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Christ commendeth the poor widow: he foretelleth the destruction of the temple, and of the city of Jerusalem; and the signs also which shall be before the last day: he exhorteth them to be watchful.
Anno Domini 33.
Luke 21:4. For all these— See the notes on Mark 12:41; Mark 12:44. Both the poor and rich may learn something from this passage of the gospel; the poor, who seem to have the means of doing charitable offices in a great measure denied them, are encouraged by it to do what they can, because, although it may be little, God, who looks into the heart, values it not according to what it is in itself, but according to the disposition with which it is given. On the other hand, it shews the rich, that it is not enough that they exceed the poor in the quantity of their charity; a little given, where but a little is left behind, often appears in the eye of God a much nobler offering, and discovers a far greater strength of good dispositions, than sums vastly larger bestowed out of a plentiful abundance. See the Inferences at the end of the Annotations on Mark 12:0. Some read the last clause of the verse, But she, out of what she wants for herself, hath cast in all she had to live upon.
Luke 21:11. Fearful sights, &c.— Josephus, in his relation of the signs and prodigies which preceded the taking of Jerusalem, mentions that a star hung over the city like a sword, and [an appearance like] a comet continued for a whole year; that the people being assembled to celebrate the feast of unleavened bread, at the ninth hour of the night, there shone so great a light about the altar and the temple, that it seemed to be bright day, and this continued for half an hour; that the eastern gate of the temple, which was of solid brass, and was scarcely to be shut by twenty men, was seen, at the sixth hour of the night, to open of its own accord, though fastened by strong bars and bolts, and could hardly be shut again; that, before the setting of the sun, there were seen, all over the country, chariots and armies fighting in the clouds; and that at the feast of Pentecost, the priests perceived, first a motion and noise, and then heard the voice as of a multitude, saying, "Let us depart hence." It may add some weight to this relation of Josephus, that Tacitus, the Roman, confirms every one of these particulars in his History. If Christ had not expressly foretold this, many who give little heed to portents, and who know that historians have been too credulous in that point, would have suspected that Josephus exaggerated, and that Tacitus was misinformed. But as the testimonies of Josephus and Tacitus serve in some measure to confirm the predictions of Christ, so the predictions of Christ confirm the wonders recorded by those historians. Yet, even allowing all that incredulity can urge,—that in the great calamities of war, and famine, and pestilence, the people always grow superstitious,—that they see nothing but prodigies and portents;—that some of these seem to be formed in imitation of the Greek and Roman historians; that armies fighting in the clouds are nothing more than meteors,—such as the aurora borealis, or northern lights:—in short, allowing that some of these prodigies were reigned, andothers were exaggerated, yet the prediction of them is not the lessdivine on that account. Whether they were supernatural, or fictions only of disordered imaginations; yet they were believed as realities, had all the effects of realities, and were equally worthy to be made the objects of prophesy. Fearful sights and great signs from heaven they certainly were, as much as if they had been created on purpose to astonish the earth. We should observe concerning this prophesy, which is expressed in terms so very plain and circumstantial,—that St. Matthew and St. Mark were incontestably dead before the event, as St. Luke also probably might be; and as for St. John, the only evangelist who survived it, it is remarkable that he mentions nothing of it, lest any should say that the prophesy was forged after the event happened. See, for a full explanation of the particulars of this chapter, the notes on Matthew 24:0.
Luke 21:13. It shall turn, &c.— See the note on Matthew 10:18.
Luke 21:15. Which all your adversaries shall not, &c.— "I will suggest to you such sentiments, and enable you to deliver them with such eloquence, that your defences shall be unanswerable; and your adversaries shall be struck with them, especially when they find by your manner that you have spoken them without premeditation." Of the completion of this promise we have evident examples in the defences made by the proto-martyr St. Stephen, and by St. Paul, especially before king Agrippa, and the Roman governors. But there is no need to insist upon particulars; the prevalency of the gospel, wherever it reached, demonstrates, beyond all doubt, that the defences made by the preachers thereof were unanswerable. See on Matthew 10:19-20.
Luke 21:17. And ye shall be hated of all men— See on Matthew 10:22.—That not only the apostles, but all the primitive Christians, were in general more hated and persecuted than any other body of people, is most notorious to all who are acquainted with ecclesiastical history; a fact which might seem unaccountable, when we consider how inoffensive and benevolent their temper and conduct were, and how friendly an aspect their tenets had on the security of any government underwhich they lived. One grand reason of this opposition was, that while the different pagan religions, like the confederate demons honoured by them, sociably agreed with each other, and were linked together by the principle of intercommunity, the gospel taught Christians not only, like the Jews, to bear their testimony to the falsity of them, but also, with the most fervent zeal, to urge the renunciation of them as a point of absolute necessity, requiring all men, on the most tremendous penalties, to embrace the gospel, to believe in Christ, and in all things to submit themselves to his authority; a demand which bore so hard, especially on the pride and licentiousness of the princes, and the secular interests of their priests, that there is no wonder it brought upon them the bloody storms which followed, and occasioned Christians to be branded with the epithets of unsocial and unfriendly, and to be universally misrepresented by the heathens as having a hatred and aversion to all mankind. And as they preached that the law of Moses was abrogated, this enraged the Jews also, who united with the heathens in their hatred of the Christians, and stimulated them greatly to the persecution of them.
Luke 21:18. There shall not an hair of your head perish.— A proverbial expression, denoting an absolute safety. Our Lord had foretold but just before, Luk 21:16 that several of them should be put to death; he must therefore here intend to assure them, that when they came, on the whole, to balance their accounts, they should find that they had not been losers in any the least instance; but that whatever damage they had sustained, it should be amply made up, and they at length placed in a state of entire security. See 1Sa 14:45. 2 Samuel 14:11. 1Ki 1:52 and Acts 27:3
Luke 21:19. In your patience possess ye your souls.— "Keep the government of your own spirits through grace in these awful scenes, which will bear down so many others; and you will secure the most valuable self-enjoyment, as well as be able most prudently to guard against the dangers which will surround you." See the Inferences.
Luke 21:22. For these be the days of vengeance,— "These are the days of vengeance, wherein the calamities foretold by Moses, Joel, Daniel, and other prophets, as well as those predicted by our Saviour, shall meet in one common centre, and be fulfilled with aggravated wrath on this nation." These are the days of vengeance too, in another sense; as if God's vengeance towards an obstinately impenitent nation had certain periods and revolutions, and the same days were fatal to the impenitent Jews. For it is very memorable, and matter of just admiration, according to Josephus, that the temple was burned by the Romansin the same month, and on the same day of the month, as it was before by the Babylonians.
Luke 21:24. And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, &c.— There are three particulars denounced in this verse, and all of them were remarkably fulfilled. I. That they should fall by the edge of the sword; and the number of those who so fell was indeed very great. Of those who perished during the whole siege, there were 1,100,000; many were likewise slain at other times, and in other places, of every age, sex, and condition, the number of whom, according to Josephus, amounts to 1,357,666; which would appear almost incredible, if their own historian had not so particularly enumerated them. See on Matthew 24:28; Matthew 2:0. That they should be led away captive into all nations. Now considering the number of the slain, the number of the captives was very great; generally estimated, in the whole war, at 97,000. The tallest and handsomest young men Titus reserved for his triumph: of the rest, those above seventeen years of age were partly sent to the works in Egypt; but most of them were distributed through the Roman provinces, to be destroyed in their theatres by the sword, or by wild beasts. Those under seventeen were sold for slaves: of these captives, many underwent a hard fate; eleven thousand of them perished for want. Titus exhibited all sorts of shows and spectacles at Caesarea; and many of the captives were there destroyed, some being exposed to the wild beasts, and others compelled to fight in troops against one another. At Caesarea too, in honour of his brother's birth-day, 2500 Jews were slain; and a great number likewise at Berytus, in honour of his father's; the like was done in other cities of Syria. Those whom he reserved for his triumph were Simon and John, the generals of the captives, and seven hundred others of remarkable stature and beauty. Thus were the captive Jews miserably tormented, and distributed over the Roman provinces; and are they not still distressed, and in general despised over the face of the whole earth?—III. Our Lord foretels that Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, &c. And the accomplishment of this part of the prophesy, as indeed of every article of it, is wonderful: for, after the Jews were almost utterly destroyed by death and captivity, Vespasian commanded the whole land of Judea to be sold. "At that time," says Josephus, (Bell. lib. 7: ch. 26.) "Caesar wrote to Bassus, and to Liberius Maximus the procurator, to sell the whole land of the Jews; for he did not build any city there, but appropriated their country to himself, leaving there only eight hundred soldiers, and giving them a place to dwell in called Emmaus; thirty stadia from Jerusalem: and he imposed a tribute upon all the Jews wherever they lived, commanding every one of them to bring two drachms into the capitol, according as in former times they were wont to pay unto the temple of Jerusalem. And this was the state of the Jews at this time." Thus was Jerusalem in particular, with its territory, possessed by the Gentiles, becoming Vespasian's property, who sold it to such Gentiles as chose to settle there. That Jerusalem continued in this desolate state we learn from Dio; for he tells us, that the emperor Adrian rebuilt it, sent a colony there to inhabit it, and called it AElia; but he altered its situation, leaving out Zion and Bezetha, and enlarging it so, as to comprehend Calvary, where our Lord was crucified. Moreover, Eusebius informs us, that Adrian made a law, that no Jews should come into the region round Jerusalem, (Hist. Luke 21:6.) So that the Jews being banished, such a number of aliens came into Jerusalem, that it became a city and colony of the Romans. In later times, when Julian apostatized to heathenism, being sensible that the evident accomplishment of our Lord's prophesies concerning the Jewish nation made a strong impression upon the Gentiles, and was a principal means of their conversion, he resolved to deprive Christianity of this support, by bringing the Jews to occupy their own land, and by allowing them the exercise of their religion and a form of civil government. For this purpose, he resolved to rebuild Jerusalem, to people it with Jews, and to rear up the temple on its ancient foundations, because there only he knew they would offer prayers and sacrifices. In the prosecution of this design, he wrote to the community of the Jews a letter, which is still extant among his other works, inviting them to return to their native country; and for their encouragement, he says to them, among other things, "The holy city Jerusalem, which for many years ye have desired to see inhabited, I will rebuild by my own labour, and will inhabit it." And now the emperor, having made great preparations, began the execution of his scheme with rebuilding the temple; but his workmen were soon obliged to desist by an immediate and evident interposition of God. Take an account of this matter in the words of Ammianus Marcellinus, a heathen historian, and therefore an author of unsuspected credit, who says, (lib. 23.) "He resolved to build, at an immense expence, a certain lofty temple at Jerusalem; and gave it in charge to Alypius of Antioch, who had formerly governed inBritain, to hasten the work. When therefore Alypius, with great earnestness, applied himself to the execution of this business, and the governor of the provinceaffirmed him init,terribleballsoffire,burstingforthnear the foundations, with frequent explosions, and divers times burning the workmen, rendered the place inaccessible; and thus the fire continually driving them away, the work ceased." This fact is attested likewise by Zemuth David, a Jew, who honestly confesses that Julian was hindered by God in this attempt. It is also attested by Nazianzen and Chrysostome among the Greeks; by Ambrose and Ruffin among the Latins, who lived at the very time when the thing happened; by Theodoret and Sozomen of the orthodox persuasion; by Philostorgius, an Arian, in the extracts of his history made by Photicis, lib. 7: Numbers 9:0 and by Socrates, a favourer of the Novatians, who wrote his history within the space of fifty years after the thing happened, and while the eye-witnesses thereof were yet alive. I shall only relate the testimonies of Sozomen and Chrysostome. The former, in his Ecclesiastical History, lib. 5. 100: 22 says, "This wonder is believed, and freely spoken of by all; nor is it denied by any: or if it should seem incredible to any, let them believe those who have heard it from the mouths of the eye-witnesses, who are yet alive: let them likewise believe the Jews and the Gentiles, who have left the work unfinished; or, to speak more properly, who have not been able to begin it." Chrysostome, advers. Judaeos, speaking of the same subject, says, "And now, if you go to Jerusalem, you will see the foundations lying stillbare; and if you inquire the cause of this, [namely, in Jerusalem, the scene of the miracle] you will hear no other than that which I have mentioned; and of this all we Christians are witnesses, the thing being done not long since, and in our own time." Orat. 2. Thus while Jews and heathens, under the direction of a Roman emperor, united their whole force to baffle our Lord's prediction, they did but still more conspicuously accomplish his saying, that Jerusalem should be trodden of the Gentiles, until the time of the Gentiles should be fulfilled. How exactly this passage of the prophesy has been fulfilled, we learn also from Benjamin of Tudela, a celebrated Spanish Jew of the twelfth century, who travelled into all parts to visit those of his own nation, and to learn an exact state of their affairs. In his Itinerary he tells us, that in Jerusalem he found only two hundred Jews. Sandys says, that the Holy Land "is for the most part inhabited now by Moors and Arabians, those possessing the vallies, and these the mountains. Turks there be few; but many Greeks, with other Christians, of all sects and nations, such as impute to the place an adherent holiness. Here be also some Jews; yet inherit they no part of the land; but in their own country do live as aliens." Travels, b. 3: p. 114. 7th edit. The divinity of our Lord's prediction still more clearly appears, if to the above we add the fact known throughout all Europe and Asia at this day; namely, that the Jews are still exiles from their own country, and have continued to be so ever since Titus dispersed them. In former times, the Jews, after being led away captive, were re-established: why then should this captivity have lasted now so long? Why should the effects of Titus's fury be indelible? God decreed that it should be so. "Jerusalem is to be trodden of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled;" and no power in the universe can frustrate his decree. For this reason likewise, though the Jews are at present, and have been through the whole period of their dispersion, vastly more numerous than they ever were in the most happy times of their commonwealth, none of the cities which they have made to recover their own country, have proved successful. Moreover, while every dispersed people mentioned in history has been swallowed up of the nations among whom they were dispersed, without leaving the smallest trace of their ever having existed, the Jews continue, after so many ages, a distinct people, in their dispersion. The universal contempt into which they are fallen, one should think, ought to have made them conceal whatever served to distinguish them, and have prompted them to mix with the rest of mankind: but in fact it has not done so. The Jews, in all countries, by openly separating from the nations who rule them, subject themselves to hatred and derision; nay, in several places, they have exposed themselves to death, by bearing about with them the outward marks of theirdescent.Bythisunexampledconstancy have preserved themselves everywhere a distinct people. But of this constancy, can any better account be given than that it is the means by which God verifies the prediction of his Son? He has declared, that when the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled, the Jews shall be converted; and, therefore, through the whole course of their dispersion, they continue a distinct people. If the hand of Providence be not visible in these things, I cannot tell where it is to be found. See Newton on the Prophesies*.
* The reader will, I am sure, excuse my entering so largely and repeatedly into this subject, when he considers that it affords us one of the most striking external evidences of the truth of Christianity.
Luke 21:25. And there shall be signs— See on Matthew 24:29. To what has been said there, we may add, that the circumstances of the light of the sun and moon being obscured, and of the stars falling from heaven, are not descriptive of the last day of judgment, but of the great and terrible day of the Lord, which in scripture language means the destruction of Jerusalem. For when the prophet Joel speaks of that day, and describes the locusts, one of the four plagues, under a most beautiful allegory, he represents the earth as quaking before them;—the heavens shall tremble, says he, the sun and the moon shall be dark, and the stars shall withdraw their shining, Joel 2:10. And, to remove all possibility of doubt concerning the meaning of these words in St. Matthew's gospel, our Saviour closes his predictions in this remarkable manner, Verily I say unto you, this generation shalt not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Nothing surely can be more explicit, more certain, more convincing to any unprejudiced mind, than this evidence for Christ and Christianity from prophesy. Here is no ambiguity, no conjecture, no accommodation; all is plain and evident: and with regard to the last destruction of Jerusalem, the words of our Lord himself in the gospels exactly correspond with those of the ancient prophets. Bowyer, in his Greek Testament, proposes to render the last clause, Through distress, as of the roaring sea.
Luke 21:26. Failing them for fear,— Expiring with fear, is the literal rendering of the original.
Luke 21:28. Then look up,— "Look upwards, and lift up your heads with joy and assurance; for as soon as you see the first appearance of these sights, you may comfortably conclude that your redemption draweth nigh." As the resurrection is the time when we shall in fact be fully redeemed, or delivered from all the sad consequences of sin,—and therefore is called, The redemption of our bodies; (Rom 8:23 compare Hosea 13:14.) so, in a less proper sense, the deliverance from the toilsandsorrows,temptationsandinfirmitiesofthissinfuland calamitous life, may on the like principles be called redemption: and if we may judge of the length of the apostles' lives by the extent of their labours, though we know not thetime when many of them died, there is reasonto conjecture, that it was not till about this period; which, bythe way, would be an argument, that they were now most of them young men. The expression, Look up, in this verse, admirably suits the load of labour and sufferings, under which the apostles would be depressed in this afflicted state.
Luke 21:32. Verily I say unto you, &c.— A late writer, whose criticism is at least ingenious, observes, that "this clause, of the prediction has not merely been generally misapprehended, but moreover falsely translated; and this is the opinion of men who holdthefirstrankinscripturalcriticism,namely, of Mede, Wolfius, Brenius, Markius, Sykes, &c. A Mr. Hayne had applied this part of our Lord's prophesy to the destruction of Jerusalem: Mr. Mede replies to him, 'I answer, first, while you endeavour in this manner to establish a ground for the first coming of Christ, you bereave the church of those principal passages of the scripture, whereon she hath always grounded her faith of the second coming. Secondly, you ground all this upon the ambiguity of the word generation; whereas the word γενεα signifies not only an age, but a people, a nation, a progeny, and so ought to be here taken; viz.—the nation of the Jews should not perish, till all these things were fulfilled.—Chrysostome among the ancients,* and Flaccius Illyricus (a man well skilled in the style of scripture) among the moderns, and those who follow them, might have admonished others to take the word γενεα in this acceptation, rather than, by turning it into an age or generation, to put this prophesy in little-ease, and the whole harmony of scripture out of frame, by I know not what confused interpretation.' I only add, that Dr. Sykes declares himself the more confirmed in this translation, 'from the remarkable, and, indeed, unparalleled, preservation of the Jews in the midst of hatred and continual persecutions.' The meaning then is, The Jewish nation shall assuredly subsist as a distinct people, till all that has been previously mentioned shall have been fulfilled, not only during the most corrupt period of the church, but until the antichristian governments of the world shall have been dissolved, and the religion of Jesus shall have begun to shine with its perfect brightness. And what is there in the existing circumstances of the world, or of the Jews, which contradicts this assertion, or renders it incapable of being verified?"
* "Indeed by the Fathers in general, who may be admitted to have been competent judges of the meaning of the word, γενεα was not understood as signifying the generation then living. Some persons, however, there were, who held this opinion; but, says Maldonatus, Origen entitles them simplices."
"The language of Christ is expressed with all possible strength. Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away: that is, says Bishop Newton, 'Heaven and earth shall sooner or more easily pass away; the frame of the universe shall sooner or more easily be dissolved, than my words not be fulfilled.' And surely the prediction of the Jews remaining as a separate people was a fact of sufficient importance,andsufficientlyinterestingtothepersonswhomourLordwasaddressing, to account why he annexed it to an affirmation thus striking and solemn."
Luke 21:34. Your hearts be overcharged— The word βαρυνθωσιν property signifies, burdened, or pressed down; and elegantly and strongly expresses the hateful consequences of intemperance; and the load that it brings on those rational faculties which peculiarly distinguish us from the beasts of the field. See Horat. Sat. 2: lib. 2: line 77. The reader will observe that St. Luke's account of this discourse is very short, in comparison with that of St. Matthew and St. Mark; for the obvious reason, that he had given the chief heads of it before, partly in a discourse of our Lord's last coming, which was delivered to a very numerous assembly in Galilee, (ch. Luke 12:35, &c.) and partly in another discourse, relating only to the destruction of Jerusalem, which was delivered in his journey thither at the feast of dedication, ch. Luke 17:20, &c. Here therefore he chooses to omit what had been inserted upon those occasions; as St. John, who probably wrote after the accomplishment of this prophesy, entirely omits it; and certainly, considering the circumstance of time, it came with infinitely greater strength from the other evangelists, than it could afterwards have done from him. See on Luke 21:11.
Luke 21:35. As a snare— As a net. Heylin. The exhortations which are connected with this verse, limit the extent of the word all to a considerable number; for, were it to be taken otherwise, there could have been no room to offer them. Instead of earth, some read land.
Luke 21:36. To stand before the Son of man.— This does not seem to be merely the counter-part of escaping the things spoken of before: there were thousands of the Jews, that, by one providence or another, escaped temporal destruction, who could with no propriety be said to stand before the Son of man at his coming. This latter clause therefore, which seems to be an advance upon the former, is an allusion to the expression in Psalms 1:5.Nahum 1:6; Nahum 1:6. (see also Wis 5:1.) and, in that sense, gives the context a greaterconnection and juster distinction, than the signification in which it is taken by most commentators.
Luke 21:37. And in the day-time he was teaching— Our Lord's custom at this, and, it may be, at other passovers, was, to spend the day in the city, most commonly in the temple, where he always found a great concourse of hearers;—and in the evening to retire to the mount of Olives, where he lodged in the villages, or in the gardens, or in the open air among the trees. He chose to lodge at night in such places as these, not solely for the sake of prayer,—being desirous to secure that only season of solitude, that he might prepare himself for his approaching sufferings by a proper series of extraordinary devotions, and exemplify his own precept, Luke 21:36.—but also, that he might avoid falling into the hands of his enemies:—forthough they durst not attack him in the midst of his followers by day, they probably would have apprehended him during the silence and darkness of the night, had he lodged any where within the walls of the town, and not exercised his omnipotence. Accordingly theydid not venture to lay hands on him, till Judas betrayed him to them, in the absence of the multitude, by conducting an armed band to the place of his retirement.
Luke 21:38. And all the people came early— St. Luke does not mean to say, that the people came and heard Jesus preach in the temple after this; for Jesus himself had declared, that he never was, to preach to them any more. Matthew 23:38-39. But, having described in what manner our Lord spent his time at this Passover, the evangelist adds, that his ministry sustained no damage by his leaving the city at night, because he did not fail to return every morning very early to the temple; thus exemplifying his precept of watching, as well as that of prayer, Luke 21:36.
Having already enlarged so much on the subject of the destruction of Jerusalem, I shall only subjoin in the way of Inference a few remarks on the grace of patience, drawn from Luk 21:19 of this chapter, making a few cursory observations on the other subject in my Reflections.
Inferences.—We learn from history, observation, and experience, that the life of man in the general is full of misery: all histories are little more than continual registers of the evils incident to humanity; and what we read of past times, we find repeated in the present. Yet, notwithstanding these concurrent advertisements, how apt are we still to promise ourselves a lasting felicity in the enjoyments of this world! And though the past life of the generality has been vexatious, and the present is perplexed with daily evils, how do they feed themselves with vain hopes in the remainder yet unseen.
The scriptures give a different view of things, teaching us that this life is a state of probation and exercise, wherein God leads us through many wants and difficulties, to humble, to rectify, and to improve us, through his grace. They promise us no outward calm, but inward serenity and peace of mind in the midst of the storm; not peace with the world, but successful war; not to escape evil, but overcome it; so enduring for a season, as thereby, through almighty grace, to fit ourselves for heaven, where only is perfect happiness.
The art of rightly enduring the evils of this life is very remarkably taught us by our Lord in the verse now under notice. In your patience, says he, possess ye your souls:—to possess is the common desire of mankind; but they do not rightly consider what those things are, the possession of which can make us happy. They look for happiness out of themselves, in the possessions of this world; but true happiness must arise from within,—from a rectified frame of mind; and the only rule to attain it, adjoined to prayer and faith, is that which our Lord prescribes.
We cannot think as we ought, or act in consequence as rational creatures, till our soul, that thinking faculty, be fully possessed by us,—till we have it, through grace, in our power, and use that power to the proper end; and this cannot be done, while passions disturb the mind, and put us, as it were, beside ourselves. Anger, for instance, or grief, when they are excessive, obstruct the use of reason; and the proper office of patience is to repress and hold them down, so that the soul may under the divine blessing be maintained in vigour to bear, and to extricate itself from the evils which invade it. As long as we can preserve an inward calm and composure, the cross accidents of life make but slight impressions upon us; but when we lose our temper, then they break in with violence, they over-bear the judgment, they captivate the will, and fill the soul with darkness and confusion. The soul may, in this respect, be compared to a water, which, whilst it stands serene, is within its own substance clear, transparent, and delightful; and from its surface, as from a polished mirror, reflects the images of all things that surround it, in their proper forms and just proportions: but, when it is ruffled with the wind, its clearness and brightness ceases; and though it should not be so much obscured as to lose all reflection, yet does the wrinkled surface, at best give false and mishapen forms, fallacious images, and monstrous representations of things.
Thus it is with the soul, whose inward tranquillity can only be preserved by patience. While that, through grace, is duly exercised, all is calm and serene; a man has the free use of his reason, and can hear and follow its dictates. But when the soul is ruffled through impatience, evil passions darken and obscure it; they dethrone reason, unhinge the mind, and discompose all its faculties.
Hence we may collect the force of that expression, Possess ye your souls; which to do under any notable provocation, is the proper act of patience through the Spirit of God,—a grace or virtue which prevents many evils, and mitigates all; which is found so necessary, in order to make life tolerable, that even those who have no religion, and reject many of the virtues, are forced to extol the excellence of this. They cannot but agree with Solomon, that the triumphs of patience are more estimable than those of valour; that the patient man is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit, than he that taketh a city: nay, they must confess too, with him, the danger and misery of the contrary practice; who observes, that he who hath no rule over his own spirit, is like a city that is broken down, and without walls. These are acknowledged truths, even with bad men, who, though void of religious principles, which can alone produce a genuine patience, yet forge to themselves some spurious kinds of it, which may well be termed, the political and the stoical.
The political patience is much studied and practised by men of business. Wise as they are in their generation, they hold, as a secure maxim, that "good policy has no passions;" and therefore they heedfully suppress their own, and strive to excite those of others, that they may dexterously play them off to their own advantage. This is a cruel cunning, an antichristian self-denial, which will one day have its proper reward.
The stoical patience is chiefly in vogue with men of letters and speculation, who, confiding in the force of their own minds, endeavour to harden themselves against misfortune, and, by forcibly diverting their thoughts to other objects, may sometimes maintain a certain serenity of self-possession in the article of distress. But as this firmness of temper depends much upon constitution, and a flow of animal spirits, it will not be more permanent, though it is but a miserable and specious virtue at the best; and it is happy for such men that it does not endure long: for as all the dispensations of God tend to the good of his creatures, and misfortunes in particular are graciously sent to reclaim them to a sense of their duty, and of their dependance on him; to humble them under his almighty arm, and oblige them to have recourse to him for deliverance;—if these men could support themselves by their own philosophy, and deaden the sense of their sufferings, so as not to be affected by them, they would perhaps in every instance frustrate the merciful designs of the Creator, who never corrects his creatures but for their amendment: and, alas! how few are there of these who are thus wise after the flesh, who will be prevailed upon by afflictions or any other means, to stoop so low as to embrace the gospel of Christ!
Such are the spurious kinds of patience; they are void of religion, and therefore want the essence of true virtue. Not so the genuine patience, which is a pious submission to the will of God: her first lesson is, to see his hand in all our sufferings; and from that view she receives, not only consolation and support under the present evil, but also gradually engages us, through grace, to extirpate the cause of all evil, even the root of all inordinate passions.
All the passions are desires differently modified. If the desire be just in its nature, and reasonable in its degree, the passion, in whatever form it appears, will be equally just and reasonable; but all excess in the desire will be felt in the pardon which it produces; and therefore the patience assuaging passion is never a solitary virtue that acts alone, but must have with it some of that specific virtue, which answers to the original excess. When pride is the cause of anger, patience cannot calm that anger, if humility does not concur with it. It might be dangerous, if we could do it, to stop a symptom, while the disease remains in its full vigour; yet the symptom may be of great service in directing where to apply the remedy.
When therefore an ambitious man, for instance, is perplexed with passions which destroy his peace; when he is enraged with anger, or oppressed with grief, at the disappointment of his aspiring projects, he should consider such grief, or anger, as the painful symptom of a depraved heart; a heart estranged from God, and idolizing worldly grandeurs. If he desire the relief of patience, he must first, through grace, turn from these vanities to the living God. This is the cardinal point, the hinge on which all that deserves the name of virtue depends and moves. He must in prayer obtain some lively knowledge of God, some pious sense of the divine Majesty, who made, who governs all things, and who graciously interposes those obstacles of his ambitious pursuits, on purpose to divert him from them. He will then discern the hand of God in the cross accidents which caused his distress, and he will bear it with patience, seeing that he ought to be thankful for it.
What has been said of ambition is equally applicable to covetousness, sensuality, and every other evil propensity, which bring with them their own punishment in the painful affections which accompany them. The crime is ours, but the punishment comes from God, and is executed within by the fixed laws of our nature, against which it is in vain to strive. As mercy predominates in all the ways and works of God, so those pains which he has annexed to every inordinate desire, are intended as means, through his grace, for its cure. He hedges up our way with thorns, as his prophet speaks, (Hosea 2:6.) to hinder our advancing in it; and patience can give no redress, until we change our course, and, under his blessing, return to him in a dutiful submission.
Men want a patience whereby they may sin at ease; whereby they may indulge their evil desires with impunity; but by the goodness of God, that is not possible; for solid patience can never be attained but in the practice of religion.
The true art of patience, under any kind of trouble, consists in a devout recollection, whereby we withdraw our attention as much as possible from the painful ideas excited in us, that so the mind may ascend in pious meditations to the throne of grace, and there find shelter from the anguish and tumult of the passions. There it will feel divine influence, and recover an inward peace, which will soon diffuse itself through the lower passions. Such was the advice of Eliphaz to Job, (Ch. Luke 22:21, &c.) "Acquaint thyself now with God, and be at peace; receive the law from his mouth, and lay up his words in thine heart. If thou return to the Almighty, thou shalt be built up; and thou shalt put away iniquity far from thee. Yea, the Almighty shall be thy defence; thou shalt have thy delight in him, and the light shall shine upon thy ways."
Such is the true practice of patience, and such is its reward. By patience we possess our souls; and by the means of patience, springing from a living faith, through the grace of God, and the Blood of the Covenant, we may save them for eternity; where patience will be a needless virtue, and all our duty, joy.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, The commendation of the poor widow's offering we considered, Mark 12:41., &c. We may observe, (1.) That it is the duty of all, according to their ability, to contribute to the service of the sanctuary, the maintenance of a gospel ministry, the education of youth, and the relief of the necessitous. (2.) The least mite which is given to the offerings of God from a heart zealous for his glory, and breathing fervent charity, shall be remembered, and infinitely recompensed to the faithful in the great day.
2nd, The disciples, vastly pleased with the magnificence of the temple, and the gifts with which it was enriched, could not but grieve at the thoughts that it should be utterly destroyed, and fain would move the Saviour's compassion to reverse the sentence that he had pronounced; but he confirms the doom of that devoted place, and in answer to their request informs them of the signs preceding the threatened desolation.
1. False Christs would arise, making great profession of delivering the Jews from the Roman yoke, and affirming that the time fixed in the ancient prophesies was near, when the temporal kingdom of the Messiah should be set up. But they are to beware of such deceivers, and neither follow nor be led by them. His kingdom, as they had been often advised, was not of this world, nor must they look for any other Messiah but himself.
2. Terrible commotions and awakening judgments would precede the day of his coming to destroy the Jewish nation. Bloody wars and tumults would ravage the country; earthquakes rock the ground; famines and pestilence desolate the land; and fearful sights in the heavens terrify the beholders, and portend the approaching dire calamities. But they must not be terrified at the signs, nor apprehensive of the consequences; for they shall be under the peculiar care of the divine Providence, though greater evils are still behind.
3. They must expect fiery persecutions, and will find their nearest and dearest relations, filled with enmity against the gospel, their bitterest enemies. They will be scourged in the synagogues by their own countrymen; cast into prison; brought before heathen magistrates and kings; hated of all men; and called to resist unto blood, sealing the truth which they professed with martyrdom. But to support and encourage them herein, Christ assures them, [1.] That their sufferings and persecutions shall tend to make the gospel word to be more diffused, and be a testimony against those who maliciously and cruelly persecuted them. [2.] He promises them extraordinary aids in times of extraordinary trials. They need not be solicitous about the answer that they should make when cited before the tribunals of magistrates and kings; nor must they depend upon their own prudence for their defence, but expect divine assistance. I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist. The Holy Ghost should furnish them with matter and words; fill their mouths with such arguments, and give such energy to their discourse, as should quite confound and silence their persecutors, if it did not convince them. And all God's faithful ministers and people, when suffering for the truth's sake, and called in defence of the gospel to answer before the rulers, may still depend on the same divine help, (See Acts 4:0; Acts 5:0; Acts 6:0.) [3.] Out of all their severest trials God will save them harmless. Not an hair of your head shall perish: either literally he would strangely deliver them from the most imminent perils, as he saved them out of Jerusalem when the Romans came to besiege the city; or, figuratively, it expresses his singular care of them; so that though they should be delivered to prison, or to death, his eye should be upon them for good, and give their faithful souls at least a happy issue out of all their afflictions; bringing them through these tribulations to eternal life and glory; so that they should be infinite gainers by all their sufferings. [4.] He exhorts them to bear up patiently under every temptation, and not be ruffled or discomposed, but with holy serenity and calm resignation to cast their care upon God, and quietly wait for his salvation. Note; (1.) In trying times the hardest conflict is within, to preserve the tranquillity of our own souls, by humble confidence in God. (2.) A little patience will bring us to the end of every human woe.
3rdly, Having exhorted them to bear up in these dangerous days that should precede the final destruction of Jerusalem, he passes on to describe her utter overthrow.
1. After a variety of fearful signs, at last the destroying army of the Romans shall approach—the signal for the faithful to leave the devoted place, and fly for their lives, as history informs us every Christian did, so that not one perished in Jerusalem. The days of vengeance then shall come upon the Jewish nation for all their wickedness, and especially for that blood of the Messiah, the curse of which they imprecated upon their own heads, and now shall terribly seize them. Great indeed would be the distress of those who fled, especially of such as were with child, or who gave suck, because this must retard their speed, and add to their other afflictions; yet greater far would be the misery of those who remained, on whom the full vials of wrath would be poured out; the sword making the most fearful ravages among them, and the few who remained alive after the siege being led captives, and dispersed into all nations; while their once glorious city, razed from the foundations, should long lie in ruins, and never be restored to its former grandeur, but continue under the power of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled; when the fulness of them in the last days being come in, Israel shall again be gathered, and Jerusalem, most probably, be again restored, and inhabited by the Jewish converts. This desolation of Judea would be terrible, as if the very elements were dissolving around them: their whole civil and ecclesiastical polity would be utterly destroyed; and, half-dead with terror and dismay, the wretched inhabitants would sink under the load of complicated evils. Such fearful signs shall also precede the final dissolution of all things, when the judge of quick and dead shall at last be revealed from heaven, taking vengeance on all that know not God, and obey not his gospel.
2. Christ encourages his disciples, when these calamities begin, to lift up their heads in joyful hope, knowing that their redemption draweth nigh. The destruction of the Jewish people, who were the most inveterate persecutors of the first Christians, would be to them a great deliverance, and afford matter for their thankfulness to God, who had avenged them of these bitter enemies.
4thly, Those signs of the times which Christ had set before them, if duly remarked, would as clearly point out to them the approach of the threatened judgments, as the summer is known to be at hand, when the buds and flowers of spring appear. The time for the fulfilment of this prophesy was near, and the accomplishment of it sure: therefore,
1. He cautions them to beware of sensuality and security, lest the day of his coming should surprise them unprepared to meet him. Note; (1.) We are in jeopardy every hour: the day of death and judgment is uncertain; we need be every moment on our guard: they who are immersed in the cares and pleasures of the world, will be terribly surprised by it; and woe to those on whom it shall come as a snare, and seize them in their sins. (2.) If we would meet our judge with comfort, and be found of him in peace, we must keep a strict rein on inordinate appetites, and learn to die daily to the world, and sit loose to all its cares and inticements. They who are dead to the world while they are in it, will be the readiest to go out of it at the most sudden summons. (3.) Surfeiting and drunkenness must necessarily unqualify us to meet our God. A glutton! a drunkard! what a fearful reckoning must he make in the day of judgment! (4.) The cares of this world as effectually stupify the conscience, as the fumes of liquor do the body; and though men are apt to think sober worldlings decent characters, compared with notorious drunkards; yet is their state equally dangerous, and perhaps the former the most difficult to be wrought upon. The drunkard sleeps, and is sober; but the worldly-minded rises up as he lay down, overcharged with the same load of worldly anxiety and carking solicitude.
2. He exhorts them to watch and pray always, that they may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man, with comfort, and confidence of his favour and regard. Not that our watchfulness and prayers confer any proper merit; we must in this sense be counted worthy and accepted in the Beloved; but these are the means that God has appointed, in the use of which he has promised his grace and blessing to us: and if we be awake, and expect our Lord's arrival, and look up to him for strength continually, he will bring us safe through every temptation, and give us to partake at last of his final salvation.
3. During the few days between his triumph and his sufferings, he continued indefatigable in his labours, preaching daily in the temple; and when the evening came, he retired to the Mount of Olives for prayer and meditation, returning in the morning to his delightful work in the temple, where an attentive auditory waited eager to hear his divine discourses.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Luke 21". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12