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Goethe describes, in his autobiography, how Marie Antoinette passed through Strasburg on her way to Paris: 'Before the Queen's arrival, the very rational regulation was made that no deformed persons, cripples, or disgusting invalids, should show themselves on her route. People jested about this precaution, and I made a little poem in French upon the subject, in which I contrasted the advent of Christ, who seemed to wander through the world for the special sake of the sick and lame, with the arrival of the Queen, who scared such unfortunates away.'
References. XIX. 5, 6. Lyman Abbott, ibid. vol. xlix. 1896, p. 204. W. J. Knox-Little, The Perfect Life, p. 319. XIX. 6. D. C. MacNicol, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. 1897, p. 150. XIX. 9. W. Allan Whitworth, Church Times, vol. xxxiii. 1895, p. 538.
No temper in the world is so little open to reason as the ascetic temper. How many a lover and husband, how many a parent and friend, have realized to their pain, since history began, the overwhelming attraction which all the processes of self-annihilation have for a certain order of minds!
References. XIX. 12. Paul Bull, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxv. 1904, p. 342. XIX. 13. F. Pickett, ibid. vol. lxxx. 1905, p. 138. T. Sadler, Sermons for Children, p. 1. XIX. 13-30. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xliii. No. 2517.
When the Child-spirit Dies
It is a beautiful conception, daring and fresh as it is beautiful, that the one attribute of all the citizens of God must be the possession of the childlike heart.
I. Now of course to be childlike is one thing; and it is quite another to be childish. To be childlike is to have the spirit of the child, to have the touch of the Divine about us still. It is to live freshly in a glad fresh world, with a thousand avenues into the everywhere out of this dull spot that we call now. But to be childish is to be immature; to have no grip of things, never to face facts squarely; and he is a poor Christian who lives so. It is one distinguishing glory of our Lord that He looked the worst in the face, and called it bad.
There can be little doubt, too, that in claiming the childlike spirit Jesus was reaching up to the very highest in man. Jesus, stooping to the little children, was really rising to the crown of life. Show me the greatest men in human history the men who were morally and nobly great and I shall show you in every one of them tokens and traces of the childlike heart. Great souls, with the ten talents flaming into genius, live in a world that is so full of God, that men say they are imprudent, careless; and Jesus sees that they are little children.
And you cannot read the story of Jesus Christ without feeling that to the very close of it the child-spirit was alive in Him. No scoffing hardened Him. No disappointment soured Him. No pain dulled the keen edge of His love. He still believed, spite of Iscariot. He had still a Father, spite of Calvary. And that sweet spirit, as of a little child, has been the dew of heaven to the world.
II. There is no loss more tragic for a soul than the loss of that spirit of the child.
There are three penalties that follow when the child-spirit dies:
1. That we cease to be receptive. The joy of childhood is its receptivity. The child knows nothing of a haunting past yet, and it is not yet anxious about the future. Its time is now, with its magnificent content, and now is God's time too.
2. No doubt it is that very receptivity that makes the little children dwell apart. I have long thought that the aloofness of the Christian, his isolation in the busiest life, was closely akin to the aloofness of the child. For the Christian also dwells apart, but not in the solitude of emptiness. He has his world, just as the children have; old things have passed away from him in Christ.
3. When the child-spirit dies, then the simplicity of faith is gone. There is an exquisite purity about the faith of children; sometimes they make us blush they trust us so. But better than to be trusted, is to trust; to walk by faith and not by sight; and when the spirit of the child dies out, it is not possible to walk that way again. For when we cease to be childlike we grow worldly, and to be worldly is always to be faithless.
4. When the child-spirit dies, then the feeling of wonder disappears. For the child is above all else a wonderer, and is set in the centre of a wonderful world.
'I had rather,' said Ruskin, 'live in a cottage and wonder at everything, than live in Warwick Castle and wonder at nothing.' You have all felt the trials of existence, I want you to feel the wonder of it now; and the great wonder that the Lord should be your Shepherd, and should have died upon Calvary for you.
G. H. Morrison, Sun-Rise, p. 187.
References. XIX. 14. J. Page Hopps, Sermons of Sympathy, p. 63. A. Murray, The Children for Christ, p. 241. W. H. Murray, The Fruits of the Spirit, p. 494. J. H. Thom, Laws of Life, p. 253. XIX. 16. Marcus Dods, Christian World Pulpit, 1890, vol. xxxviii. p. 152. J. A. Bain, Questions Answered by Christ, p. 52. W. Howell Evans, Sermons for the Church's Year, p. 53. XIX. 16-26. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew XVIII.-XXVIII. p. 46.
Faith and Obedience
What is meant by faith? it is to feel in good earnest that we are creatures of God; it is a practical perception of the unseen world; it is to understand that this world is not enough for our happiness, to look beyond it on towards God, to realize His presence, to wait upon Him, to endeavour to learn and to do His will, and to seek our good from Him. It is not a mere temporary strong act or impetuous feeling of the mind, an impression or a view coming upon it, but it is a habit, a state of mind, lasting and consistent. To have faith in God is to surrender one's self to God, humbly to put one's interests, or to wish to be allowed to put them into His hands Who is the Sovereign Giver of all good.... To believe is to look beyond this world to God, and to obey is to look beyond this world to God; to believe is of the heart, and to obey is of the heart; to believe is not a solitary act, but a consistent habit of trust; and to obey is not a solitary act, but a consistent habit of doing our duty in all things.... Works of obedience witness to God's just claims upon us, not to His mercy; but faith comes empty-handed, hides even its own worth, and does but point at that precious scheme of redemption which God's love has devised for sinners.
J. H. Newman.
References. XIX. 17. F. W. Farrar, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lv. 1899, p. 257; see also, The Anglican Pulpit of Today, p. 220. George Tyrrell, Oil and Wine, p. 243. J. J. Tayler, Christian Aspects of Faith and Duty, p. 184. XIX. 19. A. Pinchard, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxiii. 1908, p. 236. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iii. No. 145. XIX. 20. F. E. Paget, Sermons on Duties of Daily Life, p. 43. James Denney, Gospel Questions and Answers, p. 1.
They who are living religiously, have from time to time truths they did not know before, or had no need to consider, brought before them forcibly; truths which involve duties, which are in fact precepts, and claim obedience. In this and such-like ways Christ calls us now.... Nothing is more certain in matter of fact than that some men do feel themselves called to high duties and works, to which others are not called. Why this is we do not know. But so it is; this man sees sights which that man does not see, has a larger faith, a more ardent love, and a more spiritual understanding. No one has any leave to take another's lower standard of holiness for his own. It is nothing to us what others are. If God calls us to greater renunciation of the world, and exacts a sacrifice of our hopes and fears, this is our gain, this is a mark of His love for us, this is a thing to be rejoiced in.
References. XIX. 21. W. J. Knox-Little, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxv. 1894, pp. 184, 211. H. Price Hughes, ibid. vol. liv. 1898, p. 72.
Every light of moral beauty, permitted to enter but not allowed to guide us, becomes, like the afterimage of the sun when idly stared at, a dark speck upon the soul which follows us at all our work, adheres to every object, approaches and recedes in dreams, and is neither evaded by movement, nor washed out by tears. If the fairest gifts are not to be turned into haunting griefs, it can only be by following in the ways of duty and denial, along which they manifestly lead.
Temptations connected with money are indeed among the most insidious and among the most powerful to which we are exposed. They have probably a wider empire than drink, and, unlike the temptations that spring from animal passions, they strengthen rather than diminish with age.
W. E. H. Lecky.
References. XIX. 23-26. D. Fraser, Metaphors in the Gospels, p. 169. XIX. 27. Henry Gee, Sermons for the People, vol. ii. p. 65. J. A. Bain, Questions answered by Christ, p. 57. G. W. Herbert, Notes of Sermons, p. 210. J. T. Bramston, Sermons to Boys, p. 59. XIX. 28, 29. J. Wright, The Guarded Gate, p. 117.
In his volume on French and English (p. 162), after describing the arduous labours of the French nuns among the poor and sick, Mr. Hamerton adds: 'The active sisterhoods are repaid to some extent in this world by a beneficent law of human nature. They have one remarkably uniform characteristic: they seem to be invariably cheerful, with bright moments of innocent gaiety. This serenity of mind... is gained by the ever-present sense of duties accomplished in the past and the determination to face them in the future. It is the spirit which inspired Wordsworth's 'Ode to Duty' with a health surpassing all songs of love and wine.
The question of St. Peter is wrong in spirit. So while Christ recognized rewards, He rebukes the spirit which seeks them, in these words of warning.
The first case dealt with in the text is one of priority in time. A man may have had a start in the race of life and be overtaken and passed. Advantages of any kind, such as talents, opportunities, etc., may be neutralized and disadvantages conquered. So at the end the order in which men stand is widely different from what it was at the start, as in a race.
I. Look at the Working of it in the Christian Life. No man however advanced can relax vigilance, care, effort. There is no height beyond the reach of gravitation. The spring must never be uncoiled. The higher we go, the steeper the slope down and the worse the fall. The 'First' have temptations which yielded to will make them 'Last'. There is no such conquest of sin for us here that without perpetual vigilance it will never recur again. We may have long overcome it, and holier habits may have supervened, but still the thing is there, and we can feel the temptations stirring now and then.
Then there are temptations which belong to each stage, and the more advanced are not without their special ones. Temptations to rely in some degree on past attainments; to get into a mechanical mode of life; to lose early fervour and freshness without gaining fixed principle; to become weary even in welldoing.
And there are temptations which belong to the older stages of any career the Christian as well as any other irrespective of the degree of advancement which we have made. Just because we have been doing something for a long time, we are apt to think that we can do it well. To become slaves of habit, to become conceited, to get deep into the ruts, to lose fresh interest, to take it easy, as a spring works more feebly near the end.
II. There are no Disadvantages which need be Permanent.
1. Take the case of the Penitent Thief and of St. Paul. Many a man coming late to Christ's service, and crowding a life of work into a few years.
2. Take the case of inferiority in attainments.
3. Take the case of inferiority in Christian character. That need not be permanent. It is the grand confidence of Christianity that any man may reach the highest levels.
III. The Practical Discipline.
1. The constant realization of the two facts the stern possibility of falling to make us vigilant; the grand hope of ability to rise to make us full of effort.
2. The constant cherishing of the same graces and emotions with which we began.
So let us labour, as knowing that there are infinite resources in His hands. There is no reason why you and I should not rise far above our former selves, 'Forgetting the things which are behind'.
Reversal of Judgment
I. This is a saying to make us pause, full of deep suggestiveness, applicable to many spheres of life and religion. It should lead to self scrutiny to be thus told authoritatively that in the spiritual world there will be a complete reversal of human judgment, such moral surprises as that the first and the last should change places. How true it is we sometimes see even here, true of men, and nations, and Churches. Innumerable are the illustrations of how God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty. It is a commonplace of history and experience. The fable of the hare and the tortoise is only a parable of life. Again and again has first in time been last in reaching the goal; first in privilege been last in achievement; first in position been last in permanent power.
II. And if this is so even in such palpable instances, how much truer is it in the things of the spirit, in the kingdom of Heaven which cometh not with observation. The spiritual world is a secret world. There an act is judged not by its size, not even by its good result, but by its motive alone; and a man is judged not by the place he fills in men's minds, not by the splash he makes in the world, but by his spirit alone. Character will be stripped bare, and only moral worth will remain. The things we thought goodness, the things which deceived us, which we looked on as of first importance, will be seen as they are. So that many that are first are last, and many that are last are first.
Even now, though often late, justice is done, and contemporary judgment is reversed, and we can see the truth of our text. The Jews were first in privilege, but the Gentiles laid hold of eternal life, and the favoured people were left a broken branch on the tree. And in the Christian Church again and again it has been not the mighty, the noble, the wise, those patently first to the eye, who have been called to high service, but the poor and the weak, and the foolish; and the last has been first. There is another judgment, according to intrinsic spiritual worth, and that will be the final judgment of all.
III. Above all, let us ask the question of ourselves as individuals. Our virtues and graces, the things that people admire in us, or that we admire in ourselves, may be only tending to our deterioration, if we have lost sight of the essential thing, if our hearts are not pure from the taint of self.
IV. But there is more than warning in these deep words. There is also a message of hope to all who feel themselves last, the despondent, all who think themselves overmatched in the warfare of life, and outrun in the race of life. What God asks from all, the high and the low, the first and the last, is a sincere heart in which burns the pure flame of love. Whatever be our scale of earthly precedence, though it be reckoned last in our purblind judgment, that is first so far first that it has no second.
H. Black, Edinburgh Sermons, p. 123.
The Weapons of Saints
Let us understand our place, as the redeemed children of God. Some must be great in this world, but woe to those who make themselves great; woe to any who take one step out of their way with this object before them. If we are true to ourselves, nothing can really thwart us. Our warfare is not with carnal weapons, but with heavenly. The world does not understand what our real power is, and where it lies. And until we put ourselves into its hands of our own act, it can do nothing against us. Till we leave off patience, meekness, purity, resignation, and peace, it can do nothing against that Truth which is our birthright, that Cause which is ours, as it has been the cause of all saints before us. But let all who would labour for God in a dark time beware of anything which ruffles, excites, and in any way withdraws them from the love of God and Christ, and simple obedience to Him. This be our duty in the dark night, while we wait for the day, while we wait for Him Who is our Day, while we wait for His coming, Who is gone, Who will return, and before Whom all the tribes of the earth will mourn, but the sons of God will rejoice.... It is our blessedness to be made like the all-holy, all gracious, long-suffering, and merciful God; Who made and Who redeemed us; in whose presence is perfect rest, and perfect peace; Whom the Seraphim are harmoniously praising, and the Cherubim tranquilly contemplating, and angels silently serving, and the Church thankfully worshipping. All is order, repose, love, and holiness in heaven.
J. H. Newman.
Not a day passes over the earth, but men and women of no note do great deeds, speak great words, and suffer noble sorrows. Of these obscure heroes, philosophers, and martyrs, the greater part will never be known till that hour when many that are great shall be small, and the small great.
There is so much inevitable ignorance in our judgments now, so much mistake, so much exaggeration in what we praise and in what we condemn; so much good of which we know and imagine nothing, so much evil of which we know nothing; such strength of virtue which we never suspect, never give men credit for, such depths of sin which perhaps here are never found out. Who can doubt what awful discrepancies will, in many cases, appear between God's judgment and ours, beyond the veil?
R. W. Church.
In Hawthorne's American Notebooks, one suggestion for a tale is, 'A person to consider himself as the prime mover of certain remarkable events, but to discover that his actions have not contributed in the least thereto. Another person to be the cause, without suspecting it.'
That solemn sentence which Scripture has inscribed on the curtain which hangs down before the Judgment Seat.
References. XIX. 30. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Holy-Tide Teaching, p. 100. J. B. Mozley, Sermons Preached before the University of Oxford, p. 72. G. Salmon, Non-Miraculous Christianity, p. 307. T. Teignmouth Shore, The Life of the World to Come, p. 137. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxvii. No. 2221. XX. 1. F. B. Woodward, Sermons (1st Series), p. 226. H. Harris, Short Sermons, p. 256. R. E. Hutton, The Crown of Christ, vol. i. p. 265. W. Howell Evans, Sermons for the Church's Year, p. 61. XX. 1, 3, 5, 6. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xi. No. 664. XX. 1, 6, 7- H. Scott Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. 1893, p. 156. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xliv. No. 2602. XX. 1-8. Sanday, Expositor (1st Series), vol. iii. p. 81. Hill, ibid. (1st Series), vol. iii. p. 427. Brute, Parabolic Teaching, etc., and in Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iii. p. 447. Cox, Expository Essays, pp. 239, 251. Calderwood, Parables, p. 291. Trench, ibid. p. 166. Dod, Parables of Our Lord (1st Series), p. 151. Pusey, Sermons for Church's Seasons, p. 133, and Selections from Pusey, p. 102. Parker, Inner Life of Christ, vol. iii. p. 73. Parsons, Sermons, p. 413. Cumming, Foreshadows, p. 137. A. Roberts, Plain Sermons, vol. i. p. 161. Simeon, Works, vol. xi. p. 484. C. J. Vaughan, Sermons, 1853, p. 309. XX. 1-16. E. A. Lawrence, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. 1897, p. 262. J. Laidlaw, Studies in the Parables, p. 147. Rayner Winterbotham, The Kingdom of Heaven, p. 121. T. Guthrie, Parables of Our Lord, p. 269. W. Gray Elmslie, Expository Lectures and Sermons, p. 217. B. W. Maturin, Practical Studies on the Parables of Our Lord, p. 93. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol xliii. No. 2517. Ibid. vol. xliii. No. 2517. XX. 6. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year, vol. i. p. 157. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xliv. No. 2602.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Matthew 19". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany