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Healing the Sick
It is the pressing task of the Christian Church to see, first, that the faith of Christ shall not be reduced to mere philanthropy; secondly, that it shall earnestly appropriate all that is good in human life, and animate, elevate, and enlarge it by making it the expression of Christian faith and love. The particular good in human life to which we shall now apply Christian principles is the noble work of healing the sick.
I. The healing of the sick as a part of the ideal mission of the Christian Church. Healing the sick was a part of Christ's work on earth, not as a disconnected marvel, but in necessary and organic connection with the moral and spiritual redemption He came to effect. He healed the sick, not by superior medical knowledge, nor by supernatural power acting independently of human moral conditions, but through the energy of moral and spiritual forces. He confined His miraculous work within a limited sphere, and within that limit there were still further limits to its exercise. So, even if the Church had been able to continue His work on all its sides, it would not have meant the complete abolition of sickness. The work of healing the sick would continue to be definitely limited by deeper moral and spiritual conditions. Only a perfected moral humanity can bring the entire abolition of disease.
II. The relation which the Church should sustain to the general art of healing. There ought to be a peculiarly close and active relation between the Church and medical science and art. It is of very great importance both for Christian principle and for the general elevation of humanity that medical science and art should not become materialistic and atheistic. We ought not to rest until we have completely Christianised medicine, have imbued it with the Spirit of Christ, and made it the bounteous handmaid of the Church. In order to accomplish this there lie before us three duties of pressing importance: (1) We must hold fast and earnestly teach the truth that the moral cannot be divorced from the physical healing of man without grievous injury to both, for it is the spiritual man that gives worth, dignity, and grandeur to all besides. (2) We must earnestly strive to imbue the medical profession with the Christian spirit and Christian ideas. (3) We must see to it that there shall be no poor sufferer lying unhealed for lack of the love and practical sympathy of Christian people.
III. The course of our thought must ere this have impressed upon us the sanity and humaneness of the Christian view and treatment of the human body. The Christian conception of a complete life is that of a great dominating spirit in a vigorous and responsive body.
John Thomas, Myrtle Street Pulpit, vol. ii. p. 37.
References. IX. 1. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 74. IX. 2. F. W. Farrar, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 17. J. H. Jowett, British Congregationalist, 5th Sept. 1907, p. 198. IX. 2-6. Bishop Stubbs, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. p. 152.
The Missionary for Today
For a double curse there must be a double cure. That prince of African missionaries, Dr. Robert Moffat, in laying the foundation of the Livingstone Medical Missionary Memorial in Edinburgh in 1877, uttered these words: 'I have often said, and I say it again, that a missionary is a good thing, and anyone who knows his work will say so; but a medical missionary is a missionary-and-a-half or, rather, I should say, a double missionary'.
I. Medical Missions Their Origin and History. The Bible is the oldest medical journal in the world. Far back in Old Testament story we see traces of medical missionary work, for we read that Elijah and Elisha were healers as well as prophets and teachers. But the greatest of all medical missionaries and the perfect model for all time was our Divine Master, Jesus Christ. After Christ came the Apostles, who faithfully carried on the healing work which He had so nobly inaugurated. It is evident, then, that preaching and healing were old-time allies; but, unfortunately, the alliance was dissolved for centuries, and the kingdom of Christ suffered incalculable loss.
II. Medical Missions Their Object. (1) One object in view is bodily healing. Men are not disembodied spirits; and Christian philanthropists are just beginning to realise this fact. (2) Another, and far nobler object, which the medical Evangelist has in view is spiritual healing. All the medical work is preparatory for, and subsidiary to, the higher work of soul salvation.
III. Medical Missions Their Authority. (1) We find our authority in the special command of Jesus Christ: 'And He sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick' a beautiful union of the two ministrations. (2) We also find our authority for medical missions in the noble example of Christ ' Himself took our infirmities, and bore our sicknesses'.
IV. Medical Missions The Crying Necessity for Them.
V. Medical Missions Their Positive Advantages. (1) The medical missionary has a fine opportunity of teaching the heathen the preciousness of human life. (2) The medical missionary has a fine opportunity of shaking the confidence of the heathen in their charms and superstitions. (3) The medical missionary has a wonderful power of removing agelong hatreds and prejudices. (4) The medical missionary has an unrivalled opportunity of winning the confidence and affection of the heathen. George Eliot once wisely said: 'The tale of the Divine pity-was never yet believed from lips which had not first been moved by human pity'.
VI. Medical Missions Their Perils. (1) It is a dangerous experiment to send out unqualified men as medical missionaries. (2) Another peril which has to be guarded against the Evangelist must not sink himself in the Physician.
VII. Medical Missions Their Wonderful Success. The story of the medical Evangelist reads more like a romance than a page of sober history.
J. Ossian Davies, The Dayspring from on High, p. 132.
References. IX. 6. Expositor (5th Series), vol. i. p. 398. IX. 10-17. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Luke, p. 254. IX. 11. Bishop Wilberforce, Sermons , p. 24. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. v. No. 889; vol. xxvii. No. 1624. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Luke, p. 260.
God requires no man to do, without ability to do; but He does not limit His requirement by the measures of previous or inherently contained ability. In many, or even in a majority of cases, the endowment of power is to come after the obligation, occurring, step by step, as the exigencies demand.... All the pillars of the Church are made out of what would be weeds in it, if there were no duties assumed above their ability in the green state of weeds. And it is not the weeds whom Christ will save but the pillars. No Christian will ever be good for anything without Christian courage, or, what is the same, Christian faith. Take upon you readily, have it as a law to be always doing great works; that is, works that are great to you; and this is the faith that God so clearly justifies, that your abilities will be as your works. With your five loaves and two fishes He will show you a way to feed thousands.
References. IX. 18. C. J. Vaughan, The Prayers of Jesus Christ, p. 43. Expositor (5th Series), vol. iv. p. 39. IX. 18-27. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. v. p. 4. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Luke, p. 271. IX. 21. J. Keble, Sermons for Lent to Passion-tide, p. 193. IX. 22. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 122.
The Law of Self-denial
I have seen the face of a high-souled and sensitive teacher colour with the deep flush of a young girl in her moment of keen feeling when he was compelled to censure a slothful student. The face of Christ was flushed with pain when He uttered His words of rebuke to Peter, 'Get thee behind Me, Satan'. Jesus did not love to utter reproach. His usual method of rebuke was by a silent look. For that reason He turns at once from the ashamed man and begins to speak to them all. He will no longer emphasise his fault. And He is well aware that the mind which was in Peter was in all his fellow-disciples, and would require to be purged out of every man who would come after Him. He lays down that law of self-denial which is the primary law of the Cross.
The Christian life presents itself in a full-orbed teaching under two contrasting aspects. In one aspect it is a life of liberty in Christ. It is the coming into full and lovely flower of the whole nature of man. Its keyword is not repression, but expression. Its method is culture, not restraint. Christ has come to give us life, 'life more abundantly'. It is a call to walk in the Spirit, and to live in that kingdom whose delights are righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. Augustine states this truth in his great saying, 'The Christian law is to love, and to do as you please'. But in the other aspect it presents itself not as a liberty but as a captivity, not as a self-abandonment but as a self-control, not as an easy yoke but as a stern and ceaseless struggle. This contrast is to be found on every page of the New Testament. It is set down clearly in Christ's teaching, and it is illuminated by His life.
Let me make this law clear by considering two points. Look, in the first place, at the spheres of the law of self-denial; and, in the second place, at the penalty of its refusal.
1. In the first place: the spheres of the law of self-denial.
We must, to begin with, deny ourselves in the sphere of our natural appetites. There are appetites which are God-given, and, when wisely indulged, are God-blessed. We have the natural hunger for our daily food, a healthful longing for pleasant sights and sweet sounds, and all that ministers to our delight, a craving for rest when we are weary, and for recreation when we are jaded, and a longing for the satisfactions of the mind and the heart. As we grow older we thirst for recognition and influence and reward. From youth to age we crave to love and to be loved in return. These are all natural and innocent appetites, but every one of them must be controlled if our life is to be Christlike.
The law operates with a sterner rigour in the subtler sphere of duty. The demand of duty may not fall upon our ears with so sharp a tone as the call to school our appetites, but it persists through all the hours, and exacts a more trying obedience.
A third sphere in which this law must be obeyed is the sphere of service. Service is a continuous self-denial. Young hearts present themselves for the service of Christ in an hour of chivalrous devotion, but they do not walk far on in the way until they find the pressure of this law. I have seen a shadow fall upon the face of a man who was worn by nights of service he had given to Christ, when some other, who had sat beside his evening fire, was pouring forth the treasures of a full mind to the delight of all who heard him. He felt a keen pang as he realised his impoverishment. But there were many to whom that shadowed man was dear, to whom his very name was music, and I doubt not but that He, whom he had come after, had given him other rewards of his obedience to the law of self-denial. In the great day when the secrets of all hearts are revealed, he may be amazed to find how rich he is in the treasures laid up in heaven. Yet the cost is great.
II. In the second place: the penalty of its refusal. 'If any man will come after Me,' said Jesus, laying down the penalty of the refusal of this law. We may think that we are following in His footprints. We may call ourselves by His name. We may be busy with the exposition of His thoughts. We may preach His Gospel. We may be melted to tears by our visions of His grace. But if we will not deny ourselves in all the spheres, up to the sphere of the Cross, we are not to be found in the company that follow Christ. We do not come after Him.
W. M. Clow, The Secret of the Lord, p. 96.
It seems that Christian obedience does not consist merely in a few occasional efforts, a few accidental good deeds, or certain seasons of repentance, prayer, and activity, a mistake which minds of a certain class are very apt to fall into. This is the kind of obedience which constitutes what the world calls a great man, i.e. a man who has some noble points, and every now and then acts heroically, so as to astonish and subdue the minds of beholders, but who in private life has no abiding persona] religion, who does not regulate his thoughts, words, and deeds according to the law of God.... To take up the cross of Christ is no great action done once for all, it consists in the continual practice of small duties which are distasteful to us.
References. IX. 23. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 276. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. v. p. 6. J. J. Blunt, Plain Sermons (2nd Series), p. 177. W. C. Wheeler, Sermons and Addresses, p. 209. H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. iii. p. 32. J. Stuart, Baptist Times and Freeman, vol. lv. p. 3. A. H. Bradford, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. p. 127. A. Stewart, Eden and Gethsemane, p. 16. IX. 23-25. Len. G. Broughton, British Congregationalist, 11th Oct., 1906, p. 249.
In his volume on Bushido, Dr. Nitobé quotes the following sayings of a seventeenth-century priest in Japan: '"Talk as he may, a Samurai who ne'er has died is apt in decisive moments to flee or hide". "Him who once has died in the bottom of his breast, no spears of Sanada nor all the arrows of Tametono can pierce."' 'How near,' adds the author, 'we come to the portals of the temple whose Builder taught, He that loseth his life for My sake shall find it!'
All really human persons want to give themselves away, at least for something, if not for somebody.... We may preach a prudential morality sometimes, because it seems so sane, and men are so selfish, ourselves included, we say; but we know very well that no man ever satisfied his soul with prudence with the sanest selfishness though many have tried. The only thing that can satisfy a human being is an object of devotion, not himself, for which he can feel it worthy of him to sacrifice himself without limit. No man is fully alive, who is not ready to die for something. The characteristic law of human life, as we feel it in our most vivid moments, is not self-preservation, but self-devotion passing into readiness for selfsacrifice. 'He that loseth his life for My sake' for some sake 'shall find it.'
Dr. Sophie Bryant, Studies in Character, pp. 47, 146 f.
References. IX. 24. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 278. IX. 25. Ibid. (4th Series), vol. vii. p. 333.
Ashamed of Christ
I can understand how men were ashamed of Christ as He moved about the villages of Galilee. Born in a humble and malodorous village, living in the deepest obscurity for thirty years, then suddenly appearing with a claim to be Messiah yet contradicting the warmest hopes of Israel, it is not to be wondered at that there was disappointment, and that many were ashamed of Jesus and His words. But the thing that is difficult to understand is how any man can be ashamed of Jesus now. The man who is ashamed credits that Christ is living and is energetic in human hearts today; and the mystery is how crediting all that, it should be possible to be ashamed of Christ. That it is possible every one of us knows, and it is on that strange possibility I wish to speak.
I. First, then, about its revelation, about the way in which this shame of Christ betrays itself; and (1) the first feature that rises before me is concealment. When you are ashamed of a man you are ashamed of being openly seen with him; and as that is a feature of all shame between man and man, it is a mark of the man ashamed of Christ. (2) The second feature of all shame is silence. The feeling of shame whenever it is operative has a way of putting a seal upon the lips. (3) The third witness of shame lies in avoidance.
II. What are the roots of this shame? Whence does it spring? It will be best to keep close to Scripture in our answer. (1) Sometimes we are ashamed of Christ through fear. We are ashamed as Nicodemus was. He came to Jesus by stealth and in the night-time, and he came so because he feared the Jews. (2) Again the cause of this shame may be social pressure. We may be ashamed of Christ as Simon Peter was. Peter sat by the fire in the courtyard, and they taunted him with his discipleship; and then the girl who kept the wicket recognised him, and every one present was antagonistic; and Peter denied his Lord Peter was ashamed of Him and the shame had its source in His society. (3) One other reason only would I mention, and that is intellectual pride. Men are ashamed of Christ because His message is so plain that the illiterate peasant can live by it and die by it.
III. What are the remedies for this besetting shame? (1) Endeavour to realise who Jesus is. (2) And then endeavour to realise what Christ has done for you. When we once feel deeply all that we owe to Him, the black bat, shame, has flown.
G. H. Morrison, The Unlighted Lustre, p. 20.
The cruellest lies are often told in silence. A man may have sat in a room for hours and not opened his teeth, and yet come out of that room a disloyal friend or a vile calumniator. And how many loves have perished because, from pride, or spite, or diffidence, or that unmanly shame which withholds a man from daring to betray emotion, a lover, at the critical point of the relation, has but hung his head and held his tongue.
R. L. Stevenson.
References. IX. 26. S. A. Tipple, The Admiring Guest, p. 92. R. W. Church, Village Sermons (3rd Series), p. 236. W. M. Clow, The Secret of the Lord, p. 151. IX. 27 . Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 22. Ibid. vol. x. p. 191. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 372. IX. 28. Marcus Dods, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. p. 155. C. J. Vaughan, The Prayers of Jesus Christ, p. 43.
The Mount of the Transfiguration
Mr. Robert Hichens says: 'The ascent of Mount Tabor is often omitted from the programme of visitors to Nazareth. I confess to having enjoyed it much more than any time spent in the town. Ever since the fourth century Mount Tabor has been claimed as the site of our Lord's transfiguration. On this account monasteries have been built there. The best authorities, however, think it improbable that the transfiguration took place there, as in our Lord's time the summit was crowned by a fortified town. Nevertheless, multitudes of pious pilgrims, heedless of authority, and intent only on earnest belief, with imaginations aflame, wind up among the little oaks, the terebinths, the bushes of sweet-scented syringa, the starry daisies and small scarlet poppies, singing hymns upon the way and ceasing only when they reach the plateau on the crest of the helmet-shaped hill where stands the Latin monastery. There they pause near the door of the little chapel, above which is boldly written: "Hic Filius Dei Dilectus Transfiguratus est". The good fathers at least have no doubts as to the sacredness of their strange and beautiful home, and their quiet certainty adds a flame to the fire of the devotees from far-off lands.'
The Holy Land, pp. 128, 129.
References. IX. 28, 29. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 384. IX. 28-31. D. Macleod, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. p. 261. IX. 28-36. A. B. Davidson, Waiting upon God, p. 139.
I. Consider the transfiguration-glory in its relation to the inner life of Jesus Christ. Godet, that magnificent expositor, gives us a suggestion on this head which is as wonderfully beautiful as it is fruitful. He says that our Saviour had now arrived at the highest possible pinnacle of human attainment in the moral and spiritual domain. He had forced His way from point to point until He now reached the very gates of heaven: and now He stands on the glory-peak of a perfect human life, and the way of the eternal glory is open for Him to enter. This is true in Godet's suggestion: the transfiguration-glory means this, that if Jesus had been man and nothing more, only an individual fighting for His own hand, He had reached the point when, having victoriously perfected His life, He would have found the way open for Him into the eternal glory. But Jesus was more than an individual. He had not come simply to conquer for Himself. He had come to be the Saviour of the world, and so, even though he merited for Himself and in Himself the crown of glory then, yet that crown must not be seized by Him until He had entered the shadows of death, and brought others upward with Him into the glory. In this transfiguration-glory of Jesus Christ we have a picture of the way in which man would have entered into glory if he had not fallen.
II. The next thought that presents itself for our consideration is, the transfiguration-glory in its relation to the passion of the cross. Now that Jesus has reached the height of personal victory, the time has come when as a Conqueror He must descend into the valley and into the darkness in order to fight the final battle on behalf of men. The mount reveals Him perfected for suffering; by the cross He will be perfected through suffering.
III. The transfiguration-glory in its testimony to the sole authority and lordship of Jesus Christ. Now we have reached a point where we are compelled to see that Jesus is not in the same plane as other men. He stands absolutely alone. He is the one and only victor in a world of defeated men, the only one in human history that has ever won His way through unsullied holiness and gained the crown of transfiguration by unbroken triumph. Yes! but how do you account for such a man? There is only one explanation of Jesus, and it is this; that He was 'God manifest in the flesh'.
John Thomas, Myrtle Street Pulpit, vol. ii. p. 213.
The Metamorphic Power of Prayer
It is in the study of our Lord as a Man of Prayer that we realise the blessedness, the potentiality of prayer. In every crisis of His experience He found inspiration and strength in prayer. He who, humanly speaking, needed prayer least, prayed most. And He was always in the spirit of prayer. I would have you consider the strength and inspiration of prayer from its practical side.
I. It produces a calm, a contentment, a peace in our souls which the world cannot give. There are days of dull monotony, of depressing drudgery; there are days when our souls are vexed within us because of the hardness of the way. Then it is that the evil spirit of discontent strives to enter in and possess the heart, then it is we have need to fall on our knees in prayer and to cast all our care upon Him.
II. Prayer engendereth courage. The prayer of Gethsemane preceded the courage of the judgment-hall, the victory of Calvary. What is the lesson? That, as for the Master, so for the disciple. Prayer braces the human spirit for the conflicts of life.
III. But we learn from my text that there is a metamorphic power in prayer, that prayer transfigures. The face reveals the inward life. It is when our faces are turned heavenward day by day that the fashion of our countenance is changed.
T. J. Madden, Tombs or Temples? p. 90.
References. IX. 29. J. C. M. Bellew, Sermons, vol. iii. p. 1. G. Campbell Morgan, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. p. 364. W. M. Clow, The Secret of the Lord, p. 178.
The Holy Mount of Prayer
Prayer is the toilet of the mind, the bride of the heart, the key to things invisible. Jesus prayed, and, as He prayed, three wondrous things came to pass.
I. There was a revelation of the unseen. The three who were with Jesus on the Mount saw, and felt, and heard the invisible. They became conscious of what Emerson calls 'the sweep of the celestial stream'. And is not the law of the spiritual life this that knowledge of unseen realities by the human soul is contingent upon the diligent practice of spiritual intercession? The man of mind may 'hitch his waggon to a star,' but the man who prays has fellowship with Him who makes the stars.
II. There was a glorification of common things. Common things took on new forms of loveliness, and both nature and life revealed new splendours while He prayed. It is thus that prayer both hallows and transfigures all life's commonplaces. The exaltation of the ordinary to the sublime is characteristic of the Christian religion. Pope, in his preface to his translation of the Iliad, says, that Homer's poetry 'brightens all the rubbish about it, till we see nothing but its own splendour'. And prayer, by which I mean reverence, sympathy, worship, adoration in the presence of the Supreme, can alone create that spiritual mood which in common things discovers the beauty of the Lord.
III. There was a transfiguration of self. It is a law of science that environment influences life. It is also a law of the spiritual realm that associations colour personality. Looking unto Jesus will produce a new face, as well as fashion a new soul. Prayer has power to transform flesh as well as spirit.
J. Flanagan, Man's Quest, p. 149.
References. IX. 29. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 117. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Luke, p. 277. IX. 30. E. White, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. p. 388. IX. 30, 31. H. J. Bevis, Sermons, p. 279. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Luke, p. 286. IX. 31. W. M. Clow, The Secret of the Lard, p. 190. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 270.
The Pre-requisite of Vision
I. It is one mark of every great awakening that it reveals to us unexpected glories. When intellect is quickened and the feelings are moved; when the will is reinforced and conscience purified, the world immediately ceases to be commonplace, and clothes itself in unsuspected splendour. Do you think it is an idle figure of speech when we talk of the long sleep of the Middle Ages? Do you imagine that we are only using metaphor when we describe the Reformation as an awakening? I hardly think that we could speak more literally than when we use such simple terms as these. It was not till powers and faculties were quickened in the great movements of Renaissance and Reform that the clouds scattered and the blue heaven was seen.
II. In spiritual awakening we find that the suggestion of our text arrests us. There are many glories which we never see till the call of our Lord has bidden us awake. (1) There is the Bible, for instance. It is one thing to feel the Bible's charm, and it is another thing to see the Bible's glory: and the glory of the Bible is a hidden glory, until a man is spiritually awake (2) Or think again of the life of our brother man. Underneath all life of passion and affection there are spiritual possibilities for the meanest, and not till the world is wakened by the Gospel are the hidden glories of humanity revealed. (3) And the same thing is true of our dear Lord Himself. We must be spiritually wakened if we would see His glory. It is only then that He reveals Himself, in the full and glorious compass of His grace.
III. It is part of God's discipline with us in the years, that the years should waken us to see glories which once we missed. (1) The value of our college education is not the amount of raw knowledge which it gives us. True education is not meant to store us; true education is intended to awaken us; and the joy of the truly educated man is no poor pride in his superior knowledge: it is that he has been so wakened that in every realm and sphere he can see glories unobserved before. (2) Now if this be true of our schools and of our colleges, do you not think it holds also of God's education? It is a truth we should ever keep clear before us. But the deepest interpretation of the text is not of this world. It will come to its crown of meaning in eternity.
G. H. Morrison, Surprise: Addresses from a City Pulpit, p. 290.
Thus it must ever be. Most men are half-asleep, and they do not know it So they see nothing, and go home to tell nothing, and say, worst of all, that there was nothing to be seen. It is always so, and yet men complain that they have but little success in life. They have all the success they deserve. It would be surprising if some men had success. They are half-asleep; to put it more charitably, they are only half-awake, and they wonder when they hear what other people have seen. They do not believe it; they say that the other people have spoken in a tone of rhetorical exaggeration.
Christianity is a fully-awake religion. It is no blurred dream, it is no shifting nightmare; it is a stand-up and fully-awake religion. That is the reason that so few people are religious. We speak of some men in business as being wideawake; it may be a great compliment, it may be a poor one; still, wakefulness may be the key of success. Watch everything. In order that we may watch there is a preliminary rule, and Jesus Christ laid it down; He said, 'Be sober'. The blurred eyes of a drunkard can see nothing. Be sober, be vigilant. You cannot alter this arrangement; this is the rhetoric of God. If we are not sober we shall make but poor watchmen, and the city gates will be violated by any enemy that cares to assail them.
I. 'When they were fully awake they saw His glory.' The Christian religion is a challenge to the highest powers of the mind. The Christian religion waits until a man is fully awake, and then says, What of this, this vision, this revelation, this solution of what you call the social problem? O ye makers of toy words, india-rubber or alabaster words, with your social problems! The Gospel attacks man at his highest power, wakens him, stirs him up, says, 'Awake, thou that sleepest!' Christianity only addresses attentive people.
It is because we are not awake that we see so little. Christianity has great messages to the intellect; the Christian Gospel is a wonderful and most pathetic appeal to the highest imagination of the soul.
II. As the Gospel will have no half-awake assent, so the Gospel will have no half-awake service. It will not accept it; it repudiates it. Of course the most of people live under the delusion that business must be first attended to. Christ never said so; I have been with Him now some fifty odd years, and He never said to me, The first thing you have to do in the morning is to arrange all about the business of the day, lay it out, and then if you happen to have half an hour in the afternoon, come and meet Me in the sanctuary. Never! He is an austere Master, austere even when the tears are welling in His eyes. He says, 'Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness'. 'But, Lord, my business must be attended to down in the City.' He said, Why? He takes all these things so calmly; He always took this whole creation, so far as we can see it, as a thing that was to be burned. You say, 'We must live'. Christ says, Why? who wants you to live? what necessity is there for you to live? at what cost are you going to live? and is it living if the cost exceed a certain value? is it not really suicide, self-slaughter.
III. 'When they were fully awake.' The word 'fully' is in the Revised Version. We have in the Authorised Version 'awake,' in the Revised Version we have the 'fully,' bringing up the condition to the very highest efficiency. 'When they were fully awake,' and there was no mistake about the environment, 'they saw His glory,' and they saw a great perspective of law and prophecy, going back to the morning when the fountains of waters were opened, and the Lord set a bound to all habitable things. We have not seen this; in fact, we say, Now do you think on the whole that all these things in the Bible are really true? Not to you who ask the question in that dreary tone; there is nothing true to you; you are not true to yourself; you are shut out, and your place is in outer darkness. And yet my dear young Mends, my young men and temporary disciples, come to me and say that somebody has asked them if they think this miracle really did occur. Not to them; no miracle ever occurred to them. Why not? Because they are half-asleep; when they are fully awake they will have no difficulty about miracles. It is when the Lord is seen by eyes that are purged to see Him that the soul enters into full Sabbath-tide and into the whole festival of the Divine love.
IV. Remember that this wakefulness is a duty. We have to stir ourselves. 'Stir up the gift that is in thee,' said the Apostle to the younger man; stir it up. There is so much to distract attention, to break it into two, to split it up into many, so that we can hardly give our whole soul to one continuous thought or prayer. The Apostle Peter said, speaking of this very incident of the text, in which he himself was concerned, 'We were eye-witnesses of His majesty'. And what if we have to wait for our full view of Christ until we have passed through the valley? 'When I am awake, my soul shall be satisfied when I behold Thy likeness; when I awake I am still with Thee.
Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. vi. p. 84.
References. IX. 32. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlvi. No. 2658. IX. 33. J. T. Bramston, Fratribus, p. 42. IX. 34. J. Keble, Sermons for Lent to Passion-tide, p. 1. IX. 34; 35. W. M. Clow, The Secret of the Lord, p. 229. IX. 34-36. J. C. M. Bellew, Sermons, vol. iii. p. 1. IX. 35. F. B. Cowl, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xvii. p. 286. J. Learmount, The Examiner, 14th June, 1906, p. 580. IX. 36. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 389. IX. 38. W. M. Clow, The Secret of the Lord, p. 308. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 462. IX. 39. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 210; ibid. vol. iv. p. 210; vol. viii. p. 189. IX. 42. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ii. No. 100; vol. xxix. No. 1746. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 211; ibid. vol. iv. p. 211.
Rivalry and Service
With a fearless candour, the Evangelists tell us that more than once the spirit of rivalry manifested itself among our Lord's disciples, and the first occasion is that of which the description has just been read to you.
Christ calls upon His disciples to be voluntarily and deliberately what children are unconsciously. They are not to be self-seeking and self-asserting, like the grown children of this world, but meek and lowly of heart, not thinking of their relative rank and importance, but in singleness of heart giving themselves to the twofold service, that of each other and that of their King. In this sense the greatest of all in the Kingdom, the Head of the Kingdom Himself, was the humblest of all.
I. It was New Teaching for the World that the meek were to inherit the earth, and that self-repression was a surer mark of worth than self-assertion. The Apostles of Christ, on whom that teaching had been so often, so emphatically impressed, placed it in the forefront of their ministry. Yet it is evident that the childlike spirit was not easy to develop, even in the first days, when hearts glowed with a newly-found peace and joy in believing. The Epistles speak in many places of a disappointing state of things, reveal to us jealousies and heart-burnings, assertions of superiority, factious efforts to gain the upper hand, and St. Paul has to insist again and again on the greatness of meekness and lowliness. The temper for which He pleads is the voluntary surrender of the individual for the common good.
II. The Spirit at Work in Society To-day. Is it not disquieting, to say the least, to turn from such teaching to observe the spirit at work in the society of today? It has been well remarked that not only has humility fallen into disrepute, but even its place in the list of virtues has been questioned. As with humility in its political phase, so also with its social phase. Men ask themselves, 'Why should I be humble? Why should I even temporarily take up an attitude of subordination to another? Why should not my will, my wishes, my purposes prevail, or at least assert for themselves whatever place they can gain?' and the answer to be given to all these questions seems conclusive, even apart from the Christian motive. It is this: that civilised society would be impossible, or if possible would be intolerable, were it an arena from which conciliation was absent, and in which every man was fighting for his own end.
III. The Place where we can Serve Best. To a man in whom the Spirit of Christ is at work, the humblest place is the highest if his heart tells him it is the place where he can serve best. It is a law which only a sincere faith can bow to and cheerfully live by, but the very severity of the law which makes service the highest dignity has a fascination for every noble nature.
References. IX. 46-48. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 416. IX. 48. J. H. Jowett, British Congregationalist, 15th Aug. 1907, p. 138.
The Providence of Time
If we look carefully into things, we shall find that every matter is related to a plan, a method or scheme of life. Time has hitherto been treated in the sacred record almost with contempt; it is spoken of as so transient, so empty, and our very life as measured by time is as a post hastening on his way, is as a vapour rising up to be blown away by the wind. What is our life as measured by time? A breath, a gasp, nothingness. Yet here we have time elevated into a kind of significance and special importance. 'When the time was come:' cannot man hasten the time? That man can never do. Cannot man hasten the coming of the summer? Not by one hairsbreath. Is it not in the power of man to say to the snow, Be melted and flow away in fertilising rivers among the valleys and the meads and the fair gardens? The snow does not know the name of man. The Lord keeps all the great opportunities and appointments in His own hand, and He will not allow the most scientific and painstaking of us to interfere for one moment in the degree in which His providences shall ripen and take effect.
I. This or that action, says the Divine Ruler, shall be done at such and such a time; it shall not be done one hour before the appointed moment; all the kings in the world cannot hasten the chariot-wheels one hairsbreadth; we simply have to stand still and see the Divine movement and watch the palpitations that make the very clouds of mystery alive as if a heart were throbbing within their folds. Jesus Christ was very careful in pointing out this matter of providential time, and so was the Apostle Paul. Jesus Christ said, 'Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come:' it may come at any moment, but that moment itself has not yet arrived; we must not forestall or anticipate. Jesus Christ was ready to show the world all His miracles; He was prepared from eternity with all the wonders which were to accompany the Messianic reign. Yet Jesus Christ waited for the moment, Jesus Christ tarried for the Divine will; Jesus Christ said, Mine hour is not yet come, I am watching, I am waiting, I am neither wishing nor praying, I am simply awaiting the ripening of time, the almost visible presence of the one moment that is critical and agonistic. We are too small to live as Jesus did; we can only hope and pray to live in the direction of His life, to show what we would be if we could but for this sense of death that outruns the summer and this sense of incompleteness that mocks our most aspiring ambition.
II. Something is to be learned from the almost taunt with which Jesus Christ replied to the scribes and Pharisees upon one occasion; said He, 'Your hour is always ready'. That is the distinction between philosophy and impatience or ignorance. Your hour is always available; it came from nowhere, and it is not going anywhere in particular; it is something that comes and goes bubble-like, but how it rose, how it burst, and how it was forgotten are matters of no concern to the sorrowing heart of the world. You have no forethought, no afterthought, no sense of the relation, fitness, and spiritual music of things; so you can at any moment do what you want to do, only the thing you want to do is not worth doing, because it goes not back into the eternal or forward into the everlasting.
III. The Apostle Paul also made observations upon this matter of moments of time. Said he, in 1 Corinthians iv. 5, 'Judge nothing before the time'. If we could be kept to that rule what generous judgments we would often pronounce! We should be no longer censorious, vengeful, resentful; we should wait for the signal from heaven. When all is known much will be forgiven. You cannot even in your confession tell your priest everything. Even when you think you have emptied your memory of its last recollection you have not begun the real story. Your words are not understood because you cannot explain yourself; if you are charged with this or that sin or offence, it may be broad black crime, you cannot always tell exactly and exhaustively how it came to be; you would have to go over the centuries and dig up your grandsires and call them as living witnesses to say what lives they lived. There is a descent of poison, there is an old, old acridness traceable two centuries since or ten centuries ago. Beware of ill-timed judgments; beware of hasty speeches upon other men's conduct; beware of that foul Pharisee who thanks God that he is not as this publican. When the two histories are searched into and lifted up into the light, what if the publican have the crown and the Pharisee be not in the broad heaven at all? Therefore judge nothing before the time. Wait another moment; by the next post we may get the explanation; in a moment more the light may flash. Great things are done in great moments. 'Let there be light,' and there was light; no chronometer could measure the distance between the fiat Lux! and the shining glory. Judge nothing before the time.
Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. iii. p. 59.
The Appointed Time
Is not every time alike? Is there a ripening ministry proceeding in nature and in the affairs of men? Is there any poetry in the clock? May we not strike our own hours? What is the meaning of this continual allusion to punctual moments, points of time, the analysis of hours, the waiting, the watching, the flying, the word of command as to time and arrangement? Can we not do things just when we like? Certainly not. Why not? Because we are not atheists. There is a providence of moments; everything is settled, defined, delimited, and is to be known at the altar. We are impatient because we are small; the humming-top goes round sooner than the sun. There is a religion of magnitude; the velocity of every planet is determined and the fall of every sere leaf is known; not a sparrow falleth to the ground without your Father. Is this the teaching of Jesus Christ? This is pre-eminently the doctrine which Jesus Christ laid down and upon which Jesus Christ acted; He did nothing roughly He moved step by step according to the footfall of the Divine going. 'Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come.' Is there a coming of hours? are there jubilee days and victory moments? has the summer a birth-time? is she calendared and scheduled among the expected and certain visitors? does she come regularly? is there a punctual moment in which summer, the daughter of the skies, is born? 'Mine hour is not yet come.'
I. And Jesus said, 'Father, the hour is come.' Do you recognise this? The same voice of patience; it has lost its reproving accent. 'Woman, what have 1 to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come:' a whispered rebuke, a censure amid the wedding favours and confectioneries and wines; then years after, 'Father, the hour is come' just come, it came a moment ago 'now glorify Thy Son'. Why not three years before, or thirty? The hour was not then come; now that the hour has come, let the glory flow. I would enter gratefully and reasonably into these mysteries of the economy and providence of time that I may chide myself with many a cutting rebuke for impatience and hurry, when I ought to have been tranquil with the calm of God.
II. This makes life very solemn. This consideration, and all the issues that belong to it, should penetrate into our business calculations and arrangements and all our forecasts and vaticinations of things; specially ought it to penetrate into that evil temper of ours, which is prone to ascend the judgment-seat and doom men to penal servitude. 'Judge nothing before the time:' you do not know the whole case yet; you think you know it, but you are only common jurymen under the direction of a paid magistracy, and you are only wanted to return a verdict according to the evidence that is laid before you, and within these small points you can build prisons, and put irons on the wrists and ankles of men. It is not judgment, it is a miserably inadequate reply to a sin old as the devil and inwardly as hot as one of hell's own cinders. 'Judge nothing before the time:' the man is not so bad, or so good, as you think him to be; all the evolution will take place, and the harvest will determine everything; let us have no offhand, hurry-scurry judgments, but a waiting upon God, because only God can show you the evidence of the man's heart, and there you will some day trace how he came to be a criminal, and you will forgive him and kiss him and break bread with him. 'Judge nothing before the time.'
III. What, then, have we to do? To wait. You have not to force your destiny, you have not to be impatient with time, but to accept its slow hours; and oh, how leaden can be the foot of time! the weary day, the endless night, the pendulum that oscillates, and yet ticks off no sign of progress, the sleep that will not come, the tranquillity that puckers its face into a bitter sneer! Yet we have to wait; we think we could open the gate now, but God says it is not now to be opened; He keeps us standing outside gates which we could vault, but we must stand outside until the gates are opened. What can keep us in any state of quietude during those moments of resentful, impatient waiting? Only one ministry can keep us right, and that is the ministry of faith. Is there a text upon that subject? There is a beautiful text which every man should write upon the very equator of his heart and make a belt of gold bearing this legend, 'He that believeth shall not make haste'.
IV. There are two times that cannot be too soon recognised. 'It is high time to awake out of slumber, for now is our salvation nearer than when we first believed.' That time is ready, the time to get up, to shake off slumber, to rise to kiss the morning wind and to lay hold of the morning plough and have a good long day's work of honest service. The man who is going to succeed is the man who gets up first and works with a will, and that tells old mocking, tempting, bribing slumber to stand back till he has tired himself into a condition to deserve and enjoy it.
There is another time, a pre-eminently Biblical time; that time has come, that time has always been here, making its silent or its resounding appeals to human attention. What is that other time? Shall I name it? 'Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation.' 'Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near.' 'Now' that is God's time in the matter of salvation of the soul. Blessed are they who hear that Now and answer it with a great love!
Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. vii. p. 71.
References. IX. 51. J. Bannerman, Sermons, p. 163. W. M. Clow, The Secret of the Lord, p. 323. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iii. p. 307. Ibid. vol. vi. p. 51. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. vii. p. 297. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Luke, p. 296. IX. 62, 63. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlii. No. 2463.
I. Elias is a New Testament name for the Elijah of the Old Testament. Elijah was a prophet of fire and vengeance and doom, a most austere and terrible man, well fitted for his time, speaking the word of the Lord directly and with memorable effect Once he called down fire, once he called out bears from the woods to devour those who insulted him; he handled the great ministries of vengeance and resentment like an expert. The poor disciples who had been rejected in the village referred to in the text, a village of the Samaritans, thought they might do something in the way of fire; they besought the Lord saying, 'Wilt Thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?' Take care how you play at being Elias! Only an Elias can do what Elias did. We are not all Elijahs. Fire is a dangerous thing even when handled by the most noble and powerful of the prophets; fire would very likely consume us if we attempted to use it in the destruction of other people. What a tendency there is to quote history just as it may happen to suit our purpose at the time! This is characteristic of human life, this is notably characteristic of religious life; we do not look at the man in his totality, but at some little odd incident which marked his life or some peculiar phrase which was distinctive of his speech, and if we can use either of these to our own advantage we are willing to choose some emblematic flower by which to commemorate his name and memory.
II. We may, I think, edify ourselves by bringing together a few thoughts under the general title of Misused Precedents. Many people would almost die for a precedent; they may not thoroughly understand what a precedent involves in all its applications, but their instinct of order and traditional decency is so great that they would almost cut off a right hand in order to support a precedent, especially in the degree in which they do not understand either the precedent or its application. What would the world be without precedents? What did they do in the olden time? What has been the custom of this society? If you were to move anything novel in that particular organisation which is now present to the consciousness of your memory, some very small man not more than five feet high would rise in a distant corner of the room and inquire of the presiding officer what the precedent is upon this matter. The disciples thought they had a good precedent to rely upon; it never could have occurred to their infertile and non-enterprising minds to cut their way through difficulty and opposition by fire, but they suddenly remembered that once Ellas called down fire from heaven, and as he was not present at that particular time they did not see why they should not be Elias by proxy. They mentioned the matter to the Saviour, and He burned them, He called down fire upon their suggestion, He condemned them as misrepresenting the precedents of history, the great emblems and types of the Divine dispensations in their mysterious and beneficent evolution.
What, then, is the lesson? Not to quote the shortcoming as a defence of our own deficiencies, but to look at the sum total of the character and to endeavour to emulate it according to our ability and opportunity.
Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. vii. p. 61.
References. IX. 64. Expositor (4th Series), vol. vii. p. 167. IX. 54-56. H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 1601, p. 211. IX. 55. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i. p. 190; ibid. (6th Series), vol. vi. p. 298.
The Mission of the Son of Man
I. The title assumed by Jesus, 'The Son of Man'. It is remarkable that throughout the Gospels no person ever addressed the Christ as the Son of Man, or even called Him by that name. It is, however, the most common title used by Him in speaking of Himself. (1) The title 'Son of Man' affirms his incarnation, his real humanity. (2) By becoming man He has magnified humanity. (8) The title implies that Jesus owns humanity.
II. The mission of the Son of Man. (1) We have a negative view of His mission. He came not to destroy, (a) There was no need for Jesus to become man in order to destroy. (b) There was no need for Him to come to destroy, because the element of destruction was already in man himself, (c) He has not come to destroy, for it is contrary to, His nature to destroy. (2) The positive aspect of His mission. He came to save, (a) This suggests the benevolent character of His mission, (b) This marks the preciousness of humanity.
Richard Roberts, My Jewels, p. 61.
References. IX. 56. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 130. IX. 57, 68. H. M. Butler, Harrow School Sermons, p. 244. John Watson, The Inspiration of our Faith, p. 48.
The Three Candidates for Discipleship
I. The circumstance which evoked this scribe's sudden exclamation was simple enough. Jesus, wearied with a forenoon of attendance on the sick, and an afternoon of loud speaking from a boat to the crowd on the shore in an atmosphere sultry, close, and thundery, portending the storm that quickly followed, proposed to cross over to the wild, eastern side of the lake, and so for a time get quiet from the pressure of the busy, thickly peopled western shore. The scribe had evidently been greatly impressed by the parables regarding the kingdom which our Lord had been uttering, and which are recorded in the thirteenth chapter of Matthew. Himself a man of education, he saw, perhaps more clearly than the multitude, the extraordinary literary grace and point of these parables, and probably, also, he was influenced by a desire to have a secure place in the kingdom spoken of, which he expected our Lord would immediately establish in Jerusalem. Seeing our Lord about to leave, he proposes to attach himself to Him.
The scribe was sincere but hasty. He was the kind of man who leaps before he looks: by no means the worst kind of man, and very decidedly better than the man who neither leaps nor looks. He was a man of impulse. And impulse has a most important function in life.
Now, a person who is naturally impulsive will be so, of course, in his religious actings as much as elsewhere. He will fail to weigh the issues of becoming a disciple of Christ He will run into the matter heedlessly. He will not anticipate and make quite present to his mind the kind of life he is committing himself to. He will not look at the matter all round, in every light, from every point of view. And so when the strain comes he gives, he yields like the bad bolt, he proves to be no Christian at all.
Our Lord, therefore, does not wish facile converts, headlong followers. He desires that those who propose to follow Him should see both sides of the matter. It is not that He does not want followers, but that He wants persistent followers. He does not reject this man; He throws him back on a more resolute desire. He bids him exchange his whim for a purpose rooted in conviction. Therefore He says to the scribe, 'To follow Me means homelessness, vagrancy, to be hunted down'. To the fishermen accustomed to spend nights in an open boat on the treacherous Sea of Galilee this want of shelter might not seem formidable, but it was a serious prospect for the scribe. 'Every man has his price,' it is said; and it is true in this sense, that for every man there is a test which will bring out the real worth of his attachment to Christ: some condition in life which he so shrinks from that, if he can make up his mind to accept that for Christ's sake, nothing else can separate him from Christ.
II. Strangely enough, while one member of the crowd was deterred, another was urgently pressed to follow. The Lord has a fresh method for each individual. One He retards, another He quickens. There is no mechanical or uniform or formal appeal; no urging the same action on every one. Entrance to Christ's kingdom is obtained not by a password known only to the initiated, but by the knock of the ignorant suppliant. The wall of His kingdom is all doors. From opposite quarters, with diverse pleas, needing distinct individual treatment, come the applicants, and are dealt with as differently and discriminatingly as the patients who are ushered one by one into the presence of the physician. While our Lord restrains and moderates the ardour of the scribe, He claims as His follower one who had been merely viewing the scene as a spectator. But whether by previous acquaintance or present discernment, Jesus sees in him the stuff of which disciples are made, and utters the determining word, 'Follow Me'. Think of the joy of being thus singled out by Christ, and summoned by Him into eternal connection with Him. But has not His call come to you? Ought you not to recognise that you are thus summoned into that connection which is fruitful of every blessing the soul can crave? Can you say that He has not given you reason to know that He desires your friendship and service?
III. On the third candidate for discipleship there is not time to dwell. The essence of what our Lord says to him is: 'You must carry your discipleship through to all its issues and consequences, and this you can only do by giving your heart and mind to it'. To serve Christ with the fag-ends of life, to be devoted when in the mood, to give Him a third or fourth place in our thoughts, or even a second place, will not do. We all compromise, but compromise is fatal. All life must run on one line, and all interests must be subordinated to Christ's service, included in it, coloured by it. The figure He uses brings this out. The plough demands undivided attention foot, hand, and eye always on the strain. You cannot even walk straight for a few yards if you turn your head to look behind you, still less can you draw a straight furrow. Success in any work demands that we give ourselves wholly and heartily to it. The late Master of Balliol, who launched so many men upon successful careers, when asked what it was that secured success, promptly replied: 'Complete devotion to the end we have in view. Pleasures and feelings and society must all be made to give way to it.' Our fitness, then, for Christ's Kingdom is thus tested.
If we would be Christ's followers, we must be prepared to make His experience ours, His work our work, His person our chief joy. In other words, we must be prepared to be unworldly, consecrated, devoted.
Marcus Dods, Christ and Man, p. 96.
References. IX. 57-62. C. Perren, Outline Sermons, p. 211. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxviii. No. 2273. J. D. Jones, The Gospel of Grace, p. 41. Expositor (4th Series), vol. iv. p. 286; ibid. (5th Series), vol. viii. p. 1; ibid. (6th Series), vol. vii. p. 350.
The Homeless Life
We shall much misunderstand these words if we think of them as merely referring to the circumstances of Christ's outward life and to the duties of discipleship then. They are true for all time, and the contrast and the requirement in them is for us quite as much as for the disciples who companied with Him as He walked through all Judea, preaching the Gospel and healing the sick.
I. This homeless life raises man above the beasts. What a contrast between the rest of the creatures of the field and the unrest of man! This contrast is really the exhibition of man's superiority. Our sense of homelessness comes from our loftier endowments and can only be stifled by self-degradation, by becoming material and confined to the present.
II. This homeless life must be ours if we are to follow Christ. It is not the mere natural facts of transiency and change which are spoken of here, but it is our attitude in regard to them. Christ's homelessness embraced the literal, and that is wonderful when we reflect that day by day He consciously surrendered it all, and for our sakes. But what constituted it with Him must with us. (1) There must be the habitual sense of transiency and change. (2) Habitual consciousness of disproportion between this and us. (3) Habitual detaching of ourselves from all the outward that we may live in and strain towards God. This strain of mind is ours in proportion as we are Christ's disciples.
III. This homeless life is the only one which makes us feel at home here.
The Burial of the Past
Let the dead bury their dead. Ah! if only they would! If only the dead things could be left to the dead men to put away! If only the dead world would make itself scarce and clear up its rubbish and disappear off the scene! But that is just what will not happen. The dead generations have left behind them a heavy deposit. All about us their ruins block the roads and choke the passages and obstruct the channels.
I. We find this literally true in physical fact. Our town plannings, for instance, with their seemly schemes, cannot get forward an inch without being brought up short by the dead weight of the past. We cannot get our spaces clear. The dead hand withholds. We are powerless against the dead. It is they who are strong; it is we who are as impotent ghosts. Those who are in their graves long ago put out their wills upon the living world of today and forbid it its free growth.
The bad cities that the dead built up for our damage and disgrace are round us still. They breed their ancient diseases; they spread their familiar plagues. We cannot sweep them into some vast dustbin, and breathe freely and begin again. The dead have gone their way, but they have not taken their work with them. It is we who have got to bury them somehow, and half our time is taken up in the dreary job of burying dead things which have been left on our hands. Bishop Creighton ironically declared that each generation as it came along had for its main occupation the task of undoing the mistakes of the generation that preceded it. A dismal picture of a melancholy half-truth!
Yet, again, in the social world, what a weary amount of wreckage still encumbers the ground, that no one has the leisure, or the strength, or the heart, to clear up. Old relics of a dead tradition are still about us. They have no intelligible significance now. They carry no responsibility with them. They tell of a story that is told. Yet they are here still, and have power to prevent the realities of the actual day from making themselves felt. They carry on a pretence which disguises the ideals which are now doing the real work. They hinder us, therefore, from understanding where we are, or taking true measure of the forces under which we are living. They are dead, but there is no one to bury them.
II. Our Lord in this imperious 'Follow Me' did not require us to ignore the past out of which we came. He cannot have intended to claim that it should be blotted out and a start made as with a clean canvas. There is no possibility for man of a clean canvas, such as Plato asked for long ago. We cannot bury the past away out of sight and follow Christ as if nothing had ever occurred that would qualify that following. For Jesus Christ Himself is historical. He enters in upon a drama already long in action. He takes man's story up just there where it stood. He ignores nothing of what has been; He justifies the process, the gradual growth, the slow development. He makes historical conditions His medium, His material, His interpretation. Out of what has been we all come to Him, and He is unintelligible, except in relation to His evolution. The experience of the past is essential to His manifestation. It is impossible for Him not to give it its full value.
'Let the dead bury their dead 'was on His lips no iconoclastic watchword, no Philistine formula that slighted what the dead had done or cut the tender threads that bind us to our fathers. Our Lord was essentially the very last who would ignore the enduring claim upon us of the home that had nourished us and of the father who begot us. We know how profoundly He valued the tenderness that hung round the grave at Bethany, and the passionate love that poured itself out in such self-forgetting abandonment over His own burial. Better than the utilitarian service of the poor to have broken the box of spices, and spilt its wealth over His dying body. 'She hath done it for my burial. Verily I say unto you, whenever the Gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this thing that this woman hath done he told for a memorial of her.'
No! He prized dead and dying things.
But dear and near and real as is the dying past, holy and honourable as are the funeral rites of our decay, there is one claim which overpasses it. So He must declare; one supreme and dominant cause, which no death may hinder or withhold. It is the cause of life. Life is for ever moving, advancing, growing.
Life is lord. It makes demands which nothing can gainsay. And Christ is our life. He takes up into Himself all the significance of life. He raises its claims to their highest power. His cause overrides every other plea. 'Let the dead bury their dead. Follow thou Me.'
That is the final and masterful necessity before which all must give way. 'Follow thou Me.' He has come out of that past, and it is made all the more precious and significant because it has led up to Him. It has not died in vain! for He, who is its life, remains. Let it die! Not because it is not dear, and true, and real, but because all its value, its reality, its truth, are all so far beyond everything that could have been anticipated, so far beyond what it itself could have ever dreamed.
He, the Christ, is greater than all. He must increase, and, as He increases, it must decrease Now that He has come, it is already obsolete and ready to vanish away. The friend of the Bridegroom rejoices to hear the voice of the Bridegroom, even though at the sound of that voice his own part is ended.
H. Scott Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxix. p. 21.
References. IX. 69, 60. H. M. Butler, Harrow School Sermons, p. 255. H. S. Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liii. p. 40. IX. 59-62. G. T. Newton, Preacher's Magazine, vol. iv. p. 554. IX. 60. J. A. Alexander, The Gospel of Jesus Christ, p. 247.
The Three Candidates
I would ask you to consider these three characters which are brought before us here at the close of this ninth chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke.
I. Now in the fifty-seventh and fifty-eighth verses you have an example of enthusiasm awakened by the teaching, the character, and the person of Jesus Christ. 'It came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto Him, Lord, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest. And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head.' Now have we not oftentimes felt something of the same enthusiasm? We have seen a life wholly given to God, or we have marked the daily steps of one who gave forth a loving invitation, not so much by the words she spoke as by the life she lived. Or we have been kindled by the story of some missionary biography. And have you not felt the same thing when first it has broken in upon you how wonderfully forgiving God is? And yet is it not strange this man is not now welcomed? Our Lord, on the contrary says: 'Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head'. He wanted him to count the cost. Jesus Christ would have you weigh well the pros and cons. He will not have you join Him on false pretences.
II. Now the next case which is suggested to us is the very opposite. 'And He said unto another, Follow Me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead; but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.' If the first was enthusiastic, the second is reluctant The lesson is very clear. It is this. Beware of anything which says to you, 'Jesus Christ may call you, but first do this'. No, you must let Jesus Christ be first.
III. The third case which is brought before us has something in it in common with both the others. The man volunteers to follow, but he petitions for delay. He said: 'Lord, I will follow Thee; but let me first go and bid them farewell which are at home at my house. And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.' Christ wants an undivided affection. He wants you to take up His work not as hard duty service, but as service in which you have put your heart. He wants you to realise His service is perfect freedom.
E. A. Stuart, The New Commandment and other Sermons, vol. vii. p. 145.
'I think,' wrote Mrs. Fry once to her niece, 'we are all tempted to take up a half-way house in the religious life, to say, "Thus far will I go and no farther"; but I believe that it is by making no restrictions that we may be brought at last into the glorious liberty, rest, and peace of the children of God.'
References. IX. 61. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vii. No. 403. Brooke Herford, Courage and Cheer, p. 203. J. C. M. Bellew, Christ in Life! Life in Christ, p. 54. IX. 61, 62. H. M. Butler, Harrow School Sermons, p. 266.
The Spiritual Ploughman
There are many metaphors and similes in the New Testament to understand which we require a special knowledge of the country in which the words were spoken. But this particular metaphor is one that appeals at once to every one.
I. Characteristics of the Ploughman.
(a) Dogged Perseverance. It is true of his work, if of any work, that it is 'dogged' that does it, to use an old proverb. He has to go on hour after hour, and there is little apparent result of his work. The man who passes down the road in the early morning, and sees him steadily engaged upon his work, is almost surprised, as he goes home in the evening, to see the same man still ploughing in the same field, and with apparently so very little result. He has to be a man of dogged perseverance.
(b) Undeterred by Weather. In the second place he has to go on, and he does go on, whether the weather is fine or the reverse. He may begin with the sunshine in the early morning, but clouds may gather at noon, and he may finish his work in mist and rain.
(c) Must Look Straight On. And then, again, the ploughman not only must never look back, but he must never look on one side or the other, if he would plough his furrow quite clean and perfectly direct. He must be wholly bent and wholly intent upon his work. It is not an easy thing to plough well, and the ploughman who knows his work looks steadily ahead, that he may keep the furrow straight.
(d) And Work in Hope. Fourthly, and in some respects most touching and true of all, when we understand the application, the ploughman ploughs wholly in hope. He practically sees nothing, and, perhaps, never will see anything of the work that he does. As he ploughs on, hour after hour, there is a picture ever cheering him of something in which he perhaps will never take part, and it is of a strong sinewy arm gathering in the harvest; and there is a song ever in his ears which he, perhaps, will never hear, the song of the harvest home.
II. Spiritual Ploughman. Now it is quite certain that our Lord Jesus Christ, Who never used His words or His metaphors lightly, meant a great deal by comparing the work of the Gospel to the work of the ploughman at the plough. What he must have meant was this, that all these four characteristics which we see essential to the ploughman, are also essential for the work of the Gospel. We are to be for every single baptised member of the Church has his infant hand placed upon the plough at his baptism men of dogged determination, we are to be men who go on whether the sun fall upon us the sunshine of popular favour or the cold rain and mist of hostile criticism; we are to be men who never look to the right hand or to the left, who do not say to ourselves in the middle of our work, 'I am sorry I was ordained,' or 'I am sorry I took these responsibilities upon me again on my confirmation,' who never look back or look to the one side or to the other for mere comfort in life, or easier circumstances, but who are wholly bent upon this one thing, seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and, above all, we are to be men of unbounded hope with something before us, a future which, perhaps, we shall never see, and ever ringing in our ears a song which on earth, perhaps, we shall never hear that picture the picture of a redeemed humanity, and that song the song of the eternal Harvest Home.
I. Christ seeks to produce absolute devotion to Himself. It is very remarkable to notice how lofty and uncompromising are His claims. No man ever made such demands on men. Notice the nature of this entire consecration. (1) It is not devotion to a cause, but to a Person. (2) It is not outward action, but inward disposition. (3) Resolute concentration of purpose.
II. Christ secures that entire consecration by the influence of His own entire surrender to us.
III. This consecration is absolutely necessary from the very nature of the case. Christ's demand looked at more closely becomes Christ's gift. To demand all implies that He can satisfy all. He cannot satisfy all without the full adherence of the whole man.
IV. Christ accepts and helps imperfect consecration.
A. M ACLAREN.
I. Note that unwavering devotion is sure of success in all spheres of life.
II. Unwavering concentration is in the highest degree essential in the disciple.
III. Entire consecration is interfered with by strong temptations.
IV. Wavering unfits. There is forgiveness for all our wavering.
In the life of St. Francis Xavier there is a striking illustration of this text. While on his way to his great missionary work among the Indians, St. Francis, returning from Italy, passed through Spain and came into his native country. One of the party was the Portuguese Ambassador to the Pope, Don Pedro Mascareñas. The travellers entered a rich and fertile valley and the rays of the setting sun shone upon the turrets of a noble castle.
'What a lovely spot!' said Mascareñas to his companion, as he slackened his pace the better to enjoy the view; then, suddenly stopping, he exclaimed, 'Why, surely, Father Francis, we must be in the close neighbourhood of your home. Is not that the castle of Xavier we see yonder, just visible between the trees? You have said nothing, and it had wellnigh escaped my memory. We must make a halt hard by, in order to give you time to pay a visit to your mother and your family.'
'With your permission, noble sir,' returned Francis, 'we will pursue our journey. My dwelling is now wherever our Lord is pleased to send me; I have given up my earthly home to Him, and have no intention of revisiting it.'
'But consider,' resumed the other, in astonishment at such a resolution, 'that you are about to depart for India, that you may probably never return, and, anyhow, seeing your mother's age, you are not likely to do so during her lifetime.'
Francis smiled gently as he replied: 'I thank you, noble sir, for the kindness which induces you to urge me in this matter, but pardon me for continuing steadfast in my first intention. Such a visit, and such a leave-taking would be productive only of useless pain and regrets. It would be like a looking back after having put the hand to the plough, and would tend perhaps to unnerve and unfit me for the labours which are before me; while the non-indulgence of my natural wishes is a little offering which I cheerfully and gladly make to our good God.'
References. IX. 62. J. H. Jowett, The Transfigured Church, p. 205. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 41; ibid. (6th Series), vol. vi. p. 448. R. J. Wardell, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xviii. p. 554. J. H. Jowett, British Congregationalist, 23rd Aug. 1906, p. 84.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Luke 9". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany