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THE WIDENED MISSION, ITS PERILS AND DEFENCES
We have already had two instances of Matthew’s way of bringing together sayings and incidents of a like kind without regard to their original connection. The Sermon on the Mount and the series of miracles in Mat_8:1 - Mat_8:34 and Mat_9:1 - Mat_9:38 are groups, the elements of which are for the most part found disconnected in Mark and Luke. This charge to the twelve in Mat_10:1 - Mat_10:42 seems to present a third instance, and to pass over in Mat_10:16 to a wider mission than that of the twelve during our Lord’s lifetime, for it forebodes persecution, whereas the preceding verses opened no darker prospect than that of indifference or non-reception. The ‘city’ which, in that stage of the gospel message, simply would ‘not receive you nor hear your words,’ in this stage has worsened into one where ‘they persecute you,’ and the persecutors are now ‘kings’ and ‘Gentiles,’ as well as Jewish councils and synagogue-frequenters. The period covered in these verses, too, reaches to the ‘end,’ the final revelation of all hidden things.
Obviously, then, our Lord is looking down a far future, and giving a charge to the dim crowd of His later disciples, whom His prescient eye saw pressing behind the twelve in days to come. He had no dreams of swift success, but realised the long, hard fight to which He was summoning His disciples. And His frankness in telling them the worst that they had to expect was as suggestive as was His freedom from the rosy, groundless visions of at once capturing a world which enthusiasts are apt to cherish, till hard experience shatters the illusions. He knew the future in store for Himself, for His Gospel, for His disciples. And He knew that dangers and death itself will not appal a soul that is touched into heroic self-forgetfulness by His love. ‘Set down my name,’ says the man in Pilgrim’s Progress , though he knew-may we not say, because he knew?-that the enemies were outside waiting to fall on him.
A further difference between this and the preceding section is, that there the stress was laid on the contents of the disciples’ message, but that here it is laid on their sufferings. Not so much by what they say, as by how they endure, are they to testify. ‘The noble army of martyrs praise Thee,’ and the primitive Church preached Jesus most effectually by dying for Him.
The keynote is struck in Mat_10:16 , in which are to be noted the ‘Behold,’ which introduces something important and strange, and calls for close attention; the majestic ‘ I send you,’ which moves to obedience whatever the issues, and pledges Him to defend the poor men who are going on His errands and the pathetic picture of the little flock huddled together, while the gleaming teeth of the wolves gnash all round them. A strange theme to drape in a metaphor! but does not the very metaphor help to lighten the darkness of the picture, as well as speak of His calmness, while He contemplates it? If the Shepherd sends His sheep into the midst of wolves, surely He will come to their help, and surely any peril is more courageously faced when they can say to themselves, ‘He put us here.’ The sheep has no claws to wound with nor teeth to tear with, but the defenceless Christian has a defence, and in his very weaponlessness wields the sharpest two-edged sword. ‘Force from force must ever flow.’ Resistance is a mistake. The victorious antagonist of savage enmity is patient meekness. ‘Sufferance is the badge of all’ true servants of Jesus. Wherever they have been misguided enough to depart from Christ’s law of endurance and to give blow for blow, they have lost their cause in the long run, and have hurt their own Christian life more than their enemies’ bodies. Guilelessness and harmlessness are their weapons. But ‘be ye wise as serpents’ is equally imperative with ‘guileless as doves.’ Mark the fine sanity of that injunction, which not only permits but enjoins prudent self-preservation, so long as it does not stoop to crooked policy, and is saved from that by dove-like guilelessness. A difficult combination, but a possible one, and when realised, a beautiful one!
The following verses Mat_10:17 expand the preceding, and mingle in a very remarkable way plain predictions of persecution to the death and encouragements to front the worst. Jewish councils and synagogues, Gentile governors and kings, will unite for once in common hatred, than which there is no stronger bond. That is a grim prospect to set before a handful of Galilean peasants, but two little words turn its terror into joy; it is ‘for My sake,’ and that is enough. Jesus trusted His humble friends, as He trusts all such always, and believed that ‘for My sake’ was a talisman which would sweeten the bitterest cup and would make cowards into heroes, and send men and women to their deaths triumphant. And history has proved that He did not trust them too much. ‘For His sake’-is that a charm for us , which makes the crooked straight and the rough places plain, which nerves for suffering and impels to noble acts, which moulds life and takes the sting and the terror out of death? Nor is that the only encouragement given to the twelve, who might well be appalled at the prospect of standing before Gentile kings. Jesus seems to discern how they shrank as they listened, at the thought of having to bear ‘testimony’ before exalted personages, and, with beautiful adaptation to their weakness, He interjects a great promise, which, for the first time, presents the divine Spirit as dwelling in the disciples’ spirits. The occasion of the dawning of that great Christian thought is very noteworthy, and not less so is the designation of the Spirit as ‘of your Father,’ with all the implications of paternal care and love which that name carries. Special crises bring special helps, and the martyrologies of all ages and lands, from Stephen outside the city wall to the last Chinese woman, have attested the faithfulness of the Promiser. How often have some calm, simple words from some slave girl in Roman cities, or some ignorant confessor before Inquisitors, been manifestly touched with heavenly light and power, and silenced sophistries and threats!
The solemn foretelling of persecution, broken for a moment, goes on and becomes even more foreboding, for it speaks of dearest ones turned to foes, and the sweet sanctities of family ties dissolved by the solvent of the new Faith. There is no enemy like a brother estranged, and it is tragically significant that it is in connection with the rupture of family bonds that death is first mentioned as the price that Christ’s messengers would have to pay for faithfulness to their message. But the prediction springs at a bound, as it were, from the narrow circle of home to the widest range, and does not fear to spread before the eyes of the twelve that they will become the objects of hatred to the whole human race if they are true to Christ’s charge. The picture is dark enough, and it has turned out to be a true forecast of facts. It suggests two questions. What right had Jesus to send men out on such an errand, and to bid them gladly die for Him? And what made these men gladly take up the burden which He laid on them? He has the right to dispose of us, because He is the Son of God who has died for us. Otherwise He is not entitled to say to us, Do my bidding, even if it leads you to death. His servants find their inspiration to absolute, unconditional self-surrender in the Love that has died for them. That which gives Him His right to dispose of us in life and death gives us the disposition to yield ourselves wholly to Him, to be His apostles according to our opportunities, and to say, ‘Whether I live or die, I am the Lord’s.’
That thought of world-wide hatred is soothed by the recurrence of the talisman, ‘For My name’s sake,’ and by a moment’s showing of a fair prospect behind the gloom streaked with lightning in the foreground. ‘He that endureth to the end shall be saved.’ The same saying occurs in Mat_24:13 , in connection with the prediction of the fall of Jerusalem, and in the same connection in Mar_13:13 , in both of which places several other sayings which appear in this charge to the apostles are found. It is impossible to settle which is the original place for these, or whether they were twice spoken. The latter supposition is very unfashionable at present, but has perhaps more to say for itself than modern critics are willing to allow. But Luk_21:19 has a remarkable variation of the saying, for his version of it is, ‘In your patience, ye shall win your souls.’ His word ‘patience’ is a noun cognate with the verb rendered in Matthew and Mark ‘endureth,’ and to ‘win one’s soul’ is obviously synonymous with being ‘saved.’ The saying cannot be limited, in any of its forms, to a mere securing of earthly life, for in this context it plainly includes those who have been delivered to death by parents and brethren, but who by death have won their lives, and have been, as Paul expected to be, thereby ‘saved into His heavenly kingdom.’ To the Christian, death is the usher who introduces him into the presence-chamber of the King, and he that loseth his life ‘for My name’s sake,’ finds it glorified in, and into, life eternal.
But willingness to endure the utmost is to be accompanied with willingness to take all worthy means to escape it. There has been a certain unwholesome craving for martyrdom generated in times of persecution, which may appear noble but is very wasteful. The worst use that you can put a man to is to burn him, and a living witness may do more for Christ than a dead martyr. Christian heroism may be shown in not being afraid to flee quite as much as in courting, or passively awaiting, danger. And Christ’s Name will be spread when His lovers are hounded from one city to another, just as it was when ‘they that were scattered abroad, went everywhere, preaching the word.’ When the brands are kicked apart by the heel of violence, they kindle flames where they fall.
But the reason for this command to flee is perplexing. ‘Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel till the Son of Man be come.’ Is Jesus here reverting to the narrower immediate mission of the apostles? What ‘coming’ is referred to? We have seen that the first mission of the twelve was the theme of Mat_10:5 - Mat_10:15 , and was there pursued to its ultimate consequences of final judgment on rejecters, whilst the wider horizon of a future mission opens out from Mat_10:16 onwards. A renewed contraction of the horizon is extremely unlikely. It would be as if ‘a flower should shut and be a bud again.’ The recurrence in Mat_10:23 of ‘Verily I say unto you,’ which has already occurred in Mat_10:15 , closing the first section of the charge, makes it probable that here too a section is completed, and that probability is strengthened if it is observed that the same phrase occurs, for a third time, in the last verse of the chapter, where again the discourse soars to the height of contemplating the final reward. The fact that the apostles met with no persecution on their first mission, puts out of court the explanation of the words that refers them to that mission, and takes the ‘coming’ to be Jesus’ own appearances in the places they had preceded Him as His heralds. The difficult question as to what is the terminus ad quem pointed to here seems best solved by taking the ‘coming of the Son of Man’ to be His judicial manifestation in the destruction of Jerusalem and the consequent desolation of many of ‘the cities of Israel,’ whilst at the same time, the nearer and smaller catastrophe is a prophecy and symbol of the remoter and greater ‘day of the Son of Man’ at the end of the days. The recognition of that aspect of the fall of Jerusalem is forced on us by the eschatological parts of the Gospels, which are a bewildering whirl without it. Here, however, it is the crash of the fall itself which is in view, and the thought conveyed is that there would be cities enough to serve for refuges, and scope enough for evangelistic work, till the end of the Jewish possession of the land.
In Mat_10:26 - Mat_10:31 , ‘fear not’ is thrice spoken, and at each occurrence is enforced by a reason. The first of these encouragements is the assurance of the certain ultimate world-wide manifestation of hidden things. That same dictum occurs in other connections, and with other applications, but in the present context can only be taken as an assurance that the Gospel message, little known as it thus far was, was destined to fill all ears. Therefore the disciples were to be fearless in doing their part in making it known, and so working in alliance with the divine purpose. It is the same thing that is meant by the ‘covered’ that ‘shall be revealed,’ the ‘hidden’ that ‘shall be known,’ ‘that which is spoken in darkness,’ and ‘that which is whispered in the ear’; and all four designations refer to the word which every Christian has it in charge to sound out. We note that Jesus foresees a far wider range of publicity for His servants’ ministry than for His own, just as He afterwards declared that they would do ‘greater works’ than His. He spoke to a handful of men in an obscure corner of the world. His teaching was necessarily largely confidential communication to the fit few. But the spark is going to be a blaze, and the whisper to become a shout that fills the world. Surely, then, we who are working in the line of direction of God’s working should let no fear make us dumb, but should ever hear and obey the command: ‘Lift up thy voice with strength, lift it up, be not afraid.’
A second reason for fearlessness is the limitation of the enemy’s power to hurt, reinforced by the thought that, while the penalties that man can inflict for faithfulness are only corporeal, transitory, and incapable of harming the true self, the consequences of unfaithfulness fling the whole man, body and soul, down to utter ruin. There is a fear that makes cowards and apostates; there is a fear which makes heroes and apostles. He who fears God, with the awe that has no torment and is own sister to love, is afraid of nothing and of no man. That holy and blessed fear drives out all other, as fire draws the heat out of a burn. He that serves Christ is lord of the world; he that fears God fronts the world, and is not afraid.
The last reason for fearlessness touches a tender chord, and discloses a gracious thought of God as Father, which softens the tremendous preceding word: ‘Who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.’ Take both designations together, and let them work together in producing the awe which makes us brave, and the filial trust which makes us braver. A bird does not ‘fall to the ground’ unless wounded, and if it falls it dies. Jesus had looked pityingly on the great mystery, the woes of the creatures, and had stayed Himself on the thought of the all-embracing working of God. The very dying sparrow, with broken wing, had its place in that universal care. God is ‘immanent’ in nature. The antithesis often drawn between His universal care and His ‘special providence’ is misleading. Providence is special because it is universal. That which embraces everything must embrace each thing. But the immanent God is ‘your Father,’ and because of that sonship, ‘ye are of more value than many sparrows.’ There is an ascending order, and an increasing closeness and tenderness of relation. ‘A man is better than a sheep,’ and Christians, being God’s children, may count on getting closer into the Father’s heart than the poor crippled bird can, or than the godless man can. ‘Your Father,’ on the one hand, can destroy soul and body, therefore fear Him; but, on the other, He determines whether you shall ‘fall to the ground’ or soar above dangers, therefore fear none but Him.
THE KING’S CHARGE TO HIS AMBASSADORS
Mat_10:32 - Mat_10:42 .
The first mission of the apostles, important as it was, was but a short flight to try the young birds’ wings. The larger portion of this charge to them passes far beyond the immediate occasion, and deals with the permanent relations of Christ’s servants to the world in which they live, for the purpose of bringing it into subjection to its true King. These solemn closing words, which make our present subject, contain the duty and blessedness of confessing Him, the vision of the antagonisms which He excites, His demand for all-surrendering following, and the rewards of those who receive Christ’s messengers, and therein receive Himself and His Father.
I. The duty and blessedness of confessing Him Mat_10:32 - Mat_10:33.
The ‘therefore’ is significant. It attaches the promise which follows to the immediately preceding thoughts of a watchful, fatherly care, extending like a great invisible hand over the true disciple. Because each is thus guarded, each shall be preserved to receive the honour of being confessed by Christ. No matter what may befall His witnesses, the extremest disaster shall not rob them of their reward. They may be flung down from the house-tops where they lift up their bold voices, but He who does not let a sparrow fall to the ground uncared for, will give His angels charge concerning them who are so much more precious, and they shall be borne up on outstretched wings, lest they be dashed on the pavement below. Thus preserved, they shall all attain at last to their guerdon. Nothing can come between Christ’s servant and his crown. The tender providence of the Father, whose mercy is over all His works, makes sure of that. The river of the confessor’s life may plunge underground, and be lost amid persecutions, but it will emerge again into the brighter sunshine on the other side of the mountains.
The confession which is to be thus rewarded, like the denial opposed to it, is, of course, not merely a single utterance of the lip. So far Judas Iscariot confessed Christ, and Peter denied Him. But it is the habitual acknowledgment by lip and life, unwithdrawn to the end. The context implies that the confession is maintained in the face of opposition, and that the denial is a cowardly attempt to save one’s skin at the cost of treason to Jesus. The temptation does not come in that sharpest form to us. Perhaps some cowards would be made brave if it did. It is perhaps easier to face the gibbet and the fire, and screw oneself up for once to a brief endurance, than to resist the more specious blandishments of the world, especially when it has been christened, and calls itself religious. The light laugh of scorn, the silent pressure of the low average of Christian character, the close associations in trade, literature, public and domestic life which Christians have with non-Christians, make many a man’s tongue lie silent, to the sore detriment of his own religious life. ‘Ye have not yet resisted unto blood,’ and find it hard to fulfil the easier conflict to which you are called. The sun has more power than the tempest to make the pilgrim drop his garment. But the duty remains the same for all ages. Every man is bound to make the deepest springs of his life visible, and to stand to his convictions, whatever they be. If he do not, his convictions will disappear like a piece of ice hid in a hot hand, which will melt and trickle away. This obligation lies with infinitely increased weight on Christ’s servants; and the consequences of failing to discharge it are more tragic in their cases, in the exact proportion of the greater preciousness of their faith. Corn hoarded is sure to be spoiled by weevils and rust. The bread of life hidden in our sacks will certainly go mouldy.
The reward and punishment of confession and denial come to them not as separate acts, but as each being the revelation of the spiritual condition of the doers. Christ implies that a true disciple cannot but be a confessor, and that therefore the denier must certainly be one whom He has never known. Because, therefore, each act is symptomatic of the doer, each receives the congruous and correspondent reward. The confessor is confessed; the denier is denied. What calm and assured consciousness of His place as Judge underlies these words! His recognition is God’s acceptance; His denial is darkness and misery. The correspondence between the work and the reward is beautifully brought out by the use of the same word to express each. And yet what a difference between our confession of Him and His of us! And what a hope is here for all who have tremblingly, and in the consciousness of much unworthiness, ventured to say that they were Christ’s subjects, and He their King, brother, and all! Their poor, feeble confession will be endorsed by His. He will say, ‘Yes, this man is mine, and I am his.’ That will be glory, honour, blessedness, life, heaven.
II. The vision of the discord which follows the coming of the King of peace.
It is not enough to interpret these words as meaning that our Lord’s purpose indeed was to bring peace, but that the result of His coming was strife. The ultimate purpose is peace; but an immediate purpose is conflict, as the only road to the peace. He is first King of righteousness, and after that also King of peace. But, if His kingdom be righteousness, purity, love, then unrighteousness, filthiness, and selfishness will fight against it for their lives. The ultimate purpose of Christ’s coming is to transform the world into the likeness of heaven; and all in the world which hates such likeness is embattled against Him. He saw realities, and knew men’s hearts, and was under no illusion, such as many an ardent reformer has cherished, that the fair form of truth need only be shown to men, and they will take her to their hearts. Incessant struggle is the law for the individual and for society till Christ’s purpose for both is realised.
That conflict ranges the dearest in opposite ranks. The gospel is the great solvent. As when a substance is brought into contact with some chemical compound, which has greater affinity for one of its elements than the other element has, the old combination is dissolved, and a new and more stable one is formed, so Christianity analyses and destroys in order to synthesis and construction. In Mat_10:21 our Lord had foretold that brother should deliver up brother to death. Here the severance is considered from the opposite side. The persons who are ‘set at variance’ with their kindred are here Christians. Perhaps it is fanciful to observe that they are all junior members of families, as if the young would be more likely to flock to the new light. But however that may be, the separation is mutual, but the hate is all on one side. The ‘man’s foes’ are of his own household; but he is not their foe, though he be parted from them.
III. Earthly love may be a worse foe to a true Christian than even the enmity of the dearest; and that enmity may often be excited by the Christian subordination of earthly to heavenly love. So our Lord passes from the warnings of discord and hate to the danger of the opposite-undue love.
He claims absolute supremacy in our hearts. He goes still farther, and claims the surrender, not only of affections, but of self and life to Him. What a strange claim this is! A Jewish peasant, dead nineteen hundred years since, fronts the whole race of man, and asserts His right to their love, which is strange, and to their supreme love, which is stranger still. Why should we love Him at all, if He were only a man, however pure and benevolent? We may admire, as we do many another fair nature in the past; but is there any possibility of evoking anything as warm as love to an unseen person, who can have had no knowledge of or love to us? And why should we love Him more than our dearest, from whom we have drawn, or to whom we have given, life? What explanation or justification does He give of this unexampled demand? Absolutely none. He seems to think that its reasonableness needs no elucidation. Surely never did teacher professing wisdom, modesty, and, still more, religion, put forward such a claim of right; and surely never besides did any succeed in persuading generations unborn to yield His demand, when they heard it. The strangest thing in the world’s history is that to-day there are millions who do love Jesus Christ more than all besides, and whose chief self-accusation is that they do not love Him more. The strange, audacious claim is most reasonable, if we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, who died for each of us, and that each man and woman to the last of the generations had a separate place in His divine human love when He died. It is meet to love Him, if that be true; it is not, unless it be. The requirement is as stringent as strange. If the two ever seem to conflict, the earthly must give way. If the earthly be withdrawn, there must be found sufficiency for comfort and peace in the heavenly. The lower must not be permitted to hinder the flight of the heavenly to its home. ‘More than Me’ is a rebuke to most of us. What a contrast between the warmth of our earthly and the tepidity or coldness of our heavenly love! How spontaneously our thoughts, when left free, turn to the one; how hard we find it to keep them fixed on the other! How sweet service is to the dear ones here; how reluctantly it is given to Christ! How we long, when parted, to rejoin them; how little we are drawn to the place where He is! We have all to confess that we are ‘not worthy of’ Him; that we requite His love with inadequate returns, and live lives which tax His love for its highest exercise, the free forgiveness of sins against itself. Compliance with that stringent law, and subordinating all earthly love to His, is the true elevating and ennobling of the earthly. It is promoted, not degraded, when it is made second, and is infinitely sweeter and deeper then than when it was set in the place of supremacy, where it had no right to be.
But Christ’s demand is not only for the surrender of the heart, but for the giving up of self, and, in a very profound sense, for the surrender of life. How enigmatical that saying about taking up the cross must have sounded to the disciples! They knew little about the cross, as a punishment; they had not yet associated it in any way with their Lord. This seems to have been the first occasion of His mentioning it, and the allusion is so veiled as to be but partially intelligible. But what was intelligible was bewildering. A strange royal procession that, of the King with a cross on His shoulder, and all His subjects behind Him with similar burdens! Through the ages that procession has marched, and it marches still. Self-denial for Christ’s sake is ‘the badge of all our tribe.’ Observe that word ‘take.’ The cross must be willingly and by ourselves assumed. No other can lay it on our shoulders. Observe that other word ‘his.’ Each man has his own special form in which self-denial is needful for him. We require pure eyes, and hearts kept in very close communion with Jesus, to ascertain what our particular cross is. He has them of many patterns, shapes, sizes, and materials. We can always make sure of strength to carry the one which He means us to carry, but not of strength to bear what is not ours.
IV. We have the rewards of those who receive Christ’s messengers, and therein receive Him and His Father.
Our Lord first identifies these twelve with Himself in a manner which must have sounded strange to them then, but have heartened them for their work by the consciousness of His mysterious oneness with them. The whole doctrine of Christ’s unity with His people lay in germ in these words, though much more was needed, both of teaching and of experience, before their depth of blessing and strengthening could be apprehended. We know that He dwells in His true subjects by His Spirit, and that a most real union subsists between the head and the members, of which the closest unions of earth are but faint shadows, so as that not only those who receive His followers receive Him, but, more wonderful still, His followers are received at the last by God Himself as joined to Him, and portions of His very self, and therefore ‘accepted in the Beloved.’ Our Lord adds to these words the thought that, in like manner, to receive Him is to receive the Father, and so implies that our relation to Him is in certain real respects parallel with His relation to the Father. We too are sent. He who sends abides with us, as the Son ever abode in God, and God in Him. We are sent to be the brightness of Christ’s glory, and to manifest Him to men, as He was sent to reveal the Father.
A LIFE LOST AND FOUND 1
My heart impels me to break this morning my usual rule of avoiding personal references in the pulpit. Death has been busy in our own congregation this last week, and yesterday we laid in the grave all that was mortal of a man to whom Manchester owes more than it knows. Mr. Crossley has been for thirty years my close and dear friend. He was long a member of this church and congregation. I need not speak of his utter unselfishness, of his lifelong consecration, of his lavish generosity, of his unstinted work for God and man; but thinking of him and of it, I have felt as if the words of my text were the secret of his life, and as if he now understood the fulness of the promise they contain: ‘He that loseth his life for My sake shall find it.’ Now, looking at these words in the light of the example so tenderly beloved by some of us, so sharply criticised by many, but now so fully recognised as saintly by all, I ask you to consider-
I. The stringent requirement for the Christian life that is here made.
Now we shall very much impoverish the meaning and narrow the sweep of these great and penetrating words, if we understand by ‘losing one’s life’ only the actual surrender of physical existence. It is not only the martyr on whose bleeding brows the crown of life is gently placed; it is not only the temples that have been torn by the crown of thorns, that are soothed by that unfading wreath; but there is a daily dying, which is continually required from all Christian people, and is, perhaps, as hard as, or harder than, the brief and bloody passage of martyrdom by which some enter into rest. For the true losing of life is the slaying of self, and that has to be done day by day, and not once for all, in some supreme act of surrender at the end, or in some initial act of submission and yielding at the beginning, of the Christian life. We ourselves have to take the knife into our own hands and strike, and that not once, but ever, right on through our whole career. For, by natural disposition, we are all inclined to make our own selves to be our own centres, our own aims, the objects of our trust, our own law; and if we do so, we are dead whilst we live, and the death that brings life is when, day by day, we ‘crucify the old man with his affections and lusts.’ Crucifixion was no sudden death; it was an exquisitely painful one, which made every nerve quiver and the whole frame thrill with anguish; and that slow agony, in all its terribleness and protractedness, is the image that is set before us as the true ideal of every life that would not be a living death. The world is to be crucified to me, and I to the world.
We have our centre in ourselves, and we need the centre to be shifted, or we live in sin. If I might venture upon so violent an image, the comets that career about the heavens need to be caught and tamed, and bound to peaceful revolution round some central sun, or else they are ‘wandering stars to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.’ So, brethren, the slaying of self by a painful, protracted process, is the requirement of Christ.
But do not let us confine ourselves to generalities. What is meant? This is meant-the absolute submission of the will to commandments and providences, the making of that obstinate part of our nature meek and obedient and plastic as the clay in the potter’s hands. The tanner takes a stiff hide, and soaks it in bitter waters, and dresses it with sharp tools, and lubricates it with unguents, and his work is not done till all the stiffness is out of it and it is flexible. And we do not lose our lives in the lofty, noble sense, until we can say-and verify the speech by our actions-’Not my will but Thine be done.’ They who thus submit, they who thus welcome into their hearts, and enthrone upon the sovereign seat in their wills, Christ and His will-these are they who have lost their lives. When we can say, ‘I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me,’ then, and only then, have we in the deepest sense of the words ‘lost our lives.’
The phrase means the suppression, and sometimes the excision, of appetites, passions, desires, inclinations. It means the hallowing of all aims; it means the devotion and the consecration of all activities. It means the surrender and the stewardship of all possessions. And only then, when we have done these things, shall we have come to practical obedience to the initial requirement that Christ makes from us all-to lose our lives for His sake.
I need not diverge here to point to that life from which my thoughts have taken their start in this sermon. Surely if there was any one characteristic in it more distinct and lovely than another, it was that self was dead and that Christ lived. There may be sometimes a call for the actual-which is the lesser-surrender of the bodily life, in obedience to the call of duty. There have been Christian men who have wrought themselves to death in the Master’s service. Perhaps he of whom I have been speaking was one of these. It may be that, if he had done like so many of our wealthy men-had flung himself into business and then collapsed into repose-he would have been here to-day. Perhaps it would have been better if there had been a less entire throwing of himself into arduous and clamant duties. I am not going to enter on the ethics of that question. I do not think there are many of this generation of Christians who are likely to work themselves to death in Christ’s cause; and perhaps, after all, the old saying is a true one, ‘Better to wear out than to rust out.’ But only this I will say: we honour the martyrs of Science, of Commerce, of Empire, why should not we honour the martyrs of Faith? And why should they be branded as imprudent enthusiasts, if they make the same sacrifice which, when an explorer or a soldier makes, his memory is honoured as heroic, and his cold brows are crowned with laurels? Surely it is as wise to die for Christ as for England. But be that as it may; the requirement, the stringent requirement, of my text is not addressed to any spiritual aristocracy, but is laid upon the consciences of all professing Christians.
II. Observe the grounds of this requirement.
Did you ever think-or has the fact become so familiar to you that it ceases to attract notice?-did you ever think what an extraordinary position it is for the son of a carpenter in Nazareth to plant Himself before the human race and say, ‘You will be wise if you die for My sake, and you will be doing nothing more than your plain duty’? What business has He to assume such a position as that? What warrants that autocratic and all-demanding tone from His lips? ‘Who art Thou’-we may fancy people saying-’that Thou shouldst put out a masterful hand and claim to take as Thine the life of my heart?’ Ah! brethren, there is but one answer: ‘Who loved me, and gave Himself for me.’ The foolish, loving, impulsive apostle that blurted out, before his time had come, ‘I will lay down my life for Thy sake,’ was only premature; he was not mistaken. There needed that His Lord should lay down His life for Peter’s sake; and then He had a right to turn to the apostle and say, ‘Thou shalt follow Me afterwards,’ and ‘lay down thy life for My sake.’ The ground of Christ’s unique claim is Christ’s solitary sacrifice. He who has died for men, and He only, has the right to require the unconditional, the absolute surrender of themselves, not only in the sacrifice of a life that is submitted, but, if circumstances demand, in the sacrifice of a death. The ground of the requirement is laid, first in the fact of our Lord’s divine nature, and second, in the fact that He who asks my life has first of all given His.
But that same phrase, ‘for My sake,’ suggests-
III. The all-sufficient motive which makes such a loss of life possible.
I suppose that there is nothing else that will wholly dethrone self but the enthroning of Jesus Christ. That dominion is too deeply rooted to be abolished by any enthusiasms, however noble they may be, except the one that kindles its undying torch at the flame of Christ’s own love. God forbid that I should deny that wonderful and lovely instances of self-oblivion may be found in hearts untouched by the supreme love of Christ! But whilst I recognise all the beauty of such, I, for my part, humbly venture to believe and assert that, for the entire deliverance of a man from self-regard, the one sufficient motive power is the reception into his opening heart of the love of Jesus Christ.
Ah! brethren, you and I know how hard it is to escape from the tyrannous dominion of self, and how the evil spirits that have taken possession of us mock at all lesser charms than the name which ‘devils fear and fly’; ‘the Name that is above every name.’ We have tried other motives. We have sought to reprove our selfishness by other considerations. Human love-which itself is sometimes only the love of self, seeking satisfaction from another-human love does conquer it, but yet conquers it partially. The demons turn round upon all other would-be exorcists, and say, ‘Jesus we know . . . but who are ye?’ It is only when the Ark is carried into the Temple that Dagon falls prone before it. If you would drive self out of your hearts-and if you do not it will slay you-if you would drive self out, let Christ’s love and sacrifice come in. And then, what no brooms and brushes, no spades nor wheelbarrows, will ever do-namely, cleanse out the filth that lodges there-the turning of the river in will do, and float it all away. The one possibility for complete, conclusive deliverance from the dominion and tyranny of Self is to be found in the words ‘For My sake.’ Ah! brethren, I suppose there are none of us so poor in earthly love, possessed or remembered, but that we know the omnipotence of these words when whispered by beloved lips, ‘For My sake’; and Jesus Christ is saying them to us all.
IV. Lastly, notice the recompense of the stringent requirement.
‘Shall find it,’ and that finding, like the losing, has a twofold reference and accomplishment: here and now, yonder and then.
Here and now, no man possesses himself till he has given himself to Jesus Christ. Only then, when we put the reins into His hands, can we coerce and guide the fiery steeds of passion and of impulse, And so Scripture, in more than one place, uses a remarkable expression, when it speaks of those that believe to the ‘acquiring of their souls.’ You are not your own masters until you are Christ’s servants; and when you fancy yourselves to be most entirely your own masters, you have promised yourselves liberty and have become the slave of corruption. So if you would own yourselves, give yourselves away. And such an one ‘shall find’ his life, here and now, in that all earthly things will be sweeter and better. The altar sanctifies the gift. When some pebble is plunged into a sunlit stream, the water brings out the veined colourings of the stone that looked all dull and dim when it was lying upon the bank. Fling your whole being, your wealth, your activities, and everything, into that stream, and they will flash in splendour else unknown. Did not my friend, of whom I have been speaking, enjoy his wealth far more, when he poured it out like water upon good causes, than if he had spent it in luxury and self-indulgence? And shall we not find that everything is sweeter, nobler, better, fuller of capacity to delight, if we give it all to our Master? The stringent requirement of Christ is the perfection of prudence. ‘Who pleasure follows pleasure slays,’ and who slays pleasure finds a deeper and a holier delight. The keenest epicureanism could devise no better means for sucking the last drop of sweetness out of the clustering grapes of the gladnesses of earth than to obey this stringent requirement, and so realise the blessed promise, ‘Whoso loseth his life for My sake shall find it.’ The selfish man is a roundabout fool. The self-devoted man, the Christ-enthroning man, is the wise man.
And there will be the further finding hereafter, about which we cannot speak. Only remember, how in a passage parallel with this of my text, spoken when almost within sight of Calvary, our Lord laid down not only the principle of His own life but the principle for all His servants, when He said, ‘Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.’ The solitary grain dropped into the furrow brings forth a waving harvest. We may not, we need not, particularise, but the life that is found at last is as the fruit an hundredfold of the life that men called ‘lost’ and God called ‘sown.’
‘Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord; they rest from their labours, and their works do follow them.’
1 Preached after the funeral of Mr. F. W. Crossley.
THE GREATEST IN THE KINGDOM, AND THEIR REWARD
Mat_10:41 - Mat_10:42 .
There is nothing in these words to show whether they refer to the present or to the future. We shall probably not go wrong if we regard them as having reference to both. For all godliness has ‘promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come,’ and ‘ in keeping God’s commandments,’ as well as for keeping them, ‘there is great reward,’ a reward realised in the present, even although Death holds the keys of the treasure-house in which the richest rewards are stored. No act of holy obedience is here left without foretastes of joy, which, though they be but ‘brooks by the way,’ contain the same water of life which hereafter swells to an ocean.
Some people tell us that it is defective morality in Christianity to bribe men to be good by promising them Heaven, and that he who is actuated by such a motive is selfish. Now that fantastic and overstrained objection may be very simply answered by two considerations: self-regard is not selfishness, and Christianity does not propose the future reward as the motive for goodness. The motive for goodness is love to Jesus Christ; and if ever there was a man who did acts of Christian goodness only for the sake of what he would get by them, the acts were not Christian goodness, because the motive was wrong. But it is a piece of fastidiousness to forbid us to reinforce the great Christian motive, which is love to Jesus Christ, by the thought of the recompense of reward. It is a stimulus and an encouragement of, not the motive for, goodness. This text shows us that it is a subordinate motive, for it says that the reception of a prophet, or of a righteous man, or of ‘one of these little ones,’ which is rewardable, is the reception ‘in the name of’ a prophet, a disciple, and so on, or, in other words, is the recognising of the prophet, or the righteous man, or the disciple for what he is, and because he is that, and not because of the reward, receiving him with sympathy and solace and help.
So, with that explanation, let us look at these very remarkable words of our text.
I. The first thing which I wish to observe in them is the three classes of character which are dealt with-’prophet,’ ‘righteous man,’ ‘these little ones.’
Now the question that I would suggest is this: Is there any meaning in the order in which these are arranged? If so, what is it? Do we begin at the bottom, or at the top? Have we to do with an ascending or with a descending scale? Is the prophet thought to be greater than the righteous man, or less? Is the righteous man thought to be higher than the little one, or to be lower? The question is an important one, and worth considering.
Now, at first sight, it certainly does look as if we had here to do with a descending scale, as if we began at the top and went downwards. A prophet, a man honoured with a distinct commission from God to declare His will, is, in certain very obvious respects, loftier than a man who is not so honoured, however pure and righteous he may be. The dim and venerable figures, for instance, of Isaiah and Jeremiah, tower high above all their contemporaries; and godly men who hung upon their lips, like Baruch on Jeremiah’s, felt themselves to be, and were, inferior to them. And, in like manner, the little child who believes in Christ may seem to be insignificant in comparison with the prophet with his God-touched lips, or the righteous man of the old dispensation with his austere purity; as a humble violet may seem by the side of a rose with its heart of fire, or a white lily regal and tall. But one remembers that Jesus Christ Himself declared that ‘the least of the little ones’ was greater than the greatest who had gone before; and it is not at all likely that He who has just been saying that whosoever received His followers received Himself, should classify these followers beneath the righteous men of old. The Christian type of character is distinctly higher than the Old Testament type; and the humblest believer is blessed above prophets and righteous men because his eyes behold and his heart welcomes the Christ.
Therefore I am inclined to believe that we have here an ascending series-that we begin at the bottom and not at the top; that the prophet is less than the righteous man, and the righteous man less than the little one who believes in Christ. For, suppose there were a prophet who was not righteous, and a righteous man who was not a prophet. Suppose the separation between the two characters were complete, which of them would be the greater? Balaam was a prophet; Balaam was not a righteous man; Balaam was immeasurably inferior to the righteous whose lives he did not emulate, though he could not but envy their deaths. In like manner the humblest believer in Jesus Christ has something that a prophet, if he is not a disciple, does not possess; and that which he has, and the prophet has not, is higher than the endowment that is peculiar to the prophet alone.
May we say the same thing about the difference between the righteous man and the disciple? Can there be a righteous man that is not a disciple? Can there be a disciple that is not a righteous man? Can the separation between these two classes be perfect and complete? No! in the profoundest sense, certainly not. But then at the time when Christ spoke there were some men standing round Him, who, ‘as touching the righteousness which is of the law,’ were ‘blameless.’ And there are many men to-day, with much that is noble and admirable in their characters, who stand apart from the faith that is in Jesus Christ; and if the separation be so complete as that, then it is to be emphatically and decisively pronounced that, if we have regard to all that a man ought to be, and if we estimate men in the measure in which they approximate to that ideal in their lives and conduct, ‘the Christian is the highest style of man.’ The disciple is above the righteous men adorned with many graces of character, who, if they are not Christians, have a worm at the root of all their goodness, because it lacks the supreme refinement and consecration of faith; and above the fiery-tongued prophet, if he is not a disciple.
Now, brethren, this thought is full of very important practical inferences. Faith is better than genius. Faith is better than brilliant gifts. Faith is better than large acquirements. The poet’s imagination, the philosopher’s calm reasoning, the orator’s tongue of fire, even the inspiration of men that may have their lips touched to proclaim God to their brethren, are all less than the bond of living trust that knits a soul to Jesus Christ, and makes it thereby partaker of that indwelling Saviour. And, in like manner, if there be men, as there are, and no doubt some of them among my hearers, adorned with virtues and graces of character, but who have not rested their souls on Jesus Christ, then high above these, too, stands the lowliest person who has set his faith and love on that Saviour. Neither intellectual endowments nor moral character are the highest, but faith in Jesus Christ. A man may be endowed with all brilliancy of intellect and fair with many beauties of character, and he may be lost; and on the other hand simple faith, rudimentary and germlike as it often is, carries in itself the prophecy of all goodness, and knits a man to the source of all blessedness. ‘Whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. Now abideth these three, faith, hope, charity.’ ‘Rejoice not that the spirits are subject unto you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in Heaven.’
Ah! brethren, if we believed in Christ’s classification of men, and in the order of importance and dignity in which He arranges them, it would make a wonderful practical difference to the lives, to the desires, and to the efforts of a great many of us. Some of you students, young men and women that are working at college or your classes, if you believed that it was better to trust in Jesus Christ than to be wise, and gave one-tenth, ay! one-hundredth part of the attention and the effort to secure the one which you do to secure the other, would be different people. ‘Not many wise men after the flesh,’ but humble trusters in Jesus Christ, are the victors in the world. Believe you that, and order your lives accordingly.
Oh! what a reversal of this world’s estimates is coming one day, when the names that stand high in the roll of fame shall pale, like photographs that have been shut up in a portfolio, and when you take them out have faded off the paper. ‘The world knows nothing of its greatest men,’ but there is a time coming when the spurious mushroom aristocracy that the world has worshipped will be forgotten, like the nobility of some conquered land, who are brushed aside and relegated to private life by the new nobility of the conquerors, and when the true nobles, God’s aristocrats, the righteous, who are righteous because they have trusted in Christ, shall shine forth like the sun ‘in the Kingdom of My Father.’
Here is the climax: gifts and endowments at the bottom, character and morality in the middle, and at the top faith in Jesus Christ.
II. Now notice briefly in the second place the variety of the reward according to the character.
The prophet has his, the righteous man has his, the little one has his. That is to say, each level of spiritual or moral stature receives its own prize. There is no difficulty in seeing that this is so in regard to the rewards of this life. Every faithful message delivered by a prophet increases that prophet’s own blessedness, and has joys in the receiving of it from God, in the speaking of it to men, in the marking of its effects as it spreads through the world, which belong to him alone. In all these, and in many other ways, the ‘prophet’ has rewards that no stranger can intermeddle with. All courses of obedient conduct have their own appropriate consequences and satisfaction. Every character is adapted to receive, and does receive, in the measure of its goodness, certain blessings and joys, here and now. ‘Surely the righteous shall be recompensed in the earth.’
And the same principle, of course, applies if we think of the reward as altogether future. It must be remembered, however, that Christianity does not teach, as I believe, that if there be a prophet or a righteous man who is not a disciple, that prophet or righteous man will get rewards in the future life. It must be remembered, too, that every disciple is righteous in the measure of his faith. Discipleship being presupposed, then the disciple who is a prophet will have one reward, and the disciple who is a righteous man shall have another; and where all three characteristics coincide, there shall be a triple crown of glory upon his head.
That is all plain and obvious enough, if only we get rid of the prejudice that the rewards of a future life are merely bestowed upon men by God’s arbitrary good pleasure. What is the reward of Heaven? ‘Eternal life,’ people say. Yes! ‘Blessedness.’ Yes! But where does the life come from, and where does the blessedness come from? They are both derived, they come from God in Christ; and in the deepest sense, and in the only true sense, God is Heaven, and God is the reward of Heaven. ‘I am thy shield,’ so long as dangers need to be guarded against, and then, thereafter, ‘I am thine exceeding great Reward.’ It is the possession of God that makes all the Heaven of Heaven, the immortal life which His children receive, and the blessedness with which they are enraptured. We are heirs of immortality, we are heirs of life, we are heirs of blessedness, because, and in the measure in which, we become heirs of God.
And if that be so, then there is no difficulty in seeing that in Heaven, as on earth, men will get just as much of God as they can hold; and that in Heaven, as on earth, capacity for receiving God is determined by character. The gift is one, the reward is one, and yet the reward is infinitely various. It is the same light which glows in all the stars, but ‘star differeth from star in glory.’ It is the same wine, the new wine of the Kingdom, that is poured into all the vessels, but the vessels are of divers magnitudes, though each be full to the brim.
And so in those two sister parables of our Master’s, which are so remarkably discriminated and so remarkably alike, we have both these aspects of the Heavenly reward set forth-both that which declares its identity in all cases, and the other which declares its variety according to the recipient’s character. All the servants receive the same welcome, the same prize, the same entrance into the same joy; although one of them had ten talents, and another five, and another two. But the servants who were each sent out to trade with one poor pound in their hands, and by their varying diligence reaped varying profits, were rewarded according to the returns that they had brought; and one received ten, and the other five, and the other two, cities over which to have authority and rule. So the reward is one, and yet infinitely diverse. It is not the same thing whether a man or a woman, being a Christian, is an earnest, and devoted, and growing Christian here on earth, or a selfish, and an idle, and a stagnant one. It is not the same thing whether you content yourselves with simply laying hold on Christ, and keeping a tremulous and feeble hold of Him for the rest of your lives, or whether you grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour. There is such a fate as being saved, yet so as by fire, and going into the brightness with the smell of the fire on your garments. There is such a fate as having just, as it were, squeezed into Heaven, and got there by the skin of your teeth. And there is such a thing as having an abundant entrance ministered, when its portals are thrown wide open. Some imperfect Christians die with but little capacity for possessing God, and therefore their heaven will not be as bright, nor studded with as majestic constellations, as that of others. The starry vault that bends above us so far away, is the same in the number of its stars when gazed on by the savage with his unaided eye, and by the astronomer with the strongest telescope; and the Infinite God, who arches above us, but comes near to us, discloses galaxies of beauty and oceans of abysmal light in Himself, according to the strength and clearness of the eye that looks upon Him. So, brethren, remember that the one glory has infinite degrees; and faith, and conduct, and character here determine the capacity for God which we shall have when we go to receive our reward.
III. The last point that is here is the substantial identity of the reward to all that stand on the same level, however different may be the form of their lives.
‘He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward.’ And so in the case of the others. The active prophet, righteous man, or disciple, and the passive recogniser of each in that character, who receives each as a prophet, or righteous man, or disciple, stand practically and substantially on the same level, though the one of them may have his lips glowing with the divine inspiration and the other may never have opened his mouth for God.
That is beautiful and deep. The power of sympathising with any character is the partial possession of that character for ourselves. A man who is capable of having his soul bowed by the stormy thunder of Beethoven, or lifted to Heaven by the ethereal melody of Mendelssohn, is a musician, though he never composed a bar. The man who recognises and feels the grandeur of the organ music of ‘Paradise Lost’ has some fibre of a poet in him, though he be but ‘a mute, inglorious Milton.’
All sympathy and recognition of character involve some likeness to that character. The poor woman who brought the sticks and prepared food for the prophet entered into the prophet’s mission and shared in the prophet’s work and reward, though his task was to beard Ahab, and hers was only to bake Elijah’s bread. The old knight that clapped Luther on the back when he went into the Diet of Worms, and said to him, ‘Well done, little monk!’ shared in Luther’s victory and in Luther’s crown. He that helps a prophet because he is a prophet, has the making of a prophet in himself.
As all work done from the same motive is the same in God’s eyes, whatever be the outward shape of it, so the work that involves the same type of spiritual character will involve the same reward. You find the Egyptian medal on the breasts of the soldiers that kept the base of communication as well as on the breasts of the men that stormed the works at Tel-el-Kebir. It was a law in Israel, and it is a law in Heaven: ‘As his part is that goeth down into the battle, so shall his part be that tarrieth by the stuff, they shall part alike.’ ‘I am going down into the pit, you hold the ropes,’ said Carey, the pioneer missionary. They that hold the ropes, and the daring miner that swings away down in the blackness, are one in the work, may be one in the motive, and, if they are, shall be one in the reward. So, brethren, though no coal of fire may be laid upon your lips, if you sympathise with the workers that are trying to serve God, and do what you can to help them, and identify yourself with them, and so hold the ropes, my text will be true about you. ‘He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward.’ They who by reason of circumstances, by deficiency of power, or by the weight of other tasks and duties, can only give silent sympathy, and prayer, and help, are one with the men whom they help.
Dear brethren! remember that this awful, mystical life of ours is full everywhere of consequences that cannot be escaped. What we sow we reap, and we grind it, and we bake it, and we live upon it. We have to drink as we have brewed; we have to lie on the beds that we have made. ‘Be not deceived: God is not mocked.’ The doctrine of reward has two sides to it. ‘Nothing human ever dies.’ All our deeds drag after them inevitable consequences; but if you will put your trust in Jesus Christ, He will not deal with you according to your sins, nor reward you according to your iniquities; and the darkest features of the recompense of your evil will all be taken away by the forgiveness which we have in His blood. If you will trust yourselves to Him you will have that eternal life, which is not wages, but a gift; which is not reward, but a free bestowment of God’s love. And then, if we build upon that Foundation on which alone men can build their hopes, their thoughts, their characters, their lives, however feeble may be our efforts, however narrow may be our sphere,-though we be neither prophets nor sons of prophets, and though our righteousness may be all stained and imperfect, yet, to our own amazement and to God’s glory, we shall find, when the fire is kindled which reveals and tests our works, that, by the might of humble faith in Christ, we have built upon that Foundation, gold and silver and precious stones; and shall receive the reward given to every man whose work abides that trial by fire.
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MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on Matthew 10". MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany