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Luke 13:5. Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.
TWICE are these words repeated by our Lord within the space of three verses. And wherefore are they so repeated? Our Lord intended to check that common propensity which we all have to judge others; and to lead us rather to judge ourselves, and to prepare for that awful judgment which shall ere long be passed upon ourselves. Some of his hearers, taking occasion from what he had just spoken, respecting the danger of persons delaying to seek reconciliation with God till they were hurried unprepared into his presence, told him of the Galileans, who had been slain by Pilate in the very act of offering their sacrifices, and whose blood had been thereby mingled with their sacrifices. Our Lord, seeing that they intended to insinuate that this calamity was a judgment from God on account of some enormous wickedness, rectified their error, and taught them to look to themselves instead of judging and condemning others. Such calamities as these, he observed, fell indiscriminately on the righteous and the wicked: but there was a day coming when a just discrimination would be made, and the impenitent would be subjected to God’s heaviest judgments.
After seeing what stress our blessed Lord laid upon these truths, we cannot be thought uncharitable if we open them to you according to their true import. In order to this we will point out,
The nature of repentance—
All are ready to imagine that they know what repentance is; though, in truth, very few have any just notions respecting it. It consists in,
A humiliation before God on account of sin—
[Though this will not be disputed, few are aware what kind of humiliation is required.
It must be deep. It is not a slight superficial sorrow that will suffice. Sin is a dreadful evil, and must be lamented in a way suited to its enormity. Hear in what manner God himself teaches us to deplore the commission of it: “Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy into heaviness: humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God [Note: James 4:8-10.].” Such was the compunction felt by the three thousand on the day of Pentecost [Note: Acts 2:37.]: such also was the overwhelming sense of guilt which David felt [Note: Psalms 38:4; Psalms 51:3.]: and such in every view was the contrition of Ezra, when he confessed before God his own and his people’s iniquities [Note: Ezra 9:5-6.]. This is the humiliation which God requires; and every thing that falls short of this will he despise [Note: Psalms 51:17.].
It must be ingenuous. There is a sorrow, like that of Felix or of Judas, arising from convictions of the natural conscience, and ending in despair. But this is in no respect acceptable to God; for it will consist with a love of sin, and a hatred of God’s law; and the person who is impressed with it would prefer a life of sin, provided only he might be assured of escaping the punishment attendant on it. Our sorrow should resemble that of the Corinthian Church, when they had seen their error, and were humbled for it, with “a sorrow which wrought in them a repentance not to be repented of:” “For behold,” says the Apostle, “this self-same thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter [Note: 2 Corinthians 7:10-11.].” In them we behold what we consider as eminently characterizing true repentance, namely, an ingenuous shame on account of their past conduct, a readiness to justify God in any judgments he should inflict on them, a hatred of their sin, and a determination through grace to walk more circumspectly in future: and wherever such an experience is, there is the grace of God in truth [Note: Ezekiel 20:43-44.].
It must be abiding. Transient emotions, of whatever kind they be, can never be regarded as constituting true repentance. Pharaoh’s confessions [Note: Exodus 9:27; Exodus 10:16-17.], and Saul’s [Note: 1 Samuel 24:16-18; 1 Samuel 26:21.], appeared to indicate a change of heart: but no real change was wrought in them, as is evident from their reverting almost immediately again to their former ways. The generality, if they had attained the humiliation of Ahab, would be ready to account themselves real penitents: but his subsequent conduct shewed the insincerity of all his professions [Note: 1 Kings 21:27-29; 1 Kings 22:27.]. Far different from this must our contrition be, if ever we would be accepted of our God: we must retain the impressions which have been made upon us: we must say with Hezekiah, “I will go softly all my years in the bitterness of my soul [Note: Isaiah 38:15.]:” and, instead of accounting our acceptance with God a reason for putting off this frame of mind, we should regard it rather as a motive to still deeper humiliation. This is the design of God in exercising mercy towards us [Note: Romans 2:4.]; and it is the inseparable effect, where that mercy is received aright [Note: Ezekiel 16:63.].]
A turning to God in newness of life—
[This also will be acknowledged as essential to true repentance. But let not this change be mistaken:
It must be cordial; not the service of a slave under the influence of fear and dread, but the result of a conviction that sin is an intolerable bondage, and that the service of God is perfect freedom. Whatever change proceeds not from the heart, is mere hypocrisy [Note: Jeremiah 3:10.]; that which characterizes sound conversion, engages all the faculties of the soul [Note: Jeremiah 24:7.]. Thus it is represented by Solomon in his intercessory prayer [Note: 2 Chronicles 6:37-38.]: and agreeable to their representation is the direction given to us by the prophet Joel: “Turn ye even to me with all your heart, with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning [Note: Joel 2:12.].”
It must be progressive. Conversion is not a work that is accomplished all at once, or ever so perfect in this life, but that we need to be pressing forward for higher attainments. Even Paul himself, towards the close of his life, did “not consider himself as having attained perfection, or apprehended all for which he had himself been apprehended of Christ Jesus: and hence he, like a person in a race, forgat all that was behind, and reached forward for that which was before [Note: Philippians 3:12-14.].” As the body, though perfect in its parts even in the earliest infancy, grows in every part till it arrives at manhood; so does the new man advance toward “the full measure of the stature of Christ [Note: Ephesians 4:13.].” We should “grow in grace;” and so grow as to make our “profiting to appear.” We may not indeed be able to see any actual advance at very short intervals, any more than we can see the advance of the sun every minute: but yet we perceive after a time that the sun has proceeded in its course; and in like manner must our path be like the shining light, which “shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” We must be “going on unto perfection,” and aspire after that which is proposed to us as the proper object of our ambition; namely, “to stand perfect and complete in all the will of God [Note: Colossians 4:12.].”
It must be uniform. Nothing under heaven is to divert us from our duty. We are not ever to be influenced by times or circumstances, so as to decline a positive duty through fear of man, or to commit a positive evil for the sake of any earthly advantage. The changes which we see in the conduct of St. Paul, did not proceed from any deviation from principle, but from a strict adherence to principle. His one object was to save the souls of men: and in things that were non-essential, he accommodated himself to their habits and prejudices, in order to promote his main design: but when he saw that any evil was likely to arise from a particular act of conformity, he was as immoveable as a rock. Thus we may vary our conduct on particular occasions, provided we can appeal to God that we are actuated by a regard for the welfare of others, and not by any personal considerations of our own. But in no instance whatever must this principle be extended so far as to violate any known duty or the dictates of our own conscience: life itself must be of no value in our eyes in comparison of God’s honour, and the preservation of a conscience void of offence towards God and man.
It must be unreserved. Not only must we labour to undo what we have done amiss, by making restitution of ill-gotten gain, and warning those whom we have led into sin, but we must strive to mortify sin of every kind in every degree. Every man has some “sin that more easily besets him,” and to which he will be more strongly tempted. This sin is different in different persons; in one, pride; in another, passion; in another, lust; in another, covetousness; in another, ambition and the love of praise: in another, sloth; but, whatever it be, our victory over it is a just criterion of our state: if it lead us captive, we are yet carnal and unrenewed: whatever repentance we may fancy ourselves to have experienced, it has all been ineffectual; we are yet in our sins; we are “in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity.” A right eye must be plucked out, if it cause us to offend, and a right hand must be amputated: no alternative remains to us, but to part with that, or to suffer the miseries of hell [Note: Mark 9:43-48.].
Such is the view which God himself gives us of repentance; and to this alone does he annex any hope of salvation: “Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin [Note: Ezekiel 18:30.].”]
These views of repentance will appear in all their importance, if we consider,
The necessity of it—
The word which we translate ‘likewise,’ may possibly be intended to mark a resemblance between the calamities that awaited the impenitent Jews, and those which had befallen the persons just spoken of [Note: In ver. 3. it is ὡσαύτως, and in the text ὀμοίως.]. But, as we are more interested in what relates to ourselves, we shall rather take a general view of the subject, than attempt a parallel, which would be more curious than useful. We say then, in reference to repentance, that the necessity for it is,
[On this, eternal happiness and eternal misery depend; “except we repent, we must all perish.” It is not for us to say what God might do: it is sufficient to know what he will do. He has appointed repentance, as the means of obtaining reconciliation with him: and he has given his own Son to die for us, in order that, the guilt of sin having been expiated by the blood of the cross, he may be able to receive returning sinners in a perfect consistency with the demands of law and justice. Let this matter be clearly understood. He has not appointed repentance to atone for sin; for if we could shed rivers of tears, they never could wash away the smallest sin: it is the blood of Christ only, that can cleanse from sin: no other fountain ever was, or ever can be, opened for sin and for unclean-ness, but that which issued from the wounds of our adorable Redeemer. But repentance is necessary in order to prepare our souls for a worthy reception of the Divine mercies, and for a suitable improvement of them. Though therefore it cannot atone for sin, or merit any thing at the hands of God, It is indispensably necessary; and, if we do not repent, we must for ever remain in the snare of the devil, and the gates of heaven will assuredly be closed against us [Note: 2 Timothy 2:25-26.]. The declaration in our text will certainly be fulfilled: and sooner shall heaven and earth pass away, than one jot or tittle of it ever fail. Know ye then, that whatever is implied in the “perishing” of an immortal soul, must be the portion of every impenitent sinner — — —]
[There are authors, of no mean name, who have endeavoured to prove that there are some who need not to repent. Because our Lord says, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance;” and, that “there is more joy among the angels over one sinner that repenteth, than over ninety and nine just persons who need no repentance;” they imagine, there is a class of persons whose natures are so pure, and their conduct so blameless, as not to have given any occasion for repentance. But the former of these passages relates to those who thought themselves righteous, and who, from a conceit of their being “whole,” despised the proffered aid of a physician [Note: See Matthew 9:12-13. It might be interpreted of those who were renewed and made righteous by the Holy Spirit. But the former sense is more agreeable to the context.]: the latter evidently refers to those who have already been converted to God, and are as sheep living in the fold of Christ. Such persons are considered as secure, whilst those who are unconverted are in most imminent danger: and, as the recovery of a lost sheep affords more sensible pleasure to its owner, than the possession of a hundred that have not strayed; so the angels are filled with pre-eminent joy at the conversion of one, whom they had considered as in a lost and perishing condition [Note: See Luke 15:7. If this be interpreted as though it referred to sheep that have never strayed, it must then mean that they have not strayed to such an extent as others. But the other interpretation is far preferable.]. That these passages cannot be understood as sanctioning the idea that there are any persons so good as not to need repentance, must be evident to every one who considers what the Scriptures elsewhere speak respecting the universal state of man. St. Paul collects a multitude of texts, to prove that “there is none righteous, no not one: that all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God: and that therefore every mouth must be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God [Note: Romans 3:9-19.].” “There is not a man that liveth and sinneth not,”says Solomon. “In many things we offend all,” says St. James. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves,” says St. John, “and the truth is not in us.” But where shall we find these persons who need no repentance? Will the advocates for this strange opinion venture to point out a person that possesses this high attainment? If they did, the person himself, unless peculiarly blinded by the devil, would contradict their testimony. But we will suppose this paragon of excellence produced: is he more righteous than Job, of whom God himself testified, that “there was none like him in the earth, a perfect and upright man, one that feared God and eschewed evil [Note: Job 1:8.]?” For argument sake, we will suppose him equal to Job: would he then not need to repent? Hear what Job says of himself; “If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me: if I say, I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse. Though I were perfect, yet would I not know my soul: I would despise my life. If I wash myself with snow-water, and make my hands never so clean, yet shalt thou plunge me in the ditch, and mine own clothes shall abhor me [Note: Job 9:20-21; Job 9:30-31.].” Let those then who will maintain such an unscriptural sentiment lay to heart that warning of the Almighty, “Thou sayest, Because I am innocent, surely his anger shall turn from me: behold, I will plead with thee, because thou sayest, I have not sinned [Note: Jeremiah 2:35.]” If they will not humble themselves now, let them prepare to maintain their own cause against God in the day of judgment.
We say then that the necessity of repentance is universal: and we entreat every one to apply the declaration to his own soul, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”]
To those who think themselves penitents—
[What has been spoken on the nature of repentance, may well lead us to examine ourselves, and to fear lest we should deceive our own souls. We entreat you all therefore to bear in mind the particulars which you have heard, and to try yourselves by them. If in any thing we appear to have pressed the point too far, let the confession which we always utter at the Lord’s supper, be taken in connexion with it; and it will be found that we have not uttered a single sentiment which is not contained in that formulary.
And here we cannot but entreat all who are in the habit of frequenting the Lord’s table to inquire, whether their repentance be such as, in that prayer, they profess it to be. We are told by our Church what is required of them that come to the Lord’s supper, namely, To examine themselves whether they repent them truly of their former sins. This examination we now most earnestly recommend; lest in the midst of all “your sacrifices” the wrath of God break forth against you and you “perish” in a far more fearful manner than ever the “Galileans” did [Note: ver. 1.].]
To those who desire to repent—
[Delay not one moment to execute your purpose, lest death find you unprepared to meet your God. Knowing the terrors of the Lord, we would “persuade” you so to turn to him that you may have no reason to dread them. Yet remember not to address yourselves to the work of repentance in your own strength: for it is God alone who can give it you; and he has “exalted the Lord Jesus to his own right hand on purpose to give you repentance and remission of sins [Note: Acts 5:31.].” If you are tempted to doubt whether he will bestow it upon you, know that “he is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance [Note: 2 Peter 3:9.].” In proof of that, we need only consider what is implied in the words of our text. When it is said, that “except we repent we shall all perish,” we may fairly take the converse of it to be true, and conclude, that they who do repent shall not perish. O blessed truth, confirmed by thousands of positive declarations! Not to insist on that instructive parable of the Prodigal Son (which yet may be a source of comfort to every contrite soul); let that representation of God’s love to penitents, which is given us by the prophet Jeremiah, be duly considered, and you will need no other encouragement to turn unto God with your whole hearts [Note: Jeremiah 31:18-20.]. Behold, then, our parting exhortation to every one amongst you is, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon [Note: Isaiah 55:7.].”]
THE BARREN FIG-TREE
Luke 13:7-9. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig-tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: and if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.
PERSONS, who can least bear a scrutiny themselves, are apt to pass the severest censures upon others. But we can never form a just estimate of men’s characters from the dispensations of Providence towards them; nor, though our conclusions were more certain, would it become us to place ourselves on the seat of judgment: we are far more concerned to prepare for the account which we ourselves must render unto God. Such was the advice which our Lord gave to his censorious hearers: he bade them repent of their own sins instead of presuming to judge others [Note: ver. 1–5.], and enforced his admonition with an apposite and instructive parable. We shall inquire,
In what respects we resemble a barren fig-tree?
Humiliating as the comparison before us is, it is but too just. We have enjoyed every advantage that could conduce to fruitfulness—
[The fig-tree is represented as planted in a vineyard where the soil was good, and every attention was paid to it. Thus we have not been left in the open field of the heathen world: we have been planted in the enclosed vineyard of God’s Church. His word and ordinances have been regularly administered to us: we have participated both the stated and occasional labours of his ministers; nor has any thing been wanting which could render us fruitful. God may appeal respecting us, as he did respecting his Church of old: “What could I have done more for them than I have done [Note: Isaiah 5:4.]?”]
Yet notwithstanding all our advantages, we have hitherto been found barren—
[For three successive years was the fig-tree destitute of fruit: and have not we been barren a much longer time? The fruits which God expects are repentance, faith, and obedience [Note: Matthew 3:8. Luk 18:8 and Philippians 1:11.]: but have we mourned over our sins with deep contrition? — — — Have we fled to Christ as the only refuge and hope of lost sinners? — — — Have we presented ourselves to him a holy and living sacrifice? — — — Has it been the labour and ambition of our souls to abound in these fruits? Have we not even to this hour been “barren and unfruitful in the knowledge of Christ?”Have we not rather, as cumberers of the ground, been prejudicial to those around us? Have not those who have been planted near us, reason to complain that they have been retarded by us, rather than furthered, in the spiritual life? Surely too many of us deserve the name once given to Israel of old [Note: Hosea 10:1.]; “Israel is an empty vine, (a barren fig-tree,) that bringeth forth fruit to itself alone, and none at all to God.”]
We may justly wonder therefore that we are suffered to occupy our respective places, and inquire,
Whence it is that, notwithstanding our unfruitfulness, we have been spared to this time?
We are not spared because our state is inoffensive to God—
[The owner of the vineyard noticed all the pains bestowed on the fig-tree, and felt his disappointment greater every successive year: hence he spake of its unfruitfulness with astonishment and indignation [Note: “Behold—Why,” &c. convey these ideas very forcibly.]. And must not the heavenly vine-dresser wonder, that in the midst of so many advantages we remain unfruitful? And has he not declared that unprofitable servants are objects of his utter abhorrence [Note: Matthew 25:26; Matthew 25:30.].]
Much less are we spared because we are better than others—
[Doubtless there are degrees of sinfulness and guilt: as among men, so in the sight of God, there are some worse than others. But what good can be in him who answers no one end of his creation? The description given of such persons by the prophet is strictly just [Note: Ezekiel 15:2-4.]. (There is scarcely any thing in the creation so worthless as the wood of a barren vine.) And to them may be addressed those humiliating words of Moses; “Not for your sakes have these mercies been vouchsafed to you; for ye are a stiff-necked people [Note: Deuteronomy 9:4-6.].”]
The intercession of Christ is the true reason of God’s forbearance towards us—
[The fig-tree was spared only at the request of “the vinedresser.” The order given would certainly have been executed, if he had not obtained a respite: and little do we think how often death has had a commission to cut us down. Surely our continued provocations must often have incensed our God against us: but, as in former times, he often revoked his word at the urgent request of his servant Moses; [Note: Exodus 32:10-11; Exodus 32:14.] so beyond a doubt has the Psalmist’s declaration been often verified in our great Advocate and Intercessor, “He has stood in the gap, to turn away God’s indignation, lest he should destroy us [Note: Psalms 106:23.].”]
The respite however which is yet prolonged, will not last for ever. Know therefore,
What doom we must expect if we still continue barren—
God will deal with every man according to his works. If now at last we begin to bear fruit it will be well—
[The vine-dresser undertook to bestow still greater culture on the fig-tree, and intimated that, if his labours should succeed, it would be a source of much satisfaction to him. But how much more is this true in reference to our souls! At this moment we may consider the trench digging, and the manure applied to us. And what a source of comfort will it be, if these means be blessed with success! The owner of the vineyard, the dresser of it, yea, and the inferior labourers too, will greatly rejoice [Note: Luke 15:5-7; Luke 15:10.]. And what a blessing will it be to the tree itself! Instead of being cut down as useless, we shall be an ornament to the vineyard; nor will God himself disdain to regale himself with our fruit [Note: Song of Solomon 4:10.]. In due season, too, we shall be transplanted to that richer vineyard above, and bring forth fruit to God’s glory for evermore. Yes, our past unfruitfulness should be no obstruction to our bliss; but joy and honour shall be our everlasting portion.]
But if the culture be still in vain, we must be speedily cut down—
[The intercessor himself approved of this in reference to the fig-tree: and can any thing else be expected by those whom the Gospel does not profit? Can any think that they shall be left to cumber the ground for ever? Must not even the patience of God himself be at last exhausted? Shall He not ere long definitively say, Cut them down? Must we not then be consigned over to everlasting burnings? And must not our Intercessor, yea, our own souls also, approve the sentence? Let every one then attend to the warning given to the antediluvian world, “My Spirit shall not alway strive with man [Note: Genesis 6:3.]:” and let not one amongst us defer till the morrow, what, if left undone, must involve him in everlasting ruin.]
How thankful should we be to our great Advocate and Intercessor!
[Many since the last year have been cut off by death. What a mercy should we esteem it that we have been spared! How dreadful must our state have now been if we had been taken unprepared! We should have been irrevocably doomed to dwell with the fallen angels; nor should we ever have heard one more offer of mercy from our offended God. Let us then bless and adore our Lord for this distinguishing favour; and let his love constrain us to turn unto him with our whole hearts [Note: 2 Peter 1:5-8.].]
How earnest should we be in improving the present moment!
[Many are dead who lately seemed as likely to live as ourselves: but, when their time was come, they could not resist the stroke of death; nor can any who are now alive, tell how long a respite shall be granted them. It is probable that many of us will be gone before the expiration of this year [Note: Perhaps one in thirty or forty.]; and whenever the fixed period shall arrive, all intercessions will be in vain. Let us then redeem the time with all earnestness and zeal, and accomplish the great work, before the night cometh to terminate our labours.]
THE INFIRM WOMAN CURED
Luke 13:15-16. The Lord then answered him, and said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath-day?
THE command to sanctify the Sabbath was given to man in Paradise, and was perpetuated to all generations when it was engraven on stones by God himself, together with the other precepts of the law. But the sanctification of that day consists, not in a mere abstinence from bodily labour, but in a suspension of all temporal cares, and an application of soul to spiritual duties. This appears from the conduct of our Lord himself: he never was more active than on the Sabbath-day; and when censured by superstitious hypocrites, he vindicated himself by shewing that works of necessity and mercy were perfectly compatible with that holy rest which God had enjoined. To this effect he spake in the passage before us; in discoursing upon which, we shall consider,
The miracle he wrought—
There was in the synagogue a woman much afflicted in body—
[By the force of some disorder her whole frame was so contracted or relaxed, that she was utterly incapable of standing upright. This disorder had been, in some way or other, inflicted on her by Satan. The same wicked spirit who smote Job with boils, and possessed the bodies of many in our Saviour’s days, had exerted his power over her; and she had been no less than eighteen years in this deplorable condition; yet as she was not ashamed to go to the synagogue on account of her deformity, so neither would she be detained from it by her weakness. Alas! how many amongst us absent themselves from the house of God under far less plausible pretexts, notwithstanding our ordinances are so incomparably superior to those which she was privileged to attend.]
Our Lord, well knowing her case, afforded her a miraculous relief—
[He needed not to have his compassion moved by earnest entreaties. Unsolicited he called her to him, and by the imposition of his hand conveyed an instantaneous cure. Thus he shewed how easily he could “destroy the works of the devil [Note: 1 John 3:8.];” and that neither length of time nor inveteracy of disorder could at all obstruct the efficacy of his word.]
The censure which he incurred on account of this benevolent act, called forth,
His vindication of it—
The Ruler of the synagogue expressed his indignation at this exercise of power—
[That which in reality hurt his feelings was, the popularity of Jesus. He could not endure to see him followed by such multitudes, and confirming his divine mission by such miracles. But, because he could not with the smallest appearance of reason condemn the miracle he had seen, he pretended to be offended at its being wrought on the Sabbath-day. He proceeded to reprove the people for paying so little regard to that holy day; and thus obliquely cast reflections on our Lord himself. What an evidence of his enmity against Christ, and of his being altogether destitute of compassion to his fellow-creatures! And how thin the veil under which he endeavoured to cover these detestable qualities!]
Our Lord, however, vindicated his own conduct in a most unanswerable manner—
[He tacitly acknowledged the necessity of sanctifying the Sabbath; but appealed to his hearers, whether such a work as he had performed were any breach of it. If they universally considered themselves at liberty to loose an ox or an ass from the stall in order to give it water on the Sabbath-day, how much more justifiable was he in loosing the far sorer bands of a rational being, yea, of a daughter of Abraham, on that day; more especially, when it was Satan himself who had bound her; when she too had been no less than eighteen years in that state; and when he had effected her cure simply by a touch of his hand. Such was our Lord’s argument; and it flashed conviction upon every mind. Thus, while the ruler’s hypocrisy was detected, and the adversaries, who had sided with him, were put to shame, our Saviour’s character rose in the estimation of all the people.]
And this speaks loudly to us, if we will attentively consider,
The reflections suggested by it—
What blindness and hypocrisy are there in the human heart
[Every one sees in an instant how deservedly our Lord reproached the Ruler for his hypocrisy; and we are ready to suppose that we should never have indulged so vile a disposition. But there is nothing more common than the very spirit which he manifested. He condemned people for seeking the healing of their bodies on the Sabbath-day. And are there none who are offended at men for seeking the salvation of their souls on the week-day? I know that these will plead a regard for order, and for the institutions of man; but the Ruler had a still stronger plea, namely, a regard for the Sabbath, and the express commandments of God. Yet, whatever they may think, neither the one nor the other are upright before God. The objections of both originate in the same evil disposition, a want of regard for the Saviour’s honour and for the welfare of their fellow-creatures. On this account the Judge of quick and dead called him a hypocrite. By what name I pray you will he call these, when they shall stand before him at his tribunal? Is not the soul of as much value as the body? and are we not as much justified in promoting its welfare on a week-day, or on the Sabbath evening, as a diseased person is in seeking relief for the body upon the Sabbath-day? Let us all then acknowledge the evil of our own hearts; and give God the glory if we be in any measure freed from the prejudices by which so many in every age and place are blinded.]
How desirable is it to embrace every opportunity of waiting upon God!
[The woman broke through every difficulty that she might honour the public institutions of religion. And was she not well repaid for her trouble at last? Surely the restoration of her body to health and strength was a blessing that would have abundantly compensated for still greater toil than she ever endured. And have none amongst us received a still richer recompence? If your bodily disorders have not been removed, have you never received grace both to bear and improve them? Have none of you been delivered from the bonds in which Satan held your souls? Has not your guilt been removed, and the corruption of your hearts been in some measure healed? Let this encourage all to wait upon God. Let it make you fearful of yielding to any excuses, lest you be absent from the ordinances at the very time that Jesus shall manifest his presence there: worldly business, worldly pleasure, dinner company, and such like engagements, will ill repay you for the loss of spiritual and eternal good. Say not, ‘I can serve God as well at home;’ for it is not the means we use, but the blessing of God upon them that renders them effectual to our benefit; and God’s blessing cannot be expected, if we seek it not in the way of his appointment. And if proud and envious hypocrites condemn you, regard it not. Your Saviour himself will vindicate your conduct, to your honour, and to their confusion.]
With what comfortable hope may we look to Jesus under all our troubles!
[It is alike easy to him to save from bodily or spiritual disorders. A touch of his hand, or word of his mouth, will convey the blessing we desire. Are we then labouring under any affliction of mind or body? Are we, like David, “bowed down greatly, and do we go mourning all the day long [Note: Psalms 38:6.]?” Behold, it is the Saviour’s office to bind up that which is broken, to heal that which is sick, and to raise up them that are bowed down [Note: Isaiah 61:1.Psalms 146:8; Psalms 146:8.]. Nor can we doubt but that he, who prevented the application of this afflicted woman, will come at our entreaty, and impart the aid which we implore. Let us all, then, direct our eyes unto him, and may we all become monuments of his power and grace, for his mercy’s sake! Amen.]
THE LAST FIRST, AND THE FIRST LAST
Luke 13:30. Behold, there are last which shall be first; and there are first which shall be last.
THIS is a declaration frequently made by our blessed Lord; and therefore we may be sure it contains some very important truths, that deserve our deepest attention. Persons who are addicted to human systems will put an exceedingly different construction upon these words; some pressing them to an unwarrantable extent; whilst others limit them, so as to enervate and destroy all their force. We, however, desire to treat them, not in a proud and controversial spirit, but in a spirit of humility and love; equally avoiding both extremes, and endeavouring to deduce from them such practical instruction as our Lord himself intended them to convey. With this view, I will,
Shew to what an extent they have been realized—
That God acts as a Sovereign in the communication of good, we have no doubt; but not so in the distribution of evil: and therefore, whilst we see in this passage a clear evidence of electing love, we cannot for a moment admit that there is any ground for the doctrine of absolute reprobation. If the last are made first, it is by the grace of God: but if the first are made last, it is altogether by their own fault. This will appear in every part of the subject; whilst I shew, that the truth here conveyed has been realized in all ages, and is yet daily realized amongst men, in whatever light they be viewed. View them,
In their national privileges—
[The Jews were God’s peculiar people. Never did any nation under heaven enjoy such privileges as they. They, for the space of two thousand years, were “the first” in every thing that related to eternal life. As for the poor benighted Gentiles, they were left in darkness and the shadow of death, given over to follow their own evil ways, and to be led captive by the devil at his will. But in the apostolic age the case was altogether changed; the Jews being cast off from God; and the Gentiles being admitted into covenant with him, and made partakers of far higher privileges than were ever accorded to the Jews. There is, in fact, scarcely any comparison between the mercies vouchsafed to us, and those of which God’s ancient people partook: so true is it, that “we, who once were last, are now first; and the Jews, who were once first, are last.” In fact, that is now fulfilled which our blessed Lord foretold, that multitudes now “come to him from every quarter of the globe, to sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven; whilst the children of the kingdom, the poor infatuated Jews, are cast into outer darkness, where is weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth [Note: Matthew 8:11-12.].”]
In their civil station—
[The rich and great and noble appear to have immense advantages for heaven, because they can employ a great portion of their time in heavenly pursuits; whilst the poor, who are necessitated to earn their bread by some earthly occupation, have but little time to spare for the acquisition of divine knowledge. But “the rich, for the most part, are too wise in their own conceit [Note: Proverbs 28:11.]” to suspect their own ignorance, or to submit to divine teaching: and they have such a fulness and sufficiency of earthly gratifications, that they are not disposed to seek after happiness in things above. The poor, on the contrary, are more willing to receive instruction, and to listen to advice in relation to spiritual and eternal riches. This has been the case in all ages. In our Lord’s day, it was said, “Have any of the Rulers and of the Pharisees believed on him?” But “the common people heard him gladly.” In like manner, St. Paul says of those in his day, “Not many mighty, not many noble, are called.” And in every age, St. James informs us, “God hath chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith, and heirs of his kingdom [Note: James 2:5.].”]
In their intellectual attainments—
[Certainly knowledge, beyond every thing else, elevates man above his fellows. Yet, when his aspect is viewed in reference to religion, it is frequently found rather hostile, than friendly, to heavenly pursuits. Hence it is said, in a fore-cited passage, that “not many wise men after the flesh are called; but, instead of them, the foolish, the weak, and the base [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:26-28.].” Indeed, God has said, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:19-20.]?” The truth is, that the wisdom of this world is so deeply impregnated with pride, that it cannot submit to the humiliating doctrines of the Gospel [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:14.]. “The wisdom of God is foolishness with man: and the wisdom of man is foolishness with God [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:21-25.]:” and the only way for any man to become truly wise, is to become a fool in his own estimation, and to receive with child-like simplicity every word that God hath spoken [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:18-20.]. And if any think it hard that such contempt should be poured on human wisdom, let him know that our blessed Saviour saw nothing in it but ground for praise and thanksgiving: “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because 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 [Note: Matthew 11:25-26.].”]
In their moral habits—
[These, above all, we should suppose to be favourable to the reception of the Gospel. But really experience is far from confirming this sentiment: for the Scribes and Pharisees were externally moral; yet did publicans and harlots enter into the kingdom of heaven before them [Note: Matthew 21:31.].” “The former justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John: whereas the latter rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him [Note: Luke 7:29-30.].” And, as the fruit of these different dispositions, the Pharisee, who thought himself righteous, and despised others, went from the Divine presence with all his guilt upon him, whilst the self-condemning Publican was justified from all his sins [Note: Luke 18:10-14.]. Where can we find a more impious character than Manasseh? or one more bitter than Saul? or one in a more desperate condition than the dying thief? Yet all these found mercy of the Lord, that “in them, as in the chief of sinners, God might be the more glorified [Note: 1 Timothy 1:15-16.].” And thus it frequently is at this day: “where sin has abounded, grace much more abounds; that as sin has reigned unto death, so grace might reign through righteousness unto eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord [Note: Romans 5:20-21.].”
Thus, in all these respects, are our Lord’s words fully verified; not only the Gentiles occupying a higher station than God’s ancient people; but the poor, the illiterate, and the depraved being raised to a participation of God’s kingdom and glory, to a far greater extent than the rich, the learned, and the moral: so true is it still, as in former ages, that “God raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory [Note: 1 Samuel 2:8.].”]
Having endeavoured to elucidate the words before us, I will now,
Suggest the improvement which, in my judgment the subject calls for—
I cannot conceive any subject more calculated,
To put down presumption—
[Let any person be as elevated as he will in national privileges, or civil station, or intellectual attainments, or moral habits, yea, I will add also, in religious experience; let him be the admiration of all around him; yet will I say, that if he be lifted up with pride, he will fall into the condemnation of the devil; and, from being the first in human estimation, he will become the last in Divine acceptance. Look at Demas: so eminent was he in the estimation of St. Paul, that twice did the Apostle join him with St. Luke, in his salutations to the saints: “Salute Lucas and Demas.” Yet we find this man at last forsaking the way of godliness, and turning back to a state of utter worldliness and carnality [Note: 2 Timothy 4:10.]. In the book of Job we read of many “whose excellency mounts up to the heavens, and their head reaches to the clouds; and yet, at last, they perish like their own dung; and they who have seen them are led, with a mixture of doubt and lamentation, to say, Where is he [Note: Job 20:6-7.]?” And where shall we find a Church in which such instances have not occurred, to the disgrace of true religion, and to the grief of all who held fast their profession? I say then to every soul of man, however advanced in piety he may appear, “Be not high-minded, but fear.” Yea, though he may have attained the eminence of Paul himself, I will bid him “keep his body under, and bring it into subjection; lest, after having preached to others, he himself should become a cast-away [Note: 1 Corinthians 9:27.].”]
To prevent despair—
[Let not any one tell me that his guilt is too great to be forgiven, or his depravity too inveterate to be subdued. I will grant that the disadvantages under which a man may labour may be so great as to render his conversion, in all human appearance, impossible; yet will I say, that though he be the last, yet may he become the first. What cannot He do, who formed the universe out of nothing, and reduced the chaos to the order and beauty in which we behold it? If only we remember who it is that is engaged in our behalf, we shall never despond. For what is there that God cannot effect? If there ever was any thing to be despaired of, it was, that Jesus should be restored to life after he had been committed to the tomb. But did not “the stone which the builders had disallowed become the head-stone of the corner?” and shall not He who was “crucified through weakness” “put all his enemies under his feet?” Then I say, let no man entertain desponding thoughts, as though he were beyond the reach of mercy: for however “far off we may be from God, we may be brought nigh by the blood of Christ.”Only let us call on Him “who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were;” and let us, “against hope, believe in hope [Note: Romans 4:17-18.];” and, like Abraham, we shall be made “friends of God,” yea, and sit down, at last, with Abraham in the kingdom of our God, for ever and ever.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Luke 13". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany