Exercitations upon the Gospel of St. Matthew
Chapters 17, 18, 19
In this transfiguration, he is sealed for the high priest: for mark, 1. How two of the
greatest prophets, Moses and Elias, resort to him. 2. How to those words, "This is my
beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased," which also were heard from heaven at his
baptism, is added that clause, "hear ye him": which compare with the words of
Moses, concerning a prophet to be raised up by God, Deuteronomy 18:19, "Whosoever
shall not hearken to my words, which I shall put into his mouth," &c. 3. How the
heavenly voice went out of the cloud that overshadowed them, when at his baptism no such
cloud appeared. Here that is worthy observing, which some Jews note, and reason dictates,
namely, That the cloud of glory, the conductor of Israel, departed at the death of Moses;
for while he lived, that cloud was the people's guide in the wilderness; but when he was
dead, the ark of the covenant led them. Therefore, as that cloud departed at the death of
Moses, that great prophet, so such a cloud was now present at the sealing of the greatest
Prophet. 4. Christ here shines with such a brightness, nay, with a greater than Moses and
Elias now glorified; and this both for the honour of his person and for the honour of his
doctrine; both which surpassed by infinite degrees the persons and the doctrines of both
of them. When you recollect the face of Christ transfigured, shining with so great lustre
when he talked with Moses and Elias, acknowledge the brightness of the gospel above the
cloudy obscurity of the law and of the prophets.
I. Let David Kimchi first be heard upon those words of Malachi, "Behold, I send
you Elias the prophet": "God (saith he) shall restore the soul of Elias, which
ascended of old into heaven, into a created body, like to his former body: for his first
body returned to earth when he went up to heaven, each element to its own element. But
when God shall bring him to life in the body, he shall send him to Israel before the day
of judgment, which is 'the great and terrible day of the Lord': and he shall admonish both
the fathers and the children together to turn to God; and they that turn shall be
delivered from the day of judgment," &c. Consider whither the eye of the
disciples looks, in the question under our hands. Christ had commanded in the verse
before, "Tell the vision" of the transfiguration "to no man, until the Son
of man be risen from the dead." But now, although they understood not what the
resurrection from the dead meant, (which Mark intimates,) yet they roundly retort,
"Why therefore say the scribes that Elias shall first come?" that is, before
there be a resurrection and a day of judgment: for as yet they were altogether ignorant
that Christ should rise. They believed, with the whole nation, that there should be a
resurrection at the coming of the Messias.
2. Let Aben Ezra be heard in the second place: "We find (saith he) that Elias
lived in the days of Ahaziah the son of Ahab: we find also, that Joram the son of Ahab and
Jehoshaphat, inquired of Elisha the prophet; and there it is written [2 Kings 3:11], 'This
is Elisha the son of Shaphat, who poured water upon the hands of Elijah.' And this
is a sign that Elias was first gone up into heaven in a whirlwind: because it is not said
'who poureth water,' but 'who poured.' Moreover, Elisha departed not from
Elijah from the time that he first waited upon him until Elias went up. And yet we find
that, after the death of Jehoshaphat, in the days of Ahaziah his son it was written, 'And
a letter came to him from Elijah the prophet.' And this proves that he then writ and sent
it: for if it had been written before his ascension, it would be said, a letter was found
or brought to him, which Elias had left behind him. And it is without controversy, that he
was seen in the days of our holy wise men. God of his mercy hasten his prophecy, and the
times of his coming." So he upon Malachi 4.
3. The Talmudists do suppose Elias keeping the sabbath in mount Carmel: "Let not
the Trumah (saith one), of which it is doubted whether it be clean or unclean, be
burnt; lest Elias, keeping the sabbath in mount Carmel, come and testify of it on the
sabbath that it is clean."
4. The Talmudical books abound with these and the like trifles: "If a man finds
any thing that is lost, he is bound to declare it by a public outcry; but if the owners
come not to ask for it, let him lay it up by him until Elias shall come." And,
"If any find a bill of contract between his countrymen, and knows not what it means,
let him lay it up until Elias shall come."
5. That we be not tedious, it shall be enough to produce a few passages out of
Babylonian Erubhin: where, upon this subject, "If any say, Behold, I am a
Nazarite, on the day wherein the Son of David comes, it is permitted to drink wine on the
sabbaths and feast-days," it is disputed what day of the week Messias shall come, and
on what day, Elias: where, among other things, these words occur, Elias came not
yesterday: that is, the same day wherein he comes he shall appear in public; and shall
not lie hid to day, coming yesterday. The Gloss thus: "If thou sayest, perhaps he
shall come on the eve of the sabbath, and shall preach the gospel on the sabbath;
you may answer with that text, 'Behold, I send you Elias the prophet, before the day of
the Lord come': you may argue, that he shall preach on that very day in which he shall
Let these three observations out of the Glossers upon the page cited serve for a
1. Before the coming of the Son of David, Elias shall come to preach of him.
2. "Messias cometh not on the first day of the sabbath, because Elias shall
not come on the sabbath." Whence it appears that Elias is expected the day before the
3. Is not Messias Ben Joseph to come first?
II. We meet with numberless stories in the Talmudists concerning the apparitions of
Elias: according to that which was said before by Aben Ezra, "It is without
controversy that Elias was seen in the days of our wise men." There is no need of
examples, when it may not be so much doubted who of these wise men saw Elias, as who saw
him not. For my part I cannot esteem all those stories for mere fables; but in very many
of them I cannot but suspect witchcrafts, and the appearances of ghosts, which we also
said before concerning the Bath Kol. For thus the devil craftily deluded this
nation, willing to be deceived; and even the capacity of observing that the coming of the
Messias was now past was obliterated, when here and there, in this age and in the other,
his forerunner Elias appeared, as if he intended hence to let them know that he was yet to
I. He that is skilled in the Talmudic writings will here remember what things are said
concerning a deaf and mad man, concerning whom there is so much mention in their
II. It was very usual to the Jews to attribute some of the more grievous diseases to
evil spirits, specially those wherein either the body was distorted, or the mind disturbed
and tossed with a phrensy.
"Shibta is an evil spirit, who, taking hold on the necks of infants, dries up and
contracts their nerves."
From this vulgar opinion of the nation, namely, that devils are the authors of such
kind of diseases, one evangelist brings in the father of this child, saying of him he
is lunatic, another, he hath a spirit. He had been dumb and deaf from his
birth; to that misery was added a phrensy, or a lycanthropy, which kind of disease it was
not unusual with the nation to attribute to the devil; and here, in truth, a devil was
Christ and his three prime disciples being absent, this child is brought to the rest to
be healed: they cannot heal him, partly, because the devil was really in him; partly,
because this evil had adhered to him from his very birth. Upon this the scribes insult and
scoff at them and their master. A faithless and perverse generation, which is
neither overcome by miracles, when they are done, and vilify, when they are not done! The
faith of the disciples (v 20) wavered by the plain difficulty of the thing, which seemed
impossible to be overcome, when so many evils were digested into one, deafness, dumbness,
phrensy, and possession of the devil: and all these from the cradle.
1. The word itself whereby this tribute is called, Concerning this, thus Josephus
writes: "He laid a tax upon all the Jews wheresoever they were, namely, two
drachms: commanding every one, of whatever age, to bring it into the Capitol, as
before they had paid it into the Temple at Jerusalem." And Dion Cassius of the same
thus, "He commanded all to bring the didrachm yearly to Jupiter
2. The answer of Christ sufficiently argues that the discourse is concerning this tax,
when he saith, He is son of that king for whose use that tribute was demanded: for,
"from thence were bought the daily and additional sacrifices, and their drink
offerings, the sheaf, the two loaves (Lev 23:17), the shewbread, all the sacrifices of the
congregation, the red cow, the scapegoat, and the crimson tongue, which was between his
But here this objection occurs, which is not so easy to answer. The time of the payment
of the half shekel was about the feast of the Passover; but now that time was far gone,
and the feast of Tabernacles at hand. It may be answered, 1. That Matthew, who recites
this story, observed not the course and order of time, which was not unusual with him, as
being he among all the evangelists that most disjoints the times of the stories. But let
it be granted that the order of the history in him is right and proper here, it is
answered, 2. Either Christ was scarcely present at the Passover last past; or if he were
present, by reason of the danger he was in by the snares of the Jews, he could not perform
this payment in that manner as it ought to have been. Consider those words which John
speaks of the Passover last past, chapter 6:4, "The Passover, a feast of the Jews,
was near"; and chapter 7:1, "After these things Jesus walked in Galilee; for he
would not walk any more in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him." 3. It was not
unusual to defer the payment of the half shekels of this year to the year following, by
reason of some urgent necessity. Hence it was, when they sat to collect and receive this
tribute, the collectors had before them two chests placed; in one of which they put the
tax of the present year, in the other of the year past.
But it may be objected, Why did the collectors of Capernaum require the payment at that
time, when, according to custom, they began not to demand it before the fifteenth day of
the month Adar? I answer, 1. It is certain there were, in every city, moneychangers
to collect it, and, being collected, to carry it to Jerusalem. Hence is that in the tract
cited, "The fifteenth day of the month Adar, the collectors sit in the cities,"
to demand the half shekel; "and the five-and-twentieth they sit in the Temple."
2. The uncertain abode of Christ at Capernaum gave these collectors no unjust cause of
demanding this due, whensoever they had him there present; at this time especially, when
the feast of Tabernacles was near, and they about to go to Jerusalem, to render an
account, perhaps, of their collection.
But if any list to understand this of the tax paid the Romans, we do not contend. And
then the words of those that collected the tribute, "Does not your master pay the
didrachm?" seem to sound to this effect, "Is your master of the sect of Judas of
1. At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in
the kingdom of heaven?
[Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?] It cannot be passed over without
observation, that the ambitious dispute of the disciples concerning primacy, for the most
part followed the mention of the death of Christ and his resurrection. See this story in
Mark 9:31-33, and Luke 9:44-46: "He said to his disciples, Lay up these discourses in
your ears: for the time is coming that the Son of man is delivered into the hands of men.
But they knew not that saying, &c.; and there arose a contest between them, who among
them should be greatest." Also Matthew 20:18-20: "He said to them, Behold, we go
up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests, &c. Then
came to him the mother of Zebedee's children with her sons, saying, Grant that these my
two sons may sit, one on thy right hand," &c. And Luke 22:22-24; "The Son of
man indeed goeth as it is determined, &c.; and there arose a contention among them,
who of them should seem to be the greater."
The dream of the earthly kingdom of the Messias did so possess their minds (for they
had sucked in this doctrine with their first milk), that the mention of the most vile
death of the Messias, repeated over and over again, did not at all drive it thence. The
image of earthly pomp was fixed at the bottom of their hearts, and there it stuck; nor by
any words of Christ could it as yet be rooted out, no, not when they saw the death of
Christ, when together with that they saw his resurrection: for then they also asked,
"Wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" Acts 1:6.
However, after Christ had oftentimes foretold his death and resurrection, it always
follows in the evangelists that "they understood not what was spoken"; yet the
opinion formed in their minds by their doctors, that the resurrection should go before the
kingdom of the Messias, supplied them with such an interpretation of this matter, that
they lost not an ace of the opinion of a future earthly kingdom.
See more at chapter 24:3.
6. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were
better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were
drowned in the depth of the sea.
[It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, &c.] It
is good for him, in Talmudic language.
A millstone seems to be said in distinction from those very small mills
wherewith they were wont to grind the spices that were either to be applied to the wound
of circumcision, or to be added to the delights of the sabbath. Hence the Gloss of R.
Solomon upon Jeremiah 25:10; "The sound of mills and the light of the candle":
"The sound of mills (saith he), wherewith spices were ground and bruised for the
healing of circumcision."
That Christ here speaks of a kind of death, perhaps nowhere, certainly never used among
the Jews; he does it either to aggravate the thing, or in allusion to drowning in the Dead
sea, in which one cannot be drowned without some weight hung to him: and in which to
drown any thing, by a common manner of speech, implied to devote to rejection, hatred,
and execration; which we have observed elsewhere.
10. Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That
in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.
[Their angels in heaven do always behold, &c.] This one may very well
expound by laying to it that which is said, Hebrews 1:14, "The angels are ministering
spirits, sent to minister for them who shall be heirs of the salvation to come": as
if he should say, "See that ye do not despise one of these little ones, who have been
received with their believing parents into the gospel-church: for I say unto you, that
after that manner as the angels minister to adult believers, they minister to them
12. How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray,
doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that
which is gone astray?
[If one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety-and-nine, &c.]
A very common form of speech:--"In distributing some grapes and dates to the poor,
although ninety-nine say, 'Scatter them'; and only one, 'Divide them': they
hearken to him, because he speaks according to the tradition." "If ninety-nine
die by an evil eye," that is, by bewitchings; "and but one by the hand of
Heaven," that is, by the stroke of God, &c. "If ninety-nine die by
reason of cold, but one by the hand of God," &c.
15. Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault
between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.
[Tell him his fault between thee and him alone.] The reason of the precept is
founded in that charitable law, Leviticus 19:17; "Thou shalt not hate thy brother in
thy heart; but thou shalt surely reprove him, and shalt not suffer sin in him."
Here the Talmudists speak not amiss: "The Rabbins deliver, 'Thou shalt not hate
thy brother in thy heart.' Perhaps he does not beat him, he does not pull off his hair, he
does not curse him: the text saith, 'in thy heart,' speaking of hatred in the heart. But
whence is it proved that he that sees his brother doing some foul action is bound to
reprove him? Because it is said, In reproving, thou shalt reprove. He reproves, but
he heareth not: whence is it proved he is bound to a second reproof? The text saith,
'In reproving, thou shalt reprove.'" And a little after, "How long must we
reprove? Rabh saith, 'Even to blows'"; that is, until he that is reproved strikes him
that reproves him: "Samuel saith, 'Until he is angry.'" See also Maimonides.
16. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that
in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
[Take with thee one or two more, &c.] The Hebrew lawyers require the same
thing of him that sins against his brother: "Samuel saith, 'Whosoever sins against
his brother, he must say to him, I have sinned against thee. If he hear, it is well: if
not, let him bring others, and let him appease him before them. If perhaps he die, let him
appease him at his sepulchre, and say, I have sinned against thee.'"
But our Saviour here requires a higher charity; namely, from him who is the offended
party. In like manner, "The great Sanhedrim admonished a city lapsed to idols, by two
disciples of the wise men. If they repented, well: if not, all Israel waged war against
it." In like manner also, "The jealous husband warned his wife before two
witnesses, 'Do not talk with N.'"
17. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he
neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican.
[Tell it unto the church.] That which was incumbent upon him against whom the
sin was committed was this, that he should deliver his soul by reproving his brother, and
by not suffering sin in him. This was the reason that he had need of witnesses, for what
else could they testify? They could not testify that the brother had sinned against him
that reproved him; for this, perhaps, they were altogether ignorant of: but they might
testify this, that he against whom the sin was committed used due reproof, and omitted
nothing which was commanded by the law in that case, whereby he might admonish his
brother, and, if possible, bring him back into the right way. The witnesses also added
their friendly admonition: whom if the offender hearkened not unto, "let it be told
We do not here enter upon that long dispute concerning the sense of the word church
in this place. However you take it, certainly the business here is not so much concerning
the censure of the person sinning, as concerning the vindication of the person reproving;
that it might be known to all that he discharged his duty, and freed his soul.
It was very customary among the Jews to note those that were obstinate in this or that
crime after public admonition given them in the synagogue, and to set a mark of infamy
All these have need of public admonition in the consistory. The business there
is about some shepherds, collectors, and publicans; and it is declared how incapable they
are of giving evidence in any judiciary matter; but not before public admonition is gone
out against them in the consistory.
"If any deny to feed his children, they reprove him, they shame him, they urge
him: if he still refuse, they make proclamation against him in the synagogue, saying, 'N.
is a cruel man, and will not nourish his children: more cruel than the unclean birds
themselves, for they feed their young ones,'" &c.
"A provoking wife who saith, 'I will create vexation to my husband, because he
hath done thus or thus to me, or because he hath miscalled me, or because he hath chid
me,' &c. The consistory by messengers send these words to her, 'Be it known unto you,
if you persist in your perverseness, although your dowry be a hundred pounds, you have
lost it all.' And moreover they set forth a public proclamation against her in the
synagogues, and in the divinity schools every day for four sabbaths."
[Let him be to thee as a heathen and a publican.] He saith, Let him be to
'thee'; not, Let him be to 'the church': because the discourse is of peculiar
and private scandal against a single man; who, after three admonitions given, and they to
no purpose, is freed from the law of brotherly obligation; and he who being admonished
does not repent, is not to be esteemed so much for a brother to him, as for a heathen,
I. Christ does not here prescribe concerning every offender, according to the full
latitude of that law, Leviticus 19:17; but of him that particularly offends against his
brother; and he does particularly teach what is to be done to that brother.
II. Although he, against whom the offence is committed, had a just cause, why he should
be loosed from the obligation of the office of a brother towards him, who neither would
make satisfaction for the wrong done, nor be admonished of it; yet to others in the church
there is not the same reason.
III. The words plainly mean this; "If, after a threefold and just reproof, he that
sinned against thee still remains untractable, and neither will give thee satisfaction for
the injury, nor, being admonished, doth repent, thou hast delivered thine own soul, and
art free from brotherly offices towards him"; just as the Jews reckon themselves
freed from friendly offices towards heathens and publicans. That of
Maimonides is not much different: "A Jew that apostatizes, or breaks the sabbath
presumptuously, is altogether like a heathen."
1. They reckoned not heathens for brethren or neighbours: "If any one's ox
shall gore his neighbour's ox: his neighbour's, not a heathen's: when he saith neighbour's,
he excludes heathens." A quotation which we produced before.
2. They reputed publicans to be by no means within religious society: A
religious man, who becomes a publican, is to be driven out of the society of religion.
3. Hence they ate neither with heathens nor with publicans: concerning
which thing they often quarrel [with] our Saviour. Hence that of the apostle, 1
Corinthians 5:11; "With such an one no not to eat," is the same with what is
spoke here, "Let him be to thee as a heathen," &c.
"It is forbidden a Jew to be alone with a heathen, to travel with a
4. They denied also brotherly offices to heathens and publicans: "It
is forbidden to bring home any thing of a heathen's that is lost." "It is
lawful for publicans to swear that is an oblation which is not; that you are of the
king's retinue when you are not," &c. that is, publicans may deceive, and
that by oath.
18. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in
heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
[Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth, &c.] These words depend upon the former.
He had been speaking concerning being loosed from the office of a brother in a
particular case: now he speaks of the authority and power of the apostles of loosing
and binding "any thing" whatsoever seemed them good, being guided in all
things by the Holy Ghost. We have explained the sense of this phrase at chapter 16; and he
gives the same authority in respect of this, to all the apostles here, as he did to Peter
there; who were all to be partakers of the same Spirit and of the same gifts.
This power was built upon that noble and most self-sufficient foundation, John 16:13,
"The Spirit of truth shall lead you into all truth." There lies an emphasis in
those words, "into all truth." I deny that any one, any where, at any time, was
led, or to be led, into all truth, from the ascension of Christ, unto the world's
end, beside the apostles. Every holy man, certainly, is led into all truth necessary to
him for salvation: but the apostles were led into all truth necessary both for themselves
and the whole church; because they were to deliver a rule of faith and manners to the
whole church throughout all ages. Hence, whatsoever they should confirm in the law was to
be confirmed; whatsoever they should abolish was to be abolished: since they were endowed,
as to all things, with a spirit of infallibility, guiding them by the hand into all truth.
19. Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any
thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.
[That if two of you shall agree upon earth, &c.] And these words do closely
agree with those that went before: there the speech was concerning the apostles'
determination in all things respecting men; here, concerning their grace and power of
obtaining things from God.
I. [Two of you.] Hence Peter and John act jointly together among the Jews, Acts
2, 3, &c., and they act jointly among the Samaritans, Acts 8:14; and Paul and Barnabas
among the Gentiles, Acts 13:2. This bond being broke by Barnabas, the Spirit is doubled as
it were upon Paul.
II. [Agree together.] That is, to obtain something from God; which appears also
from the following words, touching any thing that they shall ask: suppose,
concerning conferring the Spirit by the imposition of hands, of doing this or that
20. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst
[For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of
them.] The like do the Rabbins speak of two or three sitting in judgment, that the
divine presence is in the midst of them.
21. Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me,
and I forgive him? till seven times?
[Shall I forgive him? till seven times?] This question of Peter respects the
words of our Saviour, verse 15. "How far shall I forgive my brother before I proceed
to the extremity? What! seven times?" He thought that he had measured out, by these
words, a large charity, being, in a manner, double to that which was prescribed by the
schools: "He that is wronged (say they) is forbidden to be difficult to pardon; for
that is not the manner of the seed of Israel. But when the offender implores him once and
again, and it appears he repents of his deed, let him pardon him: and whosoever is most
ready to pardon is most praiseworthy." It is well; but there lies a snake under it;
"For (say they) they pardon a man once, that sins against another; secondly, they
pardon him; thirdly, they pardon him; fourthly, they do not pardon him," &c.
1. And it came to pass, that when Jesus had finished these sayings, he
departed from Galilee, and come into the coasts of Judaea beyond Jordan;
[He came unto the coasts of Judea beyond Jordan.] If it were barely said, the
coasts of Judea beyond Jordan, by the coasts of Judea one might understand the
bounds of the Jews beyond Jordan. Nor does such a construction want its parallel in
Josephus; for "Hyrcanus (saith he) built a fortification, the name of which was Tyre,
between Arabia and Judea, beyond Jordan, not far from Essebonitis." But see
Mark here, chapter 10:1, relating the same story with this our evangelist: He came,
saith he, into the coasts of Judea, (taking a journey from Galilee,) along the
country beyond Jordan.
3. 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?
[Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?] Of the causes, ridiculous
(shall I call them?) or wicked, for which they put away their wives, we have spoke
at chapter 5:31. We will produce only one example here; "When Rabh went to Darsis
('whither,' as the Gloss saith, 'he often went'), he made a public proclamation, What
woman will have me for a day? Rabh Nachman, when he went to Sacnezib, made a public
proclamation, What woman will have me for a day?" The Gloss is, "Is there any
woman who will be my wife while I tarry in this place?"
The question here propounded by the Pharisees was disputed in the schools, and they
divided into parties concerning it, as we have noted before. For the school of Shammai
permitted not divorces, but only in the case of adultery; the school of Hillel, otherwise.
8. He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to
put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.
[Because Moses for the hardness of your hearts suffered, &c.] Interpreters
ordinarily understand this of the unkindness of men towards their wives; and that not
illy: but at first sight hardness of heart for the most part in Scripture denotes
rather obduration against God than against men. Examples occur everywhere. Nor does this
sense want its fitness in this place: not to exclude the other, but to be joined with it
I. That God delivered that rebellious people for the hardness of their hearts to
spiritual fornication, that is, to idolatry, sufficiently appears out of sacred story, and
particularly from these words of the first martyr Stephen, Acts 7:42: God turned, and
gave them up to worship the host of heaven, &c. And they seem not less given up to
carnal fornication, if you observe the horrid records of their adulteries in the Holy
Scripture, and their not less horrid allowances of divorces and polygamies in the books of
the Talmudists: so that the particle...carries with it a very proper sense, if you
interpret it to, according to its most usual signification; "Moses to
the hardness of your hearts added this, that he permitted divorces; something that savours
of punishment in itself, however you esteem it for a privilege."
II. But you may interpret it more clearly and aptly of the inhumanity of husbands
towards their wives: but this is to be understood also under restriction: for Moses
permitted not divorces, because, simply and generally men were severe and unkind towards
their wives; for then, why should he restrain divorces to the cause of adultery? but
because, from their fierceness and cruelty towards their wives, they might take hold of
and seek occasions from that law which punished adultery with death, to prosecute their
wives with all manner of severity, to oppress them, to kill them.
Let us search into the divine laws in case of adultery a little more largely.
1. There was a law made upon the suspicion of adultery, that the wife should undergo a
trial by the bitter waters, Numbers 5: but it is disputed by the Jewish schools, rightly
and upon good ground, whether the husband was bound in this case by duty to prosecute his
wife to extremity, or whether it were lawful for him to connive at and pardon her, if he
would. And there are some who say he was bound by duty; and there are others who
say that it was left to his pleasure.
2. There was a law of death made in case of the discovery of adultery, Deuteronomy
22:21-23: "If a man shall be found lying with a married woman, both shall die,"
&c. Not that this law was not in force unless they were taken in the very act; but the
word shall be found is opposed to suspicion, and means the same as if it were said,
"When it shall be found that a man hath lain," &c.
3. A law of divorce also was given in case of adultery discovered, Deuteronomy 24:1;
for in that case only, and when it is discovered, it plainly appears from our Saviour's
gloss, and from the concession of some Rabbins also, that divorces took place: for, say
they in the place last cited, "Does a man find something foul in his wife? he cannot
put her away, because he hath not found foul nakedness in her"; that is, adultery.
But now, how do the law of death and that of divorce consist together? It is answered,
They do not so consist together that both retain their force; but the former was partly
taken off by the latter, and partly not. The Divine Wisdom knew that inhuman husbands
would use that law of death unto all manner of cruelty towards their wives: for how ready
was it for a wicked and unkind husband to lay snares even for his innocent wife, if he
were weary of her, to oppress her under that law of death! And if she were taken under
guilt, how cruelly and insolently would he triumph over her, poor woman, both to the
disgrace of wedlock and to the scandal of religion! Therefore the most prudent, and withal
merciful lawgiver, made provision that the woman, if she were guilty, might not go without
her punishment; and if she were not guilty, might go without danger; and that the wicked
husband that was impatient of wedlock might not satiate his cruelty. That which is said by
one does not please me, "That there was no place for divorce where matrimony was
broke off by capital punishment"; for there was place for divorce for that end, that
there might not be place for capital punishment. That law indeed of death held the
adulterer in a snare, and exacted capital punishment upon him, and so the law made
sufficient provision for terror: but it consulted more gently for the woman, the weaker
vessel, lest the cruelty of her husband might unmercifully triumph over her.
Therefore, in the suspicion of adultery, and the thing not discovered, the husband
might, if he would, try his wife by the bitter waters; or if he would he might connive at
her. In case of the discovery of adultery, the husband might put away his wife, but he
scarce might put her to death; because the law of divorce was given for that very end,
that provision might be made for the woman against the hardheartedness of her husband.
Let this story serve for a conclusion; "Shemaiah and Abtalion compelled
Carchemith, a libertine woman-servant, to drink the bitter waters." The husband of
this woman could not put her away by the law of Moses, because she was not found guilty of
discovered adultery. He might put her away by the traditional law, which permitted
divorces without the case of adultery; he might not, if he had pleased, have brought her
to trial by the bitter waters; but it argued the hardness of his heart towards his wife,
or burning jealousy, that he brought her. I do not remember that I have anywhere in the
Jewish pandect read any example of a wife punished with death for adultery. There is
mention of the daughter of a certain priest committing fornication in her father's house,
that was burnt alive; but she was not married.
13. Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his
hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them.
[Then were little children brought unto him.] Not for the healing of some
disease; for if this had been the end propounded, why did the disciples keep them back
above all others, or chide any for their access? Nor can we believe that they were the
children of unbelieving Jews, when it is scarcely probable that they, despising the
doctrine and person of Christ, would desire his blessing. Some therefore of those that
believe brought their infants to Christ, that he might take particular notice of them, and
admit them into his discipleship, and mark them for his by his blessing. Perhaps the
disciples thought this an excess of officious religion; or that they would be too
troublesome to their Master; and hence they opposed them: but Christ countenanceth the
same thing, and favours again that doctrine which he had laid down, chapter 18:3; namely,
that the infants of believers were as much disciples and partakers of the kingdom of
heaven as their parents.
18. 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,
[Thou shalt do no murder, &c.] It is worthy marking, how again and again in
the New Testament, when mention is made of the whole law, only the second table is
exemplified, as in this place; so also Romans 13:8,9, and James 2:8,11, &c. Charity
towards our neighbour is the top of religion, and a most undoubted sign of love towards
21. Jesus said unto him, 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
[Sell that thou hast, and give to the poor.] When Christ calls it perfection
to sell all and give to the poor, he speaks according to the idiom of the nation, which
thought so: and he tries this rich man, boasting of his exact performance of the law,
whether, when he pretended to aspire to eternal life, he would aspire to that perfection
which his countrymen so praised. Not that hence he either devoted Christians to voluntary
poverty, or that he exhorted this man to rest ultimately in a Pharisaical perfection;
but lifting up his mind to the renouncing of worldly things, he provokes him to it by the
very doctrine of the Pharisees which he professed.
"For these things the measure is not stated; for the corner of the field" to
be left for the poor; "for the firstfruits for the appearance in the Temple"
(according to the law, Exodus 23:15,17, where, what, or how great an oblation is to be
brought, is not appointed), "for the shewing mercy, and for the study of the
law." The casuists, discussing that point of 'shewing mercy,' do thus determine
concerning it: "A stated measure is not indeed prescribed to the shewing of mercy, as
to the affording poor men help with thy body," that is, with thy bodily labour;
"but as to money there is a stated measure, namely, the fifth part of thy wealth; nor
is any bound to give the poor above the fifth part of his estate, unless he does it out
of extraordinary devotion." See Rambam upon the place, and the Jerusalem Gemara:
where the example of R. Ishbab is produced, distributing all his goods to the poor.
24. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a
needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
[A camel to go through the eye of a needle, &c.] A phrase used in the
schools, intimating a thing very unusual and very difficult. There, where the discourse is
concerning dreams and their interpretation, these words are added. They do not shew a
man a palm tree of gold, nor an elephant going through the eye of a needle. The Gloss
is, "A thing which he was not wont to see, nor concerning which he ever
In like manner R. Sheshith answered R. Amram, disputing with him and asserting
something that was incongruous, in these words; "Perhaps thou art one of those of
Pombeditha, who can make an elephant pass through the eye of a needle": that is, as
the Aruch interprets it, "who speak things that are impossible."
28. And 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 in the throne of his glory, ye also
shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
[Ye that have followed me, in the regeneration.] That the world is to be renewed
at the coming of the Messias, and the preaching of the gospel, the Scriptures assert, and
the Jews believe; but in a grosser sense, which we observe at chapter 24. Our Saviour,
therefore, by the word regeneration, calls back the mind of the disciples to a
right apprehension of the thing; implying that renovation, concerning which the Scripture
speaks, is not of the body or substance of the world; but that it consists in the renewing
of the manners, doctrine, and a dispensation conducing thereunto: men are to be
renewed, regenerated,--not the fabric of the world. This very thing he teaches
Nicodemus, treating concerning the nature of the kingdom of heaven, John 3:3.
[When the Son of man shall sit upon the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit.]
These words are fetched out of Daniel, chapter 7:9,10; which words I wonder should be
translated by the interpreters, Aben Ezra, R. Saadia, and others, as well Jews as
Christians, thrones were cast down. R. Solomon the Vulgar, and others, read it
righter, thrones were set up: where Lyranus thus, "He saith thrones in
the plural number, because not only Christ shall judge, but the apostles, and perfect men,
shall assist him in judgment, sitting upon thrones." The same way very many
interpreters bend the words under our hands, namely, that the saints shall at the day of
judgment sit with Christ, and approve and applaud his judgment. But, 1. besides, that the
scene of the last judgment, painted out in the Scripture, does always represent as well
the saints as the wicked standing before the tribunal of Christ, Matthew 25:32, 2
Corinthians 5:10, &c.; we have mention here only of "twelve thrones." And,
2, we have mention only of judging the "twelve tribes of Israel." The sense,
therefore, of the place may very well be found out by weighing these things following:
I. That those thrones set up in Daniel are not to be understood of the last judgment of
Christ, but of his judgment in his entrance upon his evangelical government, when he was
made by his Father chief ruler, king, and judge of all things: Psalm 2:6, Matthew 28:18,
John 5:27. For observe the scope and series of the prophet, that, after the four
monarchies, namely, the Babylonian, the Medo-Persian, the Grecian, and the Syro-Grecian,
which monarchies had vexed the world and the church by their tyranny, were destroyed, the
kingdom of Christ should rise, &c. Those words, "The kingdom of heaven is at
hand," that judiciary scene set up Revelation 4 and 5, and those thrones Revelation
20:1, &c. do interpret Daniel to this sense.
II. The throne of glory, concerning which the words before us are, is to be understood
of the judgment of Christ to be brought upon the treacherous, rebellious, wicked people.
We meet with very frequent mention of the coming of Christ in his glory in this sense;
which we shall discourse more largely of at chapter 24.
III. That the sitting of the apostles upon thrones with Christ is not to be understood
of their persons, it is sufficiently proved; because Judas was now one of the
number: but it is meant of their doctrine: as if he had said, "When I shall
bring judgment upon this most unjust nation, then our doctrine, which you have preached in
my name, shall judge and condemn them." See Romans 2:16.
Hence it appears that the gospel was preached to all the twelve tribes of Israel before
the destruction of Jerusalem.