The Sermon On The Mount
The Law and Love-Concluded
"That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain an the just and on the unjust" (v. 45). For a right understanding of this most important verse it is highly essential that it be not divorced from what is recorded in verses 43 and 44. As we have shown at length in the last two chapters, our Lord's purpose in the last six verses of Matthew v was to purge this great and general commandment-"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. That love which the Moral Law demands is something vastly superior to what we term "natural affection," which is found in the most godless, and in a lesser degree even in animals. The love which the Divine Law requires is a holy, pure, disinterested and spiritual one-exemplified perfectly by Christ. Such a love the unregenerate have not.
In these pages we have often affirmed that God's design in regeneration is to bring us back unto conformity with His holy Law. Therein we may perceive the beautiful harmony which exists between the distinctive workings of each of the three Persons in the blessed Trinity. The Father, as the supreme Governor of the world, framed the Moral Law as a transcript of His holy nature and an authoritative expression of His righteous will. The Son, in His office as Mediator, magnified the Law and made it honorable by rendering to it a personal, perfect and perpetual obedience, and then by voluntarily enduring its curse in the stead of His people. who had broken it. The Holy Spirit, as the Executive of the Godhead, convicts the elect of their wicked violation of the Moral Law, slaying their enmity against it, and imparting to them a nature or principle the very essence of which is to delight in and serve that Law (Rom. 7:22, 25).
Originally, the Moral Law was imprinted upon the very heart of man. Adam and Eve were made in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26, 27), which, among other things, signifies that they were morally conformed unto their Maker. Consequently, the very "nature" of unfallen man caused him to render loving and loyal obedience to his King. But when he fell, this was reversed. The "image" of God was broken and His "likeness" was greatly marred, though not completely effaced, for, as the apostle points out, the heathen which had not the Law in its written form "did by nature [some of] the things contained in the law," and thereby they "showed the work of the law written in their hearts," their conscience being proof of the same (Rom. 2:14, 15). At the Fall, love for the Divine Law was supplanted by hatred, and submission and obedience gave place to enmity and opposition.
Such is the condition of unregenerate man the world over: he is a rebel against the Most High, trampling His commandments beneath his feet. For this very reason he needs to be born again, that is, be made the subject of a miracle of grace wrought in his heart. At conversion he is "reconciled to God": his hostility against Him has received its death-wound and he throws down the weapons of his warfare. The new birth is a being "renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him" (Col. 3:10): it is a new creation, a creation "in righteousness and true holiness" (Eph. 4:24). Thereby the regenerate recover that which they lost in Adam-a nature which is in harmony with the Divine will. At the new birth God makes good that promise, "I will put My laws into their mind and write them in their hearts" (Heb. 8:10): putting His laws in our mind means effectually applying them unto us, writing them in our hearts signifies the enshrining of them in our affections.
What is the character of that righteousness which Christ requires from the subjects of His kingdom-a righteousness which excels that practiced by the scribes and Pharisees? It is conformity in heart and life to the Moral Law of God. What evidence do Christians give that they have been born again? Why, the fact that they now walk "in newness of life." Wherein lies the proof that they are now reconciled to God? In their heartily responding to His revealed will. How may we identify those who have been renewed by the Spirit? By seeing displayed in them the features of the Divine image. What is the fruit of God's putting His laws into our minds and writing them in our hearts? Surely, our running in the way of His commandments. Whereby shall the world take knowledge of us that we have been with the Lord Jesus? By seeing that we have drunk into His spirit and by our producing that which rises above the level of mere nature, which can issue only from a supernatural spring.
Now it is of this very thing that Christ speaks here in Matthew 5:45: "That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good," etc. First, let it be pointed out, "that ye may be the children of your Father" certainly does not denote "that ye may become" such: no, they were already His regenerate people, as is clear from Christ's contrasting them with the world-"What do ye more than others?" (v. 47). "That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven" denotes "that ye may thereby approve yourselves so, that ye may manifest yourselves to be such." Lest this interpretation appear somewhat strained, we refer the reader to a parallel case in 2 Corinthians 6: "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be My sons and daughters" (vv. 17, 18). Those exhortations were addressed to "saints" (2 Cor. 1:1), and the promise was that upon their compliance therewith God would manifest Himself as a Father unto them and they would give proof of being His sons and daughters.
Because it is against the nature of fallen man to love his enemies, therefore our Saviour here encouraged His followers unto the exercise of such heavenly conduct by pressing upon them the benefit therefrom: by so doing they would give demonstration that they were the children of God. A similar inducement had been held out by Him in an earlier section of this Sermon, when He said to the officers of His kingdom, "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (v. 16). It is not sufficient that we profess ourselves to be the children of God: our works must declare it. If we have to wear some button or badge on the lapel of our coats so as to evidence we are Christians, that is a poor way of doing so-we must by our "good works" glorify God (1 Pet. 2:12), we must "show forth" His praises in our daily lives.
The force of the first half of verse 45 is clearly established by what follows: "For He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust." Children resemble their parents: there is an identifying likeness between them. The character and conduct of God in this connection are well known: His providences declare His benignity. Not only does God bear with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction, but He bestows upon them many favors. So far from making a distinction in this matter, He disburses temporal blessings among the just and the unjust alike. As the Gospel of Luke expresses it, "He is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil" (6:35). Therein He sets His people an example to follow, hence the force of the apostolic injunction, "Be ye therefore followers [imitators] of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us and hath given Himself for us" (Eph. 5:1, 2).
From this reason or inducement here given by Christ to enforce His exhortation in verse 44, we may perceive what are the things in which Christians should principally employ themselves, namely in those things in the doing of which they may obtain evidence that they are the children of God. How many Christians there are who lament their lack of assurance. And in most cases this is not to be wondered at. If they are so zealous in serving self rather than Christ, if they run so greedily after the things the world is absorbed with, how can it be otherwise? There is an inseparable connection between Romans viii, 14 and 16: we must be led of the Spirit (and not resist His motions) if we are to have Him bearing witness with our spirit that we are the children of God. We must be more diligent in cultivating supernatural fruit if we would have clearer evidence of a supernatural root-dwelling within us.
Ere passing on, let us note how Christ here spoke of the common gifts of God in creation and providence: "He maketh His sun to rise." It is not simply "the sun": it is His sun and not ours. It is His by creation and His by regulation, making it go forward or backward as He pleases. The Lord is the sole Author and Governor of this heavenly body, for He continues to give it being and determines its power and virtue. The same thing is equally true of every other creature in heaven, earth, or sea. In like manner He "sendeth the rain" on its specific mission: He has appointed where and when it shall fall, so that "one piece was rained upon, and the piece whereupon it rained not withered" (Amos 4:7). Finally, note the terms by which Christ designates those who are the friends of God and those who are His enemies: good and just, evil and unjust-the first term relating to character, the second to conduct.
"For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?" (v. 46). In this and the following verse Christ propounded another reason to persuade His disciples and hearers to love their enemies, the force of which is only apparent when we understand who the "publicans" were. The "publicans" were those officers who collected taxes and tributes, rates and rents from the Jews for the Roman emperor, to whom the Jews were then in subjection. Some of the most degenerate of the Jews undertook this wretched work for the money they could get out of it. From Luke 19:8, it appears that the publicans resorted to injustice and oppression in order to fatten their own purses, and consequently they were the most hated and despised of all people (Matthew 9:11; 11:9). Yet (says Christ), even these publicans, though devoid of conscience, would love those who loved them; and if we do no more, what better are we than they?
It is not that Christ here forbids us to love those who love us, but rather that He is condemning a merely carnal love: for one man to love another simply because he is loved by the other is nothing else than a man loving himself in another. In order to love our neighbour rightly and in a manner acceptable to the Lord, we must heed the following rule: all the commandments of the second table must be obeyed from the same principle as those in the first table, namely love to God. Parents are to be honored in God and for God, "Children obey your parents in the Lord" (Eph. 6:1), and my neighbour must be loved in God and for God, even though he be my enemy. Why? Because he is as truly God's creature as I am, and because God has commanded me to love him. That must be the ground of our obedience, though from other respects our love may increase for our neighbour.
"For if ye love them that love you, what reward have ye?" In this question Christ emphasizes a principle which it is our wisdom to heed in the ordering of our lives, namely that we give ourselves especially to the doing of those things to which is attached the promise of God's reward. To make this the more forcible and impressive let us ask, What was it that moved Moses to refuse to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, which caused him to forsake the treasures of Egypt and to suffer affliction with the people of God? The Holy Spirit has told us: it was because he had "respect unto the recompense of the reward" (Heb. 11:25, 26). But how little is this truth believed in and the principle acted on today, or why so much trifling away of our time? What reward can they look for at God's hand who give themselves up to "the pleasures of sin?"
"And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans the same?" (v. 47). Christ's drift in these words is the same as in the previous verse, the design of such repetition being that this weighty truth may be fixed the more firmly and deeply in our minds. We are so slow in performing the duties of love, particularly unto our enemies, that the duty of it needs to be pressed upon us again and again. If He who spoke as never man spoke saw well to repeat Himself frequently, His under-servants need not hesitate to do the same. Not only are we to pray for those who hate and injure us, but we are to greet them when they cross our path. How wrong then deliberately to pass a brother on the street and treat him as though he were an utter stranger to us! Nor do the words, "If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed" (2 John 10), militate to the slightest degree against what has just been said. It is personal or private enemies that Christ had in view, whereas 2 John 10 refers to those who are the open enemies of God.
"What do ye more than others?" What a searching question is this! And note well the precise form of it. It is not "What know ye more than others," or "what profess ye more than others?" or even "what believe ye more than others?" but "what do ye more than others?" Yet care must be taken that this inquiry be not perverted. If on the one hand it is of first importance that the Gospel trumpet gives forth no uncertain sound when proclaiming the cardinal truth of justification by faith, yet it is equally essential to make it plain that saving faith always identifies itself by the works which is produces. Justification before God is by faith alone, but it is not a faith which remains alone. Saving faith is not a life. less, inoperative and sterile thing, but a living, active, fruit-producing principle. And it is by the fruit which a saving faith produces that it is distinguished from the worthless and unproductive faith of the empty professor.
Saving faith is the gift of God. It is a supernatural principle inwrought by the Holy Spirit at the new birth. And this faith is evidenced by its fruits. It is a faith which "worketh by love" (Gal. 5:6). It is a faith that "purifieth the heart" (Acts 15:9). It is a faith that "overcometh the world" (1 John 5:4). And since those who are the favored subjects of this faith have more than others, they ought to do more, they can do more, yea, they will do more than the unregenerate. The thing which above all others has brought the cause of Christ into such general contempt in the world is because millions of those claiming to be His followers do not do more, but often considerably less, than many who make no such profession: they are less truthful, less honest, less unselfish, less benevolent. It is not what we say, but how we conduct ourselves, which most impresses the ungodly.
Christ has good reason to require more from His disciples than He does from the children of the wicked one. They profess more, but unless their profession be supported by facts, verified by works, then it is a vain and hypocritical one: dishonoring to the Saviour, a stumbling-block to His people, and an occasion of blasphemy to His enemies. They are more than others. They are loved with an everlasting love, redeemed at infinite cost, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, then should they not produce more than others? "Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required." It is certain that Christians can do more than others. Said the apostle: "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Phil 4:13). A supernatural principle indwells them, the love of God has been shed abroad in their hearts, the all-sufficient grace of God is available to them, and all things are possible to him that believeth. "What do ye more than others?" Answer this question in the presence of God.
"Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (v. 48). From all that He had said, Christ now drew this excellent consequence, exhorting His followers to perfection in all the duties of love. "Be ye therefore perfect" is the unchanging requirement of the Law, "even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" is the exalted standard which the Gospel presents to us. The moral excellency of the Divine character is the copy and rule set before us, and nothing short of that is to be our sincere, ardent and constant endeavour. Though such an aim is never fully realized in this life, yet we must say with Paul, "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:12). In view of such a confession by the eminent apostle, how baseless and absurd is the pretension of those claiming to have already reached sinless perfection. The fact is that the closer we walk with God, the more will it work in us self-abasement and humiliation and not self-complacency and pride.