Click here to get started today!
‘PRAY, ALWAYS PRAY’
‘Men ought always to pray, and not to faint.’
I. The reality of prayer.—God’s mighty men have been men steeped in prayer. There are some in this church who can look back and remember instances when in trouble they have kneeled down to pray, and have known that they have been heard. The burden of responsibility has been lifted from their shoulders, and they have gained peace—the peace which God alone can give.
II. The reflex influence of prayer.—We are to put our trouble into words just as if He did not know anything about it, and while we are telling Him all about it we are telling ourselves that He knows all about it, and the time that we spend in telling Him what He already knows is not badly spent, as one might think. One might call this telling of our trouble the reflex influence which prayer has on us. There are certain things which we cannot tell to our fellow-men; they would not understand us if we did; and there are certain things so secret that we cannot tell them to our neighbour. In telling these things to God we become conscious that there is Someone to sympathise with us, Who knows all about us, and can feel for us. The Christian life should be one long act of prayer. We may live out our days in His presence. We may pray about everything. It is as possible to pray as it is to read, and write, and walk. We often say of a thing that we are thinking of and waiting for, that we are working at it night and day. That does not mean that we never rest, but that we give all our time and thoughts to it; and it is just the same with prayer. ‘Men ought always to pray.’
III. Desire a condition of prayer.—Desire is a condition of prayer—‘Whatever ye desire believe that ye shall receive,’ etc. How many pray and lack desire! How many men come to church and say, ‘Lord, keep me from sin,’ and all the time they are indulging in some besetting sin; who as soon as they go out walk into the temptation; who say, ‘Lord, set my thoughts on things above,’ and all the time they are setting their thoughts on making what they call their ‘pile’! Our prayers will not be efficacious until our desires go with them.
Rev. J. Pullein-Thompson.
‘When Martin Luther was wrestling with a man’s sin, he used to say, “I have spent three hours of the day in prayer”; and when Abraham Lincoln was in trouble he said, “I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go; my own wisdom and the wisdom of all those around me seemed useless, and so I was driven to prayer.” ’
‘When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?’
The significance of this question is best seen in the Revised Version, where it is given, ‘When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find the faith on the earth?’—‘the faith once delivered to the saints.’
Now whenever our Lord may come He surely will find faith; that will not have died out. But the faith once delivered to the saints, those truths that we hold to be essential to our salvation, saving truths as we rightly call them, the great facts and verities of our Christian creed, will they be non-existent?
It is worth our while to spend a little time considering, as far as we may, some of the direct and some of the indirect influences which are slowly and surely doing their work of disintegration and unsettlement, as frost and rain, wind and storm, disintegrate cliffs, and as the roots of ivy find their way through the strongest masonry.
I. Impatience of creeds.—What are you to say in connection with this, and upon the very threshold of it, of the extraordinary and the growing impatience in our days of creeds? The cry is everywhere for undenominational teaching, and the cry is against dogmatic teaching. It is constantly urged that the creeds are the difficulties. The Athanasian Creed, it is urged, is out of date, but if people would only carefully read the history of that marvellous creed, they would see it is the most wonderful composition of argument against the heresies that prevailed in the early Church, and which are being revived in our own. Do not easily part with your creeds. They are of great historic value. They are a protest against what somebody has called fancy religions, against partial views, against a bundle of notions instead of profound convictions.
II. Objection to mysteries.—There is a common objection against, or at any rate a sort of hesitancy on account of, the mysteries of religion. There is so much known, but there is so much concealed. And are there not greater mysteries than these? There is less to try your faith in our mysterious creed than in the godless systems which some men would invent.
III. Other disintegrating causes.—Let us take one or two more of these disintegrating causes—
(a) Our apparent divisions. It is the heart-burnings; it is the bitter controversies and bitter spirit between those who love the Lord Jesus Christ in their hearts, and are always quarrelling with those that differ from them, which cannot do good. Is there no harm being done to the Christian laity by some utterances in our pulpits? In the midst of this confusion of thought the humanitarian steps into the arena, and he tells us that doctrines have done their work.
(b) The departure from old traditions. The simple Gospel of Jesus Christ is not preached nowadays as we remember it when we were children. One hears Christless sermons, sermon after sermon in which there is no mention of the Holy Ghost, and no teaching people that they can only believe by His enlightenment and by His inspiration. No wonder that when these things are put together you find a defection from the faith.
IV. But the Master is with His Church.—Missionary work is extending all over the face of the globe, and the Bible is being translated into every known language. There is a faith for you to keep. You have power in your generation, your own personal steadfastness—a tremendous parental responsibility of teaching your little ones in their childhood. Higher religious education supplies an intellectual antidote to what is going on, but there is, at all time, for you—prayer. It was the Master’s remedy. You can have no better.
‘If these things are so, if it be a fact that “faith” is getting rarer and rarer, is not it very important to each one of us to determine how it stands with our faith? Let me just throw out one or two suggestions to you about faith. “Faith” is a moral grace, and not an intellectual gift. It lives among the affections; its seat is the heart. A soft and tender conscience is the cradle of faith; and it will live and die according to the life you lead. If you would have “faith” you must settle with yourself the authority, the supremacy, and the sufficiency of the Bible. All truth must be an uncertainty if you have no standing-ground. Therefore, establish to your own mind the Divine origin, the universal application, and the ultimate appeal of the Scriptures. Then, when you have done that, you will be able to deal with promises. Feed upon promises. Take care that you are a man of meditative habit. There cannot be faith without daily, calm, quiet seasons of thought. But, above all, have the eye upward. All faith, and every stage of it, is a direct answer to prayer.’
THE DECAY OF FAITH
These words of our Lord are becoming every day something more than prophecy. We are probably living almost, if not quite, in their fulfilment. Let us look at facts. I believe that I am speaking the opinion of all who are the most conversant with the state of Christendom, when I state that faith is greatly on the decrease. And the result of all is an awful breadth of spiritual wilderness.
If I venture for a moment to look into the reasons of these things, perhaps I might particularise the following:—
I. Preference for the visible.—It is always in the indolent and grosser nature of man to prefer the present and the visible to the future and the unseen. The heart gravitates to practical materialism as a stone gravitates to the ground. It is always a special act to make a man feel the invisible, live in the invisible. For in fact, all faith is miracle.
II. The advance of science.—And days of great science, such as these, are always likely to be days of proportionate unbelief, because the power of the habit of finding out more and more natural causes is calculated, unless a man be a religious man, to make him rest in the cause he sees, and not to go on to that higher cause of which all the causes in this world are, after all, only effects.
III. Familiarity with Divine things.—And familiarity, too, with Divine things, which is a particular characteristic of our age, has in itself a tendency to sap the reverence which is at the root of all faith.
IV. The selfishness of the age.—But still more, the character of the age we live in is a rushing selfishness. The race for money is tremendous; men are grown intensely secular; the facilities are increased, and with them the covetousness. You are living under higher and higher pressure, and everything goes into extremes; all live fast. And the competition of business is overwhelming, and the excitement of fashion intoxicating. How can ‘faith,’ which breathes in the shade of prayer and meditation, live in such an atmosphere as this?
‘We hear people speaking of the coming of the Son of God as something of which they were exceeding glad. But stay and think, ask your own hearts the question, Would the coming of Jesus be a happy and joyful thing for me? What would the advent of the All-righteous Judge mean to the man whose religion is merely outside, who is covering with the ample cloak of respectability the threads and patches of an indifferent life? What would the advent mean to the man of business whose religion begins and ends with one formal attendance at church on Sunday, and whose character is utterly unleavened by the teachings of the Gospel? What to the man or woman who never used self-denial, never gave up anything for Christ’s sake, in a word, what would the advent of Jesus be to a majority of those who “profess and call themselves Christians”?’
LIKE PURPOSE, DIFFERENT METHOD
‘Two men went up into the temple to pray.’
Here is a picture of what might have been seen daily in Jerusalem ( Acts 3:1), and which we see every Sunday of our lives—two men going publicly to worship God.
I. A like purpose.—Outwardly there is little difference—the one was a Pharisee, the other a publican. Both came from their homes. They would thus bring with them family wants, cares, sins ( Job 1:5; 1 Peter 5:7). Both went to the Temple. They would thus feel they were going into God’s presence ( Exodus 29:42-John :; Psalms 27:4). Both came for the same object—to pray ( Matthew 6:6). Further, both stood. This was customary ( 1 Kings 8:22), though in times of deep humiliation they knelt ( Daniel 6:10; Acts 9:40; Acts 20:36). Hence outwardly there was little noticeable.
II. A different method.—But God shows us what was going on within. He lets us see the state of their hearts.
(a) Look at the Pharisee ( Luke 18:11-2 Kings :). He prayed—very good ( Proverbs 15:8). But how?—‘ with himself’ ( Php_2:21 ; 2 Corinthians 5:15). What does He say? ‘God, I thank Thee.’ A very good beginning ( Psalms 100:4). But what next? ‘that I am not as other men are.’ All the world is very bad, but he is very good. ‘I fast,’ etc.; and so he tells God all the good deeds he has done ( Matthew 6:2; Matthew 6:5). But has he no sins? He does not confess them ( Proverbs 21:2). Has he no wants? He does not mention them ( Revelation 3:17-Job :). Has He no love? He does not show it ( 1 Corinthians 13:5). No, he trusts in himself that he is righteous ( Proverbs 20:6). And what then? He does not need or want a Saviour ( Matthew 9:13).
(b) Look at the publican ( Luke 18:13). We do not read that he prays. He does not lift his eyes. He feels that he has sinned against Heaven ( Luke 15:18). He stands afar off. Sin has set him at a distance ( Isaiah 59:2). He smites his breast—as judging himself ( 1 Corinthians 11:31). Does He ask for anything? Yes, mercy. He first places God very high; last he places himself very low; and mercy he puts between. ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner,’ or, as it might be, ‘The God, the good, the great, be merciful to me the sinner,’ as if he were the only sinner in the world. Such is the spirit of the true saint ( 1 Timothy 1:15; 1 John 1:8-2 Samuel :). Such is the spirit of true worship ( Psalms 51:17; Isaiah 66:2; Matthew 5:3). Emptied of self to be filled out of Christ’s fullness.
Bishop Rowley Hill.
‘Why did our Lord employ against the Pharisees language which is not only severe, but seems positively harsh and almost unloving? They were moral in their lives and scrupulously exact in their religious duties. They were regarded by the common people as superior beings; orthodox in their views (See Acts 23:8), sedate, charitable to the poor, frugal in their mode of life. Why, then, did the Baptist, himself an ascetic, speak of them as “vipers,” and why did our Blessed Lord so often address them as “hypocrites”? Because they “trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others.” They “trusted in themselves, and”—therefore—they “despised others.” The one frame of mind led to the other. They compared themselves with others, first having commended themselves, and then struck the balance in their own favour.’
THE PLEA FOR MERCY
‘God be merciful to me a sinner.’
Why is it so hard to repent? Why is it so hard to get back? Does God repel His wandering sons? Does the wilderness swallow them up? Do the dust and turmoil of the seeking Church smother and crush? Has the prodigal lost the strength which is to bring him back, as he finds that the food of swine is a sorry supply? Is the publican learning the bitter truth—sin is the punishment of sin? Is he struggling in the grip of habit, which is trying to wrench from him his freewill? It is an awful moment when the sinner who has been floating along in motionless ease, on the face of a smooth and easy current, wishes to turn, and begins to fear that he cannot. The stream is against him—has he gone too far? His companions, his habits, his cravings, all drag him back; he makes no progress, he is exhausted, and already there sounds in his ear the faint roar, where the cataract, smoother and swifter than ever, leaps down the precipice and breaks in foaming waves on the rocks below, into which he seems to be drawn with an irresistible strength.
I. We should anxiously watch the banks of life.—Are we going backwards, are these things which we passed at our Confirmation now reappearing? Things which we left behind at our first Communion, now asserting themselves with startling clearness? Is the point for which we were then making high up on the river, more distant and more dim? Are there things in your life which are not necessaries, of which you say, ‘I cannot resist them,’ ‘I cannot do without them’? If so you are in the grip of currents which at any moment may whirl you into the midstream of death, and which must in any case retard all progress forwards. It is the bitter cry of the sinner who feels that he is forfeiting freedom. ‘Lord, be merciful to me a sinner.’ He is finding out that which he never realised before, what a tremendous power sin is. He realises, as he never realised before, what is implied by the doctrine of the Atonement—all that suffering was caused by sin.
II. Do we know how we stand before Almighty God?—Do we know what the Recording Angel has in his book against us? Are we trusting to that miserable delusion that the things which we hide from our neighbours, and even from ourselves, can be hidden from the face of Almighty God? ‘Some men’s sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some they follow after.’ Our Lord represents, as one of the terrors of the last day, the element of surprise when at last the soul finds out its true condition. We want to be more business-like in the affairs of our soul than we are. ‘God be merciful to me a sinner’ may be a very useful confession, if we mean it, but not if it is only another way of saying, ‘I am a sinner, and I know it; I am a sinner and I don’t suppose I shall ever be anything else, and I hope God won’t be hard upon me, because, after all, there are plenty worse than I am, and man, after all, is frail.’
III. Repentance crowned by amendment.—And our Lord would exhibit the publican as one who would crown his repentance by amendment. ‘He goes down to his house justified rather than the other.’ Don’t let us make a mistake. Just as some people think they imitate the poor widow if they give a farthing at a collection, so they think they imitate the publican if they say they are sinners, while they look upon good works as a dangerous form of sin. To ask God to be merciful to us sinners does not mean that He should let us go on sinning, and kindly overlook it, in consideration of a touching posture or a humble word. But it does mean that He accepts the sorrowful sighing over a shameful past as an earnest of a good life for the future, and of a conversation which, looking at the merits of Jesus Christ, in all humility may say, ‘I am not ashamed of what I have been, being by God’s grace what I am.’
Rev. Canon Newbolt.
‘The sense of sin, we are sometimes told, is absent largely from this generation; if so, it is a serious thing, for it means the negation of all progress and the absence of all excellence. A man can never be a musician who has lost the delicate sense of tone, so that he does not know what is meant by being out of tune. A man can never be a great painter who has lost all sense of anatomical fitness and proportion. A man can never be a great scholar who has lost all ear for delicate distinctions and all love for accuracy. And so to have no sense of sin means that life has lost its correcting standard and its steadying sense of excellence. The German tragedian has taken the genesis of deadly sin, and shown its fearful working in the lives of those affected by it. We see the dying out of sunlight from life, the comfort from religion, the dignity from character, the wrecking of all finer instincts, and the gradual gathering up of the unrelieved misery which follows its consummation.’
‘I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.’
Suffer me to disabuse your minds of some misconceptions which have grown up around this parable, and which prevent the real point of its teaching coming home to our hearts.
I. We generally fail to understand the respective positions of the two men in regard of character. The Pharisee was the better even of the two in every practical sense. Of course it is possible this Pharisee was a hypocrite, and that his account of himself was false; but there is no hint of that. Taking his own account of himself as substantially true, it cannot be denied that he had much cause to give thanks to God for what he was. If the Pharisee had thanked God with humility, remembering that his comparative innocence was due to God’s grace, and to the advantages of position and training, he would have done well. We must, then, allow that the Pharisee was a better Jew, a better neighbour and citizen, and, if it had not been for his pride, a better man than the publican.
II. Another misconception is that the publican was actually justified by his lowly demeanour and self-condemning words.—Our Lord does not say that. He says the publican was justified rather than the other. I imagine that neither was truly justified, but as far as the publican yet was from the Kingdom of Heaven, he was in the right way. In his humility he stood, as it were, on the threshold, and there was nothing to hinder his entering in if he was prepared for the necessary sacrifice; whereas the Pharisee had missed the entrance altogether, and was getting farther and farther from it. But never let us think that our Saviour meant this for an example of sufficient repentance. Our Lord means to impress upon us the fatal danger of spiritual pride, which made the Pharisee, with all his real cause for thanksgiving, to be farther off from the Kingdom than the publican.
III. The last misconception is that of imagining that the self-righteous spirit must always take the same form as here presented—that Pharisaism must always be the proud relying upon outward religious observances. In fact, it has as many different forms as there are fashions in religion. We are always apt to think like this Pharisee, that we can commend our faith by protesting against other people’s errors, and our practice, by condemning faults to which we are not tempted. And truly we must believe that this spirit of self-righteousness must be more offensive to God when united with the lax morality and careless life of the publican, than when connected with the strict morality of the Pharisee.
Rev. R. Winterbotham.
A CHURCHMAN’S FAILURE
So the man—a thorough Churchman—was not justified! Here was a thorough Churchman who missed the mark. Notice how very tenderly the Lord puts it. ‘I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.’ Whenever you deal with a soul be very tender. Controversialists sometimes say, ‘Well, if you believe that, you will be damned.’ That is rough speaking; that is rough handling. It is not for us to speak like this. Why was it that this poor Pharisee failed altogether?
I. It was because he compared himself with other men.—He thanked God for having made such a pre-eminently respectable person as himself. Now this is altogether wrong; because we can never pass judgment upon anybody else. We do not know the secrets of their existence.
II. This man put his ecclesiastical duties in the place of his natural duties.—He did two beautiful penances; he fasted and gave alms, and that is what we ought to do. He kept the rules of his Church. He was what we should call a thorough Churchman. He fasted twice in the week, as he was bound to by the law of his Church. And not only did he do this, but he gave a tenth of everything. Now it was not really a requirement that he should give a tenth of everything. There were certain things he was exempt from; but he would not be exempt at all, he gave a tenth of all he possessed—every bit. And yet, good Churchman that he was, he was not good, he was not justified. Where was the wrong? He neglected the natural virtues—the virtues of grace. There was no broken heart, there was no contrite spirit, there was no cry for mercy, no tear ran down his cheek. That is where the Pharisee failed.
III. He thought he had done more than there was any need for him to do.—This is a very subtle and a very sweet temptation. It comes upon us all. We put ourselves into the family of the ‘goodenoughs,’ or possibly we go a little further, and say we belong to the family of the ‘too-goods,’ and the Holy Spirit will put us in the family of the ‘no-goods.’ The whole thing is spoilt The inward pride crops up and spoils the whole thing. There is something in religious pride and self-satisfaction which is execrable, but it is so true!
IV. He never prayed.—He went up to the Temple to pray, and he never said one word of prayer. Do you know that is something like us. Have you ever gone to the church to pray, and never really prayed? Gone through some prayers, but never really prayed? We may say prayers, and shout them, without praying a word; and we may be perfectly silent, but our attitude is so towards God that the very breath we breathe is a prayer. God does not hear you because you talk with your lips. He only hears the longing of the soul.
V. He did not cry for forgiveness.—He did not want it. Now, what I want to ask you is, ‘Do you want God to forgive you your sins, and make you better men and women? Do you really want it? Is there the desire down deep in your heart? Do you want to know the Saviour more; to trust Him more, to love Him more, and to see that He is all in all, and that you are nothing at all? Do you want it? If so, I hope you will creep into a quiet place, somewhere where you may meet God face to face, no man knowing, and pour out your heart to Him, and say, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner.’
—Rev. A. H. Stanton.
‘You do not know how other people were brought up, or the environment round about them. Had you had their environment you might have been worse than they are. We know nothing of other people’s temperament. What is an easy sin to resist to you, may be no easy sin for others to resist. Until you know the secrets of their life within, as well as the secrets of their life without, you are utterly out of count in trying in any sense to frame a judgment on them, or they on you. Then there is heredity. What do you or I know about heredity? They tell us that there is the taint which passes down from father to son, and the biologist will tell you that many men are almost irresponsible for what they do, it has come into them by the taint of heredity. God help us never to say, “I thank thee that I am not as other men.” ’
LESSONS FROM CHILDREN
‘Of such is the kingdom of God.’
Christ meant His disciples to understand that there are certain attributes in children which are also marks of a true Christian. What are these attributes?
I. The lesson of faith.—First of all the children teach us the lesson of faith. It is one of the principal charms of childhood, this sweet trustfulness; its trustfulness in parents, which by and by grows into a stronger and deeper trust in God the Father. The trust of the little child! What a wonderful look there is in a little child’s face when it looks up at you for protection! It seems to drag out of you everything that is good; you feel that you want to protect the child when there is that look of trust. Faith or trustfulness is mainly a mark of childhood, and we must remember that the child’s faith is faith in its parents. They are the final court of appeal to the little child; what they say is right and true. They are moulding the child’s character for the stronger religious faith, which will grow imperceptibly, in the Great Father of all.
II. The lesson of love.—The second lesson we learn from the child is the lesson of love. A child’s love is one of the most beautiful things in the world, because it is a most generous love. You remember the definition of Christian love which St. Paul gives when he says, ‘Love thinketh no evil.’ This is very true of a little child’s love. There must be in our lives a more generous love: a readiness to judge ourselves, less readiness to judge others; larger hearts and less criticism.
III. The lesson of humility.—The third thing the children teach us is the lesson of humility. We often hear people say that the great charm of childhood is humility. It is the rule to find humility in childhood, while in manhood it is the exception and not the rule. And this lack of humility, is it not often found, and is it not a grievous fault in many a religious man?
IV. The lesson of simplicity.—And, lastly, we come to the final lesson which children teach us. What do we mean by simplicity when we take it from the realm of childhood and apply it to ourselves? It means singleness of purpose. One of the first laws of the things of the Spirit is that we must be pure-minded. ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’ It is only to the pure in heart, the single-minded, that God can reveal Himself. ‘If thy heart be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.
—Rev. L. D. Currie.
THE YOUNG RULER
‘Why callest thou me good? none is good, save One, that is, God.’
It was near the end of our Lord’s ministry, and the clouds were darkening down. To join or to confess Him would cost something, and this ruler hesitated until his opportunity was almost gone, until Christ was in the act of leaving the district, which was the tract beyond the Jordan, for the last time. But he could not let Him actually go; at the last moment he came running and kneeling to Him. For in his bosom a great desire was burning. He has not attained, too well he knows, the inward balance, the peace and self-control, the life that is life indeed—eternal life.
I. He Who possessed the secret.—And here (more and more he felt it as he watched), here was One Who possessed the secret. He could pity and help all men, because He was Himself above all pity. Poor? Yes, and persecuted; but dwelling in the light of God, Who was with Him. One, therefore, however His life might be vexed and thwarted, Whose spirit remained serene, calm, benignant. Ah, yes, and all through His life there were souls who recognised and did homage, and hearts that loved Him well. Such men, asked would they also go away, answered frankly that they could not do without Him: the farm and the fishing-boat could never again replace that most human, most Divine communion. ‘Lord, to whom should we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.’ Why, these are the very words the ruler craves; and he has reached the point of discerning that Christ can speak them. But yet his notion of what he needs is pitiably, miserably unworthy. A little information is all he asks from Christ, Who is only a ‘good Teacher’; some one good deed, of which he feels himself capable, will suffice to float him, like a ship that crosses the bar from a wild ocean into inland seas, into smooth waters for the remaining voyage.
II. A man requires renewal, not instruction.—But it was the doctrine of Jesus (and it was spoken first to one who resembled this ruler in confessing Him to be good, but only on the level of a teacher, ‘a teacher sent from God’) that man requires, not instruction, but renewal—to be born again—because what is born of the flesh is flesh, and therefore, as St. Paul discovered with agony, will ‘fulfil the desires of the flesh.’ Perhaps one objects that Jesus elsewhere invites good works, and lavishes great rewards upon them. ‘There is no man who has left houses or lands, or anything dear to him, for My sake and the Gospel’s, but shall receive a hundredfold more in this life, and in the world to come life everlasting.’ Now this is exactly what the ruler asks—to inherit everlasting life. Yes; but this is also the explanation of his failure. Eternal life is not promised to those who make sacrifices, however great, for the sake of eternal life. From a vital and unselfish principle, for love, for My sake and the Gospel, comes the work that is rewarded. The prize does not purchase what it encourages and crowns. But his proposal is to work for himself, that he may inherit eternal life. What good thing could be done thus? Alas! none. Life is not to be had on such terms.
III. The true parallel.—The true parallel for the question, ‘Why callest thou Me good? None is good but one, God,’ and the true commentary also, is such a verse as this, ‘The Son can do nothing of Himself,’ ‘The living Father hath sent Me, and I live by the Father.’ He could not accept any confession, any praise, which implied the existence of a second and independent source of goodness in the universe. Therefore, when the ruler brings to Him the shallow profession, ‘Thou, Teacher, art good, and I, with a little guidance, am about to become good, and to attain to the supreme inheritance also,’ the position is disavowed at once, and disavowed for both of them. Matthew is quite right as to the spirit and meaning, though in words he differs greatly from the other two: ‘Wherefore dost thou question Me about the good? The good is one, God.’ But Jesus proceeds to convict him by a challenge, and the nature of this challenge could have been foretold by any one who remembers the functions of the law. By the law is the knowledge of sin. The law entered that sin might abound. To the law, therefore, is the appeal, ‘If thou wilt enter into life, keep the Commandments.’ The path of duty for him was the lowly path of all men—‘The trivial round, the common task.’ But the challenge of the law, superficially restricted, is unfathomably deep and high, and he who sets himself to fulfil the law promptly discovers his need of grace. His claim of obedience is uttered in the same breath with the cry of his discontent, the exceeding bitter cry of a tortured spirit, always eluded by the righteousness which he thought to be all but grasped. ‘All these things have I kept from my youth up; what lack I yet?’ It was then that Jesus, looking on his earnest face, reading his agitated spirit, loved him. All the more He would deal faithfully with him. Devotion, He practically answers, devotion to God and man—that is what he lacks. Will he follow Him? Will he give his riches to the poor? Then and there the unhappy man felt that it was so. He could not surrender all; he could not follow the Man of Sorrows. He went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. I think that he was thenceforward a haunted man; that his self-satisfaction was spoiled for ever; that his couch of silk could not make his sleep sweet to him; that the alms which he offered, as every conscientious Jew did, could but remind him of the larger demand he had repudiated.
IV. The ghost of dead ideals.—There is no ghost at midnight, when desolate winds are wailing, so persistently haunting and so terrible as the ghost of one’s dead ideals, the possibilities now become impossible, one’s self as one might have been, but never again can be. Yet it may be that in this dejected solitude he discerned the meaning of this great word of Christ—discerned it all the more because the broken cistern of his own righteousness had so soon gone dry, that he said within himself, ‘Yes; this indeed is what I lack; the disquiet within me is thirst for God, for the living God.’
—Bishop G. A. Chadwick.
‘What must the ruler have understood by the reply of Christ? And what are we to understand by it? Can we wonder when the Socinian claims it as almost an explicit adoption of his position? When Christ says “only God is good,” as a reason for demanding “Why callest thou Me good?” does He not almost formally disavow for Himself that place in the Godhead to which the Church exalts Him? But if this were so, it would utterly differentiate the story from anything else in all the gospels. Elsewhere there is no form of homage offered to Him by any one which He refuses. In the act of teaching others to reject the name of Master and of Lord, He claims those titles as His own. If ten lepers are cleansed, and one returns to glorify God where Jesus is, while nine go to the Temple, whither He had sent them, all His praise is for the tenth. If the Socinian has found the real meaning of this passage, there is no reason on the strength of which any school rejects anything as an interpolation half as strong as the reason why we should reject this. But when we look at it again, we discern this verse does not refute His Deity, unless we suppose it refutes His goodness also. But it is only the most reckless unbelief which doubts for one moment that our Lord was filled with a quite unique consciousness of unsullied and snow-white innocence. It is a small thing that in this consciousness He confronted men: “Which of you convicteth Me of sin?” “The prince of this world hath nothing in Me.” It is a great thing that in this consciousness He confronted God in prayer. “I have glorified Thee on the earth: I have finished (perfected) the work which Thou gavest Me to do.” ’
THE CHRISTIAN ATTITUDE TOWARDS SUFFERING
‘Then He took unto Him the twelve … and they understood none of these things.’
Luke 18:31-Nahum :
To us the point that is astonishing about that is, no doubt, the want of understanding on the part of the Apostles. But does it not represent, in point of fact, a broad feature of Christian experience—namely this, that spiritual truths cannot be grasped by people, however clearly and definitely they are presented to them, unless they have at that time those faculties, those conditions prevailing in their own life and soul, which enable them to assimilate the truth that is put before them? What was there lacking in the condition of the Apostles at this point? It was not mere dullness, nor was it lack of sympathy, but something else. And as we look forward, it occurs to us at once that these very truths and this very simple section of creed, so to speak, which our Lord puts so succinctly before them, and they refused, was precisely the dogmatic point which they had reached a few weeks later, when St. Peter stood up, at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles. It was precisely these things that he had then, with full conviction, and full grasp, to proclaim. A few weeks made the whole difference. What had taken place in the interval to give him this new power to grasp the spiritual truth which at this moment they had entirely failed to grasp? Well, the events are well enough known to us, and there is one thing that stands out plainly in that record of the fortnight, and which may be summed up in the one word ‘suffering.’
Let me state the four stages in which a man goes through a progressive education in this very matter of suffering, so that you will see that as a man grows in the knowledge of suffering, he grows also in the power to apprehend and grasp spiritual truths.
I. Ignorance of suffering.—First in life comes what I may call the stage of ignorance of suffering, the stage of innocence of suffering, that untroubled serenity of the life which has as yet not been brought in contact with trouble, or sorrow, or loss, or any of those things which rend the heart of man. There, then, is the first stage, but for the most part we do not stay long in it. Lives are rare which go on for a considerable course in this untroubled serenity.
II. Rebellion against suffering.—Trouble comes quickly, and then begins the difficulty. When it comes, what is our instinctive attitude of mind towards it? I think I may say that it is an instinctive rebellion against it, either for myself or those whom I love. The instinctive attitude of men is rebellion against suffering, trouble, sorrow, against all the different forms of pain and anguish which disfigure the world. We are inclined to say in our homely language, ‘It is a shame.’ And even that phrase has something about it of rebellion against suffering.
III. Trust in suffering.—The Apostles had passed on from that second stage and come to a third. They had come to a stage of trust. They could look at it, they could listen to what He said. They could not understand, but at least they said nothing; they trusted. This trust is not yet capable of grasping hard lessons, but wait, wait, it is on the way to something better. And so the endurance of sorrow leads men to understand sorrow, and understanding suffering to understand more spiritual things, linked together as they are with the great supreme fact of suffering.
IV. Wisdom from suffering.—By the right endurance of suffering, man becomes intelligent, spiritual, capable of grasping things, not only of grasping them for himself, not only of seeing the meaning for himself of the mysterious dealings of God with him which we call suffering, but of seeing all that for the sake of other people, and of feeling able not merely to bear his own but to help others also to bear theirs, not mutely, like the dog, but intelligently, like a man who feels God’s hand upon him, and is able to say, not in blind trust, but in full conviction, ‘It is good for me that I have been troubled.’ He reaches the stage then of wisdom, when he really knows what suffering means and has had a whole faculty given him of spiritual understanding.
V. What are the results?—There are two of great importance. Having come to the knowledge of the meaning of suffering,
( a) Man has a reasonable theory of the world and of God’s relation towards him.
( b) Man will seek out suffering for its redemptive and educative qualities. So far from not understanding it himself, he will wish to expound it to others. And that practical attitude towards suffering ought to be at the bottom of the methods of all Christian life.
—Rev. W. H. Frere.
‘Have you ever, I wonder, had to do something to a pet dog which hurt it very much, so as to get it well: to pull a thorn out of its foot, or wash out a wound, or something of that sort? You may remember the sort of dumb eloquence there was in the eye of the dog as he looked at you. It hurt tremendously, and yet there seemed to speak from his eyes trust of you. It looked as if he meant to say, “I do not in the least understand what you are doing, but go on.” And that is the picture of the stage of trust. It is a very necessary stage, into which we have to be brought in our experience of suffering; perhaps when we are more acutely torn by it, in the case of those whom we love, we have to look mutely up to God and say to Him, “I do not understand it at all, but go on.” It is a real state of trust in God, and a step towards something further.’
I. Christ’s contemplation of His future.—Our future is wisely and mercifully hidden from us; Christ’s ever lay open before Him. He had a veritable book of fate in the prophets and his own clear consciousness and knowledge.
( a) There was terrible suffering in it. But He was ready to endure the Cross and despise the shame. ‘Take up the cross and follow Me,’ He says to us.
( b) There was satisfaction in it. What rest and satisfaction in that word ‘accomplished’! If we feel that our life is, in some degree at least, ‘ accomplished,’ the sufferings will have been a small price to pay for the rest and gratitude at the close.
( c) There was triumph in it. He was to rise again and conquer, and heaven’s everlasting doors were to open that the King of Glory might enter. Let us think of the ‘well done,’ the crown and the palm, when we would shrink from suffering in the path of duty, or are like to faint by the way.
II. Christ’s going to Jerusalem to meet His future.—This was His last and tragic, yet triumphant journey thither. Let our last days be our best. As we approach ‘Jerusalem,’ let our lives be more earnest, hopeful, Christlike.
III. Christ’s telling His disciples of the future that lay before Him.—Their future was bound up with His. Christ makes revelations to His followers as they are able to bear them. The very knowledge that would destroy our confidence at one stage increases our faith at another. Let us thank God for the veil, and for the partial and timely lifting of the veil.
‘A certain blind man.’
A great many do not see the spiritual side of life at all. What is the cause of this spiritual blindness? We may find it in many things.
I. Blindness from materialism.—First of all let us look at materialism. The reason is simple enough. If you follow one thing only you are almost sure to destroy your power of seeing other things. The person who thinks only of worldly things, only of being rich, is, as our Lord says, blind. May God save us from the blindness of materialism!
II. Blindness from prejudice.—And then, again, prejudice has the same effect. Prejudice destroys spiritual sight. How well we know that the Christian faith is in a great many quarters hated! Is that the result of reason? It is because people are blindly prejudiced against the whole thing. How can we run the way of God’s commandments if we are blinded by prejudice?
III. Blindness from political animosity.—Thirdly, we have the question of political and religious animosity. In the campaign against Church schools there were many people who told us, with regard to the religious teaching in elementary schools, that there must be no religious tests for teachers. That is a good example of political animosity bringing about spiritual blindness.
IV. The duty of the Church.—What follows? Surely that it is the duty of the Church to break down materialism and prejudice. How is that to be done? Our Lord had to encounter the tremendous Messianic prejudice of those who believed in one kind of Messiah and no other. Did He try to break it down by abusing it? No, but by patience and love. Surely that should be our method in the treatment of heresies. And we must kill prejudice in ourselves as well as try to break it down in others. Spiritual blindness is a moral fault. Spiritual sight is not the privilege of the intellectual, for our Lord said, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’
—Rev. G. C. Rawlinson.
‘Lord, that I may receive my sight.’
Of all afflictions that can happen to anybody, blindness is one of the most terrible. But to every bodily condition, at any rate to every bodily disease, there seems to be a corresponding moral one. We are spiritually blind and our prayer must be the words of the text, ‘Lord, that I may receive my sight.’
I. We must know our condition.—The first thing of all is, to be aware that we are morally blind. And the next thing after we have discovered that is, to be quite sure that if we go to Him He will restore us, to be quite sure that if we ask Him, with the true desire to see, He will let us see. How is this to be done? People often say: How can these things be? One day comes after another, very much like the one before it, but what can I do? What step can I possibly take in order that I may reach Him, and receive my sight?
II. We must desire sight.—Do we really desire? That is the point. Do we really desire to see? Is it the object of our life to get our sight from Him, or are we contented, and think that in this darkness that is around us we see all that is to be seen?
III. We must make an effort.—Special opportunities come at different times when efforts can be made, perhaps better than at other times, towards recovering our sight. And I imagine that there is no season more fit than the approaching season of Lent for us to look into a matter like this. ‘Oh, yes,’ you say, ‘it comes every year, I know, terribly dull forty days—oh, terrible! It passes by and nothing comes of it.’ Nothing will ever come of it unless we make an effort. We shall be exactly where we are now, at Easter, unless we make an effort. The season of Lent may come, the notices may be given out in church; we may read day after day the different Lessons, Epistles and Gospels, but nothing will come of it, absolutely nothing, unless we make an effort. It is something that must come from within—that desire to see, that desire to know that we do not see all there is to be seen. There must be that desire from within, that effort to reach Him, that effort to see.
—Rev. Sir B. Savory.
‘Here are the words of Milton on his blindness—
Seasons return, but not to me returns
The sight of vernal bloom, or summer rose,
But cloud instead, and everduring dark
Surround me; from the cheerful ways of men
Cut off; and for the book of knowledge fair,
Presented with a universal blank.
The following lines, written shortly before his death, show how fully he recognised the Divine purpose in his affliction—
On my bended knee
I recognise Thy purpose, clearly shown;
My vision Thou hast dimm’d that I may see
Thyself, Thyself alone.’
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Luke 18". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25