Luke 12

Luke 12:1-12.191 318

Matt. 10:26-33, 19-20; Matt. 12:32 Mark. 3:28f.

We have seen the favoured nation set aside, and judgment awaiting “this generation,” not glory, and the woes upon those classes among them that stood highest in public estimation, who indeed were now the manifest adversaries of the Messiah. Our chapter opens with the Lord’s warning to the multitude who were crowding around Him, to beware of the leaven319 of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.

Accordingly we find the Lord showing that a new testimony was to be formed, not governed by law, but by the light of God.” For there is nothing covered up which shall not be revealed, nor secret that shall not be known.” And this testimony, as it was in the light, so also it was to be spread abroad. There was to be nothing hidden, nothing kept silent now. With this entirely falls in the teaching of the Apostle Paul — that now, on the rejection of Israel, God has brought to light the “mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints.” (Col. 1:26.) The same thing is true morally. The heart is laid bare, nature is judged, all now is brought into the light of God. “Therefore, whatsoever ye have said in the darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in chambers shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.”320

This is of all-importance, and extremely solemn. Even now God is forming souls in the light; as that which puts them to the test. His own moral nature that detects everything inconsistent with itself. This shows us what a wonderful character Christianity has morally as well as doctrinally. Under the law it was not so; there were many things allowed because of the hardness of their hearts. The veil was not yet rent. God had not brought out His own absolute nature made relative in Christ to judge man by. There was no proper revelation of God Himself under the law, though many revelations from Him. There were commands, there were promises, there were prophecies when things failed; but Jesus is the manifestation of God. Even as He is the only-begotten Son, He is the true Light that now shines; and such also is the atmosphere which the Christian breathes. We walk in the light even as God is in the light. This was altogether new doctrine, especially for the Pharisees to hear. They were characterised by a fair appearance before men, which was hypocrisy in the sight of God. The multitude were warned that an end was coming to all this. Not only will the day of judgment make it manifest, but faith anticipates that day. And now faith is come. Christianity is not of law but of faith; and Christianity alone, both as a question of light and of love, goes forth energetically. Everywhere is the Gospel to be preached, to every creature. Christ’s Word is to be proclaimed to all nations — the law was given to Israel.

But there is another consideration also, that now it is not the intervention of present earthly judgments, but the fear of God, Whose eternal judgment is revealed for those who despise His Word. “I say unto you, my friends,321 Fear not those who kill the body, and after this have no more that they can do.” The law displayed earthly dealings: now wrath is revealed from Heaven, and this wrath has eternal consequences. It is not merely the setting aside of man’s wrath, nor the instructive lesson of all in a chosen nation on the earth, but the certainty that body and soul must be cast into hell. This will be proved true presently for those who are found alive in opposition to God and rejection of His final testimony; and it will be true also at the close of the Kingdom for those who had died in their sins since the world began. Then God will show how truly He is the One to be feared; for the hypocrisy of the Pharisees had its root in the fear of man. They did not fear God. They would stand well with men, especially in the way of religious reputation: is this the true fear of God? “Fear not those who kill the body, and after this have no more that they can do.” By redemption we are brought to God. Christianity essentially supposes the putting the soul in the presence of the unseen and eternal. “I will show you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, who after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell322; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.”

But then the Lord brings in motives of comfort, as these were of warning. The present light of God and the future judgment of God were solemn considerations for any soul of man; but now comes in the comfort of His present care and future reward. “Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings (assaria),323 and not one of them is forgotten before God?” What infinite care of God that can descend to the least thing, that man despises most! How much more, then, His care for those who are His witnesses! For now, on the setting aside of the Jewish nation, a fresh body of men to testify for Christ was to be formed, the very hairs of whose head would be numbered. There is nothing that more strengthens one who is bearing witness for the truth than the consciousness of God’s love, and that the least one or thing that pertains to him is of interest to God. “But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.324 Fear not therefore192: ye are better than many sparrows.”

No present consciousness, however, of goodness would be sufficient to maintain a soul now in presence of evil. And God does not set aside the evil, but gives spiritual power to endure; He sends a testimony that utterly condemns the evil, and vouchsafes power to bear. Power is now in suffering for righteousness’ or Christ’s sake, not in reforming the world; it does not consist in judgment of the world’s evil. God alone is competent for this, and He will set aside and judge finally instead of reforming. But, besides all that, the soul needs the comfort of the time when it shall be completely taken out of the power of evil; and the future prospect is bright before us. “But I say unto you, Whosoever shall confess me before men, the Son of man325 will confess him also before the angels of God; but he that shall have denied me before men shall be denied before the angels of God.” Both faithfulness and unfaithfulness bear their consequences in the day of glory. “And whoever shall say a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him; but unto him that speaketh injuriously against the Holy Spirit it shall not be forgiven.” This had been proved. Who spoke more against Him than Saul of Tarsus? Who was a more blessed proof and witness of forgiveness than he was? So it will he even with the nation. If “this generation” must suffer, are suffering them now, and are yet to suffer them, still the nation will be forgiven in the end. “But unto him that speaketh injuriously against the Holy Spirit it shall not be forgiven.” Such is the fate of “this generation.” They would reject not only Christ Himself, but the further testimony which, we have seen, it is the object of the Spirit of God to bring before us in this chapter. Now we have a most important element in this new thing. Not only was there light and truthfulness, not only the energy that went out in proclamation and the preservative care of God now, with future reward by-and-by; but, besides all, there is the power of the Holy Ghost. This makes it unspeakably grave. “Unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven.” What an issue! On the other hand, to the believer what a gracious support! What earnestness also and exercise of love in giving their message must there be in realising that, in a certain sense, it is worse to reject the testimony now that the Holy Ghost is given than when even the Lord Himself was here below! For the Holy Ghost bears witness, not only of Christ, but of His accomplished redemption and His Cross. Then he who rejects the fullest mercy of God, when He has completely put away sin by the sacrifice of His Son, shows himself utterly insensible both to his sin and to God’s grace as well as to the glory of Christ. All this the Holy Ghost now brings out without a cloud. Hence to blaspheme Him is unpardonable. “Unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven.”326

But the Holy Ghost does not merely act in thus putting so solemn a seal on the testimony; He is also a positive power for him who is engaged in the testimony. “But when they bring you before the synagogues,327 and rulers and the authorities, be not careful how or what ye shall answer, or what ye shall say; for the Holy Spirit shall teach you in the hour itself what should be said.” For when the Spirit should be given, there would be no setting aside the evil in the world: this as we know becomes worse and worse. Accordingly, when they should be brought before the powers of the world, “Be not careful,” the Lord says unto them, “how or what ye shall answer, or what ye shall say.” The spirit of absolute dependence upon God is shown us here. “The Holy Spirit shall teach you in the hour itself what should be said.” This completes the first part of the chapter and shows us. the power of the testimony, and thus the danger of those who reject it, and the encouragement of those who are rendering it.

Luke 12:13-21.328

The rejection of Christ leads to an important change, both in His position and in what men would find in and from Him. A Jew would naturally have looked to the Messiah as the Judge of every vexed question. Even he who valued the Lord Jesus for His unblemished ways and holy conversation might well seek His aid. But it is here shown that His rejection by man changes everything. One cannot reason abstractedly therefore from what the Messiah was as such; we must take into account the fact of the state of man towards Him and God’s action thereon. The Cross of Christ, which was to be the fruit and measure of the rejection of the Lord, would have in its train consequences immense, and of all possible difference from what had gone before; and this not only on man’s part, but on God’s.

Hence, when one of the company said to Him, “Teacher, speak to my brother, to divide the inheritance with me,” the Lord answers, “Man, who established me [as] a judge or a divider329 over you?” He was not come to judge. The rejection of Christ leads into that infinite salvation He has wrought, in view of which He declines the settlement of human disputes, He was not come for earthly purposes, but for heavenly. Had He been received by men, He would undoubtedly have divided inheritances here below; but, as they were, He was no judge or divider over men or their affairs here below. But Luke, as is his manner and habit, presents the Lord immediately looking at the moral side of the matter, as indeed the rejection of Christ does lead into the deepest manifestation and understanding of the heart.

The Lord therefore addresses the company on a broader ground. “He said to them, Take heed and keep yourselves from all193 covetousness, for [it is] not because a man is in abundance [that] his life is in his possessions.” This anxiety for Christ’s help to settle questions flows from the heart’s desire of something that one has not here below. Maintenance of position is here judged, eagerness after earthly righteousness is exposed — “beware of covetousness.” The rejection of Christ and the revelation of heavenly things led into the true path of faith, of confiding in God for whatever He gives, of trusting, not man but Him, for all difficulties, of contentedness with such things as we have. God arranges all to faith. Nor is this the whole matter. The heart has to be watched. “Keep yourselves from all covetousness, for it is not because a man is in abundance [that] his life is in his possessions.” “And this too He illustrates, as well as its awful end. There is exceeding selfishness, folly, and danger in what might seem to be earthly prudence. Hear the next words of the Lord. “He spoke a parable to them, saying, The land of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully; and he reasoned within himself, saying, What shall I do, for I have not [a place] where I shall lay up my fruits?” Clearly this man counted that the prime good lay in the abundance of the things that he possessed. His desire was to employ what he had so as to get and keep more of present things.

Systematic selfishness was there, not the reckoning of faith either in its self-sacrifices of suffering or in its active and generous devotedness. There was no eye upon the future outside this world. All was in the present life. It is not that the rich fool made a bad use of what he had according to human judgment, not that he was immoral, but his action did not go beyond gratifying his desire of over-growing abundance. “He said, This will I do; I will take away my granaries, and build greater; and there I will lay up all my produce194 and My 330a good things.”

This conduct stands in marked contrast with what the Lord afterwards brings into prominence in Luke 16, where is seen the sacrifice of the present for the future, and that such only are received into everlasting habitations. It is not the means of deliverance from hell, but the character of all who go to heaven. So far they resemble the steward in the parable, whom the lord commended, not for his injustice but for his wisdom. He sacrificed present interests, his master’s goods, in order to secure the future. The rich proprietor here, on the contrary, is ever casting down his barns and building greater, in order the better to secure all his fruits and increase his goods. His sole and entire thought was for this present life which, he assumed, would go on unchangeably. The steward looked out for the reverse that was at hand, and acted accordingly. May we feel ourselves stewards in what men would call our own, and act with no less prudence! It was not so with him who said to himself, “Soul, thou hast much good things laid up for many years; repose thyself; eat, drink, be merry.” There was both self-satisfaction in what he possessed, and withal the desire for a long enjoyment of present ease. It was the practical Sadduceeism of unbelief.331 “But God said unto him, Fool, this night thy soul shall be required332 of thee; and whose shall be what thou hast prepared?”

He never considered this. God was not in all his thoughts. He had reduced his soul to the merest slavery of the body, instead of keeping under the body, that it might be the servant of the soul, and God the master of both. But no: God was in none of his thoughts; yet God said to him, “Fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee; and whose shall be what thou hast prepared?” He had looked onward for an uninterrupted prosperity in the world. “This night!” Little did he think it. “This night thy soul shall be required of thee . . . Thus is he who layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich333 toward God.” Riches before God cannot be without what men short-sightedly count impoverishment of self, using what we have, not for ourselves, but for others. Only such are rich toward God, be their means great or small. If their means are small, they are nevertheless large enough to let them think of others in love and provide for wants greater than their own: if their means are great, their responsibilities are so much the greater. But in every case the gathering up is not for self, but for the service of grace; and this can only be by bringing God into the matter. Such only are rich toward God. Laying up treasure for oneself is the hard labour of self, and the unbelief that reserves for a long dream of enjoyment which the Lord suddenly interrupts.

Vv 12:22-34.334

Matt. 6:25-33.

Then the disciples are addressed, and the Lord accordingly rises in the character of His appeal. The other was a warning for men, but for the disciples there was a new path opening. “And he said to his disciples, For this cause I say unto you, Be not careful for life,195 what ye shall eat; nor for the body, what ye shall put on. The life is more than food, and the body than raiment.” That is, Be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what put on. This was a great advance in the instruction given to souls — a guard against anxiety, which depends on faith in God. The Lord gives them an instance from the birds around them. “Consider the ravens, that they sow not nor reap; which have neither storehouse nor granary; and God feedeth them.” God’s care condescended to watch over even an unclean bird like a raven. “How much better are ye than the birds?”335

But we have more than this: the utter powerlessness of man, in what most nearly concerns him, is brought out with matchless beauty and truth. “Which of you, by being careful, can add to his stature one196 cubit? If therefore ye cannot [do] even what is least, why are ye careful about the rest?” What concerns the body is least. “Why take ye thought for the rest” “Then we are given a still more graphic instance from the flowers of the field. “Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin.” God’s care of the vegetable, no less than the animal, world affords striking and familiar proofs which cannot be gainsaid. “They neither toil nor spin.” The ravens might seem to do somewhat; but as to the lilies, what can they do? “They neither toil nor spin; but I say unto you, not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed as one of these.” This was not said as to the ravens. “But if God thus clothe the grass, which today is in the field,197 and tomorrow is cast into [the] oven” — the meanest thing as it were that He has made in the vegetable kingdom, that which is both common and transient — “how much rather you, O ye of little faith?” The one, therefore, the ravens, rebuked their care for their food, and the lilies their care for their clothing. “If God thus clothe the grass . . . how much rather you, O ye of little faith?” Hence they were to beware of resembling the nations of the world, which know not God. “Seek not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink, and be not in anxiety.336 For all these things do the nations of the world seek after.” They were without God. “And your Father [not only God, but your Father] knoweth that ye have need of these things.” He advances now until He puts the disciples into the enjoyment of their own relationship with a Father Who cared perfectly for them, and could fail in nothing towards them. The God Who watched over the ravens and the lilies — their Father — would surely care for them. He knows that we have need of these things, and should be trusted by us.

The instruction previously given was rather negative — motives to avoid the ways and objects of the Gentiles, because of their confiding in their Father’s care. And now we have more directly positive instruction. “But seek His kingdom;198 337 and [all]199 these things shall be added unto you.” As usual, Luke gives us the moral force of things. “The kingdom of God is not meat and drink,” as the apostle says, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.” (Rom. 14:17.) They were to desire and pursue what God Himself was about to bring in, that which manifests His power in contrast with man’s weakness. And so seeking, all other things — all that is needed for this life — all the things that man makes to be so important, should be added unto them. God assuredly takes care of His own. If we seek His things, He does not forget ours; He could not, would not, overlook our need day by day.

Cf. Matt. 6:20f.

Further (verse 32), they are not to fear, although a little flock. Their strength did not at all rest on numbers or resources of an earthly kind, but on a most simple and blessed principle it was their Father’s good pleasure to give them the kingdom. He had delight in it, it was His complacency. This could not fail: why should they fear? Far from it, they were told to sell what they had: “Sell that which ye possess, and give alms.” All that would manifest love flowing out to the needy became them. It was their Father’s way with them who were once poor indeed, and they were to keep up the family character. They might, it is true, provide bags; but they were to be such as waxed not old, such as heavenly treasure demands. They were not to be of an earthly kind, but rich toward God, “a treasure which doth not fail in the heavens, where thief doth not draw near, nor moth destroy.”338 There is nothing forgotten: “God is not unrighteous to forget your work of faith and labour of love”; and what is of importance, too, there is no disappointment with the treasure: no thief approaches it on the one hand, no moth corrupts on the other, “for where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” The object was, that their heart should be settled on things above, and it would be so if their treasure were there. A man is always determined by what he seeks, by his objects. If he sets his heart upon a degrading object, he is degraded; if upon that which is noble and generous, his character is morally elevated. If therefore he is attracted by Christ Who is at the right hand of God, if heavenly treasure is before his eyes, his heart follows his treasure, he is taken entirely above the power of present things, which cannot more drag him down.

Is it too much to say that there is nothing of such moment for the disciple? If he has Christ, it is of all consequence he should see Christ where He is, and the things of Christ, where He sits at the right hand of God. Only to look at Christ on earth would falsify a Christian. Assuredly He is and must be an infinitely blessed Object wherever He is, nor is it that there would be no worthy effect of thus looking at Christ. But we must bear in mind that Christ here below was under law, and connected with Judaism, with its temple, rites, and priesthood; that as yet the great question of redemption was not decided, sin was not judged, evil was not put away; that the world was not given up as hopelessly bad, nor, consequently, was man. Whoever therefore merely looks at Christ as He was here below, shuts himself out from the great truth that all these things are questions already decided; that the world is judged before God, the earth under sentence, heaven opened, redemption accomplished, and sin put away. The soul that only looks at Christ on earth is not merely shut out from all the distinctive truths of Christianity, but is plunged into a state of uncertainty; whereas all under the Gospel ought to be clearly seen and settled. The mighty work of redemption does not remain to be accomplished. This is one reason why the mass of Christians who look at Christ thus are necessarily of doubtful mind, and count assurance to be presumption. The spiritual character is formed accordingly. But our Lord Himself tells us to have “a treasure which doth not fail in the heavens,” “for where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” He wished to have them heavenly; and in practice there is no other way than seeing, and knowing, and possessing, in the true sense, our treasure in the heavens. If so, the heart is there also.

Luke 12:35-48.339

Matt. 14:42-25:13.

But there is another thing too. It is good to have before us the object that is before God. It is good to have an object, a true object, that calls one out into a state of patience and expectation. We cannot do without the power of hope; if we have not the true object, we shall have false ones. “Let your loins,” therefore, He says, “be girded about, and lamps burning; and ye like men who wait for their lord, whenever he may leave the wedding, that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately.” I do not take this expression about returning from the wedding as prophetic, but rather as moral, in accordance with the habitual style of Luke. It is certainly intended to present no aspect of judgment, but of joy, and it is therefore an allusion to the well-known facts constantly before their eyes, a figure taken from them. They were to be waiting for their Lord, not in a judicial sense, but as to One Who returns from a wedding, that when He comes and knocks they may open unto Him immediately. This is another grand point, not only that He is associated with joy, but that they should be free from all earthly encumbrance, so that the moment the Lord knocks, according to the figure, they may open to Him immediately — without distraction or having to get ready. Their hearts are waiting for Him, for their Lord; they love Him, they are waiting for Him. He knocks, and they open to Him immediately. Such is the normal position of the Christian, as waiting for Christ, the only true Object of hope. “Blessed are those bondmen whom the lord [on] coming shall find watching; verily, I say unto you that he will gird himself, and make them recline at table, and coming up will serve them.”340 Here their blessing as waiting for Him is shown. We shall find another blessing a little later on; but the blessing here is the watching — not so much working as watching. That is, it is not so much occupation with others as watching for Him, and assuredly this is of some importance to feel. Watching takes precedence even of working. There is no doubt that working has no small value, and that the Lord will remember it and reward it, but watching is far more bound up with His person and with His love. Hence it is said, “Blessed are those bondmen whom their lord on coming shall find watching; verily, I say unto you that he will gird himself, and make them recline at table, and coming up will serve them.” All the activity of His love is shown, and His gracious condescension. “And if he come in the second watch, and come in the third watch,200 and find [them] thus, blessed are those [bondmen].”201 There is intentness therefore upon it. It is not vague; it is sustained; it is carried through the night. They are looking for Him from first to last Blessed are those [bondmen]. But this know, that if the master of the house had known in what hour the thief was coming, he would have watched,202 and not have suffered his house to be digged through. And ye, therefore,203 be ye ready;341 for in the hour in which ye do not think [it] the Son of man cometh.” It is not the Messiah taking the throne of His father David, but the rejected Son of man Who is. coming in glory; and blessed are those who are thus waiting and watching for Him. “And ye, therefore, be ye ready.”

Our Lord presented His coming as claiming the affections of the saints, and dealing with their moral state. Their loins were to be girded about, their lights burning, themselves like unto men waiting for their Lord. For, their treasure being in the heavens, their hearts would be there also. This connects itself, too, with immediate readiness in receiving Himself, that “when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately.” It is the blessedness of watching for Christ, with its infinite joy in result. “Verily I say unto you, that he will gird himself, and make them recline at table, and coming up will serve them.”

If He does tarry, and the heart that loves Him finds it long and has need of patience, it is well worth waiting for Him, whatever the delay. “And if he come in the second watch, and come in the third watch, and find [them] thus, blessed are those [bondmen].” At the same time, it is important to add the aspect of His coming for the conscience. The return from the wedding does not present this. “But this know, that if the master of the house had known in what hour the thief was coming, he would have watched,. and not have suffered his house to be digged through.” Present ease and unwatchfulness in such a world as this always make the return of the Lord to be more or less unwelcome. The only right attitude for love or conscience is the attitude of watching for Him. “And ye, therefore, be ye ready, for in the hour in which ye do not think [it] the Son of man cometh.”

“And Peter said to him,204 Lord, sayest thou this parable unto us, or also to all? And the Lord said, Who then is the faithful and prudent steward, whom his lord will set over his household to give the measure of corn in season?” Now here again appears another aspect. It is the position of one called to be faithful and wise as a steward. It is one whose duty it is, ruling over the master’s household, to give their meat in due season, a grave and honourable work. Still, it has not necessarily the intimacy of personal affection which the continual watching for Him supposes. Man, no doubt, thinks very differently; but we are hearing the Word of the Lord, and His Word ever judges, and was meant to judge, the thoughts of men. Accordingly there is a difference in the result. “Blessed is that bondman whom his lord [on] coming shall find doing thus. Verily I say unto you, that he will set him ruler over all that he possesseth” (verses 42-44).343 It is not the return of His love so much as the post of honour in His kingdom. “Blessed” indeed are both; but the heart ought to need little light to discern which is the better of the two. May we answer His love and be true to His trust, and know this two-fold blessedness as our portion when He comes again!

Undoubtedly much was left here, as elsewhere, to be filled up by the Spirit of God. Our Lord had many things to say, but His disciples could not bear them all then. The accomplishment of redemption, the fall of Israel definitively for the time, the call of the Gentiles, and above all, the revelation of “the mystery,” had an immense influence in giving development to the truth of the Lord’s return. Nevertheless, it is deeply interesting to notice how admirably the words of the Lord on this occasion present that truth in its two main aspects of grace and responsibility. On these, however, I do not dwell, because the Scripture before us does not enter into detail. It is enough to point out the general truth — a truth, be assured, of great importance to seize in its principles and in its practical consequences.

The Lord next looks at the vast scene of profession, and shows us in a few solemn words how it will be affected by His return. Christendom and man at large will assuredly be judged then, for we are not here looking at the judgment of the great white throne; it is the judgment of the quick, not yet of the dead — a judgment too much forgotten, not only by the careless but by those who exercise the largest influence in the religious world. Judaism always tended to swamp the final judgment by bringing into exclusive prominence the judgment of the world when the nations shall be put down, and Israel, humbled by grace, at length shall be exalted to their promised supremacy under Messiah and the new covenant. But Christendom forgets the judgment of the quick, and its forgetfulness of it is no small part of Satan’s device to ruin the testimony of Christ. Not only is the truth of His coming lost as a practical joy for the heart, and as a solemn test for the work, but the bare fact itself is disallowed by confounding that day with the judgment of the dead.

The unbelief of man, however, will not nullify but rather prove the value of the warning of the Lord: “But if that bondman should say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and begin to beat the menservants and the maidservants, and to eat and to drink and to be drunken, the lord of that bondman shall come in a day when he doth not expect it, and in an hour he knoweth not of, and shall cut him in two, and appoint his portion with the unbelievers.344 But that bondman who knew his own lord’s will, and had not prepared [himself], nor done his will, shall be beaten with many [stripes]. But he who knew [it] not, and did things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few. And to every one to whom much is given, much shall be required from him: and to whom [men] have committed much, they will ask from him the more (verses 45-48).

How exact the sketch, save, indeed, that the ruins of Christendom have brought out added horrors to those depicted here, no less than the epistles furnished the fuller display of the truth of Christ’s coming! And these horrors are given us at length in such Scriptures as 2 Thessalonians; 1 and 2 Timothy; Revelation 17, 19.

We see that Christendom, having taken the place of Christian privilege, will be judged accordingly. It is “that bondman.” Having no heart nor faith in Christ’s coming, men were willing that it should be deferred. The heart was rather relieved than made sick through a hope deferred that was no hope. They said in their heart, “My lord delayeth his coming.” The wish was parent to the thought; and in such a state of feeling circumstances will readily be found to justify it. But the moral consequences are soon seen. With Christ’s coming no longer before the eye, that servant ere long began “to beat the menservants and the maidservants, and to eat and to drink and to be drunken.” The spirit of haughty assumption and intolerance was developed on the one hand, and a demoralising intercourse with the world on the other. But “the lord of that bondman shall come in a day when he doth not expect it, and in an hour he knoweth not of. and shall cut him in two, and appoint his portion with the unbelievers.” Whatever its profession, the heart of Christendom in that day will be proved to be infidel. No disguises of creed or rite, no activity, nor zeal, will shield it from the just judgment of the Lord at His coming.344a

Nevertheless the Lord is always just, and in that day there will be a marked difference in His dealings with the quick, as He says here. For the servant who “knew his own lord’s will, and had not prepared [himself], nor done his will, shall be beaten with many [stripes]”; whereas he who knew it not yet was guilty, though he will not escape, will be beaten with few stripes. The less favoured heathen therefore will not fare so ill in that day as she who sits as a queen with a vain presumption that she will see no sorrow. “Therefore shall her plagues come in one day; death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire, for strong is the Lord God Who judgeth her.” (Rev. 18:8.) For it is a fixed thing with Him that where much has been given much shall be required, as even man’s conscience and practice confess every day. “To whom [men] have committed much, they will ask from him the more.”344b

We have seen the Lord’s coming as the Object of their heart’s affection, and consequent expectation as the rewarder of service. As the judge of those who have wrought on earth He will deal righteously according to their respective privileges.

Luke 12:49f.

Matt. 20:22.

But the Lord now speaks of the effect of His actual presence then: “I have come to cast a fire on the earth; and what will I, if already it hath been kindled?” This is in no way the purpose of His love, but the effect of His presence. He could not but deal as a Discoverer of man’s state. Fire is the constant symbol of Divine judgment, and this was morally true even then. He came to save; but, if rejected, it was really the kindling of a fire. This in no way contradicts the great truth of His intrinsic grace. He says, “But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened until shall have been accomplished!” He Himself was about to go through the deepest suffering, and this because of the necessary antagonism of God’s character to sin, which was not yet judged. It was about to be judged in the person of Christ, absolutely without sin, yet made sin by God on the cross. In devoted love, glorifying God, He would be a sacrifice for sin. This was the baptism with which He was to be baptized, and till this was done, the Lord, as He says here, was straitened. Whatever might be His love, it could not yet flow out in all its fullness. There were barriers among men, and there was beyond all these a hindrance on the side of God’s glory. His character, amply displayed for good during Christ’s life, had not yet been vindicated as to evil. But in and from His death we find no limits to the proclamation of Divine love. Before that it was more promise within the limits of Israel, not without hints of mercy beyond it. God would be true and faithful to His word, whatever the state of Israel, but He could not send out freely to the Samaritans, and to the world in general, before the Cross. After the Cross this is exactly what He does. The Lord therefore was straitened till this was accomplished.345

Luke 12:51-53.

Matt. 10:34-36.

Hence, again, they must not be surprised if, man being what he is, Christ’s presence produced conflict, opposition, if men were stirred up into jealousies and envies, hatred and enmity. All these things became manifest in those in whom it had not been seen before. People might have gone on quietly; but Jesus always puts the heart to the test; and if there be not faith, no man knows what he may not do whenever the Truth (as Jesus is) puts him to the proof. “Think ye that I have come to give peace in the earth?” Undoubtedly such will be the effect of His reign by and by, but it is far from being the case now, where good has to make its way and show itself in the midst of evil which is in power. We must always remember that this is an essential characteristic of the time when Jesus was on earth; and it is so still. As far as the world is concerned, evil is in power: good therefore has to maintain itself by faith in conflict with it and superiority over it. It is not that good loves conflict, but that evil will oppose what is good, and, consequently, suffering there must be. “Think ye that I have come to give peace in the earth? Nay, I say unto you; but rather division;346 for from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided: three shall be divided against two, and two against three.”

This state of moral rupture is simply the result of Christ’s coming to the world, as it is man in a state of alienation and opposition, more particularly man with religious privileges, who cannot bear to have all his imaginary good sentenced to death. Therefore the Jews were ever more hostile than Gentiles. The latter could not but see their vanities judged by that which carried its own evidence of light and love along with it; but the Jews had what was really of God, only preparatory, however, and pointing onward to Him, Who was now come, and Whom they would not have, but rejected utterly. In that rejection the baptism spoken of was accomplished, and sin was judged, and God now can be righteous in justifying him who believes, and this solely on the ground of atonement for proved, convicted sin. This, alas! was the last thing a Jew was willing to admit. He would not own that he needed redemption as much as a Gentile, and that a Jew no less than a Gentile must enter the kingdom by being born again. Hence division in families, in no way because the grace of Christ in itself promotes discord, but because man’s evil fights against the truth which puts it in the light, and man’s hatred refuses the love of which it does not feel the need.

Hence, we come to yet fuller particulars: “the father against son, and son against father; mother against daughter, and daughter against mother; a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”347 The nearest relationships, sex, age, or youth, made no difference. As grace works freely according to the sovereign will of God, so man’s hatred is indiscriminate, and in the most unlikely quarters. The Lord is alluding to the prophecy of Micah, who describes in similar terms the worst evil of the last days (Micah 7:6). It is solemn to find, therefore, that, before the days spoken of by the prophet arrive, the evil was itself now come, and that the presence of Divine love in the person of Jesus provokes it. This could not be if men were not thoroughly bad; but Jesus is the Truth, and therefore brings all things to a head.

Luke 12:54-59.

Matt. 16:2f.

In the next verses He appeals to the people, and convicts them of the greatest moral blindness: “He said also to the crowds, When ye see a205 cloud rising out of the west, straightway ye say, There cometh a shower; and it happeneth so. And when ye see the south wind blow, ye say, There will be heat, and it happeneth. Hypocrites, ye know how to judge of the appearance of the earth and of the heaven; how [is it then that] ye do, not discern206 this time?” - Men were good enough judges of the signs of the weather; they were sufficiently shrewd in forming a judgment as to the present in what they saw; but they utterly failed in what most of all becomes a man — judgment of what is morally above him, judgment of what touches him most closely in his relationship to God, judgment in what concerns his eternal future. In these things they utterly failed, they were hypocrites. Their love of evil, cloaked with a veil of fair religious appearance, made them blind; their love of their own interests made them sharp in discerning and practised in the pursuit of present things. They utterly failed in conscience; and so the Lord goes on to reproach them. It was not only that they were blind as to the signs that God gave outside, themselves; but why did they not even of themselves, as it is said here, judge what was right? This is peculiar to Luke. Matthew speaks of the external signs God was pleased to give them, but they had no eyes for them. Luke alone speaks of the responsibility of judging from themselves, and not merely from what was vouchsafed outside them. The truth is that all was internally wrong with themselves: therefore they did not judge what was right.348

Matt. 5:25f.

The Lord hence concludes this part of His discourse with a warning of their actual position: “For as thou goest with thine adversary before a magistrate, strive in the way to be reconciled with him; lest he drag thee away to the judge, and the judge shall deliver207 thee to the officer, and the officer cast thee into prison.349 I say unto thee, thou shalt in no wise come out thence, until thou hast paid the very last mite.”350 Israel were on their trial now, they were in the way. There was an opportunity of being delivered: would they refuse? Would they throw all away? They might depend upon it, if there was not diligence to avail themselves of what God was now granting them, in the presence of Jesus, justice must take its course; and if so, they must be dragged to the judge, and the judge most assuredly would deliver them to the officer, and the officer would cast them into prison. The result would be that they should in nowise depart thence till they had paid the very last mite. And such in point of fact has been the history of the Jews. They are in prison still, and out of this condition they will not be delivered until the whole debt is paid in the retributive dealings of God, when the Lord will say that Jerusalem has received from His hand double for all her sins. He will not allow her therefore to suffer more. (Isa. 40:2.) His mercy will undertake her cause in the last day, His hand accomplishing at length what His mouth promised from the first.

191 Cf. “Introductory Lectures,” pp. 328-333.

192 “Therefore”: so ADE, etc., 1, 33, 69, Syrr. Amiat. Edd. omit, after BLR, some Latt. Memph.

193 “All”: so Edd., following ABD, etc., 1, 33, 69, Syrr. Old Lat. Memph. EFG, etc., and most cursives omit.

194 “Produce”: so Tisch. after AD and most later uncials. Other Edd. (W. H. “conflation”) adopt “corn,” following BLX, Sah. Memph. Aeth.

195 “For life”: so Edd. after ABD, etc., 1, Amiat. ED, etc., 33, 69. Sirrcu pesch sin Memph. add “Your.”

196 “One”: pmBD, Memph. omit (Edd..); corr AL, etc., with Syrsin insert.

197 “The grass, which today is in the f.”: so AE and most of the later uncials, besides cursives and Syrsin. Edd. (Revv.) adopt “If God so clothe the grass in [the] field,” after BL, etc.

198 “His”: so Edd. following BDL, Memph. AE, etc., 1, 33, 69, Syrr. Amiat. have “kingdom of God.”

199 [“All”]: so AD, etc., 1, 33, 69, Amiat. Memph.; but Edd. reject after BQ Δ, etc.

200 Edd. (Revv.) follow BL, etc., 33, “And if in the second and in the third watch, he come”: the “come” and “watch” each occur only once in these texts.

201 “Those [bondmen]”: so AE, etc., 1, 33, 69, Syrr. and Amiat. Tisch. after pm omits both words; other Edd. follow BDL, Syrsin, which have “those” but not “bondmen.”

202 “Would have watched”: Edd. questioning the words as from Matthew.

203 “Therefore”: so AE, etc., 1, 33, 69. Edd. omit, after BLQT, Old Lat. Memph.

204 “To him”: so Tisch. with APQT, Syrrsin cu. Other Edd. omit following BDLRX 33, Old Lat.

205 “A cloud”: so Edd. after ABL, etc., 1, 33, 69. DE, etc., have “the c.”

206 “Ye do not discern”: so AD ΓΔΠ, later uncials, most cursives and Old Lat. Syrr. Edd. (Revv.) adopt “ye do not know how to discern,” according to BL, 33, Sahid. Memph. Aeth.

207 “Shall deliver”: so Edd. after ABDT 69. ELX Δ, etc., 1, 33, Syrsin Old Lat. have “(lost the j.) deliver.”