Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible
back to: Matthew
Book: Matthew
Chapter: 23

Jesus reproves the Scribes and Pharisees. (1-12) Crimes of the
Pharisees. (13-33) The guilt of Jerusalem. (34-39)

1-12 The Scribes and Pharisees explained the Law of Moses, and
enforced obedience to it. They are charged with hypocrisy in
religion. We can only Judge according to outward appearance; but
God searches the Heart. They made Phylacteries. These were
scrolls of Paper or Parchment, wherein were written four
paragraphs of the Law, to be worn On their foreheads and left
arms, Ex 13:2-10; 13:11-16; De 6:4-9; 11:13-21. They made
these Phylacteries broad, that they might be thought more
zealous for the Law than others. God appointed the Jews to make
fringes upon their garments, Nu 15:38, to remind them of their
being a Peculiar people; but the Pharisees made them larger than
common, as if they were thereby more religious than others.
Pride was the Darling, reigning Sin of the Pharisees, the Sin
that most easily beset them, and which our Lord Jesus takes all
occasions to speak against. For him that is taught in the Word
to give respect to him that teaches, is commendable; but for him
that teaches, to demand it, to be puffed up with it, is sinful.
How much is all this against the Spirit of Christianity! The
consistent Disciple of Christ is pained By being Put into chief
places. But who that looks around On the visible Church, would
think this was the Spirit required? It is Plain that some
Measure of this antichristian Spirit prevails in every religious
society, and in every one of our hearts.

13-33 The Scribes and Pharisees were enemies to the Gospel of
Christ, and therefore to the Salvation of the souls of men. It
is bad to keep away from Christ ourselves, but worse also to
keep others from him. Yet it is No new thing for the show and
form of Godliness to be made a Cloak to the greatest enormities.
But dissembled Piety will be reckoned double iniquity. They were
very busy to turn souls to be of their party. Not for the Glory
of God and the good of souls, but that they might have the
credit and advantage of making converts. Gain being their
Godliness, By a thousand devices they made religion give way to
their worldly interests. They were very strict and precise in
smaller matters of the Law, but careless and loose in weightier
matters. It is not the scrupling a little Sin that Christ here
reproves; if it be a Sin, though but a Gnat, it must be strained
out; but the doing that, and then swallowing a Camel, or,
committing a greater Sin. While they would seem to be godly,
they were neither sober nor righteous. We are really, what we
are inwardly. Outward motives may keep the outside Clean, while
the inside is filthy; but if the Heart and Spirit be made new,
there will be newness of Life; here we must begin with
ourselves. The Righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees was
like the ornaments of a Grave, or dressing up a dead body, only
for show. The deceitfulness of sinners' hearts appears in that
they go down the streams of the sins of their own Day, while
they fancy that they should have opposed the sins of former
days. We sometimes think, if we had lived when Christ was upon
Earth, that we should not have despised and rejected him, as men
then did; yet Christ in his Spirit, in his Word, in his
ministers, is still No better treated. And it is just with God
to give those up to their hearts' lusts, who obstinately persist
in gratifying them. Christ gives men their true characters.

34-39 Our Lord declares the miseries the inhabitants of
Jerusalem were about to bring upon themselves, but he does not
notice the sufferings he was to undergo. A Hen gathering her
chickens under her wings, is an apt emblem of the Saviour's
tender Love to those who trust in him, and his Faithful care of
them. He calls sinners to take Refuge under his tender
protection, keeps them safe, and nourishes them to eternal Life.
The present Dispersion and unbelief of the Jews, and their
future Conversion to Christ, were here foretold. Jerusalem and
her children had a large share of guilt, and their Punishment
has been signal. But ere long, deserved vengeance will fall On
every Church which is Christian in name only. In the mean time
the Saviour stands ready to receive all who come to him. There
is nothing between sinners and eternal happiness, but their
proud and unbelieving unwillingness.