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THE object of the parable before us, is explained by Christ Himself. To use the words of an old divine, "The key hangs at the door."—"He spake a parable to this end; that men ought always to pray, and not to faint." These words, be it remembered, are closely connected with the solemn doctrine of the second advent, with which the preceding chapter concludes. It is prayer without fainting, during the long weary intervals between the first and second advents, which Jesus is urging His disciples to keep up. In that interval we ourselves are standing. The subject therefore is one which ought to possess a special interest in our eyes.
These verses teach us firstly, the great importance of perseverance in prayer. Our Lord conveys this lesson by telling the story of a friendless widow, who obtained justice from a wicked magistrate, by dint of sheer importunity.—"Though I fear not God, nor regard man," said the unjust judge, "yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me."—Our Lord Himself supplies the application of the parable: "Hear what the unjust judge saith. Shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto Him, though He bear long with them?" If importunity obtains so much from a wicked man, how much more will it obtain for the children of God from the Righteous Judge, their Father in heaven!
The subject of prayer ought always to be interesting to Christians. Prayer is the very life-breath of true Christianity. Here it is that religion begins. Here it flourishes. Here it decays. Prayer is one of the first evidences of conversion. (Acts 9:11.) Neglect of prayer is the sure road to a fall. (Matthew 26:40-41.) Whatever throws light on the subject of prayer is for our soul’s health.
Let it then be graven deeply in our minds, that it is far more easy to begin a habit of prayer than it is to keep it up. The fear of death,—some temporary prickings of conscience,—some excited feelings, may make a man begin praying, after a fashion. But to go on praying requires faith. We are apt to become weary, and to give way to the suggestion of Satan, that "it is of no use." And then comes the time when the parable before us ought to be carefully remembered. We must recollect that our Lord expressly told us "always to pray and not to faint."
Do we ever feel a secret inclination to hurry our prayers, or shorten our prayers, or become careless about our prayers, or omit our prayers altogether? Let us be sure, when we do, that it is a direct temptation from the devil. He is trying to sap and undermine the very citadel of our souls, and to cast us down to hell. Let us resist the temptation, and cast it behind our backs. Let us resolve to pray on steadily, patiently, perseveringly, and let us never doubt that it does us good. However long the answer may be in coming, still let us pray on. Whatever sacrifice and self-denial it may cost us, still let us pray on, "pray always"—"pray without ceasing"—and "continue in prayer." (1 Thessalonians 5:17. Colossians 4:2.) Let us arm our minds with this parable, and while we live, whatever we make time for, let us make time for prayer.
These verses teach us, secondly, that God has an elect people upon earth, who are under His special care. The Lord Jesus declares that God will "avenge His own elect, which cry day and night unto Him."—"I tell you," He says, "that He will avenge them speedily."
Election is one of the deepest truths of Scripture. It is clearly and beautifully stated in the seventeenth Article of the Church of England. It is "the everlasting purpose of God, whereby, before the foundations of the world were laid, He has decreed by His counsel, secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation, those whom He has chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation." This testimony is true. This is "sound speech which cannot be condemned." (Titus 2:8.)
Election is a truth which should call forth praise and thanksgiving from all true Christians. Except God had chosen and called them, they would never have chosen and called on Him. Except He had chosen them of His own good pleasure, without respect to any goodness of theirs, there would never have been anything in them to make them worthy of His choice. The worldly and the carnal-minded may rail at the doctrine of election. The false professor may abuse it, and turn the "grace of God into lasciviousness." (Judges 1:4.) But the believer who knows his own heart will ever bless God for election. He will confess that without election there would be no salvation.
But what are the marks of election? By what tokens shall a man know whether he is one of God’s elect? These marks are clearly laid down in Scripture. Election is inseparably connected with faith in Christ, and conformity to His image. (Romans 8:29-30.) It was when Paul saw the working "faith," and patient "hope," and laboring "love" of the Thessalonians, that he knew their "election of God." (1 Thessalonians 1:3-4.) Above all, we have a plain mark, described by our Lord, in the passage before us. God’s elect are a people who "cry unto Him night and day." They are essentially a praying people. No doubt there are many persons whose prayers are formal and hypocritical. But one thing is very clear,—a prayerless man must never be called one of God’s elect. Let that never be forgotten.
These verses teach us, lastly, that true faith will be found very scarce at the end of the world. The Lord Jesus shows this, by asking a very solemn question, "When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?"
The question before us is a very humbling one. It shows the uselessness of expecting that all the world will be converted before Christ comes again. It shows the foolishness of supposing that all persons are "good," and that though differing in outward matters, they are all right at heart, and all going to heaven. Such notions find no countenance in the text before us.
Where is the use, after all, of ignoring facts under our own eyes,—facts in the world,—facts in the churches,—facts in the congregations we belong to,—facts by our own doors and firesides? Where is faith to be seen? How many around us really believe what the Bible contains? How many live as if they believed that Christ died for them, and that there is a judgment, a heaven, and a hell?—These are most painful and serious inquiries. But they demand and deserve an answer.
Have we faith ourselves? If we have, let us bless God for it. It is a great thing to believe all the Bible. It is matter for daily thankfulness if we feel our sins, and really trust in Jesus. We may be weak, frail, erring, short-coming sinners. But do we believe? That is the grand question. If we believe, we shall be saved. But he that believeth not, shall not see life, and shall die in his sins. (John 3:36; John 8:24.)
v1.—[And he spake a parable, &c.] Let it be noted that this parable is closely connected with the preceding chapter. After giving a fearful account of the sifting and tribulations which shall attend His own second advent, our Lord proceeds to urge on His people the importance of the habit of persevering in prayer as a preparation for the advent, and of not fainting under trial and giving up prayer in despair.
[Always to pray.] This expression does not mean that a man should be incessantly performing the act of prayer. It means that a man should constantly keep up the habit of prayer, and endeavour to be always in a prayerful frame of mind.
v2.—[There was in a city, &c.] As usual, there are various opinions about the primary purpose and application of this parable.
It is the opinion of many that the "widow" in the parable represents the Church, and the "adversary" the devil, or antichrist; the widow’s distressed state the whole condition of the Church between the first and second advents of Christ,—and her crying for help the groaning of creation for the manifestation of the sons of God. (Romans 8:19.)
Trench mentions a strange view of Vitringa’s, that the unjust judge represents the Roman Emperors, and the widow the early Church;—and a still stranger view of Irenæus and Hippolytus, that the widow is the earthly Jerusalem, and the unjust judge antichrist.
My own impression is that the parable was meant simply to describe the duty of individual believers during the whole period of the present dispensation, and to encourage them to persevering prayer, by holding out the hope that God will at length plead their cause, when things seem at the worst.
[Which feared not God...regarded man.] This is a proverbial description of a thoroughly bad man in high office. Our Lord Jesus Christ, be it observed, knows that there are such men in high places, and will one day reckon with them.
The description has stumbled some commentators, and has been treated as a great difficulty. They have been offended at the idea of such a man as this judge standing in the position of a type and emblem of God. To avoid this seeming inconsistency, Theophylact mentions a strange and monstrous view held by some, that the words exactly describe God, since He is one who need not fear God, and is no respecter of men’s persons!
The difficulty raised appears to me thoroughly unreasonable. Both here, and in other places, we are not meant to draw an exact parallel between the person described and God. The one single point we are meant to notice is, that even an unjust and wicked man can be moved by importunity. And the inference pressed on us, is simply this, that if a wicked man is to be moved by importunity, much more is God.
Quesnel says, "We may make a good use even of the worst examples. Every thing serves to display the justice and goodness of God, either by way of conformity or opposition, either as lines which form the resemblance their of, or as shadows which heighten the lustre and liveliness of the colors."
v3.—[A widow.] The helpless and friendless condition of a widow in Eastern countries and Bible times, should be carefully remembered. See Exodus 22:22; Deuteronomy 10:18; Job 29:13; 1 Kings 17:9, 1 Kings 17:12.
v5—[Weary me.] The Greek word translated "weary," is very peculiar. It signifies literally "to strike under the eyes." Some have thought it very strange that a man in the judge’s position should use such language, and express any fear that a poor, weak, defenceless woman could trouble him so much as to require such a strong phrase. Yet a moment’s reflection will show us, that selfish, worldly, wicked men, are just exactly the persons who employ such violent expressions, in order to express their sense of annoyance even on trifling occasions. How often for instance people talk of being "tired to death," or "worried out of their lives," when there is nothing to justify the use of such language.
v6.—[The unjust judge.] The Greek words here mean literally "the judge of injustice." It is precisely the same form of language, that is used in a previous chapter describing "the unjust steward." Luke 16:8.
v7.—[Which cry day and night.] This is doubtless a proverbial expression, signifying a habit of continual prayer.
[Bear long.] The Greek word so translated is generally rendered "have patience," "is long-suffering." The remark of Pearce on the passage is worth reading. "The word is commonly used for delaying to punish a bad man. Here it has another sense, and signifies the delaying to help a good man. So Peter seems to use the expression, ’long-suffering,’ when he says, ’account that the long-suffering of God is salvation,’ that is, that though He delays long to save you, yet He will save you at the last." (2 Peter 3:15.)
v8.—[He will avenge them speedily.] This sentence points to the second advent of Christ. To our eyes it seems long delayed. But a thousand years in God’s sight are but as one day.
[When...Son of man...faith...earth.] These words are differently interpreted.
Some, as usual, can see in the "coming of the Son of man," nothing but the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. They think the sentence means, when the Jewish polity is overthrown, the number of believers will be found very small.
Wordsworth maintains that "the earth" means the "world," in contradiction to the children of light.
I am unable to see either view to be correct. I believe the view given in the Exposition is the true one. Our Lord teaches that there will be comparatively few true believers upon earth when He comes again. True faith will be found as rare as it was in the days of Noah, when only eight persons entered the ark, and in the days of Lot, when only four persons left Sodom. He is speaking, we must remember, in close connection with the account of the second advent, and His own vivid comparison of the days of Noah and Lot, with the day when the Son of man shall be revealed.
There is doubtless an implied lesson here, that persevering prayer is the secret of keeping up faith. Augustine says, "When faith fails, prayer dies. In order to pray, then, we must have faith; and that our faith fail not, we must pray. Faith pours forth prayer; and the pouring forth of the heart in prayer, gives steadfastness to faith."
The unbelief of man on the subject of both advents is strikingly shown in the beginning of Isaiah 53:1, and of 2 Peter 3:1-18.
THE parable we have now read is closely connected with the one which immediately precedes it. The parable of the persevering widow teaches the value of importunity in prayer. The parable of the Pharisee and Publican teaches the spirit which should pervade our prayers.—The first parable encourages us to pray and faint not. The second parable reminds us how and in what manner we ought to pray.—Both should be often pondered by every true Christian.
Let us notice, firstly, the sin against which our Lord Jesus Christ warns us in these verses. There is no difficulty in finding out this. Luke tells us expressly, that "He spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others." The sin which our Lord denounces is "self-righteousness."
We are all naturally self-righteous. It is the family-disease of all the children of Adam. From the highest to the lowest we think more highly of ourselves than we ought to do. We secretly flatter ourselves that we are not so bad as some, and that we have something to recommend us to the favor of God. "Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness." (Proverbs 20:6.) We forget the plain testimony of Scripture, "In many things we offend all."—"There is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good and sineth not."—"What is man that he should be clean, or he that is born of a woman that he should be righteous?" (James 3:2. Ecclesiastes 7:20. Job 15:14.)
The true cure for self-righteousness is self-knowledge. Once let the eyes of our understanding be opened by the Spirit, and we shall talk no more of our own goodness. Once let us see what there is in our own hearts, and what the holy law of God requires, and self-conceit will die. We shall lay our hand on our mouths, and cry with the leper, "Unclean, unclean." (Leviticus 13:45.)
Let us notice, secondly, in these verses, the prayer of the Pharisee, which our Lord condemns. We read that he said, "God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week. I give tithes of all I possess."
One great defect stands out on the face of this prayer,—a defect so glaring that even a child might mark it. It exhibits no sense of sin and need. It contains no confession and no petition,—no acknowledgment of guilt and emptiness,—no supplication for mercy and grace. It is a mere boasting recital of fancied merits, accompanied by an uncharitable reflection on a brother sinner. It is a proud, high-minded profession, destitute alike of penitence, humility, and charity. In short, it hardly deserves to be called a prayer at all.
No state of soul can be conceived so dangerous as that of the Pharisee. Never are men’s bodies in such desperate plight, as when mortification and insensibility set in. Never are men’s hearts in such a hopeless condition, as when they are not sensible of their own sins. He that would not make shipwreck on this rock, must beware of measuring himself by his neighbors. What does it signify that we are more moral than "other men"? We are all vile and imperfect in the sight of God.—"If we contend with Him, we cannot answer him one in a thousand." (Job 9:3.) Let us remember this. In all our self-examination let us not try ourselves by comparison with the standard of men. Let us look at nothing but the requirements of God. He that acts on this principle will never be a Pharisee.
Let us notice, thirdly, in these verses, the prayer of the Publican, which our Lord commends. That prayer was in every respect the very opposite of that of the Pharisee. We read that he "stood afar off, and smote upon his breast, and said, God be merciful to me a sinner." Our Lord Himself stamps this short prayer with the seal of His approbation. He says, "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other."
The excellence of the Publican’s prayer consists in five points, each of which deserves attention. For one thing, it was a real petition. A prayer which only contains thanksgiving and profession, and asks nothing, is essentially defective. It may be suitable for an angel, but it is not suitable for a sinner.—For another thing, it was a direct personal prayer. The Publican did not speak of his neighbors, but himself. Vagueness and generality are the great defects of most men’s religion. To get out of "we," and "our," and "us," into "I," and "my," and "me," is a great step toward heaven.—For another thing, it was a humble prayer,—a prayer which put self in the right place. The Publican confessed plainly that he was a sinner. This is the very A B C of saving Christianity. We never begin to be good till we can feel and say that we are bad.—For another thing, it was a prayer in which mercy was the chief thing desired, and faith in God’s covenant mercy, however weak, displayed. Mercy is the first thing we must ask for in the day we begin to pray. Mercy and grace must be the subject of our daily petitions at the throne of grace till the day we die.—Finally, the Publican’s prayer was one which came from his heart. He was deeply moved in uttering it. He smote upon his breast, like one who felt more than he could express. Such prayers are the prayers which are God’s delight. A broken and a contrite heart He will not despise. (Psalms 51:17.)
Let these things sink down into our hearts. He that has learned to feel his sins has great reason to be thankful. We are never in the way of salvation until we know that we are lost, ruined, guilty, and helpless. Happy indeed is he who is not ashamed to sit by the side of the publican! When our experience tallies with his, we may hope that we have found a place in the school of God.
Let us notice, lastly, in these verses, the high praise which our Lord bestows on humility. He says, "Every one that exalteth himself shall be abased, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted."
The principle here laid down is so frequently found in the Bible, that it ought to be deeply graven in our memories. Three times we find our Lord using the words before us in the Gospels, and on three distinct occasions. Humility, He would evidently impress upon us, is among the first and foremost graces of the Christian character. It was a leading grace in Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Job, Isaiah, and Daniel. It ought to be a leading grace in all who profess to serve Christ. All the Lord’s people have not gifts or money. All are not called to preach, or write, or fill a prominent place in the church. But all are called to be humble. One grace at least should adorn the poorest and most unlearned believer. That grace is humility.
Let us leave the whole passage with a deep sense of the great encouragement it affords to all who feel their sins, and cry to God for mercy in Christ’s name. Their sins may have been many and great. Their prayers may seem weak, faltering, unconnected, and poor. But let them remember the Publican, and take courage. That same Jesus who commended his prayer is sitting at the right hand of God to receive sinners. Then let them hope and pray on.
v9.—[Unto certain which trusted, &c.] It seems probable that this parable was not addressed to the Pharisees, so much as to certain of our Lord’s own followers and disciples. Our Lord knew all hearts, and He probably saw in some of His own immediate adherents a tendency to value themselves too highly because they were His disciples. He checks it by speaking this parable.
Pride, self-conceit, and a disposition to look down on others as ignorant, blind, and inferior to ourselves, are faults to which many Converted people are peculiarly liable.
v10.—[A Pharisee...a publican.] These two are mentioned as types of opposite classes of character. The Pharisee represents the moral, the respectable, and the externally correct. The publican represents the wicked, the profligate, and the utterly irreligious.
The theory held by some, that the Pharisee represents the Jewish nation, and the publican the Gentile world, appears to me destitute of foundation.
v11.—[Stood and prayed thus with himself.] Some have thought that the Greek words should have been rendered, "stood by himself and prayed thus." It is probable, however, that our English version gives the sense correctly.
It is a mistake to suppose, as some have done, that there was anything to be blamed, as indicative of pride, in the Pharisee’s attitude. Standing was as common a position for prayer as kneeling, among the Jews. See Matthew 6:5. Mark 11:25. 2 Chronicles 6:12.
[I thank thee.] Gill gives some singular instances from Rabbinical writers of the thanksgivings which commonly formed part of Jewish prayers. One quotation will suffice. "It is a tradition of Rabbi Juda saying three things a man ought to say every day,— Blessed be thou that thou hast not made me a Gentile.—Blessed be thou that thou hast not made me an unlearned man.—Blessed be thou that thou hast not made me a woman."
It needs hardly be noted, that we are not to infer that thankfulness is wrong in our prayers. It is thankfulness accompanied by self-conceit, and uncharitable comparisons of ourselves with other men, and unaccompanied by confessions of unworthiness, and prayer for mercy and grace, which our Lord condemns.
v12.—[I fast twice...give tithes all...&c.] Here the Pharisee, let it be noted, exalts his own works of supererogation. He fasted even more than God required. He gave tithes even of things which God did not command to be tithed,—not of his corn and his fruits only, but of all his possessions.
A more miserable and defective righteousness than this Pharisee’s, it is hard to conceive. His negative goodness consisted in not being so bad as some! His positive goodness consisted in fasting and paying tithes with excessive scrupulosity! Of heart-holiness, we do not hear a word!
v13.—[Would not lift up.] The Greek words mean literally, "was not willing to lift,"—had no mind, or will, or inclination.
[Be merciful to.] It is not improbable that the idea of mercy through a propitiation, enters into this prayer. The Greek word rendered, "be merciful to," is only found in one other place, and is there applied to our Lord Jesus Christ, as a High Priest, "making reconciliation" for the sins of the people. (Hebrews 2:17.)
[A sinner.] The Greek words are here even stronger than our version, if literally translated. They signify "the sinner," that is, "the great sinner."
v14.—[Justified rather than the other.] We must not suppose that this means that the Pharisee was a little justified, and the publican very much, and that the difference between them was only one of degree. There are no degrees in justification. The words mean that the Pharisee was not justified at all, or accepted with God, and that the publican went home pardoned, forgiven, and counted righteous before God.
[Every one...exalteth...abased.] The truth of this great principle admits of illustration at every step of Bible history. Pharaoh, Goliath, Haman, Sennacherib, Nebuchadnezzar, Herod, are all cases in point.
LET us observe, for one thing, in this passage, how ignorantly people are apt to treat children, in the matter of their souls. We read that there were some who "brought their infants to Jesus that he would touch them: but when His disciples saw it, they rebuked them." They thought most probably that it was mere waste of their Master’s time, and that infants could derive no benefit from being brought to Christ. They drew from our Lord a solemn rebuke. We read that "Jesus called them unto Him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not."
The ignorance of the disciples does not stand alone. On few subjects, perhaps, shall we find such strange opinions in the churches, as on the subject of the souls of children. Some think that children ought to be baptized, as a matter of course, and that if they die unbaptized they cannot be saved. Others think that children ought not to be baptized, but can give no satisfactory reason why they think so.—Some think that all children are regenerate by virtue of their baptism. Others seem to think that children are incapable of receiving any grace, and that they ought not to be enrolled in the Church till they are grown up.—Some think that children are naturally innocent, and would do no wickedness unless they learned it from others. Others think that it is no use to expect them to be converted when young, and that they must be treated as unbelievers till they come to years of discretion.—All these opinions appear to be errors, in one direction or another. All are to be deprecated, for all lead to many painful mistakes.
We shall do well to get hold of some settled scriptural principles about the spiritual condition of children. To do so may save us much perplexity, and preserve us from grave false doctrine.
The souls of young children are evidently precious in God’s sight. Both here and elsewhere there is plain proof that Christ cares for them no less than for grown-up people.—The souls of young children are capable of receiving grace. They are born in sin, and without grace cannot be saved. There is nothing, either in the Bible or experience, to make us think that they cannot receive the Holy Ghost, and be justified, even from their earliest infancy.—The baptism of young children seems agreeable to the general tenor of Scripture, and the mind of Christ in the passage before us. If Jewish children were not too young to be circumcised in the Old Testament dispensation, it is exceedingly hard to understand why Christian children should be too young to be baptized under the Gospel. Thousands of children, no doubt, receive no benefit from baptism. But the duty of baptizing them remains the same.—The minds of young children are not unequal to receiving religious impressions. The readiness with which their minds receive the doctrines of the Gospel, and their consciences respond to them, is matter of fact well known to all who have anything to do with teaching.—Last, but not least, the souls of children are capable of salvation, however young they may die. To suppose that Christ will admit them into His glorified Church, and yet maintain that He would not have them in His professing Church on earth, is an inconsistency which can never be explained.
These points deserve calm consideration. The subject is unquestionably difficult, and one on which good men disagree. But in every perplexity about it we shall find it good to return again and again to the passage before us. It throws a strong light on the position of children before God. It shows us in general terms the mind of Christ.
Let us observe, for another thing, in this passage, the strong declaration which our Lord Jesus Christ makes about infants. He says, "Of such is the kingdom of God."
The meaning of these words no doubt is a matter of dispute. That they were not meant to teach that children are born sinless and innocent, is abundantly clear from other parts of Scripture. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh." (John 3:6.) A threefold lesson is probably contained in our Lord’s words. To that threefold lesson we shall do well to take heed.
"Like such as little children," all saints of God should strive to live. Their simple faith and dependence on others,—their unworldliness and indifference to earthly treasures,—their comparative humility, harmlessness, and freedom from deceit,—are points in which they furnish believers with an excellent example. Happy is he who can draw near to Christ and the Bible in the spirit of a little child!
"Out of such as little children," the Church of God on earth ought to be constantly recruited. We should not be afraid to bring them to baptism even in their earliest infancy, and to dedicate them to Christ from the beginning of their days. Useless and formal as baptism often is, it is an ordinance appointed by Christ Himself. Those who use it with prayer and faith may confidently look for a blessing.
"Of such as little children," the kingdom of God in glory will be largely composed. The salvation of all who die in infancy may confidently be expected. Though sin has abounded, grace has much more abounded. (Romans 5:20.) The number of those in the world who die before they "know good from evil" is exceedingly great. It is surely not too much to believe that a very large proportion of the glorified inhabitants of heaven will be found at length to be little children.
Let us leave the whole passage with a deep sense of the value of children’s souls, and with a settled resolution to "put on the mind of Christ" in all our dealings with them. Let us regard children as a most important part of Christ’s professing Church, and a part which the great Head of the Church does not like to see neglected. Let us train them from their earliest infancy in godly ways, and sow the seed of Scripture truth in their minds, with strong confidence that it will one day bear fruit.
Let us believe that they think more, and feel more, and consider more, than at first sight appears; and that the Spirit is often working in them, as really and truly as in old people. Above all, let us often name them before Christ in prayer, and ask Him to take them under His special charge. He never changes. He is always the same. He cared for boys and girls when He was upon earth. Let us not doubt that He cares for them at the right hand of God in heaven.
v15.—[And they brought, &c.] The connection between this passage and the parable preceding it should not be overlooked. Our Lord had just been speaking of humility. He now gives a practical illustration of His delight in humility, by His treatment of little children.
[Infants.] Let this word be carefully noted. The Greek word admits of only one sense. It is children of the youngest and tenderest age. It is the same word used in Luke 1:41, Luke 1:44; Luke 2:12, Luke 2:16; 1 Peter 2:2. It is impossible to interpret the expression as meaning young persons come to years of discretion.
[Touch them.] There is reference here in all probability to the Jewish habit of laying hands on a child and blessing it. We have an instance in the case of Jacob blessing Joseph’s children. (Genesis 48:14.)
[They rebuked them.] Comparing this passage with the parallel one in Mark, we see that it was the persons who brought the children who were rebuked by the disciples.
v16.—[Jesus called them.] The word "them" in this place applies to the infants, and not to their parents and friends. Our Lord specially addressed Himself to the children.
[Of such is the kingdom of God.] Considering the verse which follows these words, and the parable which precedes it, it seems probable that the principal idea in our Lord’s mind was to set before us the beauty of a humble and child-like spirit, and to commend such a spirit to His disciples for imitation. We need not however exclude from this sentence the other and further meanings which I have mentioned in the exposition.
Undoubtedly the expression is not a proof of infant baptism. To establish the right of infants we must look elsewhere,—to the circumcision of children under the law,—to the baptism of whole families in the Acts,—to the striking absence of any hint in the New Testament, that children were not to be formally admitted into the church by an outward ordinance under the Gospel, as they had been under the law,—and not least to the remarkable fact mentioned by Lightfoot, that the children of all proselytes admitted into the Jewish Church by Baptism before our Lord’s time, were always baptized together with their parents.
Nevertheless the passage before us will always remain a strong testimony of our Lord Jesus Christ’s care for little children. There is a deep significance in His rebuke of those who would, have kept infants from Him, which deserves serious consideration.
v17.—[Verily I say unto you, &c.] The lesson of this verse admits of only one interpretation. It describes the spirit and frame of mind which are absolutely necessary to salvation. Pride, high thoughts, and self-righteousness, must be laid aside. We must be converted and become as little children. (Matthew 18:3.)
THE story we have now read is three times reported in the Gospels. Matthew, Mark and Luke were all moved by the Holy Ghost to record the history of the rich man who came to Christ. This fact should be noticed. It shows us that there are lessons before us which demand special attention. When God would impress on Peter his duty towards the Gentiles, He sent him a vision which was repeated "three times." (Acts 10:16.)
We learn, firstly, from these verses, to what lengths men may go in self-ignorance. We are told of "a certain ruler," who asked our Lord what he should "do to inherit eternal life." Our Lord knew the ruler’s heart, and gave him the answer which was most likely to bring to light the real state of his soul. He reminds him of the ten commandments. He recites some of the principal requirements of the second table of the law. At once the spiritual blindness of the inquirer was detected. "All these," said the man, "I have kept from my youth up."—An answer more full of darkness and self-ignorance it is impossible to conceive! He who made it could have known nothing rightly, either about himself, or God, or God’s law.
Does the case of this rich ruler stand alone? Do we suppose there are none like him at the present day?—If we do, we are greatly deceived. There are thousands, it may be feared, in all our congregations, who have not the least idea of the spiritual nature of God’s law, and consequently know nothing of their own sinfulness. They do not see that God requires "truth in the inward parts," and that we may break commandments in our heart and thoughts, even when we do not break them in outward actions. (Psalms 51:6. Matthew 5:21-28.) To be delivered from such blindness is one of the first things needful to our salvation. The eyes of our understandings must be enlightened by the Holy Ghost. (Ephesians 1:18.) We must learn to know ourselves. No man really taught of the Spirit will ever talk of having "kept all God’s commandments from his youth." He will rather cry with Paul, "The law is spiritual, but I am carnal." "I know that in me dwelleth no good thing." (Romans 7:14-18.)
We learn, secondly, from these verses, what harm one master-sin may do to a soul. The desires which the rich ruler expressed were right and good. He wanted "eternal life." There seemed at first sight no reason why he should not be taught the way of God, and become a disciple. But there was one thing, unhappily, which be loved better than "eternal life." That thing was his money. When invited by Christ, to give up all that he had on earth, and seek treasure in heaven, he had not faith to accept the invitation. The love of money was his master-sin.
Shipwrecks like this are sadly common in the Church of Christ. Few are the ministers who could not put their finger on many cases like that of the man before us. Many are ready to give up everything for Christ’s sake, excepting one darling sin, and for the sake of that sin are lost for evermore. When Herod heard John the Baptist, he "heard him gladly and did many things." But there was one thing he could not do. He could not part with Herodias. That one thing cost Herod his soul. (Mark 6:20.)
There must be no reserve in our hearts, if we would receive anything at Christ’s hands. We must be willing to part with anything, however dear it may be, if it stands between us and our salvation. We must be ready to cut off the right hand and pluck out the right eye, to make any sacrifice, and to break any idol. Life, we must remember, eternal life is at stake! One leak neglected, is enough to sink a mighty ship. One besetting sin, obstinately clung to, is enough to shut a soul out of heaven. The love of money, secretly nourished in the heart, is enough to bring a man, in other respects moral and irreproachable, down to the pit of hell.
We learn, thirdly, from these verses, how great is the difficulty of a rich man being saved. Our Lord declares this in the solemn comment which He makes on the ruler’s case: "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the Kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God."
The truth which our Lord lays down in this place, is one which we may see confirmed on every side. Our own eyes will tell us that grace and riches seldom go together. "Not many mighty, not many noble, are called." (1 Corinthians 1:26.) It is plain matter of fact, that comparatively few rich men are to be found in the way of life. For one thing, riches incline their possessors to pride, self-will, self-indulgence, and love of the world. For another thing, the rich man is seldom dealt with faithfully about his soul. He is generally flattered and fawned upon. "The rich hath many friends." (Proverbs 14:20.) Few persons have the courage to tell him the whole truth. His good points are grossly exaggerated. His bad points are glossed over, palliated, and excused. The result is, that while his heart is choked up with the things of the world, his eyes are blinded to his own real condition. What right have we to wonder that a rich man’s salvation is a hard thing?
Let us beware of envying rich men and coveting their possessions. We little know what we might come to if our desires were granted. Money, which thousands are constantly wanting and longing for,—money, which many make their god,—money keeps myriads of souls out of heaven! "They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare." Happy is he who has learned to pray, "Give me neither poverty nor riches," and is really "content with such things as he has." (1 Timothy 6:9. Proverbs 30:8. Hebrews 13:5.)
We learn, lastly, from these verses, how mighty is the power of God’s grace. We see this in the words which our Lord addressed to those who heard Him speaking of the rich man’s danger. They said, "who then can be saved?" Our Lord’s reply is broad and full: "The things which are impossible with men are possible with God." By grace a man may serve God and reach heaven in any condition of life.
The word of God contains many striking instances in illustration of this doctrine. Abraham, and David, and Hezekiah, and Jehoshaphat, and Josiah, and Job, and Daniel, were all great and rich. Yet they all served God and were saved. They all found grace sufficient for them, and overcame the temptations by which they were surrounded. Their Lord and Master still lives, and what He did for them He can do for others. He can give power to rich Christians to follow Christ in spite of their riches, as well as He did to rich Jews.
Let us beware of allowing ourselves to suppose that our own salvation is impossible, because of the hardness of our position. It is too often a suggestion of the devil and our own lazy hearts. We must not give way to it. It matters not where we live, so long as we are not following a sinful calling. It matters not what our income may be, whether we are burdened with riches or pinched with poverty. Grace, and not place, is the hinge on which our salvation turns. Money will not keep us out of heaven if our hearts are right before God. Christ can make us more than conquerors. Christ can enable us to win our way through every difficulty. "I can do all things," said Paul, "through Christ which strengtheneth me." (Philippians 4:13.)
v18.—[A certain ruler asked him, &c.] The connection between the history of the rich ruler and the verses which immediately precede it ought not to be overlooked. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all relate it as following the account of our Lord’s sayings about little children. It seems intended to show us how a man may miss heaven for want of a childlike indifference to worldly riches.
The man before us appears to have been one of a far better spirit than the Scribes, and Pharisees, and Sadducees. He was anxious about salvation. He had evidently a feeling of respect for our Lord. Yet through love of money, his one besetting sin, he lost his soul.
[What shall I do to inherit.] The literal rendering of the Greek words in this place brings out the legality of the ruler’s mind more forcibly than our translation. It would be literally translated, "What, having done, shall I inherit?"
v19.—[Why callest thou me good?] The paraphrase of Whitby on this verse is worth noticing:—"Why gavest thou me a title not ascribed to your reverend rabbins, nor due to any mere man? Thinkest thou there is anything in me more than human, or that the Father dwelleth in me? This thou oughtest to believe if thou conceivest the title ’good’ doth truly belong to me, seeing there is none good but one, that is God."
v20.—[Thou knowest the commandments.] Gualter here remarks, that our Lord treats the ruler as a wise physician treats a sick patient. He administers the medicine most likely ultimately to conduce to his spiritual health. He addresses him in the way most likely to bring him to self-knowledge. As the ruler spoke of "doing," Jesus begins by speaking of God’s commandments.
[Do not commit adultery &c.] Let it be noted that our Lord does not recite the commandments in the exact order in which they are given in Exodus. It is a singular fact that in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament the seventh commandment is put before the sixth.
v22.—[Yet lackest thou one thing.] The process by which our Lord convinces the ruler of sin should not be overlooked. He shows him that whatever he might think of his obedience to the second table of the law, he was certainly a breaker of the first table. He did not keep either the first commandment or the second. His money was his god, and he was guilty of covetousness, which is idolatry.
[Sell all...distribute...poor.] We are not to understand that our Lord meant all Christians to do what he here enjoins the rich ruler to do. The language of Peter to Annanias contradicts the idea. (Acts 5:4.) Reason itself shows that if all acted on this system, idleness would be encouraged, and all men would ultimately come to poverty. "If any man will not work," says Paul, "neither shall he eat." (2 Thessalonians 3:10.)
Our Lord prescribed according to the disease before him. It was a case of desperate and idolatrous love of money. There was but one remedy,—"Sell all and distribute." Like Paul and his companions on board ship, he must cast overboard the lading of the ship if he would save his life.
v23.—[When he heard...very sorrowful.] We hear of this ruler no more. Some have conjectured that after all he obeyed our Lord’s commands, and became a disciple. It seems far more probable that he could not stand the test which our Lord imposed on him, and lost his soul. Mark says, "He went away." (Mark 10:22.)
v24.—[They that have riches.] These words should always be compared with the fuller account of this history which Mark gives. He says that our Lord repeated this saying twice, and on the second occasion said, "How hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom."
v25.—[It is easier for a camel, &c.] Some commentators have labored to prove that the word we translate "camel" ought to be rendered "a cable." The alteration wished for seems needless. The expression used by our Lord was probably proverbial, and familiar to his hearers. The camel was the largest animal which the Jews were accustomed to use, and a "camel passing through a needle’s eye," according to some rabbinical writings, signified a thing absolutely impossible. Michaelis says, that a similar proverb about an elephant passing through a needle’s eye is in use in India.
Harmer remarks, "In the East the doors are frequently made extremely low, sometimes not more than three or four feet high, to prevent the plundering Arab from riding into the inner court. Still they train their camels to make their way, though with difficulty, through these door ways. It was probably in allusion to this practice that this proverbial expression was formed."
v27.—[Things...impossible, &c.] This is a general proverbial expression. But the application is clear and plain. The salvation even of a rich man is possible with the grace of God.
LET us observe, firstly, in these verses, what a glorious and satisfying promise our Lord holds out to all believers who make sacrifices for His sake. He says, "There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake, who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting."
The promise before us is a very peculiar one. It does not refer to the believer’s reward in another world, and the crown of glory which fadeth not away. It refers distinctly to the life that now is. It is spoken of "this present time."
The "manifold more" of the promise must evidently be taken in a spiritual sense. The meaning is, that the believer shall find in Christ a full equivalent for anything that he is obliged to give up for Christ’s sake. He shall find such peace, and hope, and joy, and comfort, and rest, in communion with the Father and the Son, that his losses shall be more than counterbalanced by his gains. In short, the Lord Jesus Christ shall be more to him than property, or relatives, or friends.
The complete fulfillment of this wonderful promise has been often seen in the experience of God’s saints. Hundreds could testify in every age of the church, that when they were obliged to give up everything for the kingdom of God’s sake, their losses were amply supplied by Christ’s grace. They were kept in perfect peace, staying their souls on Jesus. (Isaiah 26:3.) They were enabled to glory in tribulation, and to take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in distresses for Christ’s sake. (Romans 5:3. 2 Corinthians 12:10.) They were enabled in the darkest hour to rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory, and to count it an honor to suffer shame for their Master’s name. (1 Peter 1:8. Acts 5:41.) The last day will show that in poverty and in exile,—in prisons and before judgment seats,—in the fire and under the sword,—the words of Christ before us have repeatedly been made good. Friends have often proved faithless. Royal promises have often been broken. Riches have made themselves wings. But Christ’s engagements have never been known to fail.
Let us grasp this promise firmly. Let us go forward in the way of life with a firm conviction that it is a promise which is the property of all God’s people. Let us not give way to doubts and fears because of difficulties that cross our path. Let us press onward with a strong persuasion, that if we lose anything for Christ’s sake, Christ will make it up to us even in this present world. What believers need is more daily practical faith in Christ’s words. The well of living water is always near us, as we travel through the wilderness of this world. Yet for want of faith we often fail to see it, and faint by the way. (Genesis 21:19.)
Let us observe, secondly, in these verses, the clear and plain prediction which our Lord makes about His own death. We see Him telling the disciples that He would be "delivered to the Gentiles, mocked, spitefully entreated, spitted on, scourged, and put to death."
The importance of our Lord’s death appears in the frequency with which He foretold it, and referred to it during His life. He knew well that it was the principal end for which He came into the world. He was to give His life a ransom for many. He was to make His soul an offering for sin, and to bear our transgressions in His own body on the tree. He was to give His body and blood for the life of the world. Let us seek to be of the same mind with Christ in our estimate of His death. Let our principal thoughts about Jesus be inseparably bound up with His crucifixion. The corner-stone of all truth concerning Christ is this,—that "While we were yet sinners He died for us." (Romans 5:8.)
The love of our Lord Jesus Christ towards sinners is strikingly shown in His steady purpose of heart to die for them. All through His life He knew that He was about to be crucified. There was nothing in His cross and passion which He did not foresee distinctly even to the minutest particular, long before it came upon Him. He tasted all the well-known bitterness of anticipated suffering. Yet He never swerved from His path for a moment. He was straitened in spirit till He had finished the work He came to do. (Luke 12:50.) Such love passeth knowledge. It is unspeakable, unsearchable. We may rest on that love without fear. If Christ so loved us before we thought of Him, He will surely not cease to love us after we have believed.
The calmness of our Lord Jesus Christ in the prospect of certain death ought to be a pattern to all His people. Like Him, let us drink the bitter cup which our Father gives us, without a murmur, and say, "not my will but thine be done." The man that has faith in the Lord Jesus has no reason to be afraid of the grave. "The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Corinthians 15:56-57.) The grave is no longer what it once was. It is the place where the Lord lay. If the great Head of the body looked forward to the grave with calmness, much more may all His believing members. For them He has overcome death. The king of terrors at the worst is a conquered foe.
Let us observe, lastly, in these verses, the slowness of the disciples to understand Christ’s death. We find that when our Lord described His coming sufferings, the disciples "understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken."
We read such passages as these, perhaps, with a mixture of pity and surprise. We wonder at the darkness and blindness of these Jews. We marvel that in the face of plain teaching, and in the light of plain types of the Mosaic law, the sufferings of Messiah should have been lost sight of in His glory, and His cross hidden behind His crown.
But are we not forgetting that the vicarious death of Christ has always been a stumbling-block and an offence to proud human nature? Do we not know that even now, after Christ has arisen from the dead and ascended into glory, the doctrine of the cross is still foolishness to many, and that Christ’s substitution for us on the cross is a truth which is often denied, rejected and refused?—Before we wonder at these first weak disciples, for not understanding our Lord’s words about His death, we should do well to look around us. It may humble us to remember that thousands of so-called Christians neither understand nor value Christ’s death at the present day.
Let us look well to our own hearts. We live in a day when false doctrines about Christ’s death abound on every side. Let us see that Christ crucified is really the foundation of our own hopes, and that Christ’s atoning death for sin is indeed the whole life of our souls. Let us beware of adding to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, as the Roman Catholic does. Its value was infinite. It admits of no addition.—Let us beware of taking away from Christ’s sacrifice, as the Socinian does. To suppose that the Son of God only died to leave us an example of self-denial, is to contradict a hundred plain texts of Scripture.—Let us walk in the old paths. Let us say with Paul, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Galatians 6:14.)
v28.—[We have left all.] The remark has often been made, that Peter and his fellow disciples had left little or nothing for Christ’s sake. A few boats and fishing nets were probably the whole amount of their worldly goods. Yet it must never be forgotten that a poor man’s "all" is as dear to him, in a certain sense, as the rich man’s palace. He knows nothing higher or better excepting by report. In giving up everything for Christ’s sake, he makes, at any rate, the greatest sacrifice in his power.
v29.—[There is no man that hath left, &c.] The cases which our Lord here describes are undoubtedly cases which can seldom occur in England. We can hardly conceive a case among ourselves in which religion could oblige a man to separate from his "wife and children."
But there can be no doubt that sacrifices like this were often necessary when the Gospel was first preached, and was bitterly opposed by prejudiced Jews and ignorant heathen. Moreover, it is a striking fact that at the present day a converted Jew is often obliged to separate from his nearest and dearest relatives, and a converted Hindoo is cast off by all his family.
There can be no doubt that our Lord spoke with foresight of cases like these. In this point of view, His words are singularly full of comfort.
v30.—[Manifold more...this present time.] It is the safest course to give a spiritual sense to this glorious promise. A converted man will no doubt often find new friends among converted people, who shall amply make up to him for the loss of his former worldly acquaintances.—But it is not always so. The wisdom of God is sometimes pleased to allow a converted man to be a loser in temporal things by his conversion. Christ Himself, and all the inward comforts of heart, conscience, and soul which Christ alone can bestow, and the world can neither give nor take away, must be regarded as the real substance of the promise.
v31.—[All things...written, &c.] If we confine this expression to the sufferings and passion of our Lord, the reference must of course be to Psalms 22:1-31; Isaiah 53:1-12; and Daniel 9:26. But it admits of question whether our Lord did not refer to all that was to happen at Jerusalem from the time when He rode into the city upon an ass until His resurrection. The passages referred to would then be more numerous. In any case, let it be noted, the book of Psalms is classed among "the prophets." There is far more of prophetical matter in the Psalms than most readers suppose.
v32, v33.—[He shall be delivered, &c.] The following passage from Doddridge is worth reading: "This prediction is a strong instance of the spirit of prophecy exerted by our Lord. It was more probable that He would be privately slain, or stoned to death in a tumult. And when He was delivered back to the Jews by Pilate, with permission to judge Him according to their law, it is wonderful that He was not stoned. But all was done that the Scriptures might be fulfilled."
v31.—[They understood none, &c.] The blindness of the disciples about our Lord’s crucifixion and sufferings is, at first sight, very extraordinary. But we must remember that they were all Jews, and trained from their infancy to expect a Messiah in glory and majesty, but not in suffering and humiliation. The influence of early training, and incessant indoctrinating with one set of ideas, is exceedingly great.
Pellican has a clever and ingenious note on this passage, in which he shows how the disciples would probably interpret our Lord’s predictions of His own sufferings, and explain away a sense which was offensive and painful to their own feelings.
He thinks that they would call to mind the many figurative and parabolical expressions which our Lord used in His teaching, such as "eating His flesh and blood,"—"taking heed of the leaven of the Pharisees,"—and would persuade themselves that His strong language about His own death might yet receive some figurative fulfilment without their Master really dying.
After all, we have no right to wonder at the disciples being slow to understand the first advent of Christ in humiliation, when we see how many Christians refuse to acknowledge the second advent in glory, although the texts about Messiah’s glory are far more numerous than those about His sufferings. Above all, we have no right to wonder when we see how many, even now, are utterly in the dark about the true purpose of Christ’s death upon the cross.
THE miracle described in these verses is rich in instruction. It was one of the great works which witnessed that Christ was sent of the Father. (John 5:36.) But this is not all. It contains also some lively patterns of spiritual things which deserve attentive study.
We see, for one thing, in this passage, the importance of diligence in the use of means. We are told of "a certain blind man who sat by the wayside begging." He sought the place where his pitiful condition was most likely to attract notice. He did not sit lazily at home, and wait for relief to come to him. He placed himself by the road-side, in order that travelers might see him and give him help. The story before us shows the wisdom of his conduct. Sitting by the wayside, he heard that "Jesus was passing by." Hearing of Jesus he cried for mercy, and was restored to sight. Let us mark this well! If the blind man had not sat by the way-side that day, he might have remained blind to the hour of his death.
He that desires salvation should remember the example of this blind man. He must attend diligently on every means of grace. He must be found regularly in those places where the Lord Jesus is specially present. He must sit by the way-side, wherever the word is read and the Gospel preached, and God’s people assemble together. To expect grace to be put into our hearts, if we sit idling at home on Sundays, and go to no place of worship, is presumption and not faith. It is true that "God will have mercy on whom He will have mercy;"—but it is no less true that He ordinarily has mercy on those who use means. It is true that Christ is sometimes "found of those who seek Him not;"—but it is also true that He is always found of those who really seek Him. The Sabbath breaker, the Bible-neglecter, and the prayerless man are forsaking their own mercies, and digging graves for their own souls. They are not sitting "by the wayside."
We see, for another thing, in this passage, an example of our duty in the matter of prayer. We are told that when this blind man heard that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by, he "cried, saying, Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me." We are told further, that when some rebuked him and bade him hold his peace, he would not be silenced. "He only cried so much the more." He felt his need, and found words to tell his story. He was not to be stopped by the rebukes of people who knew nothing of the misery of blindness. His sense of wretchedness made him go on crying. And his importunity was amply rewarded. He found what he sought. That very day he received sight.
What the blind man did on behalf of his bodily ailment, it is surely our bounden duty to do on behalf of our souls. Our need is far greater than his. The disease of sin is far more grievous than the want of sight. The tongue that can find words to describe the necessities of the body, can surely find words to explain the wants of the soul. Let us begin praying if we never prayed yet. Let us pray more heartily and earnestly, if we have prayed in times past. Jesus, the Son of David, is still passing by, and not far from every one of us. Let us cry to Him for mercy, and allow nothing to stop our crying. Let us not go down to the pit speechless and dumb, without so much as a cry for help. None will be so excuseless at the last day as baptized men and women who never tried to pray.
We see, for another thing, in this passage, an encouraging instance of Christ’s kindness and compassion. We are told that when the blind man continued crying for mercy, our Lord "stood and commanded him to be brought unto Him." He was going up to Jerusalem to die, and had weighty matters on His mind, but He found time to stop to speak kindly to this poor sufferer. He asked him what he would have done to him? "Lord," was the eager reply, "that I may receive my sight." At once we are told, "Jesus said unto him, receive thy sight; thy faith hath saved thee." That faith perhaps was weak, and mixed with much imperfection. But it had made the man cry to Jesus, and go on crying in spite of rebukes. So coming with faith, our blessed Lord did not cast him out. The desire of his heart was granted, and "immediately he received sight."
Passages like these in the Gospels are intended for the special comfort of all who feel their sins and come to Christ for peace. Such persons may be sensible of much infirmity in all their approaches to the Son of God. Their faith may be very feeble,—their sins many and great,—their prayers very poor and stammering,—their motives far short of perfection. But after all, do they really come to Christ with their sins? Are they really willing to forsake all other confidence, and commit their souls to Christ’s hands? If this be so, they may hope and not be afraid. That same Jesus still lives who heard the blind man’s cry, and granted his request. He will never go back from His own words,—"Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out." (John 6:37.)
We see, lastly, in this passage, a striking example of the conduct which becomes one who has received mercy from Christ. We are told that when the blind man was restored to sight, "he followed Jesus, glorifying God." He felt deeply grateful. He resolved to show his gratitude by becoming one of our Lord’s followers and disciples. Pharisees might cavil at our Lord. Sadducees might sneer at His teaching. It mattered nothing to this new disciple. He had the witness in himself that Christ was a Master worth following. He could say, "I was blind, and now I see." (John 9:25.)
Grateful love is the true spring of real obedience to Christ! Men will never take up the cross and confess Jesus before the world, and live to Him, until they feel that they are indebted to Him for pardon, peace, and hope. The ungodly are what they are, because they have no sense of sin, and no consciousness of being under any special obligation to Christ. The godly are what they are, because they love Him who first loved them, and washed them from sin in His own blood. Christ has healed them, and therefore they follow Christ.
Let us leave the passage with solemn self-inquiry. If we would know whether we have any part or lot in Christ, let us look at our lives. Whom do we follow? What are the great ends and objects for which we live? The man who has a real hope in Jesus, may always be known by the general bias of his life.
v35.—[As He was come nigh, &c.] The miracle described in this passage is recorded by all the three first Gospel writers, but with some variations. Matthew speaks of two blind men. Mark and Luke speak of only one. Matthew and Mark say that the miracle was wrought when our Lord was "departing" from Jericho. Luke says thit it happened, "as He was come nigh."
With regard to the variation in the reports of the number of blind men, there is little difficulty. There were doubtless two blind persons healed. Mark and Luke, however, only report one case, which was probably that of the man best known at Jericho. Mark tells us that his name was Bartimæus.—Precisely the same variation may be observed in the accounts given by the three Gospel writers of the casting out of the devils in the country of the Gadarenes. Matthew says that two men were cured. Mark and Luke say that there was one. That one was evidently the most remarkable case, because he was the one who asked to be allowed to follow our Lord.—The same remark applies to both miracles. Two persons were healed, as Matthew says. One case only was reported by Mark and Luke, because it was for some reason the more noticeable of the two. In either miracle, to suppose that only one person was healed, because Mark and Luke were inspired to single out and report only one cure, is surely unreasonable and unfair. There was another cure, but for some wise reason, Mark and Luke did not report it.
The other variation is undoubtedly more difficult of explanation. Why Matthew and Mark should say that the miracle before us was wrought when our Lord was "going out of" Jericho, and Luke, that it was wrought as He "came near" to Jericho, is a hard knot to untie. At any rate the reconciliation of the apparent discrepancy between the two accounts, has occasioned much difference of opinion among commentators.
(1.) Some think that there were two cases of blind men cured, and that they were cured at two different times,—one as our Lord entered into Jericho, the other as our Lord departed from Jericho,— and that Luke reported one case, and Matthew and Mark another. This is the opinion of Augustine, Chemnitius, Barradius, Stella, Lightfoot, Gill, and Greswell.—Euthymius goes so far as to think that there were four altogether healed, and that the two in Matthew, the one in Mark, and the one in Luke, were four distinct cases!
(2.) Some think that the words of Luke, "as He was come nigh," only mean, "as He was in the neighborhood of Jericho," and that they do not necessarily mean, "as He was approaching, or coming to." This is the opinion of Grotius, Doddridge, and Scott.
(3.) Some think that the blind man began crying to our Lord as He was approaching Jericho, but was not healed until our Lord was leaving Jericho, and was accompanied by the second bllind man at the time of his healing, though he was alone when he first cried. This is the opinion of Poole, Paraus, Bengel, Jansenius, Maldonatus, and Wordsworth.
(4.) Macknight thinks that Jericho consisted of two quarters, au old and a new town, situated at a little distance one from the other, and that the blind men were sitting on the road between the two towns. Our Lord might then be truly reported as "going out" of one town, and "coming nigh" to another.
(5.) Markland thinks that "as He came nigh," means, "as He came nigh to Jerusalem" and Luke only means that Jesus on His journey to Jerusalem was somewhere near or about Jericho, without determining whether he was leaving or entering.
I must frankly confess that none of the above explanations is altogether and completely satisfactory. The third appears to me by far the most probable. The other four seem to be either contradictory to grammar or to common sense.—I have no doubt whatever that the apparent discrepancy admits of thorough explanation, and is no fair argument against the plenary inspiration of Scripture. Some difficulties of this nature we might reasonably expect to find in such a book as the Bible. If we learn nothing else from them, they may teach us humility.
Every one must allow that it is perfectly possible for two independent reporters of an event to differ slightly in their account of its details, without the slightest intention to deceive, and without any departure from truth. Occasional differences on slight points of detail are strong evidences that the Gospel writers are independent witnesses, and that in writing the Gospels they did not copy one another, but were independently guided by the Holy Ghost.
v36.—[What it meant.] This would be rendered more literally, "What this thing might be."
v38.—[Thou Son of David.] This expression is remarkable, because the preceding verse informs us distinctly that the blind man was told that "Jesus of Nazareth" was passing by. To call our Lord the "Son of David" was a sign of faith, and showed that the blind man had some idea that Jesus was the Messiah. When the Pharisees were asked whose son Christ would be, they replied at once, "The Son of David." (Matthew 22:42.) The fame of our Lord as a mighty worker of miracles, had probably reached the blind man’s ears, and made him believe that He who could do such great miracles, must be one sent from God.
v41.—[Receive thy sight.] Both here and in the two following verses, the Greek word so rendered means literally, "look up," or "see again."
v42.—[Thy faith.] This expression seems to indicate very plainly, that the blind man did not call our Lord, "Son of David," as a mere appellation of dignity, and that he had some vague but real belief that our Lord was the Messiah.
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Ryle, J. C. "Commentary on Luke 18". "Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels". https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany