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Bible Commentaries

Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels

Luke 6

Verses 1-5

WE should notice, in this passage, what excessive importance hypocrites attach to trifles. We are told that on a certain Sabbath day our Lord was passing "through the cornfields." His disciples, as they followed Him, "plucked the ears of corn, and did eat, rubbing them in their hands." At once the hypocritical Pharisees found fault, and charged them with committing a sin. They said, "Why do ye that which is not lawful to do on the Sabbath days?" The mere act of plucking the ears of corn of course they did not find fault with. It was an action sanctioned by the Mosaic law. (Deuteronomy 23:25.) The supposed fault with which they charged the disciples, was the breach of the fourth commandment. They had done work on the Sabbath, by taking and eating a handful of food.

This exaggerated zeal of the Pharisees about the Sabbath, we must remember, did not extend to other plain commandments of God. It is evident from many expressions in the Gospels, that these very men, who pretended such strictness on one little point, were more than lax and indifferent about other points of infinitely greater importance. While they stretched the commandment about the Sabbath beyond its true meaning, they openly trampled on the tenth commandment, and were notorious for covetousness. (Luke 16:14.) But this is precisely the character of the hypocrite. To use our Lord’s illustration, in some things he makes ado about straining out of his cup a gnat, while in other things he can swallow a camel. (Matthew 23:24.)

It is a bad symptom of any man’s state of soul, when he begins to put the second things in religion in the first place, and the first things in the second, or the things ordained by man above the things ordained by God. Let us beware of falling into this state of mind. There is something sadly wrong in our spiritual condition, when the only thing we look at in others is their outward Christianity, and the principal question we ask is, whether they worship in our communion, and use our ceremonial, and serve God in our way.—Do they repent of sin? Do they believe on Christ? Are they living holy lives? These are the chief points to which our attention ought to be directed. The moment we begin to place anything in religion before these things, we are in danger of becoming as thorough Pharisees as the accusers of the disciples.

We should notice, secondly, in this passage, how graciously our Lord Jesus Christ pleaded the cause of His disciples, and defended them against their accusers. We are told that He answered the cavils of the Pharisees with arguments by which they were silenced, if not convinced. He did not leave His disciples to fight their battle alone. He came to their rescue, and spoke for them.

We have in this fact a cheering illustration of the work that Jesus is ever doing on behalf of His people. There is one, we read in the Bible, who is called "the accuser of the brethren, who accuses them day and night," even Satan, the prince of this world. (Revelation 12:10.) How many grounds of accusation we give him, by reason of our infirmity! How many charges he may justly lay against us before God! But let us thank God that believers "have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous," who is ever maintaining the cause of His people in heaven, and continually making intercession for them. Let us take comfort in this cheering thought. Let us daily rest our souls on the recollection of our great Friend in heaven. Let our morning and evening prayer continually be, "Answer for me, answer for me, O Lord my God."

We should notice, lastly, in these verses, the clear light which our Lord Jesus Christ throws on the real requirements of the fourth commandment. He tells the hypocritical Pharisees, who pretended to such strictness in their observance of the Sabbath, that the Sabbath was never intended to prevent works of necessity. He reminds them how David himself, when suffering from hunger, took and ate that shew bread, which ought only to be eaten by the priests, and how the act was evidently allowed of God, because it was an act of necessity. And He argues from David’s case, that He who permitted His own temple rules to be infringed, in cases of necessity, would doubtless allow work to be done on His own Sabbath days, when it was work for which there was really a need.

We should weigh carefully the nature of our Lord Jesus Christ’s teaching about the observance of the Sabbath, both here and in other places. We must not allow ourselves to be carried away by the common notion that the Sabbath is a mere Jewish ordinance, and that it was abolished and done away by Christ. There is not a single passage of the Gospels which proves this. In every case where we find our Lord speaking upon it, He speaks against the false views of it, which were taught by the Pharisees, but not against the day itself. He cleanses and purifies the fourth commandment from the man-made additions by which the Jews had defiled it, but never declares that it was not to bind Christians. He shows that the seventh day’s rest was not meant to prevent works of necessity and mercy, but He says nothing to imply that it was to pass away, as a part of the ceremonial law.

We live in days when anything like strict Sabbath observance is loudly denounced, in some quarters, as a remnant of Jewish superstition. We are boldly told by some persons, that to keep the Sabbath holy is legal, and that to enforce the fourth commandment on Christians, is going back to bondage. Let it suffice us to remember, when we hear such things, that assertions are not proofs, and that vague talk like this has no confirmation in the word of God. Let us settle it in our minds, that the fourth commandment has never been repealed by Christ, and that we have no more right to break the Sabbath day, under the Gospel, than we have to murder and to steal.

The architect who repairs a building, and restores it to its proper use, is not the destroyer of it, but the preserver. The Savior who redeemed the Sabbath from Jewish traditions, and so frequently explained its true meaning, ought never to be regarded as the enemy of the fourth commandment. On the contrary, He has "magnified it, and made it honorable."

Let us cling to our Sabbath, as the best safeguard of our Country’s religion. Let us defend it against the assaults of ignorant and mistaken men, who would fain turn the day of God into a day of business and pleasure. Above all, let us each strive to keep the day holy ourselves. Much of our spiritual prosperity depends, under God, on the manner in which we employ our Sundays.

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Notes

v1.—[Second Sabbath after the first.] The meaning of this expression has entirely puzzled all commentators. It is nowhere used in Scripture, excepting in this place. All explanations of it are nothing better than conjectures. Cornelius á Lapide gives a summary of these conjectures, which, if it proves nothing else, is a clear proof that there is no such thing as "unanimous consent of the Fathers" in the interpretation of Scripture. Be mentions, among other things, that Jerome once asked Gregory Nazianzen what this Sabbath was, and received for answer, that he would teach him in church when it would be impossible to contradict him.

Some think that this second-first Sabbath (for so the Greek expression would be translated more correctly) was the Pentecost Sabbath. They suppose that the Jews had three principal Sabbath days in the year,—the first at the Feast of the Passover, the second at the Feast of Pentecost, and the third at the Feast of Tabernacles. And they consider that the Sabbath here mentioned is the "second great Sabbath," or Pentecost Sabbath.

Some think that this second-first Sabbath, was the first Sabbath after the second day of unleavened bread in the Jewish Passover week. This second day in the passover week was the day when the first ripe sheaf of barley was waved by the priest before the Lord, to consecrate the harvest. (Leviticus 23:10-12.) The Sabbath here spoken of would then be the first Sabbath after the first sheaf of harvest had been cut.

I offer no opinion on the difficulty. It is probably one that will never be settled till the Lord comes. If the ears of corn which the disciples plucked were wheat, the first explanation seems most probable. If, on the other hand, they were barley, the second seems most likely to be correct. The question, happily, is one which affects no point of doctrine, and may safely be left alone.

v3.—[What David did.] Here, as in other places, let us not fail to observe how our Lord refers to things recorded in Old Testament Scriptures, as well-attested and acknowledged historical facts. The infidel notion, that the Old Testament narratives are nothing better than amusing fables, and fictions invented to convey useful lessons, is a notion that finds no foot-hold, or countenance in the New Testament. He that strikes at the authority of the Old Testament, will find at last, whether he means it or not, that he is striking also at the authority of the New.

[When himself was an hungered.] This is an expression which should be carefully noted in considering passages like that now before us, in which our Lord teaches the true spirit of Sabbath observance. The case of positive necessity, it should be observed, is carefully shown, it was a case of "hunger." This, and this only, justified the departure from a divine law. In this spirit we ought to consider the often mooted question, what may and what may not be done on the Christian Sunday. When Sunday is deliberately made a day for doing secular things which need not necessarily be done on Sunday, and might easily have been done before Sunday, there is an open breach of the fourth commandment. Neither here, nor elsewhere, does our Lord Jesus Christ sanction such use of the Sunday. The works that He sanctions, are works of necessity and mercy, not of money-making, business, pleasure-seeking, and amusement.

v5.—[The Son of man...Lord of the Sabbath.] The meaning of this expression has been already fully considered in my note on Mark. At present it may suffice to say, that I consider "the Son of man" to mean what the expression always means in the New Testament, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.—The words "Lord of the Sabbath," were not meant to imply that our Lord, by virtue of His divine authority, would alter, abrogate, or let down the law of the fourth commandment. They mean that Jesus is "Lord of the Sabbath," to deliver it from Jewish traditions, to protect it from superstitious views of its observance, and to show the true spirit and manner in which it was always intended to be kept.

Verses 6-11

THESE verses contain another example of our Lord Jesus Christ’s mode of dealing with the Sabbath question. Once more we find Him coming into collision with the vain traditions of the Pharisees, about the observance of the fourth commandment. Once more we find Him clearing the day of God from the rubbish of human traditions, and placing its requirements on the right foundation.

We are taught in these verses, the lawfulness of doing works of mercy on the Sabbath day. We read that before all the Scribes and Pharisees our Lord healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath. He knew that these enemies of all righteousness were watching to see whether He would do it, in order that they might "find an accusation against Him." He boldly asserts the right of doing such works of mercy, even on the day when it is said, "thou shalt do no manner of work." He openly challenges them to show that such a work was contrary to the law. "I will ask you one thing," He says, "Is it lawful on the Sabbath days to do good, or to do evil?—to save life or to destroy?" To this question His enemies were unable to find an answer.

The principle here laid down, is one of wide application. The fourth commandment was never meant to be so interpreted, as to inflict injury on man’s body. It was intended to admit of adaptation to that state of things which sin has brought into the world. It was not meant to forbid showing kindness on the Sabbath to the afflicted, or attending to the wants of the sick. We may drive in a carriage to minister comfort to the dying. We may stay away from public worship, in order to fetch a doctor, or be useful in a sick room. We may visit the fatherless and widow in trouble. We may preach, and teach, and instruct the ignorant. These are works of mercy. We may do them, and yet keep the Sabbath holy. They are not breaches of God’s law.

One thing, however, we must carefully remember. We must take heed that we do not abuse the liberty which Christ has given us. It is in this direction that our danger chiefly lies in modern times. There is little risk of our committing the error of the Pharisees, and keeping the Sabbath more strictly than God intended. The thing to be feared is the general disposition to neglect the Sabbath, and to rob it of that honor which it ought to receive. Let us take heed to ourselves in this matter. Let us beware of making God’s day a day for visiting, feasting, journeying, and pleasure parties. These are not works of necessity or mercy, whatever a self-willed and unbelieving world may say. The person who spends his Sundays in such ways as these, is sinning a great sin, and proving himself entirely unprepared for the great rest in heaven.

We are taught, secondly, in these verses, the perfect knowledge that our Lord Jesus Christ possesses of men’s thoughts. We see this in the language used about Him, when the Scribes and Pharisees were watching Him. We read that "He knew their thoughts."

Expressions like this are among the many evidences of our Lord’s divinity. It belongs to God only to read hearts. He who could discern the secret intents and imaginations of others, must have been more than man. No doubt He was man like ourselves in all things, sin only excepted. This we may freely grant to the Socinian, who denies the divinity of Christ. The texts the Socinian quotes, in proof of our Lord’s manhood, are texts which we believe and hold as fully as himself. But there are other plain texts in Scripture which prove that our Lord was God as well as man. Of such texts the passage before us is one. It shows that Jesus was "God over all blessed forever." (Romans 9:5.)

Let the remembrance of our Lord’s perfect knowledge always exercise a humbling influence upon our souls. How many vain thoughts, and worldly imaginations, pass through our minds every hour, which man’s eye never sees! What are our own thoughts at this moment? What have they been this very day, while we have been reading, or listening to this passage of Scripture? Would they bear public examination? Should we like others to know all that passes in our inner man? These are serious questions, and deserve serious answers. Whatever we may think of them, it is a certain fact that Jesus Christ is hourly reading our hearts. Truly we ought to humble ourselves before Him, and cry daily, "Who can tell how oft he offendeth?"—"Cleanse thou me from secret faults."—"God be merciful to me a sinner"!

We are taught, lastly, in these verses, the nature of the first act of faith, when a soul is converted to God. The lesson is conveyed to us in a striking manner, by the history of the cure which is here described. We read that our Lord said to the man whose hand was withered, "Stretch forth thy hand." The command, at first sight, seems unreasonable, because the man’s obedience was apparently impossible. But the poor sufferer was not stopped by any doubts or reasonings of this kind. At once we read that he made the attempt to stretch forth his hand, and, in making it, was cured. He had faith enough to believe that He who bade him stretch forth his hand, was not mocking him, and ought to be obeyed. And it was precisely in this act of implicit obedience, that he received a blessing. "His hand was restored whole as the other."

Let us see in this simple history, the best answer to those doubts, and hesitations, and questionings, by which anxious inquirers often perplex themselves, in the matter of coming to Christ.—"How can they believe?" they ask us,—"How can they come to Christ? How can they lay hold on the hope set before them?"—The best answer to all such inquiries, is to bid men do as he did who had the withered hand. Let them not stand still reasoning, but act. Let them not torment themselves with metaphysical speculations, but cast themselves, just as they are, on Jesus Christ. So doing, they will find their course made clear. How, or in what manner, we may not be able to explain. But we may boldly make the assertion, that in the act of striving to draw near to God, they shall find God drawing near to them, but that if they deliberately sit still, they must never expect to be saved.

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Notes

v8.—[Stand forth in the midst.] Here we have a striking example of the publicity of our Lord’s miracles. He performs the cure of a disease with a few words, in the presence of a large assembly of persons unfriendly to Him, and in the face of open day. He does not do it suddenly or hurriedly. He does it in such a manner that the attention of the whole assembly is necessarily concentrated on the thing done.

These things should be carefully noted. Herein lies the great difference between the miracles wrought by Christ and His apostles, and the pretended miracles of Mahomet, or the lying miracles of the Church of Rome. Those who wish to see this point fully worked out should read Leslie’s "Short and easy method with Deists."

v10.—[Stretch forth thy hand.] Ford gives a quotation from Fuller on this passage, which is worth reading. "God’s commands are grants. When He enjoins us, Repent, or Believe, it is only to draw from us a free acknowledgement of our impotence to perform His commands. This confession being made, what He enjoins, He will enable us to do. Man’s owning his weakness is the only stock for God to engraft thereon the grace of His assistance."

v11.—[Madness.] The word so translated, is only used in one other place, 2 Timothy 3:9, and is there translated "folly." The sense we now put on the word "madness," is probably stronger than the Greek word here bears.

Verses 12-19

THESE verses describe the appointment of our Lord Jesus Christ’s twelve apostles. That appointment was the beginning of the Christian ministry. It was the first ordination, and an ordination conducted by the Great Head of the Church Himself. Since the day when the events here recorded took place, there have been many thousand ordinations. Myriads of bishops, elders, and deacons have been called to the office of the ministry, and often with far more pomp and splendor than we read of here. But never was there so solemn an ordination as this. Never were men ordained who have done so much for the church and the world as these twelve apostles.

Let us observe, firstly, in these verses, that when our Lord ordained His first ministers, He did it after much prayer. We read that He "went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, He called unto Him His disciples, and of them He chose twelve, whom also He named apostles."

We need not doubt that there is a deep significance in this special mention of our Lord’s praying upon this occasion. It was intended to be a perpetual lesson to the Church of Christ. It was meant to show the great importance of prayer and intercession on behalf of ministers, and particularly at the time of their ordination. Those to whom the responsible office of ordaining is committed, should pray that they may "lay hands suddenly on no man." Those who offer themselves for ordination, should pray that they may not take up work for which they are unfit, and not run without being sent. The lay members of the Church, not least, should pray that none may be ordained, but men who are inwardly moved by the Holy Ghost.—Happy are those ordinations, in which all concerned have the mind that was in Christ, and come together in a prayerful spirit!

Do we desire to help forward the cause of pure and undefiled religion in the world? Then let us never forget to pray for ministers, and especially for young men about to enter the ministry. The progress of the Gospel, under God, will always depend much on the character and conduct of those who profess to preach it. An unconverted minister can never be expected to do good to souls. He cannot teach properly what he does not feel experimentally. From such men let us pray daily that the Church may be delivered. Converted ministers are God’s special gift. Man cannot create them. If we would have good ministers, we must remember our Lord’s example, and pray for them. Their work is heavy. Their responsibility is enormous. Their strength is small. Let us see that we support them, and hold up their hands by our prayers. In this, and in too many other cases, the words of James are often sadly applicable, "Ye have not, because ye ask not." (James 4:2.) We do not ask God to raise up a constant supply of converted young men to fill our pulpits, and God chastises our neglect by withholding them.

Let us observe, secondly, how little we are told of the worldly position of the first ministers of the Christian Church. Four of them, we know, were fishermen. One of them, at least, was a publican. Most of them, probably, were Galileans. Not one of them, so far as we can see from the New Testament, was great, or rich, or noble, or highly connected. Not one was a Pharisee, or Scribe, or Priest, or Ruler, or Elder among the people. All were, apparently, "unlearned and ignorant men." (Acts 4:13.) All were poor.

There is something deeply instructive in the fact which is now before us. It shows us that our Lord Jesus Christ’s kingdom was entirely independent of help from this world. His Church was not built by might, or by power, but by the Spirit of the living God. (Zechariah 4:6.)—It supplies us with an unanswerable proof of the divine origin of Christianity. A religion which turned the world upside down, while its first preachers were all poor men, must needs have been from heaven. If the apostles had possessed money to give their hearers, or been followed by armies to frighten them, an infidel might well deny that there was anything wonderful in their success. But the poverty of our Lord’s disciples cuts away such arguments from beneath the infidel’s feet. With a doctrine most unpalatable to the natural heart,—with nothing whatever to bribe or compel obedience,—a few lowly Galileans shook the world, and changed the face of the Roman empire. One thing only can account for this. The Gospel of Christ, which these men proclaimed, was the truth of God.

Let us remember these things, if we ever strive to do any work for Christ, and beware of leaning on an arm of flesh. Let us watch against the secret inclination, which is natural to all, to look to money, or learning, or high patronage, or great men’s support, for success. If we want to do good to souls, we must not look first to the powers of this world. We should begin where the Church of Christ began. We should seek agents filled with the Holy Ghost.

Let us observe, lastly, in these verses, that one whom our Lord chose to be an apostle, was a false disciple and a traitor. That man was Judas Iscariot.

We cannot for a moment doubt, that in choosing Judas Iscariot, our Lord Jesus knew well what He was doing. He who could read hearts, certainly saw from the beginning that, notwithstanding his profession of piety, Judas was a graceless man, and would one day betray Him. Why then did He appoint him to be an apostle? The question is one which has perplexed many. Yet it admits of a satisfactory answer. Like everything which our Lord did, it was done advisedly, deliberately, and with deep wisdom. It conveyed lessons of high importance to the whole Church of Christ.

The choice of Judas was meant to teach ministers humility. They are not to suppose that ordination necessarily conveys grace, or that once ordained they cannot err. On the contrary, they are to remember, that one ordained by Christ Himself was a wretched hypocrite. Let the minister who thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.

Again, the choice of Judas was meant to teach the lay-members of the Church, not to make idols of ministers. They are to esteem them highly in love for their work’s sake, but they are not to bow down to them as infallible, and honor them with an unscriptural honor. They are to remember that ministers may be successors of Judas Iscariot, as well as of Peter and Paul. The name of Judas should be a standing warning to "cease from man." Let no man glory in men. (1 Corinthians 3:21.)

Finally, our Lord’s choice of Judas was meant to teach the whole church, that it must not expect to see a perfectly pure communion in the present state of things. The wheat and the tares,—the good fish and the bad,—will always be found side by side, till the Lord comes again. It is vain to look for perfection in visible churches. We shall never find it. A Judas was found even among the apostles. Converted and unconverted people will always be found mixed together in all congregations.

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Notes

v12.—[In prayer to God.] The peculiarity of the Greek words here has made some think that the meaning should have been rendered, He continued all night "in a house of prayer," a place set apart for prayer to God. That the Jews had such praying-houses, is undeniable. But whether such a house is referred to here, is very doubtful. Out of the thirty seven places in which the Greek word occurs in the New Testament, there is only one other where it could be interpreted "a place of prayer," Acts 16:13, and even there it is a disputed point. There seems no necessity for leaving the sense given by our translators. Barradius remarks, that the expression which we translate, "prayer to God," is a Hebraism, meaning, "most fervent and earnest prayer," just as "mountains of God," and "cedars of God," in the Old Testament, mean "lofty" mountains, and "high" cedars." (Psalms 36:6; Psalms 80:10.)

Isidore Clarius, in his orations on Luke, published at Venice in 1565, has some striking remarks on the disgraceful contrast between the manner in which the apostles were called to their office after a night spent in prayer, and the manner in which ecclesiastical offices were filled up in Italy in his own day. He exposes the system of jobbing, nepotism, corruption, and covetousness, which universally prevailed on such occasions, and enters a faithful protest against it.

It is singular enough that the tone of Stella, the Spanish commentator on Luke, in expounding this passage, is precisely similar to that of Clarius.

v13.—[Chose twelve...named apostles.] Corderius gives a curious passage from Rabanus Maurus on the number twelve, bringing together the instances of that number being specially chosen in the Bible. He says, "The number twelve, which consists of three times four, points out that the apostles would preach the faith of the Holy Trinity throughout the four quarters of the world. The number is prefigured in the Old Testament by many examples,—by the twelve sons of Jacob,—the twelve princes of the children of Israel,—the twelve fountains in Elim,—the twelve stones in Aaron’s breast-plate,—the twelve loaves of shew-bread,—the twelve spies sent forth by Moses,—the twelve stones of which the altar was made,—the twelve stones taken out of Jordan,—and the twelve oxen which supported the brazon laver. In the New Testament, the number is shown in the twelve stars on the crown of the woman in Revelation,—and the twelve foundations, and twelve gates of the heavenly Jerusalem, seen by John."

It is interesting to remark, that out of the twelve apostles, we have no less than three pairs of brothers, Peter and Andrew, James and John, and Jude and James the son of Alphæus.

v14.—[Bartholomew.] It is thought by many that Bartholomew is Nathanael, whom we read of in the first chapter of John. Jansenius, Montanus, and Ferus maintain this. But there seems no warrant for the conjecture, except it be the fact that we find Bartholomew always mentioned in close connection with Philip, who called Nathanael to Christ.

v15.—[James the son of Alphæus.] This appears to be that James whom Paul calls "the Lord’s brother." (Galatians 1:19.) The fact that he is here called the "son of Alphæus," goes far to prove that the word "brother" in the New Testament must not be taken too literally, and admits of being understood as "cousin." The Alphæus here mentioned must either be a different person from the father of Matthew, or else Matthew must have been brother of James and Jude. Mark says, that Matthew or Levi was the son of Alphæus.

It was this James who took the lead in the council (Acts 15:19,) and seems to have been regarded as the moderator or chief of the apostles in Jerusalem. He was also the writer of the Epistle which bears his name. It is remarkable that like Matthew and Simon the Canaanite, we never read of his saying anything, or coming forward in any way, while our Lord lived. Yet, after our Lord’s ascension, none seems to have had so prominent a position in the Church.

v16.—[Judas the brother of James.] This apostle is remarkable for having had three names, Jude, Lebbæus, and Thaddæus. He it was who wrote the epistle which bears his name.

[Iscariot.] Many conjectures have been made as to the meaning of this name. None of them are satisfactory. Some think that it means that he was a man of the tribe of Issachar,—some that he was a man of Kirioth, a small town in Judah, or Carioth, a town of Ephraim. Nothing certain is known about the subject.

Let it be noted, among other reasons for our Lord’s choice of a traitor to be an apostle, that the choice finally supplied a powerful indirect evidence of the purity, blamelessness, and faultlessness of our Lord’s conduct and ministry. When our Lord was accused before the High Priest and Pontius Pilate, if anything could have been proved against Him, the traitor Judas Iscariot was exactly the witness who would have proved it. The mere fact that Judas never came forward to give evidence against our Lord, is a convincing evidence that nothing could be proved against Him. No man is so well qualified to expose another’s faults and inconsistencies, if they really exist, as one who has been on intimate terms with him. Judas never appeared against our Lord, because He could not allege anything to his disadvantage. Ford quotes a passage from Anselm, on this point: "Judas is chosen that the Lord might have an enemy among his domestic attendants, for that man is perfect, who has no cause to shrink from the observation of a wicked man, conversant with all his ways."

v17.—[Stood in the plain.] This expression should he noted. It shows that the discourse which follows is different from that called "the sermon on the mount."

v19.—[Virtue.] The word so translated is generally rendered "power," or "strength," and must not be taken as a moral quality here.

Verses 20-26

THE discourse of our Lord, which we have now begun, resembles, in many respects, His well-known Sermon on the Mount. The resemblance, in fact, is so striking that many have concluded that Luke and Matthew are reporting one and the same discourse, and that Luke is giving us, in an abridged form, what Matthew reports at length. There seems no sufficient ground for this conclusion. The occasions on which the two discourses were delivered, were entirely different. Our Lord’s repetition of the same great lesson, in almost the same words, on two different occasions, is nothing extraordinary. It is unreasonable to suppose that none of His mighty teachings were ever delivered more than once. In the present case, the repetition is very significant. It shows us the great and deep importance of the lessons which the two discourses contain.

Let us first notice in these verses, who are those whom the Lord Jesus pronounced blessed. The list is a remarkable and startling one. It singles out those who are "poor," and those who "hunger,"—those who "weep," and those who are "hated" by man. These are the persons to whom the great Head of the Church says, "Blessed are ye"!

We must take good heed that we do not misunderstand our Lord’s meaning, when we read these expressions. We must not for a moment suppose that the mere fact of being poor, and hungry, and sorrowful, and hated by man, will entitle any one to lay claim to an interest in Christ’s blessing. The poverty here spoken of, is a poverty accompanied by grace. The want is a want entailed by faithful adherence to Jesus. The afflictions are the afflictions of the Gospel. The persecution is persecution for the Son of Man’s sake. Such want, and poverty, and affliction, and persecution, were the inevitable consequences of faith in Christ, at the beginning of Christianity. Thousands had to give up everything in this world, because of their religion. It was their case which Jesus had specially in view in this passage. He desired to supply them, and all who suffer like them for the Gospel’s sake, with special comfort and consolation.

Let us notice, secondly, in these verses, who are those to whom our Lord addresses the solemn words, "Woe unto you." Once more we read expressions which at first sight seem most extraordinary. "Woe unto you that are rich!—Woe unto you that are full!—Woe unto you that laugh!—Woe unto you when all men shall speak well of you!"—Stronger and more cutting sayings than these cannot be found in the New Testament.

Here, however, no less than in the preceding verses, we must take care that we do not misapprehend our Lord’s meaning. We are not to suppose that the possession of riches, and a rejoicing spirit, and the good word of man, are necessarily proofs that people are not Christ’s disciples. Abraham and Job were rich. David and Paul had their seasons of rejoicing. Timothy was one who "had a good report from those that were without." All these, we know, were true servants of God. All these were blessed in this life, and shall receive the blessing of the Lord in the day of His appearing.

Who are the persons to whom our Lord says, "Woe unto you"? They are the men who refuse to seek treasure in heaven, because they love the good things of this world better, and will not give up their money, if need requires, for Christ’s sake.—They are the men who prefer the joys and so-called happiness of this world, to joy and peace in believing, and will not risk the loss of the one in order to gain the other.—They are those who love the praise of man more than the praise of God, and will turn their backs on Christ, rather than not keep in with the world.—These are the kind of men whom our Lord had in view when He pronounced the solemn words, "Woe, woe unto you." He knew well that there were thousands of such persons among the Jews,—thousands who, notwithstanding His miracles and sermons, would love the world better than Him. He knew well that there would always be thousands of such in His professing Church,—thousands who, though convinced of the truth of the Gospel, would never give up anything for its sake. To all such He delivers an awful warning,—"Woe, woe unto you!"

One mighty lesson stands out plainly on the face of these verses. May we all lay it to heart, and learn wisdom! That lesson is the utter contrariety between the mind of Christ, and the common opinions of mankind,—the entire variance between the thoughts of Jesus, and the prevailing thoughts of the world. The conditions of life which the world reckons desirable, are the very conditions upon which the Lord pronounces "woes." Poverty, and hunger, and sorrow, and persecution, are the very things which man labors to avoid. Riches, and fullness, and merriment, and popularity, are precisely the things which men are always struggling to attain. When we have said all, in the way of qualifying, explaining, and limiting our Lord’s words, there still remain two sweeping assertions, which flatly contradict the current doctrine of mankind. The state of life which our Lord blesses, the world cordially dislikes. The people to whom our Lord says, "woe unto you," are the very people whom the world admires, praises, and imitates. This is an awful fact. It ought to raise within us great searchings of heart.

Let us leave the whole passage with honest self-inquiry and self-examination. Let us ask ourselves what we think of the wonderful declarations that it contains. Can we subscribe to what our Lord says? Are we of one mind with Him? Do we really believe that poverty and persecution, endured for Christ’s sake, are positive blessings? Do we really believe that riches and worldly enjoyments, and popularity among men, when sought for more than salvation, or preferred in the least to the praise of God, are a positive curse? Do we really think that the favor of Christ, with trouble and the world’s ill word, is better worth having than money, and merriment, and a good name among men, without Christ?—These are most serious questions, and deserve a most serious answer. The passage before us is eminently one which tests the reality of our Christianity. The truths it contains, are truths which no unconverted man can love and receive. Happy are those who have found them truths by experience, and can say "amen" to all our Lord’s declarations. Whatever men may please to think, those whom Jesus blesses are blessed, and those whom Jesus does not bless will be cast out for evermore.

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Notes

v20.—[And he lifted up his eyes.] It is a disputed point, whether the discourse which begins with this verse, is the same as that recorded in Matthew chapters 5, 6, 7, and commonly called the sermon on the mount. The majority of commentators unquestionably regard the two discourses as the same. To this opinion, after much consideration, I feel unable to subscribe.

I regard the two discourses as distinct and different, and consider them as delivered at different times.

For one thing, the occasion of the discourse recorded by Luke, is not the same as the occasion of that recorded by Matthew. The discourse reported by Matthew was one "delivered on a mountain," and previous to the appointment of the twelve Apostles. The discourse reported by Luke, was delivered in "the plain," and after the twelve Apostles had been ordained. To me it seems impossible to get over this discrepancy.

For another thing, there is a wide difference between the persons called "blessed" in the discourse in Matthew, and the persons called "blessed" in the discourse in Luke. In Matthew the point brought forward in each case is the spiritual character of the person, in Luke his temporal circumstances and condition. There is a wide difference, for instance, between "Blessed are the poor in spirit," and "Blessed be ye poor."

For another thing, the variances between the two discourses in length is very notable. Luke’s report can in no sense be called an abridgment of Matthew. Many things that Matthew reports, he omits altogether. Some things that he inserts, on the other hand, are not to be found in Matthew at all.

In the last place, it seems unreasonable to suppose that our Lord never repeated the same lessons on different occasions. All public teachers find it necessary to do so. We cannot doubt that He did also. In the present instance He repeats to a different audience some of the truths which He had before preached at greater length in the Sermon on the Mount. And the repetition was meant to show their importance.

For the above reasons, I believe that Luke and Matthew are recording two different discourses. In saying this, I consider it only fair to myself to remark that the view I maintain is held by Poole, Cartwright, Doddridge, Whitby, Scott, and Watson.

[Blessed be ye poor.] The poverty spoken of here, as well as the hunger, weeping, and being hated, of the rest of the passage, must be taken in a literal sense, remembering only that it is poverty and sorrow for the Gospel’s sake to which our Lord refers. The expressions, "rich," and "full," and "laugh," in the latter part of the passage, must evidently be taken in a literal sense. It seems unreasonable to interpret the one set of words spiritually and the other literally.

The promises, of course, in one case, as well as the threatenings in the other, admit of a much wider interpretation. "Ye shall be filled," and "ye shall laugh," are promises which to many of God’s saints are never fulfilled in this world. In like manner, "ye shall hunger," and "ye shall mourn and weep," are words of which the wicked, in many cases, will not know the full bitterness till hereafter.

v22.—[Separate you from their company.] The Greek word so rendered, according to Suicer, is especially applied to ecclesiastical excommunication.

v24.—[Ye have received.] The Greek word so rendered should rather have a present sense, "ye are receiving or having your consolation."

v26.—[Woe unto you...all...speak well of you.] Let that expression be carefully noted. Few of our Lord’s sayings are more flatly contradictory to the common opinion, both of the Church and the world, than this. What is more common in the world than the love of every one’s praise? What more frequent in the Church than to hear it said, in commendation of a minister, that "every body likes him!" It seems entirely forgotten, that to be liked and approved by every body, is to be of the number of those to whom Jesus says, "Woe unto you." To be universally popular is a most unsatisfactory symptom, and one of which a minister of Christ should always be afraid. It may well make him doubt whether he is faithfully doing his duty, and honestly declaring all the counsel of God.

Verses 27-38

THE teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ, in these verses, is confined to one great subject. That subject is Christian love and charity. Charity, which is the grand characteristic of the Gospel,—charity, which is the bond of perfectness,—charity, without which a man is nothing in God’s sight,—charity is here fully expounded and strongly enforced. Well would it have been for the Church of Christ, if its Master’s precept in this passage had been more carefully studied and more diligently observed!

In the first place, our Lord explains the nature and extent of Christian charity. The disciples might ask, Whom are we to love? He bids them "love their enemies, do good to them that hate them, bless then that curse them, and pray for them that despitefully use them." Their love was to be like His own towards sinners—unselfish, disinterested, and uninfluenced by any hope of return.—What was to be the manner of this love? the disciples might ask. It was to be self-sacrificing and self-denying. "Unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other."—"Him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also." They were to give up much, and endure much, for the sake of showing kindness and avoiding strife. They were to forego even their rights, and submit to wrong, rather than awaken angry passions and create quarrels. In this they were to be like their Master, long-suffering, meek, and lowly of heart.

In the second place, our Lord lays down a golden principle for the settlement of doubtful cases. He knew well that there will always be occasions when the line of duty towards our neighbor is not clearly defined. He knew how much self-interest and private feelings will sometimes dim our perceptions of right and wrong. He supplies us with a precept for our guidance in all such cases, of infinite wisdom; a precept which even infidels have been compelled to admire.—"As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise." To do to others as they do to us, and return evil for evil, is the standard of the heathen. To behave to others as we should like others to behave to us, whatever their actual behavior may be,—this should be the mark at which the Christian should aim. This is to walk in the steps of our blessed Savior. If He had dealt with the world as the world dealt with Him, we should all have been ruined forever in hell.

In the third place, our Lord points out to His disciples the necessity of their having a higher standard of duty to their neighbor than the children of this world. He reminds them that to love those who love them, and do good to those who do good to them, and lend to those of whom they hope to receive, is to act no better than "the sinner" who knows nothing of the Gospel. The Christian must be altogether another style of man. His feelings of love, and his deeds of kindness, must be like his Master’s,—free and gratuitous. He must let men see that he loves others from higher principles than the ungodly do, and that his charity is not confined to those from whom he hopes to get something in return. Anybody can show kindness and charity, when he hopes to gain something by it. But such charity should never content a Christian. The man who is content with it, ought to remember that his practice does not rise an inch above the level of an old Roman or Greek idolater.

In the fourth place, our Lord shows His disciples that in discharging their duty to their neighbors, they should look to the example of God. If they called themselves "children of the Highest," they should consider that their Father is "kind to the unthankful and the evil," and they should learn from Him to be merciful, even as He is merciful. The extent of God’s unacknowledged mercies to man can never be reckoned up. Every year he pours benefits on millions who do not honor the hand from which they come, or thank the Giver of them. Yet every year these benefits are continued. "Seed time and harvest, summer and winter, never cease." His mercy endureth forever. His loving kindness is unwearied. His compassions fail not. So ought it to be with all who profess themselves to be His children. Thanklessness and ingratitude should not make them slack their hands from works of love and mercy. Like their Father in heaven, they should never be tired of doing good.

In the last place, our Lord assures His disciples that the practice of the high standard of charity He recommends shall bring its own reward. "Judge not," He says, "and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: give, and it shall be given unto you." And He concludes with the broad assertion, "With the same measure that ye mete withal, shall it be measured to you again." The general meaning of these words appears to be, that no man shall ever be a loser, in the long run, by deeds of self-denying charity, and patient long-suffering love. At times he may seem to get nothing by his conduct. He may appear to reap nothing but ridicule, contempt, and injury. His kindness may sometimes tempt men to impose on him. His patience and forbearance may be abused. But at the last he will always be found a gainer,—often, very often, a gainer in this life: certainly, most certainly, a gainer in the life to come.

Such is the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ about charity. Few of His sayings are so deeply heart-searching as those we have now been considering. Few passages in the Bible are so truly humbling as these eleven verses.

How little of the style of charity which our Lord recommends is to be seen, either in the world or in the Church! How common is an angry, passionate spirit, a morbid sensitiveness about what is called honor, and a readiness to quarrel on the least occasion! How seldom we see men and women who love their enemies, and do good hoping for nothing again, and bless those that curse them, and are kind to the unthankful and evil! Truly we are reminded here of our Lord’s words, "Narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it." (Matthew 7:14.)

How happy the world would be, if Christ’s precepts were strictly obeyed! The chief causes of half the sorrows of mankind, are selfishness, strife, unkindness, and want of charity. Never was there a greater mistake than to suppose that vital Christianity interferes with human happiness. It is not having too much religion, but too little, that makes people gloomy, wretched, and miserable. Wherever Christ is best known and obeyed, there will always be found most real joy and peace.

Would we know anything by experience of this blessed grace of charity? Then let us seek to be joined to Christ by faith, and to be taught and sanctified by His Spirit. We do not gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles. We cannot have flowers without roots, or fruit without trees. We cannot have the fruit of the Spirit, without vital union with Christ, and a new creation within. Such as are not born again can never really love in the manner that Christ enjoins.

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Notes

v28.—[Despitefully use you.] The word so translated is only found in two other places in the New Testament. In one (Matthew 5:44), it is rendered as it is here. In the other (1 Peter 3:16), it is "falsely accuse."

The conduct here recommended is beautifully exemplified in the case of our Lord praying for those that crucified Him, and Stephen praying for those who stoned him. Luke 23:34; Acts 7:60.

v29, v30.—[Unto him that smiteth thee, &c.] The precepts of these two verses must necessarily be interpreted with Scriptural qualification. We must not so expound them as to contradict other passages of God’s word. They are strong proverbial forms of expressing a great principle. If we were to press an extreme literal interpretation of them, we should give encouragement to theft, burglary, violence, and murder. The earth would be given into the hands of the wicked.

On the one hand, our Lord did not mean to forbid the repression of crime, or to declare the office of the magistrate and policeman unlawful. Nor yet did He mean to pronounce all war unlawful, or to prohibit the punishment of evil-doers, and disturbers of the peace and order of society. We find Him saying in one place, "He that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one." Luke 22:36. We find Paul saying of the magistrate, that "he beareth not the sword in vain," that "he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil." Romans 13:4. We find several centurions mentioned in the Gospels and Acts. But we never find their occupation, as soldiers, condemned as unlawful.

On the other hand, it is evident that our Lord condemns every thing like a revengeful, pugnacious, litigious, or quarrelsome spirit. He forbids everything like dueling, or fighting, between individuals, for the settlement of private wrongs. He enjoins forbearance, patience, and long-suffering under injuries and insults. He would have us concede much, submit to much, and put up with much, rather than cause strife. He would have us endure much inconvenience and loss, and even sacrifice some of our just rights, rather than have any contention. It is the same lesson that Paul enforces in other words: "If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men." "Avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good." Romans 12:18-21.

Few things bring out more painfully the little hold that Christianity has on professing Christians, than the utter neglect of our Lord’s injunctions in these verses, which everywhere prevails. Any thing more contrary to the mind of Christ than the dueling, and hand to hand conflicts, of which we hear so often in some countries and some ranks of society, it is impossible to conceive. To give blow for blow, and violence for violence, anger for anger, and abuse for abuse, is the conduct of a dog or a heathen, but not of a Christian.

v32.—[Sinners also.] A. Clarke remarks on the word "sinners," used here and in the two following verses: "I believe this word is used by Luke in the same sense in which ’publican,’ or ’tax-gatherer,’ is used by Matthew. It signifies ’heathen,’—not, only men who have no religion, but who acknowledge none."

v33.—[Do even the same.] Quesnel remarks on this verse: "A man ought to tremble with fear, if beside the external part of his religion, he finds nothing in his life but what may be found in a Turk or a heathen."

v35.—[Hoping for nothing again.] The word so translated is not used in any other place in the New Testament. Bishop Pearce would translate "nothing" "no man," and thinks that the meaning is "not cutting off the hope of any man by denying him those things which he requests to preserve him from perishing." De Dieu takes much the same view, "not causing him to despair."

v37, v38.—[Judge not, and ye shall not be judged, &c.] It is a disputed point whether the promises in these two verses are to be taken in a temporal or spiritual sense. The word "men," in the 38th verse is not in the original, so that no argument can be founded on it. But taking into consideration the whole connection in which the two verses stand, it seems most probable to me that the rewards promised by our Lord are primarily and principally rewards to be received in this world.

I cannot close the notes on this passage, without entering my protest against the rapidly increasing opinion, that we may have the fruits of the Spirit without the doctrine of the Spirit. Nothing is more common now than to find charity, kindness, self-sacrifice, and attention to others, praised and commended by popular writers, who make no secret of their contempt for all the leading doctrines of the Gospel. Once for all, let us understand, that real, genuine, self-denying love, will never grow from any roots but faith in Christ’s atonement, and a heart renewed by the Holy Ghost. We shall never make men love one another, unless we teach as Paul taught, "Walk in love, as Christ hath loved us." Teaching love on any other principle is, as a general rule, labour in vain.

Verses 39-45

WE learn, in the first place, from these verses, the great danger of listening to false teachers in religion. Our Lord compares such teachers and their hearers to the blind leading the blind, and asks the reasonable question, "Shall they not both fall into the ditch?" He goes on to confirm the importance of His warning by declaring, that "the disciple is not above his master," and the scholar cannot be expected to know more than his teacher. If a man will hear unsound instruction, we cannot expect him to become otherwise than unsound in the faith himself.

The subject which our Lord brings before us here deserves far more attention than it generally receives. The amount of evil which unsound religious teaching has brought on the Church in every age is incalculable. The loss of souls which it has occasioned is fearful to contemplate. A teacher who does not know the way to heaven himself, is not likely to lead his hearers to heaven. The man who hears such a teacher runs a fearful risk himself of being lost eternally. "If the blind lead the blind both must fall into the ditch."

If we would escape the danger against which our Lord warns us, we must not neglect to prove the teaching that we hear by the holy Scriptures. We must not believe things merely because ministers say them. We must not suppose, as a matter of course, that ministers can make no mistakes. We must call to mind our Lord’s words on another occasion, "Beware of false prophets." (Matthew 7:15.) We must remember the advice of Paul and John: "Prove all things." "Try the spirits whether they are of God." (1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 John 4:1.) With the Bible in our hands, and the promise of guidance from the Holy Ghost to all who seek it, we shall be without excuse if our souls are led astray. The blindness of ministers is no excuse for the darkness of the people. The man who from indolence, or superstition, or affected humility, refuses to distrust the teaching of the minister whom he finds set over him, however unsound it may be, will at length share his minister’s portion. If people will trust blind guides, they must not be surprised if they are led to the pit.

We learn, secondly, from these verses, that those who reprove the sins of others should strive to be of blameless life. Our Lord teaches us this lesson by a practical saying. He shows the unreasonableness of a man finding fault with "a mote," or trifling thing in a brother’s eye, while he himself has "a beam," or some large and formidable object sticking in his own eye.

The lesson must doubtless be received with suitable and scriptural qualifications. If no man is to teach or preach to others, until he himself is faultless, there could be no teaching or preaching in the world. The erring would never be corrected, and the wicked would never be reproved. To put such a sense as this on our Lord’s words, brings them into collision with other plain passages of Scripture.

The main object of our Lord Jesus appears to be to impress on ministers and teachers the importance of consistency of life. The passage is a solemn warning not to contradict by our lives what we have said with our lips. The office of the preacher will never command attention unless he practices what he preaches. Episcopal ordination, university degrees, high-sounding titles, a loud profession of doctrinal purity, will never procure respect for a minister’s sermon, if his congregation sees him cleaving to ungodly habits.

But there is much here which we shall all do well to remember. The lesson is one which many besides ministers should seriously consider. All heads of families and masters of households, all parents, all teachers of schools, all tutors, all managers of young people,—should often think of the "mote" and the "beam." All such should see in our Lord’s words the mighty lesson, that nothing influences others so much as consistency. Let the lesson be treasured up and not forgotten.

We learn, lastly, from these verses, that there is only one satisfactory test of a man’s religious character. That test is his conduct and conversation.

The words of our Lord on this subject are clear and unmistakable. He draws an illustration from a tree, and lays down the broad principle, "every tree is known by his own fruit." But our Lord does not stop here. He proceeds further to show that a man’s conversation is one indication of his state of heart. "Of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh." Both these sayings are deeply important. Both should be stored up among the leading maxims of our practical Christianity.

Let it be a settled principle in our religion that when a man brings forth no fruits of the Spirit, he has not the Holy Ghost within him. Let us resist as a deadly error the common idea, that all baptized people are born again, and that all members of the Church, as a matter of course, have the Holy Ghost. One simple question must be our rule. What fruit does a man bring forth? Does he repent? Does he believe with the heart on Jesus? Does he live a holy life? Does he overcome the world? Habits like these are what Scripture calls "fruit." When these "fruits" are wanting, it is profane to talk of a man having the Spirit of God within him.

Let it be a settled principle again in our religion, that when a man’s general conversation is ungodly, his heart is graceless and unconverted. Let us not give way to the vulgar notion, that no one can know anything of the state of another’s heart, and that although men are living wickedly, they have got good hearts at the bottom. Such notions are flatly contradictory to our Lord’s teaching. Is the general tone of a man’s communication carnal, worldly, irreligious, godless, or profane? Then let us understand that this is the state of his heart. When a man’s tongue is generally wrong, it is absurd, no less than unscriptural, to say that his heart is right.

Let us close this passage with solemn self-inquiry, and use it for the trial of our own state before God. What fruits are we bringing forth in our lives? Are they, or are they not, fruits of the Spirit? What kind of evidence do our words supply as to the state of our hearts? Do we talk like men whose hearts are "right in the sight of God"?—There is no evading the doctrine laid down by our Lord in this passage. Conduct is the grand test of character. Words are one great symptom of the condition of the heart.

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Notes

v39.—[Can the blind lead the blind?] Let it be noted that this is the second occasion on which our Lord uses this saying. Both here, and in the other place where it is used (Matthew 15:14), the application is manifest. It is a warning against following unsound religious teachers.

v40.—[The disciple is not above his master, &c.] It is common to regard this verse as descriptive of the portion of all believers in this world, and as parallel with such sayings as these, "If they have persecuted me they will also persecute you." "If they have kept my saying they will also keep yours." The perfection is looked upon as the being made "perfect through sufferings."

But I feel unable to interpret the verse in this sense. It is good divinity, but not the sense of this passage. The true meaning, I believe, must be sought in connection with the verse which immediately precedes it. In that verse our Lord, under a parable, had been delivering a warning against false teachers. He had been comparing them to blind guides, and showing that if the blind lead the blind, "both must fall into the ditch." He then seems to foresee the common objection that it does not follow that because our teachers go astray that we shall go astray also. "Beware of that delusion," He seems to say. "Disciples must not be expected to see more clearly than their teachers. The scholar will become as perfect as his master, but not more so. He will certainly copy his errors, and reproduce his faults. If you choose to follow blind guides, do not wonder if you never get beyond them, and if you share in their final ruin." The marginal reading in the English version appears to bring out this sense more clearly than the text—"Every one shall be perfected as his master."

How strikingly true this saying of our Lord is, has been painfully proved in England during the last thirty years. All who know anything of our religious history during that period, must have observed, that the leaders of the various new heresies by which we have been plagued, have generally had many ardent followers. These followers have seldom got beyond their masters, and have seldom been able to copy their good points without their bad ones. On the contrary, they have often slavishly reproduced the worst errors of their teachers, and that in a far worse form, and have not imitated their good points at all. They have thus strickly verified our Lord’s words, "The disciple is not above his Master."

I may remark that the view I have maintained of this text is held by Brentius, Bullinger, Gualter, Stella, and Quesnel.

v41.—[The mote.] The word so translated is only used here and in the kindred passage in Matthew. It means a small bit of straw, or grass, or dry wood.

[The beam.] This word means a large piece of timber, such as is used for the rafter of a roof. The whole expression is evidently a proverb intended to bring into strong contrast by a figure, little faults and great ones.

v43.—[A good tree bringeth not forth.] Perhaps the sense of the Greek words here would be rendered more literally, if thus paraphrased, "There is no such thing as a good tree bringing forth bad fruit."

v44.—[Men...gather figs.] Here, as well as in the verse previously noticed (Luke 6:38), the word "men" is not in the Greek. It is a form of expression equivalent to saying, "figs are not gathered of thorns." It is one that ought to be carefully noted, as it throws light on a difficult passage in another part of Luke’s Gospel. (Luke 16:9.)

Verses 46-49

IT has been said, with much truth, that no sermon should conclude without some personal application to the consciences of those who hear it. The passage before us is an example of this rule, and a confirmation of its correctness. It is a solemn and heart-searching conclusion of a most solemn discourse.

Let us mark, in these verses, what an old and common sin is profession without practice. It is written that our Lord said, "Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" The Son of God Himself had many followers, who pretended to honor Him by calling Him Lord, but yielded no obedience to His commandments.

The evil which our Lord exposes here, has always existed in the Church of God. It was found six hundred years before our Lord’s time, in the days of Ezekiel: "They come unto thee," we read, "as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them, for with their mouth they show much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness." (Ezekiel 33:31.) It was found in the primitive Church of Christ, in the days of James. "Be ye doers of the word," he says, "and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves." (James 1:22.) It is a disease which has never ceased to prevail all over Christendom. It is a soul-ruining plague, which is continually sweeping away crowds of Gospel-hearers down the broad way to destruction. Open sin, and avowed unbelief, no doubt slay their thousands. But profession without practice slays its tens of thousands.

Let us settle it in our minds, that no sin is so foolish and unreasonable as the sin which Jesus here denounces. Common sense alone might tell us that the name and form of Christianity can profit us nothing, so long as we cleave to sin in our hearts, and live unchristian lives. Let it be a fixed principle in our religion, that obedience is the only sound evidence of saving faith, and that the talk of the lips is worse than useless, if it is not accompanied by sanctification of the life. The man in whose heart the Holy Ghost really dwells, will never be content to sit still, and do nothing to show his love to Christ.

Let us mark, secondly, in these verses, what a striking picture our Lord draws of the religion of the man who not only hears Christ’s sayings, but does Christ’s will. He compares him to one who "built a house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock."

Such a man’s religion may cost him much. Like the house built on a rock, it may entail on him pains, labor, and self-denial. To lay aside pride and self-righteousness, to crucify the rebellious flesh, to put on the mind of Christ, to take up the cross daily, to count all things but loss for Christ’s sake,—all this may be hard work. But, like the house built on the rock, such religion will stand. The streams of affliction may beat violently upon it, and the floods of persecution dash fiercely against it, but it will not give way. The Christianity which combines good profession and good practice, is a building that will not fall.

Let us mark, lastly, in these verses, what a mournful picture our Lord draws of the religion of the man who hears Christ’s sayings, but does not obey them. He compares him to one who, "without a foundation, built an house upon the earth."

Such a man’s religion may look well for a season. An ignorant eye may detect no difference between the possessor of such a religion, and a true Christian. Both may worship in the same Church. Both may use the same ordinances. Both may profess the same faith. The outward appearance of the house built on the rock, and the house without any solid foundation, may be much the same. But the day of trial and affliction is the test which the religion of the mere outward professor cannot stand. When storm and tempest beat on the house which has no foundation, the walls which looked well in sunshine and fair weather, are sure to come to the ground. The Christianity which consists of merely hearing religion taught, without doing anything, is a building which must finally fall. Great indeed will be the ruin! There is no loss like the loss of a soul.

This passage of Scripture is one which ought to call up in our minds peculiarly solemn feelings. The pictures it presents, are pictures of things which are daily going on around us. On every side we shall see thousands building for eternity, on a mere outward profession of Christianity—striving to shelter their souls under false refuges—contenting themselves with a name to live, while they are dead, and with a form of godliness without the power. Few indeed are the builders upon rocks, and great is the ridicule and persecution which they have to endure! Many are the builders upon sand, and mighty are the disappointments and failures which are the only result of their work! Surely, if ever there was a proof that man is fallen and blind in spiritual things, it may be seen in the fact that the majority of every generation of baptized people, persist in building on sand.

What is the foundation on which we ourselves are building? This, after all, is the question that concerns our souls.—Are we upon the rock, or are we upon the sand?—We love perhaps to hear the Gospel. We approve of all its leading doctrines. We assent to all its statements of truth about Christ and the Holy Ghost, about justification and sanctification, about repentance and faith, about conversion and holiness, about the Bible and prayer. But what are we doing? What is the daily practical history of our lives, in public and private, in the family and in the world? Can it be said of us, that we not only hear Christ’s sayings, but that we also do them?

The hour cometh, and will soon be here, when questions like these must be asked and answered, whether we like them or not. The day of sorrow and bereavement, of sickness and death, will make it plain whether we are on the rock, or on the sand. Let us remember this betimes, and not trifle with our souls. Let us strive so to believe and so to live, so to hear Christ’s voice and so to follow Him, that when the flood arises, and the streams beat over us, our house may stand and not fall.

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Notes

v48.—[He is like a man, &c.] We must be careful in interpreting and explaining this parable, that we do not lose sight of its proper scope and intention. It is surely not handling Scripture honestly to tell people that the "rock" here is Christ, and the man who builds on it the true believer,—the foundation of earth, false grounds of confidence for justification, and the man who builds on it the deluded Christian who trusts in them. All this may be excellent divinity. But that is not the point in question. The point is, Does the passage teach this lesson? I answer unhesitatingly that it does not.

The object of the parable is not to teach the doctrine of justification, but the folly of Christian profession unaccompanied by Christian practice, and the certain ruin to which such profession must lead if persisted in. That Christ is the true rock on which we must build our hopes, and that there is no other rock on which we can stand, is abundantly taught elsewhere. But it is not the lessen of the passage before us. The passage is a warning against Antinomianism. Let not that be forgotten.

The habit of accommodating Scripture, and using it in a sense which it was not originally intended to bear, is a dangerous practice. It has indirectly a mischievous effect on our own minds, and is most confusing to the poor and unlearned. When a poor man hears a sense put on texts which does not appear on the face of them, and in reality can only be drawn from them by accommodation, it makes him think that the Bible is a book which none but learned people can understand.

[Digged deep.] The English language fails here to give the full force of the Greek words. They would be translated more literally, "digged and deepened."

[The flood arose, the stream beat.] To understand this, we must remember that the climate in hot countries is very different from our own. When rains fall in hot countries they often fall very violently, and cause the rivers and streams to swell into a flood very rapidly. Under such circumstances the events described by our Lord might easily take place, and had doubtless often been seen by many of His hearers.

v49.—[He that heareth and doeth not.] The plain words of John Bunyan, when he describes Talkative in Pilgrim’s Progress, are an admirable commentary on this verse. "The soul of religion is the practical part. ’Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father, is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.’ (James 1:27.) This Talkative is not aware of. He thinks that hearing and saying will make a good Christian, and thus he deceiveth his own soul. Hearing is but the sowing of the seed. Talking is not sufficient to prove that fruit is indeed in the heart and life. Let us assure ourselves, that at the day of doom men shall be judged according to their fruits. It will not then be said, Did you believe? but, Were you a doer, or talker only? And accordingly they shall be judged. The end of the world is compared to our harvest; and you know that men at harvest regard nothing but fruit."

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Bibliographical Information
Ryle, J. C. "Commentary on Luke 6". "Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ryl/luke-6.html.