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The Lord appointed other seventy
Our Lord’s instructions to the severity
CHRIST SENT OUT THE SEVENTY BY PAIRS.
II. OUR BLESSED LORD FAIRLY AND FAITHFULLY WARNED THE SEVENTY OF THE DIFFICULTY AND DANGER OF THE CHARGE WHICH THEY WERE UNDERTAKING.
III. OUR LORD CAUTIONS HIS MISSIONARIES AGAINST AN OVER CURIOUS AND MINUTE REGARD TO ACCOMMODATION PREPARATORY TO THEIR ENTERING ON THEIR MISSION, AND WHILE EMPLOYED IN EXECUTING THE BUSINESS OF IT.
IV. OUR LORD RECOMMENDS TO THE DISCIPLES UNDIVIDED, UNDEVIATING ATTENTION TO WHAT WAS SPECIALLY COMMITTED TO THEM.
V. OUR LORD’S INSTRUCTIONS TO THE SEVENTY RESPECTING THEIR WORK AND THE MANNER IN WHICH THEY WERE TO PERFORM IT.
VI. CHRIST ENCOURAGES HIS DISCIPLES WITH THE ASSURANCE THAT HE SHOULD CONSIDER THE RECEPTION WHICH THEY MET WITH, AS GIVEN TO HIMSELF. (H. Hunter, D. D.)
Two and two
Two and two before His face
Yet questions of high interest immediately arise. Why should there be any forerunners? What were they sent to do? In order to the full, personal influence and reign of Christ anywhere, there is a law of necessary preparation. Very impressive it is to see that God, when He has any great gift to communicate, proceeds by pre-arrangement. He never bursts into His family with thunders of revelation too sudden or loud for them to bear. Take the one signal event which stands in the centre of all history,--the personal coming of the Son of God on the earth. The prophetic spirit of His nation had been looking out for Him, as nightly watchers on Mount Moriah looked out for the dawn toward Hebron, two thousand years. In fact, to eyes that see the divinity in the Saviour’s face at all, it is not difficult to discern, all along those earlier ages, heralds like “the other seventy also,” going before that Face into the places whither He Himself was afterward to come. Now on that great scale of time and space we have a picture, in colossal proportions, of what goes on in every one of our own breasts. Conscious of it or not, agencies are at work in us to make ready, if we only will for the entrance of the Lord of the heart into His home and dwelling-place there. Having created us for Christian service, as the true end and real glory of our being, our Father takes pains to fit and to fashion us for that destiny, with all its honour and all its joy. By secret influences, untraceable as the wind that bloweth where it listeth, silently pressing on the springs of feeling and principle within us; by strange sorrows and misgivings there. That we may become wise and strong and pure in our grief, this process of personal preparation is in continual operation. The heralds are out, sent by Him who is coming after them. The “other seventy” are proceeding on their errand. We ourselves are the cities and places whither He would come. Again, it appears from the Lord’s sending of the seventy that all personal efforts and public movements for extending truth and increasing righteousness in the world are really parts of His work, and are dependent on His spiritual power. Christendom everywhere is full of beneficent activities. The benefactions of this late age, half-blind though they may be, or forgetful of their Author, were born at Bethlehem, and grew in stature at Nazareth, and conquered their enemies--selfishness and pride and wrath--at Calvary, and went out among thenations with the apostles, if we had seen one of the seventy walking in some by-way of Jericho or Bethany, we might have seen no badge of Christ upon him, and wondered at his eager gait or absorbed expression. But he was going where the Master sent him, and the Master’s mantle was on him, and the Master’s secret in his soul. Thither, after him, the Master Himself would come, to reaffirm and fulfil his words, to deepen, sanction, complete his work. (Bishop F. D. Huntington.)
The harvest truly is great
The gospel harvest
THE STATE OF THINGS WHICH OUR LORD DESCRIBES.
1. A plenteous harvest.
(1) A great number of souls.
(2) Great diversity in souls.
2. This vast and varied crop is ready for the sickle. This is proved--
(1) By the moral and spiritual necessities of the world. A genuine philanthropist wants no other demand upon his efforts than the misery of His fellow men; and a genuine Christian requires no other proof that men are ready for the gospel than the fact that they need it. Here lay one of the great mistakes of the Church of a former age. She did not think of sending the gospel, because men did not clamour for it.
(2) But if our duty be plain in the presence of silent and uncomplaining woe, how much more when misery is suppliant and clamorous at our feet I The world is now conscious of its maladies; and knows full well what can heal them.
3. The labourers are few. They toil on, willing rather to die than to abandon their work. One and another drops and dies, exclaiming, as did the immortal Waterhouse, “more missionaries! more missionaries!” and the very heathen repeat and prolong the cry!
II. THE INJUNCTION FOUNDED ON THE ABOVE DESCRIPTION.
1. To whom are our prayers to be addressed? To “ the Lord of the harvest.”
(1) He is the owner and proprietor of the harvest. They are bought with a price. The enemy had usurped possession of the great Creator’s claim.
(2) And must He not, therefore, take a deep, an unspeakable interest in them? Think you that He can be indifferent whether this harvest is reaped or not?
(3) And it is God’s absolute and inalienable right to choose and employ His labourers.
2. We are called, then, to pray that God would graciously exert His prerogative in the appointment of His own labourers to reap His own fields. What does this prayer imply?
(1) He exerts this prerogative, in part, by the inward operation of His Holy Spirit.
(2) We are to pray, not only that God would call and qualify, but also send out labourers into His harvest. And here we must bare regard to His mode of administration. He does for man what man cannot do for himself, but requires him to do all that is in his power. We cannot give the piety; and the intellectual and spiritual gifts; but it is our duty and privilege to furnish the means for sending the men whom God has raised up.
3. Does any one ask, Why, if God is the Lord of the harvest, having such exclusive prerogatives, and so deeply interested in the matter, He should be entreated to do that which it so nearly concerns His honour not to leave undone? We answer, Such sceptical inquiries become not the position of finite and mortal creatures. The objection would apply to all prayer for any blessing; and call in question the whole administration of heaven. (J. H. James.)
The abundance of the harvest, and the scarcity of the labourers
I. Let us first look at THE HARVEST. It is too vast to be taken within the verge of one short sermon. China, India, Burmah, and Japan, Africa, the West Indies, South America, Russian Tartary, Persia, and the islands of the South Sea--all this is too vast for our consideration at the present opportunity.
II. THE LABOURERS. “The labourers are few.” Let us consider--
III. THE SAVIOUR’S PLAN FOR INCREASING THE NUMBER OF THE LABOURERS.
1. We observe in the first place, that where persons offer this prayer in sincerity, they make a solemn acknowledgment that God must do all the work.
2. In the second place, when a minister and a congregation offer up this prayer and solemnly enter into its spirit, they mean that, when God raises up such men, they will furnish the means to convey them to the heathen, and support them when they get there.
3. In the third place, when young men utter this prayer, they mean that, if it is the will of God, they are ready to become labourers.
4. Observe, in the last place, that when Christian parents offer up this prayer, they express their willingness that their children should go. (R. Knill.)
It is just to go and gather in Christ’s sheep that are scattered abroad all over the world. In the notion of a harvest we cannot rid ourselves of the idea of ripeness--and I shall take a twofold view of this. There are some of the Lord’s family, and it falls to my lot not unfrequently to meet with such in whom we cannot fail to discern the presence of life; their knowledge of themselves as sinners is manifest, their view of Christ as a Saviour is encouraging, and even their reliance upon Him--but there is a want of ripeness, there is a rawness, a greenness, a defectiveness, a youthfulness. The harvest is craning on, beloved; let us look to our ripeness, the ripeness of all our faculties, as exercised in the things of God, the ripeness of all the graces called into full exercise, so that faith shall no longer be like a grain of mustard seed, but like the ripe ear, waving and bending with its weight--so that love shall no longer be faint and glimmering, as if it were but a spark, but fanned to a flame, rising high, and soaring to its native source; so that humility shall no longer be a piece of mockery, something openly expressed but never felt, but that which debases the soul in its own esteem, and keeps it in the dust at the feet of Jesus; so that hope shall not be merely the hope of the hypocrite, but a sure and steadfast thing as the ripeness we speak of--“Entering into that within the veil.” Moreover, there is a ripeness in grace, and there is a ripeness in sin. The sickle is coming, beloved, and therefore examine which state of ripeness you are in. When God was about to destroy the seven nations of Canaan, and told Moses of His deferring it for a time, while the children of Israel travelled forty years in the wilderness, He gave this as the reason, that the iniquity of the Amorites was not quite full--their sin was not yet completely ripe. Moreover, I saw in some fields some fine heavy corn, which was sadly “laid,” as they call it, bent down to the ground, and not exposed to the sun, so that it will be a long time before it gets ripe. What a picture of a great number of real Christians! They are so earthbound, so fond of this world, so laid low in their grovelling desires after it, that they cannot be expected to get ripe very fast. That corn gets ripe the fastest that lifts its head the highest, and gets away from the ground and the weeds. Beloved, if you would be ripe Christians, I tell you that you must get it by being lifted above the world and its vanities, enjoying intimacy with God, fellowship with the Most High, aspiring to heaven, and enjoying communications from above. (J. Irons.)
The labourers and the field
1. That God’s Church is a harvest field.
2. That the ministers of God are labourers in His harvest, under God, the Lord of the harvest.
3. That to God alone doth it belong to send forth labourers into His harvest, and none must thrust themselves in till God sends them forth.
4. That the number of faithful labourers is comparatively small and few.
5. That it is the Church’s duty to pray, and that earnestly and incessantly, to God the Lord of the harvest, to increase the number of faithful labourers, and to send forth more labourers into His harvest. (W. Burkitt.)
The husbandry of God
1. Great is the harvest.
2. Few are the labourers.
3. God alone can restore the just relation between harvest and labourers. (Van Oosterzee.)
God the Lord of the harvest
1. God determines the time of the harvest.
2. God appoints the labourers for the harvest.
3. God guards the success of the harvest.
4. God deserves the thank-offering of the harvest. (Van Oosterzee.)
The need of immediate workers
Captain Allen Gardiner, on the inhospitable coast of South America, where he slowly perished with hunger, in the hope of attracting the notice of some passing vessel, wrote on the cliff in large letters “DELAY NOT, WE ARE STARVING.” Years after, the words were seen; but it was too late, the bleached bones of the brave hero of the cross strewed the beach. Help had been delayed, and he had perished. The like cry of a dying world for the Bread of Life, ringing in the ears of the people of God who have enough and to spare, will surely not be much longer unheeded. A few have responded already, but what are these among so many? Oh that we would each one arise and do our utmost daily, expecting to see mighty results now! (J. C. Fullerton.)
A prayer for more labourers
Leonard Keyser, a friend and disciple of Luther, having been condemned by the bishop, had his head shaved, and being dressed in a smock-frock, was placed on horseback. As the executioners were cursing and swearing because they could not disentangle the ropes with which his limbs were to be tied, he said to them mildly, “Dear friends, your bonds are not necessary; my Lord Christ has already bound me.” When he drew near the stake, Keyser looked at the crowd and exclaimed, “Behold the harvest! O Master, send forth Thy labourers!” And then ascending the scaffold, he cried, “O Jesus, save me!” These were his last words. “What am I, a wordy preacher,” said Luther, when he received the news of his death, “in comparison with this great doer of the Word?” (J. H. M. D’Aubigne.)
Christ’s harvest and Christ’s reapers
I. CHRIST MEANT HIS SEVENTY DISCIPLES TO GO FORTH AND GATHER THAT WHICH HAD ALREADY GROWN AND RIPENED.
1. He saw a harvest of piety, for instance, waiting for Himself, and the proofs of His Messiahship.
2. I think He saw also another sort of harvest, or another element in that harvest--the moral element. There were many highly moral people living in the world who had become disgusted with religion and its priests.
II. THE CHARACTER OF THE HARVEST-MEN HE EMPLOYED. It is at once painful and disheartening to perceive that He did not select, either as individuals or as a class, the professed teachers of religion, He employed no class of men as such. He dealt only with persons and their individual consciences, and so acting, it is easy to discover the sort of people He could call and use as His harvest-men.
III. AS THESE WERE PEOPLE MORALLY AND SPIRITUALLY LIKE HIMSELF (TO SOME REAL EXTENT AT LEAST), HE WAS RESTRICTED GREATLY IN THE NUMBER OF GATHERERS, AS HE WAS RESTRICTED IN THE METHOD OF INGATHERING TO BE EMPLOYED.
IV. I REMARK UPON THE MODE IN WHICH THE HARVEST WAS TO BE GATHERED. HOW were the pious and the moral to be brought in? I might properly answer, on a principle of natural selection. They were to preach the gospel of Christ, and illustrate, enforce, and commend that gospel by the beauty and perfectness of their own holy lives. They would thus become witnesses for God, as He was a witness for God.
V. TAKE NOW THE PRACTICAL LESSON. Piety in you and me, who profess to be Christ’s real friends, is to attract whatever piety we come in contact with. There is plenty of unattached piety waiting to be attracted by you and me. The Lord sent out twelve, then seventy. That great world-clasping system we call Christianity had once so few supporters and missionaries.
Do you ask how many it wants now? I will tell you. It wants every man, woman, and child, into whose soul the grace of God has come, that every other life found in the vast field of human activity may be brought with a throb of love and a song of joy, s gathered ear all ripe and golden to the great Lord of the harvest of souls. (J. McDougall.)
As lambs among wolves
Counsels of prudence
THE NATURE OF PRUDENCE. In general, it is a discerning and employing the most proper means of obtaining those ends, which we propose to ourselves. It is an important branch of prudence to avoid faults. One false step sometimes ruins, or, however, greatly embarrasses and retards a good design. Prudence likewise supposeth the main-raining of innocence and integrity. We may not neglect our duty to avoid danger.
II. THE NECESSITY, GROUNDS, AND REASONS OF PRUDENCE. These are chiefly the wickedness and the weakness of men. Good men, therefore, are obliged to be upon their guard, and make use of some methods of defence and security. Nay, if there were no bad men, yet there would be need of prudent behaviour, because some who have not much reflection or experience are apt to put wrong constructions upon harmless actions. A great part of prudence lies in denying ourselves, so as to keep some way within the limits of virtue.
III. SOME RULES AND DIRECTIONS concerning a prudent conduct, with regard to our words and actions.
1. The first rule of prudence I lay down is this, that we should endeavour to know ourselves. He that knows not himself may undertake designs he is not fit for, and can never accomplish, in which he must, therefore, necessarily meet with disappointment.
2. Endeavour to know other men. It is a point of charity to hope the best of every man, and of prudence to fear the worst.
3. Watch, and embrace opportunities.
4. Advise with those who are able to give you good counsel.
5. Restrain and govern your affections. (T. Lardner.)
A lamb among wolves
One of the most conspicuous instances of moral courage which history affords is the following: The veteran Stilicho had conquered Alaric and his Goths. The Romans invite the hero and his ward--a stupid, cowardly boy, the Emperor Honorius--to gladiatorial games in honour of the victory. The empire has been Christian for a hundred years, yet these infamous and brutalizing shows still continue. They are defended with all sorts of devil’s sophistry. The games begin; the tall, strong men enter the arena; the tragic cry echoes through the amphitheatre, “Ave Caesar, moritari te salutamus!” the swords are drawn, and in an instant’s signal will be bathed in blood. At that very moment down leaps into the arena a rude, ignorant monk. “The gladiators shall not fight,” he exclaims. “Are you going to thank God by shedding innocent blood?” A yell of execration rises from these 80,000 spectators. “Who is this wretch that dares to set himself up as knowing better than we do? Pelt him! Cut him down!” Stones are hurled at him; the gladiators run him through with their swords; he falls dead, and his body is kicked aside, and the games go on, and the people--Christians and all--shout applause. Aye, they go on, and the people shout, for the last time. Their eyes are opened; their sophistry is at an end; the blood of a martyr is on their souls. Shame stops for ever the massacre of gladiators; and because one poor, ignorant hermit has moral courage, “one more habitual crime was wiped away from the annals of the world.” (Arch deacon Farrar.)
Salute no man by the way
No time to be lost
“Salute no man by the way.
” It is remarkable that such an injunction should be given by our Divine Master, so distinguished as He was for amiable feelings and condescension, while at the same time He immediately added an exhortation to pay the usual courtesy, by desiring them, when they entered a house, to “salute the family.” The reason of this apparent inconsistency is easily discovered. In eastern countries, we are told, that salutations between travellers meeting on a journey are attended by so many questions, by so many expressions of welcome often repeated, and so many tedious forms, as seriously to retard their journey. Now, if such interruptions often occurred, as might be the case on a much-frequented road, the object of their journey might be in a great measure frustrated. When such despatch was required as our Saviour deemed necessary on this occasion, those tedious forms of customary civilities were to be omitted. It is true, that in the charge which our Saviour gave to the twelve, He uttered no prohibition to salute the travellers which they might meet with on the way. But it was properly given to the seventy disciples, because haste, which was not required at the mission of the twelve, was then become necessary. (J. Thomson, D. D.)
They were to waste no time on such ceremonies which were clearly excessive. We, however, are in no great danger of carrying the ceremony of salutation to excess. It befits us, therefore, to take heed how we minify even the few salutations which we have. “Good-bye” is all we have left of “God be with you”; for men are ashamed any longer to use that. Instead of the grand salutation, “God be with you,” you shall hear men who are parting say, “Well, old fellow, take care of yourself!” Men are substituting a course way of greeting and saluting each other, instead of giving those reverent, dignified, pleasure-giving, respect-inspiring salutations which belong to antiquity, and which should belong to every refined society--and to none so much as that which calls itself Christian. (H. W.Beecher.)
Peace be to this house
The work and success of the ministry
THE WORK AND OFFICE OF MINISTERS. They are appointed by the Prince of Peace to be the messengers of peace.
1. The ministers whom Christ here sends forth are supposed to enter into private houses; and that under the character of Christ’s ambassadors, and in the execution of their office.
(1) Sometimes they were forced into such corners. Though the message they brought had everything in it to recommend them to an universal acceptance, yet it is probable in many places they were not permitted to preach in the synagogues; the rulers there who had a jealous eye upon them would take care to keep them thence; and they then retired into private houses, and preached to as many as would come to hear them there. Those who cannot do what they would for God and the souls of men, must do what they can, and God will accept of them.
(2) They always embraced such opportunities of spreading the gospel, and doing good to the souls of men, as visiting people at their houses gave them. Our Lord Jesus preached wherever He visited.
2. They are instructed to say, “Peace be to this house;” that is, to the inhabitants of it; to all under this roof; to the master of the family, for be he ever so great he needs this blessing; and to all the members of the family, for be they ever so mean they are not excluded from this blessing. Ignatius’s bishop was to take cognizance even of the servants of the families that belonged to his charge.
(1) We are to preach peace to all.
(a) Reconciliation, and no war.
(b) Riches and no want.
(2) We are to pray for peace to all.
(a) We must earnestly desire the welfare and salvation of precious souls; and not be cold and indifferent about it.
(b) These desires of the salvation of souls must be offered up to God in prayer.
(c) It is good to let those we preach to know that we pray for them. We must not only say to God, “Peace be to this house,” but we must say it in the hearing of those that dwell in it.
II. THE SUCCESS OF MINISTERS. As to those to whom we minister--the success is varied; not the same with all. On some, the peace comes which we preach and pray for; on others, it does not.
1. The text gives us encouragement to hope that some shall be the better for our praying and preaching; we shall meet with those who are sons of peace, who are disposed to submit to the commands, and qualified to partake of the privileges, of the gospel peace. Who are the sons of peace, on whose heads, and hearts, and houses, the blessings of peace shall come? I answer--
(1) Those who are so by the designation of the Divine counsel; the chosen of God, whom He hath set apart for Himself to be vessels of mercy.
(2) Those who are so by the operations of the Divine grace.
2. Wherein shall those who are thus the sons of peace be the better for our ministry We are here told that our peace shall rest upon them, that is--
(1) Our “prayers” for them shall be heard.
(2) Our “preaching” to them shall answer the end, and be effectual.
(3) The fruit of both shall remain.
3. The text also shows us that we ought not to be overmuch discouraged in our work, though there be many who are never the better for our praying and preaching.
Let us now make some application of all briefly.
1. Let this awaken us who are ministers to be faithful, and serious, and diligent in delivering our message; as those who are in some measure sensible of the vast importance of the work we are employed in, and the dispensation that is committed to us.
2. Let us, when we have done what we can, look up to God for the success.
3. Let us be very careful that we do not, by any irregularity in our conversation, hinder the success of our praying and preaching, and defeat the ends of them.
4. What success of our labours we Lave the comfort of, let God have all the glory of. (Matthew Henry.)
I. THE BREADTH OF CHRISTIAN COURTESY. The kindly greeting, “Peace be to this house,” was to be addressed to every family into which the seventy might enter.
II. THE DEPTH OF CHRISTIAN COURTESY, the reality and meaning of their greeting, are brought before us in Luke 10:6. Christ is telling them that their words are not to be a mere formal salutation; He suggests that an influence of peace shall actually go out from them, to “rest upon” the house that receives them; returning to them if rejected. The soul of Christian courtesy is faith; our greetings are prayers. Trust in God is the animating principle of social kindness; graciousness of disposition rests Upon the grace of God.
III. THESE ARE THE TWO FOUNDATIONS OF GENUINE CHRISTIAN COURTESY:
1. The sense of our Christian mission.
2. The certainty that we shall find many prepared for the Lord.
1. Christ sent His disciples to “ heal the sick,” to “cast out devils,” and to say to all, “the kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.” Could they doubt whether they would be received? Would not the sick man hail them from his couch? and the demoniac come trusting them to heal him? Their confidence that they were come on a blessed errand, that it was given to them to comfort the sorrowful, to sustain the sinking, to still the restless, and to proclaim the blessed name of Christ, would fill them with a confidence, a frankness, and a tenderness, that would secure them a welcome. With what words could they enter any house but those which Christ bade them first to speak? they were full of peace, they were charged and laden with peace; peace was the light of their eye, it was the spring of their footstep, it must breathe in their every tone. It would come forth from them because it was so fully in them; the messengers of peace could say no other words, no words before these, in whatsoever house they entered, “Peace be to this house.” It is just this sense of a mission which Christ has entrusted to us, a holy, blessed message He has given us to utter, which is needed to make us frank and courteous to all men. Selfishness is the root of all moroseness and ungeniality.
2. The assurance that we shall find a people prepared for the Lord. Some households would reject the disciples, but not all; the son of peace would be beforehand with them in many a house, their prayer should be answered, and their peace should rest upon it.
IV. I have already anticipated somewhat I had designed to say under our fourth head--THE BLESSEDNESS OF CHRISTIAN COURTESY. “If the son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon it”; rest upon the household, and on you too while you are in it. The unforeseen welcome given you by many who return your cordial greeting; the humility, the heartiness, the joy with which they listen to your words; God’s answer to the prayer of your greeting; in all this, you and they will share together. But look for a moment at the last clause of the verse, “If not, your peace shall turn to you again.” Christ tells His disciples that some will reject them; not all our hope will be fulfilled. “If,” you ask, “if my frank intercourse with the ungodly does not bless them, will it not injure me? But I fear lest I shall be depraved by too great frankness with worldly men, some of whom will continue worldly. Shall I not be charged with inconsistency?” To all these questions we have Christ’s answer, “your peace shall turn to you again.” No man is ever degraded by his love for the ungodly. Christ’s name is not disonoured by the tender, gracious association of His people with the lost souls to whom He sends them. You know of whom it was said, “this Man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.” You may be misjudged by your fellow-Christians, but you will not be misjudged by your Lord. (A. Mackennal, D. D.)
Christ’s first message is peace
Here we may observe the method of our Saviour. He, coming to fight against the pomp, the covetousness, the luxury of the world, first offers terms of peace, and instructs His disciples as God did Moses: “When thou comest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it” (Deuteronomy 20:10). As we read of Tamerlane, He first hangs out His white flag of peace, not His black nor His bloody colours. He fights not against us to destroy us, till we have wearied His mercy, and stood out too long. First He tenders peace: but it is the wickedness of the wicked, the obstinacy of the enemy, that draws His sword. For God doth not, as Nimrod, destroy men for pleasure: He doth not set them up as a mark, and then shoot deadly arrows at them. He seems rather to carry peace and war in sinu, “in His bosom,” as Fabius did in the skirt of his gown; and leaves it to our choice, which we will have. First peace shows itself, in His love, in His precepts; nay, in His threatenings and fearful menaces. He opened the mouth of His servant Noah, a “preacher of righteousness,” before He “opened the windows of heaven, and broke up the fountains of the great deep” (Genesis 7:11). He opened the mouth of His servant Moses, before the earth opened her mouth to swallow up Dathan and Abiram and their complices (Numbers 16:1-50.). He doth not undermine us with double voices and double counsels and a holy dissimulation, as some call it, crying, “Peace,” when He girds Himself with strength, and prepares Himself to battle; saying, “Peace,” to that house which He meaneth to level with the ground. But He sends His ambassadors, and “Peace” is the first clause in their commission: “first” they must salute us, before He will strike us; “first” wish “peace,” before He will furbish His sword. (A. Farindon, D. D.)
A writer in a Scottish magazine told of an earnest minister, who, thinking all his labours among his people fruitless, was so disheartened that he made up his mind to leave them. When meditating about a farewell sermon, he was struck with the words of this verse, and felt as if Christ were saying to him, “Ungrateful servant, are you not satisfied with this promise of Mine? Hold on, then, proclaiming peace.” This accordingly he did, with renewed vigour.
These missioners were pioneers going in advance to waken thought, create expectation, inspire confidence, and announce the nearness of the revealing Christ. They took their orders from His lips and their methods from His life. The Master’s charge to them is still vital; it has sterling and perennial value for us men in the midst of our accumulated social evils, our hoary and deep-seated social vices. Stripped of Oriental accident and incident, and expressed in the English of the hour, it supplies an invaluable recipe for the healing of our sick and diseased human life, and for the guidance of our Churches in their home missionary activities. Go to the people, get close to them, enter their houses and their hearts, make your mission domestic, be social and sociable, friendly and human, go not from house to house in a hurry, as though figures were redeemed souls, but stay long enough to win love; invite trust, and do nothing to thwart expectation; make men feel your tenderness is instinctive, and your desires real; prove that you work and speak on the common ground of manhood, and then you will have a right to say, “The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you,” and the heart will feel the presence of that unseen rule, and the conscience confess its august authority.
1. According to the mind of our Teacher all really helpful human work must be rooted and grounded in loving friendship, and energized by an unhesitating trust in the men it seeks to cleanse and ennoble. Renan has said that the fireside preaching of the seventy missioners was one of the capital causes of the success of early Christianity. And surely, not even in our Lord’s day, was this policy of making friends first, converts afterwards, more needed than in our own time.
2. The next stags in the work of the seventy, beyond the ministry of friendship, is that of compassionate healing. Christianity, like its Author, is essentially healing.
3. But the crowning service of man to man is the interpretation of life in the light of Divine ministration. The priests of friendship and healing have free course and are glorified only when they acknowledge God’s sovereignty over the heart and soul. The supreme good is not a perfectly healthy body. The missioners did not reach the climax of their work until they said, “The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.” This is fireside preaching at its best.
(1) This saying is a pertinent and necessary sermon on a physical text. “Do not stop at the healing of the body. Trace out the Divine handwriting on the renovated body, and say, ‘See here, the kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.’” That is a blessed if difficult task. But
(2) this unique declaration has this additional significance, that Christ Himself was on His way to these healed folks, and that their physical salvation was only an earnest bestowed by His advanced couriers of what He was also to give if only they would welcome Him. (J. Clifford, D. D.)
Only souls can save souls
Carry no purse, no wallet, no shoes. Go to your work with such perceptible signs of trust in men as shall at once disarm suspicion and inspire confidence. (J. Clifford, D. D.)
Christmas Evans’ parishioners seem to have been marked by an insatiable appetite for sermons, and by a singular disregard for the temporal comfort of the preacher. Once, when he had preached away from home, and had received less than his expenses, an old woman remarked to the great pulpit orator, “Well, Christmas, you have given us a wonderful sermon, and I hope you will be paid at the resurrection.” “Yes, yes, no doubt of that,” answered the preacher humorously, “but what am I to do till I get there? And there’s the old white mare that carries me, what will she do? There will be no resurrection for her.”
Ministers badly paid
I wonder whether some of the people who come to bear Christ’s servants ever ask themselves the question, “How do these ministers live and pay their way?” “I thought they preached for souls,” said one of these spiritual mendicants to Mr. Spurgeon, who required an able and intelligent preacher for the munificent sum of £60 a year. “So they do,” replied the famous preacher; “but they would need some thousands of souls of your size to keep them from starving.” (Henry Varley.)
The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you
Nearness to the kingdom
This is a part of the discourse which Christ gave to His disciples when they were going forth to preach under His ministration.
Their message was, “The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you.” They were Jews in Jewry. They were preaching to their own countrymen--especially in Galilee; and this was a part of their message: the approach of the kingdom of God to all those that heard. Nothing more striking than the spiritual insight of our Lord. What is spiritual insight? As it existed in our Master, it was a perception of developed and perfect forms of morality and religion as constituent elements of human life in the broadest statement. It included--
1. A far more exalted idea of right and wrong than has been developed by human society.
2. A perception of character and conduct far more exalted than any that ordinary life develops.
3. A perception of the whole sphere of man. To Him life was a unit, and the life beyond was a part of it. Beyond all darkness He saw life and man in their higher relations, and in their possibilities. This higher spiritual condition, this perfectness of human nature in its aggregate emotions, now and hereafter, He called “The kingdom”; “The new kingdom”; “The kingdom of heaven”; “The kingdom of God”; and it was this that He told His disciples to preach when they went abroad. Whenever outward circumstances brought men to a place where the influences that acted upon them tended to develop their higher nature, and carry them forward along the path of perfectibility, or where their state of mind tended to make them perceptive of truths which at other times had little power with them, or where they were by outward things made sensible to things insensible, lifting them to the relation of the heavenly life, then He spoke of them as being near the kingdom of God. They were in a condition out of which should easily and naturally come spiritual development. What were some of those times?
What may we gather in regard to them from a general inspection of Christ’s ministry, and of His teachings to the people, and from our own experiences?
1. Times of general religious interest in communities bring the kingdom of God very near to men.
2. Any revelation to a man’s consciousness of his exceeding need of change, of development, of exaltation; any influence which shall strike through a man, giving him a discriminating power by which he can separate between right and wrong, between better and worse, between good and better--any such revelation or influence brings him near to the kingdom of heaven.
3. Anything that brings to the personal consciousness and experience of a man a sense of his degraded condition may be said to bring the kingdom of God near to him.
4. Anything that reveals to a man the reality of his whole estate, and shows him a higher and supernal life, and gives him a consciousness of the stern, terrific danger that threatens him, is bringing him to the border of God’s kingdom.
5. All the perceptions of concrete goodness which men gain, and which strike into their mind, bring them near to the kingdom of heaven.
6. All experiences of the unsatisfying condition of earthly life, are, or may be, instruments of bringing men to the very border of the kingdom of God.
7. Any cause of thought in ourselves, or any cause of thought in others brought to bear upon us, which opens clearly the nature of manhood, or the possibilities of the future endless development of human life, brings men not far from the kingdom of God. (H. W. Beecher.)
They receive you not
THE OBJECT TO WHICH THIS ALLEGATION RELATES--“The kingdom of God.”
1. The gospel is designated “the kingdom of God,” because it is constituted by God. There is claimed on its behalf, strictly and truly, a Divine origin.
2. The gospel is designated “the kingdom of God,” because it is the ordained instrument of God to restore His authority over the minds of men.
II. THE FACT WHICH THE ALLEGATION AFFIRMS. “The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you”--
1. In the sacred and inspired writings.
2. In the proclamations and appeals of the ministry.
3. In the conversion of other men.
4. In the partial impressions of your own mind.
III. THE DEPORTMENT WHICH THE ALLEGATION DEPRECATES.
1. Continued carelessness of the truth.
2. Continued rejection of the truth. (J. Parsons.)
The grace of salvation coming near us
I. WHEN MAY THE KINGDOM OF GOD (OR THE GOSPEL) BE SAID TO COME NIGH TO AN INDIVIDUAL OR A PEOPLE?
1. When it comes within the hearing of the ear.
2. When it reaches the understanding.
3. When it gains access to the conscience.
II. WHY THE GOSPEL SALVATION IS BROUGHT NIGH TO SOME WHO ARE FINALLY LOST. (D. A. Clark.)
To “shake off the dust of their feet” as a witness against any city which had wholly rejected their message, signified that they had no more part or lot with the inhabitants--that they would retain nothing of theirs, no, not so much as what accidentally cleaved to their sandals. This was one of the many outward significant symbolical acts of which the special messengers of God made constant use. Thus Jeremiah put on a yoke, and hid a girdle by the side of the Euphrates; thus Agabus bound St. Paul’s girdle round his own hands and feet; and Paul himself and Barnabas on one occasion used this very sign of shaking off the dust of their feet against the Jews of Antioch in Pisidia, who had rejected God’s word spoken by their mouth. We have given up altogether the use of such signs, and I believe have lost much by our rejection of them. (M. F.Sadler.)
No room for excuse
The Rev. William Grimshaw, an early Methodist of eccentric manner, frequently would preach before the doors of such as neglected the parish worship. “If you will not come to hear me at the church,” he would say on these occasions, “you shall hear me at home; if you perish, you shall perish with the sound of the gospel in your ears.” (G. Stevens.)
Woe unto thee
The sentence of Chorazin
We may conceive some inhabitant of these Jewish towns demanding with astonishment, How can these things be?
Shall we who are the children of Abraham be rejected, and the heathen be preferred in our stead? The Almighty Judge, we may hence collect, in the apportioning of rewards and punishments, regards not the actual amount of profligacy or virtue, but takes into consideration also the means of improvement enjoyed, the kind of information and light vouchsafed. He could estimate, in Tyre and Sidon, debased as they were by ignorance and idolatry, a disposition not indifferent to those proofs of Divine revelation, which to Bethsaida and Chorazin were exhibited in vain. He judges according to that hidden temper, according to that inward disposition; not by the acts committed, but by the circumstances also under which they are done. Nay, He judges of a degree of faith never actually called into existence.
I. The first conclusion to be drawn from the text thus explained relates to the future condition of those millions of mankind who depart this life in ignorance of a Saviour’s name. The sacrifice of Christ made atonement for the whole race of mankind. And though so many millions are ignorant of His name, yet in some of them is discerned a spirit which would enable them to have repented at His preaching. By that spirit it may be hereafter determined whether or no the merits of Jesus Christ are imparted for the salvation of their souls.
II. Secondly, we may learn, from this view of the text, the probability of our being greatly mistaken in our views of the future judgment.
III. And here, thirdly, it may be observed, that mankind are too ready to draw hasty conclusions, from anything which they can interpret as a manifest interference of Divine Providence for the punishment of sin.
IV. Such, too, let us in the last place remember, is the sentence recorded against every one of us ourselves, if we know these things and do them not; if we acknowledge these mighty works and yet repent not. Let us not then be deceived by the blessings of outward prosperity. They form part of our trial. (C. Girdlestone, M. A.)
The danger of impenitence where the gospel is preached
I. I observe from this discourse of our Saviour that miracles are of great force and efficacy to bring men to repentance.
II. I observe, likewise, from our Saviour’s discourse, that God is not always obliged to work miracles for the conversion of sinners.
III. I observe farther, from our Saviour’s discourse, that the external means of repentance which God affords to men, do suppose an inward grace of God accompanying them, sufficiently enabling me, to repent, if it be not their own fault; I say, a sufficient grace of God accompanying the outward means of repentance, till, by our wilful and obstinate neglect and resistance, and opposition of this grace, we provoke God to withdraw it from the means, or else to withdraw both the grace and the means from us: otherwise impenitence, after such external means afforded, would be no new and special fault.
IV. I observe from this discourse of our Saviour’s, that an irresistible degree of grace is not necessary to repentance, nor commonly afforded to those who do repent.
V. I observe from the main scope of our Saviour’s discourse, that the sins and impenitence of men receive their aggravation, and consequently shall have their punishment proportionable, to the opportunities and means of repentance which those persons have enjoyed and neglected. For what is here said of miracles, is by equality of reason likewise true of all other advantages and means of repentance and salvation.
VI. Sixth and last observation, and which naturally follows from the former, is this: that the case of those who are impenitent under the gospel is of all others the most dangerous, and their damnation shall be heaviest and most severe. (Archbishop Tillotson.)
It stands in the midst of such desolation as must be seen to be believed. Millions of boulders cover the ground everywhere as far as the eye can reach. The terrible volcanic energy in this district ceased long before the historic period--how long no one can tell--and hence the aspect of the landscape must have been the same in Christ’s day as at present. One very interesting feature of the ruins is that many of the dwelling-houses are still tolerably perfect, though in the days of St. Jerome (A.D. 331-420), Chorazin had long been deserted. They have stood tenantless for at least 1,500 years, and may well have been standing in the days when our Lord from time to time wandered among them, doing those mighty works which were yet, as at Bethsaida and Capernaum, ineffectual to bring the population to thoughtfulness and repentance. It helps one to realize better the daily life of our Saviour, to see in what poor barren spots He laboured; following the lost sheep of the house of Israel to such a forbidding wilderness. (C. Geikie, D. D.)
The guilt of a privileged people
Max Muller in the preface to his essays tells us of a Hindu who, having been converted in Benares, greatly wished to visit England. He had heard that it was a land of Bibles, a land of preaching, a land of churches and chapels, and he longed to see it. He expected to find the Christian land Christ-like. At length he arrived there. Max Muller adds that never shall he forget the deep dejection of the man when he discovered the Christianity of Europe to be so unlike that of the New Testament. In fact, nothing but keeping to the teachings of the Bible kept him from an utter relapse into idolatry.
He that heareth you heareth Me
A Christian minister the voice of Christ
We send an ambassador to England; there is a difference of opinion between our Government and that of England.
The ambassador is in a circle in society, but he does not take his opinions from the English people; he cares nothing what they think on national subjects; the crowd around him may be indignant against this country, but the ambassador listens not to the voice of the populace around him. He bends a listening ear for the telegraphic communication from Washington, and whatever words he hears those he utters, no matter how they may be received, no matter what the people or the crown may think. He stands an American in the midst of English society; he thinks the thoughts and has the feelings of the Government at Washington; he dares to say words however unpleasant to the English crown because the power that sustains him, though it is invisible, he knows to be real. Well, now, so is it with a man, principally the true minister of Christ. For instance, he goes into a community where all are infidel or all are heathen. What the sentiment of the populace is he asks not; what the people will think of him for uttering his words he cares not, but he bends his ear and listens for words from the throne, and when God says: “Speak in the hearing of the people,” he speaks the words that are given to him and stands unmoved. He may behold the rack, the stake, the torch, and the fagots kindling about it, and the wild beasts, but his thoughts and conversation are in heaven; he stands unmoved, and he is looking at the unseen. (M. Simpson, D. D.)
The seventy returned
COMMISSION OF THE SEVENTY.
1. They were commissioned of Christ.
2. They were commissioned of Christ to prepare the way before Him.
3. They received special directions when commissioned.
(1) Every one deeming himself commissioned of Christ should carefully study his Lord’s “marching orders.”
(2) To ignore these instructions is to prove unfitness for the Lord’s service.
II. ENDOWMENT OF THE SEVENTY. Miraculous and spiritual power.
III. IDENTIFICATION OF THE SEVENTY WITH CHRIST.
1. His gospel they were to preach.
2. Himself they were to represent.
(1) Such identification is true of every minister of Christ.
(2) Such identification devolves on hearers of the gospel a responsibility simply unspeakable.
IV. RETURN OF THE SEVENTY.
1. The spirit in which they returned. Rejoicing.
2. The ground of their rejoicing.
(1) The power with which they were invested.
(2) This ground not sufficient.
(a) Because of its temporariness.
(b) Because of its dangerous tendency.
3. The true ground for Christian joy. Names written in heaven.
(1) More permanent.
(2) More glorious.
(3) More satisfactory.
V. CHRIST’S JOY IN THE SEVENTY. Because of the honour the Father conferred on them.
1. Whom Christ commissions He sufficiently endows.
2. Not great power, position, or genius the true ground of the minister’s joy, but a “name written in heaven.” (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)
Reporting to Christ
This mission and re-assembly representative for all time. This is the order of all real Christian movements and missions--from Christ to Christ.
I. THE DISCIPLES’ REPORT. We see them--
1. Acting under a sense of responsibility.
2. Conscious of Christ’s continued presence and power with them. The only universal guarantee of success.
3. Taking note only of secondary and superficial circumstances of success. A false guage. How careful we should be in our estimates of Christian work!
II. THE MASTER’S RECEPTION OF IT. He awaits them with--
1. An interpretation: “I was beholding.” Whilst they laboured He was watching and praying. He saw Satan’s downthrow. He encouraged them, and all who should follow them, to take deeper and higher views of their work.
2. A promise.
3. A caution. The true source of satisfaction is acceptance with God, and conscious communion with Him. (St. John A. Frere, M. A.)
Return of the seventy
I. GOSPEL WORKERS IN LARGE NUMBERS MAY BE SPEEDILY EQUIPPED AND PROFITABLY EMPLOYED. Let the Church multiply “seventies” who shall go forth two by two, and will not the Lord be sure to follow?
II. FAITHFUL SERVICE FOR CHRIST BRINGS GLAD SURPRISES. Often these victories are over self. Plans for life, before worldly and selfishly ambitious, are revolutionized. Paine’s siren song is without power to charm, its spell broken. Wealth for its own sake ceases its fascinations. Sad memories, disappointments, defeats, that once brought shadows and heart-ache, though not forgotten, lose their power to hurt. Habits, appetites, once dominant with more than despot’s thrall and merciless cruelty, are exorcised; and the utter hopelessness of despair gives away to the buoyancy of glad faith. In Christian work, faculties take a wider range and greater efficiency than would otherwise have been possible. Slow lips become eloquent, intellects sluggish and unfruitful are cleared and competent, hands idle and inapt are active and dexterous.
III. A COMPLETE TRIUMPH OF HIS GOSPEL IS A VISION EVER PRESENT WITH OUR LORD.
IV. SOLDIERS IN THE LORD’S ARMY ARE PROMISED A COMPLETE SAFETY FROM THE POWER OF THE ENEMY. We know that the promised power over serpents and scorpions was literally bestowed. Paul, at Melita, unharmed shook the deadly viper from his hand; but the twentieth verse means more than immunity from natural evil. To-day, the words of Paul to Timothy are true: “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” How explain the apparent contradiction?
1. We may understand that physical protection and preservation will be given to all who are about the Lord’s business. Paul might be shipwrecked, but his life was safe until he had preached the gospel “at Rome also.”
2. The Christian has fewer points of attack open to the enemy. The pure in heart are repelled by that which allures the impure. The lowly mind does not see the high things which dazzle and intoxicate.
3. The enemy is permitted power over the children of God, only thereby to bring to himself more utter defeat.
4. To all who suffer for Christ, pain is not hurt nor loss. It brings a divine ministry, the forerunner of promotion and sure joy. Christ in the soul brings a kingdom invulnerable to the enemy. Poverty, stripes, and imprisonment, all earthly ill, are powerless to invade that domain.
V. THE DISCIPLE OF CHRIST SHOULD REJOICE MOST, NOT IN VIEW OF VICTORIES HERE, BUT BECAUSE OF COMING REWARDS IN HEAVEN. (S. L. B. Speare.)
Mission of the seventy disciples
I. THE MISSION OF THE SEVENTY DISCIPLES IS HERE IMPLIED.
1. The purpose for which they were sent.
2. The way in which they were sent.
(1) They were sent out in pairs.
(2) They were to prosecute their work without loss of time.
(3) The manner in which they were to conduct themselves in their visits, and that in reference to those who received and those who rejected them.
II. THE SUCCESS THEY MET WITH IS HERE DECLARED.
1. Exceedingly novel.
2. Preeminently strange.
3. Not by any skill or energy of their own. “Through Thy name.”
III. THIS FEELING WITH WHICH THEY REGARDED THEIR SUCCESS IS HERE SHOWS.
1. They rejoiced in the fact that success had attended their efforts.
2. That beings so hateful and dangerous were overcome.
3. The happiness which they had been instrumental in diffusing. 4, In the success of the great cause with which they were identified.
IV. A CONSIDERATION IS URGED WITH THE VIEW OF MODERATING THEIR JOY, AND DIRECTING IT INTO ANOTHER AND HIGHER CHANNEL. We see here the comparative estimate in which miraculous gifts and saving grace should be held. What is the former without the latter? It is possible to possess the one without the other (Matthew 7:21-23). To have cast out devils, and to be ourselves at last cast out among devils, will be horrible indeed!
1. What is meant by having our names written in heaven. It signifies that we are citizens of the celestial city, that we are freemen of the New Jerusalem, and that all its honours and privileges are ours by a rightful title.
2. How the fact may be ascertained. If we are citizens of heaven our conversation is there; we are strangers and pilgrims on earth; like the patriarchs of old, we are looking for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
3. Those may well rejoice who have satisfactory grounds for concluding that this privilege is theirs. (Expository Outlines.)
I beheld Satan as lightning-fall from heaven
Looking back upon our earthly life
These words refer to a definite moment in Jesus’ life. That same hour in which He sent forth the seventy, He beheld Satan fall from Heaven. Yet that was a prophetic vision of the Lord. When He saw Satan falling, Jesus was in spirit above time, beholding as one finished whole, from the beginning to the end, the history of God’s conquest of evil. While the seventy were going forth to win their first unexpected success in His name, the Lord in prophetic anticipation was looking back upon His work and theirs as a work already accomplished; as even the devils, to their surprise, began to be subject unto them, His Spirit went forward to the final triumph of redemption, and, as one looking back from its completion, Jesus beheld Satan fallen. Throwing ourselves forward in the pure imaginations of faith into the world to come, let us seek to look back and down upon this world as though we already were beyond it.
Surrendering ourselves to our faith, and with our powers of spiritual imagination lent to the aid of our faith, let us seek’ humbly to imitate our Master, and look upon our world as He looked upon this earth, when, as from a position in eternity, He saw Satan fall from heaven.
I. In the first place, if we look upon our own lives as one looks back upon a way already trodden, and a work already accomplished, we shall gain a truer sense of the proportions of things. If we can succeed in transporting ourselves beyond the present, and regarding its occupations as already past; if we can draw back, as it were, in our own souls from the events of new and here, and regard our whole life, past, present, and future, as one undivided and completed whole; then we cannot fail to gain a more just estimate of the real proportions of events in our lives, and to correct, as in a large view from beyond, our present sense of the relative importance of things. And just this true sense of proportion in life is hard for us to keep in the nearness of present things; yet it is essential to large, happy living that we should gain and keep it.
In the second place, in so far as we can put ourselves in the exercise of our own faiths beyond this life, we shall gain in many respects a different, and in all a more just estimate of our own real attainments.
We shall see more clearly what we may expect to win for ourselves from life.
Look down now upon what you have made, or are making, for yourselves in this world from this higher position after your own death.
Measure what you are seeking to attain by its worth as judged by that estimate from beyond.
From this point of view let us seek to determine what are the real attainments which a human being may reach in this world.
That artizan, for example, has stood up faithfully for years to his work.
The arm loses its strength, and the hand its cunning.
What can he have gained by years of faithful work in making square-joints, honest insides, or lines true to an infinitesimal? What can the workman be conceived as keeping hereafter as the reward of all his labour under the sun? Not the eye, not the arm of flesh; yet the doctrine of the resurrection stands in the Scriptures as the pledge that our life here and hereafter is to be in all its powers one continuous life; and though this body shall return to dust, the discipline and capacity of the man, which is to be gained through the right exercise even of these bodily powers, is something which may count in the life of man for ever.
Even in the honest and best exercise of his bodily senses a man may be training himself for the quick and skilled use of those powers of spiritual embodiment which shall succeed these mortal powers. That artist, for instance, who one evening as we gained the crest of a hill, with an exclamation of delight, counted instantly five different hues upon the horizon where my duller eye had only seen at first glance one resplendence of the setting sun, may have gained in that quick sense of colour a power which shall be carried on as a possession of the soul into the spiritual body, enabling that trained artist’s spirit hereafter to see with instantaneous and enhanced delight the hues and harmonies of colour of the new heavens and the new earth. Hence I venture to say that the training and discipline of any power in the honest work of a lifetime may be so much real attainment for immortality--so much gain carried in the man himself through death into the world of larger opportunity. A man, therefore, should perform all his labour on this earth not as though what he does now is all of it, but as an heir of immortality. Jesus lived for two worlds at one and the same time. He was the Son of Man who was in heaven, as the Scripture says. All true, deep life must have something of the sense of heaven in it as a present fact.
III. We are led, thus, to the third remark that only as we strive to throw ourselves forward into the life beyond, and to consider our whole existence here as it is in its relation to the man and his life then and there, can we form a safe estimate of the worths of things. Such and such opportunities are brought now within reach of a young man or woman. What are they worth? Success is a safe happiness to the Christian man who can look down upon it as from out the kingdom of heaven. Success is a danger and snare of soul to that man who is not himself already in his heart above it. This position, finally, as of one looking back upon this world, which we all need sometimes to take in the Christian imaginations of faith, is the position from which in a little while we must be judging all things both in life and death. Our whole life erelong shall be one finished picture in the retrospect. And may it lie then behind us in the softening, hallowing light of God’s grace! By the grace of God, the penitent, converted man, even now judging himself from out the hereafter, as Christ did the world, may say: From my life I saw sin falling; from the heaven of my desires I beheld Satan fallen;--Behold God alone is reigning. (Newman Smyth, D. D.)
Satan lamed by his fall from heaven
There is a strangely widespread belief that Satan is lame, and that this was caused by his fall. In classical mythology we find limping Vulcan; and Hephaistes was lamed by his fall when hurled by Zeus from Olympus. Our idea of the devil always includes the clubbed or cloven foot. (Biblical Things not Generally Known.)
Power to tread on serpents and scorpions
Of these Tristram says: “They swarm in every part of Palestine, and are found in houses, in chinks of walls, among ruins, and under stones, whether in dry or moist situations. It is always necessary before pitching tents to turn up every stone, however small, lest a scorpion should be secreted; as, when disturbed or roused by the warmth of the camp, these troublesome pests will strike at and sting any person or object within reach. So numerous are they that in the warmer parts of the country every third stone is sure to conceal one I have known an instance of a man dying from the effects of a scorpion’s sting, which he had received in the throat when leaning against a wall in which the creature was secreted.” The scorpion is described as having much the appearance of a small lobster; it has two claws, extending from near the head, eight feet, and a long, jointed tail, terminating in the sting, which inflicts a painful and sometimes fatal wound. The largest and most dangerous species is black, and about six inches long.
Suicide of the scorpion
Mr. Allen Thomson, in a letter published in Nature, says: “While residing many years ago during the summer months at the baths of Lucca, in Italy, in a somewhat damp locality, my informant, together with the rest of the family, was much annoyed by the intrusion of small black scorpions into the house, and their being secreted among the bedclothes, in shoes, and in other articles of dress. It thus became necessary to be constantly on the watch for these troublesome creatures, and to take means for their removal and destruction. Having been informed by the natives of the place that the scorpion would destroy itself if exposed to a sudden light, my informant and her friends soon became adepts in catching the scorpions and disposing of them in the manner suggested. This consisted in confining the animal under an inverted drinking-glass or tumbler, below which a card was inserted when the capture was made, and then, waiting till dark, suddenly bringing the light of a candle near to the glass in which the animal was confined. No sooner was this done than the scorpion invariably showed signs of great excitement, running round and round the interior of the troubler with reckless velocity for a number of times. This state having lasted for a minute or more, the animal suddenly became quiet, and turning its tail or the hinder part of its body over its back, brought its recurred sting down upon the middle of the head, and, piercing it forcibly, in a few seconds became quite motionless, and, in fact, quite dead. This observation was repeated very frequently; in truth it was adopted as the best plan of getting rid of the animals, and the young people were in the habit of handling the scorpions with impunity immediately after they were so killed, and of preserving many of them as curiosities.”
Power of spiritual life
Brainerd, in his narrative of his work among the American Indians, confesses his great embarrassment. “When I have instructed them respecting the miracles wrought by Christ, they have quickly referred to the wonders of that kind performed by their diviner;… a fatal obstruction to some of them in the way of receiving the gospel.” Yet, though Brainerd could do none of these mighty works, he was the means of the conversion of that very diviner by the influence of his own life and the spiritual truths which he taught. (J. M. Buckley.)
Mr. Gobat, the late Bishop of Jerusalem, when engaged as a missionary in Abyssinia, retired on one occasion, in a season of deep spiritual depression and gloom, into a cavern, and there poured out his heart in earnest supplication, beseeching that God would not desert him, but encourage him in his trials. He remained in the cavern for some time. When he rose from his knees, his eyes had become accustomed to the darkness, and he saw that he had been there with a hyena and her cubs, which yet had, marvellously, not been permitted to attack him. At the very time when he deemed himself forgotten, he received this striking manifestation that the God of providence was nigh to shield and protect him. (Memoirs of Bishop Gobat.)
Immunity from snakebites
The Psylli, according to Pliny, were so characteristically endowed with this immunity (from snake-bites), that they made it a test of the legitimacy of their children; for they were accustomed to expose their new-born babes to the most venomous serpents they could find, assured chat if their paternity was pure Psyllic they would be quite unharmed. Of this tribe was the ambassador Hexagon, who, boasting of his powers before the Roman consuls, submitted to the crucial test which they suggested, of being enclosed in a vessel swarming with poisonous reptiles, which, says the legendary story, hurt him not. (Philip H. Gosse, F. R. S.)
Rejoice, because your names are written in heaven
The supreme joy
I. CHRISTIAN CITIZENSHIP IS MAN’S HIGHEST BLESSEDNESS. This is the first thing I have to endeavour to illustrate and impress.
1. And in the forefront of all I set this consideration, namely, that the having the name written in heaven implies the Divine acceptance of us, as attested to our consciousness. Indeed, brethren, this is a blessed thing; blessed in itself, and blessed, moreover, in all its bearings and influences upon all our life. For, to know that we are at peace with God and are now the objects of the Divine complacency, O how it bathes everything with its own sunshine l Look out upon the world with eyes purged by the euphrasy of God’s acceptance of you through Christ, and you will see it flushed with a thousand beauties never seen till now, and brightened with glancing lights and splendours where before it was all darkness and gloominess to you.
2. Emancipation from the thraldom of sin, and introduction into the glorious liberty of the children of God. “Free.” “Free indeed.” Yes, it is a glorious freedom that is conferred upon the heavenly citizen. “He is the freedman whom the truth makes free; and all are slaves besides.” It is not liberty merely to have no gyves upon your wrist and no clanking fetters about your feet. That is a poor thing in comparison of that inward deliverance from the tyranny of evil which enables a man to stand up in the blessed consciousness that he is now master even of himself. Besides, the freedom of the children of God has another side. It is not only a freedom from sin, it is also a freedom unto God and unto holiness.
3. Then, further, in this citizenship there is also an immunity from care. Now, I say, when a man becomes a citizen of heaven he is set free from this care, as well as from sin. The charter of the New Jerusalem assures him that having secured the highest good all lesser good shall be added unto him.
4. Then, too, in illustrating the blessedness of the Christian citizen I ought to speak of the “strong consolation” which is ministered to him in all times of his adversity and sorrow. An immunity from trial is not indeed among his privileges. That would not be for his real good. No; as steel acquires its fine temper in the fire, as the sweetest music issues from the darkened cage, as spices must be bruised if we would breathe their odours, so “blessed are they that mourn”; “blessed are they that weep now.” A blessedness is theirs which the always prosperous and the ever merry cannot know.
5. Last of all, and best of all, beyond all this wealth of earthly advantage and benefit there is laid up for the Christian citizen the blessedness of the life to come. To have the name written in heaven is to be able “to read our titles clear to mansions in the skies.”
II. And now it will not need, I think, that I should argue the point of the text, viz., that ENROLMENT IN HEAVEN SHOULD CONSTITUTE OUR MASTERJOY. For all rational beings their chief good should and must form their chief joy.
III. And so, in conclusion, and as the practical outcome of the subject for ourselves, let me say--
1. First, to those of you who can rejoice in the assurance that your names are written in heaven. Take care that this icy maintain its supremacy within you. Be sure that you allow no other joy to displace it or to overtop it. Observe it--I do not say--even as our Lord does not say in the text, rightly understood--that you are not to rejoice at all in anything save and besides your Christian felicity. That were ingratitude to God. That were an irrational asceticism. Nay, but if you have health of body and soundness of mind, rejoice in this physical blessedness, as being of priceless advantage to you.
2. And, to those of you whose names are not yet written in heaven, let me say that this supreme joy of religion, so far from extinguishing such of your earthly pleasures as are innocent and legitimate would inconceivably brighten and increase them. (T. Akroyd.)
Why may I rejoice?
I. THE JOY WHICH NEEDS MODERATING. The joy of triumph over evil spirits, the joy of having preached the gospel and wrought wonders--in a word, the joy of gifts, power, and success. This needs moderating--
1. Because it is so apt to degenerate into pride.
2. Again, this joy which needs to be moderated should be restrained by the reflection that it is no evidence of grace in the heart that we possess gifts, or that we are successful. Talents are possessed even by wicked and slothful servants. Grace without talent will save, but talent without grace will only increase our condemnation.
3. Moreover, it is very unsafe to rejoice unduly in the work which we have done, because the work after all may not turn out to be all that it appears. It is too early to begin to rejoice until the fire has passed over our lifework.
4. This joy, again, however good our work” may be, is to be moderated, because it does not prove that we are any more gracious than others of far less gift and usefulness.
5. Again, this joy in success needs to be kept under tight rein because it is not an abiding joy. If thou, O man, rejoice to-day because of subject devils, what wilt thou do to-morrow, when the devils break loose again? What if He should send thee among Samaritans, who will not even hear thee, and thou shalt have to go from city to city and wipe off the dust of thy feet against them?
6. Once again, this joy, if we were to be filled with it to overflowing, would be found unable to bear the strain of trial, trouble, temptation, and especially of death.
II. THE JOY WHICH NEEDS EXCITING. “Because your names are written in heaven.”
1. The joy which our Lord commends is one which springs from faith, while the other joy arises alone from sight.
2. This joy consists in knowing our election--“knowing, dearly beloved, your election of God,” knowing that your names were written in heaven. To be God’s choice is the choicest of delights.
3. Brethren, this is a joy which can be cultivated. How are we to cultivate it? If we desire to have much of this joy we must make the fact sure. We must be certain that our names are written in heaven, or else we cannot rejoice in it.
III. Now, lastly, into this joy the Saviour enters, and we have to look, in the third place, to THE JOY OF THE LORD IN SYMPATHY with it, and so we add to our text the first sentence of the 21st verse--“In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit.” Why did He rejoice?
1. Because grace was given.
2. Jesus was also glad at the Father’s choice. He said, “I thank Thee, O Father.” He looks at these seventy babes out of whose mouth He has ordained strength, and He says, “I thank thee, O Father, for having chosen these.”
3. Notice the spirit in which Jesus puts His thanksgiving--He is satisfied with the choice because it is God’s choice. “Even so, Father,” said He, “for so it seemed good in Thy sight.”
4. Then our Saviour went on to rejoice because the grace of God given to us has revealed to us Christ, and revealed to us the Father, for He says, “no man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal Him.”
5. Jesus exulted because there was a fellowship about all this, for He speaks of His knowing the Father and the Father knowing Him, and then of our knowing the Father because the Son has revealed Him unto us--all of which implies a wondrous communication and communion with the Father and with the Son. Now, this, I take it, is the cream of joy, a joy in which Christ partakes as He has fellowship with the Father and with us, and of which we partake as we have fellowship with Him and with the Father. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
The successful minister’s safeguard
I. THE JUSTIFICATION OF THE REJOICING SPIRIT WHICH THE SEVENTY NOW EXHIBIT.
1. It was in spiritual matter.
2. It was with a self-renouncing disposition that they expressed it.
3. Their report is brought direct to the feet of their Master.
4. There is evidently no mistake in their report, no delusion on their part.
II. THE JUSTIFICATION OF THE CAUTION OR SUGGESTION WHICH CHRIST HERE UTTERS.
1. To rejoice genuinely, in even the very highest work done for the soul of another, must have its dangerous side. It does not guide a humbling look into oneself.
2. It may have a directly disastrous effect, feeding spiritual pride, contributing to self-confidence, and absolutely., calling off the attention of the soul from itself.
4. On the other hand, rejoicing in the conviction or in the certainty that one’s own “name is written in heaven,” leads one to review all that is most desirable to review. (Philip C. Barker, M. A.)
The highest eulogy
“Your names are written in heaven.”
1. How it is to be understood.
2. How desirable it is.
3. How alone it is to be obtained. (Van Oosterzee.)
The certainty of salvation
1. Its only ground.
2. Its all-surpassing worth. (Van Oosterzee.)
The noblest source of joy
Heaven is here compared to a city or corporation, in which a list or record is kept of all the citizens or freemen who are entitled to its privileges and immunities. “How may I know whether my unworthy name be written in heaven? who can open and read the records of heaven, and show me whether my name is registered there?” I answer, This is a secret that may be discovered; for all that have their names written in heaven, may be distinguished by their characters, their temper, and practice, while upon earth. And their characters are such as these:
1. They are deeply sensible of the vanity of all earthly things, and that heaven alone is a sufficient portion and happiness. All that are registered as citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, have a superlative esteem of that privilege, and count all things but loss in comparison of it (Matthew 12:24-26; Matthew 13:45-46).
2. All that have their names written in heaven have a heavenly nature; a nature very different from that of the men of this world, and like that of the citizens of heaven. And is this your temper? or is it earthly and sensual?
3. All that have their names written in heaven have a peculiar love for all their fellow-citizens, who are heirs of heaven. They love them as members of the same corporation with themselves (1 John 3:14).
4. If your names are written in heaven it is the chief business and concern of your life to obtain an interest in heaven. And do you thus seek the kingdom of heaven? (Matthew 10:12; Luke 16:16).
I. If your names are written in heaven, this is the greatest cause of joy you can possibly have; a joy that may swallow up every other joy.
II. If your names are not written in heaven, you can have no cause of solid, rational, and lasting joy in any thing. (President Davies.)
The true doctrine of election
This opinion is not believed by thee, but is only pretended, as a cloak for thy wickedness and idleness; for if thou dost believe that, if God hath elected, He will save thee however thou livest, why are not thy practices answerable to such principles? Why dost thou net leave thy ground unsowed, and thy calling unfollowed, and say, If God hath decreed me a crop of corn, I shall have it, whether I sow my ground or no; and if God hath decreed me an estate, I shall have it, though I never mind my calling? Why dost thou not neglect and refuse eating, and drinking, and sleeping, and say, If God hath decreed that I shall live longer, I shall do it, though I never eat, or drink, or sleep? For God hath decreed these things concerning thy ground, estate, and natural life, as well as concerning thine eternal condition in the other world. (G. Swinnock.)
A senator related to his son the account of the book containing the names of illustrious members of the commonwealth. The son desired to see the outside. It was glorious to look upon. “Oh, let me open it,” said the son. “Nay,” said the father: “it’s known only to the council.” Then said the son, “Tell me if my name is there?” And that, said the father, “is a secret known only to the council, and it cannot be divulged.” Then he desired to know for what achievements the names were inscribed in that book. So the father told him; and related to him the achievements and noble deeds by which they had eternized their names. “Such,” said he, “are written, and none but such are written in the book.” “And will my name be there?” said the son.” “I cannot tell thee,” said the father; “if thy deeds are like theirs, thou shalt be written in the book; if not, thou shalt not be written.” And then the son consulted with himself; and he found that his whole deeds were playing, and singing, and drinking, and amusing himself, and he found this was not noble nor temperate nor valiant. And as he could not read, as yet, his name, he determined to “make his calling and election sure.” And thus, by patient continuance in well-doing, the end is crowned with glory, honour, immortality, and eternal life.
Jesus rejoiced in Spirit
Christ glorifies His Father and magnifies Himself
That till God reveals Himself, His nature and will, no man can know either what He is, or what He requires--“Thou hast revealed.”
2. That the wise and knowing men in the world have in all ages despised the mysteries of the gospel, and have therefore been judicially blinded by God--“Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent.” When men shut their eyes against the clearest light, and say they will not see, God closes their eyes and says they shall not see.
3. That the most ignorant, if humble, and desirous of spiritual illumination, are in the readiest disposition to embrace the gospel revelation--“Thou hast revealed them unto babes.”
4. That this is not more pleasing to Christ than it is the pleasure of His Father--“Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight.”
Observe--Our Saviour magnifies Himself:
1. His authority and commission--“All things are delivered unto Me”; that is, all power is committed unto Me, as Mediator, from God the Father.
2. His office to reveal His Father’s will to a lost world--“No man knoweth the Father but the Son, or the Son but the Father”; that is, no man knoweth their essence and nature, their will and pleasure, their counsel and consent, their mutual compact and agreement betwixt themselves, for saving a lost world, but only themselves, “and those to whom they have revealed it.” Learn thence, That all saving knowledge of God is in, by, and through Christ; He, as the Great Prophet of His Church, reveals unto us the mind and will of God for our salvation. (W. Burkitt.)
1. Let me ask you if you resemble Christ in rejoicing at the success of true religion? He greatly rejoiced in spirit, and gave thanks to His Father, that Satan was dethroned, and that, though some were obstinate, others were blessed with a saving discovery of Divine things.
2. Beware of being proud of your own wisdom and prudence, and cherish the humility and teachableness of babes.
3. We should learn, from the twenty-second verse, never to separate the truths of what is called natural religion from the gospel. The idea that there is, or can be, any true and acceptable religion whatever, apart from the revelation of Christ, is here shown to be quite preposterous. The true Witness declares that no man can know the Father except he to whom He shall reveal Him.
4. Let us be thankful for the precious religious privileges which we enjoy, and careful to improve them. “ Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see.”
5. Lastly: Are we blessed, because our eyes see, and our ears hear these things?--then, Christian benevolence should lead us to feel for those who enjoy no such privileges, and to do everything we can to extend them to the utmost corners of the earth. (James Foote, M. A.)
The Saviour’s joy
The sublimity of this joy we feel the more, when we compare with it that of the seventy. They rejoice in the great things, He in the good brought to pass; they have their joy directed to the outer, Jesus His to the moral world; they rejoice alone in the present, Jesus also in the past and the future; they are disposed to self-praise, Jesus to thankful adoration. (Van Oosterzee.)
1. An example of the joy which the Lord sometimes experienced upon earth.
2. An image of the joy which He now experiences in heaven.
3. A presage of the blessedness which He shall hereafter taste when the kingdom of God shall be fully perfected. (Van Oosterzee.)
The joy of Jesus
It is remarkable that this is the only instance on record in the Gospels in which our Lord is said to have rejoiced. Yet I do not think it would be fair to infer from the fact of a solitary mention of His rejoicing that He did not rejoice at other times; on the contrary, our Lord must, despite His sorrow, have possessed a peaceful, happy spirit. He was infinitely benevolent, and went about doing good; and benevolence always finds a quiet delight in blessing others. Moreover, our Lord was so pure that He had a well of joy within which could not fail Him. Besides, Christ Jesus was a man of faith; faith’s highest exposition and example. He it was, who “for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.” His faith must, therefore, have anticipated the reward of His passion, and have brought the joy thereof home to Him even while He sorrowed here. It is clear that joy was not a distinguishing feature in our Lord’s life, so as to strike the beholder. Peace may have sat serenely on His brow, but nothing of the exuberant spirits which are seen in some men, for His countenance was marred with lines of care and grief. The words here used are very emphatic. “He rejoiced.” The Greek word is much stronger than the English rendering; it signifies “to leap for joy.” It is the word of the blessed Virgin’s song, “My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.” Strong emotions of delight were visible upon our Lord’s face, and were expressed by the tones of His voice as well as by His words. It is clear that He was greatly glad. The text also says, He “rejoiced in spirit”: that is, deep down in the very centre of His nature, in that largest and moat capacious part of His human being, the Redeemer rejoiced.
I. Our Lord’s joy was JOY IS THE FATHER’S REVELATION OF THE GOSPEL.
1. I call your attention to the fact that He ascribed all that was done to the Father, and joyed that the Father was working with Him.
2. The Saviour’s joy was that through the Father’s grace men were being enlightened.
3. Further, our Saviour’s joy lay very much in this, that this revelation to men was being made through such humble instruments.
4. And yet, further, His great joy was that the converts were of such a character as they were.
5. Our Lord’s joy sprang from one other source, namely, His view of the manner in which God was pleased to save His people. It was by revealing these things to them. There is, then, to every man who is saved a revelation, not of anything over and above what is given us in the Word of God; but of that same truth to Himself personally and with power. In the word is the light; but what is needed is that each man’s eye should be opened by the finger of God to see it.
II. OUR LORD’S MODE OF EXPRESSIVE HIS JOY.
1. His joy finds tongue in thanksgiving.
2. He found expression for His joy in declaring the Father’s sovereignty.
3. He delighted in the special act of sovereignty which was before Him, that the Lord had “hid these things from the wise and prudent, and had revealed them unto babes.” His voice, as it were, went with the Father’s voice; He agreed with the Father’s choice, He rejoiced in it, He triumphed in it.
III. Thirdly, and briefly, I want you to see OUR LORD’S EXPLANATION OF THE FATHER’S ACT.
1. The Father had been pleased to hide these things from the wise and prudent and to reveal them unto babes, and Jesus Christ is perfectly satisfied with that order of things, quite content with the kind of converts He has and the kind of preachers that God has given Him. The Lord Jesus does not need prestige.
2. See how the Lord explains it yet further, by showing that human wisdom cannot find out God. Next, learn that the sovereignty of God is always exercised in such a way that the pure in heart may always rejoice in it. God never did a sovereign act yet that the loving Christ Himself could not rejoice in. The ultimate honour of the gospel is secured unto God alone, let that be our last lesson. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Revealed them unto babes.
Why God reveals to babes
The babe is the representative of the receptive spirit. Its characteristic is trust, openness to impression, and freedom from prejudice. The disciples were babes who lay open to the Divine message, and did not interpose theories and traditions. They were poor and knew it, and were willing to become rich. To them God revealed. But the revealing to a certain disposition is of necessity the hiding from its opposite.
I. TO REVEAL TO BABES HARMONIZES WITH GOD’S CHARACTER AS A FATHER AND ILLUSTRATES IT. “Babe” is the counterpart to “Father”--“wise and understanding” has no such relation. The wise and understanding might have a special relation to an almighty Taskmaster, an infinite Schoolmaster and Prizegiver; but certainly not to an infinite Father. A father’s heart is not attracted to the brilliance or power in his family, but to the want. The gospel is salvation by the free gift of God. Any true conception of the evil of sin, and its effects on the soul, renders other ideas of salvation incredible. We call God Father, and ask His forgiveness. Salvation by grace is bound up with the Divine arrangement, which reveals to babes. The distinction of the babe is just here--he is adapted to salvation by grace.
II. IT GLORIFIES GOD AS LORD OF HEAVEN AND EARTH TO REVEAL TO BABES. That God is Lord of heaven and earth makes His lowliness not less, but more needful and credible. The more you extend the empire of God, the more necessary it is for the heart to feel that God is lowly, and to have abundant proof of it. The higher and mightier you conceive God to be, the less it will appear credible to you that He should show preference to force of any kind.
III. BY REVEALING TO BABES THE FATHER AND LORD OF HEAVEN AND EARTH MANIFESTS THE SUPREMACY OF THE MORAL ELEMENT. What a calamity it would have been if the highest blessing had been in any way specially associated with intellectual qualities. This would have been to confirm and glorify the false estimate already so prevalent and so disastrous. But when God passes by the soaring imagination, the lofty intellect, the keen understanding, and puts His main blessing into the lowly heart and open spirit, when He comes down to the very lowest form of the moral and spiritual, the mere sense of want, the mere hunger for better things, and gives infinite eternal wealth to that--what a rebuke He conveys to pride of intellect; what honour He confers upon plain heart and conscience. Now is the false judgment of the world reversed. Now substance is put in place of show. Now spirit is exalted over form. Now right is put on the royal seat.
IV. IT GLORIFIES GOD AS FATHER AND LORD OF HEAVEN AND EARTH TO REVEAL TO BABES; FOR IT SHOWS HIS DESIRE TO REVEAL AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE, AND TO AS MANY AS POSSIBLE. Had God then revealed to the wise and understanding, He would have hidden from the world as a whole. By revealing to babes He gives hope to universal humanity. The babe slumbers in every soul however artificial or proud, and may be wakened up by some simple touch of pathos, or glimpse of memory, as well as by disaster. God who reveals to babes shows that it is man himself that He wants, not man’s accomplishments, not man’s energies, and distinctions and elevations, but man.
V. THE APPOINTMENT OF A PERSONAL SAVIOUR GLORIFIES GOD AS FATHER AND LORD OF HEAVEN AND EARTH, AND IS PECULIARLY ADAPTED TO BABES. Jesus is the typical original Babe, the perfect, infinite example of the receptive spirit; therefore He reveals the Father, and is the refuge of men and the rest for the weary. On account of the very vastness of the lordship of heaven and earth a person is needed to bring God near, to show that it is a lordship, and not a mere system; and that there is a heart at the centre. The gospel is salvation by a person. Trust in Christ saves us. This suits the babes, and, therefore, at bottom, all men. (J. Leckie, D. D.)
I. THE INTELLECTUAL CONTRAST. The world, Christ would tell us, is divisible into the simple and the wise. Our Lord rejoices that the larger section is not excluded from participation in the things of the kingdom of God; that men do not need worldly wisdom and the prudence of experience in order to knowing the truths of salvation. No exclusive sentence is written over the portals of Christianity. It is adjusted to the lowest and meanest capacity. Christ’s mission was to all humanity, and He rejoiced in that fact.
II. THE MORAL CONTRAST. He wishes to tell us what is essential--that it is only to the child-heart that revelation will be made. We know the contrast between the childheart and a heart sophisticated by life. Worldly and hardened hearts cannot receive the revelation of the things of heaven.
1. It is even so in regard to the world of beauty around us. We fill our hearts with cares, and immerse ourselves in business, so that we cannot see the beauty of a landscape which entrances the child-heart.
2. It is true also of noble actions or ideas: only the care-free childheart feels their beauty and sublimity.
3. When a great evil is to be dealt with, we notice how slowly the consciences of worldly-wise, practical men rise to a great public duty, and how swiftly the child-heart perceives the line between right and wrong.
III. THE PRACTICAL RESULT. Christ rejoices that none are excluded from His kingdom. But no gigantic effort of intellect will enable us to climb over the battlements of heaven. Wisdom is nearer to us when we stoop. (Bishop Boyd Carpenter)
Revelation to the lowly
I. THE FACT.
1. A childlike mind is required in those who would receive Christ and His kingdom.
2. The first disciples were children and men of childlike mind.
3. In the present day, the gospel is for the childlike.
II. THE SECRET.
1. The nature of the truth revealed requires a childlike mind for the reception of it.
(1) Its novelty. It is not contrary to true reason; but it is aside from and different from the old results of human reason.
(2) Its unwordliness. The eyes that are wearied with poring over earthly lore are often too worn to bear the light of heavenly truth. This requires a healthy, fresh vision.
(3) Its lowliness. A gospel for the simple is not necessarily a simple gospel.
2. The method of the revelation requires a childlike mind for the reception of it. It is not given by logical demonstration, but through act and life. We must see it with the soul’s eyes. For the clearness of this spiritual vision we need
(1) simplicity and self-forgetfulness,
(3) purity--children’s graces.
III. THE THANKSGIVING. Why?
1. It is according to God’s will.
2. It redounds to the glory of God.
(1) As an evidence that the revelation comes from heaven and is not got by man’s wisdom. It is not stolen Promethean fire.
(2) As a proof of the power of God. He can teach highest truth to lowliest scholars.
(3) As a sign of the goodness and condescension of God.
3. It proves the breadth of revelation.
4. It brings to us the best discipline in revelation. (W. F. Adeney, M. A.)
The kingdom of God, now as ever, hidden from the wise and prudent, and revealed unto babes
1. This is not different:
(1) In the days of the Saviour;
(2) In later ages;
(3) In our time.
2. This cannot be different.
(1) Objective cause in the nature of the gospel.
(2) Subjective cause in the human heart.
(3) Supernatural cause in the counselor God.
3. This may not be different; for, even in this way--
(1) The divinity of the gospel is confirmed;
(2) The requirements of the gospel are satisfied;
(3) The trial of the gospel is assured. (Van Oosterzee.)
Divine truths hidden and revealed
Whilst Jesus deemed it needful to warn His disciples against self-exaltation because of what they had been the means of doing, He Himself found in the successes which had accompanied their labours a ground for grateful rejoicing. In these successes He saw the firstfruits of a rich and glorious harvest; and He broke out into the exclamation--“I thank Thee, O Father!” &c. By the expression, “these things,” our Saviour meant the great Divine truths which He had come into the world expressly to reveal, which He had commissioned these seventy disciples to announce in the towns they visited, and for the rejection of which He had a little while before upbraided the cities of Galilee. With respect to these Divine truths, Christ here makes a two-fold statement.
I. HE SPEAKS OF THEM AS HAVING BEEN HIDDEN FROM SOME.
1. Divine truths were not hidden from these people through any want of outward revelation.
2. Nor through any lack of intellectual ability to understand them. They were “the wise and prudent.”
3. Nor through any influence exerted by God for the purpose. “Thou hast hid,” &c., must be interpreted in the broad light of our Saviour’s teaching as a whole.
4. In what sense, then, are we to understand that Divine truths were hidden from these people? To answer this question we must first answer another, namely, Who were the wise and prudent from whom these truths were concealed?
(1) They were not really the wise and prudent.
(2) They supposed themselves to be so, and gloried in the supposition. There is in such a case an element of retribution of which we must not lose sight. The retribution consists in this--that these people, having wilfully shut their minds against the revelations of God’s truth, are left by God to the consequences of their self-inflicted blindness.
II. HE SPEAKS OF THEM AS HAVING BEEN REVEALED TO OTHERS. The word “babes” is clearly intended to be antithetic to the words “wise and prudent.” As by the wise and prudent, the Saviour meant those who were proud, ostentatious, self-sufficient, thinking of themselves more highly than they ought to think, and looking down on others with a cold indifference or a supercilious contempt; so by babes He meant those who were humble, teachable, self-distrustful, feeling themselves to be destitute of all real good, and being willing to receive help and blessing from whatever quarter or in whatsoever way it might come. To such as these Divine truths were revealed, and only to such.
1. It was not because they had been favoured with a greater amount of light respecting these truths.
2. It was not because they had been supplied with better means of preparation for the reception of these truths.
3. It was not because they had been made the exclusive objects of a selecting love.
4. It was because they were in a fit and proper mood for the reception of spiritual truths. With respect to this revelation of Divine truths to the humble we have to notice two things, each of which suggests a practical lesson well worth learning:
(1) It was a source of grateful joy to the Saviour’s heart.
(2) It had His cordial and unqualified acquiescence. In conclusion, let us remember that if we would be as babes to whom Divine truths are revealed, we must not only bow before God in self-abasement and contrition, but we must look for the revelation of those truths through Jesus Christ. This point comes out in Luke 10:22, “All things are delivered,” etc. (B. Wilkinson, F. G. S.)
The simplicity of mystery
In that hour Jesus rejoiced in Spirit. How few such occasions occurred in His life! What hour was it? When He saw, humanly speaking, a glimpse of God’s method of unfolding His governmental purposes, and His beneficent plans and designs. “I thank Thee that Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent,” from intellectual giants, from merely clever people, from so-called genius, and sagacity and intellectual power. “Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus did not summon the proudest king, or the mightiest thinker, but He set a child in the midst of them, and said, “The child is always the greatest.” So you will find it all throughout life, that when you have been most happy, when you have been most childlike, you have seen things most clearly; not when you have put on the cap of your genius, and have taken the sceptre of your power, and robed yourself in the official dignity of a passing moment or a transient situation; but when you have stripped yourself of your own greatness, and have sat down, and said, “Lord, teach me.” Religion, as propounded to us by Jesus Christ, is not a riddle to be solved by the intellectually great. It is a revelation to the heart; it is a word spoken to sin; it is a gospel breathed upon sorrow; it is a word of liberty delivered to those that are bound; a subtle sympathy--something not to be named in high-sounding phrases, or to be wrought out in pomp of words. If you have been in the habit of going to church for the purpose of settling some critical argument, for the purpose of hearing the minister through the medium of your scholastic accumulations and of your native power of intellect, I do not wonder you are numbered with the lean kine who, having devoured much, are none the better for their gluttony; but if you go hungering and thirsting after righteousness, if you have left your big self outside, and have come in, just enough of you to breathe and confess sin, just enough to be a mere spot on the floor of the sanctuary--a mere cripple, with only breath enough to say, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” you were never disappointed. If in hymn, or psalm, or high anthem, or exposition, or reading of the Word Divine, you have received satisfaction, great answers, infinite gospels, you have secretly blessed God for His revelations. The disciples were compared to babes, and the babes received the great revelation. It will be found that simplicity itself is the chief mystery of God. Some things are so simple that we won’t believe them. I know sceptical minds who, if they were asking me which is the way to the Thames, and I were to say “This,” would doubt the answer because of its brevity and simplicity. If I could have conveyed the indication of the route by a roundabout process, they might, perhaps, have been led to believe that I meant what I said, though they did not know what I meant. Do not look so far from home for your blessings; do not make mysteries where God intends you to find simplicity. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Observe, I am speaking about the beginning, in developing this doctrine of the babe-spirit, and not about the end. And even at the end thou shalt find out the great mystery of the unity between the man and the child that He, the child Jesus, and the man Christ Jesus are one and the same. The greater his modesty; the more wonderful his power and influence, the greater his readiness to consider, and oblige, and do good. From the greatest expect the best; from the master more than from the servant; from the disciple rudeness and rejection, from the Master, “Forbid them not, let them come.” (J. Parker, D. D.)
God revealed unto babes
That the sage should miss what the infant can see seems at first but little possible, and still less a subject for thankfulness. It would appear to discourage the highest attributes of our nature, to throw contempt on the patience of thought, and cruelly to visit the prayer for light with the deeper darkness. Can it be that the more pains we take to know, the less will the truth be found; that the rich and practised mind is at a disadvantage compared with the inexperienced and empty? And if so, why exult in the frustration of the noblest of human aims, and the confiscation of the prize to those who have no aim at all? Tertullian dwells with a savage satisfaction on the supposed exclusion from the kingdom of God of whatever we hold fair and great in the old heathen world, and richest for the adornment of all time; and exults in peopling it with hordes of triumphant barbarians like himself. Is this the spirit of Christ’s thanksgiving? Are we required, out of sympathy with it, to believe Socrates an outcast and clap our hands as he vanishes from hope? to stifle our reverence for AEschylus and Plato, for the Scipios and Antonines--and declare God’s preference for mendicant monks and illiterate missionaries? Must we condemn as secular and carnal our own natural admiration for the gifts of wisdom--the disciplined powers, the large and supple thought, the accurate expression, of a wellcultured nature--and force ourselves into harmony of taste with the raw religion of unmellowed sectaries, their loud voice, their rude speech, their narrow zeal, their tumultuous aspirations? Far from it. It is not intellect from which God hides Himself, but selfishness and pride; which may belong alike to taught and untaught, and darken the soul of sophist or of clown. There is light both in the “base” and in the “wise”: but in the former it is wholly spontaneous; in the latter it is chiefly derivative. In its infancy the soul simply apprehends what is given it to perceive, lies confidingly in the bosom of nature, and lets the morning beams come into the full and wondering eyes. It is the loss of the habit of natural trust, the tendency to anxious quest of something distant instead of pure repose on what is here, that according to Christ’s prayer, hides God from the wise and prudent. And, conversely, it is the surrender to spontaneous light and love, the simple passing out upon it into life, without doubt of its guidance or scrutiny of its claims, that reveals Him unto “babes.” How profoundly true this is--that in Divine things the little child may know what the great philosopher may miss--will appear if you only think what God is, and whether He is likely to be discovered on any explorer’s track or by any artifice of calculation. Two things science enables us to do, from which all its triumphs spring. It shows us how to put the parts and products of nature into true classes; and it qualifies us to foresee phenomena else unsuspected. But God is neither a being to be classified, nor a phenomenon to be foreseen, (Dr. Martineau.)
It is the great marvel of the Christian character
that the completest self-sacrifice gives the completest self-possession; that only the captive soul, which has flung her rights away, has all her powers free; and that simply to serve under the instant orders of the living God, is the highest qualification for command. This is the meaning of that great saying of Cromwell’s: “One never mounts so high as when one knows not whither one is going”: a saying which the wise and prudent scorned as a confession of blindness, but which reveals to simpler minds the deepest truth. (Dr. Martineau.)
Two types of human greatness are there
The Pagan and the Christian--the moral and the religious--the secular and the Divine. The former has its root and essence in trying hard; the latter, in trusting gently: the one depends on voluntary energy; the other on relinquishment of personal will to cast every burden upon God. (Dr. Martineau.)
To commune with God
There is need of no subtle thought, no foreign tongue, no newest philosophy: “the pure in heart shall see” Him; and Fox and Bunyan can more truly make Him known, than “Masters of Sentences” and “Angelic Doctors.” (Dr. Martineau.)
Learning the alphabet of religion
A man came to his pastor one night to learn the way of salvation. He was a very learned man, but he said: “I know nothing of Divine truth. I come to you to learn--as a child. I come to learn the very alphabet of religion.” His pastor replied: “My friend, when you return home, open your Bible and read prayerfully the third chapter of John. Think of it. Study it. That will be A. Then turn to Isaiah, fifty-fifth chapter. Study it. Believe it. That is B. A B, ab, almost Abba Father.” (Handbook to Scripture Doctrines.)
Humility of Pascal
The curate who attended Pascal on his dying bed, struck with the triumph of religion over the pride of an intellect which continued to burn after it had ceased to blaze, would frequently exclaim, “He is an infant--humble and submissive as an infant!” (Life of Pascal.)
The receptive spirit
The Rev. John Foster, whose sceptical tendencies were the source of much distress of mind, was finally led to say: “I have felt the necessity of dismissing subtle speculations, and of yielding a humble, cordial assent to mysterious truth, just as and because the Scriptures declare it, without asking ‘How can these things be?’ The gospel is to me a matter of urgent necessity. I come to Jesus because I need pardon.”
The Son will reveal Him
I. THE MYSTERY OF DEITY IN SELF-EXISTENCE. He is an unknown God where there is no supernatural revelation of Him. Reason is baffled, because it is under the fall. Eternal self-existence. How wonderful! It exceeds all power of calculation.
II. THE INCARNATE SON OF GOD REVEALING. NOW mark, I beseech you, that all this glory of the Father, made to shine in the face of Jesus Christ, is unknown to the sinner as long as he is blinded.
III. THE SALVATION SECURED THEREBY. Contrived and bestowed by God the Father. Carried out by God the Son. It is, therefore, infallible, and it secures the glory of Jehovah. (J. Irons.)
The power bestowed on Christ by the Father
4. Ever-enduring. (Van Oosterzee.)
The unique relation between the Son and the Father
1. How far it is the object of our faith.
2. How far it can be the object of our knowledge. (Van Oosterzee.)
The relation between Father and Son
1. The highest mystery.
2. A revealed mystery.
3. Even after the revelation yet continually a partially concealed mystery. (Van Oosterzee.)
Christ the Revealer of God
Christ, as you see here, speaks of Himself. What does He say of Himself?
1. Does He not claim to be Divinely constituted as a Revealer of God? “All things are delivered to Me of My Father.”
2. Our Lord speaks here also of the glorious mystery of His own person and character. No man, nor angel, nor archangel, nor any intelligence in this or in the heavenly world, knoweth who the Son is but the Father. It takes an Infinite Being to comprehend an Infinite Being.
3. Christ alone knows God in perfection--“No man knoweth who the Father is but the Son.” What an awful sense of loneliness--a loneliness which is unutterable--would be involved in our idea of God, unless we had some light given to us by Jesus Christ, concerning His relation to the Father.
4. Jesus Christ is and can alone be the Revealer of God to us--“And he to whom the Son will reveal Him.”
(1) He can be known to whom the Son will reveal Him.
(2) The way to the knowledge of God is by meekness, humility, submission, trustfulness, love. (W. Dorling.)
Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see
The gospel privileges
THE THINGS HERE SPOKEN OF. The blessings of Christ’s revelation.
II. TO WHOM THEY WERE DEVISED. Not only to the great, but to the good. Not merely to the mighty kings of Nineveh, Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, Greece, and Rome, but to the holy and righteous--to Moses, to David, to Elijah.
III. To WHOM THEY WERE REVEALED. To the poor, despised, illiterate; to fishermen on the Galilean sea; to the sisters at Bethany; and, following in their train, to us at the present, whatever our character or position.
IV. THE OVERWHELMING PRIVILEGE WE ENJOY. More favoured than kings; more honoured than prophets; higher in the scale than all who have gone before.
V. THE HEIGHT OF OUR RESPONSIBILITY. If the prophets scarcely were saved, how shall it be with the present generation, if they neglect the privileges they enjoy? (The Preacher’s Analyst.)
Difference between the patriarchal, Jewish, and Christian dispensations
It is a common, but very just observation, that we are seldom dulysensible of the value of our blessings till we are deprived of them. This remark is applicable to our case, under the Christian dispensation. How few persons bless God that they dwell in the “days of the Son of Man”! The way to know how much we are distinguished, is, carefully to compare our situation with that of our fellow-creatures.
I. Let us survey the state of the HEATHEN WORLD. Place yourself, for a moment, amongst them, and consider what would then be your situation with respect to knowledge and virtue.
1. As to knowledge--everything among the heathens was obscure and uncertain.
2. In the heathen world also vice dreadfully prevailed. And what authority was there to check its prevalence? What principles strong enough to enable men to resist it? Their worship was base and degrading, offered in general to idols representing beings who were described as the patrons of corruption.
II. But let us turn our eyes from the state of the heathens, to the fairer view of those who were in some measure enlightened by Divine knowledge. To speak first of the PATRIARCHAL DISPENSATION--One great instance of its inferiority was its want of clear and sufficient authority. Probably the laws and observances enjoined by it were first communicated by God to Adam, and transmitted by him to his children. Now it is easy to see that such a religion would become more and more obscure, imperfect, and corrupt in every succeeding generation. Many things would be forgotten, many misunderstood, many improperly added. On the Mosaic DISPENSATION we now proceed to offer a few remarks. It may be considered as having been inferior to the Christian in the following particulars.
1. It was chiefly composed of types and shadows, of forms and ceremonies.
2. The Jewish dispensation abounded with severe and burdensome impositions.
3. The Mosaic dispensation is inferior to the Christian, inasmuch as the latter is founded upon better promises--better, as being of a more sublime and excellent nature, as being promises of spiritual and eternal things; such as grace, pardon, peace, and eternal life.
4. Another remarkable circumstance, in which the superiority of our dispensation consists, is, the larger and more abundant communication of the Holy Spirit.
5. Further: The Christian dispensation excels the Mosaic in the manner of its establishment.
6. The Christian dispensation is superior to the Jewish, in respect to the spirit of its institution. The spirit of the gospel is a spirit of liberty. (John Venn, M. A.)
This is a noble text, and yet an awful one, for if it does not increase our godliness, it will certainly increase our condemnation. It tells us that we, even the meanest amongst us, are more favoured by God than the kings, and judges, and conquerors of the old world; that we have more light and knowledge of God than even the prophets David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, to whom God’s glory appeared in visible shape. It tells us that we see things which they longed to see and could not; that words are spoken to us for which their ears longed in vain; that they, though they died in hope, yet received not the promises, God having provided some better things for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.
1. Now, what was this which they longed for, and had not, and yet we have? It is this--a Saviour and a Saviour’s kingdom. All wise and holy hearts for ages--as well heathen as Jews--had has this longing. They wanted a Saviour--one who should free them from sin and conquer evil. They longed for a heavenly kingdom also. They saw that men got worse and worse as time rolled on, and that all the laws in the world could never make them good. They longed for a kingdom of God, a golden age, a regeneration of the world, as they called it, and rightly.
2. And now this kingdom is come, and the King of it, the Saviour of men, is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Long men prayed, and long men waited, and at last, in the fulness of God’s good time, just when the night seemed darkest, and, under the abominations of the Roman Empire, religion, honesty, and common decency seemed to have died out, the Sun of
Righteousness rose on the dead and rotten world, to bring life and immortality to light.
3. And that we might not doubt that we too belonged to this kingdom, God has placed in this land His ministers and teachers, Christ’s Sacraments, Christ’s Churches, Christ’s Bible; that from our cradle to our grave we might see that we belonged, as sworn servants and faithful children, to the great Father in heaven and Jesus Christ, the King of the earth.
4. Thus, all that all men have longed for we possess; we want no more, and we shall have no more. If, under the present state of things, we cannot be holy, we shall never be holy. Blessed indeed are the eyes which see what you see, and hear what you bear; prophets and kings have desired to see and hear them, and have not seen or heard 1 But if you, cradled among all these despised honours and means of grace, bring forth no fruit in your lives--shut out from yourselves the thought of your high calling in Christ Jesus, what shall be your end but ruin? He that despises Christ, Christ will despise him. And say not to yourselves as many do, “We are church-goers--we are all safe.” I say to you, God is able, from among the negro and the savage--aye, God is able of these stones to raise up children, while those of you, the children of the kingdom, who lived in the Church of your fathers, and never used or loved her or Christ her King, shall be cast into outer darkness, where shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Charles Kingsley.)
Vainly they tried the deeps to sound
Even of their own prophetic thought,
When of Christ crucified and crowned
His Spirit in them taught:
But He their aching gaze repressed
Which sought behind the veil to see,
For not without us fully blessed
Or perfect might they be.
The rays of the Almighty’s face
No sinner’s eye might then receive;
Only the meekest man found grace
To see His skirts and live.
But we as in a glass espy
The glory of His countenance,
Not in a whirlwind hurrying by
The two presumptuous glance.
But with mild radiance every hour
From our dear Saviour’s face benign
Bent on us with transforming power,
Till we, too, faintly shine.
Sprinkled with His atoning blood
Safely before our God we stand,
As on the rock the prophet stood,
Beneath His shadowing hand.
Blessed eyes which see the things we see!
And yet this tree of life hath proved
To many a soul a poison-tree,
Beheld, and not beloved.
The privileges here referred to. What are the things we see and hear? Many answers might be given. We might tell of the progress of science, commerce, civilization--progress that is stupendous, amazing; and there is nothing of all this but has its value. But these are not the things that make us “blessed.” What are they? An Infant, cradled in a manger, shepherds and wise men bowing near--a meek and lowly Man, standing in the midst of a crowd, teaching and healing, while mockery and hatred look on--a Sufferer stretched upon a cross, “His visage marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men”--an opening sepulchre, and a figure rising, ascending, received up into glory--these are the things we see. Meanwhile, we hear the song of angels, proclaiming the birth of Messiah, and foretelling His glory--we hear the sweeter voice of Messiah’s self, when “gracious words proceed out of His mouth.” Such are the things we see and hear: all of them, you perceive, referring to Christ--His Incarnation, Teaching, Life, Death, and Resurrection. And this isthe gospel! In this God reveals His purposes of mercy. Such is the gospel as we receive it--more complete than when our Lord spake the words of the text to His disciples. The position of ancient saints with regard to these privileges. “Many prophets and righteous men have desired,” etc. The fact here stated is two-fold: they had the desire--but it remained ungratified.
Take some passages by way of illustration. Christ says of Abraham: “He rejoiced to see My day: and he saw it”--that is, he exulted with the desire to see, and, by lively faith, clearly pictured it forth. Hero then is a specimen of the position of the patriarchs--Just as Moses climbed Mount Pisgah, and looked on Canaan, though he never crossed the Jordan: so Abraham climbed the mount of faith, and descried the distant scenes of our Lord’s life. How natural was the desire! The man who has taken an earnest part in some great undertaking naturally longs to see it accomplished. “They desired to see the things that we see, and to hear the things that we hear.” And yet--their desire remained ungratified. In this there is much that is instructive.
1. See the calm steady procession of the purposes of God! He has appointed a time for everything and nothing can derange His plan.
2. See the trial He gives His people’s faith! It is so still, is it not? How many of our heart’s desires He denies us now. The faith of the ancient saints was tried--and strengthened by trial; and thus they became “strong in faith, giving glory to God.”
3. Brethren, let us prize our privileges. Here they are, in rich abundance; yet how often are we dull and cold in the midst of them all!
4. Impenitent man--beware! You, too, are surrounded by privileges. Isaiah, David, Daniel never saw what you see.
5. Some are coming after us, who will know more than we do. When we pass away, others will arise; and in regard to position, we are to them as the prophets were to us.
6. But those who have gone before--have not they, too, outstripped us? Think--what do they see and hear? We cannot tell!
7. O happy time when the whole Church shall be complete in glory! (F. Tucker.)
Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
The lawyer’s question
The question of the lawyer is the question of the human heart everywhere. You will find it asked and answered in all the world’s religions. The answers fall into two classes.
1. One set of replies thinks of the better life as a thing external to a man’s own being, procurable by something that a man can do, by bodily self-denial or suffering, or by religious rites or ceremonies.
2. The other class of answers amounts to this--that nothing that is merely outside a man or comes to him from without can ever meet his wants. The true ideal life of humanity is in its very essence a life; it is not doing, it is being. The orthodox doctrine in Christ’s time taught very definitely what was the pathway to eternal life. The religious teachers laid it down that the life God wants men to live was a life of obedience to the law of Moses. The preaching of Jesus Christ did not quite tally with the orthodox teaching of the time. The Pharisee and the penitent, the harlots and publicans, were distinctly conscious that Christ was preaching a new gospel. The gospel of the Pharisees was orthodox; therefore the gospel of Christ was heresy. They were bent upon getting a case against Him, and yet it was not easy. Be Himself fulfilled the law, conformed to all its requirements and statutes, and never spoke disrespectfully of it. How were they to catch Him? One day a crafty lawyer had a very happy thought. He determined to cross-question Christ, to force Him to declare His inner hostility to the creed of the Pharisees, His inner antagonism to the law of God: “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” A fair, honest question, and yet in the very wording of it the note of discord comes out. Jesus is confronted with a man whose notion of eternal life is utterly different from His. It is impossible to answer that man. Instead of answering, Jesus turns questioner. He must bring out the man’s own notions, and then, when He has got them, it may be possible to show him how threadbare, how poverty-stricken, how wrong they are. “What do you find in the law? How readest thou?” The lawyer, taken aback, gives the regulation reply. He could not repeat the whole law, but there was a summary of it, a standing condensed statement of it, and this he repeats to Jesus: “Thou shalt love … ’” Now, what have we to say to that answer? Is this the pathway to eternal life? What more could a man do to make the music of his life majestic, heavenly, splendid? Loving God utterly, and loving all men as you love yourself--no doubt that is life eternal. The scribe’s answer is the true answer; yet in the scribe’s mouth it was an utter lie, and a damning heresy, that was sending men’s souls to ruin. Christ could accept the definition of the lawyer. “Thou hast answered right.” But then the meaning that He felt in those words was a meaning utterly different from that of the Pharisee; and there you have the explanation of His preaching. He took the very same text that the scribes took, but what a different sermon He preached from it, and what a different application against theirs! He did not say
“Obey”; He said the word that must come before obey: He said “Love.” The least bit of love will do more to make you keep the commandments than any amount of studying them, or any amount of selfish resolve to make a good thing out of the commandments for yourself. The essence of the Pharisee’s gospel was selfishness. Save yourself by keeping on the right side, and not giving God a chance against you. What a God, and what a soul! I think that Jesus, as soon as the scribe had given his reply, looked him straight in the face. The look meant, “Dare you pretend that you do that?” and the man felt it, and therefore, we read, was eager-to justify himself. The man’s conscience was uneasy. He instantly said, “Yes, but who is my neighbour?” It is where the heart is cold that definitions come in. “Who is my neighbour? How many men can claim love from me?” said the scribe. Christ did not answer that, but He made a picture in order to ask the scribe this question, “Who is the man who plays the neighbour’s part?” He told of a man who started from Jerusalem to go to Jericho, and was attacked on the way by thieves, who certainly did not play the part of neighbour by him. There came on the road a priest and a Levite. Christ had not that foolish idea that the clergy should never be held up to rebuke or scorn when they deserve it. Do not misjudge the priest and the Levite. You say they did a heartless thing. They did not; they had not heart to do it. Their sin was not in not doing something, but in being heartless. That is the very point of the story. And if you had met these men after hearing of it, and had asked them how they could do such a thing, they would have assured you that they did not see any man like that. They would have told you that they saw a man who had been fighting, or who had got drunk, or who was an impostor. Or they would have told you they were going to a religious service at Jericho, and had not the time for it. All we can say of them is that they had not heart. And Christ paints the other side of it. There came along a Samaritan, a man of a different religion, a man who had been taught of the Jews that he owed them no kindness. He appeared to be a business man, and probably it would be more to him to lose his market than to the clergy to be late for the religious service. He saw the man, and he saw the first passer-by that had seen him; he saw the wretchedness of it--and he had a heart, and that is all. He did not say,” Is there anything in the Decalogue bearing on this?” And he certainly did not say, “Is that man a neighbour? He is a Jew. Where does he come from?” If he had begun going to the law, he would never have done it. And now, mark how the story has answered the question. As soon as it is finished Christ turns to the scribe, and asks, “Who played the neighbour’s part?” Not the priest, not the scribe, not his own fellow-countrymen. It was that Samaritan.
Nobody could deny it. Even the lawyer acknowledges it. That was a beautiful thing to do, and Christ drove it home with the rejoinder, “Go thou and do likswise”; and He sent that man away saying to himself, “No amount of reading the law would ever make me able to do that; more than that, my reading of the law must be all wrong.” Christ had made that man understand that what he wanted was the real love of the real, living, loving God, and the real, common human love to his fellow-men. Where have you and I to learn that love for God and love for man? I will tell you. At the feet of Christ, and by His side, in fellowship with Him, we shall learn to love God with all our heart, and soul, and mind, and strength, and our neigh-bout as ourself; and that is eternal life. (Professor Elmslie, M. A.)
Inheriting eternal life
1. You will observe that the man who asked this question was a lawyer, a man of education and of good standing; a man, therefore, from whom good behaviour and reverence of spirit might reasonably have been expected. You would think that when such a man spoke he would speak soberly, he would mean, under such circumstances, exactly what he said. You find, however, that the inquiry--the very greatest that can possibly engage human attention--was put in a spirit of temptation. The lawyer was not an earnest man. He asked a right question, but he asked it in a wrong spirit. See, then, the possibility of asking religious questions irreligiously. Learn the possibility of asking great questions in a merely controversial spirit, without any profoundly anxious desire to know the answer that God will return to such inquiries. God understands the irony of our attitude. The Living One knows whether we are hungering and thirsting for Him; He can see through our hypocrisies and concealments, and only into the broken heart and the contrite spirit will He come with redemption and life and helpfulness and grace. So that at the very beginning there is to be no mistake about this. We know the conditions upon which alone we receive the revelations of God--that we be quiet, self.renouncing, reverent, sober, anxious about the business; and wherever these conditions are forthcoming, some light will be flashed upon the life, and some healing word will be dropped into the sorrow of the heart.
2. Jesus Himself answered one question by asking another; and so He not unfrequently disappointed men who had undertaken to ensnare Him in His speech. They thought that if they did but put a case to Him He would instantly commit Himself, and they would entrap Him and take Him captive, and make a fool of Him. Here is a man probably accustomed to put questions, and to put questions again upon the answers that are given, and so to cross-examine those with whom he came in contact. Jesus undertakes to deal with him according to the spirit which he presents; and before He lets him go He will show what the man’s meaning is and his nature, and He will expose him as he never was exposed before. Thus quietly He begins: “What is written in the law? Thou art a lawyer, a man of reading, a man of many letters, and of much understanding probably--how readest thou?” God has never left the greatest questions of the human heart unanswered. The great answer to this question about eternal life was not given first of all by Jesus Christ as He appeared in the flesh. Jesus Himself referred to the oldest record; inferentially He said--That question has been answered from the beginning; go back to the very first revelation and testimony of God, and you Will find the answer there. Yet the question is put very significantly: “How readest thou?” There are two ways of reading. There is a way of reading the letter which never gets at the meaning of the spirit. There is a way of reading which merely looks at the letter for a partial purpose, or that a prejudice may be sustained or defended. And there is a way of reading which means, I want to know the truth; I want to see really how this case stands; I am determined to see it. He who reads so will find no end to his lesson, for truth expands and brightens as we study her revelations and her purposes. He who comes merely to the letter will get but a superficial answer in all probability. It was, therefore, of the highest importance that the lawyer should tell how he had been reading the law.
3. The lawyer, please to remember, knew the answer when he asked the question. He said, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” and all the time the answer was in his own recollection had he but known it. Alas I we do not always turn our knowledge into wisdom. We know the fact, and we hardly ever sublimate the fact into truth. We know the law, and we fail to see that under the law there is the beauty and there is the grace of the gospel.
4. “This do,” said Jesus, “and thou shalt live.” What had the lawyer to do? To love the Lord his God with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength and with all his mind. Love is life. Only he who loves lives. Only love can get out of a man the deepest secrets of his being and develop the latent energies of his nature and call him up to the highest possibility of his manhood. Criticism never can do it; theology never can do it; power of controversy never can do it. We are ourselves, in all the volume of our capacity, and in all the relations of our original creation, only when life becomes love and our whole nature burns with affection towards the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us look less at our knowledge and our intellectual capability and our training and our circumstances, and more at the degree of our religious love. The end of the commandment is charity; the summing up of all true law is love. Do we, then, know this mystery of religious love? or is ours a religion that hangs itself upon the outward letter and the ceremonial form? Then observe that the law goes still further than love to God, it includes love to one’s neighbour. Hear the exact expression of the text--“And thy neighbour as thyself.” Love of God means love of man. Religion is the Divine side of philanthropy; philanthropy is the practical side of religion. We must first be right with God or we never can be right with man.
5. Was the lawyer satisfied? Read: “But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neigbbour?” It was the question of a sharp man, but not the inquiry of an honest one. Such a question as this does not need to be answered in words. Every man knows in his own heart who his neighbour is; and only he who wishes to play a trick in words, to show how clever he is in verbal legerdemain, will stoop to ask such a question as this. Why did he ask the question? Because he was willing to justify himself. It is precisely there that every man has a great battle to fight, namely--at the point of self-justification. So long as there is any disposition in us to justify ourselves are we unprepared to receive the gospel. One of the first conditions required of us at the Cross is self-renunciation. Am I to suppose that any one is asking now, What shall I do to inherit eternal life? Do not misunderstand that word do. It may be so employed as to convey a wrong sense. The obtaining of eternal life does not come through any action or merit of our own. There is not a certain journey that is to taken, a labour which is to be performed, a specific duty that is to be discharged. What, then, is there to be? Consciousness of sin, conviction of guilt in the sight of God, self-despair, self-torment, such a knowledge of the nature and reality of sin as will pain the heart to agony; and then a turning of the eyes of faith to the bleeding Lamb of God, the one sacrifice, the complete atonement; a casting of the heart, the life, the hope, upon the broken body of Jesus, Son of God! Dost thou so believe? Thou hast eternal life! This eternal life is not a possession into which we come by and by. We have hold of it now; for to love the Son of God is to begin eternity, is to enter upon immortality I How is this life to be exhibited? In other words, how is it to prove its own existence and defend its own claim? By love. God is love. And if we be in God we shall be filled with love. Let us then retire, knowing that there is in our hearts and minds information enough upon these great questions, if so be we are minded to turn that information to account. Let no man say he will begin a better life when he knows more. Begin with the amount of your present knowledge. Let no man delude himself by saying that if he had a good opportunity of showing charity to a stranger he would show it. Show charity, show piety at home. Let no man say that if he was going down a thief-haunted road, and saw a poor man bleeding and dying there, he would certainly bind up his wounds. Do the thing that is next thee; bear the Cross that is lying at thy feet; start even upon the very smallest scale to love, and thou shalt grow in grace. (J. Parker, D. D.)
How readest thou?
Profitable reading of the Bible
As there are always among violets some that are very much sweeter to us than others, so among texts there are some that are more precious to us than others. When I go to the Bible, it is not once in a hundred times that I react a whole chapter for my own devotions. As one that goes out into the field to rest does not take the first spot that presents itself, but waits till he finds a nook where the mosses and the flowers and the shrubs are right, and then sits down and feasts his eyes on the beauties around, so I wander along till I come to a passage which, though I cannot tell why, I read over and over and over again. One or two verses or sentences, perhaps, will linger in my head all day, like some sweet passage in a letter, or like some felicitous word spoken by a friend, coming and going all the time. I find often that one single text, taking possession of the mind in the morning, and ringing through it during the whole day, does one more good than the reading of a whole chapter. Frequently some one thing that Christ said fixes itself in my mind, and remains there from morning till night. (H. W. Beecher.)
The law of God, the guide of youth
I. In following out this question to a satisfactory reply, we may, in the first place, inquire, WHAT IS WRITTEN IN THE LAW, AND HOW WE SHOULD READ, ON THE SUBJECT OF FAITH, IN THE GOSPEL? Does not the law of God tell you what the faith of the gospel is, especially all that God has revealed respecting His Son
II. But, in the second place, we must not only TAKE WHAT IS WRITTEN IN THE LAW, IN ORDER TO OUR BELIEF, BUT IN ORDER TO OUR PRACTICE. The “law” holds out, not only testimony to be believed, but precepts to be obeyed.
III. But, in the third place, let us inquire, WHAT IS WRITTEN IN THE LAW CONCERNING THOSE FEELINGS WHICH WE OUGHT TO CULTIVATE?
IV. But again, there is another important subject, on which it is our duty to be informed. WHAT IS WRITTEN OF THOSE ENJOYMENTS HELD OUT IN THE GOSPEL?
V. Then, WHAT IS WRITTEN IN THE LAW ON THE SUBJECT OF TRUST IN THE LORD?
VI. For again, WHAT IS WRITTEN IN THE WORD OF GOD CONCERNING DANGER? It states, the only danger to be apprehended is, the danger arising from sin.
VII. Let us inquire, however, further, WHAT IS WRITTEN IN THE LAW CONCERNING HOPE?
VIII. But next, WHAT IS WRITTEN IN THE LAW CONCERNING THE TIME WHEN THE MIND SHOULD THUS GIVE ITSELF WHOLLY TO GOD? (J. Burner.)
Thou shalt love
Love to God and our neighbours
THE LAWYER’S QUESTION. No evidence of his having put it in a malicious spirit. Quite a fair question. Also a most intelligent question. He wished to try Christ’s pretensions and knowledge--a perfectly blameless, indeed praiseworthy wish. Yet, although the lawyer’s intellect was not at fault, his heart, in some measure at least, was. He did not feel, as he ought, the seriousness of the question he proposed, and his own personal interest in it. He put it too much to try Christ, too little to get instruction for himself.
II. CHRIST’S MANNER OF DEALING WITH HIM. He did not answer him, but made him answer himself-obviously, in order to turn his attention in upon himself.
III. THE LAWYER’S ANSWER A marvellously good answer. He joins to a precept in Deuteronomy another in Leviticus, and so replies to Christ’s question in words altogether appropriate and divine. Our Lord Himself had used the same words in the same way. He had found none better in which to sum all duty and the whole consequence of religion.
IV. CHRIST’S APPLICATION. Have we here Christ Himself teaching salvation through works, not through faith; through doing, not by belief? Yes, there is no doubt about it; His words are perfectly plain and decided--“Do, and thou shalt live.” But, do what? “Love,” etc. A safe kind ofteaching salvation through works I If by doing this, but only by doing this, man is to be saved through doing, then that only makes it clear as the sun that not by doing will any man be saved. Such a law condemns us all utterly. It is one thing to be a hearer of the law, even an intelligent and studious hearer of it, and quite another to be a doer of it. What it demands is obedience--strict, perfect, absolute obedience.
V. THE LAWYER’S DIFFICULTY. He secretly feels that salvation on such terms is not to be had, but he does not like to acknowledge this even to himself, and still less to Him whose words have found him out. He fights against the conviction. He wishes to justify himself, for he cannot bear the thought that Moses and his law--all that he had hitherto been accustomed to depend upon for eternal life--will fail him, and even turn against him. To justify himself, he puts to our Lord the question, “Who is my neighbour?” No question about God, or love to God. Why? Feeling that with respect to that his case was hopeless, he tries to get off on the second commandment, flattering himself there was at least some chance of acquittal on that count. The mere fact of his putting such a question showed him at fault. How could he have fulfilled the law of neighbourly love if he didn’t even know who his neighbour was?
VI. CHRIST’S DEFINITION OF A NEIGHBOUR. Again our Lord seeks to get the lawyer to answer himself, so as to condemn himself; He seeks to help him not only to the right answer to his question, but to convince him that the very question itself showed that he had not the love he spoke of, and not the love which he rightly said was demanded by the law. He seeks to do so by vividly setting before him, in a singularly beautiful parable, the nature of genuine and practical love, as exhibited by the Samaritan, in contrast with a merely formal respect for the law, as illustrated by the priest and the Levite. Then, when He has thus got his conscience to bear witness to the depth and breadth and exceeding comprehensiveness of the law, He again tells him to go and do it, to go and obey it as the Samaritan had done. This our Lord again tells him to do, not supposing that he really could do it, but indirectly to convince him that he has not done it, and to lead him to find out that it is not in his power to do it. Christ wishes through the law to draw him to Himself. (Professor R. Flint.)
The two great commandments
I. THE MANNER AND OCCASION OF THEIR DELIVERY (see Matthew 22:36, where our Lord Himself gave them). In the text He draws them from the lips of His questioner. Notice, also, that even these two great commandments were not on these occasions invented for the first time by our Divine Lawgiver (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18). Words that had been lying dormant He brought to life.
II. THEIR CONTENTS.
1. One supreme affection is to rule over our whole being--the love of God. The intellect must seek truth with undistracted, fearless zeal; else we do not serve God with our whole mind and understanding. The bodily powers must be guarded and saved for the healthy discharge of all that Providence requires of us in our passage through life; else we do not serve Him with our whole strength. The affections must be kept fresh and pure; else we do not serve Him with our whole heart. The conscience must not have stained itself with secret sills, unworthy transactions, and false pretences; else we do not serve Him with our whole soul. There was an old barbarian chief who, when he was baptized, kept his right arm out of the water that he might still work his deeds of blood. That is the likeness of the imperfect religion of so many Christians. This is what they did who of old, in their zeal for religion, broke their plighted faith, did despite to their natural affections, disregarded the laws of kinship and country, of honour and of mercy.
2. The second of these commandments is like the first. It is the chief mode of fulfilling the first.
(1) The measure of the love we owe to others is just what we think owing to ourselves. Observe the equity of this Divine rule. It makes us the judge of what we ought to do. It imposes upon us no duty that we have not already acknowledged for ourselves. Every one of us knows how painful it is to be called by malicious names, to have his character undermined by false insinuations, to be overreached in a bargain, to be neglected by those who rise in life, to be thrust on one side by those who have stronger wills and stouter hearts. Every one knows also the pleasure of receiving a kind look, a warm greeting, a hand held out to help in distress, a difficulty solved, a higher hope revealed for this world or the next. By that pain and by that pleasure judge what you should do to others.
(2) The object towards which this love is to extend--“Thy neighhour.” Every one with whom we are brought into contact. First of all, he is literally our neighbour who is next to us in our own family and household--husband to wife, wife to husband, parent to child, brother to sister,master to servant, servant to master; and then in our own town, in our own parish, in our own street. With these all true charity begins. But, besides these, our neighbour is every one who is thrown across our path by the changes and chances of life--he or she, whomsoever it be, whom we have any means of helping--the unfortunate sufferers whom we may perhaps meet in travelling--the deserted friend whom no one else cares to look after.
III. THEIR RELATIVE POSITION TO THE OTHER PARTS OF THE CHRISTIAN DISPENSATION, These two commandments are the greatest of all. On them the rest of God’s revelation depends. By keeping them we inherit the greatest of all gifts. “This do, and thou shalt live.” (Dean Staney.)
The sufficiency of these two commandments
It has been observed that sometimes when a man is told that religion and morality are summed up in the two great commandments, he is ready to say, like one who first beholds the sea,
“Is this the mighty ocean? Is this all?”
Yes, it is all; but what an all!
We know well here what is the view of the ocean. We look out from these shores on that vacant expanse, with its boundless horizon, with its everlasting succession of ebb and tide, and we might perhaps ask, What is this barren sea to us? How vague, how indefinite, how broad, how monotonous; yet, when we look closer at it, it is the scene on which sunlight and moonlight, shade and shadow, are for ever playing. It has been the chosen field for the enterprise, for the faith, for the charity of mankind. It is the highway for the union of nations and the enlargement of churches. It is the bulwark of freedom, and the home of mighty fleets, and the nurse of swarming cities. And so these two commandments. They seem at first sight vacant, vague, and indefinite; but let us trust ourselves to them, let us launch out upon them, let us explore their innermost recesses, let us sound their depths, and we shall find that we shall call forth all the arts and appliances of Christian love. We shall find that they will carry us round the world and beyond it. To love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our mind, with all our soul, with all our strength--what new fields of thought and activity ought this to open to us when thoroughly studied! It is in proportion as the Bible teaches us the true perfections of God that it becomes to us the Book of God; it is in proportion as the gospel discloses to us those perfections in the most endearing and the most intelligible forms that it becomes to us the revelation of God in Christ; it is in proportion as our hearts and consciences are filled from the fountain of all goodness, that we are able to enter into the true spirit of God, who is worshipped in spirit and in truth. It is, or it ought to be, for the sake of these great commandments that we value and strive to improve the sanctifying and elevating influences of Christian worship, Christian civilization, Christian friendship, Christian homes, and Christian education. It is for the sake of better understanding what God is, and how He wishes us to serve Him, that we value these indications of His will which He has left us in the sure footsteps of science, in the manifold workings of history, of art, of poetry, and of all the various gifts and graces which He has bestowed on earth and on man. “Let no man,” says Lord Bacon, “let no man out of weak conceit of sobriety or ill-applied moderation think or maintain that a man can search too far, or be too well supplied, in the Book of God’s Word or the Book of God’s works.” That is at least one result of the endeavour to love God with all our understanding and with all our soul. And again, “to love our neighbour as ourselves”--what a world of Christian duty is here disclosed! How eagerly, for the sake of better serving our neighbours, should we welcome any one who will tell us what is the best and safest mode of administering charity, what is the best mode of education, what is the best means of suppressing intemperance and vice. How eagerly should we all cultivate the opportunities which God has given us, not for keeping men apart, but for bringing them together; how anxiously we should desire to understand the character of neighbouring nations, neighbouring Churches, neighbouring friends, so as to avoid giving them needless offence--so as to bring out their best points and repress their worst, making our own knowledge of our own imperfections and faults the measure of the forbearance which we should exercise to them. How eagerly should we rejoice in everything which increases the countless means that Christianity and civilization employ for the advancement and progress of mankind. These are some of the means of loving our neighbour as ourselves. (Dean Staney.)
The two great commandments
1. Let us now consider the first great commandment, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.” The great principle which animated the Jews was not love but fear; “Fear God and keep His commandments” with them comprehended the whole duty of man. Accustomed to see their enemies punished by the immediate interference of the Deity; and sensible of the sufferings inflicted on themselves for their idolatry and their incessant hankering after the imaginary gods of the heathens, they contemplated the true God rather as an object of fear than of love. Accordingly, in the Old Testament it is the power, the greatness, the holiness, the terrible justice of the Almighty, that is chiefly exhibited, because the Jews were not fitted for the guidance of higher motives. But, in the New Testament, the good-seas, the mercy, the loving-kindness of God are displayed in the most affectionate and attractive form. Every page beams with the benevolence of the Deity. What a beautiful picture of the goodness and mercy of God is exhibited in the parable of the prodigal son! As fear arises from contemplating the power and justice of God, so love is produced by meditating on His wisdom and goodness. But as it is a matter of the highest importance that we should be enabled to determine with certainty whether we really love God, it may be justly asked, What is the plainest and most undoubted proof of love to God? We answer, That which the Scripture declares it to be. He who hath ears to hear, let him hear. “This,” says the Apostle John, “is the love of God, that ye keep His commandments.” There is another question still which requires our serious consideration, What are we to understand by loving God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind? The meaning is, that our desire to please God should be the highest and most vigorous principle, disposing us at all times to prefer our duty to God to every other consideration, and especially to the gratification of all our selfish passions.
II. We come now to the second great commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neigh-bout as thyself.” It is scarcely necessary to observe that there is no inconsistency between loving God and loving our neighbour. It is perhaps of more importance to remark that we cannot sincerely and correctly observe the one without attending to the other, for they are parts of one whole. Accordingly, the Apostle John says, “If a man love not his brother, whom he hath seen, how can he love God, whom he hath not seen?”
1. To love our neighbour is never to do him any injury; for, says the Apostle Paul, “love worketh no ill to our neighbour.” Consequently, we ought not to cherish any evil passion against him.
2. We ought also to be always anxious to do our neighbour all the good in our power.
3. But we are required to love our neighbour as ourselves. Then self-love must be a principle which God has implanted, and which He approves, otherwise He would never have recommended it as the standard of our benevolence. Self-love is a desire of happiness; and, if we have just views of happiness, it will never lead us astray. Self-love, too, is to be distinguished from selfishness. The selfish man is wrapped up in himself, and is terrified to do any good to his neighbour, lest he should diminish his own happiness. But the man who is guided by rational self-love knows that the more he goes beyond himself, the more good actions he does to others, the more he will increase and extend his own happiness.
III. Consider the observation which our Saviour made on the value of these two grand divisions of the moral law: “On these two commandments hang all the law and prophets.” By the law and the prophets we are sure are meant the books which contain the law of Moses and the books written by the prophets. These books are here represented by our Saviour as being fixed and suspended to the two commandments and supported by them, so that if the two commandments were withdrawn, the law and the prophets being thus deprived of their necessary support, would fall to the ground, and lose their value and intended effect. (J. Thomson, D. D.)
Love to God and our neighbour
I. LOVE TO GOD.
1. A principle Divinely implanted in the renewed hearts of believers.
2. It implies a high esteem of God.
3. It implies an earnest desire for communion with God and the enjoyment of Him.
4. Love to God is a judicious principle.
5. An active principle.
6. A supreme love. He must have our whole heart.
II. LOVE TO NEIGHBOUR.
1. This grace, too, like the former, is a divinely implanted principle.
2. Loving our neighbour implies that we entertain benevolent dispositions towards him.
3. It implies that we speak well of him.
Love tries to conceal reports prejudicial to our neighbour. It imputes his faults, if it can, rather to inadvertence than to habitual premeditated wickedness. In a word, true love deals faithfully and closely with a man’s faults when it gets him by himself; but as tenderly as possible with them in the presence of others. To this let it be added, that love to our neighbour implies that we do him all the good offices in our power. What avail professions without performance, when it is in our power to perform kind actions? (James Foote, M. A.)
When the late Rev. Dr. Staughton, of America, resided at Bordentown, he was one day sitting at his door, when the infidel Thomas Paine, who also resided there, addressing him, said, “Mr. Staughton, what a pity it is that a man has not some comprehensive and perfect rule for the government of his life.” Mr. Staughton replied, “There is such a rule.” “What is that?” asked Paine. Mr. Staughton repeated the passage, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy mind, with all thy soul, and with all thy strength; and thy neighbour as thyself.” “Oh,” said Paine, “that’s in your Bible,” and immediately walked away.
The law of love
I. The law of love is not inferior to that of the ten commandments; in other words, love of God and man includes all which these teach at greater length. What saith the first commandment? “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” Is not there even more than this contained in our text? Let love, to any object whatever, reign in a man’s heart, and his whole being revolts from the idea of doing any injury to the object of his affection. The law of love binds us to keep the first commandment. So with the second. It is obvious that they who have true love to the Lord God as the one spiritual King, eternal, immortal, and invisible, will loathe the attempt of the heathen idolaters to represent the attributes of Deity in the lineaments of a creeping thing, or of a beast, or of a bird, or of the physical nature of man. Or take the third. Does this tell any more than the simple direction, Love God? Could yonder wild blasphemer dare to call for God’s damnation on his own soul or on that of his fellow-man, to swear by the name of the Holy One, to thread his sentences with oaths, if he had ever learnt to love the great Jehovah whose name he thus dishonours? Take the fourth. If any Jew had spoken of this as a burdensome enactment, it would only have shown that he had not learned to love his God. Then, mark the fifth commandment--“Honour thy father and thy mother.” We need not say that this is love. What makes a happy home, with kindly trusting parents, and fond, clambering children, with a gleam of heaven shooting across the scene, and a warm glow resting on it all?--what but love? And is not the fifth commandment fulfilled in this? Then take the sixth, and say if it is possible that love can kill. See the skulking figure, with the deadly knife in his hand, with the restless glance of his suspicious eyes, as though he felt that he is watched: see him draw near the victim, who slumbers, all unconscious of danger and death, and say what would stop that murderous hand but love for his fellowman? So with the seventh. Lust breaks through this rule, which love would keep; for lust is selfishness, while love forgets all self. So, briefly, with the eighth. Love would prevent a man from “ whatsoever cloth, or may, unjustly hinder his own or his neighbour’s wealth or outward estate.” Again, take the ninth. What would stop the voice of slander, and hush the tale of shame, and seal the lips of the liar whose malignant tongue knows no restraint, and stop the story of slander, which circulates so easily over a parish or a nation--what, but this selfsame love? And, once more, look at the tenth commandment. What would check the growth of coveting, and withdraw one man’s eye from another’s scant possessions--what but love? Ahab could not have done the deed of Jezreel if his soul had contained the slightest love for Naboth. Thus we see that all the commandments are embraced in love; and, in the same way, it would be easy to show that on its twofold rule hang all the law and the prophets.
II. But, further, the law of love is superior, because--
1. It is positive.
2. It is exhaustive.
3. It begins at the heart.
4. It leads us directly and at once to feel our need of the Spirit of God. (A. H.Charteris, D. D.)
The love of God
I. THE LOVE OF GOD RECOMMENDS ITSELF BY ITS NATURE.
1. It is the most sublime virtue.
(1) The most sublime of the Divine and moral virtues (1 Corinthians 13:13).
(2) The fertile mother of all other virtues and their brightest ornaments.
(3) All-powerful in its effects, keeping the heart, so prone to sin, from the depths of spiritual ruin; moving and exciting to, and furnishing the necessary strength for, apparently impossible undertakings.
(4) The virtue of the inhabitants of heaven, its exercise being the constant work of angels and saints.
2. It confers on us the highest dignity.
(1) By this virtue we are elevated above all creatures of this visible world. They serve God by absolute necessity, but they cannot love Him.
(2) By this virtue we are elevated above ourselves. All other virtues remind man of his misery and lowness--faith reminds him of his spiritual blindness; humility, of his foolish pride; chastity, of the disgrace of sensuality. Charity alone elevates without reminding you of your weakness, rendering the soul, as it were, infinite.
(3) This virtue confers on us a true nobility.
(a) We obtain the freedom of the children of God.
(b) We reach by it our perfection, it being the bond of perfectness Colossians 3:14).
(c) We enter into the most intimate relation with God, being in a manner deified.
3. The greatest beauty of our holy religion.
4. In the love of God we find true happiness.
(1) In this world. Divine love--
(a) renders man infinitely rich by the possession of God;
(b) fills the heart with the sweetest delights;
(c) causes heavenly peace, which cannot be disturbed either by tribulations or by the sting of the passions;
(d) sweetens what is most bitter--all sufferings, and especially death.
(2) For eternity. Divine charity is the pledge of life everlasting (1Jn 1 Corinthians 2:9).
II. How MUCH GOD DESERVES OUR LOVE.
1. He is the most perfect Being.
2. He is our greatest benefactor.
3. He is infinitely merciful. (Eberhard.)
I. DO YOU LOVE GOD AS YOU OUGHT TO LOVE HIM?
How we may be convinced that we love God
1. He requires a love of faithfulness and obedience.
(1) Do you obey all that He commands?
(2) Do you obey in such a manner as He requires of you?
(3) Do you obey because God commands?
2. He requires a love of subjection and dependence. Do you possess this love? God is your sovereign Lord, you are His servant, and, as such, you should submit to His dispositions.
(1) God deals with-you and your possessions as He wills, that you may lift up your eyes heavenward. Do you say with Job, “The Lord gave,” &c. (Job 1:21).
(2) God humbles you that you may honour Him by your humility. Do you complain, as though God was unjust?
(3) God sends you diseases and afflictions. Do you embrace the cross?
(4) God scourges with the rod of His wrath the degenerated human race. Do you honour and love Him in this also?
3. A love of preference. Do you love God more than all else?
4. A love of equality. Do you love whatever God loves, and hate whatever He hates?
5. A love of attention and complacency. Does it afford you delight to reflect on God, to converse with Him by prayer, &c.?
6. A love of zeal.
7. A love of desire. Do you long for the possession of God?
II. WHAT WE HAVE TO DO IN ORDER TO INFLAME OUR HEARTS WITH THE LOVE OF GOD.
1. We should often call to mind certain eternal truths, and ponder over them. Such truths are the following.
(1) All visible things say to us that God is infinitely lovable.
(2) God has infinitely loved us.
(3) God wills that we should love Him.
2. We should banish from our heart all impure flames of sensual passion.
3. We should endeavour to have a great devotion. (Segaud.)
Of the love of God
I. THE NATURE OF THIS LOVE. We may describe love in general to be an affection or inclination of the soul toward an object, proceeding from an apprehension and esteem of some excellency or some conveniency therein (its beauty, worth, or usefulness), producing thereon, if the object be absent or wanting, a proportionable desire, and consequently an endeavour to obtain such a propriety therein, such a possession thereof, such an approximation or union thereto, as the thing is capable of; also a regret and displeasure in the failing so to obtain it, or in the want, absence, and loss thereof; likewise begetting a complacence, satisfaction, and delight in its presence, possession, or enjoyment; which is moreover attended with a good-will thereto, suitable to its nature; that is, with a desire that it should arrive unto and continue in its best state; with a delight to perceive it so to thrive and flourish; with a displeasure to see it suffer or decay in any wise; with a consequent endeavour to advance it in all good, and preserve it from all evil. The chief properties of the love, we owe to God are these: 1, A right apprehension and firm persuasion concerning God, and consequently a high esteem of Him as most excellent in Himself and most beneficial to us.
2. Another property of this love is an earnest desire of obtaining a propriety in God; of possessing Him, in a manner, and enjoying Him; of approaching Him, and being, so far as may be, united to Him.
3. Coherent with this is a third property of this love, that is, a great complacence, satisfaction, and delight in the enjoyment of God in the sense of having such a propriety in Him; in the partaking those emanations of favour and beneficence from Him; and, consequently, in the instruments conveying, in the means conducing to such enjoyment, for joy and content are the natural fruits of obtaining what we love, what we much value, what we earnestly desire.
4. The feeling much displeasure and regret in being deprived of such enjoyment in the absence or distance, as it were, of God from us; the loss or lessening of His favour; the subtraction of His gracious influences from us: for surely answerable to the love we bear unto anything will be our grief for the want or loss thereof.
5. Another property of this love is, to bear the highest goodwill toward God; so as to wish heartily and effectually, according to our power, to procure all good to Him, and to delight in it; so as to endeavour to prevent and to remove all evil, if I may so speak, that may befal Him, and to be heartily displeased therewith.
II. To the effecting of which purposes I shall next propound some MEANS conducible; some in way of removing obstacles, others by immediately promoting the duty. Of the first kind are these ensuing:
1. The destroying of all loves opposite to the love of God; extinguishing all affection to things odious and offensive to God; mortifying all corrupt and perverse, all unrighteous and unholy desires.
2. If we would obtain this excellent grace, we must restrain our affections toward all other things, however in their nature innocent and indifferent. B. The freeing of our hearts also from immoderate affection to ourselves; for this is a very strong bar against the entrance, as of all other charity, so especially of this; for as the love of an external object doth thrust, as it were, our soul outwards towards it; so the love of ourselves detains it within, or draws it inwards; and consequently these inclinations crossing each other cannot both have effect, but one will subdue and destroy the other. These are the chief obstacles, the removing of which conduces to the begetting and increasing the love of God in us. A soul so cleansed from love to bad and filthy things, so emptied of affection to vain and unprofitable things, so opened and dilated by excluding all conceit of, all confidence in itself, is a vessel proper for the Divine love to be infused into: into so large and pure a vacuity (as finer substances are apt to flow of themselves into spaces void of grosser matter) that free and moveable spirit of Divine grace will be ready to succeed, and therein to disperse itself. As all other things in nature, the clogs being removed which binder them, do presently tend with all their force to the place of their rest and well-being; so would, it seems, our souls, being loosed from baser affections obstructing them, willingly incline toward God, the natural centre, as it were, and bosom of their affection; would resume, as Origen speaks, that natural filter (that intrinsic spring, or incentive of love) which all creatures have toward their Creator; especially, if to these we add those positive instruments, which are more immediately and directly subservient to the production of this love.
They are these:
1. Attentive consideration of the Divine perfections, with endeavour to obtain a right and clear apprehension of them.
2. The consideration of God’s works and actions; His works and actions of nature, of Providence, of grace.
3. Serious regard and reflection on the peculiar benefits by the Divine goodness vouchsafed to ourselves.
4. An earnest resolution and endeavour to perform God’s commandments, although on inferior considerations of reason; on hope, fear, desire to obtain the benefits of obedience, to shun the mischiefs from sin.
5. Assiduous prayer to Almighty God that He in mercy would please to bestow His love on us, and by His grace to work it in us. These are the means which my meditation did suggest as conducing to the production and growth of this most excellent grace in our souls.
III. I should lastly propound some inducements apt to stir us up to the endeavour of procuring it, and to the exercise thereof, by representing to your consideration the blessed fruits and benefits (both by way of natural causality and of reward) accruing from it; as also the woful consequences and mischiefs springing from the want thereof. (I. Barrow, D. D.)
Love renders all our services acceptable
It is not so much the thing done, as the spirit in which it is done, which is of such great moment. For love is an affection of the heart and will, and we know that very small tokens, the merest trifles, will evince it; and that, when it is evinced, it has a peculiar power of winning its way both with God and man. Suppose a great fortune laid out in building churches, or relieving the poor, under the pressure of servile fear, and with the design of expiating sin, or a great philanthropic enterprise inaugurated and maintained from ambitious motives; can it be supposed that such acts, however it may please Him to bless the effects of them, go for anything with God as regards the doer of them. And, on the other hand, suppose some very simple, commonplace action, something not going at all beyond the circle of routine and daily duty, done with a grateful, affectionate feeling towards God, and from a simple desire to please Him, and to win His approval--can it be supposed that such an action, however trifling in itself, does not go for something, nay, for much, with God? The love of Him with all the heart, and mind, and soul, and strength, is “the first and great commandment.” One movement of that love gives to the commonest action the fragrance of a sacrifice; while, without one movement of it, the costliest offering must of necessity be rejected. “If a man should give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned.” (Dean Goulburn.)
Love may be cultivated
How shall we cultivate this charity? Now I observe, first, love cannot be produced by a direct action of the soul upon itself. You cannot love by a resolve to love. That is as impossible as it is to move a boat by pressing it from within. The force with which you press on is exactly equal to that with which you press back. The reaction is exactly equal to the action. You force backwards exactly as much as you force on. There are religious persons who, when they feel their affections cooled, strive to warm them by self-reproach, or by unnatural efforts, or by the excitement of what they call revivals--trying to work themselves into a state of warm affection. There are others who hope to make feeble love strong by using strong words. Now, for all this they pay a price. Effort of heart is followed by collapse. Excitement is followed by exhaustion. They will find that they have cooled exactly in that proportion in which they warmed, and at least as fast. It is as impossible for a man to work himself into a state of genuine fervent love as it is for a man to inspire himself. Inspiration is a breath and a life coming from without. Love is a feeling roused not from ourselves, but from something outside ourselves. There are, however, two methods by which we may cultivate this charity.
1. By doing acts which love demands. It is God’s merciful law that feelings are increased by acts done on principle. If a man has not the feeling in its warmth, let him not wait till the feeling comes. Let him act with such feelings as he has; with a cold heart if he has not got a warm one; it will grow warmer while he acts. You may love a man merely because you have done him benefits, and so become interested in him, till interest passes into anxiety, and anxiety into affection. You may acquire courtesy of feeling at last, by cultivating courteous manner. The dignified politeness of the last century forced man into a kind of unselfishness in small things, which the abrupter manners of to-day will never teach. And say what men will of rude sincerity, these old men of urbane manners were kinder at heart with real good-will, than we are with that rude bluffness which counts it a loss of independence to be courteous to any one. Gentleness of manner had some influence on gentleness of heart. So in the same way, it is in things spiritual. If our hearts are cold, and we find it hard to love God and be affectionate to man, we must begin with duty. Duty is not Christian liberty, but it is the first step towards liberty. We are free only when we love what we are to do, and those to whom we do it. Let a man begin in earnest with--I ought; he will end, by God’s grace, if he persevere, with the freeblessedness of--I will. Let him force himself to abound in small offices of kindliness, attention, affectionateness, and all those for God’s sake. By and by he will feel them become the habit of his soul. By and by, walking in the conscientiousness of refusing to retaliate when he feels tempted, he will cease to wish it; doing good and heaping kindness on those who injure him, he will learn to love them. For he has spent a treasure there, “And where the treasure is, there will be the heart also.”
2. The second way of cultivating Christian love is by contemplating the love of God. You cannot move the boat from within; but you may obtain a purchase from without. You cannot create love in the soul by force from within itself, but you may move it from a point outside itself. God’s love is the point from which to move the soul. Love begets love. Love believed in, produces a return of love; we cannot love because we must. “Must” kills love; but the law of our nature is that we love in reply to love. No one ever yet hated one whom he believed to love him truly. We may be provoked by the pertinacity of an affection which asks what we cannot give; but we cannot hate the true love which does not ask but gives. Now, this is the eternal truth of Christ’s gospel, “We love Him because He first loved us.” “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” “God is love.” (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Is it necessary to understand God in order to love Him?
It is said that it is impossible to love God; and the reason alleged is, He is beyond our understanding. The very description of His being Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent, are terms that daunt us. “I cannot form any conception of such vastness as this. I can measure the mountains, but these even make me falter as I give out the lengths and heights of their measurement. How much more so, when the measurement is simply immeasurable? When it is vast, infinite, is it not also vague? I cannot understand, and therefore I will not love.” But is that true? Men and women, is it true that I cannot love where I cannot understand? Go into the midst of your own homes, and watch the face that looks up from her work to glance at you. The toil of your business, the anxiety of your duties, or, if you are scientific, the vastness of those lucubrations which are occupying your time, the splendid calculations, the measureless periods and vast issues which you are considering, occupy your mind; but is the very smallest tittle of these in any degree comprehensible by her who sits beside you? Is it not rather true, in the words of our own laureate, that “Though she cannot understand, yet she loves.” She loves, and though she knows that your mind is expatiating in vaster fields than her intellect can follow, yet still that very vastness of your knowledge and comprehension, in comparison with hers, gives her no uneasy sense of a vague might which she cannot love, but rather gives her a sweet sense of confidence in might which she cannot fathom. Or, the child that leaps to greet you on the threshold of your home--are you going to discredit the reality of its little love, because it cannot penetrate the mysteries of the Stock Exchange, or understand the fluctuations of shares and of bills? You know perfectly well that it is very possible, nay, daily life proves it certain, that there are hundreds among us who give out a full unalloyed love, even where their comprehension is staggered by the vastness of that which they cannot understand. So is it surely with God. This great world, this limitless heaven above us, those stars, whose distances we have not calculated, these worlds hung in dizzy space, do they give us such an overwhelming sense of His vastness as to make it impossible for us to love Him? Do they not rather, if we understand that not a little flower blows, nor little stream trickles to its valley below, but does so under His guidance, and is directed by His hand, give us the vastest confidence in Him, whose boundless nature is so great, that, fall where we will, we cannot fall out of the embrace of His love? No, it is false to say you cannot love where you cannot comprehend. (Bishop Boyd Carpenter.)
Love the law of life
What a strange and startling command, to be ordered to love! If self-dictation over the heart is impossible, as we suppose, who is the master that can pretend to command us to love him? What tyrant, in his most imperious moment ever dreamed of such a demand? Yet God assumes the entry even of this last refuge. It is a rule of His dominion that He shall be loved. Love of God--love of our neighbour: these constitute the sole titles of admission to the kingdom, the sole claims on life. We may plead a hundred other obediences, but no other is of any avail whatever. One command, and one only, has been given, “Theft shalt love.” One thing then certainly Christ, our King, presumes to do; He presumes to have the entire command of our affections. What can justify such a claim?
I. WHO IS IT WHO DEMANDS LOVE OF US? It is our Maker, who made us not by any binding necessity, nor yet for any play or pastime of His own, but solely because the very core of His innermost Being is Fatherhood: He is God because He is the Eternal Father; the Fatherhood is His Godhead. Fatherhood is the love which passionately delights in seeing its own life’s joy reproduced in another. Sonship is that love which passionately delights in recognizing that its life is owing to another, belongs to another, is dedicated to another. Love, then, is a natural necessity between human parent and child; and love, therefore, belongs by the same necessity to our Divine relationships. God has undeniable right to this demand; but--
II. WHO ARE WE THAT WE SHOULD LOVE GOD? We go our own way; we follow our own tastes; we have joys and sorrows, friends and foes of our own. All this fills up our days and occupies our minds; and where is there any room for the love of a far-away invisible God? We are here on earth to find out what love means: and all true love begins in the love of God who loved us. At whatever risk, at whatever cost, we must attain to this love. How, then, to put some meaning into it? We must secure and foster the condition of our sonship; and what does this signify? It signifies this: that the entire movements of our lives must set outward, away from ourselves. (Canon Scott Holland, M. A.)
Love to God
These words never came from men. Earth never could have heard them if they had not come down from heaven.
I. HERE WE SEE THE VERY HEART OF GOD. He is Love who speaketh thus.
II. This is the first and great commandment; BECAUSE ALL ELSE FLOWS FROM IT.
III. AS LOVE ONLY SEEKS, SO ONLY LOVE WINS LOVE.
IV. LOVE SATISFIES LOVE,
V. AS GOD’S LOVE IS THE SOURCE OF OUR LOVE, SO IT IS THE PATTERN OF OUR LOVE. (Mark Guy Pearse.)
Loving God with the heart
I. TO LOVE GOD WITH THE HEART IS TO DELIGHT IN PLEASING HIM.
II. TO LOVE GOD WITH THE HEART IS TO DELIGHT MOST OF ALL IN HIS PRESENCE.
III. TO LOVE GOD WITH THE HEART IS TO HOLD OURSELVES AND ALL WE ARE AS BELONGING TO GOD. (Mark Guy Pearse.)
Morality and religion
You will observe there are several “ands” in the passage, and that all the earlier ones, though very useful, are merely additions; but here [“AND thy neighbour”] is an equalising copulative, a word which brings two sentences together as the two sides of an equation, and which will not permit you to take the first part of the sentence as the declaration of the Saviour, but which requires you to take it in its wholeness. It is not enough to “love the Lord thy God,” nor is it enough to “love thy neighbour as thyself,” you must do both; and therefore that “and” stands as none of the others do, and as almost no other such single common word does in the great realm of literature. The love of God is put first in order, probably from the dignity of the personage spoken of; it is in the order of importance, but not of time. We do not first love the Lord our God with all our heart, and then learn to love our neighbour as ourselves. We learn to love our neighbour, and from that point, through practice, we come to a condition in which we love our God. So then, these two members or sides of this wonderful sentence, this charter of human life, may be said to represent religion and morality. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God”--that is, thou shalt worship Him, reverence Him, acknowledge Him and look up to Him, in every inflection of experience-this stands appropriately for religion; and the other--“Thou shelf love thy neighbour as thyself”--stands appropriately and properly for morality.
I. WHAT, THEN, IS THE SPHERE AND FUNCTION OF MORALITY; its educating force; its final intent? Morality includes--
1. Duties to oneself, personal duties, sustenance, defence.
2. Social duties--the duties of the family and the neighbourhood.
3. The relations in which we stand to the larger community represented by the Government in all its forms. Here, then, I pause in the discussion, having shown in the first place what moralities are--namely, that they are in their highest and best sense, these duties which men owe to themselves, to their households, to civil society, to their social relations in this world and in time; and also, that morality, in one form and at each stage, prepares for the next higher development of it and the next advance in growth; and likewise, interiorly, that every true morality tends to develope itself in a higher class of faculties. So that, finally--
II. EVERY MORALITY THAT DOES NOT GO ON TO A SPIRITUAL FORM IS STOPPED AND DWARFED. Men say, “I am not a religious man, but still I do about as well as I know how.” Is that rational? What would you say of men who should voyage to a distant country, and make only those provisions which were necessary for them while they stayed at home? Death cuts men in two, and leaves the bottom here, and there is no top to go there. Do not understand me as saying that morality is of no use. It is very useful; it is the seed-ground of immortality; and I go further and say, it is better that you should have that, even if you have no religion, than that you should have no religion and not that either. Therefore when I preach that you must be born again, when I preach that the new life in Christ Jesus, wrought by the power of God, must be in you, do not think that I undervalue the lower forms by which you come to the possibility of these things, They are of transcendant importance, but do not believe that they are enough. Straw that never ripens its grain is straw, plants that throw out leaves and do not blossom are mere grass and herbs and not flowers. Trees and vines that bring forth no fruit are not fruit vines, nor fruit trees. (H. W. Beecher.)
Loving God with the mind
Christ claims that God is to be loved with all our nature. They who love God, then, with the heart only, do sin. You are to love God with all your mind, with your brain, and thought, and power; with reason and with argument; with learning and knowledge. No pretence that you love God with your heart absolves you from loving Him with your mind. Did it ever strike you that being ignorant is disservice to God; so much withdrawn from the Almighty? To the degree that you refuse to study the sublime in nature: to that degree I have no pity for your ignorance. It is a failure in your service; a coldness in your love to God. If you love God with all your mind you will do what you do when you love a great author. You may say, “Of all authors I think Shakespeare the greatest; but I have never read one of his plays, never studied one of his sonnets.” Indeed I what do you do, then, to show your love to Shakespeare? “Oh, I talk about him.” He who loves an author well, turns his pages again and again; weighs his words and marks their construction. If he reads the “Merchant of Venice,” he studies it attentively, and proposes to himself to go back to his labour of love again and again. I don’t know who is your darling; but I know it is the anther with whom you are most familiar. And that is what loving God with all your mind is. The three great volumes of God which you should study are before every one of you: Nature, History, and the Bible. (George Dawson.)
The second great commandment
Practically a new chapter was opened in the history of morals when Jesus announced that within this solitary principle of duty, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” room could be found for every commandment in the Second Table of the Decalogue.
1. The affection which fulfils the whole law is an ethical principle, and not simply an instinctive or generous affection.
2. The neighbour-love which fulfils God’s law possesses a compass as wide as the species, and is thereby raised above every rule of moral obligation which obtained popular currency before Christ.
3. This neighbour-love which fulfils the law forms an express counteractive and equivalent to selfishness as a motive of conduct.
4. This golden rule will carry us a great deal further than the merely negative virtue of working no harm, which, in its terms, is all that the Decalogue calls for. (J. O. Dykes, D. D.)
The Saviour’s great rule
There are fundamental truths which lie at the bottom, the basis upon which a great many others rest, and in which they have their consistency. There are teeming truths, rich in store, with which they furnish the mind; and like the lights of heaven, are not only beautiful and entertaining in themselves, but give light and evidence to other things, that without them could not be seen or known. Our Saviour’s great rule, that we should love our neighbours as ourselves, is such a fundamental truth for the regulating human society, that I think that by that alone one might without difficulty determine all the cases and doubts in social morality. Truths such as this we should endeavour to find out and store our minds with. (W. Locke.)
The sum of duty like the ocean
When a man is told that the whole of religion and morality is summed up in the two commandments, to love God and to love our neighbor, he is ready to cry, like Charoba in Gebir at the first sight of the sea, “Is this the mighty ocean? is this all?” Yes! all; but how small a part of it do your eyes survey! Only trust yourself to it; launch out upon it: sail abroad over it; you will find it has no end; it will carry you round the world. (British Weekly.)
Loving God with the mind
I have known people love God with the heart, and yet talk as if the works of God were not worth studying. What is the use, they say, of studying God in his works? Ah! he who loves a woman well, loves the very trinkets she wears. Whoso loves a man well, loves every hair of his head. All, everything, even the smallest thing, is glowing with preciousness, and is made glorious by the deep love of the heart. For a man, therefore, on the plea of loving God with his heart, not to love Him with his mind, is to offer but a part. Who are you, that you should look upon Nature in her beauty, and behold the green fields and the trees, every leaf of which is full of the life of God, every blade of grass a passing mystery, a consummate divineness--who are you that you should turn from that volume and say, “I love God with my heart and not with my mind.” There is no excuse for you if you know nothing about Nature. Do you say you have no time for these things? One flower from your table, if you will study it, will be more than a garden; one rose is worth more attention than all your furniture. No time? You can find plenty of time to study your own foolish garments; and have you no time to study the garments of God? Whoso shall watch the sun, and ask a few questions about his rising, shall find that one hour of study shall make him more instructed than before in regard to the great works of God. Therefore, a part of loving God with the mind is to study God’s works. It is not “necessary to salvation,” as it is called, but it is necessary to large love, for God is not loved with the mind by stupid people. (George Dawson.)
Thy neighbour as thyself
I. WORKS OF CHRISTIAN CHARITY ARE ACCEPTABLE TO GOD. We infer this--
1. From the urgency with which this commandment is enjoined upon us by Jesus Christ.
(1) He places it on a par with the love of God (Matthew 22:37-39).
(2) He urges it as being emphatically His own (John 15:12).
(3) He states most anxiously the true meaning of this commandment--a precaution usually observed with matters of the greatest importance (John 13:34).
2. From man’s relation to God: he being his Maker’s image and likeness. The essence of Christian brotherly love consists in loving our neighbour for God’s sake; not only from reverence for the Divine commandment, but from sacred reverence and love for God’s own nature which is reflected in man.
3. From God’s view of charitable works. He considers them as done to Himself.
II. THE VALUE OF CHARITABLE WORKS FOR OUR OWN TEMPORAL AND ETERNAL WELFARE. The rewards or effects of fraternal charity are as follows--
1. An abundance of Divine blessings, by which God restores a hundredfold what, from love towards Him, we give to His poor children.
2. Divine mercy, which opens its treasures principally to the merciful.
3. An exceedingly great reward in eternity. (P. Beckx.)
Of the love of our neighbour
I. THE OBJECT OF THIS DUTY. Our neighbour, i.e., every man with whom we have to do, especially every Christian.
II. THE QUALIFICATION.
1. Loving our neighbour “as ourselves” doth import a rule directing what kind of love we should bear and exercise toward him; or informing us that our charity doth consist in having the same affections of soul, and in performing the same acts of beneficence toward him as we are ready by inclination, as we are wont in practice to have or to perform toward ourselves, with full approbation of our judgment and conscience, apprehending it just and reasonable so to do.
2. Loving our neighbour as ourselves imports also the measure of our love towards him; that it should be commensurate with, and equal in degree to that love which we bear and exercise towards ourselves. This is that perfection of charity to which our Lord bids us aspire, in the injunction, “Be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” That this sense of the words is included, yea, chiefly intended, divers reasons will evince; feral. The most natural signification and common use of the phrase doth import thus much; and any one at first hearing would so understand the words.
2. It appeareth by comparing this precept with that to which it is annexed, “of loving God with all our heart and all our soul”; which manifestly designeth the quantity and degree of that love; consequently the like determination is intended in this precept, which is expressed to resemble that, or designed in like manner to qualify and bound our duty toward our neighbour.
3. If the law doth not signify thus much, it cloth hardly signify anything; not at least anything of direction or use to us; for no man is ignorant that he is obliged to love his neighbour, but how far that love must extend is the point wherein most of us do need to be resolved, and without satisfaction in which we shall hardly do anything; for as he that oweth money will not pay except he can tell how much it is; so to know the duty will not avail toward effectual observance of it, if its measure be not fixed.
4. Indeed, the law otherwise understood will rather be apt to misguide than to direct us; inducing us to apprehend that we shall satisfy its intent, and sufficiently discharge our duty, by practising charity in any low degree or mean instance. Also--
5. The former sense, which is unquestionable, doth infer and establish this: because similitude of love, morally speaking, cannot consist with inequality thereof; for if in considerable degrees we love ourselves more than others, assuredly we shall fail both in exerting such internal acts of affection, and in performing such external offices of kindness toward them, as we do exert and perform in regard to ourselves; whence this law, taken merely as a rule, demanding a confused and imperfect similitude of practice, will have no clear obligation or certain efficacy.
But, farther, the duty thus interpreted is agreeable to reason, and may be justly required of us.
1. It is reasonable that we should love our neighbour as ourselves because he is as ourselves, or really in all considerable respects the same with us. This explained.
2. It is just that we should do so, because he really no less deserves our love. Justice is impartial, and regards things as they are in themselves; whence, if our neighbour seem worthy of affection no less than we, it demands accordingly that we love him no less.
3. It is fit that we should be obliged to this love, because all charity beneath self-love is defective, and all self-love above charity is excessive.
4. Equity requires it, because we are apt to claim the same measure of love from others.
5. It is needful that so great charity be prescribed, because none inferior to it will reach divers weighty ends designed in this law; viz., the general convenience and comfort of our lives in mutual intercourse and society.
6. That entire love which we owe to God our Creator, and to Christ our Redeemer, exacts from us no less a measure of charity than this.
7. Indeed the whole tenour and genius of our religion imply an obligation to this pitch of love on various accounts.
8. Lastly, many conspicuous examples, proposed for our direction in this kind of practice, do imply this degree of charity to be required of us.
III. AN OBJECTION ANSWERED. If, it may be said, the precept be thus understood, as to oblige us to love our neighbours equally with ourselves, it will prove unpracticable, such a charity being merely romantic and imaginary; for who doth, who can, love his neighbour in this degree? Nature powerfully doth resist, common sense plainly doth forbid that we should do so: a natural instinct cloth prompt us to love ourselves, and we are forcibly driven thereto by an unavoidable sense of pleasure and pain, resulting from the constitution of our body and soul, so that our own least good or evil are very sensible to us: whereas we have no such potent inclination to love others; we have no sense, or a very faint one, of what another doth enjoy or endure; doth not, therefore, nature plainly suggest that our neighbour’s good cannot be so considerable to us as our own? especially when charity doth clash with self-love, or when there is a competition between our neighbour’s interest and our own, is it possible that we should not be partial to our own side? Is not, therefore, this precept such as if we should be commanded to fly, or to do that which natural propension will certainly hinder? In answer to this exception I say, Be it so, that we can never attain to love our neighbour altogether so much as ourselves, yet may it be reasonable that we should be enjoined to do so; for laws must not be depressed to our imperfection, nor rules bent to our obliquity; but we must ascend toward the perfection of them, and strive to conform our practice to their exactness. But neither is the performance of this task so impossible, or so desperately hard (if we take the right course, and use proper means toward it) as is supposed; as may somewhat appear if we will weigh the following considerations.
1. Be it considered that we may be mistaken in our account, when we do look on the impossibility or difficulty of such a practice, as it appeareth at present, before we have seriously attempted, and in a good method, by due means, earnestly laboured to achieve it; for many things cannot be done at first, or with a small practice, which by degrees and a continued endeavour may be effected; divers things are placed at a distance, so that without passing through the interjacent way we cannot arrive at them; divers things seem hard before trial, which afterward prove very easy. It is impossible to fly up to the top of a steeple, but we may ascend thither by steps; we cannot get to Rome without crossing the seas, and travelling through France or Germany; it is hard to comprehend a subtle theorem in geometry, if we pitch on it first; but if we begin at the simple principles, and go forward through the intermediate propositions, we may easily obtain a demonstration of it. If we would set ourselves to exercise charity in those instances whereof we are at first capable without much reluctancy, and thence proceed toward others of a higher nature, we may find such improvement, and taste such content therein that we may soon arise to incredible degrees thereof; and at length, perhaps, we may attain to such a pitch, that it will seem to us base and vain to consider our own good before that of others in any sensible measure; and that nature which now so mightily doth contest in favour of ourselves, may in time give way to a better nature, born of custom, affecting the good of others.
2. Let us consider that in some respects and in divers instances it is very feasible to love our neighbour no less than ourselves.
3. We see men inclined by other principles to act as much or more for the sake of others, than they would for themselves--instances of patriots and friends.
4. Those dispositions of soul which usually with so much violence thwart the observance of this precept, are not ingredients of true self-love, by the which we are directed to regulate our charity, but a spurious brood of our folly and pravity, which imply not a sober love of ourselves.
5. Indeed, we may farther consider that our nature is not so absolutely averse to the practice of such charity, as those may think who view it slightly, either in some particular instances, or in ordinary practice. Man having received his soul from the breath of God, and being framed after His image, there do yet abide in him some features resembling the Divine original. This shown by our natural sympathy with distress and misery, by our admiration of pure benevolence, and contempt of sordid selfishness, &c.
6. But supposing the inclinations of a depraved nature do so mightily obstruct the performance of this duty in the degree specified, yet we must remember that a subsidiary power is by the Divine mercy dispensed to us, able to control and subdue nature, and raise our faculties far above their natural force.
7. There are divers means conducive to the abatement of this difficulty, the issue of which may be safely referred to the due trial of them.
1. Let us carefully weigh the value of those things which immoderate self-love affects in prejudice to charity, together with the worth of those which charity sets in balance to them.
2. Let us also consider our real state in the world, in dependence on the pleasure and providence of Almighty God; the thought that we are members of one commonwealth, and of the Church, under the government and patronage of God, may disengage us from immoderate respect of private good, and incline us to promote the common welfare.
3. There is one plain way of rendering this duty possible, or of perfectly reconciling charity to self-love; which is, a making the welfare of our neighbour to be our own; which if we can do, then easily may we desire it more seriously, then may we promote it with the greatest zeal and vigour; for then it will be an instance of self-love to exercise charity; then both these inclinations conspiring will march evenly together, one will not extrude nor depress the other.
4. It will greatly conduce to the perfect observance of this rule if we studiously contemplate ourselves, strictly examining our conscience, and seriously reflecting on our unworthiness and vileness. If we do so, what place can there be for that vanity, arrogance, partiality, and injustice, which are the sources of immoderate self-love?
5. Lastly, we may from conspicuous examples and experiments be assured that such a practice of this duty is not impossible. (L Barrow, D. D.)
Love to man the offspring of love to God
I hold that the power to love man always grows in proportion to the love that you have to give. That is the New Testament thought upon the subject. That is what our Lord meant when He added--and remember He added it scrupulously, because He wished, as it were, to link it with the former--“The second is like unto it--Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” Not like it in being arepetition of words cast in the same form, but like it in this, that, as child is like parent, so the duty of loving the neighbour resembles the duty of loving God, and springs from it, is caused by it, is necessitated by it. Look at it, and say, is it not true? Whenever a great man dies, there is immediately an anxiety possessing the public mind to be possessed of little tokens of his life. What do those anxieties mean? Do they not mean that our love for the one that has gone makes us love everything that his hand has touched? All that bears the impress of his hand we love. The fabulous sums given for autographs are the proof of this, that the love for any single being passes on to all that he has made. Surely that is true. Not one man stands before the world who has learned to love God but has loved that which is made by God. You look now into the face of human-kind--they are not an accidental brotherhood, the outgrowths of Creation, the evolutions of a law merely. They may be that, but they are far more--they are the offspring of God--they are made in His image. You see His likeness everywhere. Man is the autograph of God, and loved by those who love God. Nay, more--go to your homes and learn that you always loved that which was loved by those whom you loved. Why is it that you treasure that little drawer with all those sweet tokens in it--a little knot of ribbon, a small bunch of hair, a faded leaf, a pair of little shoes; what is it that makes you draw them forth and weep silent tears alone? Because these are expressions of a love which has gone. There were hands that handled those little shoes and placed them upon the tiny feet, and hands and feet have grown cold now. There in the little rough work where the small sketch is seen, the hand that traced it will trace no more--it is tracing fairer scenes in the presence of God. All that has caused anxiety, all that has caused care and toil, commends itself as a thing to be loved, because it was loved by one who has gone. So also is it when you regard humanity as the work of God. You must regard humanity, from the Christian point of view, as the redeemed work of God. Upon every son of man there is the mark of blood, and it is the blood of Christ that redeemed him. That blood is the pledge of the love which suffered, and although humanity be utterly contemptible at times, though you despise its meanness, though you turn away with disgust and loathing from its equivocations and falsehoods, yet at the moment you read, like the Israelites of old, the mark of blood there on their foreheads, you know that, not for their own sakes merely, but for the sake of Him who hung upon the cross to consecrate humanity in redemption to Himself, they must be loved by you. (Bishop Boyd Carpenter.)
Love is the secret of obedience
There was once a catechist preaching in China, and as he was teaching, a Chinese coolie came in and said, “What is that in your hand?” The missionary said, “It is a measure, and it is like your measures, it has got ten divisions” (the Chinese do not divide into twelve inches, but ten). “What do you measure” said the coolie. “I measure longs and shorts--long hearts and short hearts. Sit down and I will measure you.” The coolie sat down, and the catechist began to measure. He took the first commandment, “Thou shalt have none other gods but Me.” “Is your heart shorter than that commandment, or longer?” The Chinese man said, “Oh, I am afraid it is very short.” As the catechist went through all the Ten Commandments the poor man found his heart was too short, and did not come up to any of them. The catechist said, “You see your heart is too short. How shall we make up the deficiency? who will supply what is wanting?” Then he talked to him about Jesus Christ; how He would make up his shortcomings; how Christ’s obedience was as if he had kept the whole law himself. So, perhaps, some child will say, “I cannot do God’s commandments.” Do not say “I cannot”; it is not a good thing to say “I cannot.” There was a poor man, and his hand was all withered and powerless; and Christ said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” Could he? Not before Christ told him; but when God told him to “stretch out his hand,” He gave him power. When God tells you to do those things you cannot do of yourselves, He gives you power. “God’s biddings are God’s enablings.” Supposing you got a piece of cold iron, and I said, “Make me a pretty thing out of that.” You would say, “I cannot bend that cold iron; melt it, and something might be done.” Your heart is like a piece of cold iron, and what will melt it? Love, that will make your heart soft, and then you can keep “God’s commandments.” God says at the beginning of the Ten Commandments, “I am the Lord Thy God.” Which is the important word there? “Thy God.” If you cannot say “My God,” you cannot keep His commandments. If you keep these commandments, you will become happy, holy, and useful. (British Weekly Pulpit.)
This do, and thou shalt live
Eternal life promised the obedient
WHAT IS IMPLIED IN OBEYING GOD’S COMMANDS. It is easy to see in what obedience to the Divine commands consists. It must consist in doing what the commands of God require. The two great commands of the law require love to God and love to man. And to exercise this love is to obey these commands.
II. GOD PROMISES ETERNAL LIFE TO ALL WHO OBEY HIS COMMANDS, or exercise those holy and benevolent affections which His commands require,
III. WHY GOD PROMISES ETERNAL LIFE TO ALL WHO SINCERELY AND CORDIALLY OBEY HIS COMMANDS.
1. God does not promise eternal life to all who obey His commands, because their sincere and cordial obedience atones for their sin, and lays a foundation for pardon, for forgiveness, or justification in His sight. After men have once sinned, their future obedience can make no atonement for past transgression. Perfect obedience is their constant and indispensable duty.
2. Nor does God promise eternal life to those who obey Him, because their obedience merits eternal life. Though obedience to the Divine commands is really virtuous and intrinsically excellent, yet it is not meritorious. The obedience of a creature can lay no obligation upon his Creator.
3. He does promise eternal life to them because their obedience is a proper ground, reason, or condition, for bestowing upon them such a gracious and unmerited reward. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
The necessity of moral obedience
I. THE INCULCATION OF MORAL OBEDIENCE AS A SCRIPTURE REQUISITE TO SALVATION. Why was the gospel given? What did Christ come into the world for? Doubtless to relieve wretchedness, to dissipate error, to revive hope, to take away condemnation, to make death and the grave unfeared, to light up with brightness the whole face of the world. But was this all? Was it not also to destroy sin, to promote holiness, to cast out Satan from His dominion, to repair the broken and effaced image of paradise, to magnify the victories of the cross, to illustrate the agency of a new principle in man’s heart, to form a character which angels might consort with, and God might look upon? We must insist upon such moral obedience as man has power to render, as being vital to his salvation; must close the doors of the kingdom of heaven against everything that defiles; must propound as an eternal axiom of the heavenly moralities, that in every nation he that feareth God, and worketh righteousness, and he only, is accepted of Him. “This do, and thou shalt live.”
II. THE PERFECT COMPATIBILITY OF SUCH A SUPPOSITION WITH OUR RECEIVED VIEWS OF THE DOCTRINE OF JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH. If I am asked to show a man the way of salvation, I am as little at liberty to omit saying to him, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” as I am, in reference to the unchanging demands of the moral law, to omit saying, “This do and thou shalt live.” But it will be said, if you thus insist upon moral obedience, or works of godliness as vital to salvation, do you not in effect make these works an element of justification? I answer, We do; but not a meritorious element, any more than we make faith a meritorious element. Faith itself is a work; is put down in Scripture among our commanded endeavours after obedience. “Then said they unto Him, What shall we do that we may work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.” Let us not put asunder what God hath joined together; let us not weaken the everlasting bond which unites the faith of justification with the sanctities of life. (D. Moore, M. A.)
And who is my neighbour?
The lawyer said--“Then comes his own particular plea or excuse, to which I intend to pay little or no attention now, it was so completely and triumphantly answered by Jesus Christ. Read His parable in reply. Next to the parable of the prodigal son, it is the sweetest word ever spoken even by the lips of Jesus Christ.
I. I intend each man to fill up the sentence for himself, only having from the lawyer the preface: “He, willing to justify himself, said--“What words do you insert after the word “said”? How is it with your self-justifying and self-excusing heart? Do I hear correctly when I say you are now reasoning thus--“If I am sincere in my spirit and convictions, no matter whether I believe what is in the Bible or not, all will be well with me here and hereafter”? Is that a correct statement of what you are now thinking? It sounds well. I admit, with all candour, that it seems to sound conclusively and to admit of no refutation. Yet it surely will admit of a question or two being put, in order that we may fully understand the position. You speak of sincerity. I ask, What are you sincere in? Does anything turn upon the object of your sincerity? If you are sincerely giving to a customer over your counter what you believe to be the thing he has asked for, will you be fully justified in the day that you find you have poisoned the man? You sincerely believed that you were giving him precisely the very ingredient that he asked for, and that he had paid for, but you do not give him that ingredient, but something else, and ere the sun go down the man will be dead. What does sincerity go for there? If you indicate to a traveller, sincerely, to the best of your knowledge, the road along which he ought to go to reach a certain destination; if it be the wrong road, and if in some sudden darkness the man should fall over a precipice, will your sincerity obliterate everything like self-reproach? Were you sure it was the road? “No, but I was sincere in thinking it was.” Did you explain to the man that you were speaking upon an assumption? “No, I thought there was no occasion to do so, I felt so sure.” But you see that the mere element of sincerity goes a very short way in cases of that kind. We love sincerity. Without sincerity life is but a mockery, the worst of irony! But what are we sincere in? Have we ascertained that the object of our sincerity is real, true, and deserving of our confidence? We are responsible not only for the light we have, but for the light we may have. There is a sincerity of fanaticism, as well as a sincerity of philosophy. There is a sincerity of ignorance, as well as a sincerity of knowledge. Merely, therefore, to say, “I am sincere,” is to say nothing. We must inquire, what is the object upon which your sincerity fixes itself’? what is the degree of its intelligence, and what is the degree of its conscience? When any man has returned clear earnest answers to these inquiries, my belief is that he will find himself short of something, and that that something which is absent will be found to be the truth as it is in Jesus--the Cross, the one Cross, out of which every other cross that is true anduseful must be made!
II. But he, willing to justify himself, said, “I have been looking round, and it strikes me that I am every whir as good as other people that are about me.” Would it be rude to contradict you? Will it be polite to admit the truthfulness, generally, of what you say? Either on the one hand or the other it does not touch the point at all. If the question lay between you and me, it would be right for each to compare himself with the other, and to exalt his superiority at the expense of his brother’s infirmities. The case is not as between one man and another. We err in circumscribing the question so. The question is between the soul and God; between the heart and the absolutely right; between man and Jesus Christ; between right and wrong. When you compare yourself with another man, especially to your own advantage, you are not in the spirit which is likely to elicit the truth and lead you to sound and useful conclusions. Your disposition is wrong; your temper is wrong. You must cease such a method of comparing advantages and honours, and must go to the absolute and final standard of righteousness.
III. But he, willing to justify himself, said, “Though I do not believe and act as they do who call themselves Christians, yet I trust to the mercy of God.” The man who makes this plea talks in some such fashion as this: “I do not care for doctrines; I do not care for churches; theologies trouble me very little indeed; if I live as wisely as I can, and do what is tolerably fair between one man and another, I shall trust to the mercy of God, and I believe all will be right at last.” Do you know what you are talking about in talking so? Do you understand the value and the force of your own words? Are you aware that the word mercy is one of the words in our language which it is very difficult to understand? What is mercy? In your estimation, perhaps, it is mere physical sensibility, simple emotion--a gush of feeling. Is that mercy? No. What is mercy? The highest point of justice--justice returning and completing itself by the return. Mercy is justice in tears! Mercy is righteousness with a sword just transforming itself into a sceptre! Is mercy a mere freak of sentimentality? Do you think God will say at last, “Well, well, come in, come in, and say nothing more about it”? I would not go into His heaven if the conditions were such l It would be no heaven.
Where there is not righteousness at the centre, there is no security at the circumference. Where the throne is not founded upon justice, mercy is but a momentary impulse, to be followed by a terrible recoil. What do you mean, then, when you talk about trusting to His mercy at last? Trust to His mercy at first. Where is His mercy? It is in the life, the ministry, the death, the resurrection, and the whole mediation of Jesus Christ!
IV. But he, willing to justify himself, said, “There is so much mystery about religion that I cannot really attempt to understand it.” I answer, There is mystery about religion, but there is ten thousand times more mystery without it. There is mystery with the Bible, but there is nothing but mystery without it. There is a mystery of grace; yes, and there is a mystery of sin. Life is a mystery. All that is great touches the mysterious. Would I part with the mystery! Nay, verily. Are not the clouds God’s as well as the blue sky? Are not the mists around the mountain tops His, as well as the bases of the mountains and the foundations of the earth? Is He Himself the living God, not the culmination of all mysteries, the sum of all wonder--the Alpha and the Omega--not to be understood, but loved and served? There is a point in my religious inquiries where I must close my eyes, look no more, but rest myself in the grand transaction which is known as faith in the Son of God.
V. But he, willing to justify himself, came at last to this: “There are so many denominations of Christians, that it is impossible to tell which is right and which is wrong.” Think of a man going off on that line! Think of a man saying that he has been looking round and sees that there are so many denominations, that really he has made up his mind to give up the whole thing! Does he know what he is talking about? Is he really serious when he speaks so? Shall I follow his example? If I do it will be to show how great is his folly. “I have been looking round, and see so many different regiments in the country that really it is impossible to tell which is right and which is wrong, and I do not think I shall have anything to do with the country.” Yes, there are many regiments, but one army; many denominations, but one Church; many creeds, but one faith; many aspects, but one life; many ways up the hill, but one cross on the top of it. Don’t lose yourself among the diversities, when you might save yourself by looking at the unities. “There are so many mountains about, that I really do not know that there can be any truth in geography.” Many mountains--one globe! Conclusion: If, then, there is not to be self-justification, what is there to be? Self-renunciation. A man must empty himself of himself before he is in the right condition to understand lovingly and gratefully the offer which Jesus Christ makes men. God guests with the contrite and companies with the self-renouncing soul. I will go to my Father, then, and will say unto Him, not, “Father, I was tempted; somebody lured me away; I did not intend to leave Thee, but I was beguiled”; but I will say unto Him, “Father, I have sinned!” This, then, is the ground of coming to God; the ground of self-denial, self-renunciation, self-distrust, self-hatred, on account of sin. “Oh! Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself, but in Me is thy help.” “Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” “Jesus cried and said, If any man thirst let him come unto Me and drink.” “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” Who accepts the invitation to-night? Some have accepted it. Pray that this word may not be spoken in vain! Some require just one more appeal, and they will decide. Take this, my friend, as the appeal you want. “Now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation.” (J. Parker, D. D.)
Parable of the man who fell among thieves
1. By the man that went from Jerusalem to Jericho, I understand is meant fallen man, who originally in the first Adam went from God.
2. By “falling among thieves,” may be meant that mischief and misery which hath befallen man by sin, Satan, and other enemies of the soul.
3. By “stripping him of his raiment,” may be meant all our first or original righteousness. Righteousness being often compared to raiment, or to a garment.
4. By “wounding him,” may be intended that sad and fearful privation of the soul in every faculty thereof by sin.
5. By “leaving him half dead,” may be meant the spiritual death of the soul, which is half, nay the better half of the man.
6. By “the priest passing that way and going on one side,” may be meant, the law or priesthood of Aaron; by the Levite may be meant legal sacrifices, and by their both passing by, and not pitying or helping this poor distressed man, may signify that there is no help, no cure, no salvation by the law, nor sacrifices of the law, for undone sinners.
7. By “the Samaritan,” I understand is meant our Lord Jesus Christ, who is said to pass by and see us in our blood--“Now as I passed by, I looked upon thee, and saw thee polluted in thy own blood” (Ezekiel 16:6; Ezekiel 16:8). This was a blessed lock indeed, a look of pity and compassion--“When he saw him, he had compassion on him.” “And he went to him,” which may refer to two things.
(1) To Christ’s coming into the world to assume our nature.
(2) It may refer also to His gracious coining to a wounded sinner by His Word and Spirit, in helping him to apply the virtue of His own precious blood to his wounded soul.
8. Binding up his wounds, and pouring in oil and wine, may be meant, Christ infusing of His Spirit and precious grace into his soul; grace, as well as the Holy Spirit, being compared to oil. (B. Keach.)
Mankind wounded and robbed by sin and Satan
I. In what respects sin and Satan may be compared to thieves.
1. Thieves are enemies to honest men, and of which they are in danger continually.
2. Thieves often in a secret and felonious manner have taken away all that men had in their possession, leaving them in a very poor and distressed condition who were very rich before.
3. Thieves many times lead poor travellers out of the king’s highway, into some blind or secret place, and there bind them hand and foot, as well as take away all they have. So sin and Satan--
(I) With the bond of ignorance.
(2) Hard heart.
4. Thieves are a great terror to honest men, and they strive to avoid them as much as they can, and also to defend themselves against them with their utmost power and skill. So the Lord Jesus arms us with spiritual armour, wisdom, and courage, to resist the flesh, world, and devil.
5. Thieves wait a fit opportunity to come upon a person or family, even when they are most secure, or asleep in their beds. So Satan and other spiritual enemies watch a fit time when a child of God is most secure, or in a sleepy or slothful condition.
II. Sin and the evil are the worst of thieves.
1. Because they are soul-thieves, and seek to rob us of our choice and chiefest treasure.
2. Because they are cruel and bloody thieves, murdering thieves.
3. Because none have escaped them.
4. Nay, and they have not only murdered the whole world of ungodly sinners, but they have also wickedly slain and murdered the Lord Jesus Christ.
5. Sin and the devil, &c., are the worst of thieves, because they are old thieves and murderers. “The devil was a murderer from the beginning” John 8:44).
6. They are the worst of thieves, considering their great subtilty, policy, and craftiness.
7. Because of their great power and strength. Who is a match for them? (B. Keach.)
Parable of the Good Samaritan
I. The Saviour here reminds us that IN THE WORLD THERE IS SORE DISTRESS. Upon this man a band of ruffians rushed out: and, seizing, they stripped him of his raiment, beat him, and left him half dead; and all, so far as appears, with no fault of his own. There is poverty and pain and sorrow, for which the sufferer is not, at least directly, responsible. It must, however, be owned that the chief woes of the world come of sin. There are no thieves and robbers so cruel as worldliness and wrong doing, irreligion and vice.
II. THERE ARE THOSE WHO TO ALL THIS PAY LITTLE HEED. “The priest and the Levite were both in a hurry. They had been a month at Jerusalem, and were expected and wanted at home. Their wives and children were anxiously waiting for them. The sun would soon be down, and this was a lonely road even by daylight. Neither of them understood surgery, they could not bind up a wound to save their lives. Moreover, the poor man, already half dead, would be quite dead in an hour or two, and it was a pity to waste time on a hopeless case. The robbers, too, might be back again. Then, the man might die, and the person found near the body be charged with murder.” Good excuses, every one! And so it comes to pass that the world’s miseries go unrelieved; the world’s sins unrebuked; the world’s perishing ones unsaved.
III. But, now, in contrast with all this, our Saviour shows us that, IN THE PRESENCE OF DISTRESS, TRUE LOVE, FORGETTING SELF, HASTENS TO ITS RELIEF. (H. M. Grout, D. D.)
Parable of the good Samaritan
I. THE DISTRESSED CONDITION OF A FELLOW-CREATURE. Of what vileness men are capable--in some respects more to be dreaded than the savage beast of prey that roams abroad in the forest.
II. THE EMBODIMENT OF SELFISHNESS IN TWO TRAVELLERS WHO ARE PASSING BY.
III. AN EXHIBITION OF LOVE AND MERCY WHERE WE SHOULD NOT HAVE EXPECTED TO FIND IT.
1. The Samaritan’s eye affected his heart.
2. His feet hastened to the sufferer.
3. His hands ministered to him.
IV. THE INEVITABLE CONCLUSION to which the querulous lawyer was forced.
1. Think of the Samaritan, and admire his spirit.
2. Have equally generous feelings toward all thy suffering fellow-creatures.
3. Imitate him when such circumstances shall be presented before thine eyes.
1. The fallacy of that religion which is devoid of mercy and compassion.
2. See under what an awful delusion professors of religion may live. As in the case of the priest and Levite.
3. Cherish the spirit, and imitate the conduct of the Lord Jesus--“Who went about doing good.” (J. Burns, D. D.)
The good Samaritan
1. It is not always convenient to be good. A free-and-easy manner of life is not goodness, and no more is good-nature. There is no goodness without a self-denial which runs right against self-convenience.
2. Again, it is not always agreeable to be good. Thorns lacerate the hand which gathers roses. In the Divine service the quester is not what we would prefer. No one can enjoy the scene of suffering or be gladdened by its moans--this is not natural; yet we must always relieve such wants.
3. Once again, goodness implies a heavy cost. One who is truly good never locks up his pocket-book so that he cannot be benevolent. The Samaritan was good long before he bound up the bruises of the sufferer and provided for him. The event simply evoked what he already was. We do not become good by doing such acts as these, but such acts as these declare our nature. We observe yet further, this goodness wins the respect of the world. (David O. Meats.)
Lessons from this parable
I. THAT MAN IN ALL HIS VARIETIES AND CONDITIONS IS TO BE RECOGNIZED AS OUR NEIGHBOUR AND BROTHER.
II. THAT NATIONAL PREJUDICE AND RELIGIOUS DISTINCTION SHOULD ALL GIVE PLACE TO THE EXERCISE OF CHARITY.
III. THAT IT IS OUR DUTY TO OVERCOME EVIL WITH GOOD. In conclusion; consider some motives which call for the exercise of charity.
1. The relation in which we stand to God and to one another in the present world.
2. The genius of our holy religion demands it. (J. Pulling.)
The good Samaritan
Two things must strike every attentive reader. The first is, that the parable was not so much an answer to the question formally” put by the lawyer, as an exposure of the state of heart which the putting of that question revealed. The inquirer wanted a definition of the word “neighbour.” The Lord answers by showing him true neighbourliness in contrast with selfish indifference. Thus the parable does not tell us in form who our neighbour is, but it shows us how true love works. But the second peculiarity of this parable is, that it is not an allegory, each figure in which represents a spiritual analogue; but simply an illustrative example of the working of benevolence, as contrasted with that of selfishness. It is designed to show us what we must avoid, as well as what we must cultivate, if we would truly and fully love our neighbour as ourselves.
I. THE KINDNESS OF THE SAMARITAN WAS OF THE SPIRIT, AND NOT MERELY OF THE LETTER. With him love meant the doing of everything within his power, for all who required his help; and, therefore, without asking any questions or making any excuses, he gave the poor man all the assistance he could. If we do that only which is formally prescribed, and if, where the law leaves a blank to be filled up by circumstances, we act as if there was no law at all, then we have yet to learn what true benevolence is; nay, more, we have yet to learn what kind of a book the New Testament is: for it is not a list of distinct precepts, each of which is applicable to only one case; but it is a book of living principles of universal application, and he who really understands them, and has a heart to feel their obligation, will be at no loss to find occasion for their manifestation.
II. THE SAMARITAN’S BENEVOLENCE WAS NOT HINDERED BY ANY PREJUDICES OF NATIONALITY OR RELIGION.
III. THE SAMARITAN’S BENEVOLENCE WAS NOT HINDERED BY ANY CONSIDERATIONS OF PERSONAL CONVENIENCE. What genuine neighbour-love does, it will do thoroughly. Love is ready to sacrifice up to the extent of the necessity which it seeks to meet.
IV. THIS MAN’S BENEVOLENCE-TOOK ITS FORM FROM THE NATURE OF THE MISERY WHICH HE SOUGHT TO RELIEVE. He did the very things which the sufferer needed to have done for him, and he did these at once. He might, indeed, have put himself about in many other ways, under the idea that he was helping the unfortunate traveller; but nothing could have met the case save the method which he adopted. He had no stereotyped mode of showing mercy, which he sought invariably to follow; but he did in each case just what each required. Now, this is very important, because, for lack of attention to it, many people’s benevolence, though it may be very well meant, is a total failure.
V. IF OUR BENEVOLENCE WOULD BE OF THE HIGHEST ORDER, WE MUST EXERCISE IT OUT OF REGARD TO HIM WHO DIED TO SHOW MERCY TO OURSELVES. Thus our humanity will rise into Christianity, and our benevolence will be baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. I conclude with the story of an incident in the life of my grandfather, which I have often heard from my father’s lips. It was more than a hundred years ago, when wheeled conveyances were rarely used in the rural districts of Scotland, and the custom was to convey grain to the mill in a sack laid over a horse’s back. The good man was making such a journey once, over a rough bridle-path; and the horse stumbled, so that the sack fell off. As he was perplexed, and wondering what to do, he saw a man on horseback in the distance, and had lust made up his mind to ask him for assistance, when he recognized in him the nobleman who lived in an adjoining castle; and then his heart sank again within him, for how could he request him to help him? But he did not need to ask him, for he was noble by a higher patent than any monarch could confer; and, when he came up, he dismounted of his own accord, saying, “Let me help you, John.” So between them they put the load again upon the horse; and then John, who was a gentleman too, though he did wear “hodden grey,” taking off his broad Kilmarnock bonnet, made obeisance, and said, “Please your worship, how shall I ever thank you for your kindness?” “Very easily, John,” was the reply. “Whenever you see another man as sorely needing assistance as you were just now, help him; and that will be thanking me.” So, as we contemplate the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf, we cry, “What shall I render unto Thee, O Lord, for all Thy benefits toward me?”--and there comes this answer: “Whensoever thou seest a fellow-man needing thy succour as much as thou wast needing Mine when I gave My life for thee, help him, and that will be thanking Me.” “Inasmuch as ye do it,” etc.(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
The good Samaritan
Take the scene of this parable as the wayside of life. The road through this world is a dangerous way, leading through the wilderness, stained by many crimes, haunted by many robbers. Travelling along this highway of life, I see crowds of persons, of all sorts and conditions of men. And I see, moreover, that all of them bear scars upon them, as though they had been wounded, and many I see are lying by the wayside in sore distress. All have at some time or other fallen among thieves. There is a famous picture by the great French painter which illustrates this. It represents a number of different people journeying through the valley of this world. The way is rough and gloomy, and all bear signs of having known weariness and sorrow. The king is there in his royal robes, and wearing his crown; but his brow is furrowed with care, and he seems to ask, like our own King Henry--
“Gives not the hawthorn bush a sweeter shade
To shepherds, looking on their silly sheep,
Than doth a rich embroider’d canopy
To kings, that fear their subjects’ treachery?”
The poet is there crowned with laurel, but his eyes are sad, as though he felt how poor a thing is fame; how valueless the garland which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven. He looks with a yearning glance, as though searching for something not yet found. There, too, is the minister of state, who directed the fortunes of empires. “ Whom he would he slew, and whom he would he kept alive.” But his head is bowed with trouble, and he seems to look wistfully to the time when “the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.” Among the crowd there are women; the widow with veiled head, and tearful eyes; the mother clasping her dead child; the poor slave, cowering beneath the lash of the taskmaster, and stretching out her chained hands for pity. There, too, are many sick folk. Blind men sit in darkness by the wayside; cripples drag their maimed bodies wearily along; beggars grovel in their sores and raggedness. And all these different people seem to turn their faces longingly to one place, where a bright light breaks over the dark valley, and where there stands One with outstretched arms, and loving smile. It is Jesus, the Good Samaritan, who is ready to help these travellers on the road of life; it is the Good Physician, who has medicine to heal their sickness; and who says to every suffering heart, king and beggar, desolate widow, weary warrior, childless mother, “Come unto Me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (H. J.Wilmot-Buxton, M. A.)
The lawyer and the Samaritan
I. THE LAWYER
1. He had thus much to recommend him, that he was an orthodox Israelite.
2. He seems to have been a sincere inquirer after truth.
3. Another thing we notice in this lawyer is the accuracy and truthfulness of his knowledge and views of the law.
4. But there was one great deficiency in his case. Theoretical orthodoxy is not always accompanied with practical righteousness. A man may confess a good creed, and yet lead a very unworthy and sinful life. People may know and approve the law, and yet not keep it. He had “answered right.” But he was not righteous.
II. THE SAMARITAN.
1. A heretic as to his faith. He was an errorist, and in this respect compares very unfavourably with the Jewish lawyer. It was not his Samaritanism that the Saviour wishes to recommend to us. His churchliness was thoroughly defective and reprehensible.
2. But there is one thing in him that is good, and this it is that the Saviour wishes to recommend to us. He had human sympathy. His mercy was not restrained by sectional antipathy and religious animosities. Conclusion: It was the Samaritan’s mercy that needed to be added to the lawyer’s orthodoxy, in order to a full and acceptable piety. Orthodoxy without humanity is worthless; humanity with heterodoxy is better as regards the comfort of this world; but orthodoxy with humanity--a pure worship with universal charity--fills out the complete picture of what the law requires, and what practical Christianity really is. (J. A. Seiss, D. D.)
I. ITS SPHERE OF ACTION.
1. On whom it is exercised. On those who stand in need of it.
2. How far it reaches. To all.
II. ITS NATURE. It is--
1. A feeling.
2. Manifests itself in deeds.
III. ITS WORKING.
1. It gives help instantly and without delay.
3. Does what is required, and as well as it can.
4. Is full of self-denial, for
(1) It fears no dangers;
(2) no troubles;
(3) no cost;
(4) no labour.
5. It is indefatigable, and completes the work. (F. G. Lisco.)
Service of love
1. Willingly begun.
2. Unweariedly continued.
3. Never completed. (Van Oostarzee.)
Debt of love
3. Blessed. (Van Oostarzee)
Good Samaritan love
1. Whom it profits.
2. How it manifests itself.
3. Whence it come. (Harless.)
The glory of true love
1. It inquires not.
2. It hesitates not.
3. It is not afraid.
4. It tarries not.
5. It willingly sacrifices, and leaves nothing unfinished. (Florey.)
Love makes neighbours
It is love that makes man neighbour to man. The true neighbour is the man who has a compassionate heart and a friendly spirit. Where this is wanting, it avails not that a man lives next door, or belongs to the same congregation, or is a member of the same club or union or profession; it ought to be so, that these external associations quicken our friendliness, and so they often do, and where love exists they find expression for it in many suitable ways; but these external bends can never supply the place of love. No doubt the people who saw how careful the Samaritan was of his protege would say, He must be his brother, or his neighbour, or an old friend; for the truth is that genuine compassion and affection make a man brother, neighbour, a friend, of all. It is not, then, by any marks in others that you can test who is your neighbour; but only by what is in yourself, viz., humanity of disposition, friendliness, compassion, or whatever name you choose to give it. Love alone can determine who is your neighbour. (Marcus Dods, D. D.)
I. Earliest of all, there is indicated here that THE RECOGNIZED AIM OF THE ENTIRE GOSPEL IS SIMPLY TO SAVE HUMAN SOULS (see Luke 10:25).
II. From the reply our Lord gave to him we learn, next, that THE GRAND SOURCE OF ALL INFORMATION ON THIS SUBJECT IS GOD’S WORD, REVEALED IN THE INSPIRED SCRIPTURES (see Luke 10:26-28).
III. Hence, we reach another lesson: THE MAIN OFFICE OF THE LAW OF GOD THUS REVEALED IS TO CONVINCE MEN OF SIN (see Luke 10:29). Evidently this man was not at all satisfied. There was just one subtle implication in this courteous commendation of Jesus that stung his conscience. He knew he had never obeyed the command he had quoted.
IV. Our Lord follows his extraordinary lead, and so we have another lesson: THE LAW OF GOD ACCEPTS EVEN HUMANITARIANISM AS ONE OF THE TRUTHFUL TESTS OF A REAL RELIGIOUS CHARACTER.
1. In the beginning of the parable, Jesus shows what constitutes a neighbour, meeting the lawyer’s interrogatory in its exact terms: “And who is my neighbour?” (see Luke 10:30).
2. A neighbour, so the story went calmly on to say, is one who is close to us in circumstances of common exposure. All these people were in the perilous and infested road between Jerusalem and Jericho.
3. A neighbour is one who has received misfortune which might happen to any one of us in the same circumstances. Robbers are never specially particular concerning what respectable people they plunder.
4. A neighbour is one who is left near us helpless, and must suffer more unless succoured at once. The force of the figure turns on that. Thus, having explained what it was to be a neighbour, Jesus proceeded to show further by the parable what it must mean to love one’s neighbour as one’s self (see Luke 10:31-35).
(1) A priest (see Luke 10:31). Perhaps he was one of these refined, fastidious men, full of soft sensibility, and could not force his delicate feelings to bear the sight of abject suffering, especially when no one was near to sustain and praise him. Possibly he could pity the wounded neighbour, but could not afford just then either the time or the twopence. It may be, housed in his comfortable quarters that night in Jericho, he took it out in blaming the Government for the tolerance.
(2) A Levite (see Luke 10:32). No better than the other: no reason to suppose he would be: a Levite was just a little priest: “like master, like man.” Still it is fair to say he went across to see what was the matter. Perhaps he found there was too much the matter. Perhaps prudence suggested the robbers might return. Now please remember these were the friends this lawyer would have stood up for; a sacred calling certainly involves sacred duties.
(3) A Samaritan (see Luke 10:33-35). He had love in his heart and succour in his hands.
V. So ends the parable; and now, as we return to the story for our final lesson, we learn that MERE FORMAL DEVOTION CANNOT EVEN ABIDE ITS OWN TEST, WHEN FORCED TO IT (see Luke 10:36-37). (C. S.Robinson, D. D.)
The good Samaritan
I. THE WORLD IS VERY FULL OF AFFLICTION,
1. Frequently the greater afflictions are not occasioned by the fault of the sufferer.
2. Very much distress is caused by the wickedness of others.
3. Certain paths in life are peculiarly subject to affliction. Our mines, railways, and seas show a terrible roll of suffering and death. Many a needlewoman’s life is truly a path of blood.
II. THERE ARE MANY WHO NEVER RELIEVE AFFLICTION.
1. The two men here mentioned were brought to the spot by God’s providence on purpose to render aid to the sufferer.
2. They were both of them persons who ought to have relieved him, because they were very familiar with things which should have softened their hearts.
3. They were, moreover, bound by their profession to have helped this man.
4. They were very well aware of the man’s condition.
5. Yet they had capital excuses.
III. THE SAMARITAN IS A MODEL FOR THOSE WHO DO HELP THE AFFLICTED.
1. He is a model if we notice who the person was that he helped.
(1) One who could not repay him.
(2) A total stranger.
(3) One rejected by his own people.
(4) One of a different faith from himself.
2. He is a model to us in the spirit in which he did his work.
(1) Without asking questions.
(2) Without attempting to shift the labour from himself on to others.
(3) Without any selfish fear.
(4) With self-denial.
(5) With great tenderness and care.
IV. WE HAVE A HIGHER MODEL than even the Samaritan--our Lord Jesus Christ.
1. Our Lord Jesus Christ has done better than the good Samaritan, because our case was worse. We were not only half but altogether dead in trespasses and sins.
2. What the Samaritan gave to the poor man was generous, but it is not comparable to what the Lord Jesus has given to us. He gave him wine and oil; but Jesus has given His heart’s-blood to heal our wounds: he lent himself with all his care and thoughtfulness; but Christ gave Himself even to the death for us. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The good Samaritan
I. THE OCCASION OF THE PARABLE.
1. The general circumstances (Luke 10:25-28)
2. The specific question (Luke 10:29).
II. THE APTNESS OF THE PARABLE.
1. This parable shows the Divine idea of true neighbourliness.
2. This parable shows the grand principle and obligation of
Christian endeavour at home and abroad.
3. This parable shows the secret of true happiness.
(1) The robbers who stripped and wounded their victim did not become happy in their deed.
(2) Neither priest nor Levite was happy in his cowardly selfishness.
(3) It was the good, benevolent, tender-hearted Samaritan whose soul was filled with a happifying satisfaction.
1. Selfishness is not “the Divine ideal of a true and noble life.
2. Happiness is not an emotion, but the fruit of love.
3. The true good Samaritan is Jesus Christ Himself. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)
The good Samaritan
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES WHICH LED TO THE UTTERANCE OF THIS PARABLE.
1. A sinister question put to our Lord by a lawyer.
2. Our Lord’s method of meeting cavillers (see Luke 10:26).
3. The lawyer’s remarkable answer to our Lord’s question.
4. Our Lord’s candour.
5. The caviller unimpressed by his own profound answer, and still under the dominant power of self.
II. THE PARABLE.
1. The topography of the scene is noticeable.
2. The touching story of the parable.
(1) The pitiable victim of the thieves.
(2) The pitiless passers-by.
(3) The pitiful Samaritan.
III. THE APPLICATION.
1. Jesus enabled the lawyer to answer his own perplexing question. This is a great gift.
2. Jesus brought home the truth to the lawyer’s conscience, so that he could not shake it off.
1. Let us learn not to despise the questionings of men, but seek to turn them to practical account.
2. Let us learn that the crown of all human excellencies, the unquestionable evidence of true piety, and the golden girdle which is yet to bind in one holy Christly brotherhood the human race, is to love God with all our heart, mind, and strength, and our neighbours as ourselves.
3. Let us learn the utter hollowness of formal religion.
4. Let us learn that an immortality of honour is only for those whose heart throbs with Christly sympathy.
5. Let us learn that our Lord has hers drawn for us His own portrait in the delineation He has given us of the “good Samaritan.” (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)
The good Samaritan
I. A GRAPHIC PICTURE OF HUMAN NEED AND MISERY.
1. Much of man’s suffering is inflicted by his fellow-man.
2. His condition, apart from aid, human and Divine, appears helpless and hopeless.
II. A SAD ILLUSTRATION OF MAN’S TOO COMMON INDIFFERENCE TO HIS FELLOW-MAN.
III. AN INSTRUCTIVE EXAMPLE OF TRUE CHARITY. Note the several movements of benevolence, as exemplified in the story.
1. An observant eye.
2. A sensitive heart, that will not steel itself against a neighbour’s misfortunes, saying, “All is owing to the operation of general laws, and it is unreasonable to allow one’s self to be affected by the inevitable afflictions of mankind.”
3. An absence of bigotry.
4. A ready hand, to carry out the benevolent desires of the heart.
5. Self-forget-fulness and self-denial, leading to a disregard of personal comfort and even of personal safety.
6. A combination of tenderness and wisdom.
7. An endeavour to interest others in the work in which we are engaged ourselves. As this Samaritan procured the services of the host, so many good people multiply their own beneficence by calling forth that of others.
8. Liberality. There are occasions for gifts as well as for services; it is well to be found responsive to such claims.
9. Foresight. A wise man will look forward, and consider how that which is begun may best be carried on.
IV. A SUGGESTION OF THE DIVINE MOTIVE TO BENEVOLENCE. It is vain to disconnect morality from religion. Our relation to God governs out relation to our fellow-creatures.
V. AN ILLUSTRATION OF REDEMPTION. (J. R. Thomson, M. A.)
The bloody way
The road connecting Jerusalem with Jericho ran through a wild, dreary, and mountainous solitude, suited by the gloomy and inaccessible fastnesses on either side of it, to harbour thieves, robbers, and other outlaws from society, and so particularly infamous in the time of our Lord for the horrid depredations and murders perpetrated by the ruffians that infested it, that it went under the name of “The Bloody Way.” Herod the Great had dismissed about 40,000 men who had been engaged in building the Temple, many of whom, through want of employment, as Josephus informs us, became robbers and haunted the road to which this parable refers.
Fallen among thieves
“Among thieves!” Come with me to the dead-house. There lies a lifeless form just brought in by rough yet kind-hearted men from the river. It is the body of a woman. Push back the masses of dishevelled hair, and you look into a young and beautiful face, and wonder whose child she is. Last night when the city was quiet, and those who had homes had sought them, and the poor street Arab had coiled himself into an empty cask, this child of sorrow noiselessly stole on to the bridge, climbed the parapet, gave one long, low wail of despair, then madly leaped into the river. There was a splash, a struggle, and then the dark waters rolled on as before, and as they have done over hundreds of such frail children of men as this one who lies before us in the dead-house. What does it mean? It means that she has fallen among thieves, who have robbed her and left her to die. “Among thieves!” Yonder stands a gloomy building, with high walls and gates, as heavy and massive as those of the old castles of the Middle Ages. Get inside. See that youth. Who is he? Where does he come from? His father is a godly man, his mother is a holy woman. Once he was the joy of the home. Now see his convict’s dress, look at his sad, worn face, and you shudder as the lock clicks upon the door of his cell. What does it mean? It means that he “fell among thieves.” (C. Leach.)
The good Samaritan
This parable reveals in the brightest light--
I. THE CHRISTIAN’S HEART. It is like the Samaritan’s as he stands over yon panting, bleeding man: it is full of compassion. This word “compassion,” as used by Christ, has the greatest force and feeling in it. It means that His whole body tingled, and thrilled, and was warmed with loving pity, as your body was when you stood over against your dying brother or sister, and felt as you had never felt before. Very great must have been the Samaritan’s compassion when, without a moment’s delay, he stooped to the bleeding man. We are weak and slow in Christ’s work because we are weak in compassion. A boy was showing me his model steam-engine, in which the steam was made by a spirit-lamp. He lighted his lamp, but the engine moved not till a certain temperature was reached. Compassion is the moving force in us, but it does not move us till it grows hot within the heart. The Samaritan also reveals--
II. THE CHRISTIAN’S HAND. It is the ready agent of a compassionate heart. First the heart, then the hand; that is the order in the kingdom. Watch the Samaritan’s hand. It is not the hand of a sluggard. How quickly it moves! The story gives us the idea of hearty haste. He did not linger till compassion was chilled by worldly prudence. He knew that his first thoughts were best. I dare say he did not think about it at all: he just did it at once. A new book tells that a Glasgow merchant died lately without a will, leaving a widow, one son, and two daughters. The son in London received a telegram, came down the same evening, and settled his father’s fortune on his mother and sisters. He was asked why he had been in such a hurry. “I dared not wait,” was his noble reply. “Had I waited, my resolution might have cooled, and I might have claimed all the law allowed me. I felt that it was right to do what I have done, and I wished to commit myself before selfishness could come in.” Many a noble purpose dies of cold and delay in its infancy.
2. It is not the hand of a weakling. See it binding up wounds, pouring m oil and wine, setting the traveller on his beast, bringing him to the inn, tending him all through the night, taking out the purse and giving to the host. The hand moved by love is not easily tired, is not flighty but steady, and carries through what it begins.
3. It is not the hand of a hireling, who works only for pay. The Samaritan was not rich: he travelled with one ass and without a servant. Besides the wine, and oil, and bandages, and two pence to the host, he lost a whole day’s work, and probably a whole night’s rest. He had reward enough in an approving conscience reflecting the smile of God, in the home-bred sweets of a benevolent mind, and in the thought that he was imitating his Father in heaven.
4. It is not the hand of earthly ambition. The Pharisees gave alms to be seen of men. Had the Samaritan been like them, he also would have passed by on the other side.
III. THE CHRISTIAN’S SPHERE. The lawyer made it very narrow. He loved his friends and hated his enemies, and was sure that these Samaritans were no neighbours of his. But Christ teaches that there are no limits or exceptions to the love of man. (J. Wells, M. A.)
The parable of the good Samaritan
I. THAT God has established a principle of universal dependence through every part of His intelligent creation. As creatures we have a twofold dependence--a dependence upon God, and upon our fellows.
II. THAT among men, and especially among fallen and guilty men, the principle of benevolence, which expresses itself in a readiness to administer to the necessities of others, is not only a mere arrangement of wisdom and goodness, but has in it the force of duty and obligation.
III. The benevolence enjoined in the parable before us derives great force from the terms in which it is expressed. “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” is the language of the law. “Who is my neighbour?” asks the lawyer. The answer is, “Every man in distress is thy neighbour.”
IV. THAT they are unhappily often counteracted in practice. The introduction of sin has subjected us to misery, and rendered us more dependent open each other; but it has also introduced principles into the heart which are subversive of those charities to which our very necessities and common dangers ought to give birth. Like mariners in a storm, like soldiers in a battle, we ought to be at hand to each other; but there are principles which too frequently separate man from man, and harden the heart against every emotion of pity. We might specify many of these, but we will confine our attention to one, suggested by the parable; I mean religious bigotry.
V. LASTLY, let me observe, that the universal and undistinguishing philanthrophy, so affectingly urged in the parable of our Lord before us, must be fostered and matured by every consideration we can pay to the nature of our religion. (R. Watson.)
There are some who utterly proscribe the name of chance as a word of impious and profane signification; and indeed, if it be taken by us in that sense in which it was used by the heathen, so as to make anything casual, in respect of God Himself, their exception ought justly to be admitted. But to say a thing is a chance, or casualty, as it relates to second causes, is not profaneness, but a great truth, as signifying no more than that there are some events, besides the knowledge, purpose, expectation, and power of second agents. And for this very reason, because they are so, it is the royal prerogative of God Himself, to have all these loose, uneven, fickle uncertainties under His disposal. (Dr. South.)
Which of us has not been guilty of passing by on the other side, of leaving misery unrelieved because it was not clamorous? This unfortunate, lying half dead by the roadside, could make no importunate supplications for relief, could not sit up and prove to the priest that it was his duty to help him, could not even ask help, so as to lay on the priest the responsibility of positive refusal; and so he got past with less discomfort, but not with less guilt. The need is often greatest where least is asked. And how many forms of misery are there lying within our knowledge as we journey along the bloodstained road of life, but which we pass by because they do not bar our progress till we give our help, or because it is possible for us to put them out of our mind and live as though these things were not. A lost child is crying on the streets, but it is awkward to be seen leading a dirty, crying child home, so we refuse to notice that the child is lost; a man is lying as if he were ill, but he may only be intoxicated, and it looks foolish to meddle, and may be troublesome, so we leave him to others, though another minute in that position may, for all we know, make the difference between life and death. You read a paragraph of a paper giving a thrilling account of a famine in China, or some other great calamity; but when you come to a clause intimating that subscriptions will be received at such and such a place, you pass to another column, and refuse to allow that to make the impression on your mind which you feel it is beginning to make. In short, you will, in these and many like circumstances, wait till you are asked to help; you know you could not in decency refuse if you were asked, if the matter were fully laid before you and all the circumstances detailed, but you will put yourself out of reach before this can be done, you will not expose yourself to the risk of having your charitable feelings stirred, or at any rate of having your help drawn upon; you will, if possible, wipe the thing from your mind, you will carefully avoid following up any clues or considering steadily any hint or suggestion of suffering. (Marcus Dods, D. D.)
Backwardness to good works
I. The first and chief plea, under which men generally take shelter, is that of inability, because of straitened circumstances, heavy taxes, &c. Before this plea can be accepted, we must ask ourselves whether there be no unnecessary expenses that we support, such as are unsuitable to our circumstances.
II. There are those that plead unsettled times, and an ill prospect of affairs (whether wrongly or rightly, is not the case; but there are those that plead these things) as impediments to the exercise of charity. For in such an uncertain world, who knows but that he may want to-morrow what he gives to-day?
III. There are men sensible enough of their obligations to charity, and resolved, some time or other, to discharge them; but they desire to be excused from that duty for the present, and put it off, perhaps, to a will and a deathbed, and think it sufficient if they begin to do good in the world any time before they leave it. Seldom do either of these proceed from a principle of goodness; nor are they owing to a love of virtue, but to a fear of punishment.
IV. It is alleged that the increase of charity tends often to the increasing and multiplying the poor; and by that means proves a mischief to the commonwealth, instead of a support and benefit.
V. And last thing (I shall mention) by which we are apt to excuse our backwardness to good works, is, the ill success that hath been observed to attend well-designed charities; with relation both to the objects on which they are placed, and the hands through which they are conveyed. Our part is, to choose out the most deserving objects, and the most likely to answer the ends of our charity; and when that is done, all is done that lies in our power; the rest must be left to Providence. (Bishop Horne.)
A certain Samaritan
Good news for you
The good Samaritan is a masterly picture of true benevolence.
I. The sinner is WITHOUT MORAL QUALIFICATION FOR SALVATION, but Christ comes where he is.
1. Remember first, that when the gospel was first sent into the world, those to whom it was sent were manifestly without any moral qualification.
2. Recollect again, the Biblical descriptions of those whom Christ came into the world to save, which prove to a demonstration that He comes to the sinner where he is.
3. But, thirdly, it is quite certain from the work of grace itself, that the Lord does not expect the sinner to do anything or to be anything in order to meet Him, but that He comes to him where he is.
4. The godlike character of the grace of God proves that He meets the sinner where he is. If God forgive little sinners only, then He is little in His mercy.
5. The spirit and genius of the gospel utterly forbid the supposition that God requires anything in any man in order to save him.
II. In the second place, there are very many of the lost race of Adam, who say that they are WITHOUT ANY MENTAL QUALIFICATION.
III. But yet again, I think I hear another say, “I am in despair, for I CANNOT FIND ANY REASON IN MYSELF, OR OUT OF MYSELF, WHY GOD SHOULD FORGIVE SUCH A PERSON AS I AM.” SO then, you are in a hopeless state, at least you see no hope. The Lord meets you where you are by putting the reason of your salvation altogether in Himself.
IV. We proceed to our fourth point. “Oh,” says one, “but I am WITHOUT COURAGE; I dare not believe on Christ, I am such a timid, trembling soul, that when I hear that others trust to Christ I think it must be presumption; I wish I could do the same, but I cannot; I am kept under by such a sense of sin, that I dare not.”
V. I hear one more complaint. “I am WITHOUT STRENGTH,” saith one; “will Jesus come just where I am?” Yes, sinner, just where you are. You say you cannot believe; that is your difficulty. God meets you, then, in your inability. First, He meets you with His promises. “Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise Cast out.” Cannot you believe now? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The good Samaritan
The first object that arrests our attention is a man lying by the wayside robbed, stripped, wounded, half dead. Now, all that we know about this man was that he had been taking a journey from Jerusalem to Jericho; and even this is full of suggestion. He had his back turned upon the “city of the vision of peace” and his face turned towards the city of the curse. Cursed was Jericho--cursed in the moment of its first destruction, and cursed in the moment of its restoration. He was turning his back upon the place which had been built for God’s glory, for the especial abode, so to speak, of the Divine presence, and his face towards the place which had been built in distinct defiance of the Divine will, the very existence of which was a monument of human rebellion. Such is the ill-omened character of the journey which the traveller has undertaken. Is it not just such a journey that man has undertaken? If we look at human history, what is it but a continuous going down from Jerusalem to Jericho? Dear friends, as it has been with human history in the abstract, so has it been with each of us individually. As we look upon our own history, what has it been? One continual going away farther and farther from God, wandering from “the city of peace,” and voluntarily exiling ourselves into the region which is blighted with God’s curse. First, there is “the robbing.” Satan is the great master robber. How much has he robbed us of? First, he has robbed us of all the blessedness of Paradise. Further, this man was not only robbed, he was also “stripped.” They were not content with taking his money, they must needs take his garments. That is just what Satan has done with us. He has stripped us of all with which we cover our shame. There are some of us who have endeavoured to put on a garb of respectability, and to cover ourselves with that, just as our first parents sewed fig-leaves together to cover themselves. And that is not all. He is not content with robbing and stripping you; he goes even further; with ruthless hands he “wounds” those whom he has already robbed. How many of us are there here who do not know what it is to be wounded, inwardly wounded? Ah! he knows how to wound. Wounded! How are you “wounded?” not only by the malice of Satan, but by the accusations of conscience. How are you “wounded?” Not only wounded by Satan, not only wounded by conscience, but also wounded by your truest and best Friend. For there is One who wounds that He may heal. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend!” But that was not all. The man was not only wounded, but he was “left half dead.” In what sense is the sinner half dead? So far as his spiritual condition is concerned he is quite dead, but so far as his moral nature is concerned he is half dead; that is to say, he is rapidly losing all his moral powers, but he is not altogether lost. The man is not only half dead; he is fast dying; his life is ebbing out in that flowing blood. Every moment that he lies there he grows weaker. Now let us look at it again. The first that passes that way is the priest. The priest cannot do anything for him, or does not do anything for him. And, dear friends, all the ordinances in the world, however precious and however valuable they are in themselves, will not restore lost vitality. The Levite passes by--he can do nothing. “If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.” This is just where the law fails. But the next to come along that road is one of a different race. He was the very last man that this poor dying Jew had a claim upon. “He was a Samaritan.” And Jesus passes by, not on the wings of His sovereign power, not in the majesty of His eternal sway, but He passes by in human form, a traveller amongst the sons of men. He passes by along life’s dreary, dusty journey; He threads the mazes of life’s wilderness, and on His way He “hears the groanings of such as are in captivity, and the sorrowful sighing of those who are appointed to die.” (W. H. M. H. Aitken, M. A.)
“He had compassion on him.” Premising that, we can rest assured there is more to follow. He began with pity, and all the rest is a mere matter of detail. In the light of this one luminous word “compassion,” the poor man is seen already right away home, the idol of his happy family, surrounded with bright-eyed, curly-headed, pretty little prattlers, bounding with joy, and his fond wife heaping blessings on the nameless benefactor. “He had compassion on him”--an expression this, big with salvation. He drew out his sympathetic soul first of all, and wrapped that warm around him, and made him understand that smaller gifts and minor mercies would soon be forthcoming. The oil, the wine, the bandages, the beast, the inn, the pence, the care, are all only so many forms of the large-hearted “compassion” with which he started. And the unfortunate individual, who had been callously “passed by” with indifference by cold and formal ecclesiasticism, is now at length happily rescued by the religion of humanity. (D. Thomas.)
Sympathy more than pity
“He set him on his own beast”--the one act in which the Samaritan’s Samaritanism was most deeply lodged, and most gently and suggestively evinced. The Samaritan had nothing left him but to walk. So we conclude. The weariness of it denoted less to him than his co-traveller’s comfort denoted. His own comfort was in having his companion comfortable. His consciousness was of the other man. He became practically the other man for the time; felt his bruises as his own bruises; forgot that he was not working for himself in working for him. He felt not for him, which is nothing but pity; but he felt with him, he felt in him, which is sympathy and gospel. Becoming the other man--that is Samaritanism: seeing with his eyes, feeling with his sensibilities, subject to his limitations, obnoxious to his exposures. Sympathy is two hearts tugging at one load, bent beneath one sorrow. (C. H. Parkhurst, D. D.)
We can help a man only by identifying ourselves with him, getting into his circumstances, getting into him, becoming he If you have a temptation that you want to get the mastery over, the man for you to go to for counsel and relief is the man who has been in your place and gained the victory that you want to gain. The heat man to convert a drunkard is a converted drunkard. The power to appreciate temptation is the prime condition to being able to help others out of temptation. In a certain way it holds that the more bad and awkward situations a good man has been in, the richer may prove his ministry and the more various his apostleship. Almost all the men in the Scripture story that ever proved a great advantage to anybody had at some time been themselves in sad need of succour. The first step God took towards making us become like Him was for Him to become as far as He could like us. If you have any doctrinal perplexity, your resort for assistance will always be to some one whose doctrinal experience has been complicated in the same way. And it is not by any means enough to be able to understand another man’s difficulty, burden, temptation; we need to go a little farther and feel it as our own difficulty, burden, temptation, just as the Samaritan not only appreciated his fellow-traveller’s distresses, but felt them as his own distresses, and therefore set him on his own beast; and as Christ not only understood our sins, but Himself put Himself behind our sins, underneath them, carried them, and in such a whole-hearted way, as really to suffer the pain and penalty of them. There is always more or less of the vicarious when there is any good done, any release wrought, any redemption effected. (C. H.Parkhurst, D. D.)
A good Samaritan among the Maoris
In our journeyings, says the Waikato Times, a newspaper published in New Zealand, we have to record the various traits of man be he European or Maori--all have to be faithfully noticed by our pen. Whether his characteristics are of the animal or intellectual kind, whether his sympathies are with the refined or debased. In this instance it is our great pleasure to have to record one of the most Christian and good Samaritanlike acts that we remember to have read or published. A few nights ago--a bitter cold night it was--Amopui, a native, was returning to Cambridge, and when some distance from the township saw the prostrate form of a man--a European--on the road. It appears that the poor fellow, with one leg only, had travelled overland all the way from Napier, had crossed creeks, surmounted hills, and threaded his way through the bush. But nature gave way at last, and he fell, when Amopui found him, utterly worn out, helpless and exhausted. But for this timely assistance, Charles Parmeters (for this was the European’s name)would in all probability never have seen the light of another day. The Maori lifted him up, and carried him into Cambridge, and those who know the heavy, sandy road on the other side of the bridge can judge what the labour must have been. Amopui took him to his tent, and attended to him the night through; but the noble fellow’s good deeds did not end here. In the morning he got a subscription list, and by dint of perseverence collected nearly £9, which he handed over to the police authorities to be expended in sending the poor cripple on to Auckland. Amopui is well known in Cambridge as being a straightforward and honest native, and will now more than ever be universally respected. If there be no other recognition in this sphere of this good action, the story should find a corner in every paper and magazine in the world, and should be printed in gold.
The day after the action near Alexandria, where the brave Abercrombie fell, the General was riding over the field of battle, attended by two orderly dragoons, to see if there were any wounded, French or English, who had escaped notice the evening before, when, on turning round a wall by the seaside, he was struck with the appalling sight of more than a hundred French soldiers, who, with their officers, huddled together, desperately wounded by grape and cannon shot from an English brig of war. From being collected in the recess of the wall they had escaped notice on the previous day of search, and were exposed to the night air, and with undressed wounds. Here the General saw a man, evidently English, in the garb of a Quaker, actively employed in the heavenly task of giving his humane assistance to those poor, brave sufferers; giving water to some, dressing the wounds of others, and affording consolation to all. Upon inquiry, he found the benevolent individual to be Dr. John Walker, who was himself almost exhausted, having been thus nobly employed from daybreak without any assistance.
Rescue the perishing
A venerable servant of Christ said to me just at the time that I was accepting my first living, “If you would really wish to be useful to those with whom you are brought into contact, remember there is only one way of doing it: like the blessed Master of old, you must yourself be moved with compassion, or else you never can help them.” The man who has been himself much in the society of the good Samaritan will partake of his feelings, and, like his Master, will be “moved with compassion.” “But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when be saw him, he had compassion on him.” He might naturally have turned aside and said, “Oh, it is only one of those miserable Jews; the fewer we have of them the better; let him be.” The first thing he had to overcome was natural prejudice, and it is rather a strong one with some people. But he did not stop to inquire whether he was a Jew or a Samaritan; he was a man--a brother; and the Samaritan acted accordingly. I remember hearing the story of a little incident that occurred in the streets of Edinburgh some years ago. A coach was driving rapidly down the narrow streets of the town. A poor little child of some two years of age crept into the middle of the road, and there it was in utter helplessness standing by itself, while the galloping horses were drawing nearer and nearer every moment. Just as they approached the spot where the poor little helpless infant was standing, a woman, who had just happened to come to the door of her house, darted forth like a flash of lightning, grasped the child in her arms, and, at the peril of her own life, saved it from imminent destruction. A passer-by remarked to the poor terrified woman when she reached the other side, “Well, woman, is that your child?” “Na, ha,” she said, “it’s nae my bairn.” “Well, woman,” he said, “what for did you risk your life for a child when it was not yours?” With a beaming eye and a flushed face, the noble woman replied, “Aye, but it’s somebody’s bairn.” That was real humanity! The true spirit of a woman asserted itself within her nature. And if that be humanity, dear friends, what ought to be Christian humanity? What would have become of us if the Lord Jesus Christ had asked the question, “Who is My neighbour?” He might have pointed to where Gabriel, Michael, and the other ministering spirits stand before the throne, and say, “Behold My neighbour.” What daring intelligence of heaven or hell would ever have suggested that the Lord Jesus Christ could find His “neighbour” in a fallen world, amid the children of sorrow and the slaves of hell? Who would have ever thought that God would have chosen us to be His “neighbours?” that He should have come where we are, that He should bend over us with a heart glowing with love, and pour into our wounds the sweet solace of His own anointing oil, or breathe into our lifeless being the supernatural energy of His own eternal life--who would so much as have suggested this? Not less than this Divine love has actually effected. Here is a call for each of us, children of God. Go to your own home as “a saviour.” Go to the crowded streets, and courts, and lanes of this town as “a saviour.” (W. H. M. H. Aitken, M. A.)
Who is my neighbour?
I. That religious profession and service have no necessary connection with real goodness.
II. We see that neighbourship is not cancelled by a difference of religion. But surely no differences of religion can cancel the duties which are anterior to all revealed religion whatsoever. If men do not see as we see, they are still men. And vet who does not know that a diversity of religious faith frequently operates as a check on all natural sympathy, and that poverty has often to starve on because it does not happen to lie within the enclosure of some theological shibboleth?
III. We see from this parable that true neighbourliness involves the spirit of sacrifice. (E. Mellor, D. D.)
The obligation of the strong to the weak
The phrase “by chance” used in the parable describing the coming of the three men upon the wounded traveller is the same in structure with our word “concurrent.” The priest, the Levite, and Samaritan were not travelling that road and did not meet the half-dead stranger by hazard, but by the concurrence of events which Providence controlled the three were brought to one who needed help. Such is the claim of Christian charity, the combination of events which brings us into proximity to suffering involves the obligation of ministering to it. This claim has its binding force from two principles--
I. Power or advantage of any kind is not a personal possession, but a trust. “I am a debtor both to the Greeks and to the barbarians; both to the wise and to the unwise,” wrote Paul. He owed the Greeks nothing. They had persecuted him. The barbarians he had never seen. But Paul was conscious that God had conferred upon him great gifts and experiences. Because he had them he was bound to make others partake of them. Every such man had a claim upon Paul. His ignorance and wickedness gave the claim. That is the claim that the heathen and the newly-settled portions of our land have upon us. “Communism,” as one has said, “is only the refracted image of a supreme truth, the truth of the indebtedness of the strong to the weak, as that however is dimly discerned by intoxicated brains, through bloodshot eyes.” The half-dead man had a claim upon priest and Levite and Samaritan. Priest and Levite were faithless to the trust God’s providence brought them opportunity to administer.
II. Love to men also makes the claim of the weak upon the stronger of binding force. This love comes into our hearts when we are awakened to the truth of the brotherhood of man, and realize God’s love toward us. In antiquity there was nothing beyond national ties to bind man to man. (G. E.Horr.)
The humanity of Christianity and other religions
A Chinese Christian thus described the relative merits of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Christianity:--“A man had fallen into a deep, dark pit, and lay in its miry bottom groaning and utterly unable to move. Confucius walked by, approached the edge of the pit, and said, ‘Poor fellow, I am sorry for you; why were you such a fool as to get in there? Let me give yon a piece of advice: if you ever get out, don’t get in again.’ ‘I can’t get out,’ groaned the man. That is Confucianism. A Buddhist priest next came by, and said, ‘ Poor fellow, I am very much pained to see you there. I think if you could scramble up two-thirds of the way, or even half, I could reach you and lift you up the rest.’ But the man in the pit was entirely helpless and unable to rise. That is Buddhism. Next the Saviour came by, and, hearing his cries, went to the very brink of the pit, stretched down and laid hold of the poor man, brought him up, and said, ‘Go, sin no more.’ That is Christianity.”
A good Samaritan
Oberlin was travelling on one occasion from Strasbourg. It was in winter. The ground was deeply covered with snow, and the roads were almost impassable. He had reached the middle of his journey, and was so exhausted that he could stand up no longer. He commended himself to God, and yielded to what he felt to be the sleep of death. He knew not how long he slept, but suddenly became conscious of some one rousing him up. Before him stood a waggon-driver, the waggon not far away. He gave him a little wine and food, and the spirit of life returned. He then helped him on the waggon, and brought him to the next village. The rescued man was profuse in his thanks, and offered money, which his benefactor refused. “It is only a duty to help one another,” said the waggoner; “and it is the next thing to an insult to offer a reward for such a service.” “Then,” replied Oberlin, “at least tell me your name, that I may have you in thankful remembrance before God.” “I see,” said the waggoner, “ that you are a minister of the gospel. Please tell me the name of the good Samaritan.” “That,” said Oberlin, “I cannot do, for it was not put on record.” “Then,” replied the waggoner, “until you can tell me his name, permit me to withhold mine.”
A fire having broken out in a village of Denmark, one of the inhabitants, a poor man, was very active in affording assistance; but every endeavour to extinguish the flames was in vain. At length he was told that his own house was in danger, and that if he wished to save his furniture, not a moment was to be lost. “There is something more precious,” replied he, “that I must first save. My poor sick neighbour is not able to help himself: he will be lost if I do not assist him. I am sure he relies upon me.” He flew to his neighbour’s house, rushed, at the hazard of his life, through the flames, and conveyed the sick man in his arms to a place of safety. A society at Copenhagen showed their approbation of his conduct by presenting him with a silver cup filled with Danish crowns.
Generosity and liberality
This parable is very strong as a dramatic representation. It touches the common sense of all races. It is just as plain to the ignorant as it is to the learned. The good Samaritan stands admired by all sects and races, and occasionally is imitated. There is to be drawn, however, something further from this narrative. A fine philosophical distinction lies hidden here, quite aside from its general drift. The breaking down of all limitations to kindly feelings is the main drift; and in executing that something else was accomplished. When the Samaritan rescued the sufferer, that was GENEROSITY. He acted upon the impulse of his heart. Generosity springs out of the heart; it is the child of emotion. It acts in an inferior sphere. It acts quickly. But how easily might one, after relieving this man who had suffered from the thieves, have left him for other folks’ kindness, saying, “I have done my part.” When, having rescued him, he began to think for the unseen wants of the days to come, and provided for them, that was LIBERALITY. It was not generous. It was not acting from the senses and sight. It was acting from reflection, from a higher moral quality of equity. (H. W. Beecher.)
The good Samaritan;
From this story there are many lessons to be learnt.
1. It shows how easy it is for us men of the sanctuary to be far less tenderhearted than the laymen who pass their lives amid matters which have nothing absolutely to do with God.
2. It shows how easily the religious conscience can reason itself out of the responsibilities resting upon it for the discharge of the everyday duties of life.
3. It has also a lesson in the practical character of general philanthropy, for behind the persons of the narrative it shadows out the character of the Divine Person taking compassion on suffering humanity, and placing the wounded man in the true home of souls to the end of time. (Canon Liddon.)
The good Samaritan
No words, perhaps, ever spoken on earth have had more effect than those of this parable. What was the power and the spirit of this parable? What gave it its strength in the hearts of men? This--that it told them that they were to help their fellowmen simply becausethey were their fellow-men. Not because they were of the same race, the same religion, the same sect or party, but simply because they were men. In a word, it commanded men to be humane, to exercise humanity, which signifies kindness to human beings simply because they are human beings. One can understand our Lord preaching that; it was part and parcel of His doctrine. He called Himself the Son of Man. He showed what He meant by calling Himself so by the widest and most tender humanity. But His was quite a new doctrine, and a new practice likewise. The Jews had no notion of humanity. All but themselves were common and unclean. The Greek, again, despised all nations but his own as barbarians. The Romans, again, were a thoroughly inhuman people. Their calling, they held, was to conquer all the nations of the earth, to plunder them, to enslave them. They were the great slave-holding, man-stealing people. Mercy was a virtue which they had utterly forgotten. Their public shows and games were mere butcheries of blood and torture. To see them fight to death in their theatres, pairs after pairs, sometimes thousands in one day, was the usual and regular amusement. And in that great city of Rome, which held something more than a million human beings, there was not, as far as I am aware, one single hospital or other charitable institution of any kind. There was, in a word, no humanity in them. But the gospel changed all that miraculously and suddenly, both in Jew, in Greek, and in Roman. While men had been heathens, their pattern had been that of the priest, who saw the wounded man lying, and looked on him, and passed by. Their pattern now was that of the good Samaritan, who helped and saved the wounded stranger simply because he was a man. In one word, the new thing which the gospel brought into the world was humanity. The thing which the gospel keeps in the world still is humanity. (Charles Kingsley.)
Between Jerusalem and Jericho
I. A certain man fell among thieves. HERE IS THE BLACK MARGIN WHICH SURROUNDS CIVILIZED SOCIETY.
II. There came a priest that way, as also a Levite and a Samaritan. So, THE ESCAPE OF SOME IS NOT TO BE TAKEN AS A CONDEMNATION OF OTHERS. All the four went down the same road, yet only one of them was unfortunate! What a temptation for the three who escaped to say, It must have been his own blame; we passed down the very same road, and did not hear so much as the fluttering of a leaf.
III. The priest passed by on the other side; so did the Levite--THE THING WHICH IS ALWAYS BEING DONE BY A NEGATIVE AND DO NOTHING. RESPECTABILITY. There are two sides in life.
1. The side on which men are dying; and--
2. “The other side.” We can choose our side. On the first side we shall find--
1. Something to shock our sensibilities.
2. Something to interrupt our speed.
3. Something to tax our resources. On the opposite side we shall find a clear path to infamy and the hell of eternal remorse.
IV. The priest passed by, and so did the Levite--so SACRED NAMES ARE NO GUARANTEE FOR SACRED SERVICES. It is a terrible thing for the nature to fall below the name. A name is a promise. A profession is a responsibility.
V. But a certain Samaritan had compassion on him. THERE ARE UNEXPECTED SOURCES OF HELP IN LIFE. YOU have found it so in business; others have found it so in sympathy; others in periods of great perplexity. This reflection of great value as showing--
1. That we all need help.
2. As protecting men from despair.
3. As showing that we ourselves may become the unexpected helpers of others. In the distribution of help we are not to be limited
(a) by theological creeds;
(b) by natural prejudices;
(c) by personal dislikes.
We are to help humanity as such. The Christian application of this study is obvious.
1. Life is a perilous journey.
2. Lost men will never be saved by formal piety.
3. The true Helper is the very Being whom we have offended.
The Teacher of this parable is the Exemplar of its beneficent doctrine. The teacher should always be the explanation of his own lesson. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The spirit of love
The priest and the Levite knew the law, which was written in a book, perfectly. They had nothing to learn about that. The words of it rose at once to their lips; they could confound any one who disputed it. And yet when they were called to fulfil this law--when their neighbour lay on the ground needing their help, they did not remember it at all. It was a long way from them. They were to love their neighbour as themselves, no doubt. But who was their neighbour? Not this poor creature, though he was a Jew, a son of Abraham, an heir of the covenant. They owed him nothing; they were going on their own errands; what was he to them. That is to say, they had the law of love upon tables, but they had it not written on their hearts. They were serving God for hire; they could do things which they thought would profit them, and avoid things which they thought would injure them, but they did nothing because they had God’s mind; they did nothing because they felt to men as He feels towards them. But this Samaritan, although he had never studied the words of the law as they had; though he had not a hundredth part of the blessings which belonged to them; though he had probably a great many mistakes and confusions in his head from which they were free, had this law of love in his heart, and showed that he had. God had written it there. And therefore he did not ask whether this poor half-dead traveller by the roadside belonged to his village, or his town, or his country, or his religion. He had nothing to do with any of those questions, supposing there was any one able to answer them. This was his neighbour, for he was a man. That was quite enough, and therefore he at once did what his neighbour wanted, what he would have had another do to him. Here was a lesson for the lawyer; one which he might be learning day by day, which would last him as long as he remained on earth, and long after that. If he would keep God’s commandments, he must give up his pride as a lawyer, his pride as a Jew; he must become simply a man, just like this poor despised Samaritan. He must understand that God cared for men, and therefore he must care for them. (F. D. Maurice, M. A.)
The attention drawn to the condition of the poor is one of the most encouraging signs of the times. Is that a desirable state of civilization in which such multitudes are doomed to so degraded and wretched a condition? Can it be that this is a necessity, or that it can be consistent with the will of that loving Father of whom we are told that it is not His will that one of His little ones should perish? What has Christianity to say to such questions as these? It will not do for it to stand dumb and helpless in the presence of these perplexities, which are troubling numbers of thoughtful minds, and that dense mass of wretchedness which lies as a heavy burden upon loving hearts. There is special need for the exercise of Christian influence because of the perils by which our social system is at present menaced. It is the imperative duty of the Christian teacher to discount the extravagant expectations which too many indulge as to what others--Parliament, or the Church, or rich people--can do for them, and to make them understand that it is but little real and enduring help which all combined can give to those who have not learned how to help themselves. This is one part of the message of Christianity to the poor; but those who speak it can only hope to succeed if they are able also to teach some lessons, equally necessary to be learned, and perhaps equally impalatable, to those on the opposite side.
1. One of the first of these certainly is that the well-being of men is of infinitely higher importance than the success of trade. A nation can afford to lose some of its wealth; but it cannot afford to have in its midst a number of men whose condition is a scandal to its religion, a reproach to its civilization, a standing menace to its institutions.
2. The principle which must govern a Christian’s conduct in the transaction of his business must also regulate the distribution of his wealth. He cannot indulge in the arrogant spirit which says, “This is all my own, and I can do with it as I will.” It is not his own, for the reason that he himself is not his own.
3. But behind all this must be the spirit of true sympathy--a love without hypocrisy--gracious, generous, spontaneous, free. The change wanted is in human hearts, rather than in the arrangements of society. The true sympathy will quietly produce these, and when that sympathy is not active, even they would fail of the desired result. (J. G. Rogers, B. A.)
The good Samaritan
Here is my neighbour, here is one for whom I am bound to care. It matters not what the need or distress may be, love will be ready to supply the need or relieve the distress to the utmost of its power.
1. It may be bodily suffering. It was bodily suffering that the good Samaritan was represented as displaying his compassion for. Christ’s miracles were mostly miracles of mercy. If we had enough of true love, I believe we should send out medical missionaries to the heathen, even though we had no hope of securing converts to the gospel. The crowding together of human beings into wretched dwellings under conditions obnoxious to both physical and moral life are evils which might engage the most anxious thoughts, and elicit the deepest sympathies of every Christian man and woman in our large towns.
2. It may be the subtle mischief of unbelief, which is, no doubt, slaying its thousands in the present age, and sapping the strength and endangering the future of society.
3. It may be the burdens of a spirit labouring under a sense of sin, burdens only to be removed by the soul’s directly closing with Christ’s invitation to come unto Him for rest. It may, in a word, be any sorrow and any sin. All around us there are multitudes of wounded men and women whom we ought not to pass by without helping them. Have we, then, been striving, as in duty bound, to fulfil the old, old law of love, the royal law which sums up all law? Have we been faithfully endeavouring to meet the demands made upon us by a world around us with its multitudinous mass of wounded and dying men? Surely we need to humble ourselves, because we have so greatly failed in this respect. (Professor Flint, D. D. , LL. D.)
Theory and practice of humanity
The Rev. Mr. Kelly, of Ayr, once preached an excellent sermon from the parable of the man who fell among thieves. He was particularly severe on the conduct of the priest who saw him, and ministered not unto him, but passed by on the other side; and in an animated and pathetic flow of eloquence, he exclaimed, “What I not even the servant of the Almighty I he whose tongue was engaged in the work of charity, whose bosom was appointed the seat of brotherly love, whose heart the emblem of pity; did he refuse to stretch forth his hand, and to take the mantle from his shoulders to cover the nakedness of woe? If he refused, if the shepherd himself went astray, was it to be wondered at that the flock followed?” The next day, when the river was much increased in height, a boy was swept overboard, from a small boat, by the force of the current. A great concourse of people were assembled, but none of them attempted to save the boy; when Mr. Kelly, who was dressed in his canonicals, threw himself from his chamber window into the current, and at the hazard of his own life saved that of the boy. (W. Baxendale.)
Cold comfort can some ministers render to afflicted consciences: their advice will be equally valuable with that of the Highlander who is reported to have seen an Englishman sinking in a bog on Ben Nevis. “I am sinking!” cried the traveller. “Can you tell me how to get out?” The Highlander calmly replied, “I think it is likely you never will,” and walked away. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A good many years ago there laid in the streets of Richmond, Va., a man dead drunk, his face exposed to the blistering noonday sun. A Christian woman passed along, looked at him, and said, “Poor fellow.” She took her handkerchief and spread it over his face, and passed on. The man roused himself up from his debauch, and began to look at the handkerchief, and, lo! on it was the name of a highly respectable Christian woman of the city of Richmond. He went to her, he thanked her for her kindness; and that one little deed saved him for this life, and saved him for the life that is to come. He was afterward Attorney-General of the United States; but, higher than all, he became the consecrated disciple of Jesus Christ. (Dr. Talmage.)
The blessedness of helping others
Edward Irving, when a young minister, got himself much laughed at and plagued by carrying a poor Irishman’s pack for some distance on his back. Rut Irving nobly replied, “The poor fellow was very tired, and his countrymen had been very kind to me.” The gentle and good George Herbert also once helped a poor countryman to raise his fallen and heavy-laden horse. Mr. Herbert dirtied himself, and his friends said he demeaned himself; but he really thus ennobled himself, and got such gratitude and such a blessing from the poor man and from God, as made him exceedingly happy. A medical man once said to a very rich lady who was very miserable, and thought she had all sorts of ailments, “Do something for somebody.” She followed this advice, and by adopting a course of active benevolence, this prescription so completely cured her of her misery and fancied ailments, that she could soon dispense with her doctor. By every means let us try to lessen the evil and misery there is in the world, and to increase good and happiness everywhere. We shall never lessen the light of our own candle by lighting another. (H. R. Burton.)
And no marvel, for this you know the heart is the first mover and master-wheel in spiritual works, that regulateth all and keeps all right and constant. (N. Rogers.)
These liquors that pour out themselves, and drop of their own accord, are esteemed better than those which are squeezed and pressed out by violence. These give, but it is grudgingly; their gift sticks long in their hands before they part with it. It is long before the purse can be found, then before the hand can get in, then before they can get change. And when they give they do it in such a manner, as if the hand had stole from the heart unawares, and that the eye were displeased with the discovery of the theft. But qui moratur, neganti proximus est (saith one), yea many times a quick denial is to be preferred before a slow grant. (N. Rogers.)
The priest and Levite
1. Spiritual persons in a special manner should be pitiful (see Titus 1:7, 1 Timothy 3:2). You may read 2 Kings 4:1. The distressed widow comes to a prophet to bemoan her condition; every one would not be sensible of her affliction; if they did pity her, yet little hopes there was that they would relieve her. A prophet she hopes will do both. Into Elisha’s ear she unloads her griefs. The like course takes David, and flies unto Abiather the high-priest when he was an hungry and in distress (1 Samuel 22:1-23). And no wonder, for they are God’s chaplains-in-ordinary; they serve that Master who is merciful; Him they should imitate, and learn to” be merciful as He is merciful” (Luke 6:36). What scholar but will imitate his master’s exercise?
2. They have received more mercy, and drunk deeper in that cup than others have (2 Corinthians 4:1-2). Whoever they are, it is expected they should not be wanting in this duty.
3. In every good duty ministers should be examples unto others, in word, in conversation, in charity, etc. (1 Timothy 4:12). Charity becomes all men, but above all men the men of God. If we want bowels in us where shall men find them? If mercy be a lamp in others, it must be a bright star in our breasts. A jewel more precious than all the stones in Aaron’s breastplate.
1. We are men of God, and therefore should fly all covetous and earthly practices. Fishes love the salt waters, yet birds of the air fly upwards towards heaven, and whilst the ant (a creature housed in the earth) makes abundant provision for herself, “the fowls of heaven neither sow, nor reap, nor carry into barns.” Oh! how unnatural is it that they, next heaven by vocation, should yet in respect of conversation be farthest off! Nothing farther from heaven nor more unlike God than uncharitableness.
2. We preach charity and mercy, that is the sum and main scope of all our sermons, it being the abridgment of the law and the tenor of the gospel. Faith is the centre, love the circle. All our doctrines and conclusions are but lines drawn from the centre to the circumference. Nay, as we preach charity, profess charity, and pray for charity, so we must open our doors to charity and give it entertainment. (N. Rogers.)
Entertaining the Satanic thief
This being so, how comes it to pass that we take such delight in the company of these? What traveller lighting into the company of a suspected person doth not soon shake him off? Better is a blank than an ill filling. Or what wise man would invite a thief to come unto his house, and being come would make him the best cheer, show him the best room, lay him in the best bed, etc., when he is told for certain that he means to spoil him? And yet this entertainment hath Satan from us, when no thief so mischievous as he. What thief but leaves something behind him? “Some gleaning grapes shall remain” (as the prophet shows, Jeremiah 49:9). They “steal but till they have enough, but this thief carries all away that good is. Not a member of the body, not a power of the soul, not a good instruction in the head, not a good motion in the heart, but he steals away (Matthew 13:4.) (N. Rogers.)
Personal contact with suffering
We need to be brought out of our luxurious houses and into personal contact with needy ones. God has linked the poor and rich together. Sir Robert Peel’s daughter wore a beautiful ermine coat, that was purchased from a fashionable store in the West End of London, but which had been worked upon in one of the lofty tenement houses of East London. The sewing-woman who made the cloak was ill with fever, the contagion of which was carried in the beautiful cloak that soon enwrapped the peer’s daughter, from which she died. So God says, “Neglect no portion of your city, or it will send back its pestilential airs into your homes and your children’s hearts.” There is no possibility of redemption until we go out and find those that are in need, clasp hands over the chasm that divides us from the unfortunate, look into their faces and tell them that we are akin to them in need. I may not be incorrect in thinking that the priest and Levite went back to Jerusalem, and reported to the secretaries of various societies, saying that they had better send down at once and relieve this wounded man on the highway. If they did, those two men did what a majority of people are doing to-day. They report their cases to somebody else to relieve, instead of, as largely as possible, going and doing it themselves. There is nothing that so relieves and cheers as the presence of the donor with his donation. If it comes through agencies, it never blesses to the extent that the touch of your hand does the poor woman who needs your encouragement and cheer. In conversation with Octavia Hill, last May in London, she said, in regard to the tenements of London: “We have more model tenements than we can take care of. My present work is to train women that will go down and oversee them.” If you get families out of poor tenements into the model ones, ten chances to one they will sink to the level in which they are accustomed to live; and the great thing to do in London is to get a corps of workers who will oversee those tenements, and give inmates constant counsel. Remember that the happy man makes the happy world, and not the happy world the happy man. (G. M. G. Dana.)
The need of sympathy
The great undertakings that we have entered upon in the name of charity have been those that have had their beginnings in this feeling of sympathy. I do not suppose John Howard would have undertaken his mission to the prisons of the world if he had not been first moved by a fellow-feeling for those who were confined in dungeons that had never been exposed to publicity, and whose cruelties and sufferings had never been made known to the public. He never could have aroused all British Christendom unless he had borne himself the strait-jacket, and subjected himself to some of the tortures that prisoners were compelled to endure. He spells from a personal experience concerning their sufferings, and respecting brutal punishments from which hitherto there had been no escape. Dr. Guthrie, with others, did a great work in Edinburgh in behalf of the street boys, awakened thereto by his sympathy with them in their life of hardship and peril. Artist-like, he detected the possibilities of these otherwise wasted and blighted lives. He saw what could be made of them, and therefore appealed with impassioned eloquence to the dull and uninformed public of Scotland’s metropolis, urging the importance of training these street Arabs till they might develop into merchants and useful citizens--ay, even through patient instruction unfold those latent powers which would enable them to become benefactors and men of genius. You may hold in your hand a diamond glittering in the ring you prize or sparkling in the pin which is a cherished keepsake, and observing its beauty, its pureness, try to estimate the value of the gem. So, too, you may hold in the other hand a piece of charcoal, which smuts the fingers touching it, and you will see nothing to admire in the latter. The brilliance of the one but makes the dullness of the other more apparent. Yet these two are substantially the same: they are differentiated by the processes to which each has been subjected, and because of which they are so wide apart in work and appearance. In like manner do those we meet differ. A fortunate environment, great privileges, fill some with noble hopes, and make possible a glorious life. The little gamin of the street, devoid of all this, eking out his career in the dark tenement and noisome alley, has little at first to attract you. But there may be locked up in him capacities now unsuspected. Under certain conditions, and with the guiding hand of some gifted teacher, he may become the artist of whom the community will be proud, or the architect able to build the cathedral famed for its lines of beauty, or the philanthropist whose good works will bless generations and embalm his name in the fragrant odours of loving hearts. When we learn to sympathize with such young life, then will we understand the significance of all schemes of child-saving and all efforts to reclaim erring youth. The true artist always has this sympathy. Hence, he is quickly interested in the rude etchings shown him, the work of some tyro in art. He inquires about the subject who has thus revealed the signs of slumbering genius, waiting for the helping word and needed culture which some master is able to afford. He knows what can be made of one already revealing talents that else must go to waste. “I can teach him,” he says, “till he shall become an artist able with his own brush to immortalize his name, or the sculptor carving out of the shapeless marble the speaking statue, or the architect constructing the dome for some noted lane, which shall seem to be hung in the air, full of grace, a marvel of human skill.” (G. M. G. Dana.)
Every natural man is a wounded man
Cast your eye upon what part you please, you can see nothing but wounds and bruises (Isaiah 1:5). His mind that is blind (Jeremiah 51:17; Jeremiah 51:17; Ephesians 5:8). Vain Proverbs 14:12; Ephesians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 1:21). Foolish Titus 3:8; Isaiah 29:18; Job 11:12). His will rebellious and adverse (Revelation 8:7; Revelation 7:14; Revelation 6:12; Matthew 23:37; Jeremiah 18:12; Jeremiah 44:16-17). His memory marvellous weak and feeble (Luke 24:6, Hebrews 13:2; 2 Peter 3:5). His conscience that is benumbed Ephesians 4:19; Hebrews 9:14; Genesis 10:15). Turmoiled Joh 8:9; 1 John 3:20; Acts 2:37; Acts 24:26). Impure (Tit Hebrews 10:22). Superstitious and erroneous (Mark 10:19, Luke 18:12; Matthew 15:2-3; John 16:2). His affections areunruly and disordered; they stand quite cross and contrary unto God (Galatians 5:24; Romans 10:2; 1 Kings 22:8; 1 Kings 21:4; James 4:12). His outward members are all instruments of sin (Romans 6:18-19; Romans 3:13; Psalms 52:4; 1 Peter 2:24). (N. Rogers.)
The needy and helpful placed side by side in this world
We are accustomed to admire the wisdom and foresight that spread layers of iron ore and layers of coal near each other in the crust of the earth that the one might give the melting heat which the other needed; but the “Divine government is a much more minute and pervading thing The same Omniscient Provider has appointed each meeting between those who are in want and those who have abundance; and for the same reason, that the one may give what the other needs, and that both may be blessed in the deed. But He who lays the plan watches its progress, and is displeased when men do not take the opportunity that has been given. When He has brought the strong to the spot where the weak are lying He is displeased to see them pass by on the other side. (W. Arnot.)
Love not selective
The point on which attention is fixed is not, Who of all mankind have a right to receive kindness? but, Are you willing to show kindness, as far as you have opportunity, to every human being who is in need? The scribe desired to select a few who might rank as his neighbours, hoping that by limiting their number he might show kidness to each, without any substantial sacrifice of his own ease. The Lord shows him that love is like light: wherever it truly burns it shines forth in all directions, and falls on every object that lies in its way. Love that desires to limit its own exercise is not love. Love that is happier if it meet only one who needs help than if it met ten, and happiest if it meet none at all, is not love. One of love’s essential laws is expressed in those words of the Lord, that the apostles fondly remembered after He had ascended, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (W. Arnot.)
Brotherhood of men
A man was standing by a hole which had been excavated, in which workmen were engaged in tossing out the dirt that it might be enlarged, when suddenly it caved in, burying those at the bottom. He stood idly looking on, as those summoned to rescue the buried shovelled the dirt as rapidly as possible to reach the bodies below, until a woman started out of a shanty near by, and called out, “Jim, your own brother is down yonder!” He instantly stripped off coat and vest, and dug for dear life; and why? Because his brother was among those entombed. Our brothers are in danger, our brothers are deaf and dumb, our brothers have defective minds, our brothers have lost their reason; and we need the inspiration that will send us to work as vigorously as the man just described. Then we will say that no expenditure is too great for redemption of the erring, and no personal effort should be spared to reform the fallen. Those who are now under the power of sin, who are swelling the ranks of our criminals that become the burdens of society, need to be sought out and saved. (G. M. G. Dana.)
Martha received Him into her house
Christ’s visit to Martha and Mary
THE CONDUCT OF CHRIST IS TO BE CONSIDERED.
1. It is observable that as soon as He entered the house, He attended to the great work for which He came into the world.
2. It is further observable that Christ noticed the manner in which the two sisters were employed, and that the rule of his judgment was the claim of His doctrine upon their attention.
II. CONSIDER THE MOST PROMINENT PARTICULARS OF THE CONDUCT OF THE TWO SISTERS, BY WAY OF ILLUSTRATING THE GROUNDS OF OUR LORD’S REMARKS.
1. In Martha there was an error of judgment: not of that kind which proves the entire want of real piety, but which implies great oversight, and a disregard to existing circumstances.
2. She neglected a religious opportunity. Christ was travelling with His disciples, and hence His stay would be short. It was a privilege of rare occurrence to have Him as a guest. But by Martha it was neglected, and the reason was not one of necessity but of choice. It was not because affliction, or acts of mercy to others prevented her, but because she deprived herself by gratifying a useless inclination.
3. There was evil passion in her conduct. It was the warmth of her temper which prompted her to make the appeal, “Lord, dost Thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone?” She felt irritated because her sister did not think and act like herself. She measured her sister’s conduct by her own line, and hence her rash reflection on Mary’s composure.
III. MAKE A FEW OBSERVATIONS IN ORDER PERSONALLY TO IMPROVE THE SUBJECT.
1. The narrative evidently gives the highest importance to the concerns of the soul.
2. Let the examples set before us in the text be regarded as very instructive in this respect. One is an example by which we are warned against the evil of earthly-mindedness. Influenced in such a way the heart is in danger of being entangled so as not only to be kept from attending to what is better, but to think it strange that others should differ from ourselves. We sustain a serious loss without being sensible of it. The other is an example which we ought to imitate. In Mary we witness that readiness to hear Divine instruction, that improvement of a present opportunity, that subordination of temporal things to spiritual, which show the seriousness and correct preference of the mind--the purity and fervour of the affections. Hers was thinking and acting for eternity.
3. The narrative teaches us in what way we are to expect the notice and approbation of our Divine Redeemer. Not when pursuing our own plans, not when devoting ourselves to worldly concerns; but when honouring His word, when learning His will and seeking His grace. (Essex Congregational Remembrancer.)
Lessons from the incident at Bethany
I. CONSIDER THE DILIGENCE OF THE SAVIOUR IN THE IMPROVEMENT OF TIME. He goes about doing good. He always pays for His entertainment. In the parlour as well as the temple, He furnishes admonition and counsel. No sooner does He enter this house than we find Him teaching.
II. OBSERVE, HOW IMPROPER IT IS FOR A FOLLOWER OF THE LORD JESUS TO BE SENSUAL AND SELFISH. Mary who hears His word pleases Him better than Martha who prepares His meal: yea, Martha even grieves Him by her assiduity to entertain Him. He would rather feed than be fed.
III. SEE WHAT DIVERSITIES THERE ARE IN THE FOLLOWERS OF OUR LORD. Many things diversify the degree and the exercises of religion. Thus the stations in which Providence places good men differ; one shall be favourable to devotion, another shall afford less leisure and create more distraction. Constitutional complexion also has its influence. Thus some Christians are more inclined to contemplation and the shades; ether are formed for the active virtues. The difficulties which chill the timid serve only to rouse and animate the bold and courageous, Religion, like water, partakes a little of the nature of the soil over which it runs.
IV. WE MAY MEET WITH HINDRANCES IN RELIGION FROM THOSE WHO SHOULD BE OUR ASSISTANTS. Such are friends and relations. Michal ridicules the holy joy of David. A brother may discourage a brother. A sister may reproach and repel a sister. Our foes may be those of our own household. Yea, even by religious friends and relations we may sometimes be injured. They may be wanting in sympathy. They may censure and condemn our actions from ignorance of our circumstances and motives.
V. How ANXIOUS SOEVER WE MAY BE ABOUT MANY THINGS, ONE THING ALONE REALLY DESERVES OUR ATTENTION: “one thing is needful.” It is, hearing the Saviour’s words; it is, an attention to the soul; it is--religion. What? is nothing else necessary? Yes; many things. But, compared with this, they are less than nothing and vanity. Other things are accidentally needful--this is essentially so. Other things are occasionally needful-this is invariably so. Other things are partially needful--this is universally so-needful for prosperity and adversity; needful for the body and the soul; needful for time and eternity. Some things are needful fur some individuals, but not for others; but this is needful for all. (W. Jay.)
1. This passage suggests important cautions as to domestic, and all worldly affairs. The difficulty here is to pursue the proper medium--to pay sufficient attention to these matters, and yet not to carry that attention to an excessive and hurtful length. On the one hand, let all needful attention be paid by the pious mistresses of families to have everything in their house in a judicious, orderly, and comfortable state, according to the station of life in which they are placed; and let them conscientiously avoid all indolent, careless, and slovenly habits, as they would avoid bringing a scandal on their profession, and prejudicing the worldly against it. In describing the virtuous woman, Solomon says, “She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.” On the other hand, this care must not be carried to excess; it must not be the chief business; it ought to be managed so as not to interfere with, but to promote, the one thing needful. One breach of duty, in consequence of excessive domestic care, occurs when it is the means of preventing secret and family worship altogether, or of impeding their regular and calm exercise; and this is very similar to the situation to which Martha now reduced herself. Another sinful error, in this respect, is that of giving or requiring from servants more time and attention to the preparation of food, and to other family concerns, on the Lord’s-day, than is necessary.
2. Improve this passage as a test of your state and character. Ask yourselves, What has had the chief place in your thoughts--the world and its cares, or Christ and His salvation?
3. Consider the folly, guilt, and danger of neglecting the one thing needful, and the good portion.
4. Let me earnestly urge you all to make Mary’s choice. (James Foote, M. A.)
Mary and Martha
I. Let us clear the way, by a brief statement as to WHAT THESE SISTERS WERE NOT. It is clearly wrong to take them as representatives severally, of the worldly and heavenly sides of life. It was not for diligence in housewife’s tasks that our Lord took Martha to task, if He did take her to task; and it was not contemplative piety that He commended in Mary, if He really did commend her. Nothing is more striking, in the life we are called to follow, than the way in which we are taught to serve God. We are called to serve God, actively if possible, passively at any rate, but in any case to serve Him. Mere gazing, mere reading, mere listening, mere dreaming, have never prospered as forms of Christian life; and we can be certain that it was not for anything that could be so named that Mary was commended by the Lord. The Jaw for our spiritual life is, “Diligent in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” Martha served; Mary sat at His feet; and the Lord, by what tie said, did not put any mark of disapproval on Martha’s serving.
II. Let us try to gather up THE TRUE LESSONS OF THE INCIDENT.
1. Observe the word “also” in Luke 10:39. It refers to something that had gone before. She was Martha’s sister. It can hardly refer to that. Must not this be the meaning--she had joined with Martha in receiving their Guest, had taken part with Martha in the household tasks; and also, in addition to that, when all she considered needful was done, she sat at the Master’s feet.
2. Observe next, that what brought Martha with her complaint to Jesus, was not her sister’s freedom from service and neglect to fulfil her household duties, but just this--she was “cumbered with much service.”
A temporary entanglement with many things; a confession that she was unable to undertake her tasks. What we have to deal with is not her whole life, but a special and exceptional moment of it--that moment when Patience was not allowed to have its perfect work in her, when Care sat on the hearth. Caught in this moment of weakness, and weighed down by the very burden which her love had taken up, she stumbled at what seemed, but was not, the indifference of her sister, and came to the Lord and said, “Dost Thou not care that I am left to do all the work alone?”
3. Now let us turn to the words and meaning of the Lord. They are not to be taken as words in a sermon, but as words spoken in the quiet atmosphere of the house, with holy emphasis attached to them. “Dear Martha! Art thou troubled so? My coming has proved indeed a burden to thee. Do not suffer My coming to be a burden; do not trouble about many things for the table; one thing is enough for Me.” Then consider the words about Mary. Martha wanted our Lord to tell Mary to rise from sitting at His feet, and come and help in the preparation of the meal; she was grudging her the place she had taken. The Lord replies: “Oh Martha! only look. It is not the seat of honour; it is the lowliest place. It is at My feet. She has not taken thy place as head of the house, but simply the retired place, the place of a disciple, at My feet--the humblest place there was at the table. She has chosen that good place which shall not be taken from her.”
III. WHAT DO WE GAIN BY SURRENDERING THE OLD FAMILIAR INTERPRETATION?
1. We gain, first of all, an escape from the mere conventional reading of the story. We gain what painting does when taken from the monastic attitudes and golden halos which surround the heads of mediaeval martyrs, and get back to natural forms, to nature and to humanity.
2. And next, we gain an immense freshness in the reading and application of this story, instead of having to descend to lower levels of Christian truth. Mary and Martha are brought nearer and more akin to us, seem to be more certainly our own flesh and blood. (Alex. Macleod, D. D.)
“Now it came to pass, as they went, that they entered,” etc
In this we have two things observable--
1. The nature of the place, which Christ at this time turned into--“He entered into a certain village.”
2. The party that entertained Him, and took Him in upon His entering into the town--“A certain woman named Martha, received Him into her house.” To speak a word of the first, THE NATURE OF THE PLACE--“He entered into a certain village.” We see here that Christ did not only take care of cities and great towns. This was the temper and disposition of Christ, to condescend so far to such places as these are, for the scattering of His heavenly Word and doctrine amongst them.
And thus there is a very good reason for other ministers likewise to do, upon occasion, in divers regards.
1. Because here’s an opportunity of doing good, as well as elsewhere. There are souls to be saved in the villages, as well as in the great cities.
2. There’s encouragement of a man’s ministry in these, as well as in other places, and sometimes more. All religion is not compassed and comprehended within the walls of a city.
3. For a difference of gifts, and various improvements of those abilities which God pleases to dispense.
The second is THE PARTY THAT ENTERTAINED HIM. “And a certain woman named Martha received Him into her house.”
1. The protection and blessing which she was likely to receive from His person and presence with her. The presence of holy men casts a blessing upon the places where they are; which are in so much the greater safety and security for their sakes. As Jacob tells Laban, “God has blest thee since my coming to thee”; te-ragli, alms-foot; “since I set my foot within thy doors.” Such a Guest was Christ to Martha, a blessing and protection to her.
2. The benefit she should have from His instruction, and doctrine, and conversation, and communion with Him. “This day is salvation come to this house,” i.e., in the means (Luke 19:9).
3. The special love and affection which she bare unto Him by way of thankfulness, and requital to Him. It is said, “Jesus loved her” (John 11:5). And now she shows her love to Him again. She had taken Christ at first into her affections, and now she takes Him into her house.
It follows in the text: “And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his words.”
1. I say, Christ was here to good purpose, as indeed He was everywhere else. From whence we learn the like duty, and disposition, and practice, both ministers and others; where we see any coming forward in religion, to promote them, and bring them on further all we can. Thus did Christ here to these two sisters, Martha and Mary; He took occasion, from his presence with them, to establish them further in religion. Here there are divers rules which, by the way, are to be observed by us; as, namely these:
1. That we always carry about us a full heart. We should be full of heavenly meditations, that so we may the better be fitted for heavenly discourse.
2. We must also have respect to the company we converse withal. There’s a casting of pearls before swine; which our Saviour has given us warning of.
3. To time and season: “Everything is beautiful in its season,” and a word spoken then, “is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” The second is that which is expressed. The different entertainment of Him by these two sisters: Mary, she sat at His feet, and heard His word; but Martha, “she was cumbered about much serving.” We’ll speak to the carriage of them both, etc.
1. Of the carriage of Mary: “She sat at His feet, and heard His word.” Wherein we have divers things observable of us.
1. Here was her wise improvement of the opportunity for the good of her soul. She was not sure to have Christ always, therefore she would make use of Him while she had Him.
2. “She sat at His feet.” Here’s another expression of her carriage; which has also its several intimations contained in it; as especially these two:
1. Her reverence and composedness of carriage and quietness of mind. A roving and unsettled hearer can never be a good hearer Psalms 46:10). For this purpose we should come with preparation and premeditation aforehand; labouring to disburden our minds of those cumbrances which are apt to molest us.
2. Here was her humility: “She sat at His feet.” We have many hearers sometimes which do not sit at the feet, but rather at the head of their teachers; which will be teaching those which should teach them (Colossians 2:18).
3. She heard His word. She attended to the things which were spoken; as is said of Lydia.
2. Delight. She had a sweet savour and relish of them, and complacency in them.
3. Reposition. She retained them, and laid them up in her heart. And thus much for the carriage of Mary.
The second is, Martha’s carriage herself, which was very different from it.
1. I say, Here is her own behaviour for for her own particular: “She was cumbered about much serving:” that is, in the friendly entertainment of Christ’s person. But, accordingly as it is here qualified in her; so it had somewhat which was vicious in it.
1. Luxury and excess. She was too large in her entertainments. It may be she provided more than was fitting for such a time.
2. Curiosity for the manner. “She was cumbered” about it. She was too punctual, and curious, and exact in her preparations, that she thought nothing good enough.
3. There was a turbulency and unquietness of spirit. Sometimes it proceeds from unskilfulness; as those things which people have no skill in, they are troublesome to them to go about them. Sometimes it proceeds from unaccustomedness; as those things which they are not used to, they are disquieting when they undertake them. But more especially, it does arise from a weakness and impotency of mind. And so much for her own behaviour. The second thing here considerable, is the censure of her sister’s carriage; yea, upon the point of Christ Himself: wherein also there were many weaknesses and infirmities involved at once.
1. There was a spice of pride and vain-gloriousness in her obsequiousness: “Lord, dost Thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone?” As who should say, Dost Thou not take notice of how much pains I take to entertain Thee? While she finds fault with her sister, she does implicitly commend herself; which is oftentimes the end of such speeches. She saw she outstripped her sister in this service, and now she would needs be commended for it. The remedies of this distemper are these:
(1) A reflection upon our weaknesses and failings other ways.
(2) A consideration that all we do, is a due debt.
(3) That others may be better in other respects, &c. That’s the first.
2. Here was a spice of envy and censoriousness of her sister’s forwardness in religion: “Lord, dost Thou not take care that my sister,” &c. Here was a quarrelling and contending with her sister; as one weakness brings in another. From pride comes contention (Proverbs 13:10). And this is joined with envy, and censure, and emulation. She would needs be thought the best of the two, and she pleased herself in her own good performances; and hence falls upon her sister. And where there’s one neglects the world for the looking after their souls, there are hundreds which lose their souls for attending too much upon the world. And that’s a second infirmity here observable.
3. Here was a spice also of impiety, in interrupting the good discourse of Christ. Those which have no mind to listen themselves, when they come at any time to the hearing of the Word; they are the forwardest to distract others: and those which care not themselves to discourse, will not suffer others to do it neither.
4. Here was a great deal of incivility in her carriage to her Guest Himself; a great deal of fondness, and trespassing upon the rules of hospitality; and that in sundry particulars, that we may see the unseasonableness of this passion in this pious woman.
1. She does here commend her own diligence and care of entertainment--“I am left alone to serve.” What a sad thing is this! As she desired to be commended by Christ, which we spake of before; so, for want of it, she commends herself for her own attendance: this was absolutely contrary to the rules of hospitality and entertainment.
2. Which was as bad on the other side; she finds fault with her Guest, and picks a quarrel with Him, which now was a stranger to her. This was another trespass upon entertainment.
3. She puts Christ, which was a stranger, upon finding fault with His own entertainment, which was another ridiculous business. For though Christ, as He was in His proper person, might justly find fault with anything; yet, take him now under the notion of a Guest, here it was not so proper for Him.
4. There was this incivility and disrespect to Christ her Guest, and so a trespass upon hospitality; that she wrangles with her sister in His presence, which was very unseemly. (J. Horton.)
1. Here is the reprehension itself; He checks and reproves Martha: and thus it may be amplified to us according to a various and different apprehension and notion, in which we may here look upon her: and that especially threefold.
(1) As she was a good and godly woman.
(2) As she was a kind and friendly woman.
(3) As a woman beloved.
1. She was good, and yet Christ reproves her, and checks her, where she was now amiss. Whence we note; that even those which are good, are to be reproved when they do that which is evil. And good reason for it: For--
(1) The goodness of the person does not change the nature of the action. Sin is no better than sin, whosoever they be that commit it.
2. The goodness of the person sometimes makes the action worse.
3. Those which are good may be better; and this is a means so to make them; therefore the rather to be reproved in this regard. Indeed, in the reproof of good persons, there are some cautions which are fit to be observed.
(1) That we be sure to reprove them for that which is evil, and no 1 Samuel 1:14).
(2) We must do it with another kind of spirit, than those which are commonly profane persons; looking upon them as brethren and sisters in Christ.
(3) So order the business as near as we can, that our reproof of good persons may not reflect upon goodness itself.
2. We may look upon her as a friendly woman. She was one that entertained Christ; took Him into her house. Whence we note, that the receiving of courtesies from any persons, does not discharge us from our duty towards them; where, by our place and occasions, we are called to the reproving of them.
This, then, it serves, for the use of it, to meet briefly with two sorts of persons.
1. With people, who think by their courtesies sometimes to stop the ministers mouths where they show any testimony of respect and kindness.
2. It meets also with some ministers: their pusillanimity and lowness of spirit in this regard, which are silent, and meal-mouthed, where at any time they receive courtesies, and will not reprove where things are amiss. The second is the matter of reproof, or the thing which He reproves her for: “Thou art careful, and troubled about many things.”
In which passage of Christ’s to her, there are divers particulars couched, as reprovable in this good woman.
1. Here was a mistake in her, and misapprehension of Christ Himself. She did not judge aright of Him in this particular. That we are all apt, by nature, to think we please Christ most, when we abound in outward services and performances to Him. Martha, because she stirred herself in the entertainment of Christ in her house, therefore she thinks she has now quitted herself, though she neglect, and let pass His doctrine.
2. Another thing reprovable here in Martha, was, as a misapprehension of Christ, so a misplacing of her own affections. She looked after that which was but trivial, and nothing to speak of, the providing of her feast, etc., and neglected the main chance of all, which was the word of Christ. “Thou art careful, and troubled about many things”; where that which expresses “many things” is in the Greek τὰ πολλὰ; that is, ordinary, and common, and vulgar things, τὰ τυχόνζα. And here we learn thus much; that it is a great fault in Christians, and those who are professors of religion, to have their minds and thoughts taken up about slight and trivial matters Colossians 3:2).
This minding of such things is very unfitting in these respects.
1. In regard of the unsuitableness of these things to their minds; they are things below a Christian spirit. Take an heart which is sanctified by grace, sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ, has the Spirit of God dwelling in it; and how far are these outward things inferior to it? as much, and a great deal more, than the sports and pastimes of children are to the thoughts of grown and grave men.
2. Because they have better, and other things to take their minds up.
3. Because they little conduce to that end to which themselves are appointed. Our main end is a better life, and to be fitted and prepared for that. The third and last thing which Christ seems here to tax in Martha, is her solicitude and distraction of spirit and excess in this business.
1. Here was her excess and superfluity, in the word “many things,” as a note of variety. Christ did not find fault with her hospitality, but she was too curious, and superfluous in it. We are very ready and subject to over-shoot ourselves in things lawful and necessary, and to go beyond our bounds in them. And this now leads us to the second thing, which is the last observable in this verse; and that is, Martha’s solicitude and distraction.
First, she was cumbered. Secondly, she was careful. Thirdly, she was troubled.
1. Distraction, it does noway further or promote “Which of you, by taking” care, can add one cubit to his stature? (Matthew 6:27).
2. Distraction, it does very much hinder, and put back; both formally, and demeritoriously; forasmuch as it weakens the mind, and makes it unfit for service.
3. Distraction, it does contract a great deal of guilt with it. It is a very vicious and inordinate affection, as that which casts a disparagement upon His promises and care over His people. For this purpose, it may be very pertinent to consider both the causes and remedies of this distemper; and the one will very fitly and pertinently follow upon the other.
The causes of it are partly these:
1. Sometimes a dependence too much upon outward means. He which trusts to outward means, will be distracted; because these, they oftentimes fail, and give a man the slip.
2. A limiting of God’s providence to such a particular way. This is another thing which causes distraction.
3. An over-prizing and over-valuing such a project and design. Our distractions are oftentimes according to our estimations; where we make too much of anything, it will be sure to trouble us, when it falls contrary to us. Lastly. A special cause of distraction is a special sickness which is upon the soul in this regard: weak things are apt to be unquiet; and frowardness, it causes trouble. Now, the remedies against distraction are likewise these:
1. A commending of ourselves and our ways to God by prayer
2. A consideration of our call to such and such businesses and ways which we fall into.
3. A meditation on the promises which God has made in such and such conditions. (J. Horton.)
But one thing is necessary, or needful
This is the one thing which is necessary. And here there are two things further to be explained. First, how this is said to be “one thing.” And, secondly, how this, alone, is said to be necessary, as if none were so but this.
1. How it is said to be but one. For if we speak of spiritual matters, we know that there are divers and sundry things of this nature, and they have their varieties in them. There is the Spirit of God, and there is the Kingdom of God. These, they are not one, blot many, in the kinds and in the operations of them. To this we answer: That these all, they come to one, and tend to one purpose in conclusion.
1. This is that which is most noble and excellent in its own nature, that is mainly and principally to be regarded, and looked after by us; which, of all other things, is most noble and excellent, considered in itself. It is that which does indeed excel all the comforts and contentments of this world; they are nothing in comparison with it. There is an emptiness and a defectiveness in them, and such as will be unable to satisfy at another day: whereas this, it makes a man fully and completely happy. Now, this is this “one thing” in the text. It can be least spared of all other things besides.
2. It is of the greatest influence, and extent, and usefulness to us; it is that which we have occasion for in the whole course and compass of our lives, and we cannot properly do anything without it. It manages all callings, and all providences, and all affairs whatsoever they be. And a man cannot carry himself in them so decently, and as becomes him, that wants it. That man that neglects his soul, there is nothing else which can be well minded by him.
3. It is of the greatest continuance and duration.
4. This is also the main purpose for which every man was sent into the world; therefore it is mainly to be regarded and looked after by him. For this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should live according to the truth.
The consideration of this point may be thus far useful to us.
1. To teach us where especially to spend our chiefest thoughts and endeavours. And that is, upon this one thing, which is so needful and necessary for us, as we have heard it is. We see hero where to begin, and fasten our studies:
1. To take care of necessaries, before we take care of superfluities. We count him to be a madman, in reference to the world, who looks after flowers, and pictures, and music, and such things as these; and, in the meantime, suffers himself to starve, and want bread. Well, there is a time coming when things will appear in another kind of view than now they do; when this “one thing needful” will appear to be needful indeed. Now, therefore, this is that which in the first place we should work ourselves into; an apprehension of the necessity of religion. The way hereunto is first of all to get a spiritual favour and relish and appetite in us; what makes men to think meat to be needful, but because their stomachs call for it from them, and their mouths crave it at their hands? And so, what is that which makes men to think grace to be necessary? It is because they have gracious dispositions in them, which accordingly we must labour for. This will make us, with the prophet David, to think the word of God to be to us as our necessary and appointed food.
2. Labour to be convinced of the vanity and insufficiency of the creature. This will make us to think one thing necessary; that is religion, and nothing else. For, it may be, we think it necessary; but other things as necessary as that; and this divides our cares about it.
3. Get our hearts freed from those lusts and corruptions which are in them, and are apt to prevail over them; that’s another way to make us to mind this one thing necessary. A covetous heart wilt never prize this “one thing,” nor care for attaining unto it. Secondly. Seeing “one thing is need-rid,” we should therefore not only mind this “one thing” itself, but also mind everything else in reference to that one.
We should make all our projects, and actions, and undertakings, subordinate and subservient hereunto; whatever we do, we should examine what connection it hath with this; how it furthers our salvation? how it advances the glory of God?
1. In matters of doctrine, and opinion, look at the” one thing needful” here. There are many frivolous and unnecessary disputes which the world sometimes is troubled withal; which take up men’s heads, and minds, and divert them from better things. They never consider the influence or extent of those things which they hold, as to the making of a man better or worse; but indifferently rush upon them without any heed or regard at all.
2. In the duties and exercises of religion, look still at the one thing which is needful; and that according to the particular nature and quality of them. There are many religious performances, which have that which is merely accessory to them. In prayer, to pray in the Holy Ghost; in hearing, to receive the word with meekness; in fasting, to afflict the soul; in communicating, to feed upon Christ; and so of the rest.
3. In our employments and the works of our ordinary callings let us have an eye also still to this; consider what that is which is principally required of us. Lastly. In all the several passages and contrivances and occasions in the whole course of our lives, let us still have a regard to that which is of greatest concernment. Again, further, take it in men’s dwellings, and the contrivances of their habitations; they should still look at that which is most needful, not only as to corporal or secular accommodations, but as to spiritual. Men commonly look at the goodness of the air, at the convenience of the soil, at the pleasantness of the situation; what it is for trade, what it is for health, what it is for pleasure; and it may not be amiss in them to do so. But is there nothing else to be regarded by them, but only these? or, are these the chief, and the principal? What are the means for Heaven? and salvation? and spiritual improvements? So again likewise for marriage, and the altering of men’s conditions in the world, what is the one thing needful? The third is this: that feeling but one thing is needful, we should therefore take heed of all needless and frivolous distractions in ourselves.
4. We learn from hence how to judge both of others, and likewise of ourselves. If there be but “one thing” which is needful, let us see what we are, according to the abiding, and the abounding of this “one thing” in us. We commonly reckon of ourselves from other qualifications and endowments. No, but let us do it rather by this. No, but we count him a rich man, that has a great deal of gold, and silver, and jewels, and plate, and the like. And so it is here in this particular, as to the whole compass of happiness; he is not so happy a man that does abound with outward accommodations as he that doth abound with the excellencies of grace, and the adorning of the inward man. All perfections besides, without these, am very imperfect; and such as being truly considered, are of no account at all. Lastly. Seeing “one thing is needful,” we have here also a very good account of God’s dealings and proceedings with His people here in the world, as a special ground and argument of satisfaction, and contentation unto them. Seeing He provides this one thing for them, they have no cause to murmur against Him, as to some outward and worldly deprecations. Again, further, this may also satisfy us in all the hard and severe courses which God seems sometimes to take with His children, when He lays His corrections upon them here in this life, as a means to work out their corruptions, and to prepare them for an heavenly condition: all this is needful and necessary, and such as can not be well omitted. Physic, it is as needful as health, which is procured by it. That the way to be freed from superfluous cares, is to divert, and so turn to necessary. The looking after salvation will take men off from distraction about the world and the things that belong thereunto. This we gather from the course which was taken by our Saviour with Martha in her present condition, who suggests this unto her as that which was most seasonable for her. This it does upon a twofold account.
1. As it is another thing; and so it does it by way of interruption.
2. As it is a greater thing; and so it does it by way of absorption.
1. I say, as it is another thing; and so it does it by way of interruption. Diversions, they break the force of anything, and cheek it in its full pursuit. As inordinate bleeding in one part is cured by opening of a vein in another, and the violence of it is stopped by revulsion; even so it is here.
2. As it is a greater thing, and so it does it by way of absorption, and swallowing up; the greater devours the less. As when a man is in care about his life, he forgets some small and petty matter that troubled him; even so it is here. When men are made sensible of the concernments of their souls and their future salvation, other matters do not so closely stick by them as otherwise they would. This, it serves to give us account of so much inordinacy as there is in the world. Therefore we are commonly troubled about many things because this one thing is so neglected by us.
We should still have this sentence in our remembrance--that “one thing is needful” and we should accordingly be affected with it.
1. By way of specification: Seeing there is “one thing needful,” therefore be sure to mind that; and, at the least, not to neglect it.
2. By way of order: Seeing it is the “ one thing needful “therefore take care of that first; mind religion afore anything else.
3. By way of measure and degree: Seeing it is the “ one thing needful,’ therefore give it the greatest care and endeavour. And to make it full and complete, let us take it also in its fall latitude and extent. Religion, it is the “one thing needful,” and it is needful for all persons, and all ages, and all conditions. It is needful for people in their youth to look after their souls then, and to begin with God. And it is needful for people in their old age, that so they may end their days in peace, and exchange this life for a better. (J. Horton.)
And Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her
1. Here is His judgment itself, which is in a way of praise and commendation; “Mary hath chosen that good part.” Christ commends Mary for her choice. Where there are divers things observable of us. We will take them as they offer themselves to us to be handled by us.
1. We learn from hence thus much: That it is the commendation of a Christian to make choice of such ways as are best and most approvable to Christ. If there be any way better than other in the course and tenour of his life, to be sure to pitch and fasten upon that. This is also commendable in every one else besides, and that upon these following grounds.
1. It is an argument of a good and sound judgment; it is an argument of persons well grounded and principled in religion, and that know what belongs unto it.
2. It is an argument also of a gracious and savoury spirit. Men choose commonly according to their affections, and there is much of their spirit in those things which they fasten upon. We may see what is within them, and what principles they are acted by, according to that which they make choice of. A spiritual heart is most affected with spiritual objects, and places its greatest delight and contentment in such things as these.
3. It is an argument of some courage and self-denial and resolution of mind. For the better part, it is not commonly without opposition and resistance in the world. Lastly. It is also an argument of an elect and chosen vessel. It is a sign that God has chosen us, when we choose Him, and such ways as these, which are good and pleasing to Him. We see in other matters for the world, how careful men are (what they are able) to make the best choice that may be, and there is nothing good enough for them, so exact and curious are they. And how much rather should they then choose the best in spiritual matters. The way hereunto is first of all to beg direction of God Himself for the guiding of us. Alas! we are but fools of ourselves without His Spirit to teach us, and therefore we must have recourse to Him.
2. We must also seriously weigh and compare one thing with another. Good election, it proceeds from good deliberation.
3. Take in the advice and experience of wellgrounded and experienced Christians to help us. Lastly. To labour to be acquainted with the power of religion ourselves. Religion, it is a matter of election; it is not a business of chance, but a business of choice. We are not to be carried only by others principles, but by principles of our own, not only to take the better part, but to choose the better part; that is, to take it out of a liking of it, and out of an affection to it; at least, to do so at last, and before we have done. And, further, they have also more delight and contentment in it. That which is forced, it is commonly burdensome, and men undertake it with a great deal of reluctancy, and are not themselves in it. But that which comes from them upon their own choosing, it is so much a great deal more pleasing and acceptable to them. We do not hereby advance the power of nature, as if we could do it of ourselves, without the grace of God assisting us; for that we cannot do. In the last place, we may here take notice of the object itself here propounded--“that good part.” For the better opening of this point unto you I shall briefly do two things.
1. Show you what, in religion, may be lost and taken away from us. And--
2. What may net. For somewhat is considerable in both.
1. For what may be lost. And we may take it in these particulars.
(1) The outward means of salvation, that may be sometimes lost, and taken away.
(2) Liberty of outward profession, and expression of the several graces of the Spirit, that may be restrained also.
(3) The sense and feeling of grace in us, that may also be taken away, and removed from us--we may lose that. Now, further--
2. (which is more proper to the text) We may here consider what it is which cannot. Now, sure it holds good of religion that it cannot be taken away, as is here expressed in this particular case of Mary.
(1) In regard of its root and principle--This “ shall not be taken away.” Thus Job intimates of himself, when he was deprived almost of everything else; yet, that the “root of the matter was found in Job 19:28). And (Isaiah 6:10) a godly man is compared to an oak, “whole substance is in him, when he casts his leaves.” The second is in regard of its operations and effects which it works in the heart. The better part shall not be taken away thus; it still leaves somewhat behind it, which is sure to stick fast.
(3) In regard of its reward and recompense both here in this life, and in another world; it shall not be taken away so neither. (J. Horton.)
Martha and Mary
Some are full of fever and excitement; some live in the shade.
1. The essence of the Christian religion is, that it is a religion of receiving. Martha was studious of giving; Mary, of receiving. Both had reference to Christ; nevertheless, Martha was reproved, while Mary was praised. Now, brethren, be persuaded of this--those please God most who take in most, and dwell in the calm contemplation of His glory till we reflect something of His likeness.
2. But the difference between Martha and Mary did not, after all, lie so much in what they did, as in the spirit in which they did it. Martha worked anxiously. Mary’s mind rested. Had Martha gone about all her business with a heart quiet and at ease, I do not suppose that she would ever have been reproved. Now what is the great end for which Jesus lived and died--the end of ends, next to the glory of God? That you may have peace--that the soul of the sinner may be quiet, and rested, and happy. Christ had more pleasure in Mary’s peace than He had in Martha’s work.
3. But once more. Mary had learnt to do what Martha could not do-to concentrate her mind. She could gather all to one single point, and that point was Christ. It is impossible to suppose that Martha had not several motives as she bustled about that day in the house. Was not she thinking about who was looking at her? Had not she some desire for admiration? Were not there some grovelling feelings, and some unnecessary cares? “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things.” (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Martha and Mary
I. THE MARTHA SPIRIT IS VERY PREVALENT IN THE CHURCH at this period--prevalent in some quarters to a mischievous degree, and among us all toa perilous extent.
1. There is a considerable tendency among Christian people, in serving Christ, to aim at making a fair show in the flesh. Jesus would be better pleased with a grain of love than a heap of ostentatious service.
2. The Martha spirit shows itself in the censuring of those persons who are careful about Christ’s word, who stand up for the doctrines of the gospel, who desire to maintain the ordinances as they were delivered unto them and who are scrupulous and thoughtful, and careful concerning the truth as it is in Jesus. Mary, treasuring Up every word of Christ, Mary, counting each syllable a pearl, is reckoned to be unpractical, if not altogether idle. Contemplation, worship, and growth in grace are not unimportant. I trust we shall not give way to the spirit which despises our Lord’s teaching, for if we do, in prizing the fruit and despising the root we shall lose the fruit and the root too. In forgetting the great well-spring of holy activity, namely, personal piety, we shall miss the streams also.
3. The Martha spirit crops up in our reckoning so many things necessary. To bring us back to first principles, “one thing is needful,” and if by sitting at Jesus’ feet we can find that one thing, it will stand us in better stead than all the thousand things which custom now demands. To catch the Spirit of Christ, to be filled with Himself, this will equip us for godly labour as nothing else ever can.
4. The censurable quality in the Martha spirit appears in the satisfaction which many feel with mere activity. To have done so much preaching, or so much Sunday-school teaching, to have distributed so many tracts, to have made so many calls by our missionaries, all this seems to be looked at as end rather than means. If there be so much effort put forth, so much work done, is it not enough? Our reply is, It is not enough, it is nothing without the Divine blessing.
5. Once more, Martha’s spirit is predominant in the Church of God to a considerable extent now, in the evident respect which is paid to the manifest, and the small regard which is given to the secret.
II. THE MARTHA SPIRIT INJURES TRUE SERVICE.
1. It brings the least welcome offering to Christ.
2. It brings self too much to remembrance.
III. THE MARY SPIRIT. I have to show you that it is capable of producing the noblest form of consecration to Christ. Its noblest results will not come just yet. Martha’s fruits ripen very quickly, Mary’s take time. While she was sitting at Christ’s feet, she was forming and filling the springs of action. You are not losing time while you are feeding the soul. While by contemplation you are getting purpose strengthened and motive purified, you are rightly using time. When the man becomes intense, when he gets within him principles vital, fervent, energetic, then when the season for work comes he will work with a power and a result which empty people can never attain, however busy they may be. If the stream flows at once, as soon as ever there is a shower, it must be little better than a trickling rivulet; but if the current stream is dammed up, so that for awhile nothing pours down the river bed, you will in due time, when the waters have gathered strength, witness a torrent before which nothing can stand. Mary was filling up the fountain head, she was listening and learning, feeding, edifying, loving, and growing strong. The engine of her soul was getting its steam ready, and when all was right her action was prompt and forcible.
1. The manner of her action was being refined. Her estimate of Christ was truer than Martha’s. Those who think not, who meditate not, who commune not with Christ, will do commonplace things very well, but they will never rise to the majesty of a spiritual conception, or carry out a heart-suggested work for Christ.
2. That sitting of Mary was also creating originality of act. Martha is in a hurry to be doing something--she does what any other admirer of Jesus would do, she prepares meat and a festival; but Mary does what but one or two besides herself would think of--she anoints Him, and is honoured in the deed. She struck out a spark of light from herself as her own thought, and she cherished that spark till it became a flaming act. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Martha; or, thoughts on the active life
The name of Martha suggests to the minds of most of us, I fancy, the thought of an anxious, troubled, and perhaps a somewhat fussy woman, with a short temper and a hasty tongue. That I think is the picture that many of us have drawn of Martha in our own minds. But you must remember that there is something to be said on the other side, something to be said on Martha’s behalf; and while we do not shut our eyes to Martha’s faults, we may learn something from that which is recorded to her credit. Martha, herself, the managing spirit of the household, is the person who invites the Lord Jesus Christ to come and take His abode for a season in her house. And here let me say that it is a happy thing when a strong mind and a vigorous will are turned in the right direction, and employed for the right purpose. It is something to be thankful for if we have such qualities as a strong mind and a vigorous will to present to the Lord for His service; and although these are not unfrequently coupled with an ungentleness and hastiness which are net altogether lovely, nay, may sometimes be repulsive and painful, yet let us acknowledge the fact that God can utilize that element in our temperament which Satan seeks to abuse, and that where a strong will and a vigorous determination may be employed by the devil with the worst possible results, such natural characteristics, dedicated to the service and glory of God, may prove of priceless value. Now we must remember that Martha had to face a good deal in inviting Jesus Christ into her household. The test was a severe one to her, because it was to try her in her weakest point. There were thirteen hungry men to be provided for, and then no doubt some of the neighbours would also be expecting an invitation to meet this Jesus, who had come among them, and about whom there was so much talk. Perhaps, too, there may have been other unpleasant consequences that she may have had to think about. Jesus Christ not unfrequently may have seemed a troublesome guest, in other ways besides those that I have referred to. His presence may sometimes have exposed people to an amount of hostile criticism and censure which they would fain have avoided. One thing is clear, she was a brave woman, whatever faults she may have had. It required a good deal of moral courage to invite this much-maligned and much-abased Man into her house, and to treat Him as a loved and honoured guest. But Martha’s courage was equal to the occasion. And, my dear friends, we too shall find it no light matter to receive Jesus into our hearts and into our homes. And it is as well that we should clearly understand what the consequences may be if we take so important a step. The question will have to be asked over and over again, “Is this and that in accordance with the mind of Him whom we have received and welcomed as our guest?” for we must bear in mind that wherever Christ goes He declines to occupy a subordinate position. It is possible for some of you to do what Martha did. You may be the means of introducing Jesus Christ into your household; and although His presence may cause a disturbance, just think what an honour it is to be the means of introducing the King of kings and Lord of lords into the household which belongs to Him, but which has not previously recognized His claims. Think of the beneficent results that may flow from your action--how the purifying and elevating influences of the Divine Presence may reach one person after another, until at last you can look around with holy joy, and exclaim, “ As for me and my house we now serve the Lord.” Not long since, at the close of a mission that I had conducted in the North of England, a gentleman, a man of property, returned to his country house, from the large l own where I was working, a changed man. On his arrival he summoned into his dining-room all his household, servants and all; and standing up before them all, he addressed them to this effect: “My dear friends, I have to confess with shame and sorrow that this has not been hitherto a Christian household it has not been regulated upon Christian principles. I, as your master, have not been setting you a Christian example; but, on the contrary, all my influence has been thrown into the wrong scale. I cannot express the amount of sorrow I feel as I look back over the past. But I have called you all together to tell you that, through God’s mercy, a great change has taken place in me, and now my supreme desire is that this household should be a Christian household, and that all that is done in it should be done just as the Lord would have it done.” Turning to the butler, he said, “We have never hitherto had family prayers; but now understand that at such an hour in the morning, and such an hour in the evening, you ring the bell, and we will all gather together and acknowledge God in our family.” And he added, “Be sure you make no difference; whoever may be in the house, whether they be worldly or whether they be religious people, make no distinction. From this time forth Jesus Christ must be Master in this household; we have ignored and dishonoured Him too long.” It must have needed some courage, no doubt, to make such a declaration as that. But oh! do you not think he had his reward in the joy and satisfaction he must have felt as he knelt for the first time, surrounded by his family,” at the feet of a reconciled God, and thus publicly received Jesus into his house? And remember you may be the means of introducing Christ into your household, even if you be not at its head. The humblest member of the family, or even one of the servants, may be the means of bringing Christ in, and by and by the influence and effect of His presence may be recognized and felt by all. Dear friends, do you think Martha ever regretted receiving Jesus Christ into her house? Martha received Jesus, but little did she know, when she did so, how soon she was to stand in terrible need of His sympathy and comfort and help! Ah, dear friends, sweet are such uses of such adversity as this I blessed are the sorrows that bring out such new and fresh revelations of our wealth in Christi It is only this that can make our sorrows fruitful of good. But it is time that we should look at the other side. So far we have been saying all we could in Martha’s favour, but we must not shut our eyes upon her faults; for there is much to be learned from considering the faults and failings even of those whose hearts are in the right place, if we approach the consideration of these in the spirit of charity and humility. It is evident that Martha got some harm as well as some good out of Jesus’ visit; for she seems here to be sadly flustered and flurried, and even somewhat peevish and irritable. She seems indeed to have been out of temper with the Master as well as with her sister, and to have implied some little reproach on Him as well as on Mary. But why all this disturbance and irritation? Surely it all came of this, that she was thinking more of serving Christ than of pleasing Him. If she had paused to reflect, she must have seen that a sharp, half-reproachful word, and the obvious loss of composure and temper, would cause the Master a good deal more pain than the best-served meal in the world could give Him pleasure. She was busy about Christ, but she failed to enter into sympathy with Christ. Here we have a very important lesson taught us, and one that we need to have impressed upon our minds as Christians and as Christian workers. Our object in life should not he so much to get through a great deal of work, as to give perfect satisfaction to Him for whom we are doing the work. If Martha had looked at things from His point of view she would have felt differently about Mary, differently about those household cares that were troubling her. But Martha in her attempts to serve Christ, though scarcely conscious of it, was really serving herself. Her great desire was, that everything should pass off well. Everything was to be clean and tidy, and well served and well managed, so that nobody should make any unfavourable criticism upon the whole entertainment. We are bound to offer Christ our very best, and nothing done for Him should be done in a slovenly, slip-shod, negligent way, as if anything were good enough for God. She was right in her principle, and yet she failed in carrying it out, and in that failure denied her Guest the very thing that pleased Him best. Martha is quite indignant, and doesn’t care to conceal it. And you know people of her class, while they are very useful in a Church, and do a great deal of work, are very frequently indeed, like Martha, somewhat short-tempered. They have a great deal of energy, and a great deal of enthusiasm; but when things do not go exactly as they wish, the hasty word soon slips out, and the unpleasant thought is harboured, and that soon takes all the joy and all the blessing out of Christian work. How often is the work of the Church marred by this hasty spirit, and the Master is grieved in our very attempts to honour Him! And the same spirit, still, I fear, not unfrequently mars a useful life, and desecrates our sanctities. Yes, there is something better than service; there is something grander than doing. It is well to serve; but better still to offer acceptable service. It is well to do; but it is better still to do things in the right way. Martha had her own idea of what the right way was, and it was a worldly idea. What Martha needed was sympathy with Jesus Christ’s spirit, to come within the charmed circle of His inner life--to understand His object and aims, to appreciate His longing desire, not to feed Himself with outward food, but to feed a famishing world with the revelation of God in His human form; to reciprocate His spiritual desires for those He sought to lift to a high and heavenly level of experience. This was where Martha went wrong, and this where Mary went right. As it was, Mary chose the good part which could not be taken from her, and Martha missed it, and by her very conduct showed that the Master was right in describing that good part as the one thing needful. Christian workers, let us learn our lesson. It is not enough to receive Jesus into our homes and into our lives--this we must do before anything else--but we need to sit at His feet, to gaze on His spiritual beauty, to hear His words, to yield ourselves wholly to His spiritual influence. Thus, and only thus, shall we find ourselves possessed of the one thing needful; and while hands or feet or brain are busy--or while all are busy together--there shall be a great calm within; there will be speed without feverish haste, and activity without bustle, and our work shall become sabbatic, and our lives an unbroken sanctity. Whatever happens let us not be too busy to sit at Jesus’ feet. (W. H.Aitken, M. A.)
Mary; or, the contemplative life
These two sisters have been regarded, and rightly regarded, it seems to me, as illustrating to us, in their character, two contrasted elements of spiritual experience. Martha represents the active life, and Mary represents the contemplative life. For we know, and do let us bear in mind, that Christian work in itself is intensely interesting; indeed, there is nothing morn likely to become engrossing. We all know how absorbed men may become in their own special pursuits. For instance, we have read about Sir Isaac Newton, and how absorbed he used to be in his mathematical and astronomical researches until he was scarcely able to give a thought to the common duties and circumstances of life, but used frequently to make the most ridiculous blunders about commonplace things, because he took so profound an interest in, and was so fully occupied with, his own great discoveries. And so it is with other branches of knowledge. When men devote their attention to a particular branch of knowledge or science, it becomes a sort of passion, and they no longer find it necessary to stimulate themselves to exertion in that particular; rather they have to check or curb themselves, in order to prevent their minds from becoming too deeply absorbed in their favourite studies. And it sometimes happens that when the mind is given over to some special pursuit, interest in their work becomes so keen that men seem to lose all power of checking themselves, and their brains go on working, as it were, automatically, when they don’t intend them to be working at all. I well remember some years ago hearing a touching story of a late Cambridge professor, who was one of the greatest Greek scholars of our time. For some few months before he died he was advised by his friends to shut up his books, give up his studies, and go as much as possible into social life, in order that he might be drawn away from those subjects in which his mind had become so absorbed that his constitution was impaired; indeed, he was threatened with softening of the brain. On one occasion he was in a drawing-room, surrounded by cheerful company, when a half-sad smile passed over his countenance as he observed to a friend, “What is the use of you shutting up my books and not allowing me to work? While I have been here I have traced the derivations of three distinct Greek words, and detected their connection with certain Sanscrit roots.” Such was the force of his ruling passion. Now if we can become so absorbed in intellectual researches, is it a wonder that we should become even more absorbed in those higher pursuits in which it is the privilege of Christian people to engage? To be doing God’s work; to be endeavouring to make people happy; to be the means of regenerating human hearts and lives, and of reforming the homes of the vicious and degraded; to be restoring those that are fallen, and rescuing those that are tempted--is not this necessarily a most engrossing work, and one that should employ all our energies? It is well, my friends, indeed it is necessary, that we should be interested; for no man ever yet did anything well until he threw his whole heart into it and felt an interest in it. Yet in this very interest lies the danger; for may not the work become everything to us, and He for whom we work be allowed to fall into the background, and eventually be almost forgotten? Nor is it only our work that suffers. We suffer ourselves; for our very work has practically clipped in between us and the Lord for whom we are working, and thus becomes to us, instead of a means of grace, drawing us nearer to God, on the contrary, rather a barrier between ourselves and God. How shall we guard against this error? Yon medieval monastic would reply, “ Give up your work, tear yourself away from the activity of life, seclude yourself in the desert; and then you will be able to enjoy the fellowship of Christ and to enter upon the life of vision, the mystical blessedness of apprehension of the Divine.” That is one answer; but it is not such as is given here, and we know what it has brought about in bygone ages. Let us look for an answer to all such misapprehensions to the scene that lies before us. On the one side, there is busy Martha; on the other, quiet, contemplative Mary. We are not told to be imitators of either Martha or Mary, but we are told to be imitators of the Lord Jesus Christ. Was there ever such a busy life as Christ’s? Was there ever such a contemplative life as Christ’s? He moved forward in the quietness of assured power. He was a true Quietist; for His life was very still, and yet its very stillness told. We may learn a good deal in this respect from observing outward objects. The mightiest things are not always the noisiest things. You go down to one of your own quays, and there you will see the little donkey-engine, on the deck of one of your ships, that is being employed in loading or unloading its freight. What a fuss it makes! Your ear is at once painfully arrested by its clatter and noise; but when you come to examine it, you find it is only a small and insignificant thing, in spite of the noise it makes. It is very useful, no doubt, and does its own work; but it does it very fussily, and that work is not a very great one. You descend into the vessel, and there you see the colossal engine which is to take the ship, donkey-engine and all, across the ocean; and it does all that work without making half as much noise as the little insignificant piece of mechanism that you have been listening to. Or take a picture from Nature. Look at yonder little bubbling rill flowing down the mountain side, dashing in and out between the rocks, and making a noise which can be heard a considerable distance away. You follow the stream until eventually it is absorbed in a great river, which flows smoothly, calmly, and quietly along in all the majesty of its strength. Perhaps it is strong enough to bear up the navy of a great nation, and yet it does not make the noise that the little stream did. Do let us endeavour, dear friends, in this somewhat noisy age, to distinguish between noise and power. We sometimes think that noise is power, and that if we can create a certain amount of bustle we are doing a large amount of work. I think our work is done well just in proportion to the absence of bustle from it. Now to correct this noisy fussiness we need to learn to imitate Mary and to sit at Jesus’ feet, and in silence and stillness of soul to hear His words. No amount of service will make up for the loss of this inward and secret fellowship of the soul with Christ--this hidden life of love, in which Christ and the consecrated heart are bound together in a certain holy intimacy and familiarity. This it is that sanctifies even the most commonplace toil, and the loss of this robs even the holiest things of their sanctity. Notice then, first, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet as a learner; and if we desire to learn, here it is that we must receive our lessons. Several thoughts suggest themselves to our minds as we see her sitting there. Let
us dwell upon them for a few moments. First, sitting at His feet, she is taking the place of the lowly; and only those who wish to be such can learn of Jesus. The proud and sell-confident, whether they be intellectually proud, or morally proud, or spiritually proud, will ever have to go empty away; but “such as are gentle, them shall He learn His way.” Next, observe, it is the place of true honour and dignity; for it is better to be a junior scholar in the school of Christ than to be a distinguished philosopher untaught by Him. Next, let me point out to you that while she was sitting here she was in a position, not only to learn by Him, but to learn of Him. It was not merely that she heard the truth from Him; it was rather that she found the truth in Him. He was Himself to her the Truth. And we, too, dear brethren, need to discern the difference between learning about Christ or learning by Christ and learning Christ. We may be good theologians and yet bad Christians. We cannot sit with Mary now before a visible Christ, but we can contemplate His moral features even as she gazed upon His outward countenance, and we can hear His spiritual teaching even as she heard His outward voice. And there is a sense in which we may be said to know more of Christ than at this time Mary did or could know; for she had never gazed upon the cross, and read the more perfect revelation of the Divine character as it is written there. Come, let us look at Mary, that we may learn to be a learner. How impressed she is with His superior wisdom; how little confidence has she in her own. Nay, the more she learns, I doubt not, the more she feels her ignorance. Oh, blessed is the ignorance that brings us so near to infinite wisdom, and blessed the child-like simplicity that enables us to understand what to the world may seem inexplicable! Then see how absorbed she is. I can never believe that Mary was selfish and inconsiderate. If she had been, I feel sure Jesus would have gently reproved and not commended her. When Mary is next introduced to our notice she is again at Jesus’ feet, and this time she is at His feet as a mourner. Blessed are those mourners whom sorrow drives to Jesus’ feet; for they shall indeed be comforted! I Refer for a moment to the passage John 11:32): “Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw Him, she fell down at His feet, saying, Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.” Oh, blessed are the trials that bring us to Jesus’ feet! The sorrows of this world harden and embitter some people. They grow sour and selfish. I dare say she felt as if she had never loved Him so much before, as she loved Him then when she saw those tears of His. When we feel crushed with sorrow, do lot us try to remember that Jesus Christ Himself was the Man of sorrows. Now, dear friends, let us look at Mary once again. We have seen her at the Lord’s feet as a learner, and we have seen her there as a mourner: and now, in John 12:1-50., we shall see her at the Lord’s feet as a worshipper. Turn for a moment to the beginning of that chapter: “Then Jesus, six days before the Passover, came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom He raised from the dead. There they made Him a supper; and Martha served.” Dear Martha! how I love her for it! Always true to her character; never weary of waiting on such a Guest, and this time not even in her own house. Even in the house of Simon Martha must wait upon her Lord; no mere hireling or slave shall be allowed to minister to Him while Martha’s willing hands and heart are near. The truest form of worship is, first of all, the presentation to God of all that is most precious, all that is most costly, that we have or that we are. (W. H.Aitken, M. A.)
The good part chosen
I. First of all, I would speak of THE DECISION. “Mary,” saith our Lord, “hath chosen.” She had made up her mind; she had taken her choice. She had discerned what she loved; she had seen what was for her good; she had great courage, and, caring not for the praise or the blame of others, she determined to hold fast what she had chosen. How valuable is this decision of character! How valuable it is, even in the children of this world! How many statesmen, generals, leaders of men, have been distinguished by it! Look over the lists of the men who have moved the world, or who have led vast armies to battle; take such men as Julius Caesar, such men as the Emperor Napoleon; and mark how decision of character--bold, unflinching, unhesitating decision of character--is their leading feature. And mark how, in all the Word of God, we find this a leading characteristic of God’s servants. We find Noah boldly and decidedly making the ark in the face of an ungodly and unbelieving world; we find Abraham leaving his father’s house, to go to a land he had never seen; we find Moses forsaking the pleasures of Egypt, looking for recompense in the unseen reward; we find Joshua saying to the people, “As for me and my house,” whatever ye do, “we will serve the Lord”; we find Daniel going down to the lion’s den, choosing to meet with what was to ell appearance a dreadful death, rather than deny his principles; we find Paul the apostle opposing a world in arms against him, and withstanding even his brethren, when there seemed to be an article of the faith impugned. And coming later, we find men like Athanasius, ready to meet the world and the Church too, when they seemed to be against them--men like Martin Luther, opposing all the professing Church of their day, when they saw the professing Church opposing the Bible. In all these men we find the same bold, firm, uncompromising decision of character. But when we turn to the world at large, how uncommon is this very decision of character which has such power and possesses such influence! Doubting they live, doubting they hear our sermons, doubting they come to our means of grace, doubting they pass through the course of this world, and doubting, hesitating, lingering, undecided, too often they lay down their lives, and leave this world for another! Dear brethren, for your own comfort’s sake, for your own happiness’ sake, for your own usefulness’ sake in this world, if ever you would know the joy and peace of the gospel, if ever you would be useful in your day and generation, and have influence on the minds of men, cultivate this decision of character. Very beautiful is that allegory in which John Bunyan describes what happened to his pilgrim, when the interpreter took him up to the door of an elegant and well-furnished palace, within which were men and women taking their ease and in the enjoyment of all happiness; and at the door of the palace, and all round the entrance of it, there stood a body of armed men to withstand every one who would enter. Many come up to the palace; they dare not go forward; they fear the conflict; they shrink from the attempt. At last one bold man is described as coming up to the gate, saying to the person who had charge of the palace, “Set down my name, Sir,” and putting a helmet on his head, and a sword in his hand, forcing his way through the armed men, when he hears a pleasant voice saying--
“Come in, come in;
Eternal glory thou shalt win.”
There was Christian decision. That man is a model, a pattern, an example, to every one who would be a faithful soldier of Christ, laying hold on eternal life, fighting a good fight, warring a good warfare--to choose boldly and act decidedly--to go straight forward, not fearing any opposition that he may have to meet with.
II. Turn we next to THE CHOICE that Mary made. She chose “the good part.” Now, what is it that our Lord Jesus Christ here calls the “good part” Mary had not chosen the riches of this world; she had not chosen the honour, or the rank, or the learning of this world: she had chosen none of those things that the world commonly thinks good. She sat at Jesus’ feet; she heard the words of Jesus; she drank in the instruction that the Lord Jesus Christ is ever ready to give to those who listen. Because she did this--because she so gave evidence of the state of her heart--the Lord saysof her here, “She hath chosen the good part.” That “good part” was the good of her everlasting soul; a knowledge of God, as revealed in the face of Jesus Christ. How many things, my brethren, are called “good” that do not deserve the name! How many things are said to be for man’s good, and yet how little do they avail! How little comfort they can give him I and how short a time he is able to enjoy them! How many things are called “good” that will not last! They will not wear. Who that has eyes to see, who that has mind to observe, can fail to know, that what the world calls good does not give perfect happiness? Do those that have the most of them really enjoy what they possess? Like the two boys, Passion and Patience, spoken of in “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” to are the children of this world and the children of God. Passion must needs have his best things now; he has them, and lavishes them away. Patience waits for his best things, and when he has them keeps them. So the children of God may “endure hardness” for a season; they may seem to fail to prosper for a time; but they look forward, they wait, they know that their good things are yet to come, and that when their good things come, they shall not be taken away from them.
III. Pass on, finally, to THE CHARACTER OUR LORD GIVES TO THE PORTION THAT MARY CHOSE. He says it is “that good part which shall not be taken away from her.” That favour of God which Mary sought, that peace of God which Mary longed for, that indwelling of the Holy Ghost which Mary craved, that spiritual wisdom after which Mary hungered and thirsted--all these abide for ever; he that has them shall never lose them; they are riches and treasures that shall never fade. In the time of health they are a man’s best companions; in the time of sickness they “make all his bed.” And now, in concluding, I would ask you all to take heed to make a right choice. And put not off that choice to a future day. Shall I not call on all the young persons that I see here in such numbers, to follow the example of her whose conduct we have this day been considering--to choose that good part which shall not be taken from them? I call upon you, as knowing that I may not meet you all face to face in this church again, to seek that peace with God that she sought after--that favour of God for which she longed. (Bishop Ryle.)
One thing is needful
What we want to bring about in ourselves is the due balance and equipoise between the principle of faith and the principle of action, so to pass through things temporal that we finally lose not the things eternal; to be in such a way convinced that but one thing is needful as not to destroy all stimulus and interest for the many things in which we find ourselves of necessity involved. First, then, it must be observed that the inward harmony of soul which is proposed must not be sought by the means of partitioning off the one province from the other, and fixing limits between them, by concluding a peace between the world and God, and giving part of our day to one, and part to the other. What we want, then, is a piety that shall be energetic and efficacious through our whole life, through every act we do, every word we speak, every breath we draw. We should not distinguish our day into one part given to God, and the rest to ourselves, but it should be all of one colour and texture. The one thing needful which we want to secure is a penetrating and all-powerful motive, universal in its extent to apply to our every act, minute, special, practical, to ensure its being brought out into our conduct, not lodged as a dormant creed in our understanding. We should not have any worldly employments, for our whole life should be a religious act. This is the inward and outward harmony which constitutes a sound being, when all our movements flow naturally from one central governing thought. Such a character is not a compound of two tendencies ill at ease in one another’s neighbourhood, and subsisting by a forced compromise, but a uniform whole in which one pure aim informs each separate impulse. Life is then not a state of rest or equilibrium produced by opposite forces, but a sustained motion towards a fixed point. This habitual reference of everything we do to a single ruling motive is absolutely necessary for any thing like consistency of action and of character. See the strength of will and steady power which a man derives from consistent adhesion to any, even the lowest purpose. Even obstinacy, which is more perseverance without a purpose, and is more often mischievous than useful, has something about it respectable. Much more does the steady persevering pursuit of an object of importance, whatever it be, command the esteem of men at large. When the “various talents” are united with the “single mind,” they give their possessors a moral weight and mastery which is instantly recognized, and to which all around pay a willing homage. (M. Pattison.)
On unity of effort in the service of God
We will, therefore, in this chapter offer some remarks on the principle of spiritual policy which we should adopt, if we desire successfully to meet that discouragement which results from distraction of mind. The principle is thus given us by our blessed Lord--“One thing is needful.” Let there be one idea at the foundation of your spiritual character, round which that character forms itself: let one single principle be the foundation of all your obedience to God’s commandments. You will never succeed while you are paying equal attention at one and the same time to every department of the Divine law. Again, it is the law of the natural characters of all of us that one particular feature or class of features stands out prominently, and gives its complexion to the whole character. We may be quite sure that our spiritual characters will form themselves in the same way. They will have a pervading colour, they will manifest a particular leaning, whether we wish it or not. Our minds are so constituted that each feature of them cannot be equally developed. Nor, indeed, is it consistent with God’s design in regard to His Church that it should be so. But again, and this has a most important bearing on the question at issue--all growth proceeds upon the principle which we are recommending. Natural growth means the gathering together of particles of matter round a single nucleus, which nucleus appropriates and assimilates those particles. If we take a small fragment of the blossom of a flower, and examine it with a powerful microscope, we shall see that it consists of a series of colour-cells, ranged in perfect order (like the cells in a honeycomb, or the stones in a tessellated pavement), which contain the pigment of the flower. Originally there was but one single cell, containing the vital principle of the whole flower; but as the germ was fed by the dews and rains of heaven, and by the moisture of the earth, it gathered to itself particles from the elements which surrounded it, and gradually formed a neighbour cell, and then another, and another, until the whole resulted at length in this magnificent mosaic of cells, so far superior to any pavement which King Solomon had in his palace, or even in his temple. Well, spiritual growth proceeds by the same rule as natural; it is for the most part a development out of one sentiment, an accretion round the nucleus of one idea. It is our part to watch this law of our minds, and to endeavour by prayer and forethought, and wise effort, to turn it to account. Now, practically, how is this to be?
1. There can be no doubt that the besetting sin, or fault, if any one is prominent, should be the first quarter in which the Christian should turn his thoughts, and prayers, and efforts. His particular shortcoming is an indication by God in what part of the field his work lies. At all events it is certain that “the one thing needful” for those beset with any moral and spiritual infirmity, is to rid themselves of it, rooting it, as far as possible, out of their hearts, with loathing and abhorrence. Until this is achieved, there is no business for them of equal importance.
2. But supposing that, on a survey of our character, it should not appear that any one fault or sin has a greater prominence than another (though this will rarely be the case), we may then set ourselves to choose, according to our own inclinations, some broad Scriptural principle which may be made the foundation of our own spiritual character. Or we might attempt to make poverty of spirit--the subject of the first Beatitude--the leading thought of our religious character. We might set ourselves to cultivate this grace as the “one thing needful.” Having chosen our principle, whatever it bet it will be part of the business of every morning to anticipate the occasions on which it may be brought into exercise. It will be well to say, in conclusion, one word of advice as to the sort of principle which it is desirable to choose for the purpose of building upon it a holy life. Choose not, then, too narrow a principle--by which I mean one which gives no scope for exercise or trial, except on rare occasions. Suppose, for example, that submission to the will of God under the loss of friends were chosen as the principle. There is not here room enough for every-day practice. Bereavement, much as it behoves us to conduct ourselves well when it does come, is of rare occurrence. On the other hands too broad a principle will destroy the unity of aim and endeavour, which is recommended. Too broad a principle is in fact more principles than one, and so defeats the end. Finally, choose a principle to which your mind is naturally drawn when in a right frame. We are all attracted by different lines of thought in religion, and no man has a right to impose upon his neighbour his own line. (Dean Goulburn.)
Love at home
I. LOVE AT LEISURE. When the evening comes on, and all the members of the family are around the fireside, then lave rests and communes, forgetting all care, happily at home, oblivious of the outside world, and of time itself. Like Mary--
1. We would feel ourselves quite at home with Jesus our Lord.
2. We would be free from worldly care--leaving all with Jesus.
3. We would even be free from the care of His service, the battle for His kingdom, and the burden of the souls committed to our charge.
4. We would sweetly enjoy the happy leisure which He provides for us, as we muse upon the rest-giving themes which He reveals so clearly, and makes so true to us.
(1) His work for us, finished, accepted, abidingly effectual, and perpetually overflowing with priceless blessings.
(2) His great gifts received, which are greater than those to come.
(3) All other needful and promised benedictions of grace, sure to come in due season (Romans 8:32).
(4) All our future, for time and for eternity, safe in His dear hands. Let us, without fear, enjoy leisure with Jesus--leisure, but not laziness--leisure to love, to learn, to commune, to copy. Leisure in a home where others are cumbered (see Luke 10:40-42). Leisure to sit, and to sit in the most delightful of all places.
II. LOVE IN LOWLINESS. “At Jesus’ feet.” In this let each one copy Mary. Let me be, not a busy housewife and manager, which any one may be, and yet be graceless; but
1. A penitent, which is an acknowledgment of my unworthiness.
2. A disciple, which is a confession of my ignorance.
3. A receiver, which is an admission of my emptiness.
III. Love LISTENING--“And heard His word.” She could not have heard if she had not been at leisure to sit, nor if she had not been lowly, and chosen to sit at His feet. Be it ours to hear that love-word which says, “Hearken, O daughter, and consider” (Psalms 45:10). Listening to what Jesus says in His Word, in His creation, in His providence, and by His Spirit in our soul. Listening to Himself. Studying Him, reading His very heart. Listening, and not obtruding our own self-formed thoughts, notions, reasonings, questionings, desires, and prejudices. Listening, and forgetting the observations and unbeliefs of others. Listening, and bidding all cares lie still, that they may no more disturb the reverent silence of the heart. How sweet! How instructive! How truly “the good part”!
IV. Love IN POSSESSION.
1. In full enjoyment.
2. In perfect satisfaction.
3. In full assurance. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Reflection and action
This was scene at Bethany. It precedes the other accounts. If I mistake not, at is the earliest notice of this remarkable household.
1. Let us look at the scene itself. Martha, full of gladness and alacrity, and such affection as she had, was serving Him. It was household service. I do not suppose that she was without any sensibility of His loftiness and nobility; but her way was not in the interchange of soul qualities with soul qualities. She was practical. She was entirely domestic. She took a worldly view of this adorable personage, and felt as though the best thing she could do was to minister to His comfort. As she was thus, with anxious household cares, ministering, Mary was sitting still, at the feet of Jesus. Martha, seeing her sitting there, had not the least idea that anything was going on. Mary’s feet were still, her hands were quiet. She neither sewed nor knit. She wove no flowers into wreaths or bouquets. She said nothing. She was not doing anything. There are a great many persons who do not suppose that there is anything going on unless there is some buzz and bustle, unless there is some outward show and development. Of the method of the soul they have no insight. Their whole brain-life expends itself in a rushing forth of intense activity. They have no idea of the lake that is hid far up in the mountain recesses, on which the day shines and the night sends down its starry beauty, and which does nothing except reflect the heavens. Ask the mill-brook that comes tearing down the gorge, and wipes the sweat off at every mill-wheel, what it is doing, and what it is, and it says, “I am working, working, working; I am an enterprising brook; but that lazy old lake up there in the mountain-top never did anything In the world for its living.” And yet that lake in the midst of the mountain has some beauty and some merits to the poet. Now, Martha, in her soul, loved her sister, but she did not know much of that higher experience of the soul to which her sister had attained; and, instead of saying, “Mary, why do not you come and help me?” she said, “Master, see, she doesn’t help me; tell her to come and help me.” Christ’s reply is significant.
2. Look for a moment at these two women as types of human society. Martha ticked and kept time; she talked all the while; she was a very useful person. Hers was a valuable character. There is room in all the world for such persons. On the other side, Mary was reflective. She was full of thought, and of various thought. Above all things she was hungry for the food of thought. Doubtless, in her own quiet way, she fulfilled the daily duties of practical life: as a sleep-walker, or as one sunk in a reverie, with all the absent-minded mysteries that fall to the lot of such persons. And when Christ came her thought was, “Now I shall receive; and her heart lay open in His presence as a flower to the dew, or as the grass to the rain, that she might live and grow by the feeding of her soul.
3. The perfect person is one who combines, in suitable degrees, both of these elements. There is the workshop of life below, and there are the serene hills, the crystal domes above. They have their hours for meditation; they also have their hours for labour and for communion with men.
4. But there are very few perfect people in the world; and the lineage of those who are born with a high moral endowment joined to an active temperament seems almost at times to have run out. Those, then, that are all activity, and those that are recluse, silent and meditative, ought to have enough in themselves to form an easy intercommunication, so that they shall accept one another.
5. The Church should also have precisely the same thing. No Church has any perfect members in it, and too often Church people associate themselves together, the intensely zealous with the intensely zealous, and the extremely intelligent with the extremely intelligent; but we are all of us so imperfect that we need somebody else here and there, for it takes about ten or fifteen persons to make one, and fill up all his deficiencies. “Receive ye one another.” The imaginative are to take the practical, the practical are to take the imaginative, and both are to rejoice in the rich-souled silence of others; and let those who are given to a life of meditation look with toleration upon persons who have the art of developing and giving out into life. God receives them all and uses them all.
6. Let those who mourn because they have been set apart to be thinkers, and to dwell in the solitude of their own genius, remember that perhaps they are more active than they know. The largest and best work that ever is done in this world is done in silence. Go into the meadows over which birds sing, and out of which grass and all flowers spring. The silent attraction of all those roots is a greater power than all the steam engines on the face of the earth. Or go into the forests. There is no measure of gigantic power which is comparable with the strength which is developed in their internal tubes. It is not measurable by all the machinery on earth. And yet it is silent. Activity? Yes. There is the buzzing factory. It has turned out its thousands of yards of cotton every day, and is a very noble thing, doing a great deal of good. But yonder, off against the rocky shore, on the dangerous reef, stands the lighthouse. It neither spins nor turns a single wheel. All day long the lazy thing suns itself; and all night long it simply stands shining. But far off, beyond its own vision, are ships that come toward the shore; and they see its light; and they know where the rock, the shoal, and the danger are; and they pass on and make their port in safety. It has no trumpet, it does not speak, it sends out nothing but simply a light; and 10,000 ships are blessed by it. (H. W. Beecher.)
Thought and activity
We read in the biography of old Dr. Lyman Beecher that the young lady he married, Roxana Foote, had thought herself converted at five or six years of age, though far from satisfying the exactions of an apostle of absolute election; but at least she was the Mary among the three granddaughters of General Andrew Ward, who used to say that when the girls first came down of a morning, Roxana would put some thoughtful question, suggestive of study and meditation, while Harriet’s voice could be heard briskly calling out, “Here I take the broom; sweep up; make a fire, make haste.” Harriet’s namesake, Dr Beecher’s celebrated daughter (Mrs. Stowe) is fond, like other American lady-novelists, of referring to the Bethany sisters, as often as not in a vein of humour; where, for instance, Mrs. Twitchel characteristics her indispensable “help,” Cerinthy Ann, as “one of the most master-hands to turn off work. Deacon was a-saying, if ever she was called she’d be a Martha, and not a Mary.” (F. Jacox.)
MARY TO JESUS IN THE HOUSE.
“O Master! when Thou comest, it is always
A Sabbath in the house. I cannot work:
I must sit at Thy feet, must see Thee, hear Thee!
I have a feeble, wayward, doubting heart,
Incapable of endurance or great thoughts,
Striving for something that it cannot reach,
Baffled and disappointed, wounded, hungry;
And only when I hear Thee am I happy,
And only when I see Thee am at peace.
Stronger than I, and wiser, and far better
In every manner is my sister Martha.
Thou seest how well she orders everything
To make Thee welcome; how she comes and goes,
Careful and cumber’d ever with much serving,
While I but welcome Thee with foolish words l
When’er Thou speakest to me I am happy;
When Thou art silent I am satisfied.
Thy presence is enough, I ask no more.
Only to be with Thee, only to see Thee
Sufficeth me. My heart is then at rest.”
CUMBERED ABOUT MUCH SERVING.
Christ never asks of us such busy labour
As leaves no time for resting at His feet;
The waiting attitude of expectation
He ofttimes counts a service most complete.
He sometimes wants our ear--our rapt attention,
That He some sweetest secret may impart;
‘Tis always in the time of deepest silence
That heart finds deepest fellowship with heart.
And yet He does love service, where ‘tis given
By grateful love that clothes itself in deed;
But work that’s done beneath the scourge of duty,
Be sure to such He gives but little heed.
Then seek to please Him, whatsoe’er He bids thee,
Whether to do--to suffer--to lie still;
‘Twill matter little by what path
He leads thee, If in it all thou seek’st to do His will.
Activity and rest
I noticed once that in the ocean there was a beauty and power quite peculiar to its rest, as well as its motion. Once in a while there would come a day when the waters would leap into white foam in their strife with the great calm cliffs; and then a day when the blue waters would melt into the sky full of innocent dimples, which made you feel as if the tides were laughing with content. But this was what I noticed besides: that in the clear waters rested the full sun, while in the unresting waters you saw only broken lights. There was shining on the edges, but not in the deeps; a stormful grandeur, but no mirror of the quiet heavens. It was in a summer vacation, when I was glad enough to find reasons for lounging all day long on the sweetest bit of land I ever found west of the heathery Ramald’s Moor, where I wandered a quarter of a century ago. And so I said to myself, Beautiful is the activity that works for good, and beautiful the stillness that waits for good. Blessed the self-sacrifice of the one and the self-abnegation of the other. Martha gives up everything that she may be hospitable, and is cumbered with much serving; and Mary sits still. But still the voice of the Lord tells her, and tells us through her, that she hath chosen the good part. I would like, then, if I could do it, to include both in their turn in the sum of my life. We cannot help believing in work; but there are days when we should be glad because we are quiet. When both the strong motion and the strong emotion of existence should be done with for a while, and all things be as naught to us except the pure stillness, which, like the still sea I saw, only drank in the sun and glassed his clear shining through its whole heart. (R. Collyer.)
Variety in God’s works
There is astonishing variety in God’s works. What different creatures, plants, and other objects there are in the world; and probably not two of them precisely alike. “One star differed from another star in glory.” How the forms and faces of human beings and various animals vary in appearance and expression. And, it is said, no two blades of grass, nor leaves of any tree, are exactly similar. Then, as to dispositions, some creatures are bold and fierce, others are fearful and timid; and even in any single family we find diverse tempers and inclinations. In a well-appointed army and navy there are many regiments, ranks, services, ships, &c., and probably all are necessary in order to greatest efficiency. In a large house, or place of business, or manufactory, there are individuals filling different posts, who have separate duties. In a flower garden, or nosegay of any pretensions, we find flowers of various forms, colours, and perfumes. In the grand and gorgeous sunrise or sunset, the most lovely tints, wonderfully blended, produce pictures, in comparison with which man’s most admired paintings appear mean and paltry. Thus in God’s Church and family, for beauty, utility, and perfection, we find the greatest conceivable variety. Take the characters referred to in our lesson. Martha was a good woman, diligent in business, a careful housewife, an excellent manager, and we suppose a model mistress of a family, only she was probably too anxious, and perhaps rather bad tempered; Mary was quiet, devout, thoughtful, one who might be in danger of spending too much time in her closet, or about good things, as her sister would spend too little. Could they have been blended, Romans 7:11 would have been perfectly observed. Lazarus was probably an amiable, easy man, who would lovingly and simply believe in Jesus. But Thomas was a doubter. He was thoughtful cautious; one who would “count the cost” before he would commit himself to any enterprise, and who would not take anything for granted, but would require irrefragable evidence for his faith. (H. R. Burton.)
Cumbered about much serving
I. THE TRIAL OF NON-APPRECIATION. This is what made Martha so mad with Mary. The younger sister had no estimate of her older sister’s fatigues. As now, men bothered with the anxieties of the store, and office, and shop, or coming from the stock exchange, they say when they get home: “Oh, you ought to be over in Wall-street in these days; you ought to be in our factory a little while; you ought to have to manage eight, or ten, or twenty subordinates, and then you would know what trouble and anxiety are.” Oh, sir! the wife and the mother has to conduct at the Same time a university, a clothing establishment, a restaurant, a laundry, a library, while she is health officer, police, and president of her realm! She must do a thousand things, and do them well, in order to keep things going smoothly; and so her brain and her nerves are taxed to the utmost. If, under all this wear and tear of life, Martha makes an impatient rush upon the library or drawing-room, be patient, be lenient. O! women, though I may fail to stir up an appreciation in the souls of others in regard to your household toils, let me assure you, from the kindliness with which Jesus Christ met Martha, that He appreciates all your work from garret to cellar; and that the God of Deborah, and Hannah, and Abigail, and grandmother Lois, and Elizabeth Fry, and Hannah More, is the God of the housekeeper.
II. THE TRIAL OF SEVERE ECONOMY. This is what kills tens of thousands of women--attempting to make five dollars do the work of seven. How the bills come in! The woman is the banker of the household; she is the president, the cashier, the teller, the discount clerk; and there is a panic every few weeks! This thirty years’ war against high prices, this perpetual study of economies, this life-long attempt to keep the out-goes less than the income, exhausts millions of housekeepers. Of my sister, this is a part of the Divine discipline. If it were best for you, all you would have to do would be to open the front windows and the ravens would fly in with food; and after you had baked fifty times from the barrel in the pantry, the barrel, like the one of Zarepath, would be full; and the shoes of the children would last as long as the shoes of the Israelites in the wilderness--forty years. Beside that, this is going to make heaven the more attractive in the contrast.
III. SICKNESS AND TROUBLE.
IV. OVER-RESPONSIBILITY. (Dr. Talmage.)
Did you never see persons that are kind-hearted and good-natured but that are continually anxious? Not that they are peevish; not that they are cross; but they are filled with anxiety. Did you never see a boiler that carried just enough steam, so that there was no sound in the machinery? And have you never seen a boiler that carried a little too much steam, so that it hissed at every rivet, making a disagreeable sound day and night? There are persons that carry a little more steam than they can work, and that sing and hiss all the time; and Martha was one of those. Where this anxiety is brought suddenly in collision with those that are associated with us, and expresses itself with sharpness, it is called chiding if you are charitable, and fretfulness or peevishness if you are a little cross yourself. And so it seemed to be in Martha’s case. When Christ came, nothing must be left undone that could be done for Him. Every room must be set aright. (H. W.Beecher.)
Is Martha a little offended, and a little jealous? Has she often tried to reclaim her musing sister from what she thinks vagrancy of mind, and now considers that she has an opportunity to get her effectively reproved? How tyrannous may we become by the excess of our temperament, even towards those whom we best love! If Martha has her special opportunity of serving, and wisely employs all her active shrewdness, may not Mary have her special opportunity of listening, and wisely employ her meditative intelligence? Why should Mary be Martha any more than Martha Mary? “Lord, bid her that she come and sit at Thy feet with me, and hear Thy word.” Would not such an invocation have been as proper a one as Martha’s? They who are careful about many things must take care of this too: that, encumbering themselves, they be not burdensome to others also. Our excellency may become the occasion of our fault. We may be fussy because kindly busy, when only by being busy, but not fussy, can we provide a comfortable meal, as well as a sufficient one. (T. T. Lynch.)
When the English lost the town of Calais in the reign of Queen Mary, she is said to have declared that at her death the name Calais would be found engraved upon her heart. The loss of the French town was the sorrow of her life. Most of us, my friends, have some name or another which sorrow has graven on our hearts, and printed in deep lines upon our faces. It may be a disappointment which will last all our lives; it may be the remorseful memory of a fault which cannot be atoned for here, or the name of one long dead and gone. It is not of these great sorrows of which I would speak now. Do you know what makes the stones on the sea beach so smooth and polished? They were rough fragments of rock once, and they have been smoothed and shaped into what they are, not by a furious tempest, when the waves rose mountains high, but by the constant action of the tide day after day, year after year. The deep furrows and channels in the face of the cliff were not formed by a flood, but by the continuous falling of a tiny stream of water. So, my brother, those grey hairs of yours, and those lines and furrows in your face, were not caused by some terrible, crushing calamity, but by the daily action of little troubles and anxieties which we call worry. These worries are some of God’s teachers in the great school of this world. Properly met, they help on our education; if misused, they simply lead us into sin. How then shall we meet worry? First, I would say, don’t meet it half-way. Don’t torture yourselves with the thought of what may happen; don’t neglect the sunshine of to-day, because it may rain to-morrow. It is simply want of faith in God to be always fearing what has not, and never may, come to pass. Excellent was the advice of the wise American President, “Never to cross the great and big muddy creek till you come to it.” When the worry does come, try to look beyond it, try to see the land over the troubled waves, and to find the dawn after the dark night. There is a bright side to every trouble, if we would but look for it. There are some who love to shut themselves up in a dark room, as it were, with their troubles, and they will tell you that there is no sunshine outside. My advice to you is, keep out in the sunshine as much as you can, and the troubles will not seem half so dark or threatening.
2. Next, think less of self, and more of others. When things come to vex and annoy you, turn your thoughts to the troubles of others. Go and look at the real sorrows of your neighbour, and in helping them you will find your own burden easier to carry.
3. Lastly, yet above all, pray about your worry. Take it to Jesus Christ, tell Him all about it in plain language, ask Him to help you, so that your trouble may not drive you into sin, but lead you to your Saviour. Take up your cross, my brothers, you who are careful and troubled about many things. Bear with the crooked tempers, and the sharp tongues, and the ill-kept homes, and the narrow means, and the thousand worries of life, and these crosses shall one day bud and blossom for you into palms of victory. (H. J.Wilmot Buxton, M. A.)
One thing is needful
The essential thing
While the “one thing needful” may have had reference to the immediate matter of Martha’s anxiety, it is also applicable to her own spiritual need, she being deficient in that element of inward life out of which all orderly methods and untroubled activities proceed. Thus, both fact and symbol lead us from those “many things” about which Martha was too careful, to the contrast of that “good part” which was Mary’s choice.
I. ONE THING IS NEEDFUL, AS A MOTIVE POWER. Love for God, for Christ, for all that is good. Only this can keep the appetites in their place.
II. ONE THING IS NEEDFUL AS A PRINCIPLE OF ACTION. The love of goodness for its own sake.
III. ONE THING IS NEEDFUL AS AN ELEMENT OF LIFE. The soul’s communion with God. (E. H. Chapin, D. D.)
Mary’s better choice
I. THE CHARACTERISTIC OF THIS CHOICE--“Shall not be taken away.” Earthly goods are all transitory; but this is abiding.
II. THE COMMENDATION OF THE CHOICE.
1. Good in itself--its effect.
2. Good in its substance--Jesus.
3. Best in its association. Christ is more than the property; He is the joint possessor. “Partakers with Christ.
III. THE CHANNEL FOR ALL THIS COMFORT. “Chosen.”
1. No violence done to our freedom.
2. Sweet consciousness that we gave ourselves to Christ. (S. H.Tyng, D. D.)
The one thing needful
However far apart the streams may appear to flow, there is in the life one great ocean where they all meet, and in which they are all absorbed. Now, the Saviour, who was so entirely consecrated to one great object, would teach us an important truth in these words, and it is this--That it is a mistake to divide oneself among many cares and troubles. The great secret of life is to seize upon one thing, which will determine all else, and in the light of the context this one thing seems to be--a personal interest in Jesus Christ.”
I. THIS IS THE ONE THING NEEDFUL TO GIVE LIFE A WORTHY AIM. If We would start aright, we must start at the feet of the Great Master. Here alone can we find reliable direction how to live. This is the way: walk ye in it. Bat who will set our feet upon that path? Jesus will. It is Jesus alone that teaches us to live so as to attain the object which God Himself had in creating.
II. THIS IS THE ONE THING NEEDFUL TO GIVE LIFE ANY REAL VALUE. The alchemists of old, who paved the way for the modern science of chemistry, were, it is said, searching for a substance which contained the original principle of all matter, and had the power of dissolving all things into their primitive elements. Here was the one thing needful to give value to all material objects brought into contact with it. We do not suppose this was ever discovered by them, or that it ever existed save in their wild imagination; but there are many present, I trust, who have found in effect a spiritual equivalent--that one thing needful which gives value to all brought into contact with it, that philosopher’s stone which turns everything into glittering gold in the eye of Heaven itself. Even all the life becomes consecrated--the ruling of nations, the regulating of households, obeying monarchs, obeying parents, obeying masters, even what often seems trivial, eating and drinking. This one thing needful can set value to all.
III. THIS IS THE ONE THING NEEDFUL TO SUPPORT US UNDER THE TRIALS OF LIFE. We may glide easily, in virtue of a slight external impulse, along the levels of our life, we may go down the slopes ourselves, but if we mean to climb triumphantly over the rugged hills, we must link ourselves to a mighty Saviour.
IV. THE ONE THING NEEDFUL TO FACE THE GREAT HEREAFTER. (T. Nicholson.)
True religion exemplified in Mary
There can be no doubt as to what our Lord means by the “one thing” and the “good part” He here commends. They are both of them true religion. It does more, observe, than praise this blessed thing; it partially describes it.
I. We will begin with the latter of these two questions, and look at this Scripture as DISTINGUISHING BETWEEN CHRISTIAN AND CHRISTIAN. Both these sisters were undoubtedly sincere followers of our Lord; they were both converted, holy women. But yet we see here a great difference between them, and such a difference as natural disposition will not of itself account for. The main source of it lay elsewhere--one was high in spiritual attainments, the other was a learner in the same school, but as yet had learnt much less in it. We may discover in Mary two marks of a highly spiritual mind.
1. Notice, first, her composure; her composure, I mean, as to worldly things.
2. Observe in Mary another thing--an earnest desire of spiritual instruction. “She sat,” we read, “at Jesus’ feet.” But love for Him, we say, might have placed her there. She wished, perhaps, to be near her holy Guest and enjoy His society. “No,” says the evangelist, “she sat at His feet, and heard His word.” Warm-hearted as she was, she forgets or half forgets the friend in the teacher. Martha, on the contrary, had no such feelings. She appears to have turned aside altogether from our Lord’s instructions at this time, and to have done so almost without regret. She let the stream of heavenly wisdom flow by her untasted and unheeded. And indifference like hers is by no means uncommon now. There are some really Christian persons, who manifest a frame of mind exactly similar to it. They know very little of Divine things, and seem almost indifferent whether or not they ever know more. It is mournful that a dying sinner should be a thoughtful, inquiring man among his goods and merchandise, his sheep and cattle, shrewd and penetrating, taking nothing on trust, and sifting to the bottom everything that concerns him; and yet the same man put his mind to sleep as he opens his Bible or enters a church. Worldliness of heart only can account for this. “Much serving” leads us away from our great Teacher. Our low degree of knowledge is the result of a low degree of piety. We are not growing in grace, therefore we are not growing, nor desiring to grow, “in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” Knowledge and grace are as closely connected as the day and the light. If any of you should think I have laid too much stress on the two things I have noticed in Mary, and made too much of them, mark this--they are the exact points in which at this moment she most visibly resembled our Lord. He was quiet in a house of bustle; so was Mary. He made much of heavenly wisdom, for He began to teach it at soon as He entered that house; she made much of it also, for she sat down at His feet to learn it. You know what follows--the more we resemble Christ, the holier we are; the more like Him, the nearer we are to Him.
II. We are now to view this Scripture as DISTINGUISHING BETWEEN THE REAL CHRISTIAN AND ALL OTHER MEN.
1. It tells us that, with the real Christian, religion is a needful thing; it is known and felt to be such. The question is, be it what it may, has it this feature of sound piety--do you feel it to be absolutely necessary for you? Do you find that you need it at all times and in all things? Is it in your estimation of supreme importance?
2. But further--our Lord tells us here that true religion is something that is chosen; it is a matter of deliberate and serious choice. The religion that saves the soul, lays hold of the soul before it saves it, and the whole soul. It commends itself to the judgment, it wins the affections, it captivates the heart. It is first seen to be a necessary thing, then felt to be a blessed thing, then determined on as a thing which above all others shall be chosen, and followed, and held fast. (C. Bradley, M. A.)
The choice of Mary
I. Our Saviour in the text speaks of true religion as ONE THING; and He appears thus to represent it in contradistinction to those many things which harassed and distracted the mind of Martha. True religion is something more than bearing the name of Christ, making an outward profession of religion, using with diligence the means of grace, supporting an external decency of conduct, or being kind and charitable to the poor. What is it? It is a conformity of heart and life to the will of God as made known to us in holy Scripture; or it is a compliance with it both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls. And in this view it is fitly represented as one thing. This one thing, however, consists of many parts--repentance, faith, holiness, &c.
II. Our Saviour in the text represents true religion as a NEEDFUL THING.
1. What He means is, that it is so much more needful than other things, that our chief care and attention should be directed to it; and that nothing else ought to be allowed for a moment to come in competition with it. Other things pertain to the body, and to the life that now is; whereas religion regards the soul, and the life which is to come. And as the soul is more precious than the body, and eternity more important than time, so is true religion infinitely more needful for us than every earthly blessing whatsoever.
2. Nor is true religion a blessing we need only occasionally. We want it at all times and in all circumstances, whether we are in prosperity or adversity, in sickness or in health, in trouble or in joy.
3. Nor will the time ever come when true religion will not be needful for us. It will be as needful for us in death as it is in life, as necessary in eternity as it is in time. It will then indeed, if possible, be unspeakably more needful for us than ever. Death and eternity will stamp on it a value and an importance of which we can now form but a faint conception.
III. It is still more. Our Saviour here represents it as a GOOD PART OR PORTION.
1. It insures a supply of our temporal wants. St. Paul tells us that it “is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is,” no less than “of that which is to come.”
2. True religion enriches us. It puts us in possession, not indeed of the unrighteous mammon, but of the true riches While those who have no religion are represented in Scripture as “poor, and blind, and naked, and ready to perish,” those who have it are described as “possessing all things.” It is expressly said to them, “All things are yours, and ye are Christ’s.”
3. True religion contributes in a most essential manner to our contentment and happiness.
IV. True religion is A LASTING PORTION. It is a “good part, which shall not be taken away from us.” This cannot be said of any worldly portion. Our earthly possessions are only for a time, and that often a very short time. (D. Rees.)
The one thing needful
The mere posture of sitting down and listening to the Saviour’s word was nothing in itself: it was that which it indicated. It indicated, in Mary’s case, a readiness to believe what the Saviour taught, to accept and to obey--nay, to delight in, the precepts which fell from His lips. And this is the one thing needful. He that hath it hath the spirit of grace and life. To sit at Jesus’ feet implies submission, faith, discipleship, service, love. We must not learn of Christ like unwilling truant boys, who go to school and must needs have learning flogged into them; we must be eager to learn; we must open our mouth wide that He may fill it, like the thirsty earth when it needs the shower, our soul must break for the longing it hath towards His commandments at all times. We must rejoice in His statutes more than gold, yea, than much fine gold. When we are moved by this spirit, we have found the one thing needful.
I. To begin, then, here is a word of CONSIDERATION, which, as I have already said, is interjected into the middle of our Lord’s brief word to Martha. Shall I say a word that should discourage your industry? I will not; but, but is there nothing else?--is this life all? Is making money everything?
II. Our text speaks of NECESSITY--one thing is a necessity. If this be proven, it overrides all other considerations. We are nearly right when we say proverbially, “Necessity has no law.” If a man steal, and it be found that he was dying of hunger, he is always half forgiven, and charity has been known to excuse him altogether. Necessity has been frequently accepted as a good excuse for what else might not have been tolerated; and when a thing is right, and necessity backs it, then indeed the right becomes imperative, and pushes to the front to force its way. Necessity, like hunger, breaks through stone walls. The text claims for sitting at Jesus’ feet that it is the first and only necessity. Now, I see all around me a crowd of things alluring and fascinating. Pleasure calls to me; I hear her syren song--but I reply, “I cannot regard thee, for necessity presses upon me to hearken to another voice.” Philosophy and learning charm me: fain would I yield my heart to them; bur, while I am yet unsaved, the one thing needful demands my first care, and wisdom bids me give it. Not that we love human learning less, but eternal wisdom more. Pearls? Yes. Emeralds? Yes; but bread in God’s name--bread at once, when I am starving in the desert! What is the use of ingots of gold, or bars of silver, or caskets of jewels, when food is wanting? If one thing be needful, it devours, like Aaron’s rod, all the matters which are merely pleasurable. All the fascinating things on earth may go, but needful things we must have. If you are wise, you will evermore prefer the necessary to the dazzling. About us are a thousand things entangling. This world is very much like the pools we have heard of in India, in which grows a long grass of so clinging a character that, if a man once falls into the water, it is almost certain to be his death, for only with the utmost difficulty could he be rescued from the meshes of the deadly, weedy net, which immediately wraps itself around him. This world is even thus entangling. All the efforts of grace are needed to preserve men from being ensnared with the deceitfulness of riches and the cares of this life. The ledger demands you, the day-book wants you, the shop requires you, the warehouse bell rings for you; the theatre invites, the ball-room calls: you must live, you say, and you must have a little enjoyment, and, consequently, you give your heart to the world. These things, I say, are very entangling; but we must be disentangled from them, for we cannot afford to lose our souls. In order to enter heaven, it is necessary that our nature should become like the nature of Christ. By sitting at His feet, and beholding Him, we become changed into the same image from glory to glory even as by the Spirit of the Lord. Some things in this world are necessary, after a measure, but this is necessary without measure; infinitely needful is it that you sit at Jesus’ feet, needful now, needful in life; needful in life for peace, in death for rest, and in eternity for bliss. This is needful always. Many things have their uses for youth, others come not into value till old age; but one thing, the one thing, is needful for childhood, and needful for palsied age; it is needful for the ruddy cheek, and the active limb, and needful upon the sick bed; needful in the world, and in the Church, needful everywhere, and always. In the highest and most emphatic sense, “one thing is needful.”
III. Thus much about the necessity, the next word is CONCENTRATION; “One thing is needful.” I am glad it says “one thing,” because a division of ends and objects is always weakening. A man cannot follow two things well. Our life-blood suffices not to fill two streams or three; there is only enough water, as it were, in our life’s brooklet, to turn one wheel. It is a great pity when a man fritters away his energies by being “everything by turns, and nothing long”; trying all things, and mastering nothing. Oh, soul, it is well for thee that there is only one thing in this world that is absolutely necessary, give thy whole soul to that. If other things are necessary in a secondary place, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these shall be added unto you.” One thing is needful, and this is well arranged, for we cannot follow two things. If Christ be one of them, we cannot follow another. It is an unspeakable mercy that the one thing needful is a very simple one. Little child, thou couldst not climb the mountain, but thou canst sit down at Jesus’ feet; thou canst not understand hard doctrine, but thou canst love Him.
IV. The last word is IMMEDIATENESS, and there is no need that we say much upon it. One thing is a necessity, a necessity not of the future only, but of to-day. It is not written, “it shall be needful, on certain coming days, to sit at Jesus feet; but it is so now. Young man, one thing is necessary to you while yet young; do not postpone it till advanced years. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
The one thing needful
I. THAT THERE MUST BE ONE PREDOMINATING INTEREST IN THE LIFE--not a multiplicity of interests, swaying the mind by turns--“Thou art careful and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful.” Variety seems to you to be an essential element of happiness; and the systematizing of life, by reducing its component actions to one and the same principle, appears to exclude variety, and to involve such a repetition and recurrence of the same idea as cannot fail to be dull. Is this your view? Then let me address myself to answer it; for it admits of an answer most satisfactory and conclusive. We fully admit that, as human nature is constituted, variety is an essential element of happiness. In our present state of existence, a continual recurrence of one action, however exciting, or of one strain of thought and feeling, however interesting, could not fail of becoming tedious and wearisome. Our nature, moral and intellectual, needs change. But in what has been said we have not been advocating uniformity of occupations, whether mental or bodily, but only the pervading of all occupations, diversified as they may be, by an unity of principle. Occupations the most various may be engaged in with one leading design. Business the most trivial and commonplace may be executed with a ruling aim and in a lofty spirit. Is it not evidently feasible to reduce our life from an unconnected series of movements, flowing from whatever impulse is at the time uppermost, to a system, composed, indeed, of divers parts, and exhibiting divers operations, but actuated by a common principle, and working towards a common end? And what we assert is that, without such organization, life is destitute of happiness, and destitute of dignity. Busy and bustling it may be--chequered with many incidents it may be; but it will always be agitated by an instinctive restlessness.
II. THAT THIS PREDOMINATING INTEREST MUST NOT BE OF A TRANSIENT NATURE--must have reference not to time, but to eternity. “Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Every worldly interest must one day recede. If it have no reference to eternity, it must one day be taken away. If it be an interest which we are unable to carry with us beyond the barriers of the grave, the consistent prosecution of it may indeed impart a fugitive dignity to our few brief years of existence, but will never adequately develop the energies of our moral nature, and will never confer happiness--a boon unattainable, wherever the insecurity and precarious tenure of the object of pursuit is continually recurring to the mind. What remains then, brethren, but that we should set before you the ruling principle which governs, and pervades, and communicates unity to, the various actions of the Christian’s life--the one good part which, when all objects of earthly interest are to our apprehensions dwindling into their native insignificance, shall not even then be taken away from him? This ruling principle, defined according to its motive, is the constraining love of a crucified Redeemer: defined according to its aim, it is the glory of God. (Dean Goulburn.)
The single need
Christ’s words imply no disapproval of active service as against a contemplative or meditative life. It is not Martha’s activity that He is rebuking, but her anxiety and distraction. He who went about doing good, and who said, “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me,” was not the one to rebuke active ministry. The point of His rebuke lies in enforcing the pursuit of one thing as against many things. It may have been that the peculiar form of the expression grew out of the feast itself. Martha has provided, with much worry and care, many things to eat. To sustain life, only one thing is absolutely needful; or, as some read it, “There is need of few things, or of one.” Be this as it may, the lesson is plain: the life of the soul depends on one thing; the whole energy of the soul should be concentrated upon that. Suppose a man who had never seen a great machine-shop, and who knew nothing of the power of steam or water, were set down in a great hall full of lathes and looms and circular saws, and required to set the machinery in motion: how many men he would call in 1 how many separate contrivances he would apply to each machine! how he would bustle about from wheel to wheel, from lathe to lathe, now heaving away at a great trip-hammer, now cutting his fingers on a circular saw, now turning round the driving-wheel of a lathe! And at this point the experienced engineer comes in, and laughs as he sees the poor man’s perplexity, and says to him, “My friend, all this trouble is unnecessary; only one thing is needful”; and he slips a belt over a drum, and pulls a lever, and behold I the whole hall is in a whirl--lathes, saws, trip-hammers, all in motion, without a hand on any of them. Or, here is a schoolboy with his arithmetic before him, and a whole page of “examples” to work out: and he takes each example by itself, and tries to think his way through it; trying all sorts of experiments, applying one method to one, and another to another, and getting more confused every minute. Presently the teacher looks over his shoulder at his slate covered with a chaotic mass of figures, and glances at the boy’s hot and troubled face, and says to him, “You are taking a good deal of unnecessary trouble. This is not as hard as it looks: only one thing is needful; all these examples are illustrations of one law.” And he sits down, and explains a simple principle to the lad; and then the work becomes a delight. The boy has a clue in his hand which leads him straight through the whole labyrinth of figures. He turns from the multitude of details to the principle, and finds that the details arrange themselves, and the answer comes right every time. So that there is nothing arbitrary or unnatural, or even unfamiliar, in the gospel’s summing itself in one thing, and concentrating men’s attention on that. When a man buys an estate of so many acres, he does not ask for separate titles for the woodland and the pasture and the streams and the mines. He wants one title to the estate. He pays so much; and then, if there is gold or coal or an oil-well on the estate, that is his. The purchase of the estate gives him command of all its possibilities, whether apparent or latent. And so, when God would lead a man to spiritual power and riches by the most direct road, He leads him to Christ. He says: “Receive Him implicitly. Only that one thing is needful; the rest follows, the rest is contained in Him, all things are in Him--all power, all grace, all wisdom, all spiritual possibilities of every kind; and, therefore, when you receive Him, you receive all these things with Him.” The first thing with us all, the one thing, is to get home to Christ--not merely to read about Him or to speculate about His character, but to get face to face with Him. We contemplate too many things: we range all along the vast circumference of duty, instead of striking direct for the centre; we live by law, which takes up duty in detail, instead of by love, which masses and carries all details. We too often act as if God had merely recognized us as His children, and given us the freedom of His house, and then left us to ourselves to work out our life as best we could. That is not God’s way. When He makes us His children through faith in Christ Jesus, He assumes the care of our life in all its details. He not only turns us loose in His house: He goes with us into every corner, and shows us its treasures. He not only gives us the freedom of His domain: He assigns each of us His plot of ground, and stands by us while we try to sow the seed and water the growths, and teaches us how to be workers for and with Him; and as for our care, all that tends to distract and cumber and confuse us He bids us cast it all on Him. Christian life, I say, is simple. It may seem to us that there is a little support on which to cast such a burden and problem as life is to most of us, but we shall do well to try it. Day before yesterday I had occasion to go to the lower part of the city by the elevated railroad; and, as I got out at Hanover Square, I looked down upon the street far below, and a thought something like this went through my mind: Supposing that, without any knowledge of the existence and mode of working of an elevated railway, I had been placed on this train while asleep or unconscious, and had awakened at this station, and been told that I must get down to that street. I get out of the train, and find myself on a narrow platform. I look down on either side, and say, “No way down there, except by being dashed to pieces.” Instinctively I follow those in front of me. Steps, but the door is shut: no getting down there. I follow still. A door, but it opens into an enclosure. I follow still. Another door, and there are steps which lead me safely and easily down to the street. I might have stood still, and distracted myself with a dozen devices for getting down. I might have gone bustling about, looking for a rope or a ladder. There was only one thing needful, and that was, to follow those who knew the way.
So in our Christian experience, one thing is needful--the part which Mary chose, to hear Jesus’ words and to follow Him. (M. R. Vincent, D. D.)
The one thing needful
We learn from the text that true religion is needful, and is a good thing, and will never be taken away from those who possess it. We shall endeavour to show the excellence and necessity of Divine knowledge with its accompaniments, by several considerations.
I. This knowledge is necessary to our reconciliation with God. This is to him the good part which he has chosen for his heritage, and equally needful for all. Of this knowledge, Christ is the sum and substance.
II. The second consideration which serves to show the necessity and excellence of the knowledge of Divine truth, is, that in this knowledge, and the holy affections which flow from it, consists the highest dignity and supreme excellence and felicity of human nature. In proportion to our knowledge will be our love; and from this perennial fountain will flow uninterrupted happiness.
III. A third consideration which goes fully to justify the choice of Mary is, that the good part on which she had fixed her affections, should never be taken away from her. (A. Alexander, D. D.)
The one thing needful
1. The text reminds us that we are endowed with the power of choice, and are responsible for its exercise. “Mary hath chosen the good part.” It was her own act, and she was commended for it. This truth is perfectly consistent with the assurance that we are saved, “not of ourselves, it is the gift of God.” Universally it is true that “without Him we can do nothing.” Yet it is also true that, as He does help us, we are able to do very much and are bound to do it.
2. Let me urge the importance of youth as a season for exercising this choice. A train of carriages once set in motion on the rails, easily goes forward on the same track. Most persons go through life as they first set out. If you, in youth, deliberately neglect the “ one thing needful,” your wrong choice now may be your evil genius in old age, and your ruin eternally.
3. Let me then urge on you the great motive to a right decision which the text suggests. “Many things” on the one hand, the “one thing needful” on the other, solicit your preference. The world sets before you its various objects of desire--wealth, ease, learning, pleasure, fame, power, admiration. Let me remind you that, however desirable, they are not necessary. Moreover, all these “many things” are fleeting, as well as nonessential. They can only be for a little while. Beauty, riches, rank, admiration, health, life, will be taken away. (Newman Hall, LL. B.)
Scriptural religion the one thing needful.
It is the one thing needful for--
1. The safety of man.
2. The usefulness of man.
3. The support and comfort of man.
4. The present and eternal well-being of man. (J. Smyth, D. D.)
The care of our souls, the one thing needful
I. WHEREIN THIS CARE OF OUR SOULS CONSISTS.
1. The due care of religion and our souls doth consist in the distinct knowledge, and in the firm belief and persuasion of those things which are necessary to be known and believed by us in order to our eternal salvation.
2. The due care of our souls consists in the frequent examination of outlives and actions, and in a sincere repentance for all the errors and miscarriages of them: in a more particular and deep humiliation and repentance for deliberate and wilful sins, so far as we can call them to our remembrance; and in a general repentance for sins of ignorance, and infirmity, and surprise.
3. The due care of our souls consists in the constant and daily exercise of piety and devotion, both in private and in public, if there be opportunity for it, especially at proper times, and upon more solemn occasions; by fervent prayer to God, and by hearing and reading the Word of God with reverence and godly fear; by frequenting His public worship, and demeaning ourselves in it with that solemnity and seriousness which becomes the presence and service of God.
4. The due care of our souls consists also in avoiding those things which are pernicious to our salvation, and whereby men do often hazard their souls.
5. The due care of our souls consists in the even and constant practice of the several graces and virtues of a good life; or, as the apostle expresseth it, in “exercising ourselves always to have a conscience void of offence towards God and men.” For herein is religion best seen, in an equal and uniform practice of every part of our duty; net only in serving God devoutly, but in demeaning ourselves peaceably and justly, kindly and charitably towards all men; not only in restraining ourselves from the outward act of sin, but in mortifying the inward inclination to it, in subduing our lusts, and governing our passions, and bridling our tongues.
III. proceed now, in the second place, TO CONVINCE US ALL, IF IT MAY BE, OF THE NECESSITY OF MINDING RELIGION AND OUR souls. When we call anything necessary, we mean that it is so in order to some end, which cannot be attained without it. We call those things the necessaries of life, without which men cannot subsist and live in a tolerable condition in this world; and that is necessary to our eternal happiness, without which it cannot be attained. Now happiness being our chief end, whatever is necessary to that, is more necessary than anything else; and in comparison of that, all other things not only may, but ought to be neglected by us.
1. That religion is a certain way to happiness. And for this we hare God’s express declaration and promise--the best assurance that can be. He that cannot lie, hath promised “eternal life to them who, by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory and honour and immortality.”
2. It is certain also that there is no other way to happiness but this. We must be like to God in the temper of our minds, before we can find any felicity in the enjoyment of Him.
3. If we neglect religion, we shall certainly be extremely and for ever miserable. (Archbishop Tillotson.)
The one thing needful
But why is this concern which is so complex called one thing? I answer: Though salvation and holiness include various ingredients, and though the means of grace are various, yet they may be all taken collectively and called one thing; i.e., one great business, one important object of pursuit, in which all our endeavours and aims should centre and terminate.
1. It is also said to be one, in opposition to the many things that are the objects of a worldly mind.
2. It may also be called the one thing needful, to intimate that this is needful above all other things.
3. This is so necessary, that nothing else deserves to be called necessary in comparison of it.
This shows you also, not only why this is called one thing, but why or in what sense it is said to be necessary. It is of absolute and incomparable necessity.
1. However well you have improved your time for other purposes, you have lost it all, unless you have improved it in securing the one thing needful. The proper notion of time is, that it is a space for repentance. Time is given us to prepare for eternity.
2. Whatever else you have been doing, you have lost your labour with your time, if you have not laboured above all things for this one thing needful. A child or an idiot riding upon a staff, building their mimic houses, or playing with a feather, are not so foolish as you in your conduct, while you are so seriously pursuing the affairs of time, and neglecting those of eternity.
3. This is not all: all your labour and pains have not only been lost while you have neglected one thing, but you have taken pains to ruin yourselves, and laboured hard all your lives for your own destruction. We were far from having any such design. But the question is not, what was your design? but, what is the unavoidable consequence of your conduct, according to the nature of things, and the unchangeable constitution of heaven? Whatever you design in going on in sin, the wages of sin is death, eternal death.
4. If you have hitherto neglected the one thing needful, you have unmanned yourselves, acted beneath and contrary to your own reason, and in plain terms behaved as if you had been out of your senses. If you have the use of your reason, it must certainly tell you for what it was given to you. And I beseech you tell me what it was given to you for but to serve the God that made you, to secure His favour, to prepare for your eternal state, and to enjoy the supreme good as your portion? (President Davies.)
One thing is needful
1. In order rightly to employ the time of life.
2. In order rightly to enjoy the joy of life.
3. In order rightly to endure the burdens of life.
4. In order rightly to await the end of life. (Van Oosterzee.)
One thing only is necessary
Run to and fro in the world, and in that great emporium and mart of toys and vanities find out one thing that is necessary if you can, though you search it, as the prophet speaks, with candles. Is it necessary to be rich? Behold Dives in hell, and Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom. Is it necessary to be noble? “Not many noble are called.” Is it necessary to be learned? “Where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world?” Everything hath its necessity from us) not from itself; for of itself it cannot show anything that should make it so: it is we that file these chains, and fashion these nails of necessity and make her hand of brass. Riches are necessary because we are covetous; honour is necessary because we are proud and love to have the pre-eminence. Pleasure is necessary because we love it more than God. Revenge is necessary because we delight in blood. Lord, how many necessaries do we make when there is but one? one, sine qua non debimus, without which we ought not, and sine quo non possumus, without which we cannot be happy; and that is our assimilation and being made like unto Christ, in whom alone all the treasures of wisdom, and riches, and honour, all that is necessary for us are to be found (Luke 14:18-20; Colossians 2:10). (A. Farindon.)
One thing is needful
The other day I stood outside of a church in my native county, in Scotland. I never was inside that church but once, and that was, I am afraid to say forty years ago, certainly thirty-five, at least, and I heard there a minister whom I had never heard before or since, and he preached from this text, “One thing is needful,” and although years passed before I was converted to God, I can say here to-night, as before Him, that word went home to my soul in power, and never left me. That one short sentence taught me that I was wrong, and that I should never be right until I came to Christ. It followed me for years, until God in His infinite mercy led me to put my trust in that blessed Saviour whom I hope I still love and seek to serve. (W. P. Lockhart.)
Need of both Martha and Mary
We need to combine the theoretical and the practical, the doctrinal with the experimental. Either extreme, exclusively, is to be avoided. Do not be ascetic when the world is full of work--good, honest, remunerative work, that requires the best wisdom for its performance. Three doctors of divinity were dining together. The character of the model wife was discussed. The first thought that Martha, of Bethany, filled the bill. The second, somewhat at a loss, thought he should prefer Mary. The third, when appealed to, immediately replied, “Oh, I think I should choose Martha before dinner, and Mary after it.” May we all sit at the feet of Jesus as learners, that we may become all the more useful and helpful as workers. (L. O. Thompson.)
The only thing of importance
In Whitefield’s Tabernacle, Tottenham Court Road, is an inscription to a once celebrated sculptor, designed with the tomb by himself. It runs as follows: “What I was as an artist, seemed of some importance while I lived; but what I really was, as a believer in Christ Jesus, is the only thing of importance to me now.”
The good part best
St. Bernard, the son of a Knight of Burgundy, having devoted himself to a monastic life, persuaded four brothers, of whom the two elder were, like their father, stout fighting men, to follow his example. Only the youngest remained for a secular life, and he was but a child. As they were finally leaving the paternal castle, one of them said to the boy: “Nivard, you are now owner of all our property.” “What?” replied the boy, “you have heaven, and I the earth; that is no fair division!”
Realizing the love of God as the one thing needful
A little girl in Paris, seven years old was observed to read the New Testament continually. Being asked what pleasure she found in doing so, she said, “It makes us wise, and teaches us how to love God.” She had been reading the history of Martha and Mary. “What is the one thing needful?” asked her friend. “It is the love of God,” she replied, very earnestly.
The better part
The preference which Jesus manifested for the character of Mary, has, I believe, been often esteemed more poetical than just. It has been accused as a romantic judgment, giving countenance to the mischievous belief that the qualities best adapted for this world are uncongenial with the spirit of the other. The passage has been read not without a secret pity for the good Martha; and many a worthy housewife has thought within herself, “It seems rather hard that this is what we get for our pains.” From the outside it looks so easy to sit still and gaze upon the face of heavenly goodness,--so pleasant to take in the lessons of holy truth, that those who see the attitude from amid the toil and heat of the common day, regard it only as a mental luxury, a coolness from the tree of life upon the grass of thought; more fit to be envied of men than applauded of the Son of God. And yet there is the deepest truth discoverable in this verdict of Christ; and the whole history of individual character, and of collective society, leads us to the same result. Those to whom life is a succession of particular businesses, however intelligent, energetic, and conscientious, must rank in the scale of human excellence below those to whom life is rather the flow of one spirit. (J. Martineau, D. D.)
The one thing needful
It is an unspeakable mercy that the one thing needful is a very simple one. To sit at Jesus’ feet in humble submission and quiet rest--He the Master and I the little child; I the vessel waiting to be filled and He my fulness; I the mown grass and He the falling dew; I the raindrop and He the sun that makes me glisten in life with diamond brilliance, and then exhales me in death to be absorbed in Him--this is all in all to me. Let love permeate everything and other virtues will grow out of it, as flowers spring from the soil. So when we say that sitting at Jesus’ feet is the one thing needful, we have not uttered a mere truism; it comprehends a world of blessing. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
I. I WISH TO SPEAK OF SOME THINGS WHICH ARE NEEDFUL IN A SECONDARY OR SUBORDINATE SENSE. Cultivation of the mind; care for the body; diligence in business; faithfulness as a citizen.
II. THE ONE THING WHICH OUR LORD HERE REFERS TO AS BEING NEEDFUL. She sat. She sat at Jesus’ feet. She heard His word.
III. SOME OF THE OBJECTIONS WHICH ARE MADE WITH REGARD TO DECISION FOR CHRIST.
1. It is a humbling thing.
2. Christianity is unmanly.
3. There are some very limp Christians.
4. There will have to be a very great deal of self-denial if I become a Christian.
5. It is such a difficult thing to live a Christian life. These objections will not bear examination. (W. P. Lockhart.)
One thing is needful
Write down a line of ciphers! You may add thousands, multiplying them till the sheets they fill cover the face of heaven and earth--they express nothing. Now take the lowest number of the ten, the smallest digit, and place that at their head; magic never wrought such a change! What before amounted to nothing, rises instantly by the addition of one figure, one stroke of the pen, into thousands, or millions, as the ease may be; and whether they represent pounds or pearls, how great is the sum of them! (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
Mary hath chosen that good part
The good part of Mary
I. It would appear, on our Lord’s own authority, that there are TWO WAYS OF SERVING HIM--by active business, and by quiet adoration. And further, these two classes of His disciples do not choose for themselves their course of service, but are allotted it by Him, Martha might be the elder, Mary the younger. I do not say that it is never left to a Christian to choose his own path, whether he will minister with the angels or adore with the seraphim; often it is: and well may he bless God if he has it in his power freely to choose that good portion which our Saviour especially praises. But, for the most part, each has his own place marked out for him, if he will take it, in the course of His providence; at least there can be no doubt who are intended for worldly cares. The necessity of getting a living, the calls of a family, the duties of station and office, these are God’s tokens, tracing out Martha’s path for the many. Let me, then, dismiss the consideration of the many, and rather mention who they are who may be considered as called to the more favoured portion of Mary; and in doing so I shall more clearly show what that portion is. First, I instance the old, as is natural, whose season of business is past, and who seem to be thereby reminded to serve God by prayer and contemplation. Next those, who minister at the altar, are included in Mary’s portion. “Blessed is the man whom Thou choosest and causest to approach unto Thee,” says the psalmist, “that he may dwell in Thy courts.” And next, I may mention children as in some respects partakers of Mary’s portion. Till they go out into the world, whether into its trades or its professions, their school-time should be, in some sort, a contemplation of their Lord and Saviour. Further, we are told, on St. Paul’s authority (if that be necessary on so obvious a point), that Mary’s portion is allotted, more or less, to the unmarried. I say more or less, for Martha herself, though unmarried, yet as mistress of a household, was in a measure an exception; and because servants of God, as St. Paul, may remain unmarried, not to labour less, but to labour more directly for the Lord. “The unmarried careth for the things of the Lord, so as to be holy both in body and in spirit. And this I speak for your own profit, that ye may sit at the Lord’s feet without being cumbered.” And, further still, there are vast numbers of Christians, in Mary’s case, who are placed in various circumstances, and of whom no description can well be given; rich men having leisure, or active men during seasons of leisure, as when they leave their ordinary work for recreation’s sake. Certainly our Lord meant that some or other of His servants should be ever worshipping Him in every place, and that not in their hearts merely, but with the ceremonial of devotion. And, last of all, in Mary’s portion, doubtless, are included the souls of those who have lived and died in the faith and fear of Christ. Scripture tells us that “ they rest from their labours”; and in the same sacred books that their employment is prayer and praise.
II. MARY’S PORTION IS THE BETTER OF THE TWO. Our Lord’s words imply, not that Martha’s heart was not right with Him, but that her portion was full of snares, as being one of worldly labour, but that Mary could not easily go wrong in hers; that we may be busy in a wrong way, we cannot well adore Him except in a right one; that to serve God by prayer and praise continually, when we can do so consistently with other duties, is the pursuit of the one thing needful, and emphatically “that good part which shall not be taken away from us.” (J. H. Newman, D. D.)
The worthy portion
I. THE ONE THING. This one thing is not one dish, as Theophylact; nor unity, as Augustine; nor one grace, whether faith, hope, or charity, as others. But this one thing is the Christian care that every one ought to have of his own salvation, because--
1. The cares of Mary and Martha are opposed.
2. This was the good part chosen by Mary, namely, a care how to be saved.
3. To this is perseverence promised, for as salvation is the good part of the elect, which shall never be taken away, so neither shall this care to attain that end by the means, for God preserves it by means.
II. How IS IT NECESSARY?
1. In order above and before all things. “First seek the kingdom of God” Matthew 6:33), that is, to get into the estate of grace, as Israel must seek manna the first thing they do in the morning.
2. This one thing is simply necessary for itself, all other things for this.
3. It is transcendently necessary far beyond all things in the world, for this is alone sufficient for happiness and salvation, all they insufficient.
4. It is perpetually necessary while we live, lest beginning in the spirit we end in the flesh. The crown is set on the head of the conqueror.
III. BUT WHY IS IT SO NECESSARY?
1. Because this one thing neglected, all other things are unprofitable, yea, all other things are vile without it; what would the gain of the whole world profit him that loseth his soul? How doth the apostle esteem all things loss and dung in comparison of Christ in the means? All without one’s self, authority, wealth, favour, honour; yea, and all within one’s self, knowledge, wisdom, memory, discourse, and the most excellent gifts which the apostle had in abundance, all dung and loss.
2. All actions, words, thoughts, profession, and the whole course not accompanied with this care, do swerve and err, and being not of faith are sinful, idle, hurtful; everything is lossful that helps not toward heaven, or that hinders heaven from being still held in our eye.
3. God delighteth only in such as in whom He espieth this care.
4. This one thing and care affordeth a man the surest comfort in the world, yea, in the agony of death it cheers the heart to have had a care of the best things. The point is this. In the most earnest affairs of this life a Christian must never forget the one thing necessary; as here we see, the care of salvation must take place of the care of entertaining Christ’s own person.
1. The excellency of grace and glory, of Christ and His gospel, is such as should draw all eyes from off these shadows and vanishing contentments to the surpassing brightness of it. What is earth to heaven, earthly goods to heavenly grace? What is gold and silver but dust of the earth, and base things to enter comparison with the blessings of the gospel? What a sin and shame is it to set the moon above the sun, to prefer pottage before the blessing, swine before Christ, and husks before the bread in our Father’s house?
2. The dignity of the soul requires the chief care to keep and save it. It is a particle of Divine breath, called the precious soul of man (Proverbs 6:26), not made for the body, but the body to be the tabernacle of the soul, and the soul’s instrument to work by, so precious, as that the ransom of it must be beyond all corruptible things; not gold and silver can deliver it, but only the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19). And the soul being lost, what recompense can be given?
3. The presence of grace makes a man serious in this care for the one thing necessary. It lets a man see the danger of the soul without it. It shows the means of recovery out of this woeful estate. It enables him to behold the worth of grace. Labour, then, to discern and conclude, that this is the one thing necessary.
To do which, we must do three things.
1. Inform our judgments aright, which are the best things. They are such as serve to the main end, to uphold and maintain Christian life.
2. Resolve to do that which rightly-informed judgment suggests.
3. Avoid the lets and hindrances by which this care of the one thing necessary is usually put off; two specially.
First, carnal and proud conceits. Martha must be counted a good housewife, and may not disgrace herself now at such a time, and Christ may be heard another time, or if not, she is well enough; she hath given Christ entertainment. Oh, but he is the best husband and she the best housewife who provide best for their souls, who have care-that everything lie handsome and cleanly within, who hear Christ upon all occasions, and give Him not a meal’s-meat in their houses, or entertain His disciples and ministers at their tables, but give Him entertainment in their hearts; without which care the best entertainment is not worth a rush, no, not if Christ’s own person were at thy table; for many will say at that day, “We have eaten and drunk with Thee,” to whom He shall profess, “Depart from Me, I know you not.” Secondly, evil example. It was so common for women to bestir themselves at such a time, as Martha makes a complaint of Mary to Christ, because she did not help her, saying, “Bid her come help me.” But happy was Mary that attended Christ, though alone. If many run in byeways and see not the one thing necessary, yea, and account it the most unnecessary of all, we must not go in their way, but sit down (though alone) at the feet of Christ. (T. Taylor, D. D.)
Nay, this whole life is a life of necessities, how then is there but one thing necessary? I answer, it is true these things are necessary in their compass and sphere for this present life, but this life itself is nothing without a better being, and we had better not be than be and not be translated hereafter to a better life, and therefore Christ applies Himself to these means, as to that which conducteth us to that better life, which is only absolutely necessary. But, it may be urged, is not Christ’s righteousness, faith, God’s Spirit, more than one; and yet are they net all necessary? I answer, though they be diverse, yet they run all to one end. Even as many links make one chain, so all these tend to make a man one, that is a Christian; and therefore a wise soul considers them as one thing, and runs over them all at one view. And first, consider in everything what reference it hath to this one thing, what reference it hath to grace and glory. So long as we neglect this, the devil cares not what we have, whither we go, in what company we are; all is one to him. Secondly, carry ourselves respectively according to the necessity of the things that we are to be busied about, whereof some are more, some less necessary, according as they have more or less good in them. Those that cannot stand with this main one thing, cut them off, for other things that are necessarily required for our well-being in this life, as our daily bread, our callings in these, and the like. Thirdly, take heed of faithless cares, and beg wisdom to despatch business so as they prejudice not the main, and look still how they aim at the main end. As travellers and warriors do unburden themselves of things less necessary, so let us take heed of entangling ourselves in the cares of this life (2 Timothy 2:4). Fourthly, in all business we should observe what the main end is, and labour to direct them to that main end. All other things are temporal, and death buries them, but grace and glory are in extent equal to our souls, extending to all eternity. Grace and the fruits thereof is our own; all other things are not ours. Grace brings us to the greatest good, and advanceth us to the true nobility of sons and heirs of God, and grace makes us truly wise. It makes us wise to salvation; it makes us truly rich with such riches as we cannot lose. Grace is so good, it makes ill things good, so as afflictions with the word and grace are better than all the pleasures in Pharaoh’s court in Moses’s esteem (Hebrews 11:25). Seeing it is thus, let us be animated by this example of Mary; and to that end, first, beg the Spirit of revelation to open our eyes to see the high prize of our calling, the happiness thereof; and to get a sense and taste of the pleasures thereof, that we may judge by our own experience. For the meanest Christian out of experience knows this to be the good part; and this it is which the apostle prays for (Philippians 1:10), that the Philippians may approve the things that are excellent. The word signifies in all sense and feeling, to approve the things that are excellent, or do differ. Secondly, let us endeavour to balance things, by laying and comparing them together. For comparison gives lustre; and thus shall we see the difference and the excellency of some things above others, and the sooner be able to choose. Thus did David; and the effect thereof was this, “I have seen an end of all created perfection, but thy commandments are exceeding broad or large” (Psalms 119:96). Thirdly, labour for spiritual discretion to discern of particulars. This is, as it were, the steward to all actions, teaching what to cut off, what to add. In all particular affairs of this life, what time and what place fitteth best, tells what company, what life, what way is the best. And when we have done this--fourthly, proceed on and make this choice. If we do not choose it only, but stumble upon it, as it were, it is no thank to us. Though it be the fashion nowadays; men read the Word, and go to church; why? Not that they have, by balancing and the spirit of discretion, made choice of this as the best part, but they were bred up in it; and they went with company, and custom hath drawn them to it; they happen on good duties it may be against their wills; and this is the reason of those many apostates that fall off to embrace this present world, as Demas did (2 Timothy 4:10); for they not being grounded, must needs waver in temptation. Fifthly, in the next place, when we have made this choice, we must resolve with a deliberate resolution to stand by this choice. It is not enough to make an offer, or to cheapen, as we say, but come with resolution to buy, to choose. So David, “I have chosen the way of truth, and have stuck to Thy statutes (Psalms 119:30-31); and (verse 57), “I have said,” that is, set down with myself, “that I would keep Thy words”: for the will rules in our souls. If we be good, our will is good. There are many wicked men that understand and are persuaded what is best; but for want of this resolution and will they never make this determinate choice; and many rail at good men and persecute them. Let such know that God will not take men by chance. If they choose the worst part, they must look for to reap the fruit of their choice. Sixthly, in the next place, come we often, and sit at Christ’s feet, as Mary here came to the ministry. “He that heareth you heareth Me,” saith Christ. Live under a powerful plain ministry. Lastly, labour to draw on others to this choice. By so much the more earnest endeavour, by how much the more we have been a means to draw them to ill heretofore, and this will seal up all the rest, it being a sure sign of our perfect and sincere choice. (R. Sibbes, D. D.)
As the head and the foot are both needful in the body, so Mary and Martha are both needful in a commonwealth; man hath two vocations, the one earthly by his labour, the other heavenly by his prayer. There is the active life, which consisteth in practising the affairs of this life, wherein man showeth himself to be like himself; and there is the contemplative life, which consisteth in the meditation of Divine and heavenly things, wherein man showeth himself to be like the angels; for they which labour in their temporal vocations, do live like men; but they which labour in spiritual matters, live like angels. A nurse which hath her breast full of milk doth love the child that sucks it from her; and Christ which hath His breast full of heavenly milk is glad when He hath children to suck the same; let us therefore, as the apostle willeth us (1 Peter 2:12), “laying aside all maliciousness, and all guile, and dissimulation, and envy, and all evil speaking, as new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that we may grow thereby,” to be perfect men in Christ Jesus. Let us breathe after the fountain of the living water, which springeth up into eternal life; and as the fainty hart desireth the water-brook to quench his thirst (Psalms 42:1). (H. Smith.)
The service of rest
Here were two services, both earnest, both from loving hearts, both for Christ, both greatly to be emulated--the one active, the other passive--one doing for Christ, the other receiving from Christ, one toiling, the other sitting at the feet. But Christ had no hesitation which He preferred, and has left it beyond a question, that, in that instance at least, the service of work was inferior to the service of rest. But now, we must be careful before we proceed that we understand very accurately what rest is. Idleness and rest are two of the most diametrically opposite things in the whole world. Idleness is a selfish thing, done on no principle, to please nature. Rest is a holy thing, done measuredly, and with a purpose, to please God, and to fit to work. An idle man never rests. Who has not found the restlessness of inactivity, and that the hardest thing we ever do is when we do nothing? But what is rest? Rest, being a relative term, is essentially retrospective and prospective. It pre-supposes that there has been labour; for where there is no fatigue, there is no rest. And it is not rest worthy of a man unless it be preparatory to work which is to follow, and which is to be the better for the temporary intermission. But what is the present character of rest, and how are resting-times to be spent? I say generally, as Mary spent her opportunity in the house at Bethany, as David the solitude of his chamber, as Paul the desert, as Christ the mountain. Perhaps we should be right to say, rest is not so much a cessation from work as a change of employment. Whereas the work was outward, in rest it is inward; still, more rest than work. Never, brethren, are we better practising for heaven than when we are learning the service of rest. Do not be afraid, in your hours of sickness and weakness, to take the comfort of the thought. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The best dish
There is a touch of playfulness in our Lord’s reply to Martha. He takes an image from the very table about which Martha was so unnecessarily and unduly anxious: for the words rendered “Mary hath chosen the good part,” mean “Mary hath chosen the good portion, the best dish, the Benjamin’s mess.” It is as though He had said to the careful and fretted housekeeper: “You are very kind, Martha; you are doing your best to please Me, and to give Me as good a dinner as you can: and yet it is Mary who has brought Me the best dish, the food I like most. She is nourishing and refreshing My spirit with her love and sympathy. She is giving Me an opportunity of feeding her with the bread of life and the wine of the kingdom. Our fellowship with each other is the true feast. And you, O you poor Martha, are so taken up with your dainties that you are losing the feast!” Obviously, our Lord stoops to Martha’s level, to the busy housekeeper’s point of view, and playfully rebukes her for her mistake. Her mind is full of dishes and dainties, so full, and so bewildered, that she is forgetting the best dish of all. She wants to serve Him and do Him honour; but she is pre-occupied with thoughts of how she may do her best for Him. And so He teaches her that she will best serve both herself and Him by casting aside her cares, and giving herself up to the joy of communion with Him. Now if you ask me to name this best dish, to tell you exactly what the one thing needful is, I am a little puzzled how to reply; not, however, because I do not know what it is. First, I will tell you what I think the one thing needful is. I believe it is that love for God and man which quickens and sustains the true life within us, and redeems us from all anxieties for the many things of our outward life. But if you rise into this pure, deep, and trustful love, you will be saved from all these base and vexing cares and fears. You will do your best in your several stations. You will be as diligent, as prudent, as skilful, as you can; and then you will leave the results of your faithful discharge of duty with God; fearing no evil, because you know there is no want to them that fear Him. And is not that the very best thing you can do, the best dish of which you can eat? What else has life to offer that is half so good? This is the dish of which Mary ate with Christ, and of which the young ruler refused to eat, at least for a time. And, last of all, it is the best dish, the best portion, because it can never be taken away from us. We lose much as life goes on, more than you can yet imagine. We lose health and energy both of body and of mind; the fineness of our intellectual perceptions is duiled, and the firmness of our intellectual grasp relaxed. We lose our very senses--not going out of our minds, I do not mean that, but--our eyes grow dim, and our ears hard of hearing, and our tongues trip, and our natural force is abated. We lose, or partly lose, our very memories, so that our own past grows hazy to us, or even dark. We lose the power to do much that we once loved to do, and to enjoy much that was once pleasant to us. We lose our friends, or at least the presence and use and enjoyment of our friends, losing at the same time the faculty of forming new friendships. And, at last, we lose life itself, and with it all that we have gained. But there is one thing we never lose, if once we have had it--the love of God. We never lose the one thing needful, the one only thing which enables us to bear all other losses, and even turns them into gain. (S. Cox, D. D.)
The one thing needful
Philip Henry left in his will the following important passage: “I have now disposed of all my property to my family; there is one thing more I wish I could give them, and that is, the Christian religion. If they had that, and I had not given them one shilling, they would be rich; and if they had not that, and I had given them all the world, they would be poor.”
The one thing needful
An Asiatic traveller tells us that one day as he was crossing a desert, he and his party found the bodies of two men laid upon the sand beside the carcass of a camel. By their side lay a small bag of dried dates, two leathern bottles, quite empty, and on further examination he noticed that the stomach of the dead camel had been cut open, as if to get at the water, which, as is well known, that animal can carry on its desert journeys for a considerable time. A further glance at the swollen lips and blackened tongues of the two men made it evident that they had died during the most agonizing pains of thirst. “I was much stirred,” says the traveller, “when I found that both men had in the belt around their waist a large store of jewels of different kinds, which they had doubtless been crossing the desert to sell in the markets of Persia. I warrant the poor wretches would have bartered many a jewel for a few delicious draughts of water.” (J. Jackson Wray.)
The good part
You have chosen the better part, and it shall never be taken from you (Luke 10:42); and therefore behave as bravely when you have little as when you have much. You shall be sure to enjoy all in God and God in all; and what would you have more? Seneca once told a courtier who had lost his son, that he had no cause to mourn, either for that or ought else, because Caesar was his friend. Oh, then, what little cause have the saints to mourn for this or that loss, considering that God is their portion! I have read of a company of poor Christians, who were banished into remote parts, and one standing by seeing them pass along, said, that it was very sad for those poor people to be thus hurried from the society of men, and made companions with the beasts of the field. “True,” said another, “it were sad indeed if they were carried to a place where they could not find their God; but let them be of good cheer, for God goes along with them, and will enrich them with the comforts of His grace wheresoever they go.” Would you not laugh to see a man lament bitterly for the loss of his shoestrings when his purse is safe? or for the burning of a pig-sty when his dwelling-house is safe? and why then should a Christian lament for the loss of this or that, so long as God is with him? (Thomas Brooks.)
What cannot be taken away
There is a story in Foxe’s “Book of Martyrs” of a woman who, when she came to be tried for her religion before the Bishop, was threatened by him that he would take away her husband from her. “Christ,” was her reply, “is my husband.” “I will take away thy child,” said he. “Christ,” said she, “is better to me than ten sons.” “I will strip thee,” said he, “of all outward comforts.” And again came the answer, “Yes, but Christ is mine, and you cannot strip me of Him.” (W. Baxendale.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Luke 10". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12