Christ having proved that the disciples, in eating with unwashen hands, were not to be blamed, as transgressing the traditions and injunctions of the elders, comes here to show that they were not to be blamed, as having done any thing that was in itself evil. In the former part of his discourse he overturned the authority of the law, and in this the reason of it. Observe,
I. The solemn introduction to this discourse (Matt. 15:10); He called the multitude. They were withdrawn while Christ discoursed with the scribes and Pharisees; probably those proud men ordered them to withdraw, as not willing to talk with Christ in their hearing; Christ must favour them at their pleasure with a discourse in private. But Christ had a regard to the multitude; he soon despatched the scribes and Pharisees, and then turned them off, invited the mob, the multitude, to be his hearers: thus the poor are evangelized; and the foolish things of the world, and things that are despised hath Christ chosen. The humble Jesus embraced those whom the proud Pharisees looked upon with disdain, and to them he designed it for a mortification. He turns from them as wilful and unteachable, and turns to the multitude, who, though weak, were humble, and willing to be taught. To them he said, Hear and understand. Note, What we hear from the mouth of Christ, we must give all diligence to understand. Not only scholars, but even the multitude, the ordinary people, must apply their minds to understand the words of Christ. He therefore calls upon them to understand, because the lesson he was now about to teach them, was contrary to the notions which they had sucked in with their milk from their teachers; and overturned many of the customs and usages which they were wedded to, and laid stress upon. Note, There is need of a great attention of mind and clearness of understanding to free men from those corrupt principles and practices which they have been bred up in and long accustomed to; for in that case the understanding is commonly bribed and biassed by prejudice.
II. The truth itself laid down (Matt. 15:11), in two propositions, which were opposite to the vulgar errors of that time, and were therefore surprising.
1. Not that which goes into the mouth defileth the man. It is not the kind or quality of our food, nor the condition of our hands, that affects the soul with any moral pollution or defilement. The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, Rom. 14:17. That defiles the man, by which guilt is contracted before God, and the man is rendered offensive to him, and disfitted for communion with him; now what we eat, if we do not eat unreasonably and immoderately, does not this; for to the pure all things are pure, Titus 1:15. The Pharisees carried the ceremonial pollutions, by eating such and such meats, much further than the law intended, and burdened it with additions of their own, which our Saviour witnesses against; intending hereby to pave the way to a repeal of the ceremonial law in that matter. He was now beginning to teach his followers to call nothing common or unclean; and if Peter, when he was bid to kill and eat, had remembered this word, he would not have said, Not so, Lord, Acts 10:13-15, 28.
2. But that which comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man. We are polluted, not by the meat we eat with unwashen hands, but by the words we speak from an unsanctified heart; thus it is that the mouth causeth the flesh to sin, Eccl. 5:6. Christ, in a former discourse, had laid a great stress upon our words (Matt. 12:36, 37); and that was intended for reproof and warning to those that cavilled at him; this here is intended for reproof and warning to those that cavilled at the disciples, and censured them. It is not the disciples that defile themselves with what they eat, but the Pharisees that defile themselves with what they speak spitefully and censoriously of them. Note, Those who charge guilt upon others for transgressing the commandments of men, many times bring greater guilt upon themselves, by transgressing the law of God against rash judging. Those most defile themselves, who are most forward to censure the defilements of others.
III. The offence that was taken at this truth and the account brought to Christ of that offence (Matt. 15:12); “The disciples said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, and didst thou not foresee that they would be so, at this saying, and would think the worse of thee and of thy doctrine for it, and be the more enraged at thee?”
1. It was not strange that the Pharisees should be offended at this plain truth, for they were men made up of error and enmity, mistakes and malice. Sore eyes cannot bear clear light; and nothing is more provoking to proud imposers than the undeceiving of those whom they have first blindfolded, and then enslaved. It should seem that the Pharisees, who were strict observers of the traditions, were more offended than the scribes, who were the teachers of them; and perhaps they were as much galled with the latter part of Christ’s doctrine, which taught a strictness in the government of our tongue, as with the former part, which taught an indifference about washing our hands; great contenders for the formalities of religion, being commonly as great contemners of the substantials of it.
2. The disciples thought it strange that their Master should say that which he knew would give so much offence; he did not use to do so: surely, they think, if he had considered how provoking it would be, he would not have said it. But he knew what he said, and to whom he said it, and what would be the effect of it; and would teach us, that though in indifferent things we must be tender of giving offence, yet we must not, for fear of that, evade any truth or duty. Truth must be owned, and duty done; and if any be offended, it is his own fault; it is scandal, not given, but taken.
Perhaps the disciples themselves stumbled at the word Christ said, which they thought bold, and scarcely reconcileable with the difference that was put by the law of God between clean and unclean meats; and therefore objected this to Christ, that they might themselves be better informed. They seem likewise to have a concern upon them for the Pharisees, though they had quarrelled with them; which teaches us to forgive, and seek the good, especially the spiritual good, of our enemies, persecutors, and slanderers. They would not have the Pharisees go away displeased at any thing Christ had said; and therefore, though they do not desire him to retract it, they hope he will explain, correct, and modify it. Weak hearers are sometimes more solicitous than they should be not to have wicked hearers offended. But if we please men with the concealment of truth, and the indulgence of their errors and corruptions, we are not the servants of Christ.
IV. The doom passed upon the Pharisees and their corrupt traditions; which comes in as a reason why Christ cared not though he offended them, and therefore why the disciples should not care; because they were a generation of men that hated to be reformed, and were marked out for destruction. Two things Christ here foretels concerning them.
1. The rooting out of them and their traditions (Matt. 15:13); Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. Not only the corrupt opinions and superstitious practices of the Pharisees, but their sect, and way, and constitution, were plants not of God’s planting. The rules of their profession were no institutions of his, but owed their origin to pride and formality. The people of the Jews were planted a noble vine; but now that they are become the degenerate plant of a strange vine, God disowned them, as not of his planting. Note, (1.) In the visible church, it is no strange thing to find plants that our heavenly Father has not planted. It is implied, that whatever is good in the church is of God’s planting, Isa. 41:19. But let the husbandman be ever so careful, his ground will cast forth weeds of itself, more or less, and there is an enemy busy sowing tares. What is corrupt, though of God’s permitting, is not of his planting; he sows nothing but good seed in his field. Let us not therefore be deceived, as if all must needs be right that we find in the church, and all those persons and things our Father’s plants that we find in our Father’s garden. Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits; see Jer. 19:5; 23:31, 32. (2.) Those that are of the spirit of the Pharisees, proud, formal, and imposing, what figure soever they make, and of what denomination soever they be, God will not own them as of his planting. By their fruit you shall know them. (3.) Those plants that are not of God’s planting, shall not be of his protecting, but shall undoubtedly be rooted up. What is not of God shall not stand, Acts 5:38. What things are unscriptural, will wither and die of themselves, or be justly exploded by the churches; however in the great day these tares that offend will be bundled for the fire. What is become of the Pharisees and their traditions? They are long since abandoned; but the gospel of truth is great, and will remain. It cannot be rooted up.
2. The ruin of them; and their followers, who had their persons and principles in admiration, Matt. 15:14. Where,
(1.) Christ bids his disciples let them alone. “Have no converse with them or concern for them; neither court their favour, nor dread their displeasure; care not though they be offended, they will take their course, and let them take the issue of it. They are wedded to their own fancies, and will have every thing their own way; let them alone. Seek not to please a generation of men that please not God (1 Thess. 2:15), and will be pleased with nothing less than absolute dominion over your consciences. They are joined to idols, as Ephraim (Hos. 4:17), the idols of their own fancy; let them alone, let them be filthy still,” Rev. 22:11. The case of those sinners is sad indeed, whom Christ orders his ministers to let alone.
(2.) He gives them two reasons for it. Let them alone; for,
[1.] They are proud and ignorant; two bad qualities that often meet, and render a man incurable in his folly, Prov. 26:12. They are blind leaders of the blind. They are grossly ignorant in the things of God, and strangers to the spiritual nature of the divine law; and yet so proud, that they think they see better and further than any, and therefore undertake to be leaders of others, to show others the way to heaven, when they themselves know not one step of the way; and, accordingly, they prescribe to all, and proscribe those who will not follow them. Though they were blind, if they had owned it, and come to Christ for eye-salve, they might have seen, but they disdained the intimation of such a thing (John 9:40); Are we blind also? They were confident that they themselves were guides of the blind (Rom. 2:19, 20), were appointed to be so, and fit to be so; that every thing they said was an oracle and a law; “Therefore let them alone, their case is desperate; do not meddle with them; you may soon provoke them, but never convince them.” How miserable was the case of the Jewish Church now when their leaders were blind, so self-conceitedly foolish, as to be peremptory in their conduct, while the people were so sottishly foolish as to follow them with an implicit faith and obedience, and willingly walk after the commandment, Hos. 5:11. Now the prophecy was fulfilled, Isa. 29:10, 14. And it is easy to imagine what will be in the end hereof, when the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means, and the people love to have it so, Jer. 5:31.
[2.] They are posting to destruction, and will shortly be plunged into it; Both shall fall into the ditch. This must needs be the end of it, if both be so blind, and yet both so bold, venturing forward, and yet not aware of danger. Both will be involved in the general desolation coming upon the Jews, and both drowned in eternal destruction and perdition. The blind leaders and the blind followers will perish together. We find (Rev. 22:15), that hell is the portion of those that make a lie, and of those that love it when it is made. The deceived and the deceiver are obnoxious to the judgment of God, Job 12:16. Note, First, Those that by their cunning craftiness draw others to sin and error, shall not, with all their craft and cunning, escape ruin themselves. If both fall together into the ditch, the blind leaders will fall undermost, and have the worst of it; see Jer. 14:15, 16. The prophets shall be consumed first, and then the people to whom they prophesy, Jer. 20:6; 27:15, 16. Secondly, The sin and ruin of the deceivers will be no security to those that are deceived by them. Though the leaders of this people cause them to err, yet they that are led of them are destroyed (Isa. 9:16), because they shut their eyes against the light which would have rectified their mistake. Seneca, complaining of most people’s being led by common opinion and practice (Unusquisque mavult credere quam judicare—Things are taken upon trust, and never examined), concludes, Indeista tanta coacervatio aliorum super alios ruentium—Hence crowds fall upon crowds, in vast confusion. Deut. Vitâ Beatâ. The falling of both together will aggravate the fall of both; for they that have thus mutually increased each other’s sin, will mutually exasperate each other’s ruin.
V. Instruction given to the disciples concerning the truth Christ had laid down, Matt. 15:10. Though Christ rejects the wilfully ignorant who care not to be taught, he can have compassion on the ignorant who are willing to learn, Heb. 5:2. If the Pharisees, who made void the law, be offended, let them be offended: but this great peace have they who love the law, that nothing shall offend them, but, some way or other, the offence shall be taken off, Ps. 119:165.
Here is, 1. Their desire to be better instructed in this matter (Matt. 15:15); in this request as in many others, Peter was their speaker; the rest, it is probable, putting him on to speak, or intimating their concurrence; Declare unto us this parable. What Christ said was plain, but, because it agreed not with the notions they had imbibed, though they would not contradict it, yet they call it a parable, and cannot understand it. Note, (1.) Weak understandings are apt to turn plain truths into parables, and to seek for a knot in a bulrush. The disciples often did so, as John 16:17. Even the grasshopper is a burthen to a weak stomach, and babes in understanding cannot bear and digest strong meat. (2.) Where a weak head doubts concerning any word of Christ, an upright heart and a willing mind will seek for instruction. The Pharisees were offended, but kept it to themselves; hating to be reformed, they hated to be informed; but the disciples, though offended, sought for satisfaction, imputing the offence, not to the doctrine delivered, but to the shallowness of their own capacity.
2. The reproof Christ gave them for their weakness and ignorance (Matt. 15:16); Are ye also yet without understanding? As many as Christ loves and teaches, he thus rebukes. Note, They are very ignorant indeed, who understand not that moral pollutions are abundantly worse and more dangerous than ceremonial ones. Two things aggravate their dulness and darkness.
(1.) That they were the disciples of Christ; “Are ye also without understanding? Ye whom I have admitted into so great a degree of familiarity with me, are ye so unskilful in the word of righteousness?” Note, The ignorance and mistakes of those that profess religion, and enjoy the privileges of church-membership, are justly a grief to the Lord Jesus. “No wonder that the Pharisees understand not this doctrine, who know nothing of the Messiah’s kingdom: but ye that have heard of it, and embraced it yourselves, and preached it to others, are ye also such strangers to the spirit and genius of it?”
(2.) That they had been a great while Christ’s scholars; “Are ye yet so, after ye have been so long under my teaching?” Had they been but of yesterday in Christ’s school, it had been another matter, but to have been for so many months Christ’s constant hearers, and yet to be without understanding, was a great reproach to them. Note, Christ expects from us some proportion of knowledge, and grace, and wisdom, according to the time and means we have had. See John 14:9; Heb. 5:12; 2 Tim. 3:7, 8.
3. The explication Christ gave them of this doctrine of pollutions. Though he chid them for their dulness, he did not cast them off, but pitied them, and taught them, as Luke 24:25-27. He here shows us,
(1.) What little danger we are in of pollution from that which entereth in at the mouth, Matt. 15:17. An inordinate appetite, intemperance, and excess in eating, come out of the heart, and are defiling; but meat in itself is not so, as the Pharisees supposed. What there is of dregs and defilement in our meat, nature (or rather God of nature) has provided a way to clear us of it; it goes in at the belly, and is cast out into the draught, and nothing remains to us but pure nourishment. So fearfully and wonderfully are we made and preserved, and our souls held in life. The expulsive faculty is as necessary in the body as any other, for the discharge of that which is superfluous, or noxious; so happily is nature enabled to help itself, and shift for its own good: by this means nothing defiles; if we eat with unwashen hands, and so any thing unclean mix with our food, nature will separate it, and cast it out, and it will be no defilement to us. It may be a piece of cleanliness, but it is not point of conscience, to wash before meat; and we go upon a great mistake if we place religion in it. It is not the practice itself, but the opinion it is built upon, that Christ condemns, as if meat commended us to God (1 Cor. 8:8); whereas Christianity stands not in such observances.
(2.) What great danger we are in of pollution from that which proceeds out of the mouth (Matt. 15:18), out of the abundance of the heart: compare Matt. 12:34. There is no defilement in the products of God’s bounty; the defilement arises from the products of out corruption. Now here we have,
[1.] The corrupt fountain of that which proceeds out of the mouth; it comes from the heart; that is the spring and source of all sin, Jer. 8:7. It is the heart that is so desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9); for there is no sin in a word or deed, which was not first in the heart. There is the root of bitterness, which bears gall and wormwood. It is the inward part of a sinner, that is very wickedness, Ps. 5:9. All evil speakings come forth from the heart, and are defiling; from the corrupt heart comes the corrupt communication.
[2.] Some of the corrupt streams which flow from this fountain, specified; though they do not all come out of the mouth, yet they all come out of the man, and are the fruits of that wickedness which is in the heart, and is wrought there, Ps. 58:2.
First, Evil thoughts, sins against all the commandments. Therefore David puts vain thoughts in opposition to the whole law, Ps. 119:113. These are the first-born of the corrupt nature, the beginning of its strength, and do most resemble it. These, as the son and heir, abide in the house, and lodge within us. There is a great deal of sin that begins and ends in the heart, and goes no further. Carnal fancies and imaginations are evil thoughts, wickedness in the contrivance (Dialogismoi poneroi), wicked plots, purposes, and devices of mischief to others, Mic. 2:1.
Secondly, Murders, sins against the sixth commandment; these come from a malice in the heart against our brother’s life, or a contempt of it. Hence he that hates his brother, is said to be a murderer; he is so at God’s bar, 1 John 3:15. War is in the heart, Ps. 55:21; Jas. 4:1.
Thirdly, Adulteries and fornications, sins against the seventh commandment; these come from the wanton, unclean, carnal heart; and the lust that reigns there, is conceived there, and brings forth these sins, Jas. 1:15. There is adultery in the heart first, and then in the act, Matt. 5:28.
Fourthly, Thefts, sins against the eighth commandment; cheats, wrongs, rapines, and all injurious contracts; the fountain of all these is in the heart, that is it that is exercised in these covetous practices (2 Pet. 2:14), that is set upon riches, Ps. 62:10. Achan coveted, and then took, Josh. 7:20, 21.
Fifthly, False witness, against the ninth commandment; this comes from a complication of falsehood and covetousness, or falsehood and covetousness, or falsehood and malice in the heart. If truth, holiness, and love, which God requires in the inward parts, reigned as they ought, there would be no false witness bearing, Ps. 64:6; Jer. 9:8.
Sixthly, Blasphemies, speaking evil of God, against the third commandment; speaking evil of our neighbour, against the ninth commandment; these come from a contempt and disesteem of both in the heart; thence the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost proceeds (Matt. 12:31, 32); these are the overflowing of the gall within.
Now these are the things which defile a man, Matt. 15:20. Note, Sin is defiling to the soul, renders it unlovely and abominable in the eyes of a pure and holy God; unfit for communion with him, and for the enjoyment of him in the new Jerusalem, into which nothing shall enter that defileth or worketh iniquity. The mind and conscience are defiled by sin, and that makes every thing else so, Titus 1:15. This defilement by sin was signified by the ceremonial pollutions which the Jewish doctors added to, but understood not. See Heb. 9:13, 14; 1 John 1:7.
These therefore are the things we must carefully avoid, and all approaches toward them, and not lay stress upon the washing of the hands. Christ doth not yet repeal the law of the distinction of meats (that was not done till Acts 10:9-16), but the tradition of the elders, which was tacked to that law; and therefore he concludes, To eat with unwashen hands (which was the matter now in question), this defileth not a man. If he wash, he is not the better before God; if he wash not, he is not the worse.