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THE words which begin this chapter are very striking when we consider its contents. We are told that "an innumerable multitude of people were gathered together, insomuch that they trode one upon another." And what does our Lord do? In the hearing of this multitude He delivers warnings against false teachers, and denounces the sins of the times in which he lived unsparingly, unflinchingly, and without partiality. This was true charity. This was doing the work of a physician. This was the pattern which all His ministers were intended to follow. Well would it have been for the church and the world if the ministers of Christ had always spoken out as plainly and faithfully as their Master used to do! Their own lives might have been made more uncomfortable by such a course of action. But they would have saved far more souls.
The first thing that demands our attention in these verses is Christ’s warning against hypocrisy. He says to His disciples, "Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy."
This is a warning of which the importance can never be overrated. It was delivered by our Lord more than once, during His earthly ministry. It was intended to be a standing caution to His whole church in every age, and in every part of the world. It was meant to remind us that the principles of the Pharisees are deeply ingrained in human nature, and that Christians should be always on their guard against them. Pharisaism is a subtle leaven which the natural heart is always ready to receive. It is a leaven which once received into the heart infects the whole character of a man’s Christianity. Of this leaven, says our Lord, in words that should often ring in our ears,—of this leaven, beware!
Let us ever nail this caution in our memories, and bind it on our hearts. The plague is about us on every side. The danger is at all times. What is the essence of Romanism, and semi-Romanism, and formalism, and sacrament-worship and church-adorning, and ceremonialism? What is it all but the leaven of the Pharisees under one shape or another? The Pharisees are not extinct. Pharisaism lives still.
If we would not become Pharisees, let us cultivate a heart religion. Let us realize daily that the God with whom we have to do, looks far below the outward surface of our profession, and that He measures us by the state of our hearts. Let us be real and true in our Christianity. Let us abhor all part-acting, and affectation, and semblance of devotion, put on for public occasions, but not really felt within. It may deceive man, and get us the reputation of being very religious, but it cannot deceive God. "There is nothing covered that shall not be revealed." Whatever we are in religion, let us never wear a cloak or a mask.
The second thing that demands our attention in these verses is Christ’s warning against the fear of man. "Be not afraid," He says, "of them which kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do." But this is not all. He not only tells us whom we ought not to fear, but of whom we ought to be afraid. "Fear him," He says, "which after he has killed, hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, fear him." The manner in which the lesson is conveyed is very striking and impressive. Twice over the exhortation is enforced. "Fear him," says our Lord,—"yea, I say unto you, fear him."
The fear of man is one of the greatest obstacles which stand between the soul and heaven.—"What will men say of me? What will they think of me? What will they do to me?"—How often these little questions have turned the balance against the soul, and kept men bound hand and foot by sin and the devil! Thousands would never hesitate a moment to storm a breach or face a lion, who dare not face the laughter of relatives, neighbors, and friends. Now if the fear of man has such influence in these times, how much greater must its influence have been in the days when our Lord was upon earth! If it be hard to follow Christ through ridicule and ill-natured words, how much harder must it have been to follow Him through prisons, beatings, scourgings, and violent deaths! All these things our Lord Jesus knew well. No wonder that He cries, "Be not afraid."
But what is the best remedy against the fear of man? How are we to overcome this powerful feeling, and break the chains which it throws around us? There is no remedy like that which our Lord recommends. We must supplant the fear of man by a higher and more powerful principle,—the fear of God. We must look away from those who can only hurt the body to Him who has all dominion over the soul. We must turn our eyes from those who can only injure us in the life that now is, to Him who can condemn us to eternal misery in the life to come. Armed with this mighty principle, we shall not play the coward. Seeing Him that is invisible, we shall find the lesser fear melting away before the greater, and the weaker before the stronger. "I fear God," said Colonel Gardiner, "and therefore there is no one else that I need fear."—It was a noble saying of martyred Bishop Hooper, when a Roman Catholic urged him to save his life by recanting at the stake,—"Life is sweet and death is bitter. But eternal life is more sweet, and eternal death is more bitter."
The last thing that demands our attention in these verses, is Christ’s encouragement to persecuted believers. He reminds them of God’s providential care over the least of His creatures:—"Not one sparrow is forgotten before God." He goes on to assure them that the same Fatherly care is engaged on behalf of each one of themselves:—"The very hairs of your head are all numbered." Nothing whatever, whether great or small, can happen to a believer, without God’s ordering and permission.
The providential government of God over everything in this world is a truth of which the Greek and Roman philosophers had no conception. It is a truth which is specially revealed to us in the word of God. Just as the telescope and microscope show us that there is order and design in all the works of God’s hand, from the greatest planet down to the least insect, so does the Bible teach us that there is wisdom, order, and design in all the events of our daily life. There is no such thing as "chance," "luck," or "accident" in the Christian’s journey through this world. All is arranged and appointed by God. And all things are "working together" for the believer’s good. (Romans 8:28.)
Let us seek to have an abiding sense of God’s hand in all that befalls us, if we profess to be believers in Jesus Christ. Let us strive to realize that a Father’s hand is measuring out our daily portion, and that our steps are ordered by Him. A daily practical faith of this kind, is one grand secret of happiness, and a mighty antidote against murmuring and discontent. We should try to feel in the day of trial and disappointment, that all is right and all is well done. We should try to feel on the bed of sickness that there must be a "needs be." We should say to ourselves, "God could keep away from me these things if He thought fit. But He does not do so, and therefore they must be for my advantage. I will lie still, and bear them patiently. I have ’an everlasting covenant ordered in all things and sure.’ (2 Samuel 23:5.) What pleases God shall please me."
v1.—[An innumerable multitude.] The Greek word so translated means literally, "The myriads," or tens of thousands of the people. Lightfoot thinks that these words are an evidence of the success of the seventy disciples.
[He began to say.] Let it be observed, that the discourse which follows these words is remarkable for the great number of sayings which it contains which were also said by our Lord upon other occasions. It is clear that our Lord repeated the same words in different places, and taught the same lessons on different occasions. All teachers and instructors repeat their lessons over and over again, in order to impress them on the minds of those they teach. It is absurd and unreasonable to suppose that our Lord Jesus Christ did not do so. To maintain, as some do, that Luke, in this chapter, is only stringing together, for convenience sake, sayings which our Lord used on many different occasions, appears to me a very irreverent mode of dealing with an inspired writing, and a very needless explanation of the repetitions which the chapter contains. The things repeated are things which it is especially important for Christians to know, and therefore our Lord repeats them, and Luke was inspired to write them.
Burgon remarks, "Of the fifty-nine verses which compose the present chapter, no less than thirty-five prove to have been delivered on quite distinct occasions; not in single verses only, but by seven, eight, and even ten verses at a time."
An excessive desire to harmonize the various Gospel histories has led to many strange dealings with Scripture. "Harmonies," however well meant, have done little good to the Church of Christ.
[Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees.] This is a warning which is given in another place, on a totally distinct occasion. It is a great standing caution to the Church against formality and hypocrisy. Few warnings have been so much needed and so much overlooked. "Leaven" is the word used to express false doctrine, because it works secretly and silently,—because its quantity is small compared to the whole mass of dough,—and because, once mingled, it alters the whole character of the bread. This is precisely the case with false doctrine. It seems "a little one." It works stealthily and noiselessly. Insensibly it poisons the whole Gospel. If men will add to or take away from the great prescription for the cure of souls, the divine medicine is spoiled.
v2.—[Nothing covered...revealed.] This verse seems to admit of two interpretations. It is a general statement of the uselessness of hypocrisy. Everything shall appear in its true colours at last. It is an injunction to the disciples to reserve and keep back nothing in their teaching. They are to "declare all the counsel of God." The distinction between interior and exterior doctrines, inward truths for the learned and outward truths for the unlearned, however approved by some philosophers, finds no countenance in the Gospel.
v3.—[Darkness...light...closets...housetops.] These expressions all seem to be proverbial. They all teach the duty of keeping nothing back in teaching the Gospel. To understand the "housetops," we should remember that Eastern houses generally had flat roofs, which were much used by the inhabitants.
v4.—[Them that kill the body, &c.] The distinction between body and soul, and the separate existence of the soul after the body is dead, are clearly brought out in this passage. The use which martyrs have often made of this verse at the moment of death, is a striking and remarkable fact in Church history.
v5.—[Fear him...hath power...hell.] Some commentators think with Stier, that this means the devil. This however seems very unlikely. The power of life and death is not in the hands of the devil. Most think that it means God, who alone kills and makes alive, casts down and raises up. This view is fully and clearly set forth by Chemnitius.
The reality and fearfulness of hell stand out awfully on the face of this verse. There is a hell after death. The state of the wicked man after this life is not annihilation. There is a hell which ought to be feared. There is a just God who will finally cast into hell the obstinately impenitent and unbelieving.
Let us not fail to notice that "fear" is an argument that ought sometimes to be pressed on professing Christians. Christ Himself used it. Burkitt says, "It is good to raise a friends fear, when that fear is for his good." To say as some ignorantly do, that love, and not fear, is the only argument which should be addressed to believers, is a modern and unscriptural notion.
v6.—[Not one of them is forgotten.] The providential care of God over all His creatures is strikingly taught in this and the following verse. Nothing was too little for God to create. Nothing is too little for God to preserve. Nothing that concerns God’s people is too little for Him to manage, or for them to bring before Him in prayer. Our least matters are in God’s hands. Major remarks, that this providence of God over the least things was a truth of which the heathen philosophers had no conception. The Epicureans, the Academics, the followers of Aristotle and others, maintained that the gods regarded the universe in general, but not particular persons and things.
WE are taught, firstly, in these verses, that we must confess Christ upon earth, if we expect Him to own us as His saved people at the last day. We must not be ashamed to let all men see that we believe in Christ, and serve Christ, and love Christ, and care more for the praise of Christ than for the praise of man.
The duty of confessing Christ is incumbent on all Christians in every age of the Church. Let us never forget that. It is not for martyrs only, but for all believers, in every rank of life. It is not for great occasions only, but for our daily walk through an evil world. The rich man among the rich, the laborer among laborers, the young among the young, the servant among servants,—each and all must be prepared, if they are true Christians, to confess their Master. It needs no blowing a trumpet. It requires no noisy boasting. It needs nothing more than using the daily opportunity. But one thing is certain,—if a man loves Jesus, he ought not to be ashamed to let people know it.
The difficulty of confessing Christ is undoubtedly very great. It never was easy at any period. It never will be easy as long as the world stands. It is sure to entail on us laughter, ridicule, contempt, mockery, enmity, and persecution. The wicked dislike to see any one better than themselves. The world which hated Christ will always hate true Christians. But whether we like it or not, whether it be hard or easy, our course is perfectly clear. In one way or another Christ must be confessed.
The grand motive to stir us up to bold confession is forcibly brought before us in the words which we are now considering. Our Lord declares, that if we do not confess Him before men, He will "not confess us before the angels of God" at the last day. He will refuse to acknowledge us as His people. He will disown us as cowards, faithless, and deserters. He will not plead for us. He will not be our Advocate. He will not deliver us from the wrath to come. He will leave us to reap the consequences of our cowardice, and to stand before the bar of God helpless, defenseless, and unforgiven. What an awful prospect is this! How much turns on this one hinge of "confessing Christ before men"! Surely we ought not to hesitate for a moment. To doubt between two such alternatives is the height of folly. For us to deny Christ or be ashamed of His Gospel, may get us a little of man’s good opinion for a few years, though it will bring us no real peace. But for Christ to deny us at the last day will be ruin in hell to all eternity! Let us cast away our cowardly fears. Come what will, let us confess Christ.
We are taught, secondly, in these verses, that there is such a thing as an unpardonable sin. Our Lord Jesus Christ declares that "unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven."
These awful words must doubtless be interpreted with scriptural qualification. We must never so expound one part of Scripture as to make it contradict another. Nothing is impossible with God. The blood of Christ can cleanse away all sin. The very chief of sinners have been pardoned in many instances. These things must never be forgotten. Yet notwithstanding all this, there remains behind a great truth which must not be evaded. There is such a thing as a sin "which shall not be forgiven."
The sin to which our Lord refers in this passage appears to be the sin of deliberately rejecting God’s truth with the heart, while the truth is clearly known with the head. It is a combination of light in the understanding and determined wickedness in the will. It is the very sin into which many of the Scribes and Pharisees appear to have fallen, when they rejected the ministration of the Spirit after the day of Pentecost, and refused to believe the preaching of the apostles. It is a sin into which, it may be feared, many constant hearers of the Gospel nowadays fall, by determined clinging to the world. And worst of all, it is a sin which is commonly accompanied by utter deadness, hardness, and insensibility of heart. The man whose sins will not be forgiven, is precisely the man who will never seek to have them forgiven. This is exactly the root of his awful disease. He might be pardoned, but he will not seek to be pardoned. He is Gospel-hardened and "twice dead." His conscience is "seared with a hot iron." (1 Timothy 4:2.)
Let us pray that we may be delivered from a cold, speculative, unsanctified head-knowledge of Christianity. It is a rock on which thousands make shipwreck to all eternity. No heart becomes so hard as that on which the light shines, but finds no admission. The same fire which melts the wax hardens the clay. Whatever light we have let us use it. Whatever knowledge we possess, let us live fully up to it. To be an ignorant heathen, and bow down to idols and stones, is bad enough. But to be called a Christian, and know the theory of the Gospel, and yet cleave to sin and the world with the heart, is to be a candidate for the worst and lowest place in hell.—It is to be as like as possible to the devil.
We are taught, lastly, in this passage, that Christians need not be over anxious as to what they shall say, when suddenly required to speak for Christ’s cause.
The promise which our Lord gives on this subject has a primary reference, no doubt, to public trials like those of Paul before Felix and Festus. It is a promise which hundreds in similar circumstances have found fulfilled to their singular comfort. The lives of many of the Reformers, and others of God’s witnesses, are full of striking proofs that the Holy Ghost can teach Christians what to say in time of need.
But there is a secondary sense, in which the promise belongs to all believers, which ought not be overlooked. Occasions are constantly arising in the lives of Christians, when they are suddenly and unexpectedly called upon to speak on behalf of their Master, and to render a reason of their hope. The home circle, the family fireside, the society of friends, the intercourse with relatives, the very business of the world, will often furnish such sudden occasions. On such occasions the believer should fall back on the promise now before us. It may be disagreeable, and especially to a young Christian, to be suddenly required to speak before others of religion, and above all if religion is attacked. But let us not be alarmed, and flurried, or cast down, or excited. If we remember the promise of Christ, we have no cause to be afraid.
Let us pray for a good memory about Bible promises. We shall find it an inestimable comfort. There are far more, and far wider promises laid down in Scripture for the comfort of Christ’s people, than most of Christ’s people are aware of. There are promises for almost every position in which we can be placed, and every event that can befall us. Among other promises, let us not forget that one which is now before us. We are sometimes called upon to go into company which is not congenial to us, and we go with a troubled and anxious heart. We fear saying what we ought not to say, and not saying what we ought. At such seasons, let us remember this blessed promise, and put our Master in remembrance of it also. So doing He will not fail us or forsake us. A mouth shall be given to us and wisdom to speak rightly. "The Holy Ghost shall teach us" what to say.
v8.—[Before the angels of God.] The time referred to in these words, as well as in those in the next verse, must doubtless be the day of judgment. The angels shall be specially employed in that day in gathering together God’s elect, and separating the wicked from among them.
The time referred to in the expression, "before men," must necessarily be, this present life, while we are among men.
The "confessing Christ" in this verse must not be confined merely to confessing Him when placed on our trial, or at the stake. We confess Him whenever we boldly avow ourselves to be His servants and disciples in the midst of’ an evil world.
v9.—[He that denieth.] Let it be noted, that the Greek words translated "he that denieth," would be rendered more literally, "he that has denied."
We must be careful not to confine "denying Christ" to such open acts as Peter’s denial of Him. We deny Christ when from unbelief, or indolence, or love of the world, or fear of man, we shrink from confessing Him as our Saviour and our King.
v10.—[Whosoever shall speak a word, &c.] The language of this verse is deep and mysterious. There are sins which are unpardonable.—The distinction drawn between "speaking against the Son of man," and "blaspheming against the Holy Ghost," ought not to be overlooked. The explanation is probably something of this kind.—The sin against the Son of man was committed by those who did not know Christ to be the Messiah in the days of His humiliation, and did not receive Him, believe Him, or obey Him, but ignorantly rejected Him, and crucified Him. Many of those who so sinned were pardoned, we cannot doubt; as, for example, on the day of Pentecost, after Peter’s preaching.—The sin against the Holy Ghost was committed by those, who, after the day of Pentecost, and the outpouring of the Spirit, and the full publication of the Gospel, persisted in unbelief and obstinate impenitence, and were given over to a reprobate mind. These especially grieved the Spirit, and resisted the ministration of the Holy Ghost. That this was the state of many of the Jews appears from several places in the Acts, and especially Acts 28:25-28. See also 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16.
The blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, of which those were guilty who said that our Lord cast out devils by Beelzebub, appears to be another form of sin. It is not clear to me that our Lord refers to it in this place.
The great question of the unpardonable sin, and the possibility of falling into it in modern days, is a distinct branch of the subject, and is not the chief point in the passage before us.
That there is such a sin is clear. That it consists of the union of the clearest head-knowledge of the Gospel with deliberate rejection of it, and deliberate choice of sin and the world, seems highly probable. That those who are troubled with fear that they have committed it, are just the persons who have not committed it, is the judgment of all the soundest divines. Utter hardness, callousness, and insensibility of conscience, are probably leading characteristics of the man who has sinned the unpardonable sin. He is "let alone," and given over to a reprobate mind.
Let it be noted, that the word we translate "him that blasphemeth," would be more literally rendered, "him that has blasphemed."
v11.—[When they bring you.] Let it be noted, that the word "they," in this expression, refers to no persons especially, and must be taken indefinitely. It means, "When ye are brought." Let the expression be compared with Luke 16:9.
[Unto magistrates and powers.] We have examples of the disciples being brought before such "powers," in the case of Peter and John before the council, and Paul before Felix, Festus, and Agrippa.
[Take ye no thought.] The Greek word so rendered means literally, "Be not anxious,—be not solicitous,—be not careful." It is the same word that is used in the expressions, "Take no thought for the morrow." (Matthew 6:34.) "Careth for the things of the world." (1 Corinthians 7:34.) "Be careful for nothing." (Philippians 4:6.)
We must not suppose that our Lord meant His disciples to neglect study and reading, upon all proper occasions. We might as well forbid all teaching in schools, because of the promise, "They shall not teach every man his neighbour." (Hebrews 8:11.) Paul, at the very end of his ministry, took thought for his "books and parchments."—(2 Timothy 4:13.)
To apply such promises as this to ministers in modern times, and to justify men in making no preparation for their Sunday sermons, is irreverent and unwarrantable trifling with Scripture.
v12.—[The Holy Ghost shall teach you.] The fulfilment of this promise is remarkably seen in Paul’s defence of himself before the Jews at Jerusalem, on the steps of the castle, and before Felix, Festus, and Agrippa. It has also been seen in modern times, in the histories of Wickliffe, Huss, Luther, Latimer, Ridley, Cranmer, and others, and especially in the case of some female martyrs, such as Alice Driver, at the English Reformation.
THE passage we have read now affords a singular instance of man’s readiness to bring the things of this world into the midst of his religion. We are told that a certain hearer of our Lord asked Him to assist him about his temporal affairs. "Master," he said, "speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me." He probably had some vague idea that Jesus was going to set up a kingdom in this world, and to reign upon earth. He resolves to make an early application about his own pecuniary matters. He entreats our Lord’s interference about his earthly inheritance. Other hearers of Christ might be thinking of a portion in the world to come. This man was one whose chief thoughts evidently ran upon this present life.
How many hearers of the Gospel are just like this man! How many are incessantly planning and scheming about the things of time, even under the very sound of the things of eternity! The natural heart of man is always the same. Even the preaching of Christ did not arrest the attention of all His hearers. The minister of Christ in the present day must never be surprised to see worldliness and inattention in the midst of his congregation. The servant must not expect his sermons to be more valued than his Master’s.
Let us mark in these verses what a solemn warning our Lord pronounces against covetousness. "He said unto them, take heed and beware of covetousness."
It would be vain to decide positively which is the most common sin in the world. It would be safe to say that there is none, at any rate, to which the heart is more prone, than covetousness. It was this sin which helped to cast down the angels who fell. They were not content with their first estate. They coveted something better. It was this sin which helped to drive Adam and Eve out of paradise, and bring death into the world. Our first parents were not satisfied with the things which God gave them in Eden. They coveted, and so they fell. It is a sin which, ever since the fall, has been the fertile cause of misery and unhappiness upon earth. Wars, quarrels, strifes, divisions, envyings, disputes, jealousies, hatreds of all sorts, both public and private, may nearly all be traced up to this fountain-head.
Let the warning which our Lord pronounces, sink down into our hearts, and bear fruit in our lives. Let us strive to learn the lesson which Paul had mastered, when he says, "I have learned in whatever state I am therewith to be content." (Philippians 4:11.) Let us pray for a thorough confidence in God’s superintending providence over all our worldly affairs, and God’s perfect wisdom in all His arrangements concerning us. If we have little, let us be sure that it would be not good for us to have much. If the things that we have are taken away, let us be satisfied that there is a needs be. Happy is he who is persuaded that whatever is, is best, and has ceased from vain wishing, and become "content with such things as he has." (Hebrews 13:5.)
Let us mark, secondly, in these verses, what a withering exposure our Lord makes of the folly of worldly-mindedness. He draws the picture of a rich man of the world, whose mind is wholly set on earthly things. He paints him scheming and planning about his property, as if he was master of his own life, and had but to say, "I will do a thing," and it would be done. And then he turns the picture, and shows us God requiring the worldling’s soul, and asking the heart-searching question, "Whose shall these things be which thou hast provided?" "Folly," he bids us learn, nothing less than "folly," is the right word by which to describe the conduct of the man who thinks of nothing but his money. The man who "lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich towards God," is the man whom God declares to be a "fool."
It is an awful thought that the character which Jesus brings before us in this parable, is far from being uncommon. Thousands in every age of the world have lived continually doing the very things which are here condemned. Thousands are doing them at this very day. They are laying up treasure upon earth, and thinking of nothing but how to increase it. They are continually adding to their hoards, as if they were to enjoy them forever, and as if there was no death, no judgment, and no world to come. And yet these are the men who are called clever, and prudent, and wise! These are the men who are commended, and flattered, and held up to admiration! Truly the Lord seeth not as man seeth! The Lord declares that rich men who live only for this world are "fools."
Let us pray for rich men. Their souls are in great danger. "Heaven," said a great man on his death-bed, "is a place to which few kings and rich men come." Even when converted, the rich carry a great weight, and run the race to heaven under great disadvantages. The possession of money has a most hardening effect upon the conscience. We never know what we may do when we become rich. "The love of money is the root of all evil. While some have coveted after it, they have erred from the faith and pierced themselves through with many sorrows." (1 Timothy 6:10.) Poverty has many disadvantages. But riches destroy far more souls than poverty!
Let us mark, lastly, in these verses, how important it is to be rich towards God. This is true wisdom. This is true providing for time to come. This is genuine prudence. The wise man is he who does not think only of earthly treasure, but of treasure in heaven.
When can it be said of a man, that he is rich towards God? Never till he is rich in grace, and rich in faith, and rich in good works! Never till he has applied to Jesus Christ, and bought of him gold tried in the fire! (Revelation 3:18.) Never till he has a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens! Never till he has a name inscribed in the book of life, and is an heir of God and a joint heir with Christ! Such a man is truly rich. His treasure is incorruptible. His bank never breaks. His inheritance fadeth not away. Man cannot deprive him of it. Death cannot snatch it out of his hands. All things are his already,—life, death, things present, and things to come. (1 Corinthians 3:22.) And best of all, what he has now is nothing to what he will have hereafter.
Riches like these are within reach of every sinner who will come to Christ and receive them. May we never rest till they are ours! To obtain them may cost us something in this world. It may bring on us persecution, ridicule, and scorn. But let the thought console us, that the Judge of all says, "Thou art rich." (Revelation 2:9.) The true Christian is the only man who is really wealthy and wise.
v13.—[One of the company said.] We know nothing of this man. His question gave occasion for a striking lesson on covetousness. The number of instances in which our Lord turns a bystander’s remark to a spiritual use, in the Gospel of Luke, is well worthy of notice. It is probable that this man was filled with the common notion that Messiah was going to be a temporal ruler, and to set all things right in the world.
v14.—[Who made me a judge.] The question here is equivalent to a strong negation.—"I am not come to be a judge of temporal matters." The wisdom of our Lord’s line of conduct on this occasion deserves notice. The slightest interference with the office of the civil government would have given occasion to His enemies, and placed Him in their power.
Ministers of Christ would do well in modern times to mark our Lord’s conduct in this case, and, as far as possible, to walk in His steps. The less ministers have to do with secular things, and especially with the administration of law, the better. The magistrate’s bench, as a general rule, is not a fitting position for a minister of the Gospel to occupy. When the preacher of the Gospel undertakes any work except that of his calling, his proper work and business are usually neglected, or worse done than they would have been if he had confined himself exclusively to them, and been a man of one thing. "Give thyself wholly to these things," is a sentence which should never be forgotten.
v15.—[Take heed and beware of covetousness.] Those who possess Latimer’s works should read his sermon on this text. He begins by repeating the words three times, and then says, "And what if I should say nothing else?"
[A man’s life.] The meaning of this must be, "A man’s true interest,—the real end and object of man’s being,—the purpose for which God made him, and gave him breath." He was not made only to amass wealth, but to glorify God on earth, and enjoy Him hereafter in heaven.
v17.—[He thought within himself.] The anxious thoughts, and scheming and planning, which increase of wealth always brings with it, are strikingly described in this verse. The more acres a man has, the more cares. The more his money increases, the more of his time is generally consumed and eaten up in thinking about it.
v18.—[My barns.] It is doubtful whether the word translated "barns" exactly means what we understand by a barn in our language. It means literally a "repository." It is not improbable, as is often the case in some countries, that the rich man’s barns were holes in the ground, or caves, prepared for the keeping of corn.
Let it be observed, that the rich man talks of "my" barns, "my" fruits "my" goods, with all the self-sufficiency and petty importance of one who knows no will but his own, and no master but his own selfishness. It should remind us of Nabal’s language, in 1 Samuel 25:11. Of him too it is written, "Fool is his name, and folly is with him." (1 Samuel 25:25.)
v19.—[I will say to my soul.] This is the language of genuine worldliness. And yet he talks of his "soul"! He speaks of "goods laid up for many years," and yet ignores the eternity which must come at last, and the necessity of a hope laid up in heaven!
The secret thoughts and schemes of rich worldlings are strikingly exposed in this verse. The Lord Jesus knows exactly what such men are thinking of.
Basil remarks, "If this man had only had the sense of a hog, what other thing could he have said?"
v20.—[But God said unto him.] Our Lord does not inform us in what way God spoke to the rich man; whether directly or by a messenger, as He spake by Nathan to David. What he has not thought fit to explain, it is useless for us to conjecture.
[Thou fool.] The Greek word so translated means literally,, without mind, or sense, or understanding. It is the same word as in Luke 11:40. Let us mark, that just when the rich man was scheming cunningly, and thinking himself very wise, God says to him, "Thou fool."
[Thy soul shall be required.] The Greek words so translated would be literally rendered. "They shall require thy soul." It is an example of the indefinite use of "they," as already observed on Luke 12:11.
Let it be noted, that this expression is one of those which show the separate existence of the soul when the body is dead.
[Whose shall these things be.] The argument here appears to be much the same as that in Ecclesiastes 5:15. and Psalms 39:6. A man cannot possess his property a moment after he is dead. Grace is the only lasting possession.
v21.—[Layeth up treasure for himself.] This describes all who labour only for themselves, and the life that now is.
[Is not rich toward God.] This is the character of him who gives nothing to God’s glory,—neither money, affection, thought, time, nor interest. There are thousands of this character. They are rich toward every thing but God. They have plenty to give to the world, but nothing to give to God. Ask them to help a worldly scheme, and they can find money, time, and attention. Ask them to do something for God. and they have no money, or no time! Those are the truly rich who have property which will be recognized at the day of judgment. Many owners of millions of pounds are paupers before God. They are not rich either in grace, or faith, or good works.
WE have in these verses a collection of striking arguments against over-anxiety about the things of this world.
At first sight they may seem to some minds simple and common place. But the more they are pondered, the more weighty will they appear. An abiding recollection of them would save many Christians an immense amount of trouble.
Christ bids us consider the ravens. "They neither sow nor reap. They have neither storehouse nor barn. But God feedeth them." Now if the Maker of all things provides for the wants of birds, and orders things so that they have a daily supply of food, we ought surely not to fear that He will let His spiritual children starve.
Christ bids us look at the lilies. "They toil not, they spin not; Yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." Now if God every year provides these flowers with a fresh supply of living leaves and blossoms, we surely ought not to doubt His power and willingness to furnish His believing servants with all needful clothing.
Christ bids us remember that a Christian man should be ashamed of being as anxious as a heathen. The "nations of the world" may well be careful about food, and raiment, and the like. They are sunk in deep ignorance, and know nothing of the real nature of God. But the man who can say of God, "He is my Father," and of Christ, "He is my Savior," ought surely to be above such anxieties and cares. A clear faith should produce a light heart.
Finally, Christ bids us think of the perfect knowledge of God. "Our Father knows that we have need" of food and raiment. That thought alone ought to make us content. All our wants are perfectly known to the Lord of heaven and earth. He can relieve those wants, whenever He sees fit. He will relieve them, whenever it is good for our souls.
Let the four arguments now adduced sink deep into our hearts, and bear fruit in our lives. Nothing is more common than an careful and troubled spirit, and nothing so mars a believer’s usefulness, and minishes his inward peace. Nothing, on the contrary, glorifies God so much as a cheerful spirit in the midst of temporal troubles. It carries a reality with it which even the worldly can understand. It commends our Christianity, and makes it beautiful in the eyes of men. Faith, and faith only, will produce this cheerful spirit. The man who can say boldly, "The LORD is my shepherd," is the man who will be able to add, "I shall not want." (Psalms 23:1.)
We have, secondly, in these verses, a high standard of living commended to all Christians. It is contained in a short and simple injunction, "Seek ye the kingdom of God." We are not to give our principal thoughts to the things of this world. We are not so to live as if we had nothing but a body. We are to live like beings who have immortal souls to be lost or saved,—a death to die,—a God to meet,—a judgment to expect,—and an eternity in heaven or in hell awaiting us.
When can we be said to "seek the kingdom of God"? We do so when we make it the chief business of our lives to secure a place in the number of saved people,—to have our sins pardoned, our hearts renewed, and ourselves made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light. We do so when we give a primary place in our minds to the interests of God’s kingdom,—when we labor to increase the number of God’s subjects,—when we strive to maintain God’s cause, and advance God’s glory in the world.
The kingdom of God is the only kingdom worth laboring for. All other kingdoms shall, sooner or later, decay and pass away. The statesmen who rear them are like men who build houses of cards, or children, who make palaces of sand on the sea shore. The wealth which constitutes their greatness is as liable to melt away as the snow in spring. The kingdom of God is the only kingdom which shall endure forever. Happy are they who belong to it, love it, live for it, pray for it, and labor for its increase and prosperity. Their labor shall not be in vain. May we give all diligence to make our calling into this kingdom sure! May it be our constant advice to children, relatives, friends, servants, neighbors, "Seek the kingdom"! Whatever else you seek, "Seek first the kingdom of God"!
We have, lastly, in these verses, a marvelous promise held out to those who seek the kingdom of God. Our Lord Jesus declares, "All these things shall be added unto you."
We must take heed that we do not misunderstand the meaning of this passage. We have no right to expect that the Christian tradesman, who neglects his business under pretense of zeal for God’s kingdom, will find his trade prosper, and his affairs do well. To place such a sense upon the promise would be nothing less than fanaticism and enthusiasm. It would encourage slothfulness in business, and give occasion to the enemies of God to blaspheme.
The man to whom the promise before us belongs, is the Christian who gives to the things of God their right order and their right place. He does not neglect the worldly duties of his station, but he regards them as of infinitely less importance than the requirements of God. He does not omit due attention to his temporal affairs, but he looks on them as of far less moment than the affairs of his soul. In short, he aims in all his daily life to put God first and the world second,—to give the second place to the things of his body, and the first place to the things of his soul. This is the man to whom Jesus says, "All these things shall be added unto thee."
But how is the promise fulfilled? The answer is short and simple. The man who seeks first God’s kingdom shall never lack anything that is for his good. He may not have so much health as some. He may not have so much wealth as others. He may not have a richly spread table, or royal dainties. But he shall always have enough. "Bread shall be given him. His water shall be sure." (Isaiah 33:16.) "All things shall work together for good to them that love God." (Romans 8:28.) "No good thing will the Lord withhold from them that walk uprightly." (Psalms 84:11.) "I have been young," said David, "and now am old, yet never have I seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging their bread." (Psalms 37:25.)
v22.—[He said unto His disciples.] Let it be noted that our Lord in this passage addresses Himself especially to His disciples. He turns to them from the man for whom he had refused to be a judge and a divider, and from the mixed multitude to whom he had spoken the parable of the rich fool. He knew the readiness of a believer’s heart to be anxious about the things of this world, and supplied His followers with comforting arguments against care.
[Take no thought.] The same remark which has been already made on this expression may be repeated here. The meaning of the Greek word is, "Take no anxious thought,—be not anxiously careful."
[Life...body.] The maintenance of animal life and the clothing of the body, are the two primary objects of thought and care. Paul refers to this when he says, "Having food and raiment, let us be therewith content." (1 Timothy 6:8.)
v23.—[More.] This expression means "more excellent,—more valuable." It is translated "greater" in Luke 11:31-32; and "more excellent" in Hebrews 11:4.
v24.—[Ravens.] Let it be noted that the ravens are specially mentioned in Psalms 147:9, and Job 38:41, as objects of God’s care. In the history of Elijah, the Holy Ghost shows us the ravens providing for others, as well as providing for themselves. (1 Kings 17:6.)
v25.—[To his stature, one cubit.] It admits of grave doubt whether the Greek word which we translate "stature," ought not to have been translated "life," or "age."—It Is so translated in John 9:21, John 9:23, and Hebrews 11:11. The idea of a person being anxious to increase his stature is undoubtedly somewhat strange, and the addition of a cubit to it would hardly be called in the following verse "that thing which is least."—Anxiety about a longer term of life is much more common and intelligible. The application of the word "cubit" to an increase of life, is quite justified by the expression in the Psalms, "Thou hast made my days as an hand breadth." (Psalms 39:5.) The figure is also used in classical writers.
v27.—[The lilies.] It is not clear that the flowers which are translated "lilies," are the lilies of our climate. Major quotes Sir J. E. Smith’s saying, "There is reason to suppose that the lily mentioned by our Saviour, is the Amaryllis Lutea or Autumnal Narcissus. The flower is described by travellers, as appearing in profusion in the fields of countries in the Levant, and Covering them in autumn with a vivid golden brilliancy, so as to admit of a peculiarly apt comparison with Solomon in all his glory."
[Solomon in all his glory.] Let it be observed that the kingdom and glory of Solomon are spoken of here as real and true things, and not as mere myths and fables.
v28.—[The grass.] The word so translated signifies herbage in general, including flowers.
v29.—[Neither be ye of doubtful mind.] The Greek word so translated is only found here in the New Testament. Its meaning has been variously explained, and our own translators seem to have felt its difficulty by their marginal reading "live not in careful suspense."
According to Hammond, the idea’ is borrowed from clouds or birds, high in the air, and tossed to and fro by the wind.
The vulgate translation appears to regard the expression as a warning against high and ambitious thoughts, "be not lifted up on high."
The true idea is probably that which is given by Suicer. The expression is one borrowed from ships out at sea, which, especially when seen from the shore, appear lifted up, tossed to and fro and restless. Thucydides has a similar expression, when describing the condition of men’s minds in Greece, just at the beginning of the Peloponnesian war. (Thuc. ii. 7.) It implies a state of suspense, doubt, and anxiety about the future.
v30.—[The nations.] Doddridge paraphrases this sentence thus, "The Gentile nations of the world, who know little of Providence or of a future state, seek after all these lower things, with great solicitude; and they are more excusable in doing it."
LET us mark what a gracious word of consolation this passage contains for all true believers. The Lord Jesus knew well the hearts of His disciples. He knew how ready they were to be filled with fears of every description,—fears because of the fewness of their number,—fears because of the multitude of their enemies,—fears because of the many difficulties in their way,—fears because of their sense of weakness and unworthiness. He answers these many fears with a single golden sentence,—"Fear not, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom."
Believers are a "little flock." They always have been, ever since the world began. Professing servants of God have sometimes been very many. Baptized people at the present day are a great company. But true Christians are very few. It is foolish to be surprised at this. It is vain to expect it will be otherwise until the Lord comes again. "Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." (Matthew 7:14.)
Believers have a glorious "kingdom" awaiting them. Here upon earth they are often mocked and ridiculed, and persecuted, and, like their Master, despised and rejected of men. But "the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed." "When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory." (Romans 8:18. Colossians 3:4.)
Believers are tenderly loved by God the Father. It is "the Father’s good pleasure" to give them a kingdom. He does not receive them grudgingly, unwillingly, and coldly. He rejoices over them as members of His beloved Son in whom He is well pleased. He regards them as His dear children in Christ. He sees no spot in them. Even now, when He looks down on them from heaven, in the midst of their infirmities, He is well pleased, and hereafter, when presented before His glory, He will welcome them with exceeding joy. (Judges 1:24.)
Are we members of Christ’s little flock? Then surely we ought not to be afraid. There are given to us exceeding great and precious promises. (2 Peter 1:4.) God is ours, and Christ is ours. Greater are those that are for us than all that are against us. The world, the flesh, and the devil, are mighty enemies. But with Christ on our side we have no cause to fear.
Let us mark, secondly, what a striking exhortation these verses contain to seek treasure in heaven. "Sell that ye have," said our Lord, "and give alms." "Provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens which faileth not." But this is not all. A mighty, heart-searching principle is laid down to enforce the exhortation. "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
The language of this charge is doubtless somewhat figurative. Yet the meaning of it is clear and unmistakable. We are to sell,—to give up anything, and deny ourselves anything which stands in the way of our soul’s salvation. We are to give,—to show charity and kindness to every one, and to be more ready to spend our money in relieving others, than to hoard it for our own selfish purposes. We are to provide ourselves treasures in heaven,—to make sure that our names are in the book of life,—to lay hold of eternal life,—to lay up for ourselves evidences which will bear the inspection of the day of judgment.
This is true wisdom. This is real prudence. The man who does well for himself is the man who gives up everything for Christ’s sake. He makes the best of bargains. He carries the cross for a few years in this world, and in the world to come has everlasting life. He obtains the best of possessions. He carries his riches with him beyond the grave. He is rich in grace here, and he is rich in glory hereafter. And, best of all, what he obtains by faith in Christ he never loses. It is "that good part which is never taken away."
Would we know what we are ourselves? Let us see whether we have treasure in heaven, or whether all our good things are here upon earth.—Would we know what our treasure is? Let us ask ourselves what we love most. This is the true test of character. This is the pulse of our religion. It matters little what we say, or what we profess, or what preaching we admire, or what place of worship we attend. What do we love? On what are our affections set? This is the great question. "Where our treasure is there will our hearts be also."
Let us mark, lastly, what an instructive picture these verses contain of the frame of mind which the true Christian should endeavor to keep up. Our Lord tells us that we ought to be "like men that wait for their Lord." We ought to live like servants who expect their Master’s return, fulfilling our duties in our several stations, and doing nothing which we would not like to be found doing when Christ comes again.
The standard of life which our Lord has set up here is an exceedingly high one,—so high, indeed, that many Christians are apt to flinch from it, and feel cast down. And yet there is nothing here which ought to make a believer afraid. Readiness for the return of Christ to this world implies nothing which is impossible and unattainable. It requires no angelic perfection. It requires no man to forsake his family, and retire into solitude. It requires nothing more than the life of repentance, faith, and holiness.
The man who is living the life of faith in the Son of God is the man whose "loins are girded," and whose "light is burning." Such a man may have the care of kingdoms on him, like Daniel,—or be a servant in a Nero’s household, like some in Paul’s time. All this matters nothing. If he lives looking unto Jesus, he is a servant who can "open to Him immediately." Surely it is not too much to ask Christians to be men of this kind. Surely it was not for nothing that our Lord said, "The Son of Man cometh at an hour when ye think not."
Are we ourselves living as if we were ready for the second coming of Christ? Well would it be if this question were put to our consciences more frequently. It might keep us back from many a false step in our daily life. It might prevent many a backsliding. The true Christian should not only believe in Christ, and love Christ. He should also look and long for Christ’s appearing. If he cannot say from his heart, "Come, Lord Jesus," there must be something wrong about his soul.
v32.—[Little flock.] The Greek word which we render "flock," is a diminutive, meaning literally "little flock." The addition of the adjective which we translate "little," increases the tenderness of the whole expression.
[It is your Father’s good pleasure.] This would be rendered literally, "Your Father is well pleased." It is the same expression which is used in the well known places, Matthew 3:17; Matthew 17:5. Mark 1:11. Luke 3:22. Let it be noted that our Lord lays special stress in this passage on the Fatherly relation of God to all believers, as an antidote to over-carefulness and anxiety.
v33.—[Sell that ye have, &c.] This expression, if not confined to the Apostles, but applied generally to all believers, must evidently be interpreted with some scriptural limitation. There is nothing in the Acts or the Epistles, which shows that believers, in the primitive church, were expected to sell all their property, as soon as they were converted. On the contrary, Peter’s words to Ananias, seem to show that it was quite optional with converts to sell their property or keep it. (Acts 5:4.) Paul goes even further, and says that "if a man provides not for his own, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel." (1 Timothy 5:8.)
The whole verse is a strong figurative exhortation to self-denial, liberality, and careful prevision for the soul. An excessively literal interpretation lands us in insuperable difficulties. It will surely not be said that Christians ought literally to provide themselves "bags." Once concede that a figure is used, and a figurative explanation of the whole verse must be reasonably conceded.
The "thief" in the verse represents sudden and violent loss, the "moth" gradual and silent waste or exhaustion.
v35.—[Loins be girded.] This is a figure drawn from the habits of dressing which prevailed in our Lord’s time, and which are general at the present day throughout the East. Long flowing garments were the ordinary attire that men wore. When any thing was to he done requiring bodily exertion, the first thing needful was to gird up the loins, or tie the garments tightly round the waist.
[Your lights burning.] To see the full force of this expression, we should read the parable of the ten virgins. (Matthew 25:1.) Marriages often took place in the evening. It was the duty of the servants to meet the wedding party with lighted torches. The verse before us is an exhortation to be in an attitude of constant preparation to meet the bridegroom Jesus Christ at His second advent.
v37.—[He shall gird himself, &c.] This is perhaps one of the most wonderful promises which is made to believers anywhere in the New Testament. It must probably be interpreted figuratively. The meaning evidently is, that there is no degree of honour and glory which the Lord Jesus will not gladly bestow on those who are found ready to meet Him, in the day of His second advent. Some think that there will be, in some way, a literal fulfilment of this promise, and that our Lord refers to this, when he says at the last supper, "I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come." (Luke 22:18.) A reference to the same literal fulfilment is also supposed to exist in Isaiah 25:6.
Pearce says, "We may gather from this verse that it was the custom in those days, as it was not long since among us, for the bridegroom at a wedding supper to wait upon the company as a servant."
v38.—[Second watch...third watch.] These expressions are figurative. The night was divided into four watches. The second watch was from nine to twelve, and the third from twelve to three. The uncertainty of the time of the Lord’s advent, and the duty of being always ready for it, are the lessons of the verse.
v39.—[What hour the thief would come.] This is a parabolic sentence, intended to teach us that the "day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night;" (1 Thessalonians 5:2,) and that there is no safety for Christians, excepting in constant readiness for it.
v40.—[The Son of man cometh.] Let it be noted that the coming here spoken of, is the second personal advent of our Lord Jesus Christ, at the end of this dispensation. To apply the expression, as some do, to death, is an entire perversion of Scripture. The coming of the Lord is one thing, and death is another.
WE learn from these verses, the importance of doing, in our Christianity. Our Lord is speaking of His own second coming. He is comparing His disciples to servants waiting for their master’s return, who have each their own work to do during His absence. "Blessed," He says, "is that servant, whom his lord, when he cometh, shall find so doing."
The warning has doubtless a primary reference to ministers of the Gospel. They are the stewards of God’s mysteries, who are specially bound to be found "doing," when Christ comes again. But the words contain a further lesson, which all Christians would do well to consider. That lesson is, the immense importance of a working, practical, diligent, useful religion.
The lesson is one which is greatly needed in the churches of Christ. We hear a great deal about people’s intentions, and hopes, and wishes, and feelings, and professions. It would be well if we could hear more about people’s practice. It is not the servant who is found wishing and professing, but the servant who is found "doing" whom Jesus calls "blessed."
The lesson is one which many, unhappily, shrink from giving, and many more shrink from receiving. We are gravely told that to talk of "working," and "doing," is legalistic, and brings Christians into bondage! Remarks of this kind should never move us. They savor of ignorance or perverseness. The lesson before us is not about justification, but about sanctification,—not about faith, but about holiness. The point is not what a man should do to be saved,—but what ought a saved man to do? The teaching of Scripture is clear and express upon this subject. A saved man ought to be "careful to maintain good works." (Titus 3:8.) The desire of a true Christian ought to be, to be found "doing."
If we love life, let us resolve by God’s help, to be "doing" Christians. This is to be like Christ,—He "went about doing good." (Acts 10:38.) This is to be like the apostles,—they were men of deeds even more than of words. This is to glorify God,—"Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit." (John 15:8.) This is to be useful to the world,—"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:16.)
We learn, secondly, from these verses, the awful danger of those who neglect the duties of their calling. Of such our Lord declares, that they shall be "cut in sunder, and their portion appointed with the unbelievers." These words no doubt apply especially to the ministers and teachers of the Gospel. Yet we must not flatter ourselves that they are confined to them. They are probably meant to convey a lesson to all who fill offices of high responsibility. It is a striking fact that when Peter says at the beginning of the passage, "Speakest thou this parable to us, or even to all?" our Lord gives him no answer. Whoever occupies a position of trust, and neglects his duties, would do well to ponder this passage, and learn wisdom.
The language which our Lord Jesus uses about slothful and unfaithful servants, is peculiarly severe. Few places in the Gospels contain such strong expressions as this. It is a vain delusion to suppose that the Gospel speaks nothing but "smooth things." The same loving Savior who holds out mercy to the uttermost to the penitent and believing, never shrinks from holding up the judgments of God against those who despise His counsel. Let no man deceive us on this subject. There is a hell for such an one as goeth on still in his wickedness, no less than a heaven for the believer in Jesus. There is such a thing as "the wrath of the Lamb." (Revelation 6:16.)
Let us strive so to live, that whenever the heavenly Master comes, we may be found ready to receive Him. Let us watch our hearts with a godly jealousy, and beware of the least symptom of unreadiness for the Lord’s appearing. Specially let us beware of any rising disposition to lower our standard of Christian holiness,—to dislike persons who are more spiritually-minded than ourselves, and to conform to the world. The moment we detect such a disposition in our hearts, we may be sure that our souls are in great peril. The Christian professor who begins to persecute God’s people, and to take pleasure in worldly society, is on the high road to ruin.
We learn, lastly, from these verses, that the greater a man’s religious light is, the greater is his guilt if he is not converted. The servant which "knew his lord’s will, but did it not, shall be beaten with many stripes." "Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required."
The lesson of these words is one of wide application. It demands the attention of many classes. It should come home to the conscience of every British Christian. His judgment shall be far more strict than that of the heathen who never saw the Bible. It should come home to every Protestant who has the liberty to read the Scriptures. His responsibility is far greater than that of the priest-ridden Romanist, who is debarred from the use of God’s word. It should come home to every hearer of the Gospel. If he remains unconverted he is far more guilty than the inhabitant of some dark parish, who never hears any teaching but a sort of semi-heathen morality.—It should come home to every child and servant in religious families. All such are far more blameworthy, in God’s sight, than those who live in houses where there is no honor paid to the word of God and prayer. Let these things never be forgotten. Our judgment at the last day will be according to our light and opportunities.
What are we doing ourselves with our religious knowledge? Are we using it wisely, and turning it to good account? Or are we content with the barren saying, "We know it,—we know it," and secretly flattering ourselves that the knowledge of our Lord’s will makes us better than others, while that will is not done? Let us beware of mistakes. The day will come, when knowledge unimproved will be found the most perilous of possessions. Thousands will awake to find that they are in a lower place than the most ignorant and idolatrous heathen. Their knowledge not used, and their light not followed, will only add to their condemnation.
v42.—[And the Lord said.] Let it be noted that our Lord Jesus Christ did not give any direct reply to the question which Peter asked. Major remarks, "The meaning of our Saviour’s reply appears to be this: The precepts that I have given apply to every individual, but with greater force to you who are in the situation of stewards, to whom much has been entrusted, and from whom consequently much will be required."
The whole passage, down to the 48th verse, appears to be parabolic and figurative; and we must be careful not to strain any particular expression in it, further than is warranted by the general scope of the context.
[Steward.] This word, it should be noted, is specially used by Paul as descriptive of the ministerial office. (1 Corinthians 4:1.) It would seem to show that ministers are primarily pointed at in our Lord’s teaching in this parable.
v44.—[Make him ruler over all that he hath.] This expression should be compared with similar expressions in the parables of the talents and of the pounds.
v45.—[Beat the menservants, &c.] Stella, though a Roman Catholic Commentator, remarks how closely this verse describes the conduct of Cardinals and Bishops at Rome in the beginning of the 17th century.
v46.—[Will cut him in sunder.] It admits of some doubt whether the Greek word so translated will bear so strong a sense as our translators have put upon it. It is only found in this passage, and a similar passage in Matthew 24:51.
Parkhurst thinks that it means, "shall scourge with the utmost severity." Others think that it means, "shall separate, or remove, from his office;—shall dismiss." It certainly is worthy of note, that after using this expression, our Lord speaks of the unfaithful servant as yet alive: "He shall appoint him his portion with the unbelievers."
[With the unbelievers.] Some think that this expression means simply "with the unfaithful servants," in contradistinction to the "faithful servants," described in the 42nd verse. Comparison with Matthew 25:21, favours this idea.
v48.—[Knew not...commit things worthy of stripes.] Watson thinks that the ignorance here must be "taken comparatively, and not absolutely." Few expressions in the Bible are more unfavourable to the heathen who die in ignorance of the Gospel than this. It is vain to conceal from ourselves the solemn truth, that no degree of ignorance makes a man entirely guiltless and excusable in the sight of God. Our very ignorance is part of our sin.
[Unto whomsoever much is given, &c.] In this sentence our Lord lays down a great principle in His kingdom, as an appropriate conclusion to the parable he has just been speaking.
Baxter remarks on this verse, "Great gifts are to be used with great diligence; and great trusts, and powers, and charges, are rather to be feared than sought. Little do the conquerors of the world, or those that strive for church preferments, believe and consider what duty, or what deep damnation, they labour for."
THE sayings of the Lord Jesus in these five verses are particularly weighty and suggestive. They unfold truths which every true Christian would do well to mark and digest. They explain things in the Church, and in the world, which at first sight are hard to be understood.
We learn for one thing from these verses how thoroughly the heart of Christ was set on finishing the work which He came into the world to do. He says, "I have a baptism to be baptized with,"—a baptism of suffering, of wounds, of agony, of blood, and of death. Yet none of these things moved Him. He adds, "How am I straitened till this baptism is accomplished!" The prospect of coming trouble did not deter Him for a moment. He was ready and willing to endure all things in order to provide eternal redemption for His people. Zeal for the cause He had taken in hand was like a burning fire within Him. To advance His Father’s glory, to open the door of life to a lost world, to provide a fountain for all sin and uncleanness by the sacrifice of Himself, were continually the uppermost thoughts of His mind. He was pressed in spirit till this mighty work was finished.
Forever let us bear in mind that all Christ’s sufferings on our behalf were endured willingly, voluntarily, and of His own free choice. They were not submitted to patiently merely because He could not avoid them. They were not borne without a murmur merely because He could not escape them. He lived a humble life for thirty-three years merely because He loved to do so. He died a death of agony with a willing and a ready mind. Both in life and death He was carrying out the eternal counsel whereby God was to be glorified and sinners were to be saved. He carried it out with all His heart, mighty as the struggle was which it entailed upon His flesh and blood. He delighted to do God’s will. He was straitened till it was accomplished.
Let us not doubt that the heart of Christ in heaven is the same that it was when He was upon earth. He feels as deep an interest now about the salvation of sinners as He did formerly about dying in their stead. Jesus never changes. He is the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever. There is in Him an infinite willingness to receive, pardon, justify, and deliver the souls of men from hell. Let us strive to realize that willingness, and learn to believe it without doubting, and repose on it without fear. It is a certain fact, if men would only believe it, that Christ is far more willing to save us than we are to be saved.
Let the zeal of our Lord and Master be an example to all His people. Let the recollection of His burning readiness to die for us be like a glowing coal in our memories, and constrain us to live to Him, and not to ourselves. Surely the thought of it should waken our sleeping hearts, and warm our cold affections, and make us anxious to redeem the time, and do something for His Praise. A zealous Savior ought to have zealous disciples.
We learn, for another thing, from these verses, how useless it is to expect universal peace and harmony from the preaching of the Gospel. The disciples, like most Jews of their day, were probably expecting Messiah’s kingdom immediately to appear. They thought the time was at hand when the wolf would lie down with the lamb, and men would not hurt or destroy any more. (Isaiah 11:9.) Our Lord saw what was in their hearts, and checked their untimely expectations with a striking saying—"Suppose ye that I am come to send peace on earth? I tell you, Nay, but rather division."
There is something at first sight very startling in this saying. It seems hard to reconcile it with the song of angels, which spoke of "peace on earth" as the companion of Christ’s Gospel. (Luke 2:14.) Yet startling as the saying sounds, it is one which facts have proved to be literally true. Peace is undoubtedly the result of the Gospel wherever it is believed and received. But wherever there are hearers of the Gospel who are hardened, impenitent, and determined to have their sins, the very message of peace becomes the cause of division. They that live after the flesh will hate those that live after the Spirit. They that are resolved to live for the world will always be evil affected towards those that are resolved to serve Christ. We may lament this state of things, but we cannot prevent it. Grace and nature can no more amalgamate than oil and water. So long as men are disagreed upon first principles in religion, there can be no real cordiality between them. So long as some men are converted and some are unconverted, there can be no true peace.
Let us beware of unscriptural expectations. If we expect to see people of one heart and one mind, before they are converted, we shall continually be disappointed. Thousands of well-meaning persons now-a-days are continually crying out for more "unity" among Christians. To attain this they are ready to sacrifice almost anything, and to throw overboard even sound doctrine, if, by so doing, they can secure peace. Such people would do well to remember that even gold may be bought too dear, and that peace is useless if purchased at the expense of truth. Surely they have forgotten the words of Christ, "I came not to send peace but division."
Let us never be moved by those who charge the Gospel with being the cause of strife and divisions upon earth. Such men only show their ignorance when they talk in this way. It is not the Gospel which is to blame, but the corrupt heart of man. It is not God’s glorious remedy which is in fault, but the diseased nature of Adam’s race, which, like a self-willed child, refuses the medicine provided for its cure. So long as some men and women will not repent and believe, and some will, there must needs be division. To be surprised at it is the height of folly. The very existence of division is one proof of Christ’s foresight, and of the truth of Christianity.
Let us thank God that a time is coming when there shall be no more divisions on earth, but all shall be of one mind. That time shall be when Jesus, the Prince of Peace, comes again in person, and puts down every enemy under His feet. When Satan is bound, when the wicked are separated from the righteous, and cast down to their own place, then, and not till then, will be perfect peace. For that blessed time let us wait, and watch, and pray. The night is far spent. The day is at hand. Our divisions are but for a little season. Our peace shall endure to eternity.
v49.—[I am come to send fire.] Commentators differ widely about the meaning of the word "fire" in this verse.
1. Some think that it means the Holy Spirit, and refers to the gift of the Holy Ghost which was bestowed on the day of Pentecost. This, in the main, is the opinion of Chrysostom, Origen, Jerome, Athanasius, Ambrose, Gregory, Bede, Bernard, Cocceius, Cornelius à Lapide, Alford, and Stier.
2. Some think that it means the "preaching of the Gospel." This is the opinion of Theophylact, Cyril, Bucer, and Chemnitius.
3. Some think that it means the "word of God." This is the opinion of Bullinger, Gualter, and Watson.
4. Some think that it means "love." This is the opinion of Jansenius, Stella, Bengel, and, in part, of Euthymius.
5. Some think that it means the persecutions, afflictions, dissensions, and strifes which were to accompany the introduction of the Gospel into the world. This is the opinion of Tertullian, Brentius, Beza, Poole, Calovius, Trapp, Maldonatus, Hammond, Lightfoot, Whitby, Burkitt, Henry, Pearce, Scott, Barnes, and Burgon.
I decidedly adhere to this last opinion. The other four interpretations appear to me far-fetched and inconsistent with the context. Fire is an expression not unfrequently used in Scripture as an emblem of trouble and affliction. See Psalms 66:12, and Isaiah 43:2. Moreover, it is worthy of remark, that "to send fire" is a common figure of speech in the Old Testament, to express sending trouble and affliction. Let the following passages be examined: Lamentations 1:13; Ezekiel 39:6; Hosea 8:14; Amos 2:2, Amos 2:5.
[What will I, if it be already kindled?] The Greek words so translated, are so remarkable, that some have thought they ought to be rendered, "What will I? Oh! that it were already kindled." This is the opinion of Cocceius and Hammond. But I see no reason for disputing the correctness of our received translation.
Trapp’s paraphrase is a fair exposition of the meaning of the sentence: "Let the fire kindle as soon as it will, I am contented. I know much good will come of it."
Barnes paraphrases the sentence thus: "What would I, but that it were kindled. Since it is necessary for the advancement of religion that such divisions should take place,—since the Gospel cannot be established without conflicts, strifes, and hatreds, I am even desirous that they should come."
Lightfoot says,—"What will I," seems to be used after the manner of the schools, where "What do I say" is the same with "I do say this;" and "What do I decree," the same with, "I do decree this." So, "What will I" is the same with "This I will." The meaning is, "This I will, that it be already kindled."
v50.—[A baptism.] This baptism is plainly not that of water, nor that of the Holy Ghost, but the baptism of suffering. It is the same baptism of which our Lord said to James and John, "Ye shall be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with." (Mark 10:39.)
The expression is one of those which shows the wisdom of our translators of the Bible in adhering to the word "baptism," and not rendering it either "immersion," or "sprinkling."
The effect of either of these words in the present verse, instead of "baptism," needs only to be tried. Few would like to substitute for our present translation, "I have an immersion to be immersed with;" or, "I have a sprinkling to be sprinkled with."
[How am I straitened.] The Greek word so translated is the same that is rendered in Acts 18:5, "pressed;" and in 2 Corinthians 5:14, "constrains." It is supposed by some that the feeling our Lord meant to express, was that of pain and distress in the prospect of His coming sufferings and crucifixion. This is the opinion of Stier. It seems, however, highly improbable.—It is supposed by others that the expression is like John 12:27, and Luke 22:42, and is meant to imply the conflict between our Lord’s human will, which naturally shrunk from suffering, and His divine will, which was set on accomplishing the work He came to do. This opinion is supported by many. Yet it does not seem quite to harmonize with the context, and is not altogether satisfactory.—The most probable view appears to be that which I have ventured to maintain in the exposition. The expression, "I am straitened," was intended to show us the burning desire by which our Lord was constrained to accomplish the work of our redemption. It is like the saying, "With desire I have desired to eat the passover with you." Theophylact and Euthymius both support this view.
v51.—[Nay; but rather division, &c.] The words of Burkitt on this passage are worth reading: "Our Saviour declares what will be the accidental event and effect, but not the natural tendency of His religion. We must distinguish between the intentional aim of Christ’s coming, and the accidental event of it. Christ’s intentional aim was to plant, propagate, and promote peace in the world. But through the lust and corruption of man’s nature, the issue and event of His coming is war and division; not that these are the genuine and natural fruits of the Gospel, but occasional and accidental only."
v52.—[Five in one house divided, &c.] The expression in this and the following verse must not be pressed too literally. In some houses there are not five persons. In others there are many more than five.—In some families, where the work of conversion begins, the father and son are entirely of one mind, and so also are the mother and daughter.—The expressions are manifestly proverbial. The plain lesson they are meant to convey is this, that the Gospel will often produce divisions in families, and that even two persons who are most nearly related, may become estranged from one another, in consequence of one ’being converted and the other not. That this is constantly the case, is well known to all who know anything of true religion. Few believers can look round the circle of their relatives and acquaintances, and not see striking illustrations of the truth of our Lord’s prophecy in this passage. Melancholy as it seems, it is a fact that nothing annoys some persons so much as the conversion of their relatives.
THE first thing which this passage teaches us is the duty of noticing the signs of the times. The Jews in our Lord’s days neglected this duty. They shut their eyes against events occurring in their own day of the most significant character. They refused to see that prophecies were being fulfilled around them which were bound up with the coming of Messiah, and that Messiah Himself must be in the midst of them. The scepter had departed from Judah, and the lawgiver from between his feet. The seventy weeks of Daniel were fulfilled. (Genesis 49:10. Daniel 9:24.) The ministry of John the Baptist had excited attention from one end of the land to the other. The miracles of Christ were great, undeniable, and notorious. But still the eyes of the Jews were blinded. They still obstinately refused to believe that Jesus was the Christ. And hence they drew from our Lord the question,—"How is it that ye do not discern this time?"
It becomes the servants of God, in every age, to observe the public events of their own day, and to compare them with the predictions of unfulfilled prophecy. There is nothing commendable in an ignorant indifference to contemporary history. The true Christian should rather watch the career of governments and nations with a jealous watchfulness, and hail with gladness the slightest indication of the day of the Lord being at hand. The Christian who cannot see the hand of God in history, and does not believe in the gradual movement of all kingdoms towards the final subjection of all things to Christ, is as blind as the Jew.
Have we no signs of the times to observe? The question is soon answered. The history of the last seventy years is full of events which demand the prayerful attention of every servant of Christ. The things that have happened within these seventy years ought to send us to our watch towers, and raise in us great searchings of heart. The rise and progress of a missionary spirit among all Protestant Churches,—the wide-spread interest felt about the Jews,—the evident decay of the Mohametan power,—the shaking of all the kingdoms of Europe by the French Revolution,—the extraordinary spread of knowledge and education,—the marvellous revival of Romanism,—the steady growth of the most subtle forms of infidelity,—all these are facts which cannot be denied, and facts which ought to speak loudly to every well-informed Christian. Surely they deserve to be called signs of our times.
Let us remember the words of our Lord in the passage before us, and not err after the manner of the Jews. Let us not be blind, and deaf, and insensible to all that God is doing, both in the Church and in the world. The things of which we have just been reminded are surely not without meaning. They have not come on the earth by chance or by accident, but by the appointment of God. We ought not to doubt that they are a call to watchfulness, and to preparation for the day of God. May we all have an ear to hear, and a heart to understand! May we not sleep as do many, but watch and discern our time! It is a solemn saying in the book of Revelation: "If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee." (Revelation 3:3.)
The second thing which this passage teaches us, is the immense importance of seeking reconciliation with God before it be too late. This is a lesson which our Lord illustrates by a parable or comparison. He compares us to a man on his way to a magistrate with an adversary, in consequence of a difference or dispute, and describes the course which such a man ought to take.—Like him, we are upon our way to the presence of a Judge. We shall all stand at the bar of God.—Like him, we have an adversary. The holy law of God is against us, and contrary to us, and its demands must be satisfied.—Like him, we ought to give diligence to get our case settled, before it comes before the Judge. We ought to seek pardon and forgiveness before we die.—Like him, if we let our opportunity slip, the judgment will go against us, and we shall be cast into the prison of hell. Such appears to be the meaning of the parable in the passage before us. It is a vivid picture of the care which men ought to take in the great matter of reconciliation with God.
Peace with God is by far the first thing in religion. We are born in sin, and children of wrath. We have no natural love towards God. The carnal mind is enmity against God. It is impossible that God can take pleasure in us. "The wicked his soul hateth." (Psalms 11:5.) The chief and foremost desire of everyone who professes to have any religion, should be to obtain reconciliation. Till this is done, nothing is done. We have got nothing worth having in Christianity, until we have peace with God. The law brings us in guilty. The judgment is sure to go against us. Without reconciliation, the end of our life’s journey will be hell.
Peace with God is the principal thing which the Gospel of Christ offers to the soul. Peace and pardon stand in the forefront of its list of privileges, and are tendered freely to everyone that believes on Jesus. There is One who can deliver us from the adversary. Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us. Christ has blotted out the handwriting that was against us, and has taken it out of the way, nailing it to His cross. Being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ. There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus. The claims of our adversary are all satisfied by Christ’s blood. God can now be just, and yet the justifier of every one that believeth on Jesus. A full atonement has been made. The debt has been completely paid. The Judge can say, "Deliver them, I have found a ransom." (Job 33:24.)
Let us never rest till we know and feel that we are reconciled to God. Let it not content us to go to Church, use means of grace, and be reckoned Christians, without knowing whether our sins are pardoned, and our souls justified. Let us seek to know that we are one with Christ, and Christ in us,—that our iniquities are forgiven, and our sins covered. Then, and then only, may we lie down in peace, and look forward to judgment without fear. The time is short. We are traveling on to a day when our lot for eternity must be decided. Let us give diligence that we may be found safe in that day. The souls that are found without Christ shall be cast into a hopeless prison.
v54.—[He said to the people.] Let it be noted, that the concluding portion of the Lord’s discourse in this chapter is specially addressed to "the people," and not to the disciples as the preceding verses were. It consists of a general rebuke of the blindness of the Jewish nation in not seeing the signs of the times, and the fulfilment of prophecy, and a general exhortation to seek reconciliation with God, before it be too late.
[A cloud rise out of the west...a shower.] It should be remembered that the Mediterranean sea lies on the West of the whole Jewish territory. It was from this quarter that rain generally came. The "little cloud" rising out of the sea, which Elijah’s servant saw from Mount Carmel, and which brought rain, is an illustration of our Lord’s words. (1 Kings 18:44.)
v55.—[The south wind blew...heat.] It should be remembered, that the great wilderness of Sinai and the hot deserts of Arabia, lie to the South of the Jewish territory. This accounts for winds from this quarter bringing heat. (Jeremiah 4:11-12.)
v56.—[Ye hypocrites—ye can discern the face of the sky.] Our Lord’s argument appears to be that the signs of His advent as the true Messiah, were so clear and intelligible, that it required no more discernment to see them, than it did to foretell heat or rain from observations of the heavens and the winds. If the Jews would honestly and impartially consider the signs of their times, they could not avoid the conclusion that Christ was the Messiah. The truth was that they were not honest in their inquiries, but prejudiced and unbelieving. He therefore calls them "hypocrites."
v57.—[Why even of yourselves judge ye not...right.] We must be careful not to interpret this verse so as to make it contradict other Scriptures. Our Lord does not mean to say that the Jews could understand spiritual things, and see the kingdom of God by their own unassisted judgment, and without the teaching of the Holy Ghost. His meaning is, "why do ye not of yourselves, by simply observing what is going on around you, form a right judgment about my claim to be received as the Messiah, and a just decision upon the matters in dispute between me and your teachers, the Scribes and Pharisees."
The Greek word translated "right," is more commonly rendered "’just" or "righteous."
v58.—[When thou goest with thine adversary, &c.] It is worthy of remark that the contents of this verse and the following, are found in the Sermon on the Mount, in an entirely different connection. It is evident that our Lord made use of the same illustration on two different occasions, and with two entirely different applications. In the Sermon on the Mount, the words are used to enforce the great duty of forgiveness of injuries. In the passage before us, our Lord’s object appears to be to enforce the solemn duty of seeking timely reconciliation with God. Life is the way. The law of God is the adversary. The magistrate represents the last judgment. The prison represents hell. This certainly appears to me the only satisfactory exposition of the passage. The other view, that it is only a repetition of the lesson in Matthew 5:25, is liable to this grave objection, that it makes Our Lord conclude a solemn discourse by a most abrupt introduction of a subject which has no connexion with the context. On the other hand, to enforce on the multitude around him, the great duty of seeking reconciliation with God before it was too late, appears a natural termination of the whole address.
Stier remarks, "The mere reference to placability towards a brother with whom I may have a matter of litigation, would not be a distinctive conclusion of this discourse, (although it was occasioned by the contention of brothers about an inheritance,) and would be an inexplicable subsidence of the strain into a matter quite foreign to Luke 12:55-57."
v59.—[Not depart thence, till thou hast paid.] The meaning of this expression is, "Thou shalt never depart at all." Poole remarks, "It is a sign the Papists are at a woeful loss for arguments to prove purgatory, when they make use of this text, as if it spake of a prison for souls, from which there is an outlet." Such an argument would prove many absurdities, if applied to other texts where the expression "until" is used. See Psalms 71:18, Psalms 110:1, and Matthew 1:25.
Theophylact remarks, "If we shall remain in prison until we pay the uttermost farthing, and are never able to pay it, it is manifest that future punishment is eternal."
Euthymius says, "This means, Thou shalt never come out from prison at all."
Stella, the Spanish commentator, says, "The wicked shall be placed in hell till they pay their debt to the uttermost farthing; and as they never will pay it, it is certain that they will be there to all eternity."
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Ryle, J. C. "Commentary on Luke 12". "Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13