The Rich Fool
Let us find out where this Prayer of Manasseh, called a "fool," got wrong. There seem to be some points of common-sense in the man. One Isaiah, therefore, curious to know where he breaks away from good thinking into foolish planning, and where he proves himself to be an atheist.
"The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully" ( Luke 12:16).
There is nothing wrong in that. There is no harm in having good crops, fields beautiful with the produce of nature. You cannot stand beside a man"s farm, and say, "This must be a very bad person, because his fields bring forth so plentifully." In Old Testament times abundance of harvest was considered a sign of the divine favour, and men regarded the increase of the ground as a token of God"s approbation. It is a practical fallacy to suppose that a man must be wrong because he has plenty. A man may be a very child of God, a saint, and a crowned one in the spiritual kingdom, and yet have an abundance on every hand. He may also be a very bad Prayer of Manasseh, and yet be poor and destitute and homeless and friendless; and contrariwise, forasmuch as nothing depends upon the circumstances, but everything upon the spirit The rich man before us derived his property from the ground; and agriculture is of all professions the most honest, the most natural, and the most beautiful. Some of us would like to follow that pursuit above all others. What can be more simple and beautiful than to till the ground, and to get out of the kindly earth sustenance for our daily life? So far, therefore, we find nothing amiss. The man was rich, and his ground brought forth plentifully. Herein, there is no indictment against him. Let us, then, proceed:—
"And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do?" ( Luke 12:17.)
"Because I have no room" ( Luke 12:17).
"Ah my fruits, and my goods" ( Luke 12:18).
There he is wrong again. My fruits, and my goods, and my soul, and my barns. That is all wrong. He has narrowed down things to a point. He has made himself the centre of reckoning; he has constituted his own individuality into the standard of life. But surely a man may say "my soul"? No. Only in a secondary sense, at least, may he say that. "For all souls are mine," saith the Lord. The fundamental error in life is that a man should call himself his own. And until that deadly, fatal reasoning is driven out of him, he will never take hold of life by the right end. The discussion is not, "Is what I have in my hand my property or not?" Your hand itself is not your own. Why, then, be wasting your life in some little peddling debate about what you hold in your hand? No man can live wisely, deeply, truly, until he has got rid of the notion that he is his own property. Herein is the great mystery of the Christian faith: Ye are not your own; ye are bought, ye belong to another. Glorify God in your body and your spirit, which are God"s. I do not, therefore, follow a man into any debate when he says, "My barns, my fruits, my goods." I let him chatter on; but when he says, "My soul," I arrest him! He may fight all day long about his barns and his fruit and his goods, and no useful result would testify to our wordy debate. But if I can convince a man that his soul is not his own, except in a secondary sense: that it is God"s; that it is a bought soul; and that it must take its law and its way from the utterances of God,—I shall have brought the man to the right point from which to start all the courses and all the discipline of his life. Is not selfishness at the root of all evil? Is not a man little in proportion as he debates everything in the light of his own personality? This man committed that great error. He spoke of nobody but himself; he seemed to imagine that creation was absorbed in his own little life; he was his own lawgiver, and he undertook to decide his own way. Let us read further, because we shall perhaps find that the man"s character more fully develops itself:—
"And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry" ( Luke 12:19).
What had he laid up? Much goods. Truly! But had he the years laid up? Barn enough—goods enough. But where are the stored years? Can a man lock up even one day, and say, "Thou art mine; I will come for thee"? He seemed to think that all things came within the range of his individual ownership; and yet there was a point when his poor little "my" dropped down dead, and had no longer any hold upon his property. My fruits, my barns, my goods, my soul; but not my years. No! God must, now and then, just put in a little claim of proprietorship, must he not? He says, "Hitherto shalt thou come, but no farther; and thou shalt even go to this line only in a secondary sense. But when thou dost take into thy keeping the years, and make a covenant with time and mortgage the future, I must say, No; boast not thyself of tomorrow, for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth." Ye must not say, We will go in to such and such a city, and tarry there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain. But ye ought to say, If the Lord will. There are unseen forces we have to consult; stubborn as we may be and self-resolved, there are great walls set round about us, that we cannot break through—invisible walls, but there they are—and he only is wise who, knowing the limit of his little power, and holding it as secondary, says, "Not my will, but thine, be done." We can lay up the goods, but we cannot lay up the years. We can, in some sense, call the fruits ours, but no man can call tomorrow his. There are limits to proprietorship, there are boundaries to property, and ever and anon God comes down to us in some way, to say, "The earth is mine, and the fulness thereof." No nation can live long in sweltering prosperity; sometimes, therefore, God comes down about harvest time, and scatters a blight upon the wheatfield, and people wonder. Why? "The earth is the Lord"s, and the fulness thereof." May he not do what he will with his own? Sometimes he says to the wind, "Blow," and the poor little structures of human skill are toppled over. Sometimes he says to the flood, "You may go over the line to-night—rush on!" and then men run away from the invading waters. Is it not right that now and then he should put in some kind of claim upon his own property? We hold it only as stewards; at best we have it but secondarily; it is his, and if it please him to shake the roots of the earth—"The earth is the Lord"s, and the fulness thereof." And what shall we, even the mightiest, require? Just a handful of it at last, under which to hide our dead bones.
Let us read again. We may discover that the iniquity deepens:
"I will say to my soul, Soul, take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry" ( Luke 12:19).
So much for the man"s own speech. Now we turn to another side:—
"But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?" ( Luke 12:20.)
"But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee" ( Luke 12:20).
"Thou fool." Why use this expression? The man was very wise, on one side of his nature. So many of us are clever in little points. So many people are prudent and sagacious and wise in one aspect of their nature, and are utter and irredeemable fools in others. If the light that is in us be darkness, how great is that darkness! Few men are foolish altogether. The man in the parable talked wisely up to a given moment, and from that time he went down into the utterest and worst imbecility. What does God say? "This night." God sometimes gives but short notice to his tenants. Oftentimes the Most High cometh suddenly upon us. May he rightfully do so? Yes. Why? Because "the earth is the Lord"s and the fulness thereof." All souls are his. All lives are but throbs of his own heart. No man hath right or title of proprietorship in himself, nor can have evermore.
Does not Jesus Christ in this parable disclose the method of the divine government? God comes suddenly to men, so that not a man amongst us can surely say he will be living upon the earth tomorrow morning! Oh, that men were wise; that they understood these things; that they would consider their latter end I "Lord, so teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom." "He that, being often reproved, hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy." Is there a man amongst us who knows of a certainty that he will reach his home again? Can the wisest of us say, with sureness, that he will live five minutes longer? This is the reality of affairs; this is the kind of thing we ought to look at and estimate in making up the scheme of our life. We are walking upon a very thin line. On the right hand there is an abyss, on the left hand there is a precipice. There is barely foothold between the two. "Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe." As a mere matter of fact, we hold our life without a moment"s guarantee that we shall have it tomorrow. What becometh us, then, but diligence and watchfulness and prayerfulness; a spirit that makes the best of the passing hour; a disposition that cries to be taught what is best to be done within the brief space allotted to human life?
"This night." The man had forgotten the nights! He talked about years in whole numbers; about the bright spaces called day, but did not think of those black lines called night. Between to-day and tomorrow there rolls the black night-river, and we may fall into it, and never step on the shore of the morning. "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might"
"Then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?" ( Luke 12:20.)
Can the man not take them with him? Not one of them. But they are fruits of the earth? Yes,—but not required in the other world. What, then, is it impossible for a Prayer of Manasseh, after having been anxious and thoughtful, after having worried himself to death in the amassing of a little property, is it impossible for him to take it out into the next world? Yes,—impossible! "We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out." "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where your treasure is there will your heart be also." Make your ground bring forth plentifully; be the best farmers in the neighbourhood; be successful in every kind of business or profession; and, if you possibly can, rise to the very top of the line along which you are working. But all the while hold all these things loosely; hold them in a spirit of stewardship. Then you will hold them rightly, and when God says, "Let go!" it will be but a step into heaven. The only things we can carry out of this world are our thoughts, our feelings, our impulses, our desires,—all the elements which make us spiritual men, and invest us with moral character. We take out of this world our moral and spiritual condition,—and as the tree falleth, so must it lie! What, then, do I find wanting in the speech of the foolish man? I find no grateful heart in it all. The man never blessed his banquet in the name of God. Not a word do I hear to this effect: "God hath dealt bountifully with me: praise God from whom all blessings flow. He hath put all these things into my care; he hath entrusted me with all this large estate, that I may administer it in his name. Lord, teach me how to use it, so that not one crumb be wasted, but that the whole be so ordered and dispensed as to bring honour to thy name, and satisfaction and gladness to thy children that are round about me." He doubles his enjoyment of worldly things who uses them gratefully; he drinks the best wine who drinks out of the goblet of thankfulness; he has most who gives most; and he grows most truly who, for Christ"s sake, expends himself for the good of others most fully.
How, then, are we to live wisely in the world? How, then, are we to be wise in the dispensing of the produce of the earth and the results of honest trading? We meet the whole thing only in one way. We come back at a bound to the old, old gospel. Only he who lives in Christ Jesus, and has Christ Jesus living in his heart, can use wisely and well the things of the present world. A great deal has to be learned by sheer force of thought, by mental diligence, by comparing notes one with another, by meeting in associations for the purpose of discussion; but under all, and over all, and including all, there must be a profoundly religious spirit that sees God in everything, that feels his presence, and that acknowledges his sovereignty and his right. Because, after we have made our ground do its best, and we have pulled down our barns and built on a larger scale; after we have stored up our goods, he may say to us suddenly, "To-night I shall want you!" And we cannot say him, No. You may say No to your best friend; you can refuse the invitation of your most importunate associate; but when God says, "I shall want you to-night," you cannot write a note of excuse! When God says, "Thy soul shall be required of thee to-night," you cannot say, "Lord, let it stand over for a week." See, then, our weakness, as well as our strength; and know this, O Prayer of Manasseh, as a matter of dead certainty, whatever our religious faith may be, though we are the vilest, vulgarest, and most stubborn atheists, that we cannot escape the final day—the great deed—the deed of death!
How, then, am I to become prepared for the last great scene? for I think it worth preparing for. As a wise Prayer of Manasseh, I think I shall be doing right in turning this over in my mind, and making some reflections upon it; and thus have I resolved, by the strength and grace of God, to do: I will put my confidence in God—in God as revealed in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ; in God as known to me through the Cross, as the one Saviour; God the Song of Solomon, who loved me and gave himself for me. I will walk in the way of God"s commandments, and I will diligently study his precepts; I will make his Book the man of my counsel and the light of my way. All that I can do I shall do according to the strength he gives me, and I will praise him for the power with which he may invest my life. This I will do; and I think it is the right thing. I ask you who are hovering between two opinions to decide so; and I ask those of you who are already on the right side to pray without ceasing; and let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. "Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation." The strongest of us is not stronger than his weakest point; and the very subtlest of temptation may even elude us, if our eyes be not anointed with the eye-salve that God himself alone can give.
Seeing, then, that there is to be a day of departure from this world, when I must leave my fields and my barns and my goods and my fruits and my present relationships,—what shall I do? This. Live for eternity. Look not at the things that are seen, but at the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are temporal, but the things that are not seen are eternal.
Almighty God, we bless thee that thou hast made us understand thy will in some degree. We glorify thee that we have heard of thy will through Jesus Christ thy Song of Solomon, who was able to explain it and make it clear to our dull understanding. Now thou hast laid upon us a great responsibility: to him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin. Verily thou hast done much for us: what can we do in return? Thou dost daily load us with benefits; we would that thy goodness might lead us to repentance, and not unto presumption and boastfulness; may the goodness of the Lord humble our souls, and open our eyes, and constrain us to walk in the paths of obedience; may thy mercies not be wasted upon us as rain is wasted upon the barren sand. Having received much at the hand of the Lord, may we be proportionately diligent, growing in grace, adding to virtues all the graces which thou hast named, bringing forth all the fruits of the Spirit, and justifying our communion with God by our kindness and love and service towards man. Thou knowest our life, its frailty, yet its immortality; thou knowest how abject is Prayer of Manasseh, yet how almost divine. Thou dost lead us by strange ways, thou dost interpret thyself unto us by the events of life: take thine own course with us, O loving Father, gentle Saviour, and lead us at last to the open heavens, where the morning Isaiah, where the summer lingers, where the light continues; where there is nor death, nor pain, nor parting; the homeland, the place of gathering, made sacred and secure by the eternal presence of him who died that we might live. Amen.
Something for Everybody
Our Lord commends the faithful and wise steward who gives a portion of meat in due season to the household placed in his charge. A portion of meat to each; not necessarily the same meat, not necessarily the same quantity of food; but the faithful and wise steward looks at the whole situation, sees what is best to be done, and does it conscientiously and to the best of his ability. So far the faithful and wise steward may be taken as a type of the faithful and wise pastor, or minister of a congregation, or teacher of a household or school, whose business it is to study variety of character, and to adapt his communications of doctrine, or truth, or suggestion of any kind to the capacity and the training and the circumstances of those with whom he has to deal. The man who continues steadfastly upon one line may appear to be doing more good than the man who studies a large variety of human character, and zealously tries to adapt himself not to one class of hearer or people, but to all classes. His work is often too much diffused to be estimated and measured as would be the work of a man who toils only at one kind of labour. Our Lord, however, commends in various instances that steward who studies his peculiar circumstances; who recognises and develops his individual responsibility, and who thus endeavours to serve his day and generation. Consider the variety of a human assembly: no two men are precisely alike; what one man believes another heartily discredits and zealously repudiates; what is sacred to one conscience is looked upon by another as a fanaticism or a superstition, a piece of pedantry hardly to be excused—a narrow, dwarfing, humiliating morality that ought to have been forgotten years ago. Yet the teacher must consider all these varieties, and see that by no lack of his shall any man leave his table over which he has been set by the lord of the house without having a portion of meat in due season. There should be mutual sympathy in the congregation; all exasperating and narrow individuality or personalism should be lost in a sacred and ennobling fusion of feeling, thought, desire, purpose, so that individualism shall be magnified into largeness and representativeness of humanity and aspiration.
Consider, for example, that in all assemblies you will find the slow-thinking, slow-minded hearer, untaught, unskilled, wanting much nursing and care and patience; he cannot be hastened; he has always moved at a certain pace, and his pace cannot be quickened. If you attempt to stimulate him you plunge him into confusion; if you urge him to the next sentence he completely forgets the one that has just been spoken. Yet side by side with him is a man who sees the end of a discourse in the very first word—that too-quick, too-sharp Prayer of Manasseh, who anticipates every speaker, and who knows the course of every argument before it has even been dimly outlined. What is to be done in such cases? Nothing can meet such exigencies but mutual sympathy; the quicker, keener, more penetrating the mind, the greater should be the patience, the more complete and noble the indulgence. Some credit, too, should be given to the speaker for knowing what he is about; when he is slow or diffuse, when he repeats himself in some degree, what if in his pastoral heart he be considering the untaught and slow-minded that needs his instruction a line at a time, sometimes a syllable, and a halt before the next syllable is uttered? If a man were really clever, quite a genius at hearing, able to swallow up a thousand preachers before they had opened their mouths, he ought to be as great in patience as he is brilliant in self-conceit. We cannot all travel at the same rate. Be patient with the slow one. You would not leave any behind; you will have a poor account to give at the end if you have only brought the strong, and the agile, and the audacious along with you, and have left all the little children, all the slow-footed, all the infirm—how shall you tell the lord of the house that you have only brought those who were able to gallop your pace? It will be a poor account to render; it will bring to the Lord"s sweet face a flash of righteous anger.
Here is the strong, prosperous Prayer of Manasseh, who wants everything done quickly; he reduces life to one philosophic motto—namely, Get it over. He does not want any particulars, distinctions, analyses, fine traceries in colour, and new combinations of geometric outlines; he wants to take his gospel in large boluses and let them work their mystery within him as they like. Near to him is one who is weary and ill at ease; all life is entangled in knots and perplexities, and no sooner is one hand filled than the other is emptied, and no sooner is one step taken in advance than half a step is fallen backwards. The light is always beclouded, grey; June cannot bring full day to such eyes, summer must linger long to prove that it has ever come at all. What is to be done? The fat, prosperous, dominating man takes no heed of those who are weary and ill at ease, and by so much he does not deserve his prosperity. The great law of Nature will get hold of that man some day; he can only be taught through his flesh, you can only get any hint of theology into him through his purse: impoverish him, and he may begin to pray; strip him, and in his nakedness he may cry out for the gods. Honour him who is of faint heart and sad wounded spirit; be angry with the brother who is so strong and bold and urgent: let each have his portion of meat in due season. The mature Christian must have his doctrine, and the hardened sinner must be brought under the hammer of God"s love; before some must flame the law, a living, avenging Sinai, a mountain of fire—paled by a crown of lightning. To another must be spoken poems, idyls, dreams, hints of things large and bright and ever-abiding. Yet one mind has to do all this. One mind can do it under the blessing of God if the congregation itself be intelligent, responsive, sympathetic.
No one hearer should expect the whole discourse to himself. He must be a wonderful man who needs a whole discourse; what can he do with it? No man wants the whole bill of fare. There are men who would swallow the menu, and think they had dined: why do they not swallow it? There is all the difference in the world between crumpling up the bill of fare and drinking it, and really enjoying some two or three of the viands indicated on the hospitable paper. Some men will find their refreshment in a sentence; that is enough for. them. Take your sentence, eat it, live upon it, and pray that others may be able to seize some little word, some flashing simile, some coloured parable, some hint of larger things and larger actions. Thus let there be established in a congregation the principle of mutual sympathy, so that the strong shall say, The pastor is now after the weak: God bless him; he has a great tender woman"s heart, and he will not stir one inch until he picks up the very frailest of those who want to follow him in his holy wandering. Sometimes the weak will have to say, The pastor is now struggling with the strong: he is a valiant soul, he has never been thrown yet, and in this contest by the power of Christ he will be conqueror again. God bless him! see how he tugs with the broad Hercules. Thus a discourse shall be a thousand sermons; every sentence a gospel; every appeal a new chance; every exposition a vision of the brightness and grandeur of life. Do not take your one sentence and run away. That would be selfishness. If any one would study selfishness let him be often at church. There are hearers that take just what they want, and then leave the preacher and his hearers to do what they can for themselves. Where is unity? Where is masonry? Where is the household spirit? Where the family genius? Oh! where that divine shepherdliness that carries the lambs in its bosom? Thus a congregation should be the co-pastor of the preacher. Some will pray whilst he wrestles with the hardened; some will thank God as he drops the honey of sacred promise upon those who are hungering for heavenly solace, and throughout the whole assembly there shall breathe a spirit of unity, and the discourse in its wholeness shall belong to everybody, because parts of it in their adaption belong to somebody. You may have had your portion in the prayer; when the portion of Scripture is read you may say, That is enough; I can go in the strength of that sweet word full forty days and more. So be it; now wait for the others. You are not other than part of humanity; subdue your selfishness; a little trial of patience may sometimes chasten you, and refine and enlarge your best education.
To whom shall we go for examples of all this doctrine but to Christ himself? He was the universal Preacher; he had no style of preaching—he had all styles. Have you studied Christ as a minister, pastor, preacher, teacher? How infinite the variety! How humiliating to the miracles when they are set beside Christ"s teachings! In his doctrine he was greater than in his miracles. He spoke the beatitudes, whole philosophies in little sentences, life condensed to a point, a point that flashed, and that gleams in ever-brightening beauty as the ages come and go. Will he always speak beatitudes? Shall we always hear this Man in this key? Is he one line of music? Has he founded a school of style? No. When we hear him again he will pronounce no beatitudes, but there shall roll from his lips a torrent of overwhelming Woes! And yet if our ear be quick enough to hear inner music, minor tones, undertones, we shall hear in the malediction a voice of pity, a tone that says, I would it were otherwise; and if our eyes be quick to see all life"s mystery as pictured in the face, we shall see tears coming that would have prevented the Woes if they could. Does this Teacher exhaust himself in beatitude and malediction? No; the next time we hear him he will be speaking pictures; he will be uttering those wondrous parables that hold all the stories and romances that ever really took place in human consciousness and experience. Nothing ever happened in all true fiction that cannot be found in the parables of Christ. "True fiction "—is not that a contradiction in terms? No. No fiction is worth reading that is not true—true to human nature, true to reason, true to the possibilities of life; however grand, eerie, wild it may be, the world will shake it off as a nuisance if it cannot lay hold by a thousand tentacles upon human recollection, human consciousness, human experience, the whole tragedy of human endurance and aspiration.
But besides all this Christ was a great painter of character. Perhaps we have not dwelt sufficiently upon this phase of the divine ministry. Jesus was always sketching some individual, always contributing some new picture to the gallery of human art. He did not always enjoy the advantage of being fully reported; we have to put things together in making up the ministry of Christ; we have to enter into his spirit and method of looking at things, and then, out of the fragments that are related in the evangelists, we can shape temple and poem and altar and picture as Christ meant them to be represented to the eye of the religious imagination. See how he struck off a character in a sentence. Who can forget the man in long robes? The description may be so read as really to have little suggestion in it; or it may be so read as to fill the eyes with pictures of hypocrisy and skill and partially successful deceit. Who could but remember the men standing in the marketplaces and praying to the empty clouds, as if God could stop to listen to voices without hearts? There they stand, mockers, actors, liars; and there they will stand until the end of the world"s tragedy. Then see how quickly he turns his eyes upon men who are seeking out the chief seats. Is it a synagogue? He watches the man who is urging his way to the uppermost place. Is it a feast? He says, Look at this fool who is urging himself to the top, only to be ordered down to the bottom again; watch him, see how the little comedy will end. Then he turns and paints, with wondrous ineffable skill, a heart, young, passionate, riotous, that lost its filial instinct and wandered away into far places, the habitations of dragons and the abodes of desolation and hunger. One man he described as simply well clothed, and faring sumptuously every day, and dropping into hell.
So we have justification for the various treatment of men in the example and in the authority of our blessed Lord and Master Jesus Christ. There should be great variety in Christian teaching. Society should provide texts for the preacher. The Bible is a book of seeds, germs, alphabetic hints; the newspaper should be as a bible to the reverent and eager reader; he should study the journal of the morning to know what God is doing amongst mankind. The journal will be what you make it: regard it as so much gossip, news, to be scanned and bandied about in frivolous conversation, and it will amount to nothing; regard it as indicating a providential action, a ministry of rulership, a ministry that seemingly delights in contradiction, controversy, conflict, paradox, and yet over all exercises a sovereignty which shapes things out to their best uses; then every incident will be as a pillar of cloud by day or a pillar of fire by night, or a whispered word indicating the continued presidency and the continued beneficence of God. He preaches Christ who denounces hypocrisy. The hypocrite will be the first to regard such preaching as wanting in evangelical sentiment. The hypocrite is very fond of a really juicy, savoury doctrine. It does him no harm; he can sleep through the most of the exposition; there will be no shot-mark upon his mask. Let a preacher arise amongst us who has the gift of denunciation, the genius of objurgatory speech, a man entrusted with thunderbolts and flashes of lightning, and the hypocrite will publish his name as one who is wanting in evangelical unction. The man must bear the penalty; it is his prize, it is his commendation. He preaches Christ who protects women and children. The cruel man will object to such preaching on the ground that it is a great departure from the lines that were taken by the unread Puritan divines. Abuse some other sin, and he will applaud you; lay your hand upon his cruelty, and he will be impracticable in his anger and madness. A man who shall stand up in the Christian pulpit and plead for women and children who are helpless; friendless, or cruelly used, is preaching the gospel, is uplifting the Cross of Christ. Hebrews, too, preaches the gospel who tells the worst that they may come back again. It would be unworthy preaching that omitted to take notice of those who have wandered far from light and truth and beauty, virtue, honour, and nobleness. We do not want stay-at-home shepherds who, being sure of the ninety-and-nine, care nothing for the one that is lost. They are not shepherds, they are hirelings; the true shepherd cannot sleep because one of the flock is missing; when he appears to lie down his mind is full of solicitude about the absent; what if he but watch for the first hint of dawn, that he may be away to seek that which is lost, only to return when he has found it? Blessed be that teacher, in church, in school, at home, who cannot be happy so long as there is one unhappy person over whom he can exercise some gracious influence. He preaches Christ who denounces censoriousness; he preaches the Sermon on the Mount over again. That is sadly wanting in evangelical sentiment; it will disappoint the man who lives either in cant or in sentiment.
What does your evangelicalism amount to if in five minutes you can blight fifty reputations? If you profess to be evangelical, and can so do, I will not be one of your number. Let me rather invite the charge of heterodoxy than sit down and pluck the flesh from the bones of better men than myself. He preaches Christ who proclaims pardon by the Cross. There is no other pardon. "This is the way; walk ye in it." We are not called upon to invent some theory of pardon; the question is not put to us how to get back our yesterdays, and to purge and cleanse them from the infinite staining they have undergone at our profane hands. Can you get back your yesterdays? Can you go back five-and-twenty years and heal the heart you then wounded? Have you the stealthy foot that can go noiselessly back, and put in again the treasure that you stole? Can you drive a nail into polished wood, and take it out without leaving a wound? Can you shatter crystal and then put it together again so that no flaw can be detected? The question is not put to us, How shall a man be pardoned? We have not to answer an inquiry, but to accept a welcome. "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." There is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved but the name of Jesus Christ. Yet this wonderful Son of God represents every aspect of humanity, looks in all directions. His was the fourfold ministry that had the face of a lion, the face of a cherub, the face of an eagle—but oh! had it no other face? Yea, it had the face of a man. This is the ministry the age needs. If this ministry be not exercised in its four-foldness; if it be wanting in eagle, and lion, and cherub, and humanity, or in any one of these, it is not the ministry of Christ"s ideal. It is not a reproduction of the ministry of the Son of God who was also Son of man. Each man may find a portion of meat in every service if he will seek for it; only he is disappointed who will not search. It is impossible that God"s house can be opened, and God"s praise sung, and God"s Word read without a portion of meat being furnished to every man as he wants it; and there is no sermon, how poor soever in intellectual conception, in vocal utterance, that has not in it somewhere, if the preacher be faithful to Christ, a touch, a hint, a gleam, that can be used in life"s great warfare. In this respect, Seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you. Say,—Lord, which sentence was meant for me? and he will show you. Eat it, and live evermore.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Luke 12". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany