Matthew 9:9. And as Jesus passed forth from thence, He saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and He saith unto him, Follow Me. And he arose and followed Him.
Matthew is called here as a believer, but called in a more especial way to follow the Lord. He could not do this unless he was enlightened and made willing. You cannot have the one without the other; there is a unity between the two.
It is probable that Matthew had his receipt of custom at a pier or jetty where people could easily gather and pay their taxes. The Lord came down from the north end of the lake and at a certain point crossed over to the other side, where He saw Matthew and called him to follow Him.
Matthew was probably converted before this particular time; perhaps it was under one of Christ’s sermons – maybe while listening to the Sermon on the Mount. If this was the case, he got such a view of the glory of Christ that he could not but love Him and follow Him. That sermon would be to him like the lattice through which Christ showed Himself to Matthew. How then he must have loved it! Question yourself, dear fellow sinner, do you have some measure of understanding of that sermon and a measure of love for it. “The entrance of Thy word gives light, makes wise who simple are.”
Now it is evident that such a work of grace was wrought in Matthew; he was brought to love the narrow way, which leads to life eternal. He had no quarrel with the narrow way; he was seeking to walk in it and kissing the yoke of Christ. Some of the parables which he was led to record were evident in his own life. Was he a stony ground hearer? Was his heart like a much trodden and beaten path? No, the Word took root in his heart. His was not the rocky ground root which is evident in some – when there has been a spurious change but no conviction of the carnality of the heart. The parable of the tares and wheat is another; at the time of harvest it was evident what was tares and what was wheat. “By their fruits ye shall know them.” And had not Matthew got possession of the treasure which was hid in a field?
Christ in the gospel being all his treasure, we find Matthew leaving all and following Jesus immediately when Christ called to him to follow Him. Matthew probably directed those who worked with him to take over and attend to the business in hand, for the time being at any rate. We are not all called to follow the Lord in this particular way, for Matthew was one of the appointed apostles, but we are called to love and fear the Lord. “Blessed is every one that feareth the Lord, that walketh in His ways.” We need no new revelation. The Reformers dwelt much on the testimony of the Holy Spirit – that no further, or new, revelation is given, but that the Holy Spirit sheds light on the divine Word and enlightens our minds in knowledge. Halyburton is very strong on the necessity of a divine, supernatural work before any soul can, or will even have the least inclination to, walk in the ways of the Lord and keep His commandments.
It may be helpful to compare Matthew with some of the other disciples, Peter and John for instance. We may say within the bounds of charity, and you will agree, that Peter was inclined to be impulsive and had to be rebuked by the Lord a number of times, as when He said, “Get thee behind Me, Satan”. You remember when Peter said to Christ, “We have left all and followed Thee”. Perhaps he said, “Look at that fishing smack over there and that cable lying on the shore. We left it all and followed Thee, also ten barrels of fish and all these nets. What will our reward be?” “Look you here, Peter, you need not worry about that; you shall have your reward a hundredfold. You shall have persecutions and trials and tribulations in this world, but the end shall be life everlasting, and you shall judge the 12 tribes of Israel.”
You can imagine Matthew perspiring all over his body as he stood by and listened to Peter being so bold. Perhaps Peter was the oldest of the apostles and they looked to him as their spokesman, but he was impulsive: “Though all should deny Thee, yet will I not deny Thee”. Stay, stay, Peter, “before the cock crow twice thou shalt deny Me thrice”! Mr Finlayson of Lochs, latterly of Helmsdale, used to say that Peter went on his way with a great measure of zeal which was without knowledge but, as he went on his way, he was taught, and gradually he began to walk with zeal mingled with knowledge – mingled with holy wisdom and discretion. So it is with the Lord’s people; they learn by their mistakes, which are made bitter to them.
I believe that Matthew was a most modest man. We never hear of him butting in, as it were. We find Thomas, Philip and even John indiscreetly speaking up, but Matthew appears to stay in the background listening and learning – drinking in the words of Christ, of which in this Gospel he is the author, although not in the supreme sense. Matthew had a great love to the souls of his fellows and no doubt he wept many a time in his soul for them. Here we find him gathering together many – not a few, but many – publicans and sinners for a feast. He may have had a large house, or perhaps he hired a hall. We do not find him saying, “I will spend a pound or a five-pound note on them”; he gathered many together: “Come to the feast; my servants will have everything ready by such and such an hour. And then, after we have dined, the Master will address us as He sees fit.” One has the feeling that they came without making excuses: “I have married a wife; I have bought a yoke of oxen”. They did not have to be coaxed with the bait of a sumptuous feast; I believe they came willingly. Whether any were converted at that feast we cannot say; the great day will reveal that. Perhaps some of them heard the invitation: “You that are weary, that have a heavy load, even although you do not feel it as you ought – although it is as a millstone round your neck – come unto Me”.
We hear of so-called accidents on the road, ones we know called in a flash into the great eternity. Put it to yourself, dear soul, where would your eternal portion be if you were called suddenly away?
One last point before we conclude: do you not think that Matthew loved his own Gospel? This is where we see that he was the author of it and yet was not. That seems a contradiction. Many authors love their own works, but Matthew had love to his Gospel because it was the words of the Lord which he was led to record. And in the supreme sense, the Lord is the author of the Word. Perhaps Matthew, being a man who was used to writing and business matters, felt inclined to take note of the things he heard Jesus say. And maybe his prayer many a time was: “Lord help me to remember these things”. But he was carried along by the Holy Spirit to put this Gospel on record, and he loved every word of it. And do you not think that he loved the Old Testament too? Ah yes, he did. In this Gospel alone we find no fewer than 65 direct quotations from the Old Testament. How then he must have loved it!
Seek, dear soul, to have that same love to the holy Word. And seek that it would be blessed to your soul, so that you would be like the Saviour, and indeed like Matthew himself.
1. These are notes of a sermon preached in Dingwall on Sabbath, 10 December 1960. Dingwall was the last of three charges where Mr Macfarlane (1889-1979) was pastor; he spent the last 43 years of his ministry there.