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The Service of Men
Jesus in this conversation counsels His disciples concerning the conditions of the best service of man by man; and since we are all still apprentices to the Great Worker and Master, we welcome the opportunity of sitting at His feet, breathing the atmosphere of His presence, catching hints of the laws of all true work in and for His kingdom, and mastering the secret of His own intense, ceaseless, and wonderfully reproductive activity.
I. But, first, we must observe that Christ chooses the most opportune moment for imparting His advice to these men. In this account Luke makes clear the fact that Jesus is on His last pilgrimage to the Holy City. He is on His way to the cross. It was to men infected with His zeal, sharing His intensity, alive with His enthusiasm, that He gave these lofty and exacting counsels. General Gordon once said of soldiers, 'Send us no more of your lukewarms'. These men were not 'lukewarms'. The service of men needs the full delight of those who are aflame with the love of Christ and men.
II. But note, in the next place, Jesus sustains and inspires His workers by declaring the close and inseparable relation they hold to Him, in and through, and by their service of men. They 'go,' but they 'go where He is about to come'. Now, nothing is so potent as personality. The living Christ is a source of exhaustless power in the service of man. He is our contemporary. 'Lo, I am with you.'
III. We must add to this the fact that Jesus authorises, in the strongest conceivable way, the proclamation of the speedy and irresistible advent of the kingdom of God as the soul and substance of the message these newly consecrated workers are to deliver. Could any message be more magnetic, or offer ampler room for great souls?
IV. More help still these heralds must have found in Christ's original and creative interpretation of life. Men miss the deepest meaning of existence. They fail to see that it is one brief but golden opportunity of service, and so they fall short at once of the glory of God and of the glory of man, which is the glory of redemptive work. But to see this significance in life we must accept Christ's conception of man of the individual human life. Thoreau exclaimed, 'Every man is a revelation to me'.
V. Moreover, Jesus supplies a sketch of methods of service for the guidance of His followers. 'Heal the sick.' 'Heal' and then 'say'. Give service and then sermons. Sympathetic social service holds a high place in the method of Jesus. Serve men, says Christ, in full view of the solemn and grave issues of life.
J. Clifford, The Secret of Jesus, p. 153.
References. X. 1-7. Expositor (6th Series), vol. ix. p. 126. X. 1-11. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Luke, p. 310.
'The harvest truly is great, but the labourers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He would send forth labourers into His harvest' Luke x. 2.
This is a short parable in which our Lord describes the condition of the masses of men, and the high duty and privilege of His disciples.
I. The first thing to impress us in the passage, probably, is the definition of men which it gives. They are a harvest or there is a harvest to be reaped from among them. And the harvest is going to waste and ruin because no one sees its value.
Our Lord was teaching His disciples to look at men with His eyes. He saw the crowd and He said, 'They are a flock that needs shepherding, a harvest that needs gathering. Tares are there, doubtless, but wheat also.'
It is wonderful how He believed in men, what He saw in them. No one has ever believed in the golden possibilities lying in men as He did. No one has taught the rare worth of a human soul as He did. No one else would have seen what He saw in those men whom He picked up on the shores of the Lake of Galilee and chose to be with Him. To everybody else they were grain hardly worth gathering.
And now He seeks to impress His thoughts on us. We cannot fail to be struck with the wonderful fertility of human life; its resourcefulness, skill, power of endurance; what men will do and suffer, if you can furnish them with a sufficient motive or object. And our Lord saw, what the centuries have proved, that men were capable of doing, daring, suffering for his sake, and goodness' sake, more than for any other object. No one and no thing has ever created the enthusiasm, devotion, sublime heroism, and selfsacrifice which He has inspired. The harvest which was being reaped for self, for the world, for the devil, He saw could be reaped for God and goodness.
II. Secondly. Observe how this harvest is to be gathered. By the labour of men. This is quite a commonplace, but a commonplace which needs to be insisted upon. Ever since the time of Isaiah, and long before, God has been calling, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?'
The figure of the man with scythe or sickle going out in the early morning, to work on through the burden and heat of the day, until the dews of night fall, in sweat of brow and skill of hand, is the figure which our Lord chooses to set forth what He would have His disciples do for the salvation of the world.
III. The disciples are not urged by the Lord to go and reap the harvest, but to pray to Him to whom the harvest belongs that He will send forth labourers. There may be some mystery about this. Whatever it be, we are sure that He to whom it belongs is not unwilling to gather the harvest The remembrance that He gave His only begotten Son to die for the world forbids the thought. There are two things that appear to be clear from this exhortation. The first is, that if these men really prayed, they would think about the matter for which they prayed, and about the condition of those on whose behalf prayer was offered. The other thing is, that those who went into the harvest, if the prayer were answered, would be sent of God, would go as His servants, and under His direction.
Charles Brown, Light and Life, p. 193.
These words may be used in the wrong sense, to excuse personal sloth and cowardice. They were used in this sense by Gerard Roussel, Canon of Meaux, when he refused to strike out boldly on the side of the early French and Swiss Reformers. He wrote: 'The flesh is weak! As my friends, Lefèvre and others urge, the convenient season has not yet come, the Gospel has not yet been scattered sufficiently far and wide, we must not assume the Lord's prerogative for sending labourers into the harvest, but leave the work to him whose it is or who can easily raise up a far richer harvest than that for whose safety we are solicitous.' Such were the paltry evasions of cowardly souls, writes H. M. Baird, 'to excuse themselves for the neglect of admitted duty.'
A bolder man, Pierre Toussain, made these comments on the attitude of Roussel and Lefèvre: 'Let them be as wise as they please; let them wait, procrastinate and dissemble; the Gospel will never be preached without the cross. When I see these things, when I see the mind of the King [Francis I.] the mind of the Duchess [Margaret of Angoulême] as favourable as possible to the advancement of the Gospel of Christ, and those who ought to forward this matter, according to the grace given them, obstructing their design, I cannot refrain from tears.'
In dedicating The Traveller to his brother, Rev. Henry Goldsmith, Oliver Goldsmith applies this verse as follows: 'I now perceive, dear brother, the wisdom of your humble choice. You have entered upon a sacred office, where the harvest is great, and the labourers are but few; while you have left the field of ambition, where the labourers are many, and the harvest not worth carrying away.'
References. X. 2. W. Baird, The Hallowing of our Common Life, p. 39. Expositor (5th Series), vol. x. p. 64.
Luke 10:3 ; Luke 21:15
A single individual cannot easily change public opinion; but he can be true and innocent, simple and independent; he can know what he does, and what he does not know; and though not without an effort he can form a judgment of his own, at least in common matters. In his most secret actions he can show the same high principle which he shows when supported and watched by public opinion. And on some fitting occasion, or some question of humanity or truth or right, even an ordinary man, from the natural rectitude of his disposition, may be found to take up arms against a whole tribe of politicians and lawyers, and be too much for them.
From Jowett's Introduction to the Gorgias.
References. X. 3. W. G. Rutherford, The Key of Knowledge, p. 236. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ix. p. 121; ibid. (7th Series), vol. v. p. 11.
When Edward Irving was visiting the slums of the Gallowgate in Glasgow, as assistant to Dr. Chalmers, he entered every home 'with the salutation, "Peace be to this house," with which he might have entered a Persian palace or desert tent.... A certain solemn atmosphere,' says Mrs. Oliphant, 'entered with that lofty figure, speaking in matchless harmony of voice its "Peace be to this house". To be prayed for, sometimes edifyingly, sometimes tediously, was not uncommon to the Glasgow poor; but to be blessed was a novelty to them.'
References. X. 4. C. Perren, Revival Sermons in Outline, p. 122. X. 5. C. S. Home, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. p. 365. X. 5-8. J. M. Neale, Sermons on the Blessed Sacrament, p. 55. X. 7. W. Cunningham, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 307. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. pp. 71, 76; ibid. (6th Series), vol. xi. p. 46. X. 9. Robert J. Drummond, Faith's Certainties, p. 297. X. 11. J. Aspinall, Parish Sermons (2nd Series), p. 1. X. 12. Expositor (4th Series), vol. x. p. 190. X. 13. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 308. X. 16. P. H. Leary, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 38. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. p, 286; ibid. (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 284.
There are three joys First, ver. 17, a sense of power in the subjection of evil, which may have good in it, but also the great danger of vanity and ambition the Loyola spirit which would make ministers into priests; Second, ver. 20, the joy of the pure and Divine felt in our own souls, binding us to the life eternal. What can be better than this? Then is, Third, ver. 21, Christ's own joy gladness for the advance of God's kingdom, and the way in which it grows, through the spirit of lowliness and self-abnega-tion. This is higher than ver. 20, and saves from all the danger of ver. 17.
Now I am not sure that our Lord spoke all these sayings in this very order, but I am sure He taught all. these truths, and I think Luke meant to let us see them by ranging them together.
Dr. John Ker's Letters, p. 333.
Much as pain has to teach us, it has but a few things to show us, while the revelations of joy are infinite. No one perhaps has ever been strong for the Lord without having experienced the deep baptism of spiritual gladness, making the soul one with God.
References. X. 17. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 297. X. 17-20. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Luke, p. 310. X. 18. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 471.
Serpents and Scorpions
I. When we read a word like that in such a connection, we know that we are not to be literal. Our Master is speaking in parables. The serpent and scorpion are typical of the evil things that lurk in the narrow path of obedience. The snake in the grass, the poisonous scorpion hiding under a stone in the path ready to sting the heel of the pilgrim these are figures of the subtle dangers that lurk about our feet in the pathway of life. What are they and where do they lie? They are everywhere. Our Master in marking out a pathway for His servants does not mark a path from which dangers are to be excluded. Dangers are more numerous in the pathway of obedience, at any rate at the beginning, than elsewhere. Certainly they are more virulent there.
The text speaks to people who are in danger of being kept back or turned aside from the path of right, being hindered and caused to stumble, and it says, 'Do not let discouragements, slights, neglect, opposition, sting and wound. Remember the word of Jesus and let His strength make you strong.
II. Secondly, the text refers to the subtle dangers which lurk in our common things. There is hardly a thing, even the most wholesome, in which there is not a danger to be guarded against. In unsuspected things and places it lurks.
If I understand my text aright it does not suggest that we should abstain from the things that I have named, or that we should be like the old monks who endeavoured to cheat the body of sleep and of food, or pretended to, or be like the people who abjure all pleasure and amusement as sinful in themselves; but that we should walk warily in the midst of them all, hand in hand with Christ, and go as these seventy people went under His direction, obeying strictly His commands, living in communion with Him, breaking away from everything which interrupts that communion. There our strength and safety lie. For when our Master says, 'I give unto you power,' He does not mean that He gives it to us in a lump, but that we may obtain it daily by daily contact with Him. Our power to keep right, our ability to win, is found in communion with Him.
III. Thirdly, my text may be applied to the things that are positively evil, that are in the world and in our own hearts; and concerning these, they promise us the victory, and they point out the methods by which victory is secured. I do not know that any good purpose would be gained by dilating on the evil things that lurk, serpent and scorpion-like, in our natures. Nothing could be better than that at a service like this we should each one of us look into his heart, face himself honestly, and seek to discover what his besetment is, what the thing is that menaces his life.
IV. Whatever be the full explanation of its presence in your life, this is true the evil is there, that you may win the victory over it. The question is, how? The text answers it: 'I give unto you power'. It is by union with Christ. I do not believe that there is any real and permanent victory for any of us apart from Him. You may try, and no one may seek to hinder you, but you will fail. He is the seed of the woman Who will bruise in you the serpent's head. The great purpose of His coming, living, and dying is to bring you to Himself, that He may work His great work of deliverance in you.
Charles Brown, God and Man, p. 199.
References. X. 20. A. Scott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. p. 148. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. i. p. 264. F. B. Cowl, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xviii. p. 189. T. B. John-stone, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. p. 208. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxii. No. 1321. W. M. Clow, The Gross in Christian Experience, p. 89. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vi. p. 212; ibid. vol. xii. p. 146.
The Joy of the Lord
I. Notice the joy of the Lord. (1) The joy of love. (2) The joy of sympathy. (3) The joy of prophecy.
II. We may enter into the joy of the Lord. (1) The joy of love may be ours. (2) The joy of sympathy may be ours. (3) The prophetic joy may be ours. The present successes are an omen for future victory.
III. We may fulfil the joy of the Lord. We may carry on His purpose and minister to His joy.
References. X. 21. W. M. Sinclair, Difficulties of our Day, p. 1. Bishop Gore, The New Theology and the Old Religion, p. 181. J. N. Friend, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xvii. p. 503. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxix. No. 2319. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 288; ibid. vol. v. p. 26; ibid. (6th Series), vol. i. p. 25; ibid. (6th Series), vol. i. p. 193. X. 21, 22. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi. No. 1571. Len. G. Broughton, The Prayers of Jesus, p. 29. X. 21-24. Expositor (5th Series), vol. iii. p. 152. X. 22. Ibid. vol. vi. p. 93; ibid. (6th Series), vol. v. p. 258. X. 23. A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons for the Christian Year, pt. ii. p. 262. J. Keble, Sermons for the Sundays after Trinity, p. 12.
The Happiness of Easter
On Easter Day we are able to look away from everything else and give full play to the conviction which lies deep down in every Christian heart, and that is the happiness of being a Christian. It is a happiness intellectually, morally, and spiritually.
I. And first, intellectually. We have been dwelling upon the five revealed secrets or mysteries of God the existence of a living Person behind the veil; the certainty that all things work together for good at last to those that love God; the revealed secret that sin can be forgiven; that there is a life of the world to come; and that there is a mysterious power to fit us for it, which we call grace. All these things prophets and kings desired to know, but were never able to find them out. And yet they are things so essential to human happiness that even if there were no more to know we might echo the blessing over those who do know them. 'Happy are the eyes which see the things which ye see: for many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.'
But Easter Day brings two fresh truths to light to give us intellectual joy. First, the truth that the Divine Spirit cannot only live, but perfectly triumph in human nature. And, secondly, that death is a mere incident in life.
Happy, then, are the eyes which see the things which the Christian sees. He does not put his reason behind his back in the least. He loves his reason. He recognises its right nay! its duty to ask questions, and to want to know the why and the wherefore of the world. But because the telescope of reason only carries him a certain way, he does not disdain the telescope with the higher power called revelation lent him by God Himself, Who
Stooping, shows sufficient of His light
For us in the dark to rise by.
And man, looking through this telescope, sees the thing which he almost could see, but could not quite see before the living Person, the loving purpose, the sin forgiven, the life of the world to come, the power of grace, the ideal of human nature, and the passing character of death.
II. But if intellectually we stand on Easter Day on a glorious peak and look round in rapture at the view, how happy should Christians be morally at what they see and hear!
There is much to depress a man morally in London life. It is not merely the shocking things which are done by those who should be loving children of God, not only the callous betrayals of innocent blood, of which I have had two terrible cases lately; but the steady, relentless pressure of a worldly world which is so trying. Men and women in what is called Society are very much afraid of taking a decided stand for Christ, and the young men and the young women of today get dragged down to the level of the people who happen to surround them.
But Easter not merely gives hope, but gives victory. 'No one need despair,' I heard it said during the Three Hours' service on Good Friday, 'no one need despair in the palm of whose hand lingers the touch of Jesus Christ,' and we may go farther than that and say 'Nothing can break down the moral strength of the man or woman, boy or girl, who holds fast by the crucified risen Lord'.
We have had two thousand years' experience of whether this is true or not. In every case the man or woman who has fallen has left hold of Christ's hand first.
III. But if intellectually and morally the eyes and ears of the Christian are blessed, it is, most of all, true spiritually. If you come to think of it, how cold and abstract was much of the religion of early days. The Jews made the most of the personal superintendence of their nation by Jehovah out of Egypt and the revelation on Sinai; and the Psalms are marvellous in their tenderness when you remember that they were written before the Incarnation. But when all is said and done, the thunders of Sinai struck terror, rather than won love, and through the thunders came no human voice saying
O heart I made, a heart beats here.
But what the prophets and kings of old would have loved to have seen was God Incarnate in human form, to have heard Him say, 'He that has seen Me has seen the Father'; to have wondered at the gracious words proceeding out of His mouth, and to have known that they were the words of God Himself; to have loved the most lovable and loving Person Who ever appeared in this world, and to have found out that in loving Him they were loving God Himself.
This is the happiness of Christians. This lifts them into the spiritual joy which the world can neither give nor take away. They have their trials, their pains, and their disappointments, but so long as they have their Lord with them, they have the source of happiness welling up within them, which prophets and kings never knew, and which will last into life everlasting.
Bishop Winnington-Ingram, Church Times, 1st April, 1910.
References. X. 23, 24. J. Denney, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lx. p. 81. Bishop Westcott, Village Sermons, p. 23. X. 24. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 194. X. 25. G. A. Smith, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. p. 376. Joseph Parker, The Gospel of Jesus Christ, p. 88. X. 25, 26. J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons (2nd Series), p. 40. X. 25-28. H. S. Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. p. 145, and vol. lii. p. 161. X. 25-37. J. Bush, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. p. 52. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiii. No. 1360. Expositor (6th Series), vol. ii. p. 69. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Luke, p. 315. X. 26. Joseph Parker, The Gospel of Jesus Christ, p. 21.
Ideal love dwells not in the soul alone, but in every vein and nerve and muscle of a frame strung to perfect service.
'Your neighbour,' says Professor G. G. A. Murray in his Euripides (p. lxiii), 'is so vivid an element in life that, unless you do love him, he will spoil all the rest.'
Affectionate relations, even with our nearest and conventionally speaking dearest, demand a good deal of attention and of leisure, if they are to be cultivated with success.
References. X. 27. Expositor (5th Series), vol. v. p. 134. B. J. Snell, The All-Enfolding Love, p. 97. J. Edwards, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xviii. p. 272. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year (2nd Series), vol. ii. p. 107.
The Lawyer's Question
I. This was our Lord's answer to the Jewish lawyer's question, 'What shall I do to inherit eternal life?' The whole of the discourse, and the parable of the Good Samaritan itself, turns entirely on this: 'This do, and thou shalt live'. Put your knowledge into practice. Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and thy neighbour as thyself, and you will have the full and complete answer to your question. This man had to learn what every one of us has to learn namely, that learning and working must go together, hand in hand, in religion; that knowledge and practice must not be separated. This man had the one he had the knowledge, but he had not got the other; and if he would gain that which he sought he must link the two together. The lawyer's answer could not possibly have been better; but he stands out from the pages of Scripture as an example of one who had learned without working, who had knowledge without practice.
II. Well, what is the use of education? Certainly to develop the powers of the mind certainly that. But surely its first and chief object is to enable a man to do the duties of life which lie before him in the spirit of the Master. The separation of knowledge and practice is simply disastrous. Christianity is a practical matter, and unless we use the strength given to us by that God to Whom we pray we miss the point altogether. Knowledge without practice in religious matters is useless and disastrous, as faith without works is dead. But faith is like a little child that must needs take the smallest and the shortest steps first. Has it ever dawned upon you, when you have read an account of some splendid race, that, in the case of the most famous athlete, who commands the praise of the public and the admiration of the strong, there was a day when he could not even toddle across his nursery without the help of a woman's hand?
III. So we must not despise the day of small belief; but, as we follow the law of Christ, 'This do, and thou shalt live,' even in the simple and apparently insignificant details of Christian duty, leaning the while on the supporting hand of God, we shall find by degrees the strength we need to put our knowledge into practice. Now our Lord's life was pre-eminently a life of deeds. For the most part they were like the acts of the Samaritan in the parable. They were mostly concerned with the feeding of the hungry, and the healing of the sick, so that His commission to the lawyer, 'This do, and thou shalt live,' was literally the law of His own life a law that fits the smallest as well as the largest matters, be they what they may. 'This,' He says, 'which thou hast learned of none other than Me this do, and thou shalt live.'
Who Is My Neighbour?
Most people's lives are so full of occupation and anxiety that it may seem unkind and useless to offer them any considerations that would appear to add to their responsibilities. 'We all have as much as we can do, we have as much as we can bear,' would probably be the self-protecting exclamation of each one of us if asked to undertake any duty beyond that we already have.
The sufferings and anxieties attached to our bodily health, the consciousness of our power of work depending upon it, and, it may be, the further consciousness of the dependence of others upon ourselves, the anxieties which many have for their own family, or near friends these and many other kinds of anxieties are to be found so plentifully, without going further than the narrow circle of our own homes, that for many it seems enough if they can bear up against the trial of the daily task which the round of daily duties brings to them. And yet even from this point of view it is not so needless, nor so unkind, as it seems at first sight, to lead people even thus burdened to the consideration of a wider field of responsibility, and perhaps of still greater troubles than their own. There is a natural tendency in all of us to exaggerate the troubles we feel ourselves and to regard them as greater than those of other people. We know that a hand or a leaf held close before the eye will shut out the whole immensity of the sun itself, the nearness for the moment destroying all sense of proportion; hence the turning away from our sorrows to the troubles of others has before now been rewarded by the consolation that our difficulties are not greater, often not nearly so great, as the difficulties of other people. The visit to the infirmary or the hospital or the sickroom of a friend has raised not only a spirit of benevolence and the desire to relieve others, but what was less expected, a spirit of thankfulness for the relative littleness of the sorrows we thought so great, now seen in their true proportion beside the greater griefs of other people. And once more, if our own lot be at present free from trouble, still more necessary may it be to guard ourselves against a selfish forgetfulness of the sufferings of other people; sufferings, it may be, in body, mind, or spirit, endured by people with whom we are in constant daily contact but of whom we have been totally unconscious through our habitual prosperity.
The habit of consideration for others will save us from this isolated selfishness, from the exaggeration of our own sorrows or from a selfish forgetfulness of the troubles of others.
I. It is indeed a great position gained when a man sees and determines upon what should be the right principle of life. But when this is determined upon, another question, often of bewildering importance, almost of necessity must arise, viz ., What is to be the standard of my life? Accepting the maxim of life to be ceasing to do evil and learning to do well, how shall I know when I have done enough? What is to be the standard of my efforts to do right? How much good must I do? Who is my neighbour?
II. Christianity may be said in one sense not so much to have changed the nature of virtue as to have enlarged its area. To the educated Greek, the highest representative at least of Western morals, the idea of a virtuous life, or as we should say of a good life, was confined to a few selected nations. The great mass of the world were barbarians. The great masses even of the favoured Greek nation were regarded as incapable of social responsibilities, incapable of taking part in ministering to the well-being of the State. In plainer words, the masses of the people were regarded as mere goods and chattels, slaves and instruments, for the convenience of the upper classes, incapable of social rights and responsibilities, and therefore according to the Greek view incapable of virtue.
Only those who were capable of taking part in the well-being of the State had moral claims or capabilities while the rest were instruments of their convenience. To a Greek the answer to the question, 'Who is my neighbour?' would be very limited, limited to a few nations, limited again to small circles within the nations themselves.
Christianity changed this and extended the area over which man's capabilities and responsibilities were to extend. 'In Christ Jesus there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond, nor free, but Christ is all and in all.'
This gives to the answer to the question in the text an extended meaning wide as humanity itself; for all nations were to be made members of Christ, He died for all.
The answer given to the question of the text, 'Who is my neighbour,' by the Parable of the Good Samaritan is wide indeed. It would imply 'every one whom we can help,' or who helps us, so that the answer is found by asking two questions, 'Who needs my help? Whom can I help?' There is my neighbour.
Our separate lives are to be ruled not by pleasure, not by our selfish profit, but by that which is right. The standard of our actions is to be the extent of our capacities; the area of our responsibilities is wide as humanity itself.
Bishop Edward King, The Love and Wisdom of God, p. 105.
The Law of Christian Neighbourliness
I. Neighbourly responsibility has nothing to do with formal and prescribed conditions of race, Church, creed, and social status. Any or all of these conditions may strengthen the claim of an individual on the service of his fellows, and may facilitate the rendering of that service, but the claim itself has a deeper root, and emerges when all these auxiliary circumstances are absent. Man is divinely required to stand towards his fellows in a covenant of mutual help, and no artificial claims may override that primary and continuing requirement.
II. Never to acquiesce in any conscious violation of the Christian Law of Neighbourliness implies necessarily a rigorously conscientious habit of life. No human life is destitute of the claimants on neighbourly service; begin by proving yourself neighbour to those who are nearest, and you will be in the way to reach higher levels of Christian service. The theory will grow out of the practice of religion. 'If any man willeth to do His will,' said Christ, 'he shall know of the doctrine.'
H. H. Henson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxii. p. 145.
References. X. 29. A. P. Stanley, Canterbury Sermons, p. 375. J. C. M. Bellew, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 1. Bishop Creighton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. p. 347. W. H. Stephenson, A Book of Lay Sermons, p. 191. X. 30-37. R. F. Horton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. p. 212. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 122.
'Non-intervention in the affairs of neighbouring states is a high political virtue,' wrote Mrs. Browning, in the preface to her Poems before Congress. 'But non-intervention does not mean, passing by on the other side when your neighbour falls among thieves or Phariseeism would recover it from Christianity.... If the man who does not look beyond this natural life is of a somewhat narrow order, what must be the man who does not look beyond his own frontier or his own sea?'
To me the sentence suggests the fact that the unfortunate man who had fallen among thieves was in such a pitiful condition as to appeal for help by the silent eloquence of his bruised and lacerated body, his empty purse, and stolen goods. It is as if any properly constituted man was bound to feel pity the moment he saw the traveller's plight. He saw, and so he pitied, and I maintain that the same result must follow when we realise the intense and pathetic need of the heathen. We shall be ready to give of our own our time, our money, our sympathy, our effective help when we see for ourselves.
I. Do you Understand the Condition of the Heathen? Why do not our missionaries and our newspapers tell us the truth as to what paganism is at this moment in large tracts of our own Empire? In the preface to a remarkable book on mission work in India, which is called Things as They Are, and which lights up the gross darkness of the Hindus, it is said of the authoress: 'What she says is the truth, and nothing but the truth, but it is not the whole truth that she could not tell. If she wrote it, it could not be printed; if it were printed, it could not be read.' In the book itself the writer says of what she calls 'deified devilry': 'Do you wonder I call this sort of thing a look deep down into hell? Do you wonder we burn as we think of such things going on?... And the shame of shames is that some Englishmen patronise and in measure support the iniquity.' And the missionary work that is going on in such parts is a gigantic struggle between light and darkness, between the army of Jesus Christ and the army of the devil.
II. What Perversity is it that makes us Close our Eyes to the Facts? We so willingly disregard them and so complacently forget them that the wonder may reasonably start to mind whether this strange oblivion is entirely due to secondary causes. St. Paul speaks somewhere of those whose minds 'the god of this world hath blinded'. Is it just possible that our interest and concern are directly lulled to sleep by the strong man who is straining every nerve to prevent the stronger than he from entering into his house and spoiling his goods? See how readily our attention is diverted from the real point, which is the awful hold that Satan has upon God's earth.
III. The Good Samaritan as he journeys is no longer standing over the poor mangled body and using the few remedies he has at hand. We have found the inn to which the poor man may be carried to be taken care of. Our great Missionary Societies are formed for this express purpose, and they are fulfilling that purpose.
Melanchthon wrote to Camerarius amid the troubles of 1550: 'Some day these wounds will be healed by that Citizen of Samaria, who cured the wounded traveller and took him to a neighbouring house'.
References. X. 33. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. viii. No. 473. R. W. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. ii. p. 113. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vi. p. 298. X. 33, 34. P. M'Adam Muir, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 346. X. 34. John Watson, Christian World, Pulpit, vol. lviii. p. 57. Expositor (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 364.
Whatsoever Thou Spendest More
'Whatsoever thou spendest more' A tenderer light is thrown upon the story by the carefulness of the good Samaritan. He did not take out a handful of money, but twopence. He promised that if more was spent he would pay it back. This was probably one of the innumerable cases of the poor helping the poor, a case in which the gift was sacrificial. We shall take the words as suggesting the four stages in Christian service.
I. The Christian service commences with a provision. He took out twopence and gave them to the host Whatever our charge may be, at the beginning it seems easy. A man undertakes the reclamation of a drunkard. The pledge is signed, and for a little everything seems to go well, and there is a glow in the heart of the succourer and the succoured. A young girl begins a class in a ragged school, and there is a romance and glamour about the children, and in her own heart a true spring of life which will meet her needs for a time. A young minister is set in charge of a congregation, and how beautiful is the beginning, how eager even the world-worn and weary are to listen to the youthful preacher, how they believe in him, in his singleness of heart, and rejoice in his true vision of God! How he believes in them, and how impossible it is for him to imagine that one day there will be cold looks and colder hearts! We turn back to such beginnings when the morning was fresh with dew, when the spirit was buoyant, when the wind of life sang freshly in our ears, when there was about us the ravishment and the mystery of youth, when it seemed as if no task was too hard for us to undertake, when we never dreamed that the day would come when we should say, 'I am tired; I am not well; the climb is too steep'. There was more than the mere freshness of the morning. There was besides a kind provision by Christ. He gave us His two pence, and we joyfully received them, and gladly gave them away, but we did not realise that the time would come when they would be exhausted, and we should have to look up for more.
II. The second stage of Christian service is when we find at last that the twopence are spent. It is not merely that the holding charm of youth passes from us, that the early confidence and triumph diminish, that the deep undertone of pain makes itself heard. It is also that the twopence are spent. That gladsome first vision of the Gospel, that undying sense of its power to save, the trustfulness and the hope with which we first preached it, the intense love for fellow-believers these are not with us as they were. Men have disappointed us, and we have disappointed them. It seems now as if a stern and grey day of the Lord had come down upon the once roseate life, and made it poor and cold. This is the true crisis in the life of the Christian servant, none the less real because it is so little spoken of.
There is a point up to which Christ can say to His servants, 'Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, ye have not yet known what true sacrifice means'. Perhaps He says that of many to the very end: but He does not say it of His chosen vessels. 'I will show him,' He said of Saul, 'how great things he must suffer for My name's sake' not how great things he must say or do for Me, but how great things he must bear. Without shedding of blood there is no entrance into the higher life. In a manner the Lord's experience is spiritually repeated by the Christian. We die into the deeper union with Christ, into the pro-founder life, through the offering up of ourselves upon the altar.
III. The third stage, then, is when we discover that in the fellowship of Christ's sufferings we have the power of His resurrection. It is that fellowship which St. Paul, after years of endurance, still prayed that he might know. We discover that in the spending we are enriched from the unsearchable stores of Christ.
The work is not done, the sufferer is still unhealed. What then? We have to go on spending. Our Lord knew it, hinted it 'Whatsoever thou spendest more'. In the beginning we missed these words, we did not recognise their significance, but now day by day as it passes makes the meaning clearer. Yes, we must spend more and more and more, stripping the garments from us one by one, and at last spending our very heart's blood. But it is in that spending that we are enriched. It is in that spending that we become conscious at last that the unsearchable riches of Christ are ours, the riches that will never give out. If when the twopence are spent we cease to spend, if we go back upon the past, if we repeat old words that have lost their freshness, if we do our tasks slackly, then we are already dead. But if we go on working and working at greater cost, then we shall at last come to understand the saying that verges on the unsayable, not on the unintelligible, 'I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me'.
IV. The last stage of Christian service is reached when we suddenly find ourselves in the land of Beulah. Christ has been with us all the years, pouring His own life into the barren river-beds of ours. Then of a sudden we seem to behold the Lord at hand, and to hear Him saying, 'I will repay thee'. No more than that. The host had just the good Samaritan's word, and he was content. Christ will come again, and when He comes He will repay us. The mouth of the Lord hath spoken it, and we are to live in the strength of the promise. Dr. Dale has told us that at one point of his ministry he read the New Testament over to see whether there was any great aspect of revealed truth which he was neglecting in his ministry. He came to the conclusion that he was ignoring the repeated promises of reward given in the Gospel. Human sympathy and joy and praise are very sweet, but we can live without them if we have before us the welcome of the Eternal.
In the ministry of Christian service the last is the best. It may be best with us long after the twopence are spent, when we are spending more and more, and yet spending far more consciously than before what is not ours by nature. The promise marks an ascent, though it may not seem to do so. 'They shall mount up on wings as eagles.' There is a better thing, 'They shall run and not be weary'; and best of all there is this, 'They shall walk and not faint'. It is the climax of covenant grace.
So as of old I follow Him,
Only another way;
When the lights of the world are growing dim,
And my heart already is singing the hymn
Of twilight grown to day.
W. Robertson Nicoll, The Lamp of Sacrifice, p. 21.
It is simply and sternly impossible for the English public, at this moment, to understand any thoughtful writing, so incapable of thought has it become in its insanity of avarice. Happily, our disease is, as yet, little worse than this incapacity of thought; it is not corruption of the inner nature; we ring true still when anything strikes home to us; and though the idea that everything should 'pay' has infected our every purpose so deeply, that even when we would play the good Samaritan, we never take out our twopence and give them to the host without saying, 'When I come again thou shalt give me fourpence,' there is a capacity of noble passion left in our heart's core.
Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies.
References. X. 35. J. Keble, Sermons for the Sundays after Trinity, p. 21. X. 36. B. J. Snell, Sermons on Immortality, p. 79.
Sympathy and Dependence
The parable speaks to us of a law of limitless sympathy based on the fact of absolute dependence. We owe to our fellow-men all we can give them, because we owe all we have to God, our Father and theirs.
I. The lesson of dependence. Never have men traced out before with the same devotion and success as in our generation the processes of Nature, the order of changes through which each living thing passes, the certain laws, for so we must regard them, by which all living things act and react upon one another; but never have they declared more plainly that the principle of life itself is beyond all explanation. That principle we see as Christians in the immediate power of God Himself, unseen, yet always present.
II. The lesson of dependence on God passes at once, as you will see, into the lesson of sympathy with man. Dependence in which we are all equal is coupled with sympathy which we all require. In virtue of our common lot we are called upon to extend to others what sooner or later we shall ourselves need.
III. There is just one other thought suggested by our subject, and it is this, that opportunity is the test of character.
Bishop Westcott, Village Sermons, p. 343.
The Bethany Sisters: A Lesson in Quietude
I. This narrative of Christ's conversation with the Bethany sisters furnishes us with two sharply defined types of womanhood which we all recognise. (1) Martha is a woman who cannot bear to see any one unemployed. She is such a woman as George Eliot has given us in Mrs. Poyser, such a woman as we ourselves have met many times perhaps in our observation of life. (2) But Mary seems sadly slight and inefficient beside this bustling, practical-minded sister of hers. Has she then no use or place in the world? The strange and wonderful things that alter and determine the movements of society are often effected by women of the type of Mary? it is only such a woman as Mary who could ever have dared to introduce Jesus to the hospitality of Bethany.
II. What, then, is the spirit of Christ's criticism of these two women? It is that bodily activity is not everything, that there is a spiritual nature which also demands attention, and that it is possible to be very energetic in body at the expense of the soul. The student of the truth is as needed as the soldier of the truth. Be as energetic as you will, but while you feed others, do not let your own soul starve.
III. So, then, out of this incident there emerges a principle the principle that quiet may do as much for us as action, and that we may be doing most when we seem to be doing least. (1) Do we not see, for example, how true it is in our relation to Nature? He does not learn most of nature who applies himself to the task with the hottest energy. (2) So, again, is it not true in all that relates to the culture of the mind? We commonly act as though we believed the mind could only grow by feverish processes of energy. We read everything, whereas it would be infinitely better for us if we read less and thought more. (3) Does not life itself perpetually illustrate the same truth? There are a hundred purposes and aims in life that seem precious to men and women only because they are showy and win immediate reward, and many seek them and lose the better part. (4) Or we may apply the suggestion to many other matters in the general ordering of our lives. Year by year we seek the calm and freshness of Nature, often rather as a physical duty than as a genuine delight. Do not grudge the hours that are given to that relaxed and unenergetic interval of calm. (5) Or the theme may find its application in relation to the worship of the sanctuary. Contemplation is the true spring of labour.
W. J. Dawson, The Comrade Christ, p. 167.
Macaulay, comparing Naples and Rome, the former a place where religion is accessory to civil business, the latter a city of priests, writes: 'A poet might introduce Naples as Martha, and Rome as Mary. A Catholic may think Mary's the better employment, but even a Catholic, much more a Protestant, would prefer the table of Martha.'
References. X. 38. H. E. Thomas, Sermons by Welshmen, p. 215. X. 38-42. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvi. No. 927. C. S. Macfarland, The Spirit Christlike, p. 13. T. H. Wilkinson, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xvii. p. 253.
The Devotional Type
I. It is important that we should note the estimate our Lord Jesus Christ passed on Mary and those who, like her, love to sit at the Master's feet and hear His word. That estimate, as we know, comes in the form of a warm and generous defence of her from her sister Martha's criticisms. 'She hath chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.' And of all those who in sincerity show forth the true religion of devotion, of the heart, of personal love and adoration, we must say in the same way, 'they have chosen the good part: they have the root of the matter in them'. And how do we know this? Because the leading principle in the lives of these good people is dependence on God and love for Jesus Christ His Son, and dependence and love are the first conditions of the spiritual life. The strength of the mystical, pious, devotional type of Christian lies in his firm realisation of a personal life in God, and the need of cultivating this supreme fellowship, by a prayerful, meditative habit of life.
II. But there is another side to all this. The pious man, like the intellectual man, is one-sided. Let me point out a few of these perils of piety. (1) The first peril is to turn religion into a kind of spiritual self-indulgence. The purpose of devotion is to open the heart, quicken the affections, and rouse the moral sense; in a word, to permeate and reinforce the whole nature with Divine influence. But even prayer may become an indulgence. If you forget that it is a means to an end and give yourself over passively to devotional moods, you will at once begin to lose their benefit. You will begin to measure yourself by your moods. This is one of the dangers connected with revivalism, and with religious conventions. (2) Another peril of piety is indifference to intellectual honesty, and in extreme cases, to moral integrity. One of the sources of strength in the devotional type of character, at least in this country, is the stress it has laid on a personal study of the Scriptures as the rule of life and the source of inspiration to holy living. But it is one thing to read, it is another thing to read aright. And some of the most devotional and pious people err greatly in their method of Bible study. There is too great a tendency to read with their heart and not their understanding. (3) But there is a still deeper and worse danger behind. In its lowest forms pietism is associated with a divided and inconsistent life. There is a way of indulging in the luxury of feeling good at the expense of the reality of being good.
E. Griffith-Jones, Types of Christian Life, p. 44.
References. X. 39. W. P. Balfern, Lessons from Jesus, p. 3. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. li. No. 2927.
Mrs. Fry, during her mission to the English prisons, found that her labours were exciting fears on her behalf among some rather officious if well-meaning Quakers, who dreaded lest her success should spoil her spiritual state. In one of her letters she refers to this as follows: 'The prudent fears that the good have for me try me more than most things, and I find that it calls for Christian forbearance not to be a little put out by them. I am confident that we often see the Martha spirit enter about spiritual things; I know by myself what it is to be over-busy. O Lord, enable us to keep our ranks in righteousness.'
References. X. 40. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in a Religious House, vol. ii. p. 421. Expositor (5th Series), vol. iii. p. 152; ibid. (6th Series), vol. iii. p. 275. X. 40-42. J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons (9th Series), p. 61. X. 41. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton Sunday Sermonettes for a Year, p. 101. X. 41, 42. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iii. p. 256.
One Needful Thing
Was ever transition from the material to the spiritual sphere more delicately mediated than by this great word of Jesus? One moment we are at Martha's table; the next, we are in the spiritual world. A less elaborate dinner would do, Jesus seems to say; only a few things are needful at the table, and a few in life; or rather in life there is only one thing that is really needful. With one swift, sure stroke He smote down into the eternal significance of this pathetic little scene; and in words that are a marvel of kindliness as well as of solemnity, He brought home to a soul distracted by the 'many things' the need of unifying and simplifying her life. Many things we may have, but one thing we must have if life is to be life. Many things are useful, many are important; but one is necessary, absolutely necessary. Mary had chosen it; and we are almost given to understand though Jesus gently refrains from saying so that Martha had not. While Martha was preparing one meal, Mary was enjoying another; for the 'portion' of which Jesus speaks is the word used elsewhere for the share of a meal. Two banquets were preparing in that house; and Mary was already sitting at the table of her Lord in the heavenly world, partaking, at His gracious hand, of that bread of which he who takes shall never hunger again. This portion could never be taken away from her.
I. One's sympathies run out to Martha. It is easy, we say, to honour the Lord by sitting at His feet; it is a harder thing by far to honour Him by active service. And yet in many points we must come to feel that Martha was mistaken. She does not well understand either Mary or Jesus. Her appreciation of Jesus is genuine but not profound; and she does not speak to Him with the deference which is His due. She may have been almost hurt by His assurance that Mary had chosen the good part; she thought in her heart that Mary had chosen the bad, or, at any rate, the selfish part. There was only one way, she thought, of honouring her Lord at that moment, and she herself had chosen it.
Martha and Mary are sisters, and their virtues are sister virtues Martha, the symbol of strenuous energy; Mary, the pattern of sweet contemplation. In the kingdom of God there is a place for both; for the unwearied activities of Protestantism, and for that gracious and unobtrusive devotion which has so often marked Catholicism. After all, it is not so much the 'many things' that are at fault, for all things are God's; it is the being 'anxious and troubled' about them.
II. Martha is anxious. Mary is not anxious. She is calm. She can rest. The practical person may have little use for Mary. She may seem to him to be a simpleton or a sluggard. Yet the contemplative Mary was more practical than her practical sister after all. She knew how to seize the golden opportunity which came to her with the visit of Jesus; and she had the wisdom to gather, in this quiet hour, strength for the lonely days to come, when the Master would sup with them no more.
III. One thing is needful. What is that? It is very characteristic of Jesus that He does not say. To the interpretation of His great words we must go forth with our minds, our imaginations, and our hearts. He does not always tell us plainly what we should so much wish to know. He does not tell us, but He shows us. One thing is needful. Look at Mary, and you will see it. There it is! or rather, there she is! for Mary is that thing incarnate. Sitting at the Master's feet, and hanging wistfully upon His every word, she is an immortal illustration of the truth which Jesus would bring home to the restless Martha, and to all those eager, strenuous spirits of which Martha is the type.
1. In one of its phases, the one thing needful is the power to sit down.
2. In another of its aspects, the one thing needful is to hear the words of Jesus; for it was to hear those words that Mary exposed herself to the misunderstanding of her sister, by sitting at the Master's feet. Many words are wise and fruitful, but there are none like His.
J. E. Macfadyen, The City with Foundations, p. 13.
I. Note that a life of listening to Christ is the highest life.
II. That such a life is possible for us all. A life of communion may be lived even in the midst of our outward occupation.
III. That such a portion is permanent
Under this heading Tolstoy issued a long, comprehensive survey of the world's situation, in Church and State, with an exposure of the externalism and oppression of society, and an earnest appeal for individual regeneration. The closing paragraph runs as follows:
'We have become so accustomed to the false idea that the improvement of the life of men can be attained by external (and in most cases compulsory) means, that we also think that the alteration of men's inner state can be attained only by external measures brought to bear on others. But this is not so. And it is well for men that it is not so. If it were otherwise and men could by external means change each other, then, first, irrational, light-minded people might alter men in a mistaken way, injuring them and depriving them of their welfare; and, secondly, an activity of this kind for the attainment of the welfare of life by external means might meet insurmountable obstacles. But this is not so. The alteration of the inner spiritual state of men is always within the power of every separate man, and man can always infallibly know in what consists the true welfare of himself and of all men, and nothing can stop or keep back his activity in the attainment of this aim. Man attains this aim his own and other men's welfare only through the inner alteration of himself, by elucidating and strengthening in himself a rational religious consciousness and then ordering his own life conformably to this understanding of life. As only a burning material can ignite other material, so also only the true faith and life of one man, being communicated to other men, can spread and confirm religious truth. And it is only the spreading and confirmation of religious truth which improves the position of men.
'And therefore the means of deliverance from all those evils from which men suffer, including that dreadful evil which is committed by Governments (such as all the present calamities in Russia), lies however strange it may seem only in one thing, the inner work of each man upon himself.
'"Martha! Martha, thou art anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is needful."'
References. X. 42. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvii. No. 1015. R. Flint, Sermons and Addresses, p. 123. J. Keble, Miscellaneous Sermons, p. 287. F. B. Woodward, Sermons (1st Series), p. 207. D. C. A. Agnew, The Soul's Business and Prospects, p. 232. C. Parsons Reichel, Sermons, p. 237. J. Laidlaw, Studies in the Parables, p. 229. X. 50. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ix. p. 186.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Luke 10". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany