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THE murder of the Galileans, mentioned in the first verse of this passage, is an event of which we know nothing certain. The motives of those who told our Lord of the event, we are left to conjecture. At any rate, they gave Him an opportunity of speaking to them about their own souls, which He did not fail to employ. He seized the event, as His manner was, and made a practical use of it. He bade His informants look within, and think of their own state before God. He seems to say, "What though these Galileans did die a sudden death? What is that to you? Consider your own ways. Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish."
Let us observe, for one thing, in these verses, how much more ready people are to talk of the deaths of others than their own. The death of the Galileans, mentioned here, was probably a common subject of conversation in Jerusalem and all Judea. We can well believe that all the circumstances and particulars belonging to it were continually discussed by thousands who never thought of their own latter end. It is just the same in the present day. A murder,—a sudden death,—a shipwreck, or a railway accident, will completely occupy the minds of a neighborhood, and be in the mouth of every one you meet. And yet these very persons dislike talking of their own deaths, and their own prospects in the world beyond the grave. Such is human nature in every age. In religion, men are ready to talk of anybody’s business rather than their own.
The state of our own souls should always be our first concern. It is eminently true that real Christianity will always begin at home. The converted man will always think first of his own heart, his own life, his own deserts, and his own sins. Does he hear of a sudden death? He will say to himself, "Should I have been found ready, if this had happened to me?"—Does he hear of some awful crime, or deed of wickedness? He will say to himself, "Are my sins forgiven? and have I really repented of my own transgressions?"—Does he hear of worldly men running into every excess of sin? He will say to himself, "Who has made me to differ? What has kept me from walking in the same road, except the free grace of God?" May we ever seek to be men of this frame of mind! Let us take a kind interest in all around us. Let us feel tender pity and compassion for all who suffer violence, or are removed by sudden death. But let us never forget to look at home, and to learn wisdom for ourselves from all that happens to others.
Let us observe, for another thing, in these verses, how strongly our Lord lays down the universal necessity of repentance. Twice He declares emphatically, "Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish."
The truth here asserted, is one of the foundations of Christianity. "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God." All of us are born in sin. We are fond of sin, and are naturally unfit for friendship with God. Two things are absolutely necessary to the salvation of every one of us. We must repent, and we must believe the Gospel. Without repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, no man can be saved.
The nature of true repentance is clearly and unmistakably laid down in holy Scripture. It begins with knowledge of sin. It goes on to work sorrow for sin. It leads to confession of sin before God. It shows itself before man by a thorough breaking off from sin. It results in producing a habit of deep hatred for all sin. Above all, it is inseparably connected with lively faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance like this is the characteristic of all true Christians.
The necessity of repentance to salvation will be evident to all who search the Scriptures, and consider the nature of the subject.—Without it there is no forgiveness of sins. There never was a pardoned man who was not also a penitent. There never was one washed in the blood of Christ who did not feel, and mourn, and confess, and hate his own sins.—Without it there can be no meetness for heaven. We could not be happy if we reached the kingdom of glory with a heart loving sin. The company of saints and angels would give us no pleasure. Our minds would not be in tune for an eternity of holiness. Let these things sink down into our hearts. We must repent as well as believe, if we hope to be saved.
Let us leave the subject with the solemn inquiry,—Have we ourselves repented? We live in a Christian land. We belong to a Christian Church. We have Christian ordinances and means of grace. We have heard of repentance with the hearing of the ear, and that hundreds of times. But have we ever repented? Do we really know our own sinfulness? Do our sins cause us any sorrow? Have we cried to God about our sins, and sought forgiveness at the throne of grace? Have we ceased to do evil, and broken off from our bad habits? Do we cordially and heartily hate everything that is evil? These are serious questions. They deserve serious consideration. The subject before us is no light matter. Nothing less than life—eternal life—is at stake! If we die impenitent, and without a new heart, we had better never have been born.
If we never yet repented, let us begin without delay. For this we are accountable. "Repent ye, and be converted," were the words of Peter to the Jews who had crucified our Lord. (Acts 3:19.) "Repent and pray," was the charge addressed to Simon Magus when he was in the "gall of bitterness and bond of iniquity." (Acts 8:22-23.) There is everything to encourage us to begin. Christ invites us. Promises of Scripture are held out to us. Glorious declarations of God’s willingness to receive us abound throughout the word. "There is joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth." Then let us arise and call upon God. Let us repent without delay.
If we have already repented in time past, let us go on repenting to the end of our lives. There will always be sins to confess and infirmities to deplore, so long as we are in the body. Let us repent more deeply, and humble ourselves more thoroughly, every year. Let every returning birthday find us hating sin more, and loving Christ more. He was a wise old saint who said, "I hope to carry my repentance to the very gate of heaven."
v1.—[The Galilæans, whose blood, &c.] We know nothing about the event here mentioned. Josephus speaks of the slaughter of certain Samaritans by Pilate upon mount Gerizim. But they seem to have been rebels and fanatics, and to have died in battle. It is far more probable that the case reported to our Lord was that of certain Galilæans who had come up to Jerusalem to worship, and were slain by Pilate’s soldiers in some popular tumult.
v2.—[Suppose ye...sinners above all, &c.] It is evident that our Lord’s informants were filled with the vulgar opinion that sudden deaths were special judgments, and that if a man died suddenly, he must have committed some special sin. Our Lord bids them understand that this opinion was a mere baseless delusion. We have no right whatever to conclude that God is angry with a man because He removes him suddenly from the world.
Ford gives a quotation from Perkins which deserves reading, "The common opinion is, that if a man die quietly, and go away like a lamb, (which in some diseases, as consumption, any man may do,) then he goes straight to heaven. But if the violence of the disease stirs up impatience, and causes frantic behaviour, then men use to say, ’There is a judgment of God, serving either to discover a hypocrite or to plague a wicked man.’ But the truth is otherwise.—A man may die like a lamb, and yet go to hell; and one dying in exceeding torment and strange behaviour of body, may go to heaven."—Perkins’ Salve for a Sick Man.
v3.—[Ye shall all likewise perish.] It is highly probable that these words were spoken with a prophetic meaning, and that our Lord had in view the tremendous slaughter of the Jews by the Roman army under Titus, which was to take place in a few years at the siege of Jerusalem.
v4.—[Those eighteen...tower in Siloam.] We know nothing about the circumstance which our Lord here mentions. It is probable it was something which had lately happened, and was the common subject of conversation among dwellers in Jerusalem, just as any great accident is among ourselves at the present day.
The word translated "sinners" in this verse, means literally, "debtors."
v5.—[Except ye repent, &c.] The repetition of this sentence shows the general importance of repentance, and the great need in which the Jews in particular stood of it. Ford quotes a saying of Philip Henry’s, which is worth reading: "Some people do not like to hear much of repentance. But I think it is so necessary, that if I should die in the pulpit, I should desire to die preaching repentance, and if I should die out of the pulpit, I should desire to die practising it."
THE parable we have now read is peculiarly humbling and heart-searching. The Christian who can hear it and not feel sorrow and shame as he looks at the state of Christendom, must be in a very unhealthy state of soul.
We learn first from this passage that where God gives spiritual privileges He expects proportionate returns.
Our Lord teaches this lesson by comparing the Jewish Church of His day to a "fig tree planted in a vineyard." This was exactly the position of Israel in the world. They were separated from other nations by the Mosaic laws and ordinances, no less than by the situation of their land. They were favored with revelations of God, which were granted to no other people. Things were done for them which were never done for Egypt, or Nineveh, or Babylon, or Greece, or Rome. It was only just and right that they should bear fruit to God’s praise. It might reasonably be expected that there would be more faith, and penitence, and holiness, and godliness in Israel than among the heathen. This is what God looked for. The owner of the fig tree "came seeking fruit."
But we must look beyond the Jewish Church if we mean to get the full benefit of the parable before us.—We must look to the Christian churches. They have light, and truth, and doctrines, and precepts, of which the heathen never hear. How great is their responsibility! Is it not just and right that God should expect from them "fruit"?—We must look to our own hearts. We live in a land of Bibles, and liberty, and Gospel preaching. How vast are the advantages we enjoy compared to the Chinese and Hindoo! Never let us forget that God expects from us "fruit."
These are solemn truths. Few things are so much forgotten by men as the close connection between privilege and responsibility. We are all ready enough to eat the fat and drink the sweet, and bask in the sunshine of our position both as Christians and Englishmen,—and even to spare a few pitying thoughts for the half naked savage who bows down to stocks and stones. But we are very slow to remember that we are accountable to God for all we enjoy; and that to whomsoever much is given, of them much will be required. Let us awake to a sense of these things. We are the most favored nation upon earth. We are in the truest sense "a fig tree planted in a vineyard." Let us not forget that the great Master looks for "fruit."
We learn, secondly, from this passage, that it is a most dangerous thing to be unfruitful under great religious privileges.
The manner in which our Lord conveys this lesson to us is deeply impressive. He shows us the owner of the barren fig tree complaining that it bore no fruit: "These three years I come seeking fruit and find none."—He describes him as even ordering the destruction of the tree as a useless cumberer of the ground: "Cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?" He brings in the dresser of the vineyard pleading for the fig tree, that it may be spared a little longer: "Lord, let it alone this year also." And He concludes the parable by putting these awful words into the vinedresser’s mouth: "If it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down."
There is a plain warning here to all professing churches of Christ. If their ministers do not teach sound doctrine, and their members do not live holy lives, they are in imminent peril of destruction. God is every year observing them, and taking account of all their ways. They may abound in ceremonial religion. They may be covered with the leaves of forms, and services, and ordinances. But if they are destitute of the fruits of the Spirit, they are reckoned useless cumberers of the ground. Except they repent, they will be cut down. It was so with the Jewish Church forty years after our Lord’s ascension. It has been so since with the African Churches. It will be so yet with many others, it may be feared, before the end comes. The axe is lying near the root of many an unfruitful Church. The sentence will yet go forth, "Cut it down."
There is a plainer warning still in the passage for all unconverted ’Christians.’ There are many in every congregation who hear the Gospel, who are literally hanging over the brink of the pit. They have lived for years in the best part of God’s vineyard, and yet borne no fruit. They have heard the Gospel preached faithfully for hundreds of Sundays, and yet have never embraced it, and taken up the cross, and followed Christ. They do not perhaps run into open sin. But they do nothing for God’s glory. There is nothing positive about their religion. Of each of these the Lord of the vineyard might say with truth, "I come these many years seeking fruit on this tree and find none. Cut it down. It cumbereth the ground." There are myriads of respectable professing Christians in this plight. They have not the least idea how near they are to destruction. Never let us forget that to be content with sitting in the congregation and hearing sermons, while we bear no fruit in our lives, is conduct which is most offensive to God. It provokes Him to cut us off suddenly, and that without remedy.
We learn, lastly, from this parable, what an infinite debt we all owe to God’s mercy and Christ’s intercession. It seems impossible to draw any other lesson from the earnest pleading of the dresser of the vineyard: "Lord, let it alone this year also." Surely we see here, as in a glass, the loving-kindness of God, and the mediation of Christ.
Mercy has been truly called the darling attribute of God. Power, justice, purity, holiness, wisdom, unchangeableness, are all parts of God’s character, and have all been manifested to the world in a thousand ways, both in His works and in His word. But if there is one part of His perfections which He is pleased to exhibit to man more clearly than another, beyond doubt that part is mercy. He is a God that "delighteth in mercy." (Micah 7:18.)
Mercy founded on the mediation of a coming Savior, was the cause why Adam and Eve were not cast down to hell, in the day that they fell. Mercy has been the cause why God has borne so long with this sin-laden world, and not come down to judgment. Mercy is even now the cause why unconverted sinners are so long spared, and not cut off in their sins. We have probably not the least conception how much we all owe to God’s long-suffering. The last day will prove that all mankind were debtors to God’s mercy, and Christ’s mediation. Even those who are finally lost will discover to their shame, that it was "of the Lord’s mercies they were not consumed" long before they died. As for those who are saved, covenant-mercy will be all their plea.
And now are we fruitful or unfruitful? This, after all, is the question that concerns us most. What does God see in us year after year? Let us take heed so to live that He may see in us fruit.
v6.—[A certain man had a fig tree, &c.] There can be no doubt that our Lord’s primary object in this parable was to show the danger of the Jewish Church and nation, at the time when He spoke. It is worthy of remark, that "the barren fig tree" to which our Lord said, no man eat fruit of thee for ever, (Mark 11:13-14,) was meant to be an emblem of the Jewish Church. But the primary application of this parable must not shut out the secondary one. It was meant for individuals, as well as for the Jewish Church.
v7.—[These three years.] The meaning of these "three years," has called forth much ingenious conjecture from commentators. Gregory thinks that the three years signify, the times of Israel before the law, in the law, and after the law. Ambrose thinks that they signify the times of natural law, of written law, and of evangelical law.—Theophylact applies them to the times of children, of youth, and of old age.—Stella explains them to mean the times before the Babylonian captivity, the times after the return from Babylon, and the times of our Lord’s own first advent. Others apply them to the three years of our Lord’s earthly ministry.—If any of these senses is true, the last appears most likely. It may, however, be seriously questioned, whether our Lord had any of these meanings in His mind, when He spoke this parable, and whether we ought not to regard the "three years" as simply an accessory circumstance of the story, the interpretation of which must not be carried too far.
[Cumbereth.] The Greek word so translated is only rendered thus in this passage. It is generally translated, "make void,"—"make of none effect,"—"destroy,"—"bring to nothing,"—"abolish."
The expression is probably intended to teach the deep lesson, that unfruitful members of God’s church are not merely injuring themselves and periling their own souls. They are an injury to the church generally, and do public harm. The common idea that an unconverted person "does no harm,"—is "no man’s enemy but his own,"—and the like, is a miserable man-made delusion, based on no warrant of Scripture. To be unfruitful is to be a cumberer of the ground. We are always doing either good or harm.
v8.—[Lord, let it alone, &c.] Who is meant by the dresser of the vineyard, who thus intercedes, is a question on which wide and strange differences of opinion prevail. Augustine says that it signifies "every saint," because all intercede.—Ambrose and Stella say that it signifies the "apostles." Jerome says that it signifies "Michael and Gabriel," the archangels, who had the special charge of the Jewish synagogue.—Alford thinks that it signifies the Holy Spirit.—All these interpretations appear to me incorrect. The most probable view is that of Euthymius and Theophylact, who consider the interceding vineyard dresser to be emblem of Christ Himself. Matthew Henry says truly, that "had it not been for Christ’s intercession, the whole world had been cut down."
[Dig about it and dung it.] This part of the parable signifies the extraordinary means which were used with the Jewish Church at the latter period of its existence, in order to awaken it to repentance.
v9.—[After that thou shalt cut it down.] It is very probable that all unconverted members of Christ’s Church will be found at the last day to have had their special "time of visitation," and to have been "digged about" by special providences, at some period of their lives. Hence their final condemnation will be proved most just.
The final cutting down of the tree of the Jewish Church, was undoubtedly, most justly brought on the Jews by their obstinate neglect of all the messages which God sent them in the fifty years immediately preceding the destruction of Jerusalem by the ministry of John the Baptist, of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Apostles. If ever there was a fig tree that was long spared, and patiently digged about, and had every means used to make it fruitful, that tree was the Jewish Church.
WE see in these verses a striking example of diligence in the use of means of grace. We are told of a "woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself." We know not who this woman was. Our Lord’s saying that she was "a daughter of Abraham," would lead us to infer that she was a true believer. But her name and history are hidden from us. This only we know, that when Jesus was "teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath," this woman was there. Sickness was no excuse with her for tarrying from God’s house. In spite of suffering and infirmity, she found her way to the place where the day and the word of God were honored, and where the people of God met together. And truly she was blessed in her deed! She found a rich reward for all her pains. She came sorrowing, and went home rejoicing.
The conduct of this suffering Jewess may well put to shame many a strong and healthy professing Christian. How many in the full enjoyment of bodily vigor, allow the most frivolous excuses to keep them away from the house of God! How many are constantly spending the whole Sunday in idleness, pleasure-seeking, or business, and scoffing and sneering at those who "keep the Sabbath holy"! How many think it a great matter if they attend the public worship of God once on Sunday, and regard a second attendance as a needless excess of zeal akin to fanaticism! How many find religious services a weariness while they attend them, and feel relieved when they are over! How few know anything of David’s spirit, when he said, "I was glad when they said to me, Let us go into the house of the LORD."—"How amiable are thy tabernacles, O LORD of Hosts!" (Psalms 122:1; Psalms 84:1.)
Now what is the explanation of all this? What is the reason why so few are like the woman of whom we read this day? The answer to these questions is short and simple. The most have no heart for God’s service. They have no delight in God’s presence or God’s day. "The carnal mind is enmity against God." The moment a man’s heart is converted, these pretended difficulties about attending public worship vanish away. The new heart finds no trouble in keeping the Sabbath holy. Where there is a will there is always a way.
Let us never forget that our feelings about Sundays are sure tests of the state of our souls. The man who can find no pleasure in giving God one day in the week, is manifestly unfit for heaven. Heaven itself is nothing but an eternal Sabbath. If we cannot enjoy a few hours in God’s service once a week in this world, it is plain that we could not enjoy an eternity in His service in the world to come. Happy are they who walk in the steps of her of whom we read to-day! They shall find Christ and a blessing while they live, and Christ and glory when they die.
We see, secondly, in these verses, the almighty power of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are told that when He saw the suffering woman of whom we are reading, "He called her to Him, and said unto her, Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity. And He laid His hands on her." That touch was accompanied by miraculous healing virtue. At once a disease of eighteen years’ standing gave way before the Lord of Life. "Immediately she was made straight and glorified God."
We need not doubt that this mighty miracle was intended to supply hope and comfort to sin-diseased souls. With Christ nothing is impossible. He can soften hearts which seem hard as the nether mill-stone. He can bend stubborn wills which "for eighteen years" have been set on self-pleasing, on sin, and the world. He can enable sinners who have been long poring over earthly things, to look upward to heaven, and see the kingdom of God. Nothing is too hard for the Lord. He can create, and transform, and renew, and break down, and build, and quicken, with irresistible power. He lives who formed the world out of nothing, and He never changes.
Let us hold fast this blessed truth, and never let it go. Let us never despair about our own salvation. Our sins may be countless. Our lives may have been long spent in worldliness and folly. Our youth may have been wasted in soul-defiling excesses, of which we are sorely ashamed. But are we willing to come to Christ, and commit our souls to Him? If so, there is hope. He can heal us thoroughly, and say, "thou art loosed from thine infirmity."—Let us never despair about the salvation of others so long as they are alive. Let us name them before the Lord night and day, and cry to Him on their behalf. We may perhaps have relatives whose case seems desperate because of their wickedness. But it is not really so. There are no incurable cases with Christ. If He were to lay His healing hand on them, they would be "made straight, and glorify God." Let us pray on, and faint not. That saying of Job is worthy of all acceptation: "I know that thou canst do everything." (Job 42:2.) Jesus is "able to save to the uttermost."
We see, lastly, in these verses, the right observance of the Sabbath day asserted and defended by our Lord Jesus Christ. The ruler of the synagogue in which the infirm woman was healed, found fault with her as a breaker of the Sabbath. He drew down upon himself a stern but just rebuke: "Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering?" If it was allowable to attend to the wants of beasts on the Sabbath, how much more to human creatures! If it was no breach of the fourth commandment to show kindness to oxen and asses, much less to show kindness to a daughter of Abraham.
The principle here laid down by our Lord is the same that we find elsewhere in the Gospels. He teaches us that the command to "do no work" on the Sabbath, was not intended to prohibit works of necessity and mercy. The Sabbath was made for man’s benefit, and not for his hurt. It was appointed to promote man’s best and highest interests, and not to debar him of anything that is really for his good. It requires nothing but what is reasonable and wise. It forbids nothing that is really necessary to man’s comfort.
Let us pray for a right understanding of the law of the Sabbath. Of all the commandments that God has given, none is more essential to the happiness of man, and none is so frequently misrepresented, abused, and trampled under foot. Let us lay down for ourselves two special rules for the observance of the Sabbath. For one thing let us do no work which is not absolutely needful. For another, let us keep the day "holy," and give it to God. From these two rules let us never swerve. Experience shows that there is the closest connection between Sabbath sanctification and healthy Christianity.
v11.—[Which had a spirit of infirmity.] The nature of this woman’s disease we are left to conjecture. It seems to have been some ailment mysteriously connected with possession by an unclean spirit, and caused by it. There is no other case precisely like it in the New Testament.
v12.—[He called her to Him.] Let it be noted, that this miracle was one of those which our Lord worked unsolicited and unasked. The widow at Nain is another instance. In both cases the person to whom kindness was shown, was a woman.
There are some beautiful remarks in Stella’s commentary on this passage. He observes that it is a striking instance of our Lords love and compassion towards sinners. If He does so much for a person, when unsolicited, how much more will He do for those who call upon him in prayer.
[There are six days, &c.] The bitterness and sarcasm of this unhappy speech, are very remarkable. The very sight of a miracle which ought to have convinced the ruler of the synagogue that Jesus was the Messiah, seems to have called forth all the corruption of his heart. The same thing may often be remarked in some unconverted men. The nearer the kingdom of God comes to them, the more bitter and angry they are.
[Men ought to work.] Let it be noted, that the Greek expression so translated, would be more literally rendered, "it is fit, or becoming to work." The word "men" is not in the Greek.
Stella observes that there was a striking similarity between the character of this ruler of the synagogue, and that of many of the prelates and judges of his own day. They often pretended great zeal for the cause of religion, and persecuted anyone who gave them offence. Yet this zeal in reality was only in behalf of their own dignity and office, and not for the glory of God.
v16.—[A daughter of Abraham.] This expression certainly appears to me to make it highly probable, that this woman whom our Lord healed, was a true believer. When Zacchæus was converted our Lord said, "He also is a son of Abraham." (Luke 19:9.) To regard the expression as only meaning "a daughter of Abraham according to a natural descent, a Jewess," seems to me a tame and unsatisfactory interpretation.
[Whom Satan hath bound.] This expression is remarkable. It would seem to imply that Satan has a permissive power to inflict bodily disease and infirmity. It should be compared with the two first chapters of Job, and with Paul’s expression, "to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh." (1 Corinthians 5:5.) [See also 2 Corinthians 12:7.]
THERE is a peculiar interest belonging to the two parables contained in these verses. We find them twice delivered by our Lord, and at two distinct periods in His ministry. This fact alone should make us give the more earnest heed to the lessons which the parables convey. They will be found rich both in prophetical and experimental truths.
The parable of the mustard seed is intended to show the progress of the Gospel in the world.
The beginnings of the Gospel were exceedingly small. It was like "the grain of seed cast into the garden." It was a religion which seemed at first so feeble, and helpless, and powerless, that it could not live. Its first founder was One who was poor in this world, and ended His life by dying the death of a malefactor on the cross.—Its first adherents were a little company, whose number probably did not exceed a thousand when the Lord Jesus left the world.—Its first preachers were a few fishermen and publicans, who were, most of them, unlearned and ignorant men.—Its first starting point was a despised corner of the earth, called Judea, a petty tributary province of the vast empire of Rome.—Its first doctrine was eminently calculated to call forth the enmity of the natural heart. Christ crucified was to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness.—Its first movements brought down on its friends persecution from all quarters. Pharisees and Sadducees, Jews and Gentiles, ignorant idolaters and self-conceited philosophers, all agreed in hating and opposing Christianity. It was a sect everywhere spoken against.—These are no empty assertions. They are simple historical facts, which no one can deny. If ever there was a religion which was a little grain of seed at its beginning, that religion was the Gospel.
But the progress of the Gospel, after the seed was once cast into the earth, was great, steady and continuous. The grain of mustard seed "grew and waxed a great tree." In spite of persecution, opposition, and violence, Christianity gradually spread and increased. Year after year its adherents became more numerous. Year after year idolatry withered away before it. City after city, and country after country, received the new faith. Church after church was formed in almost every quarter of the earth then known. Preacher after preacher rose up, and missionary after missionary came forward to fill the place of those who died.
Roman emperors and heathen philosophers, sometimes by force and sometimes by argument, tried in vain to check the progress of Christianity. They might as well have tried to stop the tide from flowing, or the sun from rising. In a few hundred years, the religion of the despised Nazarene,—the religion which began in the upper chamber at Jerusalem,—had overrun the civilized world. It was professed by nearly all Europe, by a great part of Asia, and by the whole northern part of Africa. The prophetic words of the parable before us were literally fulfilled. The grain of mustard seed "waxed a great tree; and the fowls of the air lodged in the branches of it." The Lord Jesus said it would be so. And so it came to pass.
Let us learn from this parable never to despair of any work for Christ, because its first beginnings are feeble and small. A single minister in some large neglected town-district,—a single missionary amidst myriads of savage heathen,—a single reformer in the midst of a fallen and corrupt church,—each and all of these may seem at first sight utterly unlikely to do any good. To the eye of man, the work may appear too great, and the instrument employed quite unequal to it. Let us never give way to such thoughts. Let us remember the parable before us and take courage. When the line of duty is plain, we should not begin to count numbers, and confer with flesh and blood. We should believe that one man with the living seed of God’s truth on his side, like Luther or Knox, may turn a nation upside down. If God is with him, none shall stand against him. In spite of men and devils, the seed that he sows shall wax a great tree.
The parable of the leaven is intended to show the progress of the Gospel in the heart of a believer.
The first beginnings of the work of grace in a sinner are generally exceedingly small. It is like the mixture of leaven with a lump of dough. A single sentence of a sermon, or a single verse of Holy Scripture,—a word of rebuke from a friend, or a casual religious remark overheard,—a tract given by a stranger, or a trifling act of kindness received from a Christian,—some one of these things is often the starting-point in the life of a soul.—The first actings of the spiritual life are often small in the extreme,—so small, that for a long time they are not known except by him who is the subject of them, and even by him not fully understood. A few serious thoughts and prickings of conscience,—a desire to pray really and not formally,—a determination to begin reading the Bible in private,—a gradual drawing towards means of grace,—an increasing interest in the subject of religion,—a growing distaste for evil habits and bad companions,—these, or some of them, are often the first symptoms of grace beginning to move the heart of man. They are symptoms which worldly men may not perceive, and ignorant believers may despise, and even old Christians may mistake. Yet they are often the first steps in the mighty business of conversion. They are often the "leaven" of grace working in a heart.
The work of grace once begun in the soul will never stand still. It will gradually "leaven the whole lump." Like leaven once introduced, it can never be separated from that with which it is mingled. Little by little it will influence the conscience, the affections, the mind, and the will, until the whole man is affected by its power, and a thorough conversion to God takes place. In some cases no doubt the progress is far quicker than in others. In some cases the result is far more clearly marked and decided than in others. But wherever a real work of the Holy Ghost begins in the heart, the whole character is sooner or later leavened and changed. The tastes of the man are altered. The whole bias of his mind becomes different. "Old things pass away, and all things become new." (2 Corinthians 5:17.) The Lord Jesus said that it would be so, and all experience shows that so it is.
Let us learn from this parable never to "despise the day of small things" in religion. (Zechariah 4:10.) The soul must creep before it can walk, and walk before it can run. If we see any symptom of grace beginning in a brother, however feeble, let us thank God and be hopeful. The leaven of grace once planted in his heart, shall yet leaven the whole lump. "He that begins the work, will perform it unto the day of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:6.)
Let us ask ourselves whether there is any work of grace in our own hearts. Are we resting satisfied with a few vague wishes and convictions? Or do we know anything of a gradual, growing, spreading, increasing, leavening process going on in our inward man? Let nothing short of this content us. The true work of the Holy Ghost will never stand still. It will leaven the whole lump.
v19.—[Like a grain of mustard seed.] Some think that the grain of seed here means Christ Himself, who died and was buried in a garden, and allege in favour of this view, the text, "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it beareth much fruit." (John 12:24.)
I am unable to see this sense in the parable. The words are distinct and plain. It is the "kingdom of God," which is like the seed.
[Waxed a great tree.] The growth of the grain of mustard seed into a tree of comparatively great size, ought not to be wondered at, when we remember the rapidity of vegetation in a hot climate. Parkhurst’s Lexicon, on the Greek word translated "mustard-seed," mentions several facts which prove the correctness of our Lord’s language.
[Fowls of the air lodged, &c.] It is thought by many that this expression was meant to denote the corruption which crept into the Church of Christ, when it grew into a large body, and was favoured by the powers of this world. The idea may possibly be true, though it seems to me more likely that the circumstance is only mentioned in order to show the size of the tree.
It may be well to remark that there is nothing in this parable to justify the idea that the visible Church shall gradually increase, till the whole world is converted. It is not said that the mustard tree would bear good fruit, and be never cut down. The lesson taught, is simply this, that, from a small beginning, the visible Church of Christ shall become very large.
v21.—[It is like leaven.] It is thought by many, that "leaven," in this parable, was intended by our Lord to mean, an evil and corrupt principle, and that the object of the parable was to describe the silent entrance and rapid growth of corruption and false doctrine in the Church of Christ. In defence of this view it is alleged, that the word "leaven" is always used as an emblem of something evil. The doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees, for example, is called "leaven."
I am quite unable to see the correctness of this view.
For one thing, it seems to me very improbable that our Lord would speak two parables in a breath, both beginning with the expression, "the kingdom of God," and compare this kingdom, in one case, with that which is healthy and prosperous, and in the other case, with that which is poisonous and corrupting. To my eyes His object in both parables seems one and the same. Had He meant, "evil," when He spoke of leaven, He would surely have said, "whereunto shall I liken the kingdom of the evil one?"
For another thing, I can see no force in the objection that "leaven" is generally used as an emblem of that which is evil, and therefore must be so used here. I do not see why the word is to be rigorously tied down to be only an emblem of evil; and why it may not he in this case an emblem of good.
The goat in the 25th of Matthew is an emblem of the wicked, yet the goat in the Old Testament is a clean animal, and appointed to be used in some sacrifices, as well as the sheep. The serpent is generally regarded as an emblem of evil. Our Lord calls the Pharisees "serpents." And yet in another place, He says to the disciples, "Be wise as serpents." In short I believe that the same word may be used in one place as a figure of that which is good, and in another as a figure of that which is evil. In some places leaven certainly means "false doctrine." In the passage before us, I believe it means "grace."
Stella supports the view which I have maintained by quotations from Augustine and Gregory.
[A woman...three measures of meal.] There are some who see allegorical meanings in the "woman," the number "three," and the "meal." I will only record my own conviction, that these meanings were not in our Lord’s mind when the parable was spoken. One great truth was intended to be conveyed. That truth was the small beginning of grace in a heart, and the influence which it gradually acquires over the whole character. To this view let us adhere.
WE see in these verses a remarkable question asked. We are told that a certain man said to our Lord, "Are there few that be saved?"
We do not know who this enquirer was. He may have been a self-righteous Jew, trained to believe that there was no hope for the uncircumcised, and no salvation for any but the children of Abraham. He may have been an idle trifler with religion, who was ever wasting his time on curious and speculative questions. In any case, we must all feel that he asked a question of deep and momentous importance.
He that desires to know the number of the saved, in the present dispensation, need only turn to the Bible, and his curiosity will be satisfied. He will read in the sermon on the mount these solemn words, "Strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." (Matthew 7:14.)—He has only to look around him, and compare the ways of the many with the word of God, and he will soon come to the conclusion, if he is an honest man, that the saved are few. It is an awful conclusion. Our souls naturally turn away from it. But Scripture and facts alike combine to shut us up to it. Salvation to the uttermost is offered to men. All things are ready on God’s part. Christ is willing to receive sinners. But sinners are not willing to come to Christ. And hence few are saved.
We see, secondly, in these verses, a striking exhortation given. We are told that when our Lord Jesus Christ was asked whether few would be saved, He said, "Strive to enter in at the strait gate." He addressed these words to the whole company of His hearers. He thought it not good to gratify the curiosity of his questioner by a direct reply. He chose rather to press home on him, and all around him, their own immediate duty. In minding their own souls, they would soon find the question answered. In striving to enter in at the strait gate they would soon see whether the saved were many or few.
Whatever others may do in religion the Lord Jesus would have us know that our duty is clear. The gate is strait. The work is great. The enemies of our souls are many. We must be up and doing. We are to wait for nobody. We are not to inquire what other people are doing, and whether many of our neighbors, and relatives, and friends are serving Christ. The unbelief and indecision of others will be no excuse at the last day. We must never follow a multitude to do evil. If we go to heaven alone we must resolve that by God’s grace we will go. Whether we have many with us or a few, the command before us is plain—"Strive to enter in."
Whatever others may think in religion the Lord Jesus would have us know that we are responsible for exertion. We are not to sit still in sin and worldliness, waiting for the grace of God. We are not to go on still in our wickedness, sheltering ourselves under the vain plea that we can do nothing till God draws us. We are to draw near to Him in the use of the means of grace. How we can do it is a question with which we have nothing to do. It is in obedience that the knot will be untied. The command is express and unmistakable—"Strive to enter in."
We see, thirdly, in these verses, a day of awful solemnity described. We are told of a time when "the master of the house shall rise and shut the door," when some shall "sit down in the kingdom of God," and others be "shut out" for evermore. About the meaning of these words there can be no doubt. They describe the second coming of Christ and the day of judgment.
A day is coming on the earth when the long-suffering of God towards sinners shall have an end. The door of mercy, which has been so long open, shall at last be shut. The fountain opened for all sin and uncleanness shall at length be closed. The throne of grace shall be removed, and the throne of judgment shall be set up in its place. The great assize of the world shall begin. All that are found impenitent and unbelieving shall be thrust out forever from God’s presence. Men shall find that there is such a thing as "the wrath of the Lamb." (Revelation 6:16.)
A day is coming when believers in Christ shall receive a full reward. The Master of the great house in heaven shall call His servants together, and give to each a crown of glory that fadeth not away. They shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and rest forever from warfare and work. They shall be shut in with Christ, and saints, and angels, in the kingdom of heaven, and sin, and death, and sorrow, and the world, and the devil, shall be eternally shut out. Men shall see at last that "To him that soweth righteousness there is a sure reward." (Proverbs 11:18.)
We see, lastly, in these verses, a heart-searching prophecy delivered. Our Lord tells us that in the day of His second coming, "Many will seek to enter in at the strait gate, and shall not be able."—They will "knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us," but will find no admission.—They will even plead earnestly, that "they have eaten and drunk in Christ’s presence, and that he has taught in their streets."—But their plea will be unavailing. They will receive the solemn answer, "I know not whence ye are; depart from me all ye workers of iniquity." Religious profession, and formal knowledge of Christ will save none who have served sin and the world.
There is something peculiarly striking in our Lord’s language in this prophecy. It reveals to us the awful fact, that men may see what is right when it is too late for them to be saved. There is a time coming when many will repent too late, and believe too late,—sorrow for sin too late, and begin to pray too late,—be anxious about salvation too late, and long for heaven too late. Myriads shall wake up in another world, and be convinced of truths which on earth they refused to believe. Earth is the only place in God’s creation where there is any infidelity. Hell itself is nothing but truth known too late.
The recollection of this passage should help us to set a right estimate on things around us. Money, and pleasure, and rank, and greatness, occupy the first place now in the world. Praying, and believing, and holy living, and acquaintance with Christ, are despised, and ridiculed, and held very cheap. But there is a change coming one day! The last shall be first, and the first last. For that change let us be prepared.
And now let us ask ourselves whether we are among the many or among the few? Do we know anything of striving and warring against sin, the world, and the devil? Are we ready for the Master’s coming to shut the door? The man who can answer these questions satisfactorily is a true Christian.
v28.—[Are there few that be saved?] Whitby remarks, "This question seems to have been propounded agreeably to that sentiment of the Jews, that all Israelites should have their portion in the world to come."—Perhaps the question would be translated more literally, "Are the saved few?"
It may be well to remark here, that we have no warrant for supposing that the aggregate number of those who are lost will prove finally to be greater than the number of the saved. When all the infants who die without knowing good from evil, and all the "nations of the saved," who shall be converted after the calling in of the Jews, are added to the ranks of God’s elect under the present dispensation, they shall be a multitude that no man can number. They will probably far exceed in number those who are lost.
[He said unto them.] Let it be noted, that our Lord’s answer was not directed only to the man who asked the question, but to all the people around Him. He probably knew that the question arose from a common opinion prevalent amongst all Jews, and that His questioner was only the mouth-piece of many. He therefore addresses His reply to all His hearers.
v24, v25, &c.—[Strive, &c.] Major says, "In these verses allusion is made to nuptial feasts. These were celebrated by night. The house was filled with lights. Thus they who were admitted have the benefit of light; but they who were excluded were in darkness outside the house,—’outer darkness,’—which necessarily appeared more gloomy compared with the light within." The guests entered by a narrow wicket gate, at which the porter stood to prevent the unbidden from rushing in. When all that had been invited were arrived, the door was shut, and not opened to those who stood without, however much they knocked.
[Strive to enter in.] The Greek word rendered "strive," is that from which we take our English word "agonize." It implies great exertion and conflict. It is elsewhere translated, "labor fervently," and "fight." (Colossians 4:12. 1 Timothy 6:12.)
[At the strait gate.] The Greek preposition which we here render "at," is almost always translated "through," when found in sentences so constructed as the one before us.
[Many...will seek...not be able.] Stier labours to make out a distinction here between "seeking" to enter, and "striving" to enter. He appears to think that our Lord is speaking of things which happen while men are alive, and that the reason why many are not able to enter in, is to be found in the defective manner of their attempts. They indolently "seek," but do not earnestly "strive."
This distinction appears to me over-refined and quite unnecessary. The time when men shall "seek to enter," and "not be able," seems to me, most plainly, to be at the last day, when the door of mercy is shut for ever. The whole context shows this, and the language used is parallel to that in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins. (Matthew 25:11.)
Moreover the Greek word which we translate "seek" happens to be the very same which is used in the famous promise, "Seek and ye shall find: knock and it shall be opened unto you." (Matthew 7:7.) To argue therefore from this passage that men may seek to enter in at the gate of life, and not be able, while they are alive, appears to me a harsh and needless straining of Scripture. That there is a state of mind to which some may come in which they shall seek God after a manner, and yet not find Him, I do not deny. It is taught in Proverbs 1:28. All I maintain is that it is not taught here. The lesson taught here is simply this, that there will be a time when men shall find the gate of life closed, and shall desire entrance in vain when it is too late.
It appears to me very doubtful whether there ought to be a "full stop" at the end of the 24th verse, and whether the sense does not indicate that a comma only is sufficient.
v25.—[When once the master.] The language used in this verse is clearly that of parable.
[I know you not.] Let this expression be noted. It is again emphatically used in the 27th verse. It is not safe to lay too much stress on expressions used in parables in the establishment of doctrine. Nevertheless this repeated sentence, "I know you not," appears hard to be reconciled with the opinion that saints may fall away and be lost. The lost in the passage before us are clearly people whom the Lord does not know, and never did know.
v26.—[We have eaten and drunk in thy presence.] It does not appear that these words have any necessary reference to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. The expression, "eat and drink" is frequently used in the New Testament to describe familiar intercourse. (See Luke 5:30, and Luke 22:30.)
v27.—[Depart from me...iniquity.] The similarity between this expression and Matthew 25:41, appears to show clearly that the time described is the second coming of Christ, and the judgment day.
v28.—[Ye shall see.] This expression seems to prove that the lost shall see afar off the glory and blessedness of the saved, and that the sight shall add to their misery.
[Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob...in the kingdom of God.] Let this expression be noted. It shows that Old Testament saints will share the glory of the kingdom of God with Gentile believers. There seems no room here for the opinion, which some hold, that Old Testament saints and believers who have lived since the day of Pentecost shall not be together in glory;—and that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are not members of that Church which is the Bride and the Lamb’s Wife. Both the present verse, and the one following, and the kindred passage in Matthew, (Matthew 8:11,) appear distinctly to contradict this notion.
v29.—[They shall come.] This verse describes the calling of the Gentiles of all nations and people and tongues into the Church. They are to sit down in the same kingdom with the patriarchs and prophets.
[East...west...north...south.] Bengel suggests the idea that these points of the compass are intentionally arranged thus, to show the order in which the Gentiles would be called in all over the world. It certainly is a fact that the Gospel first took root in Syria and Asia Minor, then spread on to the West of Europe and along the shores of the Mediterranean, then turned northward to the Scandinavian nations and Britain, and since that time has spread, wherever it has spread, toward the south, in Africa, Asia, South America, and the South Pacific Ocean.
v30.—[There are last...first...are first...last.] This is a proverbial expression which was literally fulfilled when the Gospel was first preached, and has often been fulfilled since, both in churches and individuals. The Jews who were first became last, and the Gentiles who were last became first. The churches of Asia Minor and Africa were called first, and were famous when Britain was only a field for missionaries. But now those churches have become last, and the British Churches fill the foremost position in Christendom. And they too, "if they continue not in God’s goodness, will be cut off." (Romans 11:22.)
LET us learn from these verses, how entirely our times are in God’s hands. Our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us this lesson by His reply to those who bade Him depart, because Herod would kill Him. He said, "I cast out devils, and I do cures to-day and to-morrow." His time was not yet come for leaving the world. His work was not yet finished. Until that time came it was not in the power of Herod to hurt Him. Until that work was finished no weapon forged against Him could prosper.
There is something in our Lord’s words which demands the attention of all true Christians. There is a frame of mind exhibited to us which we should do well to copy. Our Lord, no doubt, spoke with a prophetic foresight of coming things. He knew the time of His own death, and He knew that this time was not yet come. Foreknowledge like this, of course, is not granted to believers in the present day. But still there is a lesson here which we ought not to overlook. We ought, in a certain measure, to aim at having the mind that was in Christ Jesus. We ought to seek to possess a spirit of calm, unshaken confidence about things to come. We should study to have a heart "not afraid of evil tidings," but quiet, steady, and trusting in the LORD. (Psalms 112:7.)
The subject is a delicate one, but one which concerns our happiness so much that it deserves consideration. We are not intended to be idle fatalists, like the Mahometans, or cold, unfeeling statues, like the Stoics. We are not to neglect the use of means, or to omit all prudent provision for the unseen future. To neglect means is fanaticism, and not faith.—But still, when we have done all, we should remember, that though duties are ours, events are God’s. We should therefore endeavor to leave things to come in God’s hands, and not to be over-anxious about health, or family, or money, or plans.
To cultivate this frame of mind would add immensely to our peace. How many of our cares and fears are about things which never come to pass! Happy is that man who can walk in our Lord’s steps, and say, "I shall have what is good for me. I shall live on earth till my work is done, and not a moment longer. I shall be taken when I am ripe for heaven, and not a minute before. All the powers of the world cannot take away my life, till God permits. All the physicians of earth cannot preserve it, when God calls me away."
Is there anything beyond the reach of man in this spirit? Surely not. Believers have a covenant ordered in all things and sure. The very hairs of their heads are numbered. Their steps are ordered by the Lord. All things are working together for their good. When they are afflicted, it is for their profit. When they are sick, it is for some wise purpose. All things are said to be theirs,—life, death, things present, and things to come. (2 Samuel 23:5; Matthew 10:30; Psalms 37:23; Romans 8:28; Hebrews 12:10; John 11:4; 1 Corinthians 3:22.) There is no such thing as chance, luck, or accident, in the life of a believer. There is but one thing needful, in order to make a believer calm, quiet, unruffled, undisturbed in every position, and under every circumstance. That one thing is faith in active exercise. For such faith let us daily pray. Few indeed know anything of it. The faith of most believers is very fitful and spasmodic. It is for want of steady, constant faith, that so few can say with Christ, "I shall walk to-day, and to-morrow, and not die till my work is done."
Let us learn, for another thing, from these verses, how great is the compassion of our Lord Jesus Christ towards sinners. We see this brought out in a most forcible manner by our Lord’s language about Jerusalem. He knew well the wickedness of that city. He knew what crimes had been committed there in times past. He knew what was coming on Himself, at the time of His crucifixion. Yet even to Jerusalem He says, "How often would I have gathered thy children together as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not."
It grieves the Lord Jesus Christ to see sinners going on still in their wickedness. "As I live," are His words, "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked." (Ezekiel 33:11.) Let all unconverted people remember this. It is not enough that they grieve parents, and ministers, and neighbors, and friends. There is one higher than all these, whom they deeply grieve by their conduct. They are daily grieving Christ.
The Lord Jesus is willing to save sinners. "He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." He would have all men saved and come to the knowledge of the truth." (2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:4.) This is a mighty principle of the Gospel, and one which sorely perplexes narrow-minded and shallow theologians. But what says the Scripture? The words before us, no less than the texts just quoted, are distinct and express. "I would have gathered thy children," says Christ, "but ye would not." The will of poor hardened unbelieving man, and not the will of Christ, is the cause why sinners are lost for evermore. Christ "would" save them, but they will "not be" saved.
Let the truth before us sink down into our hearts, and bear fruit in our lives. Let us thoroughly understand that if we die in our sins and go to hell, our blood will be upon our own heads. We cannot lay the blame on God the Father, nor on Jesus Christ the Redeemer, nor on the Holy Ghost the Comforter. The promises of the Gospel are wide, broad, and general. The readiness of Christ to save sinners is unmistakably declared. If we are lost, we shall have none to find fault with but ourselves. The words of Christ will be our condemnation: "Ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life." (John 5:40.)
Let us take heed, with such a passage as this before us, that we are not more systematic than Scripture. It is a serious thing to be "wise above that which is written." Our salvation is wholly of God. Let that never be forgotten. None but the elect shall be finally saved. "No man can come unto Christ except the Father draw him." (John 6:44.) But our ruin, if we are lost, will be wholly of ourselves. We shall reap the fruit of our own choice. We shall find that we have lost our own souls. Linked between these two principles lies truth which we must maintain firmly, and never let go. There is doubtless deep mystery about it. Our minds are too feeble to understand it now. But we shall understand it all hereafter. God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility shall appear perfectly harmonious one day. In the meantime, whatever we doubt, let us never doubt Christ’s infinite willingness to save.
v31.—[Then came certain...Herod will kill thee.] It is thought by some that this message was an invention of the Pharisees, intended to alarm our Lord, and stop His preaching, and that Herod never really intended to kill our Lord. Yet it seems impossible to reconcile this theory with the message that our Lord in reply sends to Herod in the next verse. It is more probable that Herod wished to make away with One whose ministry reminded him of John the Baptist, and who publicly testified that John the Baptist, whom Herod had murdered, was a prophet. He had probably expressed this wish publicly to his courtiers, and the Pharisees came to repeat it to our Lord, hoping that the report would silence him.
[Depart hence: or Herod will kill thee.] This expression shows that our Lord was in Galilee at this time. We are expressly told (Luke 23:7) that Galilee belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction.
Let it be noted that the literal translation of the Greek here would be, "Herod is willing,—has a will,—wishes,—means,—to kill thee." It is not a future tense merely. It is like "Ye will not come to me." (John 5:40.)
v32.—[That fox.] This remarkable expression is variously interpreted. Some think that our Lord did not apply it to Herod at all, but to the Pharisee who brought the message. This, however, seems a very unnatural and forced application of the word. The most common opinion is, that our Lord applied it to Herod himself, in virtue of His office as a prophet. Whitby remarks, "To impose this ignominious name on Herod is not contrary to the command ’not to speak ill of the ruler of thy people.’ It is the office of prophets not to spare kings when they expose their offences. (Jeremiah 1:18.) Christ, therefore, uses His prophetical power in giving this tyrant a name suitable to his actions." (Compare Zephaniah 3:3; Ezekiel 22:27.)
Maldonatus thinks that our Lord purposely called Herod "that fox," in order to show the Pharisees how little He feared him.
One word of caution is needful. The use of this expression by our Lord is no warrant to Christians to employ violent and contemptuous epithets in speaking of the wicked, and especially of the wicked in high places. He that would use such language about his ruler as Christ here used about Herod, must first prove his prophetical commission, and satisfy us that he has a special mission from God.
[To-day, and to-morrow, and the third day.] This is a difficult expression, and one which has received three different interpretations. The expression in the next verse is only another way of saying the same thing.
Some think that our Lord meant three literal days. Bishop Pearce says, "This, and what follows to the end of the chapter, seem to have been spoken about two or three days before Jesus was crucified." This seems a very improbable and unsatisfactory interpretation.
Some think that by days our Lord meant years, according to the theory which makes prophetic days always mean years. This again seems an unsatisfactory view. According to it our Lord spoke these words in the first year of His three years’ ministry. Yet it appears more likely that He spoke them in the last.
Some think that this expression is indefinite, and a proverbial form of speech, signifying merely a short space of time:—"I am yet a little time with you, and during that time I shall continue my work, notwithstanding Herod’s threats; and at the end of that time, and not before, I shall be perfected, or finish my course by death." Similar modes of speaking occur in Hosea 6:2; and in the marginal readings of Genesis 30:33; Genesis 31:2; Exodus 4:10; Exodus 13:14; Deuteronomy 6:20; Deuteronomy 19:6; Joshua 3:5; Joshua 4:6; Joshua 22:24; 1 Samuel 19:7.
I am disposed to adhere to this last opinion, as on the whole the most probable one. Major gives quotations from Euripides and Arrian which justify the interpretation of the three days in a proverbial sense by the usage of profane writers.
[I shall be perfected.] This is a remarkable expression. In the Greek it is in the present tense. The meaning seems to be, "I shall be perfected by my death.—I shall finish the work which I came to do." The same word is applied to our Lord in Hebrews 2:10, and Hebrews 5:9.
v33.—[I must walk.] The meaning of this expression seems to be, "I must continue in the course I have begun,—I must go on, (to use a common English phrase,) as I have hitherto." It is the same word which is used in Luke 1:6; 1 Peter 4:3; 2 Peter 2:10; 2 Peter 3:3; Judges 1:16. In each place it is rendered "walk," and in each means "maintaining an habitual course of life."
[It cannot be that a prophet...Jerusalem.] This is a peculiar expression. The Greek word rendered, "it cannot be," is only found here in the New Testament, and means literally "it is impossible." Yet it is clear that this cannot be our Lord’s literal meaning. John the Baptist, to say nothing of other prophets, did not die at Jerusalem. The sense must be, as Euthymius and Heinsius maintain, "it would be an unusual thing,—an exception to a rule,—for a prophet to die in any place but Jerusalem. When I do die, it will be at Jerusalem. But I am not there yet, but in Galilee."
Barradius thinks that our Lord meant, "it is not possible that I, the great prophet, foretold by Moses, can perish out of Jerusalem." This however seems very improbable.
Drusius and A. Clarke say, that a man professing to be a prophet could be tried on that ground only by the great Sanhedrim, which always resided at Jerusalem.
v34.—[O Jerusalem &c.] This remarkable passage is found in Matthew’s Gospel, (Matthew 23:37,) at the very end of our Lord’s ministry, in almost the same words. I cannot see any satisfactory explanation of this circumstance excepting that our Lord must have twice used the same expression about Jerusalem in the course of His ministry on earth.
To suppose that our Lord was at the end of His ministry in this part of Luke’s Gospel is, on the face of the narrative, utterly improbable. To suppose that Luke thrust in this remarkable saying about Jerusalem at this particular point of his Gospel, out of its place and order, and without any connection with the context, is equally improbable.
I see on the other hand no improbability whatever in the supposition that our Lord made use of this remarkable saying about Jerusalem on two distinct occasions during His ministry. I can quite understand that His mighty and feeling heart was deeply touched with sorrow for the sin and hardness of that wicked but privileged city. And it seems to me both likely and natural that language like that before us would fall from His lips on more than one occasion.
[How often.] I cannot think, as some do, that this expression refers to many visits which our Lord had made to Jerusalem, during His ministry. I rather refer it to all the messages and invitations which for many centuries He had sent to Jerusalem by His servants, the prophets.
[Would I...ye would not!] The Greek word in both these phrases is stronger than appears from our English translation. It is literally, "I willed, and ye willed not."
Few passages in the Bible throw the responsibility of the loss of the soul so distinctly on those who are lost.—"I would," "ye would not."—Two wills are expressly mentioned, the will of Christ to do good, and the will of man to refuse good when offered.
Let it be noted that our Lord does not say, "thou wouldest not," but "ye would not."—By this mode of speaking, He makes it plain, that He charges the guilt of Jerusalem on its inhabitants, the men and women who dwelt there, and specially on the priests, and Scribes, and Pharisees who governed the city. They were neither willing to be gathered themselves, nor to let others round them be gathered. They neither entered in themselves into the kingdom, nor allowed others to enter. Christ was willing, but they were unwilling.
We must be careful, however, not to confine "ye would not," to the Scribes, Pharisees, and rulers. The verse which follows shows clearly that our Lord includes all the inhabitants of Jerusalem.
v35.—[Your house is left...desolate.] These words mean, "Your temple, in which you glory, your holy and beautiful house, is now deprived of its glory. God has departed from it, and has no longer any pleasure in it."
[Ye shall not see me until, &c.] The meaning of these words, and the manner of their fulfilment, are points on which commentators are not agreed.
Some think that our Lord refers to His own triumphal entry into Jerusalem, when He rode in upon an ass just before His crucifixion, and all the city met Him crying "Hosanna!"
Some think that our Lord refers to the approaching destruction of Jerusalem, when the fulfilment of all His predictions would oblige the Jews to confess that He was the Messiah. Bishop Pearce says, "They will then remember what they did to me when I was among them, and will acknowledge that I am the Christ, the person who came in the name of the Lord. Accordingly, Eusebius tells us, that upon seeing that destruction, vast multitudes came over to the faith of Christ."
Some think that our Lord’s words are not yet fulfilled, and that they refer to the last times, when the Jews after their last tribulation shall "look on Him, whom they pierced," and believe, at the time of His second advent in glory.
I decidedly adhere to this last opinion. The triumphant entry into Jerusalem was a faint type, no doubt, of the honour which Christ will one day see in Jerusalem. But the Jewish nation, as a nation, never saw our Lord and honoured Him as the Messiah, during the whole period of His first advent. But "when He cometh with clouds every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him." (Revelation 1:7.)
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Ryle, J. C. "Commentary on Luke 13". "Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent