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THE FIVE THOUSAND FED
Luke 9:12-42.9.13. And when the day began to wear away, then came the twelve, and said unto him, Send the multitude away, that they may go into the towns and country round about, and lodge, and get victuals: for we are here in a desert place. But he said unto them, Give ye them to eat.
WITH all our active services for the Lord it is proper to blend devotion and retirement; that so we may not neglect our own vineyard, whilst we are cultivating that of others. But there are calls which may properly supersede for a time our private duties; as God has told us by the prophet, “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice.”
Our blessed Lord, wearied with his continual labours, had retired to a desert place for meditation and prayer. But the people still following him in great numbers, he denied himself those necessary enjoyments, and not only renewed his exertions with all his wonted earnestness, but supplied by miracle the wants of all who waited on him. This event being replete with instruction, I shall set before you,
The Miracle he wrought—
The multitudes who followed him were reduced to the greatest straits—
[The evening was closing in upon them, and they had no provision for the support of their bodies after their great fatigues. What their motives were for such a protracted attendance upon him we do not exactly know. It is possible that some loved to hear his instructions; whilst others sought to obtain either for themselves or their friends a miraculous cure of their disorders: and some possibly were actuated by no better motive than that of gratifying an idle curiosity. But, however this might be, our Lord “had compassion on them,”and determined to avert from them the evils to which their inconsiderate zeal had exposed them. He proposed indeed to Philip, in the first instance, to purchase bread for them. But this proposal was made solely to try the faith of Philip; Philip knew that no funds which they possessed would suffice to feed so many. Two hundred pence, which is about six guineas of our money, would scarcely suffice to give to every one of them a little piece of bread, and much less to satisfy their hunger: and therefore the Apostles proposed that the multitude should be dispersed.]
But our Lord wrought a stupendous miracle for their relief—
[He ordered the multitude to be arranged in rows of fifty in depth and a hundred in breadth: and, that being done, he told his Disciples to dispense to them all the food which they had, consisting of five loaves and two small fishes. This was done: and every Apostle, whilst distributing the food, found the pieces in his hand still undiminished. And, after all were satisfied, he commanded the remnants to be gathered, to no less an amount than twelve baskets full; so ample was the supply, and so indisputable the miracle that had been wrought for them.]
Without dwelling on any of the smaller incidents of the miracle, we may proceed to consider,
The instruction to be derived from it—
Truly, it will be found very instructive—
In a moral view—
[Many valuable lessons does it suggest to us. We may here learn contentment: for, when our blessed Lord would feast this whole multitude, he did it not by spreading before them a luxurious entertainment, but by giving them only such provisions as were suited to a laborious fisherman, some barley bread and some cold dried fish. Shall it then be a matter of any concern to us, if we are constrained to subsist on coarser fare, whilst people in higher life are fed with dainties? I am persuaded that this meal was to their taste far sweeter, yes, and in their eyes, more splendid too, than the feast of King Ahasuerus to the heads of his one hundred and twenty-seven provinces. In fact, it is a small matter whether our tables be strewed with delicacies, or we have merely the food that is convenient and necessary for us. “Having food and raiment, though of the coarsest kind, we may well therewith be content;” and may say, as Paul, when his necessities were thus supplied, “I have all, and abound [Note: Philippians 4:18.].”
And surely we may well learn from hence liberality also: for when our Lord proposed to his Disciples to give to the distressed multitude all the food which they had, the answer made, was not, ‘Lord, what then shall we have left for ourselves?’ but simply, ‘Lord, for so great a multitude our little store will be of no use whatever:’ and when our Lord gave the order to distribute it all, the order was obeyed without the smallest hesitation or delay. This kind of liberality would be but little approved by the Christian world in general. But it is highly approved in the Holy Scriptures; and the poor widow, who gave her whole substance for the use of the temple, was commended for it. In truth, there is no luxury under heaven that can be purchased with money, that is equal to the luxury of doing good. If only we give as unto the Lord, we shall never repent of having given too much: for “what we so give to the poor, we lend unto the Lord;” and at no distant period “he will repay us again.”
Methinks, too, we may here learn affiance also. Our Lord suffered these his followers to come into great straits, and then supplied their wants. And us also he may permit to be encompassed with difficulties for a season: but he will only make them an occasion of manifesting his own watchful care over us, and of magnifying his mercy towards us. True, we are not to expect miracles to be wrought in our behalf: but he has ten thousand ways of providing for his people; and he will do it in the time and manner that he shall see to be best for us: for he has said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all needful things shall be added unto you [Note: Matthew 6:33.].” Let him give us ever so much, we are to suffer no waste, but to preserve our very remnants for future use: on the other hand, let our wants be ever so great, we should never doubt but he will supply us in the time of need.]
In a religious view—
[Who does not see in the conduct of this multitude how we should seek the Lard? Did they press upon him thus for the sake of obtaining healing for their bodies, and shall not we for the healing of our souls? Did they forget the very necessities of nature that they might reap the benefit of his instructions, and shall we account any self-denial too great for the obtaining of grace and peace at his hands? I do not indeed think it necessary, or even right, for us to neglect our worldly callings as they did. They could not otherwise have gained access to our blessed Lord, whose august character fully authorized and called for those extraordinary attentions: whereas we have access to him at all times in his ordinances, and may therefore easily make our attendance on him consistent with the discharge of all our relative and social duties. But in heart and affection we may well “leave all to follow him:” nor should our own carnal ease or worldly interests ever be suffered to detain us from him, or to interfere with the concerns of our souls.
Here, too, we see what we may expect at his hands. See how richly he fed that whole multitude: and will he withhold “the bread of life” from you? Will he not abundantly supply all of you out of his own inexhaustible fulness? Methinks you are here waiting upon him, and seated, as it were, before him to receive at his hands the communications of his grace: and here am I dispensing to you the bread of life according to his command. True, it is but barley bread that you receive: yet shall you find it sufficient for all your necessities, if only you receive it as from Him, and feed upon it as the food of your souls. You are told that, when “Jesus took the loaves and fishes, he looked up to heaven, and blessed them, and then brake and gave them to the disciples, and through the disciples to the multitude. Now, if you will beg of him to bless your provision also that is now dispensed by me, what may you not hope for? Truly your souls shall be fed, yea, and nourished too, unto life eternal. And see that multitude when dismissed to their homes: was there one amongst them that did not adore and magnify their glorious Benefactor? O that it may be so with you at this time! that not one soul may be sent empty away, but every one of you depart refreshed and strengthened for all your future labours! Even so, Amen and Amen.]
THE TRANSFIGURATION OF CHRIST
Luke 9:29-42.9.32. And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering. And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias: who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease, which he should accomplish at Jerusalem. But Peter, and they that were with him, were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him.
THEY, who were the immediate followers of our Lord, beheld him, for the most part, “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;” but, lest they should “be offended in him,” and be tempted to forsake him, he sometimes spake to them of “that glory which he had with the Father before the world was,” and which he should resume as soon as ever the scenes of his present humiliation should be closed. On one occasion he condescended to give to three of them an ocular demonstration of his glory. The particulars are related in the passage before us; in opening which we shall consider,
The time and manner of his transfiguration—
Our Lord was at this time engaged in prayer—
[God has on many occasions signally manifested his regard to prayer. It was at the beginning of Daniel’s supplications that an angel was sent to reveal to him the period fixed for the Messiah’s advent [Note: Daniel 9:20-27.9.23.]. The reason that God assigned for sending Ananias to open the eyes of Saul was, “Behold, he prayeth [Note: Acts 9:11.].” Thus Jesus was at this time engaged in prayer. He had retired to a mountain for that very purpose: and this was the season which God chose for distinguishing him in this most signal manner. It is worthy of remark, that every time that God was pleased to bear testimony to his Son by an audible voice from heaven, it was either in, or immediately after prayer [Note: Luk 3:21-22 and John 12:28.]. And if we cultivated more holy intimacy with God, he would more frequently vouchsafe to us also the special tokens of his love.]
“While he was praying,” his form was visibly and wonderfully changed—
[In his transfiguration, as it is called, the Godhead displayed itself through the veil of his human nature, his countenance shone like the meridian sun; and his very garments were so irradiated by the lustre of the indwelling Deity, that they were white and dazzling like the light, yea, “so white as no fuller on earth could whiten them [Note: Mark 9:3.].” He had hitherto appeared only “in the form of a servant;” but now he appeared in his own proper form as God; at least, so far as his divine nature could be rendered visible to mortal eyes. Nor was this transfiguration intended as a mere ostentatious display of his glory: it was necessary perhaps for his support as man; that, when he should come into the scenes of his deepest humiliation, he might not faint. It was also well calculated to prepare his Disciples for that awful view of him, which they were afterwards to have, when they should see him in the garden, prostrate on the ground, bathed in a bloody sweat, and supplicating “with strong crying and tears” the removal of the cup which his Father had put into his hand.]
The history further informs us respecting,
His conversation with his attendants—
Moses and Elijah were sent from heaven to attend upon him—
[The body of Moses probably had been preserved, as that of Elijah had been translated to heaven, without suffering the total change which is usually effected by death. They were on this occasion arrayed “in glory,” somewhat like to their divine Master, though, of course, they were but as twinkling stars in comparison of the meridian sun. And there was a peculiar propriety that these should be selected to wait upon him, not only because they had been faithful and highly honoured servants of God, the one being the giver, and the other the restorer, of the law, but because they fitly represented the law and the prophets; and, in bearing testimony to him, resigned, as it were, their authority into his hands.]
These conversed with him respecting his own approaching death—
[One might have expected that they should have talked of heaven: but they had a subject in which all were yet more deeply interested; a subject, in which the inexhaustible treasures of divine wisdom and knowledge are contained; a subject, which fills all heaven with wonder, and which eternity itself will not be sufficient to unfold. Yes, that subject, universally exploded from the societies of men, was the one which occupied their attention during this delightful interview; “they spake of his decease which he should accomplish in Jerusalem.” O what do we lose by lending ourselves so entirely to other topics, and so totally discarding this! And how infatuated are men, that, even in the society of their dearest friends, they do not improve their hours by conversing on a subject of such universal importance!]
Nor were his earthly followers wholly excluded. We read of,
The peculiar privilege granted to some of his disciples—
Some more distinguished favourites were admitted to this heavenly vision—
[Christ has sanctified human friendships by manifesting the same attachments as are common among men. He not only chose twelve out of the body of his Disciples to be his stated followers, but admitted three of them to more peculiar intimacy than the rest: and even of these three there was one, who lay, as it were, in his bosom, and was called, by way of eminence, “The Disciple whom he loved.” But the three, who had been taken up to the mountain to spend their time in prayer, had fallen asleep, and lost thereby much of the vision, which they might have seen, and of the conversation, which they might have heard. Alas! What an irreparable loss did they sustain! Well might Jesus have said to them, “Sleep on now and take your rest.” But the effulgence of his glory roused them at last, and they both beheld this bright assemblage of persons, and heard the sublime discourse which passed between them. Happy were their eyes which saw, and their ears which heard, such things! Can we wonder that Peter should exclaim, It is good for us to be here! and that he should propose to erect tents for the accommodation of Christ and his heavenly guests, regardless of his own ease, if he might but protract his present enjoyments? But though well meant, it was an ignorant proposal; for it was needful both for themselves and for the world, that they should speedily resume their wonted labours, and fulfil the work assigned them. Peter however may well be excused, for “he knew not what he said.”]
They also heard the testimony, which the Father on that occasion bore to Christ—
[While the Apostles were wishing to rest in their present comforts, they were overshadowed with a cloud, and their joys were turned into fear and dread. The cloud perhaps was like that which guided the Israelites through the wilderness as a symbol of the Divine presence: and what can we expect, but that, as sinners, they should tremble at the near approach of the divine Majesty? But the testimony which they heard, amply compensated their transient fears: their divine Master was proclaimed as the only beloved Son of God; and they were bidden to “hear him” him chiefly, him constantly, him exclusively. Such was the singular honour conferred on him: and though they were forbidden to mention it for a season, lest it should provoke their enemies to wrath, and their fellow-disciples to jealousy, yet doubtless it tended much to support them in their subsequent conflicts.]
How indisputable is the truth of our holy religion—
[This was a most remarkable testimony to the character of Jesus; and it was given by God himself: and would God interpose in this manner in order to deceive? or could those Disciples be mistaken in what they so plainly saw with their eyes, and heard with their ears? Surely, strange as the tidings of the Gospel may be thought, here is evidence enough that it is “not a cunningly devised fable.” It is remarkable that St. Peter selects this very event out of the many thousands to which he was a witness, in order to establish beyond a doubt the truth of that doctrine which he preached [Note: 2 Peter 1:16-61.1.18.]. Let us then receive that Gospel which is so well authenticated, so firmly established. Let us “hear Jesus,” our divinely appointed Teacher, and make him “our beloved” Saviour, “in whom our souls are well pleased.”]
How diversified are the states of God’s people upon earth!
[These highly favoured Disciples were now upon the mount; but they were soon to descend into the valley again, and to go “through much tribulation in their way to the kingdom.” Thus it is with all the Lord’s people: the present is at best a chequered scene: nor is trouble ever nearer to us than when we are saying, “My mountain standeth strong; I shall never be moved [Note: Psalms 30:6-19.30.7.].” Let us then be thankful for any seasons of joy; but never be so elated by them as to wish to set up tabernacles here, or to forget that we may soon experience a sad reverse: yea, let us rather improve our joys as means of strengthening us for future conflicts.]
What a glorious place must heaven be!
[It must have been inexpressibly delightful to have beheld, though for so short a time, this heavenly vision: but what must it be to “see Jesus as he is,” in all the full blaze of divine majesty; to see him, not attended with two only, but with ten thousands of his saints; and to hear, not a conversation about future sufferings, hut songs of everlasting joy and triumph? What must it be to see and hear such things; ourselves resembling the Lord Jesus; our “bodies fashioned like unto his glorious body,” and our souls “shining above the sun in the firmament;” our body no longer to become torpid through sloth, nor our soul to be agitated by surprise or terror; but in the perfect exercise of all our faculties to participate that glory, with a full assurance that it shall never end? Well may we then say, It is good for us to be here. Then we shall need no tabernacles, for “we shall dwell in the temple of our God, and shall go no more out [Note: Revelation 3:12.].” May we all be counted worthy of that honour! may we be admitted to the enjoyment of that beatific vision; that “when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, we also may appear with him in glory!”]
AGAINST MISTAKING OUR OWN SPIRIT
Luke 9:55. Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of
WHEN we consider what attainments men have made in science and philosophy; when we see them marshalling the stars, measuring their distances, tracing their courses, and ascertaining their influence, we are amazed at the strength of human intellect. But when we turn our eyes to their spiritual attainments, and inquire into their knowledge of their own hearts, we are altogether as much astonished at the extreme ignorance which they betray. Even godly persons have but very limited and partial views of their own principles of action. The very Apostles, who had long enjoyed the instructions of Christ himself, shewed on many occasions an unbecoming spirit, while they supposed themselves actuated by the best motives. One instance in particular we have before us, where, under a cloke of zeal for their Master’s; honour, they would have called down fire from heaven upon a whole village. Our Lord, however, rebuked them in the words we have now read; from whence we shall inquire,
Whence is it that men are so liable to self-deception?
It is manifest, beyond a doubt, that many know not what spirit they are of—
[The various classes of ungodly men are universally labouring under self-deception. However they neglect every duty, or violate every commandment, they persuade themselves that, on the whole, they have good hearts; nor have they the smallest conception that they are “haters of God [Note: Romans 1:30; Romans 8:7. Colossians 1:21.].” Even the proud persecutor, so far from accounting himself an enemy to God, will imagine that he is doing God service, while he is opposing to the utmost the Redeemer’s kingdom [Note: John 16:2.Acts 26:9; Acts 26:9.].
Nor are the godly themselves exempt from similar delusions, though they are influenced by them in a less degree. The zealous are sometimes inflamed with an unhallowed fire [Note: ver. 54. And many, actuated by vanity, too much resemble Jehu: 2 Kings 10:16.]; and the timid induced to temporize [Note: Galatians 2:12.]. The confident will resolve, when they should rather pray for strength [Note: Matthew 26:35.]; and the faithless will harbour fears, when they should rather be enjoying their security [Note: Matthew 8:26.].]
This propensity to self-deception is not hard to be accounted for—
There is a close affinity between good and evil—
[Good and evil are in their own nature as opposite as light and darkness: but, through the imperfection of our knowledge, they appear very nearly allied. Indifference assumes the garb of candour: worldliness is dignified by the name of honest industry: the fear of man puts on the mask of prudence: a vindictive spirit passes for a nice sense of honour. There is scarcely any other disposition, however sinful, which does not assume the name of some corresponding virtue, and thus conceal at least its own malignity, or perhaps obtrude itself upon the world as amiable and praise-worthy. Hence there arises a great difficulty in distinguishing between the good and the evil that there is in our own actions, since the very same thing may be either good or evil, according to the principles from whence it proceeds, and to the time, manner, or degree in which it is carried into execution.]
There is a backwardness in man to search out the evil that is in him—
[There is in every man a self-love, which renders nun averse to view his own actions in an unfavourable light; and a partiality that leads him to put the best construction upon them. If there be reason to doubt the purity of our own intentions, we do not like to bring matters to the test, and to weigh our actions in the balance of the sanctuary. If a friend attempt to undeceive us, we shrink from the probe, and would gladly avoid the painful scrutiny. Were we told that there was some hidden fire likely to consume our house, we should search into every corner, and thankfully accept every assistance to discover it, in order that it might be extinguished before it had gained too great an ascendancy. But if a friend would point out the evil of our hearts, we are glad to conceal it from his view, and to harbour, rather than detect, the lurking foe. Even in the public ministry of the word, we are apt to think how suitable such and such admonitions are for others, instead of applying them to ourselves: and hence we continue in an evil way, persuading ourselves that we are influenced by a good spirit, while our most discerning friends lament the delusions which they cannot hinder.]
It will be of no small benefit to us to consider seriously,
How we may counteract its baneful influence—
Doubtless, it is easier to prescribe means to others than to use them ourselves—
But, as God works by means, we would Suggest such as may prove most effectual—
Let every grace receive a due portion of our attention—
[Many in their concern for one grace will trample upon another: in the exercise of zeal, they will forget charity; and, in maintaining confidence, will overlook humility and fear. The ungodly indeed are necessitated often to thwart one propensity, while they indulge another [Note: To gratify their lusts, they must expose their character and dissipate their fortune; or if the love of reputation or of money preponderate, they must impose a restraint on their appetites.]; but all the graces of Christianity may be exercised together, and in their highest perfection: every one tempers and limits that which appears opposite to it; and all, like the rays of the sun, must be combined, to produce their full effect.]
Let every part of Scripture be regarded with equal reverence—
[It is astonishing how irreverently even good persons will sometimes treat those portions of Scripture which militate against their sentiments or practice. The plainest declarations of God are considered as “hard sayings,” and are slighted, either as impracticable in themselves, or as inapplicable to their case. But we must be careful to receive every word of God; and to improve it as “a light to our feet and a lantern to our paths:” for it is only “by taking heed to it” that we can ever effectually “cleanse our way [Note: Psalms 119:9.].”]
Let Christ be set before us as our pattern and example—
[Wherever we can trace the steps of our blessed Lord, there we are to follow [Note: 1 John 2:6. 1 Peter 2:21.]. There were indeed some things in him which would not become us, because we are not called to the high office which he sustained. But the spirit of his actions should be copied by us, even where the actions themselves would not be proper for our imitation. We should not attempt to fast forty days and forty nights; but we should exercise self-denial. Nor should we speak of rulers in reproachful terms [Note: Luke 13:32.Acts 23:5; Acts 23:5.]; but we should be bold and faithful in the discharge of our duty. In doubtful circumstances it will be profitable to consider what he would have done if he had been precisely in our situation. By thus divesting ourselves of partiality, and proposing to ourselves his perfect pattern, we shall have our judgment assisted, and our conduct rectified.]
Let us lean to the side that mortifies, rather than to that which suits, our natural inclination—
[In the present corrupt state of human nature, we shall rarely, if ever, find our natural desires drawing with precision our line of duty. Self has too strong a bias, even where its tendencies most accord with the word of God: nor does it ever fail to operate in some measure. If therefore we lean to that side, we may be hurried, before we are aware, to great extremes, without any prospect of recovery. But if we lean rather to the opposite side, we are in no danger of being transported much too far; and we have a bias uniformly operating to bring us back to the line of moderation. This rule is founded on the supposition that our natural inclinations may, in some instances, prescribe what is right. But, in cases where the line of duty is at all doubtful, it will invariably be found safer at least, and in all human probability the only right way, to oppose and mortify self.]
Let us keep our minds open to conviction—
[If we will at all events conclude ourselves right, there is no hope of our being ever undeceived. We must he willing to suspect ourselves, and to listen to the counsel of our friends. Even Peter needed correction from his brother Paul [Note: Galatians 2:11.]; and the duty of “teaching and admonishing one another [Note: Colossians 3:16.],” necessarily implies a readiness to receive, as well as to impart, fraternal admonition. And if we cultivate this disposition, we shall often be preserved from evils into which we might have rushed, and have reason to adore our God for the advice we have received [Note: 1 Samuel 25:32-9.25.33.].]
Let us pray constantly to God to search and try us—
[Our treacherous hearts can put such glosses on our conduct as to deceive both ourselves and others: but they cannot deceive God. “He searcheth the heart, and trieth the reins:” he “weigheth the spirits;” and discerns with infallible certainty the smallest mixtures of evil, and the minutest deviations from his holy law. And, as he beholds, so he can discover to us, the secret workings of our own corruptions. If he shine into our hearts, we shall be astonished to see the delusions which we have held fast perhaps for many years, and of which our dearest friends could never convince us! Let us then pray to him to search and try the very ground of our hearts [Note: Psalms 139:23-19.139.24.]; and he will not only make our senses more acute to discern good and evil [Note: Hebrews 5:14.], but will keep our feet in the way of his commandments [Note: 1 Samuel 2:9.].]
APPROPRIATE ADDRESSES TO DISTINCT CHARACTERS
Luke 9:57-42.9.62. It came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto him, Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them, farewell, which are at home at my house. And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.
TO investigate and unfold the expressions of Holy Writ is an office in the discharge of which a minister renders most essential service to the Church of God: and hence it constitutes a very great portion of a minister’s labours; so far, at least, as respects his public addresses to his people. But the eliciting of characters, as portrayed in the inspired volume, is also a work of great importance; inasmuch as it enables a multitude of persons to behold themselves, as it were in a glass, and to arrange themselves under the different classes to which they belong. It is this latter office which I shall endeavour to discharge at this time. Here are three distinct characters brought to our view, with distinct addresses to each. On the particular terms that are used, I shall say but little; my intention being rather to take the subject in one collective view, and to suggest reflections upon it as a whole.
Let us, then, contemplate,
The characters here presented to our view—
They all express different measures of regard for Christ and his Gospel: the first is all willingness; the second is all reluctance; the third is a compound of the two former, being partly willing, and partly reluctant, to obey the Gospel call.
The first professes the utmost willingness to follow Christ—
[“Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.” This is well spoken, on a supposition that it convey the deliberate purpose of the heart. Such a state of mind as this is a counterpart of heaven itself; where all the redeemed are said “to follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth [Note: Revelation 14:4.].” But, from the answer of our Lord to him, it is evident that the man knew not what he was undertaking. He had not considered what conflicts he would have to maintain, what sacrifices to make, what self-denial to exercise. The very confidence with which he expressed himself argued a sad ignorance of his own heart, and a very partial acquaintance with the duties which he was so ready to engage in. He seems to have been under an impression that the Lord Jesus was about to establish a temporal kingdom; and, like the mother of Zebedee’s children, to have contemplated a pre-eminence amongst his followers, as a post of worldly honour, and of enviable preferment.
Now, amongst ourselves, also, there are many who are under a similar delusion. They think of nothing in religion, but its joys and honours. As for “entering into it by a strait gate,” and finding it “a narrow way,” they seem never for a moment to have contemplated it in such a forbidding aspect. Like the stony-ground hearers, they have received the word with delight, and appear at once to experience all its fructifying powers. In a moment, as it were, they seem to have attained a high measure of grace, and to have made a considerable proficiency in the divine life: but their want of “root in themselves” will soon be made manifest, and their profession speedily be found to have been nothing but an empty boast.]
The second manifests a great degree of unwillingness—
[It is here particularly to be noticed, that this second character had received from Christ an express command, “Follow me.” This, therefore, should have been obeyed in the way that Matthew had obeyed it at the receipt of custom, and the sons of Zebedee amidst their father’s nets. But he pleads for delay, as feeling that he had an occupation which, at the present at least, was of superior importance. Whether his father was really dead, or only aged and in dying circumstances, is, amongst commentators, a matter of doubt. I confess I incline rather to the latter opinion; because the circumstance of his being engaged in attending the ministry of our Lord at that time, in a country where the funeral followed so closely on a man’s decease, gives just reason to think that his father, though aged or sick, was yet alive: and in this view, the apparent harshness of our Lord’s answer vanishes at once. There were persons in plenty to perform the last offices for his father; and, however commendable the exercise of filial attention was, the immediate call of God was of sufficient authority to supersede it; and “to love father or mother more than Christ,” was to shew that he was “unworthy of the kingdom of God.”
But of this description, also, are many amongst ourselves. They may, possibly, really feel the obligations due to parents: but, in making filial duty a plea for delaying to obey the Gospel, they betray a total ignorance of what they owe to God. It is said of Levi, that, when commanded to go through the camp and slay the worshippers of the golden calf, he executed the commission without any partiality or reserve: “he said to his father and to his mother, I have not seen him; neither did he acknowledge his brethren, nor know his own children [Note: Exodus 32:26-2.32.28. Deuteronomy 33:9.].” And, however self-denying the office to which we are called may be, we are to discharge it instantly, without deference or regard to any human being. But many who hear the Gospel, and acknowledge their obligation to obey it, are yet kept back, from a mistaken idea, that respect even for a father, and that father in the most trying circumstances, will justify a delay in obeying the call of God. In saying, “Suffer me first to do” any thing under heaven, they actually rebel against God; who commands us “to seek, first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” and to “hate even father and mother” in comparison of Christ [Note: Luk 14:26].]
The third professes a willingness to follow Christ, but pleads for permission to delay it—
[It is probable that the person who desired to “go home and bid farewell to his friends” had in his view the history of Elisha, who had made this request to Elijah, and received his permission to execute his wish [Note: 1 Kings 19:20.]. But the danger which this man would encounter was incomparably greater than Elisha’s; for he might be sure that his friends would exert all their powers to divert him from his purpose.
A similar mistake proves fatal to multitudes at the present day. They wish to conciliate the regards of their earthly relatives, and for that end subject themselves to temptations which they are not able to withstand. Their friends know not how to give them up to follow a course which, to say the least, is so unpopular, and, with respect to this world, unproductive also; and, in order to retain their hold of their vacillating friend, they use every effort of intimidation, of raillery, of contempt: and thus they prevail on the unstable Christian to relinquish his holy profession, and to go back again to the world.]
These several characters will appear in their true light, whilst we consider,
The appropriate answers successively addressed to them—
To the first, our Lord sets forth the difficulties attendant on the Christian life—
[The man, it should seem, had expected little but outward prosperity; and our Lord informs him how unfounded this expectation was; since he himself, though Lord of all, was destitute of every earthly accommodation: and it could not be expected that “the servant should be above his Lord.” The same would I say to those who are forward to engage in a profession of religion, and to number themselves amongst the Lord’s people. In making such a profession, you are incomparably more likely to meet with want and shame, than fulness and honour. The Apostles of our Lord, and particularly the Apostle Paul, were exposed to cold, and hunger, and nakedness, and perils of every kind: and thousands of others, in different ages of the Church, have been called to experience the same: and though persecution for righteousness’ sake is not carried to the same extent amongst us, we are not authorized to expect any earthly comfort, of which the men of this world can deprive us. A pre-eminence in our Lord’s kingdom will, in the eyes of the ungodly, entitle us to nothing but preeminence in sufferings and reproach. And the man that will not follow religion on these terms must relinquish Christ altogether: for “if we take not up our cross daily to follow him, we cannot be his disciples.” Let every one, therefore, that would be saved by Christ, be prepared to participate with Christ in his wants and sufferings; and let him “follow Christ without the camp, bearing his reproach,” yea, and “glorying that he is counted worthy to suffer shame for His sake.”]
To the next, our Lord declares that every consideration under heaven must give way, when we are plainly called to serve and honour him—
[This I conceive to be the real meaning of that expression, “Let the dead bury their dead.” Our Lord did not mean to discourage the performance of our relative duties, and least of all the duties which we owe to our parents. Both the Law and the Gospel concur in this, even in enforcing obedience to earthly parents. This was “the first commandment with promise;” and, “if we obey it not,” whatever we may profess, “we are worse than infidels.” But our duty to God is of paramount obligation. And, if we say, Who then shall perform the duties which we neglect? I answer, There will always be found enough of worldly people to attend to worldly duties: and we may well leave them to discharge what they supremely affect. We may “leave the dead to bury their dead.” If we have a clear call to preach the Gospel, or to embrace it in such a way as shall be incompatible with those carnal occupations which may as well be performed by others, we may well leave those occupations to others; and, at all events, we must never so follow them as to let them interfere with the discharge of our higher duties: and if any one blame us for this, our answer must be, “Whether it be right to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye: for we cannot but do the things which he requires.”]
To the last, our Lord administered a solemn caution—
[It seemed that this person was more sincere than the others; though still by no means sufficiently aware of the danger to which, by the step which he contemplated, he would be exposed. The man who would finally be accepted of God, must “not only set out well, but must endure unto the end.” He must take care of hankering after the flesh-pots of Egypt, which he has left. “Lot’s wife” is a standing monument to all ages, and warns us all, not so much as to cast a look of regret at the vanities we have once renounced. A man at plough will execute his work but ill, if he look back in the midst of it: and a man who is working for eternity will never be judged fit for the kingdom of God, if he be not continually intent upon that which is before him, and carefully prosecuting his destined work. Let those, therefore, who plead for worldly gratifications, consider their tendency, and dread their effects. I grant that there are many things both seemly and innocent, if abstractedly considered, which yet a man in earnest for heaven will do well to avoid; lest by means of them he should be ensnared, and diverted from his proper course. The man in a race will not only free himself from encumbrances, but will gird about his loins the garment that would obstruct his way. And in like manner we also should “cast away every weight, and the sin which either does, or may, more easily beset us, and run with patience the race that is set before us.” It were “better never to have known the commandment at all, than, after having known it, to depart from it.”]
Permit me, then, to recommend to every one of you,
[Take not up religion in a light and thoughtless way; but consider carefully, what duties it prescribes, what exertions it requires, what sufferings it entails; and, “before you begin to build the tower, sit down and count the cost, and see whether you have wherewith to finish it.” If you will possess “the pearl of great price, you must sell all that you have, and buy it.”]
[Whether you be of a higher or a lower rank, it matters not; you shall surely find, that if you will live godly in Christ Jesus, you shall suffer persecution. David experienced this, after he sat on the throne, no less than whilst he fled from the face of Saul. You must expect it. You must expect it in its utmost possible extent, even to martyrdom itself. And you must be “ready either to be bound or die for the name of the Lord Jesus,” if such a sacrifice should be called for at your hands. In nothing must you “consult with flesh and blood.” To “follow the Lord fully” must be the one deliberate and determined purpose of your soul.]
[Never are you to be weary of well-doing. “If you draw back, God can have no pleasure in you:” “you will draw back to certain and everlasting perdition”. You must “be faithful unto death, if ever you would obtain a crown of life:” “he only, that endureth unto the end, ever will, or ever can, be saved.”]
AGAINST A DISPOSITION TO RELINQUISH THE LORD’S SERVICE
Luke 9:62. Jesus said unto him, No man having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.
SO infinitely important is the service of God, that nothing can ever justify the withdrawing of ourselves from it, or the relaxing of our diligence in the discharge of our proper office. However innocent any earthly employment may be, yea, however decorous, or even necessary, in its place, it must give way to the more urgent calls of our duty to God. Of this our Lord constantly warned his hearers, in order that they might fully count the cost before they became his followers. His answers to three different persons upon this subject are worthy of our particular attention: to the first, who voluntarily tendered to him his services, he replied, that he must expect no worldly advantages in following him, but rather lay his account to meet with poverty and disgrace. In his address to the second, whom he had enjoined to follow him, and who wished to defer his obedience till he should have performed the last offices for his deceased father, our Lord required him to leave those offices to others, who were not occupied in higher pursuits, and instantly to comply with the direction given him; because nothing, however proper in itself, should interfere with the execution of a positive command. To the last, he gave this caution; that since his earthly relatives would most probably prove a snare to him under his present circumstances, he must make up his mind to forsake all for him; for that a wavering mind would unfit him both for the service of God on earth, and the enjoyment of God in heaven. The request of this last person seems to have brought to our Lord’s mind the circumstances of Elisha, when he was called to serve Elijah: and it is to Elisha’s occupation that our Lord alludes in the answer he gave him [Note: 1 Kings 19:19-11.19.20.]. From his words we may deduce two important observations:
When we engage in God’s service, we should determine, through grace, to continue in it—
When we “put our hand to the plough” we engage in God’s service—
[It is obvious that, as God’s creatures, and more particularly as redeemed by the blood of his dear Son, we are bound to serve and obey him. Now the obedience which he requires, is, that we renounce the world, and mortify sin, and yield up ourselves to him unfeignedly, and without reserve. And when we begin to make a profession of religion, we do, in fact, declare, that henceforth we will walk conformably to the example of Christ, and the precepts of his Gospel. Our very putting of our hand to the plough is, as it were, a public declaration of our intention to prosecute and finish the work assigned us by our divine Master.]
But it is of no use to begin the Lord’s work, if we do not resolutely adhere to it—
[When first we turn to the Lord, we propose to ourselves two ends, namely, to glorify God, and to save our own souls: and while we continue faithful to our engagements, we find no reason to complain of disappointment. But the very instant we recede from our work, we proclaim, as it were, to all around us, ‘I have tried religion, and found it but an empty name: I have served the Lord, and experienced him to be a hard Master: I have weighed the world and its services in a balance with God and his service; and I bear my testimony, that the world deserves our preference.’ By such conduct as this a person pulls down all that he has built: he brings incomparably more dishonour to God than ever he brought glory, and sinks his soul into a far deeper condemnation, than if he had never known the way of righteousness [Note: Ezekiel 18:24. 2 Peter 2:21.]. As a man who should begin to plough, would render himself of no use, if he should relinquish his work as soon as he had proceeded to the end of a single furrow; so an apostate from religion renders his divine Master no service by a temporary obedience, but rather defeats, yea, most completely reverses, the ends proposed.]
Nor is it an open apostasy only from our holy profession that is so fatal to us: for,
A disposition to recede from it manifests us to be unfit for the kingdom of God—
Not he only who indignantly throws away the plough, but he who, while he still professes to do the Lord’s work, is “looking back” with a wishful eye upon the world, is in the state here mentioned. He is unfit for,
The kingdom of God on earth—
[This is the primary import of the words of the text: nor can any thing be more clear than the truth contained in them. The service of Christ, whether in ministering the word to others, or in obeying it ourselves, requires steadfastness. We cannot adhere to Christ without opposing in many instances our carnal appetites, and worldly interests; as therefore a man, who, instead of attending to his plough, looks frequently behind him, would soon prove himself unfit for the service in which he was engaged, so he who should undertake to serve the Lord Christ, while his heart was yet set upon the world, would walk very unworthily of his profession, and soon shew himself unfit to execute the office assigned him. Like a bowl sent forth with violence, he might go steadily for a season; but he would ere long feel the influence of the corrupt bias that was within him, and, like “Demas, forsake the way of truth from love to this present evil world.” He must “be sincere, if he would be without offence until the day of Christ.”]
The kingdom of God in heaven—
[If any person be disposed to look back, after having put his hand to the plough, he shews, that he has not a supreme love to God, nor any real delight in holy ordinances, nor any resemblance to the characters of the saints of old. Look at Abraham, at Moses, at Paul, or any others recorded in the Scripture; they left all for Christ, “counting every thing to be dung and dross for him,” and “esteeming even the reproach of Christ to be greater riches than all the treasures of the world;” nor could even death, in its most formidable shapes, divert them from their purpose to serve and honour him [Note: Hebrews 11:8; Hebrews 11:24-58.11.26; Hebrews 11:37. Acts 20:24; Acts 21:13.]. But how unlike to them are the irresolute and unstable! and how incapable of enjoying heaven even if they were there! Could they be happy in God when they do not supremely love him? Would they not rather dread his presence from a consciousness that their hearts were known to him? Could they bear to spend an eternity in those employments for which they have no relish? would not their exercises be an irksome task, and an intolerable burthen? Could they have sweet communion with the glorified saints when they differ so widely from them? Would they not rather be so condemned in their consciences as even to wish themselves out of their society? Surely a wavering professor of religion is alike unfit for the church militant, and the church triumphant.]
Those who never put their hands to the plough—
[How many are there who never set themselves in earnest to do the will of God, or even take pains to inquire what the will of God is! But such will comfort themselves with the reflection, that they are neither hypocrites nor apostates. Alas! how poor a consolation is this! Be it so; you have never made any profession of religion at all: but is that a ground of satisfaction and boasting? What must you say, but this? “Here is one, who has cast off all allegiance to his Maker, and lives without God in the world.” Ah! glory not in such a distinction as this: for, whoever ye be, God has assigned you a work to do, and will call you to give an account of your talent: and if you have hid it in a napkin, he will “cast you, as an unprofitable servant, into outer darkness.” May God open your eyes, and interest you in his service ere it be too late!]
To those who, having put their hands to the plough, are disposed to look back—
[We are apt to think lightly of secret declensions, if we do not openly apostatize from the truth. But what was it that rendered Lot’s wife such an object of God’s displeasure? Did she go back to Sodom, or refuse to proceed with the angel to the destined place of safety? No; she looked back, and thereby shewed, that her heart was not thoroughly weaned from the things which she had left behind: and on this account it was, that she was instantly transformed into a pillar of salt, and made a monument of God’s wrath and indignation to all succeeding ages [Note: Gen 19:26]. To impress this instructive lesson on our minds, our Lord bids us “remember Lot’s wife [Note: Luke 17:32.]:” and it will be well to bear her ever in our minds, since, if we turn back, it will be unto perdition [Note: Hebrews 10:38-58.10.39.]; and our last end will be worse than the beginning [Note: 2 Peter 2:20.]. We must endure to the end if ever we would be saved [Note: Matthew 24:13.].]
To those who are determined, through grace, to persevere in their work—
[Doubtless the work will often prove heavy and fatiguing. But God has promised “grace sufficient for us.” And the more we labour, the greater our reward [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:8.]. Yea, the very work itself is a source of much peace and joy [Note: Isaiah 32:17.], and wonderfully conduces to fit us both for this world and the next. Who will make so distinguished a preacher of Christ, or will so adorn his Christian profession, as he who is altogether dead to the world? And who is so fit to join the saints above, as he who already emulates them in their love to God, and their delight in holy exercises? Go on then, “forgetting what is behind, and reaching forth to that which is before [Note: Philippians 3:13-50.3.14.];” and soon you shall both “rest from your labours,” and “enter into the joy of your Lord.”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Luke 9". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany