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17. Sin, Faith, Duty
1And he said unto his disciples, It is impossible but that occasions of stumbling should come; but woe unto him, through whom they come! 2It were well for him if a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, rather than that he should cause one of these little ones to stumble. 3Take heed to yourselves: if thy brother sin, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. 4And if he sin against thee seven times in the day, and seven times turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him. 5And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith. 6And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye would say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou rooted up, and be thou planted in the sea; and it would obey you. 7But who is there of you, having a servant plowing or keeping sheep, that will say unto him, when he is come in from the field, Come straightway and sit down to meat; 8and will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? 9Doth he thank the servant because he did the things that were commanded? 10Even so ye also, when ye shall have done all the things that are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which it was our duty to do. 11And it came to pass, as they were on their way to Jerusalem, that he was passing along the borders of Samaria and Galilee. 12And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, who stood afar off: 13and they lifted up their voices, saying, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. 14And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go and show yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, as they went, they were cleansed. 15And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, with a loud voice glorifying God; 16and he fell upon his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. 17And Jesus answering said, Were not the ten cleansed? but where are the nine? 18Were there none found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger? 19And he said unto him, Arise, and go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole. 20And being asked by the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God cometh, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: 21neither shall they say, Lo, here! or, There! for lo, the kingdom of God is within you. 22And he said unto the disciples, The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it. 23And they shall say to you, Lo, there! Lo, here! go not away, nor follow after them: 24for as the lightning, when it lighteneth out of the one part under the heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall the Son of man be in his day. 25But first must he suffer many things and be rejected of this generation. 26And as it came to pass in the days of Noah, even so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. 27They ate, they drank, they married, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all. 28Likewise even as it came to pass in the days of Lot; they ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; 29but in the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all: 30after the same manner shall it be in the day that the Son of man is revealed. 31In that day, he that shall be on the housetop, and his goods in the house, let him not go down to take them away: and let him that is in the field likewise not return back. 32Remember Lot's wife. 33Whosoever shall seek to gain his life shall lose it: but whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it. 34I say unto you, In that night there shall be two men on one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. 35There shall be two women grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. 36There shall be two men in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. 37And they answering say unto him, Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Where the body is, thither will the eagles also be gathered together.
The Treatment of Offences.
1 Then said he unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come! 2 It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. 3 Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. 4 And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him. 5 And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith. 6 And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you. 7 But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat? 8 And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? 9 Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not. 10 So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.
We are here taught,
I. That the giving of offences is a great sin, and that which we should every one of us avoid and carefully watch against, v. 1, 2. We can expect no other than that offences will come, considering the perverseness and frowardness that are in the nature of man, and the wise purpose and counsel of God, who will carry on his work even by those offences, and bring good out of evil. It is almost impossible but that offences will come, and therefore we are concerned to provide accordingly; but woe to him through whom they come, his doom will be heavy (v. 2), more terrible than that of the worst of the malefactors who are condemned to be thrown into the sea, for they perish under a load of guilt more ponderous than that of millstones. This includes a woe, 1. To persecutors, who offer any injury to the least of Christ's little ones, in word or deed, by which they are discouraged in serving Christ, and doing their duty, or in danger of being driven off from it. 2. To seducers, who corrupt the truths of Christ and his ordinances, and so trouble the minds of the disciples; for they are those by whom offences come. 3. To those who, under the profession of the Christian name, live scandalously, and thereby weaken the bands and sadden the hearts of God's people; for by them the offence comes, and it is no abatement of their guilt, nor will be any of their punishment, that it is impossible but offences will come.
II. That the forgiving of offences is a great duty, and that which we should every one of us make conscience of (v. 3): Take heed to yourselves. This may refer either to what goes before, or to what follows: Take heed that you offend not one of these little ones. Ministers must be very careful not to say or do any thing that may be a discouragement to weak Christians; there is need of great caution, and they ought to speak and act very considerately, for fear of this: or, "When your brother trespasses against you, does you any injury, puts any slight or affront upon you, if he be accessary to any damage done you in your property or reputation, take heed to yourselves at such a time, lest you be put into a passion; lest, when your spirits are provoked, you speak unadvisedly, and rashly vow to revenge (Prov. xxiv. 29): I will do so to him as he hath done to me. Take heed what you say at such a time, lest you say amiss."
1. If you are permitted to rebuke him, you are advised to do so. Smother not the resentment, but give it vent. Tell him his faults; show him wherein he has not done well nor fairly by you, and, it may be, you will perceive (and you must be very willing to perceive it) that you mistook him, that it was not a trespass against you, or not designed, but an oversight, and then you will beg his pardon for misunderstanding him; as Josh. xxii. 30, 31.
2. You are commanded, upon his repentance, to forgive him, and to be perfectly reconciled to him: If he repent, forgive him; forget the injury, never think of it again, much less upbraid him with it. Though he do not repent, you must not therefore bear malice to him, nor meditate revenge; but, it he do not at least say that he repents, you are not bound to be so free and familiar with him as you have been. If he be guilty of gross sin, to the offence of the Christian community he is a member of, let him be gravely and mildly reproved for his sin, and, upon his repentance, received into friendship and communion again. This the apostle calls forgiveness, 2 Cor. ii. 7.
3. You are to repeat this every time he repeats his trespass, v. 4. "If he could be supposed to be either so negligent, or so impudent, as to trespass against thee seven times in a day, and as often profess himself sorry for his fault, and promise not again to offend in like manner, continue to forgive him." Humanum est errare—To ere is human. Note, Christians should be of a forgiving spirit, willing to make the best of every body, and to make all about them easy; forward to extenuate faults, and not to aggravate them; and they should contrive as much to show that they have forgiven an injury as others to show that they resent it.
III. That we have all need to get our faith strengthened, because, as that grace grows, all other graces grow. The more firmly we believe the doctrine of Christ, and the more confidently we rely upon the grace of Christ, the better it will be with us every way. Now observe here, 1. The address which the disciples made to Christ, for the strengthening of their faith, v. 5. The apostles themselves, so they are here called, though they were prime ministers of state in Christ's kingdom, yet acknowledged the weakness and deficiency of their faith, and saw their need of Christ's grace for the improvement of it; they said unto the Lord, "Increase our faith, and perfect what is lacking in it." Let the discoveries of faith be more clear, the desires of faith more strong, the dependences of faith more firm and fixed, the dedications of faith more entire and resolute, and the delights of faith more pleasing. Note, the increase of our faith is what we should earnestly desire, and we should offer up that desire to God in prayer. Some think that they put up this prayer to Christ upon occasion of his pressing upon them the duty of forgiving injuries: "Lord, increase our faith, or we shall never be able to practise such a difficult duty as this." Faith in God's pardoning mercy will enable us to get over the greatest difficulties that lie in the way of our forgiving our brother. Others think that it was upon some other occasion, when the apostles were run aground in working some miracle, and were reproved by Christ for the weakness of their faith, as Matt. xvii. 16, &c. To him that blamed them they must apply themselves for grace to mend them; to him they cry, Lord, increase our faith. 2. The assurance Christ gave them of the wonderful efficacy of true faith (v. 6): "If ye had faith as a grain of mustard-seed, so small as mustard-seed, but yours is yet less than the least; or so sharp as mustard-seed, so pungent, so exciting to all other graces, as mustard to the animal spirits," and therefore used in palsies, "you might do wonders much beyond what you now do; nothing would be too hard for you, that was fit to be done for the glory of God, and the confirmation of the doctrine you preach, yea, though it were the transplanting of a tree from the earth to the sea." See Matt. xvii. 20. As with God nothing is impossible, so are all things possible to him that can believe.
IV. That, whatever we do in the service of Christ, we must be very humble, and not imagine that we can merit any favour at his hand, or claim it as a debt; even the apostles themselves, who did so much more for Christ than others, must not think that they had thereby made him their debtor. 1. We are all God's servants (his apostles and ministers are in a special manner so), and, as servants, are bound to do all we can for his honour. Our whole strength and our whole time are to be employed for him; for we are not our own, nor at our own disposal, but at our Master's. 2. As God's servants, it becomes us to fill up our time with duty, and we have a variety of work appointed us to do; we ought to make the end of one service the beginning of another. The servant that has been ploughing, or feeding cattle, in the field, when he comes home at night has work to do still; he must wait at table, v. 7, 8. When we have been employed in the duties of a religious conversation, that will not excuse us from the exercises of devotion; when we have been working for God, still we must be waiting on God, waiting on him continually. 3. Our principal care here must be to do the duty of our relation, and leave it to our Master to give us the comfort of it, when and how he thinks fit. No servant expects that his master should say to him, Go and sit down to meat; it is time enough to do that when we have done our day's work. Let us be in care to finish our work, and to do that well, and then the reward will come in due time. 4. It is fit that Christ should be served before us: Make ready wherewith I may sup, and afterwards thou shalt eat and drink. Doubting Christians say that they cannot give to Christ the glory of his love as they should, because they have not yet obtained the comfort of it; but this is wrong. First let Christ have the glory of it, let us attend him with our praises, and then we shall eat and drink in the comfort of that love, and in this there is a feast. 5. Christ's servants, when they are to wait upon him, must gird themselves, must free themselves from every thing that is entangling and encumbering, and fit themselves with a close application of mind to go on, and go through, with their work; they must gird up the loins of their mind. When we have prepared for Christ's entertainment, have made ready wherewith he may sup, we must then gird ourselves, to attend him. This is expected from servants, and Christ might require it from us, but he does not insist upon it. He was among his disciples as one that served, and came not, as other masters, to take state, and to be ministered unto, but to minister; witness his washing his disciples' feet. 6. Christ's servants do not so much as merit his thanks for any service they do him: "Does he thank that servant? Does he reckon himself indebted to him for it? No, by no means." No good works of ours can merit any thing at the hand of God. We expect God's favour, not because we have by our services made him a debtor to us, but because he has by his promises made himself a debtor to his own honour, and this we may plead with him, but cannot sue for a quantum meruit—according to merit. 7. Whatever we do for Christ, though it should be more perhaps than some others do, yet it is no more than is our duty to do. Though we should do all things that are commanded us, and alas! in many things we come short of this, yet there is no work of supererogation; it is but what we are bound to by that first and great commandment of loving God with all our heart and soul, which includes the utmost. 8. The best servants of Christ, even when they do the best services, must humbly acknowledge that they are unprofitable servants; though they are not those unprofitable servants that bury their talents, and shall be cast into utter darkness, yet as to Christ, and any advantage that can accrue to him by their services, they are unprofitable; our goodness extendeth not unto God, nor if we are righteous is he the better, Ps. xvi. 2; Job xxii. 2; xxxv. 7. God cannot be a gainer by our services, and therefore cannot be made a debtor by them. He has no need of us, nor can our services make any addition to his perfections. It becomes us therefore to call ourselves unprofitable servants, but to call his service a profitable service, for God is happy without us, but we are undone without him.
The Ten Lepers.
11 And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: 13 And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. 14 And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go show yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. 15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, 16 And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. 17 And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? 18 There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. 19 And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole.
We have here an account of the cure of ten lepers, which we had not in any other of the evangelists. The leprosy was a disease which the Jews supposed to be inflicted for the punishment of some particular sin, and to be, more than other diseases, a mark of God's displeasure; and therefore Christ, who came to take away sin, and turn away wrath, took particular care to cleanse the lepers that fell in his way. Christ was now in his way to Jerusalem, about the mid-way, where he had little acquaintance in comparison with what he had either at Jerusalem or in Galilee. He was now in the frontier-country, the marches that lay between Samaria and Galilee. He went that road to find out these lepers, and to cure them; for he is found of them that sought him not. Observe,
I. The address of these lepers to Christ. They were ten in a company; for, though they were shut out from society with others, yet those that were infected were at liberty to converse with one another, which would be some comfort to them, as giving them an opportunity to compare notes, and to condole with one another. Now observe, 1. They met Christ as he entered into a certain village. They did not stay till he had refreshed himself for some time after the fatigue of his journey, but met him as he entered the town, weary as he was; and yet he did not put them off, nor adjourn their cause. 2. They stood afar off, knowing that by the law their disease obliged them to keep their distance. A sense of our spiritual leprosy should make us very humble in all our approaches to Christ. Who are we, that we should draw near to him that is infinitely pure? We are impure. 3. Their request was unanimous, and very importunate (v. 13): They lifted up their voices, being at a distance, and cried, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. those that expect help from Christ must take him for their Master, and be at his command. If he be Master, he will be Jesus, a Saviour, and not otherwise. They ask not in particular to be cured of their leprosy, but, Have mercy on us; and it is enough to refer ourselves to the compassions of Christ, for they fail not. They heard the fame of this Jesus (though he had not been much conversant in that country), and that was such as encouraged them to make application to him; and, if but one of them began in so cheap and easy an address, they would all join.
II. Christ sent them to the priest, to be inspected by him, who was the judge of the leprosy. He did not tell them positively that they should be cured, but bade them go show themselves to the priests, v. 14. This was a trial of their obedience, and it was fit that it should be so tried, as Naaman's in a like case: Go wash in Jordan. Note, Those that expect Christ's favours must take them in his way and method. Some of these lepers perhaps would be ready to quarrel with the prescription: "Let him either cure or say that he will not, and not send us to the priests on a fool's errand;" but, over-ruled by the rest, they all went to the priest. As the ceremonial law was yet in force, Christ took care that it should be observed, and the reputation of it kept up, and due honour paid to the priests in things pertaining to their function; but, probably, he had here a further design, which was to have the priest's judgment of, and testimony to, the perfectness of the cure; and that the priest might be awakened, and others by him, to enquire after one that had such a commanding power over bodily diseases.
III. As they went, they were cleansed, and so became fit to be looked upon by the priest, and to have a certificate from him that they were clean. Observe, Then we may expect God to meet us with mercy when we are found in the way of duty. If we do what we can, God will not be wanting to do that for us which we cannot. Go, attend upon instituted ordinances; go and pray, and read the scriptures: Go show thyself to the priests; go and open thy case to a faithful minister, and, though the means will not heal thee of themselves, God will heal thee in the diligent use of those means.
IV. One of them, and but one, returned, to give thanks, v. 15. When he saw that he was healed, instead of going forward to the priest, to be by him declared clean, and so discharged from his confinement, which was all that the rest aimed at, he turned back towards him who was the Author of his cure, whom he wished to have the glory of it, before he received the benefit of it. He appears to have been very hearty and affectionate in his thanksgivings: With a loud voice he glorified God, acknowledging it to come originally from him; and he lifted up his voice in his praises, as he had done in his prayers, v. 13. Those that have received mercy from God should publish it to others, that they may praise God too, and may be encouraged by their experiences to trust in him. But he also made a particular address of thanks to Christ (v. 16): He fell down at his feet, put himself into the most humble reverent posture he could, and gave him thanks. Note, We ought to give thanks for the favours Christ bestows upon us, and particularly for recoveries from sickness; and we ought to be speedy in our returns of praise, and not defer them, lest time wear out the sense of the mercy. It becomes us also to be very humble in our thanksgivings, as well as in our prayers. It becomes the seed of Jacob, like him, to own themselves less than the least of God's mercies, when they have received them, as well as when they are in pursuit of them.
V. Christ took notice of this one that had thus distinguished himself; for, it seems, he was a Samaritan, whereas the rest were Jews, v. 16. The Samaritans were separatists from the Jewish church, and had not the pure knowledge and worship of God among them that the Jews had, and yet it was one of them that glorified God, when the Jews forgot, or, when it was moved to them, refused, to do it. Now observe here,
1. The particular notice Christ took of him, of the grateful return he made, and the ingratitude of those that were sharers with him in the mercy—that he who was a stranger to the commonwealth of Israel was the only one that returned to give glory to God, v. 17, 18. See here, (1.) How rich Christ is in doing good: Were there not ten cleansed? Here was a cure by wholesale, a whole hospital healed with one word's speaking. Note, There is an abundance of healing cleansing virtue in the blood of Christ, sufficient for all his patients, though ever so many. Here are ten at a time cleansed; we shall have never the less grace for others sharing it. (2.) How poor we are in our returns: "Where are the nine? Why did not they return to give thanks?" This intimates that ingratitude is a very common sin. Of the many that receive mercy from God, there are but few, very few, that return to give thanks in a right manner (scarcely one in ten), that render according to the benefit done to them. (3.) How those often prove most grateful from whom it was least expected. A Samaritan gives thanks, and a Jew does not. Thus many who profess revealed religion are out-done, and quite shamed, by some that are governed only by natural religion, not only in moral value, but in piety and devotion. This serves here to aggravate the ingratitude of those Jews of whom Christ speaks, as taking it very ill that his kindness was so slighted. And it intimates how justly he resents the ingratitude of the world of mankind, for whom he had done so much, and from whom he has received so little.
2. The great encouragement Christ gave him, v. 19. The rest had their cure, and had it not revoked, as justly it might have been, for their ingratitude, though they had such a good example of gratitude set before them; but he had his cure confirmed particularly with an encomium: Thy faith hath made thee whole. The rest were made whole by the power of Christ, in compassion to their distress, and in answer to their prayer; but he was made whole by his faith, by which Christ saw him distinguished from the rest. Note, Temporal mercies are then doubled and sweetened to us when they are fetched in by the prayers of faith, and returned by the praises of faith.
The Rich Man and Lazarus.
19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: 20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, 21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; 23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. 25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. 26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. 27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: 28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. 29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. 30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. 31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
As the parable of the prodigal son set before us the grace of the gospel, which is encouraging to us all, so this sets before us the wrath to come, and is designed for our awakening; and very fast asleep those are in sin that will not be awakened by it. The Pharisees made a jest of Christ's sermon against worldliness; now this parable was intended to make those mockers serious. The tendency of the gospel of Christ is both to reconcile us to poverty and affliction and to arm us against temptations to worldliness and sensuality. Now this parable, by drawing the curtain, and letting us see what will be the end of both in the other world, goes very far in prosecuting those two great intentions. This parable is not like Christ's other parables, in which spiritual things are represented by similitudes borrowed from worldly things, as those of the sower and the seed (except that of the sheep and goats), the prodigal son, and indeed all the rest but this. But here the spiritual things themselves are represented in a narrative or description of the different state of good and bad in this world and the other. Yet we need not call it a history of a particular occurrence, but it is matter of fact that is true every day, that poor godly people, whom men neglect and trample upon, die away out of their miseries, and go to heavenly bliss and joy, which is made the more pleasant to them by their preceding sorrows; and that rich epicures, who live in luxury, and are unmerciful to the poor, die, and go into a state of insupportable torment, which is the more grievous and terrible to them because of the sensual lives they lived: and that there is no gaining any relief from their torments. Is this a parable? What similitude is there in this? The discourse indeed between Abraham and the rich man is only an illustration of the description, to make it the more affecting, like that between God and Satan in the story of Job. Our Saviour came to bring us acquainted with another world, and to show us the reference which this world has to that; and here is does it. In this description (for so I shall choose to call it) we may observe,
I. The different condition of a wicked rich man, and a godly poor man, in this world. We know that as some of late, so the Jews of old, were ready to make prosperity one of the marks of a true church, of a good man and a favourite of heaven, so that they could hardly have any favourable thoughts of a poor man. This mistake Christ, upon all occasions, set himself to correct, and here very fully, where we have,
1. A wicked man, and one that will be for ever miserable, in the height of prosperity (v. 19): There was a certain rich man. From the Latin we commonly call him Dives—a rich man; but, as Bishop Tillotson observes, he has no name given him, as the poor man has, because it had been invidious to have named any particular rich man in such a description as this, and apt to provoke and gain ill-will. But others observe that Christ would not do the rich man so much honour as to name him, though when perhaps he called his lands by his own name he thought it should long survive that of the beggar at his gate, which yet is here preserved, when that of the rich man is buried in oblivion. Now we are told concerning this rich man,
(1.) That he was clothed in purple and fine linen, and that was his adorning. He had fine linen for pleasure, and clean, no doubt, every day; night-linen, and day-linen. He had purple for state, for that was the wear of princes, which has made some conjecture that Christ had an eye to Herod in it. He never appeared abroad but in great magnificence.
(2.) He fared deliciously and sumptuously every day. His table was furnished with all the varieties and dainties that nature and art could supply; his side-table richly adorned with plate; his servants, who waited at table, in rich liveries; and the guests at his table, no doubt, such as he thought graced it. Well, and what harm was there in all this? It is no sin to be rich, no sin to wear purple and fine linen, nor to keep a plentiful table, if a man's estate will afford it. Not are we told that he got his estate by fraud, oppression, or extortion, no, nor that he was drunk, or made others drunk; but, [1.] Christ would hereby show that a man may have a great deal of the wealth, and pomp, and pleasure of this world, and yet lie and perish for ever under God's wrath and curse. We cannot infer from men's living great either that God loves them in giving them so much, or that they love God for giving them so much; happiness consists not in these things. [2.] That plenty and pleasure are a very dangerous and to many a fatal temptation to luxury, and sensuality, and forgetfulness of God and another world. This man might have been happy if he had not had great possessions and enjoyments. [3.] That the indulgence of the body, and the ease and pleasure of that, are the ruin of many a soul, and the interests of it. It is true, eating good meat and wearing good clothes are lawful; but it is true that they often become the food and fuel of pride and luxury, and so turn into sin to us. [4.] That feasting ourselves and our friends, and, at the same time, forgetting the distresses of the poor and afflicted, are very provoking to God and damning to the soul. The sin of this rich man was not so much his dress or his diet, but his providing only for himself.
2. Here is a godly man, and one that will be for ever happy, in the depth of adversity and distress (v. 20): There was a certain beggar, named Lazarus. A beggar of that name, eminently devout, and in great distress, was probably well known among good people at that time: a beggar, suppose such a one as Eleazar, or Lazarus. Some think Eleazar a proper name for any poor man, for it signifies the help of God, which they must fly to that are destitute of other helps. This poor man was reduced to the last extremity, as miserable, as to outward things, as you can lightly suppose a man to be in this world.
(1.) His body was full of sores, like Job. To be sick and weak in body is a great affliction; but sores are more painful to the patient, and more loathsome to those about him.
(2.) He was forced to beg his bread, and to take up with such scraps as he could get at rich people's doors. He was so sore and lame that he could not go himself, but was carried by some compassionate hand or other, and laid at the rich man's gate. Note, Those that are not able to help the poor with their purses should help them with their pains; those that cannot lend them a penny should lend them a hand; those that have not themselves wherewithal to give to them should either bring them, or go for them, to those that have. Lazarus, in his distress, had nothing of his own to subsist on, no relation to go to, nor did the parish take care of him. It is an instance of the degeneracy of the Jewish church at this time that such a godly man as Lazarus was should be suffered to perish for want of necessary food. Now observe,
[1.] His expectations from the rich man's table: He desired to be fed with the crumbs, v. 21. He did not look for a mess from off his table, though he ought to have had one, one of the best; but would be thankful for the crumbs from under the table, the broken meat which was the rich man's leavings; nay, the leavings of his dogs. The poor use entreaties, and must be content with such as they can get. Now this is taken notice of to show, First, What was the distress, and what the disposition, of the poor man. He was poor, but he was poor in spirit, contentedly poor. He did not lie at the rich man's gate complaining, and bawling, and making a noise, but silently and modestly desiring to be fed with the crumbs. This miserable man was a good man, and in favour with God. Note, It is often the lot of some of the dearest of God's saints and servants to be greatly afflicted in this world, while wicked people prosper, and have abundance; see Ps. lxxiii. 7, 10, 14. Here is a child of wrath and an heir of hell sitting in the house, faring sumptuously; and a child of love and an heir of heaven lying at the gate, perishing for hunger. And is men's spiritual state to be judged of then by their outward condition? Secondly, What was the temper of the rich man towards him. We are not told that he abused him, or forbade him his gate, or did him any harm, but it is intimated that he slighted him; he had no concern for him, took no care about him. Here was a real object of charity, and a very moving one, which spoke for itself; it was presented to him at his own gate. The poor man had a good character and good conduct, and every thing that could recommend him. A little thing would be a great kindness to him, and yet he took no cognizance of his case, did not order him to be taken in and lodged in the barn, or some of the out-buildings, but let him lie there. Note, It is not enough not to oppress and trample upon the poor; we shall be found unfaithful stewards of our Lord's goods, in the great day, if we do not succour and relieve them. The reason given for the most fearful doom is, I was hungry, and you gave me no meat. I wonder how those rich people who have read the gospel of Christ, and way that they believe it, can be so unconcerned as they often are in the necessities and miseries of the poor and afflicted.
[2.] The usage he had from the dogs; The dogs came and licked his sores. The rich man kept a kennel of hounds, it may be, or other dogs, for his diversion, and to please his fancy, and these were fed to the full, when poor Lazarus could not get enough to keep him alive. Note, Those will have a great deal to answer for hereafter that feed their dogs, but neglect the poor. And it is a great aggravation of the uncharitableness of many rich people that they bestow that upon their fancies and follies which would supply the necessity, and rejoice the heart, of many a good Christian in distress. Those offend God, nay, and they put a contempt upon human nature, that pamper their dogs and horses, and let the families of their poor neighbours starve. Now those dogs came and licked the sores of poor Lazarus, which may be taken, First, As an aggravation of his misery. His sores were bloody, which tempted the dogs to come, and lick them, as they did the blood of Naboth and Ahab, 1 Kings xxi. 19. And we read of the tongue of the dogs dipped in the blood of enemies, Ps. lxviii. 23. They attacked him while he was yet alive, as if he had been already dead, and he had not strength himself to keep them off, nor would any of the servants be so civil as to check them. The dogs were like their master, and thought they fared sumptuously when they regaled themselves with human gore. Or, it may be taken, Secondly, as some relief to him in his misery; alla kai, the master was hard-hearted towards him, but the dogs came and licked his sores, which mollified and eased them. It is not said, They sucked them, but licked them, which was good for them. The dogs were more kind to him than their master was.
II. Here is the different condition of this godly poor man, and this wicked rich man, at and after death. Hitherto the wicked man seems to have the advantage, but Exitus acta probat—Let us wait awhile, to see the end hereof.
1. They both died (v. 22): The beggar died; the rich man also died. Death is the common lot of rich and poor, godly and ungodly; there they meet together. One dieth in his full strength, and another in the bitterness of his soul; but they shall lie down alike in the dust, Job xxi. 26. Death favours not either the rich man for his riches or the poor man for his poverty. Saints die, that they may bring their sorrows to an end, and may enter upon their joys. Sinners die, that they may go to give up their account. It concerns both rich and poor to prepare for death, for it waits for them both. Mors sceptra ligonibus æquat—Death blends the sceptre with the spade.
———æquo pulsat pede pauperum tabernas,
With equal pace, impartial fate
Knocks at the palace, as the cottage gate.
2. The beggar died first. God often takes godly people out of the world, when he leaves the wicked to flourish still. It was an advantage to the beggar that such a speedy end was put to his miseries; and, since he could find no other shelter or resting-place, he was hid in the grave, where the weary are at rest.
3. The rich man died and was buried. Nothing is said of the interment of the poor man. They dug a hole any where, and tumbled his body in, without any solemnity; he was buried with the burial of an ass: nay, it is well if they that let the dogs lick his sores did not let them gnaw his bones. But the rich man had a pompous funeral, lay in state, had a train of mourners to attend him to his grave, and a stately monument set up over it; probably he had a funeral oration in praise of him, and his generous way of living, and the good table he kept, which those would commend that had been feasted at it. It is said of the wicked man that he is brought to the grave with no small ado, and laid in the tomb, and the clods of the valley, were it possible, are made sweet to him, Job xxi. 32, 33. How foreign is the ceremony of a funeral to the happiness of the man!
4. The beggar died and was carried by angels into Abraham's bosom. How much did the honour done to his soul, by this convoy of it to its rest, exceed the honour done to the rich man, by the carrying of his body with so much magnificence to its grave! Observe, (1.) His soul existed in a state of separation from the body. It did not die, or fall asleep, with the body; his candle was not put out with him; but lives, and acted, and knew what it did, and what was done to it. (2.) His soul removed to another world, to the world of spirits; it returned to God who gave it, to its native country; this is implied in its being carried. The spirit of a man goes upward. (3.) Angels took care of it; it was carried by angels. They are ministering spirits to the heirs of salvation, not only while they live, but when they die, and have a charge concerning them, to bear them up in their hands, not only in their journeys to and fro on earth, but in their great journey to their long home in heaven, to be both their guide and their guard through regions unknown and unsafe. The soul of man, if not chained to this earth and clogged by it as unsanctified souls are, has in itself an elastic virtue, by which it springs upward as soon as it gets clear of the body; but Christ will not trust those that are his to that, and therefore will send special messengers to fetch them to himself. One angel one would think sufficient, but here are more, as many were sent for Elijah. Amasis king of Egypt had his chariot drawn by kings; but what was that honour to this? Saints ascend in the virtue of Christ's ascension; but this convoy of angels is added for state and decorum. Saints shall be brought home, not only safely, but honourably. What were the bearers at the rich man's funeral, though, probably, those of the first rank, compared with Lazarus's bearers? The angels were not shy of touching him, for his sores were on his body, not on his soul; that was presented to God without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. "Now, blessed angels," said a good man just expiring, "now come and do your office." (4.) It was carried into Abraham's bosom. The Jews expressed the happiness of the righteous at death three ways:—they to go to the garden of Eden: they go to be under the throne of glory; and they go to the bosom of Abraham, and it is this which our Saviour here makes use of. Abraham was the father of the faithful; and whither should the souls of the faithful be gathered but to him, who, as a tender father, lays them in his bosom, especially at their first coming, to bid them welcome, and to refresh them when newly come from the sorrows and fatigues of this world? He was carried to his bosom, that is, to feast with him, for at feasts the guests are said to lean on one another's breasts; and the saints in heaven sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob. Abraham was a great and rich man, yet in heaven he does not disdain to lay poor Lazarus in his bosom. Rich saints and poor meet in heaven. This poor Lazarus, who might not be admitted within the rich man's gate, is conducted into the dining-room, into the bed-chamber, of the heavenly palace; and he is laid in the bosom of Abraham, whom the rich glutton scorned to set with the dogs of his flock.
5. The next news you hear of the rich man, after the account of his death and burial, is, that in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, v. 23.
(1.) His state is very miserable. He is in hell, in hades, in the state of separate souls, and there he is in the utmost misery and anguish possible. As the souls of the faithful, immediately after they are delivered from the burden of the flesh, are in joy and felicity, so wicked and unsanctified souls, immediately after they are fetched from the pleasures of the flesh by death, are in misery and torment endless, useless, and remediless, and which will be much increased and completed at the resurrection. This rich man had entirely devoted himself to the pleasures of the world of sense, was wholly taken up with them, and took up with them for his portion, and therefore was wholly unfit for the pleasures of the world of spirits; to such a carnal mind as his they would indeed be no pleasure, nor could he have any relish of them, and therefore he is of course excluded from them. Yet this is not all; he was hard-hearted to God's poor, and therefore he is not only cut off from mercy, but he has judgment without mercy, and falls under a punishment of sense as well as a punishment of loss.
(2.) The misery of his state is aggravated by his knowledge of the happiness of Lazarus: He lifts up his eyes, and sees Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. It is the soul that is in torment, and they are the eyes of the mind that are lifted up. He now began to consider what was become of Lazarus. He does not find him where he himself is, nay, he plainly sees him, and with as much assurance as if he had seen him with his bodily eyes, afar off in the bosom of Abraham. This same aggravation of the miseries of the damned we had before (ch. xiii. 28): Ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out. [1.] He saw Abraham afar off. To see Abraham we should think a pleasing sight; but to see him afar off was a tormenting sight. Near himself he saw devils and damned companions, frightful sights, and painful ones; afar off he saw Abraham. Note, Every sight in hell is aggravating. [2.] He saw Lazarus in him bosom. That same Lazarus whom he had looked upon with so much scorn and contempt, as not worthy his notice, he now sees preferred, and to be envied. The sight of him brought to his mind his own cruel and barbarous conduct towards him; and the sight of him in that happiness made his own misery the more grievous.
III. Here is an account of what passed between the rich man and Abraham in the separate state—a state of separation one from another, and of both from this world. Though it is probable that there will not be, nor are, any such dialogues or discourses between glorified saints and damned sinners, yet it is very proper, and what is usually done in descriptions, especially such as are designed to be pathetic and moving, by such dialogues to represent what will be the mind and sentiments both of the one and of the other. And since we find damned sinners tormented in the presence of the Lamb (Rev. xiv. 10), and the faithful servants of God looking upon them that have transgressed the covenant, there where their worm dies not, and their fire is not quenched (Isa. lxvi. 23, 24), such a discourse as this is not incongruous to be supposed. Now in this discourse we have,
1. The request which the rich man made to Abraham for some mitigation of his present misery, v. 24. Seeing Abraham afar off, he cried to him, cried aloud, as one in earnest, and as one in pain and misery, mixing shrieks with his petitions, to enforce them by moving compassion. He that used to command aloud now begs aloud, louder than ever Lazarus did at his gate. The songs of his riot and revels are all turned into lamentations. Observe here,
(1.) The title he gives to Abraham: Father Abraham. Note, There are many in hell that can call Abraham father, that were Abraham's seed after the flesh, nay, and many that were, in name and profession, the children of the covenant made with Abraham. Perhaps this rich man, in his carnal mirth, had ridiculed Abraham and the story of Abraham, as the scoffers of the latter days do; but now he gives him a title of respect, Father Abraham. Note, The day is coming when wicked men will be glad to scrape acquaintance with the righteous, and to claim kindred to them, though now they slight them. Abraham in this description represents Christ, for to him all judgment is committed, and it is his mind that Abraham here speaks. Those that now slight Christ will shortly make their court to him, Lord, Lord.
(2.) The representation he makes to him of his present deplorable condition: I am tormented in this flame. It is the torment of his soul that he complains of, and therefore such a fire as will operate upon souls; and such a fire the wrath of God is, fastening upon a guilty conscience; such a fire horror of mind is, and the reproaches of a self-accusing self-condemning heart. Nothing is more painful and terrible to the body than to be tormented with fire; by this therefore the miseries and agonies of damned souls are represented.
(3.) His request to Abraham, in consideration of this misery: Have mercy on me. Note, The day is coming when those that make light of divine mercy will beg hard for it. O for mercy, mercy, when the day of mercy is over, and offers of mercy are no more made. He that had no mercy on Lazarus, yet expects Lazarus should have mercy on him; "for," thinks he, "Lazarus is better natured than ever I was." The particular favour he begs is, Send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue. [1.] Here he complains of the torment of his tongue particularly, as if he were more tormented there than in any other part, the punishment answering the sin. The tongue is one of the organs of speech, and by the torment of that he is put in mind of all the wicked words that he had spoken against God and man, his cursing, and swearing, and blasphemy, all his hard speeches, and filthy speeches; by his words he is condemned, and therefore in his tongue he is tormented. The tongue is also one of the organs of tasting, and therefore the torments of that will remind him of his inordinate relish of the delights of sense, which he had rolled under his tongue. [2.] He desires a drop of water to cool his tongue. He does not say, "Father Abraham, order me a release from this misery, help me out of this pit," for he utterly despaired of this; but he asks as small a thing as could be asked, a drop of water to cool his tongue for one moment. [3.] He sometimes suspected that he had herein an ill design upon Lazarus, and hoped, if he could get him within his reach, he should keep him from returning to the bosom of Abraham. The heart that is filled with rage against God is filled with rage against the people of God. But we will think more charitably even of a damned sinner, and suppose he intended here to show respect to Lazarus, as one to whom he would now gladly be beholden. He names him, because he knows him, and thinks Lazarus will not be unwilling to do him this good office for old acquaintance' sake. Grotius here quotes Plato describing the torments of wicked souls, and among other things he says, They are continually raving on those whom they have murdered, or been any way injurious to, calling upon them to forgive them the wrongs they did them. Note, There is a day coming when those that now hate and despise the people of God would gladly receive kindness from them.
2. The reply which Abraham gave to this request. In general, he did not grant it. He would not allow him one drop of water, to cool his tongue. Note, The damned in hell shall not have any the least abatement or mitigation of their torment. If we now improve the day of our opportunities, we may have a full and lasting satisfaction in the streams of mercy; but, if we now slight the offer, it will be in vain in hell to expect the least drop of mercy. See how justly this rich man is paid in his own coin. He that denied a crumb is denied a drop. Now it is said to us, Ask, and it shall be given you; but, if we let slip this accepted time, we may ask, and it shall not be given us. But this is not all; had Abraham only said, "You shall have nothing to abate your torment," it had been sad; but he says a great deal which would add to his torment, and make the flame the hotter, for every thing in hell will be tormenting.
(1.) He calls him son, a kind and civil title, but here it serves only to aggravate the denial of his request, which shut up the bowels of the compassion of a father from him. He had been a son, but a rebellious one, and now an abandoned disinherited one. See the folly of those who rely on that plea, We have Abraham to our father, when we find one in hell, and likely to be there for ever, whom Abraham calls son.
(2.) He puts him in mind of what had been both his own condition and the condition of Lazarus, in their life-time: Son, remember; this is a cutting word. The memories of damned souls will be their tormentors, and conscience will then be awakened and stirred up to do its office, which here they would not suffer it to do. Nothing will bring more oil to the flames of hell than Son, remember. Now sinners are called upon to remember, but they do not, they will not, they find ways to avoid it. "Son, remember thy Creator, thy Redeemer, remember thy latter end;" but they can turn a deaf ear to these mementos, and forget that for which they have their memories; justly therefore will their everlasting misery arise from a Son, remember, to which they will not be able to turn a deaf ear. What a dreadful peal will this ring in our ears, "Son, remember the many warnings that were given thee not to come to this place of torment, which thou wouldest not regard; remember the fair offers made thee of eternal life and glory, which thou wouldest not accept!" But that which he is here put in mind of is, [1.] That thou in thy life-time receivedst thy good things. He does not tell him that he had abused them, but that he had received them: "Remember what a bountiful benefactor God has been to thee, how ready he was to do thee good; thou canst not therefore say he owes thee any thing, no, not a drop of water. What he gave thee thou receivedst, and that was all; thou never gavest him a receipt for them, in a thankful acknowledgment of them, much less didst thou ever make any grateful return for them or improvement of them; thou hast been the grave of God's blessings, in which they were buried, not the field of them, in which they were sown. Thou receivedst thy good things; thou receivedst them, and usedst them, as if they had been thine own, and thou hadst not been at all accountable for them. Or, rather, they were the things which thou didst choose for thy good things, which were in thine eye the best things, which thou didst content thyself with, and portion thyself in. Thou hadst meat, and drink, and clothes of the richest and finest, and these were the things thou didst place thy happiness in; they were thy reward, thy consolation, the penny thou didst agree for, and thou hast had it. Thou wast for the good things of thy life-time, and hadst no thought of better things in another life, and therefore hast no reason to expect them. The day of thy good things is past and gone, and now is the day of thy evil things, of recompence for all thy evil deeds. Thou hast already had the last drop of the vials of mercy that thou couldest expect to fall to thy share; and there remains nothing but vials of wrath without mixture." [2.] "Remember too what evil things Lazarus received. Thou enviest him his happiness here; but think what a large share of miseries he had in his life-time. Thou hast as much good as could be thought to fall to the lot of so bad a man, and he as much evil as could be thought to fall to the lot of so good a man. He received his evil things; he bore them patiently, received them from the hand of God, as Job did (ch. ii. 10, Shall we receive good at the hand of the Lord, and shall we not receive evil also?)—he received them as physic appointed for the cure of his spiritual distempers, and the cure was effected." As wicked people have good things in this life only, and at death they are for ever separated from all good, so godly people have evil things only in this life, and at death they are for ever put out of the reach of them. Now Abraham, by putting him in mind of both these together, awakens his conscience to remind him how he had behaved towards Lazarus, when he was reveling in his good things and Lazarus groaning under his evil things; he cannot forget that then he would not help Lazarus, and how then could he expect that Lazarus should now help him? Had Lazarus in his life-time afterwards grown rich, and he poor, Lazarus would have thought it his duty to relieve him, and not to have upbraided him with his former unkindness; but, in the future state of recompence and retribution, those that are now dealt with, both by God and man, better than they deserve, must expect to be rewarded every man according to his works.
(3.) He puts him in mind of Lazarus's present bliss, and his own misery: But now the tables are turned, and so they must abide for ever; now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. He did not need to be told that he was tormented; he felt it to his cost. He knew likewise that one who lay in the bosom of Abraham could not but be comforted there; yet Abraham puts him in mind of it, that he might, by comparing one thing with another, observe the righteousness of God, in recompensing tribulation to them who trouble his people, and to those who are troubled rest, 2 Thess. i. 6, 7. Observe, [1.] Heaven is comfort, and hell is torment: heaven is joy, hell is weeping, and wailing, and pain in perfection. [2.] The soul, as soon as it leaves the body, goes either to heaven or hell, to comfort or torment, immediately, and does not sleep, or go into purgatory. [3.] Heaven will be heaven indeed to those that go thither through many and great calamities in this world; of those that had grace, but had little of the comfort of it here (perhaps their souls refused to be comforted), yet, when they are fallen asleep in Christ, you may truly say, "Now they are comforted: now all their tears are wiped away, and all their fears are vanished." In heaven there is everlasting consolation. And, on the other hand, hell will be hell indeed to those that go thither from the midst of the enjoyment of all the delights and pleasures of sense. To them the torture is the greater, as temporal calamities are described to be to the tender and delicate woman, that would not set so much as the sole of her foot to the ground, for tenderness and delicacy. Deut. xxviii. 56.
(4.) He assures him that it was to no purpose to think of having any relief by the ministry of Lazarus; for (v. 26), Besides all this, worse yet, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, an impassable one, a great chasm, that so there can be no communication between glorified saints and damned sinners. [1.] The kindest saint in heaven cannot make a visit to the congregation of the dead and damned, to comfort or relieve any there who once were their friends. "They that would pass hence to you cannot; they cannot leave beholding the face of their Father, nor the work about his throne, to fetch water for you; that is no part of their business." [2.] The most daring sinner in hell cannot force his way out of that prison, cannot get over that great gulf. They cannot pass to us that would come thence. It is not to be expected, for the door of mercy is shut, the bridge is drawn; there is no coming out upon parole or bail, no, not for one hour. In this world, blessed be God, there is no gulf fixed between a state of nature and grace, but we may pass from the one to thee other, from sin to God; but if we die in our sins, if we throw ourselves into the pit of destruction, there is no coming out. It is a pit in which there is no water, and out of which there is no redemption. The decree and counsel of God have fixed this gulf, which all the world cannot unfix. This abandons this miserable creature to despair; it is now too late for any change of his condition, or any the least relief: it might have been prevented in time, but it cannot now be remedied to eternity. The state of damned sinners is fixed by an irreversible and unalterable sentence. A stone is rolled to the door of the pit, which cannot be rolled back.
3. The further request he had to make to his father Abraham, not for himself, his mouth is stopped, and he has not a word to say in answer to Abraham's denial of a drop of water. Damned sinners are made to know that the sentence they are under is just, and they cannot alleviate their own misery by making any objection against it. And, since he cannot obtain a drop of water to cool his tongue, we may suppose he gnawed his tongue for pain, as those are said to do on whom one of the vials of God's wrath is poured out, Rev. xvi. 10. The shrieks and outcries which we may suppose to be now uttered by him were hideous; but, having an opportunity of speaking to Abraham, he will improve it for his relations whom he has left behind, since he cannot improve it for his own advantage. Now as to this,
(1.) He begs that Lazarus might be sent to his father's house, upon an errand thither: I pray thee therefore, father, v. 27. Again he calls upon Abraham, and in this request he is importunate: "I pray thee. O deny me not this." When he was on earth he might have prayed and been heard, but now he prays in vain. "Therefore, because thou hast denied me the former request, surely thou wilt be so compassionate as not to deny this:" or, "Therefore, because there is a great gulf fixed, seeing there is no getting out hence when they are once here, O send to prevent their coming hither:" or, "Though there is a great gulf fixed between you and me, yet, since there is no such gulf fixed between you and them, send them hither. Send him back to my father's house; he knows well enough where it is, has been there many a time, having been denied the crumbs that fell from the table. He knows I have five brethren there; if he appear to them, they will know him, and will regard what he saith, for they knew him to be an honest man. Let him testify to them; let him tell them what condition I am in, and that I brought myself to it by my luxury and sensuality, and my unmercifulness to the poor. Let him warn them not to tread in my steps, nor to go on in the way wherein I led them, and left them, lest they also come into this place of torment," v. 28. Some observe that he speaks only of five brethren, whence they infer that he had no children, else he would have mentioned them, and then it was an aggravation of his uncharitableness that he had no children to provide for. Now he would have them stopped in their sinful course. He does not say, "Give me leave to go to them, that I may testify to them;" for he knew that there was a gulf fixed, and despaired of a permission so favourable to himself: his going would frighten them out of their wits; but, "Send Lazarus, whose address will be less terrible, and yet his testimony sufficient to frighten them out of their sins." Now he desired the preventing of their ruin, partly in tenderness to them, for whom he could not but retain a natural affection; he knew their temper, their temptations, their ignorance, their infidelity, their inconsideration, and wished to prevent the destruction they were running into: but it was partly in tenderness to himself, for their coming to him, to that place of torment, would but aggravate the misery to him, who had helped to show them the way thither, as the sight of Lazarus helped to aggravate his misery. When partners in sin come to be sharers in woe, as tares bound in bundles for the fire, they will be a terror to one another.
(2.) Abraham denies him this favour too. There is no request granted in hell. Those who make the rich man's praying to Abraham a justification of their praying to saints departed, as they have far to seek for proofs, when the practice of a damned sinner must be valued for an example, so they have little encouragement to follow the example, when all his prayers were made in vain. Abraham leaves them to the testimony of Moses and the prophets, the ordinary means of conviction and conversion; they have the written word, which they may read and hear read. "Let them attend to that sure word of prophecy, for God will not go out of the common method of his grace for them." Here is their privilege: They have Moses and the prophets; and their duty: "Let them hear them, and mix faith with them, and that will be sufficient to keep them from this place of torment." By this it appears that there is sufficient evidence in the Old Testament, in Moses and the prophets, to convince those that will hear them impartially that there is another life after this, and a state of rewards and punishments for good and bad men; for that was the thing which the rich man would have his brethren assured of, and for that they are turned over to Moses and the prophets.
(3.) He urges his request yet further (v. 30): "Nay, father Abraham, give me leave to press this. It is true, they have Moses and the prophets, and, if they would but give a due regard to them, it would be sufficient; but they do not, they will not; yet it may be hoped, if one went to them from the dead, they would repent, that would be a more sensible conviction to them. They are used to Moses and the prophets, and therefore regard them the less; but this would be a new thing, and more startling; surely this would bring them to repent, and to change their wicked habit and course of life." Note, Foolish men are apt to think any method of conviction better than that which God has chosen and appointed.
The Progress of Christ's Kingdom; Destruction of Jerusalem.
20 And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: 21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. 22 And he said unto the disciples, The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it. 23 And they shall say to you, See here; or, see there: go not after them, nor follow them. 24 For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven; so shall also the Son of man be in his day. 25 But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation. 26 And as it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. 27 They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all. 28 Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; 29 But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. 30 Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed. 31 In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back. 32 Remember Lot's wife. 33 Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it. 34 I tell you, in that night there shall be two men in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. 35 Two women shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. 36 Two men shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. 37 And they answered and said unto him, Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together.
We have here a discourse of Christ's concerning the kingdom of God, that is, the kingdom of the Messiah, which was now shortly to be set up, and of which there was great expectation.
I. Here is the demand of the Pharisees concerning it, which occasioned this discourse. They asked when the kingdom of God should come, forming a notion of it as a temporal kingdom, which should advance the Jewish nation above the nations of the earth. They were impatient to hear some tidings of its approach; they understood, perhaps, that Christ had taught his disciples to pray for the coming of it, and they had long preached that it was at hand. "Now," say the Pharisees, "when will that glorious view open? When shall we see this long-looked-for kingdom?"
II. Christ's reply to this demand, directed to the Pharisees first, and afterwards to his own disciples, who knew better how to understand it (v. 22); what he said to both, he saith to us.
1. That the kingdom of the Messiah was to be a spiritual kingdom, and not temporal and external. They asked when it would come. "You know not what you ask," saith Christ; "it may come, and you not be aware of it." For it has not an external show, as other kingdoms have, the advancements and revolutions of which are taken notice of by the nations of the earth, and fill the newspapers; so they expected this kingdom of God would do. "No," saith Christ, (1.) "It will have a silent entrance, without pomp, without noise; it cometh not with observation," meta paratereseos—with outward show. They desired to have their curiosity satisfied concerning the time of it, to which Christ does not give them any answer, but will have their mistakes rectified concerning the nature of it: "It is not for you to know the times of this kingdom, these are secret things, which belong not to you; but the great intentions of this kingdom, these are things revealed." When Messiah the Prince comes to set up his kingdom, they shall not say, Lo here, or Lo there, as when a prince goes in progress to visit his territories it is in every body's mouth, he is here, or he is there; for where the king is there is the court. Christ will not come with all this talk; it will not be set up in this or that particular place; nor will the court of that kingdom be here or there; nor will it be here or there as it respects the country men are of, or the place they dwell in, as if that would place them nearer to, or further from, that kingdom. Those who confine Christianity and the church to this place or that party, cry, Lo here, or Lo there, than which nothing is more contrary to the designs of catholic Christianity; so do they who make prosperity and external pomp a mark of the true church. (2.) "It has a spiritual influence: The kingdom of God is within you." It is not of this world, John xviii. 36. Its glory does not strike men's fancies, but affects their spirits, and its power is over their souls and consciences; from them it receives homage, and not from their bodies only. The kingdom of God will not change men's outward condition, but their hearts and lives. Then it comes when it makes those humble, and serious, and heavenly, that were proud, and vain, and carnal,—when it weans those from the world that were wedded to the world; and therefore look for the kingdom of God in the revolutions of the heart, not of the civil government. The kingdom of God is among you; so some read it. "You enquire when it will come, and are not aware that it is already begun to be set up in the midst of you. The gospel is preached, it is confirmed by miracles, it is embraced by multitudes, so that it is in your nation, though not in your hearts." Note, It is the folly of many curious enquirers concerning the times to come that they look for that before them which is already among them.
2. That the setting up of this kingdom was a work that would meet with a great deal of opposition and interruption, v. 22. The disciples thought they should carry all before them, and expected a constant series of success in their work; but Christ tells them it would be otherwise: "The days will come, before you have finished your testimony and done your work, when you shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man" (one such a day as we now have), "of the prosperity and progress of the gospel, and shall not see it. At first, indeed, you will have wonderful success" (so they had, when thousands were added to the church in a day); "but do not think it will be always so; no, you will be persecuted and scattered, silenced and imprisoned, so that you will not have opportunities of preaching the gospel without fear, as you now have; people will grow cool to it, when they have enjoyed it awhile, so that you will not see such harvests of souls gathered in to Christ afterwards as at first, nor such multitudes flocking to him as doves to their windows." This looks forward to his disciples in after-ages; they must expect much disappointment; the gospel will not be always preached with equal liberty and success. Ministers and churches will sometimes be under outward restraints. Teachers will be removed into corners, and solemn assemblies scattered. Then they will wish to see such days of opportunity as they have formerly enjoyed, sabbath days, sacrament days, preaching days, praying days; these are days of the Son of man, in which we hear from him, and converse with him. The time may come when we may in vain wish for such days. God teaches us to know the worth of such mercies by the want of them. It concerns us, while they are continued, to improve them, and in the years of plenty to lay up in store for the years of famine. Sometimes they will be under inward restraints, will not have such tokens of the presence of the Son of man with them as they have had. The Spirit is withdrawn from them; they see not their signs; the angel comes not down to stir the waters; there is a great stupidity among the children of men, and a great lukewarmness among the children of God; then they shall wish to see such victorious triumphant days of the Son of man as they have sometimes seen, when he has ridden forth with his bow and his crown, conquering and to conquer, but they will not see them. Note, We must not think that Christ's church and cause are lost because not always alike visible and prevailing.
3. That Christ and his kingdom are not to be looked for in this or that particular place, but his appearance will be general in all places at once (v. 23, 24): "They will say to you, See here, or, See there; here is one that will deliver the Jews out of the hands of the oppressing Romans, or there is one that will deliver the Christians out of the hands of the oppressing Jews; here is the Messiah, and there is his prophet; here in this mountain, or there at Jerusalem, you will find the true church. Go not after them, nor follow them; do not heed such suggestions. The kingdom of God was not designed to be the glory of one people only, but to give light to the Gentiles; for as the lightning that lightens out of one part under heaven, and shines all on a sudden irresistibly to the other part under heaven, so shall also the Son of man be in his day." (1.) "The judgments that are to destroy the Jewish nation, to lay them waste, and to deliver the Christians from them, shall fly like lightning through the land, shall lay all waste from one end of it to another; and those that are marked for this destruction can no more avoid it, nor oppose it, than they can a flash of lightning." (2.) "The gospel that is to set up Christ's kingdom in the world shall fly like lightning through the nations. The kingdom of the Messiah is not to be a local thing, but is to be dispersed far and wide over the face of the whole earth; it shall shine from Jerusalem to all parts about, and that in a moment. The kingdoms of the earth shall be leavened by the gospel ere they are aware of it." The trophies of Christ's victories shall be erected on the ruins of the devil's kingdom, even in those countries that could never be subdued to the Roman yoke. The design of the setting up of Christ's kingdom was not to make one nation great, but to make all nations good—some, at least, of all nations; and this point shall be gained, though the nations rage, and the kings of the earth set themselves with all their might against it.
4. That the Messiah must suffer before he must reign (v. 25): "First must he suffer many things, many hard things, and be rejected of this generation; and, if he be thus treated, his disciples must expect no other than to suffer and be rejected too for his sake." They thought of having the kingdom of the Messiah set up in external splendour: "No," saith Christ, "we must go by the cross to the crown. The Son of man must suffer many things. Pain, and shame, and death, are those many things. He must be rejected by this generation of unbelieving Jews, before he be embraced by another generation of believing Gentiles, that his gospel may have the honour of triumphing over the greatest opposition from those who ought to have given it the greatest assistance; and thus the excellency of the power will appear to be of God, and not of man; for, though Israel be not gathered, yet he will be glorious to the ends of the earth."
5. That the setting up of the kingdom of the Messiah would introduce the destruction of the Jewish nation, whom it would find in a deep sleep of security, and drowned in sensuality, as the old world was in the days of Noah, and Sodom in the days of Lot, v. 26, &c. Observe,
(1.) How it had been with sinners formerly, and in what posture the judgments of God, of which they had been fairly warned, did at length find them. Look as far back as the old world, when all flesh had corrupted their way, and the earth was filled with violence. Come a little lower, and think how it was with the men of Sodom, who were wicked, and sinners before the Lord exceedingly. Now observe concerning both these, [1.] That they had fair warning given them of the ruin that was coming upon them for their sins. Noah was a preacher of righteousness to the old world; so was Lot to the Sodomites. They gave them timely notice of what would be in the end of their wicked ways, and that it was not far off. [2.] That they did not regard the warning given them, and gave no credit, no heed to it. They were very secure, went on in their business as unconcerned as you could imagine; they did eat, they drank, indulged themselves in their pleasures, and took no care of any thing else, but to make provision for the flesh, counted upon the perpetuity of their present flourishing state, and therefore married wives, and were given in marriage, that their families might be built up. They were all very merry; so were the men of Sodom, and yet very busy too: they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded. These were lawful things, but the fault was that they minded these inordinately, and their hearts were entirely set upon them, as that they had no heart at all to prepare against the threatened judgments. When they should have been, as the men of Nineveh, fasting and praying, repenting and reforming, upon warning given them of an approaching judgment, they were going on securely, eating flesh, and drinking wine, when God called to weeping and to mourning, Isa. xxii. 12, 13. [3.] That they continued in their security and sensuality, till the threatened judgment came. Until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and Lot went out of Sodom, nothing said or done to them served to alarm or awaken them. Note, Though the stupidity of sinners in a sinful way is as strange as it is without excuse, yet we are not to think it strange, for it is not without example. It is the old way that wicked men have trodden, that have gone slumbering to hell, as if their damnation slumbered while they did. [4.] That God took care for the preservation of those that were his, who believed and feared, and took the warning themselves which they gave to others. Noah entered into the ark, and there he was safe; Lot went out of Sodom, and so went out of harm's way. If some run on heedless and headlong into destruction, that shall be no prejudice to the salvation of those that believe. [5.] That they were surprised with the ruin which they would not fear, and were swallowed up in it, to their unspeakable horror and amazement. The flood came, and destroyed all the sinners of the old world; fire and brimstone came, and destroyed all the sinners of Sodom. God has many arrows in his quiver, and uses which he will in making war upon his rebellious subjects, for he can make which he will effectual. But that which is especially intended here is to show what a dreadful surprise destruction will be to those who are secure and sensual.
(2.) How it will be with sinners still (v. 30): Thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed. When Christ comes to destroy the Jewish nation, by the Roman armies, the generality of that nation will be found under such a reigning security and stupidity as this. They have warning given by Christ now, and will have it repeated to them by the apostles after him, as they had by Noah and Lot; but it will be all in vain. They will continue secure, will go on in their neglect and opposition of Christ and his gospel, till all the Christians are withdrawn from among them and gone to the place of refuge. God will provide for them on the other side Jordan, and then a deluge of judgments shall flow in upon them, which will destroy all the unbelieving Jews. One would have thought that this discourse of our Saviour's, which was public, and not long after published to the world, should have awakened them; but it did not, for the hearts of that people were hardened, to their destruction. In like manner, when Jesus Christ shall come to judge the world, at the end of time, sinners will be found in the same secure and careless posture, altogether regardless of the judgment approaching, which will therefore come upon them as a snare; and in like manner the sinners of every age go on securely in their evil ways, and remember not their latter end, nor the account that they must give. Woe to them that are thus at ease in Zion.
6. That it ought to be the care of his disciples and followers to distinguish themselves from the unbelieving Jews in that day, and, leaving them, their city and country, to themselves, to flee at the signal given, according to the direction that should be given. Let them retire, as Noah to his ark, and Lot to his Zoar. You would have healed Jerusalem, as of old Babylon, but she is not healed, and therefore forsake her, flee out of the midst of her, and deliver every man his soul, Jer. li. 6, 9. This flight of theirs from Jerusalem must be expeditious, and must not be retarded by any concern about their worldly affairs (v. 31): "He that shall be on the house-top, when the alarm is given, let him not come down, to take his stuff away, both because he cannot spare so much time, and because the carrying away of his effects will but encumber him and retard his flight." Let him not regard his stuff at such a time, when it will be next to a miracle of mercy if he have his life given him for a prey. It will be better to leave his stuff behind him than to stay to look after it, and perish with them that believe not. It will be their concern to do as Lot and his family were charged to do: Escape for thy life. Save yourselves from this untoward generation. (2.) When they have made their escape, they must not think of returning (v. 32): "Remember Lot's wife; and take warning by her not only to flee from this Sodom (for so Jerusalem is become, Isa. i. 10), but to persevere in your flight, and do not look back, as she did; be not loth to leave a place marked for destruction, whomsoever or whatsoever you leave behind you, that is ever so dear to you." Those who have left the Sodom of a natural state, let them go forward, and not so much as look a kind look towards it again. Let them not look back, lest they should be tempted to go back; nay, lest that be construed a going back in heart, or an evidence that the heart was left behind. Lot's wife was turned into a pillar of salt, that she might remain a lasting monument of God's displeasure against apostates, who begin in the spirit and end in the flesh. (3.) There would be no other way of saving their lives than by quitting the Jews, and, if they thought to save themselves by a coalition with them, they would find themselves mistaken (v. 33): "Whosoever shall seek to save his life, by declining from his Christianity and complying with the Jews, he shall lose it with them and perish in the common calamity; but whosoever is willing to venture his life with the Christians, upon the same bottom on which they venture, to take his lot with them in life and in death, he shall preserve his life, for he shall make sure of eternal life, and is in a likelier way at that time to save his life than those who embark in a Jewish bottom, or ensure upon their securities." Note, Those do best themselves that trust God in the way of duty.
7. That all good Christians should certainly escape, but many of them very narrowly, from that destruction, v. 34-36. When God's judgments are laying all waste, he will take an effectual course to preserve those that are his, by remarkable providences distinguishing between them and others that were nearest to them: two in a bed, one taken and the other left; one snatched out of the burning and taken into a place of safety, while the other is left to perish in the common ruin. Note, Though the sword devours one as well as another, and all things seem to come alike to all, yet sooner or later it shall be made to appear that the Lord knows them that are his and them that are not, and how to take out the precious from the vile. We are sure that the Judge of all the earth will do right; and therefore, when he sends a judgment on purpose to avenge the death of his Son upon those that crucified him, he will take care that none of those who glorified him, and gloried in his cross, shall be taken away by that judgment.
8. That this distinguishing, dividing, discriminating work shall be done in all places, as far as the kingdom of God shall extend, v. 37. Where, Lord? They had enquired concerning the time, and he would not gratify their curiosity with any information concerning that; they therefore tried him with another question: "Where, Lord? Where shall those be safe that are taken? Where shall those perish that are left?" The answer is proverbial, and may be explained so as to answer each side of the question: Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together. (1.) Wherever the wicked are, who are marked for perdition, they shall be found out by the judgments of God; as wherever a dead carcase is, the birds of prey will smell it out, and make a prey of it. The Jews having made themselves a dead and putrefied carcase, odious to God's holiness and obnoxious to his justice, wherever any of that unbelieving generation is, the judgments of God shall fasten upon them, as the eagles do upon the prey: Thine hand shall find out all thine enemies (Ps. xxi. 8), though they set their nests among the stars, Obad. 4. The Roman soldiers will hunt the Jews out of all their recesses and fastnesses, and none shall escape. (2.) Wherever the godly are, who are marked for preservation, they shall be found happy in the enjoyment of Christ. As the dissolution of the Jewish church shall be extended to all parts, so shall the constitution of the Christian church. Wherever Christ is, believers will flock to him, and meet in him, as eagles about the prey, without being directed or shown the way, by the instinct of the new nature. Now Christ is where his gospel, and his ordinances, and his church are: For where two or three are gathered in his name there is he in the midst of them, and thither therefore others will be gathered to him. The kingdom of the Messiah is not to have one particular place for its metropolis, such as Jerusalem was to the Jewish church, to which all Jews were to resort; but, wherever the body is, wherever the gospel is preached and ordinances are ministered, thither will pious souls resort, there they will find Christ, and by faith feast upon him. Wherever Christ records his name he will meet his people, and bless them, John iv. 21, &c.; 1 Tim. ii. 8. Many good interpreters understand it of the gathering of the saints together to Christ in the kingdom of glory: "Ask not where the carcase will be, and how they shall find the way to it, for they shall be under infallible direction; to him who is their living, quickening Head, and the centre of their unity, to him shall the gathering of the people be."