Mat_5:17. Think not that I am came to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.
The life, work, and words of Christ are not an emendation of the Old Testament, or an abrogation of it. It stands fast and firm, fulfilled, carried to perfection, filled to the full in Christ.
Mat_5:18-19. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
It is vain to teach the commandments without first doing them. The doing must always precede the teaching. If a man’s example cannot be safely followed, it will be unsafe to trust his words.
Mat_5:20. For 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.
The scribes and Pharisees were supposed to be righteous beyond all others. “Nay,” saith Christ; “you must go beyond them.” They were, after all, superficial, flimsy, pretentious, unreal in their righteousness; and we must have a far nobler character than they ever attained, or we “shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
Mat_5:21. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment.
This is a proof that Christ did not come to abolish the law, or to abate its demands in any degree whatsoever.
Mat_5:22. But I say unto you, —
Oh, what divine dignity there is in this majestic Person. He claims authority to speak, even though he should contradict all the Rabbis and all the learned men that went before him: “I say unto you,” —
Mat_5:22. That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
Christ here shows us that the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” deals with anger, with angry words, with words of cursing, with words of derision, for all these are killing things, hurting and wounding things, and the passion of anger is forbidden under the command, “Thou shalt not kill.” Men have not thought so, but it really is so, for he who is angry with his brother is a murderer; there is the spirit, the essence of that which leads to murder in the passion which breeds malice and revenge. The law is spiritual; it touches the emotions, the thoughts, the desires, as well as the words and actions of men. If I desire ill for a man, I have within me that which would desire his death; and what is that, after all, but murder in the heart? How strict is this law, and yet how just and right!
Mat_5:23-24. Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
It is said that, in Hindustan, there is a complete divorce of religion from morality, so that a man may be supposed to be eminently religious even while living in the utmost filthiness and vice; but it must never be so among us. We must never imagine that God can accept an offering from us while we harbor any enmity in our hearts. Perhaps, after reading this passage, you say, “If I had anything against my brother, I would go to him at once, and seek to be reconciled to him.” That would be quite right; but you must go further than that, for Christ says, “If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee.” It is much more easy to go to the man who has wronged you than to the one whom you have wronged. Yet the second is evidently the clearer duty, and should be attended to at once: neither can we expect the Lord to attend to us unless we attend to this duty.
Mat_5:25-26. Agree with thine adversary quickly, while thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.
There is nothing like ending disputes at once, before the rancor grows, and your adversary becomes determined to push you to extremes. Oh, for more of that spirit of yielding! You know how people say, “If you tread on a worm: it will turn;” but, brethren, a worm is not an example for a Christian, even if the poor wounded creature does turn toward you in its agony. If you turn, turn to kiss the hand that smites you, and to do good to them that evil entreat you.
Mat_5:27-28. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: but I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.
So that the unholy desire, the lascivious glance, everything that approximates towards licentiousness, is here condemned; and Christ is proved to be not the Abrogator of the law, but the Confirmer of it. See how he shows that the commandment is exceedingly broad, wide as the canopy of heaven, all-embracing. How sternly it condemns us all, and how well it becomes us to fall down at the feet of the God of infinite mercy, and seek his forgiveness.
Tis mercy — mercy we implore,
We would thy pity move;
Thy grace is an exhaustless store,
And thou thyself art Love.”
Mat_5:29-30. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.
Give up the dearest, choicest, and apparently most needful thing, if it leads you into sin. The same rule that bids you avoid sin, bids you also avoid all that leads to sin. If adultery be forbidden, so also is that glance with which the sin usually begins. We are to turn away our eyes from beholding that which leads towards sin, and we are not to touch or taste that which would readily lead us into iniquity. Oh, that we had sufficient decision of character to make short work of everything which tends towards evil! Many persons, when their right eye offends them, put a green shade over it; and when their right hand offends them, they tie it up in a sling. But that is not obeying the command of Christ. He charges you to get rid of everything that would lead you wrong; make a clean sweep of it. You are wrong enough at your best, so do not permit anything to appertain to you, which would lead you still further astray,
Mat_5:31-32. It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: but I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, —
Which is a sufficient and justifiable reason for divorce, —
Mat_5:32. Causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced —
That is to say, who is divorced without sufficient cause, —
Mat_5:32. Committeth adultery.
Among the Jews, divorce was the easiest thing in the world. A man might, in a fit, utter words which would divorce his wife. The Saviour abolished that evil once for all, and made divorce a crime, as it always is “saving for the cause of fornication.”
Mat_5:33-34. Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: but I say unto you, Swear not at all:-
Christ thus abolishes the whole system of swearing, as it ought to be abolished in every place; and he goes on to show that he did not mean merely unclean, false oaths, or oaths taken as some men take them blasphemously, but every form and kind of oath, for he says, “Swear not at all”—
Mat_5:34-37. Neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.
If words mean anything, this command of Christ is an utter abolishment of oaths taken before magistrates as well as everywhere else. I can make nothing else out of it; indeed, it must mean that, because Christ contrasts his teaching with that of former ages: “It hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: but I say unto you, Swear not at all.’ A man who cannot be believed upon his word certainly cannot be believed upon his oath; and, usually, when a man tells a lie, the next thing he does is to swear to it. When Peter denied his Master, the next thing he did was to curse and to swear, because he thought it likely that they would not imagine that he was a follower of Christ if he did curse and swear; so he gave that as a pretty clear proof that he had not been with Christ, and was not one of his disciples. Alas, that we should need anything beside “Yea, yea,” and “Nay, nay!”
Mat_5:38-43. Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.
Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy. There are many who do the second of those two things, but not the first.
Mat_5:44-45. 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; 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 on the just and on the unjust.
God constantly does that which many people regard almost as a crime, namely, doing good to the undeserving. It is the very genius of Christianity to help those who are utterly unworthy, — to be kind and generous even to those who are pretty certain to repay us with ingratitude and malice.
Mat_5:46-48. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
Stretch towards the highest conceivable standard, and be not satisfied till you reach it.