Matthew 15The former part of this chapter acquaints us with a great contest between our Saviour and the Pharisees, about their traditions and old customs, which they valued more than the commandments of God; they accused the disciples with eating bread with unwashed hands, which, though it were in itself but a decent custom, the Pharisees made it a religious rite; for which reason our Saviour and his disciples would not observe it.
Whence we learn, that what is in itself and may without offence be done as a civil custom, ought to be discountenanced and opposed when men require it of us as a religious act, or place religion in it. The Pharisees placed so much religion in washing their hands before meat, that they looked upon it as highly criminal to neglect it as to lie with a whore. One of them being in prison, and not having water enough to drink and to wash his hands too, chose rather to die with thirst, than to trangress the tradition of the elders.
Observe here, 1. The heavy charge which our Saviour brings in against the Pharisees; namely, for violating an express command of God, and preferring their own traditions before it: you make void the commandments of God by your traditions.
Observe, 2. The command which our Saviour instances in, as violated by them; it is the fifth commandment, which requires children to relieve their parents in necessity. Now, though the Pharisees did not deny this in plain terms, yet they made an exception from it, which if children had a mind, rendered it void and useless. For the Pharisees taught, that in case any would give a gift to the temple, which gift they called corban, and of which they themselves had a great share; that then children were discharged from making further provision for their poor, or impotent parents; and might say unto them after this manner, that which thou askest for thy supply, is given to God, and therefore I cannot relieve thee. So that covetous and graceless children looked upon it as the most frugal way, once for all to fine to the temple, rather than pay the constant rent of daily relief to their poor parents.
Learn, that no duty, gift, or offering to God, is accepted, where the duty of charity is neglected. It is more acceptable to God to refresh the hearts of his saints, who are the living temples of the Holy Ghost, than to adorn material temples with gold and silver.
Our Saviour reproves the hypocritical Pharisees for the same things:
1. That they preferred human traditions before the divine precepts.
2. That by their human traditions they made void the worship of God. It is God's undoubted prerogative to prescribe all the parts of his own worship; and whoever presumes to add thereunto, they worship him in vain.
Our Saviour farther shews, that all this proceeded from the insincerity of their hearts: This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.
Whence learn, 1. That the removing the heart far from God in worship, is a great sin, and an high degree of hypocrisy.
2. That whatever outward shew and profession of religion men make, if their hearts be not right with God, and what they do proceeds not from an inward principle of love and obedience to God, they are under the reign and power of hypocrisy. Ye hypocrites, in vain do ye worship me.
Learn, 3. That we must not be forward, from Christ's example, to pronounce men hypocrites; because we have neither that authority nor knowledge of the heart which Christ had, to authorize us so to do.
Christ here called the Pharisees hypocrites,
1. Because they placed holiness and religion in ceremonies of human invention.
2. Because being so superstitiously careful to avoid bodily pollutions, they left their hearts within; full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
Our blessed Saviour leaving the Pharisees with some dislike, applies himself to the multitude, and shews them the true spring and original fountain of all spiritual pollution and uncleanness; namely, the filthiness and impurity of man's heart and nature, which boiling in the heart, the scum runs out at the mouth: thereby informing the multitude, that not that which is eaten, but that which is spoken, defiles a man: not the meat eaten with the mouth, but the wickedness of the heart vented by the mouth, pollutes a person in God's account.
Observe here, 1. How the disciples wonder that our Saviour did so little regard the displeasure of the Pharisees: Knowest thou not that the Pharisees were offended? Although nothing vexed the Pharisees more than the discovery of their false doctrine before the multitude, yet our Saviour did not stick to detect their errors, and to declare the truth, let the effects of their displeasure be what they would: sinful man-pleasing is fruitless and endless.
2. Observe, our Lord's answer, which shews a double reason why he thus slighted the offence taken by the Pharisees.
1. He compares the Pharisees' doctrine and tradition to noisome weeds in the church, planted there, not by God, but themselves; and consequently shall certainly be rooted up. In matters of religion, if men will act according to the dictates of their own fancies, and not walk by the rule of God's word, they may please themselves, perhaps, but they can never please their Maker. Divine institution is the only sure rule of religious worship.
2. Christ compares the Pharisees themselves to blind guides; They are blind leaders of the blind; leaders and followers both blind, who will certainly and suddenly fall into the ditch of temporal and eternal destruction.
Learn, 1. That ignorant, erroneous and unfaithful ministers, are the heaviest judgments that can befall a people.
2. That the following of such teachers and blind guides will be no excuse to people another day, much less free them from the danger of eternal destruction.
The disciples desiring the interpretation of the foregoing parable, our Saviour gives it them; but with all expostulates with them, that they did not understand a thing so obvious and plain: Are ye yet without understanding? As if he had said, "Have ye sat thus long under my ministerial teaching, and enjoyed the benefit of my company and conversation, and are yet no farther proficients in knowledge?"
Whence learn, that our Lord expects a proficiency in knowledge from us, answerable to the opportunities and means of knowledge enjoyed by us.
Next, he gives them the sense and signification of the parable; telling them, that it is out of a sinful heart that all sin proceeds; the heart is the cage or nest, which is full of these unclean birds, and from whence they take their flight. Though the occasions of sin are from without, yet the source and origin of sin is from within.
Learn, that the heart of man is the sink and seed-plat of all sin, and the fountain of all pollution; the life could not be so bad, if the heart were not worse; all the irregularity of our lives flows from the impurity of our hearts and natures.
Observe here, the constant employment of our Saviour, He went about doing good, from place to place. In the borders of Tyre and Sidon he finds a faithful woman of the race of the Canaanites, who becomes an humble supplicant to Christ, while the Jews neglected so great a salvation. Yea, she not only speaks, but cries unto him. Were we duly affected with our spiritual wants, we could speak to God in no other language than that of cries and tears; nothing but cries can pierce heaven.
Observe, 2. Though all Israel could not example the faith of this Canaanite, yet was her daughter tormented with a devil.
Learn, that neither truth, nor strength of faith; can secure us either against Satan's inward temptations, or outward vexations; and consequently, the worst of bodily afflictions are no sufficient proof of divine displeaure.
Observe, 3. The daughter did not come to Christ for herself, but the mother for her. Perhaps the child was not sensible of its own misery, but the good mother feels both the child's sorrow, and her own.
True goodness teaches us to appropriate the afflictions of others to ourselves; it causes us to bear their griefs, and to sympathize with them in their sorrows.
Strange! That a miserable supplicant should cry and sue, whilst the God of mercy is speechless. What! is the fountain of mercy dried up? O Saviour! we have oft found cause to wonder at thy words, but never till now at thy silence.
Learn hence, that Christ doth sometimes delay to return an answer to a well qualified prayer. Sometimes his people do not pray earnestly enough; sometimes they pray too earnestly, for some outward and temporal mercy; sometimes the mercy they pray for is not good for them, or it may be it is not yet good for them. Let us not then judge of God's hearing prayer by his present answer.
Observe, when our Saviour doth answer, he gives not one word of comfort, but rather a repulse. Christ has often-times love in his heart to his people, when they can read none in his countenance, nor gather it from his discourse.
Observe, the answer itself, Christ says not, I am to sent unto the lost sheep of the house of Adam, but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The Jews are compared unto sheep, the Gentiles unto dogs. Christ insinuates, that though they were a lost sheep of Adam, yet not being one of the lost sheep of Israel, he could do nothing for her. It was a common saying among the Jews, "That the nations of the world were likened to dogs, whereas they were God's sons and daughters."
Yet hath not this poor woman done: Christ's former silence, and his present denial, cannot silence her. She comes, she worships, she cries, Lord help me. O what an undaunted grace is the grace of faith! It has a strong heart, and a bold forehead, peremptory denials cannot dismay it. This woman will not despond, though her prayer of faith, from the knees of humility, succeed not.
Observe here, the seeming severity of Christ to this poor woman; he calls her not a woman but a dog: and as it were spurns her from his feet with an harsh repulse. Did ever so severe a word drop from those mild lips? What shall we say? Is the lamb of God turned a lion? That a woman in distress, imploring pity, yea, a good woman, and an humble supplicant, should be thus rated out of Christ's presence for a dog!
Learn hence, that Christ puts the strongest faith of his own children upon the severest trials; the trial had never been so sharp, if her faith had not been so strong. Usually, where God gives much grace, he tries grace much.
Observe, how her humility grants all, her patience overcomes all, she meekly desires to possess the dog's place; not to crowd to the table, but to creep under it, and to partake of the crumbs of mercy that fall from thence. Indeed she shewed one of the best qualities of a dog, in keeping her hold where she had once fastened; not letting go, or giving over, until she had gotten what she desired.
Learn hence, that nothing is so pleasing unto Christ, as to see his people following him with faith and importunity, when he seems to withdraw from them.
The disciples observing her behaviour, might have been ready to say, O woman, great is thy patience, great is thy humility: but says Christ, Great is thy faith: he sees the root, we the branches. Nothing but faith could thus temper the heart, thus strengthen the soul, thus charm the tongue. O powerful grace of faith, which Christ himself could no longer withstand, but cries out as a person overcome by the prevalency of it; O woman, great is thy faith.
Note, that no grace ever goes away from Christ uncrowned: though we may wait long for mercy, yet the hand of faith never knocked in vain at the door of heaven. Mercy is as surely ours, as if we had it, if we have but faith and patience to wait for it. This good woman found it so to her unspeakable comfort; and the same shall we find in the exercise of the same grace.
Question. But how doth this poor woman's faith appear to be great faith?
Answer. Because having no promise to rely upon, and suffering so many repulses with seeming contempt, she still retained a good hope of Christ's kindness and mercy.
Learn hence, 1. That the faith of those who depending on God's goodness, do place an humble confidence in God, and are not by great temptations or discouragements removed from that their confidence; such faith is deservedly stiled great faith.
2. That the faith of believing Gentiles was not only praise-worthy and well-pleasing to God, but more excellent and better pleasing than that of the Jews, to whom the promises did belong.
Observe here, 1. The charity,
2. The faith of the multitude, in bringing the blind, the deaf, and the dumb to Christ their charity in lending eyes to the blind, and a tongue to the dumb; who could neither come to Christ themselves, nor speak for themselves. Every man has a tongue to speak for himself, happy is he that has a tongue to pray and intercede for others: this charity did the people exercise here.
Observe also their faith; they laid the lame and blind down at Jesus' feet, relying upon his power and believing his willingness to help and heal them.
Observe farther, The effect of this miracle upon the multitude; it was two-fold:
1. They were struck with admiration and wonder, to see such cures wrought as exceeded the course of nature, and the power of art.
2. They glorified the God of Israel; that is, they acknowledged it to be a wonderful work of the power and mercy wrought by that God whom Israel worshipped.
Whence we learn, That the miraculous works of Christ, which he wrought before the multitude, were obvious to their sense; and did constrain the beholders (if not blinded with pharisaical obstinacy) to acknowledge the power of God communicated to Christ, and to praise him for it: The multitude marvelled and glorified God!
Here we have the second miracle of Christ's compassionate feeding the hungry multitude. In Matt 14:15-21 we read of five thousand fed with five loaves and two fishes; here Christ feeds four thousand with seven loaves and a few small fishes.
Where observe, That Christ had fewest, when he had most provision; when he had seven loaves, he fed but four thousand; when he had five loaves, he fed five thousand. Thus the wisdom and power of Christ is glorified by him as he pleases. The feeding of one thousand with one loaf, was as true a miracle as the feeding seven thousand. Our Saviour did put forth the power of his godhead in working miracles, after what manner seemed best to his own wisdom.
Observe farther, A double action performed by our Saviour.
1. He gave thanks: that is, he prayed for a blessing upon the food. Teaching us our duty, That if the Son of God did look up to heaven, and bless his food, we should not sit down to our food as a beast to his fodder, without craving a blessing upon it.
The next action was, He gave to his disciples.
But why did he distribute the loaves by the hands of his disciples?
Answ. Because the disciples questioned, through the weakness of their faith, whether such a multitude as four thousand could be fed with so small a provision as seven loaves.
Now our Saviour, to convince them how easily he could do that thing which they had judged impossible, distributes the bread by them: making use of their own eyes and hands, for their conviction and satisfaction.
Thus Christ, to shame the unbelief of his disciples, makes them not only spectators but actors in that work which they judged impossible to be effected.
They did all eat, not a crumb or a bit, but to fulness and satisfaction; yet seven baskets remain; answering the number of the loaves, as the twelve baskets in the former miracle answered to the twelve apostles: in both, more is left than was at first set on: it is hard to say, which was the greater miracle, the miraculous eating, or miraculous leaving. If we consider what they eat, we may justly wonder that they left anything; if what they left that they eat anything. (Dr. Fuller.)
Observe lastly, Christ would not have these fragments lost but gatherd up; the great housekeeper of the world will not allow the loss of his orts. O how dreadful will the account of those be, who have the large and plentiful estates to answer for as lost, being spent upon their lusts in riot and excess! Dr. Fuller
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