THREE ESTIMATES OF CHARACTER
‘He was worthy.… I am not worthy.… I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.’
I. The elders’ estimate of the centurion.—The ‘elders of the Jews’ besought the Lord for this centurion, saying that ‘he was worthy for whom He should do this.’ The four Roman centurions mentioned in the New Testament are a great contrast to the Roman governors. The centurion in charge of the Crucifixion when he had seen it all said, ‘Truly this Man was the Son of God.’ Cornelius, mentioned in Acts 10, was a ‘just man, and one that feareth God.’ Julius (Acts 27) ‘courteously entreated Paul, and gave him liberty.’ The centurion in our text was one of the most lovable men in the New Testament. A citizen of the great Roman Empire, an officer in the all-victorious army, he is clothed with humility, and puts on charity.
II. The centurion’s estimate of himself.—‘I am not worthy … but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed.’ A sense of our own unworthiness and a sense of the preciousness of Christ always go together, and are never separated. Those who have the highest views of Christ have the lowest views of themselves. Put yourself very low, then Christ will be very high.
III. The Lord’s estimate of the centurion.—The Lord’s estimate of this man was, that his faith was a finer flower of human trust than He had seen in Israel. Then our Lord added, ‘And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west,’ from heathen lands, ‘and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the Kingdom of Heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness.’
—Rev. F. Harper.
(1) ‘Professor Stalker said he had often been struck by the fact that, while among soldiers the proportion of religious men is not large, yet the quality of those who are Christians is exceptionally good, there being a downrightness and cleanness about their profession of the Gospel, if they make it at all, which is rare among other classes of the community. He once asked a soldier what was the reason of this, and he had no difficulty in answering: “In the Army,” he said, “if a man intends to be religious, he must be so out-and-out; if he is not, his comrades will soon, either by ridicule or cajolery, drive religion out of him; but they respect a man who knows his own mind and sticks to what he has professed.”’
(2) ‘In his Private Devotions Bishop Andrewes says: “I need more grief, O God; I plainly need it. I can sin much, but I cannot correspondingly repent. O Lord, give me a molten heart. Give me tears; give me a fountain of tears. Give me the grace of tears. Drop down, ye heavens, and bedew the dryness of my heart. Give me, O Lord, this saving grace. No grace of all the graces were more welcome to me. If I may not water my couch with my tears, nor wash Thy Feet with my tears, at least give me one or two little tears that Thou mayest put into Thy bottle and write in Thy book!”’
THE PRINCE OF LIFE
‘He went into a city called Rain.’
The Gospels tell us of Jesus raising three people to life—an only daughter, an only brother, and an only son; these three are clearly to show His power over death in every stage. Jairus’s daughter was laid upon the bed when Jesus restored her (Luke 8:53-55). Lazarus was shut up in the grave when Jesus restored him (John 11:43-44). The son of the widow of Nain was being carried between his bed and the grave (Luke 7:12).
It is the last of these cases which we are considering. It beautifully illustrates our Lord as the Prince of Life. Let us fix our thoughts upon Him:—
I. In His gracious consolation.—What a comfort was His presence to the sorrowing widow (Psalms 46:1; Job 23:2-3). It was just at the time when she needed support (Isaiah 41:10; Isaiah 43:2, Psalms 23:4). How gracious was the word He spake to her: ‘Weep not’ (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). All His words are intended to give peace (John 16:33; Matthew 11:28-29). How tender was the help He proffered!—‘He came and touched the bier’ (Psalms 17:7; Psalms 18:35; Psalms 20:6). This was indeed lovingkindness on the part of Jesus (Psalms 103:4). It only shows us that ‘we have not an high priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities.’
II. In His life-giving power.—One word from Him is enough—‘He that heareth My word, and believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life’ (John 5:24). ‘The word is quick (living) and powerful (Hebrews 4:12). Thus it was here (Luke 7:14; Romans 10:17). He that was dead sat up.’ Christ can do the same now. People are just as dead in sin as this widow’s son was naturally so. Think of the Ephesians (Ephesians 2:1-5). What was the word to them? (Ephesians 5:14). Jesus is even now calling. It is our fault if we do not listen (Isaiah 65:12; Jeremiah 7:13). ‘Ye will not come unto Me that ye might have life’ (John 5:40; cf. John 3:19).
Let us take two words of the Psalmist in connection with this. First, a prayer—‘Wilt Thou not revive us again?’ Secondly, a resolution—‘I will hear what God the Lord shall speak’ (Psalms 85:6; Psalms 85:8).
—Bishop Rowley Hill.
‘The village of Nain is considered to be one of the few unquestioned sites in the Holy Land. The modern village (still called Nain) lies northwest of the edge of Little Hermon. It is described as having at the present time a singularly desolate and dreary appearance. Dr. Tristram asserts that it must have been a walled town, as ruined heaps and traces of walls still remain. Only a few insignificant Moslem dwellings scattered about amidst the remains of better days now exist. The burying-ground is about ten minutes’ walk from the village eastwards, and it was shortly after the procession had issued forth from the “gate of the city” that it was encountered by our Lord. An old Mussulman pointed out to Dr. Tristram, unasked, a heap of stones, which he said were the ruins of the widow’s house. A little mosque, called still “The Place of our Lord Jesus,” marks doubtless the site of an early Christian chapel.’
THE WEEPING WIDOW
‘And she was a widow.’
The power of the Gospel of Christ lies in its extreme simplicity. And so in this chapter we get one of the simplest and most beautiful stories. ‘And she was a widow.’ Surely this is the saddest relation of any life. Her all was taken, he whom she loved was gone. And in this case the blow was double; the son, the only son, who might have been the stay of the home, has been taken too. The last sad offices of the dead are to be performed, and as the procession leaves the city, by chance—what a wonderful chance it was!—she meets the Lord Jesus. She waits, and Jesus has compassion, and it is then by the touch of the Son of God the sleeper awakes, and the soul is brought back from the limitless life to be bound down by the ties of human nature once more.
I. What was the motive which induced our Lord to perform this miracle?—The motive must have been not, first of all, compassion. Surely our Lord did not perform His miracles because He was compassionate. He performed this miracle to vindicate His essential title of Him Who was the Lord. This name, Lord, means that Christ has gained a victory over the grave and death. It is the name of the Old Testament—God; it is the grandest witness to the Divinity and power of Christ Himself. Christ performs this miracle to vindicate His title as the Lord of nature, as God Himself, incarnate in the flesh. What is the scope of His sovereignty and dominion? The scope and sovereignty of Him Who is Lord and God is life itself. Just as in ordinary life, dealing with life is the finest and grandest thing that any man can take part in, the problems of life and the cares of life and the needs of humanity, so Christ claims to be the Lord and God of all life.
II. And yet this poor woman was a widow. Is not that the attitude of her who is the Spouse of Christ—the Church of God, as she watches the stream of human life pour forth from the city of baptism and baptismal grace? She still is a widow, weeping for the return of her husband. And yet in the midst of her doubt and despair, she must know there is an assurance of Divine love, that her future lies beyond, where she may be presented to Christ ‘without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.’ The Church is still a widow, and she weeps over many of her sons. She weeps over the clergy of the church who, time after time, have forgotten their ordination vows. Or, again, the Church weeps for her sons, the younger sons, who, in confirmation, have made their pledge; or the young communicant, who, in the first zeal of communion, has received the body and blood of the Lord. They have all forgotten. The Church must weep because so much of her life is a procession of the dead. Not altogether. There is a spark of Divine fire waiting to be called out; there is the baptismal grace deep down, the accumulated store of grace waiting to work its way out if we only sow well. If all the grace of God that has been planted in the world were to burst into life by the co-operation of the human will, how much grander and better would be the Christianity which we profess! And yet the Church must weep, and rightly so. The Church must have a heart. The life of the Church lies in her sympathy. It is going to be the solution of all the distress and turmoil—sympathy all round from the highest to the lowest.
III. And for ourselves, what is our prayer at this time, as we think of the beautiful story of the widow of Nain? You have the image of God planted within you. What is that image doing? Is it glowing and shining clear? Is the day of your baptism as fresh in its power as it was in yonder days? The image of God, the power of religion, lies in Christ our Lord, not a mere compassionate man, but Christ ever present, He Who is the Lord and giver of all life. And so there should be across our life a new flood of light, across the congregation as it gathers Sunday by Sunday, not as listeners and hearers, but as worshippers of the Unseen, and yet ever present, Christ.
—Rev. A. Eglinton.
‘And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not.’
The poor widow of Nain had lost her only son; and, surely, as she followed his bier, the most stoical could not have rebuked her for weeping. Nature, with its poor dumb wounds, large and bleeding, said, with resistless voice, ‘Weep.’ And yet Jesus says, ‘Weep not!’ Is Jesus, then, at strife with nature? Christ is not at strife with nature, but introduces another, and often opposing, force which produces a profitable and blessed resultant. Nature would say. Weep and weep and weep; Jesus says, Weep and hope and rejoice. ‘Weep not!’
I. The bitter tears of remorse.—To many we can yet give still happier advice: Do not now by disobedience, or hardness, or vice, or mere thoughtlessness, fill the bitter springs which will overflow in future years, and make your life a sour and joyless swamp in room of a fruitful garden. Doom not yourselves to call down into unresponsive graves, ‘I repent of all I did and said.’ But even to the prodigal with no earthly father or mother to hear his confession, to the man who has wasted his life and with no earthly future, to the man whose life and words have poisoned the very air and killed many a tender plant of virtue and religion, Christ says, Weep tears of repentance and not of remorse. ‘Oh, it is a ravelled weft,’ said such a man in reviewing his life. None but Christ can disentangle it and still make it part of a garment for thee, if not of beauty, yet not of shame. ‘The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanseth us from all sin.’
II. The rebellious tears of ingratitude.—How many in weeping forget all the goodness of the past, and make of their former blessings the very furnace which pours forth their burning iron tears! ‘A sorrow’s crown of sorrow is remembering happier things.’ But surely this is base ingratitude. Is it true, then, that all the garnered memories and blessings of the past only serve to make the winter which has come upon you more terrible and resourceless? Look up and see the Brother born for adversity by your side. He at least lives; and if you will have closer communion with Him henceforth than in the past, your tears will lose their hardness and be akin to joy.
III. The inconsolable tears of hopelessness.—Weep not as they that have no hope. Your sea of grief is not shoreless. Your bark is not helmless. He Who led His people of old through fire and water, and brought them to a wealthy place, is leading you onwards. The very waves of your trouble are rolling towards the unseen blessed shore, and wafting you to the desired haven. ‘No affliction is for the present joyous but grievous; nevertheless afterwards it worketh the peaceable fruits of righteousness to them that are exercised thereby.’ The draught may be bitter, but it has healing in it. ‘The cup which My Father giveth Me to drink, shall I not drink it?’
IV. The luxurious tears of selfishness.—You are not to let your tears, like a sea, cut off your helpfulness and sympathies from the rest of the world while you sit in the luxurious islet of self-pity.
‘Thus spake He,—“Weep no more!
Be still, sad heart! Be dry, ye moistened eyes!
Thus to the living I the dead restore.
Sleeper, awake, arise!”
Then at His bidding came
To those cold lips the warm, returning breath;
Then did He kindle life’s extinguished flame,
Victor o’er Sin and Death.
And thus He ever stands—
Friend of the fallen, wiping all tears away;
Wherever Sorrow lifts her suppliant hands,
And Faith remains to pray.
Where’er the wretched flee,
From the rude conflict of this world distrest,
Consoling words He whispers—“Come to Me,
And I will give you rest!”’
THE FINAL REVELATION
‘Art Thou He that should come? or look we for another?’
That is the question to which we must all give a definite answer.
I. A definite answer required.—If we have never yet settled accounts with ourselves as to our true attitude towards Christ, or if at any time we should find ourselves becoming hazy or doubtful about His true Divinity, this is the point to which we must pin ourselves down. We must constantly force home upon ourselves this one question, we must hold ourselves to it, and determinedly extort from ourselves an unambiguous ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ And if we have once for all owned and hailed Christ as the Great Fulfiller and are unshaken in our faith on this point, we should not overmuch worry about doubts on any minor points.
II. But we may be met with an objection.—‘How can I,’ it may be asked, ‘say that Christ’s revelation is final and absolute?’ Let us put the question in this way: does not Christ’s revelation completely meet all the needs of the human heart? Is there any element in human nature that cannot here meet with its satisfaction? We know sufficiently well what is in man, we know the nature of that universal man, who is everywhere fundamentally the same; so then, these questions are by no means beyond our power of answering.
III. Step by step.—And if we are doubtful as to what our answer shall be, let us diligently study the life and character of Christ as they are so marvellously depicted for us in the Gospels; let us thoroughly steep ourselves in the spirit of those unique narratives. And when we have formed from them some general idea of what sort of man the historical Christ really was, let us pass on to those other works of the earliest Christian literature, which are included in the New Testament canon, and see in them what He was to His immediate followers. Let us try to master John’s magnificent exposition of the ‘new commandment,’ and St. James’ rhapsody over ‘the perfect law of liberty.’ Above all, let us study and meditate on St. Paul’s wonderful teaching upon justification by faith. And then let us observe the working of Christianity all down the ages; let us see how it has completely changed the face of modern civilisation, how it has regenerated and reformed societies, and revolutionised the lives of individuals; let us look at the long roll of saints which it has produced, and the dazzling heights of moral and spiritual achievement to which, in persons of many of these, human nature has attained. And, finally, let us look round the world to-day and see what great deeds Christianity is accomplishing even now.
Rev. N. E. Egerton-Swann.
CHILDREN OF WISDOM
‘But wisdom is justified of all her children.’
Our Lord is discussing the criticisms which the Jews of His day made upon Himself and upon John the Baptist. Whatever they might be, whatever they might do, it seemed that neither our Lord nor the Baptist would be free from censure. And our Lord accounts for this by describing the Jews of that generation as entirely wanting in seriousness. He compares them to children playing in the public thoroughfare. And in the eyes of these Jews the Baptist and the Divine speaker Himself were like ill-natured playfellows who did not enter into their games, or who, at any rate, would not take the parts assigned to them. And the Jews condemned them for contradictory reasons—John for not being what our Lord was; our Lord for not resembling John. It could not be otherwise. That generation of Jews would know no better, but the true children of the Divine wisdom would know that both John and our Lord were right in adhering to their different modes of life. Wisdom, He says, is justified, is done justice to as being wisdom, by all her children.
It will be useful, perhaps, if we consider this saying of our Divine Lord somewhat more in detail.
I. We trace the truth and the applicability of the principle of this saying, first of all, in the different fields of purely human interest and study.—Each subject that engages the attention of man has a wisdom, that is to say, governing principles and methods, modes of thought and inquiry, in short, a philosophy peculiarly its own. Those who have mastered this wisdom, even in part, are prepared for results which are startling or absurd in the eyes of others who are strangers to it. In this sense each kind of human wisdom is justified by its children, and by its children only.
II. And next we see the truth of the principle in the region of human character.—In good men there are constantly features of character which those about them cannot account for. They are reserved or they are impetuous; they are high-spirited or they are depressed; they deviate in many ways from conventional standards; they baulk expectations; and they are pronounced morbid, eccentric, inconsistent, as the case may be. They act when we expect them to hold their hands; they are quiet when all seems to call for action. We perhaps say that they are unintelligible, and so it may be that they are to us, only because we are not in the secret of their characters. For each character, like each pursuit, like each art, like each science, has a wisdom of its own, its own governing principles, its own ruling instincts, its own constant tendencies. Only when we enter into this can we hope to understand it, only when we place ourselves at the point of view of the speaker or the agent who perplexes us, only then do we see consistency in motive where else so much seems to be so unaccountable and so strange. Here, too, Wisdom is justified of her children, while the rest of the world finds fault with her. That which enables us to do justice to character is sympathy with it.
III. And once more our Lord’s words hold good of the Christian creed.—Here, too, it is clear, upon reflection, that Wisdom is justified of her children. Let us remark that the word wisdom, in our Lord’s mouth, had especial significance. As He pronounced it His more instructed hearers would have recognised an ancient, and I may say a consecrated, word. In the book of Proverbs the Wisdom of God is no mere quality or attribute, corresponding in God to what would be wisdom in man. It is more than an attribute: it is almost what we should call in modern language a person. Read the great appeal of Wisdom in the first chapter of Proverbs; read the sublime passage in the eighth chapter, in which Christianity has always recognised the pre-existence of the Eternal Son. This Wisdom of God, dwelling with Him from all eternity, being Himself, and yet having a personal subsistence of its own, was, we may be sure, in the thought of our Lord when He used the word. It was the Wisdom of God, as He elsewhere says, who sent to His people the prophets, the wise men, the scribes; nay, it was this Wisdom which was incarnate in Jesus Himself. No longer something abstract and intangible, this Wisdom had taken flesh and blood; it had entered the world of sense; it had displayed itself in acts which struck upon the eye, and in words which fell upon the ear; this eternal Wisdom, born of the Virgin in the fullness of time, crucified, buried, risen, ascended, is at once the teacher, and in the main the substance of the Christian creed; and of this, too, it is true that Wisdom is justified of her children. When men nowadays reject Christianity, they reject it, as a rule, bit by bit. They first find one truth incredible, then another; until at last, so far as their minds are concerned, the whole edifice of faith is crumbled away.
IV. There are two practical lessons to be borne in mind.
(a) One is that nothing is so fatal to the recognition of moral and religious truth as a scornful temper. Scornfulness blinds the eye of the soul with fatal completeness. Its telling epigrams, ‘He hath a devil,’ ‘Behold a gluttonous man,’ may command a momentary applause, but they are dearly paid for.
(b) Secondly Wisdom may and must be won by prayer. It is the first of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit which God the Father gives to them that ask Him. ‘Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom, and with all thy getting get understanding.… Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord and shalt find the knowledge of God.’
—Rev. Canon Liddon.
PERVERSENESS AND SYMPATHY
I. We have here a contrast presented.—There is
(a) On the one side, the perverseness, the waywardness of man; his disposition to cavil at all God’s appointments, especially at those which concern religion, revelation, and the soul; his readiness to complain of each as inappropriate, inadequate, inconclusive, or unreasonable; his proneness to say to each, If it had been thus, and not thus, it would have been more satisfactory, more impressive, or more convincing; I should have felt it so, and God, if He had sought my good, would have thus arranged it.
(b) On the other side, there is the sympathy of wisdom with wisdom; the kindred and affinity which exists between the voice of God in His Word and the voice of God in the heart and conscience of His creatures; the certainty that what God speaks, and the way in which He speaks, the persons by whom and the circumstances amidst which He speaks, will commend itself to those who are wise indeed, wise in the humility of a true self-knowledge, wise in the genuine insight of an illumination from above.
The waywardness which is here expressly rebuked was exhibited in the manner in which the Jews of that time received the mission of the Baptist and the mission of the Saviour.
II. There are those who judge in much the same manner now of God and His revelations. If He says what we know, or think we know, already, it is superfluous; we do not want a revelation to teach us that. If He says one word beyond what nature or reason might have taught us, it is irrational; the word must be brought to the bar of a pre-existing faculty within, and whatever that faculty does not instantly ratify must be condemned as a fancy or an imposture. The real dislike is to revelation; the real repugnance is to the idea of being taught anything from above; the ground of the refusal of this and that as an item of truth or as a mode of demonstration is, in fact, an overweening estimate of the power and sufficiency of man, insomuch that, whether the heavenly music be gay or grave, it will alike in either case be unresponded to; whether the messenger be the Baptist, he will be said to have a devil, or the Saviour, He will be accused of companionship with the sinful.
III. Here, also, Wisdom is justified by her children.—They whose hearts are softened by a true self-knowledge and enlightened by a real communion with God, they who are wise in that wisdom, of which the condition is humility and the beginning the fear of the Lord, will see wisdom in that which to the caviller is folly, will recognise a Divine harmony where all is discord to the self-confident, and own an abundance of resource worthy of the All-wise and the All-merciful in that variety of evidence which affords to different minds, and perhaps to different ages of the world, their appropriate as well as conclusive reason for believing. The very things which others calumniate are to them indications of wisdom. Where they do not see this they yet trust. Not blindly, nor in the dark, for they know Him Whom they have believed, and judge of that which they discern not by that which they have already known. Thus they live, thus would they die. They cannot part with what they have till they have found something better.
‘The original expression lies in a very beautiful order: “Wisdom is justified of her children—all of them.” It is laid down, then, that until you stand in a certain relation to God, you cannot “approve” Him in any of His ways—because you cannot understand Him in any of His attributes. And the experience of the whole world will confirm this truth. What a really unread page is the whole page of nature—what a riddle is Providence—what an inscrutable mystery is the method of Divine grace in saving a sinner—what an unreality is the inner life of a spiritual man to any one in whom there has not yet taken place a certain inward transformation—a teaching, purifying, assimilating process. Hence every heart, in its natural state, is always mistaking God; always misjudging Him in everything God says, and everything God does. And the misconstruction is always deepening, just in proportion as the subject rises. In the outer circle of God’s works, there is ignorance; and in the inner circle of His glorious Gospel, utter blindness and universal distortion. Just like the children in the market-place, in the music of God’s love, they see nothing but melancholy; and in the solemn denunciations of His wrath they find no fear.’
TEARS OF PENITENCE
‘And, behold, a woman in the city … began to wash His feet with tears.’
The sweet grace of penitence put forth all its fruits in one rich cluster in that woman’s soul. The self-abandonment is perfect. She has found Jesus in all, and all in Jesus.
I. How ‘tears of penitence’ come.—Do not think that a mere sense of sins will ever draw a ‘tear of penitence.’ There is no instance of it on record. The three great examples which we have of ‘tears of penitence’ are David, St. Peter, and the woman in the text. There is a great deal of hope, there is a great deal of forgiveness, there is a great deal of peace, there is a great deal of love, there is a great deal of Christ in ‘penitential tears.’ The eye must pass from the sin to Jesus. And, still more, from Jesus to the sin—to make repentance. The sin and the Saviour strangely meet in the heart at the same moment. You never wept till you had some feeling—‘Christ is mine!’ Many cannot understand why it is that they cannot cry for their sins. Let them see some token that God loves them. Let them believe that Christ looks upon them pityingly and tenderly. Let them hear a voice whispering, ‘Thy sins are forgiven.’ That will bring the ‘tears.’
II. Forgiven sinners make weeping penitents.—Christ made this quite clear respecting the woman. He traced back the links of a chain. ‘She has done great sin, and she is forgiven.’ How do I know that she has done great sin and is forgiven? ‘She wept much.’ Why did she weep much? Because ‘she loved much.’ Why did she love much? Because she has been ‘forgiven much.’ ‘Wherefore I say unto thee, her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much; but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.’
III. At the feet of Jesus.—What I should advise you is to go and put yourself at the feet of Jesus, and first take a look up into that meek, kind, gentle, pitying face, and then, under the beam of that light, take one sin—a besetting sin—a habit of sin in particular. Pull that sin to pieces, and examine it in its detail. Especially see it with its background. Its background! all the aggravations of the when, and the where, and the how. All it resisted! But look most at God, more than at your own heart.
Happy those who so obey the law of ‘tears’ in this world, that, this life ended, ‘they may come to Zion with songs, and everlasting joy upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sadness shall flee away!’
NOTHING TO PAY
‘They had nothing to pay.’
In this parable of the two debtors, as well as in another of His parables, our Lord teaches us that our sins are like so many debts which we owe to Almighty God, and that we cannot possibly pay them ourselves. Endless are the devices by which men, deceived by their own hearts and by the suggestions of Satan, contrive to persuade themselves that they have something to pay. But it is all of no use. Not what a man has done or felt, nor what he has avoided doing, can make him stand acquitted at the great day of reckoning, and gain him his discharge.
I. The debt paid.—Only One ever lived a perfect, holy, and sinless life on earth—the Man Christ Jesus. He, and He alone, perfectly fulfilled the law of God. Jesus Christ is more than man. He is God. He did not come into the world as all other men come without any choice of their own. He, being the Eternal Son of the Eternal God, became man of His own will, and the union in Him of the Godhead with the Manhood gave to His human life and death an infinite value, so as to atone for all the sins of all the generations of men that ever lived or shall live. Thus He was able to give His life a ransom for many. He has paid the whole debt for each and every one.
II. The Atonement appropriated.—You and I have to believe this—to take God at His word: ‘God so loved the world’—this poor, perishing world of helpless sinners—‘that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’ Can words be plainer? You and I must trust with all our hearts in Christ—in His perfect work, His all-atoning Sacrifice, His precious blood.
III. What follows.—If we believe this, and put all our dependance on Christ alone for pardon and acceptance with God, what will follow? What will be the effect? ‘Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?’ Shall we cast away all Church ordinances as useless? God forbid. But we shall see them in their proper light. Trust in itself is not enough unless we are brought into sacramental union with Christ. It is not only our belief in Him but His life in us which will save us. We shall not put the sacraments in the place of Christ. We shall be diligent and earnest in prayer, in worship, and in the study of the Scriptures, as helps to a holy life of grateful love and service. We shall highly value the sacraments as privileges granted to God’s reconciled children in Christ Jesus. We shall give alms liberally, and be forward in works of mercy and love, as ways of showing our love and gratitude for the love and mercy that has been shown to us. We shall love much, feeling that to us much has been forgiven. If our faith in Christ crucified does not produce such fruits as these, it cannot be a real, a saving faith.
—Rev. J. E. Vernon.
THE RESULT OF FORGIVENESS
‘Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.’
There is a slight shade of difficulty flung across this part of the most simple and beautiful incident.
I. The root of the mistaken view lies in the wrong punctuation or emphasis of the sentence. It ought not to be, ‘Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven for she loved much’; but, ‘Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven. For she loved much.’ ‘She loved much’ is rather the reason why He says it, than of the fact that she was forgiven. The reason why we are forgiven is not because we love; but the reason why we love is because we have been forgiven. The test of the forgiveness is love. And the more the forgiveness—or, which is the same thing, the more the sense of the forgiveness—the larger will be the love.
II.—Forgiven!—I do not know when the woman was forgiven. But I think no one in the world doubts that, when she took her place at Christ’s feet, and began to weep her tears, and with those tears to wash His feet, and then to wipe them with her hair, and kiss them, and to anoint them with the ointment out of the alabaster-box,—she had been forgiven. Mere sorrow for sin never did that! Sorrow will weep; but sorrow alone would not kiss the feet, and store the ointment, and wipe away her own tears with her own hair. There was more love than sorrow there; there was more peace and joy than there was sorrow there. Take care that you know the precedence in which these things come. You say—penitence, forgiveness, love. Yes; but much more—forgiveness, love, penitence.
III. Do not be afraid to take forgiveness.—Never think of working up to your forgiveness; accept it; lay it as the basis of your spiritual life. It is the great element of your sanctification. You will do very little without it. Your active, useful, honouring life will begin at the date when you rest in the sense that you are forgiven. It is the most wonderful part of all spiritual transformations—that sin turns into love!
—Rev. James Vaughan.
GO IN PEACE
‘Go in peace.’
Luke’s gospel abounds with lovely stories; it is he who tells of the penitent woman and the penitent thief.
I. Christ spoke a great deal about peace.—He knew the human heart through and through; He knew how restless it was, how much it needed peace. ‘I speak that which I have seen too often to have one shadow of a doubt upon the subject—and all the medical profession will endorse it—the best medicine is peace.’
II. Earthly things cannot give peace.—‘It is not in the power of houses, vineyards, gardens, orchards, trees, and pools of water to satisfy the heart of man. In one word, the material can never satisfy the spiritual. Build your fine houses, put on gold where you have now laid on gilt, put musical instruments in every room, make your beds of down and carpets of embroidered silk, and sit down in the midst of it on a chair of ivory, and one pang of heart hunger will turn the whole glittering scene into ghastly mockery.’
III. Only Christ can say, ‘Go in peace.’—He is the Lord of Peace, as St. Paul says, ‘The Lord of peace Himself give you peace at all times in all ways’ (2 Thessalonians 3:16, R.V.). A prince gives princely gifts, so the peace of Christ is princely peace which sorrow and death cannot destroy. Those tearful Wounds speak peace. As St. Bernard said, ‘Good Jesus, Thy wounds are my merits, and we seal it all with the Sacrament of peace.’
Rev. F. Harper.
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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Luke 7". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany