[Having explained the time in which the events of Luke 13:1-5 took place, together with the time of the Saviour’s explanation of them (see Part 1), John Owen proceeds to deal with two further matters of introduction.]
II. The providential accidents spoken of are two, and of two sorts.
1. The first was that wherein the bloody cruelty of men had a hand: “The Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.” When this was done, on what occasion, and what was the number of the persons so slain, the Scripture is silent. However, it is certain that it was done at Jerusalem; for sacrifices might not be offered anywhere else. Thither came the Galileans with their sacrifices; that is, either the beasts which they brought to the priests to offer for them, for they might not offer sacrifices themselves; or the paschal lamb, which they might slay themselves.
Whilst they were engaged in this work, Pilate, the bloody Roman governor (on what occasion or provocation is unknown), came upon them, and slew them in a cruel manner; intimated in that expression, “he mingled their blood with their sacrifices.” And this providence is the more remarkable, in that it fell out whilst they were engaged in their sacred worship; which carries an indication of divine severity.
And, it may be, there was, as it is in the ruin of mankind every day, occasion taken for it from the difference that was between two wicked governors, Pilate and Herod, unto whose jurisdiction these Galileans did belong, in whose blood Pilate thought to revenge himself on his enemy. However, they both combined at last in the killing of Christ, as others use to do in the world; and so made themselves friends, leaving their example to their successors.
2. The other was a mere effect of divine Providence: the death of eighteen men by the fall of a tower in Siloam; that is, a place of waters, and a running stream in Jerusalem itself. And our Lord Jesus Christ declares herein, not only that all such accidents are disposed by the providence of God, but that He speaks in them for our instruction.
Both these, as they were warnings, as we shall see, so they were figures of the approaching destruction of the city and people; for that, in the first place, is the perishing here intended, as is manifest in the ensuing parable, wherein the church-state of the Jews is compared to a barren fig-tree, which was to be cut down and destroyed. And, accordingly, that destruction did befall them, partly by the bloody cruelty of the Romans, and partly by the fall and ruin of the temple, towers, and walls of the city; both included in the word, “likewise:” “Ye shall likewise perish,” or in like manner.
But although they were of various kinds, and men might evade the consideration of them on several pretences, the one being nothing but the tyrannical fury of Pilate, the other only a somewhat unusual accident, yet our Lord Jesus Christ finds out the hand and counsel of God in them both, and declares the same language to be spoken in them both. Signs of the same event are doubled, to show the certainty of it, like Pharaoh’s dreams.
And we may observe:
First. That all sorts of unusual accidents, or effects of Providence, in a season of sin and approaching judgments, are of the same indication, and ought to have the same interpretation.
So is the same application made of both these different signs and warnings by our Saviour; they have, He says, the same language, the same signification. There was nothing at this time [that] more hardened the Jews unto their utter ruin, than the false application they made of providential signs and warnings, which were all multiplied among them, as boding their good and deliverance, when they were all tokens of their approaching ruin. For when such things are rejected as warnings calling to repentance and reformation, as they were by them, on a presumption that they were signs of God’s appearance on their behalf, they became to be nothing but certain forerunners of greater judgments, and infallible tokens of destruction; and so they will be to those likewise by whom they are yet despised.
Secondly. God is pleased sometimes to give warnings of approaching judgments, not only as to the matter of them, that they shall be accompanied with severity, but also as to the especial nature and manner of them.
So was it with these two signs, of blood by the sword, and death by the fall of the tower; representing as in a glass that common calamity which was to befall the city and nation. And I pray God that the prodigious appearance of fiery meteors, like swords, armies, and arms, with other things of the like nature, may not be sent to point out the very kind and nature of the judgments which are coming on England, if not diverted; for as to these signs, not only the Scripture, but all heathen stories are filled with an account of them. Before the approach of desolating judgments, nature, the common parent of mankind, did always put itself forth in irregular, unusual actings – in fiery meteors, comets, earthquakes, strange appearances in the air, voices heard, and the like.
The brute elements tremble at the approaches of God in Hs judgment against the inhabitants of the earth. So the prophet expresses it, “The mountains saw Thee, and they trembled: the overflowing of the water passed by: the deep uttered his voice, and lifted up his hands on high” (Hab 3:10). They are, as it were, cast into a posture of trembling and supplication. [At this point Owen quoted from Greek poetry.] “When the dreadful eye of God (in His providence) is lifted up,” all things tremble before it.
III. The interpretation and application made of these severe accidents by our Saviour, in His divine wisdom.
Here we may observe:
1. Especial judgments in such a season, befalling in any, do not prove an especial guilt or provocation in them. This our Saviour expressly denies, and that with respect to both the instances insisted on, and that distinctly, in Luke 13:2,4. I do not hence absolutely establish a general rule as to all times and persons.
For, First, The observation is here confined and limited to such a season as that under consideration; namely, a time of provoking sins in the generality of the people, and approaching judgments. In such a season, no assignation [attributing] of especial guilt ought to be made on especial calamitous sufferings.
Secondly, Some persons may be guilty of such daring, presumptuous sins, that if they are overtaken with especial judgments in this world, it is the height of impiety not to own the especial revenging hand of God in their destruction. Such was the death of Herod in Acts 12:22,23.
2. Judgments on private men in such a season are warnings to the public. This is intimated by our Saviour in this place; namely, that God uses a sovereignty herein, by singling out whom He pleases, to make them examples to others. This, He says, was the sole reason, as far as you are concerned to judge or know, why God brought these sore destructions upon them; namely, that by these warnings He might call you to repentance.
Yet, I judge, God does not ordinarily exercise His sovereignty in this kind, unless it be when all have deserved to be destroyed: and then, as in the sedition and mutiny of military legions, they decimated them, or slew some for an example and terror to others; so God calls out of a guilty multitude whom He pleases, to make previous instances of approaching judgments.
3. Those who first fall under judgments are not always the worst [people] that judgments shall befall; nor are the first judgments usually the most severe; so it is plain in these instances. And because we have instances of this nature amongst us, we should consider how to make a right judgment concerning them. And these three things we may safely determine:
1. That those who suffered were sinners also, though they were not so only, or in an especial manner. [These things were spoken on the burning of several persons to death in one of the recent fires in London.] This is necessary to the vindication of the justice of God.
2. That He who has made them warnings unto us, might have made us warnings unto them. Herein His sovereignty and mercy towards us who escape is manifest.
3. That we also have a hand in that guilt, forerunning such providences so far as there is any thing penal in them. For such private previous judgments are the effect of public provocations.
[Go to Part 3.]