Click here to join the effort!
It is impossible but that offences will come
Where sin occurs, God cannot wisely prevent it
The doctrine of this text is that sin, under the government of God, cannot be prevented.
1. When we say IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO PREVENT SIN UNDER THE GOVERNMENT OF GOD, the statement still calls for another inquiry, viz.: Where does this impossibility lie? Which is true: that the sinner cannot possibly forbear to sin, or that God cannot prevent his sinning? The first supposition answers itself, for it could not be sin if it were utterly unavoidable. It might be his misfortune; but nothing could be more unjust than to impute it to him as his crime. Let us, then, consider that God’s government over men is moral, and known to be such by every intelligent being. It contemplates mind as having intellect to understand truth, sensibility to appreciate its bearing upon happiness, conscience to judge of the right, and a will to determine a course of voluntary action in view of God’s claims. So God governs mind. Not so does He govern matter. The planetary worlds are controlled by quite a different sort of agency. God does not move them in their orbits by motives, but by a physical agency. I said, all men know this government to be moral by their own consciousness. When its precepts and its penalties come before their minds, they are conscious that an appeal is made to their voluntary powers. They are never conscious of any physical agency coercing obedience. Where compulsion begins, moral agency ends. Persuasion brought to bear upon mind, is always such in its nature that it can be resisted. By the very nature of the case, God’s creatures must have power to resist any amount of even His persuasion. There can be no power in heaven or earth to coerce the will, as matter is coerced. The nature of mind forbids its possibility. God is infinitely wise. He cannot act unwisely, The supposition would make Him cease to be perfect, and this were equivalent to ceasing to be God. Here, then, is the case. A sinner is about to fall before temptation, or in more correct language, is about to rush into some new sin. God cannot wisely prevent his doing so. Now what shall be done? Shall He let that sinner rush on to his chosen sin and self-wrought ruin; or shall He step forward, unwisely, sin Himself, and incur all the frightful consequences of such a step? He lets the sinner bear his own responsibility. Thus the impossibility of preventing sin lies not in the sinner, but wholly with God. Sin, it should be remembered, is nothing else than an act of free will, always committed against one’s conviction of right. Indeed, ii a man did not know that selfishness is sin, it would not be sin in his case. These remarks will suffice to show that sin in every instance of its commission is utterly inexcusable.
II. We are next to notice some OBJECTIONS.
1. “If God is infinitely wise and good, why need we pray at all? If He will surely do the best possible thing always, and all the good He can do, why need we pray?” Because His infinite goodness and wisdom enjoin it upon us.
2. Objecting again, you ask why we should pray to God to prevent sin, if He cannot prevent it? We pray for the very purpose of changing the circumstances. If we step forward and offer fervent, effectual prayer, this quite changes the state of the case.
3. Yet further objecting, you ask--“Why did God create moral agents at all if He foresaw that He could not prevent their sinning?” Because He saw that on the whole it was better to do so.
1. We may see the only sense in which God could have purposed the existence of sin. It is simply negative. He purposed not to prevent it in any case where it does actually occur.
2. The existence of sin does not prove that it is the necessary means of the greatest good.
3. The human conscience always Justifies God. This is an undeniable fact--a fact of universal consciousness. (C. G. Finney, D. D.)
The evil and danger of offences
1. The first is a time of persecution. Offences will abound in a time of persecution to the ruin of many professors.
2. A time of the abounding of great sins is a time of giving and taking great offence.
3. When there is a decay of Churches, when they grow cold, and are under decays, it is a time of the abounding of offences. Offences are of two sorts.
I. SUCH AS ARE TAKEN ONLY, AND NOT GIVEN. The great offence taken was at Jesus Christ Himself. This offence taken, and not given, is increased by the poverty of the Church, These things are an offence taken and not given.
II. THERE ARE OFFENCES GIVEN AND TAKEN.
1. Offences given: and they are men’s public sins, and the miscarriages of professors that are under vows and obligations to honourable obedience. Men may give offence by errors, and miscarriages in Churches, and by immoralities in their lives. This was in the sin of David; God would pass by everything but offence given: “Because thou hast made My name to be blasphemed,” therefore I will deal so and so. So God speaks of the people of Israel: these were My people, by reason of you My name is profaned among the Gentiles. These are the people of the Lord; see now they are come into captivity, what a vile people they are. Such things are an offence given.
2. Offences taken. Now offences are taken two ways.
(1) As they occasion grief (Romans 14:1-45.14.23.). See that by thy miscarriage thou “grieve not thy brother.” Men’s offences who are professors, are a grief, trouble, and burden to those who are concerned in the same course of profession. “Offences will come”; and therefore let us remember, that God can sanctify the greatest offences to our humiliation and recovery, and to the saving of our Church. Such is His infinite wisdom.
(2) Given offences occasion sin. But offences given are an occasion of sin, even among professors and believers themselves. The worst way whereby a given offence is thus taken, is, when men countenance themselves in private sins by others’ public sins; and go on in vices because they see such and such commit greater. Woe unto us if we so take offence. Again, a given offence is taken, when our minds are provoked, exasperated, and carried off from a spirit of love and tenderness towards those that offend, and a]l others, and when we are discouraged and despond, as though the ways of God would not carry us out. This is to take offence to our disadvantage. I shall give you a few rules from hence, and so conclude.
(a) The giving offence being a great aggravation of sin, let this rule lie continually in your hearts, That the more public persons are, the more careful they ought to be that they give no offence either to Jew or Gentile, or to “the Church of Christ.”
(b) If what I have laid down be your first and your main rule, I doubt where this is neglected there is want of sincerity; but where it is your principal rule, there is nothing but hypocrisy. Men may walk by this rule, and have corrupt minds, and cherish wickedness in their hearts.
(c) Be not afraid of the great multiplication of offences at this day in the world. The truths of the gospel and holiness have broke through a thousand times more offences.
(d) Beg of God wisdom to manage yourselves under offences: and of all things take heed of that great evil which professors have been very apt to run into; I mean, to receive and promote reports of offence among themselves, taking hold of the least colour or pretence to report such things as are matter of offence, and give advantage to the world. Take heed of this, it is the design of the devil to load professors with false reports. (J. Owen, D. D.)
Of the necessity of offences arising against the gospel
I. In the first place, it will be proper TO CONSIDER WHAT THE PRINCIPAL OF THOSE OFFENCES AIDE WHICH HINDER THE PROPAGATION OF THE GOSPEL OF TRUTH. And though everything that is faulty in any kind does in its measure and degree contribute to this evil; yet whoever considers the state of the Christian world, and the history of the Church in all ages from the beginning, will find that the great offences which have all along chiefly hindered the progress of true Christianity, are these which follow.
1. Corruption of doctrine. The Jewish believers, even in the apostles’ own times, contended for the necessity of observing the rites and ceremonies of the law of Moses; and this gave just offence to the Gentiles, and deterred them from readily embracing the gospel. After this, other offences arose from among the Gentile converts, who by degrees corrupting themselves after the similitude of the heathen worshippers, introduced saints and images, and pompous ceremonies and grandeur into the Church, instead of true virtue and righteousness of life.
2. The next is divisions, contentions, and animosities among Christians, arising from pride, and from a desire of dominion, and from building matters of an uncertain nature and of human invention upon the foundation of Christ. The great offence, I say, which in all nations and in all ages has hindered the propagation of the gospel of truth, has been a hypocritical zeal to secure by force a fictitious uniformity of opinion, which is indeed impossible in nature; instead of the real Christian unity of sincerity, charity, and mutual forbearance, which is the bond of perfectness.
3. The third and last great offence I shall mention, by which the propagation of true religion is hindered, is the vicious and debauched lives, not of Christians, for that is a contradiction, but of those who for form’s sake profess themselves to be so.
II. Having thus at large explained what is meant in the text by the word “offences,” I proceed in the second place to consider IN WHAT SENSE OUR SAVIOUR MUST BE UNDERSTOOD TO AFFIRM THAT IT IS IMPOSSIBLE BUT SUCH OFFENCES WILL COME; or, as it is expressed in St. Matthew, that it must “needs be” that offences come. And here there have been some so absurdly unreasonable as to understand this of a proper and natural necessity; as if God had ordained that offences should come, and bad accordingly predestinated particular men to commit them. But this is directly charging God with the sins of men, and making Him, not themselves, the author of evil. The plain meaning of our Saviour, when He affirms it to be impossible but that offences will come, is this only--that, considering the state of the world, the number of temptations, the freedom of men’s will, the frailty of their nature, the perverseness and obstinacy of their affections; it cannot be expected, it cannot be supposed, it cannot be hoped, but that offences will come; though it be very unreasonable they should come. Men need not, men ought not, to corrupt the doctrine of Christ; they need not dishonour their religion by unchristian heats, contentions, and animosities among themselves; much less is there any necessity that they should live contrary to it, by vicious and debauched practices; and yet, morally speaking, it cannot be but that all these things will happen.
III. I proposed to consider in the third place, WHY A PARTICULAR WOE IS, BY WAY OF EMPHASIS AND DISTINCTION, DENOUNCED AGAINST THE PERSONS BY WHOM THESE OFFENCES COME. Thus it appears plainly in general, that the necessity here mentioned of offences coming, is no excuse for those by whose wickedness they come. It is because they are offences of an extensive nature.
IV. THE INFERENCES I SHALL DRAW FROM WHAT HAS BEEN SAID, ARE--
1. From the explication which has been given of these words of our Saviour--“It is impossible but that offences will come”--we may learn, not to charge God with evil, nor to ascribe to any decree of His the wickedness and impieties of men.
2. Since our Saviour has forewarned us that it must needs be that such offences will come as may prove stumbling-blocks to the weak and inattentive, let us take care, since we have received this warning, not to stumble or be offended at them.
3. And above all, as we ought not to take, so much more ought we to be careful that we never give, any of these offences. (S. Clarke.)
On the vitiating influence of the higher upon the lower orders of society
If this text were thoroughly pursued into its manifold applications, itwould be found to lay a weight of fearful responsibility upon us all. We are here called upon, not to work out our own salvation, but to compute the reflex influence of all our works, and of all our ways, on the principles of others. And when one thinks of the mischief which this influence might spread around it, even from Christians of chiefest reputation; when one thinks of the readiness of man to take shelter in the example of an acknowledged superior; when one thinks that some inconsistency of ours might seduce another into such an imitation as overbears the reproaches of his own conscience; when one thinks of himself as the source and the centre of a contagion which might bring a blight upon the graces and the prospects of other souls beside his own--surely this is enough to supply him with a reason why, in working out his own personal salvation, he should do it with fear, and with watchfulness, and with much trembling. But we are now upon the ground of a higher and more delicate conscientiousness than is generally to be met with; whereas our object at present is to expose certain of the grosset offences which abound in society, and which spread a most dangerous and ensnaring influence among the individuals who compose it. Let us not forget to urge on every one sharer in this work of moral contamination, that never does the meek and gentle Saviour speak in terms more threatening or more reproachful, than when He speaks of the enormity of such misconduct. There cannot, in truth, be a grosser outrage committed on the order of God’s administration, than that which he is in the habit of inflicting. There cannot, surely, be a directer act of rebellion, than that which multiplies the adherents of its own cause, and which swells the hosts of the rebellious. And, before we conclude, let us, if possible, try to rebuke the wealthy out of their unfeeling indifference to the souls of the poor, by the example of the Saviour. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
Our liability to cause others to offend
A father tells us how he once started alone to climb a steep and perilous hill, purposely choosing a time when his children were at play, and when he thought that they would not notice his absence. He was climbing a precipitous path when he was startled by hearing a little voice shout, “Father, take the safest path, for I am following you.” On looking down, he saw that his little boy had followed him, and was already in danger; and he trembled lest the child’s feet should slip before he could get to him, and grasp his warm little hand. “Years have passed since then,” he writes, “but though the danger has passed, the little fellow’s cry has never left me. It taught me a lesson, the full force of which I had never known before. It showed me the power of our unconscious influence, and I saw the terrible possibility of our leading those around us to ruin, without intending or knowing it; and the lesson I learned that morning I am anxious to impress upon all to whom my words may come.” (Archdeacon Farrar.)
Cause of offence to the young
The owner of the famous Wedgwood potteries, in the beginning of this century, was not only a man of remarkable mechanical skill, but a must devout and reverent Christian. On one occasion, a nobleman of dissolute habits, and an avowed atheist, was going through the works, accompanied by Mr. Wedgwood, and by a young lad who was employed in them, the son of pious parents. Lord C sought early opportunity to speak contemptuously of religion. The boy at first looked amazed, then listened with interest, and at last burst into a loud, jeering laugh. Mr. Wedgwood made no comment, but soon found occasion to show his guest the process of making a fine vase; how with infinite care the delicate paste was moulded into a shape of rare beauty and fragile texture, how it was painted by skilful artists, and finally passed through the furnace, coming out perfect in form and pure in quality. The nobleman declared his delight, and stretched out his hand for it, but the potter threw it on the ground, shattering it into a thousand pieces. “That was unpardonable carelessness!” said Lord C , angrily. “I wished to take that cup home for my collection! Nothing can restore it again.” “No. You forget, my lord,” said Mr. Wedgwood, “that the soul of that lad who has just left us came innocent of impiety into the world; that his parents, friends, all good influences, have been at work during his whole life to make him a vessel fit for the Master’s use; that you, with your touch, have undone the work of years. No human hand can bind together again what you have broken.” Lord C----, who had never before received a rebuke from an inferior, stared at him in silence; then said, “You are an honest man,” frankly holding out his hand. “I never thought of the effect of my words.” There is no subject which many young men are more fond of discussing than religion, too often parading the crude, half comprehended atheistic arguments which they have heard or read before those to whom such doubts are new. Like Lord C----, they “do not think.” They do not, probably, believe these arguments themselves, and they forget that they are infusing poison into healthy souls, which no after-efforts of theirs can ever remove, A moment’s carelessness may destroy the work of years. (Christian Age.)
Increase our faith
Increased faith prayed for
Observe, that faith is susceptible of being increased.
2. There are important reasons why an increase of faith should be desired,
(1) An increase of faith is connected with an increase of holiness.
(2) The increase of faith is connected with the increase of comfort.
(3) The increase of faith is connected with the increase of usefulness. (The Preachers’ Treasury.)
Prayer for increase of faith
I. THE DISCIPLES OF CHRIST POSSESS FAITH. There can be no increase where there is no possession.
II. AN INCREASE OF FAITH IS POSSIBLE. This will appear from--
1. The power and goodness of its Author.
2. The progressive nature of religion.
3. The admonitions of the Bible.
4. The experience of the saints.
III. AN INCREASE OF FAITH IS GREATLY TO BE DESIRED. We infer this--
1. From its nature. It is a Divine gift, and its existence is attributed to the operation of God (Colossians 2:12). That which God works in us must be desirable: as He is an infinitely good Being, His works must necessarily bear a resemblance to Himself.
2. From its effects. These refer--
(1) To our own personal salvation. We are justified by faith--saved by faith-Christ dwells in our hearts by faith--we stand by faith--live by faith--Walk by faith--and have boldness of access to God by faith.
(2) To the victories we gain over our enemies. By the shield of faith we quench the fiery darts, etc. (Ephesians 6:16). We conquer the world by 1 John 5:4). The ancient worthies by faith “subdued kingdoms,” Hebrews 11:33-58.11.34).
(3) To the moral influence of our example.
IV. MEANS SHOULD BE USED TO SECURE AN INCREASE OF FAITH. To accomplish this object--
1. Study the character of its Author. Meditate on the power, wisdom, and goodness of our Lord Jesus Christ. Think meanly of the Saviour, and you will have little confidence in Him; but think greatly and highly of Him, and you will trust in Him heartily, and believe in Him fully.
2. Get a more extensive acquaintance with the promises of God.
3. Be on your guard against everything that will deaden or damp the ardour of your faith. Carnal company, worldly cares, spiritual supineness, filthy and foolish conversation--all tend to sap the foundation of your faith, and destroy your dependence upon God.
In conclusion, we address a word--
1. To those who have no faith.
2. To those whose faith has declined.
3. To those whose faith remains in full vigour.
Prayer for more faith
A prayer adapted to every part of the Christian life.
I. CONSIDER THE GENERAL IMPORT OF THE PRAYER: “LORD, INCREASE OUR FAITH.”
1. Faith has respect to revealed truth as its immediate object; and in the New Testament it more especially relates to Christ as the substance of all the promises.
2. In praying for an increase of this principle, the apostles acknowledged that their faith was weak.
3. In praying for more faith, they also acknowledged their own insufficiency to produce it (Ephesians 2:8; Philippians 2:13).
4. In directing their prayer to Christ, they virtually acknowledge His Divinity.
5. This prayer might in some measure be answered at the time, but was more especially so after our Lord’s ascension.
II. THE REASONS WHICH RENDER THIS PRAYER SUITABLE TO ALL CHRISTIANS. If we are truly the followers of Christ, yet our faith is weak at best, and needs to be increased, and that for various reasons--
1. On account of its influence in obtaining other spiritual blessings, for they are bestowed according to the measure of faith.
2. Its influences under dark and trying providences--Nothing but faith can sustain us under them (Psalms 97:2).
3. Its influence on the deep mysteries of Divine truth, which faith only can receive and apply.
4. The influence of faith on our life and conduct renders this prayer peculiarly suitable and ira portant.
5. Our spiritual enjoyments, as they are derived wholly from the promises, are proportioned to the degree of faith.
6. Its importance in the hour of death renders it unspeakably desirable. (Theological Sketchbook.)
The increase of faith
I. THE NATURE OF FAITH. An influential belief in the testimony of God. This necessarily implies in all cases the absence of all indifference and hostility to the truth which is its object, and also a state of heart or moral sensibility which is adapted to receive its appropriate influence. It is easy to see what the character must be, formed by the power of such a principle. Holiness, perfect holiness in man, in all its peace and hopes and joys, is nothing more nor less than the truths of the gospel carried into effect by faith. Let there be the impress of the gospel on the heart and life, and what dignity and perfection of character--what noble superiority to the vanities of the world--what lofty conceptions of God and the things of a future world--what a resemblance to the Son of God would be furnished by such a man I Such is the nature of faith.
II. THE MEANS OF ITS EXISTENCE.
1. Prayer. The suppliant at God’s throne is surrounded by Divine realities. Nor is there a spot on earth where the tendencies of the heart to depart from God are more effectually counteracted, and where the soul comes in more direct contact with the objects of faith, than the closet. Prayer directly leads to the mortifying of unbelief in its very root and element, by opening a direct intercourse with heaven.
2. Our faith may be increased by examining the evidence of Divine truth. God always deals with us as intelligent beings.
3. To the same end we must cherish a deep and an abiding sense of the mean and degrading nature of earthly things.
4. Closely connected with this subject is the kindred one of keeping death and eternity continually in view.
5. Another means of increasing faith is its repeated exercise, in retirement and meditation, as well as in the business of life.
6. Important to the same end are just views of the truth and faithfulness of God. God has given to His people exceeding great and precious promises. The only ultimate foundation on which faith can rest in these promises is the unchangeable truth of God.
III. CONSIDER THE DESIRABLENESS OF INCREASING OUR FAITH. This appears--
1. From the character it gives. All the defects and blemishes of Christian character may be traced to the want or the weakness of faith as their cause. It is through the imperfection of this principle that the character of man is formed so much by the influence of objects that here surround him. Every man is what his object is.
2. From the consolations which faith imparts. It is not only the prerogative of faith that it adds to our peace and our joys in the prosperous scenes of life. Its power is still more triumphant in scenes of affliction and trial. To the eye of faith every event has a tendency and an aim.
3. From the glory for which it prepares. Preparation for the glory that shall hereafter be revealed must be begun in this world. It must be begun in that character, which is the only true appropriate preparation for the services and joys of heaven. If the character be formed here by the exclusive influence of the objects of sense, if all the desires and affections be confined to these, there can be nothing in the world of spirits to meet and satisfy a single desire of the soul. The character, then, must be formed by other objects--the desires and affections of the soul must be fixed on things above--it must thus become capable of heavenly joys, or in vain were it admitted into heaven itself. But it is by faith, and by faith only, that the influence of these Divine and glorious realities can be felt in our present state. (N. W. Taylor, D. D.)
The necessity of increased faith
I. THE OBJECT OF THE APOSTLES’ SOLICITUDE. Their “faith.”
1. We ought, my friends, to be extremely careful of our faith--both of its rightness and of its strength, first of all--when we consider the position which faith occupies in salvation. Faith is the salvation-grace. We are not saved by love; but we are saved by grace, and we are saved by faith. We are not saved by courage, we are not saved by patience; but we are saved by faith. That is to say, God gives His salvation to faith and not to any other virtue.
2. Be anxious about your faith, for all your graces hang upon it. Faith is the root-grace: all other virtues and graces spring from it.
3. Take heed of your faith, because Christ thinks much of it.
4. Next, Christian, take good care of thy faith, for recollect faith is the only way whereby thou canst obtain blessings. It is said of Midas, that he had the power to turn everything into gold by the touch of his hand; and it is true of faith--it can turn everything into gold, but destroy faith, we have lost our all; we are miserably poor because we can hold no fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.
5. Next, my friends, take care of your faith perpetually, because of your enemies; for if you do not want faith when you are With friends, you will require it when you have to deal with your foes. Faith has quenched the violence of the flames, shut the mouths of lions, and out of weak hess it has made us strong. It has overcome more enemies than the whole host of conquerors. Tell me not of the victories of Wellington; mention not the battles of Napoleon; tell me of what faith has done! Oh! if we should erect a monument to the honour of faith, what various names should we carve on the mighty pedestal!
6. And now for a sixth reason. Take care of your faith, because otherwise you cannot well perform your duty. Faith is the foot of the soul by which it can march along the road of the commandments. Love can make the feet move more swiftly, but faith is the foot which carries the soul. Faith is the oil enabling the wheels of holy devotion and of earnest piety to move well, but without faith the wheels are taken from the chariot, and we drag along heavily. With faith I can do all things, without faith I shall neither have the inclination nor the power to do anything in the service of God.
7. Take care of your faith, my friends, for it is very often so weak that it demands all your attention.
II. THE HEART’S DESIRE OF THE APOSTLES. They did not say, “Lord, keep our faith alive: Lord, sustain it as it is at present,” but “Increase our faith,” For they knew very well that it is only by increase that the Christian keeps alive at all. Napoleon once said, “I must fight battles, and I must win them; conquest has made me what I am, and conquest must maintain me.” And it is so with the Christian. It is not yesterday’s battle that will save me to-day; I must be going onwards.
1. “Increase our faith” in its extent--the extent of what it will receive. Increase my faith and help me to believe a little more. I believe I have only just begun to learn the A B C of the Scriptures yet, and will constantly cry to the Lord, “Increase my faith,” that I may know more and believe more, and understand Thy Word far better. “Increase my faith” in its extent.
2. “Increase my faith” in its intensity. Faith needs to be increased in its power as well as in its extent. We do not wish to act as some do with a river, when they break the banks, to let it spread over the pasture, and so make it shallower; but we wish, while it increases in surface, that it may increase likewise in its depth.
III. THE PERSON TO WHOM THE APOSTLES ADDRESSED THEIR PRAYER. The Lord. They went to the right Person. Let us do the same. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Praying for an increase of faith
I. WE SHOULD USE THIS PRAYER FOR THE INCREASE OF SPIRITUAL KNOWLEDGE. Let any Christian examine his own heart and he will see how sadly he needs this, how narrow is the limit of his knowledge of Christ, how circumscribed his views of His love, His sympathy, His compassion, His excellency; how mean his apprehension of His power and majesty and present glory. The excellency of Christ can only be communicated now to the soul by the exercise of faith.
II. And not only for the enlargement of spiritual knowledge, but for ESTABLISHMENT IN GRACE as well should this prayer be used. That we may be established in the simplicity and fulness of the gospel. The fulfilment of this prayer will bring this to pass; it is included in the gift of increased faith. Increase of faith brings clear views of the mercy of the gospel, it corrects the natural uprisings of pride in our hearts, it checks the carnal reasonings of our minds, it convinces of the absolute truth of all that the Bible teaches about our need of the gospel. It will lead to the discovery of error, the detection of sophistry, the avoidance of unscriptural teaching, however specious it may be.
III. This prayer should also be used in order THAT OUR PERCEPTION OF SATAN’S TEMPTATIONS MAY BE CLEAR. It is in proportion as our faith is increased, that “we are not ignorant of his devices.” (H. M. Baker.)
The increase of faith
That “faith” is “a gift of God”--as much a “gift” as any other sovereign act of His power--I need not stay to prove. We have to do this morning with another thought--that the growth and the “increase” of “faith,” at every successive stage, is a distinct act of Almighty power. We know, indeed, that everything which is of God has in it essential tendency, nay, an absolute necessity in itself to grow. If you do not wilfully check the grace of God that is in you, that grace will, and must, in obedience to the law of its being, increase. We lay it down, then, as a certainty that “faith” is a thing of degrees. One believer never reaches the same degree in this life as another. Each believer is in different states of belief, at different periods of his own life. St. Paul speaks of a brother who is “weak in the faith”--St. Stephen and St. Barnabas are commended as men “full of faith.” But it is easy for us to see traces of “increase of faith” in the lives of the apostles themselves. Have not we seen progress in the mind of the St. Peter in the Gospels and the St. Peter in the Epistles? In St. John also, from the time when he could call fire from heaven, to the hour when he could stand so meekly at the cross’s foot? You will see the same in St. Paul’s mind if you compare what he says of himself in his Epistles to the Romans and the Corinthians, which were his early Epistles, with his triumphant assurance in his Epistles to Timothy, which were his last Epistles. If, then, “faith” be a thing capable of degrees, every man must be responsible for the measure of his attainment of that grace in the sight of God. There are various “degrees of faith” in the world; but they are all placed in their various degrees with distinct design. It is intended, in the Divine economy of God’s Church, that there should be “degrees of faith,” to answer His purpose; but that eternal purpose Of God is still consistent with man’s responsibility in the matter. The various degrees make that beautiful variety, out of which God brings His own unity. They give occasion for kind judgment, and Christian forbearance, and helpfulness one to another, seeing that the man of “much faith” must not despise, but must recognize as a brother, and help on, the man who is said to be a man of “little faith.” One man has “faith” sufficient to lead him to entire separation from the world, and to undergo great mortification--another has not got so far. Let the halting, lingering one--the soul that still keeps too much in this world--remember what the apostle says, that it is “faith” which “overcomes the world,” and therefore let him pray, “Lord, increase my faith.” One can carry all mysteries, and liken mysteries--another loses his “ faith” when he comes to mysteries. But he who knows his own heart best, that man knows most how fitting the supplication is, everywhere, “Lord, increase my faith.” There are three reasons here why it is important to ask this petition. If any one of you is without any promised blessing of God, it is simply because he has not “faith” about the matter. Again, God has established a direct proportion between a man’s faith and a man’s success: “according to your faith be it unto you.” And, once more, remember, there are degrees in heaven; and, according as we reach here “in faith” we shall reach there “in glory.” “Lord, increase our faith!” The man simply says it, and there comes over his mind such a sudden sense of God’s amazing love to him, in the redemption of his soul, that everything else looks perfectly insignificant, in the thought of his own acceptance with God. “Lord, increase our faith!”--and we have such communion with things unseen, that death has no power. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The victorious power of faith
Men are just like the disciples. They hear religion preached; they believe the things that are said; and at times the truth glances through the exterior coating and strikes their moral sense. The ideal of truth presented to them seems beautiful and sweet. In a white light it is to them. Thousands and thousands of men there are who hear the gospel preached every Sunday, and think there is nothing more beautiful than meekness, nothing more beautiful than humility, as they are presented to them. These are excellent qualities in their estimation. They believe in love. They believe in everything that is required in a true Christian character. It meets their approval. Their reason approves it. Their judgment approves it. Their taste approves it. Their moral sentiments approve it. And yet, when they ask themselves, “How shall I practise it?” they fall off instantly, and say, “It is not possible for me. I never can do it in the world.” Take gentleness. Here is a great rude-footed, coarse-handed man, gruff and impetuous, and careless of everybody, who sits and hears a discourse on the duty of being gentle; and as the various figures and illustrations are presented, he says, “Oh, how beautiful it is to be gentle!” But the moment he gets out of the church, he thinks, “The idea of my being gentle! I gentle? I gentle? Somebody else must do that part of religion. I never can. It is not my nature to be gentle.” Men have an ideal of what is right; and they believe in the possibility of its realization somewhere; but they do not think they are called to that thing. They do not believe it is possible for them. There are avaricious men, I suppose, to whom, on hearing a discourse on benevolence in a church, it really shines, and who say, “Oh, this benevolence, though it is well-nigh impossible--how beautiful it is!” But when it begins to come home to them, and the question is, “Will you, from this time forth, order your life according to the law of benevolence?” they fall off from that and say, “I cannot; it is impossible.” And if Christ were present and such men were under the influence of His teaching, they would turn to Him and say, “Lord, if this is true, it is true, and I must conform to it; but you must increase my faith. I must have some higher power. I cannot do it without.” And Christ would encourage them, and say (not rebukingly, as it seems in the letter, but very comfortingly), “Do not think it is so hard. It is difficult, but not so difficult as you suppose. Do not think it to be so impossible that I must work a miracle for you before you can accomplish it.” If you have faith, if you rouse up those spiritual elements that are in you, if you bring them under the illumination of God’s own soul, and they are inspired by the Divine influence, there is that power in you by which you can subdue all your lower nature, and can gain victories over every single appetite and passion, and every single evil inclination and bad habit. Let the better nature in man once more come into communion with God, and it is mightier than the worse nature in man, and can subdue it. Yen will fail of the secret and real spirit of this passage, if you do not consider its meaning as not only an interpretation, but as an interpretation which is designed to give courage and hope and cheer to those who desire to break away from bad tendencies and traits, and to rise, by a true growth, into the higher forms of Christian experience. Let us consider, then, the practical aspect of this matter. When a strong nature is snatched from worldliness, and begins to live a Christian life, what are the elements of his experience, reduced to some sort of philosophical expression? First, the soul is brought into the conscious presence, and under the recognized power, of the Divine nature. This is with more or less distinctness in different individuals. Consider how men are brought to a religious life. One man has been a very worldly and careless man, until, in the universal whirl of affairs, a slap of bankruptcy, like the stroke of waves against the side of a ship, smashes into his concerns, and he founders. He saves himself, but all his property goes to the bottom. And there he is, humbled, crushed, mortified. And it is a very solemn thing to him. But he never had any preaching before that gave him such a sense of the unsatisfactoriness of this life. Others come into a religious life by the power of sympathy. They are drawn toward it by personal influence. They go into it because their companions are going in. In a hundred such ways as these God’s providence brings people into the beginnings of a Christian life. But when a man has once come into it, his very first experience, usually, whether he be exactly conscious of it or not, is the thought that he is brought into the presence of a higher Being--a higher Spirit--than he has been wont to think was near him. God begins to mean something to him. This sense of God’s presence is that which is the beginning of faith in him. It opens the door for the Divine power to inflame his soul; that is, for the Divine mind to give strength and inspiration to the nobler and higher part of his mind--to his reason; to his whole moral nature; to that which is the best and highest in him. By the enlarging, by the education, by the inspiration of a man’s nature, in this direction, the beginnings of victory are planted. And now, all the forces of a man’s nature, and all the foregoing habits of his life, beginning here, will soon be so changed as to come into agreement with his higher feelings which will be excited by the inshining of God’s soul. Men think it is mysterious; but it is not mysterious. Take a person of some degree of sensibility--a young woman, for instance--who has been living in a vicious circle of people. Her father and mother--emigrants--died on landing. She was of good stock, and had strong moral instincts; but she was a vagrant child, and was soon swept into the swirl of poverty and vice. Although too young to become herself vicious, yet she learned to lie, and steal, and swear--with a certain inward compunction--until by and by some kind nature brought her out of the street, and out of the den, and into the asylum. And then, speedily, some childless Christian woman, wanting to adopt a child, sees her, and likes her face and make, and brings her home to her house. This is almost the first time she has had any direct commerce with real truth and real refinement; and at first she has an impulse of gratitude, and admiration, and wonder; and in the main she is inspired by a sense of gladness and of thankfulness to her benefactress. But as she lives from day to day, she does not get over all her bad tendencies. Because she has come to live with and to be the daughter of this woman, she does not get over the love of lying, and tricks, and dirtiness, and meanness, and littleness. The evil does not die in an instant from her nature. Yet there is the beginning of that in her which will by and by overcome it. There is in her a vague, uninterpreted sense of something higher and better than she has known before. And it is all embodied in her benefactress. She hears her sing, and hears her talk, and sees what kindnesses she does to others, and how she denies herself. And if she be, as I have supposed her to be, a child of strong, original moral nature, she will, in the course of a year, be almost free from the taint of corruption; almost free from deceits; almost free from vices. And it will be the expulsive power of new love in her soul that will have driven out all this vermin brood of passions. As long as she is in the presence of this benefactress, she will feel streaming in upon her nature those influences which wake up her higher faculties, and give them power over her lower faculties. When men are brought into the Christian life, and they begin to dome into communion with God, the higher part of their nature receives such a stimulus that it has power to nominate the lower part--to control pride; to hold in restraint deceits; to make men gentle, and mild, and sweet, and forgiving, and noble, and ennobling. The direct influence which the spirit of God has upon the human soul, is to develop the good and expel the evil tendencies that are in it. There will be a change in our outward conformities to society; to institutions; to new duties. There will be the acceptance of standards of morality which before we have not accepted. But important as these things are, they are but auxiliaries. There is this one work which the new life begins to accomplish--namely, the readjustment of the forces of the soul. It changes the emphasis. When, therefore, a man enters into a Christian life, not only does he come into communion with God, but his nature is newly directed. He begins to make the upper, the truly spiritual, the love-bearing elements in him dominate over the others. No man can change his faculties, any more than he can change his bodily organization; and yet, his disposition may be changed! The Lord says, “If you have faith as a grain of mustard-seed, you can say to this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the roots, and cast into the sea.” Hard as it is to transplant the tree of your soul, difficult as it is to sever the roots that hold it down, the Master says, “There is power to do it.” However many faults you may have, that branch their roots out in every direction, and difficult as it is to transplant them by the ordinary instrumentalities; nevertheless, faith in the soul will give you power to pluck them up by the roots, and east them from you, or transplant them to better soil, where they will grow to a better purpose. I preach, not simply a free gospel, but a victorious gospel. I preach a gospel that has been full of Victories and noble achievements, but that has not yet begun to show what its full power and what all its fruits of victory are to be. No one, then, who has been trying to overcome his faults, need despair. (H. W. Beecher.)
Prayer for increase of faith
Consider the increase of faith as it regards its principle. Faith may, in one respect, be considered as a principle of grace in religion. There is a difference, you know, between the faculties which are natural and a principle of religion--such as faith, or love, or justice, or rectitude. The faculties, of course, would grow spontaneously and naturally, though they may be encumbered by much ignorance and want of tuition; yet that circumstance will not extinguish the faculties, and instruction and tuition cannot raise them above their proper and natural level. This, however, is not the case with religious principle: it may exist or it may not exist, just according to circumstances; and it may exist, unquestionably, in different degrees of vigour and power, in the very same person, under different circumstances and at different periods of life.
1. Faith, as a principle, must have means of existence. But that faith is, in one view of the case, the fruit of teaching, is evident from this single fact--it rests, you know, upon knowledge: and it rests upon knowledge notthe growth of the understanding and the judgment in their natural exercise, but knowledge communicated to the soul by the teaching of the Spirit in the revelations of God. Then, if the teaching, brethren, on which faith rests is imperfect, of course the faith itself must be feeble and imperfect. There is one view, indeed, in which the truth on which faith terminates, never can be supposed to be obscure, or little, or imperfect at all, but another in which it may. The first case to which I refer--I mean the first mode of instruction--is that which is communicated simply from the Bible; and the second case to which I refer is that of the ministry. But it is evident that you may have a very clear statement of the truth; it may be fully exhibited--exhibited in all its just proportions, and yet, at the same time, there maybe an indisposition on the part of the hearer, or the reader, to receive that truth which is thus proposed. There are two parts here: there is the truth as it is proposed to us, and the recipient of the truth. Now, if the objects of faith are ever so clearly and ever so fully exhibited; if God, in the exercise of His grace and mercy--Christ, in His Divine and atoning character--and you do not receive these truths, it follows that you are destitute of faith; and, if you receive these truths but partially, you can have but a very partial and feeble faith. I think the reason why faith is feeble, in the sense to which I have referred, and from this particular cause, is not so much the fault of the understanding, as the fault of the heart--it is not an intellectual, but it is a moral cause. The Bible does not speak of the head of unbelief wickedly departing from the living God, but it speaks of the heart of unbelief wickedly departing from God. There may be an indisposition in our hearts to receive the truth. Then here is the grand cause, I think, why teaching, which is in itself adequate and perfect and true, produces very little faith through an indisposition on the part of the hearer of the truth to receive it--and its fruits cannot consequently be borne. Faith may be considered as a principle, in another view of the subject, as the fruit and consequence of persuasion and of promise; but then the promise may be imperfectly exhibited to us, or it may be imperfectly entertained by us, and consequently, the faith which rests on promise will be feeble on these accounts. If you seek the fulfilment of the promises of God on any particular point, seeking a fitness in yourselves for their fulfilment, and take your fitness to the promises, you may be assured of this--it will not be accomplished; but if you look to Christ, and His merit, and His intercession, and expect the fulfilment of the promises of God in the fitness of the Saviour’s merit, then you may receive those promises in all their fulness. When a mistake, respecting the accomplishment of any promise of God is entertained--respecting the mode of its fulfilment, the mistake generally refers to the sovereignty of God; and we are expecting, I think, from the sovereignty of God just what God expects from our own faith. I do not here speak of faith as a moral fitness; no, but as something else--simple trust in the grace and promised provisions of the gospel. There is connection between the fulfilment of the promise on the part of God and the exercise of faith on the part of the sinner. I shall not stop to reason why it is so in the gospel: we find it is there. Oar Saviour could not do, in certain circumstances, many mighty works, because of the unbelief of the people: our Saviour cannot do now for us any of those great and mighty works which He hath promised lie will do, because of our unbelief. Here is God, in all the fulness and plenitude of His affection--here is the Saviour, in all the infinitude of His merit--here is the promise of life, in all its length and breadth, standing out to our view, exciting our confidence, winning our faith; but, after all, so little is that faith, that we can receive but little; and God cannot, in the sovereignty of His mercy, accomplish what He is infinitely willing to do. Faith, as a principle, in another view of the case, may be considered as the Holy Spirit’s influence; but then, that spiritual influence may be but imperfectly submitted to on our part; and if so, then of course our faith will be weak. For, as faith is a religious principle, and a very high religious principle, of difficult exercise and difficult existence, it will follow, that it can only be exercised by the agency and the power of the Spirit of God resting upon the soul. If I could be a believer naturally, I could be a Christian naturally--I could be saved naturally, I could attain to holiness naturally--I could enjoy the highest holiness and felicity naturally. I should not be a dependent creature at all, if I could believe naturally. No; it is by various manifestations and--if you will allow the expression, I use it in an innocent way--various impulses of the Spirit of God on the mind, by which we are led to believe. The power to believe is communicated by spiritual agency and influence; the act of believing is the act of the person who receives that influence. I think that the power of faith may exist, and yet not be exercised, or, if exercised at all, exercised very improperly; just as the power and volition of the limbs are distinct one from the other. I may have the power of volition, and yet I may sit perfectly still at the same time. I may not exercise the power I possess, or I may exercise it. You know there is a difference between a moral agent and a necessary agent. A necessary agent will perform his actions necessarily. The inferior animals, who are destitute of reason, of judgment, of will, of choice, why, of course, they are just what they are by the instincts and impulses of nature, over which they have no control at all. But this cannot be said of man: man, in any circumstances, must be considered a moral agent; therefore the influences of the Spirit of grace are communicated, you will perceive, to aid our infirmities and give us power to believe; but the power may exist, and yet the act may not exist. Is it not true that many minds are visited by the Spirit of God with His illuminations and spiritual influences, and yet faith is never put forth, so to speak, in any saving form? For if saving faith grows out of spiritual influence, it will follow that the presence of that spiritual influence is necessary, in order to the exercise of faith; and one of the great reasons why our faith is so feeble--why we are rather shut up in the darkness of unbelief so often--is, thatwe do not lay our hearts open to that spiritual influence which is promised and which is vouchsafed to us. “Increase our faith.” This is the prayer of the text, that God would increase our faith; and if faith cometh by teaching--cometh from the promise of God--cometh from the spiritual influence, let us receive the teaching simply--let us receive the promise as it is exhibited in the Word--let us lay our hearts open to the influence of the Spirit of God; and that faith which appears a timid, feeble, cowardly thing, in our experience, will grow and increase till it comes to be mighty and powerful.
2. I remark that the exercises of faith may not be equal to the occasion calling for those exercises; and under these circumstances the faith will be felt as feeble, and the person possessing it, as needing influence. Allow me to remark here, that many of the duties of religion are, properly speaking, duties of faith. But the duty depending on us, on the part of religion, or, if you please, on the part of God, may be greater than the faith; and if it be, then, of course, feebleness will be felt on the part of the Christian who has to do the duty. Those duties which I call duties of faith may vary; and, in passing from one class of duties to another, the Christian may feel that his faith and his grace, which were adequate and sufficient for the duties of one state, are found not to be adequate or sufficient for the duties of another state. Now I think this is often felt. For instance, Abraham, the father of the faithful and the friend of God, dwelling in patriarchal simplicity in the bosom of a happy family--in sweet, hallowed, and sublime communion with God, having received the accomplishment of the covenant blessings promised to him at various times and in various circumstances; and Abraham, offering his son Isaac, appears in very different circumstances. The faith which was found sufficient for one circumstance, would not be sufficient for the other. Jacob, dwelling in the land of promise, in the midst of smiling fields, luxuriant corn, bleating flocks, flowing streams, and a smiling sky; and Jacob, dwelling in the midst of famine, in the death of his flocks, in the loss of Joseph his son, would be a man in very different circumstances. The faith which would support Jacob’s mind when his family was entire and happy would scarcely support Jacob’s mind when his favourite son was gone. Is it not just so now? Here is the Christian youth, living in the bosom of his family, cheered on in his piety by the advice, counsels, and prayers of his parents, all zealous to make him happy, to make him secure, to make him useful, to make him honourable: and the Christian youth goes out into the world, to meet its buffetings, its toils, its anxieties, its frowns. There is a great difference between that youth dwelling in the bosom of a happy family, and that man in the midst of the blighting crosses of the world. The patience which would preserve that youth, scarcely will preserve that man; the faith which would soothe and make his soul happy in favourable circumstances, will scarcely make him happy in the midst of unfavourable. And submissiveness to the crosses of life must be sustained by faith; but the burden, you know, may be greater than the faith, and if it is found to be so, whatever our strength may be in other circumstances, still you will find yourselves feeble then. I think there is more difficulty--much more difficulty--in attaining to a quiet, resigned, patient spirit, in the midst of the troubles of life, than there is in the discharge of the active duties of life. The faith which enables a man to pass the common road of life in peace and happiness will scarcely be sufficient to enable him to pass the valley and shadow of death without fear. We must feel the touch of affliction, and the touch of death; and, perhaps, the prayer of the text may be very appropriate to us when we change circumstances, and we may have to pray, “Lord, increase our faith!”
3. And let me, thirdly and finally, remark that the accidents to which our religious feelings and experience may be exposed, in this state of probation and trial, may tend to weaken faith, and make the prayer of the text necessary--“Lord, increase our faith!” The privilege of justification may not be forfeited by the loss, we think, of many of its attendant and accompanying privileges and joys. A man may retain his acceptance with God, and yet he may lose very much of that comfort, peace, joy, love, and those excesses of feelings which he enjoyed before; for all these blessings flow from God, and are immutable, in that respect, above all accident; yet, let it be remembered, that, the recipient of the whole is the human heart; and if these blessings are to dwell in a sorrowful soul, they will receive some tint, some colouring, I think, from the character of the soul receiving them. Now the difficulty of attaining confidence in God, in the decay of our spiritual joys, will be evident from this fact. There will be a great difficulty in maintaining that kind of faith in the promised provisions of the grace and love of God, the death of Christ, and so on, necessary even to preserve and keep the soul in spiritual life. Now, I say, the difficulty of maintaining a firm, unshaken trust in God, in the midst of this wreck, though necessary, is very difficult. How often is it that the Christian feels like a timid seaman, when the ship in which he first sails begins to rock, and the elements to howl, and the waves to dash I Fears arise, though the storm makes it necessary that he should have more confidence, more courage, fortitude, calmness, than before. Yet so it is with Christian life. It is extremely difficult to maintain confidence in the midst of the storm, though that confidence is more necessary, and I dare say you will feel the necessity of offering the prayer of the text, “Lord, increase our faith!” (J. Dixon, D. D.)
Increased faith the strength of peace principles
It was not for the sake of working miracles that the apostles sought increased faith; it was not in order to bear their present or future trials; neither was it to enable them to receive some mysterious article of the faith; but their prayer referred to a common everyday duty enjoined by the gospel--the forgiving those who do us wrong.
I. LET US CONSIDER THE PRAYER ITSELF. Notice what this prayer confesses.
1. It confesses that they had faith.
2. It confesses that while they had faith, they had not enough of it.
3. That they could not increase their own faith.
4. That the Lord Jesus can increase faith.
II. I want to show now THE INCREASE OF FAITH BEARS UPON OUR POWER TO FORGIVE OTHERS.
1. Faith increases our confidence in Jesus, so that we shall not suspect Him of setting us an impracticable task.
2. Between faith and forgiveness a very close connection will be seen if we inquire what is the foundation of faith. The mercy of God.
3. The joy of faith is a wonderful help to forgiveness.
4. A spirit of rest is created by faith, which greatly aids the gentle spirit.
5. Faith, when it is strong, has a high expectancy about it, which helps it to bear with the assaults of men of the world. A man readily puts up with the inconvenience of the present, when he has great joys in store for the future.
III. Notice HOW THE LORD JESUS CHRIST ANSWERED THE PRAYER FOR INCREASED FAITH.
1. By assuring them that faith can do anything.
2. By teaching them humility. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
An increase of faith
I. WE PRAY FOR AN INCREASE OF FAITH ALSO THAT ITS OBJECT MAY BECOME MORE REAL. We hold spiritual things too loosely.
II. AN INCREASE OF FAITH WILL MAKE THE GOSPEL A GREATER POWER IN OUR LIFE. We are tried by various circumstances, and tempted by the world, the flesh, and the devil. When we see Abraham on Moriah, Job on the top of the heap, Hezekiah on a bed of sickness, Jeremiah in the dungeon, the three Hebrew youths before Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel in the den, Paul fighting with wild beasts at Ephesus, and the martyrs in the flames, faith demonstrates the power and grace of God. Has it occurred to you that trials and temptations are the best occasions to show Christ to the world? In the instances we have named, as well as in thousands of others, God’s glory shone brighter than in the temple strain, or the worship of the synagogue.
III. WE NEED A STRONGER FAITH TO PREPARE US FOR THE UNKNOWN FUTURE. (The Weekly Pulpit.)
Only God can increase faith
Faith is not a weed to grow upon every dunghill, without care or culture: it is a plant of heavenly growth, and requires Divine watching and watering, (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Faith as a grain of mustard seed
The force of faith
We must not imagine that these words give any encouragement to an idle and childish expectation of any startling and ostentatious outcome of a true faith in Jesus Christ; as though God’s grace could ever be used to win for any one the wonder and admiration of His fellow-men, or displayed in any abrupt and fruitless miracle, for our excitement or aggrandizement.
It is a far higher and nobler power which is really promised by our Lord even to the least measure of true faith in Him: a power which is far more fruitful and more mysterious than the mere working of a wonder which would only be like a conjuring trick on a large scale. For what He really here teaches us, as though in a short and vivid parable, is this: that since His coming upon earth, there is a new kind of force astir in the history and in the souls of men--a force which in the speed and certainty of its action can surpass all the ordinary means by which men scheme and work--a force which is effective far beyond all likelihood that we can see in it, so that even its least germ is able to achieve results of inconceivable difficulty and greatness: and for the secret, the character, of this new force He points us to the one spring and motive of the Christian life--to faith. Now, before we leave the outward form in which this truth is taught us, let us notice one point in it: that it is to a seed that our Lord compares the beginning of faith in a man’s heart: to a grain of mustard seed: which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown it is the greatest amongst herbs, and becometh a tree, etc. He seems thus to teach us that all true faith is ever and everywhere growing: not a dead, self-contained thing, but a seed, filled with an almost infinite power of growth in strength and range and beauty. However poor and mean and worthless it may seem, there is that in it which will in due time and with due care force its way into the light and strive towards heaven itself, till the little speck of hope becomes a branching, fruitful wealth of life and beauty, a resting-place and shelter for those who hover round its boughs and find refreshment and protection in its gentle strength. Now I ask you to consider whether we ever meet with any character which does thus seem to escape from the ordinary restrictions of cause and effect: to exert a force far beyond all the likelihood that we can discover: and to achieve results which sober and practical men would never have expected from it? Is there any temper of mind and will which makes a way through insuperable obstacles, and forces mountainous difficulties to yield it service and obedience? Well, in the first place, do we not see a strange foreshadowing of such supernatural effectiveness, and a wonderful contrast between what might reasonably have been looked for and what is actually achieved, in the life and work of men who have a large degree of faith in themselves? Do we not see in what we know of history and politics, and in our own experience too, that the men who do great deeds, who leave a mark behind them, who bend stubborn circumstances to their will, who influence other men (bearing into their hearts the passions or the policy which they have themselves conceived), are always the men who have a firm faith in their own judgment, and a resolute conviction that they will achieve what they have set themselves to do: so that they are not always explaining and apologizing and qualifying and standing on the defensive, but rather going straight forward and fearlessly calling upon others to follow them? But, secondly, there is a nearer reflection of that which the text means, and a higher and more mysterious efficacy, in the power which some can wield by faith in their fellow-men. I trust we all know something of the strange influence by which some men seem able to discover and draw out and strengthen all that is good and hopeful in those with whom they have to do. The change which is wrought by one who meets his fellows with a simple, earnest trust and hope is just the contrary of that miserable atmosphere of dingy mist and cold in which a cynic lives and thinks and acts: distrusting and depreciating others till they cease to show him anything but those meaner, harsher elements in their character which he seems resolute and glad to find. There can hardly be a happier or more fruitful and wonderworking life than his in whose company men are always stirred to brightness and unselfishness just because he always believes that they are purer and better than they are: by whose trustful expectation they are reminded of what they once desired and hoped to be, so that the long-forgotten ideal seems again to come within their reach, and they live, if only for a while, by a light which they never thought to see again. For thus this quickening and enlightening power of faith in our fellow-men changes the whole air and aspect of a life: and he who is thus trustful and hopeful draws out in one man the timid and hidden germ of good, and engenders in another the grace and warmth which his faith presumes; and the dullest heart is startled into sympathy with the charity which believeth all things, and hopeth all things: so that everywhere this faith is greeted by the brightness which itself calls out, as the sun is welcomed by the glad colours which sleep until he comes. (F. Paget, D.D.)
But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle
The ploughing servant
The one thing on which our Lord wishes to concentrate our attention is not the spirit in which God deals with His servants, but rather the spirit in which we should serve God--not what God thinks of our work, but rather how we should regard it ourselves.
The Christian belongs to God; therefore God has a right to all the service he can render. And, when he has rendered it all, he may not indulge in self-complacency as if he had done anything extraordinary, or had deserved any special commendation; for even at the best he has done no more than he ought to have done, since soul, body, and spirit, in all places and in all cases, everywhere and at all times, he is the property of God.
I. THE CONTINUOUS OBLIGATIONS OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE. The Christian’s “day” is not one merely of twelve hours; but throughout the twenty-four he must be ready for any emergency, and must meet that at the moment when it rises. Always he is under obligation to his Lord; and “without haste,” but also “without rest,” he must hold himself absolutely at the disposal of his Master. All his time is his Lord’s; he can never have “a day off.” He is to be always waiting and watching until death.
II. THE SPIRIT IN WHICH SUCH DEMANDS OUGHT TO BE MET BY US.
1. We must meet them with patience. No murmuring or whimpering over our lot, as if it were tremendously hard, and as if we were undergoing a species of martyrdom.
2. And then, on the other side, we are not to stroke ourselves down complacently after we have met the demand upon us, as if we had done something extraordinary. Pride after toil is just as much out of place here as murmuring under tell.
3. We are not to think about ourselves at all, but of God, of what He has been to us and what He has done for us, and of what we owe to Him; and then, when we get to a right and proper estimate of that, our most arduous efforts and our most costly sacrifices will seem so small in comparison, that we shall be ready to exclaim, “We are unprofitable servants! All that we have done does not begin to measure the greatness of our indebtedness to Him for whom we have done it!”
4. Thus, in order to comply with the exactions of the Christian life, in the spirit which this parable recommends, we have to become reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. It is the sense of redemption and the consciousness of regeneration whereby we have become no longer servants, but sons, alone, that will impel us to reckon ourselves as not our own, and to do without a murmur, and without the least self-complacency, all that God requires at our hands. When the life of a beloved son is hanging in the balance, no one can persuade his mother to take rest. You may tell her that others are watching, that everything is being done that can be done, that it is her “duty” to take a respite; but you might as well speak to the deaf, for she is his mother, and her mother-love will not let her be content with less than her own personal ministry to her boy. But does she think then of doing merely her duty to him? Is she measuring her conduct then by any standard of rectitude Nothing of the kind! She has risen above all standards and all duty. So with ourselves and the service of God. Love lifts us above legalism. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
The parable of the unprofitable servant
I. THE NATURE OF THE SERVICE GOD REQUIRES. That we do His bidding.
1. This He has revealed in His Word.
2. For this He has given us the capacity and powers which are essential. The obedience He claims must possess the following characteristics.
(1) It must be the obedience of love.
(2) It must be spiritual.
(3) It must have respect to all His commandments.
(4) It must be constant.
(5) It must be persevering fidelity unto death.
II. THE SUPPORT HE GIVES TO IT. This is implied in His sitting down to “eat and drink” (Luke 17:7-42.17.8). Notice--
1. God gives ability for the service.
2. He provides daily food for the soul.
3. He gives satisfaction and peace in the service.
III. THE DIVINE INDEPENDENCY WITH RESPECT TO THIS SERVICE. Doth the master “thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded,” etc. (Luke 17:9)? Now the force of this will be seen when it is remembered--
1. That no man can go beyond the Divine claims in his obedience.
2. God’s goodness to man is ever beyond the services He receives from him.
3. That man’s best services are, in consequence of his infirmities, frail and imperfect.
1. How necessary is humility even to the most exalted saints.
2. In all our obedience, let us set the glory of God before us.
3. Those who refuse to obey the Lord must finally perish. (J. Burns, D. D.)
Are these indeed the words of Him who said, “Henceforth I call you not servants, but friends”? This is a picture of a hard, unlovely side of life--a slave’s life and a slave’s service, without thanks or claim for thanks. We ask, I repeat, and not unnaturally, where such a representation of Christian service fits into that sweet and attractive ideal which Christ elsewhere gives us under the figure of the family relation--sons of God, confidential friends of Christ. We hasten to say, No; but itwill require a little study to discover why we may say no, and to fix the place of this parable in relation to others of a happier tone.
1. Observe, in the first place, that it is not unusual for our Lord to draw a disagreeable picture in order to set forth His own love and grace. Unjust judge. Churlish man refusing bread to neighbour! We must not be repelled by a figure, therefore. Let us try to see what facts and conditions of Christian service are intended to be expressed by this parable. The parable answers to the fact in being a picture of hard work, and of what we call extra work. The service of God’s kingdom is laborious service-service crowded with work and burdens. Christ nowhere represents it as easy. No Christian can shut himself up to a little routine of duty, and say, I will do so much, within such times, and no more. So long as a man’s work is merely the carrying out of another’s orders, it will tend to be mechanical and methodical: but the moment the man becomes identified in spirit with his work; the moment the work becomes the evolution of an idea, the expression of a definite and cherished purpose; the moment it becomes the instrument of individual will, sympathy, affection; above all, the moment it takes on the character of a passion or an enthusiasm--that moment it overleaps mechanical trammels. The lawyer is not counting the number of hours which duty compels him to work. He would make each day forty-eight hours long if he could. He has a case to gain, and that is all he thinks of. The physician who should refuse to answer a summons from his bed at the dead of night, or to visit a patient after a certain hour of the day, would soon have abundance of leisure. Pain will not measure its intervals by the clock, fever will not suspend its burning heats to give the weary watcher rest: the affliction of the fatherless and widow knocks at the doors of pure and undefiled religion at untimely hours. Times and seasons, in abort, must be swallowed up in the purpose of saving life and relieving misery. I need not carry the illustrations farther. You see that the lower a type of service, the more mechanical and methodical it is; and that the higher types of service develop a certain exuberance, and refuse to be limited by times and seasons.
2. A second point at which the fact answers to the parable, is the matter of wages; that is to say, the slave and the servant of Christ have neither of them any right to thanks or compensation. What God may do for His servants out of His own free grace and love, what privileges He may grant His friends, is another question; but, on the hard business basis of value received, the servant of God has no case. What he does in God’s service it is his duty to do. “God,” as Bengel remarks, “can do without our usefulness.” God has no necessary men.
3. Now, then, we reach the pith of the parable. It is spoken from the slave’s point of view; it deals with service of the lower, mechanical type. Now the moment a man puts himself on that lower ground, and begins to measure out his times and degrees of service, and to reckon what is due to himself, that moment he runs sharply against this parable. That moment Christ meets his assertion of his rights with this unlovely picture. The parable says to him, in effect, “If you put the matter on the business basis, on the ground of your rights and merits, I meet you on that ground, and challenge you to make good your claim. I made you: I redeemed you, body and soul, with My own blood. Everything you have or are, you owe to My free grace. What are your rights? What is your ground for refusing any claim I may see fit to make upon you? What claim have you for thanks for any service you may render Me at any time?” And the man cannot complain of this answer. It is indeed the master’s answer to a slave; but then, the man has put himself on the slave’s ground. To the servile spirit Christ asserts His masterdom. He has no word of thanks for the grumbling slave who grudges the service at his table after the day’s ploughing; but to the loving disciple--the friend to whom His service is joy and reward enough, and who puts self and all its belongings at his disposal-it is strange, wondrous strange, but true, nevertheless, that Christ somehow slips into the servant’s place. Strange, I repeat; but here is Christ’s own word for it: “Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning.” Here is a picture of night-work, you see. “And ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their lord, when he will return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately.” Here are the servants, weary, no doubt, with the day’s work, but waiting and watching far into the hours of rest for their master, and flying with cheerful readiness to the door at his first knock. What then? “Blessed are those servants, whom the master when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them.” The amount of the matter is, that for him who gives himself without reserve to Christ’s service, Christ puts Himself at his service. When he accepts Christ’s right over him with his whole heart, not as a sentence to servitude, but as his dearest privilege, counting it above all price to be bought and owned by such a Master, he finds himself a possessor as well as a possession. “All things are yours, and ye are Christ’s.” (M. R. Vincent, D. D.)
The Christian’s obligation to God
The instruction of this parable supposes--
I. THAT THE MASTER HERE DESCRIBED IS THE HEAVENLY LORD AND MASTER OF US ALL--THE GOD THAT MADE US AND THE REDEEMER THAT DIED FOR US.
II. THE SERVICES WHICH WE ARE TO RENDER TO THIS DIVINE LORD.
1. The text takes it for granted that we are engaged spontaneously and habitually in serving this great Master according to our several stations in His household.
2. But besides this there is a further idea in the service described in the parable--that of duties succeeding each other without intermission.
3. The text also conveys the idea that the good servant postpones personal ease or indulgence to his master’s command and interest.
III. THE LOW ESTIMATE WHICH THE CHRISTIAN FORMS OF HIMSELF AFTER ALL HE HAS DONE OR CAN DO FOR HIS HEAVENLY LORD. Doth your goodness extend to the infinite Creator? Do your minute services at all weigh in the view of the infinite fulness of eternal glory, and the majesty of Him that sits upon the circle of the heavens? (D. Wilson, M. A.)
The spirit of a true servant of God
“People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply paid back as a small part of a great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay? Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the word in such a view and with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say, rather, it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this be only for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall hereafter be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice. Of this we ought not to talk, when we remember the great sacrifice which He made who left His Father’s throne on high to give Himself for us.” (Dr. Livingstone.)
The dutiful servant
We used to be roused and stirred by the clarion call of duty, as well as soothed and comforted by the tender breathings of love. And here the call comes to us loud and clear, waxing even louder as we listen and reflect. “Do your duty; and when you have done it, however laborious and painful it may be, remember that you have only done your duty. Do not give yourselves airs of complacency, as though you had achieved some great thing. Do not give yourselves air of martyrdom as though some strange thing had happened to you. Neither pity yourselves, nor plume yourselves on what you have done or borne. Do not think of yourselves at all, but of God, and of the duties you owe to Him. That you have done your duty--let this be your comfort, if at least you can honestly take it. And if you are tempted to a dainty and effeminate self-pity for the hardships you have borne, or to a dangerous and degrading self-admiration for the achievements you have wrought, let this be your safeguard, that you have done no more than your duty.” It is in this strain that our Lord speaks to us here.
1. And is it not a most wholesome and invigorating strain, a strain to which all in us that is worthy of the name of man instantly and strongly responds? The very moment we grow complacent over our work, our work spoils in our hands. Our energies relax. We begin to think of ourselves instead of our work, of the wonders we have achieved instead of the toils which yet lie before us and of how me may best discharge them. So soon as we begin to complain of our lot and task, to murmur as though our burden were too heavy, or as though we were called to bear it in our own strength, we unfit ourselves for it, our nerves and courage give way; our task looks even more formidable than it is, and we become incapable even of the little which, but for our repugnances and fears, we should be quite competent to do.
2. And then how bracing is the sense of duty discharged, if only we may indulge in it. And we may indulge in it. Does not Christ Himself teach us to say “We have done that which it was our duty to do?” He does not account of our duty as we sometimes account of it. If we are at work in His fields, He does not demand of us that we should plough so many acres, or that we should tend so many heads of cattle. All that He demands of us is that, with such capacities and opportunities as we have, we should do our best, or at lowest try to do it. Honesty of intention, purity and sincerity of motive, the diligence and cheerfulness with which we address ourselves to His service, count for more with Him than the mere amount of work we get through. The faithful and industrious servant is approved by Him, however feeble his powers, however limited his scope. And He would have us take pleasure in the industry and fidelity which please Him. He would have us account, as He Himself accounts, that we have done our duty when we have sincerely and earnestly endeavoured to do it.
3. We need not fear to adapt any part of this parable to our own use, if only we take to ourselves the parable as a whole. For, in that case, we shall not only add, “We are unprofitable servants,” so often as we say, “We have done that which it was our duty to do”; we shall also confess that every moment brings a fresh duty. We shall not rest when one duty is discharged, as though our service had come to an end; we shall be content to pass from duty to duty, to fill the day of life with labour to its very close. We shall not be content only, but proud and glad, to wait at our Master’s table after we have ploughed the soil and fed the cattle. And even when at last we eat and drink, we shall do even that to His glory--eating our bread with gladness and singleness of heart, not for enjoyment alone, but that we may gain new strength for serving Him. (S. Cox, D. D.)
We are unprofitable servants
The inevitable imperfectness of human works
Life is a work, a service. Our best works are but faulty. This consideration ought--
I. TO LEAD US TO HUMBLING VIEWS OF ALL OUR WORK.
II. TO GUARD US FROM DISCOURAGEMENT IN VIEW OF THE FELT FAULTINESS OF OUR SERVICE.
III. TO PREVENT US FROM TOO GREAT CONFIDENCE IN THE MERIT OF OUR PERFORMANCES.
IV. TO STIMULATE US TO DILIGENCE, SEEING THAT WHEN WE HAVE DONE THE UTMOST OUR WORK IS YET BUT IMPERFECT. Mark the great claims upon us for labour.
1. From the great Master of all, the doing of whose will is necessary for the welfare of His entire household.
2. From the world, in order to promote its benefit by our culture, instruction, and example.
3. From our own life, that its best interests and happiness may be secured. (Anon.)
The Scripture-doctrine of the unprofitableness of man’s best performances, an argument against spiritual pride; yet no excuse for slackness in good works and Christian obedience
I. I propose to explain WHAT THE PHRASE OR TITLE OF UNPROFITABLE SERVANTS HERE STRICTLY MEANS.
II. I proceed now, secondly, to consider HOW MUCH IT CONCERNS, AND HOW FITLY IT BECOMES, SUCH UNPROFITABLE SERVANTS TO MAKE THEIR HUMBLE ACKNOWLEDGMENTS BEFORE GOD, OF THE WORTHLESSNESS OF ALL THEIR SERVICES; worthless, I mean, with respect to God, not otherwise: for they are not worthless with respect to angels, or to other men; more especially not to our own souls, but that, by the way, only to prevent mistakes.
III. I proceed now, thirdly and lastly, to observe, THAT SUCH HUMBLE ACKNOWLEDGMENTS AS I HAVE BEEN HERE MENTIONING, MUST NOT HOWEVER BE SO UNDERSTOOD AS TO AFFORD ANY EXCUSE OR COLOUR FOR SLACKNESS IN OUR BOUDEN DUTIES; or for pleading any exemption or discharge from true Christian obedience. (D. Waterland, D. D.)
Reliance on religious observances
Now of course there is a danger of persons becoming self-satisfied, in being regular and exemplary in devotional exercises; there is danger, which others have not, of their so attending to them as to forget that they have other duties to attend to. I mean the danger, of which I was just now speaking, of having their attention drawn off from other duties by their very attention to this duty in particular. And what is still most likely of all, persons who are regular in their devotions may be visited with passing thoughts every now and then, that they are thereby better than other people; and these occasional thoughts may secretly tend to make them self-satisfied, without their being aware of it, till they have a latent habit of self-conceit and contempt of others. What is done statedly forces itself upon the mind, impresses the memory and imagination, and seems to be a substitute for other duties; and what is contained in definite outward acts has a completeness and tangible form about it, which is likely to satisfy the mind. However, I do not think, after all, that there is any very great danger to a serious mind in the frequent use of these great privileges. Indeed, it were a strange thing to say that the simple performance of what God has told us to do can do harm to any but those who have not the love of God in their hearts, and to such persons all things are harmful: they pervert everything into evil.
1. Now, first, the evil in question (supposing it to exist) is singularly adapted to be its own corrective. It can only do us injury when we do not know its existence. When a man knows and feels the intrusion of self-satisfied and self-complacent thoughts, here is something at once to humble him and destroy that complacency. To know of a weakness is always humbling; now humility is the very grace needed here. Knowledge of our indolence does not encourage us to exertion, but induces despondence; but to know we are self-satisfied is a direct blow to self-satisfaction. There is no satisfaction in perceiving that we are self-satisfied. Here then is one great safeguard against our priding ourselves on our observances.
2. But again, if religious persons are troubled with proud thoughts about their own excellence and strictness, I think it is only when they are young in their religion, and that the trial will wear off; and that for many reasons. Satisfaction with our own doings, as I have said, arises from fixing the mind on some one part of our duty, instead of attempting the whole of it. In proportion as we narrow the field of our duties, we become able to compass them. Men who pursue only this duty or only on that duty, are in danger of self-righteousness; zealots, bigots, devotees, men of the world, sectarians, are for this reason self-righteous. For the same reason, persons beginning a religious course are self-righteous, though they often think themselves just the reverse. They consider, perhaps, all religion to lie in confessing themselves sinners, and having warm feelings concerning their redemption and justification--and all because they have so very contracted a notion of the range of God’s commandments, of the rounds of that ladder which reaches from earth to heaven. But the remedy of the evil is obvious, and one which, since it will surely be applied by every religious person, because he is religious, will, under God’s grace, effect in no long time a cure. Try to do your whole duty, and yon will soon cease to be well-pleased with your religious state.
3. But this is not all. Certainly this objection, that devotional practices, such as prayer, fasting, and communicating, tend to self-righteousness, is the objection of those, or at least is just what the objection of those would be, who never attempted them. When, then, an objector fears lest such observances should make him self-righteous, were he to attempt them, I do think he is over-anxious, over-confident in his own power to fulfil them; he trusts too much in his own strength already, and, depend on it, to attempt them would make him less self-righteous, not more so. He need not be so very fearful of being too good; he may assure himself that the smallest of his Lord’s commandments are to a spiritual mind solemn, arduous, and inexhaustible. Is it an easy thing to pray? And so again of austerities; there may be persons so constituted by nature as to take pleasure in mortifications for their own sake, and to be able to practise them adequately; and they certainly are in danger of practising them for their own sakes, not through faith, and of becoming spiritually proud in consequence: but surely it is idle to speak of this as an ordinary danger.
And so again a religious mind has a perpetual source of humiliation from this consciousness also, viz., how far his actual conduct in the world falls short of the profession which his devotional observances involve.
4. But, after all, what is this shrinking from responsibility, which fears to be obedient lest it should fail, but cowardice and ingratitude? What is it but the very conduct of the Israelites, who, when Almighty God bade them encounter their enemies and so gain Canaan, feared the sons of Anak, because they were giants? To fear to do our duty lest we should become self-righteous in doing it, is to be wiser than God; it is to distrust Him; it is to do and to feel like the unprofitable servant who hid his lord’s talent, and then laid the charge of his sloth on his lord, as being a hard and austere man. At best we are unprofitable servants when we have done all; but if we are but unprofitable when we do our best to be profitable, what are we, when we fear to do our best, but unworthy to be His servants at all? No I to fear the consequences of obedience is to be worldly-wise, and to go by reason when we are bid go by faith. (J. H. Newman, D. D.)
A sentence which requires thought. At first sight we might be inclined to say, “If a servant does all which he is deputed to do, can that servant in any way be an unprofitable servant?” But look at the matter a little more closely, and see how the balance lies. All service is a covenant between two parties. The servant covenants to do certain works, and the employer covenants to provide for his servant certain wages, food, and accommodation. If the agreement be a just one, and if both do their duty according to the agreement, neither can truly say he is a gainer or a loser in respect of the other. What the servant gives in work he receives back in money, food, and accommodation. What the master pays he receives back in the benefit and comfort which he derives from the servant’s work. Each gets back what he gave; his own in another shape. But how is it between a man and his Creator? Let me for a moment suppose a ease--quite impossible I fear--but the case of a man who has fulfilled all the ends for which he was created. How does the case now stand? God has endowed that man with life, and all its powers of body, mind, and soul; with all its influences and opportunities; and God has watched over him and kept him and blessed him. Now if that man be a kind and useful man to! all his fellow-creatures with whom he has to do, and if he uses rightly all his possessions, and if he honours God and loves his neighbour, that man has done his duty. But is God the gainer? He has only received back His own. It is all His own property, His gift; it is but His right. The creature hath done his duty; but the Creator has not benefitted.
How can a man be “profitable” to his Creator? But “profit” is to have your own back with increase; and if that be profit, there is no profit here. The man is still, in reference to his master, “an unprofitable servant.” Now let us look at it as a matter of fact. So far are we, even the best of us, from having “done all these things” which are commanded of us, and so fulfilled our duty, that the question is, Have we really kept any one single commandment that God ever gave? Or put it in another way, in which Christ placed it, Is there a person in the world to whom your conscience will tell you that you have really done your whole duty in everything? (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The defects of our performances an argument against presumption
I. THE UTMOST WE CAN DO IS NO MORE THAN OUR BOUNDEN DUTY. Our creation places us under a debt which our most accurate services can never discharge. Alas! all we do, or all we can suffer in obedience to Him, can bear no proportion to what He has done and suffered for us. And if our best services cannot discount His past favours, much less can we plead them in demand of His future. And therefore whatever farther encouragement He is pleased to annex to our obedience, must be acknowledged as a pure act of grace and bounty.
II. AFTER WE HAVE DONE ALL, WE ARE UNPROFITABLE. God is a being infinitely happy in the enjoyment of His own perfections, and needs no foreign assistance to complete His fruitions, No--our observance of His commands, though by His infinite mercy it be a means of advancing our own, is yet no addition to His felicity, which is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever, and consequently our most dutiful performances cannot lay any obligation of debt on our Creator, or presume upon any intrinsic value which His justice or gratitude is bound to reward.
III. THE PERFORMANCE ITSELF CANNOT BE INSISTED ON AS AN ACT STRICTLY OUR OWN, BUT MUST BE ASCRIBED TO THE ASSISTANCE OF DIVINE GRACE WORKING IN US; and that all the value of it is derived from the mediation and atonement of Christ. It is His Holy Spirit that kindles devotion in our breast, infuses into us good desires, and enables us to execute our pious resolutions. This single reflection should, methinks, be sufficient to subdue every high and insolent conceit of our own righteousness, that in our best performances to God we give Him but of His own, and that even our inclination and ability to serve Him we receive from Him. To our Redeemer only belongs the merit and glory of our services, and to us nothing but the gratitude and humility of pardoned rebels. (J. Rogers, D. D.)
The praise of service belongs to God
Here is a little stream trickling down the mountain side. As it proceeds, other streams join it in succession from the right and left until it becomes a river. Ever flowing, and ever increasing as it flows, it thinks it will make a great contribution to the ocean when it shall reach the shore at length. No, river, you are an unprofitable servant; the ocean does not need you; could do as well and be as full without you; is not in any measure made up by you. True, rejoins the river, the ocean is so great that all my volume poured into it makes no sensible difference; but still I contribute so much, and this, as far as it goes, increases the amount of the ocean’s supply. No: this indeed is the seeming to the ignorant observer on the spot; but whoever obtains deeper knowledge and a wider range, will discover and confess that the river is an unprofitable servant to the sea--that it contributes absolutely nothing to the sea’s store. From the ocean came every drop of water that rolls down in that river’s bed, alike those that fell into it in rain from the sky, and those that flowed into it from tributary rivers, and those that sprang from hidden veins in the earth. Even although it should restore all, it gives only what it received. It could not flow, it could not be, without the free gift of all from the sea. To the sea it owes its existence and power. The sea owes it nothing; would be as broad and deep although this river had never been. But all this natural process goes on, sweetly and beneficently, notwithstanding: the river gets and gives; the ocean gives and gets. Thus the circle goes round, beneficent to creation, glorious to God. Thus, in the spiritual sphere--in the world that God has created by the Spirit of His Son--circulations beautiful and beneficent continually play. From Him, and by Him, and to Him are all things. To the saved man through whom God’s mercy flows, the activity is unspeakably precious: to him the profit, but to God the praise. (W. Arnot.)
The creature has no absolute merit
I. In the first place, he must so say, and so feel, because he is a CREATED being. Mere dead matter cannot exert any living functions. The saw cannot saw the sawyer. The axe cannot chop the chopper. They are lifeless instruments in a living hand, and must move as they are moved. It is impossible that by any independent agency of their own they should act upon man, and make him the passive subject of their operations. But it is yet more impossible for a creature to establish himself upon an independent position in reference to the Creator. Every atom and element in his body and soul is originated, and kept in being, by the steady exertion of his Maker’s power. If this were relaxed for an instant he would cease to be. Nothing, therefore, can be more helpless and dependent than a creature; and no relation so throws a man upon the bare power and support of God as creaturely relation.
II. In the second place, man cannot make himself “profitable” unto God, and lay Him under obligation, because he is constantly SUSTAINED AND UPHELD BY GOD.
III. In the third place, man cannot be “profitable” to God, and merit His thanks, because all his GOOD WORKS DEPEND UPON THE OPERATION AND ASSISTANCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. Our Lord’s doctrine of human merit is cognate with the doctrine of Divine grace.
1. In the first place, we see in the light of our Lord’s theory of human merit, why it is impossible for a creature to make atonement for sin.
2. In the second place, we see in the light of this subject why the creature, even though he be sinlessly perfect, must be humble.
3. And this leads to a third and final inference from the subject, namely, that God does not require man to be a “profitable” servant, but to be a faithful servant. Whoever is thus faithful will be rewarded with as great a reward as if he were an independent and self-sustaining agent. Nay, even if man could be a “profitable” servant, and could bring God under obligation to him, his happiness in receiving a recompense under such circumstances would not compare with that under the present arrangement. It would be a purely mercantile transaction between the parties. There would be no love in the service, or in the recompense. The creature would calmly, proudly, do his work, and the Creator would calmly pay him his wages. And the transaction would end there, like any other bargain. But now, there is affection between the parties--filial love on one side, and paternal love on the other; dependence, and weakness, and clinging trust, on one side, and grace, and almighty power, and infinite fulness on the other. God rewards by promise and by covenant, and not because of an absolute and original indebtedness to the creature of His power. And the creature feels that he is what he is, because of the grace of God. (W. G. T. Shedd, D. D.)
A.L.O.E., in “Triumph over Midian,” writes: “You have not your due,” were the words which a wife addressed to a husband, who had been deprived of some advantage which she considered to have been his right. “May God be praised that I have not my due! “he replied. “What is my due as a sinner before God? What is my due from a world which I have renounced for His sake? Had I chosen my portion in this life, then only might I complain of not receiving my due.”
The faithful performance of duty in our station, ennobles that station whatever it may be. There is a beautiful story told of the great Spartan Brasidas. When he complained that Sparta was a small state, his mother said to him: “ Son, Sparta has fallen to your lot, and it is your duty to adorn it.” I (the Earl of Shaftesbury) would only say to all workers, everywhere, in all positions of life, whatever be the lot in which you are cast, it is your duty to adorn it.
Ten men that were lepers
The ten lepers
THEIR ORIGINAL CONDITION. Defiled. Separated.
II. THEIR APPLICATION TO CHRIST.
1. Observe the distance they kept from His person.
2. The earnestness of their prayer.
3. The unanimity of their application.
4. The reverence and faith they evinced.
III. THE CURE WROUGHT.
IV. THE THANKS RENDERED BY THE SAMARITAN AND THE INGRATITUDE OF THE NINE.
1. The willingness and power of Christ to heal.
2. The application to be made.
3. The return He demands of those He saves.
4. The commonness of ingratitude. (J. Burns, D. D.)
The ten lepers
I. THE STORY ENCOURAGES WORK ON FRONTIERS AND BORDERS. Jesus met the lepers “in the midst of”--that is, probably, along the frontier line between--“Samaria and Galilee,” on His way east to the Jordan. Their common misery drew these natural enemies, the Jews and the Samaritans, together. The national prejudice of each was destroyed. Under these circumstances the border was a favourable retreat for them. The border population is always freer from prejudice and more open to influence.
II. THE STORY SHOWS THAT THERE IS A SENSE IN WHICH IMPENITENT MEN CAN PRAY. The lepers prayed. That weak, hoarse cry affecting]y expressed their sense of need--one characteristic of true prayer. Their standing afar off further expressed their sense of guilt--another characteristic of acceptable prayer. Their disease was a type of the death of sin. Their isolation expressed the exclusion of the polluted and abominable from the city of God.
III. THE STORY SHOWS THAT THERE IS A SENSE IN WHICH GOD ANSWERS THE PRAYERS OF IMPENITENT MEN.
IV. THE STORY SHOWS NOW THE FORM OF OBEDIENCE MAY EXIST WITHOUT ITS SPIRIT.
V. THE STORY SHOWS US THAT A DEGREE OF FAITH MAY EXIST WITHOUT LOVE, AND SO WITHOUT SAVING POWER. There was a weak beginning of faith in all the ten. It is shown in their setting out without a word, though as yet uncleansed, for Jerusalem. This must have required faith of a high order. If it had worked by love all would have been saved. This was one trouble with the nine, and the radical one--they did not love. Calvin describes their case, and that of many like them. “Want and hunger,” he says, “create a faith which gratification kills.” It is real faith, yet hath it no root.
VI. THE STORY SHOWS US THE SIN OF INGRATITUDE, AND THE PLACE WHICH GRATITUDE FILLS WITH GOD. The Samaritan was the only one who returned, and he was the only one saved. “Birth did not give the Jew a place in the kingdom of heaven; gratitude gave it to a Samaritan.” Blessings are good, but not for themselves. They are to draw us to the Giver, they are tests of character. True gratitude to God involves two things, both of which were found in the leper.
1. He was humble; he fell at Jesus’ feet. He remembered what he had been when Jesus found him, and the pit whence he was digged. If blessings do not make us humble, they are lost upon us.
2. Gratitude involves, also, the exaltation of God. The leper glorified God. A German, who was converted, expressed himself afterward with a beautiful spirit of humility and praise: “My wife is rejoicing,” he said, “I am rejoicing, my Saviour is rejoicing.” On another occasion he said, “I went this evening to kiss my little children good-night. As I was standing there my wife said to me, ‘Dear husband, you love these our children very dearly, but it is not a thousandth part as much as the blessed Saviour loves us.’” What spirit should more characterize God’s creatures than gratitude? What should we more certainly look for as the mark of a Christian? God blesses it. He blessed the leper; He cleansed the leprosy deeper than that in his flesh, the leprosy of sin. The nine went on their way with bodies healed, but with a more loathsome disease still upon them, the leprosy of ingratitude. We classify sins. “We may find by and by that in God’s sight ingratitude is the blackest of all.” There is an application of this truth to Christians which we should not miss. Gratitude gives continual access to higher and higher blessings. The ungrateful Christian loses spiritual blessings. If we value the gift above the Giver, all that we should receive in returning to Him we lose. (G. R. Leavitt.)
The ten lepers
I. THE BLESSING WHICH THEY ALL RECEIVED.
1. A healthy body.
2. Restoration to society.
3. Re-admission to the sanctuary.
II. THE BEHAVIOUR OF THE NINE.
III. THE LOSS SUSTAINED BY THE NINE IN CONSEQUENCE OF THEIR INGRATITUDE. Lessons--
1. In the bestowment of His grace, God is no respecter of persons.
2. Our Lord regards moral and religious obligations as more important than those which are positive and ceremonial.
3. Answers to prayer should be received with thanksgiving. (F. F. Gee, M. A.)
Affliction quickens to prayer; but those who remember God in their distresses often forget Him in their deliverances.
1. Observe the condition in which Jesus found the applicants.
2. Observe the state in which Jesus left them.
3. Their subsequent conduct.
I. THE GREAT EVIL AND PREVALENCY OF INGRATITUDE.
1. It is a sin so very common that not one in ten can be found that is not guilty of it in a very flagrant manner, and not one in ten thousand but what is liable to the charge in some degree. It is a prevailing vice among all ranks and conditions in society.
2. Common as this sin is, it is nevertheless a sin of great magnitude. Should not the patient be thankful for the recovery of his health, especially where the relief has been gratuitously afforded? Should not the debtor or the criminal be thankful to his surety or his prince, who freely gave him his liberty or his life?
(1) It is a sin of which no one can be ignorant; it is a sin against the light of nature, as well as against the law of revelation.
(2) Ingratitude carries in it a degree of injustice towards the Author of all our mercies, in that it denies to Him the glory due unto His name, and is a virtual impeachment of His goodness.
(3) Unthankfulness brings a curse upon the blessings we enjoy, and provokes the Giver to deprive us of them.
II. CONSIDER THE MEANS BY WHICH THIS EVIL MAY BE PREVENTED.
1. Be clothed with humility, and cherish a proper sense of your own meanness and unworthiness.
2. Dive every mercy its full weight. Call no sin small, and no mercy small.
3. Take a collective view of all your mercies, and you will see perpetual cause far thankfulness.
4. Consider your mercies in a comparative view. Compare them with your deserts: put your provocations in one scale, and Divine indulgences in another, and see which preponderates. Compare your afflictions with your mercies.
5. Think how ornamental to religion is a grateful and humble spirit.
6. There is no unthankfulness in heaven. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
The ten lepers
1. The first thing I would have you notice is, that the ten were at first undistinguishable in their misery. That there were differences of character among them we know; that there were differences of race, of education, and training, we know too, for one at least was a Samaritan, and under no other circumstances, perhaps, would his companions have had any dealings with him; but all their differences were obliterated, their natural antipathies were lost, beneath the common pressure of their frightful misery--their very voices were blended in one urgent cry, “Jesus, Master, have mercy upon us.” “One touch of nature,” says the great poet, “makes the whole world kin”: true, and alas I never so true as when that touch of nature is the sense of guilt. This is the great leveller, not only of the highest and lowest, but of the best and worst, effacing all distinctions, even of moral character; for, when one attempts to weigh one’s sin and count it up, it seems impossible to establish degrees in one’s own favour--one feels as if there were a dreadful equality of guilt for all, and one was no better than another.
2. I would have you notice, in the second place, the apparent tameness of their cure. Our Lord neither lays His finger on them, nor holds any conference, but, merely tells them to go and show themselves to the priests, according to the letter of that now antiquated and perishing law of Moses. Never was so great a cure worked in so tame a fashion since the time of Naaman the Syrian; well for them that they had a humbler spirit and a more confiding faith than he, or they, too, would, have gone away in a rage and been never the better. Now, I think we may see in this a striking parable of how our Lord evermore deals with penitent sinners. He does not, as a rule, make any wonderful revelation of Himself to the soul which He heals; there is no dramatic “scene” which can be reported to others. There is, indeed, often something very commonplace, and therefore disappointing, about His dealings with penitents. He remits them to their religious duties--to those things which men account as outward and formal, and therefore feeble, which have indeed no power at all in themselves to heal the leprosy of sin, such as the means of grace, the ministry of reconciliation. In these things there is no excitement; they do not carry away the soul with a rush of enthusiasm, or fill it with a trembling awe.
3. And, in the third place, I would have you notice the unexpected way in which He addressed the one who came back to express his heartfelt gratitude.” “Arise, go thy way, thy faith hath made thee whole.” Now, it is obvious that these words were just as applicable to the other nine as to him, for they, too, had been made whole, and made whole by faith; all had believed, all had started off obediently to show themselves to the priests, and all alike had been cleansed through faith as they went. Does it not seem strange that He took no notice of the gratitude which was peculiar to the one to whom He spake, and only made mention of the faith which was common to them all? Did He not do it advisedly? Did He not intend us to learn a lesson thereby? We know that this story sets forth as a parable our own conduct as redeemed and pardoned sinners. We know that the great bulk of Christians are ungrateful; that they are far more concerned in lamenting the petty losses and securing the petty gains of life, than in showing their thankfulness to God for His inestimable love. What about them? Will unthankful Christians also receive the salvation of their souls? I suppose so. I think this story teaches us so, and I think our Lord’s words to the one that returned are meant to enforce that teaching. All were cleansed, though only one gave glory to God; even so we are all made whole by faith, though scarcely one in ten shows any gratitude for it. The ingratitude of Christian people may indeed mar very grievously the work of grace, but it cannot undo it. “Thy faith hath made thee whole” is the common formula which includes all the saved, although amongst them be found differences so striking, and deficiencies so painful. There are that use religion itself selfishly, thinking only of the personal advantage it will be to themselves, and of the pleasure it brings within their reach. But these are certainly not the happiest. Vexed with every trifle, worried about every difficulty, entangled with a thousand uncertainties, if all things go well they just acquiesce in it, as if they had a right to expect it; if things go wrong they begin at once to complain, as though they were ill-used; if they become worse, then they are miserable, as though all cause for rejoicing were gone. Now, I need not remind you how fearfully such a temper dishonours God. When He has freely given us an eternal inheritance of joy, a kingdom which cannot be shaken, an immortality beyond the reach of sin or suffering, it is simply monstrous that we should murmur at the shadows of sorrow which fleck our sea of blessing, it should seem simply incredible that we do not continually pour out our very souls in thanksgiving unto Him that loved us and gave Himself for us. But I will say this, that our ingratitude is the secret of our little happiness in this life. Our redeemed lives were meant to be like that summer sea when it dances and sparkles beneath the glorious sun instead of which they are like a sullen, muddy pool upon a cloudy day, which gives back nothing but the changing hues of gloom. It is not outward circumstance, it is the presence or absence of a thankful spirit which makes all the difference to our lives. Gratitude to God is the sunshine of our souls, with which the tamest scene is bright and the wildest beautiful, without which the fairest landscape is but sombre. (R. Winterbotham, M. A.)
Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity
Three impressive and instructive pictures are described in this gospel.
I. A CONGREGATION OF SUFFERERS, whom affliction influenced to much seeming goodness and piety. It is a beautiful and comforting truth, that there is no depth of suffering, or distance from the pure and the good to which sin may banish men in this world, where they are debarred from carrying their sorrows and griefs in prayer to God. A man may be guilty, leprous, cast out, cut off, given up as irretrievably lost; and yet, if he will, he may call on God for help, and the genuine, hearty, earnest, and real cry of his soul will reach the ear of God.
II. A MARVELLOUS INTERFERENCE OF DIVINE POWER AND GRACE for their relief, very unsatisfactorily acknowledged and improved. Dark-day and sick-bed religion is apt to be a religion of mere constraint. Take the pressure off, and it is apt to be like the morning cloud and the early dew, which “goeth away.” Give me a man who has learned to know and fear God in the daytime, and I shall not be much in doubt of him when the night comes. But the piety which takes its existence in times of cloud and darkness, like the growths common to such seasons, is apt to be as speedy in its decline as it is quick and facile in its rise. There are mushrooms in the field of grace, as well as in the field of nature.
III. AN INSTANCE OF LONELY GRATITUDE, resulting in most precious blessings superadded to the miraculous cure. There was not only a faith to get the bodily cure, but a faith which brought out a complete and practical discipleship; an earnest and abiding willingness, in prosperity as well as in adversity, to wear the Saviour’s yoke. (J. A. Seiss, D. D.)
Only trust Him
As these men were to start straight away to the priest with all their leprosy white upon them, and to go there as if they felt they were already healed, so are you, with all your sinnership upon you, and your sense of condemnation heavy on your soul, to believe in Jesus Christ just as you are, and you shall find everlasting life upon the spot.
I. First, then, I say that we are to believe in Jesus Christ--to trust Him to heal us of the great disease of sin--though as yet we may have about us no sign or token that He has wrought any good work upon us. We are not to look for signs and evidences within ourselves before we venture our souls upon Jesus. The contrary supposition is a soul-destroying error, and I will try to expose it by showing what are the signs that are commonly looked for by men.
1. One of the most frequent is a consciousness of great sin, and a horrible dread of Divine wrath, leading to despair. If you say, “Lord, I cannot trust Thee unless I feel this or that,” then you, in effect, say, “I can trust my own feelings, but I cannot trust God’s appointed Saviour.” What is this but to make a god out of your feelings, and a saviour out of your inward griefs?
2. Many other persons think that they must, before they can trust Christ, experience quite a blaze of joy. “Why,” you say, “must I not be happy before I can believe in Christ?” Must you needs have the joy before you exercise the faith? How unreasonable!
3. We have known others who have expected to have a text impressed upon their minds. In old families there are superstitions about white birds coming to a window before a death, and I regard with much the same distrust the more common superstition that if a text continues upon your mind day after clay you may safely conclude that it is an assurance of your salvation. The Spirit of God often does apply Scripture with power to the soul; but this fact is never set forth as the rock for us to build upon.
4. There is another way in which some men try to get off believing in Christ, and that is, they expect an actual conversion to be manifest in them before they will trust the Saviour. Conversion is the manifestation of Christ’s healing power. But you are not to have this before you trust Him; you are to trust Him for this very thing.
II. And now, secondly, I want to bring forward WHAT THE REASON IS FOR OUR BELIEVING IN JESUS CHRIST. No warrant whatever within ourself need be looked for. The warrant for our believing Christ lies in this--
1. There is God’s witness concerning His Son Jesus Christ. God, the Everlasting Father, has set forth Christ “to be the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sin of the whole world.”
2. The next warrant for our believing is Jesus Christ Himself. He bears witness on earth as well as the Father, and His witness is true.
3. I dare say these poor lepers believed in Jesus because they had heard of other lepers whom He had cleansed.
III. WHAT IS THE ISSUE OF THIS KIND OF FAITH THAT I HAVE BEEN PREACHING? This trusting in Jesus without marks, signs, evidences, tokens, what is the result and outcome of it?
1. The first thing that I have to say about it is this--that the very existence of such a faith as that in the soul is evidence that there is already a saving change. Every man by nature kicks against simply trusting in Christ; and when at last he yields to the Divine method of mercy it is a virtual surrender of his own will, the ending of rebellion, the establishment of peace. Faith is obedience.
2. It will be an evidence, also, that you are humble; for it is pride that makes men want to do something, or to be something, in their own salvation, or to be saved in some wonderful way.
3. Again, faith in Jesus will be the best evidence.that you are reconciled to God, for the worst evidence of your enmity to God is that you do not like God’s way of salvation. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The ten lepers
I. A WRETCHED COMPANY.
II. A SURPRISED COMPANY.
1. The occasion of the surprise.
(1) They suddenly met Jesus.
(a) Life is full of surprises.
(b) To meet Jesus is the-best of all life’s surprises.
2. The effects of this surprise.
(1) Hope was enkindled within them.
(2) Prayer for mercy broke forth from them.
(3) Healing of their dreadful malady was experienced by them.
III. AN UNGRATEFUL COMPANY.
1. Consider the number healed.
2. The cry which brought the healing.
3. The simultaneousness of the healing.
4. The ingratitude of the healed.
(1) Only one returned to acknowledge the mercy.
(2) This one a stranger.
(3) The ungrateful are those of the Master’s own household.
(4) Are these representative facts?
5. Consider the special blessing bestowed on the grateful soul.
(1) Not only healed in body, but also in soul.
(2) Soul-healing ever requires personal faith. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)
The ten lepers
I. THEIR APPLICATION. It was--
3. Respectful and humble.
II. THEIR CURE.
1. A wonderful manifestation of Christ’s power. He is a rich
Saviour, rich in mercy and rich in power.
2. Great faith and obedience exhibited on their part.
III. THE THANKFULNESS MANIFESTED BY ONE OF THESE HEALED MEN.
2. Warm, hearty, earnest.
3. Humble and reverential.
More so, observe, than even his prayer. When he cried for mercy, he stood; when he gives thanks for mercy, he falls down on his face, The thankfulness of this man was elevated also. It was accompanied with high thoughts of God, and a setting forth, as far as he was able, of God’s glory. He is said in the text to have “glorified God.” And observe how he blends together in his thankfulness God and Christ. He glorifies the one, and at the same time he falls down before the other, giving Him thanks. Did he then look on our Lord in His real character, as God? Perhaps he did. The wonderful cure he had received in his body, might have been accompanied with as wonderful an outpouring of grace and light into his mind. God and Christ, God’s glory and Christ’s mercy, were so blended together in his mind, that he could not separate them. Neither, brethren, can you separate them, if you know anything aright of Christ and His mercy. (C. Bradley, M. A.)
The ten lepers
1. Look at the afflicted objects.
2. Observe the direction of the Divine Physician. The Saviour, by sending the lepers to the priest, not only honoured the law which had prescribed this conduct, but secured to Himself the testimony of the appointed judge and witness of the cure; for, as this disease was considered to be both inflicted and cured by the hand of God Himself, and as He had cured it, He thus left a witness in the conscience of the priest, that He was what He professed to be.
3. Follow these men on the road, and behold the triumphant success of Christ’s merciful designs. Christ’s cure was not only effectual, but universal. No one of the ten is excepted as too diseased, or too unworthy; but among all these men there is only one that we look at with pleasure. He was a stranger.
4. Contemplate more closely the grateful Samaritan. What a lovely object is gratitude at the feet of Mercy!
5. But what a contrast is presented by the ungrateful Jews.
6. Yet how gently the Saviour rebukes their unthankfulness. He might have said--“What! so absorbed in the enjoyment of health as to forget the Giver! Then the leprosy which I healed shall return to you, and cleave to you for ever.” But, no; He only asks--“Are there not found any that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger?” And, turning to the man prostrate in the dust at His feet, Jesus said, “Arise, go to thy house, thy faith hath made thee whole.”
1. This subject shows the compassion of the Saviour.
2. Let each ask himself, “Am I a leper?”
3. See the hatefulness of ingratitude. (T. Gibson, M. A.)
Gratitude for Divine favours
I. WE ARE CONTINUALLY RECEIVING FAVOURS FROM GOD. No creature is independent. All are daily receiving from the Father of lights, from whom “cometh every good and perfect gift,” and “with whom there is no variableness, nor shadow of turning.” Our bodies, with all their powers; and our souls, with all their capacities, are derived from Him. But whilst the beneficence of the Supreme Being is, in one sense, general; it is, in another, restricted. Some are more highly favoured than others. Some have experienced remarkable interpositions of Divine providence. Some have been raised up from dangerous illness. Some have been advanced in worldly possessions. Some are the partakers of distinguished privileges. Such are those who are favoured with the dispensation of the gospel.
II. THAT THESE FAVOURS SHOULD INDUCE A SUITABLE RETURN.
1. Gratitude will not be regarded as unsuitable. We always expect this from our fellow-creatures who participate in our bounty.
2. Commendation is another suitable return. Make known the lovely character of your merciful Redeemer to others.
3. Service is another suitable return. “Wherefore, we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably, with reverence and with godly fear.”
4. Humiliation is a suitable return. This Samaritan prostrated himself before his Divine Healer. How unspeakable is the felicity of that man, who, deeply humbled under a sense of the manifold mercies of God, can lift up his eyes to the great Judge of quick and dead, and say in sincerity, “Lord, my heart is not haughty, nor my soul lofty, neither do I exercise myself in great matters, nor in things too high for me; I have surely behaved and quieted myself as a child that is weaned of its mother: my soul is even u a weaned child!”
5. Honour is a suitable return. This Samaritan was not, perhaps, acquainted with our Lord’s divinity; but he regarded Him as some extraordinary personage, and, as was customary in such cases, he prostrated himself before Him, as a token of great respect and veneration. Entertain the most exalted conceptions of Him; you cannot raise your thoughts too high: “He is God over all, blessed for ever.”
III. THAT THIS RETURN IS TOO COMMONLY NEGLECTED. The cause of this forgetfulness is to be traced, in general, to the influence of inward depravity; and nothing is a clearer proof of the corruption of our nature; but there are other causes, co-operating with this, of which we may mention two. First: Worldly prosperity. Honey does not more powerfully attract bees than affluence generates danger. Secondly: Worldly anxiety is another cause of this forgetfulness.
IV. WE MAY OBSERVE, THAT TO NEGLECT A RETURN OF GRATITUDE TO GOD IS HIGHLY REPREHENSIBLE. Nay, it is exceedingly sinful. What insensibility does it argue, and what criminality does it involve! It is a virtual denial of the Divine providence. (T. Gibson, M. A.)
The earnestness of personal necessity
One fact is brought most powerfully before us here, and that is--
1. The personal necessity of these ten men. So strong was it that it gained a victory over national prejudices of the fiercest kind, and we find the Samaritan in company with the Jew. Amongst men not conscious of a common misery, such a union might have been looked for but in vain; the Jew would have loathed the Samaritan and the Samaritan would have scorned the Jew. And there is too much reason for supposing that a want of personal religion is tile cause of much of that fierce estrangement which characterizes the different parties and denominations of the religious world in the present day. Did men realize their common sinfulness, the deep necessity which enfolds them all, we can well believe that much of the energy which is now wasted in profitless controversy and angry recrimination, would be spent in united supplication to the One, who alone can do ought for the sinner in his need.
2. Again we see how personal necessity triumphs over national prejudice, in the fact that the Samaritan is willing to call upon a Jew for safety and for help. Under ordinary circumstances he would have held no communion with Him at all, but the fact that he was a leper, and that Jesus could cure him, overcame the national antipathy and he joins his voice with that of all the rest. And surely thus also is it with the leper of the spiritual world; when he has been brought truly to know his state, truly to smart under its degradation and its pain, truly to believe that there is One at hand by whom he can be healed, the power of the former pride and prejudice becomes broken down, and he cries out in earnest to the long-despised Jesus for the needed help.
3. We have now seen the power of personal necessity in overcoming strongly-rooted prejudice; let us next proceed to consider it as productive of great earnestness in supplication. The supplication of these men was loud and personal; they lifted up their voices, and fixed on one alone of Jesu’s company as able to deliver them, and that one was Jesus Christ
Himself. And we can well understand how this plague-stricken family united their energies in a long, earnest cry to attract the attention of the One that alone could make them whole. Theirs was no feeble whisper, no dull and muffled sound, but a piteous, an agonizing call which almost startled the very air as it rushed along. Nor can we marvel if God refuse to hear the cold, dull prayers which for the most part fall upon His ear; they are not the expressions of need, and therefore find little favour at His hands; they come to Him like the compliments which men pay to their fellow-men, and meaning nothing, they are taken for exactly what they are worth.
4. And mark, how by the loudness of their cry these unhappy men expose their miserable state to Christ--the one absorbing point which they wished to press upon His notice was the fact that they were all lepers, ten diseased and almost despairing men. In their case there was no hiding of their woe, they wished the Lord to see the worst. (P. B. Power, M. A.)
He was a Samaritan
The Samaritan’s gratitude
It is necessary to notice the saving element in this man’s gratitude. We can imagine the other nine saying to him as he turned back, “We are as grateful to God as you are, but we will return our thanks in the temple of God. There are certain acts of worship, certain sacrifices ordained in the law by God Himself. In the due performance of these we will thank God in His own appointed way. He who healed us is a great Prophet, but it is the great power of God alone which has cleansed us.” Now the Samaritan was not content with this. His faith worked by love, taking the form of thankfulness. He at once left the nine to their journey, and, without delay, threw himself at the feet of the Lord. He felt that his was not a common healing--not a healing in the way of nature, by the disease exhausting itself in time. It was a supernatural healing, through the intervention of a particular servant of God; and this servant (or, perhaps, he had heard that Jesus claimed to be more than a servant, even the Son of God) must be thanked and glorified. If God had healed him in the ordinary course, the sacrifices prescribed for such healing would have sufficed. But God had healed him in an extraordinary way--by His Son, by One who was far greater than any prophet; and so, if God was to be glorified, it must be in connection with this extraordinary channel of blessing, this Mediator. (M. F. Sadler.)
Gratitude heightens the power of enjoyment
Man’s gratitude is, I have often thought and said, a sixth sense; for it always heightens the power of enjoyment. Suppose a man to walk through the world with every sense excited to its utmost nerve: let there be a world of dainties spread before him and around him, and the aromas of all precious fragrances steeping his senses in delicious and exquisite enjoyment; let the eye be gladdened and brighten over: the knowledge, and the hand tighten over the grasp of present and actual possession, yet let him be a man in whose nature there wakes no keen sensation of grateful remembrance, and I say that yet the most delightful sensation is denied him. Grateful-thankfulness is allied to--nay, forms an ingredient in--the very chief of our deepest enjoyments,and purest springs of blessedness. Gratitude gives all the sweet spice to the cup of contentment, and the cup of discontent derives all its acid from an ungrateful heart. (E. P. Hood.)
“And he was a Samaritan.” Thus frequently, in like manner, have we been surprised at the the finding of gratitude to God in most unexpected places and persons. We have often seen that it is by no means in proportion to the apparent munificence of the Divine bounty. It is proverbial that the hymn of praise rises more frequently from the peasant’s fireside than from palace gates--more frequently from straitened than from abounding circumstances. Wherefore let us ourselves adore the exalting graces of the Divine goodness, which makes the smallest measure of God’s grace to outweigh the mightiest measure of circumstantial happiness. As long as God merely gives the gilded shell--the scaffolding of the palace--He gives but little; and it has been frequently said that He shows His disregard of riches by giving them to the worst of men frequently; but to possess a sense of His mercy and goodness, that exceeds them all. (E. P. Hood.)
Ingratitude for Divine favours
The Staubach is a fail of remarkable magnificence, seeming to leap from heaven; its glorious stream reminds one of the abounding mercy which in a mighty torrent descends from above. In the winter, when the cold is severe, the water freezes at the foot of the fall, and rises up in huge icicles like stalagmites, until it reaches the fall itself, as though it sought to bind it in the same icy fetters. How like this is to the common ingratitude of men! Earth’s ingratitude rises up to meet heaven’s mercy; as though the very goodness of God helped us to defy Him. Divine favours, frozen by human ingratitude, are proudly lifted in rebellion against the God who gave them. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Where are the nine?--
Ingratitude towards God
I. THE IGNOMINY OF INGRATITUDE.
1. The ungrateful Christian acts against the voice of his conscience.
(1) Natural reason acknowledges the duty of gratitude.
(2) The general consent of mankind brands with infamy the ungrateful.
2. Ingratitude sinks the human being below the level of the brute creation.
3. Ingratitude is infinitely ignominious, because directed against God.
(1) God exhorts us so often to be grateful.
(2) His beneficence is unlimited.
(3) All His benefits are gratuities.
(4) The ungrateful man denies, in fact, the existence of God.
II. THE PERNICIOUS CONSEQUENCES OF INGRATITUDE.
1. Temporal consequences.
(1) God threatens to deprive the ungrateful of the blessings received Luke 9:26). God has ever been the absolute owner of whatever He gives; and He gives and takes according to His good pleasure.
(a) He threatens so to direct events that His gift shall become a curse instead of a blessing to the ungrateful receiver.
(b) To refuse whatever he may ask for in future.
(c) To send chastisements upon him so as to convince him that He is the Lord.
(2) God fulfilled His threatenings
(a) on our first parents;
(b) on Israel;
(c) on Nebuchadnezzar.
(d) Your own life and the life of your acquaintances will bear similar testimony.
2. Everlasting consequences. If the sinner remain ungrateful to the end of his earthly life, he will be deprived of all Divine gifts for all eternity. He will be deprived--
(1) Of the Word of God, instead of which he will incessantly hear only the words of Satan.
(2) Of the celestial light against which he closed his eyes; in punishment of which he will be buried in everlasting darkness.
(3) Of the Beatific Vision, instead of which he will behold only the vision of devilish deformity.
(4) Of the sacramental means of salvation.
(5) Of heavenly peace and joy. (Horar.)
The causes of ingratitude
“The nine, where?” Thus Christ with censure, sadness, surprise inquires. There are more than nine sources of ingratitude. But there are nine, and each of these men may represent some one.
I. One is CALLOUS. He did not feel his misery as much as some, nor is he much stirred now by his return to health. Sullen, torpid, stony men are thankless. Callousness is a common cause of ingratitude.
II. One is THOUGHTLESS. He is more like shifting sand than hard stone, but he never reflects, never introspects, never recollects. The unreflecting are ungrateful.
III. One is PROUD. He has not had more than his merit in being healed. Why should he be thankful for what his respectability, his station, deserved? Only the humble-hearted are truly grateful.
IV. One is ENVIOUS. Though healed he has not all that some others have. They are younger, or stronger, or have more friends to welcome them. He is envious. Envy turns sour the milk of thankfulness.
V. One is COWARDLY. The Healer is scorned, persecuted, hated. The expression of gratitude may bring some of such hatred on himself. The craven is always a mean ingrate.
VI. One is CALCULATING the result of acknowledging the benefit received. Perhaps some claim may arise of discipleship, or gift.
VII. One is WORLDLY. Already he has purpose of business in Jerusalem, or plan of pleasures there, that fascinates him from returning to give thanks.
VIII. One is GREGARIOUS. He would have expressed gratitude if the other eight would, but he has no independence, no individuality.
IX. One is PROCRASTINATING. By and by. Meanwhile Christ asks, “Where are the nine?” (Urijah R. Thomas.)
The sin of ingratitude
There are, speaking broadly, three chief reasons for unthankfulness on the part of man towards God. First, an indistinct idea or an under-estimate of the service that He renders us; secondly, a disposition, whether voluntary or not, to lose sight of our benefactor; thirdly, the notion that it does not matter much to Him whether we acknowledge His benefits or not. Let us take these in order.
I. There is, first of all, THE DISPOSITION TO MAKE LIGHT OF A BLESSING OR BENEFIT RECEIVED. Of this the nine lepers in the gospel could hardly have been guilty--at any rate, at the moment of their cure. To the Jews especially, as in a lesser degree to the Eastern world at large, this disease, or group of diseases, appeared in their own language to be as a living death. The nine lepers were more probably like children with a new toy, too delighted with their restored health and honour to think of the gracious friend to whom they owed it. In the case of some temporal blessings it is thus sometimes with us: the gift obscures the giver by its very wealth and profusion. But in spiritual things we are more likely to think chiefly of the gift. At bottom of their want of thankfulness there lies a radically imperfect estimate of the blessings of redemption, and until this is reversed they cannot seriously look into the face of Christ and thank Him for His inestimable love.
II. Thanklessness is due, secondly, TO LOSING SIGHT OF OUR BENEFACTOR, AND OF THIS THE NINE LEPERS WERE NO DOUBT GUILTY. Such a thanklessness as this may arise from carelessness, or it may be partly deliberate. The former was probably the case with the nine lepers. The powerful and benevolent stranger who had told them to go to the priests to be inspected had fallen already into the background of their thought, and if they reasoned upon the causes of their cure they probably thought of some natural cause, or of the inherent virtue of the Mosaic ordinances. For a sample of thanklessness arising from a careless forgetfulness o! kindness received, look at the bearing of many children in the present day towards their parents. How often in place of a loving and reverent bearing do young men and women assume with their parents a footing of perfect equality, if not of something more, as if, forsooth, they had conferred a great benefit upon their fathers and mothers by becoming their children, and giving them the opportunity of working for their support and education. This does not--I fully believe it does not--in nine cases out of ten imply a bad heart inthe son or daughter. It is simply a form of that thanklessness which is due to want of reflection on the real obligations which they owe to the human authors of their life.
III. Thanklessness is due, thirdly, TO THE UTILITARIAN SPIRIT. If prayer be efficacious the use of it is obvious; but where, men ask, is the use of thankfulness? What is the good of thankfulness, they say, at any rate when addressed to such a being as God? If man does us a service and we repay him, that is intelligible: he needs our repayment. We repay him in kind if we can, or if we cannot, we repay him with our thanks, which gratify his sense of active benevolence--perhaps his lower sense of self-importance. But what benefit can God get by receiving the thanks of creatures whom He has made and whom He supports? Now, if the lepers did think thus, our Lord’s remark shows that they were mistaken--not in supposing that a Divine Benefactor is not dependent for His happiness on the return which His creatures may make to Him--not in thinking that it was out of their power to make Him any adequate return at all--but at least in imagining that it was a matter of indifference to Him whether He was thanked or not. If not for His own sake, yet for theirs, He would be thanked. To thank the author of a blessing is for the receiver of the blessing to place himself voluntarily under the law of truth by acknowledging the fact that he has been blest. To do this is a matter of hard moral obligation; it is also a condition of moral force. “It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto Thee, O Lord, Holy Father, Almighty Everlasting God.” Why meet? Why right? Because it is the acknowledgment of a hard fact--the fact that all things some of God, the fact that we are utterly dependent upon Him, the fact that all existence, all life, is but an outflow of His love; because to blink this fact is to fall back into the darkness and to forfeit that strength which comes always and everywhere with the energetic acknowledgment of truth. Morally speaking, the nine lepers were not the men they would have been if, at the cost of some trouble, they had accompanied the one who, “when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, giving Him thanks.” (Canon Liddon.)
I. THE SINGULARITY OF THANKFULNESS.
1. Here note--there are more who receive benefits than ever give praise for them. Nine persons healed, one person glorifying God; nine persons healed of leprosy, mark you, and only one person kneeling down at Jesus’ feet, and thanking Him for it!
2. But there is something more remarkable than this--the number of those who pray is greater than the number of those who praise. For these ten men that were lepers all prayed. But when they came to the Te Deum, magnifying and praising God, only one of them took up the note. One would have thought that all who prayed would praise, but it is not so. Cases have been where a whole ship’s crew in time of storm has prayed, and yet none of that crew have sung the praise of God when the storm has become a calm.
3. Most of us pray more than we praise. Yet prayer is not so heavenly an exercise as praise. Prayer is for time; but praise is for eternity.
4. There are more that believe than there are that praise. It is real faith, I trust--it is not for me to judge it, but it is faulty in result. So also among ourselves, there are men who get benefits from Christ, who even hope that they are saved, but they do not praise Him. Their lives are spent in examining their own skins to see whether their leprosy is gone. Their religious life reveals itself in a constant searching of themselves to see if they are really healed. This is a poor way of spending one’s energies.
II. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF TRUE THANKFULNESS.
1. Living praise is marked by individuality.
2. Promptness. Go at once, and praise the Saviour.
4. Intensity. “With a loud voice.
7. One thing more about this man I want to notice as to his thankfulness, and that is, his silence as to censuring others.
When the Saviour said, “Where are the nine?” I notice that this man did not reply. But the adoring stranger did not stand up, and say, “O Lord, they are all gone off to the priests: I am astonished at them that they did not return to praise Thee!” O brothers, we have enough to do to mind our own business, when we feel the grace of God in our own hearts!
III. THE BLESSEDNESS OF THANKFULNESS. This man was more blessed by far than the nine. They were healed, but they were not blessed as he was. There is a great blessedness in thankfulness.
1. Because it is right. Should not Christ be praised?
2. It is a manifestation of personal love.
3. It has clear views.
4. It is acceptable to Christ.
5. It receives the largest blessing.
1. Let us learn from all this to put praise in a high place. Let us think it as great a sin to neglect praise as to restrain prayer.
2. Next, let us pay our praise to Christ Himself.
3. Lastly, if we work for Jesus, and we see converts, and they do not turn out as we expected, do not let us be cast down about it. If others do not praise our Lord, let us be sorrowful, but let us not be disappointed. The Saviour had to say, “Where are the nine?” Ten lepers were healed, but only one praised Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God looks after “the nine”
I. CHRIST HAS A PERFECT KNOWLEDGE OF ALL UPON WHOM HE CONFERS SPECIAL GRACE AND BLESSING, AND A PERFECT RECOLLECTION OF THE KIND AND MEASURE OF HIS BESTOWMENTS.
II. WHILE THE SOLITARY GRATEFUL SOUL WILL BE AMPLY REWARDED BY JESUS, THE MULTITUDE OF INGRATES WILL BE INQUIRED AFTER AND DEALT WITH BY HIM. (J. M. Sherwood, D. D.)
But where are the nine?
I. There are many men even now who, like the nine thankless lepers, have FAITH ENOUGH FOR THE HEALTH OF THE BODY, or even for all the conditions of outward comfort and success, but have not faith enough to secure the health and prosperity of the soul. That is to say, there are many who believe in so much of the will of God as can be expressed in sanitary laws and in the conditions of commercial success, but who do not believe in that Will as it is expressed in the laws and aims of the spiritual life. St. John’s wish for his friend Gains (3 John 1:2) is a mystery to them; and it may be doubted whether they would care to have even St. John for a friend if he were constantly beseeching God to give them health of body only in proportion to their health of soul, and prosperity in business only in proportion to their growth in faith and righteousness and charity.
II. If we look at the case of these nine lepers a little more closely, we shall find only too much in ourselves and our neighbours TO EXPLAIN THEIR INGRATITUDE, or, at least, to make it both credible and admonitory to us.
1. They may have thought that they had done nothing to deserve their horrible fate, or nothing more than many of their neighbours, who yet passed them by as men accursed of God; and that therefore, it was only just that they should be restored to health.
2. They may have thought that they would at least make sure of their restoration to health before they gave thanks to Him who had healed them.
3. They may have put obedience before love. Yet nothing but love can save.
4. The nine were Jews, the tenth a Samaritan; and it may be that they would not go back just because he did. No sooner is the misery which had brought them together removed, than the old enmity flames out again, and the Jews take one road, the Samaritan another. When the Stuarts were on the throne, and a stedfast endeavour was made to impose the yoke of Rome on the English conscience, Churchmen and Nonconformists forgot their differences; and as they laboured in a common cause, and fought against a common foe, they confessed that they were brethren, and vowed that they would never be parted more. But when the danger was past these vows were forgotten, and once more they drew apart, and remain apart to this day.
5. Finally, the nine ungrateful, because unloving, lepers may have said within themselves, “We had better go on our way and do as we are bid, for we can be just as thankful to the kind Master in our hearts without saying so to Him; and we can thank God anywhere--thank Him just as well while we are on our way to the priests, or out here on the road and among the fields, as if we turned back. The Master has other work to do, and would not care to be troubled with our thanks; and as for God--God is everywhere, here as well as there.” Now it would not become us, who also believe that God is everywhere, and that He may be most truly worshipped both in the silence of the heart and amid the noise and bustle of the world, to deny that He may be worshipped in the fair temple of nature, where all His works praise Him. It would not become us to deny even that some men may find Him in wood and field as they do not find Him in a congregation or a crowd. But, surely, it does become us to suggest to those who take this tone that, just as we ourselves love to be loved and to know that we are loved, so God loves our love to become vocal, loves that we should acknowledge our love for Him; and that, not merely because He cares for our praise, but because our love grows as we show and confess it, and because we can only become “perfect” as we become perfect in love. It surely does not become us to remind them that no man can truly love God unless he love his brother also; and that, therefore, the true lover of God should and must find in the worship of brethren whom he loves his best aid to the worship of their common Father. He who finds woods and fields more helpful to him than man is not himself fully a man; he is not perfect in the love of his brother; and is not, therefore, perfect in the love of God. (S. Cox, D. D.)
Impediments to gratitude
The moment when a man gets what he wants is a testing one, it carries a trial and probation with it; or if, for the instant, his feeling is excited, the after-time is a trial. There is a sudden reversion, a reaction in the posture of his mind, when from needing something greatly, he gets it. Immediately his mind can receive thoughts which it could not entertain before; which the pressure of urgent want kept out altogether. In the first place, his benefactor is no longer necessary to him; that makes a great difference. In a certain way people’s hearts are warmed by a state of vehement desire and longing, and anybody who can relieve it appears like an angel to them. But when the necessity is past, then they can judge their benefactor--if not altogether as an indifferent person, if they would feel ashamed of this--still in a way very different from what they did before. The delivery from great need of him is also the removal of a strong bias for him. Again, they can think of themselves immediately, and their rights, and what they ought to have, till even a sense of ill-usage, arises that the good conferred has been withheld so long. All this class of thoughts springs up in a man’s heart as soon as he is relieved from some great want. While he was suffering the want, any supplier of it was as a messenger from heaven. Now he is only one through whom he has what rightfully belongs to him; his benefactor has been a convenience to him, but no more. The complaining spirit, or sense of grievance, which is so common in the world, is a potent obstacle to the growth of the spirit of gratitude in the heart. So long as a man thinks that every loss and misfortune he has suffered was an ill-usage, so long he will never be properly impressed by the kindness which relieves him from it. He will regard this as only a late amends made to him, and by no means a perfect one then. And this querulous temper, which chafes at all the calamities and deprivations of life, as if living under an unjust dispensation in being under the rule of Providence, is much too prevalent a one. Where it is not openly expressed it is often secretly fostered, and affects the habit of a man’s mind. Men of this temper, then, are not grateful; they think of their own deserts, not of others’ kindness. They are jealous of any claim on their gratitude, because, to own themselves grateful would be, they think, to acknowledge that this or that is not their right. Nor is a sullen temper the only unthankful recipient of benefits. There is a complacency resulting from too high a self-estimate, which equally prevents a man from entertaining the idea of gratitude. Those who arc possessed with the notion of their own importance take everything as if it was their due. Gratitude is essentially the characteristic of the humble-minded, of those who are not prepossessed with the notion that they deserve more than any one can give them; who are capable of regarding a service done them as a free gift, not a payment or tribute which their own claims have extorted. I will mention another failing much connected with the last-named ones, which prevents the growth of a grateful spirit. The habit of taking offence at trifles is an extreme enemy to gratitude. There is no amount of benefits received, no length of time that a person has been a benefactor, which is not forgotten in a moment by one under the influence of this habit. The slightest apparent offence, though it may succeed ever so long a course of good and kind acts from another, obliterates in a moment the kindnesses of years. The mind broods over some passing inadvertence or fancied neglect till it assumes gigantic dimensions, obscuring the past. Nothing is seen but the act which has displeased. Everything else is put aside. Again, how does the mere activity of life and business, in many people, oust almost immediately the impression of any kind service done them. They have no room in their minds for such recollections. (Canon Mozley.)
Gratitude is a self-rewarding virtue
How superior, how much stronger his delight in God’s gift, to that of the other nine who slunk away. We see that he was transported, and that he was filled to overflowing with joy of heart, and that he triumphed in the sense of the Divine goodness. It was the exultation of faith; he felt there was a God in the world, and that God was good. What greater joy can be imparted to the heart of man than that which this truth, thoroughly embraced, imparts? Gratitude is thus specially a self-rewarding virtue; it makes those who have it so far happier than those who have it not. It inspires the mind with lively impressions, and when it is habitual, with an habitual cheerfulness and content, of which those who are without it have no experience or idea. Can the sullen and torpid and jealous mind have feelings at all equal to these? Can those who excuse themselves the sense of gratitude upon ever so plausible considerations, and find ever such good reasons why they never encounter an occasion which calls for the exercise of it, hope to rise to anything like this genuine height of inward happiness and exultation of spirit? They cannot; their lower nature depresses them and keeps them down; they lie under a weight which makes their hearts stagnate and spirit sink. They cannot feel true joy. They are under the dominion of vexatious and petty thoughts, which do not let them rise to any large and inspiriting view of God, or their neighbour, or themselves. They can feel, indeed, the eagerness and urgency of the wish, the longing for a deliverer when they are in grief, of a healer when they are sick; but how great the pity I how deep the perversity! that these men, as it were, can only be good when they are miserable, and can only feel when they are crushed. (Canon Mozley.)
Instances of ingratitude
What then, brethren, is the conclusion from the whole subject? Why, that the man who contents himself with one act of dedication to God’s service, however sincere, and there stops; one who is content with a few proofs of obedience and faith, however genuine, with a few tears of godly sorrow, however penitent--content with such things, I say, and there stops; such an one will neither have the approval of his Saviour while he lives, nor the comforts of his religion when he comes to die. Time will not allow me to enlarge on the signs of this spiritual declension, too often, it is to be feared, the forerunner of a final falling away from God. Of such perilous condition of soul, however, I could not point out a surer sign than ingratitude. Every day we live gives back to activity and life some who had been walking on the confines of the eternal world, who had well-nigh closed their account with this present scene; and here and there we behold one resolving to perform his vows, coming back to glorify God, and determined henceforth to live no more unto himself, but unto Him that died and rose again. But why are these instances of a holy dedication to God’s service after a recovery from sickness so few? “Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?” Again, sometimes we witness the spectacle of a highly privileged Christian family. In the life of the parents is seen a holy and consistent exhibition of Christian character; the incense of prayer and praise burns brightly and purely on the family altar, and every arrangement of the household seems designed to remind us that God is there. We look for the fruits of this. The parents are gone to rest; they are safe and happy, and at home with God; and of the children, perhaps, there are one or two that follow their steps, viewing religion as their chief concern, making the glory of God the aim of all they say or do, and the promises of God more than their necessary food. But why are the rest of the children living, as it were, on their parents’ reputation, content with reaching a certain point in the Christian race, and that point not a safe one--one which leaves them to be saved only by fire, only rescued as brands from the burning--ten indeed were cleansed; “but where are the nine?” Again, we look upon an assembly of Christian worshippers. They listen with interested and sustained attention; the breath from heaven seems to inspire their worship; and wings from heaven seem to carry the message home: here and there is a heart touched, a reed bruised, a torpid conscience quickened into sensibility and life, but the others remain as before, dead to all spiritual animation, immortal statues, souls on canvas, having a name to live but are dead. Whence this difference? They confessed to the same leprosy, they cried for the same mercy, they met with the same Saviour, and were directed to the same cure, and yet how few returned to their benefactor. One, two, or three in a congregation may come and fall at the feet of Jesus, but there were thousands to be cleansed; where are the ninety times nine? But take a more particular illustration. Once a month, at least, in every church, passing before our eyes, we look upon a goodly company of worshippers; they have been bowing with reverence before the footstool of the Redeemer; they have been singing their loud anthems to the praise of the great Mediator; they have been listening to the word of life with all the earnestness of men who were ignorant, seeking knowledge; guilty, desiring pardon; hungry, wanting food; dying, imploring life; but, mark you, v/hen the invitations of the dying Saviour are recited in their ears, when the commemorative sacrifice of Christian faith and hope is offered to them, when mercy in tenderest accents proclaims to every penitent worshipper, “Come unto Me all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” then many who seemed to be in earnest are in earnest no longer; the memorials of the Saviour’s death and passion are spread before them in vain, and all we can do is to look with sorrow on the retiring throng and exclaim, “There were ten that seemed to be cleansed, but where are the nine?” (D. Moore, M. A.)
Ingratitude!--there is a fault we all of us easily recognize and heartily condemn. And even in a “matter where it would seem almost incredible, even in a matter such as that brought before us by the miracle of the ten lepers, even in the matter of recovered health, there is strange room for ingratitude. Who can believe it, even of himself? who can believe the quickness with which the memory of sickness, and of all its prayerful longings, can be wiped out of our hearts when once the tide of returning strength has swept up again into our veins? It is the natural that so beguiles us. Health is our natural condition, and there is a strange sway exercised over our imagination and our mind by all that is natural. The natural satisfies and calms us by its very regularity. Its response to our expectations seems to give it some rational validity. It is right, for it is customary; and its evenness and sequence smother all need of inquiry. It was this which bewildered us in sickness--that it had wrenched us out of our known-and habitual environment; it had thrown us into uncertainty; we could not tell what the next minute might bring; we had lost standard, and measure, and cue; we had no custom on which to rely. And then, in our distress and in our impotence, we learned how our very life hung on the breath of the Most High, in whose hands it lay to kill or to make alive; then we knew it, in that awful hour of withdrawal. But, with health, the normal solidity returns to the fabric of life; the all-familiar walls range themselves around us; the all-familiar ways stretch themselves out in front of our feet; we can be sure of to-morrow, and can count and can calculate, not because the usual is the less wonderful, hut simply because it is the usual. We move in it unalarmed, unsurprised, and God seems again to fade away. There are other matters which occupy their attention: the wonder of the feeling of new life; the sense of delicious surprise; the desire to see whether it is all true, and to experiment, and to test it. And, then, their friends are about them, their friends from whom they have been parted for so many bitter years; they are being welcomed back into the brotherhood of men, into the warmth and glow of companionship. Oh, come with us, many voices are crying; we are so glad to have you once more among us!” It is not said in the story that they did not feel grateful: grateful, no doubt, with that vague, general gratitude to God the good Father, with which we, too, pass out of the shadows of sickness into the recovered life, under the sun; among our fellows. They may well have felt genial, grateful; only they did nothing with their gratitude, only it laid no burden of duty upon them; it was not in them as a mastering compulsion which would suffer nothing to arrest its passionate will to get back to the feet of Him before whom it had once stood and cried, “Jesu, Master--for Thou alone canst--do Thou have mercy on me.” “When He smote them they sought Him.” It all happens, we know, over and over again with us. We are, most of us, eager to find God when we are sick, when the normal round of life deserts us, and by its desertion frightens and bewilders us; but so very few of us can retain any hold on God in health, in work, in the daily life of the natural and the constant. And by this we bring our faith under some dangerous taunts. Who does not know them? The taunt of the young and the strong: “I feel the blood running free, and my heart leaps, and my brain is alive with hope; what have you to tell me, you Christians, with your message for the sick and for the dying? I have in me powers, capacities, gifts; and before me lies an earth God given and God blessed; and you bring me the religion of the maimed, and the halt, and the blind, a religion of the outcast and the disgraced, a religion of hospitals and gaols; what is all this to me?” And the taunt of the worker: “I have will, patience, endurance, vigour; by this I can win myself bread, can build myself a house, can make my way.” Those taunts are very real, and living, and pressing: how shall we face them? First, we will be perfectly clear that for no taunts from the young, the successful, and the strong, and for no demands either from the workers or the wise, can we for one moment forget or forego the memory of Him who was sent to heal the broken-hearted, and to comfort the weary and the heavy-laden; and who laid His blessing upon the poor, and the hungry, and the unhappy. No, we will withdraw nothing. But have we no living message for the strong and the young, for the happy and the wise? In what form, let us ask, ought religion to offer itself to these? Thanksgiving! That is the note of faith by which it employs and sanctifies not only the poverty and the penitence of sinners, but also the gladness of work and the glory of wisdom. And has our Christian faith, then, no voice of thanksgiving? Nay, our faith is thanksgiving. Thanksgiving!--this is our worship, and in the form of thanksgiving our religion embraces everything that life on earth can bring before it. Here is the religion of youth, the religion of all the hope that is in us. Let it, in the name of Christ, give thanks. Union with Christ empowers it to make a thank-offering of itself; to bring into its worship all its force, its hope, its youth, and its vigour. Youth and hope--they need religion just as much as weakness needs consolation, and as sin needs grace; they need it to forestall their own defeat, that they may be caught in their beauty and in their strength before they pass and perish, and so be offered as a living thank-offering; that they may be laid up as treasures, eternal in the heaven, where “rust can never bite, nor moth corrupt, nor any thieves creep in to steal.” Thanksgiving! It is the religion for wealth, and for work, and for the present hour. It redeems wealth by ridding it of that terrible complacency which so stiffens and chokes the spiritual channels that, at last, it becomes easier for a camel to get through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to find his way into the kingdom of heaven. And it redeems work by purging it of pride and of selfishness, and by rescuing it from dulness and harshness. And, again, it is by thanksgiving that religion closes with the natural and the normal, and the necessary. Thanksgiving asks for no change, it looks for no surprises, it takes the fact just as it stands, as law has fashioned it, and as custom has fixed it. That and no other offering is what it brings. Are you fast bound in misery and iron? Give thanks to God, and you are free. The very iron of necessity is transfigured by this strange alchemy of thanks into the gold of freedom and gladness. Nothing is impossible to the spirit of praise, nothing is so hard that Christ cannot uplift it for us before God, nothing so common that He will think it unworthy of His glory. (Canon Scott Holland, M. A.)
Words of encouragement to disappointed workers
“Oh,” says one, “I have had so little success; I have had only one soul saved!” That is more than you deserve. If I were to fish for a week, and only catch one fish, I should be sorry; but if that happened to be a sturgeon, a royal fish, I should feel that the quality made up for lack of quantity. When you win a soul it is a great prize. One soul brought to Christ--can you estimate its value? If one be saved, you should be grateful to your Lord, and persevere. Though you wish for more conversions yet, you will not despond so long as even a few are saved; and, above all, you will not be angry if some of them do not thank you personally, nor join in Church-fellowship with you. Ingratitude is common towards soul-winners. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Health more than sickness a reason for gratitude
Ungrateful to God? I fear so; and more ungrateful, I fear, than those ten lepers. For which of the two is better off, the man who loses a good thing, and then gets it back again, or the man who never loses it at all, but enjoys it all his life? Surely the man who never loses it at all. And which of the two has more cause to thank God? Those lepers had been through a very miserable time; they had had great affliction; and that, they might feel, was a set-off against their good fortune in recovering their health. They had bad years to balance their good ones. But we--how many of us have had nothing but good years? In health, safety, and prosperity most of us grow up; forced, it is true, to work hard: but that, too, is a blessing; for what better thing for a man, soul and body, than to be forced to work hard? In health, safety, and prosperity; leaving children behind us, to prosper as we have done. And how many of us give God the glory or Christ the thanks? (C. Kingsley, M. A.)
A pious clergyman, for more than twenty years, kept an account of the sick persons he visited during that period. The parish was thickly peopled, and, of course, many of his parishioners, during his residence, were carried to their graves. A considerable number, however, recovered; and, amongst these, two thousand, who, in immediate prospect of death, gave those evidences of a change of heart, which, in the judgment of charity, were connected with everlasting salvation supposing them to have died under the circumstances referred to. As, however, the tree is best known by its fruits, the sincerity of the professed repentance was yet to be tried, and all the promises and vows thus made, to be fulfilled. Out of these two thou sand persons (who were evidently at the point of death, and had professed true repentance)--out of these two thousand persons who recovered, two, only two; allow me to repeat it--two, only two--by their future lives, proved that their repentance was sincere, and their conversion genuine. One thousand nine hundred and ninety-eight returned to their former carelessness, indifference, and sinfulness; and thus showed how little that repentance is to be depended upon, which is merely extorted by the rack of conscience and the fear of death. “Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?”
The kingdom of God is within you
The kingdom of God
It is a kingdom of the mind, the will, the feeling, and the conduct.
“My kingdom is not of this world,” formed in a material fashion, resting on visible forces, but within, seated in the heart, the intellect, and feeling. Give over, then, straining your eyes investigating the heavens, the kingdom of God is among you; the words will bear this rendering, being almost identical in meaning with the words found in John’s Gospel (chap. 1., verse 26), translated thus--“In the midst of you standeth One whom ye know not.” The laws and principles of the kingdom were fully incorporated in Christ, they evolved out of His Person like light from the sun. He informs them that the kingdom is already present with them, that it bad actually commenced its operations, and that its spiritual vibrations were then felt. What, then, is this kingdom?
1. It is a kingdom of new convictions producing new conversions and outward reforms. It deals with these three forces of the human character--impulse, will, and habit. Once it gets a proper hold of these powers it makes the character an irresistible force. When religious impulse is grasped by the will and transformed into life, the character is such that the gates of hell cannot prevail against it.
2. It is the kingdom of life, or a living kingdom here, rather than an earthly kingdom yonder. It is new life kindling new ideas and forming fresh habits. Sometimes it steals in upon the mind as silently as light. Look at the woman of Samaria, how natural, the new ideas were deposited into her mind, and with what marvellous rapidity they changed the current of her thoughts and the habits of her life.
3. It is a kingdom of new impressions concerning self, God, man, life, time, and eternity. No person ever equalled the founder of Christianity as an impression-maker, impressions of the highest and purest type were set in motion, as reconstructive agencies by Him; and they are still at work leavening society, and they are divinely destined to continue until the whole universe of God is entirely assimilated with the Divine nature, and thus cause righteousness and holiness to shine everlastingly throughout God’s dominion.
4. It is the kingdom of love--love revealed in the light of the Fatherhood of God, God being known as a Father, naturally creates a filial reverence in man, which at once becomes the mightiest force in reclaiming the lost. Like creates like is a recognized principle in ancient and modern philosophy, as well as in Christian theology. (J. P. Williams.)
The kingdom which cometh not with observation
These words of our Lord open to us an abiding law of His kingdom; an enduring rule of that dispensation under which we are.
1. It is “a kingdom”; most truly and really a kingdom. Nay, even in some sort a visible kingdom; and yet at the very same time it is--
2. A kingdom “which cometh not by observation”; unseen in its progress, seen in its conclusion; unheard in its onward march, felt in its results. Let us, then, follow out a little more into detail this strange combination of what might almost seem at first sight direct contradictions.
I. And first see HOW REMARKABLY THIS WAS THE CHARACTER OF ITS OPENING ON THIS EARTH. It was then manifestly a “kingdom.” The angels bore witness of it. Their bright squadrons were visible upon this earth hanging on the outskirts of Messiah’s dominion. They proclaimed its coming: “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” “Glory to God in the highest; peace on earth, good-will towards men.” Nay, the world felt it: “Herod was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” The instincts of the unbelieving monarch made him tremble before the King of Saints. It was “a kingdom” which was coming. Yet it “came not with observation.” The King of Israel was born obscurely. Angels appeared to herald Him; yet none save shepherds saw them. There was veil enough over each circumstance of His life to make the dull eye of the world miss the true meaning of characters it could not help seeing. And afterwards, in the life of Christ, it was the same. The world was stirred, troubled, uneasy, perplexed. It felt that it was in the presence of a strange power. An undefined, unknown, yet real presence was with it. But it knew Him not. It was as if some cloud was shed round Him through which the world could not pierce. “The kingdom” was even now amongst men, and yet its coming was unseen.
II. And so, AFTER THE DEATH AND ASCENSION OF CHRIST, “THE KINGDOM” WENT ON. Still it came, reaching to every part of the earth, but never “with observation.”
III. Once more; SEE HOW THIS IS STILL IN EACH HEART THE LAW OF ITS ESTABLISHMENT. There also none can ever trace its beginnings. Some, indeed, may remember when first they felt its life within them, when first they were duly conscious of its power--though this is far from universally the case where it is most truly planted--but even in these cases, this consciousness was not its true beginning; any more than the first faint upgrowth of the tender blade is the beginning of its life; any more than the first curling of the water is the breath of heaven which it shows: no; life must be, before it is able to look back into itself and perceive that it does live. Being must precede consciousness. And as it is at first given, so does it grow. It is the receiving a life, a being, a breath. It is the passing over us of God’s hand, the in-breathing of His Spirit. This is its secret history; and this men cannot reach. And yet it is “a kingdom” which is thus set up. Wheresoever it has its way, there it will be supreme. It makes the will a captive, and the affections its ministers, and the man its glad vassal. Though it “cometh not with observation,” yet it is indeed “a kingdom.” Now, from this it behoves us to gather two or three strictly practical conclusions--
1. This is a thought full of fear to all ungodly men. Depend upon it this kingdom is set up. It is in vain for you to say that you do not perceive it, that you see it not, nor feel it; this does not affect the truth. It is its law that “it cometh not with observation”; that from some it always is hidden. Your soul had--if you be not altogether reprobate, it still has, however faintly exercised--the organs and capacities for seeing it. But you are deadening them within yourself.
2. This is a quickening thought to all who, in spite of all the weakness of their faith, would yet fain be with our Lord. Is this kingdom round about us? Have we places in it? How like, then, are we to His disciples of old; trembling and crying out for fear as lie draws ninth to us! How like are we to those whose eyes were holden, who deemed Him “a stranger in Jerusalem”! How do we need His words of love; His breaking bread and blessing it; His making known Himself unto us; His opening our eyes! How should we pray as we have never prayed before, “Thy kingdom come!”
3. Here is a thought of comfort. How apt are we to be east down; to doubt our own sincerity, to doubt His working in us, to doubt the end of all these tears, and prayers, and watchings! Here, then, is comfort for our feeble hearts. Small as the work seems, unobserved as is its growth, it is a kingdom. It is His kingdom. It is His kingdom in us. Only believe in Him, and wait upon Him; only endure His time, and follow after Him, and to you too it shall be manifested. (Bishop Samuel Wilberforce.)
God’s kingdom without observation
1. The manner in which the gospel was first introduced was without external show and ostentation. Worldly kingdoms are usually erected and supported by the power of arms.
2. The external dispensation of Christ’s kingdom is without ostentation. His laws are plain and easy to be understood, and delivered in language level to common apprehension. The motives by which obedience is urged are pure and spiritual, taken not from this, but the future world. His institutions are few and simple, adapted to our condition, and suited to warm and engage the heart.
3. The virtues which the gospel principally inculcates are without observation, distant from worldly show, and independent of worldly applause.
4. As the temper of the gospel, so also the operation of the Divine Spirit in producing this temper, is without observation. It is not a tempest, an earthquake, or fire; but a small, still voice. It is a spirit of power, but yet a spirit of love, and of a sound mind. The fruits of it, like its nature, are kind and benevolent. They are love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, and goodness.
5. The blessings of God’s kingdom are chiefly invisible, and without observation. The rewards which the gospel promises are not earthly and temporal, but heavenly and spiritual. They are not external power, wealth, and honour; but inward peace, hope, and joy here, and everlasting felicity hereafter.
We will now attend to the reflections and instructions which our subject offers to us--
1. If the kingdom of God is now among us, we are all without exception bound to acknowledge it, and submit to it.
2. We learn that it concerns every one, not only to submit to God’s kingdom, but to submit to it immediately.
3. We are here taught that we have no occasion to run from place to place in order to find the grace of God, for we may obtain it in any place where His Providence calls us. For the Spirit is not confined to certain places, its influences are not at human disposal, nor do its operations come with public observation. You are to receive the spirit in the hearing of faith. Its influence on the heart is not like an overbearing storm, but as the gentle rain on the tender herb, and the dew on the grass.
4. We learn from our subject that true religion is not ostentatious. It seeks not observation. The true Christian is exemplary, but not vain. He is careful to maintain good works, but affects not an unnecessary show of them.
5. It appears that they only are the true subjects of God’s kingdom who have experienced its power on their hearts.
6. As the kingdom of God comes not to the heart with observation, we are incompetent judges of the characters of others. (J. Lathrop, D. D.)
The secret workings of Divine grace
The workings of God’s grace are, for the most part, not only beyond, but contrary to our calculation. It is not said that “ the kingdom of God is not with observation,” but “the kingdom of God cometh not with observation.” And the principle is this--that the greatest and plainest effects are produced by causes which are themselves unnoticeable. God is mounting up to His grand design; but we cannot see the steps of His ascent. If you pass from the history of the Church to any other province in God’s empire, you will find them all recognizing the same law. It seems to be the general rule of all that is sublime, that its motions shall be unseen. Who can discern the movements of the planets--whose evolutions we admire, whose courses guide our path? The day breaks and the day sets; but who can fix the boundaries of the night, the boundaries of the darkness? You may watch the departing of summer beauty--as the leaves are swept by the autumn wind--but can the eye trace its movements? Does not everything--in the sky and in the earth--proclaim it--as all nature follows its hidden march--that “the kingdom of God cometh not with observation”? Or, let any man amongst you, read but a very few of the leading passages of his own life, and let him observe what have been the great, deciding events of his history--determining, if I may so speak, the very destinies of his forces. Were they those he anticipated? Did his great joys and sorrows rise in the quarters from whence he expected them to rise? Did not the great circumstances of his life arise from events quite unexpected? And did not those things which he counted little, greatly rise and extend themselves--for evil or for good? And what does all this attest-in providence and in nature--but that “ the kingdom of God cometh not with observation”? But we are now led to expect, by what we have read, and what we have seen, and what we have felt, in outward things, that we shall find the truth of the text, also, when we come to the experience of a man’s soul; and that the “kingdom of God cometh not with observation.” A very pious mother is deeply anxious about the soul of her son. Her fond affections, her holy influences, her secret prayers-have all been bearing to that one point, of her child’s conversion to God, for many years. But have that mother’s prayers died, because those lips are hushed? “Has God forgotten to be gracious,” when man ceases to expect? Nay--in His own way, and in His own hour,” the kingdom” comes. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Quiet growth of the Church
In his other work, the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke beautifully illustrates these words of our Lord. The Book of the Acts gives us the history of the early Christian Church for about two-and-thirty years after the death of Christ. It may well surprise a thoughtful reader of this book to remark how little progress Christianity seems to have made at the end of that period, so far as the outward life of man was concerned. Nothing amounting to a great social change is here recorded. The Church had not put down heathen sacrifice, nor demolished a single idol temple. Scarcely yet did men’s public and social life show any traces of it. The gospel had as yet no local habitation; in looking down upon the crowded dwellings of the great cities of the empire, you would not as yet have seen a spire. Nay, nearly three centuries elapsed after the period described in the Acts of the Apostles, before buildings gave any note of the great moral revolution which had taken place in the minds of men; before the Basilica was diverted from its original purpose as a court of justice to the great end of Christian worship, and in the semicircular recess, where the praetor and his assessors had sat to lay down the law of the empire, now the bishop and his attendant presbyters were installed around the holy table, to expound the higher law of the kingdom of heaven. But yet, though the visible impression made by Christianity upon human life and manners was thus slight during the period referred to, we may be quite sure that the gospel was then fermenting with peculiar power in the hearts and minds of men. If the kingdom of God did not come with observation, this was no proof at all that it was not within men--that it was not in the very centre of their inner life. If the powers that be, and the wise men after the flesh, at first thought it beneath their notice; if Trajan and Pliny regarded Christians merely in the light of an obstinate and eccentric set of fanatics; this was no proof that a great social revolution was not preparing in the lower strata of society, and eating away, like subterraneous volcanic fire, the crust upon which existing institutions stood. The mustard-seed had been cast into the earth, and it was swelling and bursting beneath the soil. The leaven had been thrown into human nature; and its influences, though noiseless and unseen, were subtlely and extensively diffusing themselves through the whole lump. Christ’s religion was to win its way noiselessly, like Himself. Because its blows against existing institutions were so indirect, because they were aimed so completely at the inward spirit of man, the great men and the wise men after the flesh completely overlooked them, and dreamt not how they were undermining the whole social fabric of heathenism. The scanty notices of Christianity by authors contemporary with its rise have been thoughtlessly made a ground of objection against it by sceptics. The believer will rather see in this fact a confirmation of the Lord’s profound word. The kingdom of God was not to come, and it did not come, with observation. (Dean Goulburn.)
Secrecy of Divine visitations
Such has ever been the manner of His visitations, in the destruction of His enemies as well as in the deliverance of His own people;--silent, sudden, unforeseen, as regards the world, though predicted in the face of all men, and in their measure comprehended and waited for by His true Church. See Luke 17:27-42.17.29; Ex Isaiah 37:36; Acts 12:23; Isaiah 30:13; Luke 17:35 -
36. And it is impossible that it should be otherwise, in spite of warningsever so clear, considering how the world goes on in every age. Men, who are plunged in the pursuits of active life, are no judges of its course and tendency on the whole. They confuse great events with little, and measure the importance of objects, as in perspective, by the mere standard of nearness or remoteness. It is only at a distance that one can take in the outlines and features a whole country. It is but holy Daniel, solitary among princes, or Elijah the recluse of Mount Carmel, who can withstand Baal, or forecast the time of God’s providences among the nations. To the multitude all things continue to the end, as they were from the beginning of the creation. The business of state affairs, the movements of society, tile course of nature, proceed as ever, till the moment of Christ’s coming. “The sun was risen upon the earth,” bright as usual, on that very day of wrath in which Sodom was destroyed. Men cannot believe their own time is an especially wicked time; for, with Scripture unstudied and hearts untrained in holiness, they have no standard to compare it with. They take warning from no troubles or perplexities, which rather carry them away to search out the earthly causes of them, and the possible remedies. Pride infatuates many, and self-indulgence and luxury work their way unseen,--like some smouldering fire, which for a while leaves the outward form of things unaltered. At length the decayed mass cannot hold together, and breaks by its own weight, or on some slight and accidental external violence. (J. H.Newman, D. D.)
The coming of the kingdom to individuals
Truly, at a christening we may well reflect that the kingdom of God comes “not with observation.” And if in later years, as too generally is the ease, the precious grace thus given is lost and sinned away, and nothing but the stump or socket of the Divine gift remains without its informing, spiritual, vital power, then another change is assuredly necessary, which we call conversion. And what is conversion? Is it always a something that can be appraised and registered as having happened at this exact hour of the clock--as having been attended by such and such recognized symptoms--as announced to bystanders by these or those conventional or indispensable ejaculations--as achieved and carried out among certain invariable and easily described experiences? Most assuredly not. A conversion may have its vivid and memorable occasion, its striking, its visible incident. A light from heaven above the brightness of the sun may at midday during a country ride flash upon the soul of Saul of Tarsus; a verse of Scripture, suddenly illuminated with new and unsuspected and quite constraining meaning, may give a totally new direction to the will and the genius of an Augustine; but, in truth, the type of the process of conversion is just as various as the souls of men. The one thing that does not vary, since it is the very essence of that which takes place, is a change, a deep and vital change, in the direction of the will. Conversion is the substitution of God’s will as the recognized end and aim of life, for all other aims and ends whatever; and thus, human nature being what it is, conversion is as a rule a turning “from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God,” that a man may receive forgiveness of his sins and an inheritance among them that are sanctified. And this great change itself, most assuredly, “cometh not with observation.” The after-effects, indeed, appear--the spirit of self-sacrifice, the unity of purpose which gives meaning, solemnity, force to life, the fruits of the Spirit--love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, in such measure as belongs to the requirements of the individual character. Certainly, when the kingdom of God has come into a soul the result may be traced easily enough, but the kingdom of God cometh in this case, too, at least, as a general rule, “not with observation.” (Canon Liddon.)
Religion is an inward principle, rind cabinet be forced
Men love excitement, and to be able to say, “Lo, here is Christ! or, lo, there!” and they will eagerly run after the preacher who can best minister to this love of excitement. But religion is an inward principle, a work of personal self-denial and effort. Vegetation as a general rule, is more advanced by the gentle dews and moderate showers than by torrents of rain or the bursting of water-spouts; so is the work of salvation, by the daily dews of Divine grace, more than by extraordinary revivals. Let us not disparage revivals, for some truly deserve the name; but let us be assured that the work of God is not confined to them, and we fear is not often in them at all--that churches may have some piety which have no great annual season of excitement--that the best state of things is, where no communion passes without the adding of faithful souls--that all healthy growth in nature and grace is gradual and from within--and that “the kingdom of God cometh not with observation.” (W. H. Lewis, D. D.)
The kingdom within
I. RELIGION IS AN INWARD AND SPIRITUAL PRINCIPLE. It is, says our Saviour, “within you.” This is a representation which differs from the ordinary opinion of men. If it be within us, then--
1. It is not determined by geographical boundaries, by latitude or longitude.
2. It does not consist in an observance of ordinances. This is a representation which accords with what we find in the sacred pages. God forms His estimate of the characters of men, not by their actions, or their language, or their opinions, or by anything of a merely outward nature; but by the temper and frame of their hearts.
II. TRUE RELIGION SUBJECTS THE SOUL TO THE AUTHORITY AND REIGN OF GOD.
1. It is spoken of as a kingdom. Now a kingdom is not a scene of anarchy and rebellion; it is distinguished by order and due subordination.
2. But this is not all. Not only is there subordination, but all is under the immediate control of God.
(1) God is the author and preserver of that spiritual and Divine principle in which true religion consists.
(2) God has appointed all the means by which it is maintained.
3. Mere necessary submission is not enough. It implies a voluntary subjection of the heart to the authority of God. (Dr. Harris.)
The kingdom of God
I. The text is a WARNING AGAINST ILLUSORY VIEWS OF RELIGION. There is a form of evil in our own day against which we make a strong protest. There are men in our midst who say, “Lo here; or, lo there.” At last the truth has been discovered. Jacob is come to Bethel, and has dreamed a marvellous dream. We speak of men who sow seeds of discord through pretended light and holiness. They disturb the peace of the church, and lead the unwary astray.
II. The great truth which our text suggests is THE SPIRITUAL NATURE OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD, yea, the reign of God in men’s hearts and lives. The Jews expected a startling demonstration of the supernatural to their material advantage; Christ effected a moral reformation, and laid the foundation for a spiritual commonwealth. We quote the opening sentences of “Christus Consummator,” a recent work of great beauty by Canon Westcott: “Gain through apparent loss; victory through momentary defeat; the energy of a new life through pangs of travail--such has ever been the law of spiritual progress. This law has been fulfilled in every crisis of reformation; and it is illustrated for our learning in every page of the New Testament.” Such, in a few words, is the basin of that empire of truth which the Son of God founded, and is now enlarging by His Word and Spirit.
III. In conclusion, observe how emphatic the Saviour is in directing the attention of His hearers to the fact, THAT THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS NOT AN EXPECTATION, BUT A REALITY IN THE SOUL--“the kingdom of God is within you.” The seat of the’ government is in the heart. (The Weekly Pulpit.)
The inner heaven
It is evident that a “kingdom” necessarily implies a ruling power, and entire subordination to the governing principle. But many minds (might I not almost say most?) have not even this. There is no governing principle at all, unless it be to please self; and a kingless heart must be a weak and miserable thing! There is sure to be disorder, and confusion, and wretchedness--where there is anarchy; and a man’s heart is of that character--so impulsive, so restless; so sensitive to influences of every kind; so capricious; so many coloured, that it actually requires a controlling rule which should be a sovereign over it. Nothing else will do. A multitude of rulers could not answer the purpose. They would only weaken and distract. There must be One, and that One supreme, and absolute, and alone. Now it is Christ’s promise that He will come into every heart who is willing to receive Him. He comes a King. Now see what follows. Christ was a Saviour before He was a King. He rose from His cross to His throne. “He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name. He enters therefore the heart a Saviour-King. What, then, is the first thing which He brings? What is the first act of sovereignty--what the ground of His kingdom? Pardon, peace, and rest to the soul. It cannot be but that the first discovery, and on every fresh realization of such a fact as that, there must be great joy. “Can it be true? O what a happiness! What perfect joy! He is mine and I am His, and nothing shall ever divide us.” So peace makes joy; and joy and peace, uniting, make love. Oh! it is a strangely-beautiful kingdom where love--love in high authority--love in power--love in awe-issues its mandates; and love, love in expectation, love in perfect accord, love eager on the wing, gives constant echo to every will of His Sovereign’s heart. But are there no laws in that “kingdom” of peace and love? The strictest. No man--such is the constitution of our nature--no man could be happy who is not ruled, and ruled with a very firm hand. We all like, we all require, and we all find it essential to our being to be under authority and restraint; and the more imperative the power, so it be just and good, the happier we are. These are the essentials, the very characteristics of the inner kingdom which is now in every believer’s soul; only, that which is here, is only the dim reflection of all which is so perfect there; still, it is the same heaven in both worlds. And a man that has once that “inner heaven” in his heart, how independent he is of all accidents, and of all external circumstances. Surely, when death comes, it will be a very little step to that “kingdom “ indeed, and to his kindred above. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Where is the heavenly kingdom
If you ask me what my definition of the kingdom of heaven is, if you ask me where I place it, I will tell you. Show me a man who is just, who is honest, who is benevolent, who is charitable, who loves his God, who loves his fellow-men; show me such a man; yea, bring him here, stand him by my side, and I care not what be the colour of skin, nor what be his name, or the name of his nation, or what his social standing, or what his financial position, or what be the degree of his intellectual development; I wilt point my finger at that man’s breast, and say: “There, within this man’s breast is the kingdom of heaven.” If you ask me again to show you the kingdom of heaven, I will say: “Bring me a woman that is pure, that is affectionate, that is loyal to her sense of duty, that is sympathetic and charitable of speech, that is patient, whose bosom is full of love for the Divine Being and for those of her race with whom she is brought in contact; yea, bring that woman here, stand her by my side; and I care not whether she be Caucasian or African, whether she be of this nation or of that, care nothing about her intellectual development; and I will tell you that the kingdom of heaven is within that woman’s soul.” Aye, within such a man and such a woman is a kingdom boundless in extent, perpetual in its expression of power, majestic in its appearance, indefatigable in its energy, Divine in its quality--a kingdom of which there can be but one king, and that is God; a kingdom for the sovereignty of which there is but one being fitted--the Infinite Spirit. And this, as I understand it, is the glory of man and the glory of woman: that within them there is a realm of capacity, of faculty, of sense, of aspiration, of sentiment, of feeling, so fine, so pure, so noble, so majestic and holy, that its natural king is Infinite Love. It was to introduce Himself to this realm, to establish His throne and possess it in this kingdom, that Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of Man, alike conjoining in Himself the Divine and the human in harmonious conjunction, representing the sympathy of the lower and the majesty of the higher world, descended to this earth, and is today seeking through the operation of His Spirit, entrance to possession. It is over this kingdom within, He reigns, if He reign at all. It is within this kingdom that He energizes. It is out of this kingdom that His glory has to proceed. Not in that which is nominal and technical; not in that which is verbal and formal; not in that which is in accordance with custom and tradition, is the Saviour present. And they who look for Him in these things shall not find Him; bat they who search to discern Him in spirit and life, in holy expression of consecrated faculty in the energy of capacities dedicated to God, shall find Him, and they shall find that in these He is all in all. (W. M. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
One of the days of the Son of Man
Mistaken desires for Jesus
JESUS FORESHADOWS A CHANGE OF FEELING ON THE PART OF HIS DISCIPLES IN REFERENCE TO HIS APPEARING. They will desire to see one day a visible appearance of the Son of Man. If you have the spirit of Jesus, if He has come to you so that you know Him to be your Saviour and Friend, you cannot be free from such changes of feeling in reference to Him. No. There come to you times in which you think, “Surely my life in Christ is not pouring on me so clearly and warmly as it might do.” You are inclined to murmur out such plaints as, “I cannot see His face, though I have eagerly looked for it; waiting to catch some beams of the wondrous glory resting on it, and be able to say, ‘It is the Lord.’ I want to feel His strong hand holding me up; but I do not grasp it, though I stretch out mine before, behind, on each side. My prayer this morning was that I might find to-day to be a day for a personal and new contact with Jesus.” So there is a sense in which your feeling in reference to Him is somewhat changed. The day has come “when ye desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man.”
II. JESUS FORESHADOWS HERE THE FAILURE OF SUCH DESIRES FOR HIS APPEARING. “Ye shall not see it.” He does not want His people to indulge in vain dreamy longings. He does not want to frustrate hopes that at the bottom might express loyalty to Him, but are mistaken as to the way in which their purport is to be achieved. He could not grant that which would not be for the honour of God; that which would be to the hurt of those who desired only one day of the Son of Man.
III. JESUS FORESHADOWS HERE THAT THERE WILL BE FALSE ANNOUNCEMENTS MADE IN REFERENCE TO HIS APPEARING. “They shall say to you, ‘See here! or see there!’” From history we find that there has hardly ever been a time of special trouble in the world, hardly ever a time of formality and deadness in the Church, but men have risen up to declare that the Son of Man was just coming, and that plans should be adopted to meet Him. But that is not the kind of expectation I want to warn you against; it is not the one that you are most in danger of succumbing to. But is there not a tendency to gather religious meetings under the idea that because you thus gather together Jesus will manifest Himself? Is there not a tendency to believe that, if you can get up a great organization to carry out a Christian purpose, obtain plenty of money, and seem to succeed outwardly, Jesus is there? Is that not saying, “See here, see there”? Against all that sort of thing His words ate meant to bear. You may gather meetings; you don’t necessarily gather with Christ. You may get wealth to support your efforts; that is not a proof that Christ approves them. You may find numbers to sustain certain plans; that is no pledge, on the part of those numbers, that they are moving under the leading of Christ. You must learn that there is no power of life in those things by themselves. I do not despise meetings, wealth, or numbers. There is a certain value to be attached to them; but that value is just equivalent to any number of cyphers, good for something when you put one, two, or other numeral before them. So gather all kinds of people, money, and meetings; but until you put Christ into them they are of no real value. It is the power of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus that is to be desired, not the power of external agencies. Pray that your heart may be brought more and more into sympathy with His, and that you may more and more clearly know that you are living on the Son of God by faith. Then you will not need anybody to point out the Son of Man to you when He comes. You do not need anybody to tell you that there is light in this place--you know it; and when Christ appears, His servants will know it without going by the reports of others, without following any one. We shall know it by the power He Himself will exert. Meantime we have to walk by faith, and not by sight. (D. G. Watt, M. A.)
And why not
While the Lord was yet on earth the days of the Son of Man were but lightly esteemed. The Pharisees spoke of them with a sneer, and demanded when the kingdom of God should come. “Is this the coming of Thy promised kingdom? Are these fishermen and peasants Thy courtiers? Are these the days for which prophets and kings waited so long?” “Yes,” Jesus tells them, “these are the very days. The kingdom of God is set up within men’s hearts, and is among you even now; and the time will come when you will wish for these days back again, and even those who best appreciate them shall ere long confess that they thought too little of them, and sigh in their hearts for their return.”
1. We are bad judges of our present experiences.
2. We seldom value our mercies till we lose them.
I. Consider THE IMMEDIATE INTERPRETATION of the text.
1. Our Lord meant that His disciples would look back regretfully upon the days when He was with them. In a short time His words were true enough, for sorrows came thick and threefold. At first they began to preach with uncommon vigour, and the Spirit of God was upon them. But by and by the love of many waxed cold, and their first zeal declined; persecution increased in its intensity, and the timid shrank away from them; evil doers and evil teachers came into the Church; heresies and schisms began to divide the body of Christ, and dark days of lukewarmness and halfheartedness covered them.
2. These disciples would look forward sometimes with anxious expectation. “If we cannot go back,” they would say, “Oh that He would hurry on and quickly bring us the predicted era of triumph and joy. Oh for one of the days of the Son of Man.”
II. AN ADAPTED INTERPRETATION SUITABLE TO BELIEVERS AT THIS PRESENT MOMENT.
1. Days of holy fellowship with Jesus may pass away to our deep sorrow. While the Beloved is with you, hold Him, and do not let Him go. He will abide if you are but eager for His company.
2. Days of delightful fellowship with one another. Let us labour in love, zeal, humility; for a continuance of these all our life long.
3. Days of abundant life and power in the Church.
III. A MEANING ADAPTED TO THE UNCONVERTED. When on your deathbed you will be willing to give all you possess to he able once again to hear the voice of God’s minister proclaiming pardon through the blood of Jesus. Emotions formerly quenched will not come back; you resisted the Spirit, and He will leave you to yourself; and yet there will be enough, perhaps, of conscience left to make you wish you could again feel as when almost persuaded to be a Christian. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Days of holy privileges
Two kinds and sets of days are here contrasted: coming days and days that are now. The general thought is very natural and very human. It might be said to almost any one at certain periods of life, that he will one day be looking back upon that period wiG, regretful fondness, even though it may not be entirely bright or altogether enjoyable while it is passing. Days of childhood, though many restrictions have fettered, and many faults may have saddened them; days of school life, though often complained of at the time as days of burdensome lessons, arbitrary rules, and irritating punishments; days of early struggle, and hope long deferred, in the practice of a profession; days of uncertain health or variable spirits, while opinion, faith, and habit, are anxiously shaping themselves, and the aspects and prospects of life are in many ways both gloomy and formidable; of all these, and many other examples might be added to them, it might yet be said with great truth by an experienced looker-on to the person passing through them: “Days will come when ye will be desiring to see one of these days over again, and when, alas, you shall not see it! Yes, you may well prize, while you have them, the days that are now, though they may be very far from perfect, either in opportunity or in circumstance; for assuredly you will one day be desiring one of them back--no tears and no prayers of yours will be of any avail to recall it.” When our Lord said here to His disciples: “The days will come when ye will desire to see one of these days”--“days of the Son of Man,” He calls them--“and ye shall not see it,” there was a solemnity and a pathos in the prediction far beyond the universal experience of which we have spoken. There was much to make the days of that time far from enjoyable. They were days of unrest; they were days of toil; they were days of anxiety; they were days also of perplexity and bewilderment in spiritual things. They were very slowly and very intermittently realizing very elementary conceptions. They had no such hold of great hopes or great faiths as might have made their heaven all brightness, whatever their earth might be. They were always disappointing their Master by some expression which betrayed ignorance, or by some proposal which threatened inconsistency, which must have made, we should have thought, the very memory of those days of the Son of Man a bitterness rather than a comfort. Yet it is quite plain that our Lord looked upon those as in some sense happy days for them. “The days will come when ye will desire to see one of them, and sorrow because ye cannot.” “Can ye make the children of the bride-chamber fast while the bridegroom is with them?” And in that last clause He touches the one point, which makes those happy days for them, whatsoever their drawbacks, and whatsoever their discomforts; it was the personal presence of the loved and trusted Lord. In that one respect they would be losers even by the accomplishment of redemption. “A little while,” He said, as the end drew on, “a little while, and ye shall not see Me, and verily I say unto you, that then ye shall weep and lament, while the world is rejoicing, then ye shall be sorrowful, though at last your sorrow shall be turned into joy.” Yes; when He speaks of a sorrow in separation,and then of a joy growing out of it, He combines in a wonderful and a merciful way the natural and the spiritual, recognizes the difficulty of rising into the higher heaven of faith, and yet points us thither for the one real and one abiding satisfaction. We have had no such personal experiences as these which the text tells of--none of those companyings with Jesus, as He went in and out among the disciples. It is only from afar off that we can contemplate that living companionship. It is only by a remote emulation that we can desire one of those days of the Son of Man. In the hope of catching some distant ray of that glory travellers have sometimes sought the land of Christ’s earthly sojourn, if so be they might live themselves back into the days of His ministry and of His humanity. But others, with a truer and a deeper insight, have sought their inspiration in the holy Gospels, have read and pondered those four sacred biographies till they could see and hear Him in them, without those distractions of surrounding imagery and scenery which can but divert the soul from that heavenlier wisdom. “He is risen; He is not here.” It is not in hallowed ground, any more than in imaginative dreaming, that we shall find, in this far-off century of the gospel, the best and most life-like conception of what the text calls “the days of the Son of Man.” Rather shall we seek to frame our idea of them--first, in the most human and personal contact with such wants and woes as He came to seek out and to minister to; and, secondly, in the diligent study and imitation, so far as we may, of those characteristics and those ministries which, in our own day and generation, make the nearest approach, however distant it must be, to the character and ministry below of the Divine Son Himself. To acquaint ourselves, not as unconcerned hearers, but as sorrowing sympathizers, with the actual condition at our very doors of the toilers and sufferers by whose labour--alas! too often by whose sacrifice--the wealth and luxury, nay, the comforts and conveniences of the higher English life, are made what they are; not to shrink from the contemplation with a sentimental repugnance, but to compel ourselves to take notice of it, and to encourage by word and deed, by giving and feeling, all the serious enterprises by which English manliness, and English philanthropy, and English Christianity, late or early seek and strive to grapple with it. Thus, on the one side, we shall be realizing the days of the Son of Man. For this was the earth which He came to save, and this was the man whom He took upon Him to deliver. True, He did not become Himself the denizen of an overgrown city. He did not take our flesh in the midst of that swarming hive of humanity, imperial Rome. He did not wait for that latest age which should develop into its gigantic proportions such a metropolis as this London. But no monstrous growth and no uttermost corruption was out of the ken and scope of His incarnation. The days of the Son of Man are wherever Christ and misery stand face to face. Whosoever tries to bring Jesus Christ into one lodging-house or one alley of sinning, suffering London, is doing more to realize to himself, and to others, the ministry of the Saviour, than if He tried to track His earthly footsteps through Palestine, or to picture in vivid imagination the very occupations and employments of the days of His flesh. (Dean Vaughan.)
As it was in the days of Noe
Wherein are we endangered by things lawful?
I. WHEN DO LAWFUL THINGS BECOME SIN TO US?
1. When they become hindrances in our way to heaven, instead of helps as they were intended to be.
2. When our hearts are wrapped up in them.
II. HOW WE MAY JUDGE OF OUR HEARTS, AND KNOW WHEN THEY MISCARRY AND OFFEND IN THE PURSUIT, USE, AND ENJOYMENT OF LAWFUL THINGS.
1. When our desire of, and endeavours after, worldly things grow strong and vehement and very eager and impatient.
2. When you have raised expectations and hopes of great contentment and satisfaction from your comforts.
3. When the obedience and willing submission of the soul is brought off to any worldly comfort, and the soul stoops to its sceptre, and the faculties, like the centurion’s servants, do as they are bid. Such comforts which are slavishly obeyed are sinfully enjoyed.
4. When the soul groweth very tender and compassionate towards such a comfort, and begins to spare that above other things; then that becomes a lust, and lust is very tender and delicate, and must be tenderly used.
5. When the care, anxiety, and solicitude of the soul runs out after the comforts of this life, saying, “What shall I eat? what shall I drink? How shall I live and maintain my wife and children? what shall I do to get, to keep such or such a thing?”
6. That comfort which thou art not dead unto, neither is that dead to thee, thou wilt hardly enjoy with safety to thyself, or thou wilt part withal but upon severe terms.
7. If, after God hath been weaning us in a more special manner by His word and rod, and taking off our hearts from our worldly comforts, yet the strong bent of the soul is towards them, it argues much carnal love to them that we are not crucified to those comforts.
III. WHAT ARE THE SINS THAT ATTEND THE IMMODERATE SINFUL USE OR ABUSE OF LAWFUL COMFORTS? I will confine myself to the sins in the text.
1. The first sin in their eating and drinking, etc., was sensuality.
2. Pride, ease, and idleness generally go together.
3. Security follows. (H. Wilkinson, D. D.)
The revelation of the Son of Man
The revelation of the Son of Man is an event which takes more shapes than one in this passage.
1. First our Lord indicates that it implies a period of danger in one place and of the possibility of escape in another place--of safety in the field and not in the house, of safety without, but not within. The revelation of the Son of Man thus takes the shape of a critical period, such as might happen during a siege, or the destruction of a dwelling or of a whole city--where life would be in peril within the walls, but might be saved beyond the walls, and where safety lay only in immediate flight: lingering would be ruin, a quick departure from the doomed city the only way of escape. That is one aspect of the revelation of the Son of Man. And Christ exhorts His disciples, and all who hear Him, to escape with their lives--to escape with the higher life, the better life. Let not the love of property interfere with the love of life; lose all rather than lose life; and let not the love of the lower life interfere with the preservation of the higher life--the life of the spirit, the true life of man. Lose life itself rather than lose that; for in preserving that, all is preserved.
2. Then our Lord speaks of ,the day of the Son of Man--or, altering the phraseology, of the night of the Son of Man--when He is revealed. In that night there shall be two in one bed--the one taken and the other left; two women grinding at the mill--the one taken and the other left; two men in the field--the one taken and the other left. It is a time of separation which is indicated; the figure of the siege disappears, and new figures take its place. It is a time, though not of apparent outward danger, yet of judgment; but on what principle the judgment takes place, these words do not of themselves determine. For aught that appears, it may be a separation of accident or of caprice; it is a separation, and that is all we know. But when the disciples say further, “Where, Lord?” He utters a proverb which casts light on the judgment and also on the siege and separation: “Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together,” a parable that may have been old or new, it matters not; the meaning is plain, and it is twofold.
(1) It evidently means that the judgment is one which is true to nature. Our Lord gives the principles on which the judgment or separation proceeds. It is the dead carcass on which the eagles prey. It is the corrupt city, the corrupt State, the corrupt heart, on which judgment is pronounced: the judgment is not one of accident or caprice, but of truth, of righteousness. That is the principle of separation and judgment. And
(2) in answer to the question “Where, Lord?” Jesus gives, I think, another lesson on this matter,--viz., that this revelation of the Son of Man is not a single and solitary act of judgment at some future and far-distant day, but that it is a revelation often made--made, now on a country, now on a people, now on a Church, now on a system. The revelation of the Son of Man is not a thing of time and place, it is an eternal law in the dispensation of God. The judgment of God is proceeding every day; it is proceeding quietly and unseen. It is only now and then that men’s eyes are open to behold it, and then the judgment is revealed. But it is not the less true that God’s judgment proceeds day by day, whether it is seen and revealed or not. Corruption shall bring about its own recompense--not at a particular time or place; not in some one notable instance years or centuries hence, but wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together. (A. Watson, D. D.)
Remember Lot’s wife
Almost saved, yet lost
Lot’s wife--a nameless sinner in a half-forgotten age!
WHAT IS THERE TO REMEMBER IN THE CASE OF LOT’S WIFE? See Genesis 19:26. So soon and so sudden is her disappearance from the stage of history. She only appears long enough to disappear again. She is like a spectre, rising from the earth, moving slowly across our field of vision, and then vanishing away. Hence her history is all concentred in a single point, and that the last. It has no beginning, and no middle, but an end--a fearful end. Its course is like that of the black and silent train, to which the match is at last applied, and it ends in a flash and an explosion.
1. The first distinctive feature in the case of Lot’s wife is, that she was almost saved. The burning city was behind; she had been thrust out from it by angelic hands, her husband and her children at her side; the chosen refuge not far off, perhaps in sight; the voice of the avenger and deliverer still ringing in her ears.
2. But, though almost saved, she perished after all. What I want you to observe is not the bare fact that she perished, as have millions both before and since, but that she perished as she did, and where she did. Perdition is indeed perdition, come as it may, and there is no need of fathoming the various depths of an abyss, of what is bottomless. But to the eye of the spectator, and it may be to the memory of the lost, there is an awful aggravation of what seems to be incapable of variation or increase in the preceding and accompanying circumstances of the final plunge. He who sinks in the sea without the hope or opportunity of rescue may be sooner drowned than he who for a moment enjoys both; but to the heart of an observer how much more sickening and appalling is the end of him who disappears with the rope or plank of safety within reach, or in his very hand, or of him who slips into the bubbling waters from the surface of the rock which, with his failing strength, he had just reached, and on which for a moment of delicious delusion he had wept to imagine himself safe at last!
3. Another distinctive feature in the case of Lot’s wife is, that her destruction was so ordered as to make her a memorial and a warning to all others. The pillar of salt may have vanished from the shore of the Dead Sea, but it is standing on the field of sacred history. The Old and New Testaments both give it place; and as it once spoke to the eye of the affrighted Canaanite or Hebrew, who revisited the scene of desolation, so it now speaks to the memory and conscience of the countless multitudes who read or hear the law and gospel.
II. OF WHAT USE CAN THE RECOLLECTION BE TO US?
1. We, like Lot’s wife, may be almost saved. This is true in a twofold sense. It is true of outward opportunities. It is also true of inward exercises.
2. Those who are almost saved may perish--fearfully perish--finally perish--perish in reach, in sight of heaven--yes, at the very threshold of salvation. Whatever “looking back” may have denoted in the type, we know full well what may answer to it in the antitype. Whatever may have tempted Lot’s wife to look back, we know the multiplied temptations which lead sinners to do likewise. And this terrible example cries aloud to those who are assailed by lingering desires for enjoyments once abandoned, or by sceptical misgivings, or by evil habits unsubdued, or by disgust at the restraints of a religious life, or by an impious desperation such as sometimes urges us to eat and drink, for to-morrow we die;--to all such this terrible example cries aloud, “Remember Lot’s wife”--her escape and her destruction.
3. They who are, like Lot’s wife, almost saved, may not only, like her, be destroyed in the very moment of deliverance but, like her, so destroyed as to afford a monumental warning to all others that the patience and long-suffering of God are not eternal. God has made all things for Himself, even the wicked for the day of evil. They who will not, as “vessels of mercy,” glorify His wisdom and His goodness, must and will “show His wrath and make His power known,” as “vessels of wrath fitted to destruction.” They who will not consent to glorify Him willingly must be content to glorify Him by compulsion. This is true of all who perish, and who, therefore, may be said to become “pillars of salt,” standing, like milestones, all along the broad road that leadeth to destruction, solemn though speechless monitors of those who throng it, and planted even on the margin of that great gulf which is fixed for ever between heaven and hell. But in another and a more affecting sense, it may be said that they who perish with the very foretaste of salvation on their lips, become “pillars of salt” to their successors. What a thought is this--that of all the tears which some have shed in seasons of awakening, and of all their prayers and vows and resolutions, all their spiritual conflicts and apparent triumphs over self and sin, the only ultimate effect will be to leave them standing by the wayside as “pillars of salt,” memorials of man’s weakness and corruption, and of God most righteous retributions. Are you willing to live, and, what is more, to die, for such an end as this? (J. A. Alexander, D. D.)
I. HER ADVANTAGES.
1. She had a pious husband.
2. She had heavenly visitors.
3. She had Divine warning.
4. She had seen the wicked punished.
II. HER OFFENCE.
1. She acted under the impulse of feeling.
2. She acted under the impulse of unbelief.
3. She acted under a disregard of law.
4. She acted in contempt of warning.
III. HER PUNISHMENT. She was punished--
IV. THE WARNING administered. “Remember”!
1. Not to delay. Flee at once.
2. Not to hesitate. Look not back.
3. Not to draw back. Danger is behind.
1. See here a monument of Divine wrath.
2. See here a beacon to warn coming generations. (A. Macfarlane.)
Seasonable truths in evil times
I. WHAT ARE WE TO REMEMBER ABOUT LOT’S WIFE? Her sin, and her punishment. A sudden and a deadly stroke was dealt her, for her sin of apostasy.
II. WHY ARE WE TO REMEMBER LOT’S WIFE?
1. Because her example is recorded for that purpose.
2. For our warning.
3. That we fall not into the same condemnation.
III. HOW ARE WE TO REMEMBER LOT’S WIFE?
3. With holy fear, reverence, and adoration.
IV. WHAT AND WHEN IS THE SPECIAL TIME THAT LOT’S WIFE IS TO BE REMEMBERED BY US? It is good to remember her frequently; but we are in a special manner to remember Lot’s wife in the time of declining; in declining times remember her that you do not decline. Thus our Saviour Christ brings her in for to be remembered by us, that we do not look back, as she looked back. We are to remember her in times of security, of great security. She is to be remembered by us also, in time when God doth call upon His people by His dispensations to go out of Sodom, and make no delay; for so our Saviour also presses it to you, “Let not him that is on the housetop go down,” etc., but “remember Lot’s wife.” God would have no delay then: so when God calls upon a people to come out of Sodom; make no delay, but “remember Lot’s wife.” Thus we see what the time is.
V. WHAT GOOD SHALL WE GET BY REMEMBERING LOT’S WIFE? Is there any good to be gotten by remembering Lot’s wife? Yes, much every way: Something in a way of instruction, something in a way of caution.
1. If this story of Lot’s wife be true, and do live in our memory, then, why should not we stand and admire, and say, Lord, how unsearchable are Thy judgments, and Thy ways past finding out? Here are four, and but four that came out of Sodom, and yet one of the four were destroyed. God may deliver our family in the time of common calamity, and yet some of our house may suffer. God in the midst of judgment doth remember mercy; in the midst of mercy He remembers judgment.
2. If this story of Lot’s wife be true, and do live in our memory, then here we may learn by way of instruction, and see how far a man or woman may go in religion, and yet come short at the last.
3. If this story of Lot’s wife be true, and do live in our memory; then you may learn and see by way of instruction; that the best relations will not secure from the hand of God, if we continue evil.
4. If this story of Lot’s wife be true, and do indeed live in our memory, then here you may see what an evil thing it is to look back upon that which God hath delivered us from.
5. If this story of Lot’s wife be true, and live in our memory; here we may learn by way of instruction, that former deliverance will not secure us from future destruction: she was delivered with a great deliverance, and yet destroyed with a great destruction.
6. If this story of Lot’s wife be true, and live in our memory, then here we may learn by way of instruction: it is ill sinning when God is punishing; it is good begging while God is giving: but oh, it is ill sinning while God is punishing.
7. If this story be true, and live in your memory, then here you may learn, that those that are exemplary in sinning, shall be exemplary in punishing.
8. If this story of Lot’s wife be true, and do live in our memory; then here we may see what an evil thing it is to mischoose in our choosing time.
9. If this story of Lot’s wife be true, and do live in our memory; then here we may see by way of instruction, that though God will lay out an hiding-place for His people, in times of public calamity; yet if they sin in the way, they may perish or miscarry in the very face of their hiding-place.
10. If this story of Lot’s wife be true, and do live in our memory; then here we may learn by way of instruction, that it is possible that a religious family may have a black mark of God’s indignation.
11. And the main of all is this. If the story of Lot’s wife be true, and do live in our memory: oh, what an evil thing is it to look back, and to decline in declining times. How quick was God with Lot’s wife for looking back. She never sinned this sin before; it was the first sin that ever in this kind she committed; and she might have said: “Why, Lord, it is the first time that ever I committed it, and indeed I was taken before I was aware thus to look back: I did not consider well of what I did.” But God turned her presently into a pillar of salt; God was quick with her. Why? For to show thus much, God will be quick with apostates. And thus I have given you these things by way of instruction.
12. As many I might give you in a way of caution, but to instance only in one. If this story of Lot’s wife be true, and do live in our remembrance; by way of caution, why should we not all take heed how we look back to worldly interests, in the day when the Son of Man shall be revealed, or in this day of the gospel when the Son of Man is revealed. You see what became of Lot’s wife for her looking back; and therefore why should we not all of us take heed how we look back or decline, in this day that the Son of Man is revealed?
VI. You will say, WHAT SHALL WE DO THAT WE MAY NOT DECLINE; what shall we do that we may so remember Lot’s wife, that we may not decline, or look back in declining times?
1. If you would not look back in declining times, shut your eyes and your ears against all the allurements and threatenings of the world.
2. If you would not look back in declining times, consider, in the fear of the Lord, what an evil thing it is to look back. Thereby you lose all you have wrought, thereby you will lose all your losses. There is much gain in losing for Jesus Christ. By looking back you will lose all the losses and the gain thereby. Thereby you will lose the testimony of your own integrity. Yet, saith God, Job held fast his integrity. Thereby, also, you will lose the comfort of those glorious times that are to come. (W. Bridge)
Remember Lot's wife
I. WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES IN THE CONDUCT OF LOT’S WIFE TO LIVE IN OUR REMEMBRANCE.
1. Her sin.
(1) Inordinate worldly attachment.
2. Her punishment.
(2) Aggravated. Better for her to have perished in Sodom than on the way to Zoar. (3)Signal. A monument before the world of God’s power and faithfulness, and His righteous displeasure against apostasy.
II. LET US DRAW NEAR AND READ THE INSCRIPTION ON THIS MONUMENT.
1. The danger of apostasy.
2. Past and present mercies are no security for future safety, unless suitably improved.
3. The evil of worldly attachments.
III. WITH WHAT SENTIMENTS OUGHT WE TO REMEMBER LOT’S WIFE?
1. With gratitude for our own preservation though we have acted a similar, nay, a more guilty part.
(1) She was warned once; we have been warned a thousand times.
(2) She looked back; but have not we turned back?
(3) She looked back once; we have both looked and turned back over and over again.
(4) We have looked back and turned back, although we had her example of warning before our eyes.
2. To increase our salutary fears. (W. Atherton.)
A woman to be remembered
I. THE RELIGIOUS PRIVILEGES WHICH LOT’S WIFE ENJOYED. The mere possession of religious privileges will save no one’s soul. Men need besides, the grace of the Holy Ghost.
II. THE SIN WHICH LOT’S WIFE COMMITTED. “She looked back.” That look was a little thing, but it revealed the true character of Lot’s wife. Little things will often show the state of a man’s mind even better than great ones, and little symptoms are often the signs of deadly and incurable diseases. A straw may show which way the wind blows, and one look may show the rotten condition of a sinner’s heart (Matthew 5:28).
2. That look was a little thing, but it told of disobedience in Lot’s wife. When God speaks plainly by His Word, or by His messengers, man’s duty is clear.
3. That look was a little thing, but it told of proud unbelief in Lot’s wife. She seemed to doubt whether God was really going to destroy Sodom: she appeared not to believe there was any danger, or any need for such a hasty flight. But without faith it is impossible to please God.
4. That look was a little thing, but it told of secret love of the world in Lot’s wife. Her heart was in Sodom, though her body was outside. She had left her affections behind when she fled from her home. Her eye turned to the place where her treasure was, as the compass-needle turns to the pole. And this was the crowning point of her sin.
III. THE PUNISHMENT WHICH GOD INFLICTED ON LOT’S WIFE.
1. A fearful end.
2. A hopeless end. Conclusion: Suffer me to wind up all by a few direct appeals to your own heart. In a day of much light, and knowledge, and profession, I desire to set up a beacon to preserve souls from shipwreck. I would fain moor a buoy in the channel of all spiritual voyagers, and paint upon it, “Remember Lot’s wife.”
(1) Are you careless about the second Advent of Christ? Alas, many are! They live like the men of Sodom, and the men of Noah’s day: they eat, and drink, and plant, and build, and marry, and are given in marriage, and behave as if Christ was never going to return. If you are such an one, I say to you this day, Take care: “Remember Lot’s wife.”
(2) Are you lukewarm, and cold in your Christianity? Alas, many are! They try to serve two masters: they labour to keep friends both with God and mammon. If you are such an one, I say:
(3) Are you halting between two opinions, and disposed to go back to the world? Alas, many are! They are afraid of the cross: they secretly dislike the trouble and reproach of decided religion. They are weary of the wilderness and the manna, and would fain return to Egypt, if they could. If you are such an one, I say to you this day, Take care: “Remember Lot’s wife.”
(4) Are you secretly cherishing some besetting sin? Alas, many are! they go far in a profession of religion; they do many things that are right, and are very like the people of God. But there is always some darling evil habit, which they cannot tear from their heart. Hidden worldliness, or covetousness, or lust, sticks to them like their skin. They are willing to see all their idols broken, but this one. If you are such an one, I say to you this day, Take care: “Remember Lot’s wife.”
(5) Are you trifling with little sins? Alas, many are! They hold the great essential doctrines of the gospel. They keep clear of all gross profligacy, or open breach of God’s law; but they are painfully careless about little inconsistencies, and painfully ready to make excuses for them. “It is only a little temper, or a little levity, or a little thoughtlessness, or a little forgetfulness.” If you are such an one, I say to you this day, “Take care: ‘Remember Lot’s wife.’” (Bishop Ryle.)
A solemn warning
1. It is a solemn warning, when we think of the person Jesus names. He does not bid us remember Abraham, or Isaac, or Jacob, or Sarah, or Hannah, or Ruth. No: He singles out one whose soul was lost for ever. He cries to us, “Remember Lot’s wife.”
2. It is a solemn warning, when we consider the subject Jesus is upon. He is speaking of His own second coming to judge the world: He is describing the awful state of unreadiness in which many will be found. The last days are on His mind, when He says, “Remember Lot’s wife.”
3. It is a solemn warning, when we think of the person who gives it. The Lord Jesus is full of love, mercy, and comparison: He is one who will not break the bruised reed nor quench the smoking flax. He could weep over unbelieving Jerusalem, and pray for the men that crucified Him; yet even He thinks it good to remind us of lost souls. Even He says, “Remember Lot’s wife.”
4. It is a solemn warning, when we think of the persons to whom it was first given. The Lord Jesus was speaking to His disciples: He was not addressing the scribes and Pharisees, who hated Him, but Peter, James, and John, and many others who loved Him; yet even to them He thinks it good to address a caution. Even to them He says, “Remember Lot’s wife.”
5. It is a solemn warning, when we consider the manner in which it was given. He does not merely say, Beware of following--take heed of imitating--do not be like Lot’s wife/’ He uses a different word: He says, “Remember.” He speaks as if we were all in danger of forgetting the subject; He stirs up our lazy memories; He bids us keep the case before our minds. He cries, “Remember Lot’s wife.” (Bishop Ryle.)
Remember Lot’s wife
I. REMEMBER LOT’S WIFE, AND LEARN THE PERILS OF WORLDLINESS. How terrible her fate! What could be more awful?
1. It was dreadful physically. She lost her life.
2. It was dreadful socially. Her husband was made a widower, her daughters orphans.
3. It was dreadful spiritually. She died in the very act of disobedience. Worldliness was at the root of her sin. She looked back with regret at the valuable possessions that were being abandoned. Let us beware. Prosperity is perilous. Gain and godliness are frequently divorced.
II. REMEMBER LOT’S WIFE, AND SEE HOW POSSIBLE IT IS TO BEGIN WELL AND END ILL. Some are like certain African rivers of which we have read. Rising in some secluded and rocky upland, they increase in volume and beauty as they flow along. Their course is marked by fertility on either side. But instead of rolling on till they reach the ocean and help to swell its waters, they gradually sink and are lost in the sand of the desert. Esau; Saul; Solomon; Judas. Let us not be high-minded, but fear. Let us watch and be sober.
III. REMEMBER LOT’S WIFE, AND BEHOLD THE FOLLY AND SIN OF DELAY. She lingered and perished. Had she not hesitated, she had not been destroyed. Decision is essential to success in all departments of life. “Despatch is the soul of business.” A wealthy man was once asked the secret of his prosperity. His answer was significant: “I always recollect what my father said to me when I was a boy--If you have a thing to do, go and do it.” No doubt this had much to do with his accumulation of riches. So, too, salvation must be gone about at once. It is no matter for delay. “No hurry “ is Satan’s masterpiece. It is the almost universal sin. Hear the confession of an old man:--“When I was young, I said to myself, ‘I cannot give up the world now, but I will do it by and by. When I have passed the meridian of life, then I shall be ready to attend to the concerns of my soul.’ But here I am, an old man. I feel no readiness nor disposition to enter upon the work of my salvation. In looking back I often feel that I would give worlds if I could be placed where I was when I was twenty years old. There were not half as many difficulties in my path then as there are now.” An artist once requested that he might be allowed to take the Queen’s likeness. Time and place were fixed. Her Majesty was there to the moment. He was not. When he came he found, instead of the royal lady, her message. She left word that she had been, gone, and should not return. The King of kings offers to give us His image. He wishes us to resemble Him. The Incarnate One says, “Follow Me.” But He has appointed the period and the locality in which we are to obtain this Divine likeness--the present world and the present time. “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found.” (T. R. Stevenson.)
The doom of the lingerer
I. WITH REGARD TO HER SIN, the state of mind discovered, and the aggravations with which it was attended. Thus, we cannot fail to see in it a low and debased degree of earthly-mindedness, a heart fixed and bent on getting its worldly stuff--ready to incur difficulty for it, danger for it--ay, and the anger of God for it. In this particular connection, the warning of her example seems to be proposed in the text. In that day, when the signs of an advent Saviour are upon you, be not anxious about your worldly possessions. Let the things that are in the house remain in the house, the things that are left in the field be left in the field. “Remember Lot’s wife.” Again, there was in this sin of Lot’s wife the crime of disobedience, with all its actual accompaniments of defiant rebellion and contemptuous unbelief. She had been especially charged that she must not look back, and she did look back; she had been told she must escape for her life, and she loitered even behind her husband. See how many things meet here--the authority of God is spurned, the word of the angel is disbelieved, the wisdom or necessity of the command is questioned, and the impious prerogative laid claim to “Our eyes are our own; we may look on what we will: who is Lord over us?” Now it is easy to see what gives to those offences against a positive precept their character of deep offending. In the case of offences against the principle or spirit of a law, a treacherous and facile conscience will raise a cavil, and even make for itself excuse to the conscience, as not able to do this, when command takes the form of “Do this” or “Refrain from that.” We are then made to feel that we are brought face to face with God; we are confronted with the broad, plain letter of His written law. Room for mistake or cavil or misinterpretation, there is none; we must offend with our eyes open, and cast ourselves headlong into the depths of presumptuous sin. But once more, there was in the sin of the woman much of deep and signal ingratitude. Her life had been one of marked and distinguishing mercies. Solemn warding this, to all of us who have been brought up religiously; for those who have in early life enjoyed great spiritual opportunities: it seems that when such people fall, none fall so low; the light that was in them becomes darkness, and, as our Lord teaches, there is no darkness so thick as that. It is like being borne away to perdition on the wings of God’s mercy.
II. On the AWFUL PUNISHMENT with which the wife of Lot was visited I will only insist as showing how peculiarly aggravated in God’s sight must have been the nature of her sin. Her end was marked by all those circumstances of anger and terror which seem to foreclose all hope. First, it was that which we pray against in our Litany as sudden death; that is, not sudden in the sense of being wholly unlooked-for--that may be a great blessing--but sudden as unprepared-for--sudden, as finding us with nothing ready for our meeting with God, with our hearts yet in the world, and our faces turned that way.
III. Now to gather up a few PRACTICAL LESSONS from our subject.
1. “Remember Lot’s wife” as an example of the folly, the danger, the wickedness of trifling with what you know to be wrong, of committing little sins, breaking little precepts, and going on to Satan’s ground only a very little way. All little sins, all slight tamperings with conscience, all partial returns to once forsaken evil, all compromises with a renounced and repented habit, are as first steps to a hopeless and disastrous fall. Like Lot’s wife, we may only intend to look and look, and then turn back again. Rut we find we cannot turn back; the witchcraft of an evil nature is at work within us; we have seven wicked spirits to contend with now, where, before, we had but one, and so by little and little we are led within the charmed circle of evil till there is no going back and no escaping.
2. “Remember Lot’s wife” as an example of the possibility of falling from the most hopeful spiritual condition. How confidently should we have argued of her state; how confidently might she have argued of her own, when, of four persons to be saved out of those vast populations, she was chosen as one.
3. “Remember Lot’s wife” as a warning to us that there must be no delays, no haltings, no slackened diligence, in running the race that is set before us. “Escape for thy life”--life spiritual, life temporal, life eternal--lose one and you lose all; and you may lose all by becoming weary and faint in the running. (D. Moore, M. A.)
I. Consider, in the first place, THE HOPEFUL OPPORTUNITY; or, Lot’s wife fleeing from Sodom. It has been thought--and there is considerable reason for the thought--that she was a native of Sodom. When Lot separated from Abraham and went to live at Sodom, we read nothing of his having a wife or children; this is one reason for conjecturing that he married after he came to live at Sodom. Another is her evident attachmerit to Sodom, which, though to be accounted for on other reasons, may have been all the stronger, if that were the place of her nativity and early life. A third reason is, that Lot’s “easily besetting” sin, which was covetousness and love of the world, would probably have tempted him to form such a connection with one of the daughters of Sodom, on account of some supposed worldly advantage. Oh! let not Christians despise the word of warning, whispered by the mere probability that Lot married a native of Sodom--an unconverted and worldly-minded person. But although worldly-minded herself, her husband was a religious person, and she had many opportunities of redeeming her character and turning to the Lord. Yet she rejected them. When the testing-time came, she preferred the world to God.
II. THE SERIOUS OFFENCE; or Lot’s wife looking back. The world is the great clog upon the wheels of piety.
III. THE REMARKABLE PUNISHMENT. (J. Hambleton, M. A.)
Remember Lot’s wife
Separation is the only way of escape. We must flee from the world, or perish with it.
I. REMEMBER THAT THIS WOMAN WAS LOT’S WIFE.
1. She was united in the closest possible bonds to one who, with all his faults, was a righteous man; and yet she perished. O ye children of godly parents, I beseech you look to yourselves that ye be not driven down to hell from your mother’s side.
2. Being Lot’s wife, remember that she had since her marriage shared with Lot in his journeys and adventures and trials. If you cling to the world and cast your eye back upon it you must perish in your sin, notwithstanding that you have eaten and drank with the people of God, and have been as near to them in relationship as wife to husband, or child to parent.
3. Lot’s wife had also shared her husband’s privileges. She received the merciful warning to escape as well as her husband, and she was urged as much as he to flee from the wrath so near at hand. Thus is it with many of you who are enjoying all sorts of Christian privileges and are yet unsaved.
4. Lot’s wife had shared in her husband’s errors. It was a great mistake on his part to abandon the outwardly separated life but she had kept to him in it, and perhaps was the cause of his so doing. I suppose he thought he could live above the world spiritually, and yet mingle with its votaries.
II. “Remember Lot’s wife,” and recollect THAT SHE WENT SOME WAY TOWARDS BEING SAVED.
III. Remember that though she went some way towards escape SHE DID ACTUALLY PERISH THROUGH SIN.
1. The first sin that she committed was that she lingered behind.
2. Having slackened her pace, the next thing she did was she disbelieved what had been told her. Faith may be as well exhibited by not looking as by looking. Faith is a look at Christ, but faith is a not looking at the things which are behind. She saw the bright dawning and everything lit up with it, and it came across her mind--“It cannot be true, the city is not being destroyed. What a lovely morning I Why are we thus running away from house, and goods, and friends, and everything else on such a bright, clear morning as this?” She did not truly believe, there was no real faith in her heart, and therefore she disobeyed the law of her safety and turned her face towards Sodom.
3. Having got so far as lingering and doubting, her next movement was a direct act of rebellion--she turned her head: she was bidden not to look, but she dared to look. Rebellion is as much seen in the breach of what appears to be a little command as in the violation of a great precept. You will be judged according to the going of your heart. It your heart goes towards the mountain to escape, and if you hasten to be away with Christ to be His separated follower, you shall be saved: but if your heart still goes after evil and sin, His servants ye are whom ye obey, and from your evil master you shall get your black reward.
IV. Remember that HER DOOM WAS TERRIBLE.
1. Remember that she perished with the same doom as that which happened to the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, but that doom befell her at the gates of Zoar.
2. The worst point, perhaps, about the perishing of Lot’s wife lay in this, that she perished in the very act of sin, and had no space for repentance given her. It is a dreadful thing to die in the very act of sin, to be caught away by the justice of God while the transgression is being perpetrated. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
I. OF HER SIN--she looked back. What fault was there in that? you will say. I answer--
1. There was disobedience in it, because it was against the express command of God, given by an angel, “Look not behind thee” (Genesis 19:17).
2. There was unbelief in it; not believing the words of the angel, God’s messenger, who had assured her in the name of God that He would destroy Sodom, “Hasten hence, lest thou be consumed in the iniquity of the city” Genesis 19:13). Now she would look back, to see whether the prediction and warning were true. An unbelieving heart will easily be perverted and enticed into a rebellion against God, and those that cannot trust God will not be true to Him.
3. There was worldliness in it, or an hankering of mind after what she had left in Sodom; and so this looking back was a look of covetousness, a kind of repentance that she had come out of Sodom; for people are wont to look back who are moved with a desire and remembrance of their former dwelling. So Lot’s wife looked back because she had left her heart behind her. There were her kindred, and friends, and country, and that pleasant place which was as the garden of God (Genesis 13:10). From thence this woman came, and thither she would fain go again; as if she had said, And must I leave thee, Sodom, and part for ever from thee! Affectation of worldly things draweth us from ready obedience unto God (Philippians 3:8).
4. There was ingratitude for her deliverance from that dreadful and terrible burning which God was bringing upon the place of her abode. It is said, “The Lord was merciful to him” (Genesis 19:16). He could not pretend to it out of any merit, and might have smarted, for his choice showed weakness in not resting on God’s word: “I cannot escape to the mountain, let some evil take me, and I die” (verse 19). Only this God required at his hands, that he and his family should make haste and begone. Now, to disobey God in so small a matter was in her great ingratitude. The sins of none are so grievous to God as of those that have received much mercy from Him: “After such a deliverance as this, should we again break Thy commandments?” (Ezra 9:13-15.9.14). Oh I think what it is to despise the mercy of Christ, who came from heaven to deliver us; and shall it be slighted?
II. OF HER JUDGMENT--she was turned into a pillar of salt.
1. It was sudden. Sometimes God is quick and severe upon sinners, surprising them in the very act of their sin; as Lot’s wife was presently turned into a pillar of salt. So Zimri and Cosbi unladed their lives and their lusts together (Numbers 25:8); and Herod was smitten in the very act of his pride (Acts 12:23); “The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar” (Daniel 4:33); “In that night was Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans slain” (Daniel 5:30). Thus many times judgment overtaketh the wicked in the very instant of their sin; and God will give the sinner no time. Therefore we should not tempt and presume upon His patience. Surely it is!the greatest mercy to have grace to repent; but it is also a mercy to have space to repent. But God’s patience must not be wearied.
2. It was strange. For here a woman is turned into a pillar of salt. Strange sins bring on strange punishment. The stupid world is not awakened by ordinary judgments, but looks upon them as some chance or common occurrence; and therefore God is forced to go out of the common road, and diversify His judgments, that by some eminent circumstance in them He may alarm the drowsy world to take notice of His hand.
3. It was shameful; for she is made a public and lasting monument of shame to herself, but of instruction to us.
I must show how profitable it is for us to meditate on this instance, even for all those who are called from wrath to a state of rest and glory.
1. That it concerneth such not only to consider the mercies of God, but also now and then the examples of His justice, that “we may serve Him with fear, and rejoice with trembling” (Psalms 2:11). We are in a mixed estate, and therefore mixed affections do best. As we are to cherish the spirit or better part with promises and hopes of glory, by which the inner man is renewed day by day, so we are to weaken the pravity of the flesh by the remembrance of God’s judgments, not only threatened, but also actually inflicted!; for instances do much enliven things. Now, what was done to them may be done to us--for these judgments are patterns of providence--and if we would blow off the dust from the ancient providences of God, we may easily read our own doom or desert at least. The desert of sin is still the same; and the exactness of Divine justice is still the same; what hath been is a pledge and instance of what may be.
2. That not only modern and present, but ancient and old judgments are of great use to us, especially when like sins abound in the age we live in, or we are in danger of them as to our own practice. If others have smarted for disobeying God, why not we, since God is impartially and immutably just, always consonant and agreeable unto Himself? His power is the same, so is His justice and holiness.
3. This particular judgment is monumental, and so intended for a pattern and spectacle to after ages; and it is also here recommended by the Lord Himself--“Remember Lot’s wife.” He exciteth us to look upon this pillar, and therefore certainly it will yield many instructions for the heavenly life.
(1) This seemeth to be a small sin. What I for a look, for a glance of her eye, to be so suddenly blasted into a pillar of salt! This seemeth to be no great fault; but it teaches us that little faults in appearance many times meet with a great judgment. There may be much crookedness in a small line; and the matter is not so much to be regarded as the majesty and authority of God that commandeth--as in garments the dye is more than the stuff. But that I may at once vindicate God’s dispensation, and enforce the caution, I shall prove--
(a) That sin is not to be measured by the external action, but by the circumstances.
(b) This woman’s sin is greater than at first appeareth. For here was--
(i.) A preferring her own will before the will of God. God said, Look not back; but she would look back.
(ii.) There was a contempt of the justice and wrath of God, as if it were a vain scarecrow: “Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? are we stronger than He?” (1 Corinthians 10:22).
(iii.) Here is also a contempt of the rewards of obedience, as in all sin Hebrews 12:15-58.12.16).
(iv.) There was an abuse of the grace offered for her escape and deliverance (Romans 2:4). All these four things are in every deliberate sin, seem it never so small.
(c) Because we think we may preserve the smaller sins for breed, and that God is more severe in remembering these than we are faulty in committing them. Therefore think of and seriously consider that small sins are the mother of great sins, and the grandmother of great punishments. As little sticks set the great ones on fire, and a wisp of straw often enkindleth a great block of wood, so we are drawn on by the lesser evils to greater, and by the just judgment of God suffered to fall into them, because we made no conscience of lesser. The lesser commandments are a rail about the greater, and no man grows downright wicked at first, but rises to it by degrees.
(2) This was a sin committed by stealth. As she followed her husband, she would steal a glance, and look towards Sodom; for it is said, “His wife looked back from behind him” (Genesis 19:26). God can find us out in our secret sins; and therefore we should make conscience, as not to sin openly, so not by stealth. In short, to be an open and bold sinner in some respects is worse than to be a close and private sinner, because of the dishonour done to God, and the scandal to others, and the impudence of the sinner himself; but in other respects secret sins have their aggravations.
(a) Because if opens sins be of greater infamy, yet secret sins are more against knowledge and conviction.
(b) This secret sinning puts far more respect upon men than God; and this is palliated atheism.
(3) The next lesson which we learn hence is, that no loss of earthly things should make us repent of our obedience to God, but that we should still go on with what we have well begun, with out looking back. “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
From the whole--
1. Remember that in getting out of Sodom we must make haste. The least delay or stop in the course of our flight may be pernicious to us.
2. That till our resolutions be firmly set for God and heaven, and there be a thorough bent and bias upon our hearts, and the league between us and our secret lusts broken, after we have seemed to make some escape, we shall be looking back again--“For where our treasure is, there our heart will Matthew 6:21).
3. That to look back, after we have seemed to escape, doth involve us in the greatest sin and misery. The apostle tells us (2 Peter 2:20-61.2.21).
4. That if we would not go back, we must not look back. Evil is best stopped at first; the first breakings off from God, and remitting our zeal and watchfulness. He that keeps not a house in constant repair will be in danger of having it fall down upon him. So, if we grow remiss and careless, and keep not a constant watch, temptations will increase upon us. (T. Manton.)
Remember Lot’s wife
1. Remember Lot’s wife, in the hour of conviction of sin. The Holy Spirit strives. The danger of damnation is seen and felt as never before. “Up! flee for your life!” is the voice of the Spirit. Delay, hesitation, casting longing looks back on a life of sin, then, may be fatal. You may lose the golden opportunity.
2. Remember Lot’s wife in the hour of fiery temptation. The only safety is in precipitate flight. Escape from the presence of the tempter. To parley, to hesitate, to cast a look at the proffered bait, is all but certain ruin.
3. Remember Lot’s wife, when any question of duty is pressed upon you. This woman had no excuse for hesitation or reluctance. A clear, Divine call to duty cannot be trifled with without incurring fearful risk, if not of the loss of life physical, at least life spiritual.
4. Remember Lot’s wife, amid the assaults of unbelief.
5. Note what Christ says in Luke 9:62, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back,” etc.
(1) He is not intent on the work in hand.
(2) His earthly ties and interests are stronger than those which pertain to heavenly things.
(3) He has really surrendered himself to temptation. (Anon.)
Over sand-bars and hidden rocks in the sea are sometimes placed buoy-bells, which are rung by the action of the waves. So God has set great danger-signals in the sea of time. Such is the story of Sodom and Lot’s wife.
1. Remember her surroundings. Sin is often seemingly beautiful and attractive. Beware of the alluring power of evil associations.
2. Remember her danger. This world is a Sodom, and against it has been declared the condemnation of God’s law.
3. Remember her warning. Sacrifice everything. Look not back for companions or possessions. Delay not for a better opportunity, for greater conviction, etc. Linger not in the plains of a professed morality.
4. Remember her delay. Procrastination is most perilous.
5. Remember her disobedience.
6. Remember her doom. Disobedience develops into the deadly fruit of death. (G. Elliott.)
The danger of looking back
There is a story of a high mountain on whose top was a palace filled with all treasures, gold, gems, singing birds--a paradise of pleasures. Up its sides men and women were climbing toreach the top; but every one who looked back was turned into stone. And yet thousands of evil spirits were around them, whispering, shouting, flashing their treasures, singing love-songs to draw their eyes from the treasure at the top, and to make them look back; but every one that looked back was turned into stone. So is every one who is seeking heavenly treasures tempted by earthly music and sinful joys; but whosoever yields is lost. (W. Baxendale.)
Punishment of Lot’s wife
As might be expected, conjecture has been busy as to the manner in which this transformation was effected. There is no harm in such speculations, if they are not allowed to go farther than this, that they only seek to account for a result by natural agents, where natural agents would be sufficient--that they acknowledge the interfering hand of God in the matter, whether He create for the purpose a new thing in the earth, or merely press into His service the means and agency which exist already. In the present instance, it does not seem an impossible thing that judgment upon Lot’s wife should have been brought about by natural causes; in other words, that in consequence of her standing still too long, she might get covered with the sulphureous matter which was being rained from heaven, and this, congealing and encrusting upon her person, would make her appear as a pillar of salt. In fact, of the leading features of the phenomenon, traces remain in the physical geography of the neighbourhood to this day. Thus, of the petrifying qualities of the waters of the Dead Sea we have many trustworthy accounts; whilst, as illustrative of the saline property of the waters, one of our great Eastern travellers tells us, that after bathing in them he found a thin crust of salt upon his face, and a similar crust left upon the shore wherever the waters had overflowed. By natural agents or by a miracle, however, it is certain that Lot’s wife has been made to stand in the midst of that awful plain, a petrified monument of God’s displeasure against backsliders, for upwards of two thousand years; for, “I have seen it,” said Josephus, “and it remains at this day.” The testimony of later Christian travellers as to the identity of the scene we should have to receive with more caution. Stones with the Jews, we know, were a kind of standing revelation. The story of them was handed down from father to son with a jealous reverence; so that it is not unlikely that among our Lord’s hearers were men who, in common with Josephus, had visited this heaven-blighted spot, and on whose minds these words would tell with solemn force--“Remember Lot’s wife.” (D. Moore, M. A.)
Do not run any risk
On the coast of Normandy, where Mont St. Michael stands, the sea goes out about five miles, and comes in like a racehorse. In 1875, two ladies were at some ruins on the sands. “Come away,” said the elder, “don’t run any risk.” “Just let me finish this sketch,” replied the other, an English young lady. While she sketched, the tide rushed in, and she was drowned.
Shall lose it
Life through death
IT IS COMMONLY REQUIRED OF US TO SACRIFICE A LOWER GOOD, IN ORDER TO GAIN A HIGHER. Not always, but almost always. The good things of this world are of several sorts, very unlike one another. Consider the sensualist, the man of pleasure, what is called the man of the world. Now it is idle to say, that the pleasures of sense are not real pleasures. Pleasure is not altogether out of the question amongst higher things, as is proved by such examples as those of Pericles, Caesar, and Bonaparte; but pleasure supreme is simply fatal to a great career. It may give you an Alcibiades, but never a Leonidas. So, too, of money. Here again it is idle to say that money is of no account. All that is higher, and all that is lower, must be cheerfully given up. Money must be the one thing he goes for. This, indeed, is the price of money, as of everything else; and he must pay it. But, at all events, he must give up the lower good. He must not be a man of the world. He must be abstemious in eating; temperate in drinking; temperate in all things. He must rein in his appetite. Good personal habits--habits of self-restraint, must be well established. And so of fame. But neither the scholar, the artist, nor the orator, must be idle, or avaricious. The lore of pleasure and the love of money are both of them fatal to these higher aims. Learning grows puny and trivial, when waited on by sensual delights; while the love of gain eats into it like rust. So, too, of art. Growing either voluptuous, or sordid, it falls like an angel from heaven. And so of eloquence. It flies from lips that are steeped in pleasure; it will not quiver in fingers that clutch at gold. The ambition of scholarship, of art, of eloquence, is a lofty ambition, and it will not tolerate much baseness. The scholars of antiquity were, for the most part, severe and temperate men. The scholars of the Middle Ages were the cloistered and ascetic monks. The votaries of art, too, with rare exceptions, have wasted away in martyrdom to their calling. Thus it is that the Temple of Fame keeps a stern sentinel standing ever at her gateway of Corinthian brass. And every comer is challenged with such questions as these: Canst thou live on bread and water? Art thou willing to be poor? If not, avaunt! And so of all sorts of earthly good. Each sort has its price; and may be taken at that price. But two or more sorts may not ordinarily be taken by one and the same purchaser. The lower must be sacrificed to the higher. The coarser must give place to the finer. Such is the well-established method of our ordinary life. Every step of our earthly progress is a sacrifice. We gain by losing; grow by dwindling; live by dying. Our text, it is plain, is but an extension of this well-established method to the entire range and circle of our interests. What is seen to be true of earthly advantages considered in reference to one another, is here declared to be true of all these advantages together, when considered in relation to the life eternal. This world and the next world are set in opposition to each other. Body and soul are put at variance. And all that a man may win of worldly good, it is taught, he must be ready to sacrifice, if need be, in order to save his soul. You may call the demand a hard one; but all the analogies of our ordinary life endorse and favour it. In many dark corners of the earth are sitting men to-day, who have abandoned almost everything for Christ. And their feeling is that they have barely done their duty: that a necessity is laid upon them; that they must suffer for Christ; and by and by die for Him. And the stern warrant for it all is in our text: “He that findeth his life, shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for My sake, shall find it.” God be praised, if we, in our sphere, are spared the fullest execution of this warrant. The spirit of it, however, we may never wish to escape. Our hearts are to hold themselves always reedy for the fiercest discipline. Personal ease and comfort, houses and lands, friends, reputation, and even life itself, are to be reckoned cheap. We are to hold them in low esteem. So relaxed must be our grasp, that the slightest breath of persecution may suffice to sweep them swiftly and clean away.
II. The second law referred to, and the counterpart of the one we have now considered, is this: BY FIRST SECURING THE HIGHER GOOD, WE ARE PREPARED PROPERLY TO ENJOY THE LOWER, AND ARE MORE LIKELY TO SECURE IT. The principle is, that no worldly good of any sort can be well secured, or properly enjoyed, if pursued by itself and for its own sake. This may be seen in our most ordinary life. The man, whose aim is pleasure, may indeed, secure it for a while; but only for awhile. It soon palls upon his senses, disgusts and wearies him. It is easy of proof, that more is really enjoyed, more of mere pleasure is there, among business men, in the brief intervals of business, than among those with whom pleasure may be said to be a profession. Pleasure, in a word, is far sweeter as a recreation than a business. And so of gold. The man who strains all his energies of soul and body to the acquisition of it, never properly enjoys it. He enjoys the activity which the chase imposes upon him; but not the gold itself. He best enjoys gold, because he best knows the uses of it, who is occupied by higher thoughts and aims. It is God’s decree, that gold shining useless in a miser’s coffers, shall never gladden the one who gathered it. And so also of fame. If pursued for its own sake, the chase is often a bootless one. Selfish ambition almost always betrays itself, and then it provokes men to defeat and humble it. General Zachary Taylor, the twelfth President of the United States, spent forty years of his life in comparatively obscure, but very faithful service, at our Western outposts; receiving no applause from the country at large, and asking for none; intent only upon doing promptly and efficiently the duties laid upon him. By and by events, over which he had exercised no control, called him into notice upon a broader theatre. And then it was discovered how faithful and how true a man he was. The Republic, grateful for such a series of self-denying and important services, snatched him from the camp, and bore him, with loud acclaim, to her proudest place of honour. And this was done at the cost of bitterest disappointment to more than one, whose high claims to this distinction were not denied, but who had been known to be aspiring to the exalted seat. And so through our whole earthly life--in all its spheres, and in all its struggles. To lose is to find; to die is to live. It is so in our religion. We begin by abjuring all; we end by enjoying all. Am I charged with preaching that “gain is godliness”? Not so, my friend. But godliness is gain. It begins by denouncing and denying all; it ends by restoring all. First it desolates; then it rebuilds. Its mien, in approaching us, is stern and terrible. It blights our pleasures; strips us of our possessions; smites our friends; and lays our vaunted honours in the dust. And then, when all is done, when the desolating work is finished, when our very lives are spent and worried out of us, the scene changes as by a miracle, and all is given us anew. God, we find, is not merely in all; but He includes all, is all. And we learn, assuredly, from our own blessed experience, that “no good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.” Nay, it is of the very essence of our religion to forget and deny ourselves. Two remarks seem to grow naturally out of our subject.
1. We may learn the great mistake committed by men of the world in their chase after worldly good. They make it an end.
2. We may learn why it is the happiness of Christians is so imperfect. (R. D.Hitchcock, D. D.)
The one shall be taken, and the other shall be left
One taken, and the other left
Every great act of God has the effect of dividing, separating, and judging men.
So great are the diversities among men, so various their characters, so various by nature, and so endlessly varied by education and habit, that, when God acteth before them in any great or signal way, forthwith those who seemed to be much alike, are found to be really very different. The mercy that is balm to one, is poison to his next neighbour; the trial, which to one is easy and simple, is to his neighbour destruction and inevitable woe. To be born in a Christian country, to be the son of careful and godly parents, to be baptized in infancy, to be trained in the knowledge of God, to have natural abilities, to have education, to have station, or wealth, all these things have this effect of dividing men, and trying their hearts. To those who are obedient, and endeavour to please God, all these things are high blessings, choice gifts of God. Each of them enables a man to render God better service, to please Him better, to do more good, and to make higher attainments of holiness and happiness. But to the disobedient they are all so many downfalls. Every such thing brings out more, and makes more conspicuous and hopeless the inner disobedience; each one of them exhibits more strikingly the spirit of inward rebellion, which, but for these things, might have been comparatively unseen. Illness tries us; health tries us; every day, as it passes, tries us in innumerable ways; tries, and trains us; tries what we are now, and tries whether we will be better; furnishes matter for our judgment, and gives us the means of improvement, so that judgment may not be our ruin. And so we go on being tried, being balanced, and sifted, and searched, thousands of times, many times more than we suppose or conceive, every day of our life. We think of the great trials, but the little ones, which we do not think of, try us still more. It is very observable that, in the account given of the judgment-day by our Lord in the Gospel of St. Matthew, the doom of the righteous and wicked is made to depend on grounds wholly unexpected by each. They are alike represented as exclaiming, in astonishment and surprise, “Lord, when saw we Thee an hungered, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison?” Full of fears, no doubt, and hopes about things which they do remember, nothing doubting that this or that great act (as they think it), is to be the one on which everything is to turn, for weal or woe, they seem alike struck with astonishment to find that things which they have wholly forgotten, which they neither observed when they happened, nor can recall since, have been laid up in the mind of the Judge, to be the ground of their last and inevitable doom. “Lord, when saw we Thee an hungered, or athirst, or sick, or in prison, and ministered, or ministered not unto Thee?” this, I say, is one of the striking things revealed of that awful time. And another is, the alteration which that day shall make; when last shall be first, and first last; when not only the ranks of the earth shall be in many instances reversed, but when the estimations of the earth shall be found to be entirely mistaken; apparent saints taking their place among the hypocrites departing to everlasting fire; publicans and sinners, purified by repentance, their robes washed in the blood of the Lamb, entering, among the blessed, into the joy of their Lord. And the text teaches us a third and different lesson still; how those who have been side by side upon earth, alike in condition, opportunity, and encouragement, to all human sight much alike in mind or temper; not much unlike, perhaps, in apparent earnestness and spiritual attainment, shall then be found, one on the right hand, and one on the left hand; one be taken, taken to joy, caught up to meet the Lord in the air, so as to be ever with Him; and the other left, to woe and despair for ever. Children of one family, bred alike, and taught alike, who have learned to say the same infantine prayers, have known the same friends, read the same books, loved the same pleasures; if one is earnest in his prayers, and, in his secret obedience, serves God faithfully, and the other persists in unfaithfulness and disobedience,--shall it not surely be so with them, that one shall be taken in that day, and the other left? What, then, shall we do? With this reality of trial on us, and this reality of judgment before us, the one more searching than we can trace, the other likely to be more unexpected than we can foresee, how are we to walk to be safe? how to pass through the present trial, how to meet the future judgment? Simply by turning with all our hearts and souls to our duties, and our prayers. We do not need any particular excitements of mind, or any particular glow of sentiments; we want to be in earnest, and the good Spirit of our God, by which we were sealed in baptism unto the day of our redemption, will help us to our safety. (Bishop Moberly.)
The great division
1. The meaning of the text being established, we have next to inquire what the lessons are which it is designed to teach us. When it is considered in relation to its context, it becomes plain that the primary intention of the passage is to denote the suddenness with which the day of the Lord will come upon the inhabitants of the earth. “Of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but My Father only.” There will be no perceptible check or change in the current of human affairs to warn us of its coming. Men will be engaged to the very last in the ordinary occupations of life, “as in the days of Noe” and “as in the days of Lot,” “eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage.” Nor shall the great and final partition of good and evil be preceded or prefigured by any partial and gradual severance. Men and women shall be united in their daily tasks, and even in the most familiar intercourse of domestic life, between whom there shall be a great gulf fixed in that day.
2. There is a further lesson which may be derived from the text, and which it is also without doubt intended to convey. It is one which is set forth more or less plainly in other places of Holy Scripture. The children of this world and the children of light cannot be absolutely distinguished, so long as we see through a glass, darkly. Our estimate of another’s character is after all nothing better than an inference from phenomena, and our powers of inference are at least as fallible in this as in all other matters. The warmest friendships, the most endearing ties, can afford us no unmistakable guarantee that those with whom we are thus outwardly united, are both almost and altogether such as we are.
3. There is, however, a third inference to which we are naturally led by the words before us, and to which I desire particularly to direct your attention at present. However closely and undistinguishably men are mingled together in this world, however various, minute, and delicate are the shades of character by which they are severally differenced, however hopeless it may appear, I will not say for man, but for Absolute Wisdom and Absolute Justice, to draw a broad line between the children of this world and the children of light, the text seems to imply, what we are elsewhere taught, that they will ultimately be divided into two and only two classes. But I think the text goes beyond this, at all events in the way of implication. For it not only tells us that such a sharp line as I have described will ultimately be drawn between the evil and the good, but it seems also to tell us that the line exists already, although we may be unable to discern it. For inasmuch as it represents the day of judgment as coming upon men unprepared, discovering them in the midst of their daily avocations, finding persons of the most opposite characters united in the closest intercourse without a suspicion of their incompatibility, and then at once awarding to every man his everlasting doom; is it not reasonable to infer that the grounds of that award exist already, although they are not in every instance cognizable by us? At this point, however, we are met by a difficulty. Our experience of the world and of human life appears to teach us a different lesson. No doubt there are good men and there are bad men on the face of the earth--good men who are acknowledged to be so even by those who are farotherwise, and bad men who are confessed to be so even by themselves. But the great mass of mankind seems to belong to an intermediate and indifferent body, consisting of those who are neither saints nor reprobates, neither fit for eternal life nor deserving of eternal death. The longer the world lasts, the more complicated the developments of society become, the more does this appear to be the case. The visible confusion of the moral world may only serve to cover a clear and well-defined line of demarcation. And, as much, on the one hand, that is outwardly and materially honest, and just, and pure, and lovely, and of good report, when traced to its true source would be found to be of the earth, earthy; so we must remember that “the Lord knoweth them that are His”; that, “the kingdom of God,” which “is within” us, “cometh not with observation”; and that as “the wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, or whither it goeth; so is event one that is born of the Spirit.” But we shall do well to recollect, in addition, that we see men ordinarily in a transitional and undeveloped state. The good or the evil that is in them may not have had time to come to a head, or may be over shadowed by old habits which hang about a man like parasites, but which can hardly be said to form a part of his proper self. But as each man’s probation draws near its close, it may be that his character is altogether simplified and stereotyped. Then it is that the awful decree goes forth: “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still.” Mere experience, then, can decide nothing against the teaching of holy Scripture on this point, although it may not actually confirm it. On the other hand, it is worthy of observation, that a great thinker, whose name marks an era in the history of modern philosophy, in endeavouring to frame a religious system a priori, was led to a result altogether coincident with the doctrine under consideration. After raising the two following questions: first, Whether man can be neither good nor evil? and then, Whether man can be partly good and partly evil? he decides against the former, in opposition (as he confesses) to the prima facie dictates of experience, upon the ground that moral neutrality in any voluntary act is an impossible conception; and he disposes of the latter, by observing that no act has any intrinsic moral worth, unless it spring from a deliberate adoption of the moral law as our universal principle of action. I have cited this writer’s testimony mainly because he cannot be accused of any undue partiality towards the distinctive peculiarities of the Christian system. But it is not difficult to translate his arguments into Scriptural language. For, on the one hand, it is our Lord Himself who proposes the dilemma, “Either make the tree good, and his fruit good; or else make the tree corrupt, and his fruit corrupt”: and, on the other, His apostle tells us that “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.” (W. B. Jones, M. A.)
Divine sovereignty in the death of men
I. WHAT IS IMPLIED IN GOD’S ACTING AS A SOVEREIGN.
1. His acting as a sovereign implies that He always acts after the counsel of His own will, without consulting the will, or pleasure, or counsel of any other being.
2. His acting as a sovereign implies that He always acts not only without the counsel, but without the control, of any created beings.
II. IN WHAT RESPECTS HE ACTS AS A SOVEREIGN IN TAKING AWAY THE LIVES OF MEN. Here it may be observed--
1. That He acts as a sovereign in respect to appointing the time of every one’s death.
2. God acts as a sovereign in determining not only the time, but the place of every one’s death.
3. God acts as a sovereign in respect to the means of death.
4. God acts as a sovereign in regard to the circumstances of death. He takes one, and leaves another, under the very same circumstances. He takes one, and leaves another, according to the order in which He has been pleased to place their names in death’s commission, regardless of all exterior circumstances or distinctions.
5. God acts as a sovereign in calling men out of the world, whether they are willing or unwilling to leave it.
6. God displays His awful sovereignty by calling men out of time into eternity, whether they are prepared or not prepared to go to their long home.
III. WHY GOD ACTS AS A SOVEREIGN IN THIS VERY IMPORTANT CASE. Several plain and pertinent reasons may be mentioned.
1. Because He has an independent right to act as a sovereign in taking away the lives of men. He is the former of their bodies, and Father of their spirits. In Him they live, and move, and have their being.
2. God acts as a sovereign in the article of death, because He only knows when and where to put a period to human life.
3. Another reason why God disposes of the lives of men as a sovereign, in all those respects which have been mentioned, is because He is under indispensable moral obligations to dispose of His own creatures in the wisest and best manner.
1. If God acts as a sovereign in taking away the lives of men, then the aged have great reason of gratitude for the continuance of life.
2. If God acts as a sovereign in taking away the lives of men, then they ought to maintain a constant and realizing sense that their lives are uncertain.
3. If God acts as a sovereign in taking away the lives of men, then they ought to avoid every mode of conduct which tends to stupify their minds, and create an insensibility to the uncertainty of life.
4. If God acts as a sovereign in taking away the lives of men, then it is not strange that He causes so many sudden and unexpected deaths.
5. It appears from what has been said that there is a solid foundation for the most cordial and unreserved submission under the heaviest bereavements. They come from the hand and heart of a holy, wise, and benevolent Sovereign, who has a right to take one, and leave another, and who never afflicts willingly, or grieves the children of men. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
The Rev. Dr. Witherspoon, formerly president of Princeton College, America, was once on board a packet-ship, where, among other passengers, was a professed atheist. This unhappy man was very fond of troubling every one with his peculiar belief, and of broaching the subject as often as he could get any one to listen to him. He did not believe in a God and a future state, not he! By and by there came on a terrible storm, and the prospect was that all would be drowned. There was much consternation on board, but not one was so greatly frightened as the professed atheist. In this extremity he sought out the clergyman, and found him in the cabin, calm and collected in the midst of danger, and thus addressed him: “Oh, Doctor Witherspoon! Doctor Witherspoon! we are all going; we have but a short time to stay. Oh how the vessel rocks! We are all going! Don’t you think we are, doctor?” The doctor turned to him with a solemn look, and replied in broad Scotch, “Nae doubt, nae doubt, man, we’re a’ ganging; but you and I dinna gang the same way.” (W. Baxendale.)
Wheresoever the body is
The twofold inquiry that always greets the prophet is Where?
and When? These two questions are prompted by curiosity and self-interest. The passionate desires of human nature to know the future are testified to by the whole history of superstition and imposture. Even inspired prophecy has been treated in the spirit of this desire. Our Lord teaches us how such questions should be answered, and how such a spirit should be dealt with. He does not answer the “Where” and “When”; not even in the revelation to His beloved disciple does He do so.
I. Observe how in A VERY REAL SENSE HE DOES ANSWER THE QUESTIONS. The answer in effect is this: My judgment shall come upon the earth as come the vultures upon the dead by an unerring and terrible instinct. So truly then as there is ripeness for judgment, and wherever there is that ripeness, there shall come the judgment of the day of the Lord.
II. MARK WHAT THESE WORDS TELL US CONCERNING THE GREAT LAWS OF GOD’S JUDGMENT. These judgments are not arbitrary judgments, but are joined to the offence by a natural and necessary law. Where there is ripeness for them there is no escape from them; but they only fall where there is that ripeness. We learn also, that before the last and crowning judgment there must be many lesser and preliminary days of judgment.
III. WHERE ARE WE TO LOOK FOR SIGNS OF OUR LORD’S COMING? Not to the heavens far off, but at the dead thing which lies, it may be, at your very feet. Can we discern here and there the corpse that calls and the eagles of judgment that come at its calling. In the case of individuals it is not wise to judge; but with families, churches, nations, there is no judgment sound but a present judgment. The practical lesson is, “Judge therefore, yourselves, brethren, that ye be not judged by the Lord.” (Bishop Magee.)
The carcass and the eagles
In the sphere of human life, that which is the life of things is their use. When that is spent, all things else conspire to have them not only disabled but abolished. On sea and land where man is not, it may be only contingent, though usual, that where the carcass is, there the eagles are gathered together; but where man is, it is certain. Steam and electricity are new ideas, new forces by which man has extended his command over material resources indispensable for his existence. As surely as these new ideas are introduced, there is found to be implied in them destruction as well as creation. A host of things in which there was life because there was use become refuse and old lumber--hand-looms, wooden ships, mail coaches--and with regard to them the question is how they are to be got rid of. A new gun is invented in America or in England, and all the stands of arms in all places of arms throughout the world become lumber until they have undergone a process of conversion which is a process of destruction. Belshazzar’s feast is not a spectacle pleasing to gods or men, that small part of mankind excepted for whom the lights flare upon rude riot and excess. It may be a product of civilization and of national struggles and aspirations. It is not exuberant life, but rampant disease and corruption, and as such it is marked for dissolution and destruction. Always when it is at its height there is to be seen the handwriting on the wall, telling that tyranny and oppression have but their day, that they are weighed in the balance and found wanting, that the next thing to heedless excess is destruction. The doctrine of constitutional liberty gains a footing in a country ignorant of it before--the result, if not at once, inevitably is, that institutions, laws, privileges, class distinctions, offices and officers, lose what vitality they had, and with regard to them, as with regard to all that is dead, the question is, what is the swiftest and most effectual method of destruction. In every department of human life the same process is at work, that which lives and grows necessitating the dissolution and removal of that which is useless and corrupt. In this view of it, the process is a necessary part of the fulfilment of the Divine order on the side of progress and improvement. It is beneficent. That which so often makes it seem other than beneficent--and this too has to be recognized as a fact--is the redundance of vested interests--it is that in so many instances the interests and affections of men and nations are linked rather with what may have been once good than with that which being better is destined to dissolve and to replace it. This is why destruction which goes along with creation is so often a painful and terrible experience. It is not unfortunate or unnecessary for mankind that Belshazzar and his courtiers should have but their day, or rather their night; but, when the handwriting on the wall makes its appearance, the mighty king and his court cannot well be expected to welcome it. There is comfort and satisfaction for a benevolent and thoughtful mind in the reflection that the sanatory arrangements of the universe are as wonderful as any of the other arrangements in it; but for men and nations whose habits and feelings are involved in the existence and perpetuation of what is opposed to them and inconsistent with them, these arrangements cannot but be felt to act often in a harsh, peremptory, ruthless, unsparing manner. It is well, however, to accustom ourselves to look at them in the proper light, namely, as beneficent, not only that we may not miss or misread a great deal which is written for our learning in the pages of history, but that in the changing fashions of our theology we may be always mindful of one thing, to recognize God as not a God of the dead but of the living. (J. Service, D. D.)
The gathering of the eagles
It will be necessary here to compare the ancient and modern interpretations of the verse--“for wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together.”
1. The generally received modern interpretation sees here the great law of Divine judgment condensed into one terrible image. The “carcass,” according to this, is the putrid carrion; the “eagles” are, strictly speaking, vultures. Thus, to the modern mind, we have here the condensed image of the continuous judgment of God. In hot countries God has so moulded the instincts of the winged scavengers of cliff and peak, that far away, as they wheel and circle over the awful depths into which the traveller looks with reeling brain, they scent the slain in battle, or the bodies that taint the air. So, wherever there is a body of moral and spiritual death--something rotten in Church or State--the vultures of judgment, the punishers and avengers that belong to it in the very nature of things, come mysteriously from their places, and with boding voices, deepening upon the breezes, gather round the spoil. So with Jerusalem falling to pieces in its last decomposition and self-dissolution. The flap of avenging wings was heard overhead by prophetic ears. The vultures were wheeling on the steaming air, under the vault of the Syrian sky, barking in the far mountain glens, and collecting together to gorge themselves upon the “glittering rottenness.” This view is not only rhetorically powerful, but something more and higher.
2. Notwithstanding this, the ancient interpretation represents more truly the Divine thought in the symbol of the eagles and their food. And so this image of the eagle belongs to the glorious Lord and to His Christ. And His people are as His eaglets--nay, themselves eagles of God. Is it not written--“Ye have seen how I bare you on eagles’ wings”? And more fully--“As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: so the Lord alone did bear him.” Is not the Church the woman to whom were given “the wings of the eagle, that great eagle,” which is Christ? Even here and now, wherever the corpse is, wherever Jesus is evidently set forth crucified, there, mysteriously raised above earthly things, made lofty and royal in their graces, Christ’s eagles “gather round” Him who is the spiritual food and the life eternal of all such eagles. The meaning, then, on the whole, according to this interpretation, is as follows: The “carcass”--the corpse of Jesus Christ as crucified--that is the meeting-point of human souls, the centre of attraction in the world of spirits. The Lord of nature, in the Book of Job, says of the eagle, His creature--“she abideth upon the rock from thence she seeketh the prey; her eyes behold afar off … where the slain are, there is she.” The Lord of grace adds His application--as the eaglets gather round the corpse, so the souls of men, and especially of the elect, gather round Jesus. Ay, and round Jesus, not always as the eternal Word, not always as in His glory, but in the pathetic beauty of His weakness, staggering under the weight of His cross.
Nay more, dying, with the red drops of the Passion upon His brow; dead--nay, fallen in His sacred helplessness. There are mysterious instincts inevery heart that turn to Jesus crucified. Keen and swift as eagles for the prey are Christians for the Lord who died. It is the same underlying thought with that noble utterance in the twelfth chapter of St. John. There the few Greeks are to that prophetic eye the first shoreward ripple of the great springtide of humanity which is to break in thunder at His feet. The lifting up a few feet above the soil of Golgotha becomes, by a majestic irony, the elevation above the earth, the centre of attraction for uncounted souls. “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me.” So He seems to promise--“I, if I be fallen upon the earth, the helpless, lifeless, ruined thing which men call a corpse, will yet gather round Me every eagle that clasps the crag, or soars upward with the sunlight in his glorious eye.” (Bp. Wm. Alexander.)
The gathering of the eagles
1. These words have many meanings for us. First we may think of them as referring to the fall of Jerusalem. There indeed was the body, the dead corrupt body of the Jews, who had refused to hear the message of salvation, and had taken and slain the Son of God outside the wall of their fated city. And where the body was, there were the eagles gathered together. That enemy, of which the prophets had spoken long ago, had come, and encompassed Jerusalem in on every side. The Roman eagles glittered upon their helmets, and flashed upon their standards. They set up their banners for tokens, even within the sacred courts of the temple, and so was fulfilled the prophecy of the “abomination of desolation standing in the holy place.”
2. Again, we take the words of the text as applying to the hour of death, and first of the death of the body. Whoever has stood at a good man’s death-bed must feel that the dying man is not alone, nor allowed in that last hour for any pains of death to fall from God. Where that poor worn-out body lies, there are the eagles of God’s host gathered together, strengthening, comforting the dying man, ready to bear his soul as swift as on eagles’ wings to Paradise. There is a beautiful fancy of the East which makes Azrael, the angel of death, speak thus to a dying saint:--
“‘Thou blessed one,’ the angel said, ‘I bring thy time of peace,
When I have touched thee on the eyes, life’s latest ache will cease;
God bade me come as I am seen amid the heavenly host,--
No enemy of awful mould, but he who loveth most.’”
So looks the Christian on death, as being a fair and gracious messenger from God, bringing to the captive liberty, and to the weary rest. “Wheresoever the body is, thither will the eagles be gathered together.”
3. These words are terribly true of the death of the godless and impenitent. Julian, the apostate emperor, took for his crest an eagle pierced through the heart by an arrow feathered from his own wing, and as a motto the words, “Our death flies to us with our own feather.” So every sinner who dies impenitent knows that the arrow of remorse which pierces him is of his own making, that the dark spectres, which are gathered like eagles around him, are of his own inviting.
4. Once more, and in another and brighter sense, we will take tile text as applying to the Blessed Sacrament of the altar; so it has always been understood by the old writers of the Church. One of them says--
“Where the sacred body lieth, eagle souls together speed;
There the saints and there the angels find refreshment in their need.
And the sons of earth and heaven on that one Bread ever feed.”
When we kneel at that altar and receive the Body of our Lord, we are not alone. The very word “Communion” teaches us that we are encompassed by a great cloud of witnesses. Not only are we in that Sacrament made one with Christ, and with all true members of His Church, but we join in the work of saints and angels, and they take part with us. Thus we say, “With angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify Thy glorious name.” “Wheresover the body is,” wheresoever the Body of Jesus Christ is present in the Sacrament, there will the faithful worshippers be gathered together like eagles, and there too will be high and holy ones present, although unseen by us, making the altar a ladder between earth and heaven, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon it. (H. J.Wilmot Buxton, M. A.)
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Luke 17". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent