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THE DUTY OF PERSEVERING IN PRAYER
Luke 18:1. Men ought always to pray, and not to faint.
THE efficacy of prayer is continually exhibited in the sacred writings, and every incitement to it is afforded us: nevertheless we are prone to faint in the performance of it. To encourage our perseverance in it our Lord delivered a parable. Waving all notice of the parable itself, we shall consider,
To be always in the act of prayer would interfere with other duties: that which is here inculcated, implies that we pray,
[Regular seasons for prayer should be fixed. Except in cases of absolute necessity [Note: Matthew 9:13.] they should be adhered to. We should constantly acknowledge God in the public assembly [Note: Hebrews 10:25.]. We should maintain his worship also in our families [Note: Abraham and Joshua were noted for their attention to family religion, Genesis 18:19. Joshua 24:15 : and our Lord’s example is worthy of imitation; he not only expounded his parables to his disciples in private, but prayed with them. See Luke 9:18. which means, “he was at a distance from the multitude, and praying with his disciples.”]; nor should we on any account omit it in our closets [Note: How frequent the stated seasons shall be, must be left to our own discretion; David’s example is good, Psalms 55:17. But as the morning and evening sacrifices were called the continual burnt-offering, so they may be said to pray always, who pray at those returning seasons.].]
[There are many particular occasions which require us to pray: in prosperity, that God may counteract its evil tendency [Note: Our liturgy teaches us to pray, in all time of our wealth. See Proverbs 30:9.]: in adversity, that we may be supported under it [Note: James 5:13.]: in times of public distress or danger, to avert the calamity [Note: 2 Chronicles 7:14.].]
[We should maintain a spiritual frame of mind. We may have a disposition for prayer in the midst of business; nor will secret ejaculations prevail less than solemn devotions [Note: Compare 2 Samuel 15:31. with 2Sa 17:14; 2 Samuel 17:23. See also Nehemiah 2:4; Nehemiah 2:6.].]
To pray thus is our duty; “We ought,” &c.
It is a duty we owe to God—
[He, our Creator, Preserver, and Redeemer, has commanded it; nor can any thing absolve us from our obligation to obey.]
We owe it also to our neighbour—
[The edification of Christ’s mystical body depends, not only on the union of every part with the head, but on the whole being fitly framed together, and on every joint supplying its proper nourishment [Note: Ephesians 4:16. Colossians 2:19.]. But if we be remiss in prayer, we shall be incapable of administering that benefit, which other members have a right to expect from us [Note: Samuel had a deep conviction of this truth; 1 Samuel 12:23.].]
We owe it to ourselves—
[A “spirit of supplication” is as necessary to the soul, as food to the body; nor can we feel any regard for our souls, if we do not cultivate it.]
It is, however, by no means easy to fulfil this duty—
The difficulties that attend it—
When we set ourselves to the performance of it, we shall find difficulties—
Before we begin to pray—
[ Worldly business may occupy, or worldly amusements dissipate, our thoughts. Family cares may distract our minds, and family disagreements indispose us for this holy employment [Note: 1 Peter 3:7.]. Lassitude of body may unfit us for the necessary exertions. We may be disabled by an invincible hardness of heart. A want of utterance may also operate as a heavy discouragement. By these means many are tempted to defer their religious exercises: but to yield to the temptation is to increase the difficulty.]
While we are engaged in prayer—
[The world is never more troublesome than at such seasons. Something seen or heard, lost or gained, done or to be done, will generally obtrude itself upon us when we are at the throne of grace. The flesh also, with its vilest imaginations, will solicit our attention; nor will Satan be backward to interrupt our devotions [Note: He has various devices whereby he strives to accomplish his purpose. He will suggest “it is needless to pray:” or, “it is presumption for so great a sinner to ask any thing of God:” or, “it is hypocrisy to ask, when the heart is so little engaged.” Sometimes he will inject into the Christian’s mind the most blasphemous and horrid thoughts; and at other times tempt him to admire his own fluency and enlargement in prayer. Such are the “fiery darts” with which he often assails the soul, Ephesians 6:16.].]
After we have concluded prayer—
[When we have prayed, we should expect an answer. But worldliness may again induce a forgetfulness of God; and a habit of worldly conversation drive every serious thought from our minds. Impatience to receive the desired blessings may deject us. Ignorance of the method in which God answers prayer may cause us to disquiet ourselves with many ungrounded apprehensions. Unbelief may rob us of the benefits we might have received [Note: James 1:6-7.]. Whatever obstructs God’s answers to prayer, disqualifies us for the future discharge of that duty.]
[Let us not expect victory without many conflicts. Let us remember the effect of perseverance in the case of Moses [Note: Exodus 17:11-13.]. Above all, let us attend to the parable spoken for this end [Note: Luke 18:2-8.]. So shall we be kept from fainting under our discouragements, and God will fulfil to us his own promise [Note: Galatians 6:9.] —]
THE IMPORTUNATE WIDOW
Luke 18:6-8. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of Man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?
THERE is no duty more strongly enforced in Scripture than that of prayer: nor is there any which needs to be more impressed upon the conscience. To those, who have never engaged in this duty with real spirituality of mind, it may appear easy to be performed; but they, who are most earnest in the discharge of it, find many difficulties to combat with. To encourage us to persevere in spite of all those difficulties, our Lord spake the parable before us [Note: ver. 1.].
We shall consider,
What the unjust judge said—
There was a widow labouring under some heavy oppression—
[Sin has universally armed men against their fellow-creatures. The world is full of robbery and oppression of every kind [Note: Psalms 74:20.]; and they who are most defenceless usually suffer the greatest injuries. Every one is ready to take advantage of the fatherless and the widow. It is their comfort, however, that, if they have enemies on earth, they have a friend in heaven [Note: Psalms 68:5.].]
She went to a magistrate to redress her grievances—
[The appointment of magistrates is a rich blessing to the community, and they ought to be regarded with much respect and gratitude. We should not indeed be going to law about every trifle. We should rather settle our disputes, if possible, by arbitration; but under the widow’s circumstances, it was right to solicit the magistrate’s interference.]
The judge, for a long season, would pay no attention to her request—
[The judge happened to be of a most abandoned character: he had no fear of the holy, omniscient, almighty God: he did not even regard the good opinion of mankind. Thus he had no rule of conduct but his own caprice or interest. Surely, next to a vicious minister, there can be no greater curse to a neighbourhood than such an abandoned magistrate as this. We have reason to bless God, however, that though such characters are too common, they are rarely to be found among the magistracy. No wonder that such an one was deaf to the cries of equity and compassion.]
At last, however, he acknowledged himself overcome by her importunity—
[He gloried in his contempt of all laws human and divine [Note: ver. 4.]; but he could not bear the constant entreaties of the widow: he was afraid of being “wearied” or even stunned [Note: Ὑπωπιάζῃ με, obtundat me.] with her cries. He therefore, purely to get rid of her interposed on her behalf, and did that for his own ease, which he should have done from a better motive. Thus, alas! he proclaimed his own shame; but declared, in a very striking manner, the efficacy of importunity.]
His speech, impious as it was, may be rendered profitable to our souls:
The improvement suggested by our Lord—
Our Lord makes a twofold application of the subject—
In a way of instruction—
We all, in a spiritual view, resemble this helpless widow—
[We are beset with enemies both within and without: our conflicts with indwelling corruption are great and manifold. We have moreover to contend with all the powers of darkness [Note: Ephesians 6:12.]; nor have we in ourselves any strength to resist our adversaries [Note: John 15:5.].]
But God, the judge of all, will help us if we call upon him—
[God has promised to hear the supplications of his people [Note: Mat 7:7-8]: he has declared that he will “cast out none who come to him.” He may indeed for wise reasons delay his answers to prayer: he may “bear so long with us” as to make us think he will not hear; but he will never fail to succour us in the fittest season.]
This may be strongly deduced from the preceding parable—
[The widow was a stranger not at all related to the judge; but we are “God’s elect,” his favoured and “peculiar people.” The unjust judge was not interested in granting her petition; but God’s honour is concerned in relieving the wants of his people [Note: John 14:13.]. We may even address him in the language of holy David [Note: Psalms 74:22.] —. There was little hope of prevailing with such a merciless and unjust judge; but we have to go to a loving, and compassionate Father [Note: Joel 2:13.]. The widow moreover had none to intercede for her; but we have a righteous and all-prevailing advocate [Note: 1 John 2:1.]. She was in danger of irritating the judge by her entreaties; but the more importunate we are, the more God is pleased with us [Note: Proverbs 15:8. Psalms 72:7.]. She, notwithstanding all her difficulties, obtained her request. How much more then shall we, who, in lieu of her difficulties, have such abundant encouragements! Surely this deduction is as consoling as it is plain and obvious, and our Lord, with peculiar earnestness, confirms it [Note: He first appeals to us, and then adds, “I tell you,” &c.]: nor can that be justly deemed tardy, which comes in the fittest season.]
In a way of reproof—
There is but little of such importunity to be found; nor is this to be wondered at, since there is so little “faith on the earth”—
[Faith is that principle from whence earnest prayer proceeds. If we believe the declarations of God, we must feel ourselves weak and helpless: if we credit his promises, we shall acknowledge his readiness to help us: and if we believe the reality and importance of eternal things, we shall most earnestly seek help from God; nor shall we be unwilling to wait till he see fit to answer us. But how little is there of such faith in the world! How few are faithful to the convictions of their own conscience! How few maintain this holy constancy and fervour in prayer! How few can be truly called “a people nigh unto God!”]
If Christ should now come to judgment, would he find this faith in us?
[Some live without any acknowledgment of God in prayer: they seem to have forgotten that there will be a day of judgment: others engage statedly in their accustomed round of duties, and satisfy themselves with an unmeaning recital of certain words. There are others also who under the pressure of affliction will cry to God, but are soon weary of a service in which they have no pleasure. Few, very few, it is to be feared, resemble the importunate widow. Few pray, as if they thoroughly believed the efficacy of prayer. If “Christ should now come, would he find faith” in us? He will surely inquire as well respecting our faith, as our works; and if we have not the faith that stimulates us to prayer, he will appoint us our portion with the unbelievers.]
Those who live without prayer—
[Such persons are as devoid of reason as they are of piety. What madness is it to neglect heaven when it may be obtained by such means! And how will such thoughtless sinners ere long bewail their folly! We cannot but address them as the mariners did the sleeping prophet [Note: John 1:6.]—.]
Those who pray only in a formal manner—
[Formal services are far from being pleasing and acceptable to God: they tend, for the most part, only to deceive our own souls. God requires us to worship him in spirit and in truth [Note: John 4:23-24.]. Let us then remember the awful declaration of our Lord [Note: Mark 7:6-7.]—.]
Those who, after praying for a season, become remiss again—
[See whether it be not the love of earthly things that hath hindered you. If so, repent and do your first works, and turn unto your God [Note: Revelation 2:5.]: but perhaps you faint merely through the discouragements you meet with [Note: Psalms 77:7-9. Proverbs 13:12.]. Let the remembrance of the importunate widow revive your hopes. Justify God, as the Psalmist did in similar circumstances [Note: Psalms 22:2-3.], and renew your application to him in dependence on his gracious promise [Note: Habakkuk 2:3.].]
Those that have received gracious answers to prayer—
[Let not the goodness of God to you become an occasion of pride. God was not first moved by any worthiness in your petitions; but he stirred you up to ask, because he had before determined to give. If this view of things be humiliating, it also affords much encouragement. Every believing prayer may be considered as a pledge of the blessings asked [Note: Psalms 6:9.]. Adopt therefore the pious resolution of the Psalmist [Note: Psalms 116:2.]—; so shall your prayers terminate in everlasting praises.]
THE PHARISEE AND THE PUBLICAN
Luke 18:13-14. And the Publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so muck as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.
MANY express their regret, that religion is so generally neglected; and doubtless, a considerate man cannot reflect upon it but with grief. But it is common also to substitute a formal and mistaken religion in the place of that which is spiritual and saving. Nor is there sufficient jealousy entertained on this subject. The Pharisees of old were extremely diligent in the observance of outward duties: but, while they “trusted in themselves that they were righteous,” they were as far from the kingdom of God as if they had been openly profane. For the conviction of such persons, our Lord contrasted, in a parable, the spirit of a self-righteous Pharisee with that of a repenting Publican. He represented them as engaged in prayer, which is a season when most of all they discover their true character. He then declared the very different acceptance they met with from God. In pursuance of our Lord’s design, we will open more fully,
The different dispositions they manifested in prayer—
The Pharisee, with apparent devotion, gave thanks to God—
[The Pharisee might with propriety bless God for his preventing grace, and acknowledge with gratitude whatever God had wrought in him. Nor was it sinful to feel a pleasure in reviewing his past life. St. Paul, on proper occasions, spake of his disinterestedness and generosity [Note: Acts 20:33-34.]. He thanked God also that he had laboured more than all the Apostles [Note: 1 Corinthians 15:10.], and received much satisfaction in reflecting on his own integrity [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:12.].]
But on a more attentive survey of his spirit we shall find him actuated by a most hateful disposition. Mark,
[He came professedly with an intention to pray to God; but he was so full of his virtues that he forgat all his wants. His acknowledgment of God was manifestly no more than a mere compliment. His thanksgiving was one continued eulogium upon himself: yet, after all, his freedom from gross sins was but a small matter to boast of, and the duties he had practised were only the means of gratifying his vanity.]
[Not satisfied with commending himself, he poured contempt on all others [Note: Οἰ λοιποὶ, the rest of the world.]. He arrogantly presumed to judge the Publican in particular: but what concern had he with the state of other men? Their greater degrees of sinfulness could not make him less sinful: nor should it have been a subject of boast, but of lamentation. He should have taken occasion from it, not to insult over them, but to intercede for them: but the guilt and misery of his fellow-creatures were to him a source of gratification rather than of grief: nor did he care how many might perish, provided he could have the satisfaction of contemplating his own superior goodness.]
[He confessed no sins, because he thought he had none to confess; or that they were far overbalanced by his virtues. He implored no help, because he felt no need of divine assistance. He entertained no doubt of his own ability to do the will of God. The whole of his deportment shewed the thought of his heart to be, “In myself have I righteousness and strength.”]
The Publican manifested a spirit altogether the reverse of this—
[He was of a profession that was generally and perhaps justly execrated [Note: The Publicans were tax-gatherers; and, under pretence of gathering the legal imposts, generally extorted more than was due: hence their very employment was held odious, and all who engaged in it were detested.]: and it is probable he had yielded to the temptations that beset him; but now, “what had been sweet in his mouth, was become gall in his bowels.”]
He approached God with deep humility and contrition—
[He came into the temple with a holy fear and trembling. While the Pharisee boldly walked up to the highest part, he stood, as it were, at the very threshold. While the Pharisee ostentatiously spread forth his hands, he did not presume to “lift up so much as his eyes” to heaven. Instead of boasting of his goodness, he humbled himself as “a sinner.” He confessed himself to be deserving of God’s wrath and indignation. With much anguish of spirit he “smote upon his breast,” and cried for mercy as one who felt himself the chief of sinners.]
He placed all his confidence in God alone—
[He did not attempt to extenuate his guilt, or promise amendment as a reparation for his offences. He renounced all self-righteous methods of recommending himself to God, and cast himself entirely upon the Divine mercy.]
Services performed in so different a spirit could not find equal acceptance—
The different success with which their prayers were attended—
The Pharisee could not reasonably expect a blessing—
[Many humble persons indeed would envy his conscious rectitude, and wish that they could lay claim to such purity as his. But, what could he obtain who did not condescend to ask any thing? His pride would set God at a greater distance from him [Note: Psalms 138:6.]. Had he been able to boast of far greater things than he possessed, his uncharitableness bad rendered them all of no value [Note: 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.], and his self-dependence cut him off from all hope in the Divine mercy [Note: Galatians 5:2; Galatians 5:4.]. Hence, though full of self-applause, he departed without a blessing from God. Though justified in his own conceit, he was under condemnation for sin. He was odious in God’s eyes in proportion as he was amiable in his own. This is asserted, not in the text only, but in other passages of Scripture [Note: Proverbs 16:5.] —. Jehovah himself declares this in very significant and awful terms [Note: Isaiah 65:5. Here the Pharisee’s character is described in perfect correspondence with the text: and God’s indignation against him is very strongly painted.]—.]
The Publican, on the contrary, was blessed beyond his expectation—
[Many would have reprobated his downcast look and solemn attitude, and have judged him to be a melancholy enthusiast or a designing hypocrite. But God regarded him with complacency and delight. Such humility and contrition could not fail of engaging his care [Note: Isaiah 57:15.Psalms 51:17; Psalms 51:17.]; and such affiance in him obliged him, as it were, to display his mercy [Note: Psalms 125:1.Isaiah 26:3-4; Isaiah 26:3-4.]. Hence the Publican went home justified, while the Pharisee returned in a state of condemnation [Note: This is the import of that which the text expresses in a way of comparison.]. Thus it is that God will deal with every humble suppliant [Note: Job 33:27-28.]. He will assuredly exalt us in proportion as we abase ourselves.]
Those who trust in themselves that they are righteous—
[Almost all, when interrogated about their souls, reply as this Pharisee [Note: “I am not the worst of sinners,” &c. &c.]—. But we shall not stand or fall by a comparison with other men. If we have been free from some sins, we have committed many others; and if we have practised some duties, we have neglected many others. As sinners we must all humble ourselves like the Publican: nor is there a possibility of obtaining mercy in any other way [Note: Proverbs 28:13. 1 John 1:8-9.].]
Those who are of a contemptuous spirit while they profess to believe in Christ—
[Many pride themselves on the knowledge of the Gospel, as the Pharisee did on his virtues, and speak as contemptuously of the unenlightened world as he did of the Publican. Conceited, arrogant, contentious, they make the Gospel itself an occasion of sin. Well did St. Paul reprove such persons in the Corinthian Church [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:3; 1 Corinthians 4:7.]. Let them remember that humility and love are the very essence of religion; and beware, lest the higher they are exalted in privileges, the deeper they fall into destruction.]
Those who are low and vile in their own esteem—
[Never are you higher in God’s esteem than when you are lowest in your own. Fear not but that they who trust in God’s mercy shall find mercy at his hands. Let that faithful saying of the Apostle’s sink deep into your hearts [Note: 1 Timothy 1:15.].—Look truly to the Saviour, and you may “go down to your house justified [Note: Christ emphatically says, “I say unto you,” &c.].” To every believing penitent he speaks as he did to that repenting sinner [Note: Luke 7:48; Luke 7:50.]—.]
CHRIST FORETELLS HIS OWN SUFFERINGS
Luke 18:31-34. Then he took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man shall be accomplished. For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: and they shall scourge him, and put him to death: and the third day he shall rise again. And they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken.
WE are informed respecting some of the heathen philosophers, that they had a doctrine for the vulgar, and a different doctrine for their own immediate disciples. Not so our blessed Lord; he had the same doctrine for all: but he communicated some things more plainly to his select followers, because they had, by reason of their constant attendance upon him, a clearer conception of his meaning, and because they were afterwards to become the instructors of the world. Hence we find that he explained to them in private what he had spoken to the public in parables: and in these private, no less than in his public, instructions, he was indefatigable; embracing every opportunity, whether when sitting in the house, or when walking by the way. He was now walking with his Disciples towards Jerusalem; and, as his death was speedily approaching, he judged it right to apprise them what they were to expect. He knew how great a stumbling-block his sufferings were likely to prove to those who did not understand the reason and necessity of them; and therefore he determined once more to inform them, that the sufferings were not unexpected casualties, but events foreseen by him and fore-ordained by God.
In this passage there are two things to be noticed;
The minuteness of our Lord’s prophecy—
We can scarcely conceive a prophecy to be more circumstantial than that before us: and in this view it reflects peculiar light on,
His character as a man—
[The particular sufferings here specified are most terrible to flesh and blood: yet behold, he speaks of them with as much composure as if they were light and insignificant. But in regarding them with such indifference, he shewed how undaunted was his fortitude, how ardent his zeal, how unquenchable his love. Previous to his specifying these things, when he did but manifest a readiness to go up to Jerusalem, where the Jews of late had sought to stone him, his Disciples were amazed at his intrepidity, and trembled for themselves lest they also should be involved in difficulties through him [Note: Compare John 11:7-8; John 11:16; John 11:37. with Mark 10:32. He “went before: they “amazed, and afraid.”]: and, if they were so agitated with a confused apprehension of probable evils, how great must his resolution have been, who saw every trouble distinct and certain, and yet went forward boldly to meet it all! But he had undertaken to glorify his Father upon earth, and to open a way for the display of all his perfections in the salvation of fallen man; and he would not go back: yea, foreseeing what a “bloody baptism he had to be baptized with, he was quite straitened till it should be accomplished.” The only alternative was, to bear the sins of men in his own body, or to leave them to perish under the wrath of God: and though he knew how dreadful that wrath was, and that, if not borne by him as their surety, they must bear it for ever, he went forward a willing sacrifice, and “gave himself up for us an offering to God of a sweet-smelling savour.” These heavenly virtues, I say, are all heightened by the consideration, that he had a distinct view of the indignities that were to be offered to him, and the miseries that he was to endure; and his prophetic enumeration of them discovers and illustrates the unrivalled excellencies of his character.]
His office as the Messiah—
[What clearer proof could be given of his Messiahship? Two questions I would put to any one that doubts the Messiahship of Jesus; and I will defy all the infidels upon earth to answer them: Could any impostor foresee such events? or, Would any impostor rest his pretensions on the accomplishment of them? We may conceive an impostor to foresee, that he shall be treated with much indignity, and that he shall be put to death: I say, he may see so great a probability of these things, as that he shall venture to predict them: but the circumstances foretold by our Lord are beyond the sphere of probability. Compare the account of this prophecy as it is related in the text, and by St. Matthew [Note: Matthew 20:18-19.]: Jesus foretells that he was to be betrayed, and “delivered up into the hands of the Chief Priests and Scribes;” that he was to undergo the formality of a trial, and “be condemned” by a judicial sentence: that he should then not be put to death by them, but “be delivered unto the Gentiles,” and by them be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spit on: that by them also he should be scourged; and after that should “be crucified” as a slave. Now the probability was, that he would be tumultuously stoned to death by the Jews; because that was the punishment annexed to the crime of which they accused him, namely, blasphemy; and because they had repeatedly attempted to stone him before. As for the Jews delivering him up to the Romans, particularly after the Roman Governor had given them leave to “take and judge him according to their law,” it was highly improbable, considering how jealous the Jews were of the Roman power, and how much they hated it. But supposing him delivered up to the Romans, what reason was there to think that he should he insulted by them, and in the precise manner which he described? But why should they “scourge” him? or, if he must be scourged, why must he be put to death, and that too the death of a slave? No other persons were scourged and crucified too: and the fact is, that Pilate ordered him to be scourged in order to prevent his crucifixion: he hoped, that the Jews, when they saw how severely he had been scourged, would have been satisfied to let him go: and it was nothing but a most singular concurrence of most implacable enmity on their part, and most shameful cowardice on his, that produced the accomplishment of the whole prophecy. I ask then again, Could any impostor foresee such events? or rather, must not he who did foresee them be endued with a divine prescience, that proved him incontestably to have been sent from God?
But supposing for argument sake that an impostor might guess at these things, and venture to predict them; would any impostor rest his pretensions on the accomplishment of such events as these? Though he might foretell many indignities to be offered him, would he predict his death, and so cruel a death as that of the cross, when he would thereby be precluded from reaping any benefit from his imposture, and be hurried into the eternal world to answer for his deceit at the tribunal of his God? Would any man in his senses act such a part as this? But if we could suppose it possible that a man should be so under the influence of vanity, as to sacrifice his present and eternal welfare for the purpose of leaving a name behind him, and being followed by survivors as a founder of a sect, would he be mad enough to give out, as our Lord did, that he “would rise again the third day?” Would he fix on a test which in so short a time should prove his imposture, and expose him to the scorn and derision of the whole world? They who can believe that any impostor would do this, have no cause to complain of any thing incredible in the sacred oracles; for all the difficulties that can be found in the whole scheme of Christianity, are nothing in comparison of this, no, not worthy of a thought.
Besides, our blessed Lord speaks of “all these things as written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man;” so that they also, living at the distance of many hundred years from him, and from each other, must have been confederate with him, if he was an impostor: but, if this could not be, then does this circumstantial prediction of his sufferings and resurrection, accomplished as it was in every minute particular, prove beyond a doubt, that he was the true Messiah.]
Let us now proceed to notice,
The dulness of his Disciples in comprehending it—
Nothing could be plainer than his words: there are no figures, no metaphors, no parabolical expressions; all is clear, plain, literal, explicit. Whence then was it that the Disciples could “not understand these things; that this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken?” The truth is, they were blinded,
By their prejudice—
[They had, in common with their nation at large, formed a notion that the Messiah was to be a temporal Prince, and not only to liberate them from the Roman yoke, but to establish an universal empire upon earth: and as the things which Jesus predicted were altogether irreconcileable with those ideas, they could not at all receive his word, or comprehend his meaning. He had often repeated the same truths to them: but still they could not understand him. Now it is owing to this cause that the Gospel is so little understood at this day. Men have formed pre-conceived notions of religion; and, because they do not find them confirmed by the sacred writers, they cannot receive even the plainest declarations of God himself. The current idea of religion is, that ‘we are imperfect creatures, needing some amendment; yet, provided we are not grossly immoral, we have nothing to fear: if we are sober and honest, and just and charitable, and approve ourselves good members of society, God will readily pardon our little imperfections; and whatever is wanting to recommend us to his favour, Jesus Christ will supply. These are the views almost universally adopted, and the sentiments that are maintained, wherever religion is made the subject of conversation. Now when persons, possessed of these ideas, hear that we are altogether corrupt and abominable, and justly exposed to the curse and wrath of God for our innumerable violations of his law, they cannot tell what we mean: we appear to them to be misrepresenting and libelling human nature. When they hear that we must be created anew in Christ Jesus, and “be renewed in the spirit of our minds,” that “old things must pass away, and all things must become new,” and that “except we be born again, we cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven,” they have no idea what it is that we mean; but without much inquiry they take for granted that these are some gloomy or extravagant notions of wild enthusiasts. When they hear that we must “flee to Christ for refuge,” just as the man who had accidentally slain a person fled to the city of refuge from the pursuer of blood; and that, if we do not actually get our souls washed in his blood, we must eternally perish; we seem to them to be alarming men without necessity, and to be discouraging the practice of good works. So also, when they hear that we are to devote ourselves altogether unto God, “living not to ourselves but unto him,” and “walking in all things as Christ walked,” we appear to them to be requiring a degree of sanctity that is not to be attained, and that is incompatible with the common offices of life. Their own notions are so deeply rooted in their minds, and they pay so little attention to any thing spoken in the Scriptures, that they cannot conceive how sentiments so different from those which they have imbibed, can possibly be true.
To counteract this fatal evil, I would earnestly entreat all to lay aside their pre-conceived notions, and to come to the sacred volume, not as critics to sit in judgment upon God, but as little children to be instructed by him: on opening that blessed book, we should lift up our hearts to God, and pray with David, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.”]
By their worldliness—
[It is surprising to what an extent the love of this world yet predominated in the hearts of the Apostles. One would have supposed, that now at least for a few moments they should lose sight of their ambitious projects, and turn their minds to higher objects of pursuit: but not all that our Lord had said respecting his own sufferings, had in the least damped their expectations of worldly good: for St. Matthew tells us, that “then came James and John, with their Mother Salome, uniting their requests, that these two might be the chief ministers in his kingdom:” and the other ten Apostles, instead of pitying them for their folly, were filled with indignation against them, for endeavouring to secure posts of honour, which they were equally entitled to, and equally ambitious to attain [Note: Matthew 20:19-21; Matthew 20:24.].” Can we wonder that, in such a state of mind as this, they could not comprehend what our Lord spoke about his sufferings and death?
Here again we see whence it is that men are so slow of heart to receive the self-denying truths of the Gospel. We call men to renounce the world, to “come out from it,” to “be crucified to it,” to consider themselves altogether as “pilgrims and sojourners in it,” and to “have their conversation in heaven:” but how can they comply with such exhortations as these? We tell them, that if they will be Christ’s disciples, they must deny themselves, and take up their cross and follow him: we tell them, that they must be conformed to him in sufferings, if ever they will be partakers with him in glory: but how can they endure such doctrines who are looking for wealth and honour and ease as the great sources of their happiness in life? “How can they believe who receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour which cometh of God only?” We have a remarkable illustration of this truth in the conduct of the Pharisees: our Lord had told them that they “could not serve God and Mammon:” and immediately it is recorded of them, that “being covetous, they derided him [Note: Luke 16:14.].” What! was there any thing absurd in our Lord’s declarations? No: but the Pharisees were reduced to the necessity of condemning either themselves or him: themselves they would not condemn, because they were determined not to renounce their covetous desires; and therefore they condemned him as a weak, foolish enthusiast. Thus it is with worldlings in every age and place. Not but that they see more than they are willing to confess; but that, “being averse to receive the truth, God gives them over to their own delusions, till at last they believe their own lie [Note: 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12.].”
How then shall this evil be counteracted? Let us be aware that there is a bias within us, and that Satan makes use of our corruptions to blind our eyes and to harden our hearts. Let us beg of God to take the veil from our hearts, and so to irradiate our minds with divine knowledge, that we shall be constrained to “receive the truth in the love thereof.”]
From hence arise two obvious and important questions:
What know I of Christ?
[We have certainly in some respects the advantage of the Apostles during the time of Christ’s continuance on earth; because we have clearer light given us, and fewer prejudices to contend with. We therefore, as far as respects our speculative views of Christianity, are better instructed than they. But wherein do we differ from them in their practical views? Are we not as blind to the spiritual nature of the Gospel as they? We see indeed that Christ has suffered; but do we see the necessity of those sufferings for our salvation, and the sufficiency of them for the salvation of the whole world? Or, if we do see these truths nationally, do we view them as the life, the soul, the essence of all religion? Do we live upon them, and glory in them, from day to day? — — — Before we can know them thus, we must be “taught of God:” the Lord Jesus himself must “open our understandings,” as he did those of his Disciples: and the Holy Ghost must “shine into our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” We must “receive the Spirit which is of God, before we can know the things that are freely given to us of God [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:10-11; 1Co 2:14 and 2 Corinthians 4:6.].”]
What am I doing for Christ?
[Surely, if he so willingly gave himself up to sufferings for me, I am not afraid of sufferings for him; I am ready to “follow him without the camp, bearing his reproach.” He has told me, that, if I will be faithful to him, the world will hate me as it hated him, and persecute me as it persecuted him. Do these predictions alarm me? and, when I see them fulfilled in others, do I study how I may avoid the accomplishment of them in my own case? Surely, if my heart were right with him, I should be willing to receive him on his own terms, and to follow him in his own way; and, if called to suffer for him, I should “rejoice that I am counted worthy to do so.” Is this then my spirit? and is it my one wish, desire, and labour, that “Christ may be magnified in my body, whether by life or death?” O! that we all might be able to appeal to God, that this is indeed our daily experience! Let us remember, that Christ not only died, but rose again, according to his predictions; and then the shame of his cross was for ever rolled away. So shall it be with us; we may be persecuted for his sake even unto death; but in the resurrection, our crown of glory shall be proportionably bright: let us be contented therefore to “suffer with him, that we may reign with him;” and, in spite of men and devils, let us endeavour to glorify him here, that we may hereafter be glorified with him in a better world.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Luke 18". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29