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THESE verses contain the prayer commonly called the Lord’s Prayer. Few passages of Scripture perhaps are so well known as this. The most benighted Roman Catholic can tell us that there is a prayer called "Pater Noster." The most ignorant English child has heard something about "Our Father."
The importance of the Lord’s Prayer appears in the simple fact, that our Lord Jesus Christ delivered it twice with very slight variations. He who never spake a word without good reason, has thought fit to teach us this prayer upon two distinct occasions. Twice the Lord God wrote the ten commandments on tables of stone. (Deuteronomy 9:10. Deuteronomy 10:4.) Twice the Lord Jesus delivered the Lord’s Prayer.
The occasion of the Lord’s Prayer being delivered a second time, in the verses before us, is full of interest. It appears that "one of the disciples" said, "Lord, teach us to pray." The answer to that request was the well-known prayer which we are now considering. Who this "disciple" was we do not know. What he did will be remembered as long as the world stands. Happy are those who partake of his feelings, and often cry, "Lord, teach me to pray."
The substance of the Lord’s Prayer is a mine of spiritual treasure. To expound it fully in a work like this, is manifestly impossible. The prayer, on which volumes have been written, does not admit of being handled properly in a few pages. For the present it must suffice us to notice its leading divisions, and to mark the leading trains of thought which it should suggest to us for private meditation.
The first division of the Lord’s Prayer respects the God whom we worship. We are taught to approach Him as our Father in heaven,—our Father no doubt as our Creator, but specially as our Father reconciled to us in Christ Jesus,—our Father whose dwelling is "in heaven," and whom no temple on earth can contain. We then make mention of three great things,—our Father’s name, our Father’s kingdom, and our Father’s will.
We are taught to pray that the name of God may be sanctified: "Hallowed be thy name." In using these words, we do not mean that God’s name admits of degrees of holiness, or that any prayers of ours can make it more holy than it is. But we declare our hearty desire that God’s character, and attributes, and perfections, may be more known, and honored, and glorified by all His intelligent creatures. In fact, it is the very petition which the Lord Jesus Himself puts up on another occasion, "Father, glorify thy name." (John 12:28.)
We are next taught to pray that God’s Kingdom may come: "Thy kingdom come." In so saying, we declare our desire that the usurped power of Satan may speedily be cast down,—that all mankind may acknowledge God as their lawful King, and that the kingdoms of this world may become in fact, as they are in promise, the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ. The final setting up of this kingdom has been long predicted, even from the day of Adam’s fall. The whole creation groans in expectation of it. The last prayer in the Bible points to it. The canon of Scripture almost closes with the words, "Come Lord Jesus." (Revelation 11:15; Genesis 3:15; Romans 8:22; Revelation 22:20.)
We are taught, thirdly, to pray that God’s will may be done: "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." In so saying, we express our longing desire that the number of God’s converted and obedient people on earth may greatly increase, that His enemies, who hate His laws, may be minished and brought low, and that the time may speedily arrive when all men shall do their willing service to God on earth, even as the angels do in heaven. (Habakkuk 2:14; Hebrews 8:11.)
Such is the first division of the Lord’s Prayer. Its marvelous fullness and deep importance cannot be overrated. Blessed indeed are those Christians who have learned that God’s name is far more honorable than that of any earthly potentate,—God’s kingdom the only kingdom that shall stand forever,—and God’s law the rule to which all laws ought to be conformed! The more these things are understood and believed in a land, the happier that land will be. The days when all acknowledge these things will be the "days of heaven upon earth."
The second division of the Lord’s Prayer respects our own daily wants. We are taught to make mention of two things which we need every day. These two things are, one of them temporal, and the other spiritual. One of them is "bread." The other is "forgiveness of sins."
We are taught to ask for bread: "Give us this day our daily bread." Under this word "bread," no doubt, is included everything which our bodies can require. We acknowledge our entire dependence upon God for life, and breath, and all things. We ask Him to take charge of us, and provide for us in all that concerns this world. It is the prayer of Solomon under another form, "Feed me with food convenient for me." (Proverbs 30:8.)
We are taught to ask, in the next place, for forgiveness: "Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone that is indebted to us." In so saying, we confess that we are fallen, guilty, and corrupt creatures, and in many things offend daily. We make no excuse for ourselves. We plead nothing in our own behalf. We simply ask for the free, full, gracious mercy of our Father in Christ Jesus. And we accompany the petition by the only profession which the whole Lord’s Prayer contains. We profess that we "forgive every one that is indebted to us."
The combined simplicity and richness of the second division of the Lord’s Prayer can never be sufficiently admired. How soon the words are spoken! And yet how much the words take in! Daily bread and daily mercy are by far the first and principal things that mortal man wants. He is the rich man who possesses them. He is the wise man who is not ashamed to pray for them every day. The child of God, no doubt, is fully justified before God, and all things are working for his good. But it is the life of true faith to apply daily for fresh supplies of all our wants. Though the promises are all ours, our Father likes His children to remind Him of them. Though washed, we need daily to wash our feet. (John 13:10.)
The third division of the Lord’s Prayer respects our daily dangers. We are taught to make mention of two things which we ought to fear every day, and which we must expect to meet with as long as we are in this world. One of these things is "temptation." The other is "evil."
We are taught to pray against temptation "Lead us not into temptation." We do not mean by this expression that God is the author of evil, or that He tempts man to sin. (James 1:13.) But we entreat Him who orders all things in heaven and earth, and without whom nothing can happen, so to order the course of our lives that we may not be tempted above what we can bear. We confess our weakness and readiness to fall. We entreat our Father to preserve us from trials, or else to make a way for us to escape. We ask that our feet may be kept, and that we may not bring discredit on our profession and misery on our souls.
We are taught, lastly, to pray against evil: "Deliver us from evil." We include under the word evil, everything that can hurt us, either in body or soul, and especially every weapon of that great author of evil, the devil. We confess that ever since the fall the world "lieth in the wicked one." (1 John 5:19.) We confess that evil is in us, and about us, and near us, and on every side, and that we have no power to deliver ourselves from it. We apply to the strong for strength. We cast ourselves on Him for protection. In short, we ask what our Savior Himself asked for us, when He said, "I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil." (John 17:15.)
Such is the last division of the Lord’s Prayer. In real importance it is not a whit inferior to the two other divisions, which we have already considered. It leaves man precisely in the position which he ought to occupy. It puts in his mouth the language of humility. The most dangerous state in which we can be, is not to know and feel our spiritual danger.
And now let us use the Lord’s Prayer for the trial of our own state before God. Its words have probably passed over our lips thousands of times. But have we really felt it?—Do we really desire its petitions to be granted?—Is God really our Father?—Are we born again, and made His children by faith in Christ?—Do we care much for His name and will?—Do we really wish the kingdom of God to come?—Do we feel our need of daily temporal mercies, and of daily pardon of sin?—Do we fear falling into temptation?—Do we dread evil above all things?—These are serious questions. They deserve serious consideration.
Let us strive to make the Lord’s Prayer our model and pattern in all our approaches to God. Let it suggest to us the sort of things which we should pray for and pray against. Let it teach us the relative place and proportion which we should give to each subject in our prayers. The more we ponder and examine the Lord’s Prayer, the more instructive and suggestive shall we find it to be.
v1.—[As He was praying.] We see in this place another instance of our Lord’s diligence in private prayer. In this respect He has left a pattern which all Christians ought to copy.
[Teach us to pray.] Quesnel calls attention to the benefit which this man’s request has obtained for the whole Church of Christ:—"One single person, moved and edified by the good example of our Lord praying, conceives a love for prayer, desires to know how to pray, is sensible that of himself he is not capable of doing it, addresses himself to Christ, obtains from Him this divine pattern, procures this treasure for the rest of the disciples, and for the whole Church, and becomes the occasion of the infinite good which the prayer has produced and will produce to the end of the world."
v2.—[When ye pray, say.] Let it be carefully noted that the Lord’s Prayer was twice delivered by our Lord, upon two distinct occasions. This accounts for the slight variations in its form, which appear on comparison.—Mede remarks, "As Joseph said to Pharaoh, the dream is doubled unto Pharaoh, because the thing is established, so the delivery of this prayer was doubled, that we may know the more certainly that our Saviour intended and commanded it for a set form of prayer to His Church."
[Our Father.] Chrysostom and Augustine both remark, that to address God as "Father," is peculiar to the New Testament dispensation, and that the Old Testament saints never use the expression.—The remark is undoubtedly true, but, requires fencing with cautions.—We must be careful not to suppose that the Old Testament saints were destitute of the Holy Ghost, as some say, and were not born again. Their light was undoubtedly far less than ours. The way into the holiest was not made manifest. The precise manner in which God would be just and yet justify the ungodly, was not clearly understood by them. They could not therefore look up to God with that boldness and freedom which the Christian believer can, as to a reconciled Father. But to say that God was in no sense the Father of Old Testament believers would be going much too far. He is the Father of all who are saved by Christ, and without Christ no man was ever saved.
The expression "Our" in the beginning of the Lord’s prayer, should not be overlooked. It teaches believers that in all their prayers they should think of others as well as themselves. They should remember all the members of Christ’s mystical body as their brethren and sisters in the Lord.
[Thy name.] To see the full meaning of this expression, we should note the many places in which it is used in the Psalms. Such, for instance, as these, "I will declare thy name unto my brethren." Psalms 22:22.—"They that know thy name will trust in thee." Psalms 9:10.—"I will wait on thy name." Psalms 52:9.—"Unto thy name give the glory." Psalms 115:1.—"The righteous shall give thanks to thy name." Psalms 140:13.—In all these cases, and many more, the idea is evidently that of "God’s revealed character and attributes."
[Thy kingdom.] The plainest and simplest sense of this word is the promised kingdom which God is one day to take to Himself over all the world, foretold by Daniel and the other prophets, when Satan shall cease to be "prince of this world," and the millennium shall begin.
[Thy will be done, as in heaven so in earth.] To see the full beauty of this prayer, we should read the description of angels, in Psalms 103:20-21. Heaven is the only place now where God’s will is done perfectly, constantly, unhesitatingly, cheerfully, immediately, and without asking any questions.
v3.—[Give us day by day our daily bread.] The English translation of the Greek words in this verse admits of some question. The literal sense appears to be, "Give us for the day, or day by day, the bread which is sufficient for our subsistence."
The Greek word which we have rendered "daily," is only found in this place, and in Matthew 6:11.
Some think that the words should be translated, "our super-substantial bread," understanding by it, the bread in the Lord’s Supper. This is a most unlikely and improbable sense. Even Stella, the Spanish Commentator, remarks that the Eucharist is not bread for every day.
Some think that the words should be rendered, "Give us day by day our to-morrow’s bread—a future bread." This seems a very harsh and awkward sense.
The true meaning appears to be that which has been already given, "the bread which is convenient, or sufficient, for our daily subsistence." This is the interpretation maintained by Chrysostom, Theophylact, and Suidas, and ably defended by Parkhurst.
v4.—[Forgive us our sins.] Let this expression be carefully noted. It provides an answer to those who say that the believer ought never to ask for pardon of sins. One text like this is worth a hundred arguments. The Lord Jesus bids us do it, and therefore it ought to be done.
The justification of every believer no doubt is a finished and perfect work, and one admitting of no degrees, no increase and no diminution. The moment a man believes on Christ, he is as much justified as Paul or John, and cannot be more justified if he lives to the age of Methuselah. But all this is no reason why he should not daily confess his sins, and daily seek fresh application of Christ’s blood to his conscience. In fact, it is the life of faith to do so. The words of our Lord, in another place, are very teaching: "He that is washed, needeth not save to wash his feet." (John 13:10.)
[Indebted to us.] Whitby and Hammond both remark that this expression has a sense much stronger than it appears, at first sight, to bear. Hammond says, that in the Syriac language, which our Lord very probably spoke, a sinner is called "a debtor."
Let it not be forgotten that every unforgiving and implacable man, who uses the Lord’s Prayer, is practically praying that his own sin may not be forgiven at all. He is professing a lie.
[Lead us.] The Greek word rendered "lead" is only used seven times in the New Testament. Excepting in the Lord’s Prayer, our translators have always rendered it "bring into." Luke 5:18-19; Acts 17:20; 1 Timothy 6:7; Hebrews 13:11.
[From evil.] The words so translated might have been rendered, with equal correctness, "the evil one," that is, "the devil." They are so rendered in Matthew 13:19, and Matthew 13:38, and 1 John 2:13-14, and 1 John 3:12, and 1 John 5:18.
I cannot leave the subject of the Lord’s Prayer, without remarking that those who profess to believe in an "unanimous consent of the Fathers" in the interpretation of Scripture, would do well to observe the exceedingly various senses which the Fathers attach to the several clauses of the Lord’s Prayer. No man can investigate this point without discovering that the Fathers are no more agreed among themselves as to the meaning of Scripture, than Gill and A. Clarke, or Thomas Scott and Mant. A summary of various interpretations of the Lord’s Prayer by the Fathers will be found in Cumming’s Lectures for the Times. (Edit. 1845. p. 174.)
IN these verses our Lord Jesus Christ instructs us about prayer. The subject is one which can never be too strongly pressed on our attention. Prayer lies at the very root of our practical Christianity. It is part of the daily business of our religious life. We have reason to thank God, that upon no point has our Lord Jesus Christ spoken so fully and frequently as upon prayer.
We learn for one thing, from these verses, the importance of perseverance in prayer. This lesson is conveyed to us in the simple parable, commonly called the "Friend at Midnight." We are there reminded what man can obtain from man by dint of importunity. Selfish and indolent as we naturally are, we are capable of being roused to exertion by continual asking. The man who would not give three loaves at midnight for friendship’s sake, at length gave them to save himself the trouble of being further entreated. The application of the parable is clear and plain. If importunity succeeds so well, between man and man, how much more may we expect it to obtain mercies when used in prayer to God.
The lesson is one which we shall do well to remember. It is far more easy to begin a habit of prayer than to keep it up. Myriads of professing Christians are regularly taught to pray when they are young, and then gradually leave off the practice as they grow up. Thousands take up a habit of praying for a little season, after some special mercy or special affliction, and then little by little become cold about it, and at last lay it aside. The secret thought comes stealing over men’s minds, that "it is no use to pray." They see no visible benefit from it. They persuade themselves that they get on just as well without prayer. Laziness and unbelief prevail over their hearts, and at last they altogether "restrain prayer before God." (Job 15:4.)
Let us resist this feeling, whenever we feel it rising within us. Let us resolve by God’s grace, that however poor and feeble our prayers may seem to be, we will pray on. It is not for nothing that the Bible tells us so frequently, to "watch unto prayer," to "pray without ceasing," to "continue in prayer," to "pray always and not to faint," to be "instant in prayer." These expressions all look one way. They are all meant to remind us of a danger and to quicken us to a duty.
The time and way in which our prayers shall be answered are matters which we must leave entirely to God. But that every petition which we offer in faith shall certainly be answered, we need not doubt. Let us lay our matters before God again and again, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. The answer may be long in coming, as it was in the cases of Hannah and Zacharias. (1 Samuel 1:27; Luke 1:13.) But though it tarry, let us pray on and wait for it. At the right time it will surely come and not tarry.
We learn, for another thing, from these verses, how wide and encouraging are the promises which the Lord Jesus holds out to prayer. The striking words in which they are clothed are familiar to us if any are in the Bible: "Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you."—The solemn declaration which follows, appears intended to make assurance doubly sure: "Everyone that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth, and to him that knocketh it shall be opened."—The heart-searching argument which concludes the passage, leaves faithlessness and unbelief without excuse: "If ye being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him."
There are few promises in the Bible so broad and unqualified as those contained in this wonderful passage. The last in particular deserves especial notice. The Holy Spirit is beyond doubt the greatest gift which God can bestow upon man. Having this gift, we have all things, life, light, hope and heaven. Having this gift we have God the Father’s boundless love, God the Son’s atoning blood, and full communion with all three Persons of the blessed Trinity. Having this gift, we have grace and peace in the world that now is, glory and honor in the world to come. And yet this mighty gift is held out by our Lord Jesus Christ as a gift to be obtained by prayer! "Your heavenly Father shall give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him."
There are few passages in the Bible which so completely strip the unconverted man of his common excuses as this passage. He says he is "weak and helpless." But does he ask to be made strong?—He says he is "wicked and corrupt." But does he seek to be made better?—He says he "can do nothing of himself." But does he knock at the door of mercy, and pray for the grace of the Holy Spirit?—These are questions to which many, it may be feared, can make no answer. They are what they are, because they have no real desire to be changed. They have not, because they ask not. They will not come to Christ, that they may have life; and therefore they remain dead in trespasses and sins.
And now, as we leave the passage, let us ask ourselves whether we know anything of real prayer? Do we pray at all?—Do we pray in the name of Jesus, and as needy sinners?—Do we know what it is to "ask," and "seek," and "knock," and wrestle in prayer, like men who feel that it is a matter of life or death, and that they must have an answer?—Or are we content with saying over some old form of words, while our thoughts are wandering, and our hearts far away? Truly we have learned a great lesson when we have learned that "saying prayers" is not praying!
If we do pray, let it be a settled rule with us, never to leave off the habit of praying, and never to shorten our prayers. A man’s state before God may always be measured by his prayers. Whenever we begin to feel careless about our private prayers, we may depend upon it, there is something very wrong in the condition of our souls. There are breakers ahead. We are in imminent danger of a shipwreck.
v5.—[Which of you shall have a friend, &c.] Here, as in many other cases, we should notice the lowly condition of life, and simple range of social circumstances, from which our Lord drew His illustrations of spiritual truth. This is one of the reasons why the Bible is so peculiarly suited to that class of mankind which is always most numerous,—the poor.
[Three loaves.] We may conclude from this expression, that a loaf of bread in the New Testament days was much smaller in size than it commonly is now. Three of our loaves would be more than sufficient for the wants of one man. This fact should be remembered, as it throws light on the miracle of feeding the multitude with a few loaves.
v6.—[In his journey.] In order to understand the arrival of a friend from a journey at midnight, we must remember that in hot countries people often travel by night, and rest during the day. All who have travelled in India will see the reasonableness of this circumstance in the parable.
v7.—[My children are with me in bed.] The family of a poor man in eastern climates often all sleep in one common sleeping chamber. This appears to be the simple meaning of the expression here used:—"We have all retired to our sleeping chamber. We are all in bed."
v8.—[Importunity.] The Greek word so translated is only used here in the New Testament. It would be rendered more literally "shamelessness." It signifies a continual asking and entreating, in spite of rebuffs, like the asking of an impudent beggar.
v11.—[If a son shall ask bread, &c.] The sentence so translated would be rendered more literally, "What father of you will his son ask bread? will he give him a stone?"
There is an evident resemblance implied between the appearances of a loaf and a stone, a fish and a serpent.
v12.—[An egg...a scorpion.] Bishop Pearce shows, by a quotation from Bochart, that the large kind of scorpions, when coiled and rolled up, had a white body not unlike an egg.
[Will he offer.] The Greek word so translated is the same which is rendered in the preceding verse "will he give."
v13.—[Being evil.] Let this expression be noted. It is one of those which show the natural wickedness of man. He is by nature only evil. "Every imagination of the thought of his heart is only evil continually." Genesis 6:5.
[Your heavenly Father.] There is a notable distinction between the Greek words so translated and those rendered "Father which art in heaven," in the Lord’s prayer. Here it signifies "Father from heaven." There it is "Father in heaven."—Alford remarks that "when we address God, He is our Father in heaven,—when He answers us, He is our Father from heaven. In the former case we go up to Him and His abode. In the latter case He comes down to us."
I cannot leave the above passage without expressing my own dissent from the allegorical signification which the Fathers and other commentators have thought fit to place on many of its expressions. I cannot hold, with Augustine, that the three loaves represent the Trinity, man’s food and life, or faith, hope, and charity,—nor yet that the "fish" represents faith, or the "egg" hope.—I cannot hold, with Bede, that the guest newly arrived is the spirit of man, weary and hungry,—the host, natural man unable to satisfy his soul,—and the appeal to the friend, application to God for help.—I cannot hold with Vitringa, that the guest is the heathen world, the host who receives him the disciples of Jesus, who must receive bread of life from God for the relief of the heathen, and solicit it with all perseverance.—I cannot hold with others, that the children in bed are the angels, or the saints who are already in glory. Several of these interpretations will be found in Trench on Parables.
I leave all such explanations of Scripture to those who can receive them. I for one cannot.—To some minds they may appear wise, clever, and beautiful. To me they appear fanciful, dangerous, destitute of sobriety, and unwarrantable additions to the mind of Christ.—Most parables are intended to convey one great lesson. Even those in which almost every part has a meaning, such as the ten virgins and the prodigal son, require to be handled with great caution. In the parable of the Friend at midnight I am unable to see any warrant for searching out far-fetched allegorical meanings. We have no right to enquire what the words of Scripture can be twisted, and strained, and wrested into meaning. We have only to consider what was the original scope or intention of the Holy Ghost when the words were written, and by that to abide. The protest of Stella, the Spanish commentator, on this subject in his commentary on this very place, is well worthy of remark.
It is fair to observe, that the broad promise at the end of the passage, "your Heavenly Father shall give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him," is differently explained by different theologians.—Some would interpret it as a general promise, graciously held out to all mankind, as an inducement and encouragement to pray.—Others would confine it to God’s children and true believers, and interpret it only as an argument for converted people asking much that they may have much.
The reader of my exposition will perceive that I am unable to place the more confined and narrow view upon the promise. I feel obliged, in fairness and honesty, to regard the words as one of those great, broad sentences, in which God holds out his hands to the unconverted, and sets before them an open door.—That no man can pray acceptably without the Holy Spirit, I am well aware.—In what way a man can ask for the Holy Spirit unless he has first received the Holy Spirit, I do not pretend to explain. I only know that I find the words of this promise plainly laid before us, and that fair interpretation seems to require them to be generally applied. I desire to receive the promise as a little child, and to press it on unconverted people. I dare not be more systematic in my theology than Scripture itself.
THE connection between these verses and those which immediately precede them, is striking and instructive. In the preceding verses, our Lord Jesus Christ had been showing the power and importance of prayer. In the verses before us, he delivers a man from a dumb devil. The miracle is evidently intended to throw fresh light on the lesson. The same Savior who encourages us to pray, is the Savior who destroys Satan’s power over our members, and restores our tongues to their proper use.
Let us notice, firstly, in these verses, the variety of ways in which Satan exhibits his desire to injure man. We read of a dumb devil. Sometimes in the Gospel we are told of an "unclean" devil. Sometimes we are told of a raging and violent devil. Here we are told of one under whose influence the unhappy person possessed by him became "dumb." Many are the devices of Satan. It is foolish to suppose that he always works in the same manner. One thing only is the common mark of all his operations,—he delights to inflict injury and do harm.
There is something very instructive in the case before us. Do we suppose, because bodily possession by Satan is not so glaringly manifest as it once was, that the great enemy is less active in doing mischief than he used to be?—If we think so we have much to learn.—Do we suppose that there is no such thing as the influence of a "dumb" devil in the present day? If we do, we had better think again.—What shall we say of those who never speak to God, who never use their tongues in prayer and praise, who never employ that organ which is a man’s "glory," in the service of Him who made it? What shall we say, in a word, of those that can speak to every one but God?—What can we say but that Satan has despoiled them of the truest use of a tongue? What ought we to say but that they are possessed with a "dumb devil"? The prayerless man is dead while he lives. His members are rebels against the God who made them. The "dumb devil" is not yet extinct.
Let us watch and pray that we may never be given over to the influence of a dumb spirit. Thanks be to God, that same Jesus still lives, who can make the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak! To Him let us flee for help. In Him let us abide. It is not enough to avoid open profligacy, and to keep clear of glaring sins. It is not enough to be moral, and proper, and respectable in our lives. All this is negative goodness, and nothing more. Is there anything positive about our religion? Do we yield our members as instruments of righteousness to God? (Romans 6:13.) Having eyes, do we see God’s kingdom? Having ears, do we hear Christ’s voice? Having a tongue, do we use it for God’s praise? These are very serious inquiries. The number of persons who are deaf and dumb before God is far greater than many suppose.
Let us notice, secondly, in these verses, the amazing power of prejudice over the hearts of unconverted men. We read, that when our Lord cast out the dumb spirit, there were some who said, "He casteth out devils through Beelzebub, the chief of the devils." They could not deny the miracle. They then refused to allow that it was wrought by divine power. The work before their eyes was plain and indisputable. They then attempted to discredit the character of Him who did it, and to blacken His reputation by saying that he was in league with the devil.
The state of mind here described is a most formidable disease, and one unhappily not uncommon. There are never wanting men who are determined to see no good in the servants of Christ, and to believe all manner of evil about them. Such men appear to throw aside their common sense. They refuse to listen to evidence, or to attend to plain arguments. They seem resolved to believe that whatever a Christian does must be wrong, and whatever he says must be false!—If he does right at any time, it must be from corrupt motives! If he speaks truth, it must be with sinister views! If he does good works, it is from interested reasons! If he casts out devils, it is through Beelzebub!—Such prejudiced men are to be found in many a congregation. They are the sorest trials of the ministers of Christ. No wonder that Paul said, "Pray that we may be delivered from unreasonable as well as wicked men." (2 Thessalonians 3:2.)
Let us strive to be of a fair, and honest, and candid spirit in our judgment of men and things in religion. Let us be ready to give up old and cherished opinions the moment that any one can show us a "more excellent way." The honest and good heart is a great treasure. (Luke 8:15.) A prejudiced spirit is the very jaundice of the soul. It affects a man’s mental eyesight, and makes him see everything in an unnatural color. From such a spirit may we pray to be delivered!
Let us notice, lastly, in these verses, the great evil of religious divisions. This is a truth which our Lord impresses on us in the answer He gives to His prejudiced enemies. He shows the folly of their charge that He cast out devils by Beelzebub. He quotes the proverbial saying that "a house divided against itself falleth." He infers the absurdity of the idea that Satan would cast out Satan, or the devil cast out his own agents. And in so doing, He teaches Christians a lesson which they have been mournfully slow to learn in every age of the church. That lesson is the sin and folly of needless divisions.
Religious divisions of some kind there must always be, so long as false doctrine prevails, and men will cleave to it. What communion can there be between light and darkness? How can two walk together except they be agreed? What unity can there be where there is not the unity of the Spirit? Division and separation from those who adhere to false and unscriptural doctrine is a duty and not a sin.
But there are divisions of a very different kind, which are deeply to be deplored. Such, for example, are divisions between men who agree on main points,—divisions about matters not needful to salvation,—divisions about forms and ceremonies, and ecclesiastical arrangements upon which Scripture is silent. Divisions of this kind are to be avoided and discouraged by all faithful Christians. The existence of them is a melancholy proof of the fallen state of man, and the corruption of his understanding as well as his will. They bring scandal on religion, and weakness on the church. "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation."
What are the best remedies against needless divisions? A humble spirit, a readiness to make concessions, and an enlightened acquaintance with holy Scripture. We must learn to distinguish between things in religion which are essential, and things which are not essential—things which are needful to salvation, and things which are not needful,—things which are of first rate importance, and things which are of second rate importance. On the one class of things we must be stiff and unbending as the oak tree: "If any man preach any other Gospel than that which we have preached, let him be accursed." (Galatians 1:8.)—On the other we may be yielding and compliant as the willow, "I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some." (1 Corinthians 9:22.) To draw such nice distinctions requires no small practical wisdom. But such wisdom is to be had for the asking. "If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God." (James 1:5.) When Christians keep up needless divisions they show themselves more foolish than Satan himself.
v14.—[It was dumb.] The expression here used should be noted and compared with the one which follows in the same verse, "the dumb spake."—It was the devil which was dumb. It was the man who spake.—The words would have been more clearly rendered, "The dumb man spake." The action of the evil spirit making the possessed man dumb, and the action of the man released from his power, should be carefully distinguished.
v15.—[Beelzebub.] The meaning of this name is said to be the "Lord of flies." Beelzebub is mentioned as "the God of Ekron," in 2 Kings 1:3. For what reason so peculiar a name was given to the chief of the devils is a question which has never been fully settled. How great the plague of flies is in a hot country those who have travelled there have always mentioned.
v16.—[Sought of Him a sign.] Let it be noted that it is always one mark of a thoroughly unbelieving heart, to pretend to want more evidence of the truth of religion.
v17.—[Every kingdom divided...desolation.] It may be doubted whether our Lord’s words in this place are not meant to refer to the many intestine divisions and dissensions which prevailed among the Jews, even to the very day when Titus took Jerusalem. In this light the verse contained a solemn prophecy. It is notorious that the divisions of the Jews were one cause of the success of the Roman army.
v19.—[Your sons cast them out.] It is not agreed among commentators to whom our Lord refers in this expression, Bishop Jewel thinks that He refers to His own disciples, John, James, Peter, Andrew, and the rest, and calls them "sons of the Jews." Others, however, think that He refers to certain persons among the Jews who had power to cast out devils, though they were not disciples of Christ. That there were such persons seems likely from Acts 19:13.
[Shall they be your judges.] The meaning of this expression is, "They shall condemn your supposition that I cast out devils by Beelzebub, as unreasonable and absurd. They shall be witnesses that devils are not cast out by devils, but by the power of God."
v20.—[The kingdom of God is come upon you.] The argument here appears to be this,—"If these miracles which I work are really worked by the finger of God, and I am clearly proved by them to be one sent from God, then, whether you will allow it or not, the times of Messiah have evidently arrived. The kingdom of God has come down upon you unawares, and these miracles are signs that it is so."—This argument reduced the enemies of our Lord to a dilemma. Either they must deny that our Lord cast out devils,—this they could not do;—or else they must admit that their own sons cast out devils by the power of Beelzebub;—this they would not do.—The nature of the argument appears to show that when our Lord spake of "your sons casting out devils," He could not have meant His own disciples.
THE subject of these words of Christ is mysterious, but deeply important. They were spoken concerning Satan and his agency. They throw light on the power of Satan, and the nature of his operations. They deserve the close attention of all who would war the Christian warfare with success. Next to his friends and allies, a soldier ought to be well acquainted with his enemies. We ought not to be ignorant of Satan’s devices.
Let us observe in these verses what a fearful picture our Lord draws of Satan’s power. There are four points in His description, which are peculiarly instructive.
Christ speaks of Satan as a "strong man." The strength of Satan has been only too well proved by his victories over the souls of men. He who tempted Adam and Eve to rebel against God, and brought sin into the world,—he who has led captive the vast majority of mankind, and robbed them of heaven; that evil one is indeed a mighty foe. He who is called the "Prince of this world," is not an enemy to be despised. The devil is very strong.
Christ speaks of Satan as a "strong man, armed." Satan is well supplied with defensive armor. He is not to be overcome by slight assaults, and feeble exertions. He that would overcome him must put forth all his strength. "This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting."—And Satan is also well supplied with offensive weapons. He is never at a loss for means to injure the soul of man. He has snares of every kind, and engines of every description. He knows exactly how every rank, and class, and age, and nation, and people can be assailed with most advantage. The devil is well armed.
Christ speaks of man’s heart as being Satan’s "palace." The natural heart is the favorite abode of the evil one, and all its faculties and powers are his servants, and do his will. He sits upon the throne which God ought to occupy, and governs the inward man. The devil is the "spirit that worketh in the children of disobedience." (Ephesians 2:2.)
Christ speaks of Satan’s "goods being at peace." So long as a man is dead in trespasses and sin, so long his heart is at ease about spiritual things. He has no fear about the future. He has no anxiety about his soul. He has no dread of falling into hell. All this is a false peace no doubt. It is a sleep which cannot last, and from which there must be one day an awful waking. But there is such a peace beyond question. Thoughtless, stolid, reckless insensibility about eternal things is one of the worst symptoms of the devil reigning over a man’s soul.
Let us never think lightly of the devil. That common practice of idle jesting about Satan which we may often mark in the world, is a great evil. A prisoner must be a very hardened man who jests about the executioner and the gallows. The heart must be in a very bad state, when a man can talk with levity about hell and the devil.
Let us thank God that there is One who is stronger even than Satan. That One is the Friend of sinners, Jesus the Son of God. Mighty as the devil is, he was overcome by Jesus on the cross, when He triumphed over him openly. Strong as the devil is, Christ can pluck his captives out of his hands, and break the chains which bind them. May we never rest till we know that deliverance by experience, and have been set free by the Son of God!
Let us observe, for another thing, in these verses, how strongly our Lord teaches the impossibility of neutrality. He says, "he that is not with me, is against me; and he that gathereth not with me, scattereth."
The principle laid down in these words should be constantly remembered by all who make any profession of decided religion. We all naturally love an easy Christianity. We dislike collisions and separation. We like, if possible, to keep in with both sides. We fear extremes. We dread being righteous overmuch. We are anxious not to go too far.—Such thoughts as these are full of peril to the soul. Once allowed to get the upper hand, they may do us immense harm. Nothing is so offensive to Christ as lukewarmness in religion. To be utterly dead and ignorant, is to be an object of pity as well as blame. But to know the truth and yet "halt between two opinions," is one of the chiefest sins.
Let it be the settled determination of our minds that we will serve Christ with all our hearts, if we serve Him at all. Let there be no reserve, no compromise, no half-heartedness, no attempt to reconcile God and mammon in our Christianity. Let us resolve, by God’s help, to be "with Christ," and "gather" by Christ’s side, and allow the world to say and do what it will.—It may cost us something at first. It will certainly repay us in the long run. Without decision there is no happiness in religion. He that follows Jesus most fully, will always follow Him most comfortably.—Without decision in religion, there is no usefulness to others. The half-hearted Christian attracts none by the beauty of his life, and wins no respect from the world.
Let us observe, finally, in these verses, how dangerous it is to be content with any change in religion short of thorough conversion to God. This is a truth which our Lord teaches by an awful picture of one from whom a devil has been cast forth, but into whose heart the Holy Spirit has not entered. He describes the evil spirit, after his expulsion, as seeking rest and finding none.—He describes him planning a return to the heart which he once inhabited, and carrying his plan into execution.—He describes him finding that heart empty of any good, and like a house "swept and garnished" for his reception.—He describes him as entering in once more, with seven spirits worse than himself, and once more making it his abode. And He winds up all by the solemn saying, "the last state of that man is worse than the first."
We must feel in reading these fearful words, that Jesus is speaking of things which we faintly comprehend. He is lifting a corner of the veil which hangs over the unseen world. His words, no doubt, illustrate the state of things which existed in the Jewish nation during the time of His own ministry. But the main lesson of his words, which concerns us, is the danger of our own individual souls. They are a solemn warning to us, never to be satisfied with religious reformation without heart conversion.
There is no safety excepting in thorough Christianity. To lay aside open sin is nothing, unless grace reigns in our hearts. To cease to do evil is a small matter, if we do not also learn to do well.—The house must not only be swept and whitewashed. A new tenant must be introduced, or else the leprosy may yet appear again in the walls.—The outward life must not only be garnished with the formal trappings of religion. The power of vital religion must be experienced in the inward man.—The devil must not only be cast out. The Holy Ghost must take his place. Christ must dwell in our hearts by faith. We must not only be moralized, but spiritualized. We must not only be reformed, but born again.
Let us lay these things to heart. Many professing Christians, it may be feared, are deceiving themselves. They are not what they once were, and so they flatter themselves, they are what they ought to be. They are no longer sabbath-breaking, daring sinners, and so they dream that they are Christians. They see not that they have only changed one kind of devil for another. They are governed by a decent, Pharisaic devil, instead of an audacious, riotous, unclean devil.—But the tenant within is the devil still. And their last end will be worse than their first. From such an end may we pray to be delivered! Whatever we are in religion, let us be thorough. Let us not be houses swept and garnished, but uninhabited by the Spirit. Let us not be potsherds covered with silver, fair without, but worthless within. Let our daily prayer be, "Search me, O God;—and see whether there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." (Psalms 139:24.)
v21.—[A strong man.] The Greek expression so translated, would be more literally rendered "the strong one." The word "man" is not in the Greek. The same remark applies to Matthew 12:29, and Mark 3:27. The literal translation brings out the character of the devil, and the applicability of the whole passage to him with much force.
[His goods.] The literal meaning of the Greek expression so translated is, "the things that are his,—that belong to him."
v22.—[A stronger than he.] This expression again would be more literally rendered, "the One stronger than he." It evidently refers to our Lord, the great conqueror of Satan. There is a probable reference to Isaiah 53:12. John the Baptist calls our Lord "the mightier one," in Mark 1:7, and Luke 3:16. In both these places the Greek is the same as it is here.
[Divideth his spoils.] It admits of a question whether our Lord did not mean us to put a literal sense on these words, and to interpret them of that new application of man’s faculties and powers which He makes when He converts a soul. He takes possession of the affections and intellectual capacities, over which the devil once exercised dominion, and uses them for His own glory. Ford quotes a saying of Bishop Reynolds: "God maketh use of that art, wealth, power, learning, wisdom, intellect, which Satan used against Christ’s kingdom, as instruments and ornaments unto the Gospel; as, when a magazine in war is taken, the General makes use of those arms, which were provided against him, for his own service."
v23.—[He that is not with me is against me.] The application of this expression is differently interpreted by different commentators. Some think that it should be confined strictly to the subject of which our Lord is speaking,—that is, the utter division which exists between His kingdom and that of the devil. They think our Lord is enforcing the absurdity of the idea that He cast out devils by Beelzebub, and that His argument is, "There can be no alliance between me and Satan. He is not with me, and so he is against me. He is not gathering with me, and so he scatters."—Others think that the expression is of much wider application, and that it is a general truth concerning all waverers, and doubters, and halfhearted, and excuse-making people, of whom no doubt there were many among our Lord’s hearers. They argue that our Lord is exposing the awful danger of many of His Jewish hearers, who had been a little roused by John the Baptist, and seemed likely to receive Christ when He appeared. And yet, when He did appear, they hung back and affected to be troubled with doubts, and so continued neutral and undecided.—This last opinion appears to me by far the most probable, and is confirmed by the passage which immediately follows. The sentence is directed against undecided Jews, who were like the man from whom the unclean spirit had gone forth. Their hesitating neutrality was a most dangerous position. Their last end was likely to be worse than their first.
At first sight, it seems difficult to reconcile our Lord’s words in this verse with His words in another place. We find Him saying of one who cast out devils in His name, but did not follow His disciples, Forbid him not; for he that is not against us, is for us." (Luke 9:50.) Here, however, we find Him saying, "He that is not with us, is against us."
The reconciliation of the two sentences in reality is not difficult. They were spoken of two entirely different classes of persons. In the former case, our Lord was speaking of one who was really working for Christ, and against the devil, and was doing good, though perhaps not in the wisest way. Of him He says, "He that is not against us, is for us." He works against the same enemy that we work against, and therefore he is on our side.—In the case before us, our Lord is speaking of men who refused to join Him and become His disciples, who held aloof from Him, and were afraid or ashamed of His service. Of them He says, "He that is not with us is against us." He does not avow himself our friend, and so he becomes practically one of our foes.
v24.—[He walketh through dry places.] The expression translated "walketh," is more frequently rendered, "passeth," or "goeth through." Let it be noted, that it is the "spirit," and not the man, of whom this is said.—The expression, "dry places," is a difficult one. The literal signification of the Greek words would be,—"places without water." According to some, it means "uninhabited or wilderness-places," where the devil finds no rest, finding no one to injure.—According to others it signifies the Gentiles, over whom Satan exercised special power before the Gospel was preached to them, and the heathen, over whom Satan specially reigns now.—Our inability to make out clearly the meaning of the expression, arises, in a great measure, from our ignorance of what is going on in the unseen world of spirits, both evil and good. To an immaterial creature, like a devil, the expression would probably be quite plain.
[Seeking rest.] This is an awful expression! It shows the restless unwearied craving to do mischief, and inflict injury on God’s creatures, which seems at present a special attribute of the devil, during the period that he is permitted to do evil.
[He saith, I will return unto my house.] This is another most awful expression. How many men and women are being daily watched by the devil, and mischief planned against them, while they, in their folly, never dream of what Satan is doing!
v25.—[And when he cometh, he findeth.] Let it be carefully noted both here and in the following verse, that it is the evil spirit, and not the man, of whom these things are said. Literally translated, the Greek words should be, "When it cometh, it findeth, &c."
[Swept and garnished.] These expressions must of course be regarded as figurative. They are borrowed from the condition of a house, and applied to the state of a reformed, but unconverted, people or heart.
Let it be remembered that there may be much moral cleanliness, and even much "garnishing," about one who is unsanctified. There may be much that is fair to the eye, and yet no grace.
v26.—[Seven other spirits.] The number seven is often used in Scripture proverbially, to denote great increase in number, or size, or quantity, or intensity. Thus, Psalms 119:164; Proverbs 24:16; Matthew 18:21; Daniel 3:19.
[Worse than himself.] This expression seems to denote that even among devils there are degrees of wickedness and malice.
Just so there are degrees of glory in heaven, grace on earth, and punishment in hell.
[Last state...worse than the first.] The Greek expressions so rendered mean literally "the last things," and the "first things."
The tendency of a backslider, or a man who has at one time professed religion, but afterwards turned back to the world, to become worse than he ever was before, is a painful fact, but a notorious one.—The possession of clear knowledge of the Gospel, combined with deliberate choice of sin and the world, seems the parent of the most hardened state of soul to which mortal man can attain. Ford quotes a striking sentence from Cowper’s letters on this subject: "I have observed that when a man who once seemed a Christian has put off that character, and resumed his old one, he loses, together with the grace which he seemed to possess, the most amiable parts of the character that he resumes. The best features of his natural face seem to be struck out, that after having worn religion only as a mask, he may make a more disgusting appearance than he did before he assumed it."
The story of the unclean spirit in this passage admits of a threefold application. 1.—It describes the history of the Jewish nation before Christ came upon earth. For a time after the giving of the law they seemed better than the Gentiles, and like a house swept and garnished. But when they became proud, self-righteous, and unholy, the evil spirit returned to them. They were cast off by God, and given over to be oppressed and scattered by the Babylonians, Syrians, and the Romans. And forty years after our Lord was upon earth, their last state was worse than their first. 2.—It describes the history of the Gentile churches since the time when Christ was on earth. For many centuries they seemed like a house swept and garnished. The evil spirit seemed cast out. But in the vast majority of cases they have departed from their first things. The Spirit of God has left them. The evil spirit has returned. Their end seems likely to be worse than their beginning. 3.—Above all, the passage describes the state of individuals who are content with reformation without conversion. This is a sense which ought never to be lost sight of. Historical and prophetical interpretations are useful, but they must not be allowed to overlay and bury the lessons that concern each one of ourselves.
A WOMAN is brought before us in this passage of Scripture of whose name and history we know nothing. We read that, as our Lord spake, "A certain woman of the company lifted up her voice and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee." At once our Lord founds on her remark a great lesson. His perfect wisdom turned every incident within His reach to profit.
We should observe in these verses how great are the privileges of those who hear and keep God’s word. They are regarded by Christ with as much honor as if they were His nearest relatives. It is more blessed to be a believer in the Lord Jesus than it would have been to have been one of the family in which He was born after the flesh. It was a greater honor to Mary herself to have Christ dwelling in her heart by faith, than to have been the mother of Christ, and to have nursed Him on her bosom.
Truths like these we are generally very slow to receive. We are apt to fancy that to have seen Christ, and heard Christ, and lived near Christ, and been a relative of Christ according to the flesh, would have had some mighty effect upon our souls. We are all naturally inclined to attach great importance to a religion of sight, and sense, and touch, and eye, and ear. We love a sensuous, tangible , material Christianity, far better than one of faith. And we need reminding that seeing is not always believing. Thousands saw Christ continually, while He was on earth, and yet clung to their sins. Even His brethren at one time "did not believe in him." (John 7:5.) A mere fleshly knowledge of Christ saves no one. The words of Paul are very instructive:—"Though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more." (2 Corinthians 5:16.)
Let us learn from our Lord’s words before us that the highest privileges our souls can desire are close at hand, and within our reach, if we only believe. We need not idly wish that we had lived near Capernaum, or hard by Joseph’s house at Nazareth. We need not dream of a deeper love and a more thorough devotion if we had really pressed Christ’s hand, or heard Christ’s voice, or been numbered among Christ’s relatives. All this could have done nothing more for us than simple faith can do now. Do we hear Christ’s voice and follow Him? Do we take Him for our only Savior and our only Friend, and forsaking all other hopes, cleave only unto Him? If this be so, all things are ours. We need no higher privilege. We can have no higher, until Christ comes again. No man can be nearer and dearer to Jesus than the man who simply believes.
We should observe, secondly, in these verses, the desperate unbelief of the Jews in our Lord’s time. We are told that though they "gathered thick together" to hear Christ preach, they still professed to be waiting for a sign. They pretended to want more evidence before they believed. Our Lord declares that the Queen of Sheba and the men of Nineveh would put the Jews to shame at the last day. The Queen of Sheba had such faith that she traveled a vast distance in order to hear the wisdom of Solomon. Yet Solomon, with all his wisdom, was an erring and imperfect king. The Ninevites had such faith that they believed the message which Jonah brought from God, and repented. Yet even Jonah was a weak and unstable prophet. The Jews of our Lord’s time had far higher light and infinitely clearer teachings than either Solomon or Jonah could supply. They had amongst them the King of kings, the Prophet greater than Moses. Yet the Jews neither repented nor believed!
Let it never surprise us to see unbelief abounding, both in the church and in the world. So far from wondering that there have been men like Hobbes, and Paine, and Rousseau, and Voltaire, we ought rather to wonder that such men have been so few. So far from marveling that the vast majority of professing Christians remain unaffected and unmoved by the preaching of the Gospel, we ought to marvel that any around us believe at all. Why should we wonder to see that old disease which began with Adam and Eve infecting all their children? Why should we expect to see more faith among men and women now than was seen in our Lord’s time? The enormous amount of unbelief and hardness on every side may well grieve and pain us. But it ought not to cause surprise.
Let us thank God if we have received the gift of faith. It is a great thing to believe all the Bible. We do not sufficiently realize the corruption of human nature. We do not see the full virulence of the disease by which all Adam’s children are infected, and the small number of those who are saved.—Have we faith, however weak and small? Let us praise God for the privilege. Who are we that God should have made us to differ?
Let us watch against unbelief. The root of it often lies within us even after the tree is cut down. Let us guard our faith with a godly jealousy. It is the shield of the soul. It is the grace above all others which Satan labors to overthrow. Let us hold it fast. Blessed are they that believe!
We should observe, lastly, in these verses, how our Lord Jesus Christ testifies to the truth of a resurrection, and a life to come. He speaks of the queen of the south, whose name and dwelling-place are now alike unknown to us. He says "she shall rise up in the judgment." He speaks of the men of Nineveh, a people who have passed away from the face of the earth. He says of them also, "they shall rise up."
There is something very solemn and instructive in the language which our Lord here uses. It reminds us that this world is not all, and that the life which man lives in the body on earth is not the only life of which we ought to think. The kings and queens of olden time are all to live again one day, and to stand before the bar of God. The vast multitudes who once swarmed round the palaces of Nineveh are all to come forth from their graves, and to give an account of their works. To our eyes they seem to have passed away forever. We read with wonder of their empty halls, and talk of them as a people who have completely perished. Their dwelling-places are a desolation. Their very bones are dust. But to the eye of God they all live still. The queen of the south and the men of Nineveh will all rise again. We shall yet see them face to face.
Let the truth of the resurrection be often before our minds. Let the life to come be frequently before our thoughts. All is not over when the grave receives its tenant, and man goes to his long home. Other people may dwell in our houses, and spend our money. Our very names may soon be forgotten. But still all is not over! Yet a little time and we shall all live again. "The earth shall cast out the dead." (Isaiah 26:19.) Many, like Felix, may well tremble when they think of such things. But men who live by faith in the Son of God, like Paul, should lift up their heads and rejoice.
v27.—[A certain woman.] We are not told who this woman was. Her exclamation seems to have been the expression of mingled pleasure and wonder, such as the impressible heart of a Jewish woman would utter. It would be too much to conclude that she was a disciple and a believer.
[of the company.] This expression would be more literally rendered, "out of the crowd or multitude."
v28.—[Yea, rather.] The Greek word so translated is only found in three other places, and in each is variously rendered. "Nay, but." (Romans 9:20.) "Yes verily." (Romans 10:18.) "Yea doubtless." (Philippians 3:8.)
We cannot doubt that the words of this verse were spoken with a prophetic foresight of that unscriptural worship of Mary, which was one day to arise and prevail so extensively in the Church of Christ. By no ingenuity, or torturing process, can the words be made to bear any but one plain meaning. They declare, that to hear the word of God and keep it, is to be more blessed than to be connected with Christ by the ties of flesh, and that to be the mother of Christ according to the flesh does not confer on any one greater honour and privileges than to believe and obey the Gospel.
v29.—[Gathered thick together.] The Greek word so rendered is only found here. Parkhurst says that it means "crowding upon."
[They seek a sign.] The extraordinary perverseness of the Jews in ever wanting some sign to produce in them faith, is noteworthy. Heart unbelief always professes to want evidence. It is not evidence, but a right will which is needful, if a man’s soul is to be saved.
v30.—[Jonas was a sign.] The likeness between Jonas and our Lord has been variously explained. The three days and nights during which Jonah was in the whale’s belly, and his coming forth alive at the end of them are undoubtedly the principal point. They were a type of our Lord being in the grave, and rising again the third day.—The forty days after which Nineveh was to be destroyed are probably another point. They were a type of the forty years which elapsed between our Lord’s ministry and the destruction of Jerusalem.—The mighty fact of the resurrection is unquestionably the main point in the type. It was the hinge on which the whole Gospel turned, and the truth which the apostles constantly pressed on the Jews.
v31.—[The queen of the south.] It need hardly be remarked that the person so described is the queen of Sheba of the Old Testament. (1 Kings 10:1.) Her name is not known at all. Her dominions are not known with certainty. Some think that they were in Arabia. Some think they were in Ethiopia. "The utmost parts of the earth" must be interpreted with qualifications as a very distant land.
[A greater than Solomon.] Let it be noted, that both here and in the end of the following verses, the Greek word translated "a greater," is literally "a greater thing." It is not improbable that the "thing" referred to is "the sign."—There is one here who is a sign of far greater moment than either Jonah or Solomon.
Let it be observed, that the point in which the queen of the South surpassed the Jews of our Lord’s time and put them to shame, was "faith." She had faith enough to come a long journey to hear a wise man. The Jews, on the other hand, had "the wisdom of God" actually in the midst of them, preaching and teaching for three years, and yet they would not believe.
Let it be observed, that the point in which the Ninevites surpassed the Jews, and put them to shame, was repentance. They had among them for a short time a prophet, and a very weak and erring prophet too. Yet they repented and turned to God. The Jews had among them the mightiest and most faithfull preacher that ever warned a people, and yet they would not repent.
In this, as well as in other passages, we should not fail to remark that our Lord speaks of the story of Jonah as an undoubtedly true story, and of Jonah himself and the queen of Sheba as real persons. The modern theory which says that the histories of the Old Testament are nothing better than amusing fables, finds no countenance in the New Testament.
Here again, as well as elsewhere, we see the general judgment and the resurrection spoken of as events which will undoubtedly take place, and events in which the saints of the Old Testament are as much and really interested as those who lived after Christ’s ministry began.
WE learn from these words of the Lord Jesus, the importance of making a good use of religious light and privileges. We are reminded of what men do when they light a candle. They do not "put it in a secret place," under a bushel measure. They place it on a candlestick, that it may be serviceable and useful by giving light.
When the Gospel of Christ is placed before a man’s soul, it is as if God offered to him a lighted candle. It is not sufficient to hear it, and assent to it, and admire it, and acknowledge its truth. It must be received into the heart, and obeyed in the life. Until this takes place the Gospel does him no more good than if he were an African heathen, who has never heard the Gospel at all. A lighted candle is before him, but he is not turning it to account. The guilt of such conduct is very great. God’s light neglected will be a heavy charge against many at the last day.
But even when a man professes to value the light of the Gospel he must take care that he is not selfish in the use of it. He must endeavor to reflect the light on all around him. He must strive to make others acquainted with the truths which he finds good for himself. He must let his light so shine before men, that they may see whose he is and whom he serves, and may be induced to follow his example, and join the Lord’s side. He must regard the light which he enjoys as a loan, for the use of which he is accountable. He must strive to hold his candle in such a way, that many may see it, and as they see it, admire and believe.
Let us take heed to ourselves that we do not neglect our light. The sin of many in this matter is far greater than they suppose. Thousands flatter themselves that their souls are not in a very bad state, because they abstain from gross and glaring acts of wickedness, and are decent and respectable in their outward lives. But are they neglecting the Gospel when it is offered to them? Are they coolly sitting still year after year, and taking no decided steps in the service of Christ? If this be so, let them know that their guilt is very great in the sight of God. To have the light and yet not walk in the light, is of itself a great sin. It is to treat with contempt and indifference the King of kings.
Let us beware of selfishness in our religion, even after we have learned to value the light. We should labor to make all men see that we have found "the pearl of great price," and that we want them to find it as well as ourselves. A man’s religion may well be suspected, when he is content to go to heaven alone. The true Christian will have a large heart. If a parent, he will long for the salvation of his children. If a master, he will desire to see his servants converted. If a landlord, he will want his tenants to come with him into God’s kingdom. This is healthy religion! The Christian who is satisfied to burn his candle alone, is in a very weak and sickly state of soul.
We learn, secondly, from these verses, the value of a single and undivided heart in religion. This is a lesson which our Lord illustrates from the office of the eye in the human body. He reminds us that when the eye is "single," or thoroughly healthy, the action of the whole body is influenced by it. But when, on the contrary, the eye is evil or diseased, it affects the physical comfort and activity of the whole man. In an eastern country, where eye diseases are painfully common, the illustration is one which would be particularly striking.
But when can it be truly said that a man’s heart is single in religion? What are the marks of a single heart? The question is one of deep importance. Well would it be for the church and the world if single hearts were more common.
The single heart is a heart which is not only changed, converted, and renewed; but thoroughly, powerfully, and habitually under the influence of the Holy Ghost. It is a heart which abhors all compromises, all luke-warmness, all halting between two opinions in religion. It sees one mighty object,—the love of Christ dying for sinners. It has one mighty aim,—to glorify God and do His will. It has one mighty desire,—to please God and be commended by Him. Compared with such objects, aims, and desires, the single heart knows nothing worthy to be named. The praise and favor of man are nothing. The blame and disapprobation of man are trifles light as air. "One thing I desire,—one thing I do,—one thing I live for;" this is the language of the single heart. (Psalms 27:4; Luke 10:42; Philippians 3:13.) Such were the hearts of Abraham, and Moses, and David, and Paul, and Luther, and Latimer. They all had their weaknesses and infirmities. They erred no doubt in some things. But they all had this grand peculiarity. They were men of one thing. They had single hearts. They were unmistakably "men of God."
The blessings of a single heart in religion are almost incalculable. He who has it, does good by wholesale. He is like a light-house in the midst of a dark world. He reflects light on hundreds whom he knows nothing of. "His whole body is full of light." His Master is seen through every window of his conversation and conduct. His grace shines forth in every department of his behavior. His family, his servants, his relations, his neighbors, his friends, his enemies, all see the bias of his character, and all are obliged to confess, whether they like it or not, that his religion is a real and influential thing. And not least, the man of a single heart finds a rich reward in the inward experience of his own soul. He has meat to eat the world knows not of. He has a joy and peace in believing to which many indolent Christians never attain. His face is toward the sun, and so his heart is seldom cold.
Let us pray and labor that we may have a single eye and a whole heart in our Christianity. If we have a religion, let us have a thorough one. If we are Christians, let us be decided. Inward peace and outward usefulness are at stake in this matter. Our eye must be single, if our whole body is to be full of light.
v33.—[No man...lighteth a candle, &c.] The saying of this verse is evidently intended to be a rebuke to the unbelieving Jews, who had the light, but would not use it,—and a warning to our Lord’s disciples, who believed in the light, that they ought not to conceal the light, but display it to the world. A candle is intended to be placed on a candlestick and give light. So also God’s truth is intended to be imparted to others, and exhibited to all around us.
It is hard to conceive a more striking example of putting the light "under a bushel" than the treatment of the Bible by the Church of Rome. The Church of Rome possesses that word which is given to be the light of man’s soul, and yet discourages its reading and opposes its circulation.
v34.—[When thine eye is single, &c.] The eye is to the body, what the heart is to the man. If the eye is dimmed—does not see objects clearly, the whole action of the body is more or less affected. If the heart is double-minded and compromising, the whole character of the man will be influenced by it. His course will be wavering and unstable. His life will be trimming and inconsistent.
Parkhurst says, that the Greek word rendered "single," when applied to the eye, means clear. Doddridge says, "it is opposed to an eye overgrown with film, which would obstruct the sight." Campbell says that it means "sound and healthy," and that both Chrysostom and theophylact interpret it in that sense.
v35.—[Take heed, therefore, &c.] The meaning of this verse appears to be, "Take heed lest that faculty in thee, which ought to be the eye of the soul, become so dimmed and obscured by sin, sloth, or unbelief, that it be as useless as if it were in utter darkness. Take heed, lest by hardening thy heart against the light of my Gospel, thou become utterly callous, and be given over to a reprobate mind."
It must be remembered that the expression is parabolic and figurative. It must not be so strained and wrested as to convey the idea that man has naturally an "inward light" which can save his soul. Such an interpretation would contradict other plain texts of Scripture, and tend to Pelagianism.
v36.—[If thy whole body, &c.] The meaning of this verse is at first sight nothing more than the assertion of a simple truism. It seems nothing more than saying, "If thy body shall be light, it shall be light." This, however, is plainly not the full meaning of our Lord’s words.
The meaning of the words appears to be as follows. "If the eye of thy soul is thoroughly healthy, and thy heart thoroughly right in the sight of God, so that thy whole character is enlightened and influenced by it, then shall thy whole character shine after the manner of a candle which enlightens thee by its shining. Thou shalt not only have light for thyself, but reflect light on others." The second expression, "full of light," should be read in close connection with the likeness of the candle which immediately follows. If thou art really full of light, thou shalt be like a lighted candle on a candlestick. Thou shalt be a light to the world.
The marginal reading gives a more literal translation of the conclusion of the verse than the authorized version. The literal rendering of the Greek is, "as when a candle, by its bright, flashing shining, enlightens thee."
LET us notice in this passage, our Lord Jesus Christ’s readiness, when needful, to go into the company of the unconverted. We read that "a certain Pharisee besought him to dine with him." The man was evidently not one of our Lord’s disciples. Yet we are told that "Jesus went in and sat down to meat."
The conduct of our Lord on this occasion, as on others, is meant to be an example to all Christians. Christ is our pattern as well as our propitiation. There are evidently times and occasions when the servant of Christ must mix with the ungodly and the children of this world. There may be seasons when it may be a duty to hold social intercourse with them, to accept their invitations, and sit down at their tables. Nothing, of course, must induce the Christian to be a partaker in the sins or frivolous amusements of the world. But he must not be uncourteous. He must not entirely withdraw himself from the society of the unconverted, and become a hermit or an ascetic. He must remember that good may be done in the private room as well as in the pulpit.
One qualification, however, should never be forgotten, when we act upon our Lord’s example in this matter. Let us take heed that we go down into the company of the unconverted in the same spirit in which Christ went. Let us remember His boldness in speaking of the things of God. He was always "about His Father’s business."—Let us remember His faithfulness in rebuking sin. He spared not even the sins of those that entertained Him, when His attention was publicly called to them. Let us go into company in the same frame of mind, and our souls will take no harm. If we feel that we dare not imitate Christ in the company which we are invited to join, we may be sure that we had better stay at home.
Let us notice, secondly, in this passage, the foolishness which accompanies hypocrisy in religion. We are told that the Pharisee with whom our Lord dined marveled that our Lord "had not first washed before dinner." He thought, like most of his order, that there was something unholy in not doing it, and that the neglect of it was a sign of moral impurity. Our Lord points out the absurdity of attaching such importance to the mere cleansing of the body, while the cleansing of the heart is overlooked. He reminds His host that God looks at the inward part of us, the hidden man of the heart, far more than at our skins. And He asks the searching question, "Did not He that made that which is without, make that which is within also?" The same God who formed our poor dying bodies, is the God who gave us a heart and soul.
For ever let us bear in mind that the state of our hearts is the principal thing that demands our attention, if we would know what we are in religion. Bodily washings, and fastings, and gestures, and postures, and self-imposed mortifications of the flesh, are all utterly useless if the heart is wrong. External devoutness of conduct, a grave face, and a bowed head, and a solemn countenance, and a loud amen, are all abominable in God’s sight, so long as our hearts are not washed from their wickedness, and renewed by the Holy Ghost. Let this caution never be forgotten.
The idea that men can be devout before they are converted, is a grand delusion of the devil, and one against which we all need to be on our guard. There are two Scriptures which are very weighty on this subject. In one it is written, "Out of the heart are the issues of life." (Proverbs 4:23.) In the other it is written, "Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7.) There is a question which we should always ask ourselves in drawing near to God, whether in public or private. We should say to ourselves, "Where is my heart?"
Let us notice, thirdly, in this passage, the gross inconsistency which is often exhibited by hypocrites in religion. We read that our Lord says to the Pharisees, "Ye tithe mint and rue, and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God." They carried to an extreme their zeal to pay tithes for the service of the temple;—and yet they neglected the plainest duties towards God and their neighbors. They were scrupulous to an extreme about small matters in the ceremonial law; and yet they were utterly regardless of the simplest first principles of justice to man and love toward God. In the one direction they were rigidly careful to do even more than was needful. In the other direction they would do nothing at all. In the secondary things of their religion they were downright zealots and enthusiasts. But in the great primary things they were no better than the heathen.
The conduct of the Pharisees in this matter, unhappily, does not stand alone. There have never been wanting religious professors who have exalted the second things of Christianity far above the first, and in their zeal for the second things have finally neglected the first things entirely. There are thousands at the present day who make a great ado about daily services, and keeping Lent, and frequent communion, and turning to the east in churches, and a gorgeous ceremonial, and intoning public prayers,—but never get any further. They know little or nothing of the great practical duties of humility, charity, meekness, spiritual-mindedness, Bible reading, private devotion, and separation from the world. They plunge into every gaiety with greediness. They are to be seen at every worldly assembly and revel, at the race, the opera, the theater, and the ball. They exhibit nothing of the mind of Christ in their daily life. What is all this but walking in the steps of the Pharisees? Well says the wise man, "There is no new thing under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 1:9.) The generation which tithed mint, but passed over "judgment and the love of God," is not yet extinct.
Let us watch and pray that we may observe a scriptural proportion in our religion. Let us beware of putting the second things out of their place, and so by degrees losing sight of the first entirely. Whatever importance we attach to the ceremonial part of Christianity, let us never forget its great practical duties. The religious teaching which inclines us to pass them over, has something about it which is radically defective.
Let us notice, lastly, the falseness and hollowness which characterize the hypocrite in religion. We read that our Lord compared the Pharisees to "graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them." Even so these boasting teachers of the Jews were inwardly full of corruption and uncleanness, to an extent of which their deluded hearers had no conception.
The picture here drawn is painful and disgusting. Yet the accuracy and truthfulness of it have often been proved by the conduct of hypocrites in every age of the church. What shall we say of the lives of monks and nuns, which were exposed at the time of the Reformation? Thousands of so called "holy" men and women were found to be sunk in every kind of wickedness. What shall we say of the lives of some of the leaders of sects and heresies who have professed a peculiarly pure standard of doctrine? Not infrequently the very men who have promised to others liberty have turned out to be themselves "servants of corruption." The morbid anatomy of human nature is a loathsome study. Hypocrisy and unclean living have often been found side by side.
Let us leave the whole passage with a settled determination to watch and pray against hypocrisy in religion. Whatever we are as Christians, let us be real, thorough, genuine and sincere. Let us abhor all canting and affectation, and part-acting in the things of God, as that which is utterly loathsome in Christ’s eyes. We may be weak, and erring, and frail, and come far short of our aims and desires. But at any rate, if we profess to believe in Christ, let us be true.
v37.—[A certain Pharisee.] We do not know who this Pharisee was. It seems clear that he was not a disciple of Christ. Yet our Lord accepted his invitation, and dined with him. From this circumstance the conclusion is often drawn by weak believers that it is lawful and desirable to keep up social intercourse with unconverted people. As to the lawfulness there can be no doubt. As to the desirableness and expediency, every one must judge for himself, and consider what he can do, and what he cannot. Those Christians who plead our Lord’s example as an argument for dining with unconverted people, would do well to mark our Lord’s conduct and conversation at the tables of those with whom He dined. Let them copy Him in His conversation as well as in the acceptance of invitations. Unhappily, there are many who will accept the invitations as our Lord accepted, but will not talk as our Lord talked.
v38.—[That he had not first washed.] Let this expression be carefully noted. The Greek word literally translated would be rendered, "that he had not first been baptized" before dinner. It is clear that the washing spoken of cannot be a washing of the whole body, but a partial washing, as of the hands and feet, or a sprinkling of water on the hands, after the manner of Eastern nations. (2 Kings 3:11.) The opinion held by some Baptists that the Greek word to "baptize" is never used except in the sense of a total immersion of the body, is one that cannot be reconciled with the expression used in this text.
v39.—[Your inward part.] This of course means your inward man —your heart. It is what Peter calls "the hidden man of the heart." (1 Peter 3:4.)
v40.—[Ye fools.] The literal meaning of the Greek word so translated is, "persons without mind or understanding." It is the same word that Paul uses. (1 Corinthians 15:36.) It is not the word that our Lord forbids to be used in the sermon on the mount. (Matthew 5:22.)
[Did not he that made that which is without, &c.] Our Lord’s meaning in this verse appears to be that it is absurd and unreasonable to suppose that God can be pleased with mere external and ceremonial purity, while inward purity and cleansing of the heart are neglected. He who made all things, made the inner man as well as the outward, and requires the heart to be washed from its wickedness, as well as the hands from uncleanness.
v41.—[But rather give alms, &c.] This is a very difficult verse. The variety of interpretations of it shows plainly that it has perplexed the commentators. Some think that the whole verse is ironical, and that our Lord means, "Go on in your practice of giving alms of such things as ye have, and then indeed ye are very holy people! All things are clean upon you!—Give alms and keep up the ceremonial law, and then no doubt ye are the people! None so holy as ye!" This is the opinion of Lightfoot, who thinks that our Lord is quoting the tenets of the Pharisees "in mere scoff and displeasure." However it does not seem a satisfactory mode of explaining the verse, and is unlike our Lord’s usual mode of speaking. This interpretation may therefore be dismissed at once.
The real difficulty of the verse no doubt lies in the words which we translate "such things as ye have." Some think that this expression is elliptical, and that it means, "Give alms every one according to his ability." This is the view of Euthymius, Maldonatus, Cocceius, Hammond, Whitby, Schottgen, and Doddridge.—Others think that the expression means, "Give as alms to the poor those things that ye have," that is, the things that ye have obtained by avarice and plunder, as Zacchæus did.—Others think that the expression means, "All that ye have—all your property."—Others think that it means, "That which is over and above,—your superfluities,—give them as alms."—Others think that it means, "Give alms with all your might."—Others think that it means, "Give alms, which is the only remedy left to you."
All these interpretations appear very unsatisfactory. None of them meets the grave objection, that, taken in connection with the concluding sentence of the verse, they teach false doctrine. Alms do not make our souls clean, and all our actions pure, no matter how, or in what way, or to what extent we give them. I take leave to suggest another explanation, which seems to me to deserve consideration. The literal meaning of the Greek word is as follows,—"But rather give the things that are in, as alms."—The simplest sense of this sentence appears to be, "Give first the offering of the inward man. Give your heart, your affections, and your will to God, as the first great alms which you bestow, and then all your other actions, proceeding from a right heart, are an acceptable sacrifice, and a clean offering in the sight of God.—Give the inner man first, and then the gifts and service of the external man will be acceptable.—Give yourselves first to the Lord, and then He will be pleased with your gifts. See that your persons are first accepted, and then your works will be acceptable. To the pure all things are pure." Let the expression in this sense be compared with Romans 12:1. Psalms 51:17. 2 Corinthians 8:5.
v42.—[Woe unto you.] Here, as in other places, the stern and severe language of our Lord deserves notice. Gracious and loving as He was, He could rebuke when there was need. Nothing seems so odious in His eyes as hypocrisy.
[Ye tithe mint, &c.] This expression means that the Pharisees pretended to such excessive scrupulosity about giving a tenth of all their possessions to the service of the temple and to the maintenance of the ceremonial law, that they were not content with tithing their corn. They even tithed their garden herbs. Yet all this time they entirely neglected the plain duties of justice to man, and real love to God.
The neglect of distinction between that which is great and that which is small, that which is first and that which is second, that which is essential and that which is non-essential, has been the source of enormous evil in every age of the Church. It is a distinction which the never-dying school of the Pharisees is unable to draw.
v43.—[Ye love the uppermost seats, &c.] Let it be noted, that ambition and the love of precedence are common marks of the formalist and the self-righteous. To exalt themselves under pretence of honouring the Church, and to obtain power under cover of obtaining respect for their own order, has been the practice of Pharisees all over the world and in every age of the Church of Christ.
Our Lord, in this verse, exposes the hollowness of the motives by which His enemies were actuated. Self, and self-aggrandizement, were the true spring of all their conduct.
v44.—[Ye are as graves which appear not.] There is a remarkable difference between the comparison which our Lord draws here and that which He draws in Matthew 23:27, where He likens the Pharisees to whitened sepulchres.
In the comparison before us He rebukes the cunning with which they concealed their own inward corruption, so that men were not aware of it.—In the one in Matthew He exposes the false profession which they made outwardly to the eye, in having a beautiful semblance of religion, while there was nothing corresponding in the state of their hearts.—In the case before us He exposes what men did not see in the Pharisees. In the case in Matthew He rather exposes what men did see.—In the one case it was a grave full of corruption, but a grave concealed from the eye. In the other it was a grave equally full of corruption, but outwardly beautiful and white, so as to deceive a beholder as to the nature of its contents.—In the one case there was corruption, but made outwardly beautiful and harmless. In the other there was corruption hidden, concealed, and entirely kept back from the eye.—In both cases the heart was the same. The whitened sepulchre and the sepulchre concealed were both sepulchres full of corruption.
THE passage before us is an example of our Lord Jesus Christ’s faithful dealing with the souls of men. We see Him without fear or favor rebuking the sins of the Jewish expounders of God’s law. That false charity which calls it "unkind" to say that any one is in error, finds no encouragement in the language used by our Lord. He calls things by their right names. He knew that acute diseases need severe remedies. He would have us know that the truest friend to our souls, is not the man who is always "speaking smooth things," and agreeing with everything we say, but the man who tells us the most truth.
We learn, firstly, from our Lord’s words, how great is the sin of professing to teach others what we do not practice ourselves. He says to the lawyers, "Ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, while ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers." They required others to observe wearisome ceremonies in religion which they themselves neglected. They had the impudence to lay yokes upon the consciences of other men, and yet to grant exemptions from these yokes for themselves. In a word, they had one set of measures and weights for their hearers, and another set for their own souls.
The stern reproof which our Lord here administers, should come home with special power to certain classes in the church. It is a word in season to all teachers of young people. It is a word to all masters of families and heads of households. It is a word to all fathers and mothers. Above all, it is a word to all clergymen and ministers of religion. Let all such mark well our Lord’s language in this passage. Let them beware of telling others to aim at a standard which they do not aim at themselves. Such conduct, to say the least, is gross inconsistency.
Perfection, no doubt, is unattainable in this world. If nobody is to lay down rules, or teach, or preach, until he is faultless himself, the whole fabric of society would be thrown into confusion. But we have a right to expect some agreement between a man’s words and a man’s work,—between his teaching and his doing,—between his preaching and his practice. One thing at all events is very certain. No lessons produce such effects on men as those which the teacher illustrates by his own daily life. Happy is he who can say with Paul, "Those things which ye have heard and seen in me, do." (Philippians 4:9.)
We learn, secondly, from our Lord’s words, how much more easy it is to admire dead saints than living ones. He says to the lawyers, "Ye build the sepulchers of the prophets, and your fathers killed them." They professed to honor the memory of the prophets, while they lived in the very same ways which the prophets had condemned! They openly neglected their advice and teaching, and yet they pretended to respect their graves!
The practice which is here exposed has never been without followers in spirit, if not in the letter. Thousands of wicked men in every age of the church have tried to deceive themselves and others by loud professions of admiration for the saints of God after their decease. By so doing they have endeavored to ease their own consciences, and blind the eyes of the world. They have sought to raise in the minds of others the thought, "If these men love the memories of the good so dearly they must surely be of one heart with them." They have forgotten that even a child can see that "dead men tell no tales," and that to admire men when they can neither reprove us by their lips, nor put us to shame by their lives, is a very cheap admiration indeed.
Would we know what a man’s religious character really is? Let us inquire what he thinks of true Christians while they are yet alive.—Does he love them, and cleave to them, and delight in them, as the excellent of the earth?—Or does he avoid them, and dislike them, and regard them as fanatics, and enthusiasts, and extreme, and righteous overmuch?—The answers to these questions are a pretty safe test of a man’s true character. When a man can see no beauty in living saints, but much in dead ones, his soul is in a very rotten state. The Lord Jesus has pronounced his condemnation. He is a hypocrite in the sight of God.
We learn, thirdly, from our Lord’s words, how surely a reckoning day for persecution will come upon the persecutors. He says that the "blood of all the prophets shall be required."
There is something peculiarly solemn in this statement. The number of those who have been put to death for the faith of Christ in every age of the world, is exceedingly great. Thousands of men and women have laid down their lives rather than deny their Savior, and have shed their blood for the truth. At the time they died they seemed to have no helper. Like Zacharias, and James, and Stephen, and John the Baptist, and Ignatius, and Huss, and Hooper, and Latimer, they died without resistance. They were soon buried and forgotten on earth, and their enemies seemed to triumph utterly.
But their deaths were not forgotten in heaven. Their blood was had in remembrance before God. The persecutions of Herod, and Nero, and Diocletian, and bloody Mary, and Charles IX, are not forgotten. There shall be a great assize one day, and then all the world shall see that "precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints." (Psalms 116:15.)
Let us often look forward to the judgment day. There are many things going on in the world which are trying to our faith. The frequent triumphing of the wicked is perplexing. The frequent depression of the godly is a problem that appears hard to solve. But it shall all be made clear one day. The great white throne and the books of God shall put all things in their right places. The tangled maze of God’s providence shall be unraveled. All shall be proved to a wondering world to have been "well done." Every tear that the wicked have caused the godly to shed shall be reckoned for. Every drop of righteous blood that has been spilled shall at length be required.
We learn, lastly, from our Lord’s words, how great is the wickedness of keeping back others from religious knowledge. He says to the lawyers, "Ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and those that were entering in ye hindered."
The sin here denounced is awfully common. The guilt of it lies at far more doors than at first sight many are aware. It is the sin of the Romish priest who forbids the poor man to read his Bible.—It is the sin of the unconverted Protestant minister who warns his people against "extreme views," and sneers at the idea of conversion.—It is the sin of the ungodly, thoughtless husband who dislikes his wife becoming "serious."—It is the sin of the worldly-minded mother who cannot bear the idea of her daughter thinking of spiritual things, and giving up theaters and balls. All these, wittingly or unwittingly, are bringing down on themselves our Lord’s emphatic "woe." They are hindering others from entering heaven!
Let us pray that this awful sin may never be ours. Whatever we are ourselves in religion, let us dread discouraging others, if they have the least serious concern about their souls. Let us never check any of those around us in their religion, and specially in the matter of reading the Bible, hearing the Gospel, and private prayer. Let us rather cheer them, encourage them, help them, and thank God if they are better than ourselves. "Deliver me from blood-guiltiness," was a prayer of David’s. (Psalms 51:14.) It may be feared that the blood of relatives will be heavy on the heads of some at the last day. They saw them about to "enter" the kingdom of God, and they "hindered" them.
v45.—[One of the lawyers.] The lawyers, be it remembered, were a class of men among the Jews who devoted themselves to the study of the law of God. We generally find them in league with the Scribes and Pharisees in the Gospel history.
v46.—[Woe unto you also, ye lawyers.] These words are a striking instance of our Lord’s boldness in rebuking sinners. He is appealed to in an angry tone, and He tells those who appeal to Him their sins and wickedness to their face.
[Ye lade men with burdens.] These burdens mean the many vexatious and trifling rules laid down by the Jewish expounders of the law, as requiring men’s attention, if they would be saved. Chemnitius remarks the close resemblance between these Jewish teachers and the Roman Catholic priests, who hedged up the way to heaven with a long list of things to be observed,—penances, pilgrimages, fastings, flagellations, contrition’s, attritions, confessions, and the like.
v47.—[Ye build the sepulchres of the prophets.] Let it be remembered that in every age of the Church, true Christians have been more admired and praised when they were dead than when they were alive. Chemnitius observes that the conduct of these lawyers related in this verse is that of the Roman Catholic Church. No people can be more zealous than the Romish priests in honouring the tombs and relics of saints and martyrs, and building costly churches in honour of them. And yet the doctrines of these saints are not believed, and their lives are not imitated!
v48.—[Ye bear witness that ye allow the deeds of your fathers.] The meaning of these words can only be that the lives of the Jewish teachers were clear evidence that they agreed with those who murdered the prophets more than with the prophets. A man’s life is the best proof of a man’s opinions. It is absurd and hypocritical to pretend admiration of dead saints, if we do not at the same time endeavour to walk in their steps. Poole remarks, "It is gross hypocrisy for men to magnify the servants of God in former ages, and in the mean time to malign and persecute the servants of the same God in a present age, owning the same truth, and living by the same rule."
v49.—[Said the wisdom of God.] It is a disputed question what these words mean. Alford thinks that they simply refer to the description of the death of Zechariah, in the book of Chronicles, (2 Chronicles 24:18-22,) and that our Lord gives a paraphrase and summary of the lessons contained in that passage. The more common opinion is that our Lord speaks of Himself under the name of "Wisdom," and that comparing the passage with Matthew 23:34, it means, "I, the eternal wisdom of God, have said."
v50.—[Of this generation.] Both here and in the following verse, it seems probable that the word generation means nation or people, as in Matthew 24:34. It is a certain fact that the greater part of the men who were alive when our Lord said these things, must have been dead forty years after, when the great inquisition for blood took place, at the destruction of Jerusalem.
v51.—[Zacharias.] There can be little doubt that this Zacharias was the son of Jehoiada, who was murdered in the days of Joash. (2 Chronicles 24:20.) Lightfoot gives some remarkable quotations from Rabbinical writers, proving how very great a crime this murder was regarded by the Jews themselves.
[The temple.] Let it be noted, that the Greek word so translated, is commonly rendered, "The house."
[It shall be required.] This is one of those fearful passages of Scripture which teach us that sins are not forgotten by God because not punished at the time of commission. There are evidently many sins recorded in the book of God’s remembrance which will all be brought to light and reckoned for one day.
v52.—[Ye have taken away the key of knowledge.] It is a doubtful question whether these words should not have been rendered "Ye have borne, or taken up, and carried the key of knowledge." Let the expression be compared with John 1:29, and the marginal reading in that place ["...which beareth away the sin of the world."]; and with such phrases as that translated, "Take up his cross," in Luke 9:23. The meaning would then be, "Ye have been by profession the instructors of the Jews in spiritual knowledge. Ye have, so to speak, carried the keys. Yet ye made no use of them yourselves, and allowed nobody else to use them." According to Watson, the Jewish teachers of the law had a key formally given to them, when they were ordained or set apart for the office of teaching.
Baxter remarks on this verse, "This is just the description of a wicked clergy."—It certainly describes the Church of Rome.
v53.—[To provoke him to speak of many things.] The Greek verb in this expression is remarkable, and is only found here in the New Testament. Parkhurst says that it means "To draw or force words from the mouth of another, to question magisterially, as a master does his scholars." Hammond says on this text, "They did ask questions to hear what Christ would say, as an angry schoolmaster that seeks occasion against a scholar." Hesychius says it is "to require another to recite from memory." The meaning is obvious. Our Lord’s enemies knew that "In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin," and they hoped to find occasion against Him.
v54.—[To catch.] The original idea of the Greek word so translated is "to hunt," or to lay hold of and catch in hunting.
We should remember the words of James, "He that offendeth not in word, the same is a perfect man." The perfect meekness of our Lord is strikingly shown in His never losing His temper under abounding provocations, and His perfect wisdom in never saying a word on which His deadliest enemies could justly lay hold.
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Ryle, J. C. "Commentary on Luke 11". "Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany