Remarks on Matthew 19

Matthew 19  •  25 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Thus far the Holy Ghost was pleased to give us the Lord's announcement of the Church and the kingdom of heaven. We have seen them not only as distinct though connected objects in chapter 16, but also (in chap. 18) the practical ways which suit them. It was necessary also to bring out the relation of the kingdom to God's order in nature. There are certain relationships which God has established entirely apart from the new creation, some of which may be carried on when a soul enters the new creation. The believer is still a man here below, although as a Christian he is called not to act on human principles, but to do the will of God. It was therefore of much importance to know how the new things affect the recognition of that which had been already set up in nature. Accordingly, this chapter largely reveals the mutual relations of what is of grace and what is in nature. I am of course using the word “nature” now, not in the sense of “the flesh,” as expressive of the principle and exercise of self-will, but of that which God ordained in this world before sin came in—what God, consequently, would have to survive all the ruin here below. Now the man that understands grace alone can enter into, and thoroughly recognize the outward natural order in the world. Grace never leads a person to slight anything God has introduced, it matters not what it might be. Take for example the law, and what a profound error to suppose that the gospel weakens or annuls God's law! On the contrary, the Apostle Paul teaches in Rom. 3, “By faith we establish the law.” If I am on legal ground, there is terror, anxiety, darkness, the dread of meeting God as a Judge: the law keeps up all these thoughts as long as I am there; and very properly. If I, a sinner, am under it, I reap the bitter consequences in a sense of condemnation and guilt. I shall not know what confidence in God's love to my soul is. I may have hopes betimes, very much more frequently fears; perhaps a sort of excitement of joy overcoming one for awhile: but this soon passes away, and the reaction is greater than before. Hence it is only the man who knows that he is saved by grace and who is entirely lifted above the region to which the law applies its death-stroke, who can gravely, yet in peace, look at all, because he is in Christ before God and above all condemnation. A believer can do it, just because he is not under law; if he were, “As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse.” That is, if he has to do with the law himself; for his own walk and communion, and not only his standing before God, he must be miserable, the more so in proportion as he is honest in referring the law to his own case. The attempt to be happy under the law is a most painful struggle, with the danger too of deceiving ourselves and others. From all this grace delivers the soul, setting it on a new ground outside the spirit of the world, the ways of men, and nature too even in its best estate. But it is not at all as if the believer did not honor and admire all God has laid down. He can look with delight and see the wisdom and holiness of God that shine in His every arrangement and all His moral government. Still it is very plain the law is a testimony to what God forbids or wishes, but not the revelation of what He is. This you cannot find outside Christ. However the law holds up the standard of that which God demands of man. It shows His intolerance of evil, and the necessary judgment of those who practice it. But we should be helplessly, hopelessly miserable if this were all; and it is only when the soul has laid hold of the grace of God that it can take pleasure in His ways.
This chapter, then, surveys the relationships of nature in the light of the kingdom. The first and most fundamental is that of marriage. “The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?” There you have the conduct of such as are on legal ground. There is really no respect for God, no genuine regard for His law. The Lord at once vindicates from the Word the institution and the sanctity of marriage: “Have ye not read that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female?” That is, He shows that it is not a mere question of what came in by the law, but He goes to the sources. God had first established it; and, far from dissolving the tie, as men list, He made a single pair, and therefore only to be the one for the other. All other relationships were expressly to be light in comparison of this closest tie—even union. “For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they twain shall be one flesh.” Next to the relationship of marriage is the tie of a child to its parents. Still it is said, “For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife.” It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of marriage as a natural institution. Who would talk of a child leaving his father and mother for any cause? The Pharisees even would not think of such a thing. The conclusion is irresistible: “What therefore God path joined together let not man put asunder.” They were ready with an answer, of course, even to our Lord Himself: “Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?” There was really no such command: a divorce was simply allowed.
Thus, even where men boast of the law most loudly, it is only grace that gives a man to understand it. The very teachers of the law never understood what it meant, nor whereof they affirmed. So the Apostle Paul reproaches those that desired to be its doctors in his day. But our Lord draws the distinction with the most perfect truthfulness. Moses suffered certain things not according to the original archetypal intention of God. Nor should this be matter of wonder; for the law made nothing perfect. A solemn word that: which shows, not that the law was anything but what was good; but the law made nothing perfect. It was good in itself, but it could not impart goodness. The law might be perfect for its own object, but it perfected nothing, nor was it ever the intention of God that it should. But more than this—there were certain concessions contained in the law which did not at all express the divine mind; but God therein was dealing with a people after the flesh. The law does not contemplate a man as born of God; Christianity does. So far as there were men of faith during the law, they were of course born of God. But the law itself drew no line between regenerate and unregenerate; at least, it addressed all Israel, and not believers only, and hence suffered certain things because of the hardness of their hearts. So that our Lord, while intimating a certain consideration of Israel's condition in the flesh, at the same time vindicated God's law from the corrupt deductions of these selfish Pharisees. “From the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery. And whosoever marrieth her that is put away doth commit adultery.” There our Lord adds what was not in the law, and brings out the full mind of God touching this relationship. There is but one just cause for which it may be dissolved; or rather, marriage must be dissolved morally in order to terminate as a matter of fact. In case of fornication, the tie is all gone before God. Such a union is incompatible with that sin; and then the putting away of the wife merely proclaims before others what has already taken place in His sight. All is made perfectly clear. The righteousness of the law is established as far as it went, but it stops short of perfection by admitting in certain cases a less evil to avoid a greater. And then we have our Lord supplying the needed truth: going up to the very beginning, and on to the end also. Thus it is that Christ, the true light, alone and always introduces the perfect mind of God, supplying all deficiencies and making all perfect. This is the aim, work, and effect of grace. Nevertheless, “His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.” Alas! the selfishness of the heart even in disciples. It was so much the custom then to dismiss the wife because of petty dislike, &e., that it shocked them to hear the Lord insisting on the indissolubility of the marriage tie.
But, says the Lord, “All men receive not this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs which were so born from their mother's womb; and there are some eunuchs which were made eunuchs of men; and there be eunuchs which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.” There, I apprehend, He is showing, that whatever may be the sanctity of the institution of marriage, naturally, there is in the last, or spiritual instance, a power of God that can raise people above it. The Apostle Paul was acting in the spirit of this verse, when he gives us his own judgment as one that had obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful. Doubtless he was called to a remarkable work, which would have made due attention to family relationship out of the question. His business lay and took him everywhere. Wherever there was a church to take care of, wherever souls cried, Come hither and help us, nay, far beyond the calls of saints or men, the Holy Ghost laid it on his devoted heart. A work which might summon him at a moment's notice to the ends of the earth, would hardly have consisted with the care that devolves upon a husband and father. Had it been sought to unite the two, either the natural relationships must have been neglected, or the work of the Lord could not have been so thoroughly done. Hence the wise and gracious judgment of the apostle, not imposed as a command, but left to weigh on the spiritual mind. The last of the three classes in the verse is figuratively expressed: it means, plainly, the living unmarried for God's glory. But mark, it is a gift, not a law, much less a caste. Only such receive it “to whom it is given.” It is put as a privilege. As the apostle presses the honorableness of marriage, he was the last to lay the smallest slur on such a tie; but he also knew that there was a higher and all-absorbing love, an entrance, in its measure, into the affections of Christ for the Church. Still this is not an imposed obligation, but a special call and gift of grace in which he rejoiced to glorify his Master. The appreciation of the love of Christ to the Church had formed him in its own pattern. Observe here, it is “made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake” —that order of things which depends on Christ, now in heaven. And hence, strong in the grace that shines in Him at the right hand of God, they to whom it is given walk above the natural ties of life; not, I need not say, despising them; honoring and calling all honor to them, yet individually surrendering themselves to that goodly portion which shall not be taken from them.
But there is another aspect of nature that comes before us—that of children i and something that is apt to be despised. What in this world so helpless, such a picture of utter weakness and dependence, as a babe! “Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray.” The disciples thought it an annoyance or a liberty, and “rebuked them. But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me; for of such is the kingdom of heaven. And he laid his hands on them, and departed thence.” So completely were met all the demands of love, even where the desire seemed ever so unseasonable. For why should the Lord of heaven and earth occupy Himself with putting His hands upon little ones? But the Lord would hear no miscalled reason: love never does, being in truth above all reasons. Charity, it is written, never faileth: therefore surely not His, who, if appealed to, cannot refuse those who confide in it. He laid His hands on them and blessed them. The unworthy thoughts of the disciples were set aside, who thought babes unworthy of His notice. Ah! how little they knew Him, long as they have been with Him. Was it not worthy of Him so to bless the very least in man's eyes? The disciples, because their own hearts feebly entered into and enjoyed the grace of God, disdained the act of those who brought their babes to Jesus. But it was right: they knew enough to give them confidence in His love. They were quite sure He would not despise the little ones, nor refuse His blessing; nor did He. How important a lesson for our souls is this! It need not be one connected with ourselves; it might be another's child. Do we claim the Lord for it? What is His feeling? He is great, He is mighty; but He despiseth not any. Before His glory there is not so much difference between a world and a worm. The world is a mere cipher, if God measures by Himself. But if He does, then He may look upon that which is a worm and no man; and there may be the object of His deepest love and care. Our Lord looked at these babes, O with what interest! What was the globe compared with the destiny of a little babe blessed of Jesus? Each had a soul: and what was its value? What to be a vessel of grace in this world, and of glory in the bright eternal day? The disciples did not enter into these thoughts; and if any of us have in any measure, do we not often forget them? How little our souls are able to interweave the coming glory with the scenes of present misery in daily life, and to act unwaveringly now on that which we believe will be manifested then! Can we take pleasure in infirmities as well as distresses, for Christ's sake! It is in weakness that His strength is made perfect. We must be made nothing of, if we are indeed to be strong. Let us bear the same thing in mind if we have to do with those we are in danger of despising. Jesus not only blessed the babes, but rebuked the disciples, who had misrepresented Him. Had they not given the impression of a rabbi? But He says, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” O what a withering word for the pride of religion! Were the disciples “of such” at that moment, or at least in that act? Had they not declared themselves practically outside the kingdom, by the spirit shown towards the babes and those who brought them?
But this is not all. A young man, as it is said, “came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” It is not now a question of marriage, or of a babe; but of one who combined in his person every quality that was estimable; and in his circumstances every advantage that the natural heart could desire: of one who not only had all that men think productive of happiness in this world, but also most sincere in desiring to know and do the will of God. His was evidently a lovely natural character. And, further, he was attracted by, and came to Jesus. What did the Lord say to him? From another Gospel, Jesus, we know, loved him; and this, not because he believed in and followed Jesus; for, alas! we know he did not. There are various forms of divine love, beside that which embraces us as returned prodigals. This man went away sorrowful from Jesus: no person has a right to add that he ever came back glad to Jesus. I do not say that he did not, but Scripture does not say he did; and Scripture, as it cannot be broken, so neither must it be added to. While we have a special love for the children of God, and ought only to value in the things of God that which is of the Holy Ghost, it does not follow that we are not to admire a fine mind or a beautiful character naturally. If we do not, it only proves that we do not understand the mind of God as here displayed in Jesus. Even as to creation, am I to look coldly, or not at all, at a river or a mountain, the sea, the sky, plains, valleys, forests, trees, flowers, that God has made? It is a total mistake that spirituality renders dull to His outward works. But am I to set my mind upon these sights? Are we to travel far and wide for the purpose of visiting what all the world counts worthy to be seen? If in my path of serving Christ a grand or beautiful prospect passes before me, 1 do not think that he whose handiwork it is calls me to close my eyes or mind. The Lord Himself draws attention to the lilies of the field, brighter than Solomon in all His glory. Man admires that which enables him to indulge his self-love, his ambition, in this world. That is merely the flesh. But as to the beautiful morally or in nature, grace, instead of despising, values all that is good in its own sphere, and does homage to the God who thus displayed His wisdom and His power. Make the creature the object, and there is the flesh abusing the truth of God. To admire when they are brought before us, is a very different thing from making them our pursuit and our life. Grace despises neither what is in creation nor what is in man. If I see benevolence, I admire it: it is a bad thing if I do not. This young man the Lord loved, when certainly as yet there was no faith at all. He went away from Jesus in sorrow: what believer ever did since the world began? His sorrow was because he was not prepared for the path of faith. Jesus desired him to follow Him, but not as a rich man. He would have been delighted, to do “some great thing;” but the Lord laid bdre self in his heart. He knew, that, spite of all that naturally, and even tested by the law, was so beautiful in him, there was, if tested by Himself, self-importance at the bottom—the flesh turning these very advantages into a reason for not following Jesus. But self must be brought down. As nothing at all, he must follow Jesus, making Him to be his all in all, or it is a mockery. “Good Master,” said he, “what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” He had not learned the first lesson a Christian knows—what a convicted sinner is learning: that he is lost. He had no such idea in his mind. By being with Christians, one may adopt their language and thoughts; but he is sure before long to bring out something which betrays that he has no real understanding of the matter. The youth showed that he had never felt his own ruin. He assumed that he was capable of doing good. The sinner is like the leper in Lev. 13, who could not bring an offering to God, but only remain outside, crying, “Unclean, unclean.” The young man had no sense of sin. His word is not, “What must I do to be saved?” but, “What good thing must I do to have eternal life?” He regarded eternal life as the result of a man's doing good. He had been doing the law; and as far as he knew he never broke it.
Our Lord says to him, “Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one; that is, God. But if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” He may take him up on that ground. This man had no idea that the one to whom he was speaking was God Himself. He merely went to Him as a good man.
Now, on this footing the Lord would not allow Himself to be called good. As far as the man's own perception of His person was concerned, He was no more than man, and therefore not entitled to be called good: God alone is. Had he known Christ to be what He was and is—a divine person—He would not have refused, I conceive, to be so addressed. But in such a case, would the young man have put the question at all? The Lord, therefore, first simply deals with him on his own ground. “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder; thou shalt not commit adultery; thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not bear false witness; honor thy father and thy mother; and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” The Lord quotes the commands that relate to human affairs—the second table of the law, as it is called. “All these,” says the young man, “have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?” But says the Lord, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me.” And what then? “When the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” He loved his possessions better than he loved Jesus. This gave our Lord an opportunity for unfolding another truth; and one most startling to a Jew, who regarded wealth as a sign of the blessing of God. It was in a similar spirit that the friends of Job also acted, though they were Gentiles; for, in truth, it is the judgment of fleshly righteousness. They thought that God must be against Job, because he had got into unheard-of trial. The Lord brings out, in view of the kingdom of heaven, the solemn truth, that the advantages of the flesh are positive hindrances to the spirit.
“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you that a rich man shall hardly” (that is, with difficulty; not, he cannot, but “shall hardly”) “enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Emphatically He repeats it, “Again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle” (beyond nature of course) “than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. When his disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved!” The Lord's answer was perfect. “Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” If it was a question of man's doing anything to get into the kingdom, riches are only so much a burden that hinders him; for vain man would carry his riches with him. And so it is with all else, counted desirable. Whatever I have good in myself, whether it be moral ways, position, or what not—these are but impediments as far as concerns the kingdom, and make it impossible, yes, utterly impossible, to man. But with God (and we may bless Him for it) all things are possible, no matter what the difficulty. Therefore, God chooses in His grace to call all sorts and conditions of people. We read of a person called out of Herod's court, we hear of saints in Caesar's household, A great company of the priests believed; so did Barnabas the Levite, with his houses and lands; nay, above all, Saul of Tarsus, brought up at the feet of Gamaliel. All these difficulties only gave God the opportunity to assert His own power and grace.
When Peter heard how hard it was for the rich to be saved, he thought it time for him to speak of what they had given up for the Lord's sake, and to learn what they should get for it. “Behold, we have forsaken all, and have followed thee. What shall we have therefore?” How painfully natural was this? “Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you that ye which have followed me, in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit upon the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for my name's sake, shall receive an hundred fold, and shall inherit everlasting life.” There is nothing the believer does or suffers but what will be remembered in the kingdom. While this is most blessed, it is also a very solemn thought. Our ways now, though they have nothing to do with the remission of our sins, are yet of all consequence as a testimony to Christ, and will bear very decidedly on our future place in the kingdom. We must not use the doctrine of grace to deny that of rewards; but even so, Christ is the sole motive for the saint. We shall receive for the things done in the body according to that we have done, whether it be good or bad, as the Lord shows plainly here. The twelve had followed the rejected Lord, albeit His own grace had given them the power. It was not they who had chosen Him, but He had chosen them. They are now cheered with the assurance that in the blessed time of regeneration, when the Lord will work a grand change in this world (for as He makes a sinner regenerate before he is raised from the dead, so He will, as it were, regenerate the world before the new heavens and earth are fully brought in), their work and sufferings will not be forgotten of Him.
Remember that what is spoken of here does not refer to heaven: there is still better work in heaven than judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Yet is it a glorious destiny reserved for the twelve apostles during the reign of Christ over the earth. A similar glory is destined for other saints of God, as we read in 1 Cor. 6:22Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? (1 Corinthians 6:2): “Know ye not that the saints shall judge the world?” There it is used to show the incongruity of a saint seeking the world's judgment in a matter between himself and another. This ought always to be the uppermost thing in the mind of the Christian—to keep himself entirely apart from the world, true to the objects for which Christ has called him. Still judging the world can hardly be what we shall do in heaven, but what we shall come out of heaven with the Lord to do, as to the earth. You never can lose sight of a single truth of God, without less to the soul. It is a lower truth, but we cannot do without it. We must always draw our weapons from the quiver of the Lord, and may be sure His arrows alone are effectual.
As to all the natural relationships and advantages of this life, if lost for His name's sake, the losers shall receive an hundred fold and inherit everlasting life. The gospel of John speaks of everlasting life as a thing that we possess now: the others speak of it as future. We have got the principle of it now in Christ, and we shall have its fullness in glory by and by. “But many that are first shall be last, and the last shall be first.” What a hint to Peter to take care! A self-righteous claim is a ready snare, and soon finds its level under the mighty hand of God. The leaving of all, if valued, lost all its value. Thus, many who began to run well, turned aside from grace to law; and Peter himself was blamed by the last (but first) of the apostles, as we know from the Galatians.
The Lord make His grace the strength of our hearts; and if we have suffered the loss of any or of all things, may we still count them dung that we may win Him.