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The Tree of Life:

St. Luke

The Gospel for All Mankind

Chapter 1. Dedicated to Theophilus, "one who loves God," and will surely find Him in Jesus Christ. This Gospel testifies to the certainty of the facts, which become priceless the better we understand their inner meaning. In our darkest days (Herod’s time), when we remember God’s oath (Zechariah and Elizabeth) to Abraham (Genesis 12:1–3), we have the assurance that heaven will return to earth through repentance by the grace of God (John) and the Son of God, the Savior, Jesus Christ. We are incredulous. But to the suffering soul there are not lacking proofs of an impending change. Mary ("bitterness") burst into song: "My soul doth magnify the Lord, etc." And Zachariah gave forth that glorious Benedictus, after his lips were unsealed at the birth of his son, John.

2. A decree that all the world should be taxed brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, where the Christ child was born. It is of importance that this fact should be fully authenticated. God became man. The Christian religion is meant for life here, for fishermen, for common people, for the wise—magi—and for simple-hearted shepherds—all, indeed, who protect brotherly feelings from rapacious lusts and passions. To these the Gospel, simply understood, offers the only solution to the problem of evil (the babe in the manger). The child was called Jesus—Savior— and consecrated to the service of the Father—"a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel" (the spiritually minded). And the child grew, and became a "Son of the Covenant" at twelve years of age. Then arose the question of the business of learning, or the business of living. He chose the latter and went down with his parents to Nazareth, and was subject unto them.

3. Repentance is the introduction to the regenerate life. Make the crooked straight, and the rough places plain. For the people luxury is undesirable, while millions are in want. Give freely of your thought and good will to all who can benefit by them. "He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise." John required honesty of the plundering publican; and forbade violence, false witness and discontent in the soldiers. John baptized with water, but the Lord with the Holy Spirit and with fire—the purifying power of love. With the thought in prayer of purification from injustice in any form, the Lord was baptized in the Jordan by John. The Holy Spirit descended like a dove upon Him. He was then about thirty years of age. The gift of heaven was perfect, and He had suffered temptation for righteousness’ sake. But He had still further temptations to sustain until He perfected, or glorified, his Humanity, and became completely One with the Father. This is involved in the ascending genealogy from Joseph to "Enos, which was of Seth, which was of Adam, which was of God."

4. At the end of his temptations the devil "departed from Him for a season." His power increased with every victory, and He taught with authority. "All wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth" in the synagogue in his home town. But when they thought of Him as one of themselves and quite unjustified in claiming to be any better or superior to them, they regarded Him with contempt. And when He exposed their weakness, they contemplated murder. The degradation of Christianity is the degradation of self, beyond the help of the Lord. "He came unto his own inheritance (ta idia); and his own people (hoi idioi) received him not" (John 1:11). His word, however, had power in Capernaum, even to the exorcism of unclean spirits, and the amazement of the people. The old Adam in the disciples was stirred up by these experiences (Simon’s wife’s mother was taken with a great fever), but the Lord "rebuked it," and they became cooperative again. The presence of the Lord in his Word brings to light many other hurtful thoughts that come from an undisciplined heart, some of which are positive obsessions in plain violation of the Christian religion. They come to the surface for judgment.

5. Our reasoning by which we form our judgments needs to be freed from extraneous matters periodically. The nets need washing. The ship signifies the church. What the Lord accomplished by his teaching from the ship was represented by the draft of fishes beyond the capacity of the ships. When our missionaries teach practical Christianity, and the people are ready to sacrifice for it, the church will draw more into it than she can accommodate. The fishers—those in search of knowledge—will become fishers of men—those seeking the truths of religion for life, a life cleansed from any feeling of conceit (leprosy). Some may be incapable of practicing what they have learned (paralysis) until they have been helped to rise to a higher plane of thought, see the sins that stand in the way, and feel the power of the mercy of the Lord in forgiveness, and in strength to live as they pray. All of which strengthens the conviction that Christianity is a life freed from sin, with new concepts of the purpose and meaning of it.

6. The third commandment, to keep the Sabbath day holy, receives an altogether new interpretation, which makes it not easier, but harder, to obey. "The Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath," to save, to restore power lost through inaction (the man with the withered hand), and to bless others in spite of the unreasonable opposition to change (the madness of the scribes and Pharisees). After a night in prayer the Lord called the twelve apostles, named in three groups of four each; and, after healing many, gave the Sermon on the plain with its beatitudes and woes, the laws of love and mercy, and sincerity, ending with the false and true foundations of character. It is a reverberation of the Sermon on the mount, teaching for the inner as well as for the outer life.

7. In putting this teaching into practice it is well to remember that from childhood we have learned to be on our best behavior whenever it was necessary to gain our own ends. The centurion had only to say the word, and the soldier obeyed. It should be enough for the Lord to say the word and our outward conduct is at its best from pure motives at all times, and when under strain, as well as when free from it. The death of the old motive and the resurrection of the new motive are involved in the raising of the son of the widow of Nain, in the tribe of Issachar, which means "reward." The difference in reforming the outer life and regenerating the inner life is brought out in the comparison of John’s baptism and the Lord’s healing. The two are not antagonistic, but complementary. Our part is to remove evils and their lusts in the external man, "and the Lord is able in this way, and in no other, to put away evils in the internal man, and simultaneously in the external" (Divine Providence #100–128).

What follows illustrates the difference between those who were baptized, and those who were not baptized, by John. Simon the Pharisee represents the unrepentant traditionalist and the woman the repentant non-conformist. Simon did not regard the Lord as clean for allowing a disreputable woman to cling to Him—he gave Him no water to cleanse his feet ("Wash ye one another’s feet"—John 13:14). He had no respect for Him—he neither kissed nor anointed Him. The penitent see their evil ways in contrast with the Lord’s exemplary life, and are prostrated by the thought of their unworthiness. They wash his feet with their tears—recognize the purity of that life through tears, long to be like Him in a love that is boundless. "The life of conventional respectability excludes flagrant and open transgression; cold selfishness does not take itself to be sinful" (Canon Farrar). It is not the amount of evil done, but the deep sense of sin, that marks the measure of the Lord’s forgiveness.

8. The little group gained in numbers and strength, "and went through every city and village, preaching and showing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God." Every time we study the parable of the Sower it presents new features of the ways in which the meaning of the Word for practical uses is received by the indifferent, the superficial, the worldly, and the true disciple. Light is given to see everything that needs to be set right. Those closest to the Lord are they who "hear the word of God, and do it." To hear and do the Word must be brought to bear upon the universal abuse of wealth and pleasure. The aversion to meet it when the truth becomes personal is presented in the storm on the lake while on the way to the cure of the Gergesene demoniac. Then again and again we need to learn that when we have modified or changed bad habits in the external life, waste through the secret enjoyment of any lust and thoughts therefrom continue to annoy and vex us, until our ruling love of self dies, and the Lord gives a new unselfish love from Himself. All of this is pictured in the return to the land and the cure of the twelve year issue of blood, and twelve year old daughter of Jairus.

9. The vital principles of Christianity gain in power and authority through experience in overcoming the evils in the world. And always we must avoid the thought of personal gain, and see to it that we are guiltless of the wrongs we charge on others. The advance of Christianity alarms the power of evil, but so far only provokes an effort to explain it away. This lull in the conflict gives the opportunity to rest and recuperate. We then consider the cause in which we have enlisted. How does the world regard Christianity? What does it mean to us? Enough! There is so much to live and die for, we must let action attest our faith, rather than our words. Shame be to him who is ashamed of the Son of man, at his second coming. The visualization of what we are prepared to die for grants the vision of the glory of the leader—His transfiguration on the mount. "The pleasures of insanity" come before us again with renewed proof of the Lord’s power to "rebuke the unclean spirit, and heal the child." Under the belief that the Lord can do anything we fail to see that worse is yet to come, and figure upon what the Lord can do for ourselves— our personal gains. This makes us intolerant of those who are for us, but are non-Christians, and intolerant of those who are against us (The Samaritans). Christianity exists to save and not destroy life. The disciple must be free from deceit and all evil thinking, free from the love of self, and endure to the end.

10. And for all those who have pledged their lives to this sacred obligation—"the seventy"— both heart and mind work under the direction of the Lord. They feel the world’s need, and its intolerance of anything that savors of innocence. Wherever they find good they seek to strengthen it. But above all, "they are not of the world." Their responsibility is incalculably greater than in any former age, but the power available through the Lord’s presence in his Word is commensurate to every test put upon them. Their "names are written in heaven." The church in heaven is one with the church on earth, and all together one with the Lord (Apocalypse Revealed #883, 884). They are one through love to God and their neighbor. But who is my neighbor? Anyone who has been taught the commandments, and falls by the way in the effort to apply them to life, will be shunned by those whose churchmanship gives self-interest or orthodoxy the first place. But the non-conformist who has a heart—the hated Samaritan—does all he can to save the half-dead man with sympathy, kind words and hospitalization. The Lord is the Good Samaritan. "Go thou and do likewise." "The good of love is the all of heaven and the church" (Apocalypse Revealed #908). It is, therefore, greatly to be desired that our hearts should be influenced primarily by the Lord’s mercy, and not constantly troubled about uniformity in method, or belief. "Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her."

11. We need to pray for it all the time. Pray for bread! Many come to our doors when we have nothing to give them—no love for them. The Lord and heaven are unresponsive: we find it impossible to love some others, as the Lord hath loved us. A persistent demand for a disinterested love brings a response, and the open eye to see the right thing to do, or to say. Ask, seek, knock! We know how to help those whom we love. "How much more shall your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?" It’s a miracle when the Lord opens the lips to say the word that has been held back by injunction of an evil spirit within. But who cast out that evil spirit? Not Beelzebub! If Satan cast out Satan his kingdom is at an end. To stop sinning, and later recant, opens the door for worse to follow—profanation of the truth (Divine Providence #231). "Blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it." This is an evil generation. Many Gentiles "lead a better life than Christians" (Heaven and Hell #319), though there are Christians who think of them as "lesser breeds without the law." Light is given us to see the way to heaven, but when "thine eye is evil, thy body is full of darkness." The Pharisee saw that the Lord failed to observe their traditions in not washing his hands before dining with him. The Lord exposed the hypocrisy in the Pharisees and lawyers for our enlightenment and salvation. It is love which cleanses, not lustrations. The outside of the cup is clean, but the inside full of wickedness. And they had to answer for the death of their prophets. They had not lived up to their light, and discredited the Word in the eyes of the people. The Lord’s words inflamed their determination to catch a word that would incriminate Him, and justify his apprehension.

12. The Lord then warned his disciples to "beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy." Evil hidden within must come to the surface. Be sincere, and fear not persecution and death; fear rather the evil that destroys character. Trust in God, and be right. It is blasphemy to know we are in the wrong, and deliberately nurse the evil. Next, "beware of covetousness." The Lord knew that the appeal to adjudicate in a case of inheritance was prompted by selfishness. What a man is is not determined by what he has—at least in God’s sight. It is a common, but sad fallacy, that great wealth of goods or knowledge makes man great, though he well knows that he cannot take a cent with him, when he dies. Take no anxious thought for the morrow. Think more of the wise use of money or knowledge, and you can await death with equanimity. According to our gift of knowledge, so is our responsibility more or less. Great wealth carries a heavy responsibility. And the Lord comes to send fire and a sword on the earth—fire to refine character and a sword to fight against and destroy evil—the war to end war without as well as within. We discern the signs of the times, but often fail to discern what is right, and must suffer for it, until we have squared our account with the Lord to the very last mite.

13. Sin is the ultimate cause of crime and most disasters. They who suffer, Gentile or Jew, are not necessarily to blame. Sometimes they are quite innocent victims. But crime and disaster will exact an unduly heavy toll of life, unless we repent and change our ways of living. "Except ye repent" is the point of the parable of the fruitless fig tree. At the end of the third year the owner ordered that it be cut down, but granted a respite to give it a last chance. Figs signify the fruits of a generous disposition. The generous disposition, however, is dead when tradition, custom, or etiquette prevent us from helping someone in need. The ruler of the synagogue was indignant because Jesus healed a woman suffering from curvature of the spine on the Sabbath day. "Are there then few that be saved?" It is all a question of choice. We may imagine that we are on the right road, in the right direction, when our professions and worship are everything that could be desired. We cannot see the strait gate, however, when our eyes are blind from self-righteousness, justifying all manner of self-indulgence, and resentful of the least criticism. We put self first, and God last. The reversal of this order alone turns us to the gate, and the narrow way beyond. The Lord stresses the point in his message to that fox, Herod: "I cast out devils, and I do cures today, and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected." These three days, like the three temptations, represent a lifetime, or, rather, they express the quality of life’s experiences to the last one of them necessary to reach perfection, through his rejection, and death in Jerusalem, with nothing but pity and forgiveness in his heart for his enemies.

14. The Lord manifests this spirit too at the home of the Pharisee, though well He knew that the object of those present was to find occasion to slay Him. He was in the den of lions; and they could not harm Him till his hour had come. It was the Sabbath day. He healed a man who had dropsy, and silenced his accusers. He pointed out their weakness in seeking the uppermost rooms at feasts, in inviting only rich neighbors for gain, and leaving out the poor and maimed who cannot recompense them. Self-effacement carries its own reward within. "Blessed is he that shall eat bread in the kingdom of God." The Lord invites everyone to eat with Him—to share his Love in humility. There are many, however, who spurn the invitation. They have acquired selfish ideas and practices to which they are wedded. They prefer the old with all its misery for self and others to the new with its hope of salvation to the faithful. The Lord has given his Word that all who acknowledge their poverty and their imperfections may look to Him for help and relief, even though they feel moved to change living conditions under compulsion, for self-preservation. Christianity is synonymous with an implacable hatred of evil as sin. Bearing our cross means suffering until we get rid of it. The cost of building a new civilization, and what we must fight for and die for to attain it, is negligible. Savorless salt is valueless. The lack of any effort to do right when occasion demands it means a lost cause.

15. Then publicans and sinners drew near to Jesus to hear Him, while the Pharisees and scribes poured contempt upon Him for eating with them. The Lord describes the joy in heaven—that is, in heaven within, as well as above—after shunning evil as sin. Woe is inseparable from unneighborliness, and corresponding joy from a changed attitude toward everyone. Our birthright is incomplete until the lost sheep is found. We were born to love God. The wisdom taught in childhood (one in ten pieces of silver), and lost through disobedience, is restored to its place of honor, when the heart is right. And the parable of the lost son illuminates the universal habit of debasing a good inheritance for one’s own profit, or for the praise of men. Self-righteousness (the elder son) blinds man to the sufferings of the repentant soul, and the blessings inherent in the change wrought by the Lord through humiliation.

16. Whatever good there may be in us is a gift for which we need to account to the Giver. Reason is the steward, who recognizes that even with the best of intentions and efforts, we can never pay back our indebtedness to the Lord, a hundred measures of oil and a hundred measures of wheat. Fortunately, the Giver will compound the debt for fifty measures of oil and four score measures of wheat, representing all the good and truth we can restore to its rightful place in our lives through temptations. Our faithfulness in the effort to use the unrighteous mammon to the best advantage possible to us is the measure of our trustworthiness. The hypocrite holds that honesty is impossible in the present corrupt world. Nevertheless, the law is immutable: suffering is inseparable from dishonesty, which is essential adultery. Dives represents the well educated churchman, and Lazarus the despised Gentile, accepting the simple teachings of religion, and taking comfort from the sympathy of fellow-sufferers in search of a cure. That is the outside. The inside reverses the picture. "Dignities and riches are curses to the evil" (Divine Providence #217). Hardship is a blessing to the poor in spirit. The distinction between the use and abuse of wealth cannot be learned by dictation from above, but only through a conscience enlightened by the Word in humility.

17. It is well to bring our differences into the open as far as is possible, but hold a grudge against no one. A grudge may have grown to mountainous proportions, but is still removable by faith. Its removal is nothing to boast about. Regret that we gave it free play helps us to realize that we are unprofitable servants of the Lord. The temptation to think overmuch of ourselves and outwardly appear to be unassuming is closely related to our progress in self-mastery. In God’s sight it is hypocrisy. We owe more to God: we owe all to Him. The Lord healed ten lepers, but only one returned to give thanks. The kingdom of God is within, and cometh not with observation. Life moves in cycles, each closing with a crisis that demands judgment. "When the Son of man is revealed"—that is, what the Lord requires of us individually—then we must see to it that we keep the heart right, and faith will work with power. We must not descend from the house top, to save the old stuff below; nor look backward. "Remember Lot’s wife." Whoever refuses to part with the old selfish life, loses life eternal—that is, here and now, every time the choice is for self.

18. Our deliverance, however, is not always immediate. We must pray without ceasing. If an unjust judge will grant the petition of an unfortunate widow to get rid of her, how much more readily shall God maintain the cause of his elect. Delay then depends upon the petitioner’s need and trust in God. The Pharisee has nothing to pray for; he is self-sufficient and self-satisfied. The publican had need of everything, and prayed for mercy. He was "justified"; that is, open to receive any specific want; the Pharisee was unjustified. "Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no case enter therein." The self-sufficiency of the disciples forbad parents bringing infants to the Lord, shook their trust in God, and blinded them to the cause and meaning of the Lord’s sufferings. "They that went before" the Lord—and not they who followed Him—rebuked the blind man who cried for mercy by the wayside. The more they objected, the louder his cry. In answer to his petition the Lord restored his sight, and said "Thy faith hath saved thee."

19. The eyes have been opened to see the Lord. Zacchaeus (meaning "pure"), a man of small stature, a publican and sinner, climbed into a fig tree to see Jesus. The Lord has a place in the soul that is pure, humble and penitent, and exalted by generosity—giving half his goods to the poor, and making ample restitution for ill-gotten gain. "This day is salvation come to this house." The Son of man comes to save the lost, and not to establish an earthly kingdom. He went to establish his kingdom, and come again. His servants started with the gift of heaven (ten signifies "remains"), with an equality of opportunity (one pound each). His citizens hated Him. On his return one servant had gained ten pounds, and another five, by trading. They had made good use of their gifts. But one hid his pound through fear that he could never meet the demands of an austere master. We gain in the power of self-government as we put to use all that the Lord has committed to our care. We lose through negligence. But enmity destroys the love of God in the heart. The Lord’s kingdom is established by reason in freedom. The ass set free on which He sat signifies human reason. "Never man sat" on that ass. Man, independent of God, abused his reason to prove good evil, and evil good. The Lord brought reason under control to distinguish right from wrong, and rule humanity in freedom for "peace in heaven, and glory in the highest." He wept over the city because of its willful blindness, and the frightful consequences of its unfaithfulness. He cleansed the temple, and started a new order.

20. He drew the people after Him, to the further enragement of his enemies, who questioned his authority in vain. He charged them with the intent to murder Him, as the heir of the vineyard, that they might take possession of it, and be released from any accounting for the use of it. They failed to entrap Him on the question of tribute to Caesar, or of the resurrection of the dead. David’s own words acknowledged his sovereignty. He warned the people to beware of the scribes, who have brought upon themselves a greater judgment by their notorious hypocrisy and corruption.

21. They gave of their abundance unto the offerings of God; but the widow’s mites were "all the living that she had." We owe everything to the Lord. The temple itself was an imposing building, but would be destroyed with the fall of the city, the direct consequence and pictorial description of the fall of the church and state. What follows describes the changing states of the Christian Church in its decline culminating in the Second Coming of the Lord. "Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man." Thus ended the day’s work. That night He abode in the mount of Olives, in close touch with the Father’s love to sustain Him in the trials to follow.

22. The conspiracy ripens. Judas made his bargain with the priesthood. Peter and John went into the city to prepare for the Passover. And when the hour arrived they partook of the meal, and then the Lord instituted the Sacrament that incorporated all the sacrificial worship of the Old Testament in the representation of the flesh and blood of Him who gave a new meaning to the Covenant in giving his "life a ransom for many." The greatest in his kingdom are they who follow in his steps. The betrayal and denial of Him by a disciple may happen many times, till faith through repentance has been strengthened to withstand every test put upon it, even until the things concerning us—all selfish purposes— have an end. It is strengthening to have the assurance that in our worst trials the Lord and heaven are very close at hand. In his last trials the Lord’s "sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. . . . Rise and pray, lest ye enter into temptation." Then followed the betrayal, the denial, and the trial and condemnation by the Sanhedrin on the admission that He was "the Son of God," the rock on which the Church is built.

23. In the trial before Pilate the Lord faced the charge that He claimed to be "Christ a King." On being questioned He admitted the truth of it. Pilate disclaimed the charge, because Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world," and sent Him to Herod, who asked many questions, but received no answer. Finally Pilate gave sentence, and "delivered Jesus to their will." On the way to Golgotha the women wept. The Lord, however, remarked that they themselves and their children were in greater need of sympathy. He had the strength to endure all (a green tree), but they had less power of resistance (the dry), having often given way to evil in ignorance, or even when they knew it, and might have resisted it. The first words that came from the cross were, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." The malefactors on either side represented fallen humanity, repentant and unrepentant. "All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers" (John 10:8), using the life given from the Lord as their own without recognizing their indebtedness. The penitent heart is with the Lord in paradise so long as it keeps right with God. The last of the seven words from the cross were, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." They mark the completed self-surrender of the human will to the Divine Will. The body wrapped in fine white linen was laid in a sepulcher, "wherein never man before was laid." The Sacred Scripture, like a garment, inwraps the life (psyche— the natural, external, animal life), which He "laid down for his friends" (John 10:17 and 15:13). The church is entrusted with the preservation of it for all time.

24. The opened Word reveals the glorified Humanity of the Lord. The church cherishes the belief that the Lord has risen indeed; the world is skeptical. Peter sees "the linen clothes laid by themselves" in the empty tomb, and wonders. Two on their way to Emmaus are downcast over their disillusionment. They had misplaced their trust in the Christ. The opening of the Scriptures gives a new conception of the purpose for which the Lord lived and died. Our hearts burn with mingled feelings of shame and joy. What unworthy creatures we are! And yet, we are sure that we have found a friend in Jesus. "He was known of them in the breaking of the bread." The two shared their experience with the eleven in Jerusalem. "The Lord hath appeared to Simon." Through the love of obedience, the spirit and life in the Word of the Lord permeates the love of the neighbor and the love of the Lord in man "that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations." The organized church must lead the way, studying the Word until the light comes, and with it "the power from on high" to walk in that light.


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