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Almighty God, thou art very good, else why do the sons of men live before thee? Their hands are stretched out in rebellion, their feet are swift to run in ways of evil, and their hearts are as chambers of imagery in which they commit daily idolatry. Yet dost thou spare them as if thou hadst need of them, thou dost not sweep them off the face of the earth, thou dost continue their generation from age to age. Surely thou dost remember thy covenant, and thine oath is not forgotten in heaven; thou dost keep the seasons on their wheels, never dost thou stop the gracious procession spring and summer and autumn and winter, seed-time and harvest thou hast ever given unto the sons of men, nor hast thou drowned their earth again with water, nor burned it with infinite conflagration. Behold thou dost surely love us, and in thine heart is a secret place for the children of men. Thou didst create us in thine own image and likeness; we bear the superscription of God; we are ruined indeed, but in our ruins are traces of majesty. Surely thou wilt redeem us, though it be at great cost; in our redemption thou wilt not spare the blood of thine own heart; thou shalt see of the travail of thy soul and be satisfied, and with a great inbringing shalt thou draw the nations near and unite them in one offering of praise. We cannot see how this is to be done, the horizon is full of clouds, the whole firmament is charged with thunder, the earth is out of course, and the foundations are shaken we cannot tell how thou wilt do this miracle, but thou wilt do it, for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. Thou dost not take again thy words, thou dost not cause thy promises to evaporate, thou dost redeem thy word and turn thy promises into the facts of human history.
We therefore renew our faith, we relight the lamp of our hope, even in the sanctuary itself, and with thy holy book open before us we take heart again, and proceed to do what duty and service we can, knowing that those servants are blessed who shall be found waiting and working for their Lord. Thou hast done wondrous things for thy Church: her stones thou hast laid with fair colours, and her foundations with sapphires, her windows have been of agates, and her gates of carbuncles no treasure hast thou spared, the whole of thy treasures have been gathered around thy Church to make her beautiful as the Lamb's bride. Continue thy gracious work, give grace upon grace, withhold not thy Holy Spirit; by still mightier inspirations and still further baptisms of grace, do thou work in thy Church and upon it, until it shall be without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, a glorious Church, a lamp lighted by the Lord's hand.
We bless thee for all thy Fatherly, Motherly, Shepherdly care. Our house is still standing, the fire is still burning, and the table is still spread. The little child is in the cradle, and the old man in the arm-chair, and the window is full of light, and the birds gather around the roof to sing their summer song. Thou dost give us meat in desert places, and water in sandy deserts: thou dost go before us and make footprints on the road lest we go in the wrong path, and stumble and fall. The very hairs of our head are all numbered, thou dost count our heart-beats, thou dost beset us behind and before and lay thine hand upon us, and no good thing dost thou withhold from our life. Thou dost always give an additional blessing, thou art always giving, thou livest to give, thou didst give thine only-begotten Son, and this is our pledge and covenant that all else shall be imparted to us.
Help us to understand our life and our calling, and to arise as those who are called by the master in the morning, to do a long day's work, with all heartiness and cheerfulness. Make a man of the weakest of us, turn the sick of the palsy into one able to carry with ease his own bed, rouse the lethargic and the indifferent, make the young zealous of thy glory, inflame them with the fire of heaven, and may they this day consecrate themselves at the open altar, with oaths that cannot be recalled.
Comfort the aged with tenderest solaces, speak a word to ears that are deaf to all voices but thine own, and may thy gentleness make us great and thy forbearance give us heart again every day. Regard the sick, the afflicted, the incurable, the broken-hearted: look upon those who are withdrawn from the crowd and strife of life and put aside that they may know the bitterness of affliction and the keenness of mortal pain: they long to be amongst their fellow-creatures, to carry higher the banner of the heavens, and to take part in all the beneficent activities of life; but thou hast laid burdens upon them which crush their strength, and thou hast stabbed them with pains which keep them in the shadow. O thou who dost as thou wilt no angel strong enough to hold back thine arm thou wilt not keep back the grace from those to whom thou hast shown sore distress.
We pray that every hospital may become as a sacred church this day, that all the wards in which are found the sick and the ailing may be visited as it were by angels from heaven who shall speak gospels and consolations to those who are hidden in the darkness, and who are unable to exercise the functions of life.
Let the Lord's blessing be nigh us, and we shall have no fear, let God's light be in us, and we shall know no darkness, let the Lord bind us to the sacred cross, and altar of atonement, and our blackest sin shall have no power to torment our soul. Amen.
Christianity More Than An Argument
"And he entered into a ship and passed over and came into his own city." That does not tell us half the truth. A reference to this verse will show you the necessity of reading the Scriptures through, and of paying attention not to the text only, but to the context. Anybody would think, from reading this first verse, that Jesus had, upon his own will and motion, returned into his own city: we should have no hesitation in coming to the conclusion that Jesus did this because he wanted to do it or had willed so to do. Is there not a caused Refer to the verse which concludes the previous chapter if you would find the key of the verse which opens the ninth chapter. "Behold the whole city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him they besought him that he would depart out of their coasts, and he entered into a ship and passed over." Now the whole case is before you. You thought he came away spontaneously, whereas the fact is he was driven out. He never leaves the human heart of his own will; he never said to any one of you, "I have been here long enough, I must now leave you to yourself."
But you tell me that Jesus Christ is no longer with you, you say you sigh to think of happier days, you recall the hour when Jesus Christ was the only guest of your heart, and now you mourn that he is no longer present in the sanctuary of your consciousness and your love. He never left of his own accord. I cannot allow your mourning to go without one or two sharp and piercing inquiries. How did you treat him did his presence become a shadow in the life was his interference burdensome did he dash some cups of pleasure from your hands did he call you to sacrifices which were too painful for your love? Search yourselves and see. I never knew him leave a human heart because he was tired of it, weary because he had expended his love upon it but I have known him whipped out, scourged away, entreated to go, banished.
"And he entered into a ship and passed over and came into his own city." How he looked as he did so! No picture can ever tell us how the eyes fell upon the dust in shame for those who had desired his banishment. How his heart quivered under a new and sharp pain as he realised that he was indeed despised and rejected of men! How he felt as his good deeds became the occasion of a desire on the part of those who had seen them to send him away from their coasts! This is a mystery on which there is no light. Do not imagine that you began the story with the first verse of the ninth chapter. It is true that Jesus entered into a ship and passed over, but it is also true that the people besought him that he would depart out of their coasts. So when my heart is empty of his presence and I wonder whither he has gone, I will revive my recollection, I will command my memory to be faithful and to tell me the white truth, the candid fact, and when it speaks it will shame me with the intolerable reminiscence that I besought him to go. Let us be honest, or we shall never be healed, let us face the stern, fierce facts of life, or we shall make no progress in purity or in spiritual knowledge.
"And behold they brought unto him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed, and Jesus, seeing their faith------" Is it possible for faith to be greater than the palsy? Are such miracles wrought in the consciousness of man? Does the soul ever rise in its original majesty and put the body down? Sometimes. Is it possible for the will to be so inflamed and inspired to rise above the palsy and to say, "I am master!" I like such flashes of the divinity that is within us. We are too easily cowed; our physicians complain that our will does not co-operate with their endeavours, so that we too easily go down. There is something in us that can conquer the palsy. I cannot gather together all the subtle influences which make up the present economy of things, but again and again in the history of others, and now and then in my own history, I have seen such a rising up of the inner nature as has said to the body, "I am master." I magnify these occasional revelations of the latent force of a kind of suppressed divinity, until I see death dead, the grave filled up, and the whole universe full of life.
Magnify all the best hints of your nature; be ready to accept suggestions of new power; never take the little and dwindling view of your life. If now and then your heart leap up like sparks of fire in prayer seize every one of them. That is where your grandeur is; that is your true self. Caught in some mean conception, conscious of some unworthy fancy know that that is the leper that has to be healed. Caught in some rapture of worship, some sweet desire for heaven know that that is the angel that is in you, and that by and by nothing shall be left in you but the angel, the true spirit, conqueror through him who wrought its redemption.
"And Jesus, seeing their faith------" That was just like him. He always sees the best of us; he never takes other than the greatest view of our life and its endeavours. "And Jesus, seeing their faith." Shall we amend the text? "And Jesus, seeing their sectarianism." That would fill up a line better than faith; it is a longer word; it has more syllables in it; it fills the mouth better shall we put it in? "And Jesus, seeing their denomi-nationalism." There is a word that would almost make a line by itself. That word ought to have something in it; polysyllables ought not to be empty. "And Jesus, seeing their Congregationalism, their attachment to Episcopalianism, their deep love of Roman Catholicism." I fancy we cannot amend the text. We can take out the little word faith and put in the long words I have named: these would not be amendments: they would be spoliations; they would be blasphemies; they would belittle the occasion; they would taint it with a human touch. Let the word faith stand; it is universal; it is a cord that stretches itself around the starlit horizon; it touches those of you who belong to no sect, the dumb, the groping, the wondering, as well as the clear-minded and the positive as to religious principle and conviction.
Jesus Christ always startled his hearers by seeing something greater in them than they had ever seen in themselves, and always seemed to credit his patients with their own cure. He said, "Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole." He gave the woman to feel as if she had all the time been her own healer. And the broad and everlasting meaning of that assurance is that you and I have it in us at this moment to get the healing that we need. The physician is here; his prescription is written in syllables clear as stars, and in lines open as the heavens. What he waits for is our faith. Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief. Lord, increase our faith. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved. Be it unto thee according to thy faith. Believest thou that I am able to do this? There is something then for us to do. Find it out and do it, and God will be faithful to his word.
"And Jesus, seeing their faith, said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee." But this was a question of the palsy: the man had not come as a religious inquirer, had he? I was not aware that Jesus was sitting down somewhere for the purpose of holding religious conversation with people. This man is sick of the palsy; he cannot move a limb; it requires four people to carry him; and Jesus Christ gives a religious turn to the event. We want this sick man healed; we do not want to hear anything about sins; we are not religious inquirers, we are afflicted men. How we do belittle everything we touch! if we pluck a flower it dies. Jesus Christ said, "All these afflictions have a common root: sin is the explanation of every scab on that leper's brow; and look at the trembling in that paralytic: sin drove the sight from those eyes, and the hearing from those ears, and the strength from those anklebones. This is the accursed work of sin." He is a fundamental Teacher; he does not treat symptoms; he treats the central and vital cause which expresses itself in symptoms so patent and so distressing.
This is the great lesson which the world is so unwilling to receive. Give us Acts of Parliament, give us better houses for this class and for that class, give us better drainage and larger gardens and better ventilation, and we shall cobble the world up to stand on its rickety legs ten years longer. All these things are in themselves right enough: no sane man has one word to speak against them. If they be brought in, however, as causative, they must be rejected, they are collateral, they are cooperative, they are helpful, and in that sense they are necessary, but the world's stream will never be pure till the world's fountain has been cleansed. We think we can cure the world by officialism and by small sanitary pedantries, by congresses and conferences all these things have their place and their use, but until we get at the root, and core, and centre, and heart, we are as men who are throwing buckets into empty wells and drawing them up again. The world will not believe this, so the world has not yet risen and taken up its bed and walked.
"And, behold, certain of the Scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth." There again is the belittling which man does in all his interpretations. O, if the sermon could be equal to the text in all cases, what preaching we should have and what hearing! Christ said, "Thy sins are forgiven thee." The Scribes said, "This man blasphemeth." We always drag down what we touch: the day of rapture is gone, the sacred hour of enthusiasm has withdrawn itself, because we have besought it to depart. Men never speak in fire now: we have fallen upon an age of prudence, and word measurement, and we are tricksters in the uses of syllables and in the adaptations of phrases, and never get beyond the poor range of little speech, or utter as with the heart those sentences which are revelations. We like to hear the little mincing voice that dare not utter one word louder than another; we like to hear the multiplication table repeated every Sunday from the first line to the last; we like to keep within statistical proofs and references that have been scheduled and that can be verified. The great prophet of fire, Elijah, is gone were he to come again we would take him by the throat and thrust him into the dungeon.
The Scribes were right from their own point of view. It would have been blasphemy in any one of them to have spoken a noble word about anybody. There are some throats that were never made to emit one noble sound. There are men to whom prayers are lies, and revelations are delusions, and prophecies are but the witnesses of the weakness of their speakers. A man cannot hear above his own level. "He that hath ears to hear let him hear." Every dog has ears yes, but not to hear. Men carry the standard of judgment within them; from the little man the little judgment, from the great man the noble criticism, from the divinest, the divinest love. It is better to fall into the hands of God than into the hands of men.
"And Jesus, knowing their thoughts " See how he never relinquishes the spiritual line in all this incident. Jesus seeing their faith that was a spiritual perception: Jesus seeing their thoughts there is the same power of working mental miracles. He reads our minds; there is no curtain made yet by human hands, how cunning soever, that can shut out those eyes. He understands every pulsation of the heart, he reads every motion of the will, all things are naked and open to the eyes of him with whom we have to do. The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth sometimes the universe seems to me to be all eyes; I am surrounded by eyes of fire. All speech seems to sum itself into one pregnant sentence "Thou God seest me."
Do not lightly pass over these words, for they open the great sphere of the menial miracles performed by Jesus Christ. We are accustomed to read about his physical miracles and to doubt them. Any Scribe can doubt. It is no great thing to doubt The doubter never did anything for the world; the doubter never put one stone upon another. The world is indebted to its faith for its life and for its progress. Jesus not only cured the palsy, he read thoughts: already he begins to forecast the day when physical miracles shall depart, and the miracles that shall astound shall be heart-readings, and heart-companionships and spiritual revelations, and moral opportunities and destinies. We live in that dispensation now; miracles of an ordinary and outward kind have all gone, but the miracles of the Holy Ghost are being performed every day.
"For whether is easier " It would appear for I regard this statement as elliptical that some thought had occurred to the mind of the Scribes that it was easy enough to say, "Thy sins be forgiven thee," but the thing to do was to cure the man of the palsy. It was easy to talk blasphemies, but what about performing the cure? There was a kind of self-gratulation as they suggested that Jesus Christ had taken the easy course of talking blasphemies and letting the substantial thing that was to be done alone, so he says, "Whether is easier to say, 'Thy sins be forgiven thee,' or to say 'Rise and walk'?" The Scribes committed the mistake which the whole world has ever since been repeating. Where is there a man who does not think of every intellectual effort as quite easy? It is very difficult for a man to walk upon a tight rope across a river that is something amazing worth a shilling to look at, but for any man to preach why, of course that is easy enough: any fool can do that: everybody knows that anybody can preach a sermon! To suggest a thought, to flash an idea upon the intellectual horizon any man in a family who is good for nothing else can do that.
We always send the imbeciles into the Church. To go into the army requires a man, and to go into the navy requires a kind of man and a half, and to go into the law requires a good many men, but to go into the Church why, the soft sap of a family will go into the Church. This is possible possible in relation to all the communions into which the great Christian Church is broken up. There are no doubt soft men and imbecile men in every pulpit in Christendom that is to say in every section of the Church in Christendom but do not understand that the intellectual is always so easy. It is sometimes hard work, even to preach. There are those who think the spiritual worthless. It is easy to give advice: nothing could be easier than to address oneself to spiritual necessities, and such service is worthless. Whoever thinks of paying a schoolmaster or a preacher?
There are those who think of religion as merely sentimental, as having no practical value in it; yet there is not a man amongst us who does not owe his social status to religion. You would never have had the customers that flock around your counter but for religion: you would never have got your debts collected but for religion; you would never have been saved from the gutter and the workhouse if an angel of religion had not come after you and brought you in. Religion is not a coloured cloud, an evaporating sentiment, it is a most practical factor in the creation and redemption and sanctification of human life.
"And when the multitude saw it, they marvelled and glorified God." Trust to the great broad human instincts, and do not ask the Scribes what they think. Take your case to the Scribes and say, "Gentlemen, what is your learned opinion about this man's cure?" and they, having rolled themselves round and round in the thickest bandages of the reddest tape, begin to consider. I have faith in broad human instincts: I will not altogether withdraw from our proverbial sayings Vox populi vox Dei I know the crowd has been wrong, I know the mob has been out of the way again and again (I am not speaking of mere crowds or mere mobs: I am speaking of the average human instinct all over our civilisation), yet it answers the true voice in the long run, it knows the right man, it knows the right cures, it knows the right books. That human instinct is the next best thing for our guidance to divine inspiration. Make friends of the people, and let little cliques and coteries rot in their own isolation.
Observe the course which Jesus Christ takes, "But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sin. Arise, take up thy bed and go into thine own house." We must sometimes prove our religion by our philanthropy. Sometimes a man can understand a loaf when he cannot master an argument; sometimes a man can understand a kind action done to his physical necessities when he cannot comprehend or apply the utility of a spiritual suggestion; you do not relinquish the ground that the spiritual is higher than the material when you accommodate yourself to the man's weakness and say to him in effect, "You cannot understand this spiritual argument, therefore I will come down to your ground and do what you can understand." Thus the Church must often prove its religion by its philanthropy. The world cannot understand our creed, but the world can understand our collection. There are masses of men in London today who could really not understand what I am en deavouring to expound: it is beneath them, or above them, or beyond them, but they will be perfectly able to ascertain what we have done for cases of necessity that may now be appealing to our liberality.
This is God's method of proving his own kingdom and claim. "The goodness of God," the Apostle says, "should lead us to repentance." Every good gift given to the body and given to society is an angel that should lead us in a religious direction. God says to us every day, "That ye may know how to care for your souls, I will show you how to care for your bodies." Now what has he done for the body? Look at that lamp he has lighted, now shining as the southern zenith: look at the meadows he has spread and the gardens he has drawn around our habitations: look at the loving air, the hospitable summer, the abundant autumn, the restful sleep of the winter and if he has done so much for the body, he says, "But that ye may know what I would do for your mind, for your soul, for your higher faculties, I give you these witnesses, that you can lay your hand upon and examine for yourselves."
It is an argument I cannot refute, it is an appeal I would gladly obey.
Almighty God, we have heard of thine anger, but we have not felt it; surely thou hast shown unto us only thy love, and made thy goodness to touch us with its gentle hand. We have heard of thy fire, but it hath not scorched us; we have been warmed by thy summer sun. Thou hast been to us a God of love and tenderness, thine eyes have been full of the tears of pity, in thine heart has been the yearning of a great compassion. Truly thou hast now and again given us one night of weeping, but the tears endured but for the night; they vanished in the morning; then thou didst come to us with renewed tenderness, gentler than ever, as if thou wouldst make the night of trouble the beginning of a better and brighter time.
We will speak of the goodness of the Lord, and our memory concerning his mercy shall be vivid, and we will sing unto the Lord of mercy and of judgment, for thy ways concerning us have been ways of compassion, and thy righteousness has been attempered to our weakness. Wherein we have desired to be better, thou hast not scourged us with reproach; when tears of pity have risen to thine eyes, we have been encouraged to draw nearer to thee. Behold thou dost welcome us at the cross, on the cross we see the manifestation of thy tenderest heart-love, and there we meet thee, having broken thy law, having insulted thy Spirit, and there, by looking away from ourselves to the slain Lamb, the one sacrifice, the infinite atonement, we receive thy pardon, and into our hearts there comes the hush of an infinite peace.
We bless thee for all these revelations of thyself; they startle us, yet afterwards they give unto us the utterest comfort. For a moment they amaze and confound us, and gradually they settle down into the guests of our heart that enlighten and warm and cheer it. Evermore do thou grow upon the vision of our love, fill the whole horizon of our life, shut out every other figure, and destroy the light of every other attraction.
Abide with us, loving Father, loving Son: abide with us, thou Spirit of life and Spirit of fire. We mourn our sin; it is the tale we tell to every sunset, and it is the tragedy we renew with every sunrise. Our very breathing is sin, our every look is a blasphemy, our every thought is stained with evil or imprisoned within the compass of the mean earth. We are wanting in purity and in nobleness and spiritual freedom, we are the slaves of sin if the chain be broken in the morning it is riveted anew at night. God be merciful unto us sinners. Thou art still making us, thou art still making man, thou art still redeeming us whilst the cross stands the great redemption proceeds. Thou wilt have us in thy holy keeping; thou hast not brought us to this hour of life that thou mightest put a knife through our heart and cast us away as worthless ones: thou hast not extended the miracles of thy grace upon us that we might be trodden under foot and forgotten of the universe; thy purposes towards us are good; thy meaning is inspired by love; thou hast called us and sealed us and inspired us with holiest hope, and thou wilt not at the last let us drop from the height of the very heavens.
We commend one another always to thy gentle care. When we are weakest, then do thou love us most; when we are furthest away, then do thou hasten with quickened speed after us, lest we pass the final line and can no more be found. The Lord make our infirmity the ground of his kindness, then shall his mercy endure for ever. Pity us in our littleness, for we are still in the dust; regard our infirmities with tender compassion, for we are still far from home. Show us thy wonders in the wilderness and shape the stones of the desert into a temple. Give us holy desires after thyself, create in every heart a mighty prayer, let every soul go out after thee like a bird that would find the sun.
Remember all for whom we ought to pray our sick ones at home, the old man dying, the tender mother pining, the little child all but passing away from the earth it hardly knows, the prodigal, lost of men, beyond every eye but the piercing mercy of thy love, the soldier, the sailor, the traveller on the sea and on the land let thy mercy go out after all these and thy blessing be upon them according to their several necessities. Omit none from thy benediction.
Bless the land we love the most, and our rightful sovereign the Queen. Guide our legislators and direct our leaders; teach our judges judgment and give them the spirit of wisdom and of mercy. Prosper all honest commerce, help every honourable man to gain his bread in plentifulness with a clean heart and a spotless hand. The Lord look upon all our educational institutions; sanctify the efforts that are made there to enlarge, enlighten, and cultivate the human mind; hasten the time when every one who can sing shall sing thy praise with a loud and cordial voice, when all who are practised in high arts shall turn every beauty and every grandeur towards thy heavens as an offering of love.
The Lord hear us: we shall be gone to-morrow: we have already seen those who have gone before waving their farewells and telling us to come. Keep us back from evil thoughts, evil words, and evil deeds, establish us in a course of righteousness and nobleness, and bring us in thine own time the sooner the better, the longer, so must be thy will done and not ours to the green country, the verdant land, the sweet Paradise, the eternal summer. Amen.
9. And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew (Hebrew name Levi), sitting at the receipt of custom (at Capernaum), and he saith unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him.
10. And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat (called by Luke "a great feast") in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples.
11. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?
12. But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.
13. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous ("an ironical admission"), but sinners to repentance.
Calling to Discipleship
"And as Jesus passed from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew." This is a man's account of himself. Matthew is the writer of these words. Surely he was most modest, for I know not how his self-description could have been shortened. He simply describes himself as "a man named Matthew," and he says that Jesus saw him as such. There he understated the case. Imagination turns these sweet and modest words into great and noble enlargements of meaning. Jesus saw a man. Was he a registrar, numbering the people in ones and twos was he a mere statistician, putting down the human family in arithmetical figures? He saw a man he saw more than we mean by that term, he saw that term in all the fulness shall I say in all the tragedy? of its meaning. He saw the ideal man, he saw the possible man, he saw the undeveloped acorn, he saw the germ out of which might come whole Bashans and Lebanons of strong growths.
How easy to pass a man and how readily it comes to our tongue to call some persons nobodies. We are given to the black art of contempt, we take pride in it, we say, "This man is little, and that man is contemptible, and yonder man is nobody," and we hurl our depreciatory adjectives at all and sundry whom we do not care for. Therein we show the little side of our nature. Every man is of some account, every man is somebody; it takes a Christ to warm us into our best consciousness, it takes a look from those eyes in which the summer shone to warm us into encouragement. Some are soon snubbed, they are easily put down a frown will send them away backward for a whole week: they can only live in approbation, in the sunshine of kind judgment. When Jesus Christ looks upon a man, he looks him into a nobler manhood. He wants to look at you why do you avert your face? Turn ye, let your faces meet, and you will never forget his look.
He was a man named Matthew: that name is the only foothold which the writer of this gospel claims for himself in human history. We cannot tell what we write when we write a man's name; it is nothing to us but something to go by, a mere handle or convenience, a sound that is an identity, pointing to a particular individual. But the giving of that name took a whole day in the family long since: it was canvassed, it was made matter of reference, it was carefully balanced with other possible appellations, it was prayed over, it was something snatched from the grave that superior excellence might be remembered, that kind memories might be vivified through the generations to come. Yet how foolishly people name their children, and with what utter ignorance they send them forth with appellations the most misleading, and sometimes involving the most cruel irony or the most laughable burlesque!
It would be an interesting study to collect the Bible names and to go into the reasons why those names were given, and then to show the contrasts and discrepancies between the names and the characters of those who bore them. Our mother Eve said, "I have gotten a man from the Lord: call him Cain." He was gotten from the Lord, but did he ever go back to the Lord? and it is difficult to think that the Lord ever had anything to do with some men. Who can tell? The times are sadly out of joint: there certainly be ironies in our individuality that would seem to exclude the hand of providence from our formation and direction. Yet the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. We are lost: he is in quest of us can we help him to find us?
"I will," said the daughter of Pharaoh, "call him Moses, because I drew him out of the water." So are our names given: they are monumental names or memorial names: they represent affection, interest, kindness. No child was ever purposely called by the name of a bad man. The wicked have no real friends: there be many eagles that pluck them, there are no angels that bless them. Did you call your child by his name because it was the name of a drunkard? Did you reason thus with yourself, saying, "My little girl shall bear the name of a woman who was notoriously bad and because she was notoriously bad "? Have I not heard you reasoning just contrariwise and saying, "We will call this child after his good old grandfather, we will call this little girl after her sweet mother, we will call this boy after the name of some illustrious character in history"? When did any man ever go up to the upas tree and pluck one of its deadly twigs and put it into his child's hand to be known by through the handful of his days? O bad man, nobody likes you: they may smile upon you because they have not yet got the last shilling out of your pocket: they may give you guest room in the house because they cannot decently thrust you into the appropriate kennel but nobody loves you. The memory of the wicked shall rot, the candle of the wicked shall be put out. Only goodness would we immortalise. There is still left in this poor nature of ours that strange instinct to preserve the beautiful; we would crush the poisonous adder; who would willingly slay the singing bird, so blithe, so modest?
"Saul, who is also called Paul." Thus men like to shuffle off the old name, because they have put away the old character. It is in our power, under the blessing and special call of God, to put away our old names. It is the prerogative of God to give each of us a new name, not the name that was sprinkled upon our brow in the baptismal drops, but a name written on the forehead by an invisible finger, and visible to none but the Giver. Have we received the new name? Do we carry the new white stone? Is our brow sanctified and ennobled by a writing not to be read by vulgar eyes, but to be seen by every angel flying in the midst of heaven? is a solemn question. Every man must give his own reply.
"And as Jesus passed forth from thence, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom." In other words he was going about his daily business. He was found, he was sought out, he represents a special class of the Christian elect, of the Christian believer and worker. He was following a despised occupation. There are despised occupations now, there are occupations which never can be forgiven, and that can be said in free England, and in republican France, and in democratic America. There are some trades we recoil from, and yet we are Christian professors and citizens of no mean city. But there are some occupations we would not mention if we could help it. A man who is a chimney-sweeper; who would like to be a relative of his?
There are some of you who do not like to see your brothers when they are in their working clothes. You can do with them on a Sunday, when they have got their best garments on, but to think of your walking with some fine person, and to see your brother come up with his fustian jacket on, what an outlook you take upon the universe, what an inquiry flames into your face as if you were most astronomically disposed! There are no mean occupations, but there are some very mean occupants! I do not say that this occupation or that is the best possible in the world. I am not called upon to give any opinion as to the conflicting merits of occupations and professions, but I want to see the man through all the circumstances, as Jesus Christ never failed to do. The Pharisees called Matthew a publican, a tax-gatherer, a sinner, an alien. So was called Zaccheus, but when the turn came of Jesus Christ to speak about Zaccheus, he said, "He is a son of Abraham," and the little man stood up a king. It is so he talks about every one of us. When he sees the very least and meanest of us give a homeward look, he says, concerning such a looker towards the heavens, "He also is a son of Abraham."
"And he saith unto him, Follow me." Is that all? That is all. Is it not imperative? It is most absolute. When do kings say, "If you please "? Who ever goes to see the Queen by her special and humble desire? I have always noticed that when the Queen sends for any one, she commands them. Why, Jesus Christ seemed to have caught the trick of that high royalty. "Follow me," said he. Abolishing every mood and tense fancied and projected by the fertile brains of grammarians, he shut up human speech into the imperative mood. I like to hear his commands: they were softly spoken, but they were commands at the root and core of them.
He commands you and me just as absolutely today. "Follow me, come unto me." That is his gentle command, his imperial but compassionate edict. He never says, "Follow me, to do me any service that I cannot do without." He uttered the word, "Follow," with a tone which meant, "and you shall have all heaven for the following." The very imperativeness of the tone hides a gracious intent. This is no scourging tone that would drive men before it, it is the tone of a complete assurance and a sublime and indestructible purpose, an assurance of his own sufficiency to meet the need, and his purpose to cover all human necessity with the infinite fulness of his unutterable grace. Will you come?
He did not go to Matthew and raise him from the seat; he did not employ any mechanical powers for the purpose of drawing Matthew: he launched his word. It is an old way of his, it began with, "Let there be light, and there was light," as if light had been standing behind the chaotic mass, waiting for the word and could not move until that word was spoken. The Bible is full of commandments, but the commandments are not grievous, they are not the utterances of an arbitary will, but the subtle pleadings of a heart that lives for us, and that would seem to be unable to live without us.
"And he arose and followed him." How easy it is for some men to rise and follow Christ, as compared with others. They seem to fall into the way of faith: it is like bringing the sun to bear upon a bud that wants to open, and that is just waiting for light in order that it might unfold its deep and sacred beauty. It is so easy for some men to pray: they seem to be walking up a gentle green slope to meet God at the height of it. When other men try to pray it is like climbing up a rugged steep rock, some of the stones loose, and if you put your foot upon them you will fall. It is so easy for some men to do the act of benevolence: there are some persons to whom I dare not state a case of necessity, because while I am stating it they are putting forth the hand to relieve it, and others need long pleading and much pressure and detail, the utterance of which becomes a sheer cruelty to the man who has to speak it, before they can advance the smallest testimony of their regard for human suffering.
It is so easy for some people to go to church: they like it, they wait for Sunday; when they open their eyes upon the Sabbatic light they say, "Thank God, this is the King's day."
"And it came to pass as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples." It was probably in Matthew's house. Matthew was, by all historical accounts, not a poor man, but one who could show hospitality of the kind indicated in this passage. The publicans and sinners came and sat down with Jesus: that was an unconscious tribute. How is it that we are drawn to some people, how is it that we know certain persons whom we never saw before in our lives, what is that singular mystery of kith and kin which we all realize when we have spoken to certain persons five minutes? I have watched the eye of poverty and the eye of grief and want, and I have done so this very morning. A poor creature was waylaying a few travellers, and one after another passed, and her keen and hungry eye saw nothing in them to which she could appeal. Then one I saw pass, and she said, "Pardon me, sir do not be offended------" How did she know to whom to speak? Is there a masonry of hearts? Are there signs in the face, are there gleamings in the eye, is there something in the walk, are we revelations to one another? Did any poor soul ever stop you to tell a tale of grief? Yes. Thank God for that interruption: it meant a great deal, such woe, hunger, pain and want as stopped you have eyes that can read the heart.
The publicans and sinners got round him as cold people get round a fire. They need no welcome in words: they are cold and here is the fire. If you felt the cold you would draw near to the great fire of Christ's love, and until you do feel it I can do nothing with you or for you but declare in ardent speech the excellence of One who would do you good if you would allow him.
"When the Pharisees saw it, they said, Why doth your Master eat with publicans and sinners?" This is a narrow criticism: it abounds in every time. All men have at least got thus far in the tormenting art of criticism they are able to find fault. He is indeed a remarkable imbecile who cannot find fault with somebody; he is indeed much neglected in his education who cannot find fault with any sermon he ever heard or with any person he ever saw. "Of all the cants that ever were canted in this canting world, though the cant of hypocrisy be the worst, the cant of criticism is the most tormenting."
How did Jesus reply to this narrow criticism? When Jesus heard that, he said, "They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy and not sacrifice I will have the reality and not the sham, I will have the thing meant and not mere words and tricks about it. God is a spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." So Jesus Christ lived in great principles, and so he lived above public opinion: he never lived in defiance of it. It is a poor criticism of our Lord's habit and manner amongst men to say that he defied public sentiment The true criticism would be that he lived above it, he dwelt in the sanctuary of great principles, he worshipped in the temple of universal benevolence. Any fanatic can defy public opinion, it requires the divinest of saints to enthrone himself above it and to move in his sublime course, impelled by divine inspirations and undegraded by human tempers or social flatteries.
Almighty God, do thou lead us into all the deeper truth, and save us from the narrowness and meanness of the letter. Give unto our hearts that keen vision which sees thee afar off, and knows the way that thou dost take, though it be hidden in much darkness and be not known to the carnal reason. We would be no longer children, tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine, but would be men in Christ Jesus, having maturity of understanding, largeness of knowledge, trueness and depth of sympathy, and the insight which is a continual revelation. Our aspirations are high and pure, and they are the creation of the Holy Ghost, and the prayer which thou dost inspire thou dost never forget to answer. We would see thee in the sanctuary, we would hear thy goings in all the providences of life, we would behold thy supreme beauty in the Holy Word help us to realise all these desires in the perfectness of their meaning, then shall our life enjoy a wide liberty, and before our spirits there shall shine an enchanting and contentful destiny.
We bless thee for all thy tender care, thy patience, so great as to be beyond our words to express; thy lovingkindness, thy tender mercy how shall we speak of these without taking from them the very bloom which is their charm? Yet must our hearts refer to them in continual delight, for they are the staff and the joy of our life, our great defence, our sure and eternal protection. Thou hast been mindful of us with infinite care; thou hast still continued unto us all that is precious; thou hast given unto us health and reasoning power, and a sense of responsibility; thou hast kindled within us lights which are not of the earth, and hopes which are not born of time. Thou hast not forgotten the wants of the body, as thou hast not neglected the cry of the soul; but we are what we are this day by the grace of God, and to that grace would we now awaken a loud sweet psalm, thanking thee with glowing hearts for all thy wondrous mercies and thy tender kindness.
Thou dost do with us as seemeth good in thy sight. We cannot alway tell what thou doest: seldom can we find out why thou doest it, but it is our delight to find our rest in thy power, wisdom, love, and in all the purposes of thine almightiness. We rest in God, we stand in God, we have every answer to every difficulty in God. Not our will but thine be done, for thy will is good and thy purpose is full of mercy. Undertake for us in all the way of life, we humbly beseech thee. When the wind is high and cold and the road is long and steep and lonely, when all things seem to be in conspiracy against our rest and hope, in the cloudy, dark day, in the starless, cheerless night, on the broad and sunny road, everywhere, on land and sea, in city and wilderness, do thou be at our right hand then shall we be almost in heaven. Save us from ourselves, protect us from every enemy, destroy the power of every delusion, lift us above the influence of every prejudice, open our souls to receive the whole light of heaven, and give unto our hearts the steadiness and the courage which can abide in the day of adversity and speak for God and truth in the time of darkness and trouble.
We give thee united and hearty thanks for all thy tender mercies: as heads of houses, as fathers and mothers and children and servants, we unite in blessing thee for household gifts, for all domestic protection and comfort; as men whose lot is cast in the world, whose every day sees a battle, and whose every night is broken by sleeplessness, we bless thee that amidst it all we have the shining of thy countenance and the assurance of thy presence and benediction.
Hear us when we pray for those who are not able to be with us and to unite in common prayer. For the sick, for the dying, for the wounded and lonely, for the traveller by sea and land, for all for whom we ought to pray, and after whom our love goes out in searching and sacred desire the Lord's blessing be multiplied upon them all, brighter than the summer noonday, tenderer than the dews of the morning.
The Lord help us now to study his word: may we turn over its pages with modest fingers and look into the writings with reverent hearts. May our whole spirit be attuned to the purposes of thy gracious revelation. As for our sin, we know where to bring it; we bring it to the great cross of Christ; we behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world by whom we have received the Atonement. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin: bowing before his cross, trusting to his sacrifice, looking to his ministry, each of us would desire to say with all the urgency of his heart, "God be merciful to me a sinner." Amen.
The Spiritual Law
Jesus Christ was always pestered by little questions. It is very seldom, if ever, that you hear a great inquiry propounded to him. Why eat with publicans and sinners? Why eat with Unwashed hands? Why heal on the Sabbath-day? Why not fast more? These were the small enquiries by which those who were immediately around him and were observing him critically or in partial sympathy belittled every occasion. A man is known by the questions he asks. Whoever asks any great question concerning the Bible? Be assured that he who asks the great question gets the great answer, and be not surprised if, in reply to our little and superficial enquiries, we receive shallow and disappointing replies. What is our question when we open the sacred book?
The persons who put this enquiry were honest men. They were not Pharisees, they were the disciples of John, and their question was, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?" These people represented those persons who have only got so far as the gospel of abstention. Many of us are at that point, the very first and meanest in the Christian life. Our Christianity consists in not doing things. It is a necessary point in our higher culture: no man can work up the line which has upon it the grim rough words, "Thou shalt not." Yet the purpose of Jesus Christ is to lead us away from the negative gospel and virtue of abstention into the glorious gospel of ample and lifelong liberty.
You find persons whose virtue consists in abstention from vice: it is a kind of minus quantity, it is the mere negation of wrong. They will not eat, they will not drink, they will not pursue this pleasure, nor will they follow after that delight, they will not be seen in such and such company that is their lean and most puny virtue. It is necessary, it is part of the education, but a man ought not always to rest there. Virtue is positive, religion is emphatic, the true spirit is one of liberty. The question, therefore, which we should put to ourselves every day is, how far are we yet in the prison of the letter, and what advancement have we made into the kingdom of liberty? True virtue would, of course, consist in being able to go round the whole circle of legitimate pleasures and yet to keep that circle in its proper place. He has grown up into the fulness of Christ who can sit down with publicans and sinners, who can touch pitch and not be denied, who can take up serpents and play with them, and can drink any deadly thing and it shall not hurt him; but who has attained that height? That is the grand liberty that is yet to be realised. They shall take up serpents, and the serpents shall have no power over the hand that grasps them, and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them, the soul shall be so much better than the body, the mind shall have lofty lordship over that which is physical, and the spiritual shall triumph over the material. That is the line along which our education has to proceed. Do not scourge it unduly, do not hasten it with the impetuosity which is not wise. The most of us are yet virtuous simply because we are not so vicious as we might be.
"Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?" Religion is enjoyment, religion is associated with wedding bells and wedding feasts, and wine drinking, and high delight, and infinite liberty, and cloudless sunshine. He who binds it down to other ideas forces an eagle into a mean cage and bruises its noble wings with iron weapons. He, of course, would be the grand Christian who made every day holy alike, whose Saturday was so holy that his Sunday could not possibly be holier. But we have not yet attained that spiritual excellence, therefore some of us are obliged to set apart one day in the week and to say concerning it, "This day is sacred to religious purposes: we will call it day of rest, day of prayer, day of hope." When we have completed our Christian education, there will be only one day in the week, and its name will be the Sabbath day, the Lord's day, every moment a jewel, every breath a waft from heaven, every exercise nobler than prayer, even as noble as praise.
Sometimes this high ideal of religion is unduly forced upon us by thoughtless people, as if it were attainable and realisable here and now by every professing Christian. Let me protest against such undue urgency. We are travellers, and therefore we go one step at a time. We are mounting a ladder, and the rule is, one round at once; when we get to the top the ladder may be burned, for we have mounted to the very sanctuary of infinite liberty; but whilst we are climbing let no man cut one round out of the ladder; every round is part of the trying, solemn, but most salutary discipline of life. When we have attained the fulness of Christ's purpose, and are all shut up in the wedding chamber, eating and drinking with him from morning till night at the great festal board, then all our money will be sacred; but just now some of us are obliged to put away into God's basket God's portion: we are so thievish we should steal it if we did not seal it up on the Saturday: our fingers have got the felonious movement, and they would take that money if we did not seal up and stamp it as God's. Do not despise, therefore, the man who is yet in the narrow gospel of abstention and whose virtue consists in not being vicious. He has undertaken a great lesson: the pages are very long and the print is very small, and therefore it is not often that we have to turn over. The great question we have to put to ourselves is whether we have got hold of the right book, whether we are animated by the right spirit in its perusal. If so, we shall come to its finis then as great and perfected scholars, we shall lay hold of the great liberty and shall be enfranchised among those who have no need of candle, or sun, or moon, for the light is from God, and it needs no intermediate atmosphere through which to come to us. That is our resting point: it is afar off, we are on the road, faint yet pursuing in that pursuit find your rest and hope.
If the disciples of John put a little question, Jesus gave a great reply. He was not answering them only, he was answering the spirit of all coming time. Herein you have the reason why sometimes a great answer was given to a small inquiry. The individuals who put the question spoke for themselves alone, expressed their momentary fretfulness or surprise, but Jesus Christ in every little question saw the enquiries that would fall upon his cause and kingdom through all time, and therefore he spread out his answer beyond the immediate occasion that elicited it. Hear this marvellous answer, struck from him in a moment. "Can the children of the bride-chamber mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast. No man putteth a piece of new cloth into an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse. Neither do men put new wine into old bottles, else the bottles break and the wine runneth out and the bottles perish, but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved." Christ's replies were all extemporaneous: never did he retire to consider any question that was put to him: the answer was plucked out of his eternity, it was always ready. If he could have paused for one moment he would have lost the crown of his deity. In the instancy of his replies was the fulness of his light: you had but to touch him with right fingers and you drew from him the healing virtue.
What then is his own notion of our union with him? The figure is beautiful. We are children of the bride-chamber, and he is the bridegroom, and we are gathered around a wedding table, and the air vibrates and dances under the thrill and shock of the wedding bells. "Fasting?" saith he; "it is a stranger to a scene like this, it is an anti-climax, it is an alien that cannot speak the language of this fair land." We are not called to gloom and mourning and falling of the head, nor are we summoned to take the bulrush and sackcloth and ashes. My Father's house is a bride-chamber, the sanctuary is a place where the wedding guests assemble, the temple of the Lord is the place where the life-wine is poured out in rivers for the soul's ample drinking. Child, young one, spirit of delight and hope, you thought the church was a gloomy place: if there is any gloom in it, blame the human fingers that brought it to the place. The high ideal of the church is joy in its keenest accent, pleasure without alloy, the very ecstasy and rapture of gladness. Christianity tell the world that her ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace. When Zion is looking round and considering what key-note she shall take, say unto her, "Rejoice, rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion."
Yet the Lord keeps us on the right lines for one swift moment, quicker than the twinkling of an eye. In this passage he directs attention to the highest point of joy, and then he descends to the common average line of life, and says, "But the days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast." Then they will base their ceremonies on reason, then the ceremonial observances of the church shall not be priestly tricks, for they shall come out of the heart's wound, out of the life's bitter grief; they shall not be calendared for punctual observance, according to the movements of the clock, but they shall express an inner, real, secret, profound, unutterable grief. When that black grief seizes thee, thou needest not turn to some man-written diary to know whether it is fast-day or not. Every heart will be its own calendar, every life will keep its own fasts, and no man needs ask the meaning of the dejection which shall then picture itself on the worn face. It shall bear so clearly the autograph of the heart, that no man, wayfaring or foolish, can misread such writing.
There are those who ask questions about fasts and feasts and new moons and special days mechanical scholars, mechanical Christians, technical purists, persons who need to go to ink-written paper to know what they have to do next. Is the bridegroom with you? If you can say "Yes," then eat and drink, yea eat and drink abundantly, and let your soul delight itself in fatness, whatever the calendar may say. Has the bridegroom gone is his chair vacant is his sunlike face no more the centre of the feast and the security of its delight? I need not exhort you to grief and mourning, the heart will know what to do: follow the intuitions of the heart in these matters, and then your ceremonies will not be tricks of the hand, but expressions of the inner life, your fasting and your feasting shall be accounted sacraments in Heaven.
Nor was the answer parabolically beautiful only, it was philosophically broad and true. No man putteth a piece of new cloth into an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse. You are not to be partly one thing and partly another: the left hand is not to be a Jew and the right hand a Christian. That is not Christ's idea of his own purpose and his own kingdom. We are one thing only. There are those that are least in the kingdom of heaven, and there are those that are greatest; but they are all in the kingdom of heaven; and he that is least in the kingdom of heaven, is greater than he that is greatest outside. You cannot be both Jew and Christian, both believer and unbeliever, both infidel and worshipper. You are the one or you are the other, and if you are trying to unite the two, then you will know by experience and loss that men who put new wine into old bottles lose both the bottles and the wine. What are you? Under whose banner do you come? Whose name do you bear? I ask not whether you are giants in the kingdom, but whether you are little children in the house, just breathing, crying, cooing, laughing, wondering, looking with eyes that are all wonder and but little vision. Let your hearts reply, and according to their answer let the exhortation come, for no other exhortation can touch the reality of the case.
Do not fast by rule, do not go to church because of mere custom, do not read the Bible according to the measurement which you have laid out. If you are still in the state of pupilage which requires such mechanical help, far be it from me to deny you the advantage of such assistance. Some of you will need to say you will read so much scripture today and to-morrow: if any of you have grown away from that mechanical arrangement, as I trust most of us have done, do not visit with severity of criticism your opinions upon those who have not attained your height of excellence. I cannot bind myself to read so many verses in the day, nor can I bind myself to fast on this day month. I must let the day bring its own religion, I must let the day deliver its own letters, I must let the day bring its own angels. I cannot forecast my religious doings and observances: to-morrow the bridegroom may have gone, and I shall not need you to tell me to fast: my head will sink, and in the chamber of the heart there will be a great vacancy and a fatal gloom. To-morrow he may come back, and this hand will thrust itself out to find the rope that rings the loudest bell. God make us all real, for reality is the glory of piety.
I am surprised that I find so good a stopping place in the seventeenth verse, yet the eighteenth verse opens in a way which constrains me to go on. "While he yet spake these things unto them------" Christ was a speaker that was often interrupted. Some of us meaner talkers cannot bear interruption; to be broken in upon is fatal to our lame speech, because we are not speakers, we are reciters or readers of a lesson, or performers of a trick. If we talked right out of the temple and sanctuary of our life, we could bear to have our speech punctuated by divers kinds of interruptions, and especially by those interruptions which called us to beneficent labour. "While he yet spake these things unto them," whilst there was wonder on the face of those who received the answer, whilst the air was still stirring with the vibrations of his sacred and revealing voice, whilst the question was yet under consideration, "behold there came a certain ruler and worshipped him, saying, My daughter is even now dead, but come and lay thy hand upon her and she shall live." We began with a little question, we come into a tragic prayer. Such, indeed, is the sharp transition of life. Now the great Teacher has to answer the technical enquiry, and now to recall the dead, and now to redeem the world.
The ruler's little child was twelve years old, and she was dead, yet he said, "Come and lay thy hand upon her and she shall live." " Thy hand" are not all hands alike? Is there a science of palmistry are there those who read the man in the hand are not all grips of the same intensity? Why say, "Thy hand" could no other hand be found? We are sometimes shut up to the help of one man, even in our lower life. "O for our own doctor: his very voice would do the patient good. O for our own physician: he knows just what to give when the sufferer is in this crisis of agony. O for our old mother: there was healing, there was comfort in her gentle hand. O for the old father if he had been here he would have found the key to open this gate. O for the old pastor that first showed us the light and brought us to prayer he would know what to say to us just now." We have, therefore, analogy to help us in this matter. In the great crises of life there is often only one hand that can help us. Thy right hand, O Lord, is become glorious in power. The right hand of the Lord doeth valiantly. In thy hand is both honour and might.
The good hand of my God be upon me. Out of whose hand do you take your daily food? Thou openest thine hand and satisfieth the desire of every living thing. Lay thine hand upon us even when we are dead, and we shall live again. Dear hand, wounded hand, mighty hand, hand of the Loving One, lay it upon us, before us, behind us, round about us keep us in thine hand and let our names be written on its palm.
See the life of our Lord the bridegroom making all the children of the bride-chamber happy, intoxicating them with the sacred wine of his own joy, answering a little technical question and hastening to recall the dead to life: for we read, "And Jesus arose and followed him, and so did his disciples." When did he ever refuse the request of a broken heart? When did he ever say "No" to the contrite spirit? When did he ever pierce the up-turned eyes of contrition with sharp darts of rebuke? He arose and followed him like a servant. He made himself of no reputation, he took upon him the form of a slave and became obedient, obedient unto death, obedient unto the death of the cross. Not obedience in any of its reluctant forms or manifestations, but the utter, complete obedience that left nothing undone.
What is there in your house to-day is death there? Ask Jesus to go home with you, and you will have light at eventide. Is there a great grief at home today? Take Jesus with you and he will sanctify the bitter grief. Is the house very empty today, and cold, and lonely, and are you afraid to hear your own footfall within the unsympathetic walls? Take the guest with you he can break the bread, and make a feast of it in the breaking, and he will fill up every vacancy and make you glad, if not with immediate restoration, with a great hope that shall be more precious than any satisfaction that is possible within the bounds of time and space. With Christ in the house we have companionship, sufficiency, rest, thankfulness, hope and there is nothing else in heaven.
Almighty God, thou art wonderful in healing: there is none so wounded that he cannot be cured by thy touch or by thy word. Thou canst even heal the broken heart, and bind up with many balms the wounded spirit, which no hand of man can touch. Behold thou art very kind, thy patience is more than the long-suffering of our mother, and thy care is beyond all the wisdom of our father's understanding. Yet thou hast given us our father and our mother, as helps to know somewhat of thee: they lead us up a little way towards thine own heart: like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him. If men being evil know how to give good gifts unto their children, much more wilt thou give good gifts unto them that ask thee. A woman may forget her sucking child, that she have no compassion on the son of her womb, yet thou wilt not forget thy redeemed ones, and thy saints shall miss thee but for a small moment.
Thou hast written our names on the palms of thine hands, and thou hast written thy name upon our foreheads. We belong to one another, we are counted in the covenant, we are weighed in the scales that weigh the fine gold, and no speck of dust shall be lost. The foundation of the Lord standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. Help us all to be thine. In our rough way we are all thine, but so prodigal and wanton and wild, so rebellious and destructive and self-willed, slain by our obstinacy and utterly lost by the stubbornness of our unanswering hearts, though thou didst appeal to them by all the ministries of earth and heaven. Last of all thou didst send thy Son, saying, "They will reverence my Son," and we caught him and took him and slew him: we nailed him to the tree and pierced his side with a spear. Yet in his blood is salvation, in his death is sacrifice, in his offering is there all the power and grace of an infinite atonement, not to be known or set forth in words of man, but to be felt by the heart in its night of woe and in the keenness of its mortal pain. Bring us all to the cross, may it be our home, our refuge, our rest. Other refuge have we none.
Let thy word be very sweet to us, sweeter than honey, yea sweeter than the honeycomb a new sweetness all its own, without answer or parallel among all the sweetnesses of the garden. We bless thee that we have begun wisdom: the fear of the Lord is that holy beginning. We have not learned much: have pity upon us and spare us that we may add little to little as the days fly away. Gold cannot buy it, it is not in silver to compass the price thereof; it is the wonder of the deep, and destruction and death have only heard the fame thereof. All corals and rubies are not to be named with it. Help us to grow in wisdom, may we be wise in intelligence and wise in love, may our whole life be as a flame of wisdom.
Pity us in our daily distresses, and help us in our daily burdens: speak comfortably to those who this day feel the coldness and loneliness of a great bereavement. Bind up the heart in which there is no more blood, speak to the life in which the hope has died, and in the house that is desolated with sevenfold night do thou set thine own candle.
The Lord keep us quiet and give us the joy of peace, the solemnity of the infinite assurance of our acceptance with the beloved. When we come to touch the holy bread and sacred wine that have in them the memory of the great life and death may our lips be touched as with a live coal from off the altar, that we may receive the same reverently and with thankfulness unfeigned. Amen.
Affliction In the House
"While he spake these things." We need not critically inquire whether any interval separated between what is written in the seventeenth verse and in the eighteenth. No doubt such an interval did occur, yet it would have been quite in accordance with the habit of the great Teacher and Sufferer if he had in terrupted any speech in order to do good to a broken heart. It did not shock the writer when he wrote, "While he spake these things unto them." It did not occur to him that he was indicating a point of interruption, nor did it occur to him that he was violating any probability of the case. Christ himself was the one improbability, the one impossibility of human history, and therefore we must not bring little rules and standards by which to measure anything that he did or said.
He was answering a question put to him by the disciples of John about fasting, and Matthew writes, "While he spake these things unto them," ere yet the answer was fully given, or whilst the last word was being uttered, or whilst he was in the act of pausing for some rejoinder either by way of comment or inquiry just then a great, solemn, heart-laden prayer burst upon his startled ear. "My daughter is now dead, but come and lay thy hand upon her and she shall live." Elijah taught us that other gods might be so busy that they could not hear the cry of their devotees; Elijah spoke so in irony and mockery, bitter and severe, telling us to cry louder, that our God was talking or pursuing; he told us that we got no answer because our voice was too low, that the god was on a journey or sleeping nobody knew what he was doing: he must be called for by a louder and shriller cry. Jesus Christ was never so busy that he could not answer any question put to him, and in proportion as that question was acute, arising from the heart's sore distress and burning agony, would he interrupt even a miracle of a minor kind, to accomplish a miracle of a superior kind. These are the things that prove his quality, these are the elements which, being brought together into one complete mass, establish his claim to be something more than I am. I go with him so far, and in a moment he shoots beyond me and stands alone on the solemn elevation. Up to a given line he is a good man simply, extremely kind and sensitive, answering every emotion of the life that is around him steadily and truly; then in a moment he leaves all examples and precedents and parallels behind, and stands before us as God, so much like God that were a man to say to him, "My Lord and my God," not a heart in all the listening assembly would feel the shock of an irreligious or painful surprise. The cry would accord with the circumstances, and would establish a sweet though pensive rhythm. The two words, the word of Christ and the acknowledging word of man, would form a balance to one another, and establish between them a consistency that would grow into an argument.
Yet he appears to be Servant as well as Master, for we read, "And Jesus arose and followed him," as if he had no alternative. He never has an alternative when the heart really wants him. It is the heart that shuts him up to one reply. He can tell your intelligence to wait, he can rebuke your eager ingenuity or your impetuous fancy; but when the broken heart needs him, if he were to delay, then it would be but to come with some richer blessing on the third day. Sometimes he does put off until the third day; it is his favourite day, he typified it by instances in his life, he crowned it by his resurrectional return. "Come, let us return unto the Lord: he hath bruised us, and he will bind us up again: he hath torn us, and on the third day he will revive us." But he always answers the cry of the burdened and broken heart. He arises like a servant, and clothed with humility as with a garment, he walks after the man that wants him as a slave might go.
Yet you say you have never seen him and never known him. I can tell you why. You have had no trouble in your life. You have always sought him by the lamp of your intelligence; you have always invited him into the cunningly arranged chambers of your fancy and imagination; you have always endeavoured to tempt him by your intellectual curiosity. To all these Herods and Pilates he answers nothing. To this man will I look, the man whose eyes are upon the dust, whose accusing hand is upon his heart, and who sobs rather than says his eager prayer. You will send for him some day, and he will come.
This is an instance of a man praying for another and yet praying for himself at the same time. "My daughter is even now dead." That is all we hear, but there was an unspoken prayer, for there was a subtle undertone, there was an aside in the action that touched the heart of Christ. If the child is dead, why call her back? Who would call back a friend from summer to winter, from the land where the moon is as the sun, and the sun is bright seven times beyond himself, to the land of night and coldness and ice and bitter desolation? He could have said, "Jairus, I congratulate thee: is she gone, is she at home, have the angels taken her?
But there was another prayer: not only was the little girl dead, but the living man was dead too. He answered the prayer not for the child's sake, but for the man's sake. The house was no longer worth going into, the house had become a ghastly tomb, the house had shaped itself into its ghost's faces, and miserable spectacles Jesus went for the living man's sake. "When such friends part, 'tis the survivor dies;" so wondrous is the way of mercy, so subtle and incalculable are the methods and issues of divine providence, that sometimes they who are in heaven have to be called back again in order to make up our life, or we shall fall right down in the pit of despair, and our lamp shall go out in total and perpetual darkness. Selfish man still not wholly selfish. If a man has lost one of his wings and cannot fly, he may surely ask to have it returned to him. If the lame man has lost his one crutch, surely God will not account it inexcusably selfish if he should ask to have it given back to him.
My daughter in another place, my little daughter, my only daughter is dead. Does death go into great houses? This man was governor, a ruler, a man of station and social influence. Does death go into the house of the ruler, into the dwelling of the magistrate, into the habitation of the judge, into the palace of the monarch? Is he not affrighted by the great gates gilded at their tops like pinnacles? He makes others fear, he knows no fear himself. Let us proceed with the narrative, for it is full of action. There is no rest in the outward life of this Christ: He has to cut out days and nights in which to rest, for the world's necessity would never allow him even to sleep. He had to create a Sabbath sometimes in the night that he might go to church and sing and pray. This portion of the chapter is full of action, it moves, it trembles with a strange energy, divine and human.
"And behold, a woman------" Yes, I will, and I know she will develop something in Christ that no man could ever touch. I will behold this woman; I have known Christ worsted by a woman; I have never known him beaten really in his own field but by a woman. He once told a woman that the meat was not for the dogs, and she said, "Truth, Lord, but the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from the master's table." And he could not stir one step from that spot till he had given a great "Yes" to her great prayer. Let us then in very deed behold this woman. She has been diseased twelve years, which was exactly the age of the little girl that was dead. The little child had twelve years, let us hope, of joyous life and daily dreaming, much laughter, high glee; and this poor woman, all the time, year by year through every one of the twelve, had been suffering much. No physician could treat her case successfully; she had nothing bettered, but rather grew worse. She came behind him. There is a touch of modesty and a touch of something more than modesty and nearer divinity still if there be aught nearer divinity than downright, healthy, real humbleness. She was going to entrap him, she was going to perpetrate what centuries afterwards was known as a pious fraud, she would steal a blessing. She had a speech in her heart who has not? You are going to face some difficulty to-morrow, and you have told your nearest friend what you will say, or you have kept it altogether in your heart, and turned it over and over with many an amendment. You will begin so, and continue thus, and then you will wait. What secret preparations we have, what speeches gotten by heart, what prayers stored up in the silent chambers, to come out some day and surprise heaven!
What would this good old mother say? She said within herself, "If I may but touch his garment I shall be whole. I need not trouble him with any speech or with any form or ceremony of restoration, I am one that need not go to him in trouble if I may but touch the hem of his garment, the dusty hem, the hem that is trailing on the ground. I need not ask to touch his dear hand, nor need I pray for that dear hand to be laid upon me. I will go behind him and watch the train of his dress as it goes along the ground, and if I can but touch it for a moment, I shall be whole." That was faith, that was religion! A soul that could burn with such spirituality must cure any body which it tenanted for a few frail years. Your bodies would be better if your souls were stronger.
Does Jesus Christ permit any theft? Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, as no other eyes had ever looked upon her, he said, "Daughter." We are all his daughters, we are all his sons, he is our Father and our Brother; all relations in marvellous contradiction represent themselves in him, just as we put ourselves in relation to him. "Daughter, take heart again, be happy: thy faith hath made thee whole." He asks no questions regarding her disease, or the time of its continuance, or the peculiarity of its symptoms, or the keenness of its pain. He knows us altogether.
But how kind to make this little speech as well as to give the healing. A flower is all the better for having fragrance as well as beauty. How sweet to say something to her, to make a whole little speech to the woman herself! Sometimes he made the speech to the multitude: he said, "I say unto you I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel." He took, so to speak, her little birthday book, which we give to our friends to write their names in, and he writes a little speech with his own dear hand, and it is all the woman's own. "Daughter, be of good comfort, thy faith hath made thee whole." He almost made the woman feel she had cured herself. He takes no glory he needs none. He does not say, "Behold the virtue of my clothes, see what can be done by this oversoul that flows into the hem of my garment. He tells the poor woman that she healed herself. He loadeth us with benefits!
And then these people came to Jesus, not because of their richness and health and strength, but because they wanted something of him, because of their helplessness and pain, or poverty of some kind. That is just what we do if we come to him in the right way. Sometimes you mock us, and when you see us going to church you say, "There go the good ones, there go the patterns of society, there go your pious ones. We poor creatures do not go to church or to the sacrament of the Lord's Supper we leave that for you patterns of high virtue and noble piety." There is no sense in your mockery, you are altogether wrong in your conception, and therefore wholly unjust in your criticism. We come to Christ because we are bad. If you could say to us, "There go the bad ones," you would speak with some justness. "There go the cripples, there go the helpless ones, there go those that cannot make up their own life and redeem their own soul, there go the paupers, the dependents, the helpless ones." Say so and you touch the reality of the case. I do not remain to partake of the sacred bread and wine because I am good, but because I am the chief of sinners. I never knew any man come really and truly to Christ who did not come because he was helpless, because he was suffering from mortal distress, because he was conscious of an emptiness and impotence of soul which nothing can touch but the divine hand of Christ.
Think of us, therefore, as worse than you. You can do without him, we cannot. You want to wait till you have washed yourselves and apparelled yourselves and made yourselves fit for his presence.
Now we resume the story that was interrupted by this woman, and beautifully interrupted. Such parentheses are the very glory and blossom of the history. It would be poorer history but for these interruptions. Jesus Christ does a great deal of good on the way towards doing some other good. He preaches as he is walking down to the church. His very passing by the house of the people leaves a blessing behind it. He is as a flower carried through the quiet air that breathes its fragrant blessing, that all may receive it and be made glad. This is an aside in his ministry which does not lie on the direct line as part of one continual purpose: it is something that happened intermediately.
Now he comes to the ruler's house. "When he saw the minstrels" for heathenism had made some incursion even into Jewish habits "when he saw the minstrels and the people making a noise (an artificial noise; hired mourners made to create a sensation), he said unto them, Give place, for the maid is not dead, but sleepeth." Thus he would always reduce his own miracles. He did not say, "She is sevenfold dead;" he always made light of his miracles; he said, "It is only the death swoon, she is asleep;" and they laughed him to scorn. They knew better so did he, if it came to a merely literal interpretation; but he includes death itself in sleep. So he will strip death itself of all its terrors and stings, and make it at last into a child's slumber. They laughed him to scorn they had seen a thousand children dead, and they knew that this child was as dead as any child that had ever been buried in rock or in pit.
"And when the people were put forth, he went in." I see his stoop as he passes under the door and takes her by the hand. She could not touch him, and therefore he touched her. He will have it either way, only the touch must take place. He does not care whether it be your touch or his touch, but the hands must meet, the lives must impinge, there must be a beneficent collision. The woman had strength enough to touch on the ground, as it trailed along, the hem of the mean garment; the little girl lay there stiff and cold, and motionless, she could do nothing; he therefore did it all. "He took her by the hand, and the maid arose."
These miracles must not be blotted out of human history. They set mind in its right place; they set the moral forces of creation in their true position; they will not let death have all its own rude, violent way in the world; they put life on the throne; they elevate soul above body, spirit above matter. That is the grand interpretation of the miracles, that mind is regal and matter slavish, servile, and wholly helpless under the dominion and beneficent regnancy of the soul. If you have been trying to reconcile the miracles with your little laws of nature and partial conceptions of the universe, no wonder that your heads are dizzy and in the whirl of scepticism; but if you see in these miracles types of the supremacy of mind, the royalty and divinity of spirit, the right relation of the universe to the King and Creator, then these difficulties become as the small dust in the balance, as a drop in the bucket They are not to be accounted of. When you come into this spirit of high, loving, pure, sublime, and noble criticism, then all these miracles wrought by Jesus Christ will no longer be the surprises of such a history but the commonplaces of a life so divine.
Almighty God, our words are too poor for thy praise: thou knowest what our hearts would give if they could, thou dost accept the purpose as a temple and the intention as a great reality. Thou dost turn our water into wine, and our two mites of poverty thou dost account more than the gold of the rich. Thou shalt calculate for us, we will no longer reckon for ourselves. Do thou fill our hearts with a desire to praise thee, and turn our whole life into a glad and industrious service, so that whilst the days linger, we may be found doing thy will upon earth, with all the purpose with which thou dost inspire our heart. Now and again we are lifted above the dust and cloud, up where no earth-wind blows, even to heaven's gate there we see somewhat of the other light, compared with which the light of our sun is but a dim flame. Keep us there in all elevation of feeling and sacredness of desire appropriate to such nearness to thyself, and then as to our daily activity and service, help us to toil amongst men with Christ's own devotion, piteousness, and infinite charitableness of heart: may the morning find us busy, may the eventide find us seeking only honourable rest, may we be numbered amongst those servants who have the blessedness of being found waiting or working when their Lord comes!
We have brought our weekly hymn to thy house, loud and sweet, cheerful with a great gladness, bright with a heavenly hope. Thou hast done great things for us whereof we are glad: every night thou hast blessed us with the benediction of sleep, every morning thou hast sent the sunbeam to awaken us again to a sense of responsibility and to the engagement of service. All the week long thou hast beset us behind and before and laid thine hand upon us, thou hast sustained our hearts by the infinite comfortableness of thy grace; we are here today a band of men whose hearts God has touched our life would rise to thee like a flame seeking the skies, our whole purpose would be undivided in intensity and in love, and all the while we would be seeking to renew our strength by no trick or cunning of our own, but by diligently waiting for the Lord until it doth please him to appear.
Thou hast given us glad promises, thou hast sounded a trumpet amongst us; yea, a silver trumpet, and every note of it is a note of hopefulness. Thou hast promised that the earth shall be better lighted, that the heavens shall be filled with a greater glory, that all human hearts shall unite in offering praise unto the living one, and that the Cross of Christ, bare, bleak tree, blighted by all the cold and bitterness of winter, shall bloom into a tree, the leaves of which shall be for the healing of the nations, and all nations shall gather themselves under its grateful shade. Pluck thou the prey from the hand of the enemy, reclaim the heritage of the heathen and make it as the garden of heaven. Clothe thy ministers with power, touch their tongues anew with tuneful eloquence and make their hearts burn with all the love of Christ.
We come to thee through the dear Cross of one Jesus of Nazareth, Son of Mary, Son of Man, Son of God, the Man with the great heart, the Christ of Heaven, the Anointed of Eternity, the Lamb that taketh away the sin of the world. O, take it away soon, take it away altogether, shut it up in its appropriate hell, and burn it with unquenchable fire. Reign in us, thou Holy Spirit, rule us continually, give us new thoughts, new emotions, clothe our will as with the garment of obedience, bring us evermore into the attitude of worship and homage before the throne of light.
Comfort those who are bowed down, with the solaces of heaven. Touch the heart that is wounded and give a portion of sweetness to the life that has long been accustomed to the bitter cup. Lighten the burden of the heavy-laden, relight the lamp of those whose hope is dying. Bless our friends who are in the sick chamber, waiting for health, or tarrying till their immortality in heaven begins. Behold our loved ones on the sea, and give them safe outgoing or incoming. Remember all those whom we love on foreign shores, in colonial lands, and in distant countries unite us all by the subtle and inviolable fellowship of Christian love, and may we, when all earthly separations are closed for ever, meet in the brotherhood of heaven! Amen.
The World Through Which Christ Passed
What a world our Lord Jesus Christ passed through! He was always surrounded by the deaf, the dumb, the blind, the poor, the broken-hearted, the weary, the hungry, and those that had no helper. Herein was the realization, and most vivid and happy fulfilment of prophecy: it was foretold of him that he was to be the Apostle to the meek, the captive, the broken-hearted, and the mourning. Every man creates his awn world. You can find a tolerably comfortable world if you please. Shut yourself up in your own parlour, enjoy your own honey, warm yourself by your own fire, shut out safely all the cries of distress that are ringing in the world, and you will come to the conclusion that life after all is tolerably happy and comfortable. There are men who do this. When they hear complaints, they say they are exaggerated; when their eye reluctantly alights upon the newspapers containing reports of human distress and poverty, they call such reports romances, or they blame the poor for their poverty, the sorrowing for their distress, and the lonely for their helplessness. Every man, let me repeat, creates the world through which he passes. There are some of us near whom no poor man would ever come, if he could help it; he would give us room enough on the broad highway. There are others who are always surrounded by crying, distressful, sad-hearted, grief-stricken folks, so that life is spent in a kind of multitudinous hospital. You can go through life comfortably if you like, or you can acquaint yourself with the world's woe and the world's bitter grief.
What a wonderful world Jesus Christ developed! You would not have known that there were so many sick folks in the town if he had not come. The oldest inhabitant was surprised by the distress, helplessness, and sadness of life hidden in the town in which he had lived full seventy years and more. When Jesus Christ entered into the town, all its distress was in a flutter of expectancy. When the Saviour came into any city, the blind heard his footfall, the deaf saw signs in the air that indicated the presence of the Beneficent One all the sadness of the town moved itself in a new prayer, and tried with feeble trembling hand to relight its little lamp of hope.
How is it when you go into any circle, neighbourhood, or town? All its fashion dresses itself, every looking-glass in the neighbourhood is made to do hard duty; or all the letters or all the music of the town may be moved to expectation but no cripple cares for your coming, no deaf man says, "To-day I shall hear," no blind man gets his sight through your coming. We create, I would say again and again, our own society. The priest goes to the other side when he sees the half-murdered man, the Levite follows his chief; the Samaritan lingers in that unroofed church that he may redeem a life from destruction, and in this way sing his morning psalm and breathe his daily prayer.
You think the world is not a bad place to live in, after all. You say you have found life tolerably comfortable; you think that a great deal too much is made of the shady side of life. Who are you what right have you to speak upon this subject? I could put my ringers in my ears and run through a crowd of people crying with pain, and say at the end of my running, "I heard nothing of it; everything was quiet when I passed through." We do not diminish the world's distress by shutting our window, brightening our fire, and drawing around us all the comforts of our own luxurious abode. The distress is still there, it is crying in the night wind, shuddering in the snow, praying to the black night.
Every preacher creates his own congregation. "Like priest, like people," is a proverb not without its application even in this sense. The congregation and the minister are one in height, in the very shape of their head, in the breadth of their shoulders, in the tone of their mind, in their look, in their fire they are one. There are men we could not hear; they are not our shepherds. There are other men whom we could hear always, because they are our kith and kin from before the foundation of the world. As truly as a man calls around him his own companions, acquaintance and friends, as truly as a minister makes his own congregation in due time, so true is it in the deeper and more tragical sense that every heart makes the world in which it lives. If we were more sympathetic, our doorstep would be crowded with those who need sympathy, but in proportion as we are severe, misanthropic, unsympathetic, unrighteous in judgment, shall we drive away the world's distress from our neighbourhood and sight, and shall come to believe in the long run that the distress we do not see therefore does not exist.
We sicken at the sight of all this sorrow which is narrated in the holy gospels. Nearly every verse has in it something about the dumb possessed with devils, a man sick of the palsy, a little child dead, a poor woman stealing a blessing from the Physician as he goes down to raise the little one from her fatal slumber, a blind man crying and saying, "Thou Son of David, have mercy on me!" a leper with his hand upon his lip, saying, "Lord, if thou wilt thou canst make me clean." O, it is heart-rending! Who would not rather read a stirring novel about something that never did occur? When the multitude became hungry, the disciples said, "Send them away." That is our short and easy cure for human malady send it away. Jesus said, "No, never send anybody away that really needs your help." Instead of sending them away, Jesus said, "Cause them to sit down on the green grass, and bring out of your little store all that you have, and do not let a single person go away until the last crumb is eaten," and the last crumb is never eaten in the house of Christ; so long as he is at the table there is bread enough and to spare; so long as he spends your pound a week, working man, you will find in it no end of shillings; so long as he keeps your house, poor widow woman, there will be coal in the grate, there will be bread in the cupboard, and there will be oil in the cruse. "I have been young," said the Psalmist, "and now am old, yet have I never seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread." We want a change, we are tired of seeing sad and tragical sights. I, for one, am often tired of the vision; I am weary, I long to plunge my eyes into the snows of the Alps, or into the deep greens of the rich valley pastures. It would do the eyes good. Jesus Christ never tired; he went about doing good. He tired every helper; He never exhausted his own sympathy.
Let us now hear the blind men. We have considered the leper's brief prayer, "Lord, if thou wilt thou canst make me clean." The blind men are quite as terse and as direct in their supplications. They cried and said, "Thou Son of David, have mercy on us!" How the right prayer rises from the heart when it is in its own proper mood, Let the heart grapple with the great problems of life and destiny. Snub your impertinent intellect when it undertakes to deal with the universe; let the heart have full swing. "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness." With the intellect he may believe unto temporary conviction; but with the heart he believes unto righteousness, completeness of sympathy, and reality and joyousness of religious obedience.
Wonderful is this way of putting the case on the part of the blind men. They said, "Have mercy on us!" The heart never said, "Be just to us;" the heart has no weights, and scales, and standards, and tapes of measurement. No broken-hearted sufferer ever came to Christ and said, "Be just to me." That is a most remarkable circumstance in the development of human necessity and in the utterance of human want. The blind men might have said, "We have heard that you have cured a leper; now be impartial in your administration of the affairs of the universe; deal with an equal hand; if you have cured one man, you ought to cure another: we will charge you with partiality if you do not cure us as you have cured the leper, and raised the ruler's dead child, and healed the woman who touched the hem of your garment. Be just to us." The cry is still for mercy. We must come to Christ not with claims but with prayers.
This reference to mercy is a religious reference. It goes back to the roots and causes of things. Blindness is a symptom the disease is in the heart. Lameness, deafness, paralysis these are accidents, attendant phenomena, mere symptoms of something within, and you may as well repair your roof in order to heal your sick child as you may attend to some outward symptom to heal the life. There is but one cure; the blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanseth from all sin. You must be born again. The work is inward, vital, complete. Do not fret your energy and waste your time by attempting to deal with symptoms, but get to the root and cause of the fatal malady. Blindness is the symptom, sin is the disease; there is only one disease, and its bad name is sin. When sin is destroyed, health will be re-established and sadness will vanish like the last night, taking with it all its blackness, and dampness, and misery.
Those men were not as blind as they looked. They were blind in the body, but their eyes within were bright as lamps, keen, piercing, far-seeing; they had the vision of faith. There is no other vision that will last a man's lifetime; that vision sees in the dark, sees through mountains, pierces the screen of night it is the true vision. Those blind men had seen Christ a long time with the vision of their hearts. There is an unconscious preparation for great events; those great events seem to come to us suddenly, but in reality they are the culmination of long and subtle processes. One ought to have overheard them talking about the new man, the great Healer, the King of men. How they discussed together their manner of approach, what they would say to him, how they would bring the case under his notice, how they corrected one another as to their views and estimates of the yet unknown Healer, how Jesus Christ came suddenly for he always comes suddenly, though he has been ten thousand ages on the way; when we hear the crush of his chariot wheel, it will startle us like thunder at midnight. They went forward, and probably did not say one word of all they had prepared. The heart must be extemporaneous in its utterances, the heart cannot have its little piece of paper or string of parchment; a thousand preparations will be made for Christ, and yet when he does come the heart will answer him spontaneously, and there is a spontaneity that is better than the most elaborate preparation.
Now let us hear Christ himself upon the subject: "Then touched he their eyes, saying, According to your faith be it unto you." We find the vessel, he finds its heavenly contents. If we have no vessel, we cannot catch the rain; if we have no goblet of faith, we cannot catch the wine of grace. We must be cooperative in this matter; there is a human side as well as a side divine in all this great mystery of human healing and human growth. Jesus Christ, as we have often had occasion to point out, gave people the impression that they had cured themselves. I have never seen Jesus Christ put the crown upon genius, beauty, power, but I have been present on a thousand coronations, when he encircled the brows of modesty with the choicest garlands of heaven.
There is a great law here, which the Church would do well to ponder. It is the law which expresses the solemn and gracious fact that our faith is the measure of our progress in divine things. If the healing had not been wrought in the case of these blind men, the fault would have been with the men themselves. This is the true reading of our Saviour's word, namely, "According to your faith, be it unto you." If your faith is equal to the occasion, you shall have what you need; if your faith fall below the occasion, you will be as blind as ever. You may touch the right Christ, but if you touch him with a cold hand, you will receive nothing in return. Not only must we go to the right altar, we must go in the right spirit. The true spirit is shown in the conduct of the woman "If I may but touch his garment I shall be whole." How is it that the Church is not succeeding today? Because the Church has intelligence, but not faith. How is it that the Church is empty today, and Christ forsaken? Because his Church has taken to argument, analysis, metaphysical disquisition, controversial statement, high and dry systematic divinity, and has lost faith. Why is this the devil's carnival, why is this the saturnalia of the pit? Because we, as a Church, are clever, but not inspired. We have taken to reckoning religion, and laying a line upon it, and dividing it into fragments and sections; we have taken to a species of religious architecture, giving elevations, and side views, and sections, and detailed drawings, as if the Church were a trick in masonry instead of a glowing and living faith.
The Church will always go down in proportion as its faith declines. For God's sake do not be clever have faith in God. Lord, increase our faith! If ye had faith as a grain of mustard-seed, ye would say to this mountain, "Depart," and the mountain would, so to say, take to its feet and move off. We now have theories of inspiration, theories of the atonement, theories of justification by faith. Do you mean to tell me that Christ's great work for the human family requires a volume of five hundred pages to make it clear? Then is the salvation of the world impossible. The atonement is a flash of the mind, a passion of the heart, one transient glimpse of an infinite tragedy, one touch of hot heart-blood. It is not a five-hundred-page octavo in which theology perpetrates its miserable legerdemain, and creates night for the satisfaction of throwing up rockets in its face. Lord, increase our faith! take us away from the so-called fact-world, with its misnamed realities, and lead us into the invisible temple, the hidden sanctuary, the house in the clouds, and show us there thy grace; then send us down all the mountain steep to find the lunatic and heal him, the blind and give him sight, the deaf and give him hearing. The Church will one day take its cleverness up to some Moriah, draw its glittering knife and slay the enemy, and then the Church will put on her beautiful garments, and neither be ashamed of the mystery of faith nor of the obedience of love.
"And Jesus straitly charged them, saying, See that no man know it." Mark the wisdom of this arrangement. Whatever is done to a mere individual, or to an individual merely as such, is not worth talking about. You have had your eyes opened; that is of no consequence to the universe; do not speak about that. Do not talk with a provincial accent; speak the universal language. If your heart has been blest, tell us; if your skin has been cleansed or your ears have been unstopped, keep the little news to yourself. Jesus Christ was not a mere miracle-monger, Jesus Christ was not a creator of little anecdotes, Jesus Christ was himself the gospel. Jesus Christ never said about the beatitudes, "See that ye tell no man." When he said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven," he did not add, "See that ye tell no man." "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted see that ye tell no man. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God see that ye tell no man." Keep your individual romances to yourself; they are not worth talking about; if you have a gospel, go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.
Understand the difference between a miracle and a gospel, and you will understand how it was that Jesus Christ never cared about his miracles being talked about; but when he came to his gospel, the earth was too small a stage and time too mean a theatre in which to declare the infinite love and bid the universe hear. The gospel is the common speech of the race. Mere eye-opening or unstopping of the ear is a case that may occur here and there; the symptom is personal and the circumstances are narrow, but the healing of the heart is a matter in which the whole race is interested. The whole head is sick and the whole heart is faint. If you can find a man who can cleanse us and make us pure and happy, tell us his name. Talk of individual cases to individual sufferers, but speak the universal language to the universal heart.
Almighty God, thy word is like a great balm upon the wound of our life, full of comforting, give us the feeling of a new hope. Thou hast surely bruised the life of man at every point and given him to know the bitterness of great sorrow and the acuteness of intolerable pain; thou hast followed such visitations with great grace, with consolations greater than the sorrows they would soothe; as where sin aboundeth grace doth much more bound, so where our sorrow multiplies itself, thy solaces, increase in number and their gentleness doth recover our hope. Thou hast made us as a pelican in the wilderness, as an owl in the desert, as a sparrow sitting alone upon the house-top, and then thou hast gathered us into great places, poured thy summer light upon us, and sent thy tender music through our drooping hearts, and with infinite plenteousness of rain hast thou refreshed the thirsty land, and with infinite light hast thou restored the comfort and the hope of man.
We have read thy word, and there is no music so inspiring and uplifting. We feel that we are one with the ages gone, that the saints of the early Church had experience which we reproduce, so that we are all one, and as our sorrow is one, so is the source of our healing and joy. Age after age comes to thee, each with its own cry, each with its own wound, and thou dost multiply thy comforts upon all time, and write the testimony of thy grace upon the rising and dying generations.
We have come each with his own song today. We sing of the blessings at home; thou hast given us light there, and there thou hast set bread before us, morning, noon, and night. Thou hast protected and defended the household, and our family life today is a witness to thy superintending and gracious care. Hear us, then, as heads of houses, fathers and mothers, and households complete, when we sing of thy goodness and mercy and bless thee for our life at home. Thou hast watched us in all the daily commerce of life, in our buying and selling and getting gain, in our endeavours and our failures, in our enterprises and our successes behold the whole is before thee; what came not of thine inspiration do thou utterly destroy; that which came of the motion of thine own Spirit thou wilt establish in imperishable integrity and honour.
Do thou grant unto us daily ministries from Heaven, so that we may know what is the good and acceptable way, so that we may have an increasing love for all that is true, beautiful, and divine, and so that our whole life may move upon an ascending line, never knowing the joy of contentment until that contentment is found in thyself. Give us a strong grip of truth, give us a healthy and honest heart, loving the truth and pursuing that which is holy. As for our trials and difficulties, what are they but the shadow of the time through which we pass? They have a meaning which we cannot read wholly just now; in the hurry and rush of our dying life we have but little time for the deeper and broader reading of life, but we will trust in the Living One all things work together for good to them that love God. This shall be our anchor in the wild sea, this shall be our light in the time of darkness, and here shall we find our peace when the storm is strongest.
We commend one another to thy tender care. There are here broken hearts, men who are wounded in their very life, souls that can see nothing but great gloom, without a star to break its despairing night. There are those whose goblet is full of choice wine, whose life is a daily song, and whose continuance upon the earth is an unbroken health. According to our experience, whether it be this or that, let thy blessing come to every heart amongst us, and send none away untouched, unillumined, unblest. Let all the people praise thee, yea, let all the people praise thee, with songs, feeble or loud, but all coming from the heart, because of thine infinite tenderness and thine immeasurable grace. Comfort the old with surprising light and joy, direct the young man whose purposes are set in the right direction, and give him favour in the sight of the people, that all his honourable plans and purposes may be consummated in a success which thou canst approve. Speak to those whose lives are rounds of monotony, always the same, always hoping, never realizing, always waiting, and never satisfied with the one answer that alone can bring content. The Lord show us the place of patience in our discipline, and help us to wait with the patience that shall itself be as a heroism in thy sight.
Hear any who have special praises to offer thee for life given and for life spared. The Lord hear such family praise and grant unto it confirmation day by day of renewed favour and support. Hear the praise of those who thank thee for returned friends, for absences brought to an end, and for fellowships reunited. Hear the hymn of those who would bless thee in fervent song for guidance and protection on land and water, at home and abroad, and who return to us this day to utter their praises in the common song.
The Lord go out after those who would not come with us, after the prodigal, wanton, wild, desperate man, a fool, a criminal, hard of heart seek for him thyself, thou Shepherd of the heavens and the earth, for our feet are weary, and our eyes fail through searching. The Lord be with those who could not come with us, with the sick, the weak, the aged, those whose next sight will be thyself and whose next worship will be in heaven. The Lord hear every cry, and specially the cry for pardon which is uttered at the Saviour's cross great cross, wondrous tree, altar of the one sacrifice, scene of the one shedding of blood that can alone touch the malady and the agony of life!
The Lord hear us, and His hearing shall itself be as an answer. Amen.
Christ Must Be Accounted for
You will find a fuller account of the same matter in the Gospel according to Mark
22. And the Scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, He hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth he out devils.
23. And he called them unto him, and said unto them, in parables, How can Satan cast out Satan?
24. And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.
25. And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.
26. And if Satan rise up against himself and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end.
27. No man can enter into a strong man's house and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man, and then he will spoil his house.
28. Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme.
29. But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation.
30. Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit.
You will see from these words that Christianity has to be accounted for. Men must have some opinion about its origin and about its inspiration, and concerning its whole scope and purpose. It is not, indeed, Christianity that has to be accounted for so much as it is Christ himself. There is a time in the life of every considerable man when his friends begin to wonder how he came to be what he is, and that which constitutes a common theme of inquiry amongst ourselves reaches its very highest point of intensity and significance in the case of Jesus Christ, the Son of Man. Do nothing in the world, and nobody will care who you are or whence you came. You will not be a figure, you will not be a force in society, you do not start any impulses that move other men, you throw no new lights upon the path of life, there never comes into your voice a startling tone; nobody cares, therefore, who you are and whence you came, it is a point of concern to no one to account for you, simply because there is nothing to be accounted for. But challenge the thinking of the time, put truth in new phases and aspects before the intellect of the age, startle the world by challenging its ancient orthodoxies and its most accredited traditions and prejudices, then perhaps people may begin to say, "Who are you? By what authority doest thou these things?"
These questions arose continually in connection with Jesus Christ. "Who is he? Is he not the son of Mary and of Joseph? Are not his brethren and his sisters with us? From whence hath this Man this wisdom and these mighty works? Whence do they come?" Thus Jesus became the problem of his age. He is the problem of all time; he is the secret and the terror of human history; he is the hope and the light of human prophecy, and today men wonder who he is; they reject his claims, and they call him back to ask him further questions. It is, therefore, not so much Christianity that has to be accounted for as Christ Himself, for in very deed Christ is Christianity, Christ is the Gospel. This is a matter of personality, not of abstraction or of metaphysics.
Now there have been various accounts given of Christ, and we have one of these accounts in the text. Ask worldliness what it has to say about Christ and Christianity. The answer will be, "No doubt Christ is a very good man; probably a little fanatical in his methods, with very fine theories, and if they could be carried out it would be a good thing for the world, but we cannot carry them out, they are too fine-spun. No doubt he was a good man, and we have nothing to say against him;" and worldliness passes on, to add another window to its shop and another acre to its estates. Compliment is faint praise: there is no sting or viciousness in it; it is good so far as it goes.
Ask mere intellectualism to account for Christ. "A myth, a fable, a dream, a poem not without fascination, often glittering in its sparks of happy suggestion, but a myth, a conception of the mind, a piece of beautiful patchwork. If we cared to go into its discrepancies we could upset the historic credibility of the whole, but we are content to say, a myth, and to pass on."
Ask prejudice to account for Christ and his work. The bad answer is in the text, "He casteth out devils through the prince of the devils."
Note the difference in those replies. Worldliness, engaged in its occupations, its brain in the whirl and rush of money-making and business and enterprise, says, "No doubt Jesus Christ was a very good man; we have no fault to find with him, but we have no time to go into all his claims and to settle his place in history." Cold intellectualism says, "Fable, fantasy, myth very good in its way, nothing more." Prejudice, with low brow and muffled face, with a mien that indicates everything that can degrade human grandeur, says, "He casteth out devils by the prince of the devils. He is in league with Beelzebub, and learned in Satanic tricks."
Now observe, every one of those theories has its own peculiar difficulties. The worldly man finds a character in history that stands back from his policies and programmes, that says, "Labour not for the meat which perisheth. A man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things that he possesseth. Take no thought or the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Have your treasure in heaven, where neither moth nor rust corrupteth, and where thieves do not break through nor steal;" and worldliness can only say, "Very good; a fine theory, but impracticable." Still, there stands a man that said these things and that lived them: he is not put down by a compliment, neither is he shattered by an assault. To-day his holy gospel lifts its sweet and serene voice amid all the tumult of conflicting teachings, and says, "Your life is within you: be rather than merely have: live in God seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you;" and worldliness with its little shallow compliment, does not account for, with any adequacy of explanation, the moral grandeur of the man who kept the world under his feet and his heart in the very heaven of God.
And the cold intellect leaves the Christ just where it found him. The intellectualist has to account for a man who was dreamed into being. Then the dreamer must himself be equal to the man he dreamed. You have to account for a man born in the imagination of some other man, and who, as a creature of imagination, has risen to the supreme place in human history, and who today rules innumerable millions of human lives and ministries and destinies. It is easy to call him and his work mythical, romantic, fabulous, but that does not account for the profound moral influence, the beneficent results, and the whole ministry that is represented by the term Christ, or by the phrase the Christian Church.
But what shall we say about the answer of prejudice? What is prejudice who can define it? How it spoils our life, how it takes the bloom off the finest fruits that grow in the garden or human fellowship. Once let prejudice occupy your mind, and the object of that prejudice can never be good, or seem good, of do good, or think good. He may do the noblest works ever done by human energy, but you will not allow him to be crowned because he has accomplished them; yea, he may serve you and your family night and day, but you will find the devil in his prayers, selfishness in his benevolence, and his very light shall be darkness, and all his meaning shall be a piece of self-idolatry. Beware of prejudice. We can answer an argument, we can rebut a charge, but who can find out the root and the issue of irrational and vicious prejudice? There are some men who never can do right in our estimation. They may be gifted with genius, their character may be above suspicion, and all their work may be of a high type, but we hate them, and therefore, when we are called upon to explain their influence or to account for their character, we are willing to accredit the devil with the whole rather than to speak one just word about the man we detest.
Beware of prejudice: it enters the mind very subtly, and once in the mind, it is the most difficult of all its occupants and rulers to dislodge. It is irrational, you cannot get hold of it, it has no centre, it acknowledges no court of appeal, it is invisible. It was from such prejudice that Jesus Christ suffered. When the Pharisees and the Scribes and the most religious men of the day heard the dumb speaking and were made aware that the deaf could hear and the lame could walk and could see all the good works done by Christ and his disciples, they were willing rather to praise the devil than to praise him.
See to what degradation prejudice may drag you; and we are all exposed to the influence of prejudice. Beware of it, it is the worst of the devils, it skulks, it sneaks, it watches in silence, it drops its poison into the cup when nobody is looking. It is the biggest of thieves, it is the most noted of liars, it is the most persistent of persecutors, and yet all the time it can cause those who are its subjects upon the largest scale to disown it. Have we not all heard men who were known to be all but filled with prejudice declare, with a serene innocence, that they were perfectly sure that they were not at all animated by prejudice? It is a horrible devil, it swears and breaks its oath, it will kiss any Bible, and burn the book it kissed, and put the oath into the fire, that they may both go to the same hot ashes. Are there not some men you so bitterly dislike that they can do nothing good in your sight? It was from prejudice that Christ suffered.
Now I want to turn and to consider Christ's answer to this prejudice. The answer was argumentative. Having heard what the Scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, he called them unto him, and said unto them in parables, "How can Satan cast out Satan? And if a kingdom be divided against itself that kingdom cannot stand, and if a house be divided against itself that house cannot stand, and if Satan rise up against himself and be divided he cannot stand, but hath an end." That was an argumentative reply. Christianity has an argumentative answer to every assault. Christianity can fight for its position with any weapons that an enemy may choose. Did you ever know a case of the so-called reductio ad absurdum so complete as this? The Scribes thought they had answered the whole case by referring it to a diabolic origin. Jesus said, "How can Satan cast out Satan? And if a kingdom be divided against itself that kingdom cannot stand, and if a house be divided against itself that house cannot stand."
I ask you to look at that answer in the light of argument, and tell me if it could be improved in its logical construction and force. He confounded the enemy out of his own mouth. He took the sword from the enemy and thrust it into the enemy's own heart. That is what Christianity can always do. I have heard all the arguments that can be addressed against Christianity, and I have never heard one that could not be triumphantly answered and repelled. This is a specimen of the answers that can be given: it gleams with wit, it strikes like a spear, it burns like a fire. There is no reply possible to that argument. How can Satan cast out Satan? If Satan be divided against himself he cannot stand, if a house be divided against itself it cannot stand, if a man be divided against himself he cannot stand. Division is destruction.
Consider, therefore, that Jesus Christ's answer was, in the first place, distinctly and broadly argumentative. In the next place it was judicial. Jesus Christ did not stop at the argumentative; having shown his adversaries how their logic limped, and how their accounting for his supremacy was not only a lie but an absurdity, he said, "Verily, assuredly, I say unto you, all sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme, but he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation," because they said, "He hath an unclean spirit." Christianity is something more than an argumentative contest. This is not a question of whether one point is fifty miles distant from another point, it is a question that involves moral issues, tremendous outgoings, it involves the whole question of personal and universal destiny. In the first part of his answer the tone of Christ was light, trenchant, bright, as became a merely argumentative retort. Suddenly that voice, bright as all the lights of heaven, sobered and broadened into thunder as he said, "This is the kind of sin that never can be forgiven." When you come with these Christian questions you do not come into an exercise of merely intellectual gymnastics; this is not a question of one man being cleverer than another in the use of mere words, it is not a clash of wooden swords, it is a question of life or death. The Scribes thought they had given an answer sufficient in its contemptuous-ness when they referred Christ and his miracles to the devil. They little knew all they were doing: they were writing on heaven's own scroll their own unpardonableness.
Take care how you treat the Bible, the altar, the Church. Words of contempt may easily rise to your lips, but they may mean more than you intend them to mean. You throw a little pebble into the broad lake: you thought it would go straight down and be seen no more. So far you may be right, but the circles are on the surface, and they vibrate and widen and multiply and make the whole lake throb, and who can tell what may come out of a contemptuous criticism of Jesus Christ and his ministry? Beware of clever blasphemers, of those little agile blasphemers who make atheism an easy trick in words, and get rid of the universe and its mysteries by the nod of an empty head. There are moral issues, there are judicial penalties, there are certain ungovernable recoils. A man has not done with his words merely when he has uttered them; they go away from him and are judged and sent back again upon his life, angels that bless him, or shadows that turn his day into night. We have known this in countless instances. The men themselves have not always been able to explain the mystery; but find out men who are suffering in divers ways, not always to be set forth in express words, and it is not impossible, if you trace their history sufficiently back, but that you may find that these practical bitternesses, these black harvests, are the results of early blasphemies or profanities of the heart. Understand, therefore, that the blatant atheist who sells his atheism and pronounces its first little syllable with a vicious emphasis, does not always see or feel at the moment the result of his blasphemies.
Jesus Christ is not short-coming in the matter of his forgiveness, but there is a point at which his pardons are themselves shut out. Say he has an unclean spirit, and you extinguish the sun that makes every day and creates every summer, and having put out the fountain of light, there is no more brightness possible. Consider, therefore, that Jesus Christ's answer was, in the second place, strictly and solemnly judicial. That reply was more than either argumentative or judicial it was, in the third place, practical. The proof of that you will find in the thirty-fifth verse. "And Jesus went about all the cities and villages teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people." That is the way to answer your enemies: keep on with your work; any fool can resign, it requires no genius and no heroism to give up the pulpit, or to withdraw from the Church, or to throw up what is called vulgarly "the whole thing." Jesus Christ did not do that; he was sometimes driven out, but he would not be driven out till the first great thunder drops of the storm were splashing on the pavement whose dust had rejected him. Then he said, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thee as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not, but now your house is left unto you desolate," and a great hollow wind roared through the metropolitan streets, and great blotches of black rain fell from the thunderous clouds, and the lightnings looked from every point, and Jerusalem was being swallowed up. Blessed One they told him that he was in league with the devil, and he answered them in witty argument, visited them with judicial penalty and then went about doing good, went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. Let that always be your reply to every wicked assault. They said, "He hath a devil;" he went about teaching, preaching, and healing. Beneficent reply, sharper than wit, more intelligible than judgment. He made life, if possible, more a sacrifice than ever. And who am I that I should resign, when Jesus, my Saviour, might have resigned his care over me every day since I first knew him? I have wounded his right hand and his left, and both his feet, I have thrust a spear into his side, and crushed the thorns into his temples, and I have done it every day, and still he will not give me up. He lets the lifted thunder drop; he pursues me still. Who am I, then, that I because of some rude offence or incivility on the part of man, should run away from the altar and the work and the cross? I have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against any sin, or writhing under any insult. Let us, then, run with patience the race set before us, looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, scorning it with a divine heroism, and making it ashamed of itself.
So, then, we stand on rocky foundations. My house is not built upon a gilded cloud; I stand beside Christ, I love Christ, I know whom I have believed. He has been more insulted than any teacher; Pythagoras would have dismissed his school, Socrates would have run away from his mean pupils and vicious critics; this man never gave a lesson without having every word of it turned into a stone and thrown back into his own teeth, and still he teaches on. He was despised and rejected of men, but he shall one day be the desire of all nations. He was a root out of a dry ground, but one day he will be to the world as the Flower of Jesse and the Plant of Renown. He can wait. Falsehood is in a hurry; it may be at any moment detected and punished; truth is calm, serene, its judgment is on high, its King cometh out of the chambers of eternity.
Almighty God, now that thou hast brought us to this our closing day, so that we shall be separated the one from the other for a while, we desire to look back with gratitude, and to bless thee with fervent hearts for all thy lovingkindness and thy tender mercy. To-day we set up our stone of memorial, and we write upon it "Hitherto hath the Lord helped us." When the wind was cold and high, thou didst draw us very closely to thyself and screen us from the bitter blast; when the hill was high and rugged, thou didst either break it down into dust and throw it upon the wind, or thou didst lead us up with ever increasing strength until its very ascent became a new inspiration. Through much land of beauty hast thou led us, through the cornfields on the Sabbath day, and we have plentifully plucked the ripe ears and have rubbed out the corn in our hands, and have eaten it and called it the bread of heaven; yea, again and again hast thou called us to the wedding festival, and thyself hast broken the bread for us and poured out the wine that refreshed our hearts. Wondrous even to the point of miracle, an infinite surprise, has been thy patience, thy care, thy resource; as for thy grace, no hymn of ours is sweet enough to touch the ineffable theme. We unite now, as teacher, as taught, as pastor and people, and in all the various relations we sustain to one another, in blessing thee for the year which closes this day, and in commending one another to thy tender care during the separation immediately to ensue. Let this be the brightest of ail the Sabbaths, let the benediction of this day sink deeply into every heart. As for the shadows, may they be driven away with a great light, and our whole temple-life be filled with thy presence and be resonant with thy praises.
Wherein we have been unkind or thoughtless towards one another, the Lord have pity upon us and altogether forgive every soul. Wherein we have thought one wrong thought or uttered one word lacking in nobleness and in the fire of a true charity, the Lord pity our infirmity and forgive our sin. Wherein we have studied thy word with clearness and insight and with all the power and appropriation of high and illuminating sympathy, the Lord give us a keen memory of everything we have studied, and enable us to treasure the same in thoughtful hearts, and to repronounce it in noble and useful lives.
We commend one another day by day to thy care and blessing. Save us every one, may no wanderer be lost, may no hard heart maintain its obduracy until the very last, may the hammer of the Lord smite it with effect, may the most stubborn of souls offer the hospitality of its love to the redeeming Christ. For Christ we bless thee: he is our Lamb, our Sacrifice, our Priest, our All in All, beginning before the beginning, stretching his duration throughout all eternity, the very origin and source and purpose of the everlasting. O bind us to Christ, cleanse us with his blood, fill us with his spirit, and make us all ministers of his, seen and felt afar like flames of fire.
Let this house be dear unto thee; thou wilt not neglect this as one of thy dwelling-places; here we have set up thine altar, and laid thy Book open wide before our eyes; here we have endeavoured to magnify thee in hymn, and psalm, and anthem, and in the word of exposition and doctrine of truth. O dwell here keep thou the house, be thou the preacher, be thou thyself the Paraclete, and enable thy people who shall come hither from time to time to see more and more clearly this is none other than the house of God. As for our dwelling-places, we give them all to thee; thou only art King of men and Saviour of souls; make our habitations homes indeed, light thou the fire in the winter time and give thou the message to the flowers that grow richly around in the time of summer.
Bless the old man in his weakness, the little child in its opening dream, the busy man amid all his honourable industry, the patient woman and mother in all her domestic ministry; heal the sick, lead the blind by a way that they know not, bid the husbandman be of good heart when he cometh forth to cut the field and throw into its open heart the seed which shall bring forth the staff of life.
The Lord hear all our prayers: the Lord winnow them himself that the chaff may not be answered, but the wheat only; thus have us in thy holy keeping day by day till the little life wears itself quite out and becomes part of thine own eternity. The Lord comfort his people, the Lord's hand dry every tear from the eyes of sorrow, and the Lord's almightiness be placed at the disposal of those who have lost their strength and are feeling the pain of feebleness. Amen.
Christ's View of the World
When we read that he was moved with compassion, we feel that it did not require much to move the pity of such a heart. It was not moved now for the first time. Again and again as we come along the line of the sacred narrative we have seen his tears, we have heard the piteousness of many of his tones, and have been, touched by the pathos of many of his deeds. The key-word of this divine life is Compassion. If you do not seize that word in its true meaning, the life of Jesus Christ will be to you little more than either a romantic surprise or a dead letter. It is not a life of genius, it is not a display of literary power, it is pre-eminently yet inclusively, a life of love, a history of compassion, an exemplification of the tenderest aspects of the infinite mercy of God. Begin at that point and read the history in that light, and you will see the right proportion of things and their right colour, and you will hear their sweetest and richest music. Again and again, therefore, would I repeat, the master-word of this divine life is the sweet and all-inclusive word Compassion.
Observe what the word means. It means "feeling with " "feeling for, " sympathy, a right view of human want and human distress, and a taking upon oneself all the pain, the feebleness, the poverty, and the anguish of those who suffer most. He bare our sins, he carried our iniquities, and himself took our infirmities and sustained our afflictions. You have been reading the life of Christ as if he were one of twenty men, leaders of human thought; we have lectured upon him as if he belonged to a gallery of heroes. Therein have we done him injustice, and therein, too, have we done ourselves injustice, for we have not viewed the great occasion from the right standpoint; therefore have we missed its majesty, its perspective, its subtlest relations, and its deepest significances. He is not one of many, he is many in one. Therein is that singular utterance most true he is All in All multitudinous Man, as great a host as the throng on which he looked; they were detailed humanity, he was our totalised nature. He felt every pang, he responded to every emotion. He is not a priest that cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, he knows us through and through, and he is every one of us, because he is the Son of Man.
"When he saw the multitudes." Let us lay the emphasis upon the last word for a moment, for it will enable us to seize a new meaning and occupy a novel standpoint. When he saw the multitudes he was moved with compassion; when we see the multitudes we are moved with wonder or with admiration. See if that be not so in matter as well as in humanity. When I see multitudinous matter, a mountain, I am moved with surprise, my wonder arises; I call attention to the infinite mass, and we stand before it with wide-open eyes, and the whole posture is one of amazement. We are wonderstruck that the rubbish should be so infinite, for it is only rubbish the greatest mountain in Europe; no man of you would care for any spadeful of it, no man would be touched by any ten feet of it, no man would go fifty yards to see twenty feet of it; it is when it multiplies itself, foot on foot, pile on pile, mile on mile, until it cools itself in snow, high up in the rarefied air then we run excursion trains to look at it, then we build villas near it and gaze on it with admiration, then we write about it in the public journals; it acquires fame by its vastness, not by intrinsic and detailed value, but by hugeness, by what we should term, in relation to human throngs, multitudinousness.
Now when Jesus saw the multitudes he was not moved with wonder, which is a partial emotion, or with admiration, which is an incomplete and babyish feeling. He was moved with compassion, and therein He differed from every other observer of great things. We know what it is to look at great things ourselves. If you see one soldier, you care but little for the sight; you may point out the intensity of the colour which he displays, or the splendour of his metal, but one passing remark will suffice for that occasion. You see an army, and you are filled with wonder, admiration, delight; it brings to you a sense of power, grandeur, and grandeur never touches compassion, it seems rather to rebuke it. If I see a mighty throng of men, the very last feeling that would come into my heart as an observer would be a feeling of compassion. Multitudinousness means power, multitudinousness means greatness, resource, all kinds of energy, amplitude of strength. Who dare pity a multitude? It could overpower you, run you down, trample you to death why pity it? Pity yourself, little creature, run away from the ever-multiplying throng that marches with the strength of an army and with the pomp of a nation.
Yet here is a man who looks upon a multitude and his heart is filled with pity. He did not say, "How great, what force, what wondrous resources of genius, and strength, and money, and power of every degree!" His heart filled with tears; he said, "It is a sad sight." If he could have taken any other view of the multitude he never would have been the Saviour of the world. There you see the meaning of his life: it touches you now. This must end in fainting or in sacrifice, must terminate in shrinking from the infinite task, or in heroic conquest in the infinite tragedy.
Those tears have great meaning, those larger emotions than any we have yet seen have a remote and infinite significance. If he had been touched with wonder only he would have failed, if he had been moved with admiration he would have lost his power; but, moved with compassion, he includes every other worthy emotion, and sets himself in a right relation to his task. Nothing but compassion will carry you through any tragedy in life; you cannot go through it merely for its own sake. The hireling will fall asleep over the sick child, but the mother will drive sleep away from her dwelling-place till she has rescued her little one from the power of the enemy, if it be within the scope of her endurance and skill to win so great a triumph. Her compassion keeps her awake, her love makes the night as the day, her pity stops the clock, so that she takes no note of time. Every other emotion grows dumb; wonder must sometimes close its eyes, admiration falls upon itself, sates its appetite and dies of the satiety, but compassion grows by what it feeds on, and is of the very nature of the love of God. He grows in the development of his compassion; he will succeed yet. Beaten back at a hundred points, he will yet win. He shall see of the travail of his soul, which is really but another word for compassion, and shall be satisfied.
It does us good to come into contact with a teacher who sees the whole of his case. We are cursed by partial views. We elect twelve men to judge a case that we may bring twelve different minds to bear upon it and a twelvefold power to grasp it fully. We have to multiply ourselves when we would be great; Jesus Christ always saw the end from the beginning, the entire situation, took the comprehensive view, excluded no aspect of the case with which he had to heal. As judges, we are ruined by our partial cleverness; if we could see more we should feel more and do more.
Take a view of a Christian congregation. What lovelier sight can the earth present? Many men, women, children, gathered together in one house sanctified to the highest uses, sweet hymn, noble psalm, penetrating, triumphant anthem, rich and pathetic prayer, reading of the divine word, exposition of the holy mysteries, exhortation, explanation poured from a loving heart and from an eloquent tongue, the spirit of peace in the house what nobler sight is there upon the earth? I look upon it, and say, "All is well; the old earth is renewing its youth, and all is bright in prospect." Am I right? I am as far wrong as I can well be within such limits; I am deceived by appearances. I may be right as to the mere literal facts of the occasion, within the four walls of any Christian building; I have only to look outside the window, and I see that in this great metropolis today the majority of men are not in the house of God, nor do they care for its worship and service. You have only to go off the broad thoroughfare, and look down certain passages and openings on the side ways, to see festering humanity, children that were never taught to clasp their little hands in prayer, houses in which there is no word of God, men imbruted, women stripped of their divinity, and the whole human name befouled, cursed, degraded into what is practically perdition. Jesus Christ would not take the view presented by any Christian congregation only, he would see the congregation within and the multitude without; he would take in the whole situation, and seeing it, his tears would drop from our hymns, and great heart-breaking agony would mingle with our broadest and most hopeful prayers.
There are men who take partial views and come to partial and, therefore, erroneous conclusions about everything. There are those who seat themselves within some vernal enclosure or summer paradise, and say, with a foolish chuckle, that the earth is not so bad a place after all. They see a bed of blooming flowers, fiery-hued or gentle-tinted, and they hear birds in the branches twittering, trilling, singing, and making melody in their hearts, and they say the earth is a very lovely place, notwithstanding all the croakers say to the contrary. Now observe how they confound the partial term with the larger word. They see a garden and then speak of the earth, they see a bed of geraniums and then speak of the globe; there is no balance in their sentences, their words do not correspond with one another at both ends of their declarations. The garden is beautiful, the flowers are lovely beyond all that it is possible for the colouring of human heart fully to represent. The painter paints the form, but he cannot touch the fragrance. We admire their poetical sympathy within given limits, but go beyond the garden wall, go into the rough streets, go into the desolate places, take in the wilderness, throw the line around the entirety, bring the whole elements within your purview, and then say what it is. The angel sees it, and says, "Mourning and lamentation and woe." Jesus sees it and cannot cease his prayer, Jesus looks upon it and is moved with compassion. Do not shut yourselves within your churches and say, "All is well;" do not shut the garden door and rejoice upon the verdant lawn and under the drooping tree, and say, "This is paradise regained." See every point of beauty, be thankful for every mercy given to you of the divine providence, but always endeavour to take in not a roof but a sky, not a circumference drawn by human compasses, but a horizon that required the sweep of the divine arm to form it, and when you see the entire scene you will be moved with compassion.
"But when he saw the multitudes he was moved with compassion because they fainted" literally because they were vexed, and disturbed, and fretted, and chafed as sheep when the wolf comes into the fold. They hear his panting, they see his eye of fire and his pitiless teeth, and they hear him as he prowls and snuffs and throbs in his cruel desire and design. Jesus not only saw the sheep, he saw the wolf; he not only sees humanity, he sees the devil and his angels, he sees how we are vexed, fretted, torn, disturbed, frightened by ten thousand black spirits that darken the day, and through whose black wings the hot sun can scarcely dart one living beam. He sees men, devils, angels, earth, heaven, and whilst the whole thing sums itself up before his comprehensive and penetrating vision his eyes darken with tears.
He noted that the people were as sheep having no shepherd. This figure of shepherdliness is most beautiful. He himself had the shepherdly heart. He is called the Good Shepherd: he knows his sheep, and many sheep he has that are not of this fold. He lays down his life for the sheep. The hireling fleeth because he is a hireling and careth not for the sheep. All these figures by which Jesus represents himself are figures of tenderness, sympathy, sometimes of weakness, by way of accommodation, to our human infirmities. He could blow the trumpet of thunder, and stand upon the platform of the wind and roar with the tempest blowing from every point of the compass in one fierce blast; but he sees that would overpower and affright them, so he speaks in a still small voice, thunder reduced to a whisper, and therefore not an utterance of feebleness, but a sigh of suppressed and condensed power. He is the gentle Shepherd, the good Shepherd. He made himself of no reputation, he took up our forms of endearment and service and our whole nomenclature of fellowship, sympathy, and love, and he made his tabernacle in our little words, giving them infinite enlargement according to his own purpose and motive. Observe how he comes from the multitude to the shepherd, from the many to the one. It is possible to have one man who can rule and guide and bless a countless host. I am longing for that one Man; I would speak with him a long while. He would be my preacher, my teacher; he would understand me wholly, and would speak to me in great breadths of knowledge and sympathy, and if I had any bitter shameful tale to tell, I could tell him every word of it, and he would answer me in gospels and not in condemnation. Any wolf can bite, any bigot can judge and condemn, any little detestable Pharisee can sit upon the judgment-seat and pronounce upon men whose shoe-latchet he is not worthy to unloose. It takes the great Christ and the Christly heart to judge with large judgment. Show me a man that can take in the large view, who knows all the languages of the heart, all the emotions of the wondrous human spirit, and he shall teach me and shepherd me, and I will fall asleep upon his breast; I will ask no better environment on earth than his strong and tender arm. Save me from the bigot, the literalist, the sectarian, the mean soul, and if ye know where the shepherd is show me his dwelling-place, and he will make my heart bright and young with a new hope.
"Then saith he to his disciples, the harvest truly is plenteous, the labourers are few." The figure changes. He has been speaking about a shepherd, and now he speaks about labourers. He has been speaking about a fold of sheep, and now he speaks about a harvest-field, and he speaks about both in the same breath. We are punctilious about the consistency of our figures; we dare not risk our reputation by the use of a mixed metaphor; no man dare utter these words as if they were his own. He would be heard of again, he would be laughed at by the last boy that left the school, he would be left by men who may have their weaknesses if you could only find them, but who could never by any possibility perpetrate the unutterable crime of uttering a mixed metaphor.
Both the figures are right: never mind about their juxtaposition. The world is a great sheepfold and a great harvest-field: it is both; it wants shepherds, wants labourers, wants compassion, wants attention. This is the great view of the great Christ; he saw the whole occasion, and saw the figures that were appropriate to it. So we can come into the text when we please. If Jesus Christ had compassion on us, ought we not to have compassion on ourselves? Is it a time for us to be flattering our heart and saying "It is all right" when Jesus Christ is crying great, bitter, hot tears? If he is uneasy for us, even to the point of agony, is it a time for us to be lying on a soft couch and to be saying "All is well"? I would rather take this view of my life than I would take my own.
And then, again, some of us are fit for bringing into the garner. I have come to seek you today as one of the labourers of God. You must not stand out there too long. Already you are golden, mellow, ripened corn, and we now want to take you into the garner will you come? This is a harvest that cannot be cut down against its own will, and garnered against its own consent. It is a great mystery, and the mystery is larger than the figure, the figure only helping us to a very partial treatment of the mystery. You are fifty years of age, and you have been out long enough; you are seventy years of age, and we want to bring you into the garner this very morning. You have ripened and ripened; there is a point after which you will rot and rot. With all the love of my heart no love at all compared with the love of Christ I would ask those of you who are yet outside the fold to hear the shepherd's voice bidding you come in, and ask those of you who are as mellow corn bowing your heads under the blessing of the summer breeze, or the autumnal wind, to allow yourselves to be garnered in the church and heart of God.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Matthew 9". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent