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Luke 12

Watson's Exposition on Matthew, Mark, Luke & RomansWatson's Expositions

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Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

1 Christ preacheth to his disciples to avoid hypocrisy, and fearfulness in publishing his doctrine:

13 warneth the people to beware of covetousness, by the parable of the rich man who set up greater barns.

22 We must not be over careful of earthly things,

31 but seek the kingdom of God,

33 give alms,

36 be ready at a knock to open, to our Lord whensoever he cometh.

41 Christ’s ministers are to see to their charge,

49 and look for persecution.

54 The people must take this time of grace,

58 because it is a fearful thing to die without reconciliation.

Verse 1

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Unto his disciples first of all. — Whether the Pharisees mentioned in the preceding chapter were present on this occasion, or being disappointed had retired, does not appear. The multitude, however, had increased; and having witnessed his triumph over his opponents, they so crowd around him to get near to catch his words, that they trod upon each other. To them, however, he did not address himself, but, as his manner frequently was, to his disciples. So he delivered the sermon on the mount, and other discourses; which explains why there should be passages in them of general application, and others applicable to disciples only.

Which is hypocrisy. — On other occasions our Lord had cautioned his disciples against the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees generally; here against the leaven of the Pharisees in particular, which he declares to be hypocrisy. They covered themselves as with a mask; they personated, as the word imports, characters which they were not; they affected devotion, but were without its spirit; religions zeal, but it was for their own peculiarities, not for God’s honour; ostentatious almsgiving, without pity for the poor; and sanctity, without moral honesty. This corrupting leaven of hypocrisy, the disciples of Christ are cautioned against. It is therefore enjoined upon us to be perfectly HONEST in matters of religion, to turn with all our HEARTS to God, and to follow our Saviour in all INTEGRITY of purpose and practice; not, indeed, as some would say, to avoid all professions of entire devotedness to him, lest we should fall into hypocrisy, but keeping up the heart to that profession, which as Christians we are bound to make, that we may be always before God what we appear before men.

The assumption of any particular virtue to carry a point of selfishness either of opinion, honour, or interest, is a violation of truth which falls under this condemnation of hypocrisy. All approaches to this worst of vices ought to be guarded against, because, as leaven, its inevitable tendency is to spread over and infect the whole character. This caution is enforced by the most solemn considerations. What is covered shall be revealed, every hypocrite shall be unmasked; what is spoken in darkness by hypocrites, banded together to accomplish their designs, shall be heard in the light; and what is whispered in the ear, even in closets, for greater secrecy, shall be proclaimed upon the housetops; the tops of buildings being used for declaring public tidings or proclaiming laws. This revelation of hypocritical characters, and insidious designs, often takes place on earth, to the shame and confusion of the guilty; but the ultimate reference of the words is to the day of judgment. Then God shall judge “the secrets of men’s hearts;” and “every secret thing” shall be brought into light and manifestation. The hypocrisy of religious persecutors of all ages shall be then especially exposed and punished. See the note on Matthew 10:27.

Verse 4

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Be not afraid of them that kill the body. — See the note on Matthew 10:28.

Verse 6

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Two farthings. — The ασσαριον , or farthing, was a brass coin of the value of one tenth of a denarius or Roman penny, consequently equal to about three farthings of our money. In the parallel passage in Matthew it is, “And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.” — Here the same words in substance are spoken on a different occasion, and the expression is beautifully varied, — and not one of them is forgotten before God. The wants, dangers, and true relations of every creature, however small, are always remembered by God, who regulates his government of all things accordingly; nothing is FORGOTTEN as to time, place, or order. Could the perfection of government be more strongly expressed? Could a stronger ground of confidence in God be laid, to encourage the trust of those who are of more value than many sparrows?

Verse 7

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

But even the very hairs of your head. — See the note on Matthew 10:30.

Verse 8

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Confess me before men. — See the note on Matthew 10:32. To which may be added, that to confess Christ includes the following particulars: —

1. Public union with his Church, so that we bear his name.

2. Regular participation of the Lord’s Supper, by which “we show forth his death until he come;” that is, not only declare the historical fact, but confess our trust in it as the grand sacrifice for sin.

3. Regular attendance, when able, upon public worship, especially upon the Christian Sabbath, which is “the Lord’s day,” the day on which his praises are celebrated by the Church universal, and his Gospel proclaimed in their assemblies.

4. Submitting to reproach, loss, and suffering, when we might avoid them by complying with something contrary to the will of Christ, or ceasing to do what he has enjoined. This is to confess Christ before men, because it is a most unequivocal declaration that we prefer obeying him with cheerful affection to any immediate interest of our own.

5. To confess Christ is to show, without affectation or constraint, by the spirit and character of our social conversation, and habitual conduct, that we have a constant respect to his glory and the laws of his religion, that we delight in them, that we have given up ourselves to their influence, and that we walk as in the presence of our Master. To all such persons Christ promises a public acknowledgment before the angels of God, referring, no doubt, to his second coming. This acknowledgment will, doubtless, be a solemn act in the presence of the assembled angels, that all orders of intelligent holy beings may know the grounds of the Divine procedure at that great day, — a circumstance which will minister more than we can conceive to their instruction, and perhaps future safety; since the wonderful discoveries of good and evil which that day will make, and the rewards and punishments of infinite variety which will be assigned, will form such a manifestation of God, in his government of creatures, as has never before taken place, and must be remembered with awe and joy to all eternity. But previous to the final act of acknowledgment before the throne, there will be a distinguishing recognition. The angels of God will be the instruments of gathering together the elect from the four winds of heaven; they rise first so that they are thus acknowledged to be the “dead in Christ,” them that “sleep in Jesus,” before the angels on that occasion become their willing and joyful ministers. On the other hand, to deny Christ, as it is spoken of those who profess to be his disciples, must include,

1. Open apostacy from his religion; or,

2. The neglect of all those things by which Christ is confessed, as public worship, and receiving the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper; or,

3. A denying him “in works,” that is, throwing off his authority in our conversation and conduct, so as not to be habitually controlled by it; or,

4. A cowardly desertion of duty to avoid reproach, loss, or suffering; for then we deny Christ by acting as though we belonged to another master; or,

5. Hearing his truth and religion assaulted, and defamed, in guilty silence. All such persons would give worlds, indeed, to be acknowledged to be Christ’s disciples, in that great day of final decision to which he refers; but they shall be denied and rejected. Let the undecided meditate on this solemn subject.

Verse 11

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Magistrates and powers. — Rulers of every rank, and εξουσιας , persons having authority over others. See the note on Matthew 10:19.

Verses 13-14

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Master, speak to my brother, &c. — Here Christ was applied to as an arbitrator in a civil cause, or, in other words, to assume the judicial function. This he promptly declines. He had neither been appointed to it by human authority, to which in such cases, he paid all respect, nor was it any part of the office assigned him by immediate appointment from God. Who made me a judge and divider over you? The division of inheritances, of which the first-born had a right to a double share, but no more, when it could not be satisfactorily settled among brethren and relatives, was referred to the council of three judges, who either decided themselves, or appointed an arbitrator and divider; hence our Lord uses two terms, judge, δικαστης , and μεριστης , divider; the one meaning a publicly appointed judge, as one of the council of three; the other, the person appointed by them with full powers to make the partition. The latter is, however, understood by many as exegetical of the former. Nothing more strikingly shows that our Lord’s kingdom was not to be of this world. Had he been an earthly king, there was no reason why he might not have filled the office of judge in civil matters. But he declines; not indeed from mere prudence, lest he should offend, or lest he should be too precipitate in setting up his claims, but from want of authority. He had no commission from man or God for these earthly offices; and it followed, therefore, that only in a spiritual sense and for spiritual ends was he invested with the authority which he possessed. From this instance we are not to infer that Christians are to decline to be umpires or arbitrators, to prevent suits at law by a more amicable and less expensive settlement of affairs; for, had it been in that character only that our Lord had been applied to, he might probably have interposed. But he was asked to do, by virtue of his being a prophet, what belonged to the regular judicial office, and so implied an assumption of that civil authority which he uniformly disclaimed.

Verse 15

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Take heed, and beware of covetousness, &c.. — Our Lord took occasion, from the request which had been just made, to guard against covetousness, and especially because of its tendency to turn the desires from things of eternal interest. This was illustrated by the case of the person who had requested him to interpose, that he might obtain his civil rights. Here was a Teacher sent from God, one whom many acknowledged to be an extraordinary prophet; and some, the Messiah himself; and yet this man does not avail himself of his presence to know what he must do to be saved, but applies to him a to undertake to put him in possession of his share of an inheritance, — a sufficient proof that his sordid soul was wholly absorbed in earthly interests. And this will farther show us what our Lord here means by covetousness. Not the wicked desire of acquiring what belonged to another; for by the Mosaic law he had a right to his share of the inheritance, and there is no intimation that he desired more than his share; nor does covetousness here and in other parts of Scripture mean the hoarding up of wealth, so as to refuse to apportion that degree of it which duty requires to be expended and given away.

This is the desire of keeping; but covetousness includes the desire of having, of increasing wealth even when there is no design to sink into churlishness and illiberality. And the great rule by which this studium habendi, this criminal and dangerous desire of gain, is ascertained to exist, is, when it prevents us from applying with our whole heart to the work of our salvation. For then the worldly desires extinguish or render inefficient spiritual ones; prayer is restrained, or languid and powerless; and those words of St. John become applicable to our case, “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” To guard us against this sin, — a sin which does not alarm like obvious immoralities, which puts itself under even virtuous disguises of prudence and diligence, and which, therefore, often steals upon men unawares, — the solemn parable which follows was spoken. — The moral which the parable was designed to illustrate is, that a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of things which he possesseth. Those who think that these words merely signify that riches have no power to secure a long life, not only ascribe a very trite and an almost useless remark to our Lord, unworthy of his wisdom; but fail entirely to show that the parable illustrates that sentiment, beyond the bare fact that a rich man suddenly and prematurely dies; while many of its most striking circumstances are, in that view, quite superfluous and irrelevant.

Nor does it come up to our Lord’s meaning, to take life, as Schleusner, Koinoel, and others, in the sense of happiness; as if Christ had said, “For a man’s happiness depends not on his riches;” for surely that is a truth very easy to be shown by many other considerations than that the opulent, like others, are liable to sudden death; and indeed the answer to so imperfect a view of the subject would be, “They are at least happy in their riches so long as they live.” These and several other interpretations are frigid and trifling, and only show how often the learned, if not themselves spiritual men, pass over, without discernment, the most weighty and important lessons of holy writ. By LIFE our Lord obviously means men’s true INTEREST; and that he teaches us, consists not in worldly abundance, but in being rich toward God, or, in respect to God; that is, spiritually rich, endowed with those things which form the treasure of the soul, and will remain its treasure after death. Of this great truth the parable is a solemnly impressive illustration.

Verse 16

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

The ground. — Χωρα , the same as αγρος , the land owned and cultivated by himself; for he is designated as already a rich man.

Verse 17

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And he thought within himself, &c. — This opens his character. He is full of thoughts and plans; the very increase of his wealth, through the extraordinary fertility of the season, fills him with anxiety, but in the midst of all that he thought within himself: he thought not thankfully of God, the giver; he thought not of himself as the accountable steward of a superior Lord; he thought not of the interests of his spiritual and immortal nature; and though he thought of future life, he thought of it as certain, not uncertain, and as a scene of sensual enjoyment, not of holy useful works and diligent preparation for eternity. We have therefore the complete picture of a prosperous man of the world, living without regard to God.

Verses 19-21

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And I will say to my soul, &c. — This is truly epicurean. When the easy and temporary work of providing places in which he might deposit an overflowing wealth was completed, he resolved to discharge his cares, summon his soul from a vigorous application to the gaining of wealth, to its enjoyment in ease, mirth, and luxury. So he resolved to say and act in future; but God said, Thou fool, αφρον , this night thy soul, which thou hast resolved to summon to surrender itself to ease and low gratifications, shall be required of thee; literally, they require, or, shall require. This form of speech gives some sanction to the opinion of the Jews, that good angels convey the departed spirits of the just to paradise, and evil angels bear away the souls of the wicked to torment. Certainly there is nothing in their notions contrary to Scripture; though whether they are taught there may be doubted. The plural verb in this passage may be used impersonally, an instance of which occurs in the 48th verse of this chapter. Death is here spoken of as requiring back a loan. — This is in the manner of the Jews, and conveys a striking thought. So in the Wisdom of Solomon, 15:8, we have, “When his life, which was lent him, shall be demanded,” — the same verb being used as in the text. The continuance of the soul in connection with the body is the continuance of life; their separation is death. So long as the soul remains in the body, life is lent us that we may apply it to the great purposes for which it is dispensed; but at death the loan is demanded back, and the soul is summoned to answer for the use made of it.

Then whose shall those things be? &c. — This question is asked to mark the more strongly the poverty of the man reputed rich. What he had he was about to lose: his wealth was about to pass into unknown hands; or, if known, this mitigated not the case, — it was to drop suddenly from his own: and yet, when stripped of the world, not being rich in respect of God, he had no treasure laid up above, no part in the inheritance of heaven, no provision made for judgment and eternity. Here was poverty indeed! Some understand being rich toward God to signify abundant in works of charity to others, and thus to stand in opposition to laying up treasure for himself, for his own use and enjoyment; and doubtless this species of good works is included in those habits by which a man becomes rich, and provides for his felicity in a future life. But the true antitheses in verse 21 are the laying up earthly treasures, and the securing heavenly riches; between caring for the body and caring for the soul; between sensuality and spirituality; and between a presumptuous dependence upon life and a wise regard to its uncertainty leading to a holy preparation for it.

Several of the most important theological points of doctrine are contained in this admonitory parable. It teaches especially,

1. That the end of the present life is preparation for a future.

2. That we are to estimate the value of things by the manner in which they relate to our whole being, and not as they promote a temporary and present advantage.

3. That the true riches of men are moral, and consist in all which secures the favour of God in time and eternity. Of these the Holy Scriptures only inform us. Plato could distinguish between moral gold and silver, and Divine; and others could speak of the riches of the soul; but the minds of those great writers could never conceive what our Saviour expresses by being rich in respect of God, in the grace he imparts, in the friendship which he bestows, and in the heaven which he prepares for the faithful.

4. That man is accountable; and death the requirement of his soul, in order that he may give account.

5. That the soul is immortal, something distinct from the body, and shall survive it; for by the soul here is not meant animal life, as some vainly interpret, but the thinking principle in man, that very soul which, in the 19th verse, this rich voluptuary addresses, and calls to lay aside its cares and anxieties, and to surrender itself to ease, and to those enjoyments of which it is capable through the gratified senses of the body. And that this soul was required for judgment and punishment, appears from this, that it is declared to be the folly of this worldly man that he had lived so as not to be rich toward God, the evil of which could to him be only felt in that future state where that awful moral poverty would be fully revealed, and the neglect of religion in this life fully punished.

Verse 22

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought, &c. — Our Lord takes occasion to attach to this parable several passages of his sermon on the mount, all of which teach lessons, for which it is admirably adapted to prepare the mind. See the notes on Matthew 6:25-33. In verse 29 there is a variation in the expression, Neither be ye of a doubtful mind. The word μετεωριζεσθαι signifies to be raised into the air as clouds, or birds driven uncertainly by the winds; or upon the waves of the sea, as ships tossed in a swell of the ocean; hence it comes to be used for the fluctuations of a mind produced by doubt and uncertainty. Against this we are exhorted. We are to have so steadfast a faith in the providence of our heavenly Father as to be assured that we shall never be left destitute of his care, and therefore not to perplex ourselves as to the future. Bulkely has adduced here a happy illustration: “In Statius, it is the character of his friend Pollius, that he had such a superiority to fortune, and all outward things, that his last day would not find him in suspense and perturbation of mind about any thing of this sort, but ready to go.

— Dubio quem non in turbine rerum Deprendet suprema dies, sed abire paratum.”

Verse 32

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Fear not, little flock, &c. — By calling his disciples a flock, he professed to be their shepherd, and thus added another motive to trust, by the assurance that they should lack no supplies. They would naturally think of the words of the sweet singer of their own Israel, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” By adding, It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom, the argument was still more strengthened; for if the kingdom, meaning the kingdom of grace and glory, the blessings of the Church in both worlds, be given, the smaller gifts, when consistent with their higher interests, could not be withheld. But at the same time, amidst all these promises of caring for our temporal necessities, he elevates our thoughts to higher blessings, even those of the kingdom, his own kingdom which he came into the world to establish, and which he rose to heaven to administer. To give this kingdom is said to be the Father’s good pleasure, that is, his will, purpose, and appointment, as the word in this construction signifies. The grace and kindness are to be concluded rather from the act than from the word used, though some have laid much stress upon it. To give the kingdom signifies the entire concurrence of the Father in the work of Christ, and his acceptance of it; his sealing and confirming every act of grace, and becoming a willing and rejoicing party to the administration of eternal glory to Christ’s true disciples, in completion of that grand redeeming purpose which sprung from his own eternal and infinite love.

Verse 33

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Sell that ye have, and give alms. — If this be understood as spoken to all Christ’s disciples, it must be understood comparatively: Sell of what you have, a due and liberal portion of it; and be not like the rich man just mentioned, whose care was to hoard up all his fruits, and to provide for his own indulgence also. And it is more consistent with the whole scope of the discourse to interpret the command in this comparative sense, than by taking it strictly, to confine it wholly to the disciples then present. Nor did they understand it as an injunction to sell all they had; for the women who ministered to him of their substance do not appear to have sold their property; and though for a time after the resurrection the Church at Jerusalem had all things in common, what the rest parted with was not so much to give alms in the proper sense, as to provide a common stock in which all participated in a season of danger and persecution. Nor was this introduced into any other of the primitive Churches; which shows that it rested upon some peculiarity, and was not of general obligation; if indeed even at Jerusalem it was ever binding, or more than a spontaneous act. Farther, in the writings of the apostles to the Churches, we perceive the distinction of rich and poor, spoken of as permanent, and duties enjoined upon each. The precept is then to be understood as lying against that hoarding up of wealth which interferes with the duty of generous alms- giving. Hence it is enjoined to sell, because a great part of the treasure laid up in those times were goods of various kinds, as corn, fruits, spices, valuable unguents, and, to a large extent, vestments as well as money.

Bags. — Purses, which, by not growing old and decaying, hold and scatter not the treasure put into them.

A treasure in the heavens which faileth not. — A treasure which fails not, either by LOSS or EXHAUSTION, secure and incapable of waste. The accidents to which such hoards as the Jews were accustomed to accumulate were liable are suggested by the allusion to the thief and the moth: the latter comprehends all those small insects which prey upon the corn and fruits in the granary, and upon garments in the wardrobe.

Verse 34

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

For where your treasure, &c. — See the note on Matthew 6:21.

Verse 35

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Let your loins, &c. — As the upper garment of the Asiatics is flowing, so was it necessary to confine it within the girdle when any one addressed himself to important service. Hence the adjective ευζωνος , well girded, signifies in Greek writers well prepared for any action, as fighting, running, serving, &c. In Hierocles we have it well turned to a moral sense: “This was the great end of the Pythagoric discipline, that men should be altogether on the wing toward a participation in Divine benefits, that so, when death comes, leaving upon earth the mortal body, and putting off its nature, we may be properly girt for the heavenly march, προς την ουρανιαν πορειαν ωσιν ευζωνοι .” The disciples are here compared to servants waiting for the coming of their Lord, that is, of Christ, to judgment, which is a farther proof that our Lord is addressing his disciples generally, as well as those immediately about him. They are commanded therefore to be girt, that is, in perfect readiness for service. And your lights burning. Here the allusion is to the marriage ceremony. Their lord having gone to conduct his bride home, the servants here spoken of are those left in the house, to be ready to open to the nuptial train, upon the first signal, and to mingle their lights and acclamations with those of the attendants.

See the notes on Matthew 25:1-13, where the same state of preparation for the coming of Christ is illustrated and enforced with a variety of circumstances and in a more extended parable; of which, however, the moral is in substance the same. The whole teaches us to live in readiness for death and for judgment; and to acquire and cultivate those habits which will prepare us to enter at once upon the higher and nobler services of our blessed Master in another state of being.

Verse 37

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

That he shall gird himself. — This is one of the most extraordinary promises of the New Testament. The blessedness of Christ’s servants is represented, not merely by their serving Christ in the heavenly state, but his serving them! Grotius, Whitby, and others have referred for illustrations to the far-fetched and inapposite examples of the Roman Saturnalia, the Cretan Hermæa, and the Babylonian Saccas, when the servants sat at table, and were waited upon by their masters. But the true illustration lay much nearer at hand. It was customary in ancient times for the host to do honour to distinguished guests, by performing some services, on ordinary occasions done by servants; after which he might sit down in his own place: and we see that, not only when our Lord was entertained at Martha’s own house, she, the hostess, served; but that when he dined at the house of Simon the leper, six days before the passover, whose residence was at Bethany, and a neighbour to Martha, it is said that “Martha served,” doubtless in honour of the guest. So our Lord tacitly reproves Simon the Pharisee with having given him no water to wash his feet, which had been a mark of respect shown to him by others who had intended to receive him with honour and affection. The import of the promise, therefore, is, that their Lord would not treat them in that heavenly state as even favoured servants; but as chosen guests, to whom he would show marks of peculiar love and honour. Christ will, in fact, SERVE his faithful servants for ever; as he ministers grace, so will he delight to minister the honours, the blessedness, and the rewards of his kingdom; and that with a condescension which shall stoop to the meanest and most unnoticed by the world, who have served him in any line of duty with zealous affection. — He will select the most laborious, persevering, and watchful servants for singular honour.

Verse 38

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And if he shall come in the second watch. — The second watch was nine o’clock in the evening; and a watch being three hours long, the third was twelve. That the marriage processions were so long delayed as midnight, is not probable; but the great duty of watchfulness was impressed by Christ upon his disciples from the uncertain time of his coming. Even should his coming be delayed, should the time of our death, the time of any threatened national calamity, the time of the final advent, be postponed beyond our calculations, the solemn lesson is, BE VIGILANT. In other words, we are always to remember that our Lord will come and call us to account; and that this accountability of ours is a most solemn and momentous reality.

Verse 39

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

If the good man of the house. — See the note on Matthew 24:43-44.

Verse 41

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Unto us, or even to all. — Our Lord, according to his frequent custom, was addressing his disciples in the presence of the multitude. On some occasions he speaks directly to the people, on others to the disciples alone; but often to the latter, while the others stand by. In the last case, the discourse is so constructed as to teach the multitude through the lessons enjoined upon the disciples; but sometimes the words spoken have more special reference to the disciples than to any other. This should be remembered, in order the better to interpret many parts of the discourses of our Lord which were so delivered. The sermon on the mount thus derives considerable illustration. It shows also the reason of Peter’s question, Speakest thou this parable, respecting watching, unto us exclusively, or even unto all? This question our Lord does not answer, but immediately proceeds with another parable, evidently and wholly applicable to them and to all ministers; from which we may conclude that the former was addressed to all, but though generally expressed, still with special reference to those in the sacred office.

Verse 42

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

That faithful and wise steward. — See the notes on Matthew 24:45-51. He who is called in Matthew by the general name servant, is here designated as οικονομος , a steward, a house steward, who, in large families, had not only considerable authority, but distributed the allotted portions of food to the servants, the grain, &c., which they cooked for themselves.

Verse 47

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

And the servant which knew his Lord’s will, &c. — The object of this passage is to impress, in the strongest manner, upon all the practical application of the instructions they had received, by assuring them that, though the government be merciful, it is also just: they were now among fully instructed servants, and are thus warned, And that servant who knew the will of his master, and prepared not himself, held not himself ready for every kind of service, and was actually disobedient to the commands laid upon him, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not. This is not to be taken absolutely, but comparatively; he that knew not so fully his Lord’s will, who had not received instructions so explicit. We must suppose some general knowledge, or there would be no pretence for inflicting stripes at all.

1. The intention was to teach that, in inflicting many stripes, God does not act arbitrarily, but with deliberative justice, since where the offence is less, the punishment is milder; so that from this proof of the calm judicial character of Christ’s administration before us, we may be fully guarded against all carelessness and presumption.

2. To lay down this important axiom of God’s moral government, which we ought never to forget, and with which every new privilege and blessing conferred upon us ought to impress us the more deeply, that from him to whom much is given, much shall be required.

Verses 49-50

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

I am come to send fire upon earth, &c. — Most commentators take this to refer to the persecutions and dissensions of which the propagation of Christ’s religion would prove the innocent cause. For this, however, there appear no better reasons than that such dissensions are mentioned a few verses lower down; and that fire, which is used as an emblem of many other things, is also used as an emblem of dissension and violence. No doubt, also, this interpretation has been aided by the common interpretation of the next verse; which, however, appears to be equally erroneous.

It is a fatal objection to the notion, that by fire, in this place, Christ means persecutions and divisions, that the kindling of it is made the object of his most earnest wish. I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, ει ηδη ανηφθη , but that it were already kindled; for ει often expresses a wish, as “If thou hadst known,” for, “O that thou hadst known!” The phrase maybe turned several ways; but in all, an eager anticipation or a strong desire must be understood, or no consistent sense can be given to the words. Now surely no reason can be given why our Lord should strongly wish for the instant kindling of that fire of persecution and dissension which should “divide a house against itself, and set three against two, and two against three.” Such dissensions indeed he predicted would be the result of his ministry, but could, in no degree, long for them, as though impatient for their arrival; the precise emotion which the text indicates. — The fire therefore must be understood of the FIRE OF HIS WORD, a figure of speech not strange to the Jews, because found several times in the Old Testament, and by our Lord most aptly applied to his own Gospel in its full and perfect revelation, which took place at the day of pentecost, and was accompanied by the descent of the Spirit “in cloven tongues as of fire,” emblematical of the intense power, the purifying, testing, and consuming qualities of Christianity; its power being discovered in all these respects, in purging men from vice, in bringing every thing to the test of an infallible standard, and revealing its good or its evil, and in its mightily destructive tendency as to all things contrary to itself.

The last has, in all ages, been confessed by the attempts made ever since its introduction to escape from, or to extinguish its light and influence, when any corruption in religion or society at large was to be spared or encouraged. To send this holy fire abroad upon earth was the very object of our Lord’s mission; and from the fulness of his benevolence he expresses his earnest wish that it were already kindled, and all its blessings fully bestowed on men. But he adds, I have a baptism to be baptized with; I must be baptized with blood, before I can “baptize with fire;” and how am I straitened, confined, restrained, from the giving of the most excellent gifts I came to impart, “from baptizing with the Holy Ghost and fire,” to which I am appointed, from the full revelation of truth to my disciples and to the world, until that baptism is accomplished! A metaphorical signification of συνεχομαι is preferred by many, because it best agrees with the sense they would put upon the text, which is an undefinable, distressful longing for the accomplishment of his death, as though he were almost impatient to get through an inevitable appointment, and know the worst of the case. This scarcely consists with the perfect patience ascribed to our Lord; nor could the avowal of it apparently teach any important lesson. Whereas, nothing is more natural than that our Lord should feel himself restrained and confined, in giving his instructions, by the necessity arising out of his unaccomplished death, that much of truth should be veiled in parable, and much postponed; and nothing more consistent with his character than that he, “the Sun of righteousness,” now under a cloud, should long to break forth upon his disciples and the nations “with healing in his wings,” while yet he was restrained.

And the lesson, too, is highly important. We are taught that Christianity, as a revelation, was not perfected until after he had sent his fire upon the earth, the baptism of the Holy Spirit upon his apostles; and that we must connect THE APOSTLES’ DOCTRINE with his own, as contained in the EVANGELISTS, in order to have THE WHOLE EFFICIENT GOSPEL. Socinians and others are fond of confining their attention chiefly to the gospels, and neglecting the epistles: the reason is, that when the whole Gospel was revealed, and the light of pentecost thrown upon the previous discourses of our Lord, those doctrines are unequivocally found there which before the death of Christ, and the key afforded by that to his own words, could only be generally and figuratively expressed. Here our Lord explains the whole case: the fire could not be fully kindled upon earth until he had gone through the baptism of his sufferings; in other words, he must accomplish a sacrificial death, in order to give light and life to the world, and by the full knowledge of that character and peculiarity of his death alone could his doctrine be fully understood.

Verse 51

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Suppose ye that I am come to send peace on earth? — Here an entirely different subject is introduced; though it takes its rise from the former. I am indeed come to send fire upon earth, the illuminating, purifying influences of heavenly truth; but suppose ye that I am come only to send blessings, that peace only will be the result? I tell you, Nay; but, through the perverseness of men, and in opposition to my intention, and in despite of my authority and doctrine, rather division. This appears to be the true connection. See the note on Matthew 10:34.

Verse 55

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

There will be heat. — The heat which is produced by the blowing of the south wind in Judea is very oppressive.

Verse 56

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Face of the sky and earth. — The Jews paid great attention to the indications of weather; and their wise men abounded with rules for prognosticating it from the different aspects of the sky and the earth, that is, from the appearance of the atmosphere, and whether affecting the face of the sky or that of the earth. Their skill in this respect arose from their attention to the subject; and if they had exercised the same attention to the evidences of Christ’s mission, they would have discovered that this time was “the acceptable time” spoken of by the prophet, and “the day of salvation.” For their diligent attention to matters of so little comparative moment as the kind of weather which should come on the morrow, and their carelessness to a subject of the highest import, they are here reproved as hypocrites, persons pretending to have extraordinary desires for the appearance of Messiah, and yet neglecting to investigate the signs of his coming.

Verse 57

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

Yea, and why even of yourselves? — Independent of signs and wonders, why do ye not of yourselves, from comparing in your minds the doctrines I teach with those of your own Scriptures, judge what is right, discern its conformity with all the principles of former revelations, and mark the extent and depth into which they are carried by my teaching, and acknowledge that it is from God? In our translation the paragraph mark connects this verse with what follows, instead of the preceding verses, to which it undoubtedly belongs.

Verse 58

Watson - Exposition of the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Mark

When thou goest with thine adversary, &c. — See the notes on Matthew 5:25-26, where the explanation of the terms and allusions of the parable will be found; but it was here spoken on a different occasion. It was, in fact, an exhortation to the Jews to be reconciled to their offended and rejected Saviour while the season of grace and salvation continued, drawn from the prudence of a debtor compromising matters with his creditor on the way to the magistrate, as the only means of escaping the harsh punishments inflicted in those days upon debtors, such as perpetual imprisonment till the debt was paid, with various torments. This is another instance of the same parable being spoken at different times, and to illustrate different morals.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Luke 12". "Watson's Exposition on Matthew, Mark, Luke & Romans". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rwc/luke-12.html.
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