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LET us mark in this passage, how our Lord Jesus Christ accepted the hospitality of those who were not His disciples. We read that "He went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread." We cannot reasonably suppose that this Pharisee was a friend of Christ. It is more probable that he only did what was customary for a man in his position. He saw a stranger teaching religion, whom some regarded as a prophet, and he invited Him to eat at his table. The point that most concerns us, is this, that when the invitation was given it was accepted.
If we want to know how our Lord carried Himself at a Pharisee’s table, we have only to read attentively the first twenty-four verses of this chapter. We shall find Him the same there that He was elsewhere, always about His Father’s business. We shall see Him first defending the true observance of the Sabbath-day,—then expounding to those who were bidden together with Him the nature of true humility,—then urging on His host the character of true hospitality,—and finally delivering that most apposite and striking parable,—the parable of the great supper. And all this is done in the most wise, and calm, and dignified manner. The words are all words in season. The speech is "always with grace, seasoned with salt." (Colossians 4:6.) The perfection of our Lord’s conduct appears on this, as on all other occasions. He always said the right thing, at the right time, and in the right way. He never forgot, for a moment, who He was and where He was.
The example of Christ in this passage deserves the close attention of all Christians, and specially of ministers of the Gospel. It throws strong light on some most difficult points,—our intercourse with unconverted people,—the extent to which we should carry it,—the manner in which we should behave when we are with them. Our Lord has left us a pattern for our conduct in this chapter. It will be our wisdom to endeavor to walk in His steps.
We ought not to withdraw entirely from all intercourse with unconverted people. It would be cowardice and indolence to do so, even if it were possible. It would shut us out from many opportunities of doing good. But we ought to go into their society moderately, watchfully, and prayerfully, and with a firm resolution to carry our Master and our Master’s business with us. The house from which Christ is deliberately excluded is not the house at which Christians ought to receive hospitalities, and keep up intimacy.—The extent to which we should carry our intercourse with the unconverted, is a point which each believer must settle for himself. Some can go much further than others in this direction, with advantage to their company, and without injury to themselves. "Every man has his proper gift." (1 Corinthians 7:7.) There are two questions which we should often put to ourselves, in reference to this subject. "Do I, in company, spend all my time in light and worldly conversation? Or do I endeavor to follow, however feebly, the example of Christ?" The society in which we cannot answer these questions satisfactorily, is society from which we had better withdraw.—So long as we go into company as Christ went to the Pharisee’s house, we shall take no harm.
Let us mark, secondly, in this passage, how our Lord was watched by His enemies. We read that when He went to eat bread on the Sabbath day, in the house of a Pharisee, "they watched Him."
The circumstance here recorded, is only a type of what our Lord was constantly subjected to, all through His earthly ministry. The eyes of His enemies were continually observing Him. They watched for His halting, and waited eagerly for some word or deed on which they could lay hold and build an accusation. Yet they found none. Our blessed Lord was ever holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from evil. Perfect indeed must that life have been, in which the bitterest enemy could find no flaw, or blemish, or spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing!
He that desires to serve Christ must make up his mind to be "watched" and observed, no less than His Master. He must never forget that the eyes of the world are upon him, and that the wicked are looking narrowly at all his ways. Specially ought he to remember this when he goes into the society of the unconverted. If he makes a slip there, in word or deed, and acts inconsistently, be may rest assured it will not be forgotten.
Let us endeavor to live daily as in the sight of a holy God. So living, it will matter little how much we are "watched" by an ill-natured and malicious world. Let us exercise ourselves to have a conscience void of offence toward God and man, and to do nothing which can give occasion to the Lord’s enemies to blaspheme. The thing is possible. By the grace of God it can be done. The haters of Daniel were obliged to confess, "we shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it against him concerning the law of his God." (Daniel 6:5.)
Let us mark, lastly, in this passage, how our Lord asserts the lawfulness of doing works of mercy on the Sabbath day. We read that he healed a man who had the dropsy on the Sabbath day, and then said to the lawyers and Pharisees, "Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the Sabbath day?" This was a home-thrust, which could not be parried. It is written, "They could not answer Him again."
The qualification which our Lord here puts on the requirements of the fourth commandment, is evidently founded on Scripture, reason, and common sense. The Sabbath was made for man,—for his benefit, not for his injury,—for his advantage, not for his hurt. The interpretation of God’s law respecting the Sabbath was never intended to be strained so far as to interfere with charity, kindness, and the real wants of human nature. All such interpretations only defeat their own end. They require that which fallen man cannot perform, and thus bring the whole commandment into disrepute. Our Lord saw this clearly, and labored throughout His ministry to restore this precious part of God’s law to its just position.
The principle which our Lord lays down about Sabbath observance needs carefully fencing with cautions. The right to do works of necessity and mercy is fearfully abused in these latter days. Thousands of Christians appear to have thrown down the hedge, and burst the bounds entirely with respect to this holy day. They seem to forget that though our Lord repeatedly explains the requirements of the fourth commandment, He never struck it out of the law of God, or said that it was not binding on Christians at all.
Can any one say that Sunday traveling, except on very rare emergencies, is a work of mercy?—Will any one tell us that Sunday trading, Sunday dinner parties, Sunday excursion-trains on railways, Sunday deliveries of letters and newspapers, are works of mercy?—Have servants, and shop-men, and engine-drivers, and coachmen, and clerks, and porters, no souls? Do they not need rest for their bodies and time for their souls, like other men?—These are serious questions, and ought to make many people think.
Whatever others do, let us resolve to "keep the Sabbath holy." God has a controversy with the churches about Sabbath desecration. It is a sin of which the cry goes up to heaven, and will be reckoned for one day. Let us wash our hands of this sin, and have nothing to do with it. If others are determined to rob God, and take possession of the Lord’s day for their own selfish ends, let us not be partakers in their sins.
v1.—[He went into...house...Pharisees.] Inns and places of reception for travellers were doubtless far more uncommon in our Lord’s time than they are now. The duty of entertaining strangers, in consequence, often devolved on the chief man in each village or town.
Stella thinks that one object that our Lord had in view in going to the Pharisee’s house, was to benefit the servants of the family, who had few opportunities of hearing truth. He remarks that in his own time, in Spain, servants had hardly any opportunity of hearing sermons, from the demands which their masters made upon their time on Sundays.
[To eat bread on the Sabbath day.] Lightfoot says that "the Jew’s tables were generally better spread on the Sabbath, than on any other days; and that, as they themselves reckoned, on account of religion and piety." He proves this by quotations from Rabbinical writers.
v2.—[Before him.] Some think that the dropsical man placed himself "before Christ" in faith, hoping that he would see and heal him. Others think that he was purposely placed there by our Lord’s enemies, in order to lay a trap in our Lord’s way, and procure an occasion of accusing Him as a Sabbath-breaker.
v3.—[Answering spake.] Let it be noted here that we are told of nothing that was said, or spoken by the lawyers and Pharisees, and yet we read both here, and at Luke 14:5, that our Lord "answered." It is plain that He answered their thoughts.
Whitby observes, "In this and all similar cases, there is an answer to some inward conception or reasoning; or to some action expressive of their sentiments concerning Him." The same remark applies to Matthew 22:1; Luke 5:22; Luke 7:39-40; Mark 14:48; Matthew 11:25.
[To heal on the Sabbath day.] Let it be noted that our Lord seems frequently to have chosen the Sabbath day on purpose, as the day on which He would work miracles of mercy. See Mark 1:21; Luke 6:6; Luke 13:10; John 9:14.
v5.—[An ass or an ox.] Stella makes some severe remarks, in his commentary on this verse, upon the prelates of his day. He charges them with caring more about the horses and mules which drew their equipages, than about the sick, the poor, and the needy in their diocese. He observes that they were not like Job, who did not rend his garments when he lost his oxen and camels, but when his sons and his daughters died.
[Straightway.] This word is more commonly rendered "immediately." It signifies that there was no delay about saving the life of the ox and the ass, and so there ought to be no delay about healing a sick man, or doing a work of mercy on the Sabbath day.
LET us learn from these verses the value of humility. This is a lesson which our Lord teaches in two ways. Firstly, He advises those who are bidden to a wedding to "sit down in the lowest room." Secondly, He backs up His advice by declaring a great principle, which frequently fell from His lips:—"Whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted."
Humility may well be called the queen of the Christian graces. To know our own sinfulness and weakness, and to feel our need of Christ, is the very beginning of saving religion.—It is a grace which has always been the distinguishing feature in the character of the holiest saints in every age. Abraham, and Moses, and Job, and David, and Daniel, and Paul, were all eminently humble men.—Above all, it is a grace within the reach of every true Christian. All have not money to give away. All have not time and opportunities for working directly for Christ. All have not gifts of speech, and tact, and knowledge, in order to do good in the world. But all converted men should labor to adorn the doctrine they profess by humility. If they can do nothing else, they can strive to be humble.
Would we know the root and spring of humility? One word describes it. The root of humility is right knowledge. The man who really knows himself and his own heart,—who knows God and His infinite majesty and holiness,—who knows Christ, and the price at which he was redeemed,—that man will never be a proud man. He will count himself, like Jacob, unworthy of the least of all God’s mercies. He will say of himself, like Job, "I am vile." He will cry, like Paul, "I am chief of sinners." (Genesis 32:10; Job 40:4; 1 Timothy 1:15.) He will think anything good enough for him. In lowliness of mind he will esteem every one else to be better than himself. (Philippians 2:3.) Ignorance—nothing but sheer ignorance—ignorance of self, of God, and of Christ, is the real secret of pride. From that miserable self-ignorance may we daily pray to be delivered! He is the wise man who knows himself;—and he who knows himself, will find nothing within to make him proud.
Let us learn, secondly, from these verses, the duty of caring for the poor. Our Lord teaches this lesson in a peculiar manner. He tells the Pharisee who invited Him to his feast, that, when he made "a dinner or a supper," he ought not to "call his friends," or kinsmen, or rich neighbors. On the contrary, He says, "When thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind."
The precept contained in these words must evidently be interpreted with considerable limitation. It is certain that our Lord did not intend to forbid men showing any hospitality to their relatives and friends. It is certain that He did not mean to encourage a useless and profuse expenditure of money in giving to the poor. To interpret the passage in this manner would make it contradict other plain Scriptures. Such interpretations cannot possibly be correct.
But when we have said this, we must not forget that the passage contains a deep and important lesson. We must be careful that we do not limit and qualify that lesson till we have pared it down and refined it into nothing at all. The lesson of the passage is plain and distinct. The Lord Jesus would have us care for our poorer brethren, and help them according to our power. He would have us know that it is a solemn duty never to neglect the poor, but to aid them and relieve them in their time of need.
Let the lesson of this passage sink down deeply into our hearts. "The poor shall never cease out of the land." (Deuteronomy 15:11.) A little help conferred upon the poor judiciously and in season, will often add immensely to their happiness, and take away immensely from their cares, and promote good feeling between class and class in society. This help it is the will of Christ that all His people who have the means should be willing and ready to bestow. That stingy, calculating spirit, which leads some people to talk of "the workhouse," and condemn all charity to the poor, is exceedingly opposed to the mind of Christ. It is not for nothing that our Lord declares that He will say to the wicked in the day of judgment, "I was an hungered and ye gave me no meat;—I was thirsty and ye gave me no drink."—It is not for nothing that Paul writes to the Galatians, "They would that I should remember the poor; the same which I also was forward to do." (Matthew 25:42. Galatians 2:10.)
Let us learn, lastly, from these verses, the great importance of looking forward to the resurrection of the dead. This lesson stands out in a striking manner in the language used by our Lord on the subject of showing charity to the poor. He says to the Pharisee who entertained Him, "The poor cannot recompense thee;—thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just."
There is a resurrection after death. Let this never be forgotten. The life that we live here in the flesh is not all. The visible world around us is not the only world with which we have to do. All is not over when the last breath is drawn, and men and women are carried to their long home in the grave. The trumpet shall one day sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible. All that are in the graves shall hear Christ’s voice and come forth: they that have done good to the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil to the resurrection of damnation. This is one of the great foundation truths of the Christian religion. Let us cling to it firmly, and never let it go.
Let us strive to live like men who believe in a resurrection and a life to come, and desire to be always ready for another world. So living, we shall look forward to death with calmness. We shall feel that there remains some better portion for us beyond the grave.—So living, we shall take patiently all that we have to bear in this world. Trials, losses, disappointments, ingratitude, will affect us little. We shall not look for our reward here. We shall feel that all will be rectified one day, and that the Judge of all the earth will do right. (Genesis 18:25.)
But how can we bear the thought of a resurrection? What shall enable us to look forward to a world to come without alarm? Nothing can do it, but faith in Christ. Believing on Him, we have nothing to fear. Our sins will not appear against us. The demands of God’s law will be found completely satisfied. We shall stand firm in the great day, and none shall lay anything to our charge. (Romans 8:33.) Worldly men like Felix, may well tremble when they think of a resurrection. But believers, like Paul, may rejoice.
v7.—[He marked.] The Greek word so rendered is only used five times in the New Testament. It means literally "gave attention," or "observed." It is elsewhere translated "gave heed." (Acts 3:5.)
[The chief rooms.] The Greek word so rendered does not literally mean "rooms," or "chambers," as if our Lord meant that the guests chose the best apartments in the house. It signifies the "best seats," or reclining places at table. Major gives a quotation, showing that "the most honourable station at an entertainment among the Romans, was the middle part of the middle couch, each couch holding three."
v9.—[Give this man place...lowest room.] It should be observed in this verse, that it is the same Greek word which is translated "place" and "room." The sentence should either have been translated, "give this man place," and "take the lowest place,"—or "give this man room," and "take the lowest room."
[Begin.] This shows the tardiness, and reluctance, and unwillingness with which the move would be made.
v10.—[Go and sit down in the lowest room.] The following quotation from Paley is worth reading. "Some of the passages in the Gospels about humility, especially the Lord’s advice to the guests at an entertainment, seem to extend His rules to what we call manners, which was both regular in point of consistency, and not so much beneath the dignity of our Lord’s mission, as may at first sight be supposed; for bad manners are bad morals." (Paley’s Evidences. Part 2. chap. 2. 1.)
[Worship.] The Greek word so translated means literally "glory," or "honor." Our translation is unfortunate. It must however be remembered that the meaning of words changes with time. The word "worship" did not mean exclusively religious worship, when the last revision of the Bible took place in England. The sense in which the word is here used, still lingers amongst us in the epithet "worshipful," applied to "mayors," and "worship" to magistrates. In the marriage service of the Church of England, the word also occurs in the sense of "honor."
v11.—[Whosoever exalteth himself, &c.] Let it be noted that hardly any saying of our Lord’s is so frequently repeated as this sentence about humility.
v12.—[Call not thy friends, &c.] This is a remarkable direction. There are few sayings of our Lord’s in which we are so plainly required by the equity of interpretation, to put a qualified sense on his command. Just as it is impossible to put a literal construction on His saying, "if any man come after me and hate not his father, &c., he cannot be my disciple," so it is impossible to put a literal sense on His words here.
Poole remarks, "Many things are delivered in Scripture, in the form of an universal and absolute prohibition, which must not be so understood, amongst which this is one instance. None must think that our Saviour doth here absolutely or universally forbid an invitation of brethren, kinsmen, rich neighbours, friends, to dine with us. There was nothing more ordinarily practised among the Jews, and Christ Himself was at divers meals. But Christ teacheth us here, (1.) That inviting friends is no act of charity. It was a lawful act of humanity and civility, and of a good tendency to procure unity and friendship amongst neighbours and friends, but no such act of charity as they could expect a heavenly reward for. (2.) That such feastings ought not to be upheld in prejudice to our duty in relieving the poor, that is, they ought not to be maintained in such excesses and immoderate degrees, as by them to disable us from that relief of the poor, which God requireth of us as our duty."
The evil consequences of an excessively literal interpretation of this passage, may be seen in the well-meant but grossly abused charities to the poor, which were so prevalent in this country before the Reformation, and which are still to be seen in Roman Catholic countries on the Continent at the present day. It is notorious that profuse charity to the poor, given indiscriminately, and without inquiry, does no real good, fosters idleness, rears up a class of professional mendicants, promotes dissolute and profligate habits among beggars, and enormously increases the very evil which it is meant to relieve.
Such instances of literal obedience to our Lord’s command in this passage, as Cornelius à Lapide quotes in his Commentary, are melancholy instances of useless and mischievous kindness. He tells us how Louis of France used daily to feed a hundred and twenty poor people, and how Hedwig, Duchess of Poland, used daily to feed nine hundred poor people! The slightest knowledge of human nature will tell us that such liberality would certainly be grossly abused, and could never have been meant by our Lord. The words of Paul are distinct and unmistakeable, "If any man will not work, neither shall he eat." (2 Thessalonians 3:10.)
We must beware however in England that we do not go into the other extreme. There is a disposition in some quarters to discourage all charity and almsgiving whatsoever. There are many who say that to give relief checks exertion, and makes the poor do nothing for themselves. Such arguments no doubt have a grain of truth in them, and certainly save men’s pockets. But we must be careful that we do not carry them too far. In a densely peopled country like England, there always will be many cases of real poverty and distress, which rich people ought to consider and relieve. Relief should of course be given judiciously, and after due enquiry. But to say that nothing should ever be given to a poor person, under any circumstances, excepting what the law allows, is evidently contrary to the mind of Christ, and flatly contradictory to the spirit of the passage before us.
v14.—[Thou shalt be recompensed.] This expression is worthy of notice. It confirms the doctrine of a reward according to works, though not on account of works, in the judgment day.
The similarity between the Lord’s language in this place, and that used in the description of the judgment day, in the 25th chapter of Matthew, ought to be observed. It seems to contradict the opinion which some hold, that in Matthew our Lord is speaking only of the judgment of the heathen who never heard the Gospel. Some arguments by which this view is maintained, would apply to the passage before us. Yet here it is plain, that our Lord is speaking of His own hearers and disciples. It appears more probable that both here and in Matthew our Lord speaks of the general judgment, and that the importance of works as an evidence of faith, is the truth which He desires to impress on our minds.
[The resurrection of the just.] This expression is remarkable. I cannot think that our Lord used it in deference to an opinion common among the Jews, that resurrection was the special privilege of the righteous. It seems to me far more probable that our Lord refers to the first resurrection, spoken of in the 20th chapter of Revelation. It is hard to put any other sense on the expression than this, that there is a resurrection of which none but the just shall be partakers,—a resurrection which shall be the peculiar privilege of the righteous, and shall precede that of the wicked.
THE verses before us contain one of our Lord’s most instructive parables. It was spoken in consequence of a remark made by one who was sitting at meat with Him in a Pharisee’s house. "Blessed," said this man, "is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God."—The object of this remark we are left to conjecture. It is far from unlikely that he who made it was one of that class of people who wish to go to heaven, and like to hear good things talked of, but never get any further. Our Lord takes occasion to remind him and all the company, by means of the parable of the great supper, that men may have the kingdom of God offered to them, and yet may wilfully neglect it, and be lost forever.
We are taught, firstly, in this parable, that God has made a great provision for the salvation of men’s souls. This is the meaning of the words, "a certain man made a great supper, and bade many." This is the Gospel.
The Gospel contains a full supply of everything that sinners need in order to be saved. We are all naturally starving, empty, helpless, and ready to perish. Forgiveness of all sin, and peace with God,—justification of the person, and sanctification of the heart,—grace by the way and glory in the end,—are the gracious provision which God has prepared for the wants of our souls. There is nothing that sin-laden hearts can wish, or weary consciences require, which is not spread before men in rich abundance in Christ. Christ, in one word, is the sum and substance of the "great supper." "I am the bread of life," He declares,—"he that cometh unto me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst."—"My flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed."—"He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life." (John 6:35, John 6:55-56.)
We are taught, secondly, in this parable, that the offers and invitations of the Gospel are most broad and liberal. We read that he who made the supper "sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come: for all things are now ready."
There is nothing wanting on God’s part for the salvation of man. If man is not saved, the fault is not on God’s side. The Father is ready to receive all who come to Him by Christ. The Son is ready to cleanse all from their sins who apply to Him by faith. The Spirit is ready to come to all who ask for Him. There is an infinite willingness in God to save man, if man is only willing to be saved.
There is the fullest warrant for sinners to draw near to God by Christ. The word "Come," is addressed to all without exception.—Are men laboring and heavy-laden? "Come unto me," says Jesus, "and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28.)—Are men thirsting? "If any man thirst," says Jesus, "let him come unto me and drink." (John 7:37.)—Are men poor and hungry? "Come," says Jesus, "buy wine and milk without money and without price."—(Isaiah 55:1.) No man shall ever be able to say that he had no encouragement to seek salvation. That word of the Lord shall silence every objector,—"Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out." (John 6:37.)
We are taught, thirdly, in this parable, that many who receive Gospel invitations refuse to accept them. We read that when the servant announced that all things were ready, those who were invited "all with one consent began to make excuse." One had one trivial excuse, and another had another. In one point only all were agreed. They would not come.
We have in this part of the parable a vivid picture of the reception which the Gospel is continually meeting with wherever it is proclaimed. Thousands are continually doing what the parable describes. They are invited to come to Christ, and they will not come.—It is not ignorance of religion that ruins most men’s souls. It is want of will to use knowledge, or love of this present world.—It is not open profligacy that fills hell. It is excessive attention to things which in themselves are lawful.—It is not avowed dislike to the Gospel which is so much to be feared. It is that procrastinating, excuse-making spirit, which is always ready with a reason why Christ cannot be served to-day.—Let the words of our Lord on this subject sink down into our hearts. Infidelity and immorality, no doubt, slay their thousands. But decent, plausible, smooth-spoken excuses slay their tens of thousands. No excuse can justify a man in refusing God’s invitation, and not coming to Christ.
We are taught, lastly, in this parable, that God earnestly desires the salvation of souls, and would have all means used to procure acceptance for His Gospel. We read that when those who were first invited to the supper refused the invitation, "the master of the house said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind." We read that when this was done, and there was yet room, "the lord said unto his servant, Go out into the high ways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled."
The meaning of these words can admit of little dispute. They surely justify us in asserting the exceeding love and compassion of God towards sinners. His long-suffering is inexhaustible. If some will not receive the truth, He will have others invited in their stead. His pity for the lost is no feigned and imaginary thing. He is infinitely willing to save souls.—Above all, the words justify every preacher and teacher of the Gospel in employing all possible means to awaken sinners, and turn them from their sins. If they will not come to us in public, we must visit them in private. If they will not attend our preaching in the congregation, we must be ready to preach from house to house.
We must even not be ashamed to use a gentle violence. We must be instant in season, out of season. (2 Timothy 4:2.) We must deal with many an unconverted man, as one half-asleep, half out of his mind, and not fully conscious of the state he is in. We must press the Gospel on his notice again and again. We must cry aloud and spare not. We must deal with him as we would with a man about to commit suicide. We must try to snatch him as a brand from the burning. We must say, "I cannot,—I will not,—I dare not let you go on ruining your own soul." The men of the world may not understand such earnest dealing. They may sneer at all zeal and fervor in religion as fanaticism. But the "man of God," who desires to do the work of an evangelist, will heed little what the world says. He will remember the words of our parable. He will "compel men to come in."
Let us leave this parable with serious self-inquiry. It ought to speak to us in the present day. To us this invitation of the Gospel is addressed as well as to the Jews. To us the Lord is saying constantly, "Come unto the supper,—Come unto me."—Have we accepted His invitation? Or are we practically saying, "I cannot come." If we die without having come to Christ, we had better never have been born.
v15.—[Blessed is he that shall eat bread, &c.] The motive of this remark, and the real character of him who made it, we are left to conjecture.
Gill thinks it likely that the man was a Jew, who was imbued with the gross notions which were commonly held about feasting and banqueting in the kingdom of Messiah. He shows, from Rabbinical writers, that "the Jews suppose, that God will then make a splendid feast, in which, beside bread, which they call the bread of the kingdom, there will be great variety of flesh, fish, and fowl, plenty of generous wine, and all sorts of delicious fruit. Particularly they speak of a great ox, which they suppose to be the Behemoth in Job, which will then be prepared;—and of Leviathan, and his mate, which will there be dressed;—and of a large fowl, called Ziz, of mountain bigness;—and of old wine, kept from the creation of the world;—and of fruits of the garden of Eden, which will then be served up." I have given this quotation at length, as an instructive instance of the rubbish contained in Rabbinical writers.
I am myself unable to see, what some think, that this man was a believer, or even a pious-minded person. To me his remark appears nothing better than the indolent, vague wish of a man who thinks it proper to say something religious when religion is spoken of in his company. This is well worked out by Stier. The whole tone of the parable which the remark called forth, appears to me irreconcilable with the idea that the remark was to be praised.
v16.—[A certain man made a great supper.] There is a great similarity between this parable and the one reported by Matthew. (Matthew 22:2.) Yet it is clear that the two parables are distinct, and were spoken on different occasions.
The primary object of the parable, no doubt, is to show the wickedness and unbelief of the Jews, and the calling of the Gentiles in their stead. The Jews had the first offer of Christ. When they rejected it, they were cut off, and the offer was made to the Gentiles Yet the parable is evidently meant to apply to the history of the Gospel offer, and the reception it meets with, in every age of the Church.
v17.—[All things are now ready...Supper time.] These expressions denote the completion of the whole work of redemption, which was announced to the Jews and Gentiles, after Christ rose again. Then, and not till then, could it be said literally, "all things are ready."
v18.—[Began to make excuse, &c.] The various excuses which those who were invited made, are types of the various worldly reasons with which men excuse themselves from closing with the offer of Christ’s Gospel. Let it be noted, that all the things mentioned were in themselves innocent and lawful.
[Bought...and I must needs go and see.] Stella sees in this expression an intentional illustration of the folly of worldly men. They are spending their time, and thoughts, and strength on things of which they do not know the real worth. If the man had been wise, he says "he would first have seen the land, and afterwards bought it."
v20.—[I have married a wife, &c.] The Roman Catholic writers do not fail to draw from this expression arguments in favour of the unmarried estate. Yet they can make nothing of it. By parity of reasoning, we might prove that buying oxen, or land, is more sinful than hoarding up money and not spending it. They overlook the beautiful point of this part of the parable, which is this. It is not so much the open breach of God’s law, as an excessive attention to lawful and innocent things which ruins many men’s souls. Few truths are so completely overlooked.
v21.—[Showed his Lord.] This seems to teach the duty of a minister. He must report to his Master in heaven, what success he meets with.
[Being angry.] It is evident that this expression must not be strained into a proof that God is liable to the passion of anger, as the giver of a feast, whose feast is despised. Yet the words are meant to teach us that unbelief and rejection of the Gospel are very provoking to God. And there is a sense, we must never forget, in which "God is angry with the wicked every day."
[The poor...maimed...halt...blind.] These words describe Primarily the Gentiles, who were just in this miserable condition as compared to the Jews. Secondly, they describe all sinners to whom the Gospel is offered, who feel their sins, and acknowledge their own spiritual need and poverty.
v22.—[Yet there is room.] This expression seems to show that there is more willingness on God’s part to save sinners, than there is on the part of sinners to be saved, and more grace to be given, than there are hearts willing to receive it.
Bengel remarks, "neither nature nor grace can endure a vacuum, or empty space."
v23.—[Compel them to come in.] This expression must be carefully interpreted. It does not sanction any literal compulsion, or force, in pressing the Gospel on men’s acceptance. Least of all does it sanction the least approach to intolerance or persecution of men because of their religious opinions.
Bishop Pearce says, "Compel them by arguments, not by force. The nature of the parable shows this plainly. It was a feast to which they were invited."
The word translated "compel," is only used nine times in the New Testament. In four of the places it is rendered "constrain." Matthew 14:22; Mark 6:45; Acts 28:19; Galatians 6:12. It is evident from these passages, that the word does not necessarily imply any employment of force and violence.
Alford’s idea that in the words "compel them to come in," there is possibly "an allusion to infant-baptism," appears to me exceedingly improbable.
v24.—[None...bidden...shall taste, &c.] This expression primarily applies to the Jews. Rejecting Christ’s Gospel they were cut off for a season, until it shall please God to graft them in again. (Romans 11:23.) Secondarily it illustrates a mournful truth about those who reject the Gospel among ourselves. They are sometimes let alone, and given over to a reprobate mind. To refuse truth brings down on man God’s heaviest displeasure. Our Lord’s words about Chorazin and Bethsaida should often be studied.
WE learn, firstly, from this passage, that true Christians must be ready, if need be, to give up everything for Christ’s sake. This is a lesson which is taught in very remarkable language. Our Lord says, "If any man come to me, and hate not his father and mother, and wife and children, and brethren and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple."
This expression must doubtless be interpreted with some qualification. We must never explain any text of Scripture in such a manner as to make it contradict another. Our Lord did not mean us to understand that it is the duty of Christians to hate their relatives. This would have been to contradict the fifth commandment. He only meant that those who follow Him must love Him with a deeper love even than their nearest and dearest connections, or their own lives.—He did not mean that it is an essential part of Christianity to quarrel with our relatives and friends. But He did mean that if the claims of our relatives and the claims of Christ come into collision, the claims of relatives must give way. We must choose rather to displease those we love most upon earth, than to displease Him who died for us on the cross.
The demand which our Lord makes upon us here is peculiarly stringent and heart-searching. Yet it is a wise and a necessary one. Experience shows, both in the church at home, and in the mission-field abroad, that the greatest foes to a man’s soul are sometimes those of his own house. It sometimes happens that the greatest hindrance in the way of an awakened conscience, is the opposition of relatives and friends. Ungodly fathers cannot bear to see their sons "taking up new views" of religion. Worldly mothers are vexed to see their daughters unwilling to enter into the gaieties of the world. A collision of opinion takes place frequently, as soon as grace enters into a family. And then comes the time when the true Christian must remember the spirit of our Lord’s words in this passage. He must be willing to offend his family, rather than offend Christ.
The line of duty in such cases is doubtless very painful. It is a heavy cross to disagree with those we love, and especially about spiritual things. But if this cross be laid upon us, we must remember that firmness and decision are true kindness. It can never be true love to relatives to do wrong, in order to please them. And, best of all, firmness accompanied by gentleness and consistency, in the long run of life, often brings its own reward. Thousands of Christians will bless God at the last day, that they had relatives and friends who chose to displease them rather than Christ. That very decision was the first thing that made them think seriously, and led finally to the conversion of their souls.
We learn secondly, from this passage, that those who are thinking of following Christ should be warned to "count the cost." This is a lesson which was intended for the multitudes who followed our Lord without thought and consideration, and was enforced by examples drawn from building and from war. It is a lesson which will be found useful in every age of the church.
It costs something to be a true Christian. Let that never be forgotten. To be a mere nominal Christian, and go to church, is cheap and easy work. But to hear Christ’s voice, and follow Christ, and believe in Christ, and confess Christ, requires much self-denial. It will cost us our sins, and our self-righteousness, and our ease, and our worldliness. All—all must be given up. We must fight an enemy who comes against us with twenty thousand followers. We must build a tower in troublous times. Our Lord Jesus Christ would have us thoroughly understand this. He bids us "count the cost."
Now, why did our Lord use this language? Did He wish to discourage men from becoming His disciples? Did He mean to make the gate of life appear more narrow than it is? It is not difficult to find an answer to these questions. Our Lord spoke as He did to prevent men following Him lightly and inconsiderately, from mere animal feeling or temporary excitement, who in time of temptation would fall away. He knew that nothing does so much harm to the cause of true religion as backsliding, and that nothing causes so much backsliding as enlisting disciples without letting them know what they take in hand. He had no desire to swell the number of His followers by admitting soldiers who would fail in the hour of need. For this reason He raises a warning voice. He bids all who think of taking service with Him count the cost before they begin.
Well would it be for the Church and the world if the ministers of Christ would always remember their Master’s conduct in this passage. Often,—far too often—people are built up in self-deception, and encouraged to think they are converted when in reality they are not converted at all. Feelings are supposed to be faith. Convictions are supposed to be grace. These things ought not so to be. By all means let us encourage the first beginnings of religion in a soul. But never let us urge people forward without telling them what true Christianity entails. Never let us hide from them the battle and the toil. Let us say to them "come with us"—but let us also say, "count the cost."
We learn, lastly, from this passage, how miserable is the condition of backsliders and apostates. This is a lesson which is intimately connected with the preceding one. The necessity of "counting the cost" is enforced by a picture of the consequences of neglecting to do so. The man who has once made a profession of religion, but has afterwards gone back from it, is like salt which has "lost its savor." Such salt is comparatively useless. "It is neither fit for the land, nor fit for the dunghill: but men cast it out." Yet the state of that salt is a lively emblem of the state of a backslider. No wonder that our Lord said, "He that hath ears to hear let him hear."
The truth which our Lord brings out in this place is very painful, but very useful and needful to be known. No man, be it remembered, is in so dangerous a state as he who has once known the truth and professed to love it, and has afterwards fallen away from his profession, and gone back to the world. You can tell such a man nothing that he does not know. You can show him no doctrine that he has not heard. He has not sinned in ignorance like many. He has gone away from Christ with his eyes open. He has sinned against a known, and not an unknown God. His case is well nigh desperate. All things are possible with God. Yet it is written, "It is impossible for those who were once enlightened,—if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance." (Hebrews 6:4-6.)
Let us ponder these things well. The subject is one which is not sufficiently considered. Let us never be afraid of beginning to serve Christ. But let us begin seriously, thoughtfully, and with a due consideration of the step we take. And having once begun, let us pray for grace that we may persevere, and never fall away.
v25.—[Great multitudes...he turned and said, &c.] The conduct of our Lord on this occasion stands out in strong contrast to that of many ministers of the Gospel, in the present day.
The temptation to admit people to full communion, and endorse and approve them as true Christians, before they have given evidence of decided grace, is very strong. The inclination to set before young inquirers the joys and comforts of the Gospel, without any proportionate exhibition of the cross and the fight, requires constant watching against.
The close imitation of our Lord’s conduct in this passage would probably greatly lessen the number of our communicants. But it may be doubted whether we should not gain in quality what we lost in quantity, and whether we should not be freed from many of those disgraceful backslidings, and gross inconsistencies, which so often now-a-days bring discredit on religion.
It may be laid down as a general rule that communicants cheaply admitted are worth little, and that to call people Christians upon lower terms than those which our Lord sets forth, in the long run does more harm than good.
v26.—[Come to me, and hate not.] The expression "hate," in this verse, must evidently be taken comparatively. The following quotation from Pearce deserves reading.
"Besides the proof from Matthew 10:37, that the word ’hate’ here means ’love less,’ it may be added, that in Matthew 6:24, the word ’hate’ is used after the same manner. So also when we read in Romans 9:13, ’Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated,’ the meaning is that I have loved Jacob more than Esau. That this is no arbitrary interpretation of the word ’hate,’ but one agreeable to the Hebrew idiom, appears from what is said in Genesis 29:30-31, where Leah being ’hated,’ is explained by Rachel being loved more than Leah. See also Deuteronomy 21:15-17."
v28.—[To build a tower.] The following note from Doddridge deserves reading.
"The phrase, ’build a tower,’ naturally suggests to us the idea of a more magnificent edifice, than our Lord’s hearers might probably think of on this occasion. It is plain that towers were frequently run up, probably of slight materials, to lodge those who had the care of keeping vineyards or flocks; and they were built pretty high in proportion to their base, that they might command the larger prospect."
There is reason in this comment, when we mark our Lord’s words, "which of you."
v31.—[What king, &c.] Some regard this "king" as an emblem of a believer, and the king coming "with twenty thousand," as Satan. I am quite unable to see this. Both here and in the preceding three verses, I believe our Lord is only borrowing an illustration from familiar subjects, and that we are not meant to look further.
v33.—[Forsaketh.] The Greek word so rendered is more commonly translated, "bid farewell," or "take leave." The meaning evidently is that a man cannot be Christ’s disciple unless he is deliberately prepared to give up everything for his sake, if need be, and to encounter any enemy, and make any sacrifice.
v34.—[Salt have lost its savour.] The following quotation from Maundrell deserves reading. He is describing the valley of salt, in his travels, and he says, "Along, on one side, there is a small precipice, occasioned by the continual taking away of the salt. I broke a piece of it, of which the part exposed to the rain, sun, and air, though it had the sparks and particles of salt, had completely lost its savour. The inner part which was connected with the rock, retained its savour."
Schottgen speaks of a species of salt in Judæa, brought from the Dead Sea, and called bituminous salt, which was easily rendered vapid, and of no other use but to "spread in a part of the temple, on the pavement, to prevent slipping in wet weather."
This striking and solemn saying about the "salt which has lost its savour," is found on no less than three distinct occasions in the Gospels. (See Matthew 5:13, and Mark 9:50.) The spiritual lesson of the passage is fearfully overlooked. The sinfulness of sins against light and knowledge, and the possibility of being given over to a reprobate mind, are points not sufficiently dwelt upon by preachers, or considered by hearers. Men seem to forget that there is such a thing as an unpardonable sin,—and that if salt has once lost its savor, it cannot be seasoned again.
I should not like to be mistaken in saying this. I cannot find in Scripture any clear proof that there is any decreed reprobation. I hold that the destruction of those who are lost is the consequence of their own sins, and not of God’s predestination. I believe that we have no right to say of any sinner, that he is too bad to be saved.
But the general teaching of the New Testament appears to be that nothing is so displeasing to God as the misuse of knowledge, and the wilful turning away from truth once seen and acknowledged, to the service of sin and the world. The Bible teaches, in fact, that no sinner is so unlikely to be saved as the man who after making a high spiritual profession, falls away and returns to the world, and no heart so unlikely to be changed as the heart which once professed to love the Gospel, but afterwards became cold and indifferent to it.
I can certainly testify, after sixteen year’s ministry, that by far the most hopeless and painful deathbeds I have attended have been those of backsliders. I have seen some such persons go out of the world without hope, whose conscience really appeared dead, buried and gone, and on whom every truth and doctrine, and argument appeared alike thrown away. They seemed to have lost the power of feeling, and could only lie still and despair. I fear the true account of such persons’ state of soul was the sentence of our Lord, on which I have now been dwelling.
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Ryle, J. C. "Commentary on Luke 14". "J. C. Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17