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Christ preacheth repentance, upon the punishment of the Galileans, and others. The fruitless fig-tree may not stand. He healeth the crooked woman: sheweth the powerful working of the word in the hearts of the faithful, by the parable of the grain of mustard-seed, and of leaven: exhorteth to enter in at the strait gate: and reproveth Herod and Jerusalem.
Anno Domini 31.
Luke 13:1. There were present, &c.— Some of our Lord's hearers thought proper to confirm the doctrine in the latter part of the preceding chapter by what they supposed an example of it; for the scope and connection of the passage, as well as our Lord's answer, shew it to have been the thought of these persons, that Providence had permitted the Galileans to be massacred at their devotions for some extraordinary wickedness. These Galileans were the followers of Judas Gaulonites, (see Acts 5:37.) and had rendered themselves obnoxious to the Roman power. Josephus has given us the history of this Judas Gaulonites at large, Antiq. lib. 18. 100: 1. It appears that he was the head of a sect, who asserted God to be their only sovereign; and were so utterly averse to a submission to the Roman power, that they counted it unlawful to pay tribute to Caesar, and rather would endure the greatest torments, than give any man the title of lord. Josephus does not mention the slaughter of these Galileans; but he records an action of Pilate which much resembles it, concerning the manner of his treating the Samaritans; Antiq. lib. 18. 100: 4. Perhaps this story of the Galileans might now be mentioned to our Lord, with a design of leading him into a snare, whether he should justify or condemnthe persons that were slain. Some are of opinion, that these Galileans were slain, by Pilate's order, at the altar, in contempt of the temple; so that their blood was literally mingled with the sacrifices.
Luke 13:2-3. Suppose ye that these Galileans, &c.— Our Lord's hearers had insinuated a very wrong notion of Providence; for which cause he not only condemned it in the question just now mentioned, but told them expressly, that these Galileans were not to be reckoned greater sinners than others, because they had fallen by so severe a calamity; and exhorted them, instead of forming harsh judgments of others fromsuch examples of sufferings, to improve them as incitements to themselves to repent; assuring them, that if they did not, they should all likewise perish; or, as it may be rendered, you shall all perish thus: which is not only more literal, but the rather to be chosen; because, as Grotius, Tillotson, Whitby, and many others have observed, there was a remarkable resemblance between the fate of these Galileans, and that of the whole Jewish nation; the flower of which was slain at Jerusalemby the Roman sword, while they were assembled at one of their great festivals; and many thousands of them perished in the temple itself, and were, as their own historian represents it at large, literally buried under its ruins. See Josephus's Jewish War, b. 6. 100: 4.
Luke 13:4. The tower in Siloam— This tower, by its name, appears to have been built beside the bason, or pool of Siloam, (see John 9:7.) whose waters running into a lower bason, formed what was called the pool of fleeces, probably from the sheep which were washed in it. The upper bason, or pool of Siloam, seems to have been used as a bathing-place for men; and if it had porticos round it for them to undress in, will answer to the description of the pool of Bethesda, John 5:2. Besides, the situation of Bethesda, just by the sheep-gate, agrees with this supposition; for that gate had its name from the sheep-market which was kept at it, and to which the sheep were driven, after having been washed in the pool of fleeces. The tower of Siloam, therefore, which fell, and slew the eighteen persons here mentioned, may have been one of the porticos of Bethesda. This last instance might seem in some respects more to the purpose than the former, as there was no human interposition attending the death of these men; so that it seemed more immediately providential, than that of the Galileans whom Pilate had massacred.
Luke 13:5. Ye shall all likewise perish.— That is, "either by the sword, or in the ruins of your city." See on Luke 13:2-3.
Luke 13:7. Behold, these three years I come— See how long I have waited, even three years past, in vain, and still this fig-tree is entirely barren: cut it down; why should it any longer take up the place of better plants, and draw away the fructifying juices of my ground, which might be profitable to other trees? Though this parable was originally meant of the Jews, it may be applied to men in every age; for it exhibits a law observed in the divine administration, which should strike terror into all who enjoy spiritual privileges, without improving them. Every man is allowed a certain time of trial, during which he enjoys the means and helps necessary to holiness. If he continues ignorant of God's visitation, despises the riches of the divine mercy, and goes on obstinately in sin, these advantages are frequently taken away from him, his day of grace ends; the utmost term of God's patience is past for ever; the divine spirit being grieved, is provoked to depart, and the man is delivered over to a hardened heart.
Luke 13:9. And if it bear fruit, well:— Perhaps it may bear fruit; but if not, &c. Heylin and Doddridge. In the original there is something of an abrupt wayof speaking in this passage, of which the reader will find many examples in Raphelius Annot. ex Xenoph. p. 102. By this parable our Lord plainly represented to the Jews the divine displeasure against them, for having neglected the many opportunities they had enjoyed, as planted in the vineyard of God's church; (compare Isaiah 5:1-2; Isaiah 27:2-3.) and in an aweful manner intimated, that though they had hitherto, at his intercession, been spared, yet if they continued unfruitful under the additional cultivation which they were shortly to receive by the descent of the Spirit, and the proposal of the gospel in its full extent and evidence, they must expect nothing but speedy and irresistible ruin. The extraordinary means used to bring them to repentance, after the resurrection of Christ, by the effusion of his Spirit, and the preaching of the apostles, might with great propriety be expressed by digging round the barren tree, and dunging it. As what our Lord threatened in this parable was so remarkably fulfilled, it may be considered also as a prophesy of the destruction of the Jewish state by the Romans, under Vespasian and Titus.
Luke 13:11. There was a woman, &c.— Jesus happening to preach in one of the synagogues of Perea on a sabbath-day, cast his eyes upon a woman in the congregations, who had not been able to stand upright during the space of eighteen years. Wherefore pitying her affliction, he restored her body to its natural soundness. What the evangelist means by a spirit of infirmity, we learn from our Lord himself, Luke 13:16.—a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years. The last clause of this verse is better rendered by Dr. Heylin, Could by no means raise herself up; or, was utterly unable to raise herself upright.
Luke 13:13. And immediately she was made straight,— The great favour conferred on her so suddenly, filled the woman with admiration and gratitude; insomuch that she immediately offered up thanksgiving to God. As our blessed Lord undertook this benevolent miracle without any solicitation, it affords us a fine idea of his mercy and loving-kindness. The length of time which her weakness had continued, is a strong proof that there could have beenno collusion; and the instantaneous manner in which soinveterateandincurable a disorder was remedied, indicates the divine nature of him who performed it.
Luke 13:15. Doth not each one of you— Our Lord soon put the hypocritical ruler to silence, by placing the action which he found fault with, in the light of their allowed practice. They loosed and led their cattle on the sabbath day to water, and thought the mercy of the work justified them in so doing. He, by uttering a word, had loosed a woman, a reasonable creature; nay, and what heightens the colouring, a daughter of Abraham, who had been bound with an incurable distemper, not for a single day, but for eighteen years! Without doubt, the far greater mercy of this and the other God-like works which Jesus did, justified his performing them on the sabbath, as the ruler might easily have seen, had he not been whollyblinded by his superstition. It is not improbable, that this ruler might that very day have been performing such an office for one of his cattle with his own hands, as is here spoken of; for it was by no means necessary to his being a ruler of the synagogue, that he should be a person of wealth or dignity in common life. Critics have collected passages from rabbinical writers, in which they allow it to be lawful to feed or water a beast on the sabbath-day. See Lightfoot's Hor. Heb. on the text, where he shews that they were expressly allowed even to draw water for their beasts, a more laborious work than leading them to it. We may remark, that the folly even of the men of learning among the Jews, conspicuous in this and some other instances mentioned in the Gospels, shews the malignant nature of superstition. It is capable of extinguishing reason, of banishing compassion,andoferadicatingthemostessentialprinciplesandfeelingsof the human mind.
Luke 13:19. A great tree;— A great plant, or shrub; another of the evangelists calls it λαχανος, the greatest among herbs. See Matthew 13:32.
Luke 13:23-24. Lord, are there few that be saved? &c.— Our Lord was now travelling by slow journies towards Jerusalem, beingon his way to Jordan, from the north-east parts of Judea. Somewhere on the road, probably soon after he had described the success of the gospel by the parables of the mustard-seed and the leaven, his opinion was asked concerning the number of those who should be saved. The person who proposed the question, seems to have heard the parables above mentioned; if he had, his notions of the kingdom of God, being such as the Jews at that time entertained, he perhaps meant a temporal salvation, by admission into the Messiah's kingdom: but as no secular kingdom was to be erected by their great deliverer, Jesus answered the question in its spiritual meaning. Or we may suppose that this Jew inquired concerning the eternal salvation of men; for though he could easily believe that all his brethren were to be saved, yet he could not so easily bring himself to believe that salvation was not confined to his own nation: wherefore, having a high opinion of Jesus as a teacher, he proposed his doubts to him. But, in whatever sense we understand this question, our Lord's answer contains an exhortation, which implies that only a small number of the Jews of that generation would be saved. He said, strive to enter in at the straight gate. By inquiring thus curiously, into the state of others, you seem to be at ease with respect to your own salvation; I must therefore tell you, that, though as Jews you have great advantages, the gate to life is still strait; and that if you would be saved, you must exert yourselves to the utmost. Of this you will be the more convinced, when I assure you, that many of your brethren, who, because they trusted to their privileges as Jews, lived all along securely, shall be for ever excluded from heaven: For many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able; that is to say, shall seek to enter in at an improper season, namely by importunate intreaties, after the period of their trial is concluded, and their state finally and irreversibly determined as is evident from the next verse. The word αγωνιζεσθε, rendered strive, imports the act of contending, in the most ardent and resolute manner, with antagonists in games, or in war, and may well intimate, that the strait gate is beset with a variety of enemies, through which, if we aspire to a crown of eternal glory, we must, through grace, break and force our way; a representation equally just and awakening! See 1 Corinthians 9:25-27. Colossians 1:29. 1Ti 6:12. 2Ti 4:7 and the Inferences and Reflections.
Luke 13:26. We have eaten and drunk in thy presence,— "Over and above the privileges which you have enjoyed by the Mosaic dispensation, you shall plead on that occasion the peculiar favour which I shewed you in the days of my flesh, by exercising myministry among you, and by conversing familiarly with you." Perhaps some of the nine thousand whom Jesus had fed by miracle, may at last be in this miserable number. Compare John 6:26. Brennius refers it to their having eaten the sacrifices presented to God according to the Mosaic constitution; but different persons may use this plea in different senses. The paraphrase of Erasmus on this verse deserves attention: "Wherefore, Lord, dost thou not know us, or acknowledge us to be thine; whereas thou wast born among us, we have eaten and drank in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets; nay, we are thy disciples, and have more than once healed the sick, and cast out devils in thy name?"—Upon this the Master of the family shall answer, "All those things which ye have enumerated, are insufficient to prove you mytrue disciples. He that walks in my steps, shall be acknowledged for my disciple. But if you have not followed my example, it will avail you nothingto have known the law, to have heard me, to have been my countrymen, my disciples, or to have wrought miracles in my name; for whoever has impenitently lived in the neglect of internal piety and the social virtues, him I will never own to belong to me. Go your ways therefore, and receive your due reward from him whom you have obeyed and served."
Luke 13:29. They shall come, &c.— This part of the answer was levelled directly against the Jewish prejudice, and is a plain declaration that the salvation of God shall be extended to people of all parts of the world; and that many who thought themselves alone entitled to God's favour, in virtue of their peculiar privileges, shall, for their misconduct, be finally excluded from his presence. See on Matthew 3:9; Matthew 8:11-12.
Luke 13:31. There came certain of the Pharisees,— From the known disposition of the Pharisees, who were always the professed enemies of Christ, as well as from his answer, it is more than probable that their concern for his safety was feigned, and that their real design was to intimidate him, and make him flee into Judea, not doubting that the haughty priests would fall upon some method of putting him to death. Herod too seems to have been in the plot; he now began to take umbrage at Christ's fame and authority, fearing that it might occasion him some embarrassment, either with his people or with the Romans; but he dreaded to make an attempt on his life, remembering the agonies of mind that he had suffered on account of the Baptist's murder. Probably therefore, he insidiously sent the Pharisees to him, with the message in the present verse, Get thee out, and depart hence, for Herod is determined to kill thee. Such is the force of the original; and in this view there is a peculiar propriety in our Lord's reply, and in his calling Herod a fox, rather than a lion, wolf, or bear. See the note on Matthew 3:7.
Luke 13:32. I do cures to-day and to-morrow,— Some apply this to the years of Christ's ministry, supposing that a day is put for a year; but the explication is improper, because if the three days here mentioned were intended to comprehend the whole time of our Lord's ministry, this conversation must have happened in the first year thereof, contrary to St. Luke himself, who tells us, Ch. Luk 9:51 that the time was come that he should be received up. Besides, according to this interpretation, Christ's being perfected on the third day, will imply that he was to suffer in the third year of his ministry, which is far from being a certain point. The real meaning of the words seems to be as follows: "I shall not be very long with you on earth; yet, while I am here, I will perform the duties of my ministry, without beingafraid of any man; because my life cannot be taken from me, but in the place and at the time appointed by my Father." The word Τελειουμαι, rendered I shall be perfected, may refer to Christ's finishing the great work of atonement, and being by death consecrated to his office, as our great High Priest:—as the word is used, Hebrews 2:10; Hebrews 5:8-9; Hebrews 10:7.
Luke 13:33. Nevertheless, I must walk, &c.— I must continue my course. "I know all that is to befall me; I know who are my enemies, what their intentions are, and how far they will be able to accomplish them; for which reason you need give yourselves no trouble about me. I must continue my course to-day and to-morrow; no malice or power of men can hinder me from accomplishing my ministry; for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem." As the court of priests, whose prerogative it was to judge prophets, had its seat in Jerusalem, our Lord, by putting the Pharisees in mind that a prophet could not perish out of Jerusalem, insinuated that he knew their intentions too well to pay any regard to their advice: or in making this observation, his design may have been to display the wickedness of that city, the inhabitants of which had been, in every age, the chief enemies of the messengers of God, insomuch that none of them were put to death any where else: and with this agrees what our Lord says of Jerusalem, in the prophetic lamentation which he now uttered concerning it, on account of its crimes, its obstinacy and its punishment. See the next verses, and on Matthew 23:37. For it cannot be—would be rendered more properly, for it cannot be supposed.
Inferences drawn from the question proposed, Luk 13:23 of this chapter, and our Lord's reply.—Amongst all the stratagems whereby the great enemy of mankind plots and contrives their ruin, few are more unhappily successful, than the fond persuasion with which he has inspired them, that heaven and everlasting happiness are easily attainable. The doors of the Christian church are now expanded very wide, and men indeed have access to them upon easy terms. The most sacred ordinances of our religion are common to all, save those whom gross ignorance or notorious crimes exclude. There are no marks on the foreheads of men, whereby we can judge of their future condition. They die and are laid in their graves; none cometh back to tell us how it fares with them, and we desire to think the best of every particular.
But, whatever charity be in this, there is little prudence in the inference which many draw from it, who think that they may live as their neighbours do, and die as happily as they; and "since the greatest part of men are such as themselves, heaven must be a very empty place, if all of them be debarred." In short, interest and self-love do so strongly blind the minds of men, that they can hardly be wrested from the belief of that which they very fain would have to be true: and hence it is, that, notwithstanding all we are told to the contrary, the opinion of the broadness of the way that leads to heaven, and the easy access unto it, is still the most epidemical, and, I fear, the most dangerous heresy.
Now, to obviate this certain but lamentable error, it may be useful to propose here some considerations, for the better understanding what great things are required in those who look for eternal happiness; and then to reflect upon the actions and ways of men, that, comparing the one with the other, we may see how little ground of hope there remains for the greatest part to build on.
And if, first, we consider the nature of that divine Majesty, whose presence and enjoyment make heaven so desirable, we must be led to think, how inconsistent it is with his infinite holiness to admit impenitent sinners into the habitation of his glory. (See Psalms 5:4-5.) It is strange, what conceptions foolish men entertain of Almighty God, who imagine that those who have been all their days wallowing in sin, shall be admitted into everlasting friendship with him! for sooner shall light and darkness dwell together, and heat and cold in their greatest violence combine, and all the contrarieties of nature be reconciled. Men are accustomed to frame a notion of God suitable to their wishes; and this is the common shelter against every convincing reproof; but this temerity shall at length sufficiently confute itself, and feel that justice hereafter which it will not now believe.
But, if, secondly, we consider that happiness which every one is so confidently found to promise himself, it seems not very likely that it should be so easily attained. Glorious things are every where spoken of that heavenly Jerusalem; and all that is excellent or desirable in the world is borrowed to shadow it forth in the Holy Scriptures; but all these metaphors and allegories do not suffice to convey any full idea of the happiness that we expect; they only tend to assist our minds a little, and to give us some confused idea of those unseen, unheard, and inconceivable things, which God hath prepared for those who love him.
And can we then expect that so glorious a prize shall be gained without any labour? That such a recompence shall be bestowed on those who never were at any pains to procure it?—What toil and anxiety does it cost a man, to amass together that white and yellow earth which men call money! With what care and pains do others ascend to any degree of preferment! What industry and study do men employ to reach a little knowledge, and be reckoned among the learned!—And shall heaven and everlasting happiness slide into our arms, while we sleep? No, certainly: God will never disparage the glories of that place, to bestow them upon those who have not thought them worthy of their most serious endeavours.
Again, the joys of that place are, pure and spiritual, and no unclean thing shall enter there. The felicity of the blessed spirits consists in beholding and admiring the divine perfections, and finding the image of them shining in themselves; in a perfect conformity to the will and nature of God, and in an intimate and delightful society and communion with him:—and shall such souls then be blessed in seeing and partaking of the divine likeness hereafter, who never loved it, and who would choose any thing rather than converse with him here?
If, once more, we reflect on the endeavours of those who have gone to heaven before us, how they fought and strove, how they wrestled and ran, to obtain that glorious prize, we shall see how improbable it is that the greatest part of men should reach it, with so little pains as they are willing to exert. Consider the patriarchs and saints of old; consider the holy violence wherewith the first Christians forced open the gates of heaven, and took possession of its joys. The ardent affection, wherewith these blessed souls were inflamed towards their Maker and Redeemer, made them willingly give up their bodies to the fire, for the glory of God, and the propagation of the Christian faith. Their constancy in their sufferings amazed their bloody persecutors, and outwearied the cruelty of their tormentors; nay, they rejoiced in nothing more than that they were accounted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Jesus. And what shall we say of their universal charity and love, which reached their greatest enemies? of their humility and meekness, their justice and temperance, and all those other virtues which many of the heathens themselves observed and admired?
Such were the primitive Christians, our spiritual ancestors;—and tell me now, I pray you, what are we to think of these men? Did they supererogate and go beyond their duty; or were they fools in doing these things, when half the pains might have served the turn? Did heaven and eternal happiness cost them so much labour,—and shall we think to be carried thither fast asleep, or rather while bending all our forces quite another way?
But to come yet nearer to the present purpose,—a serious consideration of the laws and precepts of the gospel will fully convince us of the straitness of the gate, and narrowness of the way, that leads to eternal life. Look through that excellent sermon on the mount, and see what our Saviour requires of his followers: there you will find him enjoining such a profound humility, as shall make us think nothing of ourselves, and be content that others think nothing of us; a meekness which no injuries can overcome, or indignities exasperate; a chastity, which restraineth the seeing of the eyes, and the wandering of the desires; and such an universal charity, as shall make us tender other men's welfare as our own, and never take any revenge against our most bitter enemies, but to wish them well, and to do them all the good we can, whether they shall do the same by us or no.
Thus then we see by what strict rules he must square his actions, who can with any reason hope to be saved. It is now time to turn our view from these necessary qualifications for obtaining an entrance into heaven, and cast our eyes upon the world, to see how the tempers and actions of men agree with them. If we look back upon the old world, we shall see how soon wickedness overspread the earth; and of all the multitudes then in the world, only Noah and his family were found worthy to escape the general deluge; and after that, what was the state of the heathen world, and in general of the visible church of God itself, which was chiefly confined to Palestine?
But leaving those times, let us consider the present;-let us view our cotemporaries, our fellow-Christians so called, those who live in communion with ourselves, and see what is to be thought of their state in general. How many of them shall we find so grossly ignorant, that they even know not the way that leads to life. But besides those, how great is the number of vicious and scandalous persons? Remove but our gluttons and drunkards, our thieves and deceivers, our oppressors and extortioners, our scorners and revilers, our fornicators and adulterers, our blasphemers, our false swearers, and that horrid crew, especially, of common swearers; how should we thin the nations? To what a few comparatively should we quickly be reduced! What shall we say of our other frequent enormities? Alas! virtue and vice seem to have shifted places; evil and good to have changed their names. It is accounted a gallant thing to despise all laws, human and divine; no man is reckoned generous, unless he be extremely ambitious; and it is deemed want of courage to forgive an injury. O Religion, whither art thou fled? In what corner of the world shall we find thee? Shall we search after thee in courts, and the palaces of great men?—but pride and luxury have driven thee thence; and they are too much engaged in the business and pleasures of this world to mind those of another. Shall we seek thee in the cottages of the poor?—but envy and discontent too much lodge there; their outward wants in general take up all their thoughts, and they have little regard for those of their immortal souls.
But religion stands not in negatives. Nothing but the love of God, and its attendant graces, can qualify us for celestial enjoyments—that love of God, which every one readily pretends to; but oh how few are there, comparatively, that understand its meaning, or feel its renovating power!
I am fully convinced, indeed, that when we have said all we can say upon this tremendous subject, there are many who will never be persuaded of the truth of what has been here advanced. "They cannot think it consistent with the goodness and mercy of God, that so great a part of mankind should be eternally miserable." But Oh what folly and madness is this, for sinful men to set rules for the divine goodness, and draw conclusions from it, so contrary to what himself has revealed.
There are thousands of angels continually in the presence of God, and ten thousand times ten thousand that stand about his throne: the glorified who were and shall be saved in infancy, will make perhaps one half of mankind: millions innumerable will be saved during the great millennium: and a glorious multitude of the present and past ages, will be found in the day of judgment accepted in the Beloved, and with his image stamped upon their hearts; though these latter, it is to be feared, will be but a small number in comparison of the adults at large of their respective generations; for except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. See John 3:3.
Sad and lamentable as is the doctrine here insisted on, yet may the consideration of it be very useful to thinking minds. It must needs touch every serious person with grief and trouble, to behold a multitude of people convened together on this globe, and to think that ere thirty or forty years,—or a little more,—or a great deal less, be passed—these all shall go down to the dark and silent grave—and the greater,—far greater part of their souls, be plunged into endless and unspeakable torments! But shall not this then stir us up to the greatest diligence and care for the prevention of so horrible an event? Were the sense of this deeply engraven on all our minds, with what seriousness, with what zeal, would ministers deal with the people committed to their charge; if that by any means they might save some! How would parents, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, friends, employ their diligence, and make use of every method for reclaiming their near relations, and the companions of their most pleasing hours, and for plucking them from the road and brink of hell! Lastly, with what holy violence would each of us apply, through the power of Almighty grace, for saving ourselves from this common ruin, for making our calling and election sure, and thus happily adding to the number of the few that shall be saved.
This is the use to be derived from what we have been here considering. May God Almighty accompany it with his blessing and power to every reader, and render it effectual to so excellent and glorious a purpose.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, We have,
1. A tragical story reported to our Lord by some who were present. Probably, the Galileans mentioned in this chapter had been followers of Judas of Galilee, Act 5:37 of whom Pilate having got information, fell upon them when they came up to the temple to worship, and mingled their blood with their sacrifices. Perhaps, what our Lord had been speaking of the necessity of always watching, and the importance of securing peace with God, gave occasion to the remark: or, as it seems from the sequel, they meant to insinuate, that these must certainly have been very wicked persons who were given up to so dreadful a judgment.
2. Jesus seeks to turn this event to their profit, and to ground thereon an exhortation to repentance. He reproves the uncharitable censure which they seemed to cast on these unhappy men; as such afflictive visitations were no proof of guilt. Nor may we judge of God's love or hatred to any man by the outward dispensations of his Providence. If they meant to reflect on them as Galileans, and thereby to throw some reproach on Christ and his disciples, who were their countrymen, Christ instances a recent calamity of as melancholy a nature that lately happened at Jerusalem, when eighteen persons were suddenly crushed to death by the fall of a tower in Siloam; so that these calamities were not singular, or confined to persons in one place more than another; nor were they to conclude that these men perished, because they were greater sinners than others in Galilee or Jerusalem. But he solemnly warns them, that a heavier doom hung over their heads, except they repented, when their blood too should be shed by the Roman swords in the midst of their sacred solemnities, and they be buried, as the men in the tower of Siloam, under the ruins of their city, and perish temporally and eternally; and this is applicable to every sinner. (1.) His desert is to perish under the wrath of God. (2.) Nothing but repentance can prevent his ruin. (3.) The judgments of God on others are loud warnings to us. (4.) Consciousness of our own sinfulness and provocations should make us very careful how we censure others. (5.) They who are severe in judging, may expect judgment without mercy,
2nd, The parable of the barren fig-tree is designed to enforce the foregoing admonition. It seems primarily to be applicable to the Jewish people, blessed with peculiar advantages, but disappointing God's expectations; yet spared a little longer at the Redeemer's intercession, till having tried them another space, and used in vain the most powerful means for their conversion in the mission of his apostles, at last he devotes them to utter ruin for their unbelief and impenitence, cutting them down as a barren tree, and casting them into the fire. But whatever reference the parable has to them, it is of more extensive use, as containing a warning to all who enjoy the means of grace; and who, if they are not converted by them, will fall under heavier wrath and condemnation.
1. Great was the advantage that this fig-tree enjoyed. It was planted in a vineyard, in the best soil, and under the owner's peculiar care and culture. The church is the vineyard of God; every visible member has a place there, sitting under the rain of gospel doctrine, and blest with the ministerial labours of Christ's faithful servants.
2. The owner justly expected to find fruit on this tree, as the Lord does especially from all who have a place in the church, of whom he requires the fruits of grace and holiness, as well as the leaves of profession.
3. Great indeed was his disappointment: he found none, and therefore complains to the vine-dresser how long he had waited, and how useless was this tree, which impoverished the ground, and occupied the room of one that might be profitable. With much more reason may the Lord complain of many professors, who bring him no honour, and continue barren and unfruitful. He comes from year to year, for three, for thirty, yea, sometimes for threescore years together; so wonderful is his patience and forbearance; and finds them still cumberers of the ground, whose ill example is more extensively pernicious, the longer they are permitted to stand.
4. He dooms it to fall: cut it down; since the tree bore no fruit, it was only fit for the flames. Such is the aweful sentence of God against the impenitent sinner; cut it down, and death is ready to lift the axe! How awful, how alarming the thought!
5. The vine-dresser begs another year; if it be spared he will take fresh pains, it may yet bear, and then all will be well; but if not, he consents to leave the tree to its just doom. Christ is this vine-dresser; at his intercession are sinners spared, and every minister under him fails not in like manner to be an advocate for those among whom he labours. But, (1.) If through the intercession of Jesus our lives be prolonged, and we have another year granted, we should know and improve the day of our visitation. The time is short, reprieves are not pardons; though we are spared never so long, if we continue in our sins, we must perish at the last. (2.) While the Lord spares the sinner, ministers must never be weary of labouring, and should try every method; digging up the heart by the terrors of the law, and seeking to manure it with the quickening influences of the gospel. (3.) It is never too late to amend; the most barren and unfruitful, who through grace at last turn to God, will find mercy with him; the past transgressions shall be forgiven, and the present services accepted. (4.) God's patience, though it bear long, will not bear always; they who provoke and grieve his Holy Spirit by their obstinate impenitence, will at last be left to the destruction they have chosen; and every day of his forbearance which they have abused, shall add a treasure of wrath against the day of wrath.
3rdly, Christ was an unwearied preacher; and, as usual, was now in the synagogue on the sabbath day. To confirm the doctrine that he taught, we are told,
1. The notable miracle which he wrought on an infirm woman who was present. Her case was very pitiable: under the power of Satan, her body was so convulsed and contracted, that she was bent double, and could not stand erect; and as the disorder had been of so long standing as eighteen years, all hope of a cure was despaired of. Yet she crawled to the synagogue, and did not, as many might have done, make her weakness, or deformity, a plea for absenting from God's worship. There the compassionate eye of Jesus remarked her unhappy situation; and, unsolicited, he called and cured her, loosing her from Satan's bonds, and enabling her instantly to stand upright; for which she most heartily expressed her gratitude, glorifying and praising God for this extraordinary and unexpected mercy. Note; (1.) So weak and infirm are our souls by nature, unable to lift up their affections to high and heavenly things, and ever bowed down to earthly and sensual objects. (2.) Christ first seeks us, not we him, and is pleased to call to us in the gospel word, or by the secret influences of his Spirit, that coming to him we might be cured. (3.) The powerful hand of his grace effectually relieves the soul, that uses the power afforded to it to come to him, and saves it from the bondage of guilt and corruption; and when at any time we are afterwards bowed down with fear, and go heavily through manifold temptations, he offers ample strength to the weak. (4.) It is the delight and duty of all who experience his healing power, to glorify him in their lips and in their lives, walking uprightly before him.
2. The envious and malicious ruler of the synagogue, instead of glorifying God for the miracle, hardened with bigotry and prejudice, sharply reprimanded the people, as if the sabbath was violated by their coming to be healed on that day. Note; They who resolve to find fault, and not to be convinced, will cavil against the most glaring evidence.
3. Our Lord justifies his own conduct, and upbraids him with his hypocrisy. The zeal that he pretended for the sabbath, was a mere pretence to hide that enmity which raged in his heart against Christ and his gospel. His own daily practice condemned and confuted his unreasonable and uncharitable censures. None of those who most rigidly observed the sabbath, thought it any breach of the sacred rest, to loose their beast from the stall, and lead him to water. And if an ox or an ass might have such pains bestowed on it upon the sabbath, with how much greater reason did mercy and charity plead, that a human creature, a daughter of Abraham, bound by Satan's power, and so long and so grievously afflicted, should be relieved, when without the least labour it could be done by a single word?
4. The argument was most conclusive, and confusion covered his adversaries; whilst all the people, who were struck with wonder at his miracles, and the force of his reasoning, rejoiced at these glorious works of power and grace which they beheld. Note; Sooner or later all the foes of Christ and his people shall be confounded, and all his faithful triumph in his great salvation.
4thly, We have,
1. Two parables which were before recorded, Matthew 13:31; Mat 13:58 representing the gradual increase of Christ's church, and the secret spreading of the gospel leaven. Though the beginnings were small, as the grain of mustard seed when sown; yet, in process of time, like a fair spreading tree, the kingdom of the Messiah would be erected throughout all the world; and Gentiles, as well as Jews, flock into it. And like leaven, though no external force be employed, the doctrines of truth would insensibly, but powerfully work, till their influence was diffused through all the earth.
2. Our Lord continued his course towards Jerusalem, preaching and teaching in all the cities and villages as he journeyed. Wherever Providence directs our way, we should be glad to improve every opportunity to speak a word for the good of immortal souls. 5thly, We have,
1. The question put to our Lord, Are there few that shall be saved? Perhaps the design of it was captious, to represent him as rigid and uncharitable, or it might be mere curiosity; many being more inquisitive who shall be saved, and who not, than about what they must do to secure their own salvation.
2. Our Lord answers the question in a way which seemed most profitable for the inquirer, directing him at least to give diligence to ensure the salvation of his own soul.
(1.) His exhortation is, Strive to enter in at the strait gate; the way to heaven is difficult; ten thousand obstructions, both without and within, straiten the passage; great diligence and incessant prayer, therefore, are needful; that, strengthened by power from on high, we may be able to hold on, and to hold out, and so to run as to obtain the prize.
(2.) He enforces his exhortation by various motives, [1.] Many will seek to enter in, and shall not be able, willing indeed to go to heaven, but unwilling to use the necessary means; resting in cold formality, or lazy endeavours; bound with the fetters of sloth, or blinded with pride and self-righteousness, and so mistaking the way, or coming short of the kingdom. [2.] If the present moment be neglected, it will shortly be too late. The door of mercy through the gospel, which is now open, will soon be shut, when Jesus, the Master of the house, in death or judgment, will require the sinner's soul; and then the most importunate cries will be unavailing: it is now or never that prayer can profit us. [3.] Many who entertained the most confident hopes of heaven, will be found to have a lie in their right hand. They will knock as if they had a right to admission, plead relation to Christ as their Lord, that they were constant attendants on his word, and communicants at his table; yet will Christ utterly disown them in that day, and drive them with indignation from his presence, as workers of iniquity: whatever pretences to religion they made, their hearts were not whole with him; their professions were hypocritical, and secret sins were harboured, delighted in, and gratified. Doomed therefore to be thrust into outer darkness, with every dreadful expression of horror and despair, with weeping and gnashing of teeth, in vain shall they bewail their folly; and, pining with envy and vexation, shall behold the patriarchs, prophets, and saints of God in glory exalted, and enjoying those unutterable delights of the heavenly kingdom, from which themselves must be eternally excluded; the sight of which will aggravate every pang that they feel. How aweful a scene! what diligence, what carefulness should it beget in us, that we come not into this place of torment. How jealous need we be over our hearts, that we rest not in outward privileges, and deceive not ourselves with vain hopes: thousands have gone out of this world dreaming of heaven, and have awaked in hell.
6thly, Christ's inveterate enemies are ceaseless in their malice, seeking to distress and destroy him. 1. Certain Pharisees, pretending regard for his safety, brought him information that his life was in danger from Herod: either this was a contrivance of their own, who wanted to get rid of Christ, whose preaching and practice so reproved and cut them to the heart; or it may be, Herod employed them to drive Christ out of his dominions, being willing enough to have done him a mischief, but fearing the consequences of attempting to seize him, because of his interest in the people. Note; It is no unusual artifice with wicked men to seek, by suggestions of danger, to deter the faithful from their duty.
2. Christ defies Herod's menaces. Go, says he, tell that fox, whose craft, treachery, and rapine were notorious, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to-day and to-morrow; not desisting from his work, not intimidated with these threatenings; and the third day I shall be perfected, shortly my sufferings will be finished, and by my death I shall complete the great work of atonement: and till then, it is neither in the power of Herod, or any of the emissaries of hell, to stop me in my work, and take away my life. Nevertheless, as my hour is not yet come, I must walk to-day and to-morrow, and the day following, continuing his ministry in Galilee, without fear of interruption: for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem, where alone the great council sat, to whom it belonged to judge those who laid claim to the gift of prophesy, and to put to death those whom they counted impostors.
3. On this occasion, at the mention of Jerusalem, Christ laments over her by reason of her wickedness, and foretells the wrath ready to descend on that devoted city. Through wilful ignorance, not knowing the day of her visitation, she was abandoned to ruin; and too late would be convinced of his divine mission, and wish for a part in his salvation, when he should come, in the great day, to pour the vials of his eternal wrath on those who had rejected him.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Luke 13". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent