An Exposition of the Old and New Testament (1828)/Matthew
GOSPEL ACCORDING TO
We have now before us,
I. The New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; so this second part of the holy Bible is entitled: The new Covenant; so it might as well be rendered; the word signifies both. But when it is (as here) spoken of as Christ's act and deed, it is most properly rendered a Testament, for he is the Testator, and it becomes of force by his death; (Heb. 6. 16, 17.) nor is there, as in covenants, a previous treaty between the parties, but what is granted, though an estate upon condition, is owing to the will, the free-will, the good-will, of the Testator. Thus all the grace contained in this book is owing to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour; and unless we consent to him as our Lord, we cannot expect any benefit by him as our Saviour. This is called a New Testament, to distinguish it from that which was given by Moses, and was now antiquated; and to signify that it should be always new, and should never wax old, and grow out of date. These books contain, not only a full discovery of that grace which has appeared to all men, bringing salvation, but a legal instrument by which it is conveyed to, and settled upon, all believers. How carefully do we preserve, and with what attention and pleasure do we read, the last will and testament of a friend, who has therein left us a fair estate, and, with it, high expressions of his love to us! How precious then should this Testament of our blessed Saviour be to us, which secures to us all his unsearchable riches? It is his Testament; for though, as is usual, it was written by others, (we have nothing upon record that was of Christ's own writing,) yet he dictated it; and the night before he died, in the institution of his supper, he signed, sealed, and published it, in the presence of twelve witnesses. For, though these books were not written for some years after, for the benefit of posterity, in perpetuam rei memoriam, as a perpetual memorial, yet the New Testament of our Lord Jesus was settled, confirmed, and declared, from the time of his death, as a nuncupative will, with which these records exactly agree. The things which St. Luke wrote, were things which were most surely believed, and therefore well known, before he wrote them; but when they were written, the oral tradition was superseded and set aside, and these writings were the repository of that New Testament. This is intimated by the title which is prefixed to many Greek Copies, Τῆς Καινῆς Διαθὴκης Ἅπαντα — The whole of the New Testament, or All the things of it. In it is declared the whole counsel of God concerning our salvation. Acts 20. 27. As the law of the Lord is perfect, so is the gospel of Christ, and nothing is to be added to it. We have it all, and are to look for no more.
II. We have before us The Four Gospels. Gospel signifies good news, or glad tidings; and this history of Christ's coming into the world to save sinners, is, without doubt, the best news that ever came from heaven to earth; the angel gave it this title, (Luke 2. 10.) Εὐαγγελίζομαι ὑμῖν—I bring you good tidings; I bring the gospel to you. And the prophet foretold it, Isa. 52. 7.—61. 1. It is there foretold, that in the days of the Messiah good tidings should be preached. Gospel is an old Saxon word; it is God's spell or word; and God is so called because he is good, Deus optimus—God most excellent, and therefore it may be a good spell, or word. If we take spell in its more proper signification for a charm (carmen,) and take that in a good sense, for what is moving and affecting, which is apt lenire dolorem—to calm the spirits, or to raise them in admiration or love, as that which is very amiable we call charming, it is applicable to the gospel; for in it the charmer charmeth wisely, though to deaf adders, Ps. 58. 4, 5. Nor (one would think) can any charms be so powerful as those of the beauty and love of our Redeemer. The whole New Testament is the gospel. St. Paul calls it his gospel, because he was one of the preachers of it. Oh that we may each of us make it ours by our cordial acceptance of it, and subjection to it ! But the four books which contain the history of the Redeemer, we commonly call The Four Gospels, and the inspired penmen of them Evangelists, or Gospel-writers; not, however, very properly, because that title belongs to a particular order of ministers, that were assistants to the apostles; (Eph. 4. 11.) He gave some apostles and some evangelists. It was requisite that the doctrine of Christ should be interwoven with, and founded upon, the narrative of his birth, life, miracles, death, and resurrection; for then it appears in its clearest and strongest light. As in nature, so in grace, the most happy discoveries are those which take rise from the certain representations of matters of fact. Natural history is the best philosophy; and so is the sacred history, both of the Old and New Testament, the most proper and grateful vehicle of sacred truth. These four gospels were early and constantly received by the primitive church, and read in christian assemblies, as appears by the writings of Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, who lived little more than a hundred years after the ascension of Christ; they declared that neither more nor fewer than four were received by the church. A Harmony of these four evangelists was compiled by Tatian about that time, which he called, Τὸ διὰ τεσσάρων—The Gospel out of the four. In the third and fourth centuries there were gospels forged by divers sects, and published, one under the name of St. Peter, another of St. Thomas, another of St. Philip, &c. But they were never owned by the church, nor was any credit given to them; as the learned Dr. Whitby shews. And he gives this good reason why he should adhere to these written records, because, whatever the pretences of tradition may be, it is not sufficient to preserve things with any certainty, as appears by experience. For, whereas Christ said and did many memorable things, which were not written, (John 20. 30.—21. 25.) tradition has not preserved any one of them to us, but all is lost except what was written; that therefore is what we must abide by; and blessed be God that we have it to abide by; it is the sure word of history.
III. We have before us the Gospel according to St. Matthew. The penman was, by birth, a Jew, by calling a publican, till Christ commanded his attendance, and then he left the receipt of custom, to follow him, and was one of those that accompanied him all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out, beginning from the baptism of John unto the day that he was taken up, Acts 1. 21, 22. He was therefore a competent witness of what he has here recorded. He is said to have written this history about eight years after Christ's ascension. Many of the ancients say that he wrote it in the Hebrew, or Syriac, language; but the tradition is sufficiently disproved by Dr. Whitby. Doubtless, it was written in Greek, as the other parts of the New Testament were; not in that language which was peculiar to the Jews, whose church and state were near a period, but in that which was common to the world, and in which the knowledge of Christ would be most effectually transmitted to the nations of the earth; yet it is probable that there might be an edition of it in Hebrew, published by St. Matthew himself, at the same time that he wrote it in Greek; the former for the Jews, the latter for the Gentiles, when he left Judea, to preach among the Gentiles. Let us bless God that we have it, and have it in a language which we understand.
ST. MATTHEW, I.
This evangelist begins with the account of Christ's parentage and birth, the ancestors from whom he descended, and the manner of his entry into the world, to make it appear that he was indeed the Messiah promised; for it was foretold that he should be the son of David, and should be born of a virgin; and that he was so, is here plainly shewn; for here is, I. His pedigree from Abraham in forty-two generations, three fourteens, v. 1..17. II. An account of the circumstances of his birth, so far as was requisite to shew that he was born of a virgin, v. 18..25. Thus methodically is the life of our blessed Saviour written, as lives should be written, for the clearer proposing of the example of them.
1.THE book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. 2. Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren; 3. And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar; and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram; 4. And Aram begat Aminadab; and Aminadab begat Naasson; and Naasson begat Salmon; 5. And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab; and Booz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse; 6. And Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias; 7. And Solomon begat Roboam; and Roboam begat Abia; and Abia begat Asa; 8. And Asa begat Josaphat; and Josaphat begat Joram; and Joram begat Ozias; 9. And Ozias begat Joatham; and Joatham begat Achaz; and Achaz begat Ezekias; 10. And Ezekias begat Manasses; and Manasses begat Amon; and Amon begat Josias; 11. And Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren, about the time they were carried away to Babylon: 12. And after they were brought to Babylon; Jechonias begat Salathiel; and Salathiel begat Zorobabel; 13. And Zorobabel begat Abiud; and Abiud begat Eliakim; and Eliakim begat Azor; 14. And Azor begat Sadoc; and Sadoc begat Achim; and Achim begat Eliud; 15. And Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Matthan ; and Matthan begat Jacob: 16. And Jacob begat Joseph the husband of Mary of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ. 17. So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations.
Concerning this genealogy of our Saviour, observe,
I. The title of it. It is the book (or the account, as the Hebrew word sepher—a book, sometimes signifies,) of the generation of Jesus Christ, of his ancestors, according to the flesh; or, It is the narrative of his birth. It is Βίβλος Γενέσεως—a book of Genesis. The Old Testament begins with the book of the generation of the world, and it is its glory that it does so; but the glory of the New Testament herein excels, that it begins with the book of the generation of him that made the world. As God, his outgoings were of old, from everlasting, (Mic. 5. 2.) and none can declare that generation; but, as Man, he was sent forth in the fulness of time, of a woman, and it is that generation which is here declared.
II. The principal intention of it. It is not an endless or needless genealogy; it is not a vain-glorious one, as those of great men commonly are. Stemmata, quia faciunt — Of what avail are ancient pedigrees? It is like a pedigree given in evidence, to prove a title, and make out a claim; the design is to prove that our Lord Jesus is the Son of David, and the Son of Abraham, and therefore of that nation and family out of which the Messiah was to arise. Abraham and David were, in their day, the great trustees of the promise relating to the Messiah. The promise of the blessing was made to Abraham and his seed, of the dominion, to David and his seed; and they who would have an interest in Christ, as the Son of Abraham, in whom all the families of the earth are to be blessed, must be faithful, loyal subjects to him as the Son of David, by whom all the families of the earth are to be ruled. It was promised to Abraham that Christ should descend from him, (Gen. 12. 3.—22. 18.) and to David that he should descend from him; (2 Sam. 7. 12. Ps. 89. 3, &c.—132. 11.) and therefore, unless it can be proved that Jesus is a Son of David and a Son of Abraham, we cannot admit him to be the Messiah. Now this is here proved from the authentic records of the heralds' offices. The Jews were very exact in preserving their pedigrees, and there was a providence in it, for the clearing up of the descent of the Messiah from the fathers; and since his coming, that nation is so dispersed and confounded, that it is a question whether any person in the world can legally prove himself to be a son of Abraham; however, it is certain that none can prove himself to be either a son of Aaron, or a son of David, so that the priestly and kingly office must either be given up, as lost forever, or be lodged in the hands of our Lord Jesus. Christ is here first called the Son of David, because under that title he was commonly spoken of, and expected, among the Jews. They who owned him to be the Christ, called him the Son of David, ch. 15. 22.—20. 31.—21. 15. This, therefore, the Evangelist undertakes to make out, that he is not only a Son of David, but that Son of David on whose shoulders the government was to be; not only a Son of Abraham, but that Son of Abraham, who was to be the Father of many nations.
In calling Christ the Son of David, and the Son of Abraham, he shews that God is faithful to his promise, and will make good every word that he has spoken; and this, 1. Though the performance be long deferred. When God promised Abraham a Son, who should be the great Blessing of the world, perhaps he expected it should be his immediate son; but it proved to be one at the distance of forty-two generations, and about 2000 years. So long before can God foretel what shall be done, and so long after, sometimes, does God fulfil what has been promised. Note, Delays of promised mercies, though they exercise our patience, do not weaken God's promise. 2. Though it begin to be despaired of. This Son of David, and Son of Abraham, who was to be the Glory of his Father's house, was born then when the seed of Abraham was a despised people recently become tributary to the Roman yoke, and when the house of David was buried in obscurity; for Christ was to be a Root out of a dry ground. Note, God's time for the performance of his promise, is, when it labours under the greatest improbabilities.
III. The particular series of it, drawn in a direct line from Abraham downward, according to the genealogies recorded in the beginning of the books of Chronicles, (as far as those go,) and which here we see the use of.
Some particulars we may observe in this genealogy.
1. Among the ancestors of Christ, who had brethren, generally, he descended from a younger brother; such Abraham himself was, and Jacob, and Judah, and David, and Nathan, and Rhesa; to shew that the pre-eminence of Christ came not, as that of earthly princes, from the primogeniture of his ancestors, but from the will of God, who, according to the method of his providence, exalts them of low degree, and puts more abundant honour upon that part which lacked.
2. Among the sons of Jacob, beside Judah, from whom Shiloh came, notice is here taken of his brethren; Judas and his brethren. No mention is made of Ishmael, the son of Abraham, or of Esau, the son of Isaac, because they were shut out of the church; whereas all the children of Jacob were taken in, and though not fathers of Christ, were yet patriarchs of the church, (Acts 7. 8.) and therefore are mentioned in this genealogy, for the encouragement of the twelve tribes that were scattered abroad, intimating to them that they have an interest in Christ, and stand in relation to him as well as Judah.
3. Phares and Zara, the twin-sons of Judah, are likewise both named, though Phares only was Christ's ancestor, for the same reason that the brethren of Judah are taken notice of: some think because the birth of Phares and Zara had something of allegory in it. Zara put out his hand first, as the first-born but drawing it in, Phares got the birthright. The Jewish church, like Zara, reached first at the birthright, but, through unbelief, withdrawing the hand, the Gentile church, like Phares, broke forth, and went away with the birthright; and thus blindness is in part happened unto Israel, till the fulness of the Gentiles be come in, and then Zara shall be born—all Israel shall be saved, Rom. 11. 25, 26.
4. There are four women, and but four, named in this genealogy; two of them were originally strangers to the commonwealth of Israel, Rahab a Canaanitess, and a harlot besides, and Ruth the Moabitess; for in Jesus Christ there is neither Greek nor Jew; those that are strangers and foreigners are welcome, in Christ, to the citizenship of the saints. The other two were adultresses, Tamar and Bath-sheba; which was a further mark of humiliation put upon our Lord Jesus, that not only he descended from such, but that his descent from them is particularly remarked in his genealogy, and no veil drawn over it. He took upon him the likeness of sinful flesh, (Rom. 8. 3.) and takes even great sinners, upon their repentance, into the nearest relations to himself. Note, we ought not to upbraid people with the scandals of their ancestors; it is what they cannot help, and has been the lot of the best, even of our Master himself. David's begetting Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias, is taken notice of, (says Dr. Whitby,) to shew that that crime of David, being repented of, was so far from hindering the promise made to him, that it pleased God by this very woman to fulfil it.
5. Though divers kings are here named, yet none is expressly called a king, but David, (v. 6.) David the king; because with him the covenant of royalty was made, and to him the promise of the kingdom of the Messiah was given, who is therefore said to inherit the throne of his father David, Luke 1. 32.
6. In the pedigree of the kings of Judah, between Joram and Ozias, (v. 8.) there are three left out, Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah; and therefore when it is said, Joram begat Ozias, it is meant, according to the usage of the Hebrew tongue, that Ozias was lineally descended from him, as it is said to Hezekiah, that the sons which he should beget should be carried to Babylon, whereas they were removed several generations from him. It was not through mistake or forgetfulness that these three were omitted, but, probably, they were omitted in the genealogical tables that the Evangelist consulted, which yet were admitted as authentic. Some give this reason for it.—It being Matthew's design, for the sake of memory, to reduce the number of Christ's ancestors to three fourteens, it was requisite that in this period three should be left out, and none more fit than they who were the immediate progeny of cursed Athaliah, who introduced the idolatry of Ahab into the house of David; for which this brand is set upon the family, and the iniquity thus visited to the third and fourth generation. Two of these three were apostates; and such God commonly sets a mark of his displeasure upon in this world; they all three had their heads brought to the grave with blood.
7. Some observe what a mixture there was of good and bad, in the succession of these kings; as for instance, (v. 7, 8.) wicked Roboam begat wicked Abia; wicked Abia begat good Asa; good Asa begat good Josaphat; good Josaphat begat wicked Joram. Grace does not run in the blood, nor does reigning sin. God's grace is his own, and he gives or withholds it as he pleases.
8. The captivity in Babylon is mentioned as a remarkable period in this line, v. 11, 12. All things considered, it was a wonder that the Jews were not lost in that captivity, as other nations have been; but this intimates the reason why the streams of that people were kept to run pure through that dead sea, because from them, as concerning the flesh, Christ was to come. Destroy it not, for a blessing is in it, even that Blessing of blessings, Christ himself, Isa. 65. 8, 9. It was with an eye to him that they were restored, and the desolations of the sanctuary were looked upon with favour for the Lord's sake, Dan. 9. 17.
9. Josias is here said to beget Jechonias and his brethren; (v. 11.) by Jechonias is meant Jehoiakim, who was the first-born of Josias; but when it is said, (v. 12.) that Jechonias begat Salathiel, that Jechonias was the son of that Jehoiakim who was carried into Babylon, and there begat Salathiel, (as Dr. Whitby shews,) and when Jechonias is said to have been written childless, (Jer. 22. 30.) it is explained thus; No man of his seed shall prosper. Salathiel is here said to beget Zorobabel, whereas Salathiel begat Pedaiah, and he begat Zorobabel (1 Chron. 3. 19.) but, as before, the grandson is often called the son; Pedaiah, it is likely, died in his father's life-time, and so his son Zorobabel was called the son of Salathiel.
10. The line is brought down not to Mary, the mother of our Lord, but to Joseph, the husband of Mary; (v. 16.) for the Jews always reckoned their genealogies by the males: yet Mary was of the same tribe and family with Joseph, so that, both by the mother and by this supposed father, he was of the house of David; yet his interest in that dignity is derived by Joseph, to whom really, according to the flesh, he had no relation, to shew that the kingdom of the Messiah is not founded in a natural descent from David.
11. The centre in whom all these lines meet, is Jesus, who is called Christ, v. 16. This is he that was so importunately desired, so impatiently expected, and to whom the patriarchs had an eye when they were so desirous of children, that they might have the honour of coming into the sacred line. Blessed be God, we are not now in such a dark and cloudy state of expectation as they were then in, but see clearly what these prophets and kings saw as through a glass darkly. And we may have, if it be not our own fault, a greater honour than that of which they were so ambitious: for they who do the will of God, are in a more honourable relation to Christ, than those who were akin to him according to the flesh, ch. 12. 50. Jesus is called Christ, that is, the Anointed, the same with the Hebrew name Messiah. He is called Messiah the Prince, (Dan. 9. 25.) and often God's Anointed, (Ps. 2. 2.) Under this character he was expected; Art thou the Christ—the Anointed one? David, the king, was anointed; (1 Sam. 16. 13.) so was Aaron, the priest, (Lev. 3. 12.) and Elisha, the prophet, (1 Kings 19. 16.) and Isaiah, the prophet, (Isa. 61. 1.) Christ, being appointed to, and qualified for, all these offices, is therefore called the Anointed — anointed with the oil of gladness above his fellows; and from this name of his, which is as ointment poured forth, all his followers are called Christians, for they also have received the anointing.
Lastly. The general summary of all this genealogy we have, v. 17. where it is summed up in three fourteens, signalized by remarkable periods. In the first fourteen, we have the family of David rising, and looking forth as the morning; in the second, we have it flourishing in its meridian lustre; in the third, we have it declining and growing less and less, dwindled into the family of a poor carpenter, and then Christ shines forth out of it, the Glory of his people Israel.
18. Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. 19. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily. 20. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. 21. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins. 22. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, 23. Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted, is, God with us. 24. Then Joseph, being raised from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: 25. And knew her not till she had brought forth her first-born son: and he called his name Jesus.
The mystery of Christ's incarnation is to be adored, not pryed into. If we know not the way of the Spirit in the formation of common persons, nor how the bones are formed in the womb of any one that is with child, (Eccles. 11. 5.) much less do we know how the blessed Jesus was formed in the womb of the blessed virgin. When David admires how he himself was made in secret, and curiously wrought, (Ps. 139. 13—16.) perhaps he speaks, in spirit, of Christ's incarnation. Some circumstances attending the birth of Christ we find here, which are not in Luke, though it is more largely recorded there.
Here we have,
I. Mary's espousals to Joseph. Mary, the mother of our Lord, was espoused to Joseph, not completely married, but contracted; a purpose of marriage solemnly declared in words de futuro—that regarded the future, and a promise of it made if God permit. We read of a man who has betrothed a wife, and has not taken her, Deut, 20. 7. Christ was born of a virgin, but a contracted virgin, 1. To put respect upon the married state, and to recommend it as honourable among all, against that doctrine of devils which forbids to marry, and places perfection in the single state. Who more highly favoured than Mary was in her espousals? 2. To save the credit of the blessed virgin, which otherwise would have been exposed. It was fit that her conception should be protected by a marriage, and so justified in the eye of the world. One of the ancients says, It was better it should be asked, Is not this the son of a carpenter? than, Is not this the son of a harlot? 3. That the blessed virgin might have one to be the guide of her youth, the companion of her solitude and travels, a partner in her cares, and a help meet for her. Some think that Joseph was now a widower, and that those who are called the brethren of Christ, (ch. 13. 55.) were Joseph's children by a former wife. This is the conjecture of many of the ancients. Joseph was a just man, she a virtuous woman. Those who are believers should not be unequally yoked with unbelievers; but let those who are religious choose to many with those who are so, as they expect the comfort of the relation, and God's blessing upon them in it. We may also learn from this example, that it is good to enter into the married state with deliberation, and not hastily; to preface the nuptials with a contract. It is better to take time to consider before, than to find time to repent after.
II. Her pregnancy of the Promised Seed; before they came together, she was found with child, which really was of the Holy Ghost. The marriage was deferred so long after the contract, that she appeared to be with child, before the time came for the solemnizing of the marriage, though she was contracted before she conceived. Probably, it was after her return from her cousin Elisabeth, with whom she continued three months, (Luke 1. 56.) that she was perceived by Joseph to be with child, and did not herself deny it. Note, Those in whom Christ is formed, will shew it: it will be found to be a work of God, which he will own. Now we may well imagine, what a perplexity this might justly occasion to the blessed virgin. She herself knew the divine original of this conception; but how could she prove it? She would be dealt with as with a harlot. Note, After great and high advancements, lest we should be puffed up with them, we must expect something or other to humble us; some reproach, as a thorn in the flesh, nay, as a sword in the bones. Never was any daughter of Eve so dignified as the Virgin Mary was, and yet in danger of falling under the imputation of one of the worst of crimes; yet we do not find that she tormented herself about it; being conscious of her own innocence, she kept her mind calm and easy, and committed her cause to him that judges righteously. Note, Those who take care to keep a good conscience, may cheerfully trust God with the keeping of their good names, and have reason to hope that he will clear up, not only their integrity, but their honour, as the sun at noon day.
III. Joseph's perplexity, and his care what to do in this case. We may well imagine what a great trouble and disappointment it was to him, to find one he had such an opinion of, and value for, come under the suspicion of such a heinous crime. Is this Mary? He began to think; "How may we be deceived in those we think best of! How may we be disappointed in what we expect the most from!" He is loth to believe so ill a thing of one whom he believed to be so good a woman; and yet the matter, as it is too bad to be excused, is also too plain to be denied. What a struggle does this occasion in his breast, between that jealousy which is the rage of man, and is cruel as the grave, on the one hand, and that affection which he has for Mary, on the other.
Observe, 1. The extremity which he studied to avoid. He was not willing to make her a public example. He might have done it; for, by the law, a betrothed virgin, if she play the harlot, was to be stoned to death, Deut. 22. 23, 24. But he was not willing to take the advantage of the law against her; if she be guilty, yet it is not known, nor shall it be known from him. How different was the spirit which Joseph displayed from that of Judah, who in a similar case hastily passed that severe sentence, Bring her forth and let her be burnt! Gen. 38. 24. How good is it to think on things, as Joseph did here! Were there more of deliberation in our censures and judgments, there would be more of mercy and moderation in them. Bringing her to punishment, is here called making her a public example: which shews what is the end to be aimed at in punishments—giving warning to others: it is in terrorem—that all about may hear and fear. Smite the scorner, and the simple will beware.
Some persons of a rigorous temper would blame Joseph for his clemency, but it is here spoken of to his praise; because he was a just man, therefore he was not willing to expose her. He was a religious, good man; and therefore inclined to be merciful as God is, and to forgive as one that was forgiven. In the case of a betrothed damsel, if she were defiled in the field, the law charitably supposed that she cried out, (Deut. 22. 26.) and she was not to be punished. Some charitable construction or other Joseph will put upon this matter; herein he is a just man, tender of the good name of one who never before had done any thing to blemish it. Note, It becomes us, in many cases, to be gentle toward those that come under suspicion of having offended, to hope the best concerning. them, and make the best of that which at first appears bad, in hopes it may prove better. Summum jus summa injuria—The rigour of the law is (sometimes) the height of injustice. That court of conscience which moderates the rigour of the law, we call a court of equity. Those who are found faulty were perhaps overtaken in the fault, and are therefore to be restored with the spirit of meekness.
2. The expedient he found out for avoiding this extremity. He was minded to put her away privily, that is, to give a bill of divorce into her hand before two witnesses, and so to hush up the matter among themselves. Being a just man, a strict observer of the law, he would not proceed to marry her, but resolved to put her away; and yet, in tenderness for her, determined to do it as privately as possible. Note, the necessary censures of those who have offended, ought to be managed without noise. The words of the wise are heard in quiet. Christ himself shall not strive nor cry. Christian love and christian prudence will hide a multitude of sins, and great ones, as far as may be done without having fellowship with them.
IV. Joseph's discharge from this perplexity by an express sent from heaven; (v. 20, 21.) While he thought on these things, and knew not what to determine, God graciously directed him what to do, and made him easy. Note, Those who would have direction from God, must think on things themselves, and consult with themselves. It is the thoughtful, not the unthinking, whom God will guide. When he was at a loss, and had carried the matter as far as he could in his own thoughts, then God came in with advice. Note, God's time to come in with instruction to his people, is when they are nonplussed, and at a stand. God's comforts most delight the soul, in the multitude of its perplexed thoughts.
- See a vindication of the opposite opinion in Dr. Campbell's Preface to his Translation of this Gospel.—Ed.