Reminiscences of a Lecture on Luke 12*

Luke 12  •  28 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Torquay, Nov. 12th, 1863.
That which characterizes this chapter is that in it the Lord Jesus is bringing in the light of God upon everything in this world, everything that in any way connects itself with His people's passage through it. He takes up all they would have to meet with in their course, up to its very end, and brings in the light of God upon it. He marks the false profession of religion by which they would be surrounded, the hostility of the world, by whom He had been rejected, the fears and cares of His disciples, the testimony they were called to bear, the pursuits and aims of men, the gracious care of God on behalf of His own, marking here a morass, where men sink and perish, and there showing the bright issue of a heavenly course, mapping out in infinite goodness every part of the road His disciples would have to travel. And there is infinite grace in this. For it is not only bringing in the light, which makes all things manifest, but it is infinite grace in the Lord Jesus so to interest Himself with the path and circumstances of His people in this world as to take up everything for them, in order to bring in the light of God upon every step of the way, which He so wonderfully marks out for them beforehand.
The first thing that is presented in the chapter is the warning against the leaven of the Pharisees. " He began to say unto his disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy." This is one of the more common and grosser forms of evil, and does not therefore call for much remark. It was a false profession of religion, a zeal for outward forms and observances, without any reality or conscience. It was worthless: it would not bear the light. The evil and folly of it are shown by the declaration that everything is to be brought into the light. " There is nothing covered that shall not be revealed, neither hid that shall not be known." This is general and shows the worthlessness of that which is warned against. But He adds to His disciples " Therefore whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light; and that which ye have spoken in the ear in closets shall be proclaimed upon the housetops." He shows them that there is nothing which will not eventually be brought out into the full daylight, and have its real character thoroughly manifested. Everything will be brought openly out. They are to act on the conviction that nothing will be allowed to remain concealed. All will be disclosed. Their testimony also, in whatever obscurity it might have been borne, would be brought fully out. What they had spoken in the utmost privacy would in the most public manner possible be proclaimed. And they were not acting rightly, or according to the truth of their position, if they were not prepared for this.
He next warns against being afraid of the power and hostility of men; for He well knew the hatred which the world would always bear to those who were witnesses for Him. " I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear. Fear him which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell: yea, I say unto you, Fear him." He would thus displace their fear by a greater fear; the fear of man by the fear of God. For after all, the power and wrath of man were limited to what he could do to the body; while the power and anger of Him whom they were to fear reached the soul. It is a lower motive, no doubt; but He guards us against unfaithfulness through the dread of the consequences of man's wrath, by showing the more terrible consequences to which unfaithfulness would expose us from God's displeasure.
But there was much more than this, and higher motives to be addressed. There was the gracious care of God which extended, whatever the hostility of the world, to the counting of the very hairs of their head. " Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God." But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows." What a wonderful thing it is to be thus going through the world in the consciousness that, whatever the danger, or opposition, or malice of men, God's gracious interest and care for us is so constant and minute that He counts the very hairs of our head! There is nothing more wonderful than this, and when realized, it gives a heavenly tone and confidence to the soul that makes the path always bright, and reduces to a matter of indifference the mere outward circumstances of the way.
He now comes to that which was the disciple's true position and calling, which was to manifest God in the world, as He had done at all costs. " Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God; but he that denieth me before men shall be denied before the angels of God." It might cost them dear before men, but He would acknowledge them before the angels. And there was the alternative. It was the confession of Christ, whom the world had rejected; for the awakening of faith in those who owned this confession, and for condemnation where it was rejected when the light of God's judgment would confirm the testimony they had borne. It would bring to those who were faithful, whatever pain and trial it might induce, the confession of the Son of man when He should be manifested in power and glory. Moreover, He places His disciples in a certain sense above Himself in connection with their testimony.
" Whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven. And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer, or what ye shall say: for the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say." Blasphemy against the witness given would in their case be worse than blasphemy against Himself. That might be forgiven; it has been indeed to the Jews as a nation, and will be at the end; but whosoever spoke in blasphemy against the testimony of the disciples blasphemed against the Holy Ghost: this would never be forgiven. It was the Holy Ghost speaking in the disciples, in their witness, and this would bring more dreadful consequences than even blaspheming the Son of man himself. Such is the wonderful position that He puts His disciples into in regard to the witness they were to beer in the world l And what an amazing encouragement to our hearts it is to be thus told that " if you speak they are more responsible, if they reject it, than in rejecting me!"
" And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother that he divide the inheritance with me. And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?" lie was not come to set the world in order now. He will do that by and by, and will set judgment in the earth and order it in righteousness; but His business was with men's souls now. " And he said unto them, Take heed and beware of covetousness; for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth." This is a warning to the multitude. And He then adds the parable of the rich man. " The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: and he thought within himself saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years: take thine ease: eat, drink, and be merry. Bat God said to him, Thou fool! this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall these things be which thou hast provided?" He thus brings in the light of God upon the principles of the world, which men are acting on before us every day. It is not the worst aspect of the world, its unrighteousness and oppression; but its schemes and projects, its pursuit of riches and enjoyment in the present life. It is a perfect picture of what men are seeking, what they are spending their energies and anxieties upon. It is a provision for the life that is passing away. And that is it which especially characterizes the world. But what is there here that is a provision for the soul? The aims and pursuits of men are thus brought in only to be shown in their hollowness and set aside. God says, " You are fools!" The very objects of the world's pursuit, that which men are commended for, which gains them respect and esteem, the Lord brands as folly. And to the men who are giving their life and energies to the pursuit of these things He says, " You are fools!" " What have these things to do with your souls?"
This is the world! And with such contempt are its aims and pursuits dragged into the light and dismissed. They are only noticed to be blown upon!
He now turns to His disciples. " He said unto his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on. The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment." He notices thus these ordinary circumstances of life, because in truth a great part of life is made up of eating and drinking and caring for what we shall put on. But He teaches His disciples that all these things are the objects of their Father's care. He feeds the ravens and clothes the lilies-much more will He care for them. Though they are the things that are connected only with this life, and things which perish in the using, still God's care is not shut out from them. He says, " Consider the ravens; for they neither sow nor reap, which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them. How much more are ye better than the fowls!" Besides this, He shows them how fruitless is the care which shuts God out. " Which of you with taking thought can add to his stature one cubit? If ye then be not able to do that thing which is least, why take ye thought for the rest? Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not: and yet I say unto you that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If then God so clothe the grass, which is to-day in the field, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?" His care is seen in nature around them, in feeding the fowls, and in clothing the lilies. Do they suppose it will not be exercised toward them? " Seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after; and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things." He reminds them of their relationship to God, which of necessity would secure to them His care in their earthly circumstances, while their hearts were called to be set upon higher things. And He adds, " Seek ye the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you." Their position in the world that had rejected Him would be such as to demand the exercise of trust in God, nor would it be possible to maintain it without; but on the other hand, He presses upon them that so far from their hearts being occupied and distracted with fears and cares about the things around them they themselves were the objects of God's thoughts, and that He had counsels and a plan about them. They may trust in God, for they were of great value in His sight, however poor and worthless in themselves. " Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." But while declaring this plan and counsel of God about them, He reminds them that they must be content to be " a little flock." The world that had rejected Him must not be expected to favor them. They must reckon upon being few and despised. The hearts of men generally would be occupied with anything rather than that kingdom which is so opposed in its characteristics to everything that commands the estimation of the world; and in truth will only be introduced by its judgment. But it was their Father's good pleasure to give them the kingdom. They would possess it as their inheritance with Christ. They would reign with Him when the kingdom was established in power. Meantime they were to be occupied with the heavenly treasure thus brought to light. " Sell that ye have and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, nor moth corrupteth." In the prospect of the kingdom their position on earth was to be that of strangers and pilgrims, having their treasure in heaven. Because where their treasure was their heart would be also. People who have riches and worldly possessions may say that their hearts are not on these things; but the Lord says, " Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." If your treasure is on earth, your heart will be on earth. If your treasure is in heaven, your heart will be there. The treasure commands the heart, wherever it may be. If a Christian is possessed of riches, he may, of course, use them in the service of the Lord; but it is a serious responsibility, and always a snare, because the heart is so prone to value these things-to make them its treasure. If I had, for example, a thousand a-year instead of not a penny, the temptation would be that I should like to have a thousand a-year instead of not a penny: and so far it would take my heart out of heaven. " Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
These three things, then were to influence their hearts and set them free from the seductions and influences of the world. It was their Father's good pleasure to give them the kingdom. They had their treasure in heaven; and there was the expectation of the Lord's return. This last is now presented and enforced. " Let your loins be girded about and your lights burning: and ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord when he will return from the wedding: that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately."
Until the Lord came they were to be found watching. Their whole position was to manifest the fact of their continual expectation of His return. The character of their waiting was to be like that of servants at the hall door, with their hand, as it were, upon the latch, that when their master knocked they might open the door at once, without a moment's delay. This is a figure, of course, but it expresses the force and effect of a constant present expectation. The whole walk and character of a saint depends on this, on his waiting for His Lord. Merely holding the coming of the Lord as a truth or doctrine is not that which is here expressed, but the personal, daily waiting for the Lord Himself. Whatever the Lord's will may be, I should like Him to find me doing it when He comes. But this is not the point. It is, Amos 1 waiting for Himself day by day? Is this the horizon that bounds my daily hope and expectation? It was that which stamped its character on the Thessalonians and on Paul himself. They were " waiting for God's Son from heaven." And though the apostle had a special revelation that he should depart, he does not suffer it for a moment to detach him from the common position and hope of the Thessalonians, to whom he was writing; but says, " We which are alive, and remain unto the coming of the Lord."
People are saying, ' It is true that they did expect the Lord's return in that day, but they were mistaken. He did not come; and those who expected Him died, and, it is plain, did not realize their hope. It was simply a mistake.' This is the use that infidelity is making of the word of God; and Christians even are infected by its spirit. But no! This expectation put them in the very position on which the Lord pronounces His blessing, when He comes. It made them have their loins girded about for service, and their lights burning, and themselves like men that waited for their Lord. They did not lose this character by dying. Their expectation gave its impress to their whole course on earth, and was the spring of that faithfulness and service which receives the Lord's approval when He comes. He had said, " Blessed are those servants whom the Lord, when he cometh, shall find watching." The departure of any before He came did not sever them from this blessing, nor hinder their being joined together in the realization of the hope they had cherished. The object of Thessalonians iv. is to explain this.
"Blessed are those servants whom the Lord, when he cometh, shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that lie shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them." As if He had said' I cannot help your being called to watch and wait now. I am waiting too. You must be girded up in watchfulness now and service in the midst of evil; but when that is done with, and I come again, and have things my own way, you shall watch no longer, but take your rest; and I will gird myself, and come forth and serve you. It shall be my business then to minister to your happiness, when watching and waiting shall have no more place.' I need not remark on the exquisite grace of this
"And this know, that if the goodman of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched, and not have suffered his house to be broken through. Be ye therefore ready also; for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not."
This also shows the need of constant watching and expectation; for at last the coining of the Lord will be sooner than He was expected. " The Son of man corneal at an hour when ye think not."
"Then Peter said unto him, Lord, speakest thou this parable unto us, or even to all? And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Of a truth I say unto you, that he will make him ruler over all that he hath."
To this inquiry of Peter concerning the application of the Lord's instructions He replies by referring him to those to whom He had committed duties and the responsibility of service during His absence. There were those to whom the trust of stewardship was committed, and they were to be found in submission to their master's will and authority, faithfully ministering to the wants of His household. As the Lord said to Peter, " Feed my sheep;" " feed my lambs." Watchfulness and service were to characterize the disciples during the absence of the Lord, in the constant expectation of His return. " Occupy till I come." There was the watchfulness, with girded loins, which would be rewarded by rest and a place at that blessed feast when the Lord Himself would come forth with His loins girded, in infinite condescension and grace, to serve them. And there was the faithfulness in His service, which He declares shall be rewarded by having rule over all that belongs to Himself in glory. It is the double aspect of the blessing which will be the result of faithfulness at the Lord's coming.
But there is the other side of the picture:-
"But and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming, and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken, the lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers."
It was the absence of the overruling expectation of the Lord's return, instead of the heart and desire going out towards it, that opened the door to the unfaithfulness and usurpation of authority, and the indulgence of the spirit of the world which is here depicted. The servant said in his heart, " My lord delayeth his corning," and in the history of Christianity, when the Church began to say, " My lord delayeth his coming," it sunk down into the world, and the coming of the Lord was counted as a heresy. The Church did not say that the Lord would never come; but " My Lord delayeth his coming," showing that the immediate expectation of his return had lost its place in the heart. And the parable of the ten virgins shows that it is the very same testimony that called the Church out of the world, at first to go forth and meet the Bridegroom, that awakens it from its slumbers at last-" At midnight there was a cry made, Behold the bridegroom cometh, go ye out to meet him."
There was no immediate expectation of the Lord's return, and this gave occasion for the relaxation of the bonds of obligation. There was the withdrawal of the heart from the wholesome sense of being under the authority of Christ, an authority which, at any moment, might be exercised to take account of our doings, and which makes us feel that we are but servants, and thus keeps the soul in due subjection to the Lord. It was the putting off to a distant day the expectation of the return of his master, that led the unfaithful servant to give license to his own will, and to usurp authority over his fellow-servants, and " to eat and drink and to be drunken." This is just hierarchism, with its assumed authority, and its worldly spirit. But responsibility will not he escaped. Those who have assumed the position of servants, and have taken a place ostensibly as ministers in. the Church, will be judged as servants, though strangers in heart to the Lord, who will judge them, and appoint them their portion with the unbelievers.
" And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more." A heavier punishment will be adjudged to those who, from their profession and advantages, assumed to know their Lord's will, without doing it, than to those who were ignorant of that will, but were, nevertheless, living in evil, which the Lord must judge when He comes. It is the difference between the professing Church and the world. Moreover, if persons are to be treated as guilty in proportion to the advantages they have received, who will be so guilty as those who profess to be ministers of the Lord, if they do not serve Him in the expectation of His return?
" I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I if it be already kindled?" The effect of bringing God into the world was to produce trial and conflict! The Lord had to feel this, that His very presence here amongst men had already produced that effect. The fire was already kindled. Though He came in perfect grace, His presence brought in the light, and this was insupportable to men. It detected the condition of their hearts and produced, in spite of their profession of the knowledge of God, hostility and rejection. Still His love was perfect and divine. But it could not go forth and have free scope, until His death had opened the way for its exercise. And in the presence of conscious rejection He says, " I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished 1" Nothing could turn aside His infinite love! The grace that was in His heart might be driven back, as to its living exercise amongst men, whilst He was here on earth; but it was only that His death might open a channel for its exercise in a power commensurate with the love that gave occasion for its display.
" Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: for from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law."
" From henceforth!" What a condemnation of the world's condition is here disclosed! " From henceforth"-from the time of the Lord's coming amongst men in infinite goodness and love-was there this terrible result! His presence in this world, though in perfect lowliness and grace, was sufficient to kindle this fire and to provoke these divisions and conflicts. The passage is almost literally quoted from the Prophet Micah, and it is given as a picture of the most dreadful, moral condition of Israel by the prophet. It is well to read the passage, that the heart may perceive the full force of the Lord's declaration, " From henceforth," &c. " Trust ye not in a friend, put ye not confidence in a guide: keep the doors of thy mouth from her that lieth in thy bosom. For the son dishonoureth the father, the daughter riseth up against her mother, the daughter in law against her mother in law; a man's enemies are the men of his own house." (Mic. 7:5,65Trust ye not in a friend, put ye not confidence in a guide: keep the doors of thy mouth from her that lieth in thy bosom. 6For the son dishonoreth the father, the daughter riseth up against her mother, the daughter in law against her mother in law; a man's enemies are the men of his own house. (Micah 7:5‑6).)
But how terrible is it to think that this state of things should be produced by the presence and love of the Lord Jesus, and should be still produced by His testimony! For in this respect men will as little bear the powerful witness of Christ and true faith in Him, as they would Christ Himself.
" And he said also to the people, When ye see a cloud rise out of the west, straightway ye say, There cometh a shower; and so it is. And when ye see the south wind blow, ye say, There will be heat; and it cometh to pass. Ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky and of the earth; but how is it that ye do not discern this time? Yea, and why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right?"
In this appeal to the people the Lord draws their attention to the character of the time in which they were living, and to the signs by which it was marked. Everything hung upon a just moral estimate of this time, and they had the scriptures to guide them in their judgment. If they had had as much interest in what was then passing before their eyes, as they had in noting the face of the sky and of the earth, in order to guide their worldly business, they would have been able to discern this time. But there was another ground of appeal.
There were moral characteristics in what was passing before them, that, apart from the Scriptures, by the mere force of natural conscience and judgment, they ought to have been able to pronounce upon, and of themselves to have judged that which is right. There is this ground of appeal; and of many things it may be asked now, is this right? For example, when infidelity is being taught in the place of Chris tianity, it may be asked, Is this right? While, by the light of the Scriptures there ought also to be an ability to discern this time.
I take up the remaining verses, though they relate to the position of Israel as the consequence of their rejection of Christ, in order to complete the chapter, and that we may have it all before us.
" When thou goest with thine adversary to the magistrate, as thou art in the way, give diligence that thou mayest be delivered from him; lest he hale thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and the officer cast thee into prison. I tell thee, thou shalt not depart thence, till thou halt paid the very last mite."
Were the people ever so blind, one thing was certain, that they were in the position of being brought before the judge; they were on the way. If through their rejection of their Messiah, they were once delivered up, they would not come out until the chastisement of God was fully executed upon them, until they had "paid the very last mite." As in Isaiah it is said of Jerusalem, " She hath received of the Lord's hand double for all her sins."
The Lord grant that we may go through this world in faithfulness to Him who died to deliver us out of it and to give us our portion in that world into which He is risen, looking daily for His return to bring us into the inheritance His love has provided for us! May there be that confidence of heart in all the circumstances of this life that springs from the sense of God's care and interest about us, and the certainty that we are of value in His sight, and that He would, in His infinite grace, have us to reckon ourselves of value to Him, even in the midst of this hostile world. And above all, may He make us faithful as those who are waiting for Him, pursuing the path His wisdom has traced out for us, but always with this bright expectation before us, as men who are waiting for their Lord! It will be no joy to any that He should come and find them in the earnest pursuit of the things of this world, or heaping up its riches; for there should not only be the individual hope, but a testimony to the world that He is coming. Individual faithfulness to Christ in the place His love has set us in is the first thing our souls should seek, and then love to Him and to souls will naturally flow out, and the more earnestly in proportion as we enter into His thoughts about what the world, through which we are passing is, as well as that world to which we are going.
The night is far spent and the day is at hand:
No sign to be look'd for; the Star's in the sky;
Rejoice then, ye saints, 'tis your Lord's own command;
Rejoice, for the coming of Jesus draws nigh.
What a day will that be when the Savior appears!
How welcome to those who have shared in His cross!
A crown incorruptible then be theirs,
A rich compensation for suffering and loss.
What is loss in this world, when compared to that day,
To the glory that then will from heaven be reveal'd?
"The Savior is coming," His people may say;
"The Lord whom we look for, our Sun and our Shield."