Luke 17Two things are here observable, 1. The necessity of scandalous offences: It must needs be that offences come, if we consider men's corruptions, Satan's malice, God's permission and just judgment.
Observe, 2. The misery and mischief which comes by these scandals: Woe unto the world because of offences; woe to such as give the scandal: this is the woe of one denouncing: and woe to such as stumble at offences given; this is the woe of lamenting.
From the whole, note, 1. That scandals or offensive actions in the church of Christ will certainly happen, and frequently fall out among those that profess religion and the name of Christ: It is impossible but that offences will come.
Secondly, that scandalous and offensive actions from such as profess religion and the name of Christ, are baneful and fatal stumbling blocks to wicked and worldy men.
Thirdly, that the offences which wicked men take at the falls of the professors of religion, for the hardening of themselves in their wicked and sinful practices, is matter of just and great lamentation: Woe unto the world because of offences, Matt 18:7
The doctrine of forgiving an offending brother, is pressed upon us with many forcible arguments in the New Testament, which speaks it to be a duty of indispensable necessity. This place is to understood of private offences, and personal wrongs and injuries done by one man to another; which we must first reprove, and then remit; and although it be said, If he repent, forgive him; that is not to be understood, as if we needed not to pardon our brother, if he neglects to repent and ask forgiveness; but whether he acknowledges his offence or not to us, our hearts must stand ready to forgive the wrong done to us, and to pray for forgiveness on his behalf at the hands of God; laying aside all thoughts and desires of revenge in our own cause, and standing ready to any office of love and service to our offending brother.
1. That to fall often into the same offence against our brother is a great aggravation of our offences: If thy brother trespass against thee seven times in a day; that is, very often.
2. That as the multiplication of offences is a great aggravation of offences, so the multiplying of forgiveness is a great demonstration of a God-like temper in us: he that multiplies sin, does, like Satan, sin abundantly; and he that multiplies pardon, does, like God, pardon abundantly.
1. The supplicants, the apostles.
2. The person supplicated, the Lord.
3. The supplication itself, Increase our faith.
4. The occasion of this supplication, our Saviour urging the duty of forgiving injuries.
1. That as all graces in general, so the grace of faith in particular, is weak and imperfect in the best of saints.
2. That the most eminent saints (apostles not excepted) are very sensible of the imperfection of their faith, and very importunate with God daily for the increase of it: Lord, increase our faith.
3. That faith strengthened enables the soul to the most difficult duties of obedience, and particularly helps to the practice of that hard duty of forgiving injuries. When our Saviour had preached the doctrine and duty of forgiveness, the apostles, instantly pray, Lord, increase our faith.
Here our Saviour tells his disciples, that if they have the smallest degree of true faith, lively, operative faith, it will enable them to perform this difficult duty of forgiving injuries, and all other duties, with as much facility and ease as a miraculous faith would enable them to remove mountains and transplant trees.
Learn, that there is nothing which may tend to the glory of God, or to our own good and comfort, but may be obtained of God by a firm exercise of faith in him: All things are possible to him that believeth.
The design and scope of this parable is to show, that Almighty God neither is nor can be a debtor to any of his creatures for the best service which they were able to perform unto him; and that they are so far from meriting a reward of justice, that they do not deserve a return of thanks.
Three arguments our Saviour makes use of to evidence and prove this:
1. In respect to God, who is our absolute Lord and Master; and the argument lies thus, "If earthly masters do not owe so much as thanks to their servants for doing that which is commanded them, how much less can God owe the reward of eternal life to his servants, when they are never able to do all that is commanded them, in a perfect and sinless manner?"
2. In respect to ourselves, who are his bond-servants, his ransomed slaves, and consequently we are not our own men, but his who hath redeemed us: and accordingly do owe him all that service, yea, more than all that we are able to perform unto him: and therefore whatever reward is either promised or given, it is wholly to be ascribed to the Master's bounty, and not to the servants' merit.
3. To merit any thing by our good works is impossible, in regard of the works themselves, because all that we can do, although we did do all that is commanded us, is but our duty. The argument runs thus: "To bounden duty belongs no reward of justice; but all the service we do perform, yea, more than we can perform to God, is bounden duty; therefore there is due unto us no reward of justice but of free mercy."
From the whole note,
1. That we are wholly the Lord's, both by a right of creation and redemption also.
2. That as his we are, so him we ought to serve, by doing all those things which he hath commanded us.
3. That when we have done all, we are to look for our reward, not of debt, but of grace.
4. That were our service and obedience absolutely perfect, yet it could not merit any thing at the hand of justice: When you have done all, say... etc.
Observe here, 1. Though the Samaritans were bitter enemies to the Jews, and had been guilty of great incivility towards our Saviour, yet our Saviour in his journey to Jerusalem balks them not, but bestows the favor of a miracle upon them. Civil courtesy and respect may and ought to be paid to those that are the professed enemies of us and our holy religion.
Observe, 2. Though the leper by the law of God was to be separated from all other society, (God thereby signifying to his people, that the society of those that are spiritually contagious ought to be avoided,) yet the law of God did not restrain them from conversing with one another: accordingly these ten lepers get together, and are company for themselves. Fellowship is that we all naturally affect, though even in leprosy; lepers will flock together; where shall we find one spiritual leper alone? Drunkards and profane persons will be sure to consort with one another. Why should not God's children delight in an holy communion, when the wicked join hand in hand?
Observe, 3. Though Jews and Samaritans could not abide one another, yet here in leprosy they accord; here was one Samaritan leper with the Jewish: common sufferings had made them friends, whom relgion had disjoined. Oh what virtue is there in affliction to unite the most alienated and estranged hearts?
Observe, 4. These lepers apply themselves to Christ the great Physician; they cry unto him for mercy, with respect to their afflictions; they jointly cry, they all lifted up their voice with fervent importunity.
Teaching us our duty to join our spiritual forces together, and set upon God by troops. Oh holy and happy violence that is thus offered to heaven! How can we want blessings, when so many cords draw them down upon our heads?
Observe here, 1. The preventing grace and mercy of Christ; their disease is cured where it can be complained of: Go, show yourselves unto the priests, says Christ, and in their going they were cleansed, they were healed before they could come at the priests, that as the power that healed them was wholly Christ's, so might the praise be also.
Observe, 2. A two-fold reason why Christ commanded them to go to the priests.
1. In compliance with the ceremonial law, which required the leper to be brought to them, to judge whether healed or not; and if so, to receive the offering prescribed in token of thankfulness.
2. For the trial of their obedience: had they stood upon terms with Christ, and said, "Alas!" to what purpose is it to show ourselves to the priests; what good can their eyes do us? We should be glad to see ourselves cured; but why should we go to them to see ourselves loathed? Had they thus expostulated, they had not been healed: what command soever we receive from Christ, we must rather consider the authority of the commander, than the weight of the thing commanded, for God delights to try our obedience by small precepts; happy for these lepers, that, in obedience to Christ, they went to the priests, for as they went they were healed.
Observe here, 1. All were healed, but only one was thankful; the cure is wrought upon the bodies of all, thankfulness if sound but in the heart of one: the will makes the difference in men, but he makes the difference in wills, who at first made the will. All these lepers were cured, all saw themselves cured; their sense was alike, their hearts were not alike.
Observe, 2. The person that made this return of thankfulness to Christ, He was a Samaritan: that is, none of the Jewish nation, but one that was a stranger to the commonwealth of Israel: neither place nor parentage can block up the way, or stop the current, of God's free mercy, which reaches the unworthy and the ill-deserving.
Observe, 3. How singly he returns his thanks; he gets away from his fellows to make his acknowledgment: there are cases wherein singularity is not only lawful, but laudable; instead of sujecting ourselves to others; examples, it is sometimes our duty to resolve to set an example to others; for it is much better to go the right way alone, than to err with company.
Observe, 4. How speedily he returns his thanks: no sooner does he see his cure, but he hastes to acknowledge it: a noble pattern of thankfulness. What speed of retribution is here! Late payments of our thankfulness savor of ingratitude: it were happy for us christians, did we learn our duty of this Samaritan.
In the face of these ten lepers we may, as in a glass, behold the face and complexion of all mankind. How few are there, oh Lord! Scarce more than one in ten, who after single mercies return suitable thanks. Men howl to God upon their beds, but run away from God as soon as they are raised up by him.
Observe farther, what an exact account Christ keeps of his own dispensed favors: Were there not ten cleansed? He forgets our sins, but records his own mercies. It is one of his glorious titles, a God forgiving and forgetting iniquity; but his mercies are over all his works, and deserve everlasting remembrance. God keeps a register of his mercies towards us. Oh shall we not record the favors received from him, at once declare his bounty towards us, and our thankfulness towards him?
Observe lastly, the thankful leper was a Samaritan, but the nine that were unthankful were Israelites.
Learn thence, that the more we are bound to God, the more shameful is our ingratitude towards him; where God may justly expect the greatest returns of praise and service, he sometimes receives least. God has more rent, and better paid him, from a smokey cottage, than he has from some stately palaces.
The generality of the Jews, and particularly the Pharisees, expected that the promised Messiah should be a temporal prince, and deliver them from the Roman yoke, under which they groaned. Accordingly the Pharisees here demanded of our Saviour, When the kingdom of God, of which he had so often spoken, should come? Christ answers them, That his kingdom cometh not with observation: that is, with pomp and splendor, which men may observe and gaze upon; but he tells them, the kingdom of God was now among them, by the ministry of John the Baptist and himself; and was already set up in the hearts of his people, by the secret operations of his Holy Spirit.
Learn hence, that the false notion which the Jews had of the Messiah and his kindgdom, (that he himself was to be a temporal prince, and his kingdom a secular kingdom, to be set up with a great deal of noise, pomp, and splendor,) did hinder the generality of them from believing in him.
Secondly, that the kingdom which Christ designed to set up in the world, was altogether spiritual, not obvious to human senses, but managed in the hearts of his people by the sceptre of his Spirit. My kingdom cometh not with observation, but is within you.
In the remaining part of this chapter, our Saviour acquaints his disciples with what days of tribulation and distress were coming on the Jewish nation in general, and on Jerusalem in particular. "Days of sufferings (as if our Saviour had said) are not far off, when you will wish for my bodily presence again among you, to support and comfort you; and when many seducers will rise up, pretending to be deliverers, but go not you after them; for after this generation have rejected and crucified me, my coming (says Christ) to execute vengeance upon my enemies and murderers at Jerusalem by the Roman soldiers, will be sudden, and like the lightning that shines in an instant from one part of the heavens to the other."
From this coming of Christ to judge Jerusalem, which was an emblem of the final judgment, we may gather this instruction, that the coming and appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the judging of wicked and impenitent sinners, will be a very certain, sudden, and unexpected appearance.
In these verses our Saviour declares, that Jerusalem's destruction, and the world's final desolation at the great day, would be like the destruction of the old world in the days of Noah, and like the destruction of Sodom in the days of Lot, and that both in regard of unexpectedness, and in regard of sensuality and security, as they before the flood were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage; that is, wholly given up to sensuality and debauchery; and did not know, that is, did not consider, the floods coming, until it swept them away; thus was it before the destruction of Jerusalem, and will be before the end of the world.
Hence we learn, that as the old world perished by infidelity, security, and sensuality, so will the same sins be prevailing before the destruction of this present world. As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be in the days of the Son of man.
Here our Saviour advises them, that when they shall see the judgments of God breaking out upon Jerusalem, that they make all possible speed to get out of it, as Lot and his family did out of Sodom; and to take heed of imitating Lot's wife, who looking back became a pillar of salt, Gen 19:26
1. Her offence, She looked back.
2. The punishment of her offence, She became a pillar of salt.
Her offence in looking behind her was manifest disobedience to the divine command, which said, Look not behind thee; and proceeded either from carelessness or from covetousness, or from curiosity, or from compassion to those that she left behind her, and was undoubtedly the effect of great infidelity, she not believing the truth of what the angel had declared, as touching the certainty and suddenness of Sodom's destruction. The punishment of her offence was exemplary, She became a pillar of salt: that is, a perpetual monument of divine severity for her infidelity and disobedience.
1. The suddenness of her punishment: the justice of God surprises her in the very act of sin, with a present revenge.
2. The seeming disproportion between the punishment and the offence: her offence was a forbidden look. From whence carnal reason may plead, "Was it not sufficient for her to lose her eyes, but must she lose her life?" But the easiness and reasonableness of the command aggravated her disobedience; and though her punishment may seem severe, it was not unjust.
Now, says our Saviour, Remember Lot's wife: that is, let her example caution all of you against unbelief, disobedience, worldy- mindedness, contempt of God's threatenings, and lingerings after the forbidden society of lewd and wicked persons.
In this hour, when judgment is come upon Jerusalem, Christ declares, that whosoever shall take any unchristian course to preserve his life, by denying him and his holy religion, he shall lose eternal life; but he that for Christ's sake shall lose his natural life, instead of a mortal, shall enjoy an immortal life in bliss and glory.
Here we learn,
1. That the love of temporal life is a great temptation to men, to deny Christ and his holy religion, in a day of trial.
2. That the surest way to attain eternal life, is cheerfully to lay down our temporal life, when the glory of Christ, and the honor of religion, requires it of us. Christ farther adds, that in this terrible night of Jerusalem's calamity, when destruction comes upon her, the providence of God will remarkabley distinguish between one person and another: true believers, and constant professors, shall be delivered, and none else; such shall escape the danger, others shall fall by it.
The disciples hearing our Saviour speak of such tremendous calamities, enquire, where these judments should fall. He answers them figuratively, and by a proverbial speech, that where the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together: signifying, that Jerusalem, and the obdurate nation of the Jews, was the carcass which the Roman armies, whose ensign was the eagle, would quickly find out and feed upon; and that Judea in general, and Jerusalem in particular, would be the theatre and stage of those tragical calamities.
Learn thence, that the appointed messengers of God's wrath, and the instruments of his vengeance, will suddenly gather together, certainly find out, and severely punish, an impenitent people devoted to destruction. Where the carcass is, (that is, the body of the Jewish nation,) there will the eagles, that is, the Roman soldiers, be gathered together.
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