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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Luke 23

 

 

Verses 1-56

Divine Reserve

Luke 23:8-11

All subjects reveal themselves according to the mental mood in which they are examined. This is true in every ramification of life. Men"s decisions are influenced by the state of mind in which they receive either evidence or sensations. With regard to the external universe, for example, if it is surveyed when the heart is agitated with sorrow, it fails to produce those impressions which majesty and beauty naturally convey. When the landscape is gazed upon by a mind free from anxiety it elicits feelings and utterances accordant with its own gaiety or grandeur; whereas, when the spirit is "wounded," or crushed with care, the landscape is to it but a cemetery, and the brightest star but a torchlight to the tomb. The same principle is illustrated in the diversified estimation of personal character: urge one man to suspect another, and in all probability the party so urged will imagine that he sees reason to justify the advice. Words will be twisted—actions will be misconstrued—and the very glance of the eye will be made to confirm the impression that the man is a decidedly suspicious character. Instruct another that the very same man is a trustworthy friend, and, in all likelihood, his words, actions, and glances will be made to concur in verifying the commendation. Such is the immense influence which mental moods exert on human reasonings and judgments. That which is looked for is found, or thought to be found. The same person or principle examined through the respective media of sympathy and antipathy, will reveal aspects the most different. It is of vital importance to remember this fact in all our investigations of creeds, or balancings of contradictory evidence, so that we may escape both the traductions of prejudice and the blindings of partiality. The non-recognition of this truth has induced the grossest misrepresentations of social life, of individual belief, and of denominational doctrine. Each man is apt to consider his own mental mood right, and to be deficient in charity towards the contrary mood of his fellow-student, or fellow-labourer. Seeing, therefore, that our mental conditions act so powerfully on all the developments of life and thought, it becomes us to watch them with a jealous eye, and to bring our minds into continual contact with the divine Purifier and Teacher. Thus much, however, is general, and simply introductory to the sublime particular truths which this remarkable passage is so eminently fitted to teach.

The divine being discriminates our mental moods. Apparently, Herod was in a pleasing state of mind. Superficial observers would have been delighted with his animated and cordial bearing. What could be more gratifying to Christ than that Herod was "exceeding glad" to see him? There was no royal hauteur—no cold rebuff—no vengeful triumph. Why then that awful silence? Why those sealed lips? Could Herod have done more to conciliate the favour of his renowned prisoner? Was it not an act of incomparable condescension for Herod to wear a smile in the presence of a reputed blasphemer and seditionist? For Christ"s significant reserve there must be some peculiar but satisfactory reason. It was not fear of the Judges , for he was the judge"s Creator and Sovereign; it was not contempt, for he entertains a just regard for all the creatures of his hand; it was not constitutional sullenness, for none could be more open and engaging than he; it was not consciousness of guilt, for his most rancorous foes failed in their attempts at crimination. Why, then, did Christ thus treat a man who was "exceeding glad" to "see him "? The only satisfactory answer which we can suggest, is that Herod"s gladness did not arise from a proper cause; or, in other words, was no true index to his mental mood. Christ looked deeper than the smile which lighted Herod"s countenance, or the mere blandishment of his manner; he discriminated the mood of mind, and acted accordingly. Christ was not misled by external appearances, "The Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart." "For thou, even thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of men." "The Lord searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts." Christ here displayed his divinity; his all-searching eye penetrated the recesses of the monarch"s heart, and noted every passion which surged there; there was no escape from that glance to which the "darkness and the light are both alike"! There is something in this thought calculated to awaken most earnest solicitude regarding our mental moods: the smile does not necessarily reveal the true intellectual condition; nor does "exceeding gladness" always indicate genuine sincerity, or a lofty intelligence. Consider this well: your earnest gaze—your profound attention—your sparkling eye, may not convey a correct impression of your moral or mental state! We cannot infallibly decide by exterior manifestations, however pleasing or hopeful: but know this for an eternal certainty, that the divine Being discriminates your mental moods, analyses your conduct, and understands your motives! Every thought that flashes across the intellect, every vision that enchants the fancy, every emotion that swells the heart, is most surely known in heaven! God knoweth your thought "afar off"; ere it is fully matured in your mind, it is transparent to his! Sublime, yet overpowering, is the fact that "all things are naked and open to the eyes of him with whom you have to do"! That there is a dread Being in the universe who watches all the evolutions of life, all the processes of thought, and all the executions of will, is a truth less terrible in its abstract grandeur than momentous in its moral suggestiveness. Ever to be overlooked, ever to have an eye resting on the springs and outworkings of existence, never to have a moment perfectly to one"s self, is surely sufficient to prove that man is no trifle—that life is a stupendous and glorious reality—that human deeds are not mere bubbles on the wave—that human responsibility is a fact, and that retribution is an unalterable certainty!

Certain mental moods deprive men of the richest blessings of Christianity. Of this proposition the text supplies a striking proof and illustration. Had ever man a better opportunity of hearing words of eternal life than Herod had? The divine Teacher was before him—the Man who could have opened his eyes to the grandest scenes, and poured into his ear the sublimest strains—the Man who could command the resources of infinite intelligence, and thrill the heart with the gladdest tidings: and yet that opportunity was unimproved—that memorable meeting a blank! But why so? Why that solemn silence on the part of Christ? Because of Herod"s mental mood. The judge wished his curiosity gratified; he had heard of the great wonder-worker, and longed to behold his feats of skill, or his displays of power. Christ knew the treatment proper for the oblique-minded Judges , and acted accordingly:—he would not work miracles to gratify a king; he would smile on a child, or dry the tear of misery, but he would not court the applause, or solicit the patronage, of royalty. To whom, then, will the Lord Jesus deign to reveal himself in tender speech or loving vision? Is there any intellect on whose conflicts with scepticism he will bestow his attention? Is there any heart on whose smugglings with sin he will lift up the light of his countenance? Since he was silent before Herod, will he be communicative to any of his creatures? He shall answer for himself: "To this man will I look." Suppose the divine Speaker had paused here; what inquisitiveness and suspense would have been occasioned! "To this man"; to which Prayer of Manasseh , blessed Lord, wilt thou look? To the man who has slain kings, and wandered to the throne of power through the blood of the warrior and the tears of the widow? To the man who has enrolled his name among the proudest of conquerors? To the man who boasts attachment to the cold exactitudes of a heartless theology? To the man arrayed in purple, and enshrined in the splendour of a palace? Is this the man to whom thou wilt look? Nay! "Tis a grander spectacle which attracts the divine eye:—to the man "that is poor, and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at my word." Here then we have two conditions of divine communion, viz, contrition and reverence: apart from these there can be no spiritual fellowship. In Herod these conditions were not found; hence Christ was dumb. So with us: if we would truly worship God we must fulfil the conditions herein demanded. Would ye commune with the eternal spirit of the universe? Be contrite and reverent! Would ye walk in the light of the divine eye? Be contrite and reverent! Would ye understand the meaning of the divine will? Be contrite and reverent! Would ye find in the Bible words of hope and joy and love? Be contrite and reverent! "For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones."

Here is presented a truth of solemn importance; viz, we may be self-deprived of the richest blessings of Christianity. Certain men leave the house of worship as they enter it: they carry no heavenly spoil to their homes: they have no expanding of heart, no illumination of mind: and why this leanness? It is true they reproach the minister for want of energy or skill—they rail against the arrangements of the sanctuary—they complain that there is "no food for the soul," but they forget the fact that spiritual improvement is contingent on the conditions of reverence and contrition. I would ask such whether they are sure, beyond all misgiving, that their spiritual dwarfishness is attributable solely to the inefficiency of the pulpit? I would adjure them by the living God to pause ere they accuse any of his ministers of the stunting or starvation of their souls. I would charge them by the solemnities of an eternal destiny to beware lest they seek to remove their guilt to the account of the innocent! Is it likely that such men can be profited in sanctuary service? All the week long they toil for earthly possessions—their energies are engrossed in "buying and selling, and getting gain "—on the morning of the Lord"s day they hurriedly wash the gold-dust from their busy fingers, and, while yet the din of commercial life rings in their ears, they hasten to the gates of Zion! They have had no secret preparation of heart—they have not in the calm of solitude invoked the pardon or the guidance of the Lord—they trust all to the excitement of the occasion—and if their animal impulses are not aroused, they complain of the feebleness of the ministry! Can we wonder that God is dumb before such men? Can we wonder that they have no relish for simple and quiet devotion? Can we wonder that to them there is no music in the supplication of saints, and no beauty in the tear of penitence? Can we wonder that the heaven is as brass to their heartless formalities of worship? Nay! God is ever silent before such men: he meets them on their own ground: he judges them by their own spirit. If men would carefully prepare their minds ere entering on the exercises of the temple, instead of panting for displays of human genius, they would feast on the devotional part of the service—God would deign to speak to their waiting hearts, and they would leave the sanctuary fertilised and refreshed by a baptism of blessing!

I may enumerate a few classes of hearers, whose mental moods deprive them of spiritual enjoyment:—

(1) Men of violent personal antipathies.—Such persons confound the minister with his message; so that if any whim has been assaulted, or any favourite dogma contravened, they forthwith resort to misinterpretation—they turn every appeal into a personality—and that which was intended as a blessing they pervert into a curse! God will not commune with them: they fulfil not the condition of fellowship—they are neither contrite nor reverent—and Christ answers them nothing! All our paltry and miserable prejudices must be renounced ere we can rise into the loftier regions of spiritual manifestation. It is beneath our dignity as immortal beings to suffer our minds to be warped or poisoned by antipathy; let us rather cultivate such a reverence for truth as shall bear our souls far beyond the polluting touch of prejudice or bigotry.

(2) Men of large speculative curiosity.—Herod belonged to this class. They wish to pry into the secrets of the Infinite: not content with the ample disclosures which the divine Being has graciously granted, they would penetrate into the deepest recesses of his nature, and scale the loftiest altitudes of his universe. They conceive a philosophic dislike for the commonplace truths of Christianity; and regard with patronising pity the minister who lingers on the melancholy hill of Calvary. Such men would understand all mystery: they would break the silence of the stars, or detain the whirlwind in converse: they would summon angels from their high abode and extort the secrets of heaven— they would even dare to cross-examine the Deity himself on the propriety of his moral government! God will answer them nothing. He will meet them with a reserve more terrible than an utterance of thunder, and cause their souls to quake, in a silence which was never broken but by their own presumptuous voice! Were men content to approach the volume of Inspiration with a simple desire to know the truth in relation to themselves, God would shine upon the page, and make it radiant with the most glorious manifestations of his goodness and mercy; but when they open the Bible for purposes of mere speculation and debate, the music of his voice is not heard, nor the majesty of his presence revealed! Wouldst thou behold the King in his beauty? Let thine heart be contrite. Wouldst thou hear his paternal utterances? Be reverent and humble! While curiosity amuses itself with propounding questions, Faith revels in the green pastures of positive blessing; while the carnal mind seeks after the sensuous, Hope regales itself on the anticipation of future and endless felicity! Let ours be the wisdom of attending to the revealed, and waiting with patience the sublime development of infinite purpose and power.

(3) Men who accept rationalism as their highest guide.—They reject all that reason cannot comprehend. Their own intellect must see through every subject, otherwise they consider it as worthy only of repudiation. They read the New Testament as they would read a work on mathematics, or a treatise on physical science, expecting demonstration of every point. Such men leave the Bible with dissatisfaction. Christ treats them with silence: their flippant questions elicit no response: their feeble reason plunges in hopeless confusion;—Infinitude refuses to be grasped in a human span, and Eternity disdains to crowd into one little intellect its stupendous and magnificent treasures. The mere rationalist is denied fellowship with God: so long as he defies reason, God will be dumb before him: he may utter the most pretentious claims, and make the most philosophic professions of attachment to truth, but he who reads the darkest secrets of all hearts is not to be deluded by lingual protestations or exterior show. Reason has its own peculiar province which it may cultivate to the utmost; but when it would seek to trespass its appointed boundary God awards it the terrible rebuke of divine silence!—He answers it "nothing."

(4) Men who delight in moral darkness.—Such men have no objection to theological discussion;—they may even delight in an exhibition of their controversial powers, and, at the same time, hate the moral nature and spiritual requirements of the gospel. So long as attention is confined to an analysis of abstract doctrines they listen with interest, but the moment the gospel tears away the veil from their moral condition—reveals their depravity—upbraids their ingratitude—smites their pride—and shakes their soul with the assurance of judgment and eternity, they sink back into sullenness, they take refuge in infidelity, or they curse and blaspheme! Your Herods care not for moral betterance;—they wish their fancies gratified—they desire their questions answered, but they persist in following the devices of their imagination, and imprisoning themselves in the bond-house of bestial passion.

Men so deprived resort to opposition. "And Herod with his men of war set him at nought, and mocked him, and arrayed him in a gorgeous robe, and sent him again to Pilate." This is a striking illustration of the manner in which the truth has been treated in all ages. Men have approached the Bible with foregone conclusions, and because those conclusions have not been verified they have revolted, and assumed an antagonistic attitude. The course of reasoning has been this:—Here is a book professing to have come from God; if it is truly divine it will contain such and such doctrines, but if it is an imposition those doctrines will not be represented. Against such reasoning we must carefully guard; the argument would stand more correctly thus;—God has presented this book to the human race; whatever it contains must be founded in wisdom and goodness, whether we comprehend it or not. Man has no right to assume anything in reference to a divine revelation: such is our intellectual and moral constitution that it is utterly impossible for us, à priori, to determine what kind of revelation God should grant. It is a matter about which we can have no conception;—but now that we are in actual possession of the book we presume to dictate what it should have been! Amazing presumption! Merciful indeed is the divine Being, or he would blast with death the miserable quibblers who audaciously question his wisdom! Shall we suggest improvements in the constitution of suns and their attendant orbs? Shall we remould the great fabric of the universe? Shall we impose nobler laws on the organism of nature? Shall we accelerate the majestic march of the seasons? Why not? If men are wiser than God—if men know better than their Maker the kind of revelation needed—if men can criticise the moral government of the Eternal—if they challenge the Infinite to debate the spiritual economy he has developed—why should they not intermeddle with the minor arrangements of the physical creation? It were easier to add splendour to the sun—to increase the universe—to extend infinitude—to prolong eternity, than for the unaided intellect of man to have determined the nature and limits of a divine revelation!

As Herod expected to have his curiosity gratified by the disclosures and miracles of Christ, and resorted to opposition because his expectations were disappointed, so in modern times men have formed certain notions of what a divine record should be; and because these notions are not recognised by the Bible they complacently decide that their judgment is correct, and that the Bible is an error. This is the secret of much of the infidelity which has prevailed in all ages—the out-growth of pride which God has mortified. Infidels seek to destroy the Book which does not contain what they have imagined was necessary: when they open the Bible they cannot discover the cause of the Christian"s gratitude and exultation; no voice of gladness appeals to their ear; no solution of the problems which perplex the ingenious is given; to them the prophets and apostles are dumb, or, if they speak, it is in tones of reprehension and warning! How so? Because it is written, "With the merciful thou wilt show thyself merciful, and with the upright man thou wilt show thyself upright. With the pure thou wilt show thyself pure; and with the froward thou wilt show thyself unsavoury." Thus, God reveals himself according to the mental mood of the party desiring a revelation. To the penitent thief in the agonies of crucifixion he addressed the promise of eternal life, but in the presence of the marvel-loving tetrarch, though arrayed in robes of judicial authority, he embodied a silence more appalling than the solemn stillness of the untrodden desert! What was the consequence? Opposition, mockery, torture! The disappointed and chagrined Antipas resorted to the lowest form of vengeance; he yielded to the petulance of his temper, and sought relief in the display of bitter and malignant scorn.

Ample illustration of the proposition might be adduced from the history of infidelity, bigotry, and persecution; but instead of lingering on that, we hasten to indicate the practical bearing of the thesis on the matter more immediately in hand. As men responsible in some degree for the dissemination of Christian truth, it is important to understand how we can best fulfil our mission. In prosecuting this inquiry let me remind you of two things:—

(1) That the Bible is God"s appointed representative.—What Christ was to Herod, the Scriptures are to us, viz, the embodiment of divine truth and love. We have this representative in our dwelling-places—we have it in our native tongue—it is a great national fact. We can retire from the din of secular life into the calm of our secret chamber, and there commune with this divine guide. Though we have not the personal presence of Christ, we have what is only one degree less valuable—the intelligible record of his life and will. His Spirit is there embodied, and that Spirit will reveal himself according to our mood of mind: two men representing contrary states of feeling may find in the same chapter thoughts the most different:—the contrite and reverent Christian will find instruction, comfort, hope—while the wonder-seeking Herod will find, as it were, words of fire, or a blank heart-dismaying silence! Let me adjure the teachers of the young to make this record their constant study; other books may be read as subsidiaries, but the Bible must ever remain supreme as a volume for study. Borrow light from every quarter—roam in every realm in quest of illustrations—make every incident useful as an encouragement or a warning—from history, poetry, travel, and biography, bring fact and metaphor, but I charge you in the name of Christ, and in the prospect of eternity, to regard the Volume of Inspiration as the "chief among ten thousand, and altogether lovely." Imagine not that you have sounded all the depths or grasped all the amplitudes of this great Book—the greater your genius the more prolific of thought it will appear; and in proportion to the vigour of your piety will it flow with the water of life! The very fact of our having the Bible involves a tremendous responsibility. Christ is in our house: he will speak to us if we properly address him. The man who neglects the Bible, neglects Christ, and deprives himself of the countless and inestimable advantages attendant on fellowship with God!

(2) That the Bible must be approached in a sympathetic spirit.—Would you gather from its pages "thoughts that breathe"? Come with an earnest mind, humbly seeking divine illumination, and your desire will become reality! God will approve your aim, and angels may be missioned to quiet your quivering hearts and thrill you with immortal thoughts. Blessed is the reverent student of this Holy Book;—he never opens it without being charmed with its beauty, fired with its ardour, soothed by its tenderness, and transported by its visions of glory! In his eye the light of other literature is but the dimness of a rushlight compared with the overpowering splendour of the sun in his might! To his ear other words are harsh and discordant contrasted with the melodious flow of supernal song. Do you complain that to your investigations the Bible yields but poor returns? I blame your spirit. Do you allege that general literature is more enchanting to your mind? I blame your spirit. When the spirit is put of sympathy with God and truth, no book is so difficult as the Bible to understand; it is all mystery, dark as starless midnight—voiceless as the silent grave. But when the heart is contrite, the vision is quickened to behold a lustre dazzling as the purity of God.

"Wondrous things" may we behold in God"s law if we study it in the right mental mood. In fact, all nature is vocal to the ear of the true student;—there is a voice in the opening year, in the budding spring, in the glorious dawn, the pensive twilight, the star-lit firmament, and the spreading sea—there is a suggestive beauty and an impressive grandeur everywhere; and could we but walk through this material temple with unclouded intellect and pure heart, we should find a lesson in every breeze, a thought in every atom! But some men find no joy in communing with nature—to them there is no poesy in a flower, and no music in a tempest; the mountain, the landscape, and the sea "answer them nothing,"—all is vacant to their unappreciative eye. So with the great Volume of Revelation , some readers feel not the force of its appeals—to them it is but a common book, which fails to captivate their genius, or entrance their imagination, or subdue their heart. In the plaintive Psalm of Israel"s sweet singer no note affects their being—in the fiery majesty of Ezekiel they behold no glory; in the mystic prognostications of Daniel nothing arouses their wonder; in the genial, tender, propitiatory life of Jesus no incident breaks open the fount of their sympathy. Can such men feel any interest in the moral culture of the young? Can such men be expected to support the benevolent institutions of their age? No, is the only answer. Our leaders, ministers, teachers, and supporters must be found in the ranks of the lowly-minded, the contrite, and the reverent The Herods of society applaud us so long as we can amuse their fancy or gratify their curiosity; but so soon as this power fails they exchange compliment for mockery, and "exceeding gladness" for determined persecution.

Let our prayer be, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me," that so our minds may ever be open to the reception of divine light. It is a glorious and a hallowed thing to commune with God. We know the conditions on which this privilege can be realised. Let us tremble lest we forfeit it: for Saul, after he had been deposed from the throne of Israel, and found himself weak in the presence of a mightier foe exclaimed, in an agony we cannot describe, "I am sore distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more neither by prophets nor dreams." Time was when God held fellowship with the illustrious potentate; of this he was reminded by the faithful Samuel in this burning question, "When thou wast little in thine own sight wast thou not made the head of the tribes of Israel, and the Lord anointed thee king over Israel?" And what is this question but another form of the proposition that contrition and reverence are the necessary conditions of fellowship with the Infinite? Let us then be lowly, if we would be wise—let us be humble if we would be great—let us worship at the footstool if we would be raised to a throne—let us pray in filial trust if we would awake the responsive sympathy of God. Would we be mighty teachers and preachers of the gospel? Let us commune with Jesus. Would we break the mountains in pieces and turn our enemies to confusion? Let us commune with Jesus. Would we elevate the truth, and drive error from her ramparts? Let us commune with Jesus. Would we silence the miserable reproaches of infidelity? Let us commune with Jesus. Would we make life a joy, death a friend, and the tomb an avenue to glory? Let us commune with Jesus. "Twill make us strong in battle, swift in race, patient in suffering, and triumphant in death. His thrilling words will awaken our courage—his genial smile will develop our powers—his gracious promises will inspire our hope. We may be rich in grace, valiant in fight, strong in confidence, and successful in labour, if we commune with Jesus.

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Luke 23:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/luke-23.html. 1885-95.

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