Matthew 23:23
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You pay tithes of mint, dill, and cumin, but you have disregarded the weightier matters of the Law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.
Pharisees and SadduceesMarcus Dods Matthew 23:2-33
All Sin Traced to an OmissionJ. Vaughan, M. A.Matthew 23:23-24
CumminC. Bulkley.Matthew 23:23-24
Fidelity in Little Duties no Excuse for Neglect of GreatW. Gurnall.Matthew 23:23-24
Monstrous TriflingJ.A. Macdonald Matthew 23:23, 24
Omission the Sin of the LostJ. Vaughan, M. A.Matthew 23:23-24
Religious Duties Great and Small to be CombinedW. M. Taylor, D. D.Matthew 23:23-24
Sins of OmissionJ. Vaughan, M. A.Matthew 23:23-24
Sins of OmissionMatthew 23:23-24
Sins of Omission the Most HeinousJ. Vaughan, M. A.Matthew 23:23-24
Small Duties of ReligionJ. Saurin.Matthew 23:23-24
Straining Out a GnatTrench.Matthew 23:23-24
The Gnat and the CamelD. Fraser, D. D.Matthew 23:23-24
The Great Duties of ReligionJ. SaurinMatthew 23:23-24
The Superlative Importance of the Moral Duties of ReligioW. Leechman.Matthew 23:23-24
These Things Done, and Others not Left UndoneW. M. Taylor, D. D.Matthew 23:23-24
Tithe of MintDean Plumptre.Matthew 23:23-24

Our Lord proceeds to pronounce upon the hypocrite the woe of his other evils. Note -


1. These are its moral precepts.

(1) "Judgment." This implies:

(a) Justice in principle.

(b) Justice in practice.

(2) "Mercy." This must harmonize with justice. The gospel gloriously brings out this harmony.

(3) "Faith." This implies:

(a) Faith in the sense of creed, or truth in belief. A true creed is of great importance.

(b) Faith in the sense of sincerity, in opposition to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Those called hypocrites are otherwise described as unbelievers (cf. Matthew 24:51; Luke 12:46; 1 Timothy 4:2, 3).

(c) Faith in the sense of fidelity or faithfulness, viz. to God first, then also to man (cf. Micah 6:8; Luke 11:42).

(4) There must be the judgment of intelligence in the understanding; the mercy of love in the heart; the works of faith or truth in the life.

2. Its ceremonies are for the sake of its morals.

(1) Distinction in animals, clean and unclean, was to show the differences between good and bad men.

(2) Distinction in meats was to teach discrimination in fellowships.

(3) Laws respecting the treatment of creatures was to show how men should be treated. "Doth God take care for oxen?" (cf. Deuteronomy 25:4; 1 Corinthians 9:9; 1 Timothy 5:18). They that are taught in the Word, and do not communicate to them that teach them - loving a cheap gospel - come short of the Pharisee, who tithed pot herbs.

(4) Purifications which terminated in the flesh taught the need of the "answer of a good conscience toward God."


1. He is punctilious to trifles.

(1) He is scrupulous to the tithing of mint, dill, rue, cummin (see Leviticus 27:30). The Talmud says, "The tithing of corn is from the Law; the tithing of herbs is from the rabbins." He will "strain out the gnat." The stricter Jews were extremely particular in straining their liquors before drinking, lest they should inadvertently swallow some unclean insect, and so be defiled. The wine-gnat is easily caught in a strainer.

(2) Scrupulousness in the abstract is not blameworthy. "These things ought ye to have done." Eminent virtue may display itself in the smallest matters (see Mark 12:42). The morality is imperfect that neglects detail.

2. He misses important things.

(1) The scrupulous Pharisee, in his minute attention to the letter, missed the spirit of the Law, which was of far greater importance. The gnat and the camel are both unclean, though of very different magnitude. The Pharisee was scrupulous over the ceremonial, unscrupulous as to the moral - the greater. He unblushingly practised the greatest iniquities. The Law is fulfilled more in the spirit than in the letter. The gospel is the spirit of the Law.

(2) We strain out the gnat and swallow the camel when we are scrupulous about trifling errors and unscrupulous about great evils. The Pharisee is like the customer that is punctual in paying small debts that he may get deeper into the tradesman's books and defraud him of a greater sum. They swallowed the camel when they gave Judas the price of innocent blood; they strained out the gnat when they scrupled to put the money in the treasury (Matthew 26:6).

(3) Things should be taken in God's order, which is the order of their importance. The things of God come before those of men (see Matthew 16:23). Those only who attend to the "weightier matters" are qualified to judge as to the lighter ones. The formal may exclude the essential, but the essential does not exclude the formal. There may be piety without religion; there cannot be religion without piety. - J.A.M.

And have omitted the weightier matters of the law.
1. The very earliest cause of nearly all sin lies in omitting something which we ought to have done. Perhaps you left your room without prayer.

2. That sins of omission in God's sight are of larger magnitude than sins of commission.

3. They will form the basis of judgment at the last day — "Ye gave Me no meat."

4. Why is any man lost that is lost, but because he omitted God's way of escape?

5. Sins of omission are characteristically sins of the Christian dispensation. Its laws are positive.

(J. Vaughan, M. A.)

Define these weightier matters of the law.

1. One virtue originating immediately in primitive law is more important than another, an obligation to perform which is founded only on some particular circumstances.

2. Virtues anterior to particulars subsist after those circumstances.

3. A virtue that hath a great object is more than those which have small objects.

4. Every virtue connected with other virtues, and drawing after it many more, is greater than any single or detached virtue.

5. A virtue that constitutes the end, to which all religion conducts us, is more important than other virtues, which at most are only means to lead to the end.

(J. Saurin)

Obligation to little duties may be urged, because

(1)they contribute to maintain a tenderness of conscience;

(2)they are sources of re-conversion after great falls;

(3)they make up by their frequency what is wanting to their importance;

(4)they have sometimes characters as certain of real love as the great duties have.

(J. Saurin.)

n: —

I. Moral duties, the weightier matters of the law, the love of God, justice, mercy, and fidelity, are more excellent in their own nature, and ought always to be preferred to all ritual and positive institutions, whenever they come into competition with them.

II. Notwithstanding the intrinsic and superior excellence of moral duties, yet those rites and external institutions which are of Divine appointment ought to be religiously observed, and it is really criminal in the sight of God to despise and neglect them.

(W. Leechman.)

The last words that Archbishop Usher was heard to express, were, "Lord, forgive my sins; especially my sins of omission."

The tithing of cummin must not be neglected; but take heed thou dost not neglect the weightiest things of the Law — judgment, mercy, and faith; making your preciseness in the less a blind for your horrible wickedness in the greater.

(W. Gurnall.)

It scarcely admits of a question, but that every sin which was ever committed upon the earth, is traceable, in the first instance, to a sin of omission. At a certain point of the genealogy of that sin, there was something of which it is not too much to say that if it had been done that sin would have been cut short. And the very earliest cause of that sin (whether you are able to discover a root or not) lay, not in anything we did, or said, or thought, but in that which we might have done, and did not do; or, might have said, and did not say; or, might have thought, and did not think. Every sin lies in a chain, and the first link is fastened to another link. For instance, that first sin committed after the Fall — Cain's fratricide — was the result of anger; that anger was the result of jealousy; that jealousy was the result of an unaccepted sacrifice; that unaccepted sacrifice was the result of the absence of faith; and that absence of faith was the result of an inattentive ear, or a heart which had grown silent towards God .... As you uncoil a sin, you have been surprised to find what a compound thing that is which, at first sight, appeared single. You have gone on, finding the germ of one sin in the seed of another sin, till you could scarcely pursue the process because it stretched so far; but, if you went far enough, you found at last that some neglect was the beginning of it all.

(J. Vaughan, M. A.)

By which are we most pained — the omissions, or the commissions, of life? Say you have two persons whom you love. I will suppose a father with two sons. The one often offends him by direct and open disobedience; and your heart is made to ache, again and again, by his frequent and flagrant transgressions of your law. The other does nothing which is outwardly and palpably bad. His life is moral, and his course correct. But he shows no sign whatsoever of any personal regard for you. You long to catch some indication of affection; but there is none. Day after day you have watched for it; but still there is none! You are plainly indifferent to him. He does not injure you. But in no thought, or word, or deed, does he ever show you that he has you in his heart, to care for you and love you. Now, which of those two sons will pain you most? The disobedient, or the cold one? The one who often transgresses, or the one who never loves? The one who commits, or the one who omits? Is there a doubt that, however much the committee may the more injure himself, or society, the omitter most wounds the parent's heart? And is it not so with the great Father of us all?

(J. Vaughan, M. A.)

Why is any man lost who is lost? Is it because he did certain things which brought down upon him the righteous retribution of eternal punishment? No; but because, having broken God's commandments, he omitted to use God's way of escape — to go to Christ, to believe the promises, to accept pardon, to realize truth: therefore he is lost; and the cause of the final condemnation of every sinner in hell is a sin of omission. The gospel precept — unlike the law — is direct and absolute, not negative: "Thou shalt love God, and thy neighbour." And therefore the transgression must consist in an omission. It is only by not loving, that you can be brought in guilty, under the code of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

(J. Vaughan, M. A.)

Turning to the house-old, we may see how the principle here stated holds good. Public religious services must not be made the substitute for home duties; and, again, home duties must not be pleaded as an apology for the neglect of public ordinances. Arrangements ought to be made for rightly engaging in both. The instructing of other people's children must not be allowed to keep us from giving needed attention to the godly upbringing of our own. And, again, the training of our own families should not be made a plea for exemption from all effort for the spiritual welfare of those of others. A workman meeting a friend on the street in Edinburgh, one Monday morning, said to him, "Why were you not at church last night? our minister preached an excellent sermon on home religion. Why were you not there to hear it?" "Because," was the answer, "I was at home doing it." That was a good answer, for the service was an extra one, and the man had been at church twice before. So he was right, with the third, to give his home duties the preference. But then, on the other hand, the "at home doing it" is not all, and it should be so provided for as not to take away from proper attendance on regular ordinances, otherwise the result will be that after a while religion will not be much cared for either in the church or in the home. A tardy student coming late into the class was asked by his professor to account for his want of punctuality; and replied that he had delayed for purposes of private devotion. But his teacher very properly reproved him by saying, "You had no right to be at your prayers, when you ought to have been here; it is your duty to make such arrangements that the one shall not interfere with the other." So in regard to the conflicting claims of the house. hold and the church upon you. Make arrangements for giving due attention to both, and do not sacrifice the one on the shrine of the other.

(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

A clear conception of the real nature of Phariseeism is all that is needed to vindicate the severity of this denunciation.

1. The error of the Pharisees was not superficial, but fundamental. Their religion was not simply defective, but positively false.

2. Such radically erroneous notions concerning religion, lulled the Pharisees into absolute self-security.

3. Still further we may account for the severity of these denunciations from the fact that the Saviour foresaw that Phariseeism would in after ages become the greatest hindrance to the progress of His cause in the world. There is a constant tendency to retain the form after the life has departed.

I. THAT THE COMMANDS OF GOD ARE OF DIFFERENT DEGREES OF IMPORTANCE. There are matters of more weight than others among the Divine precepts. The heart that reverences God will seek to obey all, but each in its own order. In morals as in doctrine there are things essential and non-essential. The weightiest of all God's commands have respect to judgment, mercy, faith. The inner is more important than the outward life; out of the heart are the issues of life, and therefore should have the greatest attention. So the great things and the smaller will follow in their train.


III. That when the heart is right with God through faith in Jesus Christ, BOTH THE WEIGHTIER MATTERS AND THOSE OF LESS IMPORTANCE WILL BE PROPERLY ATTENDED TO.

(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

I. Inward qualities count for more than outward observances.

II. That a just sense of proportion is essential to a welt-regulated Christian mind. It is no infrequent thing to find a person who seems to be very religious curiously deficient in the sense of proportion. He cannot quite see what is great or what is small. If he be disposed to obstinacy or bigotry, he simply regards all that is plain to him as great; and all his tenets and regulations as equally great. If he be merely small-minded, by natural affinity he fastens keenly on small points. These are of the proper size for him; and he takes them to be quite large. Or if he be of a self-regarding mind, considering religion simply with reference to his own safety, he lays all the stress on the truths which are near himself, and has but a faint appreciation of those which are much more vast but more remote.

(D. Fraser, D. D.)

"That we meet so often," says Sir Thomas Brown, "with cummin seeds in many parts of Scripture, in reference unto Judaea, a seed so abominable at present to our palates and nostrils, will not seem strange unto any who consider the frequent use thereof among the ancients, not only in medical, but in dietetical use and practice; for their dishes were filled therewith; and their noblest festival preparations in Apicius, were not without it; and even in the polenta and parched corn, the old diet of the Romans, unto every measure they mixed a small proportion of linseed and cummin seed. And so cummin is justly set down among things of vulgar and common use.

(C. Bulkley.)

The Pharisee, in his minute scrupulosity, made a point of gathering the tenth sprig of every garden herb, and presenting it to the priest.

(Dean Plumptre.)

The expression may be more precisely rendered, "strain out a gnat," and then there may be a reference intended to the custom that prevailed, among the more strict and accurate Jews, of straining their wine and other drinks, lest they should inadvertently swallow a gnat, or some other unclean insect: supposing that thereby they would transgress (Leviticus 11:20, 23, 41, 42). A traveller in North Africa, where Eastern customs are very jealously retained, reports noticing that a Moorish soldier who accompanied him, when he drank, always unfolded the end of his turban, and placed it over the mouth of his bota, drinking through the muslin to strain out the gnats, whose larvae swarm in the water of that country.


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