CAUTION AGAINST HYPOCRISY
Luke 12:1. In the mean time, when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, insomuch that they trode one upon another, he began to say unto his Disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.
RARELY, if ever, can we find a greater instance of fidelity than in the history before us. Our Lord had been dining with a Pharisee, and, even whilst he was at dinner, he upbraided the whole sect of Pharisees, and accused them of the vilest hypocrisy. This might have been thought by some a breach of hospitality; but a sense of his duty to God was paramount to every other consideration. The Pharisee had begun with expressing his wonder that our Lord had not washed his hands before he sat down to meat; for among the Pharisees this ceremony had been magnified into a religious observance. This superstition our Lord had not chosen to sanction: and as among the Pharisees it was accompanied with a scandalous neglect of internal purity, he exposed the folly of it, and condemned in the severest terms all who substituted such a rite in the place of vital godliness. His reproofs, as might be expected, greatly irritated his indignant hearers: yet no sooner had an immense multitude assembled at the door, than he went out to them, and, in the presence of them all, enjoined his Disciples above all things to beware of that grand feature of the Pharisaic character, hypocrisy [Note: See chap. 11:37 to the end. πρῶτον in the text, seems better to be construed with προσέχετε].
This caution, so boldly and so strongly given, deserves our attention, no less than that of the Disciples to whom it was spoken. We propose, therefore,
I. To consider the evil against which our Lord cautioned them—
The nature of hypocrisy is far from being generally understood. Many would suppose, that conduct which was notoriously evil, would, from its notoriety, be exempt from the charge of hypocrisy; and that there could be no hypocrisy, where the person was not conscious that he was deceiving others. But that term, according to the Scripture use of it, is very extensive: and under it may be included many different forms or degrees of hypocrisy.
1. That which is known both to ourselves and others—
[Hypocrisy consists in acting contrary to our professions: and this we may do in such an open and shameless way as to manifest clearly to others, no less than to ourselves, that we are dissemblers with God.
How is it with the great mass of those who disregard religion? Do they cast off the Christian name also? Do they not rather account themselves Christians; and would they not be highly offended if their claim to that title were disputed? Yet have they in reality as little of Christianity in their hearts and lives as the very heathen: and there is reason to believe, that they would have lived precisely as they have, if they had all the while known Christianity to be a fable; and that they would continue to live in the very same state, if now for the first time they should learn that our religion were founded in imposture. To them we may safely apply those words of the Apostle, “They profess that they know God, but in works deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate [Note: Titus 1:16.].”
It is precisely the same with many also who profess a high regard for religion. They are strenuous advocates for decorum, and are very observant of outward forms; but are as far from any thing like vital godliness as the most profane — — — They may impose upon a few ignorant people, who have not an idea what religion is: but persons of the least education, who think at all for themselves, see that all those forms are a mere farce, if unaccompanied with the affections of the heart; and these formalists themselves know, and feel, and, amongst each other, will acknowledge them to be so. Of such persons St. Paul says, that “they have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof; that, like Jannes and Jambres, (two great opposers of Moses,) they resist the truth, being men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith; and that their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as theirs also was [Note: 2 Timothy 3:5-9.].”
Thus is the hypocrisy of many covered with so thin a veil, that every one of the smallest penetration may discover it: and if their professions be treated with respect, it is merely from a desire which every one feels to make the way to heaven as easy as possible, and to lower the standard of religion to his own attainments.]
2. That which, though hid from others, is known to ourselves—
[It is no uncommon thing for persons to embrace certain religious principles, without ever attending to their sanctifying efficacy. Such were Judas, and Ananias, and Sapphira: these did actually impose on others; they were considered by all as sound converts: but could Judas be ignorant that he was a thief? or Ananias and Sapphira that they were liars? So it is then with many professors of religion, who pass for real Christians at this time: their exterior appearance is that of sanctity; but one is dishonest, another is addicted to falsehood, another gives way to lewd desires and practices, another is under the dominion of his evil tempers. Now, notwithstanding the esteem in which they may be held, must not these persons, to say the least, have many secret misgivings, or rather, if they consider at all, must they not know that their hearts are not right with God? We may see the character of such persons drawn to the life by the Apostle Paul: all their high professions and evil practices are exhibited in contrast with each other, and stand as a monument of the wickedness and deceit-fulness of the human heart [Note: Romans 2:17-23.].]
3. That which, though hid from ourselves, is known to God.
[It is but too possible for persons to “seem to be religious,” and to think themselves so, at the very time that they are under the influence of some habitual evil, which proves that they“deceive their own selves, and that their religion is vain [Note: James 1:26.].” The characteristic mark of the true Christian is sincerity: he is “an Israelite indeed, and without guile [Note: John 1:47.];” attending to all the commandments equally, without partiality, and without hypocrisy [Note: 1 Timothy 5:21. James 3:17.]. But the persons we refer to are partial in every part of their duty. Their repentance is partial: they mourn, not so much for sin, as for the consequences of their sin; nor yet for the consequences, as they respect God and his honour, but only as they respect themselves and their happiness. Even in relation to themselves, they are not grieved that sin has denied their consciences, and hardened their hearts, but only that it has injured their character, or brought guilt and misery upon their souls. Their faith also is partial: it has respect to Christ as a Priest to atone for them, but not as a King to rule over them: it receives Christ for righteousness, but not for sanctification. Moreover, whilst they profess to trust in God for spiritual blessings, they cannot stay themselves upon him for temporal things, but are as ready to sink under their trials, as if they knew not from whence they came, and to give way to despondency as if they had no God to flee unto. Their love too is partial: it is confined to those of their own sect and party, and knows little of that expansive benevolence which was so exemplified in the Lord Jesus, when he laid down his life for the whole world, not excepting even his bitterest enemies. Moreover, their zeal is also partial: it is ardent in some things; in one it is violent against superstition and forms of man’s appointment; and in another it exclaims against schisms, and heresies, and divisions: but it finds no scope for exercise in things which would bear upon their own peculiar habits: it is active enough in things that gratify their feelings, and that tend to exalt their character, but slow to engage in any thing that appears humiliating and self-denying. In a word, the hypocrite is neither uniform nor unreserved in any part of his obedience; but betrays his insincerity, whenever his interests, his habits, or his passions are to be sacrificed to God.]
Seeing then that hypocrisy is so extensive an evil, and that our Lord judged it necessary to caution his own immediate Disciples against it, we proceed,
II. To enforce his caution—
But what words can be sufficient for this purpose? What arguments can we use to impress upon your minds the necessity of being ever on your guard against so great an evil? Consider,
1. Its subtile nature—
[We are told that “Satan can transform himself into an angel of light, and his ministers appear as ministers of righteousness [Note: 2 Corinthians 11:13; 2 Corinthians 11:15.]:” from whence we may infer, that there is no person in whom hypocrisy may not find an asylum, nor any act wherein it may not have scope for exercise. It is the continual aim of Satan to infuse it into us, and by means of it to defile our very best actions. The pretexts too under which it can hide itself are innumerable. There is not any form which it cannot assume: and sanctity itself is its appropriate garb. What need have we then to watch against a principle which finds so easy admission into the heart, yet is so hard to be detected, and so difficult to be expelled! Let not any of us imagine that we are out of its reach; nor be too confident that we are free from its influence. Surely we should have a godly jealousy over ourselves in relation to it, and not only “search and try ourselves,” but pray that “God himself would search and try us, in order to see if there be any wicked way in us, and to lead us in the way everlasting [Note: Psalms 139:23-24.].” Let us never forget that“there is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, whilst yet they are not washed from their filthiness [Note: Proverbs 30:12.];” and that there are many who “have a name to live, but are really dead” before God [Note: Revelation 3:1.].]
2. Its defiling influence—
[As “leaven,” a very small measure of it will soon “leaven the whole lump.” It not only debases the act with which it is more immediately connected, but renders the whole soul abominable in the sight of God. We may profess ourselves the Lord’s people [Note: Isaiah 48:1-2.] — — — and take delight in his ways [Note: Ezekiel 33:31-32.] — — — and seem most exemplary in our conduct [Note: Isaiah 58:2-3.] — — — and yet have it all rendered vain and worthless by means of this accursed principle. What a painful thought is this, that we may be apprehending ourselves most holy and most exemplary, and yet, after all, may be found to have deceived our own souls! But so it is:“A man may think himself to be something, and yet in the sight of God be nothing but an hypocrite and self-deceiver [Note: Galatians 6:3.].” Let us then spare no pains to purge out the old leaven, that we may be a new lump: and, as the Jews at their passover were indefatigable in their exertions to banish leaven from their houses, so let us, now that Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us, labour to banish it from our hearts, and to keep the feast with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth [Note: 1 Corinthians 5:6-8.].”]
3. Its fatal effects—
[Awful indeed are the denunciations of God’s wrath against hypocrites, insomuch that to “have our portion with them” is to be exposed to his heaviest indignation [Note: Matthew 24:51.]. Nor is it gross hypocrisy only, such as is manifest to all, that so provokes his displeasure; but that also which is the most secret and refined: “the hypocrites in heart heap up wrath,” and that too whilst they are flattering themselves perhaps, and expecting an accumulated weight of glory [Note: Job 36:13.]. And oh how fearful will be their disappointment! How distressing too will it be to their more upright friends, to miss them in the regions of bliss, and to find that, after all their professions of godliness, they were not counted worthy of the kingdom of heaven [Note: Job 20:4-7.]! Consider these things beforehand. Consider that your state will be fixed by Him, “whose eyes are as a flame of fire,” who “searcheth the heart, and trieth the reins,” and who will give to every man according to his works: and know assuredly, that whatever be now thought of your state, you will then stand or fall, according to your real character [Note: 1 Timothy 5:24-25.].
If you are disposed to ask, What shall I do to avoid this doom, I would suggest to you a few words of]
1. Be not too confident of your own integrity—
[However unconscious we may be of our latent hypocrisy, it is well to be diffident of ourselves. Even Paul himself cultivated this kind of humility, choosing rather to cast himself on the mercy of his God, than to place too great a reliance on his own integrity [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:3-5.]. We say not, that you may not rejoice in the testimony of a good conscience; for this the Apostle did [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:12.]: but we recommend it to you to “rejoice with trembling:” for we are sure that such a frame of mind is most favourable to a discovery of our real principles, and most conducive to our ultimate salvation.]
2. Commit yourselves to the care of your gracious God and Saviour—
[To whom can you look for succour, but to that blessed Saviour, who has promised to “keep the feet of his saints?” He alone can “put truth in your inward parts,” and keep you “sincere and without offence unto the day of Christ.” Yet, however preserved by his grace, you will need to be washed continually in the fountain of his blood. Sprinkle yourselves then continually with his precious blood: from thence derive all your hope and peace; and doubt not but that he will both “keep you from falling, and present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy [Note: Jude, ver. 24.]”
GOD TO BE FEARED, BUT NOT MAN
Luke 12:4-5. I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.
AN undue regard to the good opinion of mankind operates to the production of two apparently opposite effects, namely, a hypocritical assumption of the religious character, and a cowardly concealment of it. Moreover, the same persons may be alternately tempted to both these evils, according as the one kind of dissimulation or the other may be best suited to their present circumstances. The persons most likely to feel their influence, are those who have lately begun to venerate religion, and to desire the attainment of it in their hearts. Hence our blessed Lord earnestly cautioned his Disciples against them. He began with guarding them against hypocrisy, which was the leaven that pervaded all the Pharisees; and then he guarded them against the fear of man (which would induce them to put their light under a bushel); and, as the best antidote to it, to cultivate the fear of God [Note: ver. 1, 4, 5.].
The subject of our text cannot be rendered more clear by any artificial arrangement of it, nor can the words be treated in any better order than that in which they stand: we shall therefore follow them simply without any particular division.
The fear of man is a very powerful and prevailing evil—
[Scarcely does any one begin to feel a desire after salvation, but he is beset immediately with this temptation: though perhaps he never at any time regarded the good opinion of men so far as to be deterred by it from the commission of any sin, now he is filled with apprehensions lest this or that person should despise him. He scarcely dares look grave, lest his friends should think him melancholy; nor will he venture to acknowledge any compunction for his past iniquities, lest they should say that he is going mad. He is persuaded in his mind that they who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake are on the whole in the best way; but he dares not join himself to them for fear of participating in their reproach; nor dares he shew any attachment to a minister of Christ, from whom he would wish to derive instruction, lest he should be classed with his followers. He dares not even go to a place of worship where Christ is more faithfully preached, lest he should be loaded with some opprobrious name. To bear an open testimony against sin, or to vindicate the ways of righteousness, would be an effort which he could not even contemplate without dread: so tied is he and bound with this ideal chain—the good opinion of the world.
If he have been enabled to surmount these first difficulties, he still is in bondage to fears of another kind. His father perhaps threatens to disinherit him, his master to dismiss him, his patron to turn his back upon him: the question then arises in his mind, How shall I sustain this trial? and then, to avoid the cross, he sacrifices his conscience, declines from the ways of God, and goes back again to the world: “tribulation and persecution arising because of the word, he presently is offended.” Nor is it uncommon for those who have appeared bold in the cause of Christ, to turn back, when they are called to “resist unto blood.” When Paul was first called before the Roman Emperor, there was not found one single Christian that dared to stand by him: “Every one of them forsook him.” And God alone knows how any of us should act, if, like Daniel or the Hebrew Youths, we were called to seal the truth with our blood.]
But to be governed by this principle, is both impious and absurd—
[God expressly commands us not to harbour it in our bosoms: “Be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled [Note: 1 Peter 3:14.].” He cautions us against it as a fatal snare: “The fear of man bringeth a snare [Note: Proverbs 29:25.].” He represents it as quite absurd: “Who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and forgettest the Lord, thy Maker [Note: Isaiah 51:7-8; Isaiah 51:12-13.]? And in our text he shews how impotent man is, and unworthy to be regarded as an object of fear [Note: Compare Isaiah 51:13. with the text.]. Man may prevail so far as to kill our bodies; but this is the utmost that he can do. In doing this, he may exercise his ingenuity to put us to the most cruel torture: but God has graciously appointed that the body should not endure all that our enemies might wish to inflict: the soul will take its flight, if the body be too violently assailed, and will leave the body insensible to all that the most insatiate malice can devise [Note: Job 3:17-19.]. Now we grant that this is an evil: the Christian cannot be indifferent to pain, and anguish, and death; but still these things are not so formidable as to justify his being influenced by the fear of man. If, indeed, there were no state beyond the present, and no Being that was superior to man, and able either to recompense our sufferings or to inflict others more severe, then there were some reason why we should fear man: but]
God is the more proper object of fear—
[Him we ought to fear; indeed “he is very greatly to be feared;” for “with him is terrible majesty:” we should therefore “stand in awe of him,” and “fear him always,” and “walk in his fear all the day long.” We should do nothing without considering first whether it will please or displease him: if we have reason to think that it will displease him, we should not for the whole world presume to do it; nor should we neglect any thing which our conscience tells us will be pleasing in his sight. In every thing that we do, we should have respect to his will, as the reason; his word, as the rule; and his glory, as the end, of our actions. In comparison of his favour, all earthly considerations should dwindle into nothing: the allurements or the terrors of the world should be alike contemptible in our eyes: they should weigh no more with us than the small dust upon the balance.]
There is very abundant reason why we should fear him—
[The circumstance of our being his creatures, formed by him for the promotion of his glory, should of itself induce us to regard him chiefly, him continually, him exclusively: and the circumstance of his having redeemed us by the blood of his dear Son, should constrain us irresistibly to live altogether for him. But the consideration urged in our text is that which we are more particularly called to notice.
God can destroy the body, as well as man [Note: “After he hath killed.”]. He commissioned worms to execute his vengeance on a prince that robbed him of his glory [Note: Acts 12:23.]. And on many of his own peculiar people also has he inflicted punishment, visiting them with sickness and death for their transgressions against him [Note: 1 Corinthians 11:30.]. In this respect then, to say the least, he is on a par with men, and is as much to be feared as they. But he can also wound the soul, which man can never touch. The saints of old, instead of being grieved at “the spoiling of their goods, took it joyfully.” Paul and Silas, when their backs were torn with scourges, and their feet fastened in the stocks, so far from having their spirits hurt, were filled with unutterable joy, and “sang praises to God at midnight.” And every saint is privileged to “take pleasure in afflictions,” and to “glory in tribulations;” so little is it in the power of man to hurt his soul. But what distress cannot God inflict? Look at Judas: look at many also at this day, who, like him, “choose strangling rather than life.” Whence arise the numerous suicides that we hear of continually? God lets loose his wrath upon the souls of men on account of their iniquities; and then they are so miserable that they cannot endure to live. The saints themselves, too, are sometimes made to experience his frowns: and then how inexpressible is their anguish! “A wounded spirit who can bear?” Here then God shews his superiority over man, even in this life. But God’s power extends also to the future world: he can cast the soul into hell; and can raise up the body also, and re-unite it to the soul, and make them monuments of his everlasting vengeance. Oh! “who knoweth the power of his anger?” Who can tell us what it is to lie down in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone, and to spend an eternity in that place, “where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched?” Read a faint description of their state, drawn by the hand of an angel [Note: Revelation 14:10-11.]; and you will then see that “it is indeed a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
Now judge whom you ought to fear [Note: Jeremiah 10:6-7.]. Now see why our blessed Lord so often, and so emphatically, repeats the same word, “Fear not man; but I will forewarn you whom you shall fear; Fear God; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.” Alas! that the stupidity of our hearts should ever make such repetitions needful! but since our blessed Lord has condescended to make use of them, I pray God that our obduracy may not also render them ineffectual.]
We acknowledge that these considerations are awful; but we state them to you as proofs of our love—
[To speak of the wrath to come is always painful, and frequently offensive. Persons are apt to imagine that we take pleasure in alarming the minds of men; and they even conceive of us as disturbers of the public peace, and as enemies to the happiness of our fellow-creatures. But was this the character of our blessed Lord? or did he feel any thing but love, whilst he gave these solemn admonitions? Yea, did he not account this fidelity to their souls the strongest expression of his regard? Hear how carefully he marks this in his address to them: “I say unto you, my friends.” Permit me then to say, that, however men may be disposed to represent our fidelity as an indication of harshness, we are actuated only by a spirit of love, and are in reality your best friends. Many there are, indeed, who call themselves your friends, who would give advice directly contrary to ours: they would say, ‘Do not indulge any foolish fears about the wrath of God; He is a very merciful Being; and you have nothing to fear at his hands. But think how absurd you will appear in the sight of all sensible men: think how you are ruining all your prospects in life: think what troubles you will bring upon yourself by these needless singularities: shake off all these groundless apprehensions: turn your back upon those who would fill you with false alarms: and act so as to ensure the approbation and esteem of all around you.’ This, I say, is the common advice of parents, of brethren, and of many others who call themselves friends: but think a moment whether their counsel or that of Christ is to be preferred: they say, ‘Fear man, but not God; and Christ says, “Fear God, but not man.” Truly, brethren, we must join in the advice of Him who has proved himself your friend; has proved it by laying down his life for you: and we must declare to you that, whilst the fear of man is folly in the extreme, “the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, and the praise of it endureth for ever.”]
With this feeling, we urge them upon your minds with some additional arguments—
[The minor sorts of persecution are unworthy the regard of a rational man. What signifies a reproachful name, or the contempt of those who contemn God? You should rather account it your honour to be so treated [Note: 1 Peter 4:14.]. But whatever be the cross you are called to bear, God has provided abundant consolation under it [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:5. Matthew 5:10-12]. Only submit to your trials with meekness and patience [Note: What dignity was there in that conduct of Jeremiah! Jeremiah 26:14.], and you may defy the confederate hosts of earth and hell [Note: Isaiah 51:5-9.]. Think how your Saviour suffered, not only “enduring the cross, but despising the shame;” and arm yourselves with the same mind [Note: 1 Peter 4:1. Hebrews 12:3.], “rejoicing that you are counted worthy to suffer for his sake.” If you are tempted at any time to obey man rather than God, then look to the eternal world, and consider whether temporal joys or sorrows deserve a thought in comparison of those that are eternal. Think of the noble army of martyrs who are gone before, sent by men, as it were, in a fiery chariot to heaven: do they regret that they loved not their lives unto death? Thus, setting eternity before you, implore help from your God and Saviour: then shall you be found “faithful unto death, and finally obtain a crown of life.”]
CAUTION AGAINST COVETOUSNESS
Luke 12:15. And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness.
THE instructions which our Lord conveyed to his Disciples almost always arose out of something that was immediately before him; so attentive was he to improve every occasion for their good. This was fraught with many advantages; for it tended to impress every truth more forcibly on their minds, and to shew them how to render all events subservient to their own spiritual welfare. It was a trifling circumstance, which of itself did not seem to afford any particular occasion for remark, that gave rise to the discourse before us. A man who had been listening to him for some time, apprehending that, as he spake with such authority, he could easily prevail to settle a point in dispute between his brother and himself, requested his interposition; “Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me.” But our Lord, seeing that the man was more intent on his temporal than on his spiritual advancement, not only declined the office, as not being within his commission, but began to caution his Disciples against that covetousness, of which they now saw so striking an example.
A caution so solemnly given to them, cannot but deserve the attention of his followers in every age; and I pray God that the importance of it may be felt by every one of us, whilst we shew,
I. How we may know whether we are under the influence of this evil principle—
It is not by overt acts of dishonesty merely that we are to judge of this, but by the workings of our hearts in reference to the things of this world. We may judge of it,
1. From the manner in which we seek them—
[Earthly things may certainly be desired, provided that desire be regulated by the necessities of our nature, and subordinated to the will of our heavenly Father. But if we desire them for themselves, or in an undue degree, then immediately are we guilty of that very sin which is reproved in our text. If we desire them for themselves, we shew that we think there is some inherent good in them: whereas they are altogether worthless, except as far as they are necessary for our support, and for the strengthening of our bodies to serve the Lord. All beyond mere food and raiment is an empty bubble. To invest earthly things with any inherent excellency, is to put them in the place of God, and to make idols of them: moreover, if our thoughts run out after them more than after God and heavenly things, if the pursuit of them be more delightful to us than the exercises of devotion, and, above all, if we will violate the dictates of conscience, or neglect spiritual duties in order to advance our temporal interest, what is this but covetousness? Can any one doubt whether such a preference to earthly things be sinful? Suppose, for instance, that any man follows an unlawful trade, or a lawful trade in an unlawful way, acquiring his gains from sources which he would be ashamed to confess, and afraid to have discovered; is he not under the influence of covetousness? Does he not prefer money before a good conscience, and the acquisition of wealth before the approbation of his God? Is this a “setting of his affections on things above, and not on the things on the earth?” Hear what an inspired Apostle speaks respecting the criminality and danger of such desires: “Many walk, of whom I have told you often, and tell you now even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, because they mind earthly things [Note: Philippians 3:18-19.].” It is not every degree of attention to earthly things that he condemns; but such a desire after them as is inordinate, and such a pursuit of them as militates against the welfare of the soul: and, whatever we may call it, God calls it covetousness, and declares it to be idolatry [Note: Colossians 3:5.].]
2. From the manner in which we enjoy them—
[As all desire after them is not prohibited, so neither is all enjoyment of them; for “God hath given us all things richly to enjoy.” But what if we feel complacency in the idea of wealth, and place a confidence in it as a barrier against the calamities of life; Is not this the very sin against which the Prophet Habakkuk denounces a most awful woe? “Woe to him that coveteth an evil covetousness to his house, that he may set his nest on high, that he may be delivered from the power of evil [Note: Habakkuk 2:9.].” It is, in truth, to act the part of the Rich Fool in the Gospel, and to say, “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years, eat, drink, and be merry?” We are very apt to imagine that the satisfaction which we take in the contemplation of our wealth, is nothing but an expression of thankfulness to God: but it is, for the most part, a “glorying in riches” (which is expressly forbidden [Note: Jeremiah 9:23.]); and a “saying to the fine gold, Thou art my confidence.” The sentiments of Job on this head were far more correct than those of the generality even of enlightened Christians: “If,” says he, “I rejoiced because my wealth was great, and because mine hand had gotten much, this were an iniquity to be punished by the Judge; for then I should have denied the God that is above [Note: Job 31:25; Job 31:28.].” If it be asked, How such a construction can reasonably be put on a sensation of the soul, which appears both innocent and praiseworthy? I answer, That God is the true and only Rest of the soul [Note: Psalms 116:7.]; and that, in proportion as we look to the creature for comfort or support, our hearts of necessity depart from him [Note: Jeremiah 17:5.]. To be the one source of happiness to his creatures, is his prerogative; and his glory he will not give to another: for “the Lord our God is a jealous God.”]
3. From the manner in which we support the loss of them—
[Christianity is far from inculcating a stoical apathy, or rendering us strangers to the common feelings of mankind: but it gives us a principle, which is able to support us under trials, and to fill us with joy in the midst of tribulations. In a word, it presents us with a view of God as our God, and shews us, that nothing in this world can either add to, or take from, the happiness of him who has so rich a portion. This is the principle which enabled Job, under the loss of all his worldly possessions, to say, “The Lord gave, and the Lord taketh away: blessed be the name of the Lord.” Now the want of this resignation argues an undue value for the things of this world. If, under an apprehension of some loss, we are filled with anxiety, so as to be quite unfitted for an attention to our spiritual concerns; if, on having sustained that loss, we give way to vexation and grief, instead of rejoicing that we have in God an all-sufficient portion; do we not then in effect say, like Micah, when he had lost his idols, “They have taken away my gods, and what have I more?” Assuredly this is an undeniable mark of covetousness: indeed, God himself puts this construction upon it: “Let your conversation be without covetousness, and be content with such things as ye have [Note: Hebrews 13:5.].” When we are truly delivered from this evil principle, we shall be able to say with the Apostle, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content: I know both how to be abased, and how to abound; every where and in all things I am instructed, both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need [Note: Philippians 4:11-12.].”]
Our next inquiry must be,
II. Why our Lord so earnestly guards us against it—
The terms in which he expresses the caution, are exceeding strong; “Take heed, and beware [Note: ὁρᾶτε καὶ φυλάσσεσθε.].” But there is abundant occasion for such earnestness; for covetousness is,
1. A common principle—
[The man who came to desire our Lord’s interposition, seems not to have had the smallest idea that he was actuated by this unworthy principle; and probably would have complained of a want of charity in any one who should have imputed it to him. And so it is at this time. However ready we may be to notice it in others, we all overlook it in ourselves, and cloke it by the name of industry or prudential care; so that, if we were to give credit to every man’s account of himself, we should not find this principle in the world. But it is deeply rooted in the heart of man [Note: Mark 7:21.], and as naturally adheres to the soul as the members to the body [Note: Colossians 3:5.]. Even good people still feel its existence and operation within them. Who has not to lament, that in his intercourse with the world he feels somewhat of an undue bias at times, inclining him to lean towards his own interests, and to decide a doubtful point in his own favour? We do not say, that a good man will indulge this principle, but that he will feel it; and that he will find within himself a necessity of being much upon his guard, to prevent it from warping his judgment and influencing his conduct. If this then be the case with respect to those who are crucified to the world, much more must it be so with those who are yet carnal and unrenewed.]
2. A delusive principle—
[We are apt to think that earthly things will make us happy: but our Lord tells us, in the words immediately following our text, that “a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things that he possesseth.” The truth is, that man’s happiness is altogether independent of earthly things. Hear how the Prophet Habakkuk speaks on this subject: “Although the fig-tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls; yet I will rejoice in the Lord, and joy in the God of my salvation [Note: Habakkuk 3:17-18.].” This clearly proves, that, however destitute we may be of all earthly comforts, our hearts may overflow with peace and joy: “we may be sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing, having nothing, and yet possessing all things.” On the other hand, it is certain that a man may possess all that the world can give him, and yet be miserable; or, as Job expresses it, “In the midst of his sufficiency he may be in straits [Note: Job 20:22.].” How often do we see persons, after attaining more than they had ever expected or desired, far less happy than they were at the commencement of their career! We may appeal to the experience of all, whether the increase of their happiness have kept pace with the augmentation of their wealth? We are well assured, that the more sanguine any person’s expectations of happiness are from the acquisition of wealth, the greater will his disappointments be; and that every human being must sooner or later confess with Solomon, that all below the sun is “vanity and vexation of spirit.”]
3. A debasing principle—
[It is worthy of observation, that the word ‘lucre’ occurs but four times in the New Testament, and every time has the term ‘filthy’ annexed to it. Nor is this without reason; for covetousness defiles and debases the soul as much as any principle of our fallen nature. Wherever it exists, it eats out every good principle, and calls forth and strengthens every bad principle, in our fallen nature. How feeble are the operations of honour, friendship, love, compassion, when covetousness has gained an ascendant in the heart! On the other hand, what injustice, falsehood, wrath, and malice will not this horrid principle produce! Well may it be said, “The love of money is the root of all evil;” for there is scarcely an evil in the world which may not arise from it. The opposition between this principle and every Christian virtue, is strongly intimated in the advice given by St. Paul to Timothy [Note: 1 Timothy 6:10-11. Mark the connexion between these two verses.] — and the utter abhorrence in which it is held by God, is marked [Note: Psalms 10:3.], yea marked with an emphasis not exceeded in any part of the sacred volume: “An heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children [Note: 2 Peter 2:14.].” O that we were all duly sensible of its hatefulness and baseness!]
4. A destructive principle—
[See it, in whomsoever it prevails, how it militates against the welfare of the soul, and destroys its eternal interests. The Rich Youth, in despite of all his amiableness, renounced all hope in Christ, rather than he would part with his possessions [Note: Matthew 19:22.]. The hearers of the Prophet Ezekiel, notwithstanding all their approbation of his ministry and their professions of personal regard, could never be prevailed upon to renounce and mortify this evil propensity [Note: Ezekiel 33:31.]: and we read of some in Isaiah’s days, whom neither the frowns nor chastisements of Jehovah could reclaim from it [Note: Isaiah 57:17.]. The great proportion of those who make a profession of religion in our day, are like the thorny-ground hearers, in whom “the good seed is choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life, so that they bring forth no fruit to perfection [Note: Luke 8:14.].” But the most terrible of all examples is that of Demas, who, after having attained such eminence in the Christian Church as to be twice joined with St. Luke by Paul himself in his salutations to the saints, was turned aside at last, and ruined by this malignant principle; “Demas hath forsaken us, having loved this present world [Note: 2 Timothy 4:10.].” Thus it will operate wherever it is indulged: it will have the same effect as “loading our feet with thick clay,” when we are about to run a race; and will shut the door of heaven against us, when we apply for admission there. Of this God has faithfully warned us: and, to fix the warning more deeply in our minds, he even appeals to ourselves respecting the justice of the sentence, and the certainty of its execution: “Know ye not, that the covetous shall not inherit the kingdom of God [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.]?”]
To improve the subject, and assist you in mortifying this corrupt principle, we recommend you to consider,
1. The shortness of human life—
[Who knows not, that our life is but “a vapour that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away?” Shall we then be anxious about matters which will be so soon terminated? Should we not rather live as pilgrims and sojourners, that are passing onward towards their eternal home? It will soon be of not the smallest moment to us whether we were rich or poor. The instant that the Rich Man’s soul was required of him, his riches profited him not; they could not procure so much as a drop of water to cool his tongue: nor did the troubles of Lazarus leave any sting to interrupt or lessen his joys, when once he was safely lodged in Abraham’s bosom. Let us then, like the holy Apostle, “die daily:” let us “weep as though we wept not, and rejoice as though we rejoiced not, and possess as though we possessed not, and use the world as though we used it not; because the fashion of this world passeth away [Note: 1 Corinthians 7:29-31.].]
2. The vanity of those excuses by which men justify their sin—
[Every one has some cloak wherewith to cover his sin. One says, I only desire a competency. But a competency, in God’s estimation, may be a very different thing from what it is in ours: we may be desiring so many hundreds a year; but he says, “Having food and raiment, be therewith content.” Another says, “I care not for myself, but only for my family: and must not I provide for them? But we must no more covet an earthly portion for them than for ourselves: the welfare of their souls should be our great concern for them, as well as for ourselves. Another says, I am poor, and therefore cannot be supposed to be under the influence of covetousness. But the principle of covetousness may be as strong in a beggar as in any other person: for envy and discontent are as much branches of covetousness, as dishonesty or avarice can be. To all then, I would say, beware of the deceitfulness of sin, and the treachery of your own hearts; and be afraid, lest, after being acquitted by your fellow-creatures, you should at last be condemned by your God [Note: See 1 Timothy 6:9. This passage is not generally understood. It speaks of the inclination or principle; βουλόμενοιπλουτεὶν. And the danger of self-deceit in relation to it is fully stated. Ephesians 5:5-7.].]
3. The infinite excellency of eternal things—
[As the Apostle says, “Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit,” so I would say; Covet not earthly things, wherein is excess; but covet heavenly things, even to the utmost possible fulness; for in them there is no excess. It is not possible to desire too earnestly, or to seek too diligently, an interest in Christ: nor can you take too great delight in the enjoyment of him, or fear too much the loss of his favour. Here is scope for all the energies of our minds. In reference to heavenly things then I would say, Covet earnestly the best gifts: enlarge your desires to the utmost extent of your capacity to receive, and of God’s ability to bestow. However wide you open your mouth, God will fill it.]
THE RICH FOOL
Luke 12:20-21. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.
HEAR we the voice of a gloomy enthusiast, a deluded bigot, or an imperious tyrant? Are these reproachful menaces the wild effusions of intemperate zeal? No: the text presents to us the just expressions of Jehovah’s indignation. Covetousness, in whomsoever found, cannot fail of provoking his utter abhorrence. A young man had applied to Jesus to procure him an equitable share of his paternal inheritance; our Lord declined any interference, as foreign from the purposes of his mission; and, knowing the disposition which had assumed the garb of equity, reproved it [Note: ver. 13–15.]. The parable before us was spoken to enforce that reproof; and the address of God to the character there delineated, strongly intimated the danger to which the youth himself was exposed. There are, alas! too many still who are actuated by similar principles [Note: Ezekiel 33:31.]. For their conviction we shall inquire,
I. What were the grounds of God’s indignation against the Rich Man?
No evil could attach to the Rich Man on account of the fruitfulness of his ground: nor was he altogether to be blamed for devising prudent means of securing his property. He should indeed have remembered, that there were objects enough around him whose want should be supplied from his superfluities [Note: It was wrong therefore to think of treasuring up “all his fruits:” perhaps too there was too much anxiety implied in, “What shall I do?”]: but his offence principally consisted in two things—
1. An idolatrous regard to the world—
[He imagined that the world was capable of rendering him happy, and that the enjoyment of it would be permanent for many years [Note: ver. 19.]. But what could be more absurd than such expectations as these? Can affluence secure freedom from pain either of body or of mind? Can it ward off personal afflictions, or compose domestic troubles? Is there more real happiness in palaces than in the humble cottage? Does not the experience of Solomon attest the reverse of this [Note: Ecclesiastes 2:11.]? and has not our Lord himself affirmed the same [Note: ver. 15.]? But, if wealth were capable of making us happy, can we secure the continuance of it a single day? Are not all exposed to such calamities as reduced Job to poverty [Note: Job 1:13-19.]? Is not the instability of riches declared in the strongest terms [Note: Proverbs 23:5.]? or, if they were more stable, can we prolong our own lives? Has not the voice of Inspiration warned us against any such vain idea [Note: James 4:13-15.]? And did not the event manifest the folly of the Rich Man’s expectations [Note: “This night,” &c.]? Well then might God address him by that humiliating appellation [Note: “Thou fool.”]; well might he deride his fruitless anxieties, and delusive hopes [Note: “Whose shall those things be,” &c.]; and justly did he cut him off as a warning to others,]
2. An utter disregard of God—
[Amidst his prospects of carnal happiness he had no thoughts of God. He addressed his soul as though it had no existence beyond the body, nor any capacity superior to the beasts. Had he regarded God, how different would his speech have been! ‘Soul, thou hast hitherto been too solicitous about the body; but now the body, through the bounty of Providence, is amply provided for. From henceforth therefore banish all anxiety about carnal things, and occupy thyself about thy spiritual and eternal interests. Thou shalt now be the one object of my care and attention; and the body shall be altogether devoted to thy service. God hath provided for thee a far richer portion than this world can give. Now therefore set thyself to serve him with all thy faculties and powers: bless him that he has not “required thee of me” unprepared; and the more time thou hast lost, exert thyself the more to redeem the moments that may still be allotted thee.’ Such an address would have been a just requital of the divine goodness; nor would it ever have brought upon him the judgments experienced. But such reflections were far enough from his mind. The bounties of Providence served but to confirm his sensual habits: and the donor was eclipsed by the very gifts which he bestowed. Surely then the Divine displeasure was not more than adequate to his demerits?]
The improvement which our Lord made of this parable leads us to inquire,
II. Whether there be not amongst ourselves also similar objects of his displeasure?
A man anxious about the world and regardless of his soul is a very common character in every place—
[To make provision for ourselves and families is by no means sinful [Note: 1 Timothy 5:8.]: such prudent care will very well consist with fervent piety [Note: Romans 12:11.]: but our concern about earthly things should not preclude an attention to the soul. Our first duty is to “lay up treasure in heaven.” By embracing Christ and his promises, we may be “rich in faith;” and by exerting ourselves in his service, we may be “rich in good works.” Thus, however poor with respect to this world, we may be “rich towards God.” But how few amongst us make this their chief employment! How languid is our desire after “Christ’s unsearchable riches,” when compared with our anxiety about the unrighteous mammon! How cheerful, constant, and indefatigable is our labour for the body, while that for the soul is at best feeble, occasional, and reluctant!]
Every such person resembles the Rich Fool in the parable,
1. In his folly—
[He shews that he disregards his soul in comparison of his body, and that the concerns of time appear to him more important than those of eternity. What can exceed the folly of living in such a state? How will such an one, if not stupified by sin, condemn himself in a dying hour! How will he stand amazed when he shall appear at the tribunal of God [Note: Wisd. 5:4.]!]
2. In his punishment—
[Every worldling indeed is not cut off without a previous warning: but, whenever he is taken away, he is summoned before God in wrath: he is torn from the idols which he had cherished in his bosom: not the smallest portion of his former comforts is left him: he is called by an incensed master to give an account of his stewardship, and for his folly is consigned over to everlasting burnings.]
We cannot conclude without remarking, how widely different God’s sentiments are from those of men—
[Men account us wise in proportion as we prosecute our temporal interests [Note: Psalms 49:18.], and consider a diligent attention to our eternal welfare as a mark of weakness and folly. But God forms a very different estimate of human actions: the amassing of wealth is in his eyes like the “loading of oneself with thick clay [Note: Habakkuk 2:6.]:” but the laying up treasure in heaven is the very beginning of wisdom [Note: Psalms 111:10.]. Let us then study to be like-minded with God; and let us be content to be despised by man, if we may but receive a plaudit from our Judge. Let us not however carry our disregard of the world to a criminal excess. While we are in the world we should diligently perform the duties of our station [Note: 1 Corinthians 7:24.]: but our first and greatest care should be to obtain an eternal inheritance. So, whenever our soul shall be required, we shall give it up with joy, and possess our portion when the vanities of time shall be no more.]
THE PRIVILEGES OF CHRIST’S FLOCK
Luke 12:32. Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
AMONG the many faculties which exalt man above the brute creation, that of being able to look into futurity is by no means the least: but while this in many instances elevates him with hope, in many other instances it depresses him with fear. Hence he is often filled with anxiety to secure the good he hopes for, and to avert the evil which he dreads. To discountenance this solicitude, and to teach men to live dependent upon God, is the scope of our Lord’s discourse before us. And, in the text, he fortifies his own peculiar people against fear and anxiety, by reminding them of the distinguishing favour of God towards them, and the glorious provision he has made for them. To elucidate his words we shall shew,
I. What the Lord’s people have to fear—
The Lord’s people are but “a little flock” —
[They once “went astray like sheep that are lost:” but they have been brought home by Christ, the great and good shepherd, and have been united together by him in one fold. They are kept enclosed, as it were, and distinct from the world: they “hear their shepherd’s voice and follow him: he “leads them into pastures” which he himself has provided for them: “he administers to all their wants,” “strengthening the diseased, healing the sick, and binding up the broken [Note: Ezekiel 34:16.].” The lambs he carries in his bosom, and gently leads them that are with young [Note: Isaiah 40:11.]; and, however they may feed in different pastures, he considers them all as under his peculiar care.
But they are “a little flock.” In every age and every place their numbers have been small: they are “the few that find the narrow way.” When indeed they shall be all assembled at the last day they will be more than the stars of heaven or the sands upon the sea-shore for multitude [Note: Revelation 7:9.]. But before that period they will receive an astonishing increase: the whole earth shall be overspread with them; and that too in successive generations for a thousand years [Note: Revelation 20:4.]. Till that day of God’s power; they will be a little flock when compared with the herds of the ungodly. At present they are only “like the gleanings of the olive-tree, two or three upon the topmost branch [Note: Isaiah 17:6.].”]
Weak as they are, they have much to fear—
[They are not exempt from the common calamities of life. In some respects they are more exposed to them than other people. They have reason to fear wants. In making provision for themselves, they labour under many disadvantages: they cannot use those means of acquiring wealth which the generality of the world employ without any scruple: they cannot devote all their time, and all their attention to secular engagements: they dare not neglect their soul, even if they could gain the whole world by it. Moreover, they have many in the world who would be glad enough to ruin them; but few, very few, that will exert themselves much to help them forward. On these accounts they may at times be tempted to indulge excessive care, and to harbour fears of want and embarrassment. They have also to dread sufferings. The flock of Christ are not only subject to the trials incident to our present state, but are liable to many sufferings peculiar to themselves: they are “as sheep in the midst of wolves:” often among themselves are found some that are “wolves in sheep’s clothing:” above all, there is “a roaring lion ever seeking to devour them.” Now Christians are not only weak when opposed to Satan, but also when opposed to the world: they cannot contend with carnal weapons [Note: 2 Corinthians 10:4.]: “The servant of the Lord must not strive.” The rebuke given to Peter when fighting for his Master, sufficiently ties their hands from standing in their own defence [Note: Matthew 26:52.]. Their only weapons are faith and patience: they are to conquer indeed, but it is by suffering even unto death [Note: Revelation 12:11.]. Well therefore may they entertain fears respecting these things: for if they be not well armed with the mind that was in Christ [Note: 1 Peter 4:1.], they will faint in the day of adversity.]
But the exhortation in the text leads us to notice,
II. The antidote provided for them—
God has provided for them a “kingdom” —
[God condescends to call himself their “Father, and deals with them as his children. He has “prepared for them a kingdom” that is infinitely superior to all the kingdoms of this world. The glory of it cannot be expressed or conceived; nor will the duration of it ever end [Note: Hebrews 12:28.]. This he has given to them for their inheritance. It is his determination to invest them with it, and his delight to preserve them for it — — — His almighty power is ever exercised for this purpose [Note: 1 Peter 1:4-5]; yea, his whole heart and soul are engaged in accomplishing his gracious intentions [Note: Jeremiah 32:41.].]
This is a very sufficient antidote to all their fears—
[Why should they be afraid of want who have God for their Father, and a kingdom for their inheritance? Can it be supposed that he who provides for the evil and unthankful, and sustains the ravens that call upon him, will neglect his own children? Will he, who of his good pleasure bestowed upon them all the glory of heaven, refuse them what is necessary for their present sustenance? Why too should they be afraid of sufferings, since “not a hair of their head can perish,” “nor can even a sparrow fall to the ground, without the permission of their Father?” If he see fit to let loose the enemy for the trial of their faith, will he not support their courage, and make them “more than conquerors?” Besides, will not their “light and momentary afflictions work out for them a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory?” “And will not a kingdom abundantly compensate all their trials?” Surely then they should dispel all fears; and commit themselves into the hands of a faithful God [Note: 1 Peter 4:19.].]
1. The flock of Christ—
[God would have you without carefulness [Note: 1 Corinthians 7:32.]. He bids you cast all your care on him who careth for you [Note: 1 Peter 5:7.]. And shall God be so concerned about relieving your fears, and you not be concerned to honour him? O chide your unbelieving thoughts, and say, Why art thou disquieted, O my soul? Jehovah is my shepherd, I shall not want; Jehovah is my Father, I will not fear [Note: Psalms 23:1; Psalms 23:4.]? Surely if you reflect on the promises he has made to you, it will be impossible for you ever to be cast down again. “Ye, my flock,” says he, “the flock of my pasture, are men; but I am your God, saith the Lord God [Note: Ezekiel 34:31.].” “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you, and through the fire, you shall not be burnt [Note: Isaiah 43:2.].” Consider, “If God be for you, who can be against you?” O be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God; and the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus [Note: Philippians 4:6-7.].]
2. The herds of this world—
[Shall we address you in the language of the text, Fear not? Alas! not only the Scriptures, but also your own consciences, would condemn us. You may possibly have no particular cause to dread either wants or sufferings in this world, (though you cannot tell what may befall you before you die,) but may you not have to “dwell with everlasting burnings,” and want even “a drop of water to cool your tongue” in that world to which you are hastening? Know assuredly, that your numbers will not screen you from the vengeance of an angry God. If you be not of those who have put themselves under the care of the good shepherd, you will be considered as goats, and be for ever separated from the flock of Christ [Note: Matthew 25:32-33.]. “He will set the sheep on his right hand, and the goats on his left.” You will then find to your cost, that not God, but Satan was your father; and that with Satan must be your portion [Note: John 8:42; John 8:44.]. It is not without much regret that God now gives you up to that misery [Note: Hosea 11:8.]. But in the last day he will find as much satisfaction, and be as much glorified, in your destruction, as in the salvation of his elect. He now complains, “Thou hast wearied me with thine iniquities:” but then he will say, “Ah! I will ease me of mine adversaries [Note: Isaiah 1:24.].” Seek then to become the sheep of Christ. Beg him to bring you home to his fold, and to feed you in his pleasant pastures. Thus shall we all become one fold under one shepherd, and feed beside the living fountains of water to all eternity.]
THE WATCHFUL SERVANT
Luke 12:35-37. Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that, when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately. Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord, when he cometh, shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them.
SUCH is the uncertainty of life, and such the importance of eternal things, that one would suppose every one should feel the necessity of standing ready for death and judgment, even though no injunctions had been given us to that effect. But our Lord frequently insisted on that subject, and, in parables as well as in plainer terms, inculcated the duty of continual watchfulness. In the parable before us he mentions,
I. Our duty—
All of us are servants of one common Lord and Master. He is absent, and has commanded all of us to wait for his return:
1. In certain expectation that he will come—
[The time of his return is the time of death and judgment. This may be protracted, so that scoffers may say, Where is the promise of his coming [Note: ver. 45. with 2 Peter 3:3-4.]? But “he is not slack concerning his promise.” He is only exercising his patience and long-suffering toward the ungodly world [Note: 2 Peter 3:9.]; and at the expiration of the time allotted them, he will surely come.]
2. In constant readiness to receive him—
[This is the more immediate import of the metaphors in the text [Note: It was the custom to wear long garments, which they girded up when they were about to do any thing that required activity and exertion. And lights or torches were used at their nuptials, which were usually celebrated in the evening.]. We should gather in the affections which too often entangle our feet. “Unite my heart to fear thy name,” should be our daily prayer. Whatever obstructs us in the way of duty should be put away. Our graces too should be kept in lively exercise; and the one desire of our soul should be, so to have every thing within us regulated according to our Master’s will, that the very instant he shall knock, we may receive him gladly and without fear.]
To enforce the practice of this duty our Lord subjoins,
II. Motives to the performance of it—
The motives suggested in the parable are of very different kinds:
[Thrice does our Lord pronounce the watchful servant “blessed [Note: ver. 37, 38, 43.].” Indeed what can be more blessed than to be prepared to meet our God? To such servants he promises the most exalted honour. We do not indeed conceive that Jesus will repeat in heaven any such act of condescension as he once submitted to on earth [Note: The Romans waited on their slaves at the feast of Saturn; but we do not suppose that our Lord alluded to this, because his hearers probably were not acquainted with the fact.]; but there is no expression of kindness which the meanest servant could manifest to the most beloved master, which Jesus will not manifest to his faithful servants in heaven. He has prepared the richest banquet for them; and will “feed them, and lead them unto living fountains of waters [Note: Revelation 7:17.].” And should not this prospect stimulate us to watchfulness? Who would not perform the work when they are promised such wages?]
[What indignation would a nobleman feel, if, having ordered his servants to be ready for his reception, he should be kept a long time knocking at the door at midnight, and find not a servant awake, or so much as a light in his house! And will not Jesus be justly indignant, if he shall find such a reception from any one of us? He tells us that he will scourge that servant with such severity as to “cut him asunder,” and that he will assign him his portion among his open and avowed enemies [Note: ver. 46.]. Nor will he treat in this manner those only who are riotous and debauched, but those also who neglect to prepare for his arrival [Note: ver. 47.]. He will, however, make a distinction between the punishment of different servants, proportioning the stripes to the opportunities he had afforded them of knowing and doing his will [Note: ver. 48.]. But the fewest stripes will be dreadful, and the pain of them eternal. How should such an awful consideration as this awaken us! Surely our hearts must be harder than adamant, if they be not impressed by it.]
We may improve this parable,
1. For self-examination—
[Peter asked whether it related to the Disciples? and our Lord directed them to examine themselves whether they were such servants [Note: ver. 41, 42.]? This is a proper direction for us. Are we then “like” such servants? — — — Let us remember that to such, and such alone, will our Lord’s advent be a source of joy: to all others, what a terrible surprise will his coming be! Let us then resolve, with God’s grace, to watch [Note: Habakkuk 2:1.]. Who would not watch, if he knew that his house would be assaulted by thieves? And shall we not watch to preserve our souls [Note: ver. 39, 40.]? Whatever be our station among men, our duty to Jesus is the same. O that we may all meet his approbation, and receive his blessing!]
2. For consolation—
[The time of his coming may appear long; but it is only as one or two watches of a single night [Note: ver. 38.]. How soon will this be past! and how sweet will be our rest at the expiration of it! Let us then “exercise ourselves unto godliness.” Let us not sleep as do others; but let us watch and be sober [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:6.]. Let us, as dear fellow-servants, strive to keep each other awake and lively; and soon shall we hear the wished-for knock. Blessed period! May we all be found ready for it; and welcome our divine Master with songs of gratitude and triumph [Note: Isaiah 25:9.].]
PUNISHMENT PROPORTIONED TO MEN’S DESERT
Luke 12:47-48. That servant, which knew his Lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required; and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.
IF there be much spoken in Scripture concerning the necessity of faith in Christ, so is there much spoken also concerning the necessity of obedience to him. The two are never to be separated: they are indissolubly connected together in God’s purpose; and must be also in our attainments: they are the root and the fruit, or the foundation and the superstructure. The importance of good works is marked with peculiar force in the words before us; wherein our Lord makes known to us,
I. The ground and measure of our responsibility to God—
The ground of our responsibility to God is, that we are his servants—
[Every living man, from the highest to the lowest, is a servant of the Most High God. In this respect there is no difference between the king upon his throne and the beggar on a dunghill. Every one of us has his proper office to perform for him, and every one that measure of talent which He has seen fit to commit to our care. Had we been independent of him, we had had no responsibility: but, having received every thing from him, and for him, we must, of necessity, give up an account to him of all that we have received, and of all that we have done.]
The measure of our responsibility depends on the knowledge we have possessed of our Master’s will—
[A steward has much communication with his master, and an intimate acquaintance with his will; whilst a labourer is but very partially and imperfectly informed. Of course, therefore, much more is expected from the steward, than from the labourer. Thus it is in God’s family. There is much more expected of a Christian, than of a Heathen, who has never received any revelation from God; and much more from one who has the Gospel faithfully administered to him, than from one who has never had its riches unfolded to him. The two different persons will be judged by a different law: the Heathen “being a law unto themselves;” but Christians being judged according to the opportunities of instruction that have been afforded them. Our blessed Lord told his hearers, that, “if he had not come and spoken to them, they had not had sin; but that now they would have no cloak for their sin [Note: John 15:22.].” And on the same ground he warned them, that they would have a more tremendous doom than Tyre and Sidon, yea, than even Sodom and Gomorrha, because they had possessed advantages which the inhabitants of those cities had never known, and had abused privileges which they had never enjoyed [Note: Luke 10:12-14.].]
Agreeable to this view of our responsibility will be,
II. The rule of God’s procedure towards us in the day of judgment—
Under the law, certain offences were to be punished with stripes, which were awarded to malefactors according to their desert [Note: Deuteronomy 25:2-3.]. Now, in a family, every servant ought to know his duty; and, therefore, if he violate it through ignorance, he is deserving of blame: but if he violate it knowingly and wilfully, he is, of course, worthy of severer reprehension. This, under the law, was particularly marked as a rule whereby to estimate and punish the faults of men: “The priest shall make an atonement for the soul that sinneth ignorantly, when he sinneth by ignorance before the Lord, to make an atonement for him: and it shall be forgiven him. But the soul that doeth aught presumptuously, the same reproacheth the Lord; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people [Note: Numbers 15:27-31.].”
His investigation of cases will be most exact—
[The advantages of every person for knowing and doing his Master’s will, will be distinctly marked, and weighed, as it were, in the nicest balance. We form some idea of this from the offerings which were required by the Law for sins of ignorance. If a priest sinned through ignorance, he was to offer a bullock for his offence; as were also the whole congregation, if they erred: for the advantages possessed by a priest for knowing his duty were so superior to that of others, that an error in him was equal in enormity to the same evil when committed by the whole people of Israel. If a ruler sinned through ignorance, he was to bring a male kid for his offering: but if one of the common people erred, a female kid or lamb would suffice for him [Note: Leviticus 4:3; Leviticus 4:13; Leviticus 4:22; Leviticus 4:27-28; Leviticus 4:32.]. Ignorance was a sin in any one of them, and demanded an atonement to be made for it [Note: Leviticus 5:17-19.]; but its enormity varied according to the means which different persons possessed of acquiring information. Conformably with this rule will justice be administered in the day of judgment. Ministers have, beyond a doubt, by far the greatest measure of responsibility; and, if they be unfaithful to their office, must receive by far the heaviest condemnation. Magistrates too, inasmuch as their duties call for the greater, and their errors produce the more pernicious, effects upon society, must be considered as deeply accountable to God for their conduct, and as involving themselves in a peculiar measure of guilt, if they execute not aright the trust reposed in them. Indeed, every member of society, according to the extent of his information and his influence, will be responsible to God for the discharge of his appropriate duties; and, in the event of his neglecting to fulfil them, will receive from God a corresponding punishment. Such will be God’s mode of judging: and]
His sentence, too, will be pronounced in perfect equity—
[“Stripes,” to whomsoever administered, will be proportioned, not merely to the offence committed, but to the circumstances under which they were committed. This is the rule of conduct amongst men. “Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they expect the more.” If we ourselves have committed five talents to a servant, we expect a greater increase than from him to whom we have committed only two. And if there be a servant to whom we have entrusted only one, we expect a suitable improvement even of that one. This is what God also does: and, whilst to those who have approved themselves faithful he will give a suitable reward, he will say concerning the unprofitable servant, “Cast him into outer darkness, where shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth [Note: Matthew 25:30.]”]
Consider now, beloved,
1. What is the aspect of this passage upon your state—
[Not only the heathen world, but thousands of Christians also, possess not the privileges which you enjoy. Not only must you, but God himself also will, bear me witness, that I have not “withheld from you any thing that was profitable for you.” “I have not shunned to declare unto you the whole counsel of God:” so that, if you have neglected to fulfil it, you are altogether without excuse. Call to mind, then, the instructions that have been given you: and compare with them the state of your souls before God [Note: James 4:17.] — — — Do this, and say whether you have not reason to fear that “stripes” will be your deserved recompence [Note: Luke 10:15.] — — —]
2. What is your duty in relation to it—
[Rise to the occasion. Remember whose ye are. Ye are the Lord’s: ye are his by creation: ye are his by redemption: “you are not in any respect your own: ye are bought with a price; and therefore are bound to glorify God with your bodies and your spirits, which are God’s [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:20.].” Think not that ignorance will excuse you: “Say not before the angel or messenger of the Lord, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands [Note: Ecclesiastes 5:6.]?” Search out, with diligence, the mind of God: lose no opportunity of obtaining a further acquaintance with it: and, whatsoever you know to be his will, “do it with all your might [Note: Ecclesiastes 9:10.].” — — —]
THE BLOODY BAPTISM OF OUR LORD
Luke 12:50. I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!
ANY one who understands the true nature of Christianity would suppose that the religion of Jesus must of necessity approve itself to the heart and judgment of every person to whom it is proclaimed; and, above all, that the Founder of it, in whom every species and degree of excellence were combined, must, so far as his character is made known, be an object of universal approbation. But the very reverse of this has proved to be the fact, even as our blessed Lord himself declared it would be. In the verse before my text, he says, “I am come to send fire on the earth.” And in the verse after my text, he puts the question to us; “Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division;” and such a division, too, as shall separate from each other the nearest and dearest relatives [Note: ver. 49, 51–53.]. As to himself, he states, that he had nothing but the bitterest persecution to expect, so long as he should continue upon earth: and that, in fact, he longed for the period when the storm should burst upon him: “I have a baptism to be baptized with: and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!”
In discoursing on these words, it will be proper for me to shew,
I. What a fearful “baptism” awaited him—
In baptism, the whole body was frequently immersed under water: and, in reference to this, our blessed Lord calls his own sufferings “a baptism;” because he was about to be wholly immersed in sorrow, and to become, to an extent that no other person ever did or could become, “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief [Note: Isaiah 53:3.].”
Inconceivably great were the agonies of his body—
[We forbear to notice his privations during the course of his ministry: when he, on many occasions, “had not where to lay his head.” We will notice only his sufferings during the short period of one single day. Follow him, after his seizure by those who were sent to apprehend him, and see how he was treated at the tribunals of his judges: see him arrayed in mock majesty, insulted in every possible way, spit upon, smitten in the face, and the crown of thorns driven into his temples: see him scourged, so that “long and deep furrows were made upon his back:” see him fastened to the cross by nails driven through his hands and feet; and the cross, with him suspended on it, descending with such violence into the hole prepared for its reception, that almost all “his bones were dislocated” by the shock [Note: Psalms 22:14.]: see him left thus in the midst of all imaginable indignities, till he should be relieved by death: surely “his visage was marred more than any man’s, and his form more than the sons of men [Note: Isaiah 52:14.]:” so that it may well be asked, “Was ever sorrow like unto his sorrow [Note: Lamentations 1:12.]?” — — —]
But it was in his soul chiefly that his pains so much exceeded those of all other men—
[Who can conceive the agonies he endured in the garden, before his body had been subjected to any suffering from man? Then it was that the cup of affliction was put into his hands by God himself; and he was constrained to drink it even to the very dregs, till, through the agonies of his mind, the blood issued from every pore of his body, and he was, literally as it were, baptized in blood. Nor can we by any means conceive what his pure and holy mind must have endured, whilst he encountered such “contradiction of sinners against himself [Note: Hebrews 12:3.]”,” both in the courts of justice and on the cross — — — Hear him, under the hidings of his Father’s face, crying, “My God, my God! why hast thou forsaken me?” Can any finite imagination conceive of the agonies he then sustained, when the sins of the whole world were laid upon him, and the debt of the whole human race was exacted at his hands? — — —]
But if this baptism was so terrible, what reason can be assigned,
II. Why he so earnestly longed for its accomplishment—
Were it only as a woman longs for the pains which shall soon terminate in the birth of her child, he might well desire their speedy arrival, in order to their speedier termination [Note: John 16:21.]. But he had far higher reasons for the desire which he expressed. He longed for this baptism,
1. Because by it the Father would be glorified—
[This, in particular, operated upon his mind, at the time that he deprecated the bitter cup: “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify thy name. Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again [Note: John 12:27-28.].” It was by this event that all the perfections of the Godhead were to be displayed — — — and therefore our adorable Saviour longed for the time when this most desirable object should be consummated — — —]
2. Because by it his own work, so far as it was to be carried on in this world, was to be completed—
[Christ had undertaken to “make his soul an offering for sin [Note: Isaiah 53:10.],” and, by death, to expiate the sins of our fallen race. Without this, all his previous labours and sufferings would be in vain. For this, therefore, he longed, that he might be able to say, “It is finished [Note: John 19:30.]” — — —]
3. Because by it salvation would be wrought for a ruined world—
[This was the great work which Jesus had come to effect: and so intent was he upon it, that, when Peter would have persuaded him to spare himself, he reproved his infatuated Disciple in the most indignant terms: “Get thee behind me, Satan; thou art an offence unto me [Note: Matthew 16:21-23.].” This was, in fact, “the joy that had been set before him;” in the prospect of which he not only “endured the cross, and despised the shame [Note: Hebrews 12:2.],” but desired both the one and the other; fully “satisfied, if only he might see at last of the travail of his soul” in the happiness and salvation of his redeemed people [Note: Isaiah 53:11.] — — —]
Think now, Brethren,
1. What obligations we owe to the Lord Jesus Christ!
[How amazing is it, that ever He should undertake such a work for us; and that he should persevere in it, till it was altogether accomplished! He knew from the beginning all that should come upon him: yet, so far from drawing back, “he went before his timid Disciples, and, to their utter amazement, led the way” to the place that was to be the scene of all his sorrows [Note: Mark 10:32-34.]. He shewed, throughout, that the whole of his sufferings were voluntary. When, by his word, he struck to the ground the whole band that came to apprehend him, he shewed, that he could as easily have struck them all dead upon the spot [Note: John 18:4-6.]?: and, in liberating his Disciples, he shewed that he could with equal ease, if it had pleased him, have liberated himself also [Note: John 18:7-9.]. He himself tells us, that, if it had pleased him, he might have had “more than twelve legions of angels” to deliver him [Note: Matthew 26:53-54.]. But “having loved his own, he loved them to the end;” and drew not back, till, by his own obedience unto death, he had “made an end of sin, and brought in an everlasting righteousness [Note: Daniel 9:24.].” How “passing the knowledge, whether of men or angels, was this unutterable, incomprehensible love!” Seek, my dear Brethren, so far as your feeble capacities will enable you, to comprehend it; that so, being transported with the view of it, “ye may be filled with all the fulness of God [Note: Ephesians 3:18-19.].”]
2. How willingly, if occasion require, we should suffer to any extent for him!
[We, his followers, must expect to be conformed to him [Note: Matthew 10:24-25.]; “drinking of the cup which he drank of, and being baptized with the baptism that he was baptized with [Note: Mark 10:38-39.].” But shall we account this a hard matter? Has he endured so much for us, and shall we be averse to suffer for him? Shall we not rather “rejoice that we are counted worthy” of such an honour [Note: Acts 5:41.], and bless our God for conferring it upon us [Note: 1 Peter 4:12-14.]? Be prepared then, every one of you, for that “fire” and that “sword” which he has taught you to expect [Note: Matthew 10:34-39.]: and, to whatever extremities ye may be reduced, be ever ready to “follow him without the camp, bearing his reproach [Note: Hebrews 13:12-13.].”]
JUDGING WHAT IS RIGHT
Luke 12:57. Why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?
IT appears truly wonderful, that any who beheld the miracles of our blessed Lord should be able to resist the evidence which they afforded of his being the true Messiah. Our Lord appealed to them, that they could judge with some degree of certainty about the weather: if they saw a cloud coming from the west (the Mediterranean Sea), they judged it a prognostic of rain: and if the wind blew from the south (the Arabian Desert), they expected that heat would ensue: and in these things their expectations were, for the most part, realized. Yet, though “they could thus discern, with some degree of precision, the face of the sky and of the earth, they could not discern the signs of that time [Note: ver. 54–56.];” which were so clear, that it was scarcely possible to mistake them. Hence he reproved them, in the expostulation before us, “Why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?”
Let me, from these words,
I. Shew that man, though of himself he cannot find what is right, can yet form a good judgment of what is right, when once it is fairly proposed for his consideration—
[Man, doubtless, could not of himself devise a way in which he might obtain reconciliation with God. This it was not within the reach of any finite capacity to conceive — — — Nor could he tell how to render acceptable service to his God. The nature and extent of perfect holiness were far beyond the utmost stretch of his imagination — — —
But when God had revealed a way of salvation for man through the mediation of his only-begotten Son, and through the operation of his blessed Spirit, man, though he could not comprehend such a mystery, must say at once, ‘This, if true, is worthy of God, and fully adequate to the necessities of man:’ and the more deeply he considered it, the more fully would this conviction flash upon his mind. He would say, ‘I can never atone for one sin; but here is a sufficient atonement for the sins of the whole world. I can never work out a righteousness wherein to appear before God; but here, in the obedience of my incarnate God, I see a perfect righteousness, clothed in which, I may stand before God without spot or blemish. I can never restore to my soul that likeness to God, in which it was at first created; but the Holy Spirit, the Third Person in the ever-blessed Trinity, is able to effect it, and to transform me into the Divine image in righteousness and true holiness. I see then, that, supposing this revelation to be from God, there is in the salvation there proposed, a suitableness, and a sufficiency, that commends it to my judgment, and must for ever endear it to my soul.’
In answer to this, that affirmation of Scripture may be adduced, “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:14.].” But this is not owing to his incapacity to judge, provided he would judge with candour; but to his prejudices and passions, which pervert his judgment: for, of those who believe not, it is said, “The god of this world hath blinded their eyes, through the instrumentality of their own prejudices and passions, lest the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:4.].” Hence the rejection of the Gospel is always represented as aggravating the guilt of persons, “who would have had, comparatively, no sin, if they had not heard it [Note: John 15:22.].” And hence was that solemn warning given, “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world; and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil [Note: John 3:19.].” Light would commend itself to men, if they would but open their eyes to behold it: but they choose to shut their eyes, and therefore are fully responsible for the incapacity which they wantonly and perversely bring upon themselves.]
This point being proved, I will now,
II. Address to you the expostulation which is founded on that hypothesis—
“Why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right,”
1. In reference to the sentiments ye shall embrace?
[You have heard, times without number, the mystery of redemption set before you: and you are no strangers to the absurd ways of salvation proposed by an ignorant and ungodly world. And can you halt between these two opinions? Can you see in man’s righteousness any thing that can be compared with Christ’s perfect righteousness, so as to doubt on which you shall rely for acceptance with God? Compare the two ways of salvation with the Scriptures of truth: Can you doubt which of the two is revealed there? which of the two appears more suited to the justice and holiness of God? which more suited to the necessities of fallen man? “Why of yourselves judge ye not what is right?” Is it any thing short of madness to reject that which God the Father has devised, and God the Son has wrought, and God the Holy Spirit has revealed; and to rest satisfied with the unauthorized surmises of short-sighted man? — — —]
2. In reference to the conduct ye shall pursue?
[You are taught to “give up yourselves as living sacrifices to your God,” and to aspire after “perfection” both of heart and life [Note: 2 Corinthians 13:9]. On the other hand, the world tells you, that this is all enthusiasm, and that “a mere form of godliness” will suffice. Well: Are ye at a loss to judge which is the better way? Let any one tell you, that you may win a race, or gain a victory, by sitting still; or that, if you take one step forward daily and another backward, you will as certainly arrive at your journey’s end, as if you were pressing forward daily without any intermission: you would find no difficulty in forming a judgment on those subjects. How, then, can you, for a moment, suppose lukewarmness to be the proper frame of a Christian? or that, whilst indulging it, you have any prospect of bearing off the prize of victory, even eternal life? If you can entertain no doubt of what is required for the attainment of temporal things, how can you hesitate in relation to heavenly things? But turn to the Scriptures: see what they prescribe. See what was the course of the holy men of old, Prophets, Apostles, and the primitive saints: or think what you will wish you had done, the very moment you open your eyes in the eternal world. Judge thus; and you cannot hesitate to declare which is right; the advice that urges you to “give yourselves wholly to these things,” or that which teaches you to be satisfied with outward forms and partial attainments — — —]
1. Those who exercise no judgment at all—
[You will bitterly regret this supineness at last — — —]
2. Those who act not in accordance with their judgment—
[Your guilt is still more aggravated. “The man who knew his lord’s will, and did it not, will be beaten with many stripes.” Better would it have been for you never to have heard the Gospel at all. The condemnation of Sodom and Gomorrha will be less severe than yours — — —]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Luke 12". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany