Almighty God, we bless thee that thou hast sent thy Son to our broken-heartedness, our mourning, our unutterable distress and fear. Thou didst not send him to our greatness and power, but to our littleness and weakness and utter insufficiency. The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost—we bless thee for this, for in that word "lost" we find our own true state. All we like sheep have gone astray: we have turned every one to his own way, there is no man to stand up before thee and challenge thy righteousness—each of us puts his hand upon his mouth and his mouth in the dust, and says, "Unclean, unprofitable, unworthy." We see Jesus Christ, the Man we need, the Angel of the covenant, the Minister of light and hope, the Priest who offers his blood. Thou dost no longer require at the hands of man the cedar wood and the scarlet and the hyssop—there is a fountain opened in the house of David for sin and for uncleanness, and to that fountain we now repair. Lord, meet us every one, and give us cleansing of heart, sanctification of thought and will and purpose and hope, and make us without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, complete in thine own holiness, beautiful with thine own light.
Thou hast been with us in the days that are gone, thou hast given us indeed to see the grave, but the tomb has been in a garden: we would look at the garden rather than at the grave, for all that sleep in Christ are roots that shall blossom and come to great fruitfulness in thine own heavenly harvest. O thou, who dost sow the earth with the dead, thou wilt surely put in thy sickle and reap, and the harvest shall live for ever.
Thou hast smitten us sorely, and thou hast mingled some of our cups so bitterly that we shrink from tasting them, for surely they are full of what men call death—but thou hast strengthened us to drink those cups even to the dregs, and in the drinking of them there has been health. Thou hast led the blind by a way that they knew not; thou hast holden our eyes sometimes that we might not know thee, that we might accost thee as a stranger, and tell thee our complaint, in the bitter tone of despair. Thou hast dealt wondrously with us, our hearts have been ungrateful, our eyes have been quick to see the disadvantages of life, but our vision has been slow to discern the beauty of the divine presence, and the certainty of the divine way. We will fill our mouth with mourning because our heart is full of accusation, and each of us will say, "God be merciful unto me a sinner," for every breath is evil and there is a taint even in our prayers. Keep us evermore at the Cross, bind us to the sacrifice offered thereupon; other hope we have none, out of that great darkness there streams a startling light, and out of that infinite woe there comes infinite reconciliation. Help us to find in the Son of God, God the Song of Solomon, and all that our hearts ever need.
Do thou undertake for us all the remainder of our days. What are they but a handful? We are as a hireling whose day is dying: the Lord help us to count with miserly care all the remaining moments, and may each of them be spent in thy sight and fear. Our grave is already dug, death is waiting for us, behold his sword is lifted up in the air and it awaits thy bidding that it may fall. Spare us yet a little longer, that we may serve thee with a more glowing love, with a more faithful diligence, and with a more joyous success. The Lord help us in all things to be true, honourable, and good, pure and wise—the Lord set his seal upon us that we may be claimed by none other. In the day when the wind is strong, do thou shelter us with thine own hand, in the time when the road is steep and difficult, do thou surround us with thy defences and encourage us by all thy tender promises, and under all circumstances may thy will be our joy, in thy purposes may we find our souls rest, and hiding ourselves in the sanctuary of thy wisdom and goodness, may grace, mercy, and peace fill our hearts with a holy calm.
Pity those who have no pity upon themselves, whose life is a daily self-laceration and self-loss: speak to the man who is far away from the light and house of God, and bring him near by the gracious compulsion of love. Send messages to our sick ones, and bid the most timid hope again. Thou knowest what messages to breathe in the ear that is closing to the voices of time, thou knowest what gospel will fall most gently on the failing and sinking heart of man. We commit all our loved ones to thy tender care—whom thou watchest are well watched, thou shepherdly, fatherly, motherly God.
Have in Thy holy keeping all for whom we ought to pray: the bereaved and the desolated, those who are spending their first Sabbath as widows and orphans and lonely ones, who are feeling the cold of a great emptiness, the bitterness of all that death can bring to bear upon our poor trembling life. Let thy consolations abound where afflictions have had their way, and let all thy tenderest solaces spread themselves over the lives that have been desolated and blackened by severe bereavement.
The Lord speak comfortably to every heart, bring back the old man"s youth, speak to those who are in trouble, saying that afflictions do not spring out of the dust. Hear the glad song of human thankfulness, listen to the bitter reproaches of self accusation, and hear thou in Heaven thy dwelling-place, and when thou hearest, Lord, forgive. Amen.
1. When he was come down from the mountain great multitudes followed him.
2. And behold there came a leper ( Leviticus 13, Leviticus 14) and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean (the disease was not contagious).
3. And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.
4. And Jesus saith unto him, See thou tell no man: but go thy way, show thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.
Great Eloquence Supported By Great Beneficence
When he was come down from the mountain." The great speech had been made, the grand propagation of new ideas had begun, a wondrous intellectual apocalypse had been opened, charming and dazzling the inner vision with all its mystery of separate yet blended colours, and now the great action is commenced. Herein you have the hemispheres of Christianity: it is a great speech, and it is also a great healing: it is an eloquent word and it is an eloquent practice. It requires the mountain from which to project its great deliverances of an intellectual and spiritual kind: it does not exhaust itself by that exercise, it has not only strength enough left to come down the mountain, but having descended from the mountain and entered into the city, it has strength, sympathy, patience, tenderness, and every other requisite for the healing and the redemption of man.
Wonderful is that word in the sixty-first chapter of Isaiah, wherein Christ, forecasting the ages, says, "The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because he hath sent me to preach the gospel to the meek, he hath sent me to the broken-hearted, to them that mourn, and to those that are in captivity." Jesus Christ did not come to the Scribes and to the Pharisees, the Son of man did not come to our intellectual capacity and self-contented sufficiency; he came to the meek and lowly and broken-hearted and mourning and captive, and unless we be in one or other of these conditions the Son of God will speak to us an unknown tongue; we shall not recognise one syllable in all his gospel; it will shoot over our heads as a light not meant for our darkness. But if we be in the condition described in the words given in the prophecy of Isaiah, then every word he speaks will be a word to us, the very word we need, the only word as it would seem that the heart could possibly understand. We determine by our moral condition what the gospel is to be to us. Given a right state of heart, and every hymn will lift you to heaven, every petition in the prayer will broaden and gladden your life, but given a wrong state of the heart, proud, self-sufficient, self-contained, unconscious of guilt, wanting in contrition and compunction, and God"s own word would be to you an idle tale, ill-pronounced and pointless.
"When he was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him, and behold there came a leper." What is the meaning of this startling distinction? Why not have included the leper in the multitudes? Why this broad plural and this sharp singular together? It is always so: both these relations to Christ are right; man never knows himself really and truly till he has been both part of a multitude and set aside in his absolute and untouched personality. You say you can read the Bible at home and therefore need not come to church. No. There is a church-reading, and you cannot have it at home. There is in you a multitudinous element which can only be recognised and satisfied in the great congregation. There is also another side to your nature: you must separate yourself from the multitude and be nobody but yourself, frightened of yourself, so much yourself as to be a fear and a terror and a distress, because of the pressure of your want and the infinite hideousness of your personal transgression. It is good sometimes to be in the religious crowd; we are then dispossessed of some littlenesses that cling to the best of us. The mere friction, the subtle sympathy, the feeling that man is larger than any single individual—these have a peculiar influence upon the rightly-constituted mind, giving it solemnity, nobility, dignity, setting it in its right relation and perspective and colour. "Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together as the manner of some is."
Yet there came a leper. The leper always makes room for himself. There are some men that cannot be pluralised, they have a whole corner to themselves. It is marvellous into what little bulk even a great multitude can shrink when a leper comes near. You thought there was no room before; let a leper come, and the space on which the multitude can stand is much lessened. Every one of us is a leper, but not yet known to be such. You would not be allowed to sit where you are now if your real character was known. Every man must feel his own leprosy and go with his own prayer, and pierce the multitude, and get through it to have his own interview with the Son of God. We are not saved in great swelling crowds; we must go one by one, and each state his own case in his own words to the only healer of human life. I need not teach you a prayer: lepers are mighty in prayer. Leprosy kindles wit, leprosy sharpens a man"s tongue into a keen accent, leprosy teaches brief speech, but ringing and telling, without one waste word, ear-piercing and making God himself hear. Leprosy batters upon heaven"s door with a violence that God never neglects.
A sweet prayer, a full, tender prayer is the leper"s—"Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean." Go and stand beside the publican, that other leper, and hear his prayer—"God be merciful unto me a sinner." Go beside that cross where the better thief dies, and hear his prayer—"Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom." A prayer in a sentence you have in each case; not a long argument, and yet you could sooner add a beam to the sun than you could add one touch of beauty to this prayer. The leper was no literary man; he was not skilled in phrase-cutting, and in word-setting; he was no clever lapidary, cunning in giving facets to words, that they might catch the light and throw it back again most beautifully—his only teacher was his heart. When will men listen to that great teacher, the hot heart, wild in misery, mad with despair, almost in hell because of self-compunction? There are times when our life does not sharpen itself into this most leprous necessity, and at those times we need longer prayers. Then we may need the help of our friends to write prayers for us or to pray with us. There are times when we want longer communion with God; when he says, "Come up to the mountain early in the morning and meet me on the top." And when we do not leave the mountain till the sun has just light enough in it to light us down the long stairway again, then we may need many words, and beautiful, quivering with sacred life, glittering with celestial beauty, musical with heavenly tunefulness—wondrous words, almost divine, as if they would totalise themselves into one verb. You have had such experience, you have been part of a multitude, and you have been suddenly turned out of it and made to stand alone before the Christ. Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together, let me say again; and let me further add, have hours and half-hours in which there is nobody with you in the sanctuary, when you are alone in it, yet not alone, for the Father is with you.
The leper teaches us a beautiful prayer. We will omit his own personal petition and put in our own—his introduction will do for any prayer. "Lord, if thou wilt." Every man has to fill up the form with his own cry. Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me strong: I am weak, I am a child of infirmity; my bones ache, my knees smite one another with feebleness and terror; I hardly live, my life is a burden or. a pain—if thou wilt, thou canst make me strong. Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me happy. I am hardly ever happy; I dare not be happy, for fear a moment"s gladness should bring back the pain with increased poignancy. I am as those who are afflicted and who dare not sleep because the waking again is intolerable agony. Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me rich—nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.
Sorrow turns instinctively to the supernatural. I would not listen to a strong, robust, rude man talking to me about the supernatural. He knows nothing about it; he never needed it so far as his bodily sensitiveness or necessity is concerned. Go and argue with the leper; tell him that the supernatural is not accessible, tell him to go to the ordinary physician, reason with him upon the vanity and the uselessness of religious expectation. Will he hear your prating? What is it that breaks through every argument in the time of its intolerable fire, its pain, its agony, its heartache? Go and tell the mother who is just lowering her one little child into the grave not to be religious, and not to say, "My God, my Father;" tell her to turn away her tear-filled eyes from the blue heavens, for there is no one there who cares for her agony: fill her ear with atheistic polysyllables, and drag her back from the altar—and see what intellectual conquests you can win. Feeling is sometimes the very inspiration of life. Argument can touch but a very little portion of me. Whatever leaves the heart untouched is barren, vexatious, and worse than useless.
Herein is a lesson to the young and strong of a kind that cannot now be very persistently urged. A child, thank God, is all laughter, and I would not punctuate its laugh with a single tear. Let the child laugh. The strong Prayer of Manasseh, who never had a headache or heartache, who never knew what it was to toss upon the bed hour by hour, calling and crying for sleep,—what can he say to anybody? Ask the fat ox the way to heaven, and it will tell you as soon as can such a man say one true word about things that are above the clouds.
Sorrow never came into the world with the will of Christ. Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. Certainly. Then leprosy never came with his will, sympathetically. Whenever you see a grave dug in the cold earth, it is something done against God"s will. He never meant this green earth to have its bosom ripped that his children might be thrust into its darkness. We have put the earth to new uses; we have spoiled God"s garden, and we have grown his flowers to decorate our dead. No tear ever comes into our eye with God"s will. And yet observe that I put in the word sympathetically, and did so with a distinct purpose, because leprosy, sorrow, death, are here with God"s will judicially —they are all his servants. He says in his kind heaven, where the summers are all stored for the earth, "I must not withdraw the leprosy, or they will go mad. I must not kill the fiery flying serpent, or they will swear with a more determined loudness. I must not withdraw the plague, fever, cholera, small-pox, blight upon the wheat fields and olive yards, or they will curse the night through as well as the day. I must keep the constables on the ground, I must thicken my policemen as to their numbers or quicken them as to their vigilance, or that crowd of men upon yonder little black earth will all go to perdition."
So these afflictions, leprosies, and divers diseases are God"s constables, God"s judicial sentences, God"s safeguards, part of God"s disciplinary forces. Do you suppose you can drink every night and awake in the morning with a clear head? God puts something into your cup to prevent that. Do you suppose you can plunder and defile and then be as much at rest as if you had sacrificed and prayed? God takes care to put a dart through your liver, to touch you with an argument, and with the only argument you can understand. He does not meet you in the morning as your mother does, with a remonstrance, he meets you with a dart, he transfixes you with a spear, and says, "He that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul, spoils the fine membrane, twists the holy aspiration, diminishes the divine capacity, debases the noblest elements of his manhood." You wondered how it was that your hand shook so when you wrote the letter. It was because of the debauch. It is not because you are growing an old Prayer of Manasseh, but because you are a bad one!
"Jesus put forth his hand and touched him." Who else dare touch the leper? The touch was death. "And the leper in whom the plague Isaiah, his clothes shall be rent and his head bared, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, "Unclean, unclean." All the days wherein the plague shall be in him, he shall be defiled: he is unclean, he shall dwell alone—without the camp shall be his habitation." In the light of these old words read the text—"He touched him." The sunbeam can touch contaminations without defilement—who can touch pitch and not be defiled? Blessed Saviour—when did he say "No" to any prayer of the leprous, the blind, the broken-hearted, the bereaved, the penitent? It was not in him to say "No" to any of these. Many a "No" he gave in reply to Scribe and Pharisee and pompous suppliant who brought his own answer as well as his own prayer: he never said "No" to me when I said "God be merciful to me a sinner." He always gave me a new sheet of paper, and said, "Try again: do not blot this one, or you may never have another." I have taken it and blotted it all over and gone back with the old prayer, and got another sheet of paper, pure as the holiness that gave it. These are my reasons for believing in Christ. He is not the Son of God to me because some grammarian has forced him to that high eminence; he is God the Son because he has healed a heart no other physician could touch, and cleansed a sin which would have defiled and polluted every river that ever flowed through the earth. When the soul has these experiences of the Saviour he does not need to have his Deity buttressed by any grammatical patronage.
Mark the wonderful consistency in this Man"s procedure. We find him saying in his sermon, "It hath been said by them of old time, but I say unto you." Now in his action we find him repeating the same form. "It hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not touch the leper, but I say unto you, I will touch him." He separates himself from others, yet he is consistent in the reasons of that separation.
"Tell no man." Jesus Christ did not think any miracle worth preaching. We trouble ourselves about the miracles, we ask ourselves hard questions about them, we go to the length of writing expensive books about them. Jesus Christ made nothing of them. "As for the miracle," he said, "do not name it. If you mention it at all, tell it in your own house, and do not let the news get beyond your own circle. I came not to convert the world by miracles; do not encourage the idea that salvation is part of a romantic scheme, one of a set of marvellous phenomena. I have come for other work: not to dazzle the imagination by the performance of miracles, but to charm and save the heart by the proclamation of the kingdom of heaven. See thou tell no man so far as the miracles are concerned; so far as the doctrine is concerned go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature." We have taken hold of this kingdom of heaven by the wrong end. We meet in classes to discuss the miracles,—we poor cold pieces of iron in which there is no fire, have met to consider the constitution of the sun. When will we be wise, and think not of Christ"s miracles but of Christ"s doctrines? When will we think of what he came to do with regard to the poor heart? That is the central business and that is the supreme joy of the Church.
So then the sermon is already being turned to advantage by the people. "Ask, and it shall be given you." Did the leper overhear that? Was it told to the leper by some kind friend? Did he say, "I will put this great Speaker to the test—he said, "Ask, and it shall be given," I will ask him." He asked and he received. Now the other side must also be consistent, Christ also said, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil." Jesus Christ says to the leper, "You have asked me in effect to prove the words, "Ask, and it shall be given you:" now I must ask you to prove the words, "I am not come to destroy the law but to fulfil:" so go, show thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded." A wondrous and self-confirming consistency marks this whole Revelation, and those who have studied it most profoundly and lovingly are most deeply impressed with the perfectness of the literal and moral consistency of God"s book.
A wonderful Revelation, then, is now before us. This suffering and its removal are to be looked at in the light of two antagonistic wills. "Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean." There the creature"s will becomes right. The moment the will of the creature becomes right, Jesus says, "I will: be thou clean." Your will is wrong—trouble not yourselves with little intellectual inquiries and difficulties and enigmas; it is a waste of time, it is a mortal delusion on your part to suppose that you would be a good man and a holy saint if some little intellectual cobwebs were taken out of your head. Your will is wrong. "Marvel not that I say unto you, Ye must be born again." When your will is right, you will find that God"s will has always been on your side, on the side of your redeeming and healing and perfecting. He waits to be gracious: he can do nothing with a crooked will, he can do nothing with a perverse will, he can do nothing with a corrupt will, he can do nothing with a selfish will. When we come to him and say, "Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean," thus putting ourselves into his hands simply, lovingly, absolutely, his answer is immediate and complete. It is not therefore your intellect only that must be illumined and rectified: the work must be deeper: you must be born of water and of the Spirit: you must be washed in the laver of regeneration: "Marvel not that I say unto you, Ye must be born again."
This redemption is not a question of mere intellectual satisfaction, still less of intellectual excitement or delight: it is a question of the will, the heart, the very source and spring of life. The work is not superficial, but profound: the work is not artificial, but vital: the work is not external, but internal—after being internal it expresses itself in all exterior dignity and loveliness.
Almighty God, our desire is that we may put our trust in thee, then shall our life be safe, and our hope shall be as a light that cannot be blown out. We have trusted ourselves, and to ourselves we have committed perjury; we have made no vow that has not been broken. Behold we stand before thee as criminals, without defence and without covering—we would now say again in thy hearing and in thy strength, "Lord, increase our faith." The just shall live by faith: we walk by faith, not by sight—Lord, we believe, help thou our unbelief. Let our unbelief itself be a cry unto thee for other help, let our poverty be a prayer and our want a desire and our helplessness a reason for thy speedy coming to us.
We have come with a hymn of praise, for thy mercy has prevented the rising of the sun, and has lingered with us all through the time of the shining of the stars. In our waking and in our sleeping thy benediction has stretched around our life, our uprising and our downsitting thou hast guarded, thou hast beset us behind and before, and laid thine hand upon us: thy mercies have been a multitude, and thy tender compassions beyond our power to name. We are guilty: thou didst give us a white robe, purer than the snow, we return it to thee today unfit to be looked upon by thine eyes. Yet thou art plenteous in forgiveness and thy pardons are a great multitude, yea, more than the waves of the sea, and thou dost cast our sin behind thee and make it as far from us as the east is from the west, and thy delight is to relieve from the burden and the sting of sin. Come to us through Jesus Christ, Son of Mary, Son of Prayer of Manasseh, Son of God, God the Song of Solomon, the one Priest, the only Sacrifice, the infinite Mediator, and in coming through him thou wilt come with all thy mercy. Thy righteousness and thy judgment will not thunder against us, but thy gentleness will make us great.
Hear us when we cry for thy presence throughout our whole life. We would not be one day without thee, we would live and move and have our being in God, we would find thy truth and eat it, we would sit down at thy banquet and drive away the hunger of the soul by the riches of thy provision; we would study thy truth with a keen, clear eye, and receive it into an open and honest heart, and repeat it in an obedient and loyal will. Thou hast taught us these great prayers—verily they are not ours, they are the Lord"s prayers. Once we loved the darkness and pined for the desert and the rocks, and now we love the light and desire to live in the garden of God. Increase in us the aversion which holiness feels for sin, increase in us all sacred thirst and hunger, that our desire may be after God in great vehemence and expectation, and satisfy us early with thy lovingkindness and plentifully bless us with thy Holy Spirit. We would love the truth, we would see somewhat of its infinitude, we would see our own littleness and mark duly the boundaries by which we are imprisoned, and then with the eye of our love and hope we would look beyond into the yet unexplored and unknown universe of God. Thus would our religious ambition become sacred as a sacrifice and our desire be as a purpose that cannot be revoked.
We commend one another to thy gentle care. Leave none without a blessing. Let the old man renew his youth, and on this opening summer day recall the spring of his gladdest life. Speak to the busy Prayer of Manasseh, lest he should forget eternity in consequence of his devotion to dying time—on the young let the dew of thy blessing and the light of thy sanctification rest all the days of their lives. Heal the broken-hearted, dispossess those who are tormented with devils, curb the unholy passion, and finally destroy it. Hear the prayers that cannot be spoken, that are too sacred for words, that go up to Heaven in pleading, yearning sighs, and answer such according to the tenderness of thine own grace.
Revelation -ordain every minister of the gospel, consecrate him afresh to his holy work, bind him with sevenfold cords to the one altar that is alone worth serving. Upon all the Churches of the redeemed, by whatsoever names known and disfigured among men, let grace, mercy, and peace constantly abide. Bring in the day when we shall see that all truth ripens into love, and that in so far as we fall short of love we fall short of truth.
The Lord give us the blessing we most need; the light appropriate to the day, the music that will bring all our circumstances into happy consonance with his own purposes. Send messages from the sanctuary to the sick chambers, to the lonely room, to the dark prison, to the troubled sea, to our wanderers in foreign lands, to those further wanderers, who follow the devil"s lure. Amen.
5. And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion (captain of100 foot-soldiers) beseeching him.
6. And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.
7. And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him. ("He declares himself ready to come to the Centurion"s servant: he does not promise that he will do so to the nobleman"s son.")
8. The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed.
9. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me; and I say to this Prayer of Manasseh, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.
10. When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.
11. And I say unto you. That many shall come from the east and west (the whole earth), and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.
12. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
13. And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the self-same hour.
The Human Sympathy of Christ
"And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him." Towns are differently excited by different visitors. If Beethoven were to come to London, all the music of the metropolis would vibrate with delight and expectation and hope. If some great athlete were to visit the metropolis, all persons interested in athletics would be instantly filled with a desire to see the performance. When Jesus Christ went into a town all the sick people, all the broken-hearted, the helpless, and the weary felt a thrill of expectation and hope, and they were almost bettered by the very news that he was coming. Think of a man entering a town whose very presence sends a gospel to the broken-hearted—that is the man I want to see. I could listen to the musician for a while, I could applaud the acrobat for a moment or two, I would withhold the palm from no man who had won it, but when I had passed through the whole rank and file of those who had entertained, instructed, and amused me, I should want every day to have with me the man that could touch my afflictions, and bear my diseases, and heal my wounded heart. I would say to him, "Abide with me, the day is far spent, but it cannot die while the light of thine eye is in the house; abide with me."
This is how Jesus Christ endears himself so much to my heart, and how it is that my love for him is a love passing the love of women, and how it is that I cannot be torn away from his side. It is not that I am puzzled by his genius, thrilled by his mighty miracles, astounded by much that is wondrous in himself and his works; but because he himself took our infirmities and bare our sicknesses, and goes up into the sick-chamber though a leper be in it, and though a pestilence too foul for my mother to face be filling the chamber with its fatal contagion. This is the Christ to whom I call you. Know him by the depth and tenderness and incessancy of his sympathy and love, and fall down before him, not because forced to your knees by some grammatical and exegetical pressure, but because constrained to that worshipful act by an infinite understanding of your own heart, and an ineffable and redeeming sympathy with every emotion and passion of your life.
"There came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, and saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented." A servant at home—what an extraordinary and antiquated conjunction of terms, "There came a centurion, saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented." That is not a prayer—there is no request in that form of words, it is a mere piece of intelligence. See the character of the man in the form of his approach. Is there no prayer in the eye, is there no agony in the look, is there no supplication in the tone? What can the printers do but catch the bare words and put them into cold black ink? This is how it is that the written page is not the spoken discourse; it lacks the fire that glowed in the face, the inquiry that sharpened the vision of the eye, the music and the eloquence that made the tone pierce the hearer"s heart like a prayer. Why you, man of few words, gifted with rare silence, often complaining that you have no language, could pray like this! Prayer is the lifting of an eye, prayer is the falling of a tear, prayer is the outdarting of an arm as if it would snatch a blessing from on high. You do not need long sentences, intricate expressions, elaborate and innumerable phrases; a look may be a battle half won. "According to thy faith, so be it unto thee." You may pray now, or in the crowded street, or in the busiest scene—you can always have a word with God—you can always wing a whisper to the skies. Pray without ceasing. Live in the spirit of prayer, let your life be one grand desire, Godward and heavenward, then use as many words or as few as you please, your heart is itself a prayer, and your look a holy expectation.
Beautiful is it to see the Pagan come into Christian worship. He does not know what to do. A trained soldier and a man in authority, he wishes to be respectful and yet he does not know what is proper to the new situation. He therefore beseechingly states the case. It is beautiful to see one unaccustomed to the form of worship in any place, enter into the strange sanctuary and look inquiringly round to see what has to be done next. There is no wish to come into collision with the established usages of the place. There Isaiah, indeed, a lingering liking for the way at home, but a willing disposition to accept new forms and methods. There is something pathetic in such ignorance, and something instructive in such inquiry. But see the centurion, a Prayer of Manasseh, a stranger, a Pagan, one far off, coming to state his servant"s case, and to leave it with a beseeching look and a beseeching tone—why that is to receive education in an uncertificated school, it is to receive a hint from lips uncircumcised—that is to learn from those who themselves are ignorant of the subtle and peculiar methods adopted under new circumstances.
Jesus will be puzzled by this new form of approach. Having heard about the servant at home sick of the palsy, he will say, "Well, what then?" He will teach this man how to pray, he will say, "If you want any favour from me you must approach me in certain form or I cannot hear you." He understood the heart—he meets the suppliant half way. Do you suppose that your ladder-prayer can reach the stars? It only touches God because God comes down to let it touch him. Heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain him, yet he comes down to the habitations of men and listens for their prayers as if those prayers filled the universe.
How does Jesus Christ adapt himself to this man"s approach? He meets the man in his own spirit. Without hearing the request he says, "I will come and heal him." That verse makes me a believer in the deity of Christ: I need no other proof. If he said that, he is God enough for me. Not "I will come and inquire into the case, I will come and see whether anything can be done to mitigate this awful mischief: I can sympathize with you, if I can go no further," but with the calmness of the fiat that arched the heavens and lit its lamps, he says, "I will come and hear him." The people were astonished at his doctrine, because he taught them as one having authority. They are astounded at his word, for he speaks of disease as one having infinite power. Last Sunday we saw him touching a leper, and heard him saying, "Be thou clean;" today our lesson brings before us a man sick of the palsy, grievously tormented, and Jesus Christ says, "I will come and heal him." Then he was no specialist. Properly we have amongst ourselves now special studies of special cases. One man undertakes the brain, another the heart, another the blood, it may be, another the bones and joints. This is right, amongst ourselves; for probably hardly any one man has the time, even if he had the capacity, to master with sufficient adequateness all the details and necessities of our wondrous bodily frame. But Jesus Christ said to the leper, "Be thou clean," to the man sick of the palsy, grievously tormented, "I will come and heal him." When he went into Peter"s house and saw his wife"s mother laid and sick of the fever, he touched her hand and the fever left her, he put out the fire with his touch. He is no specialist, he has not a necromancer"s power over any one department of human life or human suffering. His healing was fundamental and all-inclusive. He made the well-head pure, and the flowing stream was as pure as the fountain whence it flowed.
It is so in spiritual matters. There is not in the Church a doctor who cures lying, and another who makes a special study of drunkenness, and a third who is gifted with peculiar ability in dealing with persons of felonious disposition. There is one Mediator between God and man: he makes the heart right, and then all the accidental and local diseases, with all their train of ever-varying symptoms, are cleansed and utterly expelled. Thus in the Church of Christ we have no special means for special cases, as contra-distinguished from the general means at our disposal for the universal disease and apostasy. There is one word for all, one healing for all. When you talk of your follies and peculiar sins and characteristic slips and individual passions, these are but symptoms of a grand moral ailment: the whole head is sick, the whole heart faint, and the remedy must be vital and fundamental, not a successful playing with accidental symptoms, but an appeal to the heart, a cleansing of the inner nature. "Ye must be born again."
Whatever your complaint Isaiah, of mind, body, or estate, you may take it to Jesus Christ. If you are not doing well in business, go and tell him about it: if you are afflicted in any bodily way, go and state the case to him and leave it in his hands; if you be possessed with devils and grievously tormented in your heart, go and state the case to the Son of God. Go and tell Jesus everything. Do not tell him what answer to give in return. I like every day to have a long talk with him in the streets, or in the house, or anywhere, just telling him what I did yesterday, and what a fool I was for doing it, and asking him to keep me this day without sin, and putting my whole broken life into his care, that he may teach me that the part is not the whole, and that there are purposes in his will and providence which I can neither comprehend nor control. He always heals me with rest and with added faith. The thorn remains, the cruel sting goes deeper, the fire licks up further blood, and yet there is an inner healing, a sacred rest, and loving trust in God.
The centurion having heard the reply of Jesus Christ, said, "Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof; I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this Prayer of Manasseh, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it." He was a man under authority, and his word was law; then why did he not command his servant to be healed? It is thus we always come to our limit, it is thus that the sceptre we lift touches the end of its dominion, and shrinks back into a common walking staff. Said the centurion, "I have authority." Then why did he not use it in new directions? Within our own lines we are mighty; beyond those lines we are captured as trespassers or slain as mean spies. When men learn to keep within their own proper boundaries, intellectual and other, they will attain the fulness and the most satisfactory fruition of their power, but the meanest of us can ask questions that may vex and trouble the heart of God. Happy he who knows the length of his sceptre, and who lays it down at the right point, who says, "I am a man under authority, but there is a point at which my word has no force: I am silent at that point, and I begin to pray where I cease to rule." That is the true law of life.
Yet what wisdom the man had! He said, "But speak the word only." He little knew what he was saying. "The word"—that would have been beautiful and complete—"the word only," there he falls into softness and weakness; he shows the stoop which proves him to be but a man. "The word only." The word is the authority, the word is the power, the word is the soul, the word is the incarnation. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Your word is yourself: do not imagine that your speech is something independent of your individuality; your speech is your soul in utterance. When a man speaks earnestly, the word is the very fire and flame of his heart. Jesus Christ could not but speak earnestly, so his quietest word held the thunder, the lightning, as the dewdrop holds it, for there is force enough in that one dewdrop, if rightly touched, to rend the mountain and throw down the altar stair that faced heavenward. Let your yea be yea, and your nay nay—let your word be your true self, and it will always be, according to the degree of your capacity and influence, with authority and power.
Now it is Jesus Christ"s turn: O that we could have seen that marred and sorrow-riven face when he lifted it up and marvelled. He himself had seen a miracle: his own miracles, viewed as mere expressions of power, fell into insignificance before the miracle performed by the centurion, the miracle of all-trust, living, loving, simple, unquestioning, undisputing trust. "Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel." A great wave of emotion swelled his heart; forecasting the ages, he saw the crown already rounding into shape that was to sit upon his own head, and though the cross lay between him and that crown, he endured the cross and despised the shame.
We have it in our power to gladden his heart. How pleased he always was with faith. If a man looked trustfully at him, he said he was a son of Abraham. Sinner, others called him, and publican; Jesus called him Son of Abraham. How pleased he was, let me say again and again, with faith; a woman touched the hem of his garment and he called her daughter. He had never seen the woman before, humanly, yet he called her by endearing names and sent her home with his peace. Her house was never so rich as it was in that sunset. He does not ask our intellect, our pomp, our power, our grandeur; what can these be to him, who thickly inlaid the floor of Heaven with "patines of bright gold"? What can our gilt be to him who spoke the sun into being, and rolled the stars along? But when we look up to him and say, "Lord, I believe," it fills his very soul with joy. He keeps back nothing from faith, he says if we had faith as a grain of mustard seed, the mountains would be at our bidding and the earth would be our slave.
What can we say now but "Lord, increase our faith"? We are full of questioning and speculation, and cleverness and metaphysics, and we are keen at suggesting difficulties, and clever in the creation and piling of obstacles. I would God I could say always right in the devil"s very face when he is grinding at my weakness most, "Lord, I believe."
Matthew 8:8.—Not worthy. "The proud hill tops let the rain run off; the lowly valleys are richly watered."—Augustine.
Matthew 8:14.—"Peter"s wife was still living twenty-five years afterwards, when St. Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthian Church, 1 Corinthians 9:5. Probably all the apostles were young men, not much over thirty."—Conder.
Matthew 8:21.—Suffer me first. "These words imply, what St. Luke expressly records, that Jesus had laid on him the command to follow him, which accounts for the subsequent rebuke. The command, moreover ( Luke 9:60), to go and preach the gospel, implies that this was not his first call, but that he had been a disciple for some considerable time. Some special occasion, therefore, is indicated;—perhaps that of the news being brought of the father"s death. The explanation, that the disciple wished to go and reside with his father until his death, though ancient, is plainly wrong (as Stier and Alford show); the father was just dead, and he wished to postpone obedience to Christ"s command to filial respect. Had this brief delay been granted, another hindrance, equally pressing, might have presented itself. The Lord"s reply, though at first sight it surprises us by its sternness, simply carries out the principle that no plea whatever can bar Christ"s claim to immediate obedience: no "first" can take precedence of that."—Ibid.
Matthew 8:26.—Rebuked the winds and the sea. "This seems to have been almost, so to say, our Lord"s formula in working miracles; the fever ( Luke 4:39), the frenzy of the demoniac ( Mark 9:25), the tempest, are all treated as if they were hostile and rebel forces that needed to be restrained. St. Mark, with his usual vividness, gives the very words of the rebuke: "Peace, be still"—literally, be dumb, be muzzled, as though the howling wind were a maniac to be gagged and bound,"—Ellicott"s Test.
Almighty God, we are all sick: do thou heal our sicknesses and take our infirmities, and make us well with the health of heaven. We are sick in body, or we are sick in heart: the whole life is crooked and in pain, our very breathing is a cry of distress, and every pulse of our heart is a confession of weakness. Behold our life is a poverty, and our existence is a sigh. The whole head is sick and the whole heart is faint, and there is in us no health. We come to the great Healer, to the Physician that is in Gilead, and to the balm that is there. Others have healed our hurt slightly: they have said, "Peace, peace," where there is no peace—now do we come to God our Father, that we may be healed in our heart and made clean in our whole being. Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make us clean. Yet why should we challenge thee thus when thy whole ministry is a welcome to thy love and an utterance of thine infinite gospel? Thou dost shut the door on none, thou hast said, "Seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you." The grace is upon thy side more than the pleading is upon ours. Thine answer is greater than our prayer; the healing of God is greater than the distress of man. Thou dost pardon with pardons; thy forgiveness is as the waves of the sea, not to be numbered; great and mighty are they, and they come with all the force of thy tender heart. We confess our sins before thee with an open mouth, and with a heart that has no reservation; we cry, "Unclean, unclean, unprofitable, unprofitable, lepers are we all, and cankered in the very heart—God be merciful unto us sinners." The blood of Jesus Christ thy Son cleanseth from all sin; we would now feel its gracious power and answer its cleansing ministry. It is at the cross we find the laver of regeneration, it is on Calvary we are forgiven; the pardons of thine heart are signed with the blood of Christ.
Thou hast given unto us a few days, and we spend them as the fool spends his small heritage. We know not when our breath may be taken from us, yet behold we tell lies and do many deceitful things, and work before God as if we could claim the residue of our time. Show us that our breath is in our nostrils, that our grave is already dug, and that we are hastening with every breath we draw to the great judgment; and whilst this reflection makes us solemn, may all thy promises be as singing angels in our hearts, making them glad with the encouragements which come of thy grace and approbation. Help us to work with both hands diligently; may there be no half-heartedness in our industry; may our life be the toil of a slave, because having in it the love which constrains the heart, and we shall call no time or power our own. We would be the slaves of the Lord Jesus; we would be bound to him by every energy and every passion; would call nothing our own; to him would we give ourselves and all we have. Let this be a time of consecration, individual and universal; may every heart call nothing it has its own, but give itself and its possessions to the great Saviour of the race.
Upon the old and the young let thy sunlight fall; upon the venerable trees that have grown many years, and upon the little flowers that gleam at their roots, a few days old, and soon to be cut down and withered. The Lord look upon us in all the relations of our life; let our houses be homes, let our homes be Churches, and let the Church at home be the sweetest place on earth.
Give guidance to those who are in perplexity; put the right key into the hand of the man who is opening the gate that bars his honourable way; speak comfortably unto Jerusalem, and say with thine own voice that her welfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned. Upon all Churches, upon all Christian institutions, upon all schools and universities, upon all men who are in any wise endeavouring to do good, let the blessing of God be poured out today in an impartial and refreshing rain. Amen.
Working All Day
"And when Jesus was come into Peter"s house." The centurion would not hear of the Lord Jesus Christ going to his house: it was beneath so great a worker and teacher: it was a humiliation not to be permitted by the sense which the centurion had of Roman dignity and Roman majesty. Said Hebrews, "Speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed." Jesus Christ appeared to the centurion to be in his right place when he was upon the mountain, when he was upon the sea, when the great blue sky was the only roof over his head. It did not enter into his mind that Jesus Christ could enter a little human habitation. Do not let us make the Lord Jesus Christ too dignified in our social and conventional sense: there is more in Christ than what we should limit by the word dignity. I am afraid that some of us keep a long way from God, because his dignity, as we falsely and vainly interpret it, keeps us at a cold distance. We must get to an appreciation of his mind by such words as love, grace, sympathy, condescension, pity. It is in that region that our imagination and our love must move if they would realise all the higher blessings and all the tenderer benedictions which are associated with the Divine name.
"When Jesus was come into the house." We have been with him at the river—there he was baptized; we have been with him in the wilderness—there he was tempted: we have been with him as he walked by the seaside—there he called disciples to become fishers of men: we have been with him on the mountain—there in soft and musical thunder he addressed the ages. He came into Capernaum, the city; he is getting nearer. To-day he enters the house, and thus completes his relation to all points of human life and human need. He would come into your house if you would let him: he would come nearer still, he would come into your heart if you were willing. "Behold I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice and will open the door I will come in." He cannot force his way into your heart-house—he could take the slates off your roof, pour down his rain upon your little fire until it was quenched, but he cannot force a child"s love: the feeblest life can mock him with bitter taunting and keep him outside. Know thy power: it is a mischievous strength, but know, O Prayer of Manasseh, that it lies within thy power to smite God in the face and to mock him with every throb of thine heart. Know thy power, realise thy strange weird majesty—that thou art almost God!
When he was come into the house, he found a shadow there.
There is a shadow in every house, there is a fever in every family.
But Peter was a disciple, he was an incipient apostle, he was the senior disciple; great honours were in store for his name in the ages, and yet the shadow was in his house. You would think that God would send all the shadows upon the atheist, and would pile night on him so thickly as to make him mad with darkness. Yet it is not so in the Divine government Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons, for what son is there whom the father chasteneth not? If ye be without chastening then are ye bastards and not sons. Doubt your sonship if the chastening be little and infrequent.
Who would not have spared the senior disciple—who would not have made him the focal point on which should have converged all the rays of the Divine approbation, so that he might have been like a light seen afar, blazing forth the excellence and the wondrousness of the Divine election. The thief that lived next door had less fever in his house than Peter had. Sometimes the bad man"s ground brings forth plentifully, sometimes the pampered and overfed Dives has wealth upon wealth, while the praying soul is outside with dogs for his companions and crumbs as his portion. All this cannot be reconciled within the narrow limits of time. We want more field: the line that appears to be straight is only apparently straight, because of the limited points within which it is drawn. Extend the line and it partakes of the shape of the world upon whose surface it is drawn. So within these narrow points of time, the rocking cradle and the deep tomb, there is not scope enough to reconcile all the divine purposes and actions and mysteries; we need more field, an ampler horizon. We shall get it by-and-by, and then we shall know how God has been dealing with us in forcing rivers out of our eyes and in making our heads a burning pain. O child of God, much praying Prayer of Manasseh, wearied almost with crying at heaven"s gate, proceed, persevere, the sigh of thy weakness shall be mightier far than the thunder of thy strength. Do not despair, do not yet give up; while there is one dying ray of light in the sky, hold on.
Who would be without affliction at home, at least sometimes? Affliction unites the family. Given great prosperity and great wealth, and you may possibly find along with these great vanity and great tendency to self-assertion and to mutual contradiction and contention: but given affliction, and there is something in it that touches every heart and constrains every energy, and focalises all the resources of the house, so that the sick-chamber is often the church of the habitation. It would be a fool"s hiding-place but for the sick-chamber; that sick-chamber makes the young pause, the impetuous take time, the thoughtless set down his foot quietly lest he should give needless shock and pain in the quiet place of suffering. It sets wits to work—not the intellectual wits only, but the heart"s wits—to find out new delicacies, new tones, new music, new expressions of gentleness. It makes women of us all.
You would not be half the man you are but for your sick child; your tendency is toward bumptiousness, aggressiveness of speech, sternness, harshness. You have a magisterial cast and bearing in your life; but that little sick child has softened you, and been like a benediction upon your life. Men now take notice of your voice and say, "What new tones have subtly entered into it; how different the kind grasp, how noble the new bearing, how impressive the sacred patience, how touching and pathetic the sadness of the face!" Afflictions do not spring out of the dust: do not be impatient with them; we need something to soften this hard life. O, if it were all buying, selling, getting gain, outrunning one another in a race for wealth in which the racers take no time to recover themselves—there would be no gardens on the face of the earth, no places consecrated to floral beauty, no houses built for music, no churches set up for prayer. But affliction helps to keep us right, affliction brings us to our knees. Poverty says, "Think, fool, think." Affliction opens the Bible at the right places. If you, strong Prayer of Manasseh, with the radiant face and the full pocket, were to open the Bible, it would open upside down, and at nothing. But you, broken-hearted mother, you, child of sickness, you, orphan and lonely one, your Bible falls open always at the right place. Give me your family Bible, and I will tell you your history. The Bible of the strong, prosperous, rich man—"tis like himself; well kept—too well. Hand me yours, man of the broken heart and the tear-stained cheek, and the reddened eye and the furrowed brow. Ah, all marks and thumbings, and turnings down and marginal notes and pencil indications—twenty-third Psalm, fortieth of Isaiah, a hundred places in Jeremiah—including the Lamentations—why, I need no concordance to this Bible, if I want to seek out the promises. I see your guest has been Sorrow, and the hospitality you have offered him has been Patience. If you would know the value of the Bible in the house, consult those who have needed it most, and abide by their sweet reply.
"When the even was come." What even? The astronomical even. It brings its own beauty with it. Do not be sorry when the sun westers and glows with solemn pomp in his dying hour. When the even was come astronomically, the sun rose redeemingly. Jesus came with the sunset, and when he comes the sun rises. It was a wondrous conjunction, the old, old sun of the heavens, faithful servant of God, lamp too high to be blown out by man"s breath—when the sun had done all he could for the earth, he was going away, and then arose the other Sun, the Sun of Righteousness, with healing under his wings. See what a busy sunset was this. They brought unto him many that were possessed with devils, and he cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick. Mark, this work of Jesus Christ was twofold: it had to do with devils that held the dominion of the mind, and it had to do with diseases that held the dominion of the body. What wondrous ease is in these words—"He cast out the spirits with his word, and healed all that were sick," and it is written as if he had merely looked up or breathed, so consummate, so infinite, so deific the ease. It is always so that God must work; he can do nothing by an effort; if it were an effort it would not be divine. Power is in the ease: the ease is the signature of deity.
In all great life the same thing is exemplified. The painter does not paint with difficulty, if he be heaven-born; he paints because he breathes. The poet does not struggle with a long and painful agony to write his verses: he writes because he breathes. All this, of course, has its limitations in human life; it reaches the fulness and the last touch of its infinite sacredness in Christ, who spake and it was done, who commanded and it stood fast—because he planted the heavens and set the earth upon nothing.
Observe, not only was the word twofold, but it was complete—it was finished. How is it with us in regard to our human helpings and healings? We speak thus, and not inaccurately or unwisely, namely, "The doctor did me much good; the physician did me some good; the medical advice was in some degree just what I wanted; the relief was palpable, and I was glad of it." Do you ever find that word recorded of Christ? Did he ever almost heal a man? It is a curious thing of those unlearned and ignorant men who wrote his life, to have set down this, so consistently, as if they had been working upon a plan of mutual and collusive deceit and fraud. Did he ever come into contact with a devil-ridden one and say, "I can almost heal thee, but not wholly"? His disciples have come into conflict with such a possessed individual, but Jesus was not there. He came down and found the crowd around the disciples and said, "What is it?" It ennobles us to see him in that hour; his face has a transfiguring effect upon our commonness. "What is it?" and a voice said, "I brought my child to thy disciples that they might cast out the devil that has seized and ruined him, and they could not." Did his face darken with fear? Did his person contract with shame? Did he postpone the controversy? He said, "Bring him unto me," and he said, "I command thee come out of him," and he came out like a scourged hound that knew the master"s voice, a voice that fell upon him like a thong of scorpions, and he came out.
Did Jesus Christ ever almost heal the halt? did he ever open the eyes of the blind almost? did he ever give a little relief to the deaf? He said, "Go, tell John the things ye see and hear; the blind receive their sight, the deaf hear, the dumb speak, the lame walk, and unto the poor the gospel is preached."
Yet he who can work omnipotently in all these directions which are indicated by demon possession and direful disease, cannot work faster in your heart than you will let him. It is there that he must work partially, and incompletely. He would make us without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but we will not let him. We know our power and we use it. He can drive out the devil—but how to bring the angel in? He can banish our disease and restore our bodily health—but how to make the soul well? "Behold I stand at the door and knock." It hath pleased him to make us Song of Solomon, that we can keep him knocking. There is no force in the moral direction: God works by consent of the human heart. "Behold I stand at the door and knock." No other god dare take upon him such humility. We keep our mythological gods in courtly pomp, we keep them well up in the smoke and the cloud. It takes truth to search in the mud, to light a candle and seek for the lost man: it takes God to die that man may live. Let us give our hearts to him.
Jesus Christ"s work was continual. We have been impressed with this as we have come along the story. It presents him with opportunities, and he accepts them as they come. The multitudes were gathered—he opened his mouth and taught them. There came a leper—he said, "I will, be thou clean." He entered into Capernaum, and there came unto him a centurion, and he healed the centurion"s servant. He came into Peter"s house and found a fever-stricken woman—he touched her hand and the fever fled from that touch. When the even was come, they brought unto him devils, and he healed all that were sick. Jesus Christ"s ministry was a great effort; it was a great life. O thou preaching Prayer of Manasseh, do not spend thy time in preparing thy sermon, but in preparing thyself, and the sermon will be right, not perhaps artistically and technically, and according to the wooden standards of the self-made schools, but there will be in it subtle flame, subtle sympathy, magnetism, divine flashings and gleamings that will help men to the mountains. The Saviour never gathered himself together for a great occasion—he was the great occasion. He created the opportunity, he ennobled the chance of the day, he found a wilderness and built a tabernacle in it; he found a needy humanity, and he left the blessing of heaven where he found the trace and signature of the devil.
Apply all this to ourselves. Jesus, go home with us and see what a shadow is there; go upstairs with us and see the daughter who has not been well these twenty years, and the son whose life is an almost daily weakness, and often a sharp and crying pain; come and see the child-grandmother that has been groping for heaven"s gate many a day, because in her heart there is a longing to go home; come and see all of us, upstairs and down: the birds will sing the blither for thy coming in, they will find their cages enlarged in thy presence; come and look into the poor man"s cupboard and turn his one loaf into five and his little dinner into a feast for a king. Come into the shop, the counting-house, the bank, the market-place, the office, and see how we have huddled things together, and straighten out these crooked things for us. Come into our hearts, and see how we have devils in them, devils of ambition, devils of falsehood, devils of vanity, all kinds of devils, and cleanse the defiled heart. We are all sick; there is not a life that has not its pain, not a hope that has not its shadow, not a prayer that has not its fierce temptation. O thou Healer, thou Father and Mother of us all, dear Jesus, a Woman thou art, a Prayer of Manasseh, a God, Son of Mary, Son of Man—enter every heart and make it beautiful as heaven!
Almighty God, we come to thee in the name of Jesus Christ, our Saviour and our Priest, our only answer to thy law. We live in thy remembrance of us: when thou dost forget us, we shall die in the darkness of thy frown. Who can stand the neglect of God? Thou openest thine hand and satisfiest the desire of every living thing. That thou givest them, they gather; thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good thou turnest away thine eyes and they die in the infinite darkness. Who can stand against the Lord, or fight against his almightiness and prevail? Thy chariots are as the whirlwind and thy horses are swifter than eagles, and our hand is lifted up in weakness only to fall down again in utter failure and distress. Truly we live because thy compassions fail not; thy pity is the explanation of the continuance of our days; because thine heart is moved towards us with all the tenderness of yearning love, therefore is our life not yet cut off—we are the living, the living to praise thee, we stand as memorials of thy goodness; our very breathing should be a song of thy care and love, yea our whole life should be a sacrifice unto thee because of thy patience and long-suffering.
Thou hast written thy book for our guidance: thou hast not left us without witness and memorial in the wilderness; thou hast declared thy counsel concerning us in many simple and tender words. Give us the seeing eye, the hearing ear, the understanding heart, and may thy will, revealed in plain letters, be the man of our counsel and the guide of our life. May we have no will of our own, may we live in thy purpose and bow loyally before thy Kingship. All we like sheep had gone astray; we had turned every one to his own way. Now by the grace of God manifested in Jesus Christ, we have returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. We enter into thine house with thanksgiving, with loud sweet songs of the very heart, fired with all our love, and lifted high above the winds because of the passion of our thankfulness. Hear thou in Heaven thy dwelling-place, our adoring psalm and our filial hymn, and send down from the invisible sanctuary blessings that shall illuminate and nourish and perfect our souls.
Thou knowest us altogether; we have nothing that we can hide from God. Thou knowest the place of our roots, and every fibre of them is under thy searching eye. Thou knowest where we were born and under what circumstances of joy or sorrow. Thou hast looked upon us ever since. Thy good hand has beset us behind and before, and has been laid upon us, and because of thy blessing our life is now found in a holy place. Thou knowest the rods that have smitten us; thou knowest the thorns that have pierced and torn us in our long journeyings; thou knowest what difficult places have been found in our course, how sometimes there have been no friends and many enemies, much sand and stone, and no water. Thou understandeth us altogether, in our sorrows and in our delights, in our adversities and prosperities, and thou dost judge us by thy pity and love as well as by the severity of thy righteousness. According to our want and pain do thou now come to us every one: omit none from thy blessing. Where the heart is burdened do thou lift the oppressed weight; where the eyes are darkened with a great darkness do thou let fall upon them some gentle light from Heaven; where there is great gladness or unusual joy of heart, where the goblet is full of the wine of joy, do thou grant unto such to remember that all true and perfect gifts come down from Heaven, from the Father of lights.
Speak to those who are nearly done; show them that they have but a few pages to write and the life-letter will be complete. Speak comfortably to those who are in the midst of their records, and do thou show them that what is now being written will one day be read by thyself. Come near to those who are beginning their way, and give them courage, Christian hopefulness, saintly resolution, and enable them to work out their life"s work with all patience and love and Christian fidelity. The Lord look upon those who are not with us today, who are in the sick-chamber, or in some place of penitential hiding, or on the great sea, or in the far-off land, in the prison, or in the field of war. The Lord look upon all whom we ought to include in our tenderest prayers, and send blessings from the sanctuary that shall be as the bread of life.
We put ourselves day by day into thine hands; send what thou wilt send to us; let the light fall upon us from every point of the sky if thou wilt, or let the great darkness make our way fearful. Whether it be light or whether it be dark, take not thy Holy Spirit from us; let there be light within, and then there shall be the calm of Heaven.
The Lord help every good man to do his work with both hands, diligently, with a heart steadfast in all righteousness, and with an expectation that cannot be cut off in despair. The Lord turn upside down the counsel of the wicked, and bring to naught the deliberations of those whose heart is moved by malice. The Lord forgive our enemies, pity our littlenesses; come with infinite pardonings to our heavy and ever-darkening guilt, and ever lift above the cloud of our fear the cross of the great Son of God. Amen.
18. Now when Jesus saw great multitudes about him, he gave commandment to depart unto the other side.
19. And a certain scribe came, and said unto him, Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.
20. And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests (literally shelter), but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.
21. And another of his apostles said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father.
22. But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.
The Conditions of Discipleship
"He gave commandment." There was always in him some sign of lordship. He did not receive instructions, he gave them; though in one moment more his mouth was to be opened in a confession of the fact that he had not where to lay his head, yet he gave commandment. This kind of writing does not come of the uninspired human fancy, nor hold together with sufficient artistic cohesion, to be the child of the mere imagination. Yet there is a rugged and vital unity about it, which is the seal of truth. A peasant and the son of a peasant and without any signs of power about him such as are reckoned of consequence by earthly Judges, he yet "gave commandment." Whence this imperative tone? Whence this subtle claim to dominion? Whence this quiet assumption of supreme power? When he concluded his discourse the people were astonished at his doctrine, for he taught them as one having authority, not as one being in authority, not as one who had on an official cloak and must be respected for his clothes" sake, but as one having authority, breathing it, holding it, originating it, directing it; and this same authoritative speaker of doctrine, gave commandment, issued a royal precept, told the people about him what to do. Truly the parts do hold together, not with any mechanical contrivance, but because they belong to one another by the law of a reconciliation which does not come within the technical sphere of the mere fancy. His look was law; his tone admitted of no qualifications; his word was prompt, complete, authoritative, final. He never recalled a sentence to amend it; he never requested permission to add to his own doctrine an explanatory or emendatory note. Show me a single instance in which he ever corrected himself. Our pages are blotted all over with erasures and disfigured by a thousand interlineations, but his writing is straight on, no sentence interfering with any other sentence, any more than any star clashes with any fellow planet in all the sea of the heaven.
"When he saw great multitudes about him he gave commandment to depart." We should have thought it would have been an excellent reason for staying where he was. What more could he need than great multitudes? He came to teach, to preach, to heal, to bless, and to save, and behold here are great multitudes, and yet he gives their presence as a reason for leaving them. Why did this Son of man leave the great thronging, sweltering multitudes? Because the true spirit had left them. They were a mob: it was a great congeries of curious gazers, of persons who wanted to be satisfied with mighty works and wondrous signs. They were swollen with their own wonder, moved by the bad inspiration of their own love of amazement. To such people Jesus Christ never has anything to say. To the miracle-loving Herods he answers never a word; to the merely curious inquirers regarding doctrine or history he preserves a stony silence. It is not the crowd as a crowd he wants or seeks, it is the needy heart, the conscious poverty, the piercing, pleading pain. Do not suppose that we can attract him by anything of a merely multitudinous or formal or ceremonial character. To this man will I look—which man? The crowned one, whose shoulders are empurpled, whose feet are plunged in soft velvet and down? To this man will I look. I long for the answer to that statement. "Which man?" my heart inly cries. To the man that is of a broken and a contrite heart and who trembleth at my word. Fill your churches with multitudes and with eloquence and with incense and with colour, till the eye is weighted by its oppressiveness, but if the waiting, panting, broken heart be not there, Christ is miles away, yea, on the other side of the horizon, with his back to us. The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. He comes to our poverty, weakness, and self-renunciation, not to our wealth and strength and self-assertion.
We have now to figure him as about to move to the other side, and while he is in the process of going, a certain scribe came and said unto him, "Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest." This man represents the ardent and hopeful side of human nature. He sees no difficulties, his heart is swollen with a new and glad impulse, and he says he will follow that impulse, whatever the event may be. Could consecration be completer? Could any promise be less reserved? The Son of man will leap towards this man as towards a friend: he will fall upon his neck and cry tears of joy upon his shoulders. What was his reply? Cold as ice. The hot heart came to him, and he dropped into it a great load of polar ice. The reply in letters was this: "Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head." What became of the scribe? The text does not inform us.
Jesus Christ treated the ardent temperament by always presenting the dark side of the case. It is thus he balances us. To the low in heart, the fearful and timorous in spirit, he speaks a promise, and so lifts up the mind on the depressed side until a happy equipoise is established. To the bold, enthusiastic, romantic disciple, who is going to walk upon the wind, he says, "You are going to a land where you will not have a pillow for your head." It is thus that men see different sides of the Christian faith: it is thus that men are measured by different standards in the Christian sanctuary. It is thus that perhaps no two Christian experiences exactly coincide. Christ is to us what we are to him. He fills the great mountain with light, and he fills the little daisy, too, with light, and never a beam too much to bear down its weak little neck. He that gathers much in this field has nothing over; he who gathers little has no lack. How foolish, then, and utterly vain is any attempt to reconcile men"s thinkings in mere letters and words. You cannot write Christian experience once for all. It varies, it carries a thousand different colours and tints and hues and mixtures of colour, and utters itself in innumerable tones, complete, strong, tender, weak, whining, valiant, glad as the utterance of a trumpet, and sad as the moaning of a heart that is stabbed. Do not, therefore, be looking out for uniform standards and unanimous opinions and coincident experiences. Christianity will answer you so as to bring up the side of your character that needs elevation.
This is beautifully illustrated in the case of the next man. Another of the disciples said unto him, Lord, I will go with thee to the other side, but suffer me first to go and bury my father." How filial, how tender—a plea to which the son of God can have but one reply. What says he? He speaks in a most soldierly tone. He hardens himself into most inexorable discipline, and says, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead." A hard tone, without one pulse of human feeling in it: how unloving, how unsympathetic, how chilling, how calculated to alienate human affection! This answer was to a particular person of a particular temperament, and was meant to redeem that man from a false conception of Christian doctrine and Christian duty. It does not apply to all cases; it had a distinct and limited application, and was the only message fitted for the kind of man to whom it was delivered. He could not hand on the message indiscriminately to others; it was a gospel spoken to his own heart; it was bread intended for the satisfaction of his own hunger.
This Prayer of Manasseh, however, has many representatives in all ages. Let us understand him a little. He is the kind of man who always has some arrangement to make. He is the sort of person who can never do the next thing that is to be done without precedingly doing something on one side. There are persons who, when we call them, say, "Coming—presently." A broken obedience, a reluctant reply, a mixed answer! Who can tell how far that "presently" stretches over their life? "Presently" is a word that cannot be described by the dictionary, and that cannot be measured on the face of the clock. Are you not acquainted with some friends who are always quite willing to serve you, but first must go down the road or up the hill, to the post-office, or upstairs, and then...? Such arrangements may be permitted as between man and Prayer of Manasseh, such little slaveries to the matter of convenience may be permitted on the social scale, but when it becomes a question of following Christ, we are called upon for absolute self-surrender. That is the very essence of Christianity. There is nothing double in Christian consecration; the true Christian slave has one eye, one hand, one end, one heart, one prayer, one desire. Have we attained this? Not a soul amongst us has come within a million miles of its attainment; but if we desire it, hope for it, and struggle towards it, God will take a broken column as if it were a pillar completed to a glittering point.
The answer of Jesus Christ to all temporising and arrangement-making persons is an answer of unreserved and absolute surrender. Do you suppose that we have given Christ everything? I have not If you have, I have nothing to say to you. I am still burying my father, I am still completing my bargains, I am still adding to my estate, I am still studying the ways and tricks of a perverse world, I am still hushing my breath, so as not to awaken the sleeper. I am going after Christ, but I must first quaff this cup, inhale this fragrance, and breathe in this cloud. I am coming—presently. This is what you said to me when I asked you to join the Church, to surrender to Christ, to become an out and-out Christian. You did not say to me, "No!" you said, "Thank you, I will come—presently."
These answers of Jesus Christ are exaggerations in the sense of having another side to them which would have shown their true meaning. There are some persons who do not understand the law of exaggeration: to them an exaggeration is a lie; they do not know that we have to paint very broadly, to be seen afar. There are those who do not understand that we have to infuse into some utterances an emphasis beyond the immediate literal requirement of the case in order that the detonation may be heard. They do not comprehend Jesus Christ when he utters those sublime exaggerations, yet nothing but such exaggerations would have met the cases in question. Now let us qualify them.
Peter once said to Jesus, "We have left all and followed thee." Jesus Christ replied, "No man hath left father or mother, sister or brother, houses or lands, for my sake and the gospel"s, but shall receive a hundredfold in this present life and in the world to come life everlasting." That was not the answer which he made to the scribe: to him he set forth the severe—by-and-by he would enter into the gracious. His gospel does not tempt us; the kingdom of heaven is not a bribe, it is first a cross, a discipline, a pain, an agony, and afterwards a sweet quiet heaven. In the case of Peter the great act had been done, in the case of the scribe it was about to be done. The scribe would have been misled if the great promise had been held out to him; he therefore had revealed to him only the darker aspect of this great adventure.
Jesus Christ never lets any man really go after him and be disappointed with the result. He keeps his grace for daily revelation according to the daily need. He giveth more grace—he giveth grace upon grace. He will not tempt you as with a bribe, but he will feed you with an eternal satisfaction. I do not ask you therefore to come into the Christian sanctuary that you may get rid of your distresses, and your debts and burdens, your pains of body and your clouds of mind, but I call you and tell you that it is a cross you have to take up. That was the message of Jesus Christ to another of his disciples—"Follow me, quench every other love, fix your undivided vision upon myself, beware of wandering desires and divided affections and broken resolutions and imperfect vows. If any man will follow me, let him take up his cross." A great teacher, truly, and not less gracious than severe.
From these two instances two false inferences might be drawn. First, that Jesus Christ did not care to make disciples. He had the chance of making two disciples here in the superior sense (for probably they were both disciples in the merely literal interpretation of the word), and yet he discouraged both the men. When did he ever appear anxious to increase his numbers? When was it a matter of personal consequence to him to make two into four and four into twenty, and when did he send forth a statistician to schedule the numbers of his flock? Truly this kingdom is not a new miracle, mystery, or arithmetical surprise or success. Arithmetic has nothing to do with it. Christ works slowly but he works continuously, and the end shall come and he will deliver up the kingdom to God his Father, and God shall be all in all, for he must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death, then in all the universe there shall be nothing but radiant, joyous anthem-singing, life and immortality. He did not like men to go away from him, but still if they wished to go, he did not hinder them. Jesus said to his disciples when many turned away and walked no more with him, "Will ye also go away?" He was accustomed to loneliness, he had trodden the winepress alone, and of the people there were none with him. We do not flatter or patronise Christ by the multitudinousness of our number: he asks not for many only, but for much—for the very life and loyalty of the heart.
A second false inference that might be drawn from these answers Isaiah, that Jesus Christ had nothing to offer to his disciples. He told one man that he would have no pillow for his head, and he told another simply to follow him and let the dead bury the dead. Again and again are we taught that this kingdom of heaven is not a bribe; we are not to go after it for the sake of the loaves and fishes. Jesus Christ never promised a downy pillow: he has many a time darkly hinted at a crown of thorns. Jesus Christ never promised honours and delights and satisfactions of an earthly kind: he always said, "The cross is heavy, and it must be laid upon the weakest shoulder." O thou severe One, what is the meaning of all this? The meaning is in a sentence. He seeks for truth in us which shall correspond to the truth that is in him. My profession must not be a personal luxury—it must be truth to truth, reality to reality, Christ and his disciples one, as he and his Father are one.
Tell the mocker that Jesus Christ does not bribe his disciples: tell the taunting fool that in this warfare every man is to be a soldier, trained by the severest discipline, whose delinquencies are to be punished with the highest penalties, but tell them also that are without and who mock and taunt and wonder, that there is no such bread as that which comes down from heaven.
Almighty God, we have heard thy sweet call to come to thine house, and behold we are now here present before thee, with our adoration and confession, with our grateful hymn and with our cry of penitence, and we humbly beseech thee to come to us and to receive what we have now to give. Behold we have nothing to give thee in return for all thy goodness but a broken service. Thou wilt receive it by its meaning and purpose and not because of its own value and desert. We take thy law into our lips, and we break it every syllable: our hands have no clean spot upon them, but within and without they bear witness against themselves. Our heart is a sepulchre, the bottom of which hath not yet been found: our mind is as a chamber of imagery wherein are idols not to be counted, and wherein there are purposes for which there are no human words. Yet dost thou set thy love upon us, nor dost thou withhold thy light from our life. Thou didst send thy Son to seek us, to teach us, to die for us, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us unto God. He was delivered for our offences, he was raised again for our justification, and we come to thee in his name, wide as the heavens, brighter than all the created flames of light, and we ask thee for his sake to hear us when we cry unto thee.
We have attempted to count thy mercies, and behold the daylight hath failed us. We have set ourselves to the task of numbering thy compassions, and behold we have worn out the shining stars. Thy mercies are more in number than the sands upon the seashore, nor is there anything in heaven above or upon the earth beneath that can set forth the number of thy tender compassions. We breathe of thy love, we eat of the bounty of thine hand, we walk in the light of thine eye, we live and move and have our being in God. We cannot escape thee: though we slight thy love, yet dost thou nourish us by thy goodness: though we may not have thy Son to reign over us, yet must we look to thy clouds for water and to thy heavens for light. Thus dost thou lay hold upon us at every point; by thy tender and mighty persuasion dost thou seek to constrain the soul to obedience and homage and love. May we this day answer the great demand with a great joy, and may we flock to thy house as doves flock to the windows, and may there be joy in heaven over all we think and do.
Every heart has its own hymn, every life has its own flower to give thee this summer day. What thou hast given unto us we give unto thee, for we have nothing that we have not received. Thou dost teach the hymn we sing, thou dost inspire every holy prayer we breath, thou dost give us the words wherein we besiege thy throne. Look upon each of us according to the poverty and pain of every heart, scatter thy general blessings upon us as thou dost rain the impartial clouds upon the thirsting land, then come to each heart with some peculiar gift. Thou knowest the bitterness of every soul, the dark, awful plague of every heart, thou knowest the crookedness of every life, thou understandest us altogether, and there is nothing hidden from the light of thine eyes. Nourish and cherish every good thing that is in our heart, bring it to beauty and to fruition, and may we all bear abundantly the fruits of the Spirit, and be known because of their richness and plenteousness.
Where the heart is bruised and the spirit is wounded because the chief hope has been blighted and the main light has been put out, do thou come with peculiar tenderness and heal those that are sorely distressed. Where there is yearning for those who wander far, and may even be lost to our human sight, where the parent yearns in great and troubled love for the sinning child, do thou send all the healing of thy long-suffering and redemption. And where the child cries for the lost home, saying, "I will arise and go to my Father," give him power to return, bring him back again to the long-abandoned house, and may he there find the hospitality of great love.
Regard all our friends who are sick, in pain, and in fear of death. Thou knowest how little our life is: our breath is in our nostrils—thou dost frown upon us, and we are gone. O help us according to our weakness, and because our days are very few in number do thou fill them with all the grace of thy blessing, so that we being prepared by thy training and discipline here, born again and sanctified by thy Holy Spirit, may be made meet for that better city, in which the light never sets, where are all the good gathered in immortal convocation, and may we be counted worthy through the blood of the Lamb to take part in their sweet Song of Solomon, and to share with them the benediction which shall encompass eternity.
Do thou look upon all for whom we ought to pray: for the prisoner in the dungeon, for the soldier in the battlefield, for travellers by sea and by land, for all our dear ones in the far-off village, or in the far-off country. O hear us when we sigh for Heaven"s blessing to rest upon all after whom our love goes out in earnest desire. Take us all under thy care: rebuke our impatience gently, be mindful of us during the few short flying hours that yet remain to this earth-life, and in the hour and article of death give us that sweet sense of thy presence which shall abolish death. Amen.
23. And when he was entered into a ship his disciples followed him.
24. And behold there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves: but he was asleep.
25. And his disciples came to him, and awoke him, saying, Lord, save us: we perish. (They record their own helplessness.)
26. And he saith unto them, Why are ye so fearful, O ye of little faith. Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.
27. But the men marvelled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?
Christ"s Inward Peace Controlling Outward Storms
"He was asleep." Think of the sleep of the dad man; tired O with doing evil with both hands, weary in the cause of wickedness, having done his last bad trick, having worn out his last energy in following that which is evil and forbidden, he falls asleep. Who will talk to him in his dreams—what images will he see in the visions of the night? Suppose he should never awake, and men should come in the morning to see how he left his work—with a bad purpose broken off, with a programme inscribed to the devil half wrought through—who would care to bury him? Would it not disgrace a horse to carry such bones to the grave? Is it not a prostitution of human decency to touch so foul a thing?
Think of the sleep of the good man; weary in his work of noble benevolence, the spirit willing but the flesh giving way, with the tear half dried that he was just going to cleanse utterly from the eye of sorrow, with the word almost broken off at the middle syllable that he was just speaking in the ear of great distress—overcome by weariness he falls down into a dead sleep. Suppose he should never wake again—who then could tell the world"s loss—who could add up in figures the deficiency that would befall the average of the world"s intelligence and piety and beneficence? When some men die, they make the world poor, they leave such great gaps behind them: it is as if altars had been broken down and ways to heaven had been shut up, and light that lighted the darksomeness of life had been put out with a rough hand suddenly.
Do not account too much of the bad man"s sleep, or of the good man"s sleep—no argument is to be founded on the sleep of either. The murderer has slept on the night of his crime, the condemned criminal has slept on the night before his execution, the good man has lost many a night"s sleep by anxieties which he could not control. We are not therefore to make any moral use of sleep or of sleeplessness in the case of particular persons, but all men do sleep, and many may never awaken out of their slumber, and I ask you whose sleep would you like to have, the bad man"s sleep—a weariness that comes out of evil practice, the high and venturous pursuit of forbidden and disastrous prizes, or the good man"s sleep—weary in his work but not weary of it, only going down into the depths of sleep that he may come up as one refreshed, to renew all that was sweetest and noblest and best in his life"s toil.
"Let me sleep the sleep of the righteous, and may my slumber be like his." So say we all, but if we would sleep well, we must work well, if we would have the angels at night we must have God during the day. If the darkness is to be jewelled by stars, then must we toil with filial love and ever-heightening delight while the sun lasts, to make men wiser and truer and altogether better. Sweet is the sleep of the labouring Prayer of Manasseh, blessed is the slumber of the soul that does its utmost to please God; it is prefigurative of that rest which remaineth for those who are the servants of the Most High. Look on the bad man"s sleep—it is as a beast getting ready for further blood. It is as a man whetting his instrument that he may commit deadlier havoc on society. Who would not pray that such strength might never be renewed? and if any man have strength to say openly, "God forbid he should ever awake again on earth," it would take much piety to keep back the "Amen" from those who heard the supplication.
We have now therefore to deal with the sleeping Christ. He told us that he had not where to lay his head, but the head that is weary is not particular about its pillow. He told the scribe that he had not where to lay his head, and yet in a verse or two farther on, we find him asleep. If on a pillow, it was a borrowed one. He does not contradict himself; whether he have pillow or no pillow, he must sleep. Behold him then in the hinder part of the ship, behold him who said he had not where to lay his head, laying down that very head on a borrowed pillow and sleeping as if he nestled in the heart of God.
What occurs during his absence in sleep? "Behold there arose a great storm in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves." A storm always arises when he is absent. His turning away from us means the opportunity for a storm. We are only at peace while he is with us; everything depends upon his nearness. It is not a merely negative condition of things which he leaves behind him—not only is the light withdrawn, but the darkness is sevenfold; not only is the wind troubled, it is troubled even to the point of tempest; not only does the tide roll as usual, but it foams into infinite billows and our little life-ship is tossed upon it as with scorn, and we are threatened with mortal danger. It has always been so in my life. A sleeping Christ will do me no good, a painted Christ will not be of effective service in my life, a wooden crucifix or even an ivory across will not help me—it must be the wakeful Christ, with every energy astir, power pouring out of him in every look, and in every movement, the actual, positive, real, personal, living Christ. We are mocked by his figure—we are saved by his personality.
What did the disciples under these extraordinary and exciting circumstances? They came to him and awoke him, saying "Lord, save us: we perish." They came to him, they did not go to one another. For a long time we may seem to be equals; we speak about the average of human strength and human intelligence; we say all men are tolerably much the same, it is a long broad line of equality stretching over the whole human sphere, and human nature may have its ups and downs, but as a whole it is almost upon a level. Then there are great crises in the family when the chief man is sought out in a moment. We know him, he cannot be disguised; he may be asleep, but he is the chief; he may be out of the house but he must be sought for. I thought we were all equal? So we are, when we are all cold, when there is no immediate necessity, when there is no wolf with open mouth and gleaming teeth and eyes of fire standing at the front door. But let a crisis supervene in the family and the least child in the house intuitively turns its eyes in the right direction. The servant seeks the master, the weak calls for the strong, there is always a point of supremacy.
So in the nation: when there is nothing particularly stirring, we are all about equal, we lay down the great democratic doctrine that one man is as good as another, and constitute ourselves into a mutual commendation society, and speak of one another as if we were of one height, of one compass of mind, of one common integrity of heart. Suddenly a great crisis arises; then our little and comfortable doctrines all depart; then the man of stature stands up; then we know to whom to look, or, not knowing, we divine and guess, and by force of conjecture we create the man and make him the king of the hour.
If anything should occur in your business of an extraordinary nature you will soon find out who the principal is. If your business should proceed in the ordinary course little or no notice will be taken of you. People will not know, perhaps, whether you are in or whether you are out; if out, how long you will be in coming in; but let any particular crisis arise, and you will be named, you will be the necessity of the hour, and there will come into your heart by the grace and presence of God the energy that will meet the hour and stamp it with conquest.
The disciples not only came to Christ—they came in the right spirit. "Lord," said they,—how is it that we give the right names when we are in the right mood? How is it that we create terms to meet necessities? Suppose you had met those men on the road in a quiet hour and had said to them, "Now, doctrinally, who is this man you are following?" Probably their answer would have been superficial, or ambiguous, or inadequate. You might easily have led them in the direction of doubt; it would not have been difficult to have troubled their incipient faith with many a dash of scepticism. But perishing, in trouble, the next breath the last, they seize him and call him "Lord." It will be so with a great many, perhaps with some too late. Many will say to him in that day, Lord, Lord; and he will profess unto them that he never knew them. Some confessions come too late; some homage destroys itself by its tardiness. Why should we not use our calmness, our self-possession, our faculties at their richest and best, and make recognitions of Christ"s relation to us whilst we are in a fit state of heart and temper to make them with intelligence, and breadth, and cordiality? Do not believe the coldblooded tempter or evil speaker, or sceptic, or infidel; he is a mighty man when there is nothing to fear. I do not know how far some mockers will be able to carry their mocking when grim death with bony grip seizes their flesh. We shall hear of them then—till then we do not touch them.
Not only did they come to the right man in the right spirit, but the disciples came with the right request, saying thus—observe the completeness of that word and its marvellous moral emphasis— not "Help us," not "Join us in a common endeavour to save the ship;" not the address made to Jonah, "Arise and take thy share, and call upon thy God as we have been calling upon our gods;" not, "Let there be a common appeal to the distant heavens;" but "Save us: take the whole case into thine hand; we fall back and are nothing—go, thou mighty One, almighty One, to the front to save us." We cannot do without that word save. It gets around the whole compass of our necessity; it touches with a marvellous pathos all the pain of our moral distress. Jesus Christ, the Son of Prayer of Manasseh, came to seek and to save that which was lost. His name was called Jesus, because he should save his people from their sins. He is mighty to save: he is called the Saviour, the Man with the long arms, the Man with the infinite strength, whose touch is emancipation, whose look is benediction. He saved others—himself he cannot save. Thank God! If he could come down from that cross, morally, he would ruin the world.
With what prayers have we come to Christ? Have we asked him to enter into co-partnery with us in the doing some business in life? Have we said to him that we should be pleased if he would make out what is lacking in our own strength, that we might with twofold power address ourselves to some difficult engagement? I wonder not that the prayer lies in the air somewhere, a wasted thing, a bird with wings too weak to get beyond the cloud line. We must go to him with our emptiness, we must have nothing in our hands, we must have nothing but a great distress to hurl upon his ear, and we must use words that will show him that our self-renunciation is complete and hopeless. If you had uttered big prayers, you would have had big answers. If you have nibbled at the heavens—I wonder not that their dignity has been offended. Let us go to Christ with nothing to recommend us, with our blindness, deafness, dumbness, our complete necessity, then we shall see how he will answer the mute appeal of our helpless condition.
What answer does Christ make to those perishing disciples? "Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?" The quiet soul always brings quietness. You say of certain persons in your own house, when they come into the chamber of affliction, they seem to centralize and to quiet everything; their composure is so serene, their self-possession is so complete, that they bring with them half a deliverance from the distress that was overwhelming you. See the physician in excitement, and everybody in the sick-chamber goes down; see his face quiet, hear his voice untroubled, feel his grip firm, and at once everybody in the sick-chamber takes heart again. The doctor does not know how his face is being searched by eager eyes, and if there be a flush in it or a wave of suppressed feeling, it is interpreted to mean disaster of the most appalling kind. The quiet soul brings quietness, the Son of Peace brings peace—he creates peace.
There is only one storm to be feared, and that is the storm of unbelief. Why are ye so fearful, O ye of little faith? There is only one loss to be deprecated, the loss of faith. "Simon, Simon, Satan hath desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not." I may lose health, money, friends, power, but if I have not lost my faith, I have lost nothing. I shall come up again. Destroy this body and in three days I will raise it again. Blessed are those whose faith is greater than the power of destruction that lies around them.
Lord, increase our faith. Faith is power, faith is peace. Pray only for faith, for that wondrous ability to trust which he exercised and manifested who said, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him." My last look shall be a prayer, my last heartthrob shall be towards the heavens: if he has torn me, he will heal me; if he has wounded me with all his instruments, on the third day he will revive me, and in my greater joy I shall forget my lesser woe. Lord, increase our faith—our heart"s faith; we do not mind so much about our intellectual faith—it is here and there, and any fool can twist it—but see thou to bur heart"s faith, that deep inner trust that lays hold of thee with pertinacity that cannot be shaken off. Lord, increase our faith.
I cannot give up the miracles, because I should be giving up the great doctrine that mind is greater than matter, and without that doctrine we should be poor indeed. I hold to the supremacy of mind; my belief is that the spirit is the mightiest force in creation. GOD is a spirit. If we had less body and more spirit we should be quieter, mightier, wholly grander. I will not have it that the sea is mightier than mind: I would cling to the belief that there is a fire in man that can astound the sea and awe it into submission. The time will surely come when mind shall be acknowledged to be supreme, when the Book that speaks what are now romances because of our coldness will be proved to be speaking words of truth and soberness. If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed ye would say to this mountain, "Out of the way," and it would be cast into the depths of the sea. I am not content to dwell in the lowlands of the merely material and measurable, in a kind of conscious imprisonment. I would say with the great Pascal, to the sun, "I am greater than thou: thou couldst fall and crush me, but I should be conscious of defeat, whilst thou wouldst be unconscious of victory."
Be careful how you allow mind to be displaced from its regal position. It is a reflection fraught not only with supreme intellectual grandeur, but with the most exquisite moral pathos, that the word shall be mightier than the difficulty external, that the "I will" shall abolish death and fill up the grave and plant its face with the flowers of victory. Do not too readily yield to those persons who would snub your mind and magnify the mountain outside of you. The mountain is but huge mud, the sea but infinite water, the body but an invention for the moment, but mind—God is mind: God is a spirit. There are difficulties from the other side of the case, but they are nothing compared with the difficulties that would immediately be created by the displacement of mind from its royal elevation.
Jesus gave commandment to depart unto the other side, and a storm arose. Learn that storms may arise even whilst we are in discharge of plain and divinely commanded duty. If these men had taken the ship at their own suggestion, and attempted to cross the sea for their own convenience, we should speedily have visited upon them the penalty that they were worthy of the storm which overtook them. Let us learn the brighter lesson and encourage the grander faith. Storms may arise even in discharge of duty. Do not create your own difficulties. You are a child of God, and you have a great sorrow to bear. Do not reason that if you were a child of God you would not have any sorrow—that would be sophism, not high and correct reasoning. You have a great difficulty in your business: do not reason that you have missed your providential way because you are encountering this terrible obstacle. The disciples were actually obeying Christ at the very moment the storm seized their vessel—so it may be with you. These things come not for the deepening of your fear, but for the quickening, the enlargement and the completion of your health.
Danger will always move men to prayer—I will not guarantee that their prayers will be answered: the prayers of the wicked are an abomination unto the Lord. There are some of us who never pray but in danger—I dare not pledge that God will be present to hear. He may be—his mercy endureth for ever, but if he were less than God, he would not be. Your own mother would not be; you have worn out the last filament of her love. Your own father would not be: his eyes have been cried out with tears that boiled. If God were less than God, you would not lay hold of him even in the bitterness of your agony. You may do so—it will be because he is God and Father.
The upshot of the whole was that the men marvelled. A poor outcome, a miserable dénouement,—they marvelled. We are like them, we are great at wonder, we are geniuses in the matter of being open to surprise and amazement. We can do any amount of wondering. There is a wonder that is legitimate, there is a wonder that is akin to worship, there is a surprise that may lead to faith. With such surprise may we be well acquainted, but beware of the round eye and the open mouth of vulgar wonder which stares at a miracle as at a show, and encourage that holy amazement which looks, then shuts its eyes, and then falls down in prayer.
Almighty God, hear thou the petition of every heart offered in the sweet name of Jesus Christ, the name that is above every name, associated with the cross and with the crown. Every heart has its own cry, every life knoweth its own bitterness, and we are all here before thee now to tell thee the tale of our sorrow, and sing our hymn of joy in thine house, and to ask thee for such mercies as our wasting life may yet require. Thou hast done great things for us whereof we are glad; thou hast done everything for us—we have done nothing for ourselves; of thine own have we given thee; we have lived at thy table; the water we have drunk has flown from fountains of thy making; and behold there is not a hair upon our head that is not numbered, nor is there a step taken by our feet which thou dost not notice. Thou hast beset us behind and before, and laid thine hand upon us; and the air is full of thy presence, and musical with thy voice. We desire to see thee, and to feel thee everywhere—leave no vacant place, chill us not by thine absence, thou loving One, whose heart is the sun of all worlds, warming them and making them beautiful, and clothing them with all the beauty of joy.
Come to us in thine house, and make it a pleasant place to us—yea, make it the chosen place where thou wilt reveal thyself to our vision, to our expectant love, to our broken and contrite hearts. We bless thee that though we may not know thee by our understanding, we may know thee by our love; though thou dost shut thyself out from our ability, thou dost reveal thyself to our sin, and pain, and want. We see thee through our tears; we know thee by the subtle processes of the heart; we feel thy nearness, though we have no words to explain thy presence.
We have hastened to thine house that we might be caught in the plentiful rain which thou dost pour down upon the inheritance of thy possession. Spare none from the gracious baptism; let the reviving shower fall upon every heart, the meanest, the obscurest, the least before thee; and may we return to our abodes as men who have felt the presence of God and been lifted up by all that makes his presence what it is.
Thou hast shown unto us sore affliction; thou hast dug the grave too deeply sometimes for our poor faith; we have not been able to follow thee as thou hast dug thy way down to the very rocks, that in the pit thou mightest hide all the beauty that made our eyes glad. Thou hast shown us great and sore trouble; that which we have straightened out thou hast made so crooked that we can never straighten it again. Our first born has become a liar, and our last born has run greedily after the devil, and our house is a place of emptiness. Thou hast sent a blight upon our fields, and suddenly turned away the tide of our prosperity; thou hast given us days of anxiety and nights of sleeplessness; and as for our poor strength, thou hast utterly withered it away.
Yet hast thou given us joys which could only have grown in heaven: thou hast blessed our eyes with light, thou hast set round about our table all pleasant things; no grave hast thou dug except it has been in the garden, where the flowers have hidden its hideousness; and thou hast not smitten us but in love, and if the stroke has been severe the kiss of thy love has been all-healing. Truly thou hast spared nothing from us; thou hast given us thine own Son. So hast thou dealt with our life so that it is all hill and dale—a strange, mysterious undulation, now rising up into heaven, and now deepening swiftly into places we dare not enter. Deal with us as thou wilt. If thou wilt take the last lamb, take it—not our will but thine be done. If thou wilt pluck the last flower, pluck it: it was thine before it was ours; it is only ours because it is thine. If thou wilt send us prosperity, send us modesty along with it; if thou wilt greatly revive us with wondrousness of increase of life, then do thou touch the heart that it may be ready to answer thy greatest gifts with sweet hymns and solemn psalms of trust and love.
The Lord send a blessing to every one of us; may each heart have a line from heaven; let an angel sing in every ear; let no man feel himself lonely to sadness; let no heart shiver under the coldness of absolute isolation. Revive our best memories, relight our noblest hopes, kindle the passion of our early enthusiasm for Christ and his kingdom, and this day may men return from afar wandering, and with tears and love and trust and yearning, gather around the cross of the Lord Jesus and give to the Lamb of God, the Saviour of the world, their repentant and undivided heart. Amen.
The Supreme Miracle
This is decidedly the worst case that has yet come up in the sacred narrative. There is always a testing case in every ministry. There are critical hours in every life. Jesus has been with wondrous placidity dealing with diseases of many kinds, touching them, and healing them, and driving them away; but most of the cases appear to have been what we should term of an ordinary kind, though there was nothing ordinary in them from any point of view but his own. That which is commonplace to him is a miracle to us; that which is a miracle to us was a commonplace to him. We do not occupy the same ground, we do not look at things from the same angle of vision. Here is a test case, and it makes me tremble. I have never seen Christ confronted after this sort before.
The men were exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way. There was no mistake about the terribleness of this possession. The devils had been in the man a long time: he was naked; no house could hold him; he dwelt in the tombs; he was driven of the devil into the wilderness—the case was extreme; it makes me tremble; it turns all other incidents into ordinary events. How will Jesus Christ do now? We have put that question regarding one another in critical circumstances when great distress has come upon the life, when a loss of property has been threatened, when particular audiences have assembled for the purpose of giving judgment—in many other varieties of human experience we have asked concerning our friend, How will he carry himself now?
Whilst we are wondering what Jesus will do there is a cry of fear from the other side. He was working when we did not suppose he was doing anything; he was giving one of those silent looks which eloquence cannot follow in descriptive terms; he was troubling the hidden devils with light which they only could see. The cry of distress comes from hell. Is there something in Christ"s face that troubles the evil one? Is there anything in that calm, serene, majestic look which makes hell afraid? He alone was quiet. By-and-by it will be seen that this is the exact relation between parties in the universe: the good triumphant, the wicked cowardly and afraid. It does not look so now, because the wicked are too demonstrative to show their real character: they make a noise to keep their courage up, they fill their ears with their own vulgar din, and imagine that there is no other voice appealing to them. If I look at society from one point of view I am utterly disheartened—my hope goes out of me: it is evidently devil-ridden and hell-bound, and nothing can stay it in its awful course; perdition must enlarge its borders to receive our enlarging civilisation. When I gather into one all the evil thinkers and evil doers that are in the world I feel that evil has the upper hand, and that God himself is but a theological term.
Then, again, we come upon incidents that give a new point of view and a new reading of human events. We see that God is not dethroned: when the true collision comes the result is won by a look. God is to do wonders by the brightness of his face: the silent glance is to be as a sword before which nothing that is evil can stand. The ever-speaking but ever-silent face, gleaming with light, glowing with fire, is to make its way through the universe, and to leave heaven behind it. Oh, thou speaking Prayer of Manasseh, and book-writing Prayer of Manasseh, evangelist, apostle—call thyself by what name thou wilt, this conquest is not to be won by our noise, or fuss, or high demonstration of religious zeal—all this is right enough in its own place; it is part of the plan; it hath pleased God to do certain things by the foolishness of preaching; but the devil is to be burnt out with the divine look. Hold thy little light aloft; speak thou mightily or gently, in thunder or whisper as thou wilt, and do what little lies within the scope of thy little power; but understand that the final disposition of the devil, and the ultimate setting up of the dominion that is divine and beneficent, is to be done by the breath and the power and the glory of God. A nation shall be born in a day, the light shall fill the heavens in a moment, and the earth shall lose her cold shadows, and in the new warmth that shall penetrate her veins she shall give up her dead, and be scarred and seamed no more by tombs and sepulchres and sanctuaries of death.
Read the histories as given by Matthew and by Luke, and regard them as completing one another, and as forming substantially the same incident, and you will see from its graphic colouring what man may become. Do not make little local anecdotes of these divine histories; do not let the years grow between you and the Book of God till they separate you as by a thick wedge from all that is venerable and true in history. This incident is occurring today. If I have to wander over a wilderness of eighteen hundred years to get at it I shall tire on the road. It occurs next door—to-morrow it may occur in our own house.
See here what man Isaiah, what, man may become—what man really is in the sight and estimate of God. If you would profit by this incident see yourself in it. It is an evil temptation, one that will deplete you of every true sympathy and right conception of history and of the future, which leads you to think that this incident occurred once for all, and became an exciting and romantic anecdote in the neighbourhood in which it took place. You are the demoniac: I am the possessed with devils: they have never awakened yet altogether, but some of them are beginning to open their eyes, and to turn in restlessness, as if about to rise. Why will you put the Bible away from you thousands of years, and talk of Moses as if he were a dead Prayer of Manasseh, and of the evangelists as though they lived only in epitaphs? These things are round about us now. When John Newton, the celebrated clergyman, saw a man being taken away to the scaffold to be hanged, he said, "There goes John Newton but for the grace of God." You cannot tell what you are; that is no merely earthly fire that burns in your blood. If you want to see what you may become go to the madhouse. It is an awful church, it is a terrible sanctuary; but if you want to see what you are made of go to the madhouse, into its very vilest and most appalling quarter, where no wise word is spoken, where no noble look ever illumines or elevates the human face, where no prayer to heaven is ever spoken, where there is violence extreme, cruelty only kept from its proper issues and outcomes by iron and granite, and all the forces of the most watchful civilisation. Pick out the worst specimen of that madness, and see yourself in those eyes of fire and those cheeks livid with excitement, and in that whole frame shaken and torn by passions that cannot be controlled. I am afraid you have been too daintily reared: I tremble lest you are the victims of your own respectability. There is no respectability in the sight of God. We see the contrast between the madman and the philosopher. That contrast is nothing as compared with the contrast between the sinner and what God meant him to be when he made him a Prayer of Manasseh, and that appalling contrast is for ever in the sight of him that made us.
When I take this view of human nature, which is the only fundamental and profound view, all others being shams and tricks of an inventive immorality, I see our need of Christ. The doctor can heal my skin, the nurse can cool my brow, a friend may be able to lull me to momentary sleep in which I may forget my troubles; but when it comes to the point of agony, and I see the heart as it really Isaiah, and feel it as if it were on fire of hell, then I know that no water can quench it, but only blood can answer the great distress. You may whiten the sepulchre, you may make the outside of the cup and platter clean, you may look good to the eye that rests upon the skin, but to the eye that reads the inner life and sees every filament of your heart—to that eye we are wounds and bruises and putrefying sores.
The physiologist tells me that in every two square inches of the human brain there are two hundred million of fibres, each of which can receive a mental impression. I am lost in these astronomical figures. A hundred million of fibres in one square inch of the human brain! No theologian told me that, but the physiologist, a man whom everybody is ready to believe. That these should be kept for one hour is surely the supreme miracle of heaven. That these should be wrong and think amiss, and move the whole life in a forbidden direction, what is it but a tragedy that might make all heaven rain oceans of tears? It is a terrible thing to live, it is an appalling thing to be a man; there is but a step between the best of us and madness—yea, they who make psychology a study tell us that thin is the veil that separates genius from insanity.
There are people who would rather have devils in the land than have Jesus Christ. The whole city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him they besought him that he would depart out of their coasts. The devils have to ask their places at Christ"s hand: their power of trespass is great, but it never impairs the divine dominion over them. "Do not drive us out of the country, suffer us to go into the swine, tell us where we have to be;" and he says, "Back." He orders them behind: like hounds that are afraid of his voice they make way for him. No man had passed that way before; when the Son of man passes that way he clears a space for himself. You have seen "Christ leaving the Prætorium"? The dominant idea of that grand picture to me is that as he comes down the steps the whole space enlarges to let him through—nothing comes within touch of him. Somehow the great painter has thrown back the space and given him room enough to show the King in.
Now that his great conquest is completed the people who had lost their swine came to him and besought him that he would depart out of their coasts. It was not impiety; it was a great fear. There are some people who can only live in the commonplace; who hide themselves in the cellar when it thunders and lightens. They could do with a great excitement in the neighbourhood if it were far enough off, somewhere among the tombs, with a noise now and then caught in the wind that made them get closer together; but the great fear that came into their hearts when Jesus came was too much for them, their commonplace was rudely shaken, and they could not live in the excitement of such a presence. It is one of two things with this Christ when he comes into a place: it is deadly fear or infinite rejoicing: he is a savour of death unto death, or of life unto life. He never comes in merely as a respectable citizen a few inches higher than his neighbours: when he comes the land cowers in great fear or lifts itself up in jubilant delight and religious rapture. Do not believe in your Christianity if your hearts are cold. Christianity is nothing if it be not the supreme passion of life. If Christianity does not put everything else down and set its regal foot upon them, you have only entered into the letter, you have not come under the inspiration and blessed dominion of its spirit.
Are there not those who beseech Jesus Christ to depart out of their coasts because of the effect of high religious conviction and noble Christian sentiment? Are there not persons who put trade above man? What is a man compared to a good balance-sheet? What does it matter what becomes of the man if the master is all right? What do I care what becomes of my servant if I am happy? Of what concern is it to me what becomes of the weak so long as I am strong? There are cases which come before me as a public man which cannot come before you in your strictly private capacity, which make me weep with sadness, and I blame some of you for some cases of oppression and distress which disfigure and debase our civilisation: I include myself in the waiting curse. That women should be sitting and making twelve of your carpet bags for eighteenpence, that women should be standing day by day behind the counter till their limbs swell and blacken and they can stand no longer, that women should be made to decorate your apparel at wages which will not give them one single hour of relaxation or wholesome country air—what is this but preferring devils to Christ? I do not know where the wrong Isaiah, altogether: it is not a wrong you can lay your fingers upon and throttle, it is a widespread wrong, and nobody is responsible. Doth not he that pondereth the heart consider? When he maketh inquisition for blood will he not identify this and that man and yonder fine lady and demand the price? It is not an easy question; there are faults on many sides, and probably the whole fault cannot be accumulated and set down at any one man"s door. Therefore I would speak with forbearance as to the direct application of these doctrines in particular instances, but do not let us run away from the solemn fact that there are people in the world who would set trade above man.
There are those who calculate the expense of social regeneration, there are journals that calculate how much the missionary societies have expended, how many conversions they can trace, and they have divided the one set of figures by the other. What can you expect from such men? Incapable of religious enthusiasm, they are incapable of social justice. There are those who would ask how many swine there were and how many men were cured, and they would divide the one set of figures by the other, and talk about the statistical result. I hold that if one soul can be converted in this house, it was worth building the place for, if it should be burnt down today. We should work for men; our whole passion should be human; if one poor little child could say to me, "Till your church was built I never knew Christ: having come to it I see him now to be fairest among ten "thousand and altogether lovely, and I give myself right to him, if he will take so unworthy a thing"—if that could be the result of this ministry, it was worth all the trouble and all the money, ten thousand times ten thousand over and over again, and multiplied by the number of all the stars of heaven. Let us take this view of our work. It is something to enliven a human heart, to lighten one human burden, to dry one human tear. If I could have the joy of thinking that this had been done by any exposition of this narrative, whatever might be set upon the other side would be less than the small dust of the balance.
The people besought Christ that he would depart out of their coasts. They accorded him a negative treatment: they did not violently thrust him out, they courteously besought him that he would go away. I have more hope of those who violently treat him than of those who politely decline to have anything to do with him. You are sitting there today saying of yourself, "I have never made any profession of religion." The greater your shame. You have besought Jesus to depart out of your coasts: you have no high feeling against him, you never profaned his name by vulgar desecration; you attend a religious place of worship, but you make no profession of Jesus Christ"s name. You, on the other hand, say that you leave all religious questions alone. You have besought Jesus that he would depart out of your coasts intellectual, speculative, imaginative, practical, ideal. He is not within your coasts at all—you have besought him to go away.
Read the next verse in the next chapter. "And he entered into a ship and passed over." He may go then? Truly. We can get rid of him? Yes, yes. He will not be an eternal torment? No. He will not always strive with me—I can shake him off? Yes, you can—will you? I can banish him? Yes, yes—you can stab him to the heart, you can spit upon him, you can smite him on the head, you can crucify him, you can get rid of him—but if you do get rid of him do not come at last and beg to be admitted into the heart that you have wounded. Be consistent throughout. Will you get rid of him? Come, say, "My Lord, my God, cast the devils out of me, make me a sanctuary, a living temple—abide with me." That is the better course. Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation.
Come into our house, Jesus, and dine there, and sup there, and stop the night there, all the night, the life-night, till the day dawn and the shadows flee away.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Matthew 8". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Easter