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List of the Apostles
I. There are several pairs of brothers: Peter and Andrew; James and John; Judas and James. This points to (1) the need of companionship in Christian work, as solace, and as a curb to excessive individualism. (2) The allowableness of special friendships among Christian workers. (3) That Christianity is more beautiful when the natural bonds of love and kindred are sanctified. It is meant to heighten these and they to provide channels for its operation. (4) But also Christianity separates and dissolves natural ties.
II. There were wide varieties in the characters of the men chosen, which shows that there is room for all diversities in Christ's service and the uniting power of the Christian faith. Christ Himself in His living presence as the centre held all in unity.
References. X. 3. H. J. Martyn, For Christ and the Truth, p. 75. X. 4. J. E. Roberts, Studies in the Lord's Prayer, p. 106. A. F. Winnington Ingram, The Men Who Crucify Christ, p. 11. X. 5. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew IX.-XVII. p. 55. X. 5-16. Ibid. p. 68. X. 6. H. Ward Beecher, Sermons (2nd Series), p. 179. X. 7. H. A. Stimson, The New Things of God, p. 267. Lyman Abbott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. 1895, p. 372. X. 7, 8. E. White, ibid. vol. xlv. 1894, p. 389. W. M. Sinclair, ibid. vol. xlvi. 1894, p. 56.
The Condition and Obligation of Service
I. The Condition, the Source, the Inspiration of Service. 'Freely ye have received;' and here I cannot, dare not, attempt to speak about the greatness of the giving. He who told us most about it called it unspeakable; the riches of the grace are unsearchable, the love beyond all faith's measurement; we can only kneel before it and adore. But about our receiving we may speak, for that, alas! is too often a measurable quantity, and yet upon that depends all the power and willingness of service. It is not the magnitude of the grace, but the proportion of its inflow, that determines all the issues of the Christian life; the sun-rays are poured as plentifully upon the barren rock as upon the vine which creeps around it, but it is the measure of reception that makes the difference between the dead, profitless stone and the living tree that quivers into fruit-bearing. Glad giving comes out of full receiving. Loving God is letting God love us; the outgoings of our love are just the overflow of the Divine love in us. The Apostles tell us often in glowing, rapturous words of God's wonderful gifts to them, but they tell us quite as frequently of their own receiving. It was that which had made the miracle of their lives: 'Out of His fulness we all received, and grace upon grace'.
People who merely move among the crowd about Christ, who stop short of touching the hem of His garment, who perhaps see only His shadow as it passes by, who hardly open the narrowest chink of their being to the healing of His power, cannot be expected to lavish costly ointment at His feet. Only those give Him of their best, and give it with raptures of gratitude, who have been much healed and much forgiven; then they lay at His feet their ointment, or their tears, or their very blood-drops, if He asks, and think it all too small. If we measure with sparing, reluctant hands every coin that we drop into His treasury, every hour that we give to His worship and work, every meagre self-denial which His service imposes, there needs no further proof of the feeble hold which He has upon us and our scant reception of His grace.
II. The Obligation of Service. Our receipts make our debt. The Lord tells us here, and His words are echoed and repeated in all the confessions of His disciples, that we have received for the very purpose of giving. The Gospel of the blessed God has been committed to us in trust. We are not absolute owners, we are responsible trustees. 'As every man hath received the gift, so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.' The men who had learned directly of Christ never regarded their spiritual endowments save in this aspect. They never once supposed that the heavenly light had been kindled in them solely for their own glory, that the Divine treasure had been bestowed upon them simply for their own enrichment, and that for their own sakes alone they had been singled out for a benefit so vast, a mercy so wonderful, a salvation so grand and complete. How could they suppose that, unless Calvary had developed in them the Pharisee's pride or the miser's greed? How could they entertain that thought, unless they had been plunged in a blinding maelstrom of intolerable self-conceit? What had they done to deserve this signal grace and the promotion from rude fishermen to companionship with the King of Kings? No, they knew that the Divine love which had fixed itself on them was felt as fully and as freely towards the whole human race, and that the light had shown on their hearts first that through them the illumination might spread everywhere. It was not their own. It was the most sacred and responsible of trusts. It belonged to all men. To withhold it would be to rob men of what God had made their right. Nay, it would be to deny and forfeit their own calling. 'Woe is me if I preach not the Gospel.' And every one feels this who has truly understood and rejoiced in God's great gift. If it has not yet penetrated and suffused the hearts of all Christians, it is because the selfish human elements have counteracted the workings of the Divine, and because man's littleness has brought God's great thought down to the measure of the market and the shop.
J. G. Greenhough, The Cross in Modern Life, p. 162.
References. X. 8. James Baldwin Brown, The Divine Life in Man, pp. 321, 344. E. Y. Mullins, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxviii. 1905, p. 168. H. Montagu Butler, ibid. vol. lxx. 1906, p. 97. H. A. Stimson, The New Things of God, p. 245. F. Paget, The Spirit of Discipline, p. 234. X. 10. J. O. Wills, The Dundee Pulpit, 1872, p. 185.
'There are some men,' says Mrs. Oliphant in her Life of Edward Irving, 'who seem born to the inalienable good fortune of lighting upon the best people "the most worthy," according to Irving's own expression long afterwards wherever they go. Irving's happiness in this way began at Haddington. The doctor's wife seems to have been one of those fair, sweet women whose remembrance lasts longer than greatness.... The Annandale youth came into a little world of humanizing graces when he entered that atmosphere; and it was only natural that he should retain the warmest recollection of it throughout his life.'
Reference. X. 12, 13. R. E. Hutton, The Crown of Christ, vol. ii. p. 565.
Compare Wesley's account of how he left Georgia, being hampered by the authorities in his work. 'I saw clearly the hour was come for leaving this place and as soon as evening prayers were over, about eight o'clock, the tide then serving, I shook off the dust of my feet, and left Georgia, after having preached the Gospel there (not as I ought, but as I was able) one year and nearly nine months.'
Reference. X. 14, 15. F. E. Paget, Sermons for The Saints' Days, p. 205.
Compare Amiel's remarks on prudence, as part of love to men. 'Be ye simple as the dove, and prudent as the serpent,' are words of Jesus. Be careful of your reputation, not through vanity, but that you may not harm your life's work, and out of love for truth.'
It was what he called his wisdom of the serpent, says Mr. Morley, that gave Cobden his power in the other arts of a successful agitator, which are less conspicuous but hardly less indispensable, than commanding or persuasive oratory. He applied the same qualities in the actual business of the League that he brought to bear in his speeches. He was indefatigable in industry, fertile in ingenious devices for bringing the objects of the League before the country, constantly on the alert for surprising a hostile post, never losing a chance of turning a foe or a neutral into a friend, and never allowing his interest about the end for which he was working to confuse his vigilant concentration upon the means.
References. X. 16. J. H. Newman, Sermons Bearing on Subjects of the Day, p. 331. D. Fraser, Metaphors in the Gospels, p. 118. J. Stark, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxix. 1891, p. 241. J. Stalker, ibid. vol. lxi. 1902, p. 41. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiii. No. 1370. X. 16-31. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew IX.-XVII. p. 74. X. 19. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iv. p. 256. X. 22. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. x. No. 554.
The Christian Palliation of Pain
I. The days of persecution are past; has this text lost its meaning? No, it is to my mind the revelation of an eternal fact a fact which distinguishes Christianity from all other religions. Christ's remedy for the immediate pressure of grief is one peculiarly His own. Consider the remedies proposed by some other faiths. The Buddhist says: 'When you are oppressed by any sorrow, think how all your desires will be stilled in death'. The Brahman says: 'When you are oppressed by any sorrow, remember how all finite things are illusions'. The Stoic says: 'When you are oppressed by any sorrow, keep your mind on things that suppress emotion'. The Jew says: 'When you are oppressed by any sorrow, seek out and expiate the sin you have committed'. Christ says none of these things. His recommendation is: 'When you are oppressed by any sorrow, rest your thoughts as much as possible upon some joy that remains; when you are persecuted in one city, flee into another'.
II. Our danger in grief is that of forgetting our untouched joys. We have all some city of refuge some spot left green. Christ says our first duty is to flee thither. He says we shall be better able to remedy any stroke of fortune if in the first instance we seek comfort in another direction. He practised this Himself in His cures. A paralytic came to be healed; Jesus said, 'Thy sins be forgiven thee'. Was not that irrelevant to promise a man forgiveness of sin who wanted cure for paralysis? Yes, but in the irrelevancy lay the beauty. The best prelude to curing a man's paralysis is to get him over to the sunny side of the street to fix his mind upon an actually existing joy.
III. So, too, when Christ tells the labouring and laden in body that He will give them rest to their souls, it seems an irrelevancy; but it is not. What better prelude to a medical cure than a flash of sunshine in the soul; what better preparation for a physical improvement than a state of inward rest? Our Lord would have us first get out from the persecuted into the unpersecuted city and brace ourselves for struggle by an hour of peace.
G. Matheson, Messages of Hope, p. 149.
If religion be the doing of all good, and for its sake the suffering of all evil, souffrir de tout le monde et ne faire souffrir personne , that Divine secret has existed in England from the days of Alfred to those of Romilly, of Clarkson, and of Florence Nightingale, and in thousands who have no fame.'
Emerson, English Traits, xiii.
References. X. 24. W. J. Knox-Little, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. 1897, p. 250. X. 24, 25. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew IX.-XVII. p. 83; see also Greed and Conduct, p. 89. X. 24-26. H. Ward Beecher, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 195. X. 26. A. Martin, Winning the Soul, p. 181. X. 26, 27. H. Scott Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xli. 1892, p. 49. X. 27. E. Griffith-Jones, ibid. vol. liii. 1898, p. 195. C. Silvester Home, ibid, vol. liv. 1898, p. 85. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlvi. No. 2674.
Compare Carlyle's account, in the first volume of his Cromwell, of Prynne, Bastwick, and Burton, being mutilated, by order of Archbishop Laud, and of how, 'Bastwick's wife, on the scaffold, received his ears in her lap and kissed them. Prynne's ears the executioner "rather sawed than cut". "Cut me, tear me," cried Prynne? "I fear thee not; I fear the fire of Hell, not thee."'
Nature herself has not provided the most graceful end for her creatures. What becomes of all the birds that people the air and forest for our solacement? The sparrows seem always chipper, never infirm. We do not see their bodies lie about. Yet there is a tragedy at the end of each one of their lives. They must perish miserably; not one of them is translated. True, 'not a sparrow falleth to the ground without our heavenly Father's knowledge,' but they do fall, nevertheless.
Thoreau, A Week on the Concord.
The Providence of the Trifle
We are so earth-bound that we half-suspect the competence of any being to exercise a Providence over motes, atoms, and infinitesimal details. We are not sure that we honour the Infinite by such a conception.
I. Our own carelessness about details in the lives that crowd our daily pathway makes it difficult for us to believe in Christ's doctrine of a Providence that regulates trifles. It is only a point in the unmeasured area of human life, not to speak of other uncounted realms of life, that we can touch by our sympathies. How incredible that God should fulfil a Providence that includes the meanest things in nature!
The indifference that warps our judgment of this question is made up of two things sheer selfishness and rigid limitation of power and opportunity. Selfishness shrivels resource, and the shrinkage of resource seems to justify our selfishness.
II. It is often intimated that our theories of Providence are frequently discredited by the actual facts we see around us. The government of the world often looks as though it were impersonal. The universe, we are tempted to say, is ruled by a necessity that takes no account of the individual. All facts point in that direction.
Could we get into God's secret chambers we should see how He puts Himself into the blindest forces of the universe, and makes them move the fine threads of His counsel, and work out His deepest and most complex designs.
We cannot gauge God's providence over the little things of life by His apparent indifference to the time and circumstance under which the stream of breath in a man ceases. It is His hand which controls that breath, and His hand never forgets its cunning.
Much of our terror of death is due to ignorance of what death is, and to the assumption that it can come to any one of us as mere fate. To God and to us death must seem very different things. We are held in its chain, or at least seem to be. He holds death in chains, and never lets the key of the grim monster's fetters pass for a moment out of His possession.
III. Belief in a Providence that is informed in incalculably minute sympathies is necessary to our habitual communion with God. If God cannot or will not care for little things, we have no encouragement to come to His feet and pour out our tale before Him.
Our belief ought to give calmness in our work and authority to the message we are sent to deliver. Every part of the elect life is under a sacred ordination, and God watches over all the things that concern us as we do His will. We often lack a due sense of our vocation because our belief in a guiding Providence is feeble.
T. G. Selby, The Lesson of a Dilemma, p. 82.
References. X. 30. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iv. No. 187; vol. xxxiv. No. 2005. James Vaughan, Sermons Preached in Christ Church, Brighton (7th Series), p. 151.
We are told to confess Christ. 'Whosoever therefore shall confess Me before men, him will I confess also before My Father which is in heaven.' Nor is this all. This is only half the truth. There is the dark side as well as the bright one. 'But whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father which is in heaven.'
I. In an age when everybody is allowed to believe what they like, the constancy of the martyr and the cowardice of the renegade are alike impossible. Confessing Christ before men is done by all respectable churchgoers, as you may say; what can any one require more? I think God will require much more. And here I would enter a protest against a form of cowardice common at this day. How many among us reverse the language of the prayer and 'profess and call themselves non -Christians'? You hear repeatedly men and women say, 'I don't profess to be a Christian, but I look after sick people. I don't profess to be a Christian, but I am always ready to help. I don't profess to be a Christian, but you will not hear any slander or evil-speaking from me.' This is a common line for people to take up just now, even if they do not put it quite so plainly in words. Examine it, and it means something like this. I will copy the teachings of Christ's gracious life, but I will not acknowledge their source For who taught the world to seek out the sick and the sorrowing? Who taught the world to help the poor? Who made it a duty to refrain from guileful speech, and to be gentle, compassionate, tender-hearted? Jesus Christ of Nazareth! This fact, however, must be ignored; we must pretend that it is our own superiority that enables us to lead the higher life.
II. We constantly find people taking a sort of pride in assuming this attitude of aloofness about religion. They seem to consider it a mark of intelligence to deny the superior claims of Christianity over other faiths. Buddha, Mohammed, Moses, or Jesus are all treated with the same patronizing approbation. It is a revival of the saying of the Roman cynic, 'All religions are equally false'. To entertain no preference for the best thing in the world is not dignity, but dullness.
People are denying the Master in a new way, and while taking all they can from His system, they revile it and call it outworn and dying.
III. A public profession of Christianity is what is wanted. Since the days of the Apostles it has been the rule that all Christians should assemble themselves together on the first day of the week in open acknowledgment of their allegiance to Christ.
C. H. Butcher, The Sound of a Voice that is Still, p. 160.
References. X. 32. S. Martin, Westminster Chapel Sermons, p. 1. C. Perren, Revival Sermons in Outline, p. 173. X. 32, 33. F. E. Paget, Sermons for the Saints' Days, p. 55. X. 32-42. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew IX.-XVII. p. 94.
The Sword of Doubt
Our Lord tells us here that the preaching of the Cross is like a sword. When St. John saw the Son of Man is his vision, 'there went a sharp two-edged sword out of his mouth'.
It sounds like a paradox that the Lamb should bear a sword. Yet we know that the preaching of the Cross, wherever it sounded, cut men to the heart, leaving deep divisions and awakening sharp animosities.
I. Now may we not say that this sword of the Lamb is Doubt. In the mind of the seeker after light it is the anguish of indecision. And in the case of the persecutor it is at bottom the same thing.
Ever since the advent of our Lord you find doubt in the world. The leaven immediately began to work, and it worked with great violence, causing a turmoil, a civil war, in the soul, such as had never been experienced before.
What did our Lord do to create this horrid spectre of Doubt and let it loose upon the modern world?
If we are to understand why He sent not peace but a sword, we must fix our attention on the deepest and most characteristic feature of His work and doctrine, and this is certainly to be found in the Cross. It has always been a supreme difficulty, and there is nothing in the whole body of Christian doctrine that has excited so much hostility, so much repugnance, or so much derision, as the notion that vicarious suffering; can have any moral value or can in any sense be called a duty or a Divine law. It does not seem reasonable, it does not square with our empirical conception of justice, and it is the very last thing that men desire. Yet it is the specific mark of Christianity, and deep within our hearts there is a voice that tells us that it is Divine and that through it lies the way to the right understanding of God and of life. Here, and here only, we see the full meaning of the sword of the Lamb. Alone of all teachers He dared to proclaim as the goal of human aspiration not happiness nor tranquillity but Life, Life attained through pain and working in Pain, Pain not passive but active, not borne with stoic resignation but cheerfully accepted and sought for, as a ransom for the souls of others and through those others of ourselves. Such a doctrine is exquisitely painful. It offends at every point. It affronts our reason, our dignity, our freedom, our conduct, our physical weakness. Yet no man reads the history of the Passion without feeling its truth.
II. Pain indeed suggests the one and only doubt which is worth a moment's consideration.
Pain is undoubtedly a grave problem, but for this very reason it is of vital importance that it should not be presented in a false or exaggerated light. Nature strikes many people as cruel, yet the suffering which forms part of her system is never inflicted, in the first instance at any rate, from a mere delight in barbarity. Animals are not cruel unless they are depraved. Aimless ferocity is a vice in them as it is in man. They kill for food as man himself does, and almost always in the shortest and least painful manner. Again, it is highly probable that the lower animals are not so susceptible of pain as man himself, and the pain of violent injuries is not to be compared with the lingering torments of disease. Pain is not really a large factor in life, and even what we call brute courage thinks but little of it. These considerations go at any rate some way, and they should debar us from speaking of the world as if it were merely a vast and hideous torture-chamber.
The difficulty of pain is almost entirely modern. It is hardly to be found in Scripture, except perhaps in the phrase of St. Paul about the whole Creation groaning and travailing in sympathy with the evil of man. Our Saviour never touches upon this theme, and the old Psalmist writes without hesitation, 'the lions roaring after their prey do seek their meat from God'.
III. We may say that pain is not an evil because it shortens life but only when it degrades it, that it never degrades the brute and only accidentally degrades man. But still there will remain an unanswered doubt. Why did a good God order His universe in this way? Why did He not content Himself with framing painless angels and leave suffering beasts out of the scheme?
If we fix our eyes on the lower parts of Creation we can discover no satisfactory answer. We do not know the brutes. But man we do know, and in his spirit we can find a law that brings peace, the law of the Cross. And not in his spirit only. The Cross reaches up to heaven and brings suffering into contact with God Himself. As we look upon Calvary we see pain transfigured; it is no longer a burden, but a wing. It is the cement of all society, the spur to all progress, the main link between man and man, and man and God.
Why it should be so we cannot tell. We cannot fully solve those or any other mystery, nor can we banish mystery from life. There is darkness around us, above us, within us. But there is also light; and though it be but a glimmering point, the wise man will turn his face towards it. Aristomenes of Messene, when he was condemned to die and cast into the dark pit, at first gave way to despair. But as he strained his eyes around the black recesses of the Ceadas he caught sight of a thread of sunlight, crawled towards it on hands and knees, and finally escaped through a fox's earth. And this is a parable of the Christian pilgrim. Only he must have faith, that is to say, he must believe that there is open day and freedom, and that the little spark of brightness points the way towards the sun.
C. Bigg, The Spirit of Christ in Common Life, p. 21.
Not Peace, But a Sword
I. Not Peace, but a Sword. The words are written in the whole history of the Church from then until now. The martyrdom of Stephen was the first occasion for the extension of the Gospel, and the law of its progress has never varied. For three centuries Christianity maintained an open struggle with the strongest power which the world has ever seen. The victory was won, the triumph exceeded all human hope; but peace was not yet.
II. Not Peace, but a Sword. For three more centuries hordes of barbarians poured over the fairest provinces of Europe. Christianity alone was unconquered. Again and again the wild flood swept over our island, but the bulwarks of faith rose secure above them. So again the victory was won. A new family of nations was gathered in the fold of Christ: but peace was not yet.
III. Not Peace, but a Sword. The nations were Christianized, but the poor were forgotten. The history of the Middle Age is a long record of conflicts between the spirit of the Gospel and the spirit of dominion. When the full time was come the outward unity of Christendom was broken. Christian was armed against Christian in an unnatural strife. But we now are allowed to look back upon that age of the Reformation and see how men, who owned no fellowship on earth, were yet enabled to work out each some fragment of Divine truth and hand it down to us. But with the larger view of the capacities of Christianity, and the truer view of its adaptation to every variety of thought which we owe to them larger and truer, I believe, than was ever vouchsafed to any earlier age we have received also an inheritance of division: not peace, but a sword.
IV. But they have also another and a more personal sense. They speak to each one of us in our own peculiar work. In that our battle is to be fought; in that the critical power of Christianity for us is to be manifested; in that we shall find that the Gospel comes not with the soft voice of rest, but with a sterner call.
V. Not Peace, but a Sword. But the words cheer us when we find the conflict of life hardest. It is Christ's will that it be so.
B. F. Westcott, Village Sermons, p. 298.
The Sending of the Sword
There seems to be a glaring contradiction between this word and some other words of Jesus. Life proves many a proposition to be true that logic would readily demonstrate as false. And the strange thing about the words of Christ is, that while they seem to contradict each other at the bar of reason, they link themselves together into perfect harmony when we go forward in the strength of them. They are words of life; meant to be lived out.
I. The coming of Christ sends a sword into the heart. Now this is exactly what I should have expected when I remember the penalties of gain. For everything a man achieves there is a price to pay. There comes a wound with everything we win. All knowledge, whatever joy it brings with it, brings with it in the other hand a sword. All love, though it kindles the world into undreamed-of brightness, has a note in its music of unrest and agony.
To receive Christ is to receive the truth; it is to have the Spirit of Love breathing within us; and if truth and love always bring sorrow with them, I shall expect the coming of Christ to be with pain.
II. There are three ways in which the coming of Christ into the heart sends a sword there.
1. Christ opens up the depths of sin within us. We see what we are in the light of His perfection. We were tolerably contented with our character once, but when Christ comes we are never that again.
2. Christ calls us to a lifelong warfare. The note of warfare rings through the whole New Testament. The spirit is quickened now to crave for spiritual things, and the flesh and the spirit must battle till the grave.
3. Above all, it is by heightening our ideal that the old peace goes and the pain begins. It is in the new conception of what life may be that the sword-stroke cuts into the heart.
III. Christ comes to send a sword into the home. Did you ever think how true that was of Nazareth? Did you ever reflect on our text in the light of that home? It might have been so peaceful and so happy if God had never honoured it like this. But Jesus was born there, and that made all the difference. It could never be the quiet home again. Gethsemane was coming, Calvary was coming; a sword was going to pierce through Mary's heart. He came not to send peace, but a sword.
Develop love, and you develop sorrow. Deepen the heart-life, and you deepen suffering. It is by doing that, through all the centuries, that Christ has brought the sword into our homes.
G. H. Morrison, Sun-Rise, p. 158.
Illustration I notice in the engines of our river-steamers that there are rods that move backward as well as rods that move forward. A child would say they were fighting with each other, and that half of the engines were going the wrong way. But though half the engines seem to go the wrong way, there is no question that the ship is going the right way: out of the smoke and stir of the great city into the bays where the peace of God is resting. So with the words of Christ that seem to oppose each other. Make them the driving power of the soul, and the oppositions will not hinder progress, and the contradictions will reveal their unity, and you shall be brought to your desired haven.
G. H. Morrison, Sun-Rise, p. 159.
What said Jesus that He came to send a sword? Of course He did. Every idea is a sword.
W. Hale White.
References. X. 34. J. Neville Figgis, The Gospel and Hitman Needs, p. 145. W. Garrett Horder, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxiv. 1903, p. 204. A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons for the Christian Year, part ii. p. 247. Selected Sermons of Schleiermacher, p. 295. X. 36-38 C. G. Finney, Sermons on Gospel Themes, p. 319.
The Supreme Claim of Christ
It seems to me that the supreme claim of the Lord Jesus Christ rests at least upon three bases. The first basis of His claim is in His own character; the second basis of His claim is in the need of him upon whom He makes the claim; and the third basis is in the need of the world for him upon whom He makes the claim.
I. His Own Character. Christ claimed it for Himself, mark you, not for a moral ideal, but for Himself as a living Person, and He claimed the same kind of love as we give to father, to mother, or to child. I say that claim was based upon His own character, for Christ was conscious of having an absolute commission from God to men.
He claimed it because He was conscious of His ability to guide men, and all men, and all kinds of men in all kinds of conditions. Christ brings us a message from God, that we know from experience is the last message, not only of God as a Creator, or as a Judge, or even as a Father, but Christ's message as of a forgiving Father, and of a forgiving Father to the uttermost.
II. The Needs of the Individual. No man ever saw the needs of men as the Lord Jesus Christ beheld them. He saw the individual need some one to take the supreme place in man's affection. Man needs a ruler who will save him from himself. Every man living knows that he longs for someone to save him, not from the world, not from the temptations without, but from himself; not only to put out the fires which our own stupidity have kindled, but to bring out the treasure that we know God has deposited within us, and which we cannot dig out ourselves.
There are four ways in which we can use our ware. That boy who had the loaves and fishes could have done four things with them. He could have thrown them away; he could have eaten them himself; or he could have distributed them himself among his friends, or as he did give them to Christ. And we may do these four things with our lives. And that is why Christ claimed the first place in men's lives, because He knew that life must of necessity be a tragic failure without that influence of Divine grace upon it.
III. The Claim of Others Upon Us. The world has certain demands upon us. We realize it as we never have realized it before, and the supreme claim of Jesus Christ is based upon the claim of other lives upon us. No man who does not live in communion with God can give an original contribution to life. We owe supreme allegiance to Christ in the interest of the world. We owe it in the interests of the unity of the world as well.
J. Douglas Adam, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxii. 1907, p. 86.
In his Anglican days, Newman wrote thus of the Roman Church: 'Considering the high gifts and the strong claims of the Church of Rome and its dependencies on our admiration, reverence, love, and gratitude, how could we withstand it, as we do, how could we refrain from being melted into tenderness, and rushing into communion with it, but for the words of Truth itself, which bid us prefer It to the whole world? "He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me."'
References. X. 37. R. Flint, Sermons and Addresses, p. 166. X. 37, 38. H. Ward Beecher, Sermons (2nd Series), p. 585.
To repel one's cross is to make it heavier.
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. X. 38. R. H. McKim, The Gospel in the Christian Year, p. 166. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Holy-Tide Teaching, p. 92. X. 38, 39. T. B. Dover, Some Quiet Lenten Thoughts, p. 95. X. 39. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew IX.-XVII. p. 102. J. Vickery, Ideals of Life, p. 181. J. H. Jowett, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxiv. 1903, p. 209. H. A. Stimson, The New Things o God, p. 65.
Foe a long time past I have seen into a something most wondrous, in what I fear so many think the accident of our circle of friends. It is no accident. If it be true, 'He that receiveth you receiveth Me,' in one sense, it is also in this. God draws nigh in our friend-circles.
Reference. X. 40. W. J. Knox-Little, The Perfect Life. p. 289.
The Exaltation of the Obscure
One of the noticeable features of our Lord's earthly ministry was His tender regard for the obscure and undistinguished men and women by whom He was surrounded, closely connected as this feeling was with an unshaken belief in the undeveloped, yet developable, spiritual capacities of the average mass of mankind.
I. So long as we keep Christ's image in view we can never degenerate into pessimists or cynics. The more we know of Him, and the more truly we believe in Him as representing God and man, the greater will be our reverence for the image of God in our fellow-men, and the more clearly shall we see how out of the very fact of men's seeming insignificance may come opportunities of special faithfulness and of service to God and to man. But in order to see this as Christ saw and revealed it, we need first to be changed in ourselves. And some such generous faith in the higher possibilities of commonplace men and women, implied as it is in the doctrine of the Incarnation, is necessary for our own moral support.
II. There is a peculiar glamour about great talents and powerful individualities. Hence comes a natural tendency to undervalue commonplace qualities, and even to assume that those who are not possessed of any remarkable gifts, however worthy they may be individually, are destitute of significance, and hardly count at all as factors in the moral and spiritual advance of mankind.
The same false estimate sometimes has a benumbing effect on character by leading people to disparage their own powers of usefulness.
Strictly speaking, the great question for every man is, not whether he has commanding powers, but what use he proposes to himself, with God's help, to make of the gifts entrusted to him. Be those gifts great or small, few or many, the main concern to each of us is that they are our gifts, given to us by God Himself, a part, therefore, of our own distinct personality, and they are the measure whereby our faithfulness will be tested.
III. But Christ's words carry us even further than this. Not only do they bring encouragement to the hearts of all those who live faithfully a hidden and an obscure life. They lay down the broad principle of an equivalence of reward as between the eminent and the obscure. They tell us that he who welcomes a prophet simply because he is a prophet, out of regard for his prophetic character, shall receive a prophet's reward, and he who welcomes a righteous man for the simple reason that he loves and reveres righteousness, shall receive a righteous man's reward. The words are of a figurative character, but their meaning is plain. They reveal a law of identification by moral sympathy of humble and holy men of heart with the great characters to whom their highest homage is given.
J. W. Shepard, Light and Life, p. 60.
I. A Prophet a man sent from God to teach us absolute truth concerning our relations with God. Christ was preeminently such: the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He still continues to give this knowledge from heaven. No man spake like this Man. No books speak like these books of Holy Scripture: Christ speaks in them from heaven. The real evidence of Christianity is in the Bible; the Word made flesh can only be known through the word made letter as in the writings of the Lord's Apostles.
II. Righteous Men such as might go forth in God's name. Men's character might be told more by their attitude to the Bible than by anything. The righteous man is one who lives in Christ, and though he may not even be able to read he cannot help saving others he radiates the saving energy.
III. The Idea of Receiving a Prophet who is able to teach others. The old word 'parlour,' our little social parliament, has given place to the modern term, 'reception room '. Who comes there? Those who like you. Receiving means taking into your confidence, mind, heart, those who are drawn toward you by your character. That man only receives a prophet who receives him to closest intimacy and helps him. To receive a righteous man is to draw him to yourself and help him.
IV. Reception of Prophets: our sympathetic help ensures for us certain participation in their reward both here and hereafter. The reward seems too great, as if the shepherds of Bethlehem should be rewarded for listening to the angels' song by being made angels themselves. But receiving a righteous man goes very deep into character. The impulse to a noble, sympathetic act gains the reward of an inward approving conscience, which is, in fact, the approval of the universal conscience the love of God. There was no praise in the universe so hearty and vital as God's.
There are many forgotten attributes of God, such as His intensely human sympathies, His love of being loved, the enthusiasm with which He beholds noble and self-sacrificing character.
Edward White, British Weekly Pulpit, vol. II. p. 77.
References. X. 41. W. Ewen, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. 1893, p. 220. W. Boyd Carpenter, ibid. vol. lviii. 1900, p. 113. 'Plain Sermons 'by contributors to the Tracts for the Times, vol. viii. p. 25. X. 41, 42. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew IX.-XVII. p. 110. X. 42. H. Harris, Short Sermons, p. 221. B. D. Johns, Pulpit Notes, p. 21. XI. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlvii. No. 2708. XI. 2. T. Barker, Plain Sermons, p. 224. XI. 2, 3. F. D, Maurice, Lincoln's Inn Sermons, vol. iii. p. 33. G. Jackson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. 1895, p. 67. T. F. Lockyer, The Inspirations of the Christian Life, p. 76. XI. 2-5. H. Varley, Spiritual Light and Life, p. 145. G. Salmon, Non-Miraculous Christianity, p. 1. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew IX.-XVII. p. 121. J. B. Stedeford, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxviii. 1890, p. 129. XI. 2-19. A. B. Davidson, The Called of God, p. 230.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Matthew 10". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany