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SINCERITY IN RELIGION
And if any man say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them; and straightway be will send them.’
The remarkable incidents recorded in this chapter have many lessons. Let us look at some which do not seem to lie quite on the surface.
I. Adaptability in method.—The method of promulgating Christianity has passed through many phases, and it is not likely to cease from its transitions now. Its power of adapting itself to the changeful need of humanity proves its Divine origin and its living energy. Though we should not seek after novelty in ‘the old, old story,’ we should not object needlessly to any harmless alteration in the forms of outward worship that may commend itself to the spirit of a Christian brother. We should not querulously demand, ‘Why loose ye the colt?’ when some disciple of our Master wishes to free that which was bound, and to loose that which was tied up.
II. The ephemeral in religion.—The multitude which greeted our Lord with shouts of ‘Hosanna’ afterwards cried ‘Away with Him.’ We should beware, therefore, of trusting too much to our emotional sentiments in religion. In the warmth of excitement we may be eager to cry on one day ‘Hosanna’; and in the coldness of disappointment to shout another day, ‘Crucify Him.’ Merely emotional religion is apt to be as transitory in its results as it is vapid in its origin.
III. Humble instruments may be used by God.—Just as an ass and a colt the foal of an ass were chosen to bear the person of the Lord’s Anointed, so the weakest, humblest souls may be filled with the Spirit of God and made the means by which a triumph is obtained for the Gospel, by which, as it were, Christ is made manifest to the multitude.
IV. Supplying the Lord’s need.—When the owners of the colt were informed that it was the Lord that had need of it, they straightway let it go. So we should yield the desire of our eyes, the joy of our hearts, our dearest possession at the demand of that God from whom we obtain all we have. If we do so we may perchance find that our offering is exalted and sanctified, that the poor colt which we presented is dignified by bearing our Lord Himself, and is greeted with the rapturous plaudits of men. Though our offering may be poor, if we but give it with good will, the Lord of glory will accept the gift, and confer on it a lasting honour.
—The Rev. R. Young.
THE LORD’S NEED
There are two thoughts here. The one, the Lord’s need of His creatures; and the other, His creatures’ response to that demand.
I. The Lord’s need of His creatures.—The Lord has need of you. It was for you He endured the Cross, despising the shame. And He needs yours.
( a) Your prayers; ( b) your praises; (c) your talents, be they what they may; ( d) your work; (e) your most cherished one.
II. The creature’s response.—We all know what are nature’s replies to all these demands of the Great Proprietor! The colt was tied, but probably not so fast as the mind of its owner was bound in the chains of its covetousness, till a higher influence came, and loosed all. Unbelief shuts itself up, and denies the claim: weakness hesitates till the opportunity is past: simulation seems to do it, but does it not: selfishness hugs her own. Are you yourself a professor of God? His tenant—holding all under His will, and dependent every moment upon His bounty? Have you ever yet deliberately, solemnly and religiously—by some express act—yielded yourself and all that you have up to His power?
The Rev. James Vaughan.
(1) ‘A mother, a Christian worker, and one who for years has professed interest in foreign missionary work, said of a daughter: “She at one time talked much of giving herself to missionary work, and would like to have been trained for the medical missionary service, but I think she has grown wiser lately.” ’
(2) ‘A clergyman, a spiritually minded man, pleading from the pulpit for more missionary zeal and for offers of personal service, invited into his vestry at the close of the service any who would like to speak to him on the subject. The first to present herself at the vestry door was his own daughter. He immediately answered, to her great astonishment, “Oh no, I did not mean you.” ’
THE COMING KING
‘Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.’
I. The King.—Our Lord is described as ‘thy King.’ We are glad to greet Christ as our Saviour; but are we equally ready to take Him for our King? How is Christ our King? He is King naturally, as God. But His kingly power was also a part of His mediatorial office. He came not only to preach doctrines, be our example, and atone for sin; but He came also to found a kingdom. After His Resurrection, He said, ‘All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth.’ Then, as an exercise of that power, He gave the sacred commission to His Church.
II. To whom He comes.—‘He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.’ The pronoun, however, is capable of wider and of narrower application. ‘Behold, thy King cometh’ may be applicable to humanity. The individual soul must have applied to it and must appropriate the blessings which the Incarnation and Passion of the Redeemer have obtained. He must reign over our thoughts; He must rule our affections. The will—that difficult faculty to surrender—must be given up to Him. The Kingdom of God is not only an external, visible kingdom—the Church; but must also be established in our own heart—‘the Kingdom of God is within you.’
III. In great humility.—‘Meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.’ It is evident that the twin graces of lowliness and meekness were to be signs of His royalty. ‘Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,’ says St. Paul, ‘that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich.’ Pride was the principal of man’s ruin. Through pride Adam fell. The second Adam came in ‘great humility.’ It was a new type of character, a new measure of greatness.
IV. How shall we receive Him?—Not at His coming in the hour of death and in the Day of Judgment, but now. He comes to us spiritually, and He comes to us sacramentally. Of the first our Lord says, ‘If a man love Me, he will keep My words: and My Father will love him, and We will come unto him, and make Our abode with him.’ And of the other Christ saith, ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come into him, and will sup with him, and he with Me.’
—The Ven. Chancellor Hutchings.
A GREAT QUESTION ANSWERED
‘Who is this?’
Who has ever fully answered this question?
I. Partial answers.—I can tell you of a hundred partial answers, absolutely true as far as they go, but not complete. Who is this? you ask. And Eve could tell you. He is the ‘woman’s seed that shall bruise the serpent’s head.’ Jacob could say—He is ‘Shiloh, unto whom the gathering of the people shall be.’ Isaiah sung of Him—‘Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? It is the Lord mighty to save!’ David said, ‘The Lord said unto my Lord, sit thou on My right hand.’ The multitude on Palm Sunday cried, ‘This is Jesus, the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee.’ Pilate even could inform you ‘what I have written, I have written, Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.’ The blessed Angels toss the words from choir to choir. ‘Who is the King of glory? Even the Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory.’ Saul the persecutor cowering to the earth, trembling and afraid, inquired, ‘Who art Thou, Lord?’—and the voice of his Creator meekly said, ‘I am Jesus, Whom thou persecutest.’ And a still tenderer voice falls upon us at Passion-tide from the Cross of Calvary saying, ‘I am a worm and no man, the very scorn of men, and an outcast of the people!’
II. The complete answer.—But is there no complete answer to the question? Is there no full and clear and precise description of Him, such as you and I can take and read at the foot of His Cross, and have to guide us in our thoughts concerning Him Whom our soul loveth? Is there no clear, unerring voice to teach one at every point the mystery that one’s heart cries out to know—no certain infallible rule by which to measure one’s thoughts as one tries to grasp the lesson of Calvary—no clear, complete answer to the question—Who is this? Yes, praise be to God, that clear, unerring answer has once for all been given by the unfaltering voice of the Catholic Church. I ask the question—‘Who is this?’ I know that my eternal salvation depends upon the answer. And my mother, the Church, leaves me not to grope for it by myself, but clearly, distinctly, unflinchingly, comes her voice ringing down to me through the ages. But does the Church so confidently answer this question? Yes. For her Lord has bidden her—‘Go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned.’ And am I quite secure that her answer is the true one? Yes. For He has promised—‘The Comforter, Whom I will send unto you from the Father, shall guide you into all truth.’
—The Rev. H. D. Nihill.
‘The right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man, God of the Substance of His Father, begotten before the world, and Man of the Substance of His Mother, born in the world. Perfect God and Perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting: equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His Manhood, Who although He is God and Man, yet He is not two but One Christ. One, not by conversion of the Godhead into Flesh, but by the taking of the Manhood into God; One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of Person. This is the Catholic Faith: which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.’
MORE THAN A PROPHET
As Jesus rode into the city a gust of enthusiasm seemed to sweep over the crowds that were pressing along the road. They greeted Him with the cry of Hosanna. They invoked Him as the great Son of David, who was to set up His everlasting Kingdom.
I. An inadequate answer.—And when the clamour of rejoicing called forth from the citizens the question, ‘Who is this?’ the Galilæan peasants, His own countrymen, gave the answer, ‘This is the Prophet, Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.’ Their confession was not like the great confession of St. Peter. It was the outcome of a mere passing sentiment, and sentiment will rarely survive criticism.
II. The question to-day.—‘Who is this?’ The question comes to us still, and meets, alas! at times with as poor an answer. Men and women still follow the great Christian procession. They are willing to greet the Central Figure of their company as Son of David. All the crowd is doing it; why should not they? But they have not really thought of what they are saying. And so when the question comes to them, as come it surely does one day, ‘Who is this?’ they receive a shock; they take refuge in an answer which nobody can gainsay: ‘This is Jesus, the Prophet.’ But the story of the text teaches us the miserable insufficiency of any such view of the Christ as that which regards Him only as a great Teacher, a great Prophet.
III. A faith that will stand.—The faith of these simple men was not strong enough to stand, because they had not faced what it meant. They had not faced this at least, that to follow Jesus means to follow the Christ in sorrow as in joy, with stern determination rather than with cheerful approval, in pain here if in triumph at last. Yet to those who will follow the great Procession of the Ages as it goes up to the Holy City, with full understanding of what such fellowship means and demands, with a grave yet hopeful consecration of self come what may—to those does the promise come, ‘Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the Crown of Life.’
OUR APPRECIATION OF CHRIST
The crowd had not acknowledged Christ as God Incarnate, and, therefore, in the hour of trial they failed.
I. What is our appreciation of Christ?—Is He part of your life? ‘What think ye of Christ?’ Is He to you something more than the Son of David? Is He to you God, Who for your sake took man’s nature? Is He for you the Saviour Who stands by you in every hour of your life?
II. What is Christ in our life?—Let us ask ourselves just this question, Why is it that we do not make Christ more of our life? People who are religious people, and yet who, when they ask themselves the question, ‘Am I making Christ to me what He ought to be?’ in low self-abasement are bound to say there is much that is wanting.
III. ‘There is no hurry.’—In many cases people think there is no hurry about the matter. Year after year comes round, and we think we will do something, but we hope to do more; we will do a little now, some day we hope to do much. It is so with the young, it is so with the middle-aged, it is so with the old. But there is no time to waste. Every moment of our lives must directly or indirectly be applied to learn that great lesson: What He is to us now; what He will be to us hereafter. May God in His mercy teach us to know that we have no time to spare, so that we may be able to answer the question, ‘Who is this?’
The Rev. P. T. Brownrigg.
‘It is said that the evil power wanted to win souls, and he asked, What is the best argument to use? One evil spirit said, “Go and tell the world there is no heaven.” And that ministry went out, and it won some souls, but not many. And then the evil spirit asked again, “Is there a more powerful argument by which I may deceive men’s souls?” And the answer was, “Yes; go and tell men there is no hell”; and that won more souls than the cry, “There is no heaven.” But it did not win many. Then came a third spirit, “Go and tell men there is no hurry.” And thousands and thousands of souls which were not deceived by the lie, “There is no heaven,” and thousands and thousands of souls which were not deceived by the lie, “There is no hell,” were deceived by the lie, “There is no hurry.” ’
THE BAPTISM OF GOODNESS
‘The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men?’
St. John the Baptist was not only a striking individual character, but a type.
I. The ascetic character.—He was a type of that band of fine spirits whose lives stretch down the ages in a chain of witness to the glory of renunciation. The ascetic character has ever its two aspects; sometimes the one is prominent, sometimes the other; sometimes they are bound together as in the life of the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ. There is ( a) the beauty of simplicity, and ( b) the stern denunciation of wrong.
II. Question and answer.—Turn, then, to the words which bring his mission into question, ‘The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven or from men?’ Here was the best question to those who had come to entangle the Lord. Did they really want to know the truth? If so, they could answer truly about what they had seen and known. John was a witness for truth and religion; he died for his bold defence of that pure family life which Jews held most dear. And now there came the Great Prophet whom he had foretold, and He asked them the simple, straightforward question. They answered Jesus and said, ‘We know not.’
How pitiable! We do not know. A man has preached sound doctrine and lived a holy life, has constantly spoken the truth, boldly rebuked vice, and at last has patiently suffered for the truth’s sake: was his work the work of God or not? Was his baptism from heaven or from men? We know not. There are some things which not to know condemns a man at once; they are the things to which every conscience witnesses, which belong to the Kingdom of God.
III. The baptism of goodness.—Year by year the Church twice sets St. John Baptist before us as an example. He was a man who knew his own mind—not in worldly matters only, but in those great questions of right and wrong that are before us all, and that will seem, depend upon it, when we are on our death-beds, the only questions we have had to deal with in our lives. And that question of our Lord’s means this: that every day you must be ready to answer for your soul. You can’t pass by the great questions as if you were too busy, or too old, or too young, or too insignificant for it. We must know that the baptism of goodness is of God; we must accept it, and live in the strength and the purpose that it gives.
—The Rev. W. H. Hutton.
THE MASTER’S CALL
‘Go work to-day in my vineyard.’
We recognise the claims of Christ; we know the needs of the world; what now shall be our answer to the Master’s call? Whatever response we make (whether at home or abroad) let it be loyally proportionate both to the authority which commands and the greatness of the enterprise entrusted to us.
I. Our efforts should correspond with the magnitude of the work.
II. Our earnestness should correspond with the importance of the issues at stake.
III. Our enthusiasm should correspond with the gladness of our message.
IV. Our self-denial should correspond with the example of our Master.
V. Our personal holiness should correspond with our Divine companionship.
—The Rev. H. S. Mercer.
THE TWO SONS
‘A certain man had two sons.… Whether of them twain did the will of his Father?’
The originals of these two pictures are before us every day. An utterly godless man, who virtually says to God, ‘I do not wish to be pious’; and the good moral man who is just on the borders of being, if he is not quite, a Christian.
I. The command.—The same word is said to the two men. They are both—just what you are—‘sons.’ The call is to ‘work.’ Our Lord’s calls almost always were, in the first instance, to ‘work.’ Are there not hundreds of minds which would be better reached, and more influenced, if the ‘work’ were placed before them at once?
II. The first son.—A strong and almost violent opposition to God, and His truth, is not always so bad a thing as you may think. I would certainly rather have to do with opposition than a heartless, meaningless, aimless acquiescence! It is the weak people who ultimately do the worst things. Where there is great resistance, there is generally some material to work upon. The first son answered and said, ‘I will not: but afterwards he repented, and went.’
III. The second son.—The most dangerous interval of life is the space between a resolution and the first act which follows it: between a plain command, and the act which steps forward to obey it: between a sorrow and a prayer: between a conviction and an amendment: between ‘I go, sir,’ and the going. Make that interval always as short as you possibly can. Be very jealous of the delay, even of a moment. Clench a good thought by some one instant movement—lest it be, ‘I go, sir’; ‘I will go presently’; ‘I will go sometime’; ‘I will go never!’
And what is the whole will of God? ‘Work’ and ‘repentance.’ Why ‘Repentance?’ Because we all need it for our sins. And why ‘Work?’ Because ‘Work’ is the intention and end of our being.
—The Rev. James Vaughan.
Religion is here represented as—
I. A practical service.—It is something that has to be done, and it involves labour, or as the analogy (vineyard) suggests, labour, skill, and patience combined. It is—
(a) Special in its character. The term ‘vineyard’ used of the theocratic kingdom of God, and implying a peculiar relation to Him.
(b) Demanding immediate attention. It has, like vine-culture, its seasons, each requiring a kind of work suitable to itself, and not admitting of delay.
II. A filial obligation.—It is a Father who makes the request, and who has a right to expect not only obedience, but reverence and affection.
III. A test of real obedience.—This is the lesson of the whole parable. The service is not universally or uniformly rendered. There is a defect of obedience in both sons, but that of the one is only postponement, that of the other seems to be an utter failure to do anything. But, although the one is accepted rather than the other, God desires both—the cheerful obedience and the actual service.
( a) Let Christians realise the relation in which they stand to their Heavenly Father through Jesus Christ, and seek to render an instant and willing service.
( b) Let them be ready to look for and acknowledge good even in the worst, and labour earnestly to call it forth.
The Rev. St. John A. Frere.
CHRIST THE HEADSTONE
‘The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.’
Three things the corner-stone is to the builder’s work; and those three things Christ must be to you.
I. Exaltation.—First, the structure ranges up to the cornerstone. All else is below, that it may be high; and all ministers to it. So be it between you and Christ. Abase yourself, that Christ may be exalted; you nothing but a poor, wretched sinner, and He all your salvation and all your desire. You cannot go too low, and you cannot put Him too high.
II. Admiration.—Secondly, the whole fabric holds up the head of the corner to the view of men, that it may be admired. Take care that the aspect which your religion wears to every man is not yourself, but Christ. Let all see you in the shade, Him in the light. Least of all be ashamed of Him. But speak of Him in any company, or under any circumstances.
III. Union.—And thirdly, let Him, as the stone does the corner, bind everything. For He is union,—He is the One cementing of all that is true. In Christ, the very earth and heavens meet. Whatever meets in Christ, though it be repugnant to your other feelings, do not send it away from you. Let it be Christ which binds your heart and the heart that you now love best.
The Rev. James Vaughan.
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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Matthew 21". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany