Mark 12

In this parable, the Jewish church is compared to a vineyard;

Almighty God to an householder;

his planting, pruning, and fencing his vineyard, denotes his care to furnish his church with all needful helps and means to make it spiritually fruitful;

His letting it out to husbandmen, signifies his committing the care of his church to the priests and Levites; the public pastors and governors of the church:

His servants are the prophets and apostles, whom he sent time after time to admonish thm to bring forth fruit answerable to the cost which God had expended on them;

His Son is Jesus Christ, whom the rulers of the Jewish Church slew and murdered.

The design and scope of the parable is to discover to the Jews, particularly to the Pharisees, their obstinate impenitency under all means of grace, their bloody cruelty towards the prophets of God, their tremendous guilt in crucifying the Son of God: for all which God would unchurch them finally, ruin their nation, and set up a church among the Gentiles, that should bring forth better fruit than the Jewish church ever did.

From the whole, note, 1. That the church is God's vineyard. A vineyard is a place inclosed, a place well planted, well fruited, and exceeding dear and precious to the planter and the owner of it.

2. As dear as God's vineyard is unto him, in case of barrenness, and unfruitfulness, it is in great danger of being destroyed and laid waste by him.

3. That the only way and course to engage God's care over his vineyard and to prevent its being given to other husbandmen, is to give him the fruit of it; that is but a vineyard that God lets out; it is no inheritance.

No people ever had so many promises of God's favour as the Jews had, nor ever enjoyed so many privileges, whilst they continued in his favour, as they did; yet though they were the first and the natural branches, they are broken off, and we Gentiles stand by faith; let us not be high-minded, but fear, Rom 11:20.

These words of our Saviour are taken out of the 118th Psalm, which the Jews understood to be a prophecy of the Messiah, and accordingly Christ applies them to himself: the church is the building intended, Christ himself the stone rejected.

The rejecters, or the builders rejecting, are the heads of the Jewish church; that is the chief priest and pharisees. God, the great master-builder of his church, takes this precious foundation-stone out of the rubbish, and sets it in the head of the corner. Nevertheless, there are many that stumble at this stone; some through ignorance, others through fear and malice: some are offended at his person, others at his doctrine.

These shall be broken in pieces; but on whomsoever this stone shall fall, it will grind them to powder; that is, Christ himself will fall as a burdensome stone upon all them that knowingly and malicoiusly oppose him; and particularly upon the Jews; who not only rejected, but persecuted and destroyed him.

Thus Christ tells the Chief Priests and Pharisees their particular doom, and also declares what will be the fatal issue of all that opposition which is made against himself and his church; it will terminate in the inevitable destruction of all its opposers; Whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken; and on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind them to powder.

Observe here, A grand design to entangle our blessed Saviour in his discourse.

Where note, 1. The persons employed to put the ensnaring question to Christ, namely, the Pharisees and Herodians. The Pharisees were against paying tribute to Caesar, looking upon themselves as a free people, and the emperor as an usurper; but the Herodians were for it. Herod being made by the Roman emperor king over the Jews, he was very zealous for having the Jews pay tribute to Caesar; and such of the Jews as sided with him, particularly his courtiers and favourites, were called Herodians.

Note, 2. The policy and wicked craft here used, in employing these two contrary parties to put this question to our Saviour concerning tribute, thereby laying him under a necessity, as they hoped, to offend one side, let him answer how he would; if, to please the Pharisees, he denied paying tribute to Caesar, then he is accused of sedition; if, to gratify the Herodians, he voted for paying tribute to Caesar, then he is looked upon as an enemy to the liberty of his country, and exposed to popular odium. Thus has it all along been the practice of Satan and his instruments, to draw the ministers of God into dislike, either with the magistrates or with the people, that they may fall under the censure of the one, or the displeasure of the other.

Observe, 3. With what wisdom and caution our Lord answers them; he calls for the Roman penny, answering to sevenpence halfpenny of our money, two of which they paid by way of tribute, as poll money for every head to the emperor. Christ asks them, Whose image or superscription this their coin bore? They answer, Caesar's. Render then, says he, to Caesar the things that are Caesar's. As if our Lord had said, "Your admitting of the Roman coin among you, is an evidence that you are under subjection to the emperor, because the coining and imposing of money is an act of sovereign authority; therefore you have owned Caesar's authority over you, by accepting of his coin amongst you; give unto him his just dues, and render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's."

Learn hence, 1. That our Saviour was no enemy to magistracy and civil government; there was no truer paymaster of the king's dues, than he that was King of kings; he preached it, and he practised it, Matt 17:27.

2. Where a kingdom is in subjection to a temporal prince, whether his right be by descent, election, or by conquest, the subjects ought, from a principle of conscience, to pay tribute to him.

3. That as Christ is no enemy to the civil rights of princes, and his religion exempts none from paying their civil dues; so princes should be as careful not to rob him of his divine honour, as he is not to rob them of their civil rights; as Christ requires all his followers to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, so should princes oblige all their subjects to render unto God the things that are God's.

Our blessed Saviour having put the Pharisees and Herodians to silence in the former verses, here he encounters the Sadducees. This sect derived its name from one Sadock, who denied the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the body, and angels, and spirits. Here they propound a case to our Saviour, of a woman who had seven brethren successively to her husbands: they demand whose wife of the seven this woman should be at the resurrection? As if they had said, "If there be a resurrection of bodies, surely there will be of relations too; and the other world, if there be such a place, will be like this, in which men will marry as they do here; and if so, whose wife of the seven shall this woman be, they all having an equal claim to her?"

Now our Saviour, for resolving of this question, first shews the different state of men in this and in the other world. The children of this world, says our Savioiur, marry and are given in marriage, but in the resurrection they do neither. As if Christ had said, "After men have lived a while in this world, they die, and therefore marriage is necessary to maintain a succession of mankind; but in the other world, man shall become immortal, and live forever, and then the reason of marriage will wholly cease; for when men can die no more, there will be no need of any new supplies of mankind."

Observe, secondly, That our Saviour having got clear of the Sadducees objection, by taking away the foundation and ground work of it, he produceth an argument for the proof of the soul's immortality and the body's resurrection. Those, to whom Almighty God pronounces himself a God, are certainly alive; but God pronounced himself a God to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, many hundred years after their bodies were dead, therefore their souls are yet alive; for otherwise God could not be their God; because he is not God of the dead, but of the living.

From the whole, note, 1. That there is no opinion so monstrous and absurd, that having had a mother, will die for lack of a nurse. The beastly opinion of the mortality of the soul and the annihilation of the body, find Sadducees to profess and propagate it.

Note, 2. The certainty of another life after this, in which men shall be eternally happy, or intolerably miserable, accordingly as they behave themselves here. Though some men live like beast, yet they shall not die like them, nor shall their last end be like theirs.

Note, 3. That glorified saints in the morning of the resurrection, shall be like the glorious angels; not like them in essence and nature, but like them in their properties and qualities, in holiness and purity, in immortality and incorruptibility; as also in their manner of living, they shall stand in no more need of meat and drink than the angels do, but shall live the same heavenly, immortal, and incorruptible life that the angels live.

Note, 4. That all those who are in covenant with God, whose God the Lord is, their souls do immediately pass into glory, and their bodies at the resurrection shall be sharers in the same happiness with their souls; if God be just, their souls must live, and their bodies must rise; for good men must be rewarded, and wicked men punished somewhere; either in this life or in another. God will most certainly, at one time or other, plentifully reward the righteous, and punish the wicked doers. But, this being not always done in this life, the justice of God requires that it must be done in the next.

Observe here, 1. A question propounded to our blessed Saviour, and his answer thereunto. The question propounded is this, Which is the first and great commandment? Our Saviour tells them, It is to love God with all their heart and soul, with all their mind and strength; that is, with all the powers, faculties, and abilities of the soul, with the highest measures, and most intense degrees of love; this is the sum of the duties of the first table: This is the first and great commandment, and the second is like unto it. He doth not say equal with it: although the duties of the second table are of the same authority, and of the same necessity with the first, as no man can be saved without the love of God, so neither without the love of his neighbour.

Whence note, 1. That the fervency of all our affections, and particularly the supremacy of our love, is required by God as his right and due; love must pass through, and possess all the powers and faculties of our souls; the mind must meditate upon God, the will must choose and embrace him, and the affections must delight in him. The measure of loving God is to love him without measure; God reckons that we love him not at all, if we love him not above all.

Note, 2. That thus to love God, is the first great commandment; great in regard of the obligation of it. To love God is so indispensible a duty, that God himself cannot free us from the obligation of it; for so long as he is God, and we his creatures, we shall lie under a natural obligation to love and serve him.

Great also is this command and duty, in regard to the duration and continuance of it; when faith shall be swallowed up in vision, and hope in fruition, love will then be perfected in a full enjoyment.

Note, 3. That every man may, yea, ought, to love himself: not his sinful self, but his natural self; especially his spiritual self, the new nature in him. This it ought to be his particular care to strengthen and increase. Indeed there is no express command in scripture, for a man to love himself, because the light of nature directs, and the law of nature binds, every man so to do. God has put a principle of self-love, and of self-preservation, into all his creatures, but especially into man.

Note, 4. That as every man ought to love himself, so it is every man's duty to love his neighbour as himself; not as he doth love himself, but as he ought to love himself; yet not in the same degree that he loves himself, but after the same manner, and with the same kind of love that he loves himself. As we love ourselves freely and readily, sincerely and unfeignedly, tenderly and compassionately, constantly and continually, so should we love our neighbour also; though we love him not as much as we love ourselves, yet must we love him truly, as truly as we love ourselves.

Note lastly, That the duties of the first and second table are inseparable, namely, love to God, and love to our neighbour. These two must not be separated; he that loveth not his neighbour whom he hath seen, never loved God whom he hath not seen. A conscientious regard to the duties of both tables, will be an argument of our sincerity, and an ornament to our profession.

Observe, lastly, The favourable censure which our Saviour passes upon the scribe: he tells him, He was not far from the kingdom of God.

Note here, 1. Some persons may be far, and farther than others, from the kingdom of heaven; some are farther in regard of the means; they want the ordinances, the dispensation of the word and sacraments; others are far from the kingdom of God, in regard of qualifications and dispositions; of the former sort, are all heathens without the pale of the church; they are afar off, as the apostle expresses it, Eph 2:13. of the latter sort, are all gross and close hypocrites within the church; who, whilst they continue such, shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

Note, 2. As some persons may be said to be far from the kingdom of God, so are there others which may be said, not to be far; such who have escaped the pollutions of the world, abstained from open and scandalous sins, are less wicked than multitudes are; but are strangers to an inward, thorough, and prevailing change in the frame of their hearts, and course of their lives: they have often said, I would be, but they never said, I will be, the Lord's. When the work of regeneration is brought to the birth, after all, it proves an abortion.

Lord! what a disappointment will this be, to perish within sight of the promised land; to be near heaven in our expectation, and yet not nearer in the issue and event? Woe unto us, if this be the condition of any of us, who have all our days sat under the dispensation of thy gospel.

The Pharisees had often put forth sevveral questions maliciously unto Christ, and now Christ puts forth one question innocently unto them; namely, What they thought of the Messiah whom they expected?

They reply, that he was to be the Soul of David: that is, a secular prince descending from David, who should deliver them from the power of the Romans, and restore them to their civil rights. This was the notion they had of the Messiah, that he should be a mere man, the son of David according to the flesh, and nothing more.

Our Saviour replies, Whence is it then that David calls the Messiah Lord? The Lord said to my Lord, Sit though on my right hand Ps 110:1. How could he be both David's Lord, and David's son; no son being lord to his father?

Therefore, if Christ were David's Sovereign, he must be more than man, more than David's son: as man, so he was David's son; as God-man, so he was David's Lord.

Note, hence, 1. That although Christ was truly and really man, yet he was more than a bare man; he was Lord unto, and the salvation of, his own forefathers.

Note, 2. That the only way to reconcile the scriptures which speak concerning Christ, is to believe and acknowledge him to be God and man in one person; the Messiah as man, was to come forth out of David's loins; but as God-man, he was David's Sovereign and Saviour: as man, he was his Father's son; as God he was Lord to his own father.

Observe here, What it is that our Saviour condemns; not civil salutations in the market-place, not the chief seats in synagogues, not the uppermost rooms at feasts; but their fond affecting of these things, and their ambitious aspiring after them. It was not their taking, but their loving, the uppermost rooms a feasts, which Christ condemns.

Observe, 2. How our Saviour condemns the Pharisees for their gross hypocrisy, in covering over their covetousness with a pretence of religion, making long prayers in the temple and synagogues for widows, and thereupon persuading them to give bountifully to corban; that is, the common treasury for the temple, some part of which was employed for their maintenance.

Whence we learn, That it is no new thing for designing hypcocrites to cover the foulest transgressions with the cloke of religion. The Pharisees made long prayers a cloak and cover for their covetousness.

As our blessed Saviour sat over against the treasury, that is, that part of the court of the temple where the corban, or chests for receiving the people's offerings and gifts, were set, he observed, and took notice of those that offered their oblations; and some that were rich offered very liberally; but a certain poor woman came and offered two mites.

Our Saviour hereupon takes occasion to instruct his disciples in this comfortable truth; namely, "That Almighty God accepts the will of those that give cheerfully, though they cannot give largely." This poor woman cast in more, in respect of the inward affection of her heart, and in proportion to her state, than all those that were rich and wealthy, that had cast in before her; a mite to her being more than a pound to them.

From the whole, note, 1. That the poorer, yea, the poorest sort of people are not exempted from good works; even they must exercise charity according to their abilities.

Learn, 2. That in all works of charity which we perform, God looks at the heart, the will, and the affection of the giver, more than at the largeness and liberality of the gift: If there be willing mind, says the apostle, it is accepted according to what a man hath, and not according to what he hath not. 2Cor 8:12.

3. That a person ought sometimes to give what he cannot very well spare himself; and be ready to distribute not only to his power, but even above and beyond his power, 2Cor 8:2,3.

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