Luk_23:27-31. And there followed him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented him. But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us. For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?
ON a cursory view of the subject, it might be thought, that the enemies of Jesus, after having secured their chief object, began to relent; since, instead of obliging him in his debilitated state to bear his cross to the place of execution, (as was customary on such occasions,) they compelled another person to carry it for him. This however was only an additional instance of their malignity. They saw that, in consequence of his watching, and fasting, and diversified sufferings, he was ready to faint; and they began to fear, that he would die before he should reach the place; and consequently that they would be deprived of the satisfaction of making him a public spectacle upon the cross. Hence they spared him this fatigue, that he might be the more capable of suffering all the other miseries which they were about to inflict upon him. Far different was the disposition of Jesus towards them. This short interval he improved for the good of those who were around him. He saw many, and especially some women, making bitter lamentation on his account: and these he exhorted not to weep on his account, but on account of themselves and their children; since the evils reserved for them were both in extent and duration far more terrible than those which he now experienced.
In discoursing upon his words to them, we shall,
Explain his counsel—
[It is possible, that some of those whom he addressed were moved to pity him merely from a natural sense of humanity; whilst others were influenced both by faith and love. At all events, we are sure that he did not mean to forbid the exercise of sympathy and compassion; since it was his desire that these amiable qualities should characterize his followers in all ages. Love, in all its branches, was not only enjoined by him, but was distinguished by him as his commandment, which he imposed on all who professed themselves his Disciples [Note: Joh_15:12.]: from whence St. Paul calls it “the law of Christ;” “bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ [Note: Gal_6:2.].”
The prohibition was rather of a comparative kind; similar to that expression of the Prophet, “I will have mercy, and not sacrifice;” where sacrifice is not intended to be prohibited, but only to give way, when it should stand in competition with the exercise of mercy.
In this view there was abundant reason for the counsel which Christ now gave them. With respect to himself, they had no such great occasion to weep, because his sufferings were altogether voluntary: they were also now very near their termination; and they would issue both in his own exaltation to the right hand of God, and in the salvation of a ruined world. Hence, if rightly considered, his afflictions, though so exceeding grievous, were grounds rather of gratitude and joy than of regret and sorrow. But the afflictions which in due time would come on them, would be such as had not existed from the foundation of the world, nor ever would be equalled to the end of time. Happy as the Jewish women accounted themselves in having children, they would then congratulate “the barren:” and, desirous as men naturally are of life, they would wish even “rocks and mountains to fall upon them,” to put them out of their misery.
This prediction our blessed Lord confirms by a kind of proverb, in which he appeals to the very judgment of those whom he addressed: ‘You see,’ says he, ‘what they are doing to me, who have never given any just occasion of offence: judge then what shall be done to them, when they have filled up the measure of their iniquities, and rendered themselves, like dry wood, proper fuel for the wrath of God?’
These then were the subjects to which he endeavoured to turn their minds, not so much for the purpose of augmenting their sorrow, as of giving it a right direction, and rendering it subservient to their eternal good; for, in proportion as they anticipated the judgments that awaited that wicked generation, they would become penitent themselves, and encourage penitence in others; and thus become instrumental in saving some who were now hardened in their iniquities.]
Having thus explained our Lord’s counsel to the lamenting women, we proceed to,
Engraft some further counsel upon it—
We might draw your attention to the example of Christ, who even in this hour of his deepest sorrows forgot, as it were, his own personal concerns, and was mindful only of the concerns of others [Note: Php_2:4.]. But we shall rather keep in view the subject-matter of his address: in reference to which we would say,
Get your hearts impressed with the sufferings of Christ—
[We have before observed, that our Lord did not mean to forbid this, but only to recommend in preference some other considerations, which, under their circumstances, were of more importance. It is true, that under any circumstances, the being affected with the relation of our Lord’s sufferings, just in the same way that we should be with any tragical story, will be of little avail. It is not such an impression therefore that we are anxious to produce. We wish you to consider, what was the end of those sufferings; and to behold in them, as in a mirror, your desert and danger, your hope and deliverance. Yes; you will do well to contemplate them in this view, till you weep and smite upon your breasts with even greater anguish than his compassionate attendants ever felt. This is the duty of every one amongst us; according to that declaration of the Prophet, “They shall look on him whom they pierced, and shall mourn as one mourneth for his only son, and be in bitterness as one that is in bitterness for his first-born [Note: Zec_12:10.].” Indeed, to attain this state of mind, should be the greatest object of our lives; since without it we can have no interest in him; and with it we can never perish. A humble, contrite, and believing view of Christ will infallibly transform us into his image, and bring us to the possession of his glory [Note: 2Co_3:18. Joh_6:40.].]
Contemplate the probable issue of sin, even in this life—
[It is in the future world that sin will receive its full reward. But it not unfrequently receives a tremendous recompence even here. How many have their health impaired, their fortunes injured, their reputation blasted, and their peace destroyed, by their own folly and wickedness! How many mothers have lived to see the child, which they once fondled with the tenderest affection, become a source of unutterable grief: insomuch that they have envied the wombs that never bare! And how many have so embittered their lives, that they have wished for death, and would have been glad to have a rock or mountain to crush them to atoms! There is not a town, or scarcely a village, that will not afford some instances of persons, who, from having ruined their health, their reputation, their fortune, or their peace, do not wish that they had never been born. What is it that makes suicide so common? You will almost invariably trace it to this source: the person’s sins have made him so miserable, that life itself is become a burthen to him: so true is that repeated declaration of the prophet, “The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest; whose waters cast up mire and dirt: there is no peace, saith God, to the wicked [Note: Isa_57:20-21.].”
Such are the means by which God often punishes sin in this life. Not unfrequently it happens that the partners of our guilt are made the instruments of our punishment. Thus, in the history before us, the Romans were employed by the Jews in putting Jesus to death; and they were afterwards employed by God in punishing that whole nation, to an extent unparalleled in the annals of the world. Thus also it is often found, that those who have administered to our fraudulent gains or licentious pleasures, are the very persons through whom God visits our iniquity upon us.
Let then the connexion between sin and misery be considered: and learn, that in holiness alone is pleasure to be found without alloy.]
Look forward with awe to the future judgment—
[If the Jewish matrons were bidden to weep for themselves and their children, on account of the calamities that should be endured in the siege of Jerusalem, much more may every thoughtful person weep in the prospect of that day, when all shall stand at the judgment-seat of Christ. Then shall every man be recompensed according to his works. How they who have made light of sin in this world will feel in that day, we are informed by God himself; who assures us, that sinners of every rank, from the highest to the lowest, will “cry to the rocks to fall upon them, and the hills to cover them from the wrath of the Lamb [Note: Rev_6:15-17.].” The inference which our Lord draws from his own sufferings, in reference to the Jewish nation, may with equal propriety be drawn from his people’s sufferings in reference to the world at large. They are, in their measure, persecuted like him; and “if these things be done in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry?” “If judgment begin at the house of God,” says the Apostle, “what must the end be of them that obey not the Gospel of God [Note: 1Pe_4:17-18.]?” If those who are comparatively as “a green tree” are afflicted by God for the purging of their sins, what must not they expect, who, like “a dry tree,” are prepared for the punishment of their sins? Doubtless their misery will be inconceivably great, insomuch that they will curse their very existence, and wish that by any means they could bring it to a termination [Note: Rev_9:6.].
Brethren, know assuredly, that that day will come; and that repentance then will be too late. Then, not they only who crucified the Lord Jesus must give account of themselves to God, but those also who have “crucified him afresh” by continuing in sin [Note: Heb_6:6.]. Prepare ye then for that great account; and beg of God, that “when he shall appear, ye may be found of him in peace, without spot and blameless [Note: 2Pe_3:14.].”]