Christ preacheth to his disciples to avoid hypocrisy, and fearfulness in publishing his doctrine; warneth the people to beware of covetousness by the parable of the rich man who set up greater barns. We must not be over-careful of earthly things; but seek the kingdom of God, give alms, and be ready at a knock to open to our Lord, whensoever he cometh. Christ's ministers are to see to their charge, and look for persecution. The people must make use of this time of grace, because it is a fearful thing to die without reconciliation.
Anno Domini 33.
Luke 12:1. When there were gathered together an innumerable multitude— Many thousands of people; — των μυριαδων του οχλου ; literally, many myriads.
Perhaps this vast assemblage of people might be owing to an apprehension, either that Christ might meet with some ill usage among so many of his enemies, or that he would say or do something peculiarly remarkable on the occasion. It was in the hearing of this vast assembly, that he gave his disciples in general a charge and exhortation, similar to that which he had given to the twelve apostles after their election. The precept, Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, with which he began this charge, is similar to that which in the charge to the twelve runs thus, Be ye wise as serpents, and harmless as doves: Matthew 10:16. For though the apostles and the disciples were to be remarkably prudent in their behaviour, yet the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy or deceit, was not to enter into the composition of their prudence; because hypocrisy is only an expedient to serve a turn, the mask being always torn from hypocrites sooner or later. See the parallel places.
Luke 12:6. For two farthings,— ' Ασσαριων δυο .—The ass, or ancient assarius, which was the tenth part of the denarius, or Roman penny, was also a Roman coin then current in Judea, and in value, as is generally thought, about three farthings of our money. See on Matthew 10:29.
Luke 12:10. It shall be forgiven him:— It may be forgiven him: Doddridge; who observes that the common reading of αφεθησεται, is more literal; but the connection shews, it must be taken according to the translation here given; for it would be madness to imagine that in such a case as this, forgiveness must come of course, whether the blasphemer does or does not repent. What grammarians call an enallage of words and tenses, is very frequent in the sacred writings.
Luke 12:13-14. Master, speak to my brother, &c.— While Jesus was thus exhorting his disciples, a certain person in the crowd begged that he would persuade his brother, who probably was present, to divide their paternal inheritance, and give him his share. The appellant probably thought, that as the Messiah he would act in the character of a prince, who would decide controversies relating to property; but, because judging in civil matters was the province of the magistrate, and foreign to the end of our Lord's coming into the world, he refused to meddle in their quarrel.
Luke 12:15. Take heed, and beware of covetousness:— See to it, and be upon your guard against covetousness. The original is very lively, and the full force of it not easy to be expressed. Some old versions, and very good copies, read, all covetousness. It is not said which of these brothers was in the wrong; only because the disposition which they discovered, afforded a fit opportunity for religious advice, our Lord embraced it, and cautioned his hearers in the most solemn manner against covetousness: declaring, that neither the length nor the happiness of man's life depends upon the greatness of his possessions. Human life is sustained by little; and therefore abundance is not necessary, either to the support or comfort of it. It is not a great estate and vast possessions which make a man happy in this world; but a mind that is equal to its condition, whatever it may be. Archbishop Tillotson observes upon this verse, that "it contains a peculiar kind of caution, no where else, nor upon any other occasion, that I know of," says he, "used in scripture; in which, for the greater emphasis and weight, the words of caution are doubled, as if the matter were of so much concernment, that no caution about it could be too much: to signify to us, both the great danger of this sin of covetousness, and the great care men ought to use to preserve themselves from it." See his Sermons, vol. 6 p. 69.
Luke 12:16. And he spake a parable unto them,— The first thing to be inquired into, is the true drift and meaning of this parable. In the 15th verse our Lord warns his hearers to beware of covetousness. In this parable, he represents the foolish rich man enlarging his barns,that he might heap up his goods in store: in the text he warns us of the danger of laying up treasures for ourselves, while we neglect being rich towards God, and Luke 12:33 he exhorts us to sell what we have, and give alms; to provide for ourselves bags which wax not old; a treasure in the heavens that faileth not; where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. From these circumstancesitiscommonlyunderstood,thatcovetousnesswastherichman'scrime; that enlarging his barns to receive his plentiful crop was the instance and proof of it: and that the only way to be rich towards God, is to sell our goods, and to distribute them in works of charity and mercy. Thus the parable is commonly understood;—but, I think, not rightly. Our Saviour, it is true, introduces this parable in consequence of the caution that he had given against covetousness: but he had before given a reason against covetousness, Luke 12:15 and the parable was added to illustrate this reason given against covetousness, and not to display the folly or vice of covetousness in general. The rich man is not described in the colours of a covetous man; his wealth arose from no oppression or usury: it was the product of his own land, which has always been esteemed as honest way of being rich, and to proceed, as much from the immediate blessing of God, as any whatever. The ground was his own; he is not said to withhold it from the rightful possessor by violence or fraud. Thus far then there is no mark of covetousness, or any other fault. But when he found his crop to be great, he enlarged his barns; and this perhaps was his crime. But where was the iniquity of this? Does not every man endeavour that his barns should be in proportion to the product of his land? May not the most charitable man in the world have, or build a barn large enough to receive his crop, and yet be guiltless? Nay, it is evident hence, that covetousness, properly so called, was not his fault, for he built his barns to lay up stores for many years, proposing rest and satisfaction in the goods already gotten, and intending to trouble himself no further about wealth: he had enough. A covetous man would rather have turned his goods into money, and putit to usury, and slaved on still for more. Besides, in Luke 12:20 where God is brought in, reproving the rich man for his folly, there is not one word said of his building large barns to receive his fruits:—Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee! But, if the large barns had been the crime, the consistency of the parable requires that the reproof should have pointed to the crime, and it should have been said, "Thou fool! this night shall the lightning fromheaven consume thy large barns," or something to this purpose. Further,neitheruponthis is it rightly concluded from the circumstances of the parable, that this rich man was void of charity to the poor. He is represented as fully satisfied in his abundance. There had been much more reason to have thought him uncharitable, had he been represented as not contented with his abundance; but still fearful of poverty and want; which is often the case, and the pretence of the rich uncharitable man. Nor, lastly, is it reasonable to limit and confine the notion of being rich towards God, to works of charity only: all good worksin proportion make us rich towards God. St. Paul speaks in general of the richness of good works, and St. James of the richness of faith: and in the present passage, to be rich to God, does particularly signify to trust and rely upon his providence for our life and support, in opposition to relying on treasures of our own heaping up, or large barns of our own buildingandfilling.Andnow,havingthusfarexaminedthecommoninterpretation,and shewn how much it falls short of our Saviour's true aim and intent, I shall endeavour to point out the true meaning, which will lead us into the right understanding of the inference drawn by our Lord, Luke 12:21. When our Saviour exhorted his hearers to beware of covetousness, he supported his advice with this reason, for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth; this reason he illustrates and confirms in the following parable. So that the aim of the parable is to shew, that wealth is no security; that it is folly to pretend, by heaping up treasures, to arm ourselves against the accidents or casualties of life, from which nothing can protect us, but the good providence and care of our heavenly Father. In this point all the circumstances of the parable meet. The rich man is represented as flowing in plenty, so that he was necessitated to pull down his barns and storehouses, in order to build larger. This plenty made him forget God, and vainly imagine that he had a securityin his own hands against allthe calamities of life. His riches made him promise himself many happy days and years; in which confidence he expresses himself as in Luke 12:19. This folly God reproves him for, and checks him in his presumptuous security, Luke 12:20. Thou fool, &c.—"Thou shalt die;—and what then must become of those mighty pledges of thy security? So little will they avail thee, that they themselves will fall under the power of another, never to return to thee again. So is he, continues our Lord, who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich towards God." Which words being the moral of this parable, must be expounded so as to answer the design of the parable; and therefore to lay up treasures for ourselves, must signify, to lay them up for our own security, as if we meant to become thereby the carvers of our own fortune. Consequently to be rich towards God, being placed in opposition to laying up treasures for ourselves, must denote our placing confidence and trust in him; our endeavouring to procure his favour and protection, as knowing that in them only is all our hope and stability. See the Inferences and Reflections.
Luke 12:18. All my fruits and my goods.— All my increase and good things: that is, "There will I collect and lay up all this year's increase, and likewise the produce of former years which I have in store."
Luke 12:19. Take thine ease, &c.— The original is remarkably lively and expressive, and contains one proof among a thousand, of the propriety and elegance of the scripture language: ' Αναπαυου, φαγε, πιε, ευφραινου : Take thy rest, eat, drink, be joyful. Nothing can more strongly express the self-satisfied hilarity of a sensualist.
Luke 12:20. Shall be required of thee:— It is in the original απαιτουσιν, they shall require; which Elsner thinks alludes to the messengers sent to fetch away the soul; and he produces a remarkable and well-known passage from Plato to prove that Socrates thought this the office of a spirit superior to men. Others, to preserve the literal meaning of the words, suppose, that thieves broke into this man's house, and robbed him of his life, together with his riches; but it is most probable that, according to an use of the plural number very familiar in the Hebrew language, these words may signify no more than that his life should be taken away, without determining whether angels, as executioners of the divine decree, or men should take it away.
Luke 12:21. And is not rich towards God.— There is a force and propriety in the phrase εις θεον, here rendered towards God, which our language will not exactly express; it represents God as a depositary, in whose hands the good man has lodged his treasure, and who has as it were made himself accountable for it in another and better world. See Proverbs 19:17.
Luke 12:22. Take no thought— Be not solicitous. Our Lord, having delivered the parable of the rich glutton, proceeded in the charge: and because a hurry of business is often a great enemy to religious dispositions, he cautioned his disciples against anxious cares about the world, from the consideration of God's providence, which is so extensively perfect, as to comprehend all his works, great and small, without exception. The caution to beware of covetousness, and the parable whereby he enforced that caution, was spoken to the contending covetous brothers, and to the multitude. This part of his discourse he directed to his disciple, founding it upon the caution and parable; as if he had said, "Since a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth; since plenty of goods and fruits is not capable of prolonging a man's life for a moment, you, my disciples, more especially ought, for that reason, to take no thought for the prolongation of your life, by anxiously laying up a store of provisions and of clothes, as if these could preserve life. No; you should consider that the life," &c. Luke 12:23. The sentiments in this and the following verses are great and sublime; the same with those contained in the sermon on the mount; Matthew 6:25; Matthew 6:34 which see.
Luke 12:24. Consider the ravens:— See Matthew 6:26. Dr. Heylin renders the last clause in this verse, Of how much greater value are ye than the fowls?
Luke 12:26. To do that thing which is least,— This proves, that to add one cubit to a thing, was a proverbial expression for making the least addition to it.
Luke 12:29. Neither be ye of doubtful mind.— Neither be ye set afloat [with desire] ΄η μετεωριζεσθε : "Be not (like meteors in the air, which are tossed about by every blast of wind) hurried with anxious cares, and agitated with a variety of restless and uneasy thoughts." Any speculations and musings, in which the mind fluctuates or is suspended in an uneasy hesitation, might well be expressed by the word μετεωριζω .
Luke 12:32-34. Fear not, little flock, &c.— "Since the will of God is your everlasting happiness, he will surely bestow on you the necessaries of the present life." This part of the charge may be considered as parallel to the directions given to the twelve, Matthew 10:9. Provide neither gold, &c. That is, "make no provision for your journey, but rely wholly on the providence of God." Only our Lord added a precept peculiarly calculated for those times, in which the profession of the gospel exposed men to the loss of all their goods; Luke 12:33-34. Sell that ye have, &c. "By bestowing that wealth in charities, send it before you into heaven, where it shall be secured from all accidents, and be a source of eternal joy to you; and if your treasure be thus laid up in heaven, your heart will be there; consequently, your dispositions, actions, and hopes will all be heavenly." This counsel was designed principally for the apostles, who, being chosen from among all the disciples to go out into the world, and convert mankind, could have no fixed possessions, consistently with the duties of their function; neither had they any occasion for them, being the peculiar charge of Providence. Besides, that the first preachers of the gospel should be poor, was altogether necessary, because, if it had been otherwise, the world might have suspected that the tie which united them in the great undertaking of converting the world, was of a secular and selfish nature. See on Matthew 19:21. And indeed, in all ages of the Christian church, the most useful ministers of the gospel have been poor in respect to this world. However, though this direction was given to the apostles in particular the disciples in general seem to have followed it after the day of Pentecost, when they sold their possessions, and put the price of them into a common stock, wherewith they supported their brethren; for it can hardly be doubted, that their behaviour in this matter proceeded from the regard which they paid to the present admonitionofourLord,joinedwiththeircharitabledispositions,andtheirexpectation of better possessions in the Messiah's kingdom of glory. Nevertheless, from what St. Peter said to Ananias, Acts 5:4 we learn, that this precept did not absolutely oblige them, being in the literal sense calculated, as we have already observed, for the apostles. Dr. Doddridge upon the word ευδοχησεν, Luke 12:32 remarks, that it generally signifies a pleasurable acquiescence. And, agreeably to this, it is pleasing to observe how God is represented in scripture, as enjoying his own presence as it were with a peculiar relish, in the view of those glories which he has prepared for his faithful saints.
Luke 12:35-36. Let your loins be girded about— As the eastern nations wore long garments, it was necessary that, when they had any thing to do which required them to exert their strength or agility, they should tuck them up, and gird them close; a practice to which there are frequent references both in the Old Testament and the New. That the lamps should be found extinguished, might be an inconvenient circumstance to the master, would deprive his procession of all its grandeur, and would be a demonstration of the servant's idleness. The expressions taken together, may intimate the care which we should take to inform ourselves in our duty, and the resolution which we should apply to the performance of it. There does not appear to be any particular mystery in the circumstance of the wedding. Our Lord probably chose to mention this, because marriage-feasts were generally the most splendid, and so prolonged to the latest hour. See the note on Matthew 25:1.
Luke 12:37-40. Will come forth, and serve them, &c.— It was usual for servants to sit at table, and for the master to wait upon them, among the Babylonians, at their feast called Saccas; among the Cretans, in their Hermoea; and among the Romans, in their Saturnalia: but whether our Lord alluded to these, or any of these, it is difficult to judge. The words certainly are very intelligible, without supposing any such reference. Our Lord, in the next verse, enforced constant watchfulness, and habitual preparation, from the consideration of the uncertainty of his coming; telling them, that as there is no master of a family but would make some preparation against a thief, if he knew of his coming, so it would be no great matter, if they should make preparation on receiving certain information of his approach; for which reason their zeal could only shew itself by keeping in a constant readiness, as they did not know at what hour he would come. The coming of the Son of man, as we have before remarked, often signifies his providential interposition for the destruction of Jerusalem: but here, (Luke 12:40.) it cannot be taken in such a sense, because our Lord speaks of an immediate reward to be bestowed on all faithful servants, and an immediate punishment to be executed on all that were unfaithful; and expressly declares this to be a matter of universal concern: all which particulars have very little sense or propriety, when applied to the destruction of Jerusalem. It must therefore be understood of his coming to remove them from the capacities of service here, to give up their account; and if we suppose it to relate to death, as well as judgment, which, by consequence at least, it undoubtedly does, it strongly intimates his having such a dominion over the invisible world, that every soul removed into it might be said to be fetched away by him. Compare Revelation 1:18 and the note on Luke 12:56. Instead of and this know, Luke 12:39 some read, but this you know.
Luke 12:41-42. Then Peter said, &c.— St. Peter, who had been giving great attention to the whole of this sermon, was, it seems, at a loss to know, whether the parable of the watching servants was spoken to the multitude in general, or to the apostles in particular; he therefore begged his Master to satisfy him as to that point. The parable wasdirectedtoall the disciples; but it contained instructions which Peter thought were peculiar to the twelve: accordingly, by the steward Jesus shewed him, that though his exhortations were directed to all, they had a more especial relation to those who were entrusted with the care of the souls of others. The interrogation, Who then, &c. Luke 12:42 had a lively force to turn their thoughts inward, that each one might ask himself whether he was the man. The meaning is, "What do you think ought to be the character and conduct of a steward, to whom his Lord committeth the care of his family in his absence, as I do the care of my church to you? Why certainly he should be both wise to know in what manner to govern the family, and faithful in executing whatever his wisdom and prudence directed as fit to be done; for thus only all the members of the family under his care will have due provision made for them." The word θεραπεια, rendered household, exactly answers to the Latin famulitium, all the servants of a family, for which we have no one English word; — any more than for σιτομετριον, which strictly signifies "a determinate measure of wheat," but is here put for all the daily-food. By such a version the distinction between this and the 44th verse is set in a clearer light than critics have generally given it. To be raised from the care of giving out food to the servants, to have the charge of the whole estate, was a noble preferment.
Luke 12:46. And cut him in sunder,— See the note on Matthew 24:51.
Luke 12:47-48. And that servant which knew his lord's will, &c.— Lest the consideration of the strictness of the account, and the greatness of the punishment described in the parable, might terrify men of honest dispositions, who might err merelythrough weakness, Jesus shewed them, that as offences differ greatly in their circumstances and aggravations, so shall they differ in their punishment also. To understand this part of our Lord's discourse, we must suppose that the servant here spoken of had received full instruction from his Lord, either before his departure, or afterwards by letters, how he was to employ himself, and the servants under his care; wherefore if he neglected his duty, he was more to blame than the inferior servants, who had no knowledge of their Lord's will but from the steward or superior servant, who might conceal it from them, if he had a mind to serve any bye-end of his own. There is great emphasis in the words prepared not himself, neither did according to his Lord's will. The sense rises on that of the foregoing verse; as if our Lord had said, "Think not that I merely intend to forbid such gross immoralities as drunkenness, riot, oppression, &c. but be assured that sins of omission, where there have been fair opportunities of learning your duty, will expose you to the divine wrath."Scourging was an usual punishment for negligent servants. See Deuteronomy 25:2-3. Our Lord, by telling us that the servant who knew not his Lord's will, shall be beaten though with few stripes, if committing things worthy of stripes, strongly intimates, that ignorance will not entirely excuse any who have neglected God's service, since they might in general have known at least the main branches of their duty, as every servant may know in the main what kind of conduct his master will approve; though some may be much more fully instructed than others, as to his particular pleasure. We may observe further, that, as rational creatures, it is as much our duty to cultivate our reason, and to inquire into and know our duty, as it is to act through grace agreeably to the knowledge that we have. With respect to the distinctions above made, how fitly does this parable describe the aggravation of the sins of ministers and teachers of religion, who have such superior and singular advantages for knowing Christ's will! In this light it shews the justice of the more severe punishments here denounced, as to be inflicted on them for such wilful neglects and miscarriages as they are found to be guilty of in the discharge of their office. Indeed, all who are in any measure distinguished by the gifts of the divine bounty to them, or by their stations, whether in civil or sacred offices, should attentively dwell on the great truth so solemnly repeated in this 48th verse, and should seriously consider it with a view to their own account,—that to whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required.
Luke 12:49. I am come to send fire, &c.— Jesus concluded the charge with foretelling the divisions which should be occasioned by his gospel: I am come to send fire on the earth, (see on Matthew 10:34.) and what will I, if it be already kindled? — τι θελω,— what wish I. "Do I wish to escape that fire myself, if it be already kindled?" The fire that our Lord here speaks of, as the effect of his coming, being the fire of divisionandpersecution, it was already kindled, and about to seize himself: but by this question, and whathe immediately subjoins, he declared he was willing to be the first victim who should be consumed in that fire, as it would tend so abundantly to the spiritual welfare of mankind. Our blessed Lord seems to have glowed with the most ardent zeal for the good of the human race, when he breathed out this generous wish. Some render it, and how do I wish, or how desirous am I, that it were already kindled?
Luke 12:50. But I have a baptism, &c.— "But I have indeed, in the mean time; a most dreadful baptism to be baptized with, and know that I shall shortly be baptized as it were in blood, and plunged in the most overwhelming distress;" (see on Matthew 20:23.) "Yet how am I straitened [ συνεχομαι ] and uneasy, through the earnestness of my desire, till, terrible as it is, it be fully completed, and the glorious birth produced, whatever agonies may lie in the way to it." See 2 Corinthians 5:14. John 16:21 and Acts 18:5.
Luke 12:51. Suppose ye, &c.— By subduing all the nations of the world into one great monarchy, under the Jews? I tell you nay. There are so many prophesies of the peaceful state of the Messiah's kingdom, that it is hard to say how Christ could completely answer the character of the Messiah, if he should never give peace on earth. But the error of the Jews lay in supposing that he was immediately to accomplish it; whereas the prophesies of the New Testament, especially in the book of the Revelation, shew, and those of the Old Testament most plainly intimate, that this prosperous state of his kingdom was not only to be preceded by his own sufferings, but by a variety of persecutions, trials, and sufferings, which should in different degrees attend his followers, before the kingdoms of the earth became, by a general conversion, the kingdoms of the Lord, and of his Christ. See Revelation 11:15.
Luke 12:53. The mother-in-law against the daughter, &c.— The mother-in-law against her son's wife, and the daughter-in-law against her husband's mother. This is the exact rendering of the original words. Our Lord might mention this relation, because, in consequence of the obligation which the Jewish children were under to maintain their aged parents, a young man might, when he settled in the world, often take his mother, if a widow, into his family; and her abode in it might occasion less uneasiness than that of a mother-in-law in any other sense. This and the foregoing verse may be understood to express thus much;—"So high a value shall mankind put upon my religion, that for its sake they shall forego the friendship and affection of their nearest and dearest relations; who will persecute thembitterly, because they have cast off their paternal worship."
Luke 12:54-55. And he said also to the people,— When Jesus had done speaking to his disciples, he addressed the unbelieving multitude, who on this occasion were gathered together, and stood round, hearing the instruction which he gave to his disciples. See Luke 12:1. The Mediterranean Sea lying west of Judea, the clouds and showers usually came from that quarter. See 1 Kings 18:44. The word Ομβρος properly signifies a shower; and the word καυσων, in the next verse, sultry or scorching heat. The wind which is south of Judea, blowing over the hot sands of Arabia and Egypt, occasions a great heat in the air. Those which are properly called the hot winds in that climate, are so hot, that they bring on a faintness and difficulty of breathing.
Luke 12:56. Ye hypocrite, &c.— "Since ye can form a judgment of the weather which shall happen, by the signs appearing in the earth and sky, what is the reason that you do not discover this time by its signs?" Our Lord meant the time of the Messiah's appearing on earth, to accomplish the salvation of the world, according to the ancient prophesies. See Mark 8:11. Matthew 16:1.-and also the time of his coming to destroy the Jewish nation, which he had described under the similitude of one who comes secretly and unexpectedly to rob a house, Luke 12:39-40.
Luke 12:57. Yea, and why even of yourselves, &c.— The prediction of the coming of the Son of man to punish the Jews for their perfidy and rebellion, was a loud call to a national repentance: wherefore, as the improvement of that prediction, Jesus exhorted them to a speedy reformation, telling them, that common sense, with a very small degree of reflection, would point it out to them as the very best thing they could do for the averting of the impending judgments of God:—Why, even of yourselves, judge ye not what is right? The phrase αφ εαυτων, does not seem here to signify "from the like principles of good sense which you use in common affairs, or in matters relating to yourselves;" but it seems an advance on that thought: as if our Lord had said, "Even though I had not so expressly drawn the consequence; yet, from the tenor of my doctrine and character, as well as from my miracles, you might have discerned yourselves that it must be a very wrong and very dangerous thing to reject and slight me."
Luke 12:58. When thou goest, &c.— As you are going with your adversary to the governor, endeavour to satisfy him, and get your discharge while you are in the way; lest he carry you by force before the judge, &c. We are all on our way to judgment; we might therefore see the necessity of being reconciled to our adversary, even the great God; through the Blood of the covenant. For he must be our adversary, aslongaswecontinueinwilful disobedience. His justice has claims, which nothing without this reconciliation to him in the true spirit of penitence can satisfy. See the note on Matthew 5:25.
Inferences drawn from the parable of the rich fool. Luke 12:15-21.—From this striking parable before us, particularly as explained in the note on Luke 12:16 we may easily collect what are the dangerous circumstances attending riches, which make them often prove so fatal to their owners; namely, that they beget an irreligious confidence and presumption in the heart of man, inclining him to forget God who formed him. A sense of want brings constant remembrance of our dependence, and is ever calling us to look up to him, upon whose mercy and goodness we exist.
A life spent in difficulties, and supported beyond all the reasonable hopes of narrow circumstances, suggests to us every moment, if we have any grace, how wonderfully God has brought us on our way, when we had neither staff, nor shoes, nor money in our scrip. These are the obvious thoughts and suggestions of poverty, to a soul that has any true knowledge of religion: but the man who lives in the midst of plenty, and fears no want, is not apt to think often of the need he has to be assisted. He that remembers nothing, but that his large estate has ever supplied both his necessities and superfluities, will hardly reflect farther, so as to come to an acknowledgment that God has ever been his stay from his mother's womb. This is the common case of riches; they steal the heart from God, and render it insensible to the duties of religion, by destroying that grand principle of religion—the sense of our dependence on the providence and care of Heaven; and this it was which made our Lord cry out, How hardly shall a rich man enter into the kingdom of heaven?
It is this irreligiousness of mind, this disregard to God, and every thing that is good, which are the too common companions of a plentiful fortune, that have made riches to be so severely spoken of in scripture. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, it is not easy to find upon what account the rich man was condemned, as the case is generally supposed to be stated. The rich man is said to be clothed in purple and fine linen, and to fare sumptuously every day. He was not covetous, it seems; he lived, as the world speaks, answerably to his fortune. His life is represented as a scene of ease and pleasure; but is not taxed with any notable vice or enormity. But was he not, you will say, uncharitable? For poor Lazarus lay at his door, desiring the crumbs that fell from his table. This circumstance rather shews that the poor used to be fed at his door. Had the intent of the parable been to have represented the rich man as hard to the poor, would it not have been said, that his servant drove away the poet from his door, or at least when they came, that they were sent empty away? Neither of these, however, is said; but Lazarus is represented as feeding upon the crumbs of the rich man's table.
And this is the image given us of their different conditions in this world. The rich man sat down to a sumptuous table: the poor man was glad to feed upon the crumbs and scraps which fell from it. The end of these men is well known; Lazarus was carried by angels into Abraham's bosom; the rich man was tormented in hell-flames!
What then does the parable teach us?—It represents to us the dangerous state of great men, who live without the fear or love of God in their hearts; and the much happier condition of the poor, who have their share of misery in this world, when it proves a means of leading them to glory and immortality hereafter.
If we look forward, we shall see that this is the true aim of the parable: when the rich man applies to Abraham for relief, and finds none, he then petitions for his brethren, that they might be warned against the danger that hung over their heads,—against coming into the same sad situation with himself. Here we may well imagine that he would desire they should be particularly warned against those crimes, which had proved his ruin; but of this nothing is said: he only desires that Lazarus might go, in quality of a prophet, and terrify the reality of a future state; which plainly shews, that his condemnation was the effect of irreligion and unbelief, rather than of intemperance or uncharitableness. He lived at ease, and God was not in all his thoughts. To his request Abraham replies, they have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them; shewing us again, that the fault of these rich men was contempt of the prophets, and irreligion. The rich man tacitly owns this contempt, both for himself and brethren, by saying, Nay, but if one went from the dead, they will repent; which was confessing that they had not reverence enough for Moses and the prophets, to repent upon their authority and admonition; but wanted some greater motive, which he thought might be found in the appearance of one coming from the grave, or from the other world. From these circumstances, it is evident, that the purport of this parable, is well as of that in the above chapter, is not to represent to us the heinousness of any one particular crime, for which the rich man suffered, but to shew how fatally riches influence the mind to irreligion, and make men forget God; while the poor, living in continual want, are likely (but all good is through the grace of God) to have a deep sense of their dependence, and in all their distress to look up to him, of whom cometh their salvation. This sense of dependence, through divine grace, creates in the poor man a fear to offend, and a desire to please; while the rich man, wanting, as he thinks, nothing from God, has no desire to court his favour; but grows negligent and remiss in all the parts of religion, whence it is a very easy step to infidelity.
It is from these considerations that the love of the world is said in scripture to be enmity with God. And therefore, the love of the world which is enmity with God, is not to be expounded by covetousness, or uncharitableness, or any other particular vice. When applied to a rich man, it denotes his whole temper and disposition,—the habit of the mind, which originates with the natural depravity of man, and grows up out of a plentiful estate: and this situation of life is very commonly characterized by enmity with God; inclining men, not only to disobey his commands, but, as far as in them lies, to throw him out of the world, and to depose him from the throne of heaven.
Thus we see plainly what it is that makes wealth to be so dangerous a possession; namely, because it is the rival of God in the heart: and if it once get possession of the mind, it will expel all trust and confidence in God, all regard to faith and religion; for, as our Lord elsewhere speaks without a parable, ye cannot serve God and mammon.
Hence then we may learn, where the rich man ought to place his guard: if he be not covetous or uncharitable, if he be not luxurious and intemperate, so far it is well. But above all, let him take heed, that the pride and insolence of mind too common in plentiful circumstances, grow not upon him; the pride, I mean, of self-sufficiency, as if he were able to guide and to guard himself through the world, and had not so much need of the care of God over him, as the poor who enjoy nothing. Let him learn to know, that in riches is no security; and that he wants the protection of heaven as much as the poorest wretch in the world. A rich man, who through grace has this sense as he ought to have it, will in consequence have the other virtues proper to his state: he will be gentle, affable, kind, and charitable; and his spirit, in the height of fortune, will be adorned with the meekness of the gospel of Christ.
A man, who duly considers these truths, and on whose heart, through grace, they are deeply written, will learn entire submission to God in the highest fortune. Our Lord's argument, Luke 12:23 will teach him the reasonableness of the duty: The life, says he, is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment. The utmost that riches can do, upon the largest concessions made to them, is, to provide food and raiment, and such like necessaries and conveniences of life. Put the case then, that by being matter of a great estate, you are master of food and raiment, and can have them in what quantity or quality you please:—what then? Have you less reason upon this account to depend upon God, and implore his aid? Consider a little, to what purpose serves food?—Is it not for the support of life?—But can food ward off death? Are you, in all your plenty of provisions, one jot more secure against sickness, or any accident which may rob you of your life, than the poorest man? If this be the case, is it not very absurd to plume yourself, and think of security, because of your plenty, when life itself, which is more than meat, is still exposed, and for which you can have no security but in the goodness of God?
You have many changes of raiment, and the poor have only rags.—But will the gout, or stone, or burning fever, pay such respect to fine clothes, as not to approach them? Will health, always attend upon gold lace and embroidery? If it will, you are right to multiply garments: but if, after all your care for raiment, you, as well as the beggar, must still depend upon God for health and strength of body,—how ridiculous is the joy over many changes of garments! Is not the body more than raiment? Since then you must trust God for your life and strength, because they are things which no care of your own, no degree of wealth, can insure; had you not even as good trust him a little farther, and ease yourself of this unreasonable care for the things of life?
From these, and the like considerations, we may see, that dependence upon God,—the great moral lesson inculcated by our Lord in the parable before us,—is as much the rich man's duty and interest, as it is the poor man's: that to trust God, and rely upon his goodness, is to be rich towards God, and is that sort of riches which will make us easy and happy in this life, and glorious and ever-blessed in that which is to come. By these means we may, through divine grace, "so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal."
REFLECTIONS.—1st, Our Lord inculcated the same truths on different occasions. We need line upon line, and precept upon precept. A vast auditory was assembled; and, as he was ever ready to speak when they desired to hear, he took occasion,
1. To caution his disciples in public against that hypocrisy of the Pharisees, which he had just before so sharply rebuked in private. He calls it the leaven of the Pharisees. Their hearts, lips, and lives were wholly infested thereby: swoln with pride and self-importance, and soured with envy and malice, all their specious pretences to religion were but an abomination. Christ therefore warns his disciples to shun this hateful evil themselves, and not to be imposed upon by the fair professions of these designing men. And he urges, as a powerful argument, the sure detection of hypocrisy, either in this world, or in the day when the secrets of all hearts shall be revealed. Their most retired communications, even the whispers in a closet, must all shortly be proclaimed before the assembled world. How careful then need we be over every thought and word, considering that all-seeing and heart-searching God, with whom we have to do.
2. He charges them to be faithful to their trust, and never to suppress, through fear or shame, one tittle of their message; but what they have learned of him in private, that must they boldly and publicly declare in the face of all opposition. And to encourage them to approve their fidelity unshaken, he addresses them, [1.] As his friends, whom he dearly loved, and was able and willing to support under every trial. [2.] He lets them know, that the most inveterate malice of their foes can only reach the perishing body; they cannot touch the immortal soul. Better, therefore, infinitely better would it be for them, by a steady testimony of the truth, with divine fortitude to put their lives in their hands, and meet, if the Lord so permitted, the worst death their enemies could inflict; than by a cowardly silence, or suppression of the offensive doctrines of the gospel, to provoke a jealous God, whose wrath reaches, not only to the body, but to the soul sinking both into the flames of hell, and enduring to eternity. The fear of him should swallow up every other fear. [3.] That guardian Providence, which watches over and orders the most minute events, would take peculiar care of them. Not a sparrow is forgotten of God, or falls unnoticed: the very hairs of their head are numbered; their most invenomed foes cannot touch one of them without divine permission; therefore they need not fear what man can do unto them. [4.] According to their fidelity or unfaithfulness, so would they be owned or disowned by him at the last day. They who, fearless of reproach or suffering, dared make confession of him in the world, shall be with honour acknowledged as his disciples in the presence of angels at the resurrection of the just; while to decline bearing a testimony for him before men, to avoid loss or infamy, would infallibly provoke Jesus to renounce all relation to them, and expose them to shame, and contempt, and the sentence of eternal punishment, in the dreadful day of judgment. When we are tempted to be ashamed of or deny our profession, let us seriously remember this warning, and be wise. [5.] Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, would expose those who committed it, to endless wrath. All the revilings now cast out against the Son of man in his state of humiliation, were within the reach of pardon; but after his ascension, and the descent of the Holy Ghost upon them, to ascribe the miracles the apostles should work in confirmation of the resurrection of Jesus, to diabolical agency, would be to resist the only remaining means of conviction, and must exclude such blasphemers from the possibility of repentance or forgiveness. [6.] In all emergencies, where they are called to answer before the tribunals of their persecutors, whether Jews or Gentiles, Christ undertakes to furnish them with a tongue, and wisdom which none of their adversaries shall be able to gainsay or resist. They need not take thought a moment what to speak in their own defence; the Holy Ghost should effectually furnish them with every thing proper for the occasion; and, with such encouragements before them, they may boldly go forth, and not fear.
2nd, We have,
1. The application made to Christ by one of the company, desiring him, as a person of authority, to interpose on his behalf with his brother, who either unjustly kept him out of his part of the inheritance, or being the elder, and having by law a double portion, this worldly-minded man would fain come in for an equal share.
2. Christ refuses to interpose. The exercise of temporal power and authority did not belong to that kingdom which he came to establish; nay, had he interfered, they would have perhaps made it a ground of accusation, and quarrelled with him for daring to make himself a ruler and a judge. (See Exodus 2:14.)
3. He takes occasion from this unseasonable application to warn his disciples against the great sin and danger of covetousness, which, being a most insinuating evil, they had need carefully to guard their hearts against it. Men are apt to fancy, that this world's goods are essential to happiness; but a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth: they conduce nothing to the spiritual satisfaction of the soul; they cannot prolong our lives a day, an hour: often, instead of being comforts to us, they prove a plague and snare here below, besides all the hindrances they put in our way, to obstruct our entrance into the kingdom of heaven. To give the greater force to his admonition, he illustrates it by a striking example.
The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully, ( χωρα, a region.) His estate was vast, as the produce of it was abundant. These common gifts of Providence the evil and unthankful often enjoy in the largest measure; but we must not judge hence of God's love, or of real felicity. The rich man is far from being usually the happy man. We are told,
[1.] What anxious cares his wealth occasioned. He thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? He appears as full of perplexity, as if he knew not where to get another morsel to satisfy the wants of hunger. Such is the usual effect of increasing wealth; it brings an increase of cares and disquietude.
[2.] The result of his thoughts was this: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods; a resolution that spoke great folly, as well as ungodliness. He calls those his fruits, which were really but lent him of the Lord. To hoard up all, when so many empty barns of the poor, and hungry bellies, might have charitably eased him of somewhat of his load of plenty, was vilely covetous. To call these his goods, which must perish in the using, proved his utter ignorance of a better portion. Greater barns would only bring greater expence and greater care, besides the plague of building; and his presumptuous I will, shewed that he left God far above out of his sight. So ready are they who trust in uncertain riches, to forget the living God.
[3.] He flatters himself with the most pleasing prospects, when his schemes should be completed, of sitting down and enjoying at ease the store he had collected. I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. How absurd the conclusion? Could his soul relish the gratifications of a beast, or feel any satisfaction from the indulgence of appetite? The wealth of the world, and the pleasures of sense, are not a portion at all suited to its wants: these God alone with a sense of his love and favour can supply. He promised himself many years to enjoy his affluence, when he knew not what a day might bring forth; and ensured the safety of his goods, when in the shortest space fire or tempest might lay his storehouses in ruins: so precarious are all our earthly possessions. But if he saw his barns rise, and brooded over his plenty, ease was what he could no more secure to his body than his soul. All his fruits and his goods could no more alleviate the pains of an aching head, than cure the pangs of an aching heart. One stroke of sickness or disease might embitter all his abundance, and leave him pining in the midst of plenty; one unhappy incident in his family might forbid him to taste the least satisfaction in all his affluence. So poor, so precarious a portion is all sublunary good.
[4.] God suddenly confounds his schemes, and blasts his hopes. He said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shalt be required of thee: then whose shall those things be which thou hast provided? Death in a moment darkens all the gay prospect, and dashes the gaudy bubble which flattering hope had blown. The day is near, when every carnal worldling, whom men admired as wise, and praised as doing well for himself, (Psalms 49:18.) shall feel with terrible conviction his egregious folly, and hear Thou fool pronounced upon him by the lips of eternal wisdom. The affluence of the wicked must quickly change its owner, and nothing remain for them but a dreary grave and a certain fearful looking-for of judgment. Death, whenever it comes to them, will be a terrible surprise; a dreadful night of horror will surround them; and, dragged reluctant from the body, their soul, their guilty soul, must go where riches profit not to bribe a verdict in their favour; nor can all their wealth procure one drop of water to cool their tongue in those eternal flames which never shall be quenched.
[5.] Our Lord applies the parable in general to every worldly-minded man, that layeth up treasure for himself; sets his heart upon riches; expects his happiness from them; and every one whose concerns are engrossed merely about himself, without regard to God's glory, or care for his neighbour; and is not rich towards God, destitute of the treasures of grace, and without the least title to the eternal inheritance: so is he: so absurd are his schemes, so fruitless his cares, and so miserable will be his end. Let us be warned therefore in time, and not foolishly prefer gold to godliness, the body to the soul, and time to eternity.
3rdly, The instructions given us, Luke 12:22-40 we have considered before in the other evangelists; but they are of such importance, as to deserve our hearing once, yea, twice, that they may be graven on our hearts; for nothing is a more fatal snare to the soul than inordinate desire after the wealth of this world.
1. Christ enjoins his disciples to cast their care upon God, and never to disquiet or perplex themselves about a worldly provision, anxious solicitude being as criminal as sensual indulgence. We must take no thought about the necessaries of life, disquieting ourselves with the fears of hunger and nakedness; but in the way of duty cheerfully trust him with our support, who gave us our being, Luke 12:23. Even the ravens are fed by his providence, and the lily is clothed with beauty, such as Solomon arrayed in all his glory could not vie with: and shall he not much more feed and clothe us, who in excellence, as creatures, are so much better, and, as his believing people, are so much dearer to him? The cause of all our anxious cares and fears is our unbelief: not that our solicitude will mend our circumstances; it is as useless as it is needless. We cannot add to our stature a cubit, or to our age a day; and if in the least things all our thought must be unavailing, why should we distress ourselves about the rest? Dependant therefore on the divine Providence, we need not be distressed, perplexed, and fluctuating like meteors, about a subsistence; for this would shew that we had no more confidence in God than heathens, and intimate the most criminal distrust of the power and care of him whom we call our Father, who knows all our wants, is able to supply them, and has engaged that we shall want no manner of thing that is truly good for us, if we love him. We have indeed greater things in view than food and raiment, even the kingdom of God, the blessings of grace and glory: these must engage our first concern, and then we may safely trust the Lord with all our temporal affairs.
2. He encourages them not to fear want, when they are the heirs of the eternal King. Fear not, little flock: Christ's children are like a flock, united in love under their kind shepherd's care: a little flock; few compared with the world which lieth in wickedness: yet, though compassed with enemies, they need not fear: their Redeemer is as mighty as he is gracious. It is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom; and if he has provided a throne in the heavens for his faithful people, we may rest assured that he will not leave them to want upon earth. Instead therefore of desiring to hoard unnecessary wealth, or being under anxiety about food or raiment, our hearts and hands should be open, according to our abilities, to relieve the necessitous; and, when God's providence calls for it, we should be ready to part with all that we possess, sending it before us, as the surest and most abiding portion, which will enrich us in the eternal world, where it will be incorruptible and inexhaustible. This will raise our affections to high and heavenly things; and then, where our treasure is, our heart will be also.
3. He bids them prepare for the day when he, their Master, shall come to take his saints with him to the mansions provided for them, to partake of the pleasures which are at his right hand for evermore. Christ, our Master, is gone up to heaven, to prepare for himself his spouse the church—even all who will perseveringly believe in him: we are his servants, appointed to watch till his return, and to be ready to meet him, the oil of grace burning in our lamps, and our souls active in his service. As many as he finds thus expecting him, and welcoming his arrival, he will reward with distinguished blessedness, and entertain them with all the unutterable delights of the eternal world, taking them with him to sit down in his kingdom of glory. As the time of Christ's coming is uncertain, like the wise householder, we need be habitually on our guard, and awake with the first alarm, that we may not be unexpectedly surprised, as by a thief in the night; for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not, and woe to those whom he then finds sleeping in sin and carnal security.
4thly, Peter, the warm-hearted disciple, the ready spokesman, desires to know, if our Lord's discourse was directed to the apostles in particular, or to all the disciples in general? Hereupon,
1. Christ replies to his question. What he had spoken, had both a general view to all the disciples, and was particularly applicable to them who were advanced to the most honoured posts, as stewards of the Lord's household. (1.) Their duty was, as put in trust with the care of men's souls, to be wise and faithful dispensers, of the gospel and the instituted ordinances of grace, considering the several cases and states of those to whom they ministered, and seasonably and rightly dividing to each the word of truth for their conviction, edification, or comfort. (2.) The blessedness of fidelity would be great: whoever shall be found at Christ's appearing thus zealously, diligently, perseveringly employed, shall be highly advanced by him in glory, and placed, like Joseph in Egypt, at the king's right hand. (3.) As great will be the misery, sin, and danger of those who shall be found unfaithful. It is shocking to think there should be such a character as a minister of Christ in profession, quarrelsome, oppressive, abusive, profane, drunken; yet such there have been, there are; and the cause of these, and the like enormities, is intimated; such a one says, My Lord delayeth his coming, and therefore in security goes on negligent and treacherous to his trust, and insensible to the aweful account that he must shortly make. But such insensibility retards not the approach of danger; the dreadful hour of reckoning draws near; the judge will suddenly and unexpectedly appear, and pronounce the tremendous doom of such: according to the light and advantages that they have enjoyed, shall be the measure of their punishment. The stripes shall be fewer, where partly through ignorance men have erred and offended; while the heaviest strokes of vengeance shall fall on those who have abused the greatest gifts, and in opposition to clear knowledge and the strong remonstrances of conscience have been unfaithful to their trust: and this is agreeable to the strictest rules of equity, that where a greater trust has been committed, a proportionable improvement should be required; while unfaithfulness and negligence, in such a case, become more highly criminal.
2. Christ admonishes them of the fiery trials which he and they must pass through. His gospel, though breathing the spirit of peace and love, yet being so opposite to the pride and prejudices of men, would give occasion to the bitterest animosities and persecutions. This fire was already kindled in the rancour shewn to him by the scribes and Pharisees: but will he desist from his glorious undertaking, or suppress the offensive truths? No, in no wise. Since by no other means than the sufferings that he foresaw, the redemption of the world could be obtained, he willingly offers himself to the bloody baptism before him, eagerly longing for the time when it should be accomplished in the garden, and on the cross. How astonishing his love towards us! he forewarns his disciples, that they must expect their cross also: far from that temporal kingdom of peace and prosperity with which they flattered themselves, war and tumult are before them. The gospel which they preached, would be opposed with the fiercest rage of men and devils, and the greater miseries and confusions be the consequence. Even among nearest relatives it would occasion the most grievous divisions: in families where part should be converted, and part remain in their sins, the bitterest animosities would arise in the bosoms of those who rejected the counsel of God. And such will be their enmity against those who embrace the truth, that it will break through all ties of blood, duty, and friendship, making the father unnatural, the son undutiful: even in the hearts of those, whose softer sex should breathe greater mildness, the spirit of superstition and bigotry will quench all natural affection, so that even parents will persecute their children, and children their parents, exasperated by the reproof of their holy lives, and inflamed with rage at the gentlest remonstrances, and the most endearing persuasions of those who labour for their conversion. And thus it continues to this day, and must to the end of the world, or at least to the great millennium. Let us not then think it strange.
5thly, The former discourse was addressed to the disciples; the following to the multitude.
1. Christ upbraids them for their stupidity and perverseness in not attending to, or rejecting, the evidences of his mission. They judged what weather there would be by the prognostics which experience had taught them: how inexcusable then were they not to discern this time, fixed for the Messiah's appearing; and how hypocritical and false their pretences to wisdom and the knowledge of the prophets, when they disregarded or perverted the plainest declarations of the scriptures, concerning the birth, family, life, doctrine, and kingdom of the Messiah, and thus knew not the day of their visitation! Amazing, that they should not, even of themselves, discern what was right, where the evidence was so cogent; and that while they shewed observation and judgment in matters of less concern, in this, of infinitely greater moment to their souls, they should act so strangely infatuated!
2. He admonishes them of the necessity of a speedy accommodation of their matters with an offended God, before it was too late. As common prudence would dictate the necessity of seeking an amicable agreement with our adversary, rather than push matters to extremities, where the cause must infallibly be carried against us, and a prison be the issue of the trial; much more should we, in the matters of our souls, shew greater concern to obtain reconciliation with God, who by our sins is become our adversary. To attempt our own justification before him, were folly; as to escape from his sentence, is impossible. While, therefore, we are in the way of life, our wisdom is to cast ourselves at his feet, acknowledging our offences; and through faith in Jesus, our surety, to plead for mercy, lest death should drag us to his dread tribunal in unpardoned guilt, and the ministers of vengeance seize us in consequence of the judgment pronounced, and cast us into the prison of hell; where even eternal torments can never satisfy eternal justice, or cancel the infinite debt of sin.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Luke 12". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week after Epiphany