J. N. Darby.
Collected Writings Vol. 25, Expository No. 4d. (b & c are the charts, pp. 28-36)
Here we have a most weighty thing spoken of - the sabbath. It is a question that often agitates the minds of men, and it was then specially important as closing Jewish relations. And this, it will be borne in mind, was just where the Lord had morally arrived at the close of the preceding chapter. The rights of His person and His grace, now becoming more rejected by the religionists, of Israel, reach out beyond the narrow bounds of that proud people. God thereon, by degrees, intimates the coming purpose of His mercy; His salvation in due time shall be sent unto the Gentiles, and they will hear if the Jew judges himself unworthy of everlasting life. God will have His own joy of saving souls somewhere.
65 Now it is very evident that the incident of the cornfield (v 1-5), "on the second sabbath after the first," thoroughly falls in with the object of the Spirit in hand. "The Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath." His person entitles Him to supremacy over that which was the sign of the covenant of the law. In the next case (v. 6-10) He asserts the right to do good on the sabbath-days, as His adversaries on the same day shew their disposition to destroy.
The sabbath, in any real sense, man had entirely lost; indeed he had never entered into God's thoughts of rest. It was His rest, and had not sin spoiled all, man should have enjoyed that which was the result not of his own, but of God's labour. This is the proper character of that rest which belongs to man distinctively; but sin having come in, the necessity has arisen that God should work afresh, if man is ever to share the rest of God (Heb. 4). Meanwhile Christ has appeared and finished the work which God gave Him to do. Hence, we who believe, find rest in Christ, as does God Himself. In Him, by virtue of the accomplished and accepted work of redemption, we have our sabbath spiritually.
The day was set apart and hallowed from the beginning (Gen. 2). Afterwards it came in, first in grace to Israel, marked by the cessation of the manna, and a double portion to provide for that holy day (Ex. 16): and, secondly, as a part of the law of Sinai, and incorporated with every new and special dealing of Jehovah (chap. 20). (See also chap. 31:13, 14; 33:14; 34:21; and 35:2.) It was a memorial thenceforward of the deliverance out of Egypt (Deut. 5:15). Accordingly, the prophets expressly treat it as a sign of Israel's separation from all other nations unto God, and God's covenant with them (Ezek. 20:12-20; 22:8; 23:38; 44:24; Isa. 56, 58; Jer. 17:21-27.) But then, in the past, Israel, a sinful people, had the sabbath as a legal ordinance, and consequently are condemned by it as by all else.
66 Where is this covenant with Israel? All gone because of their iniquity. Hence they were thrown into the hands of the Gentiles, and became slaves. "Behold we are servants this day; and for the land that thou gavest unto our fathers to eat the fruit thereof and the good thereof, behold, we are servants in it; and it yieldeth much increase unto the kings whom thou hast set over us, because of our sins: also they have dominion over our bodies, and over our cattle at their pleasure, and we are in great distress" (Neh. 9:36, 37). If they had a temple after the captivity, it was only at the mercy of their Persian masters. The outward emblem lingered on, no doubt, and was especially made much to dishonour Him, of whom and whose work it was so significant; but where was its reality when Jesus was on earth? Alas! He lies in the grave all the day which His murderers kept as a day holy to Jehovah ("for that sabbath was a high day!"): awful testimony to the Jews of their position. Their own Messiah slain by His own people: such was the truth which that sabbath-day uttered to him who had ears to hear. Israel never had the rest of God. If Joshua had given them rest, etc. (Heb. 4). There remaineth therefore a rest. They must own Jesus first.
But the rejected Jesus was Son of man, and the Son of man was Lord of the sabbath (v. 5) - a truth of the utmost gravity, to be asserted with all strength. Those who confound the Lord's day with the sabbath are in danger of forgetting this. It was the very point here in controversy with the Jews who maintained that the sabbath was superior to the Lord. But He shews that another new principle had come in, which wholly overleaped the old, and that to remain in the old was to have no deliverance. For there is no possibility for a lustful creature to be under a commandment that condemns lust, without being condemned. Grace, however, has entered through a rejected Christ, and now there is rest for us who believe - not for those who are on the ground of law.
This is the reason why Christians keep the first day of the week, and not the seventh or sabbath day. The rest was acquired by the power of Christ's redemption, and the first day, when He arose from the dead, was that which proclaimed it to faith, spite of man's guilt and ruin. The seventh day will be the rest of man on earth; the first day celebrates Christ's taking us in Him to heaven. Then was life from the dead, life more abundantly, liberty from the law and every consequence of sin - in a word, the victory of grace. The Christian therefore has the first day distinctively, because it belongs to and witnesses of the perfected work of Christ, and consequently introduces heavenly rest. The first day is in contrast with the seventh, which appertained to the round of man's labour in nature and of the Jew's under the law, in which Adam and Israel utterly broke down. It is the Lord's day emphatically, and thus testifies of the triumph of Christ's word and the glory of His person - not the day which guilty unbelief would have perverted into the proof and means of His inferiority. It is positive, direct blessing to him who owns and honours it - not because it is the close of legal toil, but the commencement of Christian hope - the resurrection-day when we begin our spiritual life; and look on for what will crown so precious a pledge.
67 Here, however, the grand thing is the maintenance of the rights and the authority of the Son of man. You never can, according to God, raise up the title of the sabbath against the Lord of the sabbath.
Verses 3-5. What did David, the anointed of the Lord, when Saul persecuted him and sought his life? Was it of God, then, to uphold the ritual and so starve the man after His heart? No; the foundations were out of course, and everything became common in Israel when the chosen king was thus iniquitously rejected. But a greater One, and a graver sin, were now in their midst. The Son indeed, but the Root of David, God Himself was there; He who instituted the sabbath, its Lord, was there in the person of the Son of man.
Verses 6-10. But if God was there, would He deny His own goodness or restrain His power in presence of human misery, because "the scribes and Pharisees watched him whether he would heal on the sabbath-day?" Divine love must act and heal the withered hand, even if wretched man should seek to find therein an accusation. And they were filled with madness and communed one with another what they might do to Jesus (v. 11); but Jesus in those days retired to a mountain to pray. He drew near to God, to commune with Him what He was to do for them (v. 12). His was the activity of grace - of love displaying itself holily and mightily in the midst of evil.
68 Verses 13-16. "And when it was day he called his disciples," etc. In this call He proves that He was the only One who could empower others to bear this testimony also: and yet here, as in all that passed before, He is the lowly dependent One - perfect man, as well as God. He was in perfect unbroken communion with His God and Father, though Himself God manifest in the flesh. How blessedly near us this brings Him, though so infinitely above us! What He did, we should aim at, whatever our measure and our little sphere. In Him we see man perfect in that place of power wherein He came.
He knew whom He chose. He knew that one of them had a devil, but He sent them out. Twelve He chose specially, whom also He called apostles, "sent ones." It was an important and significant word, as quite a distinct thing from both law and promises. No one was sent out by law. Now God is active; He is sending His Son, and the Son is sending out apostles. The love of God is active in gathering souls. This first sent One is a man, really and truly. God's work of His grace must be done by His Son: not by angels, but by His own Son, as the Man Christ Jesus, and He sends men out from Himself. The gathering point is Man - Himself of course. To Man God has committed all things. While it must be God who shews grace, the Son of man it is who comes on the mission of love, and sends out men to men.
Verses 17-19. Whatever He attracts by, He gathers round Himself to worship, surrounds Himself with them, and then comes down and stands in the plain. The great multitude are attracted by His miracles and their wants, coming to hear and be healed. The company of the disciples were an inner circle. "The whole multitude sought to touch him." It is not said that they were converted, which is another thing; but living power went out of Him, healing their bodily misery and delivering from the power of Satan.
Verse 20, etc. He now lifts up His eyes on His disciples and speaks to them, not as in Matthew 5, etc., giving them the developed principles of the kingdom; but distinguishing those before Him as the remnant. Hence it is "ye" here. He puts seal and stamp on those actually gathered round Himself. They are to be like Him. He is at once their centre and their pattern. He was God, but the fulness of the Holy Ghost dwelt in Him as man also; and so He could say, "I do always those things which please him." So should it be with those around Him.
69 Verses 20-26. "Blessed [are] ye poor; for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed [are] ye that hunger now; for ye shall be filled. Blessed [are] ye that weep now; for ye shall laugh. Blessed are ye when men shall hate you," etc. These words of the Saviour give the contrast of those He pronounces blessed with all that are in ease in this world. Those who, if in this life only they had hope in Christ, would be of all men the most miserable, are the only happy few; they are severed from all others, and put in relationship with Him the source of blessing, to be blessed. If you can make yourselves happy and comfortable in this world which has rejected Jesus, count not on His blessing.
It is the poor, the despised with Jesus, who shall have the kingdom. He says, if we may so speak, "I am distinguishing you" (for there is no enunciation of abstract principles, as in the beginning of Matthew 5, but a speaking to the hearts of those gathered around Him). "I am come as the centre of power and active love. There is but one sole place of blessing on earth. With Me you are blessed." Others may be gay and cheerful where Christ has no place; but it is a time when a true spiritual soul can get no good save with Christ. It is a definite distinction of, and address to, the disciples who attached themselves to Him. This is made clear in verse 22, where the persecution for righteousness, which Matthew carefully records, is omitted. Here it is only a question of suffering "for the Son of man's sake."
In the midst of a world of misery and selfishness there came One who displayed not law nor judgment, but grace. But the light shines in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not. Like the adder that hears nothing, the world goes on as deaf as it is blind. No; you who are "full," now Jesus has no charm for you; but you, disciples, are weeping now - the sorrow and the sin of man distress your spirit: you shall rejoice. When God has His way, you, who cannot be satisfied with the husks, shall be filled. Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven; for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets. You have your portion with Christ here, you shall have it with Christ in heaven. You suffer with the suffering One, you shall have glory with the glorified One. But the others! - they shall have what they seek. For the full there shall be a famine by-and-by, for they have lost God. If you can laugh in such a world as this, you shall weep when God's time for blessing comes. They are of the world, and the world loves its own. "So did their fathers to the false prophets." Are the times altered? Is Christ's character changed? It is not a whit more agreeable to the flesh. And if you can find your joy, ease, and pleasure in the world, Christ could not, and you have not His Spirit. He that will be its friend is the enemy of God. Can the disciples of Jesus be merry and gay in a world which has sin wrapped up in it? There is communion with Jesus, joy in the Spirit, while patient in tribulation; but this is quite another thing. It is a serious joy, though very real and blessed.
70 From verse 27 He shews what must be the conduct of the disciples as such. They were to manifest God, to be the unfolding of what was displayed in Him. Grace which was in Him in fulness and perfection should be reproduced in them, sadly as we all fail in this - the principle of our path. "Love your enemies," etc. God loved us when we were His enemies, and we have now to shew practically what God is. Verse 29 brings us into entirely human circumstances, patiently learning in them: or, as in 1 Peter 2, doing well, suffering for it, and taking it patiently. This may seem poor comfort. But Jesus did so, and love must so manifest itself in an evil world. The time comes when God will judge, instead of bearing long as now; but now, at whatever cost to self, shew love as Christ did. Flesh can love for love (v. 32, 33), but the disciples of Christ are called to imitate God, and walk in love. "Love ye your enemies, and do good and lend, hoping for nothing again, and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest; for he is kind to the unthankful and to the evil."
What a blessed character of God comes out here! It is not righteousness, though surely there was that; but in the world where God had to do with the unthankful and evil, He shews grace. For the angels He has not grace, but love: but Christ in this world of sin is grace (that is, love to those who deserve it not). "Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful." It is not "with" but "as your Father." As He loves His enemies, so do you; He is merciful, be ye also merciful. In all this, God's character is displayed - perfect love in a world of sinners. It must cost us something; it cost the life of Christ. His love was a stream, which, if it met with hindrances in its way, only went on flowing over, and leaving them behind till it reached the cross.
71 Verse 37. This is not certain things required in order to get life, but the result of certain conduct shewn. "Judge not, and ye shall not be judged," etc. As though He had said, You will find the consequences of your conduct as Christ did. He took the lowest place, but He has got the highest now. He humbled Himself; "wherefore God also hath highly exalted him," etc. He came not to judge, and now "all judgment is committed to the Son." Thus we not only have the display of grace, but divine character meeting its consequences. It is a question of government - of walking with the Lord; it must cost a great deal in the path, but in the end it will be "full measure, pressed down," etc. There will be God's blessing too in the way; though self is mortified. Grace will abound according to God's way.
Verse 39. See the contrast of those who are utter blindness, and the blind leading the blind. You must let them alone; leave them to go on their own way; but you have to take your place with Me; and the disciple is not above his master, but you shall be as your Master. If your Master suffers, you suffer; if it has cost your Master much, it may cost you much. If Christ teaches you, it is to make you possess the divine learning that He has Himself. And see what a place He gives us! When He gives, what does He give? The very same that He has Himself. "As he is, so are we in this world." "Not as the world giveth," which, if it gives a little, reserves the chief for itself; but as though He said, "I am putting you in the very same learning that is in My nature: the grace that I have you are to have." But people do not like to do those things that Jesus did.
Why is there so much argument about that one passage, "resist not evil"? It is because you like to resist evil. Your will is touched, your conscience is reached; for it is given you as matter-of-fact exhortation; but you do not like it, and you will rid of it if you can. These things are given as tests for the conscience; they judge the eye, not the path only. "If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light." The object is wrong, if you have not light for the step. There may be difficulties in going up a steep hill, but if the object before you is clear, you get over them as quickly as you can. This is what is meant by the expression, "This one thing I do," Phil. 3:13. It is having one object, and the mind intent on accomplishing it. If it is so with you, there will be sure to be light in the path - light, not for ten years hence, but for this one step that is before you, and then for the next. It was said to Moses, "Speak to the children of Israel that they go forward"; and when they were out in the wilderness, the pillar was given to be their constant guide. So with us; we are called out to go after Christ on the principle of obedience, and this puts us into connection with Him in the revelation of His will, not giving us to see all the path onwards. A man may see a wall, and say, "I cannot go that way: there is a wall," while, if he but takes a single step, he will find that there is a path all down by the side of the wall.
72 Verse 44. "Every tree is known by his own fruit." Not only bearing fruit, but fruit that Christ produces should be ours. There is fruit that an upright nature produces, such as that of the young man who came to Jesus, but this was not divine fruit - "its own fruit"; and where Christ is the root and the stock, it is Christian fruit, that is, fruit that will remain (John 15:16). Two men may go together up to a certain point, and then some test for Christ comes; one goes on with Him, and the other turns aside. "Its own fruit" - fruit shews itself, springs of itself. There will not be the question of, What harm in this or that? What harm in being rich? as a person once asked me. If it shuts you out of heaven, is there any harm in that? Oh, I did not think of that! But the secret is, that you like the things. The evil is not the things themselves dug out of the earth, but the love in the heart for them. "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh." An impatient word betrays the heart. A blow I may restrain and yet utter the word.
Verse 47. In the hearing of all the multitude the Lord speaks now about the house built upon the rock, etc. This is not a question about building upon Christ, the Rock, for the salvation of the sinner. It is the path of the saint. But where Christ's word does connect with Himself, see the result. The very thing people are called upon to do is to follow Him; and when I follow, it proves that the Master's words have taken such hold upon my soul that they have power to carry me over the difficulties. "My soul followeth hard after thee." A man's affections, heart, will, are taken and connected with Christ, instead of with himself. Is Christ sufficiently precious to make me leave all beside and follow Him, to do those things that please Him?" If a man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, but shall have the light of life." "As when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light." Keeping close to Christ, the light shines upon us. If we have to get into the light, we may be dazzled by it. Thus He has gathered round Himself in light and love, set out in those words, those whom He will have to enjoy Himself, and be as their Master, at length to be conformed to His image in glory.
73 Luke 7.
We have seen the Lord, rejected by Israel, gradually, in virtue of His person and rights, breaking out beyond the ancient limits, and gathering the remnant round Himself, the new and only just object of God, the source of a mission in grace, and the full development and exemplification of holy love in an evil world; for, whatever the principles laid down in chapter 6, they are but the expression of God's character in grace, as displayed in Christ here below.
In accordance with this, we have now (v. 1-10) the case of the centurion, and a very full and striking one it is. It is not merely an act of grace, but grace to a Gentile. Nor is this all. The principle on which the apostle rests this question is brought out. "It is of faith, that it might be by grace, that the promise might be sure to all the seed." Faith, as the great turning-point, is introduced. It was no mere theory; it was living faith, and such faith as had not been seen in Israel. Neither was there presumption, but, on the contrary, remarkable humility. He recognised the honour God had put upon His people; he sees, holds to it, owns and acts upon it, spite of their low and debased, and, in every other respect, unworthy condition. Despised and failing as they might be, he loved the Jews as God's people, and for His sake, and he had built them a synagogue. Unfeigned lowliness was his, though (yea, rather, for) his faith was far beyond those he honoured. Consequently he had a very high apprehension of the power and glory of the person of Christ as divine, reaching out beyond Jewish thoughts altogether. He does not refer to the Lord as Messiah, but recognised in Him the power of God in love. This was blessed faith, which forgets itself in the exaltation of its object. He had not seen Jesus, it would seem, but assuredly gathered from what he "heard," that diseases were nothing to Him but occasions wherein to display His absolute authority and His sovereign mercy. He was a stranger, and the Jews were God's people; must not they or their elders be the fittest to bring this wonderful person? For he confided in His mercy as well as His power, and his servant, "dear unto him," was sick and ready to die. He needed Jesus.
74 "Then Jesus went with them. And when he was now not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying unto him, Lord, trouble not thyself; for I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof; wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto thee; but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed." There was surely the deepest personal respect and affection. Untaught as he might be in other things, he strongly felt the excellency of Christ's person, and here again with humility correspondent to the measure in which His glory was seen. This message of the centurion's friends admirably depicts his character and feeling. He told nothing to Jesus of his service to the Jews, spoke of nothing personal save his unworthiness, and this so consistently, that he begged Jesus not to come to his house, as unworthy to receive Him. There was in this soul the exact opposite of doing Christ an honour, by believing on Him, and far from him was the pretence of receiving Christ to set himself up; both alas! found often elsewhere. The simplicity of his heart is as apparent as his strong faith. There was none such in Israel, and yet it was in one who loved Israel. It was a lesson of grace, in every way, for the crowd that followed Jesus - for us too most surely.
Along with grace to the Gentiles came the evidence of power to raise the dead, but here it was manifested in human sympathies, in witness that God had visited His people (v. 11-17). It was the power of resurrection, a power which was yet to be shewn more gloriously, and to be the source of that which is new for man according to God - the God who raiseth the dead. It was another and wondrous proof that He is here going, in the character of His action, without the sphere of the law and its ordinances. "For the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth": what can it avail for one who is dead? "But what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh," Rom. 8:3. It was grace, indeed, and divine energy, but withal displayed in One who was touched with the feeling of our infirmities. And how astonishingly all the details bring this out! The dead man was "the only son of his mother, and she was a widow." "And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not.... And he that was dead sat up and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother." How exquisitely human, and withal how unmistakably divine!
75 It is manifest that these two cases illustrate the change which the Spirit is attesting in this part of Luke. Nor is it otherwise with the scene that follows, which brings out in fact the hinge of the dispensation. The Lord bears witness to John Baptist, not John to the Lord. John sends two of his disciples, on the report of the Lord's miracles, to learn from Himself who He is. Are we surprised? He had preached and baptized in the confession of sins and in faith of the coming Messiah. But now all was changed. John was in prison, not delivered, and it was no longer a people preparing for the Lord. Was it not strange? At any rate John sought a plain answer, and well could he trust the word of One who did such mighty and holy works. But what a comment upon the marvellous change was this very inquiry! It was a sort of turning over the disciples of John to the Lord. "And in the same hour he cured many of their infirmities, and plagues, and evil spirits; and unto many that were blind he gave sight. Then Jesus answering said unto them, Go your way and tell John," etc. At the same time, if He receives no longer testimony from John, He bears it to him, owning John and his work. But they were owned from a higher ground where the Lord in grace and resurrection power had placed Himself; and this was based on entire rejection in and by the world, so that, though He was doing all good, still it was "blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me." Hence in the very verse where the Lord recognises in the fullest way John the Baptist, He marks the change about to take place - "he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he." Happy they who justified God in being baptized of John - wretched the self-righteous who rejected His counsel against themselves. Wisdom is justified of all her children. They understand the ways of God, whether in the servant or the Lord. The ways are quite different, but understood in grace. This generation alas! understands none, finds fault with all. John is too righteous for them, Jesus is too gracious. The mourning of the one and the piping of the other are utterly distasteful. Such is man's wisdom before the ways of God. But the children of wisdom justify wisdom notwithstanding.
76 And in spite of the perverseness of men, our Lord did not stop manifesting Himself to the world. Accordingly a tale follows (v. 36-50) which shews how God's wisdom is justified by and in those who own it in Jesus. It is a tale of grace,. of pure, plenary, pardoning grace, which rests not till its object is dismissed in perfect peace. Jesus is in the Pharisee's house, who failed entirely in the essential point: Simon perceived not the glory of Christ. In this the Lord meets him, and shews, in contrast with the woman "which was a sinner," the point where this Pharisee was exercising judgment to be precisely that wherein he failed. God's thoughts are not as our thoughts, nor His ways as our ways. What if the despised Jesus were not a prophet only, but a Saviour of poor lost sinners? Ah, God was unknown - that was the secret. The converted soul sees the glory of the Lord as grace towards itself; he who is unconvinced, however interested humanly, judges according to his own thoughts, and therefore necessarily fails to see the glory which is not according to these thoughts. Man's judgment of the gospel must be wrong therefore; his reception of it, as grace, is alone right, and alone the way of coming to the knowledge of it.
This was, then, a direct and distinct example of God's ways. It was a forgiving of sins in grace, sovereignly and freely, to any poor sinner, manifesting and producing love in the forgiven, who loves God, because God is love, and this in respect of his sins, in Jesus the Lord. It was proper grace - the ground on which any one, a Gentile or not, would be received, and God manifested not in requirement from man (and so making man in the flesh of importance) but making God all, and His character in sovereign grace, so bringing in blessing and its blessed effect upon the heart, developing the fruits of grace in a heart restored to confidence in God by the sense of His goodness.
What a blessed picture! Goodness known not only in the act, but in Him who did it. The discernment of guilt in its gross forms by man was one thing, but the grace of God which could blot out and forgive all was quite another. It was not Christ there to judge, and to sanction Pharisees, but love to a sinner, manifesting God in this new character of grace, producing thankful holy love to God, and a blessed relationship, sovereign and beyond the reach of man. But how has God always to prove Himself right in His goodness to man! so hard is man's heart. But the Lord identifies Himself with the believer, and vindicates him against the haughty world, and this gives assurance. Perfectly regardless of comments, He applies Himself, not to unbelief, which were useless, but to those who have faith, and having communicated forgiveness, shews the soul his uprightness, that is, the right thoughts of God and self which faith has. The last word settles the whole question. The soul's love was a ground of evidence and reasoning - not, of course, the cause. "Thy faith hath saved thee, said the Lord to the woman, Go in peace." All is discharged from the conscience, and the heart finds itself infinitely and everlastingly a debtor to the continual fountain of all grace.
77 Luke 8.
We have seen, in what has preceded, the Lord presenting Himself, by His words and His work, as a new centre, to which and round which His people were gathered. Before this, Jehovah had been the centre, when Israel was the gathering point; for Jehovah was among the Jews, and the temple the place where He met with the people. But now the Son is here, "God manifest in the flesh," and He must be the centre of everything. But Israel would not be gathered, as the Lord Himself said in Matthew 23:37, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, . . . but ye would not." Again in Isaiah 65:2, "I have spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people."
Israel could not have the blessing, for the flesh could not hold it. The flesh, simply looked at as such, is "as grass" (Isaiah 40). "All flesh is grass." We have these two great principles running through the latter chapters of Isaiah; first that flesh, as flesh, could not hold the blessing, and be the depository for the promises. For when all grace came, in the person of the Lord, the people to whom He was sent He found withered down like grass. "Surely the people is grass: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth, but the word of our God shall stand for ever." But God was not going to give up His purpose. Therefore in chapter 49 we find Jehovah says unto Christ, "Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified." Then Christ says, If God is to be glorified in Israel, "I have laboured in vain, and spent my strength for nought, and in vain, yet surely my judgment is with Jehovah, and my reward with my God." Then saith Jehovah, "Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorified in the eyes of Jehovah. I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation to the ends of the earth."
78 This is what Christ is becoming in Luke's Gospel - "a light to lighten the Gentiles," etc. And afterwards we find Paul quoting, with the perfect accuracy of the Spirit, this very scripture, so exactly fitted for them, to the Jews at Antioch. "It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken unto you, but seeing ye judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, lo! we turn to the Gentiles," etc. (Acts 13:46, 47: and again, Acts 28:28). Israel will be gathered afterwards, for Christ will hereafter raise up the tribes of Jacob and restore the preserved of Israel; but before this He turns to the Gentiles. All this the Lord pictures to us in Luke. In chapter 7 we see Israel refused both John the Baptist and Christ; but "wisdom is justified of her children." The Pharisees and lawyers did not justify God at all, for they saw no beauty in Jesus, whereas the publicans did; and thus the poor woman, "who was a sinner," whose heart was touched by the grace of God, is the true child of wisdom, and is brought in here as an illustration of Christ being the new centre of blessing, "though Israel be not gathered."
The Lord then goes on with His testimony, gathering by the word, first, by parables, as in chapter 8, and then in chapter 9 sending forth His disciples to preach, with this commission, to shake off the dust from their feet, if they are not received, a token of the last testimony being rendered, when they are given up.
Here are two classes of persons gathered round Christ. First, the twelve apostles were public witnesses, fitted by divine grace to be the vessels of testimony, manifesting the electing power of God in calling them, and sending them forth in all the energy of ministry; Christ's apostles, sent out by Himself - "As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you" - His chosen ones. "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you," etc. Then, secondly, there were others who were gathered by affection round Him, having no place of office in the church, but those whose hearts were touched and drawn round Him, not sent out like the first class, but not less devoted in heart than the apostles, for they followed Him and ministered to Him of their substance.
79 In verses 4-8 we have the parable of the sower; and here, as previously remarked, it is not the kingdom brought out as in Matthew, but the testimony as to what and whom Christ was gathering, and not as to the form the kingdom would take afterwards. The very fact of Christ coming as the sower proved that Israel was set aside; for had it been now to Israel as His vineyard, He must have come seeking fruit from the vine He had long before planted. He had come to Israel previously, seeking fruit and finding none. He now comes in the new character of the sower, which is quite another thing. He comes into a waste world, where there was nothing, and He begins a fresh work. God is not now looking for fruit from man in one sense, because man has been proved to be a bad tree: and the more you dig about and dung a bad tree, the more bad fruit it produces. "A tree is known by its fruits." Christ came to seek and to save that which was lost. God is now going to produce the fruit He requires. He is not now looking for man to produce anything, for John the Baptist said, "Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire." Therefore the Lord now comes as sower? not looking for fruit, but doing that which will produce it.
He then goes on to describe the character and effect of the sowing, and the disciples ask the meaning of the parable (v. 9-15). Israel, as such, had forfeited its place, and therefore was "a people of no understanding" (Isa. 27:11). Long patience had waited on Israel. Seven hundred years had passed since the word was given to Isaiah, "Go tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not." As individuals they might be drawn round the person of the Lord, but as a nation they were blinded. The disciples had an explanation of the parable, but as a nation the Lord speaks to them in parables (see v. 10), thus fulfilling to the nation the very words spoken by the prophet so long before. Now the testimony is closed as to Israel, though not as to God's final purpose respecting them.
80 The seed is sown indiscriminately, and although man rejects it, because his will is opposed, nevertheless it is sown in his heart; for this parable shews how the word of God is perfectly adapted to the need of man, meeting his conscience and heart. "Never man spake like this man." Christ's word came with a power that reached the heart and affections; the will is corrupt and therefore resists it. It is not abstract grace here, but the condition of man that is recognised; therefore we find the word so perfectly suited to the need, not claiming righteousness from man, but coming in with power to shew him that he is a sinner, and laying open the thoughts and intents of the heart. When the heart is thus detected, the word comes, with all gentleness and comfort, for healing and rest, because there is grace to meet a soul in whatever state it may be found. The heart is spoken to, and therefore the gospel leaves man without excuse.
Some too received the word with joy (v. 13). This was a proof that the conscience was untouched; for when that is reached it is anything but joy, until forgiveness is known. The feelings may be moved for a time, and the word be listened to with a joy which will give place to sorrow. The reason truth is thus flippantly taken up with joy is because there is no root, and so it is received in joy, and given up in trouble.
Another class is where thorns spring up and choke the word. The understanding may be convinced and receive the truth; but the cares, pleasures, and riches of this world come in and choke the word. Now these "cares" are most subtle things, because they enter as necessary duties, and there is no sin in doing one's duty. Nay, it is right that a man should do his duty in his daily calling. But if these duties choke the word, and a man loses his soul through it, what then? The natural tendency of the heart often needs to be met with that word, "Take heed and beware of covetousness" (chap. 12). It is the love of possession. One came to the Lord, saying, "Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me." The heart wanted to keep it. If love of the world or covetousness gets in amongst the saints, it is an insidious thing and most difficult to meet, because it is often not open to discipline; and yet, if covetousness slips into the heart, it checks the power of Christ over the soul and conscience, and eats out the practical life of the Christian, and his soul is withered, withered, withered. It may be checked by the - power of God coming in; but this covetous care about earthy things is so subtle that, while there is nothing on which to lay the hand, the practical power of Christian life in the soul is gone, though of course, I need hardly say, eternal life can never be lost in those who once had it.
81 "That on the good ground are they which, in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience." They may seem to the world to be fruits bright and blessed, but if people have not got Christ they tire. There will be no enduring, unless Christ has possession of the soul; but if He has, there will be an abiding motive, and people will go on, and "bring forth fruit with patience." They that hear and keep it go steadily on, having their motive for action in the Lord. Trouble may come in, in the church; disappointment may arise, even from brethren; but they go on just the same, because they have got Christ before them: for the word they have heard and keep connects them with Christ, and He is more than anything else.
This is a question, not of eternal salvation, but of the practical effect of the word as seen in this world (v. 16-18) - the growth of the word in the soul, and that will not be hidden under a bushel. "Ye are the light of the world" and "the salt of the earth." In those who only appear to be Christians it soon comes to nothing. "Whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that which he seemeth to have." But those in whom the word works effectually are to be as a "candle" set on a candlestick. Israel being set aside for a season, God sets up a new light in the world; a light lit up by God because of the world's darkness. When Christ was here He was the light of the world, because of its darkness, and now we should be a light in the world, as we are "light in the Lord." The light is here set up by Christ's word, and people are responsible for the word received. Suppose you have heard the word and bring forth no fruit, it will all come out, by-and-by, that you have heard the word and lost it, and the spiritual power accompanying it. For, even if you are saints, all that you have heard without fruit or power resulting there from, it will come out; for nothing is hid that shall not be known or come abroad. "Take heed how ye hear."
82 Christ is looking for the results of His sowing. There must be not only the hearing, but the possessing, and in this rests the responsibility; for if you keep the word which you have heard, more shall be given you. If, on hearing, I possess that which I hear, not merely have joy in receiving it, but possess it as my own, then it becomes a part of the substance of my soul, and I shall get more; for when the truth has become a substance in my soul, there is a capacity for receiving more. Suppose, for example, you hear the truth of the Lord's second coming and see your portion in the bride of Christ, and you do not lay hold of it practically, so as to possess it (have communion with God about it, which is possession); you will presently lose the expectation of His coming and forget your place of separation from the world, and the truth will gradually slip away, because you are not holding it in your soul before God. Consequently your soul becomes dead and dull, and you lose the very truth you have received.
Thus, if one lives daily as waiting for the Lord from heaven, there will be no planning for the future, no laying up for the morrow; such a man will learn more and more, as other truths will open round this one grand central one, and he will be kept in the truth. If, on the other hand, he drops this centre truth by saying, "He cannot come yet; so many things must happen first," then is the progress of such an one's communion with God hindered, for, as we have said, it is according to what a man has heard and holds with God that there can be any growth; for what is the use of teaching me that the Lord may come to-morrow, if I am going on living as though He were not coming for a hundred years? Or where is the comfort and blessedness of the truth to my soul, if I am saying in my heart, "My Lord delayeth his coming?" Though I cannot lose my eternal life, yet if I am losing the truth and light I have had, I shall be merely floating on in the current of life, half world and half Christ, and all power of Christian life will be dimmed in my soul. If the truth is held in communion with God, it separates to Himself. Truth is to produce fruit, and you have no truth that does not bear fruit. Truth must build up the soul. "Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth." Christ becomes precious in and by the truth that I learn; and if it has not that power, it all drops out, comes to nothing, and is taken away. If Christ is precious to me, I shall be waiting for Him with affection, and if it is not so, the bare truth will soon be given up.
83 Verses 19-21. Here He closes up His connection with Israel after the flesh, for the relations of mother and brethren put Him into connection with Israel after the flesh. Observe, He here distinguishes the remnant by the word "these," as He did in chapter 6 by the word "ye." His mother and His brethren came to Him on the ground of natural relationship only; and there was all natural affection in the Lord, as on the cross we find Him remembering His mother, and commending her to the care of John. But He replies here, as much as to say, "I am not on that ground now - my mother and my brethren are these, which hear the word of God and do it." Israel was now given up as to that position, the Lord owning and acknowledging only those to be His relations on whose hearts and consciences the word of God had taken effect. It was not what was found in nature, but what was produced by grace, and, being thus produced by power through the word, the principle is hereby established, that it might go out to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews, although not fully brought out until after His resurrection. In these three verses we have a judicial sentence on Israel, which closes in verse 21.
In verses 22-26 it is a parabolical display of what we may expect if we follow the Lord, and the opening out of what the Lord would be to those tried by such circumstances. The consequence of being the disciples and companions of Jesus is that they get into jeopardy every hour - they are not on terra firma, but are tossed about on the troubled sea, and Christ Himself absent ("asleep"). There came down a storm of wind on the lake, the ship was filled with water, and they filled with fear were in jeopardy. But the fact was, Christ was in the same boat with them. He who made the worlds, the Son of God, was with them, and yet they are afraid! and cry out, "we perish"; as though He could be drowned, thus shewing they had no sense of who He was that was with them in the boat. To us, now calmly reading the circumstances, what absurdity there seems in such unbelief; when alas! is it not just the same with ourselves, spiritually? Have we no sense of jeopardy, when tossed about, and trouble is in the church? In truth we have, for there is many a heart saying, "Who will shew us any good?" forgetting what God is acting and doing, though man is battling to all appearance against God's purposes; but God is not baffled, and He is calmly carrying on His purposes, through all the storms of men's or devils' raising. In John 16 we find the disciples sorrowing because Jesus was going away; and the Lord had said to them (chap. 14), "If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go to the Father." In chapter 16 Jesus says, "Now I go my way to him that sent me, and none of you asketh me, Whither goest thou? but because I have said these things, sorrow hath filled your hearts." God was accomplishing His blessed purposes in redemption by Christ's going. You forget that God is acting in all this, for you cannot suppose that God is so baffled as to give up His purpose. The disciples thought, when Jesus was crucified, that all their hopes were disappointed; they say, "we thought it had been he that should have redeemed Israel." In fact, in that very act and at that very moment, all was being accomplished for them. Where is the Lord going? should have been their question. It is not now that there seems no jeopardy, no confusion, no sorrow; but faith looks at and through it all to God, and asks, What is the Lord doing? Where is the Lord going?
84 In and through all the trouble the Lord has not turned a hair's-breadth out of His way. We may be in distress, but faith will not say the Lord is far away, but will know Him nigh at hand. The Lord let them be in jeopardy, the ship filled with water, and Himself asleep, on purpose to put their faith to the test, to prove if they were really trusting Him; and that it might be seen if such foolish thoughts would arise, when they were put into jeopardy. They say, "Lord, we perish"; but they were in the ship with Christ, and could they be drowned? He said to them, Where is your faith? Well might He say thus to them, for though the water was in the boat, He was there too, and could sleep through it all. It was not so much of Him they were thinking as of themselves. "We perish" (said they), and it is just the same now; for the fact of being in danger with Christ in the boat is the same at one time as at another - just as impossible now as then; and in truth Christ is much more with us now, being more perfectly revealed to us, and we are united to Him, one with Him, so that He is with us every moment in the power of the Spirit.
85 However high the waves may rise, there is no drowning His love and thoughts towards us. The test is to our faith. The question is, Have we that faith which so realises Christ's presence as to keep us as calm and composed in the rough sea as the smooth? It was not really a question of the rough or the smooth sea, when Peter was sinking in the water, for he would have sunk without Christ, just as much in the smooth as in the rough sea. The fact was, the eye was off Jesus on the wave, and that made him sink. If we go on with Christ, we shall get into all kinds of difficulty, many a boisterous sea; but being one with Him, His safety is ours. The eye should be off events, although they be ever so solemn, and surely they are so at this present time, and I feel them to be so; for none perhaps has a deeper sense than I of the growth of evil, and of the solemn state of things; but I know all is as settled and secure as if the whole world were favourable. I quite dread the way many dear saints are looking at events, and not looking at Christ and for Christ. The Lord Himself is the security of His people, and, let the world go on as it may, no events can touch Christ. We are safe on the sea if only we have the eye off the waves, with the heart concentrated on Christ and on the interests of Christ. Then the devil himself cannot touch us.
Verse 26. We have a solemn picture of the consequence of Christ's rejection by the world! Christ comes and finds them utterly under the power of the devil. A man of the Gadarenes was possessed, but He delivers him, thus shewing that the Lord had complete power over the enemy. With a word from Christ the demons were off. "The Son of God was manifested that he might destroy the works of the devil." What was the effect of His thus casting out Satan? Why, the whole multitude of the country round about "besought him [Christ] to depart from them." These Gadarenes, who had borne with the demons because they could not help it, will not bear with Christ, and they beg Him to depart! Man would be glad to bind Legion if he could, for he does not like the effects of the devil's power; but man's will is against Christ; he has a deliberate determined hatred to Christ. The Lord came to the world full of love and power, to deliver from the consequences of sin; but man rejected Him, cast Him out; and God will not stay where the will is determined against Him. When the Gadarenes request Christ to depart, He immediately went up into a ship and returned back again. And mark, the world in which we live is just going on as having quietly rejected Christ. But does God give them up, though Christ is gone away for a season? No, He did not give them up, but sent amongst them this man, whom He had healed, to tell them what great things God had done for him. This is what the disciples did in the world, and the delivered remnant also are to tell the world what great things God has done for them.
86 The swine appear to represent the state of the Jews after their rejection of Christ. The Lord, doubtless, permitted the demons to enter the swine (as the swine having no passions of their own, it was their being possessed with these demons which made them run violently to destruction), shewing it was not merely the evil passions in the men, but their being possessed by wicked spirits, which hurried them on to destruction. And we know historically, from Josephus and others, that one can hardly conceive the infatuation with which the Jews rushed on to their own destruction, when those Gentile powers went and ploughed up the holy city. This is just a consequence of Israel's rejecting the Lord.
Then the Lord gives us two other pictures, through the medium of real events, of His dealings in deliverance. In verse 41 we have Jairus' daughter, who lay a-dying; and here is a picture (dispensationally) of Israel. The Lord was going to heal Israel, who was just like one dying, but while in the way the people throng Him. What He came to do He did, for the world crowded Him while on the way to heal the sick "daughter of my people"; whosoever could touch Him by faith got healing, the activities of grace going forth from Him.
Jairus' daughter "lay a-dying." Man was not pronounced to be dead until Christ was killed. Before Christ came, there was no healing for man. Abraham longed for the day of Christ. There were prophets who spoke of Christ as a healer, blessing was promised, but there was no physician. "Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?" There was none; for no physician could be found to heal man's condition until Christ came, and Him they put to death. In Him there was living power, for when the people thronged Him, a woman does but touch the border of His garment, and virtue goes out of Him to heal her. Healing depended not on the condition of those who were healed, but in the power of the healer. Physicians might apply remedy after remedy, but it is of no avail, until One came who could impart life; then the case was changed.
87 When the multitude press upon Him, and He recognises the touch of one to have been the touch of faith, He says, "somebody has touched me, for I perceive that virtue is gone out of me." And now, before the Lord comes forth in resurrection power and glory, to bring life from the dead in Israel, there is perfect healing where there is faith; for the Lord is always alive to the exercise of faith. The woman hid herself, for there was shame in her, because of the consciousness she felt of the disease which had needed to be healed. "But she could not be hid." The heart always shrinks from opening itself, when within itself; but when it looks at Christ, it is opened to Him; for that is always the effect of being in the presence of Jesus. Shame, reputation, character, all give way before the sense of what He is. When grace gets to the bottom of the heart, all else is easily set aside. A link was formed between this woman's soul and Christ. "Thy faith hath made thee whole: go in peace." He brings perfect peace and comfort into her heart, for His way is not only to heal, but to make Himself known. She is not only to be cured, but to have the assurance of peace from His own mouth.
Meanwhile they come, saying that Jairus' daughter was dead; "Trouble not the master." They thought He might possibly heal her, while she was living; but now she is dead, they supposed He could do nothing. This is a picture of Israel, who are dead before God (as are Gentiles too, of course). But Jesus encourages them, and says, "Only believe and she shall be made whole." When He came to the house, He suffered no man to go in, save Peter and James and John (the pillars of the future glory, when He will come forth as the resurrection and the life to the dead nation), and the father and the mother of the maiden.
In this chapter we get a picture of what was then doing, and what will come to pass. We have the seed, the word sown, and the effect of it, the use man made of it. We have God's explanation of all that was going on, as being all known and settled in His mind; and if a storm arise, and if Christ appear asleep and insensible to the danger - though "He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep" - as disciples we are in the same boat with Him. The Lord gives us to rest on that with undivided undistracted hearts: for Christ is in the boat, as well as the water. Only let the eye of faith rest on Christ, then come what may, we shall say, "Who shall separate us," etc. - nay, in all, "more than conquerors." Then the more the trouble, the more the blessing, because of the exercise of faith.