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Words from GOD – Words to GOD

Pulpit commentary, St.Luke, chapter 12 – via Archbishop Uwe Ae.Rosenkranz


Archbishop Uwe AE.Rosenkranz, MA,DD.


Vers. 1–59.—The Lord, after leaving the Pharisee’s house, speaks at great length to a numerous crowd waiting for him, addressing his words principally to his own disciples. The foregoing scene (ch. 11), when the Master addressed his bitter reproaches to the learned and cultivated of the great Pharisee party, took place in a private house belonging to an apparently wealthy member of this, the dominant class. The name of the large village or provincial town where all this happened is unknown. The crowd who had been listening to the great Teacher before he accepted the Pharisee’s invitation still lingered around the house. Many from the adjoining villages, hearing that Jesus was in this place and was publicly teaching, had arrived; so, when the Lord came out from the guest-chamber into the street or market-place, he found a vast crowd—literally, myriads of the multitude—waiting for him. The words descriptive of the crowd in ver. 1 indicate that a vast concourse was gathered together. His fame then was very great, though his popularity was on the wane.
Ver. 1.—Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. In dwelling on this and similar expressions used by our Lord in respect to the life and work of this famous section of the people who were generally so bitterly hostile to him and his teaching, we must not condemn their whole character with a condemnation more sweep ing than the Master’s. Utterly mistaken in their views of life and in their estimate of God, whom they professed to know, our Lord here scarcely charges them with deliberate hypocrisy. These mistaken men dreamed that they possessed a holiness which was never theirs; unconscious hypocrites they doubtless were, without possibly even suspecting it themselves.
Vers. 2, 3.—For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known. Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light. The day would come when his estimate of this now popular teaching of the Pharisees would be found to have been correct. Its real nature, now hid, would be revealed and fully known and discredited; while, on the other hand, the words and teaching of his disciples, now listened to but by few, and those of seemingly little account, would become widely and generally known and listened to. Upon the housetops. These were flat, terrace-like roofs, and, the houses generally being low, one who spoke from them would easily be heard in the street beneath. “These words have a strong Syrian colouring. The Syrian house-top (in Matt. 10:27 and here) presents an image which has no sense in Asia Minor, or Greece, or Italy, or even at Antioch. The flat roofs cease at the mouth of the Orontes; Antioch itself has sloping roofs” (Reran, ‘Les Evangiles,’ p. 262, note 1).
Ver. 4.—And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. All this the Master knew was true and would shortly happen. His words were verified before fifty years had passed. The triumphant success of the great Christian preachers and the discredited condition of the old rabbinic schools is testified to by such words as we find in St. Paul’s letters. “Where is the wise? where is the scribe?” (1 Cor. 1:20). But this success the Master well knew would be accompanied with many a suffering on the part of the heralds of his message. Persecution in its many dreary forms would dog their footsteps; a death of agony and shame not unfrequently would be their guerdon. It was, for instance, we know, the earthly recognition of that devoted servant of the Lord (Paul) who, we believe, guided the pen of Luke here. This painful way, which his disciples must surely tread, had already been indicated in no obscure language by the Master (“some of them”—my apostles—,“they shall slay and persecute,” ch. 11:49). A triumph, greater than any which had ever been given to the sons of men, would surely be theirs, but the Master would not conceal the earthly price which his chosen servants must pay for this splendid success. There was a point, however, beyond which human malice and enmity were utterly powerless; he would have his servants turn their thoughts on that serene region where men as men would have no power.
Ver. 5.—But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; literally, into Gehenna. This is simply Gee-hinnom, “valley of Hinnom,” translated into Greek letters. This valley was situated in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem, and originally was noted for the infamous rites practised there in the worship of Moloch, in the times of the idolatrous kings of Judah. King Josiah, to mark his abhorrence of the idol-rites, defiled it with corpses; fires were subsequently kindled to consume the putrefying matter and prevent pestilence. The once fair valley, thus successively defiled with hideous corrupting rites, by putrefying corpses, and then with blazing fires lit to consume what would otherwise have occasioned pestilence, was taken by rabbinical writers as a symbol for the place of torment, and is used not unfrequently as a synonym for “hell.” The translators of the Authorized Version have done so here. The reminder is, after all, we need not fear men. When they have done their worst, they have only injured or tortured the perishable body. The One whom all have good reason to fear is God, whose power is not limited to this life, but extends through and beyond death. Some have strangely supposed, not God, but the devil, is intended here to be the real object of human fear. The devil can be no object of fear to the Master’s disciples.
Vers. 6, 7.—Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows. Though persecution and bitter suffering, even death, may be the guerdon of the Lord’s true servants here, none of these things can happen without the consent of God. This thought will surely give them courage to endure. Suffering undergone in God’s service, inflicted, too, with his entire consent, so that the suffering becomes part of the service,—what an onlook is afforded to the brave, faithful servant by such a contemplation! Oh the welcome from God he is sure to meet with when such a death has been endured! These extreme instances of God’s universal care—his all-knowledge of everything, however little and insignificant, belonging to his creatures—are chosen to give point to the Master’s words. If he knows of the death of these little, almost valueless, birds—ay, even of the falling of one of the many hairs of your head—surely you cannot doubt his knowledge of, his caring for, the life or death of one of his proved and gallant followers. These little sparrows were sold in the markets, strung together, or on skewers.
Ver. 8.—Also I say unto you, Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God. The great Teacher pursues the subject of the future of his disciples. It is by no means only to a wise fear of that God, whose hand stretches beyond this life, that he appeals as a mighty inducement for his servants utterly to disregard all dangers which may meet them in the course of their service; he tells them, too, of a splendid recompense, which will assuredly be the guerdon of all his true followers. Before that glorious throng of heavenly beings, whose existence was a part of the creed of every true Jew; before the mighty angels, the awful seraphim; before that countless crowd of winged and burning ones who assisted at the awful mysteries of Sinai, would they who witnessed for him, and suffered because of him, be acknowledged by him. Their sufferings in the service of the King of heaven, whom they knew on earth as the poor Galilee Teacher, would be recounted before the angels by the same King of heaven, when he returned to his home of grandeur and of peace in heaven.
Ver. 9.—But he that denieth me before men shall be denied before the angels of God. Splendid as would the recompense be to the faithful and the loyal, equally shameful would be the guerdon meted out to the cowardly and faint-hearted. Before the same glorious throng would the King detail the failure, through slavish fear, of those whom he had chosen for so royal a service. Such an announcement as this proclamation of glory and of shame before the holy angels, in which stupendous scene he, the poor Galilæan Rabbi, was to play the part of the Almighty Judge, could only have been made in the last weeks preceding his Passion. All reticence was then laid aside. Before friend and foe, in public and in private, in these last solemn weeks Jesus tore away the veil of reticence with which he had been pleased hitherto in great measure to shroud his lofty claims, and the Master now declared before all that he was the King of kings, the Lord alike of angels and of men. In the face of such an announcement, his prosecution by the priests and the Pharisee party for blasphemy naturally follows. He was either a daring impostor or—. In the latter case, to the poor Galilee Rabbi belonged the Name of names which no Jew dared to pronounce.
Ver. 10.—And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him. And yet even that offence, which consisted in playing the renegade and the coward; which refused to suffer for him here; which, out of slavish fear of man, consented to abandon his pure and righteous cause;—that offence, which would be proclaimed before the angels of heaven, would in the end find forgiveness. Some commentators point, as an illustration of this, to the fact of the dying Lord praying on the cross for his murderers; but the offence alluded to here, which should in the end be blotted out, was of far deeper dye. He prayed on his cross for those Romans who sinned, but sinned in the face of little light. But this forgiveness was to be extended to men who, through fear of men and love of the world, should deny him whom they knew to be their Redeemer. This is one of the most hopeful passages which treats of sin eventually to be forgiven, in the whole New Testament. But even here there is no so-called universal redemption announced, for in the next sentence the Lord goes on to speak of a sin which he emphatically said shall never have forgiveness. But unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven. What is this awful sin? We have only to speak of its connection in this place. Here there is no possibility of mistake; it was that determined hatred of holiness, that awful love of self, which had induced the Pharisee leaders to ascribe his beneficent and loving works to the spirit of evil and of darkness. The accusation was no chance one, the fruit of impulse or of passion. They who accused him knew better. They had heard him teach, not once, but often; they had seen his works; and yet, though they knew that the whole life and thoughts and aspirations were true, who were conscious that every word and work was holy, just, and pure, in order to compass their own selfish ends, simply because they felt his life and teaching would interfere with them, they dared to ascribe to the devil what their own hearts told them came direct from God. This sin, now as then, the merciful Saviour tells us has no forgiveness.
Ver. 11.—And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer. The Master comes back again to his old calm, and continues his loving instructions to his disciples; and turning again to the little group of his friends, he says to them, “When they bring you before hostile tribunals, special help, you will find, will be given you. Have no fear, then, that you will be wanting in wisdom or courage; the Holy Spirit of God will be your Advocate, and will whisper to you words for your defence.” The best example of this supernatural aid to the accused followers of Jesus which we possess is the grave and stately apology of Stephen before the Sanhedrin. Peter’s speech before the same tribunal, and Paul’s before Felix and Festus, are also fair instances.
Ver. 13.—And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me. Apparently there was a pause here in the Lord’s teaching. The Master was about to enter on a new subject, and at this juncture one of the crowd, waiting for such a break in the Master’s discourse, came forward with a question. It was purely connected with his own selfish interests. He seems to have been a younger brother, discontented with the distribution of the family property, of which, most likely, in accordance with the usual Jewish practice, a double portion had been taken by the elder brother. This was likely enough the point which he submitted to the Lord. Such a reference to a scribe and rabbi of eminence was then not uncommon. Jesus, however, here, as on other occasions (see John 8:3–11), firmly refuses to interfere in secular matters. His work was of another and higher kind. The word he addresses to the questioner has in it a tinge of rebuke. The utter selfish worldliness of the man, who, after hearing the solemn and impressive words just spoken, could intrude such a question, comes strongly into view. Was not this poor unimpressionable Jew, so wrapped up in his own paltry concerns that he had no thought or care for loftier things, perhaps a specimen of most of the material upon whom the Lord had to work? Is he an unknown figure in our day and time?
Ver. 15.—And he said unto them, Taks heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. The older authorities read, “beware of every kind of covetousness.” No vice is more terribly illustrated in the Old Testament story than this. Prominent illustrations of ruin overtaking the covetous man, even in this life, are Balnam, Achan, and Gehazi. Has not this ever been one of the besetting sins of the chosen race, then as now, now as then? Jesus, as the Reader of hearts, saw what was at the bottom of the question greed, rather than a fiery indignation at a wrong endured. “A man’s life.” His true life, would be a fair paraphrase of the Greek word used here. The Master’s own life, landless, homeless, penniless, illustrated nobly these words. That life, as far as earth was concerned, was his deliberate choice. The world, Christian as well as pagan, in each succeeding age, with a remarkable agreement, utterly declines to recognize the great Teacher’s view of life here. To make his meaning perfectly clear, the Lord told them the following parable-story, which reads like an experience or memory of something which had actually happened.
Ver. 16.—The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully. The unhappy subject of the Lord’s story was a common figure in Palestine in an ordinarily prosperous time. We have the portrait of a landowner whose farms do not seem to have been acquired by any unjust means. This man, after years of successful industry, having acquired great wealth, wholly devotes himself to it and to its further increase. He does not give himself up to excess or profligacy, but simply, body and soul, becomes the slave of his wealth; utterly, hopelessly selfish, he forgets alike God and his neighbour.
Vers. 17, 18.—And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater. “No place to bestow my fruits.” Well answers St. Ambrose, “Thou hast barns—the bosoms of the needy, the houses of the widows, the mouths of orphans and of infants.” Some might argue, from the sequel of the story, that God looks with disfavour on riches as riches. St. Augustine replies to such a mistaken deduction, “God desires not that thou shouldest lose thy riches, but that thou shouldest change their place” (‘Serm.,’ xxxvi. 9). The Greek word rendered “barns” ἀποθήκας—whence our word “apothecary”) has a broader signification than merely barns; it signifies store or warehouses of all kinds, thus suggesting that the hero of the story was more than a mere wealthy farmer—he was probably also a trader. And there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. As he grew richer, he grew more covetous. Absolutely no care or thought for anything save his loved possessions seems to have crossed the threshold of that poor mistaken heart of his. This strange hunger after riches for riches’ sake is, alas! a very usual form of soul-disease. Can it be cured? Alas! it is one of the most hopeless of soul-maladies. This unhappy love in countless cases becomes a passion, and twines itself round the heart, and so destroys all the affections and higher aspirations.
Ver. 19.—And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years. “What folly!” writes St. Basil. “Had thy soul been a sty, what else couldst thou have promised to it? Art thou so ignorant of what really belongs to the soul, that thou offerest to it the foods of the body? And givest thou to thy soul the things which the draught receives?” Many years. How little did that poor fool, so wise in all matters of earthly business, suspect the awful doom was so close to him! He forgot Solomon’s words, “Boast not thyself of to-morrow” (Prov. 27:1). Take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry “Extremes meet,” suggests Dean Plumptre; “and the life of self-indulgence may spring either from an undue expectation of a lengthened life” (as was the case here),”or from unduly dwelling on its shortness, without taking into account the judgment that comes after it. The latter, as in the ‘carpe diem’ of Horace (‘Odes,’ i. 11. 8), was the current language of popular epicureanism” (see St. Paul’s reproduction of this thought, 1 Cor. 15:32); “the former seems to have been more characteristic of a corrupt Judaism.”
Ver. 20.—But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee. The literal rendering of the Greek here is more solemn and impressive in its awful vagueness: This night they require thy soul of thee. Who are meant by they? Most likely the angels: not necessarily “avenging,” as Trench would suggest; simply those angels whose special function it was to conduct the souls of the departed to their own place. So we read in the parable of Lazarus and Dives how angels carried the soul of Lazarus into Abraham’s bosom. On the words, “they require,” Theophylact writes, “For, like pitiless exactors of tribute, terrible angels shall require thy soul from thee unwilling, and through love of life resisting. For from the righteous his soul is not required, but he commits it to God and the Father of spirits, pleased and rejoicing; nor finds it hard to lay it down, for the body lies upon it as a light burden. But the sinner who has enfleshed his soul, and embodied it, and made it earthy, has so prepared it to render its divulsion from the body most hard; wherefore it is said to be required of him, as a disobedient debtor that is delivered to pitiless exactors.” Then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? Our Lord here reproduced the thought contained in passages with which no doubt he had been familiar from his boyhood. “Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me. And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool?” (Eccles. 2:18, 19). “He heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them” (Ps. 39:6). The parallel in the apocryphal book, Ecclus. 11:18, 19, is very close.
Ver. 21.—And is not rich toward God; better rendered, if he is not. And this slight change helps us, too, in drawing the right lesson. The being rich is never condemned by Jesus Christ; nor even the growing richer. Among the saints of God in both Testaments are many notable rich men, whose possessions seem to have helped rather than hindered their journey to the city of God. The lesson which lies on the forefront of this parable-story is the especial danger which riches ever bring of gradually deadening the heart and rendering it impervious to any feeling of love either for God or man.
The directions which immediately followed upon this parable were addressed to the inner circle of disciples. The general instruction, it will be seen, belongs to all who in any age wish to be “of his Church;” but several of the particular charges cannot he pressed as general commands, being addressed to men whose work and office were unique.
Ver. 22.—And he said unto his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on. A better rendering for “Take no thought” is Be not anxious about. This, too, suggests a more practical lesson. “What ye shall eat” How repeatedly in the Master’s sermons do we find the reminder against the being careful about eating! We know from pagan writers in this age how gluttony, in its coarser and more refined forms, was among the more notorious evils of Roman society in Italy and in the provinces. This passion for the table more or less affected all classes in the empire.
Vers. 24–27.—Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them.… Consider the lilies … they toil not, they spin not: and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. What a contrast between the life of the rich and prosperous landowner just related, whose whole heart and soul were concentrated on a toil which should procure him dainty food and costly raiment, and these fowls fed by God so abundantly, and those flowers clothed by God so royally! The ravens knew nothing of the anxious care and the restless toil of the rich man in the midst of which he died, and yet they lived. The lilies simply grew, and God’s hand painted the rich and gorgeous clothing for each golden-jewelled flower; Solomon, the splendid Jewish king, the example of all that was magnificent, was never arrayed, men knew, like one of these lilies. With such a God above them, who surely loved each one as he never loved a bird or flower, was it worth while to wear a life away in toiling for less than what God simply gave to a raven and to a lily? Such was the Master’s argument, adorned, we may well conceive, with all the beauty and force of Eastern illustration. We possess, after all, but a scant résumé of these Divine sermons. To the apostle and chosen missionary his words had a peculiar interest. He bade them, in coming days of poverty and abandonment, never to lose heart. They would remember then their loved Teacher’s words that day when he spoke of the fate of one whose life had been wasted in filling his storehouses and his barns; would remember how he turned from the foolish, toiling rich man, and told them of the birds and flowers, and how God tenderly cared even for such soulless things. Did they think he would ever lose sight of them, his chosen servants? They might surely reckon on the loving care of that Master to whose cause they were giving their life service. Yet have these and other like words of the great Teacher been often misunderstood; and St. Paul’s earnest and repeated exhortations to his converts—not to neglect honest toil, but by it to win bread for themselves, and something withal to be generous with to those poorer than they—were his protest against taking the Master’s words in too literal a sense, and using them as a pretext for a dreamy and idle life. Paul’s teaching, and perhaps still more Paul’s life—that life of brave, simple toil for himself and others—were his comment upon this part of the Master’s sermon. The lilies. It is a little doubtful whether our Lord meant to speak of the red anemone, a very common but beautiful flower, with which the meadows throughout all Palestine are enamelled (Anemone coronaria), or the great white lily (Lilium candidum), or the exquisite red lily (Lilium rubrum); these latter are more rare. The Saviour, probably, had each of these and other specimens of the flora of Palestine in his mind, when he spoke of the inimitable beauty and the matchless splendour of these flowers of God.
Ver. 29.—And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink. Again, after the moving, touching words we have been commenting on, does the Lord return to the pressing injunction with which he began his lessons to his disciples upon the parable of the “rich fool.” Trouble not yourselves about your eating and drinking. This repeated insistence of the Master upon this point in the future lives of his disciples has evidently a deeper significance than a mere injunction to cast all their care on him, and not to be over-anxious about their poor earthly maintenance. This was, of course, the first lesson they had to learn from these words; but beneath all this they could, and no doubt often in later days did, read in the words a clear expression of their dear Lord’s will in favour of the utmost simplicity in all matters of food and drink. His own must be marked men here, ever frugal and temperate even to abstemiousness. It is a grave question whether his Church has ever fully grasped the Master’s meaning here. Neither be ye of doubtful mind; literally, do not toss about like boats in the offing (so Dr. Farrar very happily). The word is not found elsewhere in New Testament writers, but it is known in classic writers. Its use here is one of the many signs of St. Luke’s high culture.
Ver. 32.—Fear not, little flock. Another term of tender endearment addressed to his own who were grouped near him. In the earlier part of this discourse (ver. 4) he had called them “my friends.” He had told them of the troublous life which awaited them, but at the same time wished to show them how dear they were to him. It was as though he said, “Endure the thought of these necessary trials for my sake; are you not my chosen friends, for whom so glorious a future, if ye endure to the end, is reserved?”
Ver. 33.—Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not. “Those of you who have riches, see, this is what I counsel you to do with them.” In considering these much-disputed words of the Master, we must remember (1) to whom they were spoken: they were addressed to men and women who, if they would follow him, must set themselves free from all worldly possessions; they must literally forsake all to follow him. (2) We must bear in mind (a) that the only community which attempted, as a community, to obey this charge literally was the Church of Jerusalem, and the result was that for long years this Church was plunged into the deepest poverty, so that assistance had to be sent even trom far-distant Churches to this deeply impoverished Jerusalem community. [This we learn from Paul, the real compiler of this very Gospel, where the charge is reported. See many passages in his letters, notably the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, passim.] (b) The mendicant orders in the Middle Ages, with no little bravery and constancy, likewise attempted to carry out to the letter this direction. The impartial student of mediæval history, while doing all justice to the aims and work of these often devoted men, can judge whether or no these mendicant orders can be reckoned among the permanently successful agencies of the cross. We conclude, then, that these words had a literal meaning only for those to whom they were specially addressed, viz. the disciples. While to the Church generally they convey this deep, far-reaching lesson, a lesson all would-be servants of Christ would do well to take to heart—it is the Master’s will that his followers should sit loose to all earthly possessions, possessing them as though they possessed not. Thus living, the heart will be free from all inordinate care for earthly treasure, and will, in real earnest, turn to that serene region where its real and abiding riches indeed are-even to heaven.
Vers. 35, 36.—Let your loins be girded about, and your lamps burning; and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately. The Master goes on with his teaching on the subject of covetousness, still addressing himself primarily to the disciples. “There is another reason why my chosen followers should treat the amassing of earthly goods with indifference; no man knows when the end of this state of things may come; their hearts must be fixed on something else than perishable things. They must act as servants on the watch for the return of their lord. See now, my own,” Jesus proceeds to say; “your attitude in life must be that of servants, at once loyal and devoted, whom their employer has left in his house while he is absent at a great wedding-feast. The day of his absence passes into evening, and evening shades into night; and even the night wears slowly and tediously away, and still the master of the house comes not back from his festival.” But the faithful servants all this while never slumber, or even lie down to rest. All the time of his absence, with their loose flowing Eastern robes taken up, and the skirt fastened under the girdle, with their lamps all trimmed and burning, these watchers wait the coming of their lord, though he tarry long, that they may be ready to receive him and serve him the moment he arrives. All kinds of busy house service, too, carried on during the long night of watching, is implied by the girt-up robes and the lit lamps of the tireless watchers.
Ver. 37.—Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them. The title “blessed,” when used by our Lord, is ever a very lofty one, and implies some rare and precious virtue in the one to whom this title to honour is given. It seems as though the house-master of the parable scarcely expected such true devotion from his servants; so he hastens to reward a rare virtue with equally rare blessedness and honour. He raises the slaves to a position of equality with their master. These true faithful ones are no longer his servants; they are his friends. He even deigns himself to minister to their wants. A similar lofty promise is made in less homely language. The final glorious gift to the faithful conqueror in the world’s hard battle appears in the last of the epistles to the seven Churches: “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne” (Rev. 3:21).
Ver. 38.—And if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so. Among the Jews at the time of our Lord, the old division of the night into three watches had given place to the ordinary Roman division into four. They were reckoned thus: from six to nine, from nine to midnight, from midnight to three, and from three to six. In this parable the second and third watches are mentioned as necessary for the completeness of the picture; for the banquet would certainly not be over before the end of the first watch, and in the fourth the day would be breaking. The second and third watches, then, represent the still and weary hours of the night, when to watch is indeed a task of difficulty and painfulness; and here again the Lord repeats his high encomium on such devoted conduct in his second “blessed are those servants.” It is perfectly clear that in this parable the master’s return signifies the coming of Christ. The whole tone, then, is a grave reminder to us, to all impatient ones, that the great event may be long delayed, much longer than most Christian thinkers dream; but it tells us, too, that this long delay involves a test of their loyalty. “The parousia does not come so quickly as impatience, nor yet so late as carelessness, supposes” (Van Oosterzee).
Vers. 39, 40.—And this know, that if the goodman of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched, and not have suffered his house to be broken through. Be ye therefore ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not. The Lord abruptly changes the scene of his parable imagery, and with another striking and vivid example enforces his teaching on the subject of the urgent necessity of his servants keeping a sleepless and diligent watch and ward against his coming again in judgment. Very deeply must this image of the Lord’s sudden return, as a thief breaks into the house in the still hours of the night, have impressed itself on the hearts of the awe-struck, listening disciples, for we find in the case of SS. Paul and Peter the very words and imagery, and in the case of St. John the imagery again made use of (see 1 Thess. 5:1, 2; 2 Pet. 3:10; Rev. 3:3; 16:15). The meaning of the simile is obvious. The disciples and all followers of Jesus would do well to remain always on the watch for the second advent of the Lord. The time of that awful return was unknown, never could be known; men, however, must not be deceived by the long tarrying; the day of the Lord would surely come on the world as a thief in the night.
Ver. 41.—Then Peter said unto him, Lord, speakest thou this parable unto us, or even to all? Peter’s question here referred evidently to the longer and more important parable-story, where the reward which the faithful watchers were to receive is mentioned (ver. 37). The grandeur of that reward seems deeply to have impressed the impulsive apostle. Some true conception of the heaven-life had entered into Peter’s mind; we know, too, that now and again dimly Peter seemed to grasp the secret of his Master’s awful Divinity. What meant, then, thought the faithful, loving man, the figure in the parable of the lord? Who was that lord—himself serving his faithful followers? The same curious perplexity evidently passed through Peter’s mind when, on the evening before the death, in a symbol-act the Master repeated the words of the great promise made here, and washed his disciples’ feet. Then we read how Peter said to him, “Lord, dost thou wash my feet?” Were all who followed Jesus to share in that strange, mighty promise; or only a few, such as Peter and his companions, called for a special purpose?
Vers. 42–44.—And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Of a truth I say unto you, that he will make him ruler over all that he hath. Jesus goes on with his discourse. Apparently he pays no heed to Peter’s question, but really he answers it fully, giving in fact more details on the subject of rewards to the faithful in the life to come than even Peter’s question required. “Who then,” asks the Lord, “is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household?” Who? Peter must answer the question. This steward should be Peter himself and each of Peter’s chosen companions. This high position of steward in the household of the Lord should be filled by those whom Jesus had specially chosen. If, when he came again, the Lord found these faithful to their solemn trust, then these should receive a still higher and grander recompense even than that inconceivably splendid reward (mentioned in ver. 37) which had so struck Peter; and the higher recompense which these, the faithful and wise stewards, should then receive would be the being made rulers over all that the Lord hath. The answer of the Master then told Peter that all his followers, if found true and loyal, should receive the reward promised (in ver. 37) to the watching servants, who in the world to come would be not the servants but the friends of God. While the few, the chosen apostles of the Lord, if they endured to the end, if they were found wise and faithful, to them would be given in the new life a yet more glorious recompense; they would be set in some special position of government and dominion in the glorious city of God. This teaches, too, indirectly, but with great clearness, that in the heaven-life all Christ’s redeemed will enjoy in the friendship of God a perfect blessedness. Still, in that perfect blessedness which will be the heritage of all the redeemed, there will still be degrees in glory.
Vers. 45, 46.—But and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken; the lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware. “But,” continued the Master, “although certain of my servants have onlooks to higher degrees of glory than the great mass of their fellows, these seemingly favoured ones have at the same time more perilous responsibilities; and only if in these graver responsibilities they are faithful to the end, will they receive their high and peculiar reward.” If, on the other hand, they fail in their perpetual watch for the coming of their Lord, and instead of the restless toil which the Master has assigned to these stewards, these servants, weighted with higher responsibilities, give themselves up to worldly pleasures and passions, terrible will be their doom. Again the excesses of the table are specially mentioned. If, instead of spending themselves in the cares of their high office, they make a profit out of that office, if they live as oppressors of the flock rather than as shepherds, then to these unfaithful stewards will the Lord suddenly come, as pictured in the parable imagery, a thief in the night. And will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. The terrible punishment here specified was not unknown among the ancients (see Herodotus, vii. 39; and Heb. 11:37). Isaiah was said to have been sawn asunder. Bengel’s comment is curious: “Qui cor divisum habet, dividetur.” It has been suggested, to bring the punishment into harmony with the statement immediately following, which speaks of a definite and, perhaps, of an enduring position for the guilty one, a “portion with the unbelievers,” to understand the word as an equivalent for scourging; so in the Latin we find flagellis discindere, to scourge the back with the rod. There is, however, no known instance of the Greek word διχοτομεῖν being used in this sense. The expression is, however, used as simply implying that a terrible doom is surely reserved in the life to come for those who have so sadly misused their high opportunities and neglected their great responsibilities. “The image of the parable itself is blended with the reality which the parable signifies; this thought of the human master who can punish his slaves with temporal death passes into that of the Divine Judge who can punish with spiritual death” (Dean Mansel).
Vers. 47, 48.—And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes—But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required. These verses are easy to understand. They explain the broad principles upon which the foregoing statements, in parable and in direct teaching, are based. Rewards and punishments will be allotted in the coming world with strict justice. To some, great knowledge of the Divine will is given and splendid opportunities of work are afforded; to such, if only they are faithful and true, will indeed a high place in the city of God be allotted; but alas for them in the life to come if they fail, if they miss the splendid chance of being true toilers with and for God! Their portion will be the many stripes. To others a knowledge of the Divine will, scanty compared with those just spoken of, is given, and opportunities of doing high and noble work are here comparatively few; if these use the little knowledge and seize the few opportunities, they will, while occupying a lower grade in the hierarchy of heaven, still enjoy the perfect bliss of friendship with God. The punishment for failure here is designated by the few stripes. In this solemn passage it is notable that degrees or grades in punishment as well as degrees or grades in glory are distinctly spoken of.
Ver. 49.—I am come to send fire on the earth. It is still the same, train of thought that the Master pursues—a train which had been only slightly diverted by Peter’s question. The text, so to speak, of the whole discourse was “the strange attraction which riches possess for men, and the palsying effect which this attraction, when yielded to, exercises over the whole life.” The Master’s argument was as follows: “Beware of covetousness; let your attachment to earthly possessions sit very lightly on you all; and as for you, my disciples, do you have nothing to do with these perishable goods.” And here, with an abrupt solemnity, probably the voice changing here, and ringing with an awful emotion, he enforces his charge to the disciples with the words, “I am come to send fire on the earth.” “My stern, sad work is to inaugurate a mighty struggle, to cast a firebrand on the earth. Lo, my presence will stir up men—you will see this in a way none now dream of; a vast convulsion will rend this people asunder. In the coming days of war and tumult, what have you, my disciples, who will be in the forefront of this movement,—what have you to do with earthly goods.? Toss them away from you as useless baggage. The pioneers of the army of the future, surely they must be unencumbered in the war, which is about to break out; for remember, ‘I am come to send fire on the earth.’ ” And what will I, if it be already kindled? better rendered, how I would that it had been already kindled! That is to say, “How I wish that this fire were already burning!” (so Olshausen, De Wette, Bleek, and Farrar). Through all the woe, however, the Redeemer could see, shining as it were through a dark cloud, the unspeakable glory and blessedness of his work. But this fire could not be kindled into a flame until something had happened. The cross must be endured by him; till then his work was not finished; and in his pure human nature—it is with stammering tongue and trembling pen we speak or write here he felt, we believe, the bitter stinging pain of dread expectation of what was coming. With this onlook he was weighed down, we know, at times; witness especially the Gethsemane agony. He goes on to say—
Ver. 50.—But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished! The baptism he here speaks of was the baptism of pain and suffering and death—what we call the Passion of the Lord. He knew it must all be gone through, to bring about the blessed result for which he left his home in heaven; but he looked on to it, nevertheless, with terror and shrinking. “He is under pressure,” says Godet, “to enter into this suffering because he is in haste to get out of it, mournfully impatient to have done with a painful task.” This passage of the discourse of Jesus here has been called “a prelude of Gethsemane.”
Ver. 51.—Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division. But the Master quickly leaves himself and his own sad forebodings. He puts by for a season his own holy impatience and continues his warnings. “I have been dwelling on the troublous times quickly coming on. Do not deceive yourselves, my disciples; the great change about to be inaugurated will only be carried out in war and by divisions in the individual house as in the nation. I bring not peace, but a sword, remember.” And then follows a curious picture of a home torn asunder by the conflict of thought which would spring up as the result of the cross and of the preaching of the cross.
Ver. 54.—And he said also. A note of the compilers, SS. Luke and Paul, which seems to say, “Besides all the important sayings we have just written down, which were spoken on this occasion, the Master added as a conclusion the following words.” It is probable that the expressions used in the next seven verses were called out by the general apathy with which his announcement of the coming woes was received by the listening multitude. Possibly he had noticed a smile of incredulity on the faces of some of the nearer by-standers. The words had already been used on other occasions in a different connection. Here he used them as a last appeal, or rather as a remonstrance. He seems to say to the people, “O blind, blind to the awful sins of the times! You are weather-wise enough, and can tell from the appearance of the sky and the sighing of the wind whether a storm is brewing or no: why not use the same faculty of discernment in higher and more important matters? Ah! be wise; make your peace with God without delay; it will soon be too late; there is an awful judgment close at hand!” When ye see a cloud rise out of the west, straightway ye say, There cometh a shower; and so it is. To the west of Palestine lay the great Mediterranean Sea, from which, of course, came all the rains which fell on that country.
Ver. 55.—And when ye see the south wind blow, ye say, There will be heat; and it cometh to pass. To the south of Palestine lay the desert; when the wind blew from that direction, it was usually a time of heat and drought.
Ver. 56.—Ye can discern the face of the sky and of the earth; but how is it that ye do not discern this time? These things had an interest for them. Heat and drought, wind and rain, affected materially the prospect of their wheat-harvest and vintage, the fruitfulness of their orchards and oliveyards, therefore they gave their whole mind to the watching of the weather; but to the awful signs of the time in which they were living they were blind and deaf. What were these signs? (1) The low state of morality among public men. Did none of them notice how utterly corrupt were priests and scribes and people, how hollow and meaningless their boasted religious rites, how far removed from them was the presence of the God of their fathers? (2) Political situation. Did none of them notice the terribly strained relations between the Roman or Herodian, and the great national party? Were they blind to the bitter, irreconcilable hatred to mighty Rome which was seething scarcely beneath the surface of Jewish society? Were they deaf to the rumbling noises which too surely heralded a fierce and bloody war between little Palestine, split up into parties and sects, and the mighty world of Rome which had seized them in its own grip? What could be the result of such a war? Were they devoid of reason as well as blind and deaf? (3) Heavenly warnings. What had they done with John the Baptist? Many in Israel knew that man was indeed a great prophet of the Lord. His burning words had penetrated far and wide; vast crowds had heard the awful sounds with breathless awe; but no one heeded, and the people watched him die. And now—they had listened to him who was speaking to them. He had told them all; no sign of power was wanting to his ministry, and it was just over, and the people had not repented.
Vers. 58, 59.—When thou guest with thine adversary to the magistrate, as thou art in the way, give diligence that thou mayest be delivered from him; lest he hale thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and the officer cast thee into prison. I tell thee, thou shalt not depart thence, till thou hast paid the very last mite. And then the Master passed into one of those parable illustrations with which his hearers were now familiar, and which in a homely way taught the crowd the same grave truth which he had been dwelling upon—the impending terrible judgment which was coming on the people. The lesson, “be reconciled to God while it is yet time,” is, of course, applicable to all lives, precarious and hanging seemingly on a thread as they all are, but it was especially spoken to that generation in view of the awful ruin which he knew was so soon to fall on every Jewish home. The general meaning of the parable illustration was obvious; no hearer could fail to understand the Lord’s meaning. It is before arriving at the judgment-seat that you must be reconciled with the one who accuses you, otherwise it will be too late, and nothing would remain for the guilty accused but the eternal prison-house. At that moment, when the Master was speaking, individual or nation might have turned to the Lord and lived. There was no time, however, for hesitation. The sands in the hour-glass, which marked the duration of God’s longsuffering with Israel, were just running out. Theologians in different ages and of varied schools have made much of the concluding sentence (ver. 59). Roman Catholic divines see in it a strong argument in favour of the doctrine of purgatory, arguing that after death condemnation would be followed by liberation, when a certain payment had been made by the guilty soul; strange ways of paying this debt by means of others we know have been devised by the school of divines who teach this doctrine of purgatory. But the Lord’s words here are terribly plain, and utterly exclude any payment of the debt of the soul by others. The Master emphatically says, “till thou hast paid the very last mite.” The advocate who pleads for universal redemption, and shrinks from a punishment to the duration of which he can see no term, thinks that in the words, “till thou hast paid,” he can discern the germ at least of eternal hope. But the impenetrable veil which hangs between us and the endless hereafter prevents us, surely, from even suggesting that any suffering which the soul may endure in the unseen world will ever pay “the very last mite,.” and so lead to pardon and peace.

Vers. 1–12.—An evil to be shunned, and a virtue to be cultivated. Jesus had been partaking of the light forenoon meal with a Pharisee. In this Pharisee’s house he proclaimed war to the death with the bigots who had been dogging his steps. A small fire may kindle much wood. For some reason unknown to us, he had omitted the washing of hands before sitting down to meat. Instantly the whole company turned on him with scowl and sneer and shrug. And the action of the Truth incarnate, in reply to this, was the utterance of the six “woes”—scathing thunderbolts—which St. Luke has recorded between vers. 42 and 52 of the previous chapter. His utterance was the signal for something like a riot (vers. 53, 54). Ah! thou Son of Mary, thou Meekest and Lowliest, the column has turned. Hitherto thy progress has been, not without contradiction of sinners, but for the most part one of sweet poetries—unbounded the wonder and generous the admiration of the people. Thine enemies have been kept back; they have been held in restraint by the lightning which has flashed from thee. But now thou must enter on a new phase of thy ministry; henceforth the issues towards which thou hast been looking will be hastened.

“Ride on, ride on in majesty!
The winged squadrons of the sky
Look down with sad and wondering eyes
To see the approaching sacrifice.”

“In the mean time,” whilst the dinner with its tumultuous conversation is proceeding, the crowd has so accumulated that “many thousands are gathered together.” They are so eager to hear the Prophet that some persons are trodden down. To this seething mass Christ comes forth, his heart stirred by the controversy, vehement and provocative, which single-handed he had sustained. Most natural, in view of the circumstances related, is the discourse which follows, addressed immediately to his followers, but reaching the ear of “the many thousands.” 1. First, there is the word as to “the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (vers. 1–3). Hypocrisy was the evil which permeated and vitiated their action. What is meant by hypocrisy? The hypocrite is “the man who has to play a part, to maintain a reputation, to keep up a respectable position, to act consistently with the maxims of the party to which he is allied, or the profession to which he belongs.” As thus interpreted, is not the “beware!” of the afternoon long ago, a “beware!” for this day as well? “Pharisee” and “Sadducee” are words which no longer distinguish classes; but when the classes which they once designated are studied, it is found that, for what was most characteristic of each, there are correspondents among us. Let it not be supposed that the Pharisee was nothing else than a sanctimonious charlatan, a mere pretentious formalist. He was the representative of the more earnest religious spirit. The Sadducee was generally a wealthy man, one belonging to the ruling order. Content with easy and low standards, the worldly or rationalistic Jews belonged to the party comprehended by the name. The Pharisee disowned such a conception of religion. He would not have any fellowship with such latitudinarianism. To him the Law was the Law of God, and he was bent on keeping it to its minutest point. In over-zeal he even added, to the observances enjoined, observances which might be inferred or which had been added by rabbins. The traditions of the elders were, in his view, a supplement to the Law and the prophets. “It is needless,” as has well been observed, “to show that there was something in Pharisaism worthy of admiration, for this is implied in the charge brought against the Pharisees of our Lord’s time. They were accused of being hypocrites, of not being what they pretended to be; in which it is implied that, if they had really been what they seemed, they would have deserved the praise they claimed. And doubtless there were some whose goodness was more than outside show, both in the first original of the sect, and in those later times when Pharisaic culture prepared the soil on which the seeds of the gospel most readily flourished; for to this sect belonged the majority of the first converts, and the many thousands who believed are all described as ‘zealous for the Law.’ ” Any one playing the hypocrite will prefer the Pharisee type. The scanty clothing of the Sadducee will not suit; the fitting dress is the long robe and the well-phylacteried garment of the Pharisee. The devil’s homage to truth, which hypocrisy has been declared to be, is more becomingly rendered in such a garb. A part-actor! Ah! we need to be reminded that this is a character still to be found in the religious world. Bunyan introduces us to persons who are not mere fictions—My Lord Turn-about, my Lord Fair-speech, Mr. Smoothman, Facing-both-ways, the parson Mr. Two-tongues; the points in which all agree being “that they never strive against wind and tide, and that they are always most zealous when religion goes in his silver slippers.” A part-actor! Almost unconsciously, we play a part which marks an excess of what we have ourselves verified—a part beyond, if not covering, the very thought of the soul. “Beware of the leaven!” Milton describes hypocrisy as “the only evil that walks invisible except to God alone.” To be real, not to be a Mr. Facing-both-ways, is one of the great lessons of the life of Christ. In any diagnosis of human nature, we must remember the mixture to be found in character. Few persons intend, deliberately and systematically, to lie to God and man. The Pharisees whom our Lord condemned were not—at least we may in charity so suppose—intentionally false. If they prayed to be seen of men, we need not imagine that they secretly mocked at and disbelieved in the duty of prayer. The leaven was the endeavour to maintain a reputation with which they were credited; so much had this endeavour gained on them, that they were far more anxious about it than about their possession of truth in the inward parts. And thus they became part-actors. Now, so with regard to ourselves and our fellow-men. A person is observed doing, in some directions or at some times, what is inconsistent with his conduct at other times or in other directions. And worldly minded people, always eager to scent blemishes, cry out, “Hypocrite!” This is a harsh, and may be a wrong, judgment. A lapse from the standard aimed at does not evidence insincerity. Nay, those who observe most closely the facts of life, can often trace what seems a twofoldness of self. The Apostle Paul in a most striking passage (Rom. 7) has described the struggle in his own heart, the contending laws, the spiritual and the carnal, the oppositions and thwartings of the sin that dwelt in him—oppositions so fierce that it seemed as if he were sold under sin. “O wretched man that I am!” he cries. His hope, his triumph, is, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Looking up to Jesus Christ, he saw his right and higher self; looking down on the evil ever present with him, on the body of death in which he appeared to be enslaved, he saw the lower and the wrong self. “I myself with the mind serve the Law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” The one feature in this portrait is the determination of the will. That was God’s; the deflections from it were the signs of an alien force from which he wished to be free. So long as this feature is predominant, the sanctification may be imperfect, but the life is true. What constitutes hypocrisy is appearing to be what one is not, concealing the want of piety in the heart under the cloke of piety in the action; such a study of outward effect that the conduct gradually becomes a tissue of dishonesties. This posing to be something and this anxiety about the pose rather than the truth, constitute the leaven of hypocrisy. “Be no part-actor,” says Christ (vers. 2, 3); “be no whisperer in darkness, be no mutterer in the ear in inner chambers. Be not one thing in secret, and another thing in public. Keep clear of pretences of all sorts. Remember, concealment cannot avail. Walls have ears. The universe has its libraries on which all that is whispered is written. And there is an Eternal Truth to whom ‘all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid.’ ” 2. Next, there is the word as to courage. Is it not the word which we might expect from him who had defied the most compact order in the land? Listen to the Christian’s “Fear not,” and the Christian’s “Fear.” “Fear not man, having power only over the body” (ver. 4). Have the courage of your convictions. Trust in God and do the right. Fear God (ver. 5). Fear not to speak the truth; fear to tell the lie. “Yea, I say unto you, fear the Eternal Righteousness.” The lesson is enforced by three considerations. (1) The value to God of every true and honest life (vers. 6, 7). Not one sparrow is forgotten, not one of the tiniest and least valued of God’s creatures is outside his care. Every hair on your head is numbered. You are dear to God. He is waiting for you to work with him. The life of each of you is of value to him. Fear not. (2) The danger of trifling with conviction (vers. 8–10). Do not refuse, for some fear of man, to give effect to it. You may possibly, says the Lord, quench the Holy Spirit. This was the sin of the Pharisees. This is the unpardonable sin. A word against Jesus may be spoken “ignorantly in unbelief;”and the Redeemer says, “Father, forgive; for they know not what they do.” But to shut the eye to the light, to refuse to see light as light, to sophisticate the voice of God’s Spirit speaking through reason and conscience, this is to destroy the possibility of spiritual health. Christ says to the disciples, “To confess me before men, no matter what the consequences to yourselves, is to deliver your souls, is to realize the confession in heaven; to deny me is to lose the fellowship of the holy angels, is to approach the confines of the sin which shall not be forgiven.” (3) The support assured for all testimony to him (vers. 11, 12). God is ever on the side of the true. Christ bids those who confess him dismiss anxiety when brought to “synagogues, magistrates, and powers.” They are never alone. Moses, the stammering, had his Aaron with him when he went in unto Pharaoh. A Mightier than Aaron is with the most timid and stammering of the confessors of the kingdom of God. “The Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say.”
Vers. 13–31.—Worldliness. To the earnest teacher nothing can be more irritating than a half-attentive attitude or a remark which indicates preoccupation of mind with other and inferior things. Think of Christ, towards the close of a day of controversy with the Pharisees, and in the midst of solemn speech as to the duty of a true man, invited on a sudden to decide in a family quarrel, to settle a dispute about some money or some acres of soil. We know nothing about the person who appealed to him (ver. 13)—“one out of the multitude.” But it is evident that, while the discourse proceeded, he had been engrossed with the consideration of his own rights and interests; like many who may be in the multitude thronging around Jesus, but are secretly busied with their own concerns—earth-grubs, intent only on getting all they can get from others for themselves. The abrupt reply (ver. 14) shows the displeasure of the Lord. It is a reply of reproof; it is a reply of instruction also. God has a great variety of spheres and ministries for men, and the Son of God will not contravene his Father’s ordering. The judge, the measurer, the arbiter as to property, is a Divine calling. Those who are entrusted with it are God’s servants. The State is no less sacred than the Church. Let each realize its own place, and each respect the other—the State looking to the Church as the expounder of the eternal principles, the Church looking to the State as charged with government and the settlement of the issues between man and man. “My kingdom,” says the Christ, “is not of this world.” The incident gives a new direction to the teaching of Jesus. It is a disclosure of the mind against which he must warn his followers. And then follows one of the most solemn and beautiful of expositions—that in which the Lord conveys his great lesson as to worldliness. Observe (1) the more public instruction between vers. 15 and 21; and (2) the more private instruction, specially addressed to the disciples, between vers. 21 and 32. The more public is the admonition concerning covetousness; the more private is the admonition concerning carefulness. The two types of the one spirit—worldliness.
I. The former instruction is enforced by a parable, by observing the point of which we discern THE MEANING WHICH CHRIST GIVES TO THE WORD “COVETOUSNESS,” AND THE PRINCIPLE IN RELATION TO IT WHICH HE LAYS DOWN. Notice, it is the most insinuating, therefore the most dangerous, form of the temptation which is presented. The ground (ver. 16) of a man already rich brings forth plentifully. There is no dishonesty charged; there is no financial finesse suggested; it is in the natural course of things. The money makes money, and good soil and good harvests aid. The covetousness is the greed of having rather than getting; it is manifest in the thought as to that which has been already got. The anxiety is to treasure up for self. Existing barns are insufficient (vers. 17, 18). What is to be done? There never enters the thought of any stewardship of the substance with which the man is enriched; never the feeling, “What I have God has given me. The labour of others, too, has helped me to acquire it. I am the custodian of so much of a commonwealth. God wills that I enjoy richly, but not that I keep all to myself. I enjoy in the measure in which the use of the gifts unites me to the will of him who is the Giver.” Bengel remarks, “Not a word of the poor in all his self-communion.” It is simply a hard, selfish “greater barns.” Covetousness is not the desire to enjoy so much as the desire to have. First, the having of a great store; then, not until then (ver. 19), “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” Very delicate is the Master’s touch. The happiness in the wealth is a thing future, and the future never comes. Do we not often see abundance going about with a load of care on its back—fear about losses, anxiety about investments, etc.? The wealthy are often prevented from getting the full good of their wealth. They are possessed by their money more than they are possessors of their money. “The increase serves not as water to quench, but as fuel to feed the fire; he that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver.” Christ is not condemning wealth or denouncing abundance of things. “The filling of the barns with plenty, and the bursting out of the vats with new wine,” is represented (Prov. 3:9, 10) as the blessing prepared for those who honour the Lord with their substance. What he condemns is the vice which specially threatens the rich—the tendency to identify the life with the possessions (ver. 15), to love the money, to hoard it, and regard it all as a treasure to be devoted to self. And truly the words of the Truth are most needful for our time.“The desire to accumulate is the source of all our greatness and of all our baseness.” The baseness begins when the barn, with its “much goods” is regarded as the soul’s portion; when that is the man’s main interest; and, looking on to some day when the pile will be complete, he says in himself, “Then eat, drink, and be merry.” Very striking the sentence (ver. 20) “God says, Thou fool!” Folly indeed! Thomas Adams quaintly says, “The competency of earthly things is a blessing; but what is this to abundance? Is not he as warm that goes in russet as another that rustles in silk? Has not the poor labourer as sound a sleep in his flock bed as the epicure on his down bed? Doth not quiet lie oftener in cottages than in glorious mansions? And, for a good appetite, we see the toiling servant feed savourly of one homely dish when his surfeited master looks loathingly on his far-fetched and dearly bought dainties. This gentleman envies the happiness of his poor hind, and would be content to change states with him on condition he might change stomachs. It is not the plenitude, but the competency of these things that affords even content; so that a man’s estate should be like his garment, rather fit than long.” Folly indeed! What stupidity to contemplate the many years!“This night thy soul shall be required.” Thy soul, thyself, without all the goods. “When I die, let my hands be outside my shroud,” said the emperor, “that all may see they are empty.” And what is to become of the “much goods”? Pass into the hands of others, possibly only to do them harm, neither the accumulator nor his kind made the better for all the gathering. “Fool, fool! this thou art, O man, who, without generosity of heart or liberality of hand, day by day scrapest the dust of earth to thy store, oblivious of the celestial crown above thy head, rich in man’s estimation, but (ver. 21) a pauper, a bankrupt, towards God.”
II. THE MORE GENERAL INSTRUCTION SOUNDS THE WARNING. “Take heed, and keep yourselves from all covetousness.”The more special and private instruction to the disciples is joined to the preceding parable by a “therefore” (ver. 22). It, too, is an admonition against worldliness. It presents that aspect of the worldly spirit which more immediately tempted the disciples of Jesus; it gives also the key-note for that higher life which, as those joined to the Lord, they are called to live. The two parts of the discourse illustrate the meaning of St. Paul’s saying as to “the new man created, after God, in righteousness and true holiness [or, ‘holiness of truth’]” (Eph. 4:24). The righteousness which is incumbent on all, from the very nature of their existence and their relation to God and men, is represented in the part already considered; “the holiness of truth”—that plus which is because of our place in the body of Christ, and our relation to him as the Head of the body—is represented in the beautiful words which are prefaced by the injunction, “Be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on.” With some variations, a part of the sermon from the mount is repeated (see homiletics on the sermon). One or two remarks will here suffice. 1. The life which marks the holiness of the new man created in Christ Jesus consists in a supreme preference (ver. 31). What distinguishes this life is that it has a “rather” or a “howbeit” at its heart. Its first concern is the kingdom of the Father; its second is (ver. 30) the things which the nations of the world seek after. “These things”—eating, drinking, clothing, etc., have their value. But the mind is not in search of them. They are not its good or portion. Its sympathies and craving are towards the eternally right and true. To realize that in self, and aid its fulfilment everywhere, is the highest aim and object of the being. The property of the soul rich towards God is, indeed, a vast property; but it has heights as well as lengths; it is the threefold estate—“all things are yours, and ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” The things which the nations of the world seek after are given into the bargain, so to speak, as far as they are necessities, to all who seek the Father’s kingdom. 2. For those in whom this life is formed, a rule is laid down (ver. 22), “Be not anxious as to these things.” The rendering of the Greek word in the Authorized Version might mislead. Christ himself has taught us to take thought for our life—to provide for the morrow. He bade his disciples gather up the fragments, that nothing might be lost. He had a bag, of which Judas was the bearer, from which things needful were purchased. It is a sign of the savage, not the civilized man, to live only for the present hour, wasting what he does not immediately consume. The teaching is that, living the true life, and preferring what is right to what is merely politic, we may reckon on God for the supply of all our need. As to eating and drinking, we will not ask the satiety of abundance, we will ask only sufficiency; and on this we may rely. He who feeds the ravens will not forget those who faithfully serve him (vers. 23, 30). We are to labour constantly and diligently whilst we have strength, to sow and reap, to “provide things honest;” for labour is God’s appointed means of feeding and clothing—as even the raven witnesses, which God feeds, but which yet is ever picking what it can find; as even the lily witnesses, which is faithful to the conditions of its growth. But we are to toil with a free heart, delivered from carking and worrying care, turning ever trustfully to the love of our Father in heaven. Matthew Henry puts it thus: “As in our stature, so in our state, it is our wisdom to take it as it is, and make the best of it; for fretting and vexing, carking and caring, will not mend it.” “Do not live in suspense; do not cherish the doubting, doubtful mind,” says the Lord to his followers. “Do not fear. A little flock you may seem; but the shepherding is perfect. Live generously, self-denyingly, self-sacrificingly (ver. 31). The purses which hold good deeds never wax old. The treasure bestowed on that which is out of sight is laid up in the heavens (ver. 33), and no thief can abstract it, and no moth can destroy it. Living in the unseen, in God’s kingdom of grace as its subjects, your heart (ver. 34) will settle towards its treasure; you will be prepared and fitted to be the princes of your Father’s kingdom of glory.”

Vers. 2, 3.—Hidden things. Our Lord’s affirmation implies that there is a great deal which has been long beneath the surface, and we naturally ask—Does God hide? And the answer is—Yes, truly, “thou art a God that hidest thyself.” He hides his own glory, that we may not be dazzled thereby; he bides the bliss of the beatified, that we may not be discontented thereby. Like as a father hides from his children many things which they will better learn a little later on, or had better make out for themselves, so God hides many things from us for the very same reasons. But he has so hidden treasures of truth and wisdom from us, that we have every possible inducement to search for them, and full capacity to find them.
I. THE PROVISION MADE FOR OUR TEMPORAL WELFARE. Did he not hide the coal, the copper, the iron, the lead, the silver, the gold, that we might discover, might raise, might refine, might shape them to our use? And the corn which he gives us to eat, the raiment to wear, the music to enjoy,—these are only to be had by searching, by inquiry, by study, by endeavour. The powers of steam, of electricity, were long hidden from the knowledge of mankind, but they, with the other secrets of the world, are being known.
II. HIS SAVING AND SANCTIFYING TRUTH. Paul speaks much of “the mystery hidden from the generations,” i.e. God’s great purpose to redeem, not a nation from political bondage, but the whole human race from spiritual servitude and degradation; his purpose to accomplish this by coming to the world in the Person of his Son Jesus Christ. This was hidden in Old Testament promises, and in the Law given by Moses; it was there, undiscovered by any but a few discerning souls; and it was “not revealed unto the sons Of men” until, enlightened by the Spirit of God, the apostles made known the riches of his grace. There are still some things in connection with Christian doctrine which may be said to be hidden, but which sooner or later will be revealed and known.
III. HUMAN CHARACTER AND HUMAN LIFE. There are depths of secrecy in these human hearts of ours. Evil thoughts may hide there unknown to any but to those that entertain them; nay, may lurk and work within the soul unsuspected even by that soul itself. For men are both better and worse than they know themselves to be. What purity and gentleness and self-sacrificing love may steal silently through life, and may pass and be forgotten! what deeds of truest heroism may be wrought which no pen records and no tongue recites! Yet the wrong shall be exposed, and the right be understood and honoured; human character shall be read in the light of truth; the guilty shall be humbled and the upright be exalted “in that day.” 1. Our duty. It is that of: (1) Exposure. Tear the mask from the hypocrite; let the covering be torn off the false man, the charlatan, the betrayer of the soul, with a firm and fearless hand; make him stand out before his fellows stripped of his pretences; make it true that “there is nothing covered,” etc. (2) Disclosure. Live to teach, to enlighten, to enlarge. Let the secret of health, of wisdom, of usefulness, be published on every hand. Tell all you can reach—the children in the school, the sick by the bedside, the loiterers by the wayside, the congregation in the cottage, or the hall, or the church—the secret of pure and lasting joy, of real and true success. 2. Our danger. Since God will cause the hidden things to be known, since he will “bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of all hearts,” since he “will judge the secrets of men,” well may the guilty shudder, well may we all ask—Who shall abide that solemn hour? But there is an alternative. “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin.” True penitence and genuine faith will secure for us such a covering that nothing shall be revealed. There is a Divine forgiveness which swallows up and hides for ever the wrong that we have done. 3. Our hope. “And then”—at that day—“shall every man have praise of God;” i.e. every man who is, in the true sense, praiseworthy; every man to whom Christ will be free to say, “I was hungry, and ye gave me meat; for inasmuch,” etc. He who does good “to be seen of men” has his reward now; his recompense is exhausted here. But he who works for Christ and for men in the spirit of his Master has not his reward now; he has only a foretaste of it. The best of it has yet to come. And it will come; for there is nothing hidden that shall not be revealed. Blessed is the quiet, humble life of unpretending goodness, which is like the silent spring that makes the meadows green; from such lives as these come deeds of loveliness and usefulness to be made mention of by the lips of the Lord himself, when the things that are covered now shall be revealed, and the things which man overlooks God will own and honour.—C.
Vers. 4, 5.—The power to hurt and bless. We are admonished of—
I. THE POWER WHICH MAN HAS TO HURT US. 1. He can wound our body. He can smite, can wound, can slay us. The sad story of human persecution contains only too many illustrations of this fact. 2. He can wound our spirit. This is a course he can, and still does very often take; he can mock, can sneer, can indulge in heartless ribaldry, can hold up our most sacred convictions to ridicule, and thus he can inflict on us a very deep wound. For words, though they may be the slightest, are yet the keenest of weapons, and “a wounded spirit who can bear?” 3. He can tempt us to evil. This is the worst thing he can do; he can make the evil suggestion, can give the perilous invitation, can make the guilty overture, which leads down to sin and to spiritual failure. There is no measure of pain he can inflict, or loss he can cause us to suffer, which equals in shamefulness this act of dark temptation. That is the deadly thing to do.
II. THE LIMITATION OF HIS POWER. Beyond these lines our worst enemies cannot go. 1. No man can follow us into the unseen realm. Beyond the veil we are safe from the questions of the inquisitor, the blows of the tyrant, the suggestions of the tempter. These may hunt us to very death, but “after that have no more that they can do.” Truly, if this life were the sum of our existence, that would be much indeed—it would be everything. But since we know that it is not so, but only its first short term, only its initial stage, only its brief introduction, we may console our hearts with the thought that it is no great harm that the strongest potentate, with the sharpest sword, can do us. 2. No man can compel us to sin. A sinful deed includes the consent of the agent; and all the forces of iniquity and error can never compel a true and brave soul to assent to an evil act. The only great harm that can be done us is that which we do ourselves when we “consent to sin” when men tempt us to sin,—after that there is no more that they can do; if more is done, if the line is crossed, it is of our own accord; the tempting is theirs, the sinning is ours.
III. THE ONLY ONE OF WHOM WE HAVE TO BE AFRAID. “Fear him,” etc.; i.e. shrink from the disfavour of that Divine Lord of the human spirit who can punish according to our desert. To shrink from the condemnation of God is not an unworthy act on our part. It is both right and wise; for his condemnation is that of the Righteous One, and of the Mighty One also. It is only the guilty that are lost to all sense of obligation, and the foolish that are dead to all sense of prudence, who will be indifferent to the anger of God. Fear God’s solemn displeasure, for if he rebukes it is certain that you are grievously in the wrong; fear it, for if he inflicts penalty there is none to deliver out of his hand, and, what is more, even death, that does deliver from the hand of man, is no shield from his power. Beyond the veil we are as much within his reach as we are on this side of it. There is every reason why we should seek and find his Divine favour, and live in the light of his countenance. We may go on in our thought, and be reminded by our Lord’s words of—
IV. THE ONE WHOSE FRIENDSHIP WE SHOULD SEEK. “I say unto you, my friends.” We do not simply want to escape the wrath of an offended Judge; we aspire to his favour and his love. Jesus Christ is offering us his friendship (see John 15:14, 15). If we will cordially accept him for all that he desires to be to us, we shall find in him the Friend in whom we shall implicitly confide, whom we shall gladly and happily love, by whose side and in the shelter of whose guardian care we shall walk all the way till the gates of home are reached.—C.
Vers. 8, 9.—Confessing Christ. From these solemn words we gather—
I. THAT CHRISTIANITY CENTRES IN THE PERSON OF JESUS CHRIST. Our Lord taught us much concerning ourselves—the inestimable value of our spiritual nature; the real source and spring of evil in our own souls; the true excellency of a human life; whom we should regard as our neighbour, etc. But he taught us still more of himself—of his relations with the Divine Father; of his essential superiority even to the greatest among mankind; of his sorrow and his death on behalf of the human race; of his mission to enlighten, to redeem, to satisfy the souls of men. And he not only affirmed, but frequently and emphatically urged, the doctrine that, if we would enter into life, we must come into the very closest personal relation with himself—trusting in him, loving him, abiding in him, following him, making him Refuge of the heart, Sovereign of the soul, Lord of the life. Not his truth, but himself, is the Source of our strength and our hope.
II. THAT JESUS CHRIST DEMANDS AN OPEN CONFESSION OF OUR FAITH IN HIM. More than once (see Mark 8:38) he insisted upon a clear recognition of his authority and regal position. He will have us “confess him before men.” How shall we do that? 1. In a heathen country, by avowing the Christian faith, renouncing Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, etc., and declaring before all that Jesus Christ is the one Teacher of truth and Lord of man. 2. In a Christian country, by making it clear that we have accepted him as the Lord whom we are living to serve. We shall probably think it right to do this by attaching ourselves to some particular Christian community; also by regular, public worship of Christ; but certainly, in all cases, (1) by paying honour to his Name; (2) by upholding against his enemies the truth and worth of his religion; (3) by translating his will into active human life in all its departments—domestic, social, commercial, political, ecclesiastical.
III. THAT COMPLIANCE WITH HIS DEMAND WILL SOON PROVE TO BE AN ACT OF THE FIRST IMPORTANCE. The day draws on when we shall meet our Master: then will he tell us what he thinks of us. Then, if we have failed to honour him, he will refuse to honour us “before the angels of God.” What is involved in that denial? The worst of all exclusions—exclusion from the favour, from the home, of God. And then, if we have honoured him, he will acknowledge us as his own. And what will that include? 1. Acceptance with the Judge of all. 2. The expression of his Divine approval—the “well done” of the Lord. 3. Admission to the heavenly kingdom, with all its advancing glory, its deepening joy, its extending influence, its enlarging life.—C.
Ver. 15.—A man’s life. What is the worth of a man’s life? Clearly that does not depend merely on duration. For while to the insect the term of seventy years would seem a most noble expanse, on the other hand, compared with the age of a mountain or the duration of a star, it is an insignificant span. The truth is that the value of human life depends on what is done within its boundaries. Here quality is of the chief account. To the insensible stone all the ages are as nothing; to the dormant animal time is of no measurable value. To a thinking, sensitive spirit, with a great capacity for joy and sorrow, one half-hour may hold an inestimable measure of blessedness or of woe. There are three things it may include; we take them in the order of value, beginning at the least.
I. HAVING WHAT IS GOOD. “The things which a man possesseth” are of value to him. “Money is a defence,” and it is also an acquisition, for it stands for all those necessaries and comforts, all those physical, social and intellectual advantages which it will buy. But it is a miserable delusion—a delusion which has slain the peace and prospects of many a thousand souls—that the one way to secure the excellency of life is to gain amplitude of material resources. 1. Muchness of money does not even ensure human happiness. The wealth that lives in fine houses and sits down to sumptuous tables and moves in “good circles” is very often indeed carrying with it a heavy heart, a burdened spirit, an unsatisfied soul. This is not the imagination of envy; it is the confession of sorrowful experience, uttered by many voices, witnessed by many lives. 2. Muchness of money does not constitute the excellency of human life. In a country where “business” means as much as it does in England, we are under a strong temptation to think that to have grown very rich is, by so doing, to have succeeded. That is a part of some men’s success; but it does not constitute success in any man’s life. A man may be enormously rich, and yet he may be an utter and pitiable failure. “In every society, and especially in a country like our own, there are those who derive their chief characteristics from what they have; who are always spoken of in terms of revenue, and of whom you would not be likely to think much but for the large account that stands in the ledger in their name.… So completely do they paint the idea of their life on the imagination of all who knew them, that, when they die, it is the fate of the money, not of the man, of which we are apt to think. Having put vast prizes in the funds, but only unprofitable blanks in our affections, they leave behind nothing but their property, or, as it is expressly termed, their effects. Their human personality hangs as a mere label upon a mass of treasure” (Dr. Martineau). A man’s life should rise higher than that.
II. DOING WHAT IS JUST AND KIND. Far better is it to do the just and kind action than to have that which is pleasant and desirable. Life rises into real worth when it is spent in honourable and fruitful action. In sustaining right and useful relationships in the great world of business, carrying out our work on principles of righteousness and equity; in ruling the home firmly and kindly; in espousing the cause of the weak, the ignorant, the perishing; in striking some blows for national integrity and advancement—in such a healthful, honourable, elevating action as this “a man’s life” is found. But this, in its turn, must rest on—
III. BEING WHAT IS RIGHT. For “out of the heart are the issues of life.” Men may do a large number of good things, and yet be “nothing” in the sight of heavenly wisdom (see 1 Cor. 13:1–3). The one true mainspring of a worthy human life is “the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” To love God, and therefore to love all that is good; to love God, and therefore to interest ourselves in and try to help all those who are so nearly related to him; to love God, and therefore to be moving on and up in an ever-ascending line toward Divine wisdom and worth;—this is the one victorious and successful thing. Without this, “a man’s life” is a defeat and a failure, hold what it may; with it, it has the beginnings of a true success-it is already, and will be more than it now is, eternal life.—C.
Ver. 20.—Sudden death. The parable which Jesus Christ delivered in rebuke of covetousness puts in striking and even startling form the facts on which God’s providence requires us to look. For we know—
I. THAT SUDDEN DEATH IS AN EVENT WHICH MAY OCCUR TO ANY ONE OF US. Human science has done much for us; and much in the direction of preserving and prolonging life. It has given to us a considerable knowledge of disease, and therefore an increased sense of danger. But it has not materially diminished the fact of a sudden and unan ticipated end of our mortal life. It is probable that with the advance of civilization and the growing intricacies, complications, and obligations of human life, diseases of the heart have increased, and it is quite open to doubt whether sudden death is less frequent than it was. Certainly it is an ordinary rather than an extraordinary event. It is probable that these two words will be found at the head of at least one paragraph in any newspaper we may chance to be reading. Little as we realize it, it is a stern fact that it is quite possible that any man, enjoying the most robust health and in the midst of the most pressing and weighty duties, may be dead within the day on which we speak to him; that to this possibility there is absolutely no exception. Just now life may be to us and to those related to us of the greatest value; there may be a thousand reasons why, as it seems to us and to them, our life should be spared; and yet it may be of us that the word is passed in that realm where there is none to hinder, “This night thy soul shall be required of thee.” It may be very trite, but it is most seriously true, that sudden death may come to any one of us.
II. THAT SOME SUDDENNESS IN DEATH IS AN EXPERIENCE WE ARE ALL LIKELY TO SHARE. Few remarks are more often made than that death was “sudden at the last.” Even the sick man thinks that he will live; that there are months, or at least weeks, before him. They who are clearly and even loudly admonished, either by serious illness or by advanced age, that their end is drawing on will think and talk of the days that are coming, of the things they will accomplish. It is usually with a start of surprise that the patient learns from his attendant that he must die. Such is our human nature that, even when death comes gradually and kindly, the Master’s words are applicable: “In such an hour as ye think not, the Son of man cometh.”
III. THAT AMIDST HUMAN UNCERTAINTIES WE MAY HOLD FAST SOME DIVINE AND EVER-LIVING TRUTHS. 1. That it matters little whether our life be long or short, if only it be given to the service of Christ. Our Lord died a young man, and the term of his active public life is counted by months rather than by years; but what did he achieve! 2. That temporal success is not the true or the wise aim to set before the soul. There are far higher things we can do, and therefore should do; besides, our material achievements and possessions may be taken from our grasp at any hour. 3. That the right and wise course to take is to be ready for death whenever it may come. Readiness for death will secure us a true peace when the hour of trial arrives; it will also give us calmness of spirit, and therefore capacity for service and for pure enjoyment in the midst of life.—C.
Ver. 21.—“Rich toward God.” Jesus Christ is here drawing a contrast between the inward and the abiding on the one hand, and the outward and the perishing on the other hand. When he disparages the act of “laying up treasure for ourselves,” he does not mean to say either (1) that material wealth is not of God, for it is he who gives us “power to get wealth” (Deut. 8:18); or (2) that the spiritual treasure a man secures is not “for himself,”—indeed, that is the only treasure he can make permanently his own; he that is wise is wise for himself (Prov. 9:12), and he has “rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.” But Christ would have us regard material acquisitions as of very small account indeed in comparison with the enrichment of the soul in God, with spiritual wealth. To be rich toward God may include—
I. A WEALTH OF RIGHT FEELING TOWARD GOD. There are certain thoughts and feelings which every intelligent being ought to cherish toward his Creator, in the absence of which he himself is poor, and in the presence of which he is rich. The more we have in our hearts of reverence for God; of trust in his Word of promise; of gratitude for his goodness and faithfulness; of love for him, our Father and our Saviour; of filial submission to his holy will; of consecration to his cause and interest in the advancement of his kingdom,—the more “rich we are toward” him.
II. WEALTH IN QUALITIES WHICH ARE DIVINE, or being rich in the direction in which God himself is rich. We cannot, indeed, hope to be rich in some of his attributes—in majesty, in power, in wisdom. But there are qualities in him in which we may have a real and a valuable share. As God is rich in righteousness, in truth and faithfulness, in goodness and kindness, in mercy and magnanimity, so may we hope, and so should we strive and pray, that we may be “partakers of the Divine nature” in these things also. Illumined by his truth, guided by his example, and inspired by his Spirit, we may have a goodly share in these great and noble qualities.
III. WEALTH IN GOD HIMSELF; in the enjoyment of his Divine favour and friendship; in the indwelling of his Holy Spirit in our souls, being thus enriched with his abiding presence and his gracious influence; in the enlarging and elevating contemplation of his character and worship of himself. 1. Have we any treasure at all in God? As the Church at Laodicea imagined itself to be spiritually rich when it was miserably poor (Rev. 3:17), so may any Christian society of our own time; so may any individual member of a Church of Christ. If, in a searching and devout examination, we find that we are poor, there is nothing for us but to go to Jesus Christ anew, in humblest penitence and simplest faith and whole-hearted surrender. 2. Are we rich toward God? There are many degrees between beggary and wealth. We may not be absolutely destitute, and yet we may be far from rich toward God. We should aspire to “abound,” to “be enlarged,” to have a good measure of those qualities which constitute spiritual wealth. We must “buy of Christ” (Rev. 3:18), that we “may be rich;” we must abide in him, and so “bring forth much fruit” (John 15:5). 3. If we are rich toward God we may thankfully rejoice. The man who is “laying up treasure for himself” may be essentially and radically poor; he may be securing that which will give him no happiness, but only be a burden and a bane to him; he must part with it all soon. But he who is “rich toward God” has that which is wealth indeed; has a treasure which will gladden his heart and brighten his life; has a joy and an inheritance which are his for ever.—C.
Vers. 22–30.—Anxiety or trustfulness? We read of “care-encumbered men;” and truly we see more than we could wish of them. As we look into the faces of those we meet daily, we are saddened with the thought that a great weight of care rests on our race as a heavy burden. And when we see, as we do, a few faces that wear the look of a sweet serenity born of holy trust in God, we ask-Is it necessary that such an oppressive burden should be borne by the children of men? Jesus Christ answers this question in the negative. He says that anxiety is quite needless to the children of God; he says, “Trust and rest; believe in God, and be at peace; recognize the power and the love of your heavenly Father, and do not be ‘greatly moved’ by temporal necessities.” And he reasons with us on the subject; he desires to prove to us the needlessness of anxiety in the presence of such a God and Father as is he whom we worship. He argues this—
I. FROM GOD’S GREATER KINDNESS TO OURSELVES. (Ver. 23.) Any one of our friends who would do us a very great kindness would certainly be prepared to render us a very small favour. To one who has done us a valuable service we should look with perfect confidence to do some slight office for us. The love which is equal to the one will be more than equal to the other. Now, God has given us life, and has been sustaining us in being by his constant visitation; he has given us our wonderfully constituted body, and he has been preserving it in health and strength for years. Will he who has conferred these great boons upon us withhold from us blessings so simple and so slight as food and raiment? “Is not the life more than meat [food], and the body than raiment?” Will he who grants the greater refuse the less?
II. FROM GOD’S CARE OF THINGS THAT ARE OF LESS ACCOUNT THAN WE ARE. (Vers. 24, 27, 28.) “Consider the ravens”—birds of the air, creatures that are interesting in their degree, but unintelligent, unaccountable, perishable: God feeds them. “Consider the lilies, how they grow;” they do nothing for their clothing; and not only are they unintelligent and irresponsible like the birds, but they are unconscious, insentient things; yet they are exquisitely fair: God clothes them. If he takes thought for such creatures and for such things as these; if he concerns himself with that which is so much lower in the scale than are we, his own beloved children, created in his image and formed to share his own immortality, how certain it is that he will provide for us! The Divine wisdom that expends so much upon the lower will not neglect the higher.
III. THE COMPLETENESS OF OUR DEPENDENCE ON GOD. (Ver. 25.) So completely are we in the hands of our Creator that we cannot, by any amount of thinking, “add one cubit to our stature.” Do what we may, try what we can, we are still absolutely dependent on God. It rests with him to decide what shall be the length of our days, what shadow or sunshine shall fall on our path, whether our cup shall be sweet or bitter. We are in his Divine hands; let us be his servants; let us ask his guidance and blessing; and then let us trust ourselves to his power and his love. And this the more that we should remember—
IV. THE UNWORTHINESS OF GREAT CONCERN FOR SUCH TEMPORALITIES. To be greatly troubled about what we shall eat, or what we shall wear, or in what house we shall live,—this is pagan, but it is not Christian; leave that to “the nations of the world” (ver. 30).
V. THE RELATION IN WHICH GOD STANDS TO US. (Ver. 30.) This is that of an all wise Father. “Our Father knows.” We are in the power of One who is perfectly acquainted with our circumstances and with ourselves; he will not deny us anything we need because he is ignorant of our necessity; he will not give us anything that would be hurtful, for his fatherly love will constrain him to withhold it. We are immeasurably safer in his hands than we should be in those of the kindest of our human friends, or than we should be if it rested with our own will to shape our path, to fill our cup.—C.
Ver. 31.—Service and sufficiency. It has been much debated whether God should be represented as the Sovereign or the Father of mankind. It has been but a foolish strife; it has been another case in which both disputants have been right and both wrong. God is the Sovereign of the world, and a great deal more than that; God is the Father of men, and a great deal beside. He is a royal Father, or a fatherly King. The Lord’s Prayer might have taught us this: “Our Father … thy kingdom come.” God is to us all and much more than all both these human relationships represent, only that one presents him in one aspect and the other in another. Here Christ invites us to think of him as a Sovereign; and we look at—
I. THE KINGDOM OF GOD, of which we may become citizens. “Seek ye [the citizenship of] the kingdom of God.” Jesus Christ launched a perfectly new idea when he spoke of this kingdom. In his mind that was nothing less than a universal spiritual empire; a kingdom of peace, righteousness, and joy, wide as the world and lasting as time; a kingdom to be established without forming a regiment, or shaping a sword, or fashioning a crown; a kingdom of God, in which all men of every land and tongue should own him as their rightful Sovereign, should cheerfully obey his righteous laws, should dwell together in holiness and in love.
II. THE ALLEGIANCE WHICH IS OUR SACRED DUTY. Christ summons us to citizenship. He says imperatively, “Seek ye the kingdom;” and he bids us seek entrance into it “rather” than pursue any earthly objects, rather than be anxiously concerning ourselves about temporal supplies. He indicates that this is something which has the first claim on our thought and on our endeavour. And so, indeed, it has. For God is that King (1) without the exercise of whose sovereign power there would be no other kingdom, no subjects, no liberties, no riches, no honours, in fact, no being; (2) to be disloyal to whom is the lowest depth of ingratitude, is the deliberate abandonment of the most bounden duty, the guilty severance of the most sacred tie. Being what he is to all men, and having done what he has wrought for all men, he rightly demands of us, through Jesus Christ, our fealty, our loyal service. To respond to this summons of the Saviour and to become citizens of the kingdom of God, we must offer him something more than the honour of the bended knee, or the tribute of the acclaiming voice, or the service of the dutiful hand; we must bring the homage of the reverent spirit, the affection of the loving heart, the submission of the acquiescent will. And out of this inward and spiritual loyalty will proceed the praises of the tongue and the obedience of the life. Seeking the kingdom means a real returning of soul unto God and a consequent devoting of the rest of our life to his service.
III. CHRIST’S PROMISE OF SUFFICIENCY to all loyal subjects. “All these things shall be added unto you.” It is well for the world that there is not attached to the service of Christ any very valuable and attractive treasures which are of this earth. If there were, we should have the Church choked with insincere and worldly minded members, paying as little devotion as they thought necessary for as much enjoyment and prosperity as they could reap. Christ has mercifully saved us from this calamity; but he has not found it needful to leave us without a provision for our need. 1. He has made present happiness an attendant upon virtue, and virtue is an appanage of piety. 2. But he has given us a promise and a pledge in our text. He assures to those who enter his holy kingdom not, indeed, luxury, not a large measure of prosperity and enjoyment on an earthly ground, but sufficiency. They who yield themselves to him and who live in his service may be well assured that they will want “no good thing;” nothing that would really make for their well-being will he withhold. All resources are at his disposal and he will see that his children are supplied. (1) Let none be kept out of the kingdom because they dread social or pecuniary evils; God will shield and save them. (2) Let none who are in the kingdom despond, though circumstances are against them; at the right moment God will appear on their behalf; “goodness and mercy will follow them all the days of their life,” and attend them right up to the gates of the heavenly city.—C.
Vers. 35–40.—Death a Divine visitation. To us the coming of the Son of man means the hour of death; that is the practical view and therefore the wise view of the subject And we may well regard our departure from this world as a coming of God to us.
I. DEATH AS A DIVINE VISITATION. 1. At death God comes to us all in judgment. Death is the appointed penalty of sin. It is true that the burden of that penalty is spiritual rather than material, and that God grants us a kind reprieve before he executes it; but still, in conformity with it, the accidents of death have to occur to us; that ancient sentence has to be fulfilled; the shadows of the last hour must fall around us; and whenever and however that may happen, with whatever mitigations, God will come to us then in solemn penalty, saying, “My child, thou hast sinned, and thou must die.” 2. At death God comes to us in providence. (1) God has given to us a perishable frame, one that is only constructed to last for a term of years, that after a certain point begins to waste and wane. (2) He suffers, if he does not send, the special circumstances which lead up to death; at the least, he withholds the interposing act or suggestion which would prolong the life that is taken. Man never “goes to his long home” but we may say, “Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men.” On each such occasion the Son of man comes and says, “Put off thy tabernacle, and come within the veil.” 3. At death Christ comes to us in sacred summons. In life God’s voice should be daily heard saying, “Put out those powers; use those opportunities; cultivate that spiritual nature I have entrusted to thee; serve thy brethren; glorify my Name.” But at death Christ comes to us and summons us to his presence; then we hear him say, “Give account of thy stewardship;” “Reap what thou hast sown.”
II. READINESS FOR DEATH A PART OF HUMAN WISDOM. “Let your loins be girded about … be like men that wait for their Lord … the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not.” 1. It is true that there is usually less suddenness than there seems in cases of sudden death; on inquiry, it is nearly always found that there were premonitory signs of danger, kindly warnings from the Author of our nature, that the end was not far off. 2. But it is also and equally true that death is unexpected when it does arrive. (1) So do we cling to life, that we are not willing to acknowledge concerning ourselves the fact which is obvious to every one else respecting us. (2) It is our mental habit to expect continuance where we ought to look for severance and cessation. The oftener we have crossed the decaying and breaking bridge, the more confidently we do cross it, though we know well that it is nearer than ever to its fall. We may be almost sure that, in whatever form and at whatever hour the Son of man comes to us, we shall be surprised at his appearance. 3. It will be a terrible thing to be unready; to have to do, if we can, in a few brief hours that for which a long life is not a day too long. 4. It will be a blessed thing to be ready for this vision of our Lord; not merely, nor chiefly, because we shall thus be enabled to cross, with calm hopefulness, into the other country, but because we shall then be ready for those high services and celestial honours which our gracious and generous Master intends to confer upon us (ver. 37).—C.
Vers. 49, 50.—Spiritual strenuousness. Our Lord’s life deepened and enlarged as it proceeded, like a great and fertilizing river. And as conflict became more frequent and severe, and as the last scenes drew on, his own feeling was quickened, his spirit was aflame with a more ardent and intense emotion. We look at the subject of spiritual strenuousness—
I. IN VIEW OF OUR LORD’S PERSONAL EXPERIENCE. In these two verses we find him passing through some moments of very intense feeling; he was powerfully affected by two considerations. 1. A compassionate desire on behalf of the world. He came to the world to kindle a great fire which should be a light to illumine, a heat to cleanse, a flame to consume. Such would be the Divine truth of which he came to be the Author, especially as it was made operative by the Divine Spirit whose coming should be so intimately associated with and should immediately follow his life-work (see ch. 3:16; Acts 2:3). As he looked upon the gross and sad darkness which that light was so much needed to dissipate, upon the errors that heat was so much required to purify, upon the corruption that flame was so essential to extinguish, his holy and loving spirit yearned with a profound and vehement desire for the hour to come when these heavenly forces should be prepared and be freed to do their sacred and blessed work. 2. A human longing to pass through the trial that awaited him. “But”—there was not only an interval of time to elapse, there was a period of solemn struggle to be gone through, before that fire would be kindled. There was a baptism of sorrow and of conflict for himself to undergo, and how was he “straitened” in spirit until that was accomplished! Here was the feeling of a son of man, but it was the feeling of the noblest of the children of men. He did not desire that it should be postponed; he longed for it to come that it might be passed through, that the battle might be fought, that the anguish might be borne. Truly this is none other than a holy human spirit with whom we have to do; one like unto ourselves, in the depth of whose nature were these very hopes and fears, these same longings and yearnings which, in the face of a dread future, stir our own souls with strongest agitations. How solemn, how great, how fearful, must that future have been which so profoundly and powerfully affected his calm and reverent spirit!
II. IN VIEW OF OUR OWN SPIRITUAL STRUGGLES. We cannot do anything of very great account unless we know something of that spiritual strenuousness of which our Lord knew so much. 1. We should show this in our concern for the condition of the world. How much are we affected by the savagery, by the barbarism, by the idolatry, by the vice, by the godlessness, by the selfishness, which prevail on the right hand and on the left? How eagerly and earnestly do we desire that the enlightenment and the purification of Christian truth should be carried into the midst of it? Does our desire rise to a holy, Christ-like ardour? Does it manifest itself in becoming generosity, in appropriate service and sacrifice? 2. We may show this in our anxiety to pass through the trial-hour that awaits us. Whether it be the hour of approaching service, or sorrow, or persecution, or death, we may, like our Master, be straitened until it be come and gone. Let us see that, like him, we (1) await it in calm trustfulness of spirit; and (2) prepare for it by faithful witness and close communion with God in the hours that lead up to it.—C.
Ver. 57.—Individual responsibility. “Why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?” Those to whom our Lord was speaking were men of intelligence, education, religious privilege. They exercised their mental faculties with great keenness on some subjects (vers. 54, 55): why could they not recognize the supreme fact of their time, viz. that the Messiah was before them (ver. 56)? why did they not employ their powers to discern between the false and the true, between the evil and the good?
I. THAT WE MAY NOT DEVOLVE OUR ACCOUNTABILITY FOR HOLDING THE TRUTH on anyone or any body of men. It has not been merely “the right of private judgment” which has been in question, which some have striven so hard to withhold, and which others have suffered so much to obtain or to preserve. It has been the sacred duty of determining for ourselves what is the mind and the will of God, the solemn obligation to put into use the talents he has committed to our care. We are to discharge this duty under all circumstances and whoever may propose to relieve us of it. We may not delegate it: 1. To the State. The State may prescribe Islamism in one region, Confucianism in another, Catholicism in a third; but we are not at liberty to make our religious creed depend on the latitude and longitude where we reside. 2. To the Church; or Jesus Christ himself would have been criminal, for he entirely disregarded the decision of the “council,” and the Christian Church has, in its collective capacity, spoken differently in different times and places. 3. To society; that is frequently at fault. 4. To the parent. For a time this is necessary, right, becoming, praiseworthy; but the time comes when the son must no longer shield himself behind his filial obedience, he must think and must decide for himself. If we are possessed of ordinary human powers and privileges we must “of ourselves judge what is right.” It is a solemn burden, a sacred duty, which our Creator has laid on each human spirit he has called into being.
II. THAT GOD HAS GIFTED US WITH A SPIRITUAL NATURE for this very purpose. He has endowed us with reason, or with that faculty which intuitively perceives the great and deep truths which are presented to it; with conscience, the faculty which commends and condemns, filling with inward joy or inward pain; with judgment, the faculty that compares and concludes, and arrives at just decisions as to the thing that should be done, the way that should be taken. It is, indeed, only too true that a long course of sin will warp and degrade this spiritual nature of ours; but where there is as much enlightenment as the Jews of our Lord’s time had, and as we ourselves possess, we ought to be able by its means “to judge what is right.”
III. THAT THE HEALTHFUL ACTION OF OUR SPIRITUAL NATURE IS ONE LARGE PART OF OUR PROBATION. If “the light that is in us be darkness,” if our conscience is misdirecting us, it is because we have been wrong, it is because we have not heen true to ourselves. Sin has weakened or even distorted our faculty of spiritual discernment. But if we are true to ourselves, if we (1) honestly seek to know what the will of God is concerning ourselves and others; (2) faithfully endeavour to do what we believe to be his will; (3) earnestly ask for Divine guidance in our pursuit of wisdom;—we shall be “led into the truth.” We may not see everything in the light in which other true-hearted people see it, but we shall recognize those great leading truths which bring us into right relation to God, which constrain us to take a right attitude toward our brethren, which light up our earthly path and conduct us to our home. 1. We may not refuse our responsibility under any plea, not even that of humility. It would be pleasant to say, “We will leave to others who can do it better the work of deciding what is true, which message is from God, which path leads heavenwards.” But we may not say this without declining the sacred duty our heavenly Father devolves on each one of his children. 2. Accepting our post as truth-seekers, we must do our work conscientiously, thoroughly, without prejudice. 3. We may be sure that Christ will grant us all the Divine aid we need if we honestly endeavour and devoutly pray.—C.
Vers. 58, 59.—The inexorable. From the lips of such a parabolic teacher as Jesus Christ we expect to have some striking illustration of a general principle, our duty being to detect that principle and to make our own practical applications of it. Here the great Teacher adduces an illustration drawn from the legal practice of his time; the general truth underlying it is evidently this—that law is a rigorous thing, a broken law a terribly exacting thing; that, if we are in any danger of coming under its power, we should refrain from so doing with the greatest carefulness; that, if we do not act thus prudently, we must be prepared to pay a very heavy penalty a little way on. The principle applies to—
I. A BREACH OF THE LAW OF PEACE. We are here in this world to sustain toward one another interesting and important relationships. It is the will of God that, in all of these, we should be actuated by the spirit and be ruled by the law of love, of kindness, of charity, of peace. But in this world of sin the Divine Law is continually broken, and the broken Law exacts a terrible penalty What wretched homes it makes! what lamentable feuds in families! what miserable ruptures of friendship! what deplorable contentions even in Christian Churches! what social dissensions! what national and international strife! The violated law of love exacts “the uttermost farthing” from those who break it. Christ’s word of wisdom is this—Look to it at once; do not lose a day; fill up that little crack; tear up that small root; let everything, even devotion itself (Matt. 5:24), give place to the sacred work of reconciliation; do your best, your quickest, your utmost, to heal the breach before it widens into a gulf, or the slight difference, the small suspicion, the trivial offence will grow and deepen, and hearts that once were the home of trust and love will become the haunts of doubt and enmity. Therefore agree with thine adversary quickly. The same principle applies to—
II. A BREACH OF THE LAW OF VIRTUE. We owe it to ourselves to be temperate, truthful, pure, industrious; we owe it to others to be just, fair, kind, considerate; we are under law to be all this—the sacred Law of God. This Law we break, and it becomes our “adversary;” it arraigns us as its debtors, and it makes us play the penalty that is due. And what a penalty! In the body—disease, pain, weakness, shattered nerves, death; in circumstances—loss, poverty, beggary; in reputation-humiliation and disgrace; in heart—compunction, agony of soul; in character—deterioration, baseness, ruin. Christ says, “Beware of the first step; if tempted to violate any law of virtue of any kind, consider what you will have to pay a little further on; think how that broken law will rise against you and condemn you, and you will not escape until the last farthing has been paid.” If there should be any breach, however minute it may be, hasten to repair it.
III. A BREACH OF THE LAW OF PRIVILEGE. Privilege and peril, opportunity and obligation go together, like substance and shadow; they cannot be dissociated. From those to whom much is given will much be required (see vers. 47, 48). It is a constant law, and its violation will be rigorously attended with penalty. If we neglect our privilege, if we abuse our opportunity, we must expect “many stripes,” the uttermost farthing of condemnation and retribution. We are the firstborn children of privilege; ours is the dispensation, the period, the land, the home of privilege. Ill will it fare with us if we pass on to the last tribunal and stand before the great Judge, not having repaired this breach, not having sought and found forgiveness for this great transgression.—C.
Vers. 1–12.—A call to courage. The commotion between the scribes and Pharisees and our Lord seems to have increased his audiences, as we find “an innumerable multitude,” as the Authorized Version has it, or “the many thousands of the multitude,” as the Revised has it, treading on one another in eagerness to hear him. And his subject at this time is important—a denunciation of Pharisaic hypocrisy and a call to courage under their certain opposition. And here we have to notice—
I. THE CURE FOR HYPOCRISY. (Vers. 1–3.) Our Lord brings this out in a distinct revelation that everything is yet to be dragged into the light of day. These are his words: “There is nothing covered [‘covered up,’ Revised Version], that shall not be revealed; neither hid, that shall not be known.” There is nothing in nature which would lead us to such a wonderful truth; it is a matter of distinct revelation. Everything, it appears, is constructed on the public principle. We are all living public lives if we only knew it. All attempts at secrecy are destined to prove failures; consequently, hypocrisy is a mistake. It can impose only for a time; sooner or later it will be exposed and despised. Hence our Lord recommends the people to speak, if they have to do so, in the darkness only what they are willing should be heard in the light, and to whisper in closets only such things as may be proclaimed on the housetops. By God’s arrangement secrecy is impossible, and publicity the inevitable destiny of all and of everything. It is consequently this persuasion of ultimate publicity which constitutes the Divine remedy for hypocrisy. All hypocrisy proceeds from forgetfulness or disbelief of this.
II. THE EXPULSIVE POWER OF GODLY FEAR. (Vers. 4, 5.) Our Lord wishes to guard the people from the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy, and also from cowardly fear of Pharisaic opposition. Accordingly, he points out that the Pharisees could at the very most kill the body; they have, after that, “no more that they can do.” But there is another One who can cast into “Gehenna” after he hath killed, and him they should fear. We discard the idea suggested by Stier and others that this is the devil; especially as courage is not likely to be created by substituting, for fear of diabolical men, the fear of the devil himself. This would be a poor basis for the martyr-spirit. We believe that the fear of man is to be expelled and supplanted by the fear of God, who can consign the soul to Gehenna after death. And our Lord shows here that the fear of God begins in dread of his infinite power. No soul, we suppose, ever turns to God without passing through this stage, however brief may be the sojourn in it. God’s vaster power makes the hostile power of mere men appear trifling, and we wisely resolve to have men for our enemies rather than God. But once this sense of God’s great power has overcome our craven fear of man, we begin to realize that we may have all his power on our side. He will pardon us and take us under his protection, and enable us to fear no evil. Godly fear, consequently, gets modified in our experience, and passes from slavish fear and dread into reverential and filial fear of God as an almighty Father.
III. GOD’S MICROSCOPIC AND PRESENT PROVIDENCE. (Vers. 6, 7.) The sparrows may be cheap in man’s estimation—five for two farthings—but “not one of them is forgotten before God.” He caters for them. His providence is minute enough to take them under his wings. Men ought, therefore, to take courage from the assurance that, in God’s sight, they “are of more value than many sparrows.” And God’s oversight is so microscopic that he counts the very hairs of our head. Hence the contest with their Pharisaic and worldly foes is to be conducted under the sweet assurance that greater is he who is for them than all who are against them, and that his care is so minute as to extend to the numbering of the hairs of their head. A great Being on our side, so minute and careful in his interest, is fit to inspire with dauntless courage every one who realizes his presence by faith and trusts him.
IV. THE IMPORTANCE OF CONFESSING CHRIST. (Vers. 8, 9.) Our Lord further shows how important it is to confess him; but in the other life there is to be another confession—the confession before the angels of the courageous souls who have confessed Christ here. On the other hand, there is to be a denial of the cowards who denied Christ here. Out of the publicity of the future life, therefore, our Lord draws such considerations as are fitted to rally souls around him in courageous confession. And there can be no doubt that this great publicity which our Lord locates in the future life is a fountain-head of courage for souls struggling with opposition. The highest type of courage can undoubtedly be produced through the doctrine of a future life with its rewards and punishments.
V. THE DANGER OF BLASPHEMY AGAINST THE HOLY GHOST. (Ver. 10.) The introduction of the Holy Ghost in connection with the Pharisaic opposition seems to have been suggested in this way: the Pharisees, not content with libelling and defaming Christ, professed to trace his power over demons to its source. This, they asserted, was not the Holy Ghost, but Beelzebub within him. That is to say, they attributed spiritual results to a diabolic origin. In this way they blasphemed the Holy Ghost. Now, our Lord, in his meekness and lowliness of mind, declares that there is forgiveness for unfair words against him, but warns those who are misinterpreting the Spirit’s work, that blasphemy against him if continued cannot be forgiven. Now, this subject of the unpardonable sin has given rise to much discussion, but, perhaps, the best view is that adopted by such men as Stier, Tholuck, Olshausen, Hahn, Julius Muller, and Hoffmann—“an internal state of the highest sinfulness which cannot be changed, and shows itself in speech or action, resisting or deliberately setting the soul against the influences of the Holy Ghost.” Its practical value is immense. It should lead every thoughtful soul to guard against all trifling with or grieving of the good Spirit whose agency within us alone secures the victory over evil. The Pharisees were treading on the confines of the terrible sin in their denunciation of Christ, and the multitude Christ was addressing and all who have the offer of spiritual help should guard against all offence offered to the all-important Spirit.
VI. THE INSPIRATIONS TO BE EXPECTED FROM THE GOOD SPIRIT. (Vers. 11, 12.) The calumniated Spirit would sustain the confessors of Christ before their enemies, so that all the tried men had got to do was to rely on his inspirations, and they would never fail them. The Holy Ghost would prompt such words and thoughts as would secure on their part a good confession. And a similar aid is to be expected by all Christ’s witnesses as they confront the world. If we but rely on his help, he will never fail us. Of course, this does not encourage idleness and want of preparation for the emergencies of life. The Spirit is more likely to inspire a studious, careful, prayerful man than a self-reliant idler. But reliance on the Spirit’s inspirations must never be rendered needless or doubtful by any prudent forethought we entertain. We are to be organs of the Spirit, and ought to act worthy of our high calling.—R. M. E.
Vers. 13–21.—A warning against covetousness. Amid the important teaching of our Lord there comes an interlude by reason of a brother, who had been wronged out of his share of the inheritance, appealing for redress to Christ. He wanted our Lord to play the part of a small attorney and get conveyed to him some share. This our Lord deliberately declines to do, indicating that he has come into the world for higher work than worldly arbitration. This aspect of the subject has been well handled by Robertson of Brighton, and, following him, by Bersier of Paris. But our Lord does far better for the poor brother than if he had become arbitrator for him. He warns him against covetousness, and indicates that “a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” To back up the lesson, he relates a parable about a certain rich man whose whole concern was to multiply his possessions, but who is surprised by death while doing so. He leaves his wealth behind him, and enters the other world utterly poor. If by this timely warning our Lord succeeds in leading the claimant to the possession of better riches, then all will be well. And here we notice—
I. A MAN CAN NEVER BE SATISFIED WITH THINGS. (Ver. 15.) This is the great mistake men are making. They imagine that things can satisfy their hearts; whereas we are so constituted, with our affections and emotions, that fellowship with persons is indispensable to any measure of satisfaction, and to full satisfaction with no less a Being than God himself. All the effort, consequently, to be satisfied with things, with gifts, when the Giver is left out, proves vain. No abundance can satisfy the craving of the heart. And the feverish desire for more and more wealth on the part of worldly men demonstrates simply that they are on the wrong track altogether, and that satisfaction can never be found in things. Covetousness, consequently, as the idolatry of things, is a total mistake. It misinterprets human nature, and is doomed to terrible disappointment.
II. SUCCESS MAY DOOM MEN TO LIFELONG WRONG. (Vers. 16–18.) The rich fool, as the man in the parable has been generally called, is overwhelmed by success. It outgrows his calculations. His barns are too small; they must be pulled down to allow of bigger barns being built, so that years of anxious labour are provided out of his inordinate success. He gets steeped to the lips in care. His life becomes a ceaseless worry. His grasping only secures his misery. It is truly lamentable to witness the self-inflicted wrong which worldly minds experience as they try to garner more and more of this world’s goods to the neglect of better things. How well our great dramatist understood this! In his poems Shakespeare says—

“The profit of excess
Is but to surfeit, and such griefs sustain,
That they prove bankrupt in this poor-rich gain.
The aim of all is but to nurse the life
With honour, wealth, and ease, in waning age;
And in this aim there is such thwarting strife,
That one for all, or all for one, we gage,
As life for honour in fell battle’s rage,
Honour for wealth; and oft that wealth doth cost
The death of all, and altogether lost.”

III. IN THE CAREER OF SUCCESS THERE IS ONLY A VAIN DESIRE FOR REST. (Ver. 19.) The soliloquy betrays the utter weariness of the man. After his bigger barns are built, away down the fretful years he will reach, he hopes, a time when he will be in a position to say to his soul, “Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” He longs for rest, but it will be years yet before he can think of it. All the worry and the fret of the interval must be passed before rest can come. His idea is to win rest by wealth; to buy it up by a certain measure of success. And the experience of all men is that rest is never got on this line at all. It is something that cannot be purchased, but must be God-given. How often do we see men who have retired with a competency at a loss how to kill time, and as weary and restless as ever!
IV. DEATH CUTS THE SOUL OFF AT ONCE FROM HIS WORLDLY POSSESSIONS. (Vers. 20, 21.) We never hear of millionaires carrying their money-bags with them. A moment after death Crœsus is no richer than the beggar. The things which were so anxiously amassed remain to be divided among the heirs, while the owner goes out into another world absolutely penniless. The state to which death reduces him is pitiful indeed. Having forgotten God the Giver through occupation with his gifts, he faces his Judge without a single feeling or aspiration which, in God’s sight, is valuable at all. A miserable and wretched soul receives dismissal from the gracious God whose bounty was ignored and whose Being was despised.
V. How ALL-IMPORTANT IN THESE CIRCUMSTANCES TO ACCEPT OF CONTENTMENT AND REST AS THE SAVIOUR’S OFFERED GIFT. If the young man had accepted of contentment in place of cherishing covetousness, he would have been at ease at once. Rest of spirit and growth of spirit would thus have been secured, and he would have been on not only equal terms with, but most probably superior terms to, his more grasping brother. It is thus that Jesus deals with us. He can give us a present rest from sin, from worry, from care of all kinds, and make us rich in the sight of God. With the riches of the soul ingraces and gifts, we may hope to pass into the Divine presence and enjoy the Divine society and escape being castaways.—R. M. E.
Vers. 22–40.—Lessons from the fowls and lilies. Our Lord, having related the parable against covetousness, or the selfish use of money, proceeds in the present section to show how foolish the anxious thought is about these temporal things. And here we have to—
I. CONSIDER HOW POOR THE LIFE IS WHICH MAKES EATING AND DRESSING THE CHIEF THOUGHT. (Vers. 22, 23.) A man’s life is intended to be much more assuredly than this; and yet are there not some who have no thought beyond this? The weight of anxiety is purely secular and physical. The devotees of the table and of the fashions make eating and dressing all. Now, the idea of the passage is that no one is so circumstanced as to be compelled to think only or chiefly of food and raiment. There is not a poor man but may feel that he was born for higher thoughts and things than to “keep the pot boiling” and to have something seemly to wear! He can think of the government of the world, and gain insight into it. He can rise into the thought of the government of God’s kingdom, and the noble ideas it embodies. He can make ends meet without being the slave of circumstances and the creature of a day. He can walk among the eternities like others of his kind. Hence we must be on our guard against such a low view of life as this purely secular and temporal one.
II. CONSIDER THE LESSON ABOUT FOOD FURNISHED BY THE FOWLS. (Vers. 24–26.) The fowls of the air are not “gentlemen at large,” but most patient gatherers of their food. Life is not a sinecure with them, but a season of continual work. True, they do not become anxious farmers, sowing seed or reaping harvests, or building and stocking barns. They are spared a world of anxiety, but they accept the world of provision as God gives it to them. That which he gives they on unwearied wing gather. “God feedeth them” in the wisest way, and they accept it as he sends it. Moreover, the feeding of themselves is not their whole labour. There is much more in the bird’s day than the quest of food. Whether they appreciate the beauty about them or no; whether their thoughts are like ours as from dizzy heights we see magnificent landscapes or stretches of sea, we cannot of course tell; but one thing seems certain, that the birds realize something more in the make-up of life than the mere satisfaction of their appetites. Their lesson is, therefore, one about a busy life, a thoughtful life, not always occupied with the satisfaction of the flesh. Let us trust God more in temporal matters, and think more of eternal things; and then life will be more thoughtful and more happy. No amount of thinking will add a cubit to our stature; and no amount of anxiety will deliver us from life’s burdens. It is better to let God reign, and accept the conditions which in his wisdom he assigns.
III. CONSIDER THE LESSON ABOUT RAIMENT FROM THE LILIES. (Vers. 27, 28.) Here again we are face to face with nature. The purple lilies which deck the spring fields are gorgeously apparelled. Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of them. So that when God is allowed to work, he weaves a more splendid texture in his loom thanever was produced by man. The lilies are evidences of his microscopic care of the flower of the grass, how worthy he regards it of beautiful raiment. But then he values his children more than his plants. Men may go the length of lavishing more attention upon their exotics and their flowers than upon their children. But this is not God’s order. He has taken more thought for his human children than for all his gardens and their magnificent contents. He loves a family more than a conservatory; a school more than a forest; a population more than a deer-park or prairie. Hence we may trust him about raiment; it will come in due season and order. He will not give it to us like paupers’ clothing, for we should hardly like it in that way; but to honest work there will come substantial reward.
IV. CONSIDER THE NOTORIOUS SECULARITY OF THE NATIONS. (Vers. 29–32.) Now, the analysis of heathenism will show that at heart heathen are secular. There is no better way of seeing this than by looking into their prayers. As one has said, “Idolatrous nations have in all places and in all ages prayed with unanimous voice that their god would give them health and physical force, riches, honour, pleasure, success; for it is indeed for these the pagans pray.” This is what composed the life of paganism for the most part, and does so still. There is all the more reason why the Lord’s little flock should trust him about the kingdom he has promised, and give themselves fearlessly to the bringing in of thekingdom from above. If we seek God’s kingdom and glory first, we shall find a sufficient amount of food and raiment stored for us by no niggard and no pauperizing hand.
V. CONSIDER THE BENEFIT OF ALMSGIVING. (Vers. 33, 34.) Now, by almsgiving we are to understand enlightened and not lackadaisical charity. It is the investment of love, the expenditure of money for God’s sake and for his kingdom. It is truly wonderful how all may become almsgivers. Is this not proof positive that God is a bountiful Provider? How is it that there is hardly one in this hard world but could give if he only tried? And what a transference of the heart’s affections this will secure! The heart no longer grovels amid the secular and temporal, but passes outward to the spiritual and eternal. Then the people whom we have tried to help, on the principle of giving “the greatest amount of needful help with the smallest encouragement to undue reliance on it,” will form for us a bright and wholesome field for thought and hope, and the building up of God’s kingdom shall be the result.
VI. CONSIDER THE DUTY OF WAITING FOR THE ADVENT. (Vers. 35–40.) From almsgiving our Lord proceeds to the duty of diligence in expectation of his advent He has gone to attend a wedding, and will return when the marriage is complete. This has surely an instructive bearing upon the advent as subsequent to the completed plan about the bride, the Church. But what we have to notice is his readiness to serve the servants who are found faithful and diligent in his work. He has had a sufficiency at the wedding-feast; he can consequently wait at the supper-table of the servants. And what an honour it will be to receive such attention from the Lord himself! Let us, then, be semper paratus, and then, whether his advent be soon or late, we shall be overtaken by no surprise!—R. M. E.
Vers. 41–59.—The glories and responsibilities of the Christian ministry. The previous parable attracts Peter by reason of its glorious promise, and he accordingly wonders if it can apply to all believers or to the apostles only. Having asked our Lord, he receives light upon the responsibilities and glories of the ministerial office. From our Lord’s words we learn—
I. IT IS CHRIST’S WILL THERE SHOULD BE STEWARDS IN HIS CHURCH, WHOSE DUTY IT IS TO GIVE HIS PEOPLE MEAT IN DUE SEASON. (Vers. 42–44.) This is the great design of the ministry—to feed the flock of God. All other duties are subsidiary to this. For souls need to be as regularly fed with truth as the body with food. To this end the Christian ministry should, therefore, direct all its effects, that the people may be fed. And need it be said that the truth which nourishes men’s souls is the truth as it is in Jesus? When Jesus is presented in the glory of his Person and offices, then the famished souls are saved and satisfied. Now, our Lord declares that the ministry will continue for such a purpose until his advent. The household of God will always need the food furnished by the ministry. No time will come when the ministry shall be superseded. And the ministers who are diligently employed at their teaching and feeding of souls when our Lord comes will find themselves blessed (1) in their own experience, and (2) in the magnificent promotion awaiting them. Christ promises the faithful minister no less than universal influence. He is to be ruler over all he has. Others may have some influence, but a faithful minister will, in the world made new, have universal sovereignty. Ministerial influence is often incomparably the grandest and widest exercised among men in this life: how much more in the life and order which will be ushered in by the advent!
II. OUR LORD AT HIS ADVENT WILL MAKE SHORT WORK OF SPIRITUAL DESPOTS. (Vers. 45, 46.) Some in the ministry, it would seem, instead of living in expectation of the advent, will live as if the long-delayed advent would never come. In such a case selfish tyranny over the people committed to them will soon manifest itself; and upon the self-indulgent despot our Lord shall come suddenly, to appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. A ministry that is not earnest, but self-indulgent and tyrannical, has before it a terrible doom.
III. HE ALSO SHOWS THAT JUDGMENT IN THE WORLD TO COME SHALL BE GRADUATED ACCORDING TO DESERT. (Vers. 47, 48.) The difficulties about the Divine judgment have been partly owing to the forgetfulness of the fact that sinners are not to be cast indiscriminately into some common receptacle, but subjected to a series of graduated punishments of the most carefully adjusted character. The rhapsodies which are so plentiful against any thoroughness in punishing the impenitent are based mainly upon the false assumption of indiscriminating punishment. According to a person’s opportunities will be his doom.
IV. OUR LORD DECLARES THAT HIS PRESENT ADVENT MUST GENERATE OPPOSITION. (Vers. 49–53.) The fire which our Lord came to kindle is that of spiritual enthusiasm; such a fire as burned in the disciples’ hearts as he spoke to them on the way to Emmaus; such a fire as was promised in the baptism with the Holy Ghost. Such incendiarism is just the blessed commotion the world needs. But in the kindling of the holy flame our Lord will have to pass through a bloody baptism. He sees how inevitable this dread experience is, and yet he pants for the cross which is to crown his work and revolutionize the world.112 The cross of Christ is really the great divider of mankind; by its instrumentality families are divided into different camps, and the battle of the truth begun. But the division Christ creates is infinitely better than the unity without him. Better far that we should have to fight for truth than that we should live, like lotus-eaters, through indifference towards or ignorance of it. The battle for Christ is wholesome exercise, and the victory at last is assured.
V. HE CHARGES THEM WITH MISUNDERSTANDING THE SIGNS OF THE TIMES, WHILE THEY CAN APPRECIATE THE SIGNS OF THE WEATHER. (Vers. 54–56.) He is now speaking to the people, and not to the apostles. He points out how they can anticipate shower and heat by certain signs on the face of nature. People become “weather-wise,” and can often show wonderful predictive power. And yet the times were providentially more significant than the weather. And before their eyes were hung the signs of a great contest between good and evil, between Christ and the world; and yet their hypocritical hearts would not allow them to appreciate the signs or take the proper side. It is a curious fact that many will study the laws of physical nature with intense interest and success, and yet neglect utterly those laws of the Divine government which involve the mightiest of revolutions. The hypocrisy of the heart is, our Saviour here says, the secret of such inconsistent apathy.
VI. HE DECLARES THE URGENCY OF RECONCILIATION WITH GOD. (Vers. 57–59.) The adversary, magistrate, and officer, are three individuals needful for the initiation and execution of human judgment. But the context shows that Jesus here refers to the Divine judgment which these hypocrites are courting. In this case—as Godet, in loco, observes—the adversary, judge, and officer are united in the Person of God. He is the Adversary to charge us with our defaults; he is the Judge to decide our guilt; he is the Officer to execute due vengeance on us in case we incur it. Christ consequently urges reconciliation with God without delay upon these hypocrites. To secure this he appeals to their conscience. They can surely come to this conclusion themselves, that, in opposing and persecuting him, they are not doing right. Their own inward monitor must witness to the guilt of their present course. Let them see to it, then, that they are delivered from their doom. Only one way is open, and that is by throwing themselves upon his mercy manifested in Christ. In this appointed way our Lord leaves themwithout excuse. There is surely a hopeless air about the terms of this judgment. The payment of the last mite is surely impossible in the prison-house of eternity, and current remedial programmes about the future life are but “will-o’-the-wisps” to lure thoughtless minds onwards towards doom! May we calculate upon no post-mortem reformation, but enter upon the pardon and spiritual progress God offers to us now!—R. M. E.




Preface to the Gospel, 13
Zacharias and his Vision, 14
The Announcement to the Virgin, 15
The Two Expectant Mothers, 16
The Name-giving, and what followed it, 17
Certainties concerning Christ, 18
Life in its Completeness, 19
Parental Ambition, 20
The Greatness of Jesus Christ, 20
The Voice of Praise, 21
God revealed in Jesus Christ, 22
Joy and Awe at a Human Birth, 23
The Course of the Christian Life, 24
Christ our Light, 25
Christ our Peace, 26
The Service of Solitude, 26
The Absolute Certainty of the Christian Religion, 27
The Inauguration of the Dispensation of Grace, 29
“The Beginning of the Creation of God”, 31
Inspirations amid the Hills of Judæa, 33
The Birth and Development of the Baptist, 35

The Birthplace and the Birth, 44
The Shepherds and the Herald Angels, 45
The Circumcision, and Presentation in the Temple, 46
The Childhood and the Waiting-Time, 48
Christ excluded, 50
Welcome News from Heaven, 51
The Human and the Heavenly World, 52
The Wisdom of Devout Meditation, 52
A Satisfied Human Spirit, 53
The Touchstone of Truth, 54
The Testimony of Womanhood, 55
The Dawn of Sacred Duty: a Sermon to the Young, 56
Growth, our Lord’s and our own, 57
The Saviour’s Birth and the Angel’s Sermon, 57
The Circumcision and Presentation of Jesus, 59
The Visit of Jesus to Jerusalem when a Boy, 61

The Forerunner, and his Ministry, 72
The Baptism of Jesus, and the Descent of the Holy Ghost, 74
Roman Worldliness and Hebrew Devotedness, 75
John before Jesus; Repentance before Salvation, 76
The Ministry of Fear, 77
The Futile in Religion, etc., 78
The Wisdom of a True Estimate, 78
God’s Good Pleasure in us, 79
The Ministry of the Baptist, 80
The Baptism and Genealogy of Jesus, 82

The Temptation in the Wilderness, 93
The Visit of Christ to Nazareth, 95
A Sabbath Day’s Work, 96
Solitude and Struggle, 98
The Temptation of the Flesh, 99
Temptation: Outward and Inward Grandeur, 100
Temptation to Guilty Haste, 100
The Poor and the Gospel, 101
Healing the Broken-hearted, 101
Spiritual Bondage and Christian Freedom, 102
Spiritual Blindness, 103
The Bruised, 104
The Graciousness of the Words of Christ, 104
Fame and Power, 105
The Healing Saviour, 106
The Temptation of Christ, 106
Christ’s Sermon in Nazareth, 108
Our Lord’s Labonrs at Capernaum, 110

The Call to be Fishers of Men, 120
The Power present to heal, 121
The New and the Old, 123
Weary Workers, 125
The Soul shrinking from God, 125
The Cleansed Leper, 126
Christ at Prayer, 127
Present Power, 128
Superabounding Kindness, 129
Following Christ, 130
Christian Association, 130
Christian Naturalness, 131
Fishers of Men, 132
The Healing of the Leper and the Paralytic, 135
The Call of Levi, and the Subsequent Banquet, 137

Christ and the Sabbath Day, 150
The Foundation of the Kingdom, 151
Sin disabling, Christ restoring, 153
The Designation of the Twelve, 154
The Blessedness of Humility, 155
The Blessedness of Spiritual Hunger, 155
The Blessedness of Martyrdom, 156
Seeking the Highest Good from the Highest Motive, 157
The Golden Rule, 158
Human Judgment, 159
Human Responsiveness, 160
Christian Teaching, 160
Keenness and Dulness of Spiritual Vision, 161
Being and Doing, 162
Good and Bad Building, 163
The Greatest Ruin, 164
The Lord of the Sabbath, and his Work, 165
The Legislator on the Mount, 167

The Centurion, 180
The Widow’s Son, 181
The Message of John Baptist, and the Discourse occasioned by it, 182
The Woman who was a Sinner, 183
Faith in its Fulness, 185
Patriotism and Piety, 186
Christ visiting and abiding, 187
Human Goodness and the Permanency of the Gospel, 188
The Leprosy of Sin, 189
Christ as an Offence, 190
Christ’s Estimate of John; Character and Privilege, 190
Christian Abstinence and Participation, 191
Our Treatment of Wisdom, 192
Loving and Forgiving, 193
Christ and Simon: the Correcting Word, 194
The Saviour of Sick and Dead, 195
The Deputation from John, 197
Love the Proof of Pardon, 198

The Evangelistic Circuit, 211
Storm and Calm, 213
The Demoniac whose Name was Legion, 214
Jairus, and what happened on the Way to his House, 215
The Gospel of the Kingdom, 218
Christianity and Woman, 219
Failure and Success in Hearing, 219
Covered Character, 220
Revelation—a Duty, a Fact, a Certainty, 221
Christ’s One Relationship, 222
Christ the Lord of Nature, 223
The Sleep of Christ, 224
Our Return for God’s Greater Kindnesses, 225
Jesus Christ: Rejection and Welcome, 225
Christ’s Discriminating Notice, 226
A Needless Anxiety concerning Christ, 227
Incidents in Evangelistic Work, 228
A Group of Miracles, 230

The Life saved, and the Life lost, 246
The Transfiguration, 248,258
Humility and Charity, 250
The Face steadfastly set, 251
Lessons from the First Commission, 253
The Tetrarch and the Teacher, 254
The Healing Hand of Christ, 255
The Divine Provision for the World’s Need, 256
Life gained by losing it, 256
The Priceless, 257
The Wisdom of hearing Christ, 259
The Healing of the Lunatic Child, 260
The Church and the Child, 261
Exclusiveness and Neutrality—the Forbidden and the Impossible Thing, 261
Wisdom, Duty, Danger, 262
Decision and Indecision, 263
The Workman’s Qualification, 264
The Mission of the Twelve, 265
The Saviour’s Secret Revelations, 267
The Secret of Successful Work, 268

The Mission of the Twelve, and the Mission of the Seventy, 278
Utterances on the Return of the Twelve, and of the Seventy, 280
The Parable of the Good Samaritan, 282
The Love of the Neighbour, 283
Christ’s Sermon in the House of Martha, 285
Spiritual Husbandry, 287
Our Due, 288
Guilt and Punishment, 289
The Largeness of our Life, 290
Better Things, 291
The Gladness of Gratitude, etc., 291
Apostolic Advantage and Disadvantage, 292
Our Love of God, 293
Who is our Neighbour?, 294
Christ at Bethany, 295
The Mission of the Seventy, 296
The Good Samaritan, and the Good Part, 297

Christ teaching his Disciples to pray, 310
Christ and his Adversaries, 312
The Voice out of the Crowd, 313
Truth; the Conditions of its Reception, and our Responsibility with Regard to it, 314
The Influence of Devout Example, etc., 316
The True Service of the Lord’s Prayer, 317
The Will of God, 318
Continuance in Prayer, 319
The Argument from the Human Fatherhood to the Divine, 319
Christianity the Benignant Power, 320
Spiritual Failure, 321
Christ and Solomon, 322
Comparative Guilt, 323
Spiritual Sight, 324
Piety out of Perspective, 325
Lessons on Prayer, 325
Inspirations, 327
Pharisaism and Legalism rebuked, 329

An Evil to be shunned, and a Virtue to be cultivated, 340
Worldliness, 343
Hidden Things, 345
The Power to hurt and bless, 346
Confessing Christ, 347
A Man’s Life, 347
Sudden Death, 348
“Rich toward God”, 349
Anxiety or Trustfulness?, 350
Service and Sufficiency, 351
Death a Divine Visitation, 352
Spiritual Strenuousness, 352
Individual Responsibility, 353
The Inexorable, 354
A Call to Courage, 355
A Warning against Covetousness, 356
Lessons from the Fowls and Lilies, 358
The Glories and Responsibilities of the Christian Ministry, 359
Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Hrsg.). (1909). St. Luke (Bd. 1, S. 331–360). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.


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