Monday, June 5th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
Expositor's Dictionary of Texts Expositor's Dictionary
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Matthew 12". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ edt/ matthew-12.html. 1910.
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Matthew 12". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
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'Not strive,' not 'cry,' not lift up His voice 'in the streets,' not break 'the bruised reed,' not quench 'the smoking flax'! These are some of the rarest and finest features of a character that is altogether lovely. They are negative characteristics. The character of the Christ is no less unique in its striking absences than in its majestic presences. Its valleys are as conspicuous as its mountains. The Holy Ghost works in the way of a certain exclusion. His handiwork is differentiated from all others by its incomparable restraints.
I. Mark the first of the suppressions in the life that is filled with the Holy Ghost. 'He shall not strive.' The spirit of wrangling shall be absent. For what is wrangling? Wrangling is the spirit which subordinates the triumph of truth to the triumph of self. When a man begins to wrangle, his sight has become self-centred; he has lost the vision of truth. You never find the wrangling spirit in the main highways of the truth. Wrangling always nourishes itself on side issues. But Christ would not strive. He would not be diverted from the main issues of life and destiny. He had not come to engage in strife, He had come that we might have life. That is how the Spirit of the Lord will work in us. It will make us feel most at home in the heavenly places. It will make us feel out of place in small disputes.
II. 'He shall not strive, nor cry.' The Messiah shall not cry. He had not come to startle, but to win; to conciliate, not to coerce. 'Come now and let us reason together' was the pervading tone of His ministry. And so He put restraint upon His power, but gave no limit to His grace. He was almost niggardly with miracles; He was prodigal with love. Such is the fruit of the Spirit! The man who is filled with the Spirit of God has no desire to make a sensation.
III. 'Neither shall any man hear His voice in the streets.' Christ abhorred a mere street-religion. He loved the religion that prayed and glowed in the closet, and that radiated its influence out into the street. He could not do with a piety that advertised itself to gain public applause. Christ revealed the Father! Not to honour Himself, for then He said, His honour would be nothing, but to honour His Father that was the end and purpose of speech and of work. When the Holy Spirit possesses a man, religion is not an affair of the street corner; it is not a medium of self-advertisement; it is not a means for gaining public applause. Life, filled with the Spirit, 'vaunteth not itself,' it hides under 'the shadow of the Almighty,' and it makes its boast in God.
IV. 'A braised reed shall He not break, and smoking flax shall He not quench.' Then there is to be an absence of harshness, an absence of severe pitilessness, an absence of that spirit of savage recoil from those who have deceived us. The Lord was ever pitiful with the faint-hearted, with those whose light was burning only dimly, and He ever sought, by a tender and reinforcing sympathy, to nurse them back again into a bright and passionate spiritual life.
J. H. Jowett, Apostolic Optimism, p. 99.
Will not men look up at a rainbow, unless they are called to it by a clap of thunder?
More than half a century of existence has taught me that most of the wrong and folly which darken earth is due to those who cannot possess their souls in quiet; that most of the good which saves mankind from destruction comes of life that is led in thoughtful stillness.
Reference. XII. 19-21. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xix. No. 1147.
The Loving-kindness of Jesus
It is a frequent expedient of artists to paint pictures in pairs. A landscape will be depicted as it appears in the pearly light of early morn; and, corresponding to it, the same or a similar scene will be painted as it appears in the glowing colours of the evening. In the Gospels we frequently have pictures in pairs. The Pharisee and the Publican; the Rich Man and Lazarus; the Man seeking goodly Pearls and the Treasure hid in a field, these will serve to illustrate the statement. And we have an instructive pair of pictures brought before us in the following words quoted by Matthew from Isaiah's prophecy: 'The bruised reed shall He not break, and smoking flax shall He not quench'. The first picture is an exterior. The region represented is a flat and marshy one; the locality is lonely and desolate. Growing amid shallow but cold and swirling waters, we see tall reeds and rushes. The sky is grey and heavy, with clouds fleeting before the blast: the reeds bend under the storm: you can almost feel the nipping wind as you look at the picture. And the reeds are swayed hither and thither, being bruised and battered as they jostle one against the other. Look closely at those reeds, and you will scarcely find one that is not scarred and mangled. They are bruised reeds.
The other picture is an interior. 'The smoking flax shall He not quench.' The picture is that of an Eastern room. We dimly see the low divans or lounges around the walls, and if the light were brighter we might discern the features of the persons reclining there. There is a low table in the centre of the room, and upon it stands a lamp. In shape this lamp is something like a modern teapot; the receptacle being for the oil, and the wick protruding from what would be the spout. That wick should be burning brightly; instead of that, however, there is only a dull red glow, and there is more smoke than light. It is a 'smoking lamp'. From these two pictures we may learn something as to Christ and Christian character.
I. Let us look at the latter picture first the smoking lamp. Now a lamp that does not give a good light is not fulfilling the function of its design and manufacture. What is the use of a knife that will scarcely cut? or of a pen that splutters when an attempt is made to write with it? Yet how many professing Christians there are who are not burning and shining lights, but smoking lamps! and what a trouble they are both in the Church and out of it! In a village church lighted with lamps, if one among them smokes, it attracts a great deal of attention and criticism; the others are scarcely noticed. Just so is it with Christians who are symbolized by a smoking lamp. Everybody observes them, and everybody criticises them. They bring dishonour upon themselves and upon their Church. Will any such who may happen to read these lines suffer a word of exhortation? Often when a lamp smokes, what is needed is simply more oil; and oil is the emblem of grace. The lamps of the foolish virgins were 'going out' because they had no oil that is, no grace. They had neglected the means of grace, and so were found wanting.
We must not quench the smoking lamp. 'Comfort the feeble-minded,' cries Paul in another place: stretch out a helping hand to him; speak a word of encouragement. Forgive such an one even unto seventy times seven. As long as the ship floats, it must never be abandoned; as long as there is a vestige of life in the plant, it must not be uprooted. We dare not extinguish the smoking lamp.
II. But we turn now to the first picture, that of the 'bruised reed'. It is humbling enough that mankind should be compared to reeds. The fragrant cedar, the spreading oak, the towering poplar, these would seem to be more appropriate emblems of humanity that is, in the estimation of some. But the Word says, 'bruised reeds'. And, indeed, symbols of humanity in the Scriptures are none of them flattering. 'I am a worm,' cries Job. 'Like the chaff,' is the word of the Psalmist. 'Like sheep,' declares the Prophet. 'That fox,' ironically says the Saviour, of one man at least Yes, and the man who has learnt to accept this view of himself is far on the way to salvation, for 'he that humbleth himself shall be exalted'.
Yet, though God permits men to be bruised, He does not allow them to be broken. Much we may be called upon to endure, but never too much. There shall never be ground for complaint and murmuring; there shall always be room for thankfulness.
III. Lastly. Not only care and trouble, but sin also bruises men. Perhaps the idea here is of a man plucking up, or cutting down, the reeds, for commercial purposes. As such a toiler proceeds he comes to a reed which is so twisted and broken that he regards it as useless, and he flings it aside. Not so does the Saviour deal with mankind 'bruised and mangled by the fall'. He never flings sinners away; He receives them and saves them.
Herbert Windross, The Life Victorious, p. 197.
It has often been remarked that Vinet praised weak things. If so, it was not from any failure in his own critical sense; it was from charity. 'Quench not the smoking flax' to which I add, 'Never give unnecessary pain'. The cricket is not the nightingale; why tell him so. Throw yourself into the mind of the cricket the process is newer and more ingenious; and it is what charity Commands.
References. XII. 20. W. Ralph, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxi. 1907, p. 132. F. Mudie, Bible Truths and Bible Characters, p. 139. C. E. Jefferson, The Character of Jems, p. 269. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. i. p. 6. XII. 20, 21. A. G. Brown, British Weekly Pulpit, vol. ii. p. 258. XII. 22. Parker, Homiletic Analysis on the New Testament, vol. iii. p. 127. Birkett Dover, The Ministry of Mercy, p. 102. Parker, The Inner Life of Christ, vol. ii. p. 205. T. S. Evans, Expositor (2nd Series), vol. iii. p. 7. F. B. Woodward, Sermons (1st Series), No. 16. Ashley, Homilies of St. Thomas Aquinas for Advent, etc., No. 6 of Lent. J. Keble, Sermons for the Christian Year, No. 22. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year, No. 22; see also A. B. Bruce, 'On the Sympathy of Christ' in The Galilean Gospel, p. 128. XII. 22, 30. W. M. Taylor, The Miracles of Our Saviour, p. 187. XII. 22-37. John Laidlaw, The Miracles of Our Lord, p. 218. XII. 24. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew IX.-XVII. p. 171. XII. 28. G. Matheson, Voices of the Spirit, p. 93. A. F. Winnington Ingram, Under the Dome, p. 93. XII. 30. G. H. Morrison, The Wings of the Morning, p. 216. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Sermonettes for a Year, p. 190. W. J. Knox-Little, Church Times, vol. xxx. 1892, p. 338. XII. 30-34. W. M. Taylor, The Miracles of Our Saviour, p. 400. XII. 30-32. R. W. Dale, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. 1895, p. 168. C. Kingsley, Sermons on National Subjects, p. 395. C. Holland, Gleanings from a Ministry of Fifty Years, p. 104. R. Scott, Oxford University Sermons, p. 64. W. Lee, University Sermons, p. 104.
The Sin Against the Holy Ghost
The sensitiveness of this critical age is very wonderful. Considering the immense number of insignificant persons who are favoured with paragraphs and biographies in papers, one might imagine that the great majority would regard with composure what was written about them. This patience might at least be looked for from those whose main occupation it is to abuse their fellow-creatures. As a matter of fact, this equanimity is very rare, even among the greatest. Mr. Gladstone, in his curious chapter of autobiography, tells us that a silly electioneering placard once almost unmanned him. 'It freezes the blood in moments of retirement and reflection for a man to think that he can have presented a picture so. hideous to the view of a fellow-creature.' More authors than would easily be believed have the criticisms of their books 'broken' to them. George Eliot and Dickens could not read theirs at all. There is something very ignoble about this. At all events, the person who cannot endure criticism should refrain from criticising.
I. In singular contrast with this is the majestic and calm temper of Christ, summed up in that marvellous saying, Whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him. Mark the tremendous assumption that the critic is always wrong. Never a word is said against the Son of Man that can be justified. More, no one ever speaks against the Son of Man without sinning. But the sin does not place him beyond the reach of mercy. He will be forgiven. The sentence might have ended differently. It might have been, Whosoever shall speak against the Son of Man shall be answered? silenced? punished? No forgiven. Did Christ ever assert His Divinity more absolutely and yet more benignantly?
II. Whosoever shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in the world to come. There is one sin so heinous that it closes for all ages and in all worlds every door of mercy. The soul that sins it will never be revived by any Divine spring. It is no mysterious transgression to be struck upon at an unknown stage in the prodigal's path. It is no sudden, angry blasphemy. Whoever fears that he has committed it and prays for pardon is worlds away from it It is the sin of those who know Christ in His essence, who realize His Spirit for what He is, and who deliberately call Him unclean. The historical Christ may be misjudged. Our teachers may misrepresent Him. We may speak a word against Him without the purpose deliberately to sever our life from His. But when His Spirit the Spirit of compassion and purity is known and hated, then the endless alienation has begun.
III. Compassion is the first word which describes the Spirit of Christ. It is a deep word deeper almost than love, as the mother knows who has seen her child in the delirium of fever. Christ came to bring in the reign of righteousness, but before and after justice is pity. The march of justice is slow: to be tracked by altars of sacrifice. Slowly we come to purer laws, but meanwhile deepest in man's lot is suffering that cannot wait. To this Christ stretched forth His hand. Marking as He did with pity those who knew their evil case, and with a deeper pity those who did not, He went about healing all manner of sickness and disease among the people. He set in motion the while those mighty forces that are gradually transforming the world. But compassion had to do its work first, and when justice is done in the ideal commonwealth, compassion will take up the work again. But He saw the universal misery as the result of sin. The fangs of the Serpent had done this. He set Himself, therefore, not to reform, but to save He believed that men could be saved. His inseparable following from the very dregs of society proclaimed that the kingdom of heaven was for publicans and harlots. He lowered not a jot the standard of purity while He declared that those who came to Him would in no wise be cast out. When at last He lifted His eyes to God from His long brooding over earthly woe, His thought was of peace and joy. This is the Spirit of Christ the Spirit of compassion, of purity, and hope. To see this and to speak against it is the blasphemy that eternally severs the creature from the Creator.
W. Robertson Nicoll, Ten Minute Sermons, p. 95.
The Unpardonable Sin
I. To take these words as an authoritative declaration of the unending duration of evil, and the ceaseless retributive punishment of the evildoer, is to interpose an immeasurable barrier between God and the humanity for the existence of which He is solely responsible; and hopelessly to confuse the standard of moral rectitude, by implying the inability of God to act upon the command He has enforced on men to forgive one another, even until seventy times seven.
It is instructive in this context to note the quotations in Bingham's Antiquities from the early Fathers of the Christian Church in connexion with what is called the 'unpardonable sin'. 'The notion,' he says, 'that the ancients had of the sin against the Holy Ghost was not that it was absolutely unpardonable, but that men were to be punished for it both in this world and the next, unless they repented of it.'
II. Consider, then, what is the cogency and extent of this dread declaration which remains in the page of Holy Scripture as a warning to the hardened and impenitent. The eternal truth is that wilful, continuous opposition to an elemental principle is unforgiveable, in the sense of the removal of the inevitable consequences of the opposition, either in this world or in the spiritual world. If man, in the exercise of what he calls his freedom, blasphemes an elemental law of the natural world, he commits the unpardonable sin against nature.
Now, in the passage of Scripture before us, this declaration is made with regard to the ultimate factors of being both in the natural world and in the spiritual world. But, it may be asked, can rebellion against elemental law in the natural world be de signated rebellion against the Holy Spirit? The answer to the question is found in a reverent consideration of the nature, place, power, and revealed functions of that particular operation of the Eternal which is named in the Nicene Creed, 'the Holy Ghost, the Lord, the Life-giver'. For the Holy Spirit is the universal life, the 'I am' in whatever is, the essential vitality creating all, pervading all, sustaining all.
III. When we, with the awakened God-germ striving within us, with the guarantee of our baptism that we are in very deed the Lord's, persistently, consciously resist, ignore, blaspheme that 'gentle voice, soft as the breath of even' when we deliberately become empty of the Spirit that we may be full of self, the question of 'forgiveness' does not enter into it, for forgiveness does not remake character.
Man's safety, man's happiness, man's illumination, the formation of man's character all depend on his being filled with the Spirit, for 'the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control'.
Basil Wilberforce, Sermons Preached in Westminster Abbey, p. 84.
References. XII. 33. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew IX.-XVII. p. 181. Lyman Abbott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. 1896, p. 120. XII. 34. C. E. Jefferson, The Character of Jesus, p. 85. W. G. Rutherford, The Key of Knowledge, p. 160. John Ker, Sermons, p. 121.
Character the Spring of Life
This is the compact statement of a truth upon which Jesus laid the last emphasis that everything depends on character. The word has two meanings. And according to its original sense character is the mark made upon a stone by engraving. It is therefore the stamp of the soul and the expression of a man's being. Character has also come to acquire a secondary meaning. It is not now what the man is, and will continue to be, but what he says he is or appears to be. It is the outer show of the man: it is his reputation.
I. One profound difference between our Master and the Pharisees turned upon the reading of this word. With the Pharisees, character was reputation, and their whole strength was given to performing a religious play. With Jesus character was nature, and He was ever insisting that a man must be judged not by appearance but by the heart; not by what he says, or even by what he does, but by what he is.
II. Common speech betrays our implicit conviction, and every day we ourselves acknowledge the supremacy of character. One man may use the most persuasive words, but no one gives heed because they are not the outcome of a true soul; another may speak with rough simplicity, and his neighbours respond because every word bears the stamp of a brave heart.
III. If character be the spring of life then two things follow.
1. That every man's work is the expression of himself. Just as the Almighty is ever creating under a Divine necessity, because He must express Himself, and just as His character can be discovered by those who have eyes to see in the parable of creation, so every man works under the same compulsion, and reveals himself by the fruit of his hands. According as a man is true, so is his work; in proportion as he is false, so is his work. One of the secrets of great art is sincerity, but if the soul be crooked the work will be a makeshift.
2. Conduct as much as work springs from the heart, and by the heart must be judged. Both God and man try conduct by subtler tests than the outward appearance, and two actions of the same kind may have a different moral complexion. Is calculating prudence on the same level as devout consecration, and do they prove an equal quality in the soul? We ourselves pass behind acts to motives; we also trace the life up to its birthplace. Men are loved who have been able to give but little because they gave it brotherly, fragrant with love; men are hated who have given largely because they gave ostentatiously and inhumanly with cold and careless hand.
J. Watson (Ian Maclaren), The Inspiration of Our Faith, p. 157.
References. XII. 36. F. E. Paget, Sermons on Duties of Daily Life, p. 123; see also F. E. Paget, Studies in the Christian Character, p. 79. XII. 36, 37. G. Buchanan Gray, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. 1899, p. 140. Stopford A. Brooke, Short Sermons, p. 278.
The Gift of Speech
We should do well, perhaps, to see what is our responsibility as possessors of the gift of speech, to examine that common endowment which is the distinction and glory of the human race, the gift of language, and what is the responsibility which belongs to us for the right use of our words. We all of us know that we must answer to God for this great gift wherein, as the outward expression of His reason, man stands forth as the acknowledged head of creation.
I. Words of Beauty. It is to God that we have to answer for our speech, and every misuse of this gift is an offence against Him. A man ought to see to it that he does nothing with his tongue which will break the harmony of this world's prayers or insult the God of beauty, to Whom the homage of creation is unceasingly offered.
II. Words of Truth. Our words are uttered not only in the presence of the God of beauty, they are uttered in the hearing of the God of truth. We ought to think most earnestly about this division of the subject, because there must be a deep-seated tendency in human nature to abuse this gift of language, to use it in the service of untruthfulness. We are startled from time to time by revelations of gigantic frauds, and wholesale impostures built up by lies. Coming nearer home, are we not obliged to make a wide distinction between things which we hear and things which we see? In our hatred of hypocrisy we have gone to the other extreme. Why are good people so shy in their religious professions? God ought to come first and not the consciousness of men. The man who makes no secret of his principles is the man who in the end suffers the least persecution, and is not tempted really so much to deny his Lord. It is a bad thing to be a hypocrite, but it is also a very bad thing to be a self-conscious coward.
III. Words of Comfort. Our words are uttered in the face of Him Who is called the God of all comfort, Whose mission it is to strengthen and cheer, as well as in the face of Him Who is the God of beauty and the God of truth. How much can be done by words to help and cheer and advise. How much can be done to pull down, damage, and destroy. When we think of what language has done to enrich the race we may well shrink from the unutterable degradation and base ideas, couched in unworthy and squalid language, while in all our conversation there must always be set before us the importance of truth and honour and respect and love for others. If these be absent, then too soon there sets in that moral warp of character which causes it to lose its hold on the true, the beautiful, and the good. For men despise one who is not true; they mistrust the smart controversialist, and the envenomed critic; they drive him at last from their company, and dethrone him from the pinnacle of their respect. What is this but a reflection of that righteous wrath which, in the end, will cast away for ever from the golden city and the home of truth whatsoever defileth and whatsoever loveth and maketh a lie.
Justification By Words
Many a battle royal has been fought over the doctrines of justification by faith and justification by works, but perhaps we have heard less than we ought about justification by words. It is not an Apostle, but the Master Himself, who urges the too much neglected truth that men are justified by their words.
This great utterance of Jesus was called forth by the malevolent criticism of the Pharisees. He had just performed a great healing miracle which had astonished the assembled crowds, and convinced them that He was the Messiah. The spiteful Pharisees have another explanation. He casts out demons, they said, by the prince of the demons. They do not and dare not deny the fact, but they explain it by asserting that He is in league with the powers of evil. And nothing could have troubled Jesus more than this, that men should look upon His beautiful and gracious deed, and deliberately pronounce it the work of the Devil. Men who could do that were not only lost to all sense of honour, but were devoid of moral sensibilities. Their world was turned upside down. They were the sworn foes of beneficence. They called good evil and evil good. No words, therefore, were too severe to characterize their moral brutality, and our consciences instinctively acknowledge the justice of this great utterance of Jesus, 'By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned'.
I. It is a great thing, this human speech of ours a terrible thing! Some, who know the awful powers and dangers that lie hidden in the heart of a word, have thought it the highest wisdom to keep the lips sealed. 'Speech is silvern, silence is golden.' There are few nations without a proverb which expresses the superiority of silence to speech. Like most words which tersely embody the wisdom of humanity upon its average levels, this proverb is only partly true; it partly needs to be supplemented by a more courageous word. There are indeed times when silence is the highest wisdom; there are other times when silence is a crime! It is a crime to say, in a moment of passion, the thing that wounds; but it is no less a crime to leave unsaid the thing that might have helped or soothed or cheered. The wise man is not always the silent man; he is the man who uses words for God.
II. There is much that is pathetic in the history of human speech. Case-endings, which were originally full of significance, lose their freshness and force, and often vanish altogether, their place being taken, perhaps, by some prepositional phrase, whose clumsiness would have astonished the ancient men. And what has happened to the inflections has too often happened to the words themselves. They have steadily but surely been emptied of their great original content An 'awful place' used to mean a place which could touch the spirit to awe such a place as the ragged hillside where the lonely Jacob saw the angels of God ascending and descending. It would mean something very different Today. Great words have so often passed through careless and insincere lips that they no longer mean what they once meant. 'Awfully, has, in much colloquial speech, usurped the place of 'very'. We use superlatives where sincerer men would use positives; for this is, in part, a question of individual and social sincerity. As strong and noble words gradually lost their meaning, they had to be reinforced by other words, and these again by other words, till the old simplicity and strength became little more than a philological tradition. To say that a thing is good, or that we like it well, ought to be one of the highest expressions of appreciation; but that is hardly the market value of those great words Today. The careless application of these and many similar words has deprived them of their primal strength and flavour; and part of the Christian problem Today is just to learn to use the strong common words of our English speech with that noble sincerity which can dispense with superlatives and exaggerations.
III. In the last resort, this is a question of character. A man necessarily speaks as he is. It is himself that he utters. His words are his spirit rendered audible. They show what manner of man he is; they justify or condemn him. A good man will therefore be careful of all his words, but he must especially beware how he uses the great words of the Christian faith. He must be jealously on his guard lest his use of them deplete them of their Divine content. There are some words whose original nobility is gone, perhaps beyond all hope of recovery; but there are others which every man should count it a privilege to keep bright and clean. We shall not lightly, for example, call every one a Christian whose name is written upon the books of the visible Church. We shall reserve that word for those who love Christ, not in word only, but in deed and truth. The right and conscientious use of words will strengthen the sincerity of our own soul, and will constitute our tiny contribution to the maintenance of at least one lofty ideal among the men and women about us. We shall, even in the common converse of our life, strive to realize both the dignity and the responsibility of human speech; and we shall use it cheerfully indeed, but humbly and carefully, as men who will one day have to give an account.
References. XII. 37. H. Harris, Short Sermons, p. 174. M. G. Glazebrook, Prospice, p. 141.
I. People are always asking why miracles no longer happen and inferring from their cessation that they never did happen. It seems to me that the answer to this question is writ large in the history of mankind, and the answer is this man can very rarely be safely entrusted with any exceptional power. The experience of the world proves this. It is really the moral of the Old Testament Scriptures. Such phrases as 'God's spirit striving with man,' simply means, God, seeing how far man can be entrusted with what, for want of a better word, I must still call supernatural truth, or supernatural powers.
Man at his best has been tested and failed. Moses and the Prophets had been tried with the trust of exceptional power, and had used it badly, as pride and passion prompted. To all in turn had been committed extraordinary gifts, and all in turn had employed them badly. What was left? St. Paul shall answer us: 'When the fullness of time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law'.
II. Christ was sent, and, at the outset of His career, was tempted as Moses and Elias had been tempted. In the wilderness, on the mountain, and on the pinnacle, He was given three deliberate choices. He was solicited, first, to make bread out of stones that is, to employ His supernatural power to satisfy His own hunger a personal want. Secondly, to fling Himself from a pinnacle of the Temple to show at the outset of His mission, in the face of all the people, a sign that should compel their recognition of His Divine power; thirdly, to worship to acknowledge the power of evil, for gain.
On each of these occasions of making a deliberate choice Christ made the right choice, and the choice I am afraid man would not have made.
Christ had supernatural power, but He never used it to gratify curiosity. He never used it without a practical purpose. He did miracles, but they were in nearly every case miracles of mercy and kindness.
III. Thus we may say Christ knew how to use power, and from His time to the present day we have no excuse for not using power for good. In a word, one of the chief lessons of Christ's life was to teach men how to use their powers; and that the powers we have are sufficient for our need. He taught men that the power shown in not using power is often the most sublime exercise of power. If whole centuries elapse in which 'miracles do not happen,' and people begin to deny that they ever did happen, this is due only to the fact that men are not found who can fulfil the necessary conditions; and also, I think, if one may say so reverently, that God prefers a more excellent way that men should learn, not by signs and wonders, but by humble faithful use of the natural reasoning powers He has given them.
C. H. Butcher, The Sound of a Voice that is Still, p. 122.
References. XII. 38. Hugh Black, Christ's Service of Love, p. 181. C. J. Vaughan, Last Words in the Parish Church of Doncaster, p. 181. J. Fraser, University Sermons, p. 67. P. Ansley Ellis, Old Beliefs and Modern Believers, p. 154. XII. 38-45. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlviii. No. 2779. XII. 39, 40. A. G. Mortimer, One Hundred Miniature Sermons, p. 273. XII. 41. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew IX.-XVII. p. 192. W. M. Punshon, Privilege and Responsibility, A Sermon, p. 731. XII. 42. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, God's Heroes, p. 128. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew IX.-XVII. p. 196. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ix. No. 533; vol. xlviii. No. 2777. XII. 43-45. F. E. Paget, The Spirit of Discipline, p. 131. J. H. Jellett, The Elder Son, p. 268. J. W. Mills, After-Glow, p. 157. C. A. Scott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxx. 1906, p. 13. C. A. Berry, Vision and Duty, p. 171.
I. The Partial Reformation. The three predicates are all significant. Empty, the old tenant has gore out, but no new one come in. Swept, some of the dirt is cleared away. Garnished, some attempts at decoration made. So it is a perfect picture of superficial reformation of morals without religion. Swept, representing suppression of vice. Garnished, representing some alteration for the good. But the failure of the whole thing because it is empty. There is no lofty enthusiasm, no high principle, no seed of a Divine life. Most accurately of all, there is no indwelling Christ.
II. The End of it in Complete Submission. All reformation which leaves the heart empty is precarious. There is danger from strength of habit, power of circumstances, weakness of our will. It is like an empty bottle, let down into the sea, the sides smashed in. Christ must fill it if we would have it whole, otherwise there is no reason why the demon should not enter again. Whitewash and beautifying will not keep him out.
Partial reformation which fails makes a man very much worse. 'Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself.' Sometimes worse vices come instead of the original, i.e. a man gives up one vice and takes to others, as a gardener changes the things he grows.
III. The Only Thorough and Secure Way is to Cast Out the Evil Spirit. A stronger than he cometh, i.e. goes out because Christ comes in, fills the heart and is garrison and guard to keep it. There is the presence within of a new nature, the expulsive power of a new affection. As regards our lower nature, there is no better way of curing a lower desire than to kindle, if it were possible, a higher, which will expel the lower taste. So we are not to go fighting in our own strength, but to open our hearts for Christ's entrance. He will come and fill our souls.
References. XII. 45. J. B. Mozley, Sermons Parochial and Occasional, p. 118. XII. 46-50. C. Holland, Gleanings from a Ministry of Fifty Years, p. 123. H. Ward Beecher, Sermons (1st Series), p. 284. XII. 48. H. W. Morrow, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxiii. 1908, p. 59. XII. 48-50. R. E. Hutton, The Crown of Christ, vol. i. p. 109. XII. 49, 50. W. H. Murray, The Fruits of the Spirit, p. 474. J. P. Chown, The Penny Pulpit, vol. xiv. No. 846, p. 445. XII. 50. R. C. Fillingham, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. 1898, p. 339. XIII. 1-9. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew IX.-XVII. p. 201. XIII. 1-23. J. Laidlaw, Studies in the Parables, p. 49.