The Answers of Jesus Christ—Life Sustained In Many Ways—Tempting Friendship—Worship Leads to Service—Definition of Simplicity—the Devil Leaveth Him
Almighty God, thou knowest why we are in haste, for our days are but a handful, and our breath is dying in our nostrils; Few and evil have been the days of thy servants, yet hast thou given unto us great mercy and gladness, though we have often turned, aside from thy gifts and have not enjoyed the bounty of thy love. Behold our years are hastening away: no man hath hand long enough and strong enough to catch and detain them; they fly away on broad, swift wings, and we cannot tell which way they go, nor can any man find his dead yesterdays. O that men were wise, that they would consider these things, and lend an attentive mind to all thy Word, so that their lives might be founded in Wisdom of Solomon, and rise up in all the brightness of hope. Yet we are foolish before God, and obstinate: with a strange hardness of heart we receive his rain as the barren rock receives it, and return nothing that is beautiful and useful to him. God be merciful unto us sinners, and remember not the past against us as an accusation; give us the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, which will lead us to better life, that we may treasure our moments with most miserly care and spend them as men who must give an account of their outlay. Then shall our lives be filled with the beauty of a loving service, and in our very breath there shall be the expectation of a great hope.
We bless thee that we are still in the land of the living, that though the days yet to come may be few and dark, yet we shall spend them here, where the altar Isaiah, where the open Bible may be read, where the great cross of Christ rises above all our sin, and where even yet we may know the joy and the liberty of divine salvation.
We bless thee for the year that is now dying, so full of mercy, though full of trouble. Thou hast watched us and tended us night and day, and though our life has been a daily peril and a nightly trouble, yet through all hast thou shown thy presence and given proof of thy government and dominion. The Lord overrule all things to happy ends, the Lord pardon his servants through Jesus Christ, the Priest and Saviour of the world, for every sin that has marred their lives; the Lord accept any sacrifice we have rendered, not as gifts of our own, but as expressions of his inspiration.
We bless thee for all thy tender care and thy loving mercy; and as for thy rod, so long and sharp and heavy, we would endeavour to kiss it, and bless the hand that has dealt the stroke. Wherein thou hast taken away from our eyes the beauty which filled them, hast thou not transplanted the flower to fairer climes? Wherein thou hast dug the grave where we least of all would have it dug, is it not that thou mightest wean our love to things worthy of its fire? Help us to see the divine meaning of our life, and to hide ourselves within the ample purpose of God"s love and wisdom; may we keep our lives from sin, and our hearts from that aching despair which leaves an open gate for the devil and his angels. May we at all times rest in the Lord and wait patiently for him, knowing that we must not tempt him to our rescue, nor bring about our own purpose by deceitful means.
The Lord give cheerfulness of heart to those who have known long sorrow; the Lord show one small rift in the dark cloud, through which the morning may be seen—yea, the lord be tender with his own comfortableness to those who have been long strangers to ought of joy and high delight.
Enable us all to make better vows and to keep them. Permit us all to see the New Year with a higher courage and a nobler faith in God and in his Son. May our motto be—"God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our lord Jesus Christ," and upon the banner of our life may there be written, "For me to live is Christ." And grant unto us thy Holy Spirit, an indwelling guest and friend, to inspire the right thought, to dictate the right word, to show us the right course in life. When the last day comes and the last word is spoken, and the farewell is bidden to a world, by our sin not worth living in, may we have given us an entrance into the city of gardens, the city of light, the mother Jerusalem, the tender one, in whose breast we shall be nursed and nourished for ever. Amen.
Matthew 4:1-11. (continued.)
We are speaking now about the temptation of Jesus Christ. Last Sunday morning we considered the temptations, one by one, and promised that we should consider this morning the replies made to them by Jesus Christ.
Referring to a remark I made last Sunday morning, that all things were under the control of an independent and self-existent Being, even the devil himself being included in all things, the question has been asked whether, considering there is one self-existent being, there might not be a possibility of there being two. I think if we look a little attentively into the matter, we shall find that there is only one representative or original of everything. We shall find that there is only one word in human speech: all other words come out of that as the branches and the leaves come out of the root. There is only one verb in all grammar: for the sake of convenience we have, perhaps, a thousand verbs, regular and irregular, but looked at closely we shall find that there is only one verb in all human speech: that is the verb to be. All the other verbs come out of it; no other verb can live without it—all the other verbs are phases and moods and aspects of that—"I am that I am." We shall find that there is only one number, and that number is One. Two is an invention of yours. The multiplication table is a trick of man"s; there is only the number one. Two is a guess, a conjecture, something that has to be granted in order that other reckoning may be made, but all these numbers will run round again and come back to—One. There is only one light; our sun is lighted by some other flame. There is an inner and essential Shekinah in the universe at which all the meaner torches are lighted; planets and constellations catch their tiny blaze from that central and infinite lustre. There is but one life, God, and the devil is part of him. So is Prayer of Manasseh, so is every angel. Mystery of mysteries—there is but one mystery in the universe, and that is not how the devil came to be, but how God came to be.
These I give as rough indications of lines of thinking, and simply pay this heed to the suggestion which has been thrown out and for which I am thankful. Follow me, if you please, in all these expositions, and assist me by questions, by difficulties, by putting things in my mind that have not occurred to it already. In this way we shall set a thousand lamps around the book and get light from one another. Do not let me teach alone; ask me if I am not wrong, correct me when I am inaccurate, amplify the teach ing when it is incomplete. In this way let us be fellow-students of the Holy Word.
Having looked at the temptations one by one, let us now take the same course with regard to the answers. The first answer Isaiah, "Man shall not live by bread alone." This is a profound view of life as contrasted with a shallow one. The devil"s notion was that life could be sustained only in one way; his short programme was, "Eat and live. Take plenty of bread and refuse to die." That is his narrow conception of this wondrous immortality; he thinks it is something that must be spoon-fed, his notion of it is that if a man have bread enough, what more can he want? And it is thus he befools the world, by asking us to put a loaf in every cupboard, by asking us to fill the house from floor to ceiling with bread: and then we shall have no difficulty in maintaining and prolonging our life. With what a revealing flash must this answer have fallen upon his stupid mind—Man shall not live by bread alone. There are fifty other ways of living: if God so will it, there are ten thousand other ways of living. Man need not receive his life from his body at all, man can suspend his bodily functions and live in another way, if it so please God to sustain him. Do not suppose that God is shut up to one way of keeping our human mechanism going: he could feed us with his breath, sustain us by his word, command our life to grow, and we need not resort to any of the little contrivances which so vex us by their detail to sustain our bodily life.
We have always been thinking that there was but one way of sustaining our breath: man has been victimised and be fooled by the delusion, that if he had no bread, he could not live. Jesus Christ comes to enlarge the possibilities of life, to say to you, "Take no care or thought for tomorrow, what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink. Life is not a question of drinking or eating. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, put your trust in the Lord and he will feed you, he will find bread for you which the soul can eat." Thus Jesus Christ strikes at the foundation of our mistakes. He does not say, "Whatever you do, make bread enough." He says, "Take no thought about bread at all. Rest in God, serve God, want to do the right, want to be the good, and all these things shall be added to you." The true notion of the text is that God has innumerable ways of sustaining life, And that we live, not because we eat, but because God wills that we live. Your bread is a secondary cause, or a transient occasion, it explains next to nothing: you live not because you have had a sufficiency of bread, but because God"s decree has gone forth, and your days are appointed and registered in heaven.
Suppose I should make the meaning a little more lucid, by putting it thus. Man can make bread by one trade alone. You see the mistake there. Man can make bread only in one way of commerce—you laugh at that as a sophism; you say, "There are a thousand trades by which a man may make bread. Now make that a spiritual conception and carry it up into the highest regions, and you will understand what Jesus Christ meant when he said, "Man shall not live by bread alone." Bread does not cover the whole possibility of living, it is the divine will that settles everything: if God mean me to live, you may take away from me all bread, and all the fruits of the earth and the juices thereof, all the rams of Nebaioth and the beasts that browse in the meadows, and you will find me, forty years hence, young, strong, without a wrinkle, without one token of infirmity in my body.
That is the true conception of life. We are misled by any other. We say if we do not make bread we cannot live. That is true only within very small limits, but the limits themselves may be atheistic. I live, not because I baked a loaf yesterday and ate it to-day, but because God wills that I should live. Your life is not a keeping up of yourself as the resultant of some cunning contrivance of yours; your breath is in your nostrils, and God himself keeps it there. When I receive that conception, in all its fulness and poetry, into my soul, I know what Jesus Christ meant when he said, "Take no thought for the morrow: sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness." "Trust in the Lord, and do good," said an older speaker still, "so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed." We shall have bread to eat that the world knoweth not of; our life shall not then be the vulgar result of bread-eating, but it shall be a mystery to everybody how we live, and live on so little—that Isaiah, so little that is measurable; but he who draws his life from God"s heart has more than a little to live on. Thou fool, thy loaf perishes in the handling, God"s life seems to grow in the using.
The second answer. "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." This is a right use of liberty as contrasted with a wrong one. Let us understand the meaning of this word, tempt. Let us put it in this broad fashion—thou shalt not make experiments upon God, thou shalt not set traps for God, thou shalt not put thyself into false relations just in order to try God and to put religion to the test. Do not run into danger for the purpose of being delivered from it. That, I take it, is the practical meaning and application of the word tempt. Perhaps we shall understand it better by taking a social illustration, for we often see things clearly by means of human analogy.
There are persons who are always tempting our friendship. They do not broadly and lovingly trust it, they do not meet us half-way in joyful and hopeful co-operation, but they continually set little traps by which they may catch us if they can. Have you had acquaintance with such disagreeable persons and their detestable habits? If they are in company, walking with you, they fall a little way behind, just to see if you will look after them. They are always testing you, tempting you, giving you opportunities of showing how much you care for them. They stay away from church just to see whether the minister will miss them. Nice people to have to deal with! They will stay away another Sunday just to see whether the people in the next pew call upon them. That is tempting friendship, putting it to little tests, setting little snares for it to catch it, and then to say, "Now I see just how much you care for me." If you have had experience of such persons, you understand what it is to tempt love, to tempt power, to tempt God.
Jesus Christ says, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." Do not put thyself into foolish situations in order to draw him forth from his secret tabernacle and to work some mighty wonder for thy deliverance. Do not use him for merely individual ends and purposes, do not fall into a pit, saying, "God will come and deliver me out of this pit, and so reveal his mighty strength in the eyes of all the people." You try rather to give God as little trouble as possible. Work up to the end of your liberty; say to him, "Father, I would come a longer way to meet thee if I could; I will do all in my little power to carry out thy will, to keep myself, to preserve my life from danger. I will not run risks for the sake of bringing thee out of heaven in order to work some mighty demonstration on my behalf in the eyes of the vulgar and the profane." That is true religion, and that is true friendship also. If I am truly your friend I do not set little traps for you. On the contrary, I take the best view of you, I love you, and if there be anything like mystery about your conduct to me, I say the misunderstanding is mine, there is nothing of purposed trial on the other side; I must be more on the alert, and I must co-operate more heartily and sympathetically with my friend. But if I be only your friend in a superficial and momentary sense, then I am always trying you, setting little gins and snares in your road and watching you, and if I am a member of your congregation, I absent myself to see whether you mark my absence, and if I am your minister, I try your love in this small way and that. Shame on us if such be the way in which we bruise the angel of friendship. Let heart meet heart and man meet God, and work with him, and do not put his almightiness to little strains and stresses, which, being interpreted, mean nothing less than an evil heart of unbelief. Work as if you were God, and trust as though you had no power of your own. Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God, but love him and co-operate with him, and be as much to him as you possibly can.
Take the third answer. "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve." This is constancy in worship as contrasted with caprice and fickleness.
Thou shalt worship. Take that word in opposition to tempt. Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God, but thou shalt worship him, give him the heart"s adoration, the spirit"s whole fire of love, without one spark falling otherwhere. Thy religious life should be a concentrated offering, intense as flame. That is what keeps a man right, religiously and theologically. We are not propped up by little clevernesses, mechanical, ecclesiastical, and theological; we are not shored up by some religious mechanism of man"s contrivance; we are only right in proportion as our worship is right. If we live in our ideas and syllogisms, if we secure ourselves behind the covert and defence of our own way of stating theological propositions, the very first thunderstorm that comes will carry us away. I am right only when I rightly pray, I am secure only whilst I truly worship, I am delivered from fear of death and hell only in proportion as my fellowship with the Father is intimate and sweet. Ask me to define myself in words, and I say words seem to be but temptations of controversy, propositions are only so many opportunities of contradiction, but worship, deep as the life, silent as the springs of being, mighty as the urgency of love, that it Isaiah, and that only, that keeps a man right amid all this swirl and hurry, tumult and danger, of a probationary life.
How is it with us in prayer? I do not ask how it is with us in the mere fluency of sentences: that is often a temptation and a mockery, or may easily become such; but how is it with the desire of the heart, with the outgoing of the soul, with the supreme and inflexible purpose of the will? Do we love God, wait for him, trust in him, believe every syllable he has spoken, and do we know him, not by some trained act of the intellect, but by an inexplicable and ineffable operation of that sympathetic power of the soul which makes us men? I am afraid lest any of us be living a merely intellectually religious life. There is great danger of hiding ourselves behind verbal statements and trusting to formulated faiths: these are both and all useful in their way, but their way goes but a little distance—the only thing that is invincible, is love, the only supreme religion is the sacrifice of the broken heart in complete and affectionate trust in the living God.
Not only must there be this worship, but following it and coming out of it there must be service. Thus the text reads, "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve." Religion is not a contemplation only, religion is a service; religion is not a folding of the hands together and an upturning of the eyes to measurable heavens, and a silent expectation of something that shall fall upon our indolence and act upon our industry—religion is activity, service, sacrifice, devotion, whole-hearted consecration of every power of the life to one object, and if we have not attained that height, let us strive after it with sweet modesty and with burning energy. Let our heart go out in that direction. I should have pity upon a poor wounded traveller whose face was set towards his home, though he could not take one step to it. He says by that action of the face, "I want to be at home, I would God I were there. Sickness calls me, want implores me, death beckons me: I cannot go, but I can turn my eyes to the old homestead, and look as if I would be there above all other things on earth." We take the will for the deed. It is so with God: if we really purpose in our hearts to serve Him, and if we fail in a great majority of the points which constitute that purpose, yet if our desire be intense and high it will be set down as an accomplished fact.
These, then, are the three answers which Jesus Christ delivered to the devil"s temptations. One point before we look at the answers as a whole.
Jesus Christ said, in answer to the devil"s quotation of Scripture, "It is written again." What is the meaning of that? It is that the Bible is not made to be of one text; the meaning is that you must compare Scripture with Scripture. It is possible to fasten the mind upon one single line, so as to miss the meaning of the whole revelation of the Bible. We have to compare spiritual things with spiritual—it is written here, and it is written there, and the two writings must be brought together in intelligent, critical, and spiritual comparison. It is written and it is written again, and the one passage must be read in the light of the other. You must have the whole Bible, and not an isolated text, to rest upon. There is a biblical spirit as well as a biblical letter. Is it not possible that some of us have fixed our minds upon someone passage of Scripture that is really torturing us with agony we dare not explain to our chosen minister? Whereas, if it could be pointed out, he might be able to say to us, "It is so written there, but it is written again," and thus the light might come and all the joy of liberty. If there is any man here whose soul is afflicted by one special passage of Scripture, and I can be of any service in showing him other writings which illuminate it, it will be the joy of my life to be of that service to any soul bowed down by such distress.
Looking at the answers as a whole, three things strike me. First of all, they were written answers. This is no matter of ready repartee; this is not a question of the quickness of Christ"s intelligence: this is not an unexpected flash of fire by friction that had not been counted upon—this is quotation; this is rest upon the revealed word; this is an endorsement of all that was written in the then Holy Scriptures. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. You are not called upon to be geniuses in your conflicts with the devil; you are only called upon to know you Bibles well. Where is the man who knows his Bible well? and yet where is there a man in England who has not some portion of the Bible humming in his head, so much so that he thinks he knows it—who when called upon for quotation, round, complete, direct, can give it? What wonder that the devil plays his game successfully with men whose Scripture quotations halt and tremble for very weakness, being uncertain how the words stand, and not knowing whether the point of the sword be the hilt or the hilt the point? Who can fight Song of Solomon, now trying one end and now the other? Let us read the Bible all over again; get it into our hearts as a letter and a spirit—yea, let it dwell in us richly, for as there is but one verb, one number, one light, so there is but one Book—all other books are but broken lights of that. Jesus Christ went directly to the supernatural; he went to revealed truth. It is marvellous that amid all these replies he does not make what we should call an original observation. He quotes, and if you search further into the matter you will find that he quotes—himself.
These answers were not only written, but they were simple. There is no deep metaphysic here, which bewilders the head of poor believers, and makes them giddy with exercises of unwonted intricacy, and calling for unwonted intellectual energy. Great answers are always simple, simplicity being understood as the last result of wisdom—not something shallow and superficial, but as the ultimate result of processes which spread over the whole being of God. The whole movement of civilization is towards simplicity: every now and then we startle ourselves by the simplicity of answers which we thought would have been infinitely profound. We had been looking for words six feet long, and lo! all the meaning we wanted was trembling in a word of one syllable, brief and beautiful as a dewdrop when the sun inflames it with tender glory. O, thou groper and seeker after deep things in relation to the kingdom of heaven, thou who dost want to climb up to the skies by some clever staircase of thine own making, know thou that the way is simple in the sense already defined. It expresses God"s eternity, and yet it bows itself down to thy littleness and weakness. "It is written"—be that thine answer. "It is written again"—be that thy further reply. Never go to search for keen retort or flashing repartee within thine own genius: the answer is not in thee, it is in God. Strike no match of thine own wit; pluck thy lightnings from the heavens—they never fail.
Then the answers were not only written and simple, they were authoritative. They are not quoted as conjectures, they are not submitted as suggestions. When a man goes into war, he must not take with him a sword that has to be tried, but one that has been tested and approved. God knows exactly what temptations every one of us has to endure, and he has written down for us the exact answer. If we try any other reply, we shall get a retort from the enemy; but if we accumulate God"s answers, and hurl them at him, he will leave us, and angels will come and minister unto us.
Let us be thankful that in all these answers Jesus Christ has said nothing that we ourselves are not entitled to say. When the devil tells me that I must live by bread alone, I say, "What a liar! I can live in any way God sees fit to appoint. He is not shut up to one way of keeping man"s breath in his nostrils. Thou art a liar! "When the devil says to me, "Do something rash, just for the purpose of testing whether God does love you;" when the devil says to me, as he did to some magazine writer not long ago, "Now let two hospitals be chosen, and in connection with the one there shall be prayer, and in connection with the other there shall be no prayer, and let us see into which of the hospitals the patients get better sooner"—I say, "O, what folly, what tempting of God, what trap-setting, what small experimenting, what neat ways of forming ourselves into an innumerable jury for the purpose of putting the Almighty to the test." Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Providence is not a question of balloting, and snare-setting, and testing and tempting; it is a question of trusting, living in and with God, and knowing that an inch is not an ell, and that a part is not the whole.
I am tempted to tempt God. I want him to bless my wheat-fields. I, speaking out of my folly, say to heaven, "God, if thou wouldst give me, a praying Prayer of Manasseh, a great crop, and starve the fields of that profane person over the road, people would begin to think there is a God in heaven—do it." It is a superficial speech, utterly shallow and narrow, and it is a temptation or unworthy trial of God.
When the devil says to me, "Worship me, and I will give thee the world," then I am entitled to get angry. There is a keener accent in the last answer, "Get thee hence"—the dog was ordered behind. If we could speak with more emphasis we should get a clearer path for our feet, but if we are "if-you-please" -ing the devil, and asking him to be good enough to get out of the way, if we are saying, "By your leave, Satanic majesty, we will go forward," do you suppose he will give us his leave that we may advance? I tell you religion has lost its emphasis, religion has fallen down before conventional moods and standards, and has lost that high accentuation which made its speech heard above the hurling storm. Hear the Blessed One, see his flushed face, hear that new tone in his voice—we have not heard it before in these readings, "Get thee hence!" Speak with keener emphasis, with broader meaning—open thy throat to the fulness of its compass, and let thy words shoot out like cannon balls, and God will give thee victory.
"Then the devil leaveth him," with bowed limbs and shrunken neck, and eyes fastened on the dust, crestfallen, jaw-broken, his head a-swim with a new dizziness, with purpose malignant as hell burning in his heart, but every energy of his being collapsed, made limp, flaccid, his back-bone melted like wax in the fire. He left him. Whether he will return, we shall see as the exposition advances.
The Temptation (Continued)—the Comfort of Temptation—the Grandeur of Man—the Temptation, If—the Enemy"s True Character
Almighty God, we would begin the year in thy strength, and in all the hope of thine infinite grace. Not one day would we live without thee, every morning would we be found at thy gates, and every eventide with a new song upon our lips. This is our purpose, how much greater is thine intent concerning us. Thou hast given us this lifting up of heart: we speak not in view of our own inspiration, our tongue utters what thou hast already told the heart to say. Let thine Amen be greater than our prayer, yea let thine answer overflow the letter of our petition as the waters cover the channels of the sea. From this day forth may we all be thine, may no man call himself his own, may the cross be the object of our love, and the kingdom of Christ, the supreme hope of our life. Forgetting the things that are behind, may we press towards the things that are before—better things, higher and altogether greater; by a mighty and daily constraint of the heart may we be drawn onward to the things which are full of God and therefore full of heaven.
We give thee unanimous and unfeigned thanks for all the mercies of the year to which we have said farewell. Within that year we have wedded the bride, and rocked the cradle, and dug the grave; we have heard the birds sing and seen the flowers die, and now it is gone away with the story of our temptation and our sin, our many prayers and our feeble efforts. The Lord help us in the year that is now coming to be nobler in every purpose, more steadfast in every grace: may we be marked in our whole life by a broader and stronger charity, and by a constancy which no wind of temptation can shake. Where there is particular fear, may there be particular help, and if anyone is desiring this night to offer special prayer for special mercies in circumstances critical, full of danger and distress, the Lord hear us on the behalf of such, and send gracious answers of light and hope to suffering children of men.
The Lord hear us in all our prayers, and cause us to love his altar, with a higher affection. The Lord save us from all delusions, all vain notions, all unworthy purposes, and fill us with a consuming desire to know himself and his truth more profoundly. If any man have a quarrel against any, let the quarrel cease just now. If any man have an uncharitable thought about his fellow- Prayer of Manasseh, let the heart be cleansed of that evil thought just now. If any man have consciously done wrong to any fellow-creature, work in him an immediate desire to apologise and repair and repent both towards man and towards God. Wherein our purposes are right, strengthen them every one: wherein our counsel is founded in vanity and marked by feebleness, the Lord turn it upside down and visit us with the darkness of confusion.
The Lord pity us, the Lord forgive us. Our prayer is not of pur own utterance, nor is it offered in our own name. We pray in the name of the Priest, the Intercessor, the One Mediator between God and man. Remembering his cross, his precious blood, his infinite sacrifice, we commit our prayer to his priesthood, and we know the answer will be great and sure. Amen.
The Temptation (continued)
Let me ask your attention for the third time to the record of our Saviour"s temptation, which we have just read. Already we have twice assembled around this incident: in the first case making ourselves acquainted with the precise nature of the temptations addressed to our Lord, and in the second instance making ourselves acquainted with the answers which were returned to those subtle and terrific assaults. Our purpose to-night will be limited to the setting forth of certain practical lessons suggested by the conflict, which may apply to ourselves in all the weary strife and painful discipline and all but incessant temptations of our own earthly course.
Shall I startle you very much if I say that there is some comfort to be derived even from temptation? Shall I for the moment depart from the usual course of preachers and instead of dwelling on the dark side of temptation, show you how light comes in that black hour? There are times enough in the year when I may seek to afflict you with considerations that pain the soul; what if, for the time being, we get lifted in tenderer mood altogether, and speak light to those who sit in darkness? This is of the Lord"s doing and it is as marvellous in our eyes as it is consolatory to our heart.
For example, temptation implies a measure of goodness on the part of the man who is tempted. The orchard robber does not go into the orchard in the winter time: he says there is nothing to be gained; why skulk behind the hedge, why watch the doors of the house, why lay plots and schemes for the robbery of this orchard? There is not one particle of fruit to be had upon all these winterbound branches. The robber of orchards comes in fruit time; it is the fruit that tempts him; it is the fruit that is worth having; he does not want the barren branch, how great and far-reaching soever it may be; he wants the ripening fruit—for that his fingers itch.
Is it not Song of Solomon, in some degree, with regard to the assault of the enemy? There is some virtue he would pluck from us, there is some noble temper he would spoil, there is some high desire he would Mark, there is some meditated prayer just taking wing for Heaven that he would turn aside. Reflect, then, that your temptations may be, from the diabolical side, but so many indications that you are worth tempting.
Then let us once for all get rid of the delusion that temptation is sin That thought has troubled many an honest heart. A man feels himself strongly drawn in a wrong direction, and he says, "I am a very bad man." Once let a man"s hope in himself through God fail, and he will be the very thing that he fears. The temptation doubles itself in its breadth and momentum by suggesting that itself is sin. The best are the most tempted; we have already seen that in the course of our exposition, when we read these words together, one after the other in sharp succession—"This is my beloved Son. Then Was Jesus led up of the spirit to be tempted of the devil." We all remember instances in which the thought that temptation was sin utterly took the sunshine out of our life. You are tempted to take that drink that has ruined you. You say, "I have as good as done it; there is a pull at my heart which wants me to do it, and if I have already drunk it in my heart I may as well drink it with my lips. I have committed my sin spiritually, I may as well perfect it externally." Beware lest you give temptation sharpness, leverage, and the use of all the mechanical powers by considering that temptation is itself sin. Do not say, "What a bad heart I have, or I could not be tempted so; "on the contrary, reason thus—"What a strong enemy I have, how he plagues me, and does he play his game for nothing? Is he laying all his plots and schemes and plans that he may win a rotten straw?" Through the force and urgency and number of your temptations, see the grandest side of your nature. Who wastes his guns on empty citadels? Who wastes his fire in burning up that which is itself valueless for all the purposes of cleansing and purification? In proportion as you are great and noble and heavenly-minded will be the force and persistency of the diabolic assault.
There is yet another streak of comfort in this dreary discipline. The struggle excites interest in two worlds. In this great battle you find the devil, you find humanity, and you find angels. The last verse reads, "Then the devil leaveth him, and behold angels came and ministered unto him." We are watched. Seeing then that we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses—what then? Let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith. "Then was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness." Then he will be alone. He will be struck at where there is no friend to help him. Not so! Put the first verse and the last together. No man was there, but all God"s angels thronged the assaulted Christ. Lord, open our eyes that we may see the reality of things. We think we are alone when all high Heaven is round about us, and every angel is on guard to defend our life and consummate our purpose. We are blind, we have mistaken the ceiling for the sky, and walls of our own building have we mistaken for thine unmeasured horizon. Give us accuracy and farness of vision.
How differently—let us dream a moment, wildly, almost blasphemously—the verse might have finished, namely thus, "Then the devil leaveth him, and behold his angels, black as himself, pitiless as his own heart, came and dragged him away." O wild dream, nearing the border line of blasphemy, yet not without its wholesome suggestion, for what was impossible in the case of Christ is possible in the case of every one of us, for we are so frail, so short-sighted, so open to seduction and false lure. Shall it be said of me, of you, "Then the devil leaveth him, and sent hounds of hell to drag the wounded soul into the pit. Then the devil having bruised his heart and thrown him down and cast him to the ground with infinite superiority of strength, left him to be fetched home by some hound of hell"? I hit my body in the eye, I blacken both my eyes, I push and thrust sharp knuckles into my eye, lest, having preached to others, I myself become a castaway. What I say unto one I say unto all—Watch. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. We fight not with flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against forces impalpable and all but irresistible.
I cannot look then at the temptation in this light, without seeing somewhat of the grandeur of MAN. Two worlds contend for his possession; the angels want him, and the damned host gnash their teeth upon him and long to devour him. What is he? Some dying insect; some frail, animated dust, some little creature that can be consumed utterly as to his soul as well as to his body, before the moth? It is not so that I read the biblical account of my own nature; the divinity stirs within me, I can utter vast prayers, I can stretch my supplications onward till the stars fall under them, like earth-lamps dimly seen through infinite mists. Do not tell me that I am little and mean and worthless; I know what I am when the devil would give all he has to get me, and when Christ laid down his life that I may never die. Not the metaphysician, not the psychologist, not the philosopher, can take from me by long and weary-winding reasoning my grandeur. I feel it, I know it; when the long-strained argument has ceased its murky and confusing eloquence, I rise and say, "I feel that I am the bearer of the image of the divine." My consciousness cannot be argued down, my vocabulary may be exhausted, my intelligence may be put to shame by the superior knowledge of many a disputant, but when all that can be said on the other side has completed itself in many a weary period, my consciousness rises and says, "Thou art a king"s son; claim thine heirship and insist on the possession of thine inheritance." Tell me if you have not had moments of consciousness in which you have forgotten your littleness and have stood out in heroic breadth and grandeur, transformed, your very clothes shining with light and your face aflame with a lustre not thrown upon it from any external lamp.
Thus would I gather comfort from the temptations of life. Doubt yourself if your temptations are few. The man who sleeps in a wooden hut, with not one thing of any value whatever upon his person or within his residence, says, "I hear a good deal of burglaries and felonies of one kind and another, but do you know I have no faith in the rumours. I am never assaulted, I have never seen a burglar, no man ever interferes with me; I fancy, therefore, that all this talk about the burglarious invasion of houses is folly." Can you account for that man"s never having a visit from a burglar? How would you account for his exemption from that social pest? Instantly you would say, "That man has nothing worth taking; burglars do not waste their time on such, they go where the prey is." So I say to thee, my tempted friend, wearying thyself out with much vivisection and cross-examination of thy poor tortured heart. If the temptations are many, it may be because the possessions are great. Take this view of the assault and strengthen thyself in God.
Beware of the temptation which comes with an IF in its mouth. If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down. Suspicion may be the beginning of ruin. Suspect your sonship and you are undone at once. For a moment begin to wonder if you are really a child of God, and the battle is half won by the enemy. The old divines used to preach the grand and savoury doctrine of assurance. They used to say, faith is the milk, assurance is the cream. With puritanic zeal, but with a divine enthusiasm, they used to urge us to claim all the enjoyment and security of distinct assurance. Have we escaped from their terms and from their theology? Then we have escaped from a rich banquet, that we might feed ourselves upon the empty wind. Recall the great and noble words of Scripture—"Now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; if sons, then heirs, heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ." There is substance in that talk; it is not a coloured vapour, it is the substance of the soul"s distinct recognition of certain divine securities which God has promised never to withdraw from the faithful and loving soul. Can you "Abba, Father," cry? Can you ever with your soul"s tenderest trust say, "God is my Father"? Then, never let the devil write his big and hideous if upon your faith. Fatherhood like God"s does not change with the wind; this divine relationship is not a question of the barometer; this acceptance on the part of the divine Father is not a question of your physical sufferings and moods and indigestions and divers infirmities. Remember that you built your house upon a rock, and do not suppose any fog can overthrow it. If you had built the edifice of your life upon the shifting fog it would not have been worth one moment"s purchase. If your foundation is right, the air will presently be clear. You know what visitations of fog we have had, and suppose anyone had said to you, "All the great buildings of London are now in imminent danger," you would have smiled at the childish suggestion. Why? Because nothing has interfered with the foundations of those buildings. Fogs break no slates, fogs cannot even break the glass; how then should fogs shake the rocks and make the towers totter?
It is even so with our spiritual life. These temptations and times of depression, sad feeling, low-heartedness, and want of courage, are but the fogs that come for a moment. You are founded on a rock, then lift up your heads—the fogs will pass and every star will be found to be firm in its place. As for those of you who serve the devil, let me tell you that you are either under the dominion of God or you are under the dominion of God"s enemy. Do not suppose that there is a third master. It is God or mammon. Do not suppose that if you escape religion you escape all service—bondage—you are the slaves of the devil, or you are the slaves of Christ. Let me tell you one or two things about your master. He was once mine and I know him. I have studied his game. I know every move he makes. He has only three moves with their variations on the chess-board of life. He has only one world to offer, and he offered it to Christ. "All these things," said Hebrews, "will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me." All—a little ALL! It appeared great to his eye, as it appears great to our eye, but it is a little all, and how infinitely little it must have appeared to him who made all the worlds! If you have devised a little light that will shine ten yards further than the light which somebody else has devised, you will have column after column in the newspaper about it, and it will appear a great light. But if you had made one single sunbeam, you would laugh at the greatness of your supposed illustrious flame. If you could see all the solar system and all the outlying stellar universe, circuit beyond circuit, flame beyond flame, and then be called to look at some little jet of man"s contrivance, you would smile at the mighty epithets which he applies to its definition. The devil looks upon the world and says "All these things will I give thee" to a Man who made the universe, and stands above it, and sets on the proudest sun the imprint of his footstep. Do not be deceived by nearness and by small proverbs and by immediate possessions. Have bread to eat the world knoweth not of; have the high acquaintanceship of God, and then the petty fellowship of earthly princes will dwindle into its proper insignificance.
I will tell you another thing about your master which will make you ashamed of him. He trades upon my weakness; he never comes to me in my strength; for whenever he sees me a little weary, then he comes with all his force. When I have fasted forty days and forty nights and become conscious of painful hunger, then he slouches up and tells me his little plan for bread-making out of stones. When I feel tired at night, all my energy gone out of me, he comes to me and says, "You could do a great deal better than this, you know, if you left the pulpit and took up with another line of life that I could put you into—why, there is no telling what you might do." And I say, "I do feel tired, I wish I could escape this weariness." And he says, with pleasant voice, lowered into a soft minor, so dear to true confidence, "I can show you how." The beast never faced me when I was strong, he was afraid of me when the God shone in my face, but whenever he has caught me weak and depressed and sad, with tears in mine eyes, at the grave-side, at the bedside of my dying friend, then he has come to me and said, "I can get you out of all this." Be ashamed of such a coward, disown him, write a better name on your life-banner—he is a. coward, a liar, a murderer from the beginning, a separater of brethren, a deceiver, a usurper. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
And as for you, poor soul, barely living, I want a word with you at the opening of this year. You are a misunderstood man; persons come to you and say that you ought not to do this, and ought not to do that, and you know it well enough, and their exhortation is but so much vitriol poured into an open wound. They call you a bad man and they have no hope in you, and everybody has left you now but your mother, and sometimes you think she is going too, but if she goes out at one door she will come back through another. When a man"s mother leaves him, no angel can come to minister unto him; he is ready then for the hounds that drag him down. Shall I set myself up against you and boast and triumph over you? No. Why? Because you have been sorely tempted, and I may not have been tempted so sorely. It took you a long time to fall; I might have fallen in half the time: who am I then that I should taunt you and mock you? Be it far from me to practise this kind of reproach—it is the meanest use of morality.
And you have lived a poor, poor life and are next to nothing to look at now from a spiritual point of view, and you are going almost to give up. Don"t. The friends around you know what temptations you have fallen into, but as Robert Burns says in one of the sweetest of his poems,
Two Mountain Scenes
To this proposition Jesus Christ returned an answer which caused the devil to leave him. He received a great offer and he declined it with holy sternness. It was truly a great offer—nothing less than "all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them;" and the return to be made was sentimental rather than practical, or at least would have been so regarded by any other man than Jesus Christ. The offer was Empire, and the price was Worship. Jesus Christ said No, and came down from the mountain as poor as he was when he was taken up. With what ease he could have had "the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them," and what good he could have done if all things had been under his control! Yet he said No; and in after days he who might have been King of the world said, "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head." So much, you say, for throwing away the great opportunities of life! Read again—"Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them;... and Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth" ( Matthew 18:16, Matthew 18:18).
Put these two mountain scenes together, and consider all that has happened between the one occasion and the other. If you thus lay hold of the case in all its bearings, some such thought as this will run through your mind—You can take the world on the devil"s terms, so simple, so easy; or you can say No to the devil, and come down to poverty, to hard work, to sorrow, to sacrifice, and through that rugged course you can find your way back to the mountain clothed with larger power, even with much of heavenly and earthly dominion put into your hands.
And it comes very much to this in life. To every man the devil is saying, Accept the world on my terms; fall down and worship me, and I will give you riches, fame, power, or whatever you think will make your life happy. Such a temptation comes in some form and in some degree to every heart, does it not? Now in direct opposition to this, Jesus Christ says—Take no thought for your life; seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these prizes and honours, so far as they are good, will be added to you: the devil took me up into an exceeding high mountain, and offered me the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them if I would fall down and worship him; I said No to his offer, and I came down from the hill to live a life of sacrifice, patiently and lovingly to do the work of him that sent me; and in the long run I ascended another mountain, from which I could see more kingdoms and greater than before, and instead of the rulership of one world, all power in heaven and in earth was given unto me: he that would save his life shall lose it, he that will lose his life for my sake shall find it; that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die!
Considering the peculiarities of the human mind, so far as we know them, the appeal of the devil has one supreme advantage over the appeal of Christ—it is not only addressed to the senses, but it promises instant gratification: no time need be lost; there is the prize, and here is the direct road to its attainment! Whereas in the appeal of Christ we come upon all the difficulties of delay and suffering, to which is added a scarcely confessed suspicion of possible miscarriage and disappointment. The devil promises you for today; and for today Christ seems to promise nothing but tears and thorns and crucifixion. "Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leadeth to destruction, and many there be that find it." See how true it is in all life that when a prize is within view we are impatient of delay. Thus, if you stifle the expression of your convictions, you may have a certain honour almost instantly; if you utter and defend your convictions, you may have to wait seven years for that same honour! If you lull your conscience into slumber, you make your fortune in a twelve-month: if you obey your conscience, you may never make a fortune at all! Truckle, and be rich; resist, and be poor: go with the world, and be flattered; go against it, and be scorned. Who can hesitate between contrasts so broad!
If we call in the moralist to help us in this difficulty, he will probably direct our attention to facts as the best elucidation of principles, and may challenge us to consult the unquestionable and solemn testimony of human experience as a final authority within the region of reason. He will be likely to tell us in the first place that all these promises of short cuts to supreme position and influence are lies. He will acknowledge, indeed, that there are short roads to ownership, notoriety, and self-importance; but these he will carefully distinguish from the supremacy that is solid and enduring and beneficent. He will, too, damp the ardour of the young by assuring them that realities are often the exact opposite of appearances, and may startle them still further by the assurance, which he will be able to justify by many examples, that it is possible for a man to be the slave of the very things which he seems to own and rule. Look at the price required for the supremacy offered to Christ—"If thou wilt fall down and worship me!" But consider what it is to worship at the wrong altar! It is to debase the affections, to bring the best energies of the soul under malign influence, and to forfeit the power to enjoy the very things which it is supposed to purchase. Worship expresses, though it may be feebly, the worshipper"s supreme ideal of life; if, therefore, it be offered to an evil spirit, the whole substance and course of life will be deeply affected by the error. What if the very act of false worship disqualify the soul for relishing any supposed or undoubted joy? Offer a man long draughts of the choicest wines if he will first drench his mouth with a strong solution of alum, and what are the choicest wines to him then? They cannot penetrate to the palate, they are absolutely without taste, and they mock the appetite they were meant to gratify. Song of Solomon, if a man put his moral nature under false conditions, and create anarchy between himself and the principle of eternal righteousness, no matter what fortune or honor may accrue to him, his power of serene enjoyment is gone, and he becomes burdened and plagued by his very successes. This will be the first point insisted upon by the moralist; in the plainest words he will say—"The promise is very great, but it is a lie to begin with, and the man who sells his soul to get it will soon find that he is neither more nor less than a dupe of the devil.
But what of the facts which seem to contradict this theory of the moralist? "I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree: their eyes stand out with fatness; they have more than heart can wish; they are not in trouble as other men." Do they not seem to have gotten the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them? In answering this inquiry the moralist will insist that such facts exactly illustrate what he has just said—viz, that some men are the slaves of the very things which they seem to own and rule. He will contend that technical possession is not full ownership, and he will make his appeal to final and decisive results rather than to temporary appearances and relations. For example, he will acknowledge that the wicked have been in great power; but he will show that they have "passed away," and that they have not been found even by those who most diligently sought for them; he will acknowledge that the wicked have sometimes had more than heart can wish, but he will prove that they have always been set in "slippery places," and that their "end is destruction." He will not confine himself within narrow limits in giving his judgment, but will include within his survey spaces and times needful for securing a just perspective. It is quite true that "if in this life only we have hope, we are of all men most miserable;" but if we bring considerations of eternity to bear upon the discipline of time, even now we may have joy, and may even "glory in tribulation also."
Now look at the other side of the case. Jesus Christ resists the temptation to give his soul for gain, and he goes down the hill poor, lonely, and apparently helpless. He brings back nothing but his unimpaired integrity; he is whole of heart,—and that is all you can say about him, unless you add, what is really the same thing in other words, that his faith in God and his idea of worship are pure and wise. His course seems for a time troubled with the frown and judgment of God, for few friends come to his side, there is no joy in his lot, his work is hard, and the return of his toil is poor. He calls himself a King, and men laugh at him; he says he is the Son of God, and men take up stones to stone him. Is it not, then, quite plain that he lost his chance when he said No on the hill, and that he must take the consequences of his obstinacy? A man who would so argue would seem to have a good deal of sound sense on his side; at any rate, he might refer to Song of Solomon -called facts with very emphatic confidence. He might almost feel called upon to treat with positive mockery the words of Christ, "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you,"—for more obvious irony never provoked the laughter of mankind. And still the shadows thicken upon the gloomy scene; poverty is made poorer by loss upon loss; and further on his oldest friends drop off, and the disciple he loves the most instinctively assumes an attitude of departure. Plainly enough, this Man who set Worship above Empire sacrificed his fortune to his sentiments, and lost a crown to save an idea. If there be anything more on the dark and downward way of his ill-luck, it cannot be other than a Cross—a Cross with aggravations too; and in its agony he will learn that violent sentiments have violent ends. So it would seem! We are told that the earth is round; but there are great crags and pits on its rugged surface for all that. We are told that Christ had a kingdom, when it is quite certain that he had not so much as a home. These are great contradictions, and it is simply in vain for us to try to force a reconciliation; reconciliation can only be wrought, if wrought at all, by time, often long and dreary.
"The eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them;... and Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth."—And there is nothing of boast or vaunt in the Lord"s sweet tone. It is as if the sown wheat had said in golden harvest, "Behold, I have been brought up from the depths of death, and my life is an hundredfold more than before." It is thus, through all the ages, that the good man comes to his strength and crown,—through pain and tears, through nights of gloom and days of toil, and grief that makes the heart grow old, and forsakenness that makes a man afraid of his own voice, so weird and so mournful is life in its emptiness and silence! It is a long way, you see, and some men die before they get a glimpse of its sunny end. How, then, as to the truth of the doctrine that to be right is to be rich? To test that doctrine you must get into the very heart of the sufferer himself. He will show you the compensations of a righteous life; he will tell you how sweet is the bread eaten in secret, how holy and all-comforting is the approval of a good conscience, and how infinite is the independence of the soul whose trust is in God. In such a case the poverty is wholly on the outside: the soul is clothed in more than purple and fine linen, and is rich with more than gold. Outside, things are rough enough undoubtedly; the storm does not spare the roof, nor do the rags keep away the biting wind, yet somehow the man who is right has a quiet and thorough mastery over the circumstances which fret and vex the mere surface of his life. The king is within. The fountain of his joy is not dependent on the clouds, but on "the river of God, which is full of water." "The ungodly are not Song of Solomon, but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away."
Whilst all this is true, and is sealed as such by the oath of a number which no man can number, it is also outwardly true, so to speak; that is to say, goodness rises to its right position in the world and takes the throne of supreme and imperishable power. In the last result it is goodness that conquers and rules. "The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree, he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon." "He shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green." "Say ye to the righteous that it shall be well with him: for they shall see the fruit of their doings." Now and again life suddenly opens, and we see flashes and glimpses of what is coming upon the world. In the midst of tumult and blasphemy, so mad that we think there is no more chance for goodness, we see such homage paid to right as gives hope of its final conviction and universal sway. There are conflicts in which character determines the issue. In times of panic goodness is relied upon. In affliction and sorrow and ruin, it is the good man who is sent for. When the fierce wind throws down strong walls, and the whole air is black with cruel plague and pest, sparing neither old nor young, neither woman nor child, he who prays best is king. Song of Solomon, even in the outer world, and in tangible and visible ways, goodness comes to recognition and honour, in addition to its being accompanied by inward and spiritual satisfactions.
After this course of thinking we should be able to set down for human guidance one or two principles which seem, at least, to reach the point of certainty. Such as:—First: Right ideas of worship will show the exact line of personal denial and sacrifice. Be right in heart towards God, and you will know what to do in the time of flattering offers and splendid opportunities.
Second: It is through temptation that we learn the true value of many convictions and habits. From our point of view it may seem a small thing to give up worship that we may win kingdoms; it might seem indeed as if we were getting the kingdoms for next to nothing. The devil did not reckon so. He aims to get our worship, for he who has the heart has all!
Third: Self-denial, in the name and strength of God, may be a long time in coming to fruition in honour and dominion,—at least visibly, as we have just said. In the case of Christ it took nearly three years to die and rise and ripen, but in its ripening it filled heaven and earth! "If we suffer with Christ we shall also reign with him."
Fourth: Whatever we have, much or little, of comfort, or honour, or influence, let it be as a flower ripened in the sun; something coming up out of a deep true character; beauty added to strength. Woe to the bloom that is artificial!
In the long run, then, we shall get our right position; our sorrows will become our joys; our sacrifices will be turned into our victories: and, truly, in a sense impossible to express in words, we shall not serve God for nought. To suffer in the right spirit is our daily difficulty. It is easy to suffer defiantly; it is almost comfortable to suffer ostentatiously; but to suffer as if we were not suffering, even with meekness, quietness, and long patience, to enter into the "fellowship" of Christ"s sufferings, and to work out our course just as he did, who is sufficient? Bravado will come to nothing. Selfish martyrdom will have no holy resurrection. Morbid pride in the neglect and disparagement accorded by the public will end in no blessing. Unrepining resignation, deep and loving trust in God, earnest diligence in all duty, loyal obedience to every sign of our Father"s will,—out of this discipline will come sweetest joys, honours as the stars for number, and peace deep as the calm of heaven.
Temptation Prepares for Work—The Sculptured But Useless Stone—the Restfulness of Obedience—Some Texts Beyond Our Strength—Good Listening
Almighty God, if we are remembered by thee, it matters not by whom we are forgotten; thou dost engrave our names on the palms of thine hands, the walls of Zion are continually before thee, and sooner shall our eyes behold the falling of all that is in thy heavens than we shall see that thou hast forgotten them that trust thee. Whilst thou art mindful of thy children, may thy children be mindful of their Lord. May our right hand forget its cunning, and our tongue cleave to the roof of our mouth if we forget Jerusalem, and prefer it not before our chief joy. May we be enabled to utter these things by the intelligence and the ardour of our love. Truly thou hast remembered us in our low estate, thou wert mindful of us before we had returned, and whilst yet we were in the far off wilderness, even then thine eye pitied and thine arm was outstretched in salvation. And now that we have returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, and are enfolded with those that love and follow thee, surely thy remembrance of us will be quicker than ever, and thy tenderness will flow towards us in perpetual fulness.
We have to bless thee for thy gentle care, thy long-suffering, thy great patience. We have outworn our friends, we have tried and vexed with sore distress those who bare us, and behold thy love is greater than our mother"s, and thy patience has been without limit. We live in thy long suffering: if thou wert strict to mark iniquities, we could not stand before thee in judgment. Thou dost look upon us in thy Son Jesus Christ, our one priest and our only Saviour, and see us in him and through his work; behold thou dost count us of great value; yea, thou dost set store by us, as if we were needful to the completion of thy happiness.
The very hairs of our head are all numbered; thou dost count our steps one by one, our downsitting and our uprising are not too mean to be noticed in Heaven; thou dost beset us behind and before, and lay thine hand upon us; thou dost send thine angels to watch our life and to bless us with many benedictions. Thou hast filled our cup, thou hast made our bed, thou hast kept our dwelling-place, thou hast been round about us as a defence of fire. What shall we render unto the Lord for all his benefits towards us? We are here this day to bow down our heads and to say that we are unprofitable because unclean; we have come that we might make common confession of sin, and unanimously implore the exercise of thy forgiveness, through Jesus Christ our blessed and infinite Redeemer. Wherein our conscience is. oppressed as with a great weight, wherein our life is made gloomy by the infinite darkness of aggravated sin, let the Lord manifest himself towards us in peculiar concern and sympathy, and look upon us through all the work accomplished for us by his Son Christ Jesus. Wherein we have spoiled the week thou didst give us to work in, let thy pardon come to us. Wherein the days have been blotted by our unskilful hands, wherein we have returned thy gifts perverted and dishonoured, let the Lord be merciful unto us, remembering that we came of the dust, and that we are in ourselves but as a wind that cometh for a little time and then passeth away. The Lord"s love be greater than his judgment, and the mercy of the Lord shall be more than all our sin.
We bless thee that our desire is still towards the light; once we loved darkness, now we pray for the broadening light of the day, that it may be spread over us until the whole sky be filled with its brightness and there be no shadow left, but we stand in the infinite fulness of such glory as our souls can now receive. We bless thee, too, that we care for thy truth, that we look into thy book with wistful eyes and eager heart, desiring to see and to hear what God the Lord will say. Enable us to see the beauty of thy word, to feel the nearness of the sympathy of thy spirit, and may thy revelation destroy all earthly delusions, all foolish prejudices, all narrow conceptions of our own imagining, and may we stand not in our own thinking, but in the breadth and glory of the divine revelation.
We commend one another to thy tender care. Help us to pray for one another, with a full and anxious heart. Thou knowest what we need—we are always needing, our want is daily, our life is a long cry of necessity, and a long moan of pain. So would we always have the Lord"s fulness near and the Lord"s blessing at hand; we would not be for one moment without thee, for in that moment would our ruin be wrought. Where there is desire to know thee better, let the light increase in lustre and in breadth; where there is bitterness of soul on account of sin, let the infinite sweetness of thy forgiving grace be tasted; where there is a vow to live a nobler life, enable him who took the oath to fulfil it to its letter; where there is a heart struggling against difficulty, temptation, distress of mind, body, or estate, let the angel of the Lord help the struggler, and bring him into more than victory. Where there is self-conceit, self-trust, consciousness that all that is needed lies within human power, the Lord consume the delusion as with fire from Heaven, and work in every self-righteous heart the spirit of childlike humility, of Christian modesty.
The Lord help us when we need help most. The angel of the Lord be near us when the enemy would come in as a flood, and may the delivering spirit redeem us from despair and set our tried souls again high on the everlasting hills where they will catch all the brightness of the hope that is in God. Pity us when we are proud of ourselves, fight not against us when we give way before thee and fall down in penitence and expectation, and let the light of thy countenance fall upon us—it will never be a burden, it will be a deliverance and a hope. If any man have a quarrel against any, let the quarrel now cease, let the spirit of reconciliation seize the heart from which it has gone in exile. If any man cry unto thee because of a peculiar trial which he cannot put into words, the Lord read his heart and secretly answer his prayer.
Remember the stranger within our gates, the traveller, the Prayer of Manasseh, the woman, far from home, great seas rolling between them and the place they love, the Lord be with such and give to them to feel that this is their Father"s house, and by the elevation of Christian fellowship, by the flooding of the soul with all that is Christian and divine, may there be an uplifting above all temporary separation and distress.
The Lord"s blessing go beyond us—to the sick chamber, where there is danger, where there is pain, where death has almost taken possession; to the prison where the prisoner languishes and is being taught the value of moral reflection by his isolation and punishment, to the sea where men are in trouble and in great fear, to the field of battle where the soldier"s life is one keen anxiety; yea, let thy blessing go the whole earth round, omitting none from its baptism of light, and let the earth feel that it is still in God"s hand, yea, in God"s heart, the earth that has borne the cross, and shall one day see the throne of the Saviour"s glory. Amen.
12. Now when Jesus had heard (and because he had heard) that John was cast into prison (at Machœrus), he departed into Galilee (by the shortest route, through Samaria).
13. And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea-coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim:
14. That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying,
15. The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles;
16. The people which sat in darkness saw great light: and to them which sat in the region of the shadow of death light is sprung up.
17. From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say. Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
The eleventh verse reads—"Then the devil leaveth him, and behold angels came and ministered unto him;" and the twelfth verse reads—"Now, when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee." You must not imagine that the events in the eleventh and twelfth verses followed one another in immediate succession. Jesus had been exercising something like an eight months" ministry in Judea, when he heard that John was cast into prison. Still, I cannot but feel that the temptation prepared the great Worker for his marvellous toil. He was in all points tempted like as we are, how otherwise could he have been our Priest and Saviour in every sense of those immeasurable terms? No angel could have preached to me; he would not have understood me, his language would be unknown, he would have nothing in common with my deepest and most painful experience, he would be altogether above me, too grand and sublime for my spiritual conception; it was needful that he who was to speak the universal language, should pass under the universal experience. he should know the devil, he should have met him as it were face to face, he should have felt the keenness of his subtlest approaches, and the blow of his heaviest assault. Jesus Christ was thus prepared by temptation to preach the gospel to the world, and indeed to do all the work for the world which he had from eternity undertaken to accomplish.
Men are fitted for work in various ways. Some men are fitted for it by the reading of many books hard and difficult to be understood, others are fitted by a wear and tear that seems to have no expression adequate to itself in human words, a continual vexation of the soul and distress of all its best faculties, so that they come up out of great agonies to speak tender words, and they bring themselves out of the night of intolerable despair to utter the word of benediction. But no man can be prepared for any deep and vital work in the world who has not gone through the, school of the devil. You cannot be taught to preach by reading many books, how long and eloquent soever. You overshoot my life; I must hear something in your tone which will enable me to identify you as of my own kindred. Now and again there must break from your heart"s voice tones and accents which tell me that you too have been in the pit, have been dragged through the lake of fire, and have understood what it is to be almost—gone. He has wonderful influence over me who can pity me in the distresses of my temptation. He who can only make my intellect wonder, touch my imagination with new and flashing lights, has but momentary fascination for me; I own it, and bid the man farewell; but he who knows the devil in and out, all the temptations in me, and who has come away from the life-battle feeling that the enemy is no small one, but subtle in suggestion and mighty in influence, and who says to me, "The battle is very heavy, do not underrate it; your strength will be tried to its very last fibre and throb, but God will help you; your extremity shall be his opportunity"—then he takes me under his influence, and I yield myself to him and call him, not preacher only, and teacher, wise and true, but friend sympathetic, with whose soul mine has fellowship, and we can go together both in blessed and hopeful union to the common throne of the church, from which is dispensed the blessing which is better than bread, the word which gives the soul immortality.
Have you been fitted for your work? If Song of Solomon, why are you not doing it? To be qualified and yet to be idle is to incur the severest displeasure of man and of God. How many more books are you going to read before you begin to speak? How much longer are you going to study the providence of God amongst the children of men before you begin to open your mouth in witness? How many more sermons and prayers are you going to hear and endorse, before you begin in the marketplace to say, "My scales are kept in Heaven and my standards are set up in the sanctuary of the sky"? It is time that some of us were proving our fitness by our activity; sad is the sight of a man qualified, evidently fitted to do certain work, and yet not doing it. We have all heard of that wonderful stone in the quarry out of which Baalbec was builded; it was a great stone, it was cut out of the rock with great labour, the mason squared it, the sculptor chiselled it, nothing more that the tool could do to it remained to be done, and yet there it lay in the quarry, not lifted to its proper eminence, not set amid its designed surroundings, a gigantic miscarriage, a horrible failure; fitted, made beautiful, almost speaking in its perfected sculpture, and yet there it was lying with the rubbish, when it might have been shining like a living presence in some magnificent temple.
What is true of that stone is surely true of some of us. We have been a long time at school, yet we never use our learning tor the good of men, We have been much trained in music, yet we do little but mumble in the vocal worship of Almighty God. We have read many books, yet we are silent as the grave. We have passed through many a temptation, but the word of sympathy never falls from our lips. We have proved the vanity of the world and we have never told the young that the world is a gigantic lie and life but an empty wind apart from God and the infinite Saviour Jesus Christ, How much longer therefore shall we be qualified to do much and yet be doing little? How much longer shall we have studied the eloquence which is taught only in the expensive school of experience, and yet shut up our lips in criminal dumbness? Our Saviour Jesus Christ, having been qualified for his work, went to it. Arise, let us go hence.
When Jesus heard that John was cast into prison—cast into prison by Herod, because the Baptist had reproved the ruler for his evil ways—then the work ceased. Shut up the preacher in prison and you will shut up Christ"s Church, would seem to be the short and easy method of persons who take superficial views of divine truth. A man is plaguing you with his remonstrances: shut him up in gaol, and there will be an end of your trouble. That would be a fool"s speech to make, if ever you did make one. You can shut up the worker, but can you shut up the work? You can silence the individual minister—what is he but a little creature in the presence and in relation to the power of a reigning monarch? But how can you shut up the divine truth? John was cast into prison, but there came a great light. Now, Herod, rattle your gaol-keys, get them all out and shut up the light in gaol. O the mockery, the satire, the instructive sarcasm of the King that reigns over all! John is incarcerated, and the Lord sends a great light over the lands, and bids the kings of the earth shut it up in their dungeons. So it is with the progress of divine truth. A minister dies, but the light increases: the individual speaker comes to the end of his discourse, but there are silent and subtle ministries evermore proceeding with infinite effect to work out the decree and purpose of God. The eloquent thunder ceases, the silent light goes on. This Christian kingdom is a ministry of light; it is a marvellous light, it is a great light, it is impalpable, intangible, immeasurable; it is around us and we cannot touch it; we put out our hands and dash through it, and still it stands there, an angel that fills the whole horizon. Fear not: your great Baptist is mewed up in prison and the axe is being whetted that shall take off his head: the next thing that axe will have to do will be to strike the beams off the sun. Can it perform that deed, or is the axe not yet made that can shatter one ray from the source out of which it falls?
When Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison he departed, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet. Can a man not go from one city or province to another, without fulfilling some old and sacred word of prophecy? The answer to that inquiry is "No." Did you come to church to-day by the divine decree? The answer to that inquiry is "Yes." You could not help coming. Do not suppose that we are here by accident. We are here that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet. Do not isolate yourself from the great body of history and the great stream of prophecy, and say that you do just what you like. You think you do: it is your delusion, and it will prove in the long run to be a source of unrest and pain to you. Let me feel my connection with all my kind; let me feel that I am in God"s hands, and that the bounds of my habitation are fixed; let me feel that my liberty is itself but part of the divine law. Then there will come into my soul a deep rest, a gentle peace, a profound assurance, and though the mountains be removed and carried into the depths of the sea, yet I shall remain at rest in the very heart of God.
There is nothing trifling in your life. As to whether you shall live, on this side of the street or that, will be settled for you if you will put yourself quietly into the hand of God. Why do you undertake anything on your own account? Why do you say you will do this or do that, purely of your own suggestion and to carry out some motion of your own will? I will not go out until the Master sends for me, I will tarry in dark Egypt till the angel says, "The way is clear: arise and go": yea, I will sit down in prison until Pharaoh send for me by God"s suggestion. Could I talk so I should feel that life were worth living, and as for tomorrow"s letters, and difficulties, and fears, and perils, and distresses, I would meet them all after a long night"s deep slumber, and they would vanish before my strength. Oh, fussy little fool, a self-manager and self-controller, sit thee down and learn that to obey is better than to be clever, and to wait upon God is sometimes the sublimest genius.
Thus wondrously does the Old Testament overlap the New. Men who are critical upon these matters tell us that some two hundred and sixty times there are references in the New Testament to the Old, and thus the Old and the New overlap and intertwine, and the two Testaments are one Revelation, as the morning and the evening are one day. Now and again we see a little into the details of life. This is an instance in point—Jesus arises, leaving Nazareth to dwell in Capernaum, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet. Details vex us; we cannot piece them together and make anything of unity and shape of them; they fall to pieces under our clumsy fingers. Now and again there is a rent, and I see somewhat of the meaning of detail: I see that there is a hand jointing them, articulating them, and behold it is making order out of confusion. Lord, take up all the details of my life: they are exceedingly incoherent, and they baffle me; they sometimes almost make a non-believer of me; they sometimes arise and fall upon my life altogether as if they would crush it. I bless thee for these little peeps into this inner working of thine, about the hairs of my head, the guiding of my steps, the ordering of my habitation—undertake for me altogether—let me do nothing but in fulfilment of thy providence.
He came and dwelt in Capernaum. Thou art exalted unto heaven, take care lest thou be thrust down into hell. It is an awful and sacred thing to have a good neighbour, to come into contact with a good Prayer of Manasseh, to have amongst us a voice of fire, a teaching of love, a ministry of light. He came and dwelt in Capernaum. He came as the light came into this house this morning, without making any noise, but filling the whole space. He came without noise or cry or tremulous voice, but Capernaum felt that there was a ghost, a spirit, a strange influence within itself, and that Capernaum, if it grow not right up into heaven and be absorbed into Zion, will be thrust down into hell. Our privileges become our judgments.
Zabulon and Nephthalim, Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—are these a mere cluster of words? What, the Gentiles already? His beginnings are like endings, his first words have somewhat of the ripeness and mellowness of high climaxes. Already is there flashing even in secondary light some gleam of divine lustre upon the Gentile places of the earth? Does the word Gentiles occur so soon in the sacred narrative? We are Gentiles. Whenever we see that word we should say, "There is something about us: what is it?" It is like seeing our name in a foreign book, like opening a work written in a language we cannot understand, and seeing our name broadly in the middle of the page. We are arrested, and we wonder what it means. God"s purpose is one that girdles the whole earth: it takes it little by little, but it takes it all in, and the meadow is not jealous because the mountain-tops catch the light first. You have stood on a mountain-top to watch the sun rise—why didn"t you stay in the valley? Because you said, "The mountain-top will catch the first light; let us be, therefore, on the highest possible point." And did the valleys below retire from the earth and say they would never grow any more gardens and meadows, and any more harvests of wheat, because the snowy peaks caught the first blessing and warmed to the earliest kiss? Thou art but a poor reader of history who objectest that the Jews caught the first gleam of the new morning. I would sooner think of yonder sweet blue Lucerne water grumbling and working itself up into gruff noises and tumultuous storms because Pilatus had the first gleam upon his rocky head, or because the snows of the Rhigi blushed with the dawn before the waters of the lake felt its touch. A little more time and that sun will fill the earth, a little more time and this Sun of Righteousness will shoot out his glories until every land shall be bright with the pure lustre of divine truth.
When Jesus heard that John was cast into prison he came to the front. It might have been an excellent reason for departing again into the wilderness to avoid danger. It would have been so had the kingdom which they came to reveal and establish been a kingdom of mere sentiment or a conception of merely and purely intellectual energy. This is how the Christian kingdom has advanced from the first ages until now. The front rank of soldiers all shot—Forward next rank, over the dead bodies! That has been done and is being done, and none can hinder the progress of this divine kingdom, connected as that progress is with a heroism that is not of human inspiration, but of divine beginning and strength. Where there is danger there should be a provocation of courage.
We know nothing about courage now. There are some texts I dare not preach from. Dare I preach from this text—"None of these things move me, yea, I count not my life dear unto me that I may finish the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus"? You will never hear me preach from that text. It would burn like a conscious lie upon my coward lips. These things do move me. I am annoyed by trifles, discouraged by trumpery circumstances of a temporary nature—dare I preach from a hero"s words? There have, however, been times in the church when Christians have been heroic. We read in history not more than three hundred years old of Christians who having heard that John was cast into prison went forward to take his place. I was reading only a few days ago some such occurrence. The Christians of one town were all driven into one dungeon; they were gathered together and shut up into one prison, and the executioner came to them and took them out one by one, having first put a muffler over the eyes of the doomed victim. He led him out in the presence of the others to the place of execution, and put a knife through his throat, and leaving him half dead, he took the muffler off and went back for the next, the knife streaming with blood held between his teeth, as he tied the muffler over the eyes of the next victim. And twenty were done Song of Solomon, and forty and sixty, and seventy and eighty-eight, and that human butcher failed, not the Christian heroism. It was so that your liberties were bought. We were redeemed not with corruptible things, but with precious blood, and we sit here to-day, quiet, perhaps indifferent, as the result of human blood. Are we worthy of our traditions? We dare not go out if it is raining, we take offence because of trifles, we leave the work because of some little pique, not worthy of a moment"s consideration. Let us get back into the spirit of those traditions which have made the country what it Isaiah, as far as it is great and noble and influential for good.
What have we done for our Lord? Of the eighty-eight sufferers it was said that it was well borne by the elder Christians, but when the executioner came to the younger ones they were more timorous. Who wonders? Does the dear young life like to give itself out thus boldly, all at once, early in the morning? But not a heart fell back. Do not tell me that a kingdom thus begun and thus continued is going to fall. These men did not work through some delusion for which they could give no account; they accepted their fate intelligently, they gave reasons for it, they were not moved by mere delusions, but by arguments which to them were as intellectually complete as they were morally influential.
I would God we had a little more heroism in the church. I ask you younger men and women to come forward and take the places of the elder, who are not cast into prison, but who may be disabled by age, who may be constrained by one uncontrollable circumstance or another to leave the front. They have had a long and useful day, and now they desire to rest, and it is no coward"s prayer they pray when they ask for relief if not release. Will you see the place left vacant? Are you content to see great gaps in the ranks of the church? Will you be baptized for the dead? Will you know that it is your turn next? There is a soldier in front of you dying; pluck up your courage in the divine strength, and be ready to take his place. When this spirit returns to the church Herod will be troubled upon his throne, and the time is not far off when he will be consumed by the fire of the Lord.
Jesus began to preach, and he repeated John"s sermon. The sermon is one. He said, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand," Why, who preached that sermon before? John the Baptist, and Jesus Christ, seeing that John was in prison, saw that the sermon should not fail of utterance, and with another voice, that had in it wondrous possibility of intonation and colour, he said, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." He began to preach. Have we begun to hear? Hearing is an art, listening is not possible except to the attentive soul. Who listens well? Few men. What happens to him who listens well? He hears the Spirit"s music.
A Cry to Heaven—the Divine Call to Service—Suffered Nothing for Christ—a Picture of Christ"s World—men Who Play the Scrutineer
Almighty God, if thou dost answer us out of thy mercy, who then can tell the measure of thy reply to our prayer and our thanksgiving? Behold, thy love is a sea whose depths have never been searched, and thy mercy is higher than the sky, yea, no man can lay a line upon all the pity and compassion of God. Our life stands in thy goodness, we are surrounded by thy mercy, verily we live and move and have our being in God. Show us that thou art not a God far off, but a God nigh at hand, yea, within us, nearer than our own breath and our own life, without whom, indeed, we could not live. We bless thee for the house of prayer, the place of silence and of Song of Solomon, the house of inspiration, the sanctuary of defence, the place where prayer is wont to be made, and we bless thee for the wide and open way to thy throne through Jesus Christ our only Saviour. We keep that living way, we are all found in it this very moment, so is the moment the sweetest in our life, and there is in it a brightness above the light of the sun, and it is alive with the most sacred and elevating hope.
Thou dost not disappoint the heart of man; when his soul is lifted up towards thee thou dost bathe it with all the light of heaven"s morning, and when his cry rises from his heart to thy throne, thou dost turn it into a sweet hymn, and enrich the heart with all the graciousness of thy love. We have come to thine house to-day with no small expectancy, our hearts" are inflamed into a great desire, our tongue is open before thee with speech, demanding in the name of Christ, and not our own, all the promises to be fulfilled; yea, is ours a violence—we come to take the kingdom of heaven by force. So hast thou allowed us to do, yea, thou hast charged us to seize the gates of thy kingdom and to open them with the violence of importunate love. We bless thee for these heavenly desires, we thank thee for influences that move the heart upwards from the dust and through the stars, and onward to things divine and everlasting. May those noble desires never die, may our life be a continual petition for enlargement and sanctification. We have been content too long to live in the dust and eat its perishing roots; we would now live in the heavens, and sustain our hearts on God.
We bless thee for all thy Bible of love, wide as the heavens and green as the earth in summer-time, and tender as all the songs of love. We bless thee for that inner revelation of the spirit, that sacred ministry which is beyond all words, and too holy for song. O dwell within us, abide with us, soothe us with all the comforting, stimulate us with all the hopefulness which thou dost bring to bear upon the lives of men who are given to thee wholly, body, soul, and spirit. Turn the discipline of thy rod to the advantage of our souls, save us amid the gathering gloom from the last darkness of despair; when every earthly prop and hope is given up, do thou grant unto us the defences and assurances of thy sanctuary and thy presence.
Thou knowest us altogether; the old and the young, the rich and the poor are here, the head hoary with the snows and frosts of many a winter, and the face bright and unwrinkled and young, and the life full of charming hope. Thou knowest those who are in bitterness and sorrow of soul, thou understandest all our life; we therefore come before thee assured that in Christ Jesus all our wants shall be supplied and our poverty shall become the occasion of our wealth.
The Lord help us to do every good work with earnestness, the Lord work in us a holy dislike and detestation of all evil things, and the Lord grant unto us such answers in the course of his providence to our best desires and holiest vows as shall assure us that the voice of the heart does not fall to the ground.
We would read thy word attentively, we would listen to every tone of thy Revelation, as if our soul"s best interests depended upon hearing it. Whilst thus we attend thou wilt not withhold the illuminating and confirming spirit, but thou wilt pour out upon us all that we need as zealous and adoring students of thy holy book.
Bless us altogether, those of us who are old friends and old fellow-students of thy word, well known to one another as common suppliants at thy throne, and bless the stranger within our gates, who joins our worship to-day for the first and only time: destroy all feeling of distance and strangeness and exile, and fill his soul with all the light and love of heaven, and thus in the unity of the spirit, with common and undistracted fellowship, may we wait upon God to our soul"s profiting.
The Lord speak to the indifferent man and awake him to attention, the Lord rebuke the worldly man whose heart is at this moment far away from thy house though his body is here, and the Lord grant great rich answers of peace and assurance, pardon and love, to those whose best desire is to know the Lord more fully, and to serve him with increasing earnestness and delight. Amen.
18. And Jesus (a considerable time after the temptation), walking by the sea of Galilee (the lake of Gennesareth or Tiberias), saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.
19. And he saith unto them. Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.
20. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.
21. And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them.
22. And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him.
23. And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.
24. And his fame went throughout all Syria (the province of which Palestine was Considered a part), and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils (demons), and those which were lunatic (affected by the moon), and those that had the palsy; and he healed them.
25. And there followed him great multitudes (plural, on account of the places whence they came) of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis (a group of ten cities), and from Jerusalem, and from Judea, and from beyond Jordan.
We are not to understand that this event took place immediately after our Lord"s temptation. A very considerable interval passed between the temptation and this work by the sea of Galilee. Still the incident comes with infinite beauty and suggestiveness after that great crisis in the history of our Lord. Shall we be too fanciful if we think of the places in connection with the events—the quiet river and the sacred baptism, the solitary wilderness and the fierce assault of hell"s chief, the busy sea and the call to service? If a painter seeks a background, and if the novelist feels it needful roughly and with the haste of great skill to thrust in a little scenery and landscape in order to throw up the figures, why should we hesitate to connect certain great events in our Lord"s life and certain special events in our own life with the peculiar atmosphere in which they were developed—the river and the baptism, the wilderness, silent, solemn, awful, and its temptations, and the sea, never at rest, and its call to labour, heroic sacrifice, noble toil?
We are not to understand that these men never saw Jesus Christ until the day referred to in the text. They knew him perfectly well. Jesus Christ had been preaching and labouring in many places, and these very men sustained the relation of a kind of nominal discipleship to him already. There was in them a wonder, nearly equal to faith, there was in them an expectation which sometimes almost dignified itself into a religion. They knew his person, they knew his voice, they knew somewhat of his claim, and they had seen somewhat of his power. They were already in a sense followers of Christ just as some of you are, in a distant way, gropingly, wonderingly, well inclined towards him, with a mind half set in all the loftiness of the direction which he himself took. They would have been wounded if you had told them they did not care for him, and yet they would have been puzzled if you had asked them why. Why this is just your case; if you could be suddenly and rudely told that you did not care for Christ, you would half resent the impeachment. Yet you are not in the circle wholly and for ever. The time now came when Jesus Christ called these men with a more definite call to service. This was not a call to piety, to religious devotion, in the sense of mere worship. Understand that this was a call to toil, service, work. "I will make you fishers of men." He was not reasoning with the persons referred to, saying, "Give your hearts to God, be good in the truly religious sense of the word, leave your atheism and worship the true and living God"; it was not an appeal of this kind that was addressed to the fishermen, it was a call to service—"Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men."
There is a time in every life when such a call is addressed to it. Have you heard your call—a ghostly hour in which you heard a voice and could not tell whence it came? You said you were moved, stirred, all but inspired, and you knew not what to make of that strange incident in your life. Did it ever occur to you that it was the voice of Christ? Did you ever give a broadly and sublimely religious interpretation to the ghostly ministries which have affected your thinking and toned your ambition? If you have been looking downward for small interpretations that might be written with a fool"s finger in the dry dust, let me now ask you to lift up your eyes and see if the meaning be not found in the stars rather than in the cold stones.
You do not deny the call, but how to carry it out is your difficulty. You have nothing to do with that. Hear this voice and tell me if everything be not in it—"Follow me." That may mean a great tax upon my strength. "Follow me." That may mean a rash adventure. "Follow me." I may not be equal to the occasion. But the call does not end with "Follow me." He who spake these words spake other words which address themselves immediately to every misgiving of the modest heart. The other words are, "I will make you"—as if he had said, "Rely on me for the power, puzzle not yourselves with vain enquiries as to how this following is to be sustained and completed; he who gives the call gives the power." Herein we are entitled to bind Christ to his own promise. We do not start upon a warfare or a race at our own charges. We have come out at the bidding of God, to do God"s work and to do it in God"s strength—where, then, is your cleverness, your ingenuity, your self-supplying strength? You have none, you need none: your daily bread is in heaven; go for it every morning, live upon God, make yourselves strong with his promises. I know not what I shall do for the next seven years; they will oppress me, they will kill me, they will utterly put an end to me—so would I talk if I were dependent upon my own suggestiveness and fertility of invention. But when Christ says, "I will make you—"he never leaves unfinished any tower that he begins. He has not left any star unrounded, there is no useless rubbish in his universe. I will then even live in him, and wait for his word, and when I am most dumb because of my self-exhaustion, he will be most eloquent if my eyes be lifted up to him in the prayerfulness of a confident expectation.
So many of you are standing back because you think you have to do everything at your own charges. You are afraid you would fail if you went forward to attempt this or that work in the name of Christ. Let me tell you the secret of your fear—you have not read the call right through from beginning to end. You have heard the words "Follow me"—the most of us only hear parts of sentences; there are very few men that can quote any sentence right through from end to end. They hear the leading word, they forget all the other words that give it perspective and tone and colour. Men hear according to their moral condition; we often hear only what we want to hear; our attention is not of that round and complete kind that takes in the entire statement and weighs it to the utmost syllable and tone.
How are we to know when a divine call has really been addressed to the heart? There are many calls that may only be voices that we should not listen to—how then are we to know when the call does really come down from heaven, ringing with all its music and filled with all its gentle persuasiveness? The text will tell you—the answer is here. Know that your call to service is likely to be a divine vocation if it involve—sacrifice. You want to know no more. "Leave your ship, leave your father, leave your nets, leave your friends, and follow me." A call that summons men to surrender all things in this way is likely to be a healthy and true call.
I never knew God address any call to any human soul that did not involve loss. Anticipating our natural and eager desire to know whether a call is heavenly or earthly, God has always associated with his calls—sacrifice. When Moses was called, he counted it greater honour to follow God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season and to enrich himself with all the riches of Egypt. When Hadad astounded Pharaoh by saying he wanted to go back to Edom, Pharaoh said, "What hast thou lacked?" and the young man said, "Nothing, howbeit in anywise let me go." The Lord had stirred up the heart of Hadad, and Hadad went from Egypt to poor Edom, from rest to battle, from assured and continued prosperity to all the perils and adventures of hazardous war. So through all history—having digressed for a moment from the text now under consideration.
This man Simon, called Peter, and Andrew his brother, left their nets and followed Christ. Have we ever left anything for the Saviour? I have left nothing. He has given me more than I ever gave him—the whole advantage is on my side. If ever he should say to me, "I was sick and in prison, and ye came unto me," I will contradict him to his face. He will have to prove it. There are those of us, perhaps, who think we have given up a good deal for the gospel; I am not of that number—I have given up nothing for the gospel. There have been men who have not counted their lives dear unto them that they might follow and serve Christ, It would be my distress not to follow him. There would be no poorer wretch on all the earth"s green surface than I should be were he to dismiss me from his service. I have never been bruised for him. I have had gardens of flowers given to me because I have endeavoured to preach him, and all times of comfortableness and honour: if ever he should say to me, "Blessed one, because I was an hungered and thou didst give me bread," if I have not strength to contradict him, I hope I shall have the honesty to hang my head and deny by silence what I would gladly contradict by speech. Let none of us set up as sacrificing anything for Christ—we have never done it.
We observe further, from this incident, that Christ"s calls are always to something higher. "I will make you fishers of men." He gives the broadest interpretation to our daily want. Whatever you are, he spiritually uses as a type of the other service to which he calls you. Are you fishers in the ordinary sense of the term? He comes to you and says, "I will make you fishers of men." Are you builders of stone and wood? He says, "I will make you builders of a living temple." Are you servants of masters who pay you? He says, "I will make you servants of the King of kings." If we have not realized the spiritual side of our earthly vocation, we are still in the outer court, and have much to learn. Oh, ye who heal the body, come, and Christ will show you how to heal the soul. Oh, ye tradesmen, and merchants, and money-turners, come, and he will show you how to make fine gold and imperishable wealth. Accept your present secular position as a type and hint of the call which Christ is addressing to the soul.
So Christ Jesus called men to his ministry, and unless a man is called to his ministry he had better not enter it. I hold that no man is a true minister who is not directly called by Christ. This limits the ministry, but it strengthens it indefinitely. You cannot learn to preach, you cannot learn to expound the spiritual word—all your vocables may be neatly enunciated, you may learn the art of breathing and the art of delivering the voice, but you have not learned on earth, for it is not taught in the schools of men, how to touch the sin-cursed and sin-burdened soul; that art is taught in heaven: there is but one Master, and he never tires.
What is true of the spiritual ministry is true of all the ministries of life. Whatever you are, you will succeed in it only in proportion as Christ has called you to it. Some of you are in wrong positions altogether, you ought never to have begun where you did begin. By providences, over which you had no control, you were turned into wrong lines, and you know it, and your life is a daily pain and a continual sacrifice. After fifty years of age you cannot shift over to the right lines. Make the best of your position. You are like men who are working against the tide, and it is hard work rowing, but inasmuch as you did not enter upon that arduous undertaking of your own conceit or self-will, inasmuch as others are to blame for it more than you are, I now give you good heart, I now cheer you in the name of the merciful One—he knows your distresses and disadvantages, and he will not overlook these when he audits the account of your life.
"And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people. And his fame went throughout all Syria, and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatic, and those that had the palsy,"—what a world he came into! And he knew it before he entered it. If the world had been less" damned he need not have come. In these verses you have a picture of the real state of humanity as Jesus Christ found it. I want to go where the people are all well. Tell me where the lepers are, where divers diseases and torments dwell, and where those live who are possessed with devils, and those which are lunatic, and those which have the palsy, and I will flee away. What are terrors to me were attractions to the infinite heart.
This is the real condition of the world in every age—it is a world full of sickness, and disease, and torment, a world in which men are who are possessed with demons, who are moon-struck, and shivering and trembling with humanly incurable palsy. Do we want men of culture to go into such a world—nice, dainty-fingered men who faint at the sight of blood, and shudder if they see a paralytic on the streets? Is that the cruel irony we are going to perpetrate in such a world as this? Let us send down a hundred and fifty nice kid-gloved young men, who never speak above their breath, and who are infinitely gifted in the art of saying nothing in many words. They will return, they will sigh for summer days, and calmer climes, and fairer sights. Alas! "We are adapted to certain classes of people of a more elevated, dignified, and cultured kind." Fie on thee, my soul, if thou art cursed with a conceit like that. The world is a sick world, a dying world, a mad world, and thy little daintinesses, and prettinesses, and machine-turned sentences will never touch it. The world wants blood; no other price will redeem it. Oh, church of the living God, Zion, Jerusalem, called by a thousand tender names, what art thou doing but running away to pick up flowers when thou shouldst be labouring with coat off, with both hands earnestly at the deliverance and the healing of souls.
If you do not buy the world with blood you will never buy it. There be those who object to the expression, The blood of Christ. We have now refined that very much into the Love of Christ, the Example of Christ, the Sweet Influence of Christ. We are now unwilling to say, The blood of Christ. Why? If I read your human history, I find you have never got anything worth having unless you paid blood for it. How were the slaves redeemed and emancipated? What was laid down on the counter? Blood. Have you your Magna Charta, and do you boast of that large paper? What paid you for it? Blood. Show me in all English history a single great treasure you have, and I will show you as the signature of its lawful purchase—red blood, heart blood, human blood. Yet, when I come into a church and think of redeemed men, I am told not to mention the word blood, but to substitute for it example, love, sympathy, kindness. No, no. The music is one, the anthem is indivisible, redemption is always by blood, and he who has paid less than blood for any redemption has bought it at the wrong counter and paid for it with counterfeit coin.
Imagine a man coming into such a world as is described in the twenty-third and twenty-fourth verses to do anything for it merely by way of example. It is by tragedy that we live. Your home life owes all its beauty and dignity to the tragedy which is at the heart of it. If we are ever to impress this age we must do it by something more than dainty words and accurately regulated ecclesiastical mechanism. When we go nearer the city we must weep over it, and when we go into the city we must die for it. Other programmes you may write, but the angels will tear them and scatter them as waste paper upon the mocking winds.
Wondrous is one little word in this twenty-fourth verse. "He healed them,"—as easily as the light fills the firmament, without struggle or noise or huge effort. Mark the infinite ease of the expression, "He healed them." Set that expression beside "He created them, he set them in their places, he rolled the stars along—he healed them." It is part of the same music, omnipotence never fluttered on account of weakness, and never despaired because of miscalculation. What is thy complaint, O heart of man? He will heal thee. Do not go in the detail of complaints, there is but one disease and its short name is—sin. All diseases are but details of that awful fact. The blood of Jesus Christ, God"s Song of Solomon, cleanseth from all sin. There is a fountain opened in the house of David for sin. The details are innumerable, the central and vital disease is one.
Jesus Christ"s ministry was thus twofold. It was not a literary ministry, it was a philanthropic ministry in the noblest interpretation of that term, a Prayer of Manasseh -loving ministry, a ministry that loved the body and that loved the soul. What are we doing for the body? I know there are great dangers in doing for the body, lest people should become hypocrites. I would rather make a few hypocrites than miss the chance of doing good to one really deserving soul. But who am I that I should set up as scrutineer into real deserts? What are my deserts? None. Shall we pass up to the judgment bar in the official character of scrutineers and say to the great King- Judges, "Lord, I played the part of scrutineer, I examined the credentials of other people, I plucked the mask from the hypocrite"s face, I stood nigh to see that no undeserving ones got a crumb from the loaf of chanty: what am I to have as a scrutineer?" There are too many scrutineers. I was the other night accosted, walking with my wife, by a poor creature, who said, "I am very faint, sir." It well became me to play the scrutineer and to say, "All due to her evil behaviour." How dare I say so? Her evil behaviour? If she was faint it was my business to help her to overcome that faintness. I would rather be taken in, deceived, in response to such a petition, than go home and sit down over a smoking supper and applaud myself as a sagacious scrutineer.
I like, as you dc perhaps best of all, to help the little children. We say, at all events they cannot be much to blame. And a friend, known to us all, saw two little children the other day, cold—cold—looking into a confectioner"s window, the heaven of youth, the paradise of the undisciplined mind. Poor ragged little creatures! And the friend said, "Would you like one of these things?"—"Yes," and two of them were bought, and the one child was too far gone to feel much interest in it,—the other"s face glowed with unspeakable delight. How much better it would have been to have played the scrutineer, to have gone into the detail of the case, and to have shown that three generations ago this disease began its cankering work in the family. May God save me from such scrutineering, and may I play the fool a thousand times a day, in giving to the deserving or the undeserving, rather than be so sagacious. I should have nothing this day if the benefits of heaven were given to merit. He is kind to the unthankful and the evil, he sendeth his rain on the just and on the unjust. Thy dinner will choke thee to-day if thou dost not eat it with a mouth first opened in gratitude.
This practical ministry of our Saviour has yet to be repeated on a very great scale. We shall be taken in many times; I myself have been more taken in than any living man I ever heard of, and still they are trying to take me in, and I am always going to learn better and never do. Yesterday a letter reached me from a friend who had been much benefited by my ministry, and he asked me to find for him what he calls some large-hearted Christian who will say to him, "Here, are forty or fifty pounds for you to commence business with." That is the kind of man who never takes me in, and I never take him in. I am not speaking of persons of that sort; but you know in the Galilee you go through, and the Decapolis and the Jerusalem and the Judea and the Jordan known to you, there are thousands to whom you can minister, and that is part of the Christian vocation as truly as preaching the gospel in any merely literary sense. These are all ministries of Christ—teaching the ignorant, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, teaching the intellect, stirring the ambition to nobler daring, and in all ways fulfilling, completing, glorifying our call from heaven. And then, at the last, "Well done, good and faithful servant." May we all hear that sweet word—we shall need no other heaven.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Matthew 4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany