Charles Simeon Commentary - Luke 3:10 - 3:11

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Charles Simeon Commentary - Luke 3:10 - 3:11

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Luk_3:10-11. And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then? He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.

IN order to understand the true meaning of any part of Scripture, the strictest attention must be paid to the context. If this rule be not observed, there is scarcely any thing which may not be sanctioned by the inspired volume; and the most contradictory positions may appear to stand on equal authority. Suppose, for instance, the question in our text be taken, as other apparently similar questions must be taken, namely, as an inquiry into the way of salvation; we shall make John the Baptist return an answer directly contrary to the whole tenour of the Gospel. When the gaoler asked Paul and Silas, “What he must do to be saved?” they answered, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved [Note: Act_16:30-31.].” This is the only true answer that can be given to that question; for “there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we can be saved,” but the name of Jesus Christ [Note: Act_4:12.]. But if we look into the context, we find that John the Baptist had been “preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins [Note: ver. 3.];” or, in other words, had been preaching salvation by Jesus Christ, exactly as the Apostle Peter, and indeed all the Apostles, did on the day of Pentecost [Note: See the people’s inquiry, and Peter’s answer, Act_2:37-38.]. Then, seeing multitudes coming to him for baptism, and apprehending that the great majority of them were taking up a profession of religion upon very light and erroneous grounds, he cautioned them strongly against a presumptuous confidence on the one hand, or an unproductive and hypocritical profession on the other; and exhorted them, if they would not experience the fate of a barren tree, to “bring forth fruits worthy of repentance [Note: ver. 7–9.].” In reply to this, the people ask, “What shall we do?” That is, What fruits shall we bring forth, in order to evince our sincerity [Note: See the Greek, ver. 8–10. This will remove all doubt: for they adopt the very same term as John had used.]? And the direction which John gives them, is an answer exactly suited to the occasion: it is to this effect; ‘If you would approve yourselves sincere and upright in your profession of faith in the promised Messiah, shew forth your faith by your works, and, above all, by an abounding exercise of love.’

Having thus prepared our way by a view of the context, and having ascertained what the Baptist’s design was in giving the people the direction in our text, we shall proceed to the more distinct consideration of his answer, and shall open to you,

I.       Its import—

It is manifest that the direction given by him is figurative, and therefore not to be taken in its strict and literal sense. But we must not therefore imagine, that we are at liberty to disregard it, as though it had no force at all. There can be no doubt but that the Baptist intended to inculcate a very tender compassion towards our indigent fellow-creatures, and a very enlarged exercise of liberality for their relief. To obtain, with as much precision as the subject is capable of, the true import of his words, we shall adduce from other parts of Scripture, but especially from the writings of the same Evangelist,

1.       Some other passages of similar tendency—

[First, we shall notice one or two that are also figurative [Note: Luk_12:33-34; Luk_14:12-14.] — — — There can be no doubt but that these require a very high degree of liberality to the poor, since they were actually practised in their strictest sense by the first Christians [Note: Act_2:44-45; Act_4:32-37.] — — — From these we may turn to others that are more plain [Note: Luk_6:38; Luk_11:41.] — — — What an accumulation of words is there in the former of these passages to encourage our compliance with the precept; and what a gracious benediction in the latter! — — — To the rich there is an especial charge given to be bountiful [Note: 1Ti_6:18-19.]; but it is not to them only that this duty belongs; but to those also who gain a daily subsistence by their manual labour [Note: Eph_4:28.]. To all, according to their ability, it equally appertains; for, on the foresight of a dearth in Jud æ a, all the disciples of Antioch, every one according to his ability, contributed instantly to their relief [Note: Act_11:28-30.].]

2.       Some examples which are set forth for our imitation—

[That of Zaccheus is particularly to our purpose, because he was just converted to the faith of Christ, and because our blessed Lord himself acknowledged this heavenly disposition to be an evidence of his having actually obtained acceptance with his God [Note: Luk_19:8-9.] — — — But the example of the Macedonian Churches is yet more pertinent; because it is an example, not of an individual, but of whole Churches; and those, not in a state of ease and opulence, but of great affliction and deep poverty; and because it is expressly set forth for the imitation of others, who are called upon to imitate it, in order to prove the sincerity of their love to Christ [Note: 2Co_8:1-4; 2Co_8:8-9.]. By carefully comparing these several passages, we see clearly what our duty is: we are not required to burthen ourselves in order to ease others, but so to participate their burthens that they may partake of our ease [Note: 2Co_8:13-14.]: thus to “bear one another’s burthens is eminently to fulfil the law of Christ [Note: Gal_6:2.].”]

Having thus marked the import of the injunction in our text, we proceed to shew,

II.      Its reasonableness—

The whole of God’s “law is good,” and the service it requires is reasonable. But the duty enjoined in our text, though arduous to a selfish mind, is particularly reasonable. For consider,

1.       What obligations we owe to God for the superior comforts which we enjoy—

[It is God who assigns to all their lot, not only in respect to the situation in which they are born [Note: Act_17:26; Act_17:28.], but in all the changes, whether prosperous or adverse, which they experience through life [Note: 1Sa_2:6-7.]. Whatever therefore we have above others, “it is God alone who has made us to differ [Note: 1Co_4:7.].” And how eminently is this the case with respect to the ravages of war which during these last twenty years have desolated almost the whole of Europe, but have never reached our happy land! Compare our state with that of a great part of Germany at this present moment [Note: This Sermon was preached in 1814, on occasion of a collection for the relief of the most grievous distresses in Germany.], and then say, whether a compassionate regard for our suffering fellow-creatures be not called for at our hands, and whether such an expression of it as our text requires, be at all unreasonable? Methinks, it is not possible to have even the most indistinct view of our obligations to God, without saying from our hearts, “What shall I render unto the Lord for all the benefits that he hath done unto me?”]

2.       What we ourselves should desire, if we were reduced to the state in which myriads of our fellow-creatures now are—

[It is not easy to place ourselves in the situation of persons of whom we hear only by report: but yet we may conceive what we ourselves should desire, and what we should think reasonable, if we were perishing with cold and nakedness and hunger, whilst others, embarked in the same cause with ourselves, were exempt from those sufferings, and were enjoying comparative ease and affluence. Should we not wish them to stand forth for our relief? Should we not think it reasonable, that their exertions should rise in proportion to our necessities, and that they should almost literally fulfil the precept in our text, the man who had two coats imparting to us who had none, and that he who had meat should do likewise? Let us adopt for our principle the golden rule, and “Do unto others, as we would they should do unto us.”]

3.       What our blessed Lord and Saviour has done for us—

[This is the consideration which St. Paul himself suggests in reference to this very point [Note: 2Co_8:9.]. O consider, “how rich he was” in the possession of his Father’s glory; and how “poor he became,” “not having so much as a place where to lay his head,” but dying under the curse that was due to our sins. Consider too what his object was; namely, that we, who deserved to be in hell without a drop of water to cool our tongues, might through his poverty be rich, and possess all the glory of heaven. Does such love as this require no return? When this very Saviour tells us, that what we do unto the least of his brethren, he accepts as done to himself, shall we think any requisition hard, or any sacrifice too great? Truly, not only our property, but even our life itself, may well be sacrificed for him [Note: 1Jn_3:16. Act_21:13.]; and we should account ourselves happy in proportion as we have an opportunity to advance his glory in the world.]

But instead of dwelling any longer on the general reasonableness of this precept, we will proceed to notice,

III.     Its suitableness to the present occasion—

[Rarely, if ever, has greater occasion for charitable exertions existed than at present [Note: Here the particular occasion should be opened at considerable length.] — — — Now therefore we might justly call upon you to comply with our text almost in the literal sense. But, waving that, we must urge you to adopt the principle that is there inculcated — — — and to bear in mind, that “he who soweth sparingly, shall reap also sparingly, and he who soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Let every man do according as he is disposed in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loveth a cheerful giver [Note: 2Co_9:6-7.].” Do not however forget the important distinctions with which we began the subject. It is to glorify Christ, and to shew the sincerity of your love to him, that we invite you;—not to purchase heaven by your alms. Bear that in mind; and God will not forget it in the day of judgment.]