We have here an account of three several persons that offered themselves to follow Christ, and the answers that Christ gave to each of them. The two former we had an account of in Matt. 19:21.
I. Here is one that is extremely forward to follow Christ immediately, but seems to have been too rash, hasty, and inconsiderate, and not to have set down and counted the cost.
1. He makes Christ a very large promise (Luke 9:57): As they went in the way, going up to Jerusalem, where it was expected Christ would first appear in his glory, one said to him, Lord, I will follow thee withersoever thou goest. This must be the resolution of all that will be found Christ’s disciples indeed; they follow the Lamb whithersoever he goes (Rev. 14:4), though it be through fire and water, to prisons and deaths.
2. Christ gives him a necessary caution, not to promise himself great things in the world, in following him, but, on the contrary, to count upon poverty and meanness; for the Son of man has not where to lay his head.
We may look upon this, (1.) As setting forth the very low condition that our Lord Jesus was in, in this world. He not only wanted the delights and ornaments that great princes usually have, but even such accommodations for mere necessity as the foxes have, and the birds of the air. See what a depth of poverty our Lord Jesus submitted to for us, to increase the worth and merit of his satisfaction, and to purchase for us a larger allowance of grace, that we through his poverty might be rich, 2 Cor. 8:9. He that made all did not make a dwelling-place for himself, not a house of his own to put his head in, but what he was beholden to others for. He here calls himself the Son of man, a Son of Adam, partaker of flesh and blood. He glories in his condescension towards us, not only to the meanness of our nature, but to the meanest condition in that nature, to testify his love to us, and to teach us a holy contempt of the world and of great things in it, and a continual regard to another world. Christ was thus poor, to sanctify and sweeten poverty to his people; the apostles had not certain dwelling-place (1 Cor. 4:11), which they might the better bear when they knew their Master had not; see 2 Sam. 11:11. We may well be content to fare as Christ did. (2.) As proposing this to the consideration of those who intend to be his disciples. If we mean to follow Christ, we must lay aside the thoughts of great things in the world, and not reckon upon making any thing more than heaven of our religion, as we must resolve not to take up with any thing less. Let us not go about to compound the profession of Christianity with secular advantages; Christ has put them asunder, let us not think of joining them together; on the contrary, we must expect to enter into the kingdom of heaven through many tribulations, must deny ourselves, and take up our cross. Christ tells this man what he must count upon if he followed him, to lie cold and uneasy, to fare hard, and live in contempt; if he could not submit to this, let him not pretend to follow Christ. This word sent him back, for aught that appears; but it will be no discouragement to any that know what there is in Christ and heaven to set in the scale against this.
II. Here is another, that seems resolved to follow Christ, but he begs a day, Luke 9:59. To this man Christ first gave the call; he said to him, Follow me. He that proposed the thing of himself fled off when he heard of the difficulties that attended it; but this man to whom Christ gave a call, though he hesitated at first, yet, as it should seem, afterwards yielded; so true was that of Christ, You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, John 15:16. It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth (as that forward spark in the foregoing verses), but of God that showeth mercy, that gives the call, and makes it effectual, as to this man here. Observe,
1. The excuse he made: “Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. I have an aged father at home, who cannot live long, and will need me while he does live; let me go and attend on him until he is dead, and I have performed my last office of love to him, and then I will do any thing.” We may here see three temptations, by which we are in danger of being drawn and kept from following Christ, which therefore we should guard against:—(1.) We are tempted to rest in a discipleship at large, in which we may be at a loose end, and not to come close, and give up ourselves to be strict and constant. (2.) We are tempted to defer the doing of that which we know to be our duty, and to put if off to some other time. When we have got clear of such a care and difficulty, when we have despatched such a business, raised an estate to such a pitch, then we will begin to think of being religious; and so we are cozened out of all our time, by being cozened out of the present time. (3.) We are tempted to think that our duty to our relations will excuse us from our duty to Christ. It is a plausible excuse indeed: “Let me go and bury my father,—let me take care of my family, and provide for my children, and then I will think of serving Christ;” whereas the kingdom of God and the righteousness thereof must be sought ad minded in the first place.
2. Christ’s answer to it (Luke 9:60): “Let the dead bury their dead. Suppose (which is not likely) that there are none but the dead to bury their dead, or none but those who are themselves aged and dying, who are as good as dead, and fit for no other service, yet thou hast other work to do; go thou, and preach the kingdom of God.” Not that Christ would have his followers or his ministers to be unnatural; our religion teaches us to be kind and good in every relation, to show piety at home, and to requite our parents. But we must not make these offices an excuse from our duty to God. If the nearest and dearest relation we have in the world stand in our way to keep us from Christ, it is necessary that we have a zeal that will make us forget father and mother, as Levi did, Deut. 33:9. This disciple was called to be a minister, and therefore must not entangle himself with the affairs of this world, 2 Tim. 2:4. And it is a rule that, whenever Christ calls to any duty, we must not consult with flesh and blood, Gal. 1:15, 16. No excuses must be admitted against a present obedience to the call of Christ.
III. Here is another that is willing to follow Christ, but he must have a little time to talk with his friends about it.
Observe, 1. His request for a dispensation, Luke 9:61. He said, “Lord, I will follow thee; I design no other, I am determined to do it: but let me first go bid them farewell that are at home.” This seemed reasonable; it was what Elisha desired when Elijah called him,Let me kiss my father and my mother; and it was allowed him: but the ministry of the gospel is preferable, and the service of it more urgent than that of the prophets; and therefore here it would not be allowed. Suffer me apotaxasthai tois eis ton oikon mou—Let me go and set in order my household affairs, and give direction concerning them; so some understand it. Now that which was amiss in this is, (1.) That he looked upon his following Christ as a melancholy, troublesome, dangerous thing; it was to him as if he were going to die and therefore he must take leave of all his friends, never to see them again, or never with any comfort; whereas, in following Christ, he might be more a comfort and blessing to them than if he had continued with them. (2.) That he seemed to have his worldly concerns more upon his heart than he ought to have, and than would consist with a close attendance to his duty as a follower of Christ. He seemed to hanker after his relations and family concerns, and he could not part easily and suitably from them, but they stuck to him. It may be he had bidden them farewell once, but Loth to depart bids oft farewell, and therefore he must bid them farewell once more, for they are at home at his house. (3.) That he was willing to enter into a temptation from his purpose of following Christ. To go and bid them farewell that were at home at his house would be to expose himself to the strongest solicitations imaginable to alter his resolution; for they would all be against it, and would beg and pray that he would not leave them. Now it was presumption in him to thrust himself into such a temptation. Those that resolve to walk with their Maker, and follow their Redeemer, must resolve that they will not so much as parley with their tempter.
2. The rebuke which Christ gave him for this request (Luke 9:62): “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and designing to make good work of his ploughing, will look back, or look behind him, for then he makes balks with his plough, and the ground he ploughs is not fit to be sown; so thou, if thou hast a design to follow me and to reap the advantages of those that do so, yet if thou lookest back to a worldly life again and hankerest after that, if thou lookest back as Lot’s wife did to Sodom, which seems to be alluded to here, thou art not fit for the kingdom of God.” (1.) “Thou art not soil fit to receive the good seed of the kingdom of God if thou art thus ploughed by the halves, and not gone through with.” (2.) “Thou art not a sower fit to scatter the good seed of the kingdom if thou canst hold the plough no better.” Ploughing is in order to sowing. As those are not fit to be sown with divine comforts whose fallow ground is not first broken up, so those are not fit to be employed in sowing who know not how to break up the fallow ground, but, when they have laid their hand to the plough, upon every occasion look back and think of quitting it. Note, Those who begin with the work of God must resolve to go on with it, or they will make nothing of it. Looking back inclines to drawing back, and drawing back is to perdition. Those are not fit for heaven who, having set their faces heavenward, face about. But he, and he only, that endures to the end, shall be saved.