We have here a general account of this sermon.
I. The Preacher was our Lord Jesus, the Prince of preachers, the great Prophet of his church, who came into the world, to be the Light of the world. The prophets and John had done virtuously in preaching, but Christ excelled them all. He is the eternal Wisdom, that lay in the bosom of the Father, before all worlds, and perfectly knew his will (John 1:18); and he is the eternal Word, by whom he has in these last days spoken to us. The many miraculous cures wrought by Christ in Galilee, which we read of in the close of the foregoing chapter, were intended to make way for this sermon, and to dispose people to receive instructions from one in whom there appeared so much of a divine power and goodness; and, probably, this sermon was the summary, or rehearsal, of what he had preached up and down in the synagogues of Galilee. His text was, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. This is a sermon on the former part of that text, showing what it is to repent; it is to reform, both in judgment and practice; and here he tells us wherein, in answer to that question (Mal. 3:7), Wherein shall we return? He afterward preached upon the latter part of the text, when, in divers parables, he showed what the kingdom of heaven is like, Matt. 13:1-52
II. The place was a mountain in Galilee. As in other things, so in this, our Lord Jesus was but ill accommodated; he had no convenient place to preach in, any more than to lay his head on. While the scribes and Pharisees had Moses’ chair to sit in, with all possible ease, honour, and state, and there corrupted the law; our Lord Jesus, the great Teacher of truth, is driven out to the desert, and finds no better a pulpit than a mountain can afford; and not one of the holy mountains neither, not one of the mountains of Zion, but a common mountain; by which Christ would intimate that there is no such distinguishing holiness of places now, under the gospel, as there was under the law; but that it is the will of God that men should pray and preach every where, any where, provided it be decent and convenient. Christ preached this sermon, which was an exposition of the law, upon a mountain, because upon a mountain the law was given; and this was also a solemn promulgation of the Christian law. But observe the difference: when the law was given, the Lord came down upon the mountain; now the Lord went up: then, he spoke in thunder and lightning; now, in a still small voice: then the people were ordered to keep their distance; now they are invited to draw near: a blessed change! If God’s grace and goodness are (as they certainly are) his glory, then the glory of the gospel is the glory that excels, for grace and truth came by Jesus Christ, 2 Cor. 3:7; Heb. 12:18 It was foretold of Zebulun and Issachar, two of the tribes of Galilee (Deut. 33:19), that they shall call the people to the mountain; to this mountain we are called, to learn to offer the sacrifices of righteousness. Now was this the mountain of the Lord, where he taught us his ways, Isa. 2:2, 3; Mic. 4:1, 2.
III. The auditors were his disciples, who came unto him; came at his call, as appears by comparing Mark 3:13; Luke 6:13. To them he directed his speech, because they followed him for love and learning, while others attended him only for cures. He taught them, because they were willing to be taught (the meek will he teach his way); because they would understand what he taught, which to others was foolishness; and because they were to teach others; and it was therefore requisite that they should have a clear and distinct knowledge of these things themselves. The duties prescribed in this sermon were to be conscientiously performed by all those that would enter into that kingdom of heaven which they were sent to set up, with hope to have the benefit of it. But though this discourse was directed to the disciples, it was in the hearing of the multitude; for it is said (Matt. 7:28), The people were astonished. No bounds were set about this mountain, to keep the people off, as were about mount Sinai (Exod. 19:12); for, through Christ, we have access to God, not only to speak to him, but to hear from him. Nay, he had an eye to the multitude, in preaching this sermon. When the fame of his miracles had brought a vast crowd together, he took the opportunity of so great a confluence of people, to instruct them. Note, It is an encouragement to a faithful minister to cast the net of the gospel where there are a great many fishes, in hope that some will be caught. The sight of a multitude puts life into a preacher, which yet must arise from a desire of their profit, not his own praise.
IV. The solemnity of his sermon is intimated in that word, when he was set. Christ preached many times occasionally, and by interlocutory discourses; but this was a set sermon, kathisantos autou, when he had placed himself so as to be best heard. He sat down as a Judge or Lawgiver. It intimates with what sedateness and composure of mind the things of God should be spoken and heard. He sat, that the scriptures might be fulfilled (Mal. 3:3), He shall sit as a refiner, to purge away the dross, the corrupt doctrines of the sons of Levi. He sat as in the throne, judging right (Ps. 9:4); for the word he spoke shall judge us. That phrase, He opened his mouth, is only a Hebrew periphrasis of speaking, as Job 3:1. Yet some think it intimates the solemnity of this discourse; the congregation being large, he raised his voice, and spoke louder than usual. He had spoken long by his servants the prophets, and opened their mouths (Ezek. 3:27; 24:27; 33:22); but now he opened his own, and spoke with freedom, as one having authority. One of the ancients has this remark upon it; Christ taught much without opening his mouth. that is, by his holy and exemplary life; nay, he taught, when, being led as a lamb to the slaughter, he opened not his mouth, but now he opened his mouth, and taught, that the scriptures might be fulfilled, Prov. 8:1, 2, 6. Doth not wisdom cry—cry on the top of high places? And the opening of her lips shall be right things. He taught them, according to the promise (Isa. 54:13), All thy children shall be taught of the Lord; for this purpose he had the tongue of the learned (Isa. 50:4), and the Spirit of the Lord, Isa. 61:1. He taught them, what was the evil they should abhor, and what was the good they should abide and abound in; for Christianity is not a matter of speculation, but is designed to regulate the temper of our minds and the tenour of our conversations; gospel-time is a time of reformation (Heb. 9:10); and by the gospel we must be reformed, must be made good, must be made better. The truth, as it is in Jesus, is the truth which is according to godliness, Titus 1:1.