Luke 12In this chapter our blessed Saviour furnishes his diciples with many instructions for the worthy discharge of their function in preaching the gospel; particularly he recommends unto them two gracious qualifications, namely, uprightness and sincerity, verses 1,2,3. Secondly, courage and magnanimity, verses 4,5.
1. He recommends unto them the grace and virtue of sincerity: Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.
Learn hence, that hypocrisy is a dangerous leaven, which ministers and people are chiefly to beware of, and to preserve themselves from. Hypocrisy is a vice in vizor; the face is vice, the vizor is virtue: God is pretended, self intended: hupocrisy is resembled to leaven; partly for its sourness, partly for its diffusiveness. Leaven is a piece of sour dough, that diffuses itself into the whole mass or lump of bread with which it is mixed. Thus hypocrisy spreads over all the man; all his duties, parts and performances, are leavened with it.
Again, leaven is of a swelling, as well as of a spreading nature; it puffs up the dough, and so does hypocrisy the heart. The Pharisees were a sour and proud sort of people; they were all for pre-eminence, chief places, chief seats, chief titles, to be called Rabbi, Rabbi; In a word, as leaven is hardly discerned from good dough at first sight, so is hypocrisy hardly discerned and distinguished from sincerity. The Pharisees outwardly appeared righteous unto men, but within were full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
Observe next, the argument which Christ uses to dissuade men from hypocrisy: There is nothing covered that shall not be revealed. As if he had said, the day is coming, when a rotten and corrupt heart shall no longer pass under the vizor and disguise of a demure look. In the day of judgment hypocritical sinners shall walk naked; God, angels and men, shall see their shame.
Learn hence, that God will certainly, however long, wash off all the varnish and paint which the hypocrite has put upon the face of his profession, and lay him open to the terror of himself, and the astonishment of the world.
The second duty which our Saviour presses upon his disciples, is that of holy courage and resolution: as if Christ had said, the preaching of the gospel will stir up many enemies against you, which will malign and oppose you, vex and persecute you; but I say unto you, fear them not who can only kill the body; but fear him who, if you fail in your duty, can cast both body and soul into hell.
1. An unwarrantable fear condemned, and that is, the sinful, servile, slavish fear of man: Fear not them that kill the body.
2. An holy, awful, and prudential fear of the omnipotent God commended: Fear him that is able to kill both body and soul.
3. The persons whom this duty of fear is recommended to and bound upon; disciples, ministers, and ambassadors, all the friends of Christ. They not only may, but ought to fear him; not only for his greatness and goodness, but upon the account of his punitive justice, as being able to cast both soul and body into hell. Such a fear is not only lawful, but laudable; not only commendable, but commanded, and not misbecoming the friends of Christ. The ministers of God may use arguments from fear of judgments, both to dissuade from sin, and to persuade to duty. It is not unsuitable to the best of saints to keep in heaven's way for fear of hell: it is good to bid a friend fear, when that fear tends to his good.
Observe here, 1. The doctrine which our Saviour preaches to his disciples: and that is, the doctrine of the divine providence, which concerns itself for the meanest of creatures. Even the birds of the air, and the hairs of our heads, do fall within the compass of God's protecting care.
Observe, 2. The use which our Saviour makes of this doctrine: namely, to fortify his disciples' spirits against all distrustful fears, and distracting cares.
Learn hence, 1. That the consideration of the divine care, and gracious providence of God over us and ours, ought to antidote our spirits against all distrustful fears whatsoever. If an hair from the head falls not to the ground without a providence, much less shall the head itself. If the very excrements of the body (such are the hairs) be taken care of by God, surely the more noble parts of the body, but especially the noblest part of ourselves, our soul, shall fall under his peculiar regard.
1. That not to confess Christ, is in his account to deny him, and to be ashamed of him.
2. That whosoever shall deny or be ashamed of Christ, either in his person, in his gospel, or in his members, for any fear or favor of man, shall with shame be disowned, and eternally rejected by him at the dreadful judgment of the great day.
Christ may be denied three ways: doctrinally, by an erroneous and heretical judgment; verbally, by oral expressions; vitally, by a wicked and unholy life: but woe to that soul that denies Christ any of these ways!
Although never man preached or lived as Christ did, yet there were those that spoke against him; the person of Jesus was contemned and reproached, for the meanness of his birth, for the poverty of his condition, for the freedom of his conversation; but this sin did not exclude the hope of pardon: Whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him; that is, whoever affirms that divine power by which I do my miracles, to be the power of the devil, such blasphemy will be unpardonable, because it is to resist the last remedy, and to oppose the best means of men's conviction; for what could be done more to convince men that Christ was the true and promised Messiah, than to work so many miracles before their eyes to that purpose. Now these miracles, though evidently wrought by the power of God, the Pharisees ascribed to the power of the devil, which our Saviour calls Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, and a sin unpardonable.
Here our Saviour acquaints his apostles, that for preaching his doctrine, and professing his religion, they should be brought before all sorts of magistrates, and into all kinds of courts; but advised them when they should be so brought, not to be anxiously thoughtful, or solicitously careful what they should say, for it should be suggested to them by the Holy Ghost, what they should speak in that hour.
Thence note, that though the truth of Christ may be opposed, yet the defenders of it shall never be ashamed; for rather than they shall want a tongue to plead for it, God himself will prompt them by his Holy Spirit, and furnish them with such arguments to defend the truth, as all their adversaries shall not be able to gainsay: In that hour the Holy Ghost shall teach you what ye ought to say.
While our Saviour was thus instructing his disciples and the rest of his auditors, in things appertaining to the kingdom of heaven; one of the company being more intent, as it seems, upon his temporal that his eternal concerns, desired him to speak to his brother to divide the inheritance with him. Christ tells him, he would neither be judge nor arbitrator in any civil affairs, or secular concerns. This work, as if Christ had said, belongs to the civil magistrate, to divide inheritance, and decide controversies between man and man; but my work is of another nature, namely, to preach the gospel to a lost world, and to direct men how to secure an inheritance in heaven, not to divide inheritances here on earth.
Teaching us, that matters of civil justice do not belong to those whom Christ sends forth to preach the gospel; that work alone is sufficient for them: the proper work of a minister is work enough; one branch of which is to manage a persuading task between neighbor and neighbor, to prevent differences, and to compose them: but as Christ's commissioners and ministers of the gospel, they have no authority to intermeddle in civil judgments: Who made me a judge over you? asked our great Master; that is, a judge in civil affairs.
Our Saviour, upon the occasion given him in the foregoing verses, admonishes all his disciples and followers to take heed and beware of the sin of covetousness, assuring them that neither the comfort nor continuance of a man's life does consist in an abundance; for though something of this world's goods is necessary to the comfort and happiness of life, yet abundance is not necessary.
Here observe, 1. The manner of our Lord's caution: he doubles it; not saying, take heed alone, or beware only, but take heed, and beware, both. This argues that there is a strong inclination in our nature to this sin; the great danger we are in of falling into it, and of what fatal consequence it is to them in whom this sin reigns.
Observe, 2. The matter of the caution of the sin which our Saviour warns his hearers against, and that is covetousness: Take heed, and beware of covetousness. Where, under the name and notion of covetousness, our Saviour does not condemn a provident care for the things of this life, nor a regular industry and diligence for obtaining of them, nor every degree of love and affection to them; but by covetousness, is to be understood an eager and insatiable desire after the things of this life, or using unjust ways and means to get or increase an estate; seeking the things of this life with the neglect of things infinitely better, and placing their chief happiness in riches.
The design and scope of our Saviour in this parable, is to show men the vileness and vanity of the sin of covetousness, or an eager and insatiable desire after the things of this world. When men heap up riches, and lay up treasures in this life, taking no care to be rich towards God in faith and good works, our Saviour illustrates this by the parable of a rich man, whom God had blessed with great plenty, yet his desire of more wealth was never satisfied, but he is projecting how he may lay up goods in store for many years.
Where note, 1. That the parable does not intimate any indirect and unjust ways of gain which this man used to increase his estate, but condemns his insatiable desire and thirst after more.
So that hence we may learn, that an eager and inordinate desire after the things of this world, though it be free from injustice, and doing wrong to others, is one species, or kind, of the sin of covetousness.
Observe, 2. How this rich man looked no farther than himself, not looking upon himself as God's steward, but his own carver; he cries out, What shall I do because I have no room where to lay my fruits? Not considering that the houses of the poor should have been his granaries for the abundance of his increase. Charity to the necessitious is the best way of bestowing our abundance. God's extraordinary bounty is to be laid out for the relief of others' necessities, not for the gratifying of our own luxurious desires.
Observe, 3. The brand of infamy which the wise God fixes upon this covetous rich man: Thou fool, says God.
Learn thence, that it is an act and instance of the most egregious folly imaginable, for persons to spend their time and strength in getting and laying up treasure upon earth; in the mean time neglecting to be rich towards God in faith and good works: Thou fool.
Observe, 4. The doleful tidings and threatening news brought unto him: This night thy soul shall be required of thee.
Learn hence, 1. That a man's wealth is not able to preserve his life, much less to save his soul: and if wealth cannot save a man's life, why should men endanger their lives, no, hazard their souls, to get or increase wealth?
Learn, 2. That God takes away men's lives many times when they least suspect it: This night, says God; many years, says he. God will not have us think of rest in a place of disquiet, nor of certainty in a condition of inconstancy; we are dependent creatures, and our time is in God's hand: This night shall thy soul be taken away from thee.
Learn, 3. That the souls of ungodly men are taken from them by force and compulsion: Thy soul shall be required of thee. Good men have the same reluctances of nature which others have, yet they sweetly resign their souls into the hands of God in a dying hour; whereas a wicked man, though he sometimes dies by his own hand, yet he never dies with the consent of his own will; he chooses rather to eat dust (with the serpent) than to return to dust.
Observe, 4. The expostulatory question: Whose then shall those things be, which thou has provided?
Intimating, 1. That they should not be his: a man's wealth lasts no longer than his life, neither has he any longer the comfort of it: lay up gold, and it perishes with thee; but treasure up grace, and it shall accompany thee: Whose shall those things be? Not thine, undoubtedly.
Note, 2. As these things shall not be thine, when thou art gone, so thou knows not whose they shall be after thou art gone; whether they shall fall into the hand of a child or a stranger; of a wise man or a fool: the wealthiest man cannot be certain who shall be his heir, and whose goods his shall be.
Observe lastly, the application which our Saviour makes of this parable to his disciples: So is every one that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich towards God.
Learn hence, that such as are not rich in grace, rich in good works, shall find no benefit by, and take no comfort in all their worldly riches in the time of their greatest need, at the hour of death, and in the day of judgment.
Learn farther, how brutish and unworthy of a man it was, for this person to cheer up his soul with the hopes of worldly provisions, to bid his soul eat, drink, and be merry. Alas, the soul can no more eat, drink, and be merry with carnal things, than the body can with spiritual and immaterial things; it cannot feed upon bread that perishes; but bring it to a reconciled God in Christ, to the covenant of grace, and sweet promises of the gospel; set before it the joys and comforts of the Spirit; and if it be a sanctified and renewed soul, it can make a rich feast upon these. Spiritual things are proper food for spiritual souls; deservedly then is this person branded with the name of fool, for say, Soul, thou hast goods laid up for many years; eat, drink, and be merry.
There is a twofold sense and interpretation given of these verses.
1. Some take them as spoken only to the apostles, directing them absolutely to cast off all care for the things of this life, that so they might attend upon Christ's person, and wholly give up themselves to that work to which he had called them: and therefore St. Luke here takes notice, that after he had cautioned his hearers in general against covetousness, he applies himself particularly to his disciples, and tells them, that he would have them so far from this sin of covetousness, that they should not use that ordinary care, and common industry about the things of this life, which is not only lawful but necessary for men in all ordinary cases, verse 22. And he said unto his disciples, therefore I say unto you, take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat or drink. But if we understand the words in this sense, we must look upon it only as a temporary command, given to the apostles for that time only; like that in St. Matthew Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass, in your purses: neither coat nor scrip; Matt 10:9 which no man ever understood as a general law to all Christians, but as a particular precept to the apostles at that time.
2. Others understand these injunctions of our Saviour to be consistent with a prudent and provident care of the things of this life, not forbidding a regular industry and diligence for the obtaining of them, but condemning only an anxious, vexatious, tormenting care, and an over solicitious diligence for the things of this life; and taking our Saviour's words for a general and standing rule to all Christians, they only forbid distrustful thoughfulness, distracting cares, which drive a man's mind this way and that way, (like meteors or clouds in the air, as the word signifies.)
Now against this vexatious care, and solicitious thoughfulness, our Saviour propounds many weighty arguments or considerations; four especially. He tells us, such cares are needless, fruitless, heathenish, and brutish.
1. It is needless: Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of these things, and will certainly provide for you; and what need you take care, and God too? Cast your care upon him.
2. It is fruitless: Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit to his stature? We may sooner by our carping care add a furlong to our grief, than a cubit to our comfort. All our own care, without God's help, will neither feed us when we are hungry, nor nourish us when we are fed.
3. It is heathenish: After all these things do the Gentiles seek, Matt 6:32 The ends and objects of a Christian's thoughts ought to be higher and more sublime than that of heathens.
4. Lastly, it is brutish, no, worse than brutish. The birds of the air, the beasts of the field, the ravens of the valley, all are fed and sustained by God, without any care of their own; much more shall his children. Has God a breakfast ready for every little bird that comes chirping out of its nest, and for every beast of the field that comes leaping out of its den; and will he not much more provide for you? Surely, that God that feeds the ravens when they cry, will not starve his children when they pray.
As if Christ had said, let your first and chief care be to promote the kingdom of grace in this world, and to secure the kingdom of glory in the next, and then fear not the want of these outward comforts; they shall be added in measure, though not in excess; to satisfy, though not to satiate; for health, though not for surfeit.
1. That Christians ought not to be so solicitoous about the necessaries and conveniences of this life, as about the happiness of the next: Rather seek ye the kingdom of God.
2. That heaven or the kingdom of God, must be sought in the first place; that is, with our principal care and chief endeavors.
3. That heaven being once secured by us, all earthly things shall be super added to us as God sees needful and convenient for us. But few men like our Saviour's method; they would seek the things of this world in the first place, and get to heaven at last; they would be content to seek the world and to have heaven thrown in without their seeking: but his will not be granted: if we make religion, and the salvation of our souls, our first and chief care, all other things shall be added unto us, so far as the wisdom of God sees them fit and convenient for us.
That is, fear not the want of any of these comforts, and be not over solictous for them; for your Father, which has provided a kingdom for you hereafter, will not suffer you to want such things as are needful for you here.
1. That the disciples of Christ are very subject to disquieting and perplexing fears, but must by no means cherish, but oppose them: a fear of present wants, a fear of future sufferings, a fear of death approaching, a fear that they shall not find acceptance with God, a fear lest they should fall fully or finally from God; the fear of all these evils does often times disturb them and discompose them.
2. That Jesus Christ is the great Shepherd of his church: the love and care the compassion and tenderness, the prudence and providence, the guidance and vigilance of a good shepherd are found within him.
3. As Christ is the church's Shepherd, so the church is Christ's flock, though a little flock, in opposition to the huge herds and droves of the men of the world.
4. That God the Father has a kingdom in store for his little flock, his church and children.
5. That the good will and gracious pleasure of God is the original spring and fontal cause, from whence all divine favors do proceed and flow: It is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
The next duty which our Saviour exhorts his disciples to, is the duty of alms-giving; that they should be so far from distrusting God's provisions for themselves, that they should be always forward to a ready distribution towards others; yea, in cases of necessity, to be willing to sell their goods to relieve others: yet this precept is not to be taken as if it concerned all persons, at all times, and in all places; but respects only cases of extreme necessity; or if it concerns all, it is only as to the readiness and preparation of the mind; that when necessity calls for it, we be found willing to part with any thing we have for the relief of Christ in his members.
Observe also, the argument used to excite to this duty of alms-giving: hereby we lay up our treasure in a safe hand, even in God's, who will reward us openly. The bellies of the poor are bags that wax not old; what is lodged there is laid up securely out of the reach of danger. We imitate the wise merchant in transmitting our estates into another world, by bills of exchange, where we are sure to receive our own with usury.
The next duty Christ exhorts his disciples to, is that of watchfulness with reference to his second coming: Let your loins be girded, and your lights burning. The words may be understood two ways, spoken either in a martial phrase, as to soldiers; or in a domestic, as to servants; if as to soldiers, then let your loins be girded, and your lights burning in as much as that we should be always ready for a march, having our armor on, and our match lighted, ready to give fire at the alarm of temptation. If the words are spoken as to servants, then our Master bids us carefully expect his second coming, like a lord's returning from a wedding supper (which used to be celebrated in the night) that they should not put on their clothes, nor put out their lights, but stand ready to open, though he comes at midnight. When Christ comes, that soul only shall have his blessing whom he finds watching.
Here our Saviour makes use of several arguments to enforce the duty of watchfulness upon his disciples; the first is drawn from the transcendent reward which Christ will bestow upon his watchful servants: He will gird himself, make them sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them; a very high metaphorical expression: as if a master should be so transported with the diligence and faithfulness of his servant, as to vouchsafe not only to let him sit down to meat in his presence, but to take the napkin upon his arm, and wait upon him himself at his table.
Lord, how poor and how inconsider-able is that service, which the best of us do for thee! And yet thou speaks of it as if thou were beholden to us for it. Thou does not only administer to us a supper, but thou ministers and waits upon us at supper: He will gird himself, and serve them.
The second argument to excite to watchfulness is drawn from the benefit which we have received by watching in this life; then let the Lord come when he will, whether in the second or third watch, they shall be found ready, and in a blessed condition, who are found diligent in his service, and waiting for his appearance.
1. The Son of man will certainly come at one hour or other.
2. At what hour the Son of man will come cannot be certainly known.
3. That there is no hour wherein we can promise ourselves that the Son of man will not come.
4. Very joyful will the coming of the Son of man be, if we be found upon our watch, and ready for his coming: Be ye therefore ready also; for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not.
These words may be applied these two ways: First, to all the faithful servants of God in general; and then the note is this, that for a Christian to spend and end his days in the service of Christ, and doing his will, gives good assurance of a happy and blessed condition: Blessed is that servant.
Secondly, these words may be applied to the ministers of the gospel in special; and then observe,
1. The character and duty of a gospel minister; he is the steward of Christ's household, to give them their meat in due season.
2. A double qualification requisite in such stewards: namely, prudence and faithfulness. Who then is that faithful and wise steward?
Observe, 3. The reward insured to such stewards, with whom are found these qualifications: Blessed is that servant.
1. That the ministers of the gospel are in a spiritual sense stewards of Christ's household.
2. That faithfulness and prudence are the indispensable qualifications of Christ's stewards.
3. That where these qualifications are found, Christ will graciously and abundantly reward them. Our faithfulness must respect God, ourselves, and our flock; and includes integrity of heart, purity of intention, industry of endeavor, and impartiality in all our administrations. Our prudence must appear in the choice of suitable subjects, in the choice of fit language, in exciting our own affections in order to the moving of our people's. Ministerial prudence also must teach us, by the strictness and gravity of our deportment, to maintain our authority, and to keep up our esteem in the consciences of our people: it will also assist us to bear reproach, and direct us to give reproof: he that is silent cannot be innocent: reprove we must, or we cannot be faithful; but prudently, or we cannot be successful.
Our Lord in these verses describes a negligent and unfaithful steward of his household, and then declares that dreadful sentence of wrath which hangs over him. The unfaithful steward, or negligent minister of the gospel, is decribed:
1. By his infidelity: he believed not Christ's coming to judgment, though he preaches it to others; He saith in his heart, My Lord delayeth his coming.
2. He is described by his hatred, envy, and malignity, against his fellow servants, that were more faithful than himself: He begins to smite them, at least with the virulence of his tongue, if not with the violence of his hand.
3. He is farther described by his associating with the wicked, and strengthening their hands by his ill example: He eateth and drinketh with the drunken; that is, as their associate and fellow companion. Thus the negligent steward and unfaithful minister is described.
Next his sentence is declared.
1. Christ will surprise him in his sin and security, by coming at an hour when he looketh not for him.
2. He will execute temporal vengeance upon him; he will cut him in pieces, as the Jews did their sacrifices, dividing them into two parts.
Hence some observe, that God seldom suffers slothful, sensual ministers to live out half their days.
3. Christ will punish them with eternal destruction also: Appoint them their portion with unbelievers.
Teaching us, that such ministers as neglect the service of God, and the souls of their people, as they are ranked amongst the worst sinners in this life, so shall they be punished with them in the severest manner in the next. When Satan destroys the souls of men, he shall answer for it as a murderer only, not as an officer that was intrusted with the care of souls. But if the steward does not provide, if the shepherd does not feed, if the watchman does not warn, they shall answer, not only for the souls that have miscarried, but for an office neglected, for a talent hidden, and for a stewardship unfaithfully managed. Woe unto us, if at the great day we hear distressed souls roaring out their complaints, and howling out their doleful accusations against us, say, "Lord, our stewards have defrauded us, our watchmen have betrayed us, our guides have misled us," verse 48. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required; and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.
Hence we learn,
1. That whatever we receive from God, is both a gift and a talent.
2. That every one has some gift or talent from God to be improved for God.
3. That God's gifts or talents are not given to all in the same measure.
4. That whether we receive little or much, all is in order to an account.
5. That answerable to our present talents will be our future accounts. The greater opportunities a man has of knowing his duty, and the greater abilities he has for doing good, if he does it not, the greater will be his condemnation, because the neglect of his duty in this case cannot be without a great deal of willfulness and contempt, which is an heinous aggravation. If thy gifts be mean, the less thou hast to account for; if greater than others, God expects thou should do more good than others, for where much is given, much will be required.
Our Saviour in these verses declares what will be the accidental event and effect, but not the natural tendency, of his religion; so that we must distinguish between the intentional aim of Christ's coming, and the accidental event of it. Christ's intentional aim, was to plant, propagate, and promote, peace in the world; but through the lusts and corruptions of men's natures, the issue and event of his coming is war and division; not that these are the genuine and natural fruits of the gospel, but occasional and accidental only.
Hence learn, that the preaching of the gospel, and setting up the kingdom of Christ, though it be not the genuine and natural cause, yet it is the accidental occasion of all that war and tumult, of all that dissension and division, of all that distraction and confusion which the world abounds with: I am come to send fire on the earth. He is said to send the fire of dissension, because he foresaw this would be the certain consequence, though not the proper and natural effect, of the preaching of the gospel. There was another fire of Christ's sending, the Holy Spirit; this was a fire to warm, not to burn, or if so, not men's persons, but corruptions; but that seems not to be intended in this place.
Observe farther, the metaphor by which Christ sets forth his own sufferings; he styles them a baptism: I have a baptism to be baptized with. There is a threefold baptism spoken of: a baptism with water, a baptism of the Spirit; both these Christ had been baptized with: but the third was the baptism of blood: he was soon to be drenched and washed in his own blood, in the garden, and on the cross; and he was straitened or pained with desire, like a woman in travail, until his sufferings were accomplished.
Our Saviour in these words does at once upbraid the stupid ignorance of the Jews in general, and the obstinate infidelity of the Pharisses in particular, in that they could make a judgment of the weather by the sight of the sky, by the appearnace of the heavens, and the motion of the winds, but could not discern this time of the Messiah, though they had so many miraculous signs and evidences of it; and for this he upbraids them with hypocrisy: Ye hypocrites! Ye can discern the face of the sky, but you do not discern this time.
Learn thence, that to pretend either more ignorance, or greater uncertainty, in discerning the signs of gospel times (the time of our gracious visitation) than the signs of the weather, is great hypocrisy: Ye hypocrites! Can ye not discern this time?
Observe farther, that Christ does not here condemn the study of nature, or making observations of the state of the weather by the face of the sky; for Almighty God, by natural signs, gives us warning of a change in natural things; and in like manner, by his providential dispensations. He gives us warning of a change in civil things: He that is wise will observe both, and by their observation will come to understand the pleasure of the Lord.
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