For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
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Here by righteousness He means the whole of virtue; even as also discoursing of Job, He said, He was a blameless man, righteous. According to the same signification of the word, Paul also called that man righteous for whom, as he said, no law is even set. For, says he, a law is not made for a righteous man. 1 Timothy 1:9 And in many other places too one might find this name standing for virtue in general.
But observe, I pray you, the increase of grace; in that He will have His newly-come disciples better than the teachers in the old covenant. For by Scribes and Pharisees here, He meant not merely the lawless, but the well-doers. For, were they not doing well, He would not have said they have a righteousness; neither would He have compared the unreal to the real.
And observe also here, how He commends the old law, by making a comparison between it and the other; which kind of thing implies it to be of the same tribe and kindred. For more and less, is in the same kind. He does not, you see, find fault with the old law, but will have it made stricter. Whereas, had it been evil, He would not have required more of it; He would not have made it more perfect, but would have cast it out.
And how one may say, if it be such, does it not bring us into the Kingdom? It does not now bring in them who live after the coming of Christ, favored as they are with more strength, and bound to strive for greater things: since as to its own foster-children, them it does bring in one and all. Yea, for many shall come, says He, from east and west, and shall lie down in the bosoms of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Matthew 8:11 And Lazarus also receiving the great prize, is shown dwelling in Abraham's bosom. And all, as many as have shone forth with excellency in the old dispensation, shone by it, every one of them. And Christ Himself, had it been in anything evil or alien from Him, would not have fulfilled it all when He came. For if only to attract the Jews He was doing this, and not in order to prove it akin to the new law, and concurrent therewith; wherefore did He not also fulfill the laws and customs of the Gentiles, that He might attract the Gentiles also?
So that from all considerations it is clear, that not from any badness in itself does it fail to bring us in, but because it is now the season of higher precepts.
And if it be more imperfect than the new, neither does this imply it to be evil: since upon this principle the new law itself will be in the very same case. Because in truth our knowledge of this, when compared with that which is to come, is a sort of partial and imperfect thing, and is done away on the coming of that other. For when, says He, that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part shall be done away: 1 Corinthians 13:10 even as it befell the old law through the new. Yet we are not to blame the new law for this, though that also gives place on our attaining unto the Kingdom: for then, says He, that which is in part shall be done away: but for all this we call it great.
Since then both the rewards thereof are greater, and the power given by the Spirit more abundant, in reason it requires our graces to be greater also. For it is no longer a land that flows with milk and honey, nor a comfortable old age, nor many children, nor grain and wine, and flocks and herds: but Heaven, and the good things in the Heavens, and adoption and brotherhood with the Only-Begotten, and to partake of the inheritance and to be glorified and to reign with Him, and those unnumbered rewards. And as to our having received more abundant help, hear Paul, when he says, There is therefore no condemnation now to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit: for the law of the Spirit of life has made me free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1-2
7. And now after threatening the transgressors, and setting great rewards for them that do right, and signifying that He justly requires of us something beyond the former measures; He from this point begins to legislate, not simply, but by way of comparison with the ancient ordinances, desiring to intimate these two things: first, that not as contending with the former, but rather in great harmony with them, He is making these enactments; next, that it was meet and very seasonable for Him to add thereto these second precepts.
And that this may be made yet clearer, let us hearken to the words of the Legislator. What then does He Himself say?