A Godly and Learned Exposition upon
ChristŐs Sermon in the Mount
ŇAnd seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,Ó etc. Matthew 5:1,2
In this chapter and the two next, is contained ChristŐs Sermon in the Mount, preached to His disciples, and others that were converted unto Him among the multitude. Hereof I have chosen to entreat, because it is a most divine and learned sermon, and may not unfitly be called the key to the whole Bible; for here Christ openeth the sum of the Old and New Testament.
I. Before we come to the parts of this sermon, three general points are to be scanned for the clearing of the doctrine following.
1. First, the time when this sermon was preached; to wit, the second year of ChristŐs ministry; upon this occasion: when Christ had wrought a miracle (Luke 6:7) in curing the man with the withered hand upon the Sabbath day, the scribes and Pharisees went about to kill Him, whereupon He departed from among them, and went into a mount, where He spent the whole night in prayer. And when it was day, he chose the twelve apostles; which done, He came down into a plain place near to the mount, where He wrought His many miracles, but because the people thronged about Him to touch Him (for there went virtue out of Him which cured them) therefore He withdrew Himself out of the throng into the mountain again, and there preached this sermon unto His disciples soon after their election; no doubt for this end, to teach them His will, and also to frame and instruct them so as they might become profitable teachers unto others.
2. The scope and drift of this large sermon; namely, to teach His disciples, with all that believe in Him, to lead a godly, an holy and a blessed life. Although this be evident in the text, yet the popish teachers have depraved this end and scope; saying that Christ herein propoundeth a new law, far more perfect than the law of Moses; and also delivereth new divine counsel to His disciples, which was not given in the law or in the prophets. But they err and are deceived; for ChristŐs intent is to clear the true meaning of Moses and the prophets, which was corrupted by the false gloss of the Jewish teachers; and not to add any new law or counsel thereunto, as afterwards will plainly appear (5:17; 7:12). Again, there cannot be given unto man a more perfect rule than MosesŐ law, the sum and scope whereof is to love God with all the heart, with all the soul and with all the strength (Matt. 22:37); than which there cannot be greater perfection in a creature. We therefore upon the consideration of this worthy end, must labour to shew the greater care and conscience to learn and do the things propounded in this sermon.
3. Whether is this sermon the same with that which is set down by St Luke (Luke 6:20ff.)? This question is necessary; for if they be the same sermon, then will the one give great light unto the other. Men indeed differ in judgment touching this point; some say there are divers sermons; others say they are one and the same; and that opinion is most likely. For first, they have one beginning and one matter, the same order of preaching and the same conclusion, as comparing of them together will plainly declare. Secondly, this sermon recorded by them both, was made upon the election of ChristŐs twelve apostles, a little after the curing of the man with the withered hand. This is plain in St Luke and may well be gathered from the doctrine of this sermon recorded by Matthew wherein Christ instructeth His apostles particularly in their office and calling; which He would not have done, if He had not formerly called them thereunto. If it be said that St Matthew recordeth their election afterward in the tenth chapter, Answer: In the writings of the evangelists there be certain anticipations; that is, some things are set down after, which were done before; and some things are set down before, which were done after, as might easily be proved by sundry examples, and in the point in hand is evident; for the election of the apostles is set down by St Matthew in his tenth chapter upon occasion of his recording their commission to preach; so that this circumstance of the apostlesŐ election doth notably prove these sermons to be one, St Matthew setting down the same more largely, and Luke more briefly.
Their reasons who hold them to be two distinct sermons, are of no moment. They say that the sermon recorded by St Luke was made on the plain; this of Matthew in the mountain; that of Luke was made by Christ standing, this of Matthew as He sat down. Answer: But Luke saith not that it was made by Christ in a plain, or standing; only this he saith, that Christ coming from the mountain, stood in a plain place, and there wrought certain miracles, and then preached; now all this might be done, and yet Christ might preach this sermon in the mount, sitting, as St Matthew saith; for the order of the story is this: Christ being maligned of the Jews went into a mount, and there prayed; after long prayer, He chose twelve apostles, and then came down into a plain and wrought miracles; but by reason of the throng which pressed about Him to touch Him, He went into the mountain again, and there preached this sermon to His apostles and others that followed Him.
II. Thus much in general. Now we come to the sermon itself; which containeth three parts: a preface, the matter of the sermon, and the conclusion.
The preface or preparation is contained in the first two verses of this chapter, wherein are set down divers circumstances pertaining to the sermon:
1. As first and principally, the author of it, to wit, Jesus Christ the redeemer and mediator of mankind, who in the making of this sermon must be considered two ways, even as He is a prophet:
(1) First, as the minister of circumcision for the truth of God (Rom. 15:8), as the apostle speaketh, whereby thus much is signified, that Jesus Christ as He was man, born among the Jews, was unto them a prophet and minister in His own person, and with His own mouth was to teach them the will of His Father; which thing was requisite for the accomplishing of GodŐs Word, who had promised before to His ancient people by Moses that He would raise up unto them a prophet like unto Moses, whom they should hear in all things that He should speak unto them (Acts 3:22); which prophecy was verified in this sermon; wherein He manifesteth Himself to be the minister of circumcision unto them.
(2) Secondly, here we must consider Christ as a prophet like unto Elijah and Elisha, who were as fathers and masters to the rest of the prophets; for herein He doth not only teach believers among the multitude, but His own disciples also, who were afterward to make disciples with Christ, and to build up further them that did believe; yea, this instruction of His disciples is the chief scope of this sermon.
2. Secondly, here is noted the place where this sermon was made, to wit, a mountain in Galilee: He went up into a mountain. This place He chose for two reasons: first, to avoid the throng that pressed about Him while He stood on the plain, to see Him and to touch Him, because there went virtue out of Him (Luke 6:19). Secondly, that He might have a fit place, both for Himself to sit and teach, and for His disciples and the multitude attentively and orderly to hear and learn that wholesome doctrine which he delivered.
In this choice of the place: First, He sheweth great care and wisdom to maintain outward order in the dispensation of His Word; whereby He teacheth us that in all holy ministrations, outward order is to be kept, and convenient places chosen, where the Word of God may be reverently and profitably both spoken and heard. Secondly, herein He sheweth special care to dispense His FatherŐs will when occasion was offered; yea, He declareth His diligence herein; so as it is true it was meat and drink unto Him (John 4:34), thus by teaching the people to do His FatherŐs will. And this His practice must be a precedent and example to all GodŐs ministers. They must not preach by constraint, but of a willing mind; yea, they must rejoice and be glad, when occasion is offered, that they may dispense the will of God unto His people. This Paul meant in his straight charge to Timothy, that he should be instant, and teach in season and out of season (2 Tim. 4:1,2); that is, take all occasions to teach the Word; following the example of Christ, who stayed not till He came to Jerusalem, or to some synagogue, but having good occasion offered, taught the multitude in this mountain.
3. Thirdly, here is noted that bodily gesture which Christ useth in this sermon; He taught them not standing, but sitting; when He was set; so when He preached in Nazareth, He stood up and read His text, and then sat down, and preached unto them (Luke 4:16,20) And when His father and mother sought Him at the feast, they found Him in the temple sitting among the doctors and asking them questions (Luke 2:46); and being apprehended, He said to the multitude, I sat daily with you in the temple teaching (Matt. 26:53). Now Christ used to preach sitting, because it was the manner and custom of that church so to do; the scribes and Pharisees (saith Christ) sit in MosesŐs chair (Matt. 23:2); where He noteth their gesture in teaching and expounding the law. Whereby we are taught to be careful in observing all seemly, commendable and convenient gestures which are used in that church whereof we are members. If any shall ask whether we may not preach sitting, as Christ did, I answer, if it were the custom of our church, we might lawfully do it; for these gestures be indifferent in themselves; but we do it not, because our custom is otherwise. And so we may say of preaching with the head covered, which is the manner used by ministers in the French churches; but we use it not, because we have no such custom in our church.
4. Fourthly, here are noted the parties whom Christ taught, namely, His disciples; for though He spake in the audience of the multitude, yet herein He chiefly intended to instruct His disciples; that is, all those whom He had converted by His former ministry, and among them principally the twelve apostles, whom He had newly chosen to become teachers of others. This circumstance must be well observed, for as it helpeth to clear some points in the doctrine following; so it serveth notably to prove and justify the schools of the prophets, wherein some teach, and others hear and learn, for this end, to furnish themselves with gifts, that afterward they may become good and able teachers in GodŐs church; for what is this but to follow the example of Christ, who in this place delivereth doctrine and instruction to His twelve apostles, the better to enable them to their faithful discharge of their holy ministry.
5. Lastly, in this preface is noted ChristŐs manner of speaking, in these words: And He opened His mouth and taught them, saying; which some so take to signify nothing else but a full and evident kind of speech; as if the Holy Ghost had said, He spake with His mouth; as we used to say in English, I heard it with mine ears. But this phrase hath a further meaning; for as Paul willing the Ephesians to pray to God for him that a door of utterance may be given him, that he might open his mouth boldly to publish the secrets of the gospel (Eph. 6:19), doth there make that opening of his mouth, a more special kind of speaking, and a far more weighty matter than his ordinary communication; and as Elihu saying, I will open my lips, and will answer (Job 32:20), doth thereby import that his speech should be upon due consideration and sound knowledge; so the evangelist saying, Christ opened His mouth, doth thereby mean that upon serious meditation upon sundry points of heavenly doctrine, He began to speak with liberty and authority; and to deliver unto them deep matter of weight and great importance. That this is the meaning, may appear by the conclusion of this sermon, where it is said, the people wondered at His doctrine, because He taught as one having authority (Matt. 7:29).
Doth Christ here open His mouth and utter weighty points of doctrine in this sermon? Then it standeth all churches and people in hand to open their ears and apply their hearts to hear, learn, receive, believe and obey the same; this is that prophet foretold by Moses, who must be heard in all things that he shall speak; yea, whosoever will not hear His voice, may be cut off from among GodŐs people (Acts 3:22,23); and great reason, for if the word spoken by angels stood steadfast, and every transgression received a just recompense of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation preached unto us by Christ (Heb. 2:2,3)? Secondly, hereby all GodŐs ministers are taught, by all godly diligence to seek to furnish themselves for their holy ministry, that they may bring serious and weighty matter before GodŐs people, and deliver the same with that convenient boldness and authority which beseemeth GodŐs Word. Thirdly, in ChristŐs addressing of Himself to speak, all persons must learn to make conscience both of silence and of speech; this we shall do, if by silence we close up our lips, till we have just matter to speak of, tending to the glory of God or the good of our brethren; and being so prepared upon fit occasion, and in due time, we may utter our mind; we must remember that Christ left Himself an example that we should follow in His steps; and also consider that of every idle word that we shall speak, we must render account unto God (Matt. 12:36). If this were known and believed, there would not be so many sins in words, by cursing, swearing, vain and idle speaking, as there be.
Thus much of the preface. Now we come to the matter of this sermon, beginning at the third verse of this chapter, and so continuing to the 28th verse of the seventh chapter. And it may be divided into twelve heads or places of doctrine: The first whereof concerneth true happiness or blessedness, from the 2nd verse of this chapter to the 13th, wherein are propounded sundry rules directing men to attain thereunto. The scope of them all must be considered, which in general is this: Our Saviour Christ had now preached two years among the people, and thereby had won many to become His disciples; and among the rest, His twelve apostles; to all whom He promised happiness and life everlasting, if they would continue in the faith and obedience of His Word. Now though they believed in Him, yet they still remained in the same state for outward things, and became more subject to outward miseries than before; so as if they judged of happiness by their present outward estate, they might easily suspect the truth of ChristŐs doctrine, and think He had deceived them, because He promised them happiness, and yet for outward things, their case was far worse than before they knew Him. This our Saviour Christ, considering, doth here go about to remove this false conceit out of their minds; and for this purpose delivereth this doctrine unto them, in the first general head of His sermon; that true happiness before God, is ever joined, yea, covered many times, with the cross in this world. Whereby He strikes at the root of their carnal conceit, which placed true happiness in outward things, and looked for outward peace and prosperity upon the receiving of the gospel.
As this is the scope of the doctrine following, so it stands us in hand to learn the same, and to find experience hereof in our own hearts, that true comfort and felicity is accompanied with manifold miseries in this life. Indeed carnal wisdom deemeth them happy that enjoy outward peace, wealth and pleasure, but this conceit must be removed, and ChristŐs doctrine embraced, who joineth true happiness with the cross. Secondly, this serveth to teach us patience in affliction; for it is GodŐs will to temper happiness and the cross together; now this puts life into an afflicted soul, to think that Christ will have His felicity enjoined and felt in outward misery. Thus much of this head of doctrine in general; now we come to the branches thereof.