Christ reproves the interpreters of the law. (1-12) A caution against covetousness The parable of the rich man. (13-21) Worldly care reproved. (22-40) Watchfulness enforced. (41-53) A warning to be reconciled to God. (54-59)
Verses 1-12 A firm belief of the doctrine of God's universal providence, and the extent of it, would satisfy us when in peril, and encourage us to trust God in the way of duty. Providence takes notice of the meanest creatures, even of the sparrows, and therefore of the smallest interests of the disciples of Christ. Those who confess Christ now, shall be owned by him in the great day, before the angels of God. To deter us from denying Christ, and deserting his truths and ways, we are here assured that those who deny Christ, though they may thus save life itself, and though they may gain a kingdom by it, will be great losers at last; for Christ will not know them, will not own them, nor show them favour. But let no trembling, penitent backslider doubt of obtaining forgiveness. This is far different from the determined enmity that is blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, which shall never be forgiven, because it will never be repented of.
Verses 13-21 Christ's kingdom is spiritual, and not of this world. Christianity does not meddle with politics; it obliges all to do justly, but wordly dominion is not founded in grace. It does not encourage expectations of worldly advantages by religion. The rewards of Christ's disciples are of another nature. Covetousness is a sin we need constantly to be warned against; for happiness and comfort do not depend on the wealth of this world. The things of the world will not satisfy the desires of a soul. Here is a parable, which shows the folly of carnal worldling while they live, and their misery when they die. The character drawn is exactly that of a prudent, worldly man, who has no grateful regard to the providence of God, nor any right thought of the uncertainty of human affairs, the worth of his soul, or the importance of eternity. How many, even among professed Christians, point out similar characters as models for imitation, and proper persons to form connexions with! We mistake if we think that thoughts are hid, and thoughts are free. When he saw a great crop upon his ground, instead of thanking God for it, or rejoicing to be able to do more good, he afflicts himself. What shall I do now? The poorest beggar in the country could not have said a more anxious word. The more men have, the more perplexity they have with it. It was folly for him to think of making no other use of his plenty, than to indulge the flesh and gratify the sensual appetites, without any thought of doing good to others. Carnal worldlings are fools; and the day is coming when God will call them by their own name, and they will call themselves so. The death of such persons is miserable in itself, and terrible to them. Thy soul shall be required. He is loth to part with it; but God shall require it, shall require an account of it, require it as a guilty soul to be punished without delay. It is the folly of most men, to mind and pursue that which is for the body and for time only, more than that for the soul and eternity.
Verses 22-40 Christ largely insisted upon this caution not to give way to disquieting, perplexing cares, ( Matthew 6:25-34 ) . The arguments here used are for our encouragement to cast our care upon God, which is the right way to get ease. As in our stature, so in our state, it is our wisdom to take it as it is. An eager, anxious pursuit of the things of this world, even necessary things, ill becomes the disciples of Christ. Fears must not prevail; when we frighten ourselves with thoughts of evil to come, and put ourselves upon needless cares how to avoid it. If we value the beauty of holiness, we shall not crave the luxuries of life. Let us then examine whether we belong to this little flock. Christ is our Master, and we are his servants; not only working servants, but waiting servants. We must be as men that wait for their lord, that sit up while he stays out late, to be ready to receive him. In this Christ alluded to his own ascension to heaven, his coming to call his people to him by death, and his return to judge the world. We are uncertain as to the time of his coming to us, we should therefore be always ready. If men thus take care of their houses, let us be thus wise for our souls. Be ye therefore ready also; as ready as the good man of the house would be, if he knew at what hour the thief would come.
Verses 41-53 All are to take to themselves what Christ says in his word, and to inquire concerning it. No one is left so ignorant as not to know many things to be wrong which he does, and many things to be right which he neglects; therefore all are without excuse in their sin. The bringing in the gospel dispensation would occasion desolations. Not that this would be the tendency of Christ's religion, which is pure, peaceable, and loving; but the effect of its being contrary to men's pride and lusts. There was to be a wide publication of the gospel. But before that took place, Christ had a baptism to be baptized with, far different from that of water and the Holy Spirit. He must endure sufferings and death. It agreed not with his plan to preach the gospel more widely, till this baptism was completed. We should be zealous in making known the truth, for though divisions will be stirred up, and a man's own household may be his foes, yet sinners will be converted, and God will be glorified.
Verses 54-59 Christ would have the people to be as wise in the concerns of their souls as they are in outward affairs. Let them hasten to obtain peace with God before it is too late. If any man has found that God has set himself against him concerning his sins, let him apply to him as God in Christ reconciling the world to himself. While we are alive, we are in the way, and now is our time.
Luke 12:1-12 . WARNING AGAINST HYPOCRISY.
1-3. meantime--in close connection, probably, with the foregoing scene. Our Lord had been speaking out more plainly than ever before, as matters were coming to a head between Him and His enemies, and this seems to have suggested to His own mind the warning here. He had just Himself illustriously exemplified His own precepts.
his disciples first of all--afterwards to "the multitudes" ( Luke 12:54 ).
covered--from the view.
2. hid--from knowledge. "Tis no use concealing anything, for all will one day come out. Give free and fearless utterance then to all the truth." (Compare 1 Corinthians 4:3 1 Corinthians 4:5 ).
4, 5. I say, &c.--You will say, That may cost us our life. Be it so; but, "My friends, there their power ends." He calls them "my friends" here, not in any loose sense, but, as we think, from the feeling He then had that in this "killing of the body" He and they were going to be affectingly one with each other.
5. Fear Him . . . Fear Him--how striking the repetition here! Only the one fear would effectually expel the other.
after he hath killed, &c.--Learn here--(1) To play false with one's convictions to save one's life, may fail of its end after all, for God can inflict a violent death in some other and equally formidable way. (2) There is a hell, it seems, for the body as well as the soul; consequently, sufferings adapted to the one as well as the other. (3) Fear of hell is a divinely authorized and needed motive of action even to Christ's "friends." (4) As Christ's meekness and gentleness were not compromised by such harsh notes as these, so those servants of Christ lack their Master's spirit who soften down all such language to please ears "polite."
6, 7. five . . . for two farthings--In Matthew 10:29 it is "two for one farthing"; so if one took two farthings' worth, he got one in addition--of such small value were they.
than many sparrows--not "than millions of sparrows"; the charm and power of our Lord's teaching is very much in this simplicity.
8, 9. confess . . . deny--The point lies in doing it "before men," because one has to do it "despising the shame." But when done, the Lord holds Himself bound to repay it in kind by confessing such "before the angels of God." For the rest,
10. Son of man . . . Holy
Luke 12:13-53 . COVETOUSNESS--WATCHFULNESS--SUPERIORITY TO EARTHLY TIES.
13. Master, &c.--that is, "Great Preacher of righteousness, help; there is need of Thee in this rapacious world; here am I the victim of injustice, and that from my own brother, who withholds from me my rightful share of the inheritance that has fallen to us." In this most inopportune intrusion upon the solemnities of our Lord's teaching, there is a mixture of the absurd and the irreverent, the one, however, occasioning the other. The man had not the least idea that his case was not of as urgent a nature, and as worthy the attention of our Lord, as anything else He could deal with.
14. Man, &c.--Contrast this style of address with "my friends," ( Luke 12:4 ).
who, &c.--a question literally repudiating the office which Moses assumed ( Exodus 2:14 ). The influence of religious teachers in the external relations of life has ever been immense, when only the INDIRECT effect of their teaching; but whenever they intermeddle DIRECTLY with secular and political matters, the spell of that influence is broken.
15. unto them--the multitude around Him ( Luke 12:1 ).
of covetousness--The best copies have "all," that is, "every kind of covetousness"; because as this was one of the more plausible forms of it, so He would strike at once at the root of the evil.
a man's life, &c.--a singularly weighty maxim, and not less so because its meaning and its truth are equally evident.
16-19. a certain rich man, &c.--Why is this man called a "fool?" ( Luke 12:20 ) (1) Because he deemed a life of secure and abundant earthly enjoyment the summit of human felicity. (2) Because, possessing the means of this, through prosperity in his calling, he flattered himself that he had a long lease of such enjoyment, and nothing to do but give himself up to it. Nothing else is laid to his charge.
20, 21. this night, &c.--This sudden cutting short of his career is designed to express not only the folly of building securely upon the future, but of throwing one's whole soul into what may at any moment be gone. "Thy soul shall be required of thee" is put in opposition to his own treatment of it, "I will say to my soul, Soul," &c.
whose shall those things be, &c.--Compare Psalms 39:6 , "He heapeth up riches and knoweth not who shall gather them."
21. So is he, &c.--Such is a picture of his folly here, and of its awful issue. and is not rich toward God--lives to amass and enjoy riches which terminate on self, but as to the riches of God's favor, which is life ( Psalms 30:5 ), of "precious" faith ( 2 Peter 1:1 , 2:5 ), of good works ( 1 Timothy 6:18 ), of wisdom which is better than rubies ( Proverbs 8:11 )--lives and dies a beggar!
25, 26. which of you, &c.--Corroding solicitude will not bring you the least of the things ye fret about, though it may double the evil of wanting them. And if not the least, why vex yourselves about things of more consequence?
29. of doubtful, &c.--unsettled mind; put off your balance.
32. little flock, &c.--How sublime and touching a contrast between this tender and pitying appellation, "Little flock" (in the original a double diminutive, which in German can be expressed, but not in English)--and the "good pleasure" of the Father to give them the Kingdom; the one recalling the insignificance and helplessness of that then literal handful of disciples, the other holding up to their view the eternal love that encircled them, the everlasting arms that were underneath them, and the high inheritance awaiting them!--"the kingdom"; grand word; then why not "bread" ( Luke 12:31 [BENGEL]). Well might He say, "Fear not!"
33, 34. Sell, &c.--This is but a more vivid expression of Matthew 6:19-21
35-40. loins . . . girded--to fasten up the long outer garment, always done before travel and work ( 2 Kings 4:29 , Acts 12:8 ). The meaning is, Be in readiness.
36. return from the wedding--not come to it, as in the parable of the virgins. Both have their spiritual significance; but preparedness for Christ's coming is the prominent idea.
37. gird himself, &c.--"a promise the most august of all: Thus will the Bridegroom entertain his friends (nay, servants) on the solemn Nuptial Day" [BENGEL].
38. second . . . third watch--To find them ready to receive Him at any hour of day or night, when one might least of all expect Him, is peculiarly blessed. A servant may be truly faithful, even though taken so far unawares that he has not everything in such order and readiness for his master's return as he thinks is due to him, and both could and would have had if he had had notice of the time of his coming, and so may not be willing to open to him "immediately," but fly to preparation, and let his master knock again ere he admit him, and even then not with full joy. A too common case this with Christians. But if the servant have himself and all under his charge in such a state that at any hour when his master knocks, he can open to him "immediately," and hail his "return"--that is the most enviable, "blessed" servant of all.
41-48. unto us or even to all?--us the Twelve, or all this vast audience?
42. Who then, &c.--answering the question indirectly by another question, from which they were left to gather what it would be:--To you certainly in the first instance, representing the "stewards" of the "household" I am about to collect, but generally to all "servants" in My house.
faithful and wise--Fidelity is the first requisite in a servant, wisdom (discretion and judgment in the exercise of his functions), the next.
steward--house steward, whose it was to distribute to the servants their allotted portion of food.
shall make--will deem fit to be made.
44. make him ruler over all he hath--will advance him to the highest post, referring to the world to come. (See Matthew 25:21 Matthew 25:23 ).
45. begin to beat, &c.--In the confidence that his Lord's return will not be speedy, he throws off the role of servant and plays the master, maltreating those faithful servants who refuse to join him, seizing on and revelling in the fulness of his master's board; intending, when he has got his fill, to resume the mask of fidelity ere his master appear.
46. cut him in sunder--a punishment not unknown in the East; compare Hebrews 11:37 , "sawn asunder" ( 1 Samuel 15:33 , Daniel 2:5 ).
the unbelievers--the unfaithful, those unworthy of trust ( Matthew 24:51 ), "the hypocrites," falsely calling themselves "servants."
48. knew not--that is knew but partially; for some knowledge is presupposed both in the name "servant" of Christ, and his being liable to punishment at all.
many . . . few stripes--degrees of future punishment proportioned to the knowledge sinned against. Even heathens are not without knowledge enough for future judgment; but the reference here is not to such. It is a solemn truth, and though general, like all other revelations of the future world, discloses a tangible and momentous principle in its awards.
49-53. to send--cast.
fire--"the higher spiritual element of life which Jesus came to introduce into this earth (compare Matthew 3:11 ), with reference to its mighty effects in quickening all that is akin to it and destroying all that is opposed. To cause this element of life to take up its abode on earth, and wholly to pervade human hearts with its warmth, was the lofty destiny of the Redeemer" [OLSHAUSEN: so CALVIN, STIER, ALFORD, &c.].
what will I, &c.--an obscure expression, uttered under deep and half-smothered emotion. In its general import all are agreed; but the nearest to the precise meaning seems to be, "And what should I have to desire if it were once already kindled?" [BENGEL and BLOOMFIELD].
50. But . . . a baptism, &c.--clearly, His own bloody baptism, first to take place.
how . . . straitened--not, "how do I long for its accomplishment," as many understand it, thus making it but a repetition of Luke 12:49 ; but "what a pressure of spirit is upon Me."
till it be accomplished--till it be over. Before a promiscuous audience, such obscure language was fit on a theme like this; but oh, what surges of mysterious emotion in the view of what was now so near at hand does it reveal!
51. peace . . . ? Nay, &c.--the reverse of peace, in the first instance. all this with the foregoing warnings about hypocrisy, covetousness, and watchfulness, is deeply solemn: "My conflict hasten apace; Mine over, yours begins; and then, let the servants tread in their Master's steps, uttering their testimony entire and fearless, neither loving nor dreading the world, anticipating awful wrenches of the dearest ties in life, but looking forward, as I do, to the completion of their testimony, when, reaching the haven after the tempest, they shall enter into the joy of their Lord."
Luke 12:54-59 . NOT DISCERNING THE SIGNS OF THE TIME.
54. to the people--"the multitude," a word of special warning to the thoughtless crowd, before dismissing them.
56. how . . . not discern, &c.--unable to perceive what a critical period that was for the Jewish Church.
57. why even of yourselves, &c.--They might say, To do this requires more knowledge of Scripture and providence than we possess; but He sends them to their own conscience, as enough to show them who He was, and win them to immediate discipleship.
58. When thou goest, The urgency of the case with them, and the necessity, for their own safety, of immediate decision, was the object of these striking words.