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THE SOCIAL INFLUENCE OF CHRIST
‘And when they came nigh to Jerusalem, unto Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount of Olives, He sendeth forth two of His disciples.… And certain of them that stood there said unto them, What do ye, loosing the colt? And they said unto them even as Jesus bad commanded.’
This incident of Gospel story is emblematic of the whole social influence of Christ as the great Emancipator of the world. ‘Why loose ye the colt?’ ‘The Lord hath need of him.’ Here is a question and an answer. A question, expressing an outraged sense of private property. An answer, revealing the true ground upon which all property rests, the ultimate social good, the common well-being or wealth of the community.
I. Rights of property.—There never was a time in the social history of our country when the rights of property were regarded with more reverence than they are to-day in England. ‘The sacredness of property’ is indeed the commonest of phrases. If the theory be true—if money, heaped-up property, be the one thing, the chief thing to struggle for—what are we to make of the teaching of Christ? ‘Ye cannot serve God and mammon.…’ ‘Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth.’ How shall we escape from the contradiction?
II. There is but one solution of the problem.—We shall have to change our conception of life; we shall have to change our conception of property.
( a) First, as to the motive of life, its moving spring. That, Christ says, must be religion. ‘Seek ye first the Kingdom of God.’ Apply this to the subject before us, and we reach, I think, this position: that no re-arrangement of society, no social transformation is possible, has ever been possible, or ever will be, except as the application of a religious principle—of a moral development—of a strong and active common faith. To change institutions for the better, we need to change men for the better.
( b) Again, we need also a new conception of the objects of life and its possibilities. ‘A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.’ Does not Christ in these words remind us that we all need a moral revaluation of the things of life, a new appraisement of the things which are best worth pursuing?
III. We need a new conception of property, its rights and duties.—I must be satisfied with merely stating baldly these five propositions, which I think may be logically deduced from Christ’s doctrine of property, which briefly I take to be this—that of worldly possessions, as of all worldly gifts, the Christian is the steward of God, holding his wealth in trust for the common well-being.
( a) That the true social order, according to the laws of the Kingdom of Heaven, as revealed in the teaching of Christ, should have for its basis, not the accumulation of wealth through self-interest and competition, but human progress and well-being, through self-sacrifice and association.
( b) That society exists not for the sake of private property, but private property for the sake of society.
( c) That the right use of property must be insisted upon as a religious duty; that as capital arises from common labour, so in justice it should be made to minister to common wants.
( d) That wealth does not release the rich man from his obligation to work, but only enables him to do unpaid work for society.
( e) Finally, it is not the equalisation of property that is needed, but its moralisation.
—Bishop C. W. Stubbs.
‘THE NEEDS OF GOD’
‘And if any man say unto you, Why do ye this? say ye that the Lord hath need of him.’
Our Lord’s words illustrate the deliberateness with which He moved forward to His agony and death.
I. The first step to Calvary.—When He sent the disciples for the colt which was tied up in the street of Bethphage, He was, as He knew, taking the first step in a series which would end within a week upon Mount Calvary. Everything, accordingly, is measured, deliberate, calm. It is this deliberateness in His advance to die; it is this voluntariness in His sufferings which, next to the fact of His true Divinity, gives to the death of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ its character as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.
II. The exact nature of our Lord’s claims.—‘If any man say unto you, Why do ye this? say ye that the Lord hath need of him.’ What is the justification of this demand? It is a question which can only be answered in one way, namely, that Christ was all along the true owner of the colt, and that the apparent owner was but His bailiff. He claims what He has lent for a while, He resumes that which has always been His own; we hear the voice of the Being to Whom man owes all that he is, and all that he has—‘Whose we are, and Whom we serve.’
III. Christ can make use of all.—Our Lord’s words show how He can make use of all, even of the lowest and the least. It was of the colt at Bethphage that He Himself said, ‘The Lord hath need of him.’ The colt, insignificant in itself, had become necessary to our Lord at one of the great turning-points of His life; it was needed for a service unique and incomparable, which has given it a place in sacred history to the very end of time. The colt was to be conspicuous in that great sacrificial procession—for such it was—in which He, the prime and flower of our race, moved forward deliberately to yield Himself to the wills of men, who to-day can shout ‘Hosannah!’ and who to-morrow will cry ‘Crucify!’ The needs of God! It was surely too bold an expression if He had not authorised us to use it. And yet there they stand, the words—‘The Lord hath need of him.’
‘How many there are who say to us nowadays when we seek recruits for the ranks of the ministry, whether for home or missionary work, What do ye loosing this man or that, tied and bound as young men are by so many ties to this world’s interests and occupations; how people raise objections, and yet “the Lord hath need of them,” and they are loosed, not by our word, but by the will and power of God, just as it was not the disciples’ word, but the power of Christ acting with their word, which caused the owners to change their mind and recall their objection.’
AN INDIVIDUAL APPEAL
You say, ‘The Lord wants me? Impossible! I want Him. How can He want me?’ He does want you.
I. He wants you for Himself.—Because He loved you for His own free love’s sake, and must have you with Him, therefore He came down, and was miserable, and died; and His mission is frustrated till you come. You are the ‘joy set before Him,’ for which He ‘endured the cross, despising the shame.’ And, when you are His, then He sees of the ‘travail of His soul,’ and is ‘satisfied.’
II. He wants you for His Church.—Understand this: The Church is a building; you can never tell what stone the Great Master Builder may require next. You may be that stone. It is a family or spiritual party— you complete the circle. For remember, God is busy accomplishing the number of His elect. It may be very near its accomplishment. Perhaps you make up the total!
III. He wants you for His work.—You must have faith in this. There is a vast amount of good to be done at this moment, and each work has its own proper, appointed worker set apart for that work from all eternity. No doubt, though you are not conscious of it, yet He has some special work for you to do.
IV. He wants you for His glory.—Think how you will chant His praise, how angels will admire, how saints will rejoice at your conversion. What a testimony it may be to many! and how great will be His own grace to such a poor sinner as you before the eyes of perhaps other worlds!
(1) ‘When those mysterious deaths come which so confuse us by removing one who could so ill be spared, we do not sufficiently remember that this is not the only sphere of action. God has other busy worlds besides this; they may be wanted there, just at that moment for some work, preparing to do there, and which no other could do so well. Therefore they went. “The Lord hath need of him.” Be ready, for it is very likely at this moment you have something which you call your own for which Christ may very soon put in his demand; and you must be prepared for the message in whatever garb the message comes: “The Lord hath need” of it.’
(2) ‘There is very great comfort in the fact that when Christ sent to appropriate what was indeed His own, He sent also the constraining power of His own grace to overrule that it might consent to the surrender. And so it came to pass that though there was a momentary hesitation, the opposition all gave way, and there was complete accordance. This is indeed an allegory. For in like manner, however painful the sacrifice may be to which I may be called, the same Christ will not fail, when the time comes, to give a prompt and submissive mind.’
CHRIST THE SUBJECT OF SONG
‘Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.’
I. In the New Testament Jesus Christ is the subject of all songs. The Virgin Mary’s, Zacharias’s, Simeon’s, Anna’s, that beautiful hymn of the Church on St. Peter’s deliverance (in the fourth chapter of the Acts), the abrupt bursts of praise which break out here and there in the Epistles, up to the chants of the Revelation, all, without one exception, have Christ as their theme.
II. Let us now pass to our Prayer Book Service of Song.—Praise is the chief part of all the worship of Almighty God. The more that one grows in true religion, the more will he see Christ filling the Psalms. The Special Psalms are emphatically full of Christ Then the Venite, ‘O come, let us sing unto the Lord,’—and who is the Lord?—‘let us heartily rejoice in the Strength of our salvation.’ More than half the Te Deum is distinctly addressed to Christ, and the rest to God as Christ’s Father. The Benedicite, by its mention of Ananias, Azarias, and Misael, Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego, leads the mind to ‘the form of the fourth, which was like the Son of God.’ The Benedictus is nothing but Christ; and the Jubilate is a Jew’s anticipation of Christ’s universal reign. The Magnificat is Christ’s own mother’s language of her Son. And the Cantate is Christ and His Church’s victory. The Nunc Dimittis is the eye upon Jesus now; and the Deus Misereatur is the eye upon Jesus presently. The climax of our general thanksgiving is ‘the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ.’ And in the Holy Communion, if the first Doxology be to the Father, it is for the gift of the Son: and in the second, the same thought is expanded, and Christ is blended with the Father’s glory. In Baptism, it is the soul grafted into Christ for which we thank. In Marriage, it is because the union is the type of the mystical oneness betwixt Christ and His Church. And in the Burial Service, the Resurrection of Christ is the warrant of the thanks which rest upon the hope that, when He shall have accomplished the number of His elect, and hastened His Kingdom, then that we, with all those who are departed in the true faith of His holy name, shall have our perfect consummation and bliss, both in body and soul, in His eternal and everlasting glory.
So, from generation to generation, the Church rolls the tide of song, ‘Hosanna!’
THE BARREN FIG TREE
‘And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, He … said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And His disciples heard it.’
This incident is also a parable, and that same Jesus Who walked that morning down the Mount of Olives, is passing at this moment through this church. He has a longing desire to gather fruit in this congregation.
I. The ‘leaf’ and the ‘fruit.’—It is of great importance to be able to distinguish between the ‘leaf’ and the ‘fruit’ of true religion. The ‘leaf’ is a thing which shows well at a distance; the ‘fruit’ is discovered in home life. The ‘leaf’ seeks the praise of men, the ‘fruit’ desires nothing but the favour of God; the ‘leaf’ is satisfied with feelings, the ‘fruit’ labours to go out into the world; the ‘leaf’ is bold, the ‘fruit’ retiring; the ‘leaf’ grows not into Christ, but the ‘fruit’ is really united to Him; the ‘leaf’ is to talk of Christ, the ‘fruit’ is to witness Christ to the world; the ‘leaf’ is to use many services, the ‘fruit’ is to lead a self-denying daily life of usefulness and love.
II. What is ‘fruit’?—As it is the intention of nature that everything shall be subservient to the production of fruit, the leaves are only to minister to the fruit. So in grace. It will be ‘fruit’ if your besetting, darling sin is being gradually conquered; if the undue love of some creature is being driven out; if your harsh temper is being curbed; if those deep-rooted feelings of selfishness in which you indulge are being uprooted. It will be a ‘fruit’ if your mind is in a holier state than it used to be; more humble and more feeling; if you have deeper sympathies; if you are more obedient under reproof; and if you are longing for ‘a closer walk with God,’ and increasingly desirous of being alone, and seeking communion with Him.
III. Have you fruit?—I can imagine I hear the answer of some poor trembling heart, ‘I am afraid I have no fruit.’ Let me not say one word to discourage such a soul. Remember, if Jesus has found any ‘fruit,’ if He has found only the bud, He will never curse thee. No! but put His hand over thee, and protect thee, and speak kindly to thee. That sense of barrenness is a feeling which never grew upon nature’s stalk; it is a sign of grace. Let me advise you then to attend to this more fully. You must seek it; not by changing this particular thing and the other, as most people do, but be busy down at the root.
‘When the Interpreter [in Bunyan’s immortal allegory] had done he took Christian and her children out into his garden again, and led them to a tree whose inside was all rotten and gone, and yet it grew and had leaves. Then said Mercy, “What means this?” “This tree,” said he, “whose outside is fair and whose inside is rotten, it is to which many may be compared that are in the garden of God; who with their mouths speak high in behalf of God, but indeed do nothing for Him; whose leaves are fair, but their hearts good for nothing but to be tinder for the devil’s tinder-box.” ’
IN THE COURT OF THE GENTILES
‘And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple.’
The place where the market was held was not actually the Temple, properly so called. It was in the outer court—the court of the Gentiles—that the sheep and oxen and doves were sold, and the money-changers had their tables. As the Jews did not regard this court as having any legal sanctity, they permitted it to be used as a market. It may have been on purpose to show their contempt for the Gentiles that the Jews allowed the traffic which Christ interrupted.
I. The true cause of our Redeemer’s interference.—It was not as a simple man, but it was exclusively as a prophet and a teacher sent from God to inculcate great truths, that Jesus drove out the buyers and sellers. When Christ entered the court of the Gentiles and found, in place of the solemnity which should have pervaded a scene dedicated to worship, all the noise and tumult of a market, He had before Him the most striking exhibition of that resolve on the part of the Jews of considering themselves as God’s peculiar people, to the exclusion of all besides.
II. Neither Jew nor Greek.—Christ declared, as emphatically as He could have done in words, that the place where the strangers worshipped was to be accounted as sacred as that in which the Israelites assembled, and that what would have been held as a profanation of the one was to be held a profanation of the other.
III. God’s purpose towards the Gentiles.—To ourselves, at all events, this is manifestly the import of the symbolical action; it is prophetic of God’s gracious purposes towards the Gentiles. It was our church, if we may so express it, for it was the church of the Gentiles, within whose confines the oxen were stabled, and the money-changers plied their traffic. They were our rights which the Redeemer vindicated, our privileges which He asserted.
Rev. Canon Melvill.
FAITH AND SPIRITUAL LIFE
‘Have faith in God.’
If we search the Word of God, we shall find that our spiritual life owes it commencement, its continuance, and its consummation to faith.
I. Spiritual life commences by an act of faith.—‘The just shall live by faith.’ The bestowal of spiritual life is, and ever must be regarded as, the gracious act of a loving God. But faith is the Divinely appointed link which brings this quickening power into our poor, dead souls, and makes us partakers of the life of God. ‘By grace are ye saved through faith.’
II. Faith is as necessary for the maintenance of our spiritual life—for its development, for its expansion, for its strengthening—as it ever was for its inception ( Galatians 2:20; 2 Corinthians 1:24; Ephesians 6:16; Acts 21:13). Each day of our lives will bring its own song of victory, if each day, like St. Paul, we ‘live by the faith of the Son of God.’ Before that mighty principle of life the world with all its hostility will be despised, the flesh with all its unholy appetites will be quelled, and the devil with all his wiles will be trampled under foot. All things become possible to him that believeth.
III. Faith leads on to the final triumph of present discipline in the eternal glory that awaits the sons of God. Christians are ‘kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.’ When their warfare is accomplished, when their race is run, when their work is finished here on earth, they ‘receive the end of their faith, even the salvation of their souls.’
—Rev. G. Arthur Sowter.
(1) ‘I was standing one summer afternoon in the very centre of the Rhine at Neuhausen. Above me the river swept along in its mighty course. Around me it thundered with a deafening roar as it leaped over the falls with an overwhelming force. Yet there I stood, in the heart of this mighty cataract, unharmed and void of fear. What prevented me from being swept away by the rushing waters? What gave me such security? A little point of rock which jutted above the waters and parted their torrent hither and thither. The river above me dashed fiercely against the rock, but it withstood the awful impact of the flood, it deflected the rushing current, and under its shadow I was safe. A single step beyond that shelter was death; beneath it, life and security. Such is the position of the soul which trusts in Christ.’
(2) ‘Lytton has beautifully said, “As mankind only learnt the science of navigation in proportion as they acquired the knowledge of the stars, so in order to steer our course wisely through the seas of life we must have fixed our hearts upon the more sublime and distant objects of heaven.” ’
‘All things whatsoever ye pray and ask for, believe that ye have received them, and ye shall have them.’
Mark 11:24. (R.V.)
Private prayer and meditation seem to be in special danger of being overlooked or misunderstood, and yet they are of paramount importance. There is among us, even in sacred things, a restlessness of much serving, a distraction of external excitements, of publicity, of display, which threaten to overwhelm the more silent and hidden duties of religion.
I. What is the nature of private prayer?—The text says that the answer to the prayer is coincident with the prayer itself. Prayer is the conscious and hearty acceptance of God’s will for us when we have first endeavoured to estimate our own wants. Prayer is in its purest form the echo of Christ’s voice in the believer’s heart, the voice of affectionate self-surrender and not of self-seeking. Private prayer demands the most serious reality of thought and expression.
II. What rules can be suggested for its guidance?—There must be careful reflection. To be real, our prayers must deal directly with wants which we individually feel. In order to learn the inspiring truth that working is praying, we must first learn that truth through which the inspiration comes, that praying is working.
III. The blessings of private prayer.—It is by prayer that we know that in the darkest hours we are not solitary or unfriended. It helps us to live in the world as in a holy temple of God. Prayer calms little jealousies; subdues human passions; brings us fullness of peace and joy.
‘There is a touching narrative of the opening hours of the reign of Queen Victoria. When the great announcement was made to her by the Primate, she said to him, “I ask your Grace to pray for me.” And when after the proclamation she retired to her mother’s apartments, there followed that conversation and that request of which the world afterwards heard with so much sympathy. “I can scarcely believe, mamma, that I am really Queen of England. Can it indeed be so?” “You are really Queen, my child,” replied the Duchess of Kent. “Listen how your subjects still cheer your name in the streets and cry to God to bless you.” “In time,” said Her Majesty, “I shall perhaps become accustomed to this too great and splendid state. But since I am Sovereign, let me, as your Queen, have to-day my first wish—let me be quite alone, dear mother, for a long time.” And that day Queen Victoria spent the first hours of her reign on her knees, praying to heaven for herself and her people with supplications innocent and noble.’
FAITH AND PRAYER
No grace more highly commended in New Testament than faith. What is the faith we are to exercise in prayer? It is expectation founded on a promise. Promises are of different kinds—( a) absolute; ( b) conditional. Importance of faith towards success of our prayers. ( a) Without it, no prayer, even for the smallest blessing, can succeed; ( b) with it, no prayer, even for the greatest blessing, can fail.
I. The true nature of prayer.—It should not be regarded as a duty, but as a privilege, and should be as the coming of children to a father.
II. The folly of unbelief.—It builds a wall between man and God. But in exercising faith we must guard against presumption; for if faith be unhallowed and go beyond the promise it shall not be crowned with success.
III.—The wisdom of treasuring promises of God in our mind. These are the true ground and measure of our expectations from God.
—Rev. Charles Simeon.
‘When Maimon went one day to Hillel, he was sitting in his garden under the shade of a palm tree meditating, and Maimon asked the master what he was meditating upon. Then Hillel said, “I have a friend who lives upon the produce of his estate. Till now he has carefully cultivated it, and it has well repaid his toil; but now he has thrown away the plough and the hoe, and is determined to leave the field to itself, so that he is sure to come to want and misery.” Said Maimon, “Has he gone mad, or fallen into despondency?” “Neither,” said Hillel. “He is of a pious disposition and well grounded in learning, both human and Divine. But he says that the Lord is omnipotent, and can easily give us nourishment without our bending our head to the ground; and as He is gracious, He will bless my table and open His hand.” “Why,” said the young man, “is not that tempting God? Have you not told him so?” Then Hillel smiled and said, “I will tell him so. You, dear Maimon, are the friend I am speaking of. Are you not tempting the Lord (by prayerlessness)? Is prayer less than work? Are spiritual blessings inferior to the fruit of the field? And He Who tells you to stoop your head to the earth for the sake of the earthly fruit, is He not the same as He Who tells you to lift your head towards heaven to receive His heavenly blessing?” Thus spoke Hillel, and looked up to heaven; and Maimon went away and prayed, and his life became a godly one.’
LIMIT, RANGE, WARRANT
I. Prayer’s limit.—Is there a limit? Our text says, ‘All things whatsoever ye desire, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.’ Look more closely and you will find two boundary lines beyond which, if prayer range, it carries with it no certain promise—the boundary line of faith and the boundary line of desire—‘All things soever ye desire, believe and ye shall have them.’
II. Prayer’s range.—Whatever is necessary for your soul’s happiness and comfort, and for God’s glory, is bound up in the promises for those who seek them by prayer only. The compass of prayer comprehends everything in which an anxiety in temporal things can exist. All that is necessary, all, everything, is yours. You may ask for all you want and how much more to add, I know not, but it shall be sufficient for every need.
III. The warrant of prayer.—You must be very careful that you see your warrant—it is the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Till you lay fast hold of the Atonement, you will have but very little power in prayer. If you have your eye fixed upon the finished work and death of Christ, you will have power in prayer, for the warrant of prayer is the death of Christ.
‘Have we not been guilty of making a serious mistake in the way in which we have sometimes allowed ourselves to speak about prayer? How common it is to hear it suggested, “If you cannot do anything else, at least you can pray.” Surely that must be wrong. Surely it would be more true to say, “If you can pray, if you have in any degree acquired the holy art, then for God’s sake and man’s sake do not do anything else. Give yourself to it; continue on the mount with hands upraised. There will be no lack of fighters down below, who will triumph by the help of your prayers.” The man too busy for prayer is like a workman too busy to sharpen his tools.’
IN THE DARK AT NOONTIDE
‘And they answered and said unto Jesus, We cannot tell. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things.’
Oh, terrible voice of most just judgment! ‘You have shut your eyes, I cannot show you My glory. You have stopped your ears, I cannot tell you of My grace. You have hardened your heart, I cannot make you feel My love.’
Let us not hastily pass by these terrible, these awful words.
I. Why they could not tell.—They could not believe. It was noon, and yet they were in the dark. Why? It may be matter of life and death to ourselves to understand the reason why. It was not that these men had hardened their hearts by a long course of what men commonly call sin. But—let us tremble as we think of it—it was simply this: that they had been hearing holy words all their lives, and had not cared to consider what they meant; they had been saying prayers, and had not tried to pray; they had been speaking of God, and they had not spoken to Him, they had not looked Him in the face and lived; they had held true opinions about God, and they had not feared the Lord and trembled at His Name; they had heard the call to ‘Repent,’ and they had heard it so often that they forgot to listen. And, therefore, the commandment which was ordained to life they found to be unto death.
II. They might have been the first to bow down before the King of kings; they might have become the earliest messengers of His glory and heralds of His grace; but their great opportunity served only to make them more conspicuous in their misery; for wheresoever this Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached throughout the whole world, there must also this miserable tale be told, that men may learn by their example to take heed how they hear, that the things which should have been for their life may not be to them an occasion of falling. If the Gospel of Christ is not a lantern unto your feet and a light unto your path, if it is not the guide of your life and the source of all your joy, it is blinding your eyes and hardening your heart.
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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Mark 11". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent