free while helping to build churches and support pastors in Uganda.
Click here to learn more!
THE DANGER OF REJECTING THE GOSPEL
Luke 10:10-16. Into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you not, go your ways out into the streets of the same, and say, Even the very dust of your city which cleaveth on us, we do wipe off against you: notwithstanding be ye sure of this, that the kingdom of God is come nigh unto you. But I say unto you, that it shall be more tolerable in that day for Sodom, than for that city. Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon, which have been done in you, they had a great while ago repented, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted to heaven, shalt be thrust down to hell. He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me.
NOTWITHSTANDING all the care which our Lord took to prepare the minds of men for the reception of his Gospel, his success was very small, insomuch that after his resurrection and ascension to heaven, his disciples amounted to no more than five hundred. He foresaw it would be so; and when sending forth his seventy disciples into all the places whither he himself was about to come, he guarded them against the offence which the contracted influence of his word might occasion. He directed them how to act towards any city which should not receive them: they should express towards its inhabitants the indignation of God, and should make known to them both their iniquity and their folly. In confirmation of what he instructed them to do, he himself denounced his judgments against the cities that had rejected him; and then proceeded to give a general admonition to all to whom his Gospel should come.
Were we addressing ministers, we should consider the subject more immediately in relation to them: but in an address intended only for private Christians, it will be more profitable to wave what relates to the conduct of the ministry, and to suggest rather such reflections as are applicable to mankind at large, especially that part of them which is disobedient to the Gospel of Christ.
How awful is their obduracy!
[Our Lord complained that the cities to which he had ministered had resisted such means as, if used for the awakening of the inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon, or even of Sodom and Gomorrha, would have been effectual to bring them to repentance: “they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.” Now, without stopping to inquire, why God withheld from Sodom the means of grace which would have been effectual, and vouchsafed them to Jewish cities, where he knew they would not be effectual, (a question which no human wisdom can solve,) we would call your attention to this fact as illustrated in the present day.
We acknowledge that the hearers of our Lord had many and great advantages which we have not: but on the other hand, we have great advantages which they had not. We admit, that they were instructed by One who “spake as never man spake;” and that they saw the mighty works which he wrought in confirmation of his word: but on the other hand, the meanness of his appearance and of his followers was a stumbling-block, which it was exceeding difficult to get over, and which is entirely removed out of our way. Besides, they saw the plan of Christianity only in a very obscure and partial light; whereas we see it in all its fulness and completion: and the evidence we have from that great miracle of all, his resurrection from the dead, is stronger than all those which they beheld. We may, therefore, justly say that our advantages are greater than theirs: and yet multitudes hear the Gospel now, and are unmoved by it: some sneer at it as folly and enthusiasm; and others rest in a mere formal profession of it, without any experience of its transforming power. What then shall we say of them? Are not they blind and hardened in a very awful degree? Are not they also more obdurate than the idolatrous Syrians, or the filthy Sodomites? Yes: far less evidence, and an obscurer statement of the Gospel, would have brought them to “repent in dust and ashes;” whereas the unbelievers of the present day are proof against an accumulated weight of evidence, and against the full splendour of evangelic truth.
Let this then be considered by us: and when we wonder at the blindness and obduracy of the Jews, let us remember how blind we ourselves have been, and how unaffected by the most stupendous miracles of love and mercy that ever were vouchsafed to men.]
How heinous their guilt!
[Unbelief is in general scarcely ever thought of as a sin: the open infidel justifies himself by a pretended want of evidence; and those who maintain a form of religion fancy themselves possessed of saving faith: so that, whatever men have to condemn in their own conduct, they never think of bemoaning their unbelief. But behold what was Christ’s judgment respecting this! He considered unbelief as a more heinous sin than any which Tyre and Sidon, or even Sodom and Gomorrha, had committed, and as involving his hearers in a deeper condemnation than any to which the vilest of those cities would be doomed. He also commanded his Disciples to “wipe off the dust from their feet against those who received them not,” in token of God”s indignation against them, and his abandoning of them to the evil of their own ways [Note: Acts 13:51.]. Nor can we wonder at it, when Christ and his Father identify themselves with all the ministers of the Gospel: “He that heareth you, heareth me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth me; and he that despiseth me, despiseth him that sent me.” What a view does this representation give us of unbelief! And how little idea have the unbelieving world of the light in which they are regarded by a holy God! But when once the Holy Ghost is sent into their hearts to convince them of sin, they become convinced of this sin in particular; and view it in its proper colours, as a mixture of ignorance, impiety, and rebellion.
Let the towering imaginations of the formalist then fall to the ground: let the most decent amongst us see what guilt he has contracted: and let every one acknowledge that God is just in consigning over to perdition those who, either in theory or in practice, reject Christ, and thus eventually “make God himself a liar.”]
How great their folly!
[The seventy Disciples were especially commanded to testify to those who rejected them, that the contempt which they manifested for their message did not at all invalidate the truth or importance of it: “Notwithstanding, be ye sure of this, that the kingdom of God is come unto you.” Thus must we say to those who disregard the Gospel: “Your unbelief cannot make the faith of God of none effect.” If your neglect of the Gospel could set aside its authority, so that you should stand excused for your disobedience to it, your folly would not be so great: but you cannot alter one single word in it: Christ will still be the only Saviour of the world, though you should pour ever so much contempt upon him: and faith in his name will be the only means of obtaining an interest in him, though you should dispute ever so much against it: and that declaration, “He that believeth shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned,” will be carried into execution, however you may complain of its harshness and severity. The ridicule and contempt poured on Noah whilst building the ark, did not at all affect the truth of his warnings: the flood came precisely as he had foretold, and swept away all the inhabitants of the earth. And so will it be in the day of judgment: the Gospel will prove true, and its sanctions will be executed, “whether men will hear it or whether they forbear.” What folly and madness then is it to trifle thus with the words of life! Common sense, methinks, should lead men to consider what they hear, and to search the Scriptures daily whether these things be so. If they can disprove the truth of the Gospel, well: let them then despise it if they please: but if they cannot disprove it, let them obey it; and that not in a partial and formal manner, but unreservedly, and with their whole hearts.]
How pitiable their condition!
[Could we behold the present state of those who once inhabited Sodom and Gomorrha; could we see their weeping, their wailing, their gnashing of teeth, how would our bowels yearn over them! Yet, grievous as their condition is, it is more tolerable than that which is prepared for the despisers of the Gospel. This is not declared once, but often; and that, too, by him who will assign to all their proper doom. Say, then, whether we should not be filled with pity towards the thoughtless, deceived, and deceiving world? Suppose them enjoying all that earth can give; yet, with such prospects before them, who must not regard them as objects of the tenderest compassion? Behold a man just about to be racked upon the wheel, or to be burned on a slow consuming fire; give him what you will preparatory to his sufferings, you cannot but view him with most heartfelt grief. Thus then should we view the contemners of Christ, whether they manifest that contempt in a way of open infidelity or of secret disaffection. There will be degrees of misery, indeed, proportioned to the degrees of guilt which each has contracted; but the least miserable of those who perish under the light of the Gospel, will have a heavier doom than shall ever fall to the lot of Sodom and Gomorrha. O that our head were a fountain of tears to run down for them night and day; and that we might labour, all of us, whilst yet there is time, to pluck them as brands out of the burning!]
Let all who hear the Gospel consider their responsibility—
[The generality think little but of hearing such or such a man: but be it known to you, that the word you hear is “not the word of man, but of God,” and is to be so received, if it be agreeable to his revealed will. You know that an ambassador is the representative of his king, and that the reception or rejection of his message is considered as affecting, not him, but his master who sent him. So it is with the ambassadors of Christ [Note: Text, with John 13:20.] — — — O that whenever we attend upon the house of God, we might attend as if Christ himself were come down to instruct us, or as if God the Father spoke to us by an audible voice from heaven!]
Let them improve their privileges—
[It is an inestimable privilege to have the Gospel faithfully administered to us. What if Sodom and Gomorrha had enjoyed that privilege? they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes, and would probably “have remained to this very day.” So, if millions that are now in hell had heard what we have, they would perhaps have obeyed the truth and been saved by it. We are sure that many have made a far better improvement of it than we; and therefore we should humble ourselves on a view of our unprofitableness, and labour to bring forth fruits worthy of the culture bestowed upon us.]
THE ENROLMENT OF OUR NAMES IN HEAVEN, A GROUND OF JOY
Luke 10:20. Notwithstanding, in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.
THERE is a holy jealousy which well becomes the ministers of God: for people are ever ready to pride themselves upon any distinctions which God may confer upon them, and to rest in the attainments they have made, instead of regarding them only as means to an ulterior good. It should seem that the seventy Disciples, who had been sent forth to preach the Gospel of the kingdom, were surprised when they found that devils and unclean spirits were subject unto them: and on their return to their divine Master, they could not help expressing the high gratification which this power had afforded them. Had their minds been more suitably affected, they would have rejoiced rather in the prospect which that circumstance afforded them of the final triumphs of their Lord. Jesus therefore, in a kind and tender manner, corrected their views, and pointed out to them a more just ground of self-congratulation: assuring them in the mean time that their powers should be still more enlarged, and their victory over Satan be more complete. The caution given to them is applicable to Christians in every age: their comforts and successes are doubtless a proper subject of joy and thankfulness; but it is the final success only that can make them completely happy; and the only solid joy is that which arises from a well-founded expectation of happiness beyond the grave.
In confirmation of this truth, we would observe,
That the enrolment of our names in heaven is a fact which may be known—
The names of all God’s people are, as it were, written in his book—
[The names of all the tribes of Israel were registered in a book. It was of that book that Moses spake, when he desired God to blot him out of it rather than not forgive his offending people [Note: Exodus 32:32.]. And as long as the Jewish states continued, such a book was carefully preserved [Note: Isaiah 4:3.]. Such a register God himself is represented as having formed of all his chosen people. His book is called “the book of life, of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world [Note: Revelation 13:8.].” This book, as well as the books of God’s remembrance, in which the actions of men were recorded, will be brought forth at the last day [Note: Revelation 20:12.]; and they who were written in it will be exalted to glory [Note: Revelation 21:27.], whilst “those who were not written in it will be cast into the lake of fire, which is the second death [Note: Revelation 20:15.].”]
Our enrolment in that book is a fact which may be known—
[St. Paul knew it respecting many, both men and women, who had united with him in endeavours to advance the kingdom of Christ [Note: Philippians 4:3.]. And the same may be known also by those who are there enrolled. We cannot indeed go up to heaven to examine that sacred record; nor can we have it brought down to us on earth: yet may we assuredly know its contents as far as respects ourselves. There are two ways in which this may be done; first, by the testimony of the Spirit; and next, by the evidence of our lives. Respecting the witness of the Spirit, we do not say that the Spirit will bear any direct testimony to our souls, irrespective of any thing that he has wrought in us; (this I conceive to be a very dangerous error;) but he will shine upon his own work, and cause us to see it. When we are regenerate, he will, as “a Spirit of adoption, enable us to cry, Abba, Father;” and will “witness with our spirits that we are the children of God, and heirs of his everlasting kingdom [Note: Romans 8:15-17.].” When we are regenerate, I say, he will do this, but not before; for he never did, nor can, attest a falsehood, which he would do if he were to witness to any unregenerate man that he was a child of God. The evidence of our own lives also will enable us to ascertain this fact. There are certain “things which infallibly accompany salvation [Note: Hebrews 6:9-10.],” and which therefore warrant us to infer that we are in the number of God’s elect [Note: 1 Thessalonians 1:3-4.], and to assure ourselves of a final and everlasting acceptance with him [Note: 1 John 3:14; 1 John 3:18-21.]. The former is the more delightful to our feelings; the latter is the more convincing to our judgment: but from whichever source we draw our conclusions, if only our premises be right, our conclusions are infallible. Hence St. Paul was so assured of happiness in the eternal world [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:1. 2 Timothy 4:8.]; and hence every believer is authorized to adopt the words of the Church of old, “My beloved is mine, and I am his.”]
Having shewn that the fact of our enrolment in heaven may be known, we observe,
That when known, it is a ground of most exalted joy—
The expulsion of devils from the bodies of men was a just ground of joy—
[It was an evidence of God’s presence with the Disciples; (for who but God could cast them out?) it was also a strong confirmation of their word; (no stronger could be given:) it was, moreover, an unspeakable blessing to those who were thus delivered from Satan’s power; (and who must not rejoice in the communication of so great a good?) above all, it was a pledge of greater victories over Satan, and the utter destruction of his kingdom. Our Lord’s prohibition, therefore, must not be understood as absolute, but only as comparative; as when he bade his followers “not to labour for the meat that perisheth, but for that which endureth unto everlasting life.”]
But the knowledge of our interest in the Divine favour is incomparably a greater ground of joy—
[Indeed nothing can for a moment be put in competition with this: this is infinitely beyond every other ground of joy.
It is the most sublime. What is the possession of thrones and kingdoms in comparison of this? All earthly things are lighter than vanity itself when weighed against the glories of the heavenly world [Note: See the description of the Christian’s state, Hebrews 12:22-24.].
It is the most pure. Every earthly joy has a tendency to corrupt the mind; to fill us with pride; to foster every evil disposition; to rivet us to the world; and to retard our progress toward the kingdom of heaven. But who was ever corrupted by a view of his interest in the Saviour? We do not ask, When did a corrupt man pretend to an interest in Christ, or boast that he was of the number of God’s elect? for that, alas! may be found in every place and every age; but we confidently ask, Whom did the knowledge of his interest in Christ ever corrupt in any respect whatever? Ignorant people imagine that a view of our election of God will puff us up with pride; or render us indifferent to the attainment of holiness: but every child of God is the more humbled by a conviction that God is pacified towards him [Note: Ezekiel 16:63.], and is the more determinately bent to fulfil the whole will of God. Of this we are assured on the authority of an inspired Apostle, on whose testimony we may rely with most implicit confidence [Note: 1 John 3:3.]—
It is the most substantial. Whatever other sources of joy we may have, they may all fail and disappoint us. Ask those who have attained the principal objects of their desire, whether they have found all the satisfaction in them that they once expected? and they will all be constrained to acknowledge, that vanity and vexation of spirit is the sum of all created good. In a little time our sweetest enjoyments cloy, and cease to afford us any material gratification: in a season of deep affliction they lose all their power, and are not unfrequently turned into sources of the greatest sorrow. But whom did the pardoning love of Christ ever fail to comfort? Who ever ceased to derive consolation from it under the heaviest afflictions? Who ever found it a source or an occasion of sorrow to his soul, except indeed that he sorrowed because he did not value it more, and improve it better? Other joys embitter the thought of death, and vanish the moment that the soul takes its flight from the body: but the knowledge of our acceptance with God makes the thought of death delightful; and the joy arising from it is perfected in the very instant of our departure hence. Lastly,
It is that, without which no other ground of joy can exist.We will suppose that you possess health, and riches, and wisdom, and honour, and every gratification that your heart can wish, and that too in the highest degree that it can be enjoyed; what is it all, whilst you have no prospect beyond the grave? If you were sensible of your state, you would be like a person sitting down to a banquet, with a sword suspended over his head by a single hair; you would not know one moment’s peace. Who would envy a man, that after a few hours was to be burnt alive? Whatever he might possess, he would be regarded by all as a pitiable object: and such is that man who, after a few more days, must be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone: whatever of wealth or honour he may have attained, he is a wretched creature, and if he be at all sensible of his state, he would gladly exchange conditions with the meanest and most afflicted saint on earth.
What comparison then will earthly joys bear with this? Even that of casting out devils, and finding them subject to one’s power, would be nothing, when it is considered that the person so honoured may soon be cast out himself, and bidden to “depart accursed into everlasting fire [Note: Matthew 7:22-23.].”]
To seek this great blessing above all things—
[Some may be ready to say, ‘If God has not, of his own sovereign grace, inscribed my name in his book from all eternity, how shall I get it done now?’ To this I answer, The secret decrees of God are no ground of action to you: you are to act precisely as if all depended on your own personal exertion: nay, more, God encourages you so to act, with an assurance that you shall not exert yourself in vain. Go to the Lord Jesus Christ, and cast yourselves at the foot of his cross, and then see whether it shall be in vain. He has said, that “Whosoever cometh unto him, he will in no wise cast out;” and you may rest assured, that that promise shall be fulfilled to you. However distant you have been from God, you shall be “brought nigh to him by the blood of the cross;” and “from being strangers and foreigners, you shall become fellow-citizens of the saints, and of the household of God [Note: This is the idea suggested in the text. The enrolling of names has respect to citizens, whose rights are thereby ascertained and assured.].” This blessing its your duty to seek in God’s appointed way; and if it be, as we have shewn, incomparably the greatest that a human being can possess, seek it with an earnestness proportioned to its worth — — —]
Never to grow weary in the pursuit of it—
[Many persons are fond of perplexing themselves with the deeper doctrines of religion, when they should rather be edifying themselves with those which are more plain. Some will argue, that if God have written our names in his book, he will never blot them out again, because “his gifts and calling are without repentance.” But though it is true, that “God will carry on his work,” and “perfect that which concerneth us,” it is equally true, that “if we draw back, we draw back unto perdition, and God’s soul will have no pleasure in us [Note: Hebrews 10:38-39.].” Of his faithful people he has said, that “he will not blot out their names from the book of life [Note: Revelation 3:5.]:” but he uses directly opposite language in reference to the ungodly, and to those who decline from his ways [Note: Exodus 32:33.Psalms 69:28; Psalms 69:28. Jeremiah 17:13.]. It is “to them who, by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory and honour, and immortality, that God will give eternal life [Note: Romans 2:6-7.].” Let no difficulties then discourage you; but “press forward for the prize of your high calling:” and expect assuredly, that, as already “your witness is in heaven, and your record is on high [Note: Job 16:19.],” so your unworthy names shall in due time be acknowledged by your Lord and Saviour, and you shall “inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
THE GOSPEL REVEALED TO BABES
Luke 10:21. In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.
DEEP and mysterious are the ways of God, and “as far above our thoughts and ways, as the heavens are above the earth.”But the more they are contemplated, the more will they approve themselves to to us; even where they are most inscrutable, and where the heart of the natural man would be most ready to rise against them, a humble and pious mind will find abundant cause both for submission and joy. Of our blessed Lord we are often told, that he groaned in spirit: for indeed he was altogether “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief,” as his daily and hourly companion: but on one occasion it is said, that “he rejoiced in spirit;” and it was in an hour when he had been particularly contemplating the dispensations of his Father in relation to his Gospel. To the proud indeed this would be a subject of complaint and murmuring; but to the humble it was a proper ground of gratitude and thanksgiving. This is evident from the words before us; for the fuller understanding of which I will shew,
The conduct of God in relation to his Gospel—
Two things are here specified:
“He has hid it from the wise and prudent”—
[By “the wise and prudent” we are not to understand those that are truly wise and truly prudent, but those who are “wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight,” who are just objects of God’s heavy displeasure [Note: Isaiah 5:21. with Romans 12:16.].
From these “God has hid” his Gospel. Not but that they have the same access to it as others, and might attain to the knowledge of it as well as others, if only they would seek it in a becoming spirit: for God does nothing either to withhold it from them, or to incapacitate them for the perception of it. God is said to do what he permits to be done [Note: Compare 2 Samuel 24:1. with 1 Chronicles 21:1.]: and it is not by any active exertion of his which man cannot withstand, but by such means only as leave men altogether responsible for their own blindness, that he hides his truth from the minds of any.
The Gospel is hid from this description of persons, partly, through the very constitution of the Gospel itself: for it reveals such a way of salvation as a proud conceited mind cannot receive: “it is foolishness to the natural man; neither can he receive it, because it is spiritually discerned [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:14.].” The doctrine of the cross is to the Jews a “stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:23.].” It was foretold by the Prophet Isaiah, that the same person who should “be for a sanctuary to his believing people, should be for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, many amongst whom should stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken [Note: Isaiah 8:14-15.].” And to the same effect was it said of Jesus, by the holy man who took him in his arms, that “he was set for the fall, as well as for the rising, of many in Israel, and for a sign that should be spoken against, that the thoughts of many hearts might be revealed [Note: Luke 2:34-35.].”
It is yet further hid from them through the agency of Satan, to whom the blindness of unbelievers is especially ascribed, and who labours incessantly to prevent “the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, from shining unto them [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:4.].”
Doubtless it is also still further hid from them through their being given up by God to judicial blindness. “God’s Spirit will not always strive with man [Note: Genesis 6:3.].” After having been long resisted, he will cease to “work upon their minds [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:19.]:” they will then be given up to believe their own delusions [Note: 2Th 2:11], and to be taken in their own craftiness; and all “their wisdom and prudence will be brought to nought [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:19; 1 Corinthians 3:19.].” In this way vast multitudes have been blinded in former ages [Note: Romans 9:7-8.], and are blinded at this very hour.]
But “it is revealed unto babes”—
[The term, “babes,” includes not only those who are weak in respect of intellectual attainments, but those also, who, though of vigorous and cultivated minds, are sensible of their inability to discern spiritual truths without having first a spiritual discernment imparted to them.
To these the Gospel is revealed; and they have such a perception of it as brings peace into their souls, and holiness into their hearts and lives. Of course, we must not suppose that the mere circumstance of any person’s being weak in understanding will procure for him this blessing: but if he seek this blessing in God’s appointed way, the circumstance of his being of weak understanding shall not preclude him from the benefit. And in this respect persons of this description have an advantage, which is, that they are more easily convinced of their need of Divine teaching than persons of learning and refinement are; and are thereby more easily induced to seek of God the teaching of his good Spirit: and hence it is that many of them attain divine knowledge, whilst from the great mass of others it is hid.
That this preference is shewn to them is evident, both from the records of God’s word and from daily observation. Whom did our blessed Saviour choose for his Apostles? Not the learned of the Scribes and Pharisees, but a few poor fishermen. To the proud he spoke in parables; which afterwards to his child-like Disciples he explained; saying to them, “Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to others in parables; that seeing, they might not see, and hearing, they might not understand [Note: Luke 8:10.]:” and hence of the Rulers and of the Pharisees it is asked, “Have any of them believed in him [Note: John 7:48.]?” In like manner the Apostles themselves found little success among the great and learned: “Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble were called: but God chose the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and the weak things to confound the mighty, yea, and things base and despised to bring to nought those which were high in worldly estimation, that no flesh might glory in his presence [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:27-29.].” And is it not so at this day? Who are the people that experience the enlightening, comforting, and transforming efficacy of the Gospel now? Are they the rich, and the great, and the learned? Would to God they were! But it is not so: it is to “babes, and not to the wise and prudent, that the Gospel is revealed” at this hour, as well as in former days: the Gospel has still the same stamp and character upon it as ever, in that “it is preached chiefly, if not exclusively, to the poor [Note: Matthew 11:5.],” and that “the common people hear it gladly [Note: Mark 12:37.].”]
That the Divine conduct in this respect may not be an offence unto us, let us consider,
The dispositions with which it should be contemplated by us—
We should be duly sensible that this is indeed the conduct of God in relation to his Gospel: and we should evince,
Our submission to it, as an act of sovereignty—
[Certainly in this matter God acts as a sovereign, who has a right to dispense his blessings to whomsoever he will: “it is even so, Father, for so it seemeth good in thy sight.” God might have revealed his Gospel to all, or hid it from all, if it had pleased him; and none would have had any right to complain. As well might the fallen angels complain that man alone had a Redeemer provided for him, as any child of man complain, that he has derived less advantage from the Gospel than another. Had any other of Paul’s hearers reason to complain, because “the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to attend to the things that were spoken by him?” Assuredly not: God’s grace is his own; and he may dispense it as he pleases, according to his own sovereign will and pleasure [Note: Ephesians 1:5.Philippians 2:13; Philippians 2:13.]. He himself asks, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?” and if we claim such a right, much more may He, who is, as Jesus calls him, “Lord of heaven and earth,” and who consequently may dispose both of heaven and earth according to his will, and “without giving to us an account of any of his matters [Note: Job 33:13.].” When therefore we behold this, shall we presume to strive with God, or to say unto him, ‘What doest thou?’ Shall the clay arraign the conduct of the potter, or “the vessel say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus [Note: Romans 9:20-21.]?” “He that reproveth God, let him answer it [Note: Job 40:2.].”
Many, who see that God does indeed dispense his blessings according to his own good pleasure and the inscrutable counsel of his own will, endeavour to get rid of the notion of his sovereignty by asserting, that God has respect to some goodness in man which he has foreseen; and that he regulates his dispensations in accordance with some worthiness which he knows will at a future period appear in the objects of his choice, bestowing his favours on those who he knows will make a good use of them, and withholding them from those only who he foresees would abuse them. But, if this be so, how shall we understand those declarations of our Lord both in the preceding and following context? He turned him, we are told, to his Disciples, and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see: for I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them, and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them [Note: ver. 23, 24.].” In this place the sovereign grace of God in the disposal of his gifts is clearly asserted. But you may say, ‘True; God gave to some what he withheld from others: but he gave to those who he knew would duly improve his gifts: and the persons from whom he withheld them, were involved in no responsibility on account of them. In order to prove the doctrine which has been insisted on, you must shew me, that God has bestowed the means of salvation on those who would not improve them, and withheld them from those who would have improved them: shew me this, and I grant that the point is established beyond a doubt. Look then at what our Lord asserts in the context respecting Tyre and Sidon, and Bethsaida and Chorazin. To these latter were means of conviction afforded, which were withheld from the former. Were these latter better than the former? Quite the reverse: had our Saviour’s miracles been wrought in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented, sitting in sackcloth and ashes; but when done in Capernaum, they had no other effect than thrusting her down the deeper into hell [Note: ver. 13–15.]. Now all this must have been foreknown to God, else Jesus could not so positively have asserted it: yet here is evidence, that God withheld from some the very means which they would have duly improved, and imparted to others those very same means which he knew they would abuse to their own more aggravated condemnation. What shall we say then to these things? God himself tells us what to say: “Be still, and know that I am God [Note: Psalms 46:10.],” who “have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and have compassion on whom I will have compassion [Note: Romans 9:15; Romans 9:18.].”]
Our gratitude for it as an act of mercy—
[Suppose that the Gospel were to be understood only as the deeper sciences are, by men of erudition and learning, in what a deplorable condition would the poor be! They have no time for laborious investigations, nor any of the endowments necessary for philosophical researches. They therefore could have no hope of ever attaining the knowledge of salvation. From absolute necessity their days must be consumed in making provision for the body: and unless they were so occupied, the whole world must be in a state of stagnation and want. But God has shewn no such partiality for the rich as to confine the knowledge of his Gospel to them. Earthly comforts indeed he has given in richer abundance to them; but spiritual blessings he has rather reserved for the poor: as St. James hath said; “Hath not God chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him [Note: James 2:5.].” Thus, where most there seems to have been an inequality in his dispensations, he has shewn an impartiality, making up to the one in spiritual blessings what he has withheld in temporal; and giving advantages in reference to eternity to those who have the less favourable lot in respect of the things of time and sense.
And is not this a ground, a just ground, of joy? Who, that sees what privations are often experienced by the poor, must not rejoice to be informed, that, taking both worlds into the account, there is a preponderance in their favour? Our blessed Lord rejoiced in this; yea, and leaped for joy [Note: ἠγαλλιάσατο.]: and we also, if our minds be constituted like his, shall from our inmost souls contemplate it with gratitude and thanksgiving.]
Let us learn then,
Rightly to appreciate divine knowledge—
[We would on no account utter a word that should detract from the excellence of human knowledge. We readily allow that learning does elevate and expand the mind, so as to raise its possessor far above his fellows in many respects: but when compared with spiritual knowledge, it is a poor, and low, and grovelling attainment. St. Paul was excelled by none of his contemporaries in mental attainments: yet, valuable as he once esteemed them, he, when truly converted to God, said, “What things were gain to me, those I count but loss for Christ; yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord [Note: Philippians 3:7-8.].” And such must be your estimate also of this knowledge; for it is this only that will render us truly happy, either in this world or in that which is to come — — —]
To seek it in God’s appointed way—
[Human sciences are to be attained by study; but the knowledge of the Gospel must be gained by prayer. In the words immediately following my text, our Lord says, “No man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; or who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son shall reveal him.” Know ye then that, though the study of the Holy Scriptures is necessary, it is not sufficient: for in the same place where you are told to “seek for wisdom as for hid treasures,” you are told to “lift up your voice, and to cry unto God for it; for that it is God alone who gives it [Note: Proverbs 2:1; Proverbs 2:6.].” Meditation and prayer must go hand in hand: and if you will seek for knowledge in this way, though you be but a babe, you shall attain it; and, though you be a mere “fool in all other respects, you shall not err therein [Note: Isaiah 35:8.]” — — —]
THE BLESSINGS OF A PREACHED GOSPEL
Luke 10:23-24. And he turned him unto his disciples, and said privately, Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see: for I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.
OF all things relating to the world around us, the most delightful is the progress of the Gospel, and the consequent augmentation of the Redeemer’s empire. This event had commenced through the ministrations of the seventy disciples, whom our Lord had sent as his harbingers throughout the land of Judζa: and it had filled our blessed Saviour himself with joy, in the midst of all the sorrows with which he was daily encompassed [Note: ver. 17, 21.]. His own more immediate disciples he particularly congratulated on the insight which they had into the mysteries of his religion; in which respect they were favoured far beyond all the servants of God who had preceded them, not excepting the most distinguished of their kings, or the most enlightened of their prophets [Note: The Exordium might be varied to suit any particular occasion. Suppose it were the subject of an Ordination or Visitation Sermon, or on occasion of a Bible or Mission Society, Christ’s appointment of the Seventy might be noticed. If it were on the Fifth of November, it might be stated that, amongst the chief blessings for which we were then called to thank God, was the preservation of the Protestant Religion.]. To impress this the more deeply on their minds, “he turned to them apart, and privately whispered it, as it were, in their ears.”
To you, publicly, I will offer the same congratulations, whilst I set before you the blessings of a preached Gospel,
As enjoyed by the immediate Disciples of our Lord—
The patriarchs and prophets were highly privileged in the light they enjoyed—
[They were instructed in the knowledge of the one true God, of whom all the rest of the world were ignorant. They had a view also of all his glorious perfections, of which the wisest philosophers could form no just conception. They knew, moreover, in what way a sinner might find acceptance with God; whilst all the rest of mankind were left in awful suspense respecting their future state; not knowing, certainly, whether they should live in another world, or whether, if they did, they should partake of a happy or a miserable existence. Of Abraham it is said, that “the Gospel was preached to him in that blessed promise, that in him, and in his seed, should all the nations of the earth be blessed.” “He greatly desired to see the day of Christ; and he did see it, and was glad.” Succeeding prophets discerned it yet more clearly; for, with progressive accuracy and minuteness, they were inspired to describe his person, work, and offices; though, alas! they did not comprehend their own predictions, whilst they declared “the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.” Yet, compared with all the rest of the world, they were in Goshen, whilst all others were surrounded with “a darkness which might be felt.”]
But the Disciples were far more highly favoured than they—
[They were permitted to see the Son of God himself; and that, not darkly, in types and prophecies, but clearly, and face to face. They were privileged to behold all his mighty works; and to hear from day to day the instructive discourses of Him who “spake as never man spake.”They enjoyed the yet further privilege of having his public discourses explained to them in private; and of being taught, by a fuller and more explicit interpretation, what to others had been communicated only in parables. At the same time, they had the peculiar felicity to see a perfect exhibition of the whole will of God in the life and conversation of their Lord; and that, not in circumstances which were inapplicable to themselves, but in circumstances in which they themselves were soon to move. Now, compare their advantages with any that were enjoyed by the patriarchs or prophets of former ages, and they must be acknowledged to have enjoyed privileges which kings and prophets might well desire, and which, in fact, they had desired, but in vain.]
But the congratulations will be found still more due to us, if we consider the Gospel,
As enjoyed by ourselves at this day—
Great as were the advantages of those who attended upon our Lord, they were not without considerable alloy—
[The very appearance of our Lord amongst them was such as to lay a stumbling-block in the way of his immediate attendants. How could they conceive him to be the Saviour of the world, whom they saw exposed to hunger and thirst, and destitute of “a place where to lay his head?” Or, if from his miracles they entertained a hope, what must they think when they beheld him seized, condemned, crucified, entombed? Though lie had often told them that he should be put to an ignominious death, and shed his blood as an expiation for sin, they never could comprehend his meaning: nay, they would not endure the thought of his being so treated. They were, like all the rest of their nation, deluded with the expectation of a temporal Messiah, who should deliver them from the Roman yoke; and, even after his resurrection, they could not divest themselves of this erroneous hope. On the day of Pentecost, indeed, their views were rectified in a considerable degree: but not even the Apostles themselves, for a very long period, were able to understand the design of God in his Gospel to save the Gentile world, nor the extent of the commission which they themselves had received to “preach the Gospel to every creature.” When Peter was prevailed upon, by a series of special visions and express directions, to go and shew the way of salvation to Cornelius, the whole college of Apostles called him to an account for it, as though he had transgressed a positive command of God. And for many, many years did an opinion prevail very extensively through the Church, that the law of Moses was still obligatory on those who embraced the Gospel; so contracted were their views of Christ, as having fulfilled the Law; and so imperfect their knowledge of his salvation, as excluding every ground of hope, except that which was founded on his atoning sacrifice.]
But to us is the Gospel preached under every advantage—
[Neither Jewish prejudice, nor Gentile philosophy, have any longer a footing amongst us, to distract and darken our views; at least, such delusions are found only amongst those who love to indulge them, and who wish for an excuse to reject the pure Gospel. We see the whole plan of salvation in one entire view, as concerted between the Father and the Son, as carried into effect by the incarnation and death of the Lord Jesus, and as applied to the souls of men by the Holy Spirit. We see all the types fulfilled in Christ, and all the prophecies accomplished. We behold the perfect model as delivered to Moses, and can compare it with the structure itself which is now completed. We behold the Person of Christ, as God and man; his work, as obeying the Law, and enduring its penalties for us; his offices of King, Priest, and Prophet; and the office also of the Holy Spirit, in applying to us the salvation which the Lord Jesus has wrought out for us. We have the further advantage of seeing many prophecies fulfilled, in the destruction of the Jewish state and polity; the dispersion of that nation over the face of the globe, whilst yet they continue a distinct people in every place; and the establishment of the Redeemer’s kingdom throughout the Gentile world. I say, then, that the congratulations given to the Disciples are due in a very superior degree to us; since, whilst we are partakers of their privileges in all that they saw and heard, we are freed from many disadvantages under which they laboured, and enjoy many advantages which they were not privileged to possess.]
Now let me commend this subject to the more particular attention of those who, like our Lord’s Disciples, are capable of estimating their high privilege—
What a debt of gratitude do you owe to Almighty God, for the mercies you enjoy!
[You would think, perhaps, that kings and prophets are objects worthy to be envied. But I declare to you, that not kings, with all their grandeur, nor prophets, with all their inspiration, are blessed in comparison of you. I will even go further still, and say, that not even the immediate attendants on our Lord are to be compared with you, in respect of the privileges you enjoy. A view of the Gospel salvation, and of the glory of God as revealed in it, is the highest privilege of man on earth, a privilege which even the angels in heaven covet to enjoy. Alas! how little is a preached Gospel valued amongst you as it ought to be, and how unconscious are most of you of the distinguished mercies you possess! Do, my dear brethren, learn to estimate your blessings aright; and let the daily language of your hearts and lips be, “thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift!”]
What care should you take to improve these mercies!
[You must not be satisfied with hearing the Gospel: no: you must embrace it with your whole hearts: it should be your life, your joy, your all. Do but consider how glorious it is in itself, and what blessings it brings into the soul: consider the pardon of unnumbered sins, the mortification of deep-rooted lusts, the peace it gives you with your offended God, and the very earnest of heaven which it pours into your soul: I say, consider these things, and lay hold on them, and glory in them, and let them be “all your salvation and all your desire.”]
How earnest should you be in diffusing these blessings through the world!
[It is not for yourselves alone that you are thus instructed, but for the world around you. And see how many millions of the human race are ignorant of that Saviour whom you worship, and of that salvation which you enjoy! The unhappy Jews have yet the veil upon their hearts, which you should endeavour to remove; and the Gentiles are yet bowing down to senseless idols, that can never profit nor deliver them. Labour, then, both for Jews and Gentiles, to bring them to the knowledge of the Lord Jesus. Unite with the societies that are established for that end: and let no petty jealousies keep you from cooperating with those who are engaged in the blessed work of diffusing the Scriptures all the world over, and sending missionaries to every quarter of the globe. The sphere is large enough to occupy the utmost exertions of all. “The field is the world:” and how few are the labourers to cultivate the ground! Let a sense of gratitude to God stir you all up to impart to others the blessings which you yourselves have received. “Freely you have received; and freely you should give:” and know, for your comfort, that, instead of diminishing your own blessings by imparting them to others, the more richly you distribute them, the more abundantly will they flow into your own souls.]
THE GOOD SAMARITAN
Luke 10:30-35. A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow, when he departed, he took out two-pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him: and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again I will repay thee.
MUCH address is necessary in dealing with persons of a captious spirit: we should speak to them with faithfulness, yet avoid giving them any unncessary offence. Our Lord was continually beset with persons of this description, but in nothing was his Divine wisdom more conspicuous than in the answers he gave them. The parable before us admirably illustrates this observation—
Explain the parable—
We cannot enter into the full meaning of the parable without attending particularly to the occasion of it—
[A teacher of the law had interrogated our Lord respecting the way to life, and was desired by our Lord to state what the law required [Note: ver. 25–29.]. The lawyer gave a just summary of its requirements, not doubting but that he had fulfilled them all. Our Lord suggested in reply, that though obedience to the law would entitle him to life, he was little aware of the extent to which that obedience must be carried. The lawyer (whether from fear of conviction, or confidence of having fulfilled it, we cannot say) passed over the first commandment, and asked for an explanation of the second. To convey the desired information, and to correct his self-justifying spirit, our Lord spake this parable.]
The circumstances of the parable deserve also to be noticed—
[A Jew is represented as having been robbed and wounded between Jericho, and Jerusalem [Note: This was probable enough, as a desert much infested with robbers lay between them.]. A priest, and a Levite (thousands of whom dwelt at Jericho) are supposed to have seen him in their way to Jerusalem; but, though from their very office they were called to exercise compassion, they passed by him without administering any comfort or relief [Note: The latter from curiosity “came and looked on him;” but turned away as the priest had done before him.]. A Samaritan is then introduced as performing the kindest offices towards him [Note: There was a most inveterate hatred between the Jews and Samaritans (compare John 4:9; John 8:48.), but the minute relation of the circumstances was well calculated to disarm the lawyer’s prejudice.], and as engaging for the whole expense of his maintenance and cure [Note: Two-pence was equal to about fifteen-pence of our money, and might be the amount of the expense already incurred; or perhaps might be as much as the Samaritan could spare at that time. His liberality was sufficiently manifest by his engagement to defray the whole sum that might become due.]. Thus our Lord shewed, that any person, of whatever nation, or whatever religion, must be esteemed our neighbour. By his artful statement also, he drew from the lawyer himself an express, though reluctant, acknowledgment of this truth [Note: The lawyer, though compelled to give honour to the Samaritan, studiously avoided mentioning his name.].]
But the peculiar suitableness of the parable to the occasion is that which most needs explanation—
[The lawyer was manifestly of a proud self-righteous spirit [Note: ver. 25.]. Though he knew the letter of the law, he was ignorant of its spiritual import. He supposed that he had merited eternal life by his obedience; yet he was far from shewing a loving disposition even towards our Lord himself. The parable opened to him more extensive views of the law: it shewed him that, so far from having practised his duty, he had not even understood it. Thus it destroyed at once all his self-righteous hopes, and, at the same time, inculcated the necessity of practical, and universal benevolence. Mild as the rebuke was, it could not but convince his judgment; yet was it so conveyed that it could not reasonably give offence.]
The parable thus explained, we may now proceed to,
In a less appropriate way—
[This good Samaritan was not intended to represent our Lord; and to put such a construction upon the parable, is utterly to pervert it. Yet, when contemplating the love of a fellow-creature, we may, without any impropriety, bring to your remembrance the infinitely richer love of our most adorable Redeemer. We justly admire the conduct of the benevolent Samaritan; and the consideration, that his kindness was shewn to a detested Jew, greatly enhances its value. How then must we admire the love of Christ towards our ruined race! We were robbed of the image of God in which we were made: we were left altogether “dead in trespasses and sins: no created beings could administer any effectual relief; but Jesus beheld us lying in our blood [Note: Ezekiel 16:6.]; yet, though we were his enemies, he pitied us [Note: Romans 5:6; Romans 5:8.]. He not only took care of us, but “laid down his life for us:” he has taken upon himself also the whole charge of our cure: there is nothing that we want, which he has not freely bestowed upon us. Let us then magnify and adore our generous Benefactor. While we respect the exercise of love in a fellow-creature, let us study to comprehend the unsearchable love of Christ [Note: Ephesians 3:18-19.]; and let us make his love to us the model of our love to others [Note: John 15:12.].]
In the way expressly intended by our blessed Lord—
[We have observed that the parable was intended to correct the lawyer’s self-righteousness, and to unfold to him the true nature and extent of Christian charity. Let us therefore learn from it these invaluable lessons. Let us learn the folly of self-righteousness.The law requires us to “love God with all our hearts, and our neighbour as ourselves;” and if we obeyed it perfectly without the smallest defect throughout our whole lives, we might be justified by it. But who ever loved and served God to the utmost extent of all his faculties and powers? Who ever incessantly occupied himself in labours of love towards those who hated and despised him? Who has not felt some backwardness to communion with God, and some want of sympathy with his neighbour? Yet the law can be satisfied with nothing less than perfect obedience: it denounces a curse against us if we transgress it in one single instance [Note: Galatians 3:10.]. Hence we are told that no flesh living can be justified by it [Note: Romans 3:20.]. Let us then cease to expect life by our own obedience. Let us for ever shut our mouths and stand guilty before God [Note: Romans 3:19.]. Let us acknowledge ourselves to need mercy as much as the Apostles [Note: Galatians 2:16.], and adopt the language of St. Paul [Note: Philippians 3:8-9.]— Let us learn also the true nature of Christian charity. We are apt to imagine that persons of our own nation, sect, or party, are the proper objects of our love; but Christian charity extends itself to all mankind. The distinctions of religion or politics should be forgotten, whenever an object stands in need of our assistance; and we should sympathize as truly with our bitterest enemy, as with our dearest friend. Thus did St. Paul compassionate the unbelieving Jews [Note: Romans 9:2-3.]; and our Lord weep over their murderous and devoted city [Note: Luke 19:41.]. Let us then endeavour to mortify our narrow, selfish principles, and to abound in disinterested, self-denying offices of love [Note: If this were the subject of a Charity Sermon, it would be proper, in this place, to advert to the particular circumstances of the charity.].]
MARTHA AND MARY’S CHARACTERS COMPARED
Luke 10:41-42. Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
IT is a generally prevailing notion, that religion should be confined to the Church and the closet, and not be brought forward as a topic of conversation in company. But our Lord’s conduct completely refutes this absurd idea; and shews, that we ought to improve our intercourse with men, by causing our light to shine before them, and by endeavouring to instil the knowledge of religion into their minds. If it be objected, “that his office was peculiar, and that therefore we ought not to imitate him in this respect,” behold, the history before us introduces us to him in the house of a friend, where he had occasion to determine this very point in reference to the women whom he was visiting: one of them was applauded by him for embracing the opportunity afforded her to obtain religious instruction; and the other was reproved for the neglect of it; and that too at a time when such neglect would have been as excusable as it could be under any circumstances whatever.
To elucidate this subject, we shall,
Compare the characters of Martha and Mary—
We may first notice wherein they were agreed—
[We are assured that both of them were Disciples of our Lord. We could not, indeed, ascertain this from the circumstance of his visit to them; (for he sometimes associated with proud Pharisees, and notorious sinners;) but we know it from the strong and mutual affection that subsisted between them. We presume, therefore, that both of them believed in him as the Messiah: both of them looked to him as the fountain and foundation of all their hopes: both of them confessed his name, and were willing to bear his cross: and lastly, both of them desired to make his will the rule of their conduct.]
We may next consider wherein they differed—
[There are very different degrees of piety, where the same opportunities and advantages are enjoyed: and the very same persons are in different frames at different seasons. The very best of men, if considered in the light in which some particular action would place him, would appear very unlike a true Christian. Though, therefore, we must not apologize for sin, we must make allowance for the operation of peculiar circumstances, when we are weighing the general characters of men.
Martha then, we observe, was unseasonably anxious about the affairs of this life, while her sister Mary treated them with becoming indifference. The great Teacher and Saviour of mankind had condescended to take up his abode with them: it might be expected, therefore, that they would lose as little as possible of his company, and devolve on others their domestic employments, rather than deprive themselves of his valuable instructions. And thus it was with Mary. She was so absorbed in her attention to his discourses, that she neglected secular matters as of inferior concern. But Martha, on the contrary, was so intent on providing for her guest, that she was quite forgetful of her spiritual interests. We do not mean to justify a neglect of domestic duties; but we contend that there may be occasions so urgent as to demand our immediate attention, even though some points of less importance should be neglected. No one could doubt but that a disregard of dress would be very excusable, in case our life were in danger from fire: and, in the same manner, Mary’s disregard of worldly formalities might well be excused, when she was called from them by duties of paramount obligation.
Martha, moreover, was unduly anxious about the affairs of this life. Granting that she meant nothing but to honour her Lord, and that her way of honouring him was proper, still, why did she suffer her temper to be ruffled? Why did she reflect upon her sister, for not uniting with her in such unprofitable employments? Why did she endeavour to interest Jesus himself in her quarrels; and even find fault with him for not interposing his authority to make Mary as worldly as herself? All this betrayed a little mind, occupied with vanities, studious of show, and too susceptible of irritation from things which ought never to have gained such an ascendant over her. Mary, on the contrary, indifferent to earthly pomp, evinced the superior heavenliness of her mind, and thereby preserved the tranquillity of it undisturbed.]
We shall more accurately determine their respective characters, if we,
Consider the judgment of our Lord respecting them—
In this answer to Martha,
He lays down a general position respecting the care of the soul—
[The care of the soul, by whatever terms we describe it, is justly called “the one thing needful.” Were we indeed to judge by the conduct of the world at large, we should rather call it, ‘the one thing needless;’ since every pursuit, however trifling, is preferred before it. But there is nothing of such value as the soul; the whole world, in comparison of it, is a mere vanity. Nor is there any difference in this respect between the rich and the poor: the souls of all are of equal value in the sight of God; all are equally concerned to secure eternal happiness. There is no situation where an attention to our spiritual interests can be dispensed with; no situation wherein the concerns of eternity should not be uppermost in our minds. Other things may be desirable; but the care of the soul is needful, absolutely, universally, and indispensably needful.]
He applies that position to the present occasion—
[He first applies it in a way of reproof. Though he loved Martha, he would not forbear to reprove in her what he saw amiss. He tells her, that she was acting in direct opposition to this obvious and established truth; and that her distraction of mind, arising from “many things,” argued an unmindfulness about “one thing,” which was of more importance than all other things together. But, though he reproved her, he was far from shewing even that severity which her petulance deserved. He spoke with a tenderness well calculated to conciliate her esteem, and with an earnestness fitted to impress her mind with the importance of the subject [Note: Observe the repetition, Martha, Martha: see others of a similar nature, Luke 13:34; Luke 22:31.].
Happy would it be for us, if when we are too deeply involved in worldly cares, we would call to mind this salutary reproof, and consider it as addressed immediately to ourselves.
Next our Lord applies this position in a way of approbation. The part which Mary had chosen is called by him, “that good part.” Now what was it that Mary had done? She had been sitting at the feet of Jesus, and listening with delight to his instructive conversation. She had, in short, been more occupied about the welfare of her soul than about a vain parade of courtesy and compliment. This might well be called a “good part:” it was good in the estimation of Jesus, and must be so in the opinion of all who judge according to truth. People indeed, when in the midst of gaiety and dissipation, ridicule it as absurd: but did ever any man that had chosen this good part find reason to condemn it? Can we conceive of any pious man on his death-bed, cautioning his surviving relatives against loving their Lord too much, and feeling too deeply the interests of their souls? It was no little commendation of the part which Mary chose, that “it should never be taken away from her:” our Lord would not deprive her of it; nor would he suffer any other, whether men or devils, to take it away. As for Martha’s case, the effect of that would be as transient as the feast itself: but the fruits of Mary’s attention should last for ever.
Let us only bear in mind this vindication of Mary’s cause, and we can never doubt whose character we should prefer, or whose conduct we should imitate.]
Those who are wholly occupied with the pursuits of this life—
[What, think you, would our Lord have said to Martha, if her state had been like yours? Would he have approved of it, and have told her that her attention to her social and relative duties was sufficient, though she took no care at all about her soul? — — —]
Those who, though professing to be devoted to Christ, are of a worldly spirit—
[What a poor appearance did Martha make on this occasion! and what little encouragement you have to follow her example! Remember, that “you should be crucified to the world, and the world should be crucified to you [Note: Galatians 6:14.]” — — —]
Those who are seeking with all earnestness the salvation of their souls—
[You must expect, that lukewarm and worldly professors will condemn you as much as the ungodly themselves do: and the more nearly they are related to you, the more asperity, perhaps, they may shew towards you. But commit your cause to Jesus; and he will vindicate you in due season. Positive duties, indeed, you must on no account neglect. But, while the world has your hands, let Jesus have your hearts — — —]
ONE THING NEEDFUL
Luke 10:42. One thing is needful
HERE we are introduced, as it were, into the bosom of a holy family; and hear, in part at least, the instructions given to them: “One thing is needful.” Let us now suppose that we ourselves are that family; and that, in the place of our blessed Lord, I am called to instruct you. My subject shall be, that “One thing is needful:” and whilst I deliver that truth, so necessary to be received by you, I would deliver it as myself feeling its importance, and declare it with all the fidelity that such a subject demands.
Let me then,
Shew what this one thing needful is—
In general terms, it may be called, The care of the soul. But, that we may have the precise view of it which was conveyed at that time, I will speak of it,
[Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to his instructions. This was the tiling complained of by Martha, and the thing applauded by our blessed Lord. Now, this is the one thing needful for you also. True, you cannot have the same access to him that Mary had: but he speaks to you in the written word, and through the ministration of his servants. What, then, should you do in relation to the written word? You should sit at the feet of Jesus there, from day to day, and ponder every truth that is there recorded. If you read, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but by me;” you should instantly determine, through grace, to come to God by Christ, and to make him all your life and your salvation. Do you read that you are “not to live henceforth unto yourselves, but unto Him who died for you and rose again;” you should determine, through grace, to devote yourselves altogether to the service of your Lord, and to live for him alone. In like manner, when you attend upon the ministry of the word, you should “hear it, not as the word of man, but, as it is in truth, the word of God.” You should come in the very spirit of Mary, and sit as in the very spirit of Mary, and hear as in the spirit of Mary; not from curiosity, not in a cavilling spirit, not to perform a customary duty, but to get instruction for your souls. Your whole soul should be swallowed up, as it were, in the subject proposed for your consideration; and every word that is spoken should be treasured up in your heart for the regulation of your faith and practice. This attention to the interests of your soul should be the one employment of your minds from day to day.]
In a way of contrast—
[The one thing needful is not contrasted with vice of any kind. The man who indulges in any evil course is far enough from the one thing needful: he goes in the high road to perdition, without so much as dreaming of the one thing needful. No: the thing of which Martha complained was, that when there were household concerns which called for her sister’s attention, she was attending to the concerns of her soul. This was what she blamed; and what our Lord commended. Let me not however be misunderstood, as saying that any person is at liberty to neglect his worldly business; for an attention to that, in its place, is necessary for every living man: but it must not be suffered to interfere with the more important interests of the soul. On the contrary, where the two duties come in competition with each other, that must invariably be deferred. We blame not Martha for performing the rights of hospitality towards the Lord Jesus and his friends: but her care about this was excessive, and unseasonable too; inasmuch as, through her anxiety about this minor concern, she lost an opportunity for the benefit of her soul: and our Lord informs her that this was wrong. This, then, is the comparative view of the subject. The one thing needful is, to feel the paramount importance of eternal things, and to have the things of time and sense entirely subordinated to the concerns of the soul.]
Having explained the one thing needful, I will now,
Commend it to your choice—
Mary had chosen it, as I wish you also to do. And that I may induce you to choose it, I will set before you,
The importance of it—
[This is “needful,” more needful than any other thing under heaven. It is altogether needful both to your safety and happiness. Suppose you are ever so little engaged in worldly business, you may go to heaven: whatever relates to the world may be done for you: but no one can act for you in relation to the soul: if all the people in the universe were to unite their efforts, they could not supply your lack of services in the concerns of your soul. They must be attended to by yourself: and without the strictest possible attention to them, you never can secure heaven, never can be approved of your God. Nor can you be happy without this. You may be happy in the want of earthly things, even if you were as destitute as Lazarus himself: but can you be happy without the favour of God? without an interest in the Saviour? without a renewed heart? without a title to heaven? No, you cannot: you cannot know what peace is: you cannot look forward with comfort to a dying hour: you cannot contemplate, with any kind of satisfaction, the terrors of a future judgment, or the realities of an eternal state. Then, if without an attention to the one thing needful you can be neither safe nor happy, is it wise to neglect the concerns of your soul? It is well said, What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall he give in exchange for his soul? Methinks I have already said enough to engage you on the side of Mary, and to impress on you the necessity of following her example. Remember, this is “the one thing needful;” and, in this view, the only thing that is needful.]
The excellency of it—
[Two things our Lord speaks in commendation of it: first, it is good; “Mary has chosen the good part:” and next, it is permanent; “It shall never be taken away from her.”
Consider now these two points. First, it is good. Worldly labours, I grant, are good in their place, as means to some end: but there is nothing intrinsically good in any worldly office whatever. But spiritual exercises are good, irrespective of any end whatever. The love of God is good: the love of Christ is good: the love of holiness in all its branches, is good. The world may cry out against these things as they will, and load them with every opprobrious name: but they are good. They are reputed good by God, who expressly calls them so; and by angels, who know it by sweet experience; and by all the saints that ever lived, and who chose them on this very account. Yes, in the estimation of the ungodly too, even by the very men who hate and despise them, they are good: for it is in consequence of this conviction, that in their hearts they venerate a holy man, and wish to “die the death of the righteous,” though they cannot be prevailed upon to live his life. What does every man feel on his dying bed? He may not feel any great desire to serve God; but he feels a secret wish that he had served him: and that clearly shews what his judgment of this subject is. As for those who are gone into the eternal world, ask one of them what he now thinks of the one thing needful? There would be no difference of opinion between one that should come from heaven, and one who should come from hell: they would be equally decisive in their judgment, though, alas! with widely different feelings: and the very instant any one of you shall open his eyes in the eternal world, I will venture to say, he, if suffered to come back and deliver his sentiments, would speak more strongly and more decidedly upon it, than I ever have done, or ever can do. Will any of you, then, be so mad as to go on seeking the poor contemptible vanities of this world, in preference to what, by all in heaven, earth, and hell, is acknowledged as supremely good?
But consider, also, its permanency: “If you choose this good part, it shall never be taken away from you.” Can this be said of earthly things? Possess crowns and kingdoms, if you will: experience proves, that, by popular commotion or the events of war, you may soon be hurled from your eminence, into a state of bondage and misery. But of common possessions how soon may you be bereaved, by fraud, or violence, or inundation, or fire! And how soon must you, at all events, be deprived of them by death! But if you have sought for eternal happiness, who shall deprive you of that? God will not; and no other can. What can men do? All that they can do, is, to kill the body: they cannot touch the soul. And devils, what can they do? They can tempt, but they cannot force you to any single act. They could not even enter into the swine, without leave: how, then, shall they destroy a child of God? Your final enjoyment of the blessings you seek is secured to you by covenant and by oath: and whilst others, at death, lose all their possessions, you at death come into the fullest possible enjoyment of yours, an enjoyment that shall endure through all eternity.
Need I then say more? Surely, there can be but one common sentiment amongst you all. Would to God that there might be one determination also, a determination to devote yourselves unreservedly to God, and to mind from henceforth the one thing needful!
Think not, however, that this can be done without great and abiding efforts. For the ungodly world will surely cry out against you, as acting a most absurd part, and as carried away by a heated imagination. Yes, and even good people of a worldly cast, notwithstanding they be amongst your nearest and dearest relatives, will, like Martha, complain of you as carrying matters too far. And no doubt your minister also will come in for his share of the blame: for even Christ himself was blamed, and that by a pious person also, for encouraging Mary in an extravagant attention to her spiritual interests, to the neglect of her worldly business: “Lord, carest thou not that my sister has left me to serve alone? Bid her, therefore, that she help me:” for I cannot but consider you as encouraging her to carry matters to excess. As for me, brethren, I am willing to bear my share of the blame: it is no pain to me to bear what my Lord and Saviour bore before me. But be not ye discouraged. You see in Mary what you have to expect. You see, however, on the other hand, what approbation she met with from the Lord himself. And that sufficed for her. Let it also suffice for you. Only approve yourself to him, and you need not mind any thing that man can either say or do. It is decidedly “the good part” which I recommend to you; and therefore “choose it,” and follow it, and adhere to it, under all circumstances. Never will you repent of this line of conduct. Sit now, with unwearied perseverance, at the feet of Jesus; and you shall, ere long, receive his applauding testimony, and be seated with him on his throne of glory to all eternity.]
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Luke 10". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany