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THE IMPORTANCE OF FAITH
Luke 17:5-42.17.6. And the Apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith. And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard-seed, ye might say unto this sycamine-tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea: and it should obey you.
THE Gospel is truly “a doctrine according to godliness:” its precepts are as much superior to heathen morals, as its doctrines are to the heathen mythology. The forgiveness of injuries is required of the followers of Christ, to an extent that unassisted reason would have deemed neither practicable nor desirable. Our Lord told his Disciples, that they must not only forgive any occasional offence, but forgive it, however often it might be committed; provided the offender acknowledged his fault, and professed a determination to amend it. This seemed to them “an hard saying,” and a requisition which far exceeded the powers of human nature to comply with: they therefore entreated him to “increase their faith.” Now such a petition, so introduced, appears absurd: but it was, in reality, most judicious. In proof of this we shall shew,
The reason of it—
At first sight we are ready to think that they should have prayed for an increase of patience or of love; since those graces appear far more intimately connected with the forgiveness of injuries than faith: but they were correct in their judgment, and right in their petition: for, respecting faith, it must be said,
It is the root of all acceptable obedience—
[We may perform works that shall appear good, though we have no faith; but none that are really good: for, in order to be good and acceptable to God, they must flow from a principle of love to God; they must also be performed with a readiness of mind, as to the Lord: and with an unfeigned desire that he may be glorified by them. But whence can we obtain this principle? or how can we act in such a manner, or for such an end, if we have not been led by faith into a view of his glorious character, and to the knowledge of the obligations we owe him in Christ Jesus? We might as well expect to find fruit on a tree that has no root, as such actions without an humble and lively faith. Our Lord himself tells us, that “without him,” that is, without an union with him by faith, “we can do nothing:” and St. Paul tells us, that “without faith it is impossible to please God.” The Thirteenth Article of our Church also confirms the same in the most express terms. Indeed all holy actions and affections are called, “the fruits of the Spirit:” but it is by faith only that we obtain the Spirit: consequently, they must all be traced to faith, as the proper root from whence they spring.]
It is particularly influential in the production of a forgiving spirit—
[Till we know what we ourselves merit before God, and what mercy is offered to us in the Gospel of his Son, we shall be disposed to resent an injury that is done to us: at least, if we abstain from any vindictive acts, we shall feel an inward corroding of spirit, when the remembrance of the injury occurs to our minds. But let a person have a just view of redeeming love, and it will soon calm all his angry passions: when pained with the recollection of the evil treatment he has received, he will call to mind his own conduct towards God: when disposed to complain of others, he will think what reason he has given to God to complain of him: and when called upon to exercise forgiveness, he will bear in mind what mercy he himself has exercised at the hands of God. This, I say, is the necessary fruit of faith: for, “having been forgiven ten thousand talents, can he take a fellow-creature by the throat for a few pence [Note: Matthew 18:32-40.18.33.]?” No: “having been forgiven much, he will love much.”]
Having on these grounds presented to their Lord a petition for an increase of faith, he approved of their petition, and proceeded instantly to mark,
The importance of it—
Two things he intimates to them;
That faith was an irresistible principle—
[What could convey an idea of difficulty more than the plucking up of a sycamore-tree by the roots, and planting it steadfastly in the tempestuous ocean? yet our Lord told them, that faith would be able to effect even that; and, consequently, it could pluck up by the roots their most inveterate resentments, and establish their minds even in the midst of the most tumultuous scenes. Accordingly we find that faith has done all these things [Note: Hebrews 11:0. throughout.]: and what it has done for others, it can, and shall, do for us. Indeed, it brings, if we may so express ourselves, a kind of omnipotence into the soul, inasmuch as it interests Omnipotence in our behalf: and God himself says concerning it, “All things are possible to him that believeth.” Nor is this true only of faith in its most enlarged measure, and its strongest exercises: if it exist only in a small measure, it shall operate nevertheless to the production of the greatest good. Doubtless its effects will be proportioned to the measure of its existence in the soul: but still its operation will be exceeding powerful, even though it be small “as a grain of mustard-seed;” for the weakest faith, if genuine, unites us to Christ, and makes us partakers of all his fulness, even as the branch of a vine participates all the virtue of the stock and root. Moreover the smallest faith brings the Holy Spirit into the soul, and secures to us his almighty operations as far as they shall be necessary for our welfare. It also interests us in all the promises; every one of which shall be fulfilled to us in their season. Though therefore strong faith will bring more glory to God, the weakest faith shall ultimately prevail to the saving of our souls.]
That they had done well in asking it at his hands—
[Our Lord did not decline the honour which they offered him. On many occasions they had asked of him what none but God could bestow: and, had he not been God, as well as man, he would have rectified their error, and taught them to pray only and exclusively to his heavenly Father. When John mistook an angel for the Deity, and “fell at his feet to worship him, the angel forbad him, saying, See thou do it not: I am thy fellow-servant: worship God [Note: Revelation 19:10.].” So our Lord himself, when a certain lawyer, who conceived of him only as a man, gave him a title due only to God, reproved him, saying, “Why callest thou me good? there is none good but One, that is God.” But here he so commended the subject of their petition as manifestly to intimate his approbation of the petition itself. In like manner, when Paul, some years afterwards, prayed to him for the removal of the thorn in his flesh, Jesus answered him, “My grace is sufficient for thee [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:8-47.12.10.]: thereby leaving no room for doubt but that we may address our prayers to him, and that “he will fulfil all our petitions.” “Do we then need faith; or, possessing it already in a small degree, do we need to have it strengthened and increased?” let us remember, that “whatsoever we shall ask of him, or of the Father in his name, that will He do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son [Note: John 14:13.].” He has “all fulness treasured up in him;” yea, “in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” and “out of his fulness shall we all receive, even grace for grace.” As repentance is his gift [Note: Acts 5:31.], so is faith also his gift [Note: Acts 18:27. Ephesians 2:8. Philippians 1:27.]: wherever it exists, it is He who has wrought it in the heart [Note: Colossians 2:12.]; for he is both “the Author and the Finisher of it [Note: Hebrews 12:2.].” Let us then from day to day present to him the petition in our text, “Lord, increase our faith.”]
Now from this subject we may clearly learn,
The true order of Christian duties—
[The Apostles asked for faith in order to produce in them a suitable practice: and this is what we also must do: we must not set ourselves, as many ignorantly do, first to perform good works, in order that they may serve as a warrant for believing in Christ: but we must believe in him, in order that we may be enabled to perform good words to his honour and glory. This may appear an unnecessary distinction; but it is of infinite importance: it lies at the very foundation of all our hopes, and of all our comforts. If we attempt to reverse this order, we shall be like persons who should prepare a superstructure without laying a foundation, or expect fruit from a tree that had no root. The Scripture is very express on this subject: we must lay hold on the promises first, and then make use of them for the purifying of our souls [Note: 2 Corinthians 7:1.]: we must first behold the glory of the Lord in the Gospel, and then by virtue of that sight be changed into his image [Note: 2 Corinthians 3:18.].]
The proper tendency of faith—
[Why did the Apostles ask for faith? Was it to set aside the duties that had been just inculcated? No: it was, that they might be able to practise them. Perverse people will, though instructed to the contrary ten thousand times, represent the duty of faith as having a licentious tendency: but look into the Scriptures, and see how it wrought on the saints of old: or look to the fruits that are uniformly ascribed to it in the Scriptures: Is it not “by faith that we overcome the world?” Is it not also represented as “working by love” and “purifying the heart?” Perhaps it may be thought to bring us to duties in the first instance, and to set us above them afterwards. But behold its operation in its more advanced state; and hear what St. Paul says of the Thessalonian Church; “We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and (what? you are therefore above attending to good works? No: but) the charity of every one of you all towards each other aboundeth [Note: 2 Thessalonians 1:3.].” Know then, that the prejudice which so generally obtains both against the grace and the doctrine of faith, is without any just foundation: and that, though a counterfeit grace will produce only a semblance of fruit, a living faith will uniformly operate to the production of good works.]
The folly of calling ourselves believers, whilst we exercise an unforgiving spirit—
[It must be confessed, that many will pretend to faith, who yet indulge very unhallowed dispositions: they are proud, and wrathful, and vindictive; if not to the same extent as others, yet sufficiently to shew, that they are yet unsanctified and unrenewed. And what shall we say to such persons? Shall we encourage them to think that these tempers are to be regarded only as the infirmities of saints? No, in truth: “they are not the spots of God’s children,” but the proper character of the devil’s. The criterion given of his people is universal and infallible; “By their fruits ye shall know them: a corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit, nor a good tree bad fruit:” therefore our Lord repeats the admonition, “By their fruits ye shall know them [Note: Matthew 7:16-40.7.20.].” Excuse not then yourselves, ye morose, quarrelsome, fretful, unforgiving people; for ye are trees that shall be “cut down and cast into the fire [Note: Matthew 7:16-40.7.20.]:” ye are “trees, whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever [Note: Jude, ver. 12, 13.].” Talk not of grace: for grace, that is not effectual, is no grace; and faith, that produces not holy tempers, is no better than the faith of devils [Note: James 2:19-59.2.20. with 1 Corinthians 13:2.]. If you complain, that you cannot overcome your tempers; I would say, Set about it in the right way. You make resolutions perhaps; and break them as soon as made: but go rather and exercise faith on God, and on his great and precious promises: go and contemplate the incomprehensible love of Christ in dying for you: go and sprinkle his blood upon your conscience, and get a sense of his pardoning love upon your soul: Go, I say, and get your faith increased, and exercised; and you shall no longer have to complain of want of power to do the will of God: let him “perfect that which is lacking in your faith;” and you will then be enabled to perfect that which is lacking in your practice: “through him strengthening you, you will be able to do all things [Note: Titus 3:8.].”]
THE OBEDIENT SERVANT
Luke 17:10. So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.
PRIDE is deeply rooted in the heart of man. It was that which first instigated him to disobedience; he wished to be as God [Note: Genesis 3:5.]. Since his fall it leads him openly to cast off his allegiance to the Supreme Being, and to become a god unto himself, independent, self-seeking, and self-sufficient. This principle operates even in the renewed mind, and endangers the acceptance of our persons and services [Note: 1 Timothy 3:6.]. Our Lord frequently cautioned his Disciples against it. He had just inculcated the arduous duty of forgiving injuries [Note: ver. 3, 4.], and had assured them that, however difficult it might be, faith would enable them to fulfil it [Note: ver. 3, 6.]; but, aware that such obedience might serve as an occasion for pride and vain-glory, he now teaches them, by a just comparison [Note: ver. 7–9.], what thoughts they should ever entertain even of their best services. We shall consider,
The extent of God’s authority over us is not sufficiently considered. There is no slave so much at his master’s disposal as we are at God’s. The Jews exercised a most despotic power over their servants—
[Some of the servants among the Jews were captives taken in war: others were slaves bought with money. Over these, their master had unlimited authority. They were regarded by him as his stock, and, like his cattle, were transmitted to his children as a part of their inheritance [Note: Leviticus 25:44-3.25.46.]. They were employed in all kinds of services: nor did their master esteem himself indebted to them for any services they might perform. This was perfectly well known to those whom our Lord addressed [Note: In this land of liberty this state of things does not exist: would to God it did not in any part of the British dominions!]. Perhaps many of his hearers had servants whom they so treated. Hence our Lord appealed to them respecting the truth of his statement.]
But God has an infinitely higher claim to our services—
[He originally formed us in the womb. We have not a faculty which we did not receive from him. This gives him an entire right over us [Note: Isaiah 44:21.]. He, upon this very ground, has an unlimited authority over the greatest monarch, as much as over the meanest slave [Note: Job 31:13-18.31.15.]. He has preserved us every moment since our first existence in the world. However he may have made use of second causes, he has been “the author of every blessing” we have enjoyed. The beasts are not so dependent on their owner as we on him. On this ground he claimed the homage of his people of old [Note: Exodus 20:2-2.20.3.], and may justly demand our utmost exertions in his service. He moreover has bought us with a price: he has paid down a sum which exceeds all calculation. Silver and gold were insufficient for the cost: nothing would suffice but the blood of his only dear Son. Behold, he withheld not the mighty ransom [Note: 1 Peter 1:18-60.1.19.]. He delivered up his Son for us all [Note: Romans 8:32.]. And has not this given him a right over us? Can we say in any respect that “we are our own?” or, is not the Apostle’s inference just, That we should therefore glorify him with our bodies and our spirits which are his [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:19-46.6.20.]?]
Hence it is evident that we can never confer an obligation upon him—
Even hired servants do not confer an obligation by the services they render. Much less do they, who belong to their master as his purchased possession. Least of all can we make God our debtor. We can do no more than what is our absolute duty to do. Works of supererogation exist only in the conceits of blind superstitious papists. The idea of performing them is arrogant in the extreme. None can entertain it in their minds without involving their souls in utter ruin. I he point is decided for us by the voice of inspiration [Note: Romans 11:35-45.11.36.].]
The justness of the comparison being made to appear, we proceed to consider,
The command grounded upon it—
The injunction in the text is manifestly grounded on the preceding comparison. It imports,
That we should not be puffed up with a conceit of our high attainments—
[There is no notice taken of our manifold defects. It is supposed that we actually do all that is commanded us; yet even on that supposition we have nothing to boast of. However perfect our obedience were in all other respects, pride would at once debase it all: God will have no flesh to glory in his presence. The very angels, who never fell, are constrained to give all the glory to God [Note: Revelation 5:11-66.5.12.]. The Seraphim around the throne veil their faces and their feet as unworthy to behold or to serve their Maker [Note: Isaiah 6:2.]; and the glorified saints cast their crowns at the feet of Jesus, ascribing all their happiness to him alone [Note: Revelation 4:10.]. Sinful man therefore can never have whereof to glory before God. His zeal and holiness can be of no account with God if once they be made the grounds of his confidence. God, so far from approving such a proud boaster, would abhor him [Note: James 4:6.], and would surely abase him in the day of judgment [Note: Proverbs 16:5.].]
That we should be humbled under a sense of our unprofitableness—
[It is not possible that our works should profit God [Note: Psalms 16:2.]”. Nothing that we can do can render him more happy or more glorious [Note: Job 22:2-18.22.3.]. We should live and act under a sense of this. The Apostles themselves were directed to consider their best works as worthless [Note: The text.]. Indeed, the truly enlightened in all ages have judged thus of themselves. Job abhorred himself in dust and ashes [Note: Job 40:4; Job 42:6.]. Isaiah seemed to himself like a poor leper, at the very moment that he was favoured with a heavenly vision [Note: Isaiah 6:5.]. Paul accounted himself “less than the least of all saints,” yea, the very “chief of sinners [Note: Ephesians 3:8. 1 Timothy 1:15.].” In this light should we continually view our best performances, and acknowledge that “our very righteousnesses are as filthy rags [Note: Isaiah 64:6.].”]
Those who are looking for acceptance through their own works—
[How manifestly is your spirit contrary to that which the Gospel recommends! You are endeavouring to establish a righteousness of your own: you not only think to compensate for your sins, but to have a degree of merit sufficient to purchase heaven. Perhaps you profess only to rely on your works in part; but in whatever degree you expect them to weigh, you so far make God your debtor. Hear, I pray you, the voice of Christ in the text. Renounce from henceforth all self-righteousness, and self-dependence, and learn to say with the great Apostle, “I count all things but dung for the knowledge of Christ [Note: Philippians 3:8-50.3.9.].”]
Those, who, professing to trust in Christ, are indulging self-complacency—
[It is inexpressibly difficult to maintain a truly humble spirit. Pride will rise in spite of our better judgment, and often operate when we are least aware of it. Our love of man’s applause too often appears even under the garb of humility. Let us guard against self-deceit. God sees through the veil of our hypocrisy, and will leave us to feel the sad effects of our corruption: he has warned us plainly of our danger [Note: Proverbs 16:18.]. “Let him therefore who thinketh that he stands, take heed lest he fall [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:12.]:” let him “not be high-minded, but fear [Note: Romans 11:20.].”]
Those who are dejected because of their unprofitableness—
[It is well to be humbled under a sense of our infirmities; but the feeling of them is an effect of divine grace. Our contrition therefore should be tempered with thankfulness. Let us not forget that such a state of mind is approved of God. Instead of desponding, let us cleave more steadfastly to Christ [Note: Acts 11:23.]. The viler we are in our own eyes, the more precious let him be to us. Thus will he increase, as we decrease [Note: John 3:30.]; and we ourselves shall be exalted in proportion to our self-abasement [Note: Matthew 23:12.]. Let us in the meantime do all that we can to serve him. If we cannot profit him by fulfilling his commands, we may please him. Let that be our constant ambition [Note: 2 Corinthians 5:9. φιλοτιμούμεθα.]. Then, though we have no claim upon him for a reward, he will requite our services; nor shall the smallest attempt to honour him be overlooked [Note: Ephesians 6:8.].]
THE TEN LEPERS HEALED
Luke 17:17-42.17.18. And Jesus answering, said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger.
AS the miracles of our Lord were greatly diversified, so were the effects produced by them. Sometimes they were regarded with stupid indifference; at other times they were made effectual to the conversion of sinners: we have an instance of both in the history before us—
Consider the various circumstances mentioned in the context—
The leprosy, though little known amongst us, was very common in Judζa: ten persons infected with it made application to Jesus for relief—
[Jesus had just been refused admission into a Samaritan village [Note: Luke 9:52-42.9.53; Luke 9:56. with ver. 12. See Dr. Doddridge’s Fam. Expos. sect. 127.]. On his entrance into another village the lepers saw him. How graciously was the bigotry of the Samaritans overruled for good! Had they used the common rights of hospitality, perhaps the lepers might never have had the opportunity that was now afforded them. It was not permitted to lepers to approach even their dearest friends. They therefore “stood afar off,” crying earnestly for relief. A sense of need will make us importunate in our supplications. But, alas! the generality are far more anxious for the removal of bodily disorders, than of spiritual maladies. Happy were it for us, if our fervour were most expressed in the concerns which most demand it!]
Jesus instantly vouchsafed a gracious answer to their petition—
[He did not indeed pronounce them whole, or even promise to make them so. He only ordered them to go to the priests, the appointed judges of leprosy [Note: ver. 14. with Leviticus 14:2.]. This however amounted to a virtual promise of healing, unless he intended only to mock and deride their misery. And it answered many valuable and important purposes. It served as a test of their faith and obedience. Their instant departure would prevent any combination to discredit the miracle. It would make the priests themselves to attest its reality, and might lead them to receive him as the promised Messiah. In obedience to his command, the lepers went, expecting a cure: nor were any of them disappointed of their hope. In going, they were restored by the almighty power of Jesus; and they felt in themselves infallible tokens of perfect health.]
The effects however produced upon them were not alike in all—
[Nine of them prosecuted their journey mindful only of their own comfort. Having obtained all that they wished, they forgat their Benefactor, nor ever thought of paying the debt which gratitude demanded. One, however, was more sensible of the obligations conferred upon him, and burned with a desire to acknowledge the mercies he had received. Returning instantly, he prostrated himself at the feet of Jesus. With heartfelt gratitude he glorified God as the author of his mercy, and gave thanks to Jesus, as the instrument by whom it was sent. Nor was he less ardent in his thanksgivings, than he had before been importunate in his prayers [Note: ver. 13, 15.].]
To open these more minutely, we shall,
Make some reflections on the text in particular—
The first reflection which naturally arises from the text is,
What ingratitude is there in the human heart!
[We are amazed at the conduct of the ungrateful lepers. We are ready to suppose that nothing could induce us to act like them. Yet we may see in them a true picture of the world at large. How many temporal mercies have we experienced through our whole lives! What continuance of health, or deliverances from sickness! What freedom from want, or relief in the midst of it! What comfort in the society of our friends and relatives! Yet how little have we thought of him, who bestowed these blessings! How many spiritual mercies too have we received from God! What provision has been made for the healing of our souls! The Son of God himself has suffered, that he might “heal us by his stripes”: and offers of pardon and salvation have been proclaimed to us in his name; Yea, we have been promised a deliverance from the leprosy of sin [Note: Romans 6:14.], and have been entreated to become children and heirs of God. Are not these mercies which demand our gratitude? Yet what returns have we made to our adorable Benefactor? May not God complain of us as he did of the ungrateful Jews [Note: Isaiah 1:2-23.1.3.]? Let us then abase ourselves before God under a sense of our vileness [Note: Job 42:6.]; nor let us justify our conduct from the example of the world. Who does not commend the singularity of the grateful leper? Who does not admire the singularity of Noah among the antediluvians, and of Lot in Sodom? Let us then dare to be singular in loving and adoring our Benefactor. Let a sense of gratitude far outweigh the fear of man. Then, though the world despise us, we shall have the testimony of a good conscience; and “our record shall be on high” in the day of the Lord Jesus [Note: Job 16:19.].]
How often do they, who enjoy the greatest advantages, make the least improvement of them!
[The nine ungrateful lepers were, by profession, the Lord’s people. They had been instructed out of the law by God’s appointed ministers. The wonderful works which had been wrought for their nation could not be unknown to them. The examples of David and other eminent saints had been set before them: they therefore could not but know much of God’s will respecting them. The poor “Samaritan,” on the contrary, was a “stranger” to God’s covenant. The prejudices of his nation forbad all intercourse with the Jews. By this means he was cut off from all opportunities of instruction: yet he returned to glorify his God, while all the Jews overlooked the mercy vouchsafed unto them. And are there not many amongst ourselves, who are far from improving their spiritual advantages? Are we not surpassed in virtue by many who never enjoyed our privileges? Are there not many illiterate and obscure persons whose hearts overflow with gratitude, while ours are as insensible as a stone? Let us remember that God expects from us according to the means of improvement he has afforded us [Note: Luke 12:48.]; and let us labour to yield fruit suited to the culture bestowed upon us [Note: Isaiah 5:2-23.5.6.].]
How plain is our duty both under a need, and after the receipt, of divine mercies!
[The lepers could not possibly have adopted a wiser measure than they did: they were persuaded of Christ’s power to help: and they sought help at his hands. And is not Jesus as mighty now as in the days of his flesh? Will not the diseases of the soul, as well as of the body, yield to his commands? Has he not encouraged us by many express promises of mercy? Let us then, like the lepers, cry, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us”; nor let us cease from our importunity till we have prevailed: but, if we have received answers of peace, let us be thankful for them [Note: Psalms 30:2-19.30.4.]. Justly did Jesus express his wonder at not seeing the other nine; much more will he if we should forget to pay him our tribute of praise. Waiting for our approaches, he says, “Where are they?” Let him then see us daily prostrating ourselves before him. Let us be earnest in our thanksgivings, as well as in our prayers. Let us often consider how we may best express our sense of his goodness [Note: Psalms 116:12.]. In his strength let us go and shew ourselves to the world. Let us compel his very enemies to acknowledge his work [Note: Psalms 126:2.], and constrain them by our lives to confess the efficacy of his grace. Thus shall we most acceptably honour him on earth, and ere long be exalted to magnify his name in heaven.]
SUDDENNESS OF CHRIST’S SECOND COMING
Luke 17:26-42.17.30. As it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of Man. They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all. Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; but the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed.
WE cannot be too often reminded, that religion is not a matter of speculation, but of practice. The replies which our Lord constantly made to speculative or curious inquiries, leads us to this remark. He always endeavoured to turn the mind inwards, and to make every question that was put to him subservient to the spiritual welfare of his hearers. The Pharisees, ever deceiving themselves with the expectation of a temporal Messiah, asked him, “When the kingdom of God should come?” He told them, that the Messiah’s kingdom was not to be an outward and temporal one, such as they looked for, but an inward and spiritual kingdom, such as he himself was now establishing in the hearts of men. But as the nation at large would reject him, he warned his hearers, that the Son of Man should again come, even before that present generation should have passed away; that, when he did come, he would find them as supine and careless as they were at that moment; and that, unless they repented, his coming would issue in their utter destruction.
This seems to be the obvious import of the words. But, as the same expressions are used in a subsequent discourse, where they are blended with others relating to the day of judgment, we shall not confine them to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, but take them as declaring in general,
The state of mankind at large—
We are here told what was their state in the days of old—
[In the days of Noah and of Lot the great mass of mankind were in a state of carnal enjoyment, of criminal security, and of contemptuous unbelief.
Their business and their pleasures altogether engrossed their minds: ‘they ate and drank, and formed connexions, and got fortunes, and built houses, and planted grounds, and consulted their own happiness and comfort in the way they liked best.’ This was their entire employment, and the great object of their lives: if they could but make themselves happy and comfortable in their respective stations, it was all they cared for.
Had they pursued these things in subserviency to higher and better things, there would have been no blame imputed to them: for, the eating, and drinking, and marrying, and buying, and selling, and planting, and building, were not wrong in themselves: but the evil of this state consisted in its being their chief, if not their only, occupation. Had we been told, that, in addition to these things, they wept, they fasted, they prayed, they turned to God, and served the Lord with their whole hearts, we should not have grudged them one atom of their enjoyments, or have thought the worse of them for their worldly occupations. But God was not in all their thoughts; eternity was hid from their view; the things of time and sense engaged their whole attention: they took for granted that they had nothing to fear from the hands of God, and therefore they were under no anxiety to obtain his favour. In a word, they regarded their bodily welfare, but had no concern at all about their souls.
But this security of theirs did not proceed from ignorance: the antediluvians were taught by Noah, for one hundred and twenty years together, that God would punish their supineness, that he would punish it too by a deluge that should overwhelm the whole earth. Moreover, the ark was gradually prepared in their sight; so that at least they must see that the preacher believed his own declarations. In like manner, the inhabitants of Sodom were warned by Lot, who “vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds.” But, as Noah was doubtless regarded as little better than a maniac, so, Lot’s words, we are told, appeared, even to his own relatives, as idle tales; “he seemed as one that mocked unto his sons-in-law.” This it was that chiefly aggravated the guilt of the persons referred to: they were called, but they would not answer; they were warned, but they would not hear: they cast God’s words behind them, and set at nought all his threatenings, and poured contempt upon all his messages of love and mercy. Such was their state in the days of old.]
And similar to it will be the state of the world at the last day—
[Should we attempt to describe the state of the world at this hour, where could we find words more proper to represent it than those in the text? We may appeal to all, whether the great mass of Christians, no less than of heathens, be not divided between the two pursuits of business and pleasure? Into how many companies may you go, before you will find a person that seriously inquires, “Where is God my Maker?” We might here speak of the open sins which are every where committed without shame and without remorse: but we purposely omit the mention of any gross sin whatever, and confine ourselves to the things specified in our text as characterizing the most inoffensive part of the antediluvian world, and of the inhabitants of Sodom; because it is to the more inoffensive part of the community that we now more especially address ourselves: and we ask whether the text be not a faithful picture of them? In particular, is not serious religion held up to scorn? and are not the promoters of it considered as “the troublers of Israel?” Blessed be God, the ark is rearing in the midst of you; and there are a few who boldly protest against the impiety that prevails: but how few improve the warnings that they hear, or set themselves in earnest to flee from the wrath to come!
Nor is this picture less descriptive of those who will be alive at the day of judgment. The same carnal enjoyments will be sought then as now; the same criminal security will obtain; and the same contemptuous unbelief will decry all need of vital godliness. The people of that generation will be warned, even as you have been; and they will regard the messages of God as the dreams of gloomy superstition, or the reveries of enthusiastic folly. This state of things will continue even to the very moment that Christ shall come to judgment, precisely as it did among the antediluvians, till the flood came, and, among the inhabitants of Sodom, till the fire came down from heaven to consume them.]
This melancholy prospect renders it necessary for me to point out,
The danger of that state—
We have before observed, that the text primarily refers to the coming of Christ to destroy Jerusalem, but has a further reference also to his coming to judge the world. Agreeably to this view of it, shall be our consideration of the danger that attends the state therein described.
Consider then its danger,
To the nation—
[There is a time when Christ comes to punish nations, just as he did to punish Jerusalem. And how shall we judge of the time that he will come? I answer, then is he most likely to come, when a nation is in the state before described. That he is visiting the nations now, is a fact so clear, that no thoughtful man can entertain a doubt of it. Hitherto the showers of his wrath, which have deluged other lands, have but just sprinkled ours: but the clouds are black, and gathering thick around us: and the darkest symptom is, that, “though his hand is lifted up, we will not see it.” Consult the Scriptures, and see whether this security be not the surest forerunner of his judgments? See what was the state of Jerusalem previous to the Babylonish captivity, and say whether, whilst our state so precisely accords with it, we have not reason to tremble at the prospect of her judgments [Note: Isaiah 47:8-23.47.11.]? or let the predicted fall of the mystical Babylon be taken as a ground of your decision [Note: Revelation 18:7-66.18.8.]. The truth is, that, amidst all the advantages which we possess for superior piety, we take the lead in an idolatrous attachment to wealth and pleasure, and in a presumptuous confidence in an arm of flesh: we may well therefore expect, that the cup which others have drunk of, shall be put into our hands [Note: Jeremiah 25:15; Jeremiah 25:28-24.25.29.]; and that our superior guilt will issue in more aggravated calamities [Note: Amo 6:3-6 and Isaiah 22:12-23.22.14.].]
[The Lord Jesus may not in any signal manner visit men in this life; but he will infallibly call them to judgment in the world to come. For this end he will come to them, as soon as they shall have filled up the measure of their iniquities; and the same criterion which we have used in estimating the ripeness of nations for judgment, will serve us to judge of the state of individuals. God has told us, that “as fishes are taken in an evil net, and as birds are caught in a snare, so are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them [Note: Ecclesiastes 9:12.].” Moreover, to impress this the more strongly on our minds, he has represented a man, who, having succeeded in his temporal pursuits, congratulates himself on the prospect of many years of pleasurable enjoyment: and then he addresses that man in terms suited to the occasion; “Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee [Note: Luke 12:45-42.12.46.].” Here then we see a lively example of the state which is described in our text, and of the visit which the sinner receives from his offended Lord. May this awful representation never be realized in us! But let us tremble lest it should: for we are taught to expect, that “our Lord will come in a time that we look not for him, and at an hour that we are not aware [Note: Luke 12:19-42.12.20.]:” nay more, we are assured, that, when we begin to say, “I shall have peace though I walk in the imagination of my heart, then will God’s anger and jealousy smoke against us, and he will blot out our name from under heaven [Note: Deuteronomy 29:19-5.29.20.].”]
To the world at large—
[The precise season of the general judgment is not known to men or angels; nor was Christ himself, as man, informed of it, at least not so informed as to have it within his commission to declare it. But we have already seen in what state the world will be at its arrival. They will be expecting the period as little as we at present are. They will have been warned respecting it by the faithful ministers of Christ; but they will not regard the admonitions that are given them: they will rather scoff, as the antediluvians and the inhabitants of Sodom did, “Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation [Note: 2 Peter 3:3-61.3.4.]. But, in the midst of all their occupations, enjoyments, projects, the trumpet shall sound, and the Judge appear in his glory. This will take place “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:52.].” “As the lightning that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven shineth unto the other part under heaven, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be [Note: ver. 24.].” Alas! in what a condition will millions of the human race be found! some in the commission of the grossest crimes; some ridiculing the supposed weakness of their faithful monitors; and the more innocent among them occupied in nothing better than “eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, marrying and giving in marriage.” How terrible to be called to judgment in a state so unprepared! Will the suddenness of the event be any excuse for them in that day? or will it be any reason for averting or mitigating their punishment? No: it will be with them as with those mentioned in our text: “As soon as Noah entered into the ark, the flood came and destroyed them all;” and, “as soon as Lot went out of Sodom, the fire and brimstone descended and consumed them all:” so will all, that are unprepared to meet their God, be utterly and eternally destroyed. Hence the day of judgment is called, “the day of the perdition of ungodly men [Note: 2 Peter 2:7. The Greek.].” As long as we are in this world, it is “a day of acceptance, a day of salvation. [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:2.]” Yes, even to the eleventh hour we are warranted to invite men to return to God, and to assure them of a favourable reception: but when death or judgment arrive, there is an end of the day of grace, and then commences the day of everlasting perdition.]
The congregation in general—
[We would entreat every one of you to inquire, whether you are prepared to meet your God? This is no trifling question, no enthusiastic question, no party question; it is a question in which all are equally interested, the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the learned and the unlearned. And we beg leave to remind you all, that an inoffensive conduct is not sufficient to secure happiness for you in the last day. You will observe, that no gross sin is imputed to the antediluvian world, or to the inhabitants of Sodom; many of them doubtless were guilty of heinous transgressions: but the universal sin, the sin that destroyed them all, was carelessness. Say then, brethren, whether this do not characterize your state? and whether you have not reason to tremble for the judgments that shall come upon you? You are apt to promise yourselves a more convenient season for turning to God: but how many are disappointed in that hope! Suppose that, at the deluge, there were some so far wrought upon by the ministry of Noah, that they determined to follow his advice as soon as they should have finished their present business, and got more time for spiritual employments: suppose them surprised by the flood, witnessing the destruction of thousands around them, and, from an eminence to which they had fled, seeing the ark borne up by the waves in which they were shortly to be immersed; how would they wish that they had improved the day of their visitation, and fled to the ark for refuge! Thus pungent, thus fruitless, will be the remorse of millions in the day of judgment. But, blessed be God! the ark is not yet closed: it is open for all who will flee unto it: the Lord Jesus Christ never did, nor ever will, close the door against a repenting sinner: he came to seek and to save the lost; yea, he shed his blood upon the cross to save them. To every one of you then would we say, “Come my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut the door about thee, and hide thyself for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast [Note: Isaiah 26:20.].” But, if you will not hear, know of a certainty, that “your judgment lingereth not, and your damnation slumbereth not [Note: 2 Peter 2:3.]:” for, “if God spared not the angels that sinned …nor the old world …nor Sodom; but saved Noah …and delivered Lot, he knows at this time how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished [Note: 2 Peter 2:4-61.2.9.].”]
Those amongst you who make a profession of vital godliness—
[This subject may appear to some of you to be calculated to awaken sinners, but not very well suited to the edification of saints. This conceit appears to have entered into the mind of Christ’s Disciples; and to have been justly reproved by him: for, who is he that needs not such an admonition [Note: Matthew 24:44-40.24.46.]? We grant, that here are no new truths brought to our view: “you know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night;” and that when men shall say, ‘Peace and safety,’ then destruction shall come upon them as travail upon a woman with child, and they shall not escape. Ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night nor of darkness [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:2-52.5.5.].” But is this subject therefore uninstructive to you? Hear how the Apostle continues his address to the very persons whom he has thus described: “Therefore let us not sleep as do others; but let us watch and be sober: let us who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breast-plate of faith and love, and, for an helmet, the hope of salvation [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:6-52.5.8.].” Hear also how another Apostle addresses the whole Christian Church: “The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night …Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness; looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God? …Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of him in peace, without spot and blameless [Note: 2 Peter 3:10-61.3.14.].” As we said to others, that an inoffensive conduct will not suffice; so we must say to you, that a religious profession will not suffice. You know full well in what a state men ought to die; (how penitent, how believing, how devout in their minds, how subdued in their tempers, how superior to the world, how intent on heavenly things:) this then is the state in which you ought to live: that, when Jesus shall say to you, “Surely I come quickly;” you may be ready at all times to answer, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus [Note: Revelation 22:20.].”]
Luke 17:32. Remember Lot’s wife.
IT is necessary for mariners frequently to consult charts or maps, which have been formed for the purpose of pointing out to them the different bearings of different countries, and of guarding them against latent obstacles which would endanger the safety of their ship. But notwithstanding the utmost care that has been taken to ascertain the situation of rocks and shoals, it often happens that ships are wrecked, where no caution has been given in the most approved charts, and where no danger was apprehended. This however cannot happen to persons sailing for the port of heaven. There is not a rock or shoal that is not plainly laid down in the inspired volume; nor is there any fear of shipwreck to those who will follow the course which is there prescribed. That multitudes do perish, notwithstanding they have that volume before them, is certain. Many who have for a long time enjoyed, like Demas, a prosperous voyage, have yet, through their inattention to the cautions given them, struck upon the rocks of worldliness, and come short of the desired harbour. But the fault is in themselves only; they have been guarded in a peculiar manner against the danger to which they were exposed: it had been said to them, and it is said to us also, “Remember Lot’s wife.” But let us inquire,
What we are to remember concerning her.
We may comprehend the whole under two heads:
[She, as the history informs us, looked back towards Sodom after she had been delivered from it by the angels [Note: Genesis 19:26.].
Is it asked, What harm there was in this? we answer, it was in many points of view exceeding sinful. It was (to speak of it in the most favourable light) a curious look. Curiosity may indeed be innocent in respect to some things; but in reference to others, it may be highly criminal. Who can doubt the criminality of those Bethshemites who looked into the ark; when above fifty thousand of them were struck dead upon the spot for their transgression [Note: 1 Samuel 6:19.]? Or who that knows any thing of his own heart can doubt, whether he has not often contracted guilt by indulging an unhallowed curiosity to see, or hear, or read, things which he had no proper call to inquire into, and the knowledge of which tended only to inflame his imagination, and defile his soul? And surely the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrha was not a fit subject for curiosity, at a time too that she was rescued from it by the ministry of angels: her mind ought to have been very differently occupied on so awful an occasion.
But it was also an unbelieving look. She had been told that fire and brimstone should come down from heaven to destroy those wicked cities; and she was desirous to know whether the threatening were indeed true, or whether she was fleeing from only imaginary dangers. And was this no sin? Was not Sarah reproved for doubting an almost incredible promise [Note: Genesis 18:12-1.18.13.]? Was not Zacharias struck deaf and dumb for a similar fault [Note: Luke 1:18; Luke 1:20.]? Yea, were not all the nation of Israel doomed to perish in the wilderness on account of their unbelief [Note: Hebrews 3:18-58.3.19.]? Who then will say, What harm was there in her conduct?
Moreover, it was a wishful look. She had left a part of her family behind, together with (what she seemed more anxious about) the whole of her possessions; and, instead of being thankful for the preservation of her life, she was filled with regret about what she had lost. That this was a very essential part of her fault, is certain: because she is proposed as a warning to us in this particular view [Note: ver. 31.]. Her treasure was more in Sodom than in heaven; and she shewed by her look, that “where her treasure was, there was her heart also.” Was there then no crime in “setting her affections on things below, instead of on things above?”
Lastly, it was a disobedient look. However innocent it might be in every other view, it was palpably wrong in this. The command was plain and positive; “Look not behind thee in all the plain.” It was not for her to determine whether the command were more or less important; her duty was to obey it: and, in violating it, she rebelled against the Majesty of heaven. Eve’s eating of the forbidden fruit might be thought a slight offence; but it ruined the whole world. And Saul’s sparing of Agag and the spoil, might be called a merciful and commendable deviation from the commission given him; but it was declared to be rebellion against God, and as criminal in his estimation as witchcraft or idolatry [Note: 1 Samuel 15:22-9.15.23.].
In remembering therefore her sin, we should remember, that God looks not merely on our outward conduct, but at the inward principles and dispositions of the heart.]
[This was truly awful. She was instantly involved in the very same ruin that overwhelmed all the cities of the plain. Not a moment was allowed her for repentance; but she was cut off in the very act of sin, and summoned into the presence of her Judge to receive her doom at his hands — — —
It was moreover exemplary. She was made a monument of God’s holy indignation, and a warning to all future ages, that men must not trifle with sin, or be inattentive to the Divine commands. Wherever the Bible shall come, even to the very end of time, she will be held up as an example of that vengeance, which shall sooner or later overtake all whose hearts are at variance with their professions.]
It will be proper to state,
Why we are to bear her in remembrance—
Much there is that we may learn from her; but particularly,
[That we are not to be altogether “of the world,” is a truth that scarcely need be mentioned to those who make any profession of religion. But very few are aware to what an extent our renunciation of it should be carried. It is not sufficient, that we do not run to the same excess of riot with the ungodly; or that we differ from them in appearance and profession: we must indeed have some intercourse with them (or else we could not fill up our several stations in life); but we must “come out from among them and be separate, and have no more communion with them than light with darkness, or Christ with Belial [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:14-47.6.17.].” Nor must we have our heart set upon our property, when God in his providence is calling us to forsake it. We need not put away riches from us, if God is pleased to cast them into our lap; nor ought we to be indifferent to the preservation of them, if we can keep them together with our integrity; but they are not to be our idol; nor ought we to regret the loss of them, if we be called to sacrifice them for the honour of our God. We should have our affections withdrawn from things below, and set exclusively on things above. We should “love nothing that is in the world,” so as to judge it at all necessary to our happiness: instead of wishing to accumulate possessions in it, or to enjoy its vanities, it should be our principal care to shun its pollutions, and escape its plagues [Note: Revelation 18:4.]. If we look back upon it at all, it must only be for the purpose of kindling in our hearts a more lively gratitude to God, who in infinite mercy has delivered us from it, and plucked us out of it as brands out of the burning.]
[Let not any one imagine himself safe, because he is come out of Sodom, and is associated with those who are fleeing from the wrath to come. We know that the Scripture does give many blessed assurances of the Divine protection to those who trust in God: but it is a very sinful perversion of the Scriptures to interpret them in such a manner, as to invalidate all the solemn cautions which are given against apostatizing from our profession, and falling short of the promised rest. We are in danger [Note: 2 Peter 2:18; 2 Peter 2:20; 2 Peter 3:17.]: and our security principally consists in feeling our danger, and in acting conformably to those sensations. For what end are we so frequently reminded of the destruction of the Israelites after they had been brought out of Egypt, and after they had been favoured with God’s visible presence in the wilderness [Note: Jude, ver. 5. 1 Corinthians 10:1-46.10.6; 1 Corinthians 10:11-46.10.12.]? or why did our Lord so strongly recommend us to “remember Lot’s wife;” and tell us, that “no man, who having put his hand to the plough should look back, was fit for the kingdom of God?” or where is the man, however confident he may be about the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, who will venture to say, that he himself is in no danger of “looking back,” and that he is already so “escaped from the pollutions of the world, that he never can be entangled again with them and overcome?” I say again, we are in danger, all of us; and it becomes us “not to be high-minded, but to fear.” “Let him therefore that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall.”]
In conclusion, we would suggest a few hints respecting the manner in which you should obey the admonition in the text. Remember her,
With thanksgivings to God, that you have not long since experienced a similar judgment — — —
With prayer to God, that he would “keep you by his own power through faith unto everlasting salvation” — — —
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Luke 17". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany