LUKE 1 - 8.
The preface of Luke's gospel is as instructive as the introduction of either of the two preceding gospels. It is obvious to any serious reader that we enter a totally different province, though all be equally divine; but here we have a stronger prominence given to human motive and feeling. To one who needed to learn more of Jesus, writes another godly man, inspired of God, but without drawing particular attention to the fact of inspiration, as if this were a doubtful matter; but, on the contrary, assuming, as all Scripture does, without express statement, that the written word is the word of God. The purpose is, to set before a fellow Christian — a man of rank, but a disciple — an account, full, accurate, and orderly, of the Lord Jesus, such as one might give that had thorough acquaintance with all the truth of the matter, but in fact such as none could give who was not inspired of God for the purpose. He lets us know that there were many of these memoirs formed on the tradition of those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. These works have departed; they were human. They were, no doubt, well-intentioned; at least there is here no question of heretics perverting the truth, but of men attempting in their own wisdom to set forth that which only God was competent rightly to make known.
At the same time Luke, the writer of this gospel, apprises us of his motives, instead of presenting a bare and needless statement of the revelation he had received. "It seemed good to me also," etc., is in contrast with these many that had taken it in hand. They had done the work in their fashion, he after another sort, as he proceeds next to explain. Clearly he does not refer to Matthew or Mark, but to accounts that were then handed about among Christians. It could not be otherwise than that many would essay to publish a relation of facts so weighty and engrossing, which, if they had not themselves seen, they had gathered from eye-witnesses conversant with the Lord. These memoirs were floating about. The Holy Ghost distinguishes the writer of this Gospel from these men quite as much as joins him with them. He states that they depended upon those who from the beginning were eye-witnesses and ministers of the word. He says nothing of the kind about himself, as has been rashly inferred from the phrase "to me also," etc., but, as is evident, proceeds to give a wholly different source for his own handling of the matter. In short, he does not intimate that his account of these things was derived from eye-witnesses, yet speaks of his thorough acquaintance with all from the very first, without telling us how he came by it. As for the others, they had taken in hand to "set forth in order a declaration of these things which are most surely believed among us, even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eye-witnesses." He does not impute falsehood; he affirms that their histories were derived from the traditions of men who saw, heard, and waited on Christ here below; but he attributes no divine character to these numerous writers, and intimates the need of a surer warrant for the faith and instruction of disciples. This he claims to give in his gospel. His own qualification for the task was, as one that had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto Theophilus in order that he "might know the certainty of those things wherein he had been instructed."
In that expression, "from the very first," he lets us into a difference between his own gospel and the memoirs current among Christians. "From the very first", means that it was an account from the origin or outset, and is fairly rendered in our version. So it is that we find in Luke that he traces things with great fulness, and lays before the reader the circumstances that preceded and that accompanied the whole life of our Lord Jesus Christ up to His ascension to heaven.
Now, he does not enter more than other inspired writers do into an assertion or explanation of his inspired character, which Scripture assumes everywhere. He does not tell us how it was he acquired his perfect understanding of all he communicates. It is not the way of inspired writers to do either. They speak "with authority," even as our Lord taught "with authority;" "not as the scribes" or tradition-mongers. He claims indeed the fullest acquaintance with the subject, and the statement of which would not suit any other evangelist but Luke. It is one who, though inspired like the rest, was drawing his friend and brother with the cords of a man. Inspiration does not as a rule in the least degree interfere with the individuality of the man; still less would it here where Luke is writing of the Son of God as man, born of a woman, and this to another man. Hence he brings out in the preface his own thoughts, feelings, materials for the work, and the blessed aim contemplated. This is the only gospel addressed to a man. This naturally fits, and lets us into the character of the gospel. We are here about to see our Lord Jesus preeminently set forth as man, man most really as such — not so much the Messiah, though, of course, that He is; nor even the minister; but the man. Undoubtedly, even as man He is the Son of God, and so He is called in the very first chapter of this gospel. The Son of God He was, as born into the world; not only Son of God before He entered the world, but Son of God from everlasting. That holy thing which should be born of the virgin was to be called the Son of God. Such was His title in that point of view, as having, a body prepared Him, born of a woman, even of the Virgin Mary. Clearly, therefore, this indicates, from the beginning of the gospel, the predominance given to the human side of the Lord Jesus here. What was manifest in Jesus, in every work and in every word of His, displayed what was divine; but He was none the less man; and He is here viewed as such in everything. Hence, therefore, it was of the deepest interest to have the circumstances unerringly marked out in which this wondrous man entered the world, and walked up and down here. The Spirit of God deigns by Luke to open the whole scene, from those that surrounded the Lord with the various occasions that appealed to His heart, till His ascension. But there is another reason also for the peculiar beginning of St. Luke. Thus, as he of the evangelists most of all approaches the great apostle of the Gentiles, of whom to a certain extent he was the companion, as we know from the Acts of the Apostles, counted by the apostle one of his fellow-labourers, too, we find him acting, by the Holy Ghost's guidance, upon that which was the great distinguishing character of the apostle Paul's service and testimony — "To the Jew first, and also to the Gentile."
Accordingly our gospel, although it is essentially Gentile, as it was addressed to a Gentile and written by a Gentile, begins with an announcement that is more Jewish than any other of the four gospels. It was precisely so with Paul in his service. He began with the Jew. Very soon the Jews proceeded to reject the word, and prove themselves unworthy of eternal life. Paul turned to the Gentiles. The same thing is true of our gospel, so akin to the apostle's writings, that some of the early Christian writers imagined that this was the meaning of an expression of the apostle Paul, far better understood of late. I refer to it now, not because of any truth in that notion, for the remark is totally false; but at the same time, it shows that there was a kind of feeling of the truth underneath the error. They used to imagine that Paul meant the gospel of Luke when he said, "My [or our] Gospel." Happily most of my hearers understand the true bearing of the phrase enough to detect so singular an error; but still it does show that even the dullest of men could not avoid perceiving that there was a tone of thought, and current of feeling, in the gospel of Luke which harmonized very largely with the apostle Paul's testimony. Yet it was not at all as bringing out what the apostle Paul calls his gospel, or "the mystery of the gospel," etc.; but certainly it was the great moral groundwork through which it lay — at any rate, which most thoroughly accorded with, and prepared for it. Hence it is, after presenting Christ in the richest grace to the godly Jewish remnant, that we have first and fully given by Luke the account of God's bringing the first-begotten Son into this world, having it in His purpose to put in relation with Him the whole human race, and most especially preparing the way for His grand designs and counsels with regard to the Gentiles. Nevertheless, first of all, He justifies Himself in His ways, and shows that He was ready to accomplish every promise that He had made to the Jews.
What we have, therefore, in the first two chapters of Luke, is God's vindication in the Lord Jesus presented as the One in whom He was ready to make good all His old pledges to Israel. Hence the whole scene agrees with this feeling on God's part towards Israel. A priest is seen righteous according to the law, but his wife without that offspring which the Jews looked for as the mark of God's favour towards them. Now God was visiting the earth in grace; and, as Zechariah ministered in the priest's office, an angel, even there a stranger, except for purposes of pity towards the miserable betimes (John 5), but long unseen as the witness of the glorious ways of God, announced to him the birth of a son, the forerunner of the Messiah. The unbelief even of the godly in Israel was apparent in the conduct of Zacharias; and God reproved it with inflicted dumbness, but failed not in His own grace. This, however, was but the harbinger of better things; and the angel of the Lord was despatched on a second errand, and re-announces that most ancient revelation of a fallen paradise, that mightiest promise of God, which stands out from all others to the fathers and in the prophets, and which, indeed, was to compass within itself the accomplishment of all the promises of God. He makes known to the virgin Mary a birth no way connected with nature, and yet the birth of a real man; for that man was the Son of the Highest — a man to sit upon the throne, so long vacant, of His father David.
Such was the word. I need not say that there were truths still more blessed and profounder than this of the throne of Israel, accompanying that announcement, on which it is impossible to dwell now, if we are tonight to traverse any considerable part of our gospel. Suffice it to say, we have thus all the proofs of God's favour to Israel, and faithfulness to His promises, both in the forerunner of the Messiah, and in the birth of the Messiah Himself. Then follows the lovely burst of praise from the mother of our Lord, and soon after, when the tongue of him that was smitten dumb was loosed, Zacharias speaks, first of all to praise the Lord for His infinite grace.
Luke 2 pursues the same grand truths: only there is more at hand. The opening verses bring this before us. God was good to Israel, and was displaying His faithfulness accordingly to, not the law, but His promises. How truly the people were in bondage. Hostile Gentiles had the upper hand. The last great empire predicted in Daniel was then in power. "It came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed [or enrolled]. (And this taxing [or enrolment] was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one to his own city." Such was the thought of the world, of the imperial power of that day, the great Roman beast or empire. But if there was a decree from Caesar, there was a most gracious purpose in God. Caesar might indulge his pride, and count the world his own, in the exaggerated style of human ambition and self-complacency; but God was now manifesting what He was, and oh, what a contrast. The Son of God, by this very deed, providentially enters the world at the promised place, Bethlehem. He enters it after a different sort from what we could have ever drawn from the first gospel, where we have Bethlehem still more significantly mentioned: at any rate, prophecy is cited on the occasion as to the necessity of its being there. That information even the scribes could render to the Magi who came to adore. Here there is nothing of the sort. The Son of God is found not even in an inn, but in the manger, where the poor parents of the Saviour laid him. Every mark follows of the reality of a human birth, and of a human being; but it was Christ the Lord, the witness of the saving, healing, forgiving, blessing grace of God. Not only is His cross thus significant, but His birth, the very place and circumstances being all most evidently prepared. Nor this only; for although we see not here Magi from the East, with their royal gifts, their gold, and frankincense, and myrrh, laid at the feet of the infant king of the Jews, here we have, what I am persuaded was yet more beautiful morally, angelic converse; and suddenly, with the angel (for heaven is not so far off), the choirs of heaven praising God, while the shepherds of earth kept their flocks in the path of humble duty.
Impossible, without ruining, to invert these things! Thus you could not transplant the scene of the Magi into Luke, neither would the introduction of the shepherds, thus visited by the grace of God by night, be so proper in Matthew. What a tale this last told of where God's heart is! How evident from the very first it was, that to the poor the gospel was preached, and how thoroughly in keeping with this Gospel! and we might truly affirm the same — I will not say of the glory that Saul saw and taught — but most certainly of the grace of God which Paul preached also. This does not hinder that still there is a testimony to Israel; although sundry signs and tokens, the very introduction of the Gentile power, and the moral features of the case, also make it evident that there is something more than a question of Israel and their King. Nevertheless, there meets us here the fullest witness of grace to Israel. So even in the words, somewhat weakened in our version, where it is said, "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy, which shall be," — not to all people, but "to all the people." This passage does not go beyond Israel. Manifestly this is entirely confirmed by the context, even if one did not know a word of that language, which, of course, proves what I am now advancing. In the next verse it is, "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." It is evident that, as far as this goes, He is introduced strictly as the One who was to bring in His own person the accomplishment of the promises to Israel.
The angels go farther when they say, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will in men." It is not exactly good will toward men, which is here the point. The word expresses God's good will and complacency in men; it does not say exact]y in man, as if it were only in Christ, though surely this was true in the very highest sense. For the Son of God became, not an angel, but really a man, according to Hebrews 2. It was not the cause of angels that He undertook, or was interested about: it was men He took up. But here appears a good deal more: it is God's delight in man now that His Son is become a man, and witnessed by that astonishing truth. His delight in men, because His Son becoming a man was the first immediate personal step in that which was to introduce His righteousness in justifying sinful men by the cross and resurrection of Christ, which is at hand. Thereby in virtue of that ever-accepted person, and the efficacy of His work of redemption, He could have also the selfsame delight in those that were once guilty sinners, now the objects of His grace for ever. But here, at any rate, the person, and the condition of the person too, by whom all this blessing was to be procured and given, were before His eyes. By the condition of the person is meant, of course, that the Son of God was now incarnate, which even in itself was no small proof, as well as pledge, of the complacency of God in man.
Afterwards Jesus is shown us circumcised, the very offering that accompanied the act proving also still more the earthly circumstances of His parents — their deep poverty.
Then comes the affecting scene in the temple, where the aged Simon lifts up the child in his arms; for it had been "revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ." So he goes by the Spirit into the temple at this very time. "And when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation." It is evident that the whole tone is not what we may call formal; it was not that the work was done; but undoubtedly there was virtually in Christ "God's salvation" — a most suitable truth and phrase for the companion of him whose fundamental point was "God's righteousness." The Spirit might not yet say "God's righteousness", but He could say "God's salvation." It was the person of the Saviour, viewed according to the prophetic Spirit, who would, in due time, make good everything as to God and man. "Thy salvation which thou hast prepared before the face of all people: a light to lighten", — or rather to reveal "the Gentiles;" a light for the revelation of the Gentiles — "and the glory of thy people Israel." I do not regard the former as a millennial description. In the millennium the order would be exactly inverse; for then God will assuredly assign to Israel the first place, and to the Gentiles the second. The Spirit gives Simeon a little advance upon the terms of the prophetic testimony in the Old Testament. The babe, Christ, was a light, he says, for the revelation of the Gentiles, and for the glory of His people Israel. The revelation of the Gentiles, that which was about to follow full soon, would be the effect of the rejection of Christ. The Gentiles, instead of lying hidden as they had been in the Old Testament times, unnoticed in the dealings of God, and instead of being put into a subordinate place to that of Israel, as they will be by and by in the millennium, were, quite distinctly from both, now to come into prominence, as no doubt the glory of the people Israel will follow in that day. Here, indeed, we see the millennial state; But the light to lighten the Gentiles far more fully finds its answer in the remarkable place which the Gentiles enter now by the excision of the Jewish branches of the olive tree. This, I think, is confirmed by what we find afterwards. Simeon does not pretend to bless the child; but when he blesses the parents, he says to Mary, "Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel." It is plain that the Spirit gave him to set forth the Messiah cut off, and the effect of it, "for a sign," he adds, "that shall be spoken against. Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also" — a word that was accomplished in the feelings of Mary at the cross of the Lord Jesus. But there is more: Christ's shame acts as a moral probe, as it is said herev — "That the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed." May I not ask, where could we find such language, except in Luke? Tell me, if you can, any other of the evangelists, whom it would suit for a moment?
Nor is it only to these words I would call your attention, as eminently characteristic of our gospel. Take the mighty grace of God revealed in Christ, on the one hand; on the other, take the dealing with the hearts of men as the result of the cross morally. These are the two main peculiarities which distinguish the writings of Luke. Accordingly also we find that, the note of grace being once struck in the heart of Simeon, as well as of those immediately connected with our Lord Jesus in His birth, it extends itself widely, for joy cannot be stifled or hid. So the good news must flow from one to another, and God takes care that Anna the prophetess should come in; for here we have the revival, not only of angel visits, but of the prophetic Spirit in Israel. "And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age," and had waited long in faith, but, as ever, was not disappointed. "She was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And she coming in that instant," etc. How good the Lord is in thus ordering circumstances, no less than preparing the heart! "She, coming in that instant, gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of Him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem."
Nor is this all the Spirit gives here. The chapter closes with a picture of our Saviour that is admirably consonant to this gospel, and to no other; for what gospel would it suit to speak of our Lord as a youth? to give us a moral sketch of this wondrous One, now no longer the babe of Bethlehem, but in the lowly company of Mary and Joseph, grown up to the age of twelve years? He is found, according to the order of the law, duly with His parents in Jerusalem for the great feast; but He is there as one to whom the word of God was most precious, and who had more understanding than His teachers. For Him, viewed as man, there was not only the growth of the body, but also development in every other way that became man, always expanding, yet always perfect, as truly man as God. "He increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man." But there is more than this; for the inspired writer lets us know how He was reproached by His parents, who could but little understand what it was for Him even then to find His meat in doing the will of God. As they journeyed from Jerusalem, missing Him, they return, and find Him in the midst of the doctors. A delicate place it might seem for a youth, but in Him how beautiful was all! and what propriety! "Both hearing them", it is said, "and asking them questions." Even the Saviour, though full of divine knowledge, does not take the place now of teaching with authority — never, of course, as the scribes. But even though consciously Son and the Lord God, still was He the child Jesus; and as became One who deigned to be such, in the midst of those older in years, though they knew infinitely less than Himself, there was the sweetest and most comely lowliness. "Both hearing them, and asking them questions." What grace there was in the questions of Jesus! — what infinite wisdom in the presence of the darkness of these famous teachers! Still, which of these jealous rabbis could discern the smallest departure from exquisite and absolute propriety? Nor this only; for we are told that "his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And He said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" The secret thus early comes out. He waited for nothing. He needed no voice from heaven to tell Him that He was the Son of God; He needed no sign of the Holy Ghost descending to assure Him of His glory or mission. These were, no doubt, seen and heard; and it was all right in its season, and important in its place; but I repeat that He needed nothing to impart the consciousness that He was the Son of the Father. He knew it intrinsically, and entirely independent of a revelation from another.
There was, no doubt, that divine gift imparted to Him afterwards, when the Holy Ghost sealed the man Christ Jesus. "Him hath God the Father sealed," as it is said, and surely quite right. But the notable fact here is, that at this early age, when a youth twelve years old, He has the distinct consciousness that He was the Son, as no one else was or could be. At the same time He returns with His parents, and is as dutiful in obedience to them as if He were only an unblemished child of man — their child. The Son of the Father He was, as really as the Son of man. "He came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them." It is the divine person, but the perfect man, perfect in every relation suitable for such a person. Both these truths, therefore, prove themselves to be true, not more in doctrine than in fact.
Then a new scene opens in Luke 3. "In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar" (for men soon pass away, and slight is the trace left by the course of earth's great ones), "Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene, Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness." How strange is this state of things! Not only have we the chief power of the world passed into another hand; not only do we see the Edomite — a political confusion in the land, but a religious Babel too. What a departure from all divine order! Who ever heard of two high priests before? Such were the facts when the manifestation of the Christ drew near, "Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests." No changes in the world, nor abasement in the people of the Lord, nor strange conjunction of the priests, nor mapping out of the land by the stranger, would interfere with the purposes of grace; which, on the contrary, loves to take up men and things at their worst, and shows what God is towards the needy. So John the Baptist goes forth here, not as we traced him in the gospels of Matthew and Mark, but with a special character stamped upon him akin to the design of Luke. "He came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins." Here we see the remarkable largeness of his testimony. "Every valley shall be filled," he says, "and every mountain and hill shall be brought low." Such a quotation puts him virtually in connection with the Gentiles, and not merely with the Jew or Jewish purposes. "All flesh," it is therefore added, "shall see the salvation of God."
It is evident that the terms intimate the widening of divine grace in its sphere. This is apparent in the manner in which John the Baptist speaks. When he addresses the multitude, observe how he deals with them. It is not a question now of reproving Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, as in Matthew, but while he here solemnly warns the multitude, the evangelist records his words to each class. They were the same as in the days of the prophets; they were no better after all. Man was far from God: he was a sinner; and, without repentance and faith, what could avail their religious privileges? To what corruption had they not been led through unbelief? "O generation of vipers," he says, "who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father." This, again, accounts for the details of the different classes that come before John the Baptist, and the practical dealing with the duties of each — an important thing, I believe, for us to bear in mind; for God thinks of souls; and whenever we have real moral discipline according to His mind, there is a dealing with men as they are, taking them up in the circumstances of their every-day life. Publicans, soldiers, people — they each hear respective]y their own proper word. So in that repentance, which the gospel supposes as its invariable accompaniment, it is of moment to bear in mind that, while all have gone astray, each has also followed his own way.
But, again, we have his testimony to the Messiah. "And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ or not; John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire: whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable. And many other things in his exhortation preached he unto the people." And here, too, you will observe an evident and striking illustration of Luke's manner. Having introduced John, he finishes his history before he turns to the subject of the Lord Jesus. Therefore he adds the fact, that "Herod the tetrarch, being reproved by him, added yet this above all the evil that he had done, that he shut up John in prison." Hence it is clear that the order of Luke is not here, at any rate, that of historic fact. This is nothing peculiar. Any one who is at all acquainted with historians, either ancient or modern, must know that they do the same thing. It is common and almost inevitable. Not that they all do so, any more than all the evangelists; but still it is the way of many historians, who are reckoned amongst the most exact, not to arrange facts like the mere chroniclers of an annual register, which confessedly is rather a dull, rude way of giving us information. They prefer to group the facts into classes, so as to bring out the latent springs, and the consequences even though unsuspected, and, in short, all they desire of moment in the most distinct and powerful manner. Thus Luke, having introduced John here, does not care to interrupt the subsequent account of our Lord, till the embassy of John's messengers fell into the illustration of another theme. There is no room left for misunderstanding this brief summary of the Baptist's faithful conduct from first to last, and its consequences. So true is this, that he records the baptism of our Lord by John immediately after the mention that John was put in prison. Chronological sequence here manifestly yields to graver demands.
Next comes the baptism of those who resorted to John, and above all of Christ. "And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph," etc. Now, at first sight, the insertion of a pedigree at this point seems irregular enough; but Scripture is always right, and wisdom is justified of her children. It is the expression of a weighty truth, and in the most fitting place. The Jewish scene closes. The Lord has been fully shown to the righteous remnant, i.e. what He was to Israel. God's grace and faithfulness to His promises had presented to them an admirable testimony; and the more so, as it was in the face of the last great or Roman empire. We have had the priest fulfilling his function in the sanctuary; then the angel's visits to Zechariah, to Mary, and, finally, to the shepherds. We have had also the great prophetic sign of Immanuel born of the virgin, and now the forerunner, greater than any prophet, John the Baptist, the precursor of the Christ. It was all vain. They were a generation of vipers even as John himself testified about them. Nevertheless, on the part of Christ, there was ineffable grace wherever any heeded the call of John albeit the faintest working of divine life in the soul. The confession of the truth of God against themselves, the acknowledgment that they were sinners, drew the heart of Jesus to them. In Him was no sin, no, not the smallest taint of it, nor connection with it: nevertheless, Jesus was with those who repaired to the baptism of John. It was of God. No necessity of sin brought Him there; but, on the contrary, grace, the pure fruit of divine grace in Him. He who had nothing to confess or repent was none the less the One that was the very expression of the grace of God. He would not be separated from those in whom there was the smallest response to the grace of God. Jesus, therefore does not for the present take people out of Israel, so to speak, any more than from among men severally into association with Himself; He associates Himself with those who were thus owning the reality of their moral condition in the sight of God. He would be with them in that recognition, not of course for Himself, as if He personally needed, but their companion in His grace. Depend upon it, that this same truth connects itself with the whole career of the Lord Jesus. Whatever the changes may have been before or at His death, they only illustrated increasingly this mighty and fruitful principle.
Who, then, was the baptised man on whom, as He prayed, heaven opened, and the Holy Ghost descended, and a voice from heaven said, "Thou art my beloved Son: in thee I am well pleased"? It was One whom the inspiring Spirit here loves to trace finally up thus: "Which was the Son of Adam, which was the Son of God." One that was going to be tried as Adam was tried — yea, as Adam never was tried; for it was in no Paradise that this Second Adam was going to meet the tempter, but in the wilderness. It was in the wreck of this world; it was in the scene of death over which God's judgment hung; it was under such circumstances where it was no question of innocence but of divine power in holiness surrounded by evil, where One who was fully man depended on God, and, where no food, no water was, lived by the word of God. Such, and far far more, was this man Christ Jesus. And hence it is that the genealogy of Jesus seems to me precisely where it ought to be in Luke, as indeed it must be whether we see it or not. In Matthew its insertion would have been strange and inappropriate had it there come after His baptism. It would have no suitableness there, because what a Jew wanted first of all to know was the birth of Jesus according to the Old Testament prophecies. That was everything, we may say, to the Jew in the first place, to know the Son that was given, and the child that was born, as Isaiah and Micah predicted. Here we see the Lord as a man, and manifesting this perfect grace in man — a total absence of sin; and yet the very One who was found with those who were confessing sin! "The Son of Adam, who was the Son of God." That means, that He was One who, though man, proved that He was God's Son.
Luke 4 is grounded upon this; and here it is not merely after the dispensational style of Matthew that we find the quotation given, but thoroughly in a moral point of view. In the gospel of Matthew, in the first temptation, our Lord owns Himself to be man, living not by mere natural resource, but by the word of God; in the second He confesses and denies not Himself further to be Messiah, the temptation being addressed to Him as in this capacity; the last clearly contemplates the glory of the "Son of man." This I clearly call dispensational. No doubt it was exactly the way in which the temptation occurred. The first temptation was to leave the position of man. This Christ would not do. "Man", He says, "shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." It is much more important to keep God's word than to live; and, at any rate, the only living He valued was living as man by God's word. This is perfection. Faith holds it for certain that God knows how to take care of man. It was man's business to keep God's word: God would not fail to watch over and protect him. Satan, therefore, was foiled. Then Satan tempted by a quotation from Psalm 91, which clearly describes the Messiah; assuredly Jesus was not going to deny that. He believed and acted upon it. If He were the Messiah, why not, according to this word, prove God? But the Lord Jesus equally refuted him here, though I need not enter now into the particulars of that which we have already looked at. Then came the last temptation addressed to Him, not as Messiah according to a psalm that refers to it, but rather in His quality of the Son of man about to have all the kingdoms of the world. Here Satan's temptation was, "Why do you not come into their possession and enjoyment now?" Jesus would take them only from God, as the rejected of man, and the sufferer for sin, too; not as the living Messiah here below, as if in a hurry to have the promises fulfilled to Him. In vain was the snare spread in His sight; God alone could give, whoever might actually hold, the kingdoms of the world. The price was too dear to pay, the price of worshipping the devil. Jesus thereon denounces the tempter as Satan.
But this is not what we have in our gospel. Here there is no dispensational order of the temptation suitable to the gospel of Matthew. Such an order, which is here that of the facts also, is exactly according to the design of the Holy Spirit in Matthew. But it suits no other gospel. Mark was not called to furnish more than the record of the temptation, with a graphic touch which reveals its dreary scene, and passes on to the active ministry of our blessed Lord. On the other hand, Luke purposely changes the order — a bold step, in appearance, to take, and the more if he knew, as I suppose, what was given by the evangelists who preceded him. But it was necessary to his design, and God, I hope to show, puts His own seal upon this deviation from mere time. For, first of all, we have Jesus tried here as man. This must be in every account of the temptation. It is, of course, as man that even the Son of God was tempted of Satan. Here, however, we have, in the second place, the offer of the kingdoms of the world. This, it will be perceived, does not give prominence, like Matthew, to that momentous change of dispensation which ensued on His rejection by the Jew; it does illustrate what the Holy Ghost here puts forward — the temptations rising one above the other in moral weight and import. Such I believe to be the key to the changed order of Luke. The first was a temptation to His personal wants — Hath God said you shall not eat of any thing? Surely you are at liberty to make the stones bread! Faith vindicates God, remains dependent on Him, and is sure of His appearing for us in due time. Then comes the offer of the kingdoms of the world. If a good man wants to do good, what an offer! But Jesus was here to glorify God. Him He would worship, Him only would He serve. Obedience, obeying God's will, worshipping Him — such is the shield against all such overtures of the enemy. Lastly comes the third temptation, through the word of God, on the pinnacle of the temple. This is not the worldly appeal, but one addressed to His spiritual feeling. Need I remark, that a spiritual temptation is to a holy person far subtler and deeper than anything which connected itself with either our wants or our wishes as to the world? Thus there was a personal or bodily, a worldly, and a spiritual temptation. To attain this moral order Luke abandons the sequence of time. Occasionally Matthew, and indeed no one more than he, deserts the simple order of fact whenever it is required by the Spirit's purpose; but in this case Matthew preserves that order; for it so is that by this means he gives prominence to dispensational truth; while Luke, by arranging the acts of temptation otherwise, brings out their moral bearing in the most admirable and instructive way. Accordingly, from Luke 4:8, "Get thee behind me, Satan: for" disappears in the best authorities. The change of order necessitates the omission. The copyists as often added to Luke what is really the language of Matthew; and even some critics have been so undiscerning as not to detect the imposition. As it stands in the received Greek text and the English version, Satan is told to go, and seems to stand his ground and again tempt the Lord, stultifying His command. But the clause I have named (and not merely the word "for," as Bloomfield imagines) is well known to have no claim to stand, as being destitute of adequate authority. There are good manuscripts that contain the clause, but the weight, for antiquity and character of MSS., and for variety of the old versions, is on the other side, not to speak of the internal evidence, which would be decisive with much inferior external evidence. Hence, too, Satan could hardly be spoken of here as going away like one driven off by indignation, as in Matthew. "And when the devil had ended all the [every] temptation, he departed from him for a season." This lets us into another very material truth, that Satan only went off till another season, when he should return. And this he did for a yet severer character of trial at the end of the Lord's life, the account of which is given us with peculiar elaborateness by Luke; for it is his province above all to show the moral import of the agony in the garden of Gethsemane.
Jesus then returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee. Man was victor over Satan. Unlike the first Adam, the Second Man comes off with energy proved triumphant in obedience. How does He use this power? He repairs to His despised quarters. " And there went out a fame of him to all the region round about. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all. And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up." The fact that follows is mentioned here, and here only, with any detail; whatever allusion there may be to it elsewhere, it is here only we have, by the Spirit of God, this most living and characteristic portrait of our Lord Jesus entering upon His ministry among men according to the purpose and ways of divine grace. Deeds of power are but the skirts of His glory. It is not, as Mark opens it out to us, teaching as nobody ever taught, and then dealing with the unclean spirit before them all. This is not the inauguration we have in Luke, any more than a crowd of miracles, at once the herald and the seal of His doctrine, as in Matthew. Neither is it individual dealing with souls, as in John, who shows Him attracting the hearts of those that were with the Baptist or at their lawful occupations, and calling them to follow Him. Here He goes into the synagogue, as His custom was, and stands up to read.
"And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias." What a moment! He who is God was become man, and deigns to act as such among men. "And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it is written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor." It is the man Christ Jesus. The Spirit of the Lord was not upon Him as God, but as man, and so anointed Him to preach the gospel to the poor. How thoroughly suitable to what we have already seen. "He hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, This day is this Scripture fulfilled in you ears." A real man was there and then the vessel of the grace of God upon the earth, and the Scripture designates this most fully. But where could we find this most apt application of the prophet except in Luke, to whom in point of fact it is peculiar? The entire gospel develops or, at least, accords with it.
"They all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth," but immediately they turn to unbelief, saying, "Is not this Joseph's son?" "And he said unto them, Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in thy country." He had been already at work in what Matthew calls "his city;", but the Spirit of God here passes over entirely what had been done there. He would thus ensure the fullest lustre to the "grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, who, though he was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we, through his poverty, might be made rich." This is what we have in Luke. Our Lord then shows the moral root of the difficulty in their minds. "Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country. But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; but unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow." Our Lord does not yet call a publican or receive a Gentile, as in Luke 5 and 7; but He tells of the grace of God in that word which they read and heard, but understood not. It was His answer to the incredulity of the Jews, His brethren after the flesh. How solemn are the warnings of grace! It was a Gentile, and not a Jewish widow, who during the days of Israel's apostacy became the marked object of God's mercy. So, too, "many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet, and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian." At once the hostile rage of the natural man is roused, and his jealousy of divine goodness to the stranger. Those that wondered the moment before at His gracious words are now filled with fury, ready to rend Him. "And they rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong. But he, passing through the midst of them, went his way, and came down to Capernaum, and taught them on the Sabbath days. And they were astonished at his doctrine: for his word was with power." It is the word that has especial prominence in Luke; and justly so, because the word is the expression of what God is to man, even as it is the word which tries him.
These are the two qualities, therefore, of the gospel: what God is towards man; and what man is, now revealed and proclaimed and brought home by the word of God. Thereby God's grace shines out; thereby, too, the evil of man is morally proved — not merely by the law, but yet more by the word that comes in, and by the person of Christ. Man, however, hates it, and no wonder; for, however full of mercy, it leaves no room for the pride, the vanity, the self-righteousness, in short, the importance of man in any way. There is one good, even God.
But this is not all the truth; for the power of Satan is active on the earth. It was then too plain, too universal, to be overlooked; and if man was so unbelieving as to the glory of Jesus, Satan at least felt the power. So it was with the man who had an unclean spirit. "He cried out with a loud voice, saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God." Remark here how Jesus, the fulfilment and fulfiller of God's word, accomplishes law and promise, the prophets and the Psalms. Devils own Him as the Holy One of God and again, we shall see presently, as the Anointed (Christ), the Son of God. In Luke 5 He is seen acting rather as Jehovah. "And Jesus rebuked him, saying hold thy peace, and come out of him. And when the devil had thrown him in the midst, he came out of him, and hurt him not." This proves, therefore, that there was in Christ not only grace towards man's necessities, but power over Satan. He had vanquished Satan, and proceeds to use His power in behalf of man.
He then enters into Simon's house, and heals his wife's mother. "Now when the sun was setting, all they that had any sick with divers diseases brought them unto him; and he laid his hands on every one of them, and healed them. And devils also came out of many, crying out, and saying, Thou art Christ the Son of God. And he rebuking them suffered them not to speak: for they knew that he was Christ." Here we coalesce with the earlier gospels. When this attracted the attention of men He departs. Instead of using what people call "influence", He will not hear of the people's desire to retain Him in their midst. He walks in faith, the Holy One of God, content with nothing that made man an object to obscure His glory. If followed into a desert place, away from the crowd that admired Him, He lets them know that He must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also; for therefore was He sent. "And he was preaching in the synagogues of Galilee."
And now we have, in the beginning, of the fifth chapter, a fact taken entirely out of its historical place. It is the call of the earlier apostles, more particularly of Simon, who is singled out, just as we have seen one blind man, or one demoniac, brought into relief, even though there might be more. So the son of Jonas is the great object of the Lord's grace here, although others were called at the same time. There were companions of his leaving all for Christ; but we have his case, not theirs, dealt with in detail. Now, from elsewhere, we know that this call of Peter preceded the Lord's entrance into Simon's house, and the healing of Simon's wife's mother. We also know that John's gospel has preserved for us the first occasion when Simon ever saw the Lord Jesus, as Mark's gospel shows when it was that Simon was called away from his ship and occupation. Luke had given us the Lord's grace with and towards man, from the synagogue at Nazareth down to His preaching everywhere in Galilee, casting out devils, and healing diseases by the way. This is essentially a display in Him of the power of God by the word, and this over Satan and all the afflictions of men. A complete picture of all this is given first; and in order to leave it unbroken, the particulars of Simon's call are left out of its time. But as the way of the Lord on that occasion was of the deepest value as well as interest to be given, it was reserved for this place. This illustrates the method of classifying facts morally, instead of merely recording them as they came to pass, which is characteristic of Luke.
"It came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets. And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon's, and prayed him that be would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship. Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering, said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net." It is plain that the word of Jesus was the first great trial. Simon had already and long, toiled; but the word of Jesus is enough. "And when they had this done, they enclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink." Next, we have the moral effect. "When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus, knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord." It was the most natural thing possible for a soul arrested, not merely by the mighty deed which the Lord had wrought, but by such a proof that His word could be trusted implicitly — that divine power answered to the word of the man Christ Jesus. His sinfulness glared on his conscience. Christ's word let the light of God into his soul: "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man." There was real sense of sin and confession; yet the attitude of Peter at the feet of Jesus shows that nothing was farther from his heart than that the Lord should leave him, though his conscience felt that so it ought to be. He was convicted more deeply of his sinful state than he had ever been before. Already a real attraction had knit Simon's heart to Christ. He was born of God, as far as we can judge, before this. He had really for some while known and heard the voice of Jesus. This was not the first time, as John gives us to see. But now the word so penetrated and searched him out, that this utterance was the feeling of his soul — an apparent contradiction to draw near to the feet of Jesus, saying, Depart from me, but not in the root of things — an inconsistency only on the surface of his words; for his innermost feeling, was one of desire after and delight in Jesus, clinging to Him with all his soul, but with the strongest conviction that he had not the slightest claim to be there — that he could even pronounce condemnation on himself otherwise in a certain sense, though quite contrary to all his wishes. The more he saw what Jesus was, the less fit company he felt himself to be for such an One as He. This is precisely what grace does produce in its earlier workings. I say not, in its earliest, but in its earlier workings; for we must not be in too great a hurry with the ways of God in the soul. Astonished at this miracle, Peter thus speaks to the Lord; but the gracious answer sets him at ease. "Fear not," says Christ; "from henceforth thou shalt catch men." My object in referring to the passage is for the purpose of pointing out the moral force of our Gospel. It was a divine person who, if He displayed the knowledge and power of God, revealed Himself in grace, but also morally to the conscience, though it cast out fear.
Then follows the cure of the leper, and subsequently the forgiveness of the palsied man: again the exhibition that Jehovah was there, and fulfilling the Spirit of Ps. 103; but He was the Son of man too. Such was the mystery of His person present in grace, which was proved by the power of God in one wholly dependent on God. Finally, there is the call of Levi the publican; the Lord showing, also, how well aware He was of the effect on man of introducing among those accustomed to law the reality of grace. In truth, it is impossible to mingle the new wine of grace with the old bottles of human ordinances. The Lord adds what is found in no gospel but Luke's, that man prefers, in presence of the new thing from God, the old religious feelings, thoughts, ways, doctrines, habits, and customs. "No man", He says, "having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better." Man prefers the dealing of law with all its dimness, uncertainty, and distance from God, to that divine grace infinitely more blessed, which in Christ displays God to man, and brings man, by the blood of His cross, to God.
In Luke 6 this is followed up. We see the Lord on the two Sabbath days: the defence of the disciples for plucking the ears of corn, and the well-nigh defiant cure of the withered hand in the synagogue. The Lord does not pluck the ears of corn Himself; but He defends the guiltless, and this on moral ground. We do not here meet with the particulars set forth dispensationally as in Matthew's gospel: though the reference is to the same facts, they are not so reasoned upon. There the subject is much more the approaching change of economy: here it is more moral. A similar remark applies to the ease of healing the withered hand. The Sabbath, or seal of the old covenant, was never given of God, though abused by man, to hinder His goodness to the needy and wretched. But the Son of man was Lord of the Sabbath: and grace is free to bless man and glorify God. Immediately after this, clouds gather over the devoted head of our Lord; "They were filled with madness; and communed one with another what they might do to Jesus."
The Lord retires to a mountain, continuing all night in prayer to God. On the next day, out of the disciples He chooses twelve who were pre-eminently to represent Him after His departure. That is, He nominates the twelve apostles. At the same time He delivers what is commonly called the sermon on the mount. But there are striking differences between the manner of Luke and Matthew, in conveying that sermon to us; for Luke brings two contrasts together; one of which was dropped by Matthew — at any rate in this, the beginning of his gospel. Luke couples the blessings and the woes; Matthew reserves his woes for another occasion, for that one would affirm that the Lord did not proclaim the woes of Matt. 13 on another and later occasion; but it may be safely said, that the first evangelist passed by all questions of woes for the discourse on the mount. Luke, on the contrary, furnishes both. Who can fail to recognize in this circumstance a striking mark; both of the evangelists, and of the special designs of Him who inspired them? Luke does not confine himself to the bright side, but adds also the solemn. There is a warning for conscience, as much as there is grace which appeals to the heart. It is Luke that gives it and most gloriously. Besides, there is another difference. Matthew presents Christ alone as the lawgiver. No doubt greater than Moses He was; He was Jehovah, Emmanuel. Therefore He takes the place of deepening, enlarging, and ever bringing in principles so infinitely better as to eclipse what was said to them of old. Thus, while the authority of the law and prophets is maintained, there is now an incalculable change, in advance of all before, suitably to the presence of His glory who then spoke, and to the revelation of the Father's name. More even was yet to be; but this was reserved for the presence in power of the Holy Ghost, as we are told in John 16.
Here, in the gospel of Luke, another course is pursued. It is not as One who lays down principles or describes the classes that can have part in the kingdom, as "Blessed the poor" etc.: but the Lord views, and speaks to, His disciples, as those immediately concerned; "Blessed ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God." It is all personal, in view of the godly company that then surrounded Him. So He says, "Blessed ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed ye that weep now"' etc. It was sorrow and suffering now; for He who fulfilled the promises, and psalms, and prophets was rejected; and the kingdom could not yet come in power and glory. "He must first suffer many things."
Thus all through it is not description alone, but a direct address to the heart. In Matthew it was most appropriately a general discourse. Here it is made immediately applicable. That is, He looks at the persons then before Him, and pronounces a blessing upon them distinctly and personally.
For that reason, as also for others, He says nothing about suffering for righteousness' sake here. In Matthew there are the two characters — those blessed when persecuted for righteousness' sake, and yet more those who were persecuted for His name's sake. Luke omits the righteousness: all persecution here noticed is on account of the Son of man. How blessed it is in Luke to find that the great witness of grace acts Himself in the spirit of that grace, and makes this to be the one distinguishing feature. Both sufferers are surely blessed; each is in his own season precious; but the least portion is not that which characterizes the word of the Lord in his gospel who has mainly in view us who were poor sinners of the Gentiles.
In Luke the points pressed are not detailed contrasts with the law, nor the value of righteousness in secret with the Father, nor trust in His loving care without anxiety, but practical grace in loving our enemies, merciful as our Father is merciful, and so children of the Highest, with the assurance of corresponding recompence. Then comes the warning parable of the blindness of the religious world's leaders and the value of personal reality and obedience, instead of moralising for others, which would end in ruin. In the chapter that follows (Luke 7) we shall see the Lord still more evidently proving that grace cannot be tied to Jewish limits, that His was a power which the Gentile owns to be absolute over all — yea, over death as well as nature.
But before we pass on, let me observe that there is another feature also that strikes us in Luke, though it does not call for many words now. It appears that various portions of the sermon on the mount were reserved for insertion here and there, where they would fit in best for comment on or connection with facts. The reason is, that moral grouping of conversations which has been already shown to be according to the method of Luke. Here there is not at all the same kind of formal order of discourse as in Matthew. There were, I doubt not, questions asked during its course; and the Holy Ghost has been pleased to give us specimens of this in the gospel of Luke. I may show on another occasion, that this which occurs not infrequently throughout the whole central part of Luke is found in him only. It is for the most part made up of this association of facts, with remarks either growing out of what has occurred, or suitable to them, and therefore transplanted from elsewhere.
In chapter 7 the healing of the centurion's servant is recounted, with very striking differences from the form in which he had it in Matthew. Here we are told that the centurion, when he heard of Jesus, sent unto Him the elders of the Jews. The man who does not understand the design of the gospel, and has only heard that Luke wrote especially for the Gentiles, is at once arrested by this. He objects to the hypothesis that this fact is irreconcilable with a Gentile bearing, and is, on the contrary, rather in favour of a Jewish aim, at least here; because in Matthew you find nothing about the embassy of the Jews, while here it is in Luke. His conclusion is, that one gospel is as much Jewish or Gentile as another, and that the notion of special design is baseless. All this may sound plausible to a superficial reader; but in truth the twofold fact, when duly stated, remarkably confirms the different scope of the gospels, instead of neutralizing it; for the centurion in Luke was led, both being Gentiles, to honour the Jews in the special place God has put them in. He therefore sets a value on this embassy to the Jews. The precise contrast of this we have in Romans 11, where the Gentiles are warned against high-mindedness and conceit. It was because of Jewish unbelief, no doubt, that certain branches were broken off; but the Gentiles were to see that they abode in God's goodness, not falling into similar and worse evil, or else they also should be cut off. This was most wholesome admonition from the apostle of the uncircumcision to the saints in the great capital of the Gentile world. Here the Gentile centurion shows both his faith and his humility by manifesting the place which God's people had in his eyes. He did not arrogantly talk of looking only to God.
Allow me to say, brethren, that this is a principle of no small value, and in more ways than one. There is often a good deal of unbelief — not open, of course, but covert — which cloaks itself under the profession of superior and sole dependence on God, and boasts itself aloud of its leaving any and every man out of account. Nor do I deny that there are, and ought to be, cases where God alone must act, convince, and satisfy. But the other side is true also; and this is precisely what we see in the case of the centurion. There was no proud panacea of having to do only with God, and not man. On the contrary, he shows, by his appeal to and use of the Jewish elders, how truly he bowed to the ways and will of God. For God had a people, and the Gentile owned the people as of His choice, spite of their unworthiness; and if he wanted the blessing for his servant, he would send for the elders of the Jews that they might plead for him with Jesus. To me there seems far more of faith, and of the lowliness which faith produces, than if he had gone personally and alone. The secret of his action was, that he was a man not only of faith, but of faith-wrought humility; and this is a most precious fruit, wherever it grows and blooms. Certainly the good Gentile centurion sends his ambassadors of Israel, who go and tell what was most true and proper (yet I can hardly think it what the centurion ever put in their mouth). "And when they came to Jesus, they besought him instantly, saying, That he was worthy for whom he should do this: for he loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue." He was a godly man; and it was no new thing, this love for the Jews, and the practical proof of it.
It will be observed, again, that Matthew has not a word about this fact; and cannot but feel how blessed is the omission there. Had Matthew been writing merely as a man for the Jews, it was just the thing he would have surely fastened on; but the inspiring power of the Spirit wrought, and grace, I do not doubt, also, in Matthew as well as in Luke, and thus only have we the fruit now apparent in their accounts. It was fitting that the evangelist for the Jews should both leave out the Gentile's strong expression of respect for Israel, and dwell upon the warning to the proud children of the kingdom. Equally fitting was it that Luke, in writing for Gentile instruction, should especially let us see the love and esteem for God's sake which a godly Gentile had for the Jews. Here was no scorn for their low estate, but so much the more compassion; yea, more than compassion, for his desire after their mediation proved the reality of his respect for the chosen nation. It was not a new feeling; he had long loved them, and built them a synagogue in days when he sought nothing at their hands; and they remember it now. The faith of this Gentile was such, that the Lord avows He had not seen the like in Israel. Not only does Matthew report this — a weighty admonition even for the believers of Israel — but also Luke, for the encouragement of the Gentiles. This common point was most worthy of record, and attached to the new creation, not to the old. How beautiful the scene is in both gospels! how much is that beauty increased when we more closely inspect the wisdom and grace of God shown out in Matthew's presentation of Gentile blessing and Jewish warning for the Israelites; and withal, in Luke's presentation of respect for the Jews, and the absence here of all notice of Jewish excision, which might so easily be perverted to Gentile self-complacency!
The next scene (verses 11-17) is peculiar to Luke. The Lord not only heals, but with a grace and majesty altogether proper to Himself, brings in life for the dead, yet with remarkable consideration for human woe and affection. Not only did He, in His own quickening power, cause the dead to live, but He sees in him, whom they were even then carrying out to burial, the only son of his widowed mother; and so He stays the bier, bids the deceased to arise, and delivers him to his mother. No sketch can be conceived more consonant with the spirit and aim of our gospel.
Then we have the disciples of John introduced, for the special purpose of noting the great crisis that was at hand, if not come. So severe was the shock to antecedent feeling and expectation, that even the very forerunner of the Messiah was himself shaken and offended, it would seem, because the Messiah did not use His power on behalf of Himself and His own followers — did not protect every godly soul in the land — did not shed around light and liberty for Israel far and wide. Yet who could gainsay the character of what was being done? A Gentile had confessed the supremacy of Jesus over all things: disease must obey Him absent or present! If not the working of God's own gracious power, what could it be? After all, John the Baptist was a man; and what is he to be accounted of? What a lesson, and how much needed at all times. The Lord Jesus not only answers with His wonted dignity, but at the same time with the grace that could not but yearn over the questioning and stumbled mind of His forerunner — no doubt meeting, too, the unbelief of John's followers; for there need be little doubt, that if there was weakness in John, there was far more in his disciples.
Thereupon our Lord introduces His own moral judgment of the whole generation. At the close of this is the most remarkable exemplification of divine wisdom conferred by grace where one might least look for it, in contrast with the perverse folly of those who thought themselves wise. "But wisdom is justified of all her children," no matter who or what they may have been, as surely as it will be justified in the condemnation of all who have rejected the counsel of God against themselves. Indeed, the evil side as well as the good are almost equally salient at the house of Simon the Pharisee; and the Holy Ghost led Luke to furnish here the most striking possible commentary on the folly of self-righteousness, and the wisdom of faith. He adduces exactly a case in point. The worth of man's wisdom appears in the Pharisee, as the true wisdom of God, which comes down from above, appears where His own grace alone created it; for what depositary seemed more remote than a woman of ruined and depraved character? yea, a sinner whose very name God withholds? On the other hand, this silence, to my mind, is an evidence of His wonderful grace. If no worthy end could be reached by publishing the name of her who was but too notorious in that city of old, it was no less worthy of God that He should make manifest in her the riches of His grace. Again, another thing: not only is grace best proved where there is most need of it, but its transforming power appears to the greatest advantage in the grossest and most hopeless cases.
"If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature." Such is the operation of grace, a new creating, no mere change or bettering of the old man according to Christ, but a real life with a new character altogether. See it in this woman, who was the object of grace. It was to the house of the Pharisee who had invited Jesus that this woman repaired — attracted by the Saviour's grace, and truly penitent, full of love to His person, but not yet with the knowledge of her sins forgiven; for this was what she needed, and what He meant her to have and know. It is not the exhibition of a soul starting upon the knowledge of forgiveness, but the ways of grace leading one into it.
What drew her heart was not the acceptance of the gospel message, nor the knowledge of the believer's privilege. That was what Christ was about to give; but what won her, and drew her so powerfully even to that Pharisee's house, was something deeper than any acquaintance with conferred blessings: it was the grace of God in Christ Himself. She felt instinctively that in Him was not more truly all that purity and love of God Himself, than the mercy she needed for herself. The predominant feeling in her soul, what riveted her was, that, spite of the sense she had of her sins, she was sure she might cast herself on that boundless grace she saw in the Lord Jesus. Hence she could not stay away from the house where He was, though she well knew she was the last person in the town the master of it would welcome there. What excuse could she make? Nay, that sort of thing was over now; she was in the truth. What business, then, had she in Simon's house? Yes, her business was with Jesus, the Lord of glory for eternity, albeit there; and so complete was the mastery of His grace over her soul, that nothing could keep her back. Without asking for Simon's leave, without a Peter or a John to introduce her, she goes where Jesus was, taking with her an alabaster box of ointment, "and stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment."
This drew out the religious reasoning, of Simon's heart, which, like all other reasoning of the natural mind on divine things, is only infidelity. "He spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet." How hollow the fair-looking Pharisee was! He had asked the Lord there; but what was the value of the Lord in Simon's eyes? "This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner." Indeed, she was a sinner. This was not wrong but that. The root of the worst wrong is just that depreciation of Jesus. Simon within himself doubted that He was even a prophet. Oh, how little thought he that it was God Himself in the person of that lowly man, the Son of the Highest! Herein was the starting-point of this most fatal error. Jesus, however, proves that He was a prophet, yea, the God of the prophets; and reading the thoughts of his heart, He answers his unuttered question by the parable of the two debtors.
I will not dwell now on that which is familiar to all. Suffice it to say, that this is a scene peculiar to our gospel. Might I not ask, where possibly could it be found harmoniously except here? How admirable the choice of the Holy Ghost, thus shown in displaying Jesus according to all we have seen from the beginning of this gospel! The Lord here pronounces her sins to be forgiven; but it is well to observe, that this was at the close of the interview, and not the occasion of it. There is no ground to suppose that she knew that her sins were forgiven before. On the contrary, the point of the story appears to me lost where this is assumed. What confidence His grace gives the one that goes straight to Himself! He speaks authoritatively, and warrants forgiveness. Till Jesus said so, it would have been presumption for any soul at this time to have acted upon the certainty that his sins were forgiven. Such seems to me the express object of this history — a poor sinner truly repenting, and attracted by His grace, which draws her to Himself, and hears from Him His own direct word, "Thy sins are forgiven thee." Her sins, which were many, were forgiven. There was no hiding, therefore, the extent of her need; for she loved much. Not that I would explain this away. Her loving much was true before, as well as after, she heard the forgiveness. There was real love in her heart already. She was transported by the divine grace in His person, which inspired her by the Spirit's teaching with love through His love; but the effect of knowing from His own lips that her sins were forgiven must have been to increase that love. The Lord is here before us as One that thoroughly sounded the evil heart of unbelief, that appreciated, as truly as He had effected, the work of grace in the believer's heart, and speaks out before all the answer of peace with which He entitled such an one to depart.
In the last chapter (Luke 8) on which I am to speak tonight, the Lord is seen not only going forth now to preach, but with a number of men and women in His train, children of wisdom surely, the poor but real witnesses of His own rich grace, and thus devoted to Him here below. "And the twelve were with him. And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto him of their substance." Here, too, is it not a wonderfully characteristic picture of our Lord Jesus, and so only found in Luke? Entirely above the evil of men, He could and did walk in the perfect calm of His Father's presence, but withal according to the activity, in this world, of God's grace.
Hence, He is here presented in our gospel as speaking of the sower, even as He was then scattering the seed of "the word of God;" for so it is called here. In the gospel of Matthew, where the same parable appears as introducing the kingdom of heaven, it is called "the word of the kingdom." Here, when the parable is explained, the seed is "the word of God." Thus it is not a question of the kingdom in Luke; in Matthew it is. Nothing can be more simple than the reason of the difference. Remark that the Spirit of God in recording does not limit Himself to the bare words that Jesus spoke. This I hold to be a matter of no little importance in forming a sound judgment of the Scriptures. The notion to which orthodox men sometimes shut themselves up, in zeal for plenary inspiration, is, to my mind, altogether mechanical: they think that inspiration necessarily and only gives the exact words that Christ uttered. There seems to me not the slightest necessity for this. Assuredly the Holy Spirit gives the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The differences are owing to no infirmity, but to His design; and what He has given us is incomparably better than a bare report by so many hands, all meaning to give the same words and facts. Take the chapter before us to illustrate what I mean. Matthew and Luke alike give us the same parable of the sower; but Matthew calls it "the word of the kingdom;" while Luke calls it "the word of God." The Lord Jesus may have employed both in His discourse at this time. I am not contending that He did not; but what I affirm is, that, whether He did or did not employ both, the Spirit of God did not give us to have both in the same gospel, but acts with divine sovereignty. He does not lower the evangelists into mere literal reporters, such as may be found by dint of skill among men. No doubt their object is to get the precise words which a man utters, because there is no such power or person to effect the will of God in the world. But the Spirit of God can act with more freedom, and can drive this part of the utterance to one evangelist, and that part to another. Hence, then, the mere mechanical system can never explain inspiration. It finds itself entirely baffled by the fact that the same words are not given in all the gospels. Take Matthew, as we have just seen, saying, "Blessed are the poor," and Luke, saying, "Blessed are ye poor." This is at once an embarrassing difficulty for the mechanical scheme of inspiration; it is none at all for those who hold to the Holy Ghost's supremacy in employing different men as the vessels of its various objects. There is no attempt in any of the gospels to furnish a reproduction of all the words and works of the Lord Jesus. I have no doubt, therefore, that although in each gospel we have nothing but the truth, we have not all the facts in any Gospel, or in all of them. Hence, the richest fulness results from the method of the Spirit. Having the absolute command of all truth, He just gives the needed word in the right place, and by the due person, so as the better to display the Lord's glory.
After this parable we have another, like Matthew's, but not relating to the kingdom, because this is not the point here; for dispensation is not the topic before us as in Matthew. Indeed, this parable is one not found in Matthew at all. What Matthew gives is complete for the purposes of his gospel. But in Luke it was of great importance to give this parable; for when a man has been laid hold of by the word of God, the next thing is testimony. The disciples, not the nation, were given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God. Enlightened themselves, the next thing was to give light to others. "No man, when he hath lighted a candle, covereth it with a vessel, or putteth it under a bed; but setteth it on a candlestick, that they which enter may see the light. For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest; neither anything hid, that shall not be known and come abroad. Take heed therefore how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have." Thus responsibility in the use of light is enforced.
What follows here is the slight of natural ties in divine things, the approval of nothing but a relationship founded on the word of God heard and done. Flesh is valueless; it profits nothing. So when people said unto Him, "Thy mother and thy brethren stand without desiring to see thee; he answered and said unto them, My mother and my brethren are these which hear the word of God, and do it." Still it is the word of God. It is not as Matthew puts it after the formal giving up the nation to apostacy and a new relationship brought in; here it is simply God's approval of those who keep and value His word. The place that the word of God has morally meets the mind of Christ.
But Christ does not exempt His witnesses from troubles here below. The next is the scene on the lake, and the disciples manifesting their unbelief and the Lord His grace and power. Passing, to the other side we see Legion who spite of this awful evil has a deep divine work wrought in his soul. It is not so much a question of making him a servant of God. That we have in Mark and much detailed. Here we have Him rather as a man of God; first the object of the delivering power and favour of the Lord; then, delighting in Him who thus made God known to him. No wonder when the devils were cast out the man besought that he might be with Jesus. It was a feeling natural so to speak, to grace and to the new relationship with God into which he had entered. "But Jesus sent him away saying, Return to thine own house, and show how great things God hath done unto thee. And he went his way and published throughout the whole city how great thing's Jesus had done unto him."
The account of Jairus's appeal for his daughter follows. While the Lord is on His way to heal the daughter of Israel, who meanwhile dies, He is interrupted by the touch of faith; for whoever went to Him found healing. The Lord however while He perfectly meets the case of any needy soul at the present time does not fail in the long run to accomplish the purposes of God for the revival of Israel. He will restore Israel; for in God's mind they are not dead but sleep.
Luke 9 - 24.
The ninth chapter opens with the mission — not the setting apart, but the circuit — of the twelve sent out by the Lord, who therein was working after a fresh sort. He communicates power in grace to men, chosen men, who have to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick; for in this Gospel, although it be at first in Israel, it is the working of divine grace that is evidently destined for an incomparably larger sphere and yet deeper objects. This mission of the twelve in the Gospel of Matthew has a decidedly Jewish aspect, even to the very end, and contemplates the messengers of the kingdom occupied with their work till the Son of man come, and therefore entirely leaves out what God is now doing in the call of the Gentiles. Here we have clearly the same mission presented in a wholly different point of view. What is peculiarly Jewish, though all was then to the Jew, disappears; what makes known God, and this, too, in mercy and goodness towards needy man — this we have fully in our Gospel. It is said here, "Preach the kingdom of God." Instead of leaving man to himself, the intervention of divine power is the central thought of God's kingdom; and instead of man being left to his resources and wisdom to take and keep the upper hand in the world by the providence of God, as if he had a certain vested right in the realm of nature, God will Himself take up this scene for the purpose of introducing His own power and goodness into it in the person of Christ, the Church being thus associated, and man thus exalted truly, and blessed more than ever. This will be displayed in what we commonly call the millennium. But meanwhile the twelve were to go out as Christ's messengers; for God always gives a testimony before He brings in the thing that is testified of. Attached to this apostolate was power over all demons, and the cure of diseases. But this was only accessory. The chief and evident aim was no display of deeds, though He did arm the messengers of the kingdom with such energy as that the powers of Satan should be defied, as it were, though this is more detailed in Matthew. Not, of course, that there is silence here as to the miraculous powers of healing. But we do not find in Luke the especial details of Jewish appeal up to the end of the age, nor the vacuum as to intermediate dealings with Gentiles. What the Holy Ghost singles out and brings into prominence here is all that manifests the goodness and compassion of God towards man in both soul and body.
We have along with this the solemnity of refusing the testimony of Christ. Indeed, this is true even of the gospel now, where it is not merely the kingdom preached, but the grace of God; and, in my opinion, it is an accompaniment of the gospel that never can be severed from it without loss. To preach love alone is defective. Love is essential to the gospel, which assuredly is the very brightest manifestation of God's grace to man in Christ; for it is a message of love which not only gave the only begotten Son of God, but dealt with Him unsparingly on the cross in order to save sinners. To preach love alone is another and serious thing, a different gospel which is not another. Yea, to keep back the awful and ruinous consequences of indifference to the gospel, I do not mean absolutely rejecting it, but even making light of the gospel, is fatal. Never is it real love to keep back or hide that man is already lost and must be cast into hell, unless he be saved through believing the gospel. To occupy men with other things, however seemingly or really good in their place, is no proof of love to man, but insensibility to the grace of God, the glory of God, the evil of sin, the truest deepest need of man, the sureness of judgment, the blessedness of the gospel. This neglected, God in vain is otherwise shown out in His goodness. To return, however, we see that in this part of our Gospel the Lord is testifying to the Jews in view of His rejection, the disciples being invested with the powers of the world to come.
Then we have the working of conscience shown out in a bad man. Herod even, far removed as he was from such a testimony, still was so far moved by it as to enquire what it all meant, and whose power it was that thus wrought. He had known John the Baptist as a great personage, who struck the attention of all Israel in his day. But John was gone. Herod had good reason to know how it was an evil conscience that troubled him, particularly as he heard what was going on now, when men pretended, among various rumours, that John was risen from the dead. This did not satisfy Herod; he had no sense of the power of God, but, at least, he was disturbed and perplexed.
The apostles tell the Lord on their return what they had done, and He takes them into a desert place, where, on their failure to enter into the character of Christ, He displays Himself as not only a man who was the Son of God, but as God, Jehovah Himself. There is no Gospel where the Lord Jesus does not show Himself thus. He may have other objects, He may not always manifest Himself in the same elevation; but there is no gospel that does not present the Lord Jesus as the God of Israel upon earth. And hence this is a miracle found in all the Gospels. Even John, who ordinarily does not give the same sort of miracles as the others, presents this miracle along with the other evangelists. Hence, it is plain, that God was showing His presence in beneficence to His people on the earth. The very character of the miracle speaks it. He who once rained the manna is here; once more He feeds His poor with bread. It was the Jew particularly, but still the poor and despised, who were like sheep ready to perish in the wilderness. Thus we find that, while it is perfectly in harmony with the character of Luke, it nevertheless comes within the range of all the Gospels, some for one reason and some for another.
Matthew was given, I suppose, to illustrate the great dispensational change then imminent; because Christ is there shown us as dismissing the multitude, and going to pray on high, while the disciples toil on the troubled sea. There was no real faith in the poor Jews; they only wanted Jesus for what He could give them, not for His own sake. Whereas faith receives God in Jesus; faith sees the supreme glory of a rejected Jesus: no matter what the outward circumstances may be, still it owns Him; the multitude did not. They would have liked such a Messiah as their eyes saw in His power and beneficence; they would have liked such an One to provide and fight their battles for them; but there was no sense of God's glory in His person. The consequence is, the Lord, though He feeds them, goes away; the disciples are meanwhile exposed to toil and tempest, and the Lord Jesus rejoins them, calling out the energy of one who symbolises the bolder ones in the last days. For even the godly remnant in Israel will not then have precisely the same measure of faith. Peter appears to represent the more advanced, going forth out of the ship to meet the Lord, but like him, no doubt, ready to perish for their boldness. Although there was the work of affection, and so far of confidence, to abandon all for Jesus, still Peter was occupied with the troubles, as they undoubtedly will be in that day. As for him, so for them will the Lord mercifully interpose. Thus it is evident that Matthew has in view the complete change that has taken place: the Lord gone away and taking another character altogether above, and then rejoining His people, working in their hearts, and delivering them in the last days. Of this we have nothing in Mark or Luke. The scope of neither admitted of such a sketch of circumstances as could become a type of the events of the last days in connection with Israel, any more than of the present separation of the Lord to be a Priest on high, before He returns to the earth and especially to Israel. We can easily understand how perfectly all this suits Matthew.
But again, in John 6, the miracle furnished the occasion for the wonderful discourse of our Saviour, occupying the latter part of the chapter, which will be touched on another occasion. At present my point is simply to show, that while we have it in all, the setting, so to speak, of the jewel differs, and that particular phase is brought out which suits the object of God's Spirit in each Gospel.
After this, as indeed is found everywhere, our Lord calls out the disciples more distinctly into a separate place. He had shown what He was, and all the blessings reserved for Israel, but there was no real faith in the people. There was, to a certain extent, a sense of need; there was willingness enough to receive what was for the body and the present life, but there their desires stop; and the Lord proved this by His questions, because these revealed the agitation of men's minds, and their want of faith. Hence, therefore, the reply of the disciples to the Lord's question, "Whom say the people that I am? They answering, said, John the Baptist; but some say Elias; and others say that one of the old prophets is risen again." Whether it were Herod and his servants, or Christ with the disciples, the same tale meets the ear of varying uncertainty but constant unbelief.
But now we find a change. In that little group which surrounded the Lord, there were hearts to whom God had unveiled the glory of Christ; and Christ loved to hear the declaration, not for His own sake, but for God's, and for theirs too. In divine love He heard their confession of His person. No doubt it was His due; but in truth His love desired rather to give than to get, to seal the blessing that had been already given of God, and to pronounce a fresh blessing. What a moment in God's eyes! Jesus "said unto them, But whom say ye that I am?" Peter then answers, unequivocally, "The Christ of God." At first sight it might seem remarkable that, in the Jewish Gospel of Matthew, we have a far fuller acknowledgment. There he owns Him not only to be the Christ, but the "Son of the living God." This is left out here. Along with the acknowledgment of that deeper glory of Christ's person, the Lord is reported as saying, "Upon this rock I will build my Church." As the expression of the divine dignity of Christ is left out here, so the building the Church is not found. There is only the acknowledgment of Christ as the true Messiah, the anointed of God; not one anointed by human hands, but the Christ of God. The Lord, therefore, entirely omits all intimation of the Church, that new thing which was going to be builded, just as we have here the omission of Peter's brightest confession. "And He straitly charged them, and commanded them to tell no man that thing." It was no use to proclaim Him as the Messiah. After prophecies, miracles, preaching, the people had been altogether at fault. As the disciples themselves told the Lord, some said one thing, some said another, and no matter what they said, it was all wrong. No doubt there was this handful of disciples who followed Him; and Peter, speaking for the rest, knows and confesses the truth. But it was in vain for the people, as a whole; and this was the question for the Messiah, as such. The Lord accordingly, at this point of time, introduces that most solemn change, not dispensational, not the cutting off of the Jewish system, and the Church building coming into view. That, we have seen, comes in the Gospel where we have ever found the question of dispensational crisis discussed. In Luke it is not so; for there is found the great moral root of the matter; and after such a full — I would not say adequate, but abundant testimony had been rendered to Christ, not merely by His intrinsic energy, but even by communicated power to His servants, it was altogether in vain to proclaim Him any longer as the Messiah of Israel. The manner in which He had come as Messiah was foreign to their thoughts, their feelings, their preconceptions, their prepossessions; the lowliness, the grace, the path of suffering and contempt — all this was so hateful to Israel, that such a Messiah, though He were the Christ of God, they would have nothing to do with. They wanted a Messiah to gratify their national ambition, and to meet their natural wants. Earthly glory, as a present thing too, they desired, being simply men of the world; and whatever struck a blow at this, whatever brought in God and His ways, His goodness, His grace, His necessary judgment of sin, His introduction of that for faith now, which would, and alone could, stand throughout eternity, was abhorrent to them. Of all this they had no sense of want, and One who came for these ends was altogether odious to them. Hence, then, our Lord acts upon this at once, and announces the grand truth that it was no longer a question of the Christ accomplishing what had been promised to the fathers, and which, no doubt, would yet be made good to the children in another day. Meanwhile He was going to take the place of a rejected, suffering man — the Son of man; not only One whose person was despised, but who was going to the cross: His testimony thoroughly discredited, and Himself to die. This, then, He first announced. "The Son of man," says He, "must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and chief priests, and scribes (it is not here the Gentiles, but the Jews), and be slain, and be raised the third day." On that, I need not say, hangs not merely the glorious building of the Church of God, but the ground on which any sinful soul can be brought to God. But here it is presented, not in the view of atonement, but as the rejection and suffering of the Son of man at the hands of His own people, that is, of their leaders.
One must carefully remember that the death of Christ, infinite in value, accomplishes many and most worthy ends. To reduce ourselves to a single particular view of Christ's death, is no better than voluntary poverty in the presence of the inexhaustible riches of the grace of God. The sight of other objects met there does not in the least degree detract from the all-importance of atonement. I can perfectly understand, that when a soul is not thoroughly free and happy in peace, the one thing desired is that which will set such an one at ease. Hence, even among saints, the tendency to shut oneself up to the atonement. The looking for nothing else in the death of Christ is the proof that the soul is not satisfied — that there is still a void in the heart, which craves what has not yet been found. Hence, therefore, persons who are more or less under the law restrict the cross of Christ only to expiation, i.e., the means of pardon. When it is a question of righteousness, so thoroughly dark are they, that anything beyond the remission of sins they must look somewhere else for. What is it to them that the Son of man was glorified, or God glorified in Him? In every respect, save that there is a place left for atonement in the mercy of God, the system is false.
Our Saviour speaks not as putting away man's guilt, but as rejected and suffering to the utmost because of man's or Israel's unbelief. It is here not a revelation of the efficacious sacrifice on God's part. The heads of earthly religion kill Him; but He is raised the third day. Then comes in, not a development of the blessed results of the atonement, however surely this was what God was going to effect at that very time; but Luke, as his manner is, insists, in connection with Christ's rejection and death, on the great moral principle: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself." The Lord will have the cross true, not only for a man, but to him too. Blessed as it is to know what God has wrought in the cross of Christ for us, we must learn what it writes on the world and human nature. And that is what our Lord presses: "If any man will come after me, let him deny Himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away? For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father's, and of the holy angels." We have here a remarkable fulness of glory spoken of in connection with that great day when eternal things begin to be displayed.
"But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God." Here, therefore, as in the first three Gospels, we have the scene of the transfiguration. The only difference is, that in Luke's Gospel it appears to come a great deal earlier than in the others. In Matthew's case there is the waiting, as it were, till the last. I need not say that the Spirit of God had the exact point of time just as clearly before His mind in one as in another; but the ruling object necessarily brought in other topics in one Gospel, as it put them aside in another. In a word, the point in Matthew was to show the fulness of testimony before that which was so fatal for Israel. God, I may say, exhausted every means of warning and testimony to His ancient people, giving them proof upon proof, all spread out before them. Luke, on the contrary, brings in a special picture of His grace "to the Jew first" at an early time; and then, that rejected, turns to larger principles, because in point of fact, what ever might be the means through the responsibility of man, it was all a settled thing with God.
John does not introduce the details of the offer to the Jews at all. From the very first chapter of John's gospel the trial is closed, and all decided. From the first it was apparent that Christ was thoroughly rejected. Therefore most consistently the particulars of the testimony and the transfiguration itself find no place in John: they are not in the line of his object. What answers to the transfiguration, as far as anything can be said so to do in the Gospel of John, is given in the first chapter, where it is said, "We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." Even if this be conceived to be an allusion to what was beheld on the holy mount, it is here mentioned only in a parenthetical way. The object was not to speak of the glory of the kingdom, but to show that there was a glory deeper far in His person: the kingdom is abundantly spoken of elsewhere. The theme of this Gospel is to show man completely worthless from the very first, the Son all that was blessed, not only from the beginning, but from everlasting. Hence it is that there is no room for the transfiguration in the Gospel of John.
But in Luke, the effect being that He displays the moral roots of things, we have it put much earlier as to its place. The reason is manifest. From the time of the transfiguration, or immediately before it, Christ made the announcement of His death. There was no question any longer about setting up the kingdom in Israel at that time; no object consequently in preaching Messiah as such or the kingdom now. The point was this: He was going to die; He was about shortly to be cast off by the chief priests, and elders, and scribes. What was the use then of talking about reigning now? Hence there is gradually made known in prophetic parables another kind of manner in which the kingdom of God was to be meanwhile introduced. A sample of the kingdom as it will be was seen on the mount of transfiguration; for the system of glory is only postponed, and in no wise given up. Thus that mount discloses a picture of what God had in His counsels. Before this, as is manifest, the preaching even of Christ was of One presented on the footing of man's responsibility. That is, the Jews were responsible to receive Him and the kingdom that He came with title to set up. The end of this was — what is seen uniformly in such moral tests — man, when tried, always found wanting. In his hands all comes to nothing. Here, then, He shows that it was all known to Him. He was going to die. This, of course, closes all pretension of man to meet his obligation on the ground of the Messiah, as before on that of law. His duty was plain, but he failed miserably. Consequently we are at once brought here in view of the kingdom, not provisionally offered, but according to the counsels of God, who had of course before Him the end from the beginning.
Let us then look at the peculiar manner in which the Spirit of God presents the kingdom through our evangelist. "And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray." The very mode of presenting the time differs from the others. All may not be aware that some men have found a difficulty here: where will they not? It seems to me a small difficulty this, between "after six days" (in Matthew and Mark), and "about an eight days after" (in Luke). Clearly, the one is an exclusive statement of time as the other is inclusive: a person has only to think in order to see that both were perfectly true. But I do not believe that it is without a divine reason that the Spirit of God was pleased to use the one in Matthew and Mark, and the other only in Luke. There appears to be a connection between the form, "about an eight days after," with our Gospel rather than the others; and for this simple reason, that this notation of time brings in that which, spiritually understood, goes beyond the work-a-day world of time, or even the kingdom in its Jewish idea and measure. The eighth day brings in not only resurrection, but the glory proper to it. Now this is what connects itself with the glimpse of the kingdom we catch in Luke, more than any other. No doubt there is that understood in the others, but it is not so openly expressed as in our Gospel, and we shall find this confirmed as we pursue the subject.
"And as he prayed, (that is, when there was the expression of His human perfectness in dependence upon God, of which Luke often speaks,) the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering." The appearance set forth that which will be wrought in saints when they are changed at the coming of Christ. So even in our Lord's case; though Scripture is most guarded, and it becomes us to speak reverently of His person, yet surely was He sent in the likeness of sinful flesh; but could He be so described when it was no longer the days of His flesh — when risen from the dead, when death has no more dominion over Him — when received up in glory? What then was seen on the holy mount, I judge to be rather the anticipatory semblance of what He is as glorified — the one being but temporary, while His present condition will endure for ever. "And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias: who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease [departure] which he should accomplish at Jerusalem." Other elements of the deepest interest crowd on us; companions of the Lord, men familiarly talking with Him, yet appearing in glory. Above all, note that when the full character of the change or resurrection is more clearly attested, and even beheld more distinctly than anywhere else, the all-importance of the death of Christ is invariably felt just as the value of the resurrection rises. Nor is there any better device of the enemy for weakening the grace of God in Christ's death than to hide the power of His resurrection. On the other hand, he who speculates on the glory of the resurrection, without feeling that the death of Christ was the only possible ground of it before God, and the only way open to us whereby we could have a share with Him in that glorious resurrection, is evidently one whose mind has taken in but a part of the truth. Such an one wants the simple, living faith of God's elect; for if he had it, his soul would be keenly alive to the claims of God's holiness and the necessities of our guilty condition, which the resurrection, blessed as it is, could in no way meet, nor righteously secure any blessing for us, save as founded upon that departure which He accomplished at Jerusalem.
But here no such thoughts or language appear. Not only is the glorious result before our eyes, the veil taken away, that we might see (as it were in company with these chosen witnesses) the kingdom as it will be, shown us here in a little sample of it, but we are admitted to hear the converse of the glorified saints with Jesus on its yet more glorious cause. They talked with Him, and the subject was His departure, which He should accomplish at Jerusalem. How blessed to know that we have that same death, that same most precious truth, nearest of all for our hearts, because it is the perfect expression of His love, and of His suffering love; that we have it now; that it is the very centre of our worship; that it is what habitually calls us together; that no joy in hope, no present favour, no heavenly privilege can ever obscure, but only give a fuller expression to our sense of the grace of His death, as, in truth, they are its fruits. Peter, and they that were with him, were asleep even here; and Luke mentions the circumstance, as especially introducing to our notice the moral state. Such, then, was the condition of the disciples, yea, of those who seemed to be pillars; the glory was too bright for them — they had scanty relish for it. The same disciples, who afterwards slept in the garden of agony, then slept in the mount of glory. And I am persuaded that the two tendencies are very closely akin, insensibility — indifference; he who is apt to go asleep in the presence of the one indicates too plainly that you cannot expect from him any adequate sense of the other.
But there is more for us to see, however passingly. "And when they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him. And it came to pass, as they departed from him, Peter said unto Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias; not knowing what he said." How little human, natural honour for Christ can be trusted even in a saint! Peter meant to magnify his Master. Let us trust God for it. His word brings in not now glorified men, but the God of glory. The Father could not suffer such a speech to come from Peter without a rebuke. No doubt Peter sincerely meant by it to honour the Lord on the mount, as Matthew and Mark relate how he failed similarly just before; it was the indulgence of traditional thoughts and human feeling in view both of the cross and the glory. So many now, too, like Peter, intend nothing but honour to the Lord by that which would really deprive Him of a special and blessed part of His glory. The word of God alone judges all things; but man, tradition, heeds it little. So it was with Peter; the same disciple who would not have the Lord to suffer, now proposes to put the Lord on a level with Elias or Moses. But God the Father speaks out of the cloud — that well-known sign of Jehovah's presence, of which every Jew, at least understood the meaning. "There came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him." Hence, whatever might be the place of Moses and Elias in the presence of Christ, it is no question of giving signal and like dignity to them all three, but of hearing the Son of God. As witnesses, they vanish before His testimony who was the object testified of. They were of the earth, He of heaven, and above all. To the Christ as such had they borne witness, even as the disciples hitherto; but He was rejected; and this rejection, in God's grace and wisdom, opened the way and laid the ground for the higher dignity of His person to shine as the Father knew Him, the Son, for the Church to be built thereon, and for communion with the heavenly glory. The Son has His own sole claim as the One to be heard now. So God the Father decides. What, in effect, could they say? They could only speak about Him, whose own words best declare what He is, as they only reveal the Father; and He was here to speak without their aid; He was here Himself to make known the true God; for this He is, and eternal life. "This is my beloved Son: hear him." Such is what the Father would communicate to the disciples upon earth. And this is most precious. "Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ." For it is not merely the glorified speaking with Jesus, but the Father communicating about Him, the Son, to saints on earth; not to saints glorified, but to saints in their natural bodies, giving them a taste of His own delight in His Son. He would not have them weaken the glory of His Son. No effulgence which shone out from the glorified men must be allowed for a moment to cause forgetfulness of the infinite difference between Him and them. "This is my beloved Son." They were but servants, their highest dignity at best to be witnesses of Him. "This is my beloved Son: hear him. And when the voice was past, Jesus was found alone. And they kept it close."
Yet have I omitted another point that ought not to be left without special notice. While Peter spake, even before the Father's voice was heard, there came a cloud and overshadowed them, and they feared as they entered the cloud. And no wonder; because this was something entirely distinct from and above the glory of the kingdom for which they waited. Blessed as the kingdom is, and glorious, they did not fear when they saw the glorified men, nor Jesus Himself, the centre of that glory; they did not fear when they beheld this witness and sample of the kingdom; for every Jew looked for the kingdom, and expected the Messiah to set it up gloriously; and they knew well enough that, somehow or another, the saints of the past will be there along with the Messiah when He reigns over His willing people. None of these things produced terror; but, when the excellent glory came, overshadowing with its brightness (for light was there, and no darkness at all) the Shechinah of Jehovah's presence, and when Peter, James, and John saw the men with the Lord Jesus entering that cloud, this was something entirely above all previous expectation. No person from the Old Testament would gather such a thought as man thus in the same glory with God. But this is precisely what the New Testament opens out; this is one large part of what was hidden in God from ages and generations before. Indeed, it could not be disclosed till the manifestation and rejection of Christ. Now, it is that which forms the peculiar joy and hope of the Christian in the Son of God. It is not at all the same as the promised blessing and power when the kingdom dawns upon this long benighted earth. As star differs from star, and there is a celestial glory as well as a terrestrial, so there is that which is far above the kingdom — that which is founded upon the revealed person of the Son, and in communion with the Father and the Son, now enjoyed in the power of the Spirit sent down from heaven. Accordingly we have, immediately after this, the Father proclaiming the Son; because there is no key, as it were, to open that cloud for man, except His name — no means to bring Him there save His work. It is not the Messiah as such. Had He been merely the Messiah, into that cloud man never could have entered. It is because He was and is the Son. As He therefore came, so to speak, out of the cloud, so it was His to introduce into the cloud, though for this His cross too is essential, man being a sinner. Thus the fear of Peter and James and John at this particular point, when they saw men entering into and environed by Jehovah's presence-cloud, is, to my own mind, most significant. Now, that is given us here; and this, one may see, is connected very intimately with, not the kingdom, but the heavenly glory — the Father's house as entered in communion with the Son of God.
The Lord comes down from the mountain, and we have a picture, morally, of the world. "A man of the company cried out, saying, Master, I beseech thee, look upon my son: for he is mine only child. And, lo, a spirit taketh him, and he suddenly crieth out; and it teareth him that he foameth again, and bruising him hardly departeth from him." It is a picture of man as now the object of Satan's continual assault and possession; or, as elsewhere described, led captive of the devil at his will. "And I besought thy disciples to cast him out; and they could not." It grieves the Lord deeply, that though there was faith in the disciples, that faith was so dormant before difficulties, that it so feebly knew how to avail itself of the power of Christ on the one hand, for the deep distress of man on the other. Oh, what a sight this was to Christ! what feeling to His heart, that those who possessed faith should at the same time so little estimate the power of Him who was its object and resource! It is exactly what will be the ruin of Christendom, as it was the ground of the Lord closing all His dealings with His ancient people. And when the Son of man comes, will He find faith on the earth? Look at all now, even at the present aspect of that which bears His name. There is the recognition of Christ and of His power, no doubt. Men are baptized in His name. Nominally His glory is owned by everybody but open infidels; but where is the faith He looks for? The comfort is this, however, that Christ never fails to carry on His own work; and, therefore, though we find the very gospel itself made merchandise of in the world, though you may see it prostituted in every way to minister to the vanity or pride of men, God does not therefore abandon His own purposes. Thus He does not forego the conversion of souls by it, even though grievously fettered and perverted. Nothing is more simple. It is not that the Lord approves of the actual state of things, but that the grace of the Lord never can fail, and the work of Christ must be done. God will gather out of the world; yea, out of its worst. In short, the Lord shews here that the unbelief of the disciples was manifested by their little power to draw upon the grace that was in Him, to apply it to the case in hand. "And Jesus answering said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you, and suffer you? Bring thy son hither." And so after a manifestation of Satan's power, the Lord delivers him again to his father.
"And they were all amazed at the mighty power of God." But Jesus at once speaks about His death. Nothing can be sweeter. There was that done which might well make Jesus appear great in their eyes as a matter of power. At once He tells them that He was going to be rejected, to die, to be put to death. "Let those sayings sink down into your ears; for the Son of man shall be delivered into the hands of men." He was the Deliverer from Satan's power. The disciples were as nothing in the presence of the enemy: this was natural enough; but what shall we say when we hear that the Son of man shall be delivered into the hands of men? Here unbelief is ever at fault — never knows how to put these two things together; it does seem such a moral and mental contradiction, that the mightiest of deliverers should be apparently the weakest of all beings, delivered into the hands of men, His own creatures! But so it must be. If a sinner was to be saved for eternity — if the grace of God was to make a righteous basis for justifying the ungodly, Jesus, the Son of man, must be delivered into the hands of man; and then an infinitely fiercer fire must burn — the divine judgment when God made Him sin for us; for all that men, Satan, even God Himself could do, comes upon Him to the uttermost.
The Lord, then, having Himself shown what He was, not only in His power which vanquished Satan but also in that weakness in which He was crucified of men, now reads a lesson to the disciples on the score of their reasoning; for the Spirit of God brings this in now, their discussion which of them should be greatest — a vain, unworthy contest at any time, but how much more so in the presence of such a Son of man! It is thus, one can see, that Luke brings facts and principles together in his Gospel. He makes a child, despised of those who would be great, to be a rebuke to the self — exalting disciples. They had been little enough against Satan's power: would they be great in spite of their Master's humiliation? Again, He lays bare what manner of spirit was in John, though not giving it in the point of view of service, as we saw in Mark. It may not have been forgotten, that there we had it very particularly as the vehicle for instructing us in the weighty duty that we are to acknowledge the power of God in the service of others, though they may not be "with us." But that point does not appear in Luke — at least not its details, but simply the moral principle. "Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us."
Then, again, we have His censure of the spirit of James and John in consequence of the affront the Samaritans put on our Lord. It was the same egotism in another form, and the Lord turns and rebukes them, telling them that they knew not what manner of spirit they were of; for the Son of man was not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them. All these lessons are plainly impressions, so to speak, of the cross — its shame, rejection, anguish, whatever men chose to put on the name of Jesus, or on those that belong to Jesus — Jesus who was on His way to the cross; for so it is expressly written here. He was steadfastly setting His face to go to Jerusalem, where His departure was to be accomplished.
Accordingly we have given here another set of lessons closing the chapter, but still connected with what went before — the judgment of what should not work, and the indication of that which ought to work, in the hearts of those that profess to follow the Lord. These are brought together after a notable manner. First, "A certain man said unto him, Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest." Here it is the detection of what was cloked under an apparent frankness and devotedness; but these seemingly fine fruits were entirely after the flesh, utterly worthless, and offensive to the Lord, who at once puts His finger upon the point. Who is the man that is really ready to follow the Lord whithersoever He goes? The man that has found all in Him, and wants not earthly glory from Him. Jesus was going to die Himself; here He had not a place where to lay His head. How could He give anything to him? "And he said to another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto Him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God." Now, here is real faith; and where this exists, it is more than a theory — difficulties are felt. Thus the man begins to make excuse, because he feels, on the one side, the attraction of the word of Jesus; but at the same time he is not freed from the force that drags him into nature; he is alive to the seriousness of the matter in conscience, but realises the obstacles in the way. Hence, he pleads the strongest natural claim upon his heart, a son's duty to a dead father. But the Lord would have him leave that to those who had no such call of the Lord. "Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God." To another, who says, "Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home in my house." The Lord replies that the kingdom of God is necessarily paramount, and its service all-engrossing; so that if a man has put his hand to the plough, woe to him if he look back! He is unfit for the kingdom of God. Throughout who can fail to see the judgment of the heart, man's nature proved, however fair the form? What death to self the service of Christ implies! Otherwise, what personal faithlessness, even if one escape the evil of bringing in rubbish into God's house and, it may be, of defiling His temple! Such is the fruit of self-confidence where Satan acquires a footing.
Luke 10. Next comes before us the remarkable mission of the seventy, which is peculiar to Luke. This has, indeed, a solemn and final character, with an urgency beyond that of the twelve, in chapter 9. It is an errand of grace, sent out as they were by One whose heart yearned over a great harvest of blessing; but it is clothed with a certain last warning, and with woes here pronounced on the cities where He had wrought in vain. "He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me." This gives it, therefore, a serious and peculiar force, yet withal suitable to our Gospel. Without dwelling upon the particulars, I would simply remark that, when the seventy returned, saying, "Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name," the Lord (while he saw in clear vista before Him Satan fallen from heaven, the casting out of devils by the disciples being but the first blow, according to that power which will utterly put down Satan at the end) at the same time states that this is not the better thing, the proper subject for their joy. No power over evil, however true now, however in the end displaying in full the glory of God, is to be compared to the joy of His grace, the joy of not merely seeing Satan turned out, but of God brought in; and meanwhile of themselves, in the communion of the Father and of the Son, leaving their portion and their names enrolled in heaven. It is a heavenly blessedness, as it becomes more and more manifest that is to be the place of the disciples, and that in Luke's Gospel more than in any other of the synoptists. "Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven." Not that it is the Church which is here revealed, but at the least a very characteristic feature of the Christian place which is breaking through the clouds. In that hour Jesus accordingly rejoiced in spirit, and said, "I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight."
Here you will observe it is not, as in Matthew, in connection with the break up of Judaism. Not only was the total destruction of Satan's power before Him, the woman's Seed, by man, for man; but, diving deeper than the kingdom, He explains those counsels of the Father in the Son, to whom all things are delivered, and whose glory was inscrutable to man, the key to His present rejection, and the secret and best blessing for His saints. It is not so much here the Christ — rejected and suffering Son of man: but the Son, the revealer of the Father, whom the Father alone knows. And with what delight He congratulates the disciples privately on that which they saw and heard (ver. 3, 4), though we find some declarations coming out more emphatically afterwards; but still it was all clear before Him. Here it is the satisfaction of the Lord in the bright side of the subject, not merely the contrast with the dead body of Judaism, as it were, which was completely judged and left behind.
What we find after this is an unfolding of the Sabbath-days, in which the Lord demonstrated to the unwilling Jews that the bond between God and Israel was broken (see Matt. 11, 12): for this was the meaning of the apparent breach of the Sabbaths, when He vindicated the disciples in eating of the corn on the one, and healed the withered hand publicly on the other. But here we meet with another line of things; we have, according to Luke's manner, one who was instructed in the law weighed and found wanting morally. A lawyer comes and says, "Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?"
This sets forth, then, the difficulties of the legal mind; it is a technicality: he cannot understand what is meant by his "neighbour." Intellectually it was no such feat to penetrate the meaning of that word, "neighbour." But the consequences morally were grave; if it meant what it said, had he ever in his life felt and acted as if he had a neighbour? He gave it up, therefore. It was a mysterious something that the elders had nowhere solved, a case that was not yet ruled in the Sanhedrim, — what was meant by this inscrutable "neighbour." Alas! it was the fallen heart of man that wanted to get out of a plain duty, but a duty which demanded love, the last thing in the world he possessed. The great difficulty was himself; and so he sought to justify himself — an utter impossibility! For in truth he was a sinner; and the thing for him is to confess his sins. Where one has not been brought to own himself, and to justify God against himself, all is wrong and false; everything of God is misunderstood, and His word seems darkness, instead of light.
Mark how our Lord puts the case in the beautiful parable of the good Samaritan. It was, if I may so say of Him as a man, the single eye and the heart that perfectly understood what God was, and enjoyed it; that never, therefore, had difficulty in finding out who was his neighbour. For, in truth, grace finds a neighbour in every one that needs love. The man that needs human sympathy, that needs divine goodness and its clear testimony, though it be through a man upon the earth, he is my neighbour. Now, Jesus was the only man who was walking in the whole power of divine love, though, I need not say, this was but a little part of His glory. As such, therefore, He found no riddle to solve in the question, Who is my neighbour?
Evidently it is not the mere dispensational setting aside of the ancient people of God, but the proving of the heart, the will of man detected where it used the law to justify itself, and to get rid of the plain demand of duty to one's fellows. Where in all this was love maintained, that necessary answer in man to the character of God in an evil world? Certainly not in the lawyer's question, which betrayed the duty unknown; as surely was it in Him whose parabolic reply most aptly imaged His own feelings and life, the sole perfect exhibition of God's will in love to a neighbour, which this poor world has ever had before it.
The rest of the chapter belongs to the eleventh, properly and naturally following up this truth. What a mercy that, through us then, in Jesus, there is active goodness here below, which, after all, is the only thing that ever accomplishes the law! It is very important to see that grace really does fulfil God's will in this: "That the righteousness of the law," as it is said, "might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." The lawyer was walking after the flesh; there was no perception of grace, and consequently no truth in him. what a miserable life he must have been living, and he a teacher of God's law, without even knowing who was his neighbour! At least, so he pretended.
On the other hand, as we are next taught, where there is grace, everything is put in its place, and it shows itself in two forms. The first is the value for the word of Jesus. Grace prizes it above all things. Even if you look at two persons who may both be objects of Christ's love, what a difference it makes for the one whose heart delights most in grace! And where there is the opportunity of hearing the word of God from Jesus, or of Jesus, this is the chief jewel at the feet of Jesus. Such is the true moral posture of the one who knows grace best. Here it was Mary who was found sitting at the feet of Jesus, to hear His word. She had decided rightly, as faith (I say not the believer) always does. As for Martha, she was distracted with bustle. Her one thought was what she could do for Jesus, as One known after the flesh, not without a certain thought, as ever, of what was due to herself. No doubt it was meant for, and after a certain style was, honour to Him; but still it was honour of a Jewish, carnal, worldly sort. It was paid to His bodily presence there, as a man, and the Messiah, with a little bit of honour to herself no doubt, and to the family. This naturally comes out in Luke, the delineator of such moral traits. Still as for Mary's conduct, it seemed to Martha no better than indifference to her many anxious preparations. Vexed at this, she goes to the Lord with a complaint against Mary, and would have liked the Lord to have joined her, and set His seal to its justice. The Lord, however, at once vindicates the hearer of His word. "But one thing is needful." Not Martha, but Mary, had chosen that good part which should not he taken away from her. When grace works in this world it is not to bring in what suits a moment of passing time, but that which ensures eternal blessing. As part of God's grace, therefore, we have the word of Jesus revealing and communicating what is eternal, what shall not be taken away.
Remark another thing next. It is not only the all-importance of the word of Jesus, not man's misuse of the law (which we have seen but too clearly in the lawyer, who ought to have taught, instead of asked, who my neighbour is), but now we have the place and value of prayer. This is equally needful in its season, and is found here in its true place. Clearly I must receive from God before there can be the going out of my heart to God. There must first be what is imparted by God — His revelation of Jesus. There is no faith without His word. (Rom. 10) My thoughts of Jesus may be ruin to me; indeed, I am very sure, if they were only my thoughts of Jesus, they must deceive and destroy my soul, and be injurious to everybody else. But here we find the weighty intimation, that it is not enough that there should be the reception of the word of Jesus, and even at the feet of Jesus. He looks at the disciples need of the exercise of heart with God. And this is shown in more ways than one.
Luke 11. First of all we have prayer, according to the mind of Jesus, for the disciples in their actual wants and state; and a most blessed prayer it is, leaving out the millennial allusions of Matt. 6, but retaining all the general and moral petitions. The Lord next insists on the importunity or perseverance of prayer, with the blessing attached to earnestness with God. Thirdly, it may be added, that the Lord touches on the gift of the Spirit, and in connection with this only in our Gospel — "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give [not merely good things, but] the Holy Spirit [the best gift] to them that ask him?" Thus the great characteristic blessing to the Gentiles (compare Gal. 3), and of course to the believing Jew also, was this gift which the Lord here instructs the disciples to ask for. For the Holy Ghost was not yet given. There was exercise of heart Godward. They were really disciples; they were born of God, yet had they to pray for the Holy Spirit to be given them. Such was the state going on while the Lord Jesus was here below. It was not only (as in John 14) that He would ask the Father, and the Father would send; but they too were to ask the Father, who would assuredly, as He did, give the Holy Spirit to them that asked Him. And I am far from denying that there might be cases at this present time, of what some might call an abnormal kind, where persons were really convinced of sin, but without the settled peace which the gift of the Holy Ghost imparts. Here, at the very least, the principle of this would apply; and for this it might be of moment, therefore, that we should have it plainly in the Gospel of Luke; because this was not the dispensational instruction as to the great change that was coming in, but rather filled with profound moral principles of larger import, though to be influenced, no doubt, by the development of the great facts of divine grace. Thus the sending down of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost brought in an immense modification of this truth. His presence from that moment undoubtedly involved greater things than the heavenly Father giving the Spirit to the individuals who sought it of Him. And there was the grand point of the Father's estimate of the work of Jesus, to which the Spirit's descent was an answer. Therefore, a person might be brought in, so to speak, all at once; he might be converted and rest upon the redemption of Jesus, and receive the Holy Ghost, practically, all at once. Here, however, it is the case of the disciples taught to ask before the blessing had ever been given. Certainly, at that time, we see the two things distinctly. They were born of the Spirit already, but were waiting for the further blessing — the gift of the Spirit: a privilege given them in answer to prayer. Nothing can be plainer. There is no good in enfeebling Scripture. Evangelical tradition is as false to the Spirit, as popish is to Christ's work and its glorious results for the believer even now on earth. What we need is, to understand the Scriptures in the power of God.
After this, the Lord cast out a dumb devil from one who, when delivered, spoke. This kindles into a flame the hatred of the Jews. They could not deny the power, but wickedly impute it to Satan. In their eyes or lips it was not God, but Beelzebub, the chief of the devils, who cast them out. Others, tempting Him, sought for a sign from heaven. The Lord thereon spreads out the awful consequence of this unbelief and imputation of God's power in Him to the Evil One. In Matthew, it is a sentence on that generation of the Jews; here on wider grounds for man, whoever and wherever he may be; for all here is moral, and not merely the question of the Jew. It was folly and suicidal for Satan to cast out his own. Their own sons condemned them. The truth was, the kingdom of God was come upon them; and they knew it not, but rejected it with blasphemy. Finally He adds, When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out. And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first." There is no application specially to the Jew, as in Matthew; it is left general to man. Hence, "So shall it be with this wicked generation" disappears.
Thus, although the Lord was as yet dealing with a remnant, and was here in view of the doom of that Christ-rejecting generation of the Jews, for this very reason the Spirit of God makes His special design by Luke the more apparent and undeniable. It would have been natural to have left these instructions within those precincts. Not so: Luke was inspired to enlarge their bearing, or rather record what would deal with any soul in any place or time. It is made a question here of man, and of the last state of him whom the unclean spirit has somehow left for a season, but without salvation, or the positive new work of divine grace. He may be a changed character, as men say; he may become moral, or even religious; but is he born again? If not, so much the more sorrowful — so much the worse is his last state than the first. Supposing you have that which is ever so fair, if it be not the Holy Ghost's revelation to, and the life of Christ in, your soul, every privilege or blessing short of this will surely be proved to fail. And this the Lord follows up afterwards, when a woman, hearing Him, lifts up her voice and says, " Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked." Immediately He answers, "Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it." It is evidently the same great moral lesson: no natural link with Him is to be compared with hearing and keeping God's word; and so our Lord pursues next. Were they asking for a sign? They proved their condition, and lowered themselves morally beneath the Ninevites, who repented at Jonah's preaching. Did not the report of Solomon's wisdom draw from the utmost parts of the earth a queen of the south? Jonah is here a sign, not of death and resurrection, but by his preaching. What sign had the queen of Sheba? What sign had the men of Nineveh? Jonah preached; but was not Christ preaching? That queen came from afar to hear the wisdom of Solomon; but what was the wisdom of the wisest to compare with Christ's wisdom? Was He not the wisdom and the power of God? Yet, after all they had seen and heard, they could ask a sign! It was evident that there was no such guilt of old; but, on the contrary, these Gentiles, whether in or from the ends of the earth, spite of their gross darkness, repulsed the unbelief of Israel, and proved how just would be their doom in the judgment.
Our Lord here adds an appeal to conscience. The light (set in Himself) was not secret, but in the right place: God had failed in nothing as to this. But another condition was requisite to see — the state of the eye. Was it simple, or evil? If evil, how hopeless the darkness before that light! If received with simplicity, not only is light enjoyed, but shines all around, with no part dark. To the Pharisees, who wondered that the Lord washed not His hands before dining, He pronounces a most withering rebuke upon their care for exterior cleanness, and indifference to their inward corruption, their jealousy for details of observance, and forgetfulness of the great moral obligations, their pride, and their hypocrisy. To one of the lawyers, who complained that thereby He reproached them, the Lord utters woe upon woe for them also. Tampering with the law and holy things of God, where there is no faith, is the direct road to ruin, the sure occasion of divine judgment. A like doom awaits Babylon as then was about to fall on Jerusalem. (Rev.18)
In Luke 12 the Lord furnishes the disciples with the path of faith in the midst of men's secret evil, open hatred, and worldliness. On His rejection their testimony must go on. First, they were to beware of the Pharisees' leaven, which is hypocrisy, and to cherish the consciousness of the light of God to which the believer belongs (ver. 1- 3). This, then, is the preservative power. Satan works by deceit as well as by violence. (ver. 4). God works not only in light, as we have seen, but by love (5-7), and the confidence He invites to in Himself. "But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear Him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him." Then immediately (guarding against the abuse of this, which is always true, and true for a believer, although it be, so to speak, the lower end of the truth) the Lord brings in the love of the Father, asking, "Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows."
He shows next the all-importance of the confession of His name, with the consequence of denying Him; then, the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, which would not be forgiven, whatever grace is shown to those who blasphemed the Son of man; and in contrast with this the promised succour of the Spirit in presence of a hostile world-church (ver. 8-12). Then a person appeals to the Lord to settle a question of this world. This, however, is not His work now. Of course, as Messiah, He will have to do with the earth, and will set the world right when He comes to reign; but His actual task was dealing with souls. For Him, and for men too, did not unbelief shroud their eyes, it was a question of heaven or hell, of what is eternal and of another world. Hence He absolutely refuses to be a judge and divider of what appertained to the earth. It is that which many a Christian has not learned of his Master.
Next the Lord exposes the folly of man in his covetous desire after present things. In the midst of prosperity, suddenly, that very night, God requires of the rich fool his soul. "So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God." The Lord then shows the disciples where their true riches should lie. Faith is meant to deliver from anxiety and lust. It is not food and raiment. He who fed the uncareful ravens would not fail His children, who were far more to Him than the birds. Such care, on the contrary, is the plain evidence of poverty Godward. Why are you so busy providing? It is the confession that you are not satisfied with what you have got. And what does it all come to? The lilies outshine Solomon in all his glory: how much does God interest Himself in His children? What occupies the nations who know Him not is unworthy of the saint who is called to seek God's kingdom, sure that all these thing's shall be added. "Your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things."
Again, this leads me to notice briefly the way in which this ineffable love is shown, not only by the Father, but by the Son, and that in two forms — the Son's love to those that wait for Him, and to those that work for Him. The waiting for Him we have in verses 35, 36: "Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately." It is the heart filled with Christ; and the consequence is, Christ's heart goes out towards them. When He comes, He seats them, so to speak, at table, does everything for them even in glory. But then there is working for the Lord: this comes in afterwards. "Then Peter said unto him, Lord, speakest thou this parable unto us, or even to all? And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Of a truth I say unto you, that he will make him ruler over all that he hath." It is not "so watching," but "so doing." It is a question of working for Him, and this has its own sweet and needed place. Still remark that it is secondary to watching: Christ Himself always, even before His work. Nevertheless He is pleased to associate the Gospel with Himself; very graciously, as we know in the Gospel of Mark; and it is exact]y there we might expect it, if we knew its character: He binds up the work, so to speak, with Himself. But when we come in Luke to moral analogies, if I may so term it, instead of giving it all together, like the Gospel devoted to the workman and the work, here we listen to One who unfolds to us distinction of heart and hand in relation to His coming. Blessed he who shall be found working for the Lord when He comes: surely he shall be made ruler over all that the Son of man has. Yet mark the difference. This is exaltation over His inheritance. As for those that are found watching for Him, it will be association -joy, rest, glory, love — with Himself.
Observe another thing in this part of Luke, and strikingly characteristic too. Blessed as all we have heard is for those that are His, what will it be for those that believe not? Accordingly, and in a form that commends itself to the conscience, we see the difference between the servant who knew his master's will and did it not, and the servant who knew not his master's will (ver. 47, 48). Neither Matthew, nor Mark, nor John, of course, say anything like this. Luke here sheds the light of Christ on the respective responsibility of the Gentile graffed into the olive tree and of the Pagan world. As there is in Christendom the servant cognizant of his Master's will, but indifferent or rebellious, so on the other hand, outside Christendom there is the servant wholly ignorant of His will, and, of course, lawless and evil. They are both of them beaten; but he that knew his Master's will and did it not shall be beaten with more stripes. To be baptized, and to call on the Lord's name in outward profession, instead of lightening the burden in the day of judgment for the hypocrites, will, on the contrary, bring on them so much more severity. The righteousness and the wisdom of this dealing, is so much the more remarkable, as it is the exact opposite of the early doctrine of Christendom. A notion prevailed, perhaps universally after the first century or two, that while all persons dying in sin would be judged, the baptized would have a far better portion in hell than the unbaptized. Such was the doctrine of the fathers; Scripture is dead against it. In what we have just had before us, Luke gives the Lord Jesus not only anticipating but completely and for ever excluding, the folly.
Next, whatever may be the fulness of Christ's love, the effect would now be to kindle a fire. For that love came with divine light which judged man; and man would not bear it. The consequence is, that the fire was already kindled. It did not merely await another day or execution from God, but even then was it at work. Assuredly the love of Christ was not produced by His sufferings, any more than God's love. Ever was it there only awaiting the full expression of man's hatred before it would burst all bounds, and flow out freely in every direction of need and misery. Such is our Lord's wonderful opening out of great moral principles in this chapter. Men, professors, heathen, saints, in their love for Christ, and service too, all have their portion.
The state, then, was the worst possible — utter, hopeless, social ruin, which His coming and presence had brought to light. How was it they had not discerned this time? Why even of themselves did they not judge aright? It was from no lack of evil in His adversaries, or of grace in Him. The close of the chapter takes up the Jew, showing that they then were in imminent danger, that a great question pressed on them. In their suit with God, the Lord advised them, as it were, to use arbitration while He was in the way: the result of despising this would be their committal to prison till the uttermost farthing was paid. Such was the admonition to Israel, who are now, as all know, under the consequence of neglecting the word of the Lord.
Luke 13 insists on this, and shows how vain it was to talk of the objects of signal judgments. Except they repented, they must likewise perish. Judgments thus misused lead men to forget their own guilty and ruined condition in the sight of God. He urges, therefore, repentance strongly. He admits, no doubt, that there was a term of respite. Indeed, it was Himself, the Lord Jesus, who had pleaded for a further trial. If after this the fig tree should be unfruitful, it must be cut down. And so it was: judgment came after grace, not law. How little they felt that it was a most true picture of themselves, Christ and God Himself so dealing with them because of Him. But the Lord subsequently lets us see that grace could act in the midst of such a state. Accordingly, in His healing of the woman bowed down with the spirit of infirmity, he displays the goodness of God even in such a day when judgment was at the doors, and rebuked the hypocritical wickedness of the heart that found fault with His goodness, because it was the sabbath day. "Ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day? And when he had said these things, all his adversaries were ashamed: and all the people rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him." As ever, the heart is made manifest in Luke — the adversaries of the truth on the one hand, and those on the other whom grace made the friends of Christ or the objects of His bounty. But the Lord also shows the form that the kingdom of God would take. It would not have power now, but rather from a little beginning become great in the earth, with noiseless progress, as of leaven conforming to itself till the three measures were leavened. And such, in point of fact, has been the character of the kingdom of God presented here below. It is here no question of seed, good or bad, but of the spread of doctrine nominally, at least, Christian. How far such a progress meets the mind of God, we must compare facts with Scripture in order to judge aright. If Israel was then in danger of a judgment which would surely come, what would be the case with the kingdom of God outwardly in the world? In truth, instead of occupying themselves with the question whether those destined to salvation (or the godly Jews) were few, it would be well to think of the only way in which any one could be put morally right before God; it was by striving to enter in at the strait gate: without the new birth none can enter. Many might seek to enter in, but would not be able. What is here meant? Is it a difference between striving and seeking? I doubt that this covers the true bearing of our Lord's language; for thus he who throws the stress upon striving or seeking, makes it a question of energy, greater or less. This does not seem to me what our Lord meant; but that many would seek to enter into the kingdom, not at the strait gate, but by some other way. They might seek to enter in by baptism, by law-keeping, by prayer, or some vain plea of God's mercy: all these unbelieving resources dishonour Christ and His work.
The striving to enter in at the strait gate implies, to my mind, a man brought to a true sense of sin, and casting himself upon God's grace in Christ — repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ Himself is the strait gate — at least, Christ Himself received thus by faith and repentance. So our Lord, in opening out this, proclaims the judgment of Israel — indeed, of any who should like well the blessing, but refuse God's way, even Christ. He presents, accordingly, the Jewish people cast aside, the Gentiles coming, from east, west, north, and south, and brought into the kingdom of God. "Behold, there are last which shall be first, and first which shall be last." And then the chapter closes with the Pharisees pretending zeal for Him: "Get thee out, and depart hence: for Herod will kill thee." But the Lord proclaims in their ears that He would not be hindered in His service till His hour was come; and that it was not a question of Herod and Galilee, but of Jerusalem, the proud city of solemnities; it was there the prophet of God must fall. No prophet should be cut off except at Jerusalem; such is its painful, fatal peculiarity, the honour of providing a grave for God's rejected and slain witness. Men might say, as they did, that no prophet arose out of Galilee; and it was false; but certainly this was true, that if a prophet fell, he fell in Jerusalem. Yet the Lord then mourned over such a Jerusalem, and does not leave the Jews absolutely desolate, except for a time, but holds out the hope that the day should come when their heart should turn to Him (2 Cor. 3), saying, "Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord." This closes, then, the Lord's dealings in reference to Jerusalem, in contrast with the heavenly light in the disciples' portion. He depicts grace from first to last, save only in those that had no faith in Him; and on the other hand, he lets us know, that whatever might be the yearnings of grace over Jerusalem, this is the end of it all in man's hands.
The Lord is seen, in Luke 14 resuming the ways of grace. Once more He shows that, spite of those who preferred the sign of the Old covenant to Messiah in the grace of the New, the sabbath day furnished Him an opportunity for illustrating the goodness of God. In chapter 13. it was the spirit of infirmity — the power of Satan; here it was a simple case of human malady. The lawyers and Pharisees were then watching Him, but Jesus openly raises the question; and as they held their peace, He takes and heals the man with the dropsy, and lets him go, answering their thought by an irresistible appeal to their own ways and conscience. Man who seeks to do good to what belongs to himself, is not entitled to dispute God's right to act in love to the miserable objects that He deigns to count His.
Then the Lord takes notice of another thing, not man's hypocritical selfishness, which would not have God to gratify His love to suffering wretchedness, but man's love of being somebody in this world. The Lord brings into evidence another great principle of His own action — self-abasement in contrast with self-exaltation. If a man desires to be exalted, the only way, according to God, is to be lowly, to abase himself; it is the spirit that suits the kingdom of God. So He tells the disciples that, in making a feast, they were not to act on the principle of asking friends, or men who could return it, but as saints called to reflect the character and will of God. Therefore it should be rather those that could make no present requital, looking to the day of recompense, on God's part, at the resurrection of the just.
On some one crying out, What a blessed thing it must be to eat bread in the kingdom of God! the Lord shews the fact to be quite the contrary. For what is it that the Lord has been doing ever since? He is inviting men to eat bread, as it were, in His kingdom. But how do they treat the invitation of grace in the gospel? "A certain man made a great supper, and bade many: and sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready. And they all with one consent began to make excuse." Difference is observable. In Luke there is the omission of Matthew's first message. But, besides that, the excuses are gone into individually. One person says, "I have bought a piece of ground," which he must go and see; another man says he has bought five yoke of oxen, which he has to prove; another says he has married a wife, and on this account he cannot come. That is, we have the various decent plausible reasons that man gives for not submitting to the righteousness of God, for delaying his acceptance of the grace of God. So the servant comes and reports to his lord, who thereupon, being angry, says, "Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind. And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room." Thus the persistence of grace, spite of just displeasure, is a characteristic and beautiful feature of this Gospel. The lord sent his servant thereupon to the highways and hedges (or enclosures), compelling them to come in, that, as it is said, "my house may be filled." Of this we hear nothing in Mark and Matthew. Indeed, Matthew gives us quite a different aspect from that which we have here. There the king is seen sending forth his armies, and burning up the city. How marvellous the wisdom of God, both in what He inserts, and in what He leaves out! Matthew adds also the judgment of the robeless guest at the end — the man who had intruded, trusting to his work, or to any or all ordinances, or to both, but who had not put on Christ. This was peculiarly in its place, because this Gospel attests the dealings of grace which would take the place of Judaism, both externally and internally.
After this the Lord turns to the multitude. As He had shown the hindrance on man's part to coming, so He gravely warns those that were following Him in great numbers, and says, "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple." The moral difficulties are most earnestly pressed upon those who were so ready to follow Him. Would it not be well and wise to sit down first and count the cost of building the tower completely? to consider whether, with the strength they had, they could cope with the vastly greater forces against them? Yet is it no question of mustering resources after a human way, but of forsaking all one's own, and so being Christ's disciple. There is such a thing as persons beginning well, and turning out good-for-nothing. "Salt is good;" but what if it becomes savourless? Wherewith shall it be seasoned? It is fit neither for land nor dunghill. They cast it out (or, it is cast out). "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear."
Then follows a profound and lovely unfolding of grace in Luke 15. In the close of the preceding chapter, the impossibility for man in flesh to be a disciple was made evident. Such was the great lesson there. But now we have the other side of grace. If man failed in attempting to be a disciple, how is it that God makes disciples? Thus we have the goodness of God to sinners brought out in three forms. First, the shepherd goes after the wandering sheep. This is very clearly grace as shown in Christ the Son of man, who came so seek and to save that which was lost.
The next parable is not of the Son who bears the burden; for there is but one Saviour, even Christ. Nevertheless the Spirit of God has a part, and a very blessed part, in the salvation of every soul brought to God. It is not as the Good Shepherd who lays down His life, nor as the Great Shepherd brought again from the dead through the blood of the everlasting covenant, laying the sheep once lost, now found, on His shoulders rejoicing, as it is presented in Luke only. What we have here is the figure of a woman that lights a candle, sweeps the house, and uses the most diligent exertion till the lost thing is found. Is not this in beautiful harmony with the function of the Spirit as to the sinner's soul? I cannot doubt this is seen in the woman's part (not, if I may so say, the prominent public actor, who is ever Christ the Son). The Spirit of God has rather the energetic agency, comparatively a hidden power, however visible the effects. It is not One that acts as a person outside; and this therefore was most fitly set forth by the woman inside the house. It is the Spirit of God working within, His private and searching operation in secret with the soul however truly also the candle of the word is made to shine. Need I remark that it is the Spirit of God's part to cause the word to bear on men as a shining light? It is not the Shepherd who lights the candle, but He bears the stray sheep on His shoulders. We know very well that the Word of God, the Shepherd, is looked at elsewhere as the true light Himself; but here it is a candle which is lit, and therefore quite inapplicable to the person of Christ. But it is precisely that which the Spirit of God does. The word of God preached, the Scripture, may have been read a hundred times before; but at the critical moment it is light to the lost one. Diligence is used in every way; and we know how the Spirit of God condescends to this, what painstaking He uses in pressing the word home upon the soul, and causing the light to shine exactly at the right moment where all before was dark. In this second parable, accordingly, it is not active going away from God which is seen; a condition worse than this appears — a dead thing. It is the only parable of the three which presents the lost one not as a living creature, but as dead. From elsewhere we know that both are true; and the Spirit of God describes the sinner both as one alive in the world going away from God (Rom. 3), and as dead in trespasses and sins. (Eph. 2) We could not have a proper conception of the sinner's condition unless we had these two things. One parable was needed to shew us a sinner in the activities of life departing from God, and another to represent the sinner as dead in trespasses and sins. Here exactly these two things are seen, the lost sheep shewing the one, and the lost piece of money the other.
But in addition to these, there is a third parable necessary: not only a strayed sheep and a lost inanimate piece of money, but, besides, the moral history of man away from the presence of God, but coming to Him again. Hence the parable of the lost son takes man from the very first, traces the beginning of his departure, and the course and character of the misery of a sinner on the earth, his repentance, and his final peace and joy in the presence of God, who Himself rejoices as truly as man objects. Practically this is true of every sinner. In other words, there is a little yielding to sin, or desire to be independent of God — a farther and farther depth of evil in every person's history. I do not believe that the chapter discusses the question of a backsliding child of God, though a common principle of course, here and there, would apply to the restoration of a soul. This is a favourite idea with some who are more familiar with doctrine than with Scripture. But there are objections, plain, stronger, and decisive, against understanding the chapter thus. First, it does not suit, in the smallest degree, what we have just seen in the parables of the lost sheep and the lost piece of money. Indeed it seems to me impossible to reconcile such an hypothesis even with the simple and repeated expression "lost." For who will affirm that, when a believer slips away from the Lord, he is lost? The most opposed to this, singular to say, is the very school most prone to that misinterpretation. When a man believes, he is a lost sheep found; he may not run well, no doubt; but never does Scripture view him afterwards as a lost sheep. Just so is it with the lost drachma; and so, finally, with the lost son. The prodigal was not, in the first instance, an unfaithful saint; he was not a backslider merely, but "lost" and "dead." Are these strong figures ever true of him who is a child of God by faith? They are precisely true, if we look at Adam and his sons, viewed as children of God in a certain sense. So the apostle Paul told the Athenians, that "we are also his offspring." Men are God's offspring, as having souls and moral responsibility to God, made after His similitude and His image here below. In these and other respects men differ from the beast, which is merely a living creature that perishes in death. A beast, of course, has a spirit (else it could not live); but still, when it dies, the spirit goes down to the earth, even as its body; whereas a man's spirit, when he dies (no matter as to this whether lost or saved), goes to God, as it came directly from God. There is that which, either for good or evil, is immortal in the spirit of man, as being breathed directly and immediately from God in the nostrils of man. Of the evangelists, Luke is the one who most speaks of man in this solemn light; and this, not only in his Gospel, but in the Acts of the Apostles. It connects itself with the large moral place he gives man, and as the object of divine grace. "A certain man had two sons;" so that man is looked at from his very origin. Then we have this son going farther and farther away from God, till he comes to the worst. There lay the opportunity of grace; and God brought him to a sense, not perhaps deep but most real, of his distance from God Himself as well as his degradation, sin, and ruin. It was by the pinch of want he was brought to himself — by intense personal misery; for God deigns to use any and every method in His grace. It was shame, and suffering, and wretchedness, which led him to feel he was perishing; and wherefore? He looks back to Him from whom he departed, and grace puts into his heart the conviction of goodness in God as of badness in himself. This was really wrought in him; it was repentance — repentance towards God; for it was not a mere conscientious judgment upon himself and his past conduct, but self-judgment from God, to which His goodness led Him — led him by faith back to Himself. "I will arise"' then he says, "and go to my father, and say, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight."
However there is no need at present to dwell on this, which no doubt, is familiar to most here. This only it may be well to add, that we have here evidently a moral history; but then there is another side, and that is, the ways of Christ, and the Father's grace with the returned prodigal. Accordingly we have this in two parts: first, the reception of the prodigal; next, the joy and love of God the Father, and the prodigal's communion with it when he had been received. The father receives him with open arms, ordering the best robe, everything worthy of himself, to be brought out in honour of the prodigal. Afterwards, we see the son in the father's presence. It sets forth the joy of God reproducing itself in all that are there. It is not a sketch of what we shall taste when we go to heaven, but rather the spirit of heaven made good now on earth in the worship of those who are brought to God. It is not at all a question of what we were, save only to enhance that which grace gives and makes us. All turns on the excellent efficacy of Christ and the Father's own joy. This forms the material and the character of the communion, which is in principle Christian worship.
On the other hand, it was too true that the joy of grace is intolerable to the self-righteous man; he has no heart for God's goodness to the lost; and the scene of joyful communion with the Father provokes in him outrageous opposition to God's way and will. For he is not a self-righteous Christian, any more than the prodigal represents a believer overtaken in a fault. No Christian is contemplated as cherishing such feeling as these; though I deny not that legalism involves the principle. But here it is one who would not come in. Every Christian is brought to God. He may not fully enjoy or understand his privileges, but he has a keen sense of his short-comings, and feels the need of divine mercy, and rejoices in it for others. Would the Lord describe the Christian as outside the presence of God? Accordingly, the elder brother here, I have no doubt, represents such as condemned Jesus for eating with sinners; the self-righteousness more particularly of the Jew, as indeed of any denier of grace.
The next chapter (Luke 16) opens out distinct and weighty instruction for the disciples, and this in reference to earthly things. First of all, our Lord explains here that the tenure of earthly things is now gone. It was no longer a question of holding a stewardship, but of giving it up. The steward was judged. Such was the truth manifest in Israel. Continuance in his old earthly position was now closed for the unjust steward; and for him it was simply a question of his prudence in present opportunities, with a view to the future. The unjust steward is made the vehicle of divine teaching to us how to make the future our aim. He, being a prudent man, thinks of what is to become of him when he loses his stewardship; he looks before him; he thinks of the future; he is not engrossed in the present; he weighs and considers how he is to get on when he is no longer steward. So he makes a wise use of his master's goods. With people indebted to his master, he strikes off a great deal from this bill and a great deal from that, in order to make friends for himself. The Lord says this is the way we are to treat earthly things. Instead of tenaciously clutching at what you have not yet got, and keeping what you have not yet got, and keeping what you have, on the contrary, regard them as your master's goods, and treat them as the unjust steward in the parable. Rise above the unbelief which looks at money, or other present possessions, as if they were your own things. It is not so. What you have after an earthly sort now belongs to God. Show that you are above a Jewish, earthly, or human feeling about it. Act on the ground that all belongs to God, and thus secure the future.
This is the grand point of our Gospel, from the transfiguration more particularly, but indeed all through. It is the slight of present treasure on earth, because we look on to the unseen, eternal, and heavenly things. It is the faith of disciples acting on the prudence of the far-seeing steward, though of course hating his injustice. The principle to act on is this, that what nature calls my own is not my own, but God's. The best use to make of it is, treating it as His, to be as generous as may be, looking out against the future. It is easy to be generous with another's goods. This is the way of faith with what flesh counts its own things. Do not count them your own, but look at and treat them as God's. Be as generous as you please: He will not take it amiss. This is evidently what our Lord insists on; and here is the application to the disciples: "Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, that when ye fail [or, it fails], they may receive you into everlasting habitations." You are not going to be on the earth long; other habitations are for ever. Sacrifice what nature calls its own, and would always hold fast if it could. Faith counts these things God's; freely sacrifice them, in view of what shall never pass away. Then he adds the pregnant lesson — "He that is faithful in that which is least (after all it is only the least things now) is faithful also in much." Indeed there is more than this. It is not only the littleness of the present compared with the greatness of the future, but besides — "If, therefore, ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another's (I leave out the word "man's", it is really God who is meant by it), who shall give you that which is your own?" What can be of its kind a more wonderfully divine touch than this? Exactly where man counts things his own, faith admits God's claim, another's; exactly where we might count things only God's, it sees one's own. Our own things are in heaven. He that is faithful in the little now will have much entrusted then; he that knows how to use the unrighteous mammon now, whose heart is not in it, who does not value it as his treasure, on the contrary, will have then the true riches. Such is the Lord's remarkable teaching in this parable.
Next, He gives us the rich man and Lazarus; which brings all out to view, the bright and dark side, in appearance and in reality, of the future as well as of the present. See one sumptuously faring every day, attired in fine linen and purple, a man living for self; near whose door lies another, suffering, loathsome, so abjectly in want and so friendless that the dogs do the service which man had no heart for. The scene changes suddenly. The beggar dies, and angels carry him into Abraham's bosom. The rich man died, and was buried (we hear not that Lazarus was); his funeral was as grand as his life; but in hell he lifted up his eyes, being tormented. There and then he sees the blessedness of him he had despised in presence of his own grandeur. It is the solemn light of eternity let into the world; it is God's estimate underneath outward appearances. The truth is for souls now. It is given not to think of in hades, but here; and yet we have, as most fitly winding up the tale, the earnest pleadings of the man who never before thought in his life seriously of eternal things. Hear now his anxiety for his brothers. There was no real love for souls, but a certain anxious desire for his brothers. At least one learns how real a thing his anguish was. But the Lord's comment is decisive. They had Moses and the prophets; if they heard not them, neither would they hear if one rose from the dead. What a truth, and how thoroughly about to be verified in His own rising from the dead, not to speak of another Lazarus raised in witness of His glory as the Son of God! Those who believed not Moses rejected Christ's resurrection, as they consulted to put Lazarus also to death, and sunk themselves under their own base lie (Matt 28:11-15) even to this day.
Luke 17 - 24.
The last chapter gave in the judgment of present things, another world and eternal things in good and evil, the Lord's instruction for the disciples after the dealings of grace in Luke 15, and this as the only true power of estimating the present world (that is to say, by the standard of the future — the eternal future of God). In order to complete that picture, our Lord gave a sight not only of one blessed man who had lived in what is eternal, while experiencing the bitterness of this evil age, but of another who lived only for the present, despising God's message about eternity.
In Luke 17 there follow further lessons communicated still to the disciples; and first of all, a solemn warning as to stumbling-blocks. It is possible that offences will come; but woe to him through whom they come! Next, while there is a strong exhortation against stumbling others, there is an equally urgent call to forgive others. We are to be firm against ourselves; we are to be firm for our brethren, even where they touch ourselves. Therefore the apostles, feeling the great difficulty, as indeed it is impossible to nature so to walk, ask of the Lord to increase their faith. The Lord intimates in reply that faith grows, and even in the presence of difficulty. It seeks what belongs not to nature, but to God. On the other hand, in the midst of any answers that God may vouchsafe, and of all service rendered to Him, the admonitory word is added that when we have done all things — not when we have failed — we are unprofitable servants. Such is the true language and feeling for a disciple's heart. This closes the direct teaching here addressed to His followers. (Verses 1-10.)
Our Lord is next (ver. 11-19) presented in a very characteristic way, showing that faith does not necessarily wait for a change of dispensation. He had been laying down the duty of faith in many various forms in the early verses of this chapter. It is here shown that faith always finds its place of blessing with God and proves Him superior to forms; but God is only found in Jesus.
In the ten lepers this blessed principle is brought out clearly. The healing of the Lord was equally manifest in all; but there is a power superior to that which cleanses the body, even were it desperately leprous. The power that belongs to and comes out from God is but a small thing, in comparison with the knowledge of God Himself. This alone brings to God in spirit (as it did really by the cross of Christ). Observe, that he who exemplifies this action of divine grace was one that knew not traditional religion as the others did, that had no great privileges to boast of in comparison with the rest. It was the Samaritan in whom the Lord illustrated the power of faith. He had told the ten equally to go and show themselves to the priest; and as they went they were cleansed. One only, seeing he was cleansed, turns back, and with a loud voice glorified God. But the way in which he glorified God was not by merely ascribing the blessing to God. "He fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan."
Apparently this was disobedience; and the others could well reproach their Samaritan fellow that he was unfaithful to Jesus. But faith is always right, whatever appearances may say: I speak not now of a fancy, of course, — not of any eccentric humour or delusion too often covered over with the name of faith. Real faith which God gives is never so far wrong: and he who, instead of going on to the priest, recognizes in Jesus the power and goodness of God upon earth, (the instincts of that very faith that was of God working in his heart and carrying him back to the source of the blessing,) — he, I say, was the only one of the ten who was in the spirit, not only of the blessing but of Him who gave the blessing. And so our Lord Jesus vindicates him. "Were there not ten cleansed?" said the Saviour; "but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger."
Faith invariably discovers the way to give glory to God. It matters not whether it be in Abraham or in a Samaritan leper, its path is entirely outside the ken of nature, yet faith does not fail to discern it; the Lord assuredly puts His seal upon it, and grace supplies all needed strength to follow.
But this was in its principle the judgment of the Jewish system. It was the power of faith leaving Judaism to itself, mounting in Jesus to the source of both law and grace, but not putting the legal system down. This was for other hands. Faith does not destroy; it has no such commission: angels will have that province another day. But faith finds its own deliverance now, leaving those who are under the law and love not grace, to the law which condemns. For itself it discovers the blessedness of freedom from the law, yet is not lawless to God, but, on the contrary, legitimately bound (ἔννομος) to Christ, really and duly subject to Him, and so much the more because not under law. In the present case, the cleansed Samaritan in going to Jesus was very simply under grace, in the spirit that animated his heart and formed his path, as Luke the evangelist here records.
How admirably this tale is adapted to the whole tone and character of the Gospel, I need not delay to prove. It must be plain enough, I think, even to a superficial reader, that as Luke alone gives the account, so to Luke it is most especially adapted for the purpose that the Holy Ghost had in hand in this Gospel, and also in this particular context.
We have further, in our Lord's answer to the Pharisees, who demanded when the kingdom of God should come, a striking revelation, and most suitable to Luke's purpose. "The kingdom of God cometh not with observation." It is not a question of signs, wonders, or outward show. It is not that God did not accompany His message with signs. But the kingdom of God, revealed in the person of Christ, went deeper, appeals to faith (not sight), and demands the Holy Ghost's action in the soul to give the sinner to see and enter it. Here it is not a question exactly of entering or seeing, as in John 3, but rather the moral character of the entrance of God's kingdom among men. It does not address itself to the senses or the mere mind of man; it carries its own evidence with it to the conscience and the heart. As being the kingdom of God, it is impossible that His kingdom should come, without adequate testimony in love to man, who is sought for it. At the same time man, having a bad conscience and a depraved heart, slights God's word as well as kingdom, and looks for that which would please himself by gratifying his feelings, mind, or even lower nature. Our Lord, however, first of all lays down this great principle: it is no question of a "lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you." The kingdom was actually there; for He, God's King was there. Then, after settling this moral truth which was fundamental for the soul, He turns to His disciples, and tells them that the days would come when they should desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and should not see it; for the kingdom will be displayed by and by. "When they shall say to you, See here; or, see there: go not after them, nor follow them. For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of man be in his day. But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation." This is the necessary moral order of God. Jesus must first suffer; so "the sufferings of Christ," as Peter said afterwards, "and the glories that should follow." Such is the invariable method of God in dealing with a sinful world, where He brings in, not a test of man, but the effectual work of His own grace. But this presentation to faith now, as we have seen, does not hinder the Lord from speaking of another day, when the kingdom of God would be manifest. Before that day of His appearing there might be a premature "Lo here! or, lo there!" The godly must not follow men's cries, but count on the Lord. He compares it to the days of Noe (that is, to the day of God's past judgment of man and his ways); then to the days of Lot.
First of all, then, we have, for the disciples, God's ways in grace, in the Son of man that first suffers, and finally will appear in power and glory. As for the world, careless indifference and enjoyment of present things will characterise the future as the past; but they will be surprised by the Lord in the midst of heedless folly. To this the Lord appends a peculiar, but not less solemn though brief word: "Remember Lot's wife! "Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it." Apparently the wife of Lot was rescued by angelic power; she was certainly brought out of the doomed city; but it was only the more strikingly to be the monument of God's all-searching judgment. There she stands alone. The others perished; but she abode a pillar of salt, when Moses wrote the (morally speaking) imperishable memorial of God's hatred of a false heart, which, spite of outward deliverance, gave its affections still to a scene devoted to destruction. And so our Lord adds here what touched, not merely the Jewish system, but the condition and doom of the world at large. He lets us know that in that night two should be in one bed; one taken, and the other left. So two women at the mill; for here we have not to do with human judgments. God will then judge the quick; and so, no matter what the association, the employment, or the sex, whether within doors or without, there can be no shelter or exemption. Two might be ever so closely knit together, but God would discriminate according to the nicety of His own discernment of their state: one should be taken, and the other left. "And they answered, and said unto him, Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together." Wherever there is that which is dead, and consequently offensive morally unto God, there unquestionably will His judgments fall.
But along with this we have also prayer (Luke 18), not merely as suitable to a soul's need, and in connection with the word of God received from Jesus, which we have seen in Luke 11. Here it is prayer out of the midst of circumstances of desolation and deep trial — prayer with evil near at hand, as well as divine judgment. Consequently its ultimate bearing is in connection with the tribulation of the last days. But, at the same time, Luke never confines his view to outward facts. Hence, it is said, "He spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray." It is the more striking, because the circumstances are evidently limited; while that which He draws from them is universal. The Lord is exhorting to prayer, in view of the final trial; nevertheless, He prefaces it with a plain moral precept on the value of prayer at all times — "that men ought always to pray, and not to faint." Certainly God will not be heedless to the continual cry of His own seemingly desolate elect in their fiery trial, where all the might of man is against them; but still the duty always remains true.
Now, it is Luke alone who thus treats the matter; the great moral value attached to prayer, at the same time connected, it may be, with general circumstances of sorrow, but bearing on the circumstances of the last day. The parable is intended to give or increase confidence in the heed God pays to the prayer of distress. Spite of indifference, an unjust judge yields to the importunity of a poor widow. If a bad man so acted, not because of his hatred of the wrong done to her that was oppressed, but to get rid of being always troubled by her cries for justice — if it be so even with the unjust, would not God take up the cause of His own elect, that cried unto Him day and night? It could not but be. He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth? (Verses 1-8.)
Then follows another parable of a very different character. It is not the value of persistent prayer, and the certainty of God appearing even for the weakest, no matter how apparently deserted (indeed, so much the more, because of it in His own). We have, further, the moral condition of man illustrated in two ways — a broken spirit with little light but a real sense of sin, and another soul satisfied with itself in the presence of God. "And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican." Not that the Pharisee represents a man who denies God, or who is not a religious man. He is religious, but such religion is the most damning thing about him. The evil is not merely his sins, but his religion: nothing more blinding to himself and other men, nothing more dishonouring to God. On the other hand, the poor publican has neither clear light nor peace, but at least he realises the commencement of all true light — he has learned enough of God to condemn himself. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." He alone of the two judged things according to his little light. He judged himself truly, and, therefore, was in a moral condition to see other things aright, as God should bring them before him. There was as yet no such privilege known as a purged worshipper having no more conscience of sins. Therefore, the convicted publican is found outside, beating his breast, and standing at a distance, not so much as looking up. It was suitable that it should be so; for Christ's work was not yet wrought, still less applied to his soul. It would have been not faith, but presumption, I do not doubt, at such a time, and under such circumstances, for him to have come nigh. All was in its season. But if God invites a believer now to draw near into the holiest of all, is it not equal presumption for that soul to quarrel with the grace of God displayed in Christ's work of redemption, and to raise questions about its effects for itself? God may, and does, bear with the wound to His own grace; and He has His way of correcting such wrong; but there is no ground in the parable to warrant what is too often founded upon it. We owe it to Christ to resent every misinterpretation which goes to undo what He has done on the cross. The publican before us was not meant to give us a full view of the Christian state, or of the blessings of the gospel, but of a man taught of God to feel his own nothingness as a sinner before Him; and God's estimate of him, in comparison with the man who was satisfied with his state. It is humility founded upon the sense of unworthiness, which is always right as far as it goes. (Verses 9-14.)
Next is set forth humility, founded on our littleness (ver. 15-17). Many a man is consciously unworthy, because he feels himself a sinner who has no just sense of his littleness in the presence of God. Our Lord here gives this further lesson to the disciples, and uses a child as the text. We shall find how much it was needed if we look into the Gospel of Luke.
Then we have the ruler, to whom our Lord shows that all was wrong where a soul is not brought to know that there is none good but God. Had he really known how good God is he would have soon seen God in Jesus. He saw nothing of the sort. He knew neither God nor good. He looked upon the Lord merely as good after a human fashion. If He was but a man there was no goodness in Him; it is only in God: God alone is good. If Jesus were not God, He was not good. The young ruler had no right, no just title to say, "Good Master", unless that master were God. This he saw not; and therefore, the Lord proves him, and searches the ground of his heart, and demonstrates that after all he valued the world more than God and eternal life. This he had never suspected in himself before. He loved his natural position; he loved to be a ruler, though a young one; he loved his possessions; he loved what he had of present advantages in the world. He really clave to all these things without knowing it himself. The Lord, therefore calls upon him to give them up, and follow Him. He thought there was no demand of goodness but what he was able to meet; but the trial was too much for him. Man was not good — God only. Jesus, who was God, had given up beyond all comparison more, yea, infinitely.
What had He not given up, and for whom? He was God, and proved it not least in a self-abnegation truly divine. (Verses 18 - 25.)
Then we have the hearers and disciples disclosing their thoughts. They began to claim something of credit for what they had given up. The Lord admits that there is no abandonment of faith but what will meet with a most adequate remembrance from the Lord another day.
But, at the same time (verses 31-34), He takes unto Him the twelve and says, "Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished." This is what He was looking for, whatever they were. "For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on; and they shall scourge Him, and put him to death; and the third day he shall rise again; and they understood none of these things. And this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken." It is an important lesson, and not the first time we find it in Luke, and, indeed, in other Gospels also. Nor can it be too often repeated, that lack of intelligence in Scripture does not depend upon the obscurity of the language, but because the will does not like the truth that is taught. This is the reason why difficulties are felt and abound. When a man is made willing to receive the truth, his eye is single and his whole body full of light. The will is the real hindrance. The mind will be clear, if the conscience and the heart be set right. Where, on the contrary, God breaks down the believer, and sets him free in the liberty wherewith the Son makes free, the conscience is purged, and the heart turned towards Himself. All then becomes right: he is brought into the light of God; he sees light in God's light. Was this the condition of the disciples as yet? Were they not still cleaving to their own cherished expectations of Messiah, and an earthly kingdom? They could not understand Him, no matter how plain the words employed. The hardness of His saying lay not in any lack of perspicuity. Never man spake as this man, His enemies themselves being judges; neither was it from any defect in their natural understanding that the disciples were thus slow. The state of the heart, as ever, was in question; the will was at fault, even though they were regenerate. It was their reluctance to receive what Jesus taught that made the difficulty; and it is the same thing still with believers, as with others.
In verse 35 we enter on the closing section of all the historical Gospels, as is well known, that is to say, the entrance into Jerusalem from Jericho. Only there is a difficulty here to some — that Luke appears to contradict what we have in the other accounts of this part of Christ's progress. "It came to pass, that as he came nigh unto Jericho, a certain blind man sat by the wayside begging." From the other Gospels we know it was when He went out of Jericho, not when He came in. The truth is, that our English version, excellent as it is, goes a little beyond the word of Luke; for our evangelist does not say "When he was come nigh unto Jericho," but "when he was nigh." It is not necessarily a question of coming near, but simply of being in the neighbourhood. The utmost which can or ought to be allowed is, that if the context so required, it might bear the translation (a paraphrase rather) of coming nigh; but this case demands the very reverse. It is evident, whether you go into a place or whether you come out of it, you are equally nigh on one side of the town or on the other. The truth is, that Luke merely states the fact of vicinity here. Further, we know that just as Matthew, for his design, so he displaces facts historically for the purpose of giving a more forcible moral picture of the truth in hand. I have little doubt that in this case the reason for putting the blind man here rather than in leaving the town was, that for Jericho He reserved the wonderful call of Zaccheus, with the object of bringing that tale of grace, characteristic of His first-advent, into juxtaposition with the question and parable of the kingdom, which illustrated His second advent; for immediately afterwards we have His correction of the disciples thoughts, that the kingdom of God was immediately going to appear; because He was going up to Jerusalem. They expected that He was going to take the throne of David at once. Accordingly, Luke puts together those two features — the grace that illustrates His first coming, and the real nature of the second coming of Christ, as far as regards the appearing of God's kingdom. Now, had the story of the blind man healed at Jericho been left for its historical place, it would have cut the thread of these two circumstances. There is, therefore, in this, as it appears to me, an ample and divine reason why the Spirit of God led the writer to present the cure of the blind man as we find it. But then he does not say what the English version makes him say, "As he was come nigh," but simply, "When he was nigh to Jericho," leaving it open to other Scriptures to define the time with more precision. He only states that it was while the Lord was in the neighbourhood. The other Gospels positively tell us it was as He went out. Clearly, therefore, we must interpret the general language of Luke by the exacter marks of the time and place of those who declare it was as He was going out. Nothing can be simpler. The healing of the blind man was a kind of final testimony that Messiah was there. He was coming in the way, not of the power that once overthrew Jericho, but of grace that showed and could meet the real condition of Israel. They were blind. Had they possessed the faith only to cry to Messiah about their blindness, He was there with power and willingness to heal them. There was none but a blind man or two to own real need, but our Lord at least healed all who cried. (Verses 35-43.)
Then, as He entered Jericho, Zaccheus, the chief of the tax-gatherers, was mightily stirred with the desire to see this wondrous man, the Son of man. Hence he lets nothing stand in the way. Neither personal deficiency, nor the crowd that was there, is allowed to hinder his intense purpose of heart to see the Lord Jesus. He therefore climbs up a sycamore tree by the way; and Jesus knowing well the desire of Zaccheus, and the faith that was at work there however feebly, at once, to his joy and astonishment, invites Himself to his house. "Zaccheus, make haste, and come down; for to-day I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully." All fell to murmuring. It was the same tale at the end as at the beginning. "And Zaccheus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold." He had been really a conscientious man. He was a man thus characterised; for it is no promise of what he is going to do, but he mentions that which was no doubt a fact about himself at that very moment. He was what men call a just and good man, yet a chief tax-gatherer and a wealthy one, though they be hard things to put together. Here was a tax-gatherer who, if through in cautiousness or any defect guilty of wrong to another, needed no pressure to restore fourfold. Such was his habit. Our Lord, however, cuts it all short. As a matter of human righteousness it was well; it was the proof that Zaccheus exercised himself as a man to have a conscience void offence in his own way. Nor is this out of keeping with the tenor of Luke's Gospel, as, indeed, it is only here that we have the story at all. Our Lord, however, shows that it was not the time to think or speak of such matters. "This day is salvation come to this house, inasmuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." How infinite the blessing! Was it a fitting time for speaking of himself? It was not a question of man's walking righteously, or of talking about it. In truth, man was lost; but the Son of man was there to bear his burden. This great and glorious fact superseded all others. Whatever there had been working in him at any time, all was now swallowed up in the presence of the Son of man seeking and saving the lost. What can give us a more vivid, true, and blessed representation of the Lord Jesus Christ in His first coming with the grace of God that brings salvation? (Luke 19:1-10.)
Immediately after (and, if I mistake not, expressly put in close conjunction with this) is the parable of the nobleman who goes into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. They were all wrong therefore, in looking for the kingdom of God immediately to appear. Not so. Christ was going away to heaven to receive the kingdom from God there — not about to take it from man now and in this world. It is evidently, therefore, a picture of the Lord's return at the second advent, after having received a kingdom. It was not a question of human willingness or power, but of receiving from God. But then, further, He shows that meanwhile His servants are called to occupy themselves till he come. He called His ten servants, and delivered to them ten pounds; and said unto them, "Occupy till I come." Then we find another picture — His citizens hating Him; for nothing can be more elaborate than this parable. The Lord's relation to the kingdom at the second advent is contrasted with the grace that flows out in the former part of the chapter. This is the main subject with which the parable opens. Next, we have the place of the servants responsible to use what the Lord gives. Such is another great point shown out here. It is not, as in the Gospel of Matthew, the Lord giving different gifts to different servants, which is equally true; but here it is the moral test of the servants carried out by each having the same sum. This proves yet more than in the other case how far they laboured. They started with similar advantages. What was the result? Meanwhile hatred became apparent in the citizens, who represent the unbelieving Jews settled down in the earth. "When he was returned, having received the kingdom, then he commanded those servants to be called unto Him, to whom he had given the money, that he might know how much every man had gained by trading. Then came the first, saying, Lord, thy mina hath gained ten minas;" and so with the other; and then we hear of the one who says, "Lord, behold, here is thy mina, which I have kept laid up in a napkin: for I feared thee." There was no confidence in His grace. The consequence is, that, treating the Lord as a froward man, he finds Him froward. Unbelief finds its own response as truly as faith does. As "it is unto thee according to thy faith," so alas! the converse proves true. It is to man according to his unbelief.
Further, we have a remarkable difference in the rewards here. It is not, "Enter into the joy of thy Lord;" but one receives ten cities, another five, and so on. He that was fearful and unbelieving, on the contrary, has his mina taken from him. Again, then enemies are brought forward. The unfaithful servant is not called an enemy, though, no doubt, he was no friend of the Son, and dealt with righteously. But the open adversaries are called into the scene; and as the Lord here pronounces those men His enemies which would not that He should reign over them, He says, "Bring them hither, and slay them before me." Thus the parable is a very complete sketch of the general results of the Lord's second advent for the citizens of the world, as well as of the occupation and reward of the servants who serve Him faithfully meanwhile. (Verses 11-27.)
Next, we have the entrance into Jerusalem. We need not dwell on the scene of the riding in on the colt; but that which is peculiar to Luke claims our attention for a moment. "And when he was come nigh, even now at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen: saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest."(Ver. 37, 38.) Thus the Spirit of God works to give them a step, and a great step, in divine intelligence beyond the song of the angels at the beginning. What they justly sang at the birth of Jesus was, "Peace on earth: good will [that is, God's good will] in men," ushered in by glory to God in the highest. Here we have a signal change or converse. "Glory in the highest" is the result, not the introduction; and instead of "peace on earth," (which will, no doubt, be the fruit by and by, as it is according to God's mind, the anticipation from the beginning,) the disciples meanwhile and most appropriately, sing, "Peace in heaven." It was not a question of peace on earth now. The reason was manifest: the earth was unready, was about to judge unjustly, and to be judged. Jesus was on the very point of being cast out and cut off. He was really in heart thoroughly rejected already; but He was shortly to enter on other sufferings, even to the death of the cross. The effect, then, of that which was imminent was not peace for the earth yet, but peace in heaven most assuredly; and therefore we can comprehend how the Lord guided by His Spirit the song of the disciples at the close just as much as at the beginning; that of the angels expressed the general idea of God's purposes — the moral effects to spring from the death of the incarnate Son.
After this we hear the murmuring Pharisees rebuked, who would have had the disciples rebuked for their song: if they had not sung it, the stones must have cried out; and the Lord vindicates the blameless (Ver. 39, 40.)
Then follows that most touching scene, peculiar to and characteristic of Luke — Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. It was not at the grave of the one He loved, though about to call from the grave. The weeping in John is in the presence of death, which had touched Lazarus. It is therefore infinitely more personal, though it be also the wondrous sight of One who, coming, with the consciousness of divine power to banish death and bring life into the scene, yet in grace nevertheless did not one whit the less, but the more, feel the power of death as no mere man ever felt, yet as none but a real man could feel. There never was any one that had such a sense of death before as Jesus, just because He was life, the energy of which, combined with perfect; love, made the power of death to be so sensible. Death does not feel death, but life did. Therefore He that was (and not merely had) life, as no one else, weeps in the presence of death, groaning, in spirit at the grave. His having power to banish death weakened His sense of it in no respect. If poor dying man felt it somewhat, the Lord made flesh, the God-man, entered into it in spirit the more because He was God, though man. But here we have another scene, His weeping over that very city that was about to cast Him out and crucify Him. Oh it is a truth for us to treasure in our hearts — His weeping in divine grace over guilty Jerusalem, forsaking its own mercies, rejecting its own Saviour — the Lord God. Its desolation He predicts, and destruction, because the time of its visitation was unknown. (Verses 41-44.) His visit to the temple and its cleansing are mentioned summarily; as also His teaching there daily the chiefs of priest and people, with their desire to destroy Him but hardly knowing how, for all the people hung on Him to hear. In Luke 20 we have the various classes of religionists and worldly men trooping one after another, hoping somehow to ensnare or accuse the Lord of glory. Each of them falls into the trap which they had made for Him. Accordingly they do but discover and condemn themselves. We have the priests with their question of authority (ver. 1-8), then the people hearing the history of God's dealings with them, and their moral condition fully brought out. (Verses 9-19.) We have further the crafty spies, hired by the chief priests and scribes, that feigned themselves just, and thought to take hold of His words, and embroil Him with the earthly powers. (Verses 20-26.)
We have, after these, the Sadducees denying the resurrection. (Verses 27-38.) But here we may pause for a moment; for there are special and profoundly instructive touches peculiar to Luke. More particularly remark this — that he alone, of all the evangelists, here characterizes men, in the activities of this life, as "the children of this world," or age. They are persons who live merely for the present. "The children of this world [age] marry, and are given in marriage; but they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world [age], and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage, neither can they die any more; for they are equal unto the angels." In the resurrection state there will be no such relations. The difficulty existed for, or rather was made by, unbelief only. Indeed, what else can incredulity ever pretend to? It imagines difficulties, and nowhere so much as in the most certain truth of God. The resurrection is the great truth to which all things turn — which the Lord has shown in its final form, too, in His own person now raised from the dead, then just about to follow. This truth was combated and refused by the most active sect among the Jews at that time, the most intellectual and the best informed naturally. These were the persons who most of all set themselves against it.
But our Lord brings in another remarkable point here. Not only is God not the God of the dead, but of the living; but "all live unto him." (Ver. 38.) Two great truths are here present — living unto God after death, and future resurrection, when Jesus comes and brings in the new age. This was especially of value for Gentiles, because it was one of the great problems for the heathen mind, whether the soul existed after death, not to speak of the resurrection of the body. Naturally the Jews, save the unbelieving portion of them, looked for resurrection; but for the Gentiles the Spirit of God gives us our Lord's answer to the Sadducees, both proving the resurrection which is common to all the Gospels, and bringing in the living, of dead men in the separate state. It peculiarly fell within the domain of Luke.
This truth is not confined to the present portion of our Gospel. We have similar teaching elsewhere. Does not the account of the rich man and Lazarus intimate the same thing? Yea, more; not only the existence of the soul separate from the body, after death, of course, but also blessedness and misery at once. They are not absolutely dependent on the resurrection. Besides, there is the final publicly adjudicated portion of misery for body and soul before the great white throne. But, in Luke 16, blessedness and misery at once are felt by the soul in the dissolution of the link with the body. The figures, no doubt, are taken, as they must be, from the body. Thus we find the desire for cooling of the tongue, which men of speculative mind use to prove that it was the time of being clothed with a real body. Nothing of the sort. The Spirit of God speaks to be understood, and (if He is to be understood by men) He must deign to use language adapted to our comprehension. He cannot give us the understanding of a state which we have never experienced, unless it be by figures taken from the present state. A similar truth appears also later on in the case of the converted thief. The point there is just the same — immediate blessedness, and not merely when the body is raised from the dead by and by. That is what he looked for when he sought to be remembered, when Jesus comes in His kingdom. But the Lord adds more — immediate blessedness now: "This day shalt thou be with me in paradise." Depend upon it, we cannot be too stringent in maintaining the importance both of the resurrection, and of the immediate blessedness or misery of the soul separate from the body before the resurrection. To give up the reality of the soul's existence in either misery or blessedness at once is only a stepping-stone to materialism; and materialism is but a prelude to giving up both the truth and the grace of God, and all the awful reality of man's sin and Satan's power. Materialism always is essentially infidel, though far from being, the only form of infidelity.
Towards the end of the chapter (ver. 39-44) our Lord puts the great question of His own person and the position He was just going to take, not on the throne of David, but on the throne of God. Was not He Himself, David's Son, owned as his Lord by David? On the person and position of Christ depends the whole of Christianity. Judaism, lowering the person, sees not, or denies the position. Christianity is based, not on the work only, but on the glory of the person and place of Him who is glorified in God. He takes that place as man. He who humbled Himself as man in suffering, is exalted as man to the glory of God on high.
Then follows the judgment — but very briefly — on the scribes; and in contrast with their selfish hypocrisy, ("which devour widows' houses and for a show make long prayers") the Lord's estimate of real devotedness is the widow's mites. (Luke 21:1-4.) Mark notices it as the service of faith, and so brings it into his Gospel of service. Luke shows it as a question of the heart's state and trust in God. It fell therefore, within the domain of these two.
We have after this the hearts of the disciples proved to be still earthly and Jewish; but the Lord brings before them not the glory and beauty yet in store for Jerusalem but it is judgment specially on the temple. (Verses 5-36.) At the same time we have particulars which demonstrate the weighty difference between this description of the judgment of the Jews and Jerusalem, and mark it off from the accounts of either Matthew or Mark. Observe more especially this, that here the Lord Jesus brings before us a very direct and immediate picture of the destruction of Jerusalem that was then imminent. Matthew passes by the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, and fixes attention upon that which will take place in the end of the age. Luke gives us this last also — closes, at any rate, with the future crisis; but the main point in the central portion of Luke is to point out the destruction then actually at hand as a distinct state of things and time from the circumstances of the Son of man's day. This is made perfectly plain to any one who considers it patiently. He says, "When ye shall see Jerusalem, — not "the abomination of desolation" (not a word about it here for it belongs to the last days exclusively; but "when ye shall see Jerusalem) — compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh. Then let them which are in Judea flee to the mountains." Not a word about the great tribulation such as never was since time was; it is simply "days of vengeance." "These be the days of vengeance that all things which are written may be fulfilled." There is retributive severity, but not a sign appears of its being anything unparalleled. "There shall be great distress in the land, and wrath upon this people." So there was. "And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations." This is a matter of fact description of what was really fulfilled to the letter in the capture of Jerusalem by the Romans under Titus. Thus there is no exaggerated description. The pretence of commentators, who rush to hyperbole as a cover for their misapplication, is cut off. Not that I allow it any more in Matthew. The only reason why men have so spoken of that evangelist is because they turn aside his prophecy of the end of the age to that which has been already accomplished. When the last days come, be assured they will learn too late that there is no hyperbole with God or His word.
"And Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled." Not only is there the sack of the city, the slaughter and captivity of the people, but continual occupation by their enemies till the termination of the period God allows the nations to have the supremacy over Israel. These times are going on now. Jerusalem has been trodden down of the Gentiles for many centuries as every one knows, throughout mediaeval and modern history. It seems particularly thus expressed in order not to continue the phrase to the Romans or previous imperial powers from Babylon downwards. Thus at the present time the Turks are the actual holders of it. The fact is notorious, that Jerusalem has been in the hands of many masters who have dealt hardly with the Jews. So He closes this matter.
Next, He introduces the last days. And there shall be signs in the sun and in the moon and in the stars. There was not a word of all this when He spoke of the siege and capture of the city under Titus. After the Gentile domination is over (which clearly it is not yet), there shall be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and distress of nations; men's hearts failing them for fear; for the powers of heaven shall be shaken and then shall they see — not when the Romans of old took the city but, in the future crisis, when these astonishing tokens, heavenly and earthly, are given by God — then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh."
He gives then a parable but not of the fig tree only: this would not be suitable to the largeness of Luke's scope. "Behold the fig-tree and all the trees." The difference between Luke and the others is this — not that you have not the Jewish portion in his Gospel, but that, moreover, all the Gentiles are brought in. How perfect it all is! If it be but a parabolic description, the evangelist for the Gentiles not only gives the fig tree which is in Matthew, but the Gentile trees which are heard of nowhere else. That one tree notoriously applies to the Jews as a nation; the other figure ("all the trees") adds the rest, so as to be universal.
Then the Lord adds some moral considerations for the heart: "Take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come upon all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth." Need it be remarked here that this again falls in with our evangelist beyond all others? So too the brief picture of His daily occupation in the temple and of His nights apart at Olivet, which in no way precluded the people from coming to hear early in the morning. What unwearied travail of love!
In Luke 22 we see our Lord with the disciples not now as a prophet, but about to become a sacrifice, meanwhile giving them the sweetest pledge of His love. On the other hand, there is the hatred of man, the weakness of the disciples, the falsehood of Peter, the treachery of Judas, the subtlety and terrors of the enemy who had the power of death. The day of unleavened bread comes on, and the passover must be killed; and Peter and John go to prepare it. According to the Lord's word, the place was given. "And when the hour was come, he sat down, and the twelve apostles with him. And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: for I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God." (14-16.) It was the last act of communion of Christ with them. He eats with them: He will not drink. Another cup was before Him. As for this cup, they were to take it, and divide it among themselves. It was not the Lord's Supper, but the paschal cup. He was about to drink of a far different cup, which His Father would give Him — the anti-type of the passover, and the basis of the Lord's Supper. But as to the cup before them, He says, "I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come." It was about to come morally; for Luke holds to that great principle — the kingdom of God was about to be established in what you may call the Christian system. The phrase in Luke does not import some future dispensation or state of things about to be above or below, in visible power, but an imminent coming of God's kingdom, really and truly here. The other Gospels connect it with the future; Luke speaks of what was to be made good shortly — "righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost."
Meanwhile, He gives them also a new thing. (19, 20.) He took bread with thanksgiving, brake it, and gave to them, saying, "This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new covenant* of my blood, which is shed for you." It was not the point with Luke to say "for many," while this was most appropriate in the Gospel of Matthew, because it intimates the extending of the efficacy of Christ's blood beyond the Jew. The old covenant which condemned was limited. The new covenant (or, rather, the blood of the rejected Christ, the Son of man, on which it was based) refused such narrow barriers. In Luke the same thing occurs here, as we said applied to His account of the sermon on the mount. It is more personal, and hence deals more closely with the heart and conscience. How many a man acknowledges justification by faith in a general sense, who, the moment you make it personal, would shrink from taking the place of a justified man, as if this would be too much for God to give him! But, in truth it is impossible to go on with God aright, until the personal question is settled by divine grace. So the Lord here settles it for them personally. "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is shed for you."
* "Testament" is wrong here, and, indeed, everywhere else in the New Testament, save in the parenthesis of Heb 9.16-17.
"And truly the Son of man goeth, … but woe unto that man by whom he is betrayed!" An awful moral contrast rises before the spirit of the Saviour. Thus He felt it: as it is said elsewhere, "He was troubled." There is much vagueness in minds as to this merging all in the atonement, to the great detriment of their distinctness even in holding the atonement itself. To me it is a grievous thing, this denial practically of a large part of the sufferings of Christ. Pushed out, it rests on a want of faith in the real humanity of the Lord. I take for granted now that there is a firm hold of His bearing God's wrath on the cross. But even where that is maintained in a general way, at least, it is an awful thing to deny any part of His moral glory; and what is it but denying this, to shut out those real sufferings which prove the extent and character of His humiliation, exalt and endear Himself in our eyes, and issue in the richest streams of comfort for His saints, who can afford to lose none of His sympathy?
Now, the Lord Jesus did feel the traitor's heartless ways (and we may learn it yet more from Psalm 109.) Surely also we ought to feel it, instead of merely treating it as a thing, that must be, and which Scripture prepares us for, or which God's goodness turns to gracious ends. All true enough; but are these the platitudes that content us before His troubled spirit? Or is not the sense of His sorrow to fill the heart in presence of this ineffable love, which endured all things for the elect's sake? Yea, it was from all: our Lord has to meet shame in those He loved best. "They began to enquire among themselves which of them it was that should do this thing." (Ver. 23.) There was honesty in these hearts; but what ignorance! what unbrokenness of self! "There was also a strife among them, which of them should be accounted greatest." Other evangelists, as well as Luke, mention that, when He was in the midst of His miracles and teaching, they were full of their unseemly rivalry; Luke mentions it where it was beyond comparison most painful and humiliating — in presence of the communion of His body and His blood, and when they had just heard of the presence of the traitor in their midst, who was offering to sell their Master for thirty pieces of silver! "And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth." What grace! what a pattern! But forget not the warning. The patronizing, of the lordly benefactor has no place in Christ's mind for His followers. To serve was the Lord's place: may we prize it! (Verses 24-27.)
Another touching, and beautiful trait in our Lord's dealing is here worthy of remark. He tells the disciples that it was they who had continued with Him in His temptations. In Matthew and Mark, and even in John, their forsaking of Christ is very conspicuous a little later. Luke alone tells how graciously He noticed their perseverance with Himself in His temptations. Both, of course, were perfectly true. In Luke it was the reckoning of grace. It was really the Lord who had deigned to continue with them, and had sustained their faltering steps; but He could say, "Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations. And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; that ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel." It is always thus in grace. Matthew and Mark tell us the sad truth that, when He needed the disciples most, they all forsook Him and fled. His rejection was complete; and Old Testament Scripture was amply fulfilled. But, in view of the Gentile calling, New Testament grace has here a happier task.
Again, it is a scene peculiar to Luke, that, in the presence of the Saviour's death, Satan sifts one of the chief followers that belonged to the Saviour. But the Lord turns the sifting, and even the downfall of the saint, to ultimate and great blessing, not for that soul only but for others. How mighty, and wise, and good the ways of grace! not only its reckoning, but its experiences and its end! It was Simon that furnished the material. "Simon, Simon," says the Lord, "Satan hath desired [demanded] to have you, that he may sift you as wheat; but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren." Simon, sadly ignorant of himself, is full of bold promises to go to prison or to death; but, says the Lord, "Peter, the cock shall not crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me." All the evangelists record the fall; Luke alone records Christ's gracious prayer for, and purpose in, his restoration.
Then comes in another communication of our Saviour not more interesting than full of instruction. It is the contrast of the condition of the disciples during His ministry, and that which must be now that He was going to die. It was indeed concurrent with a change of vast import for Himself — not awaiting His death, but in many respects beginning before it. The sense of His rejection and His approaching death not only pressed on the Saviour's spirit, but more or less also affects the disciples, who were under the pressure especially of what was done by men. "When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, lacked ye anything? And they said, Nothing. Then said he unto them, But now, he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip: and he that hath no sword, let him sell his garment, and buy one. For I say unto you, that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me, And he was reckoned among the transgressors [or], [rather, lawlessness — ἀνόμων]: for the things concerning me have an end. And they said, Lord, behold, here are two swords. And he said unto them, It is enough." It is not surprising that the disciples at that time failed to seize His meaning. Though all the rest of His teaching might have taught them better, they took His words in a material sense, and conceived that He urged them to take a literal sword. It is evident He took up the figure of a sword and purse to show, that instead of counting any more on miraculous resources, they must in future use, according to the measure of their personal faith, whatever God furnished them with; that is, they must employ natural things for the Lord, instead of being, as hitherto, shielded by supernatural power in the midst of their foes. We find them afterwards using miracles; but it was for others. In their earlier mission it was never needed. No blow fell upon them. No prison closed its doors upon one of the twelve, or of the seventy. They traversed the length and breadth of the land, everywhere bearing their plain, solemn testimony, ever guarded by God's power: just like their Master Himself. We see how truly miraculous this power was apart from any exertion of it on their own behalf. But now all was to change; and the disciple must be as his Master. Jesus was going to suffer. They must make up their minds to the same thing. Of course, they are not excluded from, but exhorted to, the looking up to God, and using faithfully whatever means the Lord gave them.
This, I apprehend, is the clear meaning of His altered language here. The Messiah was about to be openly cut off. The arm that had upheld them, and the shield that had been over them, are removed. So it was with Him. He was now about to face death; first in spirit, then in fact. Such was ever His way. Everything was in that order. He was surprised by nothing. He was not like a mere man who waited till he could not help following, and then went in steel through the trouble. This may be the way of men, to avoid what they can, and think as little as possible of what is painful and disagreeable. It may even be according to men's ideas of a hero, but it is not the truth of Christ. On the contrary, though the true God, He was a true man, and a holy sufferer, having a heart that felt everything: this is the truth of Christ as man. Therefore He takes all from God, and feels all, as it really was for His glory.
Accordingly our Saviour, at the mount of Olives, (ver. 39-46) shows how true what I have just asserted is; for there it is that He is found first of all telling them to pray, lest they should enter into temptation. Temptation may come and test the heart; but our entering into it is quite another thing. "Pray that ye enter not into temptation. And he was withdrawn from them about a stone's cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done." Still farther to show its character, and His unimpeachable relation to God, as well as how really He was a suffering man, "there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony, he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground." So difficult is the path of faith for men in one direction or another, that (in earlier days when, in the midst of adversaries and full of superstition, men yet clung to the stainless honour of the Son of God) the timid orthodox ventured on the bold step of expunging verses 44, 45; for what, after all, is so adventurous as this Uzzah-like anxiety for the ark of God? They thought it impossible that the Lord Jesus could suffer thus. Little did they estimate the depth unfathomable of the cross, when God hid His face from Him. Had they discerned this better, and been simple in the faith of His real manhood, and held to the written word about His sufferings on and before the cross, they had not been so easily stumbled. But they were not simple, understood in the Scriptures, and accordingly dared, some to stigmatize these verses, others to strike them out. In modern days they manage things both more prudently and more effectually. They may not obelize or obliterate; but they do not believe them. Men pass them over as if there was nothing for the soul in them, as if the Saviour Son of God condescended to a show, a pantomime, instead of enduring the severest conflict and anguish that ever had been the portion of a human heart on this earth. Never was any thing but reality in Jesus; but if in the days of His flesh there was one passage more affecting than another, any thing which more than another presents to us His sorrows clearly, graphically and with solemn instruction for us, anything for God Himself above all glorifying (the cross alone excepted) it was this very scene where Jesus avoids and wards off no suffering, but bends to every stroke, (and what was He spared?) seeing God's hand in all.
Now their hour was come, and the power of darkness. Before this they could not lay hands upon Him; but now, the active work done, and Himself definitively refused, Jesus accepts all humiliation, shame, and suffering. But He does not see man merely. He does not look at the devil, or Jews, or Gentiles. He feels all man did and said, and owns His Father. He knew full well that His Father could have hindered every pang had He been so pleased — could have turned Israel's heart — could have broken the nations. But now the Jew is left to abhor Him, the Gentile to despise and crucify Him. Against the holy servant Jesus whom God had anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathering together; but was it not to do whatsoever God's hand and God's counsel determined before to be done? He saw God His Father above and behind all the secondary instruments, and bowed and blessed, even while He prayed with blood-sweat. He would erect no barricade of miracles to shelter Himself. To weigh before God such circumstances as then surrounded Jesus, to anticipate in His presence what was coming, did not lessen, but rather increased the depth of all; and so we find Him praying earnestly to His Father that, if it were possible, the cup should pass away from Him. But it was not possible; and so He adds, "Nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done." Both were perfect. It would have been hardness, not love, had the cup been treated as a light thing: but this could never be with Jesus. It was part of the very perfection of Jesus that he felt and deprecated the awful cup. For what was in that cup? The wrath of God. How could He wish for the wrath of God? It was right to deprecate it: it was like Jesus, notwithstanding, to say, "Thy will be done." Both the deprecation and the acceptance were thoroughly perfect — both equally in their due place and season. Who fails to see it, or would harbour a doubt, that knows who Jesus was, and what the glory of His person? It is not a question, however, of His merely being God; and you destroy the value of the suffering if you do not give full place to His humanity. Not that His Godhead ever made His suffering less; else the result would have been some nondescript estate which was neither Godhead nor manhood, but somewhat made up of both. It was an early error to suppose an impassible Christ. There is no worse invention against the truth, unless it be the lie which denies Him to be God the Son. An unsuffering impassible Christ is of Satan, not the true God and eternal life. It is a false chimera of the enemy. Be assured, that if the suffering be so real and precious to God, it is a dangerous thing to pare down, fritter away, or deny any part of it. For us it is the question of what God tells us in His word of the sufferings of Christ — not whether we understand all He says about them. Be assured that we know but in part, and have much to learn, especially of that which does not touch our own immediate necessities; but there is one thing we are always responsible for and that is, to submit to God, to believe Him, even though we enter very little into the depths of all that He has written for us of Jesus.
Only this I would add. It does not become such as say they do not understand this or that, to take the place of being judges. It is intelligible that those who know should judge; not so, as it appears to me, that people should take the place of judging who confessedly do not know. It were wise, not to say becoming humility, to wait and learn.
Next we see Judas, who approaches and kisses Christ: the Lord of glory is betrayed by the apostle. The final scene comes on apace; and not more surely, according to the word of Christ, the murderous malice of the priests, than the energy of Peter, so fatal, to himself, who could not face the difficulty into which his self-confidence carried him. He that could not pray with his Master, but slept in the garden, breaks down without his Master before a servant girl. The rest fled. John tells the tale of his own shame, with Peter's. The scene is complete. There is not a witness for Jesus now. He is alone. Man has it apparently all his own way, in mockery, blows, and blasphemy; but yet he is only accomplishing the will, the purpose, and the grace of God. (Ver. 63-65.) The chapter closes with Jesus before the council of elders, chief priests, and scribes. "Art thou the Christ?" was too late now: they had proved that they would not believe. From henceforth [not "hereafter," as in the A.V.] shall the Son of man be sitting on the right hand of the power of God. It is the well-known transition, we see everywhere, on the rejection of the Messiah. "Art thou then the Son of God?" said they all. He owns to the truth; and they need no more to condemn Him.
In Luke 23 Jesus is found not before Pilate only, but Herod; and the two men who heretofore hated each other are here reconciled, now that it is a question of rejecting Jesus. It is only Luke who gives us this touch. What a league of peace over the rejection of the Saviour! At any rate the scorning of Jesus proceeds; and Pilate, carried away against his conscience by the will of the people, gave sentence that it should be as they required. Jesus is led away to the cross, and Simon is compelled to bear it after Jesus; for now man shows his needless cruelty in every form.
The women that were there lament with the crowd after Jesus: there was much of human feeling in this, though not faith or real love. Why not lament for themselves; for in truth there were days of sorrow coming, when they should say, "Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare; and the paps that never gave suck." "Then they shall begin to say to the mountains fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us. For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?" Jesus was the green tree; and if Jesus was so treated, what should be their fate, as set forth fully by that dry tree, which was Israel? Undoubtedly Israel ought to have been the green tree of promise; but it was only a dry tree waiting, for judgment. But Jesus, the green tree (where there was all the vigour of holy ways and obedience), was far from honour, and now on His way to the cross. Such was man, to whom He had been delivered! What would be God's judgment of man? (Verses 27-31.)
And they crucified Jesus between two malefactors — the one on the right hand, and the other on the left and Jesus says, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." They part His raiment, and cast lots for it. The people behold, the rulers deride, and the soldiers mock; but a superscription was written over Him in Greek, and Roman, and Hebrew letters — This is the King of the Jews. (Verses 32-38.)
Jesus works the great work of salvation in the heart of one of the malefactors. It was a real work within: it was not merely a work ever so perfectly done outside. Most assuredly there never was a soul saved but the work was done for him — done alone by Jesus — He alone suffering, the sinner saved. But where the heart knows the work done for the soul, there is a work done in that very soul. So it was here: and it is of great importance that those who maintain the work for, should equally maintain the work in. Even in this case, where the effect was produced rapidly, the Spirit of God has given us the great moral traits of it. First of all appears a hatred of sin in the fear of God; then the repentant heart rebukes the shameless evil of his fellow, who feels that it is, least of all, a time thus to sin boldly in the presence of death, and of God's judgment. "We indeed justly; but this man hath done nothing amiss." Evidently there was more than righteousness here. There was a sense of grace, as well as of sin, and sensitiveness about God's will. There was delight in "this man," Jesus, whose holiness made such an impression, that the poor felon, now a believer, could challenge all the world, and feel no more doubt of the Lord's blameless life than if he had witnessed it all through. How great is the simplicity and assurance of faith! Who was he that could correct the judgment of priests or governor? "This man hath done nothing amiss." It was a crucified robber! He forgot Himself in Christ the Lord thus vindicated. Then he turns to Jesus, and says, "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom." Yes! and Jesus will remember — could not put Him aside. He never cast out either a soul that came to Him, or a prayer that was founded on His glory, and desired association with Him. It could not be. He came down to associate with the poorest and feeblest on earth. He is now gone on high to associate with Himself there those who were once, possibly, the worst on the earth, now with Himself above, cleansed of course (need we say it?) — cleansed by water and blood. And so with this soul whom grace had now touched. "Lord, remember me when thou comest in thy kingdom." What more convincing proof that the man had not an anxiety about his sins? for if he had, he would, of course, have put it forward. He would have said, "Lord, do not remember my sins." Nothing of the sort was uttered, but "Lord, remember me." What would Christ's kingdom be to him, if his sins were not blotted out? He so counted on His grace, that no doubt or question remained, and he asks to be remembered by Jesus at His advent, ascribing the kingdom to Him who was hanging on the cross. He was right; and Jesus replies with ineffable grace, and according to that style so worthy of God (compare Psalm 132), which not only answers the prayer of faith, but invariably surpasses it. God must be God in His recognition of faith, as everywhere else. We saw on the mount of transfiguration that there is a blessedness beyond that of the kingdom, where government is not in question. This is not the theme predicted by prophets, but a glory which the person of Jesus alone can account for, and His grace alone introduce to. So here Jesus says to the converted robber, "This day shalt thou be with me in paradise" — at once, by virtue of His blood, the companion of Christ in the garden of divine joy and delight. (Verses 39-43.)
Then the Spirit of God notices the darkness which reigned, and not merely in the lower air around the earth; for the sun was darkened, the splendid orb of natural light, which rules the day. The veil of the temple, too, which characterized the whole system of the Jewish religion, was rent from top to bottom. This was not the effect of an earthquake, nor of other physical causes. The natural light disappeared, and Judaism vanished, that a new and true light might shine, making him who saw it free of the holiest of all. Luke groups the external facts together, and leaves the Lord's death more alone with its moral adjuncts.
"And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost." Here there is no cry to God in the sense of being forsaken, when His soul was made an offering for sin. This was given appropriately by Matthew and Mark. Nor is it as the consciously divine person, the Son, pronouncing the work finished for which He had come. It is the ever perfect man, Christ Jesus, with unwavering confidence committing His spirit into His Father's keeping. (Compare Psalm 16, and Psalm 31) It was the atoning One. On the cross, and nowhere else, was expiation effected; there was His blood shed; there His death, who thought it not robbery to be equal with God, yet knew what it was to have the face of God hid from Him in judgment of sin — our sin. But the words here are no expression of His suffering, as thus abandoned and atoning, but of the peaceful departure of His spirit, as man, into the hands of God the Father. He is drinking the cup in Matthew and Mark; He, the true, but rejected Messiah, the faithful servant, now suffering for sin, who had laboured in grace here below. But here the Saviour is viewed in His absolute dependence and trust in Him, whom He had set before Him, as in life always, so with equal affiance of heart in death. It was the province of John to show Him even then above all circumstances in personal glory. It is beyond all controversy, that here the human side of Christ's death is more vividly portrayed than in any of the Gospels — perfect, but human; just as in John it is the divine side, though care is taken to prove particularly there its reality, as well as the witness of its efficacy for sinful man. The consistency of this with all we have seen in Luke, from first to last, is unquestionable: Son of God — of the Highest, as of David also; but He is emphatically, and in every detail, the Son of man.
Remark here the absence of a crowd of circumstances of the deepest interest to the Jew, when grace makes him meek, and obedient in heart — of solemn warning to him, whatever the unbelief which shuts up his heart and seals his ears, to the truth. Here is no dream and message from Pilate's wife; here no awful episode of Judas in remorse and despair, casting the price of innocent blood into the very sanctuary, and going away to hang himself; here no imprecation of His blood on them and on their children; here no detail of the guilty people's unconscious accomplishment of the living oracles of God in the Psalms and Prophets; nor here any allusion to the earthquake, and the rent rocks, and opened graves, or the subsequent appearing of risen saints to many in the holy city. All this has its due place in the Gospel for the circumcision. Luke tells us what had the largest bearing on the Gentiles, on the heart, its wants, and its affections. We see the people beholding, the rulers also with them sneering, the soldiers mocking with vulgar brutality, but Jesus dealing in ineffable grace with a justly crucified malefactor. No doubt there was the deepest of suffering for Himself. Certainly, too, His suffering, though not confined to the cross, there culminated, as there alone was sin judged; there God's necessary intolerance of it was proved, when only, but most really, imputed to Christ. Thus, the only perfect man, the last Adam, who was there rejected of the Jews, and despised of men, with a loud voice, which denied the exhaustion of nature in His death, commended His spirit, as man, to His Father. It is not here, therefore, One speaking in the sense of God's abandonment (as we saw in Matthew and Mark), though this cup He had, indeed, drank to the dregs. But in this Gospel the last words are of One who, whatever the forsaking of God for sin, was perfectly tranquil, and peacefully committed Himself to His Father. It is the act and language of Him whose confidence was unlimited in the One He was going to. He had come to do His will, and had done it in the face of growing scorn and rejection; and God had not guarded Him from the murderous hate of man, but contrariwise, delivered Him into their hands, greater things being in counsel and accomplishment than if He had been received. The truth is the sum of what all tell us. Those who believe God, instead of being fettered to the traditions of a school, good or bad, must open their mouth wide for Him to fill with His good things old and new. He who on the cross tasted, for expiation, the unutterable woe of which Matthew and Mark speak, is the same Jesus who, Luke tells us, never wavered for a moment, not merely in His obedience, but in unreserved confidence in God; and the expression of this, not of atonement, I read in the precious words, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." (Verses 44-46.)
Accordingly, the centurion is mentioned here as owning Jesus to be "a righteous man," whatever man might have judged or done. The people seem conscious that it was all over with them — stricken in heart over a deed they could not but feel to be dreadful, though hardly defined. God does not leave man without witness. But, as usual, with men without the revealed light of God, though conscious when sin is done that there is something utterly wrong, it is soon forgotten; so here, though not without the sense that the case was desperate, they go not only as sheep without a shepherd, but stumble in the dark night. All His acquaintances and the women are seen in their sorrow — not vain, surely not; but still they stood far off: (Verses 46-49.)
Yet was this the moment when, spite of a traitorous disciple, spite of another too confident that denied Him with oaths, spite of all who ought to have been faithful forsaking and fleeing, spite of the distant and saddened lookers on who had once followed Him devotedly, God emboldens a man of high station, who might have been then the least expected by us (and, as we are told elsewhere, Nicodemus). Joseph of Arimathea was a man that had waited for the kingdom of God for some time, a good man and just, and a real believer, though he had shrunk from open confession of the Lord Jesus; but now, when fear might naturally have more than ever operated to keep him back, grace made him bold. This, at least, was quite right, and like the God of all grace. If the death of our Lord does not unlock a man's heart and tongue, I do not know what will. So this timid Joseph waxes valiant in fight. The honourable counsellor renounced the expediency and prudence of the past, horrified, no doubt, at their counsel and deed to which he had not assented. But now he does more: he add to his faith virtue. He goes boldly to Pilate, and begs the body of Jesus, which, being obtained, is worthily laid in the rock-hewn sepulchre, wherein never had man been laid. (Verse 53.)
"And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on. And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid. And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment." (Ver. 54-66.) It was affection, but with little intelligence. Their love lingered over the scene of His death and burial, without for the present in the least realizing, that life which was to be put forth soon so gloriously. Had they not heard His words? Would He, would God, not make them good?
On the morrow of the sabbath, very early indeed in the morning, these Galilean women were there, and some others with them. (Luke 24:1) And they found the stone rolled away, but not the body of Jesus. They were not alone; angels appeared. Two men in shining array stood by these perplexed saints. "And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, [what a rebuke to their unbelief!] Why seek ye the living (One) among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you while he was yet in Galilee, saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. And they remembered his words." (Ver. 5-8.) This last is ever a great point with Luke — the emphatic value always of any part of God's word, but especially of the words of Jesus.
Accordingly, after this was duly reported to the apostles and the rest, one like another incredulous, we have the visit of Peter (accompanied, as John lets us know, by himself), who sees confirmation enough, and departed, wondering, in himself at that which was come to pass. (Verses 9-12.)
Luke then ushers in another scene, still more precious, peculiar in its details at least to himself — the journey to Emmaus, where Jesus joins Himself to the two downcast disciples, who discoursed as they went, on the irreparable loss they had sustained. Jesus hears this tale of sorrow from their lips, brings out the state of their hearts, and then opens the Scriptures, instead of merely appealing to the facts in the way of evidence. This employment of the Scriptures by our Lord is very significant. It is the word of God which is the truest, deepest, weightiest testimony, even though the risen Jesus Himself were there, and its living demonstration in person. But it is the written word which, as the apostle himself shows, is the sole adequate safeguard for the perilous times of the last days. Here, too, the loved companion of Paul proves, in the history of the resurrection, the value of the Scriptures. The word of God — here the Old Testament interpreted by Jesus — is the most valuable means for ascertaining the mind of God. Every Scripture is inspired of God, and is profitable — yea, able to make us "wise unto salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus." Hence our Lord expounds to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. What a sample that day was of the walk of faith! Henceforth it was not a question of a living Messiah on the earth, but of Him that was dead and risen, now seen by faith in the word of God. On the face of the account, this was the great living lesson that our Lord was teaching us through the two disciples. (Verses 13-29.)
But there was more. How is He to be known? There is but one way that can be trusted in which we can know Jesus. There are those in Christendom that descant upon Jesus as ignorant of His glory as a Jew or a Mahometan. Our own day has seen how men can speak and write eloquently of Jesus as a man here below, all the while serving Satan — denying His name, His person, His work, when they flatter themselves they are honouring Him, like the weeping women (Luke 23:27), without a grain of faith in His glory or His grace. Hence was it of all importance that we should learn wherein He is to be known. Thus Jesus sets forth the Only way in which He can be rightly known, or that can be confided in. On this alone God can put His seal. The seal of the Holy Ghost is unknown until there is the submission of faith to the death of Jesus. And so our Lord breaks bread with the disciples. It was not the Lord's Supper; but Jesus made use of that act of breaking the bread significantly, which the Lord's Supper brings before us continually. In it, as we know, bread is broken — the sign of His death. Thus Jesus was pleased, Himself with them, that the truth of His death should flash upon the two souls at Emmaus. He was made known unto them in the breaking of bread — in that most simple but striking action which symbolises His death. He had blessed, broken, and was giving the bread to them, when their eyes were opened, and they recognised their risen Lord. (Verse 30.)
There is a third supplemental point, which I only touch on — His instant disappearance after He was made known to them in the sign of His death. This is also characteristic of Christians. We walk by faith, not by sight. (Verse 31.)
Thus the great evangelist, who exhibits what is most real for man's heart now, and what most of all maintains the glory of God in Christ, binds these things together for our instruction. Though Scripture was perfectly expounded by Jesus, and though hearts burned as they heard of these wondrous things, still it must be shown in concentrated form that the knowledge which alone can be commended by God or trusted by man is this — Jesus known in that which brings His death before the soul. The death of Jesus is the sole foundation of safety for a sinful man. This is the true way of knowing Jesus for a Christian. Anything short of this, anything other than this, whatever supplants it as fundamental truth, is false. Jesus is dead and risen, and so must be known, if He is to be known aright. "Wherefore henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more."
And so, that same hour, we see the disciples returning to Jerusalem, and finding the eleven there, who say, "The Lord hath risen, and appeared unto Simon." (Verses 32-34.) Here we have nothing about Galilee. In Matthew, Galilee is the quarter especially noticed. A rejected Messiah, fitly and according to prophecy, finds Himself in Galilee, the despised place. It was so during His life and public ministry (and hence it figures in Mark so prominently). He takes the same place now after His death and resurrection, there resuming relations with His disciples. The godly remnant of the Jews must know the rejected Messiah there. His resurrection did not terminate their path of rejection. The Church knows Him yet more blessedly as ascended, and itself one with Him on high; and its rejection is even more decided. However, in Matthew, Galilee is the sign for a converted Jewish remnant till He come to reign in power and glory. The remnant of the last days will know what it is to be cast outside Jerusalem also, and it is as outcasts that they will find real deepening of faith and due preparation of heart for receiving the Lord when he appears in the clouds of heaven. This Galilean resort Luke does not give here. Substantially Mark gives Galilee for the active life of the Saviour like Matthew, because, as has been said, there His ministry was chiefly exercised, and only occasionally in Jerusalem or elsewhere. Therefore the evangelist of the ministry of Jesus draws attention to the place in which He had ministered most — Galilee; but even he does not speak of it exclusively. Luke, on the contrary, says nothing of Galilee at this point. The reason seems to me manifest. His theme is the moral state of the disciples, the way of Christ's grace, the Christian path of faith, the place of the word of God, and the person of Christ, only known safely, according to God, in that which sets forth His death. This at least must be the basis.
There is another truth necessary to be known and proved, His real resurrection, who stood in the midst of them with a "Peace to you;" not without His death, but founded on it, and thus declared. So, in the next scene at Jerusalem, this finds its full display; for the Lord Jesus comes into their midst, and partakes of food before their eyes. There was His body; it was risen. Who could longer doubt that it was really the same Jesus who died, and will yet come in glory? "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself!" As we know, the Lord deigns to go yet farther in John; but there it was to convict Thomas's unbelief, as well as with a mysterious typical meaning behind. He would correct the previously absent and still doubting disciple; it is the sight that is the point there. This is not the question here, but rather the reality of the resurrection, and the identity of Jesus risen with Him they had known as their Master, and withal as still man, not a spirit, but having flesh and bones, and capable of eating with them. (Verses 36-43.)
After this our Lord speaks once more of what was written in Moses and prophets and psalms concerning Him. (Ver. 44.) It is the word of God again brought out; not merely to two of them, but its unspeakable value for them all.
Further, He opens their understanding to understand the Scriptures, and gives them their great commission, but bids them remain in Jerusalem till endued with power from on high, when He sends them the promise of the Father. (Ver. 45-49.) Here the Lord does not say, "Make disciples of all the Gentiles, baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." This most fitly has its place in Matthew, spite (yea, because of) His rejection. The suffering but now risen Son of man takes the universal field of the world, and sends His disciples among all the nations to make disciples, and baptize them into the name of the Trinity. It is not, therefore, the old limits of Israel and the lost sheep, but He extends the knowledge of His name and mission outside. Instead of bringing Gentiles to see the glory of Jehovah shining on Zion, they are to be baptized into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, as now revealed fully; and (instead of what Moses commanded) "teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you."
In Luke we have not the charge of the work committed to the workmen, as in Mark, with signatures of God's gracious power accompanying; but here it is the message of a Saviour dead and risen, the Second Man, according to Scripture, and the moral need of man and the grace of God, who proclaims in His name repentance and remission to all the nations or Gentiles. Therefore, just as we have seen the resurrection of our Lord in connection with Jerusalem, where He had been crucified, so He would have the preaching begun there, not going away, as it were, from the guilty city — alas! the holy city, and only the more guilty, because such was its name and privilege. But here, on the contrary, by virtue of Christ's death who put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, all disappears in the presence of the infinite grace of God — all blessing secured, if there be but the acceptance of Christ and His work. Hence He says, "Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer." No doubt man was guilty beyond measure and without excuse. There were mighty purposes of God to be accomplished; and not only must He rise on the third day, but He enjoins that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name — repentance necessarily showing the great moral work in man, remission of sins being God's great provision of grace through redemption to clear the conscience. Both were to be preached in His name. Who that believes and understands the cross could dream longer of man's worthiness? Repentance, so far from allowing it, is the perception and confession that there is no good in man, in me; it is wrought by grace, and is inseparable from faith. It is man giving up himself as altogether bad, man resting upon God as altogether good to the bad, and both proved in the remission of sins by Jesus, whom man, Jew and Gentile, crucified and slew. Remission of sins therefore, with repentance, was to be preached in His name. This was the sole warrant and ground. They were to be preached to all the nations, beginning with Jerusalem.
In Matthew the point appears to be the rejection of Jerusalem, the rejecter, because of its Messiah, the discipular remnant starting from the mountain in Galilee; and the presence of the Lord being guaranteed till the end of the age, when other changes come. In Luke all disappears, except grace, in presence of sin and misery. Absolute grace begins, therefore, with the spot which needed it most, and Jerusalem is expressly named.
We have seen how this chapter settles, if I may so express it, the Christian system on its proper basis, bringing out its chief peculiarities with striking force and beauty. More remains of similar character, especially the very distinct privileges of the understanding opened to understand, and the power of the Holy Ghost; the one given then, the other not till Pentecost. "Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures, and said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day … And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high." Thus the Holy Ghost was not given yet as an indwelling person, but rather a reiteration of the Father's promise. Remaining in Jerusalem they should be clothed with power — an essential thing for Christianity, and quite distinct from spiritual intelligence already conferred, as is apparent also in Peter's word and way in Acts 1. In the Gospel of John where the person of Jesus shines so conspicuously, the Holy Ghost is set forth personally, with equal distinctness at least, in Luke 14, 16. But here this is not the point, but His power, although He be, of course, a person. It is rather the promise of the Spirit's power to act in man that is brought before us. They, like Christ, must be "anointed with the Holy Ghost, and with power;" they must wait for "power from on high" from the risen and ascended Man.
But even so, the Lord Himself would not terminate the Gospel thus. "And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them." It was a spot that used to be most precious to Him, and, observe it well, was not less precious to Him after He rose from the dead. There is no greater mistake than to suppose, that an object of affection to Him before He died ceases to be such to Him when risen. Hence it would seem to give an open contradiction to those that deny the reality of the resurrection body, and of its proper affections. He was indeed a real man, albeit the Lord of glory. He led them out, then, as far as Bethany, the retreat of the Saviour, to which His heart turned in the days of His flesh. "And he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven." He that filled with blessing the hearts devoted to Him in His life, was still blessing them when He was separated from them for heaven. "And they worshipped him." Such was the fruit of His blessing, and of His great grace. "And they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God." It was meet it should be so. He that blesses us not only communicates a blessing, but gives the power that returns to God a blessing — the power of real worship communicated to human hearts on the earth, by the Lord Jesus now risen from the dead. They "were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God;" but they were associated in life and love with One whose glory was far above them or any conceivable precincts of the earth, and were soon to be made one with Him, and to be the vessels of His power by the energy of the Holy Ghost, who would make this evident in due time.
May the Lord be pleased to bless His own word, and to grant that those who love Him and it may approach the scripture with still more confidence! If aught which has been said here tends to remove somewhat of mist from any eyes, encourages, simplifies, or otherwise helps in reading God's word, surely my little labour will not have been in vain, either now or for eternity. The Lord alone can make His own word sanctifying. But it is much to believe it to be what it really is, not (as unbelief thinks) a field of darkness and uncertainty, requiring light upon it, but a light itself, which communicates light to the dark, through the power of the Holy Ghost revealing Christ. May we prove that it is indeed like Christ, of whom it speaks, needed, real, and unerring light to our souls; that it is also the sole, adequate, and irrefragable witness of divine wisdom and grace, but this only as revealed in and by Christ! I take it to be a token of great good that, as in early days, the person of Christ was not only the fiercest battleground and prime object of the final struggle of the apostles on the earth, but was the means whereby the Spirit of God wrought to give a deeper and deepening enjoyment of the truth and grace of God (more profoundly searching, no doubt, but at the same time more invigorating for the saints), so no otherwise, unless I be greatly mistaken, is it now. I remember the time, though unable to boast of any very lengthened scene to look back on as a Christian, when at least almost all — for I will not say all — were more engaged in attacking ecclesiastical error, and spreading much of kindred and other truth (and, in its place and time, important truth). But it was truth that did not so directly build up the soul, nor did it so immediately concern the Lord Himself. And although not a few, who then seemed strong and courageous enough, are gone to the winds (and a similar sifting still goes on, and will to the end), yet sure am I that in the midst of all these troubles and humiliations God has been elevating the standard of Christ for those who are firm and faithful. God has shown that His name is, as ever, a stumbling-stone for unbelief; but for the simple and spiritual a sure foundation, and most precious. The Lord grant that even these our studies of the Gospels, which have been necessarily curt and cursory, may nevertheless give an impulse not only to younger saints, but to those who may be ever so old; for assuredly there is no one, whatever may be his maturity, who will not be all the better for a fuller acquaintance with Him who is from the beginning.