The Necessity of Judgment—Sowing and Reaping—Censoriousness Is the Beam—the Dogs and Swine of Society—the Mockery of Love
Almighty God, we know that thy word is truth, and that the entrance in of thy word doth give light to every heart. There is no light without thy word, nor is there any truth. We humbly pray thee to send upon us the glory of thy Revelation, that seeing the light from heaven we may not mistake the things that are upon the earth. We humbly pray thee to give us a right sense of all the things that are round about us; we mistake the small for the great and the near for the precious, and we know not where we are nor what we look at but as thy spirit dwelleth in us, giving us the right vision and the right sense of all things. Show us the glory of the Lord, so far as our eyes may be able to bear the great light; wherein our vision fails to look upon the glory, show unto our eyes all the goodness of God. Make thy goodness pass before us, thy gentle Acts, long-suffering patience, thine all-hopeful love concerning men who have smitten thee in the face, and wounded sorely thy very heart. Thus beholding thy goodness, may we be prepared for the revelation of thy glory, when thou dost call us into the other and higher state.
Thy care of us has been very tender; thou hast dried our tears with a soft hand, thou hast spoken to our hearts in a voice that did not smite them as with thunder, but that fell with the graciousness of the early and the latter rain. Thou hast been mindful of our weakness; wherein thou hast brought thine omnipotence to bear upon our feebleness, thou hast repeated the greatest of thy miracles. Thou hast spread our table in the wilderness, and found water for us in sandy and barren places; thou hast put laughter into our mouth suddenly, when our life was woebegone and the grave was yawning at our feet. Mighty have been our deliverances—thou hast taken the prey from strong hands and thou hast broken down men of great power. Thou hast delivered us and redeemed us and magnified thy name and thy grace in our life, therefore are we here to-day, this Easter morn, with a new hymn and a glowing Psalm, yea, with a loud sweet anthem to bless the great and mighty hand of God and the infinite heart of his immeasurable love.
Hear thou the prayer thy servants pray; listen to the sighing of the sad, the wounded spirit; give peace where there has long been unrest or fierce tumult or great dejection; grant a divine deliverance to those who have been long bound in darkness they could not penetrate; and upon us all send some Easter blessing, some resurrectional glance of infinite glory that shall awaken our best hopes and revive our forgotten recollections, and rekindle the enthusiasm of our early love. Thou didst call us out of darkness into thy marvellous light, thou didst give unto our hearts resurrection through the cross and sacrifice of our dearly-beloved and only Saviour. Wherein we have forgotten these marvels of thy grace, do thou now revive their tenderest recollection, so that every heart may bless thee with a new delight, with a high satisfaction, and with an ennobled infinite hope.
We put our lives into thine hands, we would not take care of ourselves, or surely our protection would be vanity. We therefore ask thee to take us, body, soul, and spirit, into thine own keeping: watch the door of our heart, keep the source of our thoughts, and sanctify the very spring of our will and all the actions in which it expresses itself, and may we be found at last, through the blood of the Lamb, without a spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, worthy of his own beauty, worthy of his own comeliness.
The Lord send a light upon his word whensoever we read it, that we may behold its true meaning, and may not fall into the dejection of those who understand nothing but the letter. Show us that the letter is the goblet which holds the wine, and may we drink of the wine of thy wisdom and thy love, and be refreshed and inspired by it every day.
The Lord look upon us at this time of the year, with all the hopefulness of spring breathing around us, with many a sign of returning life. Thou art Revelation -writing thy promises in every opening flower and every promising bud: behold in this revolution of the year do we see the Revelation -writing of some of thy tenderest words. May there be spring in our heart, a vernal breeze in the soul, a gracious and hopeful light shining upon the whole breadth of our life, and in due time may we bring forth fruit unto God which shall please the Most High and gladden him who planted the vine.
We beseech thee to direct us in all the way that we should take, in view of our great responsibilities and opportunities. Enable us to see the measure of our life, and to understand the brevity of our day, and, with all the wakefulness of heart, and industry of hand, and vigilance of mind, may we be about our Father"s business, and be found at last as they that wait for their Lord. Regard the family, spare the father, the mother, and all the children, kindle the fire on the cold day, spread the table to meet returning hunger, and make the bed of the afflicted, and bless its pillow with the touch of thine own hand. Regard those who are engaged in business, and help them to do their work every day with an honourable spirit and a religious pur pose, and may their bread be sweet and satisfying because of the honesty through which it is procured. Bless thy servants in basket and in store, and may there be no reason for bitter anxiety because of the bread that perisheth.
Direct the nation in all the crises of its history, inspire the minds of men by thy Holy Spirit—do thou rule the raging of the seas and make the waters calm; walk thou upon every sea that has been disturbed, and breathe thy blessing upon all thy people. God save the Queen, add many unto the days of her life, establish her throne in righteousness, and clothe her reign with prosperity.
And now let us seek for a blessing coming to every heart, a consciousness of sin forgiven through the blood of the Lamb, and a happy delight in the possession of the Holy Spirit, whose it is to sanctify and to make pure with the holiness of God. Amen.
1. Judge not, that ye be not judged.
2. For with what judgment ye Judges, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
3. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother"s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
4. Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
5. Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother"s eye.
6. Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.
"Judge not, that ye be not judged." Do not criticise with a censorious and unkindly spirit, do not be bitter, do not be moved by the spirit of animosity and illiberality and uncharitableness. We must Judges, in the sense of forming opinions and estimates of one another—that is not the kind of judgment which is forbidden in this exhortation by Jesus Christ. We may get the true meaning of the word by another use which is made of it elsewhere in the Scriptures. Thus, in John, third chapter and seventeenth verse, we read: "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; "the same word is translated judged in our text that is translated condemn in this verse. And in the twelfth chapter of John: "I came not to judge the world," to take a bitter and unkind and hostile view of it. And again we read: "Of the hope of the resurrection of the dead am I"—the same word—"called in question." And once more we read: "One man esteemeth—" the same word—"one day above another: another man esteemeth"—the same word—"every day alike." When therefore we are called upon not to Judges, we are warned against the self-righteousness which condemns everybody who does not do exactly as we think they ought to do. The spirit that is condemned here is one of infallibility. Find a man who makes himself the standard of everybody"s conduct, who judges everybody by himself, by what he would have done under such and such circumstances, and who gives large licence to his tongue in forming and giving opinions upon such persons, and you find the very man referred to in this exhortation. In so far as you are self-contented, self-pleased, self-righteous, in so far as you think it to be your duty to sit down upon the throne of judgment and to judge all your neighbours and the whole human race, in so far are you guilty of the spirit of judgment which Jesus Christ condemns in this text.
Jesus Christ tells you that such judgment does not fall to the ground: you are doing more than merely uttering words when you pass such judgment upon your fellow-creatures. You are not whiling away an hour, you are sowing seed which you will one day have to reap in the form of fruit, for, "with what judgment ye Judges, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." Do not suppose that you are merely passing an opinion upon your fellow-men, do not fall back upon your supposed innocence, and say that you merely observed or remarked so and so. You shall give an account for every idle word; you shall be made to feel the bitterness of your own speech, the cruelty of your own judgment shall come back upon you like a devouring flame. Jesus Christ undertakes to warn men as to the consequence and issue of certain conditions of spirit, so that no man goes forward in these matters in ignorance of what the result will be.
Let us understand what he meant by this. Did he mean, literally, "with what judgment ye Judges, ye shall be judged"?—that is to say, that some other man would pass exactly the same opinion upon us that we passed upon others. Not at all in that little narrow sense of the word. That was not the lex talionis which he laid down: therein he would have but repeated the old law of a tooth for a tooth and an eye for an eye, whereas he came to lay down a broader judgment. What, then, did the words mean? Not that we should have snarl for snarl, hostile criticism for hostile criticism, one for one and two for two, according to the number and measure thereof. He meant that somehow or other all society, the aggregated Prayer of Manasseh, the all but God, would encounter us in our own spirit; people who never heard of us would somehow rise up to condemn us and reward us according to our own spirit. By some mysterious action of divine providence, society would condemn us with the condemnation we had accorded to others.
You have often been puzzled to know how it was that such and such consequences arose from such and such acts. You have wondered at the unkindness of men, at the bitterness of their judgment. Has it ever occurred to you that the reason may, possibly, have been in yourself—a reason that has been sleeping full twenty years, and is now only bearing fruit? You remember your unkindness to your father and your mother; how you sat on the throne of criticism at the fireside and condemned the whole household in a spirit of self-righteous pride? You remember what an intolerable nuisance you were in the church twenty years ago, snarling at everyone, snubbing everybody, setting up your great righteousness as a rebuke of their feeble morality—how the unkind word was always upon your tongue, and how men might feel perfectly sure that you would go along any censorious line along which they might lead. All that is now coming back to you. You have been smitten first on the one cheek, then on the other. You have been smitten on the head; society scorns you, repudiates you, views you with suspicion and unkindness and distrust. You sowed the wind, you are reaping the whirlwind; you have eaten forbidden fruit, and you are now undergoing its most painful consequences.
Find a kind Prayer of Manasseh, one of noble and liberal spirit, whose thought is always of the charitable type, who cannot be gotten to say a harsh or unfeeling word about anybody—the time will come when society will throw its arms around him and take care of him and nourish and defend him. He shall reap the bountiful harvest of his own beneficence. Such a man will not be allowed to be friendless in the time of his old age: he took no pains to defend or befriend himself, he had a kind word for everybody, he had a crust of bread for the poor and a cup of water for the thirsty—he could always be looked to for the glowing and kind word, nothing mean, bitter, selfish, hostile, unamiable, ever fell from his ruddy lips—and now in the time of his old age and decrepitude, or when any evil report maliciously arises against him, society will close around him and protect the grand old tree from the knife and the axe and the sword of those who would cleave it down.
And what is true of the kind man is true also of the bitter man. There are some persons who cannot speak sweetly. I do not altogether blame them, for their life seems to be one of the mysteries of Providence, inscrutable, wholly beyond our explanation, here and now: we can only say it were better for such that they had not been born—but they cannot speak the noble word they cannot give you a grand beneficent judgment of any human creature or any human deed, their criticism is bitter, highly acidulated—something even worse, highly vitriolized, most pungent, and every word has in it an intent of cruel death. What will be the judgment society will pass upon such persons by-and-bye? They will get what they have given, they will reap as they have sown—let that word never be forgotten. God is not mocked: whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap. Not in some little literal way of a man dealing with him as he dealt with others, but with the marvellous social influence which gets around a man to help him up or to smite and blast him. Thank God for these great promises and laws that make society secure! They give solidity to the whole constitution of humanity. We cannot play at criticism and be harmless, we cannot be censorious and then retire upon our respectability. Every bitter word you have spoken about Prayer of Manasseh, woman, or child has gone out to come back again, and will smite you some day. With what judgment ye judge ye shall be judged, and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. This is a great law, and all human history is its exposition and justification.
Jesus Christ now proceeds to give a vivid application of these words, and to accent them as with the point of a sword. "And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother"s eye but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?" Are we sure that we have laid hold of the right exposition of these words in our other lessons received upon them from divers teachers? What is the beam in the eye of the judge? Does it mean that though I condemn some little fault in you I have a greater fault of my own which has not yet been discovered? I do not understand it in that light. Here is a man about whom no fault can ever be found of the usual kind, and yet he is continually judging other men, sentencing some to darkness and others to oblivion, and passing various sentences upon those who are round about him, and yet he is sober, chaste, good in all we can say about him, punctual in his church attendances, exact in his payments, of good standing in the market-place—what beam is there in the eye of such a man? Now we come to the right meaning. He is censorious: that is the beam referred to by the great Teacher. The very fact that he judges another man in an uncharitable spirit is the beam, compared with which any other fault is a mere mote or speck, a mere splinter of wood compared to a great beam of timber.
That is how Jesus Christ estimates the censorious spirit. He says it is to other faults as a beam is to a little splinter. The man is a model man in everything else so far as society knows him, exact, punctual, critical in all his relations, a more honourable man is not to be found in the marketplace, all his payments are promptly and completely made, and there is nothing at all about him except this miserable spirit of criticism upon other people, always finding fault with somebody else. Now Jesus Christ says that although he be faultless in all the ordinary senses of that term. the very spirit of censoriousness that is in him is a great beam across his eyes. Let, us, then, take great care lest the very thing that we had imagined to be no fault at all is the supreme fault.
Let us illustrate this: here is a man who will slander his neighbour by the hour, and calls himself a Christian, and never doubts his own Christianity; he sends heterodox thinkers to hell by the thousand, he whips the Unitarians into the very hottest perdition—all that he himself does is to slander his neighbour, and then engage in prayer. It never occurs to him that slander is a deadlier sin than mere intellectual error. Jesus calls the slanderous spirit a beam compared with which any other mistake is a little thin splinter. Here is a man who condemns every poor creature that is overtaken in a fault. He has no sympathy with such. The man took a glass of drink too much, lost his equilibrium, was seen in a reeling state—that circumstance is reported to the man who only indulges in slanderous criticism, and the man instantly calls for the excommunication of the erring brother from the church, not knowing that he himself is drunk, but not with wine, drunk with a hostile spirit, drunk with uncharitableness, drunk with the feeling that rejoices in the slips and falls of others. O thou hypocrite, actor, masked and visored man! Pluck the beam from thine own eye—then shalt thou see more clearly the mote, the splinter, that is in thy brother"s eye.
I would preach to myself as loudly and keenly as to any other Prayer of Manasseh, herein, if so be I had been guilty of this ineffable meanness, and this most detestable of all tricks of the devil, to speak an unkind word about any human creature, to suspect the honesty of any man. If ever I have said about a brother minister, "He is a fine man in many respects, a noble creature, grand, chivalrous, kind of soul—but—" if ever I have said that but, God will punish me for it. I shall suffer loss therein. If my brother has fallen, and I have said, so low down in my consciousness that I could hardly heat it myself, "I am rather glad of it," God will give me a hell for that. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Have I ever said one unkind and thoughtless word about any human creature. It has been as a beam in my eye, while your faults, even if you have beer intemperate, are virtues, compared with my huge overshadowing sin.
We do not lay hold of this great truth sufficiently. We think that a little slander is of no consequence. To be called up before the church and condemned for slander! Condemn the drunkard, turn out the man who by infinite pressure has committed some sin—turn him out—certainly, and never go after him and never care what becomes of him, let a wolf gnaw him at the core—only get rid of him:—if we go home and speak unkindly of Prayer of Manasseh, woman, or child, who is the great sinner, the drunkard we have just expelled, or the closely-shaven, highly polished Christian who does nothing but filch his neighbour"s good name? It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. You do not know the meaning of Christ"s gospel, you are not in the kingdom at all; you have learned a few words which you chatter with parrot-like accuracy, but the gospel, the all-redeeming, all-hoping, all-saving gospel, you know nothing about.
So then do not imagine that this is the case of a great drunkard speaking against some person with a much smaller fault. It is the case of censoriousness against any other fault, the slander-spirit against the whole catalogue of devilisms. Wherein then shall we wash our hearts and cleanse our souls? Perhaps I may have spoken against some men—if I have, I shall yet feel the rod of the divine vengeance upon my life. Thou art inexcusable, O man! whosoever thou art that judgest, for wherein thou judgest another thou condemnest thyself, for thou that judgest doest the same things. That is the meaning of the Saviour"s teaching. Wherein thou judgest another thou condemnest thyself. To judge is to condemn. Cleanse the church of this spirit of bitterness and its orthodoxy will take care of itself. O I cry before Christ sometimes, when I see him very clearly—I just fall right down at his feet and cry, and tell him that the people are most anxious about their intellectual views, and would curse any number of people who did not subscribe their catechism, and take a keen delight in damning and ramming them down in the deepest and hottest hell—but, O Thou wounded One! when they get together they have not a kind, noble, hopeful word to speak of any creature that differs from them. "Then," saith Hebrews, "they have a beam in their eye, compared with which the faults of others may be but splinters." Why dost thou judge thy brother, why dost thou set at naught thy brother, for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ?
Now let us come to Matthew 7:6. "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast your pearls before the swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you." Now here is the spirit of judgment; how am I to know which is the dog, how am I to know how to classify those who are no better than swine—is not this the very spirit that has been condemned? No, we are not now talking about men who belong to the same universe. We have been speaking, or hearing Christ speak, rather, about brother"s treatment of brother; we are now hearing him speak about the treatment of those who neither understand nor appreciate our heart"s best life. The word brother now drops out of the criticism and other words are imported into the consideration of the case. Jesus Christ when he went before Herod would not give that which was holy unto the dogs, neither would he cast his pearls before swine. You must speak your deepest thinkings to the ear of sympathy, you must find out who has the spirit of communion with your spirit, when you come, to utter the profoundest feelings and highest aspirations of your heart. Speak not in the ears of a fool; for he will despise the wisdom of thy words. Reprove not a scorner lest he hate thee, rebuke a wise man and he will love thee.
You know what it is to be in want of sympathy. You have a great grief, and you say, "To whom can I tell this?" If I tell it, to one, I get it all back again, as if I had spoken to a rock; if I tell it to another kind of heart, why the very telling of it seems to be a kind of evaporation by which my oppressed spirit is relieved. Do not speak the deepest secrets of your soul to those who have never been in the same mental or spiritual condition: they will think you erratic, romantic, eccentric—they will pity you: when they go away from hearing your tale they will intimate that your mind is a little unsettled, and that they have their fears about you. They do not understand the graphic language of your tragic experience, they have never been in the same darkness, never fought the same battle, never drunk of the same bitter cup; therefore, when you come near them, speak not: silence is better than speech in such society—give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet and turn again and rend you, and you hear that your most sacred feelings have been travestied and your most solemn words have been mocked.
We have all had experience of this kind, it may be, in some degree: we have told what we thought was a friendly heart some bitter thing that was troubling us very much, and it has actually come back to us in the form of a falsehood, that has turned again and rent us. Hast thou a friend? Treat him as such, bind him to thine heart with hooks of steel, tell him everything: he will divide thy burdens, he will double thy joys. Beware of the unsympathetic ear, beware of the unsympathetic heart: thou wilt get nothing from those but trampling and rending.
Now some may say, having heard this preaching of Jesus Christ, "Where is the gospel? There is not a word of gospel in all the sermon which Jesus Christ has preached to us this morning. There is nothing evangelic, there is nothing doctrinally savoury, there is no old wine of blood. Seneca might have said this, it might have been written in old Latin." You think so? You try to carry out the injunction of the text, and ere you have gone two steps in the direction of its accomplishment you will want Christ and the cross, and the blood and the Holy Ghost, for this is the last and chiefest of the divine directions.
This teaching, some may say, is purely negative; it is telling us what not to do. You try to realize the doctrine and you will see how far it is merely negative. If you sit within the narrowness of the letter you may call it a negative kind of teaching, but if you try to carry it out in your life, if you never more have to slander a Prayer of Manasseh, think or speak unkindly about any human creature, you will soon know whether the doctrine is negative or positive. It is courageous, for the Scribes and the Pharisees were the princes of slander, and of malicious hostile criticism; it is spiritual, for it searches the heart, and lays down a principle which cannot be carried out by mere mechanism. This is not a trick in handicraft, this is an outgoing and blossom of the renewed heart: it is practical, there is nothing sentimental in this, this is the eloquence of action.
If you, from this time forth, could show the spirit of charity, you would strike the mocker dumb. He has his best hold upon us when he hears us criticising one another. He says, "See how these Christians love one another." When he hears ministers undervaluing one another, running down each other"s preaching and methods of work, he says, "See how these Christians love one another." When he hears various communions of Christians traducing one another, proving one another wrong, and excommunicating one another, he says, "See how these Christians love one another." When he comes to a cemetery and sees a chapel on one side on consecrated ground and a chapel on the other on unconsecrated ground, he laughs a laugh, he has a right to laugh, and says, "See how these Christians love one another."
My friends, it has too long been the case of orthodoxy versus heterodoxy, trinitarian versus Unitarian, citadel against tower, and A against B. "Thou hypocrite," says the great Teacher, "thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam of hostile judgment and uncharitable criticism out of thine own eye; then shalt thou see more clearly to cast out the little splinter that is in thy brother"s eye."
The Conditions of Prayer—The Text and the Context—the Filial Relation to God—Much Given Without Prayer----the Blossom and Fruit of History
Almighty God, do thou send a plentiful rain upon thine inheritance, and make this people rejoice with great joy. Do thou nourish us and comfort us with the bread of heaven, and with all the tender solaces of thine heart. Our life is in thine hand and not in our own, our days thou dost number, and our appointments thou dost make, yea, the day of our birth and the day of our death are both set down in the book which is open before thee. Thou hast assured us of thy presence, if we cry for it mightily through Jesus Christ our Priest and Saviour; for thy presence we do now cry, yea, our whole heart gathers itself up into one vehement desire that we might know where to find thee, that we might come into thy presence, that thou mightest dwell with us, and abide with us, and bear dominion over our whole life. This is our prayer, and to it thou hast but one answer: thy reply is an answer of love, thou wilt not deny the request of the heart that begs thy presence, through all the wondrous ministry of the Cross.
Thou hast kept us and not we ourselves; thou hast lighted our lamp, and the strong wind has not blown it out; thou hast established us in sureness, and behold the storm has vanished and we are still alive. It is because the good hand of the Lord our God is upon us that we are continued unto this day with root unshaken and branch unbroken, and with all the spring light pouring its tender blessing upon us, every beam a prophecy and every ray a blessing. We are in thine house now to eat and to drink according to the abundance of thine own welcome; we bring our hunger and our thirst where they can alone be satisfied. In our Father"s house there is bread enough and to spare, and as for the river of God it is full of water, and if a man drink thereof he shall thirst no more. Whilst we are in thine house may the light fill our life, may the love of the cross burn in our hearts, may the infinite work of thy Son our Saviour disclose unto us all the beauteousness and all the sufficiency which he intended it to disclose. May our hearts glow with a new ardour, may our spirits rise with still higher and purer aspiration, may our heart go out after the Living One in cries of distress and yet of hope, until thou dost come to every heart amongst us, and make it thy chosen dwelling-place.
Few and evil have been the days of thy servants upon the earth, yea, though they be counted as many among men, yet has their number been few in thy sight and evil in our own. Behold we are of yesterday and know nothing, we are afraid of the dust, we tremble before the shadow, we turn away from the stroke of thy rod, and our hearts are melted with fear like water. Do thou therefore visit us in our weakness and come as the physician conies to men that die, and breathe upon us with all gentleness, subduing the wind of thine infinity, breathing upon us thy tender blessing. We are bruised reeds, unfit for music; do thou bind up our wounds and heal us and then breathe into us, and may our answer be one of gentle music. We are as smoking flax, we flicker before thee like a flame and die. O, that thou wouldst breathe upon it, and strengthen the fire by thy breathing, until our whole nature is aflame and aglow with thy presence; then would our life be always in the Sabbath, and our whole hope would be set upon things invisible.
Pity us in our sorrows and distresses, do not mock us in our miscalculations and follies, do not discourage us with bitter taunting from heaven when our own souls misgive us and we are afraid to try the good again; but with all gentleness and comfortableness do thou encourage us once more to do that which is right and to attempt that which is holy, and with every attempt do thou give increase of strength.
The Lord visit us according to the breadth and depth of our painful necessity. What every heart needs thou knowest: the prayer we dare not speak thou hearest; the gentlest knocking at thy door is heard as thunder in thine house. When we seek may we find. Thou knowest what we would be, what we would have, and what we would do, and we lay this before thee in uttered words or in silent desire, and we would desire to say at last, having completed the tale of our want and the prayer of our ignorance, "Nevertheless, not our will but thine be done." Amen.
7. Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
8. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
9 Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?
10. Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
11. If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?
12. Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.
Song of Solomon, then, the commerce between earth and heaven is perfectly honest and straightforward. There is nothing of moral jugglery about it. The wayfaring Prayer of Manasseh, though a fool, may read these plain words and understand them. Do not attempt to steal anything from heaven; ask for it. Do not try any illegitimate methods of getting, finding, or anything else. The plan is simple, honest, perfectly intelligible and available to every sincere and simple-minded heart. Did you suppose that any man got aught from heaven by a species of legerdemain? Has it ever entered into your heart that some man was richer in spiritual graces than you are because he deluded God? Such is an infinite mistake on your part: the human side of this transaction is beautiful in its simplicity—ask, seek, knock. You thought religion was an affair of mystery,—deep and dark clouding, and impenetrable haze. It is the commerce between a child and his father. There is no mystery whatever about it, it is honest commerce. The bread we get from heaven we get honestly; you are not ill-used if you have not got that bread: ye have not, because ye ask not, or because ye ask amiss.
It is something to know that the human side of this transaction is perfectly intelligible and simple, and it is something to know that the human side of this transaction is that which applies to all our progress in life whatsoever it be, in so far as it is honest, substantial, and really good and durable. There is no particular masonic word to get hold of, nor is there any Eleusinian grip of the hand to learn. This is not a trick in the black art; it is asking, receiving—seeking, finding—knocking and having the door opened in reply to the appeal. All religion will be found at last, in so far as it is true, to be equally simple, equally to illustrate the law of cause and effect. The mystery that we find in the Christian religion we too often bring to it: it is but a gilding of the cloud of our own ignorance. The way of the Lord is equal, and his path among men is often such as can be apprehended by sanctified intelligence.
"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth, and to him that knocketh it shall be opened." If you want your income increased, ask for it; if you want your health Revelation -established, seek the Physician—God, the one Healer, in whose heart grow all plants with healing juice flowing in their salubrious veins. If you want to advance in life knock at the door, and while you are knocking it shall be thrown open to you. There is no condition specified, there is no particular class of persons identified as the favoured sect or denomination—for every one that asketh receiveth. There is no condition of title, character, claim: words cannot be more simple and more inclusive. If you want increase, health, joy, satisfaction, advancement, riches, honour—ask, and ye shall receive, for every one that asketh receiveth. Why sit we here, therefore, poor dwarfs, empty of pocket, feeble of hand, blind of intellect, failing in health, crushed before the moth and the worm, and courting with cowardly spirit our own grave, that we may be hidden from the light of the day? Nothing lies between me and what I want but honest supplication. Be careful for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication make known your requests unto God. Never mind how bad you are—you have simply to ask what you like and you shall have it.
There is not one word of truth in that statement, and yet who would wonder if some persons who read the Bible in fragments and morsels should openly and emphatically declare that to be the divine revelation. Learn to trust not only in the text but in the context. What I have now laid down to you would seem to be the very first meaning of the words I have read. That meaning seems to be written upon the very face of the text, and yet every sentence I have uttered in the latter part of the exposition is utterly false. How can that be proved to be so? By Christ"s own words. But is there any condition signified in the text? Most undoubtedly there is a vital condition, not only signified but explicitly laid down in so many words. You must not break in on the Saviour whilst he is preaching and teaching; you must hear his whole statement and compare part with part, and by comparing one part with another you must establish the truth which he came to reveal and enforce. Let us, therefore, look at the illustration which he himself gives of the doctrine which he has laid down.
"Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread will he give him a stone, or if he ask a fish will he give him a serpent?" Then there is a certain class specified in the text? Undoubtedly. What is that class? "What man is there of you whom if his son ask bread." It is a filial relation, it is a child praying to his father. It is not an alien, a stranger, a rebel, it is a child"s heart praying a child"s prayer. What further condition is there specified in the text? The next condition laid down in the text is that what we ask for is good. Read again. "What man is there of you whom if his son ask bread, ox fish, or egg." Why, these are necessary to life. You talked just now about asking for a double income, and a larger house, and fifty more fields added to your small estate. No, no—the doctrine relates to bread, fish, egg—food—necessaries of life, and it is the son that prays. Song of Solomon, then, the foolish man who first ran away with the idea that we only had to go and ask and have, is altogether disqualified for the exposition of this portion of Scripture. He talks a foreign tongue, he utters the fool"s swift language that hath no faith or sense in it. The strong limitation, the definition of boundary that is not to be trespassed, is— Song of Solomon, as the suppliant: Bread, Fish, Egg as the subjects of petition. Bodily nutriment, intellectual nutriment, spiritual nutriment, the bread, the fish, the egg applied to all the necessities of our multifold hunger and thirst that evermore besiege and urge and distress our nature. Give not that which is holy unto the dogs. Dog, you cannot pray. This is a portion of meat for the king"s children; it is a special household that sits down at this table and eats and drinks abundantly of this divine hospitality.
"What man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread will he give him a stone, or if he ask a fish will he give him a serpent," and elsewhere, "if he ask an egg will he give him a scorpion?" What is the great deduction of the divine Teacher? "If ye then, being evil, short-sighted, mean-hearted, children of miscalculation, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?" This is the true method of teaching, climbing up step by step from the human to the divine. Said I not unto you ye are gods? Learn from the little divinity that is in yourself, O Prayer of Manasseh, the infinite divinity that is in God. When you are at your very best, in love, pity, sacrifice, care for others, multiply that condition of heart by infinity, and the result will be your Father which is in heaven. Let common-sense assist you in all these expositions, and you will have no difficulty in getting down to the root.
Look at the case of your own family to-day, and your child shall come and say to you, "Give me your most precious possession." What would be your reply to the little child? Would it be an instant imparting of the gift? Nothing of the kind. Your child shall come to you and say, "Let me go out all to-day and all tomorrow, and never you ask where I am or what I am doing. Now I have asked you, you give." What would you say to your seven-year-old little boy who came with that prayer? If ye then, being evil, children of the night, and of the bewildering shadows, unable to see straight and clear, know how to say "No" under the inspiration of love, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven say "No" to your poor prayers, your mean and ignorant supplications, your asking for scorpions under the supposition that they are eggs? For the naturalist tells us that the scorpion coils itself up so as to look very like an egg; hardhearted would be our Father in heaven, having heard our prayer when we have mistaken a coiled scorpion for an egg, if his answer would be the reply of death.
How do I stand then towards this Giver? Just as a child stands towards a wise father. Why, sometimes a father says to a child, when the child asks for more bread, "You have had enough, child." The father does not begrudge the bread, he delights in the child"s appetite for food, but having some regard to the child"s capacity and health, he may, even in that direction, interpose the suggestion that the boundary has been reached. Is he therefore cruel? Is he therefore unkind? He may simply be wise and thoughtful, a prudent father whose love asserts itself even in the form of prohibition. Is he a wise father who lets his child do exactly what the child wants to do, who gives a hearty "Yes" to every appeal of the child, who has no will of his own, no love, no firmness? What can become of a child brought up under such Loose government, if the word government in that connection be not wholly a misapplication of the word? The child will come to ruin. It is not love that suspends discipline, it is love that adjusts it, measures it, lifts it into a sacrament, making it holy, often straining the sensibilities of him who enforces or inflicts it, but under the sweet and bright hope that its infliction will terminate in health and blessing. We have had fathers of our flesh who corrected us, and we gave them reverence; shall we not much more be subject unto the Father of spirits and live?
So we find the element of character and discipline and prohibitive wisdom even in this domain of supplication and desire. Be sure you ask for good things and your answer shall be plentiful; and thank God that he says "No" to some prayers. I have gone, as no doubt you have, with prayers to God to be sent, or to be spared, or to be directed thus and Song of Solomon, and if the answer had been "Yes" we should not have been living men to-day. Let us, therefore, learn to put our prayers into the court of heaven, and having delivered them word by word, it may be sometimes with strong crying and tears, as if our life depended upon an instant reply, let us learn to say, "Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done."
Read again. "Ask, seek, knock." That might be the development of one action; these may not be three distinct services on our part, but this line may mark the growing intensity of our religious application. Ask—the easiest and simplest of exercises: seek—implying more industry and anxiety: knock—suggestive of vehement desire and perhaps impatience of spirit and eagerness of will and resoluteness. Our prayer has passed through all these transitions. Hear the good man"s wise, rich prayer, how he asks in quiet, deep, fluent speech, how he passes on into seeking, stooping, lighting a candle and sweeping the house diligently, as if in search of that which is more precious than gold. See how he betakes himself to one supreme effort, laying down torch and broom, and going with both hands to the door of heaven, and knocking as if God had hardly time to open the door, because the wolf was so near. It is one grand prayer, beginning with the ease of a child"s communion, ending with the resoluteness and the violence of a man who feels that time is dying and opportunity closing swiftly.
Do you know all the manners of prayer? Is your prayer quite an easy exercise, or does it strain the soul and awaken the highest efforts? Look how much we have that we do not ask for, and that does not come as the result of our seeking, knocking, or any variety of our supplication and appeal to heaven. And yet they must have come in answer to some word that is equivalent to prayer. For example—all the light of day: the sun does not come out of his eastern chamber because some suppliant begged that he might return. And all the beauty of the spring, the luxuriance of the summer, the infinite largess of the autumn—these are not God"s "Amens" to your small petitions, they are divine anticipations of human necessity, they are answers before the prayer is spoken—he prevents us with his goodness, and his goodness should lead us to repentance. And we learn from the infinitude of his gifts, laid upon our life without our asking, how to utter big prayers, vast petitions, petitions worthy of himself.
Have we not, poor drivelling souls, measured our prayers by ourselves, and only stretched our supplications over the mean breadth of our own conception of life? When shall we learn to fill our mouth with great words and to utter prayers meant for heaven? Ye have not, because ye ask not. God says, "Bring your vessels, and the oil shall flow." More vessels, more oil; more still, and still more oil. Who gives up? Man. He says, "I have no more vessels"—and God causes the oil to cease its flow. Never did God say, "There is no more oil;" it is always man that says, "There is no more room."
I have spoken of the gift of the light of the day, I have spoken of the beauty and richness of the succeeding seasons, but these are mean gifts. He who gave them gave us without our asking—Christ. And he that spared not his own Song of Solomon, but freely delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Christ did not come in answer to prayer, the cross was not set up because some ardent heart desired its elevation; Jesus Christ is the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world, God"s answer to God"s own prayer. So also is the gift of our life and all its responsibilities; we did not ask to live, we did not ask for one talent, or two, or five: I did not ask to be preacher or teacher, you did not ask to be merchantman or writer or thinker, or leader of human opinion—we are what we are in all these matters of capacity and appointment by the grace or wisdom of God.
So then there is a region in which prayer seems to be uncalled for, or to be utterly without opportunity and avail. The gifts of God in nature, in redemption, in life, in responsibility, these are determined by his own will and not by our prayer. Yet there are, in relation to our life, many interstices which are to be filled by our own supplications and prayers. A man comes to feel somewhat of the range of his own capacity, then he besieges the throne of grace for direction, sanctification, and for the upholding and comforting of holy grace that he may not waste his life, pouring it out like a plentiful rain upon the unanswering sand. The man comes to find that he was born into the world with feeble constitution, with an irritable temperament, with physical defects or excesses that require the continual vigilance of his heart and the continual sanctification of God. There he begins to pray, God having in all things left an opening for prayer. There be those who pray for fine days—I do not now: all days are fine. There be those who pray for health: I would like to live to be able to pray for health with this supplement to my prayer—Nevertheless, if sickness be better for me, the Lord make me sick every day.
Now the Saviour comes to his last word. Let me ask you to read it. "Therefore, all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them, for this is the law and the prophets." Who has an eye acute enough in vision to see the connection between this therefore and the argument that has gone before? It startled me: I did not know that the argument stretched itself beyond the eleventh verse—"If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more—." Said I, "The argument ends with that enquiry," and behold in the twelfth verse I was challenged with a great therefore, as if the syllogism did not complete itself until we came to this conclusion—"All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." What has that to do with the subject? "Evidently nothing," say you. "Evidently much," says Christ. This is no incoherence on the part of the divine Teacher. He does sometimes startle by taking what are called new departures, but in this Ergo he stands steadily by the argument he has been establishing. Let us read it with the intent of discovering his meaning.
"If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children—the good gifts being indicated in the ninth and tenth verses—what man is there of you whom if his son ask bread will he give him a stone? None. Therefore, whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, giving you bread when you ask bread, and not a stone. Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? No. Therefore, all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, in answer to your prayers, never giving a serpent for a fish, a stone for bread, a scorpion for an egg, do ye even so to them. How would you feel, if asking your father for an egg, he gave you a scorpion? Would he not disqualify himself for the paternal relation? Therefore go by your own judgment, follow out your own reasoning—if you would not receive a scorpion for an egg, as an act of love and of honour, never perpetrate that bitter and disastrous irony in your own dealings with mankind, for this is the law and the prophets—this is the blossom, this the fruit of all history: it grows up into this, blossoming into love and fructifying into noble charity and honour.
Does not this seem a small result for so great a prophecy? Did it require thousands of years to grow this tree and to mould and mellow, in complete sweetness, this fruit? What is the fruit? Love. All the law is fulfilled in one word—Love. Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. For this the ages have travailed in birth, and this the child—Love. This is the law and the prophets.
Where are you? Still in the region of opinions—still discussing tiny metaphysics, still asking one another about your little narrow hazy theological views? I despise you", if you mean to rest there, chaffering and chattering about your denominational peculiarities and your metaphysical and theological distinctions, your orthodoxy and your heterodoxy, your isms and your ations. If you are there and still mean to stop there, I want to go on. What to? Love. Again and again remember that Love is the fulfilling of the law. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love. If a man love not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? I am more anxious to cure the disease of your affections than to correct your purely intellectual mistakes. Believe what you may intellectually, if your spirit be not bathed in the very love of God you have not entered into the inner places of the holy kingdom. This blessed love is often the best guide of the intellect. It makes men modest, it prostrates them in the lowliness which is acceptable to God, and it expels from the heart every passion that would contest the supremacy of Christ. I do not call you to brilliance or grandeur of intellect, but I do most strenuously exhort you to follow in the upward direction that is ever taken by the spirit of heavenly love.
The Straitness of the Gate—Seeking and Not Entering—the Eleventh Commandment—the Exhortation
Almighty God, our hearts know thee, and in their deepest love is thy name set as their one jewel and treasure. We cannot understand thee, but we can love thee; thou dost not come into our intelligence or sit down in our understanding, thou knockest at the door of our heart, and into its love thou dost come with all readiness, bringing with thee all heaven. Our hearts are towards thee to-day in great expectancy, we have assured ourselves that this is thy day, and that thou wilt make a temple of every heart, and sit down with every one of us, and make us see thy life. It is not to such expectancies thou dost return some cold reply, thou dost come with swiftness to hearts that are waiting, for the sigh is contrite and the groan is one because of heavy and intolerable sin: where the eyes of our hearts are set towards the cross of thy Song of Solomon, thou dost come with wings outstretched, flying faster than the lightning, that thou mayest heal and comfort and mightily redeem. We come to thee with our love shaped into an earnest prayer, with our hearts crying after the living God with infinite desire.
We have tested the poverty of time, we have seen the little boundaries which encircle and imprison us, and our souls are filled with infinite discontent because of the meanness of space and time. We would look beyond, we would be drawn by mighty forces that are above, we would yield ourselves to ministries that have no sufficient name, plying the heart with subtle tenderness, luring the affections with mighty strength, promising our love and our whole capacity an ample and sweet satisfaction in regions beyond the line of time.
We bless thee for thy sacred Book, behold it is written with thine own finger; we see no human writing in it. Beyond the human scribe we see the divine inspirer, we hear in human words music that is not of earth, we see in the beauty of thy revelation a light that never fell from created suns. Help us to enter into the sanctuary of thy word and richly to enjoy thy Revelation, and may our hearts abound with loving thankfulness to thee for putting into our speech something of the meaning and purpose of thine own heart. Help us to read thy Book wisely, save us from the narrowness and poverty of the mere letter, may the letter of thy Book be but as a door opening upon boundless spaces and liberties, and may we enter in and enjoy the heritage of a glorious and indestructible freedom.
Thou knowest our life: what is it but a breath in the nostrils, a flying shadow, a dying vapour, a post hastening on his way?—behold we are as the grass that is consumed in the oven, and in our strength there is no duration, our joys are bubbles upon the stream that burst, and what we gather are but flowers plucked, and that must wither. Help us then to lay up treasure in heaven; may Christ be our wealth, may the Son of God be our chief possession; having him in the heart, dwelling in the mind, ruling the will, directing every step of our life, we shall be rich with inexhaustible treasures. Enrich us, thou Son of God.
As for our sin, who may name such blackness? But thou hast light enough to drive it all away. Who dare speak of guilt so deep and dark? But the blood of Jesus Christ thy Son cleanseth from all sin, so where great sin aboundeth grace doth much more abound; as in the darkness we see the stars, so in our great sorrow, when the tears big and hot fall from our reddened eyes, do thou therein shine upon them a divine light which makes them gleam with many a tender colour. O thou who dost forgive, who has paid a ransom for men, and whose delight it is to release from the torment and the shame of sin, come to every heart to-day with pardon and its attendant liberty.
Look upon those hairs that are grey, that are bent before thee with the reverence of age, and supply the old man with what he needs of grace and light and help. Thou bast chastened him with many an affliction, thou hast dug many a grave on his life path, thou hast startled him by many a fear—now let the evening be quiet, take the storm out of the clouds and fill them with hopeful life. Look upon all the young men and women full of life and fire, whose every look is an expectation, whose every word is a vow of nobler life, and grant unto such increasing power of prayer, increasing energy to overthrow every temptation. Hide within young hearts thy living word, an eloquence that cannot be answered, a, reply to which the devil can return no answer. Look upon the busy man lest he be so busy as to let the King pass by, lest he seek in the dust and find nothing there but a pit for his body. The Lord help us all to earn our bread honestly, give us plenty of it, no more than is good for us; and as for our house, do thou keep the key of its principal door, and upon the windows pour the smiling light of thy blessing. Be with us in the cradle, be with us in the marketplace, be with us in the school and in the church and everywhere; may every step we take be a step in the right direction.
Bless the stranger within our gates, the heart that is far from home, between whose love and the objects of it there roll mighty seas or stretch innumerable miles; by the spirit of thy love make the fellowship complete, destroy all space and time, and give the joy of spiritual communion.
Send messages from thy heavens to our sick-chambers. Some whom thou lovest are sick, and thou lovest them to be sick because oat of their sickness thou wilt work a better health. The Lord be their Physician and their comforter, and a light above the brightness of the sun be in their darkened chambers.
The Lord will not forget the prodigal, the wanderer, the man of the hard heart, those who are invincible by any power of ours—the Lord"s hand be upon them, not for destruction, but for salvation, and bring gladness into our hearts by the intelligence that they have arrived at home.
Dry our tears, make our poverty an occasion of thy coming to us, may our blindness be the reason of thine approach, and do thou dwell in us and make us living temples. Amen.
13. Enter ye in at the strait gate, for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat14. Because strait is the gate and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
This is rather a mournful view, not only of human life, but of the kingdom of heaven itself; as if it would be thinly populated, and give us at last rather a representation of infinite failure on the one side than of red success and completeness on the other. That, however, would be a wrong exposition of the text. There is more light in it than seems to flash upon the eye at the first look. There is really nothing novel or unintelligible in the principle which is here laid down, namely, that, because strait is the gate and narrow is the way, few there be that find it. We know that to be a true principle in the common walks and ranges of life. It is the principle which applies at home, in the school, in the marketplace, everywhere in fact; the principle, that Isaiah, that according to the value of any kingdom is the straitness of the gate which opens upon it. If you will accustom the mind to that thought for a moment or two, you will not be struck by any novelty, certainly, by any harshness in the conditions which are attached to entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
Into what kingdom is it that you are anxious now to enter? Above all things you wish to enter into the kingdom of music. Very well. This is the New Testament doctrine concerning the kingdom of music. "Strait is the gate and narrow is the way which leadeth unto excellence in music, and few there be that find it." You have to study night and day, you have no time for yourself, you are at it, always at it, or getting ready for it, criticising or being criticised, repeating, rehearsing, going over it again and again, still higher and higher. If that is the law of your little kingdom of music, why should it not be the law of the larger kingdom of life, which includes all beauty, and learning, and music, and power? Show me any musician that is ever really and completely satisfied with his own attainment; in that proportion will he be no musician at all—an amateur, easily satisfied with himself. When Handel composed his "Messiah," and sat a long way off to hear it, he came again and again to some of the players upon the wind instruments, and said, "Loudaire;" and again he came and said, "Loudaire," and away he went, and came again and said, "Loudaire;" and at last they said, "Where is the wind to come from?" He wanted all the winds of heaven, and all the thunders that slumbered in the clouds, and all creation to take up his Amen and sing it, till the universe vibrated with its infinite life.
What is the kingdom that you are most anxious to enter into? "I Amos," say you, "most anxious to enter into the kingdom of painting, pictures, the mystery of colour, the language, subtle and infinite, that expresses itself through the medium of colour." Is it easy? You shake your head in despondent reply, and say that you seem to get worse rather than better. At first you were rather pleased, and now you could tear up the canvas—it vexes you by the vulgarity you write upon it with your clumsy fingers. Strait is the gate and narrow is the way which leadeth unto art, and few there be that find it. My young friend, do not imagine that you can jump into eminence: if you can jump into it, you may easily jump out of it. Character must be a growth, long-continued and patiently cultivated. One of yourselves took me into his study the other day, and said, "I want you to look at this sketch." Said I, "This lies a long way from your range of studies." "Yes," was the reply—"my temptation is towards impatience; I get tired of things, and I at the last lump them and hasten them through, becoming utterly careless towards the close. I undertook this work to teach me patience, slowness, and. completeness of toil. How long do you think I was over that?" "I cannot tell how long." "I spent upon that two hours every day, Sundays excepted, for two months." A little thing about the size of the palm of your hand: he could have done it in half the time, but then he would have missed the direct purpose of his attempting to do it. He must straiten the gate and narrow the road, because he wants to go into a kingdom that is worth going into, and there is no kingdom worth having that you can snatch and pocket, and keep without equivalent toil or thought.
Do you want to enter into the kingdom of influence, do you want to be a man that shall be consulted in difficulties, to whom people shall come in hours of perplexed thought, to whom they shall state their cases, and for whose opinion they shall anxiously wait? Influence comes out of time, care, experience, and these things are not to be hurried. A Prayer of Manasseh, well-known to most of us, is lying sick to-day, and a physician of renown was called in to see him not long ago; the doctors, having heard the opinion of this eminent Prayer of Manasseh, declined, one and all, to give his own conception of the case. Why is it so amongst you that if a great physician gives his opinion, you will not give yours? "Yes—there is no opinion after his." The man grows to that—do not suppose that you can dream yourselves to that. Inspiration there is in it, no doubt, but a man has to work for it, and pay for it, and climb his way to it, one round of the ladder at a time. Strait is the gate and narrow is the way which leadeth unto supreme influence, and few there be that find it.
I have troubled you with these illustrations, just to show that really there is nothing novel, extraordinary, or harsh in the principle that, according to the value of any kingdom that you aim to reach, is the straitness of the gate and is the narrowness of the road leading unto it. It is my wont—bear me witness if you please—always to speak a word for the weak man. Have I ever put out a finger and laid it upon any soul as a burden that was trying to be better? Cheer me by telling, what is only the truth, that I may have erred in excess of charity, never in excess of severity. Comfort me with these words, tell me you have so understood me, and I shall preach to you with a broader and warmer love. I want to do so with peculiar tenderness just now.
Enter ye in at the strait gate—or, as we read elsewhere, strive to enter in at the strait gate, seek to enter in, labour to enter in, agonize to enter in. The fear is that some of you may imagine that striving is conquest, and you may visit upon a man who is merely, though with all his heart, striving to enter in, the judgment that you would accord to him after he had passed the gate, and had walked long miles up the heavenly steep. You have been cruel to some of your friends, you have taunted them with bitter mockery when they have been striving to enter in; you thought they had already professed to have entered, and you have mocked them with bitterness; you have asked them if that was their goodness, you have taken up little specks of their life, and said, "Aha, is this a sample of your piety?" It was only a sample of their agony, it was only a pattern of their striving. It was not to be picked up as a trophy of conquest, but to be referred to as an incident in the great agony of striving to enter in.
When the young Christian slips and falls, don"t mock him; when a man is labouring, even in agonistic earnestness, to be better, and when in the midst of it all he gets tripped up, and somehow or other falls down as he were dead drunk at your feet, he may be a better man than you are: you never got wrong socially—you may be the worst man alive for anything I know to the contrary, you proud Pharisee, you whitewashed sepulchre, you trick undiscovered—take care lest ye be wounding good men who have the true seed in them, but who, peculiarly constituted, fall twenty times a day, and have the devil"s iron teeth crushed—crushed—through them, all over. I do not defend their vices, I sympathise with their weakness; I have known the prayers of such men, and to no other prayers have I ever added so cordial an Amen—prayers that had blood in them, and music subtle and far brought and far sounding, prayers of the very inmost soul; and I did not judge them harshly, I saw they were striving to enter in, seeking to enter in, agonizing to enter in, and the measure of their earnestness was the measure of the diabolic assault upon them. If I speak to such hearts now, when possibly I may do Song of Solomon, let my word be one of the broadest cheer, a great sun-like word, brightening upon their lives with infinite hope. Still strive to enter in, and God will be pitiful to you.
But we read that some will seek to enter in and shall not be able. That we read in another gospel than the one we are now expounding. How singular it is then that some shall seek to enter in and shall not be able. Is not this a mockery of human effort? How many persons have been puzzled by that expression, and have gone to their pastors and teachers with it, as men would go with a great pain, ana said, "Can you heal this mortal agony? I am discouraged because it says some will seek, yea, many will seek, to enter in and shall not be able. I may be one of the many—God help me. Tell me if it is so: I feel this thought darkening upon me like a cloud of thunder." O distressed one, shall I call thee Fool and slow of heart to believe all that the Speaker spake when he uttered these words that give thee trouble? The answer is in the very next verse—When once the master of the house is risen up and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without and to knock at the door, saying, "Lord, Lord, open unto us," and he shall answer and say unto you, "I know you not whence ye are." The seeking and the knocking referred to take place when the day of mercy is no more. When the good man of the house has risen up and gone to rest, when Christ is risen from the mediatorial seat and has delivered up the kingdom unto God and his Father, then the shout of agony shall die in space, and the cry of despair shall be the awful music of hell.
The words, therefore, do not apply to you at all. The good man of the house has not risen and shut the door, the Son of God has not completed his priestly ministry, Jesus Christ is still able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him, God still waits to be gracious, the door is set wide open, and, therefore, the verse which before was a burden to you and a great darkness may now be lifted off your shoulder and chased away, to the last shadow of it, from your life path, for it never referred to any man who earnestly sought the Lord while he might be found, and called upon him while he was near. What say you to seeking now, and striving? What if we make this day the most memorable day in our life by sending the heart out like a living bird to such a rest in God? Let thine heart fly Godward, poor soul; do thou gather thyself up into one flaming prayer, and say, "God be merciful unto me a sinner," and thy joy shall be too great for words, thy rapture shall leave even music behind it, as the lark leaves under his wings the clouds of the smoking city. Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation.
"Few there be that find it." Do not judge success by numbers. It is always pleasant to see great numbers gathering round the standard you set up, but always remember that quality is better than quantity, the audience may be fit though few. They are strong men who gather themselves around Christ, for they have nothing to rest upon but inspiration; no property, no ancestry, no fine clothing, no parchments, nothing but the grace of God. Jesus Christ never sought to make his kingdom popular in the sense of bringing into it any and everybody that casually applied for admission. A young man once came to him and said, "I would like to enter in at the gate;" and Jesus Christ said, "Why not? This gate is a strait one, and thou knowest the commandments." Said the young Prayer of Manasseh, "All these have I kept from my youth up." A commandment that can be kept is by necessity a very narrow one; a commandment must always overflow its own letter, if it is really a revelation of the highest morality. The young man measured off the commandments, ten in number, and he said he had kept them, letter by letter, every one, from his youth up. Jesus Christ, closing his eyes that he might see the better, said, "There is an eleventh commandment; sell all them hast and give it unto the poor, and come and follow me;" and the young man went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. He thought the gate was broad enough surely to admit him and all his wealth-burden; and Christ said, "You cannot all get through: there is room only for the soul, and not for these poor perishable holdings that are of no use on the other side of the gate." So Jesus did not add to his numbers rashly.
Another man said to him, "Lord, I will follow thee, but—" Christ said, "No, that word but must be dropped, there must be no qualifications; let the dead bury their dead, come thou and follow me." On another occasion he said, "If any man will follow me, let him take up his cross and come after me. Let a man deny himself and follow me. Except a man deny himself he cannot be my disciple." You do not wonder therefore that very few people attached themselves livingly and lovingly to a man whose conditions were so precise and severe. His conditions ought to make us all tremble. Have I denied myself? Where? Have I taken up my cross? What weight is it? Can men see it? Do I feel it? Why, Christianity has been my maker: by the grace of God I am what I am. Christianity, every one of us may say, has made me respectable; I owe all I have to Christianity: I have been a receiver—what have I given? I have held out both hands, what have I returned? Do I not encourage every whim, do I not cultivate every prejudice, do I not give scope to every antipathy, am I not harsh in judgment, uncharitable in feeling, pharisaical in self-sufficiency, scribe-like in my obedience to the mere letter of the law, whilst I neglect its infinite spirit? Such questions as these I could inflict upon myself until I destroyed every whit of comfort and solace that I now enjoy. There is no cross-bearing in being a Christian of the nominal sort: what cross-bearing there would be in being a Christian of the real sort, who can tell? If any man will live godly in Jesus Christ he shall suffer persecution.
When I go into trade and arrange all my business, I say I have arranged this business on the principle that I must live. Then it is a false principle, for there is no need for you to live. Did that thought ever strike you? There is a great need that every man should be honest, but not the slightest necessity in the world that any Prayer of Manasseh, either in the pulpit or out of it, should live an hour. "In making my arrangements and dispositions of energy, and talent, and time, I have always had in full view the fact that I must have subsistence." There is your error: that is the fallacy in your practical logic. What is your subsistence? Who wants that mechanism of bones you call yourself to stand upright for five minutes longer? What do you mean by subsistence? You must have infinite capacity of eating and drinking. Subsistence for how many years? On what scale? Do not even the publicans the same—is not that pagan talk—do not the heathen write such maxims upon their papers and hang them up in their business places as their only Bible? Labour not for the meat that perisheth, but labour for the bread that endureth unto everlasting life.
This is the high gospel of Christ. Who can live it? I cannot, I do not. How then can we classify ourselves? As those who are striving to enter in. Sometimes I have tried for a day or two, but with such ample reservation that it destroyed my action so far as I claimed it. to be one of faith. Sometimes I have said, "Now I will try the sea." I have gone down to it, and waited till it was very quiet, and then have touched it with one timid foot, and called that trusting the sea—with a friend holding my hand and my other foot well on shore. I have gone down to touch with reluctance that little foaming wavelet that broke on the golden sand. That is not sea-faring, that is not sea-going—but that is my religion in Christ, too much. I speak of myself, lest I should offend any by unnecessary harshness—for if any man has gone a mile out into the water, thank God for him, and let him go a mile further still. Yet I feel as if going down to the water was moving in the right direction, and perhaps some day—who can tell?—I may boldly throw myself on the great wave and be caught by Christ"s hand and led to the better land.
Do not let us give up our striving and our seeking and our persevering—in due season ye shall reap if ye faint not. Try once more, go again—what seest thou? Nothing. Go a third time—what seest thou? Nothing. A fourth time, and a fifth, and a sixth—what seest thou? A cloud about the size of a man"s hand. Hasten—that cloud will spread faster than thou canst run, and presently there will be a plash of descending rain, and the earth shall rejoice in the baptism of the divine blessing.
This is the great lesson of striving, and seeking, and trying, and persevering. "Though faint, yet pursuing"—be that thy motto, my poor soul. The discouragements are innumerable, but the promises are many and large. "He giveth more grace." Try again! Let me summon your utmost hopefulness into exercise, for when we fear we go down in the volume and quality of our being. Hope is power. Hope is inspiration. Hope is one of the guarantees of its own fulfilment. The great and loving One is watching you from his bright heaven, nor will he spare his angels, even should twelve legions be needed, to give you victory and rest. My soul, hope thou in God, and wait for him until his brightness drives the gloom for ever away.
Hypocrisy In Art—Judgment By Fruits—Christ"s Forecast of Himself
Almighty God, truly is our life a great mystery, and there is no answer to it in ourselves, but in thy sweet gospel do we find the whole explanation, yea, we find the infinite light. Thou hast set our life strangely so that we know neither the beginning nor the end of it. Thou dost fix our abode, and thou dost determine our lot upon the earth and we are not our own, we are wholly thine. Thou hast made us so that we can sin against thee with both hands and our whole heart, and thou hast so made our life that it can be turned into one joyous and loving prayer—this is the Lord"s doing and it is wonderful in our eyes. Surely this life of ours is cruel; thou dost afflict us sorely, and by many a deprivation dost thou bring us to poverty extreme. Sometimes thou seemest to have no mercy upon the children of men. Thou dost scourge them to the flowing of the blood, and when they turn up their eyes in faint prayer, the sky is dark and sullen. Behold thou dost separate us one from another, and care not for our Farewell; thou dost dig the grave at the very foot of our pleasure, and in the middle of the feast thou dost blight us with great fears. Yet thou art also full of compassion and loving-kindness: we see it not wholly just now—we see glimpses and sharp glances of thy love, quick lights that flash and flare a moment, and we believe that thou wilt by-and-by explain it all, and show that thou hast done all things well. Thou dost rule us with a rod of iron, and thou dost touch us with a sceptre of love. Thou dost bind us with cords that cannot be broken by human strength and thou dost give us a great liberty that cannot be measured by human imagination. This is our life, a pain, a joy, a night, a day, a thrilling fear, an inspiring hope.
We bring to thee the robe of the week, fouled and torn, that thou mayest again array us in the white linen of the saints. We have done the things we ought not to have done, we have left undone the things that we ought to have done, and we come without excuse or defence, for thou hast given us light enough to see all the way, and help enough to sustain us against every assault, yet have we utterly failed and there is no white day in our whole life, without scar or blot upon its beauty. God be merciful unto us sinners, and show us the cross, the sacred cross, the infinite cross, the redeeming, healing, hopeful cross, and in the sight of that vision our sin shall be all forgotten.
Thou dost give us a handful of days, and we go to work to spend it as though it were an eternity—such fools are we and so utterly blind. We do not reckon our little store and set it out in lots, saying, "This shall be done to-day and that tomorrow, if the Lord will, but with a ruffian"s force and a prodigal"s thoughtlessness we rush upon our little dowry of time and spend it without thy fear. How brief a span is our life: our breath is in our nostrils, our little day is but twelve hours long, and we know not that we shall live the whole time—so teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.
We bless thee for all Christian light, for all Christian truth and consolation; may thy light shine upon our hearts this day, may thy truth make our understandings strong as a great tower, and thy consolation guard our hearts against destructive fears. Save us from the anxiety that is unchristian, from the care that is the result of unbelief, and that becomes an offence against thy dignity and love —enable us to live as those who love the Saviour and trust the loving Father, and in whom death is abolished.
Thou seest us as we are gathered and bent here, praying, suppliant, contrite hearts. Omit no one from thy blessing—let the old man feel young again, let the young be startled into a sobriety that may become religious in the long run, let the busy man remember that he can take nothing out of the world into which he brought nothing, and may those who are in affliction, sorrow, secret distress, and mortal pain, sigh what they cannot speak in words, and tell thee the latent breathings of their heart, what they may not speak in the ear of man. The prodigal is here, with his broken staff and his weary feet, and his head dizzy and aching, and his heart broken and crushed—the Lord give him another chance in life, the Lord show him the way back again and give him courage to take it, every step. Amen.
15. Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep"s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
16. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
17. Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
18. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
19. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
20. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
21. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
22. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not phrophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
23. And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me ye that work iniquity.
24. Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise Prayer of Manasseh, which built his house upon a rock;
25. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not; for it was founded upon a rock.
26. And everyone that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish Prayer of Manasseh, which built his house upon the sand:
27. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and in fell: and great was the fall of it.
28. And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine:
29. For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep"s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves." Beware of the false in everything: encourage the instinct and spirit of truth—then you will have no need to be instructed as to particulars and details. Be as true as fire, a perpetual disinfectant, a test that can never be deceived. Have in you, ever dwelling in the temple of your heart, the spirit of truth, then you will know the false man the moment you look at him: the detection of falsehood will not be an act of skill or cleverness, but you will shudder when the false man is within a mile of you, as the wind in some parts of the sea has a sudden chill in it because of the far-off icebergs. Beware of the false in everything, false promises, false directions, false appearances. Then add the word prophets, for there is more in the word false than there is in the word prophets. A man is not a good man simply because he is a prophet do not trust to the goodness or the nobleness of your office for your personal vindication: you should be bigger than your office—no pulpit on earth should be as grand as you are, no prophet"s robe that ever covered human shoulder should be worth your majesty.
"False prophets." What ironies there are in speech. To think the word false should ever have been married to the word prophets. Surely that sacred word prophet might have escaped this foul contamination. Let the word false go wooing otherwhere, let it marry the marketplace, but let it keep a thousand miles away from the snow-like purity of the church of Christ "False prophets." Who can imagine two words more positively contradictory? Who can imagine a union so palpably and grossly absurd? Who can effect a junction between two words that shall mean so much that is mischievous, disastrous, ruinous? It requires Jesus Christ surely to say the word false before the word prophets. Surely that word false was written in faint ink, and required his eyes of fire to see it. In other cases it was written large enough: it seemed to boast of its haziness, and to make its very bigness a kind of satirical virtue; but in connection with the word prophets, who ever found it before? False professor, false prophet, false teacher, false thinker—it is in that line that lying does its worst mischief.
There is arising amongst us a class of men who are exceedingly anxious not to tell lies in art. It is provocative of secret laughter, and much of it. Solemn persons, who will not allow a painter to tell lies in oil. Yet it is not unbeautiful, and not wholly unsuggestive of things heavenly. Mr. Ruskin would never allow you to paint a piece of wood as if it were oak: such an action would send him half wild. Paint it as black as soot if you like; paint it a glaring, fiery red; steep it in amber—but do not imitate oak. To such an art-critic it is a lie, it is a piece of hypocrisy in art, it is not true, and therefore it ought to be frowned out of your houses. You, skilful amateur, have painted a piece of common slate so skilfully that your neighbours suppose it to be marble. Your mother insists that it is marble; or, at all events, that she never could have told the difference between it and marble. Your neighbours almost go the length of applauding you as an artist. If one of the class to which I have referred could come into your house and see that painted slate, veined and shaded like a cutting from the rock, he would call it a lie, and your cleverness would be so much set down to your discredit.
Now, whilst I am not able to say much either for or against these purists in art, I have sometimes wondered if it could be possible for a man who would go into a rage about seeing a piece of common deal painted like oak to tell a lie. The swallowing powers, of man are painful mysteries to his Creator. I will tell you what a man can do: he can strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. Yet he will not believe in miracles. Who can believe anything with so roomy a throat? It would seem to swallow up the whole man that he should seem to be nothing but throat. Have you never met in life persons who would almost go into a fit if you were to suggest to them any falsehood in certain directions, who yet could turn right round in pious rage from that suggestion and tell falsehoods of another kind the clock round?—so curious a creature and irregular and unmanageable is man.
In all ages the false has followed the true. I do not wonder: it is an excellent speculation. In all ages the false has brought the true into trouble. "Of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. They that are such," says the apostle, "serve not the Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple." The nearer the false approaches the true, the more dangerous is it. What do you think they are doing now? Making stones which they call simile diamonds. Take care. People are now making paste so like diamonds as to deceive the unwary. My wonder is that people who are so anxious along that line of life should exhibit anything but the slightest anxiety in matters of doctrine touching correct thinking and the like. Present them with a false diamond as a true one, and let them find out the mistake, and then—you know the rest. But suggest to them a false idea, a crude and self-contradictory philosophy of the universe, any mad theory of creation you like, and they will call it ingenious, skilful—what a young man once called to me "a clever doubt." Where will be their rage, where their sublime madness, where their fiery and honest indignation?
The fear is that we become technical purists and moral liars. Your life cannot be good if your teaching is bad. Doctrine lies at the basis of life. There may be those who refine upon doctrine and turn it into useless distinction and vexatious definition, but doctrine, teaching, correct idea, lies at the root and core of our life. You are what you believe. You may profess to believe a good many things which you do not turn into a lie, but in reality what you believe is the very substance and inspiration of your character. How needful, therefore, that we should be rooted and grounded in it, and saved from perversion and folly, and hold the truth of God with a grip not to be relaxed by the most importunate fingers that try to tear us from our attachment to divine verities.
How are we to know the false from the true? Jesus Christ tells us. "By their fruits ye shall know them." The purist I have been speaking about would be horrified with this kind of preaching; if it were done so by any living Prayer of Manasseh, he would write a paragraph in the newspaper about it; he would say, "The preacher in such and such a church is the most remarkable character for mixed metaphor that probably ever lived. That we may not be apparently speaking to his disadvantage without reason, let us cite the following example." Then in small type would come, "Beware of false prophets which come to you in sheep"s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns or figs of thistles?" He was talking about a wolf, and now he is talking about grapes and figs and thistles. The teaching of the great teacher, whoever he Isaiah, is full of ellipses. He thinks more rapidly than he can speak: words cannot keep pace with his intellectual velocity. This is pre-eminently the case with all the teaching of the New Testament. The lacun, or gaps, and breaks, are innumerable, and only the man who wants to find the truth can find it amid many of the statements which are of the figurative or metaphorical kind. If you really want to know what Christ means in this case, do not trouble yourselves with the rapidity with which he changes the metaphor; but, with an honest and sober heart, look at the case, when he says, "By their results shall ye know them." So then a false teacher may require a little time for self-revelation. The nearer he approaches the truth the longer time may he require fully to disclose his doctrine and his purpose. The hand may be the hand of Esau, the voice may be the voice of Jacob: it is difficult for the false hand to get a false voice, and for the false voice to get a false hand: nature is set against such conjunctions, and will not afford facilities for the completion of lies.
Jesus Christ submitted to his own test. His words are, "Many good works have I showed you from my Father; for which of these works do you stone me?" And, again, "If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not; but if I do, though ye believe me not, believe the works, that ye may know and believe that the Father is in me and I in him." Judge all preaching by its results, judge all doctrine by its effects. My young friend, let me speak soberly and with great breadth of persuasiveness and sympathy to you upon this subject. The doctrine to which you have been listening recently in various places seems to you to be brilliant—you are enamoured, you are under a spell, you say the doctrine seems to refute all other doctrine, and to be bright with new hopes. You are now in the intellectual period. How does the doctrine come down into life? What does it make of its believer?—is it a painted cloud to be gazed at and wondered about like an apocalypse in the air, or is it an inspiration that expresses itself in charity, love, patience, forbearance, sympathy, and that compels to honourableness of conduct? My first question about any doctrine is—How does it come down-stairs out of its dreamer"s intellect and behave itself in the kitchen?—how does it put on its apron and tuck up its sleeves and go to life"s daily work?—how does it go into the chamber and hush itself into gentleness and quietness, and what does it say to the pained heart, and what to the ebbing life? By its fruits let it be known: What it can do in the plain, everyday circles of life shall be its proofs to me of its heavenly origin. It requires God to make himself of no reputation, and do earth"s lowest, humblest work. I ask you not, therefore, how much your doctrine titillates your intellect, inflames and pleases your fancy; I ask you how it comes down to the counter and pays its bills?—how it stands by a man when all hell seems to be against him in huge and terrible assault on his integrity and his peace? The rainbow is to me most beautiful, but I cannot live upon it.
Now we come to a remarkable passage, in which the tone of the great Preacher changes with some suddenness—the twenty-first verse to the twenty-third inclusive. "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven." That is a new tone in the sermon—Lord, Lord. Why, whoever thought of saying, "Lord, Lord," to the carpenter"s son? Inflamed by the passion of his own rhetoric he has started up into lordship. We never thought of calling thee Lord, poor Peasant. It is a matter of consideration amongst some of us why certain men should be called "Mr." at all. Think of that, that we solid-headed Englishmen make a matter of enquiry as to whether certain persons should be called "Mr." And then a very acute subject, rising into a kind of social agony, is as to whether certain persons can properly be called "Esquire." These are the mighty problems that tear and vex our nineteenth century utterly now and then. Here is a man who began life in a manger, and whose parents absconded suddenly into Egypt and wandered about homelessly for some time, who says that at a certain time people will be calling him "Lord, Lord," and he will not know them. It is in these subtle touches that I find the true quality of my Teacher"s character.
"Many will say to me in that day." What, and is he to be Judge as well as Lord? Is he to be the Arbitrator as well as the Teacher? What a forecast, what an assumption, how high the ground on which he stands. If it be not a rock, he will fall off, and we shall hear no more of him.
"But he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven." Is he not our Father which is in heaven? Yes, mediately, not immediately. Through a priestly intercession, not by right of filial obedience and uncorrupted and incorruptible love.
"Many will say unto me, Have we not prophesied in thy name?" There he feels the throbbing of his own almightiness: he feels already that his name is to be a charm in the world: thus early he forecasts the marvels that will be wrought in his name. Men will wear it as an amulet, speak of it as a charm, offer it as a certificate, wear it as a seal and an endorsement. This he said, not after ten centuries" experience, but at the very beginning of the beginning. How true it is let time testify.
"Then will I say unto them, Depart from me." What, then, does he make heaven, and does he make hell; and is everything to be determined by his will, and have we all to be subjected to his criticism and to undergo his judgment? All this is most fully involved in the statement we are now perusing.
Now I see what it meant when he went up into a mountain. He speaks as if he were on a mountain. I wondered why he withdrew to that height: he explains it in the conclusion of his sermon. Why the sermon itself is a mountain, in shape, in bulk, in dignity; beginning with the gentle slopes of the beatitudes, easy, vernal slopes, green with spring"s own loveliness. he passes on to rugged places, modified Sinais, stony, rough, rugged places that would affright us but for the light of his smile which falls upon them—and on he goes, higher and higher in his doctrine, he rises to high challenges and new proclamations, and now the sermon culminates in lordships and supremacies which overlook and dominate the whole earth. We saw him by the quiet river, we watched him driven into the bleak wilderness, we saw him walking by the seaside; now we behold him seated upon a mountain—a culmination in very deed, an upgathering of all that went before, and a place whence he projected himself across the whole abyss of time. Henceforward Jesus takes the name of Lord; henceforward "these sayings of mine" are to be the root and core of the only durable philosophy, and henceforward men are wise or foolish according as they build or build not on Christ.
Now we see why he chose the mountain; no other pulpit would have been worthy of such a discourse, no scaffold of man"s making could have borne that infinite weight, no platform of human erection could have supplied base enough for the projection of such teaching. Great husbandman, on the top of the mountain, thou dost scatter a handful of corn; the fruit thereof shall shake like Lebanon and the cities of the plain shall rejoice in its abundance.
The Hearing Ear
Preparation for Hearing—The Manner of Preaching—Doers Not Hearers Only
Almighty God, do thou touch our ear and it shall hear wisely and justly, and shall lose nothing of all the music of thy voice. Our ear is already filled with vulgar noise, so that we cannot hear the goings of the Almighty, and much of the tenderness of thy tone do we lose, because of the uproar which engages our attention. O that our ear might be touched, even circumcised, and blest, and prepared to hear every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Call us now to attention; may every man here listen for his soul"s good; if any have come to listen for aught else may the change take place in the view this moment, and may the supreme inquiry of every heart be, "What saith the Lord?" and may every soul go out to him saying, "Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth." Yea, let a spirit of hearing fall upon the whole congregation, an earnest desire to listen, so that nothing may be lost of all the message which thou dost this night give unto us. We bless thee for thy gospel, so full of tenderness, glowing with light and love, the very utterance of thine heart, the one way to the living God and his everlasting heaven. Help us to listen to it gratefully, with ecstasy of delight and passion of thankfulness, without indifference of heart, but with all ardour and intensity of love.
Regard every one of us as each most particularly needs. If any man here is praying his first true prayer, let this be the time of a great answer to his soul. If any man here is vowing to lead a better life, Lord, turn over the page for him on which he means to write his better writing; establish him in the goodness of his oath; may nothing occur to imperil the constancy of his holy resolution, but may he watch unto prayer, and succeed in the great work. If any man is in peculiar circumstances of perplexity and strangeness, blind so that he cannot see, weak so that he cannot stand, dazed and confounded by the infinite rush of life, the Lord himself send his angel or his prophet to give sight, and strength, and comfort, and guidance to such. If any of us are fat of heart, having waxed prosperous and forgotten our early love, the Lord judge us not with his lightning and thunder, but speak to us with rebukes that shall awaken, and not with judgments that shall destroy. If any man is planning the wrong trick and about to play the foul game, and to do the thing which is hateful in the sight of God, the Lord turn his counsel upside down, and cause all the lines of his life to tremble in confusion. And if any man is endeavouring now to serve the Lord with his whole might, to live a complete and unbroken life in Christ, send more than twelve legions of angels to help him to carry out his purpose.
We want the spirit of hearing now, we want the prepared ear, we want our hearts to be at peace, and our whole attention to be on the alert. Blessed Christ, come to us, speak thine own word to our quickened ear. We bless thee for thy life, thy teaching, thy atoning sacrificial blood, thy whole priesthood, thy mighty, prevalent mediation. O, if thou dost open thy wounds again, may it be to give us room in thine heart Amen.
Text: "If any man have ears to hear, let him hear."— Mark 7:16
This is a common expression in the Scriptures. "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches." The text says, "If any man have ears." All men have ears, but that is not the meaning of this particular text. He must not only have ears, he must have ears to hear, ears that can hear, and that do hear. It is not enough to have the sense of hearing, it must be put into exercise, and it must be kept at the highest point of attention. Many persons have ears who never hear anything worth hearing. You cannot hear unless you listen. If you were in earnest you would listen—are you? Do not leave all the work upon the preacher: meet him half-way, give him your attention, and he cannot fail; his message is such as to protect him from failure, but he cannot do many mighty works among you if you shut the door of your ear. Take a thousand men listening to a sermon; probably not one in ten hears the sermon as the preacher meant it to be heard. Every man hears a voice, a sound, a noise—he hears one sentence following another; but that inner music which seeks the soul in its loneliness, to heal it with the love and hope of God, who hears in its ineffable meaning and its sweet benediction! Nor is this much to be wondered at. Consider how the ear has been treated all the week. Do not condemn the ear unheard. Let it plead its own cause, and it will mitigate the harshness of our judgment. "All the week long," says the ear, "I have heard nothing throughout the day but the clang of money, the tumult of bargaining, the uproar of commerce, the clamour of selfish controversy; and at night I have heard nothing but gossip, and twaddle, and childish remarks on childish topics—I cannot easily liberate myself from these degradations, and listen to words most ghostly and to gospels that seem to come from other worlds. Have patience with me, for I need awakening first out of an entangled and troubled dream." Verily there is sense in that fair speech; then it should have due weight. But the sense of the speech imposes a corresponding responsibility upon the speaker. We should prepare ourselves to hear the Divine voice. The reader of an immortal play asks, and asks in reason, that the audience should be seated ten minutes before the reading begins. It is a sensible stipulation. Shall I be unjust if I ask that my friends should be an hour with God before coming to hear the public proclamation of his word? Is it decent that we should wait on Shakespeare and leave the Eternal to wait on us? The ear should have a little prayer all its own. I will teach it one: "Lord, still the waves that are heaving and foaming in me, or I shall miss all that is tenderest in the music of thy voice. Quiet the mean noises which fill me with a worldly din, and let me hear the words, every one of them, which will bless the life. Circumcise me: yea, put thy sharp knife upon me, thou God of the circumcision, and make me hear. Then speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth." There would be no poor sermons if we came thus; we should be all ATTENTION. As a matter of fact, how does the case stand? What was the last word you spoke at the door? Some mean word about the cold wind, some poor little narrow word of criticism upon a neighbour"s reputation, some childish remark upon a puerile topic, chaffer and chatter, and hollowness, and nothing, and then rushing in you sing, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts." It cannot be done; such miracles are beyond your power. Can you be draggling your wings in the mud this moment, and in the flash of an eye spreading them out in the sun? Then say not that the age of miracles is past! I cannot do it. I must have time. I must think and pray, and then the banquet is always more than enough, abundant to redundance, the lavish generosity of God!
That I am not speaking unjustly of the ear, I may refer to your own proverb, "Believe nothing you hear." Why? Because you do not hear it. The first man did not hear it: he twisted it; in passing through his corkscrew hearing, the straight line got a twist, and he never can straighten it out. So it has come down to him a marvellous story, a wondrous narrative of self-contradiction, utter and palpable absurdity. Then men say, "I thought he said so and so; I understood him to mean thus and thus; O, I beg pardon, I did not catch then what he said." And out of such foul springs do the streams of conversation rise, carrying their mud with them all through the acreage of our social economy. Thus we tell lies without lying; we are carriers of falsehood, though we never mean to be untrue. How is this? Because we do not hear. The ear is preoccupied; invisible speakers are addressing it, lovers unseen are soliciting its attention, or it is asleep or on a journey, or under a spell. Hardly a man in this congregation can listen. It takes a Judge to listen. How the Judges do listen! We are buying and selling all the time the man is preaching; yea, we are doing a little business in the middle of his prayer! To listen—who can do it? God knew this, and therefore again and again he says, "He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches." "If any man have ears to hear, let him hear." Who would attempt to deliver a message to a man asleep, or propose to speak to a man a mile off? There are men in this house who are just now three thousand miles away!
Many a message has been lost because the speaker has not first roused the attention of his hearers. There is a man standing a little averted from you—his back is partly towards you—he is engaged in doing something, and you say, "Bring me three volumes of the "Family Magazine," John." He hears his own name at last, and says, "Sir?" Poor rhetorician thou! That was beginning at the wrong end. You should have said, "JOHN! Bring me three volumes of the "Family Magazine" out of the library." "Yes, sir." See? Is that in the Bible? Every word of it—as to purpose and philosophy. How does God speak? First, attention. "Moses, Moses," and he said, "Here am I." "Samuel, Samuel." "Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth." "O earth, earth, hear the word of the Lord." There is a science herein; study it, speaker and hearer.
The first thing to be done is to compel the ear to listen for the right thing. When I enter the house of God, it is to hear the word of God. If I went to hear a professional elocutionist I should go to judge of the balance of his voice; I should look out for the colouring of his tones; I should measure the velocity and the weight of his articulation; I should make an elocutionary study of the man. But in going to hear God"s preacher, I go to hear God"s word, how I may be saved, redeemed, purified, and fitted for Divine uses in this world. I want to hear how I may get home again after many weary wanderings in stony places; I want to hear what Christ said about sin, and pain, and woe, and want, and pardon; I want to hear about those who have gone up, who cares for them, what do they, how near are they; I want to hear about the secret place where the light is pure and the rest is without shock, or pain, or dream. My soul being alive with expectation and aflame with hope, God will not disappoint it, or he will expunge from his own book the sweet promise "Blessed are they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled."
It is said that the manner of the speaker has a good deal to do with the attention of the hearer. That is true, but an earnest hearer will care very little about the manner if he is deeply interested in the matter itself. Just look at that company of men, and listen to that person with a long paper standing at the head of the table. He seems to have chronic bronchitis. How he chammers his words, how hoarsely he utters his sentences, how poor his enunciation! he calls a bush a bash, and a foot a fut. Listen to him and see how the people are all on the qui vive. What is the matter? He is reading a WILL, and every man in the company expects to get something. How choice they are about the elocution! They say to one another, "Rather a bad manner, don"t you think? His manner is much against him, don"t you think?" No, no. "What is there for me? and how much for me?" and they would go twenty times a day to hear that wheezy, asthmatic, non-elocutionist read a WILL, if they had any hope of getting anything out of it. Now I have a will; hear it:—"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." That is your portion. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." That is yours. "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." Claim your inheritance and enjoy it! "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." Take it all. Have you heard the will? Claim your property!
You say that manner has a good deal to do with speaking. So it has. Let me remind you that manner has a good deal to do with hearing. Our Saviour is reported in the Gospel of Luke to have said, "Take heed, therefore, how ye hear." There is an art of hearing; attention is not without a science of its own. Hear for eternity, hear for your soul"s good. Do you want to hear the gospel now? Then you shall. "This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." You hear that? "The blood of Jesus Christ, God"s Song of Solomon, cleanseth from all sin." "Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." " Hosea, every one that thirsteth, come." Hear ye these words, or do they fall upon the cold ears of a dead soul? If you have heard these words you never can say again, long as you live, that you never heard the gospel!
Yes, there is a manner of hearing. Some persons listen captiously—they go for the purpose, express, of finding fault and showing their own cleverness in pointing out the fault which they suppose they have found. "These are spots in your feasts of charity." Some listen critically. They will make a man an offender for a word. They will dwell upon non-essential points: they prefer the pleasure-ground of art to the entangled forests of nature, out of which you cut the navies of the world. "These are clouds without water." Some listen indifferently: they care not what is said, or who says it: the preacher sheds his blood in vain for them—they see not nor heed the living sacrifice; they know not what the passion costs. "These are trees twice dead," and will be "plucked up by the roots."
When I was at Niagara I could not get a drink of water out of the cascade, not because there was so little water, but because there was so much. It is the worst place in the world to go for a glass of water, is the torrent of Niagara; it will drown both you and your glass! If there had been less, I could have got more. It is even so with some discourses. You do not get the benefit of them at the time, but down the river of the week, as far as about Wednesday, you can stoop and drink the quiet stream; the water that was shattered into foam by its infinite plunge is now healed and calmed like a redeemed life, and a mile down you may see your face reflected in the water that was snow a day since, silver foam making rainbows round the rocks—now it falls and quiets itself into a stream which makes glad the city of your life. The torrents of Chalmers are even now settling into quiet streams which many people are drinking with thankful gladness. Even as far down the Time-river as this, the torrents of puritan eloquence and theology are only just flowing at pace enough to be caught and used for the soul"s drinking. Wondrous is this. Jesus Christ"s speeches dazed the people at the time; they said, "He is mad;" and now these speeches, having taken their plunge like the Niagara cascade, are streams that make glad the city of God.
"He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." "If any man have ears to hear, let him hear." "Take heed how ye hear."
"Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man." Have you heard these things? If you say, "Yes, every word," then "Be ye DOERS of the word, and not hearers only."
The Omissions of the Sermon—Christ"s Adaptation to His Audience—Caution Against Mere Literalism—Common Trials
Almighty God, for every gentle promise of thine our hearts would bless thee. We need thy tenderest word, for the wounds in our life are vital, and there is no recovery for the soul of man but by the healing which thou dost supply. We are wounds and bruises and putrefying sores, and there is no health in us: we have destroyed ourselves, but in thee is our help. This we say to ourselves when we are most sober-minded, and see most clearly into our real condition in the sight of heaven. Sometimes we delude ourselves, and by many a pretence do we seek to mislead divine judgment: we wash our hands with soap and nitre, and we think that therefore our heart must be clean: we robe ourselves in white linen as if we clothed the spirit with the snow of absolute holiness, but now and again we see into our own corruption and it frightens us with a great terror, for in us there is no health—we are charnel houses, we are dead souls, we are corrupt and pestilent in thy sight, and we annoy heaven by our very breathing.
To whom shall we come but unto the living one for life, and to the eternal for the extension of our duration? We hasten to the cross, we flee with feet of lightning to thy side, thou wounded One, Emmanuel, the God-Man. Thou didst never cast out the contrite seeker, thou didst never say "No" to the broken heart; when streaming eyes have been turned to thee thou hast poured upon them the light of thy smile, and made even the tears of sorrow beautiful. We all come to thee with great piercing cries of want, sharp and ringing utterances of agony, principally saying, "God be merciful to me a sinner;" and we wait with one grand expectation for thine infinite answer of pardon and peace through the blood of the Lamb. Amen.
24. Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them I will liken him unto a wise Prayer of Manasseh, which built his house upon a rock:
25. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.
26. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish Prayer of Manasseh, which built his house upon the sand:
27. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.
28. And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine:
29. For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
We have, as you are aware, gone verse by verse through all the preceding chapters in the gospel by Matthew. We began with the words, "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham," and from time to time we have pursued a consecutive study of the gospel by Matthew, and we have now come to the close of the Sermon upon the Mount. My object to-night is to review the Sermon upon the Mount as a whole, having already perused it sentence by sentence and commented thereupon.
It is a very common question which men ask of one another, "What did you think of the sermon to-day?" It is that question which I intend to answer, the sermon being the Sermon upon the Mount and the Preacher being the Son of God.
Looking at the sermon as a whole, I will take it for granted that you ask me what I, having heard the sermon, thought of it. Let me tell you first of all, how much I was struck with the omissions of the sermon. I am told that a sermon is right in proportion as it begins with the creation of man and steadily pursues its heavy way through all human history, and sums itself up by the events of the day of judgment. If that is a correct interpretation of a sound and good sermon, then the sermon delivered upon the mount must be regarded as being most remarkable for its serious omissions. I am not aware that the Preacher has ever referred to the existence of Adam. To the best of my recollection, there is not one solitary word in the sermon about what took place in Eden, and the terms "original sin" are not to be found in the discourse from beginning to end. Nowhere did the Preacher say, to the best of my recollection, "You are wounds and bruises and putrefying sores, and there is no health in you;" never once did he say, "All ye like sheep have gone astray, ye have turned everyone to his own way;" in no instance did he say, "There is none righteous, no, not one; God looked down from heaven to see the children of men, and behold if there were any that did good, and lo there was none that served him with a perfect heart." How then?
In the next place I am struck by the utter absence of what we call now-a-days Evangelical Doctrine. There is nothing here about the Blood of Christ, there is nothing here about the Cross of Calvary, there is nothing here about believing on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved, as that word is evangelically interpreted and applied. There is here nothing of the doctrine of grace, nothing of the doctrine of justification by faith, nothing of the grand savoury doctrine of the assurance of adoption into the family of God. The Preacher himself calls his discourse a set of Sayings. Where is orthodoxy? where is grace? where is faith? where is election? where is assurance? where is a single element that is denoted amongst us to-day as evangelical? where is unction? So far, I think, I could justify myself in every sentence I have uttered by the letter that is now spread open before me in the sacred volume. And yet it would be only a justification in the letter, for every one of the grand doctrines I have now referred to, though not specifically named in the discourse, is absolutely and profoundly assumed as the basis of the entire utterance. So mistaken may we be when we hear preachers: we bind them too severely to the mere letter: if we do not hear our favourite set of terms and tones exactly as we have always heard them, the temptation is to feel and to suggest that the preacher is not preaching the grand old doctrine by which we obtained our personal salvation.
Now the reality of the case is that this Sermon upon the Mount could not have been preached if man had not fallen from his first estate. The language would have been an unknown tongue, the doctrine would have been without application and point to any living creature. Jesus Christ takes human history as he finds it: he addresses the human nature that was before him, and I ask you to lay your finger upon a single point in his discourse that would have been appropriate if there had not taken place, some time in human history, a total collapse of human integrity. We must allow our preachers therefore some latitude of expression, we must allow that some things are to be taken for granted; we really must not insist on having in every discourse a correct and formal statement of all our theological beliefs and doctrines; we must seize human history as it actually Isaiah, we must modernise some antique expressions, and must mint again some grand old words and turn them into the coinage and the currency of our present phraseology. Be careful how you take away the reputation or character of any man for not being evangelical. Such persons as I now refer to might have taken away the reputation of the Son of God himself by confining their attention strictly to the narrow letter. Rely upon it that the evangelical doctrine is to be found sometimes under apparently uncouth forms of expression. Now and again the rocks of our thinking may be reddened with unseen blood, the blood of Jesus Christ himself, whilst we who only see imperfectly what is taking place, may blame the preacher for want of evangelical grace and unction and pathos.
Suppose a man should say to a student, "In order to be a sea captain, you must be able to take the latitude and the longitude of a ship at sea. That is one thing which you must be able to do." What would you think of that young student turning round and saying to his father, "This teacher ignores great fundamental truths: he never said a word to me about the first four rules in arithmetic—do you call that orthodox direction and calculation? He uses long, fine words; he says I must be able to take the latitude and the longitude of a ship at sea—is that fundamental teaching? The man ignores the very root and base of arithmetical reckoning." How would you esteem such a criticism? Surely as a piece of blatant folly; for how can any man take the latitude and longitude of a ship at sea if he is ignorant of the first four rules of arithmetic? To be able to do it assumes all previous knowledge and training. The teacher states results rather than processes, and this form of teaching must sometimes be allowed to the pulpit. Jesus Christ speaks to human nature as he finds it; he takes the human history for granted, and he lets his gracious words fall upon the hearing of mankind to be, received, adopted, and applied according to the personal conditions and requirements.
If you ask me again what I thought of the Sermon on the Mount when I heard it, I should say how much struck I was by the infinite wisdom and tact of the preacher, in beginning just where his audience was prepared to begin. Instead of coming with some high-flown morality, of which the world had never heard before, he said, "What are your maxims? Hew far have you gone in the Book already?" And when they said to him, "We have come up to this point, namely, Thou shalt not kill," he said in effect, "Very well; so far so good. But that is a rough and vulgar morality that hardly begins to be morality at all: it is a very little way beyond the merest barbarism. It is a little from it, and so far it is upon a right line—but I say unto you, Ye shall not be angry with your brother without a cause. How far have you got upon the line of civilisation?" The answer, Isaiah, "Thus far, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour and hate thine enemy." Jesus Christ says, "You must alter your doctrine upon the latter point: I say unto you, Love your enemies."
Still the point to be noted is this, that Jesus Christ took morality as he found it, began where the people were prepared to begin. He took upon, him the form of a servant and became such to their ignorance: he made himself of no reputation—instead of talking in a high-flown language which the people could not understand, he took their germs and elements of morality and civilisation, and carried them onward to their proper development and culmination.
This is the right method of teaching, this is the philosopher"s plan. If I want to teach a child, I must ask the child where he can begin—I must not play the great scholar with my little pupil, I must lay aside my intellectual divinity, and be born in the child"s place. I must make myself of no reputation, and find little words for my little hearer, and begin the race where his little feet can begin to run. The child looks at his alphabet, and his face, his eyes, his mouth, round, into a great wonder, not unmarked by a peculiar trace of distress, for he thinks it impossible that he can ever make friends with such monstrous looking figures. What had I to do? To sympathise with his distress, to tell him that once upon a time I was quite frightened, and that little by little I got to know them, and that now we are the best friends in the world. Then I say to my little hearer, "You have not got to tackle the whole six-and-twenty at once, you have got to take them one by one. Now we will drop the other five-and-twenty and see what we can do with the first one." Is that the man I have heard talk in polysyllables and in long and well-connected sentences, and who has endeavoured to work his way up into high climax and ringing appeal in the hearing of the great congregation? Yet he is talking so to that little child—why? Simply because he is a little child. If I were to talk so to a Prayer of Manasseh, I would talk below the occasion, I would not rise to the height of my responsibility. Jesus Christ therefore says in effect, "Where can you begin? You begin at, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt hate thine enemy, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth—now hear me." And then he proceeds to unwind and disclose the superior Revelation, and to lead his disciples onward, little by little, from height to height, until they are all on the mountain with him together, a happy, thankful, well-instructed band.
And yet there are dangers about that method of teaching. It is God"s method in the Bible, and he has gotten himself well affronted for it; every pigmy who could double up his fist has smitten God in the face for adopting that kind of teaching. Persons have written books in contravention of Mosaic history, Mosaic science, Mosaic archaeology, geology, and many other ologies with awkward names. Well, now, how does all this intellectual opposition arise? Here are men with sharp eyes and pointed fingers gathered around the first chapter of the book of Genesis, and they are saying, "How can this be?" not knowing that God spake to men as children, and as they were able to hear it. Hebrews, in effect, said, what Christ said upon the mount, "How far have ye come?" Men talked about the sun rising and the sun setting—it seemed as if it did. A man said, "I saw the sun in the East, and I watched and waited, and I saw him sink in the West; so the sun rises and the sun sets." And the Lord said, "So be it; that is your conception of the astronomy of the universe; then let us begin there and say the sun rises and the run sets, and let us talk as if that were really so."
And again they say, "How can all this take place in a day?" The Lord spoke to those to whom he was speaking in the only language they could understand. What is a day? Twelve hours? Nothing of the kind. Four-and-twenty hours? Nothing of the sort. That is only one kind of day. Day is a long word, a broad word, a strange word, spreading itself out over great spaces. Why, you say, "Every dog has its day;" you say, "I must preach to the day"—what mean ye? That I must preach to every twelve hours the clock ticks off? You know that you have no such meaning, and yet now that God gave us these infantile lessons because we were in an infantile state of mind, we go up to him and say, "What did you mean by talking to us about the sun rising and the sun setting, when the sun never does anything of the sort? And what did you mean by saying this and that were done in one day when there are only four-and-twenty hours in the day, and part of that must be spent in sleeping?"
Why it is just like this: you gave your little boy at four or five years of age a rocking-horse, and when he is four-and-twenty he comes to you and says, "What did you mean by so insulting me—giving me a rocking-horse—what did you mean by giving a man a thing like that, a dead piece of wood, a painted horse—what did you mean by giving a man such a gift?" Suppose you had such an idiot Song of Solomon, what would you say to him? You would say, "My boy, it was not given to the Prayer of Manasseh, it was given to the child; it was not given to five-and-twenty years of age, it was given to a five-year-old infant: it was not intended that you should always be on the rocking-horse, it was a hint, a suggestion, something to be going on with—the only thing you could then use. It was adapted to the then state of your mind, and all this abuse you are now pouring upon me is utterly undeserved and beside the mark."
So there are persons who still reckon the Bible in its letter only; they have not seen into the inner meaning, their religious imagination has never been inflamed, they know nothing of the holy passion, the secret heart-unction which breaks a loaf into a feast for thousands, and which finds in one cup of water wine enough for a life"s long drinking. O, my friend, thou art a personal letter, locked up in the little gaol of some literal verse. I heard of a person the other day who thinks that she ought not to pray unless her head is covered. To think of the eternal Father of us all looking down to see if you, dear old mother or young sister, have got your head covered before you say, "Our Father which art in heaven." Song of Solomon, to meet the circumstances of the case, not always having an umbrella at her disposal, she puts a pocket-handkerchief on her head in order to accommodate the infinite Jehovah. Would you believe that such idiocy were possible in the nineteenth century?
This is the difficulty of the preacher: he cannot get his hearer or student away from the letter. The student will not sow the seed of the letter and let it grow into the fruit of the spirit. "No, no," says Hebrews, "I have got this seed: I am not going to part with it;" and he is thought to be very tenacious of the truth, he is reported to be exceedingly attached to the old truth. The man who takes his handful of corn called the biblical letter and sows it in his consciousness, sows it in his imagination, sows it in his heart, sows it in every part of his nature, and lets it grow in the sunshiny blessing and the dewy baptism of heaven until it blooms into verdure and blossom and beauty and culminates in fruitfulness, is the man who uses the Bible in the right way. It was so the Son of God used it: he met us where we could be met, he took us by the hand as little children, and he left us under the ministry of God the Holy Ghost to grow in grace, to grow in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, to grow in that subtle, loving sympathy which sees God and touches him and holds him with a heart grip for which there are no words, Hast thou attained that height in the divine life? Then truly art thou born again, and truly are thine ears circumcised to hear the inner music of the celestial world.
You have asked me what I thought of the sermon as a whole: now I should like to know what Jesus Christ himself thought of it. The preacher has an estimate or an opinion of every sermon which he is permitted to proclaim. I cannot but wonder therefore what Christ"s own opinion of his discourse was, and happily we have a reply to that inquiry. He treated his sayings as fundamental; he said, in effect, "These are foundation stones, these are not fine things to put on the top of the capital, these are great rough, unhewn rocks to build on." We like polish in our modern preachers; in fact we have gone so far as to say of certain preachers, that they are extremely finished—which is awfully true. Jesus Christ laid foundations: he himself is revealed to us as a rock, and we may say of those who do not follow us, "Their rock is not as our rock, our enemies themselves being judges. He is a stone, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, elect, tested by every means at the divine disposal." That is the kind of preacher we ought to hear every now and then, and though we do, now and again, hear a man who is in every sense of the term most finished, we should again and again for our soul"s bettering and rousing hear a kind of preacher that is fundamental, that brings us back to the rock, that puts a test into the base we are building upon, and that says, "Either this is rock or this is mud—sand. Beware."
He also regarded his sayings as supplying an indestructible basis of life. The rain descended, and the winds blew, and beat upon the rock-founded house, and it fell not. Like foundation, like building; Jesus Christ thus gave his hearers assurance of durability, strength, protection, indestructibleness, immortality. I cannot see the foundation of this building: it looks well as an edifice, its proportions, its decorations, its defences are excellent, so far as my eye can Judges, but what the foundation is I cannot tell. So it is with many a human life. Many a man talks to me of whom I form an excellent opinion. He looks well, he speaks well, his appearance is all that can be desired, but what his foundation is I do not know. Do not be content with appearances, do not be satisfied with mere external decoration. If you are going to build me a house, I say, "Be sure first of all about the foundation: never mind about the decoration, let me know that the house is well founded, do not tell me that the drawing-room is well papered. Mere decoration I can take in hand little by little, as I may be disposed to expend money upon it, but the foundation once laid, who can get at it again?"
Both the houses had trial. The rain descended and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon both houses. So I have heard men say, "Well, it seems to me as if you Christian people had quite as many trials as other folks," So they have, I have heard you say, "It seems to me as if being religious did not save you from trouble, for really you seem to have just as much to contend with as I have, and I make no profession of religion." So it is. What is the result? Everything depends upon the foundation: if your foundation is not right, I do not care how high your building Isaiah, or how it is decorated, or how put together. I do not care if it is pinnacled all over with gold, all but piercing the clouds—it will come down, and great will be the fall of it. I have seen the wicked in great power and spreading himself like a green bay tree, yet he passed away, and lo, he was not, yea, I sought him, but he could not be found. A little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked.
What is your foundation? Are you resting upon the eternal Son of God are you resting upon Christ? You shall be saved, for the foundation is safe. Your house is a very odd one, my friend; I never look at it with any pleasure; you are peculiar, crotchety, odd-minded, eccentric, extremely impracticable, and very few people care to visit you or sympathise with you—but you shall be saved, for the foundation is elect, precious, tried, laid in Zion by hands divine.
On the contrary, here is a man that I like very much; I like his look, I like his voice, I like his reading, I go with all his aspirations and sympathies of a social, civilising, and literary and elevating kind. So far as this world is concerned, he is a beautiful and noble soul to all outward seeming, but he has no foundation except a foundation of sand. Then your rejoicing is but for a time: so long as health continues and business is prosperous and all around you is sunny, men will praise you and believe in you—but there is a trying time coming. I know it will come upon you: you are broad-chested, heavy-boned, full-blooded, nobly built from a physical point of view, and it would seem as if death could never strike such a target. But he will—that great thunder voice shall be contracted into a whining whisper, that great strong frame shall be bent down like a broken bulrush, the time will come when you will be thankful for the most menial service which your most menial servant can render you. The time will come when the window that used to be a blaze of light will be darkened and there will be a shadow upon it, grim as a skeleton. Then the quality of the man will be discovered: in that hour it were well to know the Son of God, the sweet Jesus, the infinite Saviour, the bleeding Lamb.
Let us all endeavour to read this Sermon on the Mount over and over again, and to make it our life-chart, and to do nothing that will not stand the test of its divine fire.
Christ"s Doctrine As a Preacher. The Preacher Like No Other Man—Our Civilisation an Inheritance—Some Badly-used Words—the Helpful Preacher
Almighty God, we come to thee through Jesus Christ, our only Saviour, for he alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and there is none other: he is sent of God to bring us unto the Father, and no man cometh unto Christ except the Father draw him. Herein are wonderful mysteries, which we cannot penetrate, but where we cannot understand we fall down and adore. What are we that we should know aught? We are of yesterday and know nothing: our breath is in our nostrils, and whilst we talk of life behold we are thrown down and are dead men. It well becometh us, therefore, to hold our peace in thy house, and to listen attentively, with the whole hearing of our heart, lest we miss any tone of thy gracious and living voice. Jesus Christ our Saviour loved us: he gave himself for us; his head, his hands, his heart, his feet, his side, bled for us: it was holy blood—the blood of atonement.
Thou art always careful of us, as if we were worth much in thy sight. We cannot understand thy care. We could understand thy crushing us because of the provocation of our sins, but why thou shouldst save us and spare us and love us and mightily redeem us with blood, every day in the year, lo, this is a mystery of love which baffles our mind. Deep is thy design, gracious is thy purpose, immeasurable is thine intent, unknown in its beginning and uncomprehended in its issues—it is enough for us to know that thou doest all things in wisdom and in love. To-day is the battle, and tomorrow the mystery, and on the third day dost thou perfect the issue. Help us to fight, to wait, to worship, to suffer, to endure with noble courage and unmurmuring patience, knowing that the end will come as a great surprise of hidden love, a revelation of infinite tenderness.
We bless thee for thy word; it is good reading in sandy places, and in wildernesses full of stones and wild beasts: it makes the very wind, when loudest and coldest, music in our hearing. It shows us where the tree Isaiah, the branches of which will sweeten the bitter pool: it is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother. Help us to understand it by our modesty, humility, self-renunciation, utter, childlike, unquestioning trust. Thou dost speak wonderful things to the child-heart—may ours evermore be such. Save us from our own imaginings, deliver us from the temptations of our own sagacity and learning, and help us in all simpleness, with complete trust and love of heart, and with the openness of soul which receives all heaven"s gifts, to wait upon the Lord, yea, to wait patiently for him.
Every heart has its own story—of joy, of sorrow, of baffled hope, of dead ambitions, of frustrated purposes and trusts—send a gospel to each soul, that none may feel itself left out on the day of benediction and rest. Speak comfortably unto Jerusalem: send thine angel to cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned, yea, let this be the day of jubilee, when silver trumpets shall announce the glad reprieve, the great and universal amnesty and release. Give us a nail in thy sanctuary, give us a standing on the threshold of thy house, bring us quite within the sacred enclosure of the holy temple, and give us rest and peace within its hallowed defences. Amen.
Text: "His doctrine."— Matthew 7:28
In what is known as the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ"s preaching was shown to be profoundly doctrinal. There is many a figure here and there—the figures being points of gold that glitter in the infinite mass of rock, the rock being the doctrine which is expounded with so marvellous and astounding an authority. Yet there is hardly any hint of the parable of which Jesus Christ was to make such copious use in his after-ministry, until we come, indeed, to the closing sentences, and there, in the image of the two builders and the two foundations, we have a hint of the more vivid and popular method of teaching which was coming. In this sermon Jesus Christ was profoundly and vitally doctrinal. In his opening discourse he was pre-eminently the WORD. Hence the deep thinking, the benedictions that seem to come up from eternity, and the whole doctrine of the individual inspiration of character, until we reach the very holiness and perfection of God. This Isaiah, indeed, the very mystery of the Logos, the Word, the ineffable and infinite thought. This is the divine meaning, incarnated in plain human words. In this discourse we are quite out of the region of finite speculation; here are no happy guesses, no striking suggestions which startle the speaker quite as much as they startle the hearer. We have here the deep things of God, spoken with an unction which makes the very hearing of them the most solemn responsibility we ever incurred. To have heard some sermons is to have laid up wrath against the day of wrath, or to have added to the joy of the day of supreme gladness. It were better for us that we had not heard some sermons—our life was never the same after the hearing.
Now the servant must herein be as the Master, according to the measure and degree of his capacity. His speech must be, above all things, religious. Not religious because of surrounding circumstances, as, for example, the Sabbath, the sanctuary, the pulpit—but in itself, its origin, its tone, its meaning, it must be profoundly religious, it must be from above. It must not be literary, clever, piquant, or anything else that is of the quality and limitation of art. It must come with all the sacredness of a divine origin, bringing with it the living air of the upper world, and bearing the thought of the hearer upward to the holy elevation and sympathy which come of the presence of God. The danger Isaiah, and the people make that danger greater every day, that preaching be mere literature, made peculiar by a religious accent. The danger is that preaching becomes one of many things all standing upon a level, and if it should become Song of Solomon, the hearer will be to blame quite as much as the speaker. The preacher must be like no other man. Every other speaker you may be able to measure and estimate; you know where he begins and where he ends, and you can weigh out his merit in scales, and announce his stature in inches; but the preacher must be a weird Prayer of Manasseh, without beginning of days, without father or mother, a secret, a mystery, a voice, a flash of light, a Revelation, a burning bush, and the great question must always be: Whence hath he this? It is not in the lockers of the rich Prayer of Manasseh, it is not in the treasures of the literary student—Whence this wisdom? And the answer must be, God-begotten, Heaven-born, its roots deep in the rock and its pinnacles flashing beyond the stars!
If preaching can be traced back to a school, a teacher, a custom, it is shallow and barren. It must come from eternity, from the invisible God, being at once so simple as to excite the interest and curiosity of little children and so profound as to abash the wise. The first thing, therefore, the preacher has to do is to renounce himself. He must not limit himself to his own little power of invention and expression; he must not dig wells in the sand of his own cleverness, or they who drink thereof will thirst again. He is a messenger: he must deliver God"s message. If he do not deliver God"s message, blame the hearer. The congregation creates the pulpit. The earnest hearer comes to hear God"s word, but how many earnest hearers are there in any assembly? If I had one man here, and he wanted to hear God"s word, I dare not speak my own. But I have a thousand men here who want to hear my word and not God"s. If a soul were here affrighted by its own sin, asking me, with eye and voice and trembling fame, to reveal the Gospel, I dare not keep back any part of it. But you are not here for that purpose—I speak of the multitude, not of the individual here and there whose object it may be, indeed Isaiah, to hear what God the Lord will say.
But if a sermon be charged with God"s messages, will it be dull and heavy? Look at the Sermon on the Mount for answer. What variety, what penetration, what liveliness, what startling application and appeal! How restful the benedictions, quieting the soul, soothing all fear, encouraging all goodness, and watering the very roots of life from the river of God! Now the great Teacher must be figurative. He has not begun the great parabolical fancy and use yet. Still I see the beginnings of it in that very initial discourse. He cannot be dull. He says, Ye are the light of the world, ye are the salt of the earth, ye are a city set on a hill." Then he tells about the candle and the candlestick, and the bushel, and then he tells about the beam in one man"s eye and the mote in another"s, and then he winds up with the two hearers, the two foundations, the two houses, and the two destinies. A wonderful sermon, and yet so doctrinal. It is not dry doctrine, but doctrine vitalised, illumined, glittering all over with diamonds of the first water. How solemn the lessons to the lustful, the angry heart, the violent tongue, the anxious spirit; what a review of the past, what an outlook upon the future? Verily this is not a sermon in our sense of the term. You might describe it by great figures, call it the very Ganges of truth, illustration, philosophy, moral teaching, and appeal; call it a sky which seems to have been built to cover our little world, and yet which encloses within itself unnumbered millions of planets.
Was the sermon, then, dull and heavy? It was an infinite beginning. That is the marked peculiarity of Christ"s preaching; it never ended. Persons sometimes said, "What, is he done?" What did that curious question arise from? Not from the abruptness of the speaker, but from the infinitude and immeasurableness of his message. Others can round off their discourses: from the pipe of their wit they can mould and sphere the soap-bubbles of their cleverness, and let them float on the air—done! But the speaker of infinite secrets and infinite gospels, conclude as he may, can never be done. There may be a comma, a semi-colon, and even a colon, in this high mystic literature, but the period is never wanted, for the conclusion is never accomplished.
Yes, this sermon on the mount is emphatically the WORD—the Word made flesh and dwelling among us, the Word showing itself in our mean syllables, illuminating but not consuming them. It took all that time to get the speech of the world ready to receive the gospel, even in the degree in which it was preached in the Sermon on the Mount You cannot tell how much time is required, or would be required, if you yourself had everything to do in order to enable you to accomplish the simplest act in civilisation. O, ingrates are we, and most thoughtless inheritors of inheritances all but infinite! If you had to do everything for yourself in the simplest act of civilisation, it would be seventy years before you could dine. It would be a hundred years and more before you could travel from one capital to another. But to-day we take all these things as a right. We grumble at the roads, of course; poor fool, dost thou know it, that if thou hadst to make a road it would take thee twenty years to get from here to thy mother"s house? It took a thousand years to get human speech ready to take in the gospel and utter it in poor broken syllables. For God"s difficulty is our language. He cannot tell us what he means because the dewdrop is not big enough to hold the sun. So we have suggestion and hint and flash of light and sudden large glimpse, as we suppose it to be, of things divine. But our human speech is an inn too small for the birth of God into our human imagination and individual grasp of thought.
Jesus Christ had something distinct and definite to say to mankind. He was not one teacher amongst many How often shall I insist that the preacher is not one amongst many, yet the foolish virgins and more foolish men will compare the preacher with the lecturer. The preacher has nothing to say to you; the lecturer lives on his own vitals, spins his own cleverness, and works marvellous jugglery with his own ability, and eloquence, and wit, and fancy and fun. It is beautiful, and instructive, and useful. But the preacher plucks no word from his own tree. What am I—a lecturer? A man with so many yards of foolscap on which he writes beautiful sentences and telling stories? Have I fallen to that? The minister is an errand-bearer; he has to tell what he has been told. Do not find fault with him; you want to hear something else; he has nothing else to tell. How I could please you sometimes if I were in tolerably good health, if you would allow me to talk my own nonsense; it would be easy to gratify you then. I would weave coloured clouds around you, and call those coloured clouds sermons. I would salute your ears with witty stories, I would mock you with intellectual taunt, and I would speak severe things to the man in the next pew, and you would be so delighted! But I dare not put in a single word of my own without initialing it. Ah, me! if the manuscript is initialed all over, it is not God"s sermon, but mine. Paul once or twice ventured to say something, and he always initialed it, put a large and most legible P under it—said, "I speak this of myself." He need not have said so. We knew it to be so at once; the discrepancy was infinite. Still, conscientious man as he was, he put down a very large P against his own suggestions, and it was as well he did Song of Solomon, for they are most impracticable.
When Christ"s sermon was done the criticism passed upon it was, "Not as the scribes." That is the criticism with which every sermon should be listened to, not as the speculatists, not as the guessers, not as the lecturers, not as the inquirers, not as the gropers—but with authority, with all the momentum of an eternal and infinite impulse. How can a finite creature give such an impulse? He cannot: this is the gift of God, and always goes along with the word of God. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. Search the Scriptures. Preach the preaching that I bid thee, and let the hearers come to hear God"s word and they will assuredly receive it.
The Sermon on the Mount is emphatically what is termed a dogmatic discourse, that is to say, it was positive, definite, practical, final. It was not a paper read before a religious debating society, for the purpose of eliciting opinions—that is the idea of a modern sermon, and therefore we say when we get away from church, "Aye, aye, it is all very well, you know, for him to be standing up there and having it all his own way." Indeed! If he has it all his own way he is an unfaithful servant. A sermon is not a paper read before a number of equals for the purpose of the reader"s saying afterwards, "Now, my fellows, men of equal understanding will you be kind enough to tell me what you think of all this?" If it admits of an appeal of that kind, it is not a sermon, it is a lecture out of the lecturer"s own brain. If it is the word of God, pure, simple, unadulterated, absolute, that is to say, if it is quoted from the Book which we, by the very fact of our assembling here, accept as God"s Book, then the preacher has it not all his own way; he is an errand-bearer, he is a deliverer of holy messages, and the messages are not to be measured by his personality, but by the degree in which they can be substantiated from the volume which he is set up to open and expound.
I do not wonder at this word dogmatic falling into a bad reputation. I do not like the word myself. In itself it is an innocent word. Turn it into Greek, turn it into Latin, beat it into English, it is still an honest, a pure word, in itself; but it has been made such bad use of that I do not wonder that people should avoid it. I do not suppose that you would be very fond of using a rope in which somebody has been hung. This word dogmatic is therefore a word which has in some relations a bad or an unwelcome meaning. So is the word casuistry a very innocent word in itself, and expressive of a very proper intellectual process, but it has been so badly used that I have begun to distrust and disown it. So is the word catholic a simple and beautiful word, but it has been tied up in such wrong relations that, like a rope which has hanged somebody, we feel as if it might hang us too if we did not take care of it. So have words been debased, prostituted, defiled, so that I do not wonder at many persons looking askance upon those words and avoiding dogmatic teaching, casuistical reasoning, and catholic divinity.
Looking upon this Sermon on the Mount as a model for preachers through all time, it justifies the preacher in laying down a definite doctrine. The preacher does not invite his hearers to talk over something with a view to a settlement, That of course would be very comfortable if we could meet here and lay our arms upon a table and say, "Now what do you think about it?" Well, it would be chatty, and nice, and sort of friendly, and almost convivial it might become. We do not assemble to make a Bible, but to read one. We are HEARERS: let that word be emphatic. Observe its limit, its meaning; we are hearers, we do not speak, we listen. We say, "Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth." How far from this our congregational discipline! The very first word you would have said this morning, if I had not made this remark, would have been, the moment you got outside, "How did you like him this morning, eh?" How did you like him—poor hireling performer, poor miserable clerk of all work—how did you like him? What about the substance, the doctrine, the call, the appeal, the tears, the unction, the consequences? Ask how you like the electric light as compared with the poor half-drunken gas flame, but do not ask how you like the infinite, the complete, the divine, the eternal. Hear it—listen—the Lord is in his holy temple, let all the earth keep silence before him. To be a good hearer is to be a good learner. Hearing is an art of the soul, an accomplishment of the heart, Sir Isaac Newton said the only difference he knew between himself and others was that he seemed to be able to pay more attention than some of them. The power to pay attention is a gift from God. Some of us cannot pay attention. All the while we are making running commentaries in our mind, doing business, entertaining anxieties; we hear the word, we do not hear the music; we hear the syllables, we do not catch the meaning. To hear, a man should pray an hour before he comes into God"s house.
Looking at this as a model sermon for all time, the preacher is justified in preaching practically. A mistake is often made about this matter of practical preaching. If a man denounce the iniquities of his day he is thought to be a practical preacher. To a certain extent he is entitled to that designation. If I were to denounce theatres (as usually understood), racecourses, public-houses, gambling tables, I should be thought to be a most practical preacher, and within a given limit—a very small one, albeit—I should be preaching practically and usefully. That work needs to be done, must be done. If it is not done, a very solemn duty remains undischarged. But Hebrews, too, is a practical preacher who encourages men to try to be better and to do better. He also is a practical preacher who says, "Young Prayer of Manasseh, you failed there, but pluck up your spirits; try again; God bless you; try to do better next time." He also is a practical preacher who recognises the sufferings of those who come to God"s house to hear his word. Sorrow is as great a fact as sin. There is not a heart here to-day that is not aching, or that will not ache by-and-by, or perhaps that has not already had days and nights of aching. I take you man for Prayer of Manasseh, pew after pew, and the mourners outnumber those who have nothing but gladness. The preacher, therefore, is a practical preacher who recognises that fact, and speaks comfortably, who delivers healing gospels to broken hearts, who deals out bread to the hungry, and who gives the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. I often want to hear such a preacher myself, namely, the man who takes the high and bright view of things, who shows me that my pain is for my good, that my loss is the beginning of my riches, that all discipline and chastening, though for the present anything but joyous, yea, truly grievous, will afterwards yield me results that will make the soul nobler and tenderer.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Matthew 7". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany