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LUKE XII. 35–48.
"Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning; 36. And ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their Lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh they may open unto him immediately. 37. Blessed are those servants, whom the Lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, That he shall gird himself and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them. 38. And if he shall come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. 39. And this know, that if the goodman of the house had known at what hour the thief would come, he would have watched, and not have suffered his house to be broken through. 40. Be ye therefore ready also for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not. 41. Then Peter said unto him, Lord, speakest thou this parable unto us, or even to all? 42. And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? 43. Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. 44. Of a truth I say unto you, That he will make him ruler over all that he hath. 45. But and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the men-servants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken; 46. The lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. 47. And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. 48. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required; and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more."
THIS is a long passage; but the subject of it is one, and that subject is so fully and clearly explained, that several of the verses will require no observations. In the preceding verses, our Lord had been exhorting his hearers against sinful anxieties while they were in this world; and he now proceeds to exhort them to prepare for another. We are to consider ourselves as creatures of time, and of eternity; above, we have directions for the former, and here we have directions for the latter.
Let us begin with what is essential to the understanding
of the whole passage, and that is, noticing what we are to understand by "the coming of Christ," of which it speaks, and for which it exhorts us to be ready. The coming of Christ sometimes signifies his coming in providential judgments, especially at the destruction of Jerusalem; but, though it was applicable in principle to that event in this place, it must be understood in such a sense, and so extensively, as to be applicable to all persons, and in all ages, and yet, in so exact a sense, as to imply an immediate and particular reward to every one of Christ's faithful servants, and an immediate and particular punishment to every one of his enemies. The commonly received, therefore, and, unquestionably, the right interpretation, is to apply the coming here spoken of to his coming providentially to remove individuals by death, viewed in connexion with the happiness, or misery, immediately following, and with the day of judgment ultimately to follow; at which day the Lord Jesus Christ's second, literal, personal, and visible coming will take place. "It is appointed unto all men once to die, and after death the judgment." The connexion between death and judgment, however remote in point of time, will yet be as close as possible, in point of result, for no change of state can take place after this life is at an end; death fixes the state for ever; as death leaves a man, so judgment will find him. This is the true meaning of the coming of the Son of man here spoken of. Give up this common and sound view, and adopt the idea of an intermediate literal coming of Christ between this moment and what Scripture calls his second coming at the last day, and especially make that intermediate coming near-and you adopt an opinion which is a perversion of a great part of Scripture, and which, whatever effect it may have on you, has, even in our own days, led on some to delusions and extravagancies, at which men of the world, with too much reason, laugh right merrily, and of which the pious, who are not intoxicated with breathing the enthusiastic atmosphere, cannot hear, or think, but with pity and sorrow. One thinks he is complying with the exhortation in this passage, when he watches the livelong night, and with the window of his apartment thrown wide open, gazes out in expectation of seeing "the sign of the Son of man" appear in the heavens. Another takes care to have always on the table, at evening parties, one cup more than the number of the guests, aud when, at last, asked the reason, he replies, "We know not when our Lord may
come. ." These are facts;* but facts how melancholy and instructive! Let us keep a tight rein on our imagination, lest it hurry us off, and bear us up into cloudy altitudes, till we become giddy, and be lost in the flight. Let us be devoted, affectionate, prayerful, and watchful; but let us be scripturally so. Nor let us suppose that we shall thus be deprived of the best motives to true watchfulness, or to any of the Christian duties: for, whatever temporary, feverish excitement may be produced by such baseless vagaries, while they have the charm of novelty, in the minds of those who abandon themselves to their sway, nothing, after all, either is, or can be conceived, half so grand and affecting, and nothing can ultimately prove so powerfully beneficial in its effects, as the common faith on this point, taken in connexion with the doctrines of the cross-the glorious and generally received truth respecting heaven and hell, death, the general resurrection, judgment and eternity.
In exhorting us to be ready for his coming in death and judgment, our Lord illustrates his meaning by telling us that we should be like faithful and diligent servants who are waiting at home to receive their "master when he shall return from a wedding." The Jewish wedding procession generally took place at night with torch light; hence the propriety of the circumstance here mentioned. In order to be ready to receive their lord, it was obviously necessary that they should watch, that is, literally, that they should not fall asleep, but keep awake. Christ teaches, accordingly, that we should be "found watching;" of which, in the figurative sense, we shall speak by-and-by. Besides, our Lord says, "Let your loins be girded about." The Greeks, Romans, Jews, and those of the Eastern nations in general, male as well as female, wore long, loose, flowing robes. Though ornamental, these robes were not very convenient for active exertion. That they might be more at liberty for such exertion, they were accustomed to gather up their upper garment, and to fasten it round their middle with a girdle or belt. Thus, we read that "the hand of the Lord was on Elijah, and he girded up his loins, and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel." We are told, also, that Elisha said to his servant Gehazi, "Gird up thy loins, and take my staff in thine hand, and go thy way; if thou meet any man salute him not, and if any man salute thee answer him not again." Hence, this figurative way of +1 Kings xviii. 46; 2 Kings iv. 29.
* A.D. 1831.
speaking, to describe mental activity or readiness for action, and for whatever may happen. "Gird up the loins of your mind," says Peter,* "be sober, and hope to the end, for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the appearing of Jesus Christ." Our Lord also directs us to have our "lights burning." If the servants in the house should allow the lamp to go out, in the circumstances supposed, they would be quite unprepared to receive their master, and he would find it very inconvenient, and be much displeased. But, if they were awake, and ready with their lights, and in expectation of his coming, then they would not be thrown into surprise and disorder; but would cheerfully open the door to him at the very first knock, or even go forth to meet him on his approach. Such servants would be blessed, or happy -approved and suitably rewarded by their master.
in like manner, those who shall be found watching, and with the light of their good works shining, when Christ himself comes, shall be blessed, and treated with as much condescension, honour, and kindness, as if a great man, returning home, and finding his servants so properly prepared and engaged, should "gird himself," as a servant, "and make them sit down to meat, and serve them." This supposition, however, had something real in Roman custom for its foundation; for, the bridegrooms were themselves accustomed to serve at their own marriage feasts, and masters of families on certain other occasions.t Something like this was the kind condescension Jesus showed, when he rose from supper, laid aside his upper garments, took a towel and girded himself, poured water into a basin, and washed the disciples' feet. Our Lord here further says, that such servants would be blessed at whatever hour their master came, whether "in the second watch, or in the third watch." Originally, the Jews divided the night only into three watches; accordingly, we read of a first, second, and third watch, but nowhere of a fourth watch, in the Old Testament. Afterwards, however, adopting the custom from the Romans, they divided the night into four watches: we read, accordingly, how, "in the fourth watch of the night, Jesus went unto the disciples walking on the sea. The term "watch" was adopted, because, at the expiry of the
* 1 Pet. i. 13.
Veluti succinctus cursitat hospes.-Hor. Sat. vi. 107. In the Saturnalia of the Romans, the Saccas of the Babylonians, and the Hermæa of the Cretans, the servants sat at table, while their masters waited on them. Matt. xiv. 25.
time, whatever it was, the men who stood watch, the guards or sentinels, were changed. Counting the first watch from six o'clock in the evening, the second watch, as it is here called, would be from nine o'clock to midnight; and the third watch, from midnight to three o'clock. Whether their master should arrive in the one, or in the other, that is, whether he should arrive early or late, it would be well for the servants if they were ready to receive him.
Our Lord prosecutes the same subject, in the use of another comparison, in the 39th and 40th verses. In writing to the Thessalonians, Paul says, "Yourselves know perfectly, that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night" a comparison which we must not overstrain, else we shall fall into absurdity and impiety. The simple meaning is, that it will come unexpectedly. Here Jesus intimates that, as when a house has been robbed, the housekeeper, if he had been aware when the robber was to come, would certainly have watched, to prevent his house from being broken open; so, the time of death and judgment being unknown, it behoves every wise man to see to it that he be always ready. "Be ye, therefore, ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not." The day of final judgment is not known to man, and will come by surprise on the generation who shall then be living on earth; and so, the day of death is unknown to the individual now, and often comes very suddenly and unexpectedly; and, therefore, we should all be ever watchful and ever ready.
In the 41st verse, Peter is represented as inquiring whether Christ spoke this parable to them, that is, to the apostles only, or to the multitude who were listening, and to all. Our Lord does not give a direct answer to this inquiry; but we easily gather, from what he says, that he intended it for all, but especially for his own disciples. We formerly remarked that what he, on this occasion, addressed directly to his disciples, was spoken in the hearing, and, of course, for the instruction of the crowd. The last verse of the 13th chapter of Mark, is also decisive of this point, “ What I say unto you, I say unto all, Watch.”
But, while applicable to all, this parable was more directly addressed to the apostles. Our Lord, in reply to Peter's question, expressed himself in a lively form of interrogation, which was calculated to make every one of the disciples reflect on his own conduct as a steward, or servant, to whom an important trust in Christ's spiritual house