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The Beatitudes Illustrated By Events in the Passion
1. Christ condemned. Pilate washes his hands and declares Christ innocent. 'Blessed are the pure in heart.'
2. Christ takes up the cross. 'Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake.'
3. Christ falls under the weight of the cross. 'Blessed are they that mourn.'
4. Christ meekly allows another to share His cross. 'Blessed are the meek.'
5. Christ comforts the women. 'Blessed are the merciful.'
6. Christ stripped of His garments. 'Blessed are the poor in Spirit.'
7. Christ nailed to the cross. Prays for His murderers to His Father. 'Blessed are the peacemakers.'
8. Christ dead upon the cross. His hunger and thirst after the perfect fulfilment of His Father's will satisfied. 'Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness.'
F. A. G. Eichbaum, Subjects for Courses of Sermons, p. 104.
References. V. C. Gore, Church Times, vol. xxxiii. 1895. p. 475. R. F. Horton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. 1898, p. 81. J. Brett, The Blessed Life, p. 74. V. 1. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year, vol. ii. (Sermon-Sketches), p. 9. A. B. Bruce, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxviii. 1890, p. 344. J. Stafford Northcote, ibid. vol. xl. 1891, p. 317. C. Brown, ibid. vol. lxxiv. 1908, p. 137.
A Message to the Church
I. The Sermon on the Mount was spoken to the Disciples, to the Church. It has been so truly said, the Sermon on the Mount was spoken in the ear of the Church but was overheard by the world. The Sermon on the Mount was not, then, primarily spoken to the world at all. Again and again it is true that the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount is beyond those who belong to the kingdom of this world. Our Lord's teaching with regard to forgiveness or resisting evil, or with regard to the simplicity of faith, all these things are confessedly beyond those who belong to the kingdom of the world. But these things are spoken to those who are members of the Body of Christ, in grace, living and walking in the Spirit. When you are dealing with the world at large, then again it may be necessary to make concessions as Moses had to do. It becomes difficult when you speak not only of the State but of the Christian State; the State cannot require the same standard from its members that the Church can and does require from its members. The Sermon on the Mount, let us remember, was spoken to the Church. It was not so impracticable as it seems, because we work not on the scale of time, but on the scale of eternity. No doubt it is true that if the few and evil years of this life were all that you and I had to reckon upon, it would be frankly absurd to set before us such a standard as that in the Sermon on the Mount. Do you not feel and understand how that the Sermon on the Mount does correspond with your own immortality? It is not only here that we progress and grow; there is a Paradise, a heaven beyond, and depend upon it Paradise will be a busy place indeed; there they rest from their labours, but there there will be work, if we may say so, without toil and weariness; surely it is unthinkable that it is only here, where we are so sorely let and hindered, that spiritual growth and progress are possible. It is the very exaltation of the standard of the Sermon on the Mount that speaks to us of our own immortality.
II. Let us also Remember that we are not left to Ourselves. When you are aiming at holiness you are working in accordance with the will of God; 'this is the will of God, even your sanctification '; and surely it is true that when you are working in accordance with the will of God ultimate failure is unthinkable. Depend upon it, God is not an austere man, an unfair man, gathering where He has not strewed and reaping where He has not sowed. The first thing a preacher has to do is to attack that lie in men's hearts that God deals with us unfairly, to speak to men of the love of God manifest in the way of the world and in life, but above all manifest in Jesus Christ. To preach the love of God, that is how men are brought to repentance. It is the goodness of God that brings men to repentance. The punishment of sin is not an article of Christian faith; we do not say in the Creed, 'I believe in the punishment of sin '; we do say that wonderful thing, 'I believe in the forgiveness of sin'. But why do we not say, 'I believe in the punishment of sin'? Because it is a fact of experience; you do not make that an article of faith which is an act of experience. It is the goodness of God that brings men to repentance.
III. And then there is Power. We have to preach that which St. Paul was expressing when he said, 'I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation'. The Gospel is not only good advice and a message of pardon for the past, but it is the coming into men's lives of a real power, so that they are able to be what in their best moments they desire, what yesterday seemed beyond all hope and imagination. That is what happens that is what one has seen for years happening in men's lives again and again. And so I say the Sermon on the Mount is not so impracticable as it seems, because we are not left to ourselves. 'This is the will of God, even your sanctification.'
IV. What Kind of Perfection is it to which we are Called? 'Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,' or as St. Luke-gives it in the parallel passage, 'Be ye therefore merciful, even as your Father in heaven is merciful'. And so we are not all to be perfect in wisdom or to be perfect in power; that no doubt is beyond us limitation in such respects is of the very essence of our nature; but we are called to be merciful even as God is merciful; to be easy to be entreated, to be compassionate; that ought not surely to be beyond us. True it is, indeed, that we have not yet attained; nothing is more strange in this strange and perplexing world than the hard measure which again and again we sinners deal out to one another. But in proportion as you draw near to Jesus Christ, Who was the Friend of sinners, so will you be merciful. It is not to be perfect in wisdom or in power that is indeed beyond us; but you are called to be compassionate, to be easy to be entreated, to be merciful as God Himself is merciful.
Let us remember that it is not as impossible as it seems because we work not on the scale of time but on the scale of eternity; not so impossible as it seems because when we aim at it we are working in accordance with the will of God, and when you are doing that ultimate failure is unthinkable.
In a letter to the Westminster Gazette (7 June, 1904), an Old Liberal declares that he can reproduce with absolute fidelity the purport and spirit of some words in a great speech of John Bright at the unveiling of Cobden's statue in the Bradford Exchange. 'I remember,' said the orator, 'on the morning of my dear friend's funeral, I was standing beside his coffin, looking at that which contained all that was mortal of the man I had known so long. His daughter, who was in the room with me, said, "My dear father was always very fond of the Sermon on the Mount".' And then Bright's voice swelled and grew in depth and volume as it was wont to do when he was deeply moved, and he went on, 'And I think that my friend's whole life was a sermon upon that highest and holiest of all texts'. He repeated, as only he could have done, the blessings uttered by the Divine lips upon the poor, the mourners, the meek, the hungerers after righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, and the peacemakers; and then, in his own severely simple words, summed up the labours of Cobden and his associates in a single phrase, 'We tried to put Holy Writ to an Act of Parliament'.
References. V. 1, 2. G. Jackson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lv. 1899, p. 245. J. R. Cohu, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 1. V. 1-3. C. J. Ridgeway, The Mountain of Blessedness, p. 1. A. G. Mortimer, One Hundred Miniature Sermons, vol. ii. p. 280. T. K. Cheyne, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. 1893, p. 376. C. A. Thomson, ibid. vol. lv. 1899, p. 202. V. 1-12. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xliii. No. 2508. V. 1-13. Henry Wace, Some Central Points of Our Lord's Ministry, p. 193.
There are no real pleasures without real needs.
No list of circumstances will ever make a paradise.
In the ninth chapter of the second book of Sartor Resartus, Carlyle distinguishes happiness and blessedness as follows: 'I asked myself: What is this that, ever since earliest years, thou hast been fretting and fuming, and lamenting and self-tormenting, on account of? Say it in a word: Is it not because thou art not happy? Because the thou (sweet gentleman) is not sufficiently honoured, nourished, soft-bedded, and lovingly cared for? Foolish soul! what Act of Legislature was there that thou shouldst be Happy?... There is in man a higher than Love of Happiness: he can do without Happiness, and instead thereof find Blessedness! Was it not to preach forth this same higher that sages and martyrs, the Poet and the Priest, in all times, have spoken and suffered; bearing testimony, through life and through death, of the Godlike that is in Man, and how in the Godlike only he has Strength and Freedom? Which God-inspired Doctrine art thou also honoured to be taught; O Heavens! and broken with manifold merciful Afflictions, even till thou become contrite and learn it!'
References. V. 2, 3. E. M. Goulburn, Three Counsels of the Divine Master, vol. i. p. 104. F. H. Dudden, Church Times, vol. lvi. 1906, p. 571. V. 2-4. E. H. Rogers, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xl. 1891, p. 332. V. 2, 3, 5. George Macdonald, ibid. vol. xlii. 1892, p. 36. V. 2-9. A. J. Parry, Phases of Christian Truth, p. 209.
The First Beatitude
I. The Old Testament is full of descriptions of the spirit of the world, the spirit of selfish wealth with its attendant cruelty: and by contrast to this are descriptions of the oppressed poor who are the friends of God. Our Lord took up all this language upon His own lips when, as St. Luke records, He turned to His disciples and said, 'Blessed are ye poor... woe unto you that are rich'. But all the actually poor are not the disciples of Christ. So our Lord has, as recorded by St. Matthew, gone beneath the surface and based His kingdom, the character of His citizens, not upon actual poverty, but upon detachment The world says, 'Get all you can, and keep it'. Christ says, 'Blessed are those who at least in heart and will have nothing'.
II. Christ was detached. The Incarnation was a self-emptying. Then when He had been born a man He set the example of clinging to nothing external. He abandoned ease, popularity, the favour of the great, even the sympathy of His friends, even, last and greatest of all, on the cross, the consolation of the Divine presence. He became utterly naked, poorer than the poorest; therefore in a supreme sense 'His was the kingdom of heaven'. So we, like Him, are to be ready to surrender, ready to give up; and in proportion to this detachment, in proportion as we do really in will adore the sovereignty of God, and are ready to receive and to give up according to His will, in that proportion are all the hindrances removed by which the royalty of His kingdom is prevented from entering into our hearts and lives.
III. The splendid promise attached to this beatitude brings it into contrast with an old Jewish saying which has many parallels: 'Ever be more and more lowly in spirit, for the prospect of man is to become the food of worms'. The motive to humility which our Lord suggests is very different.
Bishop Gore, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 23.
Poverty of Spirit the Other Side of Greatness
I. It seems to me that this foundation beatitude, on which all the other beatitudes are built up, sets forth a universal law of human life, that it describes the attitude of mind characteristic of the wisest, strongest, best of the human family. The greater a man is in any walk of life the wider his vision, and the keener his insight the greater is his poverty of spirit in the presence of the perfection he has seen.
1. The thesis may be worked out in detail. Take the man of science in the presence of the majesty of nature.
Look at the same thing from the point of view of art.
2. The presence of poverty of spirit is still more manifest in the moral sphere. Here, too, the contrast between the ideal and the real, between what ought to be and what is, is still more striking. To have seen the ideal of conduct, to have recognized its binding force, and to feel that one has acted contrary to its plain behests, is the form which poverty of spirit takes in the presence of the ideal of moral goodness somehow revealed to us.
3. But the feeling of poverty of spirit is most conspicuous in the religious sphere. If we follow the experience recorded in the Scriptures, we shall find that the deepest form of poverty of spirit is found whenever men obtained the vision of God.
II. Let us try now to see the connexion between the feeling of poverty of spirit and the blessedness of the possession of the kingdom of heaven.
If a man is without the kingdom of heaven, he is in no way concerned with the thought of it. If he is concerned with it, he is already within it.
But the vision of God begets poverty of spirit; indeed, the trueness of the vision is measured by the consequent poverty of spirit. This is the note that seals the possession of the kingdom of heaven. In fact, this is the keynote of all our Lord's teaching. It is the note of His own life. At every fresh departure in His work He spent the night in prayer and fellowship with the Father, and whenever He needed wisdom and power for His lifework He sought these from the Father. Thus in virtue of His poverty of spirit He was in possession of the kingdom of heaven.
J. Iverach, The Other Side of Greatness, p. 1.
Poverty in any shape helps to stir in man a sense of need, a disposition to consider himself as dependent.... The real puzzle of life consists not in the fact of widespread poverty but in that of widespread affluence; in the fact that so many are sufficiently endowed with 'goods' as to believe they can live by them, and so cease to look for their true life to God their Father.
References. V. 3. J. Brett, The Blessed Life, p. 7. J. Iverach, The Other Side of Greatness, p. 1. J. R. Cohu, The Sermon on the Mount, pp. 23, 54. W. J. Woods, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxviii. p. 3. J. Stalker, ibid. vol. lvi. 1899, p. 379. W. M. Sinclair, Simplicity in Christ, p. 113. E. Lyttelton, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, p. 50. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon-Sketches, p. 42. C. J. Ridgeway, The Mountain of Blessedness, p. 12. A. W. Potts, School Sermons, p. 64. Henry Wace, Christianity and Morality, p. 17. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew I.-VIII. p. 108. W. Sanday, The Anglican Pulpit of Today, p. 334. F. Temple, ibid. p. 83. W. Boyd Carpenter, The Great Charter of Christ, p. 83. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year, vol. ii. ( Sermon-Sketches ), p. 12. B. F. Westcott, Social Aspects of Christianity, p. 101. J. Oswald Dykes, The Manifesto of the King, p. 27. Parker, The Inner Life of Christ, vol. i. p. 149. Davidson, Lectures and Sermons, p. 551. Parry, Phases of Christian Truth, p. 209. Jenkins, Eternal Life, p. 258. Magee, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ii. p. 353 (1872). Expositor (1st Series), vol. i. pp. 70, 128, and 196. A. M. Fairbairn, ibid. vol. viii. p. 188. Bradley, Christian World Pulpit, 29 June, 1881. C. Morris, Preacher's Lantern, vol. iii. p. 503. A. B. Bruce, The Galilean Gospel, p. 39. Goodwin's Works, vol. viii. p. 220. Parker, A Homiletic Analysis of the New Testament, vol. i. p. 52. See Prof. Tholuck, Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount. V. 3, 4. Archbishop Lang, Church Times, vol. lvii. 1907, p. 219. V. 3-5. C. J. Vaughan, Characteristics of Christ's Teaching, p. 1. T. D. Barlow, Rays from the Sun of Righteousness, p. 130. V. 3-12. W. Boyd Carpenter, The Great Charter of Christ, p. 101. V. 3-16. J. Elder Cumming, The Blessed Life, p. 11.
The Second Beatitude
The world says 'Get as much pleasure as you can out of life; suck it in wherever you can; and hug yourself as close as you can from all that disquiets you or makes you uncomfortable; in a word, get as much pleasure and avoid as much pain as by intelligence and forethought you can possibly do'. In startling opposition to this maxim of the world, our Lord puts His maxim, 'Blessed are they that mourn'. I. What does that mean? Briefly: there are two chief kinds of mourning into which it is the duty of every true servant of our Lord to enter the mourning for sin and the mourning for pain.
1. We must mourn for sin, for we are sinners.
2. The mourning of sympathy with others' pain. There are moments when a Christian may legitimately, like His Lord, in the garden of Gethsemane, be engrossed in the bearing of 'his own burden'. But in the main a Christian ought, like his Lord, or like St. Paul, to have his own burden so well in hand, that he is able to leave the large spaces of his heart for other people to lay their sorrows upon.
II. And in proportion to the fullness with which you enter into penitence for sin and into sympathy for the sufferings of men, you shall get, not the miserable laughter of forgetfulness, which lasts but for a moment, but the comfort (or encouragement) of God.
III. There is a false as well as a true mourning. It is possible to be discontented with the world but to lack the courage of faith which makes our discontent fruitful of reform. We are discontented; but our discontent is pride, not the humility of true sorrow. It will not be comforted, it will not thankfully take the Divine offer of absolution. The 'woman that was a sinner' made no delay in believing herself forgiven, but set to work at once to show the love which springs of gratitude in the heart of those who accept their release.
Bishop Gore, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 27.
We reach happiness only through tears. True bliss does not consist in the absence of tears but in the presence of consolation, and real misery is not so much to weep as to weep without being consoled. If Christianity accords moments to sorrow, it devotes our whole life to joy.
References. V. 4. J. Brett, The Blessed Life, p. 35. W. J. Woods, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxviii. 1890, p. 95. W. Wynn, ibid. vol. xxxix. 1891, p. 179. George Macdonald, ibid. vol. xlii. 1892, p. 47. F. W. Farrar, ibid. vol. xlvii. 1895, p. 33. W. M. Sinclair, Simplicity in Christ, p. 139. J. Wright, The Guarded Gate, p. 29. J. Oswald Dykes, The Manifesto of the King, p. 45. E. Lyttelton, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, p. 24. C. J. Ridgeway, The Mountain of Blessedness, p. 57. J. R. Cohu, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 65. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew I.-VIII. p. 117. E. M. Goulburn, Three Counsels of the Divine Master, vol. i. p. 118.
The Third Beatitude
I. The world says 'Stand up for your rights; make the most of yourself; don't let any man put upon you'. And so we are always standing on our dignity, always thinking ourselves insulted or imposed upon. 'Blessed are the meek,' our Lord says. The meek that is manifestly those who are ready to be put upon as far as they themselves are concerned. This is the character of our Lord, Who, 'when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously'.
II. Of course, from another point of view, we may be quite bound from time to time to assert ourselves. We may have to assert ourselves for the sake of the moral order of the Church and of the world. But no one gets true peace, or has really got to the foundation of things, until, as far as his own dignity is concerned, he is in a position to say, You can wrong God and you can wrong society; and it may be my duty to stand up for God and for society; but me, as far as I am concerned, you cannot provoke. This is the ideal to which we have to attain.
III. And the result of this entire absence of self-assertion is that we can make no claim on the world which God will not at the last substantiate. 'Blessed are the meek' our Lord is here quoting the Psalm ' for they shall inherit the earth'. What is an heir? An heir is a person who enters into rightful possession. Now, if we go about the world making claims on society which God does not authorize, refusing to bear what God will have us bear, the day will come when the true Master appears, and we shall be exposed to shame. But the meek, who have committed themselves to Him that judgeth righteously, have nothing to fear. 'Friend, come up higher,' is all that is before them. They will simply, in steady and royal advance, enter into the full heritage of that which men kept back from them, but God has in store for them.
Bishop Gore, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 32.
The history of the world confirms the prophecy that the meek shall inherit the earth. A nation that sells its birthright of peace, and backslides from the front rank of industrialism into the file of filibusterism, makes a poor bargain indeed.
From Prof. Nitobe's, Bushido, pp. 186, 187.
When have we ever before held such a clew to the meaning of Christ's Sermon on the Mount? 'Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.' In the cruel strife of centuries has it not often seemed as if the earth were to be rather the prize of the hardest heart and the strongest fist? To many men these words of Christ have been as foolishness and as a stumbling-block, and the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount have been openly derided as too good for this world.... It is none the less true that when once the degree of civilization is such as to allow this highest type of character, distinguished by its meekness and kindness, to take root and thrive, its methods are incomparable in their potency. Fiske, Man's Destiny, chap. xv.
Could the world unite in the practice of that despised train of virtues, which the Divine ethics of our Saviour hath so inculcated upon us, the furious face of things must disappear; Eden would be yet to be found, and the angels might look down, not with pity, but joy upon us.
Sir Thomas Browne, Christian Morals.
The declaration of our Saviour that the meek shall inherit the earth may be understood, I think, as verified in the very nature and attributes of meekness. The dross of the earth the meek do not inherit; but all the true enjoyments, the wisdom, love, peace, and independence, which earth can bestow, are assured to the meek as inherent in their meekness.
Sir Henry Taylor.
Say what you will of Pietism, no one can deny the sterling worth of the characters which it formed. It gave to them the highest thing that man can possess that peace, that cheerful spirit, that inner harmony with self which can be disturbed by no passion. No pressure of circumstances or persecution of men could make them discontented, no rivalry could provoke them to anger and bitterness. Even the casual observer was touched with an involuntary feeling of respect before such men. I yet remember what happened on one occasion when difficulties arose between the strap-makers and the saddlers in regard to their respective rights. My father's interests were seriously affected; yet even in conversation the difference was discussed by my parents with such tolerance and indulgence towards the opposite party, and with such a fixed trust in Providence, that, boy as I then was, the memory of it will never leave me.
Describing the character of Mr. Robert Cunningham, minister of Holywood in Ireland during the early part of the seventeenth century, Livingstone declares that 'he was the one man to my discerning, of all that ever I saw, who resembled most the meekness of Jesus Christ in his whole carriage, and was so far reverenced by all, even the most wicked, that he was oft troubled with that Scripture, "Woe to you when all men speak well of you! "'
References. V. 5. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew I.-VIII. p. 126. J. Brett, The Blessed Life, p. 22. W. J. Woods, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxviii. 1890, p. 134. W. M. Sinclair, Simplicity in Christ, p. 163. E. M. Goulburn, Three Counsels of the Divine Master, vol. i. p. 133. S. A. Tipple, Sunday Mornings at Norwood, p. 65. J. Oswald Dykes, The Manifesto of the King, p. 61. E. Lyttelton, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, p. 66. C. J. Ridgeway, The Mountain of Blessedness, p. 34. J. R. Cohu, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 74.
The Fourth Beatitude
I. The citizens of the new kingdom 'hunger and thirst after righteousness'. Everyone knows what appetite is, what hunger and thirst mean. It is a strong craving, a craving which must be satisfied, or we perish. You cannot forget that you are hungry or thirsty. And in human pursuits we again and again see what is like hunger and thirst. Righteousness, or rather the righteousness, that character which God has marked out for us, the character of Christ blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after it.
II. We so often feel hopeless about getting over our faults. Let us hunger and thirst after righteousness, and we shall be filled. As our Lord saw of the travail of His soul and was satisfied, so, depend upon it, shall we If you only seriously want to be good, your progress may be slow, but at the last you will be good. Christ is pledged to satisfy, if only you will go on wanting. There is not in the pursuit of goodness any failure except in ceasing to hunger and thirst that is, in ceasing to want, to pray, to try.
III. Do you want righteousness seriously, deliberately? Then you can have it, and not for yourself only, but for the world. 'Till righteousness turn again unto judgment, all such as are true in heart shall follow it.' It is pledged to us. The day will come when the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of righteousness and meekness and truth, shall be an established and a visible fact. Blessed are they that here and now hunger and thirst after righteousness in themselves and in the world: for they shall be filled. Bishop Gore, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 34.
Grace is a nourishment, and the richness of its sustaining quality is determined by one thing alone the genuineness of our desire.
References. V. 6. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxv. No. 2103. G. Salmon, Gnosticism and Agnosticism, p. 124. C. J. Vaughan, Characteristics of Christ's Teaching, p. 18. C. G. Finney, Sermons on Gospel Themes, p. 398. W. J. Woods, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxviii. 1890, p. 228. Canon Duckworth, ibid. vol. xlii. 1892, p. 303. W. M. Sinclair, Simplicity in Christ, p. 189. J. S. Swan, Short Sermons, p. 48. J. Oswald Dykes, The Manifesto of the King, p. 81. E. Lyttelton, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, p. 75. C. J. Ridgeway, The Mountain of Blessedness, p. 47. J. R. Cohu, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 81. J. K. Popham, Sermons, p. 1. E. M. Goulburn, Three Counsels of the Divine Master, p. 144. J. Brett, The Blessed Life, p. 47. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew I.-VIII. p. 135. V. 6-8. T. Disney Barlow, Rays from the Sun of Righteousness, p. 148.
The Fifth Beatitude
Of course wherever human misery is, there is also human pity. But, apart from Christ, it was not thought of as a motive force, to be used in redeeming others' lives and in enriching our own.
I. For the disciple of Christ pity is a motive to vigorous action. God in Christ declares His 'power most chiefly in showing mercy and pity'. Powerful pity is pity which passes from emotion into practical and redemptive action. Of such pity only does Christ say 'Blessed are the merciful or pitiful'. Compassion which does nothing is in the New Testament regarded as a form of pernicious hypocrisy.
II. And the merciful shall obtain mercy. Here we get a great law of the Divine dealing. God deals with us as we deal with our fellow-men. Do we want to know how our Lord will regard us at the last day? We can find the answer by considering how our face looks, not in mere passing emotion, but in its serious and deliberate aspect, towards our fellow-men.
III. The same law is observable in the treatment we receive at men's hands. On the whole we can determine men's attitude to us by our attitude to them. Almost all men have their best selves drawn out towards a really compassionate life. 'Perchance for a good man one who is not only just, but good some would even dare to die.' 'Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.'
Bishop Gore, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 36.
You will find, alike through the record of the Law and the promises of the Gospel, that there is, indeed, forgiveness with God and Christ for the passing sin of the hot heart, but none for the eternal and inherent sin of the cold. 'Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy;' find it you written anywhere that the unmerciful shall?'
Ruskin, Fors Clavigera, XLII.
References. V. 7. J. Brett, The Blessed Life, p. 60. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew I.-VIII. p. 143. C. J. Ridgeway, The Mountain of Blessedness, p. 60. W. J. Woods, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxviii. 1890, p. 310. W. M. Sinclair, Simplicity in Christ, p. 213. E. M. Goulburn, Three Counsels of the Divine Master, vol. i. p. 158. Stopford A. Brooke, Short Sermons, pp. 208, 214. E. Lyttelton, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, p. 81. J. Oswald Dykes, The Manifesto of the King, p. 101. J. R. Cohu, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 89. C. J. Vaughan, Characteristics of Christ's Teaching, p. 34. V. 7, 10, 11, 12. George Macdonald, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlii. 1892, p. 79.
I. There is such a thing, according to the Holy Scriptures, as heart purity; that is to say, there is such a thing as a state of the human heart, in which the man, the genuine man, the person of the present day and of modern circumstances, entirely loves the will of God, and entirely seeks to do it. There is such a thing as will, mind, and affection, united, not divided, against the tempter and for the will of God.
II. But how shall this thing be? Can I answer better than in the words of our Lord, spoken on an occasion close to the purpose of our present thoughts? 'Who then can be saved?' cried the amazed Apostles. Who then can be saved, deep and at the centre, from the love and from the power of sin? ' The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.'
It is a question of a miracle; the requisite is this action of none less than a Divine Person. We can, in the grace and mercy of God, put ourselves in the way of the action, even as helpless sufferers of old, the blind, the halt, the palsied, the bleeding, put themselves in the way of the Man of Nazareth. The secret is the Wonder-Worker Himself, trusted, welcomed in, summoned by the soul, to be the conquering and liberating Presence in its great need, and in its depths.
III. We shall never do it for ourselves. At the centre of things, man is powerless to be his own transfigurer; he can as soon run, he can as soon soar, from his own shadow. But his Maker and his Redeemer, as man yields himself to God, can lift him from that shadow into light, and set him free indeed.
Bishop H. C. G. Moule, The Secret of the Presence, p. 218.
The Sixth Beatitude
I. If we are to take part in the kingdom, there must be singleness of purpose. Purity of heart is, of course, continually taken in its narrower meaning of absence of sensual defilement and pollution. That is an important part of purity; and may I say a word about the pursuit of purity in this narrower sense? A great many people are distressed by impure temptations, and they very frequently fail to make progress with them for one reason, namely, that while they are anxious to get rid of sin in this one respect, they are not trying after goodness as a whole. For the way to get over uncleanness is, in innumerable cases, not to fight against that only, but to contend for positive holiness all round, for Christlikeness, for purity of heart in the sense in which Christ used the expression, in the sense in which in the 51st Psalm a clean heart is coupled with a 'right spirit' that is, a will set straight towards God, or simplicity of purpose. Our Lord means 'Blessed are the single-minded,' for they, though as yet they may be far from seeing God, though as yet they may not believe a single article of the Christian Creed, yet at last shall attain the perfect vision; yes, as surely as God is true, they shall be satisfied in their every capacity for truth and beauty and goodness; they shall behold.
II. Any measure of true spiritual illumination, like that of Job when the Lord had answered his questionings, may be described as 'seeing God'; and in this sense to see God is a necessary preliminary to repentance, and is requisite for spiritual endurance. But in its full sense it is incompatible with any remaining dissatisfaction; it is the final goal of human efforts, the reward of those who here are content to 'walk by faith, not by sight,' and it includes in perfection what in a measure all discovery after search includes satisfaction for the intellect, and full attainment for the will, and the ecstasy of the heart, in God as He is.
Bishop Gore, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 40.
'Hold off from sensuality,' says Cicero, 'for if you have given yourself up to it, you will find yourself unable to think of anything else.' That is morality. 'Blessed are the pure in heart,' says Jesus Christ; 'for they shall see God.' That is religion.
As I myself look at it, there is no fault nor folly of my life and both have been many and great that does not rise up against me, and take away my joy, and shorten my power of possession, of sight, of understanding. And every past effort of my life, every gleam of lightness or good in it, is with me now, to help me in my grasp of this heart, and its vision.
'Intuition,' said Amiel, 'is the recompense of inward purity.'
The remark has often been made that the preeminent, the winning, the irresistible Christian virtues, were charity and chastity. Perhaps the chastity was an even more winning virtue than the charity; it offered to the Pagan world, at any rate, relief from a more oppressive, a more consuming, a more intolerable bondage. Chief among the beatitudes, shone, no doubt, this pair: Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, and Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God; and of these two, the second blessing may have brought even the greater boon.... Perhaps there is no doctrine of Christianity which is exposed to more trial amongst us now, certainly there is none which will be exposed, so far as from present appearances one can judge, to more trial in the immediate future, than this.
Matthew Arnold, A Comment on Christmas.
'Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.' Blessed are those who have preserved internal sanctity of soul; who are conscious of no secret deceit; who are the same in act as they are in desire; who conceal no thought, no tendencies of thought, from their own conscience; who are faithful and sincere witnesses, before the tribunal of their own judgment, of all that passes within their mind. Such as these shall see God. What! after death, shall their awakened eyes behold the King of heaven? Shall they stand in awe before the golden throne on which He sits, and gaze upon the venerable countenance of the paternal Monarch? Is this the reward of the virtuous and the pure? These are the idle dreams of the visionary, or the pernicious representation of impostors, who have fabricated from the very materials of wisdom a cloak for their own dwarfish or imbecile conception.
Jesus Christ has said no more than the most excellent philosophers have felt and expressed that virtue is its own reward. It is true that such an expression as He has used was prompted by the energy of genius, and was the overflowing enthusiasm of a poet; but it is not the less literally true [because] clearly repugnant to the mistaken conception of the multitude.... That those who are pure in heart shall see God, and that virtue is its own reward, may be considered an equivalent assertion. The former of these propositions is a metaphorical repetition of the latter. The advocates of literal interpretation have been the most efficacious enemies of those doctrines whose nature they profess to venerate.
Shelley, Essay on Christianity.
References. V. 8. J. Oswald Dykes, The Manifesto of the King, p. 119. E. M. Goulburn, Three Counsels of the Divine Master, vol. i. p. 169. G. Salmon, Gnosticism and Agnosticism, p. 53. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, The School of Christ, p. 114. C. J. Vaughan, Characteristics of Christ's Teaching, p. 53. J. B. Lightfoot, Cambridge Sermons, p. 34; see also Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. 1893, p. 309. C. J. Ridgeway, The Mountain of Blessedness, p. 72. E. L. Hull, Sermons, p. 145. W. C. Magee, Christ the Light of all Scripture, p. 105. Stopford A. Brooke, Short Sermons, pp. 256, 263. E. Lyttelton, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, p. 86. J. R. Cohu, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 98. J. S. Swan, Short Sermons, p. 95. B. F. Westcott, The Revelation of the Risen Lord, p. 96. T. F. Lockyer, The Inspirations of the Christian Life, p. 144. J. Guinness Rogers, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxviii. 1890, p. 337. W. J. Woods, ibid. vol. xxxviii. 1890, p. 418. C. A. Vince, ibid. vol. xxxix. 1891, p. 12. E. H. Eland, ibid. vol. lix. 1901, p. 342. W. T. Davison, ibid. vol. lxvi. 1904, p. 337. Bishop E. King, Church Times, vol. lvi. 1906, p. 531. Walter C. Smith, Sermons, p. 50. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew I.-VIII. p. 153. V. 8, 6, 9. George Macdonald, ibid. vol. xlii. 1892, p. 61.
The Seventh Beatitude
I. Christ is the Prince of Peace. He brings about peace among men, breaking down all middle walls of partition between classes and races and individuals, by making them first of all at peace with God atonement among men by way of atonement with God. This is the only secure basis of peace. There are many kinds of false and superficial peace, which the Prince of Peace only comes to break up. 'I came not to send peace on earth, but a sword.' Peace can never be purchased in God's way by the sacrifice of truth. But peace in the truth we, like our Master, must be for ever pursuing.
II. Do we habitually remember how it offends our Lord to see divisions in the Christian Church, nations nominally Christian armed to the teeth against one another, class against class and individual against individual in fierce and relentless competition, jealousies among clergy and church workers, communicants who forget that the sacrament of union with Christ is the sacrament of union also with their fellow-men?
III. Christians are to be makers of Christ's peace. Something we can all do to reconcile individuals, families, classes, churches, nations. The question is, are we, as churchmen and citizens, by work and by prayer, in our private conduct and our public action, doing our utmost with deliberate, calculated, unsparing effort? If so our benediction is the highest: it is to be, and to be acknowledged as being, sons of God.
Bishop Gore, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 42.
'The Lord,' said Dr. A. A. Bonar, 'does not use me, like His servant, Dr. Chalmers, for great things, but my way of serving the Lord is walking three or four miles to quiet a family dispute.'
Just before his death, Cobden and a friend were walking through St. Paul's Cathedral, when the latter observed that perhaps the name of Cobden one day might be ranked among those heroes. 'I hope not' Cobden said, 'I hope not. My spirit could not rest in peace among these men of war.'
He was an happy reconciler of many differences in the families of his friends and kindred which he never undertook faintly; for such undertakings have usually faint effects and they had such faith in his judgment and impartiality, that he never advised them to anything in vain.
Izaak Walton, Life of Dr. Donne.
Compare Sir Philip Warwick's account of Hampden's conduct in a Parliamentary debate. 'We had catched at each other's locks, and sheathed our swords in each other's bowels, had not the sagacity and great; calmness of Mr. Hampden, by a short speech, prevented it, and led us to defer our angry debate until the next morning.'
'This great gift also,' says Augustine, 'hadst Thou bestowed on Thy good servant, in whose womb Thou, did'st create me, O my God, my Mercy: wherever she could, she showed herself such a peacemaker between factious and quarrelsome people, that, although she listened to many a bitter word from both sides, such as swelling anger pours forth against an absent enemy in the presence of a friend who has to listen to sharp angry talk, she never would repeat to one what another said, unless it were something which might tend to reconcile them.'
References. V. 9. J. R. Cohu, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 109. J. Oswald Dykes, The Manifesto of the King, p. 139. E. Lyttelton, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, p. 92. W. G. Rutherford, The Key of Knowledge, p. 171. C. J. Vaughan, Characteristics of Christ's Teaching, p. 71. E. M. Goulburn, Three Counsels of the Divine Master, vol. i. p. 184. C. J. Ridgeway, The Mountain of Blessedness, p. 84. W. J. Woods, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxix. 1891, p. 108. H. Price Hughes, ibid. vol. xliv. 1893, p. 381. G. Body, ibid. vol. liii. 1898, p. 220. H. A. Thomas, ibid. vol. lv. 1899, p. 348. H. Hensley Henson, ibid. vol. lxi. 1902, p. 372. H. D. Rawnsley, ibid. vol. lxiii. 1903, p. 125. F. B. F. Campbell, ibid. vol. lxvi. 1904, p. 199. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vii. No. 422. J. Brett, The Blessed Life, p. 87. F. Lewis Donaldson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxiv. 1908, p. 185. A. Maclaren, Expositions, of Holy Scripture St. Matthew I.-VIII. p. 161. V. 9, 10. T. D. Barlow, Rays from the Sun of Righteousness, p. 172.
When St. Francis de Sales was asked which of the beatitudes he preferred, he chose this one, giving it as his reason: 'Because their life is hid with Christ in God, and they are conformed to His image and likeness inasmuch as all through His earthly life He was persecuted for that very righteousness' sake which He came to fulfil'.
References. V. 10. C. J. Ridgeway, The Mountain of Blessedness, p. 95. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew I.-VIII. p. 171. J. Brett, The Blessed Life, p. 103. E. Lyttelton, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, p. 98. E. M. Goulburn, Three Counsels of the Divine Master, vol. i. p. 199. V. 10-12. J. Oswald Dykes, The Manifesto of the King, p. 161. W. J. Woods, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxix. 1891, p. 166. J. R. Cohu, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 120. C. J. Vaughan, Characteristics of Christ's Teaching, p. 88. W. M. Sinclair, Simplicity in Christ, p. 239.
When immortal Bunyan makes his picture of the persecuting passions bringing in their verdict of guilty, who pities Faithful? That is a rare and blessed lot, which some greatest men have not attained, to know ourselves guiltless before a condemning crowd to be sure that what we are denounced for is solely the good in us. The pitiable lot is that of the man who could not call himself a martyr even though he were to persuade himself that the men who stoned him were but ugly passions incarnate who knows that he is stoned, not for professing the Right, but for not being the man he professed to be.
George Eliot in Middlemarch.
References. V. 11. J. R. Cohu, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 45. S. Martin, Rain Upon the Mown Grass, p. 295. F. D. Maurice, The Prayer Book and the Lord's Prayer, p. 331. V. 11, 12. J. Guinness Rogers, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. 1893, p. 339. E. Lyttelton, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, p. 106. V. 12. C. E. Jefferson, The Character of Jesus, p. 243.
Salt Without Savour
I. Each of the three leading words of this short sentence, 'Ye are the salt of the earth,' appears to have a significance of its own.
1. Ye, 'you living men and women'. This was one meaning of the Incarnation, that the unseen God should be revealed by and through the 'man Christ Jesus '. Christ Himself must be chiefly known not through His words or even His personal example but through the men and women who are the living embodiments of His spirit.
2. Ye are the salt. When our Lord calls His disciples 'those who profess and call themselves Christians' the salt of the earth, He is implicitly warning us against a vulgar error the error of estimating, or trying to estimate, the real influence of any movement by the simple process of counting heads. The fact is that, from some points of view, it is not so much the quantity of Christians that matters, as the quality, and the failure in the latter respect is often far more grievous than in the former. There was once a city which might have been saved by 'ten righteous' if only they could have been found.
3. 'Ye are the salt of the earth;' of the earth not of heaven. True it is, to earth that we belong to earth and even though our spirits soar beyond the stars, on earth our feet are set. Let us never be tempted by any superfine religion to try and forget or ignore this fact. The 'good Church-people' are not merely the communicants, but those who carry with them into business and politics, into society in general, whether in the west or the east, the salt of a higher honour, justice, purity, usefulness.
II. 'Ye are the salt of the earth.' Salt has, we might say, two special functions of its own. In the first place it is a preserving and purifying power. It saves from corruption. It is an influence which is more felt than seen.
Or, once more, salt suggests the notion of something strong and pungent that which adds taste and flavour to all that it touches. I am afraid that this is not the idea which we always connect with good people. Good people are frequently conceived of, not as the most strenuous souls, but rather as negative and colourless, or, at the best, sweet and consoling, as though our Lord had said, not 'ye are the salt,' but 'ye are the sugar of the earth'. Do not let us give in to the notion that there is any natural connexion between goodness and dullness, or goodness and weakness. When our Lord said to His disciples, 'Ye are the salt of the earth,' He did not mean that they were to be the wits of the world; but surely He meant that they were to bring to it the savour shall we say of consecrated intelligence as well as of moral purity.
III. Salt is good; but if the salt have lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? The earth needs the Christian religion as much as ever it did; but an insipid and savourless Christianity will not long be tolerated. It is a fearful thing to realize that in us Christ Himself reigns or falls: that by us He is judged, that through us His name is blessed or blasphemed. 'If the salt have lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted?' For there is something more tragical than Jesus crucified by Caiaphas and Pilate it is the Christ who is wounded 'in the house of His friends'.
H. R. Gamble, Christianity and Common Life, p. 63.
To the personal influence of Christians our Lord commits His cause; in personal influence His Church was founded, and by this it was to stand.
R. W. Church.
References. V. 13. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew I.-VIII. p. 178. E. Lyttelton, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, p. 113. H. Scott Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lviii. 1900, p. 185. D. Fraser, Metaphors in the Gospels, p. 1. A. Jessopp, Norwich School Sermon, p. 54. Stopford A. Brooke, Short Sermons, p. 22. V. 13, 14. F. E. Paget, Helps and Hindrances to the Christian Life, vol. ii. p. 76. R. H. McKim, The Gospel in the Christian Year, p. 289. C. J. Vaughan, Characteristics of Christ's Teaching, p. 104. V. 13-16. R. W. Church, The Gifts of Civilization, p. 81. J. Oswald Dykes, The Manifesto of the King, p. 181. W. M. Sinclair, Simplicity in Christ, p. 263. W. Boyd Carpenter, The Great Charter of Christ, p. 133. A. Melville, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xl. 1891, p. 360. A. Clayton, ibid. vol. lxx. 1906, p. 49. V. 13-37. C. Gore, Church Times, vol. xxxiii. 1895, p. 337.
Christ's Conception of the Christian Life
'I am the Light of the world.' That is the assumption which Jesus Christ makes for Himself. 'Ye are the light of the world.' That is the high assumption which He makes similarly on the part of His disciples. And taken together they declare that there is not only power in His own character adequate to dispel the darkness, but the power of that character reproduced in His disciples is also capable of the same result.
I. In the parable of the lamp and the lampstand there is a great deal of simple, practical instruction as to light shining whence it proceeds, how it is maintained, and what is to be its nature and outcome.
1. Of course it assumes that in any life the lamp has been kindled by Jesus Christ It assumes, too, that the light is received not for the benefit of the lamp, but for the benefit of those among whom the lamp is placed; that the light is given in order to be diffused. Christ is in us in order that He may be seen through us, in all the activities of our lives and influence of our character.
2. And to such as are already kindled the injunction is, 'let your light shine'; that is, do not hinder it from shining. Therefore, Christ's exhortation really calls us to remove all hindrances to the shining of the light in our own lives.
3. Elsewhere in the same sermon, Jesus Christ said: 'If thine eye be single,' etc. If one is seeking first and only His glory, then there is but little doubt as to the clear shining of the light, and but little doubt also as to its influence.
II. Then the Saviour goes on to speak about a lampstand. What does that mean?
1. I cannot but feel that it illustrates our necessary connexion with the world. You have been set in a family that is, you are set upon a lampstand there. You have been put into an office, and that place with all its duties is God's own lampstand for you.
2. It is well to remember that the appearance of the lampstand has very little to do with the shining. You may have a beautiful lampstand, but it does not make the light shine any brighter. Let your light shine just where you are.
3. It is the darkness which is immediately surrounding us that is to be illumined. 'All that are in the house' does not mean all that are in the next street, the next town, or village, or country.
III. If the light is to shine, it is, of course, necessary to see that the flame is continually fed. The re is need of continual secret assimilation of oil. If we fail to receive a continual ministry of grace to our own hearts, we shall fail when we seek to minister to others.
The cost at which a man becomes a shining light. Of course, it is the oil which feeds the flame, but the wick burns also. You must be consumed also if others through you are going to have light shed upon the pathway, upon the great mysteries and facts of life. Do not forget that it will cost you no less than it cost Jesus Christ, the entire sacrifice of yourself.
--J. Stuart Holden, 'Christ's Conception of the Christian Life,' Mundesley Bible Conference, 1908, p. 63.
Illustration. I read a very interesting thing the other day in the life of Leonardo da Vinci, who painted the famous picture of the Lord's Supper. When he had painted this wonderful picture he called in one of his friends to see it He stood back from the canvas with his friend, waiting in silence for his comment on what he himself regarded as his greatest work. His friend's first words were, 'How wonderfully you have painted that silver cup.' The painter immediately took his brush and put a great daub of black paint over it. The friend, in consternation, said: 'Why did you do that?' 'I did that,' he replied, 'because it was the cup which first attracted your attention, and I do not want anything in my work to detract from the central figure of Jesus Christ I have painted that picture to give men a conception of Him, and if you come and fix upon that which is a mere detail in the picture, and so overlook Him, it must go.' I could not but feel that the devotion of that painter of early days to Jesus Christ is as an inspiration and an example to me. If my life is to shine for Christ, if Christ is to be the central figure, if Christ is to be seen in me in all His beauty, other things must be painted out, other things must be sacrifice; they must go. You must for wisdom, for sanity, have some access to the mind and heart of the common humanity. The exclusive excludes itself.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Let Your Light Shine
I would not give much for your religion unless it can be seen. Lamps do not talk; but they do shine. A lighthouse sounds no drum, it beats no gong; and yet far over the water its friendly spark is seen by the mariner. So let your actions shine out your religion. Let the main sermon of your life be illustrated by all your conduct, and it shall not fail to be illustrious.
C. H. Spurgeon.
The whole majesty of humanity raised to its fullness, and every gift and power necessary for a given purpose, at a given moment, centred in one man, and all this perfected blessing permitted to be refused, perverted, crushed, cast aside by those who need it most, the city which is Not set on a hill, the candle that giveth light to None that are in the house; these are the heaviest mysteries of this strange world, and, it seems to me, those which mark its curse the most.
Ruskin, Stones of Venice, vol. ii.
Like a horse after running, a dog after tracking the game, and a bee after storing honey, so a man, after some good deed, does not call others to come and see, but goes on to do another deed, as the vine proceeds to produce grapes season after season.
References. V. 14. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xix. No. 1109. H. P. Liddon, Christmastide in St. Paul's, p. 405; see also Penny Pulpit, No. 485. W. M. Sinclair, Religion in Common Life, p. 58. F. Mudie, Bible Truths and Bible Characters, p. 283. H. Scott Holland, Church Times, vol. lvi. 1906, p. 380; see also Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxx. 1906, p. 216. J. W. Diggle, Sermons for Daily Life, p. 37. J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. i. p. 152. Henry Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. iii. p. 406. W. G. Rutherford, The Key of Knowledge, pp. 182-209. R. Rainy, Sojourning With God, p. 64. W. H. Dallinger, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lv. 1899, p. 52. W. L. Watkinson, ibid. vol. lx. 1901, p. 388. V. 14-16. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew I.-VIII. p. 188. D. Fraser, Metaphors in the Gospels, p. 16. E. Lyttelton, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, p. 120. V. 15, 16. J. B. Mozley, Sermons Preached Before the University of Oxford, p. 262. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvii. No. 1594.
Christ doth not say that others hearing your good works, your good story, or your pathetical expressions; but that others seeing your good works may glorify your Father.
'Let your light shine before men,' wrote Margaret Gordon to Carlyle, 'and think them not unworthy the trouble.'
God appoints to every one of His creatures a separate mission, and if they discharge it honourably, if they quit themselves like men, and faithfully follow the light which is in them, withdrawing from it all cold and quenching influence, there will assuredly come of it such burning as, in its appointed mode and measure, shall shine before men, and be of service constant and holy.
Ruskin, Frondes Agrestes, p. 71.
Tolstoy, in his Confession, speaks of the faith and practice of orthodox believers in his own circle, men whose religious position was respectable, and whose manner of life in no way differed from the ambitious, vicious conduct of unbelievers like himself. 'No arguments were able to convince me of the sincerity of such so-called believers' faith. Only actions, proving their conception of life to have destroyed that fear of poverty, illness, and death, so strong in myself, could have convinced me; and such actions I could not see among them. Such actions, indeed, I saw among the open infidels of my own class in life, but never among its so-called believers.'
'A man,' said Mozley, 'can only be a witness to the Christian faith, if his life can only be accounted for by Christian faith.'
The main point nowadays is to be pious in the open air.
'I cannot,' said John Wesley's father to him, 'allow austerity or fasting, considered by themselves, to be proper acts of holiness, nor am I for a solitary life. God made us for a social life. We are to let our light shine before men, and that not barely through the chinks of a bushel, for fear the wind should blow it out; the design of lighting it was, that it might give light to all who went into the house of God.' 'It has struck me often lately,' writes Mr. Coventry Patmore in a letter, 'that à Kempis, whom you are daily reading now, cannot be read with safety without remembering that he wrote his book expressly for the use of monks. There is much that is quite unfit for and untrue of people who live in the ordinary relations of life. I don't think I like the book quite as much as I did. There is a hot-house, egotistical air about much of its piety. Other persons are so ordinarily the appointed means of learning the love of God, and to stifle human affections must be very often to render the love of God impossible.'
References. V. 16. G. F. Holden, Church Times, vol. lviii. 1907, p. 810. B. Reynolds, ibid. vol. li. 1904, p. 112; see also Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxv. 1904, p. 54. H. Ward Beecher, Sermons (2nd Series), p. 244. Henry Wace, Some Central Points of Our Lord's Ministry, p. 213. E. Fowle, Plain Preaching to Poor People, Sermon (1st Series). J. W. Diggle, Sermons for Daily Life, p. 79. E. Talbot, Sermons Preached in Leeds Parish Church, 1889-1895, p. 86. W. Lefroy, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxvi. 1904, p. 27. J. B. Mozley, Sermons Parochial and Occasional, p. 212. W. M. Punshon, Christian Consistency, Sermons, p. 737.
The Presuppositions of Christianity The Old Testament
Our Christianity is unique, a thing by itself; but it has not come into existence without any ties with the past. It is original; it is not eclectic; but it has one great root from which it has sprung and of which it claims to be the perfect flower. That is the revelation of God to Israel, recorded in the sacred books of that people, the collection of which we call the Old Testament. To a full and proper understanding of Christianity, a man must know the Old Testament; he must in a measure be familiar with the religion of the Jews. His own faith has blossomed out of that, and owes much to it. It is the presuppositions of Christianity in the Old Testament that we shall look at here. To the rest, Christianity, at any rate in its primitive and purest form, owes nothing directly. Its debts are directly, and in the first instance only, to the Old Testament faith.
I. I would even emphasize the statement in that form as my first point. It is not to Judaism as it existed in Christ's time that any debt is due. It is to the religion which is enshrined in the Old Testament And the distinction is vital. There is a serious difference between Judaism as Christ found it, and the religion which He recognized as the truth in the much misunderstood sacred books of His people. There was there the revelation which God had given of Himself, and there was alongside of it the man-made version which passed current in the temple and in the synagogue, which was expounded in the schools, and which was practised by the Pharisee. The latter has its modern survival, but it is not Christianity. It is the Judaism of the present day, with the modifications and embellishments which have made it what it is in order to serve a people without a country or a central shrine, at which alone they might perform the rites which ought to be observed, but perforce must lie in abeyance. It is not to that we turn to find the presuppositions of Christianity. That has little to tell us. Our Lord, in fact, repudiated the whole body of tradition, because, as He said, the Scribes and Pharisees made void the law of God by their tradition.
II. Christianity accepts without further discussion or exposition the ripened views of the religion of Israel on many primary religious truths. It takes, for instance, the Old Testament view of God, of man, of the Messiah. These, of course, are views that had only gradually attained to clearness in Israel's consciousness through God's continuous teaching. And it is the mature view which Christianity assumes, and to which it adds. But what the Old Testament thus offers, it accepts without demur.
a. The Old Testament never attempts to prove the existence of God. It sets the man down as a fool, i.e. not wrong in his head, but wrong in his will, uttering not what he thinks, but what he wishes, who says there is no God. Its very first book, with its very first words, begins with the assumption of God: 'In the beginning God'. That is the attitude of the New Testament.
b. So with regard to man: Christianity thinks of man as the Old Testament has taught him to think of him. Man as the New Testament deals with him is man made in the image of God. He is man no isolated unit, but linked by a thousand ties to all his race who have preceded him and to all his fellow-men amongst whom he lives. He is man, with a physical frame that needs to be nourished, clothed, and cared for; but that is the least of him. He is man, with an intelligence that lifts him high above the beasts that perish. He is man, with an immortal soul fitted for fellowship with God Himself. He is man, with the fateful right of a free will and the dread responsibility which its use involves. He is man, fallen by his own fatal choice. He is man, lost, unable to save himself, but not beyond salvation. That is man as the Christian knows him, but the New Testament offers no proofs. It takes man as it finds him in actual human experience, as does the Old Testament.
c. In the same way the New Testament takes over the whole Messianic hope of the Old. It offers to its students the justification and fulfilment of that hope in Jesus, whom it presents as the Messiah, the Christ. That hope itself was a growth. The seed was the promise to Adam almost immediately after the fall: 'The seed of the woman shall bruise the head of the serpent'.
III. Turn to a further general consideration. The possession of this great treasure-house of moral and religious truth accounts for many things that seem omissions in Christianity as it appears in what are its own distinctive records and in the teachings of its Founder. 'Take away the Old Testament,' says John Ker, 'and even though the Christianity of the New were left, there would be an immense want in meeting the different moods of feeling and stages of thought in human nature.' There is little in the New Testament to stir the patriotic sentiments. There is little to correspond to the book of Psalms. What is there to tell us that phases of thought like those which meet us in the book of Job or of Ecclesiastes are compatible with devoutness? Nothing. But why? Is it because they are alien to Chris tianity? No; but because they are adequately dealt with in the first stages of revelation which Christianity adopts as its own.
Robert J. Drummond, Faith's Certainties.
I. Jesus Christ here gives us the secret of every great ministry. We shall never be great preachers if we only discourse upon the topics of the day. He has a poor text who has only the latest anecdote of an evening newspaper. That is not preaching to the times, that is making a livelihood out of lies. He preaches to the times who preaches from eternity. Jesus Christ did not displace the law and the Prophets, He will talk with both of them upon a mountain by and by; they three Law, Prophet, Redeemer will meet and reveal the unity of things. The secret of a great ministry is that it founds itself upon the original, the primordial, the initial; its great speech is ab initio , coming up with dews of heaven's first and only morning upon it. That is preaching.
II. If we follow Jesus therefore we shall hear wonderful speaking.
1. Take, for example, His doctrine respecting worship. That doctrine was taught to one hearer Jesus Christ never kept anything for great assemblies. We keep our little essays for the principal meeting. Ah me! what wonder we are buried so cheaply and so instantaneously forgotten! Jesus revealed the great doctrine of true spiritual worship to one hearer, and she was a woman. The women said all the most beautiful things that are to be found in Scripture, and the things were the more beautiful that the women knew nothing about their beauty. They were words wrung out of agony. Agony is always eloquent. Jesus Christ did not rebuke people for worshipping in special localities. When did He contract history or reduce it by subtraction to some meaner expressiveness? When did He fail to open the bud and show the full flower? If He had destroyed the local notion of prayer He would have created an immense prejudice; He accepted it, enlarged it, glorified it by fulfilment and completion.
2. We might illustrate this text from the more concrete point of what is known as beneficence or good-doing. The Jew thought he had advanced to the very final step in the march of civilization when he gave something to the inoffensive stranger, to the harmless widow and orphan; but Jesus says, If thine enemy hunger, feed him; love thine enemy: go to the positive aspect of thy poor beneficence. Whilst we were yet sinners Christ died for us; not whilst we were becoming sinners, but when we had reached the very depth of our apostasy, and when we had depleted ourselves of all nervous power and all moral restorativeness, when we had lost all self-helpfulness; while we were yet sinners, the blood dripped on us, the red blood of the infinite Redemption. I am not come to destroy your little beneficences and maxims of caretaking respecting the stranger and the fatherless and the widow, but I am come to raise you to that Godlikeness which is kind to the unthankful and to the evil, to that Divinity of love which sheds its showers upon the atheist and the blasphemer.
3. We might illustrate the text by Jesus Christ's estimate of righteousness. He found a good deal of respectability in His day; there were many persons who were reading pious sentences and observing more or less reputable traditions; He looked abroad upon the whole mass, and having estimated all that was being done by Scribe and Pharisee and Sadducee, He said, Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and of the Pharisees, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
4. Jesus Christ said, You must enlarge your conceptions of the world; of course it was right that you begin with this little place which you call your own land. If there was anything in the world which Jesus Christ was not it was a patriot. A patriot was a very small but frequently a somewhat necessary person. Jesus Christ was not a patriot. Jesus Christ was a philanthropist, a man-lover, a world-redeemer. And beautiful it is to mark the evolution of this thought in the apostolic missionary service.
5. If you will read the law hard, stiff reading, and equally an education and a successful examination if you will read the law as given in the Pentateuch, you will see what Jesus Christ has done in the enlargement of men's ideas and the fulfilment of elementary discipline and propositions. Love, if true, is growing, it will be mighty some day; and then we shall see that though the tithe has not been done away it has been carried up into its proper consummation; it is displaced by love, all-giving love, that wondrous love which says nothing has been given whilst anything has been withheld.
Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. vii.
Fulfilment, Not Destruction, the Method of Jesus
I. It is evident that our Lord's critics had been denouncing Him as an intellectual and social anarchist, and one can imagine their evidence.
It is also evident that Jesus keenly resented this charge, and one can understand His reasons. When He was called a revolutionary there was enough truth in the criticism to make it dangerous. He did appear on first sight not to improve but to reverse the past, not to attack abuses but to uproot institutions, and if this had been so it would have been a serious reflection, both upon the wisdom and the work of Jesus. Destruction is not the principle of growth in any province of God's universe.
Had the opponents of Jesus been able to take a fairer view of His work, they would have found that He was the opposite of what their fears painted. Under His spirit the God of Abraham and Jacob became our Heavenly Father, to be worshipped the world over wherever there was an honest heart.
II. Fulfilment is the guiding principle of all successful progress and ought to control every department of action. When, for instance, we attempt the regeneration of society, repression may be needful as a temporary measure; but repression is a policy of despair. It coerces, but it does not control, it terrifies, but it does not satisfy. We ought to go to the root of the matter and find out the causes which create the vices of the people.
1. The same principle holds in the elimination of sin from an individual life. To sin is to miss the mark; the arrow went astray, and struck the wrong place. Every vice is the inversion of a virtue, it is degenerate goodness. Moralists of the second order would advise a man to put his sins under lock and key: Jesus teaches men to expel them. He would transform temptations to sin and make them incentives to holiness; He would have us concern ourselves not with the destruction of the evil but with the cultivation of the good.
2. With this principle of fulfilment we ought also to approach the erroneous ideas which affect the popular mind and are rivals of the truth. It is wiser to give a man what he is seeking after than to denounce its imperfect substitute. It is, indeed, of no use to take away unless you can bestow, and therefore the wise missionary of Today finds out what the non-Christian religion means, and shows that it is a prophecy of Christ. It is the unknown God whom men are seeking through many systems and after many fashions; it is the known God whom Jesus reveals and presents to us all.
Just as religion appears to us a fulfilment or a destruction of life, shall we come to love or hate it. If religion be nothing but a refusing and denying, a repressing and mortifying, then it may be a necessity; it is also a burden. But this is not the religion of Jesus as He taught and illustrated it in the life of Galilee. With Him religion was not a bondage, but the breaking of fetters, that the sons of God might enter into the liberty of their Father's house.
J. Watson (Ian Maclaren), The Inspiration of Our Faith, p. 147.
Compare the closing sentences of Max Nordau's Degeneration: 'The criterion by which true moderns may be recognized and distinguished from impostors calling themselves moderns may be this: Whoever preaches absence of discipline is an enemy of progress; and whoever worships his "I" is an enemy to society. Society has for its first premise, neighbourly love and capacity for self-sacrifice; and progress is the effect of an even more rigorous subjugation of the beast in man, of an ever intenser self-restraint, an ever keener sense of duty and responsibility. The emancipation for which we are striving is of the judgment, not of the appetites. In the profoundly penetrating words of Scripture: Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.'
Compare Matthew Arnold's verses entitled 'Progress'.
To be misunderstood even by those whom one loves is the cross and bitterness of life. It is the secret of that sad and melancholy smile on the lips of great men which so few understand; it is the cruellest trial reserved for self-devotion; it is what must have oftenest wrung the heart of the Son of Man; and if God could suffer, it would be the wound we should be for ever inflicting on Him. He also He above all is the great misunderstood, the least comprehended.
There is still something of self-seeking in the refined disinterestedness which will not justify itself, that it may feel itself superior to opinion.
References. V. 17. J. R. Cohu, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 36. W. Boyd Carpenter, The Great Charter of Christ, p. 151. J. M. Wilson, The Anglican Pulpit of Today, p. 356. A. Jessopp, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. 1895, p. 218. Reuen Thomas, ibid. vol. lx. 1901, p. 404. H. E. J. Bevan, ibid. vol. lxiii. 1903, p. 325. V. 17-20. J. Oswald Dykes, The Manifesto of the King, p. 203. W. M. Sinclair, Simplicity in Christ, p. 287. E. Lyttelton, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, p. 125. V. 17-26. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew I.-VIII. p. 199. V. 17-48. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. liii. No. 3031. V. 18. Ibid. vol. xxviii. No. 1660. V. 19. H. P. Liddon, Clerical Life and Work, p. 355. 'Plain Sermons' by contributors to the Tracts for the Times, vol. ix. p. 64.
These words of our Lord are a challenge, an impeachment and an indictment of high treason against those in authority in the Church. No man who uttered such words, under such conditions, could escape retaliation. Had our Lord contented Himself with His wonderful works, He might have walked across Calvary unscathed. But one who could say such things as this, under such circumstances, must come to the Cross. Those who were so challenged were certain to encompass His death. For I want you just to notice who the challenge was made against. It was made against the great religious teachers of the day, the scribes and Pharisees. They were the oracles of the kingdom, and in no case could they enter into the kingdom whose oracles they held. You know how the case stood, how religion had become formal, mechanical. You cannot turn out righteousness from any machine. Directly religion becomes a system, it loses its power. Systematized religion degenerates always, sooner or later, into formalism. It was so then, and has ever been so since.
I. The Scribes were the men who knew all about Holy Scripture. They read it, they learned it, they knew every word of it. And yet, though they knew all about it, they did not know it.
II. And the Sadducees, who were they? They were the Higher Critics of the day. How did the Lord admonish them? He said, You are only haggling over the letter, you are literalists. You do not know the Scriptures, and you do not know the power of God.
III. Then you know about the Pharisees and their punctiliousness, how they were the religionists. They did exactly what they were told in the letter and not the spirit. According to the Pharisees, you might touch the dead body of an ass, but not of a high priest, because that would defile you. And you must not go and eat with unwashed hands. What did our Lord do? He and His disciples deliberately went and sat down to dinner with unwashed hands deliberately, as an object lesson.
IV. I want you to note that our Lord stands amongst us Today, and says to us, 'Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven'. Is our religion formal? When we worship Christ with ceremony, let it be with understanding too with the head and with the heart. He loved me, and washed me, and gave Himself for me, and the object of life is to be like Him. If this righteousness is in us, we are right. Take care that your faith does not make you formalists at heart. It must make you like your dear Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
A. H. Stanton, Unpublished Sermon.
Things No Man Could Say
Things which no man would say or would be allowed to say and retain any reputation for sanity or truthfulness. There are things which we cannot say, as certainly as there are things which we ought not to say.
Yet we are now face to face with a Man who used all the vocabulary of God, a Man who never hesitated to use the language which God alone, according to our interpretation, has permitted Himself to use.
I. Begin where you like, the evidence is forthcoming and is unique.
1. Let us hear Him in one of His simplest speeches; simplest, that is, when looked upon superficially: 'I am meek and lowly in heart'. No man has a right to say that; to say 'I am meek' is to prove that the speaker is not meek; to claim lowliness may be to abandon it. Never forget the ironies of history. Consider what it is for a man to stand up in any company of his fellows and to say, 'I am meek and lowly in heart'! Not a soul would believe him; there is a human instinct, an unwritten transcendental human intuition that says to a speaker, No, for if you were so you would not speak thus; you would leave us to discover your meekness and your lowliness of heart.
2. Take another instance, running on the same line: 'I will give you rest'. This is a word that no sane man can utter if he be only a man. Who knows the meaning of rest as Jesus Christ used that pregnant word? No man can give another man rest; he can lull him, soothe him, administer opiates to him, and bring to bear upon him the influence of chemical anodynes; he cannot give peace, rest, fulness of peace.
3. Take this instance. 'I and My Father are one'. If that occurs only once perhaps it was introduced surreptitiously, but it does not occur only once; for the same lips said: 'He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father'. A man may have said that, but he called down upon himself the ridicule of all who heard it; he did not seek the faith of the world, he tempted its distrust and its derision.
4. Hear Him once again, as we might hear Him in every day of His life: 'I will raise him up at the last day'. A man cannot say that, and be only a man; he is a lunatic, he is the devil, or he is God. You cannot make a commonplace of him; you find no place in history that he can occupy. Can any man in the world stand this test? Not one. If any man has uttered these words he was less than a man or more than a man; and you cannot find a middle place for him.
II. These are some of the passages. Now these passages put Christ in this position; they utterly discredit Him; He is the victim of His own pretensions; He has discrowned Himself in the presence of sober-minded, honourable criticism. If He had claimed less He might have received more. He would sit down nowhere but on the throne. A man may easily cut up his own claims and pretensions, and may be burned by lighting his own certificates and credentials, and go up with them in their own smoky evaporation. But if the words are true they make Jesus Christ more than a man and better than a man; and you cannot remove those words from the record without removing Christ with them. Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. III. p. 13.
People have often tried to find a type of life that might serve as a basement type.... The type must be one discontented with society as it is.
References. V. 20. F. E. Paget, Faculties and Difficulties for Belief and Unbelief, p. 100. H. S. Lunn, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxviii. 1890, p. 382. H. Hensley Henson, ibid. vol. lxv. 1904, p. 136. R. W. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. ii. p. 28. H. Varley, Spiritual Light and Life, p. 129. J. B. Mozley, Sermons Preached Before the University of Oxford, p. 25. Henry Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. iii. p. 50. A. G. Mortimer, One Hundred Miniature Sermons, vol. ii. p. 36. V. 21. F. W. Farrar, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv 1898, p. 232. Hugh Black, ibid. vol. lxiv. 1903, p. 7.
One of the commonest and most deep-seated, and perhaps not the least pernicious fallacy in our estimate of relative 'goodness,' lies in our disposition to rank negative above positive virtue abstinence from wrong above active duty and distinguished service. There is surely a higher and completer decalogue than the purely prohibitory one of Sinai, taught us by One who surpassed and superseded Moses. 'Thou shalt' appeals to nobler natures and befits a more advanced civilization than 'Thou shalt not'. The early Israelites, just emerging from the double degradation of semi-barbarism and of slavery, and soiled with the brutal passions and the slimy sins belonging to both conditions, had first to be taught the difficult lessons of self-denial and forbearance. On Christians is laid the loftier obligation of active and laborious achievement. It is much for the fierce appetites and feeble wills of savages to abstain from the grosser indulgences of the temper and the flesh not to steal, not to kill, not to lust, not to lie. But the civilization of a cultured and awakened age can rest content in no such formal or meagre conception of moral duties. It cannot acquiesce in mere self-regarding excellence. It feels that there is something at once loftier, more generous, and more imperative than the asceticism which aims simply at the elaboration and development of the spiritual possibilities of a man's own nature and that to serve others, even in miry byways, in menial capacities, in damaging and revolting conditions, is a worthier and more Christian vocation than coddling one's individual soul. Faire son devoir is, after all, a nobler purpose than faire son salut .
W. Rathbone Greg, Literary and Social Judgments, pp. 488, 489.
References. V. 21, 22. J. R. Cohu, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 131. H. Scott Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxix. 1906, p. 321. J. R. Walker, ibid. vol. lxxiv. 1908, p. 378. V. 21-24. E. Lyttelton, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, p. 135. V. 21-26. J. Oswald Dykes, The Manifesto of the King, p. 223.
You are to distinguish, of course, controversy from rebuke. The assertion of truth is to be always gentle: the chastisement of wilful falsehood may be very much the contrary indeed. Christ's Sermon on the Mount is full of polemic theology, but very gentle: 'Ye have heard that it hath been said but I say unto you'; 'and if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? 'and the like.
Ruskin; see also Mornings in Florence, § 112.
High cultivation may help to self-command, but it multiplies the chances of irritative contact. In mansion, in hovel, the strain of life is perpetually felt between the married, between parent and children, between relatives of every degree, between employers and employed. They debate, they dispute, they wrangle, they explode their nerves are relieved, and they are ready to begin over again. Quit the home and quarrelling is less obvious, but it goes on all about one. What proportion of the letters delivered any morning would be found to be written in displeasure, in petulance, in wrath? The post-bag shrieks insults or bursts with suppressed malice.
References. V. 22. E. Lyttelton, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, p. 141. W. Leighton Grane, Hard Sayings of Jesus Christ, p. 151.
Memory At the Altar
There are a hundred things we may and ought to do at the altar. We should bow at the altar with reverence of spirit. We should confess at the altar with penitence of soul. We should sing at the altar with glad thanksgiving. We should make our vows at the altar with earnest purpose. But whatever else we do we must there remember. We must yoke memory to worship else worship will be vain.
I. We must remember our relations with our fellows. That is a secret of blessing at the altar. It is an enrichment of our worship that we remember our happy relations with our fellows.
It is essential to our worship that we remember our unhappy social conditions at the altar. Our brother may have a legitimate grievance against us. We have wronged him. And we are called to remember that unwelcome fact at the holy altar. Leave your gift before the altar, go and be reconciled to your brother, then, with clean hands and a pure heart come and offer your gift. Do not forget the gift and the altar when you have righted yourself with your brother. No social service, however obligatory and beautiful, must lead us to neglect the gift and the altar. Our Lord, Who was the servant of all, was supremely the servant of Jehovah.
There must always be a right relationship between our service of humanity and our sacrifice to God.
When I give God His rights I shall hasten to give man his rights. Philanthropy and worship must blend if both are to be effective. It is indeed a short-sighted policy which would abolish the altar and its worship for the service of humanity. Look at the very meaning of the word worship: it means worthship.
II. Passing from the immediate reference of the text, and still holding to its principle, we must remember the general circumstances of our life. Life's painful circumstances are seen in their true proportions if remembered at the altar.
III. We must remember our sins. This is not a popular doctrine, nor is it a popular practice. Yet it is a deep necessity of the soul that when we bring our gift to the altar we remember our transgressions. Public worship offers us an immense opportunity for the exercise of memory upon our sins. As Benjamin Jowett of Balliol has said, 'The advantage of public worship is that it is also private'. The privacy of public worship is its opportunity and its charm. If memory be thus exercised, it shall lead us to a great evangelical victory. We shall pass from the vision of our sin to the vision of the blood of Jesus, God's Son, which cleanseth us from all sin.
Dinsdale T. Young, Messages for Home and Life, p. 155.
References. V. 23. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. ii. p. 70; see also Readings for the Aged (4th Series), p. 148. V. 23-25. E. Griffith Jones, The Cross and the Dice Box, p. 39. V. 24. C. E. Jefferson, The Character of Jesus, p. 147. V. 25. H. Rawlings. Christian World Pulpit, vol. lii. 1897, p. 299. V. 25, 26. T. Disney Barlow, Rays from the Sun of Righteousness, p. 1. W. H. Brookfield, Sermons, p. 58. E. Lyttelton, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, p. 150. V. 26. F. C. Spurr, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlv. 1894, p. 117. V. 27, 28. E. Lyttelton, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, p. 157. 'Plain Sermons' by contributors to the Tracts for the Times. vol. ix. p. 295.
But this is not the rule by which we are to judge our past actions, but to guard our future ones. He who has thoughts of lust or passion is not innocent in the sight of God, and is liable to be carried on to perform the act on which he suffers himself to dwell. And in looking forward, he will do well to remember this caution of Christ's, but in looking backward, in thinking of others, in endeavouring to estimate the actual amount of guilt or trespass; if he begins by placing thought upon the level of action, he will end by placing action on the level of thought. It would be a monstrous state of mind in which we regarded mere imagination of evil as the same thing with action; hatred as the same with murder; thoughts of impurity as the same with adultery. It is not so that we have learned Christ... However important it may be to remember that the all-seeing eye of God tries the reins, it is no less important to remember also that morality consists in definite acts capable of being seen and judged of by our fellow-creatures.
She was unaware that the distance between us and dreadful crimes is much greater often than it appears to be The man who looks on a woman with adulterous desire has already committed adultery in his heart if he be restrained only by force or fear of detection; but if the restraint, although he may not be conscious of it, is self-imposed, he is not guilty. Nay, even the dread of consequences is a motive of sufficient respectability to make a large difference between the sinfulness of mere lust and that of its fulfilment.
From Miriam's Schooling, by Mark Rutherford.
References. V. 28. C. S. Macfarland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxx. 1906, p. 21.
No man ever took his besetting sin, it may be lust, or pride, or love of rank and position, and, as it were, cut it out by voluntarily placing himself where to gratify it was impossible, without sensibly receiving a new strength of character.
References. V. 29, 30. E. Lyttelton, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, p. 165. J. B. Mozley, Sermons Parochial and Occasional, p. 1.
Offence in Scripture does not mean sin itself so much as something suggestive of it; something which puts sin in our way, and places us in imminent danger of giving way to it In all such cases our Lord enjoins a decided line upon man.... After all it is not the temptations which meet men, but the temptations which they go to meet, which they purposely find out, and use all kinds of art and management and subtlety to put themselves in the way of, which do the great mischief in moral and spiritual things.
Is not the public air which European nations breathe at this moment, as it has been for several years back, charged with thunder? Despots are plotting, ships are building, man's ingenuity is bent, as it never was bent before, on the invention and improvement of instruments of death; Europe is bristling with five millions of bayonets; and this is the condition of the world for which the Son of God died eighteen hundred and sixty-two years ago! There is no mystery of Providence so inscrutable as this; yet, is not the very sense of its mournfulness a proof that the spirit of Christianity is living in the minds of men? For, of a verity, military glory is becoming in our best thoughts a bloody rag, and conquest the first in the catalogue of mighty crimes.... There cannot be a doubt that when the political crimes of kings and governments, the sores that fester in the heart of society, and all 'the burden of the unintelligible world,' weigh heaviest on the mind, we have to thank Christianity for it. That pure light makes visible the darkness. The Sermon on the Mount makes the morality of nations ghastly. The Divine love makes human hate stand out in dark relief. This sadness, in the essence of it nobler than any joy, is the heritage of the Christian.... If the Christian is less happy than the Pagan, and at times I think he is so, it arises from the reproach of the Christian's unreached ideal, and from the strings of his finer and more scrupulous conscience.
Alexander Smith in Dreamthorp.
In the Spectator's review of James Gilmour's book, Among the Mongols, it is stated: 'As for danger, he had made up his mind not to carry arms, not to be angry with a heathen, happen what might, and though he does not mention this not to be afraid of anything whatever, neither dogs, nor thieves, nor hunger, nor the climate; and he kept those three resolutions. If ever on earth there lived a man who kept the law of Christ, and could give proofs of it, and be absolutely unconscious that he was giving them, it is this man whom the Mongols he lived among called "our Gilmour".'
References. V. 30. W. Allen Whitworth, Church Times, vol. xxxiii. 1895, p. 538. V. 31, 32. E. Lyttelton, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, p. 174. V. 33, 34. J. H. Jellett, The Elder Son, p. 129. V. 33-37. C. Gore, Church Times, vol. xlii. 1899, p. 174. E. Lyttelton, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, p. 185. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew I.-VIII. p. 208. J. Oswald Dykes, The Manifesto of the King, p. 265. V. 36. W. M. Sinclair, The New Law, p. 89.
The Law of Revenge
Our Lord is here dealing with one interesting prescription of the old law. It had definitely allowed revenge up to a certain point, but no further. It might go to the point of exact reciprocity.
I. Here we must remark that the law of the old covenant was in itself a limitation of human instinct. The savage instinct of revenge is to rush blindly in, and do as much harm to an enemy as can be done. The savage satisfies himself to the full; he kills the man that has done him wrong and his wife and family. Now nothing is more striking in the old covenant than that it checks barbarous habits and puts them under restraint. The point which needs emphasizing is that the old law worked by way of gradual limitation, not of sudden abolition. God dealt with men gradually. Their savage passions are restrained under the Old Testament as a preparation for the time when they were to be brought under the perfect discipline of the Son of man. So now, when the fullness of the time is come, our Lord lays on this passion of revenge a harder and deeper prescription, and says in fact to each of His disciples: A wrong aimed at thee as an individual is, so far as thy feeling goes, simply to be an occasion for showing complete liberty of spirit and superiority to all outrage. The Lord requires not moderation in revenge, but complete self-effacement.
II. We may notice that this requirement of self-effacement is of the nature of an ascetic prescription, as when our Lord said,' If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out; if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off'. The instinct of revenge has in it something that is right: something of the passion of justice. It is a true instinct which makes us feel that for wrong done man should suffer wrong. It is derived from the Divine principle of justice. But in our own cases, where our own interests are concerned, this passion of justice has come to be so mixed up with selfishness, and with those excessive demands which spring of selfishness in a word, it has become so defiled with sin that our Lord imposes on it an absolute ban; He says: 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, saith the Lord'.
III. The requirement which our Lord lays on His disciples is not only made in words. It was enforced, where the enforcement is most striking, in our Lord's example. You watch our Lord in His Passion; and when you look delicately and accurately at the details of the treatment He received, you observe how almost intolerably hard to bear were many of His trials. Yet 'when He was reviled, He reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself to Him that judgeth righteously'.
Bishop Gore, Sermon on the Mount, p. 79.
References. V. 38-42. S. Chadwick, Humanity and God, p. 313. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew I.-VIII. p. 210. E. Lyttelton, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, p. 193. W. Leighton Grane, Hard Sayings of Jesus Christ, p. 77. J. Oswald Dykes, The Manifesto of the King, p. 287. V. 38-48. C. Gore, Church Times, vol. xxxiii. 1895, p. 368.
Macaulay admits this placable and forgiving spirit was a redeeming feature of Lord Bacon's character. 'He bore with meekness his high civil honours, and the far higher honours gained by his intellect. He was very seldom, if ever, provoked into treating any person with malignity and insolence. No man more readily held up the left cheek to those who had smitten the right. No man was more expert at the soft answer which turneth away wrath.'
There came one time, when I was in Pall Mall, an ambassador with a company of Irishmen and rude fellows; the meeting was over before they came, and I was gone up into chamber, where I heard one of them say, 'He would kill all the Quakers'. I went down to him, and was moved in the power of the Lord to speak to him. I told him, 'The law said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth; but thou threatenest to kill all the Quakers, though they have done thee no hurt. But,' said I, 'here is gospel for thee: here is my hair, here is my cheek, and here is my shoulder,' turning it to him. This came so over him that he and his companions stood as men amazed, and said, if that was our principle, and if we were as we said, they never saw the like in their lives. I told them what I was in words I was the same in life. Then the ambassador, who had stood without, came in; for he said that Irish colonel was such a desperate man that he durst not come in with him, for fear he should do us some mischief; but truth came over him, and he carried himself lovingly towards us; as also did the ambassador; for the Lord's power was over them all.
References. V. 39. W. Garrett Horder, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. 1896, p. 117. J. H. F. Peile, Ecclesia Discern, p. 222. James Moffatt, The Second Things of Life, p. 21. V. 39-41. Lyman Abbott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. 1896, p. 131.
The Second Mile
I. That for which the second mile stands the overplus of goodness, unselfishness, and service is seen throughout the whole Gospel. It characterizes, for instance, Christ's ample interpretation of the old commandment. 'Thou shalt not kill' becomes in His lips 'Be not angry'. The law forbade adultery He proscribed evil thought. The law condemned false witness Christ said, 'Let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay'. In other words, in His interpretation of the old code Christ taught men to go the second mile not merely to desist from open sin, but to manifest that specific grace of which the particular sin is the moral antithesis. The same principle is seen also in the record of the measure in which God deals out His blessing to His people. He not only bestows pardon but abundant pardon. He gives not only grace but abounding grace. He promises not only victory in life's conflicts but makes men 'more than conquerors'.
II. Applied to life's compulsions, of which every one of us is conscious those things of which we can never rid ourselves and from which we can never altogether escape the doctrine of the second mile enjoins the doing of ordinary toil and the fulfilment of ordinary obligation in the spirit of Christian service It demands that we shall not only be honest in our business dealings but generous also, measuring duty not by financial consideration but in the spirit of Christian service. It means that we look beyond second causes and gladly acknowledge God's will in all life's restrictions and burdens.
III. But the glory of the second mile is only to be seen in all its fullness as exemplified in Christ Himself. His life, His teaching, His miracles of healing, His gentleness, the purity of the example, which He left us, may be looked upon as the first mile to which the need of men compelled Him. But love constrained Him still further, and the second mile led Him to Calvary! And still day by day does He manifest that same love in His response to our constraints. For if we invite Him for one mile, and compel Him by faith and prayer with that compulsion to which He always so readily yields, to come into fellowship with us, He always goes further and gives 'exceeding abundantly above all that we ask'. And if we invite Him for the first mile of life, we need have no fear but that He will come with us twain, even through death and beyond. It is Christ who has made the second mile beautiful, and beckons us on to share its glory.
J. Stuart Holden, The Pre-Eminent Lord, p. 119.
References. V. 41. Rocliffe Mackintosh, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxiv. 1908, p. 189. V. 43. W. M. Sinclair, The New Law, p. 20. V. 43, 44. H. Hensley Henson, Christ and the Nation, p. 265. Lyman Abbott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlix. 1896, p. 169. V. 43-48. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew I.-VIII. p. 214. J. Oswald Dykes, The Manifesto of the King, p. 311. E. Lyttelton, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, p. 200. G. Macdonald, Unspoken Sermons, p. 217. V. 44. J. R. Cohu, The Sermon on the Mount, p. 142. W. G. Rutherford, The Key of Knowledge, p. 51. V. 45. Henry Van Dyke, Sermons to Young Men, p. 193. R. F. Horton, Christian World Pulpit, vol. 1. 1896, p. 209. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiv. No. 1414. V. 46, 47. R. W. Dale, The Evangelical Revival, p. 60.
Love Your Enemies
It is one of the signs of the Divine originality of Christ that, in the midst of a condition of society which throughout the world was based on national selfishness and racial hatred, He ordered the citizens of His kingdom to act on the very opposite principle of treating every human being as a friend.
'In the time of our Lord, and in the last decrepitude of the morality of nations, the selfishness of human intercourse was much greater than the present age can easily understand. Selfishness, therefore, was not a mere abuse or corruption arising out of the infirmity of human nature, but a theory and almost a part of moral philosophy. It was in the midst of all this recognized and authorized sentiment to the contrary that Christ stood up and said, "Love your enemies ".'
We may perhaps have been thrown much together with people whose tastes and opinions were quite different from our own. Each fault that we may have committed has probably been watched by keen observers, who, if they are of the world and not of Christ, will score one against us accordingly. It would probably amaze us beyond measure did we know what is said of us, in our absence, by those of our acquaintances who have occasion to mention our names. We cannot live entirely here amongst people possessed by the Spirit of Christ. We are far more likely to meet with enemies, in the general sense of the word, than with friends.
'I say unto you, Love your enemies; bless them that curse you; do good to them that hate you; and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you.' A hard task to us in our natural state. Unaided we cannot think kindly of the offender. Our lips would more easily form themselves into a curse than a blessing.
I. The Holy Spirit of God alone can help us to this calm, tranquil, undisturbed feeling of Christian benevolence which our Lord commands. That is why our Lord commands it with such confidence. He knows that in God's strength we can get this temper. But He here is urging it for our own sakes.
It is because such boilings of our blood prevent us from being what we should. They are of the devil, not of God. Christ gives us the reason: 'That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven'.
II. It is no use having right opinions about religion, unless we get the Holy Spirit to enable us to put them into practice. Think how far more deeply men are every moment offending than even our most cruel enemy has injured us. How easily might God take away the unthankful and the evil from sharing His blessings at all! Yet He allows them to rejoice filling their hearts with food and gladness, and giving them every opportunity of returning to Him before it is too late. If God can do that, to Whom all sin is so utterly abhorrent, why cannot we overlook these miserable little offences which can only affect the things of this life? Oh, pray more earnestly than ever before for this conquering glorious grace of the Holy Spirit in this thing; that we may reach this happy, unruffled, hopeful temper; not that we may grow indifferent to error and wrongdoing, but that, while doing what we can to bring the counsels of the evil to nought, we may remember all the time that the slanderer, the injurious, or the insolent, are all the time our brethren, misguided children of the same great Father, bought by the same precious Blood, needing the same pardon as ourselves.
There is a class of men who see a great many things to be said against their own side, and a great deal for its adversaries. They fulfil the precept, 'Love your enemies,' but we could almost wish we were among them, that we might have some chance of impartiality and a small portion of their favour.
Dr. John Ker.
In George Fox's Journal for 1652 he describes a riot, in the course of which a rude mason gave him a severe blow on the back of the hand, bruising the flesh and benumbing the arm, 'that I could not draw it unto me again. But I looked at it in the love of God (for I was in the love of God to them all, that had persecuted me).'
There are cases, I grant you cases of impenitent wickedness where the higher law is suspended, finds no chance to act where relief from the bond is itself mercy and justice. But the higher law is always there. You know the formula ' It was said by them of old time But I say unto you'. And then follows the new law of a new society. And so in marriage. If love has the smallest room to work if forgiveness can find the narrowest foothold love and forgiveness are imposed on demanded of the Christian! here as everywhere else. Love and forgiveness not penalty and hate!
Mrs. H. Ward in The Marriage of William Ashe.
I preached in Charles Square to the largest congregation I have ever seen there. Many of the baser people would fain have interrupted, but they found, after a time, it was lost labour. One, who was more serious, was (as she afterwards confessed) exceedingly angry at them. But she was quickly rebuked by a stone which hit on her forehead and struck her down to the ground. In that moment her anger was at an end, and love filled her heart.
Wesley's Journal (9 May, 1742).
The Just and the Unjust
Why does God cause His sun to rise on the evil as well as the good? why does He send the rain on the unjust as well as on the just? God, because He is God, never acts without reason. There is a meaning and purpose in this matter, as indeed there is a meaning and purpose in all God's dealings, and in all God's works; and what you and I want to pray for, is the clear eye and the attentive mind and the enlightened heart to understand these things.
Now there seem to be three reasons at any rate why God causes the sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends the rain on the just and unjust.
I. He Wants us to Believe in His Fatherhood, in its widest meaning. God wants us to realize that He is the Father of all men, whether they be good or whether they be bad, and because God is the Father of all men He must, nay, He loves to show His abundant works of love to all men, so instead of the indifference of Nature, we have before us the great beneficence of God. We see God in the light of a loving Father, making ample, making equal provision for all His children, bad and good. Now God the Father is doing nothing unjust in all this. When He does this He is doing, when you come to think of it, He is doing exactly what a good earthly father would do. Picture to yourself a father who has many children. Some of them may be dearer and closer to him than the others. There may be one son who may love him better than his brothers and sisters, and that one son of his may have won his father's heart more than all the rest of the family put together. But that father does not confine his attention to the best beloved of the family. No, he exercises his fatherly care over all his children, all of them; he clothes all of them, he feeds all and educates all of them, he tries to set all out in life, he toils for all of them. Why? Because he is the father of them all, and so with God the Father. We are all His children, the worst as well as the best of men. He never forgets us, He never disowns us, He tries to win us wanderers back, by giving us fresh signs of His love and goodwill.
II. The World is not a Place of Judgment, but it is a Place of Probation. The good and the evil we know it the good and the evil are working and living in this world Today, side by side, and Jesus Christ Himself recognized this fact, in that most instructive parable of the tares and the wheat. In that parable He bade us not to judge anybody, but to let the good and the bad remain together unseparated until the harvest that means as long as this world lasts. The good and the bad are to remain undistinguished.
III. God Wants to Teach us the Length and Breadth of His Forgiving Love. The gifts and blessings of Nature give us some faint idea of His love. Only a faint idea God bestows all the loveliness of the world upon such sinners as we are. Then, though we wander from God, though we forget God, still the sun shines, still refreshing rain comes. And all this He does, He continues to do, for this reason, to bid us to look up and see that Father, with Whom is no variableness neither shadow of turning. We love change, but God never changes. He always is our Father. He always loves us. In spite of ourselves, in spite of our selfishness, in spite of our sins, God Who hates sin with a hatred of which He alone is capable, God still continues to bless us and give us all we need. He still loves to give good unto men, What a forgiving love that must be!
The sun does not wait for prayers and incantations in order to be induced to rise, but shines out forthwith and is hailed by all; so do not you wait for applause and praise to be induced to do good, but do it of your own accord, and you will be as much loved as the sun.
'But,' adds Bacon, after quoting this verse in his essay upon Goodness, 'he doth not raise wealth, nor shine Honour and Vertues, upon Men equally. Common benefits are to be communicate with all; but peculiar Benefits, with choice.'
It would be a great step in advance for most of us to love anybody, and the publicans of the time of Jesus must have been a much more Christian set than most Christians of the present day; but that we should love those who do not love us is a height never scaled now except by a few of the elect in whom Christ still survives.
Mark Rutherford's Deliverance.
If any of the Indians in Georgia were sick (which indeed exceedingly rarely happened, till they learned gluttony and drunkenness from the Christians), those that were near him gave him whatever he wanted. O, who will convert the English into honest Heathens!
Wesley's Journal (8 Feb., 1753).
The Distinctiveness of the Christian Life
The drift of this passage is the distinctiveness of the Christian life. Christ has an ideal of His own to offer to the world; His type of goodness is original, is unique, and the lives of those who follow Him are to furnish the proof of it.
The illustration in the text may seem a trivial one; but it is not so. Manners make the man always.
Half the battle of human advancement is gained when men have learned to give to one another not less than they receive from one another. The social equilibrium is maintained on these terms, and the individual life is preserved in well-being and peace.
I. Law and Personal Duty. The regrettable thing is when with this, the legal standard for society, there is confounded the moral standard for the individual. Israel had never learned to distinguish between personal duty and civic obligation. The standard of mere equity is a noble enough standard in its way, and even when most unpleasing may extort an admiration of a kind. It is not the Christian standard.
II. Retaliation and Non-Resistance. The non-resistance of injury. 'I say unto you, Resist not evil,' etc. And here, let us remember, that it is the individual life that is referred to. Christ speaks to the private life, leaving societies and nations free, as they are inherently bound, to maintain right in the world by the final argument if need be. The temper that will not take offence invariably ends by disarming violence. The supreme example, of course, is the Son of man. In His life meekness is a notable trait throughout.
III. The Christian and His Enemy. Your persecutor is to be loved. No one anywhere is to be hated, and nothing is to be hated but hate.
That is a high pitch of virtue to rise to. But, you observe, we are offered here a ladder of self-discipline by which to rise to it. First comes the injunction, 'Bless them that curse you'. Then, next, he is to do his enemy good. For, as we all know, nothing is so treacherous as feeling. He is to pray for his enemy. The most real and irrefragable thing in the whole universe is surely the Divine Heart which is the radiant, life-giving core of it. And what does that Heart do but just this: bless its enemies, and load them daily with benefits and yearn over them evermore.
A. Martin, Christian World Pulpit, vol. LXXII. 1907, p. 88.
The Ministry and the Masses
The relation of working men to the churches is determined by many things, and one of them is worth special consideration. When I think of the impressions received in my artisan days, and compare them with later experience, I have to recognize in crowds of the workers a deep-rooted prejudice, not so much against the office of the ministry as against the men who hold it. That this prejudice is as a stone wall between them, no one who knows the former will seriously question.
The prejudice, not to use a stronger term, exists; and, until they can fight it down, ministers must reckon with it as best they can. Of one thing I am persuaded: it will yield to no assumption of orders; it is impervious to argument; and it is proof against appeals to respect the ministerial office for its own sake. Nothing can make an impression on this prejudice but an example which works out in self-sacrifice, character, and courage. If ministers are to be highly esteemed, it must be for their work's sake.
I. It is the first of these that goes to the quick of the problem. It is self-sacrifice. Religion must always find its dynamic through the heart. He who holds the heart in the service of religion is a giant as compared with a vastly abler man who but influences the mind. 'All men are commanded by the soul.' The Koran makes a distinct class of those who are by nature good, and whose goodness has an influence on others, and pronounces this class to be the aim of religion. The light of the saintly spirit which, as it has often been remarked, is a form of the heroic spirit, shines through the wrappings of education and dogma, and reveals to us the synthetic power and beauty of sacrifice. It is not reason or ability, it is not money or mechanism, nor these combined, that can effectually lift the race. Nothing, on our side of the question, can do this but good men. Man is God's means for acting upon men. Whether God could save the world apart from human agency we know not. This is certain, He has not so far willed to do so. God in Christ is the Supreme Sacrifice for the salvation of the world; and man's power with man is obedience to the same profound law.
It is one great weakness of our Protestant Churches that we produce so few saints who strike the imagination of the people. We somehow fail, all but entirely, to achieve the type of man and woman which is to the sacerdotal Churches what pageantry or sentiment is in politics. Who, for example, during the last quarter of a century has given nobler hostage to the imagination of the workers than the late Father Dolling? A man who offered his life on the altar of the unreached majority; who lived and moved amid human wreckage and moral hopelessness, probably unmatched on the face of the earth. Broken in health and consumed in little more than half his days; living daily, as we are told, with vagabonds at his table and outcasts sleeping at night under his roof, this man's life was an incarnation of the divinest of all motives the redemption of the lowest in the Saviour's name.
And when he 'underwent the ceremony of death' men who rarely speak of the Christian religion without a sneer, and newspapers that exist nearest the ground, bore willing testimony to a sacrifice that finds its way through the imagination to the heart as nothing else can. Father Damien, diseased and rotting among his lepers, and Father Dolling, toiling for the outcasts of London, are of the same spiritual kin. 'No man,' says a wise teacher, 'ever casts the wealth of his life and the crown of his devotion at the feet of Jesus without quickening the earth with diviner life, and uplifting it with a new courage.'
II. Next to self-sacrifice character can do much to break down popular prejudice against ministers as a class. One of the first and hardest things they have to do is to convince the masses that they preach what they believe, and, as far as possible, live what they preach. Ministers must make men feel that the message which they claim to have received of the Lord Jesus is for themselves, and, as they believe, for others, nothing less than a matter of eternal life or death. I do not exaggerate when I say that eighteen out of every twenty working men whom I knew intimately in my factory days regarded ministers as men who, like the augurs of ancient Rome, laughed in themselves and to one another over a huge business of make-believe, which it was to their interest to keep in existence as long as possible. I shall say nothing about the unworthy side of the justification for this impression. It has not been to seek in the past, and it can be found Today. Enough for my purpose to remark that the popular idea is a severe idea, of what is fitting between ministerial profession and conduct. The idea may be unfair, it may be absurd, but it is there, and the minister will disregard it only at the cost of his own influence.
III. Then, again, a potent force in the ministry is courage, and it was never more needed.
The courage that is needed preeminently is the courage of the Christian message. 'I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation,' said the great Apostle. There is no lack of power in the world, but it is not power unto salvation. Civilization means the domination of human intelligence over natural conditions; salvation means civilization quickened into life which can be affirmed of God. Until we grasp the difference between that which is native to man, and that which is the gift of God in Jesus Christ, we may talk never so wisely about progress, but we talk in a circle.
Let our tongue cleave to the roof of our mouth rather than by a word we should encourage any impression that the world has its substitute for the dayspring from on high. Let us pray to be, and pray for, men with the courage of our message.
Ambrose Shepherd, The Gospel and Social Questions, p. 171.
References. V. 47. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xviii. No. 1029. J. Denney, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. 1895, p. 188; see also vol. lviii. 1900, p. 24. C. Silvester Horne, ibid. vol. lviii. 1900, p. 17.
'These words,' says Julius Hare, 'declare that the perfect renewal of God's image in man is not a presumptuous vision, not like a madman's attempt to clutch a handful of stars, but an object of righteous enterprise, which we may and ought to long for and strive after.... Be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect. This is the angel-trumpet which summons man to the warfare of duty. This, and nothing less than this, is the glorious price set before him. Do our hearts swell with pride at the thought that this is what we ought to be, what we might be? A single glance at the state of the world, at what we ourselves are, must quench that pride, and turn it into shame.'
His whole life was but one noble, earnest effort to follow His Master's call; that call which sets no lower ideal before the Christian than one of absolute, moral beauty, the very Beauty of God Himself. 'Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.' There is but one way to attain this height, either practically or intellectually; and that is, to aim ceaselessly at all that is highest, noblest, most beautiful; and of all men I have ever known, this dear brother pursued such an aim most earnestly.
PÈre Gratry on Henri Perreyve.
References. V. 48. A. Earle, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. 1898, p. 132. J. E. Carpenter, ibid. vol. lx. 1901, p. 202. F. W. Robertson, Sermons Preached at Brighton (3rd Series), p. 143. C. J. Vaughan, Characteristics of Christ's Teaching, p. 121. J. Martineau, Hours of Thought on Sacred Things, p. 72. Prebendary Shelford, Religion in Common Life, p. 1. J. T. Bramston, Sermons to Boys, p. 94. Bishop Creighton, University and Other Sermons, p. 110. W. J. Knox-Little, The Perfect Life, p. 1. S. Chadwick, Humanity and God, p. 1. VI. C. Gore, Church Times, vol. xxxiii. 1895, p. 429. VI. 1. F. E. Paget, Sermons on Duties of Daily Life, p. 251. E. Lyttelton, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, p. 209. J. Oswald Dykes, The Manifesto of the King, p. 333. H. C. Beeching, Faith, p. 21. VI. 1-5. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Matthew I.-VIII. p. 220. VI. 1-9, 10. H. Scott Holland, Church Times, vol. liii. 1905, p. 155. VI. 1-18. W. Boyd Carpenter, The Cheat Charter of Christ, p. 187.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Matthew 5". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany