses, and Christ did not come to repeal those laws. See Exodus 22:11; Leviticus 5:1; Numbers 5:19 Deuteronomy 29:12,14.

{z} "not forswear thyself" Leviticus 19:12; Numbers 30:2; Deuteronomy 23:23

Verses 34,35. Swear not at all. That is, in the manner which he proceeds to specify. Swear not in any of the common and profane ways customary at that time.

By Heaven; for it is God's throne. To swear by that was, if it meant anything, to swear by Him that sitteth thereon, Matthew 23:22.

The earth; for it is his footstool. Swearing by that, therefore, is really swearing by God. Or perhaps it means,

(1.) we have no right to pledge, or swear by, what belongs to God; and,

(2.) that oaths by inanimate objects are unmeaning and wicked. If they are real oaths, they are by a living Being, who has power to take vengeance. A footstool is that on which the feet rest when sitting. The term is applied to the earth, to denote how lowly and humble an object it is when compared with God.

Jerusalem. Matthew 2:1.

City of the great King. That is, of God; called the great King because he was the King of the Israelites, and Jerusalem was the capital of the nation, and the place where he was peculiarly honoured as King.

{a} "neither by heaven" Matthew 23:16-22; James 5:12

Verse 35. No notes from Barnes on this verse. See Barnes "Matthew 5:34"

{b} "the city of the great King" Revelation 21:2,10.

Verse 36. Thy head. This was a common oath. The Gentiles also many of them used this oath. To swear by the head was the same as to swear by the life; or to say, I will forfeit my life if what I say is not true. God is the Author of the life, and to swear by that, therefore, is the same as to swear by him.

One hair, etc. You have no control or right over your own life. You cannot even change one single hair. God has all that control; and it is therefore improper and profane to pledge what is God's gift and God's property; and it is the same as swearing by God himself.

Verse 37. Your communication. Your word; what you say.

Be, Yea. Yes. This does not mean that we should always use the word yea, for it might as well have been translated yes. But it means that we should simply affirm, or declare that a thing is so.

More than these. More than these affirmations. Profane oaths come of evil.

Cometh of evil. Is evil. Proceeds from some evil disposition or purpose. And from this we may learn,

(1.) that profane swearing is always the evidence of a depraved heart. To trifle with the name of God, or with any of his works, is itself most decided proof of depravity.

(2.) That no man is believed any sooner in common conversation because he swears to a thing. When we hear a man swear to a thing, it is pretty good evidence that he knows what he is saying to be false, and we should be on our guard. He that will break the third commandment, will not hesitate to break the ninth also. And this explains the fact that profane swearers are seldom believed. The man who is always believed, is he whose character is beyond suspicion in all things; who obeys all the laws of God; and whose simple declaration therefore is enough. A man that is truly a Christian, and leads a Christian life, does not need oaths and profaneness to make him believed.

(3.) It is no mark of a gentleman to swear. The most worthless and vile; the refuse of mankind; the drunkard and the prostitute, swear as well as the best dressed and educated gentleman. No particular endowments are requisite to give a finish to the art of cursing. The basest and meanest of mankind swear with as much tact and skill as the most refined; and he that wishes to degrade himself to the very lowest level of pollution and shame, should learn to be a common swearer. Any man has talents enough to learn to curse God, and his fellow-men, and to pray--for every man who swears, prays--that God would sink him and others into hell. No profane man knows but that God will hear his prayer, and send him to the regions of woe.

(4.) Profaneness does no man any good. No man is the richer, or wiser, or happier for it. It helps no one's education, or manners. It commends no one to any society. The profane man must be, of course, shut out from female society; and no refined intercourse can consist with it. It is disgusting to the refined; abominable to the good; insulting to those with whom we associate; degrading to the mind; unprofitable, needless, and injurious, in society; and awful in the sight of God.

(5.) God will not hold the profane swearer guiltless. Wantonly to profane his name; to call his vengeance down; to curse him on his throne; to invoke damnation, is perhaps of all offences the most awful. And there is not in the universe more cause of amazement at his forbearance, than that God does not rise in vengeance, and smite the profane swearer at once to hell. Verily, in a world like this, where his name is profaned every day, and hour, and moment, by thousands, God shows that he is slow to anger, and that his mercy is without bounds !

{c} "these cometh of evil" James 5:12

Verses 38-41. An eye for an eye, etc. This command is found in Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21. In these places it was given as a rule to regulate the decisions of judges. They were to take eye for eye, and tooth for tooth, and to inflict burning for a burning. As a judicial rule it is not unjust. Christ finds no fault with the rule as applied to magistrates, and does not take upon himself to repeal it. But, instead of confining it to magistrates, the Jews had extended it to private conduct, and made it the rule by which to take revenge. They considered themselves justified, by this rule, to inflict the same injury on others that they had received. Against this our Saviour remonstrates. He declares that the law had no reference to private revenge; that it was given only to regulate the magistrate; and that their private conduct was to be regulated by different principles. The general principle which he laid down was, that we are not to resist evil; that is, as it is in the Greek, not to set ourselves against an evil person who is injuring us. But even this general direction is not to be pressed too strictly. Christ did not intend to teach that we are to see our families murdered, or to be murdered ourselves, rather than to make resistance. The law of nature, and all laws, human and Divine, have justified self-defence, when life is in danger. It cannot surely be the intention to teach that a father should sit by coolly, and see his family butchered by savages, and not be allowed to defend them. Neither natural nor revealed religion ever did, or ever can, teach this doctrine. Our Saviour immediately explains what he means by it. Had he intended to refer it to a case where life is in danger, he would most surely have mentioned it. Such a case was far more worthy of statement than those which he did mention. A doctrine so unusual, so unlike all that the world had believed, and that the best men had acted on, deserved to be formally stated. Instead of doing this, however, he confines himself to smaller matters, to things of comparatively trivial interest, and says, that in these we had better take wrong than to enter into strife and lawsuits. The first case is, where we are smitten on the cheek. Rather than contend and fight, we should take it patiently, and turn the other cheek. This does not, however, prevent our remonstrating firmly, yet mildly, on the injustice of the thing, and insisting that justice should be done us, as is evident from the example of the Saviour himself. See John 18:23. The second evil mentioned is, where a man is litigious, and determined to take all the advantage the law can give him; following us with vexatious and expensive lawsuits. Our Saviour directs us, rather than to imitate him--rather than to contend with a revengeful spirit in courts of justice, and to perpetual broils--so take a trifling injury, and yield to him. This is merely a question about property, and not about conscience and life.

Coat. The Jews wore two principal garments, an interior and an exterior. The interior, here called the "coat," or the tunic, was made commonly of linen, and encircled the whole body, extending down to the knees. Sometimes beneath this garment, as in the case of the priests, there was another garment, corresponding to pantaloons. The coat, or tunic, was extended to the neck, and had long or short sleeves. Over this was commonly worn an upper garment, here called "cloak," or mantle. It was made commonly nearly square, of different sizes, five or six cubits long, and as many broad, and wrapped around the body, and thrown off when labour was performed. This was the garment which is said to have been without seam, woven throughout, John 19:23. If, said Christ, an adversary wished to obtain, at law, one of these garments, rather than contend with him, let him have the other also. A reference to various articles of apparel occurs frequently in the New Testament, and it is desirable to have a correct view of the ancient mode of dress, in order to a correct understanding of the Bible. The Asiatic modes of dress are nearly the same from age to age; and hence it is not difficult to illustrate the passages where such a reference occurs. The ordinary dress consisted of the inner garment, the outer garment, the girdle, and the sandals. In regard to the sandals, See Barnes "Matthew 3:11". The preceding cut will give a sufficiently accurate representation of the more simple and usual modes in which the garments were worn.

The following cuts will also show the usual form and use of the girdle. In the girdle was the place of the purse, (Matthew 10:9) and to it the sword and dirk were commonly attached. Comp. 2 Samuel 20:8. In modern times, the pistols are also fastened to the girdle. It is the common place for the handkerchief, smoking materials, ink-horn, and in general the implements of one's profession. The girdle served to confine the loose flowing robe, or outer garment, to the body. It held the garment when it was tucked up, as it was usually in walking, or in labour. Thence, to gird up the loins became a significant figurative expression, denoting readiness for service, activity, labour, and watchfulness; and to loose the loins, denoted the giving way to repose and indolence, 2 Kings 4:29; Job 38:3 Isaiah 5:27; Luke 12:35; John 21:7.

{d} "eye for an eye" Exodus 21:24

Verse 39. No Barnes text on this verse. See Barnes "Matthew 5:38"

{e} "resist not evil" Proverbs 20:22; 24:29; Romans 12:17-19
{f} "smite thee" Isaiah 1:6

Verse 40. No Barnes text on this verse. See Barnes "Matthew 5:38"

Verse 41. Whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile. The word translated shall compel, is of Persian origin. Post-offices were then unknown. In order that the royal commands might be delivered with safety and despatch in different parts of the empire, Cyrus stationed horsemen at proper intervals on all the great public highways. One of those delivered the message to another, and intelligence was thus rapidly and safely communicated. These heralds were permitted to compel any person, or to press any horse, boat, ship, or other vehicle that they might need, for the quick transmission of the king's commandments. It was to this custom that our Saviour refers. Rather, says he, than resist a public authority, requiring your attendance and aid for a certain distance, go peaceably twice the distance.

A mile. A Roman mile was a thousand paces.

Twain. Two.

Verse 42. Give to him that asketh thee. This is the general rule. It is better to give sometimes to an undeserving person, than to turn away one really necessitous. It is good to be in the habit of giving. At the same time, the rule must be interpreted so as to be consistent with our duty to our families, (1 Timothy 5:8) and with other objects of justice and charity. It is seldom, perhaps never, good to give to a man that is able to work, 2 Thessalonians 3:10. To give to such is to encourage laziness, and to support the idle at the expense of the industrious. If such a man is indeed hungry, feed him; if he wants anything farther, give him employment. If a widow, an orphan, a man of misfortune, or a man infirm, lame, or sick, is at your door, never send them away empty. See Hebrews 13:2; Matthew 25:35-45. So of a poor and needy friend that wishes to borrow. We are not to turn away, or deny him. This deserves, however, some limitation. It must be done in consistency with other duties. To lend to every worthless man, would be to throw away our property, encourage laziness and crime, and ruin our families. It should be done consistently, and of this every man is to be the judge. Perhaps our Saviour meant to teach that where there was a deserving friend or brother in want, we should lend to him, without usury, and without standing much about the security.

{g} "turn not thou away" Deuteronomy 15:7,11

Verse 43. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. The command to love our neighbour was a law of God, Leviticus 19:18. That we must, therefore, hate our enemy, was an inference drawn from it by the Jews. They supposed that if we loved the one, we must, of course, hate the other. They were total strangers to that great, peculiar law of religion, which requires us to love both. A neighbour is literally one that lives near to us; then, one that is near to us by acts of kindness and friendship. This is its meaning here. See also Luke 10:36.

{h} "Thou shalt love thy neighbour" Deuteronomy 23:6

Verse 44. Love your enemies. There are two kinds of love, involving the same general feeling, or springing from the same fountain of goodwill to all mankind, but differing still so far as to admit of separation in idea. The one is that feeling by which we approve of the conduct of another, commonly called the love of complacency; the other, by which we wish well to the person of another, though we cannot approve his conduct. This is the love of benevolence; and this love we are to bear towards our enemies. It is impossible to love the conduct of a man that curses and reviles us, and injures our person or property, or that violates all the laws of God; but though we may hate his conduct, and feel deeply that we are affected by it, yet we may still wish well to the person; we may pity his madness and folly; we may speak kindly of him, and to him; we may not return evil for evil; we may aid him in the time of trial; and seek to do him good here, and to promote his eternal welfare hereafter, Romans 12:17-20. This seems to be what is meant by loving our enemies; and this is a peculiar law of Christianity, and the highest possible test of piety, and probably the most difficult of all duties to be performed.

Bless them that curse you. The word bless here means to speak well of or to. Not to curse again, or to slander, but to speak of those things which we can commend in an enemy; or if there is nothing that we can commend, to say nothing about him. The word bless, spoken of God, means to regard with favour, or to confer benefits, as when God is said to bless his people. When we speak of our blessing God, it means to praise him, or give thanks to him. When we speak of blessing men, it unites the two meanings, and signifies to confer favour, to thank, or to speak well of.

Despitefully use you. The word thus translated means, first, to injure by prosecution in law; then, wantonly and unjustly to accuse, and to injure in any way. This seems to be its meaning here.

Persecute. See Matthew 5:10.

{k} "pray for them" Luke 23:34; Acts 7:60

Verse 45. That ye may be the children of your Father. In Greek, the sons of your Father. The word son has a variety of significations. See Barnes "Matthew 1:1". Christians were called the sons or children of God in several of these senses: as his offspring; as adopted; as his disciples; as imitators of him. In this passage, the word is used because, in doing good to enemies, they resemble God. He makes his sun to rise on the evil and good, and sends rain, without distinction, on the just and unjust. So his people should show that they imitate or resemble him, or possess his spirit by doing good in a similar way.

{l} "sun to rise" Job 25:3

Verse 46. What reward have ye?, The word reward seems to be used in the sense of deserving of praise, or reward. If you only love those that love you, you are selfish, you are not disinterested; it is not genuine love for the character, but love for the benefit; and you deserve no commendation. The very publicans would do the same.

The Publicans, The publicans were tax gatherers. Judea was a province of the Roman empire. The Jews bore this foreign yoke with great impatience, and paid their taxes with great reluctance. It happened, therefore, that those who were appointed to collect taxes were objects of great detestation. They were, beside, men who would be supposed to execute their office at all hazards; men who were willing to engage in an odious and hated employment; men often of abandoned characters, oppressive in their exactions, and dissolute in their lives. By the Jews they were associated in character with thieves, and adulterers, and those who were profane and dissolute. Christ says that even these wretched men would love their benefactors.

Verse 47. And if ye salute your brethren, etc. The word salute here means to show the customary tokens of civility, or to treat with the common marks of friendship. See Barnes "Luke 10:4". He says that the worst men, the very publicans, would do this. Christians should do more; they should show that they had a different spirit; they should treat their enemies as well as wicked men did their friends. This should be done,

(1.) because it is right; it is the only really amiable spirit; and,

(2.) we should show that religion is not selfish, and is superior to all other principles of action.

Verse 48. Be ye therefore perfect, he concludes this part of the discourse by commanding his disciples to be perfect. This word commonly means finished, complete, pure, holy. Originally it is applied to a piece of mechanism, as a machine that is complete in its parts. Applied to men, it refers to completeness of parts, or perfection, when no part is defective or wanting. Thus Job (Job 1:1) is said to be perfect; that is, not holy as God, or sinless--for fault is afterwards found with him, (Job 9:20; 42:6) but his piety was proportionate--had a completeness of parts--was consistent and regular, he exhibited his religion as a prince, a father, an individual, a benefactor of the poor. He was not merely a pious man in one place, but uniformly. He was consistent everywhere. This was the meaning in Matthew. Be not religious merely in loving your friends and neighbours, but let your piety be shown in loving your enemies; be perfect; imitate God; let the piety be complete, and proportionate, and regular. This every Christian may be; this every Christian must be.

{m} "Be ye therefore perfect" Genesis 17:1; Deuteronomy 18:13; Luke 6:36,40; 1:28

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REMARKS on Chapter 5
====================
1. The gospel pronounces blessings on things far different from what the world has thought to be a source of happiness. Men suppose that happiness is to be found in mirth, in wealth, in honour, in esteem, in freedom from persecution. Christ says that it is to be sought in the reverse. Often men are most happy in poverty, in sickness, in persecution, when supported by the presence and promises of a merciful God. And if God appoints our station there, we should submit to it, and learn therewith to be content.

2. We may see the evil of anger. It is a species of murder If secretly cherished, or exhibited by contempt and injury, it must bring down the displeasure of God. It is a source of misery. True enjoyment is found in meekness, peace, calmness, and benevolence. In such a firmness, and steadiness, and dependence on God, as to keep the soul unruffled in the midst of provocation, is happiness. Such was Christ.

3. We see the evil of indelicacy of feeling and sentiment, and the extreme strictness and severity of the law respecting the intercourse of the sexes, (Matthew 5:28.) And yet what law is more frequently violated? By obscene anecdotes and tales; by songs and jibes; by double meanings and innuendoes; by looks and gestures; by conversation, and obscene books and pictures, this law of our Saviour is perpetually violated. If there is any one sentiment of most value for the comfort, the character, the virtuous sociability of the young--one that will shed the greatest charm over society, and make it the most pure--it is that which inculcates perfect delicacy and purity in the intercourse of the sexes. Virtue of any kind never blooms when this is not cherished. Modesty and purity once gone, every flower that would diffuse its fragrance over life, withers and dies with it. There is no one sin that so withers and blights every virtue; none that so enfeebles and prostrates every ennobling feeling of the soul, as to indulge in a life of impurity. How should purity dwell in the heart; breathe from the lips; kindle in the eye; live in the imagination; and dwell in the intercourse of all the young! An eternal, avenging God is near to every wanton thought; marks every eye that kindles with impure desire; rolls the thunder of justice over every polluted soul; and is preparing woe for every violator of the laws of purity and chastity, Proverbs 7:22,23; 5:5; 2:18.

4. Revenge is equally forbidden. Persecution, slander, wilful prosecution, anger, personal abuse, duelling, suicide, murder, are all violations of the law of God, and all must call down his vengeance.

5. We are bound to love our enemies, This is a law of Christianity, original and peculiar. No system but this has required it, and no act of Christian piety is more difficult. None shows more the power of the grace of God; none is more ornamental to the character; none more like God; and none furnishes better evidence of piety. He that can meet a man kindly who is seeking his hurt; who can speak well of one that is perpetually slandering and cursing him; that can pray for a man that abuses, injures, and wounds him; and that can seek heaven for him that wishes his damnation, is in the way to life. This is religion, beautiful as its native skies; pure like its Source; kind like its Author; fresh like the dews of the morning; clear and diffusive like the beams of the rising sun; and holy like the feelings and words that come from the bosom of the Son of God. He that can do this need not doubt that he is a Christian. He has caught the very spirit of the Saviour, and he must inherit eternal life.


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.

Bibliography Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Matthew 5". "Barnes' Notes on the New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bnn/view.cgi?book=mt&chapter=005>.  

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