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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Matthew 19

 

 

Verse 1

§ 103. — JESUS, HAVING LEFT GALILEE, IN PEREA, DISCUSSES THE LAW OF MARRIAGE, Matthew 19:1-12.

1. He departed from Galilee — He left Galilee for the last time before his crucifixion. It had been the main scene of his ministry. He was hence sometimes called “the prophet of Galilee.” Even for centuries after, the Christians were called, by Jews and Pagans, GALILEANS. When the celebrated Julian, the apostate, was providentially slain in the midst of his efforts to destroy Christianity, he exclaimed with his expiring breath: “Thou hast conquered, O Galilean!” The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke have been called, specially, the Galilean Gospels, because their scene is mostly in Galilee, and their subject the ministry of our Lord to that section. On the other hand, John’s has been called the Judean Gospel, because its scene is mostly in Judea, especially in Jerusalem. Came… Judea beyond Jordan — No part of Judea proper lay beyond, that is, east of the Jordan. But this phrase of Matthew is intended to cover the whole extent of our Lord’s following ministry in both Judea and Perea. So Mark 10:1, is strictly to be rendered: He cometh into the territories of Judea and beyond the Jordan. That is, after leaving Galilee, his ministry was in Judea and Perea. Before he went to Perea, beyond Jordan, he visited Jerusalem, where most of the transactions of his ministry in John’s Gospel took place.

Nor does Matthew here probably give the earliest transactions even in Perea, as will appear by consulting the Historical Synopsis. Between our Lord’s leaving Galilee and the ensuing discussion with the Pharisees, the interval was near six months.


Verse 2

2. Great multitudes followed him — As he itinerated in Perea.


Verse 3

3. The Pharisees also came — The Pharisees as well as the multitudes. The former to cavil, and the latter to be healed. Tempting him — Trying him to see if they cannot get him into a difficulty. The point was one about which there was a hot partisan dispute, and the object was to involve our Lord in its quarrel. For every cause — The point is this: In Deuteronomy 24:1, Moses gives to a man permission to dismiss his wife by granting her a bill of divorce or discharge, certifying that she is no longer his wife, if she “find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found uncleanness in her.” The followers of Rabbi Hillel interpreted this to mean that a man might dismiss his wife whenever he pleased, for the very slightest offence, or for no offence at all, if he found some woman that pleased him more. But the followers of Rabbi Schammai held that the uncleanness meant unchasteness, and so forbid divorce for any other cause. If these Pharisees now can make our Lord commit himself upon this point, they hope to involve him in the feud with one party or the other.


Verse 4

4. He answered — Our Lord’s answer really coincides with neither party. Schammai is indeed in the right in maintaining the stricter view of marriage obligation. His views are founded in absolute right. But then he is wrong in maintaining that the letter of the Mosaic law does maintain the highest strictness of the divine right on this subject. From the hardness of their hearts Moses did permit to the Jews, though not enjoin, a practice which was not absolutely right. A truly pure man could not avail himself of the permission. Have ye not read — Our Lord here quotes the book of Genesis as a divine authority. We thus prove the Old Testament by the New. If Christ was the Son of God, Moses was the servant of God. If Christ’s words had a divine authority, then Moses was also inspired. Made them male and female — He made the race male and female, with the divine intention that marriage should exist. And by still maintaining the race as divided into two sexes, he shows that marriage is a permanent and natural institution. And as he made one for one, and no more, so the marriage of a single man with a single woman is a law of the race. And since, by some mysterious law, the two sexes are perpetually preserved in an approximate equality in point of number, it is plain that the permanent marriage of one man with one woman is the permanent and universal law of nature. Polygamy, as well as capricious divorce, is a violation of natural law.


Verse 5

5. Leave father and mother — The tie of man and wife is stronger than that of parent and child. Hence, as the latter maintains its tie upon the heart during life, so the former should be indissoluble.


Verse 6

6. One flesh — As in Adam before the creation of Eve the twain were one, so now, by marriage, the oneness is restored. They are two halves of one whole, forming one person. Yet, however much we may talk of their oneness, they are not one soul. They have an eternal separateness of individuality, by which they may be eternally separated in future destiny. Hence they are indeed one flesh, but not one soul. Let not man put asunder — It cannot be done in any case without crime, except by death.

Our Lord in this answer sides with neither party, but rises above them both. He does not say, with Schammai, that the letter of Moses’s law allowed no divorce but for adultery. Nor does he, with Hillel, affirm that divorce is allowable for every or any cause. He maintains that, upon the foundation of original creation, divorce for any other cause than adultery is wrong, and only permitted by Moses to prevent greater wrong.


Verse 8

8. Because of the hardness of your hearts — Because the rigidness of the moral law, if enforced by civil law, would be by you made an occasion of still greater wrong. You would have murdered your wives to be rid of them. Suffered you — He did not command you. And he who availed himself of the permission was none the less guilty of sin. He was not indeed amenable to Moses, but he was still amenable to God.


Verse 9

9. Except it be for fornication — Our Lord here indicates no new law. He does not even restore the old one. He simply declares what has always been the law of God. Moses, in his civil code, declined to enforce the strictness of the moral law. Unlawful intercourse with any other person breaks the marriage tie. The criminal has deserted forever the marriage partner, and has become unfit for further association. Impure and outcast, the guilty being can never again enter a pure and lawful marriage covenant.

The orderly family is the foundation of the orderly society. Wherever marriage is lightly esteemed there is great danger that every tie will become loose. Unless the law be strong and strict enough to silence and suppress the roving imagination and roving desire, and to settle completely all thoughts of breaking or overstepping the sacred limit, disorder, licentiousness, and moral anarchy commence. A sensual tone pervades the life. And it is a universal law that where sexual license prevails, lawlessness of every other kind prevails. Lust and cruelty ever go together.


Verse 10

10. Not good to marry — The apostles’ opinion seems to have been on the side of Hillel. It was probably accordant with the doctrine, or at least ordinary practice of that wicked age. The apostles therefore speak under the influence of their habitual impressions. So indissoluble a union with one woman they thought to be in any way intolerable. Better no marriage at all. And yet how fully experience shows that the age of strict marriage is the age of every quiet and healthful virtue. Such an institute stays at once a thousand irregularities of life. When the law of marriage banishes beforehand all thought of separation and transgression, the whole train of lower feelings become tranquilized and dismissed, and room is made for thoughts of other than sexual matters.


Verse 11

11. Receive this saying — Namely, the saying that it is not good to marry under so strict a law. The marriage law is both a divine and a natural institute. It was founded by God at the creation, and it is secured by the very elements of man’s nature. If there be any exception to the universality of the matrimonial necessity and duty, it is with a rare few. Given — Given by natural constitution, by misfortune, or by specially divine duty and qualification.


Verse 12

12. For — Our Lord proceeds now to specify three classes to whom it is given not to marry. To the first it is given by a peculiarity of nature; to the second by the cruelty of man; to the third by a divine duty and qualification. Eunuchs — The word eunuch signifies a couch-guard; and it designates a class of men who, in the Oriental countries, are subjected to a cruel degradation, and kept by their masters to guard the females of their harems. It is used here by our Lord to designate all persons who live entirely pure from the other sex. So born — Born of a constitution by which marriage is not desired. Made eunuchs of men — By barbarous violence. Made themselves eunuchs — By perfect chastity of mind and body. There are some (like Bishop Asbury) who, giving themselves up wholly to the ministry, or to religious study or devotion, exempt themselves for all or a part of their lives from the entanglements of life, that they may serve God more intensely.

Worst of all is the method of the Church of Rome, which enforces upon a whole class the duty of celibacy, regardless of natural power or constitution; and which binds others, by forced and perpetual vows, to the restraint for which no gift has qualified them. The results are cruelly and shamefully demoralizing.


Verse 13

13. Were there brought unto him little children — They were so young, not only as to be brought, but to be taken by the Saviour in his arms. The disciples rebuked them — The children were doubtless brought by the affection of the parents, who thus showed their faith in him, not only for themselves but for their offspring. So the faith of the Syrophenician woman brought a miracle of mercy upon her daughter.


Verses 13-15

§ 104. — CHILDREN BLESSED BY CHRIST, Matthew 19:13-15.

It is with great propriety that immediately after our Saviour has settled the law of marriage under the Christian dispensation, he should also assign the place of children in the Christian Church. This passage surely is not given for the purpose of showing that Christ was personally fond of children, but of showing that the child is no more to be excluded from the Church of the New Testament than from that of the Old.


Verse 14

14. Suffer little children — Our Lord does not merely say, suffer these children, but suffer all little children to come unto me. Of such — Of children and of childlike souls. For the adult man must become childlike to be fit for the kingdom of heaven.

Our Lord did not here baptize these children; for Christian baptism was not freely used until after his resurrection. But he does declare why they are proper subjects of baptism, namely, because they are subjects of the kingdom of heaven. And we are expressly told that “except a man be born of water” as well as “of spirit” he is not fully and formally recognized as in that kingdom. In other words, he who is an internal subject of that kingdom needs baptism to constitute him an external member. If he be an internal member of that kingdom he is a proper subject of baptism. Our Lord here declares that infants are internal members of this kingdom; therefore, we infer, they are proper subjects of baptism.

In relation to the moral condition of infants, Mr. Watson says:

“We are bound to conclude that, in some sense, ‘the kingdom of heaven’ is composed of them; they are its subjects, and partakers of its blessings. That this kingdom signifies the spiritual kingdom of Christ upon earth, and also that glorious reign of God over redeemed and glorified men in a future world, are points not to be disputed; and the words of our Lord, if they relate to one, must relate to both. If little children are the subjects of his spiritual kingdom on earth, then, until the moment that by actual sin they bring personal condemnation upon themselves, they remain heirs of the kingdom of eternal glory; and if they become the subjects of the latter by dying, then a previous vital relation must have existed on earth between them and Christ as their Redeemer and Sanctifier; or else we must assign the sanctification of the nature of man, which even in infants is fallen and corrupt, to a future state, which is contrary to the Scriptures.”


Verse 16

§ 105. — THE RICH YOUNG MAN, Matthew 19:16-22.

16. And behold, one came — The case of the young man is here brought in to show that he who would be saved must be ready to give up all for Christ in the fullest sense of the words; and that he who cannot do this is deceived in supposing that he has so kept God’s law as to be thereby saved. The conversation that follows shows that he who gives up all for Christ, will be no loser, but an infinite gainer, 27-30. The parable that follows (xx, 1-16,) shows that even he who does give up all for Christ will be saved, not by his works, but by grace. Let this connection be observed and traced, and the meaning of the whole will become more clear and striking.

Our Lord, as appears by Mark, had just come forth from the house where he had blessed the children, into the way, where this rich young ruler, as Luke calls him, (that is, ruler of the synagogue,) who had perhaps been waiting, came running and kneeling. His rapid movement indicated his earnest feeling; his kneeling indicated his reverence. Good Master — This was a new and a very studied title by which to address our Lord. Others had called him Lord and Son of David; but he is a noble Jew, who must give a polite address without quite admitting that he is addressing the Messiah. What good thing — He calculates to do something which will earn heaven. He will accomplish it by some bold stroke of righteousness, some grand supererogation, if he can find out what it is to be. He has kept the decalogue until he is tired of so tame a righteousness. If this good Master can inform him by what method he can pay for and justly deserve salvation, he is ready to bid for it. Try him with any task, and see if he will fail!


Verse 17

17. Why callest thou me good? — The young man had used the word good twice in his question; once to designate Jesus, and once to designate his own performance. Our Lord first proceeds to raise his own contemplations to a higher standard of goodness than he has in his mind. Perhaps he will then see that to talk of compensating God, by his good doings, for the infinite bliss of heaven, is folly.

Why callest thou me good? — Had the young rich ruler really believed Jesus to be Lord of all, our Lord would not have said this; for never did he refuse any homage offered him, however high. This passage can then be by no means considered as in any degree denying the supreme divinity of the Saviour. On the contrary, it is saying to the young man, If you call me good you should admit me to be God.


Verse 18

18. He saith unto him, Which? — The young man can hardly believe that this new teacher would refer him back to the old ten commandments. He has kept them, as he imagines, until they have grown commonplace. At the same time a sense of the insufficiency of his own righteousness does not allow him ease. He has no full sense of peace with God. He wishes some new prescription, by which he may feel that he is a sure heir of eternal life. Jesus said — Our Lord gives a few specimens, to intimate that it is just no more than the original decalogue, to which he is referred.


Verse 20

20. What lack I yet? — From this teacher the young man hopes to receive other instructions that will assure him of his safety, and so give him peace; or some instruction how he may supply his deficiency.


Verse 21

21. Be perfect — If thou wilt lack nothing, but have all things necessary to complete thy salvation, give up all for Christ. Our Lord has now brought him to just the right test. The young man wished a high standard of righteousness; our Saviour has presented it. He wished to be saved by works; our Saviour has shown him the way of faith. He truly thought he was ready for any task; our Saviour has undeceived him. He expected that he should be able to earn heaven by the nobleness of his performance; our Lord shows him that there is a price infinitely below the value of heaven which he is not willing to pay. Henceforth let no one dream that he can offer any price of righteousness that shall merit eternal life. Let him not go about asking what good thing he shall do to become an heir of heaven. Let him simply throw himself by faith upon God for salvation, and trust in the Saviour he hath sent.

Sell that thou hast — Was not this a peculiar and hard requirement? Is it made, at the present day, of any one? If it were nowadays made would any of our Christian men comply with it and be saved? To these questions we reply:

1. There was something hard to nature in this answer, yet nothing peculiar. For God requires of every rich or poor man to surrender all he has to God, and to hold nothing but as God’s steward. The Gospel does not indeed require of owners of property a general resignation, so as to unsettle the foundations of the social system. But it does require such a consecration of all to God, that when the duty is made known to give some, or much, or all to God, the offering can be made. Hence there was nothing required, so far as the condition of the heart was concerned, which is not required of every man.

2. This young man, in professing to have kept the commandments, professed to prefer God and his commandments to everything else. He loved God with all his heart, and above all things else. He had done this so abundantly that he was on the alert for some higher mode of righteousness. And yet, when put to the test, when taught that it was his duty and his chance to become an apostle, by giving up his fortune, he found that he loved mammon more than God.

3. This same young man would doubtless have preferred his money to his duty and his integrity in any case. To have preserved his fortune he would very likely have sacrificed any command in the table of the law. Hence he deceived himself in supposing that he had truly in heart kept the law. He had broken it from his youth up. The law condemned him. His heart was not right before it. Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things. Now he had no way but to give up all and be saved by grace, and this he refused. Treasure in heaven — In place of thy treasure on earth.


Verse 22

22. Sorrowful… great possessions — Alas! what were these possessions worth that they should be put in competition witch eternal life? And what had become of his proud readiness to do some good thing for so great a price? He fails sadly both in point of faith and works.

How much did he not lose even as regards this world! Almost anybody can be a rich man. There are millions of rich men meaner than the meanest poverty can make them. But how few have the offer of being an apostle! God does not require that all rich men should surrender their wealth and become poor for his sake. And as he restored to Abraham the son he was ready to offer at God’s command, so to this young man he might have said after all: “Keep thy wealth; thou hast offered it to God and thou shalt have it back, given from God’s free gift, with eternal life in addition. The apostleships are all filled; but thou mayest stay a rich man, and yet be an heir of eternal life.” How soon did he lose his wealth, for which he lost eternal life!


Verse 23

§ 105. — POSSIBILITY OF RICH MEN’S SALVATION, Matthew 19:23-30.

23. A rich man — Mark says, “that trusteth in his riches.” But this hardly alters it. How few rich that do not trust in riches! And how few poor who do not trust in riches they are not able to acquire!


Verse 24

24. Camel… eye of a needle — That is, it is absolutely a human impossibility. The emendation made by changing camel to cable is unauthorized. The phrase is a proverbial expression for an absolutely impracticable thing.


Verse 25

25. Who then can be saved? — All have the spirit of this rich man. And when we look around and survey the world, and count how many rich men in the Church are as covetous as they are rich, we seem to doubt the possibility of any man’s salvation by the standard which our Lord here presents. Mr. Webb, the military preacher of the first John-street Church, New York, well said: “I doubt the conversion of the man whose purse is not converted.” The religion that costs the owner nothing is probably worth about its cost. The great mass of rich professors of religion, who live to make their children rich, are in immense danger of ruining their own souls, and destroying their own children.


Verse 26

26. With God all things are possible — The salvation of a rich man is as miraculous as the putting a camel through a needle’s eye. It is a human impossibility. But God can do it. But does not this reduce the rich man to just the same level as any other man, and so destroy all the force of our Lord’s first reflections on the impossibility of bringing a rich man into the kingdom of heaven? We reply, that our Lord means to represent that the salvation of a rich man bears to the ordinary salvation of common men the same relation that a miracle does to an ordinary transaction. If the saving of an ordinary man be a miracle of grace, the saving of a rich man is a miracle upon a miracle. It is an event above the ordinary train of grace, just as a miracle is above the ordinary course of nature.


Verse 27

27. We have forsaken all — Peter’s boast is not much better than the young man’s profession. There is in both a large sensibility to what they have sacrificed, and a small sense of the impossibility of their highest services being worth anything to God, or being in any commensurate degree an equivalent for eternal life. God does not need us. We can do God no favour, nor make ourselves necessary to him. After all our best services, he might, without any injustice, drop us into nothingness. What shall we have therefore? — Something in the expression here seems to betray a spirit like that of the rich young man. Jesus had exposed this spirit in the young man, by requiring him to become his follower. Jesus, in the case of Peter, first shows him what, by grace, he will obtain, and then, in the following parable, warns him of the danger of the hireling spirit which seeks a reward of works and not of grace.


Verse 28

28. Ye which have followed — In the inauguration of the apostles, in chapter Matthew 16:19, the Lord appointed them rulers of the Church after his ascension, under the symbols of the keys and binding and loosing. Here he affirms the same appointment under the image of thrones and judging. The parallel passage in Luke 22:28-30, is explanatory of this, and should be diligently compared. Ye which have followed me, in the regeneration is explained by Ye which have continued with me in my temptations. In my temptations is antithetical with in the regeneration; the temptations denote the scenes of our Lord’s earthly ministry; the regeneration the state of things after his ascension. In the regeneration — As this regeneration is a plain antithesis to the temptations, the latter term needs a brief analysis. These temptations, first, were primarily our Lord’s own trials in his humiliation state. Their centre was his own person. But, second, they extended to those who followed him, namely, his disciples and believers. And, third, they characterized that period and state of things as a scene of humiliation and subjection. Antithetically to all this, the regeneration was at and after our Lord’s resurrection. It was primarily centered in our Lord’s own renovated person; for he then put off his servant form and put on his immortality. He ascended on high upon his throne of glory; yet to rule over his Church in heaven and earth. Second, that renovation over-spread and included his followers, especially his twelve apostles. By the Pentecostal Spirit they were endowed with power from on high; they entered on the possession of the kingdom appointed, (Luke 22:29;) they received and exercised the power of the keys of that kingdom; they ascended their twelve apostolic thrones as the viceroys of the Lord in his glorification. Thirdly, the Church was renewed and regenerated from the old to the new dispensation. The types and shadows had departed, the reign of the kingdom of God with power was begun. Sit in the throne of his glory — On the right hand of the Majesty on high. Hebrews 1:3. In that same throne of glory he shall judge the world. Matthew 16:27; Matthew 25:31. Sit upon twelve thrones — We have already remarked (Matthew 10:1) that the number of the apostles was chosen in reference to the twelve tribes of Israel, as a symbolical intimation that Christ was king of Israel, and his apostles were his viceroys over the tribes. After the ascension the sacred number was still preserved, to indicate that the new kingdom was a virtual continuation as well as succession of the twelve tribes. The Son of man then sat upon his throne of glory; that is, his glorified throne; the apostles sat simply upon thrones. That these twelve thrones were their twelve apostolates in the Church on earth is confirmed by the next verse.


Verse 29

29. Every one — Of you apostles. A hundredfold — Not a hundredfold of the same article; for certainly no man would expect to receive a hundred fathers or mothers. It was a hundredfold better to have an apostolic throne like Peter, than to have a fortune like the rich young man, whose case prompted Peter’s question. And all this, by the parallel passage in Mark 10:30, is to be now in this time. It is also to be with persecution, and in spite of persecution. That the apostles of Christ during their holy ministration in the Church were the happiest of men, over and above all the privations they suffered, was doubtless true to the letter. Thousands of mankind would indeed think and choose otherwise. But a rich part of the blessedness of the apostolate was to have a divine assurance within, by which it could know and realize its own exceeding great reward. And shall inherit everlasting life — In a world to come. Up to this clause Jesus had confined his statement of the apostolic reward to this world; showing, contrary to the sorrow of the rich young man, that godliness, is most profitable even for the life that now is. But to this earthly advantage everlasting life is to be superadded.


Verse 30

30. But many — This verse belongs properly to the next chapter. The maxim it contains introduces and closes the parable of the labourers, Matthew 20:16. Our Lord has answered Peter’s question. Matthew 19:27. He now turns to warn Peter, in the parable of the next chapter, how the hireling spirit of that question is disapproved by God. It shows great want of a sense of the wickedness of our own heart, and the imperfectness of our own services, when a man expects his doings to entitle him to God’s gratitude.

Bishop Butler, of England, lived unmarried, and spent his immense revenues in charity and alms. He wrote a great work, The Analogy, which has, perhaps, converted many an infidel. Yet in his latter days awful thoughts of his sinfulness overwhelmed his soul. He felt how little his charities weighed against the impurities of the heart. And through the glory of God had prompted his book, visions of his own fame therefrom had also entered his mind. He trembled before God. But that text, “Whosoever cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out,” which many would suppose calculated only for viler sinners, was brought to his relief. He flung himself by faith upon it, and was richly consoled with the hope not of being saved by works of righteousness but by grace alone.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Matthew 19:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/matthew-19.html. 1874-1909.

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