The Pulpit Commentary

Matthew 5:27-30 (Matthew 5:27-30)

The seventh commandment. The verses occur in this form only here, but Matthew 5:29 and Matthew 5:30 are found in Matthew 18:8 , Matthew 18:9 , as illustrations of another subject ( vide infra ) .

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Matthew 5:29-30 (Matthew 5:29-30)

Also in Matthew 18:8 , Matthew 18:9 ; the chief differences being

The reason why our Lord did not mention the foot here may be either that that member is less immediately connected with sins of the flesh than the other two (cf. Wetstein, in loc ., "Averte oculum a vultu illecebroso: arce manum ab impudicis contrectationibus"), or, as seems more probable, that the eye and the hand represent the two sets of faculties receptive and active, and together express man's whole nature. The insertion of the foot in Matthew 18:8 , Matthew 18:9 , only makes the illustration more definite. "The remark in Matthew 18:29 treats of what is to be done by the subjects of the kingdom when, in spite of themselves, evil desires are aroused" (Weiss, 'Life,' 2.149).

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Matthew 5:29 (Matthew 5:29)

Right . Not in Matthew 18:1-35 , and parallel passage. Inserted to enhance the preciousness of the members spoken of (cf. Zechariah 11:17 ; cf. verse 39). Offend thee; Authorized Version, do cause thee to offend ; Revised Version, cause thee to stumble ( σκανδαλίζει σε ). Perhaps the verb originally referred to the stick of a trap ( σκάνδαλον , a Hellenistic word, apparently equivalent to σκανδάληθρον ) striking the person's foot, and so catching him in the trap; but when found in literature (almost solely in the New Testament) it has apparently lost all connotation of the trap, and only means causing a person to stumble (for an analysis of its use in the New Testament, vide especially Cremer, s.v. ) . Pluck it out, and cast it from thee. The second clause shows the purely figurative character of the sentence. Our Lord commands

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Matthew 5:17-48 (Matthew 5:17-48)

The second part of the sermon: the mount of the Beatitudes and Mount Sinai: the new Law and the old.


1 . He came not to destroy. They must not misunderstand the purpose of his teaching. The Old Testament is not contrary to the New; both speak of Christ. The commandments are as binding now upon the Christian conscience as when they were first delivered amid the thunders of Mount Sinai. "We establish the Law," says the apostle of faith ( Romans 3:31 ). "No Christian man is free from the obedience of the commandments which are called moral." The law of ceremonies and rites, indeed, is no longer binding ( Ephesians 2:15 ; Colossians 2:16 , etc.); but even those rites and ceremonies, though no longer in force, are full of deep meaning, and convey holy teaching to the Christian, for they speak, one and all, of Christ and his righteousness.

2 . He came to fulfil. He fulfilled the righteousness of the Law. He exhibited it perfectly in his own most holy life. He fulfilled the types, the ritual teaching, the predictions of the prophets in his incarnation, in all the circumstances of his earthly life, his precious death and burial, his glorious resurrection and ascension. He fulfilled the doctrine of the Law, bringing out as he did the deep spiritual meaning of its teaching. "Christ is the End of the Law for righteousness to every one that believeth."

3 . The Old Testament in its spiritual meaning is of eternal obligation. All must be fulfilled, even the minutest detail. Both Testaments come from the same God. The Christian, while he loves the New Testament with all his heart, must not depreciate the Old. The whole Word of God is holy and just and good. The teacher who is taught of God will declare to his flock the whole counsel of God. He who wilfully shuts his eyes to any part, though it may seem to him small and insignificant, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. Yet he shall enter therein if he has been faithful according to his light; for he has taught the truth, though he has not had grace and wisdom to discern its mere delicate features.


1 . The Spirit and the letter ; Christ and the Pharisees. Christians who neglect part of the Law of God shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but mere formalists shall not even enter therein. The righteousness of the Pharisees was outward, mechanical; the righteousness of Christianity is inward and spiritual. It includes obedience in things outward. These are the "least commandments" which a Christian may not dare to neglect or despise. But it is far wider in its range, far deeper in its power; its influence extends over the whole of human life in all its details and circumstances. It reaches deep into the heart, into its desires, motives, thoughts. Our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. They were students of the letter. They knew the Scriptures; their knowledge was most exact and minute; but it was outward only, knowledge of the letter. That knowledge is not to be despised; it is necessary, it is most interesting; but it is not enough. We must seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit of God to understand the spiritual meaning of his Word, to enter into it, to work it into our own heart and life. Again, the Pharisees "say and do not;" we must do. They did certain things, but they did them mechanically; we must work in faith and love. They thought to merit heaven by their works; we must recognize our utter unworthiness, and trust only in the merits of Christ. They sought the praise of men; we must seek only the praise which cometh from God.

2 . The first instance. "Thou shalt not kill."

(a) "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice." We must not bring malice and hatred into the temple of the Lord; we cannot worship aright while we cherish wrath in our heart. For he is love, and the unloving cannot serve him acceptably. He will not accept the offerings of those who live in strife. Malice and envy rob the gift of all its value. Forgiveness of injuries, sorrow for our own offences, the humble petition for pardon from any whom we may have offended, is a sacrifice well pleasing unto God. Without this the costliest gift is but a mockery, worthless and unprofitable. Then "first be reconciled to thy brother, then come and offer thy gift." St. Chrysostom well remarks, "Let even my service be interrupted (the Lord says in his condescension) that love may abide, since reconciliation to thy brother is an acceptable sacrifice."

(b) We are all on our way to the judgment; we must appear before the Judge. Therefore we must seek forgiveness from those whom we have offended, and we must forgive those who have offended us while we are on our way during the journey of life. We pray, "Forgive, as we forgive." Lex orandi lex credendi. He doth not forgive the unforgiving, the unloving. For such there remaineth the prison. And can the uttermost farthing of the great debt be ever paid? Alas] we cannot pay the smallest fraction of it. By grace we are saved, and God's grace rests not upon the unloving; to such there is no promise of forgiveness.

3 . The second instance. "Thou shalt not commit adultery." The traditional interpretation confined the commandment to the evil deed; the Lord extends it to the sinful thought. The unlawful desire, consented to and kept before the mind, is equally guilty with the unclean act. Our bodies are the members of Christ; to defile them is an outrage on the most holy Saviour. We are the temples of God the Holy Ghost; to bring unclean thoughts into that most sacred presence is a fearful sin, an awful sacrilege. Then strike at the beginnings of sin, the thought, the look; strike, and spare not. Such watchfulness may imply very strict and painful self-denial. Better to deny ourselves now than to be cast out at the last; better to pluck out the right eye, to cutoff the right hand, than to be condemned at the last. "Blessed are the pure in heart."

4 . The third instance. Divorce. The popular school, that of Hillel, allowed divorce "for every cause" ( Matthew 19:3 ); the Lord allows it only "for the cause of fornication." What God hath joined together let not man put asunder.

5 . The fourth instance. The law of oaths. The Jews, it seems, thought lightly of oaths which did not contain the sacred Name of God; they used such oaths constantly and heedlessly. Our Lord classes all oaths together, for all ultimately imply an appeal to God, and, like St. James ( James 5:12 ), forbids them all. But we must not " so expound one place of Scripture that it be repugnant to another," and passages like Hebrews 6:13-17 and Hebrews 7:21 , where God is represented as swearing by himself; or Matthew 26:63 , Matthew 26:64 , where our Lord answers the adjuration of Caiaphas; or Revelation 10:6 , where a mighty angel swears by him that liveth for ever and ever; or Romans 1:9 ; 1 Corinthians 15:31 ; 2 Corinthians 1:23 ; Galatians 1:20 ; and Philippians 1:8 , in which St. Paul uses forms of solemn asseveration, prove that our Lord's prohibition applies only to rash, idle oaths, such as were common among the Jews ("Let your speech be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay"), not to those solemn occasions when an oath is required by the magistrate or by the law.

6 . The fifth instance. The law of retaliation. "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth." The words of the Law of Moses relate to punishments inflicted by a court of justice; the Jews probably understood them as permitting private revenge. Holy Scripture does not forbid the infliction of judicial punishment (comp. Romans 13:4 ). It forbids the revengeful temper, and it forbids private revenge altogether. Our Lord says, "Resist not evil." To insist upon the literal meaning of these words would be to apply the method of the Pharisees to the interpretation of the New Testament; a literal obedience under all circumstances would destroy the very framework of society, and let loose all that is evil in human nature. But the Lord is laying down general principles. Cases will often arise in which the application of those principles must be modified by other rules of Holy Scripture. A literal obedience is possible much more frequently and to a much wider extent than our selfish hearts are willing to admit. But a literal obedience is not always possible; it would not be always right; it would 'sometimes do harm rather than good. The Lord himself, the gentlest and the meekest, expostulated with those who struck him wrongfully ( John 18:23 ). Neither when he bids us, "Give to him that asketh thee," are his words to be taken literally, as commanding indiscriminate almsgiving. He himself gave not to the people who sought him at Capernaum, because they had eaten of the loaves and were filled ( John 6:26 , John 6:27 ); St. Paul would not have us give to the idle ( 2 Thessalonians 3:10 ). We must understand our Lord's words as interpreted by his own example and by other parts of Holy Scripture. We must forgive injuries, we must resist not evil, we must give freely; but in all these things we must be guided by the wisdom which is from above. "Blessed are the merciful."

7 . The sixth instance. "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,'' was the commandment of the Law. The Pharisees had added a false and wicked gloss, "Thou shalt hate thine enemy" (comp. Exodus 23:4 , Exodus 23:5 ; Proverbs 24:17 ; Proverbs 25:21 ). The Lord bids us, "Love your enemies." It is easy to love those who love us; such love is mere natural affection. Grace teaches a deeper, a more difficult lesson. The nearer we draw to God, the more we shall learn to imitate his all-embracing love. The Lord is loving unto every man. Rain and sunshine preach charity and love to all. We must learn of him. If any curse, we must bless; we must pray for those who use us despitefully. So shall we be the children of our heavenly Father, like him in our poor measure, complete in the range of our love, dear to him, loving and beloved. The commandment is difficult, but the blessing is very great. He who gave the commandment, who pronounced the blessing, can teach us to obey.


1 . Search the Scriptures, all of them; not only the New Testament, but also the Old.

2 . Be not content with the external knowledge of the Bible; seek that inner knowledge which only the Holy Ghost can teach.

3 . Be gentle and loving, be reverent in word, hallow God's holy Name, hate all ungodly modes of speech.

4 . Forgive as you hope for forgiveness; revenge belongeth unto God.

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Matthew 5:29 (Matthew 5:29)

Plucking out the right eye.

The ideas of this verse are expressed in the strong language of Oriental imagery, and yet a moment's reflection will show us that the language is not a whir too strong, even if it is interpreted with strict literalness. If it came to a choice between plucking out an eye and death, every man who had courage enough to perform the hideous deed Would at once choose it as the less terrible alternative. Every day hospital patients submit to frightful operations to save their lives or to relieve intolerable sufferings. But if to the thought of death we add the picture of the doom of the lost, the motives for choosing the lesser evil are immeasurably strengthened. Therefore to one who really believes the alternatives set forth by our Lord to be his, there should not be a thought of hesitation. Doubt as to the future, the overmastering influence of the present, or weakness of will, may restrain a person from doing what is really for his self-interest; but these things will not make it the less desirable. The difficulty, then, is not as to the truth of our Lord's words, but as to the application of them.

I. AN INNOCENT THING MAY BECOME A CAUSE OF STUMBLING . Christ does not require us to maim ourselves as an act of penance, or on any ascetic grounds. The eye is given to see with, and the hand to work with. Both are from God, and both are innocent in themselves. The body is not an evil thing, but it is meant to be the servant of the soul; as such it is an instrument "fearfully and wonderfully made." We do not honour God by dishonouring the body which he has bestowed upon us. But the body may become the tool of the tempter. It may be corrupted and perverted so as to be worse than the slave of sin, so as to be itself a perpetual temptation. Not only the body, but other things that belong to us, and are sent for our good, may become stumbling-blocks— e.g, wealth, power, friendship.

II. A STUMBLING - BLOCK IN THE WAY OF THE SPIRITUAL LIFE MUST BE CAST ASIDE AT ANY COST . The question turns on Our estimate of the great end of life. To frustrate that in deference to any present pleasure, or to escape from any present trouble, is to commit a great mistake. We are not now concerned with some slight inconvenience in the future. The thought is of complete shipwreck, of being thrown into perdition on account of the hindrance which it is very unpleasant for us to remove. So serious a danger does not admit of any consideration for the present annoyance involved in escaping it. The engineer will tunnel through mountains, blow up huge rocks, and bridge wide chasms to carry his line to its destination. Shall any hindrance be permitted to block the Christian's course to eternal life? As a matter of fact, self-mutilation is not the right method of avoiding temptation. If it were the sole method, it would be prudent to resort to it. But, as God has provided other ways, only a wild delusion will resort to this. Moreover, if lust is in the heart, it will not be destroyed by plucking out the eye. If hatred reigns within the enraged man, he is essentially a murderer, even after he has cut off the hand with which he was about to commit his awful crime. Still, whatever is most near to us and hinders our Christian life, must go—any friendship, though dear as the apple of the eye; any occupation, though profitable as the right hand.—W.F.A.

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Matthew 5:27-32 (Matthew 5:27-32)

Christ's second and third illustration of the Christian type of a true fulfilling of the Law.

After the illustration based on the letter of the sixth commandment, Christ takes the letter of the seventh as the basis of further illustration. Both of these commandments lend themselves so well for the instruction of the individual in the matter of the wide difference between the outer commandment and the spirit of it, that whoever will may learn that difference, and, learning it, become a true learner—a learner in the school of Christ. In this illustration individual feeling, impulse, character, are so sensitively and so subtilly touched, that perhaps none could penetrate more effectually or have better opportunity of far-reaching and lasting lessons. Notice that Christ teaches how, to the true conception of God's Law, it is necessary to remember that—





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Matthew 5:17-48 (Matthew 5:17-48)

Sermon on the mount: 3. Exceeding righteousness.

A teacher who compels the public to look at an unfamiliar truth, the reformer who introduces a new style of goodness, will be misinterpreted just in proportion to the advance he makes upon former ideas. Our Lord renounced explicitly, and with warmth, the goodness of the Pharisees, and the cry was at once raised against him as a destroyer of the Law, a libertine, a companion or' loose people. He thus found himself called on publicly to repudiate the attitude towards the Law ascribed to him, and to explain with fulness, once for all, at the outset of his ministry, the righteousness he required and exhibited. "I am not come to destroy the Law and the prophets, but to fulfil." So far as regards his own character this explanation has long since become superfluous, but there is danger lest the very knowledge that there is full and free pardon for sin should breed in his followers a demoralizing sense of security. They need to be reminded that for them, too, Christ came not to destroy the Law , but to give it higher and richer fulfilment. The importance our Lord attached to this explanation is marked by the abundance of detail with which he illustrates it. He recognized that the mere enouncement of a principle carries little weight to the ordinary mind. He therefore carries his principle all round practical life, and shows how it touches it at every part. Note a few particulars which are liable to misapprehension. Quite recently the subject of lending money on interest has been brought before the public, and from the letter of the teaching here, the case has been made out against it. But we must distinguish between those whose necessities compel them to seek loans, and those who do so for their own commercial convenience. In the one case to require interest is a cruelty; in the other it is only a justifiable business transaction to take our share of the profit we helped others to secure. Again, our Lord's prohibition of oaths has been taken in the letter by a large and highly respectable body of men. But it is to be borne in mind that so inveterate is the habit of falsehood among Orientals that nothing is believed unless it is attested with an oath. It is to this habit our Lord alludes. The habit of profane swearing among our uneducated classes arises mainly from a desire to give force to their conversation without sufficient knowledge of their mother tongue to make themselves intelligently emphatic. It betrays a consciousness, too, on the swearer's part that he is not to be believed on his bare word. All exaggeration in speech brings speedy retribution, for men learn to discount what we say. Simplicity of language lies very near truth in mind and heart. It is not a mere lesson in style, but in the deepest morality, when our Lord bids us cut off superlatives, and all loud, boisterous, exaggerated expressions, assuring us that whatever more than "Yea, yea; nay, nay," we indulge in, cometh of evil. Again, the critics of Christianity are fond of pointing to those precepts which enjoin non-resistance to evil, and asking why we do not keep them. And certainly nothing is more demoralizing than to do homage to one code of morals while we are practising another. And the earnest, simple-minded man, who seeks to lay on Christ's words the eternal foundations of character and conduct, will be apt to accept the gospel rule "crude, naked, entire as it is set down." He will see that here, if anywhere, lies the secret and power of religion, and that it is not for him to pick and choose, but to follow the example of Christ, even in that which is most peculiar and most difficult. And the man who tries thus literally to carry out its words will have the inward peace and the power among men which are the unfailing reward of integrity of heart, even though he may come to learn that there is a better way of fulfilling them; though he comes to see that even when precepts cannot be fulfilled in the letter, they may have an eminently serviceable function in pointing out the spirit we should cultivate. Our Lord himself, when smitten in a court professing to be of justice, protested against the indignity, and did not turn the other cheek. And there are cases where justice demands the punishment of the offender. What we must bear in mind is that the object of Christ's teaching was to introduce a higher morality than that of nature, and that what he demands is the complete repression of vindictive feeling. But he only understands these sayings of our Lord who does his own best to live into their spirit. The man who does so will not find it difficult to discriminate between those cases in which literal fulfilment is demanded and those in which he is to adopt the spirit and intention of the Master. These strongly worded precepts have served to turn men's minds strongly to the more peculiar parts of Christ's teaching, and have brought the spirit of them home to men's minds in a way that a prosaic code of instructions could not have done. Two characteristics of the righteousness required are prominent—it is an exceeding righteousness; and it is a righteousness springing out of love. Our Lord compares the righteousness he requires with that of the best-conducted class in the community, and affirms that, so far from destroying the Law, he demands a surpassing righteousness. There are two kinds of goodness Christians must surpass—the goodness of nature, and the goodness of external legal piety. The goodness of nature is often difficult to compete with. Some men seem so born as to leave grace little to do, and we feel that if the second birth make of us as much as the first birth has made of them, we should count ourselves renewed indeed. But we are not to be content with merely rivalling such men. Our Lord asks, "What do ye more?" While we welcome every evidence that a germ of good is left in human nature, surviving even in some instances the stifling influence of vice, we should be at the same time prepared to show that the noblest natural character can be outdone by the least in the kingdom of heaven. With each of us remains a perpetual responsibility in this matter—the responsibility of wiping out the stain on the name of Christian, and of vindicating the reality of Christ's grace. "The regularities of constitutional goodness," the decencies that society requires, the affections which nature prompts,—these are the perfections, not of God, but of the publican. The man of the world asks no reward for exercising all these. If you do no more than this, where is your exceeding righteousness? Finally, your righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the Pharisee. The Pharisees had the pretty common ambition of being counted the religious men of their time. But they were not mere formalists; they were moral men, immensely zealous in their religion. What was lacking in them was a genuine root of goodness, which must at all times produce good fruit. There was wanting love. Their acts were good, but they themselves were evil. No amount of keeping a law can ever make a man good; it can only make him a Pharisee. Our Lord says, " Love , and do as you please. Be yourselves good, be like your Father in heaven; 'for except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter the kingdom of heaven.'"—D.

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Matthew 5:27-32 (Matthew 5:27-32)


In the preceding paragraph Jesus expounded the spirituality of the Law in ruling the passions; here he pursues the subject in respect to the appetites. The case of adultery is typical or representative of the series. Learn—


1 . Acts are good or evil as expressions of the heart.

(1) This was the reverse of the teaching of the elders. Especially so in the school of Hillel. Hence the Pharisees took the technical observance of the letter to be the fulfilling of the Law (see Luke 18:11 ).

2 . The senses are the instruments of the heart.

3 . The Pharisee , ignoring the spirit , transgresses the letter of the Law.


1 . Because the unclean heart is fit only for perdition.

2 . Terror is the argument for the brutish.

3 . Resolute dealing is needful here.

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Matthew 5:29 (Matthew 5:29)


Plumptre suggests the proper way in which to treat these strong figures of speech. "The bold severity of the phrase excludes a literal interpretation. The seat of the evil lies in the will, not in the organ of sense or action, and the removal of the instrument might leave the inward taint unpurified. What is meant is, that any sense, when it ministers to sin, is an evil and not a good, the loss of which would be the truest gain." Pursuits and pleasures, innocent enough in themselves, may bring temptation and involve us in sin. There should be resolute dealing with them, so as to ensure that they are held in safe and wise bonds of self-restraint.

I. SELF - DISCIPLINE MAY TAKE EXTRAVAGANT FORMS . It does whenever the body is regarded as in itself an evil thing. Then the supreme work of life seems to be the humiliation of the body, and the silencing of its demands. This extravagance is illustrated by the hermits; by such action as that of St. Simeon Stylites; by the orders of monks and nuns; by the self-mortification of wearing hair-shirts or sharp crosses next the skin; or submitting to prolonged fasting, etc. It is said that the holy Henry Martyn yielded to this extravagance, and tried to mortify the flesh by walking about with stones in his shoes. The abuse of a thing should never prevent our making a right and good use of it. (See also the self-discipline system of Buddhists.)

II. SELF - DISCIPLINE SHOULD TAKE REASONABLE FORMS . There is quite room enough for stern, strong dealing within wise limitations. A man is not required to ruin his health by his self-discipline; because the soul needs a sound and healthy body through which to gain its full expression. It may be shown that Christian self-discipline should

Men form an unnatural conception of the Christian requirement, and think to attain eminent piety. This leads them into extravagances. If we had worthy conceptions of what piety is, its attainment—without adding any idea of eminent— would seem the all-sufficing effort of a life.—R.T.

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Matthew 5:21-48 (Matthew 5:21-48)

( a ) Our Lord is still concerned with the relation of himself and his followers to the religion of the day, of which the Old Testament ( Matthew 5:17 ), and more especially the Law ( Matthew 5:18 ), was the accepted standard. But after having spoken of the need of careful attention to ( Matthew 5:17 , Matthew 5:18 ), and observance of ( Matthew 5:19 ), even the least commands of the Law, he goes on to point out the far-reaching character of these commands, whether they are such as we should call more ( Matthew 5:21 , Matthew 5:27 , 81) or less ( Matthew 5:33 , Matthew 5:38 , Matthew 5:43 ) impotent.

It is essential to notice that our Lord refers to these commands, not merely as statements contained in the Law, but as part of the religion of the day, and that he contrasts their true bearing on life and conduct with that false bearing on this which was commonly predicated of them. By this it is not meant that our Lord was only opposing such narrow glosses and interpretations as had arisen at various times during the centuries after the promulgation of the Law (for these were for the most part perfectly natural and legitimate developments of the earliest possible interpretations of it), still less that he was thinking only of the worst of the misrepresentations of its commands, comparatively recently made by the Pharisees; but that he was now going back, beyond this so far natural and normal development of the earliest interpretations, to the first principles underlying the revelation contained in the Law. While the Jews, not unnaturally, clung to the primary, but temporary, meaning of the Law as a revelation of God's will for them as a nation, our Lord was now about to expound its commands as a revelation of God's permanent will for them and all men as men. Our Lord was now, that is to say, wishing to do more than merely cut off the excrescences that, chiefly through the Pharisaic party, had grown up round the Law, but less than root up the Law itself. He rather cuts down the whole growth that had been, notwithstanding some mere excrescences, the right and proper outcome of the Law in its original environment, in order that, in fresh environment, which corresponded better to its nature, the Law might produce a growth still more right and proper.

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