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There were two eminent sects among the Jews in our Saviour's time, namely, the Herodians and Galileans; the former stood stiffly for having tribute paid to the Roman emperor, whose subjects the Jews now were; but the Galileans (so called probably from Judas of Galilee, mentioned Acts 5:37) opposed this tribute, and often raised rebellion against the Roman power. Pilate takes the opportunity when these Galileans were come up at the passover, and sacrificing in the temple, to fall upon them with his soldiers, and barbarously mingled their own blood with the blood of the sacrifices which they offered; neither the holiness of the place (the temple) nor the sacredness of the action (sacrificing) could divert Pilate from his barbarous impiety. Our Saviour, understanding that some of his hearers then present concluded these persons to be the greatest sinners, because they were the greatest sufferers, he corrects their errors in this matter, and assures them, that the same or like judgments did hang over all other sinners, as well as these, if timely and sincere repentance prevented not.
1. That a violent and sudden death is no argument of God's disfavor.
2. That notwithstanding persons are exceeding prone to pass rash censures and an uncharitable judgment upon such as die suddenly, especially if they die violently.
3. That none justly can conclude such persons to have been the greatest sinners, who have been in this world the most signal sufferers.
4. That the best use we can make of such instances and examples of God's severity, is to examine our own lives, and by a speedy repentance to prevent our own perdition: I tell you, Nay, etc.
Another instance our Saviour gives of persons that fell by a sudden death, even eighteen that were slain by the fall of a tower in Jerusalem. He takes occasion from thence to caution the Jews, that they did not rigidly censure the sufferers, or conclude that those have wrought the most sin, who are brought to most shame. Oh, how ready are we to judge of men's eternal condition, by their present visitation; and to conclude them the greatest offenders, upon whom God inflicts the most visible punishments! Our Saviour forbids this, and advises every one to look at home, telling the whole body of the Jews, that if they did not repent, they should all likewise perish, and that two ways:
1. By as certain a punishment as these did.
2. Ye shall likewise perish, by the same kind of punishment; you shall perish by the ruin of your whole city, as they did by the downfall of that tower, if a timely and sincere repentance does not intervene.
Learn hence, that we must judge of persons by their conversation towards God, and not by God's dispensation towards them; all things here fall alike to all. A sudden death, yea, a violent death, as it comes upon many men, so it may come upon the best of men, as well as others: think not, says Christ, that those eighteen were sinners above all that dwelt in Jerusalem, because they sufferd such things, I tell you, Nay; but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.
Teaching us, that repentance is the only way and means to prevent punishment here, and perishing hereafter: Except ye repent, ye shall perish.
Our blessed Saviour, that he might excite the Jews to the practice of the last mentioned duty of repentance, sets forth his long-suffering with them, and forbearance towards them, by the parable of the fig tree, which the Master of the vineyard had long expected fruit there from, but found none.
Where note, 1. The great care that God takes to make poor sinners happy; he plants them in his church, as in a vineyard, that by the cultivating care of his ministers, and the fructifying influences of his Spirit, they may be fruitful in good works.
Note, 2. That God keeps an exact account or reckoning, what means and advantages every place and people have enjoyed; These three years have I come seeking fruit, alluding to the three years of his own ministry among them. God keeps a memorial how many years the gospel has been amongst a people, how many ministers they have had, and how long with them, what pathetical exhortations, what pressing admonitions, what cutting reproofs; all are upon the file, and must be accounted for.
Learn, 3. That God expects suitable and proportionable fruit from a people, according to the time of their standing in his vineyard, and answering to the cost and culture which his ministers have expended upon them, and the pains they have taken with them.
Note farther, 4. That although God does and justly may expect fruit from such as are planted, in his vineyard, to with, the Christian church, yet he expects it with much patience and forbearnace, waiting from year to year, to see if time will work amendment. These three years I have come seeking fruit, and found none.
Lastly, if after all the cost that God has bestowed upon a people by his ministers and ordinances, they continue unfruitful, there is nothing to be expected but excision and final destruction: Cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground?
Observe here, 1. The vine-dresser's petition and request, Lord, let it alone this year also. This points out unto us the office and duty of the ministers of God, who are laborers in his vineyard, to be intercessors with God, for sparing a barren and unfruitful people. Lord, spare them a little longer, Let alone this year also. If they cannot absolutely prevent judgment coming upon an unfruitful people, yet they endeavor to respite it, and delay its coming all they can.
Observe, 2. The condition upon which the vine-dresser's petition is grounded, Till I shall dig about it, and dung it; phrases which intimate unto us the nature and quality of the ministerial work and service, signifying it to be a very difficult and laborious service. Digging is a painful work, and a spending work: and such is our ministerial work, if followed as it ought to be. We deal in mysteries, in the deep things of God, which are not received without much digging.
Observe, 3. A double supposition here made by the vine-dresser:
First, of future fruitfulness; If it bear fruit, well.
Secondly, of future incorrigibleness; If not, after that thou shalt cut it down.
Here is a supposition of future fruitfulness; If it bear fruit, well; that is, it will be well for the Master of the vineyard; herein is he glorified, when his fig trees bear much fruit: well for the dresser of the vineyard; it rejoices the ministers of God to see their people bring forth fruit unto God: well for the vineyard, and the rest of the trees that are in it: but more especially well for the tree itself, thereby avoiding the punishment of barrenness, and procuring the reward of fruitfulness; thus, If it bear fruit, well.
Here is a supposition of future incorrigibleness, After that thou shalt cut it down: that is, after thou hast spared it, and I have pruned it; after thy patience and my pains; after thou hast forborne it, and I have manured it, digged and dunged it; if after all this, it bear no fruit, then I have not a word more to say, Thou shalt cut it down. Thou may cut it down, nobody will go about to hinder thee.
From hence learn, that a people's continued unfruitfulness under the means of grace, does in time take off the prayers and intercessions of the ministers of God for them, and provokes God to bring his judgments unavoidably and irrevocably upon them: After that thou shalt cut it down.
Observe here, 1. The afflicted person, a woman which had a sore disease inflicted upon her by the devil for eighteen years, which almost bowed her together. There is nothing that the devil delights more in, than the miseries and calamities of mankind. Satan is not satisfied barely to infect the mind, and poison the souls of men; but he delights to afflict and hurt the body, where and when he can obtain leave.
Observe, 2. Christ's compassion towards her, and his miraculous healing of her; Jesus called her to him, and with a word speaking, healed her.
Where note, that the inveterateness of the disease, and the instant- aneousness of the cure, made the miracle evident. She that had been bowed down eighteen years, in an instant is made straight, and only by a word of Christ's mouth. Such a miraculous operation was an evident testimony of his divine mission, that he was the Son of God.
Observe, 3. How the heart of the poor woman is affected with Christ's hand: she glorified God; that is, she gave thanks to God, and attributed the miracle to him. As the chief end of all God's extraordinary works, either of power or mercy, is the exaltation of his own glory; so the only way that we can set forth his glory, is by celebrating his praises, and expressing our own thankfulness: He that offereth me praises and thanks, glorifies me, Psalms 50:23.
Observe, 4. The unreasonable anger and unjust indignation, which was found with the ruler of the synagogue against our holy Lord for working this miraculous cure on the sabbath day. There is no person so holy, no action so innocent, but may fall under unjust censure, especially where malice and ignorance are combined. What a severe reflection does this man make upon our blessed Lord for performing a work of mercy on the sabbath day!
Observe, 5. Our Lord's vindication of himself from calumny and false accusation;
1. He charges his accusers with hyprocrisy. Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you loose his ox or his ass from the stall on the sabbath day, and water him? It is one note of an hypocrite, to condemn that in another which he does himself: the Jews held it lawful to loose and lead a beast to watering on the sabbath day, which was a work of servile labor; and yet would condemn Christ for healing a poor woman only with a word speaking.
2. Christ vindicates his own action, by comparing it with theirs, which they judged lawful on the sabbath day: Was their loosing and watering the beast a work of necessity? Much more was his. Was theirs a work of mercy? His much more. Their compassion was to a brute beast, his to a rational creature, to a woman, and that not a stranger, an heathen woman; but one of their own, a Jewish woman, a daughter of Abraham. No, farther, Christ's act was an act of far greater necessity, and more special mercy, than theirs. The beast might live a day without water; the beast might not be sick: but this woman was in sore distress, and had been so for eighteen years; no, she was in the hands of the enemy of mankind, bound by Satan. Was it not then a greater act of mercy and compassion to loose her, than to lead a beast?
Observe, 6. What effect our Lord's vindication of himself had upon the hearers of it: His adversaries were ashamed, and the people rejoiced, verse 17. His accusers were ashamed, and probably convinced, perhaps silenced; but we read not that they confessed their error, or acknow-ledged their unjust censure, or craved Christ's pardon.
When persons judgments are under conviction of an error or mistake, it is very hard to bring themselves to confess and own their mistake, because all men stand very much upon the credit and reputation of their understandings, and look upon it as a reproach to own themselves mistaken; though it is really otherwise. But though our Saviour's adversaries were only ashamed, others rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him.
Our Saviour's design in both these parables, is to keep his disciples and followers from being offended at the small beginnings of his kingdom, and to foretell the future great success of the gospel, notwithstanding the present small appearance of the efficacy of it.
To this purpose he compares the kingdom of God, that is the gospel church, to a grain of mustard seed, which being one of the least seeds, yet in that country grew into so large a tree, that the birds did roost and lodge in the boughs of it. He also likens it to leaven, which quickly diffuses itself through the whole mass and lump, instantly turning a great heap of meal into its own nature. Christ shows hereby of what a spreading nature the doctrine of the gospel would be, notwithstanding all the malice and opposition of wicked men.
Learn hence, that how small beginnings soever the gospel had in its first plantation, yet by the fructifying blessing of God, and the influence of the Holy Spirit, it has had and shall have, a wonderful increase.
Observe here, 1. The unwearied pains and diligence of our holy Lord in preaching and publishing the glad tidings of the gospel to lost sinners: He went through the cities and villages teaching; not in great and populous cities only, but in poor and obscure villages also; not preaching by his exemplary life only, but by his holy doctrine likewise. Let such preachers, who look upon the work of preaching as the least part of their business, consider the indefatigable pains which our Lord took in that work; and how will his diligence shame our negligence!
Observe, 2. A curious question put to our Saviour concerning the number of those that should be saved, whether they should be few or many: Lord, are there few that be saved?
Where note, how curiously inquisitive we naturally are after the knowledge of things that do not concern us, how forward to pry into unrevealed secrets, and to search into God's hidden counsel; it concerns us rather to understand what sort of persons shall be saved, than how many shall be saved, and to make sure that we be of that sort.
Observe, 3. Our Saviour gives no direct answer to the curiousity of this inquiry, but turns his speech from him to the people: Jesus said unto them, strive to enter in at the strait gate, etc. For the clear understanding of which expression we must know, that Christ alludes to the feasts and marriage suppers among the Jews: they that were invited did enter by a gate which was very strait and narrow; and as soon as the invited were once entered, the gate was shut, and opened no more. Here Christ bids them strive to enter into the kingdom of heaven, before the gate is shut against them, and their entrance, by means of their coming too late, be made impossible to them: Strive to enter...for many will seek, etc.
1. The metaphor which Christ is pleased to set forth heaven, and the happiness of a future state, by; he compares it to a strait gate: to a gate, to denote the possibility of entering; to a strait gate, to denote the difficulty of entrance: a gate supposes the entrance possible, but a strait gate bespeaks the entrance difficult.
2. Here is a duty urged and enforced upon all those that expect the happiness of another life, and desire to enter in at this strait gate, and that is, a diligent and industrious striving: Strive to enter in at the strait gate.
3. We have a forcible argument and motive to excite and quicken us to the practice of this duty, drawn from the paucity, or small number, of those that shall obtain salvation in a dying hour: Many will seek to enter in, but shall not be able.
1. That heaven or the happiness of a future state, is attainable.
2. That it is not attainable without labor and difficulty.
3. That all those difficulties may be happily overcome by a diligent and industrious striving.
Our Saviour having exhorted all his followers, in the foregoing verses, to make sure of heaven and salvation to themselves, while the door of hope and salvation is open to them, by this parable of a master of a family inviting guests to his table, waiting for their coming, and at last shutting the door against them, because they either denied or delayed coming, Christ hereby represented to the Jews the great danger they were in, if they neglected the present season of grace and salvation, which now they did enjoy; telling them farther how little it would profit them at the day of judgment, to allege that they had eaten and drank in his presence, and that they had heard him preach in their streets, if they did not forsake their sins, and obey his gospel.
Adding farther, that it would be an heart piercing sorrow, a soul rendering grief to them at the great day, to see not only the patriarchs and prophets, and other Jews, but even the despised Gentiles from all quarters and nations, whom they thought accursed, admitted into the kingdom of heaven, and themselves eternally shut out: For the last shall be first, and the first last: that is, the Gentiles who were afar off shall receive the gospel, when you for rejecting it shall be cast off.
From the whole note,
1. That there is a determined time when souls must (if ever) accept of the offers of grace and salvation, which are made unto them; now is the door open, and persons invited in.
2. That however long Jesus Christ, who now stands at every one of our doors waiting for our compliance with his gospel terms, will wait no longer upon us, nor strive any further by the motions of his Spirit with us: When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door.
3. That doleful is the condition of such miserable souls against whom the door is shut; the door of repentance, the door of hope, the door of salvation; all shut, eternally shut; and that by him who shuts, and none can open.
4. That all would be saved at last; all will cry for mercy when it is too late, even such as now sinfully undervalue, and scornfully despise it: Ye shall stand without and knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.
5. That is no good plea for admittance into heaven, because we have been church members here on earth: no outward privileges, though Christ has taught in our streets; no external acts of communion, though we have eaten and drunk in his presence, and at his holy table; will justify our hopes of entering into heaven when we die, if we be workers of iniquity while we live: Lord, we have eaten and drunk in thy presence; but he shall say, I know ye not, ye workers of iniquity.
6. That as hell will be a second heaven to the glorified, so heaven will be a second hell to the damned. Hell will be second heaven to the glorified, that is, it will add exceedingly to the happiness of the saints in heaven, to see and be sensible of that misery which they escaped, and the damned endure; and on the other hand, heaven will be a second hell to the damned, that is, it will increase their torments, and add to the vexation of their spirits, to see some in heaven whom they little expected to see there; some that never saw nor heard, nor enjoyed what they have done; strangers, yea, heathens taken in, when the children of the kingdom, that is, the members of the visible church, are shut out: They shall come from the east, from the west, from the north, and from the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God, but the children of the kingdom shall be cast into outer darkness.
It may seem strange that the Pharisees, who had no kindness for our Saviour, should come here and acquaint him with a danger that he was in from Herod: Get thee hence, for Herod will kill thee. It is probable they had a design to drive him out of the country, because his reputation was so great amongst the people, who were admirers of his person, hearers of his doctrine, and witnesses of his miracles. But what intention soever they had in acquainting Christ with his danger, it is very evident that our Saviour slighted it, by the messsage which he sent to Herod; Go and tell that fox. Where we must not suppose, that our Lord did fix this name of fox upon Herod as an opprobrious title, thereby reflecting the least dishonor upon him as a king; but it was as a prophet, to let him know, that being about his Father's work, he feared neither his power nor his policy; neither his cruelty nor his craft; and that nothing should take him off from finishing the work of man's redemption.
Learn hence, that when God calls forth any of his servants to any special service for him, all the combined power and policy of the prince of darkeness and his instruments, shall never be able to hinder them, until they have finished their course, and done the service which God designed: I must work today, and tomorrow, and the day following; as if Christ had said, "Let Herod know that my time is not in his hand, and, as to this matter, I am not under his command or power; however long my work will be finished, and then I shall be perfected."
Observe here, that to impose this ignominious but agreeable name on Herod, is not contrary to the command, not to speak evil of the ruler of the people; it being the office of a prophet, not to spare kings when they reprove their offences. Accordingly Christ here uses his prophetic call and power, in giving this tyrant a name so suitable to his actions: Go and tell that fox, from me, a prophet sent of God, and therefore authorized so to style him, that I am hastening to Jerusalem to lay down my life there, not fearing to be killed by him in the way; for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem, where the Sanhedrin sit, who are to pass judgment upon me. Dr. Whitby.
Our Lord concludes this chapter with a compassionate lamentation over Jerusalem, the place where he was to suffer. His ingemination, or doubling of the word, O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, shows the vehemency of his affection towards them, and the sincerity of his desires for their salvation.
Observe, 1. The kindness and compassion of Christ to the Jews in general, and Jerusalem in particular, set forth by a lively metaphor and similitude, namely, that of a hen gathering her chickens under her wings. As the hen does tenderly cherish, and carefully hide and cover her young from the eye of the destroyer; so would Christ have shrouded and sheltered this people from all those birds of prey, and particularly from the Roman eagle, by whose talons they were at last destoyed.
Again, as the hen continues her call to her young ones from morning to night, and holds out her wings for shelter to them all the day long, so did Christ wait for this people's repentance and conversion; for it was more than forty years after they had killed his prophets, and murdered himself, before they met with a final overthrow.
Observe, 2. The amazing obstinacy and willfulness of this people in rejecting the grace and favor, the kindness and condescension, of the Lord Jesus Christ: I would have gathered you, but ye would not.
Observe, 3. The fatal issue of this obstinacy: Behold your house is left unto you desolate; is left, that is, certainly and suddenly will be left desolate (the present tense being put for the paulo post futurum), which denotes the certainty and proximity of this people's ruin.
Learn, 1. That the ruin and destruction of sinners is wholly chargeable upon themselves, that is, on their own willfuness and impenitency, on their own obstinacy and obduracy. I would have gathered you, says Christ, but ye would not.
Learn, 2. How deplorably and inexcusably they will perish, who perish by their own willfulness and obduracy under the gospel.
Learn, 3. That there is no desire like unto God's desire of a people's repentance, no longing like unto God's longing for a people's salvation: O Jerusalem, how oft would I have gathered thee! When shall it once be?
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Luke 13". Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT. https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent