Click here to join the effort!
Men ought always to pray, and not to faint
The strange weapon-All-prayer
While Christian was in the Palace Beautiful, they showed him all the remarkable objects in the armory, from the ox-goad of Shamgar to the sword of the Spirit.
And amongst the arms he saw, and with some of which he was arrayed as be left the place, was a single weapon with a strange, new name--“All-prayer.” When I was a child, I used to wonder much what this could have been--its shape, its use. I imagine I know something more about it in these later years. At any rate, I think Bunyan found his name for it in one of the New Testament Epistles: “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit” Ephesians 6:18). It so happens, also, that we have two parables of our Lord given us in the eighteenth chapter of Luke to one end, “that men ought always to pray, and not to faint.” One of these parables teaches the lesson of importunity, the other teaches the lesson of sincerity. And it does not need that we draw from this collocation the subtle suggestion that want of importunity and want of sincerity are what weaken the weapon of all-prayer, and render faint the heart of the Christian who wields it. We know that we do not pray always, and that we do not always pray.
I. Let us take up this matter of IMPORTUNITY in the outset. At first sight it gives perplexity to some students of the Bible. We must notice that Christ does not identify His Father, the “Hearer of Prayer,” with this judge in the parable in any sense whatsoever. The very point of the illustration turns upon his superiority. God is just, and this man was unjust. This petitioner was a lonely widow and a stranger; God was dealing with His own elect. The woman came uninvited; Christians are pressed with invitations to ask, and knock, and seek. The unjust judge never agreed to listen to the widow; God has promised, over and over again, that it shall be granted to those that ask. The judge may have had relations with this woman’s adversary which would complicate, and, in some way, commit him to an unnecessary quarrel in her behalf, if his office should be exercised in defence; God is in open and declared conflict, on His own account, with our adversary, and rejoices to defeat his machinations, and avenge His own chosen speedily.
Hence, the whole teaching of the story is directed towards our encouragement thus: If we would persist with a wicked judge that regarded nobody, God nor man, then surely we would press our prayers with God. What is the duty then? Simply, go on praying.
II. Let us move on to consider, in the second place, this matter of SINCERITY in prayer, suggested by the other parable. To men of the world it must be a subject of real wonder and surprise, to use no more disrespectful terms, why so many petitions offered by the people of God prove fruitless. To all this, Christians ought to be able to reply that prayer follows laws and respects intelligent conditions, just as every other part of God’s plan of redemption does. We are accustomed to say to each other that God always hears prayer. No, He does not. The wisest man that was ever inspired says distinctly, “He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination.” And in the New Testament the apostle explains the whole anomaly of failure thus: “Ye ask and receive not, because ye ask amiss.” For one thing, self-conceit destroys all sincerity in prayer. For another thing, spits against others destroys all sincerity in prayer. Listen to the Pharisee’s preposterous comparison of himself in the matter of money and merit with the publican almost out of sight there in the corner. Inconsistencies in life also destroy sincerity in prayer. Purity from evil is a prime condition of success. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
The duty of persevering in prayer
I. OUR DUTY. That which is here inculcated implies that we pray--
2. Occasionally. There are many particular occasions which require us to pray.
(1) Prosperity, that God may counteract its evil tendency (Proverbs 30:9).
(2) Adversity, that we may be supported under it (James 5:13).
(3) Times of public distress or danger, to avert the calamity (2 Chronicles 7:14).
3. Habitually. We should maintain a spiritual frame of mind. To pray thus is our duty; “We ought,” etc.
(1) It is a duty we owe to God. He, our Creator, Preserver, and Redeemer, has commanded it.
(2) We owe it also to our neighbour. The edification of Christ’s mystical body depends, not only on the union of every part with the head, but on the whole being fitly framed together, and on every joint supplying its proper nourishment (Ephesians 4:16 : Colossians 2:19). But if we be remiss in prayer, we shall be incapable of administering that benefit, which other members have a right to expect from us.
(3) We owe it to ourselves. A “spirit of supplication” is as necessary to the soul, as food to the body. Nor can we feel any regard for our souls, if we do not cultivate it.
II. THE DIFFICULTIES THAT ATTEND IT. When we set ourselves to the performance of it, we shall find difficulties--
1. Before we begin to pray. Worldly business may indispose our minds for this employment. Family cares may distract and dissipate our thoughts. Lassitude of body may unfit us for the necessary exertions. We may be disabled by an invincible hardness of heart. A want of utterance may also operate as a heavy discouragement.
2. While we are engaged in prayer. The world is never more troublesome than at such seasons. The flesh also, with its vilest imaginations will solicit our attention. Nor will Satan be backward to interrupt our devotions.
3. After we have concluded prayer. When we have prayed, we should expect an answer. But worldliness may again induce a forgetfulness of God. Impatience to receive the desired blessings may deject us. Ignorance of the method in which God answers prayer may cause us to disquiet ourselves with many ungrounded apprehensions. Unbelief may rob us of the benefits we might have received (James 1:6-7). Whatever obstructs God’s answers to prayer, disqualifies us for the future discharge of that duty. (Theological Sketch-book.)
The nature and duty of prayer
I. THE NATURE OF PRAYER.
1. An expression of our sense of God’s infinite superiority.
2. An expression of our dependence upon God.
3. A declaration of our obligation to God.
4. A declaration of our faith in God’s ability to grant us anything our circumstances may require. There are several things necessary to constitute true prayer, and which form its constituent parts.
(1) Faith is one essential.
(2) Sincerity is another ingredient in true prayer.
II. We notice THE DUTY OF PRAYER. Prayer is a duty, if we consider it--
1. As a Divine injunction.
2. It appears a duty, if we consider God as a prayer-hearing God.
3. It is a duty, if we consider the beneficial effects of prayer.
(1) Prayer brings great benefits to ourselves. It brings us into closer communion with Christ.
(2) Prayer is a powerful antidote to, and one of the most effectual safeguards against, worldly-mindedness.
(3) By prayer we get divinely enlightened.
(4) Prayer brings with it advancement in personal holiness.
(5) Prayer is a powerful stimulant to every Christian grace. He who lives in the habitual exercise of sincere and earnest prayer cannot remain in a lukewarm, inactive, lethargic state. (Essex Remembrancer.)
Men ought always to pray
1. Because the King wills it. Because it is an edict of eternal wisdom and truth, the command of absolute righteousness and justice, the direction of infinite goodness and love.
2. Because it is an instinct and faculty of our nature, part and parcel of our mental manhood; and as the all-wise Creator has endowed us with the power, and not only the power, but the tendency to pray, we cannot and do not fulfil His will, or rightly use our capabilities, unless we pray.
3. Because it is a privilege, a precious privilege conferred. The maker of the machine can mend and manage it; and He who created us--body, mind, and spirit--invites us to bring our bodily needs, hunger, thirst, aches, pains, and infirmities; our mental cares, griefs, doubts, perplexities, and depressions; our spiritual wants, fears, forebodings, sins, and weakness--to Him in prayer.
4. Because our state and condition is one of perpetual peril, and weakness, and need. The sin on our conscience condemns us, and we cannot undo it. We all get the heartache, and we cannot cure it. We can neither condone our offences, nor lighten our conscience, nor carry our sorrows, nor hush our complainings, nor dry our tears!
5. Because in the infinite love and mercy of God to poor sinners a new and living way hath been opened for us into the presence of God, so that not only doth the sinner gain a hearing, but he has an infinite guarantee that his prayers shall prosper, and his petitions shall be fulfilled.
6. Because our needs, our perils, our personal insufficiency, are “always” with us; because the throne of prayer is always accessible, and the Hearer of prayer is always willing; and because the power and privilege of prayer has a direct connection with the whole sphere of our daily life, and the whole circle of our daily needs.
7. Because no really earnest and reliant prayers can possibly be in vain. We are apt to faint in our petitionings if the gift we seek is long delayed. (J. J.Wray.)
The “ought” of Christ outweighs all the objections of infidelity, and is stronger than the adverse conclusions of a material science.
1. Prayer should be constant. “Can we, indeed,” says Augustine, “without ceasing bend the knee, bow the body, or lift up the hands?” If the attitude and the language of prayer were essential to its being truly offered, the command of Christ would seem to be exaggerated. But understand it as the soul’s attitude to God, and it is no exaggeration. “That soul,” says Dr. Donne, “which is ever turned toward God, prays sometimes when it does not know that it prays.” The testimony of the Christian father accords with this. After admitting that formal, oral prayer must have its pauses and intermissions, Augustine says, “There is another interior prayer without intermission, and that is the longing of the heart. Whatever else thou mayest be doing, if thou longest after the Sabbath of God, thou dost not intermit to pray.” Thus the whole life becomes, what Origen conceived the life of the Christian should be, “one great connected prayer.” The importance of constancy in it arises from the place it holds in man’s spiritual life. Prayer is to the soul what the nerves of the body are to the mind--its medium of communication with a world that else were unperceived and unrealized.
2. Prayer should be earnest. There is danger of our prayer degenerating into a dead form, or perfunctory service--worse than no praying at all. The simple remedy is to deepen the desire or sense of need which prompts to prayer, and is the essence of prayer. “If thou wishest not to intermit to pray,” says one of the Christian fathers, “see that thou do not intermit to desire. The coldness of love is the silence of the’ heart; the fervency of love is the cry of the heart.” This warmth of desire is the product of a clear persuasion of the value of prayer as a means of help and strength.
3. Another quality of true prayer is, patient confidence in God. “Shall not God avenge His own elect which cry day and night unto Him, though He bear long with them.” There are two sure and solid grounds of confidence. One is found in God’s righteous character, by which He is constrained to rectify wrong and establish the right; and the other is found in His positive love for the suppliant.
4. One other quarry should mark true prayer, namely, humility. (A. H.Currier.)
The necessity of praying always, and not fainting
Our Lord Jesus Christ, has kindly intimated to all that have business at the court of heaven the necessity of so managing themselves that they still hang on there, and not faint, whatever entertainment they meet with during the dependence of their process.
I. The first thing to be considered, is, OUR LORD’S KIND INTIMATION OF THIS WAY OF HIS FATHER’S COURT.
1. I shall show the import of Christ’s making this intimation to petitioners at His Father’s court.
(1) The darkness that is naturally on the minds of poor sinners, with respect to heaven’s management about them. We may say, as Jeremiah 5:4, “Surely these are poor, they are foolish: for they know not the way of the Lord, nor the judgment of their God.”
(2) Christ’s good-will to the sinner’s business going right there Exodus 28:29).
(3) That our Lord sees sinners are in hazard of fainting from the entertainment they may meet with during the dependence of their process Hebrews 12:3).
(4) That they that shall hang on, and not faint, shall certainly come speed at length.
2. The weight and moment of this intimation. This will appear, if it is considered in a fourfold light.
(1) Jesus Christ, who makes it, has experienced it in His own case. Now, if this was the manner with the great Petitioner, how can we expect it should fare otherwise with us?
(2) He is the great Prophet of heaven, whose office it is to reveal the manner of the court to poor sinners.
(3) He is the only Intercessor there, the Father’s Secretary, the Solicitor for poor sinners there.
II. The second thing to be considered, is, THE WAY OF THE COURT OF HEAVEN, IN TRYSTING PETITIONERS WITH SOME HARDSHIPS, DURING THE DEPENDENCE OF THEIR PROCESS. Here I shall give you--
1. A swatch of that way; and--
2. Some reasons of that way, whereby to account for it in a suitableness to the Divine perfections.
1. (1) Oft-times there is deep silence from the throne (Matthew 15:23).
(2) Oft-times they get a very angry-like answer. The woman of Canaan got a couple of them, one on the back of another: “But He answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs” (Matthew 15:24; Matthew 15:26).
(3) Disappointed expectations are a piece of very ordinary entertainment there: “We looked for peace, but no good came: and for a time of health, and behold trouble” (Jeremiah 8:15).
(4) Many a time, looking for an answer, Providence drives a course apparently just contrary to the granting of their petition; so is fulfilled that Psalms 65:5, “By terrible things in righteousness wilt Thou answer us, O God of our salvation.”
(5) Oft-times the Lord, instead of easing the petitioner, lays new burdens on him: “We looked for peace, but no good came; and for a time of health, and behold trouble” (Jeremiah 8:15). Instead of curing the old wound,there are new ones given.
2. (1) This way is taken with petitioners in the court of heaven; for thereby God is glorified, and His attributes more illustrated than otherwise they would be. In this view of it, Paul welcomes it in his own case, though it was hard to sense: “And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly, therefore, will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” 2 Corinthians 12:9).
(2) Hereby the state of petitioners is tried, and a plain difference constituted between hypocrites and the sincere: “He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13).
(3) Hereby the graces of believing petitioners are tried, both as to the reality and strength of them; particularly their faith and patience (1 Peter 1:6-7).
(4) Hereby believers are humbled, and taught that they hold of free grace. The exalting of grace is the great design of the whole contrivance of the gospel.
(5) This way is taken for honour of the word: “Thou hast magnified Thy word above all Thy name” (Psalms 138:2).
(6) It is taken to make them long to be home.
III. The third thing to be considered, is, THE DUTY OF THE PETITIONERS TO HANG ON, AND NOT TO FAINT, WHATEVER THEY MEET WITH. We may view it in these things following.
1. They must never lift their process from the court of heaven: “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life” (John 6:67-68).
2. They must never give over praying, but “pray always.” And Satan sometimes plies distressed souls to give up with it, as what they may see they will do no good with, for that God will not hear them. But that is a deceit of hell which ye must never yield to.
3. They must carry all their incident needs in new petitions to the same throne of grace, where the former petition may have been long lying, and still unanswered; and so pursue all together. The latter must not drive out the former, nor the former keep back the latter. It is one of the ways how the Lord keeps His people hanging about His hand without fainting, by sending them several loads above their burden; which loads He takes off soon at their request; and so makes them go under their burden the more easily. These short incident processes, that get a speedy answer, confirm their faith and hope in waiting on for the answer of the main.
4. They must continue in the faith of the promise, never quit the gripe of it; but trust and believe that it shall certainly be accomplished, though the wheels of providence should seem to drive out over it and in over it Romans 4:19-20).
1. If ye faint and give over, your suit is lost, ye have given up with it.
2. He is well worth the waiting on.
(1) Though He is infinitely above us, He has waited long on us.
(2) The longer you are called to wait for a mercy, ye will readily find it the more valuable when it comes.
(3) His time will be found the due time (Galatians 6:9); the best chosen time for the mercy’s coming; witness the time of Isaac’s birth.
(4) Ye shall be sure of some blessed of fallings, while ye wait on (Psalms 27:14).
3. They have waited long, that have lost all, by not having patience to wait a little longer (Exodus 32:1-35.; 1 Samuel 13:8; 1 Samuel 13:10). Therefore “let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” James 1:4); “for in due season ye shall reap, if ye faint not” Galatians 6:9). (T. Boston, D. D.)
Petitioners at the court of heaven encouraged; or, the happy issue of praying always, and not fainting
I. First, I SHALL SHOW WHAT IS THAT TREATMENT PETITIONERS MAY MEET WITH AT THE COURT OF HEAVEN, UNDER WHICH THEY WILL BE IN HAZARD OF FAINTING. I mentioned several particulars at another occasion; I offer now only three things in general.
1. The weight and pressure of their heavy case itself, whatever it is, may be long continued, notwithstanding all their addresses for help.
2. There may be no appearance of relief (Psalms 74:9).
3. They may get incident weights laid on them, as a load above their burden (Psalms 69:26). These are like drops poured into a full cup, ready to cause it run over; like smart touches on a broken leg, inclining one readily to faint.
II. The second thing to be spoke to, is, WHY PETITIONERS ARE IN HAZARD OF FAINTING FROM SUCH TREATMENT AT THE COURT OF HEAVEN.
1. Natural weakness. “All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field” (Isaiah 40:6). On this very view the Lord “pitiesHis children” (Psalms 103:13-14).
2. Conscience of guilt: “My wounds stink, and are corrupt; because of my foolishness” (Psalms 38:5-6). Guilt is a mother of fears, and fears cause fainting.
3. Unacquaintedness with the methods of sovereignty: “Thy way is in the sea, and Thy path in the great waters, and Thy footsteps are not known” Psalms 77:19).
4. A strong bias to unbelief and walking by sense, quite contrary to our duty and interest (2 Corinthians 5:7). We are apt to be impressed more with what we see and feel in Providence, than what we hear from the Word.
III. The third thing to be considered is, WHEREFORE THE LORD GIVES SUCH TREATMENT TO ANY OF HIS PETITIONERS. Negatively.
1. It is not for mere will and pleasure. Satan will be ready to suggest this, and pose the party with such questions as these, For what use is all this delay?
2. It is not because He has no pity on you, nor concern for you under your burden.
3. It is not to signify to you that you should give it over, and trouble Him no more with your petition; as the hasty unbelieving heart is ready to take it, and to give over duty because there is no sensible appearance of success: “I said I will not make mention of Him nor speak any more in His Jeremiah 20:9).
4. Lastly, It is not because He is resolved not to hear you at any rate, cry as long as ye will. But positively, in general, it is for holy, wise, becoming ends; it is necessary for His glory and your case.
1. It is for the honour of the man Christ. It contributes to it--
(1) In that thereby the petitioners are conformed to His image, in the suffering part thereof.
(2) Thereby He gets the more employment as the great Intercessor, and is more earnestly applied to than otherwise He would be. Longsome pleas give the advocates much ado; and longsome processes at the court of heaven bring much business to the Mediator, and so much honour.
(3) It affords Him the most signal occasion of displaying His power in combating with and baffling the old serpent, next to that He had on the 2 Corinthians 12:9).
2. To magnify the promise.
3. To keep up the mercy, till that time come, that, all things considered, will be the absolutely best time for bestowing it (John 11:14-15).
IV. The fourth thing to be spoke to is, WHAT IS THE IMPORT OF THIS INTIMATION MADE FOR THIS END? It imports--
1. That sinners are ready to take delays at the court of heaven for denials.
2. That importunity and resolute hanging on, and repeated addresses for the supply of the same need, are very welcome and acceptable to Christ and His Father. There is no fear of excess here; the oftener ye come, the more resolute ye are in your hanging on, the more welcome.
3. That the faith of being heard at length, is necessary to keep one hanging on without fainting (Psalms 27:13).
4. That the hearing to be got at length at the court of heaven is well worth the waiting on, be it ever so long. It will more than counterbalance all the fatigue of the process, that is kept longest in dependence.
V. The fifth thing in the method is, THE CERTAINTY OF SUCH PETITIONERS BEING HEARD AT LENGTH.
1. They are doubtless God’s own children, elect believers, whatever they think of themselves (Luke 17:7).
2. The nature, name, and promise of God, joins to insure it. He is good and gracious in His nature (Exodus 34:6-9).
3. Such prayers are the product of His own Spirit in them, and therefore He cannot miss to be heard (James 5:16).
4. Our Lord Jesus has given His word on it, and so has impawned His honour they shall be heard: “I tell you that He will avenge them speedily.”
VI. Sixthly, How THEY SHALL BE HEARD TO THEIR HEART’S CONTENT.
1. They shall at length see that their prayers have been accepted. I do not say they shall at length be accepted, but they shall see they have been so.
2. They shall get an answer of their petitions to their heart’s satisfaction Matthew 15:28). “The needy shall not always be forgotten: the expectation of the poor shall not perish for ever” (Psalms 9:18).
3. They shall be fully satisfied as to the long delay, and the whole steps of the procedure, however perplexing they were before (Revelation 15:3).
4. They shall get it with increase according to the time they waited on, and the hardships they sustained during the dependence of the process. The fruit of the promise, the longer it is a-ripening, the more bulky it is.
5. Lastly, their spiritual enemies that flew thick and strong about them in the time of the darkness, shall be scattered at the appearance of this light 1 Samuel 2:5).
VII. Seventhly, How IT SHALL BE SPEEDILY, NOTWITHSTANDING THE LONG DELAY.
1. It shall be speedily in respect of the weight and value of it when it comes: so that the believer looking on the return of his petition, with an eye of faith perceiving the worth of it, may wonder it is come upon so short onwaiting (2 Corinthians 4:17).
2. It shall come in the most seasonable nick of time it can come in Galatians 6:9), when it may come to the best advantage for the honour of God and their good: and that which comes in the best season, comes speedily. To everything there is a season; so fools’ haste is no speed.
3. It shall come as soon as they are prepared for it (Psalms 10:17).
4. It shall not tarry one moment beyond the due and appointed time Habakkuk 2:3).
5. Lastly, it will be surprising, as a glaring light to one brought out of a dungeon, though he was expecting it. (T. Boston, D. D.)
The necessity of prayer
I. With regard to the necessity of prayer, THE GERM OF THIS AS OF OTHER REVEALED DOCTRINES, IS TO BE FOUND IN OUR NATURE, and affords one illustration of the truth of that profound exclamation, “O testimony of a soul, by nature Christian!” Of moral truth there is an inward engraving, a light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. “The virtues,” says a modern writer, “were like plants half developed in some gloomy shade, till Christ poured His sunshine upon them, and made them flourish with luxuriance.” It is important, then, to ground the necessity of prayer on the dictates of nature as well as on the teaching of Revelation, thereby resting it on a double authority, each of which lends support to the other. For anything to be original in our nature, it must possess certain properties; in looking back to the beginning of our race it ‘will present itself without any external origin, and it will continue to exist under conditions most diverse and at all times. We examine, then, the history of the past, we take up the book which contains the first records of our race in order to discover whether this communing with God existed from the first--to see what the first human souls did. All the elements of prayer were present in Adam’s intercourse with his Maker; man, rational and dependent; God, Almighty, Omniscient, and Good; and--communications between the two. We trace the instinct of prayer continuing in fallen man, else it might have been supposed that it was a part of his supernatural equipment, and had no foundation in his natural life. In Adam’s sons this instinct survived; Cain and Abel offered sacrifices, and sacrifices are the outward expression of prayer; there was an ascent of the mind to God, a real ascent at least in one case, for “by faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain.” In an unfallen state, the instinct of the soul was to turn to the Author of its life, with joy and thankfulness; in a fallen state, the instinct of the soul is to turn to Him through its need of pardon and its sense of weakness; but in both states there is the instinct to turn to Him, though the leading reasons for doing so may be different. Looking back, then, into the past by the light of the only record which can safely guide us, we find the practice of prayer from the first without any external command or origin, and therefore it preserves one mark of an instinct of nature. But an instinct to be acknowledged must not only be able to claim antiquity on its side but also universality. That which is a genuine part of human nature will always be a part of human nature. If that which marked human life in its earlier stages, disappears in times of advanced civilization and culture, it may be doubted whether it was a pure instinct of our nature, and be attributed either on the one side to an original revelation or on the other to a defective or barbarous condition. It must, however, be admitted that in matters of religion, the mark of antiquity in an instinct has a special value; we can see in it “natural religion” before it has been tampered with. If we want to learn the habits of an animal, we must see it in its native freedom, and not only after it has been trained and domesticated. The instinct of prayer, however, does not lack the second property, universality; we find it both in the highest and lowest states of civilization, in places and races widely sundered both in position and circumstance. If we examine the practices of barbarous nations; if we turn to the ancient religions of the East; if we look at Greece and Rome in the plenitude of their intellectual power, we find that in some form or shape the necessity of prayer and homage to a superior Power is admitted, and in no nation is the instinct entirely obliterated. In the root of human nature there is a sense of dependency, and a sense of guilt; natural religion is based on these two, the correlatives of which are prayer and atonement--the actions respectively proper to the frail, and to the sinful. It is useless to speak of the instinct of prayer as of something imported into our nature: that which is simply imported does not make its home so fixed and sure, that no lapse of time or change of circumstances has the power to dislodge it. I have dwelt at some length on the instinctive character of prayer, because on it I first ground its obligation; we ought to pray out of deference to an instinct with which God has endowed us, for by our higher intuitions and instincts He expresses His will, and to neglect to act in accordance with them, is to disobey His voice within us. Moreover, this instinct of prayer is an imperious one; it is one which will assert itself, even when it has been set aside, and its presence denied. There are moments in life when men are superior to their own principles, and human systems fail to silence the deep cry of the heart; when men pray who have denied the power of prayer. “That men ought always to pray,” then, is the teaching of nature, and prayer as a matter of natural religion is an express duty.
II. We pass now from the sphere of the natural to the super-natural, from nature to grace, TO FIND ANOTHER BASIS FOR THE NECESSITY OF PRAYER.
Prayer meets us with a two-fold claim in the domain of revealed religion; it is necessary as a means of grace, it is necessary also as a fulfilment of an express command of God; these are two sides, the one objective, the other subjective, of the same truth. It will be observed, that the necessity of prayer viewed in this connection is derived from the prior necessity of grace. “Every man is held to pray in order to obtain spiritual goods, which are not given, except from heaven; wherefore they are not able to be procured in any other way but by being thus sought for.” In the New Testament, that grace is a necessity for the supernatural life is an elemental truth. Grace is to that life what the water is to the life of the fish, or the air to our natural life--something absolutely indispensable. “Being justified freely by His grace.” “By grace ye are saved.” “By the grace of God I am what I am; and His grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain.” “Grow in grace.” “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it.” In following the operations of grace from the commencement of the spiritual life to its end, five effects have been enumerated--it heals the soul, it produces a good will, it enables the good which was willed to be brought about in action, it makes perseverance in good possible, it leads to glory. Thus grace is, from first to last, the invisible nourishment of the soul’s life, and prayer is the means in man’s own power of gaining grace; it is through prayer that the different effects of grace are wrought in us. We ask God for spiritual healing--“Heal my soul, for I have sinned against Thee.” “O cleanse Thou me from my secret faults.” We need Divine help for resisting temptations--“When Christ was baptized and prayed, the heavens were opened, showing that after Baptism prayer is necessary to man in two ways, to overcome the inward proneness to evil, and the outward enticements of the world and the devil.” Temptations to be resisted with sanctifying effect must be resisted in the power of prayer; slight temptations may perhaps be vanquished by natural effort, or overthrown by an opposite vice, but such victories are not registered in heaven. Again, in order to advance in the spiritual life, in the development of virtues, prayer is a necessity--the apostles prayed, “Lord, increase our faith.” The increase of the interior life simply consists in the growth of different virtues and graces, and these virtues are formed by the combined action of grace and free-will; these are the two factors, the raw material so to speak, from which the fabric is manufactured. A continual supply of grace is needed for the increase of each virtue, and therefore prayer is needed, not only in general, but also with definite reference to the support of the virtue which we have to exercise, or in which we are most conscious of defect. He says “prayer and grace are of the same necessity; grace is necessary for salvation, hence it ought to follow that prayer also is necessary; but why should prayer be ordained in relation to eternity, unless it he for the sake of obtaining grace?” There are, however, two limits to the power of prayer which we must not forget in its relation to grace. Prayer is itself dependent on grace in the spiritual life, and an act of prayer for grace is a correspondence with a grace which has been already given. “The Spirit,” St. Paul says, “also helpeth our infirmities; for we know not what we should pray for as we ought.” “Grace,” St. Chrysostom asserts, “precedes our prayers always.” The good thought or desire is a touch from another world; the angels of God descended as well as ascended on “Bethel’s Stair.” The beginnings of life, whether natural or supernatural, are from God; but the continuation and increase of life depend also on human co-operation. Again, prayer as a means of grace must not take the place of Sacraments. The revelation which proclaims the necessity of the one, also asserts the obligation of the other. Prayer is the respiration of the soul; Sacraments, its medicine and food; both alike necessary, though the one constantly, the other occasionally.
III. The obligation to pray is NOT, however, TO BE VIEWED SIMPLY IN REFERENCE TO OUR OWN BENEFIT. Prayer is also an act of religion, an act of obedience to a Divine precept which we should be bound to perform, even if no grace came to us from its performance. This objective view of the necessity of prayer is one less familiar, but hardly less important. Now from this doctrine flow two results. The omission and neglect of prayer involve not only a loss of grace, but constitute a distinct sin; it is a sin against religion, and against charity. Religion is a moral virtue, whose province it is to show due honour and reverence to Almighty God; to cease to pray therefore, is to fail to exercise a moral virtue, and that the highest. What justice is towards the creature, religion is towards God--that by which we seek to give Him His due. To neglect prayer, is also to sin against charity. Charity presents three objects--God, ourselves, others--all of whom are to be loved: but when prayer is omitted we fail in the exercise of the love of God, for we desire to hold converse with those whom we love; the love of our neighbour we fail in also, for he needs our prayers; and the love of our soul we fail in, by the neglect of a duty upon which our spiritual life depends. It remains for us to notice when this precept of prayer is binding, so that the omission of it becomes a sin. When Christ says, “men ought always to pray,” it is evident that He does not mean that no other duty should be fulfilled; but that at all times, whatever we are doing, the spirit of prayer should be preserved.
IV. We have now to view THE NECESSITY OF PRAYER AS A TRANSFORMING INFLUENCE. Those who do not admit that prayer has power with God, yet acknowledge that it has power with us, and allow that it possesses a reflex influence on those who use it. The soul by communing with God becomes like God, receives from His perfections supplies of light, of power, and love according to its needs. The subjective effects of prayer are as manifold as the Divine perfections. It is said that constant intercourse between creatures causes them to resemble one another, not only in disposition and habits, but even in features. Old painters always made St. John like unto his Master in face. They instinctively imagined, that closeness of communion between the beloved disciple and his Lord had occasioned a likeness in features and expression. The first basis of its obligation will remind us that we must not regard our nature as entirely corrupt, and its voice as always misleading, but that in it, fallen as it is, there are vestiges of its original greatness, and intuitions and instincts which are to us an inward revelation of the mind and will of God. The second reason for the necessity of prayer, will explain perhaps the cause of weakness in the hour of temptation--our lack of grace. Further, we must be careful to regard prayer not only as a means of grace but as a duty, and thus fulfil it without reference to our own delight or profit in the act. If, again, we complain of our earthliness and worldliness, and the difficulty which we have in fetching our motives of action from a higher sphere, may it not be that we have failed to realize the importance of prayer in its subjective effect upon character, and have thought to gain a ray of heavenly brightness without the habitual communing with God upon the Mount? (W. H. Hutchings, M. A.)
Necessity of prayer
Prayer is natural to men. The knowledge of our own weakness is soon forced upon us, but with this conviction there comes another, the sense of dependence on One--great, loving, and wise. Out of these springs the necessity of prayer, which is the language of the frail to the mighty--the confession of need, and the instinct of trust. Every known religion attests this irresistible impulse to pray. Men, indeed, will be found to deny, or to undervalue the evidence of this instinct of prayer; but there are times which wring prayer from prayerless lips; times of danger, when all classes find prayer the most appropriate and natural utterance of their lips; times of heartfear, when the whole spirit sends up from the depths of confusion and darkness an exceeding bitter cry, wherein terror and doubt mingle with the unquenchable instinct of prayer; times when, perhaps, death is approaching, and the dark, unexplored confines of the other world begin to loom vast and vague upon an awakening conscience, and the firm citadel of stoutly maintained unbelief is swept away, and prayer rushes forth in such a despairing shriek as burst from the lips of Thistlewood--“O God, if there be a God, save my soul, if I have a soul!” It is not the approach of danger or the feeling of fear only which calls forth prayer. The irresistible disposition is experienced under the influence of feelings widely different from fear. The contemplation of the universe, and the incomprehensible Being who embraces all things, so wrought upon the mind of Rousseau that, in the restlessness of his transports, he would exclaim, “O great Being! O great Being!” The majesty and splendour of nature, brightening and kindling under the beams of the sun, rising upon the rocky heights of Jura, and circling the sky with flame, filled the soul of Voltaire with such awe that he uncovered his head, and, kneeling, he cried, “I believe--I believe in Thee! O mighty God, I believe!” If the language of prayer is thus natural to all men, and forced at times from reluctant lips, it is natural, with an inexpressible sweetness, to hearts accustomed to communion with God. The cultivated instinct becomes a rich enjoyment, and an unutterable relief. The high duty becomes the highest privilege. (Bishop Boyd Carpenter.)
Times unfavourable to prayer
There are times when prayer is natural to the most careless; but there are also times when all things tend to deaden the spirit of prayer in the most thoughtful and prayerful of God’s children. Such times are times of great and extensive activity, when pleasure is busy, and even enjoyments are full of toil. In the ceaseless industry of business and gaiety, amusement becomes hard work. Hard work brings weariness, and weariness is followed by an indisposition for any exertion of the spirit. Such, too, are times of a widespread feeling of uneasiness, when a vague apprehension seems to have seized hold upon the minds of all classes, and a strange sense of insecurity begets an unreasoning and universally felt fear. Such are times of noisy religionism and demonstrative piety, when the minds of men are galvanized into an unnatural activity through the spirit of an unwholesome rivalry; when convictions are degraded into opinions, and toil dwindles into talk, and organized Christian effort is strangled in discussion; when an impracticable tenacity of trifles and a stupendous disregard of principles throws the appearance of vitality over a degenerate and dead pietism. In such times the lulling influences of a strained activity, an undefined terror; and a selfasserting, heart-distracting zealotism steal over the spirits of the most watchful of Christ’s servants, and often diminish insensibly their vigilance and earnestness in prayer. A convergence of such times into one period Christ described, and on the description He founded His warning that “men ought always to pray.” (Bishop Boyd Carpenter.)
One day, returning home from a morning meeting of the Holiness Convention, I came across a little boy standing at a house door, and crying bitterly. I tried to comfort him, but he only cried the more. Just then his mother came out, and when I inquired what was wrong with him, I found he was crying because his mother would not give him his breakfast before the right time. Similarly, we, as God’s children, often make bitter repinings, and have hard thoughts about the Lord, because He does not answer our prayers at the time, and in the way that we expect. His ways are not as our ways, nor is His time always our time; but that in some way or other, and in the right way, and at His own time--not a moment too soon, not a moment too late--He will perform that which is good for us and to His glory. (J. G. Forbes.)
Constant exercise in prayer
When a pump is frequently used, but little pains are necessary to obtain water; the water pours out at the first stroke, because it is high; but if the pump has not been used for a long time the water gets low, and when you want it you must pump a long while, and the water comes only after great efforts. It is so with prayer. If we are instant in prayer, every little circumstance awakens the disposition to pray, and desire and words are always ready. But if we neglect prayer it is difficult for us to pray.
Shall we pray, or shall we not?
A distinguished man of science, an Englishman, was reported in the newspapers the other day to have said to an assembly in the American capital, “I am not a praying man.” He was not bemoaning himself, or making confession of sin, or even uttering regret. If he did not speak boastfully, he certainly spoke without any sense of shame, and apparently with some degree of superiority over the commonplace and lag-behind people who still think it right to pray. Another distinguished man, an Englishman likewise, not a man of science, but a man of profound thought, was asked on his deathbed how he felt, and his reply was, “I can pray, and that’s a great thing.” In his judgment prayer was the highest service to which a whole man can give himself; not something to be left to the ignorant and feeble, but to be risen to, and aspired after by the greatest intellect and the most illumined mind. Which of the two was right? Which of them possessed the truest conception of the whole duty and privilege of man?
I. Let us see WHAT MAY, JUSTIFIABLY OR UNJUSTIFIABLY, INDUCE A MAN TO TAKE THE POSITION INVOLVED IN THE AVOWAL, “I am not a praying man.”
1. He may take this position who is conscious of no want which scientific study and material good cannot satisfy. But what shall we say of such a man as this? Is he a true type of our common humanity, or of our most educated humanity? Or, rather, is he not less than a man--only part of a man? The intellect is not the soul, and intellectual pleasure cannot satisfy the soul, or, if there be some souls which profess to be satisfied with it, it only proves how untrue souls may be to their own highest capacities.
2. He may take this position who is separated from mankind by the non-possession of anything of the nature of a religious faculty. An old Greek said, “You may find peoples without cities, without arts, without theatres; but you can find no people without an altar and a God.” An Englishman, not a believer in Christianity, said that upon accurate search, religion and faith appear the only ultimate differences of man”--those which distinguish him from a brute.
3. He who has ascertained that God cannot, consistently with His own laws, or will not, for some other reason, hear prayer, may take the position implied in the saying, “I am not a praying man.” But where is such a man to be found? To know that God cannot answer prayer consistently with His own laws, implies a knowledge which is properly Divine.
4. He who would justify his position must be conscious that he has no sins to be forgiven. And if any one should aver that his conscience acquits him, we should say (1 John 1:8; 1 John 1:10).
5. The man who would justify himself in saying, “I am not a praying man,” must have already attained all moral excellence, or be conscious of power to attain it by his unaided efforts. In this matter we discern the blindness that has fallen on men. They can see very clearly the power that is needed to produce physical results, but not that which is needed to produce moral. And in this they only prove how much sense has acquired dominion over them.
II. THE REASONS FOR NOT PRAYING WHICH MEN, IF HONEST ABOUT THEMSELVES, WOULD AVOW.
1. Prayer is distasteful to them. They have no heart for it. This is a sure sign of being spiritually out of health. Seek the aid of the Healer of souls.
2. They feel that prayer is inconsistent with their habits of life. Then change those habits. “Wash you, make you clean.” (J. Kennedy, D. D.)
Hindrances to prayer
1. There Is the objection that, God having infinite wisdom to determine what is best, and almighty power to accomplish His decree, there is nothing for His creatures to do but submit with reverence and trust. If prayer cannot change His mind, it is useless, and, moreover, an impertinence; if it could, it would be a loss, since it would involve a sacrifice of greater wisdom to less--a result which can only be conceived of as a punishment. The answer to this is, that God in giving human beings a real freedom, a power to choose whether certain events shall be one way or the other, has really, so far as we can see, for wise purposes, limited His own. In short, there is a margin of greater or less good, of manageable error, of permissible evil, which God can set apart for our freedom to exercise itself in, without the world escaping His control. The premise, therefore, from which this objection starts, that “whatever is, is best,” is not true in the large sense of those words. Whatever is best under all the circumstances, under the circumstances of our crime, negligence, or error, but not the best that might have been had we reached forth our hand to take what lay within our power. It may be better if we do not pray, that we should miss some blessings God has in reserve for those who seek Him in love and trust, but this is not the best that might have been. It is the will of God in relation to our negligence; but our trust and importunity would have called into action a higher and more generous law of His loving nature.
2. The next objection is that of the imagination filled and overpowered by the thought of the vastness of the material universe. “Do you suppose,” men ask, “that a petty, individual life, a worm crawling on the surface of one of His smallest planets, can be an object of particular consideration and interest to the Almighty Creator?” Why not? Is the Almighty Ruler compelled to distinguish between imperial and provincial cares like an earthly monarch? Because He is here with some suffering infant, taking its inarticulate moan into His mighty and pitiful heart, is He less in the planet Neptune, or is His power withdrawn from the glowing masses of future worlds? There is no egotism in thinking that man--any man--is more important in the Divine regard than a mass of matter, however long it has lain under the Creator’s eye, and however much it may impose upon our imagination.
3. Practical hindrances to prayer are found where the speculative barriers we have been considering do not exist. Mental indolence is one of the greatest of these hindrances, and mental indolence is a much more prevalent and serious fault than bodily indolence. No one can really pray without using his understanding, engaging his affections, and making an effort of will. Prayer is work, and hard work. We must go to the Saviour, and ask His aid. “Lord, teach us to pray.” (E. W. Shalders, B. A.)
Belief in prayer the outcome of need realized
As to the so-called scientific challenge to prove the efficacy of prayer by the result of simultaneous petition. A God that should fail to hear, receive, attend to one single prayer, the feeblest or worst, I cannot believe in; but a God that would grant every request of every man or every company of men, would be an evil God--that is no God, but a demon. That God should hang in the thought-atmosphere, like a windmill, waiting till men enough should combine and send out prayer in sufficient force to turn His outspread arms, is an idea too absurd. God waits to be gracious, not to be tempted. “But if God is so good as you represent Him, and if He knows all that we need, and better far than we do ourselves, why should it be necessary to ask Him for anything?” I answer, What if He knows prayer to be the thing we need first and most? What if the main object in God’s idea of prayer be the supplying of our great, our endless need--the need of Himself? What if the good of all our smaller and lower needs lies in this, that they help to drive us to God? Hunger may drive the runaway child home, and he may or may not be fed at once, but he needs his mother more than his dinner. Communion with God is the one need of the soul beyond all other need; prayer is the beginning of that communion, and some need is the motive of that prayer. Our wants are for the sake of our coming into communion with God, our eternal need. In regard, however, to the high necessities of our nature, it is in order that He may be able to give that God requires us to ask--requires by driving us to it--by shutting us up to prayer. For how can He give into the soul of a man what it needs, while that soul cannot receive it? The ripeness for receiving is the asking. The blossom-cup of the soul, to be filled with the heavenly dews, is its prayer. When the soul is hungry for the light, for the truth--when its hunger has waked its higher energies, thoroughly roused the will, and brought the soul into its highest condition, that of action, its only fitness for receiving the things of God, that action is prayer. Then God can give; then He can be as He would towards the man: for the glory of God is to give Himself. We thank thee, Lord Christ, for by Thy pain alone do we rise towards the knowledge of this glory of Thy Father and our Father. (G. Macdonald, LL. D.)
The adaptability of nature to prayer
A waterfall is a scientific object only in a very rude way. But when every drop of its waters has been manipulated and controlled by the human will till the mills of a Lowell or a Lawrence display from every spindle and shuttle the presence of human intelligence and power, then the untamed river begins to sparkle with the brilliancy of science, and to murmur its praises from every ripple. That is, the more mind-power is mingled with matter-power, the more scientific is the compound result. The uniformity of the waterfall is far less scientific, than the diversity of the waterwheel. Automatic mechanisms, machines that adjust themselves to change, throwing themselves out of gear at the least obstacle or breakage, ringing a bell as a signal of distress, increasing or diminishing combustion, changing position, as in the case of a lathe to meet all the convolutions of a gun-stock, have a far higher scientific character than a carpenter’s drawing-knife, or a housewife’s spinning-wheel, which display less of diversity and more of uniformity. It was once supposed that the solar system is so balanced that the loss of a grain of weight, or the slightest change of motion, would dislocate and destroy the whole system. It was a higher science, not a lower, that has since taught us that exact uniformity is by no means necessary to the stability of the system, but that oscillation and change are fully provided for in the original plan. The principle holds good that the modifications of a mind power introduced into a material mechanism advance its scientific rank, and increase rather than diminish the proof of the presence of law and order in its working. I was riding, a few years since, about one of the rural cities of the State of New York with one of the most distinguished preachers at the metropolis. We were speaking of the curious fallacies involved in Tyndall’s famous prayer-gauge conundrum. Just then we drove up to the city water-works. I told him that if he would go in with me I thought we could find a good illustration of the manner in which God may answer prayer without interfering with any of the laws of nature. The point, let us remember, is, that the power of an intelligent will can be so introduced among the forces of matter as to have perfect uniformity in the working of those forces, while diversity appears in their results. The building we entered was furnished with a Holley engine. As we stood by the steam gauge we observed constant and considerable changes in the amount of steam produced. As there was no cause apparent in or about the engine itself, we asked for an explanation. “That,” said the engineer, “is done by the people in the city. As they open their faucets to draw the water the draft upon our fires is increased. As they close them, it is diminished. The smallest child can change the movements of our engine according to his will. It was the design of the maker to adjust his engine so that it should respond perfectly to the needs of the people, be they great or small.” Just then the bell rung, the furnace-drafts flew open, the steam rose rapidly in the gauge, the engineer flew to his post, the ponderous machinery accelerated its movement. We heard a general alarm of fire. “How is that?” we asked. “That,” he said, “was the opening of some great fire-plug.” “And how about the bell? What did that ring for?” “That,” he said, “was to put us on the alert. You saw that the firemen began to throw on coal at once. A thousand things have to be looked after when there is a great fire. It won’t do to leave the engine to itself at such times.” In a moment there came a lull. The great pumps moved more deliberately. In another minute a roar of steam told us the safety-valve had opened, and soon the great engine had returned to its ordinary, sleepy motion. “Wonderful,” said my friend; “the whole thing seems alive. I almost thought it would start and run to the fire itself.” “I think this one of the grandest triumphs of science,” said the engineer, as he bade me good-bye. The illustration is a good one, but others of the same sort are at our hand on every side. The uniformity of nature is, in fact, one of its lesser attributes. Its great glory is in its wonderful adaptability. Its greatest glory is its unlimited capacity to receive mind-forces, and to mingle them with its matter-forces in perfect harmony, and in infinite variety of combination. If human science has been able to do so much to overcome the eventless uniformity of nature in its wildness and crudeness, shall we deny to the Divine omniscience the power to effect the slightest modifications necessary in answering the prayers of His children? Nay, shall we deny to Him the power so to adjust the original mechanism of the universe that prayer with its appropriate action may directly modify that mechanism, as the child’s thirst and his little hand can open a faucet and change the action of the great water-works miles away. Or, is it at all unscientific to believe that other intelligent agents may, in answer to prayer, be “caused to fly swiftly,” as the little bell aroused the engineer. Or can science offer any valid objection if we say that God Himself holds the forces of nature in His own hand; waiting, for high moral reasons, “to be inquired of by the house of Israel to do these things for them “? (Prof. J. P. Gulliver.)
Prayer answered after death
Let me tell you that if any of you should die with your prayers unanswered, you need not conclude that God has disappointed you. I have heard that a certain godly father bad the unhappiness to be the parent of some five or six most graceless sons. All of them as they grew up imbibed infidel sentiments, and led a libidinous life. The father who had been constantly praying for them, and was a pattern of every virtue, hoped at least that in his death he might be able to say a word that should move their hearts. He gathered them to his bedside, but his unhappiness in dying was extreme, for be lost the light of God’s countenance, and was beset with doubts and fears, and the last black thought that haunted him was, “Instead of my death being a testimony for God, which will win my dear sons, I die in such darkness and gloom that I fear I shall confirm them in their infidelity, and lead them to think that there is nothing in Christianity at all.” The effect was the reverse. The sons came round the grave at the funeral, and when they returned to the house, the eldest son thus addressed his brothers:--“My brothers, throughout his lifetime, our father often spoke to us about religion, and we have always despised it, but what a sermon his deathbed has been to us! for if he who served God so well and lived so near to God found it so hard a thing to die, what kind of death may we expect ours to be who have lived without God and without hope?” The same feeling possessed them all, and thus the father’s death had strangely answered the prayers of his life through the grace of God. You cannot tell but what, when you are in glory, you should look down from the windows of heaven and receive a double heaven in beholding your dear sons and daughters converted by the words you left behind. I do not say this to make you cease pleading for their immediate conversion, but to encourage you. Never give up prayer, never be tempted to cease from it. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Prayer is manly
“Men ought to pray.” Let none misunderstand us when we lay stress on the word “men.” Of course, Christ does not mean one sex merely; He immediately afterwards speaks of “a certain widow.” His reference is to the human race at large. We are assured by Paul that in Him there is “neither male nor female.” Nevertheless, we eagerly take advantage of the word thus used by our Saviour that we may affirm and maintain the manliness of prayer. The assertion is far from unnecessary, and every one who is acquainted with public opinion will, we think, agree with us. Is there not a notion abroad that prayer is a somewhat feeble, sentimental, effeminate pursuit? Are we not often reminded by travellers on the continent of the fact that churches and cathedrals are chiefly filled by women? Sandy Mackaye, in “Alton Locke,” describes a certain congregation as made up of “babies and bonnets,” and we know what the inference is. Dr. J. Martineau felicitously speaks of those who regard it “a fond superstition and womanly weakness to ask God anything.” Don’t we all recollect the account given of Tom Brown when, on arriving at school, he was pelted, chaffed, and ridiculed, because he kneeled beside his bed? Perhaps the last-named incident is more significant than any or the whole of the preceding ones, since there is nothing about which boys are so ambitious as to seem manly. The occurrence is, therefore, a feather which, as it flies, shows the way of the wind. The idea that prayer is unworthy of us as men is utterly unreasonable and untrue. Is it not manly to do right? No one disputes it. We get our word virtue from the Latin vir, a man; to be moral is to be manly. By parity of argument, to do right generally must be manly; prayer is right, God would not will it were it not; therefore it is manly. (T. R. Stevenson.)
Remember, you can pray for any need--for lengthened life, as Hezekiah did; for help, as Daniel did; for light, as Bartimeus did; for mercy, as David did; for rain, as Elijah did; for a son, as Hannah did; for grace, as Paul did. You can pray, too, anywhere; in the deep, like Jonah; on the sea or the house-top, like Peter; on your bed, like Hezekiah; in the mountain, like Jesus; in the wilderness, like Hagar; in the street, like Jairus; in a cave, like David; on the cross, like the dying thief. You can pray, too, anyhow; short, like Peter and the publican; long, like Moses at the consecration of the Tabernacle, or Solomon at the dedication of the Temple. You can pray in silence, as Hannah did in the Temple; in your secret thoughts, as Nehemiah did before Darius; or aloud, like the Syro-Phenician woman; in tears, like Magdalen; in groans, or songs, as David did. You can pray any time. In the morning, like David; at noon, like Daniel; at midnight, like Silas; in childhood, like Samuel; in youth, like Timothy; in manhood, like the centurion; in age, like Simeon; in sickness, like Job; or in death, like Jacob and the dying Christ. And all of them were heard by the Hearer of prayer. I pray you, learn to pray! Link yourselves to the throne of God. Prayer will stand you in good stead every day of your mortal life! will make you joyful in the hour of death; and by the power of prayer you shall scale the mount of God! Pray! (J. D. Wray.)
Perseverance in prayer: or, strike again
“God’s seasons are not at your heel: If the first stroke of the flint doth not bring forth the fire, you must strike again. That is to say, God will hear prayer, but He may not answer it at the time which we in our own minds have appointed; He will reveal Himself to our seeking hearts, but not just when and where we have settled in our own expectations. Hence the need of perseverence and importunity in supplication. In the days of flint and steel and brimstone matches we had to strike and strike again, dozens of times, before we could get a spark to live in the tinder; and we were thankful enough if we succeeded at last. Shall we not be as persevering and hopeful as to heavenly things? We have more certainty of success in this business than we had with our flint and steel, for we have God’s promise at our back. Never let us despair. God’s time for mercy will come; yea, it has come, if our time for believing has arrived. Ask in faith, nothing wavering; but never cease from petitioning because the king delays to reply. Strike the steel again. Make the sparks fly and have your tinder ready: you will get a light before long.
Answers to prayer
In reply to the question, “What place has prayer for temporal blessings in your system of natural law in the spiritual world?” Professor Drummond, as reported, said, in one of his talks at Lakeview:--A large, splendidly equipped steamship sailed out from Liverpool for New York. Among the passengers were a little boy and girl, who were playing about the deck, when the boy lost his ball overboard. He immediately ran to the captain and shouted, “Stop the ship; my ball is overboard!” The captain smiled pleasantly, but said, “Oh no, my boy; I cannot stop the ship, with all these people, just to get a rubber ball.” The boy went away grumbling, and confided to the little girl that it was his opinion the captain didn’t stop the ship because he couldn’t. He believed the ship was wound up some way in Liverpool, and she just had to run, day and night, until she ran down. A day or so afterward the children were playing on deck again, when the little girl dropped her doll down into the engine-room, and she supposed it, too, had gone overboard. She said, “I’ll run and ask the captain to stop the ship and get my dolly.” “It’s no use,” said the boy; “he cannot do anything. I’ve tried him.” But the little girl ran on to the captain with her story and appeal. The captain came and peeked down into the engine-room, and, seeing the doll, said, “Just wait here a minute.” And, while the ship went right on, he ran down the stairway and brought up the little girl’s doll, to her delight, and to the boy’s amazement. The next day the cry rang out, “Man overboard!” and immediately the bell rang in the engine-room, by orders from the lever in the hands of the captain; the great ship stood still until boats were lowered and the life rescued. Then she steamed on until she reached her wharf in New York. As soon as the ship was tied up the captain went up town and bought the boy a better ball than the one he had lost. “Now,” said the professor, “each of the three prayers was answered. The little girl received her request without stopping the ship; the little boy by a little waiting received his also; and yet for sufficient reason the ship was stopped by a part of the machinery itself, not an afterthought, but something put into the ship when it was made.”
Hours spent in prayer
One is bowed down with shame to read of the long hours spent day by day in prayer by many holy men whose lives are given to us. Nor is it less humiliating to know of the extraordinary delight experienced by some good men in these long hours of prayer. It is related of St. Francis de Sales that in a day’s retreat, in which he continued most of the day in prayer, he was so overwhelmed with the joy of this communion with God that he exclaimed, “Withdraw Thyself, O Lord, for I am not able to bear the greatness of Thy sweetness!” and the saintly Fletcher, of Madeley, on one occasion prayed for less delight in prayer, fearing it would become more of an indulgence than of a duty.
There was in a city a Judge which feared not God, neither regarded man
The unjust judge and the importunate widow
1. There are points of resemblance between God’s people and this widow. In Satan, have not we also an adversary to be avenged on? Are not we also poor and needy? She had known happy days; and so also had man. By death she had lost her husband; and by sin we have lost our God. Poor and friendless, she had no means of avenging, of righting herself; no more have we--we were without help when Christ died for the ungodly. “The sons of Zeruiah,” cried David, “are too many for me”; and so are sin and its corruptions, the world and its temptations, the devil and his wiles, for us.
2. There are likewise some points of resemblance between God and this unjust judge. Long had he stood by and, without one effort on her behalf, seen this poor woman spurned and oppressed; and long also God seemed to stand by when His people were ground to the dust in Egypt; in old Pagan and in more modern Popish times, when their cruel enemies shed the blood of His saints like water, and, immured in dungeons, bleeding on scaffolds, hiding in the caves of our mountains, His elect cried to Him day and night, and the Church, helpless as a widow, implored Him, saying, “Avenge me of mine adversary!” And this is true also of His dealings with individual believers. How long in their corruption are the messengers of Satan left to buffet them? Weary of the struggle with some besetting sin, and hating it as a slave his cruel tyrant, they cry, “How long, O Lord, how long?” how often, all but despairing, are they ready to exclaim with Paul, “Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
3. But there are important points of disparity between this judge and our God: and in these I find assurance of final victory, and the highest encouragements to instant, constant, urgent prayer. A bad man, with a heart cold as ice and hard as iron, was he moved by importunity to redress the wrongs of one for whom he felt no regard, whose happiness or misery was nothing to him?--how much more will God be importuned to grant our prayers! Just, and more than just, He is merciful and gracious, long-suffering and slow to wrath, abundant in goodness and in truth. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
The importunate widow
I. First, then, consider our LORD’S DESIGN IN THIS PARABLE--“Men ought always to pray, and not to faint.”
1. Our Lord meant by saying men ought always to pray, that they ought to be always in the spirit of prayer, always ready to pray. Like the old knights, always in warfare, not always on their steeds dashing forward with their lances in rest to unhorse an adversary, but always wearing their weapons where they could readily reach them, and always ready to encounter wounds or death for the sake of the cause which they championed. Those grim warriors often slept in their armour; so even when we sleep, we are still to be in the spirit of prayer, so that if perchance we wake in the night we may still be with God.
2. Our Lord may also have meant, that the whole life of the Christian should be a life of devotion to God. Men ought always to pray. It means that when they are using the lapstone, or the chisel, when the hands are on the plough-handles, or on the spade, when they are measuring out the goods, when they are dealing in stocks, whatever they are doing, they are to turn all these things into a part of the sacred pursuit of God’s glory. Their common garments are to be vestments, their meals are to be sacraments, their ordinary actions are to be sacrifices, and they themselves a royal priesthood, a peculiar people zealous for good works.
3. A third meaning which I think our Lord intended to convey to us was this: men ought always to pray, that is, they should persevere in prayer.
4. I cannot leave this part of the subject without observing that our Lord would have us learn that men should be more frequent in prayer. Prayerfulness will scarcely be kept up long unless you set apart times and seasons for prayer.
5. Our Lord means, to sum up the whole, that believers should exercise a universality of supplication--we ought to pray at all times.
II. In enforcing this precept, our Lord gives us a parable in which there are TWO ACTORS, the characteristics of the two actors being such as to add strength to His precept. In the first verse of the parable there is a judge. Now, herein is the great advantage to us in prayer. Brethren, if this poor woman prevailed with a judge whose office is stern, unbending, untender, how much more ought you and I to be instant in prayer and hopeful of success when we have to supplicate a Father! We must, however, pass on now to notice the other actor in the scene--the widow; and here everything tells again the same way, to induce the Church of God to be importunate. She was apparently a perfect stranger to the judge. She appeared before him as an individual in whom he took no interest. He had possibly never seen her before; who she was and what she wanted was no concern to him. But when the Church appears before God she comes as Christ’s own bride, she appears before the Father as one whom He has loved with an everlasting love. And shall He not avenge His own elect, His own chosen, His own people? Shall not their prayers prevail with Him, when a stranger’s importunity won a suit of an unwilling judge?
III. The third and last point: THE POWER WHICH, ACCORDING TO THIS PARABLE, TRIUMPHED.
1. This power was not the woman’s eloquence, “I pray thee avenge me of mine adversary.” These words are very few. Just eight words. Verbiage is generally nothing better in prayer than a miserable fig-leaf with which to cover the nakedness of an unawakened soul.
2. Another thing is quite certain, namely, that the woman did not prevail through the merits of her case. He does not say, “She has a good case, and I ought to listen to it.” No, he was too bad a man to be moved by such a motive--but “she worries me,” that is all, “I will attend to it.” So in our suit--in the suit of a sinner with God, it is not the merit of his case that can ever prevail with God. If thou art to win, another’s merit must stand instead of thine, and on thy part it must not be merit but misery; it must not be thy righteousness but thy importunity that is to prevail with God. However unworthy you may be, continue in prayer. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Parable of the importunate widow
I. Consider THE PARABLE ITSELF.
II. Inquire, WHAT IS MEANT BY IMPORTUNITY IN PRAYER.
III. Let us next consider WHY IMPORTUNITY IS SAID TO PREVAIL WITH GOD.
1. Because it consists in the exercise of pious and amiable feelings.
2. Because the frequent exercise of such feelings has a tendency to form pious and virtuous habits; and such habits are qualifications for higher society and purer happiness than this world affords.
3. Because the frequent excitement of such feelings fits us for receiving the blessings we ask.
IV. We may shortly observe, from what our Saviour has said in the seventh and eighth verses, that HE SEEMS TO INSINUATE THAT SOMETHING LIKE A STATE OF PERSECUTION WILL TAKE PLACE ABOUT THE TIME OF HIS SECOND COMING. For why should the elect be represented as crying to God day and night, unless they were in a suffering state?
1. We may conclude that many will despond and cease to believe that God will interfere in their favour.
2. It also necessarily follows that, after the second coming of Jesus, God will avenge His elect, and that suddenly and completely. (J. Thomson, D. D.)
Pray without ceasing
How can the conduct of this selfish tyrant to a helper sufferer be any illustration of a just and merciful God’s dealing with “His own elect?” One thing, at least, is certain, that in this, and, by parity of reasoning, in all like cases, it does not follow, because two things are compared in one point, that they must be alike in every other. The only points of contact are the mutual relation of the parties as petitioner and sovereign, the withholding of the thing requested and its subsequent bestowal. In all the rest there is, there can be no resemblance; there is perfect contrariety. Why, then, was this unsuitable image chosen even for the sake of illustration? Why was not the Hearer of Prayer represented by a creature bearing more of His own image? Because this would not have answered our Lord’s purpose, but would only have taught feebly by comparison what is now taught mightily by contrast. The ground of confidence here furnished is not the similitude of God to man, but their infinite disparity. If even such a character, governed by such motives, may be rationally expected to take a certain course, however alien from his native disposition and his habits, there can be no risk in counting on a like result where all these adverse circumstances favour it. The three main points of the antithesis are these--the character, the practice, and the motive of the judge--his moral character, his official practice, and his motive for acting upon this occasion in a manner contrary to both. His official practice is intimated by the word “unjust” applied to him near the conclusion of the parable. The interior source of this exterior conduct is then described in other terms. He feared not God. He neither reverenced Him as a sovereign, nor dreaded Him as an avenger. Among the motives which may act upon this principle, not the least potent is the fear of man. This may include the dread of his displeasure, the desire of his applause, and an instinctive shrinking even from his scorn. Shame, fear, ambition, all may contribute to produce an outward goodness having no real counterpart within. This is particularly true of public and official acts. They can consent to risk their souls, but not to jeopard their respectability. There would thus seem to be three grounds for expecting justice and fidelity in human society, and especially in public trusts. The first and highest is the fear of God, including all religious motives--then the fear of man or a regard to public sentiment--and last, the force of habit, the authority of precedent, a disposition to do that which has been done before, because it has been done before. These three impulsive forces do not utterly exclude each other. They may co-exist in due subordination. The same is true of a regard to settled usage, or even to personal habit, when correctly formed. Indeed, these latter motives never have so powerful an influence for good, as when they act in due subordination to the fear of God. It is only when this is wanting, and they undertake to fill its place, that they become unlawful or objectionable. And even then, although they cannot make good the deficiency in God’s sight, they may make it good in man’s. Although the root of the matter is not in them a short-lived verdure may be brought out and maintained by artificial means. The want of any one of these impulsive forces may detract from the completeness of the ultimate effect. How much more the absence of them all! In other words, how utterly unjust must that judge be who neither fears God nor regards man. If this widow has not the means of appealing to his avarice, how clear it seems that his refusal to avenge her is a final one, and that continued importunity can only waste time and provoke him to new insult. I dwell on these particulars to show that, in their aggregate, they are intended to convey the idea of a hopeless case. She hopes against hope. An indomitable instinct triumphs over reason. She persists in her entreaties. The conclusion which we have already reached ‘is, that the widow in the parable did right, acted a reasonable part, in hoping against hope, and still persisting in her suit when everything combined to prove it hopeless. She would have had no right to sacrifice the comfort and tranquillity, much less the life or the salvation of her children to her own despondency or weariness of effort. But let us suppose that he had been an upright, conscientious, faithful judge, whose execution of his office was delayed by some mistake or want of information. How much less excusable would she have then been in relinquishing her rights or those of others in despair! Suppose that, instead of knowing that the judge was in principle and habit unjust, she had known him, by experience, to be just and merciful, as well as eminently wise. Suppose that she had been protected by him, and her wrongs redressed in many ether cases. How easy must it then have been to trust! How doubly mad and wicked to despair! There seems to be room for only one more supposition. Exclude all chance of intellectual or moral wrong. Enlarge the attributes before supposed, until they reach infinity or absolute perfection. What, then, would be left as the foundation or the pretext of a doubt? The bare fact of delay? If she was wise in hoping against hope, what must we be in despairing against evidence? If she was right in trusting to the selfish love of ease in such a man, how wrong must we be in distrusting the benevolence, the faithfulness, the truth of such a God! Every point of dissimilitude between the cases does but serve to make our own still worse and less excusable, by bringing into shocking contrast men’s dependence on the worst of their own species, with their want of confidence in God. (J. A. Alexander.)
Times adverse to prayer
There is a rude sense of right in most men’s breasts; and the appeal of outraged helplessness is not often made in vain. But this judge was in his very nature incapable of understanding or feeling the force of such an appeal: he was an unjust judge. Again, even in cases where man have no natural and conscientious sympathy with righteousness, the instinct of retribution frequently arouses a fear of God, which impels them to acts of justice; but in the case of the unjust judge there seemed no avenue for the approach of such a feeling: he feared not God. Nor was he moved by that which, as a last motive, is powerful in the most debased natures, the regard for the opinion of other men. He was of that cold, hardened, and unaccommodating character that he neither feared God nor regarded man. What did our Master intend by thus sketching the judge?… The unjust judge is not the portrait of what God is, but of what, owing to circumstances of trial, and misrepresentations of unreasonable and wicked men, the suffering, waiting people of Christ will be almost tempted to think Him. All about them they hear a language which haunts them with hideous dread; the voice of the enemy and the blasphemer are heard whispering, “Is there knowledge in the Most High? He will never regard it”; or deepening into the hoarse utterance of half wish, half fear--“There is no God!” Harassed by doubts, wounded and terrified by the oft-reiterated assaults and assertions of her enemies, driven to despair at the seeming unbroken stillness of the unanswering heavens, the Church of Christ is as the lone helpless widow, powerless and povertystricken. But she is mighty. Though this hideous portraiture of grim and impassive godhead is thrust upon her, she will have none of it. She will not abandon her plea, or accept the description. With this picture of hard, inexorable justice before her, she will not abandon her plea. If it be so, that she is thus weak and poor, and dealing with one whom no cries for pity, or claims for justice, can arouse, and no aspect of misery touch and soften; then nothing remains for her but the might of her weakness in its unceasing supplications, which will take no denial; nothing remains but to weary Him out into compliance. (Bishop Boyd Carpenter.)
“A judge” in an Oriental city must not be regarded precisely as a judge among us, nowadays, nor yet with all the peculiar powers and duties of the ancient judges of Israel, whose powers somewhat resembled that of a king. Those ancient judges, more like ancient kings than anything else, were yet officers or rulers of such a peculiar sort, that the Romans transferred the name of their dignity into Latin--at least of their Carthaginian counterparts. Out of the Shemitic shofet they made suffetes. But in the time of Christ the judge, where not a Roman official, had still some power equivalent to that of the sheriffs of our country. He was head judge and head executioner of his sentences. Never till our own times, or those of two of three generations ago, has the world worked out the problem of wholly separating the legislative, the judicial, and the executive functions. Nor is it always accomplished by a nominal separation; nor can that separation ever be entirely actual, even as much so as required by theory. As long as the legislative or judicial power has anything to do, it must be gifted with some slight executive powers. But this is only one instance in the physical and metaphysical universe of the failure of human divisions to cover all that the one Spirit has made or is working. The prayer of the widow to the unjust judge--and here “unrighteous” is better; for attention is directed not very closely to his merely judicial function--regards rather his executive function than anything else. She does not call--in words at least--for a hearing of her cause, but for an order ofenforcement. In modern times that would be by sending a zabtieh or two, soldier police, to apply the necessary force. This might be done even without hearing, or before hearing, the case. To this day, in the East, it is necessary for poor suitors to be very importunate. It would be easy to give examples; but it might be tedious. A woman will frequently beg and beg a judge to attend to her case, or to execute a decree in a case he has passed upon and rendered judgment, and generally promise or ask to kiss the judge’s feet. But a little money from the other side will effectually stop the judge’s ears. (Prof. Isaac H. Hall.)
The Church’s widowhood
This parable sets before us, under the figure of a widow--a feeble and injured widow--the true character and standing of the Church of God on earth, during the present age. In numbers she is few--a mere election, a gathering out, no more; in power, slender; in honour, little set by; in alliances, little courted. That such is the case, nay, that such must be the case, appears from such things as these:--
1. The Father’s purpose concerning her. That purpose has great things in store for her, in the ages to come; but at present her lot is to be weakness, poverty, hardship, and the endurance of wrong.
2. Her conformity to her Lord. He is her pattern, not merely as to character, but as to the whole course of life. In Him she learns what her lot on earth is to be. He, the rejected one, even among His own, she must be rejected too.
3. Her standing by faith. It is the world’s unbelief that so specially makes it the world; so it is the Church’s faith that makes her what she is, the Church. “We have known and believed the love that God hath to us.”
4. The condition of the world out of which she is called. It is an evil world.
5. Her prospects. She is an heir of God, and a joint heir with Christ Jesus. The world loves not the faithful widow, and would fain seduce her to a second marriage--a marriage with itself. Decked in costly array, it would admire her, and give her its willing fellowship. But dressed only in the widow’s mournful garb, it cannot tolerate her. Her faithfulness to her Lord condemns it. Her seclusion and separation rebuke it. Her continuing in supplication and prayers night and day it cannot away with. The widow’s cry sorely disturbs the world’s peace, and, ringing nightly through its glittering halls of pleasure, turns all its music into discord. Nor less does Satan dislike the widow’s weeds and the widow’s cry. For they remind him that his day is short, and that he who is to bind him in chains, and cast him out of his dominions, will soon be here. (H. Bonar, D. D.)
The importunate widow a type of God’s elect people
I. GOD HAS AN ELECT PEOPLE IN THE WORLD, scattered up and down among men found in various places, and in almost all communities, as his chosen ones. Men may take this principle in a light which does not belong to it, and affirm that they can deduce conclusions from it which in the Bible are directly and distinctly denied. There are, I might observe, two things which always make it appear to me, not only in a light that is harmless, but in a light that is most beneficial.
1. The one is, that it is never separated from its moral influences. “Predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.” “Chosen that we may be blameless and harmless, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.” And here, in the passage before us, it stands allied with a devotional character and with a praying habit of mind: and we are sure of this, that, practically felt in the mind, it does humble, prostrate, purify, inspire, and awaken within the lowest gratitude, and, at the same time, the loftiest and the holiest joy.
2. The other thing that I would wish to remark respecting it is, that it interferes not in any degree with the universal invitations of the gospel.
II. THE ELECT OF GOD ARE DISTINGUISHED BY THEIR DEVOTIONAL CHARACTER--THEIR PRAYING FRAME OF MIND. “Shall not God avenge His own elect who cry day and night before Him?” The evidence that we are chosen of God, called into His Church, made partakers of His mercy, is in this, that we recognize His providence; that we live in daily dependence upon His bounty; that we lift up our hearts to Him in supplication; that believing we pray, and that praying we confide. Then I would add, that an elect and praying people are beautiful in the eyes of God, and His ears are ever open to their cry.
III. Their prayers particularly regard THE RETRIBUTION UPON THE ENEMY, AND THE COMING OF THE KINGDOM. “Shall not God avenge His own elect, who cry day and night unto Him?” There is emphasis on the word “cry.” “Abel’s blood did cry; there was a shrill, piercing, importunate voice in it.” Just before God came down to deliver the Israelites in Egypt, on account of their bondage and oppression, it is said they did “sigh and cry”: and we find the Church, when distressed and in anguish by reason of the enemy, is said to “cry.” A widow, a desolate person, sustaining injury, bleeding under injustice, cries, and asks the judge for justice; and precisely in the same way the Church is said to cry to God for justice. And against whom? The answer is, against Satan, the great adversary, who has established a tyranny and an usurpation in this world, who has built up his kingdom amidst darkness, and violence, and blood. And we ask for justice upon him, and pray God to bruise him under our feet, and to do it quickly. The Son of God was manifested that He might destroy the works of the devil; and we call on the Son of God in the exercise of His supremacy to do His work.
IV. THE PRAYER OF THE ELECT CHURCH FOR JUSTICE SHALL BE HEARD AND ANSWERED WHEN THE LORD COMETH. I am not sure that the word “avenge” here is the right one: if the widow had asked vengeance on her enemy, peradventure the judge would not have granted it; but it means more properly “justice.” “Though He bear long with them,” says the text. A very learned critic, on the authority of many ancient manuscripts, observes it ought to be “though He compassionate them”: that is, while they cry, though God appeareth not to attend to them, yet He does hear them and tenderly compassionates them. If we take it as being correctly “avenge,” I beg to remark that the world and the wicked have had their time of vengeance. Here is a picture! “All that pass by clap their hands at Thee; they hiss and wag their head at the daughter of Jerusalem.” With ferocious face they clapped their hands, and hissed, and wagged their heads, “saying, Is this the city that men call the perfection of beauty, the icy of the whole earth? All Thine enemies have opened their mouth against Thee: they hiss and gnash the teeth: they say, We have swallowed her up: certainly this is the day that we looked for; we have found, we have seen it.” Unholy vengeance! Revenge, in the true and strict sense of the expression, awful to contemplate! That was man’s day; that was the day of the adversary: and God stood silent by. But God has His day: the day of the Lord cometh: and this is referred to in the text.
V. We come to the last thing, when the Lord shall come to execute His justice, FAITH WILL BE AT A LOW EBB ON THE EARTH. “Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh shall He find faith on the earth?” when He cometh to execute justice. It is very observable that in almost every great and signal instance in which God has remarkably come for a purpose specified in the passage, it has been suddenly, in a moment, and when there is no belief of it. (J. Stratten.)
God hears the prayers of His elect
I. GOD HAS AN ELECT PEOPLE IN THE WORLD, WHO ARE A PRAYING PEOPLE. This character of a praying people is confined to them.
II. “GOD WILT AVENGE HIS OWN ELECT, WHO CRY DAY AND NIGHT UNTO HIM.” Though men see not, He is in the world; though men see Him not, He is not far from any one of us; though men see not His work, He is carrying it on; He has been building up His Church, and establishing its progress.
III. THE STRIKING REBUKE WHICH CHRIST UTTERS: “When the Son of man cometh, shall He find faith upon the earth? “ What a thought; how we ought to humble ourselves! (I. Saunders.)
God’s response to the cry of the elect
Alexander Peden, one of the Scotch covenanters, with some others, had been at one time hard pursued by Claverhouse’s troops for a considerable way. At last, getting some little height between them and their pursuers, he stood still and said, “Let us pray here, for if the Lord hear not our prayer and save us, we are all dead men.” He then prayed, saying, “O Lord, this is the hour and the power of Thine enemies; they may not be idle. But hast Thou no other work for them than to send them after us? Send them after them to whom Thou wilt give strength to flee, for our strength is gone. Twine them about the hill, O Lord, and cast the lap of Thy cloak over the poor old folk and their puir things, and save us this one time, and we will keep it in remembrance, and tell to the commendation of Thy goodness, Thy pity and compassion, what Thou didst for us at sic a time.” And in this he was heard, for a cloud of mist immediately intervened between them and their persecutors, and in the meantime orders came to go in quest of James Renwick, and a great company with him.
Shall He find faith on the earth?--
The faith of the Church
I. THE IMPORTANCE ATTACHED BY CHRIST TO THE FAITH OF HIS PEOPLE. The faith of the Church is important, because it is at the root of all Christian activity and zeal. What wonder is it, then, that Christ attaches such importance to the faith of His people?
II. THOUGH THE FAITH OF THE CHURCH IS TRIED BY THE DELAY OF THE DELIVERANCE, YET THERE ARE ABUNDANT REASONS WHY IT SHOULD HOLD
ON. There is nothing mere remarkable in the history of Christ than the calm faith which He had in His own mission--in its success and ultimate triumph. He stood alone; and to be alone in any enterprise or sorrow is to most men hard and trying. Truth is truth if only embraced by one; truth is not a whir more true when ten thousand believe it. But we like sympathy. No one in the wide world understood His mission; but His faith never wavered for a moment. He was not careful to engrave His words on stone, or write them on parchment; He simply spoke. A spoken word--it stirs the air, it is like a pebble thrown into the ocean of air, causing a few ripples to spread, and it is soon lost like a pebble. Christ flung His words into the air, spoke on the mountain, by the sea-shore, in the Temple, in the synagogue, in the village, by the grave; and He knew that His words were living, and would continue to live, that they were not “like a snowflake on the river, a moment white, and then gone for ever,” but that they were destined to spread and to revolutionize the world. We learn, however, that notwithstanding His unshaken faith, He could see clouds in the future, persecution, corruption, iniquity, abound ing, love waxing cold, eras of apparent retrogression and failure. And seeing all this, He asks, “When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find this faith on the earth?”
III. He supposes THAT THE CHURCH MAY BECOME WEARY OF THE DELAY. (James Owen.)
The search for faith
Faithfulness is established in the very heavens: but what of faithfulness upon the earth?
I. I notice with regard to our text, first, that IT IS REMARKABLE IF WE CONSIDER THE PERSON MENTIONED AS SEARCHING FOR FAITH. “When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?”
1. When Jesus comes He will look for precious faith. He has more regard for faith than for all else that earth can yield Him. Our returning Lord will care nothing for the treasures of the rich or the honours of the great. He will not look for the abilities we have manifested, nor the influence we have acquired; but He will look for our faith. It is His glory that He is “believed on in the world,” and to that He will have respect. This is the jewel for which He is searching.
2. When our Lord comes and looks for faith, He will do so in His most sympathetic character. Our text saith not, When the Son of God cometh, but “When the Son of Man cometh, will He find faith on the earth?” It is peculiarly as the Son of Man that Jesus will sit as a refiner, to discover whether we have true faith or not.
3. Further, I would have you note well that the Son of Man is the most likely person to discover faith if it is to be found. Not a grain of faith exists in all the world except that which He has Himself created.
4. Besides, faith always looks to Christ. There is no faith in the world worth having, but what looks to Him, and through Him to God, for everything. On the other hand, Christ always looks to faith; there never yet was an eye of faith but what it met the eye of Christ.
5. The Son of Man will give a wise and generous judgment in the matter. Some brethren judge so harshly that they would tread out the sparks of faith; but it is never so with our gracious Lord; He does not quench the smoking flax, nor despise the most trembling faith. The tender and gentle Saviour, who never judges too severely, when He comes, shall even He find faith on the earth?
6. Once more, I want to put this question into a striking light by dwelling on the time of the scrutiny. “When the Son of Man cometh,” etc. I know not how long this dispensation of longsuffering will last; but certainly the longer it continues the more wantonly wicked does unbelief become.
7. “I want you to notice the breadth of the region of search. He does not say, shall He find faith among philosophers? When had they any? He does not confine His scrutiny to an ordained ministry or a visible Church; but He takes a wider sweep--“Shall He find faith on the earth?” As if He would search from throne to cottage, among the learned and among the ignorant, among public men and obscure individuals. Alas, poor earth, to be so void of faith!
II. Let us somewhat change the run of our thoughts: having introduced the question as a remarkable one, we will next notice that IT IS EXCEEDINGLY INSTRUCTIVE IN CONNECTION WITH THE PARABLE OF WHICH IT IS PART. When the Son of Man cometh shall He find upon the earth the faith which prays importunately, as this widow did? Now, the meaning is dawning upon us. We have many upon the earth who pray; but where are those whose continual coming is sure to prevail?
III. In the next place, our text seems to me to be SUGGESTIVE IN VIEW OF ITS VERY FORM. It is put as a question: “When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?”
1. I think it warns us not to dogmatize about what the latter days will be. Jesus puts it as a question. Shall He find faith on the earth?
2. This question leads us to much holy fear as to the matter of faith. If our gracious Lord raises the question, the question ought to be raised.
3. As far as my observation goes, it is a question which might suggest itself to the most hopeful persons at this time; for many processes are in vigorous action which tend to destroy faith. The Scriptures are being criticized with a familiarity which shocks all reverence, and their very foundation is being assailed by persons who call themselves Christians. A chilling criticism has taken the place of a warm, childlike, loving confidence. As one has truly said, “We have now a temple without a sanctuary.” Mystery is discarded that reason may reign.
4. Do you not think that this, put in a question as it is, invites us to intense watchfulness over ourselves? Do you not think it should set us scrutinizing ourselves as our Lord will scrutinize us when He comes? You have been looking for a great many things in yourself, my brother; let me entreat you to look to your faith. What if love grow cold!
IV. My text is very IMPRESSIVE IN RESPECT TO PERSONAL DUTY. “When the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?” Let faith have a home in our hearts, if it is denied a lodging everywhere else. If we do not trust our Lord, and trust Him much more than we have ever done, we shall deserve His gravest displeasure. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Christ looking in vain for faith
If I venture for a moment to look into the reasons of these things, perhaps I might particularize the following: It is always in the indolent and grossser nature of man to prefer the present and the visible, to the future and the unseen. The heart gravitates to practical materialism as a stone gravitates to the ground. It is always a special act to make a man feel the invisible, live in the invisible. For in fact, all faith is miracle. And days of great science, such as these, are always likely to be days of proportionate un-belief-because the power of the habit of finding out more and more natural causes, is calculated, unless a man be a religious man, to make him rest in the cause he sees, and not to go on to that higher cause of which all the causes in this world, are, after all, only effects. And familiarity, too, with Divine things--which is a particular characteristic of our age, has in itself a tendency to sap the reverence, which is at the root of all faith. But still more, the character of the age we live in is a rushing selfishness. The race for money is tremendous; men are grown intensely secular; the facilities are increased, and with them, the covetousness. You are living under higher and higher pressure, and everything goes into extremes; all live fast. And the competition of business is Overwhelming, and the excitement of fashion intoxicating. How can “faith,” which breathes in the shade of prayer and meditation--live in such an atmosphere as this? Let me just throw out one or two suggestions to you about faith. Remember “faith” is a moral grace, and not an intellectual gift. It lives among the affections; its seat is the heart. A soft and tender conscience is the cradle of faith; and it will live and die according to the life you lead. If you would have “faith,” you must settle with yourself the authority, the supremacy, and the sufficiency of the Bible. Then, when you have done that, you will be able to deal with promises. Feed upon promises. We take the spiritual character of what we receive into our minds, just as the body assumes the nature of the food it eats. Act out the very little faith you have. Faith is a series of continual progression, and each fresh step is accompanied by a moral effort which reacts to make another. Take care that you are a man of meditative habit. There cannot be faith without daily, calm, quiet seasons of thought. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Loss of faith in the Christian verities
I cannot but think that this “faith” is the faith once delivered to the saints, the faith of the gospel, and the creeds--the faith in Christ, the eternal Son of God Incarnate, crucified, risen, ascended, and returning. This faith will be in the pages of Scripture, and in the creeds of the Church. It may not, perhaps, be denied, but it will not be held. And yet without the realization of these great eternal verities there can be no faith, in the New Testament sense of the word. Already this faith grows weaker and weaker. It has been said that faith is “turned inward,” and a miserable “turning” it is: for what is there within the sinner to raise him up to God and unite him to the Supreme? It is the exhibition of the love of God in His Son which breeds faith in the soul, It is the same exhibition which sustains it, and the same which perfects it. (M. F. Sadler.)
Two men went up into the temple to pray.
Whom the Lord receives
Observe, from the parable--
I. HOW GOD LOOKS UPON THE HEART, RATHER THAN UPON THE OUTWARD APPEARANCE. It is not the spoken service that is regarded, but the hidden words of the heart.
II. THE INSUFFICIENCY OF MAN’S GOOD WORKS TO OBTAIN JUSTIFICATION.
III. THE WAY OF JUSTIFICATION IS SHOWN IN WHAT WE ARE TOLD OF THE PUBLICAN.
IV. WE SEE WHAT SPIRIT GOD REQUIRES OF AND APPROVES IN US. Not those who are satisfied with themselves are commended of Him, but those who see and deplore their sinfulness. As a bird must first stoop to fly, so must the soul humble itself ere it finds God. “Behold a great wonder,” says Augustine, “God is high; exalt thyself, He flees from thee: humble thyself, and He stoops to thee.” Because, as the Psalmist says, “Though high, yet hath He respect unto the lowly, but the proud He knoweth afar off.” So the Pharisee returned from the temple as poor as he came, while the publican, whom he despised, wondering how he dared to come, returned made rich by God’s kiss of forgiveness and peace. Little do men know who among them are blessed. God’s angels of joy do not always enter where they most naturally are supposed to go. (A. H. Currier.)
Self-exaltation and self-abasement
1. This spirit is against God, on whom all depend, before whom all men are dust and uncleanness.
2. Is ignorance, no man having real spiritual knowledge could allow this spirit to dwell in him.
3. Is guilty ignorance, for the Old Testament Scriptures expose and condemn this spirit (Ezekiel 21:26; Deuteronomy 8:14; Deuteronomy 8:14; Habakkuk 2:4; Isaiah 65:5).
4. Is pleasant to corrupt human nature, flattering to natural pride.
5. Is contrary to the mind of God.
6. Is a subtle, hypocritical spirit, often appearing as religious.
7. Deceives the heart it occupies.
8. Defeats itself, for it ends in abasement and shame.
II. DESPISING OTHERS.
1. This spirit is but another form of pride; others are despised in contrast with self, which is exalted.
2. Is against God, breaking both the law and the gospel, which enjoin loving neighbour as self.
3. Is against the precepts and example of Jesus, who despised not the poorest and outcast, the fallen and foul.
1. Often branded by worldly men as meanness of spirit or cowardice.
2. Is acceptable to God, and according to Christ’s example.
3. May bring on us some loss or inconvenience for a season, that must be borne as a cross.
4. Has blessing now, and recompense of honour hereafter.
5. The chief example of self-abasement being blessed thus, is that of our Lord Himself (Philippians 2:5-11).
6. In the publican’s case, the blessing began at once.
1. “Every one” marks universal rule or principle.
2. Warn those who have not humbled themselves before God
3. No justification possible for man, but by self-abasement in repentance and faith.
4. The Holy Spirit convinces of sin, etc.
5. Encourage the first thoughts of self-abasement by examples of 1 Kings 21:9), and Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:12-19). (Flavel Cook.)
The Pharisee and the publican
I. THE AIM OF THE PARABLE.
1. Stated (Luke 18:9).
(1) That self-righteousness is possible.
(2) That self-righteousness and contempt for others are closely allied.
(3) That self-righteousness grows from the root of self-deception.
(a) The self-righteous calls upon a heart-searching God.
(b) The self-righteous despise men.
II. NOTICEABLE FEATURES OF THE PARABLE.
1. The contrasted characters.
(1) The prayer of the Pharisee.
(a) There is thanksgiving--but is it gratitude to God?
(b) There is reference to personal excellencies before God--but is it in humility?
(c) Thus prayer may be a mockery, and therefore a sin.
(2) The prayer of the publican.
(a) There is keen remorse--but not despair.
(b) There is deep awe in God’s presence--but an appeal to His mercy.
(c) Thus, the most agonizing prayer may be heartfelt and believing.
III. THE LORD’S COMMENT ON THE PARABLE.
1. The self-exalting prayer of the Pharisee He condemns.
2. The contrite petition of the publican He approves.
3. The reality of answers to prayer He affirms.
4. Christ here enunciates a solemn truth (Luke 18:14). Lessons:
1. Conformity to religions forms no proof of true piety.
2. True penitence ever seen in self-abasement. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)
The Pharisee and the publican
Our Saviour’s design in this parable was--
1. To condemn a censorious disposition, a groundless contempt and bad opinion of others.
2. To correct those false notions of religion which lead men to overlook its principal duties.
3. To expose and reprove that part of selflove which makes us proud of our righteousness.
4. To recommend repentance and humility towards God as the first step to amendment.
5. Lastly, to caution us against all pride and conceit in general. (J. Jortin, D. D.)
Remarks on the parable
1. How vain must be the hope of those who expect heaven because they are not so wicked as others.
2. Let us beware how by comparing ourselves with others we are led to despise them.
3. No sinner, after such an example as that of the publican, can have any excuse for not praying right, immediately.
4. Every one of us must be humbled before God, if we would partake of His mercy. (N. W. Taylor, D. D.)
Belief in the virtues of others
Who does not believe others virtuous, would be found, were the secrets of his heart and life known, to be himself vicious. We may lay it down as an axiom, that those who are ready to suspect others of being actuated by a regard to self-interest, are themselves selfish. Thieves do not believe in the existence of honesty; nor rakes in virtue; nor mercenary politicians in patriotism; and the reason why worldlings regard religious people as hypocrites is their own want of religion--knowing that were they to profess a warm regard for Christ, the glory of God, and the salvation of souls, they would be hypocrites. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
Satisfaction with external ceremonial acts
Let us do this Pharisee justice. He put in a claim for something done, as well as something left undone: “I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all that I possess.” But this was ceremonial goodness. We must distinguish: moral goodness is goodness always, and everywhere. Justice, mercy, truth, are the same under the tropic and at the pole, in the year 4000 before Christ and 4000 after Christ. But ceremonies are only good at certain times, and under certain circumstances. Fasting, if it make a man peevish, is no duty. Tithes are a way of supporting God’s ministers; but the Church or the State may provide another way, and then tithes cease to be duties. Now observe why Pharisaical men find it easier to be content with ceremonial observances than with moral goodness. They are definite acts, they can be counted. Twice a week the ceremony is done. Go over my fields; not a tenth sheaf or shock is left standing. Search my stalls: not a tenth colt or calf is kept back. But moral goodness is more a state of heart than distinct acts. Take the law of love; you cannot at night count up, and say, “It is all done,” for love has no number of acts. (F. W. Robertson.)
The Pharisee and the publican
Pharisee and publican, they both went up, as to a common home, to the great national temple. The Pharisee and the publican had this in common--they understood that prayer is a serious business--the highest business of man--that it is the highest and, if I may so say, the most noble, the most remunerative occupation in which a human being can possibly engage. Man has not always thus understood the real capacity of his soul--the real greatness of his destiny. There are thousands in this great city at this moment who do not understand it. Enervated by pleasure, or distracted by pain, absorbed in the pursuit of material objects, driven hither and thither by gusts of passion, slaves of the lust of the eyes or of the pride of life, men forget too easily why they are here at all, and what they have to do in order to fulfil the primal object of existence. When once a man has these fundamental truths well in view, the importance of prayer becomes immediately apparent. Prayer to something--prayer of some kind--is the higher language of humanity in all places,at all times. Not to pray is to fall below the true measure of human activity, just as truly as not to think. It is to surrender the noblest element of that prerogative dignity which marks men off as men from the brutes. Heathens have felt this; Deists have felt it. Jews felt it with an intensity all their own; and, therefore, when the two men, the Pharisee and the publican, went up into the temple to pray, they simply obeyed a law which is as old and wide as human thought. They gave expression to an instinct which cannot be ignored without wronging that which is noblest and best in our common humanity. Not to pray is not merely godless: it is, in the larger sense of the term, inhuman. They both obeyed this common, this imperious instinct; but here the difference begins. It was not the practice of the Pharisee, or the fact of his thankfulness, which made him less justified than the publican. What was it? My brethren, it was simply this--that the Pharisee had no true idea at all present to his mind, impressed upon his heart, of what it is that makes the real, the awful difference between God and His creatures. It is not chiefly that God is self-existent while man’s is a dependent form of life. It is that God is, in Himself, in virtue of the necessary laws of His being, that which we are not--that He is perfectly, essentially holy. Until a man sees that the greatest difference of all between himself and his Creator lies, not in metaphysical unlikeness of being, nor yet in the intellectual interval which must separate the finite from the infinite mind, but pre-eminently in the moral chasm which parts a sinful, a sinning will, from the one all-holy, he does not know what he is doing in approaching God. Practically, for such a man, God is still a mere symbol, a name, whose most essential characteristic he has no eye for; and thus, like the Pharisee of old, he struts “into the awful presence, as if it were the presence of some moral equal, only invested with larger powers and with a wider knowledge than his own. While the angels above prostrate themselves eternally before the throne, crying, “Holy, holy, holy,” proclaiming by that unvaried song the deepest difference between created and uncreated life, the Pharisee has the heart to turn in upon himself an eye of tranquil self-approval--to rejoice, forsooth, that he is not as others--to recount his little charities and his petty austerities--to enwrap himself in a satisfaction which might be natural if a revelation of the most holy had never been made; for observe, that the Pharisee does two things which speak volumes as to the real state of his soul.
1. He compares himself approvingly with others. “I thank Thee that I am not as other men, or even as this publican.” He assumes that in God’s sight he is better than others. But I ask, has he warrant for the assumption? He supposes that sin is measured solely by its quantity and weight, and not by the opportunities or absence of opportunities in the sinner. We know--every living conscience knows--that it is otherwise. If any one point is clear in our Lord’s teaching it is this--that to whom much is given of him shall much be required, and, as a consequence, that in the case of the man to whom much is given a slight offence may be much more serious than a graver crime in another, at least in the eyes of the Eternal Justice. This consideration should prevent a readiness to compare ourselves with any others. We know nothing about them. We know not what they might have been had they enjoyed our opportunities. They may possibly be worse than we are; they may be better.
2. The Pharisee reflects with satisfaction upon himself. He may, he thinks, have done wrong in his day. Everybody, he observes, does so more or less. He is, as far as that goes, not worse than other people. In other matters he flatters himself that, at least of late years, he is conspicuously better. He has kept out of great sins which the law condemns and punishes. He could never by any possibility have been taken as a member of the criminal classes. He fasts twice a week according to rule: he pays his tithes conscientiously: he is fully in every particular up to the current standard of religious respectability. Surely, he thinks in his secret heart, surely God cannot but feel what he feels himself--that he bears a very high character--that he is entitled to general respect. And the publican has nothing toplead on his own behalf. He may have been a Zaccheus; he may have been a legal robber; but he can think of himself, whatever he was, in one light only--as a sinner standing before one Being only, the holy, the everlasting God. The Pharisee is nothing to him, not because he is indifferent, but because he is mentally absorbed--prostrate before One who has filled his whole mind and heart with a sense of unworthiness. “Out of the deep have I called to Thee, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice! Oh, let Thine ears consider well the voice of my complaint. If Thou, Lord, wilt be extreme to mark what is done amiss, O Lord, who may abide it? But there is mercy with Thee.” That is his cry. That cry is condensed into the blow on the chest--into the “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” (Canon Liddon.)
True thoughts of oneself
In the old tombs of our cathedrals--in this cathedral three centuries ago--there were frequently two figures on the monuments, one of the deceased king, or knight, or bishop, resting above in his full robes of state as he wore them abroad in life, and another, beneath, of a thin, emaciated skeleton, which recalled to the eyes of the beholder the realities of the grave below. It is well, Christian brethren, to have in thought this double image of ourselves--what we are before the world, if we like, but, in any case, what we are before our God. It was the Pharisee’s misery that he thought only of how he looked to others. It was the publican’s blessing that he cared only for what he was before the eyes of God. Let us struggle, let us pray, while yet we may, for a real knowledge of ourselves. Let us endeavour to keep an account of that inward history which belongs to each one of us, and which will be fully unravelled at the Judgment--to which every day that passes adds its something--of which God knows all. To do this may take trouble, but the result is worth a vast deal of trouble. Anything is better, in religious matters, than that which St. Paul calls “beating the air”--an aimless religion which moves perpetually in a vicious circle, because it has no compass--because it has no object. The more we know of God, the more we shall have reason to be dissatisfied with self--the more earnest will be our cry for help and mercy to Jesus Christ, who took our nature upon Him, and who died upon the cross that He might save the lost, that He might save us. There is no real reason for anxiety if we will but come to Him simply with broken hearts. Now, as in the old time, “He filleth the hungry with good things, but the rich He hath sent empty away.” The Pharisee and the publican stand before Him in the ranks of His Church from age to age. They are, in fact, eternal types of human character, and to the end of time, the world’s judgment between them is falsified, and this man--the publican--goes down to that last home which awaits us all, justified, rather than the other. (Canon Liddon.)
The Pharisee and the publican
Suffer me to attempt to disabuse your minds of some of the misconceptions which have grown up around this parable, and which prevent (as it seems to me) the real point of its teaching coming home to our hearts.
1. In the first place, I think that we generally fail to understand the respective positions of the two men in regard of character. There ought, I think, to be no mistake about it that the Pharisee was the better man of the two in every practical sense. Of course it is possible that this Pharisee was a mere hypocrite, like many of his class, and that his account of himself was false; but there is no hint of such a thing, and it would be a perfectly gratuitous supposition. Taking his own account of himself as substantially true, it cannot be denied that he had much cause to give thanks to God for what he was. If he had thanked God with humility that he was not like other men, remembering that his comparative innocence was due to God’s grace and to the advantages of his position and training, he would have done well. I do not know how we can thank God too much for keeping us back from evil. But he gave thanks that he was not even as that publican, and this of course goes against him in our estimation, because we know that the publican was nearer to heaven than he was. And yet, if he had humbly thanked God that he had been saved from the bad traditions of the publican’s business, and the bad surroundings of the publican’s life, we could not have blamed him. There are some occupations, some ways of making a living, so beset with temptations, in which a man is so dependent for success upon his own sharp dealings, in which he is so driven to take advantage of the follies and vices of others, that we may well thank God that we have been delivered from them. It is indeed sad to see Christian people entangled in these perilous and hurtful pursuits, obliged to defend themselves from the accusations of conscience by building up false and unchristian principles of morality.
2. Another misconception there is which I wish to point out to you, and that is the mistaken notion (as it seems to me) that the publican was actually justified by his lowly demeanour and self-condemning words. Our Lord does not say that. He says the publican was justified rather than the other. I imagine that neither was truly justified, but of the two the publican was nearer being justified than the PhariSee. Far as he yet was from the kingdom of heaven, he was not nearly so far as the Pharisee, for he was in the right way. In his humility he stood as it were on the threshold, and there was nothing to hinder his entering in if he was prepared for the necessary sacrifice; whereas the Pharisee had missed the entrance altogether, and was getting further and further from it. But never let us think that our Saviour meant this for an example of sufficient repentance. If the publican went back, as so many do after the same outbreak of self-reproach, to his exactions and extortions, to his tricks of trade, his petty deceits, and his unrighteous gains--if he went home from the temple to cook his accounts with the government, or to sell up some poor wretch who could not meet his demands; do you think that his beating upon his breast and calling himself a miserable sinner would avail him aught? Nay, it would but increase his condemnation, because it would show that his conscience was alive to his sin. What our Lord means to impress upon us in this parable is the fatal danger of spiritual pride, which made the Pharisee, with all his real cause for thanksgiving, to be further off from the kingdom and righteousness of God than the publican whom he despised. The spirit of self-righteousness is such a blinding spirit; it warps and distorts the whole spiritual vision. What should have been a prayer in the mouth of the self-righteous Pharisee was turned into a glorification of himself; and instead of asking God to make him better, he told God how good he was. And this brings me to the third and last misconception of which I shall speak. It is that of imagining that the spirit of self-righteousness must always take the same form which it presents in the parable; that Pharisaism must always be the proud relying upon the outward observances of religion; but, in fact, as a very little observation will show us, it has as many different forms as there are fashions in religion. The modern British Pharisee amongst ourselves, when he gave thanks that he was not like other men, would never think of speaking like the Pharisee in the parable; he would more probably say something of this sort--“God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are, priest-ridden, idolaters, superstitious, or even as this benighted Ritualist. I never fast, I never think of giving tithes,” and so on. The error of the Pharisee was in substance this, that he thanked God that he punctually performed those duties which came quite natural to him, and that he sought to turn God’s attention to other people’s faults by way of exalting his own merits. Now, this is an error which is constantly reappearing under one guise or other. We are always disposed to thank God that we are not as this Dissenter, or as that Romanist, when all the while they may be living nearer to God than we in honesty of intention and purity of heart. We are always apt to imagine that we can commend our faith by protesting against other people’s errors, and our practice by condemning faults to which we are not tempted. (R. Winterbotham, M. A.)
Acceptable and unacceptable prayer
1. A contrast in attitude and manner.
2. A contrast in spirit.
3. A contrast in prayer.
4. A contrast in reception. (J. R. Thompson, M. A.)
The purpose of the parable
From the introduction it might be inferred that the chief purpose for which the parable was spoken was to rebuke and subdue the spirit of self-righteousness. To do this effectively is not easy, though that is no reason why it should not be attempted. Another service, however, was probably also kept in view by the Speaker, which was much more likely to be accomplished, viz., to revive the spirit of the contrite, and embolden them to hope in God’s mercy. This is a service which contrite souls greatly need to have rendered them, for they are slow to believe that they can possibly be the objects of Divine complacency. Such in all probability was the publican’s state of mind, not only before but even after he had prayed. He went down to his house justified in God’s sight, but not, we think, in his own. He had not “found peace,” to use a current phrase. In technical language, we might speak of him as objectively, but not subjectively, justified. In plain English, the fact was so, but he was not aware that the fact was so. In saying this, we do not forget that there is an instinct, call it rather the still small voice of the Holy Spirit, which tells a penitent, “there is hope in God,” “there is forgiveness with Him, that He may be feared”; “wait for God, as they that wait for the dawn.” But a man who beats his breast, and dares not look up, and stands afar off in an attitude which seems an apology for existence, has some difficulty in trusting this instinct. To fear and despond suits his mood rather than to hope. There are physical reasons for this, not to speak of spiritual ones. The whole behaviour of the publican speaks to a great religious crisis going on in his soul. For that beating of the breast, and that downcast eye, and that timid posture, are not a theatrical performance got up for the occasion. They bear witness to a painful, possibly a protracted, soul-struggle. But one who passes through such a crisis suffers in body as well as in mind. His nerves are sorely shaken, and in this physical condition he is apt to become a prey to fear and depression. He starts at his own shadow, dreads the postman, trembles when he opens a letter lest it should contain evil tidings, can scarce muster courage to go into a dark room, or to put out the light when he goes to bed. How hard for a man in this state to take cheerful views of his spiritual condition, to rejoice in the sunlight of Divine grace. In the expressive phrase of Bunyan, used with reference to himself when he was in a similar state, such an one is prone rather to “take the shady side of the street.” Is it improbable that one object Christ had in view in uttering this parable and the judgment with which it winds up, was to take such contrite and fear-stricken ones by the hand and conduct them over to the sunny side? (A. B. Bruce, D. D.)
Forgiveness most needed
A friend of mine--a missionary preacher--being once called upon to give spiritual consolation to a sick man on the point of death, asked him what he could do for him. “Pray for me,” was the reply. My friend said that he would do so most willingly, but added, “For what shall I ask?” The man answered, “You know best.” The preacher told him that this was not so, and that he, himself, could alone know what he wanted. Still the dying man would say nothing but, “You know best. I leave it to you.” At length my friend left him, promising to return in a short time, and hoping that then he might be able to say what it was he wanted to pray for. When the preacher returned, the man directly said, “I have been a great sinner; I want forgiveness.” (Bishop Walsham How.)
After confession of sin comes forgiveness
We do not always know that we are forgiven; we are not told that the publican knew he was pardoned, although I think that as he went down to his house he must have had some sense of the fact that he was accepted of God. But still we do not always know of our forgiveness. I once visited a canal boatman on his death-bed, and I never remember to have seen a man more affected or more repentant of his sins. Yet he could not grasp the fact of his forgiveness. I tried all I could to bring it home to him, but unsuccessfully. Yet in my own mind I have no doubt that he was forgiven. In order to be pardoned I do not think it necessary to have a firm conviction that we are pardoned. In fact, it is logically absurd to think so. (Bishop Walsham How.)
The humble prayer the best
You can fill an empty jug with clear water from the spring; but it would be foolishness to bring to the spring a jug already full. The Lord has no blessing for the heart that is full of haughtiness; that He reserves for the heart emptied of self. And remember that, after all, it is the worthiest who are the most humble. It is the best filled stalk of corn that bends its head the lowliest. (Sunday School Times.)
The Church is a place for prayer
These two men went up to the temple “to pray”--not to meet their friends, nor that they might comply with a respectable custom, nor for the purpose of agreeably passing away an hour in varying the ordinary tedium of every-day engagements. No, but to pray: And surely, this should be our great object when we come up to the temple of God. Many seem to think, that to hear the sermon is the great end they have in view when they enter a church; but God has said, “My house shall be called an house of prayer.” If we had a petition to present to an earthly monarch, our great endeavour on entering the presence chamber would be to approach the throne, and make our wants and desires known. We would not think it the most important part of the proceeding to have a little conversation with the servants or attendants that stood around, nor would we feel satisfied by their giving us some information as to the character of the august personage who is indeed present himself, the way in which his favour may be conciliated, or his gifts procured. These things might be very important, but the king, the king is the absorbing idea--the servant is a minor consideration. (A. Gladwell, B. A.)
The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself
Lessons from the Pharisee’s prayer
There are three cautions which the Pharisee impresses on us; “for these things were written for our learning,… he being dead, yet speaketh.” And in the first place, let us beware of pride. This is the great lesson the parable inculcates. Spiritual pride incapacitates a man for receiving the blessings of the gospel; it is the great obstacle which the Spirit of God has to struggle with and overthrow. Secondly, let us beware of formality in religion. We are all born Pharisees--more anxious to appear than to be Christians. To conclude, let us beware of resting in anything short of the atoning blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. (A. Gladwell, B. A.)
“God, I thank Thee”--such in spirit, and almost in word, was the expression of the great Roman historian, Tacitus--“I thank Thee I am not as the miserable sect called by the infamous name of Christians, odious to all mankind.” “God, we thank Thee,” said the philosopher of France, “that we are not like those benighted men who converted the barbarous tribes, or erected the Gothic cathedrals.” “I thank Thee,” said the splendid Pope Leo X., “that I am not as this ignorant monk, Martin Luther.” “God, we thank Thee,” said the great movers of the political and social revolutions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in England, “that we are not as those fanatics,” the blind poet of Bunhill Row, and the wandering tinker of Bedford, or the scrupulous bishop who could not accept the Act of Settlement, or the Lincolnshire pastor who spent his long life in itinerant preaching; and yet those early Christian martyrs, those mediaeval missionaries and monk of Wittenberg, were mightier in the long run even than Tacitus, or the encyclopaedists of France, or the philosophers of the Renaissance. And those wayward Christians in England, as they seemed to be, John Milton, the author of “Paradise Lost,” John Bunyan, the author of “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” Bishop Ken, author of the Morning and Evening Hymns, John Wesley, the author of the religious revival in England, went down to their graves as much deserving of the praise of true statesmen and philosophers, even as Clarendon and Bolingbroke, as Walpole and Hume. (Dean Stanley.)
The prayer of pride
When Philip, king of Macedonia, laid siege to the fair city of Samos, he told the citizens that he came a-wooing to it; but the orator well replied, that it was not the fashion in their country to come a-wooing with a fife and a drum: so here we may behold this Pharisee in the posture of a beggar or petitioner, “going up to the temple to pray,” and yet telling God he standeth in no need of Him; as if, saith Chrysostom, a beggar, that were to crave an alms, should hide his ulcers, and load himself with chains, and rings, and bracelets, and clothe himself in rich and costly apparel; as if a beggar should ask an alms in the robes of a king. His “heart did flatter him in secret, and with his mouth he did kiss his hands,” as Job speaketh (Job 31:27). Coming before his Physician, he hideth his sores, and showeth his sound and healthful parts, in a dangerous case; like a man struck in a vein, that voideth his best blood, and retaineth his worst. And this is against the very nature of prayer; which should lay us at the feet of God, as nothing before Him; which should raise itself and take its flight on the wings of humility and obedience; which should contract the mind in itself, and secure it from pride; which should depress the soul in itself, and defend it from vainglory; which should so fill it that there may be no room for hypocrisy. Then our devotion will ascend as incense, “pure and holy” Exodus 30:35), seasoned with the admiration of God’s majesty, and the detestation of ourselves. (R. Farindon, D. D.)
The Pharisee’s mistake
The mistake of this Pharisee was, that he compared his outward life with the lives of disreputable people, and so took to himself the credit of exalted superiority. He should have looked in the other direction. Ii you would come to a just estimate of your character, look at those better than you, and compare yourself with them; look at those whom God has set for our examples, the prophets, the apostles, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and measure yourself by them; look at the holy ten commandments, and try yourself rigidly by their requirements; and this Pharisaic trust and pride in your own goodness will melt away like frost before the sun. (J. A. Seiss, D. D.)
An egotistical utterance
With what prominence and frequency he flourishes the big “I!” “I thank thee that I am not as other men.” “I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.” The whole utterance contains thirty.three words, of which one refers to God, five are “I’s,” and the remaining twenty-seven are either commendations of himself, or allusions to others in unfavourable contrast with his own superiority. Self--self--self--in utmost intensity runs through the whole of it. There isnot a trace of genuine devotion in the entire piece. There is a marvellous thrusting forward of ego, to which all the references to God, the temple, and other people, are made subservient. (J. A. Seiss, D. D.)
The fine prayer
The celebrated Professor Francke, who founded the great Orphan Asylum, in Halle, was walking one day in the fields with one of his colleagues. All at once the voice of a person praying drew their attention. They stopped, and on looking observed behind a bush two children on their knees, one of whom was praying fervently to God. The two professors listened, and were edified with the devotion which the young Christians seemed to possess. When the prayer was ended, the children rose. “Well,” said the one who led the devotions, with a self-complacent air, “didn’t I make a fine prayer?” This last remark caused Francke and his companion a painful surprise. But after a moment’s reflection, one of them remarked: “This child has shown openly what often passes in our minds. How often, when God has disposed us to pray with some fervour in presence of our brethren, do we rise from our knees with a secret vanity; and if shame did not restrain us, we should ask with this child, ‘have not I made a fine prayer?’”
The poorest the best
Lucian, in one of his dialogues, relates the case of two men going into the theatre to play on the harp: one harp was covered with gold and jewels, but its strings broke, and the admiration of the spectators was changed to contempt; the harp of the other man was a very poor and common one, yet it gave out the sweetest sound, and delighted all. The former harp represents the Pharisee, who plays upon his outside worth and fair appearance; the latter harp resembles the poor publican. (Preacher’s Promptuary.)
Need, not magnificence, the best aid to prayer
When Morales, the painter, was invited by Philip the Second to court, he came in such a magnificent costume, that the King, in anger, ordered a sum of money to be paid him, and so dismissed him. The next time they met he appeared in a very different dress, poor, old, and hungry, which so touched the heart of the King, that he immediately provided him with a revenue which kept him in comfort for all the future. So when men come to the throne of grace it is not their magnificence but their very want which touches the heart of God. (W. Baxendale.)
Self-praise in prayer
His prayer is like the pillar of brass which Trajan erected to himself in Rome, and which he covered with the record of his own triumphs. His prayer is a sort of monument over the tomb of his own dead heart, upon which he inscribes his fancied virtues. (J. Wells.)
God be merciful to me a sinner.
Humility of prayer
I. WHEN DO WE PRAY WITH HUMILITY? Learn this from the publican. It is when we acknowledge the infinite majesty of God and our own misery.
II. WHY MUST WE BE HUMBLE IN OUR PRAYERS?
1. God demands that we should pray with humility.
2. Reason itself teaches the same. Who would pay any attention to a proud beggar?
III. WHAT WE ARE TO DO IN ORDER TO LEARN TO PRAY WITH HUMILITY. A humble prayer can only proceed from a humble heart. Therefore endeavour to become humble of heart, by employing the following means:
1. Being convinced that humility is a grace of God, pray to Him that He may give you this beautiful virtue.
2. Call frequently to your mind what you are in real truth.
(1) What is your single self in comparison with the more than one thousand millions of men? You seem to disappear in the prodigious multitude.
(2) What are you relative to your body? Dust and ashes.
(3) What are you relative to your soul? True, your soul is the image and likeness of God; but what have you made of this Divine image by your sins of the past and of the present? And as to the future, when you reflect on your sins, have you not every reason to tremble before the severe judgment of God?
3. When you approach God in prayer, call to mind who God is in all His splendour and majesty, and who you are--a wretched sinner, a beggar sunk into the greatest misery, a culprit sentenced to death. And then, overwhelmed with the burden of your misery, speak from the depth of your heart to Him who alone is able to deliver you. And if you are troubled with distractions during your prayer, humble yourself again before your Lord and Master, and implore Him that He may not suffer you to commit new sins by negligence; but cease not praying in spite of distractions, and your prayer will be acceptable to the Lord. (J. Schmitt.)
The publican’s prayer
This is the only thought which befits a living man in the presence of his Creator. What other link can come between the God of holiness and love, and the sinner, but mercy! “God be merciful.”
I. In these few words of the contrite soul there is AN ARGUMENT WHICH GOD WILL NEVER REJECT. It is the plea God loves. “God be merciful to me because I am a sinner.” David knew that blessed argument when he said: “Lord pardon my iniquity, for it is great.” God has made a book, and it is for sinners; God has filled it with promises, and they are for sinners. He has given His own Son, and it is only for sinners.
II. THE WAY TO OBTAIN THIS FITTING CONDITION OF MIND. It is to be reached in the same way as the publican attained it. His whole mind appears to have been occupied with God, the rest was only secondary. Most persons when they try to cultivate penitence, look into themselves. It is the study of God, not of ourselves, which makes the penitent mind. Nothing makes sin seem so sinful and so hateful as the contemplation of the love of God.
III. WHOEVER WOULD BE TRULY A PENITENT MUST HAVE RIGHT VIEWS OF MERCY. It is an easy thing to say “God have mercy upon me.” Upon the just apprehension of what this mercy is depends the whole power and acceptability of the prayer, If God, simply by an act of sovereignty, forgave a sin and remitted the punishment, it would not be mercy. Before God can show Himself merciful to a sinner He must receive a satisfaction and an equivalent. That satisfaction is Christ. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The cry that opens heaven
1. When I come to analyze this prayer of the publican, I find in it, in the first place, an appreciation of his sinfulness. He proved himself honourable, and there were a great many admirable things about him, and yet he utters this cry of self-abnegation. What was the matter with him? Had he lost his reason? Had some low, contemptible cowardice seized upon him? O, no. For the first time in all his life he saw himself. He saw he was a sinner before God, utterly helpless and undone. At what moment that discovery flashed upon him I know not; but standing there in the court of the temple, surrounded by all the demonstrations of holiness and power, his soul has extorted from it the anguish-bitten cry of my text.
2. I pursue the analysis of my subject still further, and I find in this publican’s prayer the fact that he expected nothing except mercy. He might have said: “I am honest in all my dealings. When ten dollars are paid to me for tax, I hand it over to the Government. If you look over all my books you will find them right. My life has been upright and respectable.” He made no such plea. He comes and throws himself on God’s mercy. Are there any in this house who propose, by making their life right, to commend themselves to God? Do you really think you can break off your bad habits? Where then are we to be saved? Is there no balm for this mortal wound of my soul? Is there no light for this Arctic night? Is there no hope for a lost sinner? Yes; and that is what I came to tell you about. Mercy. Free mercy. Pardoning mercy. Suffering mercy. Infinite mercy. Omnipotent mercy. Everlasting mercy.
3. I push this analysis of my text one step further, and I find that this man saw that mercy would be of no advantage to him unless he pleaded for it. He did not say: “If I am to be saved, I will be saved, and if I am to be lost, I will be lost. There is nothing for me to do.” He knew that a thing worth having is worth asking for, and therefore, he makes the agonizing cry of my text. Mark you, it was an earnest prayer, and if you look through this Bible you will see that all the prayers that were answered were earnest prayers. But, mark you this, the publican’s prayer was not only earnest, it was humble. The Pharisee looked up; the publican looked down. I remark further, there was a ringing confidence in that prayer. He knew he would get the blessing if he asked for it; and he did get it. (De W. Talmage, D. D.)
A sinner praying for mercy
I. THE BLESSING HE ASKS IS MERCY: “God be merciful to me.”. Did you ever ask yourselves what mercy is? It means, in common language, pity Shown to me miserable for pity’s sake. Strictly speaking, it ceases to be mercy, if the miserable have any claim on us. It takes then the character of justice. And mercy has exactly the same meaning in Holy Scripture. It signifies God’s kindness extended to miserable man of God’s own pure goodness.
II. We may turn now to THE CHARACTER IN WHICH THIS MAN PRAYS. He says, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” He prays in a character that corresponds exactly with the temple services, and also with the blessing he supplicates. There at the altar falls the sacrifice, and who needs a sacrifice but the sinful? He pleads for mercy, and who needs mercy but the guilty? And it a blessed thing for a sinful man to be thus willing to take his own proper ground when he prays. He must take it, if he means to obtain God’s mercy. All the mercy that exists in God, bound less as it is, is mercy for sinners.
III. Observe now THE MANNER IN WHICH THIS WORSHIPPER PRAYS. And here again all is in harmony. His manner accords well with his character and his petition.
1. He is a sinner, and consequently he prays most humbly.
2. This publican prayed also very earnestly. He “smote upon his breast.” No matter what led him to do so. It was doubtless a mixture of feelings. Indignation against himself, a sense of his own pollution and misery, a thrilling apprehension of coming wrath--these things took possession of his mind; they agitated him; and like a man driven to extremities he could not restrain his agitation, he smote himself as he cried for mercy. He became exceedingly earnest in his prayer for it. He prayed for nothing else; he thought of nothing else. Mercy is everything with him.
IV. There is yet another circumstance in the parable to be noticed--THE SUCCESS OF THIS MAN’S PRAYER.
1. It was, first, abundant success, success beyond his petition.
2. His success was also immediate. (C. Bradley, M. A.)
The publican’s prayer
I. Observe THE OBJECT OF THE PUBLICAN’S PRAYER.
1. The light of nature teaches man there is a God, a supreme Being, and Governor of the world. There is not a rational creature to be found upon the earth but admits this truth. And, hence, all attend to same kind of worship.
2. Revelation makes known to man the true God in His nature and attributes, and exhibits His conduct towards the children of men.
3. But we must remember that God is never savingly known, even by those who have the Volume of Divine revelation, by the unassisted powers of nature. Hence, in addition to Revelation, it is necessary that the mind be enlightened, in order to its perception of Divine truth. And to do this is the exclusive prerogative of the Holy Spirit.
II. THE SUBJECT OF HIS PETITION--“mercy”; and the description he gives of himself--“a sinner.” “God be merciful to me a sinner!”
1. On the part of man, here are two things implied:
(1) Misery. A sense of deep wretchedness, as being sunk in iniquity--totally depraved, and in every part polluted. The truly awakened sinner feels that he is spiritually diseased; and that, “from the crown of his head to the soul of his foot, he is wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores.”
(2) A deep sense of unworthiness. The truly contrite soul brings no qualifications; no merit, no sacrifice of his own; but comes as a sinner, and having for his only plea, the mercy of God in Christ Jesus.
2. There are also two things, in the exercise of mercy, on the part of God, which the spiritually enlightened sinner especially regards.
(1) Pity, or compassion. When the Holy Spirit brings the sinner to a saving knowledge of God, He enables him to look up to his heavenly Father, as the God of compassion.
(2) Pardon, or forgiveness. “I, even I,” says God, “am He that pardoneth iniquity, transgression, and sin.” The Holy Spirit teaches all true believers that the justice of God is for them, and on their side, as well as His mercy.
III. WHAT THIS PRAYER IMPLIES, WHEN OFFERED TO GOD IS A PROPER SPIRIT.
1. True humiliation for sin. Even after the manifestation of forgiving love, the man who enjoys it feels deeply humbled before God.
2. This prayer, when offered in a proper spirit, implies evangelical repentance. God says (Ezekiel 36:31).
3. This prayer implies submission to the righteous judgment of God.
In conclusion, we learn from this subject--
1. That the ground (or cause) of a sinner’s justification is out of himself.
2. Learn that no outward reformation, even though accompanied by the strictest attention to religious duties, can save the soul.
3. Learn that no sensible sinner, no humble penitent, need feel discouraged in approaching the God of mercy for pardon.
4. Learn, finally, to beware lest you make the mercy of God an excuse for your continuance in sin. (T. Gibson, M. A.)
A sermon for the worst man on earth
I. THE FACT OF SINNERSHIP IS NO REASON FOR DESPAIR.
1. This man who was a sinner yet dared to approach the Lord. Emphatically he applies to himself the guilty name. He takes the chief place in condemnation, and yet he cries, “God be merciful to me the sinner.” If this man who was the sinner found forgiveness, so also shall you if you seek it in the same way.
2. Next, remember that you may not only find encouragement in looking at the sinner who sought his God, but in the God whom he sought. Sinner, there is great mercy in the heart of God.
3. Moreover, the conception of salvation implies hope for sinners. That salvation which we preach to you every day is glad tidings for the guilty. Salvation by grace implies that men are guilty. The very name of Jesus tells us that He shall save His people from their sins.
4. Let me further say that, inasmuch as that salvation of God is a great one, it must have been intended to meet great sins. Think you God would have given His dear Son to die as a mere superfluity?
5. If you will think of it again, there must be hope for sinners, for the great commands of the gospel are most suitable to sinners.
6. If you want any other argument--and I hope you do not--I would put it thus: great sinners have been saved. All sorts of sinners are being saved to-day.
II. A SENSE OF SINNERSHIP CONFERS NO RIGHT TO MERCY. You will wonder why I mention this self-evident truth; but I must mention it because of a common error which does great mischief. This man was very sensible of his sin insomuch that he called himself THE SINNER; but he did not urge his sense of sin as any.reason why he should find mercy. I want you, therefore, to learn that a sense of sin gives no man a right to grace.
III. My third observation is this: THE KNOWLEDGE OF THEIR SINNERSHIP GUIDES MEN TO RIGHT ACTING. When a man has learned of the Holy Spirit that he is a sinner, then by a kind of instinct of the new life, he does the right thing in the right way.
1. This man went straight to God.
2. He went with a full confession of sin.
3. He appealed to mercy only.
IV. THE BELIEVING CONFESSION OF SINNERSHIP IS THE WAY OF PEACE. “God be merciful to me a sinner,” was the prayer, but what was the answer? Listen to this: “This man went down,” etc. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The penitent’s prayer
The arrangement of these words is perfect. On one side is Deity--alone--without an attribute, far grander in that solitude than if ten thousand titles had been added to His name--“God.” On the other--thrown into the greatest possible distance--is man; and he, too, is alone; and his whole being is put into one single expression--it is not a description, it is a synonymy--“me, a sinner.” And between these two extremes--spanning the distance, and uniting the ends--is one link--simple--grand--sufficient--“mercy,” nothing but “mercy” Ñ “Godbe merciful to me a sinner.” I may mention, for the sake of those who do not happen to know it, that there are three points in the original, which could not well be rendered in our version; but which make this strong language stronger still. There it is, “the God,” and “the sinner”; as if the publican wished to give the greatest possible definiteness to all his expressions;--“the God”--the good God--“be merciful to me”; as though he were the only man on the face of the earth who needed the forgiveness--no comparisons, no distractions, no deductions; the mind concentrated, the mind absorbed, upon the one guilty self, “The God be merciful to me the sinner.” And in the very phrase which he selects--“be merciful,”--there is rolled up atonement; it is, “be propitiate.” Doubtless that man had been taught to see mercy all in sacrifice; to recognize no pardon out of covenant, and no covenant out of blood. “The God be propitiate to me the sinner.” I think you will see, brethren, that there is great force in that distinction of language. Weakness always deals in generalities. A man is general in his thoughts and his expressions till he begins to be in earnest; and the very moment he begins to be in earnest, he is individual. Hear men, as men generally speak about God. They say, “the Almighty”; and they say, “the Almighty is very good,” and, “we are all of us bad,” and, “none of us are as good as we ought to be”; that is the language of natural religion, if, indeed, it be religion at all. It is loose, because it cannot afford to be accurate; it shuns just what a spiritual man loves-personality. How different is the teaching of the Holy Ghost! The soul cannot be particular enough; it lives in exactnesses; it individualizes everything. “The God be propitiate to me the sinner.” To make true prayer--or, which is the same thing--to make true peace, two things are wanted. Some persons, to a certain extent, attain the one, and some the other; while, because they do not, at the same moment, attain both, the end is frustrated. The truth lies in unity. The one thing is to exalt God very high; and the other, to demean self very low. If you lift up the attributes of God, and do not proportionably debase yourself, you are in danger of running into presumption. If you take deep views of your sinfulness, and do not, at the same time, magnify the grace of God, you will run into despair. A God high in His glory, and self down in the dust, that is best; and let me advise you to look well to it whether you are doing these two things with parallel steps. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The ingredients of real mercy
To make forgiveness--to make real “mercy”--four things are required. God must be Himself just in doing it. The forgiven man must be perfectly sure that he is forgiven. The forgiveness must not incline the forgiven man to go and sin again, but it must stop him. And the rest of mankind must see no encouragement in that man’s pardon to go and do like him, but rather see the strongest argument not to do it. Now, in God’s way of “mercy” these four things meet. First, God is lust, because He never remits a penalty till He has received an equivalent; the sinning soul has died in its covenant Head, and God keeps His word; and the very same attribute which compels God to punish man out of Christ, in Christ obliges God to pardon Him. Secondly, that forgiven man can never doubt his acceptance, because he knows that the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ outweighs the universe. The infinity of Christ is in the ransom. Either he is perfectly pardoned, or the Son of God has died in vain. Thirdly, that pardoned man cannot go and sin again, because, unless he loves Christ, he is not forgiven; and if he does love Christ, he cannot love the sin which crucified Him; he cannot go and do lightly again that which grieves and wounds Him whom now his soul holds more precious than all the world. And, fourthly, the whole world in that man has seen sin in its greatest possible magnitude, because it has seen sin drag down to this earth and crucify the Lord of life and glory; the law is more honourable than if the whole world had perished; since, sooner than one iota of that law should be set aside, the Son of God has kept that law by His life, and satisfied it by His death; so sin is made viler by the very act which cancels it; and pardon is no more the parent of peace, than peace is the mother of holiness. That is mercy. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
The publican’s prayer
I. The substance of this prayer evinces deep CONVICTION OF SIN.
II. HELPLESSNESS. He admits the righteousness of his condemnation, and sues for mercy.
III. FAITH. He took hold of God’s promises, and made his appeal. (W.M. Taylor, D. D.)
Earnestness is brief
Earnestness does not express itself in long, inflated, pompous sentences. It is brief; it is simple. The moment has arrived when victory, long doubtful as the tide of success ebbed and flowed, may be won by one splendid, dashing, daring attack--the order is given in one brief word, Charge! On the distant waves a flag is seen, now sinking in the trough and again rising on the crest of the foaming billows; and beneath that signal, clinging to the fragment of a vessel that lies many fathoms down in the depths of ocean, are two human forms--and all the cry that sounds from stem to stern is, “A wreck, a wreck!” and all the order, “Lower the boat!” words hardly uttered when she drops on the water, and, pulled by stout rowers, is leaping over the waves to the rescue. One late in the deserted streets sees the smoke creep, and the flames begin to flash and flicker from a house whoso tenants are buried in sleep; he bounds to the door and thunders on it--all his cry, “Fire, fire!” Peter sinks amid the boisterous waves of Galilee and all the prayer of lips the cold water kisses is, as he stretches out his hand to Jesus, “Save me, I perish!” And with the brief, urgent earnestness of one who seeing his danger, knows that there is no time, and believing in God’s great mercy, feels that there is no need for long prayers, the publican, like a man who in falling over a crag catches the arm of a friendly tree, throws his whole soul into this cry, these few, blessed, accepted words, “God be merciful to me a sinner!” (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
Justification as the result of prayer
Brethren, we have here a pregnant word as to the possibilities and capabilities of worship. Two men went up into the temple to pray, and one of the two returned to his house justified. What is it to be justified? All true doctrine teaches us a great difference between being justified and being sanctified. Justification is an act, sanctification is a process. Both are of God. But whereas the one may be the act of a moment, restoring the sinner to the Divine acceptance by a simple forgiveness through the blood of Jesus, the other in most cases is the work of a lifetime, consisting in the gradual formation of a new character by the daily influence of the Spirit of Grace. There are other uses of the word, but this is its meaning when it is applied accurately. Now, of course, there is a sense in which justification stands at the beginning of the Christian course, and needs not, and indeed suffers not to be repeated. When a man comes to himself in the far country, and says, “I will arise and go to my Father,” and when he not only says but does, and not only starts for, but arrives at, the home where the Father dwells, and receives from Him the kiss of peace, and the ring of the everlasting covenant then and there, that is his justification. God for Christ’s sake freely forgives, bestows upon him the Holy Spirit, and, unless some terrible thing should happen afterwards, sets him in the sure way, of which the end is heaven. “Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” But our Lord Himself here speaks of a man going down to his house from a particular act of worship either justified or not justitied. And this seems to give an importance, quite beyond our common estimate, to such a service as this in which we are now engaged. You may say, indeed, that this particular occasion was the justification, in the first and fullest sense, of this publican. Now first, you may say, he felt himself a sinner, now first he sought mercy, and when he went back to his house he went back for the first time, and for all time a pardoned and accepted man. But this idea of restriction seems to have been imported into the parable. Is there anything in our Lord’s words to imply that either the prayer of the Pharisee or the prayer of the publican was a single and isolated one, never offered before, suggested by some crisis of the life, sudden and not to be repeated? Was it not rather the habit of the two minds thus to express themselves? Would the Pharisee be a different man to-morrow, not the exception, and not the perfection that he now thinks himself? And would the publican when he came again to the temple be no longer the sinner of sinners, but an improved, and altered, and sanctified man? Where is all this in the parable! If not, then the justification spoken of may be repeated tomorrow, and we have before us the thought of the issues of worship rather than the thought of the issues of a fundamental spiritual change. This man went down to his house justified, on this particular occasion, rather than the other. The justification spoken of is forgiveness, or absolution. Brethren, the justified man wants forgiveness; the man who has bathed the whole body needs afterwards to wash the feet. This man has brought his load of sin with him to the temple; he has come guilty and burdened, conscience accusing, and convicted. He has left undone that which he ought to hare done since he last worshipped, he has done that which he ought not to have done since he last worshipped, there is no health in him; this morning he has come, just as he is, to the God of his life; he has sought no intervention, and no intermediation of priest, or of sacrifice; he has come straight to God. He has taken for granted God’s knowledge of each of his transgressions, as well as of that root and spring of evil, which is the fallen and sinful self; and now, pre-supposing all this, he has simply to ask for mercy, which is, being interpreted, kindness to the undeserving, and he has received the answer of peace, and so now he goes back to his house justified. What of the other? His return is not described; it is left under the veil of a parable. The publican is justified beyond, or in comparison with, or rather than, the Pharisee--such is the Greek. Dare we suggest on the strength of this reticence two kinds or two degrees of justification, one the higher and more complete, but the other, though lower, perhaps sufficient? Let us look at the prayer, and judge by it of the answer, “God, I thank thee for my satisfactory condition, for my exemplary conduct, for my exceptional, my unique freedom from the otherwise universal wickedness of mankind.” What is there here to suggest the thought of a justification, of which the other name is absolution, or forgiveness? What is there here to be forgiven? Not having asked, he surely has not received, a boon which is only acceptable, and only appropriate to the sinner. (Dean Vaughan.)
“The best of God’s people have abhorred themselves. Like the spire of a steeple, minimus in summo, we are least at the highest. David, a king, was yet like a weaned child.” Manton is not very clear about the steeple, but he means that the higher a spire rises towards heaven the smaller it becomes, and thus the more elevated are our spirits the less shall we be in our own esteem. Great thoughts of self and great grace never go together. Self-consciousness is a sure sign that there is not much depth of grace. He who over-values himself under-values his Saviour. He who abounds in piety is sure to be filled with humility. Light things, such as straws and feathers, are borne aloft; valuable goods keep their places, and remain below, not because they are chained or riveted there, but by virtue of their own weight. When we begin to talk of our perfection, our imperfection is getting the upper hand. The more full we become of the presence of the Lord the more shall we sink in our own esteem, even as laden vessels sink down to their water-mark, while empty ships float aloft. Lord, make and keep me humble. Lift me nearer and nearer to heaven, and then I shall grow less and less in my own esteem. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Sin a personal affront to God
Sin is a personal affront, whose bitter consequences only the forgiveness of God Himself can remove, and toward which, with the publican, we must implore Him to be merciful. It does not read, “Nature be merciful,” nor “Laws of my constitution be merciful,” nor “Society be merciful,” nor, “I will be merciful to myself,” but, “God be merciful;”--nor yet, “God be merciful to sin in general,” but “to me a sinner.” (Bishop Huntington.)
A negro’s prayer
My uncle, the Rev. Dr. Samuel K. Talmage, of Augusta, Georgia, was passing along the street one day and he met a black man, who stepped out into the street, leaving the pavement, took his hat off, and bowed very lowly in the presence of my uncle. My uncle said to him: “My dear fellow, why do you stand there and make such a low bow to me?” “Oh,” he replied, “massa, I owe you more than any one on earth.” “Why,” inquired my uncle, “what do you mean?” “Well,” said the man, “I was going along the street the other night, and I had a heavy burden on my back, and I was hungry and sick, and I saw your church was lighted, and I thought I would just stand at the door a minute and listen, and I put down my burden and listened, and I heard you say: ‘God be merciful to me a sinner.’ And you said that any poor soul that could utter that prayer from the heart could get to heaven, and I shouldered my burden and I went on home, and I went in the house, and I sat down, and I folded my hands, and I said: ‘God be merciful to me a sinner,’ but I felt no better; I felt worse. And then I got down on my knees, and I said it again: ‘God be merciful to me a sinner.’ I felt no better. It was darker than it was before. And then, massa, I threw myself down on my face and cried out: ‘God be merciful to me a sinner,’ and I kept on crying that until after awhile I saw a light a good ways off, and it came nearer to me, and nearer to me, and it got all bright, and I felt very happy, and I thought the next time I saw you coming down the street I would bow very low before you, and I would stand out of your way, and I would tell you how much I owed to you.” (De W. Talmage, D. D.)
As a sinner
When the late Duke of Kent, the father of Queen Victoria, was expressing, in the prospect of death, some concern about the state of his soul, his physician endeavoured to soothe his mind by referring to his high respectability, and his honourable conduct in the distinguished situation in which Providence had placed him, when he stopped him short, saying, “No; remember, if I am to be saved, it is not as a prince, but as a sinner.”
The publican’s prayer used in death
Many well-known Christians have died with the publican’s prayer on their lips. Archbishop Usher did so. William Wilberforce, the liberator of the slaves, said when dying, “With regard to myself, I have nothing to urge but the poor publican’s plea, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner.’” When the famous Grotius was a-dying at Rostock, the minister reminded him of the publican’s prayer, “That publican, Lord, am I,” said Grotius, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” and then he died. (J. Wells.)
The nature and necessity of humility
I. We are to consider THE NATURE OF HUMILITY. There is the more occasion for describing this gracious exercise of heart with peculiar accuracy and precision, because mankind are naturally disposed to misunderstand and misrepresent it. Mr. Hume scrupled not to say, that “humility ought to be struck off from the catalogue of virtues, and placed on the catalogue of vices.” This must have been owing to his gross ignorance, or extreme malignity. The most charitable supposition is, that he really mistook a mere selfish and painful sense of natural inferiority for true humility. This leads me to observe that a man’s humbling himself is something very different from his having a mistaken and reluctant sense of his own inferiority in relation to his fellow mortals. Humility is likewise different from submission, which seems to resemble it. Submission is the respect which an inferior justly owes to a superior. Furthermore, humility is something different from condescension, which is the part of a superior, and consists in stooping to an inferior. Thus the Creator may condescend to a creature, the prince to a subject, the rich to the poor, and the aged to the young. But though condescension stoops, yet it is by no means degrading. Real condescension always displays a noble and amiable spirit. I may now safely say that humility essentially consists in selfabasement, which is self-degradation, or a voluntary sinking, not only below others, but below ourselves. It is, therefore, wholly founded in guilt. None but guilty creatures have any cause or reason for abasing themselves. But every guilty creature ought to abase himself, whether he is willing or unwilling to perform the mortifying duty.
II. SINNERS MUST HUMBLE THEMSELVES BEFORE GOD, IN ORDER TO OBTAIN PARDONING MERCY.
1. God cannot consistently receive them into His favour, before they voluntarily humble themselves for their transgressions in His sight.
2. It is.impossible for sinners to receive Divine mercy before they take their proper places, and are willing to sink as low as Divine justice can sink them.
1. If humility essentially consist in self-abasement for sin, then we may safely suppose that neither God the Father, nor the Lord Jesus Christ, ever exercised any affection which may be strictly called humility.
2. If humility consists in self-abasement, we may clearly see how low sinners must lie before God, in order to obtain His pardoning mercy.
3. If humility consists in a free and voluntary self-abasement for sin, then it is the most amiable and shining exercise of a holy heart.
4. Finally, it appears from this whole discourse that nothing short of real, cordial self-abasement, can qualify any of our sinful race to obtain and enjoy the happiness of heaven. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
An old writer of the Church says of humility that “it is the great ornament and jewel of the Christian religion. All the world, all that we are, and all that we have, our bodies and our souls, our actions and our sufferings, our conditions at home, our accidents abroad, our many sins and our seldom virtues, are as so many arguments to make our souls dwell low in the deep valley of humility.” A moment’s thought will convince you of the truth of this. Of what are you proud, of your holiness Think of the many shortcomings, the endless sins, great and small, the numberless yieldings to temptation, the constant infirmities of temper which have marked the course of your lives during the last year, and then set these off against the good deeds on which you congratulate yourselves, have you much to be proud of? Are you proud of your bodily strength, your health, your beauty? Remember that a sudden cold or the prick of a lancet will banish life from your bodies, that a week’s sickness will mar your beauty for ever. The flowers which bloom and fade are more beautiful than the loveliest of living beings, hundreds of animals are stronger and more long-lived than man; have we then much to be proud of here? Are you proud of your intellect, of your superiority over your neighbours in know ledge and education? Brethren, the most deeply learned knows that he is as a child amid the mysteries of nature; half his knowledge is but a groping after more light, which is long in coming, and feeble when it is gained. “Our learning is best when it teaches most humility, but to be proud of learning is the greatest ignorance in the world.” (H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, M. A.)
Justified rather than the other
I. HOW DO WE BECOME JUST WITH GOD?
1. Not by works in themselves, but by the disposition of the mind.
2. Not only by a moral disposition, but by a pious disposition.
3. Not only by a pious disposition in general, but by a believing disposition in the merits of Christ. Justification is God’s gift, apart from any desert on our part.
II. WHAT RICH BLESSING IS INCLUDED IN OUR JUSTIFICATION?
1. Forgiveness of sin.
2. An incentive and power to a new life in repentance and satisfaction.
3. Always free access now to God, and new assurances of favour and a sure hope of eternal life. (Heintzeler.)
Humility and self-reproach rewarded
I recently met with an account of a prince, the son of a king, who went to a house of correction to see the captives. Meeting there so many people, toiling at their tasks, and hobbling in their chains, his heart was moved with pity, and he resolved to give some of them their liberty. But he must first find out which of them deserved release. To satisfy himself on this point, he went from one to the other, asking each why he was there. According to the answers he got, all were brave, proper, and honourable men; one had simply been unfortunate; another had done no wrong; a third was slandered; a fourth was forced against his will; each pleading innocence, and entreating, on these grounds, to be released. At last he came to a young man, asking, “And what have you done, that has brought you here?” “Gracious sir,” answered the man, “I am here because I deserve it. I ran away from my parents; I led an idle and dissolute life; I committed theft and forgery; and it would take an hour to tell all the bad things I have done. And this is what I justly deserve for my evil deeds.” The prince facetiously remarked: “Indeed! and how does it happen that so bad a man ever found his way in among all these virtuous and honourable people? Take off his chains, open the gates, and let him out, lest he corrupt and spoil these good innocent men, who have all been put here without a cause.” He meant to say, that this was the only honest-hearted one among them; that the rest had only lied and dissembled; and that people who have no sins to confess, are not fit to have their punishments remitted. “This young man,” said he, “confesses his misdeeds; he has humbled himself before God and me; and him alone I deem worthy of his freedom. Therefore set him at liberty.” (J. A. Seiss, D. D.)
Suffer little children to come unto Me
Christ’s favour to little children displayed
These children were not brought to Christ to be taught, for they were not yet capable of receiving instruction; nor could they profit by His preaching, or put any questions to Him. Those who are grown up to years of understanding, have need to be busy in getting knowledge now, that they may redeem the time they lost, through the invincible incapacities of their infancy.
2. Nor were they brought to Christ to be cured, for it does not appear that they needed it. Little children are indeed liable to many distempers, painful, mortal ones. The physicians have a book among them, “De Morbis Infantum”--on the diseases of infants. Death and its harbingers reign even over them who have not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, but these children were strong and healthful, and we do not find that anything ailed them.
3. They were brought to Christ to be blessed; so they meant when they desired that He would touch them: the sign is put for the thing signified.
I. HOW WE MUST BRING OUR LITTLE CHILDREN TO CHRIST.
1. By surrendering them to Him in Holy Baptism.
2. We must bring them to Christ, by seeking to Him for them, as those who are surrendered to Him. They are to be but once baptized, but they are to be daily prayed for, and the promise sealed to them in their baptism put in suit and pleaded with God in their behalf.
(1) Be constant in praying for your children; pray for them as duly as for yourselves, as St. Paul for his friends, making mention of them always in every prayer.
(2) Be particular in praying for them; pray for each particular child, as holy Job offered burnt-offerings for his sons, according to the number of them all; that you may be able to say, as Hannah, “For this child I prayed”: pray for particular blessings for your children, according as you see their case requires, for that grace which you observe their natural temper (or distemper rather) calls for.
3. We must bring them to Christ, by submitting them to the disposal of His Providence. I have read of a good man, whose son being disposed of in the world, met with great affliction, which he once very feelingly complained of to his good father, who answered (according to the principle I am now upon), “Anything, child, to bring thee to heaven.”
4. We must bring them to Christ, by subjecting them, as far as we can, to the government of His grace. Having laid their necks under the yoke of Christ in their baptism, we must teach them to draw in it, and use our interest in them, and authority over them, to keep them under that easy yoke, and bring them up in the nurture and admonition of our Lord Jesus.
II. HOW CHRIST WILL RECEIVE THE CHILDREN.
1. He took those children up in His arms; and so we may hope He will take up our children in the arms of. His power and providence, and of His pity and grace.
2. He put His hands upon those children.
(1) If He set us and ours apart for Himself, as His own peculiar people, we may say He puts His hand upon us and ours: as the buyer lays his hand on the goods he has agreed for, they are now his own; as Jacob put his hand on the head of Joseph’s sons, to signify not only his blessing them, but his adopting them, and taking them for his own, “Let my name be named upon them.” This we hope Christ does for our children, when we bring them to Him; He owns them for His; and we may say they do in some degree belong to Christ, are retainers to His family.
(2) If He give His Holy Spirit to us and ours, it may truly be said, He puts His hand upon us and them. The Spirit is sometimes called the finger of God, and sometimes the hand of God, so that Christ’s putting His hand upon us, not only puts us into a relation to Him, but works a real change in us; lays hold on the soul for Him, and puts His image, as well as superscription, upon it. The laying on of hands was a ceremony used in conferring the Holy Ghost; and this we pray for, and hope for, from Christ, for our children, when we bring them to Him.
3. He blessed them. He was desired to pray for a blessing for them, but He did more, He commanded the blessing, blessed with authority; He pronounced them blessed, and thereby made them so; for those whom He blesseth are blessed indeed. Christ is the great High Priest, whose office it is to bless the people of God, and all theirs.
III. THE APPLICATION.
1. Let me hence address myself to children, to little children, to the lambs of the flock, to the youngest who can hear with understanding: will not you be glad to hear this, that the Lord Jesus Christ has a tender concern and affection for you; and that He has blessings in store for you, if you apply yourselves to Him, according to your capacity? Lay yourselves at Christ’s feet, and He will take you up in His arms. Give yourselves to Him, and He will give Himself in His grace and comforts to you. Lie in His way, by a diligent attendance on His ordinances, and He will not pass by without putting His hand on you. And if you value His blessings aright, and be earnest with Him for His blessings, He will bless you with the best of blessings, such as will make you eternally blessed.
(1) Let us then still bring them to Him, by faith and prayer, according as their case requires.
(2) Let us bring them up for Him. Let not your children rest in a mere natural religion; that is good, it is necessary, but it is not enough. You must make them sensible of their need of Christ, of their lost and undone condition without Him; must endeavour to lead them into the mysteries of our reconciliation to God, and our redemption from sin and wrath, by a Mediator; and O that they may experimentally know Him, and the power of His resurrection! And as in other accomplishments of your children, so in the business of religion, which is their best and true accomplishment, you must, as they come to be capable, put them on to advance.
3. Let this encourage us, who are parents, concerning our children; and enable us to think of them with comfort and hope, in the midst of our cares about them. When we wish well to them, we would willingly hope well; and this is ground of hope, that our Lord Jesus has expressed so much favour to little children.
(1) This may comfort and encourage the tender careful mothers in nursing them, that they are carrying those in their arms whom Christ has taken up in His.
(2) This may comfort and encourage us if our children labour under any bodily weaknesses and infirmities, if they be unhealthful and often ailing, which is an allay to our comfort in them; let this serve to balance that, If they belong to Christ, and be blessed of Him, they are blessed indeed; and nothing amiss of that kind shall be any prejudice to their blessedness, or diminution of it, but may, being sanctified, become rather a friend and furtherance to it. Many have been the wiser and better, the more humble and heavenly, for their having borne the yoke of affliction in their youth. (Matthew Henry.)
A mother’s concern for her children
I feel a sympathy with what a woman said to me. I was told to come to her dying couch, and administer the sacrament. I went with an elder. She said: “I want to belong to the Church. I am going up to be a member of the Church in heaven; but I don’t want to go until I am a member of the Church on earth.” So I gave her the sacrament. And then she said: “Now, I am in the Church, here is the baby, baptize him; and here are all the children, baptize them all. I want to leave them all in the Church.” So I baptized them. Some years after, I was preaching one day in Chicago, and at the close of the service, a lad came upon the platform, and said: “You don’t know me, do you?” “No,” said I. “My name is George Parish.” “Ah,” said I; “I remember, I baptized you by your mother’s dying bed, didn’t I?” “Yes,” he said: “You baptized all of us there, and I came up to tell you that I have given my heart to God. I thought you would like to know it.” “I am very glad,” I replied; “but I am not surprised. You had a good mother; that is almost sure to make a boy come to God if he has a good mother.” (De W. Talmage, D. D.)
Christianity and the destiny of children
When I was at Dhoas, writes a missionary’s wife, my husband opened the new chapel, which holds one hundred and fifty people. Sixty-five persons were baptized; among the rest several women. I proposed meeting them alone on Tuesday evening. One very nice-looking woman had a sweet-looking girl at her side, about ten years old. I said, “Amah, would you like me to teach your daughter?” With an indescribable look of tenderness she drew her to her side, and putting her arm around her, said, “This is my only one.” “Have you not had more children?” I asked. “Ah I yes, ma’am, I have had six; but they are dead. Yes, they all died, five of them, one after the other; they all died.” “And you, poor thing, how sorry you must have been!” “Heigh-ho! how sorry! Too much trouble! took; too much expense. After the first died I took sacrifices to the temple, and made worship to the idol, and told him I would give him all I could if my second might live; but he died. Then my heart was very sore; and when my third came, I went to a guru, and took a cloth, and fowl, and rice; and he said muntrums, and made pujah (worship); but no, that child, he died. My heart was like fire, it burned so with sorrow. I was almost mad; and yet I tried some fresh ceremony for every child.” “What did you think had become of the spirits of your children?” I asked. “You knew their bodies died, but did you think much of their spirits?” “Ah! that was the thing that almost made me mad. I did not know. I thought perhaps one devil took one, and another took another; or perhaps they were gone into some bird, or beast, or something, I did not know; and I used to think and think till my heart was too full of sorrow.” “But, Amah,” I replied, “you do not look sorry now.” With a look almost sublime, she said, “Sorry now! Oh, no, no! Why, I know now where my children are. They are with Jesus. I have learned that Jesus said, ‘Suffer little children to come unto Me.’ My sorrow is all gone, and I can bear their not being with me. They are happy with Him, and, after a little while, I shall go to Him too, and this little girl, my Julia, and my husband too.” (A. G.Thomson, D. D.)
Children the true saints of God
Mr. Gray had not been long minister of the parish before he noticed the odd practice of the grave-digger; and one day when he came upon John smoothing and trimming the lonely bed of a child which had been buried a few days before, he asked why he was so particular in dressing and keeping the graves of infants. John paused for a moment at his work, and looking up, not at the minister, but at the sky, said, “Of such is the kingdom of heaven.” “And on this account you tend and adorn them with so much care,” remarked the minister, who was greatly struck with the reply. “Surely, sir,” answered John; “I canna make ower braw and fine the bed-covering o’ a little innocent sleeper that is waitin’ there till it is God’s time to wauken it and cover it with white robe, and waft it away to glory. Where sic grandeur is awaitin’ it yonder, it’s fit it should be decked out here. I think the Saviour will like to see white clover spread abune it; dae ye no think sae tae, sir?” “But why not thus cover larger graves?” asked the minister, hardly able to suppress his emotions. “The dust of all His saints is precious in the Saviour’s sight.” “Very true, sir,” responded John, with great solemnity, “but I canna be sure wha are His saints, and wha are no. I hope thear are many of them lyin’ in this kirkyard; but it wad be great presumption to mark them oot. There are some that I’m gey sure aboot, and I keep their graves as nate and snod as I can, and plant a bit floure here and there as a sign of my hope, but daurna gie them the white shirt,” referring to the white clover. “It’s clean different, though, wi’ the bairns.” (A. G. Thomson, D. D.)
The blessed influence of children
Children are the salvation of the race. They purify, they elevate, they stir, they instruct, they console, they reconcile, they gladden us. They are the ozone of human life, inspiring us with hope, rousing us to wholesome sacrifice. If, in the faults which they inherit, they show us the worst of ourselves, and so move us to a salutary repentance, they also stimulate our finer qualities; they cheat us of weary care; they preach to us, not so much by their lips as by their innocence; their questions set us thinking, and to better purpose than the syllogisms of philosophers; their helplessness makes us tender; their loveliness surprises us into pure joy A child is a sunbeam on a winter sea, a flower in a prison garden, the music of hells over the noise of a great city, a fragrant odour in a sick-room. If any one thinks this exaggerated, I am sorry for him. It is literally true for me, and for tens of thousands who have far more right to it. These fingers tingle with a kind of happiness while I am writing about them here. My chilly friend need not have my joy if he does not believe in it, or care for it; I will not force it on him, but he shall not take mine from me. (Bishop of Rochester.)
1. With respect to THE COMMAND in the text. Those persons may be said to fulfil it, in the first place, who afford to children a Christian example. Now, let us consider here, what features of character may be best exemplified, so as to produce a good effect. One peculiar trait in the character of our Lord Jesus Christ was His consideration of human infirmity. “We have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities.”
2. Not only should our instructions be religious, but eminently evangelical, in order to benefit the young. In preaching, it is found that the preaching of mere morality, however luminous and explicit, and however judiciously and powerfully enforced, produces but very little effect.
3. Remember that all human instruction needs to be frequently repeated. Even adults, whose minds are not volatile as those of children, need “line upon line, line upon line, precept upon precept, precept upon precept.”
4. Allow me to call your attention, also, to another very important fact, namely, that without the influence of the Holy Spirit, no valuable effect can be produced.
II. In the text there is an allusion, also, to the character of THE ENCOURAGEMENT we may derive from the communication of such instructions: “Of such is the kingdom of God.” It might, indeed, be remarked here, that there is an admirable adaptation between what is taught, and the end you wish to produce--the means are exactly united to the end proposed. But--
1. Consider how much good is produced by the influence of habit. Now, when you have to do with children, you have to do with those whose minds are susceptible; and you may be instrumental in forming their habits, and in putting them on their guard against the dangers to which they are exposed.
2. Many to whom we address ourselves on the concerns of their souls, complain of want of time and of the distracting influence of the things of the world. But when you take youthful minds into your hands, you have to do with those on whom worldly cares have no influence.
3. The things of the world produce, naturally, a kind of indurating influence. It tends to sink them down to that very situation in which the soul naturally wishes to be. And not only is there in the minds of children a tenderness of feeling for the reception of these great and important truths, but also a freshness and vigour for the exhibition of these truths, and for the exhibition of them to the greatest advantage. (R. Treffry.)
Why children should come to Jesus
I. THE CHILDREN OF TO-DAY SHOULD COME TO JESUS BECAUSE THEY NEED JUST SUCH A TEACHER, SAVIOUR, AND FRIEND. I remember a company of blind children from an asylum waiting at the door of one of our churches for some one from within to lead them to their place. Parents and teachers can lead a child to the door of a good life, but Jesus only can lead into goodness and heaven.
II. ANOTHER REASON WHY CHILDREN, AND LITTLE CHILDREN, SHOULD COME TO JESUS IS, THAT THEY ARE NOT SO FAR FROM HIM AS THOSE WHO HAVE GROWN OLD IN SIN. Every child is born close to heaven’s gate. Children’s hearts have fresh affections that turn to Jesus almost as readily as climbing plants in June wind about their proper support. If those plants lie along the ground till August they can hardly be made to climb at all so late in their life.
III. ANOTHER REASON FOR CHILDREN COMING TO JESUS IS HIS SPECIAL LOVE FOR THEM. (W. C. C. Wright.)
Children taken to Christ
Jesus is still calling little children to Him. His arms are ever open to receive them, and His lips parted to bless them. He loves them for their likeness to His own purity and gentleness. He would keep them gentle and pure, that He may present them perfect to His own Father. Let us beware of throwing any impediment between them and their Saviour; of suffering our indifference or neglect, our flimsy theories, hard doctrines, or evil examples, to prevent these little ones from seeing and loving the Son of Mary; from being folded in the arms of His grace, and being blessed by the influences of His religion and life.
I. LET US NOT FORBID THEIR COMING TO HIM IN THE RITE OF BAPTISM. If this is one of the calls which Jesus makes to little children; if He says to them, by a fair interpretation of the language of this rite, “Come to Me through the consecrated waters,” let us suffer them to go, and not stand in their way with our doubts, our fears, or our apathy. Let that heavenly dew be shed on the opening buds, and shed early. Say not that they are without stain, and therefore need not the purifying wave. Jesus Himself, who in a still higher sense was stainless, Jesus Himself was baptized. Say not that they do not know in what office they are participating. You know it, and feel it; and if they know it not now, they will know hereafter. If you will but reflect that it is the bringing of little children openly to Jesus, placing them in His arms, and yielding them to His blessing, you will have learned the whole reason, nature, and plan of the ordinance at once, because your heart has been your teacher. And you will gladly suffer little children to go in this way to their Friend, and never think of forbidding them.
II. Suffer them to go to Him, secondly, BY ALL THE MEANS OF A TRULY CHRISTIAN EDUCATION. Continue the intimacy which was commenced at the font. Make them acquainted with every expression of His countenance, with every grace and sweetness of His character. We forbid their going to Christ, if in any way we make them, or help them to make themselves proud, vain, revengeful, cunning, or selfish. We lead them to Christ by teaching them to know and love Him entirely, to feel the whole divinity of His lowly yet lofty virtues, to appreciate thoroughly and justly the glory of His humility, the dignity of His meekness, the heroism of His long-suffering, the harmonious perfection of His character, with which everything worldly is in necessary discord.
III. WE CAN HARDLY TEACH THEM THIS, UNLESS WE FEEL IT OURSELVES. Let us lead them, then, to Jesus, by the hand of our own example. Let us be especially cautious that our own selfish interests, bad passions, blind excesses are not placed in their way, to be stumbling blocks to their tender feet.
IV. Lastly, IT MAY BE THAT OUR CHILDREN MUST DEPART BEFORE US ON THE UNKNOWN JOURNEY, AND WITHOUT US. We must suffer them to go to the arms of Jesus in the world of spirits. It is hard to part with them--but by the effort of an humble resignation, we must suffer them to go. It may be that the Saviour hath need of them. We may know that there also He will love them, and watch over them, and lead them; and that His love, presence, and guidance are better for them than ours. (F. W. P. Greenwood, D. D.)
I had a comely fruit-tree in the summer season, with the branches of it promising plenteous fruit; the stock was surrounded with seven or eight little shoots of different sizes, that grew up from the root at a small distance, and seemed to compose a beautiful defence and ornament for the mother tree; but the gardener, who espied their growth, knew the danger; he cut down those tender suckers one after another, and laid them in the dust. I pitied them in my heart, and said, “How pretty were these young standards! How much like the parent! How elegantly clothed with the raiment of summer! And each of them might have grown to a fruitful tree.” But they stood so near as to endanger the stock; they drew away the sap, the heart and strength of it, so far as to injure the fruit, and darken the hopeful prospects of autumn. The pruning-knife appeared unkind indeed, but the gardener was wise; for the tree flourished more sensibly, the fruit quickly grew fair and large, and the ingathering at last was plenteous and joyful. Will you give me leave, Velina, to persuade you into this parable? Shall I compare you to this tree in the garden of God? You have had many of these young suckers springing up around you; they stood awhile your sweet ornaments and your joy, and each of them might have grown up to a perfection of likeness, and each might have become a parent-tree: but say, Did they never draw your heart from God? Did you never feel them stealing any of those seasons of devotion, or those warm affections that were first and supremely due to Him that made you? Did they not stand a little too near the soul? And when they had been cut off successively, and laid one after another in the dust, have you not found your heart running out more towards God, and living more perpetually upon Him? Are you not now devoting yourself more entirely to God every day, since the last was taken away? Are you not aiming at some greater fruitfulness and service than in times past? If so, then repine not at the pruning-knife; but adore the conduct of the heavenly Husbandman, and say, “All His ways are wisdom and mercy.” But I have not yet done with my parable. When the granary was well stored with excellent fruit, and before winter came upon the tree, the gardener took it up by the roots, and it appeared as dead. But his design was not to destroy it utterly; for he removed it far away from the spot of earth where it had stood, and planted it in a hill of richer mould, which was sufficient to nourish it with all its attendants. The spring appeared, the tree budded into life again, and all those fair little standards that had been cut off, broke out of the ground afresh, and stood up around it (a sweet young grove) flourishing in beauty and immortal vigour. You know not where you are, Velina, and that I have carried you to the hill of paradise, to the blessed hour of the resurrection. What an unknown joy it will be, when you have fulfilled all the fruits of righteousness in this lower world, to be transplanted to that heavenly mountain! What a Divine rapture and surprise of blessedness, to see all your little offspring about you at that day, springing out of the duet at once, making a fairer and brighter appearance in that upper garden of God, and rejoicing together (a sweet company), all partakers with you of the same happy immortality; all fitted to bear heavenly fruit, without the need or danger of a pruning-knife. Look forward, by faith, to that glorious morning, and admire the whole scheme of providence and grace. Give cheerful honours beforehand to your Almighty and All-wise Governor, who by His unsearchable counsels has fulfilled your best wishes, and secured your dear infants to you for ever, though not just in your own way; that blessed hand which made the painful separation on earth shall join you and your babes together in His own heavenly habitation, never to be divided again, though the method may be painful to flesh and blood. Fathers shall not hope in vain, nor “ mothers bring forth for trouble: they are the seed of the blessed of the Lord, and their offspring with them” (Isaiah 65:23). Then shall you say, “Lord,here am I, and the children that Thou hast given me.” For He is your God, and the God of your seed in an everlasting covenant. Amen.
(Written by Dr. Watts to a lady on the death of several young children.)
Run to Jesus
An affectionate mother, when reading this passage with her little girl, said, “I would have led you forward to Jesus.” “You would not have needed,” replied the child, “I would have run.”
Receive the kingdom of God as a little child
Receiving the kingdom of God as a little child
To begin with, let me deal with THE SECRET THOUGHT OF THE DISCIPLES, expressed by their actions though not spoken in words.
1. And, first, it is pretty clear that the disciples thought the children were too insignificant for the Lord’s time to be taken up by them.
2. Again, I suppose that these grown-up apostles thought that the children’s minds were too trifling. Despise not children for trifling when the whole world is given to folly.
3. “Ay,” say they, “but if we should let the children come to Christ, and if He should bless them, they will soon forget it. No matter how loving His look and how spiritual His words, they will go back to their play, and their weak memories will preserve no trace of it at all.” This objection we meet in the same manner as the others. Do not men forget?
4. Perhaps, too, they thought that children had not sufficient capacity.
5. To put the thought of the apostle into one or two words: they thought that the children must not come to Christ because they were not like themselves--they were not men and women. The child must not come to the Master because he is not like the man. How the blessed Saviour turns the tables and says, “Say, not, the child may not come till he is like a man, but know that you cannot come till you are like him. It is no difficulty in the child’s way that he is not like you; the difficulty is with you, that you are not like the child.” Instead of the child needing to wait until he grows up and becomes a man, it is the man who must grow down and become like a child.
II. Now we pass to our second head, namely, THE OPEN DECLARATION OF OUR LORD, wherein He sets forth His mind upon this matter,
1. Looking at it carefully, we observe, first, that He tells the disciples that the gospel sets up a kingdom. Was there ever a kingdom which had no children in it? How then could it grow?
2. Next, our Lord tells us that the way of entering the kingdom is by receiving. “Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.” We do not enter into the kingdom of God by working out some deep problem and arriving at its solution; not by fetching something out of our selves, but by receiving a secret something into us. We come into the kingdom by the kingdom’s coming into us: it receives us by our receiving it. Now, if this entrance into the kingdom depended upon something to be fetched out of the human mind by study and deep thought, then very few children could over enter it; but it depends upon something to be received, and therefore children may enter,
3. The next thing in the text is that if we receive this kingdom, and so enter into it, we must receive it as children receive it.
III. THE GREAT ENCOURAGEMENT given by our Lord in the text. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
The rich youth’s address to Christ
I. THE FAVOURABLE TRAITS OF CHARACTER EXHIBITED IN THE QUESTION PROPOSED BY THIS YOUNG MAN.
1. The question itself was of supreme importance.
2. The question was a personal one.
3. The question was put at an interesting period of life.
4. The question was put by one who possessed an abundance of riches.
5. The question was put with feelings of great modesty and respect.
6. The question was put with great sincerity and earnestness of spirit.
II. THE DEFECTS WHICH WERE ELICITED BY THE SAVIOUR.
1. He evidently expected salvation by the works of the law.
2. He was held in bondage by one reigning idol.
3. He was unwilling to yield to the extensive requirements of the Saviour.
III. THE LESSONS WHICH HIS HISTORY FURNISHES.
1. The exceeding deceitfulness of earthly riches.
2. That we may go far in religious practices, and yet not be saved.
3. We are in great danger from spiritual deception.
4. Religion requires a total surrender of ourselves to God. (J. Burns, D. D.)
Thou knowest the commandments
Keep the commandments
I. INQUIRE INTO THE DESIGN WITH WHICH OUR SAVIOUR SPOKE THESE WORDS. His aim was to expose ignorance, self-righteousness, and insincerity, in one whom the spectators were doubtless admiring for his apparent devotion.
1. The man was ignorant of Christ’s real character.
2. He expected life as the reward of his own merit.
3. He was not sincerely willing to sacrifice anything for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.
II. ENDEAVOUR TO PROMOTE A SIMILAR DESIGN BY A FAITHFUL APPLICATION OF THEM TO OURSELVES. “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.” These words, duly considered, may--
1. Convince us of sin. There is no doubt, that we ought to keep the commandments. But, have we done so?
2. Drive us to Christ as a Refuge.
3. Guide the steps of the justified believer. The curse of the law it at an end--not its obligation. (J. Jowett, M. A.)
Yet lackest thou one thing
One weak spot
When Jesus tells us that we cannot be His disciples so long as we lack one thing, does He mean that we must have supplied every moral defect, must have attained every grace, must have vanquished every spiritual enemy, and, in fact, have ceased to sin, before we can be His disciples? That would be simply saying that none of us can hope to be a Christian unless he is morally perfect; and that of course involves the converse, that every true Christian is thus morally perfect, The shock this statement gives to our common sense, and its manifest contradiction of the whole drift of the New Testament, at once drives us from any such interpretation. We find a consistent meaning, I suppose, if we understand Him as declaring that no heart is really Christianized, or converted, so long as there is any one conscious, deliberate, or intentional reservation from entire obedience to the Divine will. So that if I say, Here is one particular sin which I must continue to practise; all the rest of my conduct I freely conform to God’s law, but this known wrong I must continue to do--then I am no Christian. If you single out some one chosen indulgence, however secret--a dubious custom in business, a fault of the tongue or temper--and, placing y our hand over that, reply to the all-searching commandment of the Most High, “This I cannot let go; this is too sweet to me, or too profitable to me, or too tightly inter woven with my constitutional predilections, or too hard to be put off”--then the quality of a disciple is not in you. There is a portion of your being which you do not mean, or try, to consecrate to heaven. And that single persistent offence vitiates the whole character. It keeps you, as a man, as a whole man, on the self side or world-side, and away from Christ’s side. For it not only shuts off righteousness from one district of your nature, and so abridges the quantity of your life, but it inflicts the much more radical damage of denying the supremacy of the law of righteousness, and thus corrupts the quality. It practically rejects the heavenly rule when that rule crosses the private inclination. And that is the essence of rebellion. (Bishop F. D. Huntington.)
When Jesus spoke thus of one thing fatally lacking to the Jewish ruler, He spoke to us all. But with this difference: that one subtle passion which spoils the whole character for us may not be his passion. With him it seems to have been avarice; he could not bear to turn his private property into public charity. His religion broke down just there: in other respects he had done admirably; he had kept other commandments to the letter--aye, to the letter; not perhaps in the spirit, for all true obedience has one spirit. But so far his literal, formal obedience came, and there gave out. But then you may happen to be so constituted that such an abandonment of wealth would be a very small sacrifice--one of the least that could be required of you; you are not naturally sordid; you are more inclined to be prodigal; and so this would not be a test-point with you. But there is a test-point about you somewhere. Perhaps it is pride; you cannot bear an affront; you will not confess a fault. Perhaps it is personal vanity, ready, to sacrifice everything to display. Perhaps it is a sharp tongue. Perhaps it is some sensual appetite, bent on its unclean gratification. Then you are to gather up your moral forces just here, and till that darling sin is brought under the practical law of Christ, you are shut out from Christ’s kingdom. I have no right to love anything so well that I cannot give it up for God. God knows where the trial must be applied. And we are to know that wherever it is applied, there is the one thing lacking, unless we can say “Thy will be done,” and bear it. The gospel does not propose itself as an easy system--easy in the sense of excusing from duty. Were we not right then, in the ground taken at the outset, that the power of Christianity over the character is proved by the thoroughness of its action rather than by the extent of surface over which its action spreads? It displays its heavenly energy in dislodging the one cherished sin, in breaking down the one entrenched fortress that disputes its sway. At the battle of Borodino, Napoleon saw that there was no such thing as victory till he had carried the great central redoubt on the Russian line. Two hundred guns and the choicest of his battalions were poured against that single point, and when the plumes of his veterans gleamed through the smoke on the highest embrasures of that volcano of shot, he knew the field was won. It matters very little that we do a great many things morally irreproachable, so long as there is one ugly disposition that hangs obstinately hack. It is only when we come to a point of real resistance that we know the victory of faith overcoming the world. Finally, our renewing and redeeming religion delights to reach down to the roots of the sin that curses us, and spread its healing efficacy there. It yearns to yield us the fulness of its blessing; and this it knows it cannot do till it brings the heart under the completeness of its gentle captivity to Christ. Submission first; then peace, and joy, and love. “Jesus beholding him, loved him”; yet sent him away sorrowing. How tender, and yet how true! tender in the sad affection--true to the stern unbending sacrifice of the Cross! It is because He would have us completely happy that He requires a complete submission. “One thing” must not be left lacking. Whosoever would enter into the full strength and joy of a disciple must throw his whole heart upon the altar. (Bishop F. D. Huntington.)
How hardly shall they that have riches enter
The danger of riches
Rather, if one asked, What peril have riches? one might ask, What peril have they not? First, then, they are wholly contrary to the life of Christ and His passion. That cannot be the safe, the happy lot, which is in all things most opposite to His. Unlike Him, we must ever here be; for we are sinners, He alone, as man, was holy; we are His creatures, He our God. But can it be safe not to be aiming, herein also, to be less unlike? Can it be safe to choose that which in all its pomp and glory was brought before His eye as man, to be wholly rejected by Him; to choose what He rejected, and shrink back from what He chose? This, then, is the first all-containing peril of riches. They are, in themselves, contrary to the Cross of Christ. I speak not now of what they may be made. As we, being enemies, were, through the Cross, made friends, so may all things, evil and perilous in themselves, except sin, become our friends. The Cross finds us in desolation, and they, He says, “have received their consolation”; it finds us in evil things, and they are surrounded by their good things; it comes in want, and they have abundance; in distress, and they are at ease; in sorrow, and they are ever tempted even to deaden their sorrows in this world’s miserable joys. Happy only in this, that He who chasteneth whom He loveth, sprinkles His own healthful bitterness over life’s destructive sweetness, and by the very void and emptiness of vanity calls forth the unsatisfied soul no more to “spend money on that which is not bread, or its labour on that which satisfieth not.” But if it be so hard for the rich to seek to bear the cross, it must be hard for them truly to love Him who bore it. Love longeth to liken itself to that it loves. It is an awful question, my brethren; but how can we love our Lord if we suffer not with Him?
2. Then it is another exceeding peril of riches and ease that they may tend to make us forget that here is not our home, Men on a journey through a stranger’s, much more an enemy’s, and linger not. Their hearts are in their home; thither are their eyes set; they love the winds which have blown over it; they love the very hills which look upon it, even while they hide it; days, hours, and minutes pass quickly or slowly as they seem to bring them near to it; distance, time, weariness, strength, all are counted only with a view to this, “are they nearer to the faces they love? can they, when shall they reach it?” What then, my brethren, if our eyes are not set upon the everlasting “hills, whence cometh our help”? what if we cherish not those inward breathings which come to us from our heavenly home, hushing, refreshing, restoring, lifting up our hearts, and bidding us flee away and be at rest? What if we are wholly satisfied, and intent on things present? can we be longing for the face of God? or can we love Him whom we long not for? or do we long for Him, if we say not daily, “When shall I come and appear before the presence of God?”
3. Truly there is not one part of the Christian character which riches, in themselves, do not tend to impair. Our Lord placed at the head of evangelic blessings, poverty of spirit, and, as a help to it and image of it, the outward body of the soul of true poverty, poverty of substance too.
The only “riches” spoken of in the New Testament, except as a woe, are the unsearchable riches of the glory and grace of Christ, the riches of the goodness of God, the depth of the riches of His wisdom, or the riches of liberality, whereto deep poverty abounded.
4. Poverty is, at least, a fostering nurse of humility, meekness, patience, trust in God, simplicity, sympathy with the sufferings of our Lord or of its fellow (for it knows the heart of those who suffer). What when riches, in themselves, hinder the very grace of mercifulness which seems their especial grace, of which they are the very means? What wonder that they cherish that brood of snakes, pride, arrogance, self-pleasing, self-indulgence, self-satisfaction, trust in self, forgetfulness of God, sensuality, luxury, spiritual sloth, when they deaden the heart to the very sorrows they should relieve? And yet it is difficult, unless, through self-discipline, we feel some suffering, to sympathize with those who suffer. Fulness of bread deadens love. As a rule, the poor show more mercy to the poor out of their poverty, than the rich out of their abundance. But if it be a peril to have riches, much more is it to seek them. To have them is a trial allotted to any of us by God; to seek them is our own. Through trials which He has given us He will guide us; but where has He promised to help us in what we bring upon ourselves? In all this I have not spoken of any grosser sins to which the love of money gives birth: of what all fair men would condemn, yet which, in some shape or other, so many practise. Such are, hardness to the poor or to dependents; using a brother’s services for almost nought, in order to have more to spend in luxury; petty or more grievous frauds; falsehood, hard dealing, taking advantage one of another, speaking evil of one another, envying one another, forgetting natural affection. And yet in this Christian land many of these are very common. Holy Scripture warns us all not to think ourselves out of danger of them. (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
The deceitfulness of riches
Notice the deceitfulness of all kinds of riches. Riches may corrupt the very simplest of you. Take care. How many men have received hold of the gallows and hanged themselves just through the deceitfulness of riches. We could trace the history of many a man, and see how he died in the bank, that great mortuary. The man began simply, and was a right genial soul. He brought with him morning light and fresh air wherever he came; and as for cases of poverty, his hand knew the way to his pocket so well that he could find that pocket in the dark. As for religious services, he was there before the door was opened. He never thought the Sabbath day too long. He loved the sanctuary, and was impatient until the gates were opened unto him. He even went to the weekevening services. But then he was only a working man, and only working men should go out into the night air! What does it matter about a few working men being killed by the east wind? The man whose course we are tracing doubled his income and multiplied it by five, and then doubled it again, and then found that he must give up the prayer-meeting. Certainly. Then he proceeded to double his income, and then he gave up the Sunday evening service. There was a draught near where he sat, or there was some person in the third pew from his the appearance of whom he could not bear. How dainty my lord is becoming! Oh, what a nostril he has for evil savour! He will leave presently altogether. He will not abruptly leave, but he will simply not come back again, which really means practically the same thing. He will attend in the morning, and congratulate the poor miserable preacher on the profit of the service. Did he mean to do this when he began to get a little wealthier? Not he. Is he the same man he used to be! No. Is he nearer Christ? He is a million universes away from Christ. He is killed by wealth. He trusted in it, misunderstood, misapplied it. It is not wealth that has ruined him, but his misconception of the possible uses of wealth. He might have been the leader of the Church. There was a lady, whose husband’s personalty was sworn at millions, who was unable to attend one of the ladies’ meetings organized for the purpose of making garments for the poor, and she said that she could no longer attend, and therefore her subscription would lapse. Let it lapse. If it were a case in connection with this Church I would not have named it. It is because distance of space and time enable me to refer to it without identification that I point the moral, and say that where such wealth is, or such use of wealth, there is rottenness of soul. (J. Parker, D. D.)
You cannot take your riches with you into the kingdom if you are going to trust in them
If you are going to offer them to Christ and sanctify them to His use, let us know of it. You cannot bring your intellectual pride with you. If you are going to consecrate your intellect to the study of the profoundest mysteries, if you are going to cultivate the child-like spirit--for the greater the genius the greater the modesty--bring it all! You can bring with you nothing of the nature of patronage to Christ. It is because He has so little, He has so much; because He is so weak, He is so strong. You cannot compliment Him: He lies beyond the range of eulogy. We reach Him by His own way--sacrifice, self-immolation, transformation. A great mystery, outside of words and all their crafty uses, but a blessed, conscious, spiritual experience. Blessed are those to whom that experience is a reality. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Who, then, can be saved?--
Who, then, can be saved?
The difficulties of salvation, however, do not arise from the want of power in God, for nothing is too hard for Him; He can as easily save a world as He could at first create one. Nor does it arise from any want of sufficiency in Christ, for “He is able to save to the uttermost them that come unto God by Him”; yes, to the uttermost of our desires and necessities, and in the last extremity. The difficulties therefore arise from the nature of salvation itself, and our sinful aversion to It.
I. LET US NOTICE MORE PARTICULARLY SOME OF THE DIFFICULTIES IN THE WAY OF OUR SALVATION.
1. The truths to be believed are some of them very mysterious, and, as Peter says, “Hard to be understood.”
2. The sacrifices to be made are also in some degree painful. That which cost our Saviour so much must surely cost us something.
3. The dispositions to be exercised are such as are contrary to the natural bias of our depraved hearts.
4. The duties to be performed. Is there no difficulty more especially in renouncing a customary or constitutional evil, and keeping ourselves from our own iniquity?
5. The trouble and danger to which religion exposes its professors.
II. ATTEMPT TO ANSWER THE INQUIRY IN OUR TEXT. “Who, then, can be saved?” If men were left to themselves, either in a natural or renewed state, and if God were not to work, or to withhold His hand after He had begun to work, none would be saved, no, not one.
1. Such shall be saved as are appointed to it. Of some it is said, “God hath chosen them to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth.”
2. Those shall be saved who are truly desirous of it.
3. Those who come to Christ for salvation shall be sure to obtain it.
4. Such as endure to the end shall be saved. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
Lo, we have left all and followed Thee
The happiness of self-denial
I. SELF-DENIAL IS TO BE EXPLAINED.
1. In the first place, it does not consist in giving up one temporal and personal good for a greater temporal and personal good. For this is self-gratifying instead of self-denying. Any entirely selfish person would be willing to do this. One man will sacrifice his property to gratify his ambition, which he esteems a greater good. Another man will sacrifice his property to gratify his appetite, which he esteems a greater good. Another will sacrifice his property to gratify his revenge, which he esteems a greater good. But none of these persons, in these cases, exercise the least self-denial.
2. Nor, secondly, does self-denial consist in giving up a less temporal and personal good for a greater personal and eternal good. The most corrupt and selfish men in the world are willing to give up any or all their temporal and personal interests for the sake of obtaining future and eternal happiness.
3. But, thirdly and positively, self-denial consists in giving up our own good for the good of others. Such self-denial stands in direct contrariety to selfishness.
II. TRUE SELF-DENIAL IS PRODUCTIVE OF THE HIGHEST PRESENT AND FUTURE HAPPINESS. This will appear if we consider--
1. The nature of true self-denial. It consists, as we have seen, in giving up a less private or personal good for a greater public good; or in giving up our own good for the greater good of others. And this necessarily implies disinterested benevolence, which is placing our own happiness in the greater happiness of others. When a man gives up his own happiness to promote the greater happiness of another, he does it freely and voluntarily, because he takes more pleasure in the greater good of another than in a less good of his own.
2. Those who have denied themselves the most have found the greatest happiness resulting from their self denial.
3. The great and precious promises which are expressly made to self denial by Christ Himself.
1. It appears, then, that self-denial is necessarily a term or condition of salvation.
2. It appears, also, that the doctrine cannot be carried too far.
3. If Christianity requires men to exercise true self denial, then the Christian religion is not a gloomy, but a joyful, religion. It affords a hundredfold more happiness than any other religion can afford.
4. It appears from the nature of that self-denial which the gospel requires that the more sinners become acquainted with the gospel, the more they are disposed to hate it and reject it. All sinners are lovers of their own selves, and regard their own good supremely and solely, and the good of others only so far as it tends to promote their own private, personal, and selfish good.
5. It appears from the nature of that self-denial which the gospel requires why sinners are more willing to embrace any false scheme of religion than the true. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
I. TO BE THE FOLLOWERS OF THE SAVIOUR, IS TO SUSTAIN A CHARACTER OF HIGH AND ESSENTIAL IMPORTANCE.
1. We cannot hold this relationship to the Son of God without believing the testimony given concerning Him, in the Scriptures.
2. Believing in Christ, we must be excited to a practical obedience to His commands, and an imitation of the excellences displayed as an example to man.
3. That same principle of faith will excite also to public profession of the Saviour’s name, and active exertion in His cause.
4. Combine in your own characters the principles and the conduct to which we have now adverted. Believe on the Son of God; give an obedience to His perceptive will, and imitate the excellences He displayed; profess publicly that you will be His, and be active and zealous in the promotion of His designs; and then will you indeed and honourably be among those who “follow Him.”
II. THAT IN SUSTAINING THIS CHARACTER, PAINFUL SACRIFICES MUST OFTEN BE MADE. Sacrifices for the name’s sake of the Son of God are justified and called for, by reasons which might be expanded in very extensive illustration. Remember for whom they are made. For whom? For Him who built the fabric of the universe, and over whose wondrous creation the “morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” For whom? For Him who is “the brightness of the Father’s glory, and the express image of His person,” in whom “dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” For whom? For Him who “was rich, but for your sakes became poor,” etc. Remember for what these sacrifices are made. They are made for the enjoyment of peace of conscience. They are made for a restoration to the image and the friendship of God. They are made for the refinement and ennobling of the nature. It is to be observed again--
III. THAT PRESENT SACRIFICES IN THE CAUSE, AND AS THE FOLLOWERS OF THE SAVIOUR, ARE TO ISSUE IN A GLORIOUS REWARD.
1. The Saviour promises advantage to be possessed in the present life. In following Christ, we are blessed with repose of conscience; we are exalted to fellowship with God; we are endowed with capacities for improving in the knowledge of mysteries, identified with the highest welfare of our being; we become the companions of the excellent of the earth, and the innumerable company of angels; we are urged to a rapid increase in the graces which dignify the character, and are a pledge of the sublimity of the final destiny; we are supplied with strong consolation for sorrow, and firm support for death; and prospects are opened which stretch away to the immensities of immortality. Are not these “a hundredfold”? Here is the “pearl of great price”: and well may we resolve to be as the merchant, and “sell” or “forsake” all we have, and buy it!
2. The Saviour promises advantage to be possessed in the life to come. It is a wise regulation in the decisions of Providence, that our chief reward is reserved for another state of existence. The Almighty intends that, in this world, our lives shall be those of trial; and that the stability of our graces should be proved, by the rigid and sometimes painful discipline to which we are exposed. (J. Parsons.)
Homes, parents, brethren, wives, children, are things to be desired, because they call forth the highest and purest affections, the exercise of which sheds abroad in the heart the highest and sweetest human joy and satisfaction. Now a man’s conversion to the faith of Christ, though it at times, perhaps almost always, estranged him from a heathen home and family, gave him another home, and a far wider family, attached to him in far firmer and closer, and withal more holy bonds, and these were brethren and sisters, fathers and mothers in Christ. The exercise of purified love and affection, and, we may add, reverence towards these, would diffuse through his heart a far holier and deeper joy than he had ever experienced in his former unholy heathen state. Take, for instance, the last chapter of the Epistle to the Romans; look at the number of Christians to whom the apostle sent salutation. In no one case were these salutations a mere heartless form. In every case they were accompanied by the overflow of Christian love, by memories of how they had laboured and suffered together in the same holy cause; in most cases, perhaps, they were the greetings of a father to his children in the faith. What a sea of satisfaction and holy joy does all this disclose! And so it was, though, of course, in different degrees, and under various forms, with every Christian who had given up any worldly advantage for Christ’s sake. (M. F. Sadler.)
Behold we go up to Jerusalem
The entrance into the Passion season
WE GAZE AT THE LORD, AND INQUIRE HOW HE ENTERED THE SEASON OF PASSION.
1. Not unprepared, but with a full, clear consciousness--
(1) not only of His sufferings in general, but also in all their particulars; and
(2) of the relation between His sufferings and the Divine Word and will.
2. His consciousness afforded Him the peace, courage, and decision to endure the sufferings willingly and patiently.
II. WE GAZE AT OURSELVES, AND INQUIRE HOW WE SHOULD ENTER THIS SEASON OF THE CHURCH YEAR.
1. Not like the world, whose custom is to celebrate it with all kinds of amusement and folly; but, as the followers of Christ, let us get ready to accompany the Lord in His season of suffering.
2. Yet not like the twelve, of whom we read that they understood none of these things. We must know why and for whom the Lord suffered and died.
3. The blind man of Jericho is a good example to show how we should enter in with the Lord as He approaches His sufferings.
(1) He appeals again and again for mercy.
(2) He concentrates all his desires into one plea--that he might see. And the Lord opens his eyes. (Schaffer.)
A study for a doctrine of the atonement
I shall proceed, accordingly, to indicate some personal ways in which it seems to me we may learn to enter, in some degree, into Jesus’ consciousness that He must needs suffer. Yet only in some degree, and in no full measure, can we hope to comprehend in our human experience the mind that was in Jesus. The open and most natural way of thought for us to take, in our desire to understand this most sacred truth, seems to me to be in general as follows: Study what forgiveness of injuries involves to the most Christian man or woman, learn what forgiveness of wrong may cost the most Christlike heart, and from such knowledge gain the means of understanding why the Christ from God must needs suffer on the Cross. If we have not been compelled by some bitter experience of our own to learn the moral necessities of suffering in forgiving sin, let us search with reverent sympathies the depth of the trouble into which others have been plunged by some erring one to whom they were bound by vital ties; learn how father, mother, wife, must needs suffer in the continued charity, and shielding love, and ever open forgiveness of the home towards one who has gone forth from it, unworthy of it, and been lost in the world. Such in general is the vital method, the personal way, in which we may study the doctrine of the atonement of Christ for the sin of the world. Let me briefly indicate several more definite truths which we may find in such study of the Cross. First, In our experience of forgiveness, and its moral necessities, we find that there must be penitence or confession on the part of the person who has done wrong. The sense of justice and right which demands confession of wrong and restitution is as human and as Divine as the love which would forgive an offence, and accept another’s willingness to make restitution. Secondly, Human forgiveness involves a painful knowledge of the wrong which has been inflicted. Forgiveness is always born of suffering. You surely cannot forgive a friend if you have never known and felt the hurt of his unkindness. Some suffering for the injury received is an indispensable condition, or antecedent, of the exercise of forgiveness. Thirdly, We approach now another element in the history of human forgiveness, which is of deep moral significance; viz., the suffering of the injured person must be so discovered to the wrong-doer that he can know it, and have some appreciation of it, in order that forgiveness may be granted and received, and its perfect work accomplished. But you will ask, Is it not the glory of the forgiving spirit to hide its sense of hurt? And the human forgiveness is never more than a polite fiction, if there is not in the hour of reconciliation this frank declaration and acknowledgment of the wrong done, and the suffering received from it. One thing in it seems to me clear as conscience.
That wronged man cannot forgive his repentant enemy by treating his sin as though it had been nothing, by making light of it as though it had not cost him days of trouble, by hiding it in his good nature as though it were not an evil thing. Somehow that sense of injustice in his soul must find vent and burn itself out. Somehow that sense of wrong must manifest itself, and in some pure revelation of itself pass away. It cannot pass forever away except through revelation, as the fire expires through the flame. Yet in forgiveness justice must be a self-revealing flame, and not a consuming fire. Something like this has been the process of all genuine human reconciliations which I have observed. As an essential element of the reconciliation there was some revelation of pure justice. There was no hiding of the wrong. On either side there was no belittling the injury. There was no trifling with it as though a sin were nothing. It was no thoughtless forgiveness out of mere good nature, in which the heart’s deeper sense of righteousness was not satisfied. I have left myself time only to point to the way by which we may ascend from this our human experience of forgiveness to the Cross of Christ, and the necessity for it in the love of God. It is a part of the penalty of sin that in every human transgression some just one must needs suffer with the guilty. This is a natural necessity of our human, or organic, relationship. And because we are so bound up together in good and in evil, we can bear one another’s burdens, suffer helpfully for another, and to a certain extent save one another from the evil of the world. Now, according to these Gospels, God in Christ puts himself into this human relationship, and, as one with man, bears his burden and suffers under the sin of the world. The Father of spirits in His own eternal blessedness may not suffer with men; but in Christ God has humbled Himself to our consciousness of sin and death. In Christ the eternal love comes under the moral law of suffering, under which forgiveness may work its perfect work. More particularly, in the life and death of Christ these several elements which we have found belonging essentially to our experience of reconciliation with one another, have full exercise and scope. For Christ, identifying Himself with our sinful consciousness, makes a perfect repentance for sin and confession of it unto the Father. Christ experiences our sin as sinful, and confesses it. And again, Christ realizes the cost of the sin of the world. His loneliness of spirit, the cruel misunderstandings of Him by all men, His Gethsemane, His Cross--all realize the cost and suffering of sin, and in view of such sufferings of the Son of Man sin never can be regarded as a light and trifling thing. And still further, Christ reveals to the world what its sin has cost, and enables man who would be forgiven to appreciate it, and to acknowledge it. (N. Smyth, D. D.)
They understood none of these things.
The disciples’ failure to understand the Master suggests an always timely question for the followers of Jesus: What misunderstandings of Christ may still be lingering in Christianity? The question is the more pertinent and the more necessary because one reason for the disciples’ failure to perceive the things that were said by Jesus on His way to the Cross, was the knowledge of Him which they already possessed. Two truths in particular which they had learned better than any one else concerning Jesus, they allowed to stand in the way of their further understanding of Him. They had been taught His wonderful power. They had been eye-witnesses of His mighty works. They began to believe that Jesus could do anything. This truth of the power of the Son of Man they were ready to receive, and they stopped with the knowledge of it. He who had power from God could not be taken and killed by the Pharisees. So they grasped with eager hope the truth that Jesus was the promised Messiah of Israel, and missed the deeper truth of His character, that God so loved the world. Then again the truth which they had learned better than any others of Jesus’ wonderful kindness, and justice, and humanity, in their partial view of it, may have hidden from their eyes the full revelation which He would have them perceive of His Divine life. How could He who had power over death, and who had so pitied two sisters that He had restored their brother to them, and who had enveloped their lives in a friendship of wonderful daily thoughtfulness--how could He, having all power, go away from them, leave them comfortless, throw them back again upon the world, and disappoint their high hopes of Him? No wonder Peter thought it was impossible, and even said impulsively, “Be it far from Thee, Lord!” The truth of Christ’s friendship which they did know prevented them from understanding the diviner secret of God’s sacrificial love for the world, which they might have learned. So they who knew the Lord best, misunderstood Him the most; and Jesus went before His disciples in a deeper purpose and a diviner thought than they perceived. Our text reads like a devout apology of the disciples for their singular misunderstanding of Jesus Christ. The providence of God had taught them their mistake. And very instructive for us is the method by which God corrected the false perception of the disciples, and opened their eyes to true and larger knowledge of the Lord. They overcame their misunderstanding, and were brought to better understanding of Jesus Christ, through the trial and the task of their faith. These two, trials and tasks, are God’s ways of correcting men’s imperfect faiths. For you will recall how those disciples, at the time of the crucifixion, and while they were waiting in Jerusalem, learned in their disenchantment, and were taught through that fearful strain and trial of their faith, as they had never been before, of what Spirit Jesus was, and what His real mission to this world was; and thus they were prepared to see and to become apostles of the risen Lord. That trial of their faith, while Jesus was mocked, and scourged, and delivered to death, and crucified between two thieves, and buried--all the light blotted from their skies, all the proud ambition broken in their souls--yet in His death a new, strange expectancy awakened in their hearts, and on the third day a vision seen which made all things a new world to them--that trial of their faith was the Lord’s method of teaching the disciples what before had remained hidden from them even in the plainest words of Jesus. And then this knowledge of the new, larger truth of Christ’s work was rounded out, and filled full of a steady, clear light to them, by the task immediately given them to do in the name of the crucified and risen Lord. They learned at Pentecost what Christianity was to be. (N. Smyth, D. D.)
A certain blind man sat by the wayside
The blind man’s pertinacity and cure
This teaches us--
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE IMMEDIATE SEIZING OF OPPORTUNITIES.
II. THE IMPORTANCE OF PERTINACITY, IN THE AFFAIRS OF THE SOUL.
III. THE ROOT OF THIS PROMPTNESS OF ACTION--OF THIS UNDAUNTED PERTINACITY--WAS FAITH.
IV. THE RESTORED SIGHT IS USED IN FOLLOWING CHRIST, AND IN GLORIFYING GOD. (Anon.)
I. HINDRANCES WHICH BESET US IN COMING TO CHRIST FOR MERCY.
1. Our own blindness.
2. Impediments that others cast in the way.
II. ACTIONS OF ENCOURAGEMENT FOR OUR COMING TO CHRIST.
1. Jesus stood still.
2. On Jesus showing Himself favourable, then at once did multitude.
3. In eagerness to go to Jesus, man left garment behind (Mark 10:50). Must cast off custom and habit of sin. Then, going to the Saviour will be easy, and prayer will be heard and answered.
III. BLESSING RECEIVED; EFFECT PRODUCED.
1. What the poor man willed, the Lord granted.
2. A new follower.
1. Let no worldly hindrances debar from Christ.
2. Many encouragements to go. Go.
3. Having gone, truly, wholly--surely follow Him.
The soul’s crisis
I. Now, looking stedfastly that this may be the case, I wish to speak very pointedly to you about two or three things. First, when Jesus passed by the blind man it was to that man A DAY OF HOPE. It was an hour of hope to that blind man, and if Jesus passes by now this is an hour of hope to you. But, does He pass by? I answer--Yes. There are different respects in which this may be interpreted of our Lord’s conduct. In a certain sense He has been passing by some of you ever since you began to discern right from wrong. More especially is is a time of Christ’s passing by when the gospel is preached with power.
II. Secondly, as it was a time of hope to that poor blind man, so was it especially A TIME OF ACTIVITY. You that anxiously desire salvation, regard attentively these words. A man cannot be saved by what he does; salvation is in Christ, yet no man is saved except as he seeks earnestly after Christ.
1. This man listened attentively.
2. He inquired with eagerness what it meant.
3. When this man had asked the question, and had been told in reply that Jesus of Nazareth passed by, notice what he did next, he began to pray. His cry was a prayer, and his prayer was a cry.
4. After this man had thus pleaded, it is noteworthy that Jesus stood still and called him. That much-prized, though all patched and filthy garment, he threw right away; it might have made him a minute or two slower, so off he threw it, and away he flung it. Ah! and it is a great mercy when a poor soul feels that it can throw away anything and everything to get to Christ.
5. Once more. When this man had come to Jesus, and Jesus said to him, “What wilt thou that 1 should do unto thee?” the man returned a straightforward and intelligent answer, “Lord, that I might receive my sight.”
6. Still, I cannot withhold one other remark. That which really brought salvation to this blind man was his faith, for Christ says, “Thy faith hath saved thee.” Now, here is the greatest point of all--faith! Faith; for work without faith is of little worth. Faith is the great saving grace; it is the real life-germ.
III. It was also AN HOUR OF CRISIS.
IV. Lastly, remember that this hour of Jesus passing by is AN HOUR THAT WILL SOON BE GONE. Did you notice that word, “Jesus of Nazareth passeth by?” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The passing Christ recognized
As people do not recognize that Christ passeth near to them when they are in health, even so they do not see as they ought His hand in their sickness. An invalid lamented to a lady who came to see her, that she had abused her health before it was taken from her. The friend replied, “I hope that now you will take care not to abuse your sickness.” Assuredly we abuse our sickness when we do not see the hand of God in it, and do not allow Jesus of Nazareth, who passeth by our bed, to bring us nearer to Himself. (E. J. Hardy, M. A.)
Blind Bartimeus has to encounter obstructionists; the unsympathizing crowd interfered to silence the man. “Hold thy peace, Bartimeus; have done with all this frenzied excitement; Christ has other things to do than listen to thee!” So long ago was it a settled matter that a man may get excited about anything in the wide world except about Christ! You are quite at liberty to get excited about the latest war news, about politics, about the race-course, about the money-market, about anything you like, save the interests of your soul. Yes; these highly respect able people of eighteen hundred years ago have left a numerous progeny. There are always plenty of persons ready to give good advice to seeking souls, or to young Christians, after this fashion: “Keep quiet, my friend; don’t get excited; hush! don’t make a noise about such things; whatever you do, keep calm, and don’t make a fuss.” I observe that the devil has his own fire-brigade, who are always ready with their hose--waiting to throw cold water on any little flame that the Holy Spirit kindles, and to offer sedatives to any startled sinner who is beginning to be in earnest about his soul. These excellent people will tell you that it is all right and proper to be religious, to be earnest up to a certain point, but you must be careful not to go beyond this. When you come to inquire what this point is, you make the astonishing discovery that it is just the point at which religion begins to do one any real good! Be earnest, so long as your earnestness does not bring you salvation; be pious, so long as your piety fails to reveal the living God to your heart; but be sure and stop short of receiving God’s gift of everlasting life, or you will be going too far! (W. M. Hay Aitken, M. A.)
The blind sister
A year ago last winter an affecting scene occurred in the streets of Baltimore. Two little sisters were looking through a large store window at the toys within, and trying to describe what they saw to a little blind sister who was with them. They were exhausting their feeble powers of description to bring home to the mind of their blind companion what they saw, although she listened greedily. But, after all, they failed to present anything more than an imperfect representation. The gentleman who saw the circumstance said that it was extremely touching, that they tried hard to describe the collection in the store, but they could not do it. That is just like our trying to tell you of Christ.
Opening the eyes of faith
By merely opening my eyes all the glories of light burst upon me. I take in at a glance the human face or the stretch of magnificent scenery. I gaze across the vast ocean, or, looking up through the night, I grasp millions of worlds and embrace infinitude. What an amazing result from merely opening the eyes and looking up! How often, too, a single incident, the meeting of a particular friend or the encountering of some difficulty or danger, or the gaining of a little information, colours the whole of a man’s subsequent life--indeed, gives him an entirely different direction and turn. His whole attitude is altered by what occupied but a moment. It is, then, quite in accordance with God’s arrangement and man’s world that great things should depend on very simple matters. And the belief that Jesus is the Son of God, though a simple thing, though not a complex, laborious, lengthened operation, is yet the very act most fitted to open the soul for God. It is not labour that is required for the reception of God. It is the feeling of emptiness, and desire to receive. It is trust in God, the belief in His great love. No labour will enable a man to behold the light of the sun or the multitude of the stars, but opening his eyes will. Opening the eyes to God’s great love in Christ, receiving that marvellous display of God’s inmost heart, that opens the heart, that brings into true accord with God, that gives a wholly different outlook on the world, that alters a man’s entire attitude. (J. Leckie, D. D.)
The cure of blind Bartimeus
Let us therefore review THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE HISTORY BEFORE US--arid endeavour to derive SOME USEFUL ADMONITIONS FROM IT. One of the characters of our Saviour’s miracles was publicity. Impostors require secrecy and darkness. Thus He recovered this man before a multitude in the highway, and close to the city of Jericho. Several of our Saviour’s miracles seem to have been unintentional. Thus it is said, “As He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men, that were lepers, who stood afar off.” Thus again we read, that “when He came nigh to the gate of the city of Nain, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.” And so here: “It came to pass, that as He was come nigh unto Jericho, a certain blind man sat by the way-side begging.” You may ask then, Was His finding these objects accidental or designed? Unquestionably, designed. He was not taken by surprise. He saw the end from the beginning. His plan was formed; and He was “working all things after the counsel of His own will.” Our Saviour is acquainted with all our sins, but He requires us to confess them; He understands all our wants, but He commands us to acknowledge them; He is always graciously affected towards our case, but He would have us properly affected with it ourselves. He knew the desire of this man, but He would know it from him himself; and therefore, when he was come near, He asked him, saying, “What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee?” So here: as soon as Bartimeus received sight from the Lord Jesus, “he followed Him in the way, glorifying God.” We may view this two ways. It was first an evidence of the reality and perfection of the cure. In other cases where human skill has removed blindness by couching, the restored orbs cannot be immediately used; light is admitted into them by degrees; the man cannot measure distances, nor judge with accuracy; and he is not fit to be left to himself. But it is said our Lord “did all things well.” His manner distinguished him--the man saw at once clearly; and was able to conduct himself. Secondly, it was an improvement of the greatness of the mercy. “I can never,” says he, “discharge my obligations to such a gracious and almighty Friend. But let me devote myself to His service--let me continually ask, ‘Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?’”
From the narrative thus explained, I would take occasion to bring forward four admonitions.
1. BE PERSUADED THAT YOU ARE ALL SPIRITUALLY IN THE CONDITION OF BARTIMEUS--and that without Divine illumination, you are no more qualified for the concerns of the moral world than a blind man is for those of the natural world.
2. BE PERSUADED THAT, WITH REGARD TO THE REMOVAL OF THIS BLINDNESS, YOU ARE IN AS HOPEFUL A CONDITION AS THIS POOR MAN. In all these miracles our blessed Lord holds Himself forth as the all-sufficient helper of sinners.
3. BE PERSUADED TO IMITATE THE IMPORTUNITY OF THIS BLIND BEGGAR, IN CRYING FOR MERCY. And especially let your importunity, like this poor man’s, appear with regard to two things. First, like him, seize the present moment. Let not the opportunity afforded you be lost by delay. Secondly, like him, be not silenced by discouragement and opposition.
4. If He has healed you!--if you can say, “One thing I know, that whereas I was blind, now I see.” LIKE BARTIMEUS, BE CAREFUL TO FOLLOW THE SAVIOUR. This is the best way to evidence your cure. This is also the best way to improve your deliverance. Thus you will “show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light.” Follow Him, then, as an imitator of His example. (W. Jay.)
What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee?--
A worshipper questioned
All who come to church should come not to keep up an ancient form, do a duty, discharge an obligation, but to meet with Christ. And we do meet with Him (Matthew 18:20). And He asks of each the question in the text. Three classes of replies.
1. The reply of some is, “Let us alone--leave us.” Diogenes wished Alexander, as the greatest favour he could bestow, to “stand out of my sunshine.” Christ stands between some men and what they imagine to be sunshine.
(1) How ungrateful is such a reply. What pain and grief it must give Him who died to save us.
(2) How mad it is. If we could succeed we should have destroyed our only hope--broken the only bridge by which we might return.
2. The reply of others is, “Lull our consciences to rest.” They want ease, but not holiness, pardon without change of heart.
(1) How vain is such a search. Christ’s offers are always coupled with requirements ( Matthew 11:28-30; Matthew 5:8).
(2) How utterly worthless it would be. It would be a sham, and we should know it and despise 2:3. The reply of others is, “Cleanse, purify, renew us.” Like this man they ask for sight. Like the leper they ask to be made clean. They cry in their doubts and fears, “I believe; help Thou mine unbelief.” And such never come in vain. Christ meets with them, and though they touch but the hem of His garment, grants, their requests Luke 4:18). (J. Ogle.)
Blindness and the blind
Much as blind people lose by not having the use of their eyes, they have often made themselves not only useful, but even distinguished. Professor Sanderson, of Cambridge, England, lost his sight when only a year old, but became a great mathematician. Dr. Blackwood was master of Greek, Latin, Italian, and French, and a poet of no mean degree. Dr. Henry Moyes was skilled in geometry, optics, and astronomy, and he could judge very accurately of the size of any room in which he happened to be by the effects of his voice. John Metcalf, an Englishman, was employed first as a wagoner, and afterwards became a surveyor of highways. By the help of a long staff, he would traverse the most difficult mountain roads, and was able to do more than many men accomplish with their eyes open. William Metcalf laid out roads and built bridges. Euler, the mathematician, was blind. John Gough, who was an accurate botanist and zoologist, was also blind. Lord Cranbourne, blind from his childhood, published, a history of France for the young. Huber, who has written such an interesting book about bees, was blind. Homer was blind. The same was true of Ossian and Milton. Zisca, the famous Bohemian general, performed great acts of valour after the loss of his sight. The Rev. J. Crosse, vicar of Bradford, England, was blind, but as he knew the Church service by heart, he was able to conduct public worship with impressiveness and solemnity, only requiring the help of another person to read the lessons for him. (J. N. Norton, D. D.)
Spiritual blindness and sight
To be vain is to be blind, and to persist in blindness, and in the ignorance of one’s blindness, and to refuse the opportunities of sight. To be worldly is to be blind; to grope among the dusty ways, the opaque and earthly objects of this lower sphere, contented with their darkness, or expecting light to shine out from it--is to be grossly blind. To be without religion, to look not up above for cheering and guiding light, to seek not the rays of that eternal Sun, which alone can warm and invigorate the soul--that is to be blind. But to be humble is to see. To feel that we are ignorant, that we are weak, that we are poor, and that the darkness within needs illumination from the Light above, and to pray for that illumination is to have our eyes opened, and to see. To receive Jesus as the author and finisher of our faith, to go to Him for the precept and example, the doctrine and direction which we so much need, and which we can obtain from no one but from Him who was sent to us from the Father of lights, is to be cured of our blindness, and to receive our sight. To follow His blessed steps, to write His instructions on the tables of our hearts, to shun all allurements and pass over all obstacles which interfere with the duty of discipleship, is to walk as children of the light and of the day. (F. W. P. Greenwood, D. D.)
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Luke 18". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30