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The Frivolous Spirit
I. There are of course some things that every wise man will make light of. There are petty grievances in every lot. 'Think, sir,' said Dr. Johnson to a worrying friend, 'think, sir, how infinitely little that will seem a twelve-month hence.' It is an untold blessing to have a little vision and a little humour, and see things in their true sizes and proportions. There is a gentle art of making light.
But it is the corruption of the best that is the worst: and it is the overstraining of our instincts that degrades: and it is the making light of everything that is our ruin.
II. These men of our text were essentially frivolous. And I want to guard you now against a common mistake. I want you to remember that there is a whole world of difference between frivolity and a truly buoyant spirit. It is one thing to be a light weight. It is quite another thing to be light-hearted. Many a solemn face is but a mask for an utterly frivolous and petty soul. And many a heart that is tremendously in earnest about life, has the most infectious laugh in the whole company. The Pharisees were most supremely solemn; but, on the testimony of Jesus, most supremely flippant.
III. There is a double condemnation of frivolity.
1. It is utterly insufficient for life's journey. There are worse bankruptcies than ever come before the courts. There are men who go bankrupt in hope, in aspiration, in ideal, long before the end. And life is far too grim, and sometimes far too sad, to be carried through with a frivolous heart.
And is not that one task of sorrow in the world? It sobers, sanctifies: brings men and women to themselves again, and bringing them to themselves leads them to God.
2. But for us who are Christians there is another condemnation of frivolity. It is the fact that Jesus our teacher and our Lord has mightily increased the seriousness of life. I could understand an old pagan being frivolous, for for him there was nothing infinite in man. But Jesus has come, and God has tabernacled and tabernacles still in man; and life has been lifted into heavenly meanings, and swung out through death into eternal ages; and when my life means fellowship, kinship with God, eternity, then to be frivolous is antichrist.
G. H. Morrison, Flood-Tide, p. 34.
Making Light of the Gospel
'But they made light of it.' They made nothing of the grand chance. How could they make anything of it? Their characters are here described. If their characters or occupation or engagement had not been referred to we might have invented reasons for this frivolity; but the reason of the frivolity is given in the parable itself. These were prosperous men; they had married wives and bought oxen and entered into merchandise and possessed themselves of large farms. These people had never needed a Gospel; that is to say, they had never been sensible of their need of it. A prosperous man, as the world counts prosperous, does not want the Gospel. He could not understand it if he heard it, it would be an alien tongue; only the broken-hearted can listen to the Gospel; only the bereaved catch the word resurrection as if it were a revelation; only those who have been desolated and orphaned and smitten in two can detect a possible hope in such sweet words as the Gospel gives. The fat beast needs no organ or trumpet or banner or promise or sacramental love; he lives beneath the Gospel, away from the great offer made in blood.
I. Let us beware of frivolity. Frivolity always means ruin; frivolity, being translated, means loss.
Is this frivolity, destruction, or ruin only in Gospel things? No; frivolity is ruin everywhere. That is the great plea of the Christian Gospel; it says, Fools, hear me; you are not only wasting me, you are wasting life. The frivolous man is not only wasting his chance of heaven, he is wasting his own business; that is how the Gospel has such a determining and beneficent hold over men.
II. What is this age suffering from? Want of discipline. I hear a great deal about making life cheerier, brighter, this and that, and something else: all of which may within given limits be right; but the character that made England, the only England that cannot be shaken, was a character of hard work, labour a misunderstood and degraded term. Until we get back to discipline we shall not get back to hardihood, to true soldierliness, to the pith that means victory in any contest. It is the disciplinarian wht wins, only he may have long to wait for his victory; yet when it comes no man can pluck it from him.
III. Now there are many persons who make light of opportunity. They squander away their chances; they are always here at the wrong time, and they are always there at the wrong place, and they were always just going to do it, but suddenly the night fell, the night in which no man can work. Be on the outlook for opportunities, be on the outlook for the best chances; make every occasion great; make every call a call to a feast, the best feast you can provide; and if you are going to provide a good feast in your pulpit it will not be you that fail, if failure there is, it will be God, and God cannot ultimately fail.
Until you get back to your principles of faith, the innermost meanings of the Divine purpose, you may get up as many twentieth-century funds as you please, and they all amount to nothing. Have no faith in gigantic financial manipulation, have no faith even in a self-constructed patronage, have no place to which you must go cap in hand to ask for another dole; so live your principles as to leave God to supply your necessities, and He will do it. You have never tried Him. Call upon Me, saith He, prove Me now, let faith prove the God of redemption, and there will be a great marriage feast, and all things will be ready. Do not begin at the wrong end of things. Do not begin at the money end; begin at the prayer end, the faith end, the self-examination end.
Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. I. p. 218.
References. XXII. 5. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. ii. No. 98. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year (2nd Series), vol. ii. p. 167. XXII. 10. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxiv. No. 2022. XXII. 10-14. H. Scott Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. 1896, p. 177.
The Intruder At the Feast
A feast is an old picture of Gospel blessings (Proverbs 9:1-5 ; Isaiah 25:6 ), but it remained for Christ to show them, as a wedding feast, an occasion of greatest joy. The first manifestation of His glory was His providing for a wedding feast (John 2:11 ). What will the last triumphant manifestation be? (Revelation 19:7 ; Revelation 19:17-18 ).
The guests who were first invited were the Jews. God first sent to them His Prophets (v. 3); but they would not hear (Acts 7:51-52 ). When the sacrifice was offered, and all was ready, He sent again His Apostles (v. 4), but they refused to hear (Acts 13:46 ; Acts 28:17-29 ); so wrath came upon them to the uttermost (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 ).
The guests who are now being gathered in to the wedding feast are all who will come Jew or Gentile (Romans 1:16 ). It matters not who, provided they are in Christ (Colossians 2:11 ).
But now mark at wedding feasts in ancient times there was a certain garment peculiar to the occasion, and those who came without it were considered intruders. Here we find a man who entered without a wedding garment. See
I. How he was Discovered (v. 11). The king came in to see the guests God notes all (Revelation 2:1-2 ; Song of Solomon 7:12 ). The man was not discovered till the king himself saw him (Jeremiah 23:24 ; 1 Samuel 16:7 ). But when once the king was come, then he was detected (Proverbs 15:3 ; Proverbs 15:11 ; Amos 4:2-4 ). What a discovery shall take place when Christ shall come!
II. How he was Tried (v. 12). The king takes him on his profession of friendship (Psalms 50:21 ). He asks him only, 'How camest thou in hither, not having on a wedding garment ?' this is the one regulation (John 10:1 ). How do you come otherwise (Psalms 50:16-17 ). What does he say? Nothing. ' He was speechless' (Romans 3:19 ; Job 5:16 ).
III. How he was Sentenced (v. 13). He was bound (Matthew 13:30-41 ). He was taken away (Matthew 25:41-46 ). He was cast into outer darkness (John 12:35-36 ; John 8:12 ). Such is the end when God visits an unprepared soul (Job 27:8-10 ; Matthew 24:50-51 ; John 15:2-6 ).
References. XXII. 11, 12. H. Montagu Butler, Harrow School Sermons, p. 387. XXII. 11-13. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxiv. No. 2024. XXII. 11-14. Ibid. vol. xvii. No. 976. R. H. McKim, The Gospel in the Christian Year, p. 137.
The Self-deceiver Detected
There is a spirit by nature, in all of us, which refuses to accept salvation as a gift of free grace. The feeling is, that we can accomplish our salvation by our own efforts and deservings.
I. When the man who has refused to clothe himself with the wedding garment is confronted with the king, he is absolutely speechless. Why is this? First, because he sees his offence in the right light. To us, in the present twilight state of existence, the sin of a practical rejection of Jesus Christ seems a very trifling matter. But in the estimation of God the matter assumes a very different aspect. In God's sight the sin of all sins is the rejection of the Son of His love. It comprises all other sins. Perhaps it is not easy for us to see this now. But we shall see it hereafter. And a terrible thing it will be if we see it too late; for when the great final disclosure comes, what will befall the man who carelessly, thoughtlessly, has put away from him the proffered righteousness of Jesus Christ; and gone, in reliance upon his own merits and his own strength, into the awful presence of the heart-searching God? He will be speechless.
II. 'But,' you may say, 'why does he not cry for mercy?' Because it is too late, and he knows that it is too late. The time in which he might have taken the wedding garment is passed by.
III. 'But,' it may be said again, 'is it possible that unconverted, unspiritual men, should go out of this world in perfect ignorance of their condition before God, and wake up, only when the light of eternity falls upon them, to see things as they really are?' I believe it to be perfectly possible. I should believe it, even if I had not the teaching of this parable to guide me. Men can deceive themselves as to their standing before God, and wake up to the consciousness of the truth, when it is too late to alter what has been done.
'Search us, O God, and know our hearts; try us, and know our thoughts! And see if there be any wicked way in us, and lead us all in the way everlasting.'
Gordon Calthrop, Penny Pulpit, vol. xii. No. 680, p. 106.
References. XXII. 12. A. G. Mortimer, One Hundred Miniature Sermons, vol. ii. p. 130. W. Howell Evans, Sermons for the Church's Year, p. 216. XXII. 15-22. H. Hensley Henson, Christ and the Nation, p. 86; see also Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxii. 1907, p. 216. XXII. 17. J. A. Bain, Questions Answered by Christ, p. 74.
The question, 'Whose is this image and superscription?' was an example of one of our Lord's suggestions for a thought-excursion into the transcendent; truth of the inseverability of God and man.
There is a threefold lesson for us, arising out of the suggested thought-excursion, in our Lord's question theological, personal, practical.
I. The Theological Lesson , from the human coin stamped with the Divine image, is one of the utmost importance as a stimulus to optimism. It is the transcendent twin-truth of the Eternal humanity in God, and the Eternal Divinity in man; that inasmuch as all that is must have pre-existed, as a first principle, in the mind of the Infinite Originator, and as the highest of all that is, so far as we at present know, is man, the archetypal original of man must be in the Deity; and therefore man, however buried and stifled now in the corruptible body, is, in his inmost ego, indestructible, and inseverably linked to the Father of Spirits. Moreover, that for the purpose of Divine self-manifestation, man is as necessary to God as God is to man. As God's power is revealed in the wheeling planet, God's nature is revealed in the thinking man. Inasmuch as humanity is the chosen vehicle of the self-unfolding of the absolute, humanity will, through much initial imperfection, and through many changes, struggle upwards and onwards in development, until, at last, it shall be found complete in Him, and the pre-ordained purpose of the Absolute be completely fulfilled.
II. The Personal Lesson. 'With God,' said Tocqueville, 'each one counts for one.' Each one of us is a responsible, moral being, perfected, purified, tested and found faithful, is not machine-made, he must be grown; he is the product of evolution; and, for the purposes of evolution, he must emerge triumphant from resistance, as the blade of wheat emerges triumphant from clay and stones. That this educative operation of the will of the Father-Spirit may be effected, man is, by the determinate foreknowledge of God, a composite being. He possesses an inferior animal nature, a lower region of appetite, perception, imagination, tendency, and so on; in other words, to carry on the analogy used by our Lord, there is a reverse side to the coin. Obviously, if we concentrate all our attention on the reverse side of the coin, we are apt to forget that the king's image is on the other side. We can only see one side at a time; and while we gaze at the reverse side, and the other side is hidden, doubt, depression, pessimism, are the inevitable result. What is the moral of the analogy? It is this: the inevitable inaccuracy of human judgments; the need for caution in our verdicts.
1. As to ourselves. Remember, you cannot see both sides of the coin at once.
2. In our judgments of others. Here again, remember, we cannot see both sides of the coin at once, and therefore our judgments are literally one-sided.
III. The Practical Lesson. 'Whose is this image and superscription?' asks the Head of humanity of the human items that make up the race. A recognition of the truth underlying the question would prove to be the golden key which would unlock all the great social problems of the age. I believe that all the prominent evils which degrade humanity would pass away before it, and the kingdoms of the world would become the kingdoms of our Lord.
Archdeacon Wilberforce, Speaking Good of His Name, p. 75.
Illustration. Did you ever examine closely the reverse side of a sovereign? Close to the date you will see the minute capital letters 'B. P.' Not one person in a thousand has ever seen these initials; they have not looked for them. They are the initials of Benedetto Pistrucchi, the talented chief engraver to the Mint, in the reign of George III., the designer of the coin which Ruskin said was the most beautiful coin in Europe the English sovereign. Basil Wilberforce, Speaking Good of His Name, p. 83.
The Image of God
With His finger upon the coin, our Lord enunciated a great truth. He showed that the authority of God and of man are not to be opposed to each other. 'Render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's; and unto God the things that are God's.' Now consider:
I. What ought we to render to Cæsar, the representative of human authority? As Christians we are taught to render to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. The principle of government is from God, and the governor who rules the nation has a right to levy taxes from his subjects for the good of the nation. Moreover, as the principle of government is from God, the governor is primâ facie entitled to fear and honour as the representative of Divine authority.
The governor is to be obeyed because 'there is no power but of God; and the powers that be are ordained of God'.
Our duty to the State requires us both to obey the laws of the State and to uphold our rulers by the active force of earnest and constant intercession.
II. A penny piece is a token of the law of our duty to Caesar, but we bear upon ourselves a higher image and superscription, which reminds us of our duty to God, from Whose mint we have come.
What then are the things that are God's, the things which duty requires us to render to Him?
The Church Catechism gives us our answer. It teaches us to render to God faith, fear, love, worship, thanksgiving, trust, prayer, honour, and a lifelong service, with all the powers of our heart, and mind, and soul, and strength. The understanding is to be opened to know what the will of the Lord is. The affections are given to us in order that they may be set on things above, and not on things on the earth. The speech is to be with grace, seasoned with the salt of sound wisdom. The eyes, the ears, and all the members of the body are to be rendered to God as a living sacrifice. We owe to God public worship, private devotion, all such good works as are prepared for us to walk in, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and lifelong earnest labour in our Heavenly Father's vineyard.
III. What then is left for ourselves? Nothing. The Lord Himself is the portion of mine inheritance. Man is not created for himself and his own glory, but for God and His glory.
Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it He asks the members of the Church to love Him and to give themselves wholly to Him. Not until we give to God the things that are God's, ourselves, our souls and bodies, do we find rest, or peace, or joy, or a life worth living.
Canon Bodington, The Twelve Gates of the Holy City, p. 175.
The Catholicity of Christianity
Christianity comes to us all, in all points, in all interests, and in all undertakings, with this one great question: you are living your life; every act you do bears the stamp of some image or superscription, whose image and superscription is it? Unless it bears the image and superscription of the Christ, it is not the image and superscription which God has a right to expect.
I. Christianity and the Business. Work is a law of life. When a man goes forth to work, if he undertakes an honest occupation and trade, it bears the impress of God, for it is God's work given to men. But there always comes in the higher law of the moral and spiritual life. The Master asks us and it is a practical question in the pursuit of your profession, in the pursuit of your trade, in the pursuit of your business, what is the moral and spiritual influence which is at work? What is influencing you? Whose image and superscription does that calling bear?
II. Christianity and Home Life. Or look at the home life, which is the source and the very centre of the national existence Does the father or the mother say, this is my prayer, this is my desire, this is my passion and longing for my child, that he should be great in the eyes of the Lord? Whose image and superscription, says the Master, is being written upon the home life?
III. The Right Use of Money. When the Master spoke these words and asked this question, He held a Roman coin in His hand. Every coin bears some image or some superscription. The value in the markets of the world comes from the image and superscription. But there is another mint in the world besides the mint which coins gold and silver. There is the mint in the man himself the purposes and the uses to which he puts that money. As he pays his money out he impresses a new image upon it; and the Master says to each one of us as we spend our coin, Whose image and superscription does it bear?
IV. Life in Relationship. We do not live for ourselves. We live in relationship. The paradox of life is, He that loses himself shall save himself. You never know the greatness of your own soul, nor the greatness of your fellow-men, nor the magnificence of life till you lift your eyes above and beyond the little hedge which surrounds your own body. Nay, no man lives to himself, nor dies to himself; and unless we catch the spirit of Christ, which is the spirit of sacrifice and unselfishness, we have not yet got His image and superscription stamped upon us.
A. B. Boyd Carpenter, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxii. 1907, p. 84.
References. XXII. 20. G. H. C. MacGregor, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. 1893, p. 134. XXII. 20, 21. J. Stalker, ibid. vol. lvii. 1900, p. 372. XXII. 21. B. Wilberforce, Feeling After Him, p. 223. R. W. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. ii. p. 241. R. Flint, Sermons and Addresses, p. 264. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year (2nd Series), vol. ii. p. 192. Henry Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. ii. p. 194. J. Baldwin Brown, Misread Passages of Scripture, p. 14. A. G. Mortimer, One Hundred Miniature Sermons, vol. ii. p. 147. J. Parker, Studies in Texts, vol. i. p. 152. H. Wace, Religion in Common Life, p. 90. H. Scott Holland, Church Times, vol. xlvi. 1901, p. 340; see also Christian World Pulpit, vol. lx. 1901, p. 193.
Christ and the Herodians
This passage invites us to 'consider Him who endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself'. There are three kinds of people the Christian finds constantly opposed to him in the world the self-righteous man, the unbelieving man, and the worldly man. Here we see our blessed Lord dealing with each. The Pharisees (vv. 34, 35); the Sadducees (v. 23); and the Herodians (v. 16). It is with the last of these that we are specially employed Today, and we shall dwell upon the two leading points of the narrative:
I. The Question put by the Herodians. You know that they were a political party amongst the Jews who favoured the rule of the Herod family. There were no religious pretensions about them; they were essentially worldly. They ask,' Is it lawful to give tribute to Cæsar, or not?' Mark, if He said 'Yes,' there was the anger of the people to be apprehended; if He said 'No,' there was the appearance of revolution. So their object was to entangle Him (v. 15), and thus worldly people are constantly asking, 'Do you think it right to do this or that?' not because they wish to know, but because they desire to make you trip. Let this remind us of the character of such. They plot against God's people (Psalms 38:12 ; cf. Nehemiah 4:8 ), they are always enticing to evil (Proverbs 1:10-14 ; 2 Timothy 3:6 ), they delight in the iniquity of others (Proverbs 2:4 ; Romans 1:32 ). Such are worldly people.
II. The Answer given by Our Lord. He calls for a penny, and making them acknowledge that it belonged to Cæsar, He says, 'Render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's, and unto God the things that are God's' (vv. 19-21). It is only by following this example that the child of God can meet the world. Realize the difference between those who rule in the world. There are two kingdoms (Colossians 1:13 ), two rulers (Ephesians 2:2 ; Acts 3:15 ), two laws (Romans 7:22-23 ; Romans 6:16 ). There are but the two, and the mistake is attempting a neutral position (Matthew 6:24 ; Luke 11:23 ). If we are children of God we are stamped with the image of the King (Romans 8:29 ), we know what our duty is (1 Corinthians 11:19-20 ).
References. XXII. 22. E. Fowle, Plain Preaching to Poor People (2nd Series), p. 117. E. C. Wickham, The Glory of Service, Sermons, 1895-99. XXII. 29. T. L. Lynch, Three Months' Ministry, p. 193. J. Bell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xli. 1892, p. 186.
'All I can say about the text is that it has nought to do with me and my wife,' Charles Kingsley wrote once to a friend. 'I know that, if immortality is to include in my case identity of person, I shall feel to her for ever what I feel now. That feeling may be developed in ways which I do not expect; it may have provided for it forms of expression very different from any which are among the holiest sacraments of life: of that I take no care. The union I believe to be as eternal as my own soul. I have no rule to say in what other pair of lovers it may or may not be eternal. I leave all in the hands of a good God. Elsewhere, in his correspondence, Kingsley returns to this subject, avowing that this text 'has been to me always a comfort. I am so well and really married on earth, that I should be exceeding sorry to be married again in heaven. All I can say is, if I do not love my wife, body and soul, as well there as I do here, then there is neither resurrection of my body nor of my soul, but of some other, and I shall not be I.'
References. XXII. 30. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiv. No. 842. Henry Ward Beecher, Sermons (4th Series), p. 551. XXII. 31, 32. H. L. Mansel, Oxford Street Sermons, 1868, p. 29.
The Hope of Immortality
I. The Hebrews never believed that death means absolute extinction. The common belief was that at death a man descends into Sheol, 'the land of darkness and the shadow of death,' a place of silence and forgetfulness. Enoch and Elijah were supposed to have escaped this dreary fate, but only by not dying.
I. Had the Israelites, then, no hopes that were not bounded by the grave? Yes, they had. But it was the glorious future of their nation, to which they looked forward, and on this earth. The feeling of solidarity was much stronger with them than it is with us, and especially, like all Orientals, they hoped to live again in their children and grandchildren, so that childlessness was to them a greater calamity than death itself.
Such was the common Jewish faith. The Jew loved life and feared death, but he was almost content with the thought that his descendants would inhabit a more glorious Jerusalem, while he was lying in Sheol, an unsubstantial ghost.
II. It is the prophets who first preach individual retribution. Jeremiah and Ezekiel both protest against the 'sour grapes' proverb, and say that 'Every one shall die for his own iniquity'. This necessarily leads to belief in a personal future life.
In the interval between the latest books of the Old Testament and the Gospels, the belief in the resurrection of individuals grew steadily, till in our Lord's time it was only rejected by the Sadducees.
III. Our Lord Himself gives us very little definite teaching about the next world. He was understood by His disciples to have promised an early return in glory to inaugurate a kingdom at Jerusalem; and it was believed that the dead Christians would be resuscitated to share in it. In this they were mistaken; but it is plain that our Lord spoke of the resurrection mainly in connexion with His kingdom, and that the penalty of His enemies would be exclusion from the kingdom, and banishment into outer darkness. All through the Bible, in the New Testament as well as in the Old, where immortality is referred to, it is corporate immortality which is mainly thought of. By corporate immortality I do not mean a sham immortality a life in the memory of others. In its purer form, the desire for corporate immortality almost forgets the individual, as we have seen was the case with the Jews and early Christians. The triumph of the nation, of the Church, of the principles of righteousness, seems a much greater thing than our private survival, and it is easier to feel a strong faith in the eternal victory of a great cause than of a small individual, because the great cause enlists the highest capabilities, the most devoted efforts and sacrifices of one generation after another.
These considerations do not in any way affect the belief in personal immortality. That remains where it was. But I suggest that one chief reason why our faith in immortality is often so dim is that we are too self-centred in our thoughts about it. We think of our own resurrection, and that of our friends; but we do not, like the Biblical writers, think of the future and more glorious life of our nation, and of our Church, as part of our religious hope.
W. R. Inge, All Saints' Sermons, 1905-1907, p. 103.
References. XXII. 32. R. J. Campbell, A Faith for Today, p. 331; see also, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. 1900, p. 68. XXII. 32, 33. F. E. Clark, ibid. vol. lviii. 1900, p. 111. XXII. 34-40 (R.V.). R. E. Bartlett, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. 1894, p. 340. XXII. 34-46. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew XVIII.-XXVIII. p. 135. XXII. 35-40. H. Hensley Henson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxiv. 1903, p. 276. S. Cox, Expositions, p. 88. XXII. 36-38. W. Boyd Carpenter, British Weekly Pulpit, vol. ii. p. 111. XXII. 36-40. H. Ward Beecher, Sermons (4th Series), p. 205.
Religion for the Entire Man
The religion of Christ is a religion for all men. It is universal in its adaptation to the needs of humanity. But it is more than this. It is a religion for the whole of man. There is not a power, or faculty, or energy given to us which lies outside its influence. It claims as its own all our being. This surely is the meaning of the never-to-be-forgotten definition in which our Lord sums up man's duty to God.
Now, as we look into this definition, full as it is of valuable teaching, there are two truths which stand out very distinctly and prominently.
I. The Revelation of God as a God to be Loved. The first truth is one of special importance to the Jewish disciples. What is it? It is the grand revelation of God as a God to be loved. Till now they had not realized this. God a God to be reverenced, held in awe, served, feared this they knew; only now and then faint glimpses of something better seem to have been given to them, and so He Who came to fulfil all things teaches them that love is to religion what atmosphere is to a landscape, what tone is to a picture, what life is to a body. 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.'
II. Religion is worthy of Man's Highest Powers. But side by side with this there stands out another truth of a very special importance to us Christians Today. It is this. Religion, the religion of Christ, is worthy of a man's highest intellectual powers. How much this is overlooked in our day! 'With all thy heart' that is, with all the emotional powers of a man; 'with all thy soul' that is, with all the spiritual instincts of a man. Yes, this may be true of religion; but, 'with all thy mind,' with all the intellectual faculties of the man nay, is not this going too far? Religion, a sentiment, a thing of the emotions, of the feelings, yes; but religion a science, a thing to be known as well as felt, to be studied as well as believed in; this, in these days of intellectual pride, is forgotten, if not openly denied.
III. The Intellect in Religion. What could better employ the powers of man's intellect than this? We consider a man's life well lived who has studied the heavens, and has tracked the worlds along their shining orbits, even though he discovers no new world; or who has tried to unravel the tangled threads of history, and has gathered up a single thread of the birth, or rise, or decline, or death of only one nation; or who has for a few short years held the helm of the State, and steered the vessel safely through the shoals and quicksands of diplomacy. Shall we then regard his time wasted, his talents thrown away, who has sought to know the God Who made each shining world, Who holds in His hand the fate of dynasties, Who is the King of kings reigning over all the kingdoms of the world? Nay, if this be Religion, Religion is not only a science, but it is the queen of sciences.
IV. The Union of Knowledge and Love. But we must not stop there. Religion is a science, but it is more than a science. What is lacking? Jesus tells us. Mark, He links together knowledge and love. He tells us that this knowledge of God will not be held within the limits of the intellect, but must overflow into the heart. He teaches us that he who knows God will love God; aye, that the more a man knows God the more he must love Him. Knowledge and love, what a close connexion there is between them! The love of husband and wife deepens as years pass on. Or think again: we know something of the meaning of a mother's love. There is no love like a mother's; life, with its sorrows, and trials, and disappointments, only helps to make us know it better, and greater knowledge brings greater love. Shall not the earthly faintly outline for us the heavenly? The knowledge of God, what is it to the Christian? To know God is to know His love; and to know His love is to love Him in return. If our religion is unsatifying, it is because we know God so little; and for this lack of knowledge we have only ourselves to blame.
Christian Faith and Modern Thought
I. The members of the Church must become thinkers. By thinkers we do not mean men gifted with special learning, or intellectual power. Christian thinkers axe men and women who really try to put their intelligence into the service of their religion; men and women who are anxious to learn about the Bible, the Creed, the Sacraments, the Church out of the best books that they can get; who try to think out quietly just where and why the great Christian Faith has found their own life and experience, and then seek to express the reason for the faith that is in them in words which are real to themselves, and which their own neighbours and friends can understand. Every Christian man who thus uses his mind in religion is a link between Christ and his own day and generation. And, remember, that the strength of the chain is the strength of the individual links that compose it.
II. Want of thinking gives advantage to doubt. In most cases it is through defect rather than excess of thinking that doubt comes in to disturb. The air we breathe is full of the germs of doubt. None of us can be protected from it Now and then a germ may reach you, and if it find your mind swept and garnished, or furnished only with your old childlike notions of religious things, it will enter and do its work. There are many people who surrender the truths of Christianity before they have taken the trouble to understand them. The man who uses the best mind that God has given him, the best books he can reach and the best teachers he can find, to know really what his faith means, and to be able to express it intelligently to himself and his friends that man is fortified against doubt.
III. Want of thought creates division. The party spirit, alas! we know is the greatest hindrance to the spirit of truth. We have a pleasant word in which we describe our divisions; we call them 'Schools of thought'. There is an unconscious irony in the phrase, for it is want of thought that is mainly responsible for the cleavage between these schools. Men become victims of catchwords catchwords which are substitutes for thought, or else the victims of a shallow logic which moves with deceptive simplicity along a narrow groove. But the more we read and think, the more we see that the truth cannot be. contained in these phrases, or tied in this narrow logic. Real thought always makes for synthesis; that is to say, for some point of view in which differences are not ignored or even lost, but merged in a deeper unity. And if only our ordinary Christians in England would begin to read and think a little more there would be more prospects of the spirit of Christian brotherhood.
IV. Let us put this plea for using our minds in religion on its truest and highest ground. It is a form of service. It is that love of God with all the mind which our Lord lays down as part of the first and the greatest duty of man. To give God the thoughts of our mind is part of our fundamental religious duty. We owe it to Him. He has given us these minds that they may be enriched and find their highest exercise in the study of His truth.
Archbishop Lang, Church Times, 23 Oct., 1908, p. 539.
Love to God Service to Man
There is discoverable in this injunction a command, consolation, a prophecy.
I. A command ; a parental order that no loyal son may disobey. You say love is the one emotion that will not come at command. True, but it is possible for a man willingly to place his whole being in such an attitude towards the Eternal Father, that love shall be unfolded from the heart as flower and fruit from a plant in its right attitude to the sun; for this command is a claim upon the WHOLE of MAN for God; heart, soul, and mind; emotions, will, and intellect. As the whole of each tree by the seaside is bent in the direction of the prevailing wind, so the whole of each life must be bent by the prevailing influence of God. In the feeblest love of what is true God is loved by the mind. In the simplest longing after what is good, by the heart. And in every honest effort, mental and physical, after the attainment of our ideal, He is loved by the soul and the strength.
II. But there is also consolation as well as command, and it is here; it is the death-blow of pessimism; an overwhelming proof of the all-embracing love of God for man. God says, 'He that planted the ear, shall He not hear?' And any child of God Today may say, 'He that commanded me to love HIM with all my heart and mind and soul, shall He not love ME with all His heart, and mind, and soul? And that He may remove any doubts as to whether His ideal of wholehearted love is different from ours, He has brought into action His moral attributes in the Incarnation.
And Fatherhood says, 'What think ye of the Christ?' Does that character satisfy you? Here is one loving you unto the death, with all His sacred heart, and mind, and soul, and He, with all the authority of the incomprehensible God, declares, 'He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father'.
III. The consolation leads us to the prophecy. Thou shalt love, in the perfected future, not now; the capacity is wanting in the natural state. God says shall; all God's shalls are ultimately irresistible. Every shall in the Bible is a promise as well as a command.
Every soul here is enfolded in the shall of God; God-begotten, God-enclosed; God-loved, is every man. To know it is salvation, for the redeemed are all men, the saved those that know it.
Archdeacon Wilberforce, Feeling After Him, p. 121.
Illustration. Faraday learnt this Divine lesson in boyhood by a childish experience. As a little lad, humbly earning his bread by selling newspapers in the street, he was waiting outside the office of the Edinburgh Courant for the morning issue of the paper, and thrust his head and arms through the railings of the iron gate. He was a born metaphysician, and began to speculate on which side of the railings he was. 'My head and hands are on one side,' he said to himself, 'and my heart and body are on the other.' The gate was opened hastily before he could disengage himself, and the wrench he received taught him, as he said in after life, that all true work required head and heart and hands to be on the same side. Basil Wilberforce, Feeling After Him, p. 127.
References. XXII. 37. W. Howell Evans, Sermons for the Church's Year, p. 257. S. A. Barnett, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. 1893, p. 358. XXII. 37, 38. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year (2nd Series), vol. ii. p. 151. XXII. 37-39. R. T. Davidson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxiv. 1903, p. 257. XXII. 37-40. (R.V.) R. A. Armstrong, ibid., vol. xli. 1892, p. 298.
Self-love New Version
Perhaps this is the most familiar text or verse in the Bible. Shall I startle you if I say that the words imply, or even enjoin, love for self? Yet surely they do. For if we are to try to love other people greatly and also to love them as ourselves, clearly, there must be self-love of some sort implied or enjoined. But all depends on what you mean by self-love. If we mean self-indulgence, self-gratification, self-spoiling, so to speak, if we are thinking of the commonplace, vulgar, stupid aim of doing simply what we like best, what is easiest, what is most comfortable, then certainly it is a degrading, a humiliating, a pitiful thing to have that sort of self-love. But why explain it thus? Is that what love means? Can you think of it thus as applied to wife, or child, or friend? Surely not We think then of something quite different.
I. There is a form of Self-Love, or, as we like better to call it, Self-respect, which is strengthening, ennobling, stimulating and uplifting, which is approved of God, which is useful to man. Each of us in the common experience of life finds out that he has two different levels, or two different compartments, as it would sometimes seem, to his own life. There is in us a better self and a worse self. When the Prodigal had gone to the lowest degradations he could find, better thoughts came. He 'came to himself,' and began to find out that he was worth something better.
II. Now what we have got to do is to Encourage that Higher Self and make it assert itself oftener than it does. For ourselves separately, each one ought to try sometimes to think, 'What do I suppose was God's purpose for me?' If we are each one to be helpful to others, keeping straight and pure and strong and high-minded, we must see to it first that, so far as God enables us, we are fit men ourselves.
III. How are we to set about it?
a. By going back to the very fountain of our faith, that which lies at the centre and the root, the Lord Jesus Christ.
b. The inspiration is not by example only. You might find it impossible to follow that, but for the knowledge on His part and on ours that He is with you and me Today. He Who set that example, Who gave us that pattern, will hear, day by day, from you and me, in the dusty, busy, working, interrupted harassed life, the prayer that we uplift from the heart, 'Keep me pure, keep me brave. Take my life and let it be Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.'
Whoever walks a furlong without sympathy walks to his own funeral drest in his shroud.
The greatest of all arts is the art of life, and the best of all music the harmony of spirits. There are many little rules to be learnt for giving harmony and melody to our life, but the thorough bass must be love.
He who carries self-regard far enough to keep himself in good health and high spirits, in the first place thereby becomes an immediate source of happiness to those around, and in the second place maintains the ability to increase their happiness by altruistic actions. But one whose bodily vigour and mental health are undermined by self-sacrifice carried too far, in the first place becomes to those around a cause of depression, and in the second place renders himself incapable, or less capable, of actively furthering their welfare.
References. XXII. 39. J. Stalker, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lviii. 1900, p. 149. H. Hensley Henson, Christ and the Nation, p. 162. G. Macdonald, Unspoken Sermons, p. 189. XXII. 39, 40. J. H. Jellett, The Elder Son, p. 214. XXII. 40. D. M. Ross, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxvii. 1890, p. 404. A. Boyd Carpenter, ibid. vol. lxxiv. 1908, p. 71. S. D. McConnel, A Year's Sermons, p. 261.
When a man is told that the whole of religion and morality is summed up in the two commandments, to love God and to love our neighbour, he is ready to cry, like Charoba in Gebir, at the first sight of the sea, Is this the mighty ocean? is this all? Yes, all: but how small a part of it do your eyes survey 1 only trust yourself to it; launch out upon it; sail abroad over it: you will find it has no end: it will carry you around the world.
References. XXII. 41, 42. J. Marshall Lang, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxvii. 1890, p. 168. H. H. Snell, ibid. vol. xliv. 1893, p. 24. J. G. Greenhough, ibid. vol. lxi. 1902, p. 161. XXII. 41-46. J. Morgan Gibbon, ibid. vol. lxii. 1902, p. 88.
What Think Ye of Christ?
I. You cannot make it a matter of indifference whether you think rightly of Christ or not; the question is very short, very simple, but the answer to it involves life or death.
1. Let us then inquire what it is to think rightly of Christ First with respect to His Person, we must think that He is perfect God, equal with the Father, and together with Him and the Holy Ghost, making up the ever-blessed Trinity.
2. We must think of Him as perfect man, of like nature with ourselves in everything, sin only excepted.
3. We must think of Him as the great Redeemer and Saviour, who by the voluntary sacrifice and death of Himself made atonement for the sins of the whole world, provided a means of reconciliation between His Father and mankind, and brought in an everlasting righteousness which is unto all and upon all them that believe.
4. We must think of Him as a King: He is the great head of a spiritual dominion over the heart of all whom He chooses and calls out of the world.
5. We must think of Him as the great High Priest, who, like the Jewish high priest of old, has gone alone before us into the Holy of Holies, that is Heaven, to make satisfaction for the sin of His people with blood, even the blood of Himself, Who ever stands at the right hand of God to make intercession for them; and can always feel for and pity them, because as man He was tempted like as they are.
6. We must think of Him as the Prophet that should come, foretold by Moses shortly before his death, who has shown to mankind the way of salvation, who has clearly explained how God's mercy and God's justice can be reconciled when sinners are accounted righteous, who has taught us how God would have men to live, and has placed duties and morality upon their right foundation, and these are the inward motives and the heart.
7. We must think of Him as the great Example, who has left men a pattern that they should walk in His steps, who has given them, in His own person and behaviour, a model of conduct in nearly every department of life which they cannot strive too much to imitate.
II. But this is not all. There are two ways of thinking about Christ; both indeed are necessary to salvation, but one is very often found to exist without the other. It is one thing to think of Him with the head, and another to think of Him with the heart; it is one to think about His offices as a matter of opinion, it is another to rejoice in them as infinitely important to your own soul; it is one to know these things correctly, it is another to live as if you felt them; it is one to acknowledge that Christ is a mighty gift to ruined man, it is quite another to apply this healing medicine to your own case. J. C. Ryle, The Christian Race, p. 168.
References. XXII. 42. R. W. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. ii. p. 172. G. W. Herbert, Notes of Sermons, p. 184. B. Wilberforce, Following on to Know the Lord, p. 3. J. S. Swan, Short Sermons, p. 136. C. S. Robinson, Sermons on Neglected Texts, p. 206. G. A. Chadwick, Christ Bearing Witness to Himself, p. 159. B. D. Johns, Pulpit Notes, p. 178. W. Alexander, The Great Question, p. 3. Bishop Simpson, Sermons, p. 295. A. G. Mortimer, One Hundred Miniature Sermons, vol. ii. p. 113. Marcus Dods, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xl. 1891, p. 281; see also vol. lxii. 1902, p. 116; vol. lxix. 1906, p. 149. Henry Varley, ibid. vol. xli. 1892, p. 228. R. A. Armstrong, ibid. vol. xli. 1892, p. 298. T. T. Munger, ibid. vol. xliii. 1893, p. 406. A Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, ibid. vol. lxi. 1902, p. 101. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xix. No. 1093. P. McAdam Muir, Modern Substitutes for Christianity, p. 173.
'Great David's Greater Son'
That Christ was lineally descended from David, and that as such, he had the body and the mind and the heart of a man, is an historical fact. In the same body and the same manhood, altered, but accurately the same, He walked this earth for forty days after His Resurrection. Before it was a natural body; after He rose, it was a spiritual body. Nevertheless all the while He was and He is God. The mystery of the union is utterly unfathomable; far above the reach of all knowledge and all conception. But it was prophesied of Him before He came. He asserted it of Himself; His Apostles bore witness to it even to the death, and He allowed Himself mark this He allowed Himself to be killed for it. For the high priest sentenced Him to die for blasphemy, and this was the blasphemy that He said He was God. And any honest man who was not God would have said, 'You misunderstand. I do not mean that I am God.' He would not have allowed Himself to be put to death on the wrong misunderstanding of His own words. But Christ offered no qualifying word. He was crucified on that charge, and the alternative is inevitable either Christ was a dishonest man or He was God.
Such, then, is Christ at this very moment in Heaven God and Man. Both perfectly equal, perfect God and perfect Man. So He is now at God's right hand, set before us in the Revelation; so He will return to this earth. For a little while He was pleased for our sake to divest Himself of His glory, and to come amongst us 'in the form of a man,' but the attributes and the prerogatives of the Godhead were still perfect in Him. He still assumed them. And now he is at once the Man, the wounded, crucified Man, a Man that has been slain, and yet as fully and as truly He is 'King of kings and Lord of lords,' with 'a Name which is above every name'; the object and adoration of saints and angels; the Judge of all men; the Creator of the universe God, God!
I. Christ in Heaven. 'The Son of David' a Man! what is the result of that?
a. Whatever He came to this earth to do, whatever it was, is finished and accepted, else He would not be resting there. Accepted of God, exalted to the highest.
b. His presence there in manhood shows what manhood is capable of, what human nature may become. You look on a man as you see him here, as you see yourself, or any fellow-creature. You look on that very Man in Heaven and you see the capabilities of a man; read his destiny. Behold yourself in your Saviour.
c. There in that Man Christ, David's son there we have a brother. His human form shows Him a brother. It shows His sympathy.
d. That Son of David, that Man at God's right hand, He is a representative Man. He was a substitute on the Cross, not a representative. Now He is not a subsitute but a representative Man.
e. And that Son of David, that Man in Heaven, is pledged as the forerunner of us all, 'the firstborn among many brethren,' the gathered sheaf which ensures all the harvest, the seed of the warrant of our eternal happiness.
II. David's Son and David's Lord. So on earth and in Heaven He is David's Son and David's Lord. If Christ be a Man in Heaven, no less He is God. The thought of this union of God and manhood is utterly unfathomable. But the truth is clear and the comfort exceeding great. 'My Saviour is my God.' And all that this Man died to purchase that same He now lives as God to give. He carries out in omnipotence what he wrought in the infinity of the love of His manhood. This Man who is my Brother, rules the world.
How to Read the Bible
Many of the prophets spake in the spirit, and in the spirit they must be interpreted. It is not for any one man to say where the whole meaning runs itself out, it is for us to wait until we can say, 'This is the man,' and many a time we have said this o'er the cradle of the child; we have said, 'This is He of whom Moses and the prophets did write'. There has been a wonderful unrest in our soul because we knew that the prophecy had not yet been quite fulfilled, but when Jesus came he said, 'This is the light; they that sat in darkness have seen a great light'. Jesus Christ takes up all that the prophets did say, and shows what the prophets themselves did mean, though they, the prophets, did not know their meaning at the time of their ecstasy and their madness.
I. How beautifully is the whole thing shown to us in that walk to Emmaus! 'And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.' I think we should not be ashamed of finding Jesus where Jesus found Himself; we should study Jesus Christ's way of reading the Old Testament, and He always found Himself on every page: there a flower, and He said,' I am the Rose of Sharon'; there a trickle of blood oh, so red, so hot and He said, 'I redeem with a great price'. He heard Himself in many an echoed song, and He said, 'This is the singing of the ages, and the music is fulfilled in Me'. Jesus Christ must set the example of how to read the Bible. He began at Moses He could not begin earlier and the Psalms, and the prophets, and, lest that should not be enough or be misunderstood, it is said, 'in all the Scriptures': they are full of Him, they burn with Him as the bush burned with God. The Lord hath yet more light and truth to break forth from His holy Word. We have not yet begun to understand either the miracles or the parables. We have approached them from our own point of view, and have found fault with them, we have made them a field of criticism. We should approach them from Christ's point of view, and find them to be music that can give rest to the soul, light that can satisfy the vision, and ministry that can appease the hunger of the heart.
II. Christ is the contemporary of all ages. He lives Today; He is the dying Christ, the living Christ, the constant and never-departing Christ If He has gone out of sight, it is only that from a higher level He may move the progress of the universe.
Every century has its own revelation. Why was not the whole thing revealed at once? It would be impossible, and it would be absurd. There can be no 'at once' in the movement of eternity. But could not the men of the first century have understood what the men of the twentieth century understand? No, they could not. The men of the twentieth century have a new responsibility, they have their own vision of God, and they are responsible to God for the use they make of it.
III. It has not been given to any man to see all things, and we are not to be harsh with those who do not see what we see. The Lord's school hath many scholars. If that is the truth some remote and shiny point then every man with his face towards it is orthodox, though he come from east west, north, south, climbing the mountain that he may grasp the stars. That is orthodoxy, not your little notion and mine, but the great love-truth and the great truth-loving. He is orthodox who wants to know what is true.
Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. vi. p. 183.
References. XXII. 46. A. N. Obbard, Plain Sermons, p. 172. XXIII. 1-10. T. A. Gurney, The Living Lord and the Opened Grave, p. 198. XXIII. 3. Hugh Black, University Sermons, p. 246.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Matthew 22". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany