Matthew 24M A T T H E W. CHAP. XXIV.
Christ's preaching was mostly practical; but, in this chapter, we have a prophetical discourse, a prediction of things to come; such however as had a practical tendency, and was intended, not to gratify the curiosity of his disciples, but to guide their consciences and conversations, and it is therefore concluded with a practical application. The church has always had particular prophecies, besides general promises, both for direction and for encouragement to believers; but it is observable, Christ preached this prophetical sermon in the close of his ministry, as the Apocalypse is the last book of the New Testament, and the prophetical books of the Old Testament are placed last, to intimate to us, that we must be well grounded in plain truths and duties, and those must first be well digested, before we dive into those things that are dark and difficult; many run themselves into confusion by beginning their Bible at the wrong end. Now, in this chapter, we have, I. The occasion of this discourse, ver. 1-3. II. The discourse itself, in which we have, 1. The prophecy of divers events, especially referring to the destruction of Jerusalem, and the utter ruin of the Jewish church and nation, which were not hastening on, and were completed about forty years after; the prefaces to that destruction, the concomitants and consequences of it; yet looking further, to Christ's coming at the end of time, and the consummation of all things, of which that was a type and figure, ver. 4-31. 2. The practical application of this prophecy for the awakening and quickening of his disciples to prepare for these great and awful things, ver. 32-51.
1 And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple: and his disciples came to him for to show him the buildings of the temple. 2 And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down. 3 And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?
I. Christ's quitting the temple, and his public work there. He had said, in the close of the foregoing chapter, Your house is left unto you desolate; and here he made his words good; He went out, and departed from the temple. The manner of expression is observable; he not only went out of the temple, but departed from it, took his final farewell of it; he departed from it, never to return to it any more; and then immediately follows a prediction of its ruin. Note, That house is left desolate indeed, which Christ leaves. Woe unto them when I depart, Hos. ix. 12; Jer. vi. 8. It was now time to groan out their Ichabod, The glory is departed, their defence is departed. Three days after this, the veil of the temple was rent; when Christ left it, all became common and unclean; but Christ departed not till they drove him away; did not reject them, till they first rejected him.
II. His private discourse with his disciples; he left the temple, but he did not leave the twelve, who were the seed of the gospel church, which the casting off of the Jews was the enriching of. When he left the temple, his disciples left it too, and came to him. Note, It is good being where Christ is, and leaving that which he leaves. They came to him, to be instructed in private, when his public preaching was over; for the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him. He had spoken of the destruction of the Jewish church to the multitude in parables, which here, as usual, he explains to his disciples. Observe,
1. His disciples came to him, to show him the buildings of the temple, It was a stately and beautiful structure, one of the wonders of the world; no cost was spared, no art left untried, to make it sumptuous. Though it came short of Solomon's temple, and its beginning was small, yet its latter end did greatly increase. It was richly furnished with gifts and offerings, to which there were continual additions made. They showed Christ these things, and desired him to take notice of them, either,
(1.) As being greatly pleased with them themselves, and expecting he should be so too. They had lived mostly in Galilee, at a distance from the temple, had seldom seen it, and therefore were the more struck with admiration at it, and thought he should admire as much as they did all this glory (Gen. xxxi. 1); and they would have him divert himself (after his preaching, and from his sorrow which they saw him perhaps almost overwhelmed with) with looking about him. Note, Even good men are apt to be too much enamoured with outward pomp and gaiety, and to overvalue it, even in the things of God; whereas we should be, as Christ was, dead to it, and look upon it with contempt. The temple was indeed glorious, but, [1.] Its glory was sullied and stained with the sin of the priests and people; that wicked doctrine of the Pharisees, which preferred the gold before the temple that sanctified it, was enough to deface the beauty of all the ornaments of the temple. [2.] Its glory was eclipsed and outdone by the presence of Christ in it, who was the glory of this latter house (Hag. ii. 9), so that the buildings had no glory, in comparison with that glory which excelled.
Or, (2.) As grieving that this house should be left desolate; they showed him the buildings, as if they would move him to reverse the sentence; "Lord, let not this holy and beautiful house, where our fathers praised thee, be made a desolation." They forgot how many providences, concerning Solomon's temple, had manifested how little God cared for that outward glory which they had so much admired, when the people were wicked, 2 Chron. vii. 21. This house, which is high, sin will bring low. Christ had lately looked upon the precious souls, and wept for them, Luke xix. 41. The disciples look upon the pompous buildings, and are ready to weep for them. In this, as in other things, his thoughts are not like ours. It was weakness, and meanness of spirit, in the disciples, to be so fond of fine buildings; it was a childish thing. Animo magno nihil magnum--To a great mind nothing is great. Seneca.
2. Christ, hereupon, foretels the utter ruin and destruction that were coming upon this place, v. 2. Note, A believing foresight of the defacing of all worldly glory will help to take us off from admiring it, and overvaluing it. The most beautiful body will be shortly worms' meat, and the most beautiful building a ruinous heap. And shall we then set our eyes upon that which so soon is not, and look upon that with so much admiration which ere long we shall certainly look upon with so much contempt? See ye not all these things? They would have Christ look upon them, and be as much in love with them as they were; he would have them look upon them, and be as dead to them as he was. There is such a sight of these things as will do us good; so to see them as to see through them and see to the end of them.
Christ, instead of reversing the decree, ratifies it; Verily, I say unto you, there shall not be left one stone upon another.
(1.) He speaks of it as a certain ruin; "I say unto you. I, that know what I say, and know how to make good what I say; take my word for it, it shall be so; I, the Amen, the true Witness, say it to you." All judgment being committed to the Son, the threatenings, as well as the promises, are all yea, and amen, in him. Heb. vi. 17, 18.
(2.) He speaks of it as an utter ruin. The temple shall not only be stripped, and plundered, and defaced, but utterly demolished and laid waste; Not one stone shall be left upon another. Notice is taken, in the building of the second temple, of the laying of one stone upon another (Hag. ii. 15); and here, in the ruin, of not leaving one stone upon another. History tells us, that this was fulfilled in the latter; for though Titus, when he took the city, did all he could to preserve the temple, yet he could not restrain the enraged soldiers from destroying it utterly; and it was done to that degree, that Turnus Rufus ploughed up the ground on which it had stood: thus that scripture was fulfilled (Mic. iii. 12), Zion shall, for your sake, be ploughed as a field. And afterward, in Julian the Apostate's time, when the Jews were encouraged by him to rebuild their temple, in opposition to the Christian religion, what remained of the ruins was quite pulled down, to level the ground for a new foundation; but the attempt was defeated by the miraculous eruption of fire out of the ground, which destroyed the foundation they laid, and frightened away the builders. Now this prediction of the final and irreparable ruin of the temple includes a prediction of the period of the Levitical priesthood and the ceremonial law.
3. The disciples, not disputing either the truth or the equity of this sentence, nor doubting of the accomplishment of it, enquire more particularly of the time when it should come to pass, and the signs of its approach, v. 3. Observe,
(1.) Where they made this enquiry; privately, as he sat upon the mount of Olives; probably, he was returning to Bethany, and there sat down by the way, to rest him; the mount of Olives directly faced the temple, and from thence he might have a full prospect of it at some distance; there he sat as a Judge upon the bench, the temple and city being before him as at the bar, and thus he passed sentence on them. We read (Ezek. xi. 23) of the removing of the glory of the Lord from the temple to the mountain; so Christ, the great Shechinah, here removes to this mountain.
(2.) What the enquiry itself was; When shall these things be; and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? Here are three questions.
[1.] Some think, these questions do all point at one and the same thing--the destruction of the temple, and the period of the Jewish church and nation, which Christ had himself spoken of as his coming (ch. xvi. 28), and which would be the consummation of the age (for so it may be read), the finishing of that dispensation. Or, they thought the destruction of the temple must needs be the end of the world. If that house be laid waste, the world cannot stand; for the Rabbin used to say that the house of the sanctuary was one of the seven things for the sake of which the world was made; and they think, if so, the world will not survive the temple.
[2.] Others think their question, When shall these things be? refers to the destruction of Jerusalem, and the other two to the end of the world; or Christ's coming may refer to his setting up his gospel kingdom, and the end of the world to the day of judgment. I rather incline to think that their question looked no further than the event Christ now foretold; but it appears by other passages, that they had very confused thoughts of future events; so that perhaps it is not possible to put any certain construction upon this question of theirs.
But Christ, in his answer, though he does not expressly rectify the mistakes of his disciples (that must be done by the pouring out of the Spirit), yet looks further than their question, and instructs his church, not only concerning the great events of that age, the destruction of Jerusalem, but concerning his second coming at the end of time, which here he insensibly slides into a discourse of, and of that it is plain he speaks in the next chapter, which is a continuation of this sermon.
32 Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: 33 So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. 34 Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. 35 Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. 36 But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. 37 But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 38 For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, 39 And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 40 Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. 41 Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left. 42 Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. 43 But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. 44 Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh. 45 Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? 46 Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. 47 Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods. 48 But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; 49 And shall begin to smite his fellow-servants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; 50 The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, 51 And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
We have here the practical application of the foregoing prediction; in general, we must expect and prepare for the events here foretold.
I. We must expect them; "Now learn a parable of the fig-tree, v. 32, 33. Now learn what use to make of the things you have heard; so observe and understand the signs of the times, and compare them with the predictions of the word, as from thence to foresee what is at the door, that you may provide accordingly." The parable of the fig-tree is no more than this, that its budding and blossoming are a presage of summer; for as the stork in the heaven, so the trees of the field, know their appointed time. The beginning of the working of second causes assures us of the progress and perfection of it. Thus when God begins to fulfil prophecies, he will make an end. There is a certain series in the works of providence, as there is in the works of nature. The signs of the times are compared with the prognostics of the face of the sky (ch. xvi. 3), so here with those of the face of the earth; when that is renewed, we foresee that summer is coming, not immediately, but at some distance; after the branch grows tender, we expect the March winds, and the April showers, before the summer comes; however, we are sure it is coming; "so likewise ye, when the gospel day shall dawn, count upon it, that through this variety of events which I have told you of, the perfect day will come. The things revealed must shortly come to pass (Rev. i. 1); they must come in their own order, in the order appointed for them. Know that it is near." He does not here say what, but it is that which the hearts of his disciples are upon, and which they are inquisitive after, and long for; the kingdom of God is near, so it is expressed in the parallel place, Luke xxi. 31. Note, When the trees of righteousness begin to bud and blossom, when God's people promise faithfulness, it is a happy presage of good times. In them God begins his work, first prepares their heart, and then he will go on with it; for, as for God, his work is perfect; and he will revive it in the midst of their years.
Now touching the events foretold here, which we are to expect,
1. Christ here assures us of the certainty of them (v. 35); Heaven and earth shall pass away; they continue this day indeed, according to God's ordinance, but they shall not continue for ever (Ps. cii. 25, 26; 2 Pet. iii. 10); but my words shall not pass away. Note, The word of Christ is more sure and lasting than heaven and earth. Hath he spoken? And shall he not do it? We may build with more assurance upon the word of Christ than we can upon the pillars of heaven, or the strong foundations of the earth; for, when they shall be made to tremble and totter, and shall be no more, the word of Christ shall remain, and be in full force, power, and virtue. See 1 Pet. i. 24, 25. It is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than the word of Christ; so it is expressed, Luke xvi. 17. Compare Isa. liv. 10. The accomplishment of these prophecies might seem to be delayed, and intervening events might seem to disagree with them, but do not think that therefore the word of Christ is fallen to the ground, for that shall never pass away: though it be not fulfilled, either in the time or in the way that we have prescribed; yet, in God's time, which is the best time, and in God's way, which is the best way, it shall certainly be fulfilled. Every word of Christ is very pure, and therefore very sure.
2. He here instructs us as to the time of them, v. 34, 36. As to this, it is well observed by the learned Grotius, that there is a manifest distinction made between the tauta (v. 34), and the ekeine (v. 36), these things, and that day and hour; which will help to clear this prophecy.
(1.) As to these things, the wars, seductions, and persecutions, here foretold, and especially the ruin of the Jewish nation; "This generation shall not pass away, till all these things be fulfilled (v. 34); there are those now alive, that shall see Jerusalem destroyed, and the Jewish church brought to an end." Because it might seem strange, he backs it with a solemn asseveration; "Verily, I say unto you. You may take my word for it, these things are at the door." Christ often speaks of the nearness of that desolation, the more to affect people, and quicken them to prepare for it. Note, There may be greater trials and troubles yet before us, in our own day, than we are aware of. They that are old, know not what sons of Anak may be reserved for their last encounters.
(2.) But as to that day and hour which will put a period to time, that knoweth no man, v. 36. Therefore take heed of confounding these two, as they did, who, from the words of Christ and the apostles; letters, inferred that the day of Christ was at hand, 2 Thess. ii. 2. No, it was not; this generation, and many another, shall pass, before that day and hour come. Note, [1.] There is a certain day and hour fixed for the judgment to come; it is called the day of the Lord, because so unalterably fixed. None of God's judgments are adjourned sine die--without the appointment of a certain day. [2.] That day and hour are a great secret.
No man knows it; not the wisest by their sagacity, not the best by any divine discovery. We all know that there shall be such a day; but none knows when it shall be, no, not the angels; though their capacities for knowledge are great, and their opportunities of knowing this advantageous (they dwell at the fountain-head of light), and though they are to be employed in the solemnity of that day, yet they are not told when it shall be: none knows but my Father only. This is one of those secret things which belong to the Lord our God. The uncertainty of the time of Christ's coming, is, to those who are watchful, a savour of life unto life, and makes them more watchful; but to those who are careless, it is a savour of death unto death, and makes them more careless.
II. To this end we must expect these events, that we may prepare for them; and here we have a caution against security and sensuality, which will make it a dismal day indeed to us, v. 37-41. In these verses we have such an idea given us of the judgment day, as may serve to startle and awaken us, that we may not sleep as others do.
It will be a surprising day, and a separating day.
1. It will be a surprising day, as the deluge was to the old world, v. 37-39. That which he here intends to describe, is, the posture of the world at the coming of the Son of man; besides his first coming, to save, he has other comings to judge. He saith (John ix. 39), For judgment I am come; and for judgment he will come; for all judgment is committed to him, both that of the word, and that of the sword.
Now this here is applicable,
(1.) To temporal judgments, particularly that which was now hastening upon the nation and people of the Jews; though they had fair warning given them of it, and there were many prodigies that were presages of it, yet it found them secure, crying, Peace and safety, 1 Thess. v. 3. The siege was laid to Jerusalem by Titus Vespasian, when they were met at the passover in the midst of their mirth; like the men of Laish, they dwelt careless when the ruin arrested them, Judg. xviii. 7, 27. The destruction of Babylon, both that in the Old Testament and that in the New, comes when she saith, I shall be a lady for ever, Isa. xlvii. 7-9; Rev. xviii. 7. Therefore the plagues come in a moment, in one day. Note, Men's unbelief shall not make God's threatenings of no effect.
(2.) To the eternal judgment; so the judgment of the great day is called, Heb. vi. 2. Though notice has been given of it from Enoch, yet, when it comes, it will be unlooked for by the most of men; the latter days, which are nearest to that day, will produce scoffers, that say, Where is the promise of his coming? 2 Pet. iii. 3, 4; Luke xviii. 8. Thus it will be when the world that now is shall be destroyed by fire; for thus it was when the old world, being overflowed by water, perished, 2 Pet. iii. 6, 7. Now Christ here shows what were the temper and posture of the old world when the deluge came.
[1.] They were sensual and worldly; they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. It is not said, They were killing and stealing, and whoring and swearing (these were indeed the horrid crimes of some of the worst of them; the earth was full of violence); but they were all of them, except Noah, over head and ears in the world, and regardless of the word of God, and this ruined them. Note, Universal neglect of religion is a more dangerous symptom to any people than particular instances here and there of daring irreligion. Eating and drinking are necessary to the preservation of man's life; marrying and giving in marriage are necessary to the preservation of mankind; but, Licitus perimus omnes--These lawful things undo us, unlawfully managed. First, They were unreasonable in it, inordinate and entire in the pursuit of the delights of sense, and the gains of the world; they were wholly taken up with these things, esan trogontes--they were eating; they were in these things as in their element, as if they had their being for no other end than to eat and drink, Isa. lvi. 12. Secondly, They were unreasonable in it; they were entire and intent upon the world and the flesh, when the destruction was at the door, which they had had such fair warning of. They were eating and drinking, when they should have been repenting and praying; when God, by the ministry of Noah, called to weeping and mourning, then joy and gladness. This was to them, as it was to Israel afterwards, the unpardonable sin (Isa. xxii. 12, 14), especially, because it was in defiance of those warnings by which they should have been awakened. "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die; if it must be a short life, let it be a merry one." The apostle James speaks of this as the general practice of the wealthy Jews before the destruction of Jerusalem; when they should have been weeping for the miseries that were coming upon them, they were living in pleasure, and nourishing their hearts as in a day of slaughter, Jam. v. 1, 5.
[2.] They were secure and careless; they knew not, until the flood came, v. 39. Knew not! Surely they could not but know. Did not God, by Noah, give them fair warning of it? Did he not call them to repentance, while his long-suffering waited? 1 Pet. iii. 19, 20. But they knew not, that is, they believed not; they might have known, but would not know. Note, What we know of the things that belong to our everlasting peace, if we do not mix faith with it, and improve it, is all one as if we did not know it at all. Their not knowing is joined with their eating, and drinking, and marrying; for, First, Therefore they were sensual, because they were secure. Note, the reason why people are so eager in the pursuit, and so entangled in the pleasures of this world, is, because they do not know, and believe, and consider, the eternity which they are upon the brink of. Did we know aright that all these things must shortly be dissolved, and we must certainly survive them, we should not set our eyes and hearts so much upon them as we do. Secondly, Therefore they were secure, because they were sensual; therefore they knew not that the flood was coming, because they were eating and drinking; were so taken up with things seen and present, that they had neither time nor heart to mind the things not seen as yet, which they were warned of. Note, As security bolsters men up in their brutal sensuality; so sensuality rocks them asleep in their carnal security. The knew not, until the flood came. 1. The flood did come, though they would not foresee it. Note, Those that will not know by faith, shall be made to know by feeling, the wrath of God revealed from heaven against their ungodliness and unrighteousness. The evil day is never the further off for men's putting it far off from them. 2. They did not know it till it was too late to prevent it, as they might have done if they had known it in time, which made it so much the more grievous. Judgments are most terrible and amazing to the secure, and those that have made a jest of them.
The application of this, concerning the old world, we have in these words; So shall the coming of the Son of man be; that is, (1.) In such a posture shall he find people, eating and drinking, and not expecting him. Note, Security and sensuality are likely to be the epidemical diseases of the latter days. All slumber and sleep, and at midnight the bridegroom comes. All are off their watch, and at their ease. (2.) With such a power, and for such a purpose, will he come upon them. As the flood took away the sinners of the old world, irresistibly and irrecoverably; so shall secure sinners, that mocked at Christ and his coming, be taken away by the wrath of the Lamb, when the great day of his wrath comes, which will be like the coming of the deluge, a destruction which there is no fleeing from.
2. It will be a separating day (v. 40, 41); Then shall two be in the field. Two ways this may be applied.
(1.) We may apply it to the success of the gospel, especially at the first preaching of it; it divided the world; some believed the things which were spoken, and were taken to Christ; others believed not, and were left to perish in their unbelief. Those of the same age, place, capacity, employment, and condition, in the world, grinding in the same mill, those of the same family, nay, those that were joined in the same bond of marriage, were, one effectually called, the other passed by, and left in the gall of bitterness. This is that division, that separating fire, which Christ came to send, Luke xii. 49, 51. This renders free grace the more obliging, that it is distinguishing; to us, and not to the world (John xiv. 22), nay to us, and not to those in the same field, the same mill, the same house.
When ruin came upon Jerusalem, a distinction was made by Divine Providence, according to that which had been before made by divine grace; for all the Christians among them were saved from perishing in that calamity, by the special care of Heaven. If two were at work in the field together, and one of them was a Christian, he was taken into a place of shelter, and had his life given him for a prey, while the other was left to the sword of the enemy. Nay, if but two women were grinding at the mill, if one of them belonged to Christ, though but a woman, a poor woman, a servant, she was taken to a place of safety, and the other abandoned. Thus the meek of the earth are hid in the day of the Lord's anger (Zeph. ii. 3), either in heaven, or under heaven. Note, Distinguishing preservations, in times of general destruction, are special tokens of God's favour, and ought so to be acknowledged. If we are safe when thousands fall on our right hand and our left, are not consumed when others are consumed round about us, so that we are as brands plucked out of the fire, we have reason to say, It is of the Lord's mercies, and it is a great mercy.
(2.) We may apply it to the second coming of Jesus Christ, and the separation which will be made in that day. He had said before (v. 31), that the elect will be gathered together. Here he tells us, that, in order to that, they will be distinguished from those who were nearest to them in this world; the choice and chosen ones taken to glory, the other left to perish eternally. Those who sleep in the dust of the earth, two in the same grave, their ashed mixed, shall yet arise, one to be taken to everlasting life, the other left to shame and everlasting contempt, Dan. xii. 2. Here it is applied to them who shall be found alive. Christ will come unlooked for, will find people busy at their usual occupations, in the field, at the mill; and then, according as they are vessels of mercy prepared for glory, or vessels of wrath prepared for ruin, accordingly it will be with them; the one taken to meet the Lord and his angels in the air, to be for ever with him and them; the other left to the devil and his angels, who, when Christ has gathered out his own, will sweep up the residue. This will aggravate the condemnation of sinners that others shall be taken from the midst of them to glory, and they left behind. And it speaks abundance of comfort to the Lord's people. [1.] Are they mean and despised in the world, as the man-servant in the field, or the maid at the mill (Exod. xi. 5)? Yet they shall not be forgotten or overlooked in that day. The poor in the world, if rich in faith, are heirs of the kingdom. [2.] Are they dispersed in distant and unlikely places, where one would not expect to find the heirs of glory, in the field, at the mill? Yet the angels will find them there (hidden as Saul among the stuff, when they are to be enthroned), and fetch them thence; and well may they be said to be changed, for a very great change it will be to go to heaven from ploughing and grinding. [3.] Are they weak, and unable of themselves to move heavenward? They shall be taken, or laid hold of, as Lot was taken out of Sodom by a gracious violence, Gen. xix. 16. Those whom Christ has once apprehended and laid hold on, he will never lose his hold of. [4.] Are they intermixed with others, linked with them in the same habitations, societies, employments? Let not that discourage any true Christian; God knows how to separate between the precious and the vile, the gold and dross in the same lump, the wheat and chaff in the same floor.
III. Here is a general exhortation to us, to watch, and be ready against that day comes, enforced by divers weighty considerations, v. 42, &c. Observe,
1. The duty required; Watch, and be ready, v. 42, 44.
(1.) Watch therefore, v. 42. Note, It is the great duty and interest of all the disciples of Christ to watch, to be awake and keep awake, that they may mind their business. As a sinful state or way is compared to sleep, senseless and inactive (1 Thess. v. 6), so a gracious state or way is compared to watching and waking. We must watch for our Lord's coming, to us in particular at our death, after which is the judgment, that is the great day with us, the end of our time; and his coming at the end of all time to judge the world, the great day with all mankind. To watch implies not only to believe that our Lord will come, but to desire that he would come, to be often thinking of his coming, and always looking for it as sure and near, and the time of it uncertain. To watch for Christ's coming, is to maintain that gracious temper and disposition of mind which we should be willing that our Lord, when he comes, should find us in. To watch is to be aware of the first notices of his approach, that we may immediately attend his motions, and address ourselves to the duty of meeting him. Watching is supposed to be in the night, which is sleeping time; while we are in this world, it is night with us, and we must take pains to keep ourselves awake.
(2.) Be ye also ready. We wake in vain, if we do not get ready. It is not enough to look for such things; but we must therefore give diligence, 2 Pet. iii. 11, 14. We have then our Lord to attend upon, and we must have our lamps ready trimmed; a cause to be tried, and we must have our plea ready drawn and signed by our Advocate; a reckoning to make up, and we must have our accounts ready stated and balanced; there is an inheritance which we then hope to enter upon, and we must have ourselves ready, made meet to partake of it, Col. i. 12.
2. The reasons to induce us to this watchfulness and diligent preparation for that day; which are two.
(1.) Because the time of our Lord's coming is very uncertain. This is the reason immediately annexed to the double exhortation (v. 42, 44); and it is illustrated by a comparison, v. 43. Let us consider then,
[1.] That we know not what hour he will come, v. 42. We know not the day of our death, Gen. xxvii. 2. We may know that we have but a little time to live (The time of my departure is at hand, 2 Tim. iv. 6); but we cannot know that we have a long time to live, for our souls are continually in our hands; nor can we know how little a time we have to live, for it may prove less than we expect; much less do we know the time fixed for the general judgment. Concerning both we are kept at uncertainty, that we may, every day, expect that which may come any day; may never boast of a year's continuance (James iv. 13), no, nor of tomorrow's return, as if it were ours, Prov. xxvii. 1; Luke xii. 20.
[2.] That he may come at such an hour as we think not, v. 44. Though there be such uncertainty in the time, there is none in the thing itself: though we know not when he will come, we are sure he will come. His parting word was, Surely I come quickly; his saying, "I come surely," obliges us to expect him: his saying "I come quickly." obliges us to be always expecting him; for it keeps us in a state of expectancy. In such an hour as you think not, that is, such an hour as they who are unready and unprepared, think not (v. 50); nay, such an hour as the most lively expectants perhaps thought least likely. The bridegroom came when the wise were slumbering. It is agreeable to our present state, that we should be under the influence of a constant and general expectation, rather than that of particular presages and prognostications, which we are sometimes tempted vainly to desire and wish for.
[3.] That the children of this world are thus wise in their generation, that, when they know of a danger approaching, they will keep awake, and stand on their guard against it. This he shows in a particular instance, v. 43. If the master of a house had notice that a thief would come such a night, and such a watch of the night (for they divided the night into four watches, allowing three hours to each), and would make an attempt upon his house, though it were the midnight-watch, when he was most sleepy, yet he would be up, and listen to every noise in every corner, and be ready to give him a warm reception. Now, though we know not just when our Lord will come, yet, knowing that he will come, and come quickly, and without any other warning than what he hath given in his word, it concerns us to watch always. Note, First, We have every one of us a house to keep, which lies exposed, in which all we are worth is laid up: that house is our own souls, which we must keep with all diligence. Secondly, The day of the Lord comes by surprise, as a thief in the night. Christ chooses to come when he is least expected, that the triumphs of his enemies may be turned into the greater shame, and the fears of his friends into the greater joy. Thirdly, If Christ, when he comes, finds us asleep and unready, our house will be broken up, and we shall lose all we are worth, not as by a thief unjustly, but as by a just and legal process; death and judgment will seize upon all we have, to our irreparable damage and utter undoing. Therefore be ready, be ye also ready; as ready at all times as the good man of the house would be at the hour when he expected the thief: we must put on the armour of God, that we may not only stand in that evil day, but, as more than conquerors, may divide the spoil.
(2.) Because the issue of our Lord's coming will be very happy and comfortable to those that shall be found ready, but very dismal and dreadful to those that shall not, v. 45, &c. This is represented by the different state of good and bad servants, when their lord comes to reckon with them. It is likely to be well or ill with us to eternity, according as we are found ready or unready at that day; for Christ comes to render to every man according to his works. Now this parable, with which the chapter closes, is applicable to all Christians, who are in profession and obligation God's servants; but it seems especially intended as a warning to ministers; for the servant spoken of is a steward. Now observe what Christ here saith,
[1.] Concerning the good servant; he shows here what he is--a ruler of the household; what, being so, he should be--faithful and wise; and what, if he be so, he shall be eternally-blessed. Here are good instructions and encouragements to the ministers of Christ.
First, We have here his place and office. He is one whom the Lord has made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season. Note, 1. The church of Christ is his household, or family, standing in relation to him as the Father and Master of it. It is the household of God, a family named from Christ, Eph. iii. 15. 2. Gospel ministers are appointed rulers in this household; not at princes (Christ has entered a caveat against that), but as stewards, or other subordinate officers; not as lords, but as guides; not to prescribe new ways, but to show and lead in the ways that Christ has appointed: that is the signification of the hegoumenoi, which we translate, having rule over you (Heb. xiii. 17); as overseers, not to cut out new work, but to direct in, and quicken to, the work which Christ has ordered; that is the signification of episkopoi--bishops. They are rulers by Christ; what power they have is derived from him, and none may take it from them, or abridge it to them; he is one whom the Lord has made ruler; Christ has the making of ministers. They are rulers under Christ, and act in subordination to him; and rulers for Christ, for the advancement of his kingdom. 3. The work of gospel ministers is to give to Christ's household their meat in due season, as stewards, and therefore they have the keys delivered to them. (1.) Their work is to give, not take to themselves (Ezek. xxxiv. 8), but give to the family what the Master has bought, to dispense what Christ has purchased. And to ministers it is said, that it is more blessed to give than to receive, Acts xx. 35. (2.) It is to give meat; not to give law (that is Christ's work), but to deliver those doctrines to the church which, if duly digested, will be nourishment to souls. They must give, not the poison of false doctrines, not the stones of hard and unprofitable doctrines, but the meat that is sound and wholesome. (3.) It must be given in due season, en kairo--while there is time for it; when eternity comes, it will be too late; we must work while it is day: or in time, that is, whenever any opportunity offers itself; or in the stated time, time after time, according as the duty of every day requires.
Secondly, His right discharge of this office. The good servant, if thus preferred, will be a good steward; for,
1. He is faithful; stewards must be so, 1 Cor. iv. 2. He that is trusted, must be trusty; and the greater the trust is, the more is expected from them. It is a great good thing that is committed to ministers (2 Tim. i. 14); and they must be faithful, as Moses was, Heb. iii. 2. Christ counts those ministers, and those only, that are faithful, 1 Tim. i. 12. A faithful minister of Jesus Christ is one that sincerely designs his master's honour, not his own; delivers the whole counsel of God, not his own fancies and conceits; follows Christ's institutions and adheres to them; regards the meanest, reproves the greatest, and doth not respect persons.
2. He is wise to understand his duty and the proper season of it; and in guiding of the flock there is need, not only of the integrity of the heart, but the skilfulness of the hands. Honesty may suffice for a good servant, but wisdom is necessary to a good steward; for it is profitable to direct.
3. He is doing; so doing as his office requires. The ministry is a good work, and they whose office it is, have always something to do; they must not indulge themselves in ease, nor leave the work undone, or carelessly turn it off to others, but be doing, and doing to the purpose--so doing, giving meat to the household, minding their own business, and not meddling with that which is foreign; so doing as the Master has appointed, as the office imports, and as the case of the family requires; not talking, but doing. It was the motto Mr. Perkins used, Minister verbi es--You are a minister of the word. Not only Age--Be doing; but Hoc age--Be so doing.
4. He is found doing when his Master comes; which intimates, (1.) Constancy at his work. At what hour soever his Master comes, he is found busy at the work of the day. Ministers should not leave empty spaces in their time, lest their Lord should come in one of those empty spaces. As with a good God the end of one mercy is the beginning of another, so with a good man, a good minister, the end of one duty is the beginning of another. When Calvin was persuaded to remit his ministerial labours, he answered, with some resentment, "What, would you have my Master find me idle?" (2.) Perseverance in his work till the Lord come. Hold fast till then, Rev. ii. 25. Continue in these things, 1 Tim. iv. 16; vi. 14. Endure to the end.
Thirdly, The recompence of reward intended him for this, in three things.
1. He shall be taken notice of. This is intimated in these words, Who then is that faithful and wise servant? Which supposes that there are but few who answer this character; such an interpreter is one of a thousand, such a faithful and wise steward. Those who thus distinguish themselves now by humility, diligence, and sincerity in their work, Christ will in the great day both dignify and distinguish by the glory conferred on them.
2. He shall be blessed? Blessed is that servant; and Christ's pronouncing him blessed makes him so. All the dead that die n the Lord are blessed, Rev. xiv. 13. But there is a peculiar blessedness secured to them that approve themselves faithful stewards, and are found so doing. Next to the honour of those who die in the field of battle, suffering for Christ as the martyrs, is the honour of those that die in the field of service, ploughing, and sowing, and reaping, for Christ.
3. He shall be preferred (v. 47); He shall make him ruler over all his goods. The allusion is to the way of great men, who, if the stewards of their house conduct themselves well in that place, commonly prefer them to be the managers of their estates; thus Joseph was preferred in the house of Potiphar, Gen. xxix. 4, 6. But the greatest honour which the kindest master ever did to his most tried servants in this world, is nothing to that weight of glory which the Lord Jesus will confer upon his faithful watchful servants in the world to come. What is here said by a similitude, is the same that is said more plainly, John xi. 26, Him will my Father honour. And God's servants, when thus preferred; shall be perfect in wisdom and holiness to bear that weight of glory, so that there is no danger from these servants when they reign.
[2.] Concerning the evil servant. Here we have,
First, His description given (v. 48, 49); where we have the wretch drawn in his own colours. The vilest of creatures is a wicked man, the vilest of men is a wicked Christian, and the vilest of them a wicked minister. Corruptio optimi est pessima--What is best, when corrupted, becomes the worst. Wickedness in the prophets of Jerusalem is a horrible thing indeed, Jer. xxiii. 14. Here is,
1. The cause of his wickedness; and that is, a practical disbelief of Christ's second coming; He hath said in his heart, My Lord delays his coming; and therefore he begins to think he will never come, but has quite forsaken his church. Observe, (1.) Christ knows that they say in their hearts, who with their lips cry, Lord, Lord, as this servant here. (2.) The delay of Christ's coming, though it is a gracious instance of his patience, is greatly abused by wicked people, whose hearts are thereby hardened in their wicked ways. When Christ's coming is looked upon as doubtful, or a thing at an immense distance, the hearts of men are fully set to do evil, Eccl. viii. 11. See Ezek. xii. 27. They that walk by sense, are ready to say of the unseen Jesus, as the people did of Moses when he tarried in the mount upon their errand, We wot not what is become of him, and therefore up, make us gods, the world a god, the belly a god, any thing but him that should be.
2. The particulars of his wickedness; and they are sins of the first magnitude; he is a slave to his passions and his appetites.
(1.) Persecution is here charged upon him. He begins to smite his fellow servants. Note, [1.] Even the stewards of the house are to look upon all the servants of the house as their fellow servants, and therefore are forbidden to lord it over them. If the angel call himself fellow servant to John (Rev. xix. 10), no marvel if John have learned to call himself brother to the Christians of the churches of Asia, Rev. i. 9. [2.] It is no new thing to see evil servants smiting their fellow servants; both private Christians and faithful ministers. He smites them, either because they reprove him, or because they will not bow, and do him reverence; will not say as he saith, and do as he doeth, against their consciences: he smites them with the tongue, as they smote the prophet, Jer. xviii. 18. And if he get power into his hand, or can press those into his service that have, as the ten horns upon the head of the beast, it goes further. Pashur the priest smote Jeremiah, and put him in the stocks, Jer. xx. 2. The revolters have often been of all others most profound to make slaughter, Hos. v. 2. The steward, when he smites his fellow servants, does it under colour of his Master's authority, and in his name; he says, Let the Lord be glorified (Isa. lxvi. 5); but he shall know that he could not put a greater affront upon his Master.
(2.) Profaneness and immorality; He begins to eat and drink with the drunken. [1.] He associates with the worst of sinners, has fellowship with them, is intimate with them; he walks in their counsel, stands in their way, sits in their seat, and sings their songs. The drunken are the merry and jovial company, and those he is for, and thus he hardens them in their wickedness. [2.] He does like them; eats, and drinks, and is drunken; so it is in Luke. This is an inlet to all manner of sin. Drunkenness is a leading wickedness; they who are slaves to that, are never masters of themselves in any thing else. The persecutors of God's people have commonly been the most vicious and immoral men. Persecuting consciences, whatever the pretensions be, are commonly the most profligate and debauched consciences. What will not they be drunk with, that will be drunk with the blood of the saints? Well, this is the description of a wicked minister, who yet may have the common gifts of learning and utterance above others; and, as hath been said of some, may preach so well in the pulpit, that it is a pity he should ever come out, and yet live so ill out of the pulpit, that it is a pity he should ever come in.
Secondly, His doom read, v. 50, 51. The coat and character of wicked ministers will not only not secure them from condemnation, but will greatly aggravate it. They can plead no exemption from Christ's jurisdiction, whatever they pretend to, in the church of Rome, from that of the civil magistrate; there is no benefit of clergy at Christ's bar. Observe,
1. The surprise that will accompany his doom (v. 50); The Lord of that servant will come. Note, (1.) Our putting off the thoughts of Christ's coming will not put off his coming. Whatever fancy he deludes himself with, his Lord will come. The unbelief of man shall not make that great promise, or threatening (call it which you will), of no effect. (2.) The coming of Christ will be a most dreadful surprise to secure and careless sinners, especially to wicked ministers; He shall come in a day when he looketh not for him. Note, Those that have slighted the warnings of the word, and silenced those of their own consciences concerning the judgment to come, cannot expect any other warnings; these will be adjudged sufficient legal notice given, whether taken or no; and no unfairness can be charged on Christ, if he come suddenly, without giving other notice. Behold, he has told us before.
2. The severity of his doom, v. 51. It is not more severe than righteous, but it is a doom that carries in it utter ruin, wrapt up in two dreadful words, death and damnation.
(1.) Death. His Lord shall cut him asunder, dikotomesei auton, "he shall cut him off from the land of the living," from the congregation of the righteous, shall separate him unto evil; which is the definition of a curse (Deut. xxix. 21), shall cut him down, as a tree that cumbers the ground; perhaps it alludes to the sentence often used in the law, That soul shall be cut off from his people; denoting an utter extirpation. Death cuts off a good man, as a choice imp is cut off to be grafted in a better stock; but it cuts off a wicked man, as a withered branch is cut off for the fire-cuts him off from this world, which he set his heart so much upon, and was, as it were, one with. Or, as we read it, shall cut him asunder, that is, part body and soul, send the body to the grave to be a prey for worms, and the soul to hell to be a prey for devils, and there is the sinner cut asunder. The soul and body of a godly man at death part fairly, the one cheerfully lifted up to God, the other left to the dust; but the soul and body of a wicked man at death are cut asunder, torn asunder, for to them death is the king of terrors, Job xviii. 14. The wicked servant divided himself between God and the world, Christ and Belial, his profession and his lusts, justly therefore will he thus be divided.
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