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A Commentary on the New Testament
from the Talmud and Hebraica
Exercitations upon the Gospel of St. Matthew
Chapters 10, 11
1. And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against
unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of
[And when he had called to him the twelve disciples.] Concerning the number of
twelve, corresponding to the tribes of Israel, see Luke 22:30, Revelation 21:12,14. These
were called the twelve apostles...under which title Moses and Aaron are marked by
the Chaldee paraphrast, Jeremiah 2:1: a word that does not barely speak a messenger,
but such a messenger as represents the person of him that sends him. For The 'apostle'
of any one is as he himself from whom he is deputed. See the fortieth verse of this
chapter. If you read over the tract of Maimonides here, entitled messengers and
companions, perhaps you will not repent your labour.
For these ends were these twelve chosen, as the evangelists relate:
I. That they might be with him, eyewitnesses of his works, and students of his
doctrine. For they did not presently betake themselves to preach, from the time they were
first admitted disciples, no, nor from the time they were first chosen; but they sat a
long while at the feet of their Master, and imbibed from his mouth that doctrine which
they were to preach.
II. That they might be his prophets, both to preach and to do miracles. Thence it comes
to pass, that the gift of miracles, which of a long time had ceased, is now restored to
The 'seven shepherds, and eight principal men,' Micah 5:5, are the disciples of the
Messias, according to Kimchi.
[Power of unclean spirits.] That is, 'over, or upon unclean
spirits': which therefore are called unclean spirits that by a clearer antithesis
they might be opposed to the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of purity.
More particularly the unclean spirit, Zechariah 13:2; and unclean spirits,
Revelation 16:13,14, are diabolical spirits in false prophets, deceiving Pythons.
By a more particular name yet, according to the Talmudists concerning this business:
"There shall not be with thee a necromancer, Deuteronomy 18:11. He is a
necromancer who mortifies himself with hunger, and goes and lodges a-nights among the
burying-places for that end, that the unclean spirit may dwell upon him. When R.
Akibah read that verse he wept. Does the unclean spirit, saith he, come upon him
that fasts for that very end, that the unclean spirit may come upon him? Much more
would the Holy Spirit come upon him that fasts for that end, that the Holy Spirit might
come upon him. But what shall I do, when our sins have brought that on us which is said,
'Your sins separate between you and your God?'" Where the Gloss thus; "That
the unclean spirit dwell upon him: that is, that the demon of the burial-place may
love him, and may help him in his enchantments."
When I consider with myself that numberless number of demoniacs which the evangelists
mention, the like to which no history affords, and the Old Testament produceth hardly one
or two examples, I cannot but suspect these two things especially for the cause of it:--
First, That the Jewish people, now arriving to the very top of impiety, now also
arrived to the very top of those curses which are recited, Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy
Secondly, That the nation, beyond measure addicted to magical arts, did even affect
devils and invited them to dwell with them.
2. Now the names of the twelve apostles are these; The first, Simon, who is called
Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother;
[Simon.] Simon is a name very usual among the Talmudists for Simeon.
By which name our apostle is also called, Acts 15:14.
Let these words be taken notice of, "R. Eliezer inquired of R. Simon
concerning a certain thing; but he answered him not. He inquired of R. Joshua Ben Levi,
and he answered. R. Eliezer was enraged that R. Simeon answered him not."
[Peter.] Christ changed the names of three disciples with whom he held more
inward familiarity, Simon, James, and John. Simon was called by him Peter, or Petrosus,
that is, referring to a rock, because he should contribute not only very much
assistance to the church that was to be built on a rock, but the very first
assistance, when, the keys being committed to him, he opened the door of faith to
Cornelius, and so first let in the gospel among the Gentiles. Of which matter afterward.
[Andrew.] this also was no strange name among the Talmudists. Andrew Bar
3. Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son
of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus:
[Bartholomew.] Compare the order wherein the disciples are called (John 1) with
the order wherein they are for the most part reckoned, and you will find Bartholomew
falling in at the same place with Nathanael: so that one may think he was the same
with him: called Nathanael by his own name, and Bartholomew by his father's;
that is, the son of Talmai: for the Greek interpreters render Talmai, Tolmi,
2 Samuel 13:37. And Tholomaeus occurs in Josephus.
[Of Alpheus.] The name occurs also in the Talmudists: a word that may admit a
doubt pronunciation; namely, either to sound Alphai, or Cleophi. Hence that Alpheus,
who was the father of four apostles, is also called Cleopas, Luke 24; which
sufficiently appears from hence, that she who is called "Mary, the mother of James
the Less, and Joses," Mark 15:40, by John is called, "Mary the wife of
Cleopas," John 19:25.
[Lebbeus, whose surname was Thaddeus.] Thaddai was a name known also to
the Talmudists: R. Jose the son of Thaddeus. Eliezer Ben Thaddeus. It is a warping
of the name Judas, that this apostle might be the better distinguished from Iscariot,
He was called Lebbeus, I suppose, from the town Lebba, a sea-coast town of
Galilee: of which Pliny speaks; "The promontory Carmel, and in the mountain a town of
the same name, heretofore called Ecbatana: near by Getta Lebba," &c.
4. Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him.
[Simon the Canaanite.] In Luke it is Zealot. See who are called Zealots
in Josephus. Of whose sect, if you should say this Simon was before his conversion,
perhaps you would do him no more wrong than you would do his brother Matthew, when you
should say that he was a publican.
[Iscariot.] It may be inquired whether this name was given him while he was
alive, or not till after his death. If while he was alive, one may not improperly derive
it from Skortja, which is written also Iskortja: where, while the discourse
is of a man vowing that he would not use this or that garment, we are taught these
things;..."These are garments, some, of leather, and some of a certain kind of
clothing." The Gemara asketh, "What is Iskortja? Bar Bar Channah
answered, A Tanner's garment" The Gloss is, "A leathern apron that
tanners put on over their clothes." So that Judas Iscariot may perhaps signify
as much as Judas with the apron. But now in such aprons they had purses
sewn, in which they were wont to carry their money, as you may see in Aruch...which we
shall also observe presently. And hence, it may be, Judas had that title of the
purse-bearer, as he was called Judas with the apron.
Or what if he used the art of a tanner before he was chose into discipleship? Certainly
we read of one Simon a tanner, Acts 9:43; and that this Judas was the son of Simon, John
But if he were not branded with this title till after his death, I should suppose it
derived from Iscara: which word what it signifies, let the Gemarists speak:
"Nine hundred and three kinds of death were created in the world, as it is said, and
the issues of death, Psalm 68:21. The word issues arithmetically ariseth to
that number. Among all those kinds, Iscara is the roughest death..." Where the
Gloss is, 'Iscara' in the mother-tongue is estrangulament. By learned men for the
most part it is rendered angina, the quinsy. The Gemara sets out the roughness of
it by this simile, "The Iscara is like to branches of thorns in a fleece of wool;
which if a man shake violently behind, it is impossible but the wool will be pulled off by
them." It is thus defined in the Gloss, 'The Iscara' begins in the bowels, and
ends in the throat. See the Gemara there.
When Judas therefore perished by a most miserable strangling, being strangled by the
devil (which we observe in its place), no wonder if this infamous death be branded upon
his name, to be commonly styled Judas Iscariot, or 'that Judas that perished by
[Who also betrayed him.] Let that of Maimonides be observed: "It is
forbidden to betray an Israelite into the hands of the heathen, either as to his person,
or as to his goods," &c. "And whosoever shall so betray an Israelite shall
have no part in the world to come." Peter spake agreeably to the opinion of the
nation, when he said concerning Judas, "He went unto his own place," Acts 1:25.
And so doth Baal Turim concerning Balaam; "'Balaam went to his place,' Numbers 24:25;
that is (saith he), he went down to hell."
5. These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of
the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not:
[Into any city of the Samaritans, enter ye not.] Our Saviour would have the
Jews' privileges reserved to them, until they alienated and lost them by their own
perverseness and sins. Nor does he grant the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles or
Samaritans, before it was offered to the Jewish nation. The Samaritans vaunted themselves
sons of the patriarch Jacob, John 4:12 (which, indeed, was not altogether distant from the
truth); they embraced also the law of Moses; and being taught thence, expected the Messias
as well as the Jews: nevertheless, Christ acknowledges them for his sheep no more than the
I. Very many among them were sprung, indeed, of the seed of Jacob, though now become
renegades and apostates from the Jewish faith and nation, and hating them more than if
they were heathens, and more than they would do heathens. Which also, among other things,
may perhaps be observed in their very language. For read the Samaritan version of the
Pentateuch; and, if I mistake not, you will observe that the Samaritans, when, by reason
of the nearness of the places, and the alliance of the nations, they could not but make
use of the language of the Jews, yet used such a variation and change of the dialect, as
if they scorned to speak the same words that they did, and make the same language not the
II. In like manner they received the Mosaic law, but, for the most part, in so
different a writing of the words, that they seem plainly to have propounded this to
themselves, that retaining indeed the law of Moses, they would hold it under as much
difference from the Mosaic text of the Jews as ever they could, so that they kept
something to the sense. "R. Eliezer Ben R. Simeon said, 'I said to the scribes of the
Samaritans, Ye have falsified your law without any manner of profit accruing to you
thereby. For ye have written in your law, near the oaken groves of Moreh, which is
Sychem,'" &c....Let the Samaritan text at Deuteronomy 11:30 be looked upon.
III. However they pretended to study the religion of Moses, yet, in truth, there was
little or no difference between them and idolaters, when they knew not what they
worshipped; which our Saviour objects against them, John 4:22: and had not only revolved
as apostates from the true religion of Moses, but set themselves against it with the
greatest hatred. Hence the Jewish nation held them for heathens, or for a people more
execrable than the heathens themselves. A certain Rabbin thus reproaches their idolatry:
"R. Ismael Ben R. Josi went to Neapolis [that is, Sychem]: the Samaritans came to
him, to whom he spake thus; 'I see that you adore not this mountain, but the idols which
are under it: for it is written, Jacob hid the strange gods under the wood, which is near
It is disputed whether a Cuthite ought to be reckoned for a heathen, which is asserted
by Rabbi, denied by Simeon; but the conclusion, indeed, is sufficiently for the
IV. The metropolis of the Samaritans laboured under a second apostasy, being brought to
it by the deceit and witchcraft of Simon Magus, after the receiving of the gospel from the
mouth of our Saviour himself. Compare Acts 8:9 with John 4:41.
From all these particulars, and with good reason for the thing itself, and to preserve
the privileges of the Jews safe, and that they might not otherwise prove an offence to
that nation, the Samaritans are made parallel to the heathen, and as distant as they from
partaking of the gospel.
9. Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses,
[In your purses, &c.] these things, which are forbidden the disciples by our
Saviour, were the ordinary provision of travellers; to which the more religious added also
the book of the law.
"Some Levites travelled to Zoar, the city of palm-trees: and when one of them fell
sick by the way, they brought him to an inn. Coming back, they inquired of the hostess
concerning their companion. 'He is dead,' said she, 'and I have buried him.'" And a
little after, she brought forth to them his staff, and his purse, and the book of the
law, which was in his hand. So the Babylonian Misna: but the Jerusalem adds also shoes:
and instead of that which in the Misna is his purse, in the Gemara is...an inner
garment, with pockets to hold money and necessaries.
That also is worthy mention; Let no man enter into the mount of the Temple with his
staff, nor with his shoes, nor with his purse, nor with dust on his feet. Which words
are thus rendered by the Gemara: "Let no man enter into the mount of the Temple,
neither with his staff in his hand, nor with his shoes upon his feet, nor with money bound
up in his linen, nor with a purse hanging on his back." Where the Gloss thus:
'Ponditho' is a hollow girdle [or a hollow belt], in which they put up
their money. See the Aruch in Aponda, and Ponda.
10. Nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet
staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat.
[Nor scrip for your journey.] The Syriac version reads, No purse...
A proselyte is brought in thus speaking; "If an Israelite approaching to the holy
things shall die, how much more a stranger, who comes with his staff and his pouch!"
[Nor two coats.] A single coat bespake a meaner condition; a double, a more
plentiful. Hence is that counsel of the Baptist, Luke 3:11, "He that hath two coats,
let him impart to him that hath none." It is disputed by the Babylonian Talmudists,
how far it is lawful to wash garments on the common days of a festival-week; and
the conclusion is, "It is lawful for him that hath one coat only, to wash
[Neither shoes.] That shoes are here to be understood, and not sandals,
appears from Mark 6:9: and that there was a difference between these, sufficiently appears
from these very places. The contrary to which I read in Beza, not without wonder:
"But then from this place (saith he), as also from Acts 12:8, it appears that the
evangelists put no difference between shoes and sandals as Erasmus hath
Let the Jewish schools be heard in this matter: "The pulling off of the shoe
[of the husband's brother, Deuteronomy 25:9] is right: and of the sandal if it hath
a heel, is right; but if not, it is not right."
"R. Josi saith, I went to Nisibin, and I saw there a certain elder, and I said to
him, 'Are you well acquainted with R. Judah Ben Betira?' And he answered, 'I am a money
changer in my city; and he came to my table very often.' I said, 'Did you ever see him
putting off the shoe? What did he put off, shoe or sandal?' He
answered, 'O Rabbi, are there sandals among us?' Whence therefore, say I, did R.
Meir say, They do not put off the shoe? Rabbi Ba, Rabh Judah say, in the name of
Rabh, If Elias should come, and should say, 'They pull off the shoe of the
husband's brother, let them hearken to him': if he should say, 'They pull off the sandal,'
let them not hearken to him. And yet, for the most part, the custom is to pull off the sandal:
and custom prevails against tradition." See more there, and in the Babylonian tract Jevamoth.
Shoes were of more delicate use; sandals were more ordinary, and more for
service. A shoe was of softer leather, a sandal of harder, &c. There were sandals
also, whose sole, or lower part, was of wood, the upper of leather; and these were
fastened together by nails. There were some sandals also made of rushes, or of the
bark of palm-trees, &c. Another difference also between shoes and sandals
is illustrated by a notable story in the tract Schabbath, in the place just now
cited: "In a certain time of persecution, when some were hidden in a cave, they said
among themselves, 'He that will enter, let him enter; for he will look about him before he
enters, that the enemies see him not: but let none go out; for perhaps the enemies will be
near, whom he sees not when he goes out, and so all will be discovered.' One of them by
chance put on his sandals the wrong way: for sandals were open both ways, so
that one might put in his foot either before or behind: but he putting on his the wrong
way, his footsteps, when he went out, seemed as if he went in, and so their hiding-place
was discovered to the enemies," &c.
Money therefore in the girdle, and provision in the scrip, were forbidden the disciples
by Christ; first, that they might not be careful for temporal things, but resign
themselves wholly to the care of Christ; secondly, they ought to live of the gospel, which
he hints in the last clause of this verse, "The workman is worthy of his hire."
That, therefore, which he had said before, "Freely ye have received, freely
give," forbade them to preach the gospel for gain: but he forbade not to take food,
clothing, and other necessaries for the preaching of the gospel.
Two coats and shoes are forbidden them, that they might not at all affect
pride or worldly pomp, or to make themselves fine; but rather, that their habit and guise
might bespeak the greatest humility.
11. And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, inquire who in it is worthy;
and there abide till ye go thence.
[Who in it is worthy.] In the Talmudic language, who deserves.
14. And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of
that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.
[Shake off the dust of your feet.] The schools of the scribes taught that the
dust of the heathen land defiled by the touch. "The dust of Syria defiles,
as well as the dust of other heathen countries."
"A tradition-writer saith, 'They bring not herbs into the land of Israel out of a
heathen land: but our Rabbins have permitted it.' What difference is there between
these? R. Jeremiah saith, The care of their dust is among them." The Gloss
is, "They take care, lest, together with the herbs, something of the dust of
the heathen land be brought, which defiles in the tent, and defiles the purity of the land
"By reason of six doubts, they burn the truma: the doubt of a field, in
which heretofore might be a sepulchre; the doubt of dust brought from a heathen
land," &c. Where the Gloss is this; "Because it may be doubted of all the dust
of a heathen land, whether it were not from the sepulchre of the dead."
"Rabbi saw a certain priest standing in a part of the city Aco, which part was
without the bounds of the land of Israel: he said to him, 'Is not that heathen land
concerning which they have determined that it is as unclean as a burying-place?'"
Therefore that rite of shaking the dust off the feet, commanded the disciples,
speaks thus much; "Wheresoever a city of Israel shall not receive you, when ye
depart, shew, by shaking off the dust from your feet, that ye esteem that city,
however a city of Israel, for a heathen, profane, impure city; and, as such, abhor
17. But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will
scourge you in their synagogues;
[They shall scourge you in their synagogues.] Beza here, as he does very often
when he cannot explain a case, suspects it: for thus he writes; "When I neither find
synagogues elsewhere to have their names from houses of judgment, as the Hebrews
speak, nor that civil punishments were taken in synagogues, I suspect this place."
But without any cause, for,
I. In every synagogue there was a civil triumvirate, that is, three magistrates, who
judged of matters in contest arising within that synagogue; which we have noted before.
II. Scourging was by that bench of three. So that fivefold scourging of St. Paul
(2 Cor 11:24) was in the synagogue; that is, By that bench of three magistrates,
such as was in every synagogue.
It is something obscure that is said, But beware of men. Of whom else should
they beware? But perhaps the word men may occur in that sense, as men in
these forms of speech;...the men of the great assembly, and, the men of the
house of judgment &c. But we will not contend about it.
23. But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say
unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.
[Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, &c.] "Ye shall not
have travelled through the cities of Israel preaching the gospel, before the Son of man is
revealed by his resurrection," (Romans 1:4. Lay to this Acts 3:19,20, "Repent ye
therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, that the times of
refreshment may come" (for ye expect refreshment and consolation under the
Messias); "and he may send Jesus Christ first preached to you." And verse 26,
"To you first God, raising up his Son, sent him to bless you," &c. The epoch
of the Messias is dated from the resurrection of Christ.
25. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his
lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they
call them of his household?
[Beelzebub.] See chapter 12:24.
27. What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in
the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops.
[What ye hear in the ear.] We have observed before, that allusion is here made
to the manner of the schools, where the doctor whispered, out of the chair, into the
ear of the interpreter, and he with a loud voice repeated to the whole school that
which was spoken in the ear.
"They said to Judah Bar Nachmani, the interpreter of Resh Lachish, Do you stand
for his expositor." The Gloss is, "To tell out the exposition to the
synagogue, which he shall whisper to you." We cannot here but repeat that
which we produced before, The doctor whispered him in the ear in Hebrew. And we
cannot but suspect that that custom in the church of Corinth which the apostle reproves,
of speaking in the synagogue in an unknown tongue, were some footsteps of this custom.
We read of whispering in the ear done in another sense, namely, to a certain woman with
child, which longed for the perfumed flesh; "Therefore Rabbis said, Go whisper her
that it is the day of Expiation. They whispered to her, and she was whispered":
that is, she was satisfied and at quiet.
[Preach ye upon the housetops.] Perhaps allusion is made to that custom when the
minister of the synagogue on the sabbath-eve sounded with a trumpet six times upon the
roof of an exceeding high house, that thence all might have notice of the coming in of the
sabbath. The first sound was, that they should cease from their works in the fields; the
second, that they should cease from theirs in the city; the third, that they should light
the sabbath candle, &c.
34. Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a
[Think not that I am come to send peace, &c.] Although these words may be
understood truly of the difference between believers and unbelievers by reason of the
gospel, which all interpreters observe; yet they do properly and primarily point out, as
it were with the finger, those horrid slaughters and civil wars of the Jews among
themselves, such as no other age ever saw, nor story heard.
"R. Eliezer saith, The days of the Messias are forty years, as it is said, 'Forty
years was I provoked by this generation.'" And again; "R. Judah saith, In that
generation, when the Son of David shall come, the schools shall be harlots; Galilee shall
be laid waste; Gablan shall be destroyed; and the inhabitants of the earth [the Gloss is
'the Sanhedrim'] shall wander from city to city, and shall not obtain pity; the wisdom of
the scribes shall stink; and they that fear to sin shall be despised; and the faces of
that generation shall be like the faces of dogs; and truth shall fail, &c. Run over
the history of these forty years, from the death of Christ to the destruction of Jerusalem
(as they are vulgarly computed), and you will wonder to observe the nation conspiring to
its own destruction, and rejoicing in the slaughters and spoils of one another beyond all
example, and even to a miracle. This phrensy certainly was sent upon them from heaven. And
first, they are deservedly become mad who trod the wisdom of God, as much as they could,
under their feet. And secondly, the blood of the prophets and of Christ, bringing the good
tidings of peace, could not be expiated by a less vengeance. Tell me, O Jew, whence is
that rage of your nation towards the destruction of one another, and those monsters of
madness beyond all examples? Does the nation rave for nothing, unto their own ruin?
Acknowledge the Divine vengeance in thy madness, more than that which befell thee from
men. He that reckons up the difference, contentions, and broils of the nation, after the
dissension betwixt the Pharisees and the Sadducees, will meet with no less between the
scholars of Shammai and Hillel, which increased to that degree, that at last it came to
slaughter and blood.
"The scholars of Shammai and Hillel came to the chamber of Chananiah Ben Ezekiah
Ben Garon, to visit him: that was a woeful day, like the day wherein the golden calf was
made. The scholars of Shammai stood below, and slew some of the scholars of Hillel. The
tradition is, That six of them went up, and the rest stood there present with swords and
It passed into a common proverb, that "Elias the Tishbite himself could not decide
the controversies between the scholars of Hillel and the scholars of Shammai." They
dream they were determined by a voice from heaven; but certainly the quarrels and
bitternesses were not at all decided.
"Before the Bath Kol [in Jabneh] went forth, it was lawful equally to
embrace either the decrees of the school of Hillel, or those of the school of Shammai. At
last the Bath Kol came forth, and spake thus; 'The words, both of the one party and
the other, are the words of the living God; but the certain decision of the matter is
according to the decrees of the school of Hillel.' And from thenceforth, whosoever shall
transgress the decrees of the school of Hillel is guilty of death."
And thus the controversy was decided; but the hatreds and spites were not so ended. I
observe, in the Jerusalem Gemarists, the word Shamothi, used for a scholar of
Shammai: which I almost suspect, from the affinity of the word Shammatha, which
signifies Anathema, to be a word framed by the scholars of Hillel, in hate,
ignominy, and reproach of those of Shammai. And when I read more than once of R.
Tarphon's being in danger by robbers, because in some things he followed the custom and
manner of the school of Shammai; I cannot but suspect snares were daily laid by one
another, and hostile treacheries continually watching to do each other mischief.
"R. Tarphon saith, 'As I was travelling on the way, I went aside to recite the
phylacteries, according to the rite of the school of Shammai, and I was in danger of
thieves.' They said to him, and deservedly too, 'Because thou hast transgressed the words
of the school of Hillel.'" This is wanting in the Jerusalem Misna.
"R. Tarphon went down to eat figs of his own, according to the school of Shammai.
The enemies saw him, and kicked against him: when he saw himself in danger, 'By your
life,' saith he, 'carry word unto the house of Tarphon, that graveclothes be made ready
Thus, as if they were struck with a phrensy from heaven, the doctors of the nation rage
one against another; and from their very schools and chairs flow not so much doctrines, as
animosities, jarrings, slaughters, and butcheries. To these may be added those fearful
outrages, spoils, murders, devastations of robbers, cut-throats, zealots, and amazing
cruelties, beyond all example. And if these things do not savour of the divine wrath and
vengeance, what ever did?
3. And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?
[Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?] The reason of the
message of John to Christ is something obscure:
First, That it was not because he knew not Christ, is without all controversy, when he
had been fully instructed from heaven concerning his person, when he was baptized; and
when he had again and again most evidently borne witness to him, in those
words, "This is the Lamb of God," &c.
Secondly, Nor was that message certainly, that the disciples of John might receive
satisfaction about the person of Christ: for, indeed, the disciples were most unworthy of
such a master, if they should not believe him without further argument, when he taught
them concerning him.
Thirdly, John therefore seems in this matter to respect his own imprisonment, and that
his question, "Art thou he which should come," &c. tends to that. He had
heard that miracles of all sorts were done by him, that the blind received their sight,
the dead were raised, devils were cast out, &c. And why, therefore, among all the
rest, is not John set at liberty? This scruple, as it seems, stuck with the good man; 'Why
do all receive benefit and comfort from Christ, but only I?' Perhaps he laboured under
that dim-sightedness which the disciples of Christ and the whole nation did concerning his
earthly kingdom, victories, and triumphs: from which how distant (alas!) was this, that
his forerunner and the chief minister should lie in chains! 'If thou art he, concerning
whose triumphing the prophets declare so much, why am I so long detained in prison? Art
thou he, or is another to be expected, from whom these things are to be looked for?'
First, "That I am he that should come, these things which I do bear witness, 'The
blind receive their sight, the lame walk,'" &c.
Secondly, "As to the present case of John, who expects somebody to come to deliver
him out of bonds, and to free the people from the yoke of men, Let him (saith he)
acquiesce in my divine dispensation, and, 'Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended
in me,' however all things are not according to his mind, which he hath expected to fall
out, for his present and bodily advantage."
And the words of our Saviour, verse 11, seem to express some secret reproof of this
error in John, "He that is less in the kingdom of heaven, is greater than he."
The Vulgar version renders well the word less, not least: as if he should
say, "When ye went out into the desert to John, ye neither looked for trifles nor
earthly pomp, neither 'a reed shaken with the wind,' nor 'a man clothed in soft raiment';
but ye looked in good earnest for a prophet: and in that ye did very well; for he was the
greatest of prophets, nay, of men, as to his office; honoured in this above all others,
that he is the forerunner of the Messias. howbeit, there are some, which, indeed, in
respect of office, are much less than he in the kingdom of heaven, or in the commonwealth
of Christ, who yet are greater than he in respect of the knowledge of the state and
condition of his kingdom." A comparison certainly is not here made, either in respect
of office, or in respect of dignity, or in respect of holiness, or in respect of eternal
salvation; for who, I pray, exceeded the Baptist in all these, or in any of them? but in
respect of clear and distinct knowledge, in judging of the nature and quality of the
kingdom of heaven.
Let the austerity of John's life, and the very frequent fasts which he enjoined his
disciples, be well considered, and what our Saviour saith of both, and you will easily
believe that John also, according to the universal conceit of the nation, expected
temporal redemption by the Messias, not so clearly distinguishing concerning the nature of
the kingdom and redemption of Christ. And you will the more easily give credit to this,
when you shall have observed how the disciples of Christ themselves, that conversed a long
time with him, were dim-sighted, likewise, in this very thing.
12. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth
violence, and the violent take it by force.
[The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence.] And these words also make for the
praise of John. That he was a very eminent prophet, and of no ordinary mission or
authority, these things evince; that from his preaching, the kingdom of heaven took its
beginning, and it was so crowded into by infinite multitudes, as if they would take and
seize upon the kingdom by violence. The divine warmth of the people in betaking themselves
thither by such numberless crowds, and with so exceeding a zeal, sufficiently argued the
divine worth both of the teacher and of his doctrine.
14. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.
[If ye will receive it, this is Elias.] If ye will receive it. The words
hint some suspicion, that they would not receive his doctrine; which the obstinate
expectation of that nation unto this very day, that Elias is personally to come,
witnesseth also. Upon what ground some Christians are of the same opinion, let themselves
look to it. See the notes on chapter 17:10.
21. Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works,
which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago
in sackcloth and ashes.
[In Tyre and Sidon.] He compares the cities of the Jews with the cities of the
Canaanites, who were of a cursed original; "but yet these cities, of a cursed seed
and name, if they had been partakers of the miracles done among you, had not hardened
themselves to such a degree of madness and obstinacy as you have done: but had turned from
their heathenism and Canaanitism unto the knowledge of the gospel; or, at least, had
betook themselves to such a repentance as would have prevented vengeance." So the
repentance of the Ninevites, however it were not to salvation, yet it was such as
preserved them, and freed their city from the wrath and scourge that hung over them. The
most horrid stiffness of the Jews is here intimated, of all impious men the most impious,
of all cursed wretches the most cursed.
22. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of
judgment, than for you.
[At the day of judgment.] In the day of judgment: and In the day of
the great judgment: a form of speech very usual among the Jews.
29. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye
shall find rest unto your souls.
[My yoke.] So The yoke of the law: The yoke of the precept: The yoke of the
kingdom of heaven.
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