These two verses contain the issue and event of this sermon of our Saviour Christ in His hearers. And in them we may observe two points:
I. First, the good fruit that came of this sermon (v.28).
II. Secondly, the cause and reason thereof (v.29).
The fruit was the astonishing of the people; which St Matthew sets out by three circumstances:
(1) Of the time when it appeared; to wit, after the sermon was ended;
(2) Of the persons in whom it was wrought, the people, that is the multitude;
(3) Of the matter whereat they were astonished, namely, at the doctrine of Christ.
1. Touching this astonishing of the people, in it many things are to be observed:
(1) That though the person of our Saviour Christ were lowly and base, yet His doctrine in preaching was of great force in the minds of His hearers, for it did amaze and astonish them. This caused the officers that were sent to take Him to return without Him, alleging the majesty of His doctrine for the reason of their fact (John 7:46), Never man spake as this man did, and when the governors came with a band of men to apprehend Him, so soon as He did but tell them He was the Christ, they went backward, and fell to the ground (John 18:6).
This sheweth unto us that the voice and sentence of Christ given at the last day of judgment, will be most fearful and terrible. For if His words were thus powerful in His base estate of humility, what force will they then have, when He shall come in glory and majesty in the clouds, accompanied with thousands of angels, whenas His sight shall be so terrible that men shall call to the mountains to fall upon them, and to the rocks to grind them in pieces, if it were possible? Well, let the consideration hereof move us to be obedient to His voice in the ministry of His Word; otherwise we shall one day be subject to that fearful voice of condemnation, Go ye cursed into everlasting fire (Matt. 25:41).
(2) This astonishment of the people argues some fear and reverence in them towards Christ, which is some commendation unto them. And yet it proves not the truth and soundness of their faith and conversion (though no doubt many that heard Him were hereby converted); for a man may be amazed at ChristŐs doctrine, and yet not be converted thereby (Luke 4:22), the people of Nazareth did marvellously affect the doctrine of our Saviour Christ, admiring it, and yet they believed not in Him, but took exceptions against Him, because He was the son to Joseph the carpenter. Pharaoh, Saul and Ahab, when they were reproved by Moses, Samuel and Elijah, they were oftentimes much amazed and confounded in themselves; and yet they did never truly turn from their sins. And in this place I take it, this astonishment of the people is recorded, rather for the commendation of ChristŐs ministry than to note out the faith and conversion of the people.
This we are to observe for special cause; for it is the ordinary manner of the most of our hearers, to mark more or less what is spoken, to approve the doctrine, and to speak well of the minister, which be good things in their kind; but yet this is not enough. We must further labour to receive the Word by faith, to repent of our sins, and to conform our hearts and lives unto the Word. (Luke 11:27,28), When a woman through admiration at ChristŐs doctrine, pronounced her blessed that bare Him, and the paps that gave Him suck; Christ took occasion thence to give unto her and the rest of the hearers this lesson: Nay, rather blessed are they that hear the Word of God and do it. (Acts 2:37), at the first sermon of Peter after the giving of the Holy Ghost, the people were greatly amazed at His doctrine, and being pricked in conscience, cried, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Now, Peter suffers them not to stand still in this astonishment, but labours further to bring them to true faith and repentance, and to have the same by baptism confirmed unto them, saying, Amend your lives and be baptized (v.38). And so dealt Paul with the jailer that would have killed himself upon the sudden sight of the prison doors being open; for after he was truly humbled, he brought him to believe (Acts 16:27-31).
It may be here demanded, why our Saviour Christ at this sermon did no more to the most of His hearers, but caused them to wonder; whenas the apostles converted many thousands at some one sermon, and after brought the whole body of the Gentiles to the faith? Answer: No doubt He was able to have converted them all, and we may persuade ourselves here were many converted, though it be not recorded, and though indeed the most were only astonished. But this came so to pass that His promise made to His disciples might be verified (John 14:12), which was that they should do greater works than Christ did; whereof this questionless was one: to convert more in their ministry than Christ did. And the causes hereof were two:
(i) That our Saviour Christ might shew Himself willing to undergo that base estate of a servant wherein He was born and continued till His exaltation; therefore He was content to restrain the power of His Godhead even from His ministry, until He were exalted into glory.
(ii) That He might make it manifest in His apostlesŐ times, that being ascended He did not only sit at the right hand of His Father, that is, rule as a king over all in His princely office; but also that He did indeed govern His church by His Word and Spirit. And this reason Christ addeth (John 14:12), to prove that His disciples should do greater works than He did, because He went unto His Father, there to rule and govern His church.
It may yet further be asked, why Christ did not convert them all, seeing He was able, being true and very God? Answer: No doubt (as hath been said) many here were converted, yet not all, because Christ was now the minister of circumcision (Rom. 15:8) (as the apostle speaketh), that is, though in regard of His Person He were the prophet of the whole catholic church, yet at this time in this action He was preacher only to the church of the Jews; in which regard He performed this duty as man only, and so could do no more but deliver His FatherŐs will unto them, and shew Himself willing to convert them. And in this manner He speaks unto Jerusalem (Matt. 23:37), O Jerusalem, JerusalemÉ. How often would I have gathered thy children, as a hen gathereth her chickens; I would, but ye would not; that is, as the minister of circumcision in mine own Person, and as God in the ministry of my prophets.
Thus much of the astonishment itself.
2. Now followeth the circumstances whereby it is amplified and set out; and they are three:
(1) The first circumstance is the time when they were astonished, namely, when the sermon was ended. No doubt they were amazed in the time of His delivery; but yet they were silent all that while, and shewed no signs of their affection till the sermon was ended. And this good order ought to be observed of all GodŐs people in the public ministry of the Word. In the building of the material Temple, there was no noise or knocking heard, so much as of an hammer (1 Kin. 6:7); whereby was signified that in the assemblies of the saints, where GodŐs spiritual temple is building, there should be the like heavenly order observed; men should hear with quietness and silence, and shew their affections afterward.
Secondly, we are here taught to labour not only to be affected in the act of hearing while the doctrine is delivered, but to treasure it up in our hearts, that we may afterward be affected with it, as this multitude was.
(2) The second circumstance here noted, is the persons who were thus astonied; to wit, the people or the multitude; for after the sermon was ended, they gathered themselves into companies, and made known one to another the affections of their hearts towards ChristŐs doctrine. Here we may gather that our Saviour Christ delivered His doctrine plainly, unto the conference of the meanest, and to the capacity of the simplest; else they could not thereby have been brought to wonder. And this is a precedent for all ministers to follow in the dispensation of the Word. So did Paul (2 Cor. 4:2,3) in such plainness deliver the Word of God, that if it were hid, he saith, it were hid to them which perish.
(3) The third circumstance is the object of their astonishment; that is, His doctrine. They were astonied at His doctrine. This teacheth us that the Word of God must be so delivered that the doctrine itself may affect the hearers. It is a carnal thing for a man so to preach, as the consideration of his wit, of his memory, of his eloquence, of his great reading, may affect the hearers. Many worthy parts (no doubt) were in our Saviour Christ, for which He might well be admired; and yet in the dispensation of His Word, He labours by His doctrine only to affect His hearers. And so must all they do that will be followers of Christ.
Thus much for the fruit of ChristŐs sermon. Now follows the cause thereof, which is ChristŐs authority in teaching (v.29), For He taught as one having authority, not as the scribes. This authority in ChristŐs ministry was caused from three things:
1. From the matter of His sermon.
2. From the manner of His delivery.
3. From the things that accompanied His teaching.
1. The matter of His sermon was the incomparable excellency of heavenly doctrine. Thus much His enemies the scribes that came to tempt Him, did confess (Mark 12:14), Master, thou art true, and teachest the way of God truly. And this was long before confirmed by Moses, who delivered the promise of Christ unto the people, into whose mouth God would put His Word (Deut. 18:18). (John 7:16), Christ confesseth that His doctrine was not His own, but His FatherŐs that sent Him.
2. The manner of His teaching was heavenly; and this shewed itself in sundry things, for:
(i) Christ taught in His own name as a lord of His doctrine, and not as a messenger or interpreter thereof, as the prophets were.
(ii) His speech and delivery was with special grace (Luke 4:22), The people wondered at the gracious words that proceeded out of His mouth; wherein He expressed His humility, His meekness, love, mercy and compassion, plainly shewing by His speech that He was endued with all gifts of the Spirit above measure. In this regard it is said (Isa. 50:4), God gave Him (that is Christ) the tongue of the learned, to be able to speak a word in due season, for the comfort and appeasing of a distressed conscience; which no man but Christ is able to do.
(iii) As he delivered the Word vocally unto the outward ear, so he was able by the power of His Godhead, to make His hearers to give attendance, and to receive and believe that which He taught.
(iv) And lastly, His zeal for His FatherŐs glory and His earnest desire to bring the souls of men unto salvation, which were principal ends of His ministry, did also add grace and authority thereto.
3. The things that went with His doctrine did also cause authority in His ministry; and these were two:
(1) Miracles; as curing the sick and casting out devils; which did greatly confirm His doctrine unto His hearers. When he had cured one that was both deaf and dumb (Mark 7:37), the people were beyond measure astonished.
(2) An unblameable life; for He was Jesus Christ the righteous, who performed all things that the law required, fulfilling the will of God in suffering, and suffering in His obedience.
Further, note the phrase in the original it is said here, He was teaching; that is, it was His usual manner and custom thus to preach with authority. Herein Christ is a notable precedent unto us for sundry duties:
(1) First, hereby every minister of GodŐs Word is taught to maintain the credit of his ministry, and to preserve the same from contempt; especially in his own place and his own person. Though Christ were here in a mean and base estate, yet He would not suffer His calling to be contemned, but gets grace thereunto. And Paul chargeth Timothy to see that no man despise his youth (1 Tim. 4:12). And to Titus he gives the like admonition (Tit. 2:15), These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. See that no man despise thee. Now in the example of Christ, we shall see how this is done, not by outward pomp and estate, or by earthly means; but by truth and soundness of doctrine, by zeal for GodŐs glory, and for the good of menŐs souls, and by an unblameable life.
(2) Secondly, hence all GodŐs ministers (if they will be followers of Christ) must learn not only to teach sound and heavenly doctrine, but to observe therein a divine and spiritual manner of teaching. (1 Cor. 2:4,13), Paul saith, his preaching was not in human wisdom, but in the plain evidence of the Spirit; comparing spiritual things with spiritual things; which is then done when the people may acknowledge the grace of God in the teacher. And it is said of the ignorant man, who is rebuked of the prophets (1 Cor. 14:25), He falls down on his face, and saith plainly that God is in you indeed. There is great difference to be made between discoursing in philosophy, which may be done by human wit, and preaching in divinity. He that can discourse well in philosophy, cannot thereupon presently preach and dispense the Word of God aright; for preaching is a spiritual duty, which cannot be performed by natural gifts only. The prophet Isaiah must have his tongue touched with a coal from GodŐs altar, before he could speak and utter GodŐs Word unto the people (Isa. 6:6,7). And Paul, the most famous of the apostles, desireth in all his epistles to be prayed for that his mouth might be opened; whereby he doth signify that to deliver wholesome doctrine in spiritual manner, for the glory of God, and the good of His people, is a great matter, and cannot by natural gifts be attained unto. And indeed this is that teaching which saves the soul, and affects the heart of him that belongs to God; which is the thing that every minister of GodŐs Word ought to labour for.
(3) Thirdly, seeing Christ in His preaching doth maintain the authority of His ministry, every man in his place is taught to maintain and preserve the dignity of his profession. We are all of us by our profession Christians, and by baptism the sons and daughters of God; now our duty is to walk worthy of this our calling, and to take heed that we bring it not into contempt. It is a most heinous wickedness for any man to bring a slander upon the name and religion of God; and yet nothing is more frequent in this our age; for men will needs be Christians in profession, and therefore will receive the sacraments, which be the highest top-sails of all profession; and yet in their lives they are profane, and live as they list; yea, and if others will not join with them in their wickedness, they will not spare to scorn and revile them. But herein they sin fearfully, in dishonouring their profession; and though they charge others with hypocrisy that endeavour in some truth to be answerable to their profession, yet they themselves practice most gross hypocrisy, whenas they will bear the name of Christians in profession, and communicate with the Lord in His holy ordinances, and yet make no conscience of sin, but scorn those that do. (Eph. 4:1), Paul prayed for the Ephesians, that they might walk worthy the vocation whereunto they were called. And (Tit. 2:7), he exhorts Titus hereunto, that in all things he should shew himself an ensample of good works, with uncorrupt doctrine, with gravity, and integrity etc. Yea (v.10), he requires servants to shew such faithfulness in their service that they may adorn the doctrine of God.
And not as the scribes
For first, they failed in the matter; they delivered not the doctrine of God but the traditions of men about washings and tithings. Secondly, they failed in the manner; they taught coldly, and without zeal. Thirdly, they failed in the end; they taught in pride and ambition, seeking themselves, and not GodŐs glory. But Christ, as we have seen, taught far otherwise; and although He misliked their preaching, both for matter, manner and end, yet He vouchsafed to hear them, or else how could He have reproved these things in them? Which shews that Christ would not separate Himself from their assemblies, whose doctrine he disliked, with the delivery thereof. And therefore no man ought to sever himself from the Church of England, for some wants that be therein. We have the true doctrine of Christ preached among us by GodŐs blessing, and though there be corruptions in manners among us, yea, and though they could justly find fault with our doctrine; yet so long as we hold Christ, no man ought to sever himself from our church. And thus much for this sermon.