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HOW WE ARE TO FOLLOW CHRIST
Matthew 8:19-22. A certain Scribe came and said unto him, Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes hare holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head. And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. But Jesus said unto him, Follow me: and let the dead bury their dead.
ONE would have supposed, that, in such a history as that of our Lord, none but great things would be recorded; and that smaller incidents would be passed over as unworthy of notice: but the inspired writers, notwithstanding an inexhaustible fund of matter presented itself to their view, and they had previously determined to be as concise as possible, were directed by God to relate many circumstances, which to us would have appeared too insignificant to be mentioned in such a work. And for this we have abundant reason to be thankful: for, had any other plan been followed, the Scriptures would have been less calculated for general use. Great events occur but rarely, and to few; whereas small circumstances arise daily and hourly; nor is there any one to whom they may not profitably be applied. The short conversations recorded in the text appear of little moment; yet are they singularly instructive, and applicable to every human being. They serve in a peculiar manner to put us on our guard against two destructive errors, precipitancy on the one hand, and procrastination on the other: they guard us, I say, against,
This is a common and fatal error in the Christian world—
[The Scribe here mentioned was manifestly guilty of it. He came to our Lord professing a determination, which he was but ill qualified to execute. Doubtless his intention was good: he came in a very respectful manner, and voluntarily engaged himself to become a stated follower of Christ: but it is probable that he thought his office and talents, as a Scribe, would procure him a more elevated station among the disciples: and it is evident that he expected to find his adherence to Christ rewarded with an abundance of earthly comforts. Our Lord therefore rectified his mistake, and told him, that his followers must expect no better fare than he himself had, which yet in some respects was inferior to that which the wildest animals enjoyed: for “foxes had their holes, and birds of the air their nests; whereas the Son of Man, though Lord of all, had not where to lay his head.”
The same fault obtains very commonly amongst ourselves. Multitudes take up a profession of religion upon grounds equally mistaken: they expect to find ease, and interest, and honour, as their portion here: and, because such things are promised to the believer in a spiritual view, they are ready to look for them altogether in a worldly view. They see that vital religion ennobles the soul; and therefore they expect the world to estimate it according to its true value. But they are much mistaken: and]
It is of great importance that this error should be rectified—
[Before any person makes a profession of religion, it is requisite that he should consider carefully, what duties are required of him, and what difficulties are to be encountered by him. Now the duties are, not such as the Scribe apprehended: namely, to wait upon Christ in an external profession of his religion (for we may go to the outward ordinances with the greatest punctuality imaginable, and yet be as far from Christ as ever); but to mortify the whole body of sin; to crucify the old man with the affections and lusts; to be altogether dead to the world, and alive unto God; and to have the same mind as was in Christ Jesus, viewing every thing as he viewed it, regarding every thing as he regarded it, and doing every thing as he did it. This is a work not to be undertaken lightly, or to be executed easily. There are also innumerable difficulties to be encountered. Whatever a man may think about worldly ease, or interest, or honour, he will find that he must sacrifice all these, and be, like his Master, “despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” He that will follow Christ acceptably, must “follow him without the camp, bearing his reproach.” He must engage in a warfare, and maintain it manfully, against all his spiritual enemies. He must endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ: and if his own life stand in competition with his duty to God, he must sacrifice it cheerfully, accounting death in his cause the greatest honour.
Now these things, I say, should be well considered, and maturely weighed. We should consider whether Christ be worthy of all this labour and sorrow; whether heaven will be a sufficient recompence for it; and whether God has given us a heart to choose him thus for our portion and eternal great reward? In this manner we should “count the cost;” and then, from a conviction that the pearl of great price is indeed worth all that we possess, we should “sell all, and buy it.”]
But there is another error, against which we need equally to be guarded; namely,
This indeed is even more common than the former—
[The person whom our Lord enjoined to follow him, was already “a disciple:” but it was our Lord’s will that he should become a more stated attendant on him, and a preacher of his Gospel. But, though this man did not intend to shrink from the duty imposed on him, he thought he had a more imperious duty at the present, and that his obedience to the Saviour’s call should be postponed to that. But our Lord would admit of no delay: he intimated to the man, that, however commendable it was to shew a filial respect to his deceased parent, and however short the time might be that he would be detained by it, his call to follow him was clear, and of paramount obligation. He intimated further, that the business which he had desired to engage in might just as well be performed by others, who, being destitute of spiritual life, were unfit for the higher office to which he was called: “Let the dead bury their dead; but go thou, and preach the kingdom of God [Note: Compare Luke 9:60.].”
Now, though we may suppose that there was something peculiar in this, and therefore not applicable to ourselves in its full extent, it is evident that our Lord intended to impress on the minds of all this solemn truth, that nothing could justify a disobedience to his commands, or a delay in dedicating ourselves to his service.
But the fact is, that almost every one imagines he has some present engagement of more importance; and, when called to follow Christ, replies, “Let me first go, and do this or that: let me finish my present business; let me get out of my present situation; let me attain such an object.” They will not say, “I will never follow Christ;” but they plead some excuse for not following him at present. Alas! how many thousands perish through this delusion! They think “the fit time is not yet come;” they promise themselves “a more convenient season;” and thus they delay, till death cuts short their purposes, and puts an end to their existence.]
But this evil, like the former, must be banished from us—
[If so specious a plea was not admitted by our Lord, what other can be? We must not understand our Lord as pouring contempt on filial duty; for he requires all to “shew piety at home, and to requite their parents” to the utmost of their power: but he would have us to know that the duty of devoting ourselves to him is superior to every other, and that “the kingdom of God and his righteousness must be sought by us in the first place.” If any attention to worldly duties be pleaded for the neglect of our souls, he would remind us that the plea will not be admitted in the day of judgment. On some particular occasions, indeed, “he will have mercy and not sacrifice:” but, in the great work of salvation, our duty to God must supersede every other. The care of our soul is the one thing needful; and that must be attended to, whatever else may be neglected. That admits of no delay. This is the only moment that we can call our own: and he who postpones the concerns of his soul till the morrow, has reason to fear that God will say to him, “Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee.” “This should be regarded as the only accepted time, the only day of our salvation.”]
From hence then we may further learn,
How to estimate the things of time—
[Our blessed Lord has taught us this effectually by his example. Though he was the Maker and Proprietor of all things, he chose to dwell in a more destitute condition than the beasts of the field or the fowls of the air, even without any stated place where to repose his head. By this he has shewn what an empty worthless portion riches are; and how contented the poor should be with their humble lot. He has shewn, that to serve, and honour, and enjoy God is the most desirable state on earth; and that whether we have a larger or smaller portion in our way to heaven, is scarcely worth a thought. To follow him is our one duty, and should be our one concern. If we have much of this world, we should serve him with it; and if but little, we should live, like the birds of the air, in a cheerful dependence on his good providence [Note: Matthew 6:26.]; contented equally “to abound, or to suffer need;” and feeling that when we “have nothing, we are really possessing all things.”]
How to act in reference to eternity—
[The thought of eternity must, so to speak, swallow up every other. We must make no account of any thing that is to be sacrificed, or any thing that is to be endured, in the service of our God; but must devote ourselves to him without hesitation and without reserve. If, like the disciple in the text, we are called to preach the Gospel of the kingdom, we should shew what exalted thoughts we have of the ministerial office, by our self-denying diligence in the discharge of it. We should “not seek great things for ourselves,” or “entangle ourselves with the affairs of this life,” but be contented with less of this world’s goods, that we may be more at liberty to advance the interests of our Redeemer and the welfare of his Church and people. But, whatever be our station in the world, we are equally called to “follow Christ;” and on our obedience to that call our eternal happiness depends. I say not, that we should neglect our civil or social duties; for God commands us to perform them with all diligence: but I do say, that where the concerns of time and eternity interfere with each other, we must labour, “not for the meat that perisheth, but for that which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give unto us.”]
CHRIST STILLETH THE TEMPEST
Matthew 8:27. But the men marvelled, saying, What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?
THE more we see of Christ, the more we are constrained to admire him. Every fresh miracle discovers to us more of his unbounded power and grace. The disciples had often been struck with wonder at the miracles wrought by him. They now beheld a miracle in which they themselves were deeply interested, and were stimulated by it to more exalted thoughts of his august character.
It will be profitable to inquire,
What it was at which they so marvelled—
The disciples in crossing the lake were overtaken by a storm, and were in imminent danger of being overwhelmed by the waves. In this strait they called upon their Lord for help—
[They had put to sea in compliance with their Lord’s command [Note: ver. 18.]; yet were they not exempt from the dangers incident to navigation. Christ himself submitted to be thus tossed by winds and waves, and in so doing has taught us what his Church must expect in this tempestuous world [Note: Acts 14:22.]. His disciples, having exerted themselves in vain, applied to him. In this they afford us a good example under our distresses. Perplexed by fear, and agitated by impatience, they addressed him rather in a querulous expostulation. Alas! how feeble is our nature under the pressure of heavy trials’. How apt are we to mix our supplications with complaints against God [Note: Job 3:23; Job 6:4; Job 7:20.]! They shewed however, with all their weakness, in whom their trust was, and that they had no hope but in his almighty aid.]
He immediately interposed for their deliverance—
[He could, if he had seen fit, have prevented the storm; but then the disciples would not have discovered their own weakness, nor have seen this marvellous display of their Master’s power. It is for the same gracious ends that he permits our troubles [Note: 1 Peter 1:6-7.]; and, when they have brought us to him in fervent supplication, he will deliver us from them. He arose from his pillow, and with authority rebuked the storm. Instantly the boisterous winds were hushed, and the roaring billows silenced. Though at other times the waters after a storm remained in a perturbed state, at his command they subsided to a perfect calm. Such is the effect his word produces on “the tempest-tossed soul.” Terrors, that appalled the conscience, are dissipated as a cloud [Note: Acts 16:29-34.]. Temptations, that agitated the frame, are disarmed of their power [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:9.], and afflictions, that overwhelmed the soul, are made to yield “the peaceable fruits of righteousness.” Well might they marvel on an occasion like this. Nothing seems so much beyond the controul of man as the winds and waves; but even these heard the voice and obeyed the will of the Lord Jesus. Well therefore might the disciples exclaim, “What manner of man is this!”]
So stupendous a miracle should lead us to consider,
What views of Christ will naturally arise from this display of his power—
The disciples, through their ignorance and perplexity, scarcely knew what to think. But to us his conduct naturally suggests the following truths:
Christ is the true and living God—
[His sleeping, through fatigue, shewed him to be a man like ourselves; but his exercise of such power proved him to be God also. Moses had opened the sea by his wonder-working rod; and Elijah had made a path through Jordan by his mantle: but both confessedly wrought their miracles in dependence on God. Jesus, on the contrary, performed this miracle by his own power: and who, but God, is sufficient for such things? It is spoken of as the peculiar prerogative of God to rule the sea [Note: Proverbs 30:4.Psalms 65:7; Psalms 65:7.]. Let us then bear this in mind in all our addresses unto Jesus. Let us indeed make this the ground of our application to him [Note: Isaiah 45:22.].]
He is never unmindful of his people’s troubles, however he may appear to be so—
[The Apostles rather reflected on him as though he “cared not” for them. But his providential care was not the less exerted because he was asleep. We also are ready on some occasions to think him unmindful of us. We too often adopt the impatient language of the Church of old— [Note: Isaiah 49:14.]; but the answer he gave to them, is equally applicable to us— [Note: Isaiah 49:15-16.]. We never need to be afraid if we be embarked with him. His ark may be tossed about and driven by tempestuous winds; but though every thing else should perish, that would outride the storm.]
He will not withhold his aid on account of the weakness of our faith—
[The excessive fears of his disciples shewed their want of faith. He therefore reproved them for having so little confidence in him. But he would not on that account refuse their request. In us also he too often sees the workings of unbelief: but he will “not be extreme to mark what is done amiss.” He frequently, when on earth, relieved those who doubted his power or his willingness to help them [Note: Matthew 8:2.Mark 9:22; Mark 9:22.]: and it is well for us that he still exercises the same pity and forbearance. Doubtless, however, the stronger our faith, the more speedy and effectual, for the most part, will our deliverances be.]
He is as able to save us out of the greatest difficulties as from the least—
[We are ever prone to limit him in the exercise of his goodness; nor are even the most signal manifestations of his power sufficient to correct this propensity [Note: Psalms 78:19-20.]: but he who created and upholds all things can overrule them as he pleases; and his promises to his people are fully commensurate with their wants. Let us then go to him under our most pressing difficulties, and rest assured, that he is both able and willing to save us to the uttermost [Note: Hebrews 7:25.].]
To the disobedient—
[God has been pleased to bestow on man the gift of reason, and to leave him a free agent in all which he does. Alas! how vilely do the generality abuse this transcendent mercy! They are more regardless of the divine command than even winds and waves. And is this the end for which God has so distinguished us? Is the privilege of volition granted us to encourage our revolt? Is it not rather, that our obedience to God may be a rational service? Let the disobedient stand amazed at their impiety. Let them wonder that the Divine forbearance is so long exercised towards them. Surely they have abundant need to offer that petition— [Note: ver. 25.]. O that they may be more impressed with their danger than ever the disciples were!]
To those who truly endeavour to serve the Lord Christ—
[All seasons are not alike in the spiritual, any more than in the natural, world. The greatest difficulties may encompass you, when you have the clearest evidence that you are in the way of duty. But know that your Lord is an all-sufficient, ever-present help. Do not then shun the path of duty because of any trial that may beset you. In the midst of all, possess your souls in faith and patience; and let the triumphant words of former saints be your song— [Note: Psalms 46:1-3; Psalms 46:5.]. Thus shall you have richer discoveries of your Saviour’s care and love, and from personal experience attest the truth of that poetical description— [Note: Psalms 107:23-30.].]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Matthew 8". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34