Notes on Matthew 19

Matthew 19
So here in chap. 19 the Lord goes back to the beginning. He Himself could say “Consider the lilies.” Thus the lesson is, how would that which God at the beginning instituted be affected by the new order of things? There were three great sects among the Jews when the Lord was here, but only two come before is in Scripture, the third is not even mentioned though it is evidently dealt with—that of the Essenes—and it is generally thought that in the Epistle to the Colossians, the Spirit has these before Him and deals with them— “Touch not, taste not, handle not... which things have indeed a show of wisdom in neglecting of the body” etc. That was their line of things dealing severely with their bodies, but they were unsupported by the word of God in what they were doing. That is the sect, and some of the saints were being affected by them. Nothing can be wrong that is instituted by God. You ought by His grace to be a better husband and father and all else, and so able to adorn the doctrine.
Now we must take particular notice of what the Spirit says to us in the beginning of this chapter. The Lord finally bids farewell to Galilee But before He comes into Judaea several important events take place between Galilee and Judah, and perhaps it would make the subject here the more remarkable that the part mentioned was under the jurisdiction of Herod Antipas, who had married his brother's wife. The sanctity of the marriage tie is here impressed on us, for when the Lord was here it was very loosely held. The disciples themselves thought it a good thing to be able to put away their wives if they displeased them. Now Christendom is going back to the filth out of which it had been rescued. What we should keep before our minds is not only that God, as Creator, made male and female, but He made one male and one female. In Genesis it says “Male and female created He them, and called their name Adam.”
In ver. 7 they say, “Why did Moses then command?” etc. He did nothing of the sort. He gave liberty; but never commanded; so the Lord takes them up and says he “suffered you.” No doubt it was allowed in order to prevent worse sin, because of the hardness of the heart. The woman may suffer by fear, and the man be characterized by anger. If a daughter made a vow it had to be ratified by her father. But Jehovah hated this putting away. So we get the instructions in 1 Cor. 7 that the believing wife or husband is not to put away an unbeliever if pleased to dwell together. “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.” It was very different in Israel, as we learn from Ezra and Nehemiah. They were not on Christian ground, and so Israel had to put away these unholy alliances. But now a believing husband or wife is not to put away the unbeliever. There is only one exception, which in God's sight dissolves the tie. So that putting away in that case only makes public what already exists under God's eye. The disciples say, “If the case of a man be so with his wife it is not good to marry,” which shows how they were affected by the evil. Living the truth before the eyes of the unbeliever is what God will honor (1 Peter 3:11Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; (1 Peter 3:1)).
Ver. 12. Paul was an instance of the case last mentioned in this verse. If we read 2 Corinthians 11 and see what Paul went through (because of the naughty ways of the Corinthians it was that he was obliged to allude to it) it shows how he would not have been free to pursue such a path had he had a wife and family. Peter was married before his conversion.
Ver. 13. What should they ask the Lord to pray? We could not say that was right, though evidently they wanted His blessing. How will children be affected by the new order of things? That is the point. “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings Thou hast perfected praise.” In Luke they were literally babes that were brought. They were not all such, as He uses the child as a model of simplicity and humbleness, so they must have been a little grown up. The disciples were annoyed, and thought that their Master had more important work than attending to children. He was misunderstood by all. I have known people who held non-eternity of punishment, and that the kingdom of heaven was alone the millennium, to have queer notions about these little ones, even that they will be the progenitors of those who will live in the kingdom! When the Lord lays His hand it is a hand of blessing and power. Those who touched the Lord gave a touch of faith, but His was a touch of power. There was that in His touch which meant blessing to those dear children. There is wonderful encouragement here to parents to bring their children to the Lord. When Israel said that they and their children would perish in the wilderness, the Lord told them that they themselves should, but that the little ones would be brought into the land.
In the early period of the Lord's ministry people marveled at the gracious words He spoke, and even the officers could say, “Never man spake like this man.” But the Lord revealed Himself to the conscience. This young man accosted the Lord on the level of human opinion. He had read of eternal life and he came to the Lord as one who could give him a right answer. If that teacher was only a human teacher he would be only a blind leader of the blind. So His words imply, 'Am I not more than good? Am I not God?' If He were not God, He was (I say it with all reverence) the basest of impostors. The Lord knew what the effect of His words would be; He tests the conscience. There is no one good but God. We come as a receiver, not as an earner. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” The Pharisees by some means had found out there was such a thing as eternal life. It is only mentioned twice in the Old Testament. The life generally referred to there is temporal, not eternal. The law proposed life, “This do and thou shalt live.” So the Lord took the young man up on his own ground. He addresses him on the ground of his responsibility to his fellow creatures. If you are on the ground of doing, it is all up with you. It is not what we give up, nor yet what we bring to God but what we receive. If he had only done what was right between man and man it would have been something. Are you not richer than your neighbor? Sell that thou hast and give to the poor and thou shalt have treasure in heaven and come and follow Me. If I am good, follow the good.
As far as what we have here is concerned, there was one afterward who could say, “Touching the righteousness which is of the law, blameless!” —that is the outward observance of the law, for he would not have known lust except the law had said, “Thou shalt not covet.” That had to do with what was inward, and proved him guilty. You have often told your child to do what you knew he could not do in order that he might learn his incapacity. So did God thus act in giving the law. And He has justified Himself too by giving it, but God's unconditional grace has proved that on no ground of law can man be justified. Those who are saved are vessels of mercy which He has afore prepared unto glory. Those who are lost are vessels of wrath fitted, not foreordained, to destruction—they fitted themselves. Every one will have to justify God in His dealings with them. “That thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest.” It is impossible for God to do wrong. The law was our schoolmaster unto Christ; it hemmed us in, as it were, on every side to show us there was no chance at all for us except in Christ, shut us up in unbelief to show us the necessity of coming to Him. If you turn to the Acts and see the addresses given to the Jews and then to the Gentiles, you will find a vast difference. To the Jews the apostle appeals to the word of God, to others he appeals to creation. It is only when Christ came that the truth came out in its fullness that man was lost. His is a hopeless condition, but that was not revealed till the remedy was there. You cannot get too great a view of your ruin; and your need of an infinite Savior. There was an intimation of Him in Hos. 13, “O Israel thou hast destroyed thyself, but in Me is thy help.”
This young man was only waiting for the Lord's approval of all he had done; and that he did not get. Earthly parents may be mistaken in their judgment of us, but the Lord never. Paul's thorn in the flesh was given in love. If we do not understand all His ways with us are we not called, nevertheless, to trust in Him? The Lord puts the young man to the test. “If thou wilt be perfect,” up to the full measure of the law's requirements, nothing lacking, “go and sell that thou hast” etc. Thou shalt not lose by it, not only will the future be secured, but yourself also. “Follow Me.” Paul did accomplish what this young man could not. He had tasted grace so richly, and had a true knowledge, a surpassing knowledge, of the same One who here speaks to this young man. And it was this knowledge of the Lord Jesus which enabled Paul to give up what he could not otherwise so readily have done. What things were gain to him he counts them (not lost but) loss, not anything he regretted.
It was a surprise to the young man no doubt when he was just waiting to get the Teacher's approval! What a test, “Go and sell that thou hast,” etc. It is a very narrow gate that leads to life, and it will not admit any of these things.
It is the kingdom we have before us, and it shows that what is given up here for the Lord, makes one an immense gainer. Do any of us realize what it is to follow Christ? to have treasure in heaven, and treasures here too—a loss that produces incomparable gain and joy unspeakable? The disciples as Jews would regard it somewhat of advantage if a man was in a position to bring a bullock as an offering rather than able only to bring a dove. Some were so poor that they could only bring a handful of flour, a little bit of appreciation of the Lord's person, though not realizing His death. It has been said that it is surprising what a little bit of truth has been used to a soul's conversion. Here riches are regarded as a great impediment.
In ver. 24 it is not only the thought of impediment, but that there must be a divine work of grace in the soul, for that would apply as much to a poor man as to a rich. Sometimes children are told that the needle's eye was the narrow side-gate through which the camel could only squeeze when unladen! But the fact of the matter is, that it is meant to be an illustration of a natural impossibility. Man must be brought where the jailer was brought, to a cry of terror, “What must I do to be saved?” Nicodemus was brought in a quieter way, “How can these things be?” We must have our months shut. Directly the disciples say “Who then can be saved?” the Lord saves Bartimaeus as we find in Luke, and then He saves Zacchæus the rich man, who shows us an earnestness, going before and climbing the tree etc., so there were difficulties, but salvation came that day to his house. If salvation comes the devil will raise difficulties. If you go with the tide you will be popular. In the case of Zacchæus the great point is “This day.” Though chief of the publicans, it had been his habit to give to the poor and to restore fourfold if unwittingly wronging anybody, but excellent as all this was, it did not bring him salvation. “This day” it came, with the Lord's gracious words of power to him, and Zaccheus made haste and came down from the tree, and received Him joyfully. That is how salvation came. If a person has life in his soul it is characterized by obedience, and a desire to do the Lord's will. When Saul of Tarsus was struck down the first sign of divine life was “Behold, he playeth.” He turned to God, and prayer was the first action of divine life in his soul; but he had not peace till three days after. He could challenge his companions, 'Can you find fault with me?' for as touching the righteousness of the law, he was outwardly blameless, but he could not challenge God; the commandment came home, sin revived, and he died. “Who then can be saved?” “The chief of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:1515This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. (1 Timothy 1:15)); and that means that the door which was high enough and wide enough to admit the man who was inspired of God to call himself “chief,” is high enough and wide enough to admit any who come after. It is not a mere sentiment that you and I might have if we get a glimpse of ourselves, but the Spirit of God inspired the apostle Paul to write himself as “chief.” You are quite right to look at yourself in the sight of God and say, 'I am as bad as any'; but God has shown us a pattern man, both as a sinner and as a saint. Our fallen nature is the same in every individual, the Holy Ghost calls it “the same lump” (Rom. 9:2121Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor? (Romans 9:21)). So I shall never meet one with a worse nature than myself, but Paul was speaking of his path, and of what he had done. Out of that same lump are taken vessels of mercy and vessels of wrath. We do not measure guilt as God does. It is a terrible thing when maliciousness and injuriousness and persecution are carried out under the garb of religion. And we may think of these depraved as the worst sinners, yet the Lord says it shall be more tolerable for Tire and Sidon than for Capernaum. We do not read of any special depravity in Capernaum, but they had had the Lord Jesus amongst them and had rejected Him.
Ver. 27. Peter did not leave the fishing when it was a failure, but when he had had the best day's catch he had ever known. And the Lord was not unmindful. He healed his wife's mother. In the next verse we get a word “regeneration,” which only occurs here, and in Titus 3 It is a new condition of things, a new state; here it refers to the millennium. If here it is, “Ye which have followed Me,” in Luke 22 the Lord could say, “Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations.” He is sitting on the Father's throne now; when He comes in His kingdom He will sit on His own throne, and we shall sit with Him there. No creature will ever sit on the Father's throne. What has been conferred on Him, is manifested glory, and this He gives us to share with Him! “When Christ, who is our life, shall be manifested, then shall we also be manifested with him in glory.” As the One who had done a perfect work He sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high (Heb. 1:33Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high; (Hebrews 1:3)). He has not taken one tittle of my sins up there. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” What is there in Christ to condemn? If you are in Him, there is nothing to condemn. That does not mean there is nothing in our ways for the Father's appraisement, but that no guilt attaches to us before God. “By one offering He hath perfected in perpetuity” —without a break— “those that are sanctified.” Where grace brings salvation it teaches “us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world.” It never teaches you that you are better.
The question of reward should never be our motive. It is given to us as an encouragement, but our motive should be the glory of God. The apostle Paul with all his labors had not a greater title to the glory than the dying thief, for the greatest blessings are common to all saints; and the sweetest reward will he the white stone, the mark of the Lord's secret approval. That will be a great deal better than outward display. But it was a poor thing for Peter to bring this in here; we are not always wise. Sovereign grace is a great thing to hold fast all the way. There are the two sides given us in the word. God tells us what is becoming on our part, and then tells us what He will do. The best can only say, “We are unprofitable servants,” but the Lord will say, “Well done good and faithful servant.” If you have been true to the Lord He will not forget it. Another thing to remember is that God of necessity must be right. That is what is brought out here, “God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love.” There is something wrong about us when the Holy Spirit has to occupy us with ourselves. It is a blessed thing when He is free to occupy us with Christ.
Ver. 27. This was quite true. Peter did not turn his back on his business when it was unsuccessful, but when he had had such a very good day's fishing. The Lord shows our particular path here is preparing us for our place in the coming kingdom. Faithfulness in what is committed to us now determines our place in the kingdom. This is not actually the new heavens and the new earth that is before us; it is the millennium. “The regeneration” here answers to the new heaven and the new earth of Isaiah, not to the eternal state. We shall never sit on the Father's throne but on the Savior's throne. “To him that overcometh will I give to sit with me on my throne, even as I also overcame and am set down with my Father on his throne.” “Judging” here is in the sense of rule, to take up the cause of, and execute, justice. “Receive a hundredfold,” that is in the present; and “shall inherit everlasting life,” there it is in all its fullness. The believer has it now; it is for him to enjoy. “But to them that by patient continuance in well doing, seek for honor and glory and incorruptibility, eternal life” (Rom. 2:77To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life: (Romans 2:7)). This is at the end. He has it before him in all its blessedness.
Well, we find John, as a rule, presents eternal life as a present possession. We readily admit that eternal life is in the Son; but if, as some dare to teach, no one has it, what sense is there in the expression “We know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him?” It may help any that may have a difficulty about the O.T. saints not knowing they had it, if we say that they all had both life and righteousness, for the two go together. They were quickened. “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness.” He was justified, therefore he had eternal life, because life and righteousness go together. The law demanded righteousness, but never imparted life. But the knowledge of it is another matter. As an illustration of the difference between possessing and knowing, take a later truth. The body of Christ, the mystery, of which every believer since Pentecost is a member, was formed then, when the Holy Ghost was given. Believers were then baptized by the Holy Ghost into one body. After I believed the word of truth, the gospel of my salvation, I was sealed, and received the Holy Ghost. But there was no revelation about that “one body” until it was given to Paul. The first intimation of it after it was formed was, “Why persecutest thou me?” It was then existing.
The only other passage in which “regeneration” occurs is Titus 3:5. Almost invariably in Christian writings it is taken as new birth, whereas it really means a new order of things. The; run close together, but we must not confound them. We are already in the new order of things. “The Father himself loveth you.” The kindness and love toward man of God our Savior” in Titus 3 is “philanthropy” —a different thing from man's philanthropy indeed.
Ver. 30 differs from ver. 16 of chap. 20, the order being inverted. A person may commence very well, as did the Galatians. Some may go on for a considerable period, and then break down like Demas, for example. This is what Scripture links together—the “sufferings,” and the “glories,” of Christ. Those that wrote of Him, “testified of the sufferings, and the glories that should follow.” There must be sufferings that we share with Him (Rom. 8 and Titus 3). We all suffer with Him, but we do not all suffer for Him. This is a gift, but every saint of God suffers with Him, the result of the new nature. Paul said, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” The answer to Ananias was “I will show him what great things he must suffer.” The believer has a short night and an eternal day; the unbeliever has a short day and an eternal night!