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Zaccheus: The Advantage of Disadvantages
It was in Jericho a place that had a bad name and has, I believe to this day. Of all men in the city that were spoken against and detested by every citizen of Jericho, probably Zaccheus stood first. To be a publican was bad enough. To be the chief of the publicans was worse still. And to have got rich at it completed the offence. The publican was the representative of foreign power that these proud people could not but detest the collector of taxes which were spent in their own subjection to heathen Rome. We do not know much about Zaccheus, but every word graphically sets forth his character.
I. The first thing I see in the man is the advantage of disadvantage. He is short of stature. But do you see how he makes up in energy and determination for what he lacks in size? He ran before. He climbed up into the tree. And when Jesus calls him he made haste and came down and received Him joyfully. Notice how he turns his disadvantages to such good account. He climbs up into a tree, and then he sees over everybody's head. And look at the advantage of his disadvantage here too. Because he had such a bad name, it does not matter what he did. Great are the advantages of disadvantages. Are not the world's great men most often those who have had to overcome all kinds of disadvantages? It was the overcoming of the disadvantages that was the beginning of their greatness. There is always a tree waiting for Zaccheus always the advantage to balance the disadvantage somewhere and somehow. We are all of us short in something.
II. Look at what others saw in Zaccheus, and what Jesus saw. Others saw the publican the coarse and common publican. There are thousands today in his place. It is the doubt and scorn of other people that make it so hard to be good; the Herods who, with cruel contempt and breath of bitterness, do slay the better life within men. But let us see what Jesus sees. His eyes pass over the sea of faces until they rest upon this man. The blessed Master looked, and saw it all the love that lay beneath, the longings unfulfilled, the sorrow that seemed to look out as if from prison bars. This is the glory of Jesus Christ. This is the Gospel. By kindly recognition of the good within us He transforms us.
M. G. Pearse, Naaman the Syrian and other Sermons, p. 78.
Luke 19:2 ; Luke 19:8
A party of Parisians were amusing each other by telling robber stories. Presently Voltaire, who had been listening quietly, said, 'I can tell a robber story better than any of yours'. The whole room immediately became silent and listened to the greatest personage in the French literature of the eighteenth century. Voltaire, after clearing his throat, began as follows: 'Once on a time there was a Farmer General'. Then he was silent. Presently all began to cry out: 'Why do you stop? Go on. Tell us the story.' 'I have told the story,' said Voltaire; 'do you not see that my statement implies the greatest robber story in history?'
A. D. White, Seven Great Statesmen, p. 220.
References. XIX. 3. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iv. p. 8. XIX. 5. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ii. No. 73, and vol. xlvii. No. 2755. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Luke, p. 151. XIX. 6. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlvi. No. 2701. XIX. 7. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxii. No. 1319. W. T. Fullerton, Christ and Men, p. 14.
Describing the effect of Savonarola's preaching upon Florence, Professor Villari observes: 'The aspect of the city was completely changed. The women threw aside their jewels ana finery, dressed plainly, bore themselves demurely; licentious young Florentines were transformed, as if by magic, into sober, religious men; pious hymns took the place of Lorenzo's Carnival songs. All prayed fervently, flocked to the churches, and gave largely to the poor. Most wonderful of all, bankers and tradesmen were impelled by scruples of conscience to restore ill-gotten gains, amounting to many thousand florins.'
References. XIX. 9. C. Perren, Outline Sermons, p. 319. T. Arnold, The Interpretation of Scripture, p. 117. John Watson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lv. p. 401. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlvi. No. 2665.
The Best Seeker
In Carlyle's remorseful and tender tribute to his wife we read: 'In childhood she used to be sent to seek when things fell lost; the best seeker of us all, her father would say or look as she thought; for me also she sought everything with such success as I never saw elsewhere'.
I. This is a tribute unique so far as we remember, but when one comes to think there must be many households where one is recognised as the best seeker, and is thereby endeared. The best seeker is not merely the most earnest seeker, but the most successful. What is needed for a good seeker? Mind, for one thing. Carlyle speaks of his wife's sense and wisdom, of her intellect shining luminous in every direction, the highest and the lowest. He pays tribute to her just discernment and her swiftness of decision. It is not easy to draw a sharp line between the mind and the heart. The one acts with the other, and neither by itself suffices. For the true seeker there must be sympathy with the loser. It is this sympathy that gives the key to much that may have happened, and that prompts the continuance of search after long and frequent discouragements.
For the great sovereign quests of life there are needed patience and sacrifice. The two cannot be severed. Where patience passes into sacrifice we cannot tell. As a rule the union is very quickly accomplished, and the track of search very soon becomes the high road of suffering, and perhaps even the track of blood.
II. The best seeker of all is the Son of man, Who came to seek and to save that which was lost. It was for the love of His Father and for the love of souls that He sought us, that He is seeking us still.
In the ancient mystical interpretation the words, 'She considereth a field and buyeth it,' are applied to the Church and to the Church as the imitator of her Lord. The field is the world, and the Lord considered the field. He considered it at the end of the sixth day of creation, when He saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good. He considered the field in its day of grief and ruin, and when the fullness of time was come He lifted up His feet to the long desolations. He considered the field with its great host of poor, needy, wandering souls from the top of an exceeding high mountain when in the hour of His temptation He saw all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them. He considered the field from the mountain that is exalted above the hills, from the watch-tower of His Cross. He considered the field and He bought it when He said, 'It is finished,' and bowed His head and gave up the ghost. He bought the field with His blood on the far-off evening of a far-off day, one day known to the Lord, neither day nor night, but of which it came to pass that at evening time there was light.
He is seeking as He sought in the day of His flesh, pursuing the wanderer with unwearied love, with prayers, with tears, with entreaty through the long reach that comes to an end only when He finds. He is seeking and He cannot cease. He is seeking as the shepherd seeks for his lost sheep, with eyes like the eyes of eagles and ears attent to catch the faintest sound. He goes on seeking years and years and years that He may find at last.
III. The best minister is the best seeker not the most eloquent preacher, not the profoundest scholar or thinker, not the conspicuous leader of men, but the humble, patient, resolute, prayerful seeker of souls. There are aspects of the Christian life and of the Christian ministry which are dark enough. We have received this ministry and we have received this mercy, and the result of it all is only that we faint not The greatest gifts bestowed by God and man take us no farther than that. We take to ourselves the whole armour of God, not to crush our enemies in a completed triumph, but simply to withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand, that is, merely to hold our own. Or, to put it in another way, we have done our part in this poor life if at the end we are still seeking souls, if we have sought them in spite of infirmity and temptation and disappointment, for we shall know at the end what Christ has known all through, that to find a soul is to find a pearl of great price.
W. Robertson Nicoll, Sunday Evening, p. 29.
Seeking the Lost
I. Consider that word lost that word that was so often on the lips of Jesus. (1) I am impressed by this; that this is the very word that is used of the state of the unsaved beyond the grave. It is not at death that the lost begin to be lost. Death does not start the ruin; death but shows it (2) The word, too, conveys another suggestion; it is that one may be lost and never know it. The gods have feet of wool, and all that is Divine in us departs not noisily, but with a muffled tread. (3) According to the teaching of Jesus a man may be lost through thoughtlessness.
II. I wish to try to illuminate that thought of seeking. (1) And first will you note that it is not find the lost? Our Lord was consummately careful in His choice of words. To save is something far grander than to find. It is the whole coronet of which finding is one diamond. (2) We shall never understand our life till we view its experiences as part of this heavenly seeking. As philosophers would say, there is much that is unintelligible until we place it all under this category.
III. Note the title of the seeker. It is one of the names that Christ loved to apply to Himself the Son of man is come to seek and to save. What does that title mean? (1) If He is the Son of man, then we may be sure He perfectly knows man's ways. (2) Then it tells us that if the Son of man be the seeker we are called into the fellowship of perfect manhood.
G. H. Morrison, The Scottish Review, vol. l No. 16, p. 866.
'To seek and to save!' Quest and conquest! 'To seek;' the long, long, tireless pursuit! 'To save;' the restoration, the convalescence, the perfect health! Any precious thing which is lost He came 'to seek and to save'. There are lost pieces of silver as well as lost children, and it is in the grace of our Lord to restore them. Let us look about in our common sphere for suggestions of common losses which mar and impoverish the Christian life.
I. 'He has lost his early ideals!' And I will dare to put side by side with this familiar expression the words of our Lord: 'The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which is lost'. He is come to recover lost ideals. Now, what is an ideal? Interpreted literally, the word signifies something seen. It is something seen in idea, before it has been realised in practice. The ideal which I hold of myself is just a vision of myself perfected. Now two things may happen to an early ideal. On the one hand, we may cheapen it. Or, in the second place, our eyes may become so dim that we cease to see the ideal. Now 'the Son of man is come to seek and to save' that lost ideal.
II. 'He has lost his enthusiasm.' We all know the man. But the passion began to abate. It is not that he has given up work altogether, but that it is done grudgingly and with creeping reluctance. He has lost his enthusiasm. And again, let me bring in the evangel. 'The Son of man is come to seek and to save' lost enthusiasms.
III. 'He has lost hope.' Yes, that is a frequent loss in life! And again I bring in the gospel of the word: 'The Son of man is come to seek and to save' lost hope. The only remedy for despondency is closer intimacy with the Christ. 'We have good hope through grace.'
IV. And lastly, let me mention the loss of Christian joy. And mark the peril of it, for 'the joy of the Lord is our strength,' and if our joy is impoverished our strength will be reduced. So here is a valuable bit of lost property! 'The Son of man is come to seek and to save' lost spiritual joy. There is a wonderful allegory by Nathanael Hawthorne, called 'The Intelligence Office'. Everybody who has lost anything makes inquiry at its door. A woman in her wedded life comes to ask about the lost affections of her courtship! An old man comes in quest of the lost and wasted hours of his youth! I know another office in which the Lord of Glory sits. If I have lost anything of infinite value it is well for me to inquire at His door. He knows all about it, and He can tell me where and how to find it. There is no lost property office like the dwelling-place of the Saviour. 'Seek and ye shall find.'
J. H. Jowett, The British Congregationalist, 26th March, 1908, p. 300.
What the Son of Man Comes for
I. Let us remember that Jesus Christ does not delight in the dark side of things. Never was there in this world One so quick to see the side of men and women, and never One so ready to set Himself on that side. 'There is no place where earth's failings have such kindly judgment given' as in the heart of our Blessed Saviour. Yet from the lips of Jesus comes this word lost, lost.
II. And yet again let us remember that there is none to whom our condition means so much as to Him who comes to remedy it. The Holy One of Israel is nailed to the Cross, the despised and rejected of men, that He might redeem us from the curse of the law. 'The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.'
III. If the Son of man is come for this then His whole concern is about the lost For the lost all the wisdom and goodness of God are at work devising means for their salvation. For the lost the glorious Son of God has come forth with His salvation. The very angels gather at the battlements waiting to break into joy in the presence of God over one sinner that repenteth.
IV. If the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which is lost, then shall He come prepared to do for us all that is needful.
V. And then if He is come to seek and to save the lost He must go on saving us.
M. G. Pearse, The Preacher's Magazine, vol. xi. p. 496.
References. XIX. 10. Reuen Thomas, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. p. 120. F. B. Cowl, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xvii. p. 430. S. Cox, Expositions, p. 316. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year, vol. i. p. 209. Spurgeon, Sermons , vol. iv. No. 204; vol. xix. No. 1100; vol. xlvii. No. 2756, and vol. liii. No. 3050. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 201; ibid. vol. iii. p. 25. W. L. Watkinson, The Fatal Barter, p. 161. XIX. 11. George Jones, Report of the Westminster Bible Conference at Mundesley, 1910, p. 319. T. T. Lynch, Sermons for My Curates, p. 103. XIX. 12, 13. H. S. Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. p. 377. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxiii. No. 1960. XIX. 12-27. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 120. XIX. 13. H. Allen, Penny Pulpit, No. 1626, p. 57. A. Maclaren, The Wearied Christ, p. 180. XIX. 14. J. G. Adderley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 141. XIX. 15. J. Keble, Sermons for the Sundays after Trinity, p. 463. A. Pott, Oxford Lent Sermons, 1868, p. 87. XIX. 16. T. T. Lynch, Sermons for My Curates, p. 71.
The Trading Servants
Luke 19:16 ; Luke 19:18
I. Notice the small capital that the servants receive to trade with. It was a pound apiece, which, numismatic authorities tell us, is somewhat about the same value as some £6 odd of English money; though, of course, the purchasing power would be considerably greater. A small amount, and an equal amount to every servant these are the two salient points of this parable. There are two sorts of gifts. In one, all Christian men are alike; in another, they differ. The rich man and the poor have one thing alike the message of salvation which we call the Gospel of the blessed Lord. That is the 'pound'. There are considerations that flow from that thought (1) The apparent smallness of the gift (2) The purpose for which the pound is given. The servants had to live on it themselves, no doubt. So have we. They had to trade with it. So have we. There are two ways in which this trading is to be done by us. (1) The honest application of the principles and powers of the Gospel to the moulding of our own characters, and the making us better, purer, gentler, more heavenly-minded, and more Christlike. (2) Telling it to others.
II. Observe the varying profits of the trading. (1) Christian people do not all stand on the same level in regard to the use they have made of, and the benefits they have derived from, the one equal gift which was bestowed upon them. Let us distinctly understand what sort of differences these are which our Lord signalises here. Let me clear away a mistake which may interfere with the true lessons of this parable, that the differences in question are the superficial ones in apparent results which follow from difference of endowments, or from difference of influential position. Every man that co-operates in a great work with equal diligence and devotion has an equal place in His eyes. The soldier that clapped Luther on the back as he was going into the Diet of Worms, and said, 'You have a bigger fight to fight than we ever had; cheer up, little monk,' stands on the same level as the great reformer, if what he did was done from the same motive and with as full consecration of himself. (2) All who trade make profits.
III. The final declaration of profits. There are two points in reference to this final declaration of profits suggested here. (1) All the profit is ascribed to the capital. (2) The exact knowledge of the precise results of a life, which is possessed at last. 'Every one of us shall give an account of himself to God'; and, like a man in the Bankruptcy Court, we shall have to explain our books, and go into all our transactions. We are working in the dark today. Our work will be seen as it is, in the light The coral reef rises in the ocean and the creatures that made it do not see it. The ocean will be drained away, and the reef will stand up sheer and distinct.
A. Maclaren, Triumphant Certainties, p. 59.
References. XIX. 16, 18. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Scripture St. Luke, p. 163. XIX. 16-19. A. Rowland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 150.
The Rewards of the Trading Servants
Luke 19:17 ; Luke 19:19
The relation between the parable of the pounds and the other of the talents has often been misunderstood, and is very noteworthy. They are not two editions of one parable variously manipulated by the Evangelists, but they are two parables presenting two kindred and yet diverse aspects of one truth. They are neither identical, as some have supposed, nor contradictory, as others have imagined; but they are complementary. The lesson of the parable of the talents is that, however unequal are our endowments, there may be as much diligence shown in the use of the smallest as in the greatest, and where that is the case, the man with the small endowments will stand on the same level of recompense as the man with the large. This parable comes in to complete the thoughts. The lesson of this parable is that unequal faithfulness in the use of the same opportunities results in unequal retribution and reward.
I. Note the solemn view of this present life that underlies the whole. All our present life here is a stewardship, which in its nature is preparatory to larger work yonder. And that is the point of view from which alone it is right to look at, and possible to understand, this else unintelligible and bewildering life on earth. All here is apprenticeship, and the issues of today are recorded in eternity. Here we prepare, yonder we achieve.
II. Note the consequent littleness and greatness of this present. The greatness of the future makes the present little, but the little present is great, because its littleness is the parent of the great future. The only thing that gives real greatness and sublimity to our mortal life is its being the vestibule to another.
III. Notice the future form of activity prepared for by faithful trading. (1) Faithfulness here prepares for participation in Christ's authority hereafter. The authority over the ten cities is the capacity and opportunity of serving and helping every citizen in them all. (2) However close and direct the dependence on, and the communion with, Jesus Christ, the King of all his servants, in that future state is, it shall not be so close and direct as to exclude room for the exercise of brotherly sympathy and brotherly aid. There, as here, we shall help one another to have Him more fully, and to understand Him more perfectly. We have to take this great conception of the future as being one that implies largely increased and ennobled activity.
IV. Our texts remind us of the variety in recompense which corresponds to diversity in faithfulness.
A. Maclaren, Triumphant Certainties, p. 70.
References. XIX. 17, 19. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Luke, p. 173. XIX. 20. A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons for the Christian Year, pt. iv. p. 270. XIX. 21. H. S. Holland, Old and New, p. 3. Expositor (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 375. XIX. 22. C. G. Finney, Penny Pulpit, No. 1670, p. 399.
Both good and evil tend to fructify, each in its own kind, good producing good, and evil, evil. It is one of nature's general rules, and part of her habitual injustice, that 'to him that hath shall be given, but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath'. The ordinary and predominant tendency of good is towards more good. Health, strength, wealth, knowledge, virtue, are not only good in themselves, but facilitate and promote the acquisition of good, both of the same and of other kinds. The person who can learn easily is he who already knows much; it is the strong and not the sickly person who can do everything which next conduces to health; those who find it easy to gain money are not the poor, but the rich.
From John Stuart Mill's Essay upon Nature.
Reference. XIX. 26. M. G. Glazebrook, Prospice, p. 11
The Value of a Pageant (Palm Sunday)
This story of a pageant breaks into the history of the passion with almost ludicrous incongruity. So much has this been felt, that otherwise trustworthy commentators have been tempted to allegorise the details of it, making the ass stand for the old theocracy and the foal for the young Church. But the Bible remains interesting and alive in spite of its interpreters. The foal is there simply as a beast to ride on: the ass is there, not because it stood for the old theocracy, but because it was the mother of the foal. In itself the whole story is, as it appears, trivial. It is a great truth expressed in a very little way.
There are two notes of that journey to Jerusalem the kingdom of God and the imminent cross, Royalty and Death. Both of these were clearly present to the mind of Jesus, as the two parts of a deliberate and colossal scheme for the mastery of the world. This sense of mastery is everywhere apparent. The tone of Jesus' speech is changed from request to command, from avoidance of enemies to open challenge; and every word and action indicates a complete mastery of the situation. But the striking thing is that He should have changed not only His tone, but His outward policy also. He had always been particularly averse to the spectacular, and on more than one occasion had refused and avoided pageants. Why does He now consent to one? It was a concession to human nature as that was displayed around Him then.
I. Then, for the first time, such a concession was safe. His task had been to insist upon the kingdom, and yet to avoid all attempts to make Him King. For over two years He had managed the populace as a skilful rider manages a restive horse, now drawing, and now slackening rein. Thus He had kept a bloody revolution at arm's length. But now at last there was no danger of such a revolution. There was, indeed, no time for it, for His death was distant but a week, and He must have known it.
II. And there was a certain value in such a pageant, however distasteful it might be to Him. It was certain to impress the imagination of His disciples, who were simple enough to set much store by such exhibitions. It painted for them an impressive picture, which would afterwards illuminate their faith in the royalty of Jesus; and in the same way it might conceivably impress outsiders, rendering them more ready for the subsequent call of the Gospel, and inclining them to accept it.
So then we have this strange combination of the great with the small, the eternal with the fleeting.
III. Royalty and death are still before the world, in the great and eternal tragedy of the Cross. Royalty and death are in the heart of Christ, and we are called upon to reckon with that dread purpose of His, each of us for ourselves. The show will pass and be forgotten, but how do we stand in respect of mastery over self and the world and sin? What share have we in the royal victory of the Cross?
John Kelman, Ephemera Eternitatis, p. 84.
References. XIX. 29. Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 124; ibid. vol. xi. p. 172. XIX. 37, 38. J. Keble, Sermons for Advent to Christmas Eve, p. 1. XIX. 37-40. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xii. No. 678. XIX. 37-48. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Luke, p. 183.
'It was not an age of particular earnestness, that Hume and Walpole age,' says Forster, in his biography of Goldsmith. 'But no one can be in earnest himself without in some degree affecting others. "I remember a passage in the Vicar of Wakefield," said Johnson, a few years after its author's death, "which Goldsmith was afterwards fool enough to expunge. I do not love a man who is zealous for nothing." The words were little, since the feeling was retained; for the very basis of the little tale was a sincerity and zeal for many things.'
Reference. XIX. 40. R. Bruce Taylor, Scottish Review, vol. iii. pp. 387, 441.
Christ and City Life
I. There is always something heart-moving in the sight of a multitude of men. The Persian Xerxes shed tears as he watched the interminable ranks march past him on the way to Greece. The iron Napoleon once melted as he reviewed the vast army which followed him to the Russian campaign. And when the proudest, sternest, and most unfeeling hearts have shown emotion, what should we expect from the pitiful Son of God? Whenever He saw the multitude, and especially the city multitude, He was moved with compassion.
It was the sadness of the city that affected Him. To every profoundly religious and philanthropic nature, the sadness of city life is more impressive than its splendour. No tender-hearted man who has seen the hidden darkness of city life can again for some time fling himself careless and heedless into its joys.
II. The pathos of city life is in the enormous contrasts of human sorts and conditions which it presents. In the village and the country they are not so sharp and startling; there, wealth is always near enough to poverty to be reminded of its duties; the mansion and the cottage are in closer touch; and kindly nature, with its gardens and flowers and sweet air, breathes some alleviation into the dreariest lives, gives health and brightness to the children's faces, and saves humanity from its deepest degradations. But in cities and towns just in proportion to their size and density of population are the extremes of opulence and destitution, of splendour and squalor, most glaring. Amid all the culture and splendour of wealth, there are women in garrets wearing their very flesh to bone, and children who have rarely or never seen green fields and growing flowers, and men gnawing their souls away with the bitings of a hungry discontent; and nightly by the river on which float the great argosies of commerce, desperate beings walk shiveringly, ready to fling themselves to the cold swift bourne of self-forgetfulness,' anywhere, anywhere out of the world'.
III. Our national life is becoming more and more city life. From all sides they are crowding, from hamlet to village, from village to town, from town to city from the quiet country house and the cottar's fireside with its prayers, to the giddy whirl of the great multitude with its excitements and its sins, with its palaces in the suburbs and its sleeping dens in the slums, with its gorgeous possibilities and its actualities of shame. The stream of country life is ever flowing cityward, to join some river of God or be lost in the sewers. For in the city are the noblest lives as well as the meanest, and the highest is there and the lowest, and Christianity has there its bravest witnesses as the world has its most devilish votaries, and martyrs and saints win their crowns amid the smoke and crush more surely than in the hermitage; and the city is the place where philanthropy and brotherly love and imperial charity do their holiest and grandest works. City life proves the power of Christ and the faith of His devoted servants more effectually than any other life can; but it shows also all the degradation and ultimate possibilities of ruin of which human nature is capable.
The Church feels more of the beating of His heart; His breath is on our spirits; His pities are filling us with tenderness; His compassion for the multitude is laying hold of our sympathies. We are looking on the poor and wretched through those tearful eyes of His; the Churches are throbbing with saving activities, and every man knows that he has no part in Christ whatever if he dares to ask himself the atheistic question, 'Am I my brother's keeper?' In this is the hope of city life.
J. G. Greenhough, The Cross in Modern Life, p. 41.
The Self-doomed City
It is a very significant fact that some of the very causes of the decline and fall of Jerusalem are still existent in Britain, and are real sources of peril to our great cities and towns. Let us enumerate them for our own warnings.
I. Formalism was rife in Jerusalem, and, alas! it is rife in our great cities today. The Pharisees were the most consummate formalists which the world had ever seen. The Ceremonialist whose religion is a decorated skeleton a mere agglomeration of inanities does more to demoralise a city than ten righteous men can do to elevate it.
II. Scepticism was rife in Jerusalem, and, alas! it is rife in our great cities today. With honest doubt we have strong sympathy, for in it there is more genuine faith than in many an ornate creed. But there is another kind of doubt abroad which is not at all honest. It is the offspring of intellectual pride, with more pride than intellect in it. Such doubt deserves no quarter.
III. Ingratitude for precious privileges was rife in Jerusalem, and, alas! it is rife in our great cities today. Our great English cities are the 'Jerusalems' of today. What a host of splendid prophets have been set to instruct them!
IV. Mammonism was rife in Jerusalem, and, alas! it is rife in our great cities today. Many men kill themselves in trying to grasp superfluous wealth, which they leave behind to destroy their own children.
V. Poverty and consequent disaffection were rife in Jerusalem, and, alas! they are rife in our great cities today. There must be a great maladjustment of social forces somewhere, for in every city we find a modern Vale of Hinnom, and hear the deep-throated wail of the needy.
VI. Social impurity was rife in Jerusalem, and, alas! it is rife in our great cities today. Flagitious lust is not yet dead. We are full of the 'fury of the Lord' against this frightful evil. Each of us is personally and vitally related to the public weal, and we must bring the religious spirit into all our collective action. The best protection against impurity is to preoccupy the mind with a nobler guest, whose name is Jesus.
VII. Intemperance was known in Jerusalem; but it is terribly rife in our own cities. The drink destroys more souls in England in one year than all its pulpits are instrumental in saving. Thank heaven, the general movement of the ages is upward and Godward. As George Meredith asks: 'Who can seriously think, and not think hopefully? '
J. Ossian Davies, The Dayspring from, on High, p. 186.
The Meaning of the Tears
The incident is a revelation. The tears are luminous with the passion of the Divine heart.
I. The philanthropy of Christ. It is clear from the teaching and the miracles of Jesus, that He loved man as man, independently of creed or class or colour. Does not that make the ethic of the evangel superior to the ethic of any other religion? Paganism taught patriotism, but not philanthropy. The tears of Jesus on Olivet were only the spray of the tidal feeling that surged within Him for mankind. It was his work not to depreciate patriotism, but to charge it with a new content the passion of His own love so that it grew to philanthropy. Exclusiveness is the deadly foe of philanthropy. 'Splendid isolation' is the death of humanitarian instinct. We must beware of that colourless philanthropy which, while professing the desire to help men, is, in its aristocratic exclusiveness, devoid of practical sympathy.
II. The humanity of the Father. 'He wept.' The tears of Jesus crystallised the humanity of the Father. God is no longer a cold abstraction, but a presence, warm and tender. Jesus in tears shows Him not only in His imperial majesty, but in His tender humanity. It is not too much to say that in our fuller recovery of Christ we have rediscovered God. To the august conceptions of the eternal sovereignty and awful holiness we have added the finest human qualities, the tender pity and sweet gentleness and tearful sympathy of Jesus; and so we have found our Father in the Son.
The truth has many applications; but the most precious is that it brings God so near to us. It is a truth full of consolation because it is full of compassion. You are often lonely and despondent, the colour of life is grey, and you walk among the graves of dead hopes; but should you in the tears of Jesus see the humanity of God, light will shine through the gloom and brighten into glory.
I say the acknowledgment of God in Christ,
Accepted by thy reason, solves for thee
All questions in the earth and out of it.
J. Oates, The Sorrow of God, p. 158.
The Tears of Jesus
I. The sight of the city. He thought of its punishment, but He rather wept because of its crimes. The evil filled His soul rather than the good. It is no proof of want of love for one's country when one sees clearly its faults and sins. The material well-being of a city is of less consequence than the moral and spiritual condition.
II. The tears over the city. He beheld evil as none of us can, and He mourned over it as none of us do. The sight of the city with its sin and squalor should excite in us profound sorrow. (1) This state of feeling can only be preserved by constant recurrence to God's ideal for man keeping clear before us what man was meant to be. (2) By drinking in the Spirit of Christ Jesus.
III. The remedy for the ills of the city. (1) The Gospel of Christ in its manifold application and that Gospel proclaimed by those who Know it. This is the work of every Christian. (2) At the basis of all our work must be the sorrow. (3) We are put in trust of the Gospel. Such work is commended by every consideration, (a) True patriotism. (b) Self-interest, (c) One's own religious well-being.
This was the text of the last sermon Kingsley ever preached. He closed with the words, 'Let us say in utter faith, Gome as Thou seest best but in whatsoever way Thou comest even so come, Lord Jesus'. As soon as the Abbey service was over, he came home much exhausted, and went straight up to his wife's room. 'And now my work here is done, thank God!... and I finished with your favourite text.'
We can place no limits to the ascendency which may be exercised by the mere intellect of some epoch-making man. But we may safely prophesy that no one will ever uplift his fellow-men from within, or leave a name which draws tears of reverence from generations yet unborn, who has not himself, as it were, wept over Jerusalem, and felt a stirring kinship with even the outcast of mankind.
F. W. H. Myers.
References. XIX. 41. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi. No. 1570. E. A. Stuart, The New Commandment and other Sermons, vol. vii. p. 201. W. J. Brock, Sermons, p. 185. W. P. Balfern, Glimpses of Jesus, p. 133. A. Ainger, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lx. p. 214. F. St. John Corbett, The Preacher's Year, p. 134. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon Sketches (2nd Series), p. 120. A. Coote, Twelve Sermons, p. 64. J. Keble, Sermons for Sundays after Trinity, pt i. p. 353. Expositor (6th Series), vol. i. p. 199. XIX. 41, 42. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in a Religious House, vol. ii. p. 357. W. Moore Ede, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lviii. p. 332. H. P. Liddon, Sermons on some Words of Christ, p. 238. G. Bellett, Parochial Sermons, p. 139. Bishop Bickersteth, Sermons, p. 271. J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons (2nd Series), p. 19. XIX. 41-44. W. C. Wheeler, Sermons and Addresses, p. 80. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 440.
Peace: what it is not and what it is. It is not in the Gospel mere rest, or mere quiet, or mere solitude. It is something infinitely more. It is harmony, concord, agreement, love. 'Now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three 'in an inevitable harmony. This is peace. Peace is not mere compromise of good with evil, but the redemption of evil into good. This is peace and harmony, and when that prevails God is visiting His people.
But though the end of reconciliation is peace, the process is war.
I. The Sanctuary of the Human Heart. If the elements are antagonistic, there must be war until the supremacy of God prevails. The Prince of Peace found in earth struggle and conflict, and finally was crucified, dead and buried. There could be no peace when He faced evil. Therefore He saith, 'I came not to send peace but a sword'. Peace in earth, yes, as the ultimate ideal, but not as the process by which we reach it. There can be no harmony or peace, in the Gospel sense, in a rebellious and wicked world, but only conflict for the children of God. Peace is no mere repose or quiet of the soul, but the consummation of its activities for good.
II. The Conflict of Religion and Science. Or, again, is it religion or science which are in conflict in discord? They are peacemakers who by the ministry of reconciliation have been during this half-century leading both religion and science to the sense of that deep unity of God, where there is indeed diversity of operations, but the same spirit. Why already, indeed, we marvel as we look back on half a generation, at the shallow philosophy which imagined on either side that God can be isolated from the world that He has made, and that science can discover anything at all finally irreconcilable with the wisdom and goodness of Him.
III. The Greater Life of Nations. The Gospel for today tells us in thrilling words what is the law that Christ proclaimed over Jerusalem in His time. In a nation's life, as in a man's, the things that belong to peace are all essential judgment, mercy, faith. Peace does not mean to a people any more than an individual mere repose and quiet, sloth and ease, but rather the crown or consummation of just and holy living. Peacemakers are they who strive that our laws shall be just, humane, effective, who have mourned in many a land and clime over the inhumanities of commerce and the cruelties of wars. Peacemakers are they who labour to preserve the comity of nations in our time, and abhor as a deadly sin, greater perhaps than any other, the inflaming of passions of nations against one another for purposes of greed, or picking a quarrel for the sake of pride.
Above all, blessed are the peacemakers who, in the complex relationships of social life, labour for the Kingdom of God, and oppose evil with a pure and determined spirit.
Reference. XIX. 42. J. T. Stannard, The Divine Humanity, p. 86.
Christ's Apocalyptic Outlook
The outlook upon life which our Lord authorises with His own personal sanction is apocalyptic. That is the mode of interpreting it to which we stand committed by our New Testament And by that long word we mean that this present world with which we are familiar looks towards a great reversal, a tremendous moment in which all its works will be put to sudden and searching proof by the fire of judgment; and all that cannot endure the sifting flames will shrivel up, and only the deep, unshaken foundations will abide the storm.
We live here in view of that day. We know that this present situation holds in it no ultimate value of its own. It is preparatory; it is disciplinary; it is probational. It is not the end. It is not the final condition of humanity. It has within it the seeds of what will endure; but it has also much that will be reversed; much that will be purged; much that will then suffer condemnation; much that will be burned up as rubbish in the flames. Mountains as they now stand will be thrown down, valleys as we now deem them will be filled up. A new measure will be applied, a new estimate will decide. The final judgment on the real worth of things is not yet in effective action, and when it arrives we shall be surprised at what it declares.
I. This is the typical Christian life. It is apocalyptic, and, moreover, this ultimate apocalypse, this final cataclysm, the last judgment, is for ever throwing out anticipations of its coming, omens of its approach. Even now human life falls under the apocalyptic category. That is, it works by great 'days of visitation'.
II. And to the apocalyptic eye the intervals of hidden development and secret accumulation, however prolonged and however wearisome, will drop out of the scene in which their work is summarised. They will disappear out of the reckoning. For all their real inner significance will be disclosed in a single abrupt flash of manifestation in that day which sets their gathered forces free. There, in that flaring release of pent-up energy, the whole secret breaks out. That which had been uttered in secret is shouted on the housetops. The end to which everything led is revealed in thunder. And in a moment we can discern who have contributed to the pre-ordained issue; and who have hindered its pressure and fought against its arrival. The books are open. The judgment is set. There are the sheep, and there stand the goats. The line of cleavage runs swift and sharp as a lightning-flash between them. And, as the intervals drop away out of sight, the sequent several days by which the last judgment has given ominous signals of its ultimate verdict stand out alone, in one raised series of kindred acts; or fuse and melt into one day that is forever coming nearer and nearer.
III. The larger and longer our horizons, the more apocalyptic becomes our estimate of life. And our Lord, therefore, with His eyes set on the end of all things, with His spiritual judgment at work on the level of eternal issues, naturally found His medium in apocalyptic imagery. But, alas! how far away this method of judging things seems from us to whom these wide horizons are so unfamiliar, and who cannot range over these immense spaces! We are closely pressed down under the weight of the immediate present. Thick and close the mob of facts throng round us. We are their prisoners and their prey. The immediate intervals, the urgent needs, the binding necessities of the passing hour, absorb our attention and exhaust our energy. We cannot break loose from the ring of circumstance. We cannot overlook the things that swarm and clutch and occupy. How are we to take in these wide perspectives? We cannot see the wood for the trees.
I remember meeting a man who had been right through the siege of Paris in 1870, just when we were still under the thrill of that stupendous event. We clustered around him athirst for his experiences, and then it appeared that he had not kept a note or a diary. It had never struck him at the time that it might be worth while to make a record, or that in after days people would be interested to hear what he had gone through. Yet that siege certainly was a day of judgment. It was apocalyptic. And this mood of his may so easily be characteristic of us. Can it be that even now we may be among those who, according to our Lord's haunting phrase, eat and drink, and marry and are given in marriage, while all the time the trumpets are set to the lips of the great angels who proclaim the coming day of the Lord; and already the first terrible blasts have been blown that tell of a signal of doom?
H. Scott Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxvii. p. 33 (see also The Church Times for Jan. 14, 1910).
Jerusalem, the chosen city of God, knew not the time of her visitation; did not understand what was going on, what she was called to do, when her Lord came with mercy and judgment to try her heart. The hope of Israel, the long-promised Saviour, had actually come, and Israel would not know, would not receive Him. It was the sad prospect of ruin which made the Lord weep when He beheld the highly favoured city.
'If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace.' Thou the nation whom God had chosen, enlightened, and blessed, above all other people; 'in this thy day' when the Son of God brought His message of salvation in His own Person; if thou after all thy former sins, hadst only known how near thou wert to peace and glory, in this the greatest of all thy chances; 'if thou hadst but known.'
But Jerusalem would not know her hour of mercy and acceptance. It passed away, it was too late now; and the Lord saw, and wept as He saw, that it was gone.
I. Not to know the time of our visitation means not to know when God is giving us opportunities of good; not to feel the blessings He is putting within our reach; not to see when the time comes, which is specially meant to suit our needs, and to open the door to peace and mercy.
There is one sort of visitation from God which many of us are going through now. We are leading quiet, peaceful lives, with little apparently to disturb us; no great sorrow, fear, or disadvantage to struggle with, no great care to weigh us down. And in this kind of life we go on from year to year.
I can well imagine people being almost frightened sometimes at the unbroken peace of their lives; thinking that something dreadful must be coming to make up for the long immunity from trouble and pain. But this is faithless fear. God does not deal with us in this way. He does not make a certain amount of evil weigh against and balance a certain amount of good. He gives good and evil by a different rule. Let us enjoy the blessings which He gives us our quiet days, our health and peaceful homes; and let us hope on in the mercy which has been with us so long.
II. But there are two things to be remembered, which we are apt to forget: (1) Without superstitiously vexing ourselves with the dread alluded to already, yet it is true that all this quiet cannot go on for ever that we must expect sooner or later some of the trials of life. (2) This freedom from the burdens of sorrow and pain is a time of visitation, a time when God is visiting us visiting us by many a blessing, as truly as He is visiting and searching others by His chastisements and judgments. In this time of peace and regular work, of quiet days and nights of refreshing sleep, He is preparing, He is testing us, He is giving us time, ample time, to fit ourselves to meet the harsher and heavier ways of His Providence; He is seeing what is in us whether so much mercy will draw our hearts to Him; strengthen our purposes and efforts after goodness; whether we can be made better, as He would have all men better, if it were possible, by giving us the desire of our hearts, and keeping us in safety from the evil we are afraid of.
Now, in this time of peace, is the time to fit ourselves to meet trouble, to arm our souls with that faith and trust in God which will alone help us to weather the storm. It is those who have learned beforehand to believe in God who are able to put forth their belief when the moment comes when it is wanted. See, then, that you do not miss recognising, as it passes over you, the time of your visitation.
R. W. Church, Village Sermons.
References. XIX. 44. W. Friend, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 196. T. F. Crosse, Sermons (2nd Series), p. 35. H. P. Liddon, Sermons on Some Words of Christ, pp. 253 and 268. J. Keble, Sermons for Sundays after Trinity, pt. i. p. 333. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year (2nd Series), vol. ii. p. 82. T. G. Bonney, Death and Life in Nations and Man, p. 1. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. ii. p. 291. XIX. 45-46. H. P. Liddon, Sermons on some Words of Christ, p. 284. XIX. 45-47. T. Arnold, Christian Life: Its Hopes, pp. 39, 48 and 55. XIX. 48. Expositor (6th Series), vol. vii. p. 89.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Luke 19". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
Eve of Ascension