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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae

Luke 7

 

 

Verse 6-7

DISCOURSE: 1499

THE CENTURION’S SERVANT HEALED

Luke 7:6-7. 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.

NOTHING makes a wider breach among men than a difference in political and religious opinion: but mutual good offices would greatly counteract this evil. Though we can never hope to soften the rancour of all, we may by persevering kindness conciliate the esteem of many. We have before us a remarkable instance of the efficacy of such conduct. The centurion was a heathen, an officer of a hostile nation, stationed in Jud ζa to keep the Jews in subjection; but instead of oppressing the Jews he had shewed them much favour. He, in his turn, needed their good offices on behalf of his servant; and they gladly became his advocates and intercessors; they even prevailed on Jesus to work a miracle on his behalf.

To elucidate this miracle we shall consider,

I. The centurion’s character—

Soldiers, for the most part, are unfavourably circumstanced with respect to religion; but here was one, though a heathen, whose character may well put to shame the greater part of the Christian world. We may observe,

1. His love to his fellow-creatures—

[His servant was grievously afflicted with the palsy nigh unto death [Note: Compare Matthew 8:6. with Luke 7:2.]. In this disorder, persons can do nothing for others, or even for themselves; and in such a state, even dear friends and relatives are ready to think the care of one a heavy burthen; yet this Centurion administered to his servant with the tenderest affection, and interested all he could in the promotion of his welfare [Note: He applied to some of the Jewish elders to use their interest with Jesus on his behalf.]. What could the servant himself have done more for the kindest master?]

2. His piety towards God—

[He had not embraced either the doctrines or discipline of the Jewish Church; but he had learned to acknowledge the only true God; and he was glad to promote the worship of God, even though he himself did not acquiesce in the peculiar mode in which he was worshipped. He even built a synagogue for the Jews at his own expensed [Note: ver. 5.]. What an admirable pattern of liberality and candour! How different from those who will not do any thing without the pale of their own Church! Surely he never afterwards regretted that he had so applied his wealth.]

3. His low thoughts of himself—

[He did not arrogate any thing to himself on account of his rank and authority; nor did he value himself on his benevolence to man and zeal for God. While others judged him worthy that a miracle should be wrought for him, he accounted himself unworthy of the smallest favour. This was the reason of his forbearing to wait on our Lord in person [Note: On our Lord’s near approach to the house, the same humility that had kept the Centurion from going to him, compelled him, as it were, to go, lest he should seem guilty of disrespect. Compare Matthew 8:13. with the text.]. How lovely does such an one appear in the eyes of God and man!]

4. His exalted thoughts of Christ—

[He judged our Lord to be too holy to admit of converse with a heathen. He believed also that Jesus could effect whatsoever he pleased, by a word, and at a distance, without the intervention of any means [Note: ver. 7.]. Nor did he doubt but that universal nature was subject to his will far more than the most obedient soldier could be to the commands of his officer [Note: ver. 8.]. Thus did he ascribe to Jesus a power proper to God alone [Note: Deuteronomy 32:39.]. Well might our Lord’s address to the discreet Scribe have been applied to him [Note: Mark 12:34.].]

Such a character as this could never meet with a repulse from Jesus.

II. The kindness vouchsafed to him by our Lord—

Instantly at the request of the elders Jesus set off to the Centurion’s house. He who, though repeatedly importuned, declined to visit a nobleman’s son [Note: John 4:46-50.], went, at the very first summons, to attend upon a centurion’s servant; and no sooner met the centurion, than he richly recompensed his assiduity—

1. He expressed his admiration of the centurion’s faith—

[We never hear of Jesus admiring the things of this world: he rather checked in his Disciples such ill-judged veneration [Note: Mark 13:1-2.]: but when he beheld the Centurion’s faith, “he marvelled at it.” Not that such exercise of grace was really unexpected by him. Jesus both knew what was in the Centurion’s heart [Note: John 2:25.], and had planted there the very grace which he exercised [Note: John 1:16.]; but Jesus, as our exemplar, would teach us what to admire, and shew us that the smallest portion of true faith cannot be estimated too highly [Note: 2 Peter 1:1.]. Our Lord declared in his very presence, that this faith had not been equalled by any even of the Israelites themselves [Note: ver. 9.]. Such approbation from his mouth could not fail of comforting the afflicted Centurion.]

2. He wrought the desired miracle in confirmation of his faith—

[By a simple act of his Will he restored the servant to perfect health, and told the Centurion that it should “be to him according to his faith.” Thus he removed the distress of the family in an instant. Thus too he confirmed the faith which had shone forth so nobly, and shewed that we could never expect too much at his hands. What advantage for eternal life did the Centurion derive from hence! With what lively hope might he apply to Jesus for the healing of his soul! We can never suppose that such love and piety, such humility and faith, were left to perish. No, verily; that declaration shall be found true to all eternity [Note: 1 Samuel 2:30.]—]

3. He declared that many such persons should be saved, while many, with clearer light and higher privileges, should be cast out—

[They who profess the true religion may be called “the children of the kingdom.”But how many of them are destitute of the attainments this heathen had made! How many would have imitated that vile Amalekite rather than him [Note: 1 Samuel 30:13.]—! How many grudge the necessary contributions for keeping up the houses of God [Note: What a contrast to him who, entirely at his own expense, erected a synagogue for people of another communion!]! What doubting of Christ’s power and grace, yea, what a proud conceit too of their own worthiness, is to be found among professing Christians! Surely what our Lord said respecting the unbelieving Jews shall be realized in Christians of this character [Note: Matthew 8:12.]: and the humbler heathens, who walked agreeably to the light that they enjoyed, shall be preferred before them. Nor can we doubt but that the Centurion, in reference to whom these things were spoken, shall be among that blessed number.]

Application—

[Let us then learn to plead earnestly for ourselves; nor let a sense of unworthiness keep us from carrying our wants to Jesus — — — Let us also sympathize with, and intercede for, others. Job, like the Centurion, found benefit from his own intercessions [Note: Job 42:10.]: nor shall our supplications be in vain, either for ourselves or others.]


Verses 14-16

DISCOURSE: 1500

THE WIDOW’S SON RAISED

Luke 7:14-16. And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother. And there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people.

THE more faithful any servant of God is, the more he will abound in labours. Of those who were men of like passions with us, none ever equalled St. Paul; but our blessed Lord far exceeded all the children of men. No day elapsed without fresh manifestations of his power and compassion. He had on the preceding day raised the Centurion’s servant from a bed of sickness; now we behold him employed in restoring a dead man to life. We shall consider,

I. The miracle—

The Jews used to bury their dead without the precincts of their cities. At the gate of the city of Nain Jesus met a funeral procession: the principal mourner tnat followed it engaged his attention—

[She was a mother following her own son to the grave. How afflictive is such an event to a tender parent! This son had grown up to the estate of manhood. We may see in David’s lamentations for Absalom what an affliction this is! Her loss was further aggravated in that this was her only child. If one out of many had died, she would have been deeply grieved: how much more in losing him, in whom her affections had so long centered! That which added ten-fold poignancy to her sorrow was, that she was a widow. When her husband had died she had been consoled by her surviving child; but now she had none left to be the support and comfort of declining years. Destroyed both root and branch, she had no prospect but that her name would be extinct in Israel.]

Filled with compassion he wrought a miracle on her behalf—

[Jesus, addressing himself to the mourning widow, bade her not weep. How vain, how impertinent had such advice been, if given by a common man! But, from him, it came as a rich cordial to her fainting spirit. He then stopped the procession, and said to the dead man, Arise. Nor were the hopes, occasioned by his interference, disappointed. On other occasions he wrought his miracles at the request of others [Note: Intercession was made for Jairus’s daughter, by her own father; for the Centurion’s servant, by his friends; for the paralytic, by his neighbours; but none besought him for this distressed widow.]. This he performed spontaneously, and unsolicited by any. Nothing moved him to it but that very compassion which brought him down from heaven: nor did he exercise this power in the name of another [Note: Elijah and Elisha obtained this power by prayer, 1 Kings17:21. 2 Kings 4:33.; and Peter wrought his miracles in the name of Jesus, Acts 3:6; Acts 9:34.]. He spake authoritatively, as one who could quicken whom he would [Note: John 5:21.]: nor did he merely recall the soul without renovating the body [Note: 2 Kings 4:34-35.]; the restoration to life and vigour was effected perfectly, and in an instant [Note: “He sat up, and began to speak.”]. To complete the mercy, “he delivered the man to his mother;” and preferred the comfort of the widow to the honour he himself might have gained in retaining such a follower.]

Such a stupendous miracle could not fail of exciting suitable emotions—

II. The effect it produced—

There is little in the Scriptures to gratify our curiosity. Hence we are not told what the man spake, or how the mother was affected at the first interview with her son; but, if once she forgat her pangs, for joy that he was born, how much more her sorrows now, that he was restored to life? Doubtless the scene must have been inexpressibly interesting—

[We may conceive Jesus, meekly majestic, delivering the man to his mother: but it is not so easy to conceive the first emotions of their minds. Nature would stimulate the reunited relatives to expressions of mutual endearment. Grace, on the other hand, would rather lead them first to admire and adore their Benefactor. Perhaps, looking alternately on Jesus and on each other, they might stand fixed in silent astonishment. We need not however dwell on that which, at best, is mere conjecture.]

The effect produced on the multitude is recorded for our instruction—

1. They were all filled with fear—

[The people that attended Jesus, and those who followed the funeral, meeting together, the concourse was very great; and one impression pervaded the whole body. The fear which came upon them was a reverential awe: this is natural to man, when he beholds any signal appearance of the Deity. It is equally produced whether God appear in a way of judgment or of mercy [Note: Compare Acts 5:11 and Luke 1:65.]. Somewhat of this kind is felt by the seraphim before the throne [Note: Isaiah 6:2.]: and it would be more experienced by us, if we realized more the Divine presence [Note: Jeremiah 10:6-7.]. When it is excited only by some visible display of the Deity, it will generally vanish with the occasion; but when it is caused by faith, it will abide and influence our whole conduct. Happy would it be for us if we were continually thus impressed [Note: Proverbs 28:14.].]

2. They glorified God—

[They did not know that Jesus was indeed a divine person; but they manifestly saw that he was “a great prophet,” and that God, after suspending all miraculous interpositions for above three hundred years, had again “visited his people.” In these tokens of God’s favour they could not but rejoice. Doubtless they congratulated each other on this glorious event, and gave vent to their gratitude in devoutest adorations. We have reason indeed to fear that these impressions were soon effaced. Happy had they been if they had retained this heavenly disposition; but who has not reason to regret, that mercies produce too transient an effect upon his mind? Let us at least profit by the example they then set us, and labour to “glorify God” for the inestimable mercies he has conferred upon us.]

Improvement—

1. This history may teach us to sit loose to the things of this life—

[If we possess personal and family mercies, let us be thankful for them. The continuance of them is no less a favour than the restoration of them would be: but let us not inordinately fix our affections upon any created good. We know not how soon our dearest comforts may become the occasion of our deepest sorrows. The case of Job affords a striking admonition to men in all ages [Note: Job 1:13-19.]. Let us then endeavour to practise that advice of the Apostle [Note: 1 Corinthians 7:29-31.], and place our affections on those things which will never be taken from us [Note: Colossians 3:2.].]

2. It shews us whither we should flee in a season of deep affliction—

[As no physician could restore the widow’s son, so none could heal her wounded spirit; but there was one at hand, when she little thought of it, that could do both. That same Almighty Deliverer is very nigh unto us, and calls us to him-self when we are bowed down with trouble [Note: Psalms 50:15. Matthew 11:28.]. Let us then call upon him under every spiritual or temporal affliction, and, above all, under the guilt and burthen of our sins — — —. And, with a conviction of his all-sufficiency, let us say with Peter [Note: John 6:68-69.]—]

3. We may take occasion from it to bless God for the preached Gospel—

[The word of Christ is as powerful now in his Gospel as ever it was in the days of his flesh. It quickens many who were dead in trespasses and sins: it rescues them from the second death, and awakens them to an eternal life. How many have seen the souls, over which they had long mourned, called forth to life by the almighty voice of Jesus!. Let the whole multitude of us then “fear the Lord and his goodness [Note: Hosea 3:5.]?.” Let us “glorify him” for sending us such an adorable Saviour: and let us seek, both for ourselves and others, fresh displays of his power and grace.]


Verse 31-32

DISCOURSE: 1501

THE PERVERSE CHILDREN

Luke 7:31-32; Luke 7:35. And the Lord said, Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation? and to what are they like? They are like unto children sitting in the market-place, and calling one to another, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept. But wisdom is justified of all her children.

THOUGH man is distinguished from all other animals by the faculty of reason, he is far from submitting readily to its dictates. In things that are agreeable to his mind he is easily persuaded: but where he is at all swayed by prejudice, or passion, or interest, he cannot be prevailed upon, even by the clearest arguments, to embrace truth, or to fulfil his duty. Thus it was with the Pharisees in our Lord’s time; on which account he compared them to perverse children, who could not be induced by their companions to participate in their amusements, notwithstanding every endeavour on their parts to accommodate themselves to their wishes [Note: It was customary to use pipes both at marriages and at funerals; at the one in cheerful, at the other in plaintive strains. And the children, in their play, are supposed to represent first the festivity of a marriage, and afterwards the lamentations of a funeral: in neither of which could they get their companions to join them.].

In this parable our Lord intimates,

I. The reception which his Gospel meets with—

God has used a great variety of means in order to recommend his Gospel—

[He published it to the Jews under types and shadows, and gradually unfolded it to them in a long series of prophecies. When the time came for its more general promulgation, he sent the Baptist to prepare their minds, and the Messiah himself to preach it to them, and to confirm his word by miracles without number. He endued also a few poor fishermen with miraculous powers, and sent them to publish the glad tidings, that their divine mission being unquestionable, their testimony might be universally received. Nothing was wanting that could in any wise promote the acceptance of the truth.]

But in every place the Gospel has been rejected by those to whom it has come—

[The Jews rested in the letter of their law, but hated the spirit of it; they embraced the shadow, but rejected the substance. By whomsoever the Gospel was preached, or under whatsoever form, the great majority of that nation could not be prevailed upon to receive it. Thus at this day, the truth of God is generally disregarded and despised. Men, it is true, profess to be followers of Christ, and to approve of his religion: but they are not suitably affected with it in any respect; they neither rejoice in its promises, nor are humbled by its threat-enings; “if we pipe to them, they will not dance; and if we mourn to them, they will not lament.” Notwithstanding there is such a transcendent excellence in the Gospel, and such an exact suitableness to men’s necessities, yet we still have reason to complain, “Lord, who hath believed our report?”]

It is a matter of no small importance to ascertain,

II. The true ground of this reception—

The ostensible ground is, that the Gospel is not properly administered—

[The Jews could not confute the arguments of the Baptist or of Christ; but they took occasion from the peculiarities of each to reject their testimony. John, agreeably to the dispensation under which he ministered, was austere in his manners; and Christ, agreeably to the dispensation which he came to introduce, was affable and social: yet, so far were the people from being pleased with either, that of one they said, “He hath a devil;” and of the other, “He is a glutton and a drunkard.”

Thus it is at this time: men will not say, “I hate the Gospel, and therefore will not attend to it;” but they will find fault with the persons who administer it; and make their peculiarities a plea for despising their message. At one time they represent the ministers of Christ as speaking too much about faith, and thereby depreciating morality: at another time, as insisting so strongly on good works, that they drive men to despair. Sometimes they will object to the truth because it is not read to them from a written discourse: and sometimes because of the earnest and impressive manner in which it is delivered. Even the virtues whereby ministers endeavour to adorn and recommend the Gospel, are often made occasions of offence; and the strictness of their lives, the condescension of their manners, and their assiduity in labours, are stated as grounds of heavy complaint. And as no terms were too opprobrious to be applied to the Baptist and to Christ, so there is no name so ignominious, nor any treatment so harsh, but it is thought a proper portion for every faithful servant of the Lord.]

The true ground, however, must be found in the perverseness of mankind—

[We, at this distance of time, see clearly enough the perverseness of the Jews in their treatment of Christ and his Apostles: but we are not aware of the same principle operating in ourselves. Nevertheless the truth is, that we have imbibed notions, which we do not like to have controverted; and have adopted practices, from which we will not recede. The Gospel proposes humiliating doctrines which we are too proud to receive; and self-denying rules of conduct which we cannot endure to follow. Hence we must either acknowledge that we ourselves are wrong, or find some reason for rejecting the truth. But we cannot altogether profess ourselves infidels and despise the Gospel as a fable; we therefore are constrained to blame the mode in which it is administered, and to condemn the preachers of it in order to justify ourselves. But the real ground of our conduct is, that “we love darkness rather than light;” and, if Jesus Christ himself were again to preach to us, the same conduct which he formerly pursued would give the same offence to his hearers, and be made a pretext for rejecting his testimony.]

But in the close of the parable, our Lord suggests,

III. The encouragement which ministers, notwithstanding this reception, have to preach the Gospel—

The Gospel of Christ, when justly stated, is the truest “wisdom”—

[It is called by St. Paul, “The wisdom of God in a mystery:” and the wisdom of God does indeed beam forth in every part of it, whether we consider the mysteries it reveals, or the mode of its administration. Who can contemplate the method prescribed by God for effecting our reconciliation with him, or for fitting us to enjoy his presence, and not be filled with rapture and amazement? The more we consider the satisfaction of Christ, or the agency of the Spirit, the nature of faith or the beauty of holiness, or, in a word, the union of God’s glory and man’s happiness in the whole scheme of redemption, the more shall we be overwhelmed with wonder at the depths of wisdom contained in it.

The progressive steps also by which it has been dispensed, together with the means by which it has been confirmed and propagated, yea, even the manner in which it has been brought home with power to our own hearts and consciences, will furnish abundant matter to increase our admiration.

And must not the consideration of this be a rich encouragement to ministers under all the contempt and obloquy with which they and their ministrations are regarded? Yes, they know that what the world account foolishness is indeed the wisdom of God [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:23-24.]; and that “if they be beside themselves, it is to God [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:10 and 2 Corinthians 5:13.].”]

Moreover, the children of wisdom will assuredly receive their testimony—

[They are “the children of wisdom” who are willing to “sit at wisdom’s gates,” and to obey her dictates; and, such are to be found in every place, notwithstanding the generality prefer the ways of sin and folly. Now “of all these” the Gospel will be approved, embraced, “justified.” They will shew to the world, both by their profession and conduct, that it is indeed “worthy of all acceptation.” While others pour contempt upon it, these will be nourished by it; and while others make it a stumbling-block, over which they fall and perish, these will be rendered by it “wise unto salvation.”

What can a faithful minister wish for more? He knows that his labours shall not be altogether in vain, but that there shall be some who shall be saved by his means, and be “his joy and crown of rejoicing” for evermore: and this far outweighs all the injuries and insults, which in the discharge of his office, he meets with at the hands of a perverse ungrateful world.]

To improve this subject, observe,

1. What enemies are men to their own happiness!

[What end had the Baptist or Christ in view, when they preached to the people? Was it to raise a party? to get a name? to gratify their own vanity? Was it not rather to instruct and save mankind? Yet, men every where set themselves against them. And of what concern was it to John or Christ that they were called by opprobrious names? But to those who thus despised them it was of infinite moment; because they thereby ensured and aggravated their own eternal condemnation. Thus it is of small concern to us to be loaded with ignominy and reproach: but to those who thus requite our labours, it is an awful matter; for they despise their own mercies, and accomplish their own ruin. Let those who are thus disposed, remember, that they are far greater enemies to themselves than they are to us.]

2. What a blessing is “an honest and good heart!”

[They alone who possess this gift can profit from the Gospel. With such a disposition men will overlook the little peculiarities which there may be in those who minister the word, and will endeavour to derive benefit from the word they hear. They will consider that every minister has his proper gift; and that the method which they disapprove, may be well suited to others. They will be thankful that the glad tidings are sent to them; and will receive the word with the affections suited to it [Note: Acts 17:11.]. They will either “dance or weep” according as the subject calls for humiliation or joy. Thus, instead of rejecting the counsel of God against themselves, they will “justify God [Note: ver. 29, 30.]” by an unfeigned acknowledgment of his truth, and a ready compliance with his will.

Let us then cultivate this disposition; so shall that which is to many “a savour of death unto death, be to us a savour of life unto life [Note: 2 Corinthians 2:15-16.].”]


Verse 35

DISCOURSE: 1501

THE PERVERSE CHILDREN

Luke 7:31-32; Luke 7:35. And the Lord said, Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation? and to what are they like? They are like unto children sitting in the market-place, and calling one to another, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept. But wisdom is justified of all her children.

THOUGH man is distinguished from all other animals by the faculty of reason, he is far from submitting readily to its dictates. In things that are agreeable to his mind he is easily persuaded: but where he is at all swayed by prejudice, or passion, or interest, he cannot be prevailed upon, even by the clearest arguments, to embrace truth, or to fulfil his duty. Thus it was with the Pharisees in our Lord’s time; on which account he compared them to perverse children, who could not be induced by their companions to participate in their amusements, notwithstanding every endeavour on their parts to accommodate themselves to their wishes [Note: It was customary to use pipes both at marriages and at funerals; at the one in cheerful, at the other in plaintive strains. And the children, in their play, are supposed to represent first the festivity of a marriage, and afterwards the lamentations of a funeral: in neither of which could they get their companions to join them.].

In this parable our Lord intimates,

I. The reception which his Gospel meets with—

God has used a great variety of means in order to recommend his Gospel—

[He published it to the Jews under types and shadows, and gradually unfolded it to them in a long series of prophecies. When the time came for its more general promulgation, he sent the Baptist to prepare their minds, and the Messiah himself to preach it to them, and to confirm his word by miracles without number. He endued also a few poor fishermen with miraculous powers, and sent them to publish the glad tidings, that their divine mission being unquestionable, their testimony might be universally received. Nothing was wanting that could in any wise promote the acceptance of the truth.]

But in every place the Gospel has been rejected by those to whom it has come—

[The Jews rested in the letter of their law, but hated the spirit of it; they embraced the shadow, but rejected the substance. By whomsoever the Gospel was preached, or under whatsoever form, the great majority of that nation could not be prevailed upon to receive it. Thus at this day, the truth of God is generally disregarded and despised. Men, it is true, profess to be followers of Christ, and to approve of his religion: but they are not suitably affected with it in any respect; they neither rejoice in its promises, nor are humbled by its threat-enings; “if we pipe to them, they will not dance; and if we mourn to them, they will not lament.” Notwithstanding there is such a transcendent excellence in the Gospel, and such an exact suitableness to men’s necessities, yet we still have reason to complain, “Lord, who hath believed our report?”]

It is a matter of no small importance to ascertain,

II. The true ground of this reception—

The ostensible ground is, that the Gospel is not properly administered—

[The Jews could not confute the arguments of the Baptist or of Christ; but they took occasion from the peculiarities of each to reject their testimony. John, agreeably to the dispensation under which he ministered, was austere in his manners; and Christ, agreeably to the dispensation which he came to introduce, was affable and social: yet, so far were the people from being pleased with either, that of one they said, “He hath a devil;” and of the other, “He is a glutton and a drunkard.”

Thus it is at this time: men will not say, “I hate the Gospel, and therefore will not attend to it;” but they will find fault with the persons who administer it; and make their peculiarities a plea for despising their message. At one time they represent the ministers of Christ as speaking too much about faith, and thereby depreciating morality: at another time, as insisting so strongly on good works, that they drive men to despair. Sometimes they will object to the truth because it is not read to them from a written discourse: and sometimes because of the earnest and impressive manner in which it is delivered. Even the virtues whereby ministers endeavour to adorn and recommend the Gospel, are often made occasions of offence; and the strictness of their lives, the condescension of their manners, and their assiduity in labours, are stated as grounds of heavy complaint. And as no terms were too opprobrious to be applied to the Baptist and to Christ, so there is no name so ignominious, nor any treatment so harsh, but it is thought a proper portion for every faithful servant of the Lord.]

The true ground, however, must be found in the perverseness of mankind—

[We, at this distance of time, see clearly enough the perverseness of the Jews in their treatment of Christ and his Apostles: but we are not aware of the same principle operating in ourselves. Nevertheless the truth is, that we have imbibed notions, which we do not like to have controverted; and have adopted practices, from which we will not recede. The Gospel proposes humiliating doctrines which we are too proud to receive; and self-denying rules of conduct which we cannot endure to follow. Hence we must either acknowledge that we ourselves are wrong, or find some reason for rejecting the truth. But we cannot altogether profess ourselves infidels and despise the Gospel as a fable; we therefore are constrained to blame the mode in which it is administered, and to condemn the preachers of it in order to justify ourselves. But the real ground of our conduct is, that “we love darkness rather than light;” and, if Jesus Christ himself were again to preach to us, the same conduct which he formerly pursued would give the same offence to his hearers, and be made a pretext for rejecting his testimony.]

But in the close of the parable, our Lord suggests,

III. The encouragement which ministers, notwithstanding this reception, have to preach the Gospel—

The Gospel of Christ, when justly stated, is the truest “wisdom”—

[It is called by St. Paul, “The wisdom of God in a mystery:” and the wisdom of God does indeed beam forth in every part of it, whether we consider the mysteries it reveals, or the mode of its administration. Who can contemplate the method prescribed by God for effecting our reconciliation with him, or for fitting us to enjoy his presence, and not be filled with rapture and amazement? The more we consider the satisfaction of Christ, or the agency of the Spirit, the nature of faith or the beauty of holiness, or, in a word, the union of God’s glory and man’s happiness in the whole scheme of redemption, the more shall we be overwhelmed with wonder at the depths of wisdom contained in it.

The progressive steps also by which it has been dispensed, together with the means by which it has been confirmed and propagated, yea, even the manner in which it has been brought home with power to our own hearts and consciences, will furnish abundant matter to increase our admiration.

And must not the consideration of this be a rich encouragement to ministers under all the contempt and obloquy with which they and their ministrations are regarded? Yes, they know that what the world account foolishness is indeed the wisdom of God [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:23-24.]; and that “if they be beside themselves, it is to God [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:10 and 2 Corinthians 5:13.].”]

Moreover, the children of wisdom will assuredly receive their testimony—

[They are “the children of wisdom” who are willing to “sit at wisdom’s gates,” and to obey her dictates; and, such are to be found in every place, notwithstanding the generality prefer the ways of sin and folly. Now “of all these” the Gospel will be approved, embraced, “justified.” They will shew to the world, both by their profession and conduct, that it is indeed “worthy of all acceptation.” While others pour contempt upon it, these will be nourished by it; and while others make it a stumbling-block, over which they fall and perish, these will be rendered by it “wise unto salvation.”

What can a faithful minister wish for more? He knows that his labours shall not be altogether in vain, but that there shall be some who shall be saved by his means, and be “his joy and crown of rejoicing” for evermore: and this far outweighs all the injuries and insults, which in the discharge of his office, he meets with at the hands of a perverse ungrateful world.]

To improve this subject, observe,

1. What enemies are men to their own happiness!

[What end had the Baptist or Christ in view, when they preached to the people? Was it to raise a party? to get a name? to gratify their own vanity? Was it not rather to instruct and save mankind? Yet, men every where set themselves against them. And of what concern was it to John or Christ that they were called by opprobrious names? But to those who thus despised them it was of infinite moment; because they thereby ensured and aggravated their own eternal condemnation. Thus it is of small concern to us to be loaded with ignominy and reproach: but to those who thus requite our labours, it is an awful matter; for they despise their own mercies, and accomplish their own ruin. Let those who are thus disposed, remember, that they are far greater enemies to themselves than they are to us.]

2. What a blessing is “an honest and good heart!”

[They alone who possess this gift can profit from the Gospel. With such a disposition men will overlook the little peculiarities which there may be in those who minister the word, and will endeavour to derive benefit from the word they hear. They will consider that every minister has his proper gift; and that the method which they disapprove, may be well suited to others. They will be thankful that the glad tidings are sent to them; and will receive the word with the affections suited to it [Note: Acts 17:11.]. They will either “dance or weep” according as the subject calls for humiliation or joy. Thus, instead of rejecting the counsel of God against themselves, they will “justify God [Note: ver. 29, 30.]” by an unfeigned acknowledgment of his truth, and a ready compliance with his will.

Let us then cultivate this disposition; so shall that which is to many “a savour of death unto death, be to us a savour of life unto life [Note: 2 Corinthians 2:15-16.].”]


Verses 40-42

DISCOURSE: 1502

THE INSOLVENT DEBTORS

Luke 7:40-42. And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee, and he saith, Master, say on. There was a certain creditor, which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both.

PARABLES are well calculated to convey reproof in the most convincing, and at the same time in the least offensive, manner. Nothing could exceed the beauty and efficacy of Nathan’s parable to David: that also in the text was admirably adapted to the occasion [Note: Here the occasion should be briefly stated.].

I. The parable itself—

It presents to our view three important truths:

1. We all, though in different degrees, are debtors unto God—

[There is not a man on earth who has not violated the law of God: but, though all are guilty in his sight, some are far more so than others [Note: See the text.]. The profane and profligate sinner is doubtless worse than the more decent moralist. We must not, however, compare ourselves with others [Note: 2 Corinthians 10:12.], but try ourselves by the standard of God’s law; and if we bring ourselves to this test, we shall find no cause for boasting, even though we may have been preserved from gross offences.]

2. No man, however little he may owe, can discharge his own debt—

[If we could obey the law perfectly in future, our obedience would no more compensate for our past disobedience, than our ceasing to increase a debt would discharge a debt we had already contracted: but we cannot fulfil all that is required of us, or indeed perform any one action that is absolutely free from all imperfection. How then shall we discharge our debt, when, with all our care, we cannot but daily increase it? Nor will repentance obliterate our offences against God’s law, any more than it will those committed against human laws. If therefore neither obedience nor repentance can cancel our debt, we must confess that “we have nothing to pay.”]

3. But God is willing freely to forgive us all—

[There is no such difference between one and another as can entitle any one to a preference in God’s esteem, or procure him a readier acceptance with God. Every one who truly repents and believes in Christ [Note: The parable was not intended to set forth the doctrines of redemption, but merely the effect which a sense of great obligations will produce. And, if we would infer that we have no need of faith in the atonement, because the parable makes no mention of it, we must infer also that we may be forgiven without repentance, since there is no mention made of that.], shall surely obtain mercy: no recompence or composition is required to be offered by us [Note: Isaiah 55:1.]. On the contrary, an attempt to offer any to God would absolutely preclude us from all hope of his favour [Note: Galatians 5:4.]. None can be accepted who will not come as bankrupts; nor shall any who come in this manner be rejected [Note: Isaiah 1:18; Isaiah 55:7.].]

Such being the import of the parable, we proceed to,

II. The improvement that is to be made of it—

Our Lord evidently intended to reprove Simon, while he vindicated both the woman’s conduct and his own. Hence it seems proper to improve the parable,

1. For the conviction of self-righteous Pharisees—

[Persons who think their debts small, feel little love to the Saviour themselves, and are ready to censure those who do love him. While they approve of zeal in every thing else, they condemn it in religion. But this disposition shews that their seeming piety is mere hypocrisy. If they had any true grace, they would delight to see Christ honoured, and to honour him themselves.]

2. For the vindication of zealous Christians—

[We would not plead for a zeal that is without knowledge: but such a zeal as this grateful penitent discovered must be vindicated, though the whole world should condemn it. Are there any then who weep at the Saviour’s feet, and who seek by all means in their power to honour him? Let them go on boldly, yet modestly, fearing neither loss nor shame in so good a cause; and let them know, that he, for whom they suffer, will soon testify his approbation of them before the assembled universe.]

3. For the encouragement of all penitent sinners—

[Our Lord, both in the parable, and in his address to the woman, shewed that no sinner, however vile, should be spurned from his feet: he even declared to her accusers, and revealed to her own soul, that he had pardoned her sins. Henceforth then let no man despair of obtaining mercy at his hands. Only let us acknowledge to him our inability to pay our own debt, and he will say to us, as to the woman, “Depart in peace, thy sins are forgiven thee.”]


Verse 50

DISCOURSE: 1503

THE SINNER’S FAITH

Luke 7:50. And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.

TO associate with the ungodly world is by no means expedient for those who have been redeemed out of the world. Yet there is a certain degree of intercourse with them which is both proper and desirable. There is a medium between an affecting of their society for our own gratification, and a contemptuous separation from them. Our blessed Lord has exhibited, as in every thing else, so in this also, a perfect pattern. When invited by a Pharisee to dinner, he accepted the invitation with a view to instruct him and do him good: and when a woman who had been a notorious sinner came to him at the Pharisee’s house, he did not refuse her admission to his presence, but received with kindness the expressions of her regard, and, commending her faith, imparted to her both the blessings and the comforts of his salvation.

The particular notice which our Lord took of the woman’s “faith,” and the reward he gave her on account of it, leads us naturally to consider,

I. The marks and evidences of her faith—

The first thing that calls for our attention is,

1. Her zeal—

[She had doubtless seen many of our Lord’s miracles, and heard many of his discourses; and though she was not yet one of his avowed followers, yet, having received good to her soul, she was desirous of honouring him to the utmost of her power. For this purpose she sought him out in the Pharisee’s house, and went to him with a full determination to shew him some signal mark of her regard.

Now this argued no little zeal. As being of the weaker sex, she was the more liable to be condemned as officious, impertinent, and obtrusive. And being of a notoriously vile character, she was particularly obnoxious to insult and contempt. But unmindful of these things, she went uninvited, to the house of a proud Pharisee (where she was least of all likely to meet with any favour) and (indifferent to the construction that might be put upon her conduct by any censorious spectators, or even to the treatment she might receive from any of them) in the presence of the whole company expressed to him all that was in her heart.

And what was it that enabled her thus to “despise all shame,” and to triumph over the fear of man? Doubtless it was her faith: for the Apostle says, “This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.”]

2. Her humility—

[Though she was bent on executing her pious purpose, she was solicitous to do it in as private and modest a manner as she could. She therefore went behind him as he lay upon the couch [Note: They did not sit at table as we do, but lay on couches.], and, having easy access to his feet, placed herself there, without attracting the notice of the company, or interfering with the conversation that might be passing at table.

This also was a strong mark and evidence of her faith. She knew his august character, and felt herself unworthy to enter into his presence; yea, she accounted it the very summit of her ambition to be permitted to kiss his feet. It was in this way that the faith of the centurion and others shewed itself [Note: Luke 7:6-7. Mark 5:25-28.]; and though, through the remaining pride and ignorance of their hearts, young converts often, like Jehu, seek the notice and applause of men, humility will always be found to exist in the soul in exact proportion to our faith.]

3. Her contrition—

[No sooner had she placed herself near the Saviour, than all her sins presented themselves to her mind, and filled her with deep compunction. Instantly she burst into a flood of tears, with which she bathed, as it were, the feet of her Lord, while she embraced them, in hopes of finding mercy from the friend of sinners.

Now it is the property of faith to “look on him whom we have pierced, and mourn [Note: Zechariah 12:10.].” Yea, the more lively faith any have possessed, the more abundant has been their self-lothing and self-abhorrence [Note: Job 42:6. Isaiah 6:5. 1 Timothy 1:15.]. We cannot doubt therefore but that faith was the principle from whence her humiliation flowed.]

4. Her love—

[While she wept over the Saviour’s feet, she wiped them with the hairs of her head, and kissed them, and anointed them with odoriferous ointment. It was not possible for her to manifest stronger tokens of her affection.

And was not this also an evidence of her faith? Had she been an unbeliever, she would have seen “no beauty or comeliness in Jesus” that deserved her admiration [Note: Isaiah 53:2.]: but believing in him, she accounted him “fairer than ten thousand, and altogether lovely [Note: Song of Solomon 5:10; Song of Solomon 5:16.];” according to that declaration of the Apostle, To them that believe, he is precious [Note: 1 Peter 2:7.].]

5. Her confidence—

[She would not have ventured to approach the Pharisee in this manner, because she knew that he would despise her in his heart, and dismiss her with scorn. But she felt no apprehension of such treatment from the Saviour. She well knew his condescension and compassion; and therefore without reserve, and without fear, she cast herself upon his mercy.

In this too she shewed the strength of her faith. Unbelief would have suggested many doubts; Will he receive me? Will he deign to look upon such an abandoned wretch? But faith enabled her to approach him under a full persuasion, that “whosoever came to him should in no wise be cast out.”]

It was not in vain that she thus approached the Saviour; as we shall see, while we consider,

II. The fruits and consequences of her faith—

Though despised and condemned by the Pharisee, she was well rewarded by her Lord. She obtained from him,

1. The pardon of her sins—

[Numerous as her iniquities had been, they were all in one moment blotted out from the book of God’s remembrance. Jesus, who “had all power on earth to forgive sins,” pardoned all her offences, and “cast them, as it were, behind him into the very depths of the sea.” What a blessed fruit and consequence of her faith was this! Had she been subjected to all the evil treatment that could have been shewn her, she would have had no reason to regret that conduct by which, she had obtained so inestimable a blessing.

And was this peculiar to her? Shall not we also have our iniquities forgiven, if we apply to him in humility and faith? Shall the greatness of our sins be any bar to our acceptance with him, if we repent and believe? Let the word of God be deemed worthy of any credit, and all such apprehensions will vanish in an instant [Note: Acts 13:39. Isaiah 1:18.] — — —]

2. An assurance of her acceptance—

[Twice did our Lord repeat to her the joyful tidings, that her sins were pardoned, and that her soul was saved; and to confirm it, he bade her depart in peace. What a cordial must this have been to her drooping spirit! How transported must she have been with the joyful sound! And what comfort must she enjoy through life in a sense of the Divine favour!

But neither was this peculiar to her. It is true, that many real Christians never attain to this high privilege: but it is owing to the weakness of their faith: if their faith operated as her’s did, if it shewed itself in such humility, such contrition, such love, such confidence, such zeal, they also should hear him say to them, “Be of good cheer; thy sins are forgiven thee.” What though he should not utter it by an audible voice from heaven, can he not reveal it to the soul by his Spirit, and enable us to say, “My beloved is mine, and I am his [Note: Song of Solomon 2:16.]?” Yes: let us only glorify him to the utmost of our power, and he will give us a peace that passeth all understanding [Note: Philippians 4:7.], and a full assurance of hope unto the end [Note: Hebrews 6:11. See also 2 Timothy 1:12; 2 Timothy 4:8.].]

3. Everlasting happiness and glory—

[In the declaration of Jesus she received both a pledge and an earnest of her eternal inheritance. Nor can we doubt but that, after waiting her “appointed time upon earth,” she was admitted to the enjoyment of her Lord in heaven, not any longer to weep at his feet, but to sit with him on his throne, and to participate his glory.

Thus also shall it be with all who truly believe: “they shall never perish, but shall have eternal life [Note: John 3:16.]” — — —]

From this history we may learn,

1. The nature of faith—

[We cannot too carefully inquire into the nature of faith; for there is nothing respecting which so many, and such fatal, mistakes are made. Faith is not a mere assent to any doctrines whatsoever; but it is a living principle in the soul, which evidences itself by precisely such a regard to Christ as this woman manifested on this occasion. Would we then ascertain whether our faith be genuine and saving? let us inquire whether it lead us to Christ, in spite of all obstacles from without or from within, with humility and contrition, with love and confidence? For in proportion as we abound in these graces, or are destitute of them, we either possess, or are destitute of, a living faith.]

2. The excellence of faith—

[Admirable were the graces which this woman exercised; yet not one of them was noticed by our Lord: he overlooked them all; and noticed that only which was least apparent, and which every one else would have overlooked, namely, her faith. He knew that this was the root or principle from whence all her other graces sprang. It was this that led her so to honour him; and therefore he determined to honour it. And must not that be excellent which he so highly regarded, so studiously searched out, and so eminently distinguished?

But what is it that he here assigns to her faith? it is nothing less than the saving of her soul: he passes by all her other graces as having no weight or influence whatever in her justification before God, and specifies her “faith” as that which “saved” her. Is it possible to bestow a higher commendation on it than this?

If it be asked, why faith is thus distinguished above all other graces? we answer, it is because faith unites us unto the Saviour, and interests us thereby in all that he has done and suffered for us: but this cannot be said of any other grace whatever; and therefore, though every other grace adorns the soul, no grace but faith will save it.

Let us all seek to attain right sentiments on this most important point, and pray with the Apostles, “Lord, increase our faith.”]

3. The condescension of Christ to believing penitents—

[If a person of an abandoned character, however changed in his conduct, should come to us when in the midst of company, and that company of a higher order and Pharisaic cast, and should express such affection for us, our pride would be apt to rise; and, while we blushed for the degradation we seemed to suffer, we should be ready to condemn him for his unseasonable intrusion, or perhaps to suspect that he was deranged in his mind. But Jesus accounted himself honoured by the testimonies of the woman’s regard: and, though he could not but know what reflections would be cast upon his character on account of his kindness to her, he vindicated her conduct, and richly recompensed her kind attentions.

Thus will he do to every believing penitent. He will compensate the scoffs of an unbelieving world by manifest tokens of his approbation. He will not regard the quantity or quality of a man’s past offences; but will speak peace to his soul, and in due time “wipe away all tears from his eyes” for ever. O that we might all consider this, and experience it to our eternal joy!]

 


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Luke 7:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/luke-7.html. 1832.

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