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Jesus the Cause of Division
49 “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!
Vigilance and Exertion Inculcated.
41 Then Peter said unto him, Lord, speakest thou this parable unto us, or even to all? 42 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? 43 Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. 44 Of a truth I say unto you, that he will make him ruler over all that he hath. 45 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; 46 The lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at a hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. 47 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. 48 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. 49 I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled? 50 But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished! 51 Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: 52 For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. 53 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.
Here is, I. Peter's question, which he put to Christ upon occasion of the foregoing parable (v. 41): "Lord, speakest thou this parable to us that are thy constant followers, to us that are ministers, or also to all that come to be taught by thee, to all the hearers, and in them to all Christians?" Peter was now, as often, spokesman for the disciples. We have reason to bless God that there are some such forward men, that have a gift of utterance; let those that are such take heed of being proud. Now Peter desires Christ to explain himself, and to direct the arrow of the foregoing parable to the mark he intended. He calls it a parable, because it was not only figurative, but weighty, solid, and instructive. Lord, said Peter, was it intended for us, or for all? To this Christ gives a direct answer (Mark xiii. 37): What I say unto you, I say unto all. Yet here he seems to show that the apostles were primarily concerned in it. Note, We are all concerned to take to ourselves what Christ in his word designs for us, and to enquire accordingly concerning it: Speakest thou this to us? To me? Speak, Lord, for thy servant hears. Doth this word belong to me? Speak it to my heart.
II. Christ's reply to this question, directed to Peter and the rest of the disciples. If what Christ had said before did not so peculiarly concern them, but in common with other Christians, who must all watch and pray for Christ's coming, as his servants, yet this that follows is peculiarly adapted to ministers, who are the stewards in Christ's house. Now our Lord Jesus here tells them,
1. What was their duty as stewards, and what the trust committed to them. (1.) They are made rulers of God's household, under Christ, whose own the house is; ministers derive an authority from Christ to preach the gospel, and to administer the ordinances of Christ, and apply the seals of the covenant of grace. (2.) Their business is to give God's children and servants their portion of meat, that which is proper for them and allotted to them; convictions and comfort to those to whom they respectively belong. Suum cuique—to every one his own. This is rightly to divide the word of truth, 2 Tim. ii. 15. (3.) To give it to them in due season, at that time and in that way which are most suitable to the temper and condition of those that are to be fed; a word in season to him that is weary. (4.) Herein they must approve themselves faithful and wise; faithful to their Master, by whom this great trust is reposed in them, and faithful to their fellow-servants, for whose benefit they are put in trust; and wise to improve an opportunity of doing honour to their Master, and service in the family. Ministers must be both skilful and faithful.
2. What would be their happiness if they approved themselves faithful and wise (v. 43): Blessed is that servant, (1.) That is doing, and is not idle, nor indulgent of his ease; even the rulers of the household must be doing, and make themselves servants of all. (2.) That is so doing, doing as he should be, giving them their portion of meat, by public preaching and personal application. (3.) That is found so doing when his Lord comes; that perseveres to the end, notwithstanding the difficulties he may meet with in the way. Now his happiness is illustrated by the preferment of a steward that has approved himself within a lower and narrower degree of service; he shall be preferred to a larger and higher (v. 44): He will make him ruler over all that he has, which was Joseph's preferment in Pharaoh's court. Note, Ministers that obtain mercy of the Lord to be faithful shall obtain further mercy to be abundantly rewarded for their faithfulness in the day of the Lord.
3. What a dreadful reckoning there would be if they were treacherous and unfaithful, v. 45, 46. If that servant begin to be quarrelsome and profane, he shall be called to an account, and severely punished. We had all this before in Matthew, and therefore shall here only observe, (1.) Our looking upon Christ's second coming as a thing at a distance is the cause of all those irregularities which render the thought of it terrible to us: He saith in his heart, My Lord delays his coming. Christ's patience is very often misinterpreted his delay, to the discouragement of his people, and the encouragement of his enemies. (2.) The persecutors of God's people are commonly abandoned to security and sensuality; they beat their fellow-servants, and then eat and drink with the drunken, altogether unconcerned either at their own sin or their brethren's sufferings, as the king and Haman, who sat down to drink when the city Shushan was perplexed. Thus they drink, to drown the clamours of their own consciences, and baffle them, which would otherwise fly in their faces. (3.) Death and judgment will be very terrible to all wicked people, but especially to wicked ministers. It will be a surprise to them: At an hour when they are not aware. It will be the determining of them to endless misery; they shall be cut in sunder, and have their portion assigned them with the unbelievers.
4. What an aggravation it would be of their sin and punishment that they knew their duty, and did not do it (v. 47, 48): That servant that knew his lord's will, and did it not, shall be beaten with many stripes, shall fall under a sorer punishment; and he that knew not shall be beaten with few stripes, his punishment shall, in consideration of this, be mitigated. Here seems to be an allusion to the law, which made a distinction between sins committed through ignorance, and presumptuous sins (Lev. v. 15, &c.; Num. xv. 29, 30), as also to another law concerning the number of stripes given to a malefactor, to be according to the nature of the crime, Deut. xxv. 2, 3. Now, (1.) Ignorance of our duty is an extenuation of sin. He that knew not his lord's will, through carelessness and neglect, and his not having such opportunities as some others had of coming to the knowledge of it, and did things worthy of stripes, he shall be beaten, because he might have known his duty better, but with few stripes; his ignorance excuses in part, but not wholly. Thus through ignorance the Jews put Christ to death (Acts iii. 17; 1 Cor. ii. 8), and Christ pleaded that ignorance in their excuse: They know not what they do. (2.) The knowledge of our duty is an aggravation of our sin: That servant that knew his lord's will, and yet did his own will, shall be beaten with many stripes. God will justly inflict more upon him for abusing the means of knowledge he afforded him, which others would have made a better use of, because it argues a great degree of wilfulness and contempt to sin against knowledge; of how much sorer punishment then shall they be thought worthy, besides the many stripes that their own consciences will give them! Son, remember. Here is a good reason for this added: To whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required, especially when it is committed as a trust he is to account for. Those have greater capacities of mind than others, more knowledge and learning, more acquaintance and converse with the scriptures, to them much is given, and their account will be accordingly.
III. A further discourse concerning his own sufferings, which he expected, and concerning the sufferings of his followers, which he would have them also to live in expectation of. In general (v. 49): I am come to send fire on the earth. By this some understand the preaching of the gospel, and the pouring out of the Spirit, holy fire; this Christ came to send with a commission to refine the world, to purge away its dross, to burn up its chaff, and it was already kindled. The gospel was begun to be preached; some prefaces there were to the pouring out of the Spirit. Christ baptized with the Holy Ghost and with fire; this Spirit descended in fiery tongues. But, by what follows, it seems rather to be understood of the fire of persecution. Christ is not the Author of it, as it is the sin of the incendiaries, the persecutors; but he permits it, nay, he commissions it, as a refining fire for the trial of the persecuted. This fire was already kindled in the enmity of the carnal Jews to Christ and his followers. "What will I that it may presently be kindled? What thou doest, do quickly. If it be already kindled, what will I? Shall I wait the quenching of it? No, for it must fasten upon myself, and upon all, and glory will redound to God from it."
1. He must himself suffer many things; he must pass through this fire that was already kindled (v. 50): I have a baptism to be baptized with. Afflictions are compared both to fire and water, Ps. lxvi. 12; lxix. 1, 2. Christ's sufferings were both. He calls them a baptism (Matt. xx. 22); for he was watered or sprinkled with them, as Israel was baptized in the cloud, and dipped into them, as Israel was baptized in the sea, 1 Cor. x. 2. He must be sprinkled with his own blood, and with the blood of his enemies, Isa. lxiii. 3. See here, (1.) Christ's foresight of his sufferings; he knew what he was to undergo, and the necessity of undergoing it: I am to be baptized with a baptism. He calls his sufferings by a name that mitigates them; it is a baptism, not a deluge; I must be dipped in them, not drowned in them; and by a name that sanctifies them, for baptism is a name that sanctifies them, for baptism is a sacred rite. Christ in his sufferings devoted himself to his Father's honour, and consecrated himself a priest for evermore, Heb. vii. 27, 28. (2.) Christ's forwardness to his sufferings: How am I straitened till it be accomplished! He longed for the time when he should suffer and die, having an eye to the glorious issue of his sufferings. It is an allusion to a woman in travail, that is pained to be delivered, and welcomes her pains, because they hasten the birth of the child, and wishes them sharp and strong, that the work may be cut short. Christ's sufferings were the travail of his soul, which he cheerfully underwent, in hope that he should by them see his seed, Isa. liii. 10, 11. So much was his heart set upon the redemption and salvation of man.
2. He tells those about him that they also must bear with hardships and difficulties (v. 51): "Suppose ye that I came to give peace on earth, to give you a peaceable possession of the earth, and outward prosperity on the earth?" It is intimated that they were ready to entertain such a thought as this, nay, that they went upon this supposition, that the gospel would meet with a universal welcome, that people unanimously embrace it, and would therefore study to make the preachers of it easy and great, that Christ, if he did not give them pomp and power, would at least give them peace; and herein they were encouraged by divers passages of the Old Testament, which speak of the peace of the Messiah's kingdom, which they were willing to understand of external peace. "But," saith Christ, "you will be mistaken, the event will declare the contrary, and therefore do not flatter yourselves into a fool's paradise. You will find,"
(1.) "That the effect of the preaching of the gospel will be division." Not but that the design of the gospel and its proper tendency are to unite the children of men to one another, to knit them together in holy love, and, if all would receive it, this would be the effect of it; but there being multitudes that not only will not receive it, but oppose it, and have their corruptions exasperated by it, and are enraged at those that do receive it, it proves, though not the cause yet the occasion of division. While the strong man armed kept his palace, in the Gentile world, his goods were at peace; all was quiet, for all went one way, the sects of philosophers agreed well enough, so did the worshippers of different deities; but when the gospel was preached, and many were enlightened by it, and turned from the power of Satan to God, then there was a disturbance, a noise and a shaking, Ezek. xxxvii. 7. Some distinguished themselves by embracing the gospel, and others were angry that they did so. Yea, and among them that received the gospel there would be different sentiments in minor things, which would occasion division; and Christ permits it for holy ends (1 Cor. xi. 18), that Christians may learn and practise mutual forbearance, Rom. xiv. 1, 2.
(2.) "That this division will reach into private families, and the preaching of the gospel will give occasion for discord among the nearest relations" (v. 53): The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father, when the one turns Christian and the other does not; for the one that does turn Christian will be zealous by arguments and endearments to turn the other too, 1 Cor. vii. 16. As soon as ever Paul was converted, he disputed, Acts ix. 29. The one that continues in unbelief will be provoked, and will hate and persecute the one that by his faith and obedience witnesses against, and condemns, his unbelief and disobedience. A spirit of bigotry and persecution will break through the strongest bonds of relation and natural affection; see Matt. x. 35; xxiv. 7. Even mothers and daughters fall out about religion; and those that believe not are so violent and outrageous that they are ready to deliver up into the hands of the bloody persecutors those that believe, though otherwise very near and dear to them. We find in the Acts that, wherever the gospel came, persecution was stirred up; it was every where spoken against, and there was no small stir about that way. Therefore let not the disciples of Christ promise themselves peace upon earth, for they are sent forth as sheep in the midst of wolves.