DAILY BIBLE READING
A normal healthy child will only grow if it is regularly supplied with food and drink. A healthy Christian will only ‘grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’, (2 Peter 3.18) if regularly supplied with spiritual food and drink. Hence the urgent need for daily Bible reading and prayer besides the regular use of the means of grace, in the preaching and teaching of the church to which the believer is joined.
For some time now I have been privately reading through the Gospel of Luke, but I found myself failing to think carefully enough about each daily section. It occurred to me that perhaps others found the same problem in reading over such familiar verses; the eyes look at the words and I read them through, but the mind is not truly and seriously engaged in thinking through what is being read. In this concern I began to read the Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of Luke by Bishop J. C. Ryle, section by section each day. It took a while longer but was decidedly beneficial.
Each of the sections in this commentary consists of paragraphs with a short heading to summarise the thoughts that follow. At the end of each section are notes with more detailed explanations of difficult or disputed points. These are well worth reading if time permits.
After doing this for some time I realised the value of underlining the headings and marking in the margin those comments I found personally helpful or specially relevant. I might add that the book was my own personal property and so I felt free to treat it in this way!
Still later I began to feel that, although I was marking what specially appealed to me, and that anyone else doing the same thing would mark
quite different sections, it might be a helpful exercise to put the sections I marked in this magazine. I would be amply rewarded if others found some benefit in reading the following notes and doubly rewarded if they encouraged a more thoughtful and serious reading of the Word of God.
These notes are both brief and disjointed but the verses in Luke’s Gospel on which they comment are all given and should be looked at as the following notes are read. They are all taken verbatim from Bishop Ryle’s commentary.
Luke 1. 34-38. Faith like Mary’s.
Faith never rests so calmly and peacefully as when it lays its head on the pillow of God’s omnipotence.
Luke 4.14-22. Jesus preaching.
We need not doubt that there is a practical lesson for us in this part of our Lord’s conduct. He would have us know that we are not lightly to forsake any assembly of worshippers, which professes to respect the name, the day, and the book of God. There may be many things in such an assembly which might be done better. There may be want of fulness, clearness, and distinctness in the doctrine preached. There may be a lack of unction and devoutness in the manner in which the worship is conducted. But so long as no positive error is taught, and there is no choice between worshipping with such an assembly and having no public worship at all, it becomes a Christian to think much before he stays away. If there be but two or three in the congregation who meet in the name of Jesus, there is a special blessing promised. But there is no blessing promised to him who tarries at home.
Luke 4. 22-32. The Doctrine of God’s Sovereignty.
Of all the doctrines of the Bible none is so offensive to human nature as the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. To be told that God is great, and just, and holy, and pure, man can bear. But to be told that ‘He hath mercy on whom He will have mercy,’ – that He ‘giveth no account of His matters,’ – that it is ‘not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy,’ – these are truths that natural man cannot stand; they often call forth all his enmity against God, and fill him with wrath. Nothing, in short, will make him submit to them but the humbling teaching of the Holy Ghost.
Luke 4. 22-32. Each labouring in his appointed place.
Such ought to be the conduct of all the people of Christ. Whatever the work they are called to do, they should patiently continue in it, and not give up for want of success. Whether preachers, or teachers, or visitors, or missionaries, they must labour on and not faint. There
is often more stirring in the hearts and consciences of people than those who teach and preach to them are at all aware of. There is preparatory work to be done in many a part of God’s vineyard, which is just as needful as any other work, though not so agreeable to flesh and blood. There must be sowers as well as reapers. There must be some to break up the ground and pick out the stones, as well as some to gather in the harvest. Let each labour on in his own place. The day comes when each shall be rewarded according to his work. The very discouragements we meet with enable us to show the world that there are such things as faith and patience. When men see us working on, in spite of treatment like that which Jesus met at Nazareth, it makes them think. It convinces them that, at all events, we are persuaded that we have truth on our side.
Luke 4. 33-44. Make time for meditation.
We should notice, thirdly, in these verses, our Lord’s practice of occasional retirement from public notice into some solitary place. We read, that after healing many that were sick and casting out many devils, ‘He departed and went into a desert place.’ His object in so doing is shown by comparison with other places in the Gospels. He went aside from His work for a season, to hold communion with His Father in heaven, and to pray. Holy and sinless as His human nature was, it was a nature kept sinless in the regular use of means of grace, and not in the neglect of them.
There is an example here which all who desire to grow in grace and walk closely with God would do well to follow. We must make time for private meditation, and for being alone with God. It must not content us to pray daily and read the Scriptures, – to hear the Gospel regularly and to receive the Lord’s Supper. All this is well. But something more is needed.
We should set apart special seasons for solitary self-examination and meditation on the things of God. How often in a year this practice should be attempted each Christian must judge for himself. But that the practice is most desirable seems clear both from Scripture and experience. We live in hurrying bustling times. The excitement of daily business and constant engagements keeps many men in a perpetual whirl, and entails great peril on souls.
The neglect of this habit of withdrawing occasionally from worldly business is the probable cause of many an inconsistency or backsliding which brings scandal on the cause of Christ. The more work we have to do the more we ought to imitate our Master. If He, in the midst of His abundant labours, found time to retire from the world occasionally, how much more may we? If the Master found the practice necessary, it must surely be a thousand times more necessary for His disciples.
Luke 4. 33-44. Beware of despising preaching.
Let us beware of despising preaching. In every age of the Church it has been God’s principal instrument for the awakening of sinners and the edifying of saints. The days when there has been little or no preaching have been days when there has been little or no good done in the Church. Let us hear sermons in a prayerful and reverent frame of mind and remember that they are the principal engines which Christ Himself employed when He was upon earth. Not least let us pray daily for a continual supply of faithful preachers of God’s Word. According to the state of the pulpit will always be the state of a congregation and of a Church.
Luke 5.12-16. Why so few conversions?
Why is it that there is so much apparent religious working, and yet so little result in positive conversions to God, – so many sermons, and so few souls saved, – so much machinery, and so little effect produced, – so much running hither and thither, and yet so few brought to Christ? Why is all this? The reply is short and simple. There is not enough private prayer. The cause of Christ does not need less working, but it does need among the workers more praying. Let us each examine ourselves, and amend our ways. The most successful workmen in the Lord’s vineyard are those who are, like their Master, often and much upon their knees.
Luke 6. 1-5. First things first.
It is a bad symptom of any man’s state of soul when he begins to put the second things in religion in the first place, and the first things in the second, or the things ordained by man above the things ordained by God. Let us beware of falling into this state of mind.
There is something sadly wrong in our spiritual condition, when the only thing we look at in others is their outward Christianity, and the principal question we ask is whether they worship in our communion, and use our ceremonial, and serve God in our way. -Do they repent of sin? Do they believe on Christ? Are they living holy lives? These are the chief points to which our attention ought to be directed. The moment we begin to place anything in religion before these things, we are in danger of becoming as thorough Pharisees as the accusers of the disciples.
Luke 8. 4.15. The Parable of the Sower.
Faithful ministers should always denounce sin most plainly when their churches are most full and their congregations most large. Then is the time to ‘cry aloud and spare not,’ and show people their sins. It is a snare to some ministers, to flatter full congregations and scold thin ones. Such dealing is very unlike that of our Lord.
Finally, let us leave the parable with a solemn recollection of the duty of every faithful preacher to divide his congregation, and give to each class his portion. The clergyman who ascends his pulpit every Sunday, and addresses his congregation as if he thought every one was going to heaven, is surely not doing his duty to God or man His preaching is flatly contradictory to the parable of the sower.
Luke 9. 7-11. Conscience.
Conscience is a most powerful part of our natural constitution. I cannot save our souls. It never leads a man to Christ. It is often blind and ignorant, and misdirected. Yet conscience often raises a mighty testimony against sin in the sinner’s heart, and makes him feel that ‘it is an evil and a bitter thing’ to depart from God. Young persons ought especially to remember this, and remembering it, to take heed to their ways. Let them not flatter themselves that all is right when their sins are past and done and forgotten by the world. Let them know that conscience can bring up each sin before the eyes of their minds, and make it bite like a serpent. Millions will testify at the last day that Herod’s experience was their own. Conscience called old sins from their graves, and made them walk up and down in their hearts. In the midst of seeming happiness and prosperity they were inwardly miserable and distressed. Happy are they who have found the only cure for a bad conscience! Nothing will ever heal it but the blood of Christ.
Unity was never yet brought about by force. -What then ought we to do? We must leave alone those who do not agree with us, and wait quietly till God shall think fit to bring us together. Whatever we may think of our divisions, the words of our Lord must never be forgotten: “Forbid them not.”
The plain truth is, that we are all too ready to say, “We are the men, and wisdom shall die with us” (Job 12.2.). We forget that no Church on earth has an absolute monopoly of all wisdom, and that people may be right in the main, without agreeing with us. We must learn to be thankful if sin is opposed, and the Gospel preached, and the devil’s kingdom pulled down, though the work may not be done exactly in the way we like. We must try to believe that men may be true-hearted followers of Jesus Christ, and yet for some wise reason may be kept back from seeing all things in religion just as we do Above all, we must praise God if souls are converted, and Christ is magnified, – no matter who the preacher may be and to what Church he may belong. Happy are those who can say with Paul, ‘If Christ be preached, I rejoice, yea, and will rejoice’ (Phil. 1.18); and with
Moses, ‘Enviest thou for my sake? Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that all did prophesy.’ (Num. 11.29.)
Luke 11. 1-4. The Lord’s Prayer.
And now let us use the Lord’s Prayer for the trial of our own state before God. Its words have probably passed over our lips thousands of times; but have we really felt it? Do we really desire its petitions to be granted? Is God really our Father? Are we born again, and made His children by faith in Christ? Do we care much for His name and will? Do we really wish the kingdom of God to come? Do we feel our need of daily temporal mercies, and of daily pardon of sin? Do we fear falling into temptation? Do we dread evil above all things? – These are serious questions. They deserve serious consideration.
Let us strive to make the Lord’s Prayer our model and pattern in all our approaches to God. Let it suggest to us the sort of things which we should pray for and pray against. Let it teach us the relative place and proportion which we should give to each subject in our prayers. The more we ponder and examine the Lord’s Prayer, the more instructive and suggestive shall we find it to be.
Luke 11.14-20. Prejudice.
Let us strive to be of a fair, and honest, and candid spirit in our judgment of men and things in religion. Let us be ready to give up old and cherished opinions the moment that anyone can show us a ‘more excellent way.’ The honest and good heart is a great treasure. (Luke 8.15.) A prejudiced spirit is the very jaundice of the soul. It affects a man’s mental eyesight, and makes him see everything in an unnatural colour. From such a spirit may we pray to be delivered!
Luke 11. 21-26. The Backslider
The tendency of a backslider, or a man who has at one time professed religion, but afterwards turned back to the world, to become worse than he ever was before, is a painful fact, but a notorious one. The possession of clear knowledge of the Gospel combined with deliberate choice of sin and the world, seems the parent of the most hardened state of soul to which mortal man can attain. Ford quotes a striking sentence from Cowper’s Letters on this subject. ‘I have observed that when a man who once seemed a Christian has put off that character, and resumed his old one, he loses, together with the grace which he seemed to possess, the most amiable parts of the character that he resumes. The best features of his natural face seem to be struck out, that after having worn religion only as a mask, he may make a more disgusting appearance than he did before he assumed it.’
Luke 11. 45-54. Building sepulchres for old prophets.
We learn from our Lord’s words, how much more easy it is to admire dead saints than living ones. He says to the lawyers, “Ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and your fathers killed them.’ They professed to honour the memory of the prophets, while they lived in the very same ways which the prophets had condemned They openly neglected their advice and teaching, and yet they pretended to respect their graves!
The practice which is here exposed has never been without followers in spirit, if not in the letter. Thousands of wicked men in every age of the Church have tried to deceive themselves and others by loud professions of admiration for the saints of God after their decease. By so doing they have endeavoured to ease their own consciences, and blind the eyes of the world. They have sought to raise in the minds of others the thought, “If these men love the memories of the good so dearly, they must surely be of one hear with them.” They have forgotten that even a child can see that ‘dead men tell no tales,’ and that to admire men when they can neither reprove us by their lips, nor put us to shame by their lives, is a very
cheap admiration indeed.
Would we know what a man’s religious character really is? Let us inquire what he thinks of true Christians while they are yet alive. -Does he love them, and cleave to them, and delight in them, as the excellent of the earth? – Or does he avoid them, and dislike them and regard them as fanatics, and enthusiasts, and extreme, and righteous over-much? – The answers to these questions are a pretty safe test of a man’s true character. When a man can see no beauty in living saints, but much in dead ones, his soul is in a very rotten state The Lord Jesus has pronounced his condemnation. He is a hypocrite in the sight of God.
Luke 12. 1-7. Bishop Hooper, the martyr.
It was a noble saying of martyred Bishop Hooper, when a Roman Catholic urged him to save his life by recanting at the stake: “Life is
sweet and death is bitter. But eternal life is more sweet, and eterna death is more bitter.”
Luke 12. 8-12. Remember Bible promises.
Let us pray for a good memory about Bible promises. We shall find it an inestimable comfort. There are far more, and far wider promises laid down in Scripture for the comfort of Christ’s people than most of Christ’s people are aware of. There are promises for almost every position in which we can be placed, and every even that can befall us. Among other promises let us not forget the one which is now before us. We are sometimes called upon to go into
company which is not congenial to us, and we go with a troubled and anxious heart: we fear saying what we ought not to say, and not saying what we ought. At such seasons, let us remember this blessed promise, and put our Master in remembrance of it also. So doing He will not fail us or forsake us. A mouth shall be given to us and wisdom to speak rightly, ‘The Holy Ghost shall teach us’ what to say.
Luke 12. 8-12. The unforgivable sin.
That there is such a sin is clear. That it consists of the union of the clearest head-knowledge of the Gospel with deliberate rejection of it, and deliberate choice of sin and the world, seems highly probable. That those who are troubled with fear that they have committed it, are just the persons who have not committed it, is the judgment of all the soundest divines. Utter hardness, callousness, and insensibility of conscience, are probably leading characteristics of the man who has sinned the unpardonable sin. He is ‘let alone,’ and given over to a reprobate mind.
Luke 12. 11-12. Preaching without preparation.
To apply such promises as this to ministers in modern times, and to justify men in making no preparation for their Sunday sermons, is irreverent and unwarrantable trifling with Scripture.
Luke 12. 22-31. Over anxiety.
Nothing is more common than a careful and troubled spirit, and nothing so mars a believer’s usefulness, and minishes his inward peace. Nothing, on the contrary, glorifies God so much as a cheerful spirit in the midst of temporal troubles: it carries a reality with it which even the worldly can understand; it commends our Christianity, and makes it beautiful in the eyes of men. Faith, and faith only, will produce this cheerful spirit. The man who can say boldly, “The Lord is my shepherd,” is the man who will be able to add, “I shall not want.” (Psa. 23.1.)
Luke 12. 41-48. Good works.
The lesson is one which many, unhappily, shrink from giving, and many more shrink from receiving. We are gravely told that to talk of ‘working,’ and ‘doing,’ is legal, and brings Christians into bondage! Remarks of this kind should never move us. They savour of ignorance or perverseness. The lesson before us is not about justification, but about sanctification, not about faith, but about holiness; the point is not what a man should do to be saved, – but what ought a saved man to do. The teaching of Scripture is clear and express upon this subject. A saved man ought to be ‘careful to
maintain good works’ (Tit. 3.8.). The desire of a true Christian ough to be, to be found ‘doing.’
Luke 12. 49-53. The sufferings of Christ.
For ever let us bear in mind that all Christ’s sufferings on our behalf were endured willingly, voluntarily, and of His own free choice. They were not submitted to patiently merely because He could not avoid them: they were not borne without a murmur merely because He could not escape them. He lived a humble life for thirty three years because He loved to do so. He died a death of agony with a willing and a ready mind. Both in life and death He was carrying out the eternal counsel whereby God was to be glorified and sinners were to be saved. He carried it out with all His heart, mighty as the struggle was which it entailed on His flesh and blood. He delighted to do God’s will. He was straitened till it was accomplished.
Let us not doubt that the heart of Christ in heaven is the same that it was when He was upon earth. He feels as deep an interest now about the salvation of sinners as He did formerly about dying in their stead. Jesus never changes: He is the same yesterday, and today, and for ever. There is in Him an infinite willingness to receive, pardon justify, and deliver the souls of men from hell. Let us strive to realize that willingness, and learn to believe it without doubting, and repose on it without fear. It is a certain fact, if men would only believe it that Christ is far more willing to save us than we are to be saved.
Let the zeal of our Lord and Master be an example to all His
people. Let the recollection of His burning readiness to die for us be like a glowing coal in our memories, and constrain us to live to Him and not to ourselves. Surely the thought of it should waken our sleeping hearts, and warm our cold affections, and make us anxious to redeem the time, and do something for His praise. A zealous Saviour ought to have zealous disciples.
Luke 12. 49-53. No peace on earth.
Let us beware of unscriptural expectations. If we expect to see people of one heart and one mind before they are converted, we shall continually be disappointed. Thousands of well-meaning persons now-a-days are continually crying out for more ‘unity’ among Christians. To attain this they are ready to sacrifice almost anything and to throw overboard even sound doctrine, if, by so doing, they can secure peace. Such people would do well to remember that even gold may be bought too dear, and that peace is useless if purchased at the expense of truth. Surely they have forgotten the words of Christ: “I came not to send peace, but division.”
Let us never be moved by those who charge the Gospel with being the cause of strife and divisions upon earth. Such men only show
their ignorance when they talk in this way. It is not the Gospel which is to blame, but the corrupt heart of man. It is not God’s glorious remedy which is in fault, but the diseased nature of Adam’s race, which, like a self-willed child, refuses the medicine provided for its cure. So long as some men and women will not repent and believe, and some will, there must needs be division. To be surprised at it is the height of folly.
Luke 13. 10-17. The Sabbath.
Let us pray for a right understanding of the law of the Sabbath. Of all the commandments that God has given, none is more essential to the happiness of man, and none is so frequently misrepresented, abused, and trampled under foot. Let us lay down for ourselves two special rules for the observance of the Sabbath. For one thing, let us do-no work which is not absolutely needful; for another, let us keep the day ‘holy,’ and give it to God. From these two rules let us never swerve. Experience shows that there is the closest connection between Sabbath sanctification and healthy Christianity.
Luke 13.18-21. The leaven.
The parable of the leaven is intended to show the progress of the Gospel in the heart of a believer.
The first beginnings of the work of grace in a sinner are generally exceedingly small. It is like the mixture of leaven with a lump of dough. A single sentence of a sermon, or a single verse of Holy Scripture, a word of rebuke from a friend, or a casual religious remark overheard, a tract given by a stranger, or a trifling act of kindness received from a Christian, – some one of these things is often the starting-point in the life of a soul. The first actings of the spiritual life are often small in the extreme, – so small, that for a long time they are not known except by him who is the subject of them, and even by him not fully understood. A few serious thoughts and prickings of conscience, a desire to pray really and not formally, a determination to begin reading the Bible in private, a gradual drawing towards means of grace, an increasing interest in the subject of religion, a growing distaste for evil habits and bad companions, -these, or some of them, are often the first symptoms of grace beginning to move the heart of man. They are symptoms which worldly men may not perceive, and ignorant believers may despise, and even old Christians may mistake; yet they are often the first steps in the mighty business of conversion. They are often the ‘leaven’ of grace working in a heart.
These extracts cease here because this is as far as I have got. At a later date there may be more, if the Lord permits.