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The Pharisee's feast on a sabbath day. The healing of the sick with dropsy.
And it came to pass, as he went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread on the sabbath day. Still on the same journey; the Lord was approaching gradually nearer Jerusalem. The house into which he entered this sabbath belonged to one who was a leading member of the Pharisee party, probably an influential rabbi, a man of great wealth, or a member of the Sanhedrim "To eat bread on the sabbath day," as a guest, was a usual practice; such entertainments on the sabbath day were very usual; they were often luxurious and costly. The only rule observed was that all the viands provided were cold,, everything having been cooked on a previous day. Augustine alludes to these sabbath feasts as including at times singing and dancing. They watched him. This explains the reason of the invitation to the great Teacher, on the part of a leading Pharisee, after the Master's bitter denunciation of the party (see Luke 11:39-42.11.52). The feast and its attendant circumstances were all arranged, and Jesus' watchful enemies waited to see what he would do.
And, behold, there was a certain man before him which had the dropsy. This was the scheme of the Pharisee host. The sick man was not one of the invited guests; with the freedom which attends a feast in a large Oriental house, the afflicted man was introduced, as though by chance, with other lookers-on. The skilful plotters stationed him in a prominent position, where the eyes of the strange Guest would at once fall on him. The situation is described by the evangelist with dramatic clearness: "And, behold, there was a certain man before him which," etc. In an instant Jesus grasped the whole situation. It was the sabbath, and there before him was one grievously sick with a deadly chronic malady. Would he pass by—contrary to his wont-such a sufferer? Would he heal him on the sabbath day? Could he? perhaps thought the crafty foes of the great Physician-Teacher. The disease was a deadly one, utterly incurable, as they thought, by earthly means.
And Jesus answering spake unto the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day? And the Heart-reader read their thoughts, and in a moment he saw all and understood all, and answered the unasked question of his host and the assembled guests by putting to them another query which went to the root of the whole were matter which they pondering in their evil hearts.
And they held their peace. What could they say? If they had pressed the absurd restrictions with which they hedged round the sabbath day, they felt they would be crushed by one of the Master's deep and powerful arguments. They had hoped he would have acted on the impulse of the moment, and healed the sufferer or else failed; but his calm question confused them. And he took him, and healed him, and let him go. With one of his majestic exercises of Divine power—so slight a task to Christ—the deadly disease was cured in a moment, and then, with quiet crushing contempt, the Physician passed into the Rabbi, and to the awe-struck guests he put a question; it was his apology for the late infringement of the traditions of the sabbath day. What had they to say?
And answered them, saying, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day? Most of the older authorities here, instead of" an ass or an ox," read "a son or an ox." The difference here in the reading without doubt arises from the perplexity which was felt in very early days over the strangeness of the collocation of "a son and an ox." This is the reading, however, which, according to all the acknowledged principles of criticism, we must consider the true one. The meaning is clear. "If thy son, or even, to take a very different comparison, thy ox, were to fall into a pit, wouldn't you," etc.? How the sophistries of the scribes and the perplexing traditions of the Jerusalem rabbis on their sabbath restrictions must have been torn asunder by the act of mercy and power performed, and the words of Divine wisdom spoken by the Physician-Teacher of Galilee! The noble instincts even of the jealous Pharisees must have been for a moment stirred. Even they, at times, rose above the dreary, lightless teaching with which the rabbinical schools had so marred the old Divine Law. Dr. Farrar quotes a traditional instance of this. "When Hillel"—afterwards the great rabbi and head of the famous school which bore his name—"then a poor porter, had been found half-frozen under masses of snow in the window of the lecture-room of Shemaiah and Abtation, where he had hidden himself, to profit by their wisdom, because he had been unable to earn the small fee for entrance, they had rubbed and resuscitated him, though it was the sabbath day, and had said that he was one for whose sake it was well worth while to break the sabbath."
At the Pharisee's feast. The Master's teaching on the subject of seeking the most honourable places. Who ought to be the guests at such feasts.
And he put forth a parable to those which were hidden, when he marked how they chose out the chief rooms; saying unto them. The scene with the sufferer who had been healed of his dropsy was now over. The Master was silent, and the guests proceeded to take their places at the banquet. Jesus remained still, watching the manoeuvring on the part of scribes and doctors and wealthy guests to secure the higher and more honourable seats. "The chief rooms;" better rendered "first places."
Luke 14:8, Luke 14:9
When thou art hidden of any man to a wedding, sit not down in the highest room. The pretensions and conceit of the Jewish doctors of the Law had been for a long period intolerable. We have repeated examples in the Talmud of the exaggerated estimate these, the scholars and doctors of the Law, formed of themselves, and of the respect they exacted from all classes of the community. One can well imagine the grave displeasure with which the Divine Teacher looked upon this unholy frame of mind, and upon the miserable petty struggles which constantly were resulting from it. The expositors of the Law of God, the religious guides of the people, were setting an example of self-seeking, were showing what was their estimate of a fitting reward, what was the crown of learning which they coveted—the first seats at a banquet, the title of respect and honour! How the Lord—the very essence of whose teaching was self-surrender and self-sacrifice—must have mourned over such pitiful exhibitions of weakness shown by the men who claimed to sit in Moses' seat! Lest a more honourable man than thou be bidden of him; and he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, Give this man place. As an instance of such unseemly contention, Dr. Farrar quotes from the Talmud how, "at a banquet of King Alexander Jannaeus, the rabbi Simeon ben Shetach, in spite of the presence of some great Persian satraps, had thrust himself at table between the king and queen, and when rebuked for his intrusion quoted in his defence Ecclesiasticus 15:5, 'Exalt wisdom, and She … shall make thee sit among princes.'"
Then said he also to him that bade him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompense be made thee. This remark of Jesus took place somewhat later in the course of the feast. Those present were evidently mostly, if not all, drawn from the upper ranks of Jewish society, and the banquet was no doubt a luxurious and costly entertainment. Godet's comment is singularly interesting, and well brings out the half-sorrowful, half-playful sarcasm of the Master. He was the rich Pharisee's Guest; he was partaking of his hospitality, although, it is true, no friendly feelings had dictated the invitation to the feast, but still he was partaking of the man's bread and salt; and then, too, the miserable society tradition which then as now dictates such conventional hospitality, all contributed to soften the Master's stern condemnation of the pompous hollow entertainments; so he "addresses to his host a lesson on charity, which he clothes, like 'the preceding, in the graceful form of a recommendation of intelligent self-interest." The μήποτε, lest (Luke 14:12), carries a tone of liveliness and almost of pleasantry. "Beware of it; it is a misfortune to be avoided. For, once thou shalt have received human requital, it is all over with Divine recompense." Jesus did not mean to forbid our entertaining those whom we love. He means simply, "In view of the life to come, thou canst do better still."
Luke 14:13, Luke 14:14
But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: and thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee. Great pagan moralists, sick at heart at these dreary, selfish society conventionalities, have condemned this system of entertaining those who would be likely to make an equivalent return for the interested hospitality. So Martial, writing of such an incident, says, 'You are asking for gifts, Sextus, not for friends." Nehemiah gives a somewhat similar charge to the Jews of his day: "Eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared" (Nehemiah 8:10). Thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just. There is no doubt that Jesus here was alluding to that first resurrection which would consist of the "just" only; of that which St. John speaks of in rapt and glowing terms: "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection" (Revelation 20:6). This was a doctrine evidently much insisted on by the early teachers of Christianity (see John 5:25; Acts 24:15; 1 Corinthians 15:23; 1 Thessalonians 4:16; Philippians 3:11; and compare our Lord's words again in Luke 20:35).
In reply to an observation of one of the guests, Jesus relates the parable of the great supper, in which he shows how few really cared for the joys of God's kingdom in the world to come.
And when one of them that sat at meat with him heard these things, he said unto him, Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God. One of those who were partaking of the banquet, and had witnessed the whole scene, now speaks to the Stranger Guest. He had looked on the miracle performed for the afflicted man: he had heard the wise words spoken by the Galilaean Rabbi; he had listened to the gentle and yet pungent rebuke to the Pharisee for his ostentatious hospitality to the rich and great; he had marked the quiet reminder as to the many sufferers who really stood in need of the viands so plentifully spread for those who wanted them not; he had been specially struck by the mention of the recompense which the just who remembered the poor would receive at the resurrection. This quiet observer, noticing that the Master's remarks were touching upon the recompense of the just in the world to come, now breaks in with a remark on the blessedness of him who should eat bread in the kingdom of God. The words do not seem to have been spoken in a mocking spirit, but to have been the genuine outcome of the speaker's admiration of the Guest so hated and yet so wondered at. There is, no doubt, lurking in the words a certain Pharisaic self-congratulation—a something which seems to imply, "Yes, that blessedness to which you, O Master, are alluding, I am looking forward confidently to share in. How happy will it be for us, Jews as we are, when the time comes for us to sit down at that banquet in the kingdom of heaven l"
Then said he unto him. The parable with which the great Teacher answered the guest's remark contains much and varied teaching for all ages of the Church, but in the first instance it replies to the speaker's words. "Yes," said the Master, "blessed indeed are they who sit down at the heavenly feast. You think you are one of those whom the King of heaven has invited to the banquet; what have you done, though, with the invitation? I know many who have received it who have simply tossed it aside; are you of that number? Listen now to my story of the Divine banquet and of the invited thereto." A certain man made a great supper, and bade many. The kingdom of heaven, under the imagery of a great Banquet, was a picture well known to the Jews of that age. The guests in the Pharisee's house for the greater part were probably highly cultured men. At once they would grasp the meaning of the parable. They knew that the supper was heaven, and the Giver of the feast was God. The many—these were Israel, the long line of generations of the chosen people. So far strictly true, they thought; the Galilaean Teacher here is one with the rabbis of our Jerusalem schools. But, as Jesus proceeded, a puzzled, angry look would come upon the self-satisfied faces of Pharisee, scribe, and doctor; whispers would run round, "What means the Galilaean here?"
Come; for all things are now ready. And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The excuses, viewed as a whole, are paltry, and "if," as it has been well said, "as a mere story of natural life it seems highly improbable, it is because men's conduct with regard to the Divine kingdom is not according to right reason … The excuses are all of the nature of pretexts, not one of them being a valid reason for non-attendance at the feast." The fact was, the invited were pleased to be invited, but there the matter ended with them. The banquet, which they were proud to have been asked to share in, had no influence upon their everyday lives. They made their engagements for pleasure and for business without the least regard to the day or the hour of the banquet: indeed, they treated it with perfect indifference. The key to the parable is easily found. The Jews were "solemn triflers in the matter of religion. They were under invitation to enter the kingdom, and they did not assume the attitude of men who avowedly cared nothing for it. On the contrary, they were pleased to think that its privileges were theirs in offer, and even gave themselves credit for setting a high value on them. But in truth they did not. The kingdom of God had not by any means the first place in their esteem. They were men who talked much about the kingdom of heaven, yet cared little for it; who were very religious, yet very worldly—a class of which too many specimens exist in every age" (Professor Bruce, 'Parabolic Teaching'). I have bought a piece of ground … I have bought five yoke of oxen … I have married a wife, etc. These excuses, of course, by no means exhaust all possible cases. They simply represent examples of usual everyday causes of indifference to the kingdom of God. To all these excuses one thing is common—in each a present good is esteemed above the heavenly offer; in other words, temporal good is valued higher than spiritual. The three excuses may be classed under the following heads.
(1) The attraction of property of different kinds, the absorbing delight of possessing earthly goods.
(2) The occupations of business, the pleasure of increasing the store, of adding coin to coin, or field to field.
(3) Social ties, whether at home or abroad, whether in general society or in the home circle; for even in the latter case it is too possible for family and domestic interests so completely to fill the heart as to leave no room there for higher and more unselfish aims, no place for any grander hopes than the poor narrow home-life affords. The primary application of all this was to the Jews of the Lord's own time. It was spoken, we must remember, to a gathering of the Rite of the Israel of his day. In the report of the servant detailing to the master the above-recorded excuses, it has been beautifully said, "we may hear the echo of the sorrowful lamentation uttered by Jesus over the hardening of the Jews during his long nights of prayer." The invitation to the feast was neglected by the learned and the powerful among the people.
Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind. The invitations to the great feast, seeing that those first bidden were indifferent, were then sent out far and wide—through broad streets and narrow lanes, among wealthy publicans (tax-collectors) and poor artisans. The invitations were distributed broadcast among a rougher and less cultured class, but still the invitations to the banquet were confined to dwellers in the city; we hear as yet of no going without the walls. Here the invitation seems generally to have been accepted. All this in the first instance referred to the Galilaean peasants, to the Jewish publicans, to the mass of the people, who heard him, on the whole, gladly.
And the servant maid, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room. While these words are necessary to complete the picture, still in them we have a hint of the vast size of the kingdom of God. The realms of the blessed are practically boundless. Here, again, in the first instance, there was a Jewish instruction intended to correct the false current notion that that kingdom was narrow in extent, and intended to be confined to the chosen race of Israel. It is very different in the Lord's picture.
And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges. Hitherto the parable-story has been dealing with the past and the present of Israel; it now becomes prophetic, and speaks of a state of things to be. The third series of invitations is not addressed to inhabitants of a city. No walls hem in these far-scattered dwellers among the highways and hedges of the world. This time the master of the house asks to his great banquet those who live in the isles of the Gentiles. And compel them to some in. A greater pressure is put on this class of outsiders than was tried upon the favoured first invited. The indifferent ones were left to themselves. They knew, or professed to know and to appreciate, the nature of that feast in heaven, the invitation to which they treated apparently with so much honour, and really with such contempt. But these outsiders the Divine Host would treat differently. To them the notion of a pitying, loving God was quite a strange thought; these must be compelled—must be brought to him with the gentle force which the angels used when they laid hold of the hand of lingering Lot, and brought him out of the doomed city of the plain. Thus faithful men, intensely convinced of the truth of their message, compel others, by the bright earnestness of their words and life, to join the company of those who are going up to the feast above. Anselm thinks that God may be also said to compel men to come in when he drives them by calamities to seek and find refuge with him and in his Church. That my house may be filled. In Luke 14:22 the servant, who knew well his master's mind and his master's house too, and its capabilities, tells his lord how, after many had accepted the invitation and were gone in to the banquet, "yet there was room." The master of the house, approving his servant's words, confirms them by repeating, "Bring in more andyet more, that my house may be filled." Bengel comments here with his quaint grace in words to which no translation can do justice: "Nee natura nec gratis patitur vacuum." Our God, with his burning love for souls, will never bear to contemplate a half-empty heaven. "Messiah will see of the travail of his soul, and be satisfied." "The love of God," says Godet, "is great; it requires a multitude of guests; it will not have a seat empty. The number of the elect is, as it were, determined beforehand by the riches of the Divine glory, which cannot find complete reflection without a certain number of human beings. The invitation will, therefore, be continued, and consequently the history of our race prolonged, until that number be reached."
For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper. Whose words are these? Are they spoken by the host of the parable-story; and if so, to whom does he address them? For in the original Greek it is not "I say unto thee" (singular), the servant with whom throughout he has been holding a colloquy, but "I say unto you" (plural), Who does he mean by "you"? The assembled guests? or especially the already introduced poor of Luke 14:21 (so Bengel)? But what conceivable purpose, as Stier well asks, would be served by addressing these stern words to the guests admitted? Would their bliss be increased by a side-glance at those who had lost what they were to enjoy? How inharmonious a close would this be of a parable constructed with such tender graciousness throughout l It is better, therefore, to understand it as spoken with deep solemnity by the Master himself to the assembled guests in the Pharisee's house, with whom he was then sitting at meat, and for whose special instruction he had spoken the foregoing parable of the great supper. "I say unto you, that none of those who were bidden in the parable-story (and ye know full well that you yourselves are included in that number) shall sit at my table in heaven." This identification of himself as the Host of the great heavenly banquet was quite in accordance with the lofty and unveiled claims of the Master during the last period of his public ministry. Throughout this exposition of the great supper parable, the idea of the primary reference to the Jewish people has been steadily kept in view. It was a distinct piece of teaching, historic and prophetic, addressed to the Jew of the days of our Lord. As years passed on, it became a saying of the deepest interest to the Gentile missionaries and to the rapidly growing Gentile congregations of the first Christian centuries. In time it ceased to be used as a piece of warning history and of instructive prophecy, and the Church in every succeeding age has recognized its deep practical wisdom, and is ever discovering in it fresh lessons which belong to the life of the day, and which seemingly were drawn from it and intended for its special instruction, for its warning and for its comfort.
The qualifications of his real disciples. Two short parables illustrative of the high pries such a real disciple must pay if he would indeed be his. The halfhearted disciple is compared to flavourless salt.
And there went great multitudes with him. These great multitudes were made up now of enemies as well as friends. Curiosity doubtless attracted many; the fame of the Teacher had gone through the length and breadth of the land. The end, the Master well knew, was very near, and, in the full view of his own self-sacrifice, the higher and the more ideal were the claims he made upon those who professed to be his followers. He was anxious now, at the end, clearly to make it known to all these multitudes what serving him really signified—entire self-renunciation; a real, not a poetic or sentimental, taking up the cross (Luke 14:27). Even his own chosen disciples were yet a long way from apprehending the terrible meaning of this cross he spoke of, and which to him now bore so ghastly a significance.
If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. The Lord's teaching throughout, in parable and in direct saying, pressed home to his followers that no home love, no earthly affection, must ever come into competition with the love of God. If home and his cause came ever into collision, home and all belonging to it must gently be put aside, and everything must be sacrificed to the cause. Farrar quotes here from Lovelace—
"I could not love thee, dear, so much,
Loved I not honour more."
For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish. The imagery was not an unfamiliar one in those days. The magnificent Herodian house had a passion for erecting great buildings, sacred and profane, in the varied cities under their sway. They would doubtless be often imitated, and no doubt many an unfinished edifice testified to the foolish emulation of some would-be imitator of the extravagant royal house. Now, such incomplete piles of masonry and brickwork simply excite a contemptuous pity for the builder, who has so falsely calculated his resources when he drew the plan of the palace or villa he was never able to finish. So in the spiritual life, the would-be professor finds such living harder than he supposed, and so gives up trying after the nobler way of living altogether; and the world, who watched his feeble efforts and listened with an incredulous smile when he proclaimed his intentions, now ridicules him, and pours scorn upon what it considers an unattainable ideal. Such an attempt and failure injure the cause of God.
Luke 14:31, Luke 14:32
Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand! Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace. It is not improbable that this simile was derived from the history of the time. The unhappy connection of the tetrarch Herod with Herodias had brought about the divorce of that sovereign's first wife, who was daughter of Aretas, a powerful Arabian prince. This involved Herod in an Arabian war, the result of which was disastrous to the tetrarch. Josephus points out that this ill-omened incident was the commencement of Herod Antipas's subsequent misfortunes. Our Lord not improbably used this simile, foreseeing what would be the ultimate end of this unhappy war of Herod. The. first of these two little similes rather points to the building up of the Christian life in the heart and life. The second is an image of the warfare which' every Christian man must wage against the world, its passions, and its lusts. If we cannot brace ourselves up to the' sacrifice necessary for the completion of the building up of the life we know the Master loves; if we shrink from the cost involved in the warfare against sin and evil—a warfare which will only end with life—better for us not to begin the building or risk the war. It will be a wretched alternative, but still it will be best for us to make our submission at once to the world and its prince; at least, by so doing we shall avoid the scandal and the shame of injuring a cause which we adopted only to forsake. The Swiss commentator Godet very naturally uses hero a simile taken from his own nationality: "Would not a little nation like the Swiss bring down ridicule on itself by declaring war with France, if it were not determined to die nobly on the field of battle?" He was thinking of the splendid patriotism of his own brave ancestors who had determined so to die, and who carried out their gallant purpose. He was thinking of stricken fields like Morgarten and Sempach, and of brave hearts like those of Rudolph of Erlach, and Arnold of Winkelried, who loved their country better than their lives. This was the spirit with which Christ's warriors must undertake the hard stern warfare against an evil and corrupt world, otherwise better let his cause alone. The sombre shadow of the cross lay heavy and dark across all the Redeemer's words spoken at this time.
So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. "We must live in this world as though the soul was already in heaven and the body mouldering in the grave" (St. Francis de Sales). There was much unreasoning, possibly not a little sentimental enthusiasm, among the people who crowded round Jesus in these last months of his work. The stern, uncompromising picture of what ought to be the life of his real followers was painted especially with a view of getting rid of these useless, purposeless enthusiasts. The way of the cross, which he was about to tread, was no pathway for such light-hearted triflers.
Luke 14:34, Luke 14:35
Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be seasoned! It is neither fit for the land, nor yet for the dunghill; but men cast it out. Here "salt" stands for the spirit of self-sacrifice, self-renunciation. When in a man, or in a nation, or in a Church, that salt is savourless, then that spirit is dead; there is no hope remaining for the man, for the people, or the Church. The lesson was a general one—it was meant to sink into each listener's heart; but the Master's sad gaze was fixed, as he spoke the sombre truth, on the people of Israel whom he loved, and on the temple of Jerusalem where his glory-presence used to dwell. Men cast it out. Jesus could hear the armed tramp of the Roman legions of the year 70 as they east out his people from their holy land.
The great supper.
The feast of which Christ, was partaking had been carefully prepared, and was an event of some consequence in the town. This may be inferred not only from the tone of the Lord's remarks, but also from the intimations of the evangelists. Thus from Luke 14:12 it appears that the Pharisee had gathered together the elite of the place, along with his more intimate friends and his kinsmen. From Luke 14:7 we learn that there had been an eager scramble on the part of the guests for the chief places, the precedencies, and dignities. It was the observation or' this which called forth the saying (Luke 14:11), "Whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted." Notice, too, as proving the care which had been bestowed on the entertainment, that there was an understanding among the more prominent guests that the movements and words of the invited Prophet should be closely watched. In fact, the supper was a trap laid. To complete the scheme, a man was introduced (Luke 14:2) who laboured under a severe illness—dropsy; a man whose presence might be a temptation to the loving-hearted Healer to violate the sacredness of the sabbath. Jesus, we are told (Luke 14:3), "answering," i.e. knowing the intention of the lawyers and Pharisees, put a question to them which revealed the thoughts of the heart, whilst it so vindicated his work of mercy that it reduced his hypocritical friends to silence: "they could not answer him again to these things" (Luke 14:6). This great supper is the text of one of the most beautiful of our Lord's parables. The introduction of the parable is very simple. He had taught his host a lesson of charity (Luke 14:12-42.14.14), when one of the company, catching at the last clause, "recompensed at the resurrection of the just," and giving this the accepted Pharisee-meaning—a banquet at which the elect of the nation.would sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (presuming, of course, that he would have a place at that banquet)—exclaims, "Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God" (Luke 14:15). "Yes," virtually replies the Prophet, "only recollect that this kingdom of God is not the blessedness which you imagine; nay, since the call to it has been rejected by those who were bidden—i.e. the covenant-people—that call will be extended, in the fulness of its glory, to the publicans and sinners whom you reject—the people of the streets and lanes; it will be extended further still, even to the ignorant heathen—the people of the highways and hedges. For (representing in these words the giver of the festival) "None of those men that were bidden shall taste of my supper" (Luke 14:24). Such was the primary application of the parable. In its details it is entirely within the circle of prophetic ideas. The supper is an Old Testament symbol of the day of Christ, the Messiah (see Isaiah 25:6). The "many bidden" were those who, having Moses and the prophets, were possessors both of the Word heard outwardly with the ear, and of the grace through which it is grafted inwardly in the heart. The servant at the supper-time denotes that preaching of the kingdom which began with John the Baptist, and was carried on by our Lord and those whom "he sent before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come." The excuses intimate the pleas on which the invited, with one consent, turned away from the call. And the further missions of the servant, first keeping within the city, to the streets and lanes, and, secondly, quitting the precincts of the city, to the highways and hedges, denote, as has been said, the inclusion of the excluded classes of the Jews, along with the Samaritans, and the bidding of the Gentiles to the light of the gospel. "I said," thus ancient prophecy expressed it (Isaiah 65:1), "Behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my Name." Passing from the first relations of the parable to those which more directly concern us, every part of it is suggestive of some aspect of Christian truth or life. Notice three points—
I. THE HOSPITALITY OF GOD. God is the Presence shadowed forth in the "man who makes, the great supper." In the notion of such a supper we see the Divine hospitality. A supper carries with it the thought of an abundant provision, of satisfaction for all want, of an infinite and various fulness. And is not this associated in the Scriptures with the very name of God? Take, e.g., one of the most beautiful utterances of the Psalter, Psalms 36:5-19.36.9. Indeed, the manifold revelation of God in nature, providence, grace, in the firmament above us, the earth around us, the great and wide sea, our own consciousness, the Word who in the beginning was with God and was God—God himself in every form of his communication, is the exceeding joy of the pure in heart. His greatness is so hospitable. It makes room for all our littleness and weakness "in its lap to lie." As Faber, in verses of sweetest music, has sung
"Thus doth thy grandeur make us grand ourselves;
'Tis goodness makes us fear;
Thy greatness makes us brave, as children are
When those they love are near.
"Great God! our lowliness takes heart to play
Beneath the shadow of thy state;
The only comfort of our littleness
Is that thou art so great.
"Then on thy grandeur I will lay me down;
Already life is heaven for me;
No cradled child more softly lies than I:
'Come soon, Eternity.'"
It is this hospitality that is declared in the Son of the Eternal Love. Christ is the Great Supper. In him God has "abounded towards us in wisdom and prudence." St. Paul speaks of" the love of Christ which passeth knowledge," of Christ "the All in all;" and, more particularly defining the supper-making, he says, "Christ, of God made to us Wisdom, Righteousness, Sanctification, Redemption." All that we need as men, all that is salvation for sinners, is ours in him. And how is it ours? "If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me."
II. THE CHURLISHNESS OF MEN. This is God, with the door thrown wide open, the table prepared, the life eternal given, the grand, ever-urgent "Come!" "Ho, every one that thirsteth and he that hath no money, come!" But what is the reception? Strange, wonderful, but still too true, "They all with one consent began to make excuse" (verse 18). Look at the excuses. They are pictures of states of mind, of attitudes of thought, as real now as at any time. Three such pictures are sketched. The first (verse 18), a mind which rejoices in a good realized. The man has the desire of his heart. He is the lord of broad acres. "Soul, take thine ease; what need for thee of the supper?" The second (verse 19), a mind still immersed in business, with its cares and anxieties. The man has just concluded an important purchase; before all else he must prove it. The third (verse 20), a mind absorbed in earthly delights and social relationships—he "cannot come." We can trace, in the three pictures, a climax like that of the parable reported in Matthew 22:1-40.22.46., which closely resembles this. There is an ascending scale in the rejection. The first is covetous to a degree; he would go with all his heart—only that little estate; he must needs "pray let me be excused." The second is polite, but more abrupt; there is a graceful wave of the hand, a gentlemanly "Pray let me be excused;" but there is no "I must needs." The third is rude and fiat in his denial; there is a quick "No, I cannot." Is it not the climax of worldliness in every period? And what is worldliness? The celebrated Robert Hall one day wrote the word "God" on a slip of paper. "You can read that?" he said, as he passed the slip to a friend. "Yes." He covered the name on the slip with a sovereign. "Can you read it now?" The sovereign was above, was nearer the gaze than God. That is worldliness. It is not the having, not the purchasing, of the ground or the oxen, It is the having the earthly thing in the first place, the setting of the "must needs" over against it. And it is the mind which does this, to which the heavenly kingdom is second to the earthly good, which is fruitful of excuses. Oh, how often it puts off! how often there comes even the rude "I cannot"! Has the Giver of the supper found such a mind in any of us?
III. THE COMMISSION OF THE SERVANT. It is to bear the Master's call, to declare that "all things are ready;" that salvation is full and is present; life now, life for ever, given with God's "yea" and "amen' to even the chief of sinners. The word of the reconciliation is "Come!" the ministry of reconciliation implies, "Go, ever out and out." The house of the Lord must be filled; he is bent on the winning of souls. A supper, and none to eat; a great supper, and only a few guests!
"Salvation! O salvation!
The joyful sound proclaim,
Till earth's remotest nation
Has learnt Messiah's Name."
"Compel them" is the voice of the Everlasting Love. Use, i.e., all means of moral suasion; circle around their wills; plead, beseech, entreat, persuade, "instant in season and out of season;" draw them, watch over them; establish such links between the messenger and them that they shall feel that they must come with you, since God is with you of a truth. "Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God."
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Christ's word on modesty.
The remark which the conduct of these guests called forth from Christ suggests to us—
I. OUR LORD'S INTEREST IN THE HUMBLER DETAILS OF OUR DAILY LIFE. We might have imagined, judging antecedently, that the great Teacher would not concern himself with a matter so trivial as this; or that, if he did, we should not find a record of his remark in a narrative so brief as are our evangels. We know that he had occasion to rebuke the Pharisees for letting religious faith lose itself altogether in minute and infinitesimal prescriptions. And there is a very remarkable absence from our Master's teaching of petty regulations. He sought not to prescribe particulars of behaviour, but to convey Divine principles and to impart a holy and a loving spirit; he knew that these would spontaneously and invariably issue in appropriate conduct. But Jesus Christ would not have us think that he is indifferent to the way in which we act on small occasions. He could be "much displeased" by an act of small officiousness; and he could be deeply moved by an act of simple generosity (Luke 21:2, Luke 21:3). And we may learn from this incident that it is not a matter of indifference how we behave in the common occurrences of our daily life: to what homes we go, what place in the house we take, how we act at the table (1 Corinthians 10:31), what is the tone of our conversation (Mat 12:1-50 :87), with what raiment we are clothed (1 Peter 3:3), whether we encourage or discourage the weak and timid disciple (Matthew 10:42; Matthew 18:6). These things, and such things as these, are occasions when, by manifesting a kindly and humble spirit, we may greatly please our Divine Lord, or when, by an opposite spirit, we may seriously offend him.
II. THE PREFERENCE OF MODESTY TO SELF-ASSERTION. Jesus Christ here plainly and emphatically commends modesty of spirit and behaviour, and as decidedly condemns an immodest self-assertion. To take a lower place than we might claim to do is often found to be the prudent and remunerative course. Self-assertion frequently goes too far for its own ends, and is discomfited and dishonoured. Every one is pleased when the presumptuous person is humiliated. But modesty is frequently recognized and honoured, and every one is gratified when the man who "does not think more highly of himself than he ought to think" is the object of esteem. But when, in a more worldly and diplomatic sense, such modesty does not answer; when a strong complacency and a vigorous self-assertion do, as they often will, pass it in the race of life, and snatch the fading laurel of "success;"—still is it the becoming, the beautiful thing; still is it worth possessing for its own sake. To be lowly-minded is a far better portion than to have all the honours and all the gains which an ugly assertiveness may command.
III. THE VITAL VALUE OF HUMILITY. (Luke 14:11.) Lowliness of mind, penitence, may be of small account in the eyes of men, but, on the part of those as guilty as we are, it is everything in the sight of God: "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Spiritual pride is utterly offensive to God, and draws down his most serious condemnation; if we exalt ourselves we shall be abased by him. But a sense of our own unworthiness is what he looks to see in children that have forgotten their Father, in subjects that have been disloyal to their King; and when he sees it he is prepared to pardon and to restore. If we humble ourselves before him and plead his promise of life in Jesus Christ, he will exalt us; he will treat us as his children; he will make us his heirs; he will raise us up to "heavenly places in Christ Jesus."—C.
Moderation; disinterestedness; patience.
We find in these words of our Lord—
I. THE CORRECTION OF A COMMON FAULT. Jesus Christ did not, indeed, intend to condemn outright all family or social gatherings of a festive character. He had already sanctioned these by his own presence. The idiomatic language, "do not, but," signifies, not a positive interdiction of the one thing, but the superiority of the other. Yet may we not find here a correction of social, festive extravagance; the expenditure of an undue measure of our resources on mutual indulgences? It is a very easy and a very common thing for hospitality to pass into extravagance, and even into selfish indulgence. Those who invite neighbours to their house in the full expectation of being invited in return may seem to themselves to be open-handed and generous, when they are only pursuing a system of well-understood mutual ministry to the lower tastes and gratifications. And it is a fact that both then and now, both there and here, men are under a great temptation to expend upon mere enjoyment of this kind a degree of time and of income which seriously cripples and enfeebles them. Thus that is given to display and indulgence which might be reserved for benevolence and for piety; thus life is lowered, and its whole service is reduced; thus we fail to reach the stature to which we might attain, and to render to our Master and his cause the service we might bring. In the matter of indulgence, direct or (as here) indirect, while we should keep away from asceticism, it is of still greater consequence that we do not approach a faulty and incapacitating selfishness.
II. AN INVITATION TO A NOBLE HABIT. "Call the poor … and thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee." An act of disinterested kindness carries its blessing with it.
1. It is an intrinsically excellent thing. "To do good and to communicate'' is honourable and admirable; and to do this with no thought of return from those who are benefited, is an act of peculiar and exceptional worth. It takes very high rank in the scale of spiritual nobleness.
2. It allies us with the highest and the best in all the universe; with the noblest men and women that ever lived in any land or age; with the angels of God (Hebrews 1:14); with our Divine Exemplar (Mark 10:45); with the eternal Father himself (Matthew 5:45).
3. It leaves a benign and elevating influence on our own spirit. Every man is something the better, is so much the worthier and more Christ-like, for every humblest deed of disinterested benevolence.
III. THE PROMISE OF A PURE REWARD. If the idea of recompense is admitted, everything turns upon the character of the reward, so far as the virtue of the action is concerned. To do something for an immediate and sensible reward is unmeritorious; to act in the hope of some pure and distant recompense is an estimable because a spiritual procedure. Our life is, then, based upon faith, upon hope, and especially upon patience. To do good and to be content to wait for our recompense until "the resurrection of the just," when we shall reap the approval of the Divine Master and the gratitude of those whom we have served below,—this is conduct which our Lord approves; it bears the best mark it can bear—that of his Divine benediction.—C.
There are two things which seem as if they could not exist together, but which we continually confront. One is the felt obligation and value of religion, and the other is the mournful commonness of irreligion. Where shall we find an explanation of the coexistence of these two things? We find it in the habit of self-excuse. With one consent men excuse themselves. Now, an excuse is one of two things.
I. A PRETEXT which men invent, so as to shun, without self-reproach, a plain but painful duty. A tradesman is not prospering in business; he is aware that he is losing money; he feels sure that an examination of his books will show a serious deficit at the end of the year; he knows that he ought to acquaint himself with his actual financial position; but he is reluctant to see how far he is behind; he would much rather escape that scrutiny, and he consequently looks about for a reason that he can place before his own mind for postponing it. He easily discovers one. He could make better use of the time; he ought not to neglect an opportunity that offers of making a good bargain—or anything else. What does it matter? Anything will serve; one pretext is as good as another. Here is a human soul that owes much to its Creator; has received everything, and has paid nothing or scarcely anything-owes "ten thousand talents," and "has nothing to pay." One comes to him from God, and says, "See how things stand between you and your Maker; 'acquaint thyself with him, and be at peace.'" But the man shrinks from the scrutiny; he is in debt, and knows that he is; he would much rather enter into any other account than that. So he searches for some plausible reason for putting it off to another time. And he easily finds one. Excuses are in the air, at every one's command. He has no time for religious inquiry; so many people speak in God's Name, he is not sure who holds the truth; be will be under more favourable spiritual conditions further on—or something else. What does it matter? One excuse serves as well as another. It is nothing but a screen put up between the eye and the object. This is a course of action to be ashamed of. It is not manly; it is not right; it is perilous; it is delusive, and leads down to destruction.
II. A PREFERENCE of that which is second-rate to that which is of supreme importance. Here the particular illustrations of the parable serve us. These men are invited to be present at that which they ought to attend; but they allow something of inferior urgency to detain them. God is inviting us to partake of a most glorious spiritual provision; he is offering eternal life to his human children. He is sending his servants to say, "Come, for all things are ready!" But how many decline! and they decline because they "make excuse;" they put into the first place that which should come second. It is the demands of business; or it is the cares of the household; or it is the sweets of literature, of art, of family affection; or it is the claims of human friendship; or it is the hope of political influence or renown. It is something human, earthly, finite, on the ground of which the soul is saying, "Ambassador of Christ, I pray thee have me excused!" But it is wrong and it is ruinous to act thus.
1. Nothing will ever justify a man in placing first in his esteem that which God has placed second, in keeping behind that which has such sovereign claims to stand in front. The claims of God the eternal Father of spirits, of Jesus Christ our Divine Saviour, of our own priceless spirit, of those whom we love and for whose immortal well-being we are held responsible by God,—these cannot be relegated to a secondary and inferior position without serious guilt.
2. Nothing will make it other than foolish for a man to leave unappropriated the immeasurable blessings of godliness; to prefer any passing earthly good to the service of Jesus Christ, the service which hallows all joy, sanctifies all sorrow, ennobles all life, prepares for death, and makes ready for judgment and eternity. How can such folly be surpassed?—C.
The parable presents the gospel as a sacred feast prepared by the Divine Lord for the hungering hearts of men. The invitation is declined by one and another, who have inclinations for other and lower good than that which is thus provided. Hence the measures taken to supply their room. The text suggests—
I. THE LARGENESS OF GOD'S LOVING PURPOSE, God wills that his house *' shall be filled." This house of his grace is built on a large scale; in it are "many mansions," many rooms. The magnitude of it answers to the greatness of his power and to the boundlessness of his love. The number of the ultimately redeemed will be vast indeed. To this point:
1. The hopes of all holy and generous souls.
2. The terms of predictive Scripture.
3. The attributes of the wise, strong, benignant Father of men.
4. The duration of the redemptive scheme.
5. The character of the redemptive work—the Incarnation, the sorrow, the shame, the death, of the Son of God.
God's loving purpose is to gather a multitude which no man can number into the heavenly home, into the eternal mansions,
II. THE FULNESS OF THE DIVINE COMMISSION. Those who represent the Lord of the feast are to "go into the highways and hedges, and compel men to come in." No people are to be excluded; no efforts are to be spared; no "stone is to be left unturned "to win men to the feast. There is to be a sacred compulsion used rather than the efforts of the "servants" should be unsuccessful. Here is no warrant for persecution. No two things can conceivably be further apart from one another than the use of violence and the spirit of Christ. To employ cruelty in order to compel men into Christianity is worse than a senseless solecism; it is a flagrant and guilty contradiction. There are other and nobler ways of "compelling men to come in" to the kingdom and the Church of Christ—ways which are not discordant but harmonious with the spirit and the teaching of the Lord of love. They are such as these:
1. The constant and irresistible beauty of our daily life. The "waters" of spiritual loveliness "wear" the hardest stones of spiritual obduracy.
2. Occasional magnanimity of Christian conduct. Men are often compelled to bow down in admiration and even in reverence before some deed of noble self-sacrifice, of lofty heroism.
3. Convincing presentation of the Christian argument. The truth of Christ may be presented so cumulatively, so forcibly, so directly, so practically, so winningly, so affectionately, that the most defiant are abashed, the most prejudiced are convinced, the most impervious are penetrated, the most insensible are moved and won; they are compelled to come in.
4. Earnest persistency of Christian zeal. There is a blind, imprudent zeal, which is worse than worthless, which only teases and torments, which does not allure but drives to a greater distance. But there is also a wise, holy, Divine persistency, which will not be refused, which employs every weapon in the sacred armoury, which knows how to wait in patience as well as how to work in ardour, which, like the patient Saviour himself, "stands at the door, and knocks." This is the zeal which continues to plead with men for God, and ceases not to plead with God for men, until the barriers are broken down, until the indifference is broken up, until the heart looks up to heaven and cries, "What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life"—C
The time and the room for calculation in religion.
What room is there in the religion of Jesus Christ for calculation? What amount of reckoning before acting is permissible to the disciple of our Lord? When and in what way should he ask of himself—Can I afford to do this? Have I strength enough to undertake it?
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCE WHICH SUGGESTED THE IDEA. It was the temporary popularity of Christ that led him to the strain of remark we have in the text. "There went great multitudes with him" (Luke 14:25), fascinated by his presence and bearing, or struck by his teaching, or marvelling at his mighty works. And these men and women were far from entering into his spirit or sharing his high purpose; it was necessary that they should understand what discipleship to Jesus meant, what absolute self-surrender it involved. So the Master gave utterance to the strong and trenchant words recorded in the context (Luke 14:26, Luke 14:27). And the words of the text itself are explanatory of this utterance. Their import is this: "I say this because it is much better you should know what you are doing by following me than that you should enter upon a course which you will find yourselves obliged to abandon, than that you should undertake a duty to which you will find yourselves unequal. All wise people, before they definitely commit themselves to any policy carefully consider whether they can carry it through. Every wise builder calculates the cost before he begins to build; every wise king estimates his military strength before he declares war. So do you consider whether you are prepared to make a full surrender of your will to my will, of your life to my service, before you attach yourselves to my side; for whoever is not able to 'forsake all that he hath at my bidding, cannot be my disciple' Ponder the matter, therefore; weigh everything before you act, count the cost, decide deliberately and with a full understanding of what it is you are doing."
II. THE PLACE THERE IS FOR CALCULATION IN PERSONAL RELIGION.
1. At the entrance upon a Christian life. It would seem as if there could be no room for reckoning here. We may well ask—When God calls us to himself, when Christ invites us to come unto him, what time should we allow ourselves before responding to his summons? Should not our response be immediate, instantaneous? We reply—Time enough to understand what we are undertaking to be and to do; time enough to take the Divine message into our full and intelligent consideration; so that our choice may be not the impulse of an hour, but the fixed and final purpose of our soul. God would not have us act in ignorance, in misconception. In malice we may well be children, but in understanding we should be men. There is no step any man can take which is comparable in importance with that which is taken when a human soul enters the kingdom of God: on that hang everlasting issues. Let men, therefore, diligently and reverently inquire until they understand what it means to have a living faith in Jesus Christ, to enter his spiritual kingdom, and become one of his subjects; let them understand, among other things, that it means the cheerful and full surrender of themselves to the Saviour himself, with all that such surrender involves (Luke 14:33).
2. At the entrance on a public profession of personal religion. Here is a visible "Church" which we are invited to join, taking upon ourselves the Christian name, and openly avowing our attachment to our Lord; thus honouring him before men. This is a step to be taken deliberately. Before taking it, a man should certainly ask himself whether he is prepared to act in accordance with his profession everywhere, in all circles and in every sphere; not only where he will be encouraged to do the right, but where he will be solicited to do the wrong thing; not only in the midst of genial influences, but in the throng of perilous temptations. But while these things are to be carefully taken into account, there must be reckoned, on the other side, the assurance which genuine piety may always cherish of needed Divine succour. If we go forth in the Name and in the strength of our Lord to do that which is his own command, we may confidently count on his support; and with him at our right hand we shall not be moved from the path of integrity and consistency. Look the facts in the face, but include all the facts; and do not forget that among these are the promises of the faithful Friend.
3. Before undertaking any post of sacred service. It would be worse than foolish for a Christian man to go forth to any enterprise requiring an amount of physical strength, or of intellectual capacity, or of educational advantages, which he knows well he does not possess. That would be to begin to build and to be unable to finish, to declare war with the certainty of defeat. At all times, when we are thinking of Christian work, we must carefully consider our qualifications. A wise and modest refusal is a truer sacrifice than an indiscreet and unwarrantable acceptance. But, again, let our judgment include the great factor of the Divine presence and aid, and also the valid consideration that competency comes with exercise, that to him that hath (uses his capacities) is given, and he has abundance (of power and of success).—C.
Christ and kindred.
The circumstances under which these words were spoken will explain the strength of the language used. Jesus Christ said that he came "not to send peace on earth, but a sword," by which he meant that the first effect of the introduction of his Divine truth would be (as he said) to set the members of the same family at variance against one another, and to make a man s foes to be "they of his own household" (Matthew 10:34-40.10.36). By honouring and acknowledging him as the Messiah of the Jews and as the Redeemer of mankind, his disciples would excite the bitterest enmity in the minds of their own kindred; they would be obliged to act as if they hated them, causing them the keenest disappointment and the severest sorrow. They would be compelled to act as if they hated their own life also, for they would take a step which would remove all comfort and enjoyment from it, and make it valueless if not miserable. On the relation of Jesus Christ and his gospel to human kindred, it may be said that Christianity—
I. DISALLOWS PARENTAL TYRANNY. Such unmitigated authority as the Roman law gave to the parent over the child is not sanctioned, but implicitly condemned, by Jesus Christ. No human being is wise enough or good enough to exercise such prerogative; and to yield such deference is to cede the responsibility which our Creator has laid upon us, and which cannot be devolved.
II. DISALLOWS FILIAL WORSHIP. Such idolatrous homage as the children of the Chinese render to their parents is also distinctly unchristian; it is giving to the creature what is due only to the Creator. It is to elevate the human above its lawful level.
III. SANCTIONS AND ENJOINS FILIAL DEVOTEDNESS. Our Lord himself severely condemned the perversity of the Pharisees, who contrived to evade filial obligations by sacred subtleties (Mark 7:9-41.7.13). And amid the physical agonies and the spiritual struggles and sufferings of the cross he found time to commend his mother to the care of" the beloved disciple." His apostles explicitly enjoined filial obedience (Ephesians 6:1). And entering into the profounder spirit of our Lord's teaching, we are sure that he desires of children that they should not only be formally obedient to their parents' word, but that they should be careful to render to them all filial respect in manner; should have regard to their known will, whether uttered or unexpressed; should render the service of love and of cheerfulness rather than of constraint; should make their filial ministry to abound as parental health and strength decline.
IV. RESERVES ABSOLUTE OBEDIENCE FOR THE DIVINE REDEEMER. When Christianity is assailing a false faith, as in the first century, as in heathen lands to-day, it very frequently happens that disciples have to choose between their attachment to the earthly parent and their obligations to Christ. Then the words of Jesus Christ have a literal application; then the convert has to pass through the most severe and trying of all conflicts; he has to weigh one authority against another; he has to make a decision which will cause grief and wrath to one whom he would fain please and honour. But much as the human parent may have been to him, and strong as are his claims, the Divine Redeemer is more, and his claims are stronger still and stronger far. The Lord who created him (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16); who redeemed him with his own blood; who sought and found and restored him; who has made him an heir of eternal life;—this Lord, who has been upholding him by his power, and who is the one Hope and Refuge of his soul, has claims upon his obedience to which even those of a human parent are utterly unequal. And when the choice has to be made, as it sometimes has even here and now, there can be but one course which he recognizes as right; it is to choose the side and the service of the holy Saviour; meekly bearing the heavy cross of domestic severance; earnestly praying for the time when the human authority will be reconciled to the Divine; faithfully believing that the sacrifice which is thus entailed will bring with it, in Christ's own time and way, a large and abundant recompense (Mark 10:28-41.10.30).—C.
Luke 14:34, Luke 14:35
Ourselves as salt.
It is hardly possible to mistake the meaning of Christ here. We know that salt is the great preservative of animal nature, the antidote of putrefaction and decay. We know also that the great Teacher intended that his disciples should be the salt of the earth, doing in the human the same purifying work which salt does in the animal world.
I. THE PRESERVING POWER OF THE GOOD IN THE SOCIETY IN WHICH THEY ARE FOUND.
1. As those who act directly on God, and so on behalf of men. Had there been ten righteous men in Sodom, they would have preserved it from destruction. Similarly, the presence of a few righteous men would have saved the cities of Canaan. Is it not the presence of the righteous men and women in our modern cities which averts the retribution of God?
2. As those that act directly on man, and thus on God. As there is a tendency in animal nature, when life is extinct, towards putrefaction, so is there a tendency in human nature, when spiritual life is extinct, towards degeneracy and corruption. It is the function of salt in the economy of nature to prevent this result, to preserve sweetness and wholesomeness; it is the part of moral goodness to prevent corruption in society and to preserve purity and excellency there. And this it does. Purity, sobriety, uprightness, reverence, self-control,—these are powers for subduing, for restraining; they are powers that permeate, that sweeten, that preserve. This is eminently true of Christian discipleship: for it has
(1) truth to propound which is most cleansing in its character; and it has
(2) a life to live which is eminently purifying in its influence—the distinctive truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the life of the great Exemplar, which every follower of his is charged and is empowered to live again.
II. THE DANGER THAT THIS POWER WILL BE LOST. "Salt is good: but if the salt have lost its savour!" It may do so. The salt, by exposure to sun and rain, may lose its pungency and its virtue while retaining its appearance.
1. And so Christian truth may lose its distinguishing force. Men may use Christian forms of speech in their teaching, and yet the doctrine they declare may be an enfeebled and emasculated Christianity, from which all that is distinctive and all that is redeeming is extracted: it is salt without its savour.
2. And so Christian life may lose its excellency and its virtue. These may be blurred and blemished lives, or they may be spotted and stained lives, or they may be lives with nothing in them beyond mere conventional propriety—lives not animated by the love of Christ, not filled with the Spirit of Christ, not governed by the principles of Christ; not blamable, but not beautiful; not wicked, but worldly; not criminal, but not Christian: the salt has lost its savour.
III. THE EXTREME UNLIKELIHOOD OF RESTORATION. "If the salt have lost … wherewith shall it be seasoned?" That is an impossibility. Salt that has lost its virtue is useless for all ordinary purposes, and is "cast out." It is not absolutely impossible for the soul that has lost its Christian spirit and character to regain its worth, but it is very difficult and it is very rare. The recovery of lost feeling is a spiritual marvel.
1. It is so improbable that no man who loves his soul will expose himself to the peril; if he does, he most seriously endangers his spiritual life, he most gravely imperils his eternal future.
2. It is not so impossible that any unfaithful soul need despair. True penitence and genuine faith will bring back the wanderer from the fold to the shelter of the good Shepherd's love.—C.
HOMILIES BY R.M. EDGAR
Table-talk of Jesus.
We have now brought before us an interesting conversation which Jesus had with certain guests at an entertainment in the house of "one of the chief Pharisees." It was a sabbath-day feast, indicating that sociality was not incompatible even with Jewish sabbath-keeping. Into the guest-chamber had come a poor man afflicted with the dropsy, and, to the compassionate eye of our Lord, he afforded an opportunity for a miracle of mercy. But, before performing it, he tests their ideas about sabbath-observance. They were sufficiently merciful to approve of sociality among themselves, but the healing of neighbours was another matter. They could even be merciful to cattle if they were their own; but to be merciful to a brother-man would have shown too much breadth of sympathy. The sick man might wait till Monday, but an ass or an ox might die if not delivered out of its difficulty, which would be so much personal loss. In spite of their narrow-mindedness, our Lord took the poor man and healed him, and then proceeded to give the guests very wholesome advice.
I. LET US LOOK AT THE PARABLE ABOUT THE WEDDING. (Luke 14:7-42.14.11). To the Lord's eye the feast became the symbol of what is spiritual. The wedding of the parable is the consummation of the union between God and his people. The invitation is what is given in the gospel. Hence the advice is not instructive as to the prudential temper, but as to our spirit in coming before God. Shall it be the spirit which claims as right the highest room, or that which accepts as more than we deserve the lowest room? In other words, shall we come before God in a spirit of self-righteousness or in a spirit of self-abasement? Now, our Lord points out, from the collisions of social life, the absolute certainty of the self-important and self-righteous being abased among men: how much more in the righteous administration of God! The self-righteous under his administration shall be abased, how deeply and terribly we cannot conceive. On the other hand, those who have learned to humble themselves under the mighty hand of God shall be exalted in due season, and have glory in the presence of the celestial guests! Jesus thus attacked the self-righteousness of the Pharisees, not as a social, but as a spiritual question. God would at last cast it away from his presence and society with loathing and contempt £ On the other hand, self-abasement is the sure sign of grace and the sure earnest of glory. He who takes with gratitude the lowest room in God's house is certain of speedy promotion!
II. OUR HOSPITALITY SHOULD BE DIVINE IN ITS SPIRIT AND CHARACTER. (Luke 14:12-42.14.14.) Having improved the conduct of the guests, and shown its spiritual bearings, he next turns to the host, and gives him an idea of what hospitality should be. It should not be speculative, but disinterested—something, in fact, which can only be recompensed at the resurrection of the just. In no clearer way could our Lord indicate that hospitality should be exercised in the light of eternity; and the bearing of it upon spiritual interests should constantly be regarded. And here we surely should learn:
1. How important it is to be social. God is social. His Trinity guarantees the sociality of his nature. We are to be God-like in our sociality.
2. It may be most helpful to lonely spirits upon earth. Many a lonely heart may be saved for better things by a timely social attention.
3. There is great blessing in giving attention to people who cannot return it. It is a great field of delight that those with large hearts may have. "It is more blessed to give than to receive." We are following God's plan in the attentions we bestow.
4. At the final arrangement of God's kingdom, all such disinterested hospitality shall be recompensed. How? Surely by opportunity being afforded of doing the like again! The hospitable heart, which keeps eternity in view in all its hospitality, shall have eternity to be still more hospitable in.
III. THE PARABLE OF THE GREAT SUPPER. (VEER. 15-24.) Jesus proceeds from the question of hospitalities to present the gospel in the light of a supper provided by the great Father above, and to which he invites sinners as his guests. And here we have to notice:
1. The greatness of the supper. The preparations were long and elaborate. How many centuries were consumed in preparing the feast which we have in the gospel! It was to be the greatest "feast of reason and flow of soul" the world has seen. And so it is. Nowhere else does man get such food for his mind and heart as in the gospel of Christ.
2. The freedom of the invitations. Many were bidden. No niggardliness about the invitations. They are scattered so freely that, alas! they are not by many sufficiently prized.
3. The supplementary summons by the faithful servant. It is not an invitation by ink and pen merely that God sends, but he backs the written revelation by personal persuasion by the mouth of faithful servants. Here is the sphere of the gospel ministry. These true ministers tell what a feast is ready in the gospel, and what their own experience of it has been.
4. The triviality of the excuses. To the invitations sent out by God men make excuses. There is something peculiarly sad and significant in refusals upon insufficient grounds. Our Lord gives us three examples of the excuses men make for refusing salvation and the gospel.
(1) The first man puts a piece of ground before salvation. "Real property" keeps many a man out of the kingdom of heaven.
(2) The second puts cattle before salvation. Many men are so interested in good "stock," and all the mysteries of breeding and work, as to have no time for their eternal interests. A few chattels keep multi-ruder out of God's kingdom.
(3) The third puts social concerns before spiritual. He has married a wife, and so cannot attend to the claims of God. Society, its attractions and allurements, is keeping multitudes out of the kingdom above. These are but specimens of the trivialities which are monopolizing men's attention, and preventing their giving good heed to the things of the gospel.
5. The extension of the invitation to those who are sure to accept it. The poor, maimed, halt, and blind represent the souls who feel their spiritual poverty and defects, and who are sure to appreciate God's gracious invitation. When the self-righteous spurn it, the abased and humiliated greedily receive it.
6. The abundant room, and the difficulty in getting the places filled. There is no possibility of any one coming and being refused admittance. There is room for all who Care to come. Those who will not taste of the supper are those who thought themselves better employed. In compelling men to come in, we must do our best in persuading them to accept the gospel. May we leave nothing undone that the Divine table may be filled. £—R.M.E.
The cost of discipleship.
The Pharisee's banquet being over, our Lord continues his journey towards Jerusalem, and, as a crisis is evidently at hand, he has a goodly multitude of expectant followers. Have they any notion of the cost of discipleship? Are they prepared for all which it involves? Jesus determines to make this unmistakable, and so he gives them the admonition contained in the present section. He gives point to his advice by mentioning the folly of beginning to build a tower without calculating the cost of finishing it, or of beginning a war without calculating the reasonable chances of success. Each follower would have a costly tower to build in the devoted life he must lead, and a costly war to wage in the contest for the faith. It was every way desirable, therefore, that they should go carefully into the meaning of discipleship, and undertake it intelligently.
I. NOTHING LESS THAN THE FIRST PLACE IN THE HEART MUST BE OFFERED UNTO JESUS. (Luke 14:26.) He insists on being put before father and mother, before wife and children, before brothers and sisters. All relations are to be put below him. He must be more than them all. It is a great demand, and yet a most reasonable one. For:
1. The love of Jesus anticipated all parental love. In fact, the love of our parents is only the latest expression of his far-seeing and foreseeing love. The generations to whom we owe so much have only mediated for us the love of Jesus.
2. The unity of marriage only feebly illustrates the intensity of Christ's love. Husband owes much to wife, and wife to husband. The marriage union is a close and intimate one; but Jesus comes closer to our hearts than husband or wife can. He is nearer, and should be dearer, than either.
3. The rising generation does not lay so much love and hope at our feet as Jesus. Children are dear; the promise of their young lives and hearts is precious; they come as pledges for the future; they are prophecies of the world about to be; but "the holy Child Jesus" comes closer to our hearts than even they. He is the prophecy of all coming time, the goal and ideal at which, not the rising generation only, but generations yet unborn, are to aim.
4. He gives us a more profound brotherhood than brothers or sisters can. The brotherhood of Jesus, "the elder Brother born for all adversity, and who can never die," is an experience which brothers and sisters can only help us to understand. £ Jesus consequently claims first place, because in his manifold relations he is not only more than each, but more than all combined.
II. WE MUST PRIZE CHRIST MORE THAN LIFE ITSELF. (Luke 14:26.) Life is another precious benefit which we naturally prize. Satan, in the trial of Job, imagined that Job would give all that he had rather than lose his life (Job 2:4). He fancied that the patriarch, who would not curse God under the loss of children and property, would break down if God touched his bone or his flesh. But Job was so spiritually minded as to be ready to trust God, even should he, for some mysterious and hidden reason, slay him (Job 13:15). Now, Jesus comes and insists on being put before life itself. When the two come into competition there must be no question about yielding the palm to Christ. Jesus is more to us than physical life, because he is our spiritual life (John 14:6). We can never forfeit blessed existence so long as we trust in Christ, and the mere existence of the body is but a bagatelle in comparison.
III. SELF-SACRIFICE IS THE MARCHING ORDER OF THE REDEEMED. (Verse 27.) The idea of cross-bearing is often interpreted as if it simply meant enduring those "crosses" to which life is heir. But much more is meant than this. In the Revised Version it is put, "Whosoever cloth not bear his own cross." Now, as Christ carried his cross to die upon, so must we take our lives in our hands, and be ready at any moment to sacrifice them for Jesus. He was crucified for us: are we ready to be crucified for him, or to die in any other way he wishes? It is the martyr-spirit which Christ here insists upon. He is surely worthy of such self-sacrifice.
IV. WE MUST FORSAKE ALL AS A GROUND OF CONFIDENCE IF WE WOULD FOLLOW JESUS. (Verse 33.) Christ, having insisted on disposing of our lives as he pleases, next insists on disposing of our property. He comes in with his right to tell us, as he told the rich young ruler, that we must give up our all for his sake. Not, of course, that he exercises this right often. Voluntary poverty has been an exceptional way of serving him. But we may all show plainly that our property is his, and that, when Christ and our possessions come into competition, all must give way to him. If we prize property more than Jesus, then he is nothing to us. We must be ready to put him before everything which we have, and to sacrifice everything when he claims it from us. In this way we make Christ first and all in all.
V. THE WORLD NEEDS SUCH PRINCIPLES IN PRACTICE TO KEEP IT FROM CORRUPTION. (Verses 34, 35.) Were it not for the self-sacrifice of souls, the world would become utterly corrupt. Now, it is this heroic element which Christ's cause has par excellence supplied. Only by the martyr-band, whose pure self-sacrifice was unmistakable, has the world been kept from utter selfishness and corresponding corruption. It was mindful of this martyr-spirit which his gospel ensures, that Jesus told his servants they were "the salt of the earth" (Matthew 5:13). Unless this wholesome antidote to natural selfishness be supplied, society must go to pieces. It cannot be built on selfishness. The economics which assume no higher ethical element than each man looking after himself, may give expression to tendencies; but they must be overpassed by realities if the world is to keep moderately sweet and habitable. £ But suppose that Christ's servants make a mere profession of self-sacrifice, and do not carry out the spirit of their Master, then they become but insipid salt, which can only be trodden underfoot of men on the highway, where nothing is meant to grow. In other words, the Christians who are not genuine are sure to be despised. They are trodden down by a world whom they have vainly tried to deceive. A false professor is the most contemptible of all men.—R.M.E.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Luke 14". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent