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The Men Without a Sabbath
The Lord delivered His primary challenge to the Jews through the Sabbath Day. It was, as it were, His gauge of battle, His test case. For His own personal significance turned on His relation to this Sabbath Day question. Not that in this He challenged the validity of the older Covenant. On the contrary, He always claimed the authority of the older Covenant on His own side. He appealed for His own justification to the principles established in the Law of Moses, or to the precedents recorded in the sacred books. He asserted that He Himself was giving to the Sabbath its proper legal value, and that the Jews, in obstructing His action, were defying their own law.
The collision arose wholly on the interpretation to be put upon the Sabbath. And here the logic of Christ worked in exactly the opposite direction to the logic of the Pharisee. He and they, therefore, could never come to terms, for they drew opposite conclusions from the same premiss; that premiss was the sanctity of the Sabbath. Both held by that. The Sabbath was the day consecrated to God, when man came before His Maker to rejoice in the work of His hands, as God had rejoiced in His own works in the day when He pronounced all very good.
I. 'All was very good.' That was the note of the day. God's benediction was on everything that He had made. He found the peace of His repose in that splendid satisfaction. So it had been at the beginning. So it still was for those drawn within the covenanted relationship, for that Israel whom He had redeemed out of slavery, for that first-born race ransomed by the Passover Lamb, lifted out of Egyptian darkness into the light of Divine knowledge, sanctified and purified by deliverance through the waters of the Red Sea. All was good for those, at any rate, bound to Him by covenant. The eternal verdict stood fast. Each recurring Sabbath proclaimed it afresh. Israel stood in the favour of God, and could come up with delight, with praise and thanksgivings into the courts of the Lord's house. It was the day of privilege and favour. And, therefore, out of it must be cast all that offends. There must be nothing to blur or stain the happy fellowship of man with his God. There must be no interruption to the harmonious intercourse.
Yes; and if so, then, argued the Jews, let us clear away out of sight all that breaks this gracious pause, all that wrecks this perfect harmony. For today let it be left alone, untouched and unregarded. Other days are enough to occupy ourselves with our own affairs and to remedy our own troubles. To-day is God's only. Give it all to Him. He asks for it all. It is all to be filled with joy, with rest, not with care. Leave for at least this one day your pains behind you, out of sight, out of mind. And come and sing, in thanksgiving, unto the Lord your God.
II. The call to cease from your own labour in order to rejoice in God's work on your behalf presupposes that you are in a condition so to praise God, and give Him thanks for all that He has done for you. What if you are deprived of any reason for thanksgiving? What if the Divine work for you and upon you has been wrecked, broken down, defaced? What if you have been flung outside the conditions which God had pronounced to be very good? What if those conditions are no longer at all good, and are unfit to be presented before the Divine review, and are unworthy of the Divine satisfaction, and traverse the very purpose of creation which the Sabbath celebrates? What if they fail their primal meaning, and their intended glory, and are harsh, hideous, cruel, godless? What is the use of talking this Sabbath-talk over them? What is the use of declaring that all is very good when it is not good? It may be a question who has sinned to bring about this or that disaster, whether it was the man himself or his parents. Anyhow, there the disasters are. You cannot sing praises and thanksgivings, as if these outrages on all praises and thanksgivings did not exist. Your zeal for the honour of the Sabbath, and for the blessing laid on the first creation, ought to force you to attend to the blots that deface it. Far from sweeping them away out of sight, it ought to make it impossible for you to keep your eyes off them, or to forget them.
Before you can keep your Sabbath you must get the poor creature out of the pit. That is the first necessity, and that necessity is no breach of the Sabbath itself; for the Sabbath call assumes that you are qualified to keep it. It assumes that all is well with you. It bids you recognise that God and you are at peace. It invites you to offer thanks for your peace and gladness. If things are not right, then you must at all costs put them straight at once, in order to make your Sabbath possible. Hurry off, then! If your ox is in the pit, that is what is violating the Sabbath, not the labour of pulling it out. The labour spent on pulling it out is labour consecrated to the demands of the Sabbath. You work under the immediate stress of the Sabbath in order to make its fulfilment practicable.
Work then with all your power. Never rest until you have won the right to rest and to bless God that all is very good. And if you ought to do so for ox or ass, how much more so for this or that poor woman whom Satan has bound these twelve years? So the counter-logic works, the logic of the Lord's salvation.
III. For He came on earth out of this very desire, to renew our ancient Sabbath joy. It was for the sake of the Sabbath that He made His unique claim. For man's Sabbath had fallen into suspense. Its command, indeed, stood, 'Come before God and rejoice in Him who rejoices over you'. 'Leave all your own works aside to do this one work of Divine thanksgiving.' The call was as imperative as ever. But what if man himself had fallen into a pit? What if he was powerless to obey? Then the Sabbath itself cried aloud for his deliverance. The Sabbath itself enforced the prime necessity of restoring him to himself. There was only one way of enabling the Sabbath requirements to be satisfied, and that was by pulling man out of the pit there and then by opening his eyes if he was blind, by healing his limbs if they were withered, by casting out his devils if he were possessed, by raising him to his feet and giving him power to walk and carry his bed if he was paralysed. Sabbath works these! For without them no Sabbath could be kept. 'If you Jews loved your Sabbath for its true sake, you could not help rejoicing in anything that removed the obstruction that had its blessings. Your passion for the honour of the Sabbath would inevitably kindle in you the wish to see its honour verified. You would clamour for its good name to be unsullied. You would release anything that set its full peace free. You would be restless and miserable in your own Sabbath spirit, so long as you saw it blotted and spoilt for others. Oh! the leap of relief if some strong hand more capable than your own could do the work that restored to them their Sabbath and gave back the good peace that had been lost.'
The whole challenge of Jesus Christ lies here. That is why He made the Sabbath day His critical test. 'You men are professing to rejoice in your God-given Sabbath. But is there any one of you who can keep it? You claim to walk in the light of God's eyes. Dare any of you face them? I am here to give back the Sabbath to man by making man fit for the Sabbath. That is why, as Lord of Man for whom the Sabbath was made, I am Lord also of the Sabbath, which is My crowning gift to that humanity which I have redeemed that it may enter into My rest.'
H. Scott Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxviii. p. 251.
Reference. XIV. 5. Expositor (5th Series), vol. iv. p. 213.
In his treatise on the Holy Spirit, St. Basil the Great inveighs against the contemporary ambition of the Christians around him. 'Every one is a theologian, even he whose life is stained with countless pollutions. Self-appointed individuals with a keen appetite for place reject the dispensation of the Holy Spirit, and then divide among themselves the high offices of the Church. There is an indescribable pushing and elbowing for precedence, every one who is eager to make an appearance straining every nerve to put himself forward prominently.'
References. XIV. 7-11. G. W. Brameld, Practical Sermons, p. 222. XIV. 8. J. Learmount, British Congregationalist, 26th July, 1906, p. 733. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ix. p. 306. XIV. 9. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year (2nd Series), vol. ii. p. 141.
In the letter to Napier, in which he refuses to republish his reviews, Macaulay protests: 'I will not found any pretensions to the rank of a classic on my reviews. I will remain, according to the excellent precept in the Gospels, at the lower end of the table, where I am constantly accosted with, "Friend, go up higher," and not push my way to the top at the risk of being compelled with shame to take the lowest room. If I live twelve or fifteen years, I may perhaps produce something which I may not be afraid to exhibit side by side with the performance of the old masters.'
Cardinal Perraud, in his Life of Père Gratry, describes his last watch by the death-bed of his friend. 'My dear father,' he said, 'it was you who called me to the service of God, and to you, after Him, I owe my vocation. Do you remember, how twenty-five years ago, at the Normal School, you so often repeated to me the words of the Saviour in the Gospel, " Amice, ascende superius ?" He pressed my hand, to show me that he heard and understood. Then I knelt down and said to him, "My dear father, bless me and Charles also"' [his brother Charles Perraud, another saintly priest who had been a pupil of Père Gratry. The names of Adolphe and Charles Perraud, Henri Perreyve and Eugene Bernard, will be always associated in the annals of French religious history with those of Gratry and Lacordaire.].
References. XIV. 10. H. G. Daniell-Bainbridge, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 86. J. Keble, Sermons for the Sundays after Trinity, p. 154. E. Armitage, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. p. 333.
The English are an Old Testament people; they never cared about the New. No other nation has such profound sympathy with the history and creeds of Israel. Did you ever think of it? That Old Testament religion suits us perfectly our arrogance and our pugnaciousness; this accounts for its hold upon the mind of the people; it couldn't be stronger if the bloodthirsty old Tribes were truly our ancestors. The English seized upon their spiritual inheritance as soon as a translation of the Bible put it before them. In Catholic days we fought because we enjoyed it, and made no pretences; since the Reformation we have fought for Jehovah.... The English are the least Christian of all so-called Christian peoples. They simply don't know the meaning of the prime Christian virtue humility.
George Gissing, in The Crown of Life.
References. XIV. 11. F. B. Cowl, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xvii. p. 335. J. Learmount, The Examiner, 19th July, 1906, p. 709. XIV. 12. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vi. p. 212. XIV. 12-14. C. Bradley, Faithful Teaching, p. 30. J. Bunting, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 135. XIV. 13. F. B. Cowl, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xvii. p. 383.
The Selfishness of Society
There are certain passages of Scripture which are condemned to suffer an almost perpetual martyrdom. It is not because they are either unimportant or hard to understand, but rather because they seem to be pitched in too lofty and exacting a key. Among the number of these the words selected above may well be reckoned. Christ's most exacting sayings are the most searching tests of our spiritual condition. They demand what nobody else thinks of demanding, and their claim upon our observance is drawn exclusively from His authority.
I. There can be no doubt that the course which Jesus here disapproves is the one that is still most generally followed. Indeed it is alarming to think on how thoroughly selfish a basis the friendships of this world rest. The bonds that draw people together are mainly of the most mercenary sort Perhaps some will demur to this as a little extravagant and overdrawn. Well, you must see that you are not deceiving yourselves, and shelving the real issue, because its serious consideration may prove unpleasant There cannot be Christian society which has not a Christian object, or at least does not coincide with Christian aims. Let us, then, ask ourselves one or two questions. Do our social engagements contribute to the strength of our Christian character? Or, do they leave behind the exhaustion and weariness that succeeds excitement? If so, how can you reconcile them with faithfulness to Christ? But it is not so much the excitement and dissipation of excessive social enjoyment which Christ condemns, as the calculating, sordid spirit which too often regulates its whole arrangement.
II. What, then, is it to which Christ exhorts us? in what direction does He bid us advance? He tells us that when we make a feast we are to call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and we shall be blessed. Then He adds as the reason, that they cannot recompense us again. Disengaging the truth which is taught us here from the particular connection in which it occurs, we find He inculcates that spirit of unselfishness which does not contemplate or seek for a present reward. But the principle receives its direct application in another and a wider area. It inculcates the spirit of the good Samaritan, the doing of good for its own sake or rather for Christ's sake. It directs us to give where our gift is most required, and will confer the largest amount of happiness.
C. Moinet, The Great Alternative and other Sermons, p. 231.
Luke 14:15 ; Luke 11:27
We have here two instances in which well-meaning persons lost their heads when they heard Jesus speaking plain home-truths. They have their successors in every age, and stand for peculiarly characteristic types of the two commonest ways of turning aside the edge of conviction. The woman turns it aside by an emotion, the man by a pious remark.
I. The Woman. Women were ever quicker than men to perceive the greatness of Jesus. In this instance we can see the woman's rising excitement as we read the story. The perversity and rudeness of His treacherous enemies must have stung the hearts of His friends. His reply to them, describing the miserable plight of the devil-haunted, and the wandering of demons in the wilderness, further heated her imagination, until perhaps she had grown almost hysterical, and needed the relief of speech. It was the cry of one full of delight in His human power and more than human grace. The kind and womanly heart of her speaks out, it may be with the passion of the childless or the yearning of one whose children had shamed her. She blesses the unknown mother of Jesus, thinking how proud she herself would have been to have borne such a son. Her cry was the spontaneous utterance of the purest and most natural emotion.
Yet Jesus turned it aside with pointed words about the blessedness of those that hear the Word of God and keep it. His words were very gentle, yet they were relentless. He was carrying on His great work, intent upon the supreme moral and spiritual issues of men's lives. This inrush of emotion, distracting attention from the line of His teaching, was in the nature of an interruption; and He was not one who would allow the beauty or even the kindliness of an emotion to interfere with His higher mission.
II. The Man. Seated at the table as a guest, this unnamed man interrupts the discourse of Jesus with a somewhat similar remark. It does not look like an original saying, and may very likely have been a familiar quotation from some of the Rabbinical writings. Matthew Henry takes a kindly view of the incident: 'Even those that are not of ability to cany on good discourse themselves ought to put in a word now and then, to countenance it and help it forward'. It is an interpretation characteristic of that most courteous of divines, but it is quite impossible here. Jesus evidently regards the words as an intended interruption, and throws them aside in His very pointed parable of the feast and the excuses.
We all know the type of man who, when the situation is becoming somewhat strained, exclaims, 'Blessed 'is somebody or other! 'Don't let us talk about that, let us talk about something pleasant.' This is the sort of man who might conceivably be saved by an outburst of clean anger or even frank profanity saved from nervous timidity and bloodless want of character. As it is, his motto is caution.
So the two instances are really common examples of the practice of making excuses which Jesus so explicitly rebukes in the parable which follows.
John Kelman, Ephemera Eternitatis, p. 248.
References. XIV. 15. S. A. Tipple, The Admiring Guest, p. 1. H. Bell, Sermons on Holy Communion, p. 120. W. R. Inge, The Guardian, 13th May, 1910. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 117. XIV. 16. H. Bell, Sermons on Holy Communion, p. 99. XIV. 16, 17. Bishop Brickersteth, Sermons, p. 110. XIV. 16-24. J. S. Maver, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lx. pp. 14, 95, 231, 271. XIV. 17. J. A. Alexander, The Gospel of Jesus Christ, p. 147. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year (2nd Series), vol. ii. p. 17. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiii. No. 1354.
I. It is necessary to bear in mind that the supper or, as we should call it now, the dinner is a spiritual feast; it is the supper of the Lord. The behaviour of the invited guests is strange enough as it is, but, unless the supper were a feast of Divine things, it would be unintelligible. For most people are glad of an invitation to a dinner-party; at least I suppose they are glad, or why do such parties exist? Your host seeks 'the honour of your company,' and you express your 'great pleasure' in accepting the invitation to dine with him. Let us charitably suppose that the truth is spoken or written on both sides.
It is plain, I think, that the guests of the parable had not only been invited, but had accepted the invitation. For the host sent his servant to remind them of his dinner-party. It is probable that the invitation had been given verbally; the guests might have forgotten it. Anyhow, it was in accordance with the usage of the East to remind them. So the message went out, 'Come, for all things are now ready'. But the response was disappointing. 'They all with one consent began to make excuse.'
If I am right in thinking that the guests had accepted the invitation, then the excuse now offered by each of them was the breach of an engagement. They had promised to do something, and they did not do it, because they did not want to do it They broke their word. May I pause here to remark that we do not think half enough about the simple Christian duty of keeping engagements? What a world of trouble we often cause by breaking them! Here was the master of the house with his dinner prepared, his oxen and his fatlings killed, and all things now ready, but with no guests. I can well believe he was angry. Most of us, I suspect, would have been angry too.
I do in my heart believe that we ought to be far more scrupulous than we are in the matter of keeping engagements. Our word, when once it is given, should be our bond. Nothing, or scarcely anything, should be allowed to come in the way of our doing what we have undertaken to do. There was a King of England whose lifelong motto was Pactum Serṽa 'Be true to your plighted word'. It is a motto well worth remembering in these days.
II. 'They all with one consent began to make excuse.'
How true it is and yet how sad that men and women too are so ready to make excuses for abandoning their highest prerogative! We need religion; we all need it so vitally; we need the grace of God, the services and sacraments of His Church for the high and holy inspirations which lift the soul to heaven. We need them so much, yet we suffer any poor threadbare pretext to tear us away from them.
For the excuses in the parable are no more than types of the various ways in which we all excuse ourselves for not doing what we know to be our duty. Let me warn you against excuses.
III. The habit of making excuses is only too common. 'They all with one consent began to make excuse.' It is none the better, nay, it is the worse, for being so common. For it almost invariably betrays some flaw or fault, some act which will not bear inspection in the past history of a life. The only sure way of avoiding excuses is so to live as to be in no need of making them. Let us then have 'a conscience void of offence both towards God and towards man'; let us live a life simple and sincere, bright as a crystal lake; let us eschew subterfuges and prevarications, the half-truths which are always half-lies; let us seek to be true as He was, who could say of Himself not so much 'I speak the truth,' or even 'I do the truth,' as 'I am the Truth'.
Bishop Welldon, The Gospel in a Great City, p. 155.
The Failure of Success
The tragedy of suffering is often terrible, but it is as nothing to the tragedy of success. Not indeed that all success is tragic, but perhaps it would be true to say that all success is at least dangerous and most of it tragic. It is always a menace to the higher life, and often its destruction. And so the quest for it is one of the most pathetic things in the world; it is as if a man were to strive, by every means and with what speed he may, to compass his own ruin.
I. Nothing tests a man so surely as his definition of success. He loves best that in which he is most anxious to succeed; and it is a pathetic testimony to the externalism of our standards that the men most commonly called successful are those whose wealth or worldly position has dazzled the eyes of the multitude. But is it not very plain, upon reflection, that the only successful man is the man who has most triumphantly done the real business of his life? And here we are face to face with the question which is ultimate for all of us: What is the real business of life? Is it not just to make the most and the best of ourselves, and the most through the best? In a letter to a friend, Carlyle happily defined success as 'growing to your full spiritual stature under God's sky'.
II. Under modern conditions, success, as commonly understood, lies in doing one thing well; and it is sadly true that most men contrive to do one thing well by neglecting things of at least as much importance as those which they consider. The attitude of ordinary men to the highest things has been immortalised by Jesus in His parable of the supper. It was a great supper this worthy of so generous a host and guests of all sorts were invited. But as soon as the table was spread and they had nothing to do but come, they all began to excuse themselves. One had to see to his cattle, another to his fields, another to his home; and so they allowed business and pleasure to shut them out of the banqueting-hall. They cared more for the oxen and the land than for the great King who had graciously asked them to come in to Him and sup with Him; and their terrible, but reasonable, doom was that they should never taste of His supper. If they should come, they would find the doors shut, and they would be left in the darkness with the weeping and the wailing.
III. Doubtless every man's profession is a Divine school of discipline. It is by doing its duties that he develops his capacities and attains to any power that is ever his. But to most men it proves a prison as well as a school. They can see little of the great and beautiful world beyond the cruel bars of their window, and they seldom travel beyond the courtyard. In allowing our work to develop us, we ought not to allow it unduly to restrict us; for all things are ours.
The famous words of Darwin should be taken to heart by those who feel that they are giving their exclusive affection to the work of their lives, however important and honourable that may be. 'Up to the age of thirty,' he says, 'or beyond it, poetry of many kinds, such as the works of Milton, Gray, Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley, gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare, especially in the historical plays.... Pictures gave me considerable, and music very great delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry. I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also almost lost my taste for pictures or music.... I retain some taste for fine scenery, but it does not cause me the exquisite delight which it formerly did.... My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts.... If I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week; for perhaps the parts of my brain now atrophied would thus have been kept active through use. The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.'
The preacher, like other men, is asked to the great supper; and he is tempted, like other men, for professional reasons, to plead, 'I pray thee, have me excused'. But here, as often elsewhere, it is true that he who excuses accuses himself.
J. E. Macfadyen, The City with Foundations, p. 211.
References. XIV. 18. H. S. Holland, Old and New, p. 81. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. li. p. 93. St. V. Beachey, The Excuses of Non-Communicants, p. 7. J. Stalker, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. p. 148. A. Maclaren, The Wearied Christ, p. 102. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. x. No. 578. Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 280. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Luke, p. 28. XIV. 18-20. C. Perren, Sermon Outlines, p. 127. XIV. 20. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxvi. No. 2122.
Oh this wonderful, wonderful world, and we who stand in the middle of it are in a maze, except poor Matthews of Bedford, who fixes his eyes upon a wooden cross and has no misgiving whatsoever. When I was at his chapel on Good Friday, he called at the end of his grand sermon on some of the people to say merely this, that they believed Christ had redeemed them; and first one got up, and in sobs declared that she believed it; and then another, and then another I was quite overset all poor people: how much richer than all who fill London churches!
References. XIV. 21. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 29. XIV. 21-24. H. S. Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. p. 353.
The question has often been repeated which was asked in the time of Christ, 'Are there few that be saved?' The answer is twofold. The counsels and invitations of Divine wisdom and love are large, generous, and free; but the obstacles which are offered by human indolence, incredulity, and sin, are serious and formidable. In one aspect the way is easy and pleasant, in another it is toilsome and painful. The language of the text reminds us that there is abundant provision in the counsels of God, and a gracious welcome in the heart of God, for all who need the Gospel and who are willing to comply with its requirements and accept its blessings.
I. Where there is Room. (a) In the heart of the Father. His desire is that all men should be saved, and should come to the knowledge of the truth. His appeal to men is, 'Ho! every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters'. His entreaty and expostulation is, 'Why will ye die?'
(b) In the Covenant of Christ. He died for all. He was lifted up to draw all men unto Himself. His blood was shed for many.
(c) In the Spiritual Kingdom. The greatness of a kingdom lies largely in the number of the subjects. No right-feeling man can do other than rejoice in the inclusion of multitudes in the kingdom, which is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. Our Saviour Himself foretold that the tree shall grow and that the leaven shall spread.
(d) In the Heavenly Mansions. There are many abodes, and, to people these, many shall come from the east and from the west. No limitation, no exclusiveness there, but room for men of all nations, kindreds, and tongues.
II. For Whom there is Room. (a) For the Indifferent. There is room for those whose possessions and pre-occupations too often render them indifferent to the Gospel invitation. The wealthy, the busy, and the festive, who, in the parable referred to respond to the summons, are not excluded, save by their own folly.
(b) For the Indigent. There is room for the spiritually indigent, who are sensible of their wants; those who may be represented by the poor, the maimed, the halt, the blind.
(c) For the Outcast. There is room even for the outcast and the despised, who are abandoned by men, and who have given themselves over to despondency. And if there be any others, with human hearts and human wants, there is room for them.
Yet, thus far, even now, there is room. But the hour shall come when the Master shall arise and close the long-open door.
'When I had been long vexed with this fear,' of being too late for salvation, says Bunyan, 'and was scarce able to take one step more, these words broke in upon my mind, Compel them to come in, that My house may be filled; and yet there is room. These words, but especially them, and yet there is room, were sweet words to me; for, truly I thought that by them I saw there was place enough in heaven for me; and moreover that when the Lord Jesus did speak these words, He then did think of me; and that He, knowing that the time would come that I should be afflicted with fear that there was no place left for me in His Bosom, did before speak this word, and leave it upon record, that I might find help thereby against this vile temptation. This I then verily believe. In the light and encouragement of this word I went a pretty while; and the comfort was the more, when I thought that the Lord Jesus should think on me so long ago, and that He should speak these words on purpose for my sake.'
References. XIV. 23. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. v. No. 227. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. ii. p. 15. J. Keble, Village Sermons on the Baptismal Service, p. 163. A. Shepherd, The Gospel and Social Questions, p. 123.
Words of Warning
Here is a warning to us all lest we should be shut out of heaven.
I. There is only One Thing which will prevent us coming under the Condemnation, the warning contained in our text. Unless we repent we shall none of us reach heaven. Six component parts go to make up repentance:
a. Self-examination, to find out our sins.
b. Sorrow for our sins.
c. Confession of our sins.
d. Making satisfaction for our sins and trying to undo the wrong we have done.
e. Trying to lead a better life and to keep from sin in the future and to take advantage of His grace.
f. Willingness to forgive others as we hope God will forgive us.
Love is the beginning and the end of repentance. But what a contrast: God's love for us and our carelessness and want of love for Him! We take such care of our bodies, but how little care do we take for our souls those precious souls our souls eternal! How little love we have for them! Is it not a fact that we starve them? We cherish our bodies, which return to dust, but do we take sufficient care of our precious souls?
II. Let us Feed and Nourish these Souls in the only way in which they can be nourished, which is surely the taking of the Blessed Sacrament referred to especially in this parable the great Sacrament: the Last Supper, the Holy Communion.
References. XIV. 24. S. Cox, Expositions, p. 390. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 86. XIV. 25, 26. Expositor (6th Series), vol. xii. p. 153.
Compare Milton's noble words, describing his resolve to risk his eyesight for the sake of writing his Defence of the English People. 'The choice lay before me,' he avers, 'between dereliction of a supreme duty and loss of eyesight; in such a case I could not listen to the physician, not if Æsculapius himself had spoken from his sanctuary; I could not but obey that inward monitor, I know not what, that spake to me from heaven. I considered with myself that many had purchased less good with worse ill, as they who give their lives to reap only glory, and I thereupon concluded to employ the little remaining eyesight I was to enjoy in doing this, the greatest service to the common weal it was in my power to render.'
References. XIV. 26. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlv. No. 2650. Reuen Thomas, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. p. 406. Expositor (6th Series), vol. v. p. 258. XIV. 26, 27. Ibid. vol. iv. p. 285. XIV. 27. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 726.
In every action consider what precedes and what follows, and then proceed. Otherwise, if you do not consider, you will start with spirit, but afterwards, when some of the consequences emerge, you will barely give over.... Consider, first of all, the particular action, and then your own nature: consider what you can endure.
References. XIV. 28. Expositor (6th Series), vol. i. p. 394; ibid. (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 87. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Luke, p. 38. XIV. 28-30. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xx. No. 1159.
The Policy of Concentration in Foreign Missions
There must be a generous seed-time; but there must be careful preparation for harvest, lest we fail to gather it There must be youthful zeal, but there must also be quiet, resolute thinking as to how it can best be used. And it applies equally well (as indeed the illustrations show) to large operations as to small; to the building up of a kingdom as to the edification of an individual; to a campaign with heathen forces as with personal passions. And, further, there are indications in the New Testament that it was always borne in mind. Our Lord's own mission is a singular illustration of it He was the first and the great Apostle of God, as the Epistle to the Hebrews declares, the first Christian Missionary, and He came to evangelise the whole world. But how does He set about it? He does not, like some great human leader, carry the standard of the Faith He proclaims from Nazareth to Rome. He does not seek to accomplish what St. Paul does in the three years between the first and third missionary journeys; makes no attempt to cover a wide field. He confines Himself to the narrow and limited district of Judaea. And before doing so He does what He urges us to do. He retires to the wilderness that He may think out how the evangelisation of the world is to be carried out To use His own illustration, He sits down first and 'counteth the cost' of the great sacrifice; consulteth with Himself as to how the campaign is to be undertaken.
I. The Restraint of the Church. The example of our Lord in this respect was emphasised by His direction that His disciples should bear witness to Him in Jerusalem, Judæa, Samaria, and into the ends of the world. And though, no doubt, at the time there was no clear knowledge as to how the direction was to be obeyed, it seems highly probable, as we look at the work accomplished by the end of the second century, that, whilst the evangelisation of the whole world was never out of sight, only a comparatively small part was attempted. In spite of the legend that was afterwards circulated that the Apostles preached the Gospel to the whole world, there was no real attempt, as some have dreamed of in these days, to evangelise the whole world in one generation. A study of Dr. Harnack's two maps in his interesting work on the Mission and Expansion of Christianity, the one giving the spread of Christianity down to A.D. 180, the other down to A.D. 325, together with the exhaustive and detailed summary of such facts as his wide historical knowledge gives, shows clearly that this was not expected. It is true that their geographical knowledge was very small compared with ours, but they knew of a much larger world than they evangelised. Owing to the wide dispersion of the Jews, they were more or less familiar with countries far distant from Palestine. The Persian Empire beyond the Tigris, and stretching as far east as India, had representatives in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, so also Arabia and parts of Africa. But though known, yet so far as can be discovered there were no Christian Missions there of any account, even at the time of the Council of Nicæa. The policy directing the evangelisation of the world was then evidently very different from that which would send broadcast anywhere those who were ready to preach the Gospel. From the direction which the first missionaries took, from the care with which their journeys were repeated, from the comparatively very restricted area in which they worked, it would seem clear that there was a more or less settled policy, and that this was that of concentration. It was felt to be better to do a little thoroughly well than a great deal imperfectly; better to keep the communications between Christian towns and villages open than to have them scattered and isolated; better to have one country Christian than twenty where only the Gospel is preached. This is the more surprising when we remember two facts. First, that the number of missionaries was large. In the Apostolic days every Christian was a missionary whether man or woman, every member of the body felt himself bound by his love to the Lord Who had died for him to communicate his faith to those who were without it. This was everywhere taken for granted, and there was no necessity to press it. The idea of a Society within the Church pledged to promote its propagation would have seemed to them ridiculous. And, secondly, there was a confident expectation during the lifetime of most of the Apostles that the Lord would return during the first century.
II. The policy of concentration is abundantly justified. I say nothing as to how this was brought about, as to whether it was due to the master mind of St. Paul alone, or to his counsels with the Apostles, but only suggest that there are passages in the narrative of the Acts suggestive of caution and restraint. At the outset, St. Paul is three years in Arabia in retirement, a time that must have been partly used, as our Lord's stay in the wilderness was used, in thinking out the campaign. And when it is begun and carried on there are limitations. When they had passed through the Galatian country they are 'forbidden' to preach the Word in Asia, and when they make for Bithynia the Spirit 'suffers them not'. A vision leads them into Macedonia, but they pass by large towns like Amphipolis and Apollonia, apparently because there are no synagogues there. Though St. Paul is the Apostle to the Gentiles, he insists on first preaching to his own countrymen.
III. The weakness of a widely scattered and diffusive Christianity is plain to all in spite of the splendid enthusiasm and the generous devotion by which it is sustained, and it seems as though the time had now arrived to return to that old self-denying policy of prudence which the Lord commended both by His example and His words. Must it not be confessed that in the past, owing to the fervour of an awakened interest in Foreign Missions, for which we devoutly thank God, we have supposed that zeal and enthusiasm are of themselves sufficient to secure success; that the proclamation of the Gospel will of itself build up a strong Church without foresight and care as to locality or nearness to Christian centres; that the heroism of one devoted missionary standing by himself in the midst of a densely dark heathen city must from its very grandeur accomplish great things. Prudence and caution when urged have been argued as lack of faith. Did not Christ say, it is asked in reproachful surprise, 'Go ye therefore and teach all nations'? as though He gave no other direction. May it not be hoped that a more patient study of the principles and laws which govern all warfare may be made by those who have time and, when carefully thought out, applied to the great tasks that lie before us? A tower must be builded whose top is to reach heaven. A war is to be waged with an Adversary whose subtle cunning and skill is well known, and who has still a marvellous hold of the world, and no lasting success can be looked for except on those lines which our great Leader has sanctioned both by His example and His words.
Bishop Walpole, The Guardian, 21st January, 1910.
Not Able to Finish
That which God in the person of His Son condemns in others He can never permit Himself to do. Thus we gain, as it were, unexpectedly a sudden but clear and large vision of the method of God. It is infinitely profitable to turn the parables into their Divine as well as their human applications. We did not expect to see God so clearly self-revealed. Let us look at the case. It is a figure drawn by the greatest Artist, more beautiful than light, more mystical than the sacrament of the rainbow.
'Which of you,' said Christ, 'intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.' Jesus Christ practically led the laughter of the world against the fool who began something which he could not end. It was a case of bitter taunt and mockery. If the man had done nothing, nothing would have been said about him, but he began to build and left off half-done; took away the scaffolding and left the ruin. That is Christ's own picture; we want to apply it, in the first instance, to God. He who buildeth all things is God; men are only underbuilders; square and compasses and triangles are all Divine revelations and man was taught how to strike the stone into shape and into music. It is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes. The point to which I want to fasten down, so to say, the Divine Teacher is this, that if God mocks the man who began to build and was not able to finish, how He must laugh Himself into destruction if He began to shape the universe and could never fill up the outline.
I. It is impossible to think of God creating man as we know him that is to say, as we know ourselves and allowing that man to end in nothingness. Here is man, as we know him, so abject, so august; he has thoughts, dreams, poems, philosophies, high purposes, noble ambitions, a heart that is like a golden fountain of love, and God made him so; and it is all going to end in smoke and nothingness! Never! The parable of the text is against that theory. God does not make men that He may mock them. God does not hang Himself up in His universe to be laughed at as the God who began a man and built only his feet, could not reach to his head, much less put a crown on the man whom He had created. This cannot be; the whole shuddering universe, appalled with his black blasphemy, says, No!
II. It is impossible to think of the Bible reducing all its own promises, oaths, assurances, consolations, to falsehood or mockery. Not perdition itself has fire enough hot enough to burn the book that has so misled us as the Bible has done if its oaths are lies and its promises are illusions. Man cannot be brought in that agony to regard the lying Bible as a mere effort in literature, the brightest and most exciting of the romances. The true heart has never read the Bible in that sense; the true heart has regarded the Bible as sent from God, written by God, pledging God to a ministry of love and redemption, of righteousness and judgment.
We are assured that there will be no failure on the part of God. Being confident, said the Apostle, the most heroic of all souls, that He who hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: Nevertheless, the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His; he that endureth unto the end shall be saved. There is sustenance on every mile of the road, there is comfort for every condition of life, there is ample preparation made for all the changes of the case; be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life. Be there when the crowns are given out!
Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. i. p. 268.
References. XIV. 31. A. Maclaren, After the Resurrection, p. 267. W. G. Rutherford, The Key of Knowledge, p. 171. XIV. 31, 32. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xi. No. 632.
I. The entire giving up of all self-dependence is the indispensable condition of discipleship. It is to be noticed that the text inculcates this self-surrender not as a meritorious act in itself deserving anything, nor as what we have to pay for Christ's mercy, but as a condition of discipleship.
II. The entire forsaking of self as an object in life is the inseparable accompaniment of discipleship.
III. The surrender of outward goods to Him is the outward expression of the inward dependence and regard. The outward surrender is worthy only when it is an outgrowth of inward trust.
References. XIV. 33. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iv. p. 62. Bishop Gore, The New Theology and the Old Religion, p. 251.
Oh let us remain faithful to the altars of the ideal! It is possible that the spiritualists may become the Stoics of a new epoch of Cæsarian rule. Materialistic naturalism has the wind in its sails, and a general moral deterioration is preparing. No matter, as long as the salt does not lose its savour, and so long as the friends of the higher life maintain the fire of Vesta. The wood itself may choke the flame, but if the flame persists, the fire itself will only be the more splendid in the end.
References. XIV. 34. H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons vol. iii. 203. XIV. 34, 35. D. Fraser, Metaphors in the Gospels, p. 1. XV. 1. H. Howard, The Raiment of the Soul, p. 89. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiv. No. 809.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Luke 14". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany