We have had the announcement of the kingdom of heaven and then of the Church. We have seen them as distinct, though connected, in Matthew 16; then in Matthew 18, the practical ways which suit them. It was necessary also to bring out the relation of the kingdom to God's order in nature. The relationships which God has established in nature are entirely apart from the new creation, and are carried on when a soul enters the new creation. The believer is still a man here be low, although as a Christian he is called not to act on human principles, but to do the will of God. It was therefore of much importance to know if the new things affect the recognition of that which had been already set up in nature. Accordingly, this chapter largely reveals the mutual relations of what is of grace and what is in nature. I am, of course, using the word "nature," not in the sense of "the flesh," which expresses the principle and exercise of self-will, but of that which God ordained in this world before sin came in, and survives the ruin. It is only the man that understands grace that can enter into and thoroughly recognize the outward natural order in the world. Grace never leads a person to slight anything God has introduced, it matters not what it might be. Take for example the law; what a profound error to suppose that the gospel weakens or annuls God's law! On the contrary, as the apostle Paul teaches in Romans 3, by faith "we establish the law." If I am on legal ground, there is terror, anxiety, darkness; the dread of meeting God as a judge: the law keeps up all these thoughts as long as I am here, and very properly. Hence, it is only the man who knows that he is saved by grace, lifted above the region to which the law applies its death-stroke, who can gravely, yet in peace, look at it and own its power, because he is in Christ, above all condemnation. A believer can do it, just because he is not under law; for, "As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse." If he were under the law even as to his own walk and communion, and not his standing before God, he must be miserable; the more so, in proportion as he is honest in regard to the law. The attempt to be happy under the law is a most painful struggle, with the danger too of deceiving ourselves and others. From all this grace delivers the soul, setting it on a new ground. But the believer can look with delight and see the wisdom and holiness of God that shine in His every arrangement and all His moral government. The law indeed is a testimony to what God forbids or wishes, but not the revelation of what He is. This you cannot find outside Christ. However, the law holds up the standard of that which God demands of man. It shows His intolerance of evil, and the necessary judgment of those who practise it. But we should be helplessly and hopelessly miserable if this were all; and it is only when the soul has laid hold of the grace of God that it can take pleasure in His ways.
This chapter, then, surveys the relationships of nature in the light of the kingdom. The first and most fundamental is that of marriage. "The Pharisees also came unto Him, tempting Him, and saying unto Him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?" (ver. 3). There you have the conduct of such as are on legal ground. There is really no respect for God, no genuine regard for His law. The Lord at once vindicates from Scripture the institution and the sanctity of marriage: "Have ye not read that He which made them at the beginning made them male and female?" (ver. 4). That is, He shows it is not a mere question of what came in by the law, but He goes to the sources. God had first established it; and, far from dissolving the tie as men list, He made a single pair, and therefore only to be the one for the other. All other relationships were light in comparison of this closest tie - even union. "For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and cleave unto his wife; and the twain shall be one flesh." Next to the relationship of marriage is the tie of a child to its parents. It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of marriage as a natural institution. Who would talk of a child leaving his father and mother for any cause? The Pharisees even would not think of such a thing. ,What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." They were ready with an answer: "Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?" (ver. 7). There was really no such command: a divorce was simply allowed.
Our Lord draws the distinction perfectly. Moses suffered certain things not according to the original archetypal intention of God. Nor should this be matter of wonder, for the law made nothing perfect. It was good in itself, but it could not impart goodness. The law might be perfect for its own object, but it perfected nothing, nor was it ever the intention of God that it should. But more than this: there were certain concessions contained in the law which did not at all express the divine mind; for God therein was dealing with a people after the flesh. The law does not contemplate a man as born of God; Christianity does. Men of faith during the law were of course born of God. But the law itself drew no line between regenerate and unregenerate; it addressed all Israel, and not believers only; hence suffered certain things in view of the hardness of their hearts. So that our Lord, while intimating a certain consideration of Israel's condition in the flesh, at the same time vindicated God's law from the corrupt deductions of these selfish Pharisees. "From the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery. And whosoever marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery" (vers. 8, g). Our Lord adds here what was not in the law, and brings out the full mind of God touching this relationship. There is but one just cause for which it may be dissolved; or rather, marriage must be dissolved morally in order to terminate as a matter of fact. In case of fornication, the tie is all gone before God; and the putting away merely proclaims before man what has already taken place in God's sight. All is made perfectly clear. The righteousness of the law is established as far as it went, but it stops short of perfection by admitting in certain cases a less evil to avoid a greater. Our Lord supplies the needed truth - going up to the very beginning, and on to the end also.
Thus it is that Christ, the true light, alone and always introduces the perfect mind of God, supplying all deficiencies and making all perfect. This is the aim, work and effect of grace. Nevertheless, "His disciples say unto Him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry" (ver. 10). Alas! the selfishness of the heart even in disciples. It was so much the custom then to dismiss the wife because of petty dislike, etc., that it shocked them to hear the Lord insisting on the indissolubility of the marriage. tie.
But, says the Lord, "All men receive not this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs which were so born from their mother's womb; and there are some eunuchs which were made eunuchs of men; and there be eunuchs which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it" (vers. 11, 12). There, I apprehend that, while maintaining the institution of marriage naturally, the Lord shows there is a power of God that can raise people above it. The apostle Paul was acting in the spirit of this verse, when he gives us his own judgment as one that had "obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful" (1Co_7:25). Doubtless he was called to a remarkable work, which would have made due attention to family relationship very difficult. His business lay and took him everywhere. Wherever there were churches to care for, wherever souls cried, Come over and help us - and far beyond the calls of saints or men, the Holy Ghost laid it on his devoted heart. With wife or family to care for, the work of the Lord could not have been so thoroughly done. Hence the wise and gracious judgment of the apostle, not given as a command, but left to weigh on the spiritual mind. The last of the three classes in the verse is figuratively expressed: it means, plainly, living unmarried for God's glory. But mark, it is a gift, not a law, much less a caste. Only such receive it to whom it is given." It is put as a privilege. As the apostle presses the honourableness of marriage, he was the last to lay the smallest slur on such a tie; but he also knew of a higher and all-absorbing love, an entrance, in measure, into the affections of Christ for the Church. Still this is not an imposed obligation, but a special call and gift of grace in which he rejoiced to glorify his Master. The appreciation of the love of Christ to the Church had formed him in its own pattern. Observe here, it is "made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake" - that order of things which depends on Christ now in heaven. And hence, strong in the grace that shines in Him at the right hand of God, they to whom it is given walk above the natural ties of life - not despising them; but honouring them, while individually surrendering themselves to that goodly portion which shall not be taken from them.
And now children are brought unto Him - little ones, apt to be despised. What in this world so helpless and dependent as a babe? "Then were brought unto Him little children, that He should put His hands on them, and pray" (ver. 13). The disciples thought it an annoyance or a liberty, and "rebuked them. But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto Me; for of such is the kingdom of heaven. And He laid His hands on them, and departed thence" (vers. 13-15). So completely were all the demands of love met even where the desire seemed ever so unseasonable. For why should the Lord of heaven and earth occupy Himself with putting His hands upon little ones? But love is not restrained by human reason, and the unworthy thoughts of the disciples were set aside, who thought babes unworthy of His notice. Ah! how little they knew Him, long as they had been with Him. Was it not worthy of Him so to bless the very least in man's eyes? How important a lesson for our souls is this? It need not be one connected with ourselves; it might be another's child. Do we claim the Lord for it? What is His feeling? He is great, He is mighty; but He despiseth not any.
Before His glory there is not so much difference between a world and a worm. The world is a mere cipher, if God measures by Himself. But then, the feeblest may be the object of His deepest love and care. Our Lord looked at these babes, oh, with what interest! They are the objects of the Father's love, for whom He gave His Son, and whom the Son came to save. Each had a soul: and what was its value? What to be a vessel of grace in this world, and of glory in the bright eternal day? The disciples did not enter in these thoughts; and how little our own souls enter into them. Jesus not only blessed the babes, but rebuked the disciples, who had misrepresented Him; and He says, "Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto Me; for of such is the kingdom of heaven." A withering word for pride. Were the disciples "of such" at that moment, or at least in that act?
And now a young man "came and said unto Him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?" He was evidently a lovely natural character; one who combined in his person every quality that was estimable; one who had not only all that men think productive of happiness in this world, but apparently sincere in desiring to know and do the will of God. And, further, he was attracted by and came to Jesus. In another Gospel we read that "Jesus loved him;" not because he believed in and followed Jesus; for, alas, we know he did not. But there are various forms of divine love, besides that which embraces us as returned prodigals. While we have a special love for the children of God, and in the things of God ought to value only that which is of the Holy Ghost, it does not follow that we are not to admire a fine mind or a naturally beautiful character. If we do not, it only proves that we do not understand the mind of God as here manifested in Jesus. Even as to creation, am I to look coldly, or not at all, at rivers or mountains, the sea, the sky, valleys, forests, trees, flowers, that God has made? It is a total mistake that spirituality renders dull to His outward works. But am I to set my mind upon these sights? Are we to travel far and wide for the purpose of visiting what all the world counts worthy to be seen? If in my path of serving Christ a grand or beautiful prospect passes before me, I do not think that He whose handiwork it is calls me to close my eyes or mind. The Lord Himself draws attention to the lilies of the field brighter than Solomon in all his glory. Man admires that which enables him to indulge his self-love and ambition in this world. That is merely the flesh. But as to the beautiful, morally or in nature, grace, instead of despising, values all that is good in its own sphere, and does homage to the God who thus displayed His wisdom and power. Grace despises neither what is in creation nor what is in man. This young man the Lord "loved," when certainly as yet there was no faith at all. He went away from Jesus in sorrow. But what believer ever did, since the world began? His sorrow was because he was not prepared for the path of faith. Jesus desired him to follow Him, but not as a rich man. He would have been delighted to do "some great thing;" but the Lord laid bare self in his heart. He knew that (spite all that naturally, and even according to the law, was beautiful in him), there was self-importance at bottom - the flesh turning these very advantages into a reason for not following Jesus. But as nothing at all, he must follow Jesus. "Good Master," said he," what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?" He had not learned the first lesson a Christian knows, what a convicted sinner is learning - that he is lost. The youth showed that he had never felt his own ruin. He assumed that he was capable of doing good; but the sinner is like the leper in Leviticus 13, who could not bring an offering to God, but only remain outside crying, "Unclean, unclean." The young man had no sense of sin. He regarded eternal life as the result of a man's doing good. He had been doing the law; and, as far as he knew, he never broke it.
Our Lord says to him, "Why callest thou Me good? There is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments." He may take him up on that ground. This man had no idea that the one to whom he was speaking was God Himself. He merely went to Him as a good man. On this footing the Lord would not allow Himself to be called good. God alone is. The Lord at first simply deals with him on his own ground. "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto Him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (vers. 17-19). The Lord quotes the commands that relate to human duties - the second table of the law, as it is called. "All these," says the young man, have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? But says the Lord, "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow Me,." And what then? "When the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions." He loved his possessions better than he loved Jesus. This gave our Lord an opportunity for unfolding another truth, and one most startling to a Jew, who regarded wealth as a sign of the blessing of God. It was in a similar spirit that the friends of job also acted, though they were Gentiles; for in truth it is the judgment of fleshly righteousness. They thought that God must be against job because he had got into unheard-of trial. The Lord brings out, in view of the kingdom of heaven, the solemn truth that the advantages of the flesh are positive hindrances to the Spirit.
"Then said Jesus unto His disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly" (that is, with difficulty; not, he cannot, but "shall hardly") "enter into the kingdom of heaven." Emphatically He repeats it, "Again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle" (beyond nature, of course) "than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. When His disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?" The Lord faces their objection: "Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible (vers. 24-26)." If it was a question of man's doing anything to get into the kingdom, riches are only so much hindrance. And so it is with all else counted desirable. Whatever I may have, and trust in, whether it be moral ways, position, or what not - these are but impediments as far as concerns the kingdom, and make it impossible to man. But with God (and we may bless Him for it) all things are possible, no matter what the difficulty. Therefore God chooses in His grace to call all sorts and conditions of people. We read of a person called out of Herod's court; we read of saints in Caesar's household. A great company of the priests believed; so did Barnabas the Levite, with his houses and lands; nay, above all, Saul of Tarsus, brought up at the feet of Gamaliel. All these difficulties only gave God the opportunity to overcome all obstacles by His own power and grace.
When Peter heard how hard it was for the rich to be saved, he thought it time for him to speak of what they had given up for the Lord's sake, and to learn what they should get for it. ,Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed Thee; what shall we have therefore?" How painfully natural was this! "Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man shall sit upon the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life" (vers. 28, 29). There is nothing the believer does or suffers but what will be remembered in the kingdom. While this is most blessed, it is also a very solemn thought. Our ways now, though they have nothing to do with the remission of our sins, are yet of all consequence as a testimony to Christ, and will bear very decidedly on our future place in the kingdom. We must not use the doctrine of grace to deny that of rewards; but even so, Christ is the sole motive for the saint. We shall receive for the thing's done in the body according to that we have done, whether it be good or bad, as the Lord shows plainly here. The twelve had followed the rejected Lord, albeit His own grace had given them the power. It was not they who had chosen Him, but He had chosen them. They are now cheered by the assurance that in the blessed time of the regeneration, when the Lord will work a grand change in this world (for as He regenerates a sinner, so will He, as it were, regenerate the world), their work and suffering for His name will not be forgotten of Him.
Remember that what is spoken of here does not refer to heaven: there is still better work in heaven than judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Yet it is a glorious destiny reserved for the twelve apostles during the reign of Christ over the earth. A similar glory is designed for other saints of God, as we read in 1Co_6:2: "Know ye not that the saints shall judge the world?" There it is used to show the incongruity of a saint seeking the world's judgment in a matter between himself and another; for the Christian's portion and blessing are entirely apart from the world, and he should be true to the objects for which Christ has called him.
As to all the natural relationships and advantages of this life, if lost for His name's sake, the losers shall receive a hundredfold and inherit everlasting life. The Gospel of John speaks of everlasting life as a thing that we possess now: the others speak of it as future. We have it indeed now dwelling in us; we shall then enter its own dwelling-place, and shall have its fulness in glory by and by. "But many that are first shall be last, and the last shall be first." What a hint to Peter - and to us all! A self-righteous claim is a ready snare, and soon finds its level. The leaving of all, if valued, has lost all its value. Thus many who began to run well turned aside from grace to law; and Peter himself was blamed by the last (but first) of the apostles, as we know from the Galatians.
The Lord make His grace the strength of our hearts; and if we have suffered the loss of any or of all things, may we still count them dung that we may win Him!