Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae
CHRIST GREATER THAN THE TEMPLE
Matthew 12:6. I say unto you, that in this place is One greater than the Temple.
IT is said, concerning our blessed Lord, that he “endured, in a most extraordinary degree, the contradiction of sinners against himself [Note: Hebrews 12:3.].” And in reading his history, we are struck with it continually. There was not any thing which he either said or did, which was not made a subject of cavil to his enemies. Even his most beneficent acts were condemned as violations of the law [Note: John 5:8-9; John 5:16.], or as affording occasion for “the Romans to destroy both their place and nation [Note: John 11:43-44; John 11:47-48; John 11:53.].” In the chapter before us, we have a remarkable instance of their carping at an action in his Disciples, which, if done by any other person, would have caused no complaint. Our Lord was going with his Disciples through a corn-field, on the Sabbath-day; and they, being hungry, plucked some ears of corn, and rubbed them in their hands, and ate the corn. This the law of Moses expressly authorized them to do [Note: Deuteronomy 23:2.]; and therefore the act could not be condemned. But the law prohibited all kinds of labour on the Sabbath-day; and the Pharisees, with hypocritical malignity, interpreted this act as a kind of reaping and threshing-out the corn; and cast reflections on our Lord for sanctioning such a violation of the Sabbath. Our Lord therefore vindicated his Disciples: first, on the ground of its being a matter of necessity, in which case it superseded the observance of a ceremonial institution. In proof of this, he adduced the instance of David, who, having no food to satisfy himself and his followers on one particular emergency, took the loaves of shew-bread, which were to be eaten by none but the priests alone, and satisfied the calls of nature with that [Note: Leviticus 24:5-9. with 1 Samuel 21:6.]. This was generally acknowledged as a justifiable act in David, because of the urgency of the occasion; and on the same ground the conduct of his Disciples was justifiable, as was his also in permitting it. Our Lord next vindicated it on the ground of precedent: for, notwithstanding all the injunctions respecting rest on the Sabbath-day, the priests in the temple engaged in labour, to a very great extent, on every Sabbath, being occupied in slaying and offering the appointed sacrifices. They, notwithstanding they thus “profaned the Sabbath, were blameless,” because the service of the temple required it. In like manner, the Disciples, being engaged in his work, were blameless: for “He was greater than the temple;” and, consequently, was entitled to suspend the observance of the Sabbath, so far as his service required it; for “He was Lord even of the Sabbath-day [Note: ver. 1–8.].”
In discoursing on this subject, I will,
I. Confirm our Lord’s assertion—
Our blessed Lord did not so fully declare his Messiahship to the Pharisees as he did to some of a more candid disposition; as the Samaritan woman [Note: John 4:25-26.], and the man who had been born blind [Note: John 9:35-37.]. Yet, on proper occasions, he was not backward to assert his superiority to all the sons of men. Jonas was a prophet; and Solomon a king; but he was, in every view, greater than either the one or the other of them [Note: ver. 41, 42.]. And, of all the structures in the universe, the temple was infinitely the most august and sacred: yet did he, without hesitation, declare himself to be greater than the temple [Note: Whether we read μείζωνor μείζον, denoting a person or a thing, we must of necessity understand it of our Lord himself: only, in the latter case we must suppose him to point to his own body; as he did when he said, “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up:” John 2:20-21.].
In order to confirm this assertion, I shall not enter generally into the proofs of the divinity of Christ, but shall consider minutely the comparison here instituted between the temple and him: and, stating those things which most ennobled the temple, I will distinctly mark the superiority of Christ in every particular.
The temple then, with every vessel in it, was made after a pattern formed by God himself; and given to David, and to Solomon, for that end [Note: 1 Chronicles 28:11-12; 1 Chronicles 28:18-19.]—
[But the Lord Jesus Christ was himself formed by the very hand of God. He was formed, as no other person ever was, by the immediate agency of the Holy Ghost; as the angel had announced to the Virgin Mary: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore, also, that Holy thing which shall be born of thee, shall be called the Son of God [Note: Luke 1:35. compared with Hebrews 9:11.].” Nor was it in his person only, but in his offices also, that he was pre-eminently the product of Divine wisdom and power. In him are combined the kingly, prophetic, and sacerdotal offices; all of which he executes, in a spiritual manner, over the face of the whole earth, yea, and in heaven itself too; and will continue so to do, even to the end of time. It was in reference to him and his offices that the temple itself was formed, and all its ordinances were appointed. They were but the shadow, of which he was the substance: and consequently his superiority in this respect is fully established [Note: Mark carefully the precision with which this is stated in Hebrews 8:5.].]
Again: the temple was richly furnished with every thing which could conduce to the glory of God, or to the welfare of man—
[The candlestick, the table of shew-bread, the altar of incense, the censer, the ark of the covenant, with numberless other vessels, all of the purest gold, and of the most exquisite workmanship, distinguished this building far beyond any that ever existed upon earth. But they were very faint shadows of his incomprehensible fulness and excellency. In Him their respective uses were all combined. He was at once the sacrifice, the altar that sanctified it, and the Priest that offered it. He was “the light of the whole world;” and “the living bread, of which whosoever eats shall live for ever.” He was the laver in which every child of man must wash both his person and his offerings. He was the ark, which contained in it the law, and was covered in all its exact dimensions by the mercy-seat; for, by his own fulfilment of the law for us, he rendered the exercise of mercy commensurate with the necessities of fallen man. Here again, then, compare the shadow with the substance, and say whether the Lord Jesus Christ do not infinitely surpass the temple in the very things which constituted its chief grandeur.]
But further: the temple had the Shechinah, the bright cloud, the symbol of the Deity, constantly residing in it—
[This was doubtless its highest glory. (I speak of the former temple, previous to the Babylonish captivity; and not of the latter, in which many of its principal ornaments were wanting.) But in the Lord Jesus Christ dwelt, not a symbol of the Deity, but the Deity himself, “even all the fulness of the Godhead bodily [Note: Colossians 2:9.].” This explains that prophecy of the Prophet Haggai, that “the glory of the latter house should exceed the glory of the former [Note: Haggai 2:9.].” How could that be, it may be asked, when in the latter temple were wanting the Shechinah, the Urim and Thummim, and the fire that came down from heaven? The answer is plain: The Lord Jesus Christ himself came to the latter house: and his presence in it was an honour infinitely exceeding all that ever was conferred on the first temple; because he was not a symbol of the Deity, but the great God himself in an incarnate state, even “Emmanuel, God with us [Note: Matthew 1:23.].”]
I add yet once more: the temple was the place of confluence to all the tribes of Israel, even to all who desired to have access to God, or to obtain blessings at his hands [Note: Psalms 122:4.]—
[And whither does every sinner in the universe go, but to Jesus [Note: John 6:68.]? To him is every eye directed [Note: Isaiah 45:22.]: “through him alone can any man have access to God [Note: Ephesians 2:18.]:” in him does every saint “desire to be found [Note: Philippians 3:9.]:” and through him shall all blessings, temporal, spiritual, eternal, flow down in richest abundance upon all who believe in him [Note: Ephesians 1:3.]. Indeed, in this respect his superiority is most amply marked: for all that he does, is by virtue of the “one offering of himself once offered:” whereas the offerings in the temple, because of their inefficacy, were renewed from year to year [Note: Hebrews 10:1-4; Hebrews 10:10.]: his grace also extends to sins which the law of Moses could not reach [Note: Acts 13:39.]; and confers benefits which that was unable to impart [Note: Hebrews 7:19.]; and endures, not for a year only, like that under the law, but through the countless ages of eternity [Note: Hebrews 10:11; Hebrews 10:14; Hebrews 10:17-18.].]
To add any thing further would be superfluous. The superiority of Christ to the temple is so evident, that, without dwelling any longer upon it, I will proceed to,
II. Point out the peculiar interest which we have in it—
Here again we go back to our text, that we may derive from thence as much as possible for the elucidation of our subject. The establishment of Christ’s superiority to the temple shews,
1. His right to command—
[That was the precise point at issue between him and the Pharisees: Had he a right to authorize a deviation from the letter of the Mosaic law? He affirmed he had. They themselves admitted, that the strict observance of the Sabbath was dispensed with for the service of the temple: and if He was greater than the temple, the same right was vested in him. Nothing less than divine authority could in any case supersede a divine command: and, if be were greater than the temple, a divine authority must reside in him; consequently, he exercised no other right than what strictly, and of necessity, pertained unto him.
Now, there are divine commands, which we also, under all ordinary circumstances, are bound to obey. We must yield compliance with the lawful edicts of the civil magistrate [Note: Titus 3:1.]: we must “obey them, not only for wrath, but also for conscience’ sake:” and “if we resist his lawful authority, we shall receive to ourselves damnation [Note: Romans 13:1-2; Romans 13:5.].” Yet, if the civil magistrate enjoin what is contrary to the command of Christ, or forbid any thing which Christ has enjoined, we must obey Christ in preference to him. The Apostles, when forbidden to preach or teach in the name of Jesus, appealed to his very judges, saying, “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye: for we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard [Note: Acts 4:19-20; Acts 5:29].” In like manner, we are commanded to love and honour our parents: and so important is that command, that it is distinguished from the rest, by being enforced, as the Apostle observes, with a special promise [Note: Ephesians 6:2.]. Yet even that is superseded, when they exert their authority in opposition to Christ. Nay, more: strange as the injunction sounds, we are commanded even to “hate father and mother, and wife and children, and brethren and sisters, in comparison of him; and on no other terms can we ever be acknowledged as his disciples [Note: Luke 14:26.].” (Of course, no one will be so absurd as to imagine that this declaration is to be understood in any other than a comparative view: for in any other view we are not authorized to hate an enemy, much less our nearest relatives.) Our duty to the Lord Jesus Christ is of paramount obligation, and supersedes every thing that is opposed to it. The law of self-preservation is strongly binding upon us: but if fidelity to Christ require the sacrifice of it, “not even life itself must be dear to us [Note: Acts 20:24.]:” we must be willing to lay it down at any time for his sake [Note: Acts 21:13.]: and if, at the expense of our duty to him, we save our lives, we shall lose them to all eternity [Note: Matthew 10:39.].
This, then, must be a principle deeply fixed in our minds, That the authority of Christ is to rule us under all circumstances; and that nothing under heaven is to be suffered to interfere with it. Men who cast off his yoke will indeed clamour against us, and express their indignation against us for not complying with their will. But we may safely leave ourselves in the hands of Jesus; who, as our Advocate, will plead our cause; and, as our Judge, will pass a sentence of approval upon us in the last day. He will then at least, if not before, vindicate our conduct, and “make our righteousness to appear as the noon-day [Note: Psalms 37:6.].”]
2. His sufficiency to save—
[To all who observed the institutions of the law in faith, they were effectual for the salvation of their souls. And who ever applied to Jesus in vain? Who ever relied on his sacrifice, and was confounded? What is there that shall be kept back from one who implores blessings at his hands? Shall pardon be refused? No: “though his sins were red as scarlet or as crimson, they should become white as snow.” “The blood of Jesus Christ should cleanse him from all sin.” Shall peace be denied to the believing suppliant? No: “being justified by faith, he shall have peace with God;” so that, instead of looking forward with terror to the eternal world, he shall even now “rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Shall strength for future obedience be withheld? No: “the grace of Christ shall be sufficient for him;” and he shall be “able to do all things through Christ, who strengtheneth him.” Shall glory be deemed too good for him? No: the Saviour, in whom he has believed, will judge him, and exalt him to a participation of his own inheritance, his own kingdom, his own glory. The principal utensils of the temple, the lavers, the tables, the candlesticks, wore, in the temple, ten times more numerous than in the tabernacle [Note: Compare Exodus 25:23; Exodus 25:31; Exodus 30:18. with 2 Chronicles 4:6-8.]: and this marked the great superiority of the temple and its services to the tabernacle and the ordinances observed in it. And say I too much, if I say, that in Jesus our blessings are increased? Verily, they are increased, not tenfold, but a hundredfold: for, till he was glorified, they were sent forth only in slender portions: but from that time they have been poured out like a river [Note: John 7:39.].]
Let us then observe from hence,
1. How highly we are privileged under the Christian dispensation—
[Jesus came in person to the second temple, and thereby raised it above the first. And does he not come to his temple in our day? Yes, he does: not corporeally indeed, but spiritually, and with great power. He has promised that he would do so: “Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them [Note: Matthew 18:20.].” And this he will continue to do: as he has said, “Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world [Note: Matthew 28:20.].” Nor is it any disadvantage to us that he comes only in a spiritual way: for they who beheld him in person were stumbled at the meanness of his appearance; and could not conceive how one so poor and destitute and despised should possess the authority he claimed. But we have no such stumbling-block in our way. We know who he is, and what he is, even “the Mighty God, and the Prince of Peace.” We know too what he can do: and that all which was done, under the law by God, in his temple, he can and will do in the midst of us. To us he will give his answers of peace; yea, “he will give grace and glory: and withhold no good thing from us” in time or in eternity. Let us know, then, our exalted privilege, and have our expectations enlarged, in proportion to the advantages we enjoy.]
2. With what delight we should attend the ordinances of our God—
[Never should we go up to the House of God without expecting to meet our Saviour there. We should not go to public ordinances merely to perform a duty, but to enjoy a privilege; not to hear a preacher, but to meet our God and Saviour. O, what a different appearance would there be in ordinances, if we all attended them in a becoming frame! What devotion would there be in our prayers! what reverential attention to the word delivered! and what “showers of blessings” would be poured out upon our souls! Remember, I pray you, brethren, that, when you come up hither, you come to meet your Lord, who is already waiting here to receive you. Be never satisfied, if you do not see him: and, if at any time his word be applied with power to your souls, acknowledge him in the gift: for it is through his power alone that the word is effectual for any spiritual good [Note: 2 Corinthians 10:4.]. Thus shall your worship here prepare you for higher services above; and your acknowledgments of his goodness be a prelude to your Hosannahs in the realms of bliss [Note: Revelation 5:12.].]
THE COMPASSION OF CHRIST TOWARDS THE WEAK
Matthew 12:18-21. Behold, my servant whom I have chosen; my beloved in whom my soul is well pleased: I will put my Spirit upon him, and he shall shew judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not strive nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench, till he send forth judgment unto victory. And in his name shall the Gentiles trust.
ONE might gather almost as complete a character of Christ from the Prophecies, as from the Gospels themselves. Not only the great incidents relating to his life and death were foretold, but his spirit and conduct were most minutely delineated. He had just withdrawn himself from the Pharisees who sought to destroy him; and had strongly enjoined his attendants not to make known his miracles. This conduct appeared strange to those who were expecting him to erect a temporal kingdom. But the Evangelist declares that these very things had been made the subject of prophecy many hundred years before. The passage quoted by him from Isaiah is recorded, not with literal exactness, but according to its true import. It declares,
I. The commission given to Christ—
Christ was the Father’s ambassador to our ruined world—
[However, in his divine nature, Christ was equal to the Father, yet, in his mediatorial capacity, he was the Father’s servant. The office assigned him was to shew judgment, that is, the way of righteousness and salvation both to Jews and Gentiles; and for this he was qualified by an immeasurable communication of the Spirit to him [Note: John 3:34. Isaiah 11:2-3.].]
In this view the Father exceedingly delighted in him—
[The Father doubtless regarded him as his beloved for his own sake; but was peculiarly pleased with him as having undertaken the work of man’s redemption. In him he saw, as it were, all his own perfections glorified, and the thrones of apostate angels occupied by sinners of the human race. Hence in triumphant exultation he declares his acquiescence in him, and calls every human being to “behold” him.]
The prophet further specifies,
II. The manner in which he should execute it—
He was to accomplish his work,
[There was to be nothing in him ostentatious, contentious, or clamorous: together with firmness and fidelity, he exercised continued gentleness and meekness [Note: His conduct, as related in the context, strongly illustrates this.]. Would to God that many who bear a similar commission would learn of him to execute it in a similar way!]
[The terms here used seem to be proverbial. The former metaphor is taken from reeds, which were used as musical instruments by shepherds, and which, when bruised, could no longer emit any melodious sound. The smoking flax alludes to the wick of a lamp which, when the flame is extinct, produces an offensive smell. Both these metaphors fitly represent the state of a soul bruised under a sense of sin, and lamenting that its grace is nearly extinguished, while whole clouds of corruption are arising from it. But Jesus, instead of despising its low estate, will rather fan the spark into a flame, and cause the worthless reed to send forth melody that shall delight the ears even of God himself.]
[However gentle his exertions, he shall never ultimately fail. As his forbearance towards his enemies gave them a momentary appearance of triumph, so he sometimes delays his aid even to his most favoured people; but he will at last prevail, and make his grace victorious in their souls.]
To this description of the Saviour the prophet naturally subjoins,
III. Our duty towards him—
Blessed be God, our duty is our highest privilege—
We are commanded to trust in him,
1. For instruction—
[Jesus is both qualified and commissioned to enlighten the Gentiles [Note: Luke 1:78-79; Luke 2:32.]; nor are there any so weak and ignorant but that he can make them wise to salvation [Note: Matthew 11:25.]. Let us then “not lean to our own understanding,” but seek to be “taught of him [Note: Ephesians 4:20-21.].”]
2. For acceptance—
[It is not merely in his individual capacity, but as the head of the elect world, that he is so pleasing to his heavenly Father. We therefore, if we believe on him, may be certain of acceptance through him [Note: Ephesians 1:6; Ephesians 1:10.]; yea, God will not behold a spot in the most polluted soul, if it be only washed in his blood, and clothed in his righteousness [Note: Ephesians 5:27. Jude, ver. 24.].]
3. For victory—
[None have need to despond on account of their own weakness and corruptions: the “grace of Christ is sufficient,” and shall prove so to all who trust in him. “Wherever he has begun the good work he will carry it on unto the end [Note: Philippians 1:6. Romans 8:37.].”]
1. The text is addressed to all the sinners of the Gentiles—
[How gracious is God in thus inviting sinners to “behold” his Son! And how powerful the recommendation that is this enforced by the example of God himself! But can any thing be a stronger reproof to those, who, instead of choosing Christ, and being well pleased with him, have uniformly despised and rejected him? Say then, ye ungrateful world, whom will ye condemn; yourselves, or God? Still however, the invitation is addressed to you, “Behold my Son.” O that you may behold him now to your joy, and not hereafter to your confusion!]
2. But the words are more eminently suited to the weak and, desponding—
[More consolatory declarations could not have been desired by man, or given by God. The lowest possible state of grace is here described in most appropriate terms, and an assurance given that it shall prove victorious in the issue. Let the desponding soul then learn to “trust” in Jesus; and even in the midst of conflicts sing, “Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”]
THE BLIND AND DUMB D ζMONIAC HEALED
Matthew 12:22-23. Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind and dumb: and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David?
IN establishing the Mosaic dispensation, God introduced it with many miracles. It might well be expected therefore that, when he should supersede that dispensation, and establish another in its place, he would confirm that also with miracles, so as to leave no doubt but that he was the author of “that which should remain, no less than of that; which was to vanish away.” Accordingly our blessed Saviour wrought miracles without number, and appealed to them as substantiating his claim to divine authority: “Though ye believe not me, believe the works; that ye may know and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him [Note: John 10:37-38.].” It should seem that, for the furtherance of this end, Satan was permitted to exercise greater power over the bodies of men, than was ever exercised by him either before or since: that so the divine mission of Jesus might be the more signally marked by his conquests over Satan.
In discoursing on the miracle before us, I shall shew,
I. What proof the Lord Jesus here gave of his Messiahship—
There was a man whom Satan by his malignant influence had caused to be “both blind and dumb:” and him did our Lord in an instant restore to the perfect use of his faculties, so that “the blind and dumb both spake and saw.” At this stupendous miracle “the people were all amazed:” and the conclusion which they drew from it was, “Is not this the son of David?” Under the name and character of “the Son of David” the Messiah was expected: and from the miracle which they had seen, the people inferred, that Jesus must be he: yea, so undeniable did this inference appear, that they asked with confidence, “Is not this the son of David?”
[This miracle was precisely of the kind that the Messiah was expected to perform. It had been foretold by the prophet, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped: then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing: &c [Note: Isaiah 35:5-6.].” And to such miracles as these our Lord himself referred in proof of his Messiahship. When John the Baptist sent two of his disciples to inquire of Jesus, “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” our Lord replied, “Go and shew John again the things that ye do hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them: and blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me [Note: Matthew 11:2-6.].” Indeed so wonderful was this miracle, and so evident, on Scripture principles, the truth deduced from it, that the envious Pharisees, in order to obviate the conclusion drawn from it, ascribed the miracle to a confederacy with the devil. But our Lord shewed them, that, on their view of the matter, Satan would be subverting his own kingdom: but, as they could not conceive he would do that, it was clear, that the kingdom of God must be come unto them [Note: ver. 24–28.].
Thus did our Lord by this miracle establish his claim to the Messiahship, and give ample ground for all the people to receive him as the appointed Saviour of the world.]
And have these wonders ceased? No: I feel myself authorized to declare,
II. What corresponding proofs he is ever ready to give to us at this day—
Satan has no longer the same power over the bodies of men, that he once exercised. But he has as great power over their souls as ever: and
We are spiritually in the same predicament with the man whom Jesus healed—
[We are, whilst in an unregenerate state, “both blind and dumb.” We arc “blind.” What is there which we see aright? What views have we of our duty, our interest, or our happiness? One would suppose that every rational being should see it his duty to love and serve his God; and his interest to secure the divine favour; and his happiness to enjoy the presence of God, and a foretaste of his eternal inheritance. But where do we find persons acting in accordance with such views? Men’s earthly pursuits appear to them of paramount obligation; and all desire after heavenly things is swallowed up by their anxiety about the things of time and sense. In vain does God tell them, that this world is only as “a broken cistern that can hold no water [Note: Jeremiah 2:13.];” and that no solid comfort can be derived from any source but from God, “the fountain of living waters:” This they will not believe, notwithstanding the experience of every day bears testimony to it. And whence is this unbelief, but from the influence of Satan upon their minds? Yes, “The god of this world hath blinded the minds of them that believe not [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:4.].”
So also are we “dumb.” Our tongue is spoken of by God as “our glory,” because by that, more than by any other member, we are enabled to glorify him [Note: Psalms 57:7-8.]. But how is that member employed for God? We speak not to him in the exercise of prayer and praise, though our multiplied necessities and mercies call for these acknowledgments every day and hour of our lives. Nor do we in our converse with the world speak of God. Every other subject that can be thought of occupies our tongues rather than this, insomuch that amongst our friends and relatives it seems, as it were, to be banished by general consent. Still less do we speak for God. We see him dishonoured on every side; but we dare not advocate his cause. If our own father or friend were so insulted, we should find somewhat to speak in their behalf: but for God and his honour we have no concern: we can see the whole world risen in rebellion against him, and never once bear our testimony against their impiety. And whence is this, but from the same Satanic influence? Yes, “our walking thus according to the course of this world is owing to that prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in all the children of disobedience [Note: Ephesians 2:2.].”]
But from this state our blessed Lord is ever willing to deliver us—
[He is constituted “both Lord and Christ [Note: Acts 2:36.].” He is exalted on purpose that he may give us the grace we stand in need of [Note: Acts 5:31.], and thus “destroy in us the works of the devil [Note: 1 John 3:8.].” He on his ascension to heaven poured out the gifts of the Holy Ghost, which he has promised to us also [Note: Acts 2:38-39.]; and by his Spirit “he will open the eyes of our understanding [Note: Ephesians 1:17-18.],” and “open our lips also that we may shew forth his praise [Note: Psalms 51:15.].” This is the very office which he has undertaken to perform: He is “made Head over all things to the Church for this very end [Note: Ephesians 1:22-23.];” and “there is a fulness treasured up in him for this express purpose [Note: Colossians 1:19. John 1:16.].” No man has any need to be discouraged, as though he were beyond the reach of this mercy: he cannot be in a more hopeless state than the man who is spoken of in my text: and we are assured, that “the things which are hid from the wise and prudent, our Lord will reveal unto babes.” Let all then look unto him; the blind, that they may see, and the dumb that they may speak; and not one shall be disappointed of his hope: for our blessed Lord has “counselled all to come to him for these blessings [Note: Revelation 3:18.],”and “no soul shall ever seek his face in vain.”]
1. Those who are yet under the power of Satan—
[But where shall I find these, or even so much as one of them? Are you, or you, or you amongst this unhappy number? No; if we will take your own word, we shall not find so much as one. But are there none amongst you that are destitute of a spiritual discernment, and whose whole conduct shews them to be blind as to all practical perception of their duty, their interest, and their happiness? Alas! we need not go far to find such as these; for on every side of us we see persons living for themselves, and not for God; for time, and not for eternity. I ask not then respecting your worldly possessions or your intellectual attainments. If you have not a truly spiritual use of your faculties, possess what else ye may, ye are in a far worse condition than the man whom Satan had rendered blind and dumb. His wants might be supplied by others; yours cannot: his would cease at death; yours will never terminate: his might be far more than compensated by the acquisition of spiritual attainments; but what can ever compensate for the wants which you experience? Ten thousand worlds could not be to you any compensation for the loss of spiritual faculties and spiritual enjoyments. Then I entreat you come to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is as able and as willing to supply your wants as ever he was to heal those who were brought to him in the days of old — — —]
2. Those who have been delivered from him—
[Who that beheld that man’s change of state did not cordially congratulate him on the mercy he had received? Yet was not the blessing conferred on him in any degree to be compared with that which they have experienced, whose eyes are opened to behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and whose tongues are loosed to speak forth his praise. Dear brethren, so far as these blessings are enjoyed by you, you are restored to the happiness which Christ has purchased for you by his blood, the happiness which shall ere long be perfected in glory. Give honour then to the Lord Jesus Christ: and, when you see how many around you still remain both blind and dumb, stand amazed at the distinguishing mercy which has been vouchsafed to you — — — And now, need I tell you how to employ the faculties which have been thus renewed? Surely of yourselves you will feel, that they should be henceforth consecrated altogether to your God. “Get then your spiritual senses more and more exercised” on spiritual things; and let your one employment henceforth be on earth, what it will ere long without interruption be in heaven, to behold the glory, and to shew forth the praises, of your adorable Benefactor.]
THE NECESSITY OF A DECIDED ADHERENCE TO CHRIST
Matthew 12:30. He that is not with me, is against me; and he that gathereth not with me, scattereth abroad.
TO inculcate a devotedness of heart to God, and to insist upon it as indispensably necessary to salvation, is generally deemed harsh and uncharitable: and certainly, if it were not required in Scripture, we should be exceedingly blame-worthy in so alarming and terrifying the minds of men: but we must speak what God has spoken, and deliver faithfully what he has commissioned us to declare. To what purpose would it be for us to deceive our fellow-creatures? We might speak of candour, and prophesy smooth things, and lull men asleep in sin; but we could not invalidate the word of God, or reverse the sentence that he shall utter: the declaration of our Lord would still condemn both our hearers and ourselves: “If we are not with him, we must be against him,” and he will account us his enemies in the last day.
In considering this declaration, it will be proper,
I. To explain it—
Taken by itself, it has no material difficulty in it—
[The Lord Jesus Christ is a Sovereign, who is at war with all the powers of darkness: and we, as his subjects, are bound to fight his battles — — — Among the subjects of earthly monarchs no neutrality is admitted: if their kingdom be invaded, all must unite to repel the enemy: neutrality in such a case would be treason. Now thus, whosoever joins not himself to the standard of our Lord, to fight under his banners, and to oppose his enemies, is a traitor to his cause; “he is really against our Lord, if he be not for him.” As a labourer who has neglected to gather up his corn, has in fact wasted and scattered the property of his employer, so he, whose duty it is to exert himself in gathering a harvest of souls for the Lord Jesus, if he neglect his duty, is really the means of alienating them the more, and of driving them farther from him.]
But, when compared with a passage of an opposite aspect, a considerable difficulty arises from it—
[Our Lord on another occasion used an expression apparently the very reverse of this: “He that is not against us, is on our part [Note: Mark 9:40].” Now which of these assertions is true? for, in words, they plainly contradict each other: or, if both be true, how are we to reconcile them with each other? The true way to ascertain their meaning is, to consider the occasions on which they were spoken.
When our Lord uttered the words of our text, he had been arguing against those who imputed his miracles to a confederacy with Satan; and had shewn, that as the whole aim of his life was to destroy the influence of Satan over men, Satan would never have aided him in such a work; he would rather have withstood him to the utmost of his power: and consequently, the miracle which Jesus had wrought in expelling Satan from the demoniac, evinced his power over Satan, and his determination finally to bruise him under his people’s feet. From hence our Lord took occasion to observe, that there must be the same determined hostility in his power against sin and Satan as he himself had evinced; and that, if any of them should make a truce with Satan even for an hour, they would instantly be considered as traitors to him, and be dealt with as his enemies.
But when our Lord spake the words recorded by St. Mark, he had been reproving his disciples for presuming to forbid a man to cast out devils in the name of Jesus, merely because he did not associate himself with them: “Forbid him not,” says our Lord: ‘he is not a partisan of yours, it is true: but he is advancing my interests, as well as you; only he is doing it in a somewhat different way. His performing of miracles in my name is a proof of his faith in me, and of his concern for my honour: and therefore, though he may not have so clear views as you, or walk exactly in the way that you would have him, yet he is to be acknowledged as a friend of mine: he does nothing against me; and therefore must be considered as on my side.’
Thus the two passages, though apparently opposite, involve no contradiction whatever: the one shews us how to act towards the avowed enemies of Christ; the other, how to act towards his less conspicuous friends: the one forbids neutrality; the other bigotry, or party-spirit.]
Viewing these words then as a declaration that neutrality cannot be endured amongst the followers of Christ, we proceed,
II. To confirm it—
There is a twofold warfare, which, as Christian soldiers, we are to maintain; and to each of them does the declaration in our text apply. We must be decided and constant in our opposition to,
1. The enemies of Christ within us—
[Amongst these we must number all our corrupt affections and propensities, which tend to the subversion of Christ’s authority within us. Not one of these is to be spared, though it should be dear as a right eye, or apparently necessary as a right hand. They are indeed exceedingly numerous, and have “strong holds” which are almost impregnable. They are also mustered and led on by a subtle adversary, “the prince of the power of the air, who worketh in all the children of disobedience.” Still, however, we must not be discouraged, but must go forth against them, “strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.” We have armour, if I may so say, forged for us in heaven, and fitted to every part that is vulnerable, except the back, which we are on no account to turn to our enemy. Clothed in this, we need not be afraid: with the sword of the Spirit and the shield of faith, we shall in due time be “more than conquerors.” But we must never make a truce, or even parley with any of our enemies. “The filthiness both of the flesh and of the spirit” must be opposed without ceasing, and without reserve. Every evil temper, every sensual inclination, all sloth, impenitence, unbelief, or whatever it be that “wars against the soul,” must be mortified and subdued; nor must we ever cease from our conflict till we have overcome, and are crowned with victory.
Now, if we be not thus resolute, we shall not only not advance the kingdom of God within us, but shall weaken and destroy it. The work of grace within us is not like that of a painter or statuary, that may be left and resumed at pleasure, but like that of a ponderous stone rolled up a steep ascent, which will return, as soon as the force that impelled it is withdrawn. Relapses into sin tend exceedingly to impair the gracious principle within us; they harden the heart, and sear the conscience, and “grieve the Holy Spirit of God;” and if not speedily repented of, set us further from God than we were before our minds were first awakened [Note: 2 Peter 2:21. Matthew 12:45.]: so true is it, that, if we “cease to gather with Christ, we scatter abroad.”]
2. The enemies of Christ around us—
[The whole world is, as it were, risen up in arms against our Lord and Saviour; all of them saying, “We will not have this man to reign over us.” Against them, therefore, we are to take part with our blessed Lord. We must protest against their maxims, their principles, and their conduct. We are “not to be of the world, even as Christ was not of the world.” Instead of attempting to hold communion with them, which is impossible, we should “come out from among them, and be separate [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:14-17.].” The attempting to seek their friendship is an act of hostility against Christ himself [Note: James 4:4.]. Let us not however mistake, as though religion required us to hate any of our fellow-creatures; we must love their persons, but hate their ways. This line of conduct is prescribed to all the followers of Christ: whilst they “glory in the cross of Christ,” they must “by means of that cross be crucified unto the world, and the world be crucified unto them.”
Now, if we draw back from this avowal of our sentiments and this decision in the cause of Christ, we rank ourselves immediately on the side of his enemies. “In forsaking his law, we praise the wicked,” when rather, “by keeping his law we should contend with them [Note: Proverbs 28:4.].” “We strengthen the hands of Christ’s enemies,” and in the most effectual manner promise them life, though every part of the inspired volume threatens them with death [Note: Ezekiel 13:22.]. Let us remember then that we must be faithful to our profession: we must shew “whose we are, and whom we serve:” we must “shine as lights in a dark world,” and, “instead of being conformed to the world, we must, by being transformed through the renewing of our minds, prove, and exhibit to all around us, what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God [Note: Romans 12:2.].”]
Let us learn then from hence,
1. The proper objects of Christian zeal—
[There is a zeal that is good; and there is “a zeal that is not according to knowledge.” Of the latter kind was that which the Apostles manifested when they forbade a man to cast out devils, merely because he did not follow with them. The work itself was good; and its being done in the name of Jesus, gave them reason to believe that he was a believer in Christ, though he did not unite himself to them. Should they not then rather have rejoiced in the good that was done, though it was not done precisely in the way which they would have preferred? Alas! the spirit which they indulged prevails in every age: men do not like to see the empire of Satan assailed, or the kingdom of Christ established, if it be not done by their own particular party, or by the means which they particularly prefer: and they would rather that the good were wholly left undone, than that persons, differing from each other in smaller matters, should unite together to effect it. All this is the effect of pride, and envy, and bigotry: and, whatever such persons may think, they will be reproved by Christ, even as the Apostles were. The proper object of our zeal is the advancement of Christ’s kingdom upon earth, and in our own hearts in particular. To be zealously affected always in such a cause is a good thing: and I pray God that we may never relax our exertions in it to the latest hour of our lives.]
2. The necessity of abounding in it more and more—
[We have observed, that men cannot continue stationary in the divine life: we must either advance or decline. Now it is not at our first conversion only that the words of our text are applicable to us, but at every period of our lives. The longer we have professed ourselves the Lord’s servants, the more necessity there is for firmness and decision. To become lukewarm, is the worst of states, the most offensive to God, and the most injurious to ourselves [Note: Revelation 3:17-18.]. We have this only alternative, either to maintain a warfare against all the enemies of Christ, or to make Christ himself our enemy: and can any one doubt which he should prefer? If we provoke him to anger, “will our hands be strong in the day that he shall deal with us?” Let us then “fight a good fight, and quit ourselves like men:” then shall we “be approved of him who has chosen us to be soldiers,” and reign with him in glory for evermore.]
THE SIN AGAINST THE HOLY GHOST
Matthew 12:31. I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.
THE sins of men have, in all the ages of the world, been the means and occasions of displaying the Divine goodness. It is through the fall of the first Adam, and the crucifixion of Christ, the second Adam, that we attain the knowledge of God’s mercy, and see how the exercise of it can consist with the rights of justice. The wickedness of the Pharisees, to whom the words of our text were addressed, was exceeding heinous: yet was it an occasion of manifesting the most unbounded compassion of our Lord. He had cast out a devil, and thereby not only conveyed a rich blessing to the person whom he had healed, but had given an irrefragable proof of his own divine mission. But the Pharisees, blinded by prejudice, imputed his miracle to a confederacy with the devil. Our Lord, instead of giving them up, as he might have justly done, to judicial blindness and impenitence, condescended meekly to reason with them on the subject, and then affectionately cautioned them against indulging so base a spirit; assuring them, that all which they had said and done against him might be forgiven; but that if they should persist in this conduct towards the Holy Spirit also, and reject his testimony, they would cut themselves off from all possibility of obtaining mercy.
Our Lord’s address to them leads us to consider the extent of God’s mercy; and shews us,
I. To what it will not extend—
It is of great importance to ascertain correctly what is meant by the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost—
[Many have thought that the sin against the Holy Ghost consisted in ascribing the miracles of Jesus to the agency of Satan. But this opinion is founded on a misconstruction of a passage in St. Mark’s Gospel [Note: Mark 3:30.].” The Evangelist’s observation, “Because they said, he hath an unclean spirit,” was not intended to shew what the sin against the Holy Ghost was, but to specify what the occasion was, which called forth so awful an admonition. In that very place, the inspired writer contrasts the blasphemy against the Son of man, which the Pharisees now uttered, with the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, which they were in danger of uttering, when the Holy Ghost should be sent down from heaven [Note: Mark 3:28-29. compared with the words following my text. Observe, he does not say “hath blasphemed,” but “shall blaspheme.”]: and he observes that the former might be forgiven; but that the latter could not.
The sin against the Holy Ghost was the acting towards the Holy Spirit, as they now did towards Christ: it was the resisting of all the evidences of Christianity, so as deliberately to pour contempt upon the truths revealed by the Holy Spirit: and, the ascribing of his miraculous powers, and gracious influences, to the agency of Satan [Note: This cannot be made more plain, than by the following paraphrase of a learned commentator: ‘You have represented me as a wine-bibber, a friend of publicans and sinners, and as one who casts out devils by Beelzebub; and you will still go on, after all the miracles which I have wrought among you, to represent me as a false prophet, and a deceiver of the people: nevertheless all these grievous sins shall be forgiven you, if that last dispensation of the Holy Ghost, which I, after my ascension, shall send among you, shall prevail with you to believe in me: but if, when I have sent the Holy Ghost to testily the truth of my mission, and of my resurrection, you shall continue in your unbelief, and shall blaspheme the Holy Ghost, and represent him also as an evil spirit, your sin shall never be forgiven, nor shall any thing further be done to call you to repentance.’ See Whitby’s Dissertation on the subject.].”[
Why this sin in particular is excepted from the general offers of ardon, it is also of great importance to understand—
[It is plainly declared to be unpardonable. But is not the mercy of God sufficiently extensive to cover this? Yes, doubtless; for it is infinite, as all his perfections are. Is there not then a sufficiency in the blood of Christ to atone for this? Yes; his death is a sufficient propitiation for the sins of the whole world. Must we then refer it to the sovereign decree of heaven; and say, that God, in righteous judgment, has excepted this from the general proclamation of forgiveness? Perhaps this may be one reason: for St. John mentions “a sin unto death,” for the forgiveness of which it is in vain to intercede [Note: 1 John 5:16.]. But the more substantial reason is, that the sin itself, in the very nature of things, excludes a person from all hope of mercy. God has provided salvation for us through the blood of his Son, and the influences of his Spirit; and has told us that there neither is, nor ever will be, any other way of salvation for sinful man. Now if we despise this salvation, and account it only a devilish delusion, what can be done? We must die, because we reject the only means of life. As a man who has taken a poisonous draught, may live, provided he apply a proper remedy, so a man who has committed the most deadly sins may nevertheless be saved at last, if he truly embrace the Gospel of Christ: but if he will not use the remedy provided for him, he must abide the consequences, and perish for ever. We must not however imagine, that every rejection of the Gospel is unpardonable; for that, which is occasioned by an ignorance of its true nature, may be forgiven [Note: 1 Timothy 1:13.]; but it then becomes unpardonable, when it is wilful and deliberate, against the convictions of our conscience, and the dictates of an enlightened judgment. It then argues a mind given up to its own delusions, and sealed up under final impenitence; and therefore it cannot be forgiven, because it will never be repented of.]
There being no other limit to God’s mercy, it is easy to see,
II. To what it will extend—
This only excepted, every species and degree of sin may be forgiven. This blessed truth may be abundantly proved,
1. From Scripture examples—
[If we look at sins committed before conversion, we shall see that every species of enormity has been pardoned. What horrible uncleanness had the Corinthians been guilty of! yet they were washed, justified, and sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.]. Murders have in some instances been, not only committed, but multiplied: yet Manasseh, who, in addition to the most impious idolatries, had “filled the streets of Jerusalem with the blood of innocents,” was pardoned [Note: 2 Kings 21:16. with 2 Chronicles 33:9; 2 Chronicles 33:12-13.]. The persecuting of God’s Church and people also, though it is like the “piercing of the apple of God’s eye,” has been forgiven: yea, Saul, the most furious of all zealots, was stopped in the midst of his outrages, and transformed into a blessed Apostle, in order that he might be an everlasting monument of the power and grace of Christ [Note: 1 Timothy 1:16.]. To sum up all in one; the very murder of the Son of God himself has been forgiven; and thousands of those who cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him,” were converted in answer to that petition of our Lord, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
We may extend our observation also to sins committed after conversion. Who can contemplate without horror the conduct of David; who, though an eminent professor and patron of religion, defiled the wife of his faithful subject, and, in order to conceal his crime, laid a plot to destroy him? Consider him, I say, murdering this man who was exposing his life continually for his sake, murdering also a multitude of other persons together with him, involving another person in the guilt of all these murders as his instrument and accomplice, and making the very man, whose death he was contriving, the bearer of that letter, which was devoting him to destruction: consider him moreover, when he had accomplished his purpose, blasphemously ascribing the death of all these persons to God [Note: 2 Samuel 11:25.], then instantly taking the adulterous Bathsheba to live with him as his wife; and, after all, living at least nine months in utter impenitence, as though he had committed no crime at all!! In an ignorant heathen, such conduct would have been inexpressibly vile; but in a saint of God, the man after God’s own heart—who would conceive it possible? To believe that such iniquity was ever committed, seems almost a libel upon human nature. Yet even this, surpassing as it does almost the bounds of credibility, was forgiven, and that too, upon the very first motion of penitence in David’s heart [Note: 2 Samuel 12:13.]. Peter’s sin, if viewed in all its aggravations, was scarcely less than this: yet, even while he was committing it, our Lord looked on him with pity and compassion; and afterwards thrice repeated the commission, which restored him openly to his apostleship [Note: John 21:15-17.].”]
2. From Scripture declarations—
[Consult we the Prophets? They speak strongly on this point, declaring that we are redeemed from all sins, even those of a scarlet or crimson die [Note: Isaiah 1:18.]. Ask we of the Apostles? They speak in terms of similar import [Note: 1 John 1:7; 1 John 2:1-2.], and contrast the Gospel with the law in this particular; that whereas there were some sins, for which there was no sacrifice appointed under the law of Moses, there is no iniquity whatever from which we may not be justified by the Gospel of Christ [Note: Acts 13:38-39.]. If we attend to the voice of Christ himself, we shall find him no less explicit: he assures us that whosoever believeth in him shall never die, shall never be cast out [Note: John 11:26; John 6:37.]. Thus universally do the Scriptures testify, that “all manner of sin,” yea, even the most horrid “blasphemies wherewith any man can blaspheme,” (except the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost) “shall be forgiven unto men.”
It must however be remembered, that these declarations suppose that we repent and believe the Gospel; for, without repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus, no sin whatever can be pardoned.]
Before we close, it will be proper to add,
1. A word of admonition—
[We hope and trust that there are not any in this day, who are guilty of the sin, which is here declared unpardonable: but many who scoff at religion, and deride the influences of the Spirit, may be much nearer to the commission of it than they imagine. It will be well for all such persons to pause, and consider on what a precipice they stand — — — for they may do despite to the Spirit of grace till they have quenched his sacred motions, and provoked him to abandon them to their own delusions. The Lord grant that none of us may bring down on ourselves such a tremendous judgment!]
2. A word of consolation—
[Some are tempted to think that they have committed the unpardonable sin: but if it be true, that the commission of it is always attended with judicial blindness, and followed by final impenitence, then no one can have committed it, who is apprehensive that he has been guilty of it: because, instead of indulging such fears, he would go on glorying in his shame, and hardening himself in his iniquities. Let all such apprehensions then be put away; and let that other declaration of the text abide upon our minds for our comfort and encouragement under all the accusations of a guilty conscience [Note: Psalms 130:7-8.] — — — O let all of us avail ourselves of this gracious declaration, whilst yet the proffered mercy lies within our reach — — —]
IDLE WORDS TO BE ACCOUNTED FOR
Matthew 12:36-37. I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment: for by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.
THERE is not any plainer or more acknowledged truth, in relation to natural things, than that “a tree is known by its fruit.” In morals, the same would be equally obvious, if we were equally unbiassed in our judgment respecting it. But, if we speak of morals, we must not confine our attention to actions only: we must take also the words of men into the account; since by them the heart betrays itself, no less than by overt acts. The communications which proceed from the heart will, of necessity, correspond with the treasures which abound in it; even as a stream will manifest the quality of the fountain from whence it flows. Our blessed Lord has determined this point; and grounded on it a most solemn declaration, that is of the utmost importance to every child of man: “A good man, out of the good treasure of his heart, bringeth forth good things: and an evil man, out of the evil treasure, bringeth forth evil things. But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment: for by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.”
To impress this declaration upon your minds, I will,
I. Explain it—
In explaining the Holy Scriptures, and especially such awful declarations as that before us, the utmost possible care must be taken to avoid too strict an interpretation on the one hand, or too lax an interpretation on the other. Respecting the precise import of the passage before us, a variety of opinions have been entertained; some limiting it to the expressions which had been made use of by the Pharisees in the preceding context, whilst others extend it to the most innocent communications in social and domestic life. The former of these enervate the force of the declaration altogether: the latter make it an occasion of continual distress to their own souls.
Let us first endeavour to ascertain what is meant by the expression, “every idle word”—
[I think we must confine the term to words which are in some respect evil: for it cannot be conceived that our blessed Lord should speak so strongly respecting words which were altogether innocent. Yet must the expression be very comprehensive, else such a declaration would scarcely have been made; since, respecting words that were palpably and grossly wicked, there could have been no doubt. I think, then, that we must comprehend under the term “idle words,” first, all that are sinful in themselves; next, all that are sinful in their tendency; and lastly, all that are sinful in their source and origin. The suggestions of the Pharisees respecting our blessed Lord were in the highest degree injurious to his character, and profanely impious towards God. And, as those were the immediate occasion of our Lord’s declaration, we are sure that every expression which pours contempt on religion, or inflicts any injury on man, must of necessity be numbered amongst the words which he intended to condemn. They bear confessedly, as all words that are false, or lewd, or profane, or scandalous, most evidently do, the stamp of sin upon them. But there are many words which do not wound the ear by any positive offensiveness, which yet are evil in the sight of God, because of their tendency to taint the mind, or pervert the judgment, of those who hear them. Amongst these I would rank all flattering words, which tend to puff up persons with pride and self-conceit. I should include also those facetious turns of wit which are calculated to convey to the mind ideas of an impure or licentious cast; such as the Apostle calls “foolish talking and jesting [Note: μωρολογία, ῆ εὐτραπιλία, Ephesians 5:4.],” and which he declares to be altogether unsuited to the Christian character, and displeasing to God. Nor should I omit to mention eulogiums on the world, its pleasures, its riches, its honours, of which you hear so much in every place and company, and which lead the youthful mind into an opinion, that the world, if attained, can make us happy. Thousands, by means of such conversation, are betrayed into error, and hardened in sin; and brought, without being at all aware of it, to the brink of ruin, yea, to everlasting destruction, both of body and soul, in hell. I must however go one step further, and say, that whatever indicates evil in the heart, must be regarded as coming under the comprehensive expression of my text. Whatever is the offspring of pride, or envy, or malice, or vanity, or folly, or indifference to religion, in short, whatever betrays a want of a religious principle within us, must be denominated “idle.” I think this is the true distinction. It is not necessary that in every word a religious principle should appear; but in no word should the want of a religious principle appear. There may be much that has no religion in it; there may be even what has not any kind of solidity in it, as the talking of a mother with her little child; which yet does not come under the description of “idle:” but every thing that betrays a want of a religious principle in the heart, whatever be its aspect in relation to other things, is wrong, and offensive in the sight of God.]
Now we are prepared to hear what the Lord has declared concerning it—
[“Of every such word we must give account in the day of judgment.” “There is not a word in our tongue, but God knoweth it altogether [Note: Psalms 139:4.].” “If the secrets of our heart will be made manifest” at the last day, much more will the words, by which they have found utterance, be scrutinized. They will be regarded as evidences of the internal state of our souls, especially so far as our words are evil: for it is but too true, that our words may be good, whilst yet our hearts are evil: but if our words be evil, there can remain no doubt whatever about the state of our hearts, from whence they flow: and, making due allowance for this distinction, “by our words we shall be justified, and by our words we shall be condemned.” Not that this distinction is necessary, as it respects God: for the words that are hypocritical are, in God’s sight, amongst the most hateful that we can possibly utter. It is only for the sake of avoiding misconception amongst men that I make this distinction. Men cannot know the heart; and therefore are constrained to hope well, wherever the appearances are favourable: but God sees the heart itself; and will pass his judgment according to what he beholds there. On the words, as far as they are indexes of the mind, he will pass his judgment: but when the words have conveyed what was not in the heart, he will judge, not according to the appearance, but righteous judgment, according to truth.]
Having endeavoured to ascertain the true import of this declaration, I will proceed to,
II. Point out the proper use to he made of it—
The peculiar solemnity with which the assertion was made by our blessed Lord sufficiently shews of what vast importance it is. It was intended to operate forcibly on our minds: and it may well serve to direct us,
1. In the choice of our friends—
[We are particularly cautioned by Solomon “not to make any friendship with an angry man, lest we learn his ways.” And the same advice may well be given in reference to persons who “set not a watch before the door of their lips.” They will soon draw us into the same spirit with themselves; and, whether useful to us or not, in relation to worldly knowledge, they will never advance us in the knowledge of our God. They may, it is true, possess a talent in theology, as well as in other sciences: but they will never bring us to God, but will prevail rather to draw us from him, and to lower our habits of piety to their own standard. Conversation, properly used, is a most valuable ordinance. In truth, “death and life are in the power of the tongue [Note: Proverbs 18:21.];” seeing that by its counsels, we may be stirred up to seek the Lord, or may be deterred from following the convictions of our own minds: so true is that assertion of Solomon, “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise; but a companion of fools shall be destroyed [Note: Proverbs 13:20.].”]
2. In the regulation of our own intercourse with men—
[Speech is a talent that is to be improved for the Lord: and of it we must give account, as well as of any other talent we possess. If any man ask, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” I answer, Yes, you are; so far, at least, as not to let him wander out of the way, when you have an opportunity to set him right: and if you neglect to avail yourselves of the opportunity that is afforded you, you are as much answerable for his blood, as you would be if you saw him on the brink of a precipice, and neglected to warn him of his danger. “The tongue is a tree of life;” and you should freely dispense its fruits to those who are within your reach. In this view, the Psalmist repeatedly called his tongue “his glory [Note: Psalms 16:9; Psalms 30:12.];” for by that he could both exalt God in private, and commend him to others in public: and, consequently, if we suffer our tongue to keep silence, or to prate about foolish things when we should be speaking for the Lord, we bury our talent in a napkin, and sink ourselves to a level with them that know not God. And must we not give account of such conduct to the Lord? I say then, “Let your conversation be alway with grace, seasoned with salt [Note: Colossians 4:6.].” It is not necessary that you should eat salt by handfuls, if I may use so homely an expression, or that you should be always talking of religion: but your speech should at all times be seasoned with salt; and your intercourse, even about the most common things, should be such as to shew that religion is the one spring of all your actions, and the governing principle of your whole lives. In this way you will approve yourselves to God as good and faithful servants; and under that character will you be acknowledged by him in the day of judgment.]
3. In the forming of a just estimate of our character before God—
[Our actions will not suffice for this; but our words will. To have our outward conduct blameless is an easy thing, in comparison of what it is to have our words rightly directed for the glory of God and the good of men. The heart will be pouring forth that which is contained in it. And accordingly we find, that worldly characters, whether male or female, however exemplary they may be in their outward conduct, rarely speak any thing but about the world. They have no disposition to converse about the things of God: they have no heart to praise the Saviour, or to commend him to the love of their fellow-men. Perhaps, during the course of their whole lives, with scarcely any exception, their communications with others have been earthly and carnal; and in this respect they have far more resembled the ungodly world than the saints of God. But, if we bear in mind this declaration of our Lord, and consider its aspect upon us, we shall tremble for our appearance before him. Look well to it then, brethren, that “no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace to the hearers [Note: Ephesians 4:29.].”]
1. Those who have been inattentive to their words—
[The generality say, “Our lips are our own: who is Lord over us [Note: Psalms 12:4.]?” But know, that “ye are not your own: ye are bought with a price:” and all your faculties, whether of mind or body, are the Lord’s: so that you are bound to “glorify him with your body and your spirit, which are his [Note: 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.].” I call upon you, then, to watch with all possible care against light and unprofitable conversation of every kind: and endeavour, with all earnestness, to improve your own minds for the purpose of instructing others, and to convey to all within your reach that knowledge which shall “make men wise unto salvation, through faith that is in Christ Jesus.”]
2. Those who have endeavoured to improve their speech for the good of others—
[This declaration of God is as consolatory to you, as it is alarming to the careless and ungodly world. Never have you endeavoured to speak for God, but God has listened to it with pleased attention, and recorded it in the book of his remembrance, that you may “be justified” in his sight, and have a place assigned to you amongst the jewels of his crown [Note: Malachi 3:16-17.]. The saints, too, shall then bear their testimony also in your behalf. One will say, ‘He taught me, when a child, the first principles of Christianity, and was, under God, the means of leading me to the knowledge of the truth.’ Another will say, ‘He visited me in the hour of sickness, and instructed me, and guided me into all truth: and to him, under God, I owe the salvation of my soul.’ Thus, both from God and man, will you have most blessed testimonies at the bar of judgment, and receive a proportionable measure both of bliss and glory to all eternity.]
JONAH A TYPE OF CHRIST
Matthew 12:39-41. But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign, and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the Prophet Jonas. For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here.
UNREASONABLE and wicked men are ready to complain of want of evidence, when they neither attentively consider the means of conviction, that are afforded them, nor act agreeably to the convictions, that are already impressed upon their minds. This was eminently the character of the Jews in our Lord’s days. They had a right indeed to expect, that their religion, which had been confirmed by so many miracles, should not be superseded by any religion, which did not exhibit the same credentials. But the miracles wrought by our Lord were so numerous, so plain, and evident, that his enemies, unable to question the reality of them, ascribed them to the agency of Satan. Yet the Jews still demanded of him a sign, and, to satisfy their incredulity, he must give them “a sign from heaven [Note: Luke 11:16; Luke 11:29.].” It is to persons of this description that our Lord replies in the words before us; telling them, that no different kind of sign should be given them, till his resurrection; and, that the repenting Ninevites would in the last day condemn their obstinacy and unbelief.
The text naturally leads us to shew,
I. Wherein Jonah was a type of Christ—
Whatever agreement there is between the histories of Jonah and of Christ; the leading points, wherein the former typified our Lord, are two:
1. His miraculous restoration to dry land after having been three days confined in the belly of a fish—
[This was doubtless a wonderful event; that he should be preserved three days in the belly of a fish, unhurt; and that, after so long a continuance in that situation, the fish, which seemed destined for his destruction, should be the instrument of his preservation! To this, under God, we must ascribe the efficacy of his word at Nineveh; for our Lord tells us, that, by this means, he was made “a sign to the Ninevites.” What means they had of ascertaining the fact itself, we do not exactly know; but they evidently had not the smallest doubt respecting the truth of it; and therefore they received his message as coming immediately from God.
Now in this he was evidently a type of Christ. Our Lord having, like Jonah, been voluntarily delivered up to death for the salvation of others, was confined in the heart of the earth. The term of his imprisonment there was the same with that of Jonah’s continuance in the fish’s belly; yet he “saw no corruption;” and, at the appointed time, he burst the bands of death (of which it was not possible he should be holden) and thus became a sign to the Jewish nation [Note: Luke 11:30.]. On this he laid the whole stress of his Messiahship, while he was yet ministering among his countrymen; and, after the event had taken place, he gave so many, and such convincing, evidences of the fact, as to leave no possibility of doubt respecting his divine mission: this therefore was made the very corner-stone of Christianity; and his sending down of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost in consequence of his resurrection, was such “a sign from heaven” as must leave unbelievers without excuse to all eternity.]
2. His successful preaching consequent upon it—
[The effect of Jonah’s preaching stands perhaps unrivalled from the foundation of the world. The large and populous city instantly received the word, and, though Gentiles by nature, began to call upon Jehovah; so that, from the king upon his throne to the very meanest of his subjects, they all humbled themselves before him in sackcloth and ashes: nor did they cease from their cries, till the wrath of God was averted from them.
And must not this event lead our minds to Jesus, who is no less “a light to lighten the Gentiles, than he is the glory of his people Israel?” His ministry among the Jews indeed was attended with small success, though ultimately “they shall be again engrafted on their own stock:” but how rapid, how extensive, has been the effect of his word among the Gentiles! Many myriads have already turned from idols to serve the living and true God: and in due season the whole Gentile world shall flock to his standard [Note: Isaiah 11:10.], and “all flesh behold the salvation of God.”]
But notwithstanding this honour put upon Jonah, it will be proper to notice,
II. His inferiority to him whom he typified—
Though we are disposed to cast a veil over the infirmities of God’s servants, yet the peculiarity of Jonah’s character, no less than the very words of the text, requires that his inferiority to the Saviour should be strongly marked. We may observe it,
1. In his office and character—
[Jonah was indeed a prophet of the Most High God; but he had as great corruptions as could well consist with a converted state. The whole of his conduct, from first to last, indicated a proud, peevish, discontented, uncharitable, and rebellious disposition; so that it is even a great stretch of charity to believe that he had any piety at all. But the blessed Jesus was free from every species and degree of sin; and was no other than the Messiah himself, even the very Son of God, “Jehovah’s Fellow,” “the brightness of his Father’s glory, and the express image of his person.” Methinks, therefore, he did not arrogate much to himself, when he said, “Behold, a greater than Jonas is here.”]
2. In his manner of executing his office—
[Jonah executed the prophetic office among the ten tribes [Note: 2 Kings 14:25.]; but we know nothing of his spirit, except from the book which bears his name. And here we see, that he did not enter on his office without great reluctance, fleeing from God, in order to avoid an embassy, which he was afraid would be attended with personal danger or disgrace. When he was in the midst of the storm, which endangered the vessel wherein he was sailing, he, a professor of the true religion, he, a prophet of Jehovah, he, who was the occasion of the storm, was sleeping, while the heathen sailors were crying to their gods; and he was reproached for his supineness by the very heathens themselves [Note: Jonah 1:5-6.]. After God himself had interposed to mark him as the occasion of the storm, so that he could conceal his guilt no longer, he confessed his wickedness, and acknowledged to the crew, that the only way of saving the ship, was, to cast him overboard. This done, a fish was prepared to swallow him; and constrained to deliver him safely upon dry land. After this, we might hope, he had attained a better spirit; but alas! though compelled to deliver his message, he preferred his own honour before the salvation of a million souls; instead of once interceding for them, he waited with anxious expectation to see his word fulfilled, and even quarrelled with God for extending his mercy to them [Note: Jonah 4:2-5.].
How different was the conduct of our adorable Jesus! He willingly left the bosom of his Father, to become a messenger to our guilty world [Note: Psalms 40:7-9.]. So far from wishing to avoid disgrace or danger, he gladly submitted to the accursed death of the cross, and “gave his own life a ransom for many.” Instead of sleeping while others prayed, he continued whole nights in prayer for those, who were insensible of their danger; and, instead of grieving at the salvation of those who received him, he wept over the impenitence of those who rejected him [Note: Luke 19:41.]. All concern for himself was lost in his concern for others. And his restoration to life, which was effected by his own almighty power, was made the means of more abundant and effectual exertions on behalf of those to whom he was sent. And the more his efforts were crowned with success, the more did he glorify God on the behalf of those who obtained mercy.]
3. In the success with which he executed it—
[Jonah prevailed to the outward reformation and temporal preservation, of one single city — — — But Jesus does, and will, prevail to the spiritual renovation, and everlasting salvation of a whole world — — — How exalted is he in this view, and how worthy of our highest praise!]
We may observe from this subject,
1. How certainly is Christ the true Messiah!
[The Ninevites knew for certain the divine mission of Jonah, by means of his miraculous deliverance from the fish’s belly. How evidently then is “Christ declared to be the Son of God with power by his resurrection from the dead [Note: Romans 1:4.]!” Let then every word of his, by whomsoever it be delivered, “be received, not as the word of man, but, as it is in truth, the word of God — — —”]
2. How inexcusable are they, who continue impenitent under the preaching of the Gospel!
[Jonah simply denounced the vengeance of God against the Ninevites, without making them any offer of mercy, or even intimating, that there was any possibility that the sentence might be reversed; yea, and without so much as working one single miracle in confirmation of his word: yet they, though heathens, trembled at the very first denunciations of God’s wrath, and set themselves to repent and turn from their sins, upon the slightest hope that peradventure God might turn from his fierce anger [Note: Jonah 3:5-9]. How then ought we to seek the Lord, who have not merely temporal ruin, but eternal condemnation, denounced against us; who, besides this, have promises of mercy also set before us, to encourage our repentance; and both the threatenings and the promises confirmed by ten thousand miracles! Surely “the Ninevites will rise up in judgment against us at the last day, if we continue obdurate” under such means as are used to reclaim us.]
3. How certainly may they expect mercy, who repent and believe in Christ!
[We have no reason to think, that the repentance of the Ninevites was genuine and abiding: it is more probable that it resembled that of Ahab, both in its nature and duration [Note: 1 Kings 21:27-29.]. Still, however, it was the means of preserving all of them from the threatened calamities. And shall not true repentance, accompanied with faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, avail for the salvation of our souls? Will that God, whom Jonah reproached for the unbounded extent of his grace and mercy, “cast out any who come to him by Jesus Christ [Note: John 6:37.]?” We need not fear: it is not a peradventure, but a certainty, that God “will save them to the uttermost.” Let us then seek the Lord in his appointed way, that we may be monuments of his mercy to all eternity.]
THE RELAPSED D ζMONIAC
Matthew 12:43-45. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out, and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.
THOUGH the general scope of the parables is, for the most part, plain and obvious, it is often difficult to see the precise meaning of some circumstances contained in them. This is the case with the parable before us; the minuter incidents of which may possibly be considered as ornamental; but I think rather that they are essential parts of the parable itself [Note: Our Lord had cast out a devil; and this was by the Pharisees imputed to a confederacy with Beelzebub. After shewing the absurdity of such a notion, he contrasted their state with that of the Ninevites and the Queen of Sheba; and compared them to a relapsed d ζmoniac, who would be in a worse state than if Satan had never gone out of him at all. Now what is here spoken respecting the unclean spirit, we must interpret of Satan, ejected from the Jews, and going in dry, that is, unfrequented places, or places not watered by the Gospel, to find rest among the Gentiles; and, upon being pursued thither by the preaching of the Apostles, returning to take more full possession of the Jews than ever; since, however reformed some of them might be, they were, as a nation, perfectly prepared, through their inveterate lusts and prejudices, to receive him.]. Its import, on the whole, suggests the following observations:
I. Persons, once delivered from Satan, are again open to his assaults—
Satan certainly has power over the hearts of men—
[There is much ascribed to his agency in the holy Scriptures. He blinds the eyes of all unbelievers [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:4.] — — — and rules in all their hearts [Note: Ephesians 2:2.] — — — Though he has not the same power over men’s bodies as he once had, he evidently possesses their souls, and drives them to perdition [Note: Mark 9:22. with John 8:44.]—]
But he often loses, his dominion through the preaching of the Gospel—
[Paul was commissioned to turn men from the power of Satan unto God [Note: Acts 26:18.]: and the weapon whereby he rescued them from his dominion was the Gospel [Note: 2 Corinthians 10:4.]. The same divine energy also attends it, when used by us [Note: 2 Timothy 2:25-26.] — — — Though conversions are more rare than in the Apostles’ days, they are not less real.]
Yet they who have been delivered from him, are still open to his assaults—
[How often did he repeat his attacks on Peter [Note: Matthew 16:23. Luke 22:31.]! With what envious malice did he buffet Paul [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:7.]! How did he renew his attempts even on Christ himself [Note: Compare Luke 4:13. John 14:30. Luke 22:53.]! Thus he still watches for his opportunity to destroy us [Note: 1 Peter 5:8.] — — — Nor shall we be wholly out of his reach, till we are finally discharged from our warfare [Note: Ephesians 6:11-12.].]
We had need therefore to watch against this subtle enemy; for,
II. If we be a second time subjected to Satan’s dominion, our last state will be worse than the first—
It is certain that Satan can never finally prevail against the elect—
[This is evidently implied in the character which is given of them [Note: 1 John 2:13-14; 1 John 5:18.]. The promises of God also ensure to them the victory over him [Note: Romans 16:20]. Hence they are authorized to defy all the powers of darkness [Note: Romans 8:38-39.].]
They, into whom he may return, are described in the text—
[The true children of God desire to be ever “filled with the Spirit;” nor will they suffer the things that please Satan to abide quietly in their hearts; but self-deceivers are satisfied, like Herod, with a partial change [Note: Mark 6:20.], and continue with their old affections and lusts unmortified [Note: Psalms 78:36-37.]. Judas, Ananias, Demas, no doubt retained their love of this world. Hence Satan found their hearts “swept” indeed, and “emptied” of gross sin, but still furnished for his reception [Note: Many there are who embrace the Gospel, and experience its power so far as to turn them from open gross sin; but they afterwards imbibe false doctrines, or engage in matters of doubtful disputation; and thus change their outward lusts for others that are still more malignant, such as superstition, pride, bigotry, intolerance. Their service is different; but their Master is the same; and their dispositions invite the return of Satan as strongly as the most inveterate lusts could do.] — — — Wherever this is the case, he will surely, however expelled for a season, return ere long with increased power.]
On his return to them their state will be worse than ever—
[The Holy Spirit will be grieved, provoked, quenched [Note: Ephesians 4:30. Isaiah 63:10. 1 Thessalonians 5:19.]; and when once men are “beguiled from the simplicity that is in Christ,” their minds will be more closed against the truth than ever. Their consciences will be silenced, and made callous [Note: 1 Timothy 4:2.];. Their evil habits also will return, and gain an irresistible dominion; and the deliverance, which they have neglected to improve, will fearfully aggravate their final condemnation [Note: 2 Peter 2:20-21.].]
1. Whether ye have ever yet been delivered from Satan—
[Perhaps many doubt whether they have ever been possessed by Satan; but this alone is sufficient to prove, that they are yet under his dominion. That usurper reigns in all till he is vanquished and expelled by Jesus Christ; and it is only in answer to fervent prayer, that the adorable Saviour puts forth his power to drive him out. Examine then whether ye have ever thus resisted Satan, and obtained deliverance from him through the power and grace of Christ.]
2. Be daily maintaining a strict watch against him—
[If he has been cast out of us, he is seeking an opportunity to return; nor can he be kept away, but by constant prayer and watchfulness. Let us then guard every avenue of our hearts. Let us implore the aid of our divine inhabitant. The exertion of our own powers in dependence on the intercession and grace of Christ, will ensure us a successful issue of the conflict [Note: James 4:7. with Luke 22:31-32.].]
CHRIST’S REGARD TO HIS OBEDIENT FOLLOWERS
Matthew 12:46-50. While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him. Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But he answered and said unto him that told him, who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren: for whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother [Note: Another on nearly the same words, (Mark 3:31-35,) had some time before been written. The author, not adverting to that circumstance, composed this. On a comparison of the two, they are so exceedingly different, that, without altering a word in either, they are both presented to the public, in hope that they may be profitable, as illustrating different modes of treating the same text.].
IT is not easy, engaged as we are in a variety of callings, to know at all times what is the duty of the present moment. Seasons may often occur when a tradesman may reasonably doubt whether he ought to be in his shop or in his closet: and it may sometimes be difficult to know exactly where to draw the line between the attentions due to earthly relatives and the higher duties of God’s more immediate service. The example, however, which Christ has set us, may be of considerable use in regulating our conduct on such occasions. He was in a house teaching a great multitude of people who flocked around him: and his mother and his near kinsmen, apprehensive, perhaps, that he might provoke his enemies to destroy him, or that he would injure his own health by his incessant labours, endeavoured to get access to him, that they might persuade him to suspend his exertions. Not being able to get near him for the crowd, they called to him, and prevailed on the intermediate multitudes to inform him, that they stood without, greatly desirous to speak with him. On the message being delivered, our blessed Lord “looked round about on his surrounding audience,” and, “stretching forth his hand” towards them, made use of the extraordinary language of our text:—in considering which, we shall shew,
I. In what light our Lord regarded his obedient followers–
We are sure, that, in asking, “Who is my mother or my brethren,” he did not intend to act towards them with any disrespect: he only intended to declare the infinitely greater respect which he had for practical piety than for any other thing whatever; and to shew,
1. That his obedient followers were the exclusive objects of his regard—
[Doubtless, as a man, he felt the ties of consanguinity, and (most probably too) the partialities of friendship [Note: We suppose his peculiar love to John was of this kind.]: but as the Mediator between God and man, who was appointed to judge the world, he considered nothing deserving his notice but a conformity to the will of God. A mere profession of his religion was so far from recommending any person to his favour, that it rendered him tenfold the more hateful in his eyes, if it were not accompanied with a suitable practice [Note: Luke 6:46.]. He compares such a person to a man building his house upon the sand, which is sure to fall and overwhelm him in its ruins: and he assures us, that, in the last day, whatever zeal such an one may have shewn even in propagating the truth itself, he will utterly disown him as unworthy of the smallest regard [Note: Matthew 7:21-27.]. The person whom alone he will approve, is the conscientious and devoted servant of God, who does the will of God cheerfully, constantly, and without reserve. The obedience of a slave, were it ever so extensive, would be unacceptable to him, because it proceeds not from love. Nor, if we could conceive a person to obey from love, would his services be pleasing to God, if they were only occasional; because it would prove, that sin retained an allowed ascendency over the soul. Nor, for the same reason, could the most uniform obedience be approved by him, if there were so much as one single lust spared, or one single duty wilfully neglected. An eye, a hand, a foot, retained in opposition to the line of duty, would occasion the whole body to be cast into hell [Note: Mark 9:43-48.]. But “whosoever” is truly upright in doing the will, the whole will, of God, “that person,” whatever other recommendations he may want, shall certainly be an object of his peculiar regard: “Then are ye my disciples, if ye do whatsoever I command you.”]
2. That there was no honour or happiness which he would not confer upon them—
[All are agreed, that, in a temporal view, the most honoured and blessed of all the human race was the Virgin Mary. Yet far more honoured, and more blessed, are all who cordially fulfil the will of God. This our Lord himself affirms [Note: Luke 11:27-28.]: and, in the text, he seems almost to disclaim relationship to her. as it were, in comparison of those closer bonds which unite him to his obedient followers.
But it is not merely the names of brother, sister, mother, that we are to regard: we must consider what is implied in those terms: what ardent love to their persons; what constant attention to their wants; what a liberal supply of their necessities; what familiar intercourse with them at all seasons; what protection against dangers; and what glorious triumph he will give them over all their enemies. We must consider too, that when the relations that were formed by flesh and blood shall exist no longer, then shall these spiritual relations be still acknowledged, and all the blessings attached to them be continued through eternal ages.]
This being a matter not of speculation merely, but of great practical importance, let us consider,
II. The inferences to be deduced from it—
And here we cannot but observe, that if Christ so highly regards his obedient followers, then should we,
1. Honour them—
[The light of the godly has ever been so offensive to the lovers of darkness, that all possible methods have been used to veil its lustre, if not to extinguish it altogether. Who needs be told that there ever have been, and are at this day, terms of reproach, whereby to designate the obedient followers of Christ; and that they who are most active and diligent in his service usually bear the greatest share of that reproach? Even persons not wholly destitute of religious feeling, are yet often so awed by the fear of man, that they dare not own their respect for the godly, or even notice them as their acquaintance. They can hear the most eminent of God’s servants calumniated, and never open their mouths in their defence; and they can even wish and long for their instructions, and not dare to put themselves in the way of receiving them. But what a horrible impiety is this; that the very thing which so endears them to Christ, should render them odious to us: or that we should be ashamed to call them friends whom “Christ is not ashamed to call his brethren!” Little do such contemners think whom they despise; or such timid Christians, of whom they are ashamed. Paul had no idea that he was darting his shafts at Jesus, when he was persecuting, what he would call, some enthusiastic heretics: but Jesus said to him, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” So it is now: they who receive his servants, receive him; and they who despise them, despise him. Beware then, lest ye provoke the Lord to be “ashamed of you in the presence of his Father and his holy angels.” And as Paul said to Timothy, “Be not ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner,” so would I say to you, Be not ashamed of the Gospel, nor of any of those who obey it: but, as Christ honours his people, so do ye honour them, not in word only, but in deed and in truth. Be willing “to suffer affliction with them, and esteem the reproach of Christ greater riches than all the treasures of the world.”]
2. Seek to be of their number—
[Who would not wish that in the day of judgment Christ should say of him, That is my brother, my sister, my mother? What then must we do, in order to secure that blessing? Doubtless we must believe in Christ, and seek “to be found in him, not having our own righteousness, but his.” But though it is by faith, and by faith only, that we are united to Christ, and made members of his family, yet must we be found doing the will of God, or else we can never be found in the number of his people. “The grace of God that bringeth salvation teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live righteously, soberly, and godly, in the world.” Is it asked, What is the will of God? I answer briefly, first, “This is the will of God, even your sanctification [Note: 1 Thessalonians 4:3.];” and secondly, “Rejoice evermore, pray without ceasing, and in every thing give thanks; for this also is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.].” Here are two things, a holy and a heavenly life. All the lusts of the flesh must be mortified, all the evil tempers and dispositions subdued, and “the thoughts, as well as the actions, be brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” This is a holy life. But besides that, you must be brought into a state of unfeigned, and, as it were, habitual delight in God, praying to him for all you want, praising him for all you enjoy, and glorying in him as your God and portion for evermore. This is a heavenly life. And by these two things you will discover your relation to Christ: the family likeness, if I may so speak, will be visible upon you. Let these things then be found upon you; for on them all your salvation depends. Your creed will signify nothing; your profession, nothing; your practice, nothing, without these: in his family “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ, that is, the image of Christ upon your soul, is all and in all [Note: Colossians 3:11. Read the whole chapter without prejudice, and you will certainly find this to be the true sense of the passage.].”]
3. Choose them for your companions—
[Very few people have an idea how much of their present welfare and of their eternal prospects depends upon their associates and friends. “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise,” says Solomon; “but a companion of fools shall be destroyed [Note: Proverbs 13:20.].” Again, “Make no friendship with an angry man, lest thou learn his ways [Note: Proverbs 22:24-25.].” For the same reason I would say, associate not with a proud man, a worldly man, a covetous man, a lewd man: for it is certain that “evil communications will corrupt good manners.” We almost unavoidably drink into the spirit of our companions: we adopt their sentiments; we conform to their practice; we become cast into their mould. Of what infinite importance then is it that we should associate with those whose sentiments and conduct accord with the mind of Christ? This was the conduct of the saints of old: David says, “I am a companion of all them that fear thee and that keep thy precepts [Note: Psalms 119:63.].” He calls them, “the excellent of the earth,” and says, “that in them is all his delight [Note: Psalms 16:3.].” “He would not so much as know a wicked person [Note: Psalms 101:4.].” This is the conduct which becomes the friends and brethren of Christ: for “what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness, or light with darkness, or Christ with Belial?” Come out, therefore, from among the ungodly world, and be separate from them [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:14-17.].” “Christ was not of the world, neither must ye be [Note: John 17:14; John 17:16.]:” for “the friendship of the world is enmity with God;” and “if ye will be the friends of the world, you must to all eternity continue the enemies of God [Note: James 4:4.].” If you would ever be acknowledged by Christ as his brethren, “be ye as he was, and let his people be your people [Note: 1 Kings 22:4 and 2 Kings 3:7.],” his friends your friends, his brethren your brethren.]
4. Do them all the good in your power—
[It is the duty of a Christian to lay out himself in acts of kindness towards all, in imitation of Him who “went about doing good,” and of Him who “sendeth rain on the evil and on the good, on the just and on the unjust.” But still there is a special obligation upon him to seek the welfare of the Lord’s people: “Do good unto all men,” says the Apostle, “but especially unto them that are of the household of faith.” Let us suppose for one moment that amongst a multitude of persons in distress we spied the Virgin Mary herself; can we doubt whom we should select as the first object of our attention? Or is there one amongst us that would not gladly deny himself some little comforts to relieve her necessities? Should we not feel it our bounden duty to shew kindness to one who was so nearly related to the Lord Jesus Christ? Behold, then, this we may do at any time. He tells us where we may find his mother and his brethren. Is there a pious person languishing in this cottage or yonder workhouse? “That same” is his brother, or sister, or mother. In ministering to such, you do, in fact, minister to Christ himself; as he has said, “Whatsoever ye have done unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Search out then the pious few, wherever they may be found; and account it an honour to minister unto them. Are they hungry? feed them; are they naked? clothe them; are they sick or in prison? go and visit them. Are their troubles of a spiritual nature? “lift up the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees; and say to them that are of a fearful heart, Fear not; behold, your God will come and save you.” Sometimes perhaps your dearest friends may endeavour to damp your ardour in these holy exercises; but beware how you suffer yourselves to be diverted from such blessed employments. Doubtless there are other duties which demand a great portion of your attention: but whilst you are “diligent in business, be also fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.”]
Sunday, February 19th, 2017
the Seventh Sunday after Epiphany
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