This poor Widow hath cast in more than they all
The widow’s mites
Our Lord wished to see “how the multitude cast money into the collection-chest”--not only how much--anybody could have discovered that--but in what manner and spirit it was being done: reverently or irreverently--as unto God or as unto man--so as to display or so as to conceal the offering--with a conscientious aim to give all that was due, or a self-convicted sense that a part thereof was being withheld.
The searching eye of the Master struck through the outward demeanour of each passing worshipper, right down to the motive that swayed the hand. He was reading the heart of each giver. He was marking whether the gift was the mere fruit of a devotionless habit--a sheer affectation of religious liberality--or, as it ought to be, a humble and sincere token of gratitude and consecration to God. These were the inquiries that were engaging the mind of our Lord on this memorable occasion. We are not informed how long He had sat or what discoveries He had made before the arrival of the “poor widow,” but He noticed that she gave but two “mites”; and knowing that this was all she had, He discerned the unselfishness and love that prompted an offering which would perhaps be her last oblation on the altar of the Lord. This act of unfeigned devotion touched Him at once, insomuch that He immediately called His disciples, and drew their attention to so striking and instructive a case. It was her gift, rather than any other, that attracted the greatest interest in the courts of heaven. It was her offering, rather than any other, that was alone worthy of a permanent record in the Gospel History and the “books of eternal remembrance.” And why? Not only because she gave “all her living,” but because she gave it unto the Lord “with all her heart.” Not at all in a spirit of petulance or desperation, as might have been the case; not at all because she saw want staring her in the face, and thought it no longer worth her while to retain the paltry coins she possessed. On the contrary, it was the fineness of the woman’s spirit, the richness of her gratitude and love, the wealth of her self-forgetfulness and trust under the severity of her trials, that gave her little gift the exceeding rareness of its value. She was neither despairing nor repining, but “walking by faith” and in contentment, reflecting that, not withstanding her indigence, there was none to whom she was so great a debtor as unto the Lord her God, who in His providence had given her all she had, or ever had had, or ever would have, temporal and spiritual. And out of the depths of her adoration and thankfulness she says unto herself, “I will go,” in my poverty and sincerity, “and pay my vows unto the Lord in the presence of all His people,” cast my slender and only offering into the sacred treasury, and await the goodness of His hand in “the land of the living.” The other worshippers were giving variously, but all “of their abundance”; or, as the Revised Version has it, “of their superfluity.” They never missed what they gave. They were sacrificing nothing to enable them to give. They could have given more, some of them far more, and never have felt the slightest pressure in consequence. But the “poor widow” had not an iota more to offer. She gave her “uttermost farthing,” and she gave it gladly. (J. W.Pringle, M. A.)
The duty of almsgiving
1. It is necessary and scriptural that there be public voluntary contributions for pious and charitable purposes.
2. Both the rich and the poor should contribute to pious and charitable purposes, and that according to their respective ability.
3. It concerns us all to see that our contributions be such, in respect of the principles and motives from which they flow, as will meet with the Divine approbation.
4. Be exhorted to cast liberally into the offerings of God, by the encouraging considerations which are placed before you in His Word.
The anonymous widow
It is related of Father Taylor, the sailor missionary of Boston, that on one occasion, when a minister was urging that the names of the subscribers to an institution (it was tile missionary cause) should be published, in order to increase the funds, and quoted the account of the poor widow and her two mites, to justify this trumpet-sounding, he settled the question by rising from his seat, and asking in his clear, shrill voice, “Will the speaker please give us the name of that poor widow?” (Christian Age.)
The widow’s mite
When it is said that this mite was all this woman’s living, it must, of course, mean all her living for that day. She threw herself upon the providence of God to supply her with her evening meal or night’s lodging. From what she gave, which the Lord brought to light and commended, the expression “I give my mite” has passed into a proverb, which in the mouths of many who use it is ridiculous, if not profane. What ought to be the mite of one in a good business which yields him several hundreds a year clear profit? What ought to be the mite of a professional man in good practice, after all reasonable family claims are provided for? A man with an income of at least two or three hundred a year once said to me, when I called upon him for assistance in keeping up a national school, “I will think about it, sir, and I will give you my mite.” He did think, and his mite was two shillings. Contrast this with the following. Two aged paupers, having only the usual parish pay, became communicants. They determined that they would not neglect the offertory; but how was this to be done, as they were on starvation allowance? Well, during the week before the celebration, they did without light, sat up for two or three hours in the dark, and then went to bed, and gave the few pence which they saved in oil or rushlights to be laid on the altar of God. (M. F. Sadler.)
Giving his all
A gentleman was walking late one night along a street in London, in which stands the hospital where some of our little friends support a bed (“The May Fair Cot,” in Ormond Street Hospital) for a sick child. There were three acrobats passing along there, plodding wearily home to their miserable lodgings after their day’s work; two of them were men, and they were carrying the ladders and poles with which they gave their performance in the streets whenever they could collect a crowd to look on. The third was a little boy in a clown’s dress. He trotted wearily behind, very tired, and looking pale and sick. Just as they were passing the hospital the little lad’s sad face brightened for a moment. He ran up the steps and dropped into the box attached to the door a little bit of paper. It was found next morning there. It contained a sixpence, and on the paper was written, “For a sick child.” The one who saw it afterwards ascertained, as he tells us, that the poor little waif, almost destitute, had been sick, and in his weary pilgrimage was a year before brought to the hospital, which had been a “ House Beautiful “ to him, and he was there cured of his bodily disease. Hands of kindness had ministered to him, words of kindness had been spoken to him, and he had left it cured in body and whole in heart. Some one on that day in a crowd had slipped a sixpence into his hand, and that same night as he passed by, his grateful little heart gave up for other child-sufferers “all the living that he had.” It was all done so quietly, so noiselessly; but oh I believe me, the sound of that little coin falling into God’s treasury that night rose above the roar and din of this mighty city, and was heard with joy in the very presence of God Himself
The giving out of abundance and out of penury
“Mamma, I thought a mite was a very little thing. What did the Lord mean when He said the widow’s mite was more than all the money the rich men gave?” It was Sunday afternoon, and the question was asked by a little child of eight, who had large, dark, inquiring eyes, that were always trying to look into things. Mamma had just been reading to her the story from the Bible, and now she wanted it explained. Mamma thought for a few minutes, and then said, “Well, Lulu, I will tell you a little story, and then I think you will understand why the widow’s mite was more valuable than ordinary mites. There was once a little girl, whose name was Kitty, and this little girl had ever so many dolls, almost more than she could count. Some were made of china, and others were made of wax, with real hair and beautiful eyes that would open and shut; but Kitty was tired of them all, except the newest one, which her auntie had given her at Christmas. One day a poor little girl came to the door begging, and Kitty’s mother told her to go and get one of her old dolls and give it away. She did so, and her old doll was like what the rich men put into the treasury. She could give it away just as well as not, and it didn’t cost her anything. But the poor little beggar girl was delighted with her doll. She had never had but one before, and that was a rag doll; but this one had such lovely curly hair, and she had never seen any lady with such an elegant pink silk dress on. She was almost afraid to hold it against her dirty shawl, for fear of soiling it; so she hurried home as fast as she could, to hide it away with her few small treasures. Just as she was going upstairs to their poor rooms, she saw through the crack of the door in the basement her little friend Sally, who had been sick in bed all summer, and who was all alone all day, while her mother went out washing, to try and earn money enough to keep them from starving. As our little girl looked through the crack she thought to herself, ‘I must show Sally my new dolly.’ So she rushed into the room and on to the bed, crying, ‘O Sally! see!’ Sally tried to reach out her arms to take it, but she was too sick; so her little friend held up the dolly, and as she did so, she thought, ‘How sick Sally looks to-day! and she hasn’t any dolly.’ Then, with one generous impulse, she said, ‘Here, Sally, you may have her.’ Now, Lulu, do you see? The little girl’s dolly was like the widow’s mite--she gave her all.”
The largest giver
The late Bishop Selwyn was a man of ready wit as well as of devout Christian feeling. In his New Zealand diocese it was proposed to allot the seats of a new church, when the Bishop asked on what principle the allotment was to be made, to which it was replied that the largest donors should have the best seats, and so on in proportion. To this arrangement, to the surprise of every one, the Bishop assented, and presently the question arose who had given the most. This, it was answered, should be decided by the subscription list. “And now,” said the Bishop, “who has given the most? The poor widow in the temple, in casting into the treasury her two mites, had cast in more than they all; for they of their abundance had cast into the treasury, but she had cast in all the living that she had.” (W. Baxendale.)
A Welsh boy’s offering
It is related of a little Welsh boy who attended a missionary meeting that when he had given in his collecting card and what he had obtained from his friends, he was greatly distressed because he had not a halfpenny of his own to put in the plate at the meeting. His heart was so thrilled with interest in the work that he ran home and told his mother that he wanted to be a missionary, and asked her to give him something for the collection, but she was too poor to give him any money. He was disappointed and cried; but a thought struck him. He collected all his marbles, went out, and sold them for a penny, and then went to the meeting again and put it on the plate, feeling glad that he was able to do something to promote the cause of missions.
What one halfpenny can do
A son of one of the chiefs of Burdwan was converted by a single tract. He could not read, but he went to Rangoon, a distance of two hundred and fifty miles; a missionary’s wife taught him to read, and in forty-eight hours he could read the tract through. He then took a basket full of tracts; with much difficulty preached the gospel at his own home, and was the means of converting hundreds to God. He was a man of influence; the people flocked to hear him; and in one year one thousand five hundred natives were baptized in Arracan as members of the Church. And all this through one little tract I That tract cost one halfpenny! Oh! whose halfpenny was it? God only knows. Perhaps it was the mite of some little girl; perhaps the well-earned offering of some little boy. But what a blessing it was! (Bowes.)
The gifts of the poor
Sarah Hosmer, while a factory girl, gave fifty guineas to support native pastors. When more than sixty years old she longed so to furnish Nestoria with one more preacher that, living in an attic, she took in sewing until she had accomplished her cherished purpose. Dr. Gordon has well said, “In the hands of this consecrated woman, money transformed the factory girl and the seamstress into a missionary of the Cross and then multiplied her sixfold.” But might we not give a thousand times as much money as Sarah Hosmer gave, and yet not earn her reward?
The true worth of money
After all, objects take their colour from the eyes that look at them. And let us be assured that there is an infinite difference in the sight of an eye which is the window of a sordid soul and an eye from which looks a soul that has been ennobled by the royal touch of Christ. There are some eyes that read upon a piece of gold nothing but the figures that tell its denomination. There are others, thank God, that see upon it truths that thrill and gladden and uplift. If the lust of gold has blinded your eyes to all else but its conventional value, go to the feet of Christ, and to His question, “What wilt thou that I should do unto thee?” answer, “Lord, that mine eyes might be opened.” And when you have learned to look through money into that infinite reach that lies beyond it, you will have learned the lesson of the gospel. You may then be a “rich Christian,” making earth brighter and better, and building for yourself in heaven “everlasting habitations.”
In a sequestered glen in Burmah lived a woman, who was known as Naughapo (Daughter of Goodness). Sire was the Dorcas of the glen--clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, soothing the afflicted, and often making her little dwelling the home of the poor, that they might enjoy the privilege of the neighbouring school. Mrs. Mason, the missionary, visiting her, was struck with the beauty of her peaceful home--evidently a spot which the Lord had blessed … The day before she left, apedlar had called with his tempting fabrics for sale; but though this poor woman was in poor garments, she had but one rupee for purchases, while on the following morning she and her family put thirteen rupees into Mrs. Mason’s hand, to be deposited in the mission treasury. (Mrs. Wylie’s “Life of Mrs. Mason.”)
General Gordon had a great number of medals, for which he cared nothing. There was a gold one, however, given to him by the Empress of China, with a special inscription engraved upon it, for which he had a great liking. But it suddenly disappeared, no one knew when or how. Years afterwards it was found out by a curious accident that he had erased the inscription, sold the medal for ten pounds, and sent the sum anonymously to Canon Millar, for the relief of the sufferers from the cotton famine at Manchester. (E. Hake.)
Adorned with goodly stones and gifts
On the object and use of the sanctuary
THE CIRCUMSTANCES UNDER WHICH CHRIST UTTERED THESE WORDS. Every attentive reader of Holy Scripture must have remarked this fact, in the history of the Bible, viz., that whenever and wheresoever God revealed His choice of a spot among the sons of men, to “place His Name there”--where He might be especially present with them, to receive their worship, and to bestow on them His blessing--that spot was always directed and made to be as great a contrast, and as much superior as possible to all other places in which men ordinarily abode. But all this, as the same attentive reading of Holy Scripture must also convince us, was immediately directed to its own great and specific objects. It was designed by God to lead their thoughts upward to Himself. The temple had been a great probationary blessing to the Jews; it had been ordained of old by God, for the advancement of their essential and everlasting good; and it was now foredoomed to such ruin and desolation, that “there should not be left in it one stone upon another, which should not be thrown down,” only because of the way in which they had abused their privileges, trampled on their mercies, and forgotten the covenant while they walked in the very presence of their God.
1. These words of our Lord give no sort of encouragement to the notion which has often prevailed, and has been much repeated in our days, of its being utterly immaterial what kind of fabric we dedicate to the Most High; that all must be alike to Him, and the meanest sufficiently acceptable in His sight; inasmuch as “He dwelleth not in temples made with hands,” and can be as well honoured within walls of clay, as beneath the stateliest roof that ever was raised by man. When men live, according to their respective degrees, in a state which God has prospered--dwelling, if not, like David, in “houses of cedar,” at least in those of competence and comfort--it is not for them to suffer the “Ark of God to remain within curtains”; and though to the wanderer in the desert, or the colonist in his new settlement, the best tent or cot he could procure might be meet for the service of his God, yet it is not so for a society of Englishmen, dwelling in the very bosom of their highly favoured country and Church. How far are we using our Redeemer’s sanctuary upon earth, in such a manner as that, when this fails, we may be received into “a building of God; a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” We must not forget the possibility there is that we might be walking in the judicial blindness of Israel, whilst we are possessed of all the light, and all the means of grace, with which the Christian Church is entrusted. (J. Puckle.)
Admiration for the outward form rather than for the spiritual meaning
Is there any one Christian, however austere, who, on entering the body of our cathedral not for the first time but the twentieth, and allowing his eye to wander along its avenue of columns, or into the depth at once so mysterious and so impressive, of the distant choir; or towards those arches, at once light and bold, which, like a vigorous vegetation on each pilaster, throw out and intertwine their stems at the centre--is there any one who has not said to himself, How beautiful this is! what harmony! what unison among all these stones! what music in this architecture! what poetry in this edifice! Those who reared it are dead, but though dead they still speak to us; and their conception, full of adoration, their conception, a species of prayer, is so united to their work, that we think we feel it and breathe it as we advance within these walls which carry us over a vista of ages. Such is our feeling; and if we are not alone, we can scarcely help giving it utterance. Thus, doing: what the disciples did when they exclaimed, What stones! what buildings! might we not hater ourselves addressed by our Lord in words of reproof, “Is it this you are looking at?” And why should we not be reproved if our soul goes no farther than our eye, if it stops where our eye is obliged to stop; if symbols, appearances, visible things, hold it captive; ii the splendours of art chain down our heart to the earth instead of raising it to heaven? This is the censure which Jesus Christ passes on His disciples. He had looked into their souls, and there detected that lust of the flesh, that lust of the eye, and that pride of life, which are the three connecting chains by which the enemy of God links us closely to outer darkness. The man and the Jew were equally revealed in that involuntary exclamation; man, dazzled by whatever is seen, and filled with contempt for what is not seen; the Jew, proud of the exterior pomp of a worship, the deep meaning and internal idea of which had long escaped him, and attaching himself obstinately to the law--in other words, a shadow, at the very moment when this law was more than ever a shadow.
Is it this you are looking at? What! these few grains of dust, which are large only because you are little? What! these gifts extorted by fear, vanity, and custom, from individuals who refused to begin by giving themselves to God? What! the gorgeous falsehood of these marbles and gildings, of all those ornaments, the pious import of which has long since been forgotten? Is it this you are looking at? (A. Vinet, D. D.)
Looking at the true grandeur of Christianity
Christianity has taken a form in the world; it has become visible. Travelling over ages, and propagating itself in the world, it has assumed a place among the things to which the world pays regard; and besides this grandeur of space and duration which procures it a species of respect on the part of the most indifferent, it has, by its intellectual grandeur (I mean by the grandeur of the ideas which it expresses, and those which it suggests), captivated the regard and admiration of thinkers. Thus is it great after the fashion of the world. Beware of admiring it most of all for that grandeur. Let us fear lest its true grandeur escape our notice. Let us not allow our eye to be misled, and oblige Jesus Christ to say to us again, “Is it this you are looking at?” How great our misfortune if we should have entered the empire of the invisible only to link ourselves more securely to the visible, and if in the kingdom of spirit we should have been able only to find the world! How miserable, if trusting to those vain and hollow words, “The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord,” we should neglect, as the prophet says in the same place, thoroughly to amend our ways and our doings (Jeremiah 7:4-5). To look only to this twofold greatness of Christianity, the material and intellectual, is truly to do like the first companions of Jesus Christ, to fix our look upon stones. “fast thoughts, secular traditions, splendid recollections, all these are stones; cold materials, hard and dead. There are other stones, living stones, which form together a spiritual building, a holy priesthood (1 Peter 2:5). (A. Vinet, D. D.)
1. That sin has laid the foundation of ruin in the most flourishing cities and kingdoms; Jerusalem, the glory of the world, is here by sin threatened to be made a desolation.
2. “That the threatenings of God are to be feared, and shalt be fulfilled, whatever appearing improbabilities there may be to the contrary. It is neither the temple’s strength, nor beauty, that can oppose or withstand God’s power. (W. Burkitt.)
The destruction of the temple foretold
With this scene before them they must have found it harder still to acquiesce in the thought of the destruction of the city and temple. But the prediction of their overthrow contained an important lesson for the disciples and for us. It is this--
I. INSTITUTIONS AND SYSTEMS OF RELIGION OPPOSED TO CHRIST, HOWEVER STRONG AND SPLENDID THEY MAY APPEAR, ARE DOOMED TO DESTRUCTION. They have no guarantee for their continuance and perpetuity in the splendour and massive strength of their temples, Error is weak and on the road to downfall, no matter how strong it looks, and truth is strong and on the way to victory, no matter how weak and insignificant it appears. Other religions besides Judaism have illustrated these truths. It was thus with the ancient Greek and Roman religions. When Paul went to Ephesus, where the goddess Diana was worshipped, her temple so magnificent and stately was regarded as one of the seven wonders of the world. What was thus witnessed in the ancient world, wherever and whenever its religions came in contact and conflict with Christianity, is repeated in every age. It is being witnessed to-day in Japan and in India where long-established systems of religion, with imposing rites and magnificent temples, are gradually being undermined by the influence of the gospel. The splendid and massive structures in which those religions have been enshrined have no power to preserve them. They are crumbling before the preaching of the Cross. They belong to those transitory “human things,” whose fate a brilliant English historian compares to that of icebergs drifting southward out of the frozen seas. So long as the equilibrium is sustained you would think they were stable as the rocks. But the sea-water is warmer than the air. Hundreds of fathoms down the tepid current washes the base of the berg. Silently in those far deeps the centre of gravity is changed, and then, in a moment, with one vast roll, the enormous mass heaves over, and the crystal peaks which had been glancing so proudly in the sunlight are buried in the ocean for ever.”
II. THE DISCIPLES OF CHRIST ARE TO EXPECT AND BE ON THEIR GUARD AGAINST IMPOSTORS AND FALSE CHRISTS. “Many shall come in My name, saying, I am Christ, and shall deceive many.” The liability to be deceived by such impostors exists in all men. For in the souls of all there is an expectation of, or longing for, a mighty deliverer like the Messiah of the prophets. If Jesus is rejected, or not confidently believed in as the true Christ, some false Christ is likely to win their faith and lead astray.
III. JESUS TEACHES HIS DISCIPLES THAT BEFORE HIS RELIGION FINALLY TRIUMPHS THEY MUST HEAR AND SUFFER AND WITNESS MANY DREADFUL AND DISTRESSING THINGS AS INCIDENTS IN ITS CONQUEST OF THE WORLD. “Ye shall hear,” he said, “of wars and rumours of wars … Nation shall rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom; there shall be earthquakes in divers places; there shall be famines … They shall deliver you up to councils; and in synagogues ye shall be beaten; and before governors and kings shall ye stand for My sake for a testimony unto them.” But the fearful prophecy was mingled with words that spanned the dark cloud with a rainbow of hope. “Be not troubled,” He said; “these things must needs come to pass … these things are the beginning of travail.” “They must needs come to pass,” because they were the inevitable consequences of sin--the retribution long delayed but steadily accumulating, for the sins ofthe nation in the past.
IV. IN THIS CONFLICT WITH SIN AND FALSE RELIGION THEY SHOULD RELY FOR DEFENCE AND FOR VICTORY UPON THE DIVINE HELP.
Master, but when shall these things be?
I. THE MASTER’S WARNING CONCERNING FALSE CHRISTS.
1. Many will assume the daring role.
2. There is danger of being deceived. “Take heed,” etc.
II. THE MASTER’S INSTRUCTION IN RESPECT TO WHAT MUST PRECEDE HIS COMING.
1. The great events which must precede.
2. The persecution that must precede.
(3) Support under it.
3. Jerusalem’s destruction must precede it.
1. Christ’s wonderful knowledge of future events.
2. Christ’s wonderful ability to maintain His gospel and to sustain his followers.
3. Jerusalem’s destruction symbolizes the dreadful doom of those who reject Christ. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)
When I was a Sunday-school scholar--after I had finished reading my library books--I would look at the words on the last pages, “THE END,” and underneath these words were pictures; some of them I remember. There was a hand holding an inverted torch, and it seemed to say, “The flame is dying out, this is the end.” Another picture was a candlestick with a candle burned almost out, and the last flickering light of the candle said, “ The light is going out, soon it will leave you in darkness.” In another book a man was seen as having left his house, the door was closed and he was shut out in the outer darkness. He was walking in a narrow path, and just before him there was a pitfall, and in it were the words, “The end”; truly man steps out of this life into the next. There was a picture I saw only once, but I can never forget the impression that it left on my mind. It was a midnight scene, with the moon and stars lighting up the darkness that hung over a graveyard, and on a tombstone more prominent than the rest were these impressive words, “The end.” So there is an end to a book, an end to our days, our months, our lives, and an end to everything on earth. There is an end of working, of learning, and, whether neglected or improved, there will be an end of all our teaching.
Sabbath-school scholars and teachers, “Work while it is day, for the night cometh when no man can work.” (American Sunday School World.)
Experience of an earthquake
The traveller Humboldt gives an interesting account of the first earthquake he witnessed. It was at Cumana, in South America. The first shock came after a strange stillness. It caused an earthquake in his mind, for it overthrew in a moment all his lifelong notions about the safety of the earth. He could no longer trust the soil which up to that day had felt so firm under his feet. He had only one thought--universal, boundless destruction. Even the crocodiles ran from the river Orinoco howling into the woods; the dogs and pigs were powerless with fear. The whole city seemed “the hearth of destruction.” The houses could not shelter, for they were falling in ruins. He turned to the trees, but they were overthrown. His next thought was to run to the mountains, but they were reeling like drunken men. He then looked towards the sea. Lo! it had fled; and the ships, which a few minutes before were in deep water, were rocking on the bare sand. He tells us that, being then at his wit’s end, he looked up, and observed that heaven alone was perfectly calm and unshaken. Many strange things are yet to come upon the world--earthquakes, overturnings, upheavings. But amid them all, as the Book tells us, the Christian shall look up to the heavenly One, “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever,” and to His heavenly home which cannot be moved. (From “Bible Echoes,”)
Frequency of earthquakes
An earthquake is only a volcano hushed up. When Stromboli and Cotopaxi and Vesuvius stop breathing, let the foundations of the earth beware. Seven rheum and earthquakes in two centuries recorded in the catalogue of the British Association. Trajan, the Emperor, goes to ancient Antioch, and amid the splendour of his reception is met by an earthquake that nearly destroys the Emperor’s life. Lisbon, fair and beautiful at ten o’clock on November 1, 1755, in six minutes sixty thousand have perished, and Voltaire writes of them: “For that region it was the last judgment, nothing wanting but a trumpet!” Europe and America feeling the throb. Fifteen hundred chimneys in Boston partially or fully destroyed. But the disasters of other centuries have had their counterpart in our own. In 1812 Caracas was caught in the grip of the earthquake; in 1822, in Chili, one hundred thousand square miles of land by volcanic force upheaved to four and seven feet of permanent elevation; in 1854 Japan felt the geological agony; Naples shaken in 1857; Mexico in 1858; Mendoza, the capital of the Argentine Republic, in 1861; Manilla terrorised in 1863; the Hawaiian Islands by such force uplifted and let down in 1871; Nevada shaken in 1871, Antioch in 1872, California in 1872, San Salvador in 1873, while in the summer of 1883 what subterranean excitements! Ischia, an island of the Mediterranean, a beautiful Italian watering-place, vineyard clad, surrounded by all natural charm and historical reminiscence; yonder Capri, the summer resort of the Roman emperors; yonder, Naples, the paradise of art--this beautiful island suddenly toppled into the trough of the earth, eight thousand merrymakers perishing, and some of them so far down beneath the reach of human obsequies that it may be said of many a one of them as it was said of Moses, “The Lord buried him.” (Dr. Talmage.)
It shall turn to you for a testimony
The testimony of life
The tale of it shall live on. The light of their lives shall shine through their forms and reveal the inner glory in eternity. This is the eternal recompense--revelation. The revelation of the Christlike spirit in a world where to be Christlike is to be glorious and blessed; where the scars of battle are marks of honour, and the martyr’s brow is anointed like Christ’s with the oil of joy and gladness through eternity. And now what are we doing which shall turn to us for a testimony at that day? A testimony of what? What is the record that shall be read out about us? What hidden things shall the book of remembrance reveal? How much is said and done daily because we love God and must do His will at whatever cost? Many a clever stroke of business is done, no doubt; many a happy speculation; or perhaps a brilliant trick, or next door to it. Quite right, quite fair, no doubt, as business goes in these days, but not the kind of thing which will turn to you for a testimony when it is read out on high. Realize it. Set it before your mind’s eye. Beings of angelic truth, purity, charity, all round you, circle beyond circle; and Christ, who lived that life which it makes us blush to read about, in the midst. And what is there in your life in tune with it; which you will hear read out with joy in that great company; which makes you the blessed freeman of that world in which “the Lamb who was slain” is King? What deeds do we leave for recompense at the resurrection of the just? No matter what the world thinks about it, the real question is, What do we think of it ourselves? In the quiet hours when the world is shut out, and its babbling is silent, what do we think of it? There is a sterner, surer Judge within than any that the world can set to weigh us. How stand we before that tribunal? It will prophesy to us how we shall stand before the bar of Christ at last. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)
I will give you a mouth and wisdom
Christ’s promise the support of His despised ministers
I. THE PREDICTION here implied, viz., that the apostles should not fail of adversaries to oppose them. This, indeed, was to be no small argument of their apostolic mission. For such as engage themselves in the service of that grating, displeasing thing to the world, called “truth,” must expect the natural issue and consequent of truth, which is a mortal hatred of those who speak it. The next thing offering itself to our consideration is, how this enmity (especially in the apostles’ time, which the words chiefly point at) was to exert itself.
1. For gainsaying; the word in the Greek is ἀντειπε͂ιν, importing opposition in disputation, with an endeavour to repel or confute what is alleged by another. And thus we find the apostles frequently and fiercely encountered by adversaries of very different persuasions, by Jews and Gentiles, and the several sects belonging to both. They were perpetually railed at as deceivers and impostors, even while they were endeavouring to undeceive the world from those wretched impostures and delusions which had so long and so miserably bewitched it: in a word, they were like physicians exchanging cures for curses; and reviled and abused by their froward patients, while they were doing all they could for their health and recovery. But--
2. The other branch of the opposition designed against the apostles and ministers of Christ is expressed by “resisting”; a word importing a much more substantial kind of enmity than that which only spends at the mouth, and shows itself in froth and noise; an enmity which, instead of scoffs and verbal assaults, should encounter them with all that art could contrive or violence execute; with whips and scourges, cross and gibbet, swords and axes; and though bare words draw no blood, yet these, to be sure, would. And such were the weapons with which they were to act their butcheries upon the Christians; till at length, through all the sorts and degrees of cruelty, the same martyrdom should both crown and conclude their sufferings together.
II. CHRIST’S PROMISE TO HIS APOSTLES OF SUCH AN ASSISTANCE FROM ABOVE AS SHOULD OVERCOME AND MASTER ALL THEIR ADVERSARIES’ OPPOSITION.
1. For the thing promised, “a mouth and wisdom”, that is, an ability of speaking, joined with an equal prudence in action and behaviour. Which things we will consider first singly, and then in conjunction. And--
(a) Great clearness and perspicuity.
(b) An unaffected plainness and simplicity.
(c) A suitable and becoming zeal or fervour.
(a) That they opposed neither things nor persons, any further than they stood in their way in the ministry of it. On the contrary, “I am become all things to all men,” says St. Paul, and that neither to gain favour nor interest, but only converts to Christianity (1 Corinthians 9:22).
(b) The other instance of the wisdom given by our Saviour to His apostles was their resolute opposing all doctrines and interests whatsoever, so far as they stood in opposition to the gospel.
2. The person promising, who was Christ Himself: “I will give you a mouth and wisdom.” I lay particular stress and remark upon this, because Christ seems by this very thing to give His disciples an assurance of His resurrection. For surely they could not expect to receive gifts from above, while the giver of them was underground.
III. BY WHAT MEANS CHRIST CONFERRED THOSE GIFTS UPON HIS DISCIPLES AND APOSTLES and that we find was by the effusion of the Holy Ghost, the author and giver of every good and perfect gift, ministerial gifts more especially. (R. South, D. D.)
A scoffer silenced
One evening, a few years ago, while a few believers in Christ were holding an open-air meeting in the Caledonian Road, London, a man commenced to mock the speaker and taunt him with being paid half-a-crown to come and preach to the people, and even went so far as to charge the preacher with telling a parcel of lies. No notice was taken of the mocker for some little time, but as he persisted in making a disturbance, and declaring that the person addressing the meeting did it for money, and that it was a good thing for him to be able to get half-a-crown so easily, the gentleman stopped short in his discourse, and turning to the scoffer, said, “My dear friend, it is you that are uttering untruths; I do not preach for half-a-crown, but for a crown, ‘a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me;’ and He will give you one too if you will only go to Him and ask for it.” The disturber said but little after this, and stayed till the meeting closed.
A martyr’s beautiful reply
That was a beautiful reply of Margaret Maitland, Scotland’s maiden martyr, to her persecutors. They had bound an aged Christian to a stake far out between low and high tide, and Margaret herself to another stake nearer the shore. They hoped that, seeing the struggles and painful death of her companion, she would be terrified and would recant. She gazed on the awful scene with deep sympathy, but without any manifestation of fear. When they asked her, “Margaret, what do you see yonder?” she replied, “I see Christ suffering in the person of one of His saints.” She knew that when her turn came to be suffocated by the rising tide Christ would be with her also; that He would share in her sufferings; that He would sustain her in the terrible ordeal. This is the kind of faith we need for ourselves and for the Church.
In your patience possess ye your souls
It should rather read, By your endurance ye shall gain possession of your lives. It is also “ye shall bring your spiritual life safely through the coming troubles.” It was a sore trial for the early Christians to he severed from their holy places, from their city home. In that sundering of cherished ties there lay, we may well believe, an agony that changed the very nature of those who endured it. But it taught them to look far afield, to bow down at no single shrine, and sent them forth to evangelize the world. Out of the ruin of their most cherished relics there grew up a more noble conception of the Church. Age after age each time of change has seemed to bring with it the end; at each crisis have been heard the same appeals to heaven, the same despair of earth; and yet to those who had patience the evil time has passed away, and men have found themselves living in a fresh air of hope with expanded vision and larger powers for good. Our tranquility is little affected by news of distant suffering. It is the old Horatian difference between the eyes and the ears. We fancy that our own troubles are far the worst the world has ever been called on to undergo. Warnings come from older men to whom the dark cloud seems to cover the heavens. The young see the sunshine coming up with soft rich colours of promise from behind the storm. Are there any peculiar causes for alarm?
I. The alarm is as old as Christendom.
II. The existence of some life is a cheering thing.
III. We need more manliness in our religion; more that will attract bard-knit men.
IV. If the Christian faith is to declare its Divine origin in the face of vehement attack or learned contempt, it cannot be by shutting itself up in safe sanctuary and refusing to enter the field with its antagonists. It is not without anguish that we rise “out of our dead selves to better things.” Yet there is no other way for the nobles of mankind. (Dean Kitchin.)
The possession of our souls is a very emphatical expression. It describes that state in which a man has both the full command, and the undisturbed enjoyment, of himself; in opposition to his under going some inward agitation which discomposes his powers. Upon the least reflection it must appear, how essential such a state of mind is to happiness. He only who thus possesses his soul is capable of possessing any other thing with advantage; and, in order to attain and preserve this self-possession, the most important requisite is, the habitual exercise of patience. I know that patience is apt to be ranked, by many, among the more humble and obscure virtues; belonging chiefly to those who groan on a sick bed, or who languish in a prison. If their situation be, happily, of a different kind, they imagine that there is no occasion for the discipline of patience being preached to them. But I hope to make it appear, that, in every circumstance of life, no virtue is more important, both to duty and to happiness; or more requisite for forming a manly and worthy character. It principally, indeed, regards the disagreeable circumstances which are apt to occur. But in our present state, the occurrence of these is so frequent, that, in every condition of life, patience is incessantly called forth.
I. PATIENCE UNDER PROVOCATIONS. We are provoked, sometimes by the folly and levity of those with whom we are connected; sometimes by their indifference, or neglect; by the incivility of a friend, the haughtiness of a superior, or the insolent behaviour of one in lower station. Hardly a day passes, without somewhat or other occurring, which serves to ruffle the man of impatient spirit. Of course, such a man lives in a continual storm. He knows not what it is to enjoy a train of good humour. Servants, neighbours, friends, spouse, and children, all, through the unrestrained violence of his temper, become sources of disturbance and vexation to him. In vain is affluence; in yam are health and prosperity. The least trifle is sufficient to discompose his mind, and poison his pleasures. His very amusements are mixed with turbulence and passion. I would beseech this man to consider of what small moment the provocations which he receives, or at least imagines himself to receive, are really in themselves; but of what great moment he makes them by suffering them to deprive him of the possession of himself.
II. PATIENCE UNDER DISAPPOINTMENTS. Are we not, each in his turn, doomed to experience the uncertainty of worldly pursuits? Why, then, aggravate our misfortunes by the unreasonable violence of an impatient spirit Perhaps the accomplishment of our designs might have been pregnant with misery. Perhaps from our present disappointment future prosperity may rise.
III. PATIENCE UNDER RESTRAINTS. No man is, or can be, always his own master. We are obliged, in a thousand cases, to submit and obey. The discipline of patience preserves our minds easy, by conforming them to our state. By the impetuosity of an impatient and unsubmitting temper, we fight against an unconquerable power; and aggravate the evils we must endure.
Patience under injuries and wrongs.
To these, amidst the present confusion of the world, all are exposed.
No station is so high, no power so great, no character so unblemished, as to exempt men from being attacked by rashness, malice, or envy.
To behave under such attacks with due patience and moderation, is, it must be confessed, one of the most trying exercises of virtue. But, in order to prevent mistakes on this subject, it is necessary to observe, that a tame submission to wrongs is not required by religion. We are by no means to imagine that religion tends to extinguish the sense of honour, or to suppress the exertion of a manly spirit. It is under a false apprehension of this kind that Christian patience is sometimes stigmatized in discourse as no other than a different name for cowardice. On the contrary, every man of virtue ought to feel what is due to his character, and to support properly his own rights. Resentment of wrong is a useful principle in human nature; and for the wisest purposes was implanted in our frame. It is the necessary guard of private rights; and the great restraint on the insolence of the violent, who, if no resistance were made, would trample on the gentle and peaceable. Resentment, however, if not kept within due bounds, is in hazard of rising into fierce and cruel revenge. It is the office of patience to temper resentment by reason.
V. PATIENCE UNDER ADVERSITY AND AFFLICTION. This is the most common sense in which this virtue is understood; as it respects disease, poverty, old age, loss of friends, and the other calamities which are incident to human life. In general, there are two chief exercises of patience under adversity; one respecting God, and another respecting men. Patience with respect to God, must, in the days of trouble, suppress the risings of a murmuring and rebellious spirit. Patience in adversity, with respect to men, must appear by the composure and tranquility of our behaviour. The loud complaint, the querulous temper, and fretful spirit, disgrace every character. They show a mind that is unmanned by misfortunes. We weaken thereby the sympathy of others; and estrange them from the offices of kindness and comfort. The exertions of pity will be feeble, when it is mingled with contempt. (H. Blair, D. D.)
Now the feelings unavoidably disagreeable to us, and tempting us to impatience, are chiefly pain, sorrow, fear, and anger.
1. Pain: under which may be comprehended also sickness, restlessness, and languid lowness.
2. The next source of impatience before mentioned is sorrow: which sometimes is mere sympathy with the calamities of others.
3. The next cause of impatience, mentioned before was fear.
4. The last trial of our patience, of which I proposed to speak, is anger. (T. Secker.)
Patient self-possession in times of trial
Be collected, that you may be strong; stand still, and stand firmly, if you can do nothing else; do not slip back, or step aside, or attempt anything wrong or questionable. Patience is not merely a passive submission to evil, a dull, stupid, unfeeling indifference, like the insensibility of wood or stone; it is the result of thought; it implies effort; it is a sort of active bearing up of oneself under the pressure of calamity, which at once indicates self-possession and secures it; it reacts upon that from which it proceeds, and causes it to become stronger and stronger. I wish now to request your attention to some of the advantages which flow from obedience to the precept, in the case of Christians, when called to suffer great affliction, or when exposed to the fear of impending calamity.
1. In the first place, there is the consciousness of not increasing the affliction by sin. If a Christian is impatient, and gives way to fretfulness and temper, or other forms of restiveness under trouble, he not only loses the advantage of calmness and self-possession, but his conscience receives a fresh injury; his proper religious feelings are hurt; his inward personal peace is disturbed; and thus the trouble presses upon him with double weight. It is a great blessing not to be exposed to this.
2. In the next place, self-possession in a time of trouble will enable an individual to take a just view of his actual circumstances, and of the nature and ends of the Divine infliction. We are under the rule and guidance of One who has always an object in what He does--an object worthy of Himself, and connected with the peace and holiness of His Church.
3. In the third place, the man who has full possession of himself in a time of affliction will be able to engage in certain exercises of mind which trouble calls to, but which are impossible, or next to it, when the soul is disturbed by agitation and excitement. “In the day of adversity consider.” “Call upon Me in the day of trouble.” “Glorify Me in the fire.” “Enter into thy chamber.” “Be still, and know that I am God.” “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, neither faint when thou art rebuked of Him.” But none of these things can be done, or done well, if the man is not quiet, patient, and self-possessed; if he is the victim of hurry, alarm, consternation, and surprise.
4. Observe, fourthly, that it is only by such self-possession as the text inculcates, that an individual will be able to select and apply the proper means of escape from calamity, or which may help him to meet it, or to counteract its effects.
5. In the last place, obedience to the text, explained as an exhortation, will best prepare a man for the end and result of trouble, whatever that result may be. If the cloud and the calamity pass away, and the man be fully delivered from it, he will be able to look back with serenity and gratitude, free from self-reproach or shame. If it terminate fatally, for himself or others, he will be able to acquiesce, with intelligent faith, in the Divine will. (W. Binnie, D. D.)
The soul won by patience
The Authorised Version reads, “In your patience possess ye your souls.” It bids the imperilled Christian, fortified by promise, to endure to the end, keeping his soul tranquil and trustful. A beautiful precept, yet inferior, both in reading and rendering, but most certainly in the latter, to one other, which is that of the Revised Version, “In your patience ye shall win your souls.” For the imperative we substitute the future; in other words, for precept we read promise. This is one change--for “possess” we read “win”; for a soul given in creation, we are biddento look for a soul to be given in glory. The case is one of those in which the word before us always means to acquire, and never means to possess. Now we turn from a comparison of renderings to the application of the saying itself. “In your patience ye shall win your souls,” “some of you shall be put to death,” “ye shall be hated of all men,” “not a hair of your head shall perish,… in your patience ye shall win your souls.” Death itself shall not prevent this; for the soul here spoken of is the life’s life, the thing which unbelief and unfaithfulness can alone forfeit for any man, the thing which is saved by faith, the thing which is acquired, gained, won in the exercise of patience. There is a lower truth in the saying in reference to this present life. Multitudes of human lives have been won by patience; the histories of battles and sieges are in large part histories of the triumph of patience; cities would have been lost, and fields would have been lost, but for the grace of patience in the commanders and the leaders. But certainly the converse is true; in patience has been defeat, has been disaster, has been bloodshed, a thousand and ten thousand times; the analogy of earth and time gives support to the promise when we read it as it was spoken of the soul and of things heavenly. What is patience as Christ speaks it? The Greek word for patience is made up of two parts, one meaning continuance, and the other meaning submission; so that the combined term may be defined as submissive waiting, that frame of mind which is will ing to wait as knowing whom it serves, willing to endure as seeing the Invisible; recognizing the creaturely attitude of subjection to the Creator; recognizing also the filial relationship which implies a controlling hand and a loving mind in heaven. Submissive waiting, this is patience, and we see, then, why great things should be spoken of it, why it should even be made the sum of Christian virtues, why to it rather than to any other grace, the promise should be affixed, “In your patience”--in the exercise, resolved and unwearied, of the grace of submissive expectancy--“ye shall at last win your souls.” “Then the soul is not yet won?” Yes and no; the soul, the true life of each one, is already redeemed, bought, bought back with precious blood; and the soul, the life’s life of each one, is already committed to us by Christ Himself for omnipotent keeping. “I know,” St. Paul writes, “whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that He is able to guard my deposit”--the soul which I have committed to Him--“against that day.” This is true. Our Lord speaks not here to contradict His own word, or to vitiate His own work, which says quite indiscriminately in Holy Scripture, “Ye were saved,” that is, on Calvary; “Ye have been saved,” this is, in redemption; “Ye are being saved,” that is, in the work of grace; “Ye shall be saved,” that is, in the day of glory. But, in fullest consistency with all these, there is room for a promise, “Ye shalt win your souls.” Let no man presume. There is a sense in which the life’s life hangs suspended on that mark, as St. Paul calls it, which is the goal of the race. “I,” he says, “count not myself to have apprehended.” There is a grace of submissive expectancy; still, and because there is this, there is a something yet in front of me. At present I do not quite possess even my own soul. Oh! it often eludes me when I would say, “All my own I carry with me.” Oh I there are many misgivings and doubtings in us, even in the things most Surely believed. I cannot always command the life’s life, which is the soul, when I would carry it with me to the mercy-seat. I find earth and the world, flesh, and sense oftentimes too strong and too predominately present with me just when I would be at my very best for prayer and praise. I cannot pretend to say that I have quite attained even to the possession of my own innermost being. A great promise. Now let us lose ourselves for a moment in the contemplation of this promise, “Ye shall win your souls”; and then in one last word see the connection of it with the realm and region of patience. “In your patience ye shall win your souls”: at last my soul shall be my own. That is the promise. It is a wonderful interpretation of a wonderful saying appended to the parable of the unrighteous steward: “If ye have not been faithful in the use of that which was so precarious and so fugitive that even while you had it it might rather be called “another’s”--the possession in greater or lesser measure of the substance of this world--“who,” our Lord asks, “who should give you that which is your own”--that which is your own, still to be won--the soul, the life’s life of thistext? Patience may lack, often does lack, one at least of its ingredients; there might be a waiting which was no submission, which, on the contrary, was indolence, was procrastination, was dallying, the man sitting still, and letting alone, and waiting upon chances which are no grace at all, but the opposite; or there might be a submission which was no enterprise, and waiting upon Providence with more or less of the resignation which is the ape and shadow of patience, which has in it no doing nor daring for Christ, no present running and fighting, and, therefore, no future crown. But who shall speak the praises of the real gospel, Christian, spiritual patience? (Dean Vaughan.)
Making for ourselves souls
The revised translation restores this word of Jesus to its original force. The Lord did not bid His disciples simply to possess their souls in patience. He told them that through endurance they were to win their souls. Souls, then, are for us to win. Literally the word used by Jesus means, procure for yourselves souls. Life is to be to us, in some sense, an acquisition of soul. This active verb used by Jesus in relation to the soul is suggestive. How may the disciples acquire their own souls? Are we to work with the Creator in making our own souls? We are to go into life, and, as men in business gain possessions, we are to procure our souls from life. Souls, then, may not be such ready-made products of nature as we are accustomed to imagine; the souls of men are possibly but the seeds of immortality. They may be the germs scattered by a spiritual power in this soil of the flesh, and destined to spring up, and to grow, if we do not succeed in killing them, into the powers of an endless life. In what ways are we to set about procuring for ourselves souls? The first thing for us to do is the thing which those men had already done to whom Jesus gave this promise that they should win their souls. What they had done--the first decisive step which they had taken in the work of finding their lives--was not, indeed, to acquaint themselves with all knowledge, or to peer into all mysteries. They had not even lingered at the doors of the school of the Rabbies. But when One who spake as never man spake, and who looked into men’s souls with the light of a Divine Spirit in His eye, came walking upon the beach where they were mending their nets, and bade them leave all and follow Him, they heard their own being commanded as by the King of truth, and at once they left all and followed Him. They counted not the cost; they obeyed when they found themselves commanded by God in Christ. This promise, “Ye shall win your souls,” was addressed to men who had surrendered themselves wholly to that which they had seen, and knew of God. It was a pledge of soul made to men who had the wills of disciples. This prime condition of winning our souls remains unchanged, and no simpler or more searching words for it can be framed than those first requirements of Jesus Christ of every man--“Repent,” “believe.” If a man wishes in all sincerity to gain his own soul, he must begin by turning with a will from the sin of the world which he knows has laid foul, destructive hand upon his life; he must rise, and meet duty, trusting himself with all his heart to every whisper of truth and echo of God within him. The first step in the way of acquiring our souls, let me repeat, is the decision of discipleship. I answer then, secondly, we are to acquire soul by living now with all the soul we do have. If we are to win souls from life, we must put our whole souls into life; but the trouble with us is that we often do not. We live half-hearted, and with a certain reserve often of ourselves from our every-day life in the world. But you remember how Jesus insisted that His disciples should serve God and love man with all their souls, and with all their strength. The way to gain more soul and better is to live freely and heartily with all the soul we do have. Christ alone may show us what a whole-hearted, whole-souled life should be. He completes lives. He gives soul and heart abundantly in life. Has He not said we are to love God with all our minds, and all our hearts, and all our strength? “Yes,” some one thinks, “but how can I in my little tread-mill of a life, in my circumscribed sphere, put my whole soul into it, live with all my might? I wish I had an opportunity of life into which I could throw all my soul--but what am I and my little place? I know I am not living with all my heart.” But you may I You may, if you are willing to learn Jesus’ secret, and to find your life while losing it. Perhaps in the very effort it may cost us to put our hearts into little things--to do common things as disciples heartily as unto the Lord--may be the exercise of soul which God has appointed for us that thereby we may gain capacity of spirit for the whole service of heaven. Right here it may help us to come back to our text. In your patience ye shall win your souls. Not many of those disciples to whom Jesus was then speaking became distinguished Christians. They had no great part to play in this world. All but three or four of the twelve are only names to us. But every man of them had a splendid chance to win soul by endurance. God gives to common people this opportunity of winning on earth souls large enough and good enough to appreciate by and by what heaven is. Patience may be the making of a soul. That regiment of men is held all the morning waiting under fire. They broke camp with enthusiasm enough to sweep them up to any line of flame. But they are held still through long hours. They might show splendid courage in action; but the orders arc to stand. Only to stand still under fire! But that day of endurance is enough to make a veteran of the recruit of yesterday. The discipline of waiting under life’s fire makes veteran souls. Through the habit of endurance God trains often his best souls. If you keep up heart in your life of trial, by that patience what a soul for God’s kingdom may be won! (Newman Smyth, D. D.)
How to use life
How different life must look--how different what we call sometimes its strange providences must look--to the eye of one above who can see souls, and how they are forming for the endless life! And our own souls--is this world absorbing and exhausting them, or by the grace of God are we transmuting all our work and experience of life into more soul and sweeter? My friends, am I not bringing to you from this word of the Lord a very simple yet all-sufficient test for everything you are doing or planning in your lives? Can I acquire soul by it? Be sure, any course of life which causes any shrinkage of soul is not right. The open Christian life is constant enlargement of heart. Long ago the Hebrew poet looked up, and saw that the soul that runs in the way of the Lord’s commandments is enlarged. “Be ye also enlarged,” said an apostle, in Jesus’ name. His gospel does not come to you and me with a close system of restrictions confronting us on every hand with unnatural restraints. Christ does for us what Satan offered to do for Christ, but never had the power to do--He gives us all the kingdoms of this world, because He gives us receptive souls and pure hearts for all God’s works and worlds. All things are yours, for ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. Yon shall be disciples of the Divine Man. You are here for a little while to procure for yourselves souls, and to help others win their souls. God’s Spirit is here with you to give you hearts in sympathy with all Godlike things. Grieve not that Holy Spirit. Beware of anything which helps kill soul. A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. Acquire soul! (Newman Smyth, D. D.)
This baby has to learn to see. He has eyes, sound, clear, lovely orbs into which a mother’s eye looks as into deep wells of love, but when he emerges into consciousness and begins to take note of things around him, hold up a ball before him, and see how aimless is his grasp at it. His eye has not yet learned to calculate distances. You know how the blind, when restored to sight, have to learn to see: sight and seeing are not the same things. Sight is a gift of nature. Seeing has to be won. That blind man whom Jesus healed did not at once receive power to see. At the first touch he said, “I see men, for I behold them as trees, walking,” in vague outline, confused, like the blending of trees in a grove. When Jesus laid His hand upon him a second time, he saw all things clearly. We see the same truth as related to special training of the senses. We have all heard the story of “eyes and no eyes.” One man will see the material for a volume where another sees nothing but stocks and stones. And, going still deeper, there is that moral something which we call self-mastery. In how many do you see it? How many men do you see who make their thoughts work on given lines; who have their hand on the gates which shut out vain and wicked thoughts; in whom the whole moral and spiritual nature is obedient to law, and is marshalled and massed and directed by a supreme will? We say a man is self-possessed. What do we mean by that, but that there resides in the man a power which holds all his faculties at command, and brings them to bear in spite of all distractions? There can be no better phrase to express it. He possesses himself. He can do what he will with that side of the self which he chooses to use. Man’s self must develop powers of resistance and control. It must be so completely in hand that he can say to wind and water, “You shall not possess me and carry me whither you will. Rather shall you do my bidding, and grind my corn, and turn my lathe, and carry me whither I will.” “Nature, red in tooth and claw,” roars and pants and rages after him. He must win his life from her jaws. And no less does the truth hold higher up. As we follow human nature upward, it is only the antagonists that change. The contact and the conflict are perpetuated. The Bible is full of this. It may indeed be said that the underlying truth of the whole Bible, working itself out through the successive stages of history and the infinite varieties of human experience, is, how shall a man win his own soul? A whole economy of secret, spiritual forces is arrayed against this consummation. Hence it is that Paul says, “We that are in this tabernacle do groan.” Hence we are told of a wrestle which is not with flesh and blood, but with spiritual hosts; marshalled and organized evil in the spiritual realm; princes of darkness. So, too, our Lord told Peter of an unseen terrible power, fired with malignant desire to sift him as wheat. And under the stress of this fact, the whole current of New Testament teaching settles down into one sharply-defined channel; that spiritual mastery, self-possession, self-wielding, are the outcome only of patient effort and discipline protracted up to the very end. Accordingly we hear an apostle, far on in his Christian career, saying, “I keep my body under.” The great feature of this text is that Christ points us away from circumstances to souls. You stand some day by the ocean swept with a tempest. It is a grand spectacle. A score of things in the clouds and in the waves appeal to yam You mark the height of the billows, their tremendous volume and swiftness axed power, their mad struggle round the sunken reefs; but after all it is not the grandeur or the terror of the scene which most enchains you. Your interest is concentrated on that ship yonder. You forget the spectacle of the maddened ocean as you watch her fight with it. The question which fills your mind is not how long the storm is going to continue, or whether it is likely to become more severe. It is whether the ship will ride out the gale. And so all circumstances take their character from their relation to man’s soul. The question is whether the man will ride out the storm of circumstance; the whole significance of circumstance turns on whether it will conquer the man or be conquered by him; whether it will swallow up the soul, or whether the man will bring his soul alive and entire out of the tempest. This is the way in which Christ, as He is pictured in the text, looks out upon that horrible tempest of blood and fire; and this is the attitude of the whole Bible toward the struggle and convulsion of this world. Through it all God has His eye on man’s moral destiny. To us, often, the principal things are the war and the confusion, the dislocation and the overturning. To Him the principal thing is the destiny of that soul in the midst of the storm. Will the man win his soul or not? Circumstances will adjust themselves if men are right. The great struggle in God’s eyes is not between parties or sects or opinions. It is between the soul and the world. Victory is the man’s overcoming the world; not one side of the world getting the better of the other; not the victory of the man’s native force of will and physical power over the things which assail his fortune or his reputation, but the perfecting of his spiritual manhood in the teeth of all the loss and damage and pain which this world can bring to him. You and I will win this battle if we shall win our souls. (Newman Smyth, D. D.)
Patience, the precious little herb
Two little German girls, Brigitte and Wallburg, were on their way to the town, and each carried a heavy basket of fruit on her heart. Brigitte murmured and sighed constantly; Wallburg only laughed and joked. Brigitte said: “What makes you laugh so? Your basket is quite as heavy as mine, and you are no stronger than I am.” Wallburg answered: “I have a precious little herb on my load, which makes me hardly feel it at all. Put some of it on your load as well.” “O,” cried Brigitte, “it must indeed be a precious little herb! I should like to lighten my load with it; so tell me at once what it is called.” Wallburg replied, “The precious little herb that makes all burdens light is called ‘patience.’”
Jerusalem shall be trodden down
The desolation of Jerusalem confirms our faith in God’s promises
Samuel Rutherford says: “We too often believe the promises as the man that read Plato’s writings concerning the immortality of the soul. So long as the book was in his hand, he believed what was said; but as soon as he laid it down, he began to imagine that his soul was only an airy vapour that perisheth with the expiring of the breath. It would greatly help to preserve us from this, and strengthen our faith, if we oftener compared Scripture with Scripture, and prediction with fulfilment.” Two rabbis, we are told, approaching Jerusalem, observed a fox running up the hill of Zion. Aged Rabbi Joshua wept, but Rabbi Eliezer laughed. “Wherefore dost thou weep?” demanded Eliezer. “I weep because I see what was written in the Lamentations fulfilled: ‘Because of the mountain of Zion which is desolate, the foxes fall upon it.’” “And therefore do I laugh,” said Rabbi Eliezer; “for when I see with my own eyes that God has fulfilled His threatenings to the letter, I have thereby a pledge that not one of His promises shall fail, for He is ever more ready to show mercy than judgment.”
Restoration of the Jews
In the year 1808, the generous Lewis Way, when riding with a friend in Devonshire, had his attention drawn by a companion to some stately trees in a park they were passing. “Do you know,” said his friend, “the singular condition that is attached to these oaks? A lady who formerly owned this park, stipulated in her will that they should not be cut down until Jerusalem should again be in possession of Israel; and they are growing still.” Mr. Way’s heart was deeply moved by this incident. The idea of the restoration of the Jews took possession of his mind. In the following year he succeeded in forming the London Society of the Jews. The labours of this and other kindred societies have since been so graciously owned, that in England and on the Continent there are now thousands of Jewish converts, many of whom are ministers of the gospel, some of them preachers and students whose names have become almost household words in the Church of Christ.
There shall be signs
Signs of the times
The mere simple relations of these portentous appearances strike us with horror: and Josephus, who has left us a full history of these times, informs us that they all actually happened at that tragical period. When he enters upon the subject, he uses some of the very words of this chapter, proposing to speak of the signs and prodigies which presignified the approaching desolation; and he mentions the following horrendous prognostications: A star, in the shape of a sword, or a comet, pointing down upon the city, was seen to hang over it for a whole year. There were other strange and unaccountable meteors seen in the aerial regions: armies in battle-array, and chariots surrounding the country and investing their cities; and this before sunset. The great gate of the temple, which twenty men could scarcely shut, and which was made fast with bolts and bars, opened of its own accord to let in their enemies: “for so,” says Josephus, our wise men understood the omen. At the ninth hour of the night a great light shone upon the temple and the altar, as if it had been noon-day; and at the feast of Pentecost, when the priests went at midnight into the temple to attend their service, they first heard a kind of noise as of persons removing from a place, and then a voice, “Let us away from hence.” And what Josephus relates is confirmed by Tacitus, a Roman historian of the same age who had no connection with the Jews.
1. There seems to be a correspondence and propriety in it, that there should be a kind of sympathy between the natural and moral world; that when the kingdoms of the earth are tossed and agitated, the earth itself should totter and tremble under them; that when the light of the rational world, the splendour of courts and kingdoms, is about to be extinguished or obscured, the sun and moon, and other lights of the material world, should abate their glory too, and, as it were, appear in mourning; that when some grand event is hastening to the birth, that terribly illustrious stranger, a comet, should make us a visit, as its harbinger, and shake its horrendous tail over the astonished world; that when peace is broke among the nations, the harmony of the elements should likewise be broken, and they should fall into transient animosities and conflicts, like the restless beings for whose use they were formed. There is an apparent congruity and propriety in these things, and therefore the argument is at least plausible; but as it is drawn only from analogy, which does not universally hold, I shall not lay much stress upon it. And yet, on the other hand, as there is an obvious analogy, which does unquestionably hold in many instances, between the natural and moral world, the argument is not to be utterly disregarded.
2. These unusual appearances are peculiarly adapted to raise the attention of mankind, and prepare them for important revolutions. There is a propriety and advantage, if not a necessity, especially with regard to that part of mankind (and there are always many such upon earth) whose benefit is intended by these extraordinary events and revolutions, that they be prepared for them. And they cannot prepare for them without some general expectation of them; and they can have no expectation of them without some warning or premonition of them. Now the ordinary appearances in nature cannot answer this end, because they are ordinary, and therefore not adapted to rouse and fix the attention; and because they really have no such premonitory signification. And as to the Word of God, it may have no direct perceivable reference to such extraordinary periods; and, therefore, can give us no previous warning of their approach. But these unusual phenomena are peculiarly adapted to this end: their novelty and terror catch the attention of the gazing world. Such premonitions would be striking illustrations of the goodness and equity of his administration, who does not usually let the blow fall without previous warning, and they would contribute to the right improvement of such dispensations. This, therefore, I think, we may look upon, at least, as a probable argument; especially if we add that, as these unusual appearances are, in their own nature, fit to be premonitions, so--
3. It seems natural to mankind to view them in that light; and they have been universally looked upon in that light in all ages and countries. As to the Jews, the matter is clear; for Josephus tells us, that their wise men actually put this construction upon those alarming appearances, which preceded the destruction of Jerusalem. And as they had been accustomed to miracles for the confirmation of their religion, they were even extravagant in their demands of this sort of evidence upon every occasion; as we find in the history of the evangelists. As to the Gentiles, this was the general sentiment of all ranks among them, not only of the vulgar, but of their poets and philosophers. From mankind’s generally looking for miracles to prove a religion Divine, and from impostors pretending to them, we justly infer that God has so formed our nature, that it is natural to us to expect and regard this sort of evidence in this case: and that God does adapt himself to this innate tendency, and has actually wrought true miracles to attest the true religion: and we may, with equal reason, infer from the superstitions of mankind, with regard to omens and prodigies, that God has given a natural bent to our minds to look for them; and that in extraordinary periods he really does give such previous signs of future events.
4. History informs us, that such unusual commotions and appearances in the natural world, have, with a surprising regularity, generally preceded unusual commotions and revolutions in the moral world, or among the nations of the earth. When an hypothesis is supported by experiments and matters of fact, it ought to be received as true. And this argument will appear decisive, ii we find, in fact, that such commotions and revolutions in the world have been uniformly preceded by some prodigies: for such an uniformity of such extraordinary periods, cannot be the effect of chance, or of blind natural causes, unadjusted and undirected by an intelligent superior power; but it must be the effect of design, a wise and good design, to alarm the world, and put them in a proper posture to meet these grand occurrences. There is nothing more natural, nothing which astronomers can compute with more exactness, than eclipses of the sun and moon; and yet these have so regularly and uniformly preceded the first grand breaches, and the total overthrow of kingdoms and nations, that we cannot but think they were intended to signify such revolutions; and thus mankind generally interpreted them. A total eclipse of the sun happened before the captivity of the ten tribes by the Assyrians; before the captivity of the Jews in Babylon; at the death of Christ, about thirty-seven years and a half before the last destruction of Jerusalem; and about the same number of years before the slaughter of six hundred thousand Jews under Adrian; before the conquest of the Babylonians by the Medes; and before the fall of the Mede-Persian, Grecian, and Roman empires. Upon the whole, let us endeavour to put ourselves in a posture of readiness to meet with all events that may be approaching. Though I know not these futurities, yet I know it shall be well with them that fear God: but it will not be well with the wicked;neither shall he prolong his days, which are as a shadow; because he feareth not before God. (President Davies, M. A.)
Second Sunday in Advent
This coming is not at death. Death is nowhere called the coming of Christ. It may be the going of the saints to Him, but it is not His coming to them, in any such sense as that in which we declare in the Creed: “ He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.” Though, in some sense, always present, there are respects in which He is quite absent, in which He has been absent since the day of His ascension from the Mount of Olives, and in which He will continue to be absent until mankind “shall see the Son of Man coming in a cloud, with power and great glory.” And in that same sense in which He is now absent from the earth, He is again to come to the earth, when “every eye shall see Him, and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him.”
I. Let us, therefore, in the first place, ASSURE OURSELVES OF THE SCRIPTURALNESS AND ORTHODOXY OF THE DOCTRINE, THAT THE GLORIOUS LORD JESUS CHRIST IS REALLY AND LITERALLY TO RETURN AGAIN IN PERSON TO OUR WORLD. This is the more important, as the tendencies are to neglect and explain away this article of the faith. It was a vital and characteristic part of the faith and hope of the early Christians to look forward to, and to expect, the coming again of the Lord Jesus. Indeed the whole success of redemption itself is conditioned upon His return. To strike it out, would confound the whole system of salvation, carry utter confusion into all attempts intelligently to believe or defend the gospel as of God, and dry up the heartiest and hopefullest springs of faith, holiness, and Christian life.
II. With this point settled, let us look next at THE SIGNS WHICH THE SAVIOUR SPECIFIED AS THE HERALDS OF HIS SECOND COMING. These are given with great particularity in the text before us. Luther distinguished them into two leading classes; and we may safely follow him in this, as also in his exposition of the words which describe them.
1. He finds in the text a Divine prediction of an ever-growing earthiness, sensuality, and unbelief, on the part of the great mass of men, as the day of judgment draws near. There is to be no millennium of universal righteousness, liberty, and peace, before Christ comes; but “evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13).
2. The second class is given with equal distinctness, and embraces many wonders in nature, so imposing as to challenge universal observation.
III. Finally, let us glance at THE SORT OF AFFECTIONS WHICH THE OCCURRENCE OF THESE SIGNS OF THE SAVIOUR’S COMING SHOULD BEGET AND NURTURE IN OUR SOULS. Luther well read the human heart, when be said, “There be very few who would not rather that the day of judgment might never come.” But this is not the way in which our Saviour would have us affected by this subject. It is indeed a terrible thing for the guilty, and is meant so to be, that it may break up their false security, and arouse them to repentance and a better life; but it is designed to be a joy and consolation to all true believers. It is intended to be a thing of precious promise and of glad hope to them. (J. A. Seiss, D. D.)
Terror produced by a meteoric shower
During a great meteoric shower in South Carolina, an eye-witness writes: “I was suddenly awakened by the most distressing cries that ever fell on my ears. Shrieks of horror and cries for mercy I could hear from most of the negroes of the three plantations, amounting in all to about six hundred or eight hundred. While earnestly listening for the cause, I heard a faint voice near the door calling my name. I arose, and taking my sword, stood at the door. At this same time I still heard the same voice beseeching me to rise, saying: ‘Oh, my God! the world is on fire!’ I then opened the door, and it is difficult to say which excited me the most--the awfulness of the scene, or the distressed cries of the negroes. Upwards of a hundred lay prostrate on the ground--some speechless, and some with the bitterest cries, but with their hands raised imploring God to save the world and them. The scene was truly awful, for never did rain fall much thicker than the meteors fell towards the earth; east, west, north, and south it was the same.”
Encouragement from Christ’s promised advent
I. The persons unto whom these words are uttered, in the particle “your”: “Lift up your heads.”
II. What things they are of which our Saviour here speaks, in the first words of the text: “Now when these things begin to come to pass.”
III. The behaviour which our Saviour commends unto us, in these words: “Look up, lift up your heads.”
IV. Last of all, the reason or encouragement; words of life and power to raise us from all faintness of heart and dulness of spirit: “For your redemption draweth nigh.” It will not be amiss a little to consider whence it comes to pass that in the late declining age of the world so great disorder, distemper, and confusion have their place: and it shall yield us some lessons for our instruction.
1. And, first of all, it may seem to be natural, and that it cannot be otherwise. For our common experience tells us, that all things are apt to breed somewhat by which themselves are ruined. How many plants do we see which breed that worm which eats out their very heart! We see the body of man, let it be never so carefully, so precisely ordered, yet at length it grows foul, and every day gathers matter of weakness and disease, which, at first occasioning a general disproportion in the parts, must at the last of necessity draw after it the ruin and dissolution of the whole. It may then seem to fall out in this great body of the world as it doth in this lesser body of ours: by its own distemper it is the cause of its own ruin. For the things here mentioned by our Saviour are nothing else but the diseases of the old decaying world. The failing of light in the sun and moon--what is it but the blindness of the world--an imperfection very incident to age? Tumults in the sea and waters--what are they but the distemper of superfluous humours, which abound in age? Wars and turnouts of wars are but the falling out of the prime qualities, in the union and harmony of which the very being of the creature did consist. Scarcely had the world come to any growth and ripeness, but that it grew to that height of distemper that there was no way to purge it but by a general flood, “in
which, as it were in the baptism, its former sins were done away” Hosea 4:17).
2. But you may peradventure take this for a speculation, and no more; and I have urged it no further than as a probable conjecture. And therefore I will give you a second reason. Besides this natural inclination, God Himself hath a further purpose in it. He that observes the ways of God as far as He hath expressed Himself, shall find that He hath a delight to show unto the world those that are His; to lift them up on high, and mark and character them out by some notable trial and temptation. To draw this down to our present purpose: To try the strength, the faith, the love, the perseverance of those who are His, God is pleased to give way to this tumult and danger in the last days. He sets before us these terrors and affrightments, to see whether we fear anything more than Him, or whether anything can shake the reliance and trust which we repose in Him; whether our faith will be strong when the world is weak; whether our light will shine when the sun is darkened; whether we can establish ourselves in the power of God’s Spirit when “the powers of heaven are shaken” (Matthew 24:29). And indeed what are all these signs here mentioned but mormoes, mere toys to fright children with, if we could truly consider that, if the world should sink, and fall upon our heads, it cannot hurt a soul, nor yet so grind the body into dust that God cannot raise it up again?
3. As sin and iniquity have increased, so have the means to reclaim it. As wickedness hath broken in as a flood, so hath judgment been poured forth, and doth swell, wave upon wave, line upon line, judgment upon judgment, to meet it, and purge it, and carry it away with itself, and so run out both together into the boundless ocean of God’s mercy. This is God’s method; who knows whereof we are made, and therefore must needs know what is fittest to cure us. If His little army of caterpillars, if common calamities, will not purge us, He brings in sword, and famine, and pestilence, to make the potion stronger.
Our third general part was the consideration of the behaviour which our Saviour commends unto us in these words: “Look up, and lift up your heads”; words borrowed from the behaviour which men use when all things go as they would hare them.
As herbs, when the sun comes near them, peep out of the earth, or as summer-birds begin to sing when the spring is entered, so ought it to be with us “when these things come to pass.
” This winter should make us a spring; this noise and tumult should make us sing. Wars, famines, plagues, inundations, tumults, confusion of the world, these bring in the spring of all true Christians; and by these, as by the coming of summer-birds, we are forewarned that our Sun of Righteousness draws near.
1. Fear is a burden that maketh us not able to look upwards, towards that which might rid and ease us of it, but towards something that may hide and cover us.
2. Grief is another weight that presseth down. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” saith David (Psalms 42:5; Psa_42:11).
3. These two, fear and sorrow, are the mother and the nurse, the beginners and fomenters, of all murmuring and repining. What are all the pleasures, what are all the terrors, of the world to him that is made one with Christ, who conquered also?
That therefore this doctrine may pass the better, which at first sight is but harsh and rugged, we will show you--
1. That it is possible to arm ourselves with such courage and resolution in common calamities.
2. That it is a great folly not to do so.
3. What impediments and hindrances they be which overthrow our courage, and take our hearts from us, when such things as these come to pass.
1. And, first, of the possibility of this doctrine. And, if we look a little upon the manners of men, we shall find them very apt and ready to plead impossibilities and difficulties where their own practice confutes them. Now to manifest the possibility of this, I think I cannot do it better than by an ensample: and I will give you one, and that too of an Ethnic man, that knew not Christ, nor His rich promises, nor ever heard of the glory of the gospel. There is a hill in Italy, Vesuvius they call it, which is wont sometimes to break cut in flames of fire, to the terror and amazement of all that dwell nigh unto it. The first time that in the memory of man it fired, was in the days of Vespasian the emperor; at which time it brake forth with that horrible noise and cry, with that concussion and shaking of the earth near about it, with that darkness and stench, that all within the compass thought of nothing now but aeternam illam et novissimam mundo noctem, “that time was ended, and the world drawing to its dissolution.” Pliny, the great philosopher, and the author of the famous “History of Nature,” lay then at Micenum, not far off: and out of a desire he had to inform himself, he drew near to the place where he thought the fire began. And in the midst of that horror and confusion so undaunted and fearless was he that he studied, and wrote, and ate, and slept, and omitted nothing of his usual course. His nephew, a great man afterwards with Trajan the emperor, out of whom I take this history, reports himself, that being there at that time, notwithstanding all the terrors and affrightments, yet he called for his books, he read, he noted, as if he had not been near the mountain Vesuvius, but in his study and closet: and yet was at that time but eighteen years of age. I have been somewhat the more large, besides my custom, in opening the particulars of this story, because it is the very emblem, the very picture, of the world’s dissolution, and of the behaviour which is here enjoined Christians when that time shall come. What, though there be signs in the sun and moon and stars? must my light thereof be turned into darkness? must my sun set at noon, and my stars, those virtues which should shine in my soul, fall out of their sphere and firmament? When the world is reedy to sink, do thou raise thyself with expectation of eternal glory.
2. I have done with the first point--the possibility of the doctrine, that we must arm ourselves with courage and resolution against common calamities. I proceed now to the second--that it is an argument of great folly not to do so. Is it not a great folly to create evil, to multiply evils; to discolour that which was sent for our good, and make it evil; to make that which speaketh peace and comfort unto us a messenger of death?
3. Let us now consider the lets and impediments, or the reasons why our hearts fail us at such sights as these. I shall at this time only remove a pretended one; having spoken of self-love and want of faith, which are real and true hindrances of Christian courage. The main pretence we make for our pusillanimity and cowardice is our natural weakness, which we derived from our first parents, and brought with us into the world. Fear not, therefore: why should we fear? Christ hath subdued our enemies, and taken from them every weapon that may hurt us. He hath taken the sting not only from sin, but from those evils which are the natural issues and products of sin. He hath made afflictions joyful, terrors lovely, that thou mayest “look up” upon them, and “lift up thy head.” I have done with this pretence of natural weakness, and with my third part; and I come now to the fourth and last, the encouragement our Saviour giveth: “For your redemption draweth nigh.”
IV. And “when these things come to pass,” when such terrible signs appear, this news is very seasonable. “As cold waters to a thirsty soul” Proverbs 25:25), so is the promise of liberty to those “who have been in bondage all their life long” (Hebrews 2:15), under the fear of those evils which show themselves unto us, and lead us captive, and keep us in prison, so that we cannot look up. How will the prisoner even sing in his chains, when news is brought that his ransom is paid, and his redemption near at hand! It is a liberty to be told we shall be free: and it is not easy to determine whether it more affect us when it is come, or when it is but in the approach, drawing nigh; when we are free, or when we are but told that shortly we shall be so. And indeed our redemption is actus individuus, “one entire act”; and we are redeemed at once from all; though the full accomplishment of it be by degrees. But we may say ‘truly of this first redemption what some in St. Paul said falsely of the second resurrection, This redemption’s time “is past already” (2 Timothy 2:18); past on our Redeemer’s side, nothing left undone by Him: only it remains on ours to sue out our pardon, and make our redemption sure. And therefore there is another redemption that they call praeservantem, “which settles and establishes us, preserves” us in an angelical state, free from sin, from passions, from fear. And when this comes, we shall sin no more, hope no more, fear no more: all sins shall be purged out, all hope shall be fulfilled, all tears shall be wiped from our eyes, and all trembling from our hearts. And this is the redemption here meant, the only trust of the Christian, the expectation of the faithful. (A. Farindon, D. D.)
Signs of nearing redemption
Ere autumn has tinted the woodlands, or the cornfields are falling to the reaper’s song, or hoary hilltops like grey hairs on an aged head give warning of winter’s approach, I have seen the swallow’s brood pruning their feathers and putting their long wings to the proof; and though they might return to their nests in the window eaves, or alight again on the housetops, they darted away in the direction of sunny lands. Thus they showed that they were birds bound for a foreign clime, and that the period of their migration from the scene of their birth was at hand. Grace also has its prognostics. They are as infallible as those of nature. So when the soul, filled with longings to be gone, is often darting away to glory, and soaring upwards, rises on the wings of faith, till this great world, from her sublime elevation looks a little thing, God’s people know that they have the earnest of the Spirit. These are the pledges of heaven--a sure sign that “their redemption draweth nigh.” Such devout feelings afford the most blessed evidence that with Christ at the helm, and “the wind” that “bloweth where it listeth” in our swelling sails, we are drawing nigh to the land that is very far off; even as the reeds and leaves and fruits that float upon the briny waves, as the birds of strange and gorgeous plumage that fly round his ship and alight upon its yards, as the sweet-scented odours which the winds waft out to sea assure the weary mariner that ere long he shall drop his anchor and end his voyage in the desired haven. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
Behold the fig-tree and all the trees
The parable of the fig-tree
TEACHING OF THE PARABLE.
1. Shows course and sequence of events as certain and necessary as the processes of nature. All is in progress. Be sure of the issue. Be alive to the tokens of its approach.
2. The incongruity of the comparison is its instruction. Its purpose to fix attention not on an end, but on a beginning; not on what going, but on what coming; not on tokens of dissolution, but on hidden life stirring beneath, after last storm to break out into the “kingdom of God.”
II. USE OF ITS TEACHING.
1. See that it belongs to you.
2. Live under the sense of what is coming. You need it--
The big clock
Do you know that God has a big clock, bigger than any one you have ever seen, bigger indeed than Big Ben at Westminster. But this big clock does not make any noise, you can never hear it ticking; and it does not strike, but yet it goes on, year after year, year after year, marking the time. What do you think is the face of this clock? It is the earth; the fields and meadows and hedgerows in every part of the world--that is the face of this clock. And what do you think are the figures upon this dial? They are flowers and birds and leaves. God’s big clock does not tick, but it lives; it does not strike the hours, only some flowers open out or die away when the hour has come. Isn’t that what Jesus meant when He said, Look at the fig-tree and all the trees; they are beginning now to put out buds. Very well; you know by that that this is spring-time, and by that you know that summer is coming near. The buds tell what o’clock it is by the time of year. When you were learning to tell the time on the face of the clock on the mantel-shelf, how did you begin? Was it not by first learning the quarters? When the long hand was half-way down on the right, you knew it was a quarter past; when it was half-way up on the left, you knew it was a quarter-to; and when it was down between these, you knew it was half-past; and when it was up between them you knew the clock was going to strike the hour. Well, just as there are four quarters in our clocks so there are four quarters in this big clock we are speaking about. The first quarter is springtime, half-past is summer, quarter-to is autumn, and when winter comes the year is ended. When you look at the trees and flowers you can pretty well tell what o’clock it is by the year. But standing between the quarters of the clock there are other figures. How many of these are there altogether? Twelve, are there not? And how many months are there in a year? You know--twelve. So, you see, this clock has got all the figures, and, what is stranger still, it marks all the figures by flowers and fruits; for there are different flowers that come out every month of the year. If a smart boy were to keep his eyes about him, and understood things as he walked in the country, when he found certain trees beginning to bud and certain flowers beginning to peep up, he would say, This must be the month of January; for these always come out in January. Later on, if he saw some others, he would say, This must be “February; for these always come out in February. And so through all the year, if he was clever, he would find the flowers and trees telling him what month it was. But there is something stranger still about this clock of God’s; and you must remember it, so that from time to time during the year you may learn to use your eyes and notice what God is doing in the fields. It is this: God’s clock tells the hours of the day as well as the months of the year. The months are the twelve figures; but you know that between the twelve figures there are the little minutes, and these minutes are made up of moments. Now the minutes in God’s big clock are days, and the moments are hours, and the clock tells them all. What then can be the meaning of this big clock? Surely it is to tell us that time is passing. Does it not plainly say that if we do not grow right in the springtime of our life, we shall not be able, when the summer comes, to go back to the springtime and mend what has been wrong? You would not like to grow up wicked, would you? Then learn to grow as the flowers grow. How is that? By always looking at the sun, and taking its light, and following it, for the flowers follow the sun with their heads, and so they become beautiful. Do you the same with Jesus--follow Him with your hearts. (J. R. Howatt.)
Heaven and earth shall pass away
Heaven and earth shall pass away
It is something to startle us, and make us ask ourselves, if indeed such things can be; whether He is in earnest who says so, and whether the world which practises upon us by its looks as though it were eternal, is indeed such an imposter, and we who believe it, so foolish and so ignorant! Yet so it is. Now, it seems to some of you, I dare say, as to most men, that this is a great deal more astonishing than that anything so inconsiderable, materially considered, as a man, should pass away, as you see happen every day by death. It seems a pity to break to pieces so goodly a machine as heaven and earth, and uproot its adamantine basis. But if so, I think you are wrong. It seems to me nothing at all astonishing, that anything for which we have no longer a use should finally be thrown aside, or broken up, and the old materials put to some other purpose, be it an ordinary implement, or be it a world. It seems to me very reasonable and very likely in itself, that, in the infinite wisdom and power of God, one world should be ripened, so to say, out of another, as you see the fruit come out of the flower, and the flower out of the bud, so that the first shall decay before the higher one can be perfected. It is very reasonable that, as a mere manifestation of power, in order to show to his creatures the strength of His right hand, and the absolute independency of His will, God should dash in pieces, from time to time, or consume by the breath of His nostrils, what was made by His word, and stood only by His sufferance. Besides, in the elements out of which heaven and earth are made, there is no thought or feeling; they are brute, dead things; and are capable neither of pain nor pleasure. Whether they abide or not in the forms into which God has thrown them, it is the same to them; no harm is inflicted on them; they are as unconscious of change as they are impotent to feel or will. But, if heaven and earth must pass away, another consequence will follow, which is to every one of us of awful importance. If the earth, such as it now is, shall be utterly destroyed, manifest it is, that our present life, and cares, and pleasures, and occupations, all that men make their happiness of, will likewise he brought to an end. And this brings me to another point--and a reason for the passing away of the present world, which I have not yet mentioned, though it might easily occur to any thoughtful mind. It is a condemned world; sentence is passed upon it! And it is condemned, because it is guilty, and all over polluted! And do not wonder at this, for you know with what feelings we regard a chamber or a house in which a murder, or some abominable crime, has been committed; how we shrink from it and abhor it, and hate the sight of it, and should think it the greatest misery in the world, if we have any feelings worthy of man, to be compelled to take up our abode within it. A sort of guilt, as well as involuntary pollution, seems to attach to the very floors and senseless walls which have witnessed the crime, and have not fallen down or opened upon the wicked in the midst of their wickedness. And we should rejoice at seeing them pulled down to the ground, and the last memorial of the crime removed from our eyes! Well, so it is exactly in regard to the world in which we live, with all its majestic mechanism, its living forces, and all the ornaments which God’s hand has thrown round about it. It is stained with six thousand years of sin. And this brings us to another portion of the question. If heaven and earth shall pass away, shall anything succeed into their room, or shall that space which they occupied be utterly blank and desolate? The answer is, no. So to say, there shall rise two new worlds, or such a change as comes to the same thing, out of the ruins of it; even as out of the earth destroyed by the flood there sprung forth that in which we now dwell. There shall be the new heavens and new earth, in which dwelleth righteousness, and the face of God’s countenance shineth for evermore--the habitation of those who have lived and died in the Lord. And on the other hand, the world, where the light is darkness, and the life is death, and the good is evil, and weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth are the voice thereof--even the habitation of the ungodly for ever and ever. And this gives you the true reason, dear brethren, why the judgment is now suspended, and sun and moon are shining, and night and day, and spring and harvest, come and go, and all things remain as at the beginning. It is that God’s last dispensation upon earth may have full room and time to display itself in all its combinations with human good and evil, before the voice from the throne shall proclaim that it is finished. It is that, in the sight of all His creatures, the patience and long-suffering of God, which leadeth to repentance, might have full space and opportunity in which to show themselves, and vindicate to the uttermost the exceeding forbearance of our heavenly Father even towards them that perish I It is that, year after year, His saints may be gathered in till, in the fulness of time, the flock which he has given to Christ shall have been called out of all nations and languages, and the Saviour be satisfied in the sight of His soul’s travail. (J. Garbett.)
My words shall not pass away
The words of Jesus permanent
I. The words of Jesus Christ, the words which He spoke for our direction, for our purification, for our comfort, for our redemption, have not passed, and shall not pass away. Our human intellect accepts them with reverence, and must ever retain them. Our human passions acknowledge their salutary power, and look up to them for perpetual control and guidance. Our human fears are soothed by them, and cannot let them go. Our human hopes are informed, elevated, and sanctified by them, and constantly resort to them for refuge, and lean upon them for rest. All our human affections have borrowed from them Divine light and warmth, and must reflect that light and warmth for ever.
II. “Heaven and earth shall pass away.” Giving to this sentence an individual application, we may feel that heaven and earth pass away from the sight of all of us. Fancies as brilliant as the blue vault above us, promises as fair, expectations and resolves as high, and possessions which we have deemed as firmly founded as the earth itself, have vanished, and will again vanish; and what is there left behind? The words of Christ are left, when the visions break, and the possessions disappear--words of patience, and courage, and comfort, always left for the strengthening of our hearts, if our hearts will hear and accept them. The words of Jesus arc the promises of God the Father to the souls of men. When eyes are growing dim, and the heart is ceasing to beat, and heaven and earth are passing away, as they surely will from all of us, what remains for the soul’s help and reliance but the words of Jesus, which are the promises of God?
III. And let us remember that the words of Jesus, attested as they arc by the Father who sent Him, permanent as time has proved them, true, and satisfying, and lasting as the human soul has found them, are not only the promises of God for man’s hope and trust, but the law of God for man’s final judgment. As such they will remain, when heaven and earth, in any and every sense, have passed away. The words of Christ, essentially permanent, and surviving all change, will meet our souls in the last day, and be pronounced upon them, for acquittal or for doom. And certain and necessary it is, that the sentence which will be adjudged unto us hereafter by those words, will be in strict accordance with the observance or the neglect with which we treated them here, before our present heaven and earth had passed away. (F. W. P. Greenwood, D. D.)
The ineffaceable word
On one occasion when William Dawson, the Yorkshire Preacher, was giving out a hymn, he suddenly stopped and said: “I was coming once through the town of Leeds, and saw a poor little halfwitted lad rubbing at a brass plate, trying to rub out the name; but the poor lad did not know that the harder he rubbed the brighter it shone. Now, friends, sing:--
‘Engraved as in eternal brass
The mighty promise shines;
Nor can the powers of darkness rase
Those everlasting lines.’”
Then, as though he saw the devil rubbing, he said:
“Satan cannot rub it off--
‘His hand hath writ the Sacred Word
With an immortal pen.’”
The enduring words
An infidel in London had a wife who possessed a Bible which she regularly read; being annoyed at this, the man, who had frequently threatened to do so, threw the book upon the fire. This appears to have taken place at dinner-time. He then left home to go to his work, but soon returned to see if the last vestige of the volume had disappeared. The woman, who naturally felt distressed at her loss, said she thought it must be completely burned; but her husband stirred the ashes to see if such was the case, when he read what fastened itself upon his mind, and led to his conversion--“Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My word shall not pass away.” The sister of this man was the wife of a London pastor; and just when the Bible was burning she was earnestly praying for her brother’s conversion. (Sword and Trowel.)
Surfeiting and drunkenness
Gluttony and drunkenness to be avoided
I will attempt to show you THE EVILS AND MISCHIEF OF THESE SINS WHICH OUR SAVIOUR HERE CAUTIONS US AGAINST. Be it known to you, then, that miserable are the effects and fruits of these vices. Gluttony and greediness drove our first parents out of Paradise. They tell us that Heliogabalus used to bring his parasites into dining-rooms that had deceitful floors, and thence they fell and were destroyed. This is but an emblem of the ruin which attends those who are addicted to immoderate eating and drinking. Besides what I have said already, I will farther show you the pernicious effects of this luxurious practice in these five particulars.
1. This vice is generally fatal to men’s estates, as the wise man observes, and therefore dissuades from this folly (Proverbs 23:20-21).
2. How unspeakably pernicious is this sin to the body as well as the estate!
3. This sin is injurious not only to the body of man, but to his mind and soul, his better and move refined part. Its operations are stifled and choked, its faculties are rendered dull and useless, and the excellent spirit which was made to look up to heaven bows down to the earth, becomes gross and carnal, and is plunged into dirt and mire.
4. Luxurious eating and drinking are the nurses of wantonness and uncleanness.
5. Contempt and disgrace are the just reward of luxury.
II. I am to lay down CERTAIN RULES AND DIRECTIONS WHEREBY YOU MAY ORDER YOURSELVES ARIGHT IN THE USE OF THE PLEASURES OF MEAT AND DRINK. These are things natural and necessary, and therefore lawful and innocent in themselves.
1. Offend not as to quantity; eat and drink no more than what is requisite. Nature is content with slender provision, and Christianity maintains the same moderation.
2. Offend not as to quality, that is, be not over-curious in the choice of your meats and drinks.
3. Desire not to fare more costly than is agreeable to your condition.
4. Be careful that you spend not too much time in eating and drinking.
5. (And which is near a-kin to the former rule) Make it not your grand business to eat and drink.
6. Then these bodily refreshments of meat and drink are lawful and commendable, when they are accompanied with charity towards the needy.
7. Let your eating and drinking be attended not only with charity, but with all other testimonies of religion and serving God. Among the pagans their tables were sacred. It should be much more so among Christians, that is, we should make them serviceable to virtue, and to the promoting of our own and others’ spiritual good.
III. I will propound to you some HELPS AND ASSISTANCES.
1. That you may not offend God by the extravagant use of meats and drinks, begin within, and strive to check your undue appetites there.
Intemperance and luxury begin at the heart; stifle it there.
2. You may be helped in the discharge of the duty which I have been treating of, by understanding your selves aright, by considering your excellent nature and make.
3. To antidote you against this immoderation in meats and drinks, think seriously of the dreadful judgments of God which attend this sin (see Isaiah 5:11; Amos 6:1, etc.).
4. Think of death and judgment, and the serious consideration of these will be serviceable to check you in your intemperate courses.
(John Edwards, D. D.)
Ruined by drink
The following fact is related by a worthy clergyman, who lived and officiated not far from this place. “There are persons so hardened in sin, and so totally given up of God, that neither sickness nor death can make any impression on them. I remember one of this unhappy description, in the county of Essex, whom I both visited during his illness, and interred after he was dead. He was a clever fellow, and of good family, but so totally depraved, that when one of his bottle companions wrote to inform him that he was about to die and go to hell, and desired to know what place he should bespeak for him there, he sat down and gave him for a reply, that he did not care where it was if there was only brandy and rum enough. Thus he lived, and soon after died a martyr to spirituous liquors, cursing and blaspheming, notwithstanding all that could be done to bring him to a better mind. Being possessed of two bank bills, of the value of ten pounds each, which was all the little property he had left,--‘Now,’ said he to a person who stood by, ‘when I have spent these in brandy and rum, I shall be content to die and go to hell.’ He sunk, however, before they were expended, and left just enough to bury him.” (Essex Remembrancer.)
The luxury and worldliness of the present age
I. First, THE WARNING. To whom is that warning addressed? “Take heed to yourselves;… for as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth.” You see there is a contrast drawn between yourselves and the whole earth. “Yourselves” shows us to whom the warning is spoken--it is to the Church. To His own washed, saved, sanctified ones, He says, “Take heed to yourselves.” He says to them, “Take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and the cares of this life.” Mark that expression, at any time. It would seem as though the prophecy has a continuous bearing, from the time that it was delivered up to the end of the world--that this warning is spoken to the Church of God in all ages. Take notice here that the heart is spoken of as meaning the inner life of a Christian. Take heed lest the springs of spiritual life be weakened by the cares, or the frivolities, or the ease, or the luxury, or the gains, or the occupations of this present life. The word “overcharged” literally means “weighed down.” You see that not only surfeiting and drunkenness are spoken of, but “the cares of this life.” On the one hand the Lord speaks of all the glare of earth, on the other hand He speaks of the toil of earth.
II. Now, see THE REASON OF THE WARNING--“For as a snare shall it come upon all them that dwell upon the face of the whole earth.” The meaning of this is, that the day of the Lord will take the world by surprise.
III. Thirdly, we come to speak of THE PRECEPT GROUNDED UPON THE WARNING, and the reason of the warning--“Watch ye, therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and stand before the Son of Man.” You may have marked in history, that before empires fell, or great capitals were destroyed, luxury in the empire or in the capital had reached a climax. It was so at Herculaneum and Pompeii; it was the case at Rome. Every species of indulgence, luxury, and comfort seemed to be gathered together by the inhabitants around, when the burning mountain poured forth its flames, while streams of lava buried the cities, and hurried the people into eternity. And so, when Rome was taken by the Goths, or northern nations, it had reached the highest point of luxury, pomp, and pride. So Babylon is described in the Revelation--whatever that Babylon means--it is described as saying, just before it is destroyed--“I sit as a queen, and am no widow.” In the very heigh of her pomp--in the very zenith of her pride--in the midst of her magnificence, God casts her down, and she sinks likelead in the mighty waters. It will be so, doubtless, with the nations of the world--with the kingdoms of professing Christendom--with the great capitals of Europe; there will be pride, and luxury, and magnificence, and men will be passing their time in ease and affluence, and self-indulgence, “when sudden destruction shall come upon them, as travail upon a woman with child, and they shall not escape.” Watch ye, therefore; watch against the prevailing taste for show--watch against the prevailing love of ease--watch against the selfishness of the age, the luxury that creeps even into the Church; watch and take heed, brethren, lest you tread in the world’s footsteps. (W. Pennefather, M. A.)
A heart overcharged with care
I. Let us, think, then, in the first place of WHERE THIS INJUNCTION REALLY APPLIES TO US--When is the heart “overcharged with care”? Distinguish between care and sorrow. Goal sends sorrows but He never sends cares. No one can doubt the necessity Or sorrow, it has a part in our development which nothing else can fulfil, and, there fore, as long as God loves us and would do His best for us we may be sure we shall suffer, and that such suffering never need be a curse, but care always must. Who are the most miserable to-day? Not the sorrowful, but the careworn. When Christ said “Take heed lest your hearts be overcharged with care,” He pointed to life’s great tyranny. When, then, does this concern us? The word means “oppressed,” “weighed down.”
1. Then it is true when the heart is not able to rise. Spiritual aspirations have not quite died out nor are heavenward promptings ever felt, but the soul cannot respond to them; response needs thought, time, effort, and these cannot be spared, so life is absorbed by the earthly, and the higher things are as though they were not. Then, indeed, the heart is overcharged (oppressed, weighed down) with care.
2. So, too, is it when the heart has no room for the play of its best affections. So I say is it right to be so absorbed by business that we are practically lost to everything else, are practically slaves to money-getting, and deadened to those influences and enjoyments by which our better nature is developed and the deep places of our heart satisfied? We cannot believe it is.
3. And so, too, when the heart finds care to be a burden that crushes it. God means us to be free from oppression. His promises and requirements and the provisions of His grace all point to that: “Come unto Me and I will give you rest,” says He, “peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you,” “be careful for nothing,” “take no anxious thought,” “the peace of God which passeth all understanding shall keep your heart and mind.”
II. Consider WHAT OUR LORD SAYS ABOUT THIS STATE. “Take heed!” He says, “take heed to yourselves lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with care.” That is, you may fall into this state unawares, to avoid it needs much watchfulness. Glance at two or three facts which blind us to the perils of a care-burdened heart.
1. For instance, it seems inseparable from duty. The tendency of our time is opposed to calm life, and even to calm pauses in the midst of life. How seldom one sees a really quiet face! Care need not be, that is. Let us not be misled into it with the idea that it is unavoidable, that we cannot perform our proper task and keep our proper place without being oppressed by it. Christ’s “Take heed!” means that if we will, for all appearance to the contrary, we may escape the evil.
2. Them, it seems consistent with devotion to Christ. That is another point which makes us think lightly of care--there seems to be no sin in it. But see the company this keeps in the text: “Hearts overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness and cares!” “Surfeiting and drunkenness and cares”--these are classed together in the mind of Christ. Then failure in these matters, as much as failure in the other, is to be abhorred as disloyalty to God. Care springs from very evil roots, from unbelief and waywardness and very often from an idolatrous spirit. Therefore let us not go into it or live in it deceived as to its nature, as though it were harmless, but let us shrink from it alarmed at our Lord’s warning: “Take heed!”--“Take heed lest at any time your heart be overcharged with care.”
3. Then, too, it seems the natural result of temperament. That is another fact which blinds us to its evil, for we are apt to excuse certain forms of wrong-doing if we have, as we think, a tendency to them. Let us give up making light of the sin of care because it is natural, and of thinking that because it is natural it is unconquerable. Consider, thirdly,
III. WHAT THIS WORD OF OUR LORD YET FURTHER IMPLIES. The command not under any circumstances to have “hearts overcharged with care,” is a most solemn assurance that this is possible. We can rise to some measure of it at once, but its full measure is the fruit of spiritual culture. Briefly notice the lines this culture must take.
1. We must train ourselves to undertake nothing but at the bidding of God. Cares are largely due either to a consciousness that we have taken our affairs into our own hands and must be responsible for the result, or to a feeble realization that having obeyed God we are His servants and are thus under His protection. Deliberate obedience is one of the great secrets of peace.
2. And we must train ourselves to commit our cares fearlessly to Him. Many of them are self-imposed, and, as I implied, it will not be easy to lose their burden. We must avoid such.
3. I need only add that we must train ourselves to regard communion with God as our first duty. For that communion is the basis of the faith I speak of. (C. New.)
Watch ye, therefore, and pray always
Christian preparation for the coming of the Lord
The subject of our inquiry to-day will be--“What practical effect ought the doctrine of the Lord’s second coming to have on you and me, living when and where and as we do?
” On the certainty of that coming, I need, I suppose, say very little. On the manner of that coming, we possibly may not be agreed; the time of it is expressly and purposely concealed from us. Two things, therefore, seem to me to have a right, as elements, to influence our practice in this matter; the absolute certainty that the day will come, and the absolute uncertainty when it will come. In fact, in both these respects we are in much the same situation as we are, when in health and strength and the prime of life, with regard to the day of our death. We know that it must be; but no sign appears of its immediate approach. And from this example, so common and so well understood, we may perhaps be able easily to deduce our duty in the other case. The wise course with regard to the inevitable day of one’s death appears to be this: never to lose sight of the certainty of it, but to keep ourselves ever ready, while at the same time we do not morbidly brood over the fact, nor allow it to interrupt our duties in life. And here, as in that other case, we must avoid a diseased and restless state of anticipation, as well as the opposite extreme of entire forgetfulness. But perhaps it may be said, In laying down rules for the one consideration, that of our own deaths, are we not also including the other, the expectation of the coming of the Lord? Certainly, in some particulars the two great events coincide; but by no means in all. And it may be profitable for a few moments to ask ourselves wherein they are identical, and wherein each has its region peculiar to itself. They coincide in that each event, as far as we are concerned, will put a limit to this our present state of existence; but they differ, in that the one will do this for ourselves alone; the other, for all mankind. And this is a strictly practical consideration; for I suppose few of us are so selfish as to confine our anticipations and provisions to ourselves alone, but we all extend them over those who are to come after us. The certainty, then, of the day of the Lord will influence those provisions, if we look on it as bringing the limit of this state of time; we shall be rather anxious to do present good with our substance, making moderate provision for our successors, than to lay the foundations of great possessions, and starve our charities to do so. Again, they differ, in that the one brings to ourselves alone the final state; the other completes the great scheme of redemption. The number of God’s elect will be accomplished, and His glorious kingdom will have come. And such a consideration, while it may not have much distinctive influence upon our individual Christian lives, ought to have much upon our regard of our relative duties, and our efforts for spreading Christ’s gospel on earth. (Dean Alford.)
On preparing for Christ’s coming rather than for death
Of all the subjects on which we may speculate as to our own state and destination, perhaps none is so mysterious, none so difficult to form a definite idea of, as the condition of the dead after the act of death; on the other hand nothing is more simple and clear, than their state after the coming of the Lord. There is, then, this consideration, which is worthy at least of our notice; that the looking for and waiting unto the day of the Lord brings us something more definite, something immediately following it of a more tangible kind, more calculated to make a deep impression on us, than the contemplation of the day of our own death. The realities consequent on the one are and must be, even to the strongest faith, shrouded in a mist which is to us impenetrable; the other, with its realities, stands forth boldly before us, marked out in all its features by the hand of Christ Himself. So that the man who waits for the Lord’s coming is likely to be more definite, more assured, more manly and determined in whatever effects on his character such anticipation may have, than he who merely looks forward to his own death. Moreover, when we compare the two as to the question, which best befits the Christian as an object of thought and expectation--we cannot, I think, hesitate a moment. The New Testament is full of exhortations to watch and prepare for the Lord’s coming. From His own discourses while on earth in the flesh, through those of the apostles in the Acts, through the Epistles of St. Paul, St. Peter, St. James, St. John, St. Jude, even to the latest written words of the Spirit in the Revelation, no command is more frequent, none more solemnly impressed on us, than that we should keep that great event constantly in view, and be ever ready for it. Whereas we shall hardly find one exhortation, addressed directly to us as Christians, to be ready for the day of our own death. And why so? clearly not because such readiness is not necessary--far from it indeed--but because the greater absorbs the less: because the promise of our ascended Saviour--His return to us--His coming to take account of His servants--includes in it all that the other possibly could do, and very much more; because death is at the best but a gloomy thing, bearing trace of the curse, accompanied with pain and sorrow, whereas the Lord’s coming is to His people a thought full of joy--the completion of their redemption, the beginning of their reign of glory. (Dean Alford.)
Preparation of heart
We want, in our preparation for the day of the Lord, lightness of heart; hearts which we can lift up to heaven where our treasure is; hearts which are not tied down to this earth--not cleaving to the dust. And how may we lighten our hearts? The first lightening--the first rolling off of the burden which weighed so heavily on them, is the work of God’s Spirit in the day of His power; is that setting free from the load of sin by the blessed effects of justifying faith in Christ, in which the law of the Spirit of life makes us free from the law of sin and death. But how may we best keep them, when thus lightened, from again accumulating a burden, and being weighed down from their proper object of contemplation and desire? Listen to our Lord’s command. It is the surfeiting of this world’s employments and pleasures which thus clogs the heart. This, then, of all things is to be shunned, if we would be prepared for that day. You cannot, beloved, be casting yourselves fully into the arms of the world, and be prepared for the coming of the Lord. The two things are absolutely incomparable. If you choose the part of eagerness about things present, that day will come upon you unawares--whether it come with the sign in the clouds and the resurrection trumpet, or with the sinking of the flesh and heart, the curtained chamber; the bedside group fading away from the failing vision. (Dean Alford.)
The command to watch
Two facts concerning His advent are plainly stated and they are all that a majority of His Church will perceive, namely: that we are ignorant of the time of the end; that it will be sudden.
I. THE READY SOUL IS THE DILIGENT.
II. THE READY SOUL IS THE VIGILANT.
III. THE READY SOUL IS THE PRAYERFUL. (De Witt S. Clark.)
The safety of prayer
Our Lord did not so much urge the duty of praying as the safety of prayer.
I. To this, then, let us first turn our thoughts. Jesus mentioned as the special aim of prayer: “That ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things,” i.e., calamities, that their city, nation, race, and, in fact, the human family were liable to experience, but yet might escape if only they would seek to be accounted “worthy” to do so. The word “worthy” as here used calls for examination; for if it be taken in the sense of deserving because faultless, there is no use in saying anything about it: we are not that; and we never can so be “accounted worthy,” having already committed aggravated offences against God without number, which have brought compromises of guilt and stains upon our souls. The idea of merit, however, which the word “worthy” usually carries with it, is not at all intended in this verse. The verb used is a military term really, meaning to conquer, to win a victory, to prevail against another, against an enemy, against baffling influences and hindering circumstances. Hence the meaning of the word in the text is: that they might be able to prevail and escape all the calamities Jesus had been speaking of. The Revised Version sustains this interpretation. It gives the text: “But watch ye at every season, making supplication that ye may prevail to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.” It was not that He counselled His disciples to deserve or merit safety through their good conduct, although their good conduct was to be as binding as ever, but to pray that they might be tenacious of purpose, unyielding, and therefore, successful in overcoming temptation, walking so faithfully with their Lord Jesus Christ, as to practise good conduct and persevere in it.
II. Mind, they were to pray that they might be tenacious. On that they ought to resolve; ought to set out to be tenacious in Christian living, in overcoming human oppositions, surmounting temporal obstacles, social hindrances, threats of rulers, frowns of society, oppositions of families, clamours of self-interest, desires for enjoyment, and lusts that ruin the soul--bearing their cross to follow after Jesus; but still, in addition to all this,nay in order to accomplish all this, they were to make continual and systematic applications to the Host High God. Wherever you have failed tell it to God; in perfect frankness confess it to Him, and ask Him to account you worthy to escape all forces of temptation, and all calamities that are, or are to be, consequent on sin; or as the Revised Version has the text: “Make supplication that you may prevail to escape,” every evil of ungodliness, whether already wrought in the callousness of your heart, or in a weakness of character growing out of self-love, or in the fearful sorrows that are to be experienced on Christ’s rejection of your undying soul in the judgment day. (Dr. Trumbull.)
I. WATCH OVER YOUR OUTGOINGS (Mark 7:20).
II. WATCH OVER THE INCOMINGS. See to it that mind and heart are ever filled with such suggestions as can carry the stamp of Christ’s approval.
III. WATCH OVER YOUR SURROUNDINGS. Your life has to be lived in the midst of hindering difficulties and influences. Then understand your life. Know the power of your circumstances.
IV. WATCH OVER YOUR OPPORTUNITIES. You will have opportunities
I. ITS PECULIAR CHARACTER. The very quintessence of all faith; the very reason why faith is necessary for the true life. The soul in which burns the light of faith looks forward, and by looking forward is helped to step forward, expecting some strange yet true results. The will is strengthened to assert itself, sometimes on ventures which appear without foundation, but which are based upon the reality of what is to come. So the Christian can go forward with confidence and security.
1. From the call of Abraham to the present day, the supreme attitude of God’s children has been that of expectancy.
2. Just as the Israelites looked for the first coming of the Messiah, so Christians look for the second coming in power and great glory.
II. THE ESSENTIAL BENEFITS OF WATCHING.
1. It is a power which, though often latent and unobserved, is still a power of incalculable force. The unknown reserve of spiritual influence which lies at the root of the sincerely Christian character.
2. The watcher is always ready. No haziness about life, or uncertainty about its aims. (Anon.)
See that sentry at the gate of an encampment or a fortress--mark his measured tread, his martial port, his anxious thoughdetermined countenance--his quiet and searching glance, as he repeats his constant walk--that soldier is awake; but he is more--he is upon his guard--his mind is full of his important trust--he feels the weight of his responsibility. But see--his frame becomes relaxed, his form grows less erect, his movements lose their regular mechanical succession--his look is vacant or abstracted, he no longer looks afar off and at hand in search of approaching danger, he has either forgotten it, or ceased to reckon it so imminent. And yet the man is wide awake; not only are his eyes still open, but they see surrounding objects; all his senses are still active, and his mind, though distracted from his present duty, is as much at work as ever; for no sooner does the slightest sound arouse him, than, as if by magic, he recovers his position and the tension of his muscles, he resumes his measured walk, his mingled air of circumspection and defiance, and his look of bold but anxious scrutiny. Even before, he was awake; but now he is awake and at the same time on his guard. Precisely the same difference exists between a simple wakefulness in spiritual matters--a wakefulness of understanding, conscience, and affection, and the active exercise of spiritual vigilance; this is impossible without the other, but the other does not necessarily involve this. In both cases, that is, in the literal and spiritual case supposed, there is a sensible gradation of remissness or the opposite. We have seen the sentry wholly losing for a moment the recollection of his solemn trust; but this is not the only way in which he may unconsciously betray it. Look at him again. Every look, every motion, now betokens concentration of his thoughts and feelings on the danger which impends, and against which he is set to watch. Perhaps he is now motionless, but it is only that his eye may be more steadfastly fixed upon the point from which the enemy’s approach is apprehended. In that point his whole being seems to be absorbed. And you can see at a glance that he is ready, even for the first and faintest intimation of a moving object on that dim horizon. But while he stands like a statue, with his face turned towards that dreaded point, look beyond him and behind him, at those forms which are becoming every moment more and more defined against the opposite quarter of the heavens. He hears them not, because their step is noiseless; he sees them not, because his eye and all his faculties are employed in an opposite direction. While he strains every sense to catch the first intimations of approaching danger, it is creeping stealthily behind him, and when at last his ear distinguishes the tramp of armed men, it is too late, for a hostile hand is already on his shoulder, and if his life is spared, it is only to be overpowered and disarmed without resistance. And yet that soldier was not only awake, but on his guard--his whole being was absorbed in contemplation of the danger which impended; but, alas, he viewed it as impending only from one quarter, and lost sight of it as really approaching from another. We may even suppose that he was right in looking where he did, and only wrong in looking there exclusively. There was an enemy to be expected from that quarter, and if this had been the only one, the sentry’s duty would have been successfully performed; but he was not aware, or had forgotten, that the danger was a complex one--that while the enemy delayed his coming, another might be just at hand, and thus the very concentration of his watchfulness on one point defeated its own purpose, by withdrawing his attention from all others. By a slight shifting in the scene, I might present to you the same man or another, gazing not at one point only, but at all; sweeping the whole visible horizon with his eye as he maintains his martial vigil. See with what restless activity his looks pass from one distant point to another, as if resolved that nothing shall escape him, that no imaginable source of danger shall remain unwatched. That man might seem to be in every sense awake and on his guard--surprise might seem to be impossible--but hark! what sound is that which suddenly disturbs him in his solitary vigils? he looks hastily around him, but sees nothing, yet the sound is growing every moment louder and more distinct; “a voice of noise from the city”--“the voice of them that shout for mastery”--“the voice of them that cry for being overcome”! Doubt is no longer possible--it is--it is behind him--yes, the enemy for whom he looked so vigilantly, is within the walls, and the banner which he thought to have seen waving at a distance, is floating in triumph just above his head. The cases which I have supposed are not mere appeals to your imagination. They are full of instruction as to practical realities. They vividly present to us in figurative forms the actual condition of the soul in reference to spiritual dangers. (J. A. Alexander, D. D.)
Before the Son of Man
Before the Son of Man
I. RIGID REQUIREMENTS OF HIS STANDARD.
1. Consecration. Implies self-surrender. The doctrine of the Cross lies at the threshold of Christian living.
2. Purity. Involves thought of the heart, speech, actions.
3. Non-resistance. “ Overcome evil with good.” This is the law of the New Testament, though not of nations or of the world.
4. Forgiveness of injury. Goes beyond passive indifference. Exacts positive affection.
II. DUTY OF STANDING BEFORE HIM. Every time we hear the gospel, we “stand before the Son of Man.” Every time we witness His ordinances, we are brought face to face with Him. How? Either condemned or justified. Christ is the great Refiner of men. It is our duty to stand before Him.
1. Because His is the only perfect standard. He makes no mistakes.
2. Because it is the only way to secure His favour. Once men put Him on trial; now the order is reversed. He demands that every man be put to the test, to show his quality. To refuse to submit to Christ’s judgment, is to confess cowardice.
3. Because by this we reach our proper place. The scientific principle is here applied. It is a species of “natural selection”--“the survival of the fittest.” Conclusion: To stand before the Son of Man implies--
1. Your life in harmony with His.
2. Watching and prayer.
3. His favour and divinest blessing. (H. S. Lobingier.)
The Mount of Olives
Contemplations on Olivet
It will not be difficult to conceive how our Lord passed this sleepless night on the Mount of Olives.
I. NIGHT FOREBODINGS OVER THE DOOM OF THE CITY WHICH HAD REJECTED HIM. Can we wonder that His thoughts that night were sad? Meet the facts fully and attentively, of--
1. Christ’s grief over the apostate city.
2. Christ’s grief over the doomed city. He knew the inseparable connection between sinning against Christ and impending doom.
II. NIGHT REFLECTIONS UPON HIS PROPHECIES WHICH FORESHADOWED THE END. Desecration of the Holy City; slaughter and dispersion of God’s people; dire international struggles; decadence of faith, etc.
III. NIGHT ANTICIPATIONS OF THE CLOSING EVENTS OF HIS EARTHLY CAREER. He clearly read each incident of His nearing anguish, and He carefully confronted it all. Nothing could divert Him from His goal
IV. NIGHT PREPARATION FOR THE SURRENDER TO HIS NEARING DEATH.
1. Why this readiness to meet death? He would save others; not Himself.
2. For whom this readiness to die? For false friends and hating foes. (W. HJellie.)
Work and prayer
The life of the Lord Jesus on earth was a true human life; and it is only as we fully recognize this fact that we can find in it an example for our guidance. Here is a brief but instructive record of one important portion of His ministry on earth--itself a type of His whole course. The day was given to work--the evening to quiet rest, meditation, and prayer. Both were necessary to the fulfilment of His mission, and both arc essential to the completeness of our Christian character. Here are two elements of Christian excellence, apparently apposite, yet both must be blended in one who would attain to the fulness of the stature of a perfect man in Christ Jesus. Many have tried, are trying, to separate them. There have been ages, there are still individuals and parties in whom there is an excess of the devotional--an excess, because it is to the exclusion of the active part. Man can never pray too often or too earnestly; but if his whole ideas of religious duty be confined to the reading of so-called spiritual books, the attendance on the public worship of God, or the performance of certain acts of private devotion--if the whole time that is not spent thus is regarded as something removed from the sphere of religion--if the ordinary work of the world be looked on as something that is fitted to lower the tone of the soul, and to interfere with spiritual earnestness--if even active service for Christ be depreciated, then the true character of a Christian life is altogether forgotten. There is the opposite danger, and it is perhaps that into which we are most prone to fall. Ours is the age of activity--from every side come to the Christian calls for earnest labour, for the overthrow of error, for the enlightening of ignorance, for the diffusion of the Gospel, for the relief of suffering and poverty, for the advancement of the numberless institutions which seek the advancement of Christ’s kingdom. Demands of this character are incessant; and if obedience to them be the whole of our religion--if such engagements prevent heart-searching, God-seeking, quiet, meditation, and earnest prayer--ii they draw us away from that self-communion which is the true prelude to communion with God--if all is bustle, excitement, outward struggle, there is sure to be weakness.
I. It will not need much argument to prove that ACTIVE LABOURS FOR CHRIST ARE AN ESSENTIAL PART OF CHRISTIAN DUTY. The life of Christ is the model for all true human lives. In the perfection of His self-sacrifice, in His readiness for all kinds of service, in His eagerness to search out opportunities for blessing man, in His indifference to every motive or feeling that would have held Him back in His ministry of love--in the resolve so early announced, that He must be about His Father’s business, our great Master inspires and guides us. His own teachings indicate clearly that His followers are not to be recluses dwelling apart from their kind, but men taking their place in the world’s associations and movements, that they may affect them for good. They are the salt of the earth, and that salt must be applied to the mass which it is to season and preserve, else where were its value? Surely it argues no want of charity to say that all these pleas argue an absence of true love to Christ. Men complain of want of opportunities, want of adaptation, want of intellect, when their one grand deficiency is want of heart. Love will quicken languid feelings, multiply the few talents, ennoble that which else were mean, breathe courage into trembling hearts, and make the foolish wise to win souls. Difficulties that to sluggards seem insuperable, will but stimulate its ardour and reveal its strength.
II. THE CHRISTIAN MAN MUST HAVE HIS TIMES FOR RETIREMENT AND PRAYER. This is the other lesson taught by the brief record of the last week of our Lord’s ministry on earth. Now as the crisis draws near and the cross is in immediate prospect, still more does His spirit crave that retirement in which, with strong crying and tears, He can make His supplication to His heavenly Father. To us the spectacle is alike sublime and mysterious, yet full of instruction. The glories which belong to the God cannot make us forget that He has become in all respects like to us, and that as our elder brother He teaches us our need, and shows us where we must seek for strength and succour. For we, too, need our times of rest for meditation, self-examination, and prayer. Soul and body in this follow the same law. Science tells us, and experience confirms the truth, that food is not more needful for the body than rest. Want of sleep will exhaust and kill as well as want of food. So with the soul. Asleep in the full sense it ought never to be, but rest, cessation of conflict, labour, and trial, it does need. Constant excitement, unrelaxing toil, unceasing struggle, would have the same effect on it as on the body. We feel, in our bodily life, need for even more than the night of sleep. Who can tell the blessing to the world, even as a mere physical good, of the Christian Sabbath? Our Good Shepherd knows our need, and therefore He has still waters to which He leads His flock--“waters of testings,” where our spirits, exhausted by work or warfare, may find the refreshment they require. He calls us, therefore, to rest and prayer, that we may find the “ renewing of the Holy Ghost.” Thus the earnest worker is prepared to be the most importunate pleader with God, and the fervent prayer, in its turn, fills the soul with the inspiration of a burning zeal and the confidence of an assured faith. (J. G. Rogers, B. A.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Luke 21". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany