Luke 18There is no duty in Christianity, the practice of which our Saviour pressed upon us more frequently than this duty of prayer. To encourage his disciples, (and us in them,) to fervency, importunity, and perseverance in this duty, he propounds here the parable of an unjust judge, who was overcome by an importunate widow, to do her justice contrary to his own inclination.
From whence our Saviour argues, that if importunity will prevail with a sinful man, to grant petitions offered to him; how much more prevalent will such importunity be with the infinitely good God, to relieve the necessities of such as devoutly implore his help. And the force of the argument lies thus: "The judge in the parable was an inferior and subordinate judge, was an unrighteous and unjust judge, was a merciless and hard hearted judge; and yet, upon her importunity, he avenged her: how much more will the sovereign and supreme Judge, the holy and righteous, the merciful and compassionate Judge of all the earth, hear and help his praying people, and be the just Avenger of those that fear him"
From the whole note,
1. That prayer, or a liberty of making our requests known to God, is an inestimable favor and privilege. He that considers the nature of God, and the nature of man, cannot question it: God is a being of infinite fullness and perfection; a self- sufficient, and an all-sufficient good; and man an indigent, helpless, dependent creature, full of wants, and obnoxious to dangers.
2. That prayer is not only an inestimable privilege, but an indispensable duty. So solicitous is God for our welfare and happiness, that he makes our privilege our duty, by the authority of his command; so that we are at once ungrateful to God, and unjust to ourselves, in the most exalted degree, if we do not pray unto him, and spread our wants before him.
3. That this duty of prayer is not an occasional, but a constant duty: Men ought always to pray; that is,
1. At all seasonable times and fit opportunities. We are said to do it seasonably; now the seasons for prayer are morning and evening. As the morning and evening sacrifice was constant among the Jews, and the fire was always upon the altar, and never went out; so he that prays morning and evening, may be said to be instant in prayer, and to pray without ceasing.
2. Always to pray, is an endeavor always to keep the heart in a praying frame, and to be very frequent in offering up pious exclamations, and short mental prayers to God, as occasion shall offer; when in the field, in the shop, in the bed, when sleep departs, in the journey when alone. This may be done advantageously without loss of time, and acceptably without danger of hypocrisy, which too often mingles itself with our more set prayers.
Observe, 4. We must not only pray constantly, but pray fervently, yea, importunately; if we would pray successfully, we must cry to God as the widow to the judge: vehemency and importunity are both helps and ornaments to prayer; they both fortify and beautify our prayers; they pierce the heavens, and offer an holy violence to God: Tertullian says, "God delights in such importunity."
Nevertheless, when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth? If by the Son of man's coming we understand Christ's coming in judgment against Jerusalem, then the sense is this; "That when he comes to take vengeance on the obstinate Jews, and to destroy their city, he will find but little faith, and patient waiting for help from God in the land of Judea, and consequently little importuning him with incessant cries and supplications as this poor woman did the unjust judge."
If by the Son of man's coming, we understand Christ's coming to judge the world at the last day, then the sense is, "When he cometh, he will find but few faithful ones, comparatively speaking; he will find but few sincere and serious Christians, in whom the genuine effectws and fruits are found."
Learn, that when Christ shall come to judgment, he will find comparatively very few whose hearts have not fainted, and very many, who through the power that temptation has upon the frailty of human nature are fallen away: When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth? Verily, but little faith, and few faithful ones.
The design and scope of our Saviour in this parable is, to reprove and condemn the Pharisees, and in them all other self-justiciaries, who having an high opinion of, and trusting in, their own righteousness, despised others as vile persons, whose religion is not accompanied with ostentation, and who pretend not to such extraordinary degrees of sanctity as themselves.
And the parable further shows, that an humble, self-condemned sinner, who though he has been wicked, is now sensible of it, and with shame and sorrow confesses it before God, is more acceptable than he that vaunts of his virtue, and rests in the outward duties of religion: his pride and exaltation of himself shall abases him, while the other's humility shall exalt him.
This is the general scope of the parable; the particular observations from it are these: 1. The Pharisee and the publican both pray, they both pray together in the place of prayer, the holy temple, and they both pray, with and within themselves. Where the duty and action is the same, there may be a vast difference in the purpose and intention: Does an humble saint pray? So may a haughty hypocrite: Two men went up into the temple to pray, the one a Pharisee, the other a publican.
Observe, 2. The Pharisee's prayer, He stood and prayed with himself, God, I thank thee, etc.
Where note, his gesture, He stood and prayed. Standing and kneeling are praying gestures, but sitting is a rude indecency, except in case of necessity. "In prayer," says pious bishop Hall, "I will either stand as a servant to my Master, or kneel as a subject to my prince."
Note farther, it is said, He prayed; but here is not one petition, but thanksgiving! God, I thank thee, etc.
Whence learn, that thanksgiving is a part of prayer. Hannah's prayer, as it is called, 1Sam 2:1-10 is a canticle, or song of praise. We then pray best when we praise God most.
Again, see the Pharisee's pride in this his prayer: this proud beggar shows not his wounds, but his worth, not his rags, but his robes, not his misery, but his bravery; he brings God Almighty in a reckoning of his services: I fast twice a week, I give alms of all that I possess, and thanks God more that others were bad, than that himself was good. Had the Pharisee with an humble mind thanked God for his restraining grace, that though he was not so good as he should be, that yet he was not so vile and bad as some others, this had been no fault; but when he comes before God with a proud and scornful mind, inwardly pleased that others were so bad, and so much worse than himself; giving thinks rather for others' badness, than his own goodness: this is a wickedness incident to none but devilish dispositions.
Learn hence, that whatsoever shows of goodness an hyocrite may make, yet he is inwardly glad of, and takes a secret delight in, others' badness; God, I thank thee that I am not as this publican; which was a kind of triumph, and proud insultation over the poor publican; he would seem to thank God that he was not so bad as the publican, when indeed he was glad that the publican was not so good as himself.
Observe, 3. The publican's behavior, in an humble sight and sense of his own sinfulness and unworthiness, he stood afar off, probably in the court of the Gentiles, where all sorts of sinners might come; acknowledging thereby that he was unworthy to come near the holy majesty of God; not presuming to lift up his eyes to heaven, that place of perfect holiness and purity; but, like a true self-condemned penitent, smote upon his breast, and in bitter remorse of soul said, God be merciful to me a sinner.
Hence learn, that a truly humble temper of mind well becomes us in all our approaches and addresses to God, and is more acceptable to him than all pompous performances whatsoever.
For observe lastly, the publican being thus condemned of himself, departs justified by God: He went down to his house justified rather than the Pharisee; the Pharisee justified himself, but the publican was justified by God.
Thence learn, that a penitent sinner, who is indeed poor in spirit, is far more esteemed of God, that he that makes long prayers, fasts often, tithes all his substance, and prides himself in all this. Without humility all is vain-glory and hypocrisy; and the seeming most sanctified person that has it not, is like a painted sepulchre, beautiful without, but full of rottenness within.
We have here a considerable person, a ruler, coming to Christ, with an important question in his mouth, What must I do to inherit eternal life?
1. He believes the certainty of a future state.
2. He professes a desire of an eternal happiness in that state.
3. He declares his readiness and willingness to do some good thing in order to the obtaining of that happiness.
Hence learn, that the light of nature, or natural religion, teaches men, that good works are necessary to salvation; or that some good thing must be done by them who at death expect eternal life; it is not talking well, and professing well, but living well, that entitles us to heaven and eternal life.
Our Saviour here reproves this person for calling him good, when he did not own him to be God; saying, There is none good, that is essentially and originally good, absolutely and immutably good, but God only; nor any derivatively good, but he that receives his goodness from God also.
Note here, that the duties directed to by our Saviour, are the duties of the second table, nothing being a better evidence of our unfeigned love to God, than a sincere performance of our duty to our neighbor; love to man is a fruit and testimony of our love to God.
Learn thence, that such as are defective in the duties of the second table, charity and justice towards men, do make but a counterfeit show of religion, though they pretend to the highest degree of holiness and love towards God.
This assertion might be very true, according to the Pharisee's sense and interpretation of the law, which condemned only the gross outward act, not the inward lusts and motions of the heart. An external obedience to the letter of the law this man might have possibly performed; this made him think well of himself, and conclude the goodness of his own condition.
Learn hence, how prone men are to think the best of themselves, and to have too high an opinion of their own goodness and righteousness before God; this is very natural, but dangerous and fatal.
Here observe, 1. Our Lord's admonition, Yet lackest thou one thing, which was true self-denial, in renouncing the sin of covetousness, and the inordinate love of worldly wealth. We ought, in the midst of our abundance, to maintain a readiness of disposition to part with all for God's sake, that is dear unto us in this world.
Observe, 2. Our Lord's injunction, Sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor. This was not a common, but a special precept, given particularly to this rich man for trial; like that given to Abraham, Gen 22:1-24 and to convince him of his corrupt confidence in riches; yet is the precept thus far of general use to all, to teach us so to contemn worldly possessions, as to be willing to part with them all at God's pleasure and when they prejudice our salvation.
Here note, the effect which our Saviour's admonition had upon this person, He was very sorrowful.
Learn thence, that carnal men are exceeding sorrowful when they cannot win heaven in their own way. That such as are wedded to the world, will renounce Christ rather than the world, when the world and Christ stand in competition. He went away sorrowful, for he was very rich. Mr 10:22
Our holy Lord takes occasion from the rich man's departure from him, to discourse concerning the danger of riches, and the difficulties that attend rich men in their way to heaven.
From whence we may collect and gather,
1. That rich men do certainly meet with more difficulties in their way to heaven than other men; it is difficult to withdraw their affections from riches, to place their supreme love upon God in the midst of their riches, and to depend entirely upon God in a rich condition; for the rich man's wealth is his strong tower.
2. That yet the fault lies not in riches, but in rich men, who by placing their trust and reposing their confidence in riches, do render their salvation difficult, if not impossible.
3. Our Saviour's proverbial speech of a camels going through the eye of a needle implies thus much, that it is not only a great difficulty, but an utter impossibility, for such as abound in worldly wealth, and place their confidence therein, to be saved, without an extraordinary grace and assistance from God. It is hard for God to make a rich man happy, because he thinks himself happy without God.
4. That as difficult and impossible as this may seem to men, yet nothing is impossible with God; he can change the heart of the rich, by the rich and powerful influences of his Holy Spirit: That which is impossible with men is possible with God.
It was well done and wisely done of Peter, to leave all and follow Christ; it was the best bargain he ever made in all his life.
But observe, how he magnifies that little he had left for Christ, and ushers it in with a note of admiration: Lo! We have left all and followed thee.
Learn hence, that though it be very little that we suffer for Christ, and have forsaken upon his account, yet we are prone to magnify and admire it, as if it were some great matter. Lord, says Peter, we have left all. what all, man, had thou to leave? A few ragged nets and tattered fisher-boat: a great all indeed, next to nothing at all: scarce worth mentioning, and yet how is it magnified? Behold, we have left all, and followed thee.
Observe here, the lenity and kindness of our Lord's gracious answer: he tells his disciples, that they who had left all and followed him, should be no losers by him; that is, in this world they shall receive manifold; says an hundred-fold; Mr 10:30 but how so? "Not in kind, but in equivalency:" not an hundred brethren, and sisters, and possessions, in kind; but he shall enjoy all that in God, which all creatures would be to him, if they were multiplied a hundred times. Oh the santifying gifts and saving graces, the supporting comforts and ravishing consolations, of the Holy Spirit, are a sufficient compensation for any thing, for all, yea, for more than all, that we can part with for the sake of Christ.
We find our blessed Saviour very frequently acquainting his disciples with his approaching sufferings, to prevent the offence that they might take at them, when the providence of God brought them on: this design was to arm them with expectation of his sufferings; and to quicken them to preparation for their own; yet, it is here said, That the disciples understood none of these sayings: Why so? Were not the words easy enough to be understood? Yes, but they could not reconcile them to the notion of the Messiah which they had drank in: they concluded he should be a temporal prince, and subdue their temporal enemies: but could not conceive how he, that should redeem Israel, should die, and be thus barbarously used. We have great need to consider will what notions we have concerning the things of God, before we entertain them; for false notions once taken up, are not without great difficulty laid down.
This chapter concludes with the recital of a famous miracle wrought by our Saviour upon a blind man, whom St. Mark calls Bartimeus.
Where we have observable, 1. The blind man's faith in acknowledging Christ to be the Messiah; for so much the title of Son of David did import.
Observe, 2. His fervency as well as his faith: he cried to Christ for the mercy of of healing, Have mercy on me, thou Son of David. A true sense of want, either bodily or spiritual, will cause a soul to cry of Christ with earnestness and importunity.
Observe, 3. The great compassion and condescension of Christ towards this blind man: He stood still, he called him, and enlightened his eyes.
Observe, 4. Before Christ would restore the blind man to sight, he must sensibly complain of the want of sight, and cry unto him for it. Christ knows all his creatures' wants, but takes no notice of them, till they make them known to him by prayer.
Observe, 5. How much Christ magnifies faith, what he attributes to it, and how he rewards the least exercise of it: Jesus said, thy faith hath saved thee. Christ himself was the efficient cause of the blind man's healing, but he exerted his divine power upon the exercise of the blind man's faith; and accordingly says, Thy faith hath saved thee.
Note, 6. In what way and manner the blind man does express his thankfulness to Christ for his recovered sight: He followed him, glorifiying God. Mercy received from Christ is then well improved when it engages us to follow Christ; this should be the effect of all salvations wrought for us. He praises God best, that serves him most. The life of thankfulness consists in the thankfulness of the life.
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