The Sermon On The Mount
The Law and Love-Continued
Strictly speaking, the contents of the last six verses of Matthew 5 contain a continuation of the same subject dealt with in the section immediately preceding them (vv. 38-42). There, we saw our Lord taking up the important matter of the Law and retaliation; here, He deals with the same theme, though from a different angle. There, He treated more especially with the negative side, declaring what the subjects of His kingdom must not do when they are provoked by personal affronts and private injuries: they are not to resist evil. But here, He takes up the positive aspect, stating what His followers must do unto those who hate and persecute them, namely return good for evil, love for hatred. So far from being overcome with evil, the Christian is to overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:20).
It will therefore be seen that in this concluding section of His exposition of the moral law our Lord reached the climax in His showing how far the holiness required of His subjects exceeded the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees: as Christ had taken up one commandment after another, He had made clear the vast difference which separated the one from the other. They had systematically distorted each precept that concerned man's relations with his fellows-lowering the Divine standard and narrowing its scope so as to comport with the depraved inclinations of their followers. Count after count the Saviour had preferred against them: over against which He had set the elevated and inexorable spirituality of God's requirements. The contrast is radical and revolutionary: it is the contrast between error and truth, darkness and light, corruption and holiness.
First, Christ had exposed their perversion of the Divine statute, "Thou shalt not kill," and had revealed how far beyond their representations this requirement extended (vv. 21-26). Second, He had condemned their unwarrantable whittling down of the commandment, "Thou shalt not commit adultery," and had shown that it reached to the very thoughts and intents of the heart (vv. 27-32). Third, He had rebuked their wicked tampering with the injunction, "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain," and had affirmed that all unnecessary oaths of whatsoever kind were thereby prohibited (vv. 33-37). Fourth, He had shown how they had corrupted the magisterial rule of "an eye for an eye (vv. 38-42). And finally, He dealt with their vile corruption of the commandment, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (vv. 43-48).
In our last chapter we intimated that the commentators are all at sea in their understanding of Christ's "But I say unto you, Love your enemies": they failed to see that His purpose was to reinforce the requirements of the Moral Law. The "Moral Laws" we say, not merely the Mosaic Law, but that which God originally implanted in man's very nature, to be the rule of his being. The requirements of that original Moral Law (renewed at Sinai), are summed up in two things: first, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind" (Matthew 22:37), that is, thou shalt esteem and venerate Him supremely, delight thyself in His excellency superlatively, honour and glorify Him constantly.
"And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (Matthew 22:39). Here are three things. First, the duty required: "thou shalt love." Second, the ground or reason of it: because he is "thy neighbour," that is thy fellow man, of the same order and blood as thyself. Third, the standard by which love to our neighbour is to be regulated: "as thyself," which defines both its nature and its measure. Such a requirement presupposes that we have a right temper of mind: an upright, impartial, benevolent temper, even to perfection, without the least tincture of anything to the contrary. This is self-evident, for without such love we shall not, we cannot, love our neighbour in a true light, nor think of, nor judge of, nor feel toward him exactly as we ought. A wrong temper, a selfish, uncandid, censorious, bitter spirit, will inevitably give a wrong turn to all our thoughts and feelings unto him.
What is it to love our neighbour as ourselves? Our love to ourselves is unfeigned, fervent, active, habitual and permanent: so ought to be our love unto our neighbour. A regular self-love respects all our interests, but especially our spiritual and eternal interests: so ought our love unto our neighbour. A regular self-love prompts us to be concerned about our welfare tenderly, to seek it diligently and prudently, to rejoice in it heartily, and to be grieved for any calamities sincerely: so ought our love unto our neighbour prompt us to feel and conduct ourselves with regard to his welfare. Self-love makes us take unfeigned pleasure in promoting our welfare: we do not think it hard to do so much for ourselves: we ought to have just the same genuine love to our neighbour, and thereby prove "it is more blessed to give than to receive."
The kind of love which God requires us to have for our neighbour is therefore vastly superior to what is commonly called human compassion, for this is often found in the most lawless and wicked of men; it takes not its rise from regard to the Divine authority or respect for God's image in our fellows but springs merely from our animal constitution. The same may be said of what men term good nature: just as some beasts are better tempered than others, so some humans are milder, gentler, humbler than their fellows, yet their amiability is not influenced by any consideration for the commands of God. The same may also be said of natural affection. Some of the most ungodly cherish warm affection to their wives and children, yea, make veritable idols of them-working and toiling day and night for them-to the utter neglect of God and their souls. Yet all this affection to their children does not prompt them to strive for their spiritual and eternal welfare. It is but natural fondness, and not a holy love.
Now let it be dearly grasped that our Lord's purpose, in the last six verses of Matthew 5, was to purge this great and general commandment of the second table of the Law-"Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself"-from the corrupt interpretations of the Jewish teachers and to restore it to its true and proper meaning. And as was His method in the previous sections, Christ here specifies first the error of the rabbis, and then proceeds to enforce the rightful application of the Divine precepts. Their error was twofold: first, the unwarrantable restricting of the term "neighbour" to those who were friendly disposed towards them; second, the drawing from it of the false and wicked inference that it was lawful to hate their enemies. How closely modern Christendom approximates to degenerate Judaism in this respect we must leave the reader to judge.
Having shown, again and again, what our Lord was engaged in doing throughout the whole of this part of His Sermon (vv. 17-48) let us now point out His evident design in the same. To make this the more obvious, let the reader endeavour to place himself among Christ's audience on this occasion and imagine that it was the first time he had ever heard such teaching. As he listened carefully to Christ's emphatic and searching words, "I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven" (v. 20), as he pondered His "But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment" (v. 22), as he weighed His "But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after hath committed adultery with her already in his heart" (v. 28), what would be the effect produced upon him?
Face that question fairly and squarely, my reader. Had you stood on the slope of that mount and listened to Him who spoke as never man spoke-for He was God incarnate-the Lawgiver Himself now interpreting and enforcing the demands of His holy, just, and spiritual Law; as you honestly measured yourself by such pure and exalted requirements, what had been your reaction? Had you not been obliged to hang your head in shame, to acknowledge how far, far short you came of measuring up to such a heavenly standard, to own that when weighed in such a balance you were found woefully wanting, yea, that you were lighter than vanity? If you were honest with yourself, could you say anything less than that such a Law utterly condemned you at every point, that before it you must confess yourself to be guilty, utterly undone, a lost sinner?
And then as you listened to the passage we have now reached and heard the Son of God affirm, "But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you" (v. 44), how had you felt? Would you be filled with resentment and exclaim, Such a request is impracticable and absurd. Why, I instinctively, automatically, inevitably, resent ill treatment and feel ill-will against those who hate and injure me. I cannot do otherwise: no efforts of mine can reverse the spontaneous impulses of my heart: I cannot change my own nature? Again we ask, would the attentive weighing of this demand "Love your enemies" evoke the angry retort, Such a requirement is preposterous, it is an impossibility, no man can obey it? If so, you would be but furnishing proof that "the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Rom. 8:7).
Hearken now unto the final demand made by Christ in this connection: "Be ye therefore perfect," and so that there should not be the slightest room for uncertainty, He added "even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (v. 48). Do you say that this is too high for us to reach, that such a standard is unattainable by flesh and blood? We answer, It is the standard which God Himself has set before us, before all men. It was God's standard before the Fall, and it is His standard still, for though man has lost his power to comply, God has not lost His right to require what is due Him. And why is it that man is no longer able to meet this righteous demand? Because his heart is corrupt: because he is totally depraved. But that in no wise excuses him: rather is it the very thing which renders him thoroughly guilty and his case inexcusable.
Cannot the reader now perceive clearly the design of Christ in here pressing upon His hearers the exalted spirituality of the Divine Law and the inexorableness or immutability of its requirements? It was to shatter the vain hopes of His hearers, to slay their self-righteousness. Of old it had been said, "But who may abide the day of His coming? and who shall stand when He appeareth? for He is like a refiner's fire" (Mal. 3:2), which was then receiving its fulfillment, as the preceding verse (concerning John the Baptist) shows. If the heart of a fallen man was so corrupt that he could not love his enemies, then he was in dire need of a new heart. If to be perfect as the Father in heaven is perfect was wholly beyond him, and wholly contrary to him, then his need of being born again was self-evident.
After all that has been before us none should be surprised to learn that during the past fifty years there has been such a strong and widespread effort made to get rid of the flesh-withering teaching of this part of our Lord's ministry. Those professing to be the towers of orthodoxy and the most enlightened among Bible teachers have blatantly and dogmatically affirmed that "the Sermon on the Mount is not for us," that it is "Jewish," that it pertains to a future dispensation, that it sets forth the righteousness which will obtain in "the millennial kingdom." And this satanic sop was eagerly devoured by multitudes of those who attended the "Second Coming of Christ" conferences, and was carried by them into many of the "churches," their pastors being freely supplied with "dispensational" literature dealing with this fatal error. Slowly but surely this evil leaven has worked until a very considerable and influential section of what passes as orthodox Christianity has been poisoned by it.
The fundamental error of those men claiming to "rightly divide the word of truth" is their opposition to and repudiation of the Law of God: their insistence that it is solely Jewish, that the Gentiles were never under it, and that it is not now the believer's rule of life. Never has the Devil succeeded in palming off for the Truth a more soul-destroying lie than this. Where there is no exposition of the Moral Law and no presssing of its righteous demands, where there is no faithful turning of its holy and searching light upon the deceitful heart, there will be, there can be, no genuine conversions, for "by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Rom. 3:20). It is by the Law alone we can learn the real nature of sin, the fearful extent of its ramifications, and the penalty passed upon it. The Law of God is hated by man-religious and irreligious alike-because it condemns him and demonstrates him to be in high revolt against its Giver.
Knowing full well the detestation of their hearers for the Divine Law, a large percentage of those who have occupied the pulpits during the past few decades have studiously banished it therefrom, displacing it with "studies in prophecy" and what they designate as "the Gospel of the Grace of God." But the "gospel" preached by these blind leaders of the blind was " another gospel" (Gal. 1:6): where there is no enforcing the requirements of the Law, there can be no preaching of God's Gospel, for so far from the latter being opposed to the former, it "establishes" the same (Rom. 3:31). Consequently, the "churches" became filled with spurious converts, who tram p led the Law of God beneath their feet. And this, more than anything else, accounts for the lawlessness which now obtains everywhere in Church and State alike.
So far from the Gentiles never having received the Law of God, the apostle to the Gentiles expressly declares, "Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God" (Rom. 3:19). What could possibly be plainer? Even if the "every mouth" did not signify all without exception, it must at the very least mean all without distinction, and therefore would include Jew and Gentile alike. But as though to remove any uncertainty, it is added, "all the world," that is, the entire number of the ungodly. However much the wicked may now murmur against God's Law, in the day of judgment every one of them shall be silent-convicted and confounded. Before the Divine tribunal every sinner will be brought in guilty by the Law, to his utter confusion and eternal undoing. However far they may have previously succeeded in an attempt at self-extenuation or in vindicating themselves before their fellows, when they shall stand "before God" their own consciences will utterly condemn them.
Then how vitally important, how absolutely essential, it is that the Law should be plainly and insistently enforced now. Nothing is more urgently needed today than discourses patterned after our Lord's Sermon on the Mount. It is the bounden duty of His servants to press upon their hearers the Divine authority, the exalted spirituality, the inexorable demands of the Moral Law. Nothing is so calculated to expose the worthlessness of the empty profession of modern religionists. Let them be informed that nothing less than loving God with all their heart and strength, and to love their neighbours as themselves, is required of them, and that the slightest failure to render the same brings them in guilty, and thus exposes them to the certainty of everlasting woe; and either they will bow in self-condemnation before the Divine sentence or they will come out in their true colors and rail against it.
Then see to it, preachers, that you faithfully set forth the unchanging requirements of the thrice-holy God. Spare no efforts in bringing your congregations to understand what is signified in loving God with all the heart, and all that is involved in loving our neighbours as ourselves. How otherwise shall they be brought to know their guilt? Unless they are made to feel how totally contrary to God is their depraved nature, how shall they discover their imperative need of being born again? True, such preaching will not increase your popularity, rather will it evoke opposition. But remember that the Saviour Himself was hounded to death, not for proclaiming the Gospel, but for enforcing the Law! Even though you be persecuted, yours will be the satisfaction of knowing your skirts are clear from the blood of your hearers.