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Matthew 5:19

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

Whosoever therefore shall break - Shall violate or disobey.

One of these least commandments - The Pharisees, it is probable, divided the precepts of the law into lesser and greater, teaching that they who violated the former were guilty of a trivial offence only. See Matthew 23:23. Christ teaches that in his kingdom they who make this distinction, or who taught that any laws of God might be violated with impunity, should be called least; while they should be held in high regard who observed all the laws of God without distinction.

Shall be called least - That is, shall be least. See Matthew 5:9. The meaning of this passage seems to be this: in the kingdom of heaven, that is, in the kingdom of the Messiah, or in the church which he is about to establish (see the notes at Matthew 3:2), he that breaks the least of these commandments shall be in no esteem, or shall not be regarded as a proper religious teacher. The Pharisees, by dividing the law into greater and lesser precepts, made no small part of it void by their traditions and divisions, Matthew 23:23; Matthew 15:3-6. Jesus says that in his kingdom all this vain division and tradition would cease. Such divisions and distinctions would be a small matter. He that attempted it should be the least of all. People would be engaged in yielding obedience to all the law of God without any such vain distinctions.

Shall be called great - He that teaches that all the law of God is binding, and that the whole of it should be obeyed, without attempting to specify what is most important, shall be a teacher worthy of his office, and shall be called great. Hence, we learn:

1.that all the law of God is binding on Christians. Compare James 2:10.

2.that all the commands of God should be preached, in their proper place, by Christian ministers.

3.that they who pretend that there are any laws of God so small that they need not obey them, are unworthy of his kingdom. And,

4.that true piety has respect to all the commandments of God. Compare Psalm 119:6.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
Let none suppose that Christ allows his people to trifle with any commands of God's holy law. No sinner partakes of Christ's justifying righteousness, till he repents of his evil deeds. The mercy revealed in the gospel leads the believer to still deeper self-abhorrence. The law is the Christian's rule of duty, and he delights therein. If a man, pretending to be Christ's disciple, encourages himself in any allowed disobedience to the holy law of God, or teaches others to do the same, whatever his station or reputation among men may be, he can be no true disciple. Christ's righteousness, imputed to us by faith alone, is needed by every one that enters the kingdom of grace or of glory; but the new creation of the heart to holiness, produces a thorough change in a man's temper and conduct.
Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

Whosoever - shall break one of these least commandments - The Pharisees were remarkable for making a distinction between weightier and lighter matters in the law, and between what has been called, in a corrupt part of the Christian Church, mortal and venial sins. See on Matthew 22:36; (note).

Whosoever shall break. What an awful consideration is this! He who, by his mode of acting, speaking, or explaining the words of God, sets the holy precept aside, or explains away its force and meaning, shall be called least - shall have no place in the kingdom of Christ here, nor in the kingdom of glory above. That this is the meaning of these words is evident enough from the following verse.

Ellen G. White
Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, 51-2

“Forever, O Lord, Thy word is settled in heaven.” “All His commandments are sure. They stand fast for ever and ever, and are done in truth and uprightness.” “Concerning Thy testimonies, I have known of old that Thou hast founded them forever.” Psalm 119:89; 111:7, 8; Psalm 119:152. MB 51.1

That is, he shall have no place therein. For he who willfully breaks one commandment, does not, in spirit and truth, keep any of them. “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” James 2:10. MB 51.2

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Ellen G. White
The Great Controversy, 472-3

The desire for an easy religion that requires no striving, no self-denial, no divorce from the follies of the world, has made the doctrine of faith, and faith only, a popular doctrine; but what saith the word of God? Says the apostle James: “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? ... Wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? ... Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” James 2:14-24. GC 472.1

The testimony of the word of God is against this ensnaring doctrine of faith without works. It is not faith that claims the favor of Heaven without complying with the conditions upon which mercy is to be granted, it is presumption; for genuine faith has its foundation in the promises and provisions of the Scriptures. GC 472.2

Let none deceive themselves with the belief that they can become holy while willfully violating one of God's requirements. The commission of a known sin silences the witnessing voice of the Spirit and separates the soul from God. “Sin is the transgression of the law.” And “whosoever sinneth [transgresseth the law] hath not seen Him, neither known Him.” 1 John 3:6. Though John in his epistles dwells so fully upon love, yet he does not hesitate to reveal the true character of that class who claim to be sanctified while living in transgression of the law of God. “He that saith, I know Him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth His word, in him verily is the love of God perfected.” 1 John 2:4, 5. Here is the test of every man's profession. We cannot accord holiness to any man without bringing him to the measurement of God's only standard of holiness in heaven and in earth. If men feel no weight of the moral law, if they belittle and make light of God's precepts, if they break one of the least of these commandments, and teach men so, they shall be of no esteem in the sight of Heaven, and we may know that their claims are without foundation. GC 472.3

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Ellen G. White
Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, 145

Teachers of falsehood will arise to draw you away from the narrow path and the strait gate. Beware of them; though concealed in sheep's clothing, inwardly they are ravening wolves. Jesus gives a test by which false teachers may be distinguished from the true. “Ye shall know them by their fruits,” He says. “Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?” MB 145.1

We are not bidden to prove them by their fair speeches and exalted professions. They are to be judged by the word of God. “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word it is because there is no light in them.” “Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge.” Isaiah 8:20; Proverbs 19:27. What message do these teachers bring? Does it lead you to reverence and fear God? Does it lead you to manifest your love for Him by loyalty to His commandments? If men do not feel the weight of the moral law; if they make light of God's precepts; if they break one of the least of His commandments, and teach men so, they shall be of no esteem in the sight of heaven. We may know that their claims are without foundation. They are doing the very work that originated with the prince of darkness, the enemy of God. MB 145.2

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, 627

Your present wife has had no deep religious experience in self-denial, in self-sacrifice, in communion with God, in belief of the truth. She would easily be led from obedience to God to transgression. Your children will follow where their father leads the way; and unless some special providence shall rescue them, their disobedience and transgression will be laid upon your soul. The Judge of all the earth confronts you with that holy law of whose claims you are not ignorant. Your character and the characters of your wife and of your children are judged by that holy standard of righteousness. You have led them to transgress, and their ruin the holy law of God charges upon you. Through various devices, with which Satan is fully acquainted, you have worked for time and for eternity, trying to make others believe you an honest man in leaving the light of truth. Are you so? No, no. It is a deception, a terrible deception. What can you answer to God in that day? You will then have a terrible dread and fear of your Creator. You will try to frame some excuse for your course, but every thing will seem to evade you. You will stand guilty and condemned. You may feel angry with me because I have thus put the case, but so it is, and so it will be with every transgressor of God's holy law. 5T 627.1

Keep ever before you this truth: “Wherever I am, whatever I do, Thou, God, seest me.” It is not possible for the least item of our conduct to escape the observation of the One who says: “I know thy works.” The depths of every heart are open to the inspection of God. Every action, every purpose, every word, is as distinctly marked as though there were only one individual in the whole universe and all the watchfulness and scrutiny of God were employed on his deportment. Shall we then break even one precept of His law and teach others to do so, by evasions, by assertions, by falsehoods, in the very sight of the Lawgiver? Shall we brave the sentence in the very face of the Judge? In this there is a hardihood which seems to surpass the worst human presumption. I know, my brother, whom I expect to meet in the day of judgment, that you will have no words of excuse for your late defection. 5T 627.2

Oh, that I could present before you, and before others of my brethren, the necessity of an ever-abiding sense of God's presence, which would put such restraint on your life that your moral and religious standing before the people would be far different. We must reach a higher standard. Every soul, in going out and coming in, in all business transactions, at all times and in all places, should act with the consciousness that he is moving under the inspection of God and heavenly angels, and that the Being who will judge every man's work for eternity accompanies him at every step, observing all his actions and scrutinizing all his motives. A consciousness of the presence of God and the peril of violating His precepts would take possession of his entire being. What a change would be seen in man, what a change in society, what evils would be left undone! There would be exclamations from all ranks and among all ages: I cannot do this great wickedness, and sin against God.” 5T 628.1

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, 434

God has given us specific directions so that no one need err. “Man shall not live by bread alone,” He says, “but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” The truth given by inspiration “is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” Not by one word, not by many words, but by every word that God has spoken, shall man live. You cannot disregard one word, a single injunction that He has given, however trifling it may seem to you, and be safe. “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Whosoever will willfully break one command cannot in spirit and in truth keep any of them. He may claim that, with the exception of what he may regard as slight deviations, he keeps them all; yet if he willingly offends in one point he is guilty of all. 5T 434.1

Brother and Sister P, while you have been making a profession of Christianity you have been keeping back part of the price. You have robbed God of thought and devotion; you have robbed Him of your talents and influence. Your inclinations have been a snare to you. You have not followed the light that God has graciously given you in testimonies; and you have done things that without repentance and reformation on your part will exclude you from heaven. Had you heeded the reproofs sent to you by the Holy Spirit you would now be strong in God and far advanced in Christian experience, and you would have had an entirely different record in the books of heaven. 5T 434.2

“He that rejecteth Me,” says Christ, “and receiveth not My words, hath One that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.” In that day what shame and confusion of face will cover those who have had such light and privileges, who have had salvation brought within their reach by the infinite sacrifice of the Son of God, and yet have not availed themselves of these precious gifts. Through His word God is constantly pointing out to us the right path, even the high and glorious path of the just. The travelers in this path do not walk in darkness, for it is illuminated by the Sun of Righteousness; but you have rejected it because it was too far separated from the world. Self-love and selfish ambition cannot pass the strait gate and walk the narrow, upward way. 5T 434.3

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