on Matthew 5 :48
Be ye therefore perfect - as your Father - God himself is the grand law, sole giver, and only pattern of the perfection which he recommends to his children. The words are very emphatic, εσεσθε ουν υμεις τελειοι, Ye shall be therefore perfect - ye shall be filled with the spirit of that God whose name is Mercy, and whose nature is love. God has many imitators of his power, independence, justice, etc., but few of his love, condescension, and kindness. He calls himself Love, to teach us that in this consists that perfection, the attainment of which he has made both our duty and privilege: for these words of our Lord include both a command and a promise.
"Can we be fully saved from sin in this world?" is an important question, to which this text gives a satisfactory answer: "Ye shall be perfect, as your Father, who is in heaven, is perfect." - As in his infinite nature there is no sin, nothing but goodness and love, so in your finite nature there shall dwell no sin, for the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus shall make you free from the law of sin and death, Romans 8:2. God shall live in, fill, and rule your hearts; and, in what He fills and influences, neither Satan nor sin can have any part. If men, slighting their own mercies, cry out, This is impossible! - whom does this arguing reprove - God, who, on this ground, has given a command, the fulfillment of which is impossible. "But who can bring a clean out of an unclean thing?" God Almighty - and, however inveterate the disease of sin may be, the grace of the Lord Jesus can fully cure it; and who will say, that he who laid down his life for our souls will not use his power completely to effect that salvation which he has died to procure. "But where is the person thus saved?" Wherever he is found who loves God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength, and his neighbor as himself; and, for the honor of Christianity and its Author, may we not hope there are many such in the Church of God, not known indeed by any profession of this kind which they make, but by a surer testimony, that of uniformly holy tempers, piety to God, and beneficence to man?
Dr. Lightfoot is not perfectly satisfied with the usual mode of interpreting the 22nd verse of this chapter. I subjoin the substance of what he says. Having given a general exposition of the word brother, which the Jews understood as signifying none but an Israelite - ενοχος, which we translate is in danger of, and which he shows the Jews used to signify, is exposed to, merits, or is guilty of - and the word gehenna, hell - fire, which he explains as I have done above, he comes to the three offenses, and their sentences.
The First is causeless anger, which he thinks too plain to require explanation; but into the two following he enters in considerable detail: -
"The Second. Whosoever shall say to his brother, 'Racha,' a nickname, or scornful title usual, which they disdainfully put one upon another, and very commonly; and therefore our Savior has mentioned this word, the rather because it was of so common use among them. Take these few examples: -
"A certain man sought to betake himself to repentance (and restitution). His wife said to him, 'Rekah, if thou make restitution, even thy girdle about thee is not thine own, etc.' Tanchum, fol. 5.
"Rabbi Jochanan was teaching concerning the building of Jerusalem with sapphires and diamonds, etc. One of his scholars laughed him to scorn. But afterwards, being convinced of the truth of the thing, he saith to him, 'Rabbi, do thou expound, for it is fit for thee to expound: as thou saidst, so have I seen it.' he saith to him, 'Rekah, hadst thou not seen, thou wouldst not have believed, etc.' Midras Tillin, fol. 38, Colossians 4.
"To what is the thing like? To a king of flesh and blood, who took to wife a king's daughter: he saith to her, 'Wait and fill me a cup;' but she would not: whereupon he was angry, and put her away; she went, and was married to a sordid fellow; and he saith to her, 'Wait, and fill me a cup;' she said unto him, 'Rekah, I am a king's daughter, etc.' Idem in Psalm 137:1-9.
"A Gentile saith to an Israelite, 'I have a choice dish for thee to eat of.' He saith, 'What is it ?' He answers, 'Swine's flesh.' he saith to him, 'Rekah, even what you kill of clean beasts is forbidden us, much more this.' Tanchum, fol. 18, Colossians 4.
"The Third offense is to say to a brother, 'Thou fool,' which, how to distinguish from racha, which signifies an empty fellow, were some difficulty, but that Solomon is a good dictionary here for us, who takes the term continually here for a wicked wretch and reprobate, and in opposition to spiritual wisdom: so that in the first clause is condemned causeless anger; in the second, scornful taunting and reproaching of a brother; and, in the last, calling him a reprobate and wicked, or uncharitably censuring his spiritual and eternal estate. And this last does more especially hit the scribes and Pharisees, who arrogated to themselves only to be called חכמים chocamim, wise men, but of all others they had this scornful and uncharitable opinion, 'This people, that knoweth not the law, is cursed,' John 7:49.
"And now for the penalties denounced upon these offenses, let us look upon them, taking notice of these two traditions of the Jews, which our Savior seems to face, and to contradict.
"1st. That they accounted the command, Thou shalt not kill, to aim only at actual murder. So that in their collecting the six hundred and thirteen precepts out of the law, they understand that command to mean but this: 'That one should not kill an Israelite,' and accordingly they allotted this only violation of it to judgments; against this wild gloss and practice, he speaks in the first clause: Ye have heard it said, Thou shalt not kill, and he that killeth, or committeth actual murder, is liable to judgment, and ye extend the violation of that command no farther; but I say to you, that causeless anger against thy brother is a violation of that command, and even that maketh a man liable to judgment.
2nd. They allotted that murder only to be judged by the council, or Sanhedrin, that was committed by a man in propria persona: let them speak their own sense, etc. Talm. in Sanhedrin, per. 9.
"'Any one that kills his neighbor with his hand, as if he strike him with a sword, or with a stone that kills him, or strangle him till he die, or burn him in the fire, seeing that he kills him any how in his own person, lo! such a one must be put to death by the Sanhedrin; but he that hires another to kill his neighbor, or that sends his servants, and they kill him, or that violently thrusts him before a lion, or the like, and the beast kills him - any one of these is a shedder of blood, and the guilt of shedding of blood is upon him, and he is liable to death by the hand of Heaven, but he is not to be put to death by the Sanhedrin. And whence is the proof that it must be thus! Because it is said, He that sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed. This is he that slays a man himself, and not by the hand of another. Your blood of your lives will I require. This is he that slays himself. At the hand of every beast will I require it. This is he that delivers up his neighbor before a beast to be rent in pieces. At the hand of man, even at the hand of every man's brother, will I require the life of man. This is he that hires others to kill his neighbor: In this interpretation, requiring is spoken of all the three; behold, their judgment is delivered over to Heaven (or God). And all these man-slayers and the like, who are not liable to death by the Sanhedrin, if the king of Israel will slay them by the judgment of the kingdom, and the law of nations, he may, etc.' Maym. ubi supr. per. 2.
on Matthew 5 :48
Be ye therefore perfect ... - The Saviour concludes this part of the discourse by commanding his disciples to be "perfect." This word commonly means "finished, complete, pure, holy." Originally, it is applied to a piece of mechanism, as a machine that is complete in its parts. Applied to people, it refers to completeness of parts, or perfection, where no part is defective or wanting. Thus, Job JObadiah 1:1 is said to be "perfect;" that is, not holy as God, or "sinless" - for fault is afterward found with him Job 9:20; Job 42:6; but his piety was "proportionate" - had a completeness of parts was consistent and regular. He exhibited his religion as a prince, a father, an individual, a benefactor of the poor. He was not merely a pious man in one place, but uniformly. He was consistent everywhere. See the notes at that passage. This is the meaning in Matthew. Be not religious merely in loving your friends and neighbors, but let your piety be shown in loving your enemies; imitate God; let your piety be "complete, proportionate, regular." This every Christian may be; this every Christian must be.
Remarks On Matthew 5
1. The gospel pronounces blessings on things far different from what the world has thought to be a source of happiness. People suppose that happiness is to be found in mirth, in wealth, in honor, in esteem, in freedom from persecution. Christ says that it is to be sought in the reverse. Often people are most happy in poverty, in sickness, in persecution, when supported by the presence and promises of a merciful God. And if God appoints our station there, we should submit to it, and learn therewith to be content.
2. We may see the evil of anger. It is a species of murder. If secretly cherished, or exhibited by contempt and injury, it must bring down the displeasure of God. It is a source of misery. True enjoyment is found in meekness, peace, calmness, and benevolence. In such a firmness, and steadiness, and dependence on God as to keep the soul unruffled in the midst of provocation, is happiness. Such was Christ.
3. We see the evil of indelicacy of feeling and sentiment, and the strictness and severity of the law respecting the contact of the sexes Matthew 5:28. And yet what law is more frequently violated? By obscene anecdotes and tales; by songs and gibes; by double meanings and innuendoes; by looks and gestures; by conversation, and obscene books and pictures, this law of our Saviour is perpetually violated. If there is any one sentiment of most value for the comfort, the character, the virtuous sociability of the young - one that will shed the greatest charm over society, and make it the most pure, it is that which inculcates "perfect delicacy" and "purity" in the contact of the sexes. Virtue of any kind never blooms where this is not cherished. Modesty and purity once gone, every flower that would diffuse its fragrance over life withers and dies with it. There is no one sin that so withers and blights every virtue, none that so enfeebles and prostrates every ennobling feeling of the soul, as the violation of the seventh commandment in spirit or in form, in thought or in act. How should purity dwell in the heart, breathe from the lips, kindle in the eye, live in the imagination, and dwell in the conversation of all the young! An eternal, avenging God is near to every wanton thought, marks every eye that kindles with impure desire, rolls the thunder of justice over every polluted soul, and is preparing woe for every violator of the laws of purity and chastity, Proverbs 7:22-23; Proverbs 5:5; Proverbs 2:18.
4. Revenge is equally forbidden. Persecution, slander, a spirit of litigation, anger, personal abuse, dueling, suicide, murder, are all violations of the law of God, and all must call down His vengeance.
5. We are bound to love our enemies. This is a law of Christianity, original and unique. No system of religion but Christianity has required it, and no act of Christian piety is more difficult. None shows more the power of the grace of God; none is more ornamental to the character; none more like God; and none furnishes better evidence of piety. He that can meet a man kindly who is seeking his hurt; who can speak well of one that is perpetually slandering and cursing him; that can pray for a man that abuses, injures, and wounds him: and that can seek heaven for him that wishes his damnation, is in the way to life. This is religion, beautiful as its native skies; pure like its Source; kind like its Author; fresh like the dews of the morning; clear and diffusive like the beams of the rising sun; and holy like the feelings and words that come from the bosom of the Son of God. He that can do this need not doubt that he is a Christian. He has caught the very spirit of the Saviour, and he must inherit eternal life.
on Matthew 5 :48
5:48 Therefore ye shall be perfect; as your Father who is in heaven is perfect - So the original runs, referring to all that holiness which is described in the foregoing verse s, which our Lord in the beginning of the chapter recommends as happiness, and in the close of it as perfection. And how wise and gracious is this, to sum up, and, as it were, seal all his commandments with a promise! Even the proper promise of the Gospel! That he will put those laws in our minds, and write them in our hearts! He well knew how ready our unbelief would be to cry out, this is impossible! And therefore stakes upon it all the power, truth, and faithfulness of him to whom all things are possible.