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I. To take the "lowest room" towards God is: (1) To be content simply to take God at His word, without asking any questions or raising any doubts, but to accept at His hand all that God graciously vouchsafes to give you the pardon and the peace; to be a receptacle of love, a vessel into which, of His free mercy, He has poured and is pouring now, and will go on to pour for ever, the abundance of His grace. (2) Next, it is to be just what God makes you to rest where He places you to do what He tells you only because He is everything and you nothing conscious of a weakness which can only stand by leaning, and an ignorance which needs constant teaching to be always emptying, because God is always filling.
II. How are we to take the lowest room towards man? It is quite useless to attempt to be humble with a fellow-creature, unless you are really humble with God. Do not put yourself up into the chair of judgment upon any man; but rather see yourself as you are; everybody is inferior in something far worse than that man in some things. So your words will not grow censorious; and if you sit low enough, you will be sure to speak charitably. Sympathy is power, but there is no sympathy where there is self. Self must be destroyed to make sympathy. Do not mistake patronising for love. When you comfort sorrow, look well to it that you touch another's grief with a reverential hand. And sin whatever you do, never treat sin with roughness or contempt. The Pure and Holy One never did that. He dealt with the worst sinner delicately. If you ask, "How am I to go lower?" among the thousand rules I select one exalt Christ. If Christ do but occupy His right place in your heart, you will be sure in the presence of that majesty and of that beauty to go and sit down in the lowest room.
J. Vaughan, Sermons, 1867, p. 37.
References: Luke 14:10 . T. Birkett Dover, A Lent Manual, p. 11; Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 251; G. Matheson, Moments on the Mount, p. 270; G. H. Wilkinson, Church of England Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 310.
This is one of the sayings which we gather from the Gospels to have been frequently in our Lord's mouth, and this means that it had some variety of application now graver, now lighter. In the passage which we just read, it was His comment on an exhibition of what we should call vanity. On the surface He seemed to point not so much to the spiritual fault which was at the root of the pushing for the first seats, as to its futility, to the punishment which certainly and speedily overtook. The first seat, so claimed, could only be held for a moment, till the host came. Then the guests would be sorted; to have placed himself too low would bring credit, and to have placed himself too high humiliation.
I. What our Lord said was typical. It was a parable in the sense that it was of a character He spoke. This was only a trait of it. Those who chose the chief places at the feast were the same class of persons as in other and more serious ways thrust themselves forward "trusted in themselves and despised others." And it was a parable, in the sense that while speaking of an outward act and of an immediate and visible reward, He was thinking of the whole view of human life, and of the objects and rewards of human endeavour of which those were a type. It was a parable of the false and of the true estimate of greatness, of the reversal of human judgments, of the blindness and littleness of human ambitions.
II. Humility is the necessary and inevitable attitude of a Christian soul of a soul which keeps in sight the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, which knows itself a child of God, fallen, lost, yet restored and pardoned in Him. This attitude is never lost. It affects all relations. As between themselves men vary of course greatly. God has ordered human life, and all its natural motives and situations are part of His providence. He does not wish us to blind our reason, and to say that that is good which conscience and common sense tell us to be mean and bad. He makes the desire to excel, the pleasure of success, to be the springs of energy which are generally necessary to a manly and useful life. We may sometimes puzzle ourselves if we try in theory to make it clear how such judgments on others and such natural ambitions can harmonise with the spirit of perfect humility. But the honest heart solves the difficulty in action.
E. C. Wickham, Wellington College Sermons, p. 188.
Christ's Counsel to His Host.
Are ordinary dinner-parties wrong, then, in the eye of Christ, our Law-giver? Does He really condemn the custom of having our friends and social equals to dine with us, and really demand that we entertain instead, if we entertain at all, only those who are conventionally below us only the poor and destitute, the most melancholy objects, the most miserable creatures we can find?
I. With respect to the passage before us, the veiled message, the enfolded spirit of which I should like to penetrate and seize, there are those, doubtless, who will maintain that it needs no explanation, that what our Lord taught at the Pharisee's table was just this: that His host should give up entertaining his well-to-do relatives and friends, who were able to return the compliment, and should devote himself instead to the entertainment of the "poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind," by which he would secure a greater recompense. This, they would affirm, is what He called upon the man to do, as the best and blessedest thing; but it is not for us to do nowadays. With some other of His counsels and admonitions, it cannot be carried out by us; is not suitable or applicable to the present time. In reply to which I say, that it never was suitable or applicable, and hence could not have been intended by Christ. He never defied or contravened human nature: how could He? God created human nature, in all lands and ages, to go out after intercourse with kindred spirits, with persons of our own tastes and habits, of our own rank or order; and hence I know, and am sure, that Christ the Son of man never meant what, on a superficial glance, He seems to be meaning here. The question is one not at all of social fellowship, but of expenditure; and of the objects to which our great expenditure should be devoted. When you would lavish trouble and money, says Christ, let the lavishing be not for your own personal gratification, but for the blessing of others.
II. But the admonition of the text reaches beyond dining; it applies generally to the habit of laying out freely, profusely, unstintedly, in order to any comfort, profit, or enlargement for ourselves, and exhorts us instead to confine such laying out to generous and benevolent projects to the work of giving pleasure, of rendering service, of communicating good, which is the very principle and Spirit of Him who, when He poured out His soul unto death, did it to bring us to God. Now this has its own peculiar and very grand recompense, says Christ, from which they who are mainly intent on expending for themselves are shut out, in the blessedness of which they can have no share. It finds its recompense in the "resurrection of the just." Yes, in every resurrection out of evil into good condition, out of disorder and wrong into righteousness and order that is accomplished on earth, it is reward. But there is something besides, most present and near; for there is always a resurrection of the just within us, as often as we do anything with outlay, for love and goodness. It begets infallibly a revival, a fresh quickening and expansion of the spirit of love and goodness; and herein is the constantly-abiding, ever-returning recompense of those whose gracious habit it is to look not upon their own things, but upon the things of others. Their truest and best reward lies in the heavenly quality and capacity that is being daily fostered and deepened within them.
S. A. Tipple, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xii., p. 280.
References: Luke 14:12-24 . T. T. Lynch, Three Months' Ministry, p. 145.Luke 14:14 . Parker, Wednesday Evenings at Cavendish Chapel, p. 64.Luke 14:15-24 . H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxviii., p. 387. Luke 14:16 . H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Waterside Mission Sermons, p. 21.Luke 14:16 , Luke 14:17 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iv., p. 225; T. Birkett Dover, A Lent Manual, p. 16.
The Great Supper.
I. The feast. This is the Gospel which God has provided for mankind, sinners. It is a feast (1) in respect of the excellence of the provision which it sets before us; (2) in respect of abundance, for the supply is inexhaustible; (3) in respect of fellowship; (4) in respect of joy.
II. The invited guests. We have received the invitation. This, therefore, is not a mere matter of antiquarian interest, or of curious exegetical importance. It concerns our own spiritual and immortal welfare; for, though the invitation is given through the instrumentality of a servant, the preacher, it comes from the great God Himself, and on that account it is not to be trifled with or despised.
III. Look at the reception given by those first invited to the call which had been addressed to them: "They all with one consent began to make excuse." These excuses were all pretexts. Perhaps they deluded themselves into the belief that they were acting in good faith; but if they had gone deeper down into their hearts, they would have found that they were deceiving themselves, and putting forth as excuses things which, if they had been earnestly determined to go to the feast, would not have kept them for a moment.
IV. Those who persistently decline to come to the feast shall be for ever excluded from its enjoyment. The rejecters of Christ are themselves eternally rejected of Christ.
V. Finally, this parable reveals to us the fact, that, notwithstanding the rejection of this invitation by multitudes, God's house shall be filled at last. Heaven shall be fully occupied with God's redeemed people, and the saved shall not be few.
W. M. Taylor, The Parables of Our Saviour, p. 290.
References: Luke 14:16-24 . Homiletic Quarterly, vol i., p. 201; Ibid., vol. ix., p. 270; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 341; H. Calderwood, The Parables, p. 98; A. B. Bruce, Parabolic Teaching of Christ, p. 325.
Reasons for Embracing the Gospel.
I. You believe that the Gospel is true; perhaps upon no one point are your convictions so full and clear and decided. It matters not whence this conviction has been derived; we have the fact, and here we take our stand and make our appeal. Why not embrace it? "Come; for all things are now ready."
II. While you admit the Gospel record to be true, you at the same time approve of the entire subject-matter of its testimony. The human mind, unclouded by prejudice and unperverted by sophistry, is always in favour of the Gospel. If the Gospel is not only true, but if in all its principles and claims it is precisely what you feel it ought to be; nay, if you mean certainly expect, sooner or later to come upon the ground where it would put you, and be what it requires you to be, why, we ask, in view of all that is intelligible in your convictions of the truth and reasonableness, why not embrace it?
III. Conscience, enlightened by the truth, requires you to embrace the Gospel, reproves you for not doing it, and heralds a painful retribution for refusing or neglecting to do it. Conscience may be stupid sometimes and not speak; but its voice, whenever heard, is clearly, decidedly, uniformly in favour of practical spiritual religion.
IV. You feel that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the very thing for need; that is, as you look at it carefully, study it in its different aspects, and examine closely its provisions, it is precisely adapted to all those wants which, as unsatisfied, are the causes of your disquietude and pain. You see and feel that it is the very hope your troubled spirit needs. You have no doubt that it is a good hope, a well-founded hope; why not embrace it and let your emancipated spirit go free?
E. Mason, A Pastor's Legacy, p. 58.
Reference: Luke 14:17 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiii., No. 1354.
That God's call is often disobeyed is a matter of fact, of which our consciences cannot pretend to be ignorant. But the nature of the excuses given is well worthy of our consideration.
I. One of these excuses arises from a feeling that our common work is not a matter of religion; and that therefore it is not sinful to neglect it. Idleness and vice are considered as two distinct things; and it is very common to say, and to hear it said, of such a one that he is idle, but that he is perfectly free from vice. Idleness is not vicious, perhaps, but it is certainly sinful; and to strive against it is a religious duty, because it is highly offensive to God. This is so clearly shown in the Parable of the Ten Talents, in that of the Sower and the Seed, and even in the account of the Day of Judgment, given by our Lord in the twenty-fifth chapter of St. Matthew, that it cannot require a very long proof. In the description of the Day of Judgment, the sin for which the wicked are represented as turned into hell is only that they have done no good. It is not mentioned that they were vicious, in the common sense of the word; but they were sinful, inasmuch as they had not done what God commanded them to do.
II. Another excuse more nearly resembles the excuses made by the men in the parable: you do not attend to the call of God, because there is some other call which you like better. You complain, or rather you say to yourselves, that the work is very irksome to you, and you cannot see the use of it. It is likely enough that the work is irksome; for so corrupt is our nature that God's will is generally irksome to us, because He is good and we are evil. But is this such an excuse as God will allow for not doing what He has commanded us? Is it not here rather that we should learn to practise our Saviour's command, "Let a man deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me"? What is denying ourselves, but doing what we do not like, because it is the will of our Master? What is to take up our cross daily, but to find and to bear daily some hindrance in ourselves or others, which besets and would close up our path of duty? Against idleness, no less than against other sins, the Christian has the only sure means of victory. The natural evil inclination, the weak and corrupt flesh, still finds duty painful; but the regenerate spirit, born again of the Spirit of God, and sharing in its Father's likeness, finds the will of its Father more pleasant than the flesh finds it painful; and so the will of God is done, and the man is redeemed from the bondage of sin and misery.
T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. ii., p. 93.
References: Luke 14:18 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. x., No. 578; E. Blencowe, Sermons to a Country Congregation, vol. ix., p. 198; R. D. B. Rawnsley, Village Sermons, 2nd series, p. 154.Luke 14:22 . J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 1874, p. 263; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iii., p. 129.
Acceptance of Religious Privileges Compulsory.
I. Consider what first of all presents itself to our thoughts our birth into the world. Allow that this is a world of enjoyment, yet unquestionably it is a world of care and pain. Also, most men will judge that the pain on the whole exceeds the enjoyment on the whole. But whether this be so or not with most men, even if there be one man in the whole world who thinks so, that is enough for my purpose. It is enough if only there be one person to be found, who thinks sickness, disappointment, anxiety, affliction, suffering, fear, to be such grievous ills, that he had rather not have been born. If this be the sentiment only of one man, that man, it is plain, is, as regards his very existence, what the Christian is relatively to his new birth an unwilling recipient of a gift. We are not asked whether we will choose this world, before we are born into it. We are brought under the yoke of it, whether we will or no; since we plainly cannot choose or not choose, before the power of choice is bestowed on us, this gift of a mortal nature.
II. Such is our condition as men; it is the same as Christians. For instance, we are not allowed to grow up before choosing our religion. We are baptized in infancy. Our sponsors promise for us. We find ourselves Christians; and our duty is, not to consider what we should do if we were not Christians, not to go about disputing, sifting the evidence for Christianity, weighing this side or that, but to act upon the rules given us, till we have reason to think them wrong, and to bring home to ourselves the truth of them, as we go on, by acting upon them by their fruits on ourselves.
III. We have the remarkable facts (1) that whole households were baptized by the Apostles, which must include slaves as well as children. (2) The usage existed in the Early Church of bringing such as had the necessary gifts to ordination, without asking their consent. (3) Consider the conduct of the Church from the very first time any civil countenance was extended towards it, and you will have a fresh instance of the constraining principle of which I speak. What are national conversions, when kings submitted to the Gospel and their people followed, but going out into the highways and hedges, and compelling men to come in? And though we can conceive cases in which this urgency was unwisely, over-strongly, unseasonably, or too extensively applied, yet the principle of it is no other than that of the baptism of households mentioned in the Acts.
J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. iv., p. 52.
References: Luke 14:23 . J. Fraser, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvi., p. 1; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. v., No. 227.
God's Call to the Young.
I. God's call, addressed to the soul of every man, is a call to him to be happy for ever; and this is the same thing as calling upon him to be holy, for holiness and happiness are one in God, and they are one also in the children of God. Holiness in God's creatures consists in their drawing near to God and becoming like unto Him. No man hath seen God, however, at any time; but the brightness of His glory and the express image of His Person man has seen; and although we now see Him no longer with our bodily eyes, yet with the story of His life and character handed down to us from those who did see and hear Him with His Spirit ever dwelling amongst us, revealing Him to all those who desire Him we do, for all practical purposes, see and know Him still.
II. As, then, Christ laboured all His life, beginning in His boyhood, to obey God's special call to Him, so we can best imitate Christ by labouring all our lives to obey God's special call to us. Now, this call is made known to us, not by a miracle, nor by a voice from heaven; but partly by the circumstances of our age and outward condition, and partly by the different faculties and dispositions of our minds. Generally, to all young persons God's call is to improve themselves; but what particular sort of improvement He calls you to, that you may learn from the station in life in which He has placed you.
T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. ii., p. 86.
References: Luke 14:25 , Luke 14:26 . H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xix., p. 251; Ibid., vol. xxiv., p. 196; Preacher's Monthly, vol. viii., p. 230. Luke 14:25-30 . H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxix., p. 90. Luke 14:26 . G. Dawson, The Authentic Gospel, p. 160. Luke 14:26 , Luke 14:27 . H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 331.Luke 14:27 W. C. E. Newbolt, Counsels of Faith and Practice, p. 200. Luke 14:28-30 . H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvii., p. 40; Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xx., No. 1159. Luke 14:31 , Luke 14:32 . Ibid. vol. xi., No. 632.
I. What is it in the spiritual life which answers to the influence of salt in the natural life? I answer: A certain deep, secret power of the Spirit of God, acting generally through the word, in the conscience, upon the intellect, the affections, the will of a man, whereby he is made and kept in a state of inward life and purity; and whereby, again, he is, among his fellowmen, with whomsoever he comes in contact a means and channel of good, of truth, of a sound state of holiness and happiness. The salt in man is the Divine part that is in him; a presence imbuing all his thoughts with God; and the salt which such men carry, the salt of the Church, is that expansive propagating power with which the truth is entrusted for God, that it may cleanse, change, save the whole earth.
II. For this holy property we are all responsible. For it is a thing greatly depending upon our use and cultivation of it. It can easily be diminished, and it can continually be increased. A very little sin, a very little carelessness, a very little worldly contact, a very little self-indulgence, a very little grieving of the Spirit of God, will impoverish it, vitiate it, neutralise it. It will lose its virtue, it will grow vapid, it will cease to be. But one true prayer, one act pleasing to God, one honouring of the Holy Ghost, will immediately quicken it, and give it a keener power. For it is very sensitive and very susceptible to all influence. The soul's atmosphere is always affected, moment by moment.
III. It is God's common law, that that which is best in its use, is also that which is worst in its abuse. The brine which does not cure, destroys. The same salt which fertilises the field can turn a garden into a desert. Just so it is with that mystic, hallowing, self-diffusing principle in heavenly life which is in the soul. Trifle with it, and it will go; and if it go, the emptiness will be greater than if it had never been. Shut it up, and do not use it; and by stagnation it will grow corrupt. Turn it away from the purpose for which it was implanted, and by retribution it will become your misery and your sin. Lose it, and it will be, at the last day, your heaviest condemnation. "Salt is good: but if the salt once lose his savour, wherewith shall it be seasoned?"
J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons, 5th series, p. 245.
These words bring us at once, as Christian citizens, into contact with the most fearful and difficult problem of our times.
I. If there ever was a people since the first promulgation of the Gospel, who from their position, their political advantages, their commercial influence, ought to be able practically to fulfil the noble office of being the salt of the earth, it is our own nation: and in some measure I do trust we are answering to this character. Let us not conceal either side of the picture. We need encouragement as well as exhortation. To some extent we have held forth the word of truth, and are doing the work of evangelising the world. Some grains of the salt yet possess and exert their conserving and quickening power. But very many have lost their savour. In the midst of this Christian people there are large portions of the social body which are utterly without power for good, and not only so, but in themselves the subjects of moral and spiritual decay. These are the salt that has lost its savour.
II. With such salt in the physical world, the case, as our Saviour's words go on to state, is hopeless. The mere material, once endued by God's creative hand with vivid and salutary qualities, and having lost these qualities, no man may requicken or restore. And thus, too, it would be with mere animal life. The loss of vital power no human means can remedy. Of both of these we can say only, "The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away." In neither case is there bestowed the gift of self-guidance, of conscious reflection and determinate action. In neither of them is there responsible free-will, able of itself to fall able to seek His help from whom is every good gift, again to rise. But with man's spirit; thank God, it is not so. Here, the salt may lose its savour, and be again seasoned. Here we are in a higher region of being altogether. Here God acts, according indeed to the same analogies, and consistently with the same unchangeable attributes, but by different and higher laws, belonging to the spiritual kingdom. And here it is not as in creation, where He carries on His mysterious agencies in secret alone. In the far nobler work of recreation and regeneration He condescends to accept His people as His fellow-workers. By persuasion, by preaching, by the ordinances of grace, all administered by human means, He is pleased to carry on the conversion of the souls of men, and the restoration to life and vigour of the dead and withered members of the Church.
H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. iii., p. 203.
Three times, and in three different connections, this memorable proverb is recorded in our Lord's teaching in each case in reference to the failure of that which was excellent and hopeful. In St. Matthew it is applied generally to the influence of His new people on the world; in St. Mark, to the danger to ourselves of the careless or selfish use of our personal influence; in St. Luke, to the conditions of sincere discipleship. But in all cases it contemplates the possible failure of religion to do its perfect work. There are temptations and mischiefs arising not of our religion itself, out of the position in which it places us and the things which it encourages in us. Let us take two or three examples.
I. "Who loved me," says St. Paul, "and gave Himself for me." There are hardly more affecting words in the New Testament, and they describe what must thrill through every man's mind who believes in the Cross of Christ, just in proportion as he grasps its meaning. But it is not without reason that we are told that what should kindle his boundless devotion may be full of peril. It may touch the subtle springs of selfishness. Religious autobiography is not without warnings that the true and awful words, "What shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" may be perverted into a narrow and timid care for it, worried with petty fears and scruples, or cares ignoble and degrading, because without interest in God's great purposes without a generous trust in His wisdom and mercy, without sympathy for others.
II. Again, religion must be active; and towards the evils which are in the world it is bound to be hostile and aggressive. And yet this necessity shows us too often a religion, a very sincere and honest religion, which cannot avoid the dangers which come with activity and conflict. It sometimes seems to lose itself and its end in the energy with which it pursues its end.
III. Again, religion is a matter of the affections; and men may be led astray by their affections in religion as in other things. We must carry the remembrance of the awful saying of the text with us, not only in our hours of relaxation and enjoyment, but when we believe ourselves to be most intent and most sincere in doing our Master's service.
Dean Church, Oxford University Herald, Dec. 16th, 1882.
References: Luke 14:34-35 ; D. Fraser, Metaphors of the Gospels, p. 1; Preacher's Monthly, vol. x., p. 29. Luke 14:0 F. D. Maurice, The Gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven, p. 219.
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