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The Intrusion of the World
No doubt this referred originally to the great crash of the fall of Jerusalem. But one cannot help seeing that the whole prophecy describes rather the constantly recurring features of all epochs of great change affecting the kingdom of heaven than the details of special circumstances attaching to some one event.
I. Observe that it is more inside the Church that iniquity is said to abound. There may be a fair amount of morality and obedience in the Church. But it is the outside world, the mass of the people who are not Christians in any real sense, in whom a low tone of morality abounds. And the Church of course ought to be the antagonist of this, to curb it and overcome it If it has failed to be so, then the world is leavening the Church. The two powers are always in existence and in operation; perhaps there is always action and reaction, but there are periods when the forces of the Church are evidently the stronger, and others when the world evidently is.
II. I want to urge that as a truth not only about communities, but about individuals. Either you are salting the world or the world is putrefying you. There cannot be a severance of relations. You must either be actively giving out or passively receiving.
In what are the bulk of professing Christians different from the world? They are like them in their views of things, in their amusements, in their pursuits, in their ambitions, in their loves and fears. That no doubt partly comes from the more obvious parts of Christian morality having permeated to a considerable extent the classes of society to which most of us belong. But that will not explain it all. There should be a distinct difference of tone, a higher standard of self-sacrifice. It all comes to this, are we trying to be the salt, or are we letting the evil around us conquer unchecked?
III. The Cure. Honestly bring your hearts under the influence of the love that will kindle them. Our love as Christians is eminently reasonable. It rests upon a believed fact. It is the echo of Christ's love to us. It is not then to be produced by willing only or by effort, but mainly by laying our hearts in sunshine that makes them warm. Then let the practical discipline of life go to cultivate that love, and to suppress what wars against it. Make an effort to keep Christ's love in mind, and practice the fruits of love, and guard against the intrusion of the world.
Reference. XXIV. 12. H. J. Coleridge, The Return of the King, p. 89.
This is one of those great notes which sound through Scripture, the necessity of continuance, of not stopping before the end. Love is tried by continuance, by going on with what we have begun.
References. XXIV. 13. Stopford A. Brooke, Short Sermons, p. 41. J. Lewis Paton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxi. 1907, p. 406. 'Plain Sermons' by contributors to the Tracts for the Times, vol. i. p. 318. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew XVIII.-XXVIII. p. 148. H. P. Liddon, Sermons on Some Words of Christ, p. 113. XXIV. 14. D. Heagle, That Blessed Hope, p. 90. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year (2nd Series), vol. i. p. 1. T. F. Lockyer, The Inspirations of the Christian Life, p. 99. G. F. Maclear, The Evidential Value of the Continuity of Missionary Enterprise, p. 1. XXIV. 15. H. J. Coleridge, The Return of the King, p. 142. R. E. Hutton, The Crown of Christ, vol. i. p. 37.
Nothing doth so much keepe Men out of the Church, and drive Men out of the Church, as Breach of Unity: and therefore, whensoever it cometh to that passe, that one saith, Ecce in deserto ; Another saith, Ecce in penetralibus ; That is, when some Men seeke Christ, in the conventicles of Heretikes, and others in an outward face of a church, that voice had need continually to sound in Men's eares, Nolite exire , Goe not out.
References. XXIV. 24. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vi. No. 324. J. B. Wilkinson, Plain Preaching for a Year, p. 191. XXIV. 24-26. Alfred Rowland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlii. 1892, p. 71. XXIV. 26. S. H. Kellogg, The Past a Prophecy of the Future, p. 308.
The presence of the Divine Humanity is likened to a flash of lightning; not, I imagine, to the destructive zigzag forked lightning of the thunderstorm that metaphor was appropriated by our Lord Himself to evil personified when He said: 'Behold, I saw Satan, like lightning, fall from heaven' but rather to that harmless beautiful illumination which we call summer lightning, or sheet lightning.
I. What, then, is this sheet lightning, and in what sense can it be an analogy of the presence of the Divine Humanity, the light of the world? Sheet lightning is the flashing into manifestation of an atmospheric power, always present everywhere but not always manifested. No man can define electricity, and yet it has been scientifically demonstrated to be the combining agent of matter, and without it the million million atoms of the material world would be disintegrated.
The Incarnation is God manifest, as the lightning-flash is electricity manifest. His presence on earth is the coming into visibility of a Divine, world-creating, world-sustaining presence, always everywhere diffused and operative; always everywhere the life, the spirit; but impersonal and unknowable to the finite minds of men, except as revealed under some limitation that man's eye can see and man's intelligence apprehend.
II. These eyes of the soul are greatly in our own power. The faculty of spiritual discernment, though it may be withered from non-use, is the hereditary possession of every human being. Eyes must be blind indeed that cannot see a lightning-flash. The Christ is the lightning-flash that reveals the nature of the Father Who loves us. Act as though it were true. Let the solemn mystery of that presence challenge you and subdue you.
III. Obviously, in a very special and influential manner, is that same presence shrouded in every guaranteed act of the Church. At the supreme moment of earnest, faithful communion, the veil between the two worlds is very thin; the spirits of the departed are very near; the soul is strengthened by a bath of heaven's sunshine from the presence of the glorified Redeemer God's lightning-flash illuminating the darkness of the world.
Basil Wilberforce, Speaking Good of His Name, p. 17.
In her Life of Edward Irving, Mrs. Oliphant quotes a reminiscence of his preaching at Perth by a Scottish minister. 'His text was taken from the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew, regarding the coming of the Son of Man. I remember nothing of the sermon, save its general subject; but one thing I can never forget. While he was engaged in unfolding his subject, from out of a dark cloud, which obscured the Church, there came forth a bright blaze of lightning and a crash of thunder. There was deep stillness in the audience. The preacher paused; and from the stillness and the gloom, his powerful voice, clothed with increased solemnity, pronounced these words: For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall the coming of the Son of Man be. You can imagine the effect.'
References. XXIV. 27. Sir G. R. Fetherston, Bart, A Garden Eastward, p. 26. D. Fraser, Metaphors in the Gospels, p. 221.
The Carrion and the Vultures
This grim parable has, of course, a strong Eastern colouring. It is best appreciated by dwellers in those lands. They tell us that no sooner is some sickly animal dead, or some piece of carrion thrown out by the way, than the vultures for the eagle does not prey upon carrion appear. And so, says Christ, wherever there is a rotting, dead society, a carcass hopelessly corrupt and evil, down upon it, as if drawn by some unerring attraction, will come the angel, the vulture of the Divine judgment.
I. The first thing in these most true and solemn words is this, that they are to us a revelation of a law which operates with unerring certainty through all the force of the world's history.
We cannot tell, but God can, when evil has become incurable; or when, in the language of my text, the man or the community has become a carcass. There may be flickerings of life, all unseen by our eyes, or there may be death, all unsuspected by our shallow vision. So long as there is a possibility of amendment, 'sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily'; and God dams back, as it were, the flow of His retributive judgment; 'not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to the knowledge of the truth'. But when He sees that all is vain, that no longer is restoration or recovery possible, then He lets loose the flood; or, in the language of my text, when the thing has become a carcass, then the vultures, God's scavengers, come and clear it away from off the face of the earth.
Let us see to it that we do our little part to be the salt of the earth which shall keep it from rotting, and so drive away the vultures of judgment.
II. We have here a law which shall have a far more tremendous accomplishment in the future.
Jesus Christ is to come in bodily form as He went away. All men are to be judged by Him. That judgment is to be the destruction of opposing forces, the sweeping away of the carrion of moral evil.
III. This is a law which need never touch you, nor you know anything about but by the hearing of the ear. 'There is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.' If we trust in that great Saviour we shall be quickened from the death of sin and so shall not be food for the vultures of judgment. The hand Whose touch healed the leper will heal us, and our flesh will come again as the flesh of a little child. Christ has bared His breast to the Divine judgments against sin, and if by faith we shelter ourselves in Him, we shall never know the terrors of that awful day.
A. Maclaren, Christ in the Heart, p. 105.
References. XXIV. 28. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew XVIII.-XXVIII. p. 157; see also British Weekly Pulpit, vol. ii. p. 417. H. J. Coleridge, The Return of the King, p. 214. W. H. Simcox, The Cessation of Prophecy, p. 188. C. Jerdan, Pastures of Tender Grass, p. 104. W. Alexander, The Great Question, p. 257. H. D. Rawnsley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. 1899, p. 180. D. Fraser, Metaphors in the Gospels, p. 232. J. Service, Sermons, p. 48. XXIV. 29, 30. Bishop E. C. S. Gibson, The Old Testament in the New, p. 79.
The Cross Blazoned on the Skies
The Saviour declared that at the end of the present age, and on the verge of His Second Coming, a strange, mystic sign would appear upon the firmament.
What is that tremendous sign to be? I believe, with Dean Alford, that 'no sign completely answers the conditions but the Cross.
I. Consider: Him to Whom the Sign Appertains. He calls Himself 'the Son of Man'. He adopts a phrase of Daniel the Prophet and gives it a definite and rich signification. Who is this Son of Man? Evidently He stands in close relationship to humanity. He is human in His nature and experience and sympathy.
But does not the very term suggest that He was more than man? So unique a relation to humanity must imply Divinity. It is noteworthy that in this solemn discourse from which our text is taken, whilst He calls Himself the Son of Man He unequivocally calls Himself by names which none but a Divine Being dare apply to Himself.
II. Mark: The Wonderfulness of the Sign. The emblazoned Cross is the sign of human sin. Never will the tribes of the earth realize fully the horror of sin till 'shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven'.
The Cross burning on the forehead of the heavens is the sign of the guilt of sin.
The Cross ardent on those resplendent heights is the sign of full and complete atonement. Can we be surprised that the Cross has, therefore, always been the supreme symbol of the Christian religion?
The Cross kindled on the skies is the sign of character. The ideal of Christian excellence is in the Cross, which also supplies the motive for striving after the ideal and the power to achieve the ideal.
The Cross blazing in the skies is also the sign of the reward of the believer. Such as have trusted the Redeeming Cross will know assuredly then that they have not believed in vain.
III. Let us seek to appreciate the Momentousness of the Appearance of this Sign.
Note carefully the time-point of my text, 'And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven'. The appearance of the flaming Cross is to synchronize with astounding phenomena.
In the Cross of Christ I glory
Towering o'er the wrecks of time.
That is the proclamation of a literal circumstance, the Cross shall survive all things, even as (in God's gracious purpose) it did antedate all things. One wonders if the Cross will be a gospel to a world of sinners in that awful hour.
The Cross when it appears in heaven will give universal compunction. The Lord saith that 'than shall all the tribes of the earth mourn'.
When the Cross appears Jesus will speedily return as Lord. The 'sign' will, as Matthew Henry puts it, 'dash infidelity quite out of countenance'.
When the Cross appears the full salvation of believers shall be declared.
Finally: the Cross when it appears will reveal what shall be the glory of saints for ever. Dins-dale T. Young, The Travels of the Heart, p. 19.
References. XXIV. 30. Bishop E. C. S. Gibson, The Old Testament in the New, p. 95. J. B. Wilkinson, Plain Preaching for a Year, vol. i. p. 276. XXIV. 30, 31. F. E. Paget, Helps and Hindrances to the Christian Life, vol. i. p. 128. W. B. Trevelyan, Sermons for the People (2nd Series), vol. ii. p. 120. XXIV. 31. Bishop E. C. S. Gibson, The Old Testament in the New, p. 109.
The Prophet May
Transposing the words of an American preacher, we may say that what Isaiah is among the books of the Bible, that May is among the months of the year. When we come out on it from a cruel and lingering winter to behold the glory of the forest and the graze of flowers to mark the delicate beauty of
Primroses and daises bright,
And everything that loves the light
hope touches our hearts once more. If a hand lies fast in ours that threatened to slip, if we still find ourselves together on the narrow road that leads by the great precipice, it is with a graver and deeper joy that we turn over the Divine pages of the Book of the Prophet May.
I. May is very fitly the season in which Christian workers meet to review their labours. Some of them come to tell of reaping as well as sowing. They are happy because they have seen the promise of the kingdom, because they have felt the flush and warmth of the approaching summer. For those to whom they carried the message the accepted day has risen. The Divine Spirit, almost before their very eyes, has renewed the souls of men. Their hearts are open to the teaching of the companies of prophets on the hill-sides and in the fields. But others receive it unreadily. They have sown in a gusty day. The clouds have been low in the sky. Nothing is apparent, nothing can be put into speech or print which does not speak of going back. It seems to them as if all were to end in misery, vanity, and enfeeblement. God rebukes them by His May. There are long winters in grace, but the renewal never fails.
II. For the rest St. Paul urges them to be steadfast, to be always abounding in the work of the Lord, by turning their thoughts to the field of death. That above all others is in the charge of Christ. Yet of visible proof that it is so there is next to none. No missionary, however despondent, sees such irresponsiveness. But when the Hope of all the harvest fell into the ground and died, He knew what would come of it. He rose again, and thereby 'made the dying deathless'. St. Paul argues it out very calmly. What sense sees is to faith the seed changing. It is a redeemed thing as much as the soul that waits it in the cloister of the Church expectant.
Therefore, looking at the iron rigour that holds and has held so long the field which the Lord has blessed! be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, and trusting in His prophecy.
III. What is true on the great scale is equally true for the individual. Life in Christ is not history it is prophecy. If it were history it would be nothing, for what could the dim, vexed beginning of eternity count for when time was no more? But eternity is nothing but the unfolding and explaining of time. All that is not of Christ will pass; we go loosed from it as from our sins in the Blood of the Lamb. But how much remains! The companionship that made life a holy and happy thing was cut short just at the opening. The plans with which the eager heart teemed all came to nothing. What forces of thought and love we have seemed to spend in vain! Are there wounds that cannot be healed, losses that cannot be made good, griefs that cannot be forgotten? The answer is in the prophecy of May of everlasting spring and unwithering flowers.
W. Robertson Nicoll, Ten Minute Sermons, p. 59.
References. XXIV. 32. C. Silvester Home, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxix. 1906, p. 198. XXIV. 32, 33. D. Heagle, That Blessed Hope, p. 44. XXIV. 34-36. Bishop E. C. S. Gibson, The Old Testament in the New, p. 63. XXIV. 35. S. H. Kellogg, The Past a Prophecy of the Future, p. 237. H. P. Liddon, Sermons on Some Words of Christ, p. 1. C. Jerdan, Pastures of Tender Grass, p. 77. J. Orr, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 81. XXIV. 36. D. Heagle, That Blessed Hope, p. 44.
In his biography of William Morris, Mr. J. W. Mackail points out (II. pp. 144 f.) the poet's firm belief in a catastrophe impending over modern civilization, a sort of twilight of the gods, a dying before regeneration, a sudden and complete avalanche of barbarism leading to some re-birth of man. 'I have more faith,' said Morris once, 'than a grain of mustard seed in the future history of "civilization," which I know now is doomed to destruction, and probably before very long; what a joy it is to think of! and how often it consoles me to think of barbarism once more flooding the world, and real feelings and passions, however rudimentary, taking the place of our wretched hypocrisies. With this thought in my mind all the history of the past is lighted up and lives again to me. I used really to despair once because I thought what the idiots of our day call progress would go on perfecting itself; happily I know now that all that will have a sudden check sudden in appearance, I mean "as it was in the days of Noe".'
References. XXIV. 37. A. N. Obbard, Plain Sermons, p. 53. XXIV. 39. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiv. No. 823.
We are told that there shall be two in the field, that the one shall be taken and the other left. But we have yet to learn why, in our limited vision, the choice seems invariably to be mistaken. We have yet to learn why he who is doing good work is taken from the field, leaving there the man whose tastes are urban.
H. Seton Merriman.
I have read of a remarkable Welshman, of whom it was said, when the grave closed over him, that he could frame a harp and play it; build a ship and sail it; compose an ode and set it to music. A brave fellow, that son of Wales but I had once a brother who could do more and better than this, but the grave has closed over him, as over the gallant Welshman of yore; there are now but two that remember him the one who bore him, and the being who was nurtured at the same breast. He was taken, and I was left! Truly the ways of Providence are inscrutable.
Borrow in Lavengro.
References. XXIV. 40-42. 'Plain Sermons' by contributors to the Tracts for the Times, vol. iii. p. 49.
The art of life resembles the art of the wrestler rather than of the dancer, inasmuch as man must stand ready and steady to meet sudden and unlooked-for attacks.
References. XXIV. 42. E. Aldom French, God's Message Through Modern Doubt, p. 225. 'Plain Sermons' by contributors to the Tracts for the Times, vol. vii. p. 277. XXIV. 42-44. T. B. Dover, Some Quiet Lenten Thoughts, p. 87. XXIV. 42-51. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew XVIII.-XXVIII. p. 166. D. Fraser, Metaphors in the Gospels, p. 244. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlv. No. 2642. XXIV. 44. R. D. B. Rawnsley, Village Sermons (3rd Series), p. 1. W. Hay M. H. Aitken, Mission Sermons (2nd Series), p. 247. XXV. R. Winterbotham, The Kingdom of Heaven, p. 145.
The Substance of the Kingdom The Divine Nature
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Matthew 24". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany