Notes on Matthew 15

Matthew 15  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 7
In this chapter the great controversy with the people, a controversy at bottom with the heart of man, is continued, but on moral ground; always in the midst of Israel, but full of instruction for all ages. It is ordinance in contrast with the morality willed by God, which is immutable in this sense that it refers to the relations in which man is found placed whether with God or with man, which consists in the maintenance in walk of that which suits those relations. Once God has found these relations, whether of the creature with Himself or of His creatures among themselves, the duties exist of themselves, being only the practical expression of the relation, as a true worship rendered to God, or piety and filial obedience with every other consequence of those relations. Now the corrupted heart of man loves its own will and the satisfaction of its lusts too much to fulfill its duties; and forms of piety which feed its self-love please it more than duties and leave it free to follow its lusts. Neither God nor His character is truly known. God is not honored by the heart, and the heart is not purified. To wash his hands suits such a man better than a pure heart or approaching God really.
The Lord touches distinctly this moral plague, showing at the same time that the worship of these hypocrites was as far as possible from being accepted of God; that the commandments of men could not but put God aside and exalt man to the detriment of the divine glory. The commandments of God were nullified, His worship encroached on by the false authority of man, and in vain offered by the same persons who were dragged along in the current (for the heart of man is easily subdued by such pretensions to piety), and man replaced God in what acted on the heart.
The Lord takes care to protest openly against the very principles which led to this hypocrisy while addressing the crowd that He called to Him. There is nothing the Lord detests more than human religion, the traditions of men. Nothing shuts out God more while abusing His name and thus subjecting, consciences which do not know Him truly.
Nothing however is more simple; what issues from the heart is what defiles the man. But we see how the heart of man is influenced by these things, and how the simple by this means fall under the influence of hypocrites and of every class of religious teachers. The Pharisees were scandalized at it, said the disciples. And no wonder. To have a conscience before God according to His word, and in the light of God for itself, spoiled all their business. But through love for us, through the necessity of what is true and good, this is what must be.
Then, at the point at which we have arrived in the history of the Savior, it was no longer a question of minding these false doctors—these were not plants that the heavenly Father of our Lord had planted. They were to be rooted up. It was needful to leave them—a solemn thought with regard to the people and still more for Christianity! These were blind leaders of the blind; both were falling into the ditch.
As to the disciples, the Lord's answer goes much farther, while at the same time it makes evident the apostle's want of intelligence; in effect, the principle is evident. But what a picture of the heart of man followed, thanks be to God, by that of the heart of God and of His ways in grace! That which went out of the heart defiled the man. All is simple. But what is it that went out from it? Evil thoughts, murders, then a terrible list of those dark productions of a depraved and corrupt heart. But cannot the Lord relieve a little this gloomy picture by touches of light which are found in these hearts? He finds none. Thus characterized, He leaves the heart of man. He was not wanting in goodness, He knew the heart—knew everything about man; but beyond that list He is silent. It is not saying that there are not amiable features in the natural heart (that may be so even in animals), but morally this is what comes out of the heart, the fruits of the root of the sin which is there, restrained, kept in, modified, yet the fruit that man's heart produces wherever he is permitted to follow his inclinations.
Thus the Lord passes from the hypocritical customs used by man to cover what he is and to give himself a religious character (even though the truths which he professes may be divine, and the, system in its origin emanating from God)—passes, from traditions of men and the vain worship of human ordinances, to the heart which it seeks to cover, and lays it bare. We learn what is in the heart, as God sees it in those who are not among the plants planted by the Father. And their religion which concealed it—what was it? Hypocrisy, and God set aside by human ordinances.
Thus we see, in a people that God had brought near to Himself and in a religion that He had Himself established, God set aside in order to bring in man, his holy traditions and his commandments with hands washed in the place of his heart; and then, what the natural heart is in its fruits before God.
Now the Lord passes in the most striking manner to what is outside all the promises, to a race that was accursed according to the promises made to the people of God, to the place that the Lord quotes as an example of hardness of heart (chap. 11), and shows, whilst at the Same time recognizing the dispensations of God towards His people, and His faithfulness in sending them the Messiah, what a heart comes to that is driven by its need and by the faith which goes right to the heart of God, and what that divine heart is for the wants that faith brings to Him, what He is in Himself outside dispensational rules. The Lord goes towards Tire and Sidon. A Canaanitish woman comes towards Him. Her daughter was tormented with a demon. She recognizes the Lord, as the heir of the promises in Israel, as Son of David. This was truly faith as to His person; but what part had a Canaanitish woman with the promises made to Israel or with the blessings that were granted to them as the people of God? The Lord does not answer her. Deeper lessons were to be given of what man is, but also of what God is.
The disciples would have wished the Lord to grant her what she asked, in order to get rid of her; but the Lord maintains His place as Son of David. He is sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The need of the poor woman rises above her formal acknowledgment of Jesus as Son of David. “Lord, help me.” Her wants are simple. They are plainly declared. But the Lord wishes to put her thoroughly to the test. “It is not meet to take the children's bread and to cast it unto dogs.” The Lord acknowledges the dispensations of God with respect to His people, however wicked they might be, and the woman does so also; but lessons far deeper are here taught. The poor woman—man as shown in her, finds his place. He is under the curse, without promise, having a right to nothing, or the power of the demon. He must own his condition, and this is what the woman does. She is a dog, but in need. Her hope is not in any right that she possesses, but in the free goodness of God. It is a need which comes face to face with God come in grace. She fully recognizes what she is, a dog; but she maintains that, if it be so, there is sufficient goodness in God for such beings. Could God say, No, there is not? Could Christ represent Himself thus? Impossible. By faith want is met across all the obstacles of Jewish rights and of personal un-worthiness, thoroughly owning them, but placing itself outside every right in immediate contact with the goodness of God.
Such is faith. It recognizes the state of ruin and of wretchedness in which we are; humble and true, it brings its need to God, but counts on what He is. Now He cannot deny Himself. Besides, it is the key to all the gospel. Jesus was the Christ, the Son of David, a minister of the circumcision; but behind, so to speak, God was there, in all the fullness of His grace, and He passed over the strait limits of Israel and of the promises to be Himself in grace—grace which sufficed for everything. The curse might be there, complete unworthiness; but if want was there and placed itself by faith on the ground of the grace and goodness of God, the barriers disappeared, want and God met together, and the answer was according to His sovereign goodness, the riches of His grace, and according to the faith which counted upon it. The daughter was healed, the Canaanitish woman happy, and God in Christ revealed.