The Lord is here discoursing to the People. He speaks of the Galileans, and of the Barren Fig-Tree. He cureth a Woman of her Infirmity. Makes a circuit through the Villages; and laments over Jerusalem.
(1) There were present at that season, some that told him of the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. (2) And Jesus answering, said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they suffered such things? (3) I tell you, Nay; but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. (4) Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? (5) I tell you, Nay; but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.
We have no account of this discourse of Jesus by any other of the Evangelists. It will be proper, therefore, to notice it in this place. And it is remarkable also, that no historian hath noticed this act of Pilate. It differs from one related by the writer of the Jewish history, concerning Pilate's slaughter of certain Samaritans; so that it cannot be the same. The contempt Pilate manifested to their sacrifices, serves to shew the awfulness of his character. This pool of Siloam hath been supposed to have been the same with the waters of Shiloah, Isaiah 8:6; and others make it the same as the pool of Bethesda, John 5:2. But these are but conjectures. I rather would call the attention of the Reader to what may be considered as improvable from the whole passage. The repentance Jesus speaks of, I humbly conceive not to be intended as if it was an act of their mind, and in their own power; for this would be contrary to the whole tenor of the Gospel. It is the act of sovereign grace to work this in the sinner's mind. And all the persons of the Godhead are engaged in the gracious work of creating it in the mind of the people. God the Father pledgeth himself to give it, Ezekiel 36:24-27. Christ is said to be exalted as a Prince and a Savior for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins, Acts 5:31. And no less God the Holy Ghost is said to be a spirit of grace and supplication, that they on whom it is poured, may look unto him whom they have pierced, and mourn, Zechariah 12:10. Hence, as this is God's work, and not man's, and repentance is but an effect of this work, and not the cause, it never was meant, neither could it be expected, as a means of bringing sinners into a salvable state, but rather an evidence of their being brought. So that when the Lord saith, Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish; this included Jerusalem sinners, as well as the sinners of Galilee; yea, all mankind in whom no saving change was wrought. For according to the unalterable language of Christ, without the new birth, and which (as a great principle includes the less,) comprizeth repentance also towards God, and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, there could be no salvation. John 3:3; Acts 20:21. Reader! do not fail to mark in this discourse of the Lord Jesus, with which this Chapter opens, how sweetly Christ is preached, even where at the first view, we might least have expected him.
He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.
They who read this parable of the Lord Jesus, through the medium of the free-will mind, (which every man by nature is strongly tinctured with,) will consider that this representation of the barren fig-tree, is intended to set forth the free will and ability of the human heart to accomplish his own salvation; while they who going upon the scriptural bottom of free grace, admit not for a moment the possibility of God's grace depending upon man's will, and therefore refer the whole into the sovereignty of God.
In the view of opinions so diametrically opposite, in order for the discovery with whom the truth is, (for both cannot be right,) and for the better apprehension of our Lord's design, it may be proper to consider upon what occasion Jesus spake this parable, and to whom it was addressed.
Now we find, that the Lord had been discoursing on the general apostacy of human nature, and had declared, that all men, without a saving change by grace wrought upon their hearts, would perish. And, in the further illustration of this doctrine, Jesus added this parable, a barren fig-tree is represented as in the vineyard, that is, the Church of God, (See Isaiah 5:1-7) which under the highest cultivation, even of our Lord's own personal ministry, for three years, (the time which at the delivery of this parable, Jesus had labored in his word and doctrine,) had produced nothing. The sentence by the owner of the vineyard is then given; Cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground. The dresser of the vineyard is represented as interceding for another year; and then consenting to the destruction of it, if still remaining fruitless.
If the Jewish nation be considered as this barren fig-tree, everything in the parable bears a just resemblance to the several features of it. The children of Israel as a nation and people, had all along Church privileges. To them, (saith Paul,) according to the flesh, pertained the covenant, and the giving of the law, etc. But they, (saith he,) are not all Israel, which are of Israel. Romans 9:3-6. Outward privileges are perfectly distinct things from inward grace. Capernaum was exalted to heaven in advantages of this kind; but her end the Lord said, should be to be brought down to hell. Matthew 11:20-24.
In like manner this barren fig-tree was doomed for destruction; and as Christ predicted, the event actually took place, when the Jewish nation, as a nation, was soon after overthrown by the Roman army, Luke 13:35. And to this agrees the whole purport of the Bible. When God created our nature, it was, as the Lord himself saith, a noble vine, and wholly a right seed. But, when in the Adam-nature of the fall, it was turned into a degenerate plant of a strange vine, of consequence nothing but blossoms as the dust, and grapes of gall, could it bring forth. See Jeremiah 2:21; Isaiah 5:24; Deuteronomy 32:32. Intercessions for the sparing such corrupt stock, form no part in the covenant of grace. Jesus himself saith, Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up. Matthew 15:13.
But, who then is this dresser of the vineyard? Not the Lord Jesus Christ, I venture to believe. For we do not find among all the offices of the Lord Jesus, enumerated in scripture, such an one as a vine-dresser mentioned. But we read indeed, in allusion to Gospel days, that the Lord would appoint the sons of the alien to be the Church's plowmen and vine-dressers, as so many degrading employments, whilst all the Lord's people should be named the priests of the Lord, and men should call them the ministers of our God. Isaiah 61:5-6; Revelation 1:6. But, not to dwell upon these things, it cannot for a moment be supposed, that, on the presumption this barren fig-tree represented the Jewish nation, Christ is here set forth by himself as the dresser. For in that case, his all-prevailing office of Intercessor must have failed; the nation soon after (and as he himself predicted,) being cut down. A doctrine which the most violent free-will men will hardly venture to think possible.
The question again recurs, if the Lord Jesus himself be not meant by him, in the character of this dresser, whom doth the Lord mean? I venture to say in answer, though not to decide, may it not be all such as in the warmth of their natural feelings, overstep the modesty of grace, and intercede, without being taught so to do by the Lord. Such was Abraham, when he interceded for Sodom; and led away by nature he asked for Ishmael before he knew Isaac. Genesis 17:18; Gen_18:23, etc. Such was Moses, in the case of Israel. Exodus 32:31-32. And Paul felt somewhat of the same nature. Romans 9:3. All this is nature, not grace. And in the highest characters such remains of nature are found. But none of those things belong to Him, or are found in his offices, whose decision is, All that the Father giveth me shall come to me, and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. John 6:37. The glorious advocacy of Jesus, is in exact conformity to covenant settlements. It is liable to no peradventures, no questions, no doubts. And how solemn soever the doctrine of this parable is, yet far better is it that God's sovereignty should be seen in it, than that man's pride should be gratified, in rendering that questionable which Jehovah's word and oath hath made certain; and leaving the intercession of the Lord Jesus at an hazard, whether God's free grace, or man's free will, shall finally triumph!
And he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself. And when Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said unto her, Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity. And he laid his hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the sabbath day, and said unto the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day. The Lord then answered him, and said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day? And when he had said these things, all his adversaries were ashamed: and all the people rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him.
How lovely is it to see Jesus so mercifully engaged on his own day! Oh! what a lesson, beyond a thousand precepts, to his servants who minister in his word and ordinances, to be active on those holy occasions in holding forth their divine Master.
There are numberless beauties in this miracle of our Lord, not one of which ought to be overlooked, but under the Holy Ghost's teaching brought home to our hearts. And, first; let such as are too easily prevailed upon to stay from ordinances for trifling sicknesses, and frivolous excuses, behold this poor woman, whom eighteen years infirmity, and when bowed together, unable to lift up herself, could not keep back from the synagogue. Oh! who shall calculate the mass of sin on this one account only, in this Christ-despising day of our sinful country! Let any of Christ's little ones, of long infirmity, look at this woman and take comfort. She was a daughter of Abraham, no doubt spiritually so, and yet how long and deeply exercised! Let them consider this. Next look to Jesus. He called her before she called on him! Yes! it is sweet to trace the openings of grace. There is no warmth, no love in the sinner's heart, till Jesus puts it there. Observe the instant power of Jesus. Oh! how soon, thou dear Lord, canst thou make thy people whole! And, observe the blessed effects in the poor woman's heart. She glorified God. This will always be the sure consequence of grace. When the Lord leads us to see our mercies, the same grace leads us to acknowledge them.
But, Reader! mark the contrast, in the ruler of the Synagogue. Was there ever such barefaced impudence, and hypocrisy! To pretend to a reverence for the Sabbath; and yet manifest such bitterness against the Lord of the Sabbath. But how blessed the answer of Jesus! And how blessedly the matter turned to the disgrace of the ruler, and to the triumph and glory of Christ. I cannot pass away from the view of this man, and those adversaries of Jesus that were present, without begging the Reader to remark with me, how much the Lord's preaching was directed against this class of people. His threatenings are all against Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites. Publicans and harlots the Lord encouraged to come to him; but those Pillars of the temple as they considered themselves, the Lord pronounced upon the whole of them the most awful woe. Matthew 23:13-39.
But the most beautiful part in the miracle remains to be noticed. This poor woman was a daughter of Abraham; but yet Satan had bound her! Yes! she, and every son and daughter of Abraham, though they belong to Christ, in the union-grace of the Church, being chosen in Christ, before the world began; yet are they all involved in the Adam-fall of nature, until Christ claims his own, and brings them out. Reader! what saith your apprehension of the truth of God to this statement? Certainly you cannot but know the bondage of sin and Satan, whether eighteen years, or as many more or less, if one like the Son of Man hath made you free. Bowed together you once was, and unable to lift up yourself, if so be Jesus' power and sovereignty in grace you have felt, I pray you to read that sweet Ps 142, and see the case described; and then let your heart answer to yourself, what you know of it, by soul experience.
Then said he, Unto what is the kingdom of God like? and whereunto shall I resemble it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and cast into his garden; and it grew, and waxed a great tree; and the fowls of the air lodged in the branches of it. And again he said, Whereunto shall I liken the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.
Our Lord's figures and similitudes are most beautiful and striking. The grain of mustard seed, and the leaven, are both to the same purport, to show how the small, and, to human observation, the unperceived entrance of grace into the heart, induceth such wonderful effects! Blessed Jesus! be thou the sweet leaven of my soul; for sure I am the blessed influences of thy Spirit will leaven the whole of my nature!
And he went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them, Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are: Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God. And, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last.
The whole of this passage will be at once abundantly clear, if we consider the very different characters which the Lord Jesus describes under those striking particulars; and whom he had in view. Jesus is here drawing that line of everlasting discrimination, between those who have indeed all the advantages of Gospel privileges, but who never felt their power; and the true seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who are in the Covenant of Redemption. If the Reader will only attend to the features the Lord hath marked, he will at once discern them. They strive to enter in; but it is in their own strength. They plead the privileges they have had of ordinances; they have eaten and drunk in Christ's presence; yea, many had heard Christ preaching; and yet there is not one atom of grace in all this. These are all outward things, and may be very punctually attended, and yet never bring the heart to God. Gentiles who never heard of Christ may be brought into a saving acquaintance with Christ; while those Jews, who professed their apprehension of Jehovah, from being favored with the principles of revelation even in the midst of the blaze of the Gospel, should be so wholly unconscious of its power. So that the Gentiles, which were last and afar off, become first; while the Jews, who were first in Gospel privileges, were last, in rejecting the counsel of God, against their own souls.
The same day there came certain of the Pharisees, saying unto him, Get thee out, and depart hence: for Herod will kill thee. And he said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected. Nevertheless I must walk to day, and tomorrow, and the day following: for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate: and verily I say unto you, Ye shall not see me, until the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
I pass over everything in this passage, as being of a plain and self-evident nature, to attend to what our Lord hath said, concerning Jerusalem, the beloved city. Jesus here expressly refers to some period, antecedent to his tabernacling openly in Jerusalem. And I beg the Reader not to overlook it, neither hastily pass it by. But when was it that Jesus would have done those frequent acts of mercy to his beloved Jerusalem before the period of his coming openly in our flesh? Though we cannot follow the question in all its bearings, yet we must conclude that those frequent manifestations of Jehovah in the Old Testament which we read of, must have been in the Person of Christ. And let the Reader observe further, what love must there have been in the heart of Christ, thus to have watched over his Church, by the secret workings of his holy Spirit, through so long a period before his coming. And when the Reader hath duly pondered these things, let him think what the Lord Jesus is carrying on now, over his people, in the ten thousand times ten thousand instances of his affection, which he sheweth to them, otherwise than he doth to the world? Every ordinance of Jesus, is with this express view, in order to lead his redeemed into an apprehension of his love for them, and his grace to them, as evidences of his good will. Are not all these similar tokens to those of Jesus over Jerusalem, when with the tenderness of an hen over her little brood, she spreads her wings to shelter them from all danger?
But while we behold the beauty of the Scripture, thus explained with an eye to Jesus, in his watchful care over his Church, as his Church and people, let the Reader no less notice how Christ is here describing the ruin of Jerusalem, as a nation and people unconnected with his Church (except in outward privileges), and to whom were never extended the real union of interest with the Church in Christ her Lord. How often (saith Jesus) would I have gathered thy children together, and ye would not. Not gathered them in grace, for the Pharisees to whom Jesus was then speaking, and concerning whom he was then speaking, were never children of grace, and consequently never to be gathered. Neither is Jesus speaking of gathering to Christ; but gathering together, nationally considered. Had they, as a nation and people, received Christ instead of crucifying the Lord of life and glory, they would have been saved as a nation, and the Romans not have taken away (as they afterwards did) both the nation and people. How totally ignorant must those men be, who construe our Lord's expressions here concerning Jerusalem, into a sense with which it hath no connection; and, instead of considering it as our Lord's lamentation over the temporal ruin which was coming upon his countrymen, as a nation, which he foresaw and foretold, take a latitude from it, as if a man might outstay the time of grace, and lose, contrary to God's design, his own eternal salvation. It is a national, not an individual ruin, Christ referred to. It is a temporal, not an eternal business, the Lord is speaking of. It is the house that is left to them desolate, not the soul. Here is not a word of grace in all this, in reference to a man's making his peace with God; but so acting by an outward profession as to secure the peace of the nation. And when that desolation came upon Jerusalem, then was the Lord's words fulfilled, When the sinner, in Zion were afraid; and they were constrained to cry out, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord! Isaiah 33:14.
Reader! let us both, as we contemplate the Lord's visitations on those Galileans and men of Siloam, gather improvement from what Jesus hath said, and solemnly remember, that without faith and repentance, which are both the gifts of God, and arising from the Lord's regenerating the heart, we shall all likewise perish. And, Reader! in the barren fig-tree, growing without fruit within the pale of God's vineyard, the Church, let us behold the awful state of all those who have a name to live, but yet are virtually dead before God. Oh! the blessedness of being found trees of the Lord's planting, made fat and fruitful by his blessing!
Precious Lord Jesus! do thou graciously come into our synagogues, thy Churches, on thine own day, and every day in thine ordinances! Oh! how many of thine, like this daughter of Abraham, are bound in the Adam-nature of sin by Satan! And wilt thou not, dear Lord! call them all to thee? lay thine Almighty hand upon them, and make them whole? All thy redeemed will glorify thee for all the gracious manifestations of thy love. And do thou, dearest Lord! give thy people to see thy unremitting watchfulness and care over them. All the tenderness and solicitude of the hen cannot describe the boundless love of Jesus, in gathering his little ones to him, and covering them with his wings, while thy faithfulness and truth become their shield and buckler. And oh! thou gracious, God of our salvation, cause us to note down, in the strongest characters, thy distinguishing grace! While nations and individuals, like Jerusalem of old, became Gospel despisers, and perish, and refuse to have thee to reign over them, do thou, Lord! strongly impress the wonderous truth upon the hearts of all thy redeemed, that it is all of grace wherein they differ, and that to thy grace they may cheerfully ascribe all the glory.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Luke 13". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Easter