From the Parables we now turn to such Discourses of the Lord as belong to this period of His Ministry. Their consideration may be the more brief, that throughout we find points of correspondence with previous or later portions of His teaching.
Thus, the first of these Discourses, of which we have an outline, 1 recalls some passages in the ‘Sermon on the Mount,’ 2 as well as what our Lord had said on the occasion of healing the servant of the centurion. 3 But, to take the first of these parallelisms, the differences are only the more marked for the similarity of form. These prove incontestably, not only the independence of the two Evangelists 4 in their narratives, but, along with deeper underlying unity of thought in the teaching of Christ, its different application to different circumstances and persons. Let us mark this in the Discourse as outlined by St. Luke, and so gain fresh evidential confirmation of the trustworthiness of the Evangelic records.
The words of our Lord, as recorded by St. Luke, 5 are not spoken, as in ‘The Sermon on the Mount,’ in connection with His teaching to His disciples, but are in reply to a question addressed to Him by some one – we can scarcely doubt, a representative of the Pharisees: 6 ‘Lord, are they few, the saved ones [that are being saved]?’ Viewed in connection with Christ’s immediately preceding teaching about the Kingdom of God in its wide and deep spread, as the great Mustard-Tree from the tiniest seed, and as the Leaven hid, which pervaded three measures of meal, we can scarcely doubt that the word ‘saved’ bore reference, not to the eternal state of the soul, but to admission to the benefits of the Kingdom of God – the Messianic Kingdom, with its privileges and its judgments, such as the Pharisees understood it. The question, whether ‘few’ were to be saved, could not have been put from the Pharisaic point of view, if understood of personal salvation; 7 while, on the other hand, if taken as applying to part in the near-expected Messianic Kingdom, it has its distinct parallel in the Rabbinic statement, that, as regarded the days of the Messiah (His Kingdom), it would be similar to what it had been at the entrance into the land of promise, when only two (Joshua and Caleb), out of all that generation, were allowed to have part in it. 8 Again, it is only when understanding both the question of this Pharisee and the reply of our Lord as applying to the Kingdom of the Messiah – though each viewing ‘the Kingdom’ from his own standpoint – that we can understand the answering words of Christ in their natural and obvious sense, without either straining or adding to them a dogmatic gloss, such as could not have occurred to His hearers at the time. 9
Thus viewed, we can mark the characteristic differences between this Discourse and the parallels in ‘the Sermon on the Mount,’ and understand their reason. As regarded entrance into the Messianic Kingdom, this Pharisee, and those whom he represented, are told, that this Kingdom was not theirs, as a matter of course – their question as to the rest of the world being only, whether few or many would share in it – but that all must ‘struggle 10 [agonise] to enter in through the narrow door.’ 11 When we remember, that in ‘the Sermon on the Mount’ the call was only to ‘enter in,’ we feel that we have now reached a period, when the access to ‘the narrow door’ was obstructed by the enmity of so many, and when it needed ‘violence’ to break through, and ‘take the Kingdom’ ‘by force.’ 12 This personal breaking through the opposing multitude, in order to enter in through the narrow door, was in opposition to the many – the Pharisees and Jews generally – who were seeking to enter in, in their own way, never doubting success, but who would discover their terrible mistake. Then, ‘when once the Master of the house is risen up,’ to welcome His guests to the banquet, and has shut to the door, while they, standing without, vainly call upon Him to open it, and He replies: ‘I know you not whence ye are,’ would they begin to remind Him of those covenant-privileges on which, as Israel after the flesh, they had relied (‘we have eaten and drunk in Thy presence, and Thou hast taught in our streets’). To this He would reply by a repetition of His former words, now seen to imply a disavowal of all mere outward privileges, as constituting a claim to the Kingdom, grounding alike His disavowal and His refusal to open on their inward contrariety to the King and His Kingdom: ‘Depart from Me, all ye workers of iniquity.’ It was a banquet to the friends of the King: the inauguration of His Kingdom. When they found the door shut, they would, indeed, knock, in the confident expectation that their claims would at once be recognised, and they admitted. And when the Master of the house did not recognise them, as they had expected, and they reminded Him of their outward connection, He only repeated the same words as before, since it was not outward but inward relationship that qualified the guests, and theirs was not friendship, but antagonism to Him. Terrible would then be their sorrow and anguish, when they would see their own patriarchs (‘we have eaten and drunk in Thy Presence’) and their own prophets (‘Thou hast taught in our streets’) within, and yet themselves were excluded from what was peculiarly theirs – while from all parts of the heathen world the welcome guests would flock to the joyous feast. And here pre-eminently would the saying hold good, in opposition to Pharisaic claims and self-righteousness: ‘There are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last.’ 13
As a further characteristic difference from the parallel passage in ‘the Sermon on the Mount,’ we note, that there the reference seems not to any special privileges in connection with the Messianic Kingdom, such as the Pharisees expected, but to admission into the Kingdom of Heaven generally. 14 In regard to the latter also the highest outward claims would be found unavailing; but the expectation of admission was grounded rather on what was done, than on mere citizenship and its privileges. And here it deserves special notice, that in St. Luke’s Gospel, where the claim is that of fellow-citizenship (‘eaten and drunk in Thy Presence, and Thou hast taught in our streets’), the reply is made, ‘I know you not whence ye are;’ while in ‘the Sermon on the Mount,’ where the claim is of what they had done in His Name, they are told: ‘I never knew you.’ In both cases the disavowal emphatically bears on the special plea which had been set up. With this, another slight difference may be connected, which is not brought out in the Authorised or in the Revised Version. Both in the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ 15 and in St. Luke’s Gospel, 16 they who are bidden depart are designated as ‘workers of iniquity.’ But, whereas, in St. Matthew’s Gospel the term (anomia) really means ‘lawlessness,’ the word used in that of St. Luke should be rendered ‘unrighteousness’ 17 (adikia). Thus, the one class are excluded, despite the deeds which they plead, for their real contrariety to God’s Law; the other, despite the plea of citizenship and privileges, for their unrighteousness. 18 And here we may also note, as a last difference between the two Gospels, that in the prediction of the future bliss from which they were to be excluded, the Gospel of St. Luke, which had reported the plea that He had ‘taught’ in their ‘streets,’ adds, as it were in answer, to the names of the Patriarchs, 19 mention of ‘all the prophets.’
But if our Lord would not be deterred by the fears of His disciples from going into Judea, 25 feeling that each one had his appointed working day, in the light of which he was safe, and during the brief duration of which he was bound to ‘walk,’ far less would He recede before His enemies. Pointing to their secret intrigues, He bade them, if they chose, go back to ‘that fox,’ and give to his low cunning, and to all similar attempts to hinder or arrest His Ministry, what would be a decisive answer, since it unfolded what He clearly foresaw in the near future. ‘Depart?’ 26 – yes, ‘depart’ ye to tell ‘that fox,’ I have still a brief and an appointed time 27 to work, and then ‘I am perfected,’ in the sense in which we all readily understand the expression, as applying to His Work and Mission. ‘Depart!’ ‘Yes, I must “depart,” or go My brief appointed time: I know that at the goal of it is death, yet not at the hands of Herod, but in Jerusalem, the slaughter-house of them that “teach in her streets.”‘
And so, remembering that this message to Herod was spoken in the very day, perhaps the very hour that He had declared how falsely ‘the workers of wickedness’ claimed admission on account of the ‘teaching in their streets,’ and that they would be excluded from the fellowship, not only of the fathers, but of ‘all the prophets’ whom they called their own – we see peculiar meaning in the reference to Jerusalem as the place where all the prophets perished. 28 One, Who in no way indulged in illusions, but knew that He had an appointed time, during which He would work, and at the end of which He would ‘perish,’ and where He would so perish, could not be deterred either by the intrigues of the Pharisees nor by the thought of what a Herod might attempt – not do, which latter was in far other hands. But the thought of Jerusalem – of what it was, what it might have been, and what would come to it – may well have forced from the lips of Him, Who wept over it, a cry of mingled anguish, love, and warning. 29 It may, indeed, be, that these very words, which are reported by St. Matthew in another, and manifestly most suitable, connection, 30 31 are here quoted by St. Luke, because they fully express the thought to which Christ here first gave distinct utterance. But some such words, we can scarcely doubt, He did speak even now, when pointing to His near Decease in Jerusalem.
And, after his departure, the Lord first spake to them, as was His wont, concerning their misapplication of the Sabbath-Law, to which, indeed, their own practice gave the lie. They deemed it unlawful ‘to heal’ on the Sabbath-day, though, when He read their thoughts and purposes as against Him, they would not answer His question on the point. 35 And yet, if ‘a son, 36 or even an ox,’ of any of them, had ‘fallen into a pit,’ they would have found some valid legal reason for pulling him out! Then, as to their Sabbath-feast, and their invitation to Him, when thereby they wished to lure Him to evil – and, indeed, their much-boasted hospitality: all was characteristic of these Pharisees – only external show, with utter absence of all real love; only self-assumption, pride, and self-righteousness, together with contempt of all who were regarded as religiously or intellectually beneath them – chiefly of ‘the unlearned’ and ‘sinners,’ those in ‘the streets and lanes’ of their city, whom they considered as ‘the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind.’ 37 Even among themselves there was strife about ‘the first places’ – such as, perhaps, Christ had on that occasion witnessed, 38 amidst mock professions of humility, when, perhaps, the master of the house had afterwards, in true Pharisaic fashion, proceeded to re-arrange the guests according to their supposed dignity. And even the Rabbis had given advice to the same effect as Christ’s 39 – and of this His words may have reminded them. 40
But further – addressing him who had so treacherously bidden Him to this feast, Christ showed how the principle of Pharisaism consisted in self-seeking, to the necessary exclusion of all true love. Referring, for the fuller explanation of His meaning, 41 to a previous chapter, 42 we content ourselves here with the remark, that this self-seeking and self-righteousness appeared even in what, perhaps, they most boasted of – their hospitality. For, if in an earlier Jewish record we read the beautiful words: ‘Let thy house be open towards the street, and let the poor be the sons of thy house,’ 43 we have, also, this later comment on them, 44 that Job had thus had his house opened to the four quarters of the globe for the poor, and that, when his calamities befell him, he remonstrated with God on the ground of his merits in this respect, to which answer was made, that he had in this matter come very far short of the merits of Abraham. So entirely self-introspective and self-seeking did Rabbinism become, and so contrary was its outcome to the spirit of Christ, the inmost meaning of Whose Work, as well as Words, was entire self-forgetfulness and self-surrender in love.
At the outset we mark, that we are not here told what constituted the true disciple, but what would prevent a man from becoming such. Again, it was now no longer (as in the earlier address to the Twelve), that he who loved the nearest and dearest of earthly kin more than Christ – and hence clave to such rather than to Him – was not worthy of Him; nor that he who did not take his cross and follow after Him was not worthy of the Christ. Since then the enmity had ripened, and discipleship become impossible without actual renunciation of the nearest relationship, and, more than that, of life itself. 49 Of course, the term ‘hate’ does not imply hatred of parents or relatives, or of life, in the ordinary sense. But it points to this, that, as outward separation, consequent upon men’s antagonism to Christ, was before them in the near future, so, in the present, inward separation, a renunciation in mind and heart, preparatory to that outwardly, was absolutely necessary. And this immediate call was illustrated in twofold manner. A man who was about to begin building a tower, must count the cost of his undertaking. 50 It was not enough that he was prepared to defray the expense of the foundations; he must look to the cost of the whole. So must they, in becoming disciples, look not on what was involved in the present following of Christ, but remember the cost of the final acknowledgement of Jesus. Again, if a king went to war, common prudence would lead him to consider whether his forces were equal to the great contest before him; else it were far better to withdraw in time, even though it involved humiliation, from what, in view of his weakness, would end in miserable defeat. 51 So, and much more, must the intending disciple make complete inward surrender of all, deliberately counting the cost, and, in view of the coming trial, ask himself whether he had, indeed, sufficient inward strength – the force of love to Christ – to conquer. And thus discipleship, then, and, in measure, to all time, involves the necessity of complete inward surrender of everything for the love of Christ, so that if, and when, the time of outward trial comes, we may be prepared to conquer in the fight. 52 He fights well, who has first fought and conquered within.
Or else, and here Christ breaks once more into that pithy Jewish proverb – only, oh! how aptly, applying it to His disciples – ‘Salt is good;’ ‘salt, if it have lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted?’ 53 We have preferred quoting the proverb in its Jewish form, 54 55 to show its popular origin. Salt in such condition was neither fit to improve the land, nor, on the other hand, to be mixed with the manure. The disciple who had lost his distinctiveness would neither benefit the land, nor was he even fit, as it were, for the dunghill, and could only be cast out. And so, let him that hath ears to hear, hear the warning!
Thus viewed, they are intended to impress on the new disciples these four things: to be careful to give no offence; 60 to be careful to take no offence; 61 to be simple and earnest in their faith, and absolutely to trust its all-prevailing power; and yet, when they had made experience of it, not to be elated, but to remember their relation to their Master, that all was in His service, and that, after all, when everything had been done, they were but unprofitable servants. In other words, they urged upon the disciples holiness, love, faith, and service of self-surrender and humility.
Most of these points have been already considered, when explaining the similar admonitions of Christ in Galilee. 64 The four parts of this Discourse are broken by the prayer of the Apostles, who had formerly expressed their difficulty in regard to these very requirements: 65 ‘Add unto us faith.’ It was upon this that the Lord spake to them, for their comfort, of the absolute power of even the smallest faith, 66 and of the service and humility of faith. 67 The latter was couched in a Parabolic form, well calculated to impress on them those feelings which would keep them lowly. They were but servants; and, even though they had done their work, the Master expected them to serve Him, before they sat down to their own meal and rest. Yet meal and rest there would be in the end. Only, let there not be self-elation, nor weariness, nor impatience; but let the Master and His service be all in all. Surely, if ever there was emphatic protest against the fundamental idea of Pharisaism, as claiming merit and reward, it was in the closing admonition of Christ’s public Ministry in Perea: ‘When ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which was our duty to do.’
And with these parting words did He most effectually and for ever separate, in heart and spirit, the Church from the Synagogue.